Happy Birthday Athena.
TODAY FROM AMERiCA:
POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN EL DORADO HILLS:
I received a call one night from my brother-in-law George informing me that my 95-year-old mom had been rushed to the hospital. The following morning I travelled to SF to see her. By then, my mom had been diagnosed with a urinary infection, shot up with antibiotics and returned to the nursing home. George and I visited her there. At first she was crying and complaining of the pain. As she began directing her usual insults at me, something that she has done for as long as I can remember, she seemed to perk-up enough so that when the nurse came into the room and told her the people in the nursing home lunch-room were asking about her she inquired if any of them were men. George and I then went to the cafeteria for lunch composed mostly of white and grey colored food. I offered a dish of vanilla ice cream to the woman in a wheel chair sitting opposite me. She declined saying her butt was too big already and then inviting me to take a look if I’d like. We returned to my mom’s room and, after settling her in for a nap, departed.
We then went to Bernie’s café in Noe Valley where we met Peter. We ordered coffee and then sat in the sun on the benches in front of Bernie’s and reminisced. Peter and George worked out the plot for the next mystery novel I would write and not finish. It concerned concentric circles and a well-known but very dead Scientologist who, through the internet, rented for the night Dragon’s apartment in BKK that looks a lot like mine and who expired in the arms of an equally dead Thai ladyboy. Dragon and a team of second-rate ex-pat novelists living in Thailand investigate.
Later I had dinner at my sister’s house with George and my nephew Brendan. Brendan plays in the band, “Not Sure, Not Yet,” whose next gig is somewhere in LA. My sister was in NYC as a panelist at a UN conference on social welfare organizations. Immediately following this she planed to attend the Bill Clinton conference at which my old partner Christine Lagarde current head at IMY is one of the keynote speakers. It has been over 20 years since I last spoke with either Clinton or Lagarde. They each have a different form of charisma. Clinton is like the warming sun after a cool night, while Lagarde in more like the electric turquoise shimmer of a glacier just before it tumbles into the ocean.
I waited for Nikki to arrive from Milan and when he did, he and I drove back to El Dorado Hills.
Almost a week has gone by during which three grown and more of less aging men have spent most of their time responding to the whims of an 8 year old boy and enjoying it. I have alternated between furious bouts of black depression and gentle amusement punctuated by one night of boisterous drinking on the deck followed by a day of pain and suffering.
Recently I have been informed that a number of people I know consider me something between a tragic failure and an insufferable moocher. Now normally this would disturb me, being somewhat oblivious to my peculiar behavior and shocked when it is pointed out to me that it is looked at as both odd and undesirable. I can see where some may think that. God knows, at times I think it myself. But even if it were true, when I consider that one of those who has said that is the person who has repeatedly abandoned her child, I really don’t care too much. Nevertheless, I feel I have accomplished what I have set out to do, the boy is no longer teetering on the edge psychological and physical desolation so perhaps it is time for me to move on anyway.
I have begun to deal with my periodic bouts of boredom and depression by seriously exploring publishing options other than screeds in left-wing blogs read primarily by those who prefer spending most of their lives in dark rooms venting their spleen about things they will never have the ability to affect. I realize my stuff is not particularly good or especially interesting, but from what I have observed of what is out there that would place me somewhere in the middle. It, like life in general, is a lot like running in a marathon, you may never finish in the top 10, but just finishing itself can be considered a worthy accomplishment.
Nikki left and later that day I spent some time with my old friend Lina. She was just passing through the Sacramento area on her way back to her home in Southern California. She seemed happy to remind me of the many failures of my personal life. The next day I went to the doctor for a check up. He prescribed a lot of pills. That made me happy.
A lengthy digression on traveling and old Greeks:
I think here I should interrupt my usual narrative and share with you (well to be honest, impose upon you) my recent musings about traveling.
My approach to traveling is somewhat like my approach to life; it is not arriving at your destination that is important but what happened along the way. I call it Pookieism.
For example, assume that I depart from San Francisco intending to travel to, say Rome to visit the Vatican and see the Sistine Chapel. If that is what I efficiently did and returned home equally efficiently, I for one would be unsatisfied indeed.
If on the other hand I were to depart on that same voyage and along the way be diverted by circumstances outside of my control or through my stupidity and thereby facing perhaps danger, or passion, beauty or tedium and return home without ever getting to see Michelangelo’s frescos (the chapel would probably be closed anyway, for repairs or for some obscure holiday), I would consider my trip a success.
I guess, one could consider Pookieism something like Buddhism, but from somewhat the opposite viewpoint. Where Buddhism urges one to withdraw from the unreality of perception, Pookieism suggests you revel in it.
When I look back into my life, anytime I single-mindedly pursued a goal and overcame many obstacles to achieve it, I almost always came away dissatisfied, became depressed and soon decided to spend my time doing something else. On the other hand whenever I was diverted from my path, or failed in achieving my goal or found myself hopelessly lost, I often was overjoyed. Why, because there was so much experience, so much pathos and so much joy. And, oh the stories…
Yes, of course there were things that to this day I wish never happened and if I could I would want not to have occurred, but they did and the exquisite if odious memories of the experience accompanies me like tattoos on the skins of generation Xers.
For those males of a certain age, some of you may recall that time when you were a kid and in your imagination played the announcer of your life. “The great slugger stands at the plate. Here comes the pitch. He swings. He misses….” Or, “Here is the world-famous runner running through the woods. Will he break the record? Oh no! He trips. He falls. Will he be able to get up, finish the race and break the record? Stay tuned.”
Well, I still do that. “Here is the aging hero walking along the side of the road recalling past loves, triumphs and failures. Out of the corner of his eye he spies a small yellow flower, stops and contemplates its beauty for a moment and then walks on, crosses the street, the freshly painted striping glowing so whitely in the sun it hurts his eyes. Suddenly he remembers he forgot to buy that bottle of milk. Should he return to the store or proceed on toward home? He stands there at the edge of the road, like the brave Ulysses on the beach contemplating whether to return home to the aging but loyal Penelope or spend another night in the arms of the beautiful Calypso?”
Speaking of Ulysses, Homer’s account is not quite how it happened.
One night the short, bandy-legged, scraggly bearded young man named Ulysses, who lived in a subdivision on a small island in the Adriatic, left the home on a cull-de-sac he shared with his wife, young son, various hangers-on, and a pack of dogs, telling everyone he was going to the store to buy a carton of milk, or an amphora of wine or new sandals or whatever. Now twenty years later he stood on the corner of the block down from his old home, broke, hungry and older. He contemplated the excuses he would tell his wife for his long absence. He concocted stories about ships and strange wars, jealous gods, wooden horses, one-eyed monsters and to cover up the long periods of time he spent living with a succession of comely young women, he fell back on the tried and true excuse of philandering husbands of the time, bewitchment.
On the other hand, the also aging but still zaftig and supposedly loyal Penelope wanted no part of the smelly midget bastard’s return. She had happily spent the past 20 years screwing the Theban pool boy and every young stud in town. The assholes return would only mean she would have to give up the good life and return to working on that goddamn loom. Besides, she needed an excuse of her own to explain why for the last 20 years the same old piece of cloth hung on that machine with no further work done on it since he left. She told all her boyfriends that she would choose one of them to settle down with when she finished weaving the cloth. They were so stupefied with the thought of getting into her toga whenever she lifted its hem for them they forgot all about the status of that rotting rag.
She believed however that she would need something better to convince the crafty asshole of her unbelievable 20 years of fidelity. She decided to elaborate on the story and planned to tell her returning husband, if unfortunately he should ever return, that she weaved at the loom all day and every night she tore out what she had done during the day. If the simple and unbelievable story had worked on her lovers why wouldn’t this expanded version work on that scheming lying bastard Ulysses?
Nevertheless, she still was surprised when the testosterone poisoned dwarf suddenly and unexpectedly showed up at her door and started killing all of her boyfriends and the Theban pool boy as well.
Sadly, Penelope was forced back to working all day at the goddamn loom and at night diddling herself while the drunken scumbag lay snoring among his dogs after buggering some prepubescent boy-chick.
As Holden Caulfield would say, “Crummy.”
JOEY’S NEW MYSTERY NOVEL:
ENTER THE DRAGON
Vivian: Why did you have to go on?
Marlowe: Too many people told me to stop.
“So,” I said to the smiling Vietnamese killing machine sitting next to me. “Did you have a good time last night.” Although I was determined not to show any jealousy, I failed by asking the question.
He looked at me, his ever-present smile dimmed slightly. “Mavis insisted we stop at Rabat for a drink.”
Rabat is one of those 20 somethings hangouts that over the past few years have sprung up south of the City’s Market Street in the old warehouse district first abandoned by the industries that they were built to house and then by the dot-com inundation that collapsed as suddenly as it began. Now it is a place filled with hook-up bars on the verge of decline as the newest generation begins to realize they can achieve the same results with their smart phones for less money.
“After one or two drinks she said she did not want you getting hurt. I asked why she thought that you might be harmed. She said she had spoken with Mark Holland that morning and he seemed angry, maybe drunk or stoned and was making threats. She would not say anything more. I tried to get her to talk to Martin but she refused. I offered to take her home but she wanted to be alone. So I left.”
There was no reason to ask him if he then spoke to Martin and told him about his conversation, so I took out my phone and called Mavis.
She answered on the second ring with a flat, hello.
“It’s me Dragon. You OK?
“Yeah. What do you want?”
“I have to see you right away.”
“I’m busy right now.”
“I’ll be there in thirty minutes. Make time.”
I hung up and turned toward Vu.He had tensed up and was staring at the street. The limo had passed again and stopped halfway down the block. One of the Tons of Fun got out of the passenger side and started walking toward us. The Limo took off again down Columbus toward downtown.
As he approached he lifted his hands up in a gesture of peace and said “relax, I’ve just come to talk.” He pulled out a chair and sat down his bulk overwhelming it.
“OK Brett whats up?”
He looked at Joe for a moment and said, “I just thought I’d drop by and find out how you’re doing on my little assignment.”
Anna came by. He ordered an espresso and a Tirimisu. I said to Anna. “Make sure you get paid when you bring the stuff. I’ve had too many people leaving me with the check recently.” He chuckled.
“I had gotten the impression I was fired.”
“Nah, just a failure to communicate. So have you found out anything about Holland yet?”
“No, I think he’s long gone from here.”
The coffee and Tirimisu arrived. He downed the coffee in a single gulp and the Tirimisu in about three forkfuls. Pushed back from the table.
“I’m pretty sure he’s around here somewhere.”
“How do you know?”
“I sure would like to know who ever it is that is whispering your hunches into your ears.”
He laughed and strode off. By the time he disappeared around the corner, I realized he had not paid for his snack.
I looked at Joe he was still tensely staring after the Fat Man. “Relax,” I said. “What did you expect a gun battle right here in Downtown San Francisco?”
He stared at the traffic passing on the street in front of us and said. “Guns are useful only at a distance and to scare the inexperienced. If you use a gun and don’t hit your target you are either crazy, stupid or incompetent. If it happens with a lot of people around probably someone not involved will be hurt. I assume if someone wants to kill me he will do it by surprise or from someplace hidden. If I am lucky and he misses, I need to find someplace to hide. The first bullet in my gun is a blank set up to be very loud and produce a lot of smoke. I hope it will cause my attacker to duck or close his eyes momentarily giving me time to get away. I also will not kill an innocent bystander in my panic to return fire. You Americans think guns protect you. They do not. Your brain protects you. Guns are a very limited tool, more dangerous to you than to anyone else.”
B. Chronicles of the Parasites:
According to Robin Greenwood and David Scharfstein in their article, The Growth of Modern Finance:
“The U.S. financial services industry grew from 4.9% of GDP in 1980 to 7.9% of GDP in 2007. A sizable portion of the growth can be explained by rising asset management fees…. Another important factor was growth in fees associated with an expansion in household credit, particularly fees associated with residential mortgages. This expansion was itself fueled by the development of non-bank credit intermediation (or “shadow banking”). We offer a preliminary assessment of whether the growth of active asset management, household credit, and shadow banking–the main areas of growth in the financial sector–has been socially beneficial….”
Several times here in T&T and in some of my blog posts I argued that the modern financial system that first developed in the US and the north atlantic countries and has now spread throughout the world since 1980 has in fact limited the growth of world wealth rather than grown it as some of its supporters, such as Milton Friedman, predicted.
Brad DeLong has recently commented on the fact that in 1950 finance and insurance in the US accounted for less than 3% of GDP, but by 2011 accounts for almost 6% of GDP without measurable evidence that it has boosted growth by expected amounts.
Delong also pointed our a fundamental truth about the current financial system:
“There are two sustainable ways to make money in finance: find people with risks that need to be carried and match them with people with unused risk-bearing capacity, or find people with such risks and match them with people who are clueless but who have money…”
“Over the past year and a half, in the wake of Thomas Philippon and Ariel Resheff’s estimate that 2% of U.S. GDP was wasted in the pointless hypertrophy of the financial sector, evidence that our modern financial system is less a device for efficiently sharing risk and more a device for separating rich people from their money–a Las Vegas without the glitz–has mounted.”
Recently in revisiting this problem Delong wrote:
“…the events and economic research of the past years have demonstrated three things. First, modern finance is simply too powerful in its lobbying before legislatures and regulators for it to be possible to restrain its ability to create systemic macroeconomic risk while preserving its ability to entice customers with promises of safe, sophisticated money management. Second, the growth-financial deepening correlations on which I relied do indeed vanish when countries move beyond simple possession of a banking system, EFT, and a bond market into more sophisticated financial instruments. And, third, the social returns to the U.S.’s and the North Atlantic’s investment in finance as the industry of the future over the past generation has, largely, crapped out. A back-of-the-envelope calculation I did in 2007 suggested that in mergers and acquisitions the world paid finance roughly $800 billion/year for about $170 billion/year of real economic value–a rather low benefit-cost ratio–and that appears to be not the exception but the rule.”
In other words, as I never tire of repeating, in one form or another the depredations of the parasite community impoverishes us all.
“It used to be that crazy people were more-or-less evenly divided between the (northern) Republican Party and the (southern) Democratic Party. Now they are concentrated in the Republican Party. This matters–and is a source of great terror and dismay for the non-crazy Republicans, and for us all.”