“Why Mark?”, I asked. “Because it’s short“, he replied. I was willing to give anything a go, so I took the vicar’s advice and read it and the Gospel of Mark just swept me up.
So says Australian musician Nick Cave
in his intro to the Gospel of Mark, which I found on this Italian Nick Cave fan site.
The Gospel of Mark has to be one of the weirdest and most compelling books ever written. Nick Cave continues:
Scholars generally agree that Mark’s was the first of the four gospels to be written. Mark took from the mouths of teachers and prophets the jumble of events that comprised Christ’s life and fixed these events into some kind of biographical form. He did this with such breathless insistence, such compulsive narrative intensity, that one is reminded of a child recounting some amazing tale, piling fact upon fact, as if the whole worlddepended upon it – which , of course, to Mark it did. ‘Straightway’ and ‘immediately’ link one event to another, everyone ‘runs’, ‘shouts’, is ‘amazed’, inflaming Christ’s mission with a dazzling urgency. Mark’s Gospel is a clatter of bones, so raw, nervy and lean on information that the narrative aches with the melancholy of absence. Scenes of deep tragedy are treated with such a matter of factness and raw economy they become almost palpable in their unprotected sorrowfulness.
Couple things about the Gospel of Mark:
- there’s no Christmas. Jesus just turns up one day down by the river where John The Baptist is doing his thing.
- the oldest gospel. “Most scholars agree” is a term you come across again and again when you read into Bible stuff, especially New Testament stuff. Let’s acronym that as msa. As far as I can tell most scholars do agree on this one.
- the shortest gospel. 11,304 words. Very cool.
- simple language. Mark is written in Koine Greek which I can’t read. I’m told this was a simple version of Greek that people could use all over the Mediterranean. “Koine” just means “Common.” Mark wrote Common Greek.
I’m told Mark’s Greek is “rough”:
Now, “rough” sure but “unrehearsed”? Isn’t it likely Mark was writing down stories and quotes that had been transmitted orally, and thus were quite rehearsed?)
The version I’m reading is:
Here’s what J. B. says:
J. B. seems more confident than others that Mark = John Mark, but who cares?
It’s cool to imagine in the rubble of burned out Rome Mark starts going around saying “guys, I got some good news.”
Other scholars insist that Mark was written after 70 AD, because that’s when the Temple was destroyed after the Roman Siege of Jerusalem:
which was a traumatic time. That chronology is the one Reza Aslan believes:
Me personally? I’m no expert but I think it’s possible someone like the writer of Mark might’ve been obsessed with the idea of the destruction of the Temple before it happened.
Maybe Mark saw things coming the way the Simpsons saw President Trump coming:
But let’s say Mark was written in 70. He’s writing about Jesus, who msa died around 33. So it’s like writing a book, today, about a guy who died in 1980.
John Lennon, say, or Colonel Sanders.
Mark isn’t writing a biography of Jesus though, he’s writing the “good news.” A good point by theologian Marcus Borg over at HuffPo:
Placing the Gospels after Paul makes it clear that as written documents they are not the source of early Christianity but its product. The Gospel — the good news — of and about Jesus existed before the Gospels. They are the products of early Christian communities several decades after Jesus’ historical life and tell us how those communities saw his significance in their historical context.
Here’s the craziest part about Mark imo. The last sentence of the original version, msa, is 16:8.
The women were shaking and confused. They went out and ran away from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
What a freaky ending to your book!
Learned a lot about the Gospel origins from the PBS series From Jesus To Christ. Li’l snippet from this essay by Marilyn Matthews on their website:
What message did Mark intend to send to his audience? Scholars do not agree. Some argue that Mark deliberately constructs a bleak and frightening picture because that was the experience of the people for whom Mark composed his work. Elaine Pagels offers a different interpretation: “And the last words of the original gospel are ‘and they were terrified.’ It would be very bad news if it weren’t that underneath this rather dark story is an enormous hope . . . that this very promising story and its terrible anguished ending is nevertheless not the ending. That there’s a mystery in it, a divine mystery of God’s revelation that will happen yet. And I think it’s that sense of hope that is deeply appealing.”
This is Helytimes so next time we will have a look and see if we can find the oldest source of Mark.
Fifth in our series about the Book of Mark:
Mark One, about the scraps of Mark on Papyrus One.
Mark Two, an intro to Mark, and what’s going on with it.
Mark Three, about “The Secret Gospel of Mark.”
Mark Four, about J. B. Phillips.
As a kid the first time I heard The Book of Mark was read aloud to me, in deliberate boring tone, in Catholic church, a notoriously stiff and elderly kind of place, not all that appealing to the average child.
On the plus side, you did get a good education in a way in the Bible and some aspects of human behavior.
Wanted to stand up and cheer when I got to this part of Ross Douthat and Tyler Cowen’s conversation. Connecting Catholic theology to what the Guy says on the hillside in Galilee in the Gospels takes insane mental labyrinth building. A fun project in a way but not what the Guy himself seems to describe as the way forward.
Here’s what the NIV gives as the rough sections of this chapter.
Jesus Restores a Demon-Possessed Man
Jesus Raises a Dead Girl and Heals a Sick Woman
JB Philips gives it:
Jesus meets a violent lunatic
Faith is followed by healing
Weird, supernatural type stuff. How’re you gonna deal with this? Unpacking the events of Mark Five could probably be a career for a theologian.
Hard to make your church last 2,000 years without sanding the edges down a bit I guess but when you go back to the source you can sometimes feel like what’s missing is the compelling, almost alarming strangeness of the story.
Let’s say only that by Chapter Five of his book, Mark’s Jesus is unstoppable, coursing with power that flows almost like electricity.
If Mark is avail they should hire him for a Marvel movie.
this is the fourth in our series on the Book Of Mark.
Mark One, about the scraps of Mark on Papyrus One.
Mark Two, an intro to Mark, and what’s going on with it.
Mark Three, about “The Secret Gospel of Mark,” and now Mark Four, about J. B. Phillips.
Also He said to them, “Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”
That’s how the King James Version does Mark 4:21. Here’s how J. B. Philips does it:
Then he said to them,
“Is a lamp brought into the room to be put under a bucket or underneath the bed? Surely it’s place is on the lamp-stand! There is nothing hidden which is not meant to be made perfectly plain one day, and there are no secrets which are not meant one day to be common knowledge. If a man has ears he should use them!
Wanting to know more about the guy I was trusting to translate my Mark for me, I read J. B.’s book:
It’s good and short and clearly written, much like Mark. J. B.’s strongest point is that the Gospels seem true to him because, well, who could make this stuff up?
That kind of reminded me of the several times in the Quran where Allah says, hey, if you don’t believe this, let’s see you write a Quran.
Surprised to find, in the next Phillips I picked up, a description of my workplace.
I can’t say The Price Of Success was exactly a page-turner. JB Phillips had a hard childhood, but through diligence earned himself a place at Cambridge, became an Anglican churchman, and started translating The New Testament during World War II.
No surprise that he was pals, or at least sometime correspondents, with C. S. Lewis.
I often heard Lewis’s Screwtape Letters recommended for young Christians in my youth. When I finally got to the book (audiobook) I found it a really stiff and unattractive vision. How did Christianity, which, when you get back to the source, was unquestionably weird, get claimed by stiff collar types like C. S. Lewis?
I found Ring Of Truth to be a more compelling read.
In Price of Success, Phillips is very open and honest about his struggles with depression.
No doubt hearing this, from a respected Christian leader in 1984, was really helpful to people. The book was published two years after his death.
Am I allowed you quote you by the way, J. B.?
Mark Five: Strange Tales Of Jesus!
Latest posts in our series on the Book of Mark, one of the weirdest and most popular books of all time.
on Papyrus One
Or like this?
Here we see the Mar Saba monastery in Israel, twelve miles outside Jerusalem:
Cool structure. Would make a dope boutique hotel.
This is where Morton Smith supposedly found a
previously unknown letter of Clement of Alexandria transcribed into the endpapers of a 17th-century printed edition of the works of Ignatius of Antioch
The letter, which would’ve been from like the year 200, says (I paraphrase) “hey there’s a more spiritual, weirder version of the Gospel of Mark floating around, heads up.”
Was there a “Secret Gospel Of Mark”? Says Wiki:
Ron Cameron (1982) and Helmut Koester (1990) argued that Secret Mark preceded the canonical Mark, and that the canonical Mark is in fact an abbreviation of Secret Mark. This would explain the narrative discontinuity above. John Dominic Crossan (1985) has also been supportive of these views of Koester: “I consider that canonical Mark is a very deliberate revision of Secret Mark.”
An interesting question for sure. As Wiki says:
The process of canonization of the New Testament was complex and lengthy.
The version I’m using is this one:
I don’t think the late J. B. will mind my excerpting his helpful introduction:
When J. B. talks about “the manuscript of Mark,” I’m not sure what he means. Wiki tells me the oldest complete version is the Codex Vaticanus,
and the Codex Sinaiticus, which they found at St. Catherine’s Monastery:
which would also make a cool boutique hotel. The Codex got taken to Russia, and then:
In 1933, the Soviet Union sold the codex to the British Museum for £100,000 raised by public subscription (worth £6.5 million in 2017)
You can read it if you want online.
The oldest known written scrap of Mark appears to be Papyrus 45:
which came from who knows where. American-Anglo-Irish industrialist Chester Beatty, the “king of copper,” was mad for papyri apparently and bought tons of them from illegal dealers.
His first job in the mines earned him $2 per day as a ‘mucker’, clearing away rock and soil from mine tunnels. He was quickly promoted to supervisor of the Kektonga Silver Mine.
Papyrus 45 is now in Chester’s library/museum in Dublin:So, that’s how we get to Mark.
NEXT TIME in our series on Mark:
Translator J. B. Phillips, who started working on the New Testament in a bomb shelter during the London Blitz.
1: 1] genealogy library YY YY YY yyyid [YY] Abraham [1: 2] Abraham [Heaven] nor did he [be] present in [his] [1: 3] take care of him and take him out of him they did not greet the embassy [1: 4] did not give birth and they have been in the midst of the sea
1: 5] Salvation shall not [be] of the rabbi did not recognize him from the p [o] y [to be] s een [1: 6] the dairy farm has been re-established it was the sausage of the sky. [1: 7] nor is it possible to do so ạμ does not enforce the [lacuna] you will be able to find [ gap [1:12] gap the man who gave birth to [n and he did not have the olive tree, [1:15] [Oliver] ḍε̣ [[in] η̣̣̣ [σ] ε̣ [ν] ο ελέξΑζζάρ ελέ [and] he did not do [the] knowledge of [ [1:16] and [he] is not [ [to] enforce the law of the [ ̣̣̣̣̣ ] ξ </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> [1:17] ̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣ ̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣ I have been born and I have been born [d] ạ [υ] ι̣δ̣ [ε] ω̣σ̣ τ̣η̣ [ς] (s) of [b] the weight of the toilet seat [to] of the YYYYyyyyyy [I] D [1:18] and YYYYY genera so that it can not be misinterpreted he shall have [his] name before the [e] found that this is the case of a gypsy [1:19] [ωσηφ̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣] and [those] who do not desire it, compass [t] e [is] [1:20] [th] thou hast thou vnto him, ] []     that] [appears] [to] say [h] φ son] ḍ [da] ṃ [η] φ̣̣ β β β</s></s></s></s></s></s> [receive] [make] the [you] know [your] name the birth of [t] ns [estin] α̣ [son] [1: 21-23] the gap with [heat-treated methane]
Put some of Papyrus One through Google Translate and this is what I got.
Probably a li’l jumbled between the 2nd century Greek and the modern Greek.
Wiki tells me that what’s on Papyrus One is, in fact, Mark 1 1-9.
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”—
3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.
8 I baptize you with[e] water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
The papyrus skips over Mark 10:
10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.
Cool edit. The dove is a little much, too John Woo.
Then it continues:
11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness,
13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
That from the New International version via Bible Gateway.
Grenfell and Hunt found Papyrus One at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt, along with a lot of other paperwork:
Administrative Documents assembled and transcribed from the Oxyrhynchus excavation so far include:
The contract of a wrestler agreeing to throw his next match for a fee.
Various and sundry ancient recipes for treating haemorrhoids, hangovers and cataracts.
Details of a corn dole mirroring a similar program in the Roman capital.
Plus some comedy scripts:
The classical author who has most benefited from the finds at Oxyrhynchus is the Athenian playwright Menander (342–291 BC), whose comedies were very popular in Hellenistic times and whose works are frequently found in papyrus fragments.
Menander’s most popular character was a kind of proto Oscar the Grouch it sounds like.
Menander or literally me:
Papyrus One is dated to the early 3rd century. Is Papyrus One the earliest fragment of Mark known to exist? We’ll take that up another time.
It’s interesting that there’s no birth of Jesus (“Christmas”) in Mark. Mark just jumps right in.
Here are the things Jesus says in Mark, Chapter One.
The time has come at last – the kingdom of God has arrived. You must change your hearts and minds and believe the good news.
Come and follow me, and I will teach you to catch men!
(to a demon) Hold your tongue and get out of him.
Then we will go somewhere else, to the neighboring towns, so that I may give my message there too – that is why I have come.
(to a leper) Of course I want to – be clean!
(also to a leper) Mind you say nothing at all to anybody. Go straight off and show yourself to the priest, and make the offerings for your cleansing which Moses prescribed as public proof of your recovery.
Mark Two: what is the oldest version of Mark?
We can’t all be experts on every outrage that’s going to come along. At Helytimes we’ve taken on the issue of
Our Public Land
the land owned by the US government in the form of national parks, national forests, national monuments, and much more.’ The land we, the American People, own together, in other words.
Part One covered HJ Res 46, which proposes to ease up the rules for oil, gas, and mineral drilling and extraction in our national parkland.
Victory on H. R. 621 and What We Can Learn From It
Meet Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz
You may have heard of him, he was in the news this week catching hell at his town hall:
You may have seen some these videos on Twitter.
Chaffetz is an interesting character.
- Born to a Jewish family in California
- he was the placekicker on BYU’s football team.
- Married a Mormon woman and converted to Mormonism.
- Utah campaign manager for Michael Dukakis in 1988
- at some point he became a Republican. Possibly after meeting Ronald Reagan in 1990 (when, remember, Reagan had a decent degree of dementia)
- Ran an aggressive Tea Party-style primary campaign in 2008 against a longtime Utah Republican, Chris Cannon, and knocked him out
- An aggressive Benghazi investigator
- Was all over the map on Trump: endorsing, unendorsing. In the end he did vote for him
- Has made it difficult for the residents of Washington DC to implement the legalization of marijuana they voted for
Here’s a funny article by Thomas Burr in the Salt Lake City Tribune about Chaffetz involving himself in DC local politics, and then getting payback where some DC politicians are like “fine Utah bitch you gonna tell us how to run our city then help us fix our potholes.”
Today though, we’re going to focus on a bill he introduced that comes up in the town hall.
H. R. 621: Story of a Victory
On Jan 24, Chaffetz introduced H. R. 621, which he titled “Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2017” which proposed to “dispose” – sell off – some land that is owned by you and me.
Let’s back up.
Do the Republicans Want To Sell Off Our Land?
Is this true? Will Trump / The GOP Sell Off Our Public Land?!
My take: they definitely tried to do so. Given nearly complete power after the 2016 election, it was a top priority for several Republicans.
The rush to sell off public land has been beaten back, for now.
There’s a lot to learn from what went down about how to win against the Republican Party of Donald Trump.
Bias: Love for national lands
I love national lands. I love national parks and national forests and national historic sites and national seashores. I love national monuments and national battlefields.
The best of the United States is on display in a US Park Service uniform.
The National Parks are the gems. Most federal land is not like this at all.
How much land does the federal government
– the US –
– us –
The federal government owns a huge amount of land. For instance, the federal government owns about 84% of the total land area of Nevada.
Here is federal land ownership in California:
The federal government owns 47% of California.
As you can see, this is a much different issue for some states than others. Here is Utah:
The feds own 66.5% of Utah.
The feds own a mere .8% of Rhode Island, mainly coastal scrubland.
Getting all that from this great piece in the Deseret (UT) News by Jackie Hicken.
All told the federal government owns about 28% of the nation’s total surface, 2.27 billion acres.
Isn’t that crazy?
Here is a reasonable position:
The federal government shouldn’t own that much land. It’s not in the Constitution as a job for the federal government to own a buncha land.
Here’s a sample of that take:
Now: I think Lars Larson may even have a point about cutting down forests. Forestry is a science, I’m not well-informed enough to opine on it except to say I believe any forester will tell you burns are part of a life cycle of a forest.
But I disagree with Lars Larson on his first part. Because when we say “the government owns this land,” really we mean we own this land. What could be more “the people’s land” than land we all own together? “Give the people’s land back to the people?” It already is ours!
You and me. The taxpayers. The voters. The government is just us.
What Are The Kinds Of Our Lands?
Here are the percentages of our land, broken down by which agency manages them for us. The “Big Five”:
(getting my data from here, from 2013. The pie would be slightly bigger if we included the Department of Energy, and there’s the Indian reservations, but that’s a whole other thing.)
As you can see, the National Park Service owns a mere 13% of US federal land.
National Park Service handles:
- National Parks
- National Monuments
- National Preserves
Plus battlefields, historic sites, seashores, etc. As I understand it, the only way to get rid of these would be to pass a bill through both houses of Congress and have the president sign it. A cool power of the President is that he can create a National Monument out of any existing federal land. Obama did this often.
The Forest Service under the Department of Agriculture handles:
our National Forests.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service handles:
our National Wildlife Refuges. (Their slice of the pie gets way bigger if you count marine acres.)
There are National Wildernesses, administered by various different folks because they’re usually part of some other land.
There’s lots of land owned by the Department of Defense,
Air Force, Marine Corps, and Army bases and such. The Navy owns a surprising amount of inland land here in California for dropping bombs on.
And there is a bunch of leftover extra land, BLM land, managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
The BLM owns about 47% of the west and one-eighth of the land of the United States.
(Here’s a good Gizmodo article by Wes Siller about this same topic).
The biggest chunk of public land is BLM land
On a trip to California in 2002 or so the Jeppson-Gamez brothers took me to some BLM land. I learned you can shoot a gun and drive a Jeep and do whatever the fuck you want on BLM land. What a great privilege as an American.
Here’s some BLM land in California:
Here are some facts:
A lot of federal land is already used, mined, logged, grazed, and exploited now
There’s logging in national forests, and mining and grazing on BLM land. The major operating principle for BLM land law is “multi use.” Please correct me if I’m wrong, I’m no expert just an interested citizen, but I believe most BLM rules stem from the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.
Who should handle this junk land has a long, contentious history
Here is a readable summary of some history on the subject. Who should own and manage land that looks like this?:
Should the states manage it? In the Depression the states didn’t want it.
Fights over which of the multiple uses should be favored come up all the time. The most newsworthy fight in recent years on this topic, the weird Oregon standoff originated with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s dispute with the BLM over grazing his cattle on their lands:
the dispute started in 1993, when, in protest against changes to grazing rules, Bundy declined to renew his permit for cattle grazing on BLM-administered lands near Bunkerville, Nevada. According to the BLM, Bundy continued to graze his cattle on public lands without a permit. In 1998, Bundy was prohibited by the United States District Court for the District of Nevada from grazing his cattle on an area of land later called the Bunkerville Allotment.
Cliven Bundy refused to recognize federal ownership of the land, claiming it rightfully belonged to Nevada, which would maybe be chiller about letting him graze his cattle there.
This being the USA, Cliven’s stand led to, a few years later, Bundy’s sons sitting around with guns at a remote bird refuge while Dad reflected on his views on “the Negro“:
they abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?
Where does the GOP Congress stand on federal land ownership?
All over the place, is the answer.
1) the Republican Party’s platform supports returning some federal land to the states.
See here for a Snopes breakdown of this. Here’s the language on federal land transfer in the Republican Platform:
The federal government owns or controls over 640 million acres of land in the United States, most of which is in the West. These are public lands, and the public should have access to them for appropriate activities like hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting. Federal ownership or management of land also places an economic burden on counties and local communities in terms of lost revenue to pay for things such as schools, police, and emergency services. It is absurd to think that all that acreage must remain under the absentee ownership or management of official Washington. Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states. We call upon all national and state leaders and representatives to exert their utmost power and influence to urge the transfer of those lands, identified in the review process, to all willing states for the benefit of the states and the nation as a whole. The residents of state and local communities know best how to protect the land where they work and live. They practice boots-on- the-ground conservation in their states every day. We support amending the Antiquities Act of 1906 to establish Congress’ right to approve the designation of national monuments and to further require the approval of the state where a national monument is designated or a national park is proposed.
Key word there is “certain”?
I think it’s possible to be passionate about maintaining our treasured national land, and still think some federal land could be better managed by the states.
There’s a lot of wack stuff in the GOP platform, like this:
A Republican administration should streamline personnel procedures to expedite the firing of bad workers, tax cheats, and scammers.
Obviously they’re not worried about the Commander in Chief who won’t release his tax returns. Maybe they will be similarly hypocritical about conveying federally controlled land to states.
2) the Republican Congress changed rules to allow the federal government to give up land while counting it as “budget neutral”
Meet Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah:
A Republican Congressman. He is apparently responsible for a change in House of Representatives rules. Now, I don’t know anything about House budgeting rules. This article, from The Salt Lake City Tribune, written by Juliet Eilperin, seems fair and clear:
Under current Congressional Budget Office accounting rules, any transfer of federal land that generates revenue for the U.S. Treasury — whether through energy extraction, logging, grazing or other activities — has a cost. If lawmakers wanted to give land-generating receipts to a given state, local government or tribe, they would have to account for that loss in expected cash flow. If the federal government conveys land where there is no economic activity, such as wilderness, there is no estimated cost associated with it.
But House Natural Resources Committee Chairman [Rob] Bishop [Republican Congressman of Utah], who backs the idea of providing state and local officials with greater control over federal land, has authored language in the new rules package saying any such transfers “shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending or increasing outlays.”
This was the same rules package that had the ethics loosening thing that got people to call their reps in an effective show of democratic displeasure. Here is a much-tweeted Guardian article on the topic.
There’s lots about public land on Rob Bishop’s website. One issue that seems to bother Rob Bishop in particular is Wilderness Study Areas. And I agree they represent the complex mess of interests when you deal with public land.
A Case Study: How A Wilderness Study Area Becomes A Wilderness
The Wilderness Study Areas are roadless sections of land that the BLM puts a hold on until Congress decides whether to designate them as wilderness or not.
Here’s my personal favorite:
Here’s what Rob Bishop says:
For decades, unsettled land-use designations, such as wilderness study areas, have fueled distrust and acrimony. The uncertainty about the future of these lands created conflict amongst those favoring differing types of uses. The diverse uses of public lands have an important role in making Utah healthy, viable, and inviting. The future of the state depends on a responsible balance of both conservation and development.
There are 86 Wilderness Study Areas in Utah. Myself, I think we should err on the side of keeping wildernesses — once they’re gone, they’ll never come back.
Once you’re a WSA, you either become a Wilderness, federally protected, or you get dropped and you can get chopped up and mineraled and whatnot like any old BLM land. Or you get downgraded to Conservation Area, or some other designation.
The most recent Wilderness Study Area bill I can find in Congress was from last year, when some WSAs inside federal conservation areas were proposed to get dropped. It’s been referred to committee. Here’s an article about it, it sounds like a complicated issue.
You can see how this all gets pretty slow-moving and bureaucratic.
Maybe Rob Bishop has a point
The bottom line of what Rep. Bishop wants to do is made pretty clear on his website:
Congressman Bishop’s views on public land use differ from mine, why should I trust that this is a good faith effort to make new conservation areas?
Congressman Bishop is committed to conservation and economic development as part of the Public Lands Initiative. Throughout his career, Congressman Bishop has had a strong record of both conservation and development. The Cedar Mountain Wilderness area was created in 2006 after Congressman Bishop facilitated a locally-driven, collaborative process similar to the Public Lands Initiative. As a former high school teacher, Congressman Bishop also has pushed for increased energy production in Utah to help support and fund public education. Congressman Bishop is committed to elements of both conservation and development as part of any Public Lands Initiative legislative proposal.
How will the state of Utah benefit from this?
The state of Utah’s public education system will benefit from increased energy and mineral production. Public land users will benefit from the regulatory certainty that comes from congressionally designated lands. Local governments will benefit from revenue generated from multiple use of the land, including recreation, mineral development, and energy production. The outdoor recreation businesses will benefit from the improved certainty about land use and conservation. Future generations will benefit by having responsible policies that utilize the land in the most responsible and reasonable ways that make sense now and into the future.
Proponents argue, however, that taking the federal government out of the picture will help the budget and offer economic benefits for the many communities located near federally-guarded land.
“In many cases, federal lands create a significant burden for the surrounding communities,” Molly Block, spokeswoman for the House Natural Resources Committee, said. “Allowing communities to actually manage and use these lands will generate not only state and local income tax, but also federal income tax revenues.”
Look, Rob Bishop’s there in Utah. Maybe he knows best what should happen with this land. In tough Western areas he could see roped off federal preserves with no clear purpose, and point out those could be jobs and money for his district, or even just better managed wilderness under local control.
Why shouldn’t disposed-of land be marked as a loss to the federal revenue, when it is? Isn’t this a form of the federal government lying to itself? Lying to its citizens? As an American taxpayer, I don’t see how this rather sneaky accounting change is at all good for me.
Plus what the hell?! This land belongs to us, American citizens. These guys want to sell away our inheritance?
High Desert News‘ Elizabeth Shongren puts it clearly:
Previously, when Congress wanted to transfer public lands managed by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or other federal agency, the Congressional Budget Office, Congress’ research arm, calculated the cost to the U.S. Treasury by computing what revenues the lands provide over 10 years, such as grazing fees or oil and gas royalties. Under House rules, before a bill approving a transfer could be adopted, budget cuts would have to be made in other federal programs equal to the value of that land. The rules change eliminates that budgetary barrier to land transfer bills.
I’d have to explore this more, but I have a feeling the House somehow tied itself into knots on spending and budgetary rules to make various political points, and is trying to untangle this particular aspect so they can get rid of public land.
Can the government sell off our treasured national lands?
Yes, but it’s not that easy.
Let’s start with the BLM. Can the BLM sell off their land? From their website:
How are these lands selected for sale?
The law states that the BLM can select lands for sale if, through land use planning, they are found to meet one of three criteria: 1) they are scattered, isolated tracts, difficult or uneconomic to manage; 2) they were acquired for a specific purpose and are no longer needed for that purpose; or 3) disposal of the land will serve important public objectives, such as community expansion and economic development.
The BLM does not offer much land for sale because of a congressional mandate in 1976 to generally retain these lands in public ownership. The BLM does, however, occasionally sell parcels of land where our land use planning finds disposal is appropriate.
Of the Big Five Agencies, only DoD and BLM lost land between 1990 and 2013 (again, source here). In those years, the BLM went down by 24, 777, 190 acres.
Where did those acres go?
This decline in Alaska is largely the result of the disposal of BLM land, under law, to the State of Alaska, Alaska Natives, and Alaska Native Corporations.
Seems fine to me. The Congressional Research Service goes on:
With regard to disposal, the NPS and FWS have virtually no authority to dispose of the lands they administer, and the FS disposal authorities are restricted.
Last big push to dispose of national lands failed. It was HR 350: State National Forest Management Act of 2015, introduced by Rep. Don Young of Alaska.
HR 621: Story of A Victory
Let’s return to Utah rep Jason Chaffetz:
Which land did he try to sell away?
The Potential Land: 35,200 acres of BLM-managed land in the Powder River Basin, which is just east of the Bighorn Mountains, popular with hikers, campers, horseback riders, and hunters.
Here’s what’s going on on BLM land in the Powder River right now:
The Potential Land: 27,300 acres surrounding the Shoshone River, a popular fly-fishing stream in northern Wyoming. Most of the BLM-managed land in Park County is downstream of the town of Cody, which sits between the Big Horn, Owl Creek, Bridger, and Absaroka mountain ranges. Tourism is the town’s primary industry.
The Potential Land: 44,000 acres in a county that’s home to Steens Mountain, a 9,733-foot peak that’s popular with campers and hunters, and Malheur National Forest.
State: New Mexico
The Potential Land: 25,000 acres that contain “cultural resources,” meaning it’s probably home to pueblo ruins. The land is most likely a giant tract southwest of the town of Quemado, and some of the land abuts the Gila National Forest, home to the endangered Mexican gray wolf, the Gila trout, and some of the best elk hunting in the U.S.
The Potential Land: 2,105 acres that is home to endangered species and “historic/cultural resources.” The surrounding area contains the Gunnison Gorge, famous for its rafting and fly-fishing trips, and Uncompahgre National Forest, which is home to elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and mountain goat.
The Potential Land: 208,900 acres that contains endangered species, historic resources, and is home to “wetlands/floodplain.” BLM-managed land makes up a giant percentage of land in Elko County, but exactly what land is up for consideration is unclear, or what the effects might be.
The Potential Land: 23,525 acres with mining claims and historic resources. A comment attached to the description notes that the land is “classified as habitat for the Desert Tortoise (a sensitive species).”
Now I heard about this, and I was pissed, because this land belongs to me. And you. And us. Any time we wanna go there, it’s there.
And Jason Chaffetz tried to sell it off.
Well this did not play. Word spread via strong, aggressive groups like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers:
There were rallies in Helena, MT and Santa Fe, NM which BHA says drew a thousand people.
Chaffetz backed down by last night — six days after introducing the bill:
What can we learn from the defeat (for now) of HR 621?
- Strong, organized, motivated, attentive citizens can win, easily, on issues that matter.
- Play to a politician’s fears. Jason Chaffetz got to Congress by primarying a guy in his own party. He’s got to watch his back constantly. His greatest fear has got to be somebody doing to him what he did to Chris Cannon, outrunning him on the right.
- Push the pushable. Chaffetz wasn’t moved by people who would never vote for him. He was moved by hunters and fishermen, people who probably would vote for him, as long as he doesn’t fuck them on something they care about.
- Look at the focus on these groups: bow-hunters, meat-eating hunters. They have clear interests, goals, and passions. They follow their issues and inform each other.
- Powerful allies. Look at the sponsors for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. These are big corporations with big interests in keeping their customers happy and hunting and fishing. Yeti coolers has a partnership with MeatEater.com. What are rich companies that have interests that could align with yours?
- Specific targets. They learned something from all that bow-hunting.
- See how fast and aggressively they responded to the slightest hint of a challenge and you can get an answer to the seemingly baffling question of why gun control bills get crushed so easily. Strong, organized people are paying attention to the slightest threat to their gun rights and they do not let up.
The Trump hurricane has achieved an effect of constantly shifting focus. When we compare what bow-hunters did to the stammering, confused, bafflement of the Hollywood libtards we follow on Twitter, and my own flabbergasted reactions, we realize we have much to learn from Texas bow-hunters on how to stay focused on a few issues that matter to us most.
The biggest lesson:
This issue brought together, on the same side, Joyce Carol Oates:
and these kind of guys:
And the bros on the Texas Bowhunter forums.
They’re both passionate on the same side on this issue.
For me, the strongest takeaway is don’t insist on too much ideological purity.
Build coalitions on issues you care about.
That is the way to win in politics.
Plus who do you think Jason Chaffetz is most scared of?
I’m guessing it’s this kinda guy? (seen here killing a huge deer with a bow and arrow).
This guy and I may have different ideas about what to do with the land we share.
But we share an interest. We can team up.
One of the most illuminating things I read about the election was “David Wong”‘s piece on Cracked.com about the rural vs. urban divide. Here I am very far from Powder River, WY. The odds of me visiting it in the next ten years are small (but real). But here I am allied with people who live near there and use it all the time.
Gotta Hear Both Sides
Look, it’s fair to say maybe we should sell off some public land. The clearest expression I found of this ambiguity was put up by this poster on TexasBowhunter.com — I hope user 175gr7.62 won’t mind me quoting him, I think it’s a valid take (encourage you to read him in context):
I’m torn on it. The Constitutional side of me says the Fed should have never owned it anyway. The Constitution says the government can acquire and retain land necessary for carrying out its enumerated powers. This includes parcels for military bases, post offices and buildings to house federal employees undertaking enumerated functions. I don’t think anything the BLM or Forest Service does counts as anything enumerated. Several Supreme Court cases have said the govt can own it but I think that’s just case law.
The hunter in me said it could be bad if the Feds sell the land because it could be bought by a private citizen who can then prevent its use. That being said, if they sell it and I don’t have the money to buy it that’s my fault…I should have gotten a better education or made better investment decisions.
Reasonable people can disagree on how public land should be managed and who should managed it.
What bothers me, and what puts me on edge, is the sneakiness of what Bishop and Chaffetz appear to be doing.
And the misguided priorities. This is the first thing they got to post-election.
Well, Chaffetz at least got called to the carpet for it.
A Passionate Plea
Here’s a full video of Jason Chaffetz’s town hall. Listen to this guy at 11:39 say our free public lands are all he has.
Please write to us (helphely at gmail or in the comments) if we got something wrong or you have a strong take.
These are complicated issues, I did my best and in good faith but it’s easy to make an error.
In our Next Installment:
Part Three: Strange Allies.
And why this:
is better than this:
Tennessee Williams in Key West
Strewn around the apartment of a friend this weekend were a few biographies of Tennessee Williams.
I don’t know much about Tennessee Williams. The most I ever thought about him was when I was briefly in Key West, where there’s some stuff named after him. He jockeys with Hemingway for local literary mascot top honors.
Looking into it, I found this stupefying article about TW in Key West from People Magazine, 1979, entitled “In His Beloved Key West, Tennessee Williams Is Center Stage In A Furor Over Gays.” Tough reading, on the one hand. On the other maybe we can find some optimism in how far things have come?:
Some of Williams’ friends are less sanguine—notably Rader (whom some Key West sympathizers find faintly hysterical on the subject). “It has been terrible,” he said in the aftermath. “Tenn won’t talk about it, but it has been really frightening what’s happening in Key West and in this house. The worst was the night they stood outside his front porch and threw beer cans, shouting, ‘Come on out, faggot.’ When they set off the firecrackers, I remember thinking, ‘God, this is it. We’re under attack. They’ve started shooting.’ ”
Williams’ imperturbability springs both from a matter of principle (he once defined gallantry as “the grace with which one survives appalling experiences”) and from a diminished interest in the Key West gay scene. “I’ve retired from the field of homosexuality at present,” he explains, “because of age. I have no desires—isn’t that strange? I have dreams, but no waking interest.” The thought does not cheer him. “I’ve always found life unsatisfactory,” he says. “It’s unsatisfactory now, especially since I’ve given up sex.” His own problems seem far more pressing to him than the city’s. “I suspect I’ll only live another two years,” says Williams, 68, who tipples white wine from morning on and complains of heart and pancreas disorders. “I’ve been working like a son of a bitch since 1969 to make an artistic comeback. I don’t care about the money, but I can’t give up art—there’s no release short of death. It’s quite painful. I’ll be dictating on my deathbed. I want people to say, ‘Yes, this man is still an artist.’ They haven’t been saying it much lately.”
As a consummate prober of human passions, Williams does have theories on why his adopted hometown is under siege. “There are punks here,” he explains. “That’s because a couple of gay magazines publicized this place as if it were the Fire Island of Florida. It isn’t. One Fire Island is quite enough. But it attracted the wrong sort of people here: the predators who are looking for homosexuals. I think the violence will be gone by next year.”
Other residents seem less willing to wait. The leader of the anti-gay forces, the Reverend Wright, says Anita Bryant has promised to come to Key West to help his crusade. Recalling nostalgically the days when “female impersonators and queers were loaded into a deputy’s automobile and shipped to the county line,” Wright warns: “We’ll either have a revival of our society or the homosexuals will take it over in five years.”
Mamet On Williams
This morning happened to pick up in my garage this book by David Mamet:
Highly recommend this book as well as Three Uses Of The Knife, True And False: Heresy And Common Sense For The Actor, and On Directing Film by Mamet. All short, all tight, all good. (His subsequent nonfiction seems to me to be a bit… deranged?)
Found this, and thought it was great:
Reading about Tennessee on Wikipedia, I learn:
As he had feared, in the years following Merlo’s death Williams was plunged into a period of nearly catatonic depression and increasing drug use resulting in several hospitalizations and commitments to mental health facilities. He submitted to injections by Dr. Max Jacobson – known popularly as Dr. Feelgood – who used increasing amounts of amphetamines to overcome his depression and combined these with prescriptions for the sedative Seconal to relieve his insomnia. Williams appeared several times in interviews in a nearly incoherent state, and his reputation both as a playwright and as a public personality suffered. He was never truly able to recoup his earlier success, or to entirely overcome his dependence on prescription drugs.
Let’s learn about Dr. Feelgood, who was also screwing up Elvis and everybody else cool back then:
John F. Kennedy first visited Jacobson in September 1960, shortly before the 1960 presidential election debates. Jacobson was part of the Presidential entourage at the Vienna summit in 1961, where he administered injections to combat severe back pain. Some of the potential side effects included hyperactivity, impaired judgment, nervousness, and wild mood swings. Kennedy, however, was untroubled by FDA reports on the contents of Jacobson’s injections and proclaimed: “I don’t care if it’s horse piss. It works.” Jacobson was used for the most severe bouts of back pain. By May 1962, Jacobson had visited the White House to treat the President thirty-four times.
By the late 1960s, Jacobson’s behavior became increasingly erratic as his own amphetamine usage increased. He began working 24-hour days and was seeing up to 30 patients per day. In 1969, one of Jacobson’s clients, former Presidential photographer Mark Shaw, died at the age of 47. An autopsy showed that Shaw had died of “acute and chronic intravenous amphetamine poisoning.”
Well, that takes us to
Born Mark Schlossman on the Lower East Side, a pilot on the India/China Hump in World War II, he became a freelance photographer for life:
In 1953, probably because of his fashion experience, Shaw was assigned to photograph the young actress Audrey Hepburn during the filming of Paramount’s Sabrina. Evasive at first, Hepburn became comfortable with Shaw’s presence over a two-week period and allowed him to record many of her casual and private moments.
He married singer Pat Suzuki, “who is best known for her role in the original Broadway production of the musical Flower Drum Song, and her performance of the song “I Enjoy Being a Girl” in the show”:
In 1959, Life chose Shaw to photograph Jacqueline Kennedy while her husband, Senator John F. Kennedy, was running for President. This assignment was the beginning of an enduring working relationship and personal friendship with the Kennedys that would eventually lead to Shaw’s acceptance as the Kennedys’ de facto “family photographer”. He visited them at theWhite House and at Hyannisport; during this time he produced his most famous photographs, portraying the couple and their children in both official and casual settings. In 1964, Shaw published a collection of these images in his book The John F. Kennedys: A Family Album, which was very successful.
Here’s another famous Jackie Mark photo’d:
from The Paris Review:
Why don’t you like to give interviews?
When I was young it was impossible to stop me from talking about myself, but I now find it difficult to start. As an adolescent (which stage in life took me to about the age of thirty) I had a facile tongue, a prodigious memory, and an all-consuming fear of sociality (a fear and distaste that is, if anything, stronger now than it ever was, but now I am disciplined enough just to suffer through it and, quite frankly, I’m tired of trying to keep back a sea of discomfort with the flood of my own words).
The source of my aversion is partly hereditary, in that my father and many of my relatives were much the same, and partly an acquisition that I owe to my early upbringing. When this was far more serious a matter than it is now, I was born two months prematurely, with malformations of the spine (spina bifida) and lungs, and what was later diagnosed as “hyperconvulsive neurological syndrome.” Whatever that is, it was sufficient to have kept me out of the United States Army, though not the Israeli infantry and air force or the British Merchant Navy.
To make a rather long story extremely short, I spent many weeks in an incubator, came home as damaged goods, and spent much of my early life in the throes of respiratory diseases that kept me out of school and apart from others. As a small child, I once ran a fever for, literally, a year. I had pneumonia half a dozen times, double pneumonia, whooping cough—all because of the circumstances of my birth.
Now, combine that, and all that you can imagine might flow from it, with the place in which I was raised—Ossining, New York. Culturally, the character of the area was formed during the Revolutionary War, when it was a no-man’s-land between the Americans and the British, and every criminal, deserter, and malcontent for hundreds of miles found his way there and left his genes. When I was a child, I would always look at people’s hands, to see if they had six fingers, and sometimes they did.
My draft board, I am told (although it may be myth), had, of all draft boards in the United States, the highest proportion of men killed in Vietnam—where, incidentally, my godfather, the photographer Robert Capa, was the first American to die, though he was a Hungarian and had nothing to do with the Hudson. The area was salted with military institutions—West Point, military academies, veterans’ hospitals—and old soldiers, including even, when I was young, some from the Civil War. The play of the boys was guerilla warfare in the extensive woods. Every stranger was a threat, an enemy. Indeed, there were a lot of bad apples around—escaped convicts from Sing Sing (twice as I remember), standard criminals, gangs in the fifties, child molesters (a beautiful little girl was taken from my third-grade schoolyard and raped and beaten over a period of many hours), and hoboes (not Shakespearian woodwinds) on the rail line that was the geographical locus of my childhood. I ran wild through all this, protected by my paranoia, by my sharply-honed guerilla skills, and by a rather extensive arsenal. Had you turned me upside down and shaken me, the floor would have looked like a military museum after an earthquake.
I was asking about your dislike of being interviewed.
(photo found here, by Jim Harrison for Harvard Magazine)
A friend was having a 40th birthday party in Nairobi, an excuse to see what’s up in Africa.
Top down view
On the first morning I was in Nairobi I walked over to the KICC building and went up to the top, 33rd story I believe, where you can stand outside on the exposed helipad.
Going to the top of a tall building at the start of a trip is a tactic I got from Neomarxisme. He recommends this for first-timers in Tokyo. Go somewhere high, and take in the vastness of what you’re dealing with in Tokyo. Then you can begin to appreciate what’s going on.
Nairobi is not as vast as Tokyo. Nairobi’s population can be estimated at somewhere around 4.5 million people, higher or lower maybe, if we’re counting commuters and outlying areas. Roughly equivalent to LA.
From the top of the KICC you can see the grasslands of Nairobi National Park. For LA residents, imagine if Griffith Park had free-ranging giraffe and zebras wandering around.
There is also a dense forest in Nairobi, Karura Forest. On the fringes of this forest I saw two fairly chill monkeys lolling about. I believe they were Sykes monkeys. The embassies, the Muthaiga Country Club, impressive and secure houses are along the edges of this forest.
The only other sightseer on the top of the KICC was an African girl younger than me who had me take her picture on an Nikkon camera and also filmed several jubilant videos of herself talking into her phone. I say she was African because her skin was very dark and her English accented but maybe her home was France or the Netherlands for all I know. My guess would be she was a tourist or a student from somewhere else.
From the KICC you can see the railyards. Nairobi was originally a railway town, founded in 1899 to service the British-run Uganda Railway. The train still runs to Mombasa on the coast but I was told it wasn’t running to Uganda anymore. “We’re not there yet.”
The KICC building is near Kenya’s Senate and Supreme Court. In this area, near the CBD (Central Business District) you pass a lot of security checkpoints. To get near these buildings, you’ll have to talk to someone with a gun. But none of the people with the guns seemed too anxious. This is good, I guess? In Kenya they’re obsessed with having you write down your name in a ledger when you go anywhere. But supervision of this process always seems indifferent. What are they ever gonna do with these ledgers, I wonder, with scribbled signatures? I wonder if there’s some kind of witch doctor / voodoo priestess who would pay for books of signatures for use in rituals, perhaps burning them while drawing on the power of these spirits. Gotta look into that.
Kenya is in a sort of war with Al-Shabaab and stateless actors in neighboring Somalia (maybe even Somalia itself if we consider that a functioning state with that name). There have been several dramatic,, extreme acts of terrorism in Nairobi. The bombing of the US Embassy in 1998 killed two hundred and thirteen people. Osama bin Laden was in on that one, and maybe we shouldn’t have allowed him to keep living for thirteen more years? In 2013 four gunmen shot up the Westlands Mall, an upscale shopping place. Seventy-one people dead. Maybe ghastliest of all was the killing of one hundred forty eight mostly university students in 2015. That happened outside of Nairobi, at Garissa University.
This article, by Katherine Petrich, about how al-Shabaab and Kenyan slum-dwelling sex workers do business together, I found illuminating.
Given this deeply conservative position inside Somalia, its willingness to cooperate with and reward sex work in Nairobi, where the group is more constrained in its activities, suggests al-Shabaab is a limited, rational organization with concrete territorial aims. It is not a maximalist extremist group prioritizing ideological principles over tangible benefits, and because the group has a state-based goal, it is comfortable supporting or at least engaging with activities that contravene sharia law. An informant remarked wryly, “Al-Shabaab likes [that group of sex workers] very much. They are worth many sins.”
If you’re from the US, can you really criticize another country for its mass shootings? An Uber driver taunted me that Nairobi is safer than US cities like Chicago. Uber works well in Nairobi, the drivers were good and showed up when it said. There seemed to be pretty reliable 3G service to communicate with them.
The columnist / travel writer cliché of quoting the cab driver is well-documented. I’ve noticed even Paul Theroux does it. But what’re you gonna do, you know? These are the Kenyans I ended up spending the most time with. There we were, may as well get their story. Traffic can be horrific in Kenya. Coming into/out of the city in rhythm with regular work hours could leave you crawling for an hour or two. The grind of that life must be immiserating. It’s also a sign of a boom, I guess. Nairobi is exploding. My host explained to me that it is the NGO/government/development/banking/energy/international business capital for East Africa. If you’re doing business in Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Ethiopia you might have an office in Nairobi.
From the KICC I could see a particularly crowded and chaotic street where it looked like the road itself was fully occupied by stalls and stopped minibuses. This was the area where Tom Mboya* Road meets Accra Street, and it was full of matutus, private competing independently operated (I think? maybe there’s some kind of informal union?) minibuses that might go as far as Mombasa, plus surrounding businesses. Around here I popped into a textbook store. The desire of learning in Kenya seemed intense to me, I went by many stalls selling books on business topics, and schools and colleges. Even in Kibera slum the kids are wearing school uniforms, and the desire to make money to pay school fees was several times expressed as one of life’s drives.
In Nairobi there’s a neighborhood called Karen, named after Karen Blixen, real name of author Isak Dinesen, who wrote Out of Africa. Meryl Streep played her in the movie.
Karen is around where Karen Blixen’s farm was (in fact I sometimes heard the neighborhood called Karenblixenfarm). It’s funny to me that there’s a neighborhood called Karen, partly becomes of the meme-ing of the name, partly that it’s just cool that a neighborhood is somebody’s first name. How great would it be if after I’m dead my neighborhood is called Steve? I remembered reading somewhere that late in life Karen Blixen ate nothing but oysters and champagne, but she also died of malnutrition. Karen’s farm can be visited, a guide will sit you down and recite some of her biography, and then they’ll show you things like her old wooden toilet. They don’t let you use that toilet.
The first line of Out of Africa the book, intoned in the movie by Meryl, is “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.” The Ngong Hills where Karen tried to grow her coffee are now spotted with windmills.
Karen Blixen’s farm was one of the sites on a little tour a Stanley Hotel-recommended driver took me on. The elephant orphanage was next. Be advised you can only see the elephants between 11am and noon, unless you pay extra to adopt one I believe. It’s kind of fun to see young elephants doing their thing but the idea of an elephant orphanage is so sad, and the crowded circle of humans around them kind of unpleasant, so I bailed pretty fast on that.
Next is the giraffe center, where they give you a little bag of molasses-based giraffe treats and you can feed them and feel their rough tongue. But you can do that in San Diego too. Across the grass of the giraffe center is Giraffe Manor, where you can stay (pricey) and the giraffes will poke their heads in the window apparently.
Last stop was some kind of depressing zoo where they did have some good venomous snakes but the vibe isn’t very cheery, it’s next to a dreary, unused amusement park. The girl leading me around, Valentine, asked me if I wanted to hold a snake. No thanks. Had she ever used the anti-venom? Yes, once. On a snake-handler.
It was about three in the afternoon. I asked my driver what was next and he said “that’s it.”
The City Outside
On the streets of Nairobi I encountered no more people asking for money than I would in downtown Los Angeles or West Hollywood. Surprised, before I went, not to find a Tyler Cowen snapshot/bleg for Nairobi. There’s an active street market scene at most busy corners. You will find vendors selling boiled eggs served with salsa and small chicken sausages. None of the street food looked too appealing to me, but around the Nairobi Railway Museum there were some makeshift restaurants that looked like they served goat stews and stuff that I might’ve liked to try if I’d had more time. Always a challenge when traveling and especially in non-Western places is like figuring out the system, how you order, what the deal is with the line, etc. This can be kind of fun and always interesting but when you’re traveling you’re often pressed for time or you find yourself kind of exhausted and suddenly very hungry, the cognitive and sensory overload is too high and the fuse is too short to deal. There’s rarely a time I pass a McDonald’s in a busy foreign city and am not at least a LITTLE tempted by the freedom and temporary mental break offered by the dependability there.
Buying, selling, marketing, cooking, eating, sitting, life being lived outside is a striking part of Nairobi, if you’re coming from an American city. But I can’t declare this especially African or Kenyan, you see this in the cities of Central and South America too.
For two of the nights I was in Nairobi I was in the care of a friend, an American semi-resident. We ate a dinner at a Peruvian Japanese kind of fusion place on a high floor of shopping structure catering to expats and wealthy Africans. The following night I was part of a group dinner at 45 Degrees, which my host said made a strong case for being the best restaurant in Nairobi. The roast pumpkin soup was excellent, and the setting, in what I was told was the owner/proprietor’s own house in an almost country-seeming neighborhood was pleasing. On the one night I was on my own I ate at Nyama Mama, now a chain with a few locations. Chicken stew with chapati, totally fine, if I were in Nairobi again I might try Wasp & Sprout.
Got a lot out of Vogue’s Kenyan Cool Girls Guide to Nairobi:
Local style: “It’s in our culture to dress up on Friday, not knowing what kind of party we’ll go to, but the whole crew has to look fresh.”
Go explore: “My favorite part of the city is downtown. I am lucky as a majority of the stone merchants and gold smiths I work with are based there. There is lots of quirky buildings and you see the real hustlers of Nairobi. Watching them go about their work inspires anyone.”
Muthoni Drummer Queen recommends:
Her spot: “The Nairobi Railway Museum. It’s smack in the middle of downtown. All the old trains no longer in use transport me back to an imaginary time. Its also super cool that a lot of these carriages are now occupied by visual artists with great studios and galleries.”
I missed this gallery area, if it’s still there, though there is a lot of rich street art around the area. What I found at the Nairobi Railway Museum was rooms full of old train lanterns and the chair Queen Elizabeth sat in, and then old engines parked outside.
Several times in my life I’ve found myself, as I did at the Nairobi Railway Museum, the only customer at the place, sort of dragging out my time and staying longer than my interest would hold because I don’t want to offend the guy who took my ticket by bailing after five minutes without really inspecting the old printed out articles about the man-eaters of Tsavo.
If you have time for a day trip out of Nairobi, you can pretty quickly be at a vantage point where you can see the Rift Valley. Something like 35 million years ago the continent of Africa nearly ripped apart along here**. The African Great Lakes are along this continental cut, and some of the oldest fossil humans and pre-human ancestral primates have been found here too.
One problem I have as a casual iPhone photographer is capturing depth of field, I’m not saying I’m satisfied with this photo, but maybe you can see how quickly and dramatically and how across a vast area the elevation drops along this part of Kenya.
My driver, Samuel, took us out to Hell’s Gate National Park, where you can see zebras and so on. What was most impressive to Samuel is the immense geothermal workings at Hell’s Gate. Jonathan Franzen seems sad about the “green” (quotation marks his) energy in Kenya’s national parks in his latest New Yorker piece. But to Samuel this construction was a miracle. Samuel kept saying that “they should feature the power plant!” He several times recalled that he’d once taken around an engineer who could explain all the different parts of the geothermal plant. Maybe he was disappointed that I couldn’t explain anything about it. It appears I didn’t even take any pictures of it.
In Hell’s Gate there are chunks of obsidian rock lying around everywhere, blown out by the eruptions of Mount Longonot (last one was apparently in the 1860s). Couldn’t help wondering if our millions-ago ancestors used this stuff for tools. Made me think of 2001.
On the shores of Lake Naivasha we got some fish. Samuel told us he’d once been out on a boat on the lake. You have to pay more if you want a guy with a gun to protect you from hippos. I passed on a boat ride.
It’s well-known in Kenya that people of Obama’s tribe, the Luo, are very smart because they live on the shore of the lake and eat so much fish.
Here is a roadside vegetable market. I was told this is called Foolish Market, because the prices are so low. A bag of potatoes seemed to cost about 100 Ks (a dollar or so).
If I’d had the time to get all the way out to Lake Victoria, would’ve really enjoyed that. Would’ve required about eight hours of driving. Instead I lounged by the pool of the Muthaiga Country Club and then took a guided tour of Kibera.
Kibera is an enormous slum, supposedly the largest in Africa, a sprawling ramshackle area of shared toilets and tin houses, originally given as a kind of grant by the British to Nubian soldiers in their army. This might be where you end up if you move to Nairobi from a rural area, renting a small room with a tin roof for $30 a month.
Moses was my guide there, by way of Experience Kibera. He suggested I bring two bags of rice or sugar as a donation to local single moms, many of whom are HIV positive.
Was sorta bracing myself for this experience, the trash and open sewer scene, leaky roofs, survival-level subsistence is pretty tough but there did seem to be a positive kind of community spirit to be seen in Kibera. Moses’ sense of potential for the future and improvement over a past noted for election-related violence, sexual assault and general bad times was contagious.
Kibera is the largest slum in Nairobi, and the largest urban slum in Africa. The 2009 Kenya Population and Housing Census reports Kibera’s population as 170,070, contrary to previous estimates of one or two million people.
says Wikipedia. No one seemed to think in a white guy walking through with his guide was worth staring at, although quite a few kids wanted to say “howareyou” — I asked Moses about this and he said various NGO type people come through all the time, it’s not much of a novelty.
When I’ve been describing Nairobi to Americans they often seem interested to hear there’s a Cold Stone Creamery in one of the malls.
Kenyan English, like the English in India, is full of suprisingly rich phrases and constructions. I noted a few down:
- re: some bikers who’d died in a flash flood in Hell’s Gate: “these young chaps were still taking selfies”
- Samuel suggesting that Chinese road loans could be predatory, always qualified with “according to my observation.”
- Churches called “First Born Of The Holy Spirit” and “Bride of the Messiah”
With the signs of growth everywhere, and the potential for the region, I think real estate in Nairobi would not be a crazy investment, although I don’t think I myself will bother getting involved. There was much talk of oil discovery in the remote Turkana region, where many of the early man fossils were found. There are huge gains, it would appear to me, to be made in infrastructure and transportation development both in Nairobi and around the countryside.
Here is a bus themed after Dr. Ben Carson.
* Tom Mboya‘s work with JFK allowed African students in the ’50s and ’60s to study in the US — without him, would Barry Obama have been born?
** this statement not strictly geologically accurate, or at least a geologist would quibble, but for our purposes it’s approximately right I think
Shouldn’t you be allowed to vote for whoever you want?
I remember the anger at the people who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. I get it. I voted for Al Gore, I loved Al Gore, Al Gore is like my dream politician (boring experienced intellectual veteran centrist conservationist globalist). But the people who voted for Nader get to vote for Nader! Al Gore didn’t earn their vote. They don’t owe Al Gore a rotten fig. You can’t be mad at the people who voted for someone else for not cynically falling into line to vote for an establishment centrist they didn’t prefer.
Same deal with Susan Sarandon! She can vote for whomever she wants, cool for her for having interesting choices. You’re gonna blame her for Trump? Blame the woman who had an absolute slam dunk layup election on her hands, who had many advantages, enormous amounts of money, her husband was a very popular President of the United States two Presidents ago, for failing to convince enough voters to vote for her.
Dr. Jill Biden, in New Hampshire, says:
You have to swallow a little bit and say, ok, I personally like so and so better, but your bottom line has to be that we have to beat Trump.
If you check out the video you can also see Joe Biden’s first campaign ad, which highlights how “all the polls agree” Joe Biden is the best candidate to beat Trump.
Quit your thinkin’, voter, this one’s been decided for you. Who’re you gonna believe, your judgment or some polls we pulled together?
The whole premise of the Biden campaign makes me sick. This is a guy who was a weak, confused candidate who couldn’t stop himself from making stuff up and plagiarizing not just speeches but the family histories of other politicians when he was in his prime! And now he is… guess how old Joe Biden is.
Did you guess 72? 74?
Joe Biden is seventy-six years old! He will be seventy-eight if he takes the oath of office in Jan 2021. Eighty-two at the end of his first term.
What has Joe Biden done with his life? I get that he was Obama’s pretend best friend, but really, who is a person who in Joe Biden’s thirty-eight some years of public life he really helped? Uplifted?
(skimming his Wikipedia page)
OK I guess he did stand up for Delaware’s chicken farmers, Delaware’s banks, and in many ways benefitted the people of Delaware (by getting them federal taxpayer money). He was an advocate for Delaware, a state with a population of about one-quarter of the city of Los Angeles.
Where has he been on the big issues? He voted against the “good” Iraq War, the one we won, and for the bad one, the one that was a stupid, deceitful, horrible disaster from start to… finish? I guess it’s over? For us?
(Oh no wait we still have five thousand troops there.)
Joe Biden is sometimes said to know a lot about foreign policy but he was exactly wrong on the biggest American disaster of my lifetime.
Biden has said, “I consider the Violence Against Women Act the single most significant legislation that I’ve crafted during my 35-year tenure in the Senate.”
OK, well that is cool, but didn’t the same bill also eliminate higher education for inmates and create new death penalty offenses?
The argument I hear for Joe Biden is that white Rust Belt working class men, who are alleged to have cost Hillary Clinton the election in Wisconsin, Ohio, etc, like him. Well, I don’t know if that’s true, I am not a white Rust Belt working class man.
I do think that:
1) the group credited with “swinging” the last election is never the group credited with swinging the next one
2) it’s not my job as a voter to put myself in the hypothetical mindset of some possible swing voter in another state and attempt to pander to their whims in order to take out the current whim-panderer.
It’s my job to choose the candidate who I try and suss out has the best character, judgment, and policy understandings and preferences to be the President of the United States.
For a campaign to suggest anything else, to suggest five months before the first primary/caucus that voters should shut up and get in line, that this is your only option, is so insulting I can scarcely believe it.
We try not to be all negative at Helytimes, so in the interest of saying something nice about Joe Biden he does have a great smile.
Once I was told a story about a world famous celebrity. This celebrity, the story went, was in a new-ish religion. This celebrity had some sexual desires and proclivities that he was ashamed of. Maybe the religion made him feel bad about it. But in the theology of this religion, what you did at say 30,000 feet of altitude wasn’t technically on Earth or something and thus was bound by different rules, or maybe no rules at all. So the celebrity would fly up in a plane and fulfill these desires up there between here and space.
Whether that story is true I dunno. It wasn’t told to me very reliably. Pure gossip and alleged. But doesn’t it ring kind of true? Mythologically if not actually?
There’s something evil about private planes.
What plane did Jeffrey Epstein even have? I went looking for a photo of it, and couldn’t find one I felt came from a reliable source. Christopher Maag, writing in the North Jersey Record (is that a good newspaper? I don’t know!):
His planes, which ranged from a Cessna to a Gulf Stream jet to a Boeing 727, recorded at least 730 flights to and from Teterboro between 1995 and 2013, according to flight logs contained in documents unsealed last week by a federal court in a lawsuit brought by one of Epstein’s alleged victims against one of his close associates.
Look for a photo of Epstein’s plane, if you have idle Internet time. See if you find one that you’re pretty confident is a confirmed, legit photo of his plane.
Making sense of his flight logs is beyond my expertise.
Did Epstein own these planes outright? Did he pay the bills on the gas and stuff? The hanger? He had a 727?
Gladwell, Malcolm: Writer.
“I was invited to the TED conference in maybe 2000 (I can’t remember), and they promised to buy me a plane ticket to California,” Gladwell says now. “Then at the last minute they said, ‘We found you a ride on a private plane instead.’ As I recall, there were maybe two dozen TED conferencegoers onboard. I don’t remember much else, except being slightly baffled as to who this Epstein guy was and why we were all on his plane.”
You and me both, buddy! From NY Mag’s roundup of everyone who knew this guy.
When John Kennedy was running for President his father Joe Kennedy bought a plane. Other candidates had chartered planes, but unless I’m mistaken he was the first candidate to own his own plane.
The President has use of a plane, Air Force One. Supposedly JFK helped pick the colors.
But it’s not his (her) plane. It’s our plane, the people’s plane. Once you leave office, it’s not yours any more.
For eight years Bill Clinton had Air Force One. But then he left office, and he wasn’t rich enough to buy his own plane. What was he supposed to do, fly commercial? Of course not! He called his friends who were rich enough to have private planes, and got rides from them.
Some of these guys were bad guys.
That level where you have a private plane. Where you can fly anywhere you want, any time you want.
You can be kinda rich, where you’re not really worried about money, you can eat fancy dinners and live somewhere you like*. Then let’s say you get twenty million more dollars. Might feel very nice, maybe you buy a fancier house, or worry even less about money, or start a small foundation or take care of more people around you or something. But have you really jumped a level?
I don’t know, I don’t have $20 million dollars, but I don’t think so. What if after the twenty million you get ten million more? Is anything improved?
But then there’s the private plane.
That plane isn’t just comfort, it’s power. It’s access, it’s freedom, it’s being on another level. Above it all.
What will people do to get to that level? To stay there?
Who is that important that they need a private plane? No one. Richard Branson loves it, Warren Buffett admits he likes his (he doesn’t own it, I believe Berkshire does). No doubt it saves them time and hassle, no doubt they can get to deals quicker and the power compounds. And if you believe in capitalism don’t you believe you should be able to buy what you can afford, the market has determined efficiency, and what’s better than freedom, etc.
But isn’t there something a little obscene about private planes? Everyone wants to fly in them, but everyone knows there’s something a little wrong about it.
“I’m not shocked that while thousands of volunteers braved the heat and cold to knock on doors until their fingers bled in a desperate effort to stop Donald Trump, his Royal Majesty King Bernie Sanders would only deign to leave his plush D.C. office or his brand new second home on the lake if he was flown around on a cushy private jet like a billionaire master of the universe,” said Zac Petkanas, who was the director of rapid response for the Clinton campaign.
Radical proposal: in the wake of the Epstein case, the FAA and Congress should look into banning private planes. Everyone can fly commercial for awhile. (Exception if you are yourself at the controls as pilot.)
Lionsgate continues to grow into a vertically integrated global content platform of increasing diversity, reach and scale. The Company’s portfolio of assets includes one of the largest independent television businesses in the world, a 17,000-title film and television library, a world-class film business and an expanding global distribution footprint.
says their investor website. What is Lionsgate? How do we value an entertainment company?
I’m interested in Lionsgate, because they have a majority ownership of 3 Arts
The management company where I am represented. In a way, I work for them?
Here’s a brief history of Lionsgate – which is not very old – from this recent LA Times article by Ryan Faughnder, entitled
Founded in 1997 in Vancouver, Canada, the company became known early on for edgy indie and horror films such as “American Psycho” and “Saw.” Lionsgate grew its firepower and boosted its stock price through acquisitions, catapulting itself into the big leagues with its 2012 purchase of “Twilight Saga” studio Summit Entertainment and the release of the first “Hunger Games.” The four-movie apocalyptic “Hunger Games” series grossed $2.97 billion. It impressed investors with its tactic of offsetting the risk of producing movies by pre-selling foreign distribution rights and bringing in co-financiers.
Then they had some busts:
“Gods of Egypt,” a $140-million mythological epic released in 2016, flopped after it was slammed by critics and accused of whitewashing its cast. A reboot of billionaire Haim Saban’s “Power Rangers” franchise disappointed after Feltheimer said on an earnings call that the company could produce multiple films based on the kids series.The studio’s decision to turn the third book in the “Divergent” series into two movies backfired when “Allegiant” flopped. A planned fourth installment was never produced.
That LA Times article is entitled Lionsgate, the studio behind ‘Hunger Games’ movies, struggles in shifting Hollywood currents.
The Wall Street Journal had a whack, too, a few days later:
Apparently they are, at the moment, attempting to salvage a huge and expensive turd:
Lions Gate faces a major challenge called “Chaos Walking.” The first of several planned adaptations of a series of young-adult science fiction novels cost around $100 million to produce but turned out so poorly it was deemed unreleasable by executives who watched initial cuts last year, according to current and former employees.
A scalding take:
I’m not sure how much Wall Street has built the disaster here into the stock’s price.
Sir John Templeton taught us to look for points of maximum pessimism. Is Lionsgate an opportunity? How should we value an entertainment company, which is liable to have big swings and misses?
First, what does Lionsgate own?
Over the course of its life, Lionsgate scooped up a bunch of film companies, in the process acquiring a library. They swallowed up:
- International Media Group
don’t know what their big movies were
- Sterling Home Entertainment
- Trimark Holdings
Their biggest franchise might be Leprechaun
- Modern Times Group
- Roadside Attractions
They produced, among others, Supersize Me, Manchester By The Sea, Mystery Team, Winter’s Bone, Mud
- Mandate Pictures
Juno, This Is The End
- Summit Entertainment
Hurt Locker, Red, Hellboy, John Wick, American Pie, Ender’s Game
- Artisan Entertainment
Blair Witch Project, Ninth Gate, House of the Dead, Step Into Liquid
From that library I have to imagine Lionsgate will continue to make some kind of money. Some of these films are things people will want to see and resee or rediscover, and it’s a good business to keep selling something that’s already made. All told, according to their 2018 investor letter, Lionsgate has something like 17,000 films in its library.
I was surprised by this fact:
In fiscal 2018, we shipped approximately 65 million DVD/Blu-ray finished units.
The Lionsgate investor page highlights some of their big ones:
MOTION PICTURE GROUP
Lionsgate’s Motion Picture Group encompasses eight film labels and more than 40 feature film releases a year, including 15-20 wide releases from the Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment mainstream commercial labels. Lionsgate’s film slate has grossed nearly $10 billion at the global box office over the past five years, and films from Lionsgate and its predecessor companies have earned 122 Academy Award® nominations and 30 Oscar® wins.
As well as some of their TV productions and co-productions:
The Lionsgate’s Television Group has carved out a unique position as a leading supplier of premium scripted content to streaming platforms, cable channels and broadcast networks alike. One of the largest independent television businesses in the world with nearly 90 series on 40 different networks, Lionsgate’s premium quality programming includes the ground-breaking Orange is the New Black, fan favorite Nashville, the hit dramedy Casual, the critically-acclaimed Dear White People and the breakout success Greenleaf. The Company continues to build on its legacy of award-winning premium series that include the iconic multiple Emmy Award-winning Mad Men, one of the best reviewed series of all time, Weeds and Nurse Jackie.
The Company’s development and production slate includes a number of high-profile premium properties including The Rook (Starz), a Lionsgate/Liberty Global coproduction executive produced by Twilight creator Stephenie Meyer with acclaimed producer Stephen Garrett serving as showrunner, The Kingkiller Chronicle (Showtime), Step Up: High Water (YouTube Red), Get Christie Love! (ABC) and American Lion (HBO).
As they note:
many of the titles in our library are not presently distributed and generate substantially no revenue. Additionally, our rights to the titles in our library vary; in some cases, we have only the right to distribute titles in certain media and territories for a limited term.
Coming down the pike are some high-risk, potential high-reward titles. From the LA Times:
Lionsgate could rebound this year with the release of movies including “Long Shot” and a third “John Wick” movie, analysts said. But otherwise, the schedule includes few obvious hits. Upcoming films include “Angel Has Fallen,” the third installment in the “Olympus Has Fallen” series, “Rambo V: Last Blood” and a Roland Emmerich remake of “Midway.”
How much do people want to see an expensive movie about the Battle of Midway, I wonder?
the Company’s consolidated revenues from its reporting segments included Motion Pictures 44.1%, Television Production 19.5% and Media Networks 37.1%
The big engine at Lionsgate in Media Networks is Starz, the premium network.
Home to Outlander, Power, Ash vs Evil Dead, a bunch of costume-y looking shows. Starz produces a lot of the profits:
Starz has performed well financially, with revenue increasing 4% to $366.8 million and profits up nearly 10% to $134.1 million in the fiscal third quarter ended Dec. 31. It added just over one million subscribers in 2018.
There was a writeup of Lionsgate in a recent issue of Graham and Doddsville, “an investment newsletter from the students at Columbia Business School.” You can read it free, here. Amit Bushan, Bruce Kim, and Stephanie Moroney won 1st place at the CSIMA Stock Pick Challenge with their case.
Above-consensus subs projection results in a 12% above-consensus NTM adj. EBITDA. Given the FCF stability of the subscriptionbased business, we are applying a premium over movie studios (~10x). Note that 12x multiple is 12% lower than Starz’s recent average (13.7x). Catalysts: 1) higherthan-consensus OTT subs growth in the next few quarters; 2) increased visibility on the impact of the international expansion; 3) M&A.
Not sure I agree with this assessment. But there are a couple points I think are interesting about Lionsgate.
- Starz is easy to add on to your Amazon Prime. In addition to being its own channel, it’s like an add-on to your Amazon. To me as a customer, that makes it very accessible.
- 3 Arts is cool, and represents a lot of top tier talent. It’s kind of hard to find a list of their clients if you don’t have IMDb pro, but here’s the top ranked by “Star Meter”
What impact that will really have on 3 Arts’ bottom line, I’m not sure. But they do have access and potential synergies with some pretty explosive entertainers and creators.
- The company has been profitable over the last four years:
As always around here, we like to look at a picture of the company’s CEO:
Here is John Feltheimer. He gets paid a lot of money.
Is this company worth $2.8 billion dollars?
I’ll be interested to hear their fourth quarter earnings report on May 23.
Thank you for joining us on a continued journey to learn about business and entertainment.
Yosemite has to be one of the most photographed places in the world. Yet, everyone there is: producing more photos. You walk around and see everyone with their phones out, snapping away. Or people not satisfied with phones, hauling big cameras too.
What is the meaning of continuing to photograph it? Maybe there’s an appeal like what draws rock climbers there, you want to try your stuff on the famous playground of the masters.
My mind was opened reading this Playboy interview with Ansel Adams, where he talks about trying to make the photograph capture what he was feeling:
Similarly, while the landscapes that I have photographed in Yosemite are recognized by most people and, of course, the subject is an important part of the pictures, they are not “realistic.” Instead, they are an imprint of my visualization. All of my pictures are optically very accurate–I use pretty good lenses–but they are quite unrealistic in terms of values. A more realistic simple snapshot captures the image but misses everything else. I want a picture to reflect not only the forms but what I had seen and felt at the moment of exposure.
Playboy: When did you know you could accomplish it?Adams: I had my first visualization while photographing Half Dome in Yosemite in 1927. It was a remarkable experience. After a long day with my camera, I had only two photographic plates left. I found myself staring at Half Dome, facing the monolith, seeing and feeling things that only the photograph itself can tell you. I took the first exposure and, somehow, I knew it was inadequate. It did not capture what I was feeling. It was not going to reflect the tremendous experience. Then, to use Stieglitz’ expression, I saw in my mind’s eye what the picture should look like and I realized how I must get it. I put on a red filter and figured out the exposure correctly, and I succeeded! When I made the prints, it proved my concept was correct. The first exposure came out just all right. It was a good photograph, but it in no way had the spirit and excitement I had felt. The second was Monolith, the Face of Half Dome, which speaks for itself.
George Clooney says yes. The reason why is because this hotel, along with nine other fancy hotels, the Bel-Air here and some in London and France, are owned by the Sultan of Brunei. Clooney:
At the head of it all is the Sultan of Brunei who is one of the richest men in the world. The Big Kahuna. He owns the Brunei Investment Agency and they in turn own some pretty spectacular hotels.
A couple of years ago two of those hotels in Los Angeles, The Bel-Air and The Beverly Hills Hotel were boycotted by many of us for Brunei’s treatment of the gay community. It was effective to a point. We cancelled a big fundraiser for the Motion Picture Retirement Home that we’d hosted at the Beverly Hills Hotel for years. Lots of individuals and companies did the same. But like all good intentions when the white heat of outrage moves on to the hundred other reasons to be outraged, the focus dies down and slowly these hotels get back to the business of business.
But now there’s a new law going into place in Brunei. Says Clooney:
The date April 3rd has held a unique place in our history over the years. Theologians and astronomers will tell you that Christ was crucified on that date.
On April 3rd Harry Truman signed the Marshall Plan, arguably the greatest postwar intervention in the history of man. The first portable cellphone call was made on April 3rd. Marlon Brando was born on that day.
But this April 3rd will hold its own place in history. On this particular April 3rd the nation of Brunei will begin stoning and whipping to death any of its citizens that are proved to be gay. Let that sink in. In the onslaught of news where we see the world backsliding into authoritarianism this stands alone.
Here’s the thing though. The last execution of any kind in Brunei was in 1957.
It’s not like they’re stoning people all the time. The 1957 execution actually happened while Brunei was a UK protectorate.
Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, four years ago:
In 2014, a 24-year-old Saudi Arabian man was sentenced to three years detention and 450 lashes after a Medina court found him guilty of “promoting the vice and practice of homosexuality”, after he was caught using Twitter to arrange dates with other men.
A year ago, in Hollywood:
On Wednesday night, M.B.S. was welcomed to a Hollywood dinner hosted by producer Brian Grazer and his wife Veronica, alongside William Morris Endeavor boss Ari Emanuel, who is finalizing a deal with M.B.S. for a $400 million stake in Emanuel’s talent agency. The guest list was saturated with executives, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Disney’s Bob Iger, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel, as well as tech entrepreneur Kobe Bryant, whom the prince reportedly made a special request to meet. Having traded his traditional ceremonial garb for a suit, M.B.S. kibitzed with former Trump aide Dina Powell and Vice co-founder Shane Smith; discussed the exploding use of Snapchat in Saudi Arabia; and asked Kobe how he got his Oscar. Topics that were deemed off-limits included the 32-year-old’s bombing campaign in Yemen, which has killed thousands of civilians; his abduction of Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, in November; and the decidedly un-Hollywood-like repression of independent media and journalists, one of whom was recently imprisoned for five years for “insulting” the royal court.
And guess what? The Four Seasons
is 45% owned by the Kingdom Holding Company of Saudi Arabia!
For whatever reason, Brunei likes to fantasize, pretend, and profess to having Sharia law. Hollywood likes to judge them for that, while obviously not being serious about caring about human rights in countries where it’s more important to do business and whose hotels it would be more inconvenient to boycott.
One of the easiest things in the world is to point out hypocrisy. I think George Clooney is cool. But why are we always picking on poor Brunei? Because it’s easy?
What we’re pretending to be mad about, what we’re pretending to do about it, what Brunei is pretending their punishments are: it’s all make-believe.
I will boycott the Beverly Hills Hotel I guess. But I’ll be sad about it because I think it’s a beautiful, cool landmark. I especially like the Fountain Coffee Room.
I predict in a few years we will once again forget about our mission to improve things in Brunei.
Reader Tabitha in Marin County, CA writes:
Always love your writeups on the Super Bowl coaches. What do you think of Boy Wonder Sean McVay?
Thanks for writing Tabitha! Most of what little I have to say about Sean McVay I got out on this week’s Great Debates feat. Mina Kimes. To be honest, much like the Rams themselves, McVay seems to be: good but not interesting. A sense of his vibe in this NFL.com article by Michael Silver:
As he greeted McVay in a room that would soon be vacated by Demoff, Snead and the other Rams officials present, Goff didn’t know what to expect.
“They left us alone for half an hour, maybe a little longer,” Goff recalls. “Afterward, I remember texting my dad, ‘If they decide to hire him, I’m all in.’ ”
Goff also texted an NFL Network analyst who, nearly a year later, would write a very long feature story about the league’s leading Coach of the Year candidate: “Loved him. Mini Gruden haha. Everything revolves around the QB… If McVay is the guy I’d be fired up”
Full disclosure: A few minutes later, I also got a text from McVay (who, incidentally, is not a huge fan of punctuation): “I loved him bro he is awesome”
This WashPo article compares him to other young leaders (profitlessly imo).
McVay’s grandfather John coached the New York Football Giants in the ’70s.
McVay’s girlfriend is Ukrainian model Veronika Khomyn, but a quick scan of her Instagram reveals no real insights into coaching philosophy.
Gonna give the edge here to Belichick, a special, unique weirdo. We predict a decisive Patriots win.
Let’s hope both teams control their A. P. E.s
For philosophical consideration of the Super Bowl, we return once again to the remarks of Deadwood creator David Milch on the Super Bowl and Kierkegaard:
Everybody wants one of a few things in this country. They’re willing to pay to lose weight. They’re willing to pay to grow hair. They’re willing to pay to have sex. And they’re willing to pay to learn how to get rich.
If you buy something because it’s undervalued, then you have to think about selling it when it approaches your calculation of its intrinsic value. That’s hard. But if you buy a few great companies, then you can sit on your ass. That’s a good thing.
– Charlie Munger.
When I was a kid I played this Nintendo game. It was kind of just a bells-and-whistles version of Dopewars.
One significant flaw in the game as a practice tool for the individual investor is it does not account for the effect of capital gains taxes, which would make the rapid fire buying and selling of this game pure madness.
In 2018, my New Year’s Resolution this will be the Year of Business.
Hope and greed vs sound business reasoning
On the speculative side are the individual investors and many mutual funds buying not on the basis of sound business reasoning but on the basis of hope and greed.
So says Mary Buffett and David Clark in Buffetology: The Previously Unexplained Techniques That Have Made Warren Buffett The World’s Most Famous Investor.
By nature I’m a real speculative, hope and greed kinda guy. My mind is speculative, what can I say? Most people’s are, I’d wager. I don’t even really know what “sound business reasoning” means.
The year of business was about teaching myself a new mental model of reasoning and thinking.
Where to begin?
Finally, when young people who “want to help mankind” come to me, asking: “What should I do? I want to reduce poverty, save the world” and similar noble aspirations at the macro-level. My suggestion is:
1) never engage in virtue signaling;
2) never engage in rent seeking;
3) you must start a business. Take risks, start a business.
Yes, take risk, and if you get rich (what is optional) spend your money generously on others. We need people to take (bounded) risks. The entire idea is to move these kids away from the macro, away from abstract universal aims, that social engineering that bring tail risks to society. Doing business will always help; institutions may help but they are equally likely to harm (I am being optimistic; I am certain that except for a few most do end up harming).
so says Taleb in Skin In The Game.
Taleb’s books hit my sweet spot this year, I was entertained and stimulated by them. They raised intriguing ideas not just about probability, prediction and hazard, but also about how to live your life, what is noble and honorable in a world of risk.
Do you agree with the statement “starting a business is a good way to help the world”? It’s a proposition that might divide people along interesting lines. For example, Mitt Romney would probably agree, while Barack Obama I’m guessing would agree only with some qualifications.
I doubt most of my friends, colleagues and family would agree, or at least it’s not the first answer they might come up with. Among younger people, I sense a discomfort with business, an assumption that capitalism is itself kind of bad, somehow.
But could most of those who disagree come up with a clearer answer for how to help mankind?
As an experiment I started thinking about businesses I could start.
My best idea for a business
Selling supplements online seems like a business to start, I remembered Tim Ferriss laying out the steps in Four Hour Work Week, but it wasn’t really calling my name.
My best idea for a business was to buy a 1955 Spartan trailer and set it up by the south side of the 62 Highway heading into Joshua Tree. There’s some vacant land there, and many people arrive there (as I have often myself) needing a break, food, a sandwich, beer, firewood and other essentials for a desert trip.
The point itself – arrival marker of the town of Joshua Tree – is already a point of pilgrimage for many and a natural place to stop, while also being a place to get supplies.
Setting up a small, simple business like that would have reasonable startup cost, aside from my time, and maybe I could employ some people in an economically underdeveloped area.
However, selling sandwiches is not my passion. It’s not why I get out of bed in the morning.
Starting a business is so hard is requires absolute passion. I had a lack of passion.
Further, there was at least one big obstacle I could predict: regulatory hurdles.
Setting up a business that sold food in San Bernadino County would involve forms, permits, regulations.
What’s more, there’d probably be all kinds of rules about what sort of bathrooms I’d need.
This seemed like a time and bureaucracy challenge beyond my capacity.
Work, in other words. I wanted to get rich sitting on my ass, you see, not working.
Plus, I have a small business, supplying stories and jokes, and for most of the Year of Business my business was sub-contracted to HBO (AT&T).
That was more lucrative than selling PB&Js in the Mojave so I suspended this plan pending further review.
Time to pause, since I had to pause anyway.
What can you learn about “business” from books and the Internet?
No way you can learn more from reading than from starting a business, far from it. But in the spare minutes I had that’s what I could do: learn from the business experience of others.
You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience—both vicarious and direct—on this latticework of models. You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You’ve got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head.
What are the models? Well, the first rule is that you’ve got to have multiple models—because if you just have one or two that you’re using, the nature of human psychology is such that you’ll torture reality so that it fits your models, or at least you’ll think it does. You become the equivalent of a chiropractor who, of course, is the great boob in medicine.
It’s like the old saying, “To the man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” And of course, that’s the way the chiropractor goes about practicing medicine. But that’s a perfectly disastrous way to think and a perfectly disastrous way to operate in the world. So you’ve got to have multiple models.
And the models have to come from multiple disciplines—because all the wisdom of the world is not to be found in one little academic department.
Fantastic book, it was recommended to me by an MBA grad. Reviewed at length over here, a great cheat sheet and friendly intro to basic concepts of sound business reasoning.
The most important concept it got be thinking about was discounted cash flow analysis. How to calculate the present and future values of money. How much you should pay for a machine that will last eight years and print 60 ten dollar bills a day and cost $20 a day to maintain?
That’s a key question underlying sound business reasoning. How do you value an investment, a purchase, a property, a plant, a factory, or an entire business using sound business reasoning? The prevailing and seemingly best answer is discounted cash flow analysis.
However, the more one learns these concepts, the clearer it becomes that there’s an element of art to all these calculations.
A discounted cash flow analysis depends on assumptions and predictions and estimates that require an element of guessing. Intuition and a feel for things enter into these calculations. They’re not perfect.
A few more things I took away from this book:
- I’d do best in marketing
- Ethics is by far the shortest chapter
- A lot of MBA learning is just knowing code words and signifiers, how to throw around terms like EBITDA, that don’t actually make you wiser and smarter. Consider that George W. Bush and Steve Bannon are both graduates of Harvard Business School.
- To really understand business, you have to understand the language of accounting.
Accounting is an ancient science and a difficult one. You must be rigorous and ethical. Many a business catastrophe could’ve been prevented by more careful or ethical accounting. Accounting is almost sacred, I can see why DFW became obsessed with it.
The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations by MacArthur winner Jacob Soll was full of interesting stuff about the early days of double entry accounting. The image of a dreary Florentine looking forward to his kale and bread soup stood out. There are somewhat dark implications for the American nation-state, I fear, if we take the conclusions of this book — that financial accountability keeps nations alive.
However I got very busy at the time I picked up this book and lost my way with it.
Perhaps a more practical focus could draw my attention?
Warren Buffett and the Interpretation of Financial Statements: The Search for the Company with a Durable Competitive Advantage by Mary Buffett and David Clark was real good, and way over my level, which is how I like them.
The key concept here is how to find, by scouring the balance sheets, income statements, and so on, which public companies have to tell you and are available for free, which companies have a durable competitive advantage.
The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense For The Thoughtful Investor by Howard Marks.
are the two that my friend Anonymous Investor recommended, and they pick up the durable competitive advantage idea. Both books have a central understanding the fact that capitalism is brutal competition, don’t think otherwise. To prosper, you need a “moat,” a barrier competitors can’t cross. A patent, a powerful brand, a known degree of quality people will pay more for, some kind of regulatory capture, a monopoly or at least and part of an oligarchy, these can be moats.
What we’re talking about now is not starting a business, but buying into a business.
There are about 4,000 publicly traded companies on the major exchanges in the US, and another 15,000 you can buy shares of OTC (over the counter, basically by calling up a broker). You can buy into any of these businesses.
Charlie and I hope that you do not think of yourself as merely owning a piece of paper whose price wiggles around daily and that is a candidate for sale when some economic or political event makes you nervous. We hope you instead visualize yourself as a part owner of a business that you expect to stay with indefinitely, much as you might if you owned a farm or apartment house in partnership with members of your family.
so says Buffett. Oft repeated by him in many forms, I find it here on a post called “Buy The Business Not The Stock.”
But how do you determine what price to pay for a share of a business?
Aswath Damodaran has a website with a lot of great information. Mostly it convinced me that deep valuation is not for me.
Extremely Basic Valuation
Always remember that investing is simply price calculations. Your job is to calculate accurate prices for a bevy of assets. When the prices you’ve calculated are sufficiently far from market prices, you take action. There is no “good stock” or “bad stock” or “good company”. There’s just delta from your price and their price. Read this over and over again if you have to and never forget it. Your job is to calculate the price of things and then buy those things for the best price you can. Your calculations should model the real world as thoroughly as possible and be conservative in nature.
Martin Shkreli on his blog (from prison), 8/1/18
The simplest way to determine whether the price of a company is worth it might be to divide the price of a share of a company by the company’s earnings, P/E.
Today, on December 29, 2018:
Apple’s P/E is 13.16.
Google’s (GOOGL): 39.42.
Netflix (NFLX): 91.43.
Union Pacific Railroad (UNP): 8.99.
This suggests UNP is the cheapest of these companies (you get the most earnings per share) while NFLX is the most “expensive” – you get the least earnings).
But: we’re also betting on or estimating future earnings. These numbers change as companies report their earnings, and the stock price goes up and down. Two variables that are often connected and often not connected.
Now you are making predictions.
The most intriguing and enormous field in the world on which to play predictions is the stock market.
What is the stock market?
The stock market is a set of predictions.
Buying into businesses on the stock market can be a form of gambling. Or, if you use sound business reasoning, it can be investing.
What is investing?
Investing is often described as the process of laying out money now in the expectation of receiving more money in the future. At Berkshire we take a more demanding approach, defining investing as the transfer to others of purchasing power now with the reasoned expectation of receiving more purchasing power – after taxes have been paid on nominal gains – in the future.
More succinctly, investing is forgoing consumption now in order to have the ability to consume more at a later date.
Warren B., in Berkshire’s 2011 Letter To Shareholders.
A great thing about investing is you can learn all about it for the price of an Internet connection. All of Buffett’s letters are free.
How to assess a public company as an investment with sound business reasoning
In researching a specific company, Buffett gathers these resources:
- most recent 10-Ks and 10-Qs
- The annual reports
- News and financial information from many sources
The authors said he wants to see the most recent news stories and at least a decade’s worth of financial data. This allows him to build up a picture of
The companies historical annual return on capital and equity
Management’s record in allocating capital
(from The New Buffetology, Mary Buffett and David Clark).
Cheap stocks (using simple ratios like price-to-book or price-to-sales) tend to outperform expensive stocks. But they also tend to be “worse” companies – companies with less exciting prospects and more problems. Portfolio managers who own the expensive subset of stocks can be perceived as prudent while those who own the cheap ones seem rash. Nope, the data say otherwise.
(from “Pulling The Goalie: Hockey and Investment Implications” by Clifford Asness and Aaron Brown.
This sounds too hard
Correct. Most people shouldn’t bother. You should just buy a low cost index fund that tracks “the market.”
What can we we expect “the stock market” to return?
The VTSAX, the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index, has had an average annual return of 7.01% since inception in 1992. (Source)
10% is the average, says Nerd Wallet.
9.8% is the average annual return of the S&P 500, says Investopedia.
Now, whether the S&P 500 is “the market” is a good question. We’ll return to that.
O’Shaughnessy has thought a lot about the question, it’s pretty much the main thing he’s thought about for the last twenty years or so as far as I can tell, and comes in at around 9%.
Some interesting data from here.
Munger cautions against assuming history repeats itself, in 2005:
Why Bother Trying To Beat The Market?
A good thing about the Buffettology book is they give you little problems for a specific calculator:
The Texas Instruments BA-35, which it looks like they don’t even really make anymore,. You can get one for $100 over on Amazon.
This calculator is just nifty for working out future values of compounding principal over time.
One concept that must be mashed hard into your head if you’re trying to learn business is the power of compounding.
Let’s say you have $10,000. A good amount of money. How much money can it be in the future?
9% interest, compounded annually, $10,000 principal, 20 years = $61,621
15% interest, compounded annually, $10,000 principal, 20 years= $175,447
9% interest, compounded annually, $1,000 principal, 30 years= $13,731
15% interest, compounded annually, $1,000 principal, 30 years= $86,541
9% interest, $10,000 principal, 40 years= $314,094.2
A significant difference.
Any edge over time adds up.
Let’s say the stock market’s gonna earn 7% over the next years and you have $10,000 to invest. In twenty years you’ll have $38,696.
But if you can get that up to just 8%, you’ll have $46,609.57.
A difference of $8,000.
Is it worth it? Eh, it’s a lotta work to beat the market, maybe not.
Still, you can see why people try it once we’re talking about $1,000,000, and the difference is $80,000, or the edge is 2%, and so on.
Plus there’s something fun just about beating the system.
Lessons from the race track
This book appeals to the same instinct — how to beat the house, what’s the system?
Both Buffett and Munger are interested in race tracks. Here is Munger:
This might be the single most important lesson of the Year of Business. Buffett and Munger repeat it in their speeches and letters. You wait for the right opportunity and you load up.
“The stock market is a no-called-strike game. You don’t have to swing at everything – you can wait for your pitch. The problem when you’re a money manager is that your fans keep yelling, ‘swing, you bum!'”
“Ted Williams described in his book, ‘The Science of Hitting,’ that the most important thing – for a hitter – is to wait for the right pitch. And that’s exactly the philosophy I have about investing – wait for the right pitch, and wait for the right deal. And it will come… It’s the key to investing.”
“If you find three wonderful businesses in your life, you’ll get very rich. And if you understand them — bad things aren’t going to happen to those three. I mean, that’s the characteristic of it.”
OK but don’t you need money in the first place to make money buying into businesses?
Yes, this is kind of the trick of capitalism. Even Munger acknowledges that the hard part is getting some money in the first place.
“The first $100,000 is a bitch, but you gotta do it. I don’t care what you have to do—if it means walking everywhere and not eating anything that wasn’t purchased with a coupon, find a way to get your hands on $100,000. After that, you can ease off the gas a little bit.”
The Unknown and Unknowable
One of the best papers I read all year was “Investing in the Unknown and Unknowable,” by Richard Zeckhauser.
David Ricardo made a fortune buying bonds from the British government four days in advance of the Battle of Waterloo. He was not a military analyst, and even if he were, he had no basis to compute the odds of Napoleon’s defeat or victory, or hard-to-identify ambiguous outcomes. Thus, he was investing in the unknown and the unknowable. Still, he knew that competition was thin, that the seller was eager, and that his windfall pounds should Napoleon lose would be worth much more than the pounds he’d lose should Napoleon win. Ricardo knew a good bet when he saw it.1
This essay discusses how to identify good investments when the level of uncertainty is well beyond that considered in traditional models of finance.
Zeckhauser, in talking about how we make predictions about the Unknown and Unknowable, gets to an almost Zen level. There’s a suggestion that in making predictions about something truly Unknowable, the amateur might almost have an edge over the professional. This is deep stuff.
“Beating the market”
When we talk about “beating the market,” what’re we talking about?
If you’re talking about outperforming a total stock market index like VTSAX over a long time period, that seems to be a lot of work to pull off something nearly impossible.
Yes, people do it, but it’s so hard to do we, like, know the names of the people who’ve consistently done it.
There’s something cool about Peter Lynch’s idea that the average consumer can have an edge, but even he says you gotta follow that up with a lot of homework.
Lynch, O’Shaughnessy – it’s like a Boston law firm around here. I really enjoyed Jim O’Shaughnessy’s Twitter and his Google talk.
Sometimes when there’s talk of “beating the market,” the S&P 500 is used interchangeably with “the market.” As O’Shaughnessy points out though, the S&P 500 is itself a strategy. Couldn’t there be a better strategy?
is full of backtesting and research, much of it summarized in this article. Small caps, low P/S, is my four word takeaway.
Jim: Sure. So when I was a teenager, I was fascinated because my parents and some of my uncles were very involved in investing in the stock market, and they used to argue about it all the time. And generally speaking, the argument went, which CEO did they feel was better, or which company had better prospects. And I kind of felt that that wasn’t the right question, or questions to ask. I felt it was far more useful, or, I believed at the time that it would be far more useful to look at the underlying numbers and valuations of companies that you were considering buying, and find if there was a way to sort of systematically identify companies that would go on to do well, and identify those that would go on to do poorly. And so I did a lot of research, and ultimately came up…
says O’Shaughnessy in an interview with GuruFocus. I’m not sure I agree.
Narrative can be a powerful tool in business. If you can see where a story is going, there could be an edge.
I like assessing companies based on a Google image search of the CEO, for instance.
O’Shaughnessy suggests cutting all that out, getting down to just the numbers. But do you want to invest in, I dunno, RCI Hospitality Holdings ($RICK) (a company that runs a bunch of Hooters-type places called Bombshells) or PetMed Express ($PETS) just because they’re small caps with low p/s ratios and other solid indicators?
Actually those both might be great investments.
I will concede that narrative investing is not systematic. I will continue to ruminate on it.
Charlie Tian’s book is dense but I found it a great compression of a lot of investing principles. It’s also just like a cool immigrant story.
The service that Charlie Tian built, GuruFocus, is a fantastic resource.
Premium membership costs $449 for a year, which is a lot, but I’d say I got way more than that in value and education from it.
J. R. Collins
His book is great, his Google talk is great.
Investing doesn’t have to be all Munger and Buffett. Towards the end of the Year of Business I got into Sir John Templeton.
His thing was finding the point of maximum pessimism. Australian real estate is down? South American mining companies are getting crushed? Look for an opportunity there.
This guy worked above a grocery store in the Bahamas.
Great-niece Lauren carrying on the legacy.
Thought this was a cool chart from her talk demonstrating irrational Mr. Market at work even while long term trends may be “rational.”
Why bother, again?
At some point if you study this stuff it’s like, if you’re not indexing, shouldn’t you just buy Berkshire and have Buffett handle your money for you? You can have the greatest investor who ever lived making money for you just as easily as buying any other stock.
It seems to me that there are 3 qualities of great investors that are rarely discussed:
1. They have a strong memory;
2. They are extremely numerate;
3. They have what Warren calls a “money mind,” an instinctive commercial sense.
Alice Schroeder, his biographer, talking about Warren Buffett. I don’t have any of these.
Even Munger says all his family’s money is in Costco, Berkshire, Li Lu’s (private) fund and that’s it.
In the United States, a person or institution with almost all wealth invested, long term, in just three fine domestic corporations is securely rich. And why should such an owner care if at any time most other investors are faring somewhat better or worse. And particularly so when he rationally believes, like Berkshire, that his long-term results will be superior by reason of his lower costs, required emphasis on long-term effects, and concentration in his most preferred choices.
I go even further. I think it can be a rational choice, in some situations, for a family or a foundation to remain 90% concentrated in one equity. Indeed, I hope the Mungers follow roughly this course.
The answer is it’s fun and stimulates the mind.
A thing to remember about Buffett:
More than 2,000 books are dedicated to how Warren Buffett built his fortune. Many of them are wonderful.
But few pay enough attention to the simplest fact: Buffett’s fortune isn’t due to just being a good investor, but being a good investor since he was literally a child.
The writings of Morgan Housel are incredible.
You can read about Buffett all day, and it’s fun because Buffett is an amazing writer and storyteller and character as well as businessman. But studying geniuses isn’t necessarily that helpful for the average apprentice. Again, it’s like studying LeBron to learn how to dribble and hit a layup.
Can Capitalism Survive Itself?
The title of this book is vaguely embarrassing imo but Yvon Chouinard is a hero and his book is fantastic. Starting with blacksmithing rock climbing pitons he built Patagonia.
They make salmon now?
Towards the end of his book Chouinard wonders whether our economy, which depends on growth, is sustainable. He suggests it might destroy us all, which he doesn’t seem all that upset about (he mentions Zen a lot).
The last liberal art
Have yet to finish this book but I love the premise. Investing combines so many disciplines and models, that’s what makes it such a rich subject. So far I’m interested in Hagstrom’s connections to physics. Stocks are subject to some kind of law of gravity. Netflix will not have a P/E of 95 for forever.
Compare perception to results:
Dominos, Amazon, Berkshire, and VTSAX since 2005.
Stocks Let’s Talk
The stock market is interesting and absurd. The stock market is not “business,” but it’s made of business, you know?
The truth is the most I’ve learned about business has come from conversation.
To continue the conversation, I started a podcast, Stocks Let’s Talk. You can find all six episodes here, each with an interesting guest bringing intriguing perspective.
I intend to continue it and would appreciate it if you rate us on iTunes.
- you can get rich sitting on your ass
- business is hard and brutal and competitive
- you need a durable competitive advantage
- if you are unethical it will catch up to you
- we’re gonna need to get sustainable
- the works of Tian, Lynch, O’Shaughnessy, Templeton, Chouinard, and Munger are worth study
- accounting is crucial and must be done right, even then you can be fooled
- I’m too whimsical for business really but it’s good to learn different models
Culture Is Our Business (1970)
- World War III is a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation. (p.66)
- The newspaper is a corporate symbolist poem, environmental and invisible, as poem.
Since Sputnik there is no Nature. Nature is an item contained in a man-made environment of satellites and information.
The only cool PR is provided by one’s enemies. They toil incessantly and for free.
(this video is part of some kind of presentation for a class?)
Take Today : The Executive as Dropout (1972)
Only puny secrets need protection. Big secrets are protected by public incredulity. You can actually dissipate a situation by giving it maximal coverage. As to alarming people, that’s done by rumours, not by coverage. (p. 92)
The fact that Marshall McLuhan is perhaps best known for a brief appearance in a movie would not surprise him at all, I don’t think. What was this guy going on about? I’ve never read an entire one of his books, but why I wouldn’t bother to read a Marshall McLuhan book is exactly the kind of thing he was getting at.
One of the things that happens at the speed of light is that people lose their goals in life. So what takes the place of goals and objectives? Well, role-playing is coming in very fast.
- Interview between Californian Governor Jerry Brown and Marshall McLuhan, 1977
The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962)
- The medieval student had to be paleographer, editor, and publisher of the authors he read. (p. 109)
- Scribal culture and Gothic architecture were both concerned with light through, not light on. (p. 120)
- Electric technology is directly related to our central nervous systems, so it is ridiculous to talk of “what the public wants” played over its own nerves. (p. 68)
From Cliché to Archetype (1970)
Since Sputnik and the satellites, the planet is enclosed in a manmade environment that ends “Nature” and turns the globe into a repertory theater to be programmed. Shakespeare at the Globe mentioning “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7) has been justified by recent events in ways that would have struck him as entirely paradoxical. The results of living inside a proscenium arch of satellites is that the young now accept the public spaces of the earth as role-playing areas. Sensing this, they adopt costumes and roles and are ready to “do their thing” everywhere.” (p.9-10)
The longest thing I’ve read of McLuhan is this interview in a 1969 Playboy magazine:
Interviewer: If personal freedom will still exist—although restricted by certain consensual taboos— in this new tribal world, what about the political system most closely associated with individual freedom: democracy? Will it, too, survive the transition to your global village?
McLuhan: No, it will not. The day of political democracy as we know it today is finished. Let me stress again that individual freedom itself will not be submerged in the new tribal society, but it will certainly assume different and more complex dimensions. The ballot box, for example, is the product of literate Western culture—a hot box in a cool world—and thus obsolescent. The tribal will is consensually expressed through the simultaneous interplay of all members of a community that is deeply interrelated and involved, and would thus consider the casting of a “private” ballot in a shrouded polling booth a ludicrous anachronism. The TV networks’ computers, by “projecting” a victor in a Presidential race while the polls are still open, have already rendered the traditional electoral process obsolescent. In our software world of instant electric communications movement, politics is shifting from the old patterns of political representation by electoral delegation to a new form of spontaneous and instantaneous communal involvement in all areas of decision making. In a tribal all-at-once culture, the idea of the “public” as a differentiated agglomerate of fragmented individuals, all dissimilar but all capable of acting in basically the same way, like interchangeable mechanical cogs in a production line, is supplanted by a mass society in which personal diversity is encouraged while at the same time everybody reacts and interacts simultaneously to every stimulus. The election as we know it today will be meaningless in such a society.
Interviewer: How will the popular will be registered in the new tribal society if elections are pass?
McLuhan: The electric media open up totally new means of registering popular opinion. The old concept of the plebiscite, for example, may take on new relevance; TV could conduct daily plebiscites by presenting facts to 200,000,000 people and providing a computerized feedback of the popular will. But voting, in the traditional sense, is through as we leave the age of political parties, political issues and political goals, and enter an age where the collective tribal image and the iconic image of the tribal chieftain is the overriding political reality. But that’s only one of countless new realities we’ll be confronted with in the tribal village. We must understand that a totally new society is coming into being, one that rejects all our old values, conditioned responses, attitudes and institutions. If you have difficulty envisioning something as trivial as the imminent end of elections, you’ll be totally unprepared to cope with the prospect of the forthcoming demise of spoken language and its replacement by a global consciousness.
Interviewer: How is television reshaping our political institutions?
McLuhan: TV is revolutionizing every political system in the Western world. For one thing, it’s creating a totally new type of national leader, a man who is much more of a tribal chieftain than a politician. Castro is a good example of the new tribal chieftain who rules his country by a mass-participational TV dialog and feedback; he governs his country on camera, by giving the 11 Cuban people the experience of being directly and intimately involved in the process of collective decision making. Castro’s adroit blend of political education, propaganda and avuncular guidance is the pattern for tribal chieftains in other countries. The new political showman has to literally as well as figuratively put on his audience as he would a suit of clothes and become a corporate tribal image—like Mussolini, Hitler and F.D.R. in the days of radio, and Jack Kennedy in the television era. All these men were tribal emperors on a scale theretofore unknown in the world, because they all mastered their media. . . . The overhauling of our traditional political system is only one manifestation of the retribalizing process wrought by the electric media, which is turning the planet into a global village.
found that here, at a UC Davis class website.
McLuhan was so good at taxonomies — consider what Tom Wolfe recounts him telling IBM, at 47:00-48:00 below:
This is the coolest McLuhan quote, in my opinion:
I’ve always been careful never to predict anything that had not already happened.
- Interview: Tom Wolfe, TVOntario, August 1970
In 2011 Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger came to visit The Office to film a video for the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. I hadn’t heard of Charlie Munger. From the Internet I learned that he was a brilliant dude in his own right, as well as a guy Warren Buffett trusted, learned from, and considered his closest partner.
At lunchtime, everyone was huddled around the more famous Buffett, while Charlie Munger was sitting by himself. In this way I ended up having lunch with Charlie Munger.
From his Wikipedia page I knew he’d been a meteorologist in World War II, so I asked him about that. His job was hand drawing weather maps to make predictions as the US was sending planes over the Bering Strait to our then-ally the Soviet Union.
Ever since this encounter I’ve read everything I can find by Charlie Munger.
This is a good place to start.
In my hunt for Munger deep cuts, came across this speech he gave in October 1998 at the Santa Monica Miramar Hotel to a group of institutional investors. Stunningly blunt and direct advice on how to invest:
In the United States, a person or institution with almost all wealth invested, long term, in just three fine domestic corporations is securely rich. And why should such an owner care if at any time most other investors are faring somewhat better or worse. And particularly so when he rationally believes, like Berkshire, that his long-term results will be superior by reason of his lower costs, required emphasis on long-term effects, and concentration in his most preferred choices.
I go even further. I think it can be a rational choice, in some situations, for a family or a foundation to remain 90% concentrated in one equity. Indeed, I hope the Mungers follow roughly this course. And I note that the Woodruff foundations have, so far, proven extremely wise to retain an approximately 90% concentration in the founder’s Coca-Cola stock. It would be interesting to calculate just how all American foundations would have fared if they had never sold a share of founder’s stock. Very many, I think, would now be much better off. But, you may say, the diversifiers simply took out insurance against a catastrophe that didn’t occur. And I reply: there are worse things than some foundation’s losing relative clout in the world, and rich institutions, like rich individuals, should do a lot of self insurance if they want to maximize long-term results.
If only stupid Harvard had listened!
My controversial argument is an additional consideration weighing against the complex, high-cost investment modalities becoming ever more popular at foundations. Even if, contrary to my suspicions, such modalities should turn out to work pretty well, most of the money-making activity would contain profoundly antisocial effects. This would be so because the activity would exacerbate the current, harmful trend in which ever more of the nation’s ethical young brainpower is attracted into lucrative money-management and its attendant modern frictions, as distinguished from work providing much more value to others. Money management does not create the right examples. Early Charlie Munger is a horrible career model for the young, because not enough was delivered to civilization in return for what was wrested from capitalism. And other similar career models are even worse.
More Munger deep cuts from the 2017 Shareholders Meeting of Daily Journal Co., (I found here on the wonderful Mine Safety Disclosures website but it’s in a couple places). Daily Journal Co is a business that, as I understand it, exists on the fact that companies have to publish legal notices somewhere, and this company more or less has a monopoly on the business.
Munger gets real:
the Mungers have three stocks: we have a block of Berkshire, we have a block of Costco, we have a block of Li Lu’s Fund, and the rest is dribs and drabs. So am I comfortable? Am I securely rich? You’re damn right I am.
Could other people be just as comfortable as I who didn’t have a vast portfolio with a lot of names in it, many of whom neither they nor their advisors understand? Of course they’d be better off if they did what I did. And are three stocks enough? What are the chances that Costco’s going to fail? What are the chances that Berkshire Hathaway’s going to fail? What are the chances that Li Lu’s portfolio in China is going to fail? The chances that any one of those things happening is almost zero, the chances that all three of them are going to fail.
That’s one of the good ideas I had when I was young. When I started investing my little piddly savings as a lawyer, I tried to figure out how much diversification I would need if I had a 10 percentage advantage every year over stocks generally. I just worked it out. I didn’t have any formula. I just worked it out with my high school algebra, and I realized that if I was going to be there for 30 or 40 years, I’d be about 99% sure that it would be just fine if I never owned more than three stocks and my average holding period is three or four years.
Once I had done that with my little pencil, I just…I never for a moment believed this balderdash they teach about. Why diversification? Diversification is a rule for those who don’t know anything. Warren calls them “know-nothing investors”. If you’re a know-nothing investor, of course you’re going to own the average. But if you’re not a know-nothing —if you’re actually capable of figuring out something that will work better—you’re just hurting yourselves looking for 50 when three will suffice. Hell, one will suffice if you do it right. One. If you have one cinch, what else do you need in life?
Li Lu is himself a super interesting character.
A student leader in the Tiananmen Square protests, escapes China (with the help of Western intelligence?) ends up penniless at Columbia, hears about a lecture by Warren Buffett and misunderstands that this has something to do with a “buffet” and becomes of the most successful investors in the world?
More from Munger on a range of topics:
on Lee Kuan Yew and the history of Singapore:
Lee Kuan Yew may have been the best nation builder that ever lived. He took over a malarial swamp with no assets, no natural resources, nothing, surrounded by a bunch of Muslims who hated him, hated him. In fact, he was being spat out by the Muslim country. They didn’t want a bunch of damn Chinese in their country. That’s how Singapore was formed as a country—the Muslims spat it out. And so here he is, no assets, no money, no nothing. People were dying of malaria, lots of corruption—and he creates in a very short time, by historical standards, modern Singapore. It was a huge, huge, huge success. It was such a success, there is no other precedent in the history of the world that is any stronger.
Now China’s more important because there are more Chinese, but you can give Lee Kuan
Yew a lot of the credit for creating modern China because a lot of those pragmatic communist leaders—they saw a bunch of Chinese that were rich when they were poor and they said, “to hell with this”. Remember the old communist said, “I don’t care whether the cat is black or white, I care whether he catches mice”. He wanted some of the success that Singapore got and he copied the playbook. So I think the communist leadership that copied Lee Kuan Yew was right. I think Lee Kuan Yew was right. And of course, I have two busts of somebody else in my house. One is Benjamin Franklin, and the other is Lee Kuan Yew. So, that’s what I think of him.
on real estate:
MUNGER: Real estate?
Q: Yeah, real estate.
MUNGER: The trouble with real estate is that everybody else understands it and the people who you are dealing with and the competing with, they specialized in a little 12 blocks in a little industry. They know more about the industry than you do. And you got a lot of bullshitters and liars and brokers. So it’s not that easy. It’s not a bit easy.
Your trouble is if it’s easy—all these people, a whole bunch of ethnics that love real estate,. You know, Asians, Hasidic Jews, Indians from India, they all love real estate; they’re smart people and they know everybody and they know the tricks. And the thing is you don’t even see the good offers in real estate. They show the big investors and dealers. It’s not an easy game to play from a beginners point of view; whereas with stocks, you’re equal with everybody if you’re smart. In real estate, you don’t even see the opportunities when you’re a young person starting out. They go to others. The stock market’s always open, except venture capital. Sequoia sees the good stuff. You can open an office—Joe Shmo Venture Capitalist—startups come to me. You’d starve to death.
You’ve gotta figure out what your competitive position is in what you’re choosing. Real estate has a lot of difficulties. And those Patels from India that buy all the motels, they know more about motels than you do. They live in a god damn motel. They pay no income taxes. They don’t pay much in worker’s compensation and every dime they get, they fix up the thing to buy another motel. Do you want to compete with the Patels? Not I.
on Sumner Redstone:
Well, I never knew Sumner Redstone but I followed him because he was a little ahead of me in Law School, but Sumner Redstone is a very peculiar man. Almost nobody has ever liked him. He’s a very hard-driven, tough tomato, and basically almost nobody has ever liked him, including his wives and his children. And he’s just gone through life. There’s an old saying, “Screw them all except six and save those for pallbearers.” And that is the way Sumner Redstone went through life. And I think he was in to the pallbearers because he lived so long. So I’ve used Sumner Redstone all my life as an example of what not to do.
He started with some money, and he’s very shrewd and hard-driven. You know he saved his life by hanging while the fire was up in his hands. He’s a very determined, high IQ maniac, but nobody likes him and nobody ever did. And though he paid for sex in his old age, cheated him, you know always had one right after another.
That’s not a life you want to admire. I used Sumner Redstone all my life as an example of what I don’t want to be. But for sheer talent, drive and shrewdness, you would hardly find anybody stronger than Sumner. He didn’t care if people liked him. I don’t care if 95% of you don’t like me, but I really need the other 5%. Sumner just…
on the movie business:
And the movie business I don’t like either because it’s been a bad business-—crooked labor unions, crazy agents, crazy screaming lawyers, idiosyncratic stars taking cocaine-—it’s just not my field. I just don’t want to be in it.
on copying other investors:
Q: On the topic of cloning, do you really believe that Mohnish said that if investors look at the 13Fs of super investors, that they can beat the market by picking their spots? And we’ll add spinoffs.
MUNGER: It’s a very plausible idea and I’d encourage one young man to look at it, so I can hardly say that it has no merit. Of course it’s useful if I were you people to look at what other—what you regard as great—investors are doing for ideas. The trouble with it is that if you’d pick people as late in the game as Berkshire Hathaway, you’re buying our limitations caused by size. You really need to do it from some guy that’s operating in smaller places and finding places with more advantage. And of course, it’s hard to identify the people in the small game, but it’s not an idea that won’t work.
If I were you people, of course I would do that. I would want to know exactly what the shrewd people were doing and I would look at every one of them, of course. That would be a no-brainer for me.
on Li Lu:
I got to tell you a story about Li Lu that you will like. Now General Electric was famous for always negotiating down to the wire and just before they were at close, they’ll add one final twist. And, of course, it always worked, the other guy was all invested, so everybody feels robbed and cheated and mad, but they get their way in that last final twist.
So, Li Lu made a couple of venture investments and he made this one with this guy. The guy made us a lot of money in a previous deal and we’re now going in with him again on another—a very high-grade guy and smart and so forth.
Now we come to the General Electric moment. Li Lu said, “I have to make one change in this investment.” It sounds just like General Electric just about to close. I didn’t tell Li Lu to do it; he did it himself. He said, “You know, this is a small amount of money to us and you got your whole net worth in it. I cannot sign this thing if you won’t let me put in a clause saying if it all goes to hell we’ll give you your money back.” That was the change he wanted. Now, you can imagine how likely we were to see the next venture capital investment. Nobody has to tell Li Lu to do that stuff. Some of these people, it’s in their gene power. It’s just such a smart thing to do. It looks generous and it is generous, but there’s huge self-interest in it.
on Al Gore:
Oh, I got another story for you that you’ll like.
Yeah get that thing (peanut brittle out of here or I’ll eat it all).
Al Gore has come into you fella’s business. Al Gore, he has made $300 or $400 million in your business and he is not very smart. He smoked a lot of pot. He coasted through Harvard with a Gentlemen’s C. But he had one obsessive idea that global warming was a terrible thing and he understandably predicted the world for it. So his idea when he went into investment counseling is he was not going to put any CO2 in the air. So he found some partner to go into investment counseling with and he says, “we are not going to have any CO2”. But this partner is a value investor. And a good one.
So what they did was Gore hired his staff to find people who didn’t put CO2 in the air. And of course, that put him into services-—Microsoft and all these service companies that were just ideally located. And this value investor picked the best service companies. So all of a sudden the clients are making hundreds of millions of dollars and they’re paying part of it to Al Gore, and now Al Gore has hundreds of millions of dollars in your profession. And he’s an idiot. It’s an interesting story and a true one.
Most scholars seem to agree that Mark, Luke, and Matthew used a common source, a sayings source. A list or record of Jesus sayings. This now lost source is called Q, from the German Quelle, meaning source.
The stories about John Belushi in this book were written down at about the same time distance as the stories about Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.
Though the oldest written fragments of the Gospels are on papyrus from 100-200 CE, most scholars seem to agree Mark was written around 70 AD.
Richard Bauckham, author of this book:
and this one:
makes a strong case, I believe, that one of Mark’s main sources was Peter. Directly or indirectly, who knows. But in Mark we’re getting something like Peter’s version. Peter himself is a character in the story. Mark tells stories only Peter (or only Peter and a few others) could have known.
There are times in Mark when Jesus is angry and frustrated with Peter. In a way Mark tells Peter’s version of a story of a complicated bromance with Jesus.
How much was Mark getting his stuff from Peter? Or other eyewitnesses to Jesus? Here is a lowkey fiery debate on this topic. Gets very hot around 19:54 as these guys try to jab each other over how many people were literate in Palestine two thousand years ago. (Hard not to root for the American tbh.)
Luke alone has receipts:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
It feels infuriating that Paul says that the time he’s writing 1 Corinthians (15:6) there are 251 at least (?) eyewitnesses still alive who saw Jesus after the crucifixion:
New International Version
After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
New Living Translation
After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.
and yet Paul doesn’t bother interviewing any of them! Paul was a better philosopher than a reporter I guess.
Going back to the source is a passion here at Helytimes.
This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in.
The Economist has a column named after Joseph Schumpeter and it’s been giving me a lot of ideas. Who was Schumpeter?
Schumpeter claimed that he had set himself three goals in life: to be the greatest economist in the world, to be the best horseman in all of Austria and the greatest lover in all of Vienna. He said he had reached two of his goals, but he never said which two, although he is reported to have said that there were too many fine horsemen in Austria for him to succeed in all his aspirations.
On what would happen:
Schumpeter’s most popular book in English is probably Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. While he agrees with Karl Marx that capitalism will collapse and be replaced by socialism, Schumpeter predicts a different way this will come about. While Marx predicted that capitalism would be overthrown by a violent proletarian revolution, which actually occurred in the least capitalist countries, Schumpeter believed that capitalism would gradually weaken by itself and eventually collapse. Specifically, the success of capitalism would lead to corporatism and to values hostile to capitalism, especially among intellectuals. “Intellectuals” are a social class in a position to critique societal matters for which they are not directly responsible and to stand up for the interests of other classes. Intellectuals tend to have a negative outlook of capitalism, even while relying on it for prestige, because their professions rely on antagonism toward it. The growing number of people with higher education is a great advantage of capitalism, according to Schumpeter. Yet, unemployment and a lack of fulfilling work will cause intellectual critique, discontent and protests. Parliaments will increasingly elect social democratic parties, and democratic majorities will vote for restrictions on entrepreneurship. Increasing workers’ self-management, industrial democracy and regulatory institutions would evolve non-politically into “liberal capitalism”. Thus, the intellectual and social climate needed for thriving entrepreneurship will be replaced by some form of “laborism”. This will exacerbate “creative destruction” (a borrowed phrase to denote an endogenous replacement of old ways of doing things by new ways), which will ultimately undermine and destroy the capitalist structure.
Schumpeter emphasizes throughout this book that he is analyzing trends, not engaging in political advocacy.
Any day now!
Schumpeter was interested in the wave theories of Nikolai Kondratiev, a Soviet economist who ended up executed.
He is best known for proposing the theory that Western capitalist economies have long term (50 to 60 years) cycles of boom followed by depression. These business cycles are now called “Kondratiev waves“.
I can’t claim to understand Kondratiev, but the idea that waves are a good metaphor for the cycles of capitalism seems like a start.