One Thing & Another

Delray Beach, FL

Notes From My Journal: Women, working, and… 

Alec and I spent the first 25 years of our friendship talking about women, working, and fighting. These last 25 years we’ve been talking about women, working, and getting older.

He sent me this last week….

The other day a wave of nostalgia must have come over me because I recorded one of those oldies concerts that are on PBS. It was billed as the hottest groups from 1967 to 1970. Those were the years that I felt the musicians and songwriters were telling the story of my life. As I aged, I came to understand that none of us are that unique and the music was telling the story of most teenagers’ lives. 

I started to watch that PBS special early one morning after my boys left for school. I have a very limited attention span now, so I try watch things that are no longer than a half-hour.

When I watch these specials, I can fast-forward through the lengthy time that the hosts try to sell you CDs. Only people old enough to remember these musical groups would even consider buying CDs. When the hosts come on it takes me a few seconds or maybe even minutes before I realize that I CAN fast-forward. To give insight to what condition I am in, I was at home alone, in the kitchen, the other day and I heard a bell go off. I couldn’t imagine what it was. Then it went off again, then again, and I still couldn’t figure it out. Finally, I deduced that it was the microwave oven. I opened the little door and suddenly I had a piping hot bowl of spaghetti to eat. 

I started watching the recording of the oldies. I am in constant motion when I watch something like this. I was in the bathroom when the first group came on. It was the Vogues singing an old slow song. I immediately remembered dancing with some girl from my high school to this song 50 years ago. I had a moment. Then I walked out of the bathroom and looked at my flat-screen TV.  The original band members were on stage playing their instruments and singing their oldie. But it wasn’t them in 1967, it was them now! They looked like the characters from “The Walking Dead.” They were so old. And to contribute to the horror I felt looking at them, they were trying to dress young and cool. I almost threw up.

The cameras panned the audience and my god, they were older still. Some women, who looked like great grandmothers, had tears streaming down their cheeks, meeting at their chins. Others were slow dancing in the aisles, leaning on one another as though their partners were orthopedic walkers.

I wanted to stop watching, but that thing that happens to people when they see a car wreck and they can’t pull their eyes away from it happened to me. I watched group after group. It became increasingly depressing. The performers had to change the notes of their famous songs because their voices were unable to reach the octaves of their youth. The songs were no longer the same.

 My favorite group from that era, The Temptations, came on. Not one of the original members was still alive. Sad. Sadder still was how old their replacements were. Watching them do the old synchronized moves from 1967 was like a dagger in my chest. The five of them trying to squat down in a dance move to the music was ghastly. I imagined hearing their knees pop simultaneously to the beat.

I drifted out of the room, but I could still hear the concert. I raced back to the TV when I heard Aretha Franklin’s spectacular voice belting out one of her hits. “The Queen of Soul” was on my 50-inch flat-screen TV. I rounded the bend to look at her. She was huge! I couldn’t take my eyes off her because she took up all 50 inches. She must have weighed a ton. If she were on a merry-go-round, she would have screwed it into the ground. If she jogged, she would have left potholes. It became like a Fellini movie. The camera would go from Aretha’s giant self and then zoom to the faces of the elderly handicapped audience exposing every line and old-age spot. The cameras showed these old people dancing and using their best moves. It was an arthritic shuffle.

I finished dressing and rushed out of the house. I couldn’t remember if I had brushed my teeth or not. I was facing a full day, too. I glanced at my list as I shuffled to my car. Yes, it was a full day all right. I had to pick up some medicine at the pharmacy and then go to the post office and mail a letter.

 

Today’s Word: declivitous (adjective)

Declivitous (dih-KLIV-ih-tus) refers to a gradual, moderately steep, downward slope. As used by Colson Whitehead in The Intuitionist: “Hers is essentially a  sad face, inward-tending and declivitous, a face that draws the unwary into the slope of its melancholy.”

 

Fun Fact

The average woman goes through about six pounds of lipstick during her lifetime.

 

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

Facebook and the Rest of the FAANGs

Are we at the end of another tech boom?

 The big news last week was that Facebook’s share price tanked, dropping by more than $150 billion in less than 48 hours and leaving Mark Zuckerberg $17.6 billion poorer.

The loss knocked the 34-year-old down to the sixth-richest person in the world. (He had been #3.) He now has a net worth of “only” $67 billion. That’s as much as Iceland’s GDP.

Much of the high-tech sector was affected by Facebook’s decline. The Invesco QQQ Trust (which tracks the Nasdaq 100 index) was down 1.5% for a while. So were many of the larger Internet-based tech stocks.

Is that significant? And if so, what does it mean?

About a dozen years ago, I fired my broker for buying Facebook. Not because I thought Facebook’s share prices wouldn’t rise, but because Facebook was the kind of company I didn’t want to own.

It was spending money like crazy but it wasn’t making a profit. It wasn’t giving investors dividends. And it was, by traditional standards, insanely overpriced.

When it began making a profit, Dominick (my current broker) and I discussed the possibility of putting it into my portfolio. But we decided on something else instead.

My view of tech stocks was much like my partner’s, Bill Bonner, who recently wrote:

“Stocks represent part ownership of businesses. They are only valuable to investors insofar as the businesses make money and share it with them. But the techs often make no money at all. They offer eyeballs, a bold and exciting fantasy future, and dreams of wealth beyond measure… but no cash.”

Tech investors have a very different idea, Bill says. In companies like Facebook, they see financial Messiahs, “investments that would liberate them from want… from need… from having to save money, think hard, or satisfy customers.”

“Alas,” wrote Bill, “no substitute for hard work, discipline, patience, or luck has ever been discovered. Man was expelled from Eden a long time ago. Never since has he been able to live without sweating and hustling, despite huge gains in technology.”

Bill describes Facebook as “a diversion… a leisure activity… a way to spend time. The trouble is, there is only so much time to spend. Eventually, you run out of it.”

And he believes this is true not just of Facebook but the whole FAANG group.

“There are only 24 hours in the day. Assuming the number of leisure hours is more or less fixed, the only way people could spend more time on Facebook… or watch more films on Netflix… or spend more time Googling for salacious gossip… would be to spend less time on traditional, old media time-wasters.”

I agree that Facebook is in the entertainment business. And I believe its time has come. Not because entertainment is frivolous but because it’s a moveable feast, one whose movements are accelerating faster every year.

Apple is in its own category. It’s not entertainment. It’s not even technology. It’s a brand. It’s like Coca Cola.

You could have argued 50 years ago that Coca Cola was nothing but an overpriced, mediocre soft drink that would eventually be replaced by colas that were better, healthier, and cheaper. But it didn’t happen, because Coca Cola was a huge, domineering brand.

That’s how I look at Apple. I wouldn’t bet against it.

Although they serve up entertainment among other things, Google and Amazon are not in the entertainment industry. They are service providers. And they are huge and growing fast. They have such great advantages over their competition, my bet is that they will keep on growing.

So I’d sell Facebook and keep the rest.

As for the entertainment industry generally, I’m bullish. If you define entertainment loosely (the way Bill does, which I believe is the right way), you will have to recognize that 80% of the industries that exist today are fundamentally about entertainment – about pissing away one’s time.

The world has moved into the entertainment age because of the efficiency of technology. Five hundred years ago, a man would have been lucky to have 6 to 8 hours of leisure during a week of 161 hours. Today, leisure time – defined broadly, as we’re doing here – can easily be 40 to 60 hours a week.

The entertainment industry is getting bigger, not smaller. From a minister’s point of view that might be upsetting. But from an investor’s perspective, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

 

Worth Quoting

“My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard. Mother would come out and say, ‘You’re tearing up the grass.’ ‘We’re not raising grass,’ Dad would reply. ‘We’re raising boys.’” – Harmon Killebrew

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