Tuesday, February 7, 2017

On the Record

Between watching a marathon of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and talking to a friend about old vinyl albums - the thoughts occurred to me about what it was like buying records in the 1970s versus what it's like now.  Suffice it to say, it's one Hell of a lot different now. Let's travel back to the early-to-mid 1970s.  Places like EJ Korvette's, Record Museum, and Franklin Music sold vinyl albums (we called them records) and 45's.

We used to subscribe to magazines like Creem and Circus to get updates on new albums and concert tours.  In other news, we used to stand in line for concert tickets at 9:00am on Saturday mornings - for "Dance Concerts" - shows where you didn't get an assigned seat. $5.50 for a show.  It was first-come, first-served, and it was the kind of nonsense that led to The Who stampede in Cincinnati that eventually brought an end to "Dance Concerts," but I digress.

It was exciting to find a new record, sit in the Korvette's parking lot and open it - read the lyrics before you heard the record - and go through it, song by song, and turn the record over (by hand) and hear new music that wasn't on the Internet, YouTube, Twitter, or some other media site besides the speakers we had in our bedrooms. It was a huge thrill to find a new 45 that had a "picture sleeve," or a new "double-album" (two records) or one that opened so that we could see photos or had a sleeve that contained lyrics.

I sat outside the Korvette's store staring at Yes' "Fragile" album.  The artwork of Roger Dean was nothing I had seen before. He went on to become an album-cover legend. We'll never see that kind again. Our magazines would tell us when records were being released, and we would pester local record stores until they finally got the damned thing in stock.  The magazines were a month old, and the releases were often older, but not always so.

One such incident was particularly interesting. In April of 1972, John Lennon released a single titled "Woman is the Nigger of the World."  We knew it before the record stores knew.  It was on the heels of "Happy Xmas" (of which I have the green vinyl single) and we were excited to hear what was new from John.  I called record stores asking, by title, if they had the song. Frustrated and probably figuring it was some sort of crank call, I was hung-up on more times than I got an answer.  A few days later I had the record.

In September, Yes released "Close to the Edge."  I knew it, but my local Franklin Music store did not. I showed up on the release date, and asked for it.  The clerk had to go into the box that the albums came in and cut it open for me. Quite the precocious 15-year-old was I.

We would go to EJ Korvette's to buy records.  Every week, they would run an ad with a label that was on sale. It was special when Atlantic would go on sale - since that was Led Zeppelin and Yes; or Warner Brothers, since that was Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Zappa.  We used to beg (literally) for $4 so we could buy an album that was on sale for $3.43 (plus tax) and we'd go to the sale rack and pick out something - "Led Zeppelin IV" Black Sabbath "Volume IV" or "Chicago III" - whatever Roman numeral we could find - for cheap.  If we had a couple of bucks in our pocket, we could find a few 69-cent singles to take home, too.

Nowadays, it isn't so.  Mostly, I hear about new music by accident.  Either some YouTube video or something I stumbled across on satellite radio.  Either way, it's not as exciting as waiting for a magazine, listening to the radio, and running to the record store to find something that made us feel like Christopher Columbus.  Discovering new music was a high.

You kids have it too easy.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Thinking About Stuff

Today is Groundhog Day. I don't know where it came from - and I don't care. Embracing this stupid tradition only makes us look like a bunch of superstitious boobs.  I'm sorry if I'm not "down with it," or whatever the kids say nowadays.  I have no time or energy to devote to superstition or stupid traditions.  The idea that a rodent (or anything, for that matter) seeing his shadow or not determines the weather for the next month and a half is as ridiculous an idea as has been devised. The problem is that, sometimes we get so engrained in something stupid that it's impossible to let it go.

 BeyoncĂ© has more black people in her than President Trump has in his Cabinet. His Supreme Court nominee is yet another middle-aged white man.  Our government is full of them.  It's no wonder that we can't accomplish anything for the lower class and minorities - we have none of them in government or anyone who understands what it's like to live from paycheck-to-paycheck, pay bills, or struggle to get along.

The only stress in their lives is whether or not they are going to be re-elected.  Stress for real people is what happens to them if they don't have a job next month.  We don't have book deals, lecture money, or trust funds to draw upon.  It's the grand disconnect that separates us from ... them.

 It's Super Bowl weekend. Or, as marketing would have us believe - The Big Game weekend.  They can't say Super Bowl if they're selling us something.  The grand hypocracy is that the only time they can use the term "Super Bowl" is if they have paid for it.  Otherwise, they have to say The Big Game, as if we don't know that they mean Super Bowl.  It's like when people say "frigging" instead of "fucking," or "the n-word" instead of "nigger."  We all know what it means, and we say it to ourselves in our heads.  Only in the grand hypocracy of thought does it make a difference to those on the other side.  Get a grip, folks.

 I've been writing about our stock market lately.  It's a hobby - an interest - and I'm somewhat invested.  I'm hearing about "Trump Stocks" and stocks that are "Not Trump Stocks," as though our President dictates what companies earn and how they do business.  That's what he has set out to do in his first month, but I suspect that at some point, companies will say, "Fuck you," and continue to do business as they have.  After all, it's all dependent upon his wall and his proposed corporate tax cuts.  Those haven't happened yet, and I'd suspect that it's as much talk as anything.  If you listen to him, you can hear the non-specific terms that he speaks in.  He's big on telling us how great he wants things to be, but low on specifics as to how he will do it.  It remains to be seen what the Republicans will do with our health care.

They have been given the ball, and now it's time to run with it.  My guess is that it's going to be a touchback. The market is up a great deal since the election.  If Donald cannot come through on his promises and live up to his rhetoric, it will all come crashing down around us, and his supporters will have to bear the burden of his efforts. It's a gamble.  The stock market is a futures market - it's only as good as what is coming.  If what is coming doesn't come, well ... you know the answer.  Americans are putting their faith in a man who has declared bankruptcy a few times, built casinos that went out of business, bought the Trump Plaza Hotel for $400 million and had it repossessed, bought a $29 million yacht that was repossessed, started Trump Airlines and never made a profit, and has been married a few times with children all over the joint.

Godspeed, America.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Dow 20k

For investors and people who love numbers, today was a big day.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average crossed over the 20,000 mark.  Is it a big deal? Well, yes and no.  What it should do is make people pay attention to the power of compounding and how investing in stocks is the best way to build wealth over their lifetime.

For some perspective, the Dow reached 10,000 in October of 2009. So, in roughly 17 years your money has doubled. That is just the average.  If you are a good stock-picker, your investment in The Home Depot would have gained about 400%, and your investment in Goldman-Sachs would have gained roughly 300%.  And, let's not mention Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Netflix.  They are not members of the Dow 30, but have gained roughly that amount in the same time period.  What I'm telling you is:  Get your money out of your cell phone bill, cable company, or your ridiculous car payment and build your future.  That's free advice.

When I was 25, the best thing I could think of was US Savings Bonds, which could be bought independently or though a payroll savings plan.  We tried to convince our employer to hook us up, but to no avail.  At the time, they were paying roughly 8% interest, which seemed like a big deal.  By contrast, savings bonds today are paying less than the rate of inflation.

In my 30s, buying a stock or mutual fund meant getting on the phone, speaking to a person, and spending about 15 minutes requesting to buy a hundred shares of Ford Motor Company.  Those days, happily, are gone.

Nowadays, apps like Acorns or Stash can enable you to invest as little as five dollars in Exchange Traded Funds (ETF) which are "market baskets" of stocks in similar sectors.  All it requires is a checking account and an app on your cell phone. Clickety-click - you've just bought a half share of the S&P 500, a Municipal Bond ETF, or another sector of your liking.  The sign-up and purchase takes less time than it takes to put gasoline in your car.  Ask me how.  I'm happy to help.

So, yes; Dow 20,000 is just a number, but it should provide you with some perspective.  It's a big number, and it's a number that should make you think about a few things:
A). How easy it is to invest in stocks today
B). How much more important investing is than buying something that will be obsolete or useless in a year
3). Get to work and realize that you are going to live to be a ripe, old age and you won't have anyone to depend on other than yourself for your financial well-being.

That's my free advice for today. I wish someone had told me that when I was 25.  But, would I have listened? 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Lady Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks

In cities across America, millions (?) of people gathered to protest the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. I suppose the center of the movement was women's rights and the idea that a mysoginist is now our President.  The movement is honorable, but leaves me with feelings that are probably going to make you hate me. So be it.

The protest marches were organized in cities.  In those cities, support for Hillary Clinton was big.  Basically, they brought together a bunch of like-minded voters to say, "We don't like this" to something that has already happened.  It's easy to organize people in areas where they have a common goal.  I get the feeling that they didn't think it was possible for Trump to be elected, so their anger is retroactive, when it should have been proactive.  The pre-election rallies were coronations of a sort, and few believed that America would vote for Donald Trump.

Well - it happened, and now we are supposed to say, "I hate you," but we already knew that.  So, we go out and march, and he is supposed to think that this movement somehow makes him doubt what he already believed:  That he was elected by a landslide.  It was not a landslide, and we know that.  In fact, the popular vote went for Hillary, but that popular vote was in places like the ones in which the marchers were organized.  If we could see marches in rural, southern towns or places where the maps were colored red, then I would tell you that there is a real movement going on here.  What we have is the literal example of preaching to the choir.

Donald Trump will ignore this, as he does everything that opposes him.  We have elected a mysoginistic egotist, and it will take more than a million people in blue states to make him change his mind over what he said that got him elected.  After all, it's what he said that got him elected.  Isn't that the point?

So, go ahead and march.  It's your Constitutional right.  You can be angry and feel displaced, but you let it happen.  You thought Hillary was a shoo-in, and you took it for granted.  Now that you know that middle America agrees with Donald's racist, jingoistic, and capitalist viewpoint, you are forced to deal with it.  That's difficult, I know.  You will spend a lot of time and energy being angry and defiant, marching, and organizing rallies for your cause.  That's nice, but the cause was lost in November.

Perhaps that is a defeatist attitude, or perhaps it is realism.  The next 4 years will decide that.  My guess is that Trump's policies will go forward (as it were) as he proclaimed and your protests will go unheeded.  You will lose most of what the last eight years gave you.

My guess is that Trump didn't watch the news, just as many of you didn't watch his inauguration.  You have to realize with whom you are dealing.
He is not your average bear.  Godspeed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

I See Things

"You can observe a lot just by watching."  - Yogi Berra

I've always said that the Business section is the most interesting section of the newspaper.  Following the stock market gives one an insight into what Americans are thinking, doing, and spending their money on.  Lately, the trends have been interesting.

About a year ago, the casual dining industry began to struggle.  Stalwarts like McDonald's, Wendy's, Starbucks, Brinker, and YUM Brands struggled to draw customers to their restaurants.  Something was influencing people to stay at home and prepare food rather than spend money for the dining-out experience.  Generally, dining out is coupled with some other entertainment, be it a movie, show, or something to draw people out of their home and stop for food on the way out or the way home.  That ain't happening.

Tonight, Netflix reported a stellar quarter, beating estimates on subscriber growth and their own high-quality content.  Some of it is international expansion, but you can't deny that the "Netflix and Chill" economy is in high gear.  We have plush home theater systems, in-home WiFi, and options for food delivery that take business away from movie theaters and restaurants.  There are at least a half dozen small companies that will deliver fresh ingredients to your door so that you can prepare meals in your home that cost less than dining out.  Couple that with the Netflix experience, and you have the "Dinner and a Movie" date at home instead of on the town.

Amazon and Ebay have teamed-up to bring the death blow to brick-and-mortar retail as companies like Target, Macy's, JC Penny's, Kohls, K-Mart, Sears - you name one - have struggled and are closing stores in the face of the ease and luxury of point-and-click shopping online.  Target's earnings were bolstered by online shopping which, ironically, is killing their stores.  You can't impulse-buy online.  You get what you want, and go.  Shoppers just want to get what they want and move along.  Combined with the Amazon Prime experience, and a shopper need only wait a couple of days to receive their goods.  Apparently, that takes the place of going out and buying something and bringing it home yourself.  I didn't see that coming.

We have bought luxurious homes with low-interest mortgages, and even though gasoline is near record lows, we are not encouraged to socialize.  That's evident when you walk around and see people with their head buried in a cell phone.  We are evolving away from being social animals seeking out human company to a species that huddles in our cave with as little human interaction as possible.  I suspect that most of us would work from home if it was permissible or possible.  It's difficult to make eye contact with people.  Either they are buried in their device, or they are wearing ear buds that signal "don't bug me" to those of us who are too shy to interrupt whatever media they are enjoying.

Suffice it to say, it's a New World.  Coupled with the incoming President Trump (there, I said it) and we are at the threshold of a new paradigm - is that the right word - where our thousand-channel TV, cell phone, and WiFi Internet gives us all the life experience we seek.  In fact, one could have everything we shop for at our local grocery store delivered to their home, and never have to visit the store at all.

I have soap and razor blades delivered every month because I cannot get either of those products in my local store, either because of taste or price.  If it wasn't for the fact that I live less than a quarter mile from the grocery store, I'd be taking advantage of every home delivery option available to me.  After all, why would I want to cruise around a store, stand in line, and put up with hordes of shoppers when I can click a mouse and have boxes left on my doorstep by the friendly brown UPS guys?

Why?  Because shopping is fun. Or, it can be fun.  Or, it should be fun.  Convenience has removed the fun of shopping.  The retail experience has never been better.  There's self check-out, online coupons, and a store on every corner.  So, what keeps people at home?  That's the $64,000 question, and I suspect that the CEO's of Macy's, Kohl's, Target, et al are holding special board meetings trying to figure it out.  They can institute online shopping, but they still struggle to compete with Amazon, which has become the first stop for shoppers.

Meanwhile, stores are closing and more are being built.  I struggle to figure that out, and I can only sumize that those decisions were made a couple of years ago, before the symptoms of brick-and-mortar disease showed up.

The world is changing, and as the saying goes:  Kill or be killed.  The Internet is killing and the stores are being killed.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Dumbing-Down of America

It has happened slowly, as complex things do.  Erosion occurs so slowly that we hardly notice.  One day, the stream is knee-deep, and before we know it, the stream is up to our neck.  The Grand Canyon was formed similarly.  What we are going through now is the geologic equivalent of stream erosion, and we now find ourselves at the bottom of the canyon.

In the 1970s, when I was in high school, I heard my fellow students proclaim, "Why should I pay attention to algebra? We'll never use it in real life!"  Seemingly, they would never use high-powered math in their lifetimes.  Suffice it to say that most of them cannot calculate a 20% tip at a restaurant without a phone app.  Little did I know that they were not paying attention in English class either.  This is supported by reading their Facebook posts where their, they're, and there are the same word; and you're is replaced by your because those are the same, also.

If I decide to correct their atrocious grammar and usage, I am labeled a Grammar Nazi and my criticism is dismissed with the phrase, "You know what I mean." If that holds, then one could say that 5 plus 5 equals 12 because, well ... you know what I mean.
The same is true of cell phone texts where punctuation is dismissed, spelling is excused, and "auto-correct" is blamed for every mistake made.  Sometimes it is the carpenter, and not the tools.

Music has gotten dumber.  In 1989, Milli Vanilli lip-synced a performance on MTV.  It was discovered, and their career was terminated because it was such an egregious act that the community could not tolerate it.  On New Year's Eve, Mariah Carey was blatantly lip-syncing at TImes Square, and the whole event was laughed-off as a "technical malfunction," and one would presume that she will continue to demand hundreds of dollars for her performances in the future.  Rob Pilatus is laughing in his grave.

Television is dumber, too.  Situation comedies, variety shows, and dramas have been replaced by so-called "Reality Television," which is neither reality nor television.  It is scripted and set-up to enhance the experience - hence "Pawn Stars," "Storage Wars," and several shows whose names begin with "American."  It is reality disguised as documentary, placed on television.  The reality is in your mind.

The idea here is that everything is being presented as entertainment, and the entertainment is designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator.  WalMart shoppers are criticized as being the low-life's of society, but in fact they are the target demographic, because the people who want your vote recognize the majority.

Vote? Did he say vote?  Yes - and here's the object.  The election of Donald J. Trump as President has completed the cycle of dumbing down America.  It took many years, and it occurred gradually (as erosion does) but it happened.  One of our parties (typically the Republicans) found someone who could appeal to the lowest common denominator of society, and as such, get a majority of the electoral votes and thereby elected President.  His supporters are the least educated, lowest income, and furthest from the high-end of society.  If that sounds bigoted, then go ahead and prove me wrong.

He Tweets from his bully pulpit, proclaiming his ideas (whether true or false) as documents of his administration, and persuades big corporations to alter their business plan to succumb to his wishes. We have gone from a President whose eloquence is historic to a President whose chief method of communication is 140 characters with multiple exclamation points.  His press conference today was a display of ignorance against the media.  He proclaims something "fake news" and we are supposed to accept that.  Sadly, we are in for 4 years of his proclamations of his truth and his "I'm rubber, you're glue" method of arguing anything that is presented to him as contrary to his opinion.  He is conducting his Presidency as he has conducted his television show:  As an entertainment medium.

Slowly and gradually, entertainment has eroded. The erosion of entertainment has finally led to the acceptance of one of the contributors of the erosion as a leader of the nation.  We have elected a President who was once a part of the problem.

As a side note, let's rail against those who say that celebrities should not have a public forum to express their opinions.  Well - you elected a celebrity who once had a forum and is now in charge of the forum - so, go ahead and tell them that they cannot have an opinion.  It's a two-way street.

America has been dumbed-down to its last vestige.  It literally cannot go below this, which is ironically the highest office in the nation.
Congratulations citizens, you have achieved the perfect irony: You elected the chief idiot to lead us.

Godspeed, America.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Trump Is vs. what Trump Does

Much has been said about the Trump Administration, and what he will do when he takes office on January 20, 2017.  In fact, even more has been made about his "first 100 days" in office, and the effect of that on our stock market and the habits of companies that operate in the United States.

He Tweets a lot of stuff - and I guess that's his right as a citizen - but I also guess that it's our right as a citizen to have a President-Elect who speaks rather than Tweets, but that probably labels me a Luddite, or something.  I like to be spoken-to.

Lately, our Tweeter In Chief has been griping against Ford, Carrier, and Toyota about building manufacturing plants in Mexico vs. building them in the United States.  Conventional logic would argue that he prefers American jobs over runaway inflatiion. (See my previous post) Once you have accepted that idea, any investment you can make is minuscule in comparison.  If you accept the idea that American jobs is greater than consumer prices, you have accepted an idea that I cannot accept, and most Americans cannot accept, either. So, let's talk about it.

We have a lot of choices. The idea that Trump has closed-off one avenue by his bullying tweets doesn't mean that the whole market is closed-off. We are in a whole new world.