Doom and Renewal

     Any subscription-based business generates some cash on the front end and some obligation to deliver on the back end. So we have a stockbroker who invests some of the cash, parks it, while we publish and fulfill our obligation.
     The broker called me today in light of the Bear Stearns meltdown and threw the hang-or- bail decision in my lap. I said bail.
     The likelihood that things will get better before they get a lot worse seemed small, and cash and treasury bonds felt a lot safer than stock. Our broker, Sean, said he is more optimistic than I am but put up no resistance to the idea of running for cover.
     The notion that housing prices would forever rise and had somehow shed their cyclical nature was so crazy and sustained for so long that the resulting fall seems like it will be long and hard.
     Combine that, I told Sean, with the rising price of commodities, oil and, of something I had never thought, food, based on scarcity and competing demand from China and India, and it says double the trouble.
     Two false notions, that housing prices would not fall, and that oil prices would not rise, are now both revealed as false, where a cyclical downturn teams up with an inexorable rise.
     On top of the noxious brew, you put a layer of political instability, as Iraq’s instability continues and Pakistan’s increases, while Israel adds more settlements in the land of the Palestinians, and the large, stable Arab nations, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are pressed to enter the fray.
     And lastly there is the over-riding notion that as the planet becomes warmer while at the same time enormous, once-poor nations ramp up their economic pace, we are on a bad trend. I was struck by a quote from one of the stories on the food shortage, where an expert was saying that if everybody on the planet ate like the Americans, you would need two or three planets to grow the food.
     The same would be true of oil, I figure, if everybody on the planet drove like the folks in Los Angeles.
     All of these things seem distant on the beautiful days that have accompanied another cycle, this the one in nature, as spring – evident even in Southern California – comes upon us. At my beach shack, in Carlsbad, I had asked the gardener to put a set of three sycamores in the back yard, a few months ago.
     They have stood barren since then. But these last few weekends, I have watched the little bumps on the branches become plump nodes of green and now large, bright green leaves that are festooned upon the tree. I pointed the trees out to the gardner who smiled and said, “son feliz.” They are happy.
     The following day, I donned a wet-suit and swam in the cold, wind-whipped ocean for not too long. Afterwards, a sandwich and a beer in the warmth of the front driveway, and all seemed right with the world.
     So, as much of the world seems to slouch towards doom, there is a place where a little part of it is, like the sycamores, “feliz.”

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