Money Strong Top 10 — 2017
Make That Top 11 #NeverForget
Many of us have just sung the most popular song in the world, Happy Birthday, albeit it in varying forms, dialects and venues. Color me sentimental, but Stille Nacht, or Silent Night to you and me, stirs the spirit and celebrates Jesus’ birthday as no other. I even have a favorite line from the Austrian poem cum smash hit hymn Franz Xaver Gruber wrote in 1818 – “With Dawn of Redeeming Grace.” In a world tragically bereft of grace, regardless of your religion, what could possibly best rising with the sun to find grace itself redeemed?
With that happy and hopeful thought in mind, it is time we look forward by looking back, which we achieve by singing the world’s second most popular tune, Auld Lang Syne. In 1788, Robert Burns sent the song to the Scots Musical Museum with the disclaimer that he was merely recording what he knew to be an ancient song. In exchange for being the first to put pen to paper, Burns is often credited as its author. If nothing else, he deserves props for taking the initiative that resulted in the introduction of the song and its translation into countless languages worldwide.
Auld Lang Syne is tough to translate but the song’s essence defines simplicity – we must look back at the year’s events to honor all of those we hold dear. Readers of Money Strong certainly qualify. The inspiration, feedback – both kind and constructive, and encouragement give me the courage to write to my best ability week in and week out. As we ponder what 2018 holds, tradition dictates that I share with you the newsletters from the prior year that have resonated the most with none other than you.
With ado, I add that #11, Angels Manning Heaven’s Trading Floor, was for a third year running the most read weekly newsletter. I cannot express enough pride in sharing that with you. I am also linking my favorite version of Auld Lang Syne, sung in haunting beauty by Mairi Campbell and featured in this video clip from Sex and the City, a show that captures my years in New York, years on which I often look back with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye. With that, I give you 2017’s Money Strong Top 10 List.
Combine contraband coffee, paralytic guilt and a gift for translating Greek and you too can change the world. Such was the case with a young, deeply devout Catholic by the name of Martin Luther in the year 1516.
A decade after he traded academia for the priesthood, Luther found himself disturbed by the quid pro quo nature of Catholicism. Sin expunged via penance in increasingly pecuniary form struck Luther as graceless at best. A field trip to Rome only served to dial up his unease as the ornateness on vivid display communicated dishonesty and even vice. That this epiphany coincided with the first trickles of coffee into Germany was fitting given what was to come.
One of the first of life’s lessons we all learned is that we need not rush life; it will do that for us and in the end against our will. The inspiration for this wisdom could well have sprung from Ecclesiastes wherein we read these peaceful words: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. Co-writers Don Henley and Bruce Hornsby embraced the spirit of this message as the 1980s were coming to a close. You must agree 1989’s The End of the Innocence, that haunting and mournful ballad, was just the coda needed to move on to the last decade of the last century.
“Let me take a long last look, before we say goodbye,” the song asks of the listener who can’t help themselves but to listen.
Many veteran investors, those who don’t need to be reminded about the Reagan era because they were there, may be feeling a bit more wistful as they peer over the horizon. They have lived through extraordinary economic times and maybe even recall the early 1970s, the last time initial jobless claims were at their current historically low levels. They know, in other words, this can’t go on forever, that we are nearing the end of our own innocence.
“If you don’t know, the thing to do is not to get scared, but to learn.”
“Man’s mind is his basic tool of survival. Life is given to him, survival is not.”
“I like to deal with somebody who has no illusions about getting favors.”
Red-blooded Americans read these lines and, if in polite company, resist the urge to beat their chests. These mantras say all that need be said of the virtues of honesty, integrity, productivity, grit, independence, pride and liberty itself. Accurately attribute the quotes to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, however, and some pause for a moment of reticence, gently reminded of the need to be politically correct.
Do you feel it in the air? Is summer out of reach? Many of us came of age, or thought we did, the first time we heard Don Henley’s mega-hit The Boys of Summer, released in October 1984. But can a song be reincarnated to mean even more? Can one brush with destiny change everything? This week more than any other, it’s right and true to look back and answer that question in the affirmative.
For those of us in New York 16 years ago, September 12th and 13th stretched on for many more than the 24 hours the clock conveyed. It wasn’t until the early morning hours of the 14th, when Dick Grasso announced the New York Stock Exchange would remain closed through the weekend, that many of us were released, on many levels. Walking the beach that weekend, looking for signs in the sand, Henley’s mournful song stopped me in my tracks. “Those days are gone forever” forever took on new meaning.
Irish Playwright Oscar Wilde defied Aristotle’s memorable mimesis: Art imitates Life. In his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying, Wilde opined that, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” Jackson Pollock, the American painter, aesthetically rejected both philosophies as facile. We are left to ponder the genius of his work, which in hindsight, leaves no doubt that Art intimidated Life.
Engulfed in the flames of depression and the demons it awakened, Pollock’s work is often assumed to have peaked in 1950. The multihued vibrancy of his earlier abstract masterpieces descends into black and white, symbolically heralding his violent death in 1956 at the tender age of 44. Or does it? Look closer the next time you visit The Art Institute of Chicago. Greyed Rainbow, his mammoth 1953 tour de force, will at once arrest and hypnotize you. As you struggle to tear your eyes from it, you’ll ask yourself what the critics could have been thinking, to have drawn such premature conclusions as to his peak. Such is the pained beauty of the work. Rather than feign containment, the paint looks as if it will burst the frames’ binding. And the color is there for the taking, if you have the patience to slow your minds’ eye and see what’s staring back at you.
So much for “ghoulies, ghosties and long-leggedy beasties” having a monopoly on “things that go bump in the night.” No longer is this classification reserved for things that taunt, tantalize and toy with our terrors as that traditional Scottish poem first invaded our minds. Earlier this summer, some avid astronomers, tasked as they are with mapping out the infinitely capacious celestials, literally stumbled upon a distinctly different sort of bump in the night. A mysterious ‘cold spot’ sighted telescopically might actually be a bruise of sorts, “the remnant of a collision between our universe and another ‘bubble’ universe during an earlier inflationary phase.”
Such a discovery would strip the ‘uni’ right out of universe landing us smack dab in a ‘multiverse’ in which all conceivable outcomes are playing out at once in a layered rather than singular reality. In the event this panoply of parallel possibilities has left your brain in a painful pretzel, ponder not another moment. The jury is in and the verdict is parallel universes in quantum mechanics and the cosmos alike are unanimously unproven.
Never in the history of filmmaking has artistic license paid off so handsomely.Of course, comic legend Jackie Gleason was no schlep in the world of thespians. Odds were high he would deliver a handsome return on stuntman cum director Hal Needham’s investment. And while it’s no secret there would have been no directorial debut for Needham had his close friend Burt Reynolds not agreed to be in the film, it was Gleason’s improvisation that made the Smokey and the Bandit the stuff of legends.
Though Gleason’s character’s name screams ‘surreal,’ the stranger than fiction fact is that Reynolds’ father was the real life Chief of Police in Jupiter, Florida who just so happened to know a Florida patrolman by the name of Buford T. Justice. The treasure trove of quotes from the film’s tenacious Texas Sherriff Buford T. Justice, who so tirelessly pursues the Bandit in heedless abandon over state lines, elicited nothing short of laugh-out-loud elation from anyone and everyone who has ever feasted on the 1977 runaway hit (it was the year’s second-highest grossing film after Star Wars).
Before there was the One Percent, there was the velvet rope at Studio 54. Gaining entry to the divine disco, with its adherence to a strict formula, was just as exclusionary. This from Mark Fleischman, the Manhattan haunt’s second owner in a memoir released to mark the 40th anniversary of the club’s opening: “A movie star could bring unlimited guests, a prince or princess could invite five or six guests, counts and countesses four, most other VIPs three, and so on.”
Andy Warhol called it the, “dictatorship at the door.” Brigid Berlin, one of Warhol’s Factory workers and guests, once described to Vanity Fair how she, “loved getting out of a cab and seeing those long lines of people who couldn’t get in.” If beauty alone could sway the dandy doorman, famed for flaunting his fur, a different kind of cordon awaited you once you set foot inside the cavernous strobe-lit mecca, that is a screen hung across the dance floor to separate the chosen from the common. The scrim summarily dropped at midnight, but not a minute before, affording elites ample opportunity to make their escape to the VIP floors above.
For a moral compass, many look to the Bible. For political directives, Machiavelli’s succinct and direct The Prince. But for matters of war, the Chinese have a lock; they’ve literally raised the wisdom guiding generals engaged in battle to an art form. Here is a but a sampling from the Top 500 List of quotes from Sun Tzu’s fifth century masterpiece, The Art of War:
“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”
“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
“The best victory is when the opponent surrenders of its own accord before there are any actual hostilities… It is best to win without fighting.”
“The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.”
“All warfare is based on deception.”
“Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.”
The essence of the last two quotes is what has many market watchers on tenterhooks as Inauguration Day and the Chinese yuan sporting a seven-handle fast approach. For those of you following the Vegas odds, January 20th is sure to mark both Trump’s taking office and the yuan falling to 7-something, as if they’re somehow in simpatico and synched at the hip.
Ulysses’s reputation preceded him.
‘O unhappy citizens, what madness?
Do you think the enemy’s sailed away? Or do you think
any Greek gift’s free of treachery? Is that Ulysses’s reputation?
Either there are Greeks in hiding, concealed by the wood,
or it’s been built as a machine to use against our walls,
or spy on our homes, or fall on the city from above,
or it hides some other trick: Trojans, don’t trust this horse.
Whatever it is, I’m afraid of Greeks even those bearing gifts.’
Virgil, The Aeneid Book II
So warned Laocoön to no avail, and that was with Cassandra’s corroboration. As reward for his prescient prudence, the Trojan priest and his twin sons were crushed to death by two sea serpents. It would seem the Greeks had no intention of relinquishing hold of ancient Anatolia, a critical continental crossroad where Europe and Asia’s borders meet, a natural target for conquering civilizations.
Thankfully, history has made history of menacing machinations crafted with the aim of undermining the opposition. If only… History is rife with exceptions starting with most politicians on Planet Earth and more recently, central bankers.
He could have passed for Yul Brynner’s twin if it wasn’t for those eyes. He was 57 years old, 6’2” tall, tan and handsome with a shining bald head. But his eyes, those elfish eyes dared those around him to partake of anything but his infectious happiness. It was those eyes I will never forget.
It was Labor Day weekend, 2001. One of my best friend’s college buddies from UCLA was in town and his uncle had a boat. So we had the good fortune to be invited to take a cruise around Shelter Island on that long holiday weekend 16 years ago. I was 30 years old at the time and I can tell you there was no “boat” about this Yul Brynner look-a-like’s 130-foot yacht. The crystal champagne flutes, the hot tub on the deck, the full crew – none of these accoutrements faintly resembled the boats I’d been on as a middle class girl spending summers off Connecticut’s stretch of Long Island Sound. The thing is, our friend’s uncle was none other than Herman Sandler, the renowned investment banker and co-founder of Sandler O’Neill.