Life


Folks,

I am blogging over at Range Light Partners these days.  RLP is a new entity that I am proud to be a part of, that is an adjustment to the state of the economy.  It is fee development and consulting based.  Please visit our site: Range Light Partners and be sure to check in on the company blog where I a occasionally scribble.

I may come back over here in time but, for now, please bookmark Range Light Partners.

Best,

Marty

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As a kid I loved the whole Chronicles of Narnia series, it took getting older to truly understand the meaning of these wonderful books.  I have kept a couple of C.S. Lewis books in my nightstand for years and was recently thumbing through The Screwtape  when I stumbled on this jewel:  “Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury.”

C.S. Lewis at work.

Reflect on that statement a moment while I back up.  The Screwtape Letters were written in the voice of a senior devil giving lessons to a junior devil on how to manipulate mankind.  Now, here’s the rest of the paragraph – all of this under the heading of “Screwtape on Time:”

Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury.  And the sense of injury depends  on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied.  The more claims on life, therefore, that your patient can be induced to make, the more often he will feel injured and, as a result, ill-tempered.”

I would add the phrase “…and the more likely they are to call an attorney.”  No, I am not equating attorneys with Msr. Screwtape – they serve an extraordinary role in our society.  I am just saying that it would be far better in a conflict to reflect on the above statement and to make sure that in a business (or personal) disagreement, the split is not caused by mere happenstance.

In real estate, we live in a risky world with long time horizons wherein circumstances change.  Lord knows, none of us expected these last few years to continue apace.  But these were misfortunes and not injuries and we need to make sure we separate the two.  Not to say that there are not bad actors, sadly our industry is rife with people that you will only do one deal with, but make sure you distinguish between a downturn caused by the market from one caused by intent before you lawyer up.  It will save you a lot of heartache, potentially a friendship or two and a lot of sleepless nights.

I tell you, it has almost been too hot to grill…we are experiencing a warmer than normal June in Nashville, but if the thunderstorms will cut me some slack over the weekend, I intend to add some delicious wood char to a fine selection of sleeved-up protein!

Perhaps one of the reasons I got into the real estate business lo some 20 plus years ago, was that while I was getting my graduate degree, one of my professors was an international expert in agribusiness.  One of the things he said has always stuck with me: “our greatness as a country depends on six inches of topsoil.”  He was referring, of course, to the world’s breadbasket, our Great Plains and farming regions throughout this rich land.  Protection of that resource is something we need to be keenly aware of and so I thought I would share some resources and thought leaders on this topic with you this week.

1. Wes Jackson – founder of the Land Institute, Wes has been a champion of more holistic ways of farming.  He is a brilliant thinker and proponent of local agriculture.  Click on his name above to read an interview with him.  He saw over thirty years ago how soil, water and agriculture are carefully intertwined and that we had better preserve the first two to maintain the third.

2. Michael Pollan – author of  Food Rules and The Omnivore’s Dilemna among other books, Pollan is a tremendous advocate for locally grown food.  He has studied the links between transit costs, food quality and health.  He can be provocative, but his books and articles are well worth the time!

3. Wendell Berry – where to begin?  Poet, novelist, essayist and farmer, Wendell Berry is the nearest thing to an American  conscience alive today.  One of the central themes of his work is the need to preserve the small scale farm.  He acknowledges the efficiency of corporate farming, but worries about the loss of diversity, culture and taste .  I’ve read a ton of his work, but would recommend “Bringing it to the Table,On Farming and Food,” and “The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry.”   You can get the flavor of his work from this interview: “Toward a Healthy Community.”

4. EcoTrust – we had our annual Partner/Spouse Meeting in Portland, Oregon a few years ago.  One of the things that really impressed me was the city’s restaurants use of local produce – and advertising of it!  Apparently EcoTrust is the outfit behind that movement.  Go to their website an poke around…they even offer advice on how to form local food networks.

5. LocalHarvest – not long ago, a close friend of mine told me his wife was getting involved in a “CSA.”  Always the history buff, I thought that perhaps she was joining the Daughters of the Confederacy, but learned quickly that the new CSA means “community supported agriculture.”  I really believe that the future challenge for cities will be how they integrate their surrounding rural towns and environs.  The CSA model is a great way to start.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Joel Kotkin has a sobering story about what has happened to the working class in Great Britain and poses the question as to whether it is a portent of what is to come on this side of the pond.  Kotkin, finds that in the former industrial center of Europe, where the industry left some time ago, there is a very high rate of perpetual unemployment, alcoholism and lack of mobility.  Disturbing too, is that the emphasis on job creation in Tony Blair’s “cool Britannia” resulted in job creation at the very top – hedge fund managers and the like, and at the very bottom – the latter of which are being filled by immigrants (primarily Islamists from Pakistan).

This has brought back a consistent nagging thought I have had about the direction of our country.  As we have de-industrialized, there are swaths of urban landscape (see my write-up on “Feral Houses” ) left desolate with a population of union dependent blue-collar workers that have nowhere to go.  My father, a retired diplomat and economist, has said for years that we cannot have an economy based solely on fast food workers and computer programmers.  Being the typical prodigal son, I pooh-poohed that notion, but I am coming around to believing that he is absolutely right.

The current administration’s idea of creating legions of “green jobs,” isn’t working out so well either.  Obama’s Spanish model has turned out to be a complete bust and when you stack the facts against the myths for our country, it’s not too good a picture.  In the words of Tolstoy, “what then must we do?”

In the “if I were King for a day” department, I believe this is the direction we need to head:

1. Direct Federal spending to the creation of real jobs.  We have aching needs in infrastructure repair, replacement and expansion.  For every $1 Billion spent in infrastructure construction, it is estimated by the Urban Land Institute, that 25-28,000 jobs are created.

2. Direct Federal and State policy towards the retention of strategic manufacturing capacity on our shores.  We should protect the ability to make the planes, rockets, tanks, ships and other hardware necessary to protect ourselves and the sane world.

3. Re-assess our trading relationships.  I am a HUGE advocate of free trade in theory, but we have drifted far from that in our relationship with countries like China that manipulate currency exchange and restrict imports.  We are in a symbiotic relationship with them, so even though they own huge amounts of our debt, they need us as badly as we need them.

4. Re-evaluate our educational priorities.  Since World War II, we have stressed, encouraged and facilitated a massive effort to get everyone a college degree.  Did it ever occur to us that perhaps what is needed is a broad range of educations including a robust trade school program?

5. Stimulate, educate and encourage entrepreneurship!  American ingenuity has been our hallmark since our founding.  Let’s get the engine of small business cranked up again – note to Msrs. Obama et al: that “boot on the neck of BP” you spoke about, is actually on OUR necks, please be so kind as to remove it.

The goal of these measures is to create a wider bandwidth of job creation and avoid the very real threat of perpetual unemployment.  We can’t all work for Google and no one wants to work for Goldman Sachs anymore, but it’s time to tend to the needs of the great middle, the true engine of our economic republic, lest we end up like “fail Britannia.”

Nice, short post over at New Geography, by Jim Vaughn titled “Vitamin G.” No, it’s not a Dr. Weil acolyte arguing for more pills and mineral supplements, it’s about the human condition and the need for open, natural space.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately in the wake of the flood here in Nashville.  There’s a lot of discussion of the city buying up land in the flood plain – it actually already is. And my anti-government hackles go up when I hear this news, but there is a need for responsible building patterns and perhaps this is a time where government won’t make things worse.  Two BIG assumptions here – first is that there is no cronyism involved.  By that I mean the business as usual – we’ll go ahead and exercise imminent domain and seize your land so Bubba here, can build a mall…after all, he gave a lot more money to my campaign than you did!  Second, is that the land use designated allows public interaction with the land so we can all get some more Vitamin G and that the usages designated for the seized land are made up with increased density being allowed elsewhere.

To the first assumption, I would suggest that any land taken in this process have a deed restriction that prohibits private development for a minimum of 25 years.  To the second, I would suggest tree farms and trailways – low maintenance cost items that will enhance the overall environment.  These public parks could also be connected to schools to provide educational opportunities for our youngsters who don’t get enough Vitamin G as it is.  Let’s teach them about gardening, forestry, land conservation but also teach them about growth maintenance and urban economics.

We live in a city that is already blessed with wonderful public park system that could be greatly enhanced and better interwoven into the fabric of our lives.

Just came back from touring some homes in Bellevue – we’re trying to match up contractors to the needs of the homeowners.  The devastation is mind-boggling.  A moving video from one of our local talents:

My city took one in the chops this past weekend.  The rain came in around 5AM on Saturday morning and ended about 6PM that evening…or so we thought.  Just after noon I was eating lunch in the breakfast room (why don’t they call it a “lunch room?”) and my middle daughter asked if I had ever seen the monsoon rains when I lived in New Delhi many years ago.  I began to regale her with a tale of landing in Delhi at 2AM just as the first of the monsoon rains began and as I sought for a way to describe it, I looked out the window and remarked “well, they looked a lot like this.”

A few minutes later, my wife was leaving to run an errand when she called from the garage/basement below.  There is a tone that spouses have, that after 26 years of marriage, you know it means “hurry!”  In heavy rains of the past, we have experienced a trickle of water through the basement and out the garage – nothing serious.  The water was coming in so fast that it was backing up into the garage and threatening the finished part of the basement.  A towel line later and about 120 gallons pulled out with the wet vac and we were holding our own.  And yes, the rain let up.

We nervously watched the weather channel that evening and although the iPod Touch was saying that we had already gotten 4.35″ of rain, their forecast of .35″ for Sunday didn’t jive with the radar picture.  At 5AM Sunday morning it began again.  By 7AM, the water off our front porch was midway up my calf and the neighbor’s retaining wall that is about 6′ high looked like a rapid on the Gauley River.  The rest of the day was spent controlling the flow through the basement and watching in anguish as the news reports came in about the damage being wrought to our city.  The weather system was a straight line of storms that stretched all the way back to the Gulf of Mexico.  The system was moving, but not to the east like the normal weather pattern for Middle Tennessee.  The front line had stalled and the storm line just moved straight up, dumping ever greater amounts of rain.  By the time it was over, our rain gauge said that we had received a little over 18″ in two days – considering we average 49 inches in a year, it was a staggering figure.

At about 4PM, the line started to move to the east.  The monsoon slowed to a spring rain shower, and then in Forrest Gumpian fashion, the rain just stopped. Sadly, for the city, the damage was just beginning.  In “The Dry Salvages,” the poet T.S. Eliot observes:

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god – sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
The only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities – ever, however, implacable.
Keeping his seasons, and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.

The brown god of the Cumberland was raging through downtown Nashville and Clarksville on Sunday in impressive fashion.  But the real damage began Monday as she left her banks and wandered up the streets, filling our hockey arena and football stadium, the basement of our beautiful new Schermerhorn Symphony Center and knocking the downtown power grid off-line…we have been reminded of what men choose to forget.

View from Demonbreun Street bridge towards Riverfront Park - note light pole tops barely visible. This is about 12 hours after peak.

But Nashville and Middle Tennessee does what we are famous for: we get up off our knees, dust ourselves off and go back to work.  We don’t whine and wait for the Federal Government to show up, although the disaster relief assistance will be appreciated…and we don’t loot.  Neighbor gets out and helps neighbor, old acquaintances are remade in distress…we are Volunteers, it is what we do.

We have some grieving to do, some of us have lost friends and loved ones…some have lost everything.  But we will help each other out and get back on track. Give us a few months and our city will be gleaming again, an example of a proud community that relies on hard work and internal fortitude.  We are blessed with good governance, a beautiful land and wonderful people.  We are Nashville Proud.

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