Posts Tagged ‘remembering the past’

Through the kindling glass: Uncle Ben in ’08

November 22, 2015

History is fascinating when you get into it.

Today I’m remembering the fall of 2008–that perilous time when the financial crash was pummeling down all around us. The reason I’m remembering this is: I’m reading on kindle Ben Bernanke’s book Courage to Act:

So I’m remembering.

My day job during that time was working with students at a local elementary school. The workday began every morning at 8 a.m. I have vivid memories of sitting in my old Subaru wagon in the school parking lot each morning, catching the latest financial news before going inside to punch in. I’d be sitting in the car during the last ten minutes of the 7 o’clock hour while listening to Marketplace Morning on NPR.

Not that I had any real money or assets to work with, mind you, just a little nest-egg house that wife and I had just about paid for, and a little spare change we had after the three young’uns had finished college, etc. just like most folks our age.

But here’s why the memory of those news reports clings to my unfettered mind so tenaciously. Those fateful September days of seven years ago released megalithic destructive financial forces of mayhem and immense complexity that changed forever the economic world as we kno(e)w it.  Perilous WallStreet cluster-fuds suddenly opened a flood of financial and fiscal confusion unprecedented in the history of the world. The only thing that compares to it would be the crash of ’29, but of course that was then and this was now.

In Uncle Ben’s book, Courage to Act, through which he strives to shine a light of transparency into the workings of the Fed and its relationship to the financial powers that be, he explains, in chapter 12, the demise of one particular entity (the AIG insurance conglomerate) that fell during that month’s frantic rearrangement of dominoes. He describes the problem this way:

 “AIG FP’s risk was compounded by the difficulty in valuing its highly complex position, in part because the securities that the company was insuring were so complex and hard to value.”

This universal fragility about value (or sudden loss of value) of toxic assets would be something akin to a global computer-virus, but in the financial world. Nobody knew how, when, or where, the infection of overnight falling  asinine asset prices could obliterate the richness of previously fat portfolios. It was like Ebola on WallStreet.

During that third week of September of 2008, the bankruptcy of investment bank Lehman Bros, and then the unraveling of worldwide cluster-fudded AIG, damn near brought the whole house of WallStreet et al etc cards of down.

I guess US Treasurer Hank Paulson and a few other arm-twisting high-flyers later put the fear of dog into Congress and into whomever else was in charge of this country at the time, so that the gov-softened crash landing of worldwide money tranches wasn’t nearly as bad as when something like that happened in ’29 and the whole dam American economy fell apart.

As I told you before, I was just a detached observer at the time, September 15 2008, a regular guy with no skin in the game trying to figure out what the hell was going as I heard about events on the car radio.

Now reading Uncle Ben’s memoir, I see a little more clearly what was going on behind the scenes. I guess his transparency mission is being realized; at least it is on me.

I see the light. I think I understand. Fear, as Joni Mitchell once sang, is like a wilderland.

Fear is a big part of this whole things fall apart deal that we see in life sometimes.

In the case of the investment banks and Wall Street and all that derivative-induced shenanigans that came unwounded in fall of ’08, it was fear of losing value on a massive scale, fear of diminishing assets on a global scale, and hence fear of metastasizing money-loss on a megadential scale.

But hey, there are worse fears in life. . .fear of dying?

Speaking of death, we could say that old folks are generally closer to it than young ones. But the fear of death can be, I feel, softened somewhat by the sense that one has lived a fulfilling life, or maybe an adventurous life, or perhaps a prosperous life, whatever attribute of the good life floats your boat.

Here’s something Uncle Ben wrote in his memoir about the old-timers on Wall Street during that fateful fall of ’08:

“For Wall Street old-timers, the events of the (Lehman weekend) weekend would evoke some nostalgia. Two iconic Wall Street firms that had survived world wars and depressions, Lehman (Bros.) and Merrill (Lynch), had disappeared in a weekend. I felt no nostalgia at all. I knew that the risks the two firms had taken had endangered not only the companies but the global economy with unknowable consequences.”

Unknowable consequences. That’s what you get when a bunch of old (or young) wise guys play fast and loose with a world-class pile of other people’s money.

But hey, that was then and this is now; it could never happen again.

At least not the same way.


Glass Chimera


Sukkot, Hawaiian style

September 28, 2015

About 3000 years ago, Moses led his people, the Hebrews, out of Egypt. The people had been oppressed under Pharoah’s enslavement for a long time.

Their need to bust out of oppression had came to a certain fullness, and so Y_H the Lord appointed Moses to direct them out. By fleeing Egyptian oppression, they escaped slavery.

But their newfound freedom was no walk in the park; they soon found themselves in what seemed like a never-ending arid land of deserts and perilously adverse wilderness.

During that new phase of their development as a people, Y_H the Lord gave Moses instructions and laws that would enable them to live together as an independent people, and ultimately establish themselves among the nations.

Their God-given set of laws included the well-known–now infamous–Ten Commandments. But those commands were only the first of many, many more laws that numbered more than 600.

Among that long collection of principles for healthy, spiritual living, was an instructive celebration called Sukkot, also known as Succoth, the Feast of Tabernacles, or the Feast of Booths.

The Sukkot was a celebratory commemoration by which Y_H ensured that they would not forget the Egyptian oppressions from which they had recently escaped.

Instructions given in the 23rd chapter of Leviticus include an annual arrangement, during harvest time, of leaves and branches to form numerous huts as temporary dwelling places for each family. The Hebrews would, by living in these tabernacles (sometimes called “booths”), call to remembrance the poverty and oppression from which they had escaped through their Exodus from Egypt.

In subsequent history, the Hebrews came to be known as Jews, because, many centuries later, their last vestige as a landed nation (until 1948) had been established in the land called Judea, along the Jordan River.

Some Jews and Christians, even today, observe the Feast of Succoth ceremonially by constructing and camping in palm-thatched huts such as those Hebrews of old might have done in the wilderness of Sinai.

I have never seen such a hut or tabernacle, but I have read about it in the Old Testament. I have also, from time to time, heard or read of Jews and/or Christians who still celebrate the Feast of Sukkot in this way.

A few days ago, I was reminded of Succoth while visiting the big island called Hawaii.

On the upper slopes of the volcano Mauna Kea, I saw what appeared to be a kind of hut or tabernacle that resembles the Succoth structures of ancient days.

A group of zealous Hawaiians known as We Are Mauna Kea had constructed this structure:


The Hawaiians with whom I spoke there called the hut a Hale (Ha-lay),  built by human hands to commemorate their heritage of regarding the Mauna Kea volcano as a sacred place. The sacred designation of the place is now imperiled by construction of massive buildings on the peak. The large structures–some already built and others proposed–are used for purposes of scientific observation and electromagnetic data-gathering.

As I pondered this Hawaiian Hale hut, I was reminded of the Succoth hut in the ancient Hebrew scriptures.

Methinks there is something fundamentally human going on here, between the ancient Hebrew Succoth tabernacle and the legacy of  Hawaiian Hale to revere Mauna Kea.

I’ll call it, in both cultures, “wanting to get back to our roots.”

I’d like to think that Alex Haley, author of “Roots”, would agree with me. “Roots” is about African huts and heritage.

The purpose of Sukkot is remembrance of past slavery, and deliverance from those oppressions. The Hebrews were delivered from slavery, and they should never forget it.

Everybody know the Jews are unique in the history of world cultures. Here is one reason why:

The Jews, with help from Y_H the Lord, were one of the first people-groups in the world that was able to effectively retain, preserve and extend their history and their worship of God through the ages. Part of that enduring oral/written/celebratory heritage is this Succoth practice, established for purposes of not forgetting the past–not forgetting the “oppression from which we were delivered.”

But the Jews are not the only people who should remember the sacred elements of their past.

Likewise, the Hawaiian Hale pictured above represents, it seems to me, a similar inclination to call forth the people’s identity with their ancient culture, to remember “who we are and where we came from.”

And maybe of little bit of “Don’t mess with us!”


Glass half-Full