The Bun in September

The Bun came into the world one week ago, on Tuesday the 29th of September 2020 at 11:45 am. That week we played Earth Wind and Fire’s classic song September a few times to add to the magic. So yeah, at the time of the crazy corona, along came the Bun. I wonder if the Bun will recognize me one day without a face mask (just kidding – I only wear a face mask when I leave the house, which is not often this year).

The Bun has hypnotized us, and I am crying a lot, for no reason I can explain, other than sheer joy. I love magic and this is true wonder. The bun is real magic.

I am 53 years old and I became a dad. Yes, I have some backache and other ailments (nothing serious – just wear and tear), but I also have wisdom and confidence. Sure, I am way busier than I was 20 years ago, but, I am busy with things I love, and I love this little Bun.

Wisdom comes from age, and so does perspective. I can appreciate the magic more now than if I was in my 30’s, say.

I have had a helluva journey through life and I have seen and done a lot of shit. I have had highs and I have had lows. But I ain’t seen or experienced anything like this Bun. I have never wanted to be hypnotized before, but this is a whole new ballgame.

When I was younger I was trying to climb so many mountains. And I reached a few summits and it was glorious. There were also many many falls along the way, and they were painful. The pain never leaves you, but it does give you experience and perspective, and this translates into a good and valuable view of what is important.

We are still busy climbing some mountains. We have a very important film project on the go this year. Our first documentary project, “57”, and the stakes are high.

There has been little sleep in this first week, and there has been some stress. But it’s all good – the view from Bun mountain is totally captivating.

Burning Man

The stimulus checks they have kept the system from exploding are now in limbo, as the senate is out of town on a 3 day weekend. We have to believe they know how urgent and volatile this – of course they do.

Turns out the Democrats and the Republicans cannot reach an agreement. And surely a halfwit could have seen this train smash coming. Looks like politics is the order of the day, with both parties playing high stakes games with each other. They knew this deadline was coming, and I can imagine there are now millions of Americans more anxious than ever. And make no mistake, the rest of the world is going to feel it too. If America burns we will all suffer.

Sustaining the entire US economy is currently about unemployment checks and putting money in the hands of Americans, so they can spend. This is what the news keeps telling us.

The word “desperation” is something else that comes to mind, and it is bad for everyone, including you and me. Leadership in America is lacking.

Simply extending the stimulus is not a sustainable solution but right now, as you read this, they need to do something. Too many Americans are out of work, and the job market is bad bad bad. The number of job applicants for each job available is accelerating. There are more people looking for jobs then there are jobs on offer. People are typically not lazy and waiting for their stimulus checks. They are trying to survive and right now millions could be evicted and very soon without money for food. And the government leaders have gone away and we are all left wondering. What about the urgency. Again, they must know this. So, WTF?!

We are in the middle of a pandemic, and we are in the thick of things. The economy is getting hammered. Where is the vision, and long term view. This is not about people waiting for unemployment benefits. Sure, there will be some tales of people who are  getting more than their actual previous salaries, but that is not the story here. The story is that the GDP dropped more in the last quarter than ever before in America’s history, and tens of millions of Americans may soon have no money for food. Big shit is coming. To everyone.

Stay light on the parasites

I recently posted a new article on Medium : https://medium.com/@ronnieapteker/imagine-if-these-guys-all-left-the-planet-20dd9b0d1b0f

I got a bunch of feedback. Some positive, some negative.

That new piece of text is my perspective. Perhaps I am onto something, or perhaps I am talking shit. It is the way I see things. I am not saying that all financial folk and money managers are full of shit. As I point out in the article, I know some good money people. But in general, in my experience, most of these money managers are parasites.

I would be keen to hear your views on this. Please email me if you want to share your perspective. You can email me on ronnie@prettyapt.com

This year is like none other. I think it is safe to say that 2020 is exposing so much of the rot in the world. The corona virus is not nearly as destructive as greed. The biggest disease in the world today, in my view, is greed.

I have been writing a bit these past few months. You can check out the articles on Medium. The subject of “greed” is one of things I have been discussing. And also, I have been writing about “purpose”. To me, these two subjects need to be explored together. When someone lives their purpose and puts their heart into something, then the universe often rewards them for their efforts. But if someone is just a parasite, then this has nothing to do with purpose. When it comes to simply trying to take as much money off the table, without adding anything of value of to the world, then this is about being a parasite. Hedge fund managers, in my view, are a prime example.

One of the other articles I wrote was about Uber. Yesterday I saw this news item : https://edition.cnn.com/2020/07/21/tech/uber-uk-court-case-blm/index.html

“I think all Uber cares about is money. The way the [business] model is set, it’s all about mass-recruiting drivers. It’s all about exploiting the workforce,” he told CNN Business in an interview.

The party continues. Keep dancing. But make sure you are dancing very close to the door.

All stock market losses are now socialized in America. The Fed recently announced they would start buying individual stocks to prevent a crash. It’s seems literally impossible to lose money on stocks until the entire government collapses. As long as Trump is in power, the party is going to continue. The money printing frenzy is now a race to the bottom. All ponzi schemes eventually collapse, and so will the US.

By every indication, current stock prices have pretty much “priced in” an almost perfect recovery, whether it is from a genuine increase in economic activity or from more stimulus via the US government. So if the market is anticipating a base case scenario, what can possible drive it any higher? If profits magically recover as quickly as the market seems to hope, or if the government injects more stimulus, the market is pretty much priced for that seeing that it is almost at a record high. So what is the incentive to buy in now? Are you buying in with the anticipation that the recovery will go well, because then the stock market will go up even higher in response, and just permanently maintain this disconnect between price and earnings?

This is the lunacy of the house of cards that sustains itself solely by money created out of thin air. The stock market no longer has any correlation to the real economy. Wait until the unemployment benefits dry up at the of July. History always repeats itself.

Wall Street was once the vehicle to invest in great companies that were the bedrock of the American economy – it is now a casino. A fantasy land dominated by a few monopolies, like companies that don’t even employ a lot of people. And are actually changing American society and politics, in some cases for the worse.

It has been a fake market since 2008. One has to be very very careful now when it comes to the stock market – perhaps selling some shares to buy gold is not a bad idea. Not losing money is more important than missing out.

Six stocks are now worth over 7 trillion dollars, which is 25% of the entire share market value, and bigger than all of stocks in Europe. What could possible go wrong … ?

NASDAQ is now bigger than the entire world’s market caps. And let’s not forget the 40 million unemployed, and over 200 million unemployed globally. The US is looking to end of this year with around 30 trillion in debt, and that’s with a collectable tax base of just around 3.2 trillion. Corporate debt is around 17 trillion. Personal debts are over 20 trillion.

The Fed has already blown about 4 trillion trying to keep billionaires from having any losses. Its high time for the Fed to let them eat each other. As it is, the tax payers are eating their losses and getting zero from their gains.

Nothing is normal in these markets, despite the market’s impressive performance. The markets are trading at a multiple that represents a peak. What is going on is nothing short of market manipulation. The US debt is off the scale, and consumer spending is now coming to a halt – the fundamentals are out of the window. And instead of the debt being issued to fund infrastructure projects and enhance productivity, it went to buy back stock.

Be careful when you boast about the strong job market that existed before the pandemic. We are finding out that the nonessential part of the economy had to shut down, but who knew until it was shut down that the nonessential part of the US economy was 80% of the GDP. Now there are people who are unemployed but are making more money, and are not doing any work. Yes, jobs like Uber are not helping anyone I am sad to say. The US needs to start making things again – they need to start manufacturing. And they need to ship their products to the world, using US shipping, and not foreign flag renegade operators.

Covid-19 is now being used as a cover for the bigger, fundamental problems. There is a famous saying on Wall Street, “Do not fight the Fed, and the trend is your friend.”

Right now, the stock market is running on pure speculation. Earnings reports are generally down, and stocks were already pricey at this point even before. The economy is shrinking. And the national debt is growing and growing.

Why is it called “stimulus’ when it is free money for the fat cat CEOs and executives who bankrupted their own companies, but a “hand out” when it is a couple of hundred backs to the workers. Everything is being arranged for the rich to get richer, and masses to get the shaft. There simply seems to be no rule of law at the top anymore. We have to stop pretending that there is some intelligence behind it all – there isn’t. It is simply about greed and power.

The Fed money is mostly going to stock buy-backs because it is a short term quick fix. Corporate executives calculate that this is the best way to keep their major shareholders happy, with rising share prices, and dividends, thus ensuring their own inflated compensation packages.

What is going to happen when 10 of millions of people stop paying their rents, their mortgages, their car loans, etc. The banks will get bailed out again. When the stimulus payments end in August and the moratorium on evictions is then lifted, there is going to be intense unrest. The community spirit is fast eroding to everyone for himself. A civil war is coming to America. Believing we live in democracy just because we can vote … what a sham.

There will be no V shape recovery. Yes, some stocks may go up and some may go up and down a bit, but ultimately, it is all going to come crashing down. The biggest problem is the debt. The 2008/2009 subprime crises was all about debt, and what did they do – they printed a ton of money. Debt is the problem now again. Most people have no savings. So what have they done – made loans available to anyone and everyone. Governments have learned nothing. We are just delaying the inevitable. Our Minsky moment is coming. And it will all be blamed on the corona virus, but the truth is, greed is the real disease.

There can be no recovery until the debt is either paid off or forgiven. Debt is slavery.

Capitalism without sex appeal

The American Dream

I love capitalism, I think. It is a great system and it works, I think. It supports innovation and progress and it allows us to dream. Well, it seems that way. There are many interesting people online in these corona times saying that we need a new way. Perhaps. I know we need something. We need kindness.

I am all for hard work and taking a risk – it is what entrepreneurs do. But when the system has been perverted to the point it is now, then something’s gotta give. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and this is exactly where this current crony capitalism has led us to, a system that is properly broken. The poor have no chance, and the middle class have almost all disappeared. The world is largely binary: rich and poor.

What has happened to the American dream?! The middle class used to be everything. But they are almost gone. Debt is the trap that they all fell into. And I don’t think that this was an accident.

I am not good with financial speak, and I am not good with money. Yes, I don’t quite understand all the mumbo jumbo you read about in the news about government bonds, and the printing of dollars in the US. But I do know bullshit when I see it. You can’t cheat nature forever. This printing of money magic trick can only be done so many times before the illusion is exposed. I have studied magic for about eight years now – it is a wonderful passion. But no trick I have learned comes close to what America is trying to pull off here. Even Penn & Teller’s “Fool Us” has no place for a deception this big. Money printing like this is an illusion that not even Merlin will be able to explain.

Big business isn’t going to “learn their lesson” because they don’t have to. One can think of a spoilt rich kid who crashes his latest sports car – they know they will get another one soon, and that someone else will pay for it. Remember, he who gets bailed out first gets bailed out best.

I am all for entrepreneurs creating things that we need or love, and things that capture our imaginations. And if they do a good job, the world will reward them over and over. When someone succeeds out of passion, hard work, and risk taking, people love to celebrate a new hero. But when it is about a CEO fat cat, that never started anything, never took any risk, and lays off people, then no one is inspired to hear about their massive salaries and unbelievable share options and bonuses. Take take take … yes, they don’t make money, they take it. There is a big difference. Who allows them to do this … we do. This is what the system has evolved into.

Purpose

Twenty years ago we told a motion picture story on purpose. Well, it was a story called “Purpose” and it was about, um, purpose. The film turned out good, but not brilliant. It was our first attempt at visual storytelling, and many lessons were learned. It was an innocent and inspired affair, and there were some great scenes in the film, with dialogue like this, “You talk about purpose. Making money is our purpose here.” This speaks to the subject of greed, which is the biggest disease in the world today. Way bigger than the corona virus, in my view. And way more devastating.

I have been thinking about the purpose of it all for more than two decades. Why do these corporations needs to keep on making more and more money. How much do these fat cat CEOs have to keep taking off the table. When is it enough. And what of the hundreds of billions of dollars that America is now going to magically inject into the system – how much of this money will land up in the hands of those who really needed. My guess: very little.

We should be bailing out people, not companies.

The history of the world has shown us that this is going to end badly, but clearly, we never seem to learn. When history does kick in and repeat itself, no one should be surprised.

The question that I want to ask: what is the purpose of all this wealth accumulation? So you have a 100 million dollars, or a billion dollars, or more … what are you doing with all that money. If you were distributing it back to the poor, then all the more power to you. And if you are giving it back by creating jobs and building things, then carry on. But if you are just sitting on this money, and investing it in tech stocks or gold or art works or your own private island, then how does this help anyone. If you spend the money, then the theory goes that it trickles down, but most of this money never sees the light of day. Hoarding cash does not help anyone.

I don’t understand the passion or the purpose of accumulating money. What is the end goal? I know I am naïve and often pretty stupid when it comes to financial things, but this thing I do understand. It is all about greed. Ego is what is driving this – everyone is trying to be richer than the next guy, like it is some kind of contest. And it is a competition where the losers are all of those in need. Because they are getting squeezed to death in this game, and the rich who are the contestants, could care less. The corona is exposing this in a big way.

Power and control is another aspect, but that I will save for another day. Just keep in mind, they only have power if you give it to them. Learn to say no more. No to the new mobile phone, no to the overpriced bag from France, no to the 5th holiday home, no to all the bullshit … you don’t need it. In fact, one of the things that you keep hearing during this corona crises is that we actually need very little to live. As my one mate said to me the other day, “You will never have enough of the stuff you don’t need.”

The values we have all learned to embrace make many of us feel disgusting. What has happened to the fundamentals?

The role model of the world

America is meant to be the role model of the Western world, setting the pace, but what a circus America appears to be. Everyone on the planet has a relationship with America, through movies, brands, tech, etc. And as that old saying goes, “When America sneezes, the world catches a cold.” So yeah, the world is anxious. And whether it is correct or not, to lockdown the world like this, the train has left the station and it is gaining momentum, and will only stop when it comes off the rails. I think the massive unemployment which hit America now, for example, will get worse, and will only stop when things are at rock bottom. Yes, it is scary as I believe that this is just the beginning. The corona is not the main problem. The economic fallout is the bigger problem. It is hard to understand, but it is happening … and we can’t stop it. It is like a runaway train.

A pandemic like this is more than enough of a struggle, but then you have this mass unemployment, and also, this narcissistic, egomaniac of an incompetent American president, and it is a recipe for the perfect storm. Just one of these problems is more than America should be having to deal with, but all three at once … phew. America normally shows the world what to do – America leads. But right now, every country seems to be doing their own thing. Some countries, like South Korea, for example, seem to have a good handle of things. Why can’t we learn and copy? This is all beyond me.

I don’t want to go off on too much of a detour, but that bar bet that went wrong and landed up with Trump in office, is just mind boggling. Talk about Chauncey Gardiner. I am just waiting for Trump to go “Shit, the joke is over – I was just kidding. Bye.” But no chance – the guy is stark raving mad. Would not surprise me if he starts a war soon.

If you look on Google a startling statistic says that half of America has less than 500 $ in savings. The vulnerability of the US is just incredible. It is supposed to be the wealthiest country in the world but more than half of America can’t be out of work for more than a month. This extreme vulnerability is raising many hard questions. Now throw in that gun sales in America are a record high, and the war that Trump may spark may just be on his backyard.

A country like America that consumes much more than it produces, financed by the ongoing printing of money, and now with struggling supply chains, and with more money now chasing fewer goods, will lead to serious inflation. Get ready to pay much more for groceries. A food crises is looming.

Money, money, money

I can’t offer any advice or solution, but I can comment on the bigger problem: greed. America is all about money. I have lived in America, and their values are money first, people second. That was my experience. This is going to come bite us all in the ass.

Let’s see now what the super-rich are going to do to help the poor. America, don’t try save the world. Start off at home, and help your poor fellow Americans. Let’s see if they can do that. If they can, then perhaps it will inspire the rest of the world to follow suit.

Before you shake your head and poke holes in this text, answer one question: how much money have you given away to help those in need?

A kind of war

Here is some background on a documentary film project that we started working on this month. I imagine it will keep us busy for a big part of 2020.

Matwetwe, a coming-of-age adventure set in the iconic township of Atteridgeville, was released on the 25th January 2019. It pulled in an impressive R 980 762 within its first three days of release. It went on to make another million in the next 5 days. On Friday the 1st March, Matwetwe’s lead actor Sibusiso Khwinana was stabbed to death in Pretoria – over a cellphone.

Our feature-length documentary will be centered around the violent and relentless crime we as South Africans face on a daily basis. It’s a monstrous enemy; an enemy that has no preference in terms of age, gender, race or social standing; that attacks all walks of life. Sibusiso’s tragic passing will not only provide the emotional preface for the first act, it will be a thread that we will intermittently reference through the course of the feature.

Statistics suggest a state that is closer to a war zone than a country with a civilian crime issue. That said, we are not looking to create a shock-driven, investigative journalism-styled exposé. Rather we want to focus more on the state of our nation’s internal spirit and ways in which we can steer our country toward a more positive and hopeful destiny. This will be a contemporary, modern and refreshing look at who we really are as South Africans; our individual and communal identities, and how together we can look at real and pragmatic solutions in facing this common enemy.

This documentary aims to open a conversation, unearth insights, and hopefully begin to demystify the madness that is currently consuming and suffocating our nation. In order to forge a way forward, we will need to unpack our past, dissect our present, and light a path toward our future. To do this, we will need to hear from historians, head of crime fighting units, politicians, psychologists, violent crime cleaning services, down-on-the-ground crime counselors and, of course, from the people of our nation who have suffered at the hands of this merciless enemy. We will track stories, trace socio-historical influences and attempt to understand the mechanics behind the atrocities. We will listen to victims who have forgiven their attackers, and to those who have not. We will hear testimonies from the criminals themselves. And through it all, we will relentlessly hunt for solutions… Maybe, just maybe, significant insights will bubble to the surface – insights that will at least help build a foundation of understanding, that could in turn lead to a potential counter strategy.

We suspect that the reasons for the chronic levels of crime in our country are far more complex and layered than what we think we know; and that the solutions many of us currently believe would make a difference are desperately outmoded. Solutions like “we need more policing”. Our chequered, convoluted and unique history as a country demands a far more multi-pronged solutions strategy. Solutions that we need to unite on, construct together and, at the very least, talk about. And that we need to talk about now.

Returning sporadically to the narrative heartline of Sibusiso’s passing, we will continue bringing the story back from the macro to the micro, from the nation to the individual. Through the testimonials of his colleagues, friends and family, we hope to uncover how the aftermath of such a tragedy has had such devastating and far-reaching impact on the lives of those closest to him; how the passion and spirit of a young man at the cusp of realising his dream could be so senselessly ended, and the ripple effect that this cruel metamorphosis of dream-to-nightmare has had on those around him. It’s a film that we hope will help turn depression into hope, suffocation into inspiration, victimisation into empowerment.

A doctor’s purpose …

I had an operation a few months ago. It was my first real medical adventure (and hopefully my last) and I was very very lucky. I had a complicated hernia, which had developed over the past 18 months, and it finally got sorted out by a brilliant and caring surgeon. I spent 4 days in hospital and had time to think about life, and purpose.

Purpose is a word I have embraced intensely for most of my working life. My doctor’s purpose was very clear: he had to fix me. And he did.

I am relieved the worst is over now, and hopefully soon I will be fully recovered. I am extremely grateful to this doctor – it was the first time in my life that I was truly scared.

This doctor, a gastro-surgeon, has such a hectic schedule from what I can see. I doubt I would ever have the privilege to spend more time with him, and get to know him better. And yet, for me, in this challenging time of my life, he played such an important role. This got me thinking: is purpose the same thing as importance.

This doctor’s purpose is clear. He helps people medically. He fixes them. To me, and to the others he is helping, it is important. But what about other people who play different roles in our lives. Is their purpose also important?

I don’t often get a cold or the flu. When I do, I go and see our family GP and he sometimes he may prescribe antibiotics. And yes, we are happy when the flu goes away, and of course, we are grateful to the family doctor for helping to get us better. But the stakes are not as high compared to going in for an intense operation in a hospital. And for this reason I am wondering about purpose and importance. Perhaps I am just emotional, because it was a nerve wrecking experience, and perhaps a few more months from now I won’t think about it much more.

Do we have to be on the edge, in a life threatening situation to understand purpose, and its importance, or, are we simply all too busy in this fast paced world, to recognize and celebrate all those around us who have had a purpose in our lives. Like a school teacher, for example. Or a plumber, in that time of emergency. Or an IT support guy, that helps you, when you are on a deadline, and gremlins come give you grey hairs.

In my hospital ward, I shared a room with a young man who was a teacher. And I started thinking about teachers, and how they play an important role in shaping our views on the world. An inspired teacher could encourage us to be brave and bold, and that could lead to magic in the world. I have had people believe in me in my life, some teachers, some mentors, some friends, some family, and this has all helped me to do what I do. Yes, sometimes I fail, and sometimes I succeed. Their belief in me, and their guidance, often gives me additional strength and confidence.

A doctor’s purpose is indeed important, especially when your life is on the line. But what about the soul? Living like a zombie is not what life is about. Our souls are often in crises, when we are feeling down and can’t see the wood from the trees. Sometimes it is just exhaustion and other times we need some inspiration. Or a confidence booster. Or simply, some help. Whatever the reasons for our struggle, there are other crises that may not threaten our physical life, but can be pounding away at our soul.

Have you ever just had a night out with some friends and gone “Now that was good for the soul. Just what the doctor ordered.” Exactly.

I am extremely grateful to the surgeon who recently fixed me up. And I am also grateful to all of those in my life who have inspired me to grow, and for those who have believed in me.

I’ve been around, ya know? There was a time I could see. And I have seen. Boys like these, younger than these. Their arms torn out, their legs ripped off. But there is nothing like the sight of an amputated spirit. There’s no prosthetic for that.“ – Lt. Col. Frank Slade (Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman)

Are you paying attention ?

Imagine if you email out a document to your team and ask them to read it. How do you know if they have even looked at the file. One way to get an indication is by embedding a token in the document. When the file is opened, you get a notification. And what happens if someone not in your team opens this file. That could be a problem. Perhaps documents (data) are leaking out of your organization.

This is the idea behind Canary Tokens. Very smart micro level traps. Think of them as granular trip wires. There are so many creative uses for these simple and effective triggers. You tokenize a file and if someone opens it, you receive a notification, with perhaps the source IP address.

Have a look at this old article the brilliant Haroon Meer shared with me. This is an example of a token in the analogue world. Compelling story this … smart stuff.

There’s a brilliant reason why Van Halen asked for a bowl of M&Ms with all the brown candies removed before every show

https://www.thisisinsider.com/van-halen-brown-m-ms-contract-2016-9