Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

St. Michael Save Us!

Michael_Jackson_an_angel_by_Ice_BeatMichael Jackson is now one with the ages. MJ’s passage from this earth marks the death of an American hero and the birth of an angel or possibly a saint. MJ now joins Elvis and Princess Di to complete a divine celestial trinity.

First there was Elvis, The King. The American dream and the innocence of an age dies way too young. No worries, Col. Parker transforms it into the tragic legend of an unsullied Americana that refuses to die even as its mummified corpse lying in state at Graceland continues to twitch from all the amphetamines old Elvis consumed during his historic run in Vegas.

Elvis, the everyman saint. Rising from the humble estate of a Mississippi delta dirt farmer. Elvis would conquer the hearts of his countrymen with sweet southern charm, an impish smile and an untamable shock of hair that flipped when his hips rocked. His love me tender silky voice had the power to weaken every woman’s knees. Countless men would also be curiously drawn to emulate his persona by adopting the vain King’s more frilly affectations. It was a curious example of socially acceptable homo eroticism in a don’t ask don’t tell and certainly don’t show society.

Princess Di, The Lady of the Lake, would follow Elvis. Her story genuinely tragic because her violent demise was not her doing. Her story truly the stuff out of a very Grimm fairy tale. A more gorgeous Cinderella could not be found. Yet her unprincely prince yearning to free himself from under the shadow of a perpetual queen would flummox his princess bride. It would doom this marriage and force the affection starved Princess into the arms of another. This fairy tale did not end well for the defrocked Princess. Her loyal subjects refused to let this very contemporary aristocrat descend to the pedestrian status of commoner. Her minions jealously guarded the memory of this royal icon. They sought to affirm personal fantasies that attaining royal status, though remote, is a possibility; and that beautiful benevolent monarchs are real people like them who deeply love and identify with their daily trials. Devoted Britoners make pilgrimages to her final resting place that is worthy of Queen Guenevere. Pricess Di is entombed on an island in an ornamental lake known as The Round Oval. The lake is located in Althorp Park’s gardens the ancestral home of Princess Di’s family. The Round Oval is surrounded by a path with thirty-six oak trees, marking each year of her life. Princess Di’s constant sentinels are four black swans that swim the lake amidst water lilies, which, in addition to white roses, were Diana’s favorite flowers.

MJ’s beatification will proceed abetted by fawning fans, a complicit family and entertainment media moguls eager to do large licensing deals to insure that royalties continue to accrue to the King of Pop estate and its agents. His veneration will address the American peoples deep seated need and unending capacity for hero worship. This need is only exceeded by our driving compulsion for instant gratification through gluttonous consumption. For many, this is the principal freedom promised to any and all Americans; an inalienable right to satiate any whim or whimsy money can buy. Nowhere in recent memory do these character deficiencies coalescence so neatly as they do with MJ.

The voracious consumption of culture knows no bounds. Like every other aspect of American life, culture as a commodity is the only culture we know. Radical capitalism has so thoroughly reified itself into the fabric of our everyday life that we find it increasingly difficult to imagine or experience human relations or interactions outside of a commercial transactional exchange. MJ significant buying power purportedly allowed him to bleach his skin, remove a negroid nose, purchase a triptych of white kids, fiance a voracious prescription drug addition and allegedly engage and cover up pedophilia activities.

MJ’s life was the triumph of consumer capitalism. Marketing changed and created MJ and the idea of MJ. From his very first appearance on the cover of Tiger Beat magazine as a member of the Jackson 5, to the ghastly image of his corpse filled body bag being offloaded from a helicopter on its way to the city morgue; MJ was a commercial vehicle, a marketing juggernaut that enriched a multitude of people, fattened his bank account and tormented and robbed his soul.

Yes MJ could have anything and everything money could buy yet he found no peace. This mythic figure created, manufactured and marketed by immutable corporate institutions seeking to seamlessly bind our mind and soul to an existential dream of material opulence in reality is much more the nightmare. It is more akin to imprisonment in a gulag of Walmarts; then the elusive personal liberation tantalizingly dangled by the broken promises of consumer capitalism. MJ’s death truly signals a hair on fire moment for our culture and no metaphor could be more powerful then his Pepsi commercial shoot gone bad.

Our myths instruct us to hold on to our Valium and amphetamine addicted lifestyles. Its the price we must pay to work and acquire the things that hold the illusory promise of freedom. We need heroes to emulate. It fuels our Viagra driven power surges in a queer transference. Its how we escape our daily pedestrian dread. It is how we live to converse with the God’s if only for a few fleeting infrequent moments allowed by the running meters of consumer rapture.

Here we are led to believe that after a heavy day of fighting the power, misogynistic rappers guzzling Christal and lighting Cuban spliffs with hundred dollar bills are the just rewards for speaking truth to power and taking on the man. Madison Avenue business is the creation of virtual mythology.

MJ’s career trajectory perfectly captured the arch of American culture since the Viet Nam war. The perfect antidote to The Black Panthers and Malcolm X, the cutesy Jackson 5 were acceptable Negroes welcomed in all white American living rooms as they stomped on Ed Sullivan’s TV Show. To the final funereal spectacle complete with a homily by Rev. Al Sharpton offering MJ apologetics and the Afro American Hollywood bourgeoisie rolling up to the Staple Center in a caravan of Black Danalis perfectly captured a peculiar resonance of Barack Obama’s America. MJ always at its epicenter. Placed their by the power of Madison Avenue media mavens and blockbuster Tinsel Town agents.

CNN was crowing how this event was about the common folk. Not the stars or glittering sequined gloves worn by MJ pallbearers. Elvis was a Horatio Alger type story. Princess Di let us fantasize about our royalty as we sat in our personal castles of over mortgaged homes cluttered with Rubbermaid artifacts. MJ was evidence of the triumph of marketing and the divinity of packaged consumer capitalism. Look again at the man in the mirror. Let it reveal how consumer fantasy makes every man King and each day a coronation through the availability of fast and easy credit.

Joseph Campbell wrote in The Hero Has a Thousand Faces “Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed. The living images become only remote facts of a distant time or sky. Furthermore, it is never difficult to demonstrate that as science and history mythology is absurd. When a civilization begins to reinterpret its mythology in this way, the life goes out of it, temples become museums, and the link between the two perspectives becomes dissolved.

As the world begins its frantic search of Travelocity for deals for a Hajj to the Neverland Ranch, some might recall St. Michael the Arch Angel who cast Lucifer out of heaven. MJ will be St. Michael the Second. It may be an ironic twist of fate that MJ will hold second billing for eternity to an Arch Angel portrayed by John Travolta in the film Micheal. I’m sure his publicists are busy planning a PR campaign to rearrange the celestial order of things.

You Tube Music Video: Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson: Madison Avenue

Risk: culture, capitalism, marketing,

July 30, 2009 Posted by | branding, commerce, commodities, culture, democracy, institutional, manufacturing, marketing, media, movie, pop, product, reputation | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Great Dictator

The Great Dictator is a film done by Charlie Chaplin in 1940. The first scene from the film included here is Charlie Chaplin making an anti-fascist speech. The speech speaks volumes about our political condition today and the need to be ever watchful to guard our liberties and freedoms by safeguarding our humanity. In Chaplin’s time the threat was Nazism. In our time the threat is ambivalence, the allure of narrow nationalism, dehumanization of others, consumerism, faux patriotism and an ignorance of the essential tenants of a democratic republic and why they are critical to our freedom and liberty.

As Charlie Chaplin implores his countrymen to “fight for democracy not for your enslavement.” I ask that you carefully consider your vote and to most importantly exercise your vote and protect the right of others to participate in our great democracy. Its the humane thing to do.

Vote, use it or lose it.

Movie Video Clip: Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator Speech Scene

Movie Video Clip: Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator Globe Scene

Music Video: Glory

Risk: democracy, elections,

October 27, 2008 Posted by | democracy, elections, movie, soundtrack | , , , , , | Leave a comment

FAS 157: Allegory of the Cave

In Plato’s magnum opus, The Republic, he devotes a chapter to Socrates’ discourse with his young student Glaucon. Socrates uses an allegory to explain the difference between truth and appearances. The Allegory of the Cave has remained a powerful philosophical metaphor and cornerstone of metaphysics. It outlines how the human perception of reality can be at odds with and diverge widely from what actually is true and good.

The cave is a controlled environment where humans are held captive. The only light they are allowed to see is from a dimly lit fire that casts shadows of images on a far wall. Enclosed in darkness save the faint projections, their inability to see the source or understand how those images appear to their senses gives them the perception that the shadows of things that they see are in fact the real things themselves. It’s not until the cave’s captives are brought out into the light of day that they are able to see that the shadows are only a poor reflection of a manipulated truth.

Socrates’ lesson to young Glaucon, whose name is very close to glaucoma, serves as a proper metaphor to understand the debate concerning FAS 157 and the concept of Fair Value.  For the uninitiated, the issue of Fair Value under FAS 157 addresses how to determine the “value” of securities held in investment portfolios. FAS 157 provide guidelines for three categories of valuation methodologies. Large banks and brokerage firms are increasing the reclassification of their assets using Level 3 methods. The valuation and projected cash flows from assets such as CMOs, CDOs, CLO, and Credit Default Swaps are being derived by sophisticated computer models developed by each firms in-house risk management group. Many of these risk models failed to perceive and detect the melt down in the credit markets that so far has led to $100 billion in balance sheet write downs for the large investment and money center banks. Socrates allegory is similar to the models developed by bank risk managers. These “black box proprietary applications” shines light on the Level 3 assets to determine an approximation of market value. It’s a self created reality of a risk manager’s perception of an assets value.

So what.

Esoteric stuff to be sure but the debate concerning this issue is most relevant to understanding how the current credit crisis evolved, how banks, brokerage firms and hedge funds value and trade securities, how risk mangers make informed decisions concerning risk tolerance and how industry and governmental regulators determine weather a bank is sufficiently capitalized to remain solvent.

The political fallout from the Bear Stearns shotgun wedding is yet to be played out. Main Street wants some relief for mortgage defaults and Wall Street feels that the Fed reacted too quickly and is resisting additional regulation and market intervention into the workings of the capital markets.

Pervasive credit and macroeconomic risks are still present in the global capital and debt markets. Mortgages, municipal finance and commercial paper markets were the first wave of credit market dislocations. Credit card receivables, student loans and other securitized asset classes may pose some acute challenges for our central bankers, accountants, regulators and risk managers in the not to distant future.

Once we emerge from our caves Socrates’ quote to young Glaucon become most prescient. Said Socrates, “And if they were in the habit of conferring honors among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honors and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer, Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?”

Thank you Socrates. I waited 30 years to use this knowledge that Dr. Choi excitedly taught me in Introduction to Western Philosophy as a freshman at William Paterson College in 1974. Now that we have experienced the light may we never have to slip into darkness again?

Music Video: War, Slippin Into Darkness

Risk: credit, regulatory, accounting, banking, market, risk management

May 18, 2008 Posted by | banking, credit crisis, FASB, hedge funds, jazz, movie, philosophy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment