by Tommy Hough
Lemmy is dead. I never thought I'd write that.
Suffice it to say I'm nearly inconsolable. We just did a bit on the 91X Almanac about Lemmy's 70th birthday four days ago. Now he's gone. According to the initial news stories he was killed by a particularly aggressive form of cancer. But would you expect Lemmy's cancer to be anything less than aggressive?
Like Scott Weiland's death a few weeks ago, the internet began to chatter with an initial posting this afternoon, but I've learned over several years of internet rumors and employing some kind of journalistic method that you wait for a confirmation of the story from a reliable source, or you confirm it yourself.
If you've studied journalism, or simply read All the President's Men, you want to get at least two sources, but three is better. They have to go on the record. These days it's tougher with second-tier news outlets or clickbait sites picking up internet rumors by way of built-in coding 'bots seeking stories. But the confirmations came, and the news was true.
As far as Lemmy's legacy goes, if you're a Motörhead fan you know and love the music and know Lemmy and the band could not function without each other. The band's 40-year ride – formed after Lemmy was kicked out of his first band Hawkwind in 1975 – is as impressive and real as Lemmy's long-standing attitude: rock and roll is not about looking back.
The songs and albums are endless, and great: Bomber, Overkill, the landmark live album No Sleep 'Till Hammersmith, Iron Fist, Ace of Spades, Orgasmatron, and they even got Michael Palin from Monty Python to deliver a faux sermon to close out the first side of Rock 'n' Roll.
But in one odd departure, Lemmy slowed Motörhead down for one number in 1991, which turned out to be the title song for the band's 1916 album.
Written about the British disaster in the World War One battle of the Somme, Lemmy offered up these touching lyrics for the dead – tying together at last much of the albeit tongue-in-cheek military gear the band often sported – in one very real and tender moment:
"Sixteen years old when I went to the war, to fight for a land fit for heroes. God on my side, and a gun in my hand – chasing my days down to zero. And I marched and I fought and I bled, and I died and I never did get any older. But I knew at the time, that a year in the line – was a long enough life for a soldier."
Both my grandfathers survived the battlefields of World War One, so those lyrics mean a little something extra for me.
Thank you for everything Lemmy: the music, the attitude, the moles. The music Motörhead made was thunderous, dangerous, hilarious and bone-crushingly swaggering as anything that came down the pike in the wake of Elvis. In the late 70s it was no small feat to bring a pub of rockers and punks together, but Lemmy and Motörhead did it, and wouldn't be caught thinking twice about how.
May the cards be right, may the leather be black, may the bomber keep flying and may the road crew get lost along the way. RIP Lemmy Kilmister.
by Tommy Hough
I'll be the first to admit I don't know too much about money or investing, and I'm suspicious and skeptical of alleged financial professionals who, at the end of the day, are trying to rationalize gambling with my money to enrich themselves. The last guy I seriously spoke with in the financial services industry actually gave me unsolicited advice as to who to vote for, then energetically recommended I invest in Russian oil as I sat stunned in his office. You can't make this stuff up.
Funny thing is, it turns out not too many people who actually work in the banking or investment sector have a clear idea of what they do either, beyond varying levels of greed and the basic vocabulary and tools of the trade.
That's according to the new film adaptation of Michael Lewis' 2010 book The Big Short, about the causes of the 2007-08 sub-prime mortgage meltdown and worldwide recession, which nearly did in capitalism as we know it.
Directed by frequent Will Ferrell collaborator and Funny or Die co-founder Adam McKay, The Big Short is a very funny and frequently shocking film with dozens of ringing notes of truth, displaying none of the inane humor and runny improvisation of McKay's earlier movies with Ferrell like Anchorman or Talladega Nights, which too often took comedy-rich concepts and ran them into the ground without ever fully utilizing the original concept for laughs (admit it, the funniest scene in Anchorman is the rumble with Tim Robbins).
Not so here. First of all, Will Ferrell isn't in this movie, but McKay has traded up with a first-rate cast. Second, the director has long been a critic of Wall Street and especially the 2008 government bailout of the financial sector, which enabled the same banks and institutions which caused the financial meltdown of 2008 to survive without having to be broken into pieces or made to atone for their sins. The Great Recession ultimately put six million Americans on the street, and cost eight million Americans their jobs.
Those who obsess over the alleged purity of the "free market" and "letting the market decide" are often silent on how the U.S. government – ideally, the best hope for a level playing field for all – came to the rescue of the banks with the requirement that the money given to them "trickle down" into investments in the hopeful, Reaganesque supply-side definition of the term. And what happened? The banks sat on the money, of course, and paid themselves huge bonuses – while the nation continues to recover from the effects of the recession in which the middle class is now more myth than reality.
But it wasn't a war or natural disaster or arch-criminal that caused the crash, it was an institution unwilling to look at its own data, unwilling to turn off the gravy train spigot, unwilling to end clearly dangerous practices, and a lack of federal oversight after seven years of brutal budget cuts intended to pay for the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, which left regulatory agencies wholly understaffed to even begin to address the problem. As the movie points out in one passing vignette, federal employees were often biding their time in oversight jobs until they could land a "real" job with a large bank or financial establishment.
But it was Big Money – and a willful lack of understanding among those in Big Money of the nuclear bomb capability of sub-prime mortgages – that caused the disaster. As the movie notes with an anonymous quote: "Truth is like poetry, and most people f___ing hate poetry."
But there were, however, smaller players within the financial world who were indeed doing their homework and taking action – ostensibly to enrich themselves, but only because no one else was willing to see or believe the train hurtling at them head-on on the same track. For the believers, the numbers didn’t look right at all – yet financial institutions couldn’t conceive of mortgages being at all risky. "The price of real estate always goes up, right?" "You're going to do better next year with money, right?" "That's not how we do things at Merrill Lynch." The characters veer from nervous to sheer terror at how right they may be, and what the reality of a mortgage implosion would do – and did do – to the nation.
Some financial professionals could see the crash coming as early as 2005, like Christian Bale's portrayal of Silicon Valley broker Michael Burry, who began to shield his investors from the coming calamity by "shorting" the market. Betting against the validity of sub-prime mortgage bundles, the socially-awkward Burry (who may have a form of Asperger's Syndrome) is nearly laughed out of the room at Goldman Sachs by smug Wall Street financiers who agree to sell him credit default swaps against sub-prime deals which Burry identified as risky. The Goldman Sachs team can't believe their dumb luck.
A similar deal Burry negotiated with Deutche Bank – one of the market's primary advocates of toxic collateralized debt obligations (CDO) – clues in an aggressive Deutche Bank financier played by Ryan Gosling, who opts to play both sides of the fence. In doing so, he brings in a brokerage team led by Steve Carell (in a role based on money manager Steve Eisman) that already has a reputation of hostility toward the market on a good day.
But after getting out of the bubble of Wall Street and doing their own boots-on-the-ground recon in the hinterlands of Miami's mid-decade McMansion building spasm (in a neighborhood which just as easily could have been Temecula circa 2008), Carell's team finds the situation is even worse than they could have imagined at their most cynical, hardened moments.
Brad Pitt, an executive producer on the film, also makes several brief appearances as a mentor and money guru to two goofy but perceptive newbies in the financial world, who come across a copy of Burry's diagnostics and research, and similarly do their own homework and become rich in the process – with the obligatory, "at what cost" added.
The film also utilizes several unexpected cameos and cleverly breaks the fourth wall to add additional narration and context at just the right moment to help the audience follow the dialogue-heavy action. The writing really stands out. What could have been a mess of a script with a multi-part story is instead clear, streamlined and often very funny.
The Big Short is a comedy on the surface, but it's also a fascinating drama of a moment of paramount ignorance for the U.S., an opportunity lost to right wrongs, and a warning that we are in the same place today as we were 10 years ago – and have learned nothing.
Keep your eyes and ears peeled for the ghosts of financial cretins past in The Big Short: Washington Mutual, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, and of course Lehman Brothers, whose demise sounded the end of the financial world's mortgage distortions for one, brief moment. Lehman even lied to their own people, right to the end, from the top down – as stunned traders file out of the building in one of Wall Street's biggest disasters, they're sternly warned by corporate sycophants not to speak to the press even as the firm’s flaws have been laid bare for all to see. No insult is too cruel to hurl at Big Money at this point.
Keep an ear out too for the closing song on the film's soundtrack, a wholly appropriate number from Led Zeppelin that ominously, perfectly ties the sordid tale together.
Do your money homework. The Big Short is great cinema and a labor of passion from director Adam McKay. It deserves a Good Citizenship Award.
by Tommy Hough
After nearly 13 years of evasive answers, northward glances and downright lies being heaped upon the media and legions of San Diego Chargers fans by team ownership, even the San Diego Union-Tribune – until recently a sycophant lapdog for the Chargers' desire for a new stadium at any cost, no matter the burden to taxpayers or the environment – faced facts and concluded Sunday's game was indeed going to be the final San Diego Chargers home game for what may be a very long time:
Sunday, Chargers fans will fill Qualcomm Stadium for the last home game of the season – and potentially of the home team itself. Players plan to bring wives and kids onto the field afterward. Fans may stay a while, too. If it’s goodbye, it’d be good for them to know their owner is leaving for logical reasons instead of lies.
Frankly, the logical reasons are nearly as distasteful as the lies, but the crack in the facade wasn't based upon anything relating to responsible public policy. The U.T.'s change in tone was because of an unprovoked and unwarranted quote from Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, who sits on the Committee on Los Angeles Opportunities, also known as the Roger Goodell-organized cabal of NFL owners who are trying to land a franchise for L.A.
In a Thursday article in the Houston Chronicle, McNair dismissively discussed his reasons for cancelling a meeting with San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. The mayor knows the Chargers are a lost cause at this point, but is making an 11th hour push to save the Bolts that, despite some honest effort, appears to be more for show and Faulconer's legacy than any real chance of success.
In the Chronicle article, McNair said:
"In San Diego, they've been trying for about 15 years. They've had all kinds of political problems there. At one time, half the council went to jail or something. It's been pretty bad. It's hard to negotiate when you've got to go to the jail to negotiate. So they haven't accomplished anything."
Don't you love it when Texans talk smack about Californians? They never get any of it right. McNair added:
"We can't take what they're saying very seriously."
Well, first of all – shove it, Mr. McNair.
Nothing's been accomplished except for the city bending over backwards to work with the Chargers, often to the detriment of other city needs and necessities. San Diego hasn't "accomplished anything" because the Chargers aren't buying. They're not interested in staying. It's a straw man position.
The Texans owner is further trying to muddy the waters of plausible deniability by willfully confusing a brief city council scandal here 10 years ago, which only resulted in one council member going to jail and was wholly unrelated to the-then bigger pension scandal, than anything having to do with the Chargers.
Mayor Filner, of course, infamously resigned more recently in 2013 due to his personal behavior, but never went to jail. And both Interim Mayor Todd Gloria and Mayor Faulconer have honorably served the office since Filner's departure, and readily made themselves available to Chargers representatives without anyone having to crawl between bars.
For the U.T., however, the McNair dust-up was a convenient way to at last end its embarrassing bout of Chargers cheerleading, and finally throw Bolts owner Dean Spanos under the bus for failing to "stand up" for San Diego when Mr. McNair was so obviously, deliberately wrong.
Except Spanos doesn't care, and why would he? It’s not as though he was putting the Carson deal together over the last 18 months in a black hole or in a vacuum, but it would appear the U.T. has at last washed its hands of carrying water for the Chargers after breathing false hope into Bolts fans for the last several years – and trying to pin the blame for the Chargers' departure on many of the paper's (i.e., former owner Doug Manchester's) traditional adversaries.
I've heard a lot of denial about the Chargers' slow-motion divorce from San Diego for years, and I continue to hear it from folks I meet in P.B. and Clairemont, to wealthy businessmen leaving their Maserati with the valet at the U.S. Grant Hotel. It still hasn't sunk into the heads of Chargers fans yet: the team's management opted to forsake the city and its fanbase a long time ago.
It doesn't matter what stadium magic Mayor Faulconer may conjure up at this point. There is no stadium deal that can be presented that will be good enough for the team. They want out – and in fact, they've been out for months if not years.
It all goes back to 2003, the last time a Super Bowl was held in San Diego – a city as genetically-designed for such an event as any in the U.S., given our wintertime climate and volume of available hotel and convention space.
Back then, a day or two before the Super Bowl XXXVII match-up between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders, NFL commissioner Paul Taglibue mock-lamented to the media that it was a shame there were no plans to get a new football stadium built in San Diego, because it would mean there couldn't be any more Super Bowls in America's Finest City.
Being new in town at the time I was surprised at what I heard, given the city's obvious hospitaility advantages and attractions being on full display before a nationwide TV audience. But I was even more surprised at the lack of anger San Diegans had for the unnecessary put-down from the head of the NFL.
What in the world was wrong with Qualcomm Stadium anyway? Not enough seats for rich white guys? Why was the public suddenly on the hook to build a new stadium now that the NFL had determined that a stadium built in 1966 was no longer fashionable enough for their Big Games?
But instead of pushing back and touting the city's built-in tourist advantages in a manner that would shame the NFL into the clear light of reason, blinders-on Chargers fans and San Diego business boosters mindlessly agreed that the answer could only be a new stadium, instead of telling the NFL to ____ off.
Now, in a scenario that could only be concocted by an entity as short-sightedly tone-deaf as the NFL, the league is prepared to enable the departure of a franchise that for 54 years has made its home in San Diego – the eighth-biggest city in the U.S. – for the sole purpose of planting an NFL franchise in Los Angeles. Quite the cynical switcheroo.
Granted, the fate of the Rams and the Raiders similarly remains up in the air, and both could also wind up in Carson or elsewhere in L.A. County very soon. But it's been apparent for months that instead of working to bring a team other than the Chargers to Los Angeles – so the NFL could have two franchises in Southern California instead of one – the league is doing the bidding of Bolts ownership to ensure they move to L.A.
While that scenario will bring massive, albeit short-term gains for Chargers owners, investors and the league, the long-term result will be the eighth-biggest city in the U.S. will hate the NFL for the next 50 years for robbing it of its franchise. And the league will still only have one franchise in Southern California instead of the two they could have.
Yeah, great plan guys.
Tommy Hough is a former San Diego broadcast personality, wilderness and parks advocate, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He was the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in 2018.