Does it seem to you that in the last few days the presidential campaign has deflated? It feels like we all know how this is going to end. Maybe that's only because the media have turned down the hype for some secret reason. I doubt that many of us are close enough to the campaigns to know what's actually going on. Or maybe it's just that Donald Trump has somehow avoided saying anything radioactively stupid and offensive lately. I'm pretty sure he has more of that in him, so maybe things will perk up.
In an age of unabashed opinion-journalism, the extent to which the media influences the mood of the election is cause for concern. Of course, this isn't the first era in which so-called news organizations have sought to sway public opinion (Hello, William Randolph Hearst?). When the New York Journal and the New York World went at it, a sizable portion of the United States paid attention—but that was nothing compared to the power of the Internet and cable news. Most people think neither critically nor independently; they take in the opinions of others and repeat them. For a commercial news-monger, attracting a bigger audience means not only higher advertising revenues but higher idea adoption. When a cable network creates a false spectacle to boost ratings, it simultaneously creates a false mood in the republic.
Does it help that every word spurting out of CNN is contradicted by blather from Fox? Well, when the horror that is Donald Trump emerged to oppose the horror that is Hillary Clinton, did that make things better or worse?
I see that the European Union's chief Brexit negotiator wants to conduct all proceedings in French.
No hard feelings.
President Obama boldly declared a pivot to Asia. We prominently backed the Philippines at the Court of International Arbitration in the Hague, where it obtained a crushing defeat of Chinese encroachment. We have endeavored to drive a wedge between China and everyone else in the region.
Now Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, while visiting China, has declared his "separation" from the United States. "I've realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world—China, Philippines and Russia. It's the only way."
Yet another grand success for Obama's foreign policy, if you want to call it that.
I take into account that Duterte is so like Trump that it makes my sphincter clutch. I take into account that the blatant message in his alignment with China is, "Could we please have some money and stuff? How about a railroad?" I take into account that this is an overwhelmingly obvious tactic worthy of a teenage girl juggling boyfriends.
Duterte's a freak show. But Obama's pivot isn't looking so good, either.
Our local paper is giving itself a makeover. The most obvious symptom is a new series of full-color front pages created by someone who took a one-hour class in graphic design. In the terrifying example above, the writer of the lead piece has gotten on the makeover wagon, changing her former pseudonym of "Elena Tucker" to "Elaine Tucker." It's a whole new world over there.
The paper was, and mostly still is, just a paper of record. Who died, who got arrested, who was elected. Reporters go to the meetings, but they never go snooping around for, you know, news. The paper welcomes all sorts of columns by local jokers, because they have space to fill, but never offers a significant opinion of its own. That's because they don't want to piss anyone off enough to cancel their subscription.
What I've noticed is that the paper no longer offers routine coverage of local government. It used to give short, flat, uninformative reports on what happened at city council and at the commissioners court. Now it doesn't even bother with that. The guys and gals over at city hall must be breaking out the champagne. No more exposure to the pesky public.
The paper got in a little hot water over how it handled a recent arrest, and it blew the coverage of our immense new city hall, and it let the stealth assault by Buc-ees slip by undetected, so maybe it's decided that hard news just isn't its strength. Better to report on the homecoming king and queen. Front page stuff.
I just checked out the minutes of the most recent council meeting, which went entirely unreported by the paper. Someone has proposed building a Jaguar and Range Rover dealership. How is that not big news? We already have Mercedes and Infiniti dealerships, and there's a Lexus dealership just a bit down the road. Alt-Right Christians in Swank Rides. That's us.
I guess we've gotten Trump-numb. In any rational world, at least three of Trump's comments would have sent the crowd running for the exits:
"What a nasty woman."
"No puppet. No puppet. You're the puppet."
"I'll keep you in suspense" about accepting the election results.
For some reason, it's the "puppet" remark that I find most interesting. It's so nutty that Alec Baldwin won't be able to parody it. It's perfect. It's a gem, a jewel. He's a moron.
There's a lot to work with in the two simple words "nasty woman." They have a revealing edge to them, don't they? If you try to follow the string back to where that remark came from, you'll find yourself lost in the jungle of Trump's character flaws.
Looked at one way, the "I'll keep you in suspense" line is just another example of Trump's arrogant, dismissive nature. He shares that with Hillary—the rules don't apply to me, I am above the rest of you, I can bend facts to my will. But in this case Trump exhibits a casual disrespect for the republic. It's not the sort of thing that should be said lightly. It doesn't go well with smug.
I've been looking to invest in real estate. I don't want to borrow any money and I don't want to risk much of our nest egg, so I'm looking for a small, lame investment. In the "do as I say, not as I do" category, I would urge any sane real estate investor to take as much cheap mortgage money as they can get their hands on. But not me.
A friend mentioned that they were thinking about buying a beachfront condo in Rockport. We used to have a beach house there twenty years ago. We wouldn't do that again, but maybe we might get a little condo to put in the rental pool. More importantly, the idea gave us an excuse to kill a day driving down to Rockport and back to see what's cookin'. So that's what we did on Saturday.
The town has changed, but not greatly. New grocery store, Wal-Mart, fast-food joints and such. More boats in the harbor. Some new houses, but mostly here and there. No new condos. In twenty years, no new condos. Not a lot of growth, really. Prices went way up, then they plunged, and they're still settling. Even tax assessments are dropping. I think the recession hit the coastal leisure market hard.
Available condos are pretty much the same old stuff—skinny shotguns with a balcony at the front and a galley kitchen at the back, maybe one bed/bath down, others up. Some have boat slips. They tend to be in low-rise blocks assembled into large developments. Most have been remodeled, more or less. Prices seem cheap, but the units are small, so it would be more accurate to say that prices are moderate. Getting a 1,200-foot 2-bedroom 2-bath unit in decent shape for under $250,000 is definitely not pricey. And sellers are more than willing to bargain. It's not unusual for a unit to sit on the market for more than a year.
For you HGTV fans, be advised that you can rent these units to short-term visitors. There are two three-month seasons: Summer and Snowbirds. In between, such as last weekend, the place is empty. A nice time to visit, but renters are scarce. A rental lady I talked to said that rents would cover management, cleaning, maintenance, condo dues, taxes and insurance... maybe. But don't be looking for cash flow. Don't expect help with that mortgage that I won't get.
I decided that Rockport condos are either a great investment or a terrible investment. I wouldn't want to have bought one ten years ago, but buying one today might play right into a sweet equity upside. I don't think there's much income upside. In the end, I demurred because of the age and style of the units. They're in good shape, but they're a creature of an earlier time. What if the problem is that people just don't want that style of waterfront condo anymore? I didn't walk into a single one and think, "Wow, this is pretty nice." I probably would have liked it better if the units were empty, but they were all furnished in the classic beach-crappy style. You might think that I could see past that.
This morning I was reminded of Telluride. When I looked at maybe investing in the Ski Hill area (not downtown Telluride), I noticed that prices had soared and crashed. A lot of people were wearing ski boots underwater. That spooked me. Do I really want to invest in someone else's problem? I didn't.
But maybe I should. Maybe this is the chance to look smart, for once. Buy low, sell high. It's never actually happened to me, but I've read about it in books.