As surely as a home is far more than a house, the place where I live is far more than a street, a town, a county, a country, a zip code, or an IP address. I don’t live in the land of politics or the realm of economics. I don’t live inside the Beltway or in Nasdaqland or Kazakhstan. I don’t live in cyberspace.
I live on two acres, here, in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, at around 8,000 feet, abutting a hundred acres of pasture and a decent size spring, under the outcroppings that go by the white man’s name of Twin Sisters. One of these days, I’d like to poke around and see if I might discover an Arapaho name for this place, this pacific, grassy glade, this gentle meadow bowl beneath the rocks, beautiful today as it has been for millions of years, west of the Flatirons and east of the Continental Divide, five or ten miles, as the magpie flies, from where Boulder Creek spills out of the foothills and onto the plains.
Although I’ve lived here for six years, I barely know this place. As to its human inhabitants, forget it: Mountain folk prize privacy. Only twice has my doorstep been graced with unexpected visitors. Once, seeking directions. The second time, seeking to give direction—biblical direction, that is.
With respect to flora and fauna, water and soil, I’ve only scratched the surface. I’ve put in eight raised beds with hoops, brought in compost and organic soil amendments, and keep a compost tumbler busy. Garlic does fine up here. So does kale. And, yes, it’s true that I did, last summer, enjoy a harvest of seven cherry tomatoes. I worshipped them briefly and then ate them. In summer, I am grateful for Indian paintbrush, blanket flower, columbine, mountain aster, California poppy, yarrow, and others whose names I don’t yet know. In winter, I decipher tracks in the snow of coyote, bobcat, chipmunk, squirrel, rabbit, and deer. I enjoy the episodic acquaintance of scores of elk during shoulder seasons.
At a time when the real is being threatened by the fake, nothing is more important than zooming back in to where we live.
Quite the flap about fake news, real news, and tweeting has been flapping for many months now:
Fake news, and the proliferation of raw opinion that passes for news, is creating confusion, punching holes in what is true, causing a kind of fun-house effect that leaves the reader doubting everything, including real news.
That has pushed up the political temperature and increased polarization. No longer burdened with wrestling with the possibility that they might be wrong, people on the right and the left have become more entrenched in their positions, experts say. In interviews, people said they felt more empowered, more attached to their own side and less inclined to listen to the other. Polarization is fun, like cheering a goal for the home team.1
A great paradox of our hyper-connected digital age is that we seem to be drifting apart. Increasingly, however, research confirms our deepest intuition: Human connection lies at the heart of human well-being. It’s up to all of us—doctors, patients, neighborhoods and communities—to maintain bonds where they’re fading, and create ones where they haven’t existed.2
While I was reading stories such as these, a piece about Twinkies and private equity investing also caught my attention:
For all the profits Apollo and Metropoulos squeezed out of the Hostess factories, a deal hatched in a hotel room on Fifth Avenue in New York shows how private equity can have its snack cake and eat it, too. There, in the Versailles Room at the St. Regis, Apollo and Metropoulos began the process of extracting returns from the company, less than a year after shutting the Schiller Park plant.
Most investors seeking profit have to wait for the right moment to sell a company or take it public. But private equity uses a different playbook. First, Apollo and Metropoulos arranged for Hostess to borrow money from the banking giant Credit Suisse. The two firms then pocketed about $900 million of that money for themselves and their investors. Hostess, meanwhile, is stuck repaying the debt.
This type of deal is known as a dividend recapitalization, and it is a staple of private equity’s money-making strategy. These deals provide private equity firms an opportunity to profit before they even sell a company, an added bonus to the firms and their investors, including public pensioners. Since 2012, private equity firms have arranged hundreds of such deals, totaling over $148 billion in debt, according to Thomson Reuters. Hostess’s dividend deal was the third largest of 2015.3
Private equity investors recapitalize Hostess; food technologists reconfigure Twinkies. Recently the shelf life of the famous snack has been extended from 26 to 65 days (although urban legend continues to cite far longer periods).
Fake news. Fake food. Fake investing. Connect the dots.
Which might not seem to have much to do with the places where we live, but it does. These are the forces—media, capital markets, commodification, industrialization—that divert our attention from here. We are busy feeding ourselves a steady diet of the fake, the manufactured, and the fast.