Just when Trump seems completely beyond redemption, he does something that any decent, compassionate person must cheer: https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-01-13/trump-team-shunning-davos-gathering-of-world-s-economic-elite
It would be interesting to know what percentage of the fees paid to Moody’s for dubious ratings in 2006-8 this represents. $864 million sounds about right – but is it? https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-13/moody-s-to-pay-864-million-to-settle-subprime-ratings-claims Actually, I’d like to reports of post-Crisis fines and penalties paid by Goldman etc. related to the estimated profits the banksters took out of those dubious transactions.
As an art historian I found this extremely interesting. It does beg the question: can an algorithm see what I see: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/google-artificial-intelligence-812147?utm_campaign=artnetnews&utm_source=011417daily&utm_medium=email&utm_term=artnet%20News%20Daily%20Newsletter%20USE
Department of interesting literary coincidences. The current – February 2017 – issue of Vanity Fair carries an article on Heywood Hill, the famous London bookshop, by Francis Wheen. Here’s how it begins: “In Chapter 2 of John Le Carre’s novel Tinker,Tailor,Soldier,Spy, George Smiley sets off “for Heywood Hill’s bookshop in Curzon Street…He approached Heywood Hill with a merry heart.” Over twenty years ago, sometime in the early 1990s, I wrote an article on Heywood Hill for Tina Brown at The New Yorker. It was paid for but never published. Here’s how it began: “In the second chapter of John Le Carre ‘s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, George Smiley, retired from British Intelligence, sets off on a rainy morning “for Heywood Hill ‘s bookshop in Curzon Street where he occasionally contracted friendly bargains with the proprietor. ” Interesting how allusion and choice of reference and opening line, like lightning, can strike twice, occurring to different writers over twenty years apart. Incidentally, Wheen implies that it is because Smiley is on his way to the bookshop that his heart is merry. Not so. Smiley’s mood is lightened by a call to his solicitor, who has advised him not to divorce Lady Ann, the faithless wife he desperately and hopelessly loves. As a famous Ring Lardner subtext has it: you could look it up. Then, a bit further along in Wheen, we read about the writer Gavin Young, who in his memoir Worlds Apart (1987) mentions that during the two years he lived among the Bedouin his tent was cluttered with books from Heywood Hill. Odd for a writer doing a piece in 2016 to think of Gavin Young, who died in 2001. Of course, there was this in my piece: “The writer Gavin Young remembers that when he was living among the Bedouin after World War II, it was parcels from Heywood Hill – then, as still today, so sturdily wrapped as to be virtually unopenable without a toolkit – which kept him going.” I had this – including the bit about the wrapping – from Young directly – in the bar of the American Hotel in Sag Harbor, where he lived for a time. None of this is to take away from Wheen, whose article is charming and perceptive, and the shop is very, very different from the way it was when I profiled it – just as Mayfair is. It’s just that I really like the piece I did for Tina, and am sad that it was never published – as were the people at Heywood Hill back in that day when I sent it to them. Still, I suppose I should take some consolation from seeing a fine writer like Wheen find ways into the subject similar to those that attracted me.
The NY Times never ceases to amaze. Yesterday’s “Sports Saturday” section carried a long article on how Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons, is trying to revitalize the poor-folks district in which the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, to which the Falcons will move next fall, is moving toward completion. Because I couldn’t believe what I wasn’t seeing in the article, I read it through twice, carefully. Nowhere does it mention the tremendous job of neighborhood revitalization that another Atlanta real-estate mogul has accomplished in the area surrounding the famous East Lake golf course (where, incidentally, the final event of the FedEx Cup is played). I mean, c’mon Times, what the hell! Here, within twenty miles of Blank’s project, another billionaire Atlanta sportsman, Tom Cousins, has laid down a virtual template for literally rebuilding – redeeming from urban Hell – an impoverished, dangerous part of town. Of course, it might be that Blank’s effort, which the NYT describes with intimations of greed on Blank’s part – real-estate greed; is there any worse? – might look bad by comparison with Cousins’ East Lake achievement, which was driven by a large measure of what we might call “Christian Charity” or “Community Spirit.”
Along with my brother-in-law Misha Glenny, my pal Melik Kaylan is my “go to” guy on Central and Eastern Europe. He posted this on FB. I find it convincing. Keep in mind that before becoming the Savior of this great republic, our president-elect fancied himself a world-class pussy-hound and showed off at it. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/12/intelligence-sources-vouch-credibility-donald-trump-russia-dossier-author?CMP=share_btn_fb
Of course, Woodward couldn’t possibly have his nose well up Trump’s bum, could he? https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/12/intelligence-sources-vouch-credibility-donald-trump-russia-dossier-author?CMP=share_btn_fb And this in a Murdoch paper?
You gotta love Taki: http://takimag.com/article/dames_be_damned_taki?utm_source=Taki%27s+Magazine+List&utm_campaign=a5045b3830-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f7706afea2-a5045b3830-379408349#axzz4VsWBtXh9 Should add I’m prejudiced. I find A. Wintour repellent in ways beyond counting. Not simply personally, but institutionally. She has been permitted to turn large sections of the Met Museum into ny kulturny funhouses. Living proof of how vulgar uncontrolled aspiration can be. And then there’s this: how did our leading “fashion” magazines, assuming “fashion” implies taste, style, elegance etc., come to be edited by English women, representatives of a dress culture universally recognized as the most awful anywhere, ever?
Finally! A true NFL game. Whoever wins – three cheers! Whoever loses – three cheers! The best players making great plays. Game too tough to officiate.
This sounds very worth reading. Off to AMZ to order: http://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-didnt-kill-conservatism-1484265394
The sort of chap we need in our era? http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/01/14/the-vatican-spy-s-plot-to-kill-hitler.html?via=newsletter&source=DDAfternoon
A few days ago, I posted on Monica Crowley, a repellent young woman I encountered some 20-some years ago on a book tour, now a Trump “insider,” who appears to have committed some pretty impressive plagiarism. Here’s more: http://observer.com/2017/01/trump-administration-monica-crowley-what-the-bleep-just-happened-harpercollins-plagiarism/
Our friends Stephanie and Mark dropped by yesterday. She’s on her way back to Asia, where she teaches. Inevitably, our wide-ranging conversation touched on the upcoming Inauguration of President Trump (no matter how I try to intone them, I can’t invest those words with enthusiasm) and Stephanie had some interesting insights into the work of Jonathan Haidt of NYU, especially the part that hate plays in everyday political thinking. As always, this made me curious, so off I went into Googleland, the greatest place for imagination and curiosity to visit since Oz, and I urge anyone interested even slightly in this subject to Google “Haidt” and wander through the links. Here’s a sample, that well bears reading before Friday http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-get-beyond-our-tribal-politics-1478271810 Especially because, if you’re like me, and one more bien-pensant self-proclaimed progressive proudly announces he or she isn’t going to watch the swearing-in and inaugural address, your scream will be so loud that the neighbors will call 911.
By my friend Melik Kaylan.When he posted this on FB, another friend, also a distinguished journalist and shrewd foreign observer of the American scene, commented, “…….especially as you write not as the kind of airy opiner now ubiquitous via the internet – just one more shrill partisan voice in the noise – but as a professional with specific two-decades-long experience in the subject.” http://www.forbes.com/sites/melikkaylan/2017/01/10/what-the-trump-era-will-feel-like-clues-from-populist-regimes-around-the-world/#f19018c61aa1 I fear I may be one of those people whose misplaced faith in the capacity of the institutions of American democracy to hold the center (pace Yeats) could be proven wrong. After all, in the past thirty years, those institutions have one by one, to a greater or lesser degree, been corrupted by the money power.
A helter-skelter day yesterday, to and fro, hither and yon: no time to gather chestnuts and other nuggets. I find myself worrying less about Trump individually, and more about the millions who voted for him. Trump’s merely the symptom; his anger-driven constituency is the disease that has to be got at. I doubt they can be brought round or debated into submission. Bought off? Sure – except that I don’t think the world economy, whether considered as a whole or as a constellation of regional and national economies, is set up to make the massive redistribution this would entail. I also think that Trump’s constituency is 99% anger-based: it incorporates an entire spectrum of rage, envy, resentment and prejudice. This guy’s mad about losing his job; that one hates niggers and spicks – probably without really understanding why, he just does. He’s like Howard Beale: he’s not going to take it any more, regardless of what “it” is. Ask him what “it” is; he probably can’t give you a good answer. He’s like the guy who stands outside the 7-11 at the Four Corners in Southampton day after day, brandishing a sign damning immigration – in an affluent community with plenty of jobs. Except that these jobs don’t get filled: certain people won’t do certain work, others may be excluded. As a friend observed, “You never see a black plumber out here.” So I guess maybe the only answer is to fight fire with fire. Find some way to jam that anger back down 60 million throats. The marches on Saturday are a start. And there’s some risk of violence. The non-alt/Fox media need to take a pledge: no coverage of Trump’s tweets. None. I don’t visit Twitter more than maybe once a week and then only to plump for this website. So if I don’t read Trump on Twitter, why the hell should the New York Times shove them in my face? I suppose it’s too much to ask the executive/financier class to act like human beings, so they mustn’t be given a pass. And for a moment, there’s this consolation. Who’d you rather have wandering the halls of the White House: Melania Trump or Bill Clinton? In all the Hillary post-mortems, such as Rebecca Solnit’s interminable apologia in the latest London Review of Books, mention is never made of Bill as a factor in his wife’s defeat. The Clintons’ love of money disgusts me. Trump obviously loves money too, but he at least is up front about it. And then you throw Bill into the algorithm…
Ah well, life goes on. I suppose.
Oh yes. In case you’ve forgotten, I voted for HRC. Trump is just too awful. But then again, it would be hard to find a more admirable, built-to-spec individual than Obama, and I think he’s been a lousy president (for whom I voted twice, for different reasons), so maybe with Trump the law of opposite consequences will kick in.
Here’s Alan Murray’s daily report from Davos. Talk about yadayadayada blahblahblah:
Good morning from Davos.
At 7 a.m., I was standing at the back of a long line in near-zero weather, waiting to get through security and wondering if it was worth the effort to start my day so early (especially after visiting Anthony Scaramucci’s fine wine party the night before.)
Turned out, it was. The breakfast discussion on artificial intelligence, hosted by McKinsey, included Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of DeepMind; David Kenny, chief of IBM Watson; Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella; and Dow CEO Andrew Liveris. Artificial intelligence is the hot topic at this year’s gathering, and the panel provided a sharp focus on how businesses should be thinking about this rapidly developing technology.
Two points to emphasize:
First, as reported here before, the creation of general intelligence that mimics the human brain is still a long way off. “I’m pretty sure it is possible,” said Suleyman. “It’s just a question of the timetable. Probably six or seven decades.”
Second, in the meantime, artificial intelligence is not going to replace humans, but rather augment them. The key for business people is to understand that artificial intelligence is not an extension of their IT efforts or their digital efforts, but rather, in Kenny’s words, “fundamental to the most important decisions that you make. Anyone in your company who makes important decisions will need to understand this viscerally” to compete in the years ahead.
All on the panel agreed that this technological change would create more jobs than it would eliminate. “There will be more employment, just different,” said Liveris. But they acknowledged two serious societal challenges: first, educating and training workers to take advantage of the change; and second, assuring the benefits of productivity gains are widely shared.
Nadella was particularly compelling on the second point. We need technology breakthroughs to boost productivity and create a “surplus” to address society’s greatest problems, he said. But then “we have to deal with the real issue of equitable distribution of that surplus.” The benefits of technology can’t go only to the owners of capital and the most highly skilled, as they have in recent years. “We’ve got somehow to get this new formula where both the return on capital and the return on labor come together… We need a new social contract.”
Separately, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty in Davos yesterday released her company’s “principles for transparency and trust” in the cognitive (IBM’s term for AI) era. You can read them here. And you can find more of Fortune’s Davos coverage here.
More news below.
Satya Nadella, meet Karl Marx!
OK – fans: check this out. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/divided-states-of-america/ Start at 51-minute mark and watch for ten minutes and then ask yourself if FIXERS is all that far-fetched! And then ask why the Obama-worshipping mainstream (NYT etc.) media gave the book only two reviews – 2! : Washington Post and Wall Street Journal , both complete raves.
This has been a week when I’ve felt like I’ve been living in Uber. When it finally draws to a close tomorrow night, I’ll have made four crossings and back of the East River, and frankly that’s at least two too many. The problem is that my joints, knees especially, are stiffening with age. So I ride over with my legs scrunched, then sit for two hours in a meeting or at lunch, then ride back – and by the end of that approximate five-hour process my joints feel frozen and getting around is painful. I had both knees replaced ten years ago, but when I checked in with my guy at Special Surgery for X-rays and review, he pronounced them in great shape: “they’ll last you for the rest of your life,” he told me – which, the way I feel right now, may not last much past late this afternoon. On top of this, we’ve had a death in our extended family: Elizabeth Peters, mother-in-law of my nephew Patrick died suddenly Tuesday night. I’d known her forever: we were at Buckley and Chapin at the same time, and attended the same dancing-school. Daughter of Ellin Mackay and Irving Berlin, Elizabeth was am interesting cultivated woman. I haven’t heard the final plans yet, but I expect she’ll be interred at Green-Wood Cemetery. Both her parents are buried there, not that far from my mother’s family’s plot, to which I in due course will go.
It now seems clear to me that I made a big mistake, intellectually and (probably) commercially, in turning my key plot idea in Fixers into a novel. I should have posted it as a fake-news item – and attracted thousands of $$$$ in hair-gel ads.
I think this is a good idea (from Politico Morning Media‘s Joe Pompeo): UNSOLICITED ADVICE FOR DEAN BAQUET — On how the Times could cover “Trump’s America,” courtesy of veteran press critic Michael Massing, writing for The Nation: “Pry away a journalist from each of the paper’s glossy high-end sections-Styles, Travel, Food, Real Estate, Arts & Leisure, and T magazine-and reassign them to cover neglected parts of America. The Bible Belt could be one such beat. … I would also create a blue-collar beat examining the world of factory workers, carpenters, plumbers, firefighters, and police officers; a small-business beat exploring how the world looks to restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, family farmers, and start-ups of the non-Silicon Valley variety; and a roving culture beat concentrating not on movie studios, fashion shows, and art auctions but on how culture – broadly defined – is consumed in and perceived by grassroots communities across the country. Finally, I’d assign someone to cover poverty full-time.” http://bit.ly/2k163mi If NYT picks up on this, they should aggregate local/regional items and then run them on Sunday, when I suspect the paper is more widely read than on other days. That doesn’t mean NYT should give up its comics pages, otherwise known as its “Styles” sections. Today, for example, they profile one Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, the sort of aspirational horror I used to lick my lips over back in the Observer days.
1. THE DAY! Who’da guessed, who’da thunk it! Today we begin to live in really interesting times! Which makes even more important setting rules that may help one in the moral and intellectual navigation of these roiling waters. A few years ago I adopted for myself a precept that Polonius would surely have pressed on his son Laertes in the famous “advice” scene in Hamlet: minimize exposure to assholes. That’s one reason I stay away from Twitter and stop engaging on FB. So I was delighted to see that Anthony Bourdain, the food guy, whom I don’t follow but seems pretty sound based on what little I’ve read, shares my conviction:
. In a new interview with GQ, Mr. Bourdain reveals that there’s one rule that he abides by:
It is truly a privilege to live by what I call the “no asshole” rule. I don’t do business with assholes. I don’t care how much money they are offering me, or what project. Life is too short. Quality of life is important. I’m fortunate to collaborate with a lot of people who I respect and like, and I’d like to keep it that way.
2.The preceding FB disclaimer to the contrary, one feature that alternately amuses and embarrasses me is when the site posts something I put up in the past. The following, from 5 years ago, is one point on which I haven’t changed my mind: “Davos starts next week. Many if not most of the fools, kleptocrats and technocrats who have led (sic) the world to its present dire state gathered in one place. Opportunities for purgation like this come but seldom. Wonder if the bomb-makers have been busy in their garages and basements or have completed their flight training courses.”
3.Here’s an interesting matter to which I can add some personal history. http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/01/bill-black-letter-warren-buffett-charlie-munger-hiring-proven-whistleblowers.html Bill Black of U.Missouri Kansas City writes about the preference of CEOs for supine, rubber-stamp directors. This reminded me of a time, right around 1970, when I was on the board of 20th Century-Fox, then not yet a Murdoch satellite. The late Darryl F. Zanuck was CEO and his son Dick (also sadly deceased) COO. There were three items on the agenda. The first two were motions to increase the salaries of Zanuck pere et fils by 40% and 60% respectively. The third matter for the board’s consideration was the question of how best to disclose that the company would show a loss of some $85 million for the quarter just ending. I was on the board not simply for my financial acumen but as a partner of Lehman Brothers; our firm had placed well over $100 million in 20th Century-Fox paper with institutional and other investors, and I felt a certain fiduciary responsibility, as well as a concern for the ordinary decencies of life. So I stuck up my hand and proposed that the board defer action on items #1 and #2 until our financial picture improved. Zanuck hit the roof. The board supported him; I abstained. Some time later, after further friction, he went to the Executive Director of Lehman Brothers, a real shit named Fred Ehrman, and informed him that unless I resigned from the board and another Lehman partner replaced me, 20th would take its investment-banking business elsewhere. Dead and done. Oh yes, and the partner who replaced me? Fred Ehrman. Movie stars and shiny cars: gets ’em every time! Now fast forward maybe twenty years, when in the wake of yet another crisis or scandal, a great hue and cry had been sent up about the dire state of U.S. corporate governance. I read an interview in NYT in which a top partner of a major executive-search firm lamented the trouble he and others were having in finding and recruiting experienced, truly independent directors for their corporate clients. I thought to myself, this is tailor-made for me. I was then in my 50s, with a lot of board experience and nothing if not independent. And that kind of work paid decently. As it happened, the executive recruiter and were members of a couple of the same clubs, so I took advantage of those connections to arrange an appointment and pitch myself as a qualified candidate for any board vacancies they were looking to fill. I had an impressive CV and a good line of gab, but our conversation hadn’t progressed further than a quarter-hour than I was aware that what this guy had told NYT about his agonizing, Diogenes-like quest to find honest and honorable people to fill certain board vacancies had been total bullshit. Claptrap to catch the groundlings. Perfectly in keeping with the “Attend to what I say, don’t watch what I do” ethic by which many if not most corporate managers and their consultancy catamites operate. What he was looking for was a fresh supply of yes-men and -women. And so it goes. And so I went.
4.I am not a big fan of MoMa (hate the building, hate the flows, hate the way it makes display choices, hate 80% of newer art that it exhibits) but I think MoMA Director Glenn Lowry (no big fan of his either) strikes exactly the right note. http://www.artsjournal.com/culturegrrl/2017/01/stumped-by-trump-momas-lowry-walks-fine-line-between-asserting-values-being-partisan.html There are reports of certain museum staffs advocating closure of their institutions to protest Trump. Has it occurred to no one that here you have the political situation in a nutshell. Museum staffs are largely made up of highly-educated elitist types. Museum visitors are disproportionately tourists, many from Trump states.
5. An interesting take on Kerry’s Op-Ed piece in yesterday’s (1/19) NYT. https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-01-20/trump-should-learn-from-kerry-s-cautionary-diplomatic-tale
6.I agree with a good deal of this. http://www.nationalreview.com/article/444036/barack-obama-legacy-next-jfk
7. Reflections on the street violence in Washington. From what I can gather, most of the protesters assembled with nuisance-making in mind (hindering people from attending the inauguration etc) which naturally brought forth a considerable police presence. But then a bunch (NBC estimated 95 of them) of real troublemakers showed up: dressed and masked in black a la Isis and started to break windows etc. The police responded with flash grenades, pepper spray etc, inevitably falling amongst and thereby agitating the larger groups of protesters and suddenly it was all against all. This was what the pseudo-Isis troublemakers clearly had in mind.