I’m posting haphazardly right now because I am utter absorbed by James Stourton’s magnificent biography of Kenneth Clark (Knopf, 2016). I’ll have more to say about that anon.
Today has been as bad a traffic day as I can recall in 75+ years of living in NYC. Early this AM, a power failure at W 53 St. shut down most of the subway system. An hour or so later, a there was a vehicle fire on the BQE to which the NYPD responded and followed their inflexible policy of handing any traffic/highway incident in a manner that will inconvenience and enrage every driver within a ten mile radius. But that’s not really here or there. Accidents happen. Here’s what’s troubling me. In the past, when emergencies occurred that affected large numbers of NYC residents and bit into the flow of life and commerce in the city, mayors showed up. Think of Giuliani, someone I detest, on 9/11. But what about that boastful useless piece of shit who now occupies City Hall? Did he show up? Not for a minute. He was doing what he thinks a mayor’s real job is: to explain himself to Brian Lehrer on WNYC. Nobody expects the mayor to wave a magic wand and make problems vanish, but they at least expect him to f***** show up! But not this c**ks**ker! I didn’t vote for him because I thought he was exactly the lying, miserable, self-regarding prick he’s turned out to be, with no moral, visceral connection to the city. I did expect that the Park Slope/Upper West Side assholery would give him City Hall – just as their snooty, looking-glass Weltanschauung delivered the White House to Trump – and so they did. I would wish someone to shoot De Blasio, but he’s so armored in self-regard he probably wouldn’t notice.
For the nonce, then, let’s start here. https://www.city-journal.org/html/we-few-we-miserable-few-15145.html I’m a fan of Heather Macdonald, even though she’s doctrinally further to the right than I am, and sometimes lets those yearnings carry her over the top. I was led to her account of her unpleasant time at Claremont by David Brooks’s Op-Ed in today’s NYT. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/21/opinion/the-crisis-of-western-civ.html?ref=opinion&_r=0 I had been aware of Macdonald’s Claremont experience, but frankly hadn’t paid enough attention to it: having inoculated myself against the idiocies of the present day by watching, several times, the video of the former master of Silliman College at Yale being subjected to a harangue from a student that represented, in my view, the absolute apex of illiterate, race-exploiting moral thuggery, behavior that, were I running Yale, would have had the student, and those who supported her by snapping their thumbs as if they were at a rock concert while she shrieked insults at the beleaguered professor and his wife, on the first bus out of New Haven – and I am no hidebound Old Eli growling into the fire as I sip my old-fashioned and wishing we were back in ’07 (that’s 1907), but enough is enough! I am no fan of Ann Coulter, to put it politely, but I equally deplore the way she has been prevented from speaking at UC Berkeley, a university that likes to flaunt its open-mindedness. It does seem to me that it’s time to put on the table a couple of considerations that no one wants to talk about. The first falls under the heading of cultural appropriation, namely the adoption, starting – what? – twenty-five years ago, of black hip-hop music, black styles of dressing, what we might call “ghetto talk”, by privileged white kids. I thought then, and remain convinced, that as laudable as this might seem in terms of showing respect by imitation and emulation, it might be asking for trouble down the line. The second has to do with class on campus. Wealth inequality doesn’t stop at the door to the freshman dorm. If anything, its disparities tend to be felt more intensely by the young. I cannot help feeling that the gulf between, say, a Jared Kushner, whose father apparently coughed up $100,000 to get him into Harvard, and a poor kid from the Bronx plunked down on an Ivy League campus with little or no spending money ( unless, of course, he plays a major NCAA sport at Harvard), is a chasm into which a great many of more civilizing values have been shoved. FOOTNOTE (Saturday): This might throw some light on this touchy matter: http://www.thestranger.com/features/2017/04/19/25082450/the-heart-of-whiteness-ijeoma-oluo-interviews-rachel-dolezal-the-white-woman-who-identifies-as-black
(Sun AM) The way we live now. Air travel today is so fraught, conducted in a manner to put everyone’s nerves on edge, that incidents like this and the United Airlines mess are likely to become more common. “Stroller rights” are considered by the mothers who feel free to wheel them anywhere to enjoy quasi-Constitutional protection. http://www.businessinsider.com/american-airlines-suspends-flight-attendant-who-hit-passenger-with-buggy-2017-4?nr_email_referer=1&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_content=BISelect&pt=385758&ct=Sailthru_BI_Newsletters&mt=8&utm_campaign=BI%20Select%20Weekend%202017-04-23&utm_term=Business%20Insider%20Select%20-%20Engaged%2C%20Active%2C%20Passive%2C%20Disengaged
No comment necessary. It’s interesting what has happened with Tom Frank, long among my favorite commentators. Since he acquired the Vanity Fair platform, and presumably reaches a larger, more diverse audience, and is better paid to do it, than when he wrote mainly for low-circulation platforms inhabited mainly by chatterati, his works seems stronger, wiser and wittier than ever while just as commonsensical: http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/04/please-god-stop-chelsea-clinton-from-whatever-she-is-doing
Pity poor Rupert Murdoch. He is stuck between two stools. He feels compelled to suck up to Trump, who espouses the same troglodytic business practices as the Dirty Digger, but he’s married to (and presumably fond of) Jerry Hall, who can’t stand Trump, not least because of the chauvinism our president incarnates, of which Ms. Hall had taste enough – crammed down her throat, let us say, when married to Mick Jagger. Although Murdoch’s sons are being credited with overcoming their father’s objections to Fox News’s dumping Bill O’Reilly, I can’t help wondering whether Ms. Hall might not have helped grease the skids with a word or two in her husband’s nacreous ear. Would Murdoch have acceded to O’Reilly’s fall as readily were he still married to the Dragon Lady, the previous occupant of the adjacent pillow? Hard to say – but I rather think not.
I’ve been thinking a bit about inflation, and its possible correlation with income equality. As my readers know, my definition of “inflation” differs from the standard one. By my lights, inflation is an increase in price without a commensurate gain in utility. A simple example would be miles-per-gallon with gasoline priced at 2.50/gallon as opposed to $4.50/gallon a few years ago. Another good example would be executive compensation, which today is many times what it was say twenty years ago, whereas corporate profits and their effect on stock prices haven’t begun to keep pace. And that might also be said of working peoples’ compensation, which has grievously lagged what the muckedty-mucks pay themselves. Yale costs a high multiple, even in relative dollars, of what it did when I went there in the Pleistocene (1954-58), but can anyone claim a Yale education is X times better? Or more useful? Unless you’re one of those philistines to whom the whole point of higher education is a net incremental gain in projected lifetime earnings. There’s gross wealth inequality, to be sure, but there’s also gross COL inequality. Of course, we hear a lot about how great it is to be rich, but do we ever hear how expensive it is to be rich? Keeping up with the Joneses was costly enough, but keeping up with the Abramovitches, Zuckerbergs or Jack Mas beggars (sic) the imagination. What the tsunami of riches unleashed in China, Russia and India, in the Persian Gulf and in the kleptocratic states of Africa and Eastern Europe has done to the Luxury COL index is truly mind-boggling! A Hermes Birkin bag today costs 5-6 times what I paid for my first car (Imagine if Lady Bracknell were told today about the price of a Birkin. Her memorably explosive utterance “A handbag!!!” – I can still hear Edith Evans – would have to go thermonuclear.) What put me in mind of all this was the following: https://www.wsj.com/articles/brick-and-mortar-stores-are-shuttering-at-a-record-pace-1492818818. Online shopping accounts for much of the decimation, but landlord greed shouldn’t be discounted. And in response to a rent hike, a retailer has to find a way to generate greater dollar yield per square foot, the yardstick by which retail results are normally measured. Perhaps he can find a way to accomplish greater volume, either with higher prices or more units sold, unlikely with AMZ grunting and snuffling in the underbrush. Otherwise he has to reduce costs – and that generally means people. I think AMZ, just now moving into brick and mortar, is about to discover that none of this is easy.
1600 Hypocrisy Ave., Washington, DC: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/04/23/trump-loves-media-reporters-white-house-215043
A real confidence builder with which to close out the week: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/donald-trump-dangerous-mental-illness-yale-psychiatrist-conference-us-president-unfit-james-gartner-a7694316.html