1/8/17…Hmmm…..

Enough already! http://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/01/07/tv_anchor_says_alexa_buy_me_a_dollhouse_and_she_does/

Spent yesterday watching first round NFL playoffs. REALLY boring. The first game made virtually unendurable by commentator Jon Gruden. The WORST. Couldn’t help thinking back to Jan. 2 1982 and “The Epic in Miami.” We were staying with friends in Southampton and settled down to watch Dolphins vs. Chargers, figuring to go upstairs and change afterward as our hosts were giving a big dinner. Unbelievable game – rendered more so by the realization it was eight o’clock and guests were arriving for dinner as “the Epic” went into overtime and there my host and I were, transfixed.

This is sad. http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/business/2017/01/06/limited-closing-all-brick-and-mortar-stores.html# These were great stores once. A reminder that while I dig most activities in which pigs play a central role, starting with barbecue, private equity isn’t one.

This has been going on my entire life, it seems. I remember my father saying – this would have been around 1950 – that he didn’t see a moral justification for displacing a people – Palestinians – from land they had occupied for thousands of years. http://takimag.com/article/the_solution_slips_further_away_allan_massie/page_2#axzz4VCY5nVBJ

Years ago, a book tour took me to Pittsburgh, where I participated in a two-writer bookstore event with Monica Crowley, a ghastly Ann Coulter wannabe, then a complete nonentity, now something of a figure in Fox-driven politics. This doesn’t surprise me. Nothing about the young woman, from the roots of her hair to the depths of her soul, seemed genuine, http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/01/trump-advisor-monica-crowley-plagiarized-parts-of-2012-book.html

All deserving candidates by the sound of them: https://thereadersroom.org/2016/12/22/worst-books-of-2016/

Whenever I read something arrantly specious attributed to a specific individual, I go online and see what I can find out about the individual in question. Here’s an example. In a story reporting the surprise dismissal of Gina Pollara, the recently-hired director of the Municipal Arts Society, defender of the NYC skyline and other historic material,   the NYT stated “The leader needs a balanced approach to fund-raising needs and vocal advocacy,” Christy MacLear, a board member who voted to replace Ms. Pollara, said in a statement. “That’s our fiduciary responsibility.” As this essentially declared, “F**k the skyline, go for the bucks,” I thought I’d see who this Christy MacLear, with her powerful feeling for fiduciary duty, might be. Just as I suspect, Ms. MacLear recently joined that ardent promoter of municipal aesthetic welfare, Sotheby’s, to hustle the Richie Riches of the art world.

And so this great republic corrodes further into a buzzing hive of fraud and usury.

 

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1/7/17…Good day to stay inside and figure out how the hell…?

I think I’m going to cut back on this blog – or whatever it can be called – to 2-3 times a week. More frequently is a drain on my fading energy and my readers’ and visitors’ attention. So there ’tis.

I must say, all this hoohah about the Russians and the election strikes me as more than faintly ridiculous. What are campaigns, anyway, if not propaganda – – con as much as pro. If it can be shown that Comey was paid off by Moscow to intervene at that late moment, that’s one thing. If sinister people in bad suits speaking bad English were observed crouched behind voting machines, tinkering with the machinery, that’s another. Anyway, this morally pluperfect nation has a long record of meddling in other countries’ politics, going way back over sixty years to the CIA-engineered coup in Iraq in 1953. I’m like a lot of people – Alan Bennett, whom I admire, has a real gasping pearl-twister on this matter in the latest London Review of Books – who woke up November 9th with a vague but generalized feeling that the world had changed irreversibly for the worse overnight. But the more I look at the numbers, the more I think back to other elections and White House changes in my lifetime, going back to the Truman succession in 1945, the more my hysteria abates. Obama’s presidency has been 99% a triumph of style in my opinion. His big accomplishment, the ACA, doesn’t seem to work actuarially, and it has to, if universal health insurance is to be something other than a redistribution of middle-level resources (the income/wealth cohort to which my wife belongs, not yet 65, belongs: at 80, I enjoy Medicare (also getting more expensive – deduction adjustments for premiums are about to reduce my monthly Social Security payout by over 10%) to those with little or no money. The Executive Class needn’t worry; their gilt-edged health plans are paid for by the stockholders.

I voted for Obama twice. The first time with real hope and faith, but two weeks after the 2008 election, with the Summers-Geithner “leak,”  I began to suspect I’d been played for a sucker, that the Wall Street fix was in (hence my novel Fixers). Continuing the bailout engineered by the Bushies was akin to giving a medal to the commander of the Japanese fleet that did for Pearl Harbor. Talk about not letting the punishment fit the crime! My suspicions were confirmed by O’s curiously flat first inaugural address (also discussed in Fixers). Where was FDR a la 1936: “Wall Street hates me, and I welcome their hatred!” All hat and no cattle, as they say: a perception not lost on McConnell and the other hog-shrewd GOP pols on Capitol Hill, who managed to back into a corner a president-elect whose party held majorities in both houses of Congress. I suspect they feared that the successful implementation over 30 years of “the Powell Memorandum” (qv.) might be undone. Instead, by employing the intransigent attitude and intellectual style of a child who refuses to eat liver against a president whose sense of politics was based on the approval and advice of his mirror, they now control the games in town, and the strategy seems more solid than ever.

Still, I voted for Obama again in 2012. I found Romney personable and highly intelligent, but he made his money – too much of it – from work that doesn’t deserve to get paid that well, work in which I simply don’t believe, making a few people a lot of dough while costing thousand jobs and pensions and wrecking the tax base of not a few communities.

Let’s be devil’s advocate and say Putin does not want a war with U.S. on any basis. In that instance, based on the record, he’d prefer Trump to Hillary.

More anon. Have to deal with the litter box. Preferable these days to trying to talk common sense about politics, Trump, Obama.

Searchers after common sense will like this. http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/01/trumps-win-americas-failures-of-representation-and-prospects-for-democracy.html I’d also like to see it circulated from the top down in the new administration, not that it’s likely to win over ideologues.

As far as the Democrats…http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/01/gauis-publius-elephant-room-donkey-reflections-kamala-harris.html

Interesting if obvious. http://www.cjr.org/the_feature/trump_journalism_press_freedom_global.php

For any number of reasons, I’m a keen student of what “society”, properly considered, is and isn’t. Indispensable to my studies are websites devoted to the coming and going, getting and spending, of the sorry, unmannerly  lot that we are given to believe constitutes la jeunesse doreee.  One of the most revolting is called “Guest of a Guest”. Yesterday,  my trawling yielded this: http://guestofaguest.com/london/nyc-society/a-mans-world-inside-londons-most-exclusive-gentelmens-club The club in question is White’s, on St. James’s St. in London, descended from a coffee house founded in the mid-17th century. According  to GofaG, the annual dues at White’s are $112,000! I seriously doubt this, since White’s includes some of the biggest freeloaders in the world. How would I know? How do you spell the word “duke.”? Let me skip ahead to another statement in GofaG‘s White’s  post: “Much later, David Cameron publicly renounced his membership in 2008. Never had a member disaffiliated. The only way to terminate a membership was either naturally (death) or being ejected (very rare).” This is patently untrue. How would I know? Let me just say that my wife is married to a man who resigned from White’s – back in the mid-1990s, after I’d been a member for almost twenty years. Among my motives was that after the Lloyd’s debacle went through the individual mites of the White’s membership like the wolf on the fold, the club, seeking to make up the revenue from straitened Debrett’s types without obliging them to resign, raised the annual subscription to the level (notionally) paid by UK members (not even within two zeros of today’s purported level). I thought this was wrong, especially since I seldom visited the club, although frequently in London (one time I went, I took a bookseller friend into the snug bar mainly populated by assholes discussing money while pretending to be talking about grouse-shooting and the results of the 4:45 at Cheltenham, and was afterwards reprimanded for bringing a “not our sort” chap into the sacred precincts.) I preferred the Garrick, to which I then had access. Resigning from White’s wasn’t easy, let me say. I got several letters from London friends (sic) that included the words “How a man of your social and financial standing…” Well, I was born into what was called “society” – as defined by its bought-and-paid for sycophants and publicists – and my life  has constituted a gradual withdrawal. Some years ago I resigned from one of Manhattan’s most sought-after men’s clubs, where I had been a member for twenty years, when it admitted a former Secretary of State for whom I then and now felt undisguised contempt. Anyway, my White’s time did furnish me a bon mot that I’ve always been rather proud of. Here’s the background. Whatever its failings in my perception, White’s has the best loos in the world: great spacious cabins with ample knee room and soft tissue (no rugged Gordonstoun butt-wiping here, even though the DofE is a member) and furnished with an excellent range in reading matter. Keep this fact in mind. Now recall that every year during this time, Private Eye magazine ran an annual competition for “White’s Club Shit of the Year.” Put these together, and you will grasp why, when asked if I went to White’s when I was in London, I came up with the rejoinder: “I only go to White’s to take a shit – or to meet one.” Rather good, don’t you think, Your Grace?

The idea of this book makes great sense, especially when you consider that this country seemed to function best when WW2 and Korea were alive in the idea of conscriptive national service. http://www.wsj.com/articles/democracy-is-dependent-on-war-1483741787

Frank Johnson, the late editor of the London Spectator, once asked: “What exactly is a public intellectual?” His answer was mischievous: “Is it the same principle as a public convenience? Excuse me, officer, I’ve been caught short conceptually. Could you direct me to the nearest public intellectual?” (from WSJ review of a book about so-called “public intellectuals”.

Conrad Black’s new book, Backward Glances, has arrived. Conrad can be a bit bumptious, and for a man as bright as he is, is surprisingly deferential to the sort of people one thinks of when someone says “Palm Beach,” but he is indelibly etched in my memory for something he said to me once. It was back toward the end of the ’90s, and Conrad was fiddling with the notion of buying The New York Observer, for which I was then writing a weekly column and at the height (about three feet above sea level, if that) of my modest reclame. A mutual friend brought Conrad and me together for drinks. At some point, I asked him, “What do you think of the Observer as a newspaper?” He shook his head. “The Observer isn’t a newspaper,” he replied. “It’s a mascot.” Truer words have seldom been spoken.

Does it get any better? http://observer.com/2017/01/joey-no-socks-mobster-hospitality-award-donald-trump/?utm_campaign=Observer_ArtsEntertainment&utm_content=A%2BE%202017-01-06&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=New%20York%20Observer%20Culture

 

Money quote from an article on Obama’s speeches. “These orations come to us as the lucubrations of a solitary wise man, grappling with American history, with race, with fate and freedom. They suggest writerliness.” I think this is meant as praise, but I would suggest that it is really an admission of what went wrong with Obama’s presidency. Less writerliness (sic), I would argue, is what’s needed. I’m not going to dignify this jejune piffle with a link, but it’s a typical extract from n+1, a magazine edited by a young friend of mine – whom I intend to take aside and have a quiet word with.

Here’s another n+1 gem: “We look at Ivanka Trump — perhaps the most privileged woman in America, the beneficiary of an international domestic-labor market that frees her from housework by leaving it to underpaid women from Asia, Africa, and South America; a woman who hardly pays her factory workers in Dongguan for sixteen-hour days making Ivanka Trump shoes; who poses for Vogue while her Chinese nanny, Xixi, watches her three children — we look at this woman and think even she needs feminism. What else could compel her to change?”

Well, for openers,  I wouldn’t call Ivanka the most privileged woman in America. I can think of a dozen more privileged.  I would submit that Ivanka is “freed” from housework by her family’s – father’s and husband’s – wealth and nothing else, certainly not “the international domestic-labor market”, whatever that might be.  I suspect that the supplier of Ivanka shoes pays the going rate in Donguan, and I assume that Ivanka got into the shoe business long after it had left this country (her customers don’t ordinarily wear Rockport or Sam. Hubbard.) Ask the nanny XiXi if she’s happy with her job; she watches the kids while Mommy works (which, in fashion, with stuff to sell, means posing for Vogue). What Ivanka doesn’t need, nor does the nation, is more juvenile socially illiterate assholism – whether it styles itself as “feminism” or some other form of whining gender victimization.  

Day’s End: After reading n+1 and looking over Facebook, I’ve concluded (with Plato) that there is an absolute need in a democracy for censorship, and that the only possible censor must be intelligence (not the spy variety). Unfortunately, we have rendered that species extinct.

 

 

 

 

1/5/17…So what’s new…

Yesterday I had a sudden attack of chills that left me weak and whimpering, so I pretty much dogged it. Hope I can find more to say today. One matter is kind of interesting. I’ve been rereading – doing the readerly equivalent of bodysurfing, actually; riding this wave to its conclusion, then pushing out from shore to find another –  Bob Caro’s immortal The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York  and I’m struck by the similarity to Donald Trump. The “win at any and all costs” mentality. A genius for bullying. The concomitant ability to outstay and outmaneuver opponents and competitors. The worship of Mammon, the skill at financial dissimulation and the conviction that the taxpayers’ purse is there to be exploited. The kingly lifestyle. The unconcern for the city, its neighborhoods and its less affluent residents. The self-regard. The lack of real friendships. Caro’s book also complements a point made by Kunstler: that the suburbanization that Moses made possible with his system of parkways and highways was probably the greatest instance of misallocated investment in our history – especially when you add in the high maintenance requirements that highways bring with them. I especially recommend Caro’s chapters on the building of Long Island Expressway and the way Moses killed a series of proposals to configure the roadway for mass transit (high speed bus lanes down the middle), with the result that the LIE had exceeded its specified vehicles-per-hour capacity within five years.  The next time you’re making a crisp 5mph. in traffic around Grand Central Parkway, think on Moses – and curse the SOB.

1.http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/01/fck-work.html If only we could achieve the no work/guaranteed income paradise at the level I observe on the Brooklyn Bridge everyday, where a repair and maintenance program that now feels like it’s taken longer than it did to build the goddamn bridge consists of small knots of people in hardhats standing around smoking at $85/hour plus overtime. Or the not-exactly-underpaid NYPD ‘patrol” at the Manhattan end: flashers on, but checking out his cellphone (porn? video game?) with such concentration that I could drive a van bearing the sign “Stay Back 1000 feet – Nuclear Device on Board” in 5-foot-high letters onto the Bridge and never be noticed.

2.First rule of business: whatever what you make or do, whether a product or a service, it has to be something someone, somewhere, is willing to pay for: http://www.businessinsider.com/twitter-cofounder-evan-williams-lays-off-one-third-of-staff-at-medium-closes-two-offices-2017-1?nr_email_referer=1&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_content=10ThingsSAI&pt=385758&ct=Sailthru_BI_Newsletters&mt=8&utm_campaign=Post%20Blast%20%28sai%29:%2010%20things%20in%20tech%20you%20need%20to%20know%20today&utm_term=10%20Things%20In%20Tech%20You%20Need%20To%20Know%20-%20Engaged%2C%20Active%2C%20Passive%2C%20Disengaged 

3,How have I gotten this far without one of these? http://graphics.wsj.com/image-grid/ces-2017-best-gadgets/3693/simplehuman-voice-activated-trash-can And speaking of Tech, who needs Virtual Reality when we have the real thing?

4. No comment needed. http://www.cjr.org/the_feature/trump_journalism_press_freedom_global.php And click through to the Masha Gessen post.

5. If you’re looking for an exemplification of horseshit, you’ll be hard pressed to beat this pearls-twister, which seems to think there’s a world out there without male adolescence, the rising of the sap, testosterone as a natural secretion  etc. http://www.alternet.org/culture/homo-obnoxious-toxic-masculinity-really-taking-over-country One sentence caught my eye: When I arrived at the University of Georgia in 1988, a sophomore from my hometown issued a helpful warning not to ever hook up in a certain popular fraternity house. Now the way I read this, the advice’s subtext is: “But it’s okay to hook up at A, B or C.” Why would the person giving this advice think that hooking up might be on the writer’s agenda? I think we should be told.   And if “hooking up” means what I believe it does, the inference is that this is a natural, inherent type of conjunction – in the female of the species as in the male. To the best of my knowledge, it was Eve who, with the aid of an apple laced with the godly equivalent of Spanish fly, or whatever “date drug” the Creator had synthesized In the Beginning, seduced Adam and not the other way round. Had Eden been located on an Ivy League campus, after the deed was done, presumably to Eve’s performative dissatisfaction, she would have made tracks to file a sexual abuse complaint with the Dean, who would lately have shed his snakeskin and donned trousers.

 

 

1/2/16…Ah, well….

Tweets are the tea-leaves and entrails that the current era’s punditical haruspices pore over for guidance as to what to opine. Frankly, I have no time for Twitter. I’m tweeting more than I ever have – I’m up to possibly two Tweets a week, always to promote FIXERS and this website – but I think the media’s dependence on it to source material is ridiculous. I also consign quite a few inbox messages to spam, and while I’m sure I thereby discard legitimate stuff, if I don’t absolutely recognize the sender, or the format doesn’t pass the smell test, I don’t look further. 

1. FB has a feature that dredges Memory Lane for stuff one put up in the past. Here’s one of mine from 3 years ago that I rather fancy: On this whole wealth envy business. I was once asked “Don’t you wish you were as rich as X?” To which I replied, “Not really – because to be as rich as X, I would have to be X, and I don’t find that very appealing.” I’ve been quite well off, but I now live in reduced circumstances. The latter has its limitations, certainly, but there’s this to be said: one meets an altogether better class of people. As for the friends one had, whose adoption seemed sufficiently tried to be grappled to one’s breast with hoops of steel, many have escaped, sawing through the old bond of friendship with hacksaws forged from gold and diamonds.

2. http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/visiting-disney-world-is-the-modern-version-of-making-a-medieval-pilgrimage?utm_source=Atlas+Obscura+Daily+Newsletter&utm_campaign=1305de4aa3-Newsletter_1_2_2017&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f36db9c480-1305de4aa3-63378865&ct=t(Newsletter_1_2_2017)&mc_cid=1305de4aa3&mc_eid=52a8ddceb0 Which I guess makes “Pokemon Go” the present-day equivalent of the Crusades.

3. No comment: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/david-fahrenthold-tells-the-behind-the-scenes-story-of-his-year-covering-trump/2016/12/27/299047c4-b510-11e6-b8df-600bd9d38a02_story.html?utm_term=.0e1f46f97f4f Actually, there is something here that’s worth commenting on, and which obliges me to choke down a bit of crow re Twitter. Let’s call this “populist journalism.” When Farenthold tweeted about his search of the evanescent Trump charity contributions, hundreds if not thousands of people stepped forward to help in the search: scouring records, doing on-site spotting, providing checkable leads and so on. This exponentiates the candlepower that a journalistic spotlight can focus on a subject and the chances that the bad stuff, no matter how artfully or expensively concealed, will be dragged kicking and blinking into the light. As Joe Louis said of Billy Conn, “He can run but he can’t hide.” Something like this needs to be done for each of the 535 members of Congress: thousands of people turning over stones and rotted stumps in every district, chancery and jurisdiction in the land.

4. The second part of a long post submitted by Alexander. This is Part II, which delves into the political ramifications of the financial phenomena discussed in Part I, which I found heavy going, but you may link back to it: http://bawerk.net/2016/11/11/toward-a-new-world-order-part-ii/  I found the writer’s conclusion to make eminent good sense: The key point is that the political distance between a vote for the international socialist and the national socialist voter is miniscule. A blue-collar worker in Pennsylvania, downtrodden by years of hardship, will easily switch to the party that promises to restore old glory days. Pundits are obviously puzzled – how can a union man vote for the party for the rich? How can he vote for a party that are miles away from his political self-interest? The answer of course is that the union man is not. He is rationally voting for a party closely resembling the one he used to vote for, only this one comes with a slightly new rhetoric.

5.Trump called out the Capitol Hill cowards whose first act of the new session was to eviscerate the various corruption statutes on the books. This underscores what no one is willing to concede the president-elect. His plays hard – but he plays by the rules, and has never, at least to my knowledge, been prosecuted for corruption or any other criminal behavior. Trump understands what Sam Collins, the spy-turned-casino-impresario in the original Tinker Tailor… understood: “We get all the help we need from the arithmetic.”  That is: from the odds that people made stupid by greed or other motives persist in trying to buck. Call Trump anything you want, but don’t call him a crook.

g. This is very good. Thanks to my friend Maeve Yore: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hER0Qp6QJNU

h. An interesting article. As I read it, I kept thinking about the standard Hamptons rejoinder that members of the Africa-American community won’t do the work- landscaping, for example – that immigrants will and it has nothing to do with wage scales. This makes no sense. Perhaps the answer is they won’t do that  work for that money. Oh – and thanks once again to Naked Capitalism. I subscribe to The American Conservative, but somehow missed this: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/harvards-george-j-borjas/

 

 

 

 

1/2/17…And away we go….

The pattern nicely describes the dynamic advanced by Joseph Tainter in his seminal work, The Collapse of Complex Societies: namely that over-investments in complexity lead to diminishing returns. That is, as you keep making your systems extra-hyper-complex, you get less value back for doing it, until you get to the point where there’s no benefit whatsoever, and then the system implodes. And that is exactly what has happened with oil and the economy that was engineered to run on it, and the financial system that evolved to manage the wealth it used to produce.Here’s a how-de-do (the phrase is taken from that exemplar of arrant racism, The Mikado): http://www.wsj.com/articles/luxury-apartment-boom-looks-set-to-fizzle-in-2017-1483358401 Mr Shanghai (or Doha or Bishkek or Lubbock) billionaire takes the elevator down from his $60 million 70th-floor aerie, is bowed and scraped out the door into his Maybach (or Rolls or custom Tesla) and then finds himself in the same dreadful traffic jams and hopelessly overcrowded streets as the rest of us plebeians. He hates this, but since he has no “friends” (sic) other than people who, like himself, pay to attend charity functions and call that a social life, no standing other than the deference his zealous overtipping earns from certain headwaiters, what choice has he got? .  This is the sublime irony of “duh Hamptons”: all these people forking over big money only to find themselves surrounded by people exactly like themselves, the very sort they’re seeking to avoid.

This is from my philosopher friend Alexander. Those who agree, raise your hands! There will always be a minority that do better than the majority and the trick seems to me to have a moral and ethical framework where the majority don’t destroy the minority and the minority in turn perform the necessary noblesse oblige to keep the majority reasonably contented and secure.

Alexander was responding to this from me in an exchange of emails: Still, too many people are doing not so well while a few are doing far too well for what they do, and in a popular democracy, this is bound to cause trouble or, at best, disruption. To my eye, the largest problem is that there are simply too many people in the world to be taken care of by present modes and styles of production. The issue then becomes, are we better served by “free” markets manipulated by government or by private influences? And if the latter have thoroughly corrupted the former, where’s the difference? Add technology to the mix, with its infinite power to distract as well as create or simplify, and it gets even more confusing. Dodd-Frank started out as seven typed pages. It is now several thousand pages long – and the irony is, the additional gobbledygook is 95% the creation of private interests implemented by lobbyists. As a character in my novel observes, “Complexity is the first refuge of a scoundrel.” Of course, much is traceable to the administration’s rejection of a simple protocol: in a crisis brought on by reckless or fraudulent banking practices, don’t punish banks, punish bankers! In the S&L crisis, over 1000 execs were sent to jail. There has been no recurrence. 

Incidentally, Kunstler, posted below, has some illuminating observations on the overpopulation issue.

1.Still incomparable: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article123749584.html

2.followup to the Trump golf cause celebre: http://www.politico.com/story/2016/12/trump-biographer-golf-course-233092

3. This is just plain f***ing BRILLIANT! A MUST MUST MUST READ: http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/forecast-2017-wheels-finally-come-off/

Here’s a snippet to give you a sense of the piece: “Debt was the meat-and-potatoes of the Fed’s wizardry, but the “secret sauce” of Fed magic was fraud, in the form of market interventions, manipulations, regulatory negligence, and just plain systematic lying about the numbers that defined the economy. It amounted to nationalized financial racketeering. Under the consecutive Grand Vizierships of Greenspan and Ben Bernanke, control fraud (using official authority to cover up misconduct) was perfected by banking executives, eventuating in the mortgage securities fiasco of 2008, which took down the housing market and the economy. (That housing market, by the way, was made up mainly of suburban houses, the sine qua non of the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.)”

And this: “The pattern nicely describes the dynamic advanced by Joseph Tainter in his seminal work, The Collapse of Complex Societies: namely that over-investments in complexity lead to diminishing returns. That is, as you keep making your systems extra-hyper-complex, you get less value back for doing it, until you get to the point where there’s no benefit whatsoever, and then the system implodes. And that is exactly what has happened with oil and the economy that was engineered to run on it, and the financial system that evolved to manage the wealth it used to produce.”

12/31/16…From the edge of the precipice (or not)…..

1. http://ny.eater.com/2016/12/29/14092686/confessions-of-a-culinary-line-stander  This addresses a matter that has perplexed me for some time now, ever since – on the way to the Public – I noted a long line waiting to get into the La Colombe coffee joint on Lafayette St. La Colombe makes very good coffee (it’s my wife’s morning tipple, along with a Kona grown by friends in Hawaii) but come on!  City life used to be organized around the avoidance of lines. No longer, it seems. This article suggests several reasons. To which we might add FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), since joining a line signifies, to one’s Id at least, that this is where the action – what’s hot, what’s Instagrammable- is. This is probably what will drive tens of thousands of idiots lemming-like into Times square tonight. I would submit there might be another reason. Let’s in best Proustian manner call it “la cameraderie de la queue.”  Big cities are famously lonely and detached places, especially nowadays, with individuals immuring themselves in portable electronic silos. But in a line, where everyone is presumably present thanks to some aspect of what’s being waited for, mainly an eating experience, and therefore has something in common with others in line, you can strike up a conversation with perfect strangers – something you never  see happen on the subway or in a bus.

2. Well, maybe it wasn’t: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/30/eight-charts-that-show-2016-wasnt-as-bad-as-you-think On the other hand, perhaps it was: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/2016-is-the-year-the-future-happened Given my narrow view of things, any year in which The Mikado  has to be “salvaged” (see today’s NYT Arts) rates as a top-ten stinker! Salvaged from the scrap heap of political correctness, as the paper of record puts it. Whose political correctness, dare I ask? I saw my first Mikado in 1947, with Martyn Green, Darrell Fancourt, Ella Halman et al,  and have seen probably a dozen productions since, and not once has a Japanese entity lodged a protest.

Well, now that I’ve allowed my dander to get up, here’s an interesting take from The New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/an-asian-american-reimagining-of-gilbert-and-sullivans-the-mikado Note that the writer refers to “modern notions of cultural representation.” Bushwa! And while we’re about it, the highly-praised prologue written for the present production centers on a scene in D’Oyly Carte’s office where Gilbert is hit on the head by a falling scroll. This is praised as original. It is not. In the best of all G&S films, 1953’s The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan, starring Robert Morley and Maurice Evans, a Japanese sword falls to the floor with a great clatter, causing Gilbert to think “Japan!” – and away we go!

3.Big year-end shout-out to Danny Meyer. There’s a Shake Shack a couple of blocks from where we live.I visit it pretty often. Today I tried the new order-in-advance app, then walked down, timing my arrival for a couple of minutes before the designated 12:15PM pickup. My order arrived to the minute.  That’s commendable, and the chow was as always good, but what really fired my enthusiasm was the spirit of the place. The employees exude that happiness that comes from people who are decently paid and properly trained. I noted the same the other day at a much more upscale Meyer venue, The Modern, to the bar of which my good wife and I repaired for a restorative after our Dantesque excursion to MoMA . Both of these are “no tipping” spots, and yet when I asked at the Modern about adding a bit to the bill, I was told no. Since one reads about other places having to back off recently-instituted “no tipping” policies, I infer that Meyer is keeping less of the gross than are some others. Anyway, a first-class job performed in a first-class manner. Hip,  hip, Sir Meyer, hip, hip – and Happy New Year!

 

4. Those in the know will consider the following a significant addition to their New Year’s cheer:

TRUMP BOOTS AUTHOR FROM GOLF COURSE

Donald Trump personally booted the author of an unflattering biography off Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach on Friday. Harry Hurt III, who penned the 1993 biography, Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump, had come to play with billionaire industrialist David. H. Koch, a Trump club member, and two other golfers. Hurt, who has a scratch handicap and plays in colorful knickers, walked over to Trump on the practice range prior to his group’s assigned tee time, only to suffer a tongue lashing from the president-elect. “I said, ‘Congratulations, sir,’ and shook his hand,” Hurt recalls. “Trump said, ‘You were rough on me, Harry. Really rough. That shit you wrote.’” Hurt says he looked Trump in the eye, and said, “It’s all true,” to which Trump rejoined, “Not in the way you wrote it.” Among the juicy tidbits in Hurt’s tome was Ivana Trump’s allegation in a sworn deposition that Trump had “raped” her during their divorce battle. Trump told Hurt it was “inappropriate” for him to play at the club, and had his security detail escort Hurt, Koch, and their playing partners to the parking lot. “David [Koch] was appalled,” says Hurt. “He branded Trump ‘petty’ and vulgar.’ We played Emerald Dunes instead, which is a much, much better golf course than Trump International.”

Trump has now accomplished a significant double: he has kicked the two biggest assholes named Harry off his Palm Beach golf course. I don’t know if there’s a third highest-level “Harry” asshole out there, but it would be nice to see Trump complete the trifecta. Of course, when you’re talking assholism, it’s hard to top David Koch, and maybe you could throw him in, the way you can substitute dishes on a prix fixe menu. Oh yes, and by now it’s to be expected that Koch will have – no, not resigned – made a groveling phone call to the president-elect.

5. Thrilling to hear the national anthem played by the combined bands of the universities of Alabama and Washington instead of distorted and cheapened by some (usually B-grade) rock, pop or C&W singer. For once, the anthem sounded truly patriotic.

6.Still the best. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/something-about-this-russia-story-stinks-w458439

7. The Curbed website is running a quiz on the theme “What would Jane Jacobs think of your neighborhood?’ Most of the (multiple) choices don’t really fit DUMBO, but I answered as best I could. The result calculated by the Curbed algorithm  is that JJ would describe DUMBO as “a work in progress.” I disagree. After 16 years, I would describe this area as “a work in regress.” On weekdays, techies and hardhats. On weekends: tourists. No street life after dark. Huge street-level spaces vacant. Small retail shutting down or driven to less good locations by rent increases: so far: two bookstores, a Bubby’s, a dress shop, a Pinkberry.

8. Reflecting on New Year’s Eves past, I can recall one in the course of which I saw a group of celebrants who had enjoyed themselves – gotten more out of the evening – more than any I’ve seen since. It was the millennium  Year 2000 turnover. I had accompanied my late stepmother Poppi to a dinner not far away and once the ball descended we drove back to her house in Old Brookville. It was late, and common sense dictated that we go around back and let ourselves in by the rear entrance. So I drove in the back driveway, and my headlights played on the chicken house in which Poppi kept a number of rare breeds. The lights clearly startled the partygoers within, for suddenly out of the coop trotted a trio of clearly sated foxes! Delicacy forbids me to describe the carnage revealed by the next morning’s inspection.  Thus ended Poppi’s experiment in exotic poultry. Happy New Year! Cluck, cluck!

9. My New Year’s wish: never to see or hear of these people again!  http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/12/hillary-clinton-2016-loss-democrats-214570

Tomorrow I’ll review the bidding. For the nonce, bless you all (subject to editing) and Happy New Year!

 

 

12/30/16….Minus 1….

Yesterday we trooped up to the Met Museum to see the “Jerusalem” show before it closes on January 7. We drove: a wise decision, because the line at the main entrance (lengthened by bag-checking) stretched down Fifth Avenue from 82nd to 79th, whereas getting in from the parking garage was a piece of cake. Inside the museum was a zoo; T remarked that the Met better build some new Ladies Rooms: these lines stretched back into the galleries. “Jerusalem” itself is remarkable, both aesthetically, historically and intellectually. It concentrates on the period 1100-1400, and on the cultural and artistic influences on the sacred city of its Jewish, Christian and Muslim populations, each of which regards it among its holiest of holies. I would have liked to have had a better sense of how things went prior to 1100, from the Crucifixion and Resurrection, the emergence of The Prophet Mohammed halfway along, and the burial of the Elders of Hebron. Still, if you can get there, do! My only reservations have to do with the lack of seating (my orthopedically-challenged knees were complaining by the third gallery) and the lighting. The latter is dim, presumably to convey a sense of the sacred, but some of the labels are hard to read – and the character of the material on display requires that they be read.  If you have a fork lift, order the catalogue, and read up on “Jerusalem” after you’ve seen the exhibition and have a sense of what’s what.

1. This has to be a candidate for anyone’s “Worst of 1916” list. A most repellent article about a most repellent personality. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/12/30/celebrity-designer-dennis-basso-on-his-1-million-fur-boutique-robbery-and-why-he-s-proud-to-dress-melania-trump.html?via=newsletter&source=DDAfternoon Although this runs a close second. http://www.wsj.com/articles/shoe-storage-fit-for-an-art-gallery-1482947099 Based on her husband’s comments, I would advise this lady – I’m speaking inferentially, of course – not to introduce him to Dennis Basso if she ever wants to see him again.

2. Noo Yawk…Noo Yawk…the Bloomberg Gospel and its effects: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2016/12/when-a-business-you-like-dies.html

3. A nice note on which to approach year-end, especially since the way Fixers was published and promoted almost guaranteed that it would sink like a stone. This is an email from a friend who, take it from me, is a person of unchallenged high standing in the republic of letters:

Dear Michael:  I just wanted to reassure you that I have been reading your book and getting great pleasure and entertainment from it.  I’m about a hundred pages from the end.  Your grasp of the milieu is positively Trollopian.  I also get a sense that I’m reading an inside history of the last decade, with increasing uneasiness and distress.  Anyway, it’s a fascinating novel–just wanted you to know I’m enjoying it.

Happy New Year,

4. The thoughts of two fine thinkers/writers coalesce: https://baselinescenario.com/2016/12/30/a-change-is-in-the-air/#more-15804

5. Good advice: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2016/12/two-simple-suggestions-for-george-soros.html

6. Needs no comment; http://www.ianwelsh.net/book-review-of-dark-age-ahead-by-jane-jacobs/

7. Good to know there’ll be a cool finger on the nuclear trigger at this end come Jan.20. On the other hand, I have this picture of the current president channelling F Scott F’s “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”, perched atop the Capitol dome trying to talk the Russian – or Chinese, or No. Korean – missiles out of the sky. http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/world-war-three-by-mistake

 

 

 

 

12/28/16…A journey to Hell…

Most notably on the opera stage, but in other high-cultural venues as well, it isn’t uncommon to update canonical works to the modern day, at least in terms of such externalities as mise-en-scene, costumes etc. Take, for instance, a towering masterwork with which most people over 50 have some familiarity and most of those below that age probably none. It’s the epic in which the narrator, having midway in the journey of his life found himself in a dark wood where the direct path was lost, is taken on a journey through the afterlife that starts in Hell and terminates in the Empyrean. Yesterday I had an experience that could well provide the basis for a transference of the great poem from the 14th to the 21st Century.

In my version, that narrator encounters a guide who promises to show him all eternity, but being a very postmodern positivist, urges that they start at the very lowest circle of Hell, after which things can only get better. And so the narrator is taken to a strange place, noisome and noisy, surrounded by odd shapes, many seeming to be little more that splotches of paint and clumps of plastic randomly dispersed. Among these aimlessly weaves a packed throng of confused beings of hideous dress and aspect, sending up a wailing babel of many tongues. The narrator, his agoraphobia and aural and visual sensitivities challenged to the boiling/breaking point, inquires of his guide: “What is this horrible place? It is the worst I have ever seen! I can hardly bear it!” His guide smiles: ‘It is the summit of this age’s culture,” he replies. “This is the Museum of Modern Art during Christmas Week.”

“Well, if it is,” the narrator exclaims, “I say the hell with it, no pun intended,” and with that he abandons his guide, rushes out of the dire place, and races back through the woods to Rimini, where he gets a job as a barista.

And that is that.

1.Now – to the day’s serious business, here’s David Pryce Jones on the current state of Brexit and EU affairs. He’s writing in The New Criterion, a magazine that lovers of best culture must read for Karen Wilkin, Marco Grassi, Kyle Smith and Jay Nordlinger, but which, in its political pages, is showing signs, post-Trump, of reverting to the right-wing looniness that characterized it back in the days of its Founder Hilton Kramer. That said, I feel Pryce Jones’s point is well taken:  “Nationalism is heating everywhere to a temperature already close to explosion. In the absence of any known cure, this [atient (the EU) must either recover miraculously or die. The watchers at the bedside do not know what is to be hoped for, or to be feared.

“Would-be doctors are coming off badly. One of the foremost among them is President Obama, who flew in to advise the British that in a referendum then about to occur, they should vote to stay within the European Union. The vote to leave, Brexit for short, exposed him as an airhead without influence or the prestige due to his office.”

2.Totally agree: http://nypost.com/2016/12/27/12-reasons-i-hate-eating-out-in-new-york/  I would footnote Cuozzo’s diatribe with the famous remark by Ernest Thesiger. Returning to London from the Western Front in 1916, he was asked what it was like in the trenches. “My dears,” he replied, “the noise! And the people!”

3. The media are full of articles about how to combat Trump. This is typical: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/12/fight-donald-trump-with-normal-politics.html – especially since, to my recollection, the writer has never been more than half-right on any subject of importance (except, naturally, importance of the “self-” variety). In my view, the way to get to Trump is make him lose it, and the way to do that is to take him on at Twitter. Organize a Twitter “hit squad” of, say, 100 articulate people (I’ll volunteer) that will challenge his tweets (nothing will make him stop; he seems addicted)by fighting dirty in the 140-character format, inducing him tweet back and back again until he goes apeshit.

4. Indeed, sir, indeed: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2016/12/ilargi-2017-where-the-truth-lies.html and this too, sir: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/12/wrong-withering-west-161226104409143.html

5. A couple of years ago, mainly as a favor and gesture of respect and affection for two friends, Scott McConnell and Taki, I took out a subscription to The American Conservative. What with one thing or another, I barely skimmed the issues, but I kept them and recently started to go through the stack. It’s an interesting magazine. Doctrinaire to be sure, but a grownup expects that, and there’s a lot of other good stuff in there. Taki’s on the back page, doing his thing (which I’ve described elsewhere as derived from the little boy in Alice… “who only does it annoy because he knows it teases”) and I have to say, judging from the intemperate reaction his latest screed elicited from the adjacent pillow, he succeeds. I consider myself a conservative progressive – one who examines the bathwater to see if there might be a baby in it – and I’ve followed a sort of backwards path through life: usually, one starts out young and relatively impecunious and then as one becomes wealthier, turns conservative (it’s the money, you see). But I had money when I was young, and therefore could afford to be idealistic despite my circumstances, and then as I’ve grown older, and relatively poorer, my idealism – compassion for others, mainly – has stuck with me because there’s been no incentive to go in the opposite direction.

6. Headed by prize asshole Larry Kudlow, certain people on the Trump transition team are arguing that his plutocratic choices for his Cabinet and inner circle are immunized by their wealth from any temptation to steal or to corrupt for pecuniary reasons. Based on my observations over 50-plus years, this is absolute bullshit. Indeed the reverse is true. While there are obvious exceptions, as a general rule, the richer one becomes, the more rapacious, avaricious, greedy and morally provincial one becomes. The word “enough” disappears from the vocabulary. The notion that with advantages come responsibilities is put out of mind. One becomes psychologically interwoven with one’s wealth to the extent that any diminishment of one’s pile will be like having a limb cut off. And since big hitters have easier access to piggy banks – pension funds, the taxpayers’ full faith and credit, corporate accounts etc – temptation is easier to yield to.

Signing off: https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/mathematical-economics-training-too-narrow-by-robert-skidelsky-2016-12

 

 

12/27/16….Countdown…

We took six hours yesterday to watch the second part of “The Hollow Crown,” a splendid mashup of the three Henry VI plays and Richard III done by a first-rate British cast led by Benedict Cumberbatch as the wicked king and Ben Miles as  Somerset, the treacherous courtier who betrays the waffling Henry VI (Tom Sturridge). Odd how these things go in cycles. It’s been some time since I encountered the Henry VI-Richard III tetralogy done whole (the last play , of course is fodder for scenery-chewers) but this year, in a relatively few months, I’ve seen it twice, the first time being “Kings of War,” a fine inventive version at BAM. Anyway, this production completed the cycle (the first, Richard II, the two Henry IV plays and Henry V done no less magnificently – Tom Hiddleston was born to play Hal/Henry V – was shown last year.) Engrossed as we were, and engaged, full of admiration for the production and the performers, we came away at the end with one thought above all: my God, Shakespeare, how did you do it! His language is, to my mind at least, as close as we poor mortals are likely to come to the voice of God!

Now impends the Age of Trump, and with each day – each hour, it seems – right-wing creatures are emerging into sunlight – the Obama winter of their discontent made glorious summer by this son of Queens, as the Bard would say -and flexing their rhetorical muscles. Today’s Wall Street Journal hearkens back to the glory days of Bob Bartley about how mean Obama has been to the banks and how, at this eleventh hour, he’s giving them a last sharp kick in the regulatory ribs. I concede the Journal  this much:  Obama has been hard on banks when he should have been harder on bankers – there’s a difference, you know – and while a certain amount of penalty money has been collected, some of it ridiculously (as in the case of Fannie and Freddy), the regulatory overload imposed has severely limited the ability of banks to perform their social function while effecting little change in Wall Street’s sociopathic thinking. And now we face the prospect of the Journal and others trotting back onstage and treating us to four years, at a a minimum, of ludicrous amateur fascism.

Speaking of banks: http://wallstreetonparade.com/2016/12/eight-years-after-an-epic-banking-crash-americas-biggest-threat-is-still-its-banks/

1.Is Robert Harris – https://www.amazon.com/Conclave-novel-Robert-Harris/dp/0451493443/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1482854838&sr=1-1&keywords=Robert+Harris – channeling Morris L. West? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shoes_of_the_Fisherman_(novel)

2.Fact or fiction? In Fixers the ex-CIA narrator is never told the source of the money that he’ll dispense to turn the 2008 Democratic primaries inside-out. I deliberately left that unspoken, although I confess I wasn’t thinking Putin. But if the ambiguity fits, wear it!