Critiques & Commentary

Welcome to Midas Watch – A Mission Statement

For the last two or three years, I’ve used FB as a sort of blog, sounding- and bulletin-board and forum. I posted stuff I thought my friends might be interested in reading and thinking about. But I’ve grown sick of FB in almost every way. I’m sick of the intrusions: the ads, the puffery, the come-ons. I’m sick of the dialogue, the trolling, the cloying compliments, the unremitting delectations of the self-evident and the obvious. So I’ve decided to launch this website. If you’re looking for me, here’s where I’ll be.

I’ve given this website the title of the column I wrote from October 1987 until early 2009 for The New York Observer. Certain principles abide. I started by what the Brits call “taking a view,” and so I plan to continue. As I saw it, we had entered a new Gilded Age, dominated by what I thought of as “the Overclass”, a money-based oligarchy that was despoiling the public and private institutions of the country .  This Overclass was exhibitionistic, ruthless, shameless, solipsistic, humorless, with little concern for the sensibility or situation of those less plugged in. If you spoke to these people of noblesse oblige, you were greeted with a look that combined moral blankness and contempt. I had grown up in and with relative affluence; what I began to see ran in the face of every way I had been taught to behave, I found myself agreeing with Dorothy Parker’s famous quip: “If you want to see what God thinks of money, look at who He gives it to,” and that’s how I wrote about them. They didn’t like being made fun of, being tagged with schoolyard nicknames like “the Prince of Swine” or “the Wee Haberdasher.” I have always believed the bad guys and idiots have names – and I had no compunction naming them.

Not that I made any difference. The despoilers are more in control than ever – and not only thicker on the ground, but more contemptible and self-regarding. In 1993, Random House contracted and paid me for a nonfiction book about The Overclass (that was the working title), but for reasons that remain obscure didn’t publish it. I guess it was ahead of its time, and in American life, nothing has less cash value than that.

Speaking out – saying what you think – can cost you friends. It cost me, especially when more and more people I had been close to in younger days began to discover how much they really loved money, and to organize their social lives and acquaintanceships around the indubitable truth that wealth loves wealth. Or, as they used to say on Wall Street, friendship can’t buy money.

That sort of thing made me angry back then, but no longer. I was 51 when I began the Observer column. I had much to look forward to – or so I thought. My fuse was much shorter. Now I’m 80, and my thoughts turn mainly to the past. When shit happens – and it does – I find I’ve become surprisingly philosophical. I must also confess that after nine novels and a few false starts (including The Overclass), the inclination and mental stamina to write another book has all but petered out. Writing is great fun – but being published (or not published) is torture, and after the way my recent novel Fixers was received (raves in The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, but no other major reviews. None), what’s the point? Still, once opinionated, always opinionated, once a writer always a writer. So here we are.

And so it goes. I should end this overture as overtures should, on a joyous note. The day this website launches is the birthday of my darling wife Tamara Glenny and my grandson Cooper Thomas. He’s turning 25; Tamara’s a tiny bit older. And tomorrow, my youngest son Francis turns 30; he had just turned 1 when I began “The Midas Watch”; readers of the Observer column knew him as  “Master Francis”. My family is my greatest blessing.

One final note: I’m not trying to make debating points. here. Trolls need not apply. People whose reactions I care about can post on FB or reach me by email at [email protected] or any other address you already have.


Good place to start:

Score another for Fixers! Exactly as my novel predicted:

Here are two letters written two years apart to Roger Altman, whom I hired at Lehman Brothers and who has gone on to make a great success. These, I think, speak for themselves (the letters, along with other stuff I’ll be posting, turned up in a review-and-discard of old files preparatory to relocating):

Michael M. Thomas

66 Water St. – #5C

Brooklyn, NY 11201

tel: 718-694-6872

fax: 718-694-6961

[email protected]


June 27, 2017


Mr. Roger D.Altman

Evercore Partners

65 East 55 St.

New York, NY 10022


Dear Roger:


The other night, I was at a party in a very grand apartment in a very grand Manhattan building. The company assembled was pretty much of a certain age, with me (68) being at the younger end of the spectrum. Apart from Arthur Schlesinger, most were people who, I would expect, would vote Republican two times out three. Many owed their high standard of living to inherited wealth; all, I think, would have benefited from the Bush tax cuts.


And yet a funny thing happened. At one point, the President’s name was mentioned, and an audible ripple of disgust and revulsion ran around the room.


While I’m quite aware that it’s dangerous to extrapolate from anecdotal evidence, I think there’s a lesson here for the Kerry campaign, in which I understand you’re involved. It is this: by and large, Bush has made a lot of well-off people in this country ashamed of their advantages.


I’m one of them. But I’m also like a lot of people in my position: horribly worried about the direction the country has been taken since 2001, and not particularly keen to vote for a fellow member of the Fence Club on the basis of his campaign so far. How he voted in the Senate doesn’t concern me. The qualities and behavior patterns that go into making an influential Senator are not necessarily those that make a good or effective President. I don’t know Mr. Kerry; I do know his wife, for whom I have a tremendously high regard (indeed I was at her wedding in Pittsburgh to my late friend John Heinz.)


Reflecting on all of this has emboldened me to send you a short book I wrote in 1992 that was never published, although it was commissioned and paid for by Random House. I expect the ideas therein were considered too radical by Harry Evans’ patrons. But I think it has a number of ideas that you might find useful in helping your candidate articulate a vision of what kind of country this ought to be and how we should get there. Mr. Kerry’s great opportunity, as I see it, lies in just that: to oppose his own overarching vision of America against a President who doesn’t have one. I happen to be related in an Episcopalian fashion to the Bushes (my late godfather Jimmy Walker was G.H.W.B’s uncle,) and I was handpicked by Will Farish for the Zapata Board when G.H.W.B was bailed out, and one thing I do know about that family is that they believe in absolutely nothing other than that someone will always be there with a basket.


Most of what I forecast in the attached has come true. The illustrations may seem out of date, but these can easily be fixed by changing a few names and adding a zero or two to the footings. The larger principles involved- tax as rich what is rich; if we’re going to make the poor sing for their suppers, reward them if they hit the right notes; develop the concept of “the Public Capital” and hammer it home: this is your money, damn it! – might play well politically.


For most of my writing career, I have been exploring what I see as the decline and degeneration of the socioeconomic class into which I (and Mr. Kerry) was born, in which I was educated and in which I first obtained employment. A way of life in which, as I put it in the book, it seldom took more than two phone calls to get what I was after. A way of life that had at its heart the concept of noblesse oblige.


You are not going to win this election talking about tax plans that it will take clever lawyers and accountants fifteen minutes to figure out how to circumvent. Nothing is solved by further complicating what is already too complicated. Bold strokes, a bold vision, a brave new world: these are called for. People are worried about the kind of America their children and grandchildren are going to find themselves living in. Address this.


Anyway, I thought you might find my book useful. I have spent my entire working life learning to think creatively, even if it means cultivating wholly new habits of thought. The Pete Peterson model of dealing with crisis – hold a panel discussion, take out an ad in the Times, on to lunch at the Four Seasons – has proved inefficient, to say the least.




And then this, two years later:

Michael M. Thomas

66 Water St. – Apt. 5C

Brooklyn, NY 11201-1080

718 694 6872 / 347 596 3437

[email protected]


April 17, 2006


Mr. Roger C. Altman

Evercore Partners

55 East 52 St.

New York, NY 10055



Dear Roger:


You may recall that I wrote you a couple of years ago in connection with some ideas for the Kerry campaign. I didn’t hear back, which I suppose didn’t surprise me, although now that I think about it, the fact that I gave you your first job in investment banking, from which you have springboarded to ever greater visibility and prominence, might have entitled me to at least the minor courtesy of a rubber-stamp acknowledgement.


You may also recall that I sent along a copy of an unpublished book I wrote back in 1992 about where I thought this country was headed wrong and what to do about it. That the book never saw publication looks in retrospect to have been a pity, since all of the more dire prognostications I laid out have come true. To make these required no genius on my part, although it did take a form of thinking conspicuously absent in what I then described as the American “overclass”: intellectual honesty – not to mention a touch of moral imagination.


In the book I also put forward a number of prescriptive notions, some radical in fact, others only so in perception, that basically involved the application of common sense both to the way we live now and to the way we seem quite happy to see others live. Among these were suggestions regarding Congressional pay and staffing, a sensible tax structure, market-based incentives for individual educational accomplishment and so on.



My purpose in writing that book was to suggest, by example if you will, that it is no longer practical, even if eminently feasible, to attack the ills that beset this great Republic with further dosages of bullshit, although I recognize that in some circles this substance, of which Prof. Frankfurt has written with uncommon eloquence, is thought to have the same therapeutic effect on overclass social guilt that Zoloft does on clinical depression.


And that brings me to the Hamilton Project, the Wall Street Journal report on which prompted me to look up your website and download the mission statement. This I read with great interest, several times, and what I read prompts me now to write to urge that you and your colleagues in this amazingly self-congratulatory undertaking cease and desist.


I say this in a kindly, even condolatory way. The “Project” has absolutely no chance of success – unless, of course, you equate (and it occurs to me that by now you may) a certain measure of PR exposure with achievement. For one thing, there are no new ideas in the statement. “Economic security and economic growth can be mutually reinforcing” is not a new idea, nor is any to be found in the page-long gloss that follows the enunciation of this bold new “principle.” If I may paraphrase Churchill’s well-known apothegm on the late Soviet Union, what we have here is platitude wrapped in cliché inside bromide – over and over and over. And this begs the question, for this nation at least, of a nation-fixing mission statement that nowhere (unless I am blind) includes the word “immigration.”


Another reason that the Project has absolutely no chance of success is – how am I going to put this gently? – the people behind it. Your Advisory Council consists of 25 individuals. Of these, twelve come from Wall Street, broadly considered. I cannot say for sure whether experience in grossly-overpaid lines of work such as hedge funds and derivatives trading and private equity and giving merger advice, which do not in the ordinary course of their business concern themselves with such matters as how to get a job, pay the doctor, put food on the table, equips one to understand, let alone deal with the vexations faced by the people in this country we need to worry about, but it seems conjectural at best.


Another ten members of your Advisory Council come from Academe, which requires no further comment, a consideration that also applies to the member who comes from the Never-Neverland of management consulting. Two others make their home in think tanks, and the last is in publishing. At   a time when enterprises like General Motors and Ford are back to wall, one might have thought some representation from the “make and do and hire and fire” sectors of American commerce would have proved helpful, even insightful. Perhaps even someone from Wal-Mart.



That said, I have no doubt that the Project will achieve its real goals. It will commission studies, enable consultants, stage conferences and symposia and panels, publish full-page newspaper ads, generate press coverage and the like, in the same inspiring manner as its ancestor in blather, the Concord Coalition of blessed memory.


But is this really the point? If there were some way to monetize self-congratulation, or to convert into BTUs the energy released by stroking the chin while gravely pursing the lips, I would argue otherwise. But the chances seem twofold: slim and none. The sad truth seems to be, at least in the eyes of one who has spent enough time at the Four Seasons to have a sense of how this stuff works, that this really isn’t a program about helping the less-advantaged or getting the country straightened out in a fiscal and intellectual sense, this is an advertisement for a government-in-waiting.


In conclusion, let me say that this letter is written in darkest self-interest. The day you receive this letter I shall turn 70. Years ago, I took my design for living from a famous New Yorker cartoon, in which a very fancy mother says to her son, “Eat your broccoli, dear,” and the lad, after inspecting his plate dubiously, replies, “I say it’s spinach and I say the hell with it!” The sun will soon enough go down for the last time for me, and already the chances are that its final twinkling rays will be blotted out by the giant mounds of spinach with which the American landscape has been heaped by self-aggrandizing Panglosses in pinstripes. I beg you not to add to the pile.


As always,


It should go without saying that neither letter received a reply.


This makes a lot of sense to me:


Read the first two posts:












Here’s something else I wrote in 1995.


The deal everyone’s yakking about. An interesting take: And read the Comments.

It continues to surprise me that while everyone declares the Mainstream Media (MSM) risk being put out of business by Social Media, the newspapers and networks continue to report, say, Trump’s tweets as if these are real news and not simply the midnight ravings of an egomaniac.

From Audacious Hope to Hope Abandoned: the presidency of Barack Obama. It’s what got us where we are. And has gotten him (and the missus) a $60 million book deal.

You’ll recall my earlier post on Cecconi’s, the new restaurant across the street. Here’s a squib from the Observer:  “But those who are concerned that Jones’ Italian restaurants are just as exclusive as his member’s only clubs have no reason to worry: “It’s a restaurant that all sorts of people of all ages go to, everyone comes to Cecconi’s.”  Well, not quite, I can think of two people who won’t be dropping in.

A nation mourns. The news that the actor Stephen Furth, who indelibly played Kent Dorfman, aka “Flounder,” in Animal House  has me bent double, keening and rending garments. As must be the case with the millions of others of my age and a bit younger, people (especially men) who know the deepest of mortal verities: that Animal House contains ALL TRUTH. No character in the film better embodied this Parnassian quality than Flounder (“Women – can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.”) A deity has passed. I shall do what needs to be done at such a grave, grievous moment and pay the respect that is called for: I shall take down the DVD (“Special Anniversary Edition”) and watch the movie for what must surely be the 20th time.

I’m getting to know R.R. Reno, editor of First Things, the influential journal founded a quarter-century ago by Father Richard John Neuhaus to argue the relationship between religion and public life and as a counterforce to secularism. Reno is a very impressive guy. Here’s a sample:    Here’s something I recently wrote to an e-correspondent: I believe that our political system leads to certain tendencies, perhaps inherently, that can all fairly be described as suicidal. Racism is certainly one. Money-worship is another. Institutional corruption, whether in the public or private sector, is a third. Secularism should probably be in there somewhere, perhaps as a stepchild of the previous three. Another, perhaps the most toxic, is ignorance, which no power that ever was on earth has done more to foster than the internet and social media. As I am fond of remarking: the trouble with the internet is that it gives millions of people with nothing to say a place to say it.
Now: if a number of these tendencies come alive simultaneously, as seems to me to be the case today, you have a perfect storm that can wipe out everything in its path. Starting with a phenomenon that absolutely baffles me: it is one thing to ignore the plight of the poor, that’s been going on for millennia. But to actively wage war on the poor, as now seems to be the case, would appear to invite the wrath of God in whichever form He is worshipped, and in whatever way He chooses to manifest His fury. I should add that I’m not a religious person – I am in church only for weddings and, more often at my age (81), funerals – but I have to say that climate change strikes me as having elements of divine anger.  In other words: does God lose patience? Ever?

Good question:

Preparatory to relocating, I’ve been going through boxes and cabinets of old files, throwing away 90% of what I come across. Somewhere I found this, written by me at the end of 2012. How could I have gotten the outcome so wrong? The only answer has to be that my formative years – childhood through college – coincided with the years (1941-1960) that America showed itself to best advantage and left me with a residue of optimism and idealism that it has taken decades to scrape away. It’s very disheartening to reflect on the likelihood that for over fifty years I’ve gotten my own country wrong. That reflection played an important role in designing Fixers,  in which the narrator has to come to terms with the realization that the WASP traditions he was raised to revere and emulate – discretion, noblesse oblige properly understood, concern for others, the responsibilities that go with privilege – have been stamped into nothingness under the heavy tread of money-worship, unconcern for others, me-firstism and so on.


Interesting thought:

A view from the front: I like this:

The Wal-Mart in a small, central Texas town never made a profit.

For 10 years, the megastore operated in Hearne, north of Bryan, with lower prices and better deals than local businesses. Wal-Mart eventually pulled the plug, but not before Hearne’s downtown was littered with empty storefronts. After the megastore closed, the closest place to buy basic necessities was a 26-mile drive away.

Reading about Amazon’s plans to buy Austin-based Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, you’ve got to wonder how much longer until the entire nation ends up like Hearne.

When China exports tires or steel at a loss and puts U.S. competitors out of business, we declare it illegal and call it “dumping.” When Wal-Mart, Amazon or Uber does it, we declare it a good investment opportunity and call it the free market.

For the MUST list:

What we need is compassion with brains: High IQ noblesse oblige, shall we say?





Just back from a week in UK seeing my wife’s family and the old (in several senses) friends I care about. Lovely time. Now the move begins, and I need to get settled before resuming posts. A lot to think about, a lot to say. But first we need to survey the battlefield and establish our order of battle. Back anon.

Boston Globe  baseball writer: “I know I write dumb stuff on Twitter I wouldn’t think of writing for the Globe. That’s the case for many reporters, and we should be held accountable.” Which seems to me to beg the question:  so why do you Tweet at all, asshole!

Waited in vain for one of Trump’s cabinet to give an edge to the round-table sycophancy by saying something like, “Mr.President, I am honored to be able to kiss your giant fat ass and suck your tiny dick.”

Will try to get up to speed eventually. For the nonce, this is pretty good, although I generally haven’t voted Democrat.

One thing that occurred to me in London that I will be writing more about – someday – is that while much is made of “trickle down,” the theory being that vast accumulations at the top of the wealth pyramid must result in some part of the excess “trickling down” into the purses of lesser mortals, rather after the manner of a champagne fountain, what actually seems to “trickle down” in real life are higher costs,  and that rather than improving the lot of the poor or of those people who are marginally getting by, “trickle down” actually worsens their situation.

Today’s (6/16) WSJ reports the same of two $70 million units in one of the new condo towers abuilding in Manhattan. For some time, I’ve been puzzling over this quandary: morning comes, time to go to the office or heliport or wherever; you check your To-Do list (more chewing gum for the fading trophy wife, something from JAR for the girlfriend) descend from your 80th-floor, $70 million aerie in a more-or-less-private elevator, emerge to much uniformed and tasseled bowing and scraping, clamber into your Escalade (Wealth Rule #7: the smaller the tycoon, the larger must be the vehicle) and now what? You’re stuck in the same miserable traffic as the rest of us schmucks, breathing the same polluted air, trying to hear yourself think over the ceaseless honking clamor of what must be the world’s noisiest city. This is what the immortal J. Durante would characterize as “a revoltin’ development.” And so one asks: can special, dedicated Limousine Lanes be far in the future? Another reason to read a marvelous book I’ve mentioned before: Moskowitz’s How to Kill a City. Did you know that under Bloomberg 40% of NYC was “rezoned” – ie. handed over to developers, usually with a fake “affordable” tax subsidy. That is some amazing number.

Interesting. The prediction of robots rising up and taking over has been around a long time. My first year at Exeter (1950-51) the Dramat put on R.U.R, a 1920 play by the Czech playwright Karel Capek. Humans invent robots (this introduced the word”robot”) which then rise up etc. etc. For serious students of the history of American drama, let it be noted that I – who had been a matchless Scrooge and Sniggers (in Lord Dunsany’s A Night at an Inn) at Buckley – played a nursemaid. And badly.

When the Lady Wife and I read that Cecconi’s (a branch of Soho House, or – as it is known in this apartment – “Douchebag Central” or “DC”) had opened up in the Empire Stores, we decided to stroll across Water St. to #55 to have a gander. We’re neither of us foodies, but I had a special reason for going over there. Enzo Cecconi, the eponym for the DC chain, is an old friend. That is, he became a friend because he married Sarah Coleman, with whom I played a lot of golf at Cypress Point back when we were 15 and 16. We were exactly the same age (I was born 04/18/1936 and Sarah a day later). She came from a famous golfing home (her father George L. Coleman gave his name to the gilt-edged amateur tournament staged every year at Seminole). Over time, we drifted apart and then encountered each other in 1977, when I stayed at the Cipriani in Venice, where Enzo was the General Manager. Sarah had turned him into a golf nut; I recall going 18 with him at the Lido course across the lagoon. A year or so later, they left Venice and Enzo opened his namesake restaurant in London, back of the Burlington Arcade. It was terrific, and a huge success. Enzo kept it for 20-odd years, then sold it – he and Sarah built a big house in Pebble Beach – and then it got sold again, and finally ended up in the hands of DC, which attached the Cecconi name to a string of restaurants around the world, of which the version opposite where we live is the latest. So we had a reason for going above and beyond culinary curiosity, even though a perusal of the menu online disclosed the presence of vitello tonnato,  a dish of which I am uncommonly fond, and which I have difficulty finding in nearby restaurants.

So we went over and thereby experienced as revolting a restaurant experience as I have ever had, although I suppose it was guileless of me to expect otherwise, given the utter lack of class and manners that is as much a part of today’s urban young as those stupid fedoras they affect, who throng to “clubs” run by and for people who have no idea whatsoever what a proper club is like. When we entered the restaurant, we were practically blinded by the light reflected off a sea of empty tabletops. As our vision cleared, and could see what is by any standards a pretty elegant set-up (I think Enzo would be satisfied), a snooty voice informed us that “We’re not accepting walk-ins.” The latter term, which I hate, was made to sound like “lepers.” We pleaded that we were only dropping by to have a drink, but Ms. Snoot remained obdurate. “we’re not accepting walk-ins.”  To be fair, she was probably simply reciting a script prepared by the sort of social illiterates who use words like “exclusive” a lot. Anyway, there seemed to no point in arguing, so we left, vowing never to return (and we shan’t, vitello tonnato notwithstanding), and ambled over to AlMar, one of Brooklyn’s truly great, truly underrated restaurants, for a delicious dinner.

Returning home, my wife saw outside #55 Water St. what seemed, in the metaphorical sense at least, to be a queue of typical DC “FOMOs” (Fear of Missing Out) waiting to get in and photographed it for posterity.

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You have been warned. Assholes are as assholes do. And I should add a sad bit of news: my teenage golfing pal Sarah Cecconi died earlier this year at her home in Pebble Beach.
A confession: I continue to be unable to think, let alone speak the phrase”President Trump.”
Here’s an article that I find interesting and relevant in all its particulars, but especially (scroll through) in its suggestion of a way to look at Brexit from a “non-Yob” point of view:



Now begins that awful time of year when the air is full of “What’s Hot in the Hamptons?” buzz wherever one looks, and the Instagram Idiots are out in full force. My six children, now aged thirty to sixty, were raised out there in the ’60s through the ’80s, and it might as well have been a different geologic era. Houses were affordable, which among other things meant that people who worked there lived there; traffic was negligible (Southampton to East Hampton was a fifteen-minute drive; today it’s likely to be over an hour) and one didn’t have to go grocery shopping at 7AM to be sure of finding a parking spot. The tables at Shippy’s and Bobby Van’s weren’t booked a month in advance, and the bar crowd at the American Hotel didn’t make one fear for the future of mankind.  The place and the people were altogether quieter. There were open fields. Still, when someone like me reflects on “duh Hamptons” as was, I bear in mind the observation of a wise friend over lunch a few weeks ago: “It’s not the way Southampton has changed that I hate,” she said, “it’s the way I’ve changed. I’ve grown old….” And her voice trailed off, and I could guess what her mind’s eye was seeing. Housman once again got it right: “It is the land of lost content/I see it shining plain/The happy highways where I went/And cannot go again.”

And then there’s this kind of piece, sent to me by my son Michael, written by a fellow who’s a 1990s Hamptons nouveau, which in his world counts as old money. As I recall, the author is a chubby little fellow who had – may still have – a Main St. shop that sold rather ordinary “resortwear.”   One correction, I knew hardly anyone who went to Herb McCarthy’s. The place we went was Dick “Enjoy your steaks, kids!” Ridgeley’s joint out on the highway.

This site is likely to be inactive starting now, because we’re going to London for a week: T to see her mum and family, me to see old (in several senses) friends whom, aa a glance  at the actuarial tables suggests, I feel I better see now because…well, you get the point.

And then when we return, we’ll be in that special hell known as moving. Thanks to considerate landlords, it’ll only be down the hall, but I’m a bit of a packrat and the prospect of dealing with all this stuff – the books alone, the books! – terrifies me. Funny, when I moved here over 17 years ago, I failed to include in my game plan an element that’s proving to crucial: getting old. Just like the rest of us. See you in a week or so.

And while I’m away, ponder this:

Or this. De mortuis…. View image on Twitter

Finally, given my jaundiced view of social media (I’ve disconnected from FB and Twitter, and on Instagram I follow a very few people,mainly family, and seldom if ever post):


In today’s NYT, the paper’s spinner of digital metaphysics, Farhad Manjoo, refers to Twitter as “his daily addiction.” Further down in the piece, Manjoo lists the properties that make Twitter so addictive: “It’s where political messaging and disinformation get digested, packaged and widely distributed for mass distribution to cable, Facebook and the res of the world.” Funny: I find this hardly an incentive to addiction, but then I never got crack, either.

Then there’s this: Excerpt from the article: “The company’s net loss widened to $54.9 million in 2016 from $46.9 million a year earlier, despite net revenue climbing to $795 million from $340.8 million in the same period, according to the prospectus. Among risk factors listed in the filing, Blue Apron warned that it may never make a profit.” Where do I sign up!

And…finally… New York  has a long expose of Uber. The piece incorporates a striking photo of Ubermensch Travis Kalanick standing next to Super Bowl hero Tom Brady at the Kentucky Derby. The difference in height is considerable, and given Kalanick’s reputation, brings to mind one of my happier coinages of years past, to wit: that most of the world’s problems can be traced to three sources: sex, money and short men.

A bientot, mes chers. 


My guess is that Bezos senses a shift back toward books, provided his stores can mimic his online pricing.


Like it or not, hard to argue with: As far as I’m concerned, the only indictable (sic) evidence would have to be “reach out” contacts between members of Trump’s election team or the candidate himself, and known Russian bad guys.

Another example of MStM (Makes Sense to Me):

No Laughing Matter: The Manchester Bomber is the Spawn of Hillary and Barack’s Excellent Libyan Adventure

New of Trump taking us out of the climate change accord. Of course he hates environmentalists, after the tough time they gave him on his Scotch gold course development, but still…the man’s moral philistinism knows no bounds!

Further comment not needed:

An interesting report from the front lines:

Here’s a how-de-do. It is tie for me to give my books away: Here’s the letter I wrote the librarian at Brooklyn College:

I spoke with your office this morning about the possibility that Brooklyn (or through Brooklyn College, the CUNY system) might have an interest in my personal library – for which I am seeking to find a good home.

Assembled over 60 years to provide research resources for my work as an art historian and subsequently a novelist and journalist, as well as to satisfy my indefatigable curiosity along with a case of terminal bibliomania, this is a real library. Here is an article I recently wrote about it for Quest magazine, along with a description I’ve furnished to, among others, Yale (my alma mater) – although, frankly, I would prefer to see it go to an institution where it might make more of a difference.

I’ve described the library elsewhere as follows: “This is a real library, accumulated with knowledge, curiosity and love over 60 years. No paperbacks, no endless shelves of books by the likes of David Baldacci or James Patterson. It is strong in music, memoirs and biography, diaries and correspondence, art history, history, essays and belles lettres, poetry, travel and foreign places, New York City and Brooklyn. In my office is an entire wall of reference books and books on finance and Wall Street (my principal subjects as a journalist and novelist).

My wife and I are moving, and I have reached the age (81) where I would rather put my books into good hands now than leave them in storage to be coped with by my family when the time comes.

I wonder whether the Brooklyn College Library would like to have them, free and clear, to be placed on its shelves, distributed through the system, even sold – whatever best serves the objectives of the college. We’re talking about – I’m guessing – 3000 + volumes (and some very handsome custom-built book cases I’ll happily include in the gift), less perhaps 100 volumes to which my wife and I are especially attached (such as leatherbound copies of most of my own books). I emphasize that these are real books, that have real research value. The donation could include some 1200 music CDs, mainly classical, and some 200 DvDs – mostly of classic American and European films.

The interesting part is, no one wants these books, and in institutions like the Brooklyn Public Library, you can’t even find someone to talk to. So if any reader has any ideas, do email me at [email protected]







Great stuff – as usual:

This whole Kushner business fascinates me – especially his link to Blackstone/Schwarzman. The Blackstone CEO is a truly terrible guy,  a paragon of vulgarity and moral nullity, no matter how many buildings he pays to get his name on.

Hard to argue against: 

Our country, right or wrong!

Not entirely expectedly, we’ll be moving in the next two or three months. That means the accumulation of 17 years here in 5C will have to be winnowed and dealt with, starting with my books. So I expect my postings will be pretty irregular. With respect to the books, I’ve contacted Yale, the Strand and others are on the list. Any thoughts any reader might have regarding this particular task  will be gratefully received at [email protected]

Today’s NYT has a front-page article on Trump’s golf business. Naturally, the Grey Lady omits any mention of Trump’s most “iffy” golf venture, the takeover of Ferry Point, the “municipal” (ie. built with NYC money and supposedly open to all) track hard by the Whitestone Bridge, a short stroll from some of the city’s more desperate neighborhoods, and the scene – so ’tis rumored – of all sorts of Trumpian bait-and-switch hijinks.

The following, by James Panero in the latest New Criterion, perfectly expresses my feelings:

When it comes to the life of art, there may be nothing less gala than the Met Gala, or at least what this annual boondoggle at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has become. The scandal of this year’s iteration should serve as a sobering wake-up call for the increasingly besotted priorities of too many American museums, including our greatest institutions.

If you have not heard of the Met Gala, do not worry. You were not invited. Since 1995, on the first Monday of every May, the Metropolitan has handed its keys over to Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine and the artistic director of Condé Nast. Here her purported aim has been to raise funds for the museum’s Costume Institute—I’m sorry, make that the “Anna Wintour Costume Center.” Her lording over the gala’s invite list has become notorious and the subject of a documentary called “The First Monday in May.”

Of course, the potential conflicts of interest that exist between Wintour’s commercial concerns and her museum trusteeship are blatant. The specter that she has conjured up with her gala has followed priorities far beyond fundraising and certainly beyond the realm of art. Along the way these extra-artistic interests have risen up from the Institute’s basement galleries to infect not only the museum’s spaces but also its institutional tenor, and by extension the tenor of American museums at large.

Like much else in the world of art, the Met Gala and the Costume Institute itself have become unrecognizable deformations from the Institute’s founding and the event’s inception in 1946. Consider that for nearly twenty years, from 1979 to 1995, the gala was helmed by the singular society doyenne Patricia Buckley. During this time the Institute mounted exhibitions such as “Fashions of the Hapsburg Era” (1979–1980), “Victorian Dress 1837–1877” (1988–1989), and “The Age of Napoleon: Costume from Revolution to Empire” (1989–1990). The historical programming more than fit, so to speak, the seriousness of the institution that presented it.

The Wintour era has wrought, by contrast, “Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy” and “Punk: Chaos to Couture.” Even beyond its superficial, contemporary turn, Wintour’s Costume Institute has exposed the museum to the predations of celebrity culture. Worse still, the museum as a whole, a once-protected precinct of our cultural inheritance, has learned to revel in Hollywood’s demotic attention. “The Met is a place that you consider very very correct, very formal,” the fashion editor André Leon Talley explains in the Wintour documentary. “Anna has taken that out of the mix.”

The 2017 Met Gala became the apotheosis of this transformation. With the pop singer Katy Perry serving as the year’s honorary hostess, the hordes of bold-faced names, amply stocked with Jenners and Kardashians, marched up the museum’s Fifth Avenue steps and made a public mockery of the institution. “The celebrities were like animals . . . acting like they were at the Playboy Mansion!” one informant explained to Radar maga- 56 Art The New Criterion June 2017 zine. “Some didn’t even know it was a museum. They thought it was an event space with old stuff brought in to make it look like Egypt!” Many of the attendees, clearly uncertain of their surroundings, came to loiter in the museum restrooms. Here they sprawled out across the floors, spilled drinks, smoked cigarettes, and took “selfie” shots in the mirrors, which they disseminated through social media.

Some may perceive such spectacle as a tolerable distraction—even a welcome frivolity for an overly stuffy and off-putting institution. I fear the pantomime is far more anti-civilizational. It is a takeover—a commercial-grade, mass-culture affront to an institution held in disdain. Guarded by a phalanx of bodyguards, these latter-day vandals take barbarous license amidst the greatest artifacts of history. They smoke. They fornicate. They sprawl across the floors in mockery of the art around them, merely to focus on themselves. And all the while they record their debauchery on social media for millions of fanatics to emulate their cultural annihilation.

There have been many cringe-worthy moments during the reign of Thomas Campbell, the disgraced director of the Metropolitan Museum who departs this month. Perhaps the curator once dubbed “Tapestry Tom” thought he could take a major carpet ride to new money and popular adulation. Instead he opened the floodgates and drowned his institution in ridicule and debt while forsaking his scholars and curators. There should have been only one response for any proper museum steward to this year’s Met Gala: to sweep the trash out of the galleries, and to keep Wintour’s damage deposit with the suggestion never to return. Short of that, Anna Wintour’s Met Gala should be interred alongside Tom Campbell’s ignominious career.

I think this makes a lot of sense. This business of shrieking at/about Trump for anything is counterproductive.

By now readers know how I feel about my alma mater  and its present governance. If graduate workers (most presumably working as instructors, researchers for the tenured gentry and section leaders) are treated as indentured labor, they have a right to complain. 


This is important, should be read and reflected upon. Quite apart from the foreground issue – Trump vs. CIA etc. – there’s something else at work here: a rising rejection by thoughtful people of knee-jerk Trump hatred (see above): Personally, I can’t stand complete irrationality, no matter on which side of the aisle one finds it.

No comment needed:

Even less comment needed:

This sort of thing gets one a seat at top tables at PEN galas. As far as I can see, that is its only use:

Among all the Jared Kushner fuss, leave us not forget that he is universally credited with “brokering” the $110 billion arms sale to the Saudis. Isn’t it conceivable that Riyadh paid the Trump “senior advisor” a commission under the table? I think we should be told. How smart is Kushner anyway? Around the Observer, during the time (2006-2009) my tenure overlapped with his ownership,  I never heard anyone utter a single syllable in praise – or amazement – of our new proprietor’s intellectual capacity. As regards the “Russia connection,” I think we need to separate any collusion pre-election and afterward. Only the former concerns me.

The 6PM news, is a veritable feast of quotidian toxicty – a Navy Seal dead in NY Harbor; a woman slashed in Grand Central; eight people shot to death in Mississippi a nightclub shooting in Paterson; four men shot on the sidewalk in Chelsea and so and so on, including te information that my daughter’s  estranged husband is golfing with Giuliani. This   all poisons the spirit, and “quite o’ercrows my spirit,” as it did Hamlet’s, I am going to make myself a strong drink. More tomorrow. Maybe.

Well…one last nosegay for the pillow.


And let’s start off with Kunstler, who takes – as do I – a skeptical view of the motives and likely efficacy of what he terms “the so-called “Resistance.” And from this Kunstler column may I quote an “advertisement” – if you will – for Fixers. It was to illuminate precisely this failure that I wrote the novel, to lift the lid off Obama’s Pandora’s Box of duplicity and broken commitments: Here’s Kunstler: “The best opportunity to accomplish that would have been the early months of Mr. Obama’s turn in the White House, the dark time of the previous financial crash when the damage was fresh and obvious. But the former president blew that under the influence of high priests Robert Rubin and Larry Summers.” The use of creative imagination to suggest how how and why said opportunity came to be “blown” is what my novel is about.

If Dante’s Hell had a tenth circle, this would be it:

More on “the Resistance”:
















Away we go!

Meetings through Tues – Wed. Will resume Thurs 5/25/17.”

Michael Lind is thought by some to be controversial, but this account of the way things have gone strikes me as pretty realistic. A “corporate” oligarchy, whether investor- or board-supported, or state-sanctioned and empowered, has seized the controls and locked the entry to the engine room. 

Good stuff: How can one argue with a statement like this? “…even as we moderns spend enormous amounts of our conscious energy making evaluations about who is sophisticated and who is simple, who is well-bred and who is arriviste, and who is smart and who is dumb, these are entirely irrelevant to the only question that ends up mattering: who is decent and who is cruel.

This supports my amatur grasp of the tyranny of algorithms:

New Greek Deal Fails To Take Greece Into Account

Ya gotta love it. Watching the Golf Channel, at a commercial break they start with a VERY idealistic Cadillac commercial about how, as a itizens, we need to look out for one another. And then they dump two loudmouth pitches for a couple of NJ dealers, Toyota and Subaru respectively, that pretty well illustrated why we oughtn’t to look out for anyone!




More on Ailes – the larger picture. His ultimate trophy of degradation, I suppose, being our President.

Why hasn’t the Mainstream Media picked this up? Has the White House?

For the nightstand? From How to Kill a City, one of the books under review:  “Meanwhile, during Michael Bloomberg’s tenure as New York’s mayor, thousands of rent-controlled apartments were deregulated, resulting in tens of thousands of evictions, with 29,000 during his last year in office alone. Under Bloomberg, 40 percent of the city — and most of Brooklyn — was rezoned to create high-end developments. In neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Greenpoint, 170 blocks were rezoned in 2005; rent has increased 78 percent in those two neighborhoods over the past two decades, helping to make Brooklyn the least-affordable market in the country. Moskowitz, who was himself priced out of the Greenwich Village neighborhood he grew up in, relocated to Brooklyn and is mindful of his own complicity in the cycle he bemoans. “I represent the domino effect,” he writes. “I know my existence in this borough comes at the cost of the erasure of others’ cultures and senses of home.” He adds: “If people saw themselves as part of a system perpetuating white supremacy, brunch would be less fun.”

Monday, Monday….

Good place to start from. Perhaps if not four years of free college, at least two years:

So what did anyone expect? I do like Sen.Wyden’s characterization of Mnuchin’s career:

I like anything that helps me understand aspects of life that both my intuition and my education can’t grasp:

Well, hello! It seems that Americans have taken a dim view of the republic’s poorly-maintained “moral infrastructure” every year since Gallup started asking the question. That was 2002. Figures.

I was “put down” for St.Paul’s when I was born. Would have been 4th generation on my mother’s side. Guess I missed a bullet (or something else!):


Oddly, no mention of W.J. Clinton after a brief mention early on. Ailes was an animal, but it really wasn’t Fox News that unzipped Clinton’s fly.







As someone who’s invested, directly and as a fiduciary, in a small way, in private equity, I found this interesting. But I think it misses or slides by a couple of important points. First, it really is difficult to know exactly what the returns have been, especially if your PE investment was made just before the crash, in 2007 and early 2008, as the ones I’m familiar with were.  PE sponsors tend to report returns on a position-by-position basis. This exaggerates “IRR” since it features the good stuff only. I think the only way one can get any idea of how well one’s doing is by applying the hoary test of “cash in, cash out.” As a given fund approaches its winding-up, as the ones with which I’m familiar are, the lines representing what the fund’s telling you its IRR has been, and what your own eyes and common sense are telling you, will tend to converge. Only then can you really get an idea of how well or badly you’ve done. It’s all rather like that game of “Battleship” that many of us played when young, where opponents each have a sheet of graph paper on which they deploy their flotillas by filling in squares, five squares for a battleship, four squares for a heavy cruiser and so on down to one square for a submarine. The cheat who “keeps his submarine in his pencil” always wins. So it is with much PE accounting: reported IRR will always include sponsor valuations of stuff that’s still on the balance sheet, illiquid. Second, and to my mind, most important, is the fact that the real money for PE sponsors is in the 2% fee on AUM. This encourages a focus on size, often leading to an asset pool too large to deploy in the moderate-sized investments that generally offer flexibility and the prospect of decent returns, and a commitment to investments possibly beyond the intellectual grasp of the sponsor.  In a word, “Where are the customers’ McMansions?” In every generation, there is a prophet who carries all before him. Long decades ago, it was McGeorge Bundy at the Ford Foundation with his “total return” (operating money sourced from capital gains should be considered the equivalent of money sourced from dividends and interest and spent freely). The investment/endowment >T>T> Baptist of this generation has been David Swensen at Yale, the outspoken advocate of PE – or “alternative investments” as the category is known.  Maybe he has done as well as is claimed with Yale’s heavy emphasis on alternatives, maybe he hasn’t. As the man says, “Don’t count yo’ chickens until they is hatched.”

This is Naked Capitalism‘s “must read” for today. It’s an excellent example of description without prescription – and there’s nothing wrong with that, if the analysis takes into account the complexity of human affairs, as the writer certainly does, and what he describes seems in touch and in tune with real life.

I’m reposting this from yesterday, since it fits nicely with my notion that a great problem of today is “the over-empowerment of the young” thanks to technology.

My friend Marina sends this, a NYT interview with a founder of Twitter in which he deplores the state of the internet. A quote from the piece perfectly illustrates “the tyranny of the algorithm”: The trouble with the internet, Mr. Williams says, is that it rewards extremes. Say you’re driving down the road and see a car crash. Of course you look. Everyone looks. The internet interprets behavior like this to mean everyone is asking for car crashes, so it tries to supply them.” Pure “Quantativity,” to coin a word.






The art world has been buzzing last night about the Basquiat painting for which a Hong Kong collector paid $110 million. Too much? Maybe, comparatively speaking, at least to my eyes, not that much. I think – have thought practically from the outset – that Basquiat was the best painter among those who came on the scene when he did and have gone on to be auction-house star attractions. His color sense is amazing, his images arresting; his “wall presence” compelling; I would love to own one. Forget the $110 million bid last night. To me, if one converts artistic quality, originality and interest into dollars, Basquiat is worth five times what anyone’s paid for a Richter, which works out roughly $250 million, and twenty times  the top price ($17 million) so far (and, I suspect, forever), for Christopher Wool, or $340 million. Next to those numbers, $110 million looks pretty cheap.

Yesterday I was in my office when suddenly the air went all aflame with schadenfreude as my wife rushed in to tell me that Roger Ailes had died. After she retreated, suitably rebuked on grounds of simple humanity if not ideology, I reflected on Ailes. His was a remarkable talent for turning pigs’ ears into silk purses. He made a star out of Sean Hannity, one of the most repellent media figures of my lifetime, who makes Rush Limbaugh sound like Logan Pearsall Smith. He took a man with the face of a Jersey City priest defrocked for molesting choirboys, one William O’Reilly, and made him a superstar. Only today it is disclosed that Mitch McConnell, truly one of the most dreadful, dishonest and cowardly legislators I have ever observed, owed his first election to Ailes. And of course Ailes’s greatest feat must be reckoned to be the part he played in getting Trump to the White House. But in the latter context, one cannot help reflecting that was as great as Ailes’s gift for talent-spotting and talent-engendering, he was – like Trump – lucky in his enemies. Fox News treated politics as serious business, of mortal importance. The opposition – the Jon Stewarts, the Colberts (I loathe Colbert!), the MSNBC and CNN opinionators -treated politics as an excuse for showing off, a receptacle for ever-so-clever irony ever-so-far over the heads of HRC’s “deplorables,” surely the ugliest, best cause-for-defeat epithet ever uttered by a candidate for high office. There’s a passage in Henry IV, Part One that perfectly characterizes the so-called “progressive” style.

Hotspur, a character O’Reilly would be perfectly cast as, speaks:

My liege, I did deny no prisoners.
But I remember, when the fight was done,
When I was dry with rage and extreme toil,
Breathless and faint, leaning upon my sword,
Came there a certain lord, neat, and trimly dressed,
Fresh as a bridegroom, and his chin new reaped
Showed like a stubble land at harvest home.
He was perfumèd like a milliner,
And ’twixt his finger and his thumb he held
A pouncet box, which ever and anon
He gave his nose and took ’t away again,
Who therewith angry, when it next came there,
Took it in snuff; and still he smiled and talked.
And as the soldiers bore dead bodies by,
He called them untaught knaves, unmannerly,
To bring a slovenly unhandsome corse
Betwixt the wind and his nobility.
With many holiday and lady terms
He questioned me; amongst the rest demanded
My prisoners in your Majesty’s behalf.
I then, all smarting with my wounds being cold,
To be so pestered with a popinjay,
Out of my grief and my impatience
Answered neglectingly I know not what—
He should, or he should not; for he made me mad
To see him shine so brisk and smell so sweet
And talk so like a waiting-gentlewoman
Of guns, and drums, and wounds—God save the mark!—
And telling me the sovereignest thing on earth
Was parmacety for an inward bruise,
And that it was great pity, so it was,
This villanous saltpeter should be digged
Out of the bowels of the harmless earth,
Which many a good tall fellow had destroyed
So cowardly, and but for these vile guns
He would himself have been a soldier.

Ailes’s genius was to have his players speak to their audience’s pain and anger. For Stewart et al, pain and anger were unfit seed-grounds; irony was to be all. Smartass instead of passion. Zero empathy. And over the decades, the progressives lost the gift of commitment, no longer knew how to do real fire and brimstone, could only do shrill and snarky (look at Samantha Bee’s terrible show!) and Krugmanesque technowhine. Keep your friends close, goes the saying, but keep your enemies closer –  and when you have enemies like these, buy ’em dinner! Hell, they’re the best assets you have!

Moving on….


Always on point:

High-class guys doin’ high-class “bidness”: 

A prime candidate for what Naked Capitalism calls “Guillotine Watch.” I know the parents or grandparents of a number of these young “ladies.” (sic) Obviously such a thing as “upbringing” no longer exists: