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.


Something like this makes one wonder whether, in view of Trump’s weird governing style, the obvious corruption that rules Congress, and the feckless attitudes of top Democrats, a third party may become possible:

There’s a constant buzz about implementing a VAT (Value Added Tax) to redirect taxation toward consumerism. There’s a certain sense to the idea. But it’s gotten me thinking: what about a VDT, or Value Destroyed Tax, directed at corporatism? It would be compensatory, and could be based on the economic loss resulting from plant transfers (Carrier-type) or private-equity balance sheet “surgery”, and might be based on job-loss factors (aggregate payroll and benefits elimination, hits to local tax bases etc). I envision a sort of Medicaid for communities financially decimated in the name of “efficiency” or exploited by rent-seekers. A portion of VDT might be charged against the pay of the CEOs responsible and private-equity, hedge-fund sharks.  It might incorporate a sort of “Excess Profits Tax” against exploitative outfits like Valeant and Mylan.

Now this:

This review prompts a possibly heretical view. NYC in the 70s was a fiscal mess and the reviewer is quite right to identify underinvestment (aka “Maintenance”) and its corollaries, undertaxation and overspending, as principal causes. But as the book under review apparently asserts, there was a certain liveliness to the city then, a bit Bohemian even, that is clearly missing today. NYC has gone sterile. This is usually blamed on the city having changed, with Bloombergian efficiency having taken hold. I think it’s the people that have changed, the human component. Changed by technology perhaps, since nothing in my lifetime has altered the way people connect or share space, or use the city, which is what cities are about, more than the mobile phone – not even the automobile.

No further comment needed. Very good:

No shit, Sherlock:


4/21-23/17…Weekend running notes….

I’m posting haphazardly right now because I am utter absorbed by James Stourton’s magnificent biography of Kenneth Clark (Knopf, 2016). I’ll have more to say about that anon.

Today has been as bad a traffic day as I can recall in 75+ years of living in NYC. Early this AM, a power failure at W 53 St. shut down most of the subway system. An hour or so later, a there was a vehicle fire on the BQE to which the NYPD responded and followed their inflexible policy of handing any traffic/highway incident in a manner that will inconvenience and enrage every driver within a ten mile radius. But that’s not really here or there. Accidents happen. Here’s what’s troubling me. In the past, when emergencies occurred that affected large numbers of NYC residents and bit into the flow of life and commerce in the city, mayors showed up. Think of Giuliani, someone I detest, on 9/11. But what about that boastful useless piece of shit who now occupies City Hall?  Did he show up? Not for a minute. He was doing what he thinks a mayor’s real job is: to explain himself to Brian Lehrer on WNYC. Nobody expects the mayor to wave a magic wand and make problems vanish, but they at least expect him to f***** show up! But not this c**ks**ker! I didn’t vote for him because I thought he was exactly the lying, miserable, self-regarding prick he’s turned out to be, with no moral, visceral connection to the city. I did expect that the Park Slope/Upper West Side assholery would give him City Hall – just as their snooty, looking-glass Weltanschauung delivered the White House to Trump  –  and so they did. I would wish someone to shoot De Blasio, but he’s so armored in self-regard he probably wouldn’t notice.

For the nonce, then, let’s start here. I’m a fan of Heather Macdonald, even though she’s doctrinally further to the right than I am, and sometimes lets those yearnings carry her over the top. I was led to her account of her unpleasant time at Claremont by David Brooks’s Op-Ed in today’s NYT. I had been aware of Macdonald’s Claremont experience, but frankly hadn’t paid enough attention to it: having inoculated myself against the idiocies of the present day by watching, several times, the video of the former master of Silliman College at Yale being subjected to a harangue from a student that represented, in my view, the absolute apex of illiterate, race-exploiting moral thuggery, behavior that, were I running Yale, would have had the student, and those who supported her by snapping their thumbs as if they were at a rock concert while she shrieked insults at the beleaguered professor and his wife, on the first bus out of New Haven – and I am no hidebound Old Eli growling into the fire as I sip my old-fashioned and wishing we were back in ’07 (that’s 1907), but enough is enough! I am no fan of Ann Coulter, to put it politely, but I equally deplore the way she has been prevented from speaking at UC Berkeley, a university that likes to flaunt its open-mindedness. It does seem to me that it’s time to put on the table a couple of considerations that no one wants to talk about. The first falls under the heading of cultural appropriation, namely the adoption, starting – what? – twenty-five years ago, of black hip-hop music, black styles of dressing, what we might call “ghetto talk”, by privileged white kids. I thought then, and remain convinced, that as laudable as this might seem in terms of showing respect by imitation and emulation, it might be asking for trouble down the line. The second has to do with class on campus. Wealth inequality doesn’t stop at the door to the freshman dorm. If anything, its disparities tend to be felt more intensely by the young. I cannot help feeling that the gulf between, say, a Jared Kushner, whose father apparently coughed up $100,000 to get him into Harvard, and a poor kid from the Bronx plunked down on an Ivy League campus with little or no spending money ( unless, of course, he plays a major NCAA sport at Harvard), is a chasm into which a great many of more civilizing values have been shoved. FOOTNOTE (Saturday): This might throw some light on this touchy matter:

(Sun AM) The way we live now. Air travel today is so fraught, conducted in a manner to put everyone’s nerves on edge, that incidents like this and the United Airlines mess are likely to become more common. “Stroller rights” are considered by the mothers who feel free to wheel them anywhere to enjoy quasi-Constitutional protection.

No comment necessary. It’s interesting what has happened with Tom Frank, long among my favorite commentators. Since he acquired the Vanity Fair  platform, and presumably reaches a larger, more diverse audience, and is better paid to do it, than when he wrote mainly for low-circulation platforms inhabited mainly by chatterati, his works seems stronger, wiser and wittier than ever while just as commonsensical:

Pity poor Rupert Murdoch. He is stuck between two stools. He feels compelled to suck up to Trump, who espouses the same troglodytic business practices as the Dirty Digger, but he’s married to (and presumably fond of) Jerry Hall, who can’t stand Trump, not least because of the chauvinism our president incarnates, of which Ms. Hall had taste enough – crammed down her throat, let us say, when married to Mick Jagger. Although Murdoch’s sons are being credited with overcoming their father’s objections to Fox News’s dumping Bill O’Reilly, I can’t help wondering whether Ms. Hall might not have helped grease the skids with a word or two in her husband’s nacreous ear. Would Murdoch have acceded to O’Reilly’s fall as readily were he still married to the Dragon Lady, the previous occupant of the adjacent pillow? Hard to say – but I rather think not.

I’ve been thinking a bit about inflation, and its possible correlation with income equality. As my readers know, my definition of “inflation” differs from the standard one. By my lights, inflation is an increase in price without a commensurate gain in utility. A simple example would be miles-per-gallon with gasoline priced at 2.50/gallon as opposed to $4.50/gallon a few years ago. Another good example would be executive compensation, which today is many times what it was say twenty years ago, whereas corporate profits and their effect on stock prices haven’t begun to keep pace. And that might also be said of working peoples’ compensation, which has grievously lagged what the muckedty-mucks pay themselves. Yale costs a high multiple, even in relative dollars, of what it did when I went there in the Pleistocene (1954-58), but can anyone claim a Yale education is X times better? Or more useful? Unless you’re one of those philistines to whom the whole point of higher education is a net incremental gain in projected lifetime earnings. There’s gross wealth inequality, to be sure, but there’s also gross COL inequality. Of course, we hear a lot about how great it is to be rich, but do we ever hear how expensive it is to be rich? Keeping up with the Joneses was costly enough, but keeping up with the Abramovitches, Zuckerbergs or Jack Mas beggars (sic) the imagination. What the tsunami of riches unleashed in China, Russia and India, in the Persian Gulf and in the kleptocratic states of Africa and Eastern Europe has done to the Luxury COL index is truly mind-boggling! A Hermes Birkin bag today costs 5-6 times what I paid for my first car (Imagine if Lady Bracknell were told today about the price of a Birkin. Her memorably explosive utterance “A handbag!!!” – I can still hear Edith Evans – would have to go thermonuclear.) What put me in mind of all this was the following: Online shopping accounts for much of the decimation, but landlord greed shouldn’t be discounted. And in response to a rent hike, a retailer has to find a way to generate greater dollar yield per square foot, the yardstick by which retail results are normally measured. Perhaps he can find a way to accomplish greater volume, either with higher prices or more units sold, unlikely with AMZ grunting and snuffling in the underbrush. Otherwise he has to reduce costs – and that generally means people. I think AMZ, just now moving into brick and mortar, is about to discover that none of this is easy.

1600 Hypocrisy Ave., Washington, DC:

A real confidence builder with which to close out the week:







The category of “the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable” (O.Wilde on foxhunting) seems limitless:

This is interesting, even obliging me to suppress my antipathy toward Melville House,  which “published” (sic) Fixers

This is the company that Ackman, the hedge-funder, evidently an amoral shit, took a billion-dollar bath on. Just deserts.: Any institution or endowment with the slightest pretense to ethical standards ought to withdraw any money it has with Ackman.

Bill O’Reilly’s departure from Fox News leaves this household unmoved. Normally, I spend a little time  checking out what extreme opinions sound like, right and left, clever and obtuse, but O’R struck me as so obvious and uninteresting I doubt we watched him for a total of an hour over the past ten years. His was the expertise/wisdom of the guy two stools over who teaches at the local community college.

These should play well in flyover country. Trumpists, take heart!  First Family Dignity:





I had a lovely birthday. Heard from all the kids. Kids? Four sons and two daughters who range in age from sixty to thirty. Tamara and I took the two youngest, the only ones who live in the city (the others are scattered from Italy to Oregon), to a very nice restaurant called Finch in Ft. Greene. I’d read about it somewhere and it delivered. Nice place, nice people, excellent booze and chow (although my cavatelli was a touch more “dente” than I like it; the gold standard for this particular pasta remains Frankies Spuntino 457). Nine times out of ten, if I go out to a restaurant, it’ll be to Frankies or, if I chance the perilous East River crossing, Le Veau d’Or. If I’m eating in the neighborhood: Almar or Archway. But a change is nice, although I’m certainly no foodie. Indeed, I think foodies, with their herd values, noisy hey-look-at-me presences and relentless Instagramming should be driven from the earth.

It seems to me that a lot of ink has been spilled recently about retail, or shopping. Consumer options have changed and with them consumer preferences. People still want the same stuff – well, perhaps less of it, what with an aging population, stagnant wages from the upper-middle on down, the unspeakable cost of housing, the flight to the cities and smaller living spaces by the better-earning millennials, and let’s not overlook social media and its emphasis on experiences  – but the ways of getting their hands on it have changed so radically, thanks to Amazon etc., that an entire economic realm has been violently upended. Blair Sabol writes a shrewd observant column for my pal David Columbia’s “New York Social Diary,” and today’s offering seems especially apt to me, from the big “macro” points down to the possible end of the reign of the disgusting Anna Wintour, under whose sway the Metropolitan Museum has pimped itself into shmatte vulgarity.

Today, a foundation colleague and I lunched with Colin Bailey, Director of the Morgan Museum and Library. After lunch, Colin led us through the Morgan’s current exhibition (until May 14) of works of Art – French XVIII century paintings and Old Master drawings (XV-XVIII century) – collected by the Swedish Count Tessin in Paris between 1739 and 1741 and now housed in the National Museum in Stockholm. This show is a MUSTMUSTMUST!!!!! Not only are the works on exhibit of the highest possible quality – we’re talking Chardin, Boucher, Durer, Rembrandt, Watteau – but they are by a long mile THE FRESHEST works of this standing that I have ever seen. The signature work, Boucher’s Triumph of Venus (1740) may be the most beautiful painting, considered purely qua painting, that it has been my pleasure and privilege to encounter. DO NOT MISS THIS SHOW! You will not see its like again; it’s here only because the Stockholm museum is closed for long-term renovation.

Oh yes, and upstairs at the Morgan, there’s a crackerjack, absorbing exhibition about Emily Dickinson.

Remember what I wrote a while back about the production of distraction being an important element in our GDP? This from “Zero Hedge” which offered it without comment.

This is great!

A wonderful, lovely, high-achieving person has died, Lyda Ann Quinn Thomas, who was married to my first cousin Jerry and became close to my Dallas-based son Michael and his family. I loved her and respected her and was grateful to have known her. Quite a life!  

More fuel for this fire:

Until tomorrow, then…






Turned 81 today. Feels like a very long life, almost too long.

In keeping with my waking frame of mind, let’s start with this:

OK, I admit it, I watch “Girls.” Why? I suppose because I’m trying to “get” the zeitgeist. Or perhaps just morbid curiosity that people like the “Girls” principals, male and female, exert a certain cultural clout. But I must admit this aspect of the final show utterly baffled me.

Totally absorbed by Dave Eggers’ The Circle. And by this Facebook killing, which to me further signifies the evil, intrusive potential of FB, which can be the Dark Web with a bland face. As I think I said a day or so ago, it’s a month or more since I quit FB. I feel like I got a significant part of my life back. Not only the time spent, but the energy wasted in frustration, hostility, useless venting – part of my soul, if you will. And frankly, how can anyone be certain that FB actually delivers the goods to advertisers? In the three or four years I looked at FB with any regularity, I clicked on an ad possibly ten times, and can’t recall buying anything as a result. Advertisers should be focused on sales, but the techie have convinced them that exposure is the key. Add in this: advertisers by the dozens dropped Bill O’Reilly but how many left FB when a killing was posted?

If you’re wondering what Groucho looks like in an admiral’s hat:

Goodnight, sweetheart:






This is the guy young Kushner brought in.

Every day I read something that makes me really, deeply glad that I quite Facebook. Today it’s about some creep murdering someone on his feed. Twitter will be next. I look at perhaps 20 tweets at a time, two or three times a day – and seldom find something interesting. I do use Twitter to push this website now and then, but as I don’t meter I have no idea whether those tweets do any good. I suspect they don’t.  But this is all beside the point. Certain books and certain readers have inflection points at which they should come together and shouldn’t. I recently started a novel that I heard a great deal about 3-4 years ago when it was published, but decided it didn’t sound like something for me, so skipped it -although I did put it on my Kindle. Now, for whatever reason, probably because I saw something about it being made into a “major” film starring Tom Hanks and Emily Watson, I’ve started it – and I’m here to tell you it’s wonderful, striking some many responsive chords that I feel like the timpani section of a symphonic orchestra. The book? The Circle by Dave Eggers. Try it. If the state of play today makes you nervous, curious, resentful etc – whatever – I think you’ll like it. Oh yes, and while I’m on the subject of good novel writing, I’m in the process of sending Fixers to someone, and while getting it ready, I skimmed a number of pages. It really is very well written – and right on the money. That it didn’t do better is a scandal, and that’s now just angry author whining. It was published with a combination of bad faith and incompetence, and I got what they deserved.

Remember my curiosity about why the Chicago Airport Police were involved in the United Airlines scuffle? Well…

A lovely tribute to a really good guy – and great doctor:




Easter Weekend 4/15-16/17…

How much longer can we lie to ourselves. My pal Dizard nails it:

I find Sullivan uneven, but this is top-drawer. Of course I was almost as happy to see the back of the Clintons (or so I thought – and prayed) as I was disconcerted to see who won the election. Let it also be noted that it’s Tina Brown who’s responsible for bring Hillary back onstage in a soft, pity-colored spotlight.

Try this on for size. Here’s a sample: “(This), by the way, is why liberal students (and liberals in general) are so bad at defending their own positions. They never have to, so they never learn to. That is also why it tends to be so easy for conservatives to goad them into incoherent anger. Nothing makes you more enraged than an argument you cannot answer. But the reason to listen to people who disagree with you is not so you can learn to refute them. The reason is that you may be wrong. In fact, you are wrong: about some things and probably about a lot of things. There is zero percent chance that any one of us is 100 percent correct. That, in turn, is why freedom of expression includes the right to hear as well as speak, and why disinviting campus speakers abridges the speech rights of students as well as of the speakers themselves.” Or this: “The change is the result not only of the rise of the customer-service mentality in academia, but also of the proletarianization of the faculty. Students have risen; instructors have fallen. Where once administrations worked in alliance with the faculty, were indeed largely composed of faculty, now they work against the faculty in alliance with students, a separate managerial stratum more interested in the satisfaction of its customers than the well-being of its employees.” 

Another dispute that seems destined never to end:

A really good guy and a great writer gives excellent advice:

Quite apart from my high regard for Bacevich, I find comparisons of Trump with Hitler totally unconvincing:

And now it’s Easter, and what better way to start off in the Age of Trump than this? I saw a bit of this guy Cernovich a couple of weeks ago in “60 Minutes.” He is one of the worst people I’ve ever seen; his cynicism seems depthless, truly soulless.

I’m not one of those writers who has shelves filled with copies of his own books, not that there’s anything wrong with that – so when I need a copy to send to someone I have to buy it on AMZ or ABE. I needed a copy of Someone Else’s Money, my 1982 (I think) novel about the art world and Wall Street, so I found two nice copies (might as well have a spare) online. Now comes the fun part. Opening one I found it handsomely inscribed (no date) by myself to one Ed O’Donnell. Ars brevis, remainder eternum. 

Some of us think “Early Trump” more closely resembles Late Giuliani.

Further down the toilet goes the neighborhood as Douchebag Central opens a branch. Here’s an interesting tidbit from the DCentral website: Unlike other members’ clubs, which often focus on wealth and status, we aim to assemble communities of members that have something in common: namely, a creative soul. The majority of our members work in traditional creative industries, with the film, fashion, advertising, music, art and media sectors, among others, heavily represented”.  Now, just for a moment, consider the lines of “creative” work that DCentral boasts about and what they produce: consider the state of world art, online output, media, movies and fashion (I can’t speak for music, never listen to it)- all deal in crap – and ask yourself, unless I’m looking for a job or a connection, do I want to hang out with these people?

I have a couple of minuscule investments in private equity. The only way I look at them is cash in, cash out. That’s my return. “Time weighting” can be manipulated in any number of ways.

Doonesbury by Garry Trudeau

Interesting: I admire both Cowen and Smith (the later’s a friend): 

Sad but true:

No comment needed:

Interesting. Inclines me to consider calling my own memoir, if writtenUnmaking It.

Also interesting. Check the line about “the right bag, the right shoe.” The thing is, such goods cease to be “right” when they start being seen on the arms or feet of the wrong sort of people.




Yesterday had meetings, so no posts.

I give up!

This can only end badly for the country. Schwarzman is the epitome of the smooth-talking, oleaginous greedhead as as for Trump…


No comment. When I was but a boy, we had a fine, functioning airline system. Regional carriers fed the big trunk carriers. Uncle Sam decided who could fly where. Then along came that prize deregulation asshole Alfred Kahn and since then the road has been downhill. Kahn himself is worth a look-see. He had no first-hand experience of air transportation, just as Marx had never worked in a factory (although Engels knew a lot about that). Indeed, the similarity of Kahn’s and Marx’s “preparation” for their grand and destructive theories is striking:

Speaking of Schwarzman, how about the way these private-equity players pass once-interesting businesses from hand to hand?

And always, Kunstler.  All this “Deep State” talk seems pointless. We used to call it “the permanent Washington establishment”; it was essentially similar to the Civil Service presided over by Sir Humphrey in “Yes, Prime Minister.” Now it’s been given a sinister, conspiracy-theory spin and emerged as “the Deep State.” This might help: THIS defines what I think of as a Deep State:  “When the modern corporation acquires power over markets, power in the community, power over the state and power over belief, it is a political instrument, different in degree but not in kind from the state itself. To hold otherwise — to deny the political character of the modern corporation — is not merely to avoid the reality. It is to disguise the reality. The victims of that disguise are those we instruct in error.” – John Kenneth Galbraith

No comment needed: WHEN YOU HAVE TIME, SCROLL DOWN AND RUN THE VIDEO. Interestingly, starting about the 25-minute mark, and again at 37 minutes, Frank might as well be recapitulating the plot of my novel Fixers, which is about why Obama failed to hunt down Wall Street

Peggy Noonan won a richly-deserved Pulitzer.

Why I am staying with AmEx. As the aspirational assholes rush to Sapphire, AmEx will have to strike back, with added benefits to longtime cardholders (I date back to 1967):








My neighborhood. If this sort of thing becomes endemic (this is the fourth such incident in the past couple of years) it could have serious effects on the economy of this neighborhood.

This is very important, considering how important rents and mortgages are in the economy.

The United Airlines mess has one aspect that no one seems to be dealing with. The “security officers” who dragged the passenger off the plane weren’t private contractors, but municipal employees, specifically Chicago Airport Police. Why they got in involved in a purely private-sector situation that did not involve force, a court order or breaking a law (an airline ticket is a “contract of carriage”) beats me. There’s something here reminiscent of the NYC problem a couple of years back when the NYPD got into hot water for getting rough in enforcing evictions, but of course the latter would have been pursuant to a court order. After posting this, I found this: And, probably as expected, here’s Trump mouthpiece NY Post  blaming the victim:


My sons sent this to me. Spot on!

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