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.

1/21/17-1/27/17…Int the future….

1/21/17  Today will go down as Lysistrata to the millionth power. My wife and stepdaughter marched in Washington. My daughter and granddaughter marched in NYC.  My daughter-in-law and niece marched in Portland, OR. Each and everyone with my blessings, pride and love! Here’s to the ladies, God bless ’em!

Me? I stayed at home. For perhaps the 20th time (not counting Sandy)  since I moved here 16 years ago, the elevator is down, and the climb up to our fifth floor aerie kills my knees and lungs. But my heart was out there!

2.As for the man himself, Trump didn’t surprise me. His speech was exactly what I expected. He had little choice but to dance with the girl what brung him and he did. Besides, he’s an archetypal bully, and bullies kick ’em when they’re down. I expect he’ll fold like one of his cheap Chinese suits when the oligarchy makes its wishes known in the who’s-to-get-what department. What worries me is the gullibility of his constituencies, gullibility fanned by anger, resentment, worry both legit and fanciful and so on. As I’ve noted elsewhere, the Trump electorate is like a powder keg rolling loose in the hold of a ship, with an unlit fuse that needs only the right spark – a Trump ain’t it, a Hitler was, a Lenin was – to set off the big blast.

3. After however long it’s been, I’ve quit FB. As readers of this website know, I decided some time ago that the key to an agreeable finale is to spend the minimum amount of time possible in the company of assholes. FB flies in the face of that resolution, and Trump’s election has unleashed all the imps. Specifically, what has prompted this were comments regarding a post/comment cycle launched by my friend of seventy years Bob Lenzner by one Evan Geilich, purportedly Bob’s cousin. There are no deprecations worthy of the intellectual qualities displayed by Geilich. As Joe Welch famously said to Joe McCarthy, toward the end of a political cometship that resembled what we’re seeing now, “At long last, Senatr, have you no decency?”  Or, as the Bard put it: “Enow is enow!”

4.Order before supplies run out:


Day 1 without Facebook. Day 3 of Trump. Some you win, some you lose.

1.Kellyanne Conway, a solid 2 on any discriminating lecher’s ratings sheet, has apparently described the new administration’s lies regarding inaugural attendance etc as “alternative facts.” This reminds me of  a ruckus a few years ago – memory fails me with respect to exactly when and what it was – when some big mucketdy-muck (or spokesperson therefore) described a blatant lie as “positioning the truth.”

2.Ahead of the game as usual, I pointed to this several months ago.

3. This will irritate people, but I think Goodwin gets it:




Just when Trump seems completely beyond redemption, he does something that any decent, compassionate person must cheer:

It would be interesting to know what percentage of the fees paid to Moody’s for dubious ratings in 2006-8 this represents. $864 million sounds about right – but is it? Actually, I’d like to reports of post-Crisis fines and penalties paid by Goldman etc. related to the estimated profits the banksters took out of those dubious transactions.

As an art historian I found this extremely interesting. It does beg the question: can an algorithm see what I see:



Department of interesting literary coincidences. The current – February 2017 – issue of Vanity Fair carries an article on Heywood Hill, the famous London bookshop, by Francis Wheen. Here’s how it begins: In Chapter 2 of John Le Carre’s novel Tinker,Tailor,Soldier,Spy, George Smiley sets off “for Heywood Hill’s bookshop in Curzon Street…He approached Heywood Hill with a merry heart.” Over twenty years ago, sometime in the early 1990s, I wrote an article on Heywood Hill for Tina Brown at The New Yorker. It was paid for but never published. Here’s how it began: “In the second chapter of John Le Carre ‘s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, George Smiley, retired from British Intelligence, sets off on a rainy morning “for Heywood Hill ‘s bookshop in Curzon Street where he occasionally contracted friendly bargains with the proprietor. ” Interesting how allusion and choice of reference and opening line, like lightning, can strike twice, occurring to different writers over twenty years apart. Incidentally, Wheen implies that it is because Smiley is on his way to the bookshop that his heart is merry. Not so. Smiley’s mood is lightened by a call to his solicitor, who has advised him not to divorce Lady Ann, the faithless wife he desperately and hopelessly loves. As a famous Ring Lardner subtext has it: you could look it up. Then, a bit further along in Wheen, we read about the writer Gavin Young, who in his memoir Worlds Apart (1987) mentions that during the two years he lived among the Bedouin his tent was cluttered with books from Heywood Hill. Odd for a writer doing a piece in 2016 to think of Gavin Young, who died in 2001. Of course, there was this in my piece: “The writer Gavin Young remembers that when he was living among the Bedouin after World War II, it was parcels from Heywood Hill – then, as still today, so sturdily wrapped as to be virtually unopenable without a toolkit – which kept him going.” I had this – including the bit about the wrapping – from Young directly – in the bar of the American Hotel in Sag Harbor, where he lived for a time. None of this is to take away from Wheen, whose article is charming and perceptive, and the shop is very, very different from the way it was when I profiled it – just as Mayfair is. It’s just that I really like the piece I did for Tina, and am sad that it was never published – as were the people at Heywood Hill back in that day when I sent it to them. Still, I suppose I should take some consolation from seeing a fine writer like Wheen find ways into the subject similar to those that attracted me.

The NY Times  never ceases to amaze. Yesterday’s “Sports Saturday” section carried a long article on how Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons, is trying to revitalize the poor-folks district in which the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, to which the Falcons will move next fall, is moving toward completion. Because I couldn’t believe what I wasn’t seeing in the article, I read it through twice, carefully. Nowhere does it mention the tremendous job of neighborhood revitalization that another Atlanta real-estate mogul has accomplished in the area surrounding the famous East Lake golf course (where, incidentally, the final event of the FedEx Cup is played). I mean, c’mon Times, what the hell! Here, within twenty miles of Blank’s project, another billionaire Atlanta sportsman, Tom Cousins,  has laid down a virtual template for literally rebuilding – redeeming from urban Hell –  an impoverished, dangerous part of town. Of course, it might be that Blank’s effort, which the NYT describes with intimations of greed on Blank’s part – real-estate greed; is there any worse? – might look bad by comparison with Cousins’ East Lake achievement, which was driven by a large measure of what we might call “Christian Charity” or “Community Spirit.”

Along with my brother-in-law  Misha Glenny, my pal Melik Kaylan is my “go to” guy on Central and Eastern Europe. He posted this on FB.  I find it convincing. Keep in mind that before becoming the Savior of this great republic, our president-elect fancied himself a world-class pussy-hound and showed off at it.

Of course, Woodward couldn’t possibly have his nose well up Trump’s bum, could he? And this in a Murdoch paper?

You gotta love Taki:  Should add I’m prejudiced. I find A. Wintour repellent in ways beyond counting. Not simply personally, but institutionally. She has been permitted to turn large sections of the Met Museum into ny kulturny  funhouses. Living proof of how vulgar uncontrolled aspiration can be. And then there’s this: how did our leading “fashion” magazines, assuming “fashion” implies taste, style, elegance etc., come to be edited by English women, representatives of a dress culture universally recognized as the most awful anywhere, ever?

Finally! A true NFL game. Whoever wins – three cheers! Whoever loses – three cheers! The best players making great plays. Game too tough to officiate.


This sounds very worth reading. Off to AMZ to order:

The sort of chap we need in our era?

A few days ago, I posted on Monica Crowley, a repellent young woman I encountered some 20-some years ago on a book tour, now a Trump “insider,” who appears to have committed some pretty impressive plagiarism. Here’s more:

Our friends Stephanie and Mark dropped by yesterday. She’s on her way back to Asia, where she teaches. Inevitably, our wide-ranging conversation touched on the upcoming Inauguration of President Trump (no matter how I try to intone them, I can’t invest those words with enthusiasm) and Stephanie had some interesting insights into the work of Jonathan Haidt of NYU, especially the part that hate plays in everyday political thinking. As always, this made me curious, so off I went into Googleland, the greatest place for imagination and curiosity to visit since Oz, and I urge anyone interested even slightly in this subject to Google “Haidt” and wander through the links. Here’s a sample, that well bears reading before Friday Especially because, if you’re like me, and one more bien-pensant self-proclaimed progressive proudly announces he or she isn’t going to watch the swearing-in and inaugural address, your scream will be so loud that the neighbors will call 911.


By my friend Melik Kaylan.When he posted this on FB, another friend, also a distinguished journalist and shrewd foreign observer of the American scene, commented, “…….especially as you write not as the kind of airy opiner now ubiquitous via the internet – just one more shrill partisan voice in the noise – but as a professional with specific two-decades-long experience in the subject.” I fear I may be one of those people whose misplaced faith in the capacity of the  institutions of American democracy to hold the center (pace Yeats) could be proven wrong. After all, in the past thirty years, those institutions have one by one, to a greater or lesser degree, been corrupted by the money power.


A helter-skelter day yesterday, to and fro, hither and yon: no time to gather chestnuts and other nuggets. I find myself worrying less about Trump individually, and more about the millions who voted for him. Trump’s merely the symptom; his anger-driven constituency is the disease that has to be got at. I doubt they can be brought round or debated into submission. Bought off? Sure – except that I don’t think the world economy, whether considered as a whole or as a constellation of regional and national economies, is set up to make the massive redistribution this would entail. I also think that Trump’s constituency is 99% anger-based: it incorporates an entire spectrum of rage, envy, resentment and prejudice. This guy’s mad about losing his job; that one hates niggers and spicks – probably without really understanding why, he just does. He’s like Howard Beale: he’s not going to take it any more, regardless of what “it” is. Ask him what “it” is; he probably can’t give you a good answer. He’s like the guy who stands outside the 7-11  at the Four Corners in Southampton day after day, brandishing a sign damning immigration – in an affluent community with plenty of jobs. Except that these jobs don’t get filled: certain people won’t do certain work, others may be excluded. As a friend observed, “You never see a black plumber out here.” So I guess maybe the only answer is to fight fire with fire. Find some way to jam that anger back down 60 million throats. The marches on Saturday are a start. And there’s some risk of violence. The non-alt/Fox media need to take a pledge: no coverage of Trump’s tweets. None.  I don’t visit Twitter more than maybe once a week and then only to plump for this website. So if I don’t read Trump on Twitter, why the hell should the New York Times shove them in my face? I suppose it’s too much to ask the executive/financier class to act like human beings, so they mustn’t be given a pass. And for a moment, there’s this consolation. Who’d you rather have wandering the halls of the White House: Melania Trump or Bill Clinton? In all the Hillary post-mortems, such as Rebecca Solnit’s interminable apologia in the latest London Review of Books,  mention is never made of Bill as a factor in his wife’s defeat. The Clintons’ love of money disgusts me. Trump obviously loves money too, but he at least is up front about it. And then you throw Bill into the algorithm…

Ah well, life goes on. I suppose.

Oh yes. In case you’ve forgotten, I voted for HRC. Trump is just too awful. But then again, it would be hard to find a more admirable, built-to-spec individual than Obama, and I think he’s been a lousy president (for whom I voted twice, for different reasons), so maybe with Trump the law of opposite consequences will kick in.


Here’s Alan Murray’s daily report from Davos. Talk about yadayadayada blahblahblah:

Good morning from Davos.

At 7 a.m., I was standing at the back of a long line in near-zero weather, waiting to get through security and wondering if it was worth the effort to start my day so early (especially after visiting Anthony Scaramucci’s fine wine party the night before.)

Turned out, it was. The breakfast discussion on artificial intelligence, hosted by McKinsey, included Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of DeepMind; David Kenny, chief of IBM Watson; Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella; and Dow CEO Andrew Liveris. Artificial intelligence is the hot topic at this year’s gathering, and the panel provided a sharp focus on how businesses should be thinking about this rapidly developing technology.

Two points to emphasize:

First, as reported here before, the creation of general intelligence that mimics the human brain is still a long way off. “I’m pretty sure it is possible,” said Suleyman. “It’s just a question of the timetable. Probably six or seven decades.”

Second, in the meantime, artificial intelligence is not going to replace humans, but rather augment them. The key for business people is to understand that artificial intelligence is not an extension of their IT efforts or their digital efforts, but rather, in Kenny’s words, “fundamental to the most important decisions that you make. Anyone in your company who makes important decisions will need to understand this viscerally” to compete in the years ahead.

All on the panel agreed that this technological change would create more jobs than it would eliminate. “There will be more employment, just different,” said Liveris. But they acknowledged two serious societal challenges: first, educating and training workers to take advantage of the change; and second, assuring the benefits of productivity gains are widely shared.

Nadella was particularly compelling on the second point. We need technology breakthroughs to boost productivity and create a “surplus” to address society’s greatest problems, he said. But then “we have to deal with the real issue of equitable distribution of that surplus.” The benefits of technology can’t go only to the owners of capital and the most highly skilled, as they have in recent years. “We’ve got somehow to get this new formula where both the return on capital and the return on labor come together… We need a new social contract.”

Separately, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty in Davos yesterday released her company’s “principles for transparency and trust” in the cognitive (IBM’s term for AI) era. You can read them here. And you can find more of Fortune’s Davos coverage here.

More news below.

Alan Murray

Satya Nadella, meet Karl Marx!


OK – fans: check this out. Start at 51-minute mark and watch for ten minutes and then ask yourself if FIXERS is all that far-fetched! And then ask why the Obama-worshipping mainstream (NYT etc.) media gave the book only two reviews – 2! : Washington Post and Wall Street Journal , both complete raves. 



This has been a week when I’ve felt like I’ve been living in Uber. When it finally draws to a close tomorrow night, I’ll have made four crossings and back of the East River, and frankly that’s at least two too many. The problem is that my joints, knees especially, are stiffening with age.  So I ride over with my legs scrunched, then sit for two hours in a meeting or at lunch, then ride back – and by the end of that approximate five-hour process my joints feel frozen and getting around is painful. I had both knees replaced ten years ago, but when I checked in with my guy at Special Surgery for X-rays and review, he pronounced them in great shape: “they’ll last you for the rest of your life,” he told me – which, the way I feel right now, may not last much past late this afternoon. On top of this, we’ve had a death in our extended family: Elizabeth Peters, mother-in-law of my nephew Patrick died suddenly Tuesday night. I’d known her forever: we were at Buckley and Chapin at the same time, and attended the same dancing-school. Daughter of Ellin Mackay and Irving Berlin, Elizabeth was am interesting cultivated woman. I haven’t heard the final plans yet, but I expect she’ll be interred at Green-Wood Cemetery.  Both her parents are buried there, not that far from my mother’s family’s plot, to which I in due course will go.


It now seems clear to me that I made a big mistake, intellectually and (probably) commercially, in turning my key plot idea in Fixers into a novel. I should have posted it as a fake-news item – and attracted thousands of $$$$ in hair-gel ads.


I think this is a good idea (from Politico Morning Media‘s Joe Pompeo): UNSOLICITED ADVICE FOR DEAN BAQUET On how the Times could cover “Trump’s America,” courtesy of veteran press critic Michael Massing, writing for The Nation: “Pry away a journalist from each of the paper’s glossy high-end sections-Styles, Travel, Food, Real Estate, Arts & Leisure, and T magazine-and reassign them to cover neglected parts of America. The Bible Belt could be one such beat. … I would also create a blue-collar beat examining the world of factory workers, carpenters, plumbers, firefighters, and police officers; a small-business beat exploring how the world looks to restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, family farmers, and start-ups of the non-Silicon Valley variety; and a roving culture beat concentrating not on movie studios, fashion shows, and art auctions but on how culture – broadly defined – is consumed in and perceived by grassroots communities across the country. Finally, I’d assign someone to cover poverty full-time.”    If NYT picks up on this, they should aggregate local/regional items and then run them on Sunday, when I suspect the paper is more widely read than on other days. That doesn’t mean NYT should give up its comics pages, otherwise known as its “Styles” sections. Today, for example, they profile one Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, the sort of aspirational horror I used to lick my lips over back in the Observer days.



1. THE DAY! Who’da guessed, who’da thunk it! Today we begin to live in really interesting times! Which makes even more important setting rules that may help one in the moral and intellectual navigation of these roiling waters.  A few years ago I adopted for myself a precept that Polonius would surely have pressed on his son Laertes in the famous “advice” scene in Hamlet: minimize exposure to assholes. That’s one reason I stay away from Twitter and stop engaging on FB. So I was delighted to see that Anthony Bourdain, the food guy, whom I don’t follow but seems pretty sound based on what little I’ve read, shares my conviction:

. In a new interview with GQ, Mr. Bourdain reveals that there’s one rule that he abides by:

It is truly a privilege to live by what I call the “no asshole” rule. I don’t do business with assholes. I don’t care how much money they are offering me, or what project. Life is too short. Quality of life is important. I’m fortunate to collaborate with a lot of people who I respect and like, and I’d like to keep it that way.

2.The preceding FB disclaimer to the contrary, one feature that alternately amuses and embarrasses me is when the site posts something I put up in the past. The following, from 5 years ago, is one point on which I haven’t changed my mind: “Davos starts next week. Many if not most of the fools, kleptocrats and technocrats who have led (sic) the world to its present dire state gathered in one place. Opportunities for purgation like this come but seldom. Wonder if the bomb-makers have been busy in their garages and basements or have completed their flight training courses.”

3.Here’s an interesting matter to which I can add some personal history.  Bill Black of U.Missouri Kansas City writes about the preference of CEOs for supine, rubber-stamp directors. This reminded me of a time, right around 1970, when I was on the board of 20th Century-Fox, then not yet a Murdoch satellite.  The late Darryl F. Zanuck was CEO and his son Dick (also sadly deceased) COO. There were three items on the agenda. The first two were motions to increase the salaries of Zanuck pere et fils by 40% and 60% respectively. The third matter for the board’s consideration was the question of how best to disclose that the company would show a loss of some $85 million for the quarter just ending. I was on the board not simply for my financial acumen but as a partner of Lehman Brothers; our firm had placed well over $100 million in 20th Century-Fox paper with institutional and other investors, and I felt a certain fiduciary responsibility, as well as a concern for the ordinary decencies of life. So I stuck up my hand and proposed that the board defer action on items #1 and #2 until our financial picture improved. Zanuck hit the roof. The board supported him; I abstained. Some time later, after further friction, he went to the Executive Director of Lehman Brothers, a real shit named Fred Ehrman, and informed him that unless I resigned from the board and another Lehman partner replaced me,  20th would take its investment-banking business elsewhere. Dead and done. Oh yes, and the partner who replaced me? Fred Ehrman. Movie stars and shiny cars: gets ’em every time!  Now fast forward maybe twenty years, when in the wake of yet another crisis or scandal, a great hue and cry had been sent up about the dire state of U.S. corporate governance. I read an interview in NYT in which a top partner of a major executive-search firm lamented the trouble he and others were having in finding and recruiting experienced, truly independent directors for their corporate clients. I thought to myself, this is tailor-made for me. I was then in my 50s, with a lot of board experience and nothing if not independent. And that kind of work paid decently. As it happened, the executive recruiter and  were members of a couple of the same clubs, so  I took advantage of those connections to arrange an appointment and pitch myself as a qualified candidate for any board vacancies they were looking to fill. I had an impressive CV and a good line of gab, but our conversation hadn’t progressed further than a quarter-hour than I was aware that what this guy had told NYT about his agonizing, Diogenes-like quest to find honest and honorable people to fill certain board vacancies had been total bullshit. Claptrap to catch the groundlings. Perfectly in keeping with the “Attend to what I say, don’t watch what I do” ethic by which many if not most corporate managers and their consultancy catamites operate. What he was looking for was a fresh supply of yes-men and -women. And so it goes. And so I went.


4.I am not a big fan of MoMa (hate the building, hate the flows, hate the way it makes display choices, hate 80% of newer art that it exhibits) but I think MoMA Director Glenn Lowry (no big fan of his either) strikes exactly the right note.  There are reports of certain museum staffs advocating closure of their institutions to protest Trump. Has it occurred to no one that here you have the political situation in a nutshell. Museum staffs are largely made up of highly-educated elitist types. Museum visitors are disproportionately tourists, many from Trump states.

5. An interesting take on Kerry’s Op-Ed piece in yesterday’s (1/19) NYT.

6.I agree with a good deal of this.

7. Reflections on the street violence in Washington. From what I can gather, most of the protesters assembled with nuisance-making in mind (hindering people from attending the inauguration etc) which naturally brought forth a considerable police presence. But then a bunch (NBC estimated 95 of them)  of real troublemakers showed up: dressed and masked in black a la Isis and started to break windows etc. The police responded with flash grenades, pepper spray etc, inevitably falling amongst and thereby agitating the larger groups of protesters and suddenly it was all against all. This was what the pseudo-Isis troublemakers clearly had in mind.










1/10-13/17 Running Commentary ….


You may think Twitter is ridiculous, or find it intellectually or stylistically incompatible (as I don’t), but Trump didn’t get where he is by limiting his projections to people who read The Atlantic. And it would seem that a good number of people who read or write for The Atlantic (I use the magazine as a synecdoche for the media as a whole), or in a few cases do both, are heavily into Twitter.


People who look at this website know how much I admire Andrew Bacevich. So does Yves Smith, progenitor-proprietor of “naked Capitalism”:

“Lest we forget” department: worth a reread: Where are they now?

I like this guy a lot, too.  Here’s the money quote: “The big threat facing western societies today is not so much the emergence of illiberal democracy abroad as the persistence of immature democracy at home. This immaturity, exhibited almost daily by the elites, manifests itself in two types of denial: the denial of the economic origins of most of today’s problems; and the denial of the profound corruption of professional expertise.”


The sad news comes that Chris Byron has died at the young age of 72. He and I were colleagues at The New York Observer during 1995-2000, the paper’s halcyon days. We were joined at the soul by a mutual contempt for Wall Street and its ways – particularly its ways! – and often commiserated with each other. He was a good guy; one of the few in media worth listening to. Godspeed, old boy.

I went to bed early so missed the denouement of Clemson’s big win over ‘Bama. But I am delighted to see the Crimson Tide’s dour $6 million/year Belichick clone of a coach take it in the chops. U of Alabama’s football budget is unspeakable. I wonder how much spills over into the humanities or science curricula? I’m assuming there are science and humanities curricula. But that’s the way it is.  Alabama is in effect two states: Birmingham is the capital of one, Tuscaloosa of the other. And I must confess a certain frisson of pleasure at how ‘Bama’s loss must play in the mind of Jeff Sessions as he doffs hood and sheets and goes forth to seek confirmation as guardian and enforcer of the nation’s laws.

Cornel West gets even:

I put this up a couple of days ago, and I’m pleased to see that “Naked Capitalism” has followed my lead. It’s so worth reading, especially considering its source, that I don’t hesitate to repost it:

I’m always boasting how I disdain Twitter, but yesterday I couldn’t resist. Trump tweeted: “Rupert Murdoch is a great guy who likes me much better as a very successful candidate than he ever did as a very successful developer!” So I tweeted back: “maybe because like many people he expects to make more $$$ off you as POTUS than off your deals.” I was hoping for a reply. After all, I had a lot of fun with DJT , who was known to readers of my Observer  column as “the Prince of Swine”, back in the day, and I rather relished the prospect, being 80 and not giving a shit, of a brisk tweet-to-tweet with this bumptious ignoramus. Alas, no luck so far.

Duh: Some of us started saying this on Inauguration Day, 2009. Actually some of us even earlier, November 21,2008, when the Summers-Geithner news was leaked. With a 1000-point jump in the stock market, Wall Street signaled that this was all it needed to know. Of course a plausible theory as to the whys and wherefores is in my novel FIXERS. 

One way we might start to get this country back on track would be to relearn to make certain distinctions. This is a lesson Elizabeth Warren might take to heart. I admire the Senator, but she talks tripe a good deal of the time. She speaks of Trump’s Cabinet nominations as if they’re a bunch of crooks. A couple might be (Mnuchin’s accomplishments at One West probably need closer scrutiny), but most aren’t. One reason: these people care about their reputations. There’s a difference between reputation and image. Having none of the former, Trump is understandably fixated on the latter. Not so people like Tillerson and Ross (I don’t know the first, but I’ve known Wilbur for thirty-plus years, and while I have no doubt he’s a tough, objective businessman, I’ve never heard a word against him ethically). To them, reputation – how the world sees them, how history will rate them – matters.

“avoid Amazon’s brutal and predatory practices” – from an online pitch from OR Books. Here’s the problem. Despite its Neanderthal character, and unlike OR Books, AMZ offers books that someone living in the real world might actually want to read.

Certain museums are proposing to close on Inauguration Day in protest. This is why Trump won the election. Buildings don’t close themselves, nor is the decision to close made by guards. It’s made by curators and administrators of whom a majority, it seems reasonable to assume, belong to the coteries of weepers and whiners unable to deal with the fact that people unlike (and culturally inferior to) themselves could actually deliver the White House to someone so ny kulturny.

Somewhere I read high praise for a New Yorker article on Uncle Sam’s prosecution of Steve Cohen for insider trading. The writer, whose name I can’t spell was a former overlap with me on the Observer, I believe. Sadly, this is a non-story, going nowhere, worth not an iota of sound and fury, although you can see how various elements provide an exact template for the cable series Billions. There is one interesting Freudian sidebar – also in Billions – that the writer doesn’t make much of (although she may in what I infer will be a non-book deriving from this non-story: by “non-story,” incidentally, I mean “so what?) The virtuous, intensely competitive second chair on the Federal prosecution team was Richard Zabel, son of William Zabel, described as “a founder of Schulte, Roth & Zabel, an immensely successful law firm that served hedge-fund clients.” Actually,  William Zabel is something more than that. He ranks right at the very top of the 0.001’s speedidal list. He negotiated a $9 billion Madoff settlement and his name appears on one side or another of many of the sort of divorce actions of which the settlement involves  the signing over of entire states.

Interesting: Ignorant, however, to claim that Boston trails NY as a culture center. The conditions under which our bastions of high culture operate, thanks to 60 million tourists for openers, more than evens out the differences.

New York has a long article on Jared Kushner that is a must. It begins with a private gathering of big hitters at which Kushner is introduced  by Steve Schwarzman, who has the same nose for opportunism that another species of pig has for truffles.


Here’s a interesting Trump scenario a la FIXERS, where you take a set of known facts or outcomes and string an imaginary yet plausible narrative between them. Start with the assumption that our president-elect is as startled, surprised and not wholly happy with his election as well over half of this country’s voters (including those who didn’t vote but now wish they had). Since no one does self-confident, good-offense-is-the-best-defense bluster than he, we don’t see this. But he has big problems, the greatest of which are divestment issues, considered practically and technically to be sure, and in some cases perhaps ethically and legally. Settled law requires that he divest himself of holdings representing potential conflicts of interest, and that goes for members of his family, notably his son-in-law, whom he proposes to appoint as a senior counselor who’ll presumably have access to the nation’s biggest affairs.

Now nothing need be done, apart from lip service, until Trump is inaugurated on January 20. At that point, however, divestment takes on powerful if not quite Constitutional urgency. And I doubt that the matter can be solved by simple strokes of a pen, no matter what law professors consulted by NPR claim. For example, there may be instances where if Trump takes his name off a project, there are heavy penalties. Trump can stall; no one’s a greater master of that art – he can claim the complexity of his business affairs takes time – but with as many well-placed enemies as he has, pressure will build. This is fine with him, because he sees this as a way out. He can simply throw up his hands, say “can’t do it,” and either resign or face impeachment. A lot of people will be glad to see him go. Those who voted for him will be chagrined, in some cases violently so, but only briefly (“Moving On” should replace “E pluribus unum” as the national motto). I mean, hey, what could the guy do? He leaves with a curious sheen of honor; he’s put on the table issues that now have to be faced; once unleashed, elephants in rooms don’t just fade away.

And what then? Pence? I’m working on that.


I didn’t watch the president’s farewell speech. I’m sure it was eloquent and graceful; with lots of, as his successor famously puts it, “good words.” He and his family are enormously likable and admirable. But a fine family life doesn’t guarantee a great presidency. I voted twice for Obama, and as he leaves office, I have a sense of having been cheated. That in 2009, there had been a great opportunity to claw back the country from the greedheads and banksters who had run its economy into the ground, an opportunity that I had to a great degree voted for when I cast my vote for the man, but which had been squandered – to the point that we are worse off today, oligarchically speaking, than when Obama took office. I had my concerns in 2008, but I neglected that fundamental existential precept enunciated by Chico Marx: “Who you gonna believe? Me or your own eyes?”  Like the narrator in FIXERS, I wondered if Obama might not be too perfect. The model minority candidate for Student Council president. Ah well, life goes on. I suppose.

1/12/17 So – impeach the SOB. Serve him as he leaves the platform on Inauguration Day or at the end of Week 1 in White House. I watched about ten minutes of the press conference. It went about as I expected. Confronted with a bully, civil behavior will lose every time, especially in a setting that encourages the sycophantic instinct to kick in. We cannot have a president who openly, contemptuously flouts the law. Is there any kind of :”citizen’s arrest” that might apply here?

Especially good on Friedman: Here’s an interesting quote from Taibbi:

Beyond the usual suspects, what respectable-ish pundits or writers should we be chucking into the garbage can?

God, I don’t know. There’s a lot of people who have been consistently wrong about everything going back 20 years or so. There’s literally no accountability for people in our profession. We can be wrong over and over and over again and it seems like nobody really cares. Think about the people who made predictions about the Iraq War and were completely wrong for years and years and years on end and are still somehow respected in Washington.

What has yours truly being saying for years and years about licensing pundits the way we license drivers: dock them points for egregious errors of interpretation and forecasting, and when they accumulate X points, take away their licenses: no Sunday AM talk shows, no Op-Ed access, no Charlie Rose etc etc.

Apropos of my “impeachment or quit” scenario, Ladbrokes is now making Trump even money to resign or be impeached during his first term.

But as the latest furore surrounding the President-elect gathers pace, punters have piled into the odds that Trump fails to see out his four-year term. And it’s now just Evens – from 5/4 – the real estate mogul resigns or is impeached. Jessica Bridge of Ladbrokes said: “Fake news or real news, it hasn’t deterred punters from putting their money on the line that Trump is impeached before the end of his first term.”



Today’s posts will conclude this week. I’ll start a fresh Commentary tomorrow – run it through the week day by day, and close it out Friday evening.

Last night I struggled with what seems a paradox. I find Obama to be thoroughly admirable in so many ways. Smart, decent, empathetic, eloquent. He has a lovely family and a wonderful family life. He’s a keen golfer. It was the persistence of these qualities that induced me to vote for him a second time (in 2008, I really did believe he bring change, where required, and retribution, where politically essential; four years later, those scales were off my eyes). But in today’s troglodytic political contexts, I can’t give his presidency much better than a C+ grade. His single great accomplishment, pushing through the Affordable Care Act, achieved one noble and notable goal – giving hundreds of thousands of previously uninsured people coverage – but for it to be as vulnerable politically as it appears to be, it must have grave defects. In the present moral dispensation, public-private partnerships simply do not seem to work. They are a license to steal, whether we’re talking Obamacare and insurance company profits, or Fannie and Freddy and the legion of blood-suckers they attracted, with the final solution being for Uncle Sam to confiscate profits to which the private sector and Wall Street, with some justice might lay claim. The flaw in Obama’s approach, as I see it, is that he tried to override the famous distinction made by Mario Cuomo and to govern in poetry. He needed from the outset to fight fire with fire. He lacked shrewdness. Ask yourself: suppose I was sent “up country” in Iraq or Afghanistan and asked to serve in a platoon commanded by Obama. How would I feel about that?

Now look where we are. The country has elected one of the most repellent people anywhere: bumptious, ignorant, boastful, you name it. A walking, thumping example of vulgarity made flesh. All the bad qualities of the industry in which he has prospered – often if not usually at the expense of others. But shrewd. With a capital S. And there is some chance that his presidency, as long as it may last,  will be at least as effective, and very possibly more so, than his predecessor’s.

Speaking of Healthcare: I too feel like screaming.

I proposed this thirty years ago: And that caddies be paid by the hour. That’s the thing about American culture. Foresight has to stand in line. We are slow to change.


This is what turned me off about Obama vis-a-vis Wall Street. These numbers should have been reversed: To which can be added this: Interestingly, Trump essentially sidestepped this issue in his call-out to Main St.  He talked about immigration, about manufacturing, about trade and tariffs – but he never set up Wall Street, home of usurers, foreclosers, lobbyists and lawyers, as the bad guy. Spoken, you might say, like a man who owed a lot of money. I recall years ago, on the tee, fulminating on some aspect of capital-gains taxation. “Spoken,” said a member of our foursome, CEO of a major investment bank, “like a man with no capital gains.”

I can’t help wondering what our politics would look like today if back in 2000, HRC had run for the Senate from Arkansas instead of New York.







Enough already!

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. 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.

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,

All deserving candidates by the sound of them:

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. 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…

Interesting if obvious.

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: 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.

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?


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. 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: 

3,How have I gotten this far without one of these? And speaking of Tech, who needs Virtual Reality when we have the real thing?

4. No comment needed. 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. 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. Which I guess makes “Pokemon Go” the present-day equivalent of the Crusades.

3. No comment: 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:  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:

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:





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): 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:

2.followup to the Trump golf cause celebre:

3. This is just plain f***ing BRILLIANT! A MUST MUST MUST READ:

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.  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: On the other hand, perhaps it was: 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. 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:


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.

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!

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. Although this runs a close second. 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:

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:

5. Good advice:

6. Needs no comment;

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.