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 midasw1@aim.com or any other address you already have.

3/28/13…

Bill Black is a savvy, acute observer and diagnostician of Wall Street fun and games. Unfortunately, he never uses three words when he can use ten – but that’s just the way it is. http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/03/bill-black-preet-bharara-refuse-drain-wall-street-swamp.html

NYT is the Mozart of the misleading or skewed headline. From Tyler Cowen:

I don’t usually “go after” news stories and headlines but this one is such a bad mistake, and it so affected my Twitter feed (I was swindled too), that it deserves comment (the pointer by the way comes from Alex, our Alex). Stephanie Saul wrote in The New York Times: Nearly 40 percent of colleges are reporting overall declines in applications from international students, according to a survey…  Here is what the opening of the survey itself said: 39% of responding institutions reported a decline in international applications, 35% reported an increase, and 26% reported no change in applicant numbers. The NYT article does not reproduce the more positive pieces of information, from its own cited study, which may be suggesting international applications are not down at all, or perhaps down by only a small amount. If you look at all the data, they probably are down, but by no conceivable stretch of the imagination should the 40% figure be reported without the other numbers. The headline of the piece?:  Amid ‘Trump Effect’ Fear, 40% of Colleges See Dip in Foreign Applicants I look forward to not only a correction but in fact a retraction of the entire article and its headline.

Given the uproar over Dana Shutz’s “Emmet Till” in the Whitney Biennial, how long before the Appropriation Police turn their warped, victimist attention to Winslow Homer’s “The Gulf Stream” in the Met? Just imagine the whine-generating symbolism they might read into this great painting!

 I wrote about this last Sunday. “60 Minutes” likes doing interviews with charlatans, liars and assorted scam-artists from the White House on down (or should it be up), but they inevitably get taken for a ride. https://www.buzzfeed.com/charliewarzel/60-minutes-upside-down?utm_term=.ehQYk878X#.gcBZ0lXl6
Well, we’ve seen how this approach worked at The Metropolitan Museum, now it’s music’s turn: http://slippedisc.com/2017/03/non-classical-chief-for-wxqr/
Agreed: https://www.city-journal.org/html/flying-undressed-skies-15080.html I date back to the days when you actually donned best bib-and-tucker when taking an airline flight.

3/27/13….

Good gloomy place to start: http://wallstreetonparade.com/2017/03/richard-bowen-is-skeptical-of-citigroups-culture-makeover-heres-why/

Fortunately, my pal Alexander is always looking out for my financial/investment wellbeing: http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-03-03/did-mike-tyson-just-ring-bell

Interesting and, in its way, inspiring: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/03/a-more-equitable-economy-exists-right-next-door.html

No comment needed. Essential: https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-limit-immigration-1490366475?tesla=y

This journalist has become a true star on the business beat: https://www.ft.com/content/081a569a-1094-11e7-b030-768954394623 

As I understand it, NAFTA amounts to a perfect circle of Bill Clinton perfidy: passage resulted in millions of tons of US soybeans and other below-cost agricultural products being dumped into Northern Mexico. This wrecked the agricultural economy of the region, destroying smallholdings and driving millions off the land. These displaced farm workers became a wave emigrating to the USA, most undocumented, a wave that suppressed low-end US wages. Well done, Bill!

Spot on, Phil! I’m already dreading those saccharine-soaked moments on Saturday and Sunday of the Masters when Jim Nantz, rising out of a giant lake of treacle, buries his snout in the bum of Augusta National Chairman and Grand Kleagle Billy Payne: http://nypost.com/2017/03/27/jim-nantzs-ncaa-whitewashing-enables-scandal-and-disgrace/ Here’s a money quote: Few men I know better know right from wrong than Nantz. But mid-March through early April, I don’t know if we’d be better off listening to Nantz or pouring him on our pancakes.

Wonderful, moving tributes to a wonderful guy: http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2017/03/21/remembering-bob-silvers/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=NYR%20French%20writers%20and%20artists%20Teju%20Coles%20realm%20Robert%20Silvers&utm_content=NYR%20French%20writers%20and%20artists%20Teju%20Coles%20realm%20Robert%20Silvers+CID_3e603e88466f5497e92a24d929c1fb5d&utm_source=Newsletter&utm_term=Remembering%20Bob%20Silvers#seidel

 

3/24/17 – 3/26/17 – weekend….

Blackstone is the leading washing machine for getting money out of China. This is what you get when the money isn’t worth the money. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-24/blackstone-nearly-triples-money-on-seaworld-amid-controversy

Le Cirque has filed for bankruptcy. I’m sad for my friend Sirio. When the joint left Mayfair House on 65th St. it started to lose its mojo. I never went to the new premises in the Bloomberg building – by then the restaurant had moved out of my pay grade.

Peggy Noonan https://www.wsj.com/articles/high-anxiety-over-health-care-reform-1490391401

You do wonder where the so-called “MSM” (Mainstream Media) are when matters like this are building, moving from excess to crisis to potential catastrophe. Chasing down our demented president’s tweets, that’s where. Like Trump and Bannon, I see MSM as the enemy, not overtly, as they do, but because of criminal neglect. They tak about themselves as “guardians,” but what do they think they’re supposed to be guarding? https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-03-24/pension-crisis-too-big-for-markets-to-ignore

As I never watch Fox News, I found this by turns amusing, enraging and enlightening: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/25/business/media/fox-news.html?emc=edit_ta_20170325&nl=top-stories&nlid=2476992&ref=cta&_r=0

My pal John Dizard on a matter that has worried me for some time. The great onrush of index funds threatens to turn markets inside-out when certain truths become self-evident, principally that the lunch may be free  but you’ll pay for it afterward in the loo. When index funds have to “rebalance” on the sell side: watch out! Here’s how John puts it: Short term asset price declines have been reversed by the wall of money coming out of active investment managers and into the accounts of low-cost index products. But this comes at the expense of making the eventual decline in a broad range of asset values not just painful, but catastrophic.  https://www.ft.com/content/d724d0c2-0fe6-11e7-b030-768954394623

I cant help thinking that, as much as this change of regime signals economic disparity it’s also about that classic campus opposition, jocks v nerds.

Today being Sunday, let’s talk about the NYT,  whose beginning-of-the-week edition grows thinner, as much intellectually as physically. It’s obvious that the former is probably a consequence of the latter, but what the hell, life is what it is…  What I find curious about Sunday NYT  is that its stories frequently don’t supply information that a truly interested, heart-of-the-matter reader wants. Here’s what I mean. Today’s Biz section includes a long piece about Amazon’s ventures into bricks-and-mortar retailing, starting with bookstores with plans for convenience and grocery units. This would pretty much replicate AMZ’s online growth: books first, everything next. But what I want to know is: in the bookstores, what are AMZ’s prices? I’m a heavy AMZ customer, and what makes me one are prices, availability and convenience. If I walk into one of AMZ’s freestanding stores, I don’t expect to find the availability they offer online; as for convenience, it’s pretty much a function of the store’s location relative to where I live and work. The nut of the issue is price. Does NYT‘s account touch on this? Of course not. Why?

OK, turn next to “Sunday Sports” and a lead account of Gonzaga’s rise to NCAA basketball supremacy. The story reports that several players on this year’s powerhouse arrived at Gonzaga this year. Interesting. What I want to know is: which players,  where are they from, how come Gonzaga, how many are “one and done”? On all of these points, NYT Sports is silent. Fortunately, thanks to the indispensable  Phil Mushnick at the NY Post, I can report that the Gonzaga squad includes players from Japan, Poland, Denmark and France.

Finally, as I said to my wife, “You know, by Sunday I feel I’ve read most of the paper.” We get the print edition to feed my wife’s KenKen and puzzle addiction and my habit of reading every Death Notice everyday, not out of morbid curiosity, but as an essential reminder of other lives, other relationships that more than any earthly power oblige me to remember that the world isn’t all about me.

One final note: The AMZ story speaks of the company’s possible diversion into furniture stores and, almost as a throwaway line, refers to Virtual Reality. I can see how these might work together. Let’s suppose I want to buy a sofa. I take a photo of the room it’s going in with my smartphone. Then I go to AMZ and, plug my phone into a VR setup that allows me to try out various sofas in the very setting that I intend the couch to occupy.

 

Considered as a receptacle for self-regarding stupidity and pseudo-moral exhibitionism, the Internet seems depthless, but this tests its capacity. Beyond and beneath comment, except to note that I don’t recognize a single name among those attacking Ms. Schutz – and for very good reason, I expect. https://news.artnet.com/art-world/art-world-split-dana-schutz-controversy-902423?utm_campaign=artnetnews&utm_source=032517daily&utm_medium=email&utm_content=from_&utm_term=artnet%20News%20Daily%20Newsletter%20USE

Indeed he is, indeed he is. Why I dig Michael Hudson. http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/03/105083.html Here’s a taste:  (The Democrats) preferred to lose with Hillary than to win behind Bernie Sanders. So Trump’s electoral victory is their legacy as well as Obama’s. Instead of Trump’s victory dispelling that strategy, the Democrats are doubling down. It is as if identity politics is all they have.Trying to ride on Barack Obama’s coattails didn’t work. Promising “hope and change,” he won by posing as a transformational president, leading the Democrats to control of the White House, Senate and Congress in 2008. Swept into office by a national reaction against the George Bush’s Oil War in Iraq and the junk-mortgage crisis that left the economy debt-ridden, they had free rein to pass whatever new laws they chose – even a Public Option in health care if they had wanted, or make Wall Street banks absorb the losses from their bad and often fraudulent loans.But it turned out that Obama’s role was to prevent the changes that voters hoped to see, and indeed that the economy needed to recover: financial reform, debt writedowns to bring junk mortgages in line with fair market prices, and throwing crooked bankers in jail. Obama rescued the banks, not the economy, and turned over the Justice Department and regulatory agencies to his Wall Street campaign contributors. He did not even pull back from war in the Near East, but extended it to Libya and Syria, blundering into the Ukrainian coup as well. My novel Fixers deals with this, which may explain why NYT and other Obama whores wouldn’t review it. The more I think about it, as is suggested toward the end of Fixers, the more I’m convinced that the only cure for the oligarchic pestilence that ails us is a guerrilla movement, possibly ex-Special Ops, that engages in a program of targeted assassination with the objective of scaring – “You may be next” – these Wall Street and Silicon Valley  c**ks***ers into behaving like human beings. There’s more to noblesse oblige than overtipping the headwaiter. And the only force on earth more powerful than money is a bullet.

On “60 Minutes” watching Scott Pelley interview a guy who circulates fake news. Pelley tries to be reasonable. But what needs to happen is for someone to walk onscreen and beat this sonofabitch to death with a baseball bat!

 

 

 

 

 

3/23/13….

All this and much more. I only wrote once or twice for Bob Silvers – I best recall a review of Paul Mellon’s Reflections in a Silver Spoon that Bob didn’t run because he thought it “too kind” – and he was kind enough to assign a novel of mine (Hanover Place) to Louis Auchincloss for a published review, notwithstanding that my fiction lacks the literary gravitas that one identifies with NYRB, but I haven’t missed an issue of the publication since its first appearance 54 years ago, and that says something about my regard for Bob. I doubt we shall see his like again: http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2017/03/21/remembering-bob-silvers/

Among my favorite TV series is “Foyle’s War.” I watch it, whole or in parts, 2-3 times a year. Everything about it is good, but certain of its fringe effects are striking. Most notable are Chief Inspector Christopher Foyle’s overcoats, voluminous square-shouldered garments that hang down practically to his shoe-tops. DCI Foyle’s hats also deserve a special commendation, not only in and of themselves, but for the elegance with which Michael Kitchen, who plays Foyle, wears them. Until yesterday, however, the DCI’s turnout has been about the extent of my sartorial reaction to “Foyle’s War.” Last night, however, all changed. While waiting for my wife to come home from an orchestra rehearsal, I watched “Foyle’s War,” season 6, episode 3, The Hide and I couldn’t take my eyes off the women’s dresses. The episode is set in 1946 (it was filmed in 2009),  it’s summer, and these were proper “summer frocks.” Simple, charming, graceful, flattering, feminine, grownup – in marvelous prints. I found myself thinking  of Irwin Shaw’s great story, “The Girls in their Summer Dresses” and reflecting that this is how women should dress, it’s the way my mother’s generation turned out. My few regular readers will know how hideous I think most current fashion is: ugly, ridiculous, pointless, self-mocking. These dresses were the complete opposite. When the credits rolled, I slowed them down to catch the name of the costume designer: Maria Price. Anyone who liked the late Bill Blass’s work, or Oscar’s in the early going, should sign her up. Indeed, I called my younger daughter, who’s involved in fashion, and told her to take a look. There may be hope yet.

This bears pondering: http://wallstreetonparade.com/2017/03/fed-chair-yellen-repeats-alternative-facts-from-new-york-times-on-financial-crash/

Sounds exactly like the reports we were getting from China and India at the start of the great globalization binge: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-03-23/inside-alabama-s-auto-jobs-boom-cheap-wages-little-training-crushed-limbs?cmpid=BBD032317_BIZ

Why surprised? American affluents are older. They buy less stuff. Asian new money doesn’t shop at Target. The rentiers are killing what’s left of disposable income down-market. That’s why the malls are dying. http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-03-23/retail-apocalypse-officially-descending-upon-america

 

 

 

Who I Was, Where I Went, How I Got That Way

 

 

Michael Mackenzie Thomas was born in New York City on April 18, 1936. He was educated at private elementary schools, Phillips Exeter Academy, and graduated magna cum laude in 1958 from Yale, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. In 1958-59, he remained at Yale as a Carnegie Teaching Fellow in art history. He was also awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship by the foundation of that name. In 1959 he joined the staff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as a curatorial assistant in the Department of European Paintings, where he remained until 1961.

In 1961 he was invited to come to work at the investment banking firm of Lehman Brothers; he served as an associate in the firm’s Industrial (corporate finance) Department and was made a general partner in 1967, co-head of the Industrial Department in 1969 and head of mergers and acquisitions in 1971. By 1972, however, the internal politics at Lehman Brothers were becoming intolerable. When a recruitment firm approached him with the idea of moving to a smaller firm, Thomas thought it would interesting to try to apply the techniques of major-bracket corporate finance to the needs of companies lacking large-company market and institutional recognition; in September, 1972, he joined Burnham & Co. as a Senior Vice-President, Director and head of Corporate Finance.

The fact was, Wall Street was losing its appeal for him and he for it. Once again, his personal strengths and weaknesses matched up badly with the internal politics of the organization with which he was associated.

Determined to give Wall Street work a last shot, he founded Marshalsea Associates (named after the debtors prison in Little Dorrit) in 1973 in partnership with Herbert P. Patterson (since deceased,) former President of Chase Manhattan Bank. Marshalsea acted as a consultant-agent in the area of corporate finance with a blue-chip list of large American, British and Japanese companies as clients, including Ashland Oil, Walter Kidde Co. and C.Itoh. The business was a reasonable success, but Thomas increasingly found his mind and heart weren’t in it. In 1978, he moved headquarters to Dallas in order to affiliate with another consulting group and share the load. That relationship finally ended in 1987.

The Wall Street years (1961-1973) were rich in experience. Thomas worked with companies large and small, such as Amax Inc., Halliburton Co., The Walt Disney Company. He served on the boards of various corporations, including Twentieth Century-Fox (during which tenure he served as ex officio director of the Fox Talent School,) Swearingen Aircraft Co., Southdown Inc., Cyclax of London Inc. and Zapata Corp. He was a part-owner and Director of the Los Angeles Rams, as well as – at various times – a trustee or director of a number of educational and cultural entities, including the Phillips Exeter Academy, The Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, where he was a Trustee and Chairman of the Council of Friends, and The Business Council of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he was a vice-chairman. In 1978, he founded Orpheus Remarkable Recordings, which in the years before it closed in 1992 became Manhattan’s best-known specialty (classical, jazz, high-end popular) record shop.

The urge to write had always been with him, however, through school and college. In 1970, a reading of Dickens’ Little Dorrit convinced him that finance was an intriguing subject for a novelist, and the construction of a novel more fascinating and more to the point than any financial deal. In 1975, he had the “idea” for the book that became Green Monday – and in Dallas, in 1978-9, he realized that if he wished to fulfill his lifelong ambition to write, it was now or never.

Green Monday Wyndham Books/S&S) was published in 1980. Eight other novels have been published: Someone Else’s Money, 1982 (S&S); Hard Money, 1984 (Viking); The Ropespinner Conspiracy, 1986; Hanover Place, 1990 (which Louis Auchincloss included in his list of the all-time ten best American novels about business)(both Warner Books); Black Money, 1994 (Crown), Baker’s Dozen, 1996 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Love & Money, 2009 (Melville House), Fixers 2016 (Melville House).

Following the success of Green Monday, Thomas became a full-time writer. From its first issue in 1984 until his resignation in 1986 as the result of an editorial difference, he wrote a monthly column for Manhattan Inc., and has also written for Vanity Fair, Esquire, Esquire Gentleman, New York, Conde Nast Traveler, Cosmopolitan, Mirabella, The New York Times, The Nation, Vogue, Corporate Finance, Architectural Digest, Spy, The Daily Mail (London), The New Yorker, Town and Country, Civilization, Women’s Quarterly, The0 American Benefactor, Quest and, most recently, Newsweek. He was a Contributing Writer at TALK. He has reviewed fiction and non-fiction for The New York Times Book Review, Institutional Investor, Newsday, New Criterion, The Washington Post, The East Hampton Star , Harper’s, The Southampton Press , The Spectator (London,) The Wilson Quarterly, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Monthly, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Review of Books. At least two of his pieces have been anthologized in hard cover.

He wrote “The Midas Watch”, a commentary on getting and spending, for The New York Observer from the date of the paper’s foundation in October, 1987 until May, 2009. In 2008-09, as the financial crisis unfolded, he contributed a number of pieces to Forbes.com. In 1997, at the invitation of American Express Publishing, he helped design and joined Travel & Leisure Golf (now TLGOLF) as a Contributing Editor and wrote a column (“From the Veranda”) for the magazine for three years. The same year, a Golf Digest article by Thomas (“the Hooters Tour”) was designated for Honorable Mention in the annual awards of the Golf Writers Association of America. He wrote the afterword for the “Classics of Golf” edition of P.G.Wodehouse’s The Clicking of Cuthbert. He has been a Contributing Editor of Golf Digest and has also written for Links. He is a contributing writer at QUEST.

In 1978, in his capacity as a trustee of the Robert Lehman Foundation, Thomas initiated a three-way collaboration between the Foundation (which provided funding), the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU (which served as the conduit for scholarship) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (editorial and publishing direction) to prepare and publish a scholarly catalogue of the Robert Lehman Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The project was finally completed in 2012 with the publication of the fifteenth volume. Until 2015, he served on the Visiting Committee to the Department of European Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum.

In October 2001, The New-York Historical Society staged an exhibition, “John Koch: Painting a New York Life” which Thomas conceived, set in motion and for which he wrote a catalogue essay and arranged the funding.

The father of six children (from three marriages) and grandfather of seven, Thomas lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife, the translator and editor Tamara Glenny. He is a trustee, director and Secretary-Treasurer of The Robert Lehman Foundation Inc. He is a member of the Links, Racquet and Tennis Club and Century Association in New York City, and a Founder Member of the National Golf Links of America (where he was Club Champion in 1970) in Southampton.

3/22/17…

FAIR WARNING: Sometimes the solution lies right in front of one. People have been after me to write a memoir. What’s been holding me back, despite pages and pages of notes, has been the agonizing prospect of working with a publisher and thereby exposing myself to the likelihood of another betrayal a la Fixers and six out of eight of my other novels. Publishers don’t like me and I don’t like them. I can’t get an agent. I haven’t hung out – let alone slept with – the kind of famous names that seem to intrigue the bookchat world. Still, I’ve had an interesting life, and I owe it to my kids to yield to their entreaties to get off my ass and write the damn thing. So what I think I’ll do is “publish” those memoirs – tentative title: A Difficult Friend – on this website, beginning in the next few days. Look for them in the category “Thoughts for a Memoir” and I’ll alert on these Notes and via Twitter when a new installment is going up. I have some great chapter titles: “Orphans with Parents: A Classic WASP Boyhood,” “Prince Hal on Wall Street,” “Bob Dylan’s Dream: On Friends and Friendship.” AVANTI! 

There are days when it must seem that I’m either knocking off or channelling Bloomberg’s indispensable Barry Ritholtz. Thanks to him I have added a link to John Oliver’s great show of last Sunday to yesterday’s post.  DON’T MISS IT! Today, he’s published an invaluable collection of Breslin on Trump – and the people in the media and finance who, as the saying has it, have spaniel’d Trump at heels. http://www.newsday.com/opinion/jimmy-breslin-s-columns-on-donald-trump-1.13288319. Here’s a gloss: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/jimmy-breslin-wrote-donald-trump-decades-article-1.3003397 

Certain articles should never be off the radar: http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/best-wishes-donald

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the asshole population of Williamsburg: http://www.hats.com/straw-hats/straw-pork-pies.html?trk_msg=B961LC57KM04T5RNAR5JIFE9AS&trk_contact=4ISI11REC6T1FS9K2O6DGKG6AC&trk_sid=9OSL7ME6MBNGA52UM7IAQG8H7G&utm_source=Listrak&utm_medium=Email&utm_term=http%3a%2f%2fwww.hats.com%2fstraw-hats%2fstraw-pork-pies.html&utm_campaign=032217

 

 

3/21/17…

A friend – not the first -asks me why I have no space for “Comments” on this blog or whatever it is. It’s pretty simple. I think the besetting sin of what passes for discourse in our society is a kind of disruptive exhibitionism. Imagine yourself having a quiet fireside chat with a friend about…oh…whatever and out of nowhere, uninvited, a nearby eavesdropper butts in and insists on interpolating his views. Which someone else across the room picks up on and rushes over to add his voice. Now it may be that what these interlopers have say is worth listening to, but that’s not really the point. All I’m doing here is presenting stuff that strikes me as worth thinking about. Stuff that possibly readers may not know about or think themselves interested in, but whom I might induce/tempt to take a look, sources they may not know about. I think I make my own preferences, concerns and positions pretty clear. Someone who has something to say in agreement or opposition can always email me at midasw1@aim.com (I have another email – for friends), but be aware that I may or may not answer – at least in any depth. I have scarcely suffered persons and utterances that strike me as foolish or nonsensical at all, let alone gladly. An attitude that has cost me dearly. Now it’s too late to seek a repechage (remember the Yale crew in the 1956 Olympics).  I’m an older man now, about to ring up my 81st year, and I will try to the end to figure out what’s what – which is all this blog/website/whatever pretends to be: an aide-memoire to the examined life.

Boy do I agree with this! Ignorance isn’t merely in the head of the mindless. It takes two to dance the “know nothing” tango! http://cepr.net/blogs/beat-the-press/the-public-is-clueless-about-the-federal-budget-and-it-s-the-new-york-times-fault Incidentally, John Oliver (see below) did exactly this in his “budget segment” on Sunday night. He showed how minuscule in percentage terms were current outlays for NEA, NEH etc. It’s all a function of a great truth I learned in my earliest days on “the Street”: Every number exists in two dimensions, the absolute and the proportionate, and you use whichever better suits the scam you’re peddling.

A footnote to an earlier post about Tom Nichols’ book The Death of Expertise, and I think a convincing one. http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2017/03/20/americans-reject-experts-failure-history-glenn-reynolds-column/99381952/

Stockman as usual over the top, but always provocative: http://davidstockmanscontracorner.com/the-deep-state-and-the-donald-part-1/part 2

Yesterday I caught up with the weekend’s DVR hoard: “John Oliver”/”Billions”/”Girls”/”Homeland”/”The Good Fight.”  I find Carrie (“Homeland”) about the most irritating person in all TV, which is, I suppose, a tribute to Claire Danes’ acting ability. Last nights show was less about its protagonist’s bipolar difficulties, and more about events, and the show felt back on track. John Oliver remains the best thing on TV.The intelligence of Colbert without all that jumping around. Here, thanks to Barry Ritholtz, is a link: http://ritholtz.com/2017/03/john-oliver-federal-budget/

FINE DINING: Saturday we had lunch at Blue Ribbon Federal Grill, the new Bromberg restaurant at 84 William St. in the Financial District. My wife’s son Sam is the wine guy there and for the other Blue Ribbon restaurants. The new joint is excellent. It really looks good, with a great, high-shelved bar setting the visual tone. Around us were all kinds of diners, including one table of almost a dozen, half of them kids in the 8-10 range (I guessed). This is very important. There aren’t a lot of stylish NYC restaurants where the menu has lots of things kids will go for. Our own meal was delish, set off by a great Basque rose that Sam urged on us. Even absent the family connection, I’d give this place a whole bunch of stars.

3/20/17…Spring is here, bringing no cheer…

This morning, WNYC featured former City Advocate and all-around asshole Mark Green, boasting about the “shadow executive” he’s forming. Readers of this space will recall that I mused on the possibility of Obama leading a (dis)loyal opposition modeled on parliamentary systems, my theory being that if Obama had been a feckless president, as I consider him to have been (and I voted for him twice, the second time being what is frequently said of remarriage: the triumph of hope over experience), he might be an effective antidote to Trump. Instead we get Green, with a “shadow cabinet” that includes people like Robert Reich, the very exemplar of the blahblahblah chinstroking set that alienated the people we send off to fight our wars and conveyed the White House to Trump. If you want to see what fatuity looks like, check out @shadowingTrump

Trump on Le Club board in the late 60s-early 70s. he himself admits he targeted the board when he crossed the river because it was where the people he wanted to hang out with hung out. Not people like me, a subset of youngish Manhattan types only one or two of whom would go on to wealth and power, but proven movers and shakers like George Steinbrenner and Ahmet Ertegun http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/01/30/donald-trump-s-nights-out-at-le-club-with-roy-cohn.html

Boss Tweed must be drooling with envy at what gerrymandering has done to this country’s politics: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2017/03/fixing_gerrymandering_affects_who_is_sent_to_office_and_how_they_govern.html

I doubt I’ve watched 5 minutes of Fox News in the past year or so. I think it’s important to know what the other guy’s thinking, but where there’s no evidence of real thinking, why bother? I mentioned having met Monica Crowley around 2000 on a book tour; I figured her for a tramp on the make then, with very doubtful intellectual credentials and claims, and I may have been foresighted. http://money.cnn.com/2017/03/19/media/fox-news-donald-trump/index.html One Fox matter does interest me: do Bannon and Hannity have the same hairdresser?

Two men who changed New York, mainly for the better, have died: Jimmy Breslin and. now, David Rockefeller. When I was shoveling shit for The Observer,  I took Breslin as a model. Kick ’em off the horse when they’re riding high. Breslin wrote for the people who read the Daily News on the subway, I focused on the upper-crust and money swine. Not long after I started my NYO column, I received a call from a legendary figure in NYC PR and media manipulation. He told me how much he looked forward to us working together. “And I too,” I replied jauntily. “And I promise to use anything you give me to the maximum embarrassment of your client.” Never heard from him again. Sic transit taurus excretum. 

Speaking of taurus excretum, this bulletin from the fountainhead: http://news.yale.edu/2017/03/16/yale-historian-shares-sobering-analysis-past-and-action-plan-present-new-book?utm_source=YNemail&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ynalumni-03-20-17

This connects in an interesting way with the upheavals at the Met. http://theartnewspaper.com/news/museums/centre-pompidou-broke-even-on-koons-retrospective-paris-court-decision-reveals-/?utm_source=daily_march20_2017&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=email_daily&utm_source=The+Art+Newspaper+Newsletters&utm_campaign=558e6b1293-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_03_20&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c459f924d0-558e6b1293-60919593

This is what we need more of: a close-grained, detailed illustration of exactly how these scams worked. https://www.theet.com/statejournal/anatomy-of-a-banking-scandal-showcases-mcdowell-bank-s-rise/article_3e05250b-3d6c-5eae-a79a-5fda862cebe9.html The big lesson: they worked because the process of setting them up and getting them packaged was so complex that it overwhelmed the buy side. In today’s NYT Biz there’s a good piece on Ackman’s Valeant follies by the dynamite duo of Morgenson and Fabrikant: good because it reaches out to a lawsuit in California that could sink Ackman, depending how it goes. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/19/business/william-ackman-pershing-valeant.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

And the indispensable…http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/full-speed-ahead-murphys-law/

The hooded guy with the scythe has all of a sudden been pretty busy: two Henry Lodges, husband and son of a grade-school friend of mine; Breslin and David Rockefeller, now Bob Silvers. All really good people who gave more than they took. The trumpets on the other side are making a glorious noise.

There’s an interesting piece in today’s NYT by Adam Liptak on Supreme Court confirmation strategies. I’ve just finished a marvelous novel which has that process as one of its main subjects: Shining City (Ecco) by veteran Washington Journalist Tom Rosenstiel. It’s ingenious and enlightening, swiftly-paced, clearly written, very originally plotted with well-drawn, engaging characters (you can check out my 5-star review on AMZ) but I must post this warning: this is a book for the intelligent reader interested in politics and process and how the real world works. It’s not a “duh!” escapist cheat in the Gone Girl manner.  If you liked my Fixers, you’ll love Shining City. Incidentally, another book I liked a lot, completely different but wonderfully creative, is Mick Harron’s Spook City (Slough House). A real grabber, brilliantly written and with a well-spun plot. Fans of James Patterson need not apply.

This speaks for – and to – a lot of us: https://www.ft.com/content/39a0867a-0974-11e7-ac5a-903b21361b43

IF YOU WATCH NOTHING ELSE, HUNT DOWN LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER (HBO) AND WATCH HIS LAST NIGHT’S (3/19/17) SHOW. Here are Twitter links  https://twitter.com/LastWeekTonight?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor ESPECIALLY WATCH THE “ZEBRAS” SEGMENT.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3/18/17…

In the light of the budget that Trump and Co. are proposing to the Congress, it seems clear that whoever set up the teleprompter for Trump’s inaugural address made a significant error of transposition. It’s obvious that inaugural speechwriter Bannon must have written, in the light of the homicidal cuts in cultural and social civility he had in mind, “Let the American carnage begin! Right here and right now!” but that it somehow came out “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” Of course, given the intellectual and cultural properties of this administration, along with Trump’s gastronomic bona fides, it’s possible that man himself thinks that “carnage” is a meat dish being added to the menu at Mar-a-Lago.

(note to my few followers: it’s childish of me, I know, but I simply cannot make myself write the phrase “President Trump.”)

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/03/role-experts-public-debate.html I call “bullshit” too – and three, and four…..

A profile of Robert Mercer, also written about by Vicky Ward, whose HuffPo article I linked yesterday: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/03/27/the-reclusive-hedge-fund-tycoon-behind-the-trump-presidency Here’s the sort of person we’re talking about; “Bob believes that human beings have no inherent value other than how much money they make. A cat has value, he’s said, because it provides pleasure to humans. But if someone is on welfare they have negative value. If he earns a thousand times more than a schoolteacher, then he’s a thousand times more valuable.” Magerman added, “He thinks society is upside down—that government helps the weak people get strong, and makes the strong people weak by taking their money away, through taxes.” He said that this mind-set was typical of “instant billionaires” in finance, who “have no stake in society,” unlike the industrialists of the past, who “built real things.”