Critiques & Commentary

2/14/17….

Happy Valentine’s Day. “Un Village Francais” returns to MHZchoice today. Two episodes a week concluding 2/28. Be still, my heart!

I suppose there’s no way to prove that the Russians showed HRC emails to Flynn?

1.I posted this link before, but it’s worth a second look. http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/02/09/considerations-on-cost-disease/ Here’s an interesting quote (thanks to Tyler Cowen): “The overall pictures is that health care and education costs have managed to increase by ten times without a single cent of the gains going to teachers, doctors, or nurses.” This is exactly what I’m talking about when I define inflation as an increase in price without a commensurate gain in utility.

2.Dunno how I missed this. Douthat has become a very shrewd observer-commentator on the general subject of this great republic’s abstention from common sense: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/07/opinion/the-comforts-of-the-betsy-devos-war.html?_r=0

3. “Man in the High Castle” is wonderful in every way – if only I could figure out what’s going on!

 

 

2/13/17…..

The love affair between new technology and old age is a sometimes thing. For me it’s worked pretty well. AMZ is a cornerstone of my existence since getting around is no longer the piece of cake it once was. The sector I call “Distractibles” isn’t one I use. The magic of Snapchat eludes me. I dropped off Facebook. I look at Instagram to see what my kids and certain friends are up to. I do Twitter more than I did before I left FB, but it takes me much less time and attention to skim it. Google is indispensable, since I’m afflicted with a curiosity that would daunt a cat and I like being able to check facts, usages, spellings and definitions in the moment.

Talking light bulbs and refrigerators, and “Hello Alexa” or “Hello Siri” don’t interest me. The pride of our household technology is our Roku box, which offers clear and calculable economic benefits. My wife’s work schedule and the other stuff we’re involved in renders an afternoon or evening at the movies difficult. So we stream a lot. If there’s a film out that piques our interest, I add it to the Watchlist of one or another Roku channel. Then, when the time is propitious (in the spirit if not the specifics of those Viagra commercials they show during sports events) and the picture’s available, we watch it. If there’s nothing new that catches our fancy, there’s always “Midsomer Murders,” 18 seasons which combine the effects of certain properties of Ambien and DCI Barnaby’s local’s best bitter, or our current focus: trying to figure out what in God’s name “The Man in the High Castle” is all about.  Now and then something in the way of “destination viewing” will come along. Tomorrow night, “A French Village”, the best series ever  returns to MHZchoice Not even an invitation to attend Steve Schwarzman’s 70th birthday party (see below), vuvuzela  in hand to salute the birthday pig, could tear us away from that!

But I digress. I spoke above of “calculable” economic benefits. Here’s what I mean. Last fall a film was released called “Nocturnal Animals,” directed etc by Tom Ford, the Gucci designer and whatever else. What I read about it interested me. A chum whose judgement I trust advised me to steer clear. “Absolutely worthless,” he declared. “Just awful!” I noted his opinion, but when I read that the picture was going to stream on Vudu, I told myself “What the hell,” and added it to my watchlist. The other day, I was notified that the picture could now be viewed. Yesterday, Madam being off at a reading group, I watched it. My friend was wrong about “Nocturnal Animals.” It’s ten times worse than what he told me. “Pretentious and pointless,” is what I emailed him as the credits unscrolled. People have oohed and aahed over the performance of an actor with a hyphen in his name who plays a key role in the “Deliverance” knockoff that is the Yin to a second subplot’s Yang. The latter consists mainly of Amy Adams looking pained. The only interesting thing in this tirsome exercise is a pretty amazing job of makeup that leaves Laura Linney look like she’s dressed for lunch at River Oaks (sounds like it, too). But here’s the thing. To screen it cost me maybe $4. A theater would have extracted at least $20 for the wife and me ( would never go to a theater without her), so I’m ahead, even using Trump accounting, by $16 – and that’s without adjusting for house snacks, assholes talking in the theater and the risk of being caught either entering or leaving “Nocturnal..” by someone whose respect respect.  A decent deal by any standards, wouldn’t you say?

 

Now, what went round comes around, isn’t that what they say? For the past two years I’ve watched the conversion of the Empire Stores, the famous coffee warehouses directly across Water St. from us, memorably photographed in the 1930s by Berenice Abbott, into what is essentially a mixed-use commercial mall, with shops, eateries and offices. Early word was that the roof would be home, at about the 7th floor level, to two roof-garden restaurants, one of which would be affiliated with Soho House. I don’t know Soho House, although I know of Soho House. My impression is of Douchebag Central. A couple of days ago, word circulated online that one of these would be Cecconi, which turns out to be  the Soho House affiliate.

What memories and associations that brings back! The original Cecconi was a swank London restaurant started in 1977 in Burlington Gardens. The founder-owner was Enzo Cecconi, who had been general manager of the Cipriani Hotel in Venice. It was one of a breed of restaurants world-wide that were proprietor-driven as opposed to chef-driven as today (hors classe of this style in New York was Henri Soule’s Pavillon, which spawned La Caravelle and La Grenouille among others. Anyone interested in New York dining in the grand manner can read about it in Joseph Wechsberg’s invaluable Dining at the Pavillon). The place caught on immediately. London had never experienced high-style Italian cooking (as it happened, 1977 was when I took Marcella Hazan’s class in Bologna). Enzo was a bit of a rascal, but he knew his stuff, and the restaurant soon attracted HRH-level patronage – and this was back when that mattered.

He and I became friends, because Enzo was married to Sarah Coleman, with who I had played golf regularly at Cypress Point when we were both 16 or 17. Sarah came from important Oklahoma money. Her parents were divorced. Her father, George L. Coleman, the eponym of the famous amateur golf tournament played annually at Seminole, lived in Palm Beach. Indeed this inspired Enzo to take up golf, even though his father-in-law didn’t like him. Enzo and I played 18 in 1977 at the Lido, the island off Venice where fate befalls the protagonist of Death in Venice. 

Sarah’s mother Elizabeth was by then married to the Duke of Manchester; it had been in the course of one of the Manchesters’ annual summer sojourns at the Cipriani that Sarah and Enzo had met. Enzo really liked being the son-in-law of a Duke. I recall going with him and Sarah to a country pub famous for its cooking. He somehow got hold of the ducal Rolls, and I’m here to tell you he really  got off  on the Manchester coronet painted discreetly on the door.

I’ve not seen or heard of either of them in a long time, although Sarah did call once, years ago, when passing through NYC to Pebble Beach, where to judge from Google, she now lives. I’d love to catch up. Funny how the cartography of life works.

 

Here’s some other good stuff:

I suggested that to Yves Smith that she include this in the group of links that her Naked Capitalism  calls “Guillotine Watch.” https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-02-13/schwarzman-parties-at-70-with-camels-cake-and-trump-s-entourage

https://www.truthaboutdeception.com/lying-and-deception/confronting-a-partner/compulsive-lying/types-of-liars.html Can our President be persuaded to take the quiz at the end. Seems to me he incarnates all forms.

http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/made-for-each-other/ Kunstler’s drastic apocalypse scenario follows the classic formulation about how one goes bankrupt: “slowly…then all at once!”

Our beloved elitists at work and play. They follow the emotional reasoning of six-year-old children: that a sincerely-expressed (but not necessarily sincere) apology solves everything. https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20170213/chelsea/high-line-citylab-robert-hammond?utm_source=Manhattan&utm_campaign=2f2a811da5-Mailchimp-NYC&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_7456974fe2-2f2a811da5-139053101

sounds like a very worthwhile read: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/02/book-review-econocracy.html

As was once said of someone else I knew, squat beside a basket, play a few notes on a recorder and Maurice Greenberg will slither out. http://wallstreetonparade.com/2017/02/wall-street-journal-goes-with-alternative-facts-in-hank-greenberg-saga/ I recommend that readers interested in Wall Street and its goings-on bookmark wallstreetonparade.com and check it out regularly.

And, finally, who says Hallowe’en only comes once a year? Or possibly casting call for Act 1, Scene 1 of Macbeth

Image

2/5/17…Super Sunday and beyond…

NOTICE: Since it’s my habit to revise and rethink through the day, which often necessitates 8-10 updates, I’ve decided that from now on I’ll post only once daily – at the close of business, as it were. Probably around 7PM.

I suppose I’ve watched all but one or two SuperBowls one way or another (I actually can’t think of any I’ve missed – even in Jamaica). I went to the first eight, stopping just short of Terry Bradshaw’s great run in the mid-1970s. The first few junkets – LA/Miami/Miami/New Orleans/Miami – were the most all-around fun, especially Miami, where the action centered on the Palm Bay Club, where we knew a member and could get rooms. Connie Dinkler, who started the place in 1964 and owned and ran it dictatorially until she sold it in 1985,  described the place as “ultra-exclusive”. I guess that was back when “exclusive” meant something – if it ever did. It was fun to sit out by the pool drinking mimosas with Ludwell Gaines from Kansas City (the first year Lud’s orange juice bill was $85 – in 1968 dollars! In Florida!) with a loudspeaker blaring “Paging Ahmet Ertegun, paging Earl Smalley” every few minutes. Smalley owned a bunch of Hertz franchises and lived on one of those Biscayne Bay houses on stilts that you read about in Carl Hiaasen novels. He knew more models than Eileen Ford.  LA in 1967 wasn’t bad either, with places like the Daisy and the Factory operating at warp speed. But the Super Bowl tradition grew stale with repetition and age. The last one we attended, me and my Falstaff, “Liquor Jack” Young (I’ll have quite a bit to say about Jack in the chapter of my memoir I’m provisionally titling “Prince Hal on Wall Street” – get it?) was a dull 1974 game in Houston dominated by Dolphins running back Larry Czonka. As we left Rice Stadium, Jack asked “Is this a tradition that should be continued?” We both agreed that it wasn’t – but what fun it had been!

2/5/17

1.A bracing start to the day: http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/purpose-decadence-pleasures-coercion/

2.As I’ve been saying…and saying…and saying…https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2017/02/02/trump-outrage/?utm_term=.a94d25f15344

3. My first job after Yale was at the Metropolitan Museum, where I worked from mid-1959 to mid-1961 as a curatorial assistant in The European Paintings Department. Thereafter, when I had attained a certain small eminence and influence on Wall Street, I became reattached to the MMA, serving on various departmental visiting committees and as a Vice=Chairman of the Business Committee. Later, even as I tried to make it as a writer, I remained close to the museum: as a member of the Visiting Committee to the European Paintings Department (I only cycled off last year, after 30 years’ service, when it became clear that comparative penury was a disabling handicap for effective membership on the committee) and, more importantly, as a trustee of a private foundation closely bound to the MMA by contract. And now it can be told: in 1977, the MMA trustees decided to split the duties at the top and create a full time paid presidency coeval with the directorship. I applied for that position. Obviously I didn’t get the job; but think: had I done so, the world would have been spared hundreds of thousands of words’ worth of mediocre English composition.

In other words, I’ve kept in touch – a part of my heart still resides at 82nd St. and Fifth Avenue – and so it was with interest and close attention that I read Robin Pogrebin’s page A1 story in today’s NYT: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/04/arts/design/met-museum-financial-troubles.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

It would have been two or three years ago that I started telling friends that I was picking up “bad vibes” during my regular interchanges with MMA. In the state of Denmark something was starting to smell rotten. Curatorial discontent seemed on the rise. Part of this was doubtless the usual griping that accompanies regime change; Tapestries expert Thomas Campbell had succeeded the Parnassian Philippe de Montebello in 2008 as Director/CEO and was bringing in new curators and retiring a few longtime veterans (as if, in art history, one ever grows old). People like Luke Syson, brought over from London where he had mounted a spectacular show of Leonardo da Vinci, who would be a catch by anyone’s standards and now heads the Decorative Arts department that spawned Campbell.

A lot of finger-pointing was directed at Campbell, and obviously he didn’t have the executive experience that Philippe had aggregated over thirty years, but I don’t think that’s what Campbell was hired for. I think the trustees mainly responsible for choosing Campbell (one’s an old friend of mine, the other’s dead) were looking for another “Curators’ Director” in the Philippian mold. After all, when it came to the administrative side of things, Campbell would have his hand held by the MMA President, the incomparable Emily Rafferty. But Emily would leave the museum in early 2015. As ever diplomatic, discreet and loyal, she would say simply that her time was up. I have a different theory, outlined below, but let me confess that when I tried it out on Emily, a friend for forty years, over lunch at the end of 2015, she had no comment. And by that I don’t mean “no comment (wink) (wink).”

So what went wrong? It then follows as the night the day that a turn to the contemporary will yield to a temptation to become contemporary.   My theory is that Tom Campbell was persuaded to become “with it,” or “groovy,”  a role he was temperamentally and intellectually ill-disposed to fill. He was persuaded to go along with a push into “contemporary,” as they say – because in the art world today, that’s where the money is, notwithstanding that most of what brings in the big auction-house and dealer bucks would be an embarrassment to place next to the MMA’s treasures. Leave that crap to MoMA would have been my recommendation. Lousy art for a lousy building. Of course, if a corpus of history-changing art should become available, such as Leonard Lauder’s collection of Cubist work, much of which was painted over a century ago, and is discernibly “modern” even if not “contemporary,” you clutch it to your bosom – as the MMA did.

Nowadays, to become contemporary is to go digital,  and no department of the Met grew faster than its Digital force – up until last year, when the museum’s parlous financial condition dictated that its digital ambitions and capabilities shrink as fast as they had grown. No doubt some of the accomplishments of the museum’s digital heyday have proved terrific (the online catalogue, for instance), while others seemed downright ludicrous, such as the holographic apparatus attached to the recently reconstituted statue by Tullio Lombardo, and don’t get me started on the “rebranding” business and the ridiculous new logo.

Then there’s what I, helpless conspiracy-theorist that I am, call “my Macbeth premise.” I emphasize that I have no solid evidence that any of what I’ve come up with has the least basis in fact. I’m thinking purely instinctually. Anyway, here goes: readers familiar with “the Scottish Play” will recall that in the opening scene of Macbeth, the play’s title character encounters a coven of spirits doing the “eye of newt” bit. These ladies – as they are usually portrayed, except when some crazed postmodern regisseur gets hold of Shakespeare – tell Macbeth stuff that starts him on the path to triumph and downfall. Now: put into that context Tom Campbell, and two MMA single, comely ladies whose rise to positions of influence at the museum is in sync with his coming to office. These are Christine Coulson and Carrie Rebora Barratt. In June 2014, Campbell announced major promotions for the two:  Coulson to be “chief adviser to the Director”, a designation both ambiguous and ominous (were I a MMA staffer, that word”chief” would set the alarm bells tinkling) and Rebora Barratt as Deputy Director for Collections and Administration. These two would now have the Director’s ear (and, presumably, his back) as well as the chief of staff job. Perhaps it means nothing – note disclaimer above – but exactly a month after Campbell’s announcement of the Coulson-Rebora Barratt appointments, on July 29, 2014, Emily Rafferty announced her retirement. These two mid-2014 developments were covered in useful, sharp-pencil depth by my friend Judy Dobrzynski on her invaluable blog: https://www.artsjournal.com/realcleararts/2016/06/the-ax-fall-at-the-met-again-more-to-come.htmlhttps://www.artsjournal.com/realcleararts/2016/07/more-major-met-museum-departures-and-more-woes.html 

Now I’m not saying that these events are causally connected. But one does wonder… And – incidentally –  both Coulson and Rebora Barratt are gone now. Coulson voluntarily, it would seem (to write short stories, I read somewhere; are we in for an update of Jarrell’s Pictures from an Institution? If so, sign me up!) Her colleague took a buyout in the recent big staff reductions. Better departure than demotion, saith the Prophet.

That the MMA is in a financial mess is clear. I find this odd, considering how many NYC financial/Wall Street big shots are on its board and, presumably, its Finance and Investment Committees. One particular villain has been the addition of the old Whitney building – now known as “Met Breuer” – to the museum’s fixed base, an action that ended up costing much more than anticipated, as such additions usually do. Met Breuer is to be the home of the Met’s thrust into contemporary, a thrust somewhat blunted by lack of money. If the museum was determined to take over the old Whitney, as it seemed to be, why not put the “Anna Wintour Costume Institute” there. And Ms. Wintour along with it; the mind-bending vulgarity of her Fashion Galas seems at irreparable odds with this devoted MMA alumnus’s view of the museum’s primary purpose: the safekeeping, elucidation and display of works of art broadly defined.

Where it will all end, knows God. To succeed Emily Rafferty, MMA has brought in Daniel Weiss, and on the basis of the few times I’ve met him, he definitely has the right stuff. And with Weiss on board, Tom Campbell seems more comfortable in his institutional skin, back to doing the stuff he loves and does so well (his exhibitions of Renaissance and Baroque tapestries were marvels!). Hope really does spring eternal – so long as you have the right people in the right jobs – and lock the door to A. Wintour.

And that’s that for this Sunday. Time to tune in to the Super Bowl. See youse tomorrow.

2/6/17 – Super Bowl Morning Special

WHAT A GAME!

They’ll be talking about this one forever. How? Why? I think I can answer that, based on something Fox color announcer Troy Aikman said as halftime approached. He pointed out that Atlanta had put 21 points on the board while having possession of the ball only 20% of the time (roughly). When I heard that, I pointed out  the inferential reciprocal of Aikman’s observation to my wife and our friend Stephen Silverman, who comes to watch SB with us: namely, if your offense is on the field only 20% of the time, then your defense is out there the other 80%  – and that’s a work rate that will wear any defense down and out, especially one like Atlanta’s, which emphasizes speed, speed and more speed.

And so it proved, I think. That New England managed to put its first points on the board just before the half was an omen, I felt. And in the second half, Atlanta played tired. In any pro sport, “tired” is a matter of degree, of course: taking 2-3 more seconds to get to Brady; losing a step to the Pats’ receivers, especially on crossing patterns (which Belichick and staff may have shortened downfield to give Brady a quicker shot); looser tackling; a general loss of crispness. You can’t play tired against Belichick and Brady, no matter how big your lead is.

I think the Atlanta offense and coaches saw what was happening, and it affected them. Their play-calling was terrible.  What ever became of Julio Jones? The blocking stank. To give up two sacks when within range of a field goal that would’ve sealed the deal was beyond belief and excuse. That’s where pride and desire, planning and execution, come into it. And collective character.

Like many others, I’m a bit ambivalent about the outcome. Normally, I’d’ve been for the Pats all the way. Brady is as good as I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen all the great ones going back to Otto Graham. Belichick has that magic; his genius extends beyond strategy to psychology. I love the way New England plays.  On the other side, everything I’ve seen and read indicates that Falcons owner Arthur Blank is a perfectly dreadful person.  But then I heard that Pats owner Kraft and Brady are big fans of the jerk in the White House and that caused a seismic shift in my game time affections.  Idiotic of me to ignore a lesson I learn every day in my home: don’t mix politics with love.

More later.

This brought to mind the photograph of the first meeting of Trump’s Business Council, with its chair, Blackstone’s Steve Schwarzman seated next to our president, looking as he always does like the little plump pig who swallowed the golden apple (bearing in mind that porkers are among the most intelligent animals; among my most cherished childhood reading was a series of books starring a shrewd, manipulative porker named Freddy the Pig – and then there are the porcine stars of Orwell’s Animal Farm). It would be interesting to know whether the following might have been discussed (from Politico):   STRIKERS LOOK TO TRUMP – POLITICO New York’s Jimmy Vielkind in Waterford: There’s an early test for President Donald Trump taking shape here at a chemical plant on the banks of the Hudson River: will he weigh in for the striking workers who helped vote him into office, or the executives who seem to have his ear? The contrast was made clear on Friday, when the Republican president huddled with a collection of CEOs at the White House in an advisory council chaired by Steve Schwarzman, head of the private equity giant Blackstone. At the same time, dozens of workers picketed in a freezing wind outside the Momentive Performance Materials plant for the 94th consecutive day. They talked about the latest round of givebacks demanded by the hedge fund managers who bought the plant when General Electric spun it off in 2006. It’s a group that, until recently, included Schwarzman. Many of the workers talked about why they voted for Trump, and said they hoped he would be true to the values of his campaign. “He’s going to know we’re here, and what we’re fighting is corporate greed,” said Ed Halse, 56, who has worked at the plant for 27 years. “I like everything he says. I just hope he does something.” http://politi.co/2l9w4EP

Here’s a bunch of interesting, possibly useful reading harvested over the last two days:

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/02/03/the-face-of-the-enemy-dupes-deplorables-opportunists-and-democrats/

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/trump-market-honeymoon-over-by-nouriel-roubini-2017-02?utm_source=Project+Syndicate+Newsletter&utm_campaign=508e1ada53-sunday_newsletter_us_subscribers_2_5_2017&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_73bad5b7d8-508e1ada53-93490385

http://lithub.com/just-a-penis-with-a-thesaurus-david-foster-wallace-on-john-updike-and-the-great-male-narcissists/

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/normalization-lesson-munich-post/

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/02/dont-side-neoliberalism-opposing-trump.html

 

2/7/17

I’ve yadayada’d  often enough about my contempt for Twitter, but now, with FB out of my life, I take a look daily, mainly to plump for this website but also to see what our president is up to. My wish is that Trump will remember me from my Observer taunts (“Prince of Swine” etc.) and respond, opening up the possibility of a real public pissing match. For instance, just now:

Trump tweeted: The failing nytimes was forced to apologize to its subscribers for the poor reporting it did on my election win. Now they are worse! To which I replied: have thought these the ravings of a nut – but deep stupidity is its own kind of insanity, I now see.

 Unfortunately, the thrust for which I had the highest hopes drew no response. Do recall that back in the ’60s I was on the board of Le Club with Trump. Here’s what I tweeted a couple of weeks ago: DJT always center of attention. In ’60s, much gossip at Le Club was about whether his d**k was as small as the models he dated said it was.
I thought that had the makings of a real winner, but so far no luck! The only response it elicited was a lese presidency scolding from a Georgia friend who should know better.
Busy day today so may not get much out. Anon. But first, apropos of my observations on the Met Museum: http://www.artsjournal.com/culturegrrl/2017/02/the-met-mess-in-the-ny-times-are-tom-campbells-director-days-numbered.html
I think this is very good. http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/02/universities-increasingly-choosing-capitalism-education.html From my experience as a trustee of Exeter in the 1970s I took away the firm belief that the key to a successful educational institution is the faculty. Period. Other constituencies internal and external – student body, administration (as distinct from teaching), parents, community – can take a back seat. Create a properly motivated, qualified faculty and the others will fall into place and into line. Exeter back then was prey to what I call “administrative metastasis” – deans within deans, new layers of admissions people – a syndrome that has since engulfed American education. We dealt with it by bringing a new Principal, gave him a good, stiff broom and told him to use it.
This, on the other hand, is horseshit (and I like Lloyd Grove): http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/02/07/why-media-organizations-shouldn-t-boycott-the-white-house-correspondents-dinner.html?via=newsletter&source=DDAfternoon  A key benchmark of social climbing is to attend functions celebrating people you don’t like or who don’t like you. As my father used to say, “The only thing worse than going is not being invited.” Which plays into my trope, “The media today are mainly interested in dining with  people they ought to be interested in dining on.
2/8/17
 Last night we went to see “House of Speakeasy” at Joe’s Pub at the Public. The idea is an interesting one: get four writers to speak about a set topic, which in theory will forestall them talking about writers’ usual favorite subject: themselves. The effort is seldom wholly successful; last night was no exception. Still, Joe’s Pub is a cool place, the food and drink (in my case, too much of the latter) good and the company was charming. One odd thing: writers are supposed to be careful with words and phrases. Last night the set topic was “Failing Upwards. The term is by definition derogatory. It does not mean overcoming adversity, handicaps or obstacles, which is what last nights Speakeasy writers seemed to think. Trump’s business career is a good example of failing upward: the worse his deals did, the richer he became. As are the careers of Hollywood directors who get signed to direct pictures with ever-increasing budgets despite one previous box-office dud after another.
1.Among my favorite writers is Joseph Epstein. He has a piece in today’s WSJ that hits the nail squarely. Here’s an excerpt (WSJ is firewalled, so I’ve copied-and-pasted):
I live in Evanston, Ill., a city of roughly 80,000 just outside Chicago at whose center is Northwestern University. Evanston went 88% for Hillary Clinton to 7% for Donald Trump. The morning after the election, the general glum in town was palpable. At Peet’s Coffee, at Whole Foods, among students, one could everywhere see the depression upon faces. An amiable young woman at the public library told me she went to bed the night before with tears in her eyes. A good friend wrote that he no longer recognized the country in which he had lived all his life.
I was not among the 7% who voted for Mr. Trump. I left the presidential portion of my ballot unmarked. Not that it much mattered, for Illinois is bluer than a Billie Holiday ballad. As for the result, I was simultaneously delighted to see the end of the Clintons, that Snopes family among our not very meritorious meritocrats, and less than elated to see a man so bereft of culture and magnanimity become our president-elect.
 Still, I had feared the country was sinking slowly downhill under Democratic leadership—with its stagnant economy; its foreign-policy failures; its sad identity politics; its poorly performing educational system, from central-city public schools to high-price universities. So I was, and remain, more than curious to see what President Trump and his largely plutocratic cabinet can do to pull the nation out of its slow but steady decline.
I find it of great interest that the congeries of yellow-dog Democrats, progressives, radicals and others aren’t even curious. They have already written off Mr. Trump & Co. as hopeless, selfish, dangerous and, let us not forget, fascist. Unable to accept that Mr. Trump is, for better or worse, the nation’s president, these people have contracted a malady I call Trump Trauma. Under its ill effects, Mr. Trump can do no right, and everything his administration does appears as grotesque comedy, except it isn’t really funny…
 Donald Trump is of course a gift that the gods have bestowed on the left-wing press. He allows it—daily, hourly—to do what it most enjoys to do: express outrage. He allows editors of the Nation and New Republic the frisson of imagining they are living in Germany in 1933. The New Yorker, which my friend Hilton Kramer once called the Nation in Ralph Lauren clothes, has joined the gang. Here are the headlines for its online postings this past Saturday: “Fear and Loathing in Trump’s America,” “The Deep Denialism of Donald Trump,” “From ‘Drain the Swamp’ to Government Sachs,” “Why Trump’s ‘America First’ Policy Is Doomed to Fail,” “For the Protesters at Standing Rock, It’s Back to Pipeline Purgatory,” and “Teaching Southern and Black History Under Trump.”…
Trump Trauma is a disease with a known cause but no known cure. But Trump Traumatics don’t want treatment. The condition makes those in its grip feel terribly good about themselves, on the right side of things, above all filled with virtue. Like jogging, treadmills, triathlons, Trump Trauma stimulates the release of endorphins. Hard to find all that at such low cost anywhere else.
3.
What you see above (courtesy of my daughter) is the birthday cake of disgusting Trump catamite Steve Schwarzman, expertly limned today by Yves Smith.http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/02/private-equity-slugfest-managing-partner-sequoia-slams-blackstone-chief-steve-schwarzman-new-york-times-op-ed.html Putting Skull and Bones under the caption “Yale” will surely set off a harrumph explosion in New Haven and elsewhere.
4.Be interesting to see how this http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/shrinks-break-silence-president-trump-exhibits-traits-m-article-1.2957688 matches up with Trump>Hitler analogies. On the strength of his compelling LARB “normalization” piece, here posted again,  Ron Rosenbaum should comment. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/normalization-lesson-munich-post/
6.This seems really well-argued: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/02/the-great-god-trump-and-the-white-working-class/ One interesting point: when you get to the end of the say, you may recall that a few days ago I speculated as to the possibility of Obama emerging as leader of  a “disloyal opposition.” Glad to see others thinking about this.
2/9/17
Micha Sifry gave a terrific defense of this thesis on NPR today. https://newrepublic.com/article/140245/obamas-lost-army-inside-fall-grassroots-machine He should read FIXERS. 
Not much today what with snow and finishing up a long piece for QUEST. We’re watching a wonderful film about gentrification, “Little Men,” that gets at the heart of the manner : how tricky – insoluble –  it can be for both sides of a difficult situation.  It goes well with another book I’ve just started: The New Brooklyn by Kay Hymowitz. The author’s at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank populated by a lot of very smart people in service of a lot of terrible retrograde ideas, but the takes I’ve gotten out of the book are smart and well-argued (“gentrification, for instance).  And, to repeat myself, Lucinda Rosenfeld’s Class, which is billed as a satire, is uneven in that department but still a rewarding read.
2/10/17
2. I find John Cassidy uneven, doubtless because it’s difficult for him to reconcile his knowledgeability and level-headedness with the doctrinal demands of his platform, as Remnick’s hysteria continues to propel the magazine leftward. That said, I think this makes a lot of sense: http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/why-does-donald-trump-lash-out-at-everybody
4. Home from my usual Friday nosh at Frankies 457 Spuntino to watch the ATT National Pro-Am from the Monterey peninsula. Just in time to see my pal Jerry Tarde, editor of Golf Digest, knock it stiff on the short 7th at PB. I want to write a piece titled “A Farewell to Golf” and should see if Jerry might want it. I doubt it: GD is about hello to golf. But for me, after 65 years of peg-in-ground, it’s time to pick up my tee for the last time. I’m old;I’m stiff – but worst of all, I’ve lost the burning love of the game that once lit up my life. 
5.http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/02/how-the-democrats-can-stop-neil-gorsuch A well-taken view of the perception that Obama’s narcissism, while not as vulgar and noisy as Trump’s, is right up there.
6.One of the most tiresome, self-congratulatory people in the art world is one Lee Rosenbaum, whose blog posts under the name “culturegrrl.” She’s one of those people whose objective is to show how “inside” she is. What she is, is the sort of yada specialist who art professionals  indulge and then go on about their business. Hre, at least in my opinion, is how she gets Tom Campbell wrong: http://www.artsjournal.com/culturegrrl/2017/02/buck-stops-with-the-ceo-holding-tom-campbell-accountable-for-the-met-mess-with-podcasts-video.html  Ask yourself, if Philippe had stayed on another year, what would have been the result – which doesn’t duck the “Macbeth” issue I’ve askEd about earlier.
See you tomorrow
2/11/17
Today’s NYT Arts has a review of the week in classical music just past. Why not a forecast of the week to come? With remarks on programs and artists, recordings, books etc. to prepare with?  Reviews shouldn’t simply consist of what happened, but should excite audiences about what’s coming up.
2/12/17
The latest issue of NYRB is a winner. Read everything. Jackson Lears on the theory of American Empire is especially good, and James Fenton on Duterte is downright frightening! On the losing side of the ledger, the NYT Sunday Barf, aka “Styles,” is worse than ever.
1.I hadn’t seen this before. I think Noonan’s demographic bifurcation into “protected” and “unprotected” is useful. What is the function of government if not to protect its citizens – and not simply from North Korean missiles and Isis bomb-makers but from the economic depredations of fellow citizens? That’s what Trump claimed to do. It’s what every politician, anywhere, mouths piously even as he sells out his ordinary voters. http://www.peggynoonan.com/trump-and-the-rise-of-the-unprotected/  I found Noonan’s essay linked to here (and this link in turn on Naked Capitalism): https://www.peakprosperity.com/blog/107011/coming-class-wars
2.My chum John Dizard on the still-shimmering derivatives bubble. Plus ca change…  Pecksniffian assurances from Wall Street (and regulators!) remind me of Talleyrand on the Bourbon dynasty: “They have forgotten nothing – and learned nothing.” https://www.ft.com/content/1726ae08-eee9-11e6-930f-061b01e23655 Regulation is no substitute for judgement or common sense, but most people, lacking both, believe it is – which perhaps explains why a good deal of regulation incorporates neither judgment or common sense.-
3.This interests me a lot, since I’ve always maintained that “inflation” has an alternative, equally significant meaning: an increase in price without a commensurate increase in utility. For instance: if the price of a gallon of gasoline goes up without a matching increase in mpg or btu output. Or if a dollar of political contribution buys a greater degree of two-facedness than it did last year.  http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/02/09/considerations-on-cost-disease/ Start with this: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-01-18/this-economic-phenomenon-is-making-government-sick How to relate rising medical costs to the value/actuarial curve of a given human life?
4.As a venerable if not venerated Yale alumnus of an era (I was ’58 – values etc then had more in common with 1900 than 2000) I think the renaming of Calhoun College makes sense. As someone who spent little time visiting Calhoun (it was populated by the sort of people who belonged to DKE), I had no idea that the decor of the college included stained-glass windows depicting “Ol’ Man River” plantation life, which I would think even Jeff Sessions might find offensive. These were probably put there by the same wag behind the carving in the facade of the Sterling Library (Calhoun and Sterling both date from the early 1930s) of the opening line of Sabatini’s Scaramouche, a pop novel of the time: “He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad”. Scaramouche: thou shouldst be living at this hour! The library is to be renamed for a female scientist-cum-military figure unknown to me, but a worthy designee, I’m sure. That said, I still like my original suggestion, forwarded to several powers-that-are at Dear Old Eli but never responded to: to name or rename a college for Levi Jackson ’50: first African-American captain of Yale football, first African-American elected to a senior society (Berzelius) and, after graduation, first full-fledged African-American executive at Ford. This would touch a number of desirable bases.
5.A long time ago, there was gossip going round – possibly (probably) urban legend – that Trump had promised Buckley a big donation if they took one of his sons, then welshed on it when the kid couldn’t hack it and left the school. http://pagesix.com/2017/02/12/trump-ties-to-upper-east-side-school-stirs-moms/
7.I know it’s shallow of me, but I hate to see someone with walk-in Oval Office access hanging with a host who looks like this or his coterie of invited D-listers;http://nypost.com/2017/02/12/deal-makers-looking-to-network-with-kushner-trumps-head-to-ski-weekend/
8.I don’t know if Media Studies/Broadcasting curricula incorporate a course called “Oleaginous”, but if one does, it should hasten to give CBS’s Jim Nantz tenure. It was Nantz’s performance, event in, event out (his work right now at the AT&T Pro-Am is as always world-class) that prompted me to coin the word “osculectomy,”  defined as the procedure required to break the bond between Party A’s lips and Party B’s butt when ass has been kissed so hard that a vacuum seal is created that can only be broken by surgical intervention.
9.

This is quite wonderful. People I’ve mostly never heard of badly dressed. I have heard of Adele, bu if Hubert de Givenchy were alive to see what’s been put on her back in his name, he’d seek a second evanouissementhttp://observer.com/2017/02/grammy-awards-2017-red-carpet-style/#slide10
OK BOWING TO PRESSURE I’M GOING BACK TO POSTING DAILY – WITH INTERMITTENT TWITTER REMINDERS. SEE YOU TOMORROW.

 

1/28/17-2/4/17…Are we truly living in Orwell time…

My apothegm for the New Year: Technology has made complexity too easy.

 

Much as I may disagree with the substance of Trump’s blizzard of executive orders, as much intellectual and moral revulsion as I feel at a lot of this stuff,  it strikes me that he’s doing exactly what he told his followers he would do. I know how confusing this must be to the “swamp dwellers,” and their coastal media catamites. They’ve operated for years on the assumption that a disconnect between what’s said and what’s done is perfectly OK, because, after all, they went to Harvard. What a shock it must be for such noble minds to find themselves confronted with a fellow who actually goes ahead and does what he said he going to do, and damn the Ivy League torpedoes!

1.Years ago, reporting a Golf Digest piece on the Hooters Tour, I met a young golfer named Tom Gillis. His game struck me as much better suited to European courses, and I urged him to seek his golfing fortune overseas. He did, and built a fine career, both in Europe and back here. He tweeted this today. I say Amen!  “Jason Day won’t speed up on the course. However he’s not afraid to hit into the group in front of him.”

2.Here’s an excellent long Saturday read that pretty neatly summarizes the pro- and anti-Trump economic currently buzzing in the talkasphere. http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/01/trumping-capitalism.html

 

1/29/17

1.I’m a fan of Zephyr Teachout: https://thebaffler.com/blog/zephyr-teachout-corruption-denison Here’s an observation that particularly grabbed me: “There’s lots of ways to see the Trump election. It has many different sources. But certainly one source is that there was an incredible desire to throw out what they saw as the elite corrupt establishment. And Trump’s conflicts of interest and Trump’s own corruption is really quite threatening and disturbing, and we can talk about that more. And maybe I shouldn’t have to say this but I absolutely didn’t support him and thought he was unfit to be president. But I think that you can really understand at least part of the impulse in electing him as coming from an anti-corruption impulse, even if you disagree with the way that impulse expressed itself.”  My feelings exactly: Trump’s election represents a laudable aim undone by repugnant means.

2.As a consequence of the blowback, both populist and legal, provoked by Trump’s executive order on immigration, I won’t be surprised to see him rush a Supreme Court appointment so as to have a majority when, inevitably, the matter reaches the high court. I believe that the Democrats in the Senate have the legislative means to prevent this in the same way McConnell’s GOP cadres held up Obama. But that will depend on Schumer, whom I don’t trust; as we used to say on the Street, “Schumer would sell his mother below the bid.”  A couple of days ago there was a photo of leaders in Congress of both parties clustered around Trump. The expression on Schumer’s face told me all I needed to know. I’m not informed as to whether my senior Senator does golden showers, but he has every other move a Trumpist whore would consider essential.

3.The existential resonance of algorithms is now so great that I think it behooves all who seek the examined life, even if not mathematically or scientifically adept,  to understand what they can. I found this article helpful: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/algorithmic-life/

4. Big Brother Watch: http://nypost.com/2017/01/27/whistleblower-site-for-wells-fargo-workers-vanishes/

5. Another smart writer. Don’t mind the source! http://takimag.com/article/humble_pie_in_short_supply_theodore_dalrymple?utm_source=Taki%27s+Magazine+List&utm_campaign=47e5061972-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f7706afea2-47e5061972-379408349#axzz4XBcuGXlp

6. Watching GOP standard-bearers like Paul Ryan fall into line reminds me of those awful moments during CBS’s Sunday golf telecasts when Jim Nantz, the Mozart of bootlicking and buttkissing, buries his unctuous snout up the posterior of the CEO of whatever insurance company is sponsoring this week’s PGA event.

 

1/30/17

Now 3 weeks since quitting FB. Doing just fine. No shakes or anxiety. Also no email or Twitter clamor for my return – which really says something! Hate to think what my fellow onetime sufferers are going through with this immigration business! Maybe it’s time to devise a ten-step AA-style withdrawal program.

1.(thanks Joe Pompeo of Politico Media).  I agree with Sullivan, who had a not altogether distinguished career as “Public Editor” of NYT,  but seems to be writing pretty acute stuff at WaPo, whatever that means. This country is dying of over-analysis, like psychiatry junkies I’ve known, analysis of every kind, from algorithmic data-massaging to Op-Ed chinstroking, and a lot of the conclusions reached seem to have been just plain wrong. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/more-facts-fewer-pundits-heres-how-the-media-can-regain-the-publics-trust/2017/01/29/9c0232ba-e4a7-11e6-a453-19ec4b3d09ba_story.html?utm_term=.c3c1535f396d 

2.I liked this a lot when I read it yesterday. I only hope he’s right. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/01/a-clarifying-moment-in-american-history/514868/

3. “Brooklyn Books”: First, The Brooklyn Nobody Knows: An urban walking guide by William B. Helmreich. This book’s had a lot of ink so I got it as a necessary addition to my NYC/Brooklyn shelves. Naturally, I turned first to the section on DUMBO, where I’ve lived now for 16 years. Talk about drinking the Kool-Aid! This section (I’ve read no further in the book) reads as if written by a real estate agent. The author speaks of “a neighborhood that treasures and promotes authenticity.” That’s just bullshit. Once you get past the exterior of certain industrial buildings lately converted into luxury condos, there’s no authenticity left in DUMBO. Like so many other neighborhoods, what may have been authentic about the place has been washed away by the sterile tsunami of money and attitude that the Bloomberg administration, which focused its affections on people who don’t really live in this city, set in motion. At night, you can set off a cannon in the street and hit no one. By day, however, it’s a different story: on weekdays, the streets are thronged with overpaid young tech-type people baying for organic-free lunch bars. On weekends, it’s tourists, drawn by the Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge Park – so many tourists wandering around taking mindless selfies that people like me don’t venture out. We have our high spots – how could we not? – like St.Ann’s Warehouse, three or four local restaurants that do a nice job, but the closest to a destination restaurant remains the River Cafe. I know this sounds awfully grumpy, and I’m the first to admit that I’ve no longer got the energy and orthopedic wherewithal to hop bars, but it does seem to me that Carroll Gardens, Prospect Lefferts, Sunset Park, even Park Slope,  have a feeling of place and ordinary humanity that has been expunged from this part of town. My other Brooklyn book, a novel this time, is Class, by Lucinda Rosenfeld. It’s about a youngish mother with a kid in school who’s conflicted by the upscale life and values she thinks she ought to crave for her daughter versus her social conscience. As so often in the city, the conflict boils down to school choice. I absolutely hated this book for the first 50 pages – “cliche city,” I thought –  but I stuck with it, and finished with a feeling of real enjoyment and respect. I’m making my wife read it; let’s see what she thinks. A strong argument for Class is the bad review it got in NYTBR from one Sloane Crosley, who writes chick-lit of the most ordinary sort but fancies herself a higher order of litterateuse.

 

3. OK – now who’s got the backbone to press this? http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/02/23/donald-trump-is-violating-the-constitution/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=NYR%20Trump%20Is%20Violating%20the%20Constitution&utm_content=NYR%20Trump%20Is%20Violating%20the%20Constitution+CID_b91aa8db00a30afa8a5b12b581fdad39&utm_source=Newsletter&utm_term=Trump%20Is%20Violatingthe%20Constitution

1/31/17

It strikes me that Obama, if he so chooses (and I suspect there’s a decent chance he will, given his age, his personality and his record), can conduct an activist “leader of the opposition” ex-presidency that could have real impact.

2/1/17

1.James Howard Kunstler: as usual, a vital font of irate common sense: http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/furor-time/

2.Someone somehow needs to get ex-Goldman COO now top White House hand Gary Cohn under oath to testify about this.  http://wallstreetonparade.com/2017/01/donald-trump-has-a-goldman-sachs-problem-derivatives/

3.Every thinking person should catch up on Tyler Cowen at least once a week. On Bloomberg and his own Blog, Marginal Revolution. Our politics aren’t really aligned; whether I’m  “a progressive conservative” or “a conservative progressive” I’m not sure, but both words are in there somewhere, varying in proportion to the idiocy of the proposition or situation under review. Here’s some pretty good Cowen: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-01-31/the-left-underestimates-trump-s-economic-plan?cmpid%3D=socialflow-twitter-view&utm_campaign=socialflow-organic&utm_content=view&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter 

2/2/17

1.Sleepless at 3AM is a good time for epiphanies, as Scott Fitzgerald more or less observed. I had a writerly one last night, one of those long nights when sleep just won’t come; not because the mind’s vexed with fretful or worrisome thoughts, but simply because of a kind of dopaminal confusion that bars the path to slumber. I’ve been thinking hard about writing a book about my life, mainly because my children insist on it. I’ve conceived what I think is a good, ingenious, original structure, but for whatever reason I can’t get down to the actual writing. What occurred to me in the wee hours of today is that some force buried deep in my mind, the mental/intellectual equivalent of a governor on an engine, has stayed my hand, in effect telling me “Don’t waste time; this really won’t work.” In other words, you gotta believe.

2.It may confuse followers of this website that I post, with praise, commentary from purported right-wing Op-Ed folks like Megan McCardle. I read this stuff for common sense, and when I find it, I post it, regardless of political coloration. This McArdle column makes sense to me. I happen to find many of the anti-Trump protests etc as self-destructive in real world terms as they may be laudable in motivation. Ends and means, guys, ends and means. https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-02-02/liberals-will-not-like-how-this-revenge-plot-ends 

3.I went to Super Bowl I in the LA Coliseum in 1967 and to about ten after that, including Joe Namath leading the Jets over the Colts in Miami (SB III). It was fun. Relaxed, easy, unostentatious. But gradually the Big Money took over. Now it’s disgusting. https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-super-bowls-private-jet-problem-1486060235

4.Being a “completist,” I’m catching up on “Homeland,” a show that has completely lost it.  Any illusion that the series  bears any relation to reality is dispelled by the final scene of the latest episode in which Carrie, now a resident of Brownstone Brooklyn, drives home after a busy, confused, made-no-sense day and finds a parking spot right in front of her house.

5.Confused guy of the day, having a “what the f***” moment: B. Netanyahu. Welcome to our president, Benny.

6. As the great trio in Faust begins, “Alerte, alerte – ou vous etes perdus”http://observer.com/2017/02/we-tried-a-michelin-star-version-of-silicon-valleys-plant-burger-that-bleeds-like-beef/

 

2/3/17

1.How stupid can you get? http://pagesix.com/2017/02/03/sarah-silverman-urges-military-to-overthrow-trump/?_ga=1.121027727.649613920.1455118452 This suggests that someone in the Trump opposition ought to do a Bannon and tell celebrities to shut up. Especially C-listers like Sarah Silverman. The opposition should go after Trump where he’s really vulnerable: where he lies, for example, to advance or support a particular policy. Put a microscope to his financial and business involvements around the world. Say nothing until the ducks are in a row.

2.How we came to live The Way We Live Now: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/02/why-the-maximize-shareholder-value-theory-is-bogus.html

3. Why I wrote FIXERS: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/02/02/how-we-the-people-were-screwed-by-obamas-bogus-recovery/ (thanks to my pal Alexander).

4. In case anyone’s worried where productivity went, a story on Snapchat in today’s NYT Biz section reports: “The average user opens the app more than 18 times a day, according to the prospectus, and the service’s users send more than 2.5 billion messages and images each day.” Then there’s this, written by a presumably educated person. Check out where she gets her Snapchat kicks. https://www.wsj.com/articles/whats-so-great-about-snapchat-anyway-1486133169?mod=cx_picks&cx_navSource=cx_picks&cx_tag=poptarget&cx_artPos=4#cxrecs_s

5.No comment necessary. http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/from-drain-the-swamp-to-government-sachs?mbid=nl_170203_Cassidy&CNDID=42793573&spMailingID=10362318&spUserID=MTM5NDI5NzAwMDY4S0&spJobID=1100272597&spReportId=MTEwMDI3MjU5NwS2

6. From Naked Capitalism:

Trump Plans to Undo Dodd-Frank Law, Fiduciary Rule Wall Street Journal. Two quick comments. Trump can’t “undo” existing law with an executive order. And the SEC’s budget is approved by Congress. We’ll see if this executive order is a handwave for his base or whether his team found a way to do some damage. Separately, the idea that Dodd Frank is stymieing business lending is a Big Lie. Big companies access the capital markets and to the extent they’ve been borrowing, it has overwhelmingly been to fund buybacks. Small business can’t get loans save for secured loans (against real estate, against equipment purchases) because banks pretty much exited small business lending in the early 1990s, since small business lending requires individual assessment. They’d quit training credit officers and turned retail branches into “stores” that only dispensed loans of the sort you could do based on FICO scores. Plus since the crisis, there isn’t much evidence that small businesses have found lack of lending to hinder their growth. Surveys show owners regularly citing lack of confidence in demand.

7. Well, you never know, do you? http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/01/30/3-ways-to-get-rid-of-president-trump-before-2020-impeach-25th-amendment-coup/

8.Get down on your knees and pray: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/02/steve-bannon-donald-trump-war-south-china-sea-no-doubt Caveat: Bannon expressed these views in March,2016 – before Trump was even taken seriously as a nominee. This is why people mistrust media. Alteration or distortion of context is a key element of propaganda.

9. Barf! Go Falcons! https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/02/01/magazine/the-uncomfortable-love-affair-between-donald-trump-and-the-new-england-patriots.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=2&referer=https://t.co/IIMWebr79l

 

2/4/17

1.No business like show business. On the one hand: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/03/arts/review-metropolitan-opera-rusalka.html?ref=todayspaper And on the other: https://nyoobserver.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/rusalka_met.jpg?quality=80

2. Glad to see N-Y Historical Society has mounted an important tattoo exhibition. Ten years or more ago, I forcefully urged Th Brooklyn Museum to do such a show, global in scope – in different societies, tattoos have varied cultural and spiritual significance – as opposed to the N-YHS show, which sounds very New York-centric – understandably so, given the venue. Given BM’s surrounding demographic, then less gentrified (ie white) than now, I thought such a shw would b a home run. Personally, I don’t like tattoos, especially on servers in restaurants,  but what do I know?

3.Time, I think, to rename “the Deplorables,” as Hillary characterized hardcore Trump voters. How about “the Stupids”? Trump (sorry – I can write either “Trump” or “the president” but can’t make myself write “President Trump”) has systematically re-empowered the crony system he swore to dismantle.  Hard cheese, suckers. He promised “to drain the swamp.” Looks to me like he’s pumping in more sewage. http://wallstreetonparade.com/2017/02/trump-to-sign-orders-today-making-wall-street-more-dangerous/ And This: http://www.commondreams.org/news/2017/02/03/spectacular-betrayal-trump-hands-economy-back-over-wall-street

4. Today’s NYT Op-Ed offers an appealing piece opposing Education nominee De Vos. It’s by Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and emphasizes nominee deVos’s ignorance of various longstanding policies and regulations, notably aid to students with disabilities. It seems that Sen.Hassan’s son suffers from cerebral palsy but has benefitted from educational opportunities and assistance offered by public-sector institutions. Well and good, and three cheers, say I – but Sen. Hassan might have mentioned that her husband was principal of Phillips Exeter from 2009-2014, which presumably helped.

5. Nothing cheers me more than the emergence of new, resonant critical voices at NYT. Yesterday’s Arts section carried a review of the Sisley exhibition at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich (CT). The latter is one of the inadequately recognized gems in our cultural diadem, and has gleamed brightly since the arrival in 2001 of Executive Director Peter C. Sutton, as formidable a museum all-rounder as can be found today (save for one glaring administrative deficiency: an indisposition to suffer fools gladly, or otherwise). Anyway, Farago’s essay-review recently impressed me as just what art criticism should amount to: knowledgeable, visual, original, zestful, focused on the work and the artist. Also on my A-list of bright young things are two NYT  music critics: Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim and Zachary Woolfe. Their stuff is unmissable, a relief from the tired voice of senior critic Anthony Tommasini (the same can be said of NYT art #1, Roberta Smith, although Holland Cotter definitely still has game). Check out the da F-W-Woolfe colloquy on Bruckner that ran last week in conjunction with Bareboim’s cycle with the Staatskapelle Berlin. Add these to Alastair Macaulay on dance, an art form I know nothing about but Alastair’s work is essential reading – I think he’s the best staff arts critic working anywhere on any art form – and NYT is building the critical equivalent of the Golden State Warriors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1/21/17-1/27/17…Into 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: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/a-trump-book-for-sale-at-the-national-history-museum-is-riddled-with-falsehoods/2017/01/20/adb72e24-de6d-11e6-acdf-14da832ae861_story.html?postshare=7841485046060802&tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.2eb88dc9a7bd

1/22/17

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.” http://nypost.com/2017/01/22/conway-trump-spokesman-gave-alternative-facts-on-inauguration-crowd/ 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. http://nypost.com/2017/01/22/saving-wollman-rink-made-trump-a-new-york-city-hero/

3. This will irritate people, but I think Goodwin gets it: http://nypost.com/2017/01/22/trump-defied-the-polls-press-and-pundits-to-win-white-house/

 

1/23/17

Still no FB withdrawal symptoms. I wonder if Wordsworth had FB in mind when he wrote “The world is too much with us, late and soon.”

Now begins the bad stuff. The inauguration last Friday, the marches around the world on Saturday, and usual Sunday suspension of work all had a vague feeling of unreality. Today back to business as usual – and that business starts with the dreadful awareness that Trump really is President! His performance over the weekend neither gives confidence nor bodes well. I wonder what would happen if Twitter closed down his account, the way they did with that alt-right extremist with the Greek name.

It would seem that, late in his career, with the shadows of marginalization closing in, and obliging him to think for himself, Larry Summers is yielding to principle: the real thing, not the opportunistic, finger-in-the-wind variety for which he is justly renowned. http://larrysummers.com/2017/01/20/disillusioned-in-davos/?curator=MediaREDEF

There is an illuminating piece on Trump’s prospective foreign policy by Jessica Mathews in the latest NYRB. https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/02/09/what-trump-is-throwing-out-the-window/  In this piece, however, Mathews makes one assertion I don’t entirely buy: “…by and large what works in real estate deals is not transferrable to international negotiations.” In today’s world, this may be less true than we like to think. Oh yes – and the misspelling of “transferable” is Mathews’ (or her copy editor’s.)

1/24/17

Day 4 without FB. The strange feeling of liberation continues.

1.Here’s a good example of the labor dilemma. Moveable jobs will to some extent go where the cost/hour of manpower remains lower even after throwing in transportation etc. But jobs that can’t be replaced overseas – such as drilling for oil – are increasingly vulnerable to automation or robotics: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-24/robots-are-taking-over-oil-rigs-as-roughnecks-become-expendable

2. Propaganda posing as “news”. https://www.aol.com/article/news/2017/01/24/trump-just-got-his-first-approval-rating-as-president-and-its/21661230/ Here’s the spin: “Only 45% of Americans approve of Trump’s job performance over the first three days of his presidency, according to a Gallup survey released Monday. It’s the first time a president has received an initial approval rating under 50% in the history of the poll, which dates back to Dwight Eisenhower’s first term in 1953. Another 45% of Americans disapproved of Trump’s performance — also the highest initial rating in the poll’s history. The last 10% had not yet formed an opinion.” Sorry, guys: I don’t like Trump – I think he’s on the verge of outright lunacy – but in the baseball rulebook, even for inside baseball, tie still goes to the runner. ”

3. Bret Stephens at WSJ has interesting ideas: http://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-the-readers-guide-1485216078 He’s sending me back to The Magic Mountain. 

4. I have a hunch this subject will be debated aggressively in coming months. http://www.chronicle.com/article/What-s-Wrong-With-Econ-101/238927?key=8KXTREb5_9Vj7FgHzdRcFnOp16yeZNbfgKDprflR_owG-xg7CWPnhrSBt6ZiolejWktJOE9PcEI2dXhWYkplOUJZZWZCSGFKdE9DRnZ6S2Y1cHBFVmRsZUVSaw

 

1/25/17

 

Without FB, every morning seems sunnier! And this evening is an event that I’m much looking forward to: a big reunion of us ex-New York Observer people. I started with the paper on its first publication, October 1987, and wrote “The Midas Watch” for the next 22 years, with a few times off for vacation, my trip to Drue Heinz’s writers’ retreat in Scotland and a couple of instances when I walked out in a state of high/low dudgeon. The number of amazing Observer alumni/alumnae doing great things throughout the media is fantastic. I stopped writing, finally, when the paper was acquired by Jared Kushner, now Senior White House Callowist (sic), since working for a proprietor whose father-in-law was regularly and routinely known to my readers as “The Prince of Swine” seemed unlikely to make either of us happy.

1 Every day, in every way, the scenario I posited in FIXERS seems more and more and more plausible. I especially like Yves’ indtrocuctory sentence: .http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/01/the-obama-administration-bails-out-private-equity-landlords-at-the-expense-of-the-middle-class-government-guarantees-for-rental-securitization.html

 

2. One of my favorite rules to think by is “Hanlon’s Razor,” which advises not to attribute to malice that which can as readily be explained by stupidity. The Trump administration seems ready to give poor Hanlon a real workout. Take yesterday’s meeting with the Big Three automobile manufacturers. According to NYT, Honda and Toyota weren’t invited to the meeting, although they and other overseas companies account for some 40% of domestic vehicle output. You’d think this might earn players on this scale a seat or two at the table, if only as a courtesy, considering that in the Far East, face matters. On the other hand, excluding them might be a good opportunity for a little considered “TPP in your face” hardnosed economic diplomacy. Put the former down as stupidity, the latter as malice, and place your bet.  Trump’s strictly a Zer0-sum player:  for him there are winners or losers, and little or nothing in between. Poor Hanlon- these are going to be busy times. Apropos of which: http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-loses-in-deal-with-automakers-2017-1?nr_email_referer=1&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_content=FinanceDaily&utm_campaign=Post%20Blast%20%28clusterstock%29:%20What%20you%20need%20to%20know%20on%20Wall%20Street%20right%20now&utm_term=Finance%20Insider%20-%20Engaged%2C%20Active%2C%20Passive%2C%20Disengaged

 

11/26/17

The Observer reunion was great fun. Both our glamor girls, Alex K. and Candace B. showed up and many other veterans in of those glory days in the media trenches.

1.OK This story reflects much of what’s wrong today with the political scene, and the country in general. http://patch.com/new-york/malverne-lynbrook/local-official-says-women-marchers-should-have-been-aborted The county clerk’s remark was crude and thoroughly disgusting. But parading in public dressed as a vagina is a juvenile and offensive way of protest marching. The one doesn’t offset the other; both are repellent. The story also makes clear how much we have lost a vital component of civic culture: dignity. It seems to be something people no longer care about: their own or anyone else’s.

2.Bill Black of U Missouri Kansas City is one of the most articulate observers of what’s wrong. Or he would be IF only someone (step forward, Yves Smith) could persuade him to write shorter. This is a fine article. http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/01/bill-black-not-4-sale-corrupt-worker-hating-new-democrats-must-purged.html But just try to wade through it. If it consisted only of the one following paragraph it would achieve far more:

“The white working class “abandoned” the New Democrats because the New Democrats abandoned the working class and chose instead to become the Wall Street-wing of the Democratic Party. Wall Street is scared to death of the democratic-wing of the Democratic Party. This is why it denounced Elizabeth Warren, when she was running for the Senate in 2012.

The political director for the US Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday morning that “no other candidate in 2012 represents a greater threat to free enterprise than Professor Warren.”

The comments about Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic Senate candidate, came as the the national business lobby handed its formal endorsement to Senator Scott Brown’s reelection bid.

“The American business community is tired of being lectured by Professor Warren,” said Rob Engstrom, senior vice president for political affairs and federation relations for the chamber.

The elite fraudsters that drove the financial crisis and the Great Recession were desperately “tired of being lectured” by a woman who skewered their attempts to evade responsibility. Warren kept pointing out the reality that the mythical “free” economic system Wall Street rhapsodized about was actually “rigged” by Wall Street to enrich Wall Street elites. Wall Street predated on the people. Like most successful predators, it was a parasite.

Wall Street viewed preventing her election as their highest priority in 2012. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has become a rabidly right-wing group devoted to Republicans, launched a blizzard of ads trying to defeat Warren. The Chamber’s mailers highlighted Third Way’s attacks on her as “catastrophically anti-business.” The message was that even Democrats knew that Warren was beyond the pale. Third Way’s co-founder authored that dishonest attack on Warren.

The New Democrats, at the behest of Wall Street, led the “long war” on the working class in conjunction with their Republican allies. Third Way (Wall Street on the Potomac) was desperate to prevent the most effective opponent of the Wall Street frauds from becoming a Senator.”

 

11/27/17

 

My wonderful eldest son Jeffrey turns 60 today!  Huzzah!

I have boasted that I seldom use Twitter. Call me hypocrite. But yesterday, hoping to draw the wolverine from his lair, I posted the following:  “DJT always center of attention. In ’60s, much gossip at Le Club was about whether his d**k was as small as the models he dated said it was.” A true story. Trump and I were on the board of Le Club in the late ’60s, and I recall such a conversation, centered on speculation as to how much p***y he might be getting, late one evening. The rejoinder, from whom I forget ( it was 50 years ago!), was probably not much, given reported anatomical shortcomings. To date, no angry response from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

1.Smart piece: http://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-tries-to-build-a-different-party-1485478386 I’ve said from the outset that Trump has asked many of the right and important questions; it’s the answers he’s given, and the way he’s framed those answers, that are troubling. He’s a piece of s***, granted. But his instincts have clearly shown him the paths to follow politically, and the way to light them. Any opposition needs to accept his propositions, abandon Obama worship (let the man himself shape an extraordinary ex-presidency to compensate for his so-so presidency) and devise its own “non zero sum” (winners and losers) rhetoric.

2.Why haven’t we heard from Malcolm Gladwell on Trump? Didn’t Gladwell write a book extolling decisions made on instinct and hunches?

3.From the latest New Criterion. No comment: Elsewhere in the republic of letters The cost of attending the University of Pennsylvania this year is $69,340. Bear that in mind as you savor the latest news from the university’s English Department. Students, upset that a portrait of a dead white guy named William Shakespeare was taking up valuable wall space in the department’s hallways, removed the picture and replaced it with a photograph of Audre Lourde, a black feminist writer. “Students removed the Shakespeare portrait and delivered it to my office as a way of affirming their commitment to a more inclusive mission for the English department,” said Jed Esty, chair of the department. He seemed quite taken with the gesture. “We invite everyone to join us in the task of critical thinking about the changing nature of authorship, the history of language, and the political life of symbols,” he said in an email. Right. As we mentioned, sixty-nine thousand three hundred and forty dollars. Save your money.

4.http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/01/james-f-on-hatred-in-our-divided-nation-anger-at-flyover-country.html This is exactly the way I see it:

“In 2008, Obama was really popular and he had the support of his own party. Obama failed to ram through his agenda because he refused to rally the people who put him into office. By the time the Republicans hamstrung his administration, he had already lost his momentum. Obama was defeated in the Massachusetts senatorial campaign and by his failure to support Wisconsin’s unions. McConnel’s obstructionism and Trump’s birtherism were obnoxious but they didn’t destroy Obama’s agenda. Failure to push for card check, Medicare for all, voter registration, prosecuting Wall Street fraud and war crimes, new trade deals, authorizing the extra-judicial murder of US citizens, and overthrowing the government in Guatemala, Ukraine, and Libya were the real disasters.

5.http://mashable.com/2017/01/24/netherlands-trump-viral-video/#48Dyr5hCVmqt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1/14-20/17…Onward!

1/14/17

Just when Trump seems completely beyond redemption, he does something that any decent, compassionate person must cheer: https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-01-13/trump-team-shunning-davos-gathering-of-world-s-economic-elite

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? https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-13/moody-s-to-pay-864-million-to-settle-subprime-ratings-claims 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: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/google-artificial-intelligence-812147?utm_campaign=artnetnews&utm_source=011417daily&utm_medium=email&utm_term=artnet%20News%20Daily%20Newsletter%20USE

 

1/15/17

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. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/12/intelligence-sources-vouch-credibility-donald-trump-russia-dossier-author?CMP=share_btn_fb

Of course, Woodward couldn’t possibly have his nose well up Trump’s bum, could he? https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/12/intelligence-sources-vouch-credibility-donald-trump-russia-dossier-author?CMP=share_btn_fb And this in a Murdoch paper?

You gotta love Taki: http://takimag.com/article/dames_be_damned_taki?utm_source=Taki%27s+Magazine+List&utm_campaign=a5045b3830-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f7706afea2-a5045b3830-379408349#axzz4VsWBtXh9  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.

1/16/17

This sounds very worth reading. Off to AMZ to order: http://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-didnt-kill-conservatism-1484265394

The sort of chap we need in our era? http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/01/14/the-vatican-spy-s-plot-to-kill-hitler.html?via=newsletter&source=DDAfternoon

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: http://observer.com/2017/01/trump-administration-monica-crowley-what-the-bleep-just-happened-harpercollins-plagiarism/

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 http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-get-beyond-our-tribal-politics-1478271810 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.

1/17/17

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.”  http://www.forbes.com/sites/melikkaylan/2017/01/10/what-the-trump-era-will-feel-like-clues-from-populist-regimes-around-the-world/#f19018c61aa1 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.

1/18/17

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. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/divided-states-of-america/ 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. 

 

1/19/17

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.” http://bit.ly/2k163mi    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.

 

1/20/17

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. http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/01/bill-black-letter-warren-buffett-charlie-munger-hiring-proven-whistleblowers.html  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. http://www.artsjournal.com/culturegrrl/2017/01/stumped-by-trump-momas-lowry-walks-fine-line-between-asserting-values-being-partisan.html  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. https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-01-20/trump-should-learn-from-kerry-s-cautionary-diplomatic-tale

6.I agree with a good deal of this. http://www.nationalreview.com/article/444036/barack-obama-legacy-next-jfk

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 ….

1/9/17

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”: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/01/andrew-bacevich-us-blew-post-cold-war-era.html

“Lest we forget” department: worth a reread: http://www.institutionalinvestor.com/Article/1020662/How-Harvard-lost-Russia.html#/.WHPR0bYrKDt Where are they now? http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2015/02/convicted-fraudster-jonathan-hay-harvards-man-who-wrecked-russia-resurfaces-in-ukraine.html

I like this guy a lot, too. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/08/blaming-fake-news-not-the-answer-democracy-crisis  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.”

1/10/17

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: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/09/barack-obama-legacy-presidency

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: https://nplusonemag.com/issue-27/politics/decolonizing-obama/

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: http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2017/01/10/Obama-s-Legacy-Corporate-Criminals-Too-Little-Too-Late 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: http://nypost.com/2017/01/10/politicians-have-left-the-city-one-crisis-away-from-financial-ruin/ 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. http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/01/jared-kushner-trump-administration-power.html

1/11/17

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

http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/01/donald-trumps-plan-to-keep-his-businesses-is-a-national-embarrassment?mbid=nl_TH_5876b4f8a57f7203699c9310&CNDID=42793573&spMailingID=10212462&spUserID=MTQzOTExNDk1OTIxS0&spJobID=1080934320&spReportId=MTA4MDkzNDMyMAS2 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: http://gothamist.com/2017/01/11/matt_taibbi_trump_clowns.php?utm_source=Gothamist+Daily&utm_campaign=bf4e70b865-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_73240544d8-bf4e70b865-238061 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.”

 

1/13/17

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: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/01/debate-health-care-yet-omits-elephants-room-excessive-costs-due-terrible-incentives-pricing-administrative-costs-pharma-looting.html I too feel like screaming.

I proposed this thirty years ago: http://www.golfwrx.com/422132/missouri-course-to-try-pay-by-the-hour-greens-fees/ 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: http://wallstreetonparade.com/2017/01/financial-crash-analysis-22-6-billion-in-homeowner-relief-7-8-trillion-to-four-wall-street-banks/ To which can be added this: https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2017/01/12/democrats-cant-win-until-they-recognize-how-bad-obamas-financial-policies-were/?utm_term=.e34c5fb79548 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.

 

 

 

 

 

1/8/17…Hmmm…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Image may contain: 1 person

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

1/5/17…So what’s new…

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

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

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

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

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

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