12/29/17-1/2/18….

12/29

Took a few days off to read, deal with family, wonder if, as 2018 approaches, I shall see the coming year out. Will do a wrap up, but for the nonce can say that I find Ron Chernow’s Grant quite simply one of the best-written books of my lifetime. Absolutely absorbing; the handling of stupendous research is graceful, the narrative flows, the whole man and his whole life are depicted and, it seems to me, captured. Right up there with Gibbon. I’ve sent 5 copies to friends and family already and more will surely follow. If I had one cavil, it would be that the book needs maps, but to do those in a manner that befits the elegance and comprehensiveness of the rest would surely make the volume impossibly heavy and costly. 

I really like this sort of thing. Gets the reflective juices bubbling. https://www.city-journal.org/html/age-outrage-15608.html

Incidentally, I found the above at Browser.com, a site a friend has just gone to work for. David Brooks cites Browser in his column today, and once I figure out how, I shall send a subscription to my family and a few friends. You might consider doing the same.

12/30

An excellent interview, full of good ideas, conducted and reported by my admirable friend Tunku Varadarajan: https://www.wsj.com/articles/report-from-the-cyberwar-front-lines-1514586268

I must say, I don’t see what’s wrong with the idea of a two-step digital identity card. 

So Chernow’s Grant  has taken me through Appomattox and the end of a monstrous war fought so that, among other things, a free people could someday put a lying, cowardly, ignorant pig in the White House. 

A disturbing observation: it seems today that when journalists confront a serious, newsworthy situation, their first reaction isn’t “How should I report this?” or “What does this really  mean?”  but “What am I going to Tweet about this?” Which makes them intellectually little better than Der Trump. 

This is Sam Clovis, the Trump campaign official who brought Papadopolous on board. How many words is a picture worth?

 

 

No comment: https://www.icij.org/investigations/paradise-papers/blackstone-group-uses-fairly-aggressive-tactics-slash-tax-bill/

12/31

Happy New Year, Bret Stephens: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/29/opinion/why-im-still-a-nevertrumper.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fopinion-columnists&_r=0

1/1/18

Today’s NYT Op-Ed offers David Leonhardt’s 7 wishes for 2018. I should like to add an eighth: that in future I be spared the anodyne, insightless piffle that Leonhardt offers as commentary.  

Last week we got a Christmas card from Sen. Michael Bennett (D, CO). Run-of-the-mill-stuff: I gave a bit of money to Bennett’s campaign a few years back, hence my presence on his Christmas card list. But the card got me thinking about Bennett, a smart, attractive, family-oriented candidate who I think could beat Der Trump like a drum. So why haven’t we heard much about or from him? Partly, I suppose, because Colorado politics needs sorting out; most states have zero attractive, ethical Democratic political figures; Colorado has two: Bennett and former Governor John Hickenlooper (who used to be married to my dear Observer  colleague Helen Thorpe). But also because Bennett may be playing the subtlest big-stakes endgame in politics today. He’s keeping his powder dry, and since that powder includes the affections of Michael Bloomberg (in whose house I met Bennett), formidable ammunition should the opportunity arise. Why not leave the impotent palavering to useless nothings like Schumer and Pelosi? See how events play out. The inhabitant of the White House, a delusional narcissist surrounded by yes-people, will cut his own tiny nuts off, given time and the absence of little grey cells (as I recently suggested to a friend: Der Trump has got North Korea exactly where they want him). So here’s my advice: keep your eye on Michael Bennett, a decent man and a proven winner.  

This recently came to my attention. It’s one of those impressive tours d’horizon that I like. That I missed it when it was published in mid-2017 is shaming (actually, I may not have missed it, but I’m too lazy and preoccupied to go back and check). Do read it! https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2017/05/new-class-war/    Here’s a sample:    If I am correct, the post–Cold War period has come to a close, and the industrial democracies of North America and Europe have entered a new and turbulent era. The managerial class has destroyed the social settlements that constrained it temporarily in the second half of the twentieth century and created a new kind of politics, largely insulated from popular participation and electoral democracy, based on large donors and shifting coalitions within a highly homogeneous coalition of allied Western elites. Following two decades of increasing consolidation of the power of the managerial class, the populist and nationalist wave on both sides of the Atlantic is a predictable rebellion by working-class outsiders against managerial-class insiders and their domestic allies, who are often recruited from native minorities or immigrant diasporas.

1/2

David Brooks has a commendable Op-Ed in today’s NYT .  His subject is tribalism. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/01/opinion/the-retreat-to-tribalism.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fopinion&action=click&contentCollection=opinion&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=3&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0  Here’s a statement that caught my eye (the Bruckner” to whom Brooks refers is a French intellectual, Pascal Bruckner):  Bruckner states that “…being guided only by the lantern of his own understanding, the individual loses all assurance of a place, an order, a definition. He may have gained freedom, but he has lost securityIn societies like ours, individuals are responsible for their own identity, happiness and success. “Everyone must sell himself as a person in order to be accepted.” We all are constantly comparing ourselves to others and, of course, coming up short. The biggest anxiety is moral. We each have to write our own gospel that defines our own virtue.” It seems to me that if you take the insecurity-out-of-individualism thesis to the next logical step you arrive at the key to the moral and social stranglehold social media has on those who are entangled in its coils. It’s all about “I am/have/am up to” with the implication that you might not be/have/be experiencing. In other words, social media are driven by envy as much as by any other moral, material or psychological force. 

 

 

12/18 – 12/24…..

12/18

A dear friend called late yesterday with the shocking news that Bob Wilmers has died. All things considered, I don’t hold much esteem for bankers – an antipathy that 2007-2008 and since has only only strengthened – but Bob was the exception. He built M&T into a real force and he was a most interesting man. There’s a special place in my pantheon for people I like personally and admire professionally, in each case without reservation. Bob was a good guy, a friend, a thoughtful cultivated man with a huge range of interests, real citizen of the worlds he moved in – from wine to journalism to finance. Bless him, bless his memory. http://buffalonews.com/2017/12/17/mt-chairman-wilmers-has-died/

I’ve often expressed my admiration for Matt Taibbi’s journalism. It seems that, in younger days, he had an “Animal House” phase. Who didn’t? https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/the-two-expat-bros-who-terrorized-women-correspondents-in-moscow/2017/12/15/91ff338c-ca3c-11e7-8321-481fd63f174d_story.html?utm_term=.839d5abd24b5

Wow! https://longreads.com/2017/12/15/this-is-how-a-woman-is-erased-from-her-job/

I’m a Kunstler fan, but there’s a point when you have to batten the hatches, lash yourself to the foremast and let come what may. Kunstler needs to dial it back. http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/the-darkest-hours/

This seems to support Kunstler’s thesis: https://www.wsj.com/articles/money-markets-are-going-haywire-blame-the-government-1513615194

12/19

Here are the first three items on “Dealbreaker” today. Considered together, weighed and plumbed for meaning beyond the numbers, these together constitute a pretty fair (and discouraging) picture of what a “financialized” economy amounts to: 

Broken bonds: The role Wall Street played in wiping out Puerto Ricans’ savings (CNBC)
A CNBC investigation found that UBS was not forthcoming about the extent of the risks of those bond funds from both its clients and brokers, even as the values of the funds plummeted. By the end of 2012, more than $10 billion in assets were invested in UBS’ bond funds. That represented about 10 percent of the island’s gross domestic product at the time. Today, those investments have been nearly wiped out.

Hedge Fund Managers Expect a 39% Bonus Bump (BBG)
Hedge funds climbed about 6 percent through the end of November, compared with a 2.8 percent rise for the full year of 2016, according to indexes tracked by Hedge Fund Research. “With assets not substantially increasing and with fees continuing to be under pressure, it may be wishful thinking that the bonus pools would have swelled so considerably,” Anthony Keizner, partner at Odyssey, said in an email.

Money Markets Are Going Haywire, Blame the Government (WSJ)
The sudden swings in the money markets and the spillovers into government debt show that banks aren’t responding in the way the regulators want. Instead of being less complex, better capitalized and smaller all year, banks are being managed to the targets set in the rules for December 31. That isn’t good for the financial system in the run-up to New Year, but it is utterly predictable for anyone who has ever looked at how humans respond to numerical goals.

12/20

Double Amen! No – make that a triple! http://burlington.org.uk/archive/editorial/the-burlington-contemporary-art-writing-prize

12/22

This is the must must MUST read of the day, the week, the year.  https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/the-most-frightening-aspect-of-trumps-tax-triumph

12/23

And now – for all decent people everywhere, this lump of stocking coal. I should note that Trump and Trumpism is simply the logical endgame of what I have called the Clinton Theory: that if everyone’s lying, no one is. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/22/us-ambassador-to-netherlands-describes-own-words-as-fake-news?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=257867&subid=23770632&CMP=GT_US_collection

Totally agree. Points up what a complete a**h*** Krugman has been on this subject. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/22/opinion/republican-tax-bill-hysteria.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fbret-stephens&action=click&contentCollection=opinion&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection

No comment needed: http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/2017-year-review/

Writing this awash in tears after watching the 1951 Alastair Sim “A Christmas Carol,”  the most perfect transmutation I know of a very great book into a very great film.  Blubbing because of the great story perfectly visualized and enacted; blubbing because it brings memories of my mother reading it to my brother and me in 1944 or 1945 (or did we hear it first read on the radio by Lionel Barrymore?); blubbing with thoughts of how much today’s money-crazed culture needs to read this (and the East Wing bedroom needs a visit from the Three Spirits). https://blogs.loc.gov/now-see-hear/2014/12/our-favorite-scrooge/

12/24 

Got to say this for the lump-of-coal guy. He sticks to his last (sorry for the mixed vocational metaphor). “Sharenting, a term to describe parents who actively share their kids’ digital identities online, is rampant in the United States, with 92 percent of toddlers under the age of 2 already having their own unique digital identity. As 2017 comes to a close, it appears to be a phenomenon that shows no sign of slowing down.” 92 f*****g percent! “Sharenting”? Are we nuts? Don’t answer that! https://www.thedailybeast.com/kids-dont-have-parents-anymorethey-have-sharents?via=newsletter&source=Weekend

In line with the above, I posted this a while back, but it needs to be reread and reread and reread…..https://medium.com/@jamesbridle/something-is-wrong-on-the-internet-c39c471271d2

In a few hours family will start to arrive. What a comparison, our modest celebration, the joy of reunion, with the image of Der Trump, with his fat ass and tiny cock (attested to by a generation of models and flight attendants ca. 1970), tarting it up in the halls of Mar-Al-Lago, extending his boots to be licked by the glitterati of Palm Beach, people who perfectly exemplify my father’s definition of “the upper crust”: a bunch of crumbs held together by dough. 

A MUST: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/12/andrew-sullivan-putins-first-year-in-the-white-house.html?mbid=nl_hps_5a3d4affcbb3bf3297923726&CNDID=42793573

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12/7-12/17….

12/7

Got my wife’s terrible cold. Mucus production worthy of a medical museum. 

Now: we need someone to construct an Excel-type spread sheet laying out the specifics of harassment alleged against various individuals. There’s too much vague speculation on offer. From what we know, the offenses range from rape (Weinstein) to the merely repulsive (Wieseltier, Weinstein again) to upskirt peeking (Matt Lauer) to styles of masturbation (Louis C K, others) but what did Charlie Rose DO? When a young woman states that an e-mail from John Hockenberry “made her uncomfortable,” what exactly does she mean? Did he write, “I’d like you to give me a BJ” or was it “You look cute today”? My money leans toward the latter, which I don’t consider harassment, and if the young lady does, she’s too stupid to hold a job at NPR. At WNYC, Leonard Lopate professes utter puzzlement at allegations about him; I’ll buy that. On the other hand, my antipathy toward Matt Lauer is so pronounced that I’ll jump to put the worst construction on any allegation concerning him. Bottom line: I suspect that a ton of office flirting has been transformed by the combined alchemy of allegation, victimism, identity thinking and rumor into much more dire sexual overtures.  

This is smart: http://teasri.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/government-deficits-financial-view.html?utm_campaign=Dealbreaker%20Opening%20Bell&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=59169286&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-90u3zkv2i3bI5dG9So2tY7m49VYIFPHLN8EiqtCyNLAfxa5dLXNuPWUD_lyPrGmXiGCJe1ewTC7gYlQMZtFLRZuw19yQ&_hsmi=59169286

For  a truly revelatory insight into the dim-wittedness of 90% of the Internet: https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/434gqw/i-made-my-shed-the-top-rated-restaurant-on-tripadvisor?_hsenc=p2ANqtz-90u3zkv2i3bI5dG9So2tY7m49VYIFPHLN8EiqtCyNLAfxa5dLXNuPWUD_lyPrGmXiGCJe1ewTC7gYlQMZtFLRZuw19yQ&_hsmi=59169286&utm_campaign=Dealbreaker+Opening+Bell&utm_content=59169286&utm_medium=email&utm_source=hs_email

Why I admire Bret Stephens: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/07/opinion/four-questions-american-greatness.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region&region=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region

The Mystery For The Ages: Bitcoin! https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-12-07/bitcoin-has-had-a-string-of-bad-news-and-nobody-cares?cmpid=BBD120717_BIZ&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_term=171207&utm_campaign=bloombergdaily

Yesterday I posted a solid piece of analysis of last year’s election from The Atlantic: here are some numbers I really find interesting (and in their way disheartening): “Trump defeated Clinton among white voters in every income category, winning by a margin of 57 to 34 among whites making less than $30,000; 56 to 37 among those making between $30,000 and $50,000; 61 to 33 for those making $50,000 to $100,000; 56 to 39 among those making $100,000 to $200,000; 50 to 45 among those making $200,000 to $250,000; and 48 to 43 among those making more than $250,000. In other words, Trump won white voters at every level of class and income. He won workers, he won managers, he won owners, he won robber barons. This is not a working-class coalition; it is a nationalist one.”

Dickhead’s tweets today are all about Pearl Harbor. It never ceases to amuse me how much pleasure liars and cowards get from tooting the militarist trumpet. Who do they think they’re fooling? 

12/8

This is so great! It is to declasse what Hamlet  is to theater. https://www.thedailybeast.com/trump-show-us-the-receipts-if-summer-zervos-is-lying

And now – turning from the utterly classless to the utterly classy – I am very much looking forward to the HBO documentary on Gianni Agnelli. I knew him the tiniest bit but used to observe him fairly frequently in St.Moritz. Don’t let the name of the fancy resort in the Engadine imply airs on my part. My Swiss stepmother of 50 years, Poppi Thomas (nee Ruppaner), came from there. Her father, Ernst R., was the top doctor in the Engadine (still, incidentally, as beautiful a place as I know), and her ties to the valley were deep. She even spoke Romansch, the ancient language of the region (perhaps 30,000 in the world speak it, perhaps less). After my father died in 1977, and Poppi grew older, the call of her birthplace intensified and she bought a little house on the hillside overlooking the Suvretta House. I and my family would visit her there. Because I was a member of White’s, the self-regarding London club, I could get a guest card to the Corviglia Club, the plebians-need-not-apply gathering place at the summit of the cog railway. The Corviglia was the natural habitat of l’Avvocato (“the Lawyer”); there he could be observed at the top of his game. Ah, those, those were the days – and what a man he was: elegance personified.   

 

12/11

Lost the weekend thanks to this merciless cold. 

Now this responds to another of those Internet-generated “stories” that I think are absolute balderdash: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-12-11/is-alexa-really-eavesdropping-on-you-jb25c6vc      We got an Alexa and like it a lot. It plays music and radio for us, period. If it’s eavesdropping on conversations in this apartment, so be it. I think that most security/surveillance concerns are expressed by persons who wish they were important enough to merit attention. That’s the thing about the Internet: it may be many things, but as a medium for self-puffery it’s unsurpassed. I might add it also gives voice to the truly insane, like this “alt-right” fellow Cernovich, who we heard on a memorable NPR segment. That’s a side blessing of the Internet I never thought about until now: in ordinary life, most of us never encounter people who really are nuts, so we have no idea what they sound like up close and personal. Now, thanks to the ‘Net in all its forms, we do – starting with the White House. 

Department of “No shit, Sherlock!”:https://dealbreaker.com/2017/12/in-order-to-prove-that-he-analyzed-his-own-tax-plan-steve-mnuchin-releases-one-page-analysis-proving-that-he-didnt-score-his-own-tax-plan/?utm_campaign=Dealbreaker%20Daily&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=59275192&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–34kZZLs1qWZktYmy-q-_gHHc4TkXw8oJL3GBSSo22IH-i25mk41uHJw5LtrG3uwKa2oSIF_Jlr_eUvoGkQtYWK369LQ&_hsmi=59275192

12/12

Amen. https://www.currentaffairs.org/2017/10/why-you-hate-contemporary-architecture

I admire Stiglitz more for his clarity of presentation than his originality – althoughin this time of “alt-right” and Trumpspeak, who’s to say that clear and creative aren’t virtually synonymous:  https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/globalization-of-discontent-by-joseph-e–stiglitz-2017-12?utm_source=Project+Syndicate+Newsletter&utm_campaign=392dbac202-sunday_newsletter_10_12_2017&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_73bad5b7d8-392dbac202-93490385 

12/13

This is an interesting report about the efforts of Breitbart etc. to character-assassinate Matt Taibbi, a journalist I admire without reservation. It concludes with an important question: “…What are we to do with old humor that time strips of context?” https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2017/12/the-destruction-of-matt-taibbi.html Trump and the vermin who congregate in his shadow clearly represent the (sad to say) inevitable apotheosis of the Clinton Doctrine that if everyone’s lying, no one is. The Clintons left a trail through the public life of this country that strikes this observer as the equivalent, in moral terms, of the slimy track left by garden slugs on a lawn. 

In the world of money, there’s no one I respect more than Stanley Druckenmiller. He’s a friend I admire both for his private values and his professional attainments. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/12/12/druckenmiller-calls-hedge-fund-loophole-in-tax-reform-outrageous.html

A rare occasion when the Internet actually serves the public weal: https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/12/reform-candidate-calpers-board-margaret-brown-beats-incumbent-decisively-staff-board-apparently-shell-shocked.html

 12/15

I have written of my hope that Michael Bloomberg will seize on the current disorder emanating from the White House and organize a national initiative – let’s call it “The Unity Initiative” or “Unity Coalition”-  built from the ground up – mayors, state legislators and the like – to oppose the New Autocracy. Let’s pray this is a first step. https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-12-15/this-tax-bill-is-a-trillion-dollar-blunder

Here’s an interesting quote: “Yet Trump is making the same mistake that Barack Obama made in his first two years in office — believing that his party’s congressional majority gives him license to govern without the other side.” Obama’s “mistake”? I’m not so sure. Read my novel of last year, Fixers. 

Since Larry Summers was knocked off his horse on the Damascus Road, so to speak, he’s become positively agnostic. And worth listening to. Since nothing Trump, McConnell or Paul Ryan has ever advocated has been less than crooked, this is worth reading: https://www.project-syndicate.org/onpoint/robert-barro-s-tax-reform-advocacy-a-response-by-jason-furman-and-lawrence-h–summers-2017-12?utm_source=Project%20Syndicate%20Newsletter&utm_campaign=9104a12024-op_newsletter_2017_12_15&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_73bad5b7d8-9104a12024-93490385&barrier=accesspaylog 

I’m not sure what I think – or what to think – about Adam Gopnik. After reading this, I remain puzzled. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/dec/08/adam-gopnik-interview-portrayed-monster-privilege

11/17

Lee Child’s new Jack Reacher book, Midnight Line, has gotten rave reviews. I found it utterly disappointing: tiresome, full of pointless topographical detail (more than once you’re crying out for a road map) – including one sequence that consumes a lot of paper in which Reacher sneaks up on an enemy position only to find it unmanned – and in general weary, flat, stale and unprofitable. I have written some of this stuff, and I appreciate the difficulties of writing a “one big idea” thriller: in this instance the “big idea” is Reacher investigating how a West Point ring (“The corps, and the corps, and the corps”) came to end up in a pawnshop window. The issue is: how does one build on the idea. The easy answer is to bring one’s pet memes marching onstage like the parade f the wooden soldiers.  There are two kinds of page-turner, defined by the rate at which the reader turns the pages: steadily, one at a time, savoring twists of plot and characterization, or rapidly, in increasing gobs, as boredom and impatience set in. Moreover, Child has bred his own stable of cliches (Reacher taking on a bunch of local toughs all at once etc etc). In Midnight Line he deploys them all. 

Roubini’s an irritating sort – but perceptive: https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/trump-populist-plutocracy-by-nouriel-roubini-2017-12?utm_source=Project+Syndicate+Newsletter&utm_campaign=8765cd8f13-sunday_newsletter_17_12_2017&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_73bad5b7d8-8765cd8f13-93490385

This is great! https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/16/matthew-peterson-judges-robes?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=257011&subid=23770632&CMP=GT_US_collectionAnd this  is my idea of how to make an important point:” It’s worth making the blindingly obvious hypothetical comparison to a notional nominee under the last president. Let’s say Barack Obama had put forward an utterly unqualified person for a lifetime judge’s job – someone so useless that they hadn’t even boned up on basic legal terms any judge would need to know. And let’s say that nominee was a person of color. What do you think the public reaction would be?”

Extremely worthwhile. Yves as usual on the ball. https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/12/matt-bruenig-actually-happened-alabama.html     “In other words, while blacks turning out at high levels for a special election was important, there was no way Jones could win without significant support from whites. And as Brunig shows, the swing in the white vote was what was responsible for Jones’ win, contrary to that the Might Wurlitzer of orthodox opinion has been pumping out.”

A useful tour d’horizon: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/the-year-of-being-completely-overwhelmed-by-trump-w513802 

Very very very interesting: https://www.ft.com/content/e2dd5536-e0b2-11e7-8f9f-de1c2175f5ce