The art world has been buzzing last night about the Basquiat painting for which a Hong Kong collector paid $110 million. Too much? Maybe, comparatively speaking, at least to my eyes, not that much. I think – have thought practically from the outset – that Basquiat was the best painter among those who came on the scene when he did and have gone on to be auction-house star attractions. His color sense is amazing, his images arresting; his “wall presence” compelling; I would love to own one. Forget the $110 million bid last night. To me, if one converts artistic quality, originality and interest into dollars, Basquiat is worth five times what anyone’s paid for a Richter, which works out roughly $250 million, and twenty times  the top price ($17 million) so far (and, I suspect, forever), for Christopher Wool, or $340 million. Next to those numbers, $110 million looks pretty cheap.

Yesterday I was in my office when suddenly the air went all aflame with schadenfreude as my wife rushed in to tell me that Roger Ailes had died. After she retreated, suitably rebuked on grounds of simple humanity if not ideology, I reflected on Ailes. His was a remarkable talent for turning pigs’ ears into silk purses. He made a star out of Sean Hannity, one of the most repellent media figures of my lifetime, who makes Rush Limbaugh sound like Logan Pearsall Smith. He took a man with the face of a Jersey City priest defrocked for molesting choirboys, one William O’Reilly, and made him a superstar. Only today it is disclosed that Mitch McConnell, truly one of the most dreadful, dishonest and cowardly legislators I have ever observed, owed his first election to Ailes. And of course Ailes’s greatest feat must be reckoned to be the part he played in getting Trump to the White House. But in the latter context, one cannot help reflecting that was as great as Ailes’s gift for talent-spotting and talent-engendering, he was – like Trump – lucky in his enemies. Fox News treated politics as serious business, of mortal importance. The opposition – the Jon Stewarts, the Colberts (I loathe Colbert!), the MSNBC and CNN opinionators -treated politics as an excuse for showing off, a receptacle for ever-so-clever irony ever-so-far over the heads of HRC’s “deplorables,” surely the ugliest, best cause-for-defeat epithet ever uttered by a candidate for high office. There’s a passage in Henry IV, Part One that perfectly characterizes the so-called “progressive” style.

Hotspur, a character O’Reilly would be perfectly cast as, speaks:

My liege, I did deny no prisoners.
But I remember, when the fight was done,
When I was dry with rage and extreme toil,
Breathless and faint, leaning upon my sword,
Came there a certain lord, neat, and trimly dressed,
Fresh as a bridegroom, and his chin new reaped
Showed like a stubble land at harvest home.
He was perfumèd like a milliner,
And ’twixt his finger and his thumb he held
A pouncet box, which ever and anon
He gave his nose and took ’t away again,
Who therewith angry, when it next came there,
Took it in snuff; and still he smiled and talked.
And as the soldiers bore dead bodies by,
He called them untaught knaves, unmannerly,
To bring a slovenly unhandsome corse
Betwixt the wind and his nobility.
With many holiday and lady terms
He questioned me; amongst the rest demanded
My prisoners in your Majesty’s behalf.
I then, all smarting with my wounds being cold,
To be so pestered with a popinjay,
Out of my grief and my impatience
Answered neglectingly I know not what—
He should, or he should not; for he made me mad
To see him shine so brisk and smell so sweet
And talk so like a waiting-gentlewoman
Of guns, and drums, and wounds—God save the mark!—
And telling me the sovereignest thing on earth
Was parmacety for an inward bruise,
And that it was great pity, so it was,
This villanous saltpeter should be digged
Out of the bowels of the harmless earth,
Which many a good tall fellow had destroyed
So cowardly, and but for these vile guns
He would himself have been a soldier.

Ailes’s genius was to have his players speak to their audience’s pain and anger. For Stewart et al, pain and anger were unfit seed-grounds; irony was to be all. Smartass instead of passion. Zero empathy. And over the decades, the progressives lost the gift of commitment, no longer knew how to do real fire and brimstone, could only do shrill and snarky (look at Samantha Bee’s terrible show!) and Krugmanesque technowhine. Keep your friends close, goes the saying, but keep your enemies closer –  and when you have enemies like these, buy ’em dinner! Hell, they’re the best assets you have!

Moving on….

Alert! http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/05/notes-from-an-emergency.html

Always on point: https://www.wsj.com/articles/democracy-is-not-your-plaything-1495149082

High-class guys doin’ high-class “bidness”: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-05-19/-ringing-the-register-homey-citi-traders-revel-as-lehman-dies 

A prime candidate for what Naked Capitalism calls “Guillotine Watch.” I know the parents or grandparents of a number of these young “ladies.” (sic) Obviously such a thing as “upbringing” no longer exists: http://www.sothebys.com/en/news-video/blogs/all-blogs/all-that-glitters/2017/05/white-baaz-debut.html?cmp=email_Magazine___selects_white_baaz_button5_19-may-2017