10/18-10/24/17…

Yesterday, time and energy were consumed by the semiannual meeting of the Robert Lehman Foundation, my sole remaining institutional connection, a board I’ve been on since the Foundation’s establishment some 45 years ago. We do good work in the service of art history and the arts generally, from high scholarship to bringing the arts to underserved communities and constituencies.

10/18

Let’s start with this: http://www.businessinsider.com/healthcare-costs-could-spur-the-next-recession-2017-10?utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=57483842&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–3zClSJxbcLtsn1bA5xkoQtV_XrGrZDD1noT8yCl1M3aaVLG5okerOVePqkAIkx47T2Y9FUTVxv102zxdzhCvsXriC2w&_hsmi=57483842 

I must say, it is funny how life works. There’s definitely a point at which the signs are clear that one is superfluous to requirements. when no one really gives a damn what you think or have to say and is therefore unencumbered by common small courtesies. For me, that point has obviously been reached. For instance, I recently completed an article at my normal length (1500-2000) words and was promptly advised that 800-1000 words was what is wanted. The cut was easy. I write in a baroque style, with trills and ornamentation, so I simply cut these out. My emails go unanswered. This is in its way sad-making, except for…

The time it provides to read. I was curious about Jennifer Egan’s new novel Manhattan Beach. It was strongly reviewed in NYTBR by Amor Towles, a writer I admire. It’s about World War II in NY Harbor and that summoned up resonances of October, 1945, when my brother and I, age 9 and 7 respectively, went on board the great carrier Wasp, our “honorary uncle” Joe Clifton commanding, when it arrived at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for postwar refitting to bring troops back from the Pacific. I can only say this. Manhattan Beach  is wonderful. ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL!  Read it, I beg you! They don’t make novels like this any more.

10/19

From “Bloomberg Technology”:

“Tracking TV “viewers” was simpler when there were only three U.S. networks, although Nielsen’s statistical techniques have been questioned even in the relatively prosaic TV era. It is clear that as internet entertainment fragments how people spend their leisure time, it is simply tougher to track all the things we watch. And companies including Netflix can benefit from the confusion.

“In advertising, too, the migration of audience and advertising to the web hasn’t fulfilled the promise of clarity. The rough and probably wildly wrong ad metrics from magazines and TV have been replaced by specific metrics that drown people in information about “engagement” and “likes” but don’t necessarily make it clear which half of their advertising is wasted.

“And then there’s a whole industry built around fleecing companies that purchase ads. My Bloomberg colleagues wrote a great article a couple of years ago about how fraudulent advertising works on the internet, and it’s worth re-reading. Suffice it to say, lots of companies are paying for advertisements that no human being ever sees. BuzzFeed also detailed this week a complex ad fraud ring.

“Yep, the internet sure is great. Or at least it’s great at lies, damn lies and statistics.”     Compare this to your own views. I skip or click past 90% of the ads that pop up on my screens. 90% of what I buy on Amazon has been recommended elsewhere, usually in print media.

Why I always read Michel Hudson. https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/10/michael-hudson-socialism-land-banking-2017-compared-1917.html

Interesting – from an unlikely source: https://theweek.com/articles/729324/why-america-coming-apart-seams

10/20

Theodore Dalrymple, a writer I greatly admire, addresses a subject that has fascinated (and appalled) me for years: the saturative prevalence of tattoos. Obviously in some societies and orders, tattoos have a quasi-religious significance or utility. In our secular religion – the cult of “me” – the same would appear to apply. A few years back, I urged Arnold Lehman, a good friend and then Director of the Brooklyn Museum, to do a universal tattoo exhibition. A better venue for this than Brooklyn I could not imagine. Didn’t get done. I believe it might have drawn a million.Anyway, see what you think: https://www.newcriterion.com/issues/2000/6/exposing-shallowness

10/22

At the risk of jail time, I’m reprinting this from WSJ (the paper operates behind a paywall, but based on how much I have to pay for my WSJ subscription and the limited readership of my own gratis website I feel a modicum of guilt but no fear). It’s a first-rate piece by Christopher Mims about Facebook’s master algorithm. What I find interesting is the author’s emphasis on the essentiality of  human  inputs to the equation, which is driven by Artificial Intelligence:

Instagram engineers faced a Herculean task in early 2016. Fearing that people would miss the most important posts, Instagram’s leadership asked the engineers to transform the chronological photo feed into a curated list of posts based on users’ individual preferences.

Development of a similar algorithm for Facebook ’s News Feed, which determines what 2 billion Facebook users see, required an enormous investment of time by some of the world’s most highly compensated engineers.

At Instagram, three or four engineers got the job done in less than five weeks, says Joaquin Candela, Facebook’s head of applied machine learning. The team was able to clone the existing News Feed algorithm, then tweak it to suit Instagram.

However much Instagram’s engineers tweaked it, the fact that most of what powers Instagram came straight from Facebook’s News Feed shows the dominance and success of this basic engine of social media. Think of it—and the endless, modular chunks of AI that go into it—as Facebook’s master algorithm (my words, not Facebook’s).

If telling us what to look at next is Facebook’s raison d’être, then the AI that enables that endless spoon-feeding of content is the company’s most important, and sometimes most controversial, intellectual property. A sorted, curated feed tuned for engagement is the product of a device that may someday be viewed by historians as a milestone on par with the steam engine.

Only this engine, built to capture human attention, has shown itself to be exploitable by bad actors and possibly detrimental to our democracy, even when it is functioning as advertised. This has prompted congressional hearings for Facebook and other tech companies, scheduled for November. Facebook has been a vessel for Russian influence and the spread of fake news, and a potential cause for envy and unhappiness. The personalization of content that Facebook’s master algorithm allows, and the hyperpartisan news sites that have risen to feed it, have created, for many users, personalized “filter bubbles” of what is essentially nonoverlapping reality.

At the same time, the company’s announcement that it is hiring more humans to screen ads and filter content shows there is so much essential to Facebook’s functionality that AI alone can’t accomplish.

AI algorithms are inherently black boxes whose workings can be next to impossible to understand—even by many Facebook engineers. “If you look at all the engineers at Facebook, more than one in four are users of our AI platform,” says Mr. Candela. “But more than 70% [of those] aren’t experts.”

How so many Facebook engineers can use its AI algorithms without necessarily knowing how to build them, Mr. Candela says, is that the system is “a very modular layered cake where you can plug in at any level you want.” He adds, “The power of this is just hard to describe.” Pieces of that platform are performing all kinds of “domain-specific” tasks across Facebook’s properties, from translation to speech recognition.

Information Butler, or Time Vampire?
Every time one of Facebook’s two billion monthly users opens the Facebook app, a personalization algorithm sorts through all the posts that a person could theoretically see, and dishes up the fraction it thinks she or he would like to see first. The system weighs hundreds of frequently updated signals, says Mr. Candela. Without AI, many of these signals would be impossible to analyze.

An example of updated signals would be Facebook’s recent fight against clickbait—links to stories that are “misleading, sensational or spammy.” Training the algorithm takes human labor: A team analyzed hundreds of thousands of posts in 10 languages, flagging offending headlines that either withheld information (“Here’s the one thing…”) or exaggerated (“…will blow your mind”). The resulting system autonomously scans links, suppressing the ones that match what it learned from the human-generated data.

Facebook’s master algorithm now also can extract additional meaning from our posts and photos, Mr. Candela says.

The “recommendations” feature, for instance, allows a person to ask what to check out on a trip to Barcelona. Because Facebook’s AI actually “knows” what La Sagrada Familia is and where it is located, anyone who recommends it in a comment will see it pop up on a map above the post.

These capabilities are versatile enough that Facebook users have repurposed them in unexpected ways, Mr. Candela says. When Hurricane Irma hit Florida, people used Facebook to build a map of stores with bottled water for sale. The person who created the post activated the “recommendations” feature; others added to it simply by commenting on the post with retailers’ addresses.

Mr. Candela says teams add new features to Facebook’s master algorithm to “add value to social interactions.” Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg recently said the company’s goal was to “bring the world closer together.”

However it is phrased, it is measured in the way people engage with Facebook’s apps and networks, whether that is increasing the number of posts they like or comment on, or how useful they find machine-translated posts, or how often they use M, Facebook’s Messenger-based smart assistant, Mr. Candela says.

Time spent on Facebook’s various properties correlates with the company’s revenue, and that number was going up at last report: In April 2016, Facebook said it was capturing on average 50 minutes of every American’s day, up from 40 minutes in July 2014.

The unstated assumption behind the work of Facebook’s more than 20,000 employees is that getting people to use Facebook more is a good thing. It is certainly hard to imagine a world without it, given how it has become central to the way we connect, find news and keep up with friends and family.

But given what we have learned over the past year, it is worth asking whether the intentions of the hugely powerful Oz that is Facebook’s master algorithm are ultimately benevolent or malign.

Well, so it’s not going to be a replay of the Dodgers-Yankees World Series that punctuated the Octobers of my boyhood (Yankee victories in 1947, 1949, 1952,1953 with Dem Bums finally breaking the string in 1955). Somewhere in there I went from being a rabid Yankee fan to a Yankee-hater, a “surprising conversion” worthy of Robert Lowell’s poem on the subject, but now I’ve reconverted to the Bronx Bombers. You just can’t not root for these kids! As Dodger fans declared (it seemed) every autumn: “wait ’til next year!”

And now this: https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/10/enlightenment-enlightenment-now.html

As a character in Fixers asks, “Whatever happened to compassion in this country?” http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2017/10/20/spreading-trump-salt-every-wound/a3PYAsgUnyhDqxzUH9DsyI/story.html?et_rid=1758184608&s_campaign=todaysheadlines:newsletter

It may be true that pigs can’t fly, but they can tweet! http://www.trumptwitterarchive.com/

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yadayada. AMZ isn’t killing independent bookstore, realty is. https://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/why-amazons-headquarters-are-plotnick-diamond.html

For 18 years, I have lived in DUMBO, in Brooklyn, a “neighborhood” (sic) in which there are none of the small shops that support an urban existence, but a plenitude of overpriced food outlets and tourist traps. The two groceries within walking distance are basically lunch counters with shelves, and have very eccentric inventories. I should add that I have published nine novels, with six of the most esteemed names in the business, and without exception these books have been marketed with a mixture of bad faith and incompetence, the same way they handle small bookstores. I buy a lot of books, and the breadth of AMZ’s stock, the speed of delivery and – of course! – the prices matter a great deal to me.

Why I quit Facebook. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/10/what-facebook-did/542502/

 

 

 

 

 

 

10/10/-10-16/17….

I took Columbus Day off. So now it’s Tuesday.

10/10

A canary on the runway instead of in the coal mine? Could signify much. Economic slowdown, fear of activist investors, world running out of new billionaires. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-09/private-jet-glut-spurs-insane-bargains-for-aspiring-buyers

I really do urge this website on what readers I have. Amazing the doltish, illiterate expressions. The right word for Trump is pathetic. http://www.trumptwitterarchive.com/

People like me have got to learn to differentiate “blockchain” from “cryptocurrency.” https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-09/want-to-ditch-social-security-numbers-try-blockchain?cmpid=BBD101017_TECH&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_term=171010&utm_campaign=tech

No comment needed: http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/8445/

And so it always seems to go: http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20171009/REAL_ESTATE/171009904

And then this: http://ritholtz.com/2017/10/publicity-is-king/

A lot of money for a single hand, even if Leonardo did paint it: https://news.artnet.com/market/christies-leonardo-da-vinci-salvator-mundi-1110734

Bacevich: always worth reading: https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/10/andrew-bacevich-americas-permanent-wars-as-mere-background-noise.html

The Way We Cheat Now: http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/airbus-corruption-scandal-threatens-ceo-tom-enders-a-1171533.html

10/11

http://nypost.com/2017/10/05/swedish-death-cleaning-is-the-morbid-new-way-to-de-clutter-your-life/We did this as part of the move. A ferocious triaging of stuff, starting with my entire library, including DVDs, videodiscs, and a machine to play these: 254 boxes to Brooklyn College. I could have opened a Staples with the extraneous office supplies I’d accumulated. These went to  a stepson to distribute in the public school where he teaches. 1200 music CDs to LoftOpera. 15 large construction bags of clothes to St.Mary’s Church. The floor-to-ceiling bookcases I had custom-built in 2000 have gone to a new community center on the island of Jamaica. The feeling of relief is palpable. I can die neat.

https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/10/matt-stoller-toward-new-democracy.html Why you should never let a day go by without looking at Naked Capitalism. 

https://www.thedailybeast.com/inside-the-nypds-sting-on-harvey-weinstein?via=newsletter&source=DDMorning  Oy! Play the tape. Why have no reports of this Weinstein mess, at least the ones I’ve seen and read, revived the time-honored phrase “casting couch.”

The Yale Endowment has reported what it believes to be a disappointing investment performance. I don’t believe the number they’ve given, nor the numbers posted by any institutional investor with large holdings in private equity. venture capital and another types of investment that cannot be liquefied quickly. The reason is simple: performance figures from PE, VC and what-have-you are furnished by the sponsors. Your illiquid holdings are what you’re told they’re worth by the promoters, and you have no basis for challenging them. The promoters give you what in the old days in “the awl bidness” we used to call “an Oklahoma Guarantee.” As in: “I guarantee there’s ten million barrels behind them leases – or I’ll be a sonofabitch!”

No comment needed: https://www.forbes.com/donald-trump/exclusive-interview/#707465b2bdec

10/13

Somehow yesterday slipped by. Yesterday was my youngest son’s 31st birthday.

Good points here. Having been keeping up with Wall Street on Parade as much as I should have. http://wallstreetonparade.com/2017/10/blaming-russia-for-major-u-s-problems-raises-risk-of-not-seeing-enemy-within/

Important: https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/10/john-helmer-lunatic-russia-hating-washington-70-years-old-started-joseph-alsop-george-kennan-washington-post.html

Celebrated the 80 of my dear friend Bill Acquavella with a lovely lunch at the Brook tendered by his sons. Eight of us. The Brook remains among the most elegant – if not the most elegant – of Manhattan clubs. I was a member for 20-odd years, until I felt I had to resign when they admitted Henry Kissinger as a member. Only club in Manhattan that had, at least in my day, six or seven different ties. I belong to a number of sought-after clubs, but I’ve resigned from even more lofty ones: the Brook, and – here’s the showstopper- White’s in London. They boast that the only person ever  to resign from White’s was recent PM David Cameron, and then strictly for political reasons. Wrong.

10/15

Interesting: http://apps.bostonglobe.com/metro/graphics/2017/10/amazon-boston/?s_campaign=breakingnews:newsletter

Now this makes a lot of sense: https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/10/tim-oreilly-time-rewrite-rules-economy.html

Especially when you contemplate these swine: http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2017/10/14/the-kochs-want-that-tax-cut-badly/oUJ2VvCU0GAIT7cbdZfIXL/story.html

I’m not sure I grasp the intricacies, but I find this informative with respect to what really needs to be discussed when we try to sort out Facebook’s effect on politics: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/10/what-facebook-did/542502/ 

10/16

Lest We Forget: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-10-16/black-monday-at-30-wall-street-remembers-the-1987-stock-market-crash

Something wicked this way comes? https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-15/london-house-prices-fall-at-fastest-pace-since-financial-crisis

I think this is spot on. Even if I had billions, I wouldn’t touch this picture (haven’t seen it in the flesh (sic) though). And do hit the link to Christie’s’ promotional video: https://news.artnet.com/market/the-gray-market-salvator-mundi-sale-1117208?utm_content=from_&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=US%20newsletter%20for%2010%2F16%2F17&utm_term=New%20US%20Newsletter%20List

Why, indeed? http://wallstreetonparade.com/2017/10/why-have-investigations-of-wall-street-disappeared-from-corporate-media/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10/3-10/10/17….

10/3

David Brooks has an interesting col in today’s NYT. On point – but as usual a bit late to the party. Tribalism, Brooks’s subject, is the ultimate, most toxic form of the factionalism that Madison (Federalist 10) defined – and feared: “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” I wish Brooks would revisit James Fenimore Cooper’s The American Democrat, written in 1836 when Cooper had returned from a long sojourn abroad and was absolutely disgusted by what had become of his native land.

Useful in my ongoing failure to appreciate the theoretical and utilitarian perfection of blockchains and cryptocurrencies: https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/10/cryptos-fear-credit.html

This is weird but makes for compelling reading. I do think she has Trump right. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/camille-paglia-hugh-hefners-legacy-trumps-masculinity-feminisms-sex-phobia-1044769

10/4

Business Insider has a list of Wall Street’s rising young stars. Looking it over, seeing what these people do, it occurs to me that Wall Street, like so much else in life, is subject to its own variant of Parkinson’s Law: activity rises in proportion to the number of people available to execute it.

Two columnists for whom I have minimal respect, Holman Jenkins at WSJ, and Friedman at NYT, have interestingly asymmetrical columns today on the Las Vegas horror show: Here’s Jenkins: “What if Paddock Were al Qaeda? He likely would have been stopped, because surveillance finds only what it’s looking for.” And now here’s Friedman: “If only Stephen Paddock had been a Muslim … If only he had shouted “Allahu akbar” before he opened fire on all those concertgoers in Las Vegas … If only he had been a member of ISIS … If only we had a picture of him posing with a Quran in one hand and his semiautomatic rifle in another …” The following comment on a New York Magazine article on the subject offers some eye-catching statistics. Are they true? I can’t say – so read at your own peril: “There are 30,000 gun related deaths per year by firearms, and this number is not disputed. U.S. population 324,059,091 as of Wednesday, June 22, 2016. Do the math: 0.000000925% of the population dies from gun related actions each year. Statistically speaking, this is insignificant! What is never told, however, is a breakdown of those 30,000 deaths, to put them in perspective as compared to other causes of death:
• 65% of those deaths are by suicide which would never be prevented by gun laws
• 15% are by law enforcement in the line of duty and justified
• 17% are through criminal activity, gang and drug related or mentally ill persons – gun violence
• 3% are accidental discharge deaths
So technically, “gun violence” is not 30,000 annually, but drops to 5,100. Still too many? Well, first, how are those deaths spanned across the nation?
• 480 homicides (9.4%) were in Chicago
• 344 homicides (6.7%) were in Baltimore
• 333 homicides (6.5%) were in Detroit
• 119 homicides (2.3%) were in Washington D.C. (a 54% increase over prior years)
So basically, 25% of all gun crime happens in just 4 cities. All 4 of those cities have strict gun laws, so it is not the lack of law that is the root cause.”

10/6

I have a terrible, humbling confession to make: based on the really quite positive review in NYT  by Janet Maslin, whose work I normally respect (although after this perhaps never again), I threw aside all my usual literary and storytelling  standards and Kindled Dan Brown’s new novel, Origin. I have no idea what book (or, in Brownspeak, invariably “tome”) Maslin read, but her report somehow suggested something different from the achingly pedestrian writing, the inability to leave any cliche alone, the boilerplate phony gravitas and so much other crap to which I exposed myself yesterday until my eyes drooped and I could read no more. Oh yes, Brown is an unabashed borrower. His BIG the
US brokers should fear Massachusetts AG’s probe
Lucrative order routing revenues rely too much on clueless customers, says John Dizard
October 6, 2017ory derives from the work of MIT biophysicist Jeremy England, whose name didn’t turn up in my skim of the acknowledgements – and there’s a talking, responsive computer named Winston. Whoever thought up the IBM campaign ought to sue (update: Brown does mention IBM’s “Watson” at one point.).

Interesting that Apple and Russian oligarchs think the same way about hoarding cash: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-10-06/the-russia-collusion-you-should-care-about

Amen! https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/10/economists-turned-corporations-predators.html

10/7

This link should work. Wall Street works and days:

US brokers should fear Massachusetts AG’s probe
Lucrative order routing revenues rely too much on clueless customers, says John Dizard
October 6, 2017

I continue to believe that the world’s GDP is now dominated by the manufacture of distraction:  https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-smartphones-hijack-our-minds-1507307811

In an April article in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, Dr. Ward and his colleagues wrote that the “integration of smartphones into daily life” appears to cause a “brain drain” that can diminish such vital mental skills as “learning, logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem solving, and creativity.” Smartphones have become so entangled with our existence that, even when we’re not peering or pawing at them, they tug at our attention, diverting precious cognitive resources. Just suppressing the desire to check our phone, which we do routinely and subconsciously throughout the day, can debilitate our thinking. The fact that most of us now habitually keep our phones “nearby and in sight,” the researchers noted, only magnifies the mental toll.

Watching Yale fold to Dartmouth. Yale defense typical of recent years: slow and stupid. Badly coached.

10/8

Through a feat of willpower that only be described as ‘heroic” I have finally made it to the end of Dan Brown’s Origin. Every page at least skimmed (80 out of the last 100, which comprise (SPOILER ALERT) a tedious, jejune, interminable lecture on the relationship between science and religion – real “claptrap to catch the groundlings”, as I suspect the typical Dan Brown reader will feel himself exalted by reading this posturing garbage.  The book does exemplify what I have long wondered at about second-rate books becoming huge bestsellers: let’s call this what Baudelaire called his “hypocrite lecteur”, “mon semblable-mon frere”  (“my like, my twin”) with the book representing a confluence of second-rate intellects and tastes identical in both author and reader. That said, on top of what I personally consider Origin‘s manifest literary and writerly failings, this is about as pretentious a book as I can recall reading. But bullshit sells, especially now.

Well, well: https://www.wsj.com/articles/amazon-has-a-luxury-problem-1507460401You’d think this would give AMZ the opportunity to set up a “HyperPrime” program for luxury goods. Lower discounts, careful brand policing, better visuals. Get the big punters in, people who never  shop AMZ, and expose them to the site’s conventional offerings.

OY! https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/07/opinion/sunday/children-alexa-echo-robots.html?ribbon-ad- ex officio idx=8&rref=opinion&module=Ribbon&version=context&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&pgtype=article

Good NYT Op-Ed today by Ross Douthat about liberalism and its sexist pigs. Of course, the Hollywood variety has always been the worst – and I speak from close observation as Dick Zanuck’s appointee in the early 1970s as ex officio  head of the 20th Century-Fox Talent School. I never laid a glove on any of my succulent charges, although I do confess to letting what my late father called “Cornell thoughts” pass through my mind now and then. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/07/opinion/sunday/harvey-weinstein-harassment-liberals.html?ribbon-ad-idx=8&rref=opinion&module=Ribbon&version=origin&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&pgtype=article 

For those like me, whose intellectual conscience keeps them off social media, but whose curiosity remains strong, here it is, all in one place: http://www.trumptwitterarchive.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9/25-10/2/17…

9/25

I’ve known Bob Mnuchin on and off for thirty years, I suppose – maybe longer. Notwithstanding that he was close to the top of Goldman Sachs in the bad old days of Gus Levy, he’s a cultivated, decent guy, obviously smart, with a good eye. How he could have spawned an idiot, tone-deaf son like our Secretary of the Treasury beats me!

9/26

We’ve been watching Ken Burns’s “The Vietnam War” very closely. There’s a lot there, but the good, saintly stuff overwhelms the bad and villainous – and there was a lot of that. Hard to disagree, significantly, with this: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/ken-burnss-vietnam-war-is-no-profile-in-courage/

My wife, coming from her UN job via ferry, calls to say the boat is being held at South Williamsburg. No explanation. A little online research by me yields the probability that riverwise shipping is being held up because of the threat to navigation posed by a giant turd: “8:45 PM Depart Wall Street Landing Zone en route to John F. Kennedy International Airport.” (From President Dickhead’s schedule for today. My wife’s destination is one stop away from the Wall Street dock.)

9/28

Even if the mere thought of reading about trading strategies causes your eyes to glaze, I think this is a MUST, if only for the glimpses it gives of a Brave New World: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-09-27/the-massive-hedge-fund-betting-on-ai?cmpid=BBD092717_TECH&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_term=170927&utm_campaign=tech

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-09-28/these-are-no-reagan-tax-cuts

9/29

Give me a break! https://news.artnet.com/art-world/so-whats-really-going-on-with-that-disturbing-dog-video-at-the-guggenheim-1100417?utm_content=from_&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=US%20newsletter%20for%209/29/17&utm_term=New%20US%20Newsletter%20List

Agree: 1000%: https://www.wsj.com/articles/partisanship-is-breaking-both-parties-1506640056

Here’s my friend Dizard stressing what he thinks (as do I) will crack the Recovery Bull Market: inflation. The Ft operates behind a firewall so I’m simply cutting and pasting: FT 09/29/17 by John Dizard “There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today.” Admiral David Beatty at the 1916 Battle of Jutland after two British warships exploded

Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen’s remarks last week on “Inflation, Uncertainty, and Monetary Policy” were not quite as sharp as Admiral Beatty’s. She used the words “may” or “may have” 26 times in describing how the Fed’s models have not been working very well. She made clear, though, that the consequent uncertainty, if not queasiness among the board members, should not lead to any significant change in course. After Jutland, the supposedly rigid Royal Navy did make changes in ammunition handling, shell manufacture and training, but the Fed appears to be more set in its ways. The same problematic analyses and actions we saw in 2000 and 2007 are repeated with a few tweaks. Excessively loose monetary conditions are allowed for too long, followed by an untimely series of planned tightenings, which is interrupted by a panicked reversal after asset price crashes . . . you feel like fiddling with your programme and yawning. Based on past form we can be reasonably sure that five years from now the dynamic stochastic general equilibrium model that central bankers worship like Baal will still be there. There will be a few changes to the parameters, and maybe a constraint or two added like temple lamps, but apparently they never learn. As a mere humble observer of passing macro events, rather than a model builder, I have been noticing a series of unexpected supply-side shocks coming in one business after another. Unlike the technology and globalisation changes of the previous two decades, these are leading to one set of price increases after another. All of these rises can be explained, for a while, as idiosyncratic, isolated supply-chain issues against a deflationary backdrop. At some point, though, you have to wonder if there is something wrong with our bloody ships. Within the past month, for example, the cost of adjusting property losses for US insurers has roughly doubled. To send an adjuster to look over a damaged house in Houston cost the underwriter $2,000 in July and $4,000 today. Overall, what the insurers call the loss adjustment factor has increased from about 9 per cent of losses in the recent past to something closer to 20 per cent. On top of that, the cost of used cars is going up as people need to replace ones destroyed in one hurricane or another. Tiki torches and replacement palm trees for Florida, Texas and Caribbean hotels are going through the roof, if there is one left. Those are called “post-event price surges”. Insurers say that will probably lead to reinsurance premium increases of 25 per cent for US wind, and a general increase of 5 per cent for reinsurance across all lines in the country. They want their capital back, and they believe the price rises will stick. Of course the impact of three major storms in one season should be an unusual coincidence, one of those idiosyncratic causes. Or was risk underpriced thanks to inefficient capital markets? Then there is the increase in dry cargo rates, roughly measured by the Baltic Dry index. Economists and macro speculators used to watch the BDI as a leading indicator. It received less attention in recent years as shipping rates dragged lower and lower below the operators’ costs. Starting last year, though, the BDI has been on a tear. It has risen by more than 60 per cent this year, and has continued to increase even as prices for dry cargoes such as iron ore and coal have slipped from recent highs. Apparently there just are not as many ships to go around, after banks and government agencies pressed owners to scrap more tonnage after years of forbearance. Big steel ships are a legacy technology, of course. Then we have inflation in the price of the technologies of the future, such as electric cars. Cobalt, used inNo comment: tensively in lithium-ion batteries, has more than doubled in price over the past year. Again, an unexpected supply-side constraint, as environmental mandates in China, Europe and the US have come up against the long lead time required for new mines. Then there is the big daddy of all supply-side constraints: skilled labour. It now appears that it is not that easy to turn media studies graduates into IT department coders, even if the latter are paid three times as much as the former. At one time it seemed as though there was an unlimited supply of well-educated Indian software engineers, but no. And do not ask about pipeline welders, particularly sober ones who turn up on Monday. Maybe the Fed’s economists are right, and we should not be paying too much attention to these one-off signs. The free-market commercial paper rate has already reacted, though, rising like the BDI, cobalt or propane (a yearly rise of around 80 per cent). So perhaps you should raise your commodities hedge ratios, or shorten bond duration. And build your next beach house out of cement and steel.

No comment: https://www.project-syndicate.org/onpoint/how-stable-is-the-global-financial-system-by-benjamin-j–cohen-2017-09

9/30

Well argued – although I can’t get out of my mind that the raising or presentation of the flag at the time the National Anthem is played carries a certain patriotic resonance. I vividly remember being in Yankee Stadium on October 28, 1962, Giants v. Redskins. The Cuban Missile crisis had just ended with Khrushchev’s announcement that morning that Soviet armaments would be removed from Cuba. When the National Anthem was played, the entire Big Ballpark erupted with a single voice, triumphant and yet edged with relief. Still: https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/09/gaius-publius-american-flag-stands.html 

No comment necessary: https://newrepublic.com/article/144940/trump-tv-post-literate-american-presidency?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=The+Long+Read+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=245896&subid=23770632&CMP=longread_collection

Absolute BS on this level is so rarely encountered, it must be cherished: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/sep/29/we-should-have-seen-trump-coming?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=The+Long+Read+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=245896&subid=23770632&CMP=longread_collection

10/1

Good to see that technology isn’t winning all the battles. WSJ (paywall) reports that in Australia wedge-tail eagles, a protected species, are attacking and knocking drones out of the sky. Not since the RAF did for Jerry over Britain has a more heart-warming account of aerial combat been published.

A contrarian view that makes a compelling overall point. Being a person who has his hair cut every month, I’ve been a regular reader of Playboy,  along with Clubman Talc an indispensable appurtenance for every tonsorial parlor worth its clippersfor ever so long. Fellow members of one of my clubs (nice touch that, eh?) curse with me the scoundrel who pinched from our barbershop the most memorable single issue  ever published by any magazine:the December 1988 Playboy (I checked the date online) starring Olympic champion Katarina Witt in the altogether – and I mean altogether!  When I heard that the issue was no more to be savored along with the tang of witch hazel, gone for a Burton, the first words that flew into my mind were Joe Welch’s famous riposte to McCarthy: “At long last, is there no decency!”  Anyway, I think Douthat has a point, and he might have added one grace note: a large number of Hefner encomia published in recent days dwell on how reading Playboy got many a brave lad through Vietnam. True perhaps, but I wonder how much the current attention being paid to the Burns-Novick multipart documentary put this on the front burner. Anyway, here’s Douthat: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/30/opinion/hugh-hefner.html?ribbon-ad-idx=5&src=trending&module=Ribbon&version=context&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Trending&pgtype=article

10/2

City Hall lends its hand to the ongoing war on the poor: http://gothamist.com/2017/09/29/affordable_housing_study_nyc_2017.php

As if the human toll in Las Vegas isn’t terrible and tragic enough, there’s this: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-02/fake-news-fills-information-vacuum-in-wake-of-las-vegas-shootingMoney Quote (from a spokes person for what we should designate as a new category, First Disseminator): “Unfortunately, early this morning we were briefly surfacing an inaccurate 4chan website in our search results for a small number of queries,” a Google spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “Within hours, the 4chan story was algorithmically replaced by relevant results.This should not have appeared for any queries, and we’ll continue to make algorithmic improvements to prevent this from happening in the future.” Years ago, in what must have been the worst-attended monthly talks at a club to which I belong, I argued that letting computers drive and determine the style and content of our thinking could pose terrible dangers. “Algorithmic improvements, anyone”?

As we appear to be living in a Golden Age of Agnotology, it helps to be up on that very useful word: http://ritholtz.com/2016/06/frightening-global-rise-agnotology/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9/18/-9/24/17…

9/18

The kleptocracy marches on. https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/09/wall-street-owns-main-street-literally.html

So now what? Crosstown streets narrowed to half-a-car-width?https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20170915/midtown/citi-bike-injury-30th-street-crosstown-bike-lanes?utm_source=Manhattan&utm_campaign=3f9a411aa7-Mailchimp-NYC&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_7456974fe2-3f9a411aa7-139053101

9/19

My pal Alexander sent the following. Seldom read anything I agree with more.  http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/commentary/paying-the-price-for-breakdown-of-the-countrys-bourgeois-culture-20170809.htmlThen, because I didn’t get to Kunstler yesterday, I turn to him today and find him citing the same article with some interesting added gloss: http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/pushback/ Naturlich, the asshole set, who profit most in terms of their purse and their looking-glass (through which a great many of them have passed) from “identity” politicking, reacted to the piece with the expected Pantone dudgeon: http://www.phillymag.com/news/2017/08/11/penn-amy-wax-op-ed/ Or this, from a site called, with an opacity that would delight a Freudian, “Above the Law”: http://abovethelaw.com/2017/08/dog-whistling-bourgeois-values-op-ed-gets-thorough-takedown-from-other-law-professors/

I must say, the only positive I took away from Trump beating HRC was the real possibility that we’d never be forced to hear another word from the latter. Boy, was I wrong! Oh, I expected the book, the sort of everyone-else’s-culpa that was as inevitable as the dawn. But the rest of it?   https://medium.com/@caityjohnstone/the-real-reason-hillary-cant-just-shut-the-fuck-up-and-go-away-4e481b3edf84

The Net and usual suspects are bubbling with speculation that AMZ’s second-headquarters project, with its purported 50,000 new jobs and infinite need for space, is considering Brooklyn. You can hear the real-estate development sharks,  lowest species of American commerce,  licking their lips at the prospect of being bailed out of the gross overbuilding of recent years by Jeff Bezos. AMZ has the power to rescue great but fallen-on-tough-times cities like Detroit or St. Louis. Why waste that ability on a city laid morally wasted by development greed?

9/20

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2111995/cold-calculated-logic-behind-north-koreas-missile-tests

9/21

http://www.wqxr.org/story/why-do-orchestras-play-behind-beat/This is something I’ve often wondered about.

9/22

The following, by Eric Newcomer from today’s Bloomberg Technology, struck a responsive chord. Private Equity, with David Swensen of Yale in the role of Moses leading his children to The Promised Land, has become the most lucrative racket Wall Street (and affiliated satellites and co-conspirators) has ever confected for itself.  Fees based on assets under management (including intermittent suspicious valuations of portfolio holdings for which there is no market and therefore no way of getting out), calculation of rates of return concocted by Mickey Mouse, “costs and expenses” charged to specific portfolio assets that should properly be counted in the overhead of the PE firm: you name it, and they’ve figured out how to stick “the limiteds” with it. I’m affiliated with an endowment that has a number of “alternative” assets in its portfolio, and I now insist that these be looked at strictly on a “cash in/cash out” basis. Forget the reported internal rate of return: these generally reflect strict adherence to my famous formulation of the Clinton Principle: if everyone’s lying, no one is.

A master of the universe-type figure graced Bloomberg’s offices recently, chatting about some of the day’s big business themes, particularly as it relates to Silicon Valley. There was some soothsaying about the regulatory backlash that big companies like Amazon.com Inc., Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc. might face for their increasingly anti-competitive postures. There was a discussion of whether the stock market has overestimated the chances of tax reform.

But I thought the most interesting point of discussion was: Will the federal government more tightly regulate private companies?

The argument went as follows: Private tech deals were once limited to sophisticated investors, mostly venture capitalists. Then endowments joined the party, then pension funds, and now sovereign wealth funds. At this point, the money in companies like Uber Technologies Inc., WeWork Cos, and Airbnb Inc.—it’s not just rich people investing in these startups. Your retirement savings might be mixed in there, if you have a Fidelity 401(k). Or if you live in Saudi Arabia, $3.5 billion of your government’s ability to thrive post-oil is on the line.

So now we have a lot of money tied up in private companies. Yes, it is managed by sophisticated stewards of capital (sometimes), but they’re playing with money that some people can’t afford to lose.

And giving private companies all that money creates its own problems. It allows them to stay private longer, so they might have to figure out how to let early employees and investors sell their shares before the company is public. More money means the stakes are higher.

The current regulatory regime effectively creates an incentive for companies to stay private. Why go public when you can raise cash like a public company without the scrutiny? Why go public when you can avoid handing over information to your competitors?

And if your business is doing poorly, or you’re keeping some big secrets, the answer to that question becomes even easier. Public companies must disclose material events—like Justice Department probes. Public companies are obligated to provide audited financials that adhere to generally accepted accounting principles. Public companies often need independent directors.

Not everyone seems to think reform is on the horizon. Technology news site the Information wrote Thursday that the Securities and Exchange Commission is making it easier, not harder, to be a secretive private company. The SEC is relaxing the rules (that are already rarely enforced) around when companies need to share their financials with their employees. The SEC under President Donald Trump has also expanded the number of companies that are allowed to file privately for an initial public offering to include those with more than $1 billion in revenue.

But I find it hard to believe Silicon Valley could play much faster and looser than it already is. These are minor changes around the edges. I think the biggest factor is a single company—Uber.

I’ve been wondering over the years when the SEC would step in and make reforms: After Theranos faced myriad issues and had to pull out of pharmacies, it drew an SEC investigation. Increasing the required disclosures of material facts at the company would certainly have put pressure on Theranos to own up to its problems sooner. Zenefits, another troubled company, ousted its chief executive officer after the company failed to properly license insurance brokers. An independent board member probably would have helped bring some much-needed scrutiny to the company’s practices sooner. Though, obviously, no single solution fixes everything: Theranos had an abundance of non-executive directors.

At $69 billion, after raising more than $15 billion, I think Uber is big enough to warrant scrutiny. Shareholders who buy in at one price are typically left with no option to sell, or if they do, it’s limited to whatever price the company picks. Executives and board members are at a substantial advantage when it comes to information driving investing decisions. The question is just how bad things get.

Possible reforms are simple because they already exist for public companies: Require more standardized disclosures, stronger board controls and more transparency. As far as things go, there’s a pretty good system in place for publicly traded companies. Some of the regulations are too onerous for a small company, but if a business has raised more than $1 billion in outside capital, it might be time to treat it more like a public company in some ways.

These reforms would have an added bonus. It might encourage companies to go public. If you’re already doing some of the hard work of being a public company, why not get the benefits of a liquid stock?

Change has happened before, but it takes a big, embarrassing disaster. It took Enron and Worldcom for Sarbanes-Oxley. The financial crisis brought about Dodd-Frank. Subprime mortgage bonds—well, change doesn’t always come. If you want to see reform in the private markets, I think you have to hope the situation at Uber gets much worse. —Eric Newcomer

And the Clintons weren’t the only ones in the pocket of the money men. Lest we forget, so was Obama – from Day One: https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/09/gaius-publius-obama-follows-clinton-boards-millionaire-speech-train-wall-street.html

 

9/23

This addresses a question that has perplexed me for some time: what’s with it with Ta-Nehisi Coates? He’s glib, a talented wordsmith, but it all adds up to blahblahblah, what a gambler might call “a rhetorical overlay”, like betting a 1-2 favorite. https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/09/ta-nehisi-coates-limited-art-interpretation.html

Trump and No.Korea: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/animalia/wp/2016/11/17/two-moose-locked-antlers-in-a-fight-then-froze-together-in-a-stream/?utm_term=.3f1642472a33

The first time I saw paintings by Basquiat 30-plus years ago, I said to myself (and anyone else who would listen), “This guy is the real thing.” Now he’s having his first show in London at the Barbican. About time – one wonders where Tate Modern and its blabbermouth founding director were all this time: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/basquiat-nairne-interview-1070477?utm_content=from_&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Saturday%20newsletter%20for%209/23/17&utm_term=artnet%20News%20Daily%20Newsletter%20USE

The upcoming New Criterion, the magazine with a truly marvelous arts and culture section that redeems an often jejune political arch-conservatism inherited from its founder, my former NY Observer colleague the late Hilton Kramer, has a wonderful review by Karen Wilkin (who, even if we weren’t chums, I consider the best art writer-critic of our time, along with Jed Perl, another friend) of a show that sounds like a real dilly: “Casanova: The Seduction of Europe”. It’s now at the Kimbell in Ft.Worth, and will travel next year to San Francisco and Boston (where I intend to see it – if the Acela’s still running).

Needs no comment: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/22/opinion/business-war-trump.html

The best I have read on this subject, not least for its implied criticism of Obama as a bullshitter: http://prospect.org/article/how-she-lost

The coward, liar and fool who occupies the White House has finally achieved something remarkable: proof that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell  has a backbone.

 

 

 

 

 

9/11-9/17…

Let’s start with this interesting interview with my slightly tarnished (because of the CNN mess) hero Tom Frank. https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/09/thomas-frank-corporate-democrats-vested-interest-not-listening-workers.html

I think this is particularly interesting. Frank is asked about “blunders” in the 2016 election:  In terms of blunders, if you talk about unforeseen blunders, wait, remember, first back up. The main impact that the WikiLeaks emails had, and they were covered in the American press, was Hillary Clinton’s speeches to Goldman Sachs. You remember, that was I believe almost the only item from those emails that made it into the press, and it was far overshadowed by Trump’s extremely vulgar comments. Remember, when he was on the Access Hollywood tape which came out at almost exactly the same time. So in terms of blunders, I mean, Trump’s blunders were so much bigger than Hillary’s, and just in terms of, as long as we’re just talking about mistakes that might’ve cost the Democrats the election, there’s so many other things that you have to mention other than that. I mean, the James Comey stuff where he appeared to reinstate the investigation against Hillary Clinton, which was so shocking.But also, you think of Barack Obama trying to get, remember this? Trying to get the Transpacific Partnership passed all the way through the election? That’s an incredible blunder while Hillary’s trying to distance herself from it, remember? And Trump is hitting her, hitting the Democrats for this every day, and here’s Obama saying, “No, we’re going to get it done. We’re going to get it done through Congress.” That really hurt, and another one, raising Obamacare premiums two weeks before election day. What were they thinking? Just ask yourself, I mean, you and I are old enough to remember Lyndon Johnson. Would Lyndon Johnson ever have made a move like that? No, it’s just like these are beginner’s mistakes. Or not beginner’s, it’s because they had such contempt for Trump. They didn’t think he had a chance, so Obama could take what was the most explosive issue in the election, trade deals, Trump was hitting the Democrats for trade deals at every speech all the time, and Obama could just disregard that. It’s not a threat, it’s not a problem.And here’s poor Hillary, remember, trying to backpedal backpedal backpedal, get out of this, saying “Oh, I’ve changed my mind about the Transpacific Partnership, I used to say it was the gold standard but now I know different,” and Obama just subverting her. It was a terrible blunder. Which confirms my view that in spite of all the mock heroics and fancy, come-let-us-reason-together rhetoric, Obama was a phony, very much the kind of narcissist the narrator of that great political novel FIXERS describes him as being.

9/12

This explains why I’m pretty much outta there. A one-week back-roads rental lets my step-family flee the city.  And I’m not alone. Assholes to money like flies to honey. http://www.institutionalinvestor.com/article/3750215/asset-management-macro/booze-drugs-and-fistfights-another-summer-in-the-hamptons.html?ArticleId=3750215&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=56217951&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-92JTocuAcQCutaFHq3qYAxMqSIa3DLOlTLFA9pS6A9s9AGqqJBs_Dyo5TO_JTzqI6HVRqUzIaQ4fQf_LpE3OH05qnb-g&_hsmi=56217951#/.WbbkWtOGNE5 

9/13

First day of high school for my twin grandsons. Quite a lot of excitement about what to wear and how to wear it.

I suspect Dimon’s right about Bitcoin: http://www.businessinsider.com/bitcoin-price-worse-than-tulip-bulbs-2017-9nr_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&r=UK&IR=T

This is as disgusting as it is amazing: https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2017-anna-nicole-smith-billionaire-in-laws-court-lobbying/

I have always wondered whether there isn’t a bit less to “Saint Warren” than meets the eye: https://www.ft.com/content/fd27245a-9790-11e7-a652-cde3f882dd7b?utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=56267010&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-8sVXdWNZcXItmWwJqrHmFzmdkX60TGUqopfuG8TFY5g2zyj5Ll2a38uUUm4btGGDoTdhBfGIwf_CWRzqexeMbsIhxViQ&_hsmi=56267010

A friend reminds me that FT is behind a paywall, so here’s this text (I’m well within FT limits on cut-and-paste done by subscribers):

YESTERDAY by: Robin Harding
Growing up, I admired nobody more than Warren Buffett, the greatest investor ever. His achievement is towering. The market is an implacable opponent but here was a man who beat it year after year, making $75bn out of nothing but wisdom and charm. There was moral purity in his modesty, his ethics and his quiet attachment to home in Omaha, Nebraska. What footballer, politician or thinker could compare? 

Now 87, Mr Buffett wields huge influence over US business and finance, usually positive. He pushed companies to expense stock options, warned of danger in derivatives and taught the public to invest long term in low-cost index funds.

But how ever much you admire the man, his influence has a dark side because the beating heart of Buffettism, celebrated in a thousand investment books, is to avoid competition and minimise capital investment in the real economy. 

A torrent of recent studies show how exactly those forces — diminished competition, rising profits and lower investment — afflict the US. Economists Jan de Loecker and Jan Eeckhout chart a rise in corporate mark-ups, a measure linked to profit margins, from 18 per cent in 1980 to 67 per cent today. In a paper presented at the Brookings Institution last week, Germán Gutiérrez and Thomas Philippon show how investment has fallen relative to profitability. Mr Buffett did not cause these trends. However, they are central to his fortune. When you celebrate him, you celebrate them. 

If he had found a few truly unusual companies and bought them on the cheap there would be no issue. But acolytes are taking his methods economy-wide

Mr Buffett is completely honest about his desire to reduce competition. He just calls it by a folksy name — “widening the moat”. “I don’t want a business that’s easy for competitors. I want a business with a moat around it with a very valuable castle in the middle,” he said in 2007.

He tells Berkshire Hathaway managers to widen their moat every year. The Buffett definition of good management is therefore clear. If you have effective competitors, you are doing it wrong. 

As with many aspects of his career, Mr Buffett used to act more visibly. An example is his 1977 purchase of the Buffalo Evening News. He bought this newspaper for $32.5m, a high multiple of its $1.7m operating profit, then launched a Sunday edition and drove the competing Buffalo Courier-Express out of business. By 1986, the renamed Buffalo News was a local monopoly making $35m in pre-tax profit. At the time, it was Mr Buffett’s largest single investment. 

His concept of a moat is linked to his views on capital investment: the beauty of one is you do not need the other. One of his most celebrated purchases is See’s Candies, a company he bought for $25m in 1972. Every year, Mr Buffett raised prices. So strong was its brand that despite sales growing little, profits grew mightily, with barely any need for capital investment. “The ideal business is one that takes no capital, and yet grows,” he said last year. 

His statement is unquestionably true for an investor. For an economy, it produces the pattern above: low investment relative to higher profits. A line attributed to business partner Charlie Munger in Alice Schroeder’s biography of Mr Buffett, The Snowball, is revealing: “Munger had always kidded Buffett that his management technique was to take out all the cash from a company and raise prices.” That does sum it up. 

If Mr Buffett in his brilliance had found a few truly unusual companies and bought them on the cheap there would be no issue. But acolytes are taking his methods economy-wide.

These days, Mr Buffett has two main ways of putting his money to work. On one hand, he is finally investing in physical assets, although only in regulated industries such as electricity and railroads where returns are largely guaranteed. On the other, he is working with Brazilian private equity firm 3G as it slashes costs to the bone and drives up margins at Burger King and food company Kraft Heinz. 

Kraft now makes a 23 per cent operating margin and an enormous return on tangible capital. In a competitive market, those high margins ought to present an opportunity for rivals to invest and steal market share. Instead, Kraft competitors such as Unilever and Nestlé are under pressure from their owners — a mixture of index funds and Buffett-like activists — to match those sky-high margins. If rivals also cut, rather than invest and compete, Kraft can cut even more. A kind of Buffett equilibrium is taking hold. 

To be clear, this is not the only reason for declining investment and higher profits in the US. Nor is there a simple solution. Better antitrust enforcement would help, but recent proposals for a complete revamp of competition policy are not well founded. Although research linking lack of competition to cross-ownership by institutional funds is interesting, it does not capture the reality of private equity operators such as 3G.

We can decide who to admire. Mr Buffett is brilliant at buying into monopoly profits, but he does not start companies or gamble on new ideas. America is full of entrepreneurs who do. Elon Musk is investing in two wildly risky and competitive sectors: automobiles and space. Even the much-reviled Koch brothers built most of their fortune on investment in the real economy. Celebrate that kind of business. It is the kind America needs.

 

Trump voters aren’t the only idiots at large – and at the polls: http://nypost.com/2017/09/12/hillary-clintons-book-signing-was-as-insufferable-as-youd-expect/

Another add-on to the pukeworthiness of Silicon Valley: http://gothamist.com/2017/09/13/bodega_startup_millennials.php?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily%20Gothamist%20Daily%20Winter%20Storm%20Warning%20In%20Effect%20As%20NYC%20May%20See%206-12%20Of%20Snow%20Possibly%20More&utm_content=Daily%20Gothamist%20Daily%20Winter%20Storm%20Warning%20In%20Effect%20As%20NYC%20May%20See%206-12%20Of%20Snow%20Possibly%20More+CID_8444ebb8b233ed5a53d5de285a143d62&utm_source=CM&utm_term=A%20New%20Startup%20Called%20Bodega%20Wants%20To%20Keep%20You%20Out%20Of%20Bodegas

After the CNN flap. Tom Frank gets his groove back: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/09/hillary-clinton-memoir-what-happened-thoughts?mbid=nl_th_59b9aca9e4b3ca2c1bc6abfc&CNDID=42793573&spMailingID=11918520&spUserID=MTQzOTExNDk1OTIxS0&spJobID=1241177768&spReportId=MTI0MTE3Nzc2OAS2

Here, for all Trump-haters, is a good solid recap of Reasons Why. https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-09-13/when-trump-slams-the-media-it-s-an-act-of-love?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_term=170913&utm_campaign=sharetheview

Oscar Wilde strikes again. The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable: Mercer vs. the Kochs. http://washingtonmonthly.com/2017/09/13/quick-takes-the-battle-of-the-oligarchs/

Another Hat Tip to Naked Capitalism: https://wolfstreet.com/2017/09/12/the-terrible-facts-about-the-real-earnings-of-men/

9/15

This is exactly what’s happened in “duh Hamptons.” http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2017/09/14/berkshires-locals-struggle-tourism-booms/Qhv33VbNtAF9HHxASiPo4L/story.html?s_campaign=breakingnews:newsletter

9/16

Once again, the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable (O.Wilde): https://qz.com/1076357/hillary-clintons-what-happened-amazon-just-deleted-over-900-reviews-of-hillary-clintons-new-book/?mc_cid=8b782b7097&mc_eid=0e98215088

My friend Amara Bhide gets to the point of a culture taken over by algorithms:  https://www.wsj.com/articles/equifax-critics-are-missing-the-bigger-point-1505343139?shareToken=std9b26e4b54814844a99cf4745add6658&reflink=article_email_share

9/17

Golly! https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n16/john-lanchester/you-are-the-product No wonder I quit FB. Lanchester has this gem: “Flaubert was sceptical about trains because he thought (in Julian Barnes’s paraphrase) that ‘the railway would merely permit more people to move about, meet and be stupid.” A precursor to my own anti-FB apothegm: the trouble with the Internet is that it gives millions of people with nothing to say a place to say it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9/5-9/10….

welcome back! http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/perturbations-anon/

9/6

Sorry to see Thomas Frank tarnished by the CNN reporting mess. I have always found Frank to be a clear-eyed, commonsensical commentator on issues of the day, and really never thought of him as a reporter. Wonder why he allowed himself to be put in this position, reporting a single-source rumor as news and thereby playing into the hands of the lying hypocrite in the White House.

Both parts of an interesting interview: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/thomas-campbell-interview-metropolitan-museum-art-1070084  Part Two: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/mutiny-at-the-met-thomas-campbell-on-modernization-at-americas-greatest-museum-1071464?utm_content=from_&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=US%20newsletter%20for%209%2F6%2F17&utm_term=New%20US%20Newsletter%20List

9/7-9/8

Practically nothing I’ve read recently better expresses the deterioration of what we might call the “example setting” strata of American affluence better than this letter to Slate’s “Dear Prudence” agony-aunt column. Credit for calling it to my attention goes to my darling wife. Here we go:    Q. Daughter’s friend being in wedding: My 27-year-old daughter and her best friend, Katie, have been best friends since they were 4. Katie practically grew up in our house and is like a daughter to me. My daughter recently got engaged to her fiancé and announced that Katie would be the maid of honor (Katie’s boyfriend is also a good friend of my future son-in-law). The problem is that Katie walks with a pretty severe limp due to a birth defect (not an underlying medical issue). She has no problem wearing high heels and has already been fitted for the dress, but I still think it will look unsightly if she’s in the wedding procession limping ahead of my daughter. I mentioned this to my daughter and suggested that maybe Katie could take video or hand out programs (while sitting) so she doesn’t ruin the aesthetic aspect of the wedding. My daughter is no longer speaking to me (we were never that close), but this is her big wedding and I want it to be perfect. All of the other bridesmaids will look gorgeous walking down the aisle with my daughter. Is it wrong to have her friend sit out? Needless to say, “Prudence” was as dumbstruck – and acid in her critique – as we were.

Another commentator I like, Doug Henwood (Left Business Observer). There is no political capital in maintenance and upkeep. Period – end of report: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/09/infrastructure-crumbing-public-sector-spending

Of course, it’s probably ungracious to point out that during this period of acute underinvestment and under-maintenance, the capital that might have supported proper upkeep has gone – through stock buybacks etc. – to maintain a generous maintenance of the wellbeing of corporate and political insiders.

9/9

This is why I quit social media (with the exception of Instagram, where I only look at family stuff). https://www.vox.com/conversations/2017/9/8/16266496/silicon-valley-google-apple-facebook-amazon-monopolies

 

Sitting here watching Sloan Stephens play Madison Keys in finals of US Open at what I insist on calling “Forest Hills.” Stephens beat Venus Williams in a semifinal. So that was three of the four American semifinalists who are African-American, and where’s the tribute to Althea Gibson? Did I miss it?

9/10

If you’re like me, this Equifax f***up is puzzling. Only one thing seems certain to me: the credit report companies will do the minimum they can get away with and charge the maximum for it! This might help: https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/09/bill-black-equifax-data-breach-10-10-scandal.html

I’ve just finished John Le Carre’s new novel A Legacy of Spies, which is basically an extended, richly detailed (some might say overly detailed; indeed I reread the last third of the book, which I had sort of skipped through the first time) backstory to The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. If you like this sort of stuff – the tradecraft, the scheming, the geography – and can put up with the odd pomposity or longueur, you should like this book, net net net. I did.

I’ve suspected this for some time: A POLITICO review shows that the criteria used in the U.S. News rankings – a measure so closely followed in the academic world that some colleges have built them into strategic plans – create incentives for schools to favor wealthier students.POLITICO interviewed more than 20 current and former college presidents, administrators and federal education officials, and all agreed, often in fiery terms, that the lack of economic diversity is a critical problem. Many cited a common culprit – the U.S. News rankings, which began in 1983 and quickly grew to become, in the magazine’s own words, “the 800-pound gorilla of American higher education.””I think U.S. News has done more damage to the higher education marketplace than any single enterprise that’s out there,” said F. King Alexander, president of Louisiana State University.Read more: http://politi.co/2wRqUQC

I believe anything this doctor writes: https://www.vox.com/2017/9/8/16270370/atul-gawande-opioid-weeds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8/29/17-9/4/17…

Back from 10 days’ vacation in modest rental accommodation out on the East End. A very good time entirely centered on family and truly close friends. Enough golf to satisfy me that my golfing life, stretching back almost 70 years, is now at its end. But there were compensations. As good a reason as any for estivating in “duh Hamptons” (aka “duh Beach” – a singular alternative locution) is August corn, and this year’s crop was the sweetest, tastiest in memory. We ate some every night.

The Hamptons now reek of people like Carl Icahn, pictured below: this is what a life scrounging for every last nickel causes one to end up looking like. Of course, if you truly believe, as people like Icahn do, that happiness can’t buy money – then this may be what bliss truly resembles.

 

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-29/blackrock-finds-5-trillion-industry-poses-more-risk-than-in-08

The smartphone as an instrument of cultural vandalism: http://observer.com/2017/08/tourists-break-800-year-old-coffin-taking-photo/?utm_campaign=arts&utm_content=2017-29-08-10365093&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=channel-arts-distribution

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/08/how-the-swamp-sold-its-soul-to-donald-trump?mbid=nl_th_59a48cf5e3908e354e8fd4cc&CNDID=42793573&spMailingID=11797932&spUserID=MTQzOTExNDk1OTIxS0&spJobID=1222604616&spReportId=MTIyMjYwNDYxNgS2

After posting the glowing radiant visage of Carl Icahn above, I flip to my browser and find this:  http://dealbreaker.com/2017/08/after-being-caught-elbow-deep-carl-icahn-is-going-to-go-ahead-and-just-shove-his-torso-inside-the-ethics-cookie-jar/?utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=55771010&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-8qYUMtherK0QsWO3XDAFrfWOXuB3fAISk9LI927SKNY4H8CE-1CBAYt3dXoYrTc8gzUjSF9iEh-zxxYDF1mqQRSJp2Mw&_hsmi=55771010 

8/30

Can’t buy me love: http://theartnewspaper.com/news/museums/berkshire-museum-board-turns-down-1m-to-pause-art-sale/?utm_source=daily_august30_2017&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=email_daily&utm_source=The+Art+Newspaper+Newsletters&utm_campaign=2baa224533-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_08_30&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c459f924d0-2baa224533-60919593

Aside from his more malignant qualities, Trump really is an asshole: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/08/30/when-natural-disasters-hit-past-presidents-have-addressed-the-human-toll-not-trump/?utm_term=.cefc54be5eb9&wpisrc=nl_mix&wpmm=1

Make that “nutty asshole.”

Amen: https://jmp.princeton.edu/announcements/some-thoughts-and-advice-our-students-and-all-students Let it be noted that a signatory to this admirable document is Nicholas Christakis, a distinguished psychologist who, along with his wife, was driven from the mastership of Silliman College, Yale, by student identity-mongers. The video of Christakis being berated by a shrieking young woman who should have been sent to stand in the corner is chilling.

Something like Harvey inevitably shows people at their best and at their worst. https://www.aol.com/article/news/2017/08/30/storm-hit-houston-reels-from-influx-of-evacuees-crime-outbreak/23190886/And then of course there’s Trump.  In Texas, people are pushed against the wall, but here he is in Missouri, pumping for legislation that will make the rich richer: https://www.aol.com/article/news/2017/08/30/watch-live-president-trump-holds-tax-reform-kickoff-event-in-missouri/23191090/It does make one wonder whatever became of “conscience”?

Interesting: http://inference-review.com/article/equal-by-catastrophe

An excellent piece: vanity, vanity…and entitlement: https://www.the-american-interest.com/2017/08/16/probably-think-art/

Agreed: http://dealbreaker.com/2017/08/because-the-80s-never-ended-and-this-is-all-a-cocaine-fueled-nightmare-president-donald-trump-is-being-asked-to-pardon-michael-milken/

Where is ISIS when we need them (or at least their decapitation expertise)?: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/30/magazine/how-to-get-rich-in-trumps-washington.html?emc=edit_ta_20170830&nl=top-stories&nlid=2476992&ref=cta&_r=0 

I suppose I should comment on the eclipse, on the subject of which more bullshit has been expended than on any subject in recent memory. My wife went to the Parrish Art Museum to watch. I stayed at home, preferring to watch it on ABC, which I knew could be counted upon to coat the occasion/phenomenon with a rich layering of sanctimonious crap about “national unity.” And so it proved. Not to disparage the real thing. A friend who saw it in Idaho said the post-eclipse light was of a quality she’ll never forget!

8/31

https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/08/new-america-foundation-head-anne-marie-slaughter-botches-laundering-googles-money.html I met Anne-Marie Slaughter once and at first blush figured her for the kind of Faculty Club-think-tank opportunist that thinks of itself as “elite.” Gimme a break!

No comment needed: https://news.artnet.com/market/read-closing-letter-freymond-guth-1067177?utm_content=from_&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=US%20afternoon%20newsletter%20for%208%2F31%2F17&utm_term=New%20US%20Newsletter%20List%20%2830%20Day%20Engaged%20Only%29

Important. My Exeter education was saturated with the views of Justice Holmes, who hated monopolies:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/mattstoller2/google-tried-to-shut-us-down?utm_term=.ukbxEMYp9#.iqVK1qn86  More:https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/08/the-dumb-fact-of-google-money/538458/

Well, at least SOMETHING to be happy about! http://www.telegraph.co.uk/tv/2017/08/30/great-british-bake-review-new-home-episode-1-rose-challenge/ Pin this Robert Reich observation on your bulletin board: “Many times the most efficient way to make money is to change the rules governing how that money can be made.”

9/1

Sumer is a-goin’ out…and not an instant too soon.

I always find this kind of thing fascinating. I believe that curiosity is the most potent of all so-called elixirs of youth: https://www.la-srinivasan/the-sucker-the-suckerrb.co.uk/v39/n17/ami

9/4

Happy Labor Day – End of Summer. Our weekend was taken up by the removal of the floor-to-ceiling bookcases in the old apartment. They’re going to a new community center in Jamaica, a country with which I had a 50+ year happy relationship thanks to the house my parents built at Tryall.

Today’s NYT has a big article on the new residential colleges at Yale, in particular “Hopper”, named after a female admiral and distinguished scientist. My guess is that most people will assume the college is named after Dennis Hopper, my first wife’s husband after me. I offered Yale what I still think was the perfect name for one of the new colleges: Levi Jackson, Y’50: first African-American captain of Yale football;  first African-American elected to a senior (or “secret’) society, in his case Berzelius; and – after graduation – first African-American executive at Ford. Naturally my suggestion went nowhere. And for the record, I think Yale President Peter Salovey is a pusillanimous jackass.

An acute piece by my pal Dizard. It calls inferential attention to the Big Change that has occurred in my lifetime: the ironic evolution, under a series of “the government is your enemy” presidents,  of Washington and its state and local siblings into bailout buckets, no matter how reckless or foolish the risk undertaken in the name of private greed or comfort, whether we’re talking about junk-bond swaps or building luxury housing in a flood zone. https://www.ft.com/content/50427898-8e53-11e7-a352-e46f43c5825d

I’m not at all certain how I react to this although tribalism is something that’s been vexing me pro and con for 40 years. Still, it’s such an important subject! https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/09/joy-reids-politics-tribalism-democratic-party.html

As they used to say, Wogs begin at Calais: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/02/great-saudi-sell-off-bankers-lawyers-flocking-gulf 

Can’t understand why we fear the No. Koreans when we stick our institutional tongue up the butthole of the Saudis, the most conniving, cruel, lying, double-dealing swine in history!

Been looking at a lot of sports for a longtime, but tonight’s Del Potro ver Thiem in 5 sets is right up there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8/14-8/20/17…

8/14

Very seldom does summer hit a perfect note, but for us, the annual August outing to friends in Atlantic Beach unfailingly does the job, washing away recent stresses (moving house should be added to infidelity and mental cruelty as grounds for divorce). Tamara gets to do what she loves best, frolicking in the waves with her 51/2-year-old granddaughter, and I get to do what I love best, hear myself talk. But we’re almost all moved. My library, 254 boxes of books, goes off to Brooklyn College shortly, with a few other boxes to elsewhere tomorrow, followed by discarded furniture – and by Wednesday night, if all goes as planned, my 17 years in 5C at 66 Water St. will have come to an end. All in all, it’s been a swell journey. And for the way we now live, 5E is just perfect. Qieter too, now that we’re on the south side of the building, away from the noisy loading docks of the Empire Stores development. At the end of the week, we will go for ten days to modest rental accommodation in Noyac. Grandchildren will be everywhere about; I’ll try to see whether I can still hit a golf ball (not how far, simply at all!) and try to figure what’s next.

Here’s a good starter for Labor Day minus three: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/

Kunstler at the top of his game: http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/smoke-and-fire/ 

Sample: “The latest iteration of feminism comes out of campuses that have been largely taken over by female Boomer pedagogues, especially the non-STEM departments, and is now fait accompli, so that the grievances still pouring out seem manufactured and hysterical. It also has a strong odor of simple misandry, and the whole package of ideology is wrapped in impenetrable grad school jargon designed to give it an intellectual sheen that is unearned and dishonest. The grim fact is that sooner or later even some intelligent men might notice this, and get pissed off about it.” Well, I can tell you that this intelligent man, a Yale magna graduate, is already plenty pissed off about it!

Anyone for a dash of Schadenfreude? (from Politico): WHAT’S IN STORE — “SoHo is Getting Pounded by the Retail Storm,” by The Wall Street Journal’s Keiko Morris: “The SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan once was a retail juggernaut, with hip boutiques battling national luxury retailers for scarce storefronts whose rents only went up. Then the retail storm that is buffeting malls across the U.S. slammed into this once impenetrable shopping fortress. Storefront availability has spiked to 23.1% in the second quarter of this year, up from 4.7% at the end of 2011. Meanwhile, asking rents for ground-floor retail spaces have fallen 12% to $478 a square foot in the second quarter, down from $541 at the end of 2015, according to real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield. The retail slump in turn has played a role in the neighborhood’s slowing overall commercial property sales market, which includes buildings with office space and apartments. In the second quarter, total commercial property sales dwindled to $79 million from a recent peak of almost $1.7 billion in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to Cushman & Wakefield.” 

I may have said this before, but I’m going to repeat it because it has relevance to the day’s events. About a year ago, a friend asked me what my secret is for keeping in good mental fettle. “Spending the absolutely minimum of time – preferably none – with assholes.” I’m delighted to see the CEO of Merck shares my feeling. Trump is fifty shades of asshole.

What turned me off Wall Street (from Dealbreaker): Wall Street Trader Chris Arnade Seeks Redemption for ‘Intellectual Grift’ (WSJ)
He moved in 2006 to Citigroup Inc.’s proprietary trading desk, where he wagered as much as $100 million on single trades in government bonds and currencies. The move boosted his stress. “I used to wake up some mornings and have to vomit,” he says. Mr. Arnade lost money in the 2008 financial crisis—his only down year in two decades—but that wasn’t what turned him off trading. “The thing that got to him was hearing [traders] who had lost millions and gotten bailed out complaining that Obamacare raised their taxes,” Mr. Lox says.

A MUST READ: https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/08/changing-guard-prescient-1980-book-foretold-democrat-love-affair-neoliberalism.html

8/15

In yesterday’s and today’s NYT, two interesting examples of “the Trump Effect.” Yesterday Paul Krugman gave a first-rate demonstration of how Trump-hatred addles even first-rate minds. He said that Trump isn’t a typical American. Sadly, Trump is a typical American, although a bit more of a 19th-Century type than of today. But the same vein of greed, prejudice, ignorance and other civic vices remains strong now as then. Read Walter A. Macdougall’s great Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era, 1829-1877 , a wonderful book that inspires a long-range reflection on how and why we are what we’ve become.  In today’s NYT, Andrew Ross Sorkin, of all people, properly excoriates the zipped-lipped CEOs who’ve remained silent because they fear retribution from President Shithead should they speak up on the issues raised by Charlottesville and its predecessors. What kind of retribution, I ask? Surely any attempt by Trump to get even in a real way, other than by his marginally literate sub-adult tweets, by canceling – say-  big defense or healthcare orders or  using the IRS as hit man would have to go through a chain of departmental execution that would at some point involve a Trump-hating whistleblower, and that would surely pave the road to Impeachment City.

Today we had Grant Turley move the bedroom bookcase from 5C and 5E, Steve from the Bridge carry away the golf books I’m giving to that club in honor of Bob Rubin, its founder and guiding spirit, and Trevor from Verizon. At times it felt like the “stateroom” scene in the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera.  

In case anyone missed this the first time I posted it, a MUST MUST MUST: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/?utm_source=nl-atlantic-daily-081417 

An  interesting point: “All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness. Eighth-graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media.” Why? Well I have a theory (my friends know I have a theory about everything!) It’s simply that social media are perhaps the most powerful force ever for generating envy. Whether expressed as “FOMO: Fear of Missing Out,” or exhibiting possessions, or boasting of experiences,  envy’s the driver – as it always has been in our struggle to fight through the swamp of existence (in my case, sexual envy, rooted in a desire to possess, drove me crazy right into my forties). The green-eyed monster turns up early enough in life as it is; social media help it consolidate its sway in the pubescent psyche.

Three Cheers for Larry. He’s finally understood that “free markets” have come to equal “fixed markets.” And that Schwarzman, for all his money-spinning genius (sic), is still a smalltime prick suffering under the slings and arrows of short-guy ambition. Not a friend in the world except those he’s bought. https://www.ft.com/content/d7184d3f-a2cf-3d54-a6a0-3ab7d345c82e

Good stuff: https://www.newcriterion.com/issues/1989/12/redefining-culture-and-democracy?utm_source=The+New+Criterion+Subscribers&utm_campaign=3ef8936a2a-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f42f7adca5-3ef8936a2a-104736597

8/16

Dealbreaker, a good first-thing-in-the-day site for Wall Street and financial news, posts this FT observation by Stanley Fischer, former Vice-Chair of the Fed, a big deal at the World Bank and Governor of the Bank of Israel: “It took almost 80 years after 1930 to have another financial crisis that could have been of that magnitude. And now after 10 years everybody wants to go back to a status quo before the great financial crisis. And I find that really extremely dangerous and extremely short-sighted. One can understand the political dynamics of this thing, but one cannot understand why grown intelligent people reach the conclusion that [you should] get rid of all the things you have put in place in the last 10 years.”

Increasingly I find myself wondering whether what is rotten about this country has metastasized to a size and vehemence that could actually make Trump into a Hitler. Here’s some food for thought. Christopher, thou shouldst be living at this hour! https://www.vanityfair.com/news/1999/02/hitchens-199902?mbid=nl_th_59934a224012d829276c4bcf&CNDID=42793573&spMailingID=11707666&spUserID=MTQzOTExNDk1OTIxS0&spJobID=1221429765&spReportId=MTIyMTQyOTc2NQS2

Reading about Hitler led to reflections on Nazism, and these led the conclusion  that, for what it’s worth, I wholly agree with the decision of the public officials of Charlottesville to remove all the city’s monuments to Confederate soldiers. Over time, the view seems to have taken hold – and to have held fast – that the Civil War was basically about slavery. The South seceded and went to war (Ft.Sumter) to defend that vile institution. There’s an equivalence to the slave ships running from Africa to, say, Charleston, and the trains that ran from Western Europe to Auschwitz. Think about Germany: you can travel from one end of the country to another, and you won’t encounter statues or other monuments honoring Goebbels or Von Ribbentrop, let alone Der Fuhrer.  There is a place to commemorate the valor of people who gave their lives even for a despicable cause, and that is a military cemetery. I long ago visited the American, British and German cemeteries in Normandy. Obviously, the American graveyard moved me most. But the Friedhof was also impressive.

8/17

Strikes me that this sort of thing is what we ought to be wondering at and thinking about. The war of the rich on the poor, which I suppose we might call “re-redistribution”, enters the state house: https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/08/charter-school-fight-in-illinois-billionaire-ex-private-equity-governor-rauner-v-2-million-students.html

Posted without comment: http://prospect.org/article/steve-bannon-unrepentant

This piece by the always reflection-provoking Thomas Frank seems to dovetail with the Trump-Hitler-equivalence ruminations I posted earlier: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/08/trump-is-ready-to-go-down-in-flames?mbid=nl_th_5994c105ecb01b1b45476232&CNDID=42793573&spMailingID=11713349&spUserID=MTQzOTExNDk1OTIxS0&spJobID=1221496724&spReportId=MTIyMTQ5NjcyNAS2

Apropos of my earlier post on Confederate statuary: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2001/04/12/southern-comfort/  And add this: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/trump-charlottesville-robert-e-lee-symbolism-1053683?utm_content=from_&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Combined%20Newsletter%20for%208%2F17&utm_term=artnet%20News%20Daily%20Newsletter%20US      What I think is particularly interesting is that cornerstone Southern myths of valor – not only Lee and the Confederacy, but the Alamo as well – celebrate people and forces who lost battles. President Shithead has made clear his detestation of “losers.”   Yet here are two of the foundational myths of Southern chivalry, a noble calling involving the murder of young children among other disgusting accomplishments, that are based on lost battles, lost wars – and that were promoted into Dixie myth by apologists beginning in the 1890s, long, long after the actual conflicts (Lee died in 1870, the Alamo was fought in 1836.) Of course, the malignant narcissist  (1) in the White House knows no history, and his ignorant constituency – I always say the whiter the collar, the redder the neck – couldn’t care less.(1) The description of Trump as “a malignant narcissist” was proposed to me today at Pilates. Here’s Wiki: “The social psychologist Erich Fromm first coined the term “malignant narcissism” in 1964, describing it as a “severe mental sickness” representing “the quintessence of evil”. He characterized the condition as “the most severe pathology and the root of the most vicious destructiveness and inhumanity”. Edith Weigert (1967) saw malignant narcissism as a “regressive escape from frustration by distortion and denial of reality”, while Herbert Rosenfeld (1971) described it as “a disturbing form of narcissistic personality where grandiosity is built around aggression and the destructive aspects of the self become idealized”.Developing their ideas further, the psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg pointed out that the antisocial personality was fundamentally narcissistic and without morality. Malignant narcissism includes a sadistic element creating, in essence, a sadistic psychopath. The malignant narcissist thus represents a less extreme form of pathological narcissism than psychopathy. Malignant narcissism can be distinguished from psychopathy…because of the malignant narcissist’s capacity to internalize “both aggressive and idealized superego precursors, leading to the idealization of the aggressive, sadistic features of the pathological grandiose self of these patients”. 

Throw in this from Bloomberg, on Trump canceling plans for a council on Infrastructure: “Trump had tapped New York developers Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth, whom he described as friends, to lead the panel, which he established by an executive order on July 19. But he had not made any formal appointments to it. Neither LeFrak nor Roth immediately responded to requests for comment.” LeFrak and Roth are nice guys by all accounts, but infrastructure? Not unless infrastructure means luxury condos!

C’mon, David – tell us what you really  feel!  More Keynesian Gibberish From Bubble Blind Central
By David Stockman. Posted On Thursday, August 17th, 2017
If you want stunning proof that monetary central planning is a clear and present danger to capitalist prosperity just read the Fed’s stock market discussion in yesterday’s minutes. It amounts to a clueless confession of willful incompetence, and evidence that the FOMC members are so mesmerized by their Keynesian academic models that they can’t see the real world starring them in the face.What’s right in front of their collective noses, of course, is a domestic and global financial system that is everywhere booby-trapped with massive and incendiary financial bubbles, unsustainable leverage in both overt and covert forms (i.e. options), and relentless, liquidity-fueled speculation that infects the very warp and woof of most financial markets. Even the core blue-chip 10-year UST market is a speculators’ haven where on the margin pricing is driven by complex, leveraged arbitrages, not the bid of trust department managers in behalf of widows and orphans.Indeed, the evidence of an impending financial blow-up is palpable and plenary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8/7-8/13/17….

8/7

Amen – alas! http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/just-wait-little/

I was practically brought up in “21,” and ate there regularly until I moved some years ago to the charming village of Reduced Circumstances. Those were the great days of Pete Kriendler, Sheldon Tannen, Walter, Mario and the rest. Among regulars Trump was considered B-list, no matter what he claims. http://pagesix.com/2017/08/06/donald-trumps-tall-tales-about-the-21-club/ Gosh! Guess who doesn’t rate a mention in the following report?  http://www.nytimes.com/1987/02/15/magazine/making-old-21-young.html?pagewanted=all

Hmmmm. http://www.businessinsider.com/rest-and-vest-millionaire-engineers-who-barely-work-silicon-valley-2017-7

These numbers add up to a pretty convincing brief for “activist” investing. https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2017-elliott-management/?cmpid=BBD080717_BIZ&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_term=170807&utm_campaign=bloombergdaily

8/9

Been preoccupied with moving.

This is good. My favorite restaurant doesn’t allow Instagramming. http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/food-dining/2017/08/07/instagram-ruining-food-and-might-only-one-who-cares/GlZVsoSzmMKRpzrtenjfQN/story.html I give up! “Chef Chris Coombs will soon open a second branch of his South End steakhouse, Boston Chops, in Downtown Crossing, in the former Mantra space. It will have an Instagrammers’ table with its own special lighting system, for food photography.”

Anything and everything that Bacevich writes is worth reading and thinking about:  http://www.unz.com/article/slouching-toward-mar-a-lago/ Such as:  “The three presidents of the post-Cold-War era — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama — put these several propositions to the test. Politics-as-theater requires us to pretend that our 42nd, 43rd, and 44th presidents differed in fundamental ways. In practice, however, their similarities greatly outweighed any of those differences. Taken together, the administrations over which they presided collaborated in pursuing a common agenda, each intent on proving that the post-Cold-War consensus could work in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary.” Or this:
“By extension, Americans should come to see as intolerable the meanness, corruption, and partisan dysfunction so much in evidence at the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue. We need not wax sentimental over the days when Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen presided over the Senate to conclude that Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer represent something other than progress. If Congress continues to behave as contemptibly as it has in recent years (and in recent weeks), it will, by default, allow the conditions that have produced Trump and his cronies to prevail.”

8/11

Moving: boxes, boxes, boxes. 254 boxes of books, essentially the entire library I have built up over 60 years, will soon (this coming Mon.) be on their way to Brooklyn College.

This is what I was getting at when I worried on this website about the disproportionate portion of US GDP (and the obscene portion of Silicon Valley GDP) devoted to the manufacture of distraction. https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/08/flagging-productivity-growth-how-much-is-due-to-bad-management-to-blame.html

We need more of this kind of thing: http://dealbreaker.com/2017/08/the-ceo-of-adp-went-on-television-to-sht-all-over-bill-ackman/?utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=55176677&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-8GSsmfg2l7YCZOBSyNQqeejHsIaUwZYXE19dLZTZikCALs2GXYEP_fs6FC4pVbv-Pg3V_d9Kz60XEEdKvB1iqxo2_Fkw&_hsmi=55176677

8/12

In my experience, the kind of blustering militaristic braggadocio that Trump has been dispensing from the bully pulpit is rooted in physical as well as moral cowardice. The sort of stuff you expect from a proven draft-dodger and congenital liar. I’m constantly reminded of that ludicrous photo of Trump with his parents when he attended a military school of the kind that used to advertise in the back pages of The NYT Magazine, all spit-and-polish, Duke of Plaza-Toro “leading from behind” stuff, the strap of his shako under his nose, the very personification of what Thomas Paine meant by “the summer soldier and sunshine patriot”(a phrase I’ve quoted before).

Kunstler and Dizard make good points: first, Kunstler: http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/battle-of-the-behemoths/ Quote: The condition that will flavor events going forward is scale. Everything organized at the giant scale is going to fail. We have made all the systems of daily life too large and they will not function in the long emergency (and the fourth turning), an age characterized by universal contraction. This is true of corporations, institutions, schools, hospitals, farms, governments, virtually all organized enterprise. Now Dizard on how the shortage of “ethically sourced” cobalt could affect Tesla, especiall conssidering how sanctimonious a figure Musk cuts : https://www.ft.com/content/16436eea-7dcd-11e7-9108-edda0bcbc928 Basic Point: There is not enough cobalt production from existing mines, or mines under construction, to meet the demand projected by Tesla along with Chinese and European auto manufacturers over the next five years.

Offered without comment – other than a snicker with a bit of a nod: http://www.unz.com/ishamir/bring-me-the-head-of-jeff-bezos/