Critiques & Commentary

Welcome to Midas Watch – A Mission Statement

For the last two or three years, I’ve used FB as a sort of blog, sounding- and bulletin-board and forum. I posted stuff I thought my friends might be interested in reading and thinking about. But I’ve grown sick of FB in almost every way. I’m sick of the intrusions: the ads, the puffery, the come-ons. I’m sick of the dialogue, the trolling, the cloying compliments, the unremitting delectations of the self-evident and the obvious. So I’ve decided to launch this website. If you’re looking for me, here’s where I’ll be.

I’ve given this website the title of the column I wrote from October 1987 until early 2009 for The New York Observer. Certain principles abide. I started by what the Brits call “taking a view,” and so I plan to continue. As I saw it, we had entered a new Gilded Age, dominated by what I thought of as “the Overclass”, a money-based oligarchy that was despoiling the public and private institutions of the country .  This Overclass was exhibitionistic, ruthless, shameless, solipsistic, humorless, with little concern for the sensibility or situation of those less plugged in. If you spoke to these people of noblesse oblige, you were greeted with a look that combined moral blankness and contempt. I had grown up in and with relative affluence; what I began to see ran in the face of every way I had been taught to behave, I found myself agreeing with Dorothy Parker’s famous quip: “If you want to see what God thinks of money, look at who He gives it to,” and that’s how I wrote about them. They didn’t like being made fun of, being tagged with schoolyard nicknames like “the Prince of Swine” or “the Wee Haberdasher.” I have always believed the bad guys and idiots have names – and I had no compunction naming them.

Not that I made any difference. The despoilers are more in control than ever – and not only thicker on the ground, but more contemptible and self-regarding. In 1993, Random House contracted and paid me for a nonfiction book about The Overclass (that was the working title), but for reasons that remain obscure didn’t publish it. I guess it was ahead of its time, and in American life, nothing has less cash value than that.

Speaking out – saying what you think – can cost you friends. It cost me, especially when more and more people I had been close to in younger days began to discover how much they really loved money, and to organize their social lives and acquaintanceships around the indubitable truth that wealth loves wealth. Or, as they used to say on Wall Street, friendship can’t buy money.

That sort of thing made me angry back then, but no longer. I was 51 when I began the Observer column. I had much to look forward to – or so I thought. My fuse was much shorter. Now I’m 80, and my thoughts turn mainly to the past. When shit happens – and it does – I find I’ve become surprisingly philosophical. I must also confess that after nine novels and a few false starts (including The Overclass), the inclination and mental stamina to write another book has all but petered out. Writing is great fun – but being published (or not published) is torture, and after the way my recent novel Fixers was received (raves in The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, but no other major reviews. None), what’s the point? Still, once opinionated, always opinionated, once a writer always a writer. So here we are.

And so it goes. I should end this overture as overtures should, on a joyous note. The day this website launches is the birthday of my darling wife Tamara Glenny and my grandson Cooper Thomas. He’s turning 25; Tamara’s a tiny bit older. And tomorrow, my youngest son Francis turns 30; he had just turned 1 when I began “The Midas Watch”; readers of the Observer column knew him as  “Master Francis”. My family is my greatest blessing.

One final note: I’m not trying to make debating points. here. Trolls need not apply. People whose reactions I care about can post on FB or reach me by email at [email protected] or any other address you already have.

11/20-11/26/17…..

11/20

Thanksgiving Week. Last night an interesting coincidence. My wife and I, side-by-side in bed, reading. She: Tina Brown’s Vanity Fair Diaries 1983-1992; me: Chips: The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon (1934-1958). Two diaries by people of some consequence in the spheres they coveted; two accounts of what ambition looks and sounds like, stripped naked and given its head, written by skilled and successful practitioners of the art. Of course, the types of ambition are different: hers professional, his social, but they express themselves in oddly similar way: he fixated on who will come to his parties and in whose company he’s to be seen; she in what big names she can “get” for an issue and hangs out with. Both are strong books, however, remarkably clear-eyed. They invite the reader to correlate what he thinks of the diarist and what the diarist apparently thinks of her(him)self. Or, as Anthony Powell notably put it: “It is not what happens to people that is significant, but what they think happens to them.” I wonder if there are book groups out there devoted to reading and discussing diaries, starting with Pepys (or perhaps St.Augustine). They might take Powell’s observation as their motto.
Speaking of the former, this past Friday – can’t recall off hand whether I mentioned – we saw a rather odd little diversion based on Pepys called “17c” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. A real curate’s egg – “good in parts”: mainly off point, except for one monologue (and what is a diary except a monologue?). 

In his entry of June 11, 1936 (I was just short of two months old then, in my cradle on the other side of the Atlantic), Chips Channon gives a dinner party which the newly-crowned King Edward VIII, who will abdicate and turn into the Duke of Windsor six months later, graces with his royal presence. Channon writes, breathlessly: “…It was the very peak, the summit, I suppose. The King of England dining with me!” I like that “I suppose.” Lets slip a self-awareness essential to a great diary. But Channon’s social ecstasy also brought forth an amusing memory. It would have been around 1954. My father and stepmother were giving a cocktail party in their Long Island house, and one of the invitees had brought her houseguests, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Just after the house was graced with royal presence, my father’s butler, John Hare, a resolute Scot of the kind that wins wars, came to him and said, “Mr.Thomas, I canna serve that man. He did not do his duty!” He was speaking of the Duke. Joe Thomas understood perfectly, and immediately dragooned me (or my brother) to bring HRH his whisky. Sic semper tyrannis!   

So – with a week behind us to reflect – what do we think about the $450 million Salvador Mundi by Leonardo? First of all, my own sense is that the original was by Leonardo and that his matchless skills are still evident in the blessing hand, the lower passages of Christ’s hair, the orb and the hand that holds it. With respect to the latter, arguments have been put forward that since the reflections in the orb aren’t flipped, it can’t be by an artist whose passion for scientific accuracy and tricks of the eye is a matter of (his own) record. This is idiotic. There’s a Salvador Mundi in the Metropolitan Museum (Friedsam Bequest) of roughly the same date (1500-05) painted by Albrecht Durer, an artist of punctilious observation, that commits the same optical “errors” as the Leonardo. All this said, the Leonardo isn’t a picture I’d want to own; there’s something about Christ’s face and expression that I find off-putting. Purely artistic issues aside, two final thoughts. Bendor Grosvenor, who writes what I consider the best art blog (http://www.arthistorynews.com/) considers that Christie’s did the greatest marketing job in auction-house history, and I wholly agree. And perhaps more important: the price of anything can only be evaluated in terms of what the money paid means to him or her who paid it.

Amen: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-11-20/italy-is-right-to-measure-la-dolce-vita

11/21

Agreed: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/11/wall-street-fears-trumps-deranged-tax-plan-could-kick-off-economic-euthanasia?spMailingID=12406958&spUserID=MTQzOTExNDk1OTIxS0&spJobID=1281958656&spReportId=MTI4MTk1ODY1NgS2

OK – Time Out! Charlie Rose has now been put in the stocks reserved for those purported to have harassed. The last such alleged incident was six years ago! This is now getting ridiculous. I have a feeling that, back then, alcohol may have been part of the equation. It is no longer. And on and on drone the media about some woman’s memory of having been rubbed up against, while in Washington the proven liar, swindler and butt-pincher in the White House, along with his cronies, conspires the steal the country out from under us! CBS and PBS have put Charlie on ice. They ought to be given a good swift kick for not standing up for a man who’s a good guy and saying they will take no action pending an investigation. And Charlie should get ready to sue their asses if they don’t! 

 

 

11/10-11/19/17…

11/10

No one loves parades and multi-gun salutes more than cowards and draft-dodgers. https://qz.com/1125161/trump-in-china-a-former-ambassador-says-xi-is-playing-him-like-a-fiddle/?mc_cid=dfcbeeb944&mc_eid=0e98215088

Every day, in many ways, the ongoing war for economic inequality and against the poor gains important new recruits: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/11/requiem-for-gary-cohns-soul?mbid=nl_th_5a04ee0da5d94677ed93cb7a&CNDID=42793573&spMailingID=12327005&spUserID=MTQzOTExNDk1OTIxS0&spJobID=1280850922&spReportId=MTI4MDg1MDkyMgS2

An interesting view of what’s going on in our frenemy Saudi Arabia: https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/11/kingdom-fear-saudi-arabia-lockdown.html

Good God in heaven! https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-10/alibaba-singles-day-racks-up-1-billion-in-sales-in-2-minutes Money quote: “Hangzhou-based Alibaba is using the occasion to test the limits of its cloud computing, delivery and payments units — businesses that could benefit from roping in traditional retailers as customers.
To that end, Alibaba teams fanned out across the nation ahead of Nov. 11 to help outlets — some 600,000 mom-and-pop convenient stores and some 1,000 brands — upgrade their computer systems. Those retailers, many in prime city locations, will become delivery and storage centers.” This confirms  variant on  on Everett Dirksen’s immortal pronunciamento: To wit:  “All everything is local.” Alibaba apparently doesn’t go apeshit over “scale.”  

11/11

I find this interesting – and completely in accordance with what shocked me when I first saw the world of access-based journalism up close in personal beginning in 1987, when I began my column for The New York Observer, a “project” that would go on for 22 years. Someone once asked me what the book-publishing industry was all about, and I answered “Lunch.” I would say the same about journalism.   https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/11/how-trump-brought-the-political-media-class-to-its-knees?mbid=nl_hps_5a05e5d8e4723425cb9737cf&CNDID=42793573&spMailingID=12337413&spUserID=Mhttps://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/republican-trump-tax-plan-by-

 

11/12

TODAY is my son Willie’s 60th birthday! Now I have two sons age 60. Ouch! But two fabulous guys. And think how much longer I’ve had the pleasure of my sons’ company than most dads have! So – hip hip hooray, and a trillion happy returns. If only the Federal Reserve franked birthday wishes.

I just got a call purporting to be from Apple Security. They instructed me to call 800 200 0015. As the call came in on my landline I did so, and found myself talking to something call www.fastcompanysupport, and they instructed me to bring up a web page. I did so and found myself invited to click on a link that made no mention of Apple anywhere and powered by an outfit I never heard of. I was looking at an obvious digital honeytrap, so I hung up. 

Somehow love doesn’t always find a way. https://therealdeal.com/issues_articles/macklowe-vs-macklowe/

No comment needed: https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/republican-trump-tax-plan-by-nouriel-roubini-2017-11?utm_source=Project+Syndicate+Newsletter&utm_campaign=e8fb43cb8e-sunday_newsletter_12_11_2017&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_73bad5b7d8-e8fb43cb8e-93490385

Watching hapless Giants being creamed by winless 49ers. They’v obviously given up (even the TV guys are saying so).

Liz Smith has died. She and I were close – and then we weren’t. What brought us apart was a differing approach to the rich and famous. She got where she got – a hell of a lot higher and farther than I ever did – by heaping praise. I thought they deserved to be shat on – and did. She criticized me for my approach and I fired back. From being asshole buddies it went to “no speak” overnight.  I’m not saying either of us was right. She was a good Ft.Worth girl, lively and fun, and I tip my hat to her. 

I once asked my father, who spent four years on carriers in the South Pacific, what he thought was the singular virtue of the U.S. fighting man. “Common sense,” he replied. Wonder what he’d answer today: http://ritholtz.com/2017/11/journalists-today-enemy-american-people/

In case you were wondering: https://democracyjournal.org/arguments/when-everyone-has-health-care/

Frightening: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/12/us/nsa-shadow-brokers.html?emc=edit_ta_20171112&nl=top-stories&nlid=2476992&ref=cta

11/13

If ever confirmation were needed of my dictum that the problem with the Internet/Social Media is that millions of people with nothing to say now have a place to say it, here it is: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-13/trump-is-shattering-his-own-tweet-records-with-non-stop-barrage

Interesting: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-11-13/richard-florida-now-sees-the-downside-of-urban-revival

Infuriating: https://granolashotgun.com/2017/11/13/mind-the-gap-2/

Stupidity Finds Its Apotheosis: https://gizmodo.com/angry-sean-hannity-fans-are-smashing-keurigs-on-twitter-1820378486

Sounds like a must-read: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/actually-the-magic-money-tree-does-exist-according-to-modern-monetary-theory-a8021501.htmlMoney Quote: It diagnoses that neoliberalism was not just a right-wing Thatcherite-Reaganite prospectus. The centre-left, as embodied by Mitterrand’s socialists in France, Blair’s New Labour and the Democratic Party in the US, was complicit in its imposition. This consensus culminated in the decimation of manufacturing, decline of union membership, the expansion of financial services, wage flattening, falling living standards and the privatisation of public services. At the heart of neoliberalism was the assertion that the free market is the supreme arbiter with the economy managed by technocratic expertise. The flip side of this depoliticisation resulted in ordinary people becoming alienated and disillusioned with the social democratic parties that formerly represented them. Instead they turned to anti-establishment (usually hard right) parties.” And who are the true “Deplorables” now?  AND add this to the mix: http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=37336

No comment needed, just the sound of two hands clapping: http://www.businessinsider.com/larry-krasner-philadelphia-election-platform-trump-2017-11?nr_email_referer=1&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_content=PoliticsSelect&pt=385758&ct=Sailthru_BI_Newsletters&mt=8&utm_campaign=BI%20Politics%20Mondays%202017-11-13&utm_term=Politics%20Select%20-%20Engaged%2C%20Active%2C%20Passive%2C%20Disengaged/#krasner-wins-a-decisive-victory-twice-8

Apparently there really is an asshole born every minute: https://ny.eater.com/2017/11/13/16643492/tiffanys-blue-box-cafe-wait

Why alcohol is necessary to get through life: http://www.businessinsider.com/nuclear-weapons-deadly-evolution-power-military-video-animation-2017-3?nr_email_referer=1&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_content=TechSelect&pt=385758&ct=Sailthru_BI_Newsletters&mt=8&utm_campaign=BI%20Tech%20Mondays%202017-11-13&utm_term=Tech%20Select%20-%20Engaged%2C%20Active%2C%20Passive%2C%20Disengaged

Today’s “must look at’: https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2017-what-to-buy-instead-of-art/

Pleased to see that my alma mater now offers a graduate program in mindlessness: http://som.yale.edu/news/2017/11/video-what-can-you-get-for-paperclip

11/14

The NYT’s account yesterday of the Giants’ “quit” loss to the 49ers on Sunday was bylined “AP.” Does this mean my hometown “paper of record” no longer has a reporter assigned to cover the team that once ruled the city?

One footnote about Liz SmithAll the post-mortems characterize her as a “gossip columnist.” But gossip largely includes stuff people doing like being known about them, or talked about. It emphatically doesn’t include stuff dished up by publicists and PR types (unless, of course, they’re putting a knock on some other publicist’s client.) But the way Liz practiced her bright and cheery art was to make nice. To be fair about it, Liz used the money and connections her methodology produced for good works like Literacy Partners, said to have helped some 800,000 NYC kids to learn to read.

Now it begins: http://wallstreetonparade.com/2017/11/trump-bank-regulator-wants-to-merge-taxpayer-backstopped-banks-with-corporate-conglomerates/

A quiet enriching afternoon. Conrad’s a writer I haven’t thought about in years, or looked into even longer ago, but there’s a terrific piece about him in the latest New Yorker, so I put Nigger of the Narcissus (not a title found on many syllabi in today’s “snowflake” curricula) on the Kindle and I confess to being blown away! As I have been by the music I’ve had on: Chopin (and variations and evocations) played by the comet of the moment, Danil Trifonov, and he is terrific! Technique to burn and refinement to match. But then I put on Artur Rubinstein playing the Nocturnes and that is something else. It’s a generational thing, I guess, but in Rubinstein’s playing I feel a kind of cultural wholeness: every great book the man ever read,  every great picture he ever looked at, every great meal or wine he ever consumed, every beautiful woman he ever seduced. There’s a spaciousness there: murmurs of an age when one crossed the Atlantic on a great steamer in seven days as opposed to the middle seat of a 767 in seven hours. There aren’t a lot of compensations in being my age, but one of them is that I caught at least the tail end of that glorious era.  

11/15

From the sublime to the interesting. Tina Brown’s Vanity Fair Diaries arrived and I must say they’re very entertaining and worthwhile, not least for what they reveal about the author. I know Tina, but just a bit. I met her when she came to this country to take up the reins at VF;  we had lunch at the Algonquin. I suppose I was still writing for Manhattan Inc. I never did much for her: a piece about Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money, and two long pieces, never published: about Heywood Hill’s bookshop in London for The New Yorker, and about the Chanel-Metropolitan Museum dustup for Talk. Do I recommend her diaries? I certainly do! Tina has her blind spots: the higher arts don’t interest her much; she’s more interested in writers than writing, but all in all she says what’s on her mind, is confessional when honesty and occasion demand, is a concerned, loving, loyal and supportive wife and mother. All good. And she was lucky to have had one Wayne Lawson on staff, an editor so good and influential that I once asked, meanly, in The New York Observer, why when Wayne Lawson published articles and novels, he unaccountably used the pseudonym “Dominick Dunne.” 

I have to say that Fate seems pretty mischievous to have arranged the publication of Vanity Fair Diaries to coincide with the passing of Liz Smith, another towering figure in the landscape of New York dish. Tina is all of a piece, take it or leave it. Liz Smith was a lovely person, and I liked her as a friend for as long as it went and as far as it went, but the demarcation between her personal qualities and what she did professionally and how she went about it (what Joseph Epstein, in his marvelous Weekly Standard evisceration of Leon Wieseltier – who fooled Tina, but only once, it seems – calls tuchus-leching) ultimately came between us. All in all Tina’s diaries confirm the truth of my father’s description of “the upper crust”: a bunch of crumbs held together by dough. 

I’ve always foundDuncan’s re mark early in Macbeth – “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face-to be somewhat ambiguous. Now this: http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-tell-someones-lying-by-watching-their-face-2016-1?nr_email_referer=1&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_content=BISelect&pt=385758&ct=Sailthru_BI_Newsletters&mt=8&utm_campaign=BI%20Select%20%28Wednesday%20Friday%29%202017-11-15&utm_term=Business%20Insider%20Select%20-%20Engaged%2C%20Active%2C%20Passive%2C%20Disengaged

11/16

So the Leonardo sold for $450 million. What we’re seeing is what might be called “the attitudinal value” of money: amounts unthinkable even ten years ago are expended to buy stuff. $450 million is huge to those of us who aren’t wealthy or who are old enough to remember when the entire market capitalization of IBM may have been less than that. But if you’re a Saudi prince, or a Nigerian minister, or own a business with a billion or more online (and thus monetizable) customers, what’s $450 million to you?  

Like liquid spilling out of a cup, greed suddenly seems out of control, whether it’s Jerry Jones vs. the NFL, Wilbur Ross vs truth, the distentions on the tax bill, $450 big ones for the Leonardo (sic). Basic elements of common sense and (sometimes morality) are supposed to act like gimbals to keep even the piggiest sensibilities in some kind of balance. These appear to have failed.  

Interesting. If you reckon this picture will draw a million incremental visitors a year minimum, which is should, a smart buy: https://www.artsjournal.com/culturegrrl/2017/11/did-ken-griffin-buy-the-leonardo-or-provide-for-art-institute-of-chicago-to-acquire-it.html

11/17

I eschew social media, generally speaking. I quit Twitter and Social Media a year ago: too stupid and distracting. But I continue to look at Instagram for family pictures and images posted by art world eminences I respect. One of these, ex-Met Director Thomas Campbell, who in my opinion got a raw deal, at least way his departure was handled, noted that $450 million paid for the Leonardo made Diane Modestini, who restored the painting, the most expensive living artist. That made me chuckle: I said exactly the same thing in an email I sent a week ago to a leading dealer.   

Speaking of the Leonardo, let’s do some numbers, as they say on NPR. The picture will now be known primarily for the staggering amount paid for it at auction. I predict that it will join the Mona Lisa on every selfie-taking idiot’s bucket list. Assume then that, as current gossip has it, the picture was bought by Chicago hedge-funder Ken Griffin (who earlier paid David Geffen $300 million for a de Kooning and a Pollock) and will hang in the Art Institute of Chicago. It should bring in – I’m guessing – up to 2 million incremental visitors to Chicago (an exhibition of Kusama, a living artist with a touristic “Ooh, Ah – Must See!” shtick, doubled the attendance at the Hirshhorn in Washington) and that should do the Art Institute very nicely. When the Mona Lisa came to the Met in 1963 – 1963!!!! – over one million people thronged the museum specifically to see the painting. Extrapolate that figure forward 54 years, and consider that NYC draws 60 million tourists a year, and that the Met does 7 million visitors, and what hates to think what Fifth Avenue might look like if La Joconde showed up today. Here’s an amusing account of the 1963 pandemonium: https://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/now-at-the-met/features/2013/today-in-met-history-february-4

11/18

Having bemoaned the share of GDP that represents the manufacture/production/dissemination of distraction, I was interested to read this: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/nov/15/tim-berners-lee-world-wide-web-net-neutrality

This way to the vomitorium, ladies and gentlemen (check the prices): http://www.tiffany.com/accessories/everyday-objects

This is just so good, it’s required Reading: http://www.vulture.com/2017/11/annie-proulx-national-book-award-speech.html

This strikes me as a good, quick and accurate way to describe a kind of mindset that’s running free nowadays: “…abstract,fact-free, globalist leftism…” from a letter to London Review of Books (10/19/2017).  

11/19

Ross Douthat has another good column in NYT today about whether Clinton should have resigned after Lewinsky or, failing that, been impeached. He comes out where I did when the Lewinsky business surface. I wrote in “The Midas Watch” in NYO that I assumed Clinton would do the right and proper thing and resign and that Gore would take over and the Great Republic would be steered back on course. I was horribly wrong in assuming that “the right thing,” as either phrase or concept, is to be found in the Clinton moral lexicon. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11/2-11/9/17….

11/2

Tonight we’re going to see “Junk,” a new play about the 1980s junk-bond-fueled takeover game. I’ve written an essay about that for a special Lincoln Center handout. Hope the play works better onstage than it does on paper.

Nobody does this sort of thing better than Michael Lewis: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/11/usda-food-stamps-school-lunch-trump-administration

11/3

“Junk” at Lincoln Center is one of those theatrical offerings in which a flashy set, actors constantly in motion while declaiming bromides at the top of their voices, stock characters (some a clef) and general busyness are supposed to distract today’s audiences from a lack of substance or insight. “Claptrap to catch the groundlings” as ’twas said in Shakespeare’s time. Of course, today’s groundlings trade derivatives and wear $5000 suits. Still…don’t waste your money or your time. One nice note: at the conclusion of a rather tepid review of “Junk,” The Daily Beast’s critic remarks: One bright side: What Junk does inspire is a thorough treat of an edition of the Lincoln Center Theater Review, whose Fall 2017 issue, edited by Alexis Gargagliano, features an excellent selection of features themed around elements of the play by Michael Thomas, Malcolm Gladwell, Dana Gioia, and a brilliant interview, by John Guare, of an anonymous billionaire who worked with Milken.”

Here are some numbers that recently caught my eye: AMZN for the last nine months: Revenues of $43.7 billion, operating profit $347 million. Now – for the last full year – the results for Alibaba, China’s equivalent to Amazon: Revenues: $23 billion, operating profit: $6 billion! What creates those gasp-inducing differences in margins, with Alibaba bringing down 4 times the profits on 1/2 the volume? Labor costs? Markups? Other efficiencies unique to China? 

And now for people who really know how to sell out: http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/swamp-o-rama/ “I write this as a still-registered Democrat myself — though I consider myself their enemy now, yet hardly a Trump partisan. Are there any like me out there who would like to see both parties tossed onto the garbage barge of history? Of course, to say that also means throwing out a cargo of terrible ideas and beliefs, not just two clown cars of personalities. Identity politics, zero interest rate policy, American Exceptionalism, endless debt, nation-building in foreign lands, FASB-157, sanctuary cities, Title IX coercion, racketeering in health care and higher ed, market interventions, ambiguous borders… is just some of the cargo that needs to be dumped overboard with both parties.”

Sooner of later, real, true idiots trip over their feet, even if they’re in their mouths: https://abovethelaw.com/2017/11/unpacking-the-ways-trumps-nyc-tweets-violate-due-process/

I am a lifetime sports fan. I’ve rooted hard, even owned pieces of teams (LA Rams) and athletes (boxers Frank Narvaez and Pedro Agosto). I love the knowledge stuff, going back to the 1946 Baseball Guide with Cubs’ pitcher Claude Passeau on the cover. When I had a few extra nickels, they went into machines in candy and stationery stores that dispensed sepia-colored postcards of the stars of the day (like Yankees’ first basemen Nick Etten, who in 1947 signed a contract for $15,015, whereupon the immortal sportswriter Red Smith observed “The fifteen bucks is for fielding.” ) I loved this World Series, love the great characterful young players, love stories like that of Astros’ MVP George Springer (a product of Avon Old Farms prep school, which has also provided the NHL, if memory serves, with one of its top goal-tenders.) But I am sick at heart about what’s happening in football with all the injuries: these guys are simply too big, too fast, too overtrained and too “overgymed” (too much strength-training), and – ironically – almost too athleticto play this kind of a game. According to Spectator, the same thing is happening in first-class rugby. Some better answer must be found. Perhaps eliminate that day when draft prospects are subjected to higher, faster, stronger. And crazier. Back when I owned a minute fraction of the Rams, we had the best defense in the NFL – “the Fearsome Foursome”: Lamar Lundy, Roosevelt Grier, Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones – and I doubt those guys spent 10 minutes aggregate in the weight room – and they seldom missed a down.  All this weight-training compresses and tightens muscles; eliminates “give” and flexibility. The players get bigger and faster, but their musculatire gets tighter. Fewer weights, more Pilates, more dance class. That may be the answer. 

As you ponder today’s market, ponder this: https://www.safalniveshak.com/free-brains-effortless-money/

11/4

I’m including this for no other reason than that I found it fascinating and entertaining: https://www.thenation.com/article/breaking-the-spell/

It strikes me that Robert E. Lee was, so to speak, the Confederacy’s Rommel: a noble warrior in a detestable cause. 

Good stuff here (via LitHub): https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/book-party/wp/2015/07/30/i-just-binge-read-eight-books-by-donald-trump-heres-what-i-learned/?utm_term=.d4db0dfaba99

Nicely mixed feelings about this: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/04/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-waleed-bin-talal.html?emc=edit_na_20171104&nl=breaking-news&nlid=2476992&ref=cta

No comment needed.https://democraticautopsy.org/executive-summary/

11/6

And on and on it goes. Blister the poor! (this from Politico Real Estate): 

TAX TALKS — Republican tax plan would decimate affordable housing in New York, advocates and city officials warn, by POLITICO New York’s Sally Goldenberg: A Republican-backed proposal to repeal tax-exempt bonds would decimate affordable housing in New York, according to a group of advocates who are mobilizing to block the plan. The GOP tax reform plan, released Thursday, would cost New York $4.5 billion in financing to provide housing for low- and moderate-income tenants, the New York Housing Conference said in a release Friday afternoon. The loss totals 17,128 homes, the advocacy group said. … “The reality is that housing, not taxes, is the number one expense for American families and that is true whether you are in New York City or Des Moines, Iowa,” Eric Enderlin, president of the city’s Housing Development Corporation, said in an email. “The proposal to eliminate private activity bonds would mean the loss of funding to build thousands of affordable homes for low and middle income New Yorkers. We are confident our partners across the country, and across partisan lines, will fight tooth and nail to protect this critical resource.” 

— “With GOP Tax Proposal, Real Estate Big Shots Have Much to Examine,” by Commercial Observer’s Matt Grossman: “In a clear-cut boon to the real estate industry, the Republican plan proposes a special 25 percent tax rate on pass-through businesses, which include partnerships, S-corps and limited-liability corporations. Today, proceeds from these entities are treated as regular income on their owners’ personal taxes, potentially taxed up to the highest bracket’s rate of nearly 40 percent. Closely held real estate development companies—like President Donald Trump’s own family entities—make up one of the sectors that take advantage of these structures most prolifically.”

— Tax plan would cut affordable housing supply by 60 percent, by POLITICO’s Lorraine Woellert: “Builders, local governments and other housing advocates are rallying against a provision of the House Republican tax plan that would eliminate a key funding source for affordable rentals. The tax proposal would do away with private activity bonds, a growing source of financing for low-cost housing. The cuts would reduce the supply of new affordable rentals by more than 85,000 units a year, or more than 60 percent, according to an analysis from Novogradac and Co. Private activity bonds are issued by local or state governments and are designed to attract private capital to fund large projects. They have evolved into a common financing mechanism for housing as the supply of low-income housing tax credits — the primary source of financing — has been outpaced by the need for low-cost rentals.”

Lede from Politico Morning Media: “EVEN THE NATION’S MEDIA CAPITAL HAS A LOCAL NEWS PROBLEM”, Did anyone notice that last Friday’s NYT account of the Jets’ victory over the Bills was from The Associated Press. When the newspaper of record doesn’t assign a beat reporter to one of the two local NFL teams….

This is why knee-jerk anti-Trumpism is as pointless as knee-jerk pro-Trumpism: http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-fish-food-koi-pond-japan-prime-minister-2017-11?nr_email_referer=1&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_content=PoliticsSelect&pt=385758&ct=Sailthru_BI_Newsletters&mt=8&utm_campaign=BI%20Politics%20Mondays%202017-11-06&utm_term=Politics%20Select%20-%20Engaged%2C%20Active%2C%20Passive%2C%20Disengaged

11/7

Ah – my man! http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/what-could-go-wrong/

Although I’ve always found him genial enough – at least until he popped up in Trump’s pocket – I always wondered how Wilbur Ross, whom I met forty years ago when he was working at Rothschild with Sidney Gruson, could have made the amount of money attributed to him. Well, it now appears, he didn’t. Take this choice nugget from a new Forbes article and go from there: So began the mystery of Wilbur Ross’ missing $2 billion. And after one month of digging, Forbes is confident it has found the answer: That money never existed. It seems clear that Ross lied to us, the latest in an apparent sequence of fibs, exaggerations, omissions, fabrications and whoppers that have been going on with Forbes since 2004. In addition to just padding his ego, Ross’ machinations helped bolster his standing in a way that translated into business opportunities. And based on our interviews with ten former employees at Ross’ private equity firm, WL Ross & Co., who all confirmed parts of the same story line, his penchant for misleading extended to colleagues and investors, resulting in millions of dollars in fines, tens of millions refunded to backers and numerous lawsuits. Additionally, according to six U.S. senators, Ross failed to initially mention 19 suits in response to a questionnaire during his confirmation process.” Sounds to me like bye-bye Wilbur, because I doubt the Liar-in-Chief in the White House can tolerate a colleague whose prevarications add up to a sum in a league with Dickhead’s own. Here’s the link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/danalexander/2017/11/07/the-case-of-wilbur-ross-phantom-2-billion/#74d320557515

No comment needed: https://medium.com/@jamesbridle/something-is-wrong-on-the-internet-c39c471271d2?_hsenc=p2ANqtz-8Pg5udSME2cyPYqoOw5rRnwz5eZARH9YFX_mbmUdMgDF2TX3SXiX-g4UkVXgKTnnaY1ZOSXX66f_XmcBVEDk-Vjf1Zkg&_hsmi=58163010

In a NYT Op-Ed today, Michelle Goldberg incorporates an observation by Hannah Arendt that deserved to be printed in boldface. It’s about – as Goldberg puts it – “the role played in undermining liberalism in pre-totalitarian societies.” Here’s Arendt: “The temporary alliance between the elite and the mob rested largely on this genuine delight with which the former watched the latter destroy respectability.”   Just think about that in the context of Dickhead’s White House antics. 

I should add that David Brooks today has what strikes me as a brilliant column on the social visions underpinning the power politics of tax reform. Here’s how he puts it: “…Republicans think the whole country would be better off if we take money away from the Democrats’ rich people and give it to their own…rich people.”  The Dems naturally want it to be the other way round.

Another arrow in the quiver of my pet subject: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/06/how-poverty-became-crime-america

Nothing more satisfying than when someone else completes a difficult and unpleasant task I’ve contemplated doing myself in the interest of research: http://www.slate.com/blogs/watching_fox/2017/11/03/the_lessons_of_watching_fox_news_for_three_weeks_non_stop.html     Here’s the Money quote: “The network flatters its viewers’ sense of moral superiority while validating all of their latent resentments, cultivating in them a constant state of righteous rage that can be easily exploited by wealthy demagogues.”

No comment neededhttps://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-11-03/there-s-one-unspeakable-fix-that-would-help-pay-for-the-gop-s-tax-cuts

Interesting: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/autumn-fall-names-season?utm_source=Atlas+Obscura+Daily+Newsletter&utm_campaign=c9da4f18eb-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_11_07&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f36db9c480-c9da4f18eb-63378865&ct=t()&mc_cid=c9da4f18eb&mc_eid=52a8ddceb0

Everyone should see this, but if some haven’t: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/07/world/americas/mass-shootings-us-international.html?emc=edit_ne_20171107&nl=evening-briefing&nlid=2476992&te=1      These statistics should be shoved up Dickhead’s ass, assuming that the shover can differentiate between POTUS’s mouth and his butthole.

Here’s the problem. Reverse Greedheadism. People with all the wealth, advantages and influence hungrier for “More” than Oliver Twist. Now obviously I don’t think the HRHs sit around with maps of the Caribbean trying to figure out where they can get the better punch for the pound (like that, do you?), but even if it’s an HRH tuppence ha’penny that’s being parked or laundered it’s too much. https://www.icij.org/investigations/paradise-papers/prince-charles-estate-invested-offshore-paradise-papers-show/

11/8

Interesting. Dickhead tweeted right through the day yesterday. Today: nothing so far on that invaluable site: http://www.trumptwitterarchive.com/ Maybe losing, as in VA and NJ, and seeing the carapace of pathological self-regard in which he dwells pierced by reality, is all that will shut this lying idiot up. 

Time to revisit thishttps://thebaffler.com/salvos/hamilton-hustle-stoller         Here’s the money quote: “However, it should be granted one unqualified plaudit at the outset: Miranda’s play is one of the most brilliant propaganda pieces in theatrical history.” 

Plays itself: https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/homo-economicus-moral-psychology-revolution-by-ricardo-hausmann-2017-11?utm_campaign=Dealbreaker%20Opening%20Bell&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=58216279&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-9USX92qeb_XN7manr0E1n-BC0gea5JCjsJ547PKPWodP0Fm0cCLWWMOAxcl3AHLJlsWmVz0XXvofY9tO_NrCdPELPPyg&_hsmi=58216279

“‘The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” – Henry VI, Part II, act IV, Scene II, Line 73. I have a feeling that were Shakespeare rewriting his play today, the line would read, “The first thing we do, let’s kill everyone in real estate!” https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/11/fight-global-wall-street-landlords.html

I can’t die soon enough! https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-08/apple-is-said-to-ramp-up-work-on-augmented-reality-headset

Here’s Dickhead’s sole TOR (Tweet of Record) for today: Nov 8, 2017 01:17:41 PM – Congratulations to all of the ”DEPLORABLES” and the millions of people who gave us a MASSIVE (304-227) Electoral College landslide victory! https://t.co/7ifv5gT7Ur”   Losing it, are we?

11/9

I must say, nothing surprises me. But isn’t TR an example of a sitting President doing some trust-busting of his own? I don’t like the AT&T-Time Warner deal myself – simply because I think there’s too much concentration in American business as it is. https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/11/political-cnn-trump-hand-in-justice-department-merger-crackdown?mbid=nl_th_5a0382d54cddea6e35171f48&CNDID=42793573&spMailingID=12320376&spUserID=MTQzOTExNDk1OTIxS0&spJobID=1280790323&spReportId=MTI4MDc5MDMyMwS2

We ought to start teaching this in high schools: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/09/paradise-papers-offshore-billionaires?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=251595&subid=23770632&CMP=GT_US_collection

https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/taibbi-a-year-after-trumps-election-nothing-has-changed-w511229Nothing like issuing high-priced convertible debt to buy back stock. https://www.bloomberg.com/gadfly/articles/2017-11-09/silver-lake

Good stuff: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/trump-s-washington-one-year-on-a-1176359-2.html  Makes the point that Dickhead, like all cowards and draft-dodgers, worships the military.

This REALLY bears thinking about. From the outset, I’ve regarded the efforts of Cuomo and De Blasio to bring AMZN HQ2 to Brooklyn as basically setting the table for the real-estate developers who’ve grossly overbuilt this borough: https://www.citylab.com/life/2017/11/how-seattle-fell-out-of-love-with-amazon/545045/ 

Taibbi: simply the best! https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/taibbi-a-year-after-trumps-election-nothing-has-changed-w511229

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10/25…11/1/17….

10/25

Been wondering when this harassment penny was going to drop (from Politico): http://www.politico.com/story/2017/10/24/leon-wieseltier-new-republic-emerson-collective-workplace-conduct-244120

Makes sense to me, but not a chance in hell of being implemented: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-10-24/faster-growth-begins-with-a-land-tax-in-u-s-cities?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_term=171024&utm_campaign=sharetheview

I find this an amazing story. Is nothing free from corruption? https://www.fastcompany.com/3065928/sleepopolis-casper-bloggers-lawsuits-underside-of-the-mattress-wars

Catching up on “60 Minutes this past Sunday, I watched their report (joint with The Washington Post) about the opioid epidemic and the successful lobbying by Big Pharma Etc to get legislation that blocked an effort to put stronger DEA enforcement in place. I found it pretty convincing. Today The Wall Street Journal  offers an editorial rebuttal that is also pretty convincing, exonerating the Congresspersons that “60 Minutes” painted as tools of Big Pharma Etc.  Of course, one has to take into account which side of the aisle WSJ speaks from, who its owner is, and the ideological predispositions of its editor. Still…anyway here’s an excerpt from WSJ that gives the essence of its  case (WSJ operates behind a paywall, so this is cut-and-paste): 

The media narrative now is that the pharmaceuticals lobby spent big to hoodwink Congress to pass a bill Members didn’t understand. The reality is that the trade group the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, known as PhRMA, took no position on the bill. That’s no surprise given that enforcement actions tend to hit distributors, not manufacturers.

To understand what’s going on here, zero in on former DEA official Joe Rannazzisi, the star source for “60 Minutes” and the Washington Post. Mr. Rannazzisi, the story notes, now consults for lawyers suing the opioid industry. Where there is pain and suffering, there are trial lawyers looking to make a buck. And the plaintiffs bar is using state lawsuits to turn opioids into the next tobacco. “Opioids: The Next Tobacco?” ran a trial lawyer seminar in Washington last month, as the American Tort Reform Association has noted.

All of this matters because Congress may soon try to whoop through a repeal bill, and Democrats fresh off scuttling Mr. Marino will now indict every GOP Member of Congress as a drug dealer. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who is running for the Senate, co-sponsored a version of the bill and has since walked back her support, which is unfortunate. If anything, Congress ought to do more to restrict DEA actions that can blow up the supply chain and interfere with medical decision-making outside its jurisdiction.

More broadly, note the cynicism of accusing one Republican of deepening a social crisis that had claimed tens of thousands of lives before Congress thought up this bill. The horrors of opioid addiction come from many dysfunctions, including too many prescriptions; a decline in work; heroin and fentanyl; easy access from Medicaid; and others. The story that a Member of Congress led a bipartisan conspiracy to worsen drug addiction is as false as it is implausible.

This figures. Like many another second-rate son of a well-regarded father, Treas. Sec. Mnuchin learned in the cradle that the best way to get recognized is to kiss the ass of the big guy in the room. http://www.businessinsider.com/schumer-steve-mnuchin-tax-reform-trump-2017-10 Add this to the mix:  https://dealbreaker.com/2017/10/chuck-schumer-now-wondering-aloud-if-steve-mnuchin-is-dumb-or-full-of-shit/

Caveat emptor! http://davidstockmanscontracorner.com/the-big-yellow-canary-in-the-casino/

Mike Pence for President When-or-If: http://wallstreetonparade.com/2017/10/mike-pence-secures-the-no-law-zone-around-wall-street/

Where’s the guy with the funny little mustache? https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/republicans-just-caved-to-the-big-banks-and-exposed-trumps-sham-populism?reload=true

 

10/28

Skipped a couple of days. Playing a bit of catchup while waiting for Yale-Columbia to start on SNY.

Good stuff here. When Bull Clinton was elected, I noted in NYO  for people to be alert – as Little Rock was the US equivalent to Palermo. http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/the-informant-cometh/

Hard to do in a place (like NYC) where the mayor is the lying tool of developers. It may not in the end amount to much of a difference, but at least Michael Bloomberg made clear his intentions, and wasn’t in the pocket of the realty lobby: https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/10/27/how-to-stop-gentrification-and-house-a-nation/

Important: https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/10/gaius-publius-defining-neoliberalism.html

10/29

From my pal Alexander.https://www.thetimes.co.uk/magazine/the-sunday-times-magazine/the-truth-about-facebook-how-to-win-2bn-friends-and-destroy-civilisation-9fhl5rbs9

Hard to disagreehttps://www.spectator.co.uk/2017/10/ok-i-admit-it-donald-trump-is-an-idiot-but-hes-dead-right-about-unesco/

Sounds like a “must read”: http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2017/10/26/lessons-for-american-putin-rise/GzM9xcKPHk1YyW5eOhc50M/story.html?et_rid=1758184608&s_campaign=todaysheadlines:newsletter

 

10/30

Start here and give a listen: http://www.wnyc.org/story/what-trump-and-his-associates-were-politics/

10/31

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been pondering what to me seems the great political-economic story of the last half of my lifethe unrelenting merciless war on the poor: it’s been conducted without cease by the people with power and wealth, people like the Kochs, the Mercers, the Silicon Valley gang of four, and their minions in government, media and theory-peddling, against the penniless and powerless. It disgraces this country and must ultimately be the end of us – and yet the media steadfastly refuse to call it what it is: open warfare. 

Lots of Luck. Stiglitz, of course (and as usual) is right on the money, but considering the way the well has been poisoned, ain’t gonna happen. And to think that when I was at Exeter, we read Yankee From Olympus,  Catherine Drinker Bowen’s life of Justice Holmes, in which the great jurist’s antitrust opinions were pointed to as being of the essence of American democracy. https://www.thenation.com/article/america-has-a-monopoly-problem-and-its-huge/

OK: here’s my question. The properties were bought with money from overseas accounts. Then mortgaged, so: dirty money in, laundered money out. But how did all that dirty money enter the US financial system in the first place? Offsetting deposits? https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20171030/carroll-gardens/paul-manafort-indictment-nyc-real-estate?utm_source=Cobble+Hill+%26+Carroll+Gardens&utm_campaign=25792ffe65-Mailchimp-NYC&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_475d7f6b48-25792ffe65-139053093

Everything pales beside this dreadful tragic business on West St.!

11/1

Hmmmmhttps://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/a-desperate-republican-scheme-to-save-donald-trump?mbid=nl_Cassidy%20%2010312017&CNDID=42793573&spMailingID=12262174&spUserID=MTM5NDI5NzAwMDY4S0&spJobID=1280017771&spReportId=MTI4MDAxNzc3MQS2

A view of Tina Brown it’s hard to disagree with: https://medium.com/@mkramerbryk/a-likely-story-2ba9ad441e95

In case this was missed the first time around: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/06/the-myth-of-the-kindly-general-lee/529038/

And now – this: http://wallstreetonparade.com/2017/11/russia-trump-saga-both-murdoch-empire-and-nyt-have-soiled-hands/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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/

10/23

Breakfast food for thoughthttps://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/10/looking-next-crisis-may-looking-wrong-places.html

From Politico Morning Media:

PRESIDENT TRUMP FINALLY FOUND A NEWS MEDIA POLL HE LIKES. For the second time in five days, the president tweeted Sunday the results of a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll indicating that 46 percent of voters believe the bogus claim that the news media fabricates stories about him. Not only aren’t reporters making up stories (as I wrote Thursday ), but they also regularly give the White House and federal agencies the opportunity to respond to legitimate questions prior to publication — and are rebuffed.

— Sunday’s New York Times provided a good case study in how the Trump administration will dismiss an entire line of inquiry rather than address specific points of concern before the news is out (and can even be dubbed “fake”). Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Eric Lipton tried for months to get the EPA to respond to dozens of questions for his Sunday front page story on an industry insider-turned-top-EPA-official helping to rewrite environmental rules that benefit chemical companies. Lipton said he “did want to hear their views” and “was disappointed” to only get the following terse response.

— “No matter how much information we give you, you would never write a fair piece,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman told him in an email. “The only thing inappropriate and biased is your continued fixation on writing elitist clickbait trying to attack qualified professionals committed to serving their country.”

— A similar situation played out in the pages of The Times Magazine, with contributor Jason Zengerle describing having “provided a detailed list of questions” to the White House about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s relationship with Trump. The response he received: “The president has assembled the most talented Cabinet in history and everyone continues to be dedicated towards advancing the president’s America First agenda. Anything to the contrary is simply false and comes from unnamed sources who are either out of the loop or unwilling to turn the country around.”    Orwell’s Animal Farm  has come true!

An important writer takes on an important subject: http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a13052210/donald-trump-pox-americana/

What people don’t realize about this jerk – which I suspected the second he announced his mayoral candidacy four years ago – is that he’s a two-faced, fake-liberal shill for the powerful urban lobbies: garages, car services, developers etc. https://slate.com/business/2017/10/bill-de-blasios-crackdown-on-e-bikes-is-a-truly-bad-idea.html   If you truly want a better city, this pig is not the one to vote for.

And this hours later. What did I tell you! http://gothamist.com/2017/10/23/de_blasio_traffic_congestion.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_d3500f546aaa3b7669ab237847b116d9&utm_source=CM&utm_term=De%20Blasio%20Unveils%205-Point%20Plan%20Intended%20To%20Ease%20Traffic%20Congestion

10/24

How can you not love this? http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/10/20/fastest-growing-city-america-florida-cape-coral-215724

No comment needed: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/10/how-the-internet-changed-the-republican-party-forever?mbid=nl_th_59ebecdaba5ae801ce174bad&CNDID=42793573&spMailingID=12207187&spUserID=MTQzOTExNDk1OTIxS0&spJobID=1262092059&spReportId=MTI2MjA5MjA1OQS2

This is what happens with people have (or have access) more money than is good for anyone except the promoters and their commissionaires. https://www.economist.com/news/business/21730446-five-outliers-chesapeake-energy-netflix-nextera-energy-tesla-and-uber-have-collectively

One asks why the authorities can’t force lower interest rates or some other kind of anti-usury policy on small loans and credit balances, say $100K and below,  to get the lower 60% out of hock: http://www.businessinsider.com/ray-dalio-warns-of-struggles-for-bottom-half-of-us-economy-2017-10?nr_email_referer=1&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_content=FinanceDaily&utm_campaign=Post%20Blast%20%28clusterstock%29:%20What%20you%20need%20to%20know%20on%20Wall%20Street%20today&utm_term=Finance%20Insider%20-%20Engaged%2C%20Active%2C%20Passive%2C%20Disengaged

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.