George HW Bush

Thought of this photo today.

(what’s David Gergen doing there?  sometimes I’ve been that guy).

All posts related to any Bush.

 


Will a painting by George W. Bush increase or decrease in value?

Vote by corresponding with Helytimes, please make only clear, considered arguments.

From The Hill, 2013 re a W. Christmas ornament for sale:

The former White House resident, 67, told Jay Leno in a Tuesday “Tonight Show” appearance that he takes weekly painting lessons, telling an instructor, “There’s a Rembrandt trapped in this body — your job is to find it.”

So hard to wrap your head around that someone (most presidents?) can be simultaneously a psychopath and a goofball.


Lionsgate

Lionsgate continues to grow into a vertically integrated global content platform of increasing diversity, reach and scale. The Company’s portfolio of assets includes one of the largest independent television businesses in the world, a 17,000-title film and television library, a world-class film business and an expanding global distribution footprint.

says their investor website.   What is Lionsgate?  How do we value an entertainment company?

I’m interested in Lionsgate, because they have a majority ownership of 3 Arts

The management company where I am represented.  In a way, I work for them?

Here’s a brief history of Lionsgate – which is not very old – from this recent LA Times article by Ryan Faughnder, entitled

Founded in 1997 in Vancouver, Canada, the company became known early on for edgy indie and horror films such as “American Psycho” and “Saw.” Lionsgate grew its firepower and boosted its stock price through acquisitions, catapulting itself into the big leagues with its 2012 purchase of “Twilight Saga” studio Summit Entertainment and the release of the first “Hunger Games.” The four-movie apocalyptic “Hunger Games” series grossed $2.97 billion. It impressed investors with its tactic of offsetting the risk of producing movies by pre-selling foreign distribution rights and bringing in co-financiers.

Then they had some busts:

“Gods of Egypt,” a $140-million mythological epic released in 2016, flopped after it was slammed by critics and accused of whitewashing its cast. A reboot of billionaire Haim Saban’s “Power Rangers” franchise disappointed after Feltheimer said on an earnings call that the company could produce multiple films based on the kids series.The studio’s decision to turn the third book in the “Divergent” series into two movies backfired when “Allegiant” flopped. A planned fourth installment was never produced.

That LA Times article is entitled Lionsgate, the studio behind ‘Hunger Games’ movies, struggles in shifting Hollywood currents.  

The Wall Street Journal had a whack, too, a few days later:

Management Tension, Mounting Competition Sink Lions Gate’s Stock

As rivals grow larger, studio struggles to find box-office hits and synergies with pay-TV network

Lions Gate’s movie business has lost ground since ‘The Hunger Games’ series ended in 2015. PHOTO: LIONS GATE/EVERETT COLLECTION

Apparently they are, at the moment, attempting to salvage a huge and expensive turd:

Lions Gate faces a major challenge called “Chaos Walking.” The first of several planned adaptations of a series of young-adult science fiction novels cost around $100 million to produce but turned out so poorly it was deemed unreleasable by executives who watched initial cuts last year, according to current and former employees.

A scalding take:

I’m not sure how much Wall Street has built the disaster here into the stock’s price.

Sir John Templeton taught us to look for points of maximum pessimism.  Is Lionsgate an opportunity? How should we value an entertainment company, which is liable to have big swings and misses?

First, what does Lionsgate own?

Over the course of its life, Lionsgate scooped up a bunch of film companies, in the process acquiring a library.  They swallowed up:

  • International Media Group

don’t know what their big movies were

  • Sterling Home Entertainment
  • Trimark Holdings

Their biggest franchise might be Leprechaun

  • Modern Times Group
  • Roadside Attractions

They produced, among others, Supersize Me, Manchester By The Sea, Mystery Team, Winter’s Bone, Mud

  • Mandate Pictures

Juno, This Is The End

  • Summit Entertainment

Hurt Locker, Red, Hellboy, John Wick, American Pie, Ender’s Game

  • Artisan Entertainment

Blair Witch Project, Ninth Gate, House of the Dead, Step Into Liquid

From that library I have to imagine Lionsgate will continue to make some kind of money.  Some of these films are things people will want to see and resee or rediscover, and it’s a good business to keep selling something that’s already made.  All told, according to their 2018 investor letter, Lionsgate has something like 17,000 films in its library.

I was surprised by this fact:

In fiscal 2018, we shipped approximately 65 million DVD/Blu-ray finished units.

The Lionsgate investor page highlights some of their big ones:

MOTION PICTURE GROUP

Lionsgate’s Motion Picture Group encompasses eight film labels and more than 40 feature film releases a year, including 15-20 wide releases from the Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment mainstream commercial labels. Lionsgate’s film slate has grossed nearly $10 billion at the global box office over the past five years, and films from Lionsgate and its predecessor companies have earned 122 Academy Award® nominations and 30 Oscar® wins.

As well as some of their TV productions and co-productions:

TELEVISION GROUP

The Lionsgate’s Television Group has carved out a unique position as a leading supplier of premium scripted content to streaming platforms, cable channels and broadcast networks alike. One of the largest independent television businesses in the world with nearly 90 series on 40 different networks, Lionsgate’s premium quality programming includes the ground-breaking Orange is the New Black, fan favorite Nashville, the hit dramedy Casual, the critically-acclaimed Dear White People and the breakout success Greenleaf. The Company continues to build on its legacy of award-winning premium series that include the iconic multiple Emmy Award-winning Mad Men, one of the best reviewed series of all time, Weeds and Nurse Jackie.

The Company’s development and production slate includes a number of high-profile premium properties including The Rook (Starz), a Lionsgate/Liberty Global coproduction executive produced by Twilight creator Stephenie Meyer with acclaimed producer Stephen Garrett serving as showrunner, The Kingkiller Chronicle (Showtime)Step Up: High Water (YouTube Red)Get Christie Love! (ABC) and American Lion (HBO).

As they note:

many of the titles in our library are not presently distributed and generate substantially no revenue. Additionally, our rights to the titles in our library vary; in some cases, we have only the right to distribute titles in certain media and territories for a limited term.

Coming down the pike are some high-risk, potential high-reward titles.  From the LA Times:

Lionsgate could rebound this year with the release of movies including “Long Shot” and a third “John Wick” movie, analysts said. But otherwise, the schedule includes few obvious hits. Upcoming films include “Angel Has Fallen,” the third installment in the “Olympus Has Fallen” series, “Rambo V: Last Blood” and a Roland Emmerich remake of “Midway.”

How much do people want to see an expensive movie about the Battle of Midway, I wonder?

All told:

the Company’s consolidated revenues from its reporting segments included Motion Pictures 44.1%, Television Production 19.5% and Media Networks 37.1%

The big engine at Lionsgate in Media Networks is Starz, the premium network.

Home to Outlander, Power, Ash vs Evil Dead, a bunch of costume-y looking shows.  Starz produces a lot of the profits:

Starz has performed well financially, with revenue increasing 4% to $366.8 million and profits up nearly 10% to $134.1 million in the fiscal third quarter ended Dec. 31. It added just over one million subscribers in 2018.

There was a writeup of Lionsgate in a recent issue of Graham and Doddsville, “an investment newsletter from the students at Columbia Business School.”  You can read it free, here.  Amit Bushan, Bruce Kim, and Stephanie Moroney won 1st place at the CSIMA Stock Pick Challenge with their case.

Above-consensus subs projection results in a 12% above-consensus NTM adj. EBITDA. Given the FCF stability of the subscriptionbased business, we are applying a premium over movie studios (~10x). Note that 12x multiple is 12% lower than Starz’s recent average (13.7x).  Catalysts: 1) higherthan-consensus OTT subs growth in the next few quarters; 2) increased visibility on the impact of the international expansion; 3) M&A.

Not sure I agree with this assessment.  But there are a couple points I think are interesting about Lionsgate.

  • Starz is easy to add on to your Amazon Prime.  In addition to being its own channel, it’s like an add-on to your Amazon.  To me as a customer, that makes it very accessible.
  • 3 Arts is cool, and represents a lot of top tier talent.  It’s kind of hard to find a list of their clients if you don’t have IMDb pro, but here’s the top ranked by “Star Meter”
7
60
78
256
357
379
604
721
786
820
1,025
1,043
1,047
1,081
1,128
1,270
1,311
1,319
1,347
1,353
1,464
1,481
1,483
1,550
1,620
1,682
1,816
1,823
1,881
1,882
1,903
1,961
1,966
2,136
2,157

 

What impact that will really have on 3 Arts’ bottom line, I’m not sure.  But they do have access and potential synergies with some pretty explosive entertainers and creators.

Net Income 473,600 14,800 50,200 181,800

As always around here, we like to look at a picture of the company’s CEO:

Here is John Feltheimer.  He gets paid a lot of money.

Is this company worth $2.8 billion dollars?

I’ll be interested to hear their fourth quarter earnings report on May 23.

Thank you for joining us on a continued journey to learn about business and entertainment.

 


Key Takeaways from the Year of Business

Everybody wants one of a few things in this country.  They’re willing to pay to lose weight.  They’re willing to pay to grow hair.  They’re willing to pay to have sex.  And they’re willing to pay to learn how to get rich.

Mark Burnett 

If you buy something because it’s undervalued, then you have to think about selling it when it approaches your calculation of its intrinsic value. That’s hard. But if you buy a few great companies, then you can sit on your ass. That’s a good thing.

– Charlie Munger.

When I was a kid I played this Nintendo game.  It was kind of just a bells-and-whistles version of Dopewars.

One significant flaw in the game as a practice tool for the individual investor is it does not account for the effect of capital gains taxes, which would make the rapid fire buying and selling of this game pure madness.

In 2018, my New Year’s Resolution this will be the Year of Business.

Hope and greed vs sound business reasoning

On the speculative side are the individual investors and many mutual funds buying not on the basis of sound business reasoning but on the basis of hope and greed.

So says Mary Buffett and David Clark in Buffetology: The Previously Unexplained Techniques That Have Made Warren Buffett The World’s Most Famous Investor. 

By nature I’m a real speculative, hope and greed kinda guy.  My mind is speculative, what can I say?  Most people’s are, I’d wager.  I don’t even really know what “sound business reasoning” means.

The year of business was about teaching myself a new mental model of reasoning and thinking.

Where to begin?

Finally, when young people who “want to help mankind” come to me, asking: “What should I do? I want to reduce poverty, save the world” and similar noble aspirations at the macro-level. My suggestion is:

1) never engage in virtue signaling;

2) never engage in rent seeking;

3) you must start a business. Take risks, start a business.

Yes, take risk, and if you get rich (what is optional) spend your money generously on others. We need people to take (bounded) risks. The entire idea is to move these kids away from the macro, away from abstract universal aims, that social engineering that bring tail risks to society. Doing business will always help; institutions may help but they are equally likely to harm (I am being optimistic; I am certain that except for a few most do end up harming).

so says Taleb in Skin In The Game.

Taleb’s books hit my sweet spot this year, I was entertained and stimulated by them.  They raised intriguing ideas not just about probability, prediction and hazard, but also about how to live your life, what is noble and honorable in a world of risk.

Do you agree with the statement “starting a business is a good way to help the world”?  It’s a proposition that might divide people along interesting lines.  For example, Mitt Romney would probably agree, while Barack Obama I’m guessing would agree only with some qualifications.

I doubt most of my friends, colleagues and family would agree, or at least it’s not the first answer they might come up with.  Among younger people, I sense a discomfort with business, an assumption that capitalism is itself kind of bad, somehow.

But could most of those who disagree come up with a clearer answer for how to help mankind?

As an experiment I started thinking about businesses I could start.

My best idea for a business

Selling supplements online seems like a business to start, I remembered Tim Ferriss laying out the steps in Four Hour Work Week, but it wasn’t really calling my name.

My best idea for a business was to buy a 1955 Spartan trailer and set it up by the south side of the 62 Highway heading into Joshua Tree.  There’s some vacant land there, and many people arrive there (as I have often myself) needing a break, food, a sandwich, beer, firewood and other essentials for a desert trip.

The point itself – arrival marker of the town of Joshua Tree – is already a point of pilgrimage for many and a natural place to stop, while also being a place to get supplies.

Setting up a small, simple business like that would have reasonable startup cost, aside from my time, and maybe I could employ some people in an economically underdeveloped area.

However, selling sandwiches is not my passion.  It’s not why I get out of bed in the morning.

Starting a business is so hard is requires absolute passion.  I had a lack of passion.

Further, there was at least two big obstacles I could predict one: regulatory hurdles.

Setting up a business that sold food in San Bernadino County would involve forms, permits, regulations.

What’s more, there’d probably be all kinds of rules about what sort of bathrooms I’d need.

This seemed like a time and bureaucracy challenge beyond my capacity.

Work, in other words.  I wanted to get rich sitting on my ass, you see, not working.

Plus, I have a small business, supplying stories and jokes, and for most of the Year of Business my business was sub-contracted to HBO (AT&T).

That was more lucrative than selling PB&Js in the Mojave so I suspended this plan pending further review.

Time to pause, since I had to pause anyway.

What can you learn about “business” from books and the Internet?

No way you can learn more from reading than from starting a business, far from it.  But in the spare minutes I had that’s what I could do: learn from the business experience of others.

First up,

Excellent.  We’ve discussed Munger at length.  Most of his interviews and speeches are avail for free online

You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience—both vicarious and direct—on this latticework of models. You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You’ve got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head.

What are the models? Well, the first rule is that you’ve got to have multiple models—because if you just have one or two that you’re using, the nature of human psychology is such that you’ll torture reality so that it fits your models, or at least you’ll think it does. You become the equivalent of a chiropractor who, of course, is the great boob in medicine.

It’s like the old saying, “To the man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” And of course, that’s the way the chiropractor goes about practicing medicine. But that’s a perfectly disastrous way to think and a perfectly disastrous way to operate in the world. So you’ve got to have multiple models.

And the models have to come from multiple disciplines—because all the wisdom of the world is not to be found in one little academic department.

Next:

 

The Ten Day MBA: A Step By Step Guide To Mastering Skills Taught In America’s Top Business Schools by Steven A. Silbiger.

Fantastic book, it was recommended to me by an MBA grad.  Reviewed at length over here, a great cheat sheet and friendly intro to basic concepts of sound business reasoning.

The most important concept it got be thinking about was discounted cash flow analysis.  How to calculate the present and future values of money. How much you should pay for a machine that will last eight years and print 60 ten dollar bills a day and cost $20 a day to maintain?

That’s a key question underlying sound business reasoning.  How do you value an investment, a purchase, a property, a plant, a factory, or an entire business using sound business reasoning?  The prevailing and seemingly best answer is discounted cash flow analysis.

However, the more one learns these concepts, the clearer it becomes that there’s an element of art to all these calculations.

A discounted cash flow analysis depends on assumptions and predictions and estimates that require an element of guessing.  Intuition and a feel for things enter into these calculations.  They’re not perfect.

A few more things I took away from this book:

  • I’d do best in marketing
  • Ethics is by far the shortest chapter
  • A lot of MBA learning is just knowing code words and signifiers, how to throw around terms like EBITDA, that don’t actually make you wiser and smarter.  Consider that George W. Bush and Steve Bannon are both graduates of Harvard Business School.
  • To really understand business, you have to understand the language of accounting.

Accounting is an ancient science and a difficult one.  You must be rigorous and ethical.  Many a business catastrophe could’ve been prevented by more careful or ethical accounting.  Accounting is almost sacred, I can see why DFW became obsessed with it.

The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations by MacArthur winner Jacob Soll was full of interesting stuff about the early days of double entry accounting.  The image of a dreary Florentine looking forward to his kale and bread soup stood out.  There are somewhat dark implications for the American nation-state, I fear, if we take the conclusions of this book — that financial accountability keeps nations alive.

However I got very busy at the time I picked up this book and lost my way with it.

Perhaps a more practical focus could draw my attention?

Warren Buffett and the Interpretation of Financial Statements: The Search for the Company with a Durable Competitive Advantage by Mary Buffett and David Clark was real good, and way over my level, which is how I like them.

The key concept here is how to find, by scouring the balance sheets, income statements, and so on, which public companies have to tell you and are available for free, which companies have a durable competitive advantage.

The Little Book That Builds Wealth: The Knockout Formula for Finding Great Investments by Pat Dorsey

and

The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense For The Thoughtful Investor by Howard Marks.

are the two that my friend Anonymous Investor recommended, and they pick up the durable competitive advantage idea.  Both books have a central understanding the fact that capitalism is brutal competition, don’t think otherwise.  To prosper, you need a “moat,” a barrier competitors can’t cross.  A patent, a powerful brand, a known degree of quality people will pay more for, some kind of regulatory capture, a monopoly or at least and part of an oligarchy, these can be moats.

What we’re talking about now is not starting a business, but buying into a business.

Buying Businesses

There are about 4,000 publicly traded companies on the major exchanges in the US, and another 15,000 you can buy shares of OTC (over the counter, basically by calling up a broker).  You can buy into any of these businesses.

Charlie and I hope that you do not think of yourself as merely owning a piece of paper whose price wiggles around daily and that is a candidate for sale when some economic or political event makes you nervous. We hope you instead visualize yourself as a part owner of a business that you expect to stay with indefinitely, much as you might if you owned a farm or apartment house in partnership with members of your family.

so says Buffett.  Oft repeated by him in many forms, I find it here on a post called “Buy The Business Not The Stock.”

But how do you determine what price to pay for a share of a business?

Aswath Damodaran has a website with a lot of great information.  Mostly it convinced me that deep valuation is not for me.

Extremely Basic Valuation

Always remember that investing is simply price calculations. Your job is to calculate accurate prices for a bevy of assets. When the prices you’ve calculated are sufficiently far from market prices, you take action. There is no “good stock” or “bad stock” or “good company”. There’s just delta from your price and their price. Read this over and over again if you have to and never forget it. Your job is to calculate the price of things and then buy those things for the best price you can. Your calculations should model the real world as thoroughly as possible and be conservative in nature.

  • Martin Shkreli on his blog (from prison), 8/1/18

The simplest way to determine whether the price of a company is worth it might be to divide the price of a share of a company by the company’s earnings, P/E.

Today, on December 29, 2018:

Apple’s P/E is 13.16.

Google’s (GOOGL): 39.42.

Netflix (NFLX): 91.43.

Union Pacific Railroad (UNP): 8.99.

This suggests UNP is the cheapest of these companies (you get the most earnings per share) while NFLX is the most “expensive” – you get the least earnings).

But: we’re also betting on or estimating future earnings.  These numbers change as companies report their earnings, and the stock price goes up and down.  Two variables that are often connected and often not connected.

Now you are making predictions.

The most intriguing and enormous field in the world on which to play predictions is the stock market.

What is the stock market?

The stock market is a set of predictions.

Buying into businesses on the stock market can be a form of gambling.  Or, if you use sound business reasoning, it can be investing.

What is investing?

Investing is often described as the process of laying out money now in the expectation of receiving more money in the future.  At Berkshire we take a more demanding approach, defining investing as the transfer to others of purchasing power now with the reasoned expectation of receiving more purchasing power – after taxes have been paid on nominal gains – in the future.

More succinctly, investing is forgoing consumption now in order to have the ability to consume more at a later date.

Warren B., in Berkshire’s 2011 Letter To Shareholders.

A great thing about investing is you can learn all about it for the price of an Internet connection.  All of Buffett’s letters are free.

Here’s a roundup of quotes, ideas, points that jumped out at me from study of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger

How to assess a public company as an investment with sound business reasoning

In researching a specific company, Buffett gathers these resources:

  • most recent 10-Ks and 10-Qs
  • The annual reports
  • News and financial information from many sources

The authors said he wants to see the most recent news stories and at least a decade’s worth of financial data.  This allows him to build up a picture of

  • The companies historical annual return on capital and equity

  • Earnings

  • Debt load

  • Share repurchases

  • Management’s record in allocating capital

(from The New Buffetology, Mary Buffett and David Clark).

Cheap stocks (using simple ratios like price-to-book or price-to-sales) tend to outperform expensive stocks.  But they also tend to be “worse” companies – companies with less exciting prospects and more problems.  Portfolio managers who own the expensive subset of stocks can be perceived as prudent while those who own the cheap ones seem rash.  Nope, the data say otherwise.

(from “Pulling The Goalie: Hockey and Investment Implications” by Clifford Asness and Aaron Brown.

This sounds too hard

Correct.  Most people shouldn’t bother.  You should just buy a low cost index fund that tracks “the market.”

What can we we expect “the stock market” to return?

The VTSAX, the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index, has had an average annual return of 7.01% since inception in 1992.  (Source)

10% is the average, says Nerd Wallet.

9.8% is the average annual return of the S&P 500, says Investopedia.

Now, whether the S&P 500 is “the market” is a good question.  We’ll return to that.

O’Shaughnessy has thought a lot about the question, it’s pretty much the main thing he’s thought about for the last twenty years or so as far as I can tell, and comes in at around 9%.

Some interesting data from here.

Munger cautions against assuming history repeats itself, in 2005:

(source)

Why Bother Trying To Beat The Market?

A good thing about the Buffettology book is they give you little problems for a specific calculator:

The Texas Instruments BA-35, which it looks like they don’t even really make anymore,.  You can get one for $100 over on Amazon.

This calculator is just nifty for working out future values of compounding principal over time.

One concept that must be mashed hard into your head if you’re trying to learn business is the power of compounding.

Let’s say you have $10,000.  A good amount of money.  How much money can it be in the future?

9% interest, compounded annually, $10,000 principal, 20 years = $61,621

15% interest, compounded annually, $10,000 principal, 20 years= $175,447

 

9% interest, compounded annually, $1,000 principal, 30 years= $13,731

15% interest, compounded annually, $1,000 principal, 30 years= $86,541


9% interest, $10,000 principal, 40 years= $314,094.2

15% interest, $10,000 principal, 40 years= $2,678,635.4

 

A significant difference.

Any edge over time adds up.

Let’s say the stock market’s gonna earn 7% over the next years and you have $10,000 to invest.  In twenty years you’ll have $38,696.

But if you can get that up to just 8%, you’ll have $46,609.57.

A difference of $8,000.

Is it worth it?  Eh, it’s a lotta work to beat the market, maybe not.

Still, you can see why people try it once we’re talking about $1,000,000, and the difference is $80,000, or the edge is 2%, and so on.

Plus there’s something fun just about beating the system.

Lessons from the race track

This book appeals to the same instinct — how to beat the house, what’s the system?

Both Buffett and Munger are interested in race tracks.  Here is Munger:

in one of his great speeches.

This might be the single most important lesson of the Year of Business.  Buffett and Munger repeat it in their speeches and letters.  You wait for the right opportunity and you load up.

“The stock market is a no-called-strike game. You don’t have to swing at everything – you can wait for your pitch. The problem when you’re a money manager is that your fans keep yelling, ‘swing, you bum!'”

“Ted Williams described in his book, ‘The Science of Hitting,’ that the most important thing – for a hitter – is to wait for the right pitch. And that’s exactly the philosophy I have about investing – wait for the right pitch, and wait for the right deal. And it will come… It’s the key to investing.”

says Buffett.

“If you find three wonderful businesses in your life, you’ll get very rich. And if you understand them — bad things aren’t going to happen to those three. I mean, that’s the characteristic of it.”

OK but don’t you need money in the first place to make money buying into businesses?

Yes, this is kind of the trick of capitalism.  Even Munger acknowledges that the hard part is getting some money in the first place.

“The first $100,000 is a bitch, but you gotta do it. I don’t care what you have to do—if it means walking everywhere and not eating anything that wasn’t purchased with a coupon, find a way to get your hands on $100,000. After that, you can ease off the gas a little bit.”

The Unknown and Unknowable

One of the best papers I read all year was “Investing in the Unknown and Unknowable,” by Richard Zeckhauser.

David Ricardo made a fortune buying bonds from the British government four days in advance of the Battle of Waterloo. He was not a military analyst, and even if he were, he had no basis to compute the odds of Napoleon’s defeat or victory, or hard-to-identify ambiguous outcomes. Thus, he was investing in the unknown and the unknowable. Still, he knew that competition was thin, that the seller was eager, and that his windfall pounds should Napoleon lose would be worth much more than the pounds he’d lose should Napoleon win. Ricardo knew a good bet when he saw it.1

This essay discusses how to identify good investments when the level of uncertainty is well beyond that considered in traditional models of finance.

Zeckhauser, in talking about how we make predictions about the Unknown and Unknowable, gets to an almost Zen level.  There’s a suggestion that in making predictions about something truly Unknowable, the amateur might almost have an edge over the professional. This is deep stuff.

“Beating the market”

When we talk about “beating the market,” what’re we talking about?

If you’re talking about outperforming a total stock market index like VTSAX over a long time period, that seems to be a lot of work to pull off something nearly impossible.

Yes, people do it, but it’s so hard to do we, like, know the names of the people who’ve consistently done it.

There’s something cool about Peter Lynch’s idea that the average consumer can have an edge, but even he says you gotta follow that up with a lot of homework.

Lynch, O’Shaughnessy – it’s like a Boston law firm around here.  I really enjoyed Jim O’Shaughnessy’s Twitter and his Google talk.

Sometimes when there’s talk of “beating the market,” the S&P 500 is used interchangeably with “the market.”  As O’Shaughnessy points out though, the S&P 500 is itself a strategy.  Couldn’t there be a better strategy?

is full of backtesting and research, much of it summarized in this article.  Small caps, low P/S, is my four word takeaway.

Narrative investing

Jim: Sure. So when I was a teenager, I was fascinated because my parents and some of my uncles were very involved in investing in the stock market, and they used to argue about it all the time. And generally speaking, the argument went, which CEO did they feel was better, or which company had better prospects. And I kind of felt that that wasn’t the right question, or questions to ask. I felt it was far more useful, or, I believed at the time that it would be far more useful to look at the underlying numbers and valuations of companies that you were considering buying, and find if there was a way to sort of systematically identify companies that would go on to do well, and identify those that would go on to do poorly. And so I did a lot of research, and ultimately came up…

says O’Shaughnessy in an interview with GuruFocus.  I’m not sure I agree.

Narrative can be a powerful tool in business.  If you can see where a story is going, there could be an edge.

would you bet on this woman’s business?

I like assessing companies based on a Google image search of the CEO, for instance.

O’Shaughnessy suggests cutting all that out, getting down to just the numbers.  But do you want to invest in, I dunno, RCI Hospitality Holdings ($RICK) (a company that runs a bunch of Hooters-type places called Bombshells) or PetMed Express ($PETS) just because they’re small caps with low p/s ratios and other solid indicators?

Actually those both might be great investments.

I will concede that narrative investing is not systematic.  I will continue to ruminate on it.

GuruFocus

Charlie Tian’s book is dense but I found it a great compression of a lot of investing principles.  It’s also just like a cool immigrant story.

The service that Charlie Tian built, GuruFocus, is a fantastic resource.

Premium membership costs $449 for a year, which is a lot, but I’d say I got way more than that in value and education from it.

J. R. Collins

His book is great, his Google talk is great.

Templeton

Investing doesn’t have to be all Munger and Buffett.  Towards the end of the Year of Business I got into Sir John Templeton.

His thing was finding the point of maximum pessimism.  Australian real estate is down?  South American mining companies are getting crushed?  Look for an opportunity there.

This guy worked above a grocery store in the Bahamas.

Great-niece Lauren carrying on the legacy.

Thought this was a cool chart from her talk demonstrating irrational Mr. Market at work even while long term trends may be “rational.”

Why bother, again?

At some point if you study this stuff it’s like, if you’re not indexing, shouldn’t you just buy Berkshire and have Buffett handle your money for you?  You can have the greatest investor who ever lived making money for you just as easily as buying any other stock.

It seems to me that there are 3 qualities of great investors that are rarely discussed:

1. They have a strong memory;

2. They are extremely numerate;

3. They have what Warren calls a “money mind,” an instinctive commercial sense.

Alice Schroeder, his biographer, talking about Warren Buffett.  I don’t have any of these.

Even Munger says all his family’s money is in Costco, Berkshire, Li Lu’s (private) fund and that’s it.

In the United States, a person or institution with almost all wealth invested, long term, in just three fine domestic corporations is securely rich. And why should such an owner care if at any time most other investors are faring somewhat better or worse. And particularly so when he rationally believes, like Berkshire, that his long-term results will be superior by reason of his lower costs, required emphasis on long-term effects, and concentration in his most preferred choices.

I go even further. I think it can be a rational choice, in some situations, for a family or a foundation to remain 90% concentrated in one equity. Indeed, I hope the Mungers follow roughly this course.

The answer is it’s fun and stimulates the mind.

A thing to remember about Buffett:

More than 2,000 books are dedicated to how Warren Buffett built his fortune. Many of them are wonderful.

But few pay enough attention to the simplest fact: Buffett’s fortune isn’t due to just being a good investor, but being a good investor since he was literally a child.

The writings of Morgan Housel are incredible.

You can read about Buffett all day, and it’s fun because Buffett is an amazing writer and storyteller and character as well as businessman.  But studying geniuses isn’t necessarily that helpful for the average apprentice.  Again, it’s like studying LeBron to learn how to dribble and hit a layup.

Can Capitalism Survive Itself?

The title of this book is vaguely embarrassing imo but Yvon Chouinard is a hero and his book is fantastic.  Starting with blacksmithing rock climbing pitons he built Patagonia.

They make salmon now?

Towards the end of his book Chouinard wonders whether our economy, which depends on growth, is sustainable.  He suggests it might destroy us all, which he doesn’t seem all that upset about (he mentions Zen a lot).

The last liberal art

Have yet to finish this book but I love the premise.  Investing combines so many disciplines and models, that’s what makes it such a rich subject.  So far I’m interested in Hagstrom’s connections to physics.  Stocks are subject to some kind of law of gravity.  Netflix will not have a P/E of 95 for forever.

Compare perception to results:

 

Dominos, Amazon, Berkshire, and VTSAX since 2005.

Stocks Let’s Talk

 

The stock market is interesting and absurd.  The stock market is not “business,” but it’s made of business, you know?

The truth is the most I’ve learned about business has come from conversation.

To continue the conversation, I started a podcast, Stocks Let’s Talk.  You can find all six episodes here, each with an interesting guest bringing intriguing perspective.

I intend to continue it and would appreciate it if you rate us on iTunes.

Key Takeaways:

  • you can get rich sitting on your ass
  • business is hard and brutal and competitive
  • you need a durable competitive advantage
  • if you are unethical it will catch up to you
  • we’re gonna need to get sustainable
  • the works of Tian, Lynch, O’Shaughnessy, Templeton, Chouinard, and Munger are worth study
  • accounting is crucial and must be done right, even then you can be fooled
  • I’m too whimsical for business really but it’s good to learn different models

screen shot 2019-01-03 at 3.10.15 pm

 

 

 

 


Pretty Clear-Eyed About Power

 

Horwitt says that, when Alinsky would ask new students why they wanted to organize, they would invariably respond with selfless bromides about wanting to help others. Alinsky would then scream back at them that there was a one-word answer: “You want to organize for power!

This anecdote had stuck in my mind from whenever I had first read it.  Found it in a March 2017 New Republic piece about then-Senator and candidate Obama.

Hillary wrote her college thesis on Alinsky.  Both the last two Democratic nominees for president found the same man in Chicago to study. (And think of how many Bushies were said to learn from Leo Strauss?  And Milton Friedman! Chicago, dude).

How should the candidate approach his job?:

This is a tough, realistic worldview:

The Rules

  1. “Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.”

  2. “Never go outside the expertise of your people.”

  3. “Whenever possible go outside the expertise of the enemy.”

  4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”

  5. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”

  6. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”

  7. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”

  8. “Keep the pressure on.”

  9. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”

  10. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.”

  11. “If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counterside”

  12. “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”

  13. “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

Using the world enemy is a little dangerous for me, unless you have a Zen-like transcendent understanding of the meaning of enemy and the mutability of enemies.

That TNR piece by the way written Ryan Lizza.

 


How much do you think this shitty painting by JFK sold for?

relevant to our discussion of George W. paintings.

You can find out the answer here at ArtNet in a piece by Sarah Cascone.


How much do Americans care about military experience in their politicians?

Reading this Politico article about Seth Moulton.  It’s assumed as a truth that “a war record appeals to voters.”  But how much does it matter?

I haven’t seen a detailed study of this, but let’s look at presidential elections.  Since 1988, the more impressive military record has lost to the less impressive one.

2016

Trump beats Hillary (no military service by either one, but Trump avoided the draft and Hillary was on the Senate Armed Services committee)

2012

Obama beats Romney (no military service)

2008

Obama beats McCain (no military service beats war hero)

2004

W beats John Kerry (went AWOL during the war beats war hero, partly by going right at Kerry’s war record)

2000

W beats Al Gore (went AWOL beats served in Vietnam)

1996

Clinton beats Bob Dole (draft avoider beats war hero)

1992

Clinton beats George H. W. Bush (draft avoider beats war hero)

1988

George H. W. Bush beats Dukakis (war hero beats Army veteran)

This is the only time in the last ten elections that the more impressive military service beat the less impressive one

1984

Reagan beats Walter Mondale (no service beats Army veteran)

1980

Reagan beats Carter (no service beats former US Navy officer)

This is a small sample of course and each of these elections was its own weird thing of course.

My theory is that reporters and pundits assume that being a war hero is more important to voters than it is.

I find this interesting because it feels like, logically, deciding to put yourself in harm’s way in service to your country is a good demonstration of character for someone running for a public service office.  But I don’t think elections work through logic.  Also I think America’s ideas about our own military are confusing and sometimes contradictory.

Again, I don’t know the answer, sometimes here at Helytimes we’re just asking questions!  Consider this a classic “Is This Interesting?”

 


Seinfeld –> Trump?

 

disgust

Read this Bloomberg profile by Joshua Green of the president-elect’s “chief strategist and senior counselor,” Steve Bannon:

And then, serendipitously, Bannon wound up in the entertainment business himself. Westinghouse Electric, a client, was looking to unload Castle Rock Entertainment, which had a big TV and movie presence, including Billy Crystal’s films. Bannon reeled in an eager buyer: Ted Turner. “Turner was going to build this huge studio,” he says, “so we were negotiating the deal at the St. Regis hotel in New York. As often happened with Turner, when it came time to actually close the deal, Ted was short of cash. … Westinghouse just wanted out. We told them, ‘You ought to take this deal. It’s a great deal.’ And they go, ‘If this is such a great deal, why don’t you defer some of your cash fee and keep an ownership stake in a package of TV rights?’ ” In lieu of a full adviser’s fee, the firm accepted a stake in five shows, including one in its third season regarded as the runt of the litter: Seinfeld. “We calculated what it would get us if it made it to syndication,” says Bannon. “We were wrong by a factor of five.”

This has been reported elsewhere.  Nearly unbelievable.  Tried to do the digging and found out the other four shows.  Best I could find:

That’s where Bannon popped up. He had left Goldman Sachs to start Bannon & Co., a boutique banking firm specializing in media companies. His firm was representing Westinghouse, and when Turner didn’t have the cash to close both deals, he offered as partial payment the right to participate in some of Castle Rock’s TV shows. Most were unremarkable titles that even insiders can’t quite recall (though some say The Ed Begley Jr. Show and Julie Brown: The Show were included). There also was Seinfeld, which was struggling to find an audience even in its third season. Bannon advised Westinghouse to accept Turner’s terms. Westinghouse executives countered that if Bannon was so confident, he should also accept participation rights instead of a portion of his bank’s $3 million fee. Bannon took the chance. Neither Seinfeld, Horn, Reiner nor anyone at Castle Rock were even aware of the arrangement.

bannon

Amazing!

What lessons are in this profile?

But this “conspiracy,” at least under Bannon, has mutated into something different from what Clinton described: It’s as eager to go after establishment Republicans such as Boehner or Jeb Bush as Democrats like Clinton.

Engineered Weiner downfall?:

Tipped to Weiner’s proclivity for sexting with female admirers, Bannon says, the site paid trackers to follow his Twitter account 24 hours a day and eventually intercepted a crotch shot Weiner inadvertently made public. The ensuing scandal culminated in the surreal scene, carried live on television, of Andrew Breitbart hijacking Weiner’s press conference and fielding questions from astonished reporters.

Let us be careful about punditry with oversold conclusions:

For Bannon, the Clinton Cash uproar validated a personal theory, informed by his Goldman Sachs experience, about how conservatives can influence the media and why they failed the last time a Clinton was running for the White House. “In the 1990s,” he told me, “conservative media couldn’t take down [Bill] Clinton because most of what they produced was punditry and opinion, and they always oversold the conclusion: ‘It’s clearly impeachable!’ So they wound up talking to themselves in an echo chamber.”

Interesting lessons:

In response, Bannon developed two related insights. “One of the things Goldman teaches you is, don’t be the first guy through the door because you’re going to get all the arrows. If it’s junk bonds, let Michael Milken lead the way,” he says. “Goldman would never lead in any product. Find a business partner.” His other insight was that the reporters staffing the investigative units of major newspapers aren’t the liberal ideologues of conservative fever dreams but kindred souls who could be recruited into his larger enterprise. “What you realize hanging out with investigative reporters is that, while they may be personally liberal, they don’t let that get in the way of a good story,” he says. “And if you bring them a real story built on facts, they’re f—ing badasses, and they’re fair.”

Used the media outlets of his opponents to his advantage:

“It seems to me,” says Brock of Bannon and his team, “what they were able to do in this deal with the Times is the same strategy, but more sophisticated and potentially more effective and damaging because of the reputation of the Times. If you were trying to create doubt and qualms about [Hillary Clinton] among progressives, theTimes is the place to do it.” He pauses. “Looking at it from their point of view, theTimes is the perfect host body for the virus.”

The takeover boom:

Bannon landed in Goldman’s New York office at the height of the hostile takeover boom. “Everything in the Midwest was being raided by Milken,” he says. “It was like a firestorm.” Goldman didn’t do hostile takeovers, instead specializing in raid defense for companies targeted by the likes of Drexel Burnham and First Boston. The first few years, he worked every day except Christmas and loved it: “The camaraderie was amazing. It was like being in the Navy, in the wardroom of a ship.” Later, he worked on a series of leveraged buyouts, including a deal for Calumet Coach that involved Bain Capital and an up-and-comer named Mitt Romney.

Two big things were going on at Goldman Sachs in the late ’80s. The globalization of world capital markets meant that size suddenly mattered. Everyone realized that the firm, then a private partnership, would have to go public. Bankers also could see that the Glass-Steagall Act separating commercial and investment banking was going to fall, setting off a flurry of acquisitions. Specialists would command a premium. Bannon shipped out to Los Angeles to specialize in media and entertainment. “A lot of people were coming from outside buying media companies,” he says. “There was huge consolidation.”

The narrative:

Breitbart’s genius was that he grasped better than anyone else what the early 20th century press barons understood—that most readers don’t approach the news as a clinical exercise in absorbing facts, but experience it viscerally as an ongoing drama, with distinct story lines, heroes, and villains. Breitbart excelled at creating these narratives, an editorial approach that’s lived on. “When we do an editorial call, I don’t even bring anything I feel like is only a one-off story, even if it’d be the best story on the site,” says Alex Marlow, the site’s editor in chief. “Our whole mindset is looking for these rolling narratives.” He rattles off the most popular ones, which Breitbart News covers intensively from a posture of aggrieved persecution. “The big ones won’t surprise you,” he says. “Immigration, ISIS, race riots, and what we call ‘the collapse of traditional values.’ But I’d say Hillary Clinton is tops.”

Wow:

Schweizer grew disillusioned with Washington and became radicalized against what he perceived to be a bipartisan culture of corruption. “To me, Washington, D.C., is a little bit like professional wrestling,” he told me. “When I was growing up in Seattle, I’d turn on Channel 13, the public-access station, and watch wrestling. At first I thought, ‘Man, these guys hate each other because they’re beating the crap out of each other.’ But I eventually realized they’re actually business partners.”

trump-wwe

Mission… accomplished?  How about this:

Hillary Clinton’s story, they believed, was too sprawling and familiar to tackle in its entirety. So they’d focus only on the last decade, the least familiar period, and especially on the millions of dollars flowing into the Clinton Foundation. Bannon calls this approach “periodicity.”

Ewwwwww:

“The modern economics of the newsroom don’t support big investigative reporting staffs,” says Bannon. “You wouldn’t get a Watergate, a Pentagon Papers today, because nobody can afford to let a reporter spend seven months on a story. We can. We’re working as a support function.

UPDATE:

More insight from this Hollywood Reporter article:

The Democratic Party betrayed its working-man roots, just as Hillary Clinton betrayed the long-time Clinton connection — Bill Clinton’s connection — to the working man. “The Clinton strength,” he says, “was to play to people without a college education. High school people. That’s how you win elections.”

And:

To say that he sees this donor class — which in his telling is also “ascendant America,” e.g. the elites, as well as “the metrosexual bubble” that encompasses cosmopolitan sensibilities to be found as far and wide as Shanghai, London’s Chelsea, Hollywood and the Upper West Side — as a world apart, is an understatement. In his view, there’s hardly a connection between this world and its opposite — fly-over America, left-behind America, downwardly mobile America — hardly a common language. This is partly why he regards the liberal characterization of himself as socially vile, as the politically incorrect devil incarnate, as laughable — and why he is stoutly unapologetic. They —liberals and media — don’t understand what he is saying, or why, or to whom. Breitbart, with its casual provocations — lists of its varied incitements (among them: the conservative writer David Horowitz referred to conservative pundit Brill Kristol as a “renegade Jew,” and the site delighting in headlines the likes of “Trannies 49Xs Higher HIV Rate” and “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy”) were in hot exchange after the election among appalled Democrats — is as obtuse to the liberal-donor-globalist class as Lena Dunham might be to the out-of-work workingman class. And this, in the Bannon view, is all part of the profound misunderstanding that led liberals to believe that Donald Trump’s mouth would doom him, instead of elect him.

Plus:

“The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f—ed over. If we deliver—” by “we” he means the Trump White House “—we’ll get 60 percent of the white vote, and 40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote and we’ll govern for 50 years. That’s what the Democrats missed, they were talking to these people with companies with a $9 billion market cap employing nine people. It’s not reality. They lost sight of what the world is about.”

Much of this is the same kind of stuff which can be found in this book:

img_8591

A good detail from it:

listenlib

harry-hopkins

The closing note from that HR Bannon profile, btw:

“I am,” he says, with relish, “Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors.”

How did it end for Cromwell, I can’t remember?

execution


12 Takes on the Al Smith Dinner

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-10-28-39-am

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-10-28-57-am

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Hearing all these points about The Al Smith Dinner.

There is something grotesque about a white-tie banquet with the wealthy and powerful laughing about how they’re all on the same team.  On the flip side, there’s something great about the wealth and powerful laughing about how they’re all on the same team if the team has some common, positive values.

The Al Smith Foundation raises money for the sick, the poor, and the orphans of New York.  It honors a great, cheerful, positive public figure who rose up from poverty to run for president despite religious prejudice.

The dinner is an old-fashioned truce.  Swallowing the noxious flavor of eating with your opponent is how societies can function and remain peaceful.

History offers many stories about how deeply fucked up things get when someone violates the tradition of a ceremonial truce:

red-wedding

People who jockey for political power should have to sit there and be made to at least pretend to be humble.

IMO this is a great tradition even if only for giving us this wonderful gif of Mitt Romney ironing himself.

mitt

Through a friend from my Catholic childhood, I got to go and sit up in the rafters a couple times.  McCain, who must’ve known he was about to lose, gave one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.

Obama smashed too, of course.

Perhaps the two funniest candidates in American history?

Made it to the Romney/Obama one as well.

I remember a guy younger than me in the crowd was pumped, felt sure Romney was gonna win.

Watched this year’s on C-Span.  Man, it was gnarly.  Here are some takes:

  • The #1 thing holding Donald Trump back is that he’s too sensitive.  If he had a thicker skin, if he could laugh off attacks on himself, believe he could’ve won.  Hillary was right about the “baited with a tweet” thing.  If he had one ounce of Reagan’s ability to laugh something off Trump could’ve pulled it off.
  • Al Smith’s nickname was The Happy Warrior.
al-smith

Pic found here

Which candidate can be said to be more Happy Warrior?  Thought Hillary did a good job of Happy Warrioring at the second debate, under very tough conditions:

shimmy

and it worked for her!

  • Much of the preliminary business of the Al Smith Dinner is talking about how much money has been raised for charity.  As you listen to that, it’s hard not to be revolted by Trump’s total scumminess on charity.  My perception was the room grew angrier and angrier at Trump as they heard this, and so were primed against him by the time he got up there. A politician is one thing, but a rich guy who gives nothing to charity?  That sucks.  That’s the complete opposite of the values of this dinner.
  • For someone on the verge of achieving a lifelong dream she’s worked impossibly hard for, Hillary seems miserable.  What is the lesson there?  Is it campaign fatigue and going to bed every night with a knot in the pit of her stomach?  Is it the regular reminders that a lot of people, probably a majority, just kind of don’t like her?  There’s something real devil’s bargainy in the cruel twists that seem to meet Hillary’s ambitions.
Deeply reviled.

Deeply reviled.

(should admit I am 100% in the tank for Hillary.  Even her soldiering on in the face of all this I admire.  Will the rest of the media admit as much?)

  • This event must be as close as possible to a pure nightmare for Donald.  New York’s elites laughing and booing at him. In front of him and behind his back.  Read anything by or about Trump:  his greatest fear/source of rage is being mocked by Manhattan.

ny-elites

This headline would’ve appeared to Trump if he summoned the vision serpent. We are caught in a snobs vs slob death spiral.  A sharp commentator points out there was a real Nelson Muntz aspect to Donald at this dinner:

nelson_fantasising

Is Nelson in his way a sympathetic character?  Trump’s father was a nasty piece of work, has there ever been a bully who wasn’t bullied?

  • Hillary had some great jokes but she is not great at comic delivery.  Then again, who’s the best over-70 year old joke deliverer?  (Gotta thank Medina for asking that one).  My first picks: Mel Brooks or Bill Cosby.
  • Katie Dunn’s parents would only let Al Smith marry their daughter when he promised he would never become a professional actor (per Caro’s The Power Broker, p. 117).  In those days you went into politics because everybody liked you.
Katie and Al

Katie and Al

  • There’s a lot terrible about the Catholic Church, but in my experience growing up around the Catholic church I saw a lot more attention to and help for the sick, the old, the poor, the dying, the disabled, the mentally ill and the homeless than I’ve seen outside of it.

In Al Smith’s day the Catholic Church provided a social welfare system for the poor and the unfortunate and the immigrant.  Other churches did the same thing.  Think how many hospitals are named after saints.  As far as I understand it the Mormon church still does.  The Catholic Church in America is in a managed decline.

What will fill the social welfare vacuum?  Who will take care of the poor, the sick, the immigrant, they dying?  Who should?

Sometimes it seems like the domestic political argument in America is between two answers: “the government” and “nobody/family/somebody’ll handle it/I don’t know but not the government.”

Bill Clinton and George Bush both succeeded at least in pretending to find happy compromises, “the third way,” “compassionate conservatism,” etc.  For awhile I felt like Paul Ryan was doing a decent job of at least pretending, too.  But man when Trump came along he went the sniveling way.  Is he more dangerous and more vile than Trump?

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-12-45-56-pm

  • “They’re laughing at us” might be Donald’s campaign theme.  From The Washington Post:

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It’s a horrible feeling to be laughed at and it takes dignity to rise above it.  Watching him at the Al Smith dinner, in a way I almost felt bad for him.  If I could give Donald Trump advice I would tell him to relax and return to being a clown version of a rich guy.  It was a good job and he was well-compensated.  But he doesn’t listen.

In a way DT feels like a dangerous, bitter, vile version of this guy:

rodney

  • Al Smith’s father was an immigrant.  Not from Ireland though, from Italy. (Ferraro = blacksmith = smith).  His mother’s parents were immigrants from Ireland.  A frustrating thing about this election is we couldn’t have a serious talk about immigration. How much should we have?  From where?  Infinite?  If not infinite how do we sort out who can come?
  • img_1061

 


Popular Journalism Writing

hard-choices

I’ve had Hillary’s book staring back at me on my desk for weeks now.  It’s pretty boring, here’s a passage more or less at random:

hard-choices

On the other hand, increasingly convinced that politics should be boring.  The thesis of the book might be that life, especially international relations and politics, is full of hard choices with no good answer.  She seems dedicated to taking on the grim, serious job of making those hard choices, and determined to make those in sober and rational ways.  Recommend reading this NY Times article:

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Some excerpts:

“Near existential” is how Tim Kaine recently described this campaign, and it did not come off as complete hyperbole.

Trying to wrap your head around Trump:

the blustering mogul had endured — or rather perpetuated — a series of self-immolations that included a fat-shaming Twitter assault on a Latina beauty queen (one of those things you never thought you’d write during a presidential campaign, and yet it barely registers a blink), a few pages of his 1995 tax return finding its way to The New York Times and the ensuing revelation that Trump had declared a $916 million loss, which could have enabled him to avoid paying 18 years’ worth of federal taxes.

How about this:

“It does feel much different,” she said. “If I were running against another Republican, we’d have our disagreements, don’t get me wrong, and I would be trying to make my case vigorously. But I wouldn’t go to bed at night with a knot in the pit of my stomach.” She enunciated her T’s (“knoT in the piT”) as if she were spitting out the words.

The mentality at her level:

Given that, I asked Clinton if Nov. 8 scared her. “No, not really,” she said slowly. I clarified that I was talking about the prospect of her losing. She knew what I was talking about. “I’m not going to lose,” she said. She shot me a knowing grin.

This is the standard politician’s answer when asked to contemplate defeat — even candidates who are down 30 points — but Clinton seemed to mean it. “I don’t go there,” Clinton said. Trump is such an unnerving figure, partly because in getting this far he has already defied so many predictions, largely on the strength of his ability to command the media fun house. This has been the enduring, defining characteristic of the race. His mania for being seen and heard and mentioned has proved exceptionally well suited, maybe codependent, to the current age.

Interesting point:

Bill Clinton’s campaigns for governor of Arkansas were relatively simple, small-scale and stable productions, conducted via traditional television, news radio and print outlets. But from the moment the Clintons went national in the early 1990s, their ambitions have met head-on with a series of transformative new media adversaries. His presidency was the first to suffer a sustained assault from conservative talk radio, particularly in its first term, when Rush Limbaugh was establishing himself as the most influential radio host of his generation. The Monica Lewinsky scandal and Clinton’s subsequent impeachment were driven heavily by revelations on a new website, the Drudge Report, and covered exhaustively by the emerging force that cable news was becoming.

How about this?:

[Hillary] described a meeting with a group that had developed online mental-health programs. One woman predicted to her that a big challenge in mental health over the coming years would be “how to undo the damage that the internet has caused young people.”

…Trump, of course, both shares and feeds his audience’s addiction to stimuli and entertainment.

I mean this is a shameless, but kind of cool move?:

He can be undeniably fun and, to a point, seductive. My first encounter with Trump, more than a year ago, came in an unsolicited note that said simply, “Mark, It’s Time for a Cover!”

Is this true or a cutesy fiction?:

“My husband and I laugh sometimes about the ‘Antiques Roadshow,’ ” Clinton told me, referring to the PBS show about antique appraisers that she watches devoutly. “Sometimes we feel like we are the antiques on a roadshow when it comes to politics.”

A view of the media:

There are many more women and minorities in the group (as in, there are more than almost none); there is considerably less drinking, and no one smokes; and while reporters 40 years ago paid their dues and scrapped like hell to cover a presidential campaign, many of today’s cast members are in their first journalism jobs. They are competitive but collegial. Their tech savviness is astounding (actually it made me scared). It’s easy to see why a control-freakish enterprise like the Clinton campaign might be terrified of an army of smartphone dynamos who are just dying to tweet out what color cough drops the candidate was popping (Halls, yellow).

This is great:

People inside the Clinton orbit mourn the familiar shirts and skins of going up against a more conventional Republican nominee. They dealt in familiar Republican themes and operated within certain boundaries. You hear a surprising amount of Romney nostalgia: Several Clinton aides I spoke to brought him up in almost wistful terms, as well as John McCain and George W. Bush. They are now fondly recalled as familiar predators in the political habitat, like the characters from that old cartoon “Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog.”Ralph and Sam show up to work, punch the clock and greet each other amiably before starting their daily game — Ralph trying to corral sheep while Sam thwarts him. Each episode ends with the adversaries punching out their timecards and bidding farewell to each other until the next installment.

Popular journalism writing:

Whenever she is asked questions that touch on possible sexism and double standards, Clinton tends to assume a slow, sarcastic and vaguely disdainful voice. She declared the topic “interesting”; she would “leave it to others” to determine. On whether she is being treated differently as a female candidate, Clinton suggested that it would be a great topic, in the future, for “a lot of Ph.D. theses and popular journalism writing.” She then wrapped things up, disappeared behind her curtain and left us to our “popular journalism writing.”

A scene from the plane:

“O.K., so I was back here a few minutes ago, and everyone was laughing and throwing an orange around,” Merrill said, assessing the situation. “And now I come back again, and suddenly everyone is really tense.” Correct. In any case, Merrill clarified that the clementine had not actually reached Clinton, but rather he picked it up first and read the question aloud. To which Clinton remarked that she had once eaten dinner with Putin. Merrill then circled “Putin” and rolled back the clementine.

Everyone tweeted out Merrill’s clarification. The tension lifted; Merrill headed back to the front cabin and, as he passed my seat, said, “I can’t wait to read four paragraphs of this stupidity in your magazine story.”

I thought this was a rare slip:

After Bill Clinton was elected, his wife vowed that every letter sent to the White House, especially from a child, would receive a response. I have no idea how well they actually executed on this, but Clinton was making a bigger point here, about the importance of connection and the sharing of stories in a political world overrun by snapshots, caricatures, fragmentation and reality distortion.

Well I mean aren’t you a reporter?  Find out!

Earlier [Hillary] had mentioned the 1985 book “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” by Neal Postman, about how television has oriented politics more and more toward entertainment.

Interesting!  I no longer have my copy, but I remember Postman predicted exactly The Daily Show: a parody news show would arise that would show how ridiculous TV news was, but that the stars of the parody show would inevitably become famous themselves and continue the cycle of amusement without confrontation?  something like that.

amusing

The secret key to Hillary?:

In college in the late 1960s, she resisted revolutionary change in favor of grinding out incremental progress inside the system. She has no patience for messianic rhetoric and hyperbolic slogans and grandiose speeches.

Is that really what conservative conspiracy theory subject Saul Alinsky taught Hillary and Barry O?:

saul-alinsky


SUNDAY TAKE: is this the election of 1828?

 

jq2John Quincy Adams

Smug.

Establishment.

Very annoying.

Dad was president.

Former Secretary of State.

Front row kid as Chris Arande says.

Against:

Imacon Color Scanner

Andrew Jackson

Blustery.

Outsider.

Slave trader.

Pretty much a murderer.

Prone to fits of wild anger.

Considered by the JQAs of the world to be impossibly vulgar.

Some ways in which Jackson was better than Trump:

  • Jackson was a legitimate self-made man
  • Jackson had done something of service to his country (Battle of New Orleans)

(What to make of the Seminole War?

seminole-war

Having a hell of a time finding the source of this image, which Wiki says is “Marines battle Seminole Indians in the Florida War–1835-1842.” — Department of Defense, U.S. Marine Corps (Photo #: 306073-A)

The result?

1828

Jackson won.

Some of things he did were

  • deport 45,000 Indians
  • more or less shut down the national bank
  • paid off the national debt
  • preside over an economic panic

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READERS: what do you think?  Comments are open.

First got this idea from a questioner in New Zealand, who (I believe) admired Jackson.

1828 could’ve also been compared to the  the Gore Bush election of 2000 (with Martin Van Buren as Karl Rove)

I’ve got to consult:

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Is Trump like Jackson?  WORSE?  BETTER??

Is JQA like Hillary?

JQA was later in Amistad with Matthew McConaughey.

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SUNDAY TAKES!

Here are some takes and items for your Sunday enjoyment!

The coach on Netflix doc series Last Chance U:

coach

The most compelling, complex character on “TV” right now


Sales:

In an old folder of articles I found this one, about Peter Thiel’s Zero To One

thiel-3

Thiel and his ideas are interesting to me.  I’m open to the Vali/OwenE take that he might just be a kinda smart guy who got lucky and thinks he’s a genius.  He definitely should not be on the Supreme Court.

I loved Zero To One, but Thiel’s support for Trump makes him seem like a much darker and more troubling figure than I felt he was when I was reading it.

Two interesting points in the article that had new meaning in light of Thiel being a Trump guy:

thiel-1

Is that something like what Trump did (old grouchy white men?  white American nationalists?  you’d think they’d be served by a lot of political competitors but maybe there was a hole in the market)?  What about this?:

thiel-2

Unfortunately, Trump is good at sales and Hillary Clinton is kind of bad at sales.

Sometimes this campaign we get a reminder of how good at sales Bill Clinton is.  Here is Bill talking about the Clinton Foundation.  This clip is used by GOP and conservative sites as I guess kind of scummy because Clinton compares himself to Robin Hood:

Maybe comparing yourself to Robin Hood is a little much, but when I hear Bill explain the Clinton Foundation as asking for money from people who have a lot of it and giving it to people who don’t have any, it makes it sound a lot better.

Does anyone effectively refute the claim that almost 10 million more people in more than 70 countries have access to life-saving medicines through the Clinton Health Access Initiative?


Silence Of The Lambs

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Not topical or relevant at all but for forever I’ve had in my phone a bunch of screenshots of this movie, one of the most gripping movies ever.  Saw it on TV some months ago and was struck by how much of it is just a closeup of a person’s face.  How unsettling/compelling!

Baltimore can be quite a fun town if you have the right guide

Baltimore can be quite a fun town if you have the right guide

This guy:

sotl-2

 


This jumped out at me

In a not otherwise “sexy” article about English literary critic William Empson’s book The Face Of The Buddha:

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William Empson:

william-empson


Millennials

Enjoyed the caption on this one, from National Geographic’s Instagram:

fullsizerender


Mediocrities

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Thomas Frank, profiled in the Politico 50 list:

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Frank went to University of Kansas, University of Virginia, and University of Chicago.  Can he be trusted?


Doing some reading about AquAdvantage salmon, a genetically modified animal

Am I ugly?

    Am I ugly?

A growth hormone-regulating gene from a Pacific Chinook salmon, with a promoter from an ocean pout, was added to the Atlantic salmon’s 40,000 genes. This gene enables it to grow year-round instead of only during spring and summer. The purpose of the modifications is to increase the speed at which the fish grows without affecting its ultimate size or other qualities. The fish grows to market size in 16 to 18 months rather than three years.

Asked Anonymous Investor to take a look at the financials of the AquaBounty company.

I haven’t looked into the science, but if their salmon is all that they claim, AquaBounty should have a big pricing advantage. Because their fish grow so much faster than a normal salmon, they should be much cheaper to produce, and sell — undercutting their competitors.

This reminds of the tiny speculative biotech companies I invest in.  There’s no money coming in, only money being burned.  But you’re hoping someday for a big FDA approval that will open sluices of torrential cash.  In this case, the FDA approval has come  But the primary problem (they have a few) is that major buyers like Kroger and Target vowed not to carry the product.  My guess is the company will eventually make inroads, just as Monsanto, Syngenta, etc, have in the past. But it might take a long time. Big money usually wins in the end. And the hippies, as always, will go whining back to their yurts.

AquaBounty is selling for around 64 million dollars.  Not a bad price for a what looks like a pretty decent lottery ticket.

Not sure why AquaBounty only trades in London.  The volume is extremely thin.  This is a stock not on many people’s radar.

I do know that AquaBounty is controlled by Intrexon (the same company trying to battle Zika via their patented breed of mosquitos). They own over 50% of AquaBounty.  Intrexon trades here under the ticker XON. It’s a 3 billion dollar company.  (A year ago it was worth more than 6 billion).  Intrexon does a lot of interesting Monsanto-type things, and the stock is sort of a darling of Wall Street.  But lately doubt has crept into the story.  Intrexon has been slow in providing evidence for many of it’s scientific claims.  The company says they don’t want to divulge their trade secrets by releasing too much data.  Skeptics speculate that they’re not disclosing much, because, they believe, much of the science probably doesn’t work.

Interesting.  Here’s what Intrexon (NYSE: XON) has been up to:

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-1-27-19-pm

“I couldn’t be more pleased with the birth of these adorable kittens,” noted Blake Russell, President of ViaGen Pets. “As the largest global provider of genetic preservation services for companion animals, we look forward to expanding the life-enriching connections that people form with their pets. Our goal is to bring this opportunity to all pet owners and their families.”

Sure.  Anonymous Investor adds:

 In the salmon world, AquAdvantage salmon are considered “ugly”. In a test 95% of salmon chose to mate with wild salmon over AquaBounty salmon.

Reginald

American Dad co-showrunner Brian Boyle has a very fine set of glasses with the AD characters on them.

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One fan’s opinion? the show should do more with Reginald.

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Reginald


 The Flemish Giant

Somebody at work mentioned that the biggest kind of rabbit is called a Flemish giant.

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Well worth the image search.


Boston accents:

bostonians

A good, clear discussion of an often misunderstood issue from this classicbostonians-2


On the subject of Boston:

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In Australia this kind of coconut frosted cake is known as Boston bun.  Everyone was baffled when I told them I’d never heard of it.

A Boston bun is a large spiced bun with a thick layer of coconut icing, prevalent in Australia and New Zealand. Traditionally the bun contained sieved potato, and modern versions sometimes contain raisins. It is often served sliced, to accompany a cup of tea. The origin of the name is unknown.

In New Zealand they’re often called a Sally Lunn, especially in the North Island


Still reeling

aus-states

from good times in Australia.  A bizarro version of the United States, upside down and weirdly (to a USA observer) developed in all kinds of ways.  For instance, Australia people talk about “the deep north” as like a joke on the way we talk about the “deep south.”

Important to remember that on the other side of the equator, you have to flip countries upside down to think about them.  Their south is our north.  If you think about that pointy part of Queensland as Florida, the Northern Territory as Texas, Tasmania as Newfoundland or Nova Scotia, Melbourne as Boston and Sydney as New York, you’re still way off but getting somewhere.

Ok but flip Australia upside down in your mind.

Ok but flip Australia upside down in your mind.

Huge thanks to the many people of New Zealand and Australia who helped me out.  Puts me in mind of this week’s scripture, Matthew 25:35.


Bummed to miss

Had to come back to the USA before the Brisbane Writers’ Festival, so I missed Lionel Shriver of We Need To Talk About Kevin fame apparently light it up with a wild speech about cultural appropriation (attacking what seems to me to be a ridiculous straw man?)

I can’t find a photo of her wearing a sombrero, as she is alleged to have done.  Did she really refer to herself as a “renowned iconoclast”?


Which Australian state library is the best?

I enjoy Melbourne’s State Library of Victoria so much:

state_library_of_victoria_3009e

photo by Wiki user Brian Jenkins

I mean how can you not admire that they have Ned Kelly’s armor on display?:

ned-kelly

Some great illustrations on Ned’s wiki page:

a_strange_apparition_ned_kellys_last_stand

“A strange apparition”: when Kelly appeared out of the mist-shrouded bush, clad in armour, bewildered policemen took him to be a ghost, a bunyip, and “Old Nick himself”.

a bunyip:

bunyip

Let’s take a virtual look at Australia’s other state libraries:

Tasmania:

state-library-of-tasmania

Hmm.

Would a better state library be a step towards helping Tasmania’s insane illiteracy rate?

New South Wales:

Mitchell Library without banners

nsw-int

Impressive.  Classic if slightly dull exterior, solid interior, I rate it a 9 (out of 11).

Queensland:

qnsl-ext

qnsld-int

A big swing on the exterior, the interior kind of interesting but also kind of a like a weird mall.  I’ll give it a 7.

Northern Territory:

parliament-house

No independent library building, it’s housed in the Parliament House which is kind of cool.  DNQ for the rating system.

Western Australia:

state-library-of-wa

slwa-int

Trash exterior, interior so weird as to be kind of interesting.  8.  

The old version, once housed in Hackett Hall, appears to have been pretty cool:

231751pd-hackett-hall-before-alteration-december-1960-image-courtesy-state-library-of-wa

South Australia:

ext

Ok…

mortlock-wing

Aw yeah!  11/11.


Short Books

Australia/New Zealand publishing is so good at short books.  I read a bunch of short books while traveling.

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This one began as speech Flanagan gave, focusing on his disgust for the abuses, catastrophes, and inhumanity at Australia’s offshore detention centers for asylum seekers, but also about a general disappointment in political and cultural life:

Conformists par excellence, capable of only agreeing with power however or wherever it manifests itself, they are the ones least capable of dealing with the many new challenges we face precisely because those challenges demand the very qualities the new class lacks: courage, independence of thought and a belief in something larger than its own future.

The new class, understanding only self-interest, believing only in the possibilities of its own cynicism, committed to nothing more than its own perpetuation, seeks to ride the tiger by agreeing with all the tiger’s desires, believing it and not the tiger will endure, until the tiger decides it’s time to feed, as the mining corporations did with Kevin Rudd, as News Limited is now with Julia Gillard.

He goes on about the alternative:

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If I may make a crude summary Flanagan’s argument could be he wishes Australia remembered Matthew 25:35 a little more.

Flanagan and I once shared a publisher, and I’m told his books are masterpieces, especially Narrow Road To The Deep North.

Also good, and more lighthearted if at times equally scorching:

pieper

Here’s a taste, where Pieper is digressing about a dog he adopted:pieper-2

Took a page out of Vali’s book and wrote Mr. Pieper a short and simple fan letter complimenting him on his book.  He wrote a gracious note back.  Gotta do this more often.

I can’t write to the great New Zealand short story writer Katherine Mansfield because she’s dead:

mansfield

If I could, I would compliment her on “The Garden Party.”  This story starts out so boring and stodgy and Victorian I really thought I was in for it.  But it pays off.  Spoiler alert this is the last page:

mansfield-2

What life was she couldn’t explain.  No matter.  He quite understood.

Isn’t it, darling?’ said Laurie.


Southbank

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This scene, on Brisbane’s Southbank, really reminded me of this one, in Paris a hundredsome years ago:

sunday



Richard Bell

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Impressed by this massive painting at the Milani Gallery in Brisbane by Australian indigenous artist Richard Bell.

(The price in Australian dollars is 55,000.)

Bell caused controversy in April 2011 after revealing that he selected the winner of the prestigious Sir John Sulman Prize through the toss of a coin.

 


Boyd, Trump and OODA Loops

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 1.57.09 PM

This very long article and this shorter one both talk about Donald Trump in light of the theories of fighter pilot/Air Force Colonel John Boyd, and specifically his idea about the OODA Loop.

OODA stands for:

Observe

Orient

Decide

Act

Boyd says, whoever cycles through this loop faster wins the dogfight (or battle, orbusiness competition, or whatever).

It’s more complicated than that: see, for example, this version of Boyd’s own chart to describe his ideas:

picture_boyd_ooda_loop

For one thing, the goal isn’t just to get through your cycle faster.  It’s to screw up the other guy’s ability to get through his cycle.

In the longer version above about Trump, Dan McLaughlin makes the point that Trump, mainly via Twitter, is constantly messing with Bush and now Cruz’s abilities to observe, orient, decide and act.  Before they’ve even oriented he’s changing the whole landscape with some new outrageous thing like declaring he’s not gonna show up to the debate or whatever.

These guys, with their lumbering organizations of consultants and campaign managers, and their political limitations, just can’t orient, decide, or act with the speed and freedom Trump can.

Boyd is a fascinating dude.  I read once that he lived on basically a cot with no furniture because he decided the only ways to be truly free were either to be very wealthy or to have no material needs, and since he wasn’t gonna be wealthy he went full Spartan.

Seeing these articles convinced me it was finally time to pick up this book:

images

This book is fascinating, hats off to Robert Coram.  Let me tell you a bit about Boyd:

  • Boyd was considered the best fighter pilot of generation.  He could supposedly defeat anybody in forty seconds.  He was not humble about it either.
  • He had an insane appetite:

IMG_1729

  • Although Boyd fought in the Korean War, he never shot down a MiG.  This was considered kind of a knock on him by other fighter pilots who had shot down MiGs.  But then again, everyone seems to agree Boyd was still the most badass or at least equally badass pilot around.
  • He proved this during his time at the Air Force Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base outside of Vegas.  In Boyd’s heyday pilots looking to test their stuff would meet over “the green spot,” a rare patch of green in the Nevada desert, and practice dogfighting.  Corum says the green spot could easily be found by any pilot.  I went looking for a picture “green spot Nellis AFB” on Google, and in a development that would no doubt be distressing to Boyd found only medical marijuana stores.   Maybe it was something like this?:Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 10.05.12 PM
  • Boyd was not really one for going along with the chain of command:IMG_1740
  • Boyd did indeed believe in living in super Spartan fashion.  This was not always easy on his wife and five children, nor on his youngest son’s collection of dangerous spiders and snakes:IMG_1732
  • Boyd became obsessed with designing planes that would give the pilot the most possible options .  He spent huge amounts of his own time developing Energy Maneuverability charts for various airplanes.
  • He was infuriated and frustrated by the bureaucratic stupidities he discovered in the Air Force as he fought for what he believed to be superior airplane design.  Reading Coram’s book, you can’t help but agree with Boyd and get outraged right along with him.  For example, I did not have any idea that in the Vietnam War US planes were often found to be inferior to North Vietnamese planes: IMG_2108
  • Boyd also had strong opinions about pilot training:IMG_2107
  • There were a group of admirers/pupils/younger officers around Boyd called his Acolytes.  He would regularly call them at 2am and talk about Clausewitz and so on:IMG_1737 IMG_1739 IMG_1741
  • Sometimes Boyd could be weird: “When Boyd talked to someone at a party, he gave them 100 percet of his attention.  He did not look over the person’s shoulder to see who else was in the room.  But there were times at a party when Boyd might sit down and sleep for an hour or so.”
  • and:IMG_1746

Dick Cheney was impressed with Boyd, and says of him that Boyd “clearly was a factor in my thinking” about strategy in the first Gulf War.

On YouTube, you can see Boyd give the “Patterns Of Conflict” presentation that became famous in the military.  It’s hard to look at this and see this guy as the amazing badass he must’ve been.  Perhaps it was more compelling in person or the guy was no longer at the height of his presenting powers:

Maybe he just wasn’t made for YouTube.

There’s lots of bros obsessed with Boyd online, and he definitely seems like a real hero, a kind of American samurai.  All the Boyd acolytes talk about a speech Boyd would give about whether you want to “be somebody or do something”:

IMG_2109

Something for all our candidates to think about!

Here’s another bit of advice for Trump’s opponents, especially:

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New Paintings For Barry

president-obama

Reuters pool photo

Why did Obama talk in this weird way, and not sitting at the desk?  I dunno, but it looks like he got some new paintings for the Oval Office to replace Childe Hassam.  I learn they are Josephine Hopper’s, on loan from the Whitney:

president_obama_1120

Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

Says Whitney curator Dana Miller:

How did you feel when you saw the works installed on the Oval Office wall? Does their new context change the way they read?

There was something pretty wonderful about the way the light was streaming into the Oval Office the day we hung the works, in that it mimicked the lighting in Cobb’s Barn. With Hopper it is so much about the quality of light, and I think the early morning light at that moment echoed what we were seeing in the painting and I remember remarking upon that to Barbi Spieler, Head Registrar for the Permanent Collection, who was there as well. For obvious reasons we don’t often see Hopper paintings in natural light at the Museum.

When I saw the official White House photograph taken by Chuck Kennedy of The President standing in front of the two paintings, I thought it looked like a Hopper composition. Hopper’s urban scenes are often of a solitary figure caught in quiet contemplation, and that’s what the photograph captured. The light in the office and the sense of stillness are very Hopper-esque; the sun even seems to be coming into the office at the precise angle of the sun in the painting. And the back of The President recalls the back of the figure in Hopper’s most famous painting, Nighthawks. I’m guessing Chuck Kennedy knew exactly what he was doing. And of course, it was deeply gratifying to see an image of President Obama so intently focused on the paintings.

The paintings are of Cobb’s Barn in South Truro, Mass. — Cape Cod.  Both Hoppers were like obsessed with Cobb’s Barn, here is Edward:

cobbs-barn-and-distand-house

Far as I can tell Cobb’s Barn isn’t there anymore.  Bit of a bummer, maybe they should put up a plaque or something.

Josephine Hopper:

Jo Hopper by Robert Henri

That’s her painted by Robert Henri, who loved to paint babes:

Henri_Robert_Salome

Henri was, by this point, at the heart of the group who argued for the depiction of urban life at its toughest and most exuberant. Conservative tastes were necessarily affronted. About Henri’s Salome of 1909, critic Hughes observed: “Her long legs thrust out with strutting sexual arrogance and glint through the over-brushed back veil. It has far more oomph than hundreds of virginal, genteel muses, painted by American academics. He has given it urgency with slashing brush marks and strong tonal contrasts. He’s learned from Winslow Homer, from Édouard Manet, and from the vulgarity of Frans Hals”.

More Helytimes coverage about the Hoppers.

Now, what painting is in the Oval Office may seem meaningless but I gotta tell ya: I like living a country where the President is expected to have some taste and make some choices about putting some cool art on the wall.

Presidents have different art on the wall, but it means something to them.  George W. Bush made a real point of having a bust of Churchill in there.  Obama allegedly returned it, right?  Ted Cruz definitely tells the whole truth about that?

New president, new art.  We can all find American art we like, that’s a great thing about us.  You can bet in the Reagan days they made choices about the art:

Looks like Reagan has The President’s House up there.

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From the “Artwork” section of the Wiki page on Oval Office:

Most presidents have hung a portrait of George Washington – usually the Rembrandt Peale”Porthole” portrait or the Charles Willson Peale three-quarter-length portrait – over the mantel at the north end of the room. A portrait of Andrew Jackson by Thomas Sully hung in Lyndon Johnson’s office, and in Ronald Reagan’s, George H. W. Bush’s and Bill Clinton’s. A portrait of Abraham Lincoln by George Henry Story hung in George W. Bush’s office, and continues in Barack Obama’s. Three landscapes/cityscapes by minor artistsThe City of Washington from Beyond the Navy Yard by George Cooke, Eastport and Passamaquoddy Bay by Victor de Grailly, and The President’s House, a copy after William Henry Bartlett – have adorned the walls in multiple administrations. The Avenue in the Rain by Childe Hassam and Statue of Liberty by Norman Rockwell flanked the Resolute Desk in Bill Clinton’s office, and do the same in Barack Obama’s.

What a slam!  “minor artists”.  The friggin’ President looks at your painting every day and you’re still minor.  These art world guys are tough on each other, I tell ya.

Anyway.

Reader reaction is encouraging me in a White House kick.  Be sure to weigh in to Helytimes if you know any facts about Oval Office art.  Somebody out there knows what Bartlett had up.


Making a difference

September-11-unseen

Ashley Weinberg, a psychologist at the University of Salford who has interviewed dozens of former members of the British Parliament about why they liked their jobs, says that the phrase “being at the center of things” kept coming up. That yearning doesn’t require convictions. “You’re sensing things happening around you,” Weinberg says. “Which is quite different from whether you want specificthings to happen around you.”

That’s from this interesting article about George Pataki, and why a longshot guy would run for president.

MANY CANDIDATESWITH no chance of victory run for president because of conviction. Like, say, Ron Paul in 2012 or Bernie Sanders today, they have a set of issues they passionately want to advance.

This does not, as far as I can tell, apply to George Pataki. As Jonah Goldberg put it in a column last month, Pataki seems to be “pretending to have core convictions just so he can run.” Even the Pataki website motto—”People over politics”—suggests a desire to avoid serious thought. And such an impression is nothing new. As Pataki’s third term as governor of New York was winding down in 2005 and 2006, The New York Sun wrote that “one looks in vain to discern any principle or idea that Mr. Pataki stands for consistently.” Columnist Deroy Murdoch wrote in National Review that Pataki was “a politician of breathtaking mediocrity” whose “lack of competence, charisma, and character composes a sickening trifecta.” Kindest was The New York Times, which complained that under Pataki “reform was a talking point, not a doing point,” while nonetheless conceding that, overall, “New Yorkers are well aware that it is possible to do worse.”

Another common explanation for why people choose to run doomed presidential campaigns is that it raises the odds of getting a Cabinet post. Perhaps Pataki wishes to be secretary of Agriculture? But that’s unlikely. While steering a federal department is prestigious, the work is hard. Which, I’m afraid, brings us to another harsh point made by many observers of Albany: that Pataki is not only light on convictions but also disinclined to exertion. “The consensus was he was a lazy guy,” says George Marlin, a leader of New York’s Conservative Party, who was appointed by Pataki to head the Port Authority but later became a prominent critic of the governor. “Energy was not his strong suit.”

In 2006, New York Post state editor Fredric Dicker described Pataki’s administration as one “marked by a torpidity unprecedented in modern times” and estimated, based on testimony from sources in Albany, that Pataki averaged about 15 hours of work per week. Meanwhile, The New York Observer saw a “legacy of laziness, mediocrity and pervasive neglect of the public interest.” The 15-hour-a-week claim seems improbable, of course, and Pataki’s spokesperson David Catalfamo calls it “ludicrous,” saying no one lazy could get elected three times, enact numerous changes, or steer the state through the aftermath of September 11. But it’s fair to say that those who praise Pataki tend to mention intelligence or analytical power rather than midnight oil.

Amazing.

It reminded me of seeing Rahm Emanuel once on Charlie Rose.  Asked why he’d wanted to run for Congress, he said “to make a difference.”  Charlie nodded.  Humans are obsessed with “making a difference” in general, but (duh) not all difference is good.

It seems, when you read about politics, that a lot of people go into it to sort of pretend to others and maybe to themselves to be doing something, without necessarily figuring out what they should be doing.  

WELD&KERRY-91054.r

Governor William Weld and Senator John Kerry sang together in 1997 during the St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast. Michael Robinson-Chavez/Globe Staff/File 1997

A guy who seemed to be a great case study in this when I was growing up reading the newspaper was Bill Weld, Governor of Massachusetts, who, it seemed pretty clear, basically got bored of the job before he was out of office.  How about this, from a 2004 James Fallows article previewing Bush-Kerry debates.  Fallows is talking about when Weld and Kerry debated during the 1996 campaign for Senate

But they differed in a crucial way. Kerry tried harder. His tone was more appropriate to a TV debate (Kerry was understated and almost languid, Weld strangely blustering). He was quicker to turn each answer into an attack. And he more clearly figured out the theme that would be troublesome for his opponent, as he hammered home the idea that Weld was a comrade of Newt Gingrich and the national Republican Party—a kiss of death in Massachusetts. (Perhaps illustrating the truism that aristocrats don’t sweat off the squash court, on the day of the first debate Weld was worrying about a chess match against a journalist. “I would advise the President not to engage in any chess games by mail while engaged in debates with Senator Kerry,” Weld told me. “I was studying the chess game in my office and also preparing for the debate that night—and I made just a little bit of a mistake and lost a pawn. And I really hated losing that pawn.”)

Obviously he’s being a bit of a showoff, WASPy understatement etc., but man.  Everything’s just an amusing game to this guy.  From Weld’s wikipedia page:

In July 1997, Weld was nominated to become United States Ambassador to Mexico by President Bill Clinton. His nomination stalled after Senate Foreign Relations committee Chairman Jesse Helms refused to hold a hearing on the nomination, effectively blocking it. … This refusal to hold hearings was also rumored to be at the request of former United States Attorney General and friend of Helms, Edwin Meese. Meese had a long-standing grudge against Weld stemming from Weld’s investigation of Meese during the Iran-Contra affair. Weld publicly criticised Helms, which the White House discouraged him from doing, but Weld relished the opportunity, saying: “It feels like being in a campaign. I feel newly energized. I love to stir up the pot. I seem to click on more cylinders when the pot is stirred up.”

Very human, I guess.  But perhaps either unsettling or amusingly absurd to think on how much of history might be driven by just people’s desire to stir the pot and click their cylinders.  Boredom, in other words.


Mournbrag

Look, the nature of grieving is weird, how are you gonna judge how somebody grieves?  (but the typo?!)

This book:

WIT

first got me to really thinking about this.

George HW and Barbara Bush lost a daughter to pediatric leukemia when she was four years old.  Cramer says that something like half of all couples that lose a child split up, because the ways that two people grieve can be so divergent and impossible, even offensive, for the other person to deal with.  The Bushes were determined not to let that happen to them (and they didn’t).

The instinct on Twitter to make someone’s death an opportunity for backhanded aggrandizement sets my nerves on edge.  I’m not sure why that particular thing gnaws at me so much.  Maybe because the whole point of the death of a noble guy, or death at all, might be to remind us how unimportant we are, or to encourage us to be better?

(Hardly a perfect model here: when SDB died I both wanted to talk about him and myself and also at the same time never talk about it.)

This dude David Carr was incredible, his death was shocking, the number of people he seemed to have touched directly is staggering.  In New York in 2009 I was talking to a girl who told me more or less unprompted about truly moving kindnesses and generosity David Carr had extended to her just out of excellence of character and goodness of spirit.

I’ll miss reading the guy’s stuff.  I was just reading his thing about Brian Williams because I’m sure he’d have something to say worth hearing.

Now this is a tribute:

If you can only have one sentence of writing advice, go with this:

“Keep typing until it turns into writing”

If you are prepared for an intense experience on the subject of death and grieving, might I recommend the American Experience “Death And The Civil War”?

If you’re rushed for time, allow me to summarize: the Civil War was a tremendous bummer.


Coaches, Part 2: Belichick

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(Part One, about Pete Carroll and Nick Saban’s memoirs, is here)

The most interesting character in this book isn’t Belichick, it’s Ernie Adams.

Ernie Adams

Photo by Stu Rosner from this Northwestern magazine article: http://www.northwestern.edu/magazine/winter2008/feature/adams.html

Ernie Adams, it should be noted, was a coach even before entering Andover.  he had gone to elementary and junior high at the Dexter School, a private school in the Boston area (where John F. Kennedy had gone), and being more passionate about football than the teacher who had been drafted to coach the intramural team there, he had ended up giving that teacher more suggestions than the teacher wanted to hear.  Finally the teacher, in desperation, had turned to Ernie and said, “Well, if you know so much, why don’t you coach?”  That was an offer Ernie Adams could not turn down, and he ended up coaching the Dexter team quite successfully.

At Andover he had already befriended another football-crazed classmate, Evan Bonds, with whom he talked constantly and with whom he diagrammed endless football plays and with whom he jointly did the senior project breaking down and analyzing all of Andover’s plays from the their senior season…

Bonds felt that although his own life revolved completely around football, Adams was already a good deal more advanced in his football obsessions, going off on his own to coaching clinics where everyone else was at least ten years older, collecting every book written by every coach on the game, the more technical the better, and collecting films of important games: “Ernie already had an exceptional football film collection, sixteen-millimeter stuff, the great Packer-Cowboy games, Raiders-Jets, films like that, which he somehow found out about through sports magazines, had sent away for, and for which he had enough primitive equipment that he could show the films,” Bonds said.  “It’s hard to explain just how football crazed we were, but the year before Bill arrived, when we were in the eleventh grade, and it was spring, the two of us went down to Nickerson Field, the old Boston University field, because BU was having an intra-squad spring game.  We were up there in the stands, taking notes, these two seventeen-year-olds – can you believe it? – scouting an intra-squad game at BU on our own, and I still have no earthly idea what we would have done with the notes.  Anyway, pretty soon a BU assistant coach came up looking for us, to find what we were doing, and why we were doing it.  So we said we were from Northeastern, as if that would give us extra legitimacy, and the coach said what we were doing was illegal, and we had to get out then and there.”

And then at Andover arrived young Bill Belichick, doing a post-graduate year, a kind of bonus senior year after graduating from Annapolis High, in the hopes of getting into a better college:

Adams was already as advanced a football junkie as Belichick: he had an exceptional collection of books on coaching, including Football Scouting Methods ($5.00 a copy, published by the Ronald Press of New York City, and featuring jacket quotes from, among others, the legendary Paul Brown: “Scouting is essential to successful football coaching.”), the only book written by one Steve Belichick, assistant coach of the Naval Academy.  The book was not exactly a best seller – the author himself estimated that it sold at most four hundred copies – nor was it filled with juicy, inside tidbits about the private lives of football players.  Instead it was a very serious, very dry description of how to scout an opponent, and, being chockful of diagrams of complicated plays, it was probably bought only by other scouts and the fourteen-year-old Ernie Adams.

That year, just as the first football practice was about to start at Andover, Coach Steve Sorota posted the list of the new players trying out for the varsity, including the usual number of PGS – the list included the name Bill Belichick, and Ernie Adams was thrilled.  That first day Adams looked at the young man with a strip of tape that Belichick on his helmet, and asked if he was from Annapolis, Maryland, and if he was related to the famed writer-coach-scout Steve Belichick, and Bill said yes, he was his son.  Thus were the beginnings of a lifetime friendship and association sown…

..”Because we were such football nerds, it was absolutely amazing that Bill had come to play at Andover, because we were probably the only two people in the entire state of Massachusetts who had read his father’s book,” Bonds said years later.

Adams has more or less been at Belichick’s side ever since, “Belichick’s Belichick,” aside from interludes on Wall Street.  Here’s a good profile on him, with quotes from Andover classmate Buzz Bissinger.  (Apparently Jeb Bush was in that class too).

So you can never really tell what is going on in his head. But I did get Carlisle to call Adams on Monday and ask for his five favorite books, hoping to get a window into the places a man like him goes for inspiration. Here is the list:

  1. “The Best and the Brightest,” by David Halberstam
  2. “The Money Masters of Our Time,” by John Train
  3. Robert Caro’s three-volume biography of Lyndon B. Johnson
  4. Robert Massie’s biography of Peter the Great
  5. William Manchester’s two-part biography of Winston Churchill

Adams also seems to enjoy not only watching greatness work, but also seeing it fail. Carlisle thinks the central message of Halberstam’s Vietnam classic appeals to Adams: that people incredibly well-educated and well-intentioned could be so flat-out wrong about something. It’s a helpful notion to keep in mind about the conventional-wisdom-obsessed world of football, where pedigree and tradition dictate many overly conservative decisions. Indeed, when Adams agreed to participate in Halberstam’s Belichick book, he did so with this caveat: For every two questions the journalist got to ask Adams about football, Adams got to ask one back about Vietnam. Did that trait allow Adams to make sure the mistakes of Belichick in Cleveland were not repeated? Maybe.

Most articles on Adams will include this detail:

When Belichick and Adams were together when the coach was in Cleveland, Browns owner Art Modell once said, “I’ll pay anyone here $10,000 if they can tell me what Ernie Adams does.”

Or:

A few years back, during a team film session, the Patriots players put up a slide of Adams. The caption read: “What does this man do?” Everyone cracked up. But no one knew.

Mysterious, rigorous, intense, scholarly dissection of football — that seems to be the Belichick way.  “Unadorned,” as Halberstam puts it:

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Belichick doesn’t seem like the kind of dude to write a book, least of all a peppy all-purpose motivational paperback like Pete Carroll’s.  This is the closest thing, a kind of biography starting with the arrival of Bill Belichick’s grandparents in America.  They came, like Belichick apprentice Nick Saban’s grandparents and Pete Carroll’s maternal grandparents, from Croatia:

FullSizeRender (1)Bill Belichick grew up in football.  His dad, Steve Belichick, spent the bulk of his career (33 years) as an assistant coach at the Naval Academy.  (As a young guy, a fellow coach advised him to get a tenure-track job as an associate professor of physical education, so he had job security even as eight head coaches passed through.)  Belichick’s mom seems like a great lady — she’d done graduate work in languages at Middlebury, and during the war she translated military maps.  She learned Croatian so she could speak to her in-laws more easily.

Though he never worked at Oakland, Belichick apparently picked up several things from the way Al Davis ran the Raiders:

There were important things that [assistant coach Rich] McCabe told Belichick about the Davis system that would one day serve Belichick well.  The first thing was that Oakland looked only for size and speed.  Their players had to be big and fast.  That was a rule.  If you weren’t big and fast, Oakland wasn’t interested.  The other thing was about the constancy of player evaluation.  Most coaches stopped serious evaluation of their personnel on draft day – they chose their people, and that was that.  But Davis never stopped evaluating his people, what they could do, what you could teach them, and what you couldn’t teach them.  He made his coaches rate the players every day.  Were they improving?  Were they slipping?  Who had practiced well?  Who had gone ahead of whom in practice?  The jobs the starters had were not held in perpetuity.

This is similar to stuff Carroll talks about — everyone is competing every practice.  After a stint in Denver:

That summer [Belichick] came home and visited with his boyhood friend Mark Fredland and told him he had found the key to success: It was in being organized; the more organized you were at all times, the more you knew at every minute what you were doing and why you were doing it, the less time you wasted and the better coach you were.

Halberstam likes Belichick, obviously.  They had become friendly because they both had houses on Nantucket, and Halberstam suggests that the gruff Belichick we see is part presentational strategy:

That persona – the Belichick who had never been young – was one he had either created for the NFL or had evolved because of the game’s needs.  Part of the design was more or less deliberate, and part of it was who he was.  For when he had first entered the League, he had been a young man teaching older men, and he had needed to prove to them he was an authority figure.  Thus, he believed, he had been forced to be more aloof and more authoritarian than most coaches or teachers working their first jobs.

Compare this to the young guy at Wesleyan with his frat brothers, sneaking a case of beer into a showing of Gone With The Wind (why that movie?  even Halberstam is baffled) under his parka.

Belichick

The best parts of this book are about Belichick’s relationship with Bill Parcells, when they were at the Giants.  The biggest issue there was how to handle Lawrence Taylor, who was supremely excellent at football, but semi-out of control on drugs and women, prone to nodding off in meetings though he would somehow intuitively understand what he had to do in complex plays.  A great anecdote — LT has injured his ankle:

So on his own, without telling the coaches, he went to a nearby racetrack and somehow managed to find someone there who was an expert in horse medicine, who had some kind of pill – a horse pill – and he took it and played well.

Belichick’s takeaway from dealing with LT was, apparently, never to bend the rules for anyone.

Parcells and Belichick needed each other, but they weren’t friends exactly:

There was one terrible moment, during a game, when Belichick called a blitz, and Parcells seemed to oppose it.  They went ahead with it and the blitz worked – the other team did what Belichick had expected, not what Parcells had – but Parcells was furious, and over the open microphones in the middle of a game, he let go: “Yeah, you’re a genius, everybody knows it, a goddamn genius, but that’s why you failed as a head coach – that’s why you’ll never be a head coach… some genius.”  It was deeply shocking to everyone who heard it; they were the cruelest words imaginable.

Not true, though.  Belichick got to be head coach at Cleveland, where he didn’t really get on with owner Art Modell or QB Bernie Kosar and had a tough time, going 36-44 there.  Halberstam almost seems to admire how bad/stubborn/unhelpful Belichick was with the media there.

And then he got to New England (taking over for the fired Pete Carroll).

As his friend Ernie Adams said, “The number one criteria for being a genius in this business is to have a great quarterback, and in New England he had one, and in Cleveland he did not.”

The stuff in Halberstam’s book about Belichick’s decision to go with Brady over Drew Bledsoe is pretty great:

But among those most impressed by Belichick’s decision to go with Brady was his father.  Steve Belichick thought it was a very gutsy call, perhaps the most critical call his son had ever made, because the world of coaching is very conservative, and the traditional call would be the conservative one, to go with the more experienced player in so big a game.  The way you were protected if it didn’t work out, because you had gone with tradition and experience, and no one could criticze you.  That was the call most coaches would have made, he said, under the CYA or Cover Your Ass theory of coaching. Many of his old friends disagreed with what his sone was doing, he knew, but he was comfortable with it himself.  When friends who were puzzled called him about it, he told them that Bill was right in what he was doing.  “He’s the smart one in the family, and I’m the dumb one,” he would say.

Steve Belichick

Brady seems like he earned it, surely, and he had the special thing Belichick needed:

There were some quarterbacks who were very smart, who knew the playbook cold, but who were not kinetic wonders, and could not make the instaneous read.  That was the rarest of abilities, the so-called Montana Factor: the eye perceiving, and then even as the eye perceives, transferring the signal, eye to brain, and then in the same instant, making the additional transfer from brain to the requisite muscles.  The NFL was filled with coaches with weak arms themselves, who could see things quickly on the field but who were doomed to work with quarterbacks who had great arms, but whose ability to read the defense was less impressive.  What Brady might have, they began to suspect, was that marvelous ability that sets the truly great athletes apart from the very good ones.  Or as one of the assistants said, it was like having Belichick himself out there if only Belichick had had a great arm.  In the 2001 training camp Brady would come off the field after an offensive series, and Belichick would question him about each play, and it was quite remarkable: Brady would be able to tell his coach what every receiver was doing on each play, what the defensive backs were doing, and explain why he had chosen to throw where he had.  It was as if there were a camera secreted away in his brain.  Afterward, Belichick would go back and run the film on those same plays and would find that everything Brady had said was borne out by the film.

There’s no secret in this book.  Belichick is obsessed with analyzing football, has been since he was at least seventeen, probably younger.  Even with that intensity it took luck and circumstance to get him five Super Bowl rings.  A lesson from the coaching careers of Carroll and Belichick might be perseverance, but I don’t think that’s even the word for this — it’s not like it’s any kind of choice with these guys, it’s nature.

I read one other Halberstam sports book a few years ago, The Amateurs, about Harvard rowing.  The theme of that book is similar: obsessive characters irresistibly driven, almost forced by their nature to be completely devoted, single-minded, unrelenting.  There was no end of it.  “The kind of guys whose idea of a day off is to drive up to New Hampshire and cross-country ski until you couldn’t stand up,” as a rowing coach put it.

The Amatuers

Most of us (me) aren’t this kind of guy, certainly not about football or rowing.  The compelling thing about the Pete Carroll book is that he seems semi-human.  He seems to find joy and fun in this pursuit.  Not that he’s any less competitive than Belichick, and who knows what eats him up in private.  But he can explain what he’s doing to others in a way that seems born out of enthusiasm and positivity rather than just some incomprehensible inner nature. Just being willing to try to explain it is something.

That’s not typical:

“Don’t do it, don’t go into coaching,” the famed Bear Bryant had counseled young acolytes who were thinking of following him into the profession, “unless you absolutely can’t live without it.”

There was a constant loneliness to the job, a sense that no one else understood the pressures you faced.  Each year, before the season began, Belichick would tell his team that no one else would understand the pressure on them, not even the closest members of their families.  The person in football who knew him best and longest, Ernie Adams, thought Belichick had remained remarkably true to the person he had been as a young man.  Adams was a serious amateur historian, and he was not a coach who threw the word “warrior” around to describe football players, because they were football players, not warriors, and the other side did not carry Kalashnikovs.  Nonetheless, he thought the intensity under which the game was now played and the degree to which that intensity separated players and coaches from everyone else, even those dear to them, was, in some way, like combat, in that you simply could not explain it to anyone who had not actually participated.  It was not a profession that offered a lot in the way of tranquility.  “My wife has a question she asked me every year for ten years,” Bill Parcells said back in 1993 when he was still married, “and she always worded it the same way: ‘Explain to me why you must continue to do this.  Because the times when you are happy are so few.’  She has no concept.”

(A good roundup of Belichick stories here.)  


What?

Not well informed on the torture report, so thanks to Andrew Sullivan for calling my attention to this NYT piece:

For all the publicity the Bush administration gave Mr. Padilla, the committee revealed that the government never took his dirty bomb plot seriously. It was based on a satirical Internet article titled “How to Make an H-Bomb,” and the plot involved swinging a bucket full of uranium over one’s head for 45 minutes. One internal C.I.A. email declared that such a plot would most likely kill Mr. Padilla but “would definitely not result in a nuclear explosive device.” Another called Mr. Padilla “a petty criminal” and described the dirty bomb plot as “lore.”

Easy to forget who you’re supposed to be rooting for as you read this thing.  The goofy gang that can’t shoot straight or the fiendish torturers who’re hiding the pathetic results of their evil in a tedious bureaucratic report?


Let it all just drop.

 

(can’t find the credit for this photo – the Sept. 25, 2008 meeting)

Incredible ideas in the Chris Rock interview from New York magazine:

When you mentioned Bush, I thought you were going to say something else, which is that he had this “good versus evil” manner of speaking — the Western sheriff who’s come to lay down the law. Obama’s been faulted for not showing anger in public, and for not speaking in simple, declarative Bushisms. Of course, the moment he does do that, he’s accused of being an angry black man.

There’s an advantage that Bush had that Obama doesn’t have. People thinking you’re dumb is an advantage. Obama started as a genius. It’s like,What? I’ve got to keep doing that? That’s hard to do! So it’s not that Obama’s disappointing. It’s just his best album might have been his first album.

What has Obama done wrong?

When Obama first got elected, he should have let it all just drop.

Let what drop?

Just let the country flatline. Let the auto industry die. Don’t bail anybody out. In sports, that’s what any new GM does. They make sure that the catastrophe is on the old management and then they clean up. They don’t try to save old management’s mistakes.

That’s clever. You let it all go to hell.

Let it all go to hell knowing good and well this is on them. That way you can implement. You hire your own coach. You get your own players. He could have got way more done. You know, we’ve all been on planes that had tremendous turbulence, but we forget all about it. Now, if you live through a plane crash, you’ll never forget that. Maybe Obama should have let the plane crash. You get credit for bringing somebody back from the dead. You don’t really get credit for helping a sick person by administering antibiotics.

How about this?

We still have some white people taking the Sarah Palin line about blacks and immigrants alike. They want to “take back the country” — and we know from whom. I find it depressing. The increments of change seem to be so much tinier than we wanted to believe when the Civil Rights Act passed 50 years ago, or when Obama was elected in 2008.

Yeah. The stuff you’re talking about is pockets though. There’s always going to be people that don’t know that the war’s over. I’m more optimistic than you, but maybe it’s because I live the way I do. I just have a great life, so it’s easier for me to say things are great. But not even me. My brothers drive trucks and stock shelves. They live in a much better world than my father did. My mother tells stories of growing up in Andrews, South Carolina, and the black people had to go to the vet to get their teeth pulled out. And you still had to go to the back door, because if the white people knew the vet had used his instruments on black people, they wouldn’t take their pets to the vet. This is not some person I read about. This is my mother.

Or this?:

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, just came out as gay.

Which I think is actually bigger than the football player. Because the average person in that locker room is in his 20s. And it’s just not a big deal to be around a gay guy — if you’re in your 20s. Whereas Tim Cook is around these corporate guys. That is the epitome of a boys’ club. That is sexist, ­racist — the least inclusive group of people you’re ever going to find. Men who have no problem being called owners. Who actually wants to be called an owner, even if you owned a football team? Just the title owner is just so nasty and disgusting.

It does have a kind of antebellum ring.

So Tim Cook came out to those guys. He’s in that club. My God.


What is going ON in DC?

I gotta say, I agree with Peggy Noonan that this article in the New York Times, “Reid Is Unapologetic as Aide Steps on Toes, even the President’s,” is upsetting.  Here is Ms. Noonan’s summary of its contents:

Assuming the article is factually correct, and it certainly appears to be well reported, the president of the United States phoned the majority leader of the U.S. Senate during a legislative crisis to complain that one of the senator’s staffers is a leaker. Unbeknown to the president, the staffer was listening in on the call and broke in to rebut the president’s accusation.

Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

That’s the staffer there, David Krone.

(What should we make of Harry Reid’s portrait of Twain there?  There’s no way Reid is so dumb it didn’t occur to him what Twain would think of that, and him.  Is choosing that portrait a sage bit of humor and humility?  Or a cheap show at sage humor and humility? Plus bloody bloody Andrew Jackson?  anyway there’s no time to sort all that out.)  

Says the Times:

For some on Capitol Hill, Mr. Krone is a manipulative megalomaniac. For others, he is a hero who has the financial independence to speak his mind. The one thing that everyone agrees on is that he is different.

(Krone is rich I guess from being a cable TV executive as a young man?).  I’m not liking this dude’s tone as presented in the article:

“I don’t remember anything about that,” Mr. Reid said in his chandeliered office on Nov. 13, a few hours after being re-elected leader of the Senate Democrats. “Do you?” he asked, turning to Mr. Krone, who was seated beside him in the “leader’s chair.”

“Umm,” Mr. Krone, who is rarely at a loss for words, said through a frozen smile. A few minutes later, Mr. Krone, dressed impeccably in a bespoke suit, walked a reporter out of the office, and, referring to the president’s call, jocularly exclaimed, “I can’t believe that you know that story!”

Krone’s wife is Alyssa Mastromonaco, former Deputy Chief Of Staff for Operations at the White House:

 photo of AM I found on Italian wikipedia.

One day, congressional leaders went to the White House to meet with the president. As they entered, Secret Service agents decided to screen staff members, who usually roll right onto the grounds with their bosses. According to a person familiar with the day’s events, Mr. Krone, incredulous, began shouting. He then called Ms. Mastromonaco, then his fiancée and the administration’s deputy chief of staff for operations, who arrived and apologized. (Mr. Krone said he did not recall the incident and suggested that he might have been misunderstood. “I have a sarcastic sense of humor,” he said.)

Adding to the tumult as the staff members and congressional leaders waited in the White House lobby, Mr. Boehner approached Mr. Reid and, upset by Mr. Reid’s attacks on him on the Senate floor, told him to “go [expletive] yourself.” Mr. Reid replied that he read only what Mr. Krone put in his speeches.

“He says, ‘Blame David,’ ” Mr. Krone recalled, chuckling. “And I was, like, ‘Don’t look at me!’ ”

There’s more weirdness.  Apparently the President and First Lady threw a party in honor of Mr. Krone and Miss Mastromonaco’s upcoming wedding, and Krone didn’t go:

Even as his relationship with the administration deteriorated, Mr. Krone set a wedding date with Ms. Mastromonaco for last November. As the big day approached, Mr. Krone’s good friend George E. Norcross III, the Democratic political boss of South Jersey, suggested a golf outing at his Palm Beach, Fla., home before the nuptials. Mr. Krone said his fiancée endorsed the idea, but a week before the trip said, “Don’t get mad, but they are throwing a party for us.” The “they” in question was Mr. Obama and the first lady, Michelle Obama, but Mr. Krone kept his engagement with Mr. Norcross instead. “I’m exactly where I wanted,” he recalled thinking during the Florida trip.

At the White House engagement party, the president spoke of Ms. Mastromonaco’s indispensability and referred to her as a “little sister.” Michelle Obama declared her to be like “part of my family.” The absent groom later admired a photo of the cake served at the party, describing it as “like taller than me.”

(Pete Souza/The White House)

Mastromonaco now works at VICE.  Reid, talking about Krone:

Mr. Reid fought back tears as he recalled the time he visited his wife, who had been injured in a car accident, and saw Mr. Krone at her hospital bedside. “David is someone I can say, and it doesn’t affect my manhood at all,” Mr. Reid said, “I love David Krone.”

This Times article has some unusually casual phrasing.  For example:

It is hard to imagine now, but Mr. Krone used to have a good relationship with the White House. Smart and insanely hard-working, Mr. Krone, with his direct manner and total empowerment by Mr. Reid, proved a valuable ally in the administration’s early policy lifts.

Anyway: Peggy Noonan is disgusted with all this.  She goes on to invoke The West Wing, on which she briefly worked:

The second thing the Horowitz story made me think of is this. I have remarked, and I think others have also, on the broad, deep impact of the television drama “The West Wing.” It spawned a generation of Washington-based television dramas. (Interestingly, they have become increasingly dark.) It also inspired a generation of young people to go to Washington and work in politics. I always thought the show gave young people a sense of the excitement of work, of being a professional and of being part of something that could make things better.

But it also gave them a sense of how things are done in Washington. And here the show’s impact was not entirely beneficial, because people do not—should not—relate to each other in Washington as they do on TV. “The West Wing” was a television show—it was show business—and it had to conform to the rules of drama and entertainment, building tension and inventing situations that wouldn’t really happen in real life.

Once when I briefly worked on the show, there was a scene in which the press secretary confronts the president and tells him off about some issue. Then she turned her back and walked out. I wrote a note to the creator, Aaron Sorkin, and said, Aaron, press secretaries don’t upbraid presidents in this way, and they don’t punctuate their point by turning their backs and storming out. I cannot remember his reply, but it was probably along the lines of, “In TV they do!”

“The West Wing” was so groundbreaking, and had in so many ways such a benign impact. But I wonder if it didn’t give an entire generation the impression that how you do it on a TV drama is how you do it in real life.

And so the president calls the senator and the aide listens in and cuts the president off. And things in Washington are more like a novel than life, but a cheap novel, and more like a TV show than life, but a poor and increasingly dark one.

Over at Gawker they love to call Peggy Noonan things like “doddering” and “an 800 year-old broken record”  and “lunatic.”  That is not helpful. It only reveals Gawker to be dummies who think they’re smarter than they are, Peggy Noonan is 10x more skillful at writing than anyone at Gawker.

She’s so good at writing/rhetoric/storytelling that she can slick you by assumptions that might not hold up.  Here, in this same blog post, she tells the story of hearing of Monica Lewinsky:

At this point I said, “Whoa. Whoa.” Because my instinct was that it wasn’t true, presidents don’t do things like that, this sounds more like a novel than life. Maybe the girl is just someone with an extremely odd and active fantasy life.

But my friends believed the story, and I could tell that they felt a little sorry for me that I didn’t get it.

Which I didn’t. Because no president would act like that. It took days and weeks for me to fully absorb it. And then I got mad, because the people involved in the scandal were acting as vandals and tearing down things it took centuries to build.

My only personal experience of the White House was of two men, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, for whom such behavior would have been impossible.

If you work for American presidents who are good men, you will inevitably carry forward in your head the assumption that American presidents will be good men. Your expectations will be toward high personal standards and normality. If you started out working for leaders who are not good men, on the other hand, you can go forward with a cynicism and suspicion that are perhaps more appropriate to your era.

Well sure maybe they weren’t getting bjers but Reagan almost certainly was demented and both of them either didn’t know or lied about knowing how military officers in their White House were selling weapons to Islamist revolutionaries and using the money to fund right-wing murderers in Central America.

Maybe that’s worse?

That thing about tearing down things it took centuries to build, tho.  I’m with her on that.

Thinking as I go here but: it’s cool and hip and really important sometimes to be “disruptive.”

But: perhaps in my dottage I’m becoming a grumpy old crank, but:

There’s also wisdom in a lower-c “conservative” respect and protective instinct for “things” it took centuries and great sacrifice to build.  Things that preserve important, maybe even eternal values.  Things like the American Presidency, which has a dignity earned for it by brilliant, inspired men, starting with George Washington, and yeah he owned slaves and that is extremely fucked as even he seems to have known but his greatness is undeniable because he was, seemingly at all times, thinking of something bigger than himself, offering his life to a larger vision that extends all the way to us and beyond.

Among the people that followed George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson in that office there was not one who wasn’t deeply weird and full of puzzle and contradiction.  There was at least one wicked criminal who deserved to be dumped in an open sewage canal.  But taken together they built up and left behind a legacy, a “thing” of brilliance and endurance and dignity and honor and pride that benefits us, protects us, improves and broadens and enriches our lives.  That deserves some kind of deep reverence.

Not worshipful reverence, not fanatical reverence.  Even Reid knows he’s supposed to remember Twain too.  Maybe reverence is the wrong word even.  Maybe what it should inspire is humility.

That’s what’s missing here.  A guy who interrupts the President and then brags about it to The New York Times isn’t being humble.  He’s being an asshole.