Thought of this photo today.
(what’s David Gergen doing there? sometimes I’ve been that guy).
All posts related to any Bush.
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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.
Reading up on the Pintupi Nine, a band of Australian Aboriginal people who walked out of the desert and encountered white people and their creations for the first time in 1984. More evidence on the power of sugar over the human mind:
McMahon did not want to put the group under any pressure to join the community, but he witnessed the moment they were persuaded. “It was unthinkable that they would stay out there because the modern world was so seductive. One of the fellows suggested, ‘Give them a taste of the sugar and they’ll be in for sure.'”
Indeed, the taste of sugar had a big impact on the Pintupi Nine and it is this aspect of their story which now animates them most. “I tasted the sugar, we didn’t know what it was, but it was so sweet. I tasted the sugar and it tasted so sweet – like the Kulun Kulun flower. My mother tasted it and it was so sweet. It was good,” says Warlimpirrnga.
That was that for bush life.
This post is best enjoyed read to you by “Remy” on Spotify, see link above.
When did the podcast first enter your life? Really settle in? Was it with Serial? Hardcore History? Radiolab? Scharpling? One of the Earwolf shows?
Wikipedia, on the page for Podcast, uses an image of Serial being played on an iPhone. That moment, 2014, seems like a breakthrough, when podcast became a word you could say without flinching. OK, maybe there’s still some flinching.
“The podcast producer, who is often the podcast host as well, may wish to express a personal passion, increase professional visibility, enter into a social network of influencers or influential ideas, cultivate a community of like-minded viewership, or put forward pedagogical or ideological ideas (possibly under philanthropic support).”
Viewship? The fuck are we talking about here? It’s an audio format, Wikipedia. Anyway. One motive you won’t find listed is “to entertain and amuse, to have fun with friends and create something joyful.” That was the motivation behind the creation of Great Debates, and I suspect many another podcast as well.
There’s a whole separate Wikipedia page, “History of Podcasting,” and I won’t attempt to replace or summarize it here. A few tidbits do jump out: in August of 2000, the New England Patriots launched the first “IP radio show,” offered on Patriots.com. The journalist Ben Hammersley has a good claim on coining the term “podcasting,” he used it in The Guardian in February 2004. By a year later, USA Today was reporting on “amateur chatfests.” Apple added podcasts in June 2005. By the next month, President George W. Bush’s radio addresses were appearing as podcasts. Those must be a lot of fun to listen to, maybe I’ll go back and check those out.
The table had been set of course for personality driven radio with This American Life. Radio shows are nothing new. But now that you could get them on demand, they were enabled to narrow, rather than broad, cast.
In that 2005 USA Today piece, it was noted that the most popular podcast at the time was “The Dawn and Drew Show,” and I learn from their Wikipedia page that Dawn and Drew have been inducted into the Academy of Podcasters Hall of Fame. Did you know podcasting had an academy? I did not. To get into the Hall of Fame you need to have been involved with and have promoted the art of podcasting for at least ten years. The Great Debates will be eligible in the year 2024, October 17, 2024 to be specific. I’m not telling you to do anything with that, I’m just telling you that, it’s just a fact.
Marc Maron aka WTF, Hollywood Handbook, My Favorite Murder, Joe Rogan, Call Her Daddy, Reply All, 99% Invisible, Planet Money, The Daily, Chapo Trap House, How Did This Get Made?, Red Scare, “Cumtown,” Fiasco, those are just a few of the shows I’d feel obliged to mention if I were trying to write a cultural history of the podcast. I’m sure there are so many I’m leaving out, sports podcasts, podcasts in foreign languages. Filip and Fredrik was my favorite for years, but they’ve gone back to Swedish, a tragedy for the English speaking world. Lately, as I’ve developed my podcast Stocks Let’s Talk, I’ve been listening to investing podcasts. Jim O’Shaughnessy, with his podcast Infinite Loops, and Patrick O’Shaughnessy, with his Invest Like The Best, are the first example I find of father-son podcasts.
Looking at the Chartable Apple Podcasts list for this week, I see six out of the ten are true crime shows. There are two dueling podcasts about The Office TV show, batting for the 23rd and 24th spots. Conan O’Brien, Bill Simmons, Megyn Kelly, Levar Burton, Jordan Peterson, and Michelle Obama all stay in the top one hundred, but at the moment a Catholic priest, Father Mike Schmitz, is way ahead of them all. Can we really trust these charts? Spotify has their own rankings. Over there Deep Sleep Sounds from Slumber Group ranks number fourteen, and “Relaxing White Noise” beats Ben Shapiro. It sure does in my book! That shows you some of the range of the medium. Leo, Taurus, Aquarius, and Scorpio Today all make it into the top fifty.
Podcasts are intimate, and potent. Passionate audiences will turn up for live shows. In the last conversation I ever had with writer, comedian and podcast star Harris Wittels, I mentioned how so many people seemed to feel like they knew him. “That’s all because of podcasts,” he said. Of all the popular podcasts, I can’t think of one that doesn’t really lay bare the peculiarities and passions of the hosts. Maybe The Daily? I don’t know, I don’t listen to that one.
By the time Spotify brought in Joe Rogan for a reported $100 million dollars, the word was out that podcasts were now a business. I heard that WME Agency has four agents devoted to podcasts. Celebrities have podcasts. Rob Lowe has a podcast. The amounts of money made on Patreon by Chapo and the Doughboys are repeated and passed around among media and comedy people like medieval legends of Cockaigne or hobo songs about Big Rock Candy Mountain.
A living can be made. But much like among the musicians on Spotify, I suspect the money will be top heavy and bottom thin. The top 1,000 (or maybe 500, or maybe 100) will take the bulk, while everybody else either struggles or does it for love. The Rogan deal reminded me of Howard Stern’s deal with Sirius XM, for 500 million dollars. On news of this deal, in October 2004, Sirius stock jumped from around 3.7 to around 7.4. Spotify stock behaved in a similar way after the Rogan deal. Today Sirius stock is around five dollars. How many Sirius XM personalities make a living? When I listen, it seems like mostly celebrities. For awhile The Great Debates, our podcast, was on Sirius. A nice paycheck, but we didn’t quit our day jobs.
Spotify may have made a better bet. CEO Daniel Ek – Sweden again – has made it clear his goal is to dominate audio, worldwide. That includes podcasts, it includes music, it’ll probably include audiobooks someday soon. Apple, as far as I can tell, somehow lost their dominance in podcasts and let their milk get stolen by a hungry competitor.
Podcasts are a little too easy to make. Apple used to put just the right amount of bureaucracy in the way of getting one up and listed, but that’s mostly fallen away. As a result of the ease of starting one, podcasts may never have too much prestige. Jokes about “podcast boyfriends” and so on appear on my Twitter just about every day.
These words were typed by me, Steve Hely, into my “blog,” or website, Stevehely.com, which is run by WordPress. I run the site to promote my books, maintain a space for myself on the Internet as an independent writer beholden to no one, and to share information and ideas about topics rattling around in my craw. I’ve always felt the site’s been good for me, because I can tell stories or recount discoveries that interest me without boring acquaintances at parties with my ramblings. Find it if you want, and quite a few people have, and I’ve been glad of it.
Through Spotify’s podcast platform, Anchor, I can now generate a podcast that’s just a robotic voice reading my words. There are two voices to choose from, Remy or Cassidy. I chose Remy. Remy reads the words and makes a podcast, all I have to do is type, like Stephen Hawking or something. Remy has glitches for sure. For instance, she reads blocked quotes with the odd phrase “greater than,” as in:
four score and seven years ago our forefathers
You get the idea. For that matter, “Remy” won’t distinguish stuff that’s quoted versus the post’s original content. Most of my posts aren’t suited to perfect podcasts, because they’re full of pictures. But still, cool technology, I want to keep playing with it.
If podcasts are this easy to make, it’ll most likely keep the market pretty saturated. But it will also allow a world of weird, unusual voices. Today I listened to a podcast that was a school project by two eleventh graders about the history of Hawaii, done for Ms. Patrick’s class at Impact Early College High School in Baytown, Texas. It was fun and short, and came up when I looked into Hawaii history on Spotify. Will we live in a world of enthusiastic amateur radio? I was interested in Malcolm Gladwell mentioning that books, audiobooks, and podcasts can kind of blur together. He specifically cited Jordan Peterson, who wrote a bestselling book, but which a majority of his “readers” took in as audio. He’s an audio personality as much as a literary one. Where did I hear this interview with Gladwell? I’m not sure, but I know it was on a podcast.
I predict there will be labels, studios, brands, that have some credibility. They’ll have to be careful: I see that Vox media has two hundred “active shows” in its podcast network. Well that’s too many.
Much like bestselling books, celebrity will be a big help. I’d like to see some hyperlocal podcasts. Something like a Reader’s Digest of podcasts could be a success. I wouldn’t mind some kind of randomizer button, where I could tune around, hear strange voices from across the 5G, like what you hear clicking around the dial in a rental car driving around Arizona or New Mexico or Nebraska late at night. I wonder if there will be “podcasts” that include more and more music and audio fun to distinguish themselves from the chatterboxes.
Listening to an automated robot voice doesn’t connect as much as hearing a great human voice, like say Ken Layne of Desert Oracle, or Karen Kilgariff of My Favorite Murder or Desus and Mero, the Bodega Boys. So I’ll end this here, and send Remy back where she came from. Go ahead and subscribe to the Helytimes podcast here on Spotify to see what we come up with next. Robots doing our audio? Yeah, we’ll experiment with that. You can record your own audio with Anchor, I could’ve done that, but where would I find eight minutes or so in MY busy schedule? Forget it. That’s a Remy job.
Why don’t let Remy take us out with some nice sleeping sounds?
zzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzz. Mmmmmmmmmm. Mmmm. MMMM. Zoooooonumnumnumnewnewnew. Ahhh.
All art has a political dimension, but tragedy actually began life in fifth-century Athens as a political institution, locked into the structures of the state. The authorities appointed an official to train and pay the Chorus, the city preserved play scripts in its archives, and there was a state fund which poor Athenians could draw on for the entry fee. Tragedy was a form of ethicopolitical education for the city state as a whole, not just a night off for the toffs.
Wild. What if the US government paid for movie tickets? They probably should! We were pretty close to a merger like this during World War II I suppose, when they’d show the GIs Mrs. Miniver and stuff.
That’s Terry Eagleton reviewing A Cultural History of Tragedy: Vols I-VI edited by Rebecca Bushnell in LRB back in February. Cleaning out my files!
The interviewer is Jon Wiener, LA Review of Books, Sept 11, 2003
JW: Most pundits emphasized the unique and unprecedented qualities of the Bush v. Gore contest in Florida that ended the 2000 election – but you wrote that the events in Florida were “not entirely predictable, but entirely familiar.” What do you mean.
JD: It was entirely predictable: at the most immediate level, the election was that close because both candidates had run the same campaign directed at the same small number of people. Florida had a certain poetry to it; it was like a haiku of what the process had become.
I was listening to Chuck Palahniuk on Bret Easton Ellis podcast (is this the second post in a row where I mention this podcast? It’s not for everybody but I’m into it!)
You know, if somebody had given David Foster Wallace or Sylvia Plath fourteen issues of Spider-Man to do, they’d both still be alive
says Palahniuk early in the episode. An outrageous claim. But hey, I guess outrageous claims were what I was signing up for. Would ❤️ to read a Sylvia Plath Spider-man series.
Palahniuk isn’t a writer I’ve read much of, gross out, extremist fiction not being my kinda milkshake. But when Palahniuk mentioned that he’d written a travel book about Portland, that got my attention. Travel books I’m into. So I got Palahniuk’s travel book, fugitives and refugees: A Walk In Portland, Oregon, which it turns out is part of a series Crown put out, Crown Journeys, where writers do a walking tour – sometimes pretty literally, sometimes in quotes – of a place they know well.
Turns out I’d read one of these already, Frank Conroy’s Time and Tide: A Walk Through Nantucket. I’d read that a few years back during a weeklong stay on Nantucket, but I remember nothing from it. The book about Nantucket I like is Charles Olson’s Call Me Ishmael, where I learned there was a neighborhood on Nantucket called New Guinea, full of people of color of various kinds. Nantucket’s worth a post of her own someday.
Stuck homebound, I got a bunch of these Crown Journeys books. An appealing quality of them is their size, just right to stuff in a bag:
Let’s start with Palahniuk’s. It’s a travel guide plus a memoir, the voice is strong and he shows, even rubs your face in, the weirdness of that town, the grubbiness and beauty all swished up together.
Katherine’s theory is that everyone looking to make a new life migrates west, across America to the Pacific Ocean. Once there, the cheapest city where they can life is Portland. This gives us the most cracked of the crackpots. The misfits among misfits.
The memory and madness:
Days, I’m working as a messenger, delivering advertising proofs form the Oregonian newspaper. Nights, I wash dishes at Jonah’s seafood restaurant. My roommates come home, and we throw food at each other. One night, cherry pie, big sticky red handfuls of it. We’re eighteen years old. Legal adults. So we’re stoned and drinking champagne every night, microwaving our escargot. Living it up.
Palahniuk is clearly more into the sex trade, underground (literal and figurative) side of the town, but he covers the gardens too, along with the Self Cleaning House and Stark’s Vacuum Cleaner Museum and the standout landmarks, along with a semi-autobiography full of vivid, intense incidents, like a beating and a moment with the mother of a dying hospital patient.
Although this book was published in 2003, reading it gives insight into why Portland is the arena of choice for “antifa” and far-night political violence LARPers and a fracture zone of America 2020.
Next up, Roy Blount Jr.’s Feet On The Street: Rambles Around New Orleans.
This one’s the best organized, divided into seven rambles: Orientation, Wetness, Oysters, Color, Food, Desire, Friends. It’s full of jokes and stories and anecdote. Of all the Crown Journeys I read, this one’s unsurprisingly the most focused on food. How can you not want a “roast beef sandwich with debris” from Mothers, or a pan-fried trout topped with “muddy water” sauce: chicken broth, garlic, anchovies, and gutted jalapeños and sprinkled with parmesan cheese.”
Blout’s book is full of autobiography too, quoting from letters he wrote as a young man, describing nights and dinners, what New Orleans meant to him as a young man and what he found on frequent returns.
I’ll bet I have been up in N. O. at every hour in every season,
he says, a cool claim.
Towards the end of the book, Blount Jr. turns kind of reflective, ruminating with some regret on an incident of insensitivity, somewhere between misunderstanding and even cruelty, towards a homosexual friend that ended badly. There’s an air of regret to it, and maybe that’s part of New Orleans, too. Feet On The Street might work best of all of these, as a book. I’ve read a lot of guides to New Orleans and this one’s a fine addition to the canon.
Blount’s a figure who doesn’t seem to quite exist as much any more, the sort of literary semi-comedian raconteur, where books are just one expression of a humorous personality. Christopher Buckley’s another guy like that.
Washington Schlepped Here is, in my opinion, the worst titled of these books. It’s a pun, first of all, but second, George Washington simply never “schlepped.” Didn’t happen. He was not a schlepper. Buckley spends a paragraph or two dealing with the title, although he seems quite pleased with it. “Pleased with himself” might be the most accurate criticism you could make of Christopher Buckley, but it’s hard not to be a little won over by his privileged charm.
Buckley’s Washington is strictly the Washington of our nation’s capital. You won’t find anything in here about the majority black population of that city. How can you write a book about Washington that doesn’t mention Ben’s Chili Bowl? E. J. Applewhite’s Washington Itself, which Buckley quotes from copiously, is a richer one volume guide to the city. But there’s a Yale-grade wit to Buckley, I won’t deny it.
I’ll let you prowl about. There’s a lot to see: the Old Senate Chamber, Statuary Hall, the Crypt, the Old Supreme Court Chamber, the Hall of Columns, along with enough murals, portraits, busts and bas reliefs to keep you going “Huh” for hours.”
Buckley takes the walking tour conceit the most seriously of any of the writers. There’s a bummer element hanging over this book, as Buckley keeps pointing out how post-9/11 security procedures and jersey barriers have made wandering the capital city less free that in it used to be. There’s a bit of filler to this one, too, as if Buckley’s sort of just taking the Wikipedia page to certain buildings and adding a few quips. A few pages are devoted to musing on specific works in specific Mall art museums. Several of the jokes rely casual shared stereotypes about politics, like that Republicans like martinis, that now feel like they’re from another universe (the book was published in 2003).
The best parts of this one come from Jeanne Fogle’s book Proximity to Power and Tony Pitch’s walking tour, both centered on Lafayette Square, which bring to life people who lived here. Places are only so interesting. It’s people that get your attention.
James M. McPherson’s Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg is just terrific. A concise, powerful tour of the battlefield, rich in detail and incident, you’re clearly in the hands of a master storyteller who knows his stuff deeply. One of McPherson’s gifts is to take us not just to the battle as it happened, but to the battlefield as it’s remembered and preserved. McPherson talks about the way the woodlands on the battlefield would’ve been more thinned out in 1863, who could see what from where, how small features of geography shaped those three days. On the artillery barrage that preceded Pickett’s Charge:
Confederate gunners failed to realize the inaccuracy of their fire because the smoke from all these guns hung in the calm, humid air and obscured their view. Several explanations for this Confederate overshooting have been offered. One theory is that as the gun barrels heated up, the powder exploded with greater force. Another is that the recoil scarred the ground, lowering the carriage trails and elevating the barrels ever so slight. The most ingenious explanation grows out of an explosion at the Richmond arsenal in March that took it out of production for several weeks. The Army of Northern Virginia had to depend on arsenals farther south for production of many of the shells for the invasion of Pennsylvania. Confederate gunners did not realize that fuses on these shells burned more slowly than those from the Richmond arsenal; thus the shells whose fused they tried to time for explosion above front-line Union troops, showering them with lethal shrapnel, exploded a split second too late, after the shells had passed over.
On such things does history turn? McPherson tells us details like that Company F of the Twenty-Sixth North Carolina included four sets of twins, every one of whom was killed or wounded in the battle.
I’ve been to Gettysburg twice, and was pretty familiar with the shape of the events and landscape. But I’d wager this book would provide a pretty clear and readable introduction to the battle, even if you didn’t know very much about it. Certainly it’s much easier to comprehend than Shelby Foote’s Stars In The Courses, another short volume about Gettysburg, which has a poetry to it, but good luck using it to decipher what happened where.
Kinky is not a word that I love, and comedy music makes me uncomfortable. So I’ve never gotten too into Kinky Friedman. But The Great Psychedelic Armadillo Picnic: a “walk” in Austin is pretty companionable. Kinky is friends with George W. Bush, and has nothing bad to say about him (this one was published in 2004, so pre Iraq catastrophe).
There are a couple of notable omissions in this book. The coolest part of Austin to me is Rainey Street, but that section’s conversion of porched houses into bars may post-date this work. There’s also nothing about the Texas State Cemetery, which I believe is unique in the United States and tells you quite a bit about the values of Texas. Maybe worth a book of its own. Also, without explanation, Friedman tosses off that he’s never been inside the Texas Capitol Building, which is the centerpiece of Austin.
Is Austin the place of all these that has changed the most in the last twenty years?
Still, you’re on a fun ramble with a personality who’s committed to entertaining. A thin volume, thick with schtick. I really liked Kinky’s introduction to Texas history, and the stuff about the ’70s music scene. If you think calling a ghost an “Apparition-American” is funny, you’ll enjoy this book. Really, any small book about Austin in this time of home-bounditude would’ve been appreciated by me.
Compact, entertaining guides to places, by writers who really have a voice – there should be more books like this. I ate these up like cookies. Surely Boston, Los Angeles/Hollywood, Seattle, San Francisco, Savannah, Nashville, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Honolulu, Charleston could all use books like this. Brooklyn?
Hell I’d even read one about San Diego.
We can never let a Patriots’ Day go by without reflecting on the events of April 19, 1775. How did this happen?
The people of countryside Massachusetts at that time were probably the freest and the least taxed people in the British Empire. What were they so mad about?
From my hometown of Needham, MA, almost every able bodied man went out. What motivated people that morning to grab guns and shoot at their own army?
Lately I’ve been reading Rick Atkinson’s book on the first years of the American Revolution. It’s interesting that Atkinson titled his book this, because as he himself notes:
Popular lore later credited him with a stirring battle cry – “The British are coming!” – but a witness quoted him as warning, more prosaically, “the regulars are coming out.”
The word would’ve gotten out anyway, because of information sent by light in binary code: one if by land, two if by sea. (it was two).
Atkinson does a great job of laying out how tensions and feelings and fears and resentments escalated to this point. George III and his Prime Minister Lord North (they’d grown up together, it’s possible they were half-brothers) miscalculated, misunderstood, overreacted.
North held a constituency in Banbury with fewer than two dozen eligible voters, who routinely reelected him after being plied with punch and cheese, and who were then rewarded with a haunch of venison.
The image of a stern father disciplining a disobedient child seemed to guide George III/North government thinking. Violently putting down rebellions was nothing new, even within the island of Britain. Crushing Scottish revolt had been a big part of George III’s uncle’s career, for example.
From the British side, the disobedience did seem pretty flagrant, the Boston Tea Party being a particularly outrageous and inciting example, from a city known to be full of criminals and assholes. The London government responded with the “Coercive Acts.”
With this disobedient child, the punishment didn’t go over well. The mood had gotten very, very tense in Boston when the April 19 expedition was launched.
Everything about it went wrong. Everybody was late, troops were reorganized under new commanders. Orders were screwed up, the mission was unclear. It was a show of force? A search and destroy? Both? The experience for the soldiers in on it was awful: started out cold and wet, ended up lucky if you were alive and unmangled.
What the Lexington militia was up to when they formed up opposite the arriving Redcoats is unclear. Did they intend to have a battle? Doesn’t seem like it, why would they line up in the middle of a field? There’d already been an alarm, and then a weird break where a lot of the guys went to the next door tavern and had a few.
Were they intending just kind of an armed protest and demonstration (as is common in the United States to this day)?
A lot of the guys in the Massachusetts militias had fought alongside the British army in the wars against the French and Indians. Captain Parker of Lexington had been at Louisburg and Quebec. How much was old simmering resentment of the colonial experience serving with professional British military officers a part of all this?
One way or another, a shot went off, and then it got out of hand very fast. When it was over eight Lexington guys were dead.
The painting above is by William Barnes Wollen, he painted it in 1910. Wollen was a painter of military and battle scenes. He’d been in South Africa during the Boer War, so maybe he knew what an invading army getting shot at by locals was like.
Amos Doolittle was on the scene a few days after the events, interviewed participants, walked the grounds, and rendered the scene like this.
But Doolittle had propaganda motives.
After the massacre at Lexington the British got back into formation and kept moving.
They ran into another fight at Concord Bridge.
Information and misinformation and rumor became a part of the day. The story spread that the British were burning Concord, maybe murdering people.
By now minutemen from all over were blasting away. It must’ve been horrific. Atkinson tells us that the British “Brown Bess” musket fired a lead slug that was nearly .75 of an inch in diameter (compare to, say, a Magnum .45, .45 of an inch).
How would history have been different if the British column had been completely wiped out, like Custer’s last stand? It almost happened. The expedition was saved by the timely arrival of reinforcements with two cannons.
The column avoided an ambush at Harvard Square, but several soldiers died in another gunfight near the future Beech and Elm Streets while three rebels who had built a redoubt at Watson’s Corner were encircled and bayoneted. William Marcy, described as “A simple-minded youth” who thought he was watching a parade, was shot dead while sitting on a wall, cheering.
They were able to get back across the river and into Boston, minus 73 killed, 53 missing, 174 wounded. A bad day in Massachusetts.
This event looms large in the American imagination: the gun-totin’ freedom lovers fighting off the government intrusion. But the more you read about it the more it sounds like just a catastrophe for everyone involved.
Back in Needham the Rev. West reported:
In the evening we had intelligence that several of the Needham inhabitants were among the slain, and in the morning it was confirmed that five had fallen in the action and several others had been wounded. It is remarkable that the five who fell all of them had families, and several of them very numerous families so that there were about forty widows and fatherless children made in consequence of their death. I visited these families immediately, and with a sympathetic sense of their affliction I gave to some the first intelligence they had of the dreadful event, the death of a Husband and a Parent.
Born near the turn of a decade, the decades of the marked years neatly match my own personal decades. The 2010s were pretty much my 30s. Probably I was less in tune culturally than I was in the 2000s / 20s. Or maybe I was REALLY tuned in. Who can say? Sometimes re: “current events”, they did feel like little more than backdrop to my own personal dramas. If nothing else I was present for a lot of cool moments, the finales of The Office and VEEP, for example.
For that I’m grateful.
Helytimes was launched in 2012, out of a desire to claim a space for myself on what we still called “the Internet,” plus a sense that figuring out how to write online would be important. Haven’t quite made it to ten years yet, which I remember setting as a benchmark to strive for.
The 2010s decade, if we’re being flexible, has to begin with the September 2008 financial crisis and aftermath. The bad guys really did get away with it. That’s a fact we’ve had to sit with all decade, and I think it’s an ugly, unpleasant fact that lies beneath a lot of the roiling turmoil since then. A small percentage of people rigged the economy and were reckless with the lives of others, and mostly left others holding the bag and were never held to account.
Did it all begin here?
The decade was really split by the shock of the 2016 election. A troubling, disturbing shock, even to the guy who won! When I consider that was almost four years ago it feels weird, I’m still kinda not out of the initial dizziness that Donald J. Trump is the President. It feels like it warbles the universe to even write that and have it be true.
Historywise, what was this decade? Was it good? Was it bad? Was it tumultuous? Are we brimming with more hope than we were in 2009? If you were making one of those CNN docs of the decade, what would you have to include? The fact that it is kinda hard to answer does – well I don’t want to say it disappoints, but it might suggests this was not a decade of great innovation.
Art and culture of the 2010s? How were they distinct from the 2000s? I can’t name the true trends in music, or even film or TV. What about literature? Here we are in 2019 and who’s a hot young writer? Sally Rooney? Jia Tolentino? Is there anyone else who pops out of this decade in literature?
Technology-wise, 2010 was very different for me than 2000, when I didn’t own a phone. But I don’t think 2019 is that different from 2010.
The big ticket of the 2010s, it seems to me, is “social media.” My phone regularly reports to me that I spend five or so hours on it A DAY, and I don’t think I’m that unusual. Twitter, Insta, TikTok, etc. Gaming streams? Social is where people live.
Is sorting the decades by their cultural touchstones itself kind of a Boomer idea? Feels like it became strongest with “the Sixties.” As David Halberstam pointed out in his book, it wasn’t like nothing was going on in the ’50s, it just felt like that for a certain generation which hadn’t yet come awake.
maybe thinking about “decades” is itself an old idea, we’re so fast now we’re on years, months, days, moments.
Moments. Were the 2010s the decade of moments? We could capture and share moments better than ever before. I remember a tech bro pitching me an idea in Austin for some kind of photo storing service. “I was getting so sick of missing moments,” he said. Within a few months another person pitched me essentially the same idea, though neither time did I really understand what the problem was, exactly, nor the solution.
One quality the 2020s will need is hope. One of the best things there is is hope, and here’s hoping for a decade of amazing moments for Helytimes readers, and well heck, why not wish everyone a peaceful, happy, prosperous decade with just the right amount of excitement.
I put on Spotify’s best of the decade and man, I’d forgotten this one:
CeeLo’s “Fuck You” if the link dies, as they inevitably do.
Traveling through Arkansas last spring, I tried to wrap my head around the Civil War as it played out there.
Like, what happened here? At some point did a Union army march through here?
In Arkansas in 1860, there were 435,450 total residents counted in the census.
Of these, 111,115 or about 20% were slaves.
There were 11,481 slaveowners in Arkansas.
And 144 free colored people.
Much of Arkansas at that time was wilderness. The big plantations were down in the Delta, the low bottom country in the south and east of that state, along the alluvial Mississippi floodlands, seen here on Raven’s excellent topographical map.
Here on the 1861 Coast Survey map of slave population, we can see where Arkansas slaves were:
Everyone needs a getaway once in a while. A getaway from the job, the house, the day-to-day routine and yes, even those that mean the most to us – our families.
reads the copy on this guide to touring the still-standing plantation houses of Arkansas. Presumably a getaway was not an option in 1860 for the 111,115 slaves.
In May, 1861, Arkansas seceded from the United States. At the secession convention, Isaac Murphy was one of the few no votes:
The convention voted to take Arkansas out of the Union, but Murphy and four other delegates opposed this step. The convention chair called on the five to switch their votes. All four of the other “nay” delegates changed their votes, but Murphy refused. Initially his position was popular in Huntsville, but as the war went on, Confederate sentiment increased.
About a year later, in spring, 1862, Union General Samuel Curtis marched in from Missouri, leading volunteer regiments from Missouri, Illinois, Ohio and Indiana (mostly). At the battle of Pea Ridge he drove back the Confederate forces sent to stop him.
Curtis kept on marching his army across Arkansas, following more or less the course of the White River.
As Curtis marched along, he picked up thousands of freed slaves.
Curtis was stifled in his effort to capture Little Rock by lack of supplies (his guys were pretty much living off the land) and by the forces raised by Confederate general Thomas Hindman.
Gregory J. W. Urwin summarizes:
Hindman’s General Orders Number 17 instructed “all citizens from this district” to organize themselves into ten-man companies under elected captains and start killing Yankees. An estimated 5,000 men responded to this summons by August 1862. They may not have been a decisive factor in Samuel Curtis’ failure to take Little Rock, but they aroused the ire of Union forces by picking off sentries and couriers, ambushing small patrols and foraging parties, and firing on gunboats and transports. Federal commanders announced that they would hold civilian responsible for any guerrilla activity occurring in their vicinity. When warnings failed to restrain the irregulars, details of Union soldiers and sailors began burning small hamlets or individual houses and barns. This retributive strategy caused many Arkansans to abandon their homes in the delta and north of the Arkansas River, but it did not suppress guerrilla depredations.
Curtis and his army (and irregular army of freed slaves) crossed the state, and reached Helena, on the Mississippi river. From there he could be resupplied by river since by now the Confederate river navy had been pretty much destroyed. Memphis had fallen, giving a clear path along the Mississippi north of Vicksburg.
As for Hindman, he got a fort named after him, at Arkansas Post, where the Arkansas River forks off and heads towards Little Rock. This was in important spot, and some Confederates from Texas held it until the Union Navy came up there in January, 1863, and blew it away.
Hindman was replaced by Theophilus Holmes
Jefferson Davis begged Holmes to bring his troops out to help relieve the tightening siege at Vicksburg, across the river in Mississippi. But Holmes had his own problems. Says Wikipedia (lifting from Walter Hilderman’s biography):
For the most part, the Confederate forces in this remote area were little more than a disorganized mob of militia scattered across all corners of the state. There were few weapons available and even fewer modern ones. The soldiers for the most part had no shoes, no uniforms, no munitions, no training, organization, or discipline, a situation worsened by the fact that many communities in Arkansas had no government above the village level. People did not pay taxes or have any written laws and strongly resisted any attempt to impose an outside government or military discipline on them. Soldiers in the Arkansas militia did not understand the organization of a proper army or obeying orders from above. Even worse, many of them were in poor physical condition and unable to handle the rigors of a lengthy military campaign. Holmes for his part believed that he could muster an army of about 15,000 men in Arkansas, but there would be almost no competent officers to lead it anyway. Further compounding his difficulties were multiple Union armies converging on the state from all sides. In this situation, Holmes wrote to Richmond that if by some miracle, he could organize the Arkansas militia into an army and get them across the Mississippi River, they would simply desert as soon as they got to the east bank.
On July 4, 1863, Vicksburg fell. On that day, a bit late, Holmes attacked the Union forces at Helena, Arkansas
but they were blasted away both by Union troops in the city and massive gunboats in the river. A disastrous, pointless defeat, too late to do any good even if it hadn’t failed.
With the fall of Vicksburg (and the last ditch failure at Helena) the Union had control of the entire Mississippi River. Gen. Fredrick Steele was sent out across the river and into Arkansas:
Steele and his army of Wisconsins, Illinoisians, and German immigrants arrived in Little Rock by September, 1863. The Confederate state capitol had been moved to Washington, Arkansas.
When spring began in 1864, Steele marched his army toward Washington, AR. (Here is an excellent map of how this went down). Steele had something like 7,000 soldiers. Steele was supposed to eventually meet up, in Shreveport, Louisiana, with General Nathaniel Banks and his 30,000 guys from the Department of the Gulf.
Traveling cross country in this hot and hostile part of the world was not easy. By the time Steele got to Camden, Arkansas, his guys didn’t have anything to eat, and word reached him that Banks’ army had been stopped anyway.
Steele had with him the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, and he sent them out to collect some food. At Poison Spring, they were surrounded by the Confederate Second Indian Brigade or Choctaw Brigade.
I’ll let Confederate Colonel Tandy Walker tell the story:
I feared here that the train and its contents would prove a temptation too strong for these hungry, half-clothed Choctaws, but had no trouble in pressing them forward, for there was that in front and to the left more inviting to them than food or clothing—the blood of their despised enemy.
They set on the 1st Kansas Colored.
In all, the 1st Kansas lost nearly half of its numbers.
After this defeat, running out of food, with the planned meetup unlikely to come off, Steele decided to retreat back to Little Rock. When he got as far as Jenkins Ferry, in the pouring rain, he realized the Confederates were about to catch up to him. So he had his guys dig in. Steele’s troops killed some unknown number of the attacking Confederates.
What a mess that must’ve been. After the turnaround of the Camden expedition, the Union army stayed near their bases in the cities. Confederate marauders rode all over the place. Colonel Marcus LaRue Harrison led the Unionist 1st Arkansas Cavalry:
Harrison established a network of fortified “farm colonies,” populating them with the families of men who swore to serve in home guard companies. Anyone living within ten miles of a colony had to join it or was assumed to be a bushwhacker.
I agree with Naval Institute, interviewing Shelby Foote.
Naval History: It has always been frustrating that the Western rivers get hardly any play in Civil War History.
Foote: Well, the whole Western theater gets hardly any play. I sometimes think that the people in this country who know less about the Civil War than any other one group of people are Virginians. They may know a little more than South Dakotans, but that’s about all.
They think that the war was fought in Virginia, while various widespread skirmishes were going on out West. The opposite is closer to the truth
Looking for more info about Jenkins Ferry I found this picture on the Grants County Museum page, seems like the situation in that area has improved.
Most of the Confederate regiments raised in Arkansas served in the western theater. An exception was the 3rd Arkansas Infantry Regiment was sent to Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
When General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865, only 144 men of the Third Arkansas remained out of the 1,353 mustered into it from the start of the war
Here is their battle flag.
After the failure of the Camden expedition, the Confederates had about 100 encampments in south Arkansas. Where do I get that number? From this incredible book:
This book is a digitized version of the maps Confederate engineer Richard M. Venable made in 1864. Venable and his guys were only able to reconnoiter the southern 29% of the state. I’m not sure whether that was because the northern portion was in Union hands and they couldn’t go there, or if that was just the resources they had, at a time when the Confederates in Arkansas were operating in the south, and might have to make moves further south or west.
The maps in this book are incredibly detailed, you can see, for example, which homesteads in Lafayette County had female heads of household, and which were the houses of widows.
Here’s a thorough review of the book. I was really impressed by it, it’s rare to find historic maps at this level of detail and readability, as the review notes, this was “obviously a labor of love.” How much need you have in your home for a detailed atlas of 1864 Arkansas is for you to determine, but for me it did make the past come alive. If you’re doing any traveling in the state of Arkansas and you’ve read this far in HelyTimes, consider investing in a copy. (hell I’ll loan you mine.)
When did the Civil War really end in Arkansas? In a special election in 1863, Isaac Murphy was elected governor:
He presided until 1868. By 1874 there was close to an armed conflict over who would run Arkansas, and that was pretty much the end of Reconstruction in the state.
The following 35 governors of Arkansas, ruling for a total of 90 years, were all Democrats, until Republican Winthrop Rockefeller became governor in 1966 defeating James D. Johnson.
Maybe the Civil War ended in Arkansas when federal troops integrated Central High School in Little Rock in 1956-7.
Or maybe it ended with the election of Arkansas governor Bill Clinton.
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:
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:
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?
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”
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.
- The company has been profitable over the last four years:
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.
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.
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 one big obstacle I could predict: 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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:
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
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:
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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
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:
“Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.”
“Never go outside the expertise of your people.”
“Whenever possible go outside the expertise of the enemy.”
“Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”
“Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”
“A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”
“A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”
“Keep the pressure on.”
“The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”
“The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.”
“If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counterside”
“The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”
“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.
relevant to our discussion of George W. paintings.
You can find out the answer here at ArtNet in a piece by Sarah Cascone.
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.
Trump beats Hillary (no military service by either one, but Trump avoided the draft and Hillary was on the Senate Armed Services committee)
Obama beats Romney (no military service)
Obama beats McCain (no military service beats war hero)
W beats John Kerry (went AWOL during the war beats war hero, partly by going right at Kerry’s war record)
W beats Al Gore (went AWOL beats served in Vietnam)
Clinton beats Bob Dole (draft avoider beats war hero)
Clinton beats George H. W. Bush (draft avoider beats war hero)
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
Reagan beats Walter Mondale (no service beats Army veteran)
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?”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.
“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:
A good detail from it:
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?
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
(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.
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:
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.
- 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?
- “They’re laughing at us” might be Donald’s campaign theme. From The Washington Post:
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:
- 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?
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:
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:
“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.
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.
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?:
John Quincy Adams
Dad was president.
Former Secretary of State.
Front row kid as Chris Arande says.
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?
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
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:
Is Trump like Jackson? WORSE? BETTER??
Is JQA like Hillary?
JQA was later in Amistad with Matthew McConaughey.
Here are some takes and items for your Sunday enjoyment!
The coach on Netflix doc series Last Chance U:
The most compelling, complex character on “TV” right now
In an old folder of articles I found this one, about Peter Thiel’s Zero To One
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:
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?:
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
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!
This jumped out at me
In a not otherwise “sexy” article about English literary critic William Empson’s book The Face Of The Buddha:
Enjoyed the caption on this one, from National Geographic’s Instagram:
Thomas Frank, profiled in the Politico 50 list:
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
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:
“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.
American Dad co-showrunner Brian Boyle has a very fine set of glasses with the AD characters on them.
One fan’s opinion? the show should do more with Reginald.
The Flemish Giant
Somebody at work mentioned that the biggest kind of rabbit is called a Flemish giant.
Well worth the image search.
A good, clear discussion of an often misunderstood issue from this classic
On the subject of Boston:
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
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.
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:
I mean how can you not admire that they have Ned Kelly’s armor on display?:
Some great illustrations on Ned’s wiki page:
Let’s take a virtual look at Australia’s other state libraries:
Would a better state library be a step towards helping Tasmania’s insane illiteracy rate?
New South Wales:
Impressive. Classic if slightly dull exterior, solid interior, I rate it a 9 (out of 11).
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.
No independent library building, it’s housed in the Parliament House which is kind of cool. DNQ for the rating system.
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:
Aw yeah! 11/11.
Australia/New Zealand publishing is so good at short books. I read a bunch of short books while traveling.
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:
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:
Here’s a taste, where Pieper is digressing about a dog he adopted:
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:
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:
What life was she couldn’t explain. No matter. He quite understood.
‘Isn’t it, darling?’ said Laurie.
This scene, on Brisbane’s Southbank, really reminded me of this one, in Paris a hundredsome years ago:
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.