Mark Two

Miniature 2427, “Archaic Mark,” turns out is actually a forgery?

Why Mark?”, I asked. “Because it’s short“, he replied. I was willing to give anything a go, so I took the vicar’s advice and read it and the Gospel of Mark just swept me up.

So says Australian musician Nick Cave

in his intro to the Gospel of Mark, which I found on this Italian Nick Cave fan site.

The Gospel of Mark has to be one of the weirdest and most compelling books ever written.  Nick Cave continues:

Scholars generally agree that Mark’s was the first of the four gospels to be written. Mark took from the mouths of teachers and prophets the jumble of events that comprised Christ’s life and fixed these events into some kind of biographical form. He did this with such breathless insistence, such compulsive narrative intensity, that one is reminded of a child recounting some amazing tale, piling fact upon fact, as if the whole worlddepended upon it – which , of course, to Mark it did. ‘Straightway’ and ‘immediately’ link one event to another, everyone ‘runs’, ‘shouts’, is ‘amazed’, inflaming Christ’s mission with a dazzling urgency. Mark’s Gospel is a clatter of bones, so raw, nervy and lean on information that the narrative aches with the melancholy of absence. Scenes of deep tragedy are treated with such a matter of factness and raw economy they become almost palpable in their unprotected sorrowfulness.

Couple things about the Gospel of Mark:

  • there’s no Christmas.  Jesus just turns up one day down by the river where John The Baptist is doing his thing.
  • the oldest gospel.  “Most scholars agree” is a term you come across again and again when you read into Bible stuff, especially New Testament stuff.  Let’s acronym that as msa.  As far as I can tell most scholars do agree on this one.
  • the shortest gospel.  11,304 words.  Very cool.
  • simple language.  Mark is written in Koine Greek which I can’t read.  I’m told this was a simple version of Greek that people could use all over the Mediterranean.  “Koine” just means “Common.”  Mark wrote Common Greek.

I’m told Mark’s Greek is “rough”:

(from:

Now, “rough” sure but “unrehearsed”?  Isn’t it likely Mark was writing down stories and quotes that had been transmitted orally, and thus were quite rehearsed?)

The version I’m reading is:

Here’s what J. B. says:

J. B. seems more confident than others that Mark = John Mark, but who cares?

It’s cool to imagine in the rubble of burned out Rome Mark starts going around saying “guys, I got some good news.”

“Who wants to read my book?”

Other scholars insist that Mark was written after 70 AD, because that’s when the Temple was destroyed after the Roman Siege of Jerusalem:

David Roberts’ lost painting of the siege of Jerusalem, source

which was a traumatic time.  That chronology is the one Reza Aslan believes:

Me personally? I’m no expert but I think it’s possible someone like the writer of Mark might’ve been obsessed with the idea of the destruction of the Temple before it happened.

Maybe Mark saw things coming the way the Simpsons saw President Trump coming:

But let’s say Mark was written in 70.  He’s writing about Jesus, who msa died around 33.  So it’s like writing a book, today, about a guy who died in 1980.

John Lennon, say, or Colonel Sanders.

 

Mark isn’t writing a biography of Jesus though, he’s writing the “good news.”  A good point by theologian Marcus Borg over at HuffPo:

  • Placing the Gospels after Paul makes it clear that as written documents they are not the source of early Christianity but its product. The Gospel — the good news — of and about Jesus existed before the Gospels. They are the products of early Christian communities several decades after Jesus’ historical life and tell us how those communities saw his significance in their historical context.

Here’s the craziest part about Mark imo.  The last sentence of the original version, msa, is 16:8.

The women were shaking and confused. They went out and ran away from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

What a freaky ending to your book!

Learned a lot about the Gospel origins from the PBS series From Jesus To Christ.  Li’l snippet from this essay by Marilyn Matthews on their website:

What message did Mark intend to send to his audience? Scholars do not agree. Some argue that Mark deliberately constructs a bleak and frightening picture because that was the experience of the people for whom Mark composed his work. Elaine Pagels offers a different interpretation: “And the last words of the original gospel are ‘and they were terrified.’ It would be very bad news if it weren’t that underneath this rather dark story is an enormous hope . . . that this very promising story and its terrible anguished ending is nevertheless not the ending. That there’s a mystery in it, a divine mystery of God’s revelation that will happen yet. And I think it’s that sense of hope that is deeply appealing.”

This is Helytimes so next time we will have a look and see if we can find the oldest source of Mark.

 


Mark Five: Weird

Fifth in our series about the Book of Mark: 

Mark One, about the scraps of Mark on Papyrus One. 

Mark Two, an intro to Mark, and what’s going on with it. 

Mark Three,  about “The Secret Gospel of Mark.”

Mark Four, about J. B. Phillips.

As a kid the first time I heard The Book of Mark was read aloud to me, in deliberate boring tone, in Catholic church, a notoriously stiff and elderly kind of place, not all that appealing to the average child.

On the plus side, you did get a good education in a way in the Bible and some aspects of human behavior.

Wanted to stand up and cheer when I got to this part of Ross Douthat and Tyler Cowen’s conversation.  Connecting Catholic theology to what the Guy says on the hillside in Galilee in the Gospels takes insane mental labyrinth building.  A fun project in a way but not what the Guy himself seems to describe as the way forward.

Take, for example, Mark Five.  (Turns out we’ve discussed it before).

Here’s what the NIV gives as the rough sections of this chapter.

Jesus Restores a Demon-Possessed Man

Jesus Raises a Dead Girl and Heals a Sick Woman

JB Philips gives it:

Jesus meets a violent lunatic

Faith is followed by healing

Weird, supernatural type stuff.  How’re you gonna deal with this?  Unpacking the events of Mark Five could probably be a career for a theologian.

Hard to make your church last 2,000 years without sanding the edges down a bit I guess but when you go back to the source you can sometimes feel like what’s missing is the compelling, almost alarming strangeness of the story.

Let’s say only that by Chapter Five of his book, Mark’s Jesus is unstoppable, coursing with power that flows almost like electricity.

If Mark is avail they should hire him for a Marvel movie.

Next time:

 


Mark Four

this is the fourth in our series on the Book Of Mark.

Mark One, about the scraps of Mark on Papyrus One.

Mark Two, an intro to Mark, and what’s going on with it.

Mark Three,  about “The Secret Gospel of Mark,” and now Mark Four, about J. B. Phillips.

Also He said to them, “Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”

That’s how the King James Version does Mark 4:21.  Here’s how J. B. Philips does it:

Then he said to them,

“Is a lamp brought into the room to be put under a bucket or underneath the bed?  Surely it’s place is on the lamp-stand!  There is nothing hidden which is not meant to be made perfectly plain one day, and there are no secrets which are not meant one day to be common knowledge.  If a man has ears he should use them!

Wanting to know more about the guy I was trusting to translate my Mark for me, I read J. B.’s book:

It’s good and short and clearly written, much like Mark.  J. B.’s strongest point is that the Gospels seem true to him because, well, who could make this stuff up?

 

That kind of reminded me of the several times in the Quran where Allah says, hey, if you don’t believe this, let’s see you write a Quran.

Surprised to find, in the next Phillips I picked up, a description of my workplace.

I can’t say The Price Of Success was exactly a page-turner.  JB Phillips had a hard childhood, but through diligence earned himself a place at Cambridge, became an Anglican churchman, and started translating The New Testament during World War II.

No surprise that he was pals, or at least sometime correspondents, with C. S. Lewis.

I often heard Lewis’s Screwtape Letters recommended for young Christians in my youth.  When I finally got to the book (audiobook) I found it a really stiff and unattractive vision.  How did Christianity, which, when you get back to the source, was unquestionably weird, get claimed by stiff collar types like C. S. Lewis?

I found Ring Of Truth to be a more compelling read.

In Price of Success, Phillips is very open and honest about his struggles with depression.
I

No doubt hearing this, from a respected Christian leader in 1984, was really helpful to people.  The book was published two years after his death.

Am I allowed you quote you by the way, J. B.?

Thanks!

NEXT TIME:

Mark Five: Strange Tales Of Jesus!

 


Mark Three: Secret Mark?

Latest posts in our series on the Book of Mark, one of the weirdest and most popular books of all time.

Mark One

on Papyrus One

Mark Two

Why Mark?

and now:

MARK THREE

Did Mark look like this? by Bronzino

Or like this?

or this? by Mantegna

Here we see the Mar Saba monastery in Israel, twelve miles outside Jerusalem:

Cool structure.  Would make a dope boutique hotel.

This is where Morton Smith supposedly found a

 previously unknown letter of Clement of Alexandria transcribed into the endpapers of a 17th-century printed edition of the works of Ignatius of Antioch

The letter, which would’ve been from like the year 200, says (I paraphrase) “hey there’s a more spiritual, weirder version of the Gospel of Mark floating around, heads up.”

Was there a “Secret Gospel Of Mark”?  Says Wiki:

Ron Cameron (1982) and Helmut Koester (1990) argued that Secret Mark preceded the canonical Mark, and that the canonical Mark is in fact an abbreviation of Secret Mark. This would explain the narrative discontinuity above. John Dominic Crossan (1985) has also been supportive of these views of Koester: “I consider that canonical Mark is a very deliberate revision of Secret Mark.”

An interesting question for sure.  As Wiki says:

The process of canonization of the New Testament was complex and lengthy.

The version I’m using is this one:

I don’t think the late J. B. will mind my excerpting his helpful introduction:

When J. B. talks about “the manuscript of Mark,” I’m not sure what he means.  Wiki tells me the oldest complete version is the Codex Vaticanus,

and the Codex Sinaiticus, which they found at St. Catherine’s Monastery:

which would also make a cool boutique hotel.  The Codex got taken to Russia, and then:

In 1933, the Soviet Union sold the codex to the British Museum for £100,000 raised by public subscription (worth £6.5 million in 2017)

You can read it if you want online.

The oldest known written scrap of Mark appears to be Papyrus 45:

which came from who knows where.  American-Anglo-Irish industrialist Chester Beatty, the “king of copper,” was mad for papyri apparently and bought tons of them from illegal dealers.

His first job in the mines earned him $2 per day as a ‘mucker’, clearing away rock and soil from mine tunnels.  He was quickly promoted to supervisor of the Kektonga Silver Mine.

Alfred Chester Beatty by Colin Colahan.
© Mrs. Monique Colahan.  From the Chester Beatty Library website.

Papyrus 45 is now in Chester’s library/museum in Dublin:

source: Wiki user Charles Curling

So, that’s how we get to Mark.

 

NEXT TIME in our series on Mark:

Translator J. B. Phillips, who started working on the New Testament in a bomb shelter during the London Blitz.


Mark One

1: 1] genealogy library YY YY YY yyyid [YY] Abraham [1: 2] Abraham [Heaven] nor did he [be] present in [his] [1: 3] take care of him and take him out of him they did not greet the embassy [1: 4] did not give birth and they have been in the midst of the sea

1: 5] Salvation shall not [be] of the rabbi did not recognize him from the p [o] y [to be] s een [1: 6]  the dairy farm has been re-established it was the sausage of the sky. [1: 7] nor is it possible to do so ạμ does not enforce the [lacuna] you will be able to find [ gap [1:12] gap the man who gave birth to [n and he did not have the olive tree, [1:15] [Oliver] ḍε̣ [[in] η̣̣̣ [σ] ε̣ [ν] ο ελέξΑζζάρ ελέ [and] he did not do [the] knowledge of [ [1:16] and [he] is not [ [to] enforce the law of the [ ̣̣̣̣̣ []] ξ </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> [1:17] ̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣ ̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣ I have been born and I have been born [d] ạ [υ] ι̣δ̣ [ε] ω̣σ̣ τ̣η̣ [ς] (s) of [b] the weight of the toilet seat [to] of the YYYYyyyyyy [I] D [1:18] and YYYYY genera so that it can not be misinterpreted he shall have [his] name before the [e] found that this is the case of a gypsy [1:19] [ωσηφ̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣] and [those] who do not desire it, compass [t] e [is] [1:20] [th] thou hast thou vnto him, []] [[]] [] [] [] [] that] [appears] [to] say [h] φ son] ḍ [da] ṃ [η] φ̣̣ β β β</s></s></s></s></s></s> [receive] [make] the [you] know [your] name the birth of [t] ns [estin] α̣ [son] [1: 21-23] the gap with [heat-treated methane]

Put some of Papyrus One through Google Translate and this is what I got.

Probably a li’l jumbled between the 2nd century Greek and the modern Greek.

Wiki tells me that what’s on Papyrus One is, in fact, Mark 1 1-9.

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.

I baptize you with[e] water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

The papyrus skips over Mark 10:

1Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.

Cool edit.  The dove is a little much, too John Woo.

Then it continues:

11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness,

13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

That from the New International version via Bible Gateway.

Grenfell and Hunt found Papyrus One at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt, along with a lot of other paperwork:

Administrative Documents assembled and transcribed from the Oxyrhynchus excavation so far include:

  • The contract of a wrestler agreeing to throw his next match for a fee.

  • Various and sundry ancient recipes for treating haemorrhoids, hangovers and cataracts.

  • Details of a corn dole mirroring a similar program in the Roman capital.

Plus some comedy scripts:

The classical author who has most benefited from the finds at Oxyrhynchus is the Athenian playwright Menander (342–291 BC), whose comedies were very popular in Hellenistic times and whose works are frequently found in papyrus fragments.

The Grouch at the Louvre by Wiki’s Rennet Stowe

Menander’s most popular character was a kind of proto Oscar the Grouch it sounds like.

Menander or literally me:

photo by Wiki’s Dave & Margie Hill of a relief of Menander choosing New Comedy masks.

Papyrus One is dated to the early 3rd century.  Is Papyrus One the earliest fragment of Mark known to exist?  We’ll take that up another time.

It’s interesting that there’s no birth of Jesus (“Christmas”) in Mark.  Mark just jumps right in.

Here are the things Jesus says in Mark, Chapter One.

The time has come at last – the kingdom of God has arrived.  You must change your hearts and minds and believe the good news.

 

Come and follow me, and I will teach you to catch men!

 

(to a demon) Hold your tongue and get out of him.

 

Then we will go somewhere else, to the neighboring towns, so that I may give my message there too – that is why I have come.  

 

(to a leper) Of course I want to – be clean!

 

(also to a leper) Mind you say nothing at all to anybody.  Go straight off and show yourself to the priest, and make the offerings for your cleansing which Moses prescribed as public proof of your recovery.

NEXT TIME:

Mark Two: what is the oldest version of Mark?


Public Land, Part Two: What Happened with H. R. 621

We can’t all be experts on every outrage that’s going to come along.  At Helytimes we’ve taken on the issue of

Our Public Land

up in the national forest

up in the national forest

the land owned by the US government in the form of national parks, national forests, national monuments, and much more.’ The land we, the American People, own together, in other words.

Part One covered HJ Res 46, which proposes to ease up the rules for oil, gas, and mineral drilling and extraction in our national parkland.

Part Two: 

Victory on H. R. 621 and What We Can Learn From It

Meet Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz

You may have heard of him, he was in the news this week catching hell at his town hall:

You may have seen some these videos on Twitter.

Chaffetz is an interesting character.

  • Born to a Jewish family in California
  • he was the placekicker on BYU’s football team.
  • Married a Mormon woman and converted to Mormonism.
  • Utah campaign manager for Michael Dukakis in 1988
  • at some point he became a Republican.  Possibly after meeting Ronald Reagan in 1990 (when, remember, Reagan had a decent degree of dementia)
  • Ran an aggressive Tea Party-style primary campaign in 2008 against a longtime Utah Republican, Chris Cannon, and knocked him out
  • An aggressive Benghazi investigator
  • Was all over the map on Trump: endorsing, unendorsing.  In the end he did vote for him
  • Has made it difficult for the residents of Washington DC to implement the legalization of marijuana they voted for

Here’s a funny article by Thomas Burr in the Salt Lake City Tribune about Chaffetz involving himself in DC local politics, and then getting payback where some DC politicians are like “fine Utah bitch you gonna tell us how to run our city then help us fix our potholes.”

Today though, we’re going to focus on a bill he introduced that comes up in the town hall.

H. R. 621: Story of a Victory

On Jan 24, Chaffetz introduced H. R. 621, which he titled “Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2017” which proposed to “dispose” – sell off – some land that is owned by you and me.

The Cosumnes River Preserve is home to California’s largest remaining valley oak riparian forest, and is one of the few protected wetland habitat areas in the state.

“The Cosumnes River Preserve is home to California’s largest remaining valley oak riparian forest, and is one of the few protected wetland habitat areas in the state.” Photo on BLM instagram by the legend, Bob Wick

 

Let’s back up.

Do the Republicans Want To Sell Off Our Land?

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-9-53-07-pm

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-6-51-29-pm

Is this true?  Will Trump / The GOP Sell Off Our Public Land?!

Joshua Tree

JTree by Helytimes

My take: they definitely tried to do so.  Given nearly complete power after the 2016 election, it was a top priority for several Republicans.

The rush to sell off public land has been beaten back, for now.

There’s a lot to learn from what went down about how to win against the Republican Party of Donald Trump.

Bias: Love for national lands

I love national lands.  I love national parks and national forests and national historic sites and national seashores.  I love national monuments and national battlefields.

hartwells

Minuteman National Historical Park

from Acadia National Parks Instagram

from Acadia National Park’s Instagram

crater

Crater Lake

The best of the United States is on display in a US Park Service uniform.

from the NPS instagram

from the NPS instagram

The National Parks are the gems.  Most federal land is not like this at all.

How much land does the federal government

– the US –

– us –

own?

The federal government owns a huge amount of land.  For instance, the federal government owns about 84% of the total land area of Nevada.

Here is federal land ownership in California:

screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-8-27-35-pm

The federal government owns 47% of California.

As you can see, this is a much different issue for some states than others.  Here is Utah:

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-9-55-57-pm

The feds own 66.5% of Utah.

from Boston Kayaker

from Boston Kayaker

The feds own a mere .8% of Rhode Island, mainly coastal scrubland.

Getting all that from this great piece in the Deseret (UT) News by Jackie Hicken.

All told the federal government owns about 28% of the nation’s total surface, 2.27 billion acres.

Isn’t that crazy?

Here is a reasonable position:

The federal government shouldn’t own that much land.  It’s not in the Constitution as a job for the federal government to own a buncha land.

Here’s a sample of that take:

Now: I think Lars Larson may even have a point about cutting down forests.  Forestry is a science, I’m not well-informed enough to opine on it except to say I believe any forester will tell you burns are part of a life cycle of a forest.

But I disagree with Lars Larson on his first part.  Because when we say “the government owns this land,”  really we mean we own this land.  What could be more “the people’s land” than land we all own together?  “Give the people’s land back to the people?”  It already is ours!

You and me.  The taxpayers.  The voters.  The government is just us.

 

 

What Are The Kinds Of Our Lands?

Here are the percentages of our land, broken down by which agency manages them for us.  The  “Big Five”:

screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-2-15-40-am

Proud of this chart I made.

(getting my data from here, from 2013.  The pie would be slightly bigger if we included the Department of Energy, and there’s the Indian reservations, but that’s a whole other thing.)

As you can see, the National Park Service owns a mere 13% of US federal land.

National Park Service handles:

  • National Parks
  • National Monuments
  • National Preserves

Plus battlefields, historic sites, seashores, etc.  As I understand it, the only way to get rid of these would be to pass a bill through both houses of Congress and have the president sign it.  A cool power of the President is that he can create a National Monument out of any existing federal land.  Obama did this often.

The Forest Service under the Department of Agriculture handles:

our National Forests.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service handles:

our National Wildlife Refuges.  (Their slice of the pie gets way bigger if you count marine acres.)

There are National Wildernesses, administered by various different folks because they’re usually part of some other land.

There’s lots of land owned by the Department of Defense,

Air Force, Marine Corps, and Army bases and such.  The Navy owns a surprising amount of inland land here in California for dropping bombs on.

screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-2-19-34-am

And there is a bunch of leftover extra land, BLM land, managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

The BLM owns about 47% of the west and one-eighth of the land of the United States.

(Here’s a good Gizmodo article by Wes Siller about this same topic).

blm

The biggest chunk of public land is BLM land

On a trip to California in 2002 or so the Jeppson-Gamez brothers took me to some BLM land.  I learned you can shoot a gun and drive a Jeep and do whatever the fuck you want on BLM land.  What a great privilege as an American.

Here’s some BLM land in California:

from BLM's instagram

from BLM’s instagram

Here are some facts:

A lot of federal land is already used, mined, logged, grazed, and exploited now

There’s logging in national forests, and mining and grazing on BLM land.  The major operating principle for BLM land law is “multi use.”  Please correct me if I’m wrong, I’m no expert just an interested citizen, but I believe most BLM rules stem from the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.

The National Forest Service, National Park Service, and now, the Bureau of Land Management, are commissioned in FLPMA to allow a variety of uses on their land (of greater concern for the BLM, who is the least restrictive in terms of uses) while simultaneously trying to preserve the natural resources in them. This concept is best summarized by the term ‘multiple-use.’ ‘Multiple use’ is defined in the Act as “management of the public lands and their various resource values so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the present and future needs of the American people.”

Who should handle this junk land has a long, contentious history

Here is a readable summary of some history on the subject.  Who should own and manage land that looks like this?:

sagebrush

Should the states manage it?  In the Depression the states didn’t want it.

Fights over which of the multiple uses should be favored come up all the time.  The most newsworthy fight in recent years on this topic, the weird Oregon standoff originated with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s dispute with the BLM over grazing his cattle on their lands:

the dispute started in 1993, when, in protest against changes to grazing rules, Bundy declined to renew his permit for cattle grazing on BLM-administered lands near Bunkerville, Nevada. According to the BLM, Bundy continued to graze his cattle on public lands without a permit. In 1998, Bundy was prohibited by the United States District Court for the District of Nevada from grazing his cattle on an area of land later called the Bunkerville Allotment.

Cliven Bundy refused to recognize federal ownership of the land, claiming it rightfully belonged to Nevada, which would maybe be chiller about letting him graze his cattle there.

Cliven, found on this CNN piece about him claiming he's not a racist

Cliven, found on this CNN piece: Cliven Bundy says he’s not racist

This being the USA, Cliven’s stand led to, a few years later, Bundy’s sons sitting around with guns at a remote bird refuge while Dad reflected on his views on “the Negro“:

they abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?

fullsizerender-13

Where does the GOP Congress stand on federal land ownership?

All over the place, is the answer.

1) the Republican Party’s platform supports returning some federal land to the states.

See here for a Snopes breakdown of this.  Here’s the language on federal land transfer in the Republican Platform:

The federal government owns or controls over 640 million acres of land in the United States, most of which is in the West. These are public lands, and the public should have access to them for appropriate activities like hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting. Federal ownership or management of land also places an economic burden on counties and local communities in terms of lost revenue to pay for things such as schools, police, and emergency services. It is absurd to think that all that acreage must remain under the absentee ownership or management of official Washington. Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states. We call upon all national and state leaders and representatives to exert their utmost power and influence to urge the transfer of those lands, identified in the review process, to all willing states for the benefit of the states and the nation as a whole. The residents of state and local communities know best how to protect the land where they work and live. They practice boots-on- the-ground conservation in their states every day. We support amending the Antiquities Act of 1906 to establish Congress’ right to approve the designation of national monuments and to further require the approval of the state where a national monument is designated or a national park is proposed.

Key word there is “certain”?

I think it’s possible to be passionate about maintaining our treasured national land, and still think some federal land could be better managed by the states.

There’s a lot of wack stuff in the GOP platform, like this:

A Republican administration should streamline personnel procedures to expedite the firing of bad workers, tax cheats, and scammers.

Obviously they’re not worried about the Commander in Chief who won’t release his tax returns.  Maybe they will be similarly hypocritical about conveying federally controlled land to states.

Ah-Shi-Sie-Pah Wilderness Study Area in New Mexico

Ah-Shi-Sie-Pah Wilderness Study Area in New Mexico

2) the Republican Congress changed rules to allow the federal government to give up land while counting it as “budget neutral”

Meet Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah:

rob-bishop

A Republican Congressman.  He is apparently responsible for a change in House of Representatives rules.  Now, I don’t know anything about House budgeting rules. This article, from The Salt Lake City Tribune, written by Juliet Eilperin, seems fair and clear:

Under current Congressional Budget Office accounting rules, any transfer of federal land that generates revenue for the U.S. Treasury — whether through energy extraction, logging, grazing or other activities — has a cost. If lawmakers wanted to give land-generating receipts to a given state, local government or tribe, they would have to account for that loss in expected cash flow. If the federal government conveys land where there is no economic activity, such as wilderness, there is no estimated cost associated with it.

But House Natural Resources Committee Chairman [Rob] Bishop [Republican Congressman of Utah], who backs the idea of providing state and local officials with greater control over federal land, has authored language in the new rules package saying any such transfers “shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending or increasing outlays.”

This was the same rules package that had the ethics loosening thing that got people to call their reps in an effective show of democratic displeasure.  Here is a much-tweeted Guardian article on the topic.

There’s lots about public land on Rob Bishop’s website. One issue that seems to bother Rob Bishop in particular is Wilderness Study Areas.  And I agree they represent the complex mess of interests when you deal with public land.

A Case Study: How A Wilderness Study Area Becomes A Wilderness

The Wilderness Study Areas are roadless sections of land that the BLM puts a hold on until Congress decides whether to designate them as wilderness or not.

Here’s my personal favorite:

fullsizerender-4

Here’s what Rob Bishop says:

For decades, unsettled land-use designations, such as wilderness study areas, have fueled distrust and acrimony. The uncertainty about the future of these lands created conflict amongst those favoring differing types of uses. The diverse uses of public lands have an important role in making Utah healthy, viable, and inviting. The future of the state depends on a responsible balance of both conservation and development.

There are 86 Wilderness Study Areas in Utah.  Myself, I think we should err on the side of keeping wildernesses — once they’re gone, they’ll never come back.

Once you’re a WSA, you either become a Wilderness, federally protected, or you get dropped and you can get chopped up and mineraled and whatnot like any old BLM land.  Or you get downgraded to Conservation Area, or some other designation.

The most recent Wilderness Study Area bill I can find in Congress was from last year, when some WSAs inside federal conservation areas were proposed to get dropped.  It’s been referred to committee.  Here’s an article about it, it sounds like a complicated issue.

You can see how this all gets pretty slow-moving and bureaucratic.

Maybe Rob Bishop has a point

The bottom line of what Rep. Bishop wants to do is made pretty clear on his website:

Congressman Bishop’s views on public land use differ from mine, why should I trust that this is a good faith effort to make new conservation areas?

Congressman Bishop is committed to conservation and economic development as part of the Public Lands Initiative. Throughout his career, Congressman Bishop has had a strong record of both conservation and development. The Cedar Mountain Wilderness area was created in 2006 after Congressman Bishop facilitated a locally-driven, collaborative process similar to the Public Lands Initiative. As a former high school teacher, Congressman Bishop also has pushed for increased energy production in Utah to help support and fund public education. Congressman Bishop is committed to elements of both conservation and development as part of any Public Lands Initiative legislative proposal.

How will the state of Utah benefit from this?

The state of Utah’s public education system will benefit from increased energy and mineral production. Public land users will benefit from the regulatory certainty that comes from congressionally designated lands. Local governments will benefit from revenue generated from multiple use of the land, including recreation, mineral development, and energy production. The outdoor recreation businesses will benefit from the improved certainty about land use and conservation. Future generations will benefit by having responsible policies that utilize the land in the most responsible and reasonable ways that make sense now and into the future.

Here’s more:

Proponents argue, however, that taking the federal government out of the picture will help the budget and offer economic benefits for the many communities located near federally-guarded land.

“In many cases, federal lands create a significant burden for the surrounding communities,” Molly Block, spokeswoman for the House Natural Resources Committee, said. “Allowing communities to actually manage and use these lands will generate not only state and local income tax, but also federal income tax revenues.”

That’s from this UPI article by Stephen Feller and Doug C. Ware.

Look, Rob Bishop’s there in Utah.  Maybe he knows best what should happen with this land.  In tough Western areas he could see roped off federal preserves with no clear purpose, and point out those could be jobs and money for his district, or even just better managed wilderness under local control.

BUT:

Why shouldn’t disposed-of land be marked as a loss to the federal revenue, when it is?  Isn’t this a form of the federal government lying to itself?  Lying to its citizens?  As an American taxpayer, I don’t see how this rather sneaky accounting change is at all good for me.

Plus what the hell?!  This land belongs to us, American citizens.  These guys want to sell away our inheritance?

High Desert News‘ Elizabeth Shongren puts it clearly:

Previously, when Congress wanted to transfer public lands managed by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or other federal agency, the Congressional Budget Office, Congress’ research arm, calculated the cost to the U.S. Treasury by computing what revenues the lands provide over 10 years, such as grazing fees or oil and gas royalties. Under House rules, before a bill approving a transfer could be adopted, budget cuts would have to be made in other federal programs equal to the value of that land. The rules change eliminates that budgetary barrier to land transfer bills.

I’d have to explore this more, but I have a feeling the House somehow tied itself into knots on spending and budgetary rules to make various political points, and is trying to untangle this particular aspect so they can get rid of public land.

Can the government sell off our treasured national lands?

Yes, but it’s not that easy.

Let’s start with the BLM.  Can the BLM sell off their land?  From their website:

How are these lands selected for sale?

The law states that the BLM can select lands for sale if, through land use planning, they are found to meet one of three criteria: 1) they are scattered, isolated tracts, difficult or uneconomic to manage; 2) they were acquired for a specific purpose and are no longer needed for that purpose; or 3) disposal of the land will serve important public objectives, such as community expansion and economic development.

More:

The BLM does not offer much land for sale because of a congressional mandate in 1976 to generally retain these lands in public ownership. The BLM does, however, occasionally sell parcels of land where our land use planning finds disposal is appropriate.

Of the Big Five Agencies, only DoD and BLM lost land between 1990 and 2013 (again, source here).  In those years, the BLM went down by 24, 777, 190 acres.

Where did those acres go?

This decline in Alaska is largely the result of the disposal of BLM land, under law, to the State of Alaska, Alaska Natives, and Alaska Native Corporations.

Seems fine to me.  The Congressional Research Service goes on:

With regard to disposal, the NPS and FWS have virtually no authority to dispose of the lands they administer, and the FS disposal authorities are restricted.

Last big push to dispose of national lands failed.  It was HR 350: State National Forest Management Act of 2015, introduced by Rep. Don Young of Alaska.

don-young

Didn’t pass.

 

HR 621: Story of A Victory

Let’s return to Utah rep Jason Chaffetz:

jason-chaffetz

Which land did he try to sell away?

Great question.

It’s not immediately clear.  Chaffetz’s website links to a 1997 report of disposable lands.   Ryan Krogh at Men’s Journal identifies some of the choice land included in the 1997 report:

State: Wyoming

County: Sheridan

The Potential Land: 35,200 acres of BLM-managed land in the Powder River Basin, which is just east of the Bighorn Mountains, popular with hikers, campers, horseback riders, and hunters.

Here’s what’s going on on BLM land in the Powder River right now:

Powder River, from a BLM website

Powder River, from a BLM website

State: Wyoming

County: Park

The Potential Land: 27,300 acres surrounding the Shoshone River, a popular fly-fishing stream in northern Wyoming. Most of the BLM-managed land in Park County is downstream of the town of Cody, which sits between the Big Horn, Owl Creek, Bridger, and Absaroka mountain ranges. Tourism is the town’s primary industry.

State: Oregon

County: Harney

The Potential Land: 44,000 acres in a county that’s home to Steens Mountain, a 9,733-foot peak that’s popular with campers and hunters, and Malheur National Forest.

State: New Mexico

County: Catron

The Potential Land: 25,000 acres that contain “cultural resources,” meaning it’s probably home to pueblo ruins. The land is most likely a giant tract southwest of the town of Quemado, and some of the land abuts the Gila National Forest, home to the endangered Mexican gray wolf, the Gila trout, and some of the best elk hunting in the U.S.

State: Colorado

County: Montrose

The Potential Land: 2,105 acres that is home to endangered species and “historic/cultural resources.” The surrounding area contains the Gunnison Gorge, famous for its rafting and fly-fishing trips, and Uncompahgre National Forest, which is home to elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and mountain goat.

State: Nevada

County: Elko

The Potential Land: 208,900 acres that contains endangered species, historic resources, and is home to “wetlands/floodplain.” BLM-managed land makes up a giant percentage of land in Elko County, but exactly what land is up for consideration is unclear, or what the effects might be.

State: Arizona

County: Mohave

The Potential Land: 23,525 acres with mining claims and historic resources. A comment attached to the description notes that the land is “classified as habitat for the Desert Tortoise (a sensitive species).”

Now I heard about this, and I was pissed, because this land belongs to me.  And you.  And us.  Any time we wanna go there, it’s there.

And Jason Chaffetz tried to sell it off.  

Backcountry Backlash

Well this did not play.  Word spread via strong, aggressive groups like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers:

Google HR 621 and you fill find angry, mobilized publicity from groups like TheMeatEater.com, BowHunter.com, WiredToHunt (“Deer Hunting Strategies for the Next Generation”), and TexasBowhunter.com.

There were rallies in Helena, MT and Santa Fe, NM which BHA says drew a thousand people.

Chaffetz backed down by last night — six days after introducing the bill:

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-1-30-09-pm

 

What can we learn from the defeat (for now) of HR 621?

  • Strong, organized, motivated, attentive citizens can win, easily, on issues that matter.
  • Play to a politician’s fears.  Jason Chaffetz got to Congress by primarying a guy in his own party.  He’s got to watch his back constantly.  His greatest fear has got to be somebody doing to him what he did to Chris Cannon, outrunning him on the right.
  • Push the pushable.  Chaffetz wasn’t moved by people who would never vote for him.  He was moved by hunters and fishermen,  people who probably would vote for him, as long as he doesn’t fuck them on something they care about.
  • Look at the focus on these groups: bow-hunters, meat-eating hunters.  They have clear interests, goals, and passions.  They follow their issues and inform each other.
  • Powerful allies.  Look at the sponsors for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.  These are big corporations with big interests in keeping their customers happy and hunting and fishing.  Yeti coolers has a partnership with MeatEater.com.  What are rich companies that have interests that could align with yours?
  • Specific targets.  They learned something from all that bow-hunting.
  • See how fast and aggressively they responded to the slightest hint of a challenge and you can get an answer to the seemingly baffling question of why gun control bills get crushed so easily.  Strong, organized people are paying attention to the slightest threat to their gun rights and they do not let up.

The Trump hurricane has achieved an effect of constantly shifting focus.  When we compare what bow-hunters did to the stammering, confused, bafflement of the Hollywood libtards we follow on Twitter, and my own flabbergasted reactions, we realize we have much to learn from Texas bow-hunters on how to stay focused on a few issues that matter to us most.

The biggest lesson:

This issue brought together, on the same side, Joyce Carol Oates:

and these kind of guys:

screen-shot-2017-02-03-at-11-38-01-am

And the bros on the Texas Bowhunter forums.

They’re both passionate on the same side on this issue.

For me, the strongest takeaway is don’t insist on too much ideological purity.

Build coalitions on issues you care about.

That is the way to win in politics.

Plus who do you think Jason Chaffetz is most scared of?

screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-2-25-54-am

I’m guessing it’s this kinda guy? (seen here killing a huge deer with a bow and arrow).

screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-2-26-36-am

This guy and I may have different ideas about what to do with the land we share.

But we share an interest.  We can team up.

One of the most illuminating things I read about the election was “David Wong”‘s piece on Cracked.com about the rural vs. urban divide. Here I am very far from Powder River, WY.  The odds of me visiting it in the next ten years are small (but real).  But here I am allied with people who live near there and use it all the time.

Gotta Hear Both Sides

Look, it’s fair to say maybe we should sell off some public land.  The clearest expression I found of this ambiguity was put up by this poster on TexasBowhunter.com — I hope user 175gr7.62 won’t mind me quoting him, I think it’s a valid take (encourage you to read him in context):

I’m torn on it. The Constitutional side of me says the Fed should have never owned it anyway. The Constitution says the government can acquire and retain land necessary for carrying out its enumerated powers. This includes parcels for military bases, post offices and buildings to house federal employees undertaking enumerated functions. I don’t think anything the BLM or Forest Service does counts as anything enumerated. Several Supreme Court cases have said the govt can own it but I think that’s just case law.

The hunter in me said it could be bad if the Feds sell the land because it could be bought by a private citizen who can then prevent its use. That being said, if they sell it and I don’t have the money to buy it that’s my fault…I should have gotten a better education or made better investment decisions.

Tough call.

Reasonable people can disagree on how public land should be managed and who should managed it.

What bothers me, and what puts me on edge, is the sneakiness of what Bishop and Chaffetz appear to be doing.

And the misguided priorities.  This is the first thing they got to post-election.

Well, Chaffetz at least got called to the carpet for it.

A Passionate Plea

Here’s a full video of Jason Chaffetz’s town hall.  Listen to this guy at 11:39 say our free public lands are all he has.

Please write to us (helphely at gmail or in the comments) if we got something wrong or you have a strong take.  

These are complicated issues, I did my best and in good faith but it’s easy to make an error.  

In our Next Installment:

screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-10-51-17-am

Part Three:  Strange Allies.  

And why this:

ryan-zinke

is better than this:

cathy-mcmorris-rogers

 

 


Tennessee Williams -> Dr. Feelgood -> Mark Shaw

 

Tennessee Williams in Key West

Strewn around the apartment of a friend this weekend were a few biographies of Tennessee Williams.

I don’t know much about Tennessee Williams.  The most I ever thought about him was when I was briefly in Key West, where there’s some stuff named after him.  He jockeys with Hemingway for local literary mascot top honors.

Looking into it, I found this stupefying article about TW in Key West from People Magazine, 1979, entitled “In His Beloved Key West, Tennessee Williams Is Center Stage In A Furor Over Gays.”  Tough reading, on the one hand.  On the other maybe we can find some optimism in how far things have come?:

Some of Williams’ friends are less sanguine—notably Rader (whom some Key West sympathizers find faintly hysterical on the subject). “It has been terrible,” he said in the aftermath. “Tenn won’t talk about it, but it has been really frightening what’s happening in Key West and in this house. The worst was the night they stood outside his front porch and threw beer cans, shouting, ‘Come on out, faggot.’ When they set off the firecrackers, I remember thinking, ‘God, this is it. We’re under attack. They’ve started shooting.’ ”

Williams’ imperturbability springs both from a matter of principle (he once defined gallantry as “the grace with which one survives appalling experiences”) and from a diminished interest in the Key West gay scene. “I’ve retired from the field of homosexuality at present,” he explains, “because of age. I have no desires—isn’t that strange? I have dreams, but no waking interest.” The thought does not cheer him. “I’ve always found life unsatisfactory,” he says. “It’s unsatisfactory now, especially since I’ve given up sex.” His own problems seem far more pressing to him than the city’s. “I suspect I’ll only live another two years,” says Williams, 68, who tipples white wine from morning on and complains of heart and pancreas disorders. “I’ve been working like a son of a bitch since 1969 to make an artistic comeback. I don’t care about the money, but I can’t give up art—there’s no release short of death. It’s quite painful. I’ll be dictating on my deathbed. I want people to say, ‘Yes, this man is still an artist.’ They haven’t been saying it much lately.”

As a consummate prober of human passions, Williams does have theories on why his adopted hometown is under siege. “There are punks here,” he explains. “That’s because a couple of gay magazines publicized this place as if it were the Fire Island of Florida. It isn’t. One Fire Island is quite enough. But it attracted the wrong sort of people here: the predators who are looking for homosexuals. I think the violence will be gone by next year.”

Other residents seem less willing to wait. The leader of the anti-gay forces, the Reverend Wright, says Anita Bryant has promised to come to Key West to help his crusade. Recalling nostalgically the days when “female impersonators and queers were loaded into a deputy’s automobile and shipped to the county line,” Wright warns: “We’ll either have a revival of our society or the homosexuals will take it over in five years.”

Mamet On Williams

This morning happened to pick up in my garage this book by David Mamet:

IMG_6629

Highly recommend this book as well as Three Uses Of The Knife, True And False: Heresy And Common Sense For The Actor, and On Directing Film by Mamet.  All short, all tight, all good.  (His subsequent nonfiction seems to me to be a bit… deranged?)

Found this, and thought it was great:

IMG_6630 IMG_6631

Wikipedia Hole

Reading about Tennessee on Wikipedia, I learn:

As he had feared, in the years following Merlo’s death Williams was plunged into a period of nearly catatonic depression and increasing drug use resulting in several hospitalizations and commitments to mental health facilities. He submitted to injections by Dr. Max Jacobson – known popularly as Dr. Feelgood – who used increasing amounts of amphetamines to overcome his depression and combined these with prescriptions for the sedative Seconal to relieve his insomnia. Williams appeared several times in interviews in a nearly incoherent state, and his reputation both as a playwright and as a public personality suffered.[citation needed] He was never truly able to recoup his earlier success, or to entirely overcome his dependence on prescription drugs.

Let’s learn about Dr. Feelgood, who was also screwing up Elvis and everybody else cool back then:

John F. Kennedy first visited Jacobson in September 1960, shortly before the 1960 presidential election debates.[9] Jacobson was part of the Presidential entourage at the Vienna summit in 1961, where he administered injections to combat severe back pain. Some of the potential side effects included hyperactivity, impaired judgment, nervousness, and wild mood swings. Kennedy, however, was untroubled by FDA reports on the contents of Jacobson’s injections and proclaimed: “I don’t care if it’s horse piss. It works.”[10] Jacobson was used for the most severe bouts of back pain.[11] By May 1962, Jacobson had visited the White House to treat the President thirty-four times.[12][13]

By the late 1960s, Jacobson’s behavior became increasingly erratic as his own amphetamine usage increased. He began working 24-hour days and was seeing up to 30 patients per day. In 1969, one of Jacobson’s clients, former Presidential photographer Mark Shaw, died at the age of 47. An autopsy showed that Shaw had died of “acute and chronic intravenous amphetamine poisoning.”

Well, that takes us to

Mark Shaw

Born Mark Schlossman on the Lower East Side, a pilot on the India/China Hump in World War II, he became a freelance photographer for life:

In 1953, probably because of his fashion experience, Shaw was assigned to photograph the young actress Audrey Hepburn during the filming of Paramount’s Sabrina. Evasive at first, Hepburn became comfortable with Shaw’s presence over a two-week period and allowed him to record many of her casual and private moments.

Audrey 1

Audrey 2

He married singer Pat Suzuki, “who is best known for her role in the original Broadway production of the musical Flower Drum Song, and her performance of the song “I Enjoy Being a Girl” in the show”:

In 1959, Life chose Shaw to photograph Jacqueline Kennedy while her husband, Senator John F. Kennedy, was running for President.[8] This assignment was the beginning of an enduring working relationship and personal friendship with the Kennedys that would eventually lead to Shaw’s acceptance as the Kennedys’ de facto “family photographer”. He visited them at theWhite House and at Hyannisport; during this time he produced his most famous photographs, portraying the couple and their children in both official and casual settings. In 1964, Shaw published a collection of these images in his book The John F. Kennedys: A Family Album, which was very successful.

Jackie 3

Jackie 1

 

A bunch of even better ones can be found here, at the tragically disorganized website of the Monroe Gallery, they’re stamped “No Reproduction Without Permission” so whatever.  Don’t miss this one.

Here’s another famous Jackie Mark photo’d:

Jackie Gleason1959© 2000 Mark Shaw

And finally:

BB 1

 

 

 

 


Mark Helprin

from The Paris Review:

INTERVIEWER

Why don’t you like to give interviews?

MARK HELPRIN

When I was young it was impossible to stop me from talking about myself, but I now find it difficult to start. As an adolescent (which stage in life took me to about the age of thirty) I had a facile tongue, a prodigious memory, and an all-consuming fear of sociality (a fear and distaste that is, if anything, stronger now than it ever was, but now I am disciplined enough just to suffer through it and, quite frankly, I’m tired of trying to keep back a sea of discomfort with the flood of my own words).

The source of my aversion is partly hereditary, in that my father and many of my relatives were much the same, and partly an acquisition that I owe to my early upbringing. When this was far more serious a matter than it is now, I was born two months prematurely, with malformations of the spine (spina bifida) and lungs, and what was later diagnosed as “hyperconvulsive neurological syndrome.” Whatever that is, it was sufficient to have kept me out of the United States Army, though not the Israeli infantry and air force or the British Merchant Navy.

To make a rather long story extremely short, I spent many weeks in an incubator, came home as damaged goods, and spent much of my early life in the throes of respiratory diseases that kept me out of school and apart from others. As a small child, I once ran a fever for, literally, a year. I had pneumonia half a dozen times, double pneumonia, whooping cough—all because of the circumstances of my birth.

Now, combine that, and all that you can imagine might flow from it, with the place in which I was raised—Ossining, New York. Culturally, the character of the area was formed during the Revolutionary War, when it was a no-man’s-land between the Americans and the British, and every criminal, deserter, and malcontent for hundreds of miles found his way there and left his genes. When I was a child, I would always look at people’s hands, to see if they had six fingers, and sometimes they did.

My draft board, I am told (although it may be myth), had, of all draft boards in the United States, the highest proportion of men killed in Vietnam—where, incidentally, my godfather, the photographer Robert Capa, was the first American to die, though he was a Hungarian and had nothing to do with the Hudson. The area was salted with military institutions—West Point, military academies, veterans’ hospitals—and old soldiers, including even, when I was young, some from the Civil War. The play of the boys was guerilla warfare in the extensive woods. Every stranger was a threat, an enemy. Indeed, there were a lot of bad apples around—escaped convicts from Sing Sing (twice as I remember), standard criminals, gangs in the fifties, child molesters (a beautiful little girl was taken from my third-grade schoolyard and raped and beaten over a period of many hours), and hoboes (not Shakespearian woodwinds) on the rail line that was the geographical locus of my childhood. I ran wild through all this, protected by my paranoia, by my sharply-honed guerilla skills, and by a rather extensive arsenal. Had you turned me upside down and shaken me, the floor would have looked like a military museum after an earthquake.

INTERVIEWER

I was asking about your dislike of being interviewed.

(photo found here, by Jim Harrison for Harvard Magazine)


How to read a Racing Form // Belmont Stakes value picks

Every time I’m in Las Vegas I pass through the sports book and pick up a few racing sheets. I’ve never been able to make much out of them, but the life of the full-time degenerate who’s eating a hot dog and watching the 3rd at Gulfstream or Louisiana Downs is somehow attractive.   Why is that?  What is it about this that’s appealing?  The songs and legends are part of it, for sure.  I’ve always found sitting in the stands at Santa Anita an appealing afternoon.  Less so since news of the frequent horse deaths.

Santa Anita is running right now, without spectators.

“I love to go back to Paris,” Hemingway said, his eyes still fixed on the road. “Am going in the back door and have no interviews and no publicity and never get a haircut, like in the old days. Want to go to cafés where I know no one but one waiter and his replacement, see all the new pictures and the old ones, go to the bike races and the fights, and see the new riders and fighters. Find good, cheap restaurants where you can keep your own napkin. Walk over all the town and see where we made our mistakes and where we had our few bright ideas. And learn the form and try and pick winners in the blue, smoky afternoons, and then go out the next day to play them at Auteuil and Enghien.”

“Papa is a good handicapper,” Mrs. Hemingway said.

“When I know the form,” he said.

from the Lillian Ross New Yorker profile of Hemingway.

How do you “learn the form”?

I chanced recently across this academic paper, Sports Betting As a New Asset Class, by Lovjit Thukral and Pedro Vergel. It addresses the possible money-making potential of a strategy of “laying the favorite.”

The authors take a simple betting strategy based on Horse races in the UK and invest consistently on laying (betting on the event not to occur) the 4 favourite horses (with the lowest odds) in each race. They find the following:

(1) this type of horse racing strategy provide uncorrelated returns to the market;

(2) the strategy outperforms the Credit Suisse Hedge fund Index and S&P 500 Total returns on average for the last 6 years.

Can this be so?  A quick investigation reveals that “laying the favorite” in this way doesn’t seem to be a commonplace option in US horse betting.  I don’t think this strategy would be financially viable here.

This talk of laying favorites reminded me of my friend Beth Raymer’s book, Lay The Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling.

The book was made into a 2012 film starring Bruce Willis and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

In the book, Raymer describes learning from the professional gambler and line-setter Dink:

Studying to find value — into it!  I resolved to learn how to read a Racing Form, and try to glean some information from it that might give an edge.

Using the very helpful resources provided by the late Neil Benoit’s Getting Out Of The Gate website, which has a Racing 101-401 course, I was able to grasp the basics.  This resource at Art of Manliness was also quite helpful, and there’s a Wikihow about racing forms, but it’s Benoit who really gave us a gift.

I’d like to try and summarize my learnings for you, to save you the time in case you’re interested, and because the easiest way to really learn something is to try and teach it.

Let’s take as our example the first horse, Route Six Six, in the 7th race tomorrow (Saturday, June 20) at Santa Anita.

Up top we’ve got some basic info about the horse, like who owns her (f=filly), and her mom (Dam) and dad (Sire).

Personally, and this is based on zero study, but I suspect there’s all together too much focus on breeding in horses.  It feels distracting and possibly irrelevant, like when the old-time scouts in Moneyball are focused on how hot a player’s girlfriend is.  It just feels old-fashioned and unstatistical.  But then again, since I haven’t run any statistical studies, this belief of mine is based on zero evidence as well.

You know what I want to find out from a racing form?  One thing.  How fast is this horse?

I turned to my high school experience as a cross-country runner under the rigorous coaching of Livingston Carroll, who also taught statistics.  He’d always have a pretty good sense of the average race times of most of our competition.  It seems to me that the racing form, while interesting as a compressed pile of information, doesn’t really focus in on the central question: which of these horses is the fastest?  Beyond that is intangibles and unpredictable noise.
Luckily the Racing Form gives us lots of info towards figuring out which horse is fastest, if we can just figure it out.  We get a bunch of data on the horse’s recent races.
We see that Route Six Six ran on the 16th of May 2020 in the fourth race at SA (Santa Anita) in fst (fast) conditions at a distance of one mile.  OK, already useful info.  Remember what Thomas Ainslie says in his Complete Guide about the basic components:
1) elimination of horses that seem unsuited to the distance of the race
2) elimination of horses that do not seem in sufficiently sharp condition
3) elimination of horses that seem outclassed
4) elimination of horses at a serious disadvantage on today’s footing or in light of track biases
The distance helps us sort out #1.  Route Six Six, as we can see, has been running at 1 mile, even 1 1/8 mile.  A mile is 8 furlongs.  1 1/16 mile should be a reasonable distance for this horse.  Races of a mile or longer are called “routes,” vs shorter races, “sprints.”
In my limited experience I find routes are more predictable.  At Los Alamitos they run races at 330 yards.  At that point it can come down to what kind of jump you get out of the gate, which seems harder to predict based on the info in the Racing Form, or at least a different category of study.
Now, let’s talk about class.  It’s worth reading Benoit on class.  Horse races are at all different classes, starting (for our purposes) with Md Sp Wt, or Maiden Special Weight.
A maiden horse has never won a race.  Maiden races are thus famously kind of unpredictable.  Let’s say you win a maiden special weight, as Route Six Six did on December 31, 2018, “breaking her maiden.”  Well, now she’s on an Allowance race.
When it comes to understanding class, the metaphor of minor league baseball is often used.  Going from maiden racing to an allowance race is like going from single A to AA ball.   A horse moving up or down in class is facing a different caliber of competition.
Now, as they say, “the horse doesn’t know what class it’s in.”  But it’s something to watch for, and learn from the Form.  Is this a promising up and coming racer moving up to face faster horses?  A declining athlete going down a level to compete against weaker competition?
Note that Route Six Six is coming down from an 80K to a 62K.  I don’t know what that means, may not even be anything, but it seems like a slight step down in class.  Which could be good!
Now, these numbers in bold.  The Beyer Speed Figure.
Beyer figures are a whole thing
as my bud Jeff Fischer says.  The Beyer speed figures are exclusively in Racing Form, and they’re designed to kind of create a uniform assessment of the horse’s speed, homogenizing for track variables, etc.  They’re still calculated by Beyer’s team.  From a profile of Andy Beyer by Michael Konik in the autumn, 1996 issue of Cigar Aficiando:

Beyer took a stack of old Daily Racing Forms and did the laborious math by hand, sifting through years of data, applying the analytical skills he had developed as a games-playing child. “‘Six furlongs in 1:13 equals seven furlongs in 1:26 and a fifth’ was my E=MC2,” Beyer says, laughing. By 1972 he had managed to construct a reliable speed chart that incorporated the important element of track variance, a measure of track speed and bias, which was previously calculated by an antiquated–and, in most cases, inaccurate–system. Beyer devised a highly specific, sophisticated method for determining track variances, a method that accounted for the times turned in by different types of horses.

By combining his newly minted speed ratings with his fresh perspective on track speed, the young columnist invented the Beyer Speed Figures.

Interestingly, Beyer come up with his numbers specifically because so much of racing thinking at that time was centered around class:

“The orthodoxy back then said that ‘class’ was the measure of a race,” Beyer says, while making hieroglyphic notations in the margins of his race program. “For instance, if a $10,000 claimer was running against a slower $200,000 claimer, the assumption was that the slower but ‘classier’ horse would win. I was looking for a way to verify–or contradict–that assumption.”

We’ll come back to Beyer Figures in a bit.
Now, how about the jockey?
Don’t bet the horse, bet the jockey
is an old racing adage.  It is interesting that jockeys have very different stats and results.  Here are the stats at Santa Anita from this week’s Racing Form.
Prat wins 27% of the time, and J Valdivia Jr wins 10% of the time.  Worth considering.
Finally, we see the results of the horses in previous races:
Note those boldface names on the most recent race.  That tells us that Ax Man (AxMn) and Multiplier (Mltplr) both are in this very race!  So Route Six Six is running today against two horses that have already beaten her!  This is good information to know, as we try and figure out who will win today’s race!
The notes on the race are kind of helpful, but in the age of YouTube, you can also go back and watch these previous races, and see if there’s anything interesting that may not be fully recorded here in the Form.
One more thing: works.  Sometimes the horse hasn’t run any races, and all you have to go on are the “works,” or officially timed practices.  These are intriguing measures of a horse’s speed, although the horse is (always? almost always?) running alone in these conditions.
Take a look at Route Six Six’s opponent Ax Man’s works:
That bullet mark means Ax Man had the fastest work of any horse of the day on June 17 at Santa Anita.  How meaningful is that?  Depends, I guess.  (Note that Ax Man is a gelding (g in the gender line).  They castrated Ax Man?!  Rude.  I don’t know much about the meanings of horse gender on speed.  The colts seem a little faster than the fillies, but three fillies have won the Kentucky Derby.)
Here’s my crude handicapping method:
Let’s start by just trying to rank these horses on speed.
Simply averaging the Beyer speed numbers, occasionally throwing out some outliers, and factoring in a pinch of understanding about class and jockey and so on seem indeed to be a reasonable predictor of which horses will finish first in a race.  In two days of experimental handicapping, the winner was always in the top three I selected via this method.
Now, you compare these results to the odds.  It’s possible to occasionally spot a “value” horse.  I found the results, as Ainslie would say, salutary.
In horse race betting, you’re not competing against nothing, or even the morning odds.  You’re competing against the other bettors.  Their bets determine the final odds.
Knowing a particular horse is the fastest competitor in a race isn’t that useful, because it’ll probably be reflected in the odds.  Very occasionally, though, you can spot anomalies, where your personal handicapping of the race differs from the odds in an interesting and possibly profitable way.
Remember though, the track is taking an 18-20% take.  You need to predict 20% better than the cumulative wisdom of the crowd just to break even!
Anyway, here’s how I’d handicap the Belmont Stakes tomorrow:
1 – Tap It To Win – average Beyer Speed Figure minus any outliers I chose to throw out: 75.6
Coming off two consecutive wins, but if this race goes off at any kind of speed will struggle to keep up
2- Sole Volante – 90.2
Very consistent, won on June 10 decisively.  A fast horse, maybe underappreciated.  Worth looking at the odds close to post time.  This could be a value bet.
3- Max Player – 75.33
New jockey today.  Don’t think this horse is fast enough.
4 – Modernist – 76.4
Last won a race in February
5 – Farmington Road – 77.33
A solid also ran horse
6 – Fore Left – 72.75
This horse’s last win was in United Arab Emirates.  Feels fishy.  But that was a good clean win and very fast.
7 – Jungle Runner
A weak horse
8 – Tiz The Law – 91
The strongest contender by far, on the cover of Racing Form this week.  But look, the favorite loses something like 78% of the time.
9 – Dr. Post – 84
Can a new jockey get something out of this horse?  The pickers like Dr. Post.
10 – Pneumatic – 89
Something just seems off about the results for this horse.  Does he know how to win?
Hely Picks
8 – Tiz The Law
2 – Sole Volante
10 – Pneumatic
I haven’t looked at recent odds.  This morning Tiz the Law was at 6-5, and Sole Volante 9-5, so no real value there.  Fore Left came in at 30-1, and Pneumatic at 8-1.  Pneumatic to show could be interesting?
One attraction of horseracing is it really draws out a certain kind of stylized or old-fashioned writing in enthusiasts:

Benson has had it with this hanging crepe for its own sake!

Disclaimer: I’ve spent maybe twenty hours learning about horseracing.  I know nothing.  There are thousands of horse race bettors who’ve spent easily 10,000-20,000 hours on this.  There are whole teams that have seen every single race any one of these horses have run, and spent hours putting information into fast computers.  That’s the competition.   I’m posting this for my amusement, and to enhance the amateur enjoyment of this pastime for my well-rounded readers.
Before you bet any actual money, which no one’s encouraging you to do, see if you don’t find a small “mind bet” as emotionally stimulating, as satisfactory in victory without being as painful in defeat.

Jaipur Addendum!  

Readers, I just idly checked out the 9th race at Belmont today, the Jaipur.  Will be televised on NBC.  I noticed Hidden Scroll, a very fast horse, had something aberrant in his last race:

What’s that about?  Here we see the pleasures and oddness of the Racing Form as compressed storytelling:

What?

Luckily in this glorious age of YouTube what Hidden Scroll did in his last race, this might be the craziest thing in a horse race I’ve ever seen:

Motherfucking horse nearly broke his own neck, lost his jockey, and still almost won!  He’ll have the same jockey (JR Velazquez) today!  That should be a very interesting race.

 


April 19

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.
How about this footnote Clarke’s History Of Needham?

The details.

 

 


How Will You Measure Your Life?

Some books give value just with their title.  I’d say I think about the title of Clayton Christensen’s book about once every two weeks or so.  Most of what’s in the book can be found in Christensen’s 2010 speech on that theme.

This theory addresses the third question I discuss with my students—how to live a life of integrity (stay out of jail). Unconsciously, we often employ the marginal cost doctrine in our personal lives when we choose between right and wrong. A voice in our head says, “Look, I know that as a general rule, most people shouldn’t do this. But in this particular extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s OK.” The marginal cost of doing something wrong “just this once” always seems alluringly low. It suckers you in, and you don’t ever look at where that path ultimately is headed and at the full costs that the choice entails. Justification for infidelity and dishonesty in all their manifestations lies in the marginal cost economics of “just this once.”

I also find myself often thinking of an anecdote about milkshake purchases Christensen describes in the book:

The company then enlisted the help of one of Christensen’s fellow researchers, who approached the situation by trying to deduce the “job” that customers were “hiring” a milkshake to do. First, he spent a full day in one of the chain’s restaurants, carefully documenting who was buying milkshakes, when they bought them, and whether they drank them on the premises. He discovered that 40 percent of the milkshakes were purchased first thing in the morning, by commuters who ordered them to go.

The next morning, he returned to the restaurant and interviewed customers who left with milkshake in hand, asking them what job they had hired the milkshake to do. Christensen details the findings in a recent teaching note, “Integrating Around the Job to be Done.”

“Most of them, it turned out, bought [the milkshake] to do a similar job,” he writes. “They faced a long, boring commute and needed something to keep that extra hand busy and to make the commute more interesting. They weren’t yet hungry, but knew that they’d be hungry by 10 a.m.; they wanted to consume something now that would stave off hunger until noon. And they faced constraints: They were in a hurry, they were wearing work clothes, and they had (at most) one free hand.”

The milkshake was hired in lieu of a bagel or doughnut because it was relatively tidy and appetite-quenching, and because trying to suck a thick liquid through a thin straw gave customers something to do with their boring commute.

Something illuminating about food as something to do.

Understanding the job to be done, the company could then respond by creating a morning milkshake that was even thicker (to last through a long commute) and more interesting (with chunks of fruit) than its predecessor. The chain could also respond to a separate job that customers needed milkshakes to do: serve as a special treat for young children—without making the parents wait a half hour as the children tried to work the milkshake through a straw. In that case, a different, thinner milkshake was in order.

In the book, Christensen also goes on about how parents have to say no very often, and a milkshake is a relatively easy “yes.”

Christensen died last week.

 


Nissan

A Datson Model 11 by HKT3012 for Wikipedia

The best business story of last decade snuck in under the wire, when Carlos Ghosn, the former head of Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA who was out on bail in Japan awaiting trial on charges of financial misconduct, popped up in Lebanon just before New Year’s after being smuggled out of Japan in, apparently, a large black case used for audio equipment.

As Matt Levine put it.  Interested in the mysterious case of Ghosn the Nissan outlaw, I started looking into the history of Nissan.  A key figure is an American engineer, William Gorham.  Gorham traveled to Japan several times as a boy with his dad, an Asia manager for Goodyear tires.  In 1918, he moved to Japan with his wife and children, and got involved with Gonshiro Kubota:

Gonshiro Kubota, a successful businessman who founded and led his eponymously-named firm into becoming the largest manufacturer of agricultural machinery in Japan was eager to enter the automobile market. At the time, the only two mass-production Japanese automobile manufacturers were Isuzu, and Kaishinsha, founded by Matsujiro Hashimoto. Kubota hired Gorham as chief designer, with Gorham designing the vehicles and setting up the manufacturing plants for Gorham’s three-wheeled automobile. Along with other Japanese investors, Kubota and Gorham would found Jitsuyo Jidōsha, who would manufacturer the three-wheeled automobile as the Gorham, and a four-wheeled automobile of Gorham’s design as the Lila. Jitsuyo Jidōsha and Kaishinsha would later be merged into a predecessor of the Nissan Motor Company.

A vivid picture:

In David Halberstam‘s 1986 book The Reckoning, Halberstam states: “In terms of technology, Gorham was the founder of the Nissan Motor Company” and that “In 1983, sixty-five years after [Gorham’s] arrival… young Nissan engineers who had never met him spoke of him as a god.

In May of 1941, Gorham renounced his US citizenship.  Reported in the NY Times:

He stayed in Japan as the US and Japan went to war.

After the end of the war, the United States government declined to charge him or his wife with treason since they had become Japanese citizens before the war began; in fact, he ended up working in a liaison position with the headquarters of Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers Douglas MacArthur regarding industrial problems

Gorham:

 

 


Tom Wolfe

The people in the psychedelic world had been religious but had always covered it up.  There was such a bad odor about being frankly religious. I mean Kesey would refer to Cosmo, meaning God; someone in the group used the word manager.  Hugh Romney [a.k.a. Wavy Gravy] used to say, “I’m in the pudding and I’ve met the manager.”

On unusual style / carrying yourself as a reporter:

When I first started at Esquire, I made the mistake of trying to fit in.  And given the kind of things I was sent to cover – stock car racing, the Peppermint Lounge, topless restaurants in San Francisco – not only did I not fit in no matter how hard I tried, but I would deprive myself of the opportunity to ask very basic questions that the outsider can ask.  You just discover after awhile that people like to be asked questions they know the answers to.

Elsewhere:

be an odd, eccentric character… people will volunteer information to you

On American literature:

In France they discovered Faulkner – not as we would, as a very complex and somewhat arty writer, but as a primitive who had barely emerged from the ooze, somehow, to write.

At the same time they were admiring the energetic, classless and low-rent, rude, animal side of American art, our artists were striving like mad to shed all of that and to stop being hicks and rustics.

re: The Painted Word and From Bauhaus to Our House

I want people to pay attention to what I think is my sole contribution in these areas – showing how certain fashions, certain styles, certain trends come about.  They’re not like the weather.  Most of our critics and historians seem to think that styles are like Bermuda highs.  That it’s the spirit of the age and so cosmic in nature that you don’t have to think about how it happened.  You just note that it happened, and if the weather is serious enough, you bow down.  What I keep saying is that styles are created by people.  And the task of a historian – which is all I picture myself as in these books – is to find out who these people are and what the competitions were that brought the styles out.

On advice to young journalists:

You should get up your courage and approach the biggest magazine you can think of that might be interested in the subject.  Approach a junior editor rather than the man at the top, because the junior editors are in competition with one another to discover new writers.  Even if you’ve already written it, present the story idea to the editor, because editors like to feel that they’re part of the creative process. Wait a decent interval of about two weeks and then send them a manuscript.  Magazines will be in a receptive mood if you have approached them ahead of time.  They’ll want it to be good, they’ll want to buy it, and they’ll want it to be a success.  There’s a continual shortage of good writers and good journalists.  It’s really not an overcrowded field because there’s not that much talent to go around.  A lot of it is having the determination and perseverance to do the reporting.

There are several references to an article I’m not sure I’d read before, about carrier pilots operating off the USS Coral Sea, dodging missiles over North Vietnam, “The Truest Sport: Jousting with Sam and Charlie,” which you can read here on Esquire’s website.

Status competition, that’s what interests Wolfe.

Making writing appear spontaneous:

I wanted the writing to appear buoyant, free and easy, spontaneous.  Creating the effect of spontaneity in writing is one of the most difficult and artificial things you can do.  I was much relieved to learn that Celine used to spend four or five years rewriting his novels in order to achieve the effect of someone just sitting down across the table from you, spouting up the story of his life.  Writing is an extremely artificial business: it’s artificial by its very nature – you’re taking sounds and converting them into symbols on a page.  To make that transference from one sense to another and reinvest the words with vigor and rhythm and spontaneity is quite a feat.

more:

my intention, my hope, was always to get inside of these people, inside their central nervous systems, and present their experience in print from the inside.

[after he wrote an attack on The New Yorker, and everybody came after him]

I suddenly found myself denounced by the likes of Joseph Alsop, Walter Lippman (he called me an ass in print), Murray Kempton, a distinguished columnist for the New York Post.  Richard Goodwin called up from the White House to denounce me; E. B. White; even J. D. Salinger, whom the press hadn’t heard from for years, sent in a telegram denouncing me as a yellow journalist.  I really felt that perhaps the world was coming to an end. All these eminent people descended upon me, and I felt the sky was falling in.  Then a few days later I woke up, and nothing had happened.  It dawned on m that it’s very difficult to get hurt in a literary fight. In a strange way, all the shouting and shooting and the explosion were part of the literary excitement.

(funny that one of the criticisms, J.D. Salinger’s term, was that Wolfe’s attack was “gleeful.”

The next two are from an interview with Ron Reagan in “GEO, 1983.  The prompt here is about Pol Pot and the then rampant Khmer Rouge:

So much of the political thought and fashion among writers and other commentators in the United States is based on the idea that liberty has always existed in a kind of mist over the left.  In this country there have been very few ideologues, but there has often been a Marxist mist, the idea that there is something wonderful about socialism that if pursued correctly will lead to liberty, peace, harmony and the betterment of man in a way that nothing going on in modern industrial nation can.  In the past ten years it’s been discovered that socialism, when put into effect by experts, leads only to extermination camps.  This has been a terrible blow to a very fashionable idea.  That’s why it’s embarrassing to dwell on Pol Pot.  Pol Pot is not a maniac.  He’s a man who studied the future for his country for years starting in France, and the whole Khmer Rouge movement was probably as rational an undertaking under a Marxist ruler as has ever occurred.  Everywhere the experts have put socialism into effect, the result has been the gulag.  Now to point this out is to be regarded as right wing.  I regard it only as obvious – so obvious, in fact, that you have to be crazy to avert your eyes from it.

On why writers like Hemingway and Mailer are interested in fighters and “people who got their hands dirty”:

For this analysis, I go to Sigmund Freud.  He said that writers and artists are people who discovered as youngsters that they lost out in the hurly-burly of the playground.  They discovered, however, that they had the power to fantasize about such things, about the fruits of power, such as money, glory and beautiful lovers.  In a way, that resonated with the fantasies and dreams of other people who were not so talented.  When they are successful in presenting these fantasies to the public, they end up achieving through fantasy that which they were previously able to achieve only in fantasy.  But somehow it’s not enough to be known as someone who is a skilled fantasist.  That is second best; it would have been much better to have ruled the playground.  So they constantly try to prove to themselves that they can rule the playground if they really try.  But only rarely do you run into an obsession like that.

Wolfe later mentions he things handguns should be banned:

I think if manufacture and sale stopped, the price of the ones remaining would go up on the black market.  If it became a felony nationally to possess a handgun and there was a public call to turn them in , I think you’d be surprised at how many would be turned in.

Wolfe had really done his homework to develop his styles.

I really made a concentrated effort to get in the game.  I adapted a lot of things I had run across in graduate school.  For example, there were these early experimental Soviet writers like Aleksei Remizov, Boris Pilniak, Andrei Sobel and the Serapion Brothers.  One of them, Yevegeni Zamyatin, was best known for We, the book that Orwell’s 1984 was based on.  From Zamyatin, I got the idea of oddly punctuated inner thoughts.  I began using a lot of exclamation points and dashes and multiple colons.  The idea was, that’s the way people think.

The four basic techniques of novels Wolfe tried to introduce to nonfiction:

The first is scene-by-scene construction.  In other words, telling the entire story through a sequence of scenes rather than simple historical narration.  Second is the use of real dialogue – the more the better.  The third, which is the least understood of the techniques, is the use of status details.  That is, noting articles of clothing, manners, the way people treat children, the way they treat servants.  All the things that indicate where a person thinks he fits in society and where he hopes to go socially.  The fourth is the use of point of view, which is depicting the scenes through a particular pair of eyes.

Re: psychedelia and mus:

Without that world, without Ken Kesey and the Grateful Dead, there would have been no serious music by the Beatles.  They take off from the Grateful Dead, starting with that album Revolver.  Everything from Revolver on comes out of the American psychedelic world, to which they were turned on by Bob Dylan – in person, in private.  Not by listening to his records, but by getting involved with him personally.

One more:

Here’s another thing that’s now like a foreign notion.  The seven deadly sins are all sins against the self.  And this is an idea that’s vanished pretty much.  Lust for example.  The reason that lust in Christian religion was – particularly in the form of Catholicism that originated the seven deadly sins – was considered a sin was not that some man would be leading some nice girl from Akron into white slavery, or the pages of pornographic magazines, but that he would be hurting himself by wasting his spirit on this shallow and pointless, base passion.

I hope editor Dorothy Scura doesn’t mind me quoting so extensively from her book, which is itself a roundup of other interviews.  My goal is simply to share some of these wonderful insights with likeminded readers.

True Wolfeheads can find more content here.

 


Dispatch from Nairobi

A friend was having a 40th birthday party in Nairobi, an excuse to see what’s up in Africa.

Top down view

On the first morning I was in Nairobi I walked over to the KICC building and went up to the top, 33rd story I believe, where you can stand outside on the exposed helipad.

Going to the top of a tall building at the start of a trip is a tactic I got from Neomarxisme.  He recommends this for first-timers in Tokyo.  Go somewhere high, and take in the vastness of what you’re dealing with in Tokyo.  Then you can begin to appreciate what’s going on.

Nairobi is not as vast as Tokyo.  Nairobi’s population can be estimated at somewhere around 4.5 million people, higher or lower maybe, if we’re counting commuters and outlying areas.  Roughly equivalent to LA.

From the top of the KICC you can see the grasslands of Nairobi National Park.  For LA residents, imagine if Griffith Park had free-ranging giraffe and zebras wandering around.

There is also a dense forest in Nairobi, Karura Forest.  On the fringes of this forest I saw two fairly chill monkeys lolling about. I believe they were Sykes monkeys.  The embassies, the Muthaiga Country Club, impressive and secure houses are along the edges of this forest.

The only other sightseer on the top of the KICC was an African girl younger than me who had me take her picture on an Nikkon camera and also filmed several jubilant videos of herself talking into her phone.  I say she was African because her skin was very dark and her English accented but maybe her home was France or the Netherlands for all I know.  My guess would be she was a tourist or a student from somewhere else.

From the KICC you can see the railyards.  Nairobi was originally a railway town, founded in 1899 to service the British-run Uganda Railway.  The train still runs to Mombasa on the coast but I was told it wasn’t running to Uganda anymore.  “We’re not there yet.”

The KICC building is near Kenya’s Senate and Supreme Court.  In this area, near the CBD (Central Business District) you pass a lot of security checkpoints.  To get near these buildings, you’ll have to talk to someone with a gun.  But none of the people with the guns seemed too anxious.  This is good, I guess?  In Kenya they’re obsessed with having you write down your name in a ledger when you go anywhere.  But supervision of this process always seems indifferent.  What are they ever gonna do with these ledgers, I wonder, with scribbled signatures?  I wonder if there’s some kind of witch doctor / voodoo priestess who would pay for books of signatures for use in rituals, perhaps burning them while drawing on the power of these spirits.  Gotta look into that.

Kenya is in a sort of war with Al-Shabaab and stateless actors in neighboring Somalia (maybe even Somalia itself if we consider that a functioning state with that name).  There have been several dramatic,, extreme acts of terrorism in Nairobi.  The bombing of the US Embassy in 1998 killed two hundred and thirteen people.  Osama bin Laden was in on that one, and maybe we shouldn’t have allowed him to keep living for thirteen more years? In 2013 four gunmen shot up the Westlands Mall, an upscale shopping place.  Seventy-one people dead.  Maybe ghastliest of all was the killing of one hundred forty eight mostly university students in 2015.  That happened outside of Nairobi, at Garissa University.

This article, by Katherine Petrich, about how al-Shabaab and Kenyan slum-dwelling sex workers do business together, I found illuminating.

Given this deeply conservative position inside Somalia, its willingness to cooperate with and reward sex work in Nairobi, where the group is more constrained in its activities, suggests al-Shabaab is a limited, rational organization with concrete territorial aims. It is not a maximalist extremist group prioritizing ideological principles over tangible benefits, and because the group has a state-based goal, it is comfortable supporting or at least engaging with activities that contravene sharia law. An informant remarked wryly, “Al-Shabaab likes [that group of sex workers] very much. They are worth many sins.”

If you’re from the US, can you really criticize another country for its mass shootings?  An Uber driver taunted me that Nairobi is safer than US cities like Chicago.  Uber works well in Nairobi, the drivers were good and showed up when it said.  There seemed to be pretty reliable 3G service to communicate with them.

The columnist / travel writer cliché of quoting the cab driver is well-documented.  I’ve noticed even Paul Theroux does it.  But what’re you gonna do, you know?  These are the Kenyans I ended up spending the most time with.  There we were, may as well get their story.  Traffic can be horrific in Kenya.  Coming into/out of the city in rhythm with regular work hours could leave you crawling for an hour or two.  The grind of that life must be immiserating.  It’s also a sign of a boom, I guess.  Nairobi is exploding.  My host explained to me that it is the NGO/government/development/banking/energy/international business capital for East Africa.  If you’re doing business in Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Ethiopia you might have an office in Nairobi.

From the KICC I could see a particularly crowded and chaotic street where it looked like the road itself was fully occupied by stalls and stopped minibuses.  This was the area where Tom Mboya* Road meets Accra Street, and it was full of matutus, private competing independently operated (I think? maybe there’s some kind of informal union?) minibuses that might go as far as Mombasa, plus surrounding businesses.  Around here I popped into a textbook store.  The desire of learning in Kenya seemed intense to me, I went by many stalls selling books on business topics, and schools and colleges.  Even in Kibera slum the kids are wearing school uniforms, and the desire to make money to pay school fees was several times expressed as one of life’s drives.

Karen

In Nairobi there’s a neighborhood called Karen, named after Karen Blixen, real name of author Isak Dinesen, who wrote Out of Africa.  Meryl Streep played her in the movie.

Karen is around where Karen Blixen’s farm was (in fact I sometimes heard the neighborhood called Karenblixenfarm).  It’s funny to me that there’s a neighborhood called Karen, partly becomes of the meme-ing of the name, partly that it’s just cool that a neighborhood is somebody’s first name.  How great would it be if after I’m dead my neighborhood is called Steve?  I remembered reading somewhere that late in life Karen Blixen ate nothing but oysters and champagne, but she also died of malnutrition.  Karen’s farm can be visited, a guide will sit you down and recite some of her biography, and then they’ll show you things like her old wooden toilet.  They don’t let you use that toilet.

The first line of Out of Africa the book, intoned in the movie by Meryl, is “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.”  The Ngong Hills where Karen tried to grow her coffee are now spotted with windmills.

Karen’s place

Karen Blixen’s farm was one of the sites on a little tour a Stanley Hotel-recommended driver took me on.  The elephant orphanage was next.  Be advised you can only see the elephants between 11am and noon, unless you pay extra to adopt one I believe.  It’s kind of fun to see young elephants doing their thing but the idea of an elephant orphanage is so sad, and the crowded circle of humans around them kind of unpleasant, so I bailed pretty fast on that.

Next is the giraffe center, where they give you a little bag of molasses-based giraffe treats and you can feed them and feel their rough tongue.  But you can do that in San Diego too.  Across the grass of the giraffe center is Giraffe Manor, where you can stay (pricey) and the giraffes will poke their heads in the window apparently.

Last stop was some kind of depressing zoo where they did have some good venomous snakes but the vibe isn’t very cheery, it’s next to a dreary, unused amusement park.  The girl leading me around, Valentine, asked me if I wanted to hold a snake.  No thanks.  Had she ever used the anti-venom?  Yes, once.  On a snake-handler.

It was about three in the afternoon.  I asked my driver what was next and he said “that’s it.”

The City Outside

On the streets of Nairobi I encountered no more people asking for money than I would in downtown Los Angeles or West Hollywood.  Surprised, before I went, not to find a Tyler Cowen snapshot/bleg for Nairobi.  There’s an active street market scene at most busy corners.  You will find vendors selling boiled eggs served with salsa and small chicken sausages.  None of the street food looked too appealing to me, but around the Nairobi Railway Museum there were some makeshift restaurants that looked like they served goat stews and stuff that I might’ve liked to try if I’d had more time.  Always a challenge when traveling and especially in non-Western places is like figuring out the system, how you order, what the deal is with the line, etc.  This can be kind of fun and always interesting but when you’re traveling you’re often pressed for time or you find yourself kind of exhausted and suddenly very hungry, the cognitive and sensory overload is too high and the fuse is too short to deal. There’s rarely a time I pass a McDonald’s in a busy foreign city and am not at least a LITTLE tempted by the freedom and temporary mental break offered by the dependability there.

Buying, selling, marketing, cooking, eating, sitting, life being lived outside is a striking part of Nairobi, if you’re coming from an American city.  But I can’t declare this especially African or Kenyan, you see this in the cities of Central and South America too.

For two of the nights I was in Nairobi I was in the care of a friend, an American semi-resident.  We ate a dinner at a Peruvian Japanese kind of fusion place on a high floor of shopping structure catering to expats and wealthy Africans.  The following night I was part of a group dinner at 45 Degrees, which my host said made a strong case for being the best restaurant in Nairobi.  The roast pumpkin soup was excellent, and the setting, in what I was told was the owner/proprietor’s own house in an almost country-seeming neighborhood was pleasing.  On the one night I was on my own I ate at Nyama Mama, now a chain with a few locations.  Chicken stew with chapati, totally fine, if I were in Nairobi again I might try Wasp & Sprout.

Got a lot out of Vogue’s Kenyan Cool Girls Guide to Nairobi:

Local style: “It’s in our culture to dress up on Friday, not knowing what kind of party we’ll go to, but the whole crew has to look fresh.”

Gladys Macaria:

Go explore: “My favorite part of the city is downtown. I am lucky as a majority of the stone merchants and gold smiths I work with are based there. There is lots of quirky buildings and you see the real hustlers of Nairobi. Watching them go about their work inspires anyone.”

Muthoni Drummer Queen recommends:

Her spot: “The Nairobi Railway Museum. It’s smack in the middle of downtown. All the old trains no longer in use transport me back to an imaginary time. Its also super cool that a lot of these carriages are now occupied by visual artists with great studios and galleries.”

I missed this gallery area, if it’s still there, though there is a lot of rich street art around the area.  What I found at the Nairobi Railway Museum was rooms full of old train lanterns and the chair Queen Elizabeth sat in, and then old engines parked outside.

Several times in my life I’ve found myself, as I did at the Nairobi Railway Museum, the only customer at the place, sort of dragging out my time and staying longer than my interest would hold because I don’t want to offend the guy who took my ticket by bailing after five minutes without really inspecting the old printed out articles about the man-eaters of Tsavo.

Rift Valley

If you have time for a day trip out of Nairobi, you can pretty quickly be at a vantage point where you can see the Rift Valley.  Something like 35 million years ago the continent of Africa nearly ripped apart along here**.  The African Great Lakes are along this continental cut, and some of the oldest fossil humans and pre-human ancestral primates have been found here too.

One problem I have as a casual iPhone photographer is capturing depth of field, I’m not saying I’m satisfied with this photo, but maybe you can see how quickly and dramatically and how across a vast area the elevation drops along this part of Kenya.

My driver, Samuel, took us out to Hell’s Gate National Park, where you can see zebras and so on.  What was most impressive to Samuel is the immense geothermal workings at Hell’s Gate.  Jonathan Franzen seems sad about the “green” (quotation marks his) energy in Kenya’s national parks in his latest New Yorker piece.  But to Samuel this construction was a miracle.  Samuel kept saying that “they should feature the power plant!” He several times recalled that he’d once taken around an engineer who could explain all the different parts of the geothermal plant.  Maybe he was disappointed that I couldn’t explain anything about it.  It appears I didn’t even take any pictures of it.

In Hell’s Gate there are chunks of obsidian rock lying around everywhere, blown out by the eruptions of Mount Longonot (last one was apparently in the 1860s).  Couldn’t help wondering if our millions-ago ancestors used this stuff for tools.  Made me think of 2001.

On the shores of Lake Naivasha we got some fish.  Samuel told us he’d once been out on a boat on the lake.  You have to pay more if you want a guy with a gun to protect you from hippos.  I passed on a boat ride.

It’s well-known in Kenya that people of Obama’s tribe, the Luo, are very smart because they live on the shore of the lake and eat so much fish.

Here is a roadside vegetable market.  I was told this is called Foolish Market, because the prices are so low.  A bag of potatoes seemed to cost about 100 Ks (a dollar or so).

If I’d had the time to get all the way out to Lake Victoria, would’ve really enjoyed that.  Would’ve required about eight hours of driving.  Instead I lounged by the pool of the Muthaiga Country Club and then took a guided tour of Kibera.

Kibera

Kibera is an enormous slum, supposedly the largest in Africa, a sprawling ramshackle area of shared toilets and tin houses, originally given as a kind of grant by the British to Nubian soldiers in their army.  This might be where you end up if you move to Nairobi from a rural area, renting a small room with a tin roof for $30 a month.

Moses was my guide there, by way of Experience Kibera.  He suggested I bring two bags of rice or sugar as a donation to local single moms, many of whom are HIV positive.

Was sorta bracing myself for this experience, the trash and open sewer scene, leaky roofs, survival-level subsistence is pretty tough but there did seem to be a positive kind of community spirit to be seen in Kibera. Moses’ sense of potential for the future and improvement over a past noted for election-related violence, sexual assault and general bad times was contagious.

Kibera is the largest slum in Nairobi, and the largest urban slum in Africa. The 2009 Kenya Population and Housing Census reports Kibera’s population as 170,070, contrary to previous estimates of one or two million people.

says Wikipedia.  No one seemed to think in a white guy walking through with his guide was worth staring at, although quite a few kids wanted to say “howareyou” — I asked Moses about this and he said various NGO type people come through all the time, it’s not much of a novelty.

 

When I’ve been describing Nairobi to Americans they often seem interested to hear there’s a Cold Stone Creamery in one of the malls.

Kenyan English, like the English in India, is full of suprisingly rich phrases and constructions.  I noted a few down:

  • re: some bikers who’d died in a flash flood in Hell’s Gate: “these young chaps were still taking selfies”
  • Samuel suggesting that Chinese road loans could be predatory, always qualified with “according to my observation.”
  • Churches called “First Born Of The Holy Spirit” and “Bride of the Messiah”

With the signs of growth everywhere, and the potential for the region, I think real estate in Nairobi would not be a crazy investment, although I don’t think I myself will bother getting involved.  There was much talk of oil discovery in the remote Turkana region, where many of the early man fossils were found.  There are huge gains, it would appear to me, to be made in infrastructure and transportation development both in Nairobi and around the countryside.

Here is a bus themed after Dr. Ben Carson.

* Tom Mboya‘s work with JFK allowed African students in the ’50s and ’60s to study in the US — without him, would Barry Obama have been born?

** this statement not strictly geologically accurate, or at least a geologist would quibble, but for our purposes it’s approximately right I think


These are your only options

Shouldn’t you be allowed to vote for whoever you want?

I remember the anger at the people who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000.  I get it.  I voted for Al Gore, I loved Al Gore, Al Gore is like my dream politician (boring experienced intellectual veteran centrist conservationist globalist).  But the people who voted for Nader get to vote for Nader!  Al Gore didn’t earn their vote.  They don’t owe Al Gore a rotten fig.  You can’t be mad at the people who voted for someone else for not cynically falling into line to vote for an establishment centrist they didn’t prefer.

Same deal with Susan Sarandon!  She can vote for whomever she wants, cool for her for having interesting choices.  You’re gonna blame her for Trump?  Blame the woman who had an absolute slam dunk layup election on her hands, who had many advantages, enormous amounts of money, her husband was a very popular President of the United States two Presidents ago, for failing to convince enough voters to vote for her.

Dr. Jill Biden, in New Hampshire, says:

You have to swallow a little bit and say, ok, I personally like so and so better, but your bottom line has to be that we have to beat Trump.

If you check out the video you can also see Joe Biden’s first campaign ad, which highlights how “all the polls agree” Joe Biden is the best candidate to beat Trump.

Quit your thinkin’, voter, this one’s been decided for you.  Who’re you gonna believe, your judgment or some polls we pulled together?

The whole premise of the Biden campaign makes me sick.  This is a guy who was a weak, confused candidate who couldn’t stop himself from making stuff up and plagiarizing not just speeches but the family histories of other politicians when he was in his prime!  And now he is… guess how old Joe Biden is.

Did you guess 72?  74?

Joe Biden is seventy-six years old!  He will be seventy-eight if he takes the oath of office in Jan 2021.  Eighty-two at the end of his first term.

What has Joe Biden done with his life?  I get that he was Obama’s pretend best friend, but really, who is a person who in Joe Biden’s thirty-eight some years of public life he really helped?  Uplifted?

(skimming his Wikipedia page)

OK I guess he did stand up for Delaware’s chicken farmers, Delaware’s banks, and in many ways benefitted the people of Delaware (by getting them federal taxpayer money). He was an advocate for Delaware, a state with a population of about one-quarter of the city of Los Angeles.

Where has he been on the big issues?  He voted against the “good” Iraq War, the one we won, and for the bad one, the one that was a stupid, deceitful, horrible disaster from start to… finish?  I guess it’s over?  For us?

(Oh no wait we still have five thousand troops there.)

Joe Biden is sometimes said to know a lot about foreign policy but he was exactly wrong on the biggest American disaster of my lifetime.

Biden has said, “I consider the Violence Against Women Act the single most significant legislation that I’ve crafted during my 35-year tenure in the Senate.”[119]

OK, well that is cool, but didn’t the same bill also eliminate higher education for inmates and create new death penalty offenses?

The argument I hear for Joe Biden is that white Rust Belt working class men, who are alleged to have cost Hillary Clinton the election in Wisconsin, Ohio, etc,  like him.  Well, I don’t know if that’s true, I am not a white Rust Belt working class man.

I do think that:

1) the group credited with “swinging” the last election is never the group credited with swinging the next one

2) it’s not my job as a voter to put myself in the hypothetical mindset of some possible swing voter in another state and attempt to pander to their whims in order to take out the current whim-panderer.

It’s my job to choose the candidate who I try and suss out has the best character, judgment, and policy understandings and preferences to be the President of the United States.

For a campaign to suggest anything else, to suggest five months before the first primary/caucus that voters should shut up and get in line, that this is your only option, is so insulting I can scarcely believe it.

We try not to be all negative at Helytimes, so in the interest of saying something nice about Joe Biden he does have a great smile.


The evils of private planes

from Wikipedia, Boeing 727

Once I was told a story about a world famous celebrity.  This celebrity, the story went, was in a new-ish religion.  This celebrity had some sexual desires and proclivities that he was ashamed of.  Maybe the religion made him feel bad about it.  But in the theology of this religion, what you did at say 30,000 feet of altitude wasn’t technically on Earth or something and thus was bound by different rules, or maybe no rules at all.  So the celebrity would fly up in a plane and fulfill these desires up there between here and space.

Whether that story is true I dunno.  It wasn’t told to me very reliably.  Pure gossip and alleged.  But doesn’t it ring kind of true?  Mythologically if not actually?

There’s something evil about private planes.

What plane did Jeffrey Epstein even have?  I went looking for a photo of it, and couldn’t find one I felt came from a reliable source.  Christopher Maag, writing in the North Jersey Record (is that a good newspaper? I don’t know!):

His planes, which ranged from a Cessna to a Gulf Stream jet to a Boeing 727, recorded at least 730 flights to and from Teterboro between 1995 and 2013, according to flight logs contained in documents unsealed last week by a federal court in a lawsuit brought by one of Epstein’s alleged victims against one of his close associates.

Look for a photo of Epstein’s plane, if you have idle Internet time.  See if you find one that you’re pretty confident is a confirmed, legit photo of his plane.

Making sense of his flight logs is beyond my expertise.

Did Epstein own these planes outright?  Did he pay the bills on the gas and stuff?  The hanger?  He had a 727?

Gladwell, Malcolm: Writer.

“I was invited to the TED conference in maybe 2000 (I can’t remember), and they promised to buy me a plane ticket to California,” Gladwell says now. “Then at the last minute they said, ‘We found you a ride on a private plane instead.’ As I recall, there were maybe two dozen TED conferencegoers onboard. I don’t remember much else, except being slightly baffled as to who this Epstein guy was and why we were all on his plane.”

You and me both, buddy!  From NY Mag’s roundup of everyone who knew this guy.

found this here at the Museum of Flying, kind of hard to find a photo of the Caroline, and I can’t figure out who took this one

When John Kennedy was running for President his father Joe Kennedy bought a plane.  Other candidates had chartered planes, but unless I’m mistaken he was the first candidate to own his own plane.

The President has use of a plane, Air Force One.  Supposedly JFK helped pick the colors.

Cecil Stoughton photo of Air Force One in 1962 from the JFK Library.

But it’s not his (her) plane.  It’s our plane, the people’s plane.  Once you leave office, it’s not yours any more.

For eight years Bill Clinton had Air Force One.  But then he left office, and he wasn’t rich enough to buy his own plane.  What was he supposed to do, fly commercial?  Of course not!  He called his friends who were rich enough to have private planes, and got rides from them.

Some of these guys were bad guys.

That level where you have a private plane.  Where you can fly anywhere you want, any time you want.  

You can be kinda rich, where you’re not really worried about money, you can eat fancy dinners and live somewhere you like*. Then let’s say you get twenty million more dollars.  Might feel very nice, maybe you buy a fancier house, or worry even less about money, or start a small foundation or take care of more people around you or something.  But have you really jumped a level?

I don’t know, I don’t have $20 million dollars, but I don’t think so.  What if after the twenty million you get ten million more?  Is anything improved?

But then there’s the private plane.

That plane isn’t just comfort, it’s power.  It’s access, it’s freedom, it’s being on another level.  Above it all.

What will people do to get to that level?  To stay there?

Who is that important that they need a private plane?  No one.  Richard Branson loves it, Warren Buffett admits he likes his (he doesn’t own it, I believe Berkshire does).  No doubt it saves them time and hassle, no doubt they can get to deals quicker and the power compounds.  And if you believe in capitalism don’t you believe you should be able to buy what you can afford, the market has determined efficiency, and what’s better than freedom, etc.

But isn’t there something a little obscene about private planes?  Everyone wants to fly in them, but everyone knows there’s something a little wrong about it.

From Politico:

“I’m not shocked that while thousands of volunteers braved the heat and cold to knock on doors until their fingers bled in a desperate effort to stop Donald Trump, his Royal Majesty King Bernie Sanders would only deign to leave his plush D.C. office or his brand new second home on the lake if he was flown around on a cushy private jet like a billionaire master of the universe,” said Zac Petkanas, who was the director of rapid response for the Clinton campaign.

The gall.

Radical proposal: in the wake of the Epstein case, the FAA and Congress should look into banning private planes.  Everyone can fly commercial for awhile.  (Exception if you are yourself at the controls as pilot.)

 

 


Lionsgate

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then they had some busts:

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

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

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

Management Tension, Mounting Competition Sink Lions Gate’s Stock

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

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

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

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

A scalding take:

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

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

First, what does Lionsgate own?

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

  • International Media Group

don’t know what their big movies were

  • Sterling Home Entertainment
  • Trimark Holdings

Their biggest franchise might be Leprechaun

  • Modern Times Group
  • Roadside Attractions

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

  • Mandate Pictures

Juno, This Is The End

  • Summit Entertainment

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

  • Artisan Entertainment

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

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

I was surprised by this fact:

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

The Lionsgate investor page highlights some of their big ones:

MOTION PICTURE GROUP

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

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

TELEVISION GROUP

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

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

As they note:

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

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

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

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

All told:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Is this company worth $2.8 billion dollars?

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

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

 


Four Views of Yosemite

Yosemite has to be one of the most photographed places in the world.  Yet, everyone there is: producing more photos.  You walk around and see everyone with their phones out, snapping away.  Or people not satisfied with phones, hauling big cameras too.

What is the meaning of continuing to photograph it?  Maybe there’s an appeal like what draws rock climbers there, you want to try your stuff on the famous playground of the masters.

My mind was opened reading this Playboy interview with Ansel Adams, where he talks about trying to make the photograph capture what he was feeling:

Similarly, while the landscapes that I have photographed in Yosemite are recognized by most people and, of course, the subject is an important part of the pictures, they are not “realistic.” Instead, they are an imprint of my visualization. All of my pictures are optically very accurate–I use pretty good lenses–but they are quite unrealistic in terms of values. A more realistic simple snapshot captures the image but misses everything else. I want a picture to reflect not only the forms but what I had seen and felt at the moment of exposure.

More:

Playboy: When did you know you could accomplish it?
Adams: I had my first visualization while photographing Half Dome in Yosemite in 1927. It was a remarkable experience. After a long day with my camera, I had only two photographic plates left. I found myself staring at Half Dome, facing the monolith, seeing and feeling things that only the photograph itself can tell you. I took the first exposure and, somehow, I knew it was inadequate. It did not capture what I was feeling. It was not going to reflect the tremendous experience. Then, to use Stieglitz’ expression, I saw in my mind’s eye what the picture should look like and I realized how I must get it. I put on a red filter and figured out the exposure correctly, and I succeeded! When I made the prints, it proved my concept was correct. The first exposure came out just all right. It was a good photograph, but it in no way had the spirit and excitement I had felt. The second was Monolith, the Face of Half Dome, which speaks for itself.


Should we boycott The Beverly Hills Hotel?

George Clooney says yes.  The reason why is because this hotel, along with nine other fancy hotels, the Bel-Air here and some in London and France, are owned by the Sultan of Brunei.  Clooney:

At the head of it all is the Sultan of Brunei who is one of the richest men in the world. The Big Kahuna. He owns the Brunei Investment Agency and they in turn own some pretty spectacular hotels.

A couple of years ago two of those hotels in Los Angeles, The Bel-Air and The Beverly Hills Hotel were boycotted by many of us for Brunei’s treatment of the gay community. It was effective to a point. We cancelled a big fundraiser for the Motion Picture Retirement Home that we’d hosted at the Beverly Hills Hotel for years. Lots of individuals and companies did the same. But like all good intentions when the white heat of outrage moves on to the hundred other reasons to be outraged, the focus dies down and slowly these hotels get back to the business of business.

But now there’s a new law going into place in Brunei.  Says Clooney:

The date April 3rd has held a unique place in our history over the years. Theologians and astronomers will tell you that Christ was crucified on that date.

(what?)

On April 3rd Harry Truman signed the Marshall Plan, arguably the greatest postwar intervention in the history of man. The first portable cellphone call was made on April 3rd. Marlon Brando was born on that day.

But this April 3rd will hold its own place in history. On this particular April 3rd the nation of Brunei will begin stoning and whipping to death any of its citizens that are proved to be gay. Let that sink in. In the onslaught of news where we see the world backsliding into authoritarianism this stands alone.

Here’s the thing though.  The last execution of any kind in Brunei was in 1957.

It’s not like they’re stoning people all the time.  The 1957 execution actually happened while Brunei was a UK protectorate.

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, four years ago:

In 2014, a 24-year-old Saudi Arabian man was sentenced to three years detention and 450 lashes after a Medina court found him guilty of “promoting the vice and practice of homosexuality”, after he was caught using Twitter to arrange dates with other men.[18]

A year ago, in Hollywood:

On Wednesday night, M.B.S. was welcomed to a Hollywood dinner hosted by producer Brian Grazer and his wife Veronica, alongside William Morris Endeavor boss Ari Emanuel, who is finalizing a deal with M.B.S. for a $400 million stake in Emanuel’s talent agency. The guest list was saturated with executives, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Disney’s Bob Iger, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel, as well as tech entrepreneur Kobe Bryant, whom the prince reportedly made a special request to meet. Having traded his traditional ceremonial garb for a suit, M.B.S. kibitzed with former Trump aide Dina Powell and Vice co-founder Shane Smith; discussed the exploding use of Snapchat in Saudi Arabia; and asked Kobe how he got his Oscar. Topics that were deemed off-limits included the 32-year-old’s bombing campaign in Yemen, which has killed thousands of civilians; his abduction of Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, in November; and the decidedly un-Hollywood-like repression of independent media and journalists, one of whom was recently imprisoned for five years for “insulting” the royal court.

And guess what?  The Four Seasons

is 45% owned by the Kingdom Holding Company of Saudi Arabia!

For whatever reason, Brunei likes to fantasize, pretend, and profess to having Sharia law. Hollywood likes to judge them for that, while obviously not being serious about caring about human rights in countries where it’s more important to do business and whose hotels it would be more inconvenient to boycott.

One of the easiest things in the world is to point out hypocrisy.  I think George Clooney is cool.  But why are we always picking on poor Brunei?  Because it’s easy?

What we’re pretending to be mad about, what we’re pretending to do about it, what Brunei is pretending their punishments are: it’s all make-believe.

I will boycott the Beverly Hills Hotel I guess.  But I’ll be sad about it because I think it’s a beautiful, cool landmark.  I especially like the Fountain Coffee Room.

I predict in a few years we will once again forget about our mission to improve things in Brunei.


Coaches

Jaguars at Redskins 9/14/14

Reader Tabitha in Marin County, CA writes:

Always love your writeups on the Super Bowl coaches.  What do you think of Boy Wonder Sean McVay?

Thanks for writing Tabitha!  Most of what little I have to say about Sean McVay I got out on this week’s Great Debates feat. Mina Kimes.  To be honest, much like the Rams themselves, McVay seems to be: good but not interesting.  A sense of his vibe in this NFL.com article by Michael Silver:

As he greeted McVay in a room that would soon be vacated by Demoff, Snead and the other Rams officials present, Goff didn’t know what to expect.

“They left us alone for half an hour, maybe a little longer,” Goff recalls. “Afterward, I remember texting my dad, ‘If they decide to hire him, I’m all in.’ ”

Goff also texted an NFL Network analyst who, nearly a year later, would write a very long feature story about the league’s leading Coach of the Year candidate: “Loved him. Mini Gruden haha. Everything revolves around the QB… If McVay is the guy I’d be fired up”

Full disclosure: A few minutes later, I also got a text from McVay (who, incidentally, is not a huge fan of punctuation): “I loved him bro he is awesome”

This WashPo article compares him to other young leaders (profitlessly imo).

McVay’s grandfather John coached the New York Football Giants in the ’70s.

McVay’s girlfriend is Ukrainian model Veronika Khomyn, but a quick scan of her Instagram reveals no real insights into coaching philosophy.

Gonna give the edge here to Belichick, a special, unique weirdo.  We predict a decisive Patriots win.

Let’s hope both teams control their A. P. E.s

For philosophical consideration of the Super Bowl, we return once again to the remarks of Deadwood creator David Milch on the Super Bowl and Kierkegaard: