This article, by Nicholas Carlson in the upcoming NY Times magazine, is one of the best business articles I’ve ever read (note: I don’t read that many business articles).
Here’s where the story really begins:
But as Alibaba’s stock soared, Yahoo’s dropped, an indication that the market seemed to concur with Jackson’s analysis: Yahoo’s core business was worth less than zero dollars.
That’s bad. Next sentences:
A week later, Smith published an open letter calling for Yahoo to divest itself of its Alibaba assets, return the money to its shareholders and then merge with AOL. Redundancies could be eliminated, thousands of people could be fired and two former Internet superpowers would be downsized into a single and steady (if uninspiring) entity that sold ads against its collective online properties — news, blogs and Web products like email, maps and weather. “We trust the board and management will do the right thing for shareholders, even if this may mean accepting AOL as the surviving entity,” Smith wrote.
(Note that “could be fired” — non-business readers like me often gotta remind themselves that in business articles it’s often assumed that firing people is positive.)
The article goes on with punchy, succinct, clear explanations the challenges of tech companies, and specifically the challenge Mayers faced, and I don’t envy her:
Previous Yahoo C.E.O.s had underinvested in mobile-app development, plowing money into advertising technology and web tools instead. A couple of days into the job, Mayer was having lunch at URL’s when an employee walked up to her and introduced himself as Tony. “I’m a mobile engineer,” Tony said. “I’m on the mobile team.”
Mayer responded to Tony, “Great, how big is our mobile team?” After some back and forth, Tony replied that there were “maybe 60” engineers. Mayer was dumbfounded. Facebook, for instance, had a couple of thousand people working on mobile. When she queried the engineering management department, it responded that Yahoo had roughly 100. “Like an actual hundred,” Mayer responded, “or like 60 rounded up to 100 to make me feel better?” The department responded that it was more like 60.
But then it starts to unravel:
Mayer subsequently immersed herself in the redesign. Months into her tenure, she was meeting with Sharma’s team regularly in a conference room that started to look more like a design studio: projectors hung from the ceiling, rendering screens displayed on the wall. All around, dozens of foam core boards were pinned with ideas. Mayer would regularly interrogate designers about the minutest details of display and user experience. By early December, one day before Yahoo Mail was set to release, she convened a meeting at Phish Food, a conference room in the executive building of Yahoo’s campus, to talk about the product’s color. For months, the team had settled on blue and gray. If users were going to read emails on their phones all day long, the thinking went, it was best to choose the most subtly contrasting hues. But now, Mayer explained, she wanted to change the colors to various shades of purple, which she believed better suited Yahoo’s brand.
Well, see, purple sucks? More great detail:
During a breakfast with Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue, Mayer asked if there might be any partnership opportunities between the magazine and Shine, Yahoo’s site for women. According to Mayer’s own telling of the story to top Yahoo executives, Wintour lookedappalled.
I bet she did!
Bad to worse:
Yahoo Tech would sometimes go weeks without running a single ad.
Don’t know much about this, but that sounds terrible.
This delinquency eventually became a problem outside Yahoo. At a major advertising event in the South of France, Mayer sat for an interview with Martin Sorrell, the C.E.O. of WPP, one of the world’s largest agencies. In front of a filled auditorium, Sorrell asked Mayer why she did not return his emails. Sheryl Sandberg, he said, always got back to him. Later, Mayer was scheduled for dinner with executives from the ad agency IPG. The 8:30 p.m. meal was inconvenient for the firm’s C.E.O., Michael Roth, but he shuffled his calendar so he could accommodate it. Mayer didn’t show up until 10.
Fuck that. Worse:
Mayer’s largest management problem, however, related to the start-up culture she had tried to instill. Early on, she banned working from home. This policy affected only 164 employees, but it was initiated months after she constructed an elaborate nursery in her office suite so that her son, Macallister, and his nanny could accompany her to work each day. Mayer also favored a system of quarterly performance reviews, or Q.P.R.s, that required every Yahoo employee, on every team, be ranked from 1 to 5. The system was meant to encourage hard work and weed out underperformers, but it soon produced the exact opposite. Because only so many 4s and 5s could be allotted, talented people no longer wanted to work together; strategic goals were sacrificed, as employees did not want to change projects and leave themselves open to a lower score.
This got ugly:
During the revamping of Yahoo Mail, for instance, Kathy Savitt, the C.M.O., noted that Vivek Sharma was bothering her. “He just annoys me,” she said during the meeting. “I don’t want to be around him.” Sharma’s rating was reduced. Shortly after Yahoo Mail went live, he departed for Disney. (Savitt disputes this account.)
Then this part is deeply weird:
As concerns with Q.P.R.s escalated, employees asked if an entire F.Y.I. could be devoted to anonymous questions on the topic. One November afternoon, Mayer took the stage at URL’s as hundreds of Yahoo employees packed the cafeteria. Mayer explained that she had sifted through the various questions on the internal network, but she wanted to begin instead with something else. Mayer composed herself and began reading from a book, “Bobbie Had a Nickel,” about a little boy who gets a nickel and considers all the ways he can spend it.
“Bobbie had a nickel all his very own,” Mayer read. “Should he buy some candy or an ice cream cone?”
Mayer paused to show everyone the illustrations of a little boy in red hair and blue shorts choosing between ice cream and candy. “Should he buy a bubble pipe?” she continued. “Or a boat of wood?” At the end of the book, Bobby decides to spend his nickel on a carousel ride. Mayer would later explain that the book symbolized how much she valued her roving experiences thus far at Yahoo. But few in the room seemed to understand the connection.
Strange. But man, what great writing in this article.
Let’s give the last word to Aswath Damodaran:
Aswath Damodaran, a professor at N.Y.U.’s Stern School of Business, has long argued about the danger of companies that try to return to the growth stage of their life cycle. These technology companies, he said, are run by people afflicted with something he calls the Steve Jobs syndrome. “We have created an incentive structure where C.E.O.s want to be stars,” Damodaran explained. “To be a star, you’ve got to be the next Steve Jobs — somebody who has actually grown a company to be a massive, large-market cap company.” But, he went on, “it’s extremely dangerous at companies when you focus on the exception rather than the rule.” He pointed out that “for every Apple, there are a hundred companies that tried to do what Apple did and fell flat on their faces.”
Kondo’ing some books. Picking up Walter Isaacson’s bio of Steve Jobs does not spark joy, but I did take another look at several passages I’d noted.
Here’re some previous Helytimes posts related to Steve Jobs.
Seen here with Joey Slotnick, he built the first computer where the letters you typed on a keyboard appeared on a screen. So far he is my favorite character in the Steve Jobs biography. From Wikipedia:
His favorite video game is Tetris. In the 1990s he submitted so many high scores for the game to Nintendo Power that they would no longer print his scores, so he started sending them in under the alphabetically reversed “Evets Kainzow”
Wozniak is no longer dating Kathy Griffin.
Joe Weisenthal Tracey Alloway interview their colleague Tim Culpan about FoxConn and founder Terry Guo.
And so one of the first things Terry Guo did was he said, okay, I want all of my workers to eat well. So every single one of them would get an egg a day, so they could get a bit of protein. That was kind of a bit of a way out idea at the time. This was, just to be clear, this was in the eighties, seventies and eighties, seventies and eighties. And so Terry Guo is not an electronics guy. Most people in the tech industry have a tech background, they have an electronics background, maybe electronic engineering, Terry Guo studied at a maritime college in Northern Taiwan. So he really studied shipping and logistics, and then he moved into plastics. So his kind of opening business was plastic injection molding. And if you think of Taiwan in the seventies and eighties, it was known, as you know, ‘Made in Taiwan,’ cheap plastic toys, Barbie dolls, and everything else was made in Taiwan.
That’s my bold.
Some of the history of the world:
How did Apple find Foxconn?
Well when Steve Jobs came back, as we all know, the company was in trouble, they, Apple was actually making their computers — like physically making them in California, but over a period of time, many companies, you know, Michael Dell and Hewlett Packard, Compaq, and others were starting to outsource to Asia. And at some point during that period of time, Tim Cook, who was operating officer at the time, he’d not yet become CEO, would’ve discovered Foxconn and realize that, you know, these guys make the components. We should probably get to know them. And they really jumped into bed deeply when the iPod came out in the early 2000s.
In this NYRB wrapup on the movies about Steve Jobs, Sue Halpern gets to talking about public expressions of grief at Jobs’ death:
Yet if the making of popular consumer goods was driving this outpouring of grief, then why hadn’t it happened before? Why didn’t people sob in the streets when George Eastman or Thomas Edison or Alexander Graham Bell died—especially since these men, unlike Steve Jobs, actually invented the cameras, electric lights, and telephones that became the ubiquitous and essential artifacts of modern life?
“Awww hell no!” I giddily squealed, aflame with the joy-fire of Internet Outrage. I was good and hot because I knew I had this Sue Halpern in my crosshairs. I’d just been reading, in Paul Johnson’s Birth Of The Modern, about the death of steamboat inventor Robert Fulton.
By then Fulton was dead, of a neglected cold which became pneumonia. The day of his funeral, the legislature went into mourning, and the New York shops shut — they respected inventors in those days.
Johnson’s doing the reverse version of Sue Halpern: “they knew how to act in the old days” vs. “we’ve gotten so weird” but it’s the same conservative (right?) point: things used to be better, more appropriate, whatever. It’s a point that I love getting mad about, because a quick inspection of the messy, insane past will usually prove it wrong.
“Ugh, Sue Halpern,” I thought, warm in smugness, “Don’t be such a presentist. There’s nothing new under the sun, babe. The style might be different, but they made a big show about the deaths of inventors (or maker/producer/facilitator whatever Jobs was) in the past, too. Did you not know that at the conclusion of Alexander Graham Bell’s funeral they suspended phone service in all of North America in mourning?! Did you not take two minutes to see if there’s footage on YouTube of people crowding the streets for Edison’s funeral?”
“Hell,” I thought, “when Edison died they preserved his last breath in a tube!”
Imagine my disappointment then when I got to work and discovered the NYRB had already dealt with this in a footnote:
When Bell died, every phone exchange in the United States was shut down for a moment of silence. When Edison died, President Hoover turned off the White House lights for a minute and encouraged others to do so as well.
Darn it, ruined a real satisfying chance for an “ACTUALLY.” But I’m glad the whole thing happened because it got me reading about the death of George Eastman, founder of Kodak. Here’s how he went out:
On March 14, 1932, Eastman invited some friends to witness a change of his will. After some joking and warm conversation, he asked them to leave so that he could write a note. Moments later, he shot himself once in the heart with an automatic pistol. The note found by the household staff read simply: “To my friends, My work is done–, Why wait?” When his casket was carried out of the Eastman House, the accompanying music was *Marche Romaine*.
That’s from this site related to the PBS American Experience about Eastman. They go on:
If there is one thing that can be said about Eastman, it is that he was a rational man. Throughout his life, he sounded the same themes again and again — adventure, happiness and control, and the greatest of these was control. The early death of his father and his family’s subsequent poverty stamped him with an insatiable need for stability, which he found in bachelorhood and a financial empire and held close ever after. As far as he was concerned, there was no world beyond the one he could dominate. Even when he punctuated his labors with travel, his drive for order went with him in his compulsion to plan out every last detail of his itinerary. In this light, Eastman’s career can be seen as act of self-sacrifice. With one of his cameras in hand, it became possible to capture an instant of abandon, even happiness, and so we came to possess, as part of our human heritage, images of people smiling on adventures large and small. Of course, Eastman was often caught in camera in far-off locations as well, but in the end one fact is inescapable: one must look long and hard to find a picture of George Eastman smiling. In harnessing his impulses, he gave the world an experience that he never permitted himself.
About Halpern’s original point tho: maybe there’s something to public expressions about Jobs’ death that have to do with what people use Apple products for: music, photos, videos, social media, personal expressions of themselves.
If we’re talking about the emotional meaning of Jobs, couldn’t we see him as the guy who did the most to take cold computers and turn them into facilitators of human connection and self-expression machines? Isn’t that what all Apple ads end up being about, from the 1984 ad to the Think Different ones to this?:
In doing that, wasn’t Jobs not just a tech pioneer but a part of a social revolution? Who more than Jobs made it as easy to be the star of your own movie and the spectator of everyone else’s? Is that why we care about him?
And is caring about Jobs wildly exaggerated anyway except among Silicon Valley bros? Nobody really saw the movie.
Got interested in the sociologist Randall Collins via his blog, which I think Tyler Cowen linked to.
Collins also wrote a book about violence.
If you find yourself in a bar fight, his main advice on avoiding “damage” seems to be:
1) maintain calm, steady eye contact.
2) speak in a calm clear assertive voice
3) assert emotional dominance, or at least hold your own, emotional dominance-wise.
Most of the damage gets done, says Collins (who watched hundreds of hours of tapes of bar fights) when you’ve already lost the emotional encounter. Even worse if there’s a crowd.
At the heart of Collins’ micro-sociological theory is the concept of “confrontational tension.” As people enter into an antagonistic interactional situation, their fear/tension is heightened. These emotions become a roadblock to violence, and so flight and stalemate often result. Actual violence only occurs when pathways around this roadblock can be found that lead people into a “tunnel of violence.” Collins identifies several pathways into this tunnel, the most dangerous of which is “forward panic.” In these situations, the confrontational tension builds up and is suddenly released so that it spills forward into atrocities ranging from the Rodney King beating to the My Lai massacre, the rape of Nanking, and the Rwandan genocide. Other ways around the stalemate of confrontational tension are to attack a weak victim (e.g., domestic violence) or to be encouraged by an audience (e.g., lynch mobs). Clearly, these pathways can also be combined, as when a schoolyard bully is encouraged by a crowd of classmates or when forward panic is stimulated by a group of bystanders.
Best posts from his blog, I’d say:
this one, on Napoleon and emotional energy.
this one, on Tank Man, is very interesting (although it goes against some other ideas I’ve heard, like Filip Hammar’s claim that it was well-known in his neighborhood of Beijing that Tank Man had been binge-drinking for days leading up to this event.)
this one, about fame, network bridging, and Lawrence of Arabia, is just fantastic.
This one about Moby-Dick and bullfighting had some really interesting, new to me ideas.
I bought Professor Collins’ ebook, about emotional energy in Napoleon, Steve Jobs, and Alexander the Great. Lots of good stuff in there. And I got his magnum Interaction Ritual Chains. That’s a bit drier, but I’m learning a lot:
When they got to Istanbul, he hired a history professor to give his family a tour. At the end they went to a Turkish bath, where the professor’s lecture gave Jobs an insight about the globalization of youth:‘I had a real revelation. We were all in robes, and they made some Turkish coffee for us. The professor explained how the coffee was made very different from anywhere else, and I realized, “So fucking what?” Which kids even in Turkey give a shit about Turkish coffee? All day I had looked at young people in Istanbul. They were all drinking what every other kid in the world drinks, and they were wearing clothes that look like they were bought at the Gap, and they are all using cell phones. They were like kids everywhere else. It hit me that, for young people, this whole world is the same now. When we’re making products, there is no such thing as a Turkish phone, or a music player that young people in Turkey would want that’s different from one young people elsewhere would want. We’re just one world now’.”
This post is best enjoyed read to you by “Remy” on Spotify, see link above.
When did the podcast first enter your life? Really settle in? Was it with Serial? Hardcore History? Radiolab? Scharpling? One of the Earwolf shows?
Wikipedia, on the page for Podcast, uses an image of Serial being played on an iPhone. That moment, 2014, seems like a breakthrough, when podcast became a word you could say without flinching. OK, maybe there’s still some flinching.
“The podcast producer, who is often the podcast host as well, may wish to express a personal passion, increase professional visibility, enter into a social network of influencers or influential ideas, cultivate a community of like-minded viewership, or put forward pedagogical or ideological ideas (possibly under philanthropic support).”
Viewship? The fuck are we talking about here? It’s an audio format, Wikipedia. Anyway. One motive you won’t find listed is “to entertain and amuse, to have fun with friends and create something joyful.” That was the motivation behind the creation of Great Debates, and I suspect many another podcast as well.
There’s a whole separate Wikipedia page, “History of Podcasting,” and I won’t attempt to replace or summarize it here. A few tidbits do jump out: in August of 2000, the New England Patriots launched the first “IP radio show,” offered on Patriots.com. The journalist Ben Hammersley has a good claim on coining the term “podcasting,” he used it in The Guardian in February 2004. By a year later, USA Today was reporting on “amateur chatfests.” Apple added podcasts in June 2005. By the next month, President George W. Bush’s radio addresses were appearing as podcasts. Those must be a lot of fun to listen to, maybe I’ll go back and check those out.
The table had been set of course for personality driven radio with This American Life. Radio shows are nothing new. But now that you could get them on demand, they were enabled to narrow, rather than broad, cast.
In that 2005 USA Today piece, it was noted that the most popular podcast at the time was “The Dawn and Drew Show,” and I learn from their Wikipedia page that Dawn and Drew have been inducted into the Academy of Podcasters Hall of Fame. Did you know podcasting had an academy? I did not. To get into the Hall of Fame you need to have been involved with and have promoted the art of podcasting for at least ten years. The Great Debates will be eligible in the year 2024, October 17, 2024 to be specific. I’m not telling you to do anything with that, I’m just telling you that, it’s just a fact.
Marc Maron aka WTF, Hollywood Handbook, My Favorite Murder, Joe Rogan, Call Her Daddy, Reply All, 99% Invisible, Planet Money, The Daily, Chapo Trap House, How Did This Get Made?, Red Scare, “Cumtown,” Fiasco, those are just a few of the shows I’d feel obliged to mention if I were trying to write a cultural history of the podcast. I’m sure there are so many I’m leaving out, sports podcasts, podcasts in foreign languages. Filip and Fredrik was my favorite for years, but they’ve gone back to Swedish, a tragedy for the English speaking world. Lately, as I’ve developed my podcast Stocks Let’s Talk, I’ve been listening to investing podcasts. Jim O’Shaughnessy, with his podcast Infinite Loops, and Patrick O’Shaughnessy, with his Invest Like The Best, are the first example I find of father-son podcasts.
Looking at the Chartable Apple Podcasts list for this week, I see six out of the ten are true crime shows. There are two dueling podcasts about The Office TV show, batting for the 23rd and 24th spots. Conan O’Brien, Bill Simmons, Megyn Kelly, Levar Burton, Jordan Peterson, and Michelle Obama all stay in the top one hundred, but at the moment a Catholic priest, Father Mike Schmitz, is way ahead of them all. Can we really trust these charts? Spotify has their own rankings. Over there Deep Sleep Sounds from Slumber Group ranks number fourteen, and “Relaxing White Noise” beats Ben Shapiro. It sure does in my book! That shows you some of the range of the medium. Leo, Taurus, Aquarius, and Scorpio Today all make it into the top fifty.
Podcasts are intimate, and potent. Passionate audiences will turn up for live shows. In the last conversation I ever had with writer, comedian and podcast star Harris Wittels, I mentioned how so many people seemed to feel like they knew him. “That’s all because of podcasts,” he said. Of all the popular podcasts, I can’t think of one that doesn’t really lay bare the peculiarities and passions of the hosts. Maybe The Daily? I don’t know, I don’t listen to that one.
By the time Spotify brought in Joe Rogan for a reported $100 million dollars, the word was out that podcasts were now a business. I heard that WME Agency has four agents devoted to podcasts. Celebrities have podcasts. Rob Lowe has a podcast. The amounts of money made on Patreon by Chapo and the Doughboys are repeated and passed around among media and comedy people like medieval legends of Cockaigne or hobo songs about Big Rock Candy Mountain.
A living can be made. But much like among the musicians on Spotify, I suspect the money will be top heavy and bottom thin. The top 1,000 (or maybe 500, or maybe 100) will take the bulk, while everybody else either struggles or does it for love. The Rogan deal reminded me of Howard Stern’s deal with Sirius XM, for 500 million dollars. On news of this deal, in October 2004, Sirius stock jumped from around 3.7 to around 7.4. Spotify stock behaved in a similar way after the Rogan deal. Today Sirius stock is around five dollars. How many Sirius XM personalities make a living? When I listen, it seems like mostly celebrities. For awhile The Great Debates, our podcast, was on Sirius. A nice paycheck, but we didn’t quit our day jobs.
Spotify may have made a better bet. CEO Daniel Ek – Sweden again – has made it clear his goal is to dominate audio, worldwide. That includes podcasts, it includes music, it’ll probably include audiobooks someday soon. Apple, as far as I can tell, somehow lost their dominance in podcasts and let their milk get stolen by a hungry competitor.
Podcasts are a little too easy to make. Apple used to put just the right amount of bureaucracy in the way of getting one up and listed, but that’s mostly fallen away. As a result of the ease of starting one, podcasts may never have too much prestige. Jokes about “podcast boyfriends” and so on appear on my Twitter just about every day.
These words were typed by me, Steve Hely, into my “blog,” or website, Stevehely.com, which is run by WordPress. I run the site to promote my books, maintain a space for myself on the Internet as an independent writer beholden to no one, and to share information and ideas about topics rattling around in my craw. I’ve always felt the site’s been good for me, because I can tell stories or recount discoveries that interest me without boring acquaintances at parties with my ramblings. Find it if you want, and quite a few people have, and I’ve been glad of it.
Through Spotify’s podcast platform, Anchor, I can now generate a podcast that’s just a robotic voice reading my words. There are two voices to choose from, Remy or Cassidy. I chose Remy. Remy reads the words and makes a podcast, all I have to do is type, like Stephen Hawking or something. Remy has glitches for sure. For instance, she reads blocked quotes with the odd phrase “greater than,” as in:
four score and seven years ago our forefathers
You get the idea. For that matter, “Remy” won’t distinguish stuff that’s quoted versus the post’s original content. Most of my posts aren’t suited to perfect podcasts, because they’re full of pictures. But still, cool technology, I want to keep playing with it.
If podcasts are this easy to make, it’ll most likely keep the market pretty saturated. But it will also allow a world of weird, unusual voices. Today I listened to a podcast that was a school project by two eleventh graders about the history of Hawaii, done for Ms. Patrick’s class at Impact Early College High School in Baytown, Texas. It was fun and short, and came up when I looked into Hawaii history on Spotify. Will we live in a world of enthusiastic amateur radio? I was interested in Malcolm Gladwell mentioning that books, audiobooks, and podcasts can kind of blur together. He specifically cited Jordan Peterson, who wrote a bestselling book, but which a majority of his “readers” took in as audio. He’s an audio personality as much as a literary one. Where did I hear this interview with Gladwell? I’m not sure, but I know it was on a podcast.
I predict there will be labels, studios, brands, that have some credibility. They’ll have to be careful: I see that Vox media has two hundred “active shows” in its podcast network. Well that’s too many.
Much like bestselling books, celebrity will be a big help. I’d like to see some hyperlocal podcasts. Something like a Reader’s Digest of podcasts could be a success. I wouldn’t mind some kind of randomizer button, where I could tune around, hear strange voices from across the 5G, like what you hear clicking around the dial in a rental car driving around Arizona or New Mexico or Nebraska late at night. I wonder if there will be “podcasts” that include more and more music and audio fun to distinguish themselves from the chatterboxes.
Listening to an automated robot voice doesn’t connect as much as hearing a great human voice, like say Ken Layne of Desert Oracle, or Karen Kilgariff of My Favorite Murder or Desus and Mero, the Bodega Boys. So I’ll end this here, and send Remy back where she came from. Go ahead and subscribe to the Helytimes podcast here on Spotify to see what we come up with next. Robots doing our audio? Yeah, we’ll experiment with that. You can record your own audio with Anchor, I could’ve done that, but where would I find eight minutes or so in MY busy schedule? Forget it. That’s a Remy job.
Why don’t let Remy take us out with some nice sleeping sounds?
zzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzz. Mmmmmmmmmm. Mmmm. MMMM. Zoooooonumnumnumnewnewnew. Ahhh.
If you’re out in Hollywood, you probably have a relationship with the movies. Even just at the most basic level, the movie theaters are better here. There are the big movie palaces, Grauman’s Chinese and all that, for special occasions, and The Aero and the Egyptian, but just for everyday moviegoing, I’ll take the Arclight over any place I went to in New York City. There’s now an Arclight in Boston, and a few elsewhere, but man, when I first got to LA I was like OK, here’s how to see a movie.
Of course, you may think you’re pretty into movies, and then you dive in and realize, whoa, some of these people are into movies. I remember hearing a talk by Steve Zalian at some Writers Guild thing where he mentioned he’d seen Serpico ninety times. Doesn’t appear to be online, but there’s a 2014 Playboy interview with David Fincher where he talks about movies he’d seen a hundred times or so. Listen to Brad Pitt and Leo on Maron talk about watching movies with Quentin Tarantino.
You’re liable to be quickly humbled as just a movie fan once you encounter the level of movie fan out here. Some people make their whole identity as film enthusiasts and amateur or semi-pro critics. Not everyone who’s obsessed with movies is a big success at them:
What happens to those girls, those aspiring starlets? Do they sit around in Schwab’s drugstore, or the Brown Derby, or whatever?
In the beginning, they come to Hollywood, presumably, with the idea of the action. Then they find out that you can’t even get into any of these buildings without an agent, that there’s no possibility of getting in, that even a lot of the agents can’t get in. Meanwhile a substitute life begins, and they get into the social scene, you know. They’re working as parking attendants, waitresses, doing arbitrary jobs . . .
Hoping that somebody will see them?
Finally they forget about that, but they’re still making the scene. They continue to have some vague peripheral identification with films—like they go to a lot of movies, and they talk about movies and about people they’ve seen on the street, and they read the gossip columns and the movie magazines, but you get the feeling it’s without any real aspiration any longer. It’s the sort of vicariousness a polio person might feel for rodeo.
Terry Southern, talking to The Paris Review. Not clear what year that interview was conducted, certainly well before 1995, when Southern died.
I’d been obsessing over the Conversations With Writers series from the University Press of Mississippi. Browsing their website, I saw they had a whole Conversations With Filmmakers series. The website had a spot where you could request a review copy, so I asked for a review copy of The Coen Brothers Interviews, and Courtney at UP of Miss very kindly sent me one.
These books take the form of collections of interviews published elsewhere. There are 28 in this case, including a transcript of a Terry Gross interview, an Onion A.V. Club interview with Nathan Rabin, a Vogue profile (? was Vogue different in 1994) by Tad Friend. The interviews are often keyed to a particular movie out or in production at the time of the piece. This volume came out in 2006, and the last two short pieces, more articles than interviews, are focused on the soon to be released The Ladykillers.
There’s a thoughtful introduction as well by William Rodney Allen, who explores in particular and appropriately enough the connection the brothers have to the Mississippi Delta, as seen in O Brother Where Art Thou. I was surprised to learn from this book that Miller’s Crossing was shot in New Orleans.
“We looked around San Francisco, but you know what that looks like: period but upscale – faux period,” says Ethan. Then someone suggested New Orleans, parts of which surprisingly fit the bill. Outside of the distinctive French Quarter, there were plenty of places that could pass for a generic Anytown in the late 1920s. “New Orleans is sort of a depressed city; it hasn’t been gentrified,” says Ethan. “There’s a lot of architecture that hasn’t been touched, storefront windows that haven’t been replaced in the past sixty years.”
The Coen Brothers don’t seem particularly interested in being interviewed. Don’t take my word for it:
We often resist the efforts of… people who are interviewing us to enlist us in the process ourselves. And we resist it not because we object to it but simply because it ins’t something that particularly interests us.
so says Joel in an interview with Damon Wise of Moving Pictures magazine, which itself isn’t reprinted in this book, but is quoted in a Boston Phoenix piece from 2001 by Gerald Peary which you will find here. True enough, in most of the conversations the Coens seem game enough but not effusive, and the interviewers or profilers often have to do a bit of legwork themselves to find some meat. They ask why Hudsucker Proxy wasn’t more successful (“I dunno, why was Fargo not a flop?” replies Joel. “It’s as much a mystery to me that people went to see Fargo, which was something we did thinking ah, y’know, about three people will end up seeing it, but it’ll be fun for us”). They ask why the brothers are drawn to James M. Cain (“what intrigues us about Cain is that the heroes of his stories are nearly always schlubs – loser guys involved in dreary, banal existences,” says Joel, again).
One aspect of their career I hadn’t realized before I read this book was Joel’s relationship with Sam Raimi, who gave him a job as an assistant editor on Evil Dead.
Raimi had remarked that the Coens have several thematic rules: The innocent must suffer; the guilty must be punished; you must taste blood to be a man… Joel and Ethan shrugged, separately.
Barry Sonnenfeld was their first director of photography, I also hadn’t known that, perhaps common knowledge to true Coenheads.
In terms of moviemaking secrets, how to get them made, without interference and while maintaining a vision, as the Coens so consistently have, this might be the closest we come. Joel once more, talking to Kristine McKenna for Playboy, 2001:
Our movies are inexpensive because we storyboard our films in the the same highly detailed way Hitchcock did. As a result, there’s little improvisation. Preproduction is cheap compared with trying to figure things out on a set with an entire crew standing around.
Amazon has a couple other glitzier books on the Coens. This book is more raw data than polished product. Sometimes the interviews cover similar turf, or bore down on the specifics of some upcoming project. To me, I find you get a great deal from going to the source. Going to the source is a theme of Helytimes. This book is really a sourcebook, and that’s very valuable.
If not the Coens, perhaps another in the Conversations with Filmmakers series. There are 105! Errol Morris? David Lynch? Jane Campion? I’d like to read all of them, if I had but the time!
In my opinion, a book review should 1) give you some summary, basic idea, and nuggets of insight from the book and 2) give you enough info to know whether you should buy it or not.
I hope I’ve done that for you!
Another good one drops from Warren Buffett and the Berkshire Hathaway team.
In America, equity investors have the wind at their back.
A highlight from this year, worth noting:
The $65 billion gain is nonetheless real – rest assured of that. But only $36 billion came from Berkshire’s operations. The remaining $29 billion was delivered to us in December when Congress rewrote the U.S. Tax Code.
Did not know about the stake in Pilot Flying J:
How did Warren Buffett get so rich? Some answers he will tell you.
- By gathering money, eventually including the enormous pools of money (“float”) collected by insurance companies like GEICO
- Using the money to buy shares of businesses with a durable competitive advantage (here’s a critical take on what that can mean)
- Never selling anything so that he’s never taxed on the gains and the results compound and compound.
For the last 53 years, the company has built value by reinvesting its earnings and letting compound interest work its magic.
(Also he just seems to have an intuitive and unusually focused mind for business:
As a teenager, he took odd jobs, from washing cars to delivering newspapers, using his savings to purchase several pinball machines that he placed in local businesses.
Also he did some arbitrage things I don’t understand.)
In this letter, he discusses the result of a bet he made that an unmanaged index fund would beat selected hedge funds over a ten year period:
I made the bet for two reasons: (1) to leverage my outlay of $318,250 into a disproportionately larger sum that – if things turned out as I expected – would be distributed in early 2018 to Girls Inc. of Omaha; and (2) to publicize my conviction that my pick – a virtually cost-free investment in an unmanaged S&P 500 index fund – would, over time, deliver better results than those achieved by most investment professionals, however well-regarded and incentivized those “helpers” may be.
Addressing this question is of enormous importance. American investors pay staggering sums annually to advisors, often incurring several layers of consequential costs. In the aggregate, do these investors get their money’s worth? Indeed, again in the aggregate, do investors get anything for their outlays?
A final lesson from our bet: Stick with big, “easy” decisions and eschew activity. During the ten-year bet, the 200-plus hedge-fund managers that were involved almost certainly made tens of thousands of buy and sell decisions. Most of those managers undoubtedly thought hard about their decisions, each of which they believed would prove advantageous. In the process of investing, they studied 10-Ks, interviewed managements, read trade journals and conferred with Wall Street analysts. 13 Protégé and I, meanwhile, leaning neither on research, insights nor brilliance, made only one investment decision during the ten years. We simply decided to sell our bond investment at a price of more than 100 times earnings (95.7 sale price/.88 yield), those being “earnings” that could not increase during the ensuing five years. We made the sale in order to move our money into a single security – Berkshire – that, in turn, owned a diversified group of solid businesses. Fueled by retained earnings, Berkshire’s growth in value was unlikely to be less than 8% annually, even if we were to experience a so-so economy.
Fewer good jokes this year, in our opinion, but also fewer dire warnings.
Diane Jobson, as seen in the Marley doc. (contender for best doc ever?)
250 points if you can guess the pun headline for this article about sorting out the Bob Marley estate.
Marley had eleven kids with seven women and left no will. Good luck, Diane!
Hayes D. is back with a look at some legendary ballot cranks of California history:
I took a sick pleasure in writing about Measure S and Michael Weinstein the other day. Thanks to Steve for asking me to do that.
While I was at it, I dug into some of the other rich, angry men who took advantage of the California ballot system: guys like Weinstein who spent a ton of money and made pretty extreme changes to the law without ever actually being elected to office.
Here are two!
Jarvis was a millionaire from LA who got rich making airplane parts and garbage disposals and other stuff. Your classic 1950’s generic “businessman.” What separated him from his peers was how much he hated taxes.
So after he retired in 1962, he ran for office a few times on an anti-tax platform. Lost every time. Then he discovered the ballot initiative route, and in 1979 he wrote up Proposition 13: a rule that the property tax could only be about 1% of the appraised value of the property, and it couldn’t go up unless the property was sold.
With the help of the base he built from his other campaigns, he and his wife gathered 1.5 million signatures to get it on the ballot. Then Jarvis went on a barnstorming tour of California and riled everybody up so good that the measure passed with 65 percent of the vote.
“When I have three, four, five thousand people, I really pour it on,” he said in his gravelly voice. “Like a goddamn Baptist preacher. I tell ’em how government is clobbering them. I rev ’em up. I talk about basic human rights.”Jarvis was quick to admit that playing on the public’s fears was one of the trump cards that made Proposition 13 a big winner.
When he got excited, Jarvis would puff harder on his pipe, and this created a lot of excess “tobacco juice.” During one unfriendly interview with a reporter, Jarvis got agitated and started puffing hard. At one point, sitting behind his big, false desk with no drawers, Jarvis leaned forward and spit some of the excess tobacco juice into a waste can. Jerry Carroll, on the other side of the desk without benefit of a full view, wrote in a 1994 San Francisco Chronicle story that at one point in an interview Jarvis, “jerked opened a drawer in his desk, spit into it and slammed it shut.”
FARYON: Well let’s go back to prior 1978, back in the day when schools needed money. More money to hire students, to pay for classrooms, supplies, and so on. They basically looked to the local taxpayer for money in the form of property taxes. And in fact, they set their budgets, went to the county assessor, the property tax rate was set, and then they collected enough money. As much money as they needed. After 1978, what happened was we couldn’t do that anymore. It was a statewide cap. One percent – that’s all the money that you got. So as a result, before 1978, before Prop 13, statewide the schools had a $9 billion budget. After Prop 13 they lost $3 billion – a third of that – overnight.
Here’s a look at California’s per-pupil spending for the past four decades in comparison to other states. The last time California was at the top of the heap was 1965, when it ranked 5th. In 1978 – the year Prop 13 passed –California was 14th out of 50. The next year, the state fell to 22nd place. In 1988, California fell below the national average for the first time and never recovered. The state now ranks 43rd.
When Ron Unz’s mother, a politically active left-wing schoolteacher from Los Angeles, was in her mid-20s, she met an older professor from the Midwest on a flight to Israel. He seemed odd, eccentric even, but clearly brilliant, too, and Esther-Laio Avrutin decided, after he‘d visited her several times when she’d returned to L.A., that she would a have a child with him. When Esther-Laio wrote to her lover to let him know about her pregnancy, the letter was opened by the professor‘s wife — the existence of this wife came as startling news to Esther-Laio — and that ended any possibility that, her sister says, they would be married.
The results show that while students in English immersion programs perform better in the short term, over the long term students in classrooms taught in two languages not only catch up to their English immersion counterparts, but they eventually surpass them, both academically and linguistically.
So: no, not really. Forcing kids who didn’t speak English to be taught exclusively in English was, it turned out, not a great idea.
Three provocative reads about Trumptimes.
First up, this one, from Medium: “4Chan: The Skeleton Key To Trump” by Dale Beren, about 4Chan, Gamergate, and young male Trump supporters:
They disguised their own sensitivity (namely, their fear that they would be, “forever alone”) by extreme insensitivity. The rules, like everything else, were always half in jest. Everything had to be a done with at least a twinkle of winking irony. This was an escape route, a way of never having to admit to your peers that you were in fact expressing something from your heart, in other words — that you were indeed vulnerable. No matter what a user did or said, he could always say it was “for the lulz” (lols). Like (by comparison the tame and sophisticated precursor) “Something Awful” board that spawned it, 4chan defined itself by being insensitive to suffering in that way only people who have never really suffered can — that is to say, young people, mostly young men, protected by a cloak of anonymity. The accepted standard was a sort of libertarian “free speech” banner, in which isolated man-boys asserted their right to do or say anything no matter someone else’s feelings. This meant generally posting pornography, swastikas, racial slurs, and content that reveled in harm to other people.
It was almost as if all these disaffected young men were waiting for a figure to come along who, having achieved nothing in his life, pretended as though he had achieved everything, who by using the tools of fantasy, could transmute their loserdom (in 4chan parlance, their “fail”), into “win”.
Section 5 of the article is where it really gets going, if you’re strapped for time:
Trump, of course, has made his fortune in a similar manner, with casinos, correspondence courses, and pageants, swindling money out of aspiring-millionaire blue collar workers, selling them not a bill of goods, but the hope of a bill of goods, the glitz and glamour of success, to people who don’t win, or in Trump’s parlance, “don’t win anymore.” As if once, in the mythic past he invented, they did once and soon will again, since at the heart of what he promised was, “you’ll win so much you’ll get sick of winning”. In other words, if we are to understand Trump supporters, we can view them at the core as losers — people who never ever bet on the right horse — Trump, of course, being the signal example, the man obsessed with “losers” who, seemingly was going to be remembered as one of the biggest losers in history — until he won.
The older generation of Trump supporters the press often focuses on, the so called “forgotten white working class”, are in this sense easier to explain since they fit into the schema of a 1950s-style electorate. Like the factory workers in Factotum, the baby boomers were promised pensions and prosperity, but received instead simply the promises. Here the narrative is simple. The workers were promised something and someone (the politicians? the economy? the system itself?) never delivered. Their horse never came in.
This telling of the story ignores the fact that, as Trump often points out, “it was a bad deal”. The real story is not that the promise was never fulfilled. Manny and Hank’s deal with the workers was the same as the factory’s deal with them: the empty promise was the bargain. The real story is not that the horse didn’t come in, it’s that the bet was never placed.
In the first presidential debate, Hillary evoked her conservative father as a way of appealing to the electorate, “My father was a small-businessman.” she said. “He worked really hard… And so what I believe is the more we can do for the middle class, the more we can invest in you…”
No one noted how wildly outdated Clinton’s picture of the average voter was (her father, a suburban business man in the 50s) because we are used to every politician holding up the same faded 65 year old snapshot anytime he or she regards the American electorate. Just like how images of Christmas on Coke bottles and catalogs are forever stuck in the 30s and 40s, so we expect politics to be eternally frozen in the 1950s. That is to say, as a nation still (somehow!) defined by its baby boomers, we understand this era as the baseline for understanding ourselves, considering it, “where we are from”.
But what does the American electorate look like if we put down the snapshot? Peel away how we perceive ourselves from what we actually are? How has that image of a 1950s business man who owns his own home in the suburbs changed after decades of declines in wages, middle classdom, and home ownership?
To younger generations who never had such jobs, who had only the mythology of such jobs (rather a whimsical snapshot of the 1950s frozen in time by America’s ideology) this part of the narrative is clear. America, and perhaps existence itself is a cascade of empty promises and advertisements — that is to say, fantasy worlds, expectations that will never be realized “IRL”, but perhaps consumed briefly in small snatches of commodified pleasure.
Thus these Trump supporters hold a different sort of ideology, not one of “when will my horse come in”, but a trolling self-effacing, “I know my horse will never come in”. That is to say, younger Trump supporters know they are handing their money to someone who will never place their bets — only his own — because, after all, it’s plain as day there was never any other option.
In this sense, Trump’s incompetent, variable, and ridiculous behavior is the central pillar upon which his younger support rests.
This made me think about the Chapo Dudes. Though from the opposite side of the political aisle, their failson language and busted, depressed tone seems somewhere on the same spectrum. Their Twitters are really funny but kinda hopeless and nihilistic.
Trump supporters voted for the con-man, the labyrinth with no center, because the labyrinth with no center is how they feel, how they feel the world works around them. A labyrinth with no center is a perfect description of their mother’s basement with a terminal to an endless array of escapist fantasy worlds.
Trump’s bizarre, inconstant, incompetent, embarrassing, ridiculous behavior — what the left (naturally) perceives as his weaknesses — are to his supporters his strengths.
Next up, “Sanctimony Cities” by Christopher Caldwell in the Claremont Review, “the bible of highbrow Trumpism” says the NYT. (I first found Claremont Review back when Mark Helprin was writing for it, where’s he been? Too much Mark Helperin, not enough Mark Helprin if you ask me). Thought this insight about tribalism was worth hearing:
Any place that has political power becomes a choke-point through which global money streams must pass. Such places are sheltered from globalization’s storms. They tend to grow. Austin, Texas, adds tens of thousands of residents a year, and is now the country’s 11th-largest city. The four richest counties in the United States are all in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Resources are sucked from almost everywhere into political capitals and a few high-tech centers and university towns allied with them, where ambitious people settle and constitute a class. The Democratic Party is the party of that class, the class of the winners of globalization.
There are now just three regions of the country in which Democrats dominate—New England, California, and the Pacific Northwest. Otherwise, the party’s support comes from the archipelago of powerful New Economy cities it controls. Washington, D.C., with its 93-to-4 partisan breakdown, is not that unusual. Hillary Clinton won Cambridge, Massachusetts, by 89 to 6 and San Francisco by 86 to 9. Here, where the future of the country is mapped out, the “rest” of the country has become invisible, indecipherable, foreign.
And the rest of the country belongs to Trump. Pretty much all of it. Trump took 85% of America’s counties; Hillary Clinton took 15%. Trump even won a third of the counties that voted for Barack Obama twice. In November the New York Times had the idea of drawing up a topographical map for each candidate that showed won counties as land and lost counties as water. Trump’s America looks almost exactly like the actual United States, diminished a bit on the coasts and with a couple of new “lakes” opened up in urban areas. Hillary’s looks like the Lesser Antilles. It is possible to travel coast to coast—from, say, Coos Bay, Oregon, to Wilmington, North Carolina—without passing through a single county that Hillary Clinton won. Indeed there are several such routes. This is the heart of the country and it is experiencing a kind of social decline for which American history offers no precedent. (The economic crises of the 1870s and 1930s were something different.) Here people fall over, overdosed on heroin, in the aisles of dollar stores, and residential neighborhoods are pocked with foreclosures. This country, largely invisible to policymakers until the 2016 election, is beginning—only just beginning—to come into view. Trump was the first candidate to speak directly to the invisible country as something other than the “everyplace else” left over when you drive away from the places that are powerful, scenic, or sophisticated.
Trump intuited that the difference between Republicans and Democrats was a tribal one. Feminism and anti-racism had become successful policies not because they convinced voters logically or struck them as sensible, although in many cases they did, but because they conveyed loyalty viscerally. “Breaking the glass ceiling,” for instance, was supposed to be the theme of Hillary Clinton’s victory party on election night at New York’s Javits Center. Her staff chose that venue because it literally has the largest glass ceiling surface in New York. Glass-ceiling rhetoric was not an ethical argument but a war-cry. It was not about women but about our women. When, shortly after the election, Trump named his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway a White House counselor, his press release announced she was “the first female campaign manager of either major party to win a presidential general election,”—which indeed she was! Had ideological feminism rather than tribal loyalty been at issue, this would have been considered an achievement worthy of extensive coverage. It was not.
Last, “The Shallow State” by David Rothkopf in Foreign Policy:
The shallow state is in many respects the antithesis of the deep state. The power of the deep state comes from experience, knowledge, relationships, insight, craft, special skills, traditions, and shared values. Together, these purported attributes make nameless bureaucrats into a supergovernment that is accountable to no one. That is a scary prospect. But the nature of bureaucracies, human nature, inertia, checks and balances, and respect for the chain of command makes it seem a bit far-fetched to me. (The bureaucracy will drive Trump, like many presidents, mad, and some within it will challenge him, but that’s not the same thing.)
The shallow state, on the other hand, is unsettling because not only are the signs of it ever more visible but because its influence is clearly growing. It is made scarier still because it not only actively eschews experience, knowledge, relationships, insight, craft, special skills, tradition, and shared values but because it celebrates its ignorance of and disdain for those things. Donald Trump, champion and avatar of the shallow state, has won power because his supporters are threatened by what they don’t understand, and what they don’t understand is almost everything. Indeed, from evolution to data about our economy to the science of vaccines to the threats we face in the world, they reject vast subjects rooted in fact in order to have reality conform to their worldviews. They don’t dig for truth; they skim the media for anything that makes them feel better about themselves. To many of them, knowledge is not a useful tool but a cunning barrier elites have created to keep power from the average man and woman. The same is true for experience, skills, and know-how. These things require time and work and study and often challenge our systems of belief. Truth is hard; shallowness is easy.
It is convenient to blame Trump and write this off as a flaw in his character and that of his acolytes and enablers. But, honestly, you don’t get a reality TV show president with no experience and no interest in big ideas or even in boning up on basic knowledge (like the nature of the nuclear triad — after all, it has only three legs) without a public that is comfortable with that … or actively seeks it. Think about the fact that two out of the last four Republican presidents came from show biz (and a third gained a chunk of his experience as a baseball executive). There is no doubt that the rise of the cage-match mentality of cable news has undercut civility in American political discourse, but it has also made politics into something like a TV show. You switch from the Kardashians to Trump on The Apprentice to Trump the candidate in your head, and it is all one. Increasingly shows are about finding formulas that produce a visceral reaction rather than stimulate thoughts or challenge the viewer. That’s not to say that not much is wonderful in the world of media today … but attention spans are shrinking. Social media contributes to this. But the way we consume even serious journalism does, too. Much of it is reviewed in quick snippets on a mobile device. The average visit to a news website is a couple of minutes, the average time spent with a story shorter still. We skim. We cherry-pick.
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
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.
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.
Let’s back up.
Do the Republicans Want To Sell Off Our Land?
Is this true? Will Trump / The GOP Sell Off Our Public Land?!
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.
The best of the United States is on display in a US Park Service uniform.
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 –
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:
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:
The feds own 66.5% of Utah.
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”:
(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.
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).
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:
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.
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?:
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.
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?
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
HR 621: Story of A Victory
Let’s return to Utah rep Jason Chaffetz:
Which land did he try to sell away?
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Well this did not play. Word spread via strong, aggressive groups like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers:
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:
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:
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?
I’m guessing it’s this kinda guy? (seen here killing a huge deer with a bow and arrow).
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.
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:
Part Three: Strange Allies.
And why this:
is better than this:
The most interesting character in this book isn’t Belichick, it’s Ernie Adams.
Ernie Adams, it should be noted, was a coach even before entering Andover. he had gone to elementary and junior high at the Dexter School, a private school in the Boston area (where John F. Kennedy had gone), and being more passionate about football than the teacher who had been drafted to coach the intramural team there, he had ended up giving that teacher more suggestions than the teacher wanted to hear. Finally the teacher, in desperation, had turned to Ernie and said, “Well, if you know so much, why don’t you coach?” That was an offer Ernie Adams could not turn down, and he ended up coaching the Dexter team quite successfully.
At Andover he had already befriended another football-crazed classmate, Evan Bonds, with whom he talked constantly and with whom he diagrammed endless football plays and with whom he jointly did the senior project breaking down and analyzing all of Andover’s plays from the their senior season…
Bonds felt that although his own life revolved completely around football, Adams was already a good deal more advanced in his football obsessions, going off on his own to coaching clinics where everyone else was at least ten years older, collecting every book written by every coach on the game, the more technical the better, and collecting films of important games: “Ernie already had an exceptional football film collection, sixteen-millimeter stuff, the great Packer-Cowboy games, Raiders-Jets, films like that, which he somehow found out about through sports magazines, had sent away for, and for which he had enough primitive equipment that he could show the films,” Bonds said. “It’s hard to explain just how football crazed we were, but the year before Bill arrived, when we were in the eleventh grade, and it was spring, the two of us went down to Nickerson Field, the old Boston University field, because BU was having an intra-squad spring game. We were up there in the stands, taking notes, these two seventeen-year-olds – can you believe it? – scouting an intra-squad game at BU on our own, and I still have no earthly idea what we would have done with the notes. Anyway, pretty soon a BU assistant coach came up looking for us, to find what we were doing, and why we were doing it. So we said we were from Northeastern, as if that would give us extra legitimacy, and the coach said what we were doing was illegal, and we had to get out then and there.”
And then at Andover arrived young Bill Belichick, doing a post-graduate year, a kind of bonus senior year after graduating from Annapolis High, in the hopes of getting into a better college:
Adams was already as advanced a football junkie as Belichick: he had an exceptional collection of books on coaching, including Football Scouting Methods ($5.00 a copy, published by the Ronald Press of New York City, and featuring jacket quotes from, among others, the legendary Paul Brown: “Scouting is essential to successful football coaching.”), the only book written by one Steve Belichick, assistant coach of the Naval Academy. The book was not exactly a best seller – the author himself estimated that it sold at most four hundred copies – nor was it filled with juicy, inside tidbits about the private lives of football players. Instead it was a very serious, very dry description of how to scout an opponent, and, being chockful of diagrams of complicated plays, it was probably bought only by other scouts and the fourteen-year-old Ernie Adams.
That year, just as the first football practice was about to start at Andover, Coach Steve Sorota posted the list of the new players trying out for the varsity, including the usual number of PGS – the list included the name Bill Belichick, and Ernie Adams was thrilled. That first day Adams looked at the young man with a strip of tape that Belichick on his helmet, and asked if he was from Annapolis, Maryland, and if he was related to the famed writer-coach-scout Steve Belichick, and Bill said yes, he was his son. Thus were the beginnings of a lifetime friendship and association sown…
..”Because we were such football nerds, it was absolutely amazing that Bill had come to play at Andover, because we were probably the only two people in the entire state of Massachusetts who had read his father’s book,” Bonds said years later.
Adams has more or less been at Belichick’s side ever since, “Belichick’s Belichick,” aside from interludes on Wall Street. Here’s a good profile on him, with quotes from Andover classmate Buzz Bissinger. (Apparently Jeb Bush was in that class too).
So you can never really tell what is going on in his head. But I did get Carlisle to call Adams on Monday and ask for his five favorite books, hoping to get a window into the places a man like him goes for inspiration. Here is the list:
- “The Best and the Brightest,” by David Halberstam
- “The Money Masters of Our Time,” by John Train
- Robert Caro’s three-volume biography of Lyndon B. Johnson
- Robert Massie’s biography of Peter the Great
- William Manchester’s two-part biography of Winston Churchill
Adams also seems to enjoy not only watching greatness work, but also seeing it fail. Carlisle thinks the central message of Halberstam’s Vietnam classic appeals to Adams: that people incredibly well-educated and well-intentioned could be so flat-out wrong about something. It’s a helpful notion to keep in mind about the conventional-wisdom-obsessed world of football, where pedigree and tradition dictate many overly conservative decisions. Indeed, when Adams agreed to participate in Halberstam’s Belichick book, he did so with this caveat: For every two questions the journalist got to ask Adams about football, Adams got to ask one back about Vietnam. Did that trait allow Adams to make sure the mistakes of Belichick in Cleveland were not repeated? Maybe.
Most articles on Adams will include this detail:
When Belichick and Adams were together when the coach was in Cleveland, Browns owner Art Modell once said, “I’ll pay anyone here $10,000 if they can tell me what Ernie Adams does.”
A few years back, during a team film session, the Patriots players put up a slide of Adams. The caption read: “What does this man do?” Everyone cracked up. But no one knew.
Mysterious, rigorous, intense, scholarly dissection of football — that seems to be the Belichick way. “Unadorned,” as Halberstam puts it:
Belichick doesn’t seem like the kind of dude to write a book, least of all a peppy all-purpose motivational paperback like Pete Carroll’s. This is the closest thing, a kind of biography starting with the arrival of Bill Belichick’s grandparents in America. They came, like Belichick apprentice Nick Saban’s grandparents and Pete Carroll’s maternal grandparents, from Croatia:
Bill Belichick grew up in football. His dad, Steve Belichick, spent the bulk of his career (33 years) as an assistant coach at the Naval Academy. (As a young guy, a fellow coach advised him to get a tenure-track job as an associate professor of physical education, so he had job security even as eight head coaches passed through.) Belichick’s mom seems like a great lady — she’d done graduate work in languages at Middlebury, and during the war she translated military maps. She learned Croatian so she could speak to her in-laws more easily.
Though he never worked at Oakland, Belichick apparently picked up several things from the way Al Davis ran the Raiders:
There were important things that [assistant coach Rich] McCabe told Belichick about the Davis system that would one day serve Belichick well. The first thing was that Oakland looked only for size and speed. Their players had to be big and fast. That was a rule. If you weren’t big and fast, Oakland wasn’t interested. The other thing was about the constancy of player evaluation. Most coaches stopped serious evaluation of their personnel on draft day – they chose their people, and that was that. But Davis never stopped evaluating his people, what they could do, what you could teach them, and what you couldn’t teach them. He made his coaches rate the players every day. Were they improving? Were they slipping? Who had practiced well? Who had gone ahead of whom in practice? The jobs the starters had were not held in perpetuity.
This is similar to stuff Carroll talks about — everyone is competing every practice. After a stint in Denver:
That summer [Belichick] came home and visited with his boyhood friend Mark Fredland and told him he had found the key to success: It was in being organized; the more organized you were at all times, the more you knew at every minute what you were doing and why you were doing it, the less time you wasted and the better coach you were.
Halberstam likes Belichick, obviously. They had become friendly because they both had houses on Nantucket, and Halberstam suggests that the gruff Belichick we see is part presentational strategy:
That persona – the Belichick who had never been young – was one he had either created for the NFL or had evolved because of the game’s needs. Part of the design was more or less deliberate, and part of it was who he was. For when he had first entered the League, he had been a young man teaching older men, and he had needed to prove to them he was an authority figure. Thus, he believed, he had been forced to be more aloof and more authoritarian than most coaches or teachers working their first jobs.
Compare this to the young guy at Wesleyan with his frat brothers, sneaking a case of beer into a showing of Gone With The Wind (why that movie? even Halberstam is baffled) under his parka.
The best parts of this book are about Belichick’s relationship with Bill Parcells, when they were at the Giants. The biggest issue there was how to handle Lawrence Taylor, who was supremely excellent at football, but semi-out of control on drugs and women, prone to nodding off in meetings though he would somehow intuitively understand what he had to do in complex plays. A great anecdote — LT has injured his ankle:
So on his own, without telling the coaches, he went to a nearby racetrack and somehow managed to find someone there who was an expert in horse medicine, who had some kind of pill – a horse pill – and he took it and played well.
Belichick’s takeaway from dealing with LT was, apparently, never to bend the rules for anyone.
Parcells and Belichick needed each other, but they weren’t friends exactly:
There was one terrible moment, during a game, when Belichick called a blitz, and Parcells seemed to oppose it. They went ahead with it and the blitz worked – the other team did what Belichick had expected, not what Parcells had – but Parcells was furious, and over the open microphones in the middle of a game, he let go: “Yeah, you’re a genius, everybody knows it, a goddamn genius, but that’s why you failed as a head coach – that’s why you’ll never be a head coach… some genius.” It was deeply shocking to everyone who heard it; they were the cruelest words imaginable.
Not true, though. Belichick got to be head coach at Cleveland, where he didn’t really get on with owner Art Modell or QB Bernie Kosar and had a tough time, going 36-44 there. Halberstam almost seems to admire how bad/stubborn/unhelpful Belichick was with the media there.
And then he got to New England (taking over for the fired Pete Carroll).
As his friend Ernie Adams said, “The number one criteria for being a genius in this business is to have a great quarterback, and in New England he had one, and in Cleveland he did not.”
The stuff in Halberstam’s book about Belichick’s decision to go with Brady over Drew Bledsoe is pretty great:
But among those most impressed by Belichick’s decision to go with Brady was his father. Steve Belichick thought it was a very gutsy call, perhaps the most critical call his son had ever made, because the world of coaching is very conservative, and the traditional call would be the conservative one, to go with the more experienced player in so big a game. The way you were protected if it didn’t work out, because you had gone with tradition and experience, and no one could criticze you. That was the call most coaches would have made, he said, under the CYA or Cover Your Ass theory of coaching. Many of his old friends disagreed with what his sone was doing, he knew, but he was comfortable with it himself. When friends who were puzzled called him about it, he told them that Bill was right in what he was doing. “He’s the smart one in the family, and I’m the dumb one,” he would say.
Brady seems like he earned it, surely, and he had the special thing Belichick needed:
There were some quarterbacks who were very smart, who knew the playbook cold, but who were not kinetic wonders, and could not make the instaneous read. That was the rarest of abilities, the so-called Montana Factor: the eye perceiving, and then even as the eye perceives, transferring the signal, eye to brain, and then in the same instant, making the additional transfer from brain to the requisite muscles. The NFL was filled with coaches with weak arms themselves, who could see things quickly on the field but who were doomed to work with quarterbacks who had great arms, but whose ability to read the defense was less impressive. What Brady might have, they began to suspect, was that marvelous ability that sets the truly great athletes apart from the very good ones. Or as one of the assistants said, it was like having Belichick himself out there if only Belichick had had a great arm. In the 2001 training camp Brady would come off the field after an offensive series, and Belichick would question him about each play, and it was quite remarkable: Brady would be able to tell his coach what every receiver was doing on each play, what the defensive backs were doing, and explain why he had chosen to throw where he had. It was as if there were a camera secreted away in his brain. Afterward, Belichick would go back and run the film on those same plays and would find that everything Brady had said was borne out by the film.
There’s no secret in this book. Belichick is obsessed with analyzing football, has been since he was at least seventeen, probably younger. Even with that intensity it took luck and circumstance to get him five Super Bowl rings. A lesson from the coaching careers of Carroll and Belichick might be perseverance, but I don’t think that’s even the word for this — it’s not like it’s any kind of choice with these guys, it’s nature.
I read one other Halberstam sports book a few years ago, The Amateurs, about Harvard rowing. The theme of that book is similar: obsessive characters irresistibly driven, almost forced by their nature to be completely devoted, single-minded, unrelenting. There was no end of it. “The kind of guys whose idea of a day off is to drive up to New Hampshire and cross-country ski until you couldn’t stand up,” as a rowing coach put it.
Most of us (me) aren’t this kind of guy, certainly not about football or rowing. The compelling thing about the Pete Carroll book is that he seems semi-human. He seems to find joy and fun in this pursuit. Not that he’s any less competitive than Belichick, and who knows what eats him up in private. But he can explain what he’s doing to others in a way that seems born out of enthusiasm and positivity rather than just some incomprehensible inner nature. Just being willing to try to explain it is something.
That’s not typical:
“Don’t do it, don’t go into coaching,” the famed Bear Bryant had counseled young acolytes who were thinking of following him into the profession, “unless you absolutely can’t live without it.”
There was a constant loneliness to the job, a sense that no one else understood the pressures you faced. Each year, before the season began, Belichick would tell his team that no one else would understand the pressure on them, not even the closest members of their families. The person in football who knew him best and longest, Ernie Adams, thought Belichick had remained remarkably true to the person he had been as a young man. Adams was a serious amateur historian, and he was not a coach who threw the word “warrior” around to describe football players, because they were football players, not warriors, and the other side did not carry Kalashnikovs. Nonetheless, he thought the intensity under which the game was now played and the degree to which that intensity separated players and coaches from everyone else, even those dear to them, was, in some way, like combat, in that you simply could not explain it to anyone who had not actually participated. It was not a profession that offered a lot in the way of tranquility. “My wife has a question she asked me every year for ten years,” Bill Parcells said back in 1993 when he was still married, “and she always worded it the same way: ‘Explain to me why you must continue to do this. Because the times when you are happy are so few.’ She has no concept.”
(A good roundup of Belichick stories here.)