Here are some takes and items for your Sunday enjoyment!
The coach on Netflix doc series Last Chance U:
The most compelling, complex character on “TV” right now
In an old folder of articles I found this one, about Peter Thiel’s Zero To One
Thiel and his ideas are interesting to me. I’m open to the Vali/OwenE take that he might just be a kinda smart guy who got lucky and thinks he’s a genius. He definitely should not be on the Supreme Court.
I loved Zero To One, but Thiel’s support for Trump makes him seem like a much darker and more troubling figure than I felt he was when I was reading it.
Two interesting points in the article that had new meaning in light of Thiel being a Trump guy:
Is that something like what Trump did (old grouchy white men? white American nationalists? you’d think they’d be served by a lot of political competitors but maybe there was a hole in the market)? What about this?:
Unfortunately, Trump is good at sales and Hillary Clinton is kind of bad at sales.
Sometimes this campaign we get a reminder of how good at sales Bill Clinton is. Here is Bill talking about the Clinton Foundation. This clip is used by GOP and conservative sites as I guess kind of scummy because Clinton compares himself to Robin Hood:
Maybe comparing yourself to Robin Hood is a little much, but when I hear Bill explain the Clinton Foundation as asking for money from people who have a lot of it and giving it to people who don’t have any, it makes it sound a lot better.
Does anyone effectively refute the claim that almost 10 million more people in more than 70 countries have access to life-saving medicines through the Clinton Health Access Initiative?
Silence Of The Lambs
Not topical or relevant at all but for forever I’ve had in my phone a bunch of screenshots of this movie, one of the most gripping movies ever. Saw it on TV some months ago and was struck by how much of it is just a closeup of a person’s face. How unsettling/compelling!
This jumped out at me
In a not otherwise “sexy” article about English literary critic William Empson’s book The Face Of The Buddha:
Enjoyed the caption on this one, from National Geographic’s Instagram:
Thomas Frank, profiled in the Politico 50 list:
Frank went to University of Kansas, University of Virginia, and University of Chicago. Can he be trusted?
Doing some reading about AquAdvantage salmon, a genetically modified animal
A growth hormone-regulating gene from a Pacific Chinook salmon, with a promoter from an ocean pout, was added to the Atlantic salmon’s 40,000 genes. This gene enables it to grow year-round instead of only during spring and summer. The purpose of the modifications is to increase the speed at which the fish grows without affecting its ultimate size or other qualities. The fish grows to market size in 16 to 18 months rather than three years.
Asked Anonymous Investor to take a look at the financials of the AquaBounty company.
I haven’t looked into the science, but if their salmon is all that they claim, AquaBounty should have a big pricing advantage. Because their fish grow so much faster than a normal salmon, they should be much cheaper to produce, and sell — undercutting their competitors.
This reminds of the tiny speculative biotech companies I invest in. There’s no money coming in, only money being burned. But you’re hoping someday for a big FDA approval that will open sluices of torrential cash. In this case, the FDA approval has come But the primary problem (they have a few) is that major buyers like Kroger and Target vowed not to carry the product. My guess is the company will eventually make inroads, just as Monsanto, Syngenta, etc, have in the past. But it might take a long time. Big money usually wins in the end. And the hippies, as always, will go whining back to their yurts.
AquaBounty is selling for around 64 million dollars. Not a bad price for a what looks like a pretty decent lottery ticket.
Not sure why AquaBounty only trades in London. The volume is extremely thin. This is a stock not on many people’s radar.
I do know that AquaBounty is controlled by Intrexon (the same company trying to battle Zika via their patented breed of mosquitos). They own over 50% of AquaBounty. Intrexon trades here under the ticker XON. It’s a 3 billion dollar company. (A year ago it was worth more than 6 billion). Intrexon does a lot of interesting Monsanto-type things, and the stock is sort of a darling of Wall Street. But lately doubt has crept into the story. Intrexon has been slow in providing evidence for many of it’s scientific claims. The company says they don’t want to divulge their trade secrets by releasing too much data. Skeptics speculate that they’re not disclosing much, because, they believe, much of the science probably doesn’t work.
Interesting. Here’s what Intrexon (NYSE: XON) has been up to:
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the birth of these adorable kittens,” noted Blake Russell, President of ViaGen Pets. “As the largest global provider of genetic preservation services for companion animals, we look forward to expanding the life-enriching connections that people form with their pets. Our goal is to bring this opportunity to all pet owners and their families.”
Sure. Anonymous Investor adds:
In the salmon world, AquAdvantage salmon are considered “ugly”. In a test 95% of salmon chose to mate with wild salmon over AquaBounty salmon.
American Dad co-showrunner Brian Boyle has a very fine set of glasses with the AD characters on them.
One fan’s opinion? the show should do more with Reginald.
The Flemish Giant
Somebody at work mentioned that the biggest kind of rabbit is called a Flemish giant.
Well worth the image search.
A good, clear discussion of an often misunderstood issue from this classic
On the subject of Boston:
In Australia this kind of coconut frosted cake is known as Boston bun. Everyone was baffled when I told them I’d never heard of it.
A Boston bun is a large spiced bun with a thick layer of coconut icing, prevalent in Australia and New Zealand. Traditionally the bun contained sieved potato, and modern versions sometimes contain raisins. It is often served sliced, to accompany a cup of tea. The origin of the name is unknown.
In New Zealand they’re often called a Sally Lunn, especially in the North Island
from good times in Australia. A bizarro version of the United States, upside down and weirdly (to a USA observer) developed in all kinds of ways. For instance, Australia people talk about “the deep north” as like a joke on the way we talk about the “deep south.”
Important to remember that on the other side of the equator, you have to flip countries upside down to think about them. Their south is our north. If you think about that pointy part of Queensland as Florida, the Northern Territory as Texas, Tasmania as Newfoundland or Nova Scotia, Melbourne as Boston and Sydney as New York, you’re still way off but getting somewhere.
Huge thanks to the many people of New Zealand and Australia who helped me out. Puts me in mind of this week’s scripture, Matthew 25:35.
Bummed to miss
Had to come back to the USA before the Brisbane Writers’ Festival, so I missed Lionel Shriver of We Need To Talk About Kevin fame apparently light it up with a wild speech about cultural appropriation (attacking what seems to me to be a ridiculous straw man?)
I can’t find a photo of her wearing a sombrero, as she is alleged to have done. Did she really refer to herself as a “renowned iconoclast”?
Which Australian state library is the best?
I enjoy Melbourne’s State Library of Victoria so much:
I mean how can you not admire that they have Ned Kelly’s armor on display?:
Some great illustrations on Ned’s wiki page:
Let’s take a virtual look at Australia’s other state libraries:
Would a better state library be a step towards helping Tasmania’s insane illiteracy rate?
New South Wales:
Impressive. Classic if slightly dull exterior, solid interior, I rate it a 9 (out of 11).
A big swing on the exterior, the interior kind of interesting but also kind of a like a weird mall. I’ll give it a 7.
No independent library building, it’s housed in the Parliament House which is kind of cool. DNQ for the rating system.
Trash exterior, interior so weird as to be kind of interesting. 8.
The old version, once housed in Hackett Hall, appears to have been pretty cool:
Aw yeah! 11/11.
Australia/New Zealand publishing is so good at short books. I read a bunch of short books while traveling.
This one began as speech Flanagan gave, focusing on his disgust for the abuses, catastrophes, and inhumanity at Australia’s offshore detention centers for asylum seekers, but also about a general disappointment in political and cultural life:
Conformists par excellence, capable of only agreeing with power however or wherever it manifests itself, they are the ones least capable of dealing with the many new challenges we face precisely because those challenges demand the very qualities the new class lacks: courage, independence of thought and a belief in something larger than its own future.
The new class, understanding only self-interest, believing only in the possibilities of its own cynicism, committed to nothing more than its own perpetuation, seeks to ride the tiger by agreeing with all the tiger’s desires, believing it and not the tiger will endure, until the tiger decides it’s time to feed, as the mining corporations did with Kevin Rudd, as News Limited is now with Julia Gillard.
He goes on about the alternative:
If I may make a crude summary Flanagan’s argument could be he wishes Australia remembered Matthew 25:35 a little more.
Flanagan and I once shared a publisher, and I’m told his books are masterpieces, especially Narrow Road To The Deep North.
Also good, and more lighthearted if at times equally scorching:
Here’s a taste, where Pieper is digressing about a dog he adopted:
Took a page out of Vali’s book and wrote Mr. Pieper a short and simple fan letter complimenting him on his book. He wrote a gracious note back. Gotta do this more often.
I can’t write to the great New Zealand short story writer Katherine Mansfield because she’s dead:
If I could, I would compliment her on “The Garden Party.” This story starts out so boring and stodgy and Victorian I really thought I was in for it. But it pays off. Spoiler alert this is the last page:
What life was she couldn’t explain. No matter. He quite understood.
‘Isn’t it, darling?’ said Laurie.
This scene, on Brisbane’s Southbank, really reminded me of this one, in Paris a hundredsome years ago:
Impressed by this massive painting at the Milani Gallery in Brisbane by Australian indigenous artist Richard Bell.
(The price in Australian dollars is 55,000.)
Bell caused controversy in April 2011 after revealing that he selected the winner of the prestigious Sir John Sulman Prize through the toss of a coin.
OODA stands for:
Boyd says, whoever cycles through this loop faster wins the dogfight (or battle, orbusiness competition, or whatever).
It’s more complicated than that: see, for example, this version of Boyd’s own chart to describe his ideas:
For one thing, the goal isn’t just to get through your cycle faster. It’s to screw up the other guy’s ability to get through his cycle.
In the longer version above about Trump, Dan McLaughlin makes the point that Trump, mainly via Twitter, is constantly messing with Bush and now Cruz’s abilities to observe, orient, decide and act. Before they’ve even oriented he’s changing the whole landscape with some new outrageous thing like declaring he’s not gonna show up to the debate or whatever.
These guys, with their lumbering organizations of consultants and campaign managers, and their political limitations, just can’t orient, decide, or act with the speed and freedom Trump can.
Boyd is a fascinating dude. I read once that he lived on basically a cot with no furniture because he decided the only ways to be truly free were either to be very wealthy or to have no material needs, and since he wasn’t gonna be wealthy he went full Spartan.
Seeing these articles convinced me it was finally time to pick up this book:
This book is fascinating, hats off to Robert Coram. Let me tell you a bit about Boyd:
- Boyd was considered the best fighter pilot of generation. He could supposedly defeat anybody in forty seconds. He was not humble about it either.
- He had an insane appetite:
- Although Boyd fought in the Korean War, he never shot down a MiG. This was considered kind of a knock on him by other fighter pilots who had shot down MiGs. But then again, everyone seems to agree Boyd was still the most badass or at least equally badass pilot around.
- He proved this during his time at the Air Force Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base outside of Vegas. In Boyd’s heyday pilots looking to test their stuff would meet over “the green spot,” a rare patch of green in the Nevada desert, and practice dogfighting. Corum says the green spot could easily be found by any pilot. I went looking for a picture “green spot Nellis AFB” on Google, and in a development that would no doubt be distressing to Boyd found only medical marijuana stores. Maybe it was something like this?:
- Boyd was not really one for going along with the chain of command:
- Boyd did indeed believe in living in super Spartan fashion. This was not always easy on his wife and five children, nor on his youngest son’s collection of dangerous spiders and snakes:
- Boyd became obsessed with designing planes that would give the pilot the most possible options . He spent huge amounts of his own time developing Energy Maneuverability charts for various airplanes.
- He was infuriated and frustrated by the bureaucratic stupidities he discovered in the Air Force as he fought for what he believed to be superior airplane design. Reading Coram’s book, you can’t help but agree with Boyd and get outraged right along with him. For example, I did not have any idea that in the Vietnam War US planes were often found to be inferior to North Vietnamese planes:
- Boyd also had strong opinions about pilot training:
- There were a group of admirers/pupils/younger officers around Boyd called his Acolytes. He would regularly call them at 2am and talk about Clausewitz and so on:
- Sometimes Boyd could be weird: “When Boyd talked to someone at a party, he gave them 100 percet of his attention. He did not look over the person’s shoulder to see who else was in the room. But there were times at a party when Boyd might sit down and sleep for an hour or so.”
Dick Cheney was impressed with Boyd, and says of him that Boyd “clearly was a factor in my thinking” about strategy in the first Gulf War.
On YouTube, you can see Boyd give the “Patterns Of Conflict” presentation that became famous in the military. It’s hard to look at this and see this guy as the amazing badass he must’ve been. Perhaps it was more compelling in person or the guy was no longer at the height of his presenting powers:
Maybe he just wasn’t made for YouTube.
There’s lots of bros obsessed with Boyd online, and he definitely seems like a real hero, a kind of American samurai. All the Boyd acolytes talk about a speech Boyd would give about whether you want to “be somebody or do something”:
Something for all our candidates to think about!
Here’s another bit of advice for Trump’s opponents, especially:
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Why did Obama talk in this weird way, and not sitting at the desk? I dunno, but it looks like he got some new paintings for the Oval Office to replace Childe Hassam. I learn they are Josephine Hopper’s, on loan from the Whitney:
Says Whitney curator Dana Miller:
How did you feel when you saw the works installed on the Oval Office wall? Does their new context change the way they read?
There was something pretty wonderful about the way the light was streaming into the Oval Office the day we hung the works, in that it mimicked the lighting in Cobb’s Barn. With Hopper it is so much about the quality of light, and I think the early morning light at that moment echoed what we were seeing in the painting and I remember remarking upon that to Barbi Spieler, Head Registrar for the Permanent Collection, who was there as well. For obvious reasons we don’t often see Hopper paintings in natural light at the Museum.
When I saw the official White House photograph taken by Chuck Kennedy of The President standing in front of the two paintings, I thought it looked like a Hopper composition. Hopper’s urban scenes are often of a solitary figure caught in quiet contemplation, and that’s what the photograph captured. The light in the office and the sense of stillness are very Hopper-esque; the sun even seems to be coming into the office at the precise angle of the sun in the painting. And the back of The President recalls the back of the figure in Hopper’s most famous painting, Nighthawks. I’m guessing Chuck Kennedy knew exactly what he was doing. And of course, it was deeply gratifying to see an image of President Obama so intently focused on the paintings.
The paintings are of Cobb’s Barn in South Truro, Mass. — Cape Cod. Both Hoppers were like obsessed with Cobb’s Barn, here is Edward:
Far as I can tell Cobb’s Barn isn’t there anymore. Bit of a bummer, maybe they should put up a plaque or something.
That’s her painted by Robert Henri, who loved to paint babes:
Henri was, by this point, at the heart of the group who argued for the depiction of urban life at its toughest and most exuberant. Conservative tastes were necessarily affronted. About Henri’s Salome of 1909, critic Hughes observed: “Her long legs thrust out with strutting sexual arrogance and glint through the over-brushed back veil. It has far more oomph than hundreds of virginal, genteel muses, painted by American academics. He has given it urgency with slashing brush marks and strong tonal contrasts. He’s learned from Winslow Homer, from Édouard Manet, and from the vulgarity of Frans Hals”.
Now, what painting is in the Oval Office may seem meaningless but I gotta tell ya: I like living a country where the President is expected to have some taste and make some choices about putting some cool art on the wall.
Presidents have different art on the wall, but it means something to them. George W. Bush made a real point of having a bust of Churchill in there. Obama allegedly returned it, right? Ted Cruz definitely tells the whole truth about that?
New president, new art. We can all find American art we like, that’s a great thing about us. You can bet in the Reagan days they made choices about the art:
Looks like Reagan has The President’s House up there.
From the “Artwork” section of the Wiki page on Oval Office:
Most presidents have hung a portrait of George Washington – usually the Rembrandt Peale”Porthole” portrait or the Charles Willson Peale three-quarter-length portrait – over the mantel at the north end of the room. A portrait of Andrew Jackson by Thomas Sully hung in Lyndon Johnson’s office, and in Ronald Reagan’s, George H. W. Bush’s and Bill Clinton’s. A portrait of Abraham Lincoln by George Henry Story hung in George W. Bush’s office, and continues in Barack Obama’s. Three landscapes/cityscapes by minor artists – The City of Washington from Beyond the Navy Yard by George Cooke, Eastport and Passamaquoddy Bay by Victor de Grailly, and The President’s House, a copy after William Henry Bartlett – have adorned the walls in multiple administrations. The Avenue in the Rain by Childe Hassam and Statue of Liberty by Norman Rockwell flanked the Resolute Desk in Bill Clinton’s office, and do the same in Barack Obama’s.
What a slam! “minor artists”. The friggin’ President looks at your painting every day and you’re still minor. These art world guys are tough on each other, I tell ya.
Reader reaction is encouraging me in a White House kick. Be sure to weigh in to Helytimes if you know any facts about Oval Office art. Somebody out there knows what Bartlett had up.
Ashley Weinberg, a psychologist at the University of Salford who has interviewed dozens of former members of the British Parliament about why they liked their jobs, says that the phrase “being at the center of things” kept coming up. That yearning doesn’t require convictions. “You’re sensing things happening around you,” Weinberg says. “Which is quite different from whether you want specificthings to happen around you.”
That’s from this interesting article about George Pataki, and why a longshot guy would run for president.
MANY CANDIDATESWITH no chance of victory run for president because of conviction. Like, say, Ron Paul in 2012 or Bernie Sanders today, they have a set of issues they passionately want to advance.
This does not, as far as I can tell, apply to George Pataki. As Jonah Goldberg put it in a column last month, Pataki seems to be “pretending to have core convictions just so he can run.” Even the Pataki website motto—”People over politics”—suggests a desire to avoid serious thought. And such an impression is nothing new. As Pataki’s third term as governor of New York was winding down in 2005 and 2006, The New York Sun wrote that “one looks in vain to discern any principle or idea that Mr. Pataki stands for consistently.” Columnist Deroy Murdoch wrote in National Review that Pataki was “a politician of breathtaking mediocrity” whose “lack of competence, charisma, and character composes a sickening trifecta.” Kindest was The New York Times, which complained that under Pataki “reform was a talking point, not a doing point,” while nonetheless conceding that, overall, “New Yorkers are well aware that it is possible to do worse.”
Another common explanation for why people choose to run doomed presidential campaigns is that it raises the odds of getting a Cabinet post. Perhaps Pataki wishes to be secretary of Agriculture? But that’s unlikely. While steering a federal department is prestigious, the work is hard. Which, I’m afraid, brings us to another harsh point made by many observers of Albany: that Pataki is not only light on convictions but also disinclined to exertion. “The consensus was he was a lazy guy,” says George Marlin, a leader of New York’s Conservative Party, who was appointed by Pataki to head the Port Authority but later became a prominent critic of the governor. “Energy was not his strong suit.”
In 2006, New York Post state editor Fredric Dicker described Pataki’s administration as one “marked by a torpidity unprecedented in modern times” and estimated, based on testimony from sources in Albany, that Pataki averaged about 15 hours of work per week. Meanwhile, The New York Observer saw a “legacy of laziness, mediocrity and pervasive neglect of the public interest.” The 15-hour-a-week claim seems improbable, of course, and Pataki’s spokesperson David Catalfamo calls it “ludicrous,” saying no one lazy could get elected three times, enact numerous changes, or steer the state through the aftermath of September 11. But it’s fair to say that those who praise Pataki tend to mention intelligence or analytical power rather than midnight oil.
It reminded me of seeing Rahm Emanuel once on Charlie Rose. Asked why he’d wanted to run for Congress, he said “to make a difference.” Charlie nodded. Humans are obsessed with “making a difference” in general, but (duh) not all difference is good.
It seems, when you read about politics, that a lot of people go into it to sort of pretend to others and maybe to themselves to be doing something, without necessarily figuring out what they should be doing.
A guy who seemed to be a great case study in this when I was growing up reading the newspaper was Bill Weld, Governor of Massachusetts, who, it seemed pretty clear, basically got bored of the job before he was out of office. How about this, from a 2004 James Fallows article previewing Bush-Kerry debates. Fallows is talking about when Weld and Kerry debated during the 1996 campaign for Senate
But they differed in a crucial way. Kerry tried harder. His tone was more appropriate to a TV debate (Kerry was understated and almost languid, Weld strangely blustering). He was quicker to turn each answer into an attack. And he more clearly figured out the theme that would be troublesome for his opponent, as he hammered home the idea that Weld was a comrade of Newt Gingrich and the national Republican Party—a kiss of death in Massachusetts. (Perhaps illustrating the truism that aristocrats don’t sweat off the squash court, on the day of the first debate Weld was worrying about a chess match against a journalist. “I would advise the President not to engage in any chess games by mail while engaged in debates with Senator Kerry,” Weld told me. “I was studying the chess game in my office and also preparing for the debate that night—and I made just a little bit of a mistake and lost a pawn. And I really hated losing that pawn.”)
Obviously he’s being a bit of a showoff, WASPy understatement etc., but man. Everything’s just an amusing game to this guy. From Weld’s wikipedia page:
In July 1997, Weld was nominated to become United States Ambassador to Mexico by President Bill Clinton. His nomination stalled after Senate Foreign Relations committee Chairman Jesse Helms refused to hold a hearing on the nomination, effectively blocking it. … This refusal to hold hearings was also rumored to be at the request of former United States Attorney General and friend of Helms, Edwin Meese. Meese had a long-standing grudge against Weld stemming from Weld’s investigation of Meese during the Iran-Contra affair. Weld publicly criticised Helms, which the White House discouraged him from doing, but Weld relished the opportunity, saying: “It feels like being in a campaign. I feel newly energized. I love to stir up the pot. I seem to click on more cylinders when the pot is stirred up.”
Very human, I guess. But perhaps either unsettling or amusingly absurd to think on how much of history might be driven by just people’s desire to stir the pot and click their cylinders. Boredom, in other words.
Look, the nature of grieving is weird, how are you gonna judge how somebody grieves? (but the typo?!)
first got me to really thinking about this.
George HW and Barbara Bush lost a daughter to pediatric leukemia when she was four years old. Cramer says that something like half of all couples that lose a child split up, because the ways that two people grieve can be so divergent and impossible, even offensive, for the other person to deal with. The Bushes were determined not to let that happen to them (and they didn’t).
The instinct on Twitter to make someone’s death an opportunity for backhanded aggrandizement sets my nerves on edge. I’m not sure why that particular thing gnaws at me so much. Maybe because the whole point of the death of a noble guy, or death at all, might be to remind us how unimportant we are, or to encourage us to be better?
(Hardly a perfect model here: when SDB died I both wanted to talk about him and myself and also at the same time never talk about it.)
This dude David Carr was incredible, his death was shocking, the number of people he seemed to have touched directly is staggering. In New York in 2009 I was talking to a girl who told me more or less unprompted about truly moving kindnesses and generosity David Carr had extended to her just out of excellence of character and goodness of spirit.
I’ll miss reading the guy’s stuff. I was just reading his thing about Brian Williams because I’m sure he’d have something to say worth hearing.
Now this is a tribute:
If you can only have one sentence of writing advice, go with this:
If you are prepared for an intense experience on the subject of death and grieving, might I recommend the American Experience “Death And The Civil War”?
If you’re rushed for time, allow me to summarize: the Civil War was a tremendous bummer.
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.)
Not well informed on the torture report, so thanks to Andrew Sullivan for calling my attention to this NYT piece:
For all the publicity the Bush administration gave Mr. Padilla, the committee revealed that the government never took his dirty bomb plot seriously. It was based on a satirical Internet article titled “How to Make an H-Bomb,” and the plot involved swinging a bucket full of uranium over one’s head for 45 minutes. One internal C.I.A. email declared that such a plot would most likely kill Mr. Padilla but “would definitely not result in a nuclear explosive device.” Another called Mr. Padilla “a petty criminal” and described the dirty bomb plot as “lore.”
Easy to forget who you’re supposed to be rooting for as you read this thing. The goofy gang that can’t shoot straight or the fiendish torturers who’re hiding the pathetic results of their evil in a tedious bureaucratic report?
Incredible ideas in the Chris Rock interview from New York magazine:
When you mentioned Bush, I thought you were going to say something else, which is that he had this “good versus evil” manner of speaking — the Western sheriff who’s come to lay down the law. Obama’s been faulted for not showing anger in public, and for not speaking in simple, declarative Bushisms. Of course, the moment he does do that, he’s accused of being an angry black man.
There’s an advantage that Bush had that Obama doesn’t have. People thinking you’re dumb is an advantage. Obama started as a genius. It’s like,What? I’ve got to keep doing that? That’s hard to do! So it’s not that Obama’s disappointing. It’s just his best album might have been his first album.
What has Obama done wrong?
When Obama first got elected, he should have let it all just drop.
Let what drop?
Just let the country flatline. Let the auto industry die. Don’t bail anybody out. In sports, that’s what any new GM does. They make sure that the catastrophe is on the old management and then they clean up. They don’t try to save old management’s mistakes.
That’s clever. You let it all go to hell.
Let it all go to hell knowing good and well this is on them. That way you can implement. You hire your own coach. You get your own players. He could have got way more done. You know, we’ve all been on planes that had tremendous turbulence, but we forget all about it. Now, if you live through a plane crash, you’ll never forget that. Maybe Obama should have let the plane crash. You get credit for bringing somebody back from the dead. You don’t really get credit for helping a sick person by administering antibiotics.
How about this?
We still have some white people taking the Sarah Palin line about blacks and immigrants alike. They want to “take back the country” — and we know from whom. I find it depressing. The increments of change seem to be so much tinier than we wanted to believe when the Civil Rights Act passed 50 years ago, or when Obama was elected in 2008.
Yeah. The stuff you’re talking about is pockets though. There’s always going to be people that don’t know that the war’s over. I’m more optimistic than you, but maybe it’s because I live the way I do. I just have a great life, so it’s easier for me to say things are great. But not even me. My brothers drive trucks and stock shelves. They live in a much better world than my father did. My mother tells stories of growing up in Andrews, South Carolina, and the black people had to go to the vet to get their teeth pulled out. And you still had to go to the back door, because if the white people knew the vet had used his instruments on black people, they wouldn’t take their pets to the vet. This is not some person I read about. This is my mother.
Which I think is actually bigger than the football player. Because the average person in that locker room is in his 20s. And it’s just not a big deal to be around a gay guy — if you’re in your 20s. Whereas Tim Cook is around these corporate guys. That is the epitome of a boys’ club. That is sexist, racist — the least inclusive group of people you’re ever going to find. Men who have no problem being called owners. Who actually wants to be called an owner, even if you owned a football team? Just the title owner is just so nasty and disgusting.
It does have a kind of antebellum ring.
So Tim Cook came out to those guys. He’s in that club. My God.
I gotta say, I agree with Peggy Noonan that this article in the New York Times, “Reid Is Unapologetic as Aide Steps on Toes, even the President’s,” is upsetting. Here is Ms. Noonan’s summary of its contents:
Assuming the article is factually correct, and it certainly appears to be well reported, the president of the United States phoned the majority leader of the U.S. Senate during a legislative crisis to complain that one of the senator’s staffers is a leaker. Unbeknown to the president, the staffer was listening in on the call and broke in to rebut the president’s accusation.
That’s the staffer there, David Krone.
(What should we make of Harry Reid’s portrait of Twain there? There’s no way Reid is so dumb it didn’t occur to him what Twain would think of that, and him. Is choosing that portrait a sage bit of humor and humility? Or a cheap show at sage humor and humility? Plus bloody bloody Andrew Jackson? anyway there’s no time to sort all that out.)
Says the Times:
For some on Capitol Hill, Mr. Krone is a manipulative megalomaniac. For others, he is a hero who has the financial independence to speak his mind. The one thing that everyone agrees on is that he is different.
(Krone is rich I guess from being a cable TV executive as a young man?). I’m not liking this dude’s tone as presented in the article:
“I don’t remember anything about that,” Mr. Reid said in his chandeliered office on Nov. 13, a few hours after being re-elected leader of the Senate Democrats. “Do you?” he asked, turning to Mr. Krone, who was seated beside him in the “leader’s chair.”
“Umm,” Mr. Krone, who is rarely at a loss for words, said through a frozen smile. A few minutes later, Mr. Krone, dressed impeccably in a bespoke suit, walked a reporter out of the office, and, referring to the president’s call, jocularly exclaimed, “I can’t believe that you know that story!”
Krone’s wife is Alyssa Mastromonaco, former Deputy Chief Of Staff for Operations at the White House:
One day, congressional leaders went to the White House to meet with the president. As they entered, Secret Service agents decided to screen staff members, who usually roll right onto the grounds with their bosses. According to a person familiar with the day’s events, Mr. Krone, incredulous, began shouting. He then called Ms. Mastromonaco, then his fiancée and the administration’s deputy chief of staff for operations, who arrived and apologized. (Mr. Krone said he did not recall the incident and suggested that he might have been misunderstood. “I have a sarcastic sense of humor,” he said.)
Adding to the tumult as the staff members and congressional leaders waited in the White House lobby, Mr. Boehner approached Mr. Reid and, upset by Mr. Reid’s attacks on him on the Senate floor, told him to “go [expletive] yourself.” Mr. Reid replied that he read only what Mr. Krone put in his speeches.
“He says, ‘Blame David,’ ” Mr. Krone recalled, chuckling. “And I was, like, ‘Don’t look at me!’ ”
There’s more weirdness. Apparently the President and First Lady threw a party in honor of Mr. Krone and Miss Mastromonaco’s upcoming wedding, and Krone didn’t go:
Even as his relationship with the administration deteriorated, Mr. Krone set a wedding date with Ms. Mastromonaco for last November. As the big day approached, Mr. Krone’s good friend George E. Norcross III, the Democratic political boss of South Jersey, suggested a golf outing at his Palm Beach, Fla., home before the nuptials. Mr. Krone said his fiancée endorsed the idea, but a week before the trip said, “Don’t get mad, but they are throwing a party for us.” The “they” in question was Mr. Obama and the first lady, Michelle Obama, but Mr. Krone kept his engagement with Mr. Norcross instead. “I’m exactly where I wanted,” he recalled thinking during the Florida trip.
At the White House engagement party, the president spoke of Ms. Mastromonaco’s indispensability and referred to her as a “little sister.” Michelle Obama declared her to be like “part of my family.” The absent groom later admired a photo of the cake served at the party, describing it as “like taller than me.”
Mastromonaco now works at VICE. Reid, talking about Krone:
Mr. Reid fought back tears as he recalled the time he visited his wife, who had been injured in a car accident, and saw Mr. Krone at her hospital bedside. “David is someone I can say, and it doesn’t affect my manhood at all,” Mr. Reid said, “I love David Krone.”
This Times article has some unusually casual phrasing. For example:
It is hard to imagine now, but Mr. Krone used to have a good relationship with the White House. Smart and insanely hard-working, Mr. Krone, with his direct manner and total empowerment by Mr. Reid, proved a valuable ally in the administration’s early policy lifts.
Anyway: Peggy Noonan is disgusted with all this. She goes on to invoke The West Wing, on which she briefly worked:
The second thing the Horowitz story made me think of is this. I have remarked, and I think others have also, on the broad, deep impact of the television drama “The West Wing.” It spawned a generation of Washington-based television dramas. (Interestingly, they have become increasingly dark.) It also inspired a generation of young people to go to Washington and work in politics. I always thought the show gave young people a sense of the excitement of work, of being a professional and of being part of something that could make things better.
But it also gave them a sense of how things are done in Washington. And here the show’s impact was not entirely beneficial, because people do not—should not—relate to each other in Washington as they do on TV. “The West Wing” was a television show—it was show business—and it had to conform to the rules of drama and entertainment, building tension and inventing situations that wouldn’t really happen in real life.
Once when I briefly worked on the show, there was a scene in which the press secretary confronts the president and tells him off about some issue. Then she turned her back and walked out. I wrote a note to the creator, Aaron Sorkin, and said, Aaron, press secretaries don’t upbraid presidents in this way, and they don’t punctuate their point by turning their backs and storming out. I cannot remember his reply, but it was probably along the lines of, “In TV they do!”
“The West Wing” was so groundbreaking, and had in so many ways such a benign impact. But I wonder if it didn’t give an entire generation the impression that how you do it on a TV drama is how you do it in real life.
And so the president calls the senator and the aide listens in and cuts the president off. And things in Washington are more like a novel than life, but a cheap novel, and more like a TV show than life, but a poor and increasingly dark one.
Over at Gawker they love to call Peggy Noonan things like “doddering” and “an 800 year-old broken record” and “lunatic.” That is not helpful. It only reveals Gawker to be dummies who think they’re smarter than they are, Peggy Noonan is 10x more skillful at writing than anyone at Gawker.
She’s so good at writing/rhetoric/storytelling that she can slick you by assumptions that might not hold up. Here, in this same blog post, she tells the story of hearing of Monica Lewinsky:
At this point I said, “Whoa. Whoa.” Because my instinct was that it wasn’t true, presidents don’t do things like that, this sounds more like a novel than life. Maybe the girl is just someone with an extremely odd and active fantasy life.
But my friends believed the story, and I could tell that they felt a little sorry for me that I didn’t get it.
Which I didn’t. Because no president would act like that. It took days and weeks for me to fully absorb it. And then I got mad, because the people involved in the scandal were acting as vandals and tearing down things it took centuries to build.
My only personal experience of the White House was of two men, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, for whom such behavior would have been impossible.
If you work for American presidents who are good men, you will inevitably carry forward in your head the assumption that American presidents will be good men. Your expectations will be toward high personal standards and normality. If you started out working for leaders who are not good men, on the other hand, you can go forward with a cynicism and suspicion that are perhaps more appropriate to your era.
Well sure maybe they weren’t getting bjers but Reagan almost certainly was demented and both of them either didn’t know or lied about knowing how military officers in their White House were selling weapons to Islamist revolutionaries and using the money to fund right-wing murderers in Central America.
Maybe that’s worse?
That thing about tearing down things it took centuries to build, tho. I’m with her on that.
Thinking as I go here but: it’s cool and hip and really important sometimes to be “disruptive.”
But: perhaps in my dottage I’m becoming a grumpy old crank, but:
There’s also wisdom in a lower-c “conservative” respect and protective instinct for “things” it took centuries and great sacrifice to build. Things that preserve important, maybe even eternal values. Things like the American Presidency, which has a dignity earned for it by brilliant, inspired men, starting with George Washington, and yeah he owned slaves and that is extremely fucked as even he seems to have known but his greatness is undeniable because he was, seemingly at all times, thinking of something bigger than himself, offering his life to a larger vision that extends all the way to us and beyond.
Among the people that followed George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson in that office there was not one who wasn’t deeply weird and full of puzzle and contradiction. There was at least one wicked criminal who deserved to be dumped in an open sewage canal. But taken together they built up and left behind a legacy, a “thing” of brilliance and endurance and dignity and honor and pride that benefits us, protects us, improves and broadens and enriches our lives. That deserves some kind of deep reverence.
Not worshipful reverence, not fanatical reverence. Even Reid knows he’s supposed to remember Twain too. Maybe reverence is the wrong word even. Maybe what it should inspire is humility.
That’s what’s missing here. A guy who interrupts the President and then brags about it to The New York Times isn’t being humble. He’s being an asshole.
If you live in LA County, here are some endorsements based on a very casual roundup from smart people. I have not looked into all this myself but this may be slightly better than voting at random:
Sheila Kuehl for supervisor.
No on 46.
Yes to all judicial reappointments
Dayan Mathai for judge.
IDEAS: What evidence exists for saying America has a double government?
GLENNON:I was curious why a president such as Barack Obama would embrace the very same national security and counterterrorism policies that he campaigned eloquently against. Why would that president continue those same policies in case after case after case? I initially wrote it based on my own experience and personal knowledge and conversations with dozens of individuals in the military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies of our government, as well as, of course, officeholders on Capitol Hill and in the courts. And the documented evidence in the book is substantial—there are 800 footnotes in the book.
IDEAS: Why would policy makers hand over the national-security keys to unelected officials?
GLENNON: It hasn’t been a conscious decision….Members of Congress are generalists and need to defer to experts within the national security realm, as elsewhere. They are particularly concerned about being caught out on a limb having made a wrong judgment about national security and tend, therefore, to defer to experts, who tend to exaggerate threats. The courts similarly tend to defer to the expertise of the network that defines national security policy.
The presidency itself is not a top-down institution, as many people in the public believe, headed by a president who gives orders and causes the bureaucracy to click its heels and salute. National security policy actually bubbles up from within the bureaucracy. Many of the more controversial policies, from the mining of Nicaragua’s harbors to the NSA surveillance program, originated within the bureaucracy. John Kerry was not exaggerating when he said that some of those programs are “on autopilot.”
No surprise here to readers of The Wise Men.
Enjoyed reading this Michael Kelly profile of David Gergen from 1993.
A speech-department staff member culled dozens of anecdotes about Nixon from intimates and aides in a lengthy report, with each anecdote indexed according to the character trait it was meant to advertise: Repartee, Courage, Kindness, Strength in Adversity. What is most painfully obvious about these undertakings is how little the anecdotalists had to work with. Exemplifying the President’s talent for Repartee was an account of Nixon silencing a New York businessman who had upbraided him over the Vietnam War by telling the man not to “give me any crap.” Illustrating the President’s Strength in Adversity was a bald little story of how the young Congressman Nixon, falling on an icy sidewalk, still managed to keep his 2-year-old daughter, Tricia, safe in his arms.
In this perfectionist and paranoid atmosphere, Gergen learned the bones of his craft.
He learned the importance of saying the same thing, over and over and over: “Nixon taught us about the art of repetition. He used to tell me, ‘About the time you are writing a line that you have written it so often that you want to throw up, that is the first time the American people will hear it.’ ”
He learned about the gimmicks of phrasing calculated to catch the public ear: “Haldeman used to say that the vast majority of words that issue under a President’s name are just eminently forgettable. What you need to focus on is what’s the line that is going to have a little grab to it.”
He learned the theory of controlled access. If you gave the press only a smidgen of Presidential sight and sound on a given day, reporters would be forced to make their stories out of that smidgen: “Nixon used to go into the press room with a statement that was only 100 words long because he did not want them editing him. He knew if he gave them more than 100 words, they’d pick and choose what to use.”
He learned the endless discipline required to protect the image, which was as evanescent as morning mist: “It went into everything — the speeches, the talking points, the appearances. Haldeman had a rule on appearances: if you wanted to put in a scheduling request for anything the President was going to do in public, your request had to fulfill what we called H.P.L. — Headline, Picture, Lede. You had to say, in writing, what the headline out of the event was going to be, what the lede was going to be and what the picture was going to be.”
Then, on Jan. 21, 1980, Bush unexpectedly won the Iowa Republican caucus and became the instant front-runner. “The very next day, Gergen called up Baker and said, miracle of miracles, he had managed to clear his schedule and would be able to take the job after all,” Keene says. “When Baker said the job was filled, Gergen came in as a volunteer speech writer.” In the month between the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, when Bush was the leading Republican candidate, Gergen, according to Keene, “was very visible.”
But on Feb. 26, Bush lost the New Hampshire primary to a resurgent Ronald Reagan. “And Gergen just disappeared completely, I mean right away,” recalls Peter Teeley, Bush’s press secretary at the time. “We never heard from him again until he turned up with Reagan at the Republican convention.”
Even the Reaganites, who benefited from Gergen’s leap, were appalled by the speed of it. “He came to us as soon as it began to seem Bush was going to lose, definitely before Bush pulled out, and quite frankly this made us very suspicious of him,” recalls a former Reagan campaign official. “I mean, there’s jumping ship and there’s jumping ship. This guy was elbowing the women and children aside to get overboard.”
Gergen strongly denies that he showed any undue haste in switching allegiances. “It is not true that I disappeared in the campaign,” he says. “I continued to advise Bush much in the same way I had up to the point he was nominated Vice President.”
Let me note here (as I have elsewhere) that I took a class with David Gergen at the K School. I found him to be a serious but approachable and warm dude, always engaged and present. He did have a habit of ostentatiously taking notes during any guest speaker’s talk, but I took that to be a form of politeness.
I recall him telling a story – it’s possible I read this somewhere but I think I heard him say it – that he had a meeting with Nixon when he was (I believe) leaving law school and about to go into the Navy. Nixon advised him to serve as a regular old line officer on a ship, and not to use his law degree to get into a headquarters job.
1) Could anyone reasonably say that this statement is not true:
The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans.
That comment appears the biggest issue in Louisiana’s senate race. MSNBC goes ahead and calls the comment “controversial,” which I guess is “true,” there is a “controversy” about it now, but what a weasel of a word. As always, important to see the comments in context. MSNBC again:
It’s important to emphasize that Landrieu, speaking to NBC’s Chuck Todd, went beyond identity politics. “One of the reasons that the president’s so unpopular is because he put the moratorium on off-shore drilling. remember?” she added. “After Macondo. And our state was furious about that. Now he could have shut down the BP operations but he didn’t, he shut down the whole Gulf. When you shut down the whole Gulf of Mexico it puts a lot of people here at risk and out of business. That’s number one.”
“She’s basically calling the people of Louisiana, she’s calling all of us in the South racist,” Jindal said, demanding an apology. “Here in Louisiana and across the South, we don’t think in terms of black and white, in terms of racial colors — the only colors that matter down here are red, white and blue and … purple and gold as we cheer our LSU Tigers onto victory in college football. It’s not about race.”
Granting rare “Must Read” status to this post by the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson about Jeb Bush.
“Several of our boys were pallbearers—maybe all of them—but the one I remember is Jeb,” Barbara Bush wrote in an account, in her memoirs, of her father-in-law’s funeral. Jeb was her second son:
He was a student at the University of Texas, nineteen years old, six feet four inches tall. Remember, this was the early 1970′s. He, of course, did not have a dark suit. He told me not to worry—he’d borrowed one. I should have kept worrying. It was black corduroy. He is the most handsome man (at least according to his mother) and that saved him. Otherwise, he would have looked like a card shark from Las Vegas.
It is a quintessential Bush family moment: an establishment premise streaked with clumsy absurdity, with the participants mysteriously pleased about how it all looks—convinced that their fine qualities have saved them. This was October, 1972, during a period in which Jeb’s older brother, George W. Bush, was in something of a Vegas-card-shark phase. Their grandfather, Prescott Bush, who was being buried that day, had been a banker and Connecticut Senator; their father, George H. W. Bush, had made a good deal of money in the oil business and was serving as Ambassador to the United Nations. George W. had just been rejected by the University of Texas Law School and was drinking too much in all the wrong places, including behind the wheel of a car—maybe best not to remember that. The Bushes have always thought, to an extent that can, frankly, be puzzling for anyone who simply watches his speeches or assesses his record, that Jeb was their child of destiny. When Barbara Bush’s memoir came out, in 1994, after her husband’s one-term Presidency, the family thought that Jeb, not George, would be the next President Bush. The Bushes have never hidden their surprise that it didn’t work out that way, and now, according to multiple press reports, they have again become worked up about the idea that the man in the black corduroy suit can make it to the White House. But why should he?
Felt refreshing to read someone raise the idea “why should Jeb Bush be president?” without assuming I concede he’s the most terrific American around.
3) I’m afraid I also have to grant “Must Read” status to this depressing article:
Hard-Nosed Advice From Veteran Lobbyist: ‘Win Ugly or Lose Pretty’
Richard Berman Energy Industry Talk Secretly Taped
Mr. Berman offered several pointers from his playbook.
“If you want a video to go viral, have kids or animals,” he said, and then he showed a spot his company had prepared using schoolchildren as participants in a mock union election — to suggest that union bosses do not have real elections.
“Use humor to minimize or marginalize the people on the other side,” he added.
“There is nothing the public likes more than tearing down celebrities and playing up the hypocrisy angle,” his colleague Mr. Hubbard said, citing billboard advertisements planned for Pennsylvania that featured Robert Redford. “Demands green living,” they read. “Flies on private jets.”
Mr. Hubbard also discussed how he had done detailed research on the personal histories of members of the boards of the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to try to find information that could be used to embarrass them.
I guess Richard Berman would have to admire whoever recorded the talk for their “win ugly” strategy. Although it was recorded by an energy executive:
What Mr. Berman did not know — and what could now complicate his task of marginalizing environmental groups that want to impose limits on fracking — is that one of the energy industry executives recorded his remarks and was offended by them.
“That you have to play dirty to win,” said the executive, who provided a copy of the recording and the meeting agenda to The New York Times under the condition that his identity not be revealed. “It just left a bad taste in my mouth.”
What does Berman suggest you do to people operating out of principle?
4) Not granting this full “Must Read” status but it is interesting. Iowa Senate candidate and proud hog-castrater Joni Ernst was recorded talking about Obamacare. Here’s what she said.
“We’re looking at Obamacare right now. Once we start with those benefits in January, how are we going to get people off of those? It’s exponentially harder to remove people once they’ve already been on those programs…we rely on government for absolutely everything. And in the years since I was a small girl up until now into my adulthood with children of my own, we have lost a reliance on not only our own families, but so much of what our churches and private organizations used to do. They used to have wonderful food pantries. They used to provide clothing for those that really needed it. But we have gotten away from that. Now we’re at a point where the government will just give away anything.”
I don’t think this is as crazy an opinion as Jonathan Chait seems to. I bet a lot of Americans would agree with this. If Joni Ernst believes this, that churches and private organizations should provide things like health care, and the government should just stay out of it, she should say that and argue it. I would however agree with Chait and John Le Carre.
That’s the fundamental belief that motivates most, if not all, the conservative opposition: Health care should be a privilege rather than a right. If you can’t afford health insurance on your own, that is not the government’s problem.
I happen to find this belief morally bizarre. People who cannot afford their own insurance either don’t earn much money, or have health risks, or family members with health risks, too expensive to bear.
All of us non-socialists would agree that there ought to be some things rich people get to enjoy that poor people are deprived of. Access to health care is a strange choice of things to deprive the losers of — not least because one of the things you do to “earn” the ability to afford it is not just the normal market value of earning or inheriting a good income, but the usually random value of avoiding serious illness or accident.
Indeed, very few Republicans have the confidence to make the case openly that the inability of some people to afford the cost of their own medical care is their own problem. But that is the belief that sets them apart from major conservative parties across the world, and it is the belief that explains why they have opposed national health insurance every time Democrats have held power, and why they have neglected to create national health insurance every time they have.
Anyway, there are honorable people in politics. If you live in Arkansas’ District 35, let me give my personal endorsement to Clarke Tucker for State Representative. Wish I could vote for him!
Crazy story in the NY Times Magazine (insurance):
For that trip, Marquis lined up her first sponsor, the North Face. She doesn’t think she impressed the company by her pitch. She believes it gave her a few backpacks, a couple of tents and some clothes because, she said, “when I told them what I was going to do, they thought, We can’t let that little thing go out without gear.” To supplement the inadequate supply of noodles she could carry, Marquis brought a slingshot, a blow gun, some wire to make snares and a net for catching insects. In the warm months, Marquis ate goannas, geckos and bearded dragons. In the cold months, when the reptiles hid, she subsisted on an Aboriginal standby, witchetty grubs — white, caterpillar-size moth larvae that live in the roots of Mulga trees. (Raw, Marquis said, they taste like unsweetened condensed milk; seared in hot sand, they crisp up nicely.) Throughout, Marquis tried to minimize human contact. She hid her femininity with loose clothes, big sunglasses, hair piled up in a hat. When water was scarce, she collected condensation, either by digging a deep hole and lining the cool bottom with plastic or by tying a tarp around a bush. If those techniques didn’t yield enough liquid — and they rarely did — she drank snake blood. At night Marquis slept close to the trunks of trees, touching the bark in a way that she describes as “almost carnal.” She fell in love with a particular twisted and wind-bent Western myall tree on Australia’s Nullarbor Plain.
I went to look for a picture of the Nullarbor Plain:
that’s a highly populated stretch.
About that picture of Marquis:
Umm…………………………….. hasn’t she heard of Uber?
Here then we arrive at the rub. To sort the actions of the past, to begin to unthread them and lay them out on our examiners’ table, is accomplished only with time, patience, argument.
But Time, cruel as she is, doesn’t stop moving, not even for the historian. In the thirty or forty years it may take historians to come to some preliminary judgment on the recent past, the game’s been going on. The same mistakes have already been made. It is no question of history repeating itself. History repeats itself before it’s even history. The scholar emerges from his library, steps out on the balcony, and announces: “ah! look! tyrants oppress! fools stumble! vanity clouds judgment! fear leads us to folly!” The man in the street – if one can be bothered to look up – says “well done, sir, but while you were in your study, all that’s already happened again.”
… in this sense, the historian is running a race that can only be lost. One could argue that the historian then should work quick as a doctor, his business as pressing as the surgeons’, rushing to prescriptions before the patient collapses. I don’t contend as much, however, not merely because the historians’ business is done sedentarily. No; I think we are best advised to work with a philosopher’s unsurprise. Indeed, for a historian, unsurprise is the beginning of wisdom.
Francis Dunnam, “History As Emergency,” Twombley memorial lecture at Oxford (1938).
Saw on Drudge or someplace this article about Bob Dylan being charged with “inciting hatred” in France.
The offending remarks, which “sparked a complaint from the Council of Croats in France (CRICCF),” were given in an interview to Rolling Stone over a year ago, an interview I completely missed.
This is massive insurance/late to the party to many HelyTimes readers, but the whole interview is just astounding. Here are the offending remarks, in their context:
Some of us have seen your calling as somebody who has done his best to pay witness to the world, and the history that made that world.
History’s a funny thing, isn’t it? History can be changed. The past can be changed and distorted and used for propaganda purposes. Things we’ve been told happened might not have happened at all. And things that we were told that didn’t happen actually might have happened. Newspapers do it all the time; history books do it all the time. Everybody changes the past in their own way. It’s habitual, you know? We always see things the way they really weren’t, or we see them the way we want to see them. We can’t change the present or the future. We can only change the past, and we do it all the time.
There’s that old wisdom “History is written by the victors.”
Absolutely. And then there’s Henry Ford. He didn’t have much use for history at all.
But you have a use for it. In Chronicles, you wrote about your interest in Civil War history. You said that the spirit of division in that time made a template for what you’ve written about in your music. You wrote about reading the accounts from that time. Reading, say, Grant’s remembrances is different than reading Shelby Foote’s history of the Civil War.
The reports are hardly the same. Shelby Foote is looking down from a high mountain, and Grant is actually down there in it. Shelby Foote wasn’t there. Neither were any of those guys who fight Civil War re-enactments. Grant was there, but he was off leading his army. He only wrote about it all once it was over. If you want to know what it was about, read the daily newspapers from that time from both the North and South. You’ll see things that you won’t believe. There is just too much to go into here, but it’s nothing like what you read in the history books. It’s way more deadly and hateful.
There doesn’t seem to be anything heroic or honorable about it at all. It was suicidal. Four years of looting and plunder and murder done the American way. It’s amazing what you see in those newspaper articles. Places like the Pittsburgh Gazette, where they were warning workers that if the Southern states have their way, they are going to overthrow our factories and use slave labor in place of our workers and put an end to our way of life. There’s all kinds of stuff like that, and that’s even before the first shot was fired.
But there were also claims and rumors from the South about the North . . .
There’s a lot of that, too, about states’ rights and loyalty to our state. But that didn’t make any sense. The Southern states already had rights. Sometimes more than the Northern states. The North just wanted them to stop slavery, not even put an end to it – just stop exporting it. They weren’t trying to take the slaves away. They just wanted to keep slavery from spreading. That’s the only right that was being contested. Slavery didn’t provide a working wage for people. If that economic system was allowed to spread, then people in the North were going to take up arms. There was a lot of fear about slavery spreading.
Do you see any parallels between the 1860s and present-day America?
Mmm, I don’t know how to put it. It’s like . . . the United States burned and destroyed itself for the sake of slavery. The USA wouldn’t give it up. It had to be grinded out. The whole system had to be ripped out with force. A lot of killing. What, like, 500,000 people? A lot of destruction to end slavery. And that’s what it really was all about.
This country is just too fucked up about color. It’s a distraction. People at each other’s throats just because they are of a different color. It’s the height of insanity, and it will hold any nation back – or any neighborhood back. Or any anything back. Blacks know that some whites didn’t want to give up slavery – that if they had their way, they would still be under the yoke, and they can’t pretend they don’t know that. If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood.
It’s doubtful that America’s ever going to get rid of that stigmatization. It’s a country founded on the backs of slaves. You know what I mean? Because it goes way back. It’s the root cause. If slavery had been given up in a more peaceful way, America would be far ahead today. Whoever invented the idea “lost cause . . . .” There’s nothing heroic about any lost cause. No such thing, though there are people who still believe it.
Here is another part of the interview that is also amazing:
[Dylan suddenly seems excited.] Let me show you something. I want to show you something. You might be interested in this. You might take this someplace. You might want to rephrase your questions, or think of new ones [laughs]. Let me show you this. [Gets up and walks to another table.]
You want me to come with you?
No, no, no, I got it right here. I thought this might interest you. [Brings a weathered paperback to the table!] See this book? Ever heard of this guy? [Shows me Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club, by Sonny Barger.]
He’s a Hell’s Angel.
He was “the” Hell’s Angel.
Look who wrote this book. [Points at coauthors’ names, Keith Zimmerman and Kent Zimmerman.] Do those names ring a bell? Do they look familiar? Do they? You wonder, “What’s that got to do with me?” But they do look familiar, don’t they? And there’s two of them there. Aren’t there two? One’s not enough? Right? [Dylan’s now seated, smiling.]
I’m going to refer to this place here. [Opens the book to a dog-eared page.] Read it out loud here. Just read it out loud into your tape recorder.
“One of the early presidents of the Berdoo Hell’s Angels was Bobby Zimmerman. On our way home from the 1964 Bass Lake Run, Bobby was riding in his customary spot – front left – when his muffler fell off his bike. Thinking he could go back and retrieve it, Bobby whipped a quick U-turn from the front of the pack. At that same moment, a Richmond Hell’s Angel named Jack Egan was hauling ass from the back of the pack toward the front. Egan was on the wrong side of the road, passing a long line of speeding bikes, just as Bobby whipped his U-turn. Jack broadsided poor Bobby and instantly killed him. We dragged Bobby’s lifeless body to the side of the road. There was nothing we could do but to send somebody on to town for help.” Poor Bobby.
Yeah, poor Bobby. You know what this is called? It’s called transfiguration. Have you ever heard of it?
Well, you’re looking at somebody.
That . . . has been transfigured?
Yeah, absolutely. I’m not like you, am I? I’m not like him, either. I’m not like too many others. I’m only like another person who’s been transfigured. How many people like that or like me do you know?
By transfiguration, you mean it in the sense of being transformed? Or do you mean transmigration, when a soul passes into a different body?
Transmigration is not what we are talking about. This is something else. I had a motorcycle accident in 1966.1 already explained to you about new and old. Right? Now, you can put this together any way you want. You can work on it any way you want. Transfiguration: You can go and learn about it from the Catholic Church, you can learn about it in some old mystical books, but it’s a real concept. It’s happened throughout the ages. Nobody knows who it’s happened to, or why. But you get real proof of it here and there. It’s not like something you can dream up and think. It’s not like conjuring up a reality or like reincarnation – or like when you might think you’re somebody from the past but have no proof. It’s not anything to do with the past or the future.
So when you ask some of your questions, you’re asking them to a person who’s long dead. You’re asking them to a person that doesn’t exist. But people make that mistake about me all the time. I’ve lived through a lot. Have you ever heard of a book called No Man Knows My History? It’s about Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet. The title could refer to me.
Transfiguration is what allows you to crawl out from under the chaos and fly above it. That’s how I can still do what I do and write the songs I sing and just keep on moving.
When you say I’m talking to a person that’s dead, do you mean the motorcyclist Bobby Zimmerman, or do you mean Bob Dylan?
Bob Dylan’s here! You’re talking to him.
Then your transfiguration is . . .
It is whatever it is. I couldn’t go back and find Bobby in a million years. Neither could you or anybody else on the face of the Earth. He’s gone. If I could, I would go back. I’d like to go back. At this point in time, I would love to go back and find him, put out my hand. And tell him he’s got a friend. But I can’t. He’s gone. He doesn’t exist.
OK, so when you speak of transfiguration . . .
I only know what I told you. You’ll have to go and do the work yourself to find out what it’s about.
I’m trying to determine whom you’ve been transfigured from, or as.
I just showed you. Go read the book.
That’s who you have in mind? What could the connection to that Bobby Zimmerman be other than name?
I don’t have it in mind. I didn’t write that book. I didn’t make it up. I didn’t dream that. I’m not telling you I had a dream last night. Remember the song “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream”? I didn’t write that, either.
I’m showing you a book that’s been written and published. I mean, look at all the connecting things: motorcycles, Bobby Zimmerman, Keith and Kent Zimmerman, 1964, 1966. And there’s more to it than even that. If you went to find this guy’s family, you’d find a whole bunch more that connected. I’m just explaining it to you. Go to the grave site.
Why is it that when people talk about me they have to go crazy? What the fuck is the matter with them?
Here’s Mount Tabor in Israel where Jesus got transfigured:
(Civil War photo from the website Florida Memory)
Did you hope or imagine that the election of President Obama would signal a shift, or that it was in fact a sea change?
I don’t have any opinion on that. You have to change your heart if you want to change.
Since his election, there’s been a great reaction by some against him They did the same to Bush, didn’t they? They did the same thing to Clinton, too, and Jimmy Carter before that. Look what they did to Kennedy. Anybody who’s going to take that job is going to be in for a rough time.
Don’t you think some of the reaction has stemmed from that kind of racial resonance you were talking about?
I don’t know. I don’t know, but I don’t think that’s the same thing. I have no idea what they are saying for or against him. I really don’t. I don’t know how deep it goes or how shallow it is.
You are aware that he’s been branded as un-American or a socialist —
You can’t pay any attention to that kind of stuff, as if you’ve never heard those kind of words before. Eisenhower was accused of being un-American. And wasn’t Nixon a socialist? Look what he did in China. They’ll say bad things about the next guy, too.
So you don’t think some of the reaction against Obama has been in reaction to the event that a black man has become president of the United States?
Do you want me to repeat what I just said, word for word? What are you talking about? People loved the guy when he was elected. So what are we talking about? People changing their minds? Well, who are these people that changed their minds? Talk to them. What are they changing their minds for? What’d they vote for him for? They should’ve voted for somebody else if they didn’t think they were going to like him.
The point I’m making is that perhaps lingering American resentments about race are resonant in the opposition to President Obama, which has not been a quiet opposition.
You mean in the press? I don’t know anybody personally that’s saying this stuff that you’re just saying. The press says all kinds of stuff. I don’t know what they would be saying. Or why they would be saying it. You can’t believe what you read in the press anyway.
Do you vote?
Uh . . .
Should we do that? Should we vote?
Yeah, why not vote? I respect the voting process. Everybody ought to have the right to vote. We live in a democracy. What do you want me to say? Voting is a good thing.
I was curious if you vote.
What’s your estimation of President Obama been when you’ve met him?
What do I think of him? I like him. But you’re asking the wrong person. You know who you should be asking that to? You should be asking his wife what she thinks of him. She’s the only one that matters.
Look, I only met him a few times. I mean, what do you want me to say? He loves music. He’s personable. He dresses good. What the fuck do you want me to say?