Friday, June 29, 2012

embrace, rejoice

In a speech at Wellesley College's commencement in 1996, journalist / screenwriter Nora Ephron said to graduates,

"What are you going to do?

Everything, is my guess.

It will be a little messy, but
embrace the mess.

It will be complicated, but

rejoice in the complications.

It will not be anything like what you think it will be like,

but surprises are good for you.

And don’t be frightened:
You can always change your mind.

I know: I’ve had four careers and three husbands."


Thursday, June 28, 2012

it just might work

Nora Ephron, writer of the screenplay for When Harry Met Sally, died.

The news lines say 6-year battle with leukemia and no one knew except her close family members.

I thought that was an interesting way of dealing with things.  It's the opposite of the people who relentlessly regale their contemporaries (or any audience they can find) with announcements and descriptions of ailments small and large, real and imagined.

These people who influenced and illuminated our lives keep dying lately:  Levon Helm, Nora Ephron. ...

quotations from Nora Ephron:

I am continually fascinated at the difficulty intelligent people have in distinguishing what is controversial from what is merely offensive.

Insane people are always sure that they are fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy.

My mother wanted us to understand that the tragedies of your life one day have the potential to be comic stories the next.

Whenever I get married, I start buying Gourmet magazine

Sometimes I believe that some people are better at love than others, and sometimes I believe that everyone is faking it.

It struck me that the movies had spent more than half a century saying, ''They lived happily ever after'' and the following quarter-century warning that they'll be lucky to make it through the weekend. Possibly now we are entering a third era in which the movies will be sounding a note of cautious optimism: "You know, it just might work.”



Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Harvey Milk

Wanted to discuss the movie, Milk, and it seemed an elusive subject because there are various aspects about the story of Harvey Milk that seemed -- they get jounced and jumbled in my memory because I only learned about him and his aims and accomplishments in small bits and pieces over a period of several decades.

And I guess I wasn't looking to learn about him -- the information and understanding just drifted in.  To my head.

A few years ago on You Tube I noticed there was a documentary called "The Times Of Harvey Milk."  Think I watched some of it -- and it was a surprising and emphatic moment because thought, "Oh my gosh, I haven't thought of this "Harvey Milk" in years, decades, and yet it was so clear in my head, the memory of this bizarre news story that sort of burst upon us in November 1978:  in San Francisco, one of the city supervisors, Dan White, had gone into the city hall & assassinated two people -- San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, and another city supervisor, Harvey Milk.

(A board of "city supervisors" ran things -- they're elected -- think it's like a town council but they use a different term....)

This news story would sort of flow by me as it broke and then developed -- I didn't follow the news closely -- was in college, did not have a TV, & was busy...yet I absorbed the substance of the event in little pieces, involuntarily.

Part of the reason the story would catch your attention was the name Milk.  (Milk?  That's his name.  Milk.  Even that small detail put a claim on your awareness, because you would notice it, & then you would remember some of what they were saying....)

I'm not from San Francisco, never been there -- I was clear across the country in Boston -- yet in some sense just the shadowy outlines of this story hovering near one's consciousness had a subtly gripping effect.

It was like -- What??!

These people -- two city supervisors and a mayor (along with the rest of the Board of Supervisors) -- are supposed to be in charge of things, working together to keep things going and handle any problems -- and one of them kills the other two??  What the hell?  And who gets that excited over city issues?
(Well probably lots of people, but at the age I was then, I could hardly imagine that.)

But -- the issues were not sewers or sidewalks or building permits -- Dan White seems to have been one of those people who was unhappy or uncomfortable with himself, and took it out on others.

And a component of the news stories at the time was the fact that Harvey Milk was gay.

(Did the guy kill him because he didn't like gay people?  What does that accomplish?  It made you wonder.)

Then I lost track -- thinking of other things.
And later came the trial of Dan White and the infamous "Twinkie Defense" -- a slang term coined by the press to describe how Dan White's lawyers brought in White's consumption of "junk food" as part of the defense -- he was temporarily off his rocker because of too much sugar or something.  (Or -- as one internet thing claims, it wasn't the sugar, but the idea that White had been very health-conscious and suddenly he switched to eating junk food & that showed that he was depressed enough to do something desperate.  Pretty "thin soup" either way, I think.)

(The twinkie defense may have kicked off a rolling-ride of barreling mistrust [or nagging uncertainty] of the legal system which drove the American public all the way to the train wreck that was the O.J. trial 16 years later.)

Anyway --
approx. 2008 or 9, 30 years after the murders, watching some of "The Times of Harvey Milk" the realization dawned on me that Harvey Milk was not only a S.F. city supervisor who happened to be gay -- he was a major, and enthusiastic, neighborhood organizer who -- covered gay issues, but also in general, human issues:  his concern was for the civil rights of everyone, and living together in a peaceful, positive manner.  (who-can-argue-widdat?...)

...and then watching the movie Milk a few days ago, the sentence, "he was the first openly gay man to be elected to major public office in America" made its way into my consciousness, and then -- one can kind of put the aspects together and see the big picture.

The 1978 killings sort of brought to the forefront, or at least into public consciousness, the idea of --
some people are gay but you don't know they are,
and other people are --
"openly gay."

To the gay community, the murder of Harvey Milk meant an attack on their movement for civil rights, and it made him a martyr and an icon.


Monday, June 25, 2012

the WHAT?

Encountered the movie, Milk, and watched it.
A few overly frank parts that I would have edited out or not put in in the first place.
And a couple of spots where they used words and expressions that have only been used since the 90s and the 00s -- people did not say them in 1978.

But -- I "knit-pick."

It's good.

In this one scene in the "Castro" neighborhood of San Francisco -- it's supposed to be approx. 1973, I think, and the newly inspired activist Harvey Milk ("Businesses should be good to their customers; we'll get some money rollin' in here, and revitalize the neighborhood!") is handing out flyers on the street.  These masses of people -- mostly men, many of whom may be gay -- are passing on the sidewalk.  Harvey Milk (portrayed by Sean Penn) calls out to this one kid, and tries to talk him into getting involved in their neighborhood movement (one of whose goals is to stop police from beating up on gay men -- [ ???!? ] ).

"Come over here, we'll get you registered to vote," Milk invites the young man.

"F--k that!" comes the reply.  "Elections of any kind are f-----g bourgeois affectations!"

Oh!--we must fasten our seatbelts...
At least, I thought this morning, none of the people I know who Don't Vote shoot verbiage like that at me.

Too many syllables:  aaaauuuugghhhh!


Friday, June 22, 2012

stop following me

When someone seems to be boisterously challenging toward me, sometimes I try to "dish it back" and it usually doesn't work; I am not good at it.  Words emerge from my mouth and then they make no sense.

Someone said to me, "They're cutting the trees in your yard!"
And I replied,
"Were you looking at my yard?" -- trying to be boisterously challenging, back.

It was pointed out to me -- "You live on the main street."
Oh yeah. ...

When I first moved into the house, bringing with me two black and white Boston cats, some friends from a nearby small town visited and sat in the living room.  Since the house is on our town's main street, the merpph-swoosh of traffic outside was almost constant -- I had already become so used to it that I didn't notice it. 

One of my small-town guests commented, "Boy, it's loud here."

A few months later someone from Temple, Texas visited.  Sitting in the back yard eating fruit, he said, "Boy, it's quiet here."

-----------------------  I guess it is true that if you live on the main street of a town of 11,000 people, you cannot really be suspicious that if someone drives by your house and notices something that they were "being nosy," or "too inquisitive."  Everyone's going to drive by.
For people who live on the quieter residential streets, it's different.  If the same vehicle drives by and drives by and drives around and does it more than once or twice, and he doesn't live there, the whole neighborhood notices, and wonders.

I used to know a guy who worked as a salesman and another, older salesman who worked in the same place would follow him around, seeing what he was doing.  When the Follower followed the Salesman to his sales calls, the Salesman wondered if the Follower was wanting to complain, "That was supposed to be my account!"  But when the Follower started (and continued) to drive by the Salesman's house, he would feel like, Hey there are no accounts to be sold here; drive somewhere else, please. 

Once in exasperation, he said, "I've even thought of filing harassment charges -- I mean, it's stalking!"  But by his tone I could tell he didn't really want to "file" any "charges" -- he just wanted to live, and be left alone.
And -- he supposed -- it was a public street of the local city government or whatever, so anybody was probably allowed to drive on it.

And then one of his neighbors would say to him, "That guy from your work was drivin'-around-the-block again.  What does he want?"

"I don't know."

"Why does he do that?"

"I don't know."

-------------------------  I remember when the state legislature passed a bill to either outlaw, or put a limit on, what was then the new term, "stalking"...early or mid-nineties.  As senators debated it, lobbyists outside the Senate joked that they were all going to be arrested and charged with "stalking" because they were always having to  follow after a busy, fast-moving senator or representative to get a word in about a bill.  And then walk with them while they walk to their next committee or caucus.

Really, when you think about it that way -- we would sit and watch them while they did the people's business;
we would watch them, & then when they would come out we would follow them and walk along with them...what else would you call that besides stalking - ? lol

But of course not every lobbyist would be following every legislator all at the same time -- like a herd -- it wasn't that scary ...

----------------------------  I used to wonder, with the Following salesman:
 If he's paid on commission, wouldn't he make more money if he took the Time that he spent shadowing his co-worker and converted that Time into Sales-and-Prospecting Time?

I couldn't understand someone wasting their time like that, when there are contacts to be made, and profits to be created.  I mean, you'd literally be losing money, by spending time on -- stalking.  And I wondered why the manager of the business tolerated / tacitly encouraged that behavior.  A manager I know says, "Usually -- it goes to the top."

I think people should fill all of their time with --
1) doing things that are productive and constructive;
2) having fun; and
3) sleeping.

If everyone filled each 24-hour space with those three items then no one would cause any problems.  Problems would still occur, like floods and stuff, but people could work to repair the damage from things like that under the heading of Item 1 -- doing something constructive. ...

(Put on List. ...)


Thursday, June 21, 2012

a thousand reasons

The words to that song, "To Life" (in Fiddler On The Roof) are so mind-blowingly good.

"God would like us to be joyful
Even when our hearts lie panting on the floor"
...who comes up with a lyric like that?

Well -- the guy who wrote the song, right.

"our hearts lie panting on the floor"

Now, that --
that would be a situation.

And the idea that God "would like us to be joyful" even if things are bad
(I mean if y'heart is lying panting on the floor, that ain't good, right?)...  the very substantive idea that it is our "job" in life to be "joyful" -- along with the responsibility to lead a good life, in the best way we can, is firmly embedded in the lyric and makes a huge impact on the audience, even as they feel like they are just floating & bobbing along with the breathtaking, fun, and funny dance in the scene.

Art has this power in our lives.
And in the world.

It takes a wedding to make us say
Let's live another day...

May all your futures be pleasant ones,
not like our present ones... (!)

We know that when good fortune
favors two such men
it stands to reason we deserve it too...  : )

...And the Russians in the bar sing to the Jewish guys, real strong & fast, like a machine gun or a jackhammer:




Wednesday, June 20, 2012

God would like us

noun Hebrew .

a toast used in drinking to a person's health or well-being.

Also, l'cha·yim, lechayim, lehayim.


ləḥayyīm literally, to life
(from on-line Dictionary -- pronounced
"luh - ky' em")

In Fiddler On The Roof,
they toast,
and then they sing:


"Here's to our prosperity. Our good health and happiness. And most important,"
To life, to life, l'chaim

(Tevye & Lazar)

L'chaim, l'chaim, to life

Here's to the father I've tried to be

Here's to my bride to be

Drink, l'chaim, to life, to life, l'chaim

L'chaim, l'chaim, to life


Life has a way of confusing us


Blessing and bruising us


Drink, l'chaim, to life


God would like us to be joyful
Even when our hearts lie panting on the floor


How much more can we be joyful
When there's really something
To be joyful for

To life, to life, l'chaim

To Tzeitel, my daughter

My wife!
It gives you something to think about

Something to drink about

Drink, l'chaim, to life

(Lazar - spoken)
"Reb Mordcha."

(Mordcha - spoken)
"Yes, Lazar Wolf."

(Lazar - spoken)
"Drinks for everybody!"

(Mendel - spoken)
"What's the occasion?"

(Lazar - spoken)
"I'm taking myself a bride!"

(All - spoken)
"Who? ... Who?"

(Lazar - spoken)
"Tevye's eldest, Tzeitel."

(All - spoken)
"Mazeltove... wonderful... congratulations."

(All - sung)
To Lazar Wolf

To Tevye

To Tzeitel, your daughter

My wife


May all your futures be pleasant ones

Not like our present ones

Drink, l'chaim, to life!

To life, l'chaim

L'chaim, l'chaim, to life...
It takes a wedding to make us say--
Let's live another day--

Drink, l'chaim, to life

We'll raise a glass
sip - a - drop - of -
honor - of - the - great -

We know that
fortune favors two - such - men
It stands to reason we deserve it too! --

To us -- and our -- good fortune
Be happy, be healthy, long life!

And if our good fortune never comes
Here's to whatever comes
Drink, l'chaim, to life


(a Russian)

Zachava zdarovia
Heaven bless you both nazdrovia
To your health and may we live together in peace

Zachava zdarovia
Heaven bless you both nazdrovia
To your health and may we live together in peace

May you both be favored with the future of your choice
May you live to see a thousand reasons to rejoice

(Other Russians)

Zachava zdarovia
Heaven bless you both nazdrovia
To your health and may we live together in peace


(instrumental bridge // wild Russian dance)


We'll raise a glass and sip a drop of schnapps
In honor of the great good luck
That favored you

We know that
When good fortune favors two such men
It stands to reason we deserve it too

To us and our good fortune
Be happy, be healthy, long life
And if our good fortune never comes
Here's to whatever comes
Drink, l'chaim, to life




Tuesday, June 19, 2012

age of aquarius

"Just one word --

I recalled that scene from the movie The Graduate when considering nutrition choices.  When hungry between meals, will choose rice cakes (!) instead of small bag of chips from vend. machine.  Health expert at work says some of those delicious, salty snacks make us more hungry -- more hungry for more of the same type of stuff, and I think there's something in that.  And I remembered rice cakes -- !  They look like styrofoam and taste like air; they're great -- now if really hungry, will choose a rice cake.  Am -- armed -- with rice cakes.

And kept thinking, "rice cakes; rice cakes; rice cakes," then
"plastics, plastics, plastics."

But in the movie the word is not repeated over and over again.
It's just one famous scene where, as Stephen Holden wrote in the NY Times in 1997,

... in which a smug Los Angeles businessman takes aside the baby-faced Dustin Hoffman and declares, "I just want to say one word to you -- just one word -- plastics."

("I just want to say one word to you -- just one -- "
"I just want to say two words to you -- just two words -- rice cakes.")

I was too young to see The Graduate when it came out.  I remember the ad for it in our local paper, with somebody's leg.... When I saw the movie years later during college, I didn't not-like it, but I had the feeling like, Gee it didn't epitomize the 1960s like I thought it was going to.  At least not my feeling of the 60s. 

If I was going to recommend a movie for people to see to get a feeling of the 60s, I would give them Woodstock.

I remember even in grade school, noticing a Big Difference between the world and our country and the events out in reality vs. what we saw on TV shows and in movies.  I used to think, Why do the TV producers have the people in these shows doing these dances that are not what I see in real life, and wearing these clothes that are not what I saw, and not seeming to be up to date, or "with it"? 

And -- why are they saying the word "discoteque"...?
It was like -- these people don't "get it."

Guess I could have been looking at evidence of the so-called "generation gap" right there....the folks running Hollywood and the entertainment business then were over a certain age and they didn't really have a sense of things...and didn't want to.  Like my dad, they were probably all, "That's not music -- that's just noise."  ("Don't trust anyone over 30!"  LOL)

And now discovering The Graduate was based on a novel written in the early 60s, which were really more like the 1950s.

Stephen Holden, in his 1997 NYTms article, refers to Benjamin's parents' contemporaries as "the cocktail generation."  O-kay.

And here's to you, Mrs Robinson

Jesus loves you more than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)

God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson

Heaven holds a place for those who pray

(Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon

Going to the candidates’ debate

Laugh about it, shout about it

When you've got to choose

Ev'ry way you look at it, you lose

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio

A nation turns its lonely eyes to you (Woo, woo, woo)

What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson

Joltin' Joe has left and gone away

(Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

{"Mrs. Robinson," written / Paul Simon.  April 1968
released as single.}


Monday, June 18, 2012

sounds crazy, no?

Last week I was playing parts of the movie, Fiddler On The Roof on the DVD player.
Then I was thinking about the business where I work, and how various aspects --
several very large and cumbersome
many small but potentially helpful or disruptive, depending on circumstance --

have to be right, in order for the process of manufacturing to take place with a reasonable amount of smoothness and ultimate success.

And then it struck me -- yesterday, I think...our business / manufacturing process is -- like a fiddler on the roof!
Like at the beginning of the show, Reb Tevye speaks to the audience:

"A fiddler on the roof...

Sounds crazy, no?
But here, in our little village of Anatevka,
you might say

every one of us is a fiddler on the roof.

Trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune
without breaking his neck.

It isn't easy.

You may ask,
why do we stay up there
if it's so dangerous?
Well, we stay because
Anatevka is our home.
And how do we keep our balance?
That I can tell you in one word!



Friday, June 15, 2012

gone overnight

Reading Griftopia's research on Wall Street's activities in the past decade or so, made me remember when I worked for a summer at Shearson in Boston.  They were Shearson Loeb Rhodes when I was hired and during that summer the name of the company was changing to Shearson American Express because of a merger, or one bought the other. ...

When you read about the housing bubble and these wall street shenanigans you read over and over again that "it's all about the commissions" -- doing phony deals on people in order simply to glean the commission, not to work legitimately toward any long-term, real success.

When I worked at Shearson there was one broker with a desk in a corner near mine who disappeared. 

One day he was at his desk.
The next day he was not at his desk.

Word bubbled up in hushed office-talk that he'd been asked to clear out his desk.  I asked one of the brokers why -- he told me the Missing broker had been taking his clients' money and trading different stocks, making different investments -- brokers were allowed to do that but it had to be for a legitimate reason -- to help their clients earn more money.  You couldn't just trade back and forth in order to generate yourself another commission. 

And apparently that was what this guy had been doing:  the broker who taught me this called the practice "churning."

My understanding was that this practice was unsavory and unethical.  I didn't know whether it was actually illegal.

From what I'm reading, it sounds as if, now, these investment bank crooks and others probably get asked to clean out their desks if they do not "churn" and generate wildly out-of-proportion commissions based on nothing. ...

Is America going downhill?
Or is it just a "swing" in one direction and then things evolve and it "swings" back again?
I tend to think the commentators who think we're just getting worse and worse and never coming back are wrong.
Hope I'm right.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

gaming the system

I went on to read more in Matt Taibbi's Griftopia, to try to learn what happened.  And what else was there.

--------{excerpt}-------What is most amazing about the mortgage-scam era is how consistent the thinking was all the way up the chain.  At the very bottom, lowlifes like Solomon Edwards, the kind of shameless con man who preyed on families and kids and whom even other criminals would look down on, simply viewed each family as assets to be liquidated and converted into one-time, up-front fees.  They were incentivized to behave that way by a kink in the American credit system that made it easier, and more profitable, to put a torch to a family's credit rating and collect a big up-front fee than it was to do the job the right way.

["The right way" -- I remember a conversation with a co-worker in, maybe, 2009 -- we mentioned Goldman Sachs, or Wall Street, and he said, "I don't mind them making money, but they should make it the right way."  And I knew he meant, by Doing Something Legitimate.  Performing a service or producing something.]

...easier, and more profitable, to put a torch to a family's credit rating and collect a big up-front fee than it was to do the job the right way. 

And, amazingly, it was the same thing at the very top.  When the CEO of Goldman Sachs stood up in the conference room of the New York Federal Reserve Bank and demanded his money, he did so knowing that it was more profitable to put AIG to the torch than it was to try to work things out.  In the end, Blankfein and Goldman literally did a mob job on AIG,

burning it to the ground

for the "insurance" of a government bailout they knew they would get,

if that army of five hundred bankers could not find the money to arrange a private solution.

In their utter pessimism and complete disregard for the long term, they were absolutely no different from Solomon Edwards or the New Century lenders who trolled the ghettos and the middle-class suburbs for home-buying suckers to throw into the meat grinder, where they could be ground into fees and turned into Ford Explorers and flat-screen TVs or weekends in Reno or whatever else helps a back-bench mortgage scammer get [happy].  The only difference with Goldman was one of scale.

Two other things are striking about the mortgage-scam era.  One was that nobody in this vast rogues' gallery of characters was really engaged in building anything.  If Wall Street makes its profits by moving money around from place to place and taking a cut here and there, in a sense this whole mess was a kind of

giant welfare program

the financial services industry simply willed into being for itself.  It invented a mountain of money in the form of a few trillion dollars' worth of bogus mortgages and rolled it forward for a few years, until reality intervened -- and suddenly it was announced that We the Taxpayer had to buy it from them, at what they called face value, for the good of the country.

Meanwhile, investment banks tried to stick pensioners and insurance companies with their toxic investments....And at the tail end of all this frantic lying, cheating, and scamming on all sides, during which time no good jobs were created and nothing except a few now-empty houses (good for nothing except depressing future home prices) got built, the final result is that

we all ended up picking up the tab,

subsidizing all this crime and dishonesty and pessimism as a matter of national policy.

---------------------- [backing up to a couple of paragraphs where the author describes some of the mechanical workings of these strange operations]:

-{excerpt}----A class-action lawsuit against Washington Mutual offered a classic example.  A Mexican immigrant named Soledad Aviles with no English skills, who was making nine dollars an hour as a glass cutter, was sold a $615,000 house, the monthly payments for which represented 96 percent of his take-home income.  How did that loan go through?  Easy:  the lender simply falsified the documentation, giving Aviles credit for $13,000 a month in income.

The falsification mania went in all directions, as Eljon and Clara found out.  On one hand, their broker Edwards doctored the loan application to give Clara credit for $l7,000 in monthly income, far beyond her actual income; on the other hand, Edwards


the couple's credit scores


putting them in line for a subprime loan when they actually qualified for a real, stable, fixed bank loan.  Eljon and his wife actually got a worse loan than they deserved:  they were

prime borrowers

pushed down into the subprime hell

because subprime made the bigger commission.

...Anyone who's seen Goodfellas knows how it works.  A mobster homes in on a legit restaurant owner and maxes out on his credit, buying truckloads of liquor and food and other supplies against his name and then selling the same stuff at half price out the bank door, turning two hundred dollars in credit into one hundred dollars in cash.  The game holds for two or three months, until the credit well runs dry and the trucks stop coming -- at which point you burn the place to the ground and collect on the insurance.

Would running the restaurant like a legit business make more money in the long run?  Sure.  But that's only if you give a f---.  If you don't give a f---, the whole equation becomes a lot simpler.  Then every restaurant is just a big pile of cash, sitting there waiting to be seized and blown on booze, cars, and coke.  [??!!]  And the marks in this game are not the restaurant's customers but the clueless, bottomless-pocketed societal institutions:  the credit companies, the insurance companies, the commercial suppliers extending tabs to the mobster's restaurant.

In the housing game the scam was just the same, only here the victims were a little different. ...------------------------{end excerpt}

{{ Griftopia, by Matt Taibbi.
Copyright, 2010.  Spiegel & Grau
New York}}
I don't think I ever saw Goodfellas; (that's my problem, I don't see the right movies, in order to know things....)  I've never striven to learn about this type of information because -- it did not seem relevant to my life, or existence.  I didn't want to scam, or be scammed, and since I'm not a detective or financial investigator, I felt like, NONEOFMYBUSINESS, along with THATDOESN'TSOUNDVERYNICE, and let it lie -- leave it for someone else.

But I feel moved to try to learn something about what was done to our economy and by whom because apparently my tax dollars are being used to subsidize it, and that does not sound good to me, if I may engage in understatement.  And also I feel like I have to try to help someone "fix" and straighten out the entire economy just so that I can make a living and try to save money.

Honestly, President Obama, do I have to do everything myself??


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

taxpayers' money

Reading some of Matt Taibbi's book, in order to try to understand the "crash" of the economy, I came across an interesting passage which I wanted to place on here.  He used some vulgar language, so I devised a sort of translated code:
c--ks----r  =  "cuff-link"
"tie-clip" stands in for m-----f----r
we can use "suit jacket" in place of as-h--e.
(I guess I was imagining men's office attire because Mr. Taibbi was writing about Wall Street, and that's what they would be wearing there.)

--------------------{excerpt}---------During the winter of 2008-9, when I was just feeling my way through the first story I was writing for Rolling Stone about the financial crisis, I startd to notice something amusing.  One of the keys to talking to sources about any subject is clicking with their sense of humor, and I was noticing that with a lot of the financial people I was calling, I was missing laugh cues whenever anyone mentioned the investment bank Goldman Sachs.  No one ever just referenced "Goldman"; they would say, "those tie-clips" or "those cuff-links" or "those tie-clipping cuff-linking suit jackets at Goldman Sachs."  It was a name spoken with such contempt that you could almost hear people holding the phone away from their faces as they talked, the way you do with the baggie you have to pick up curbing your dog on the streets of New York.

After a few months I also started to notice that every time someone wanted to provide an example of some sordid scam the investment banking community was into, they used Goldman as an example.  The bank was also continually held up as a model for how certain firms used their connections with government to buffer business risk -- Goldman, I was told, was expert at using campaign contributions as a kind of market insurance to hedge their investments.  Many of the people I talked to were from firms that didn't get particularly advantageous treatment from the government during the bailout season, and so I assumed their take on the crisis, and Goldman, was colored by that.

After writing one story on the crisis that was mostly about AIG, I suggested to my editors at the Stone that we do a piece on Goldman that we could use as a window into the whole world of investment banking and what it's been up to for the past few decades.  We did the story; in retrospect we left out quite a lot, a problem I've tried to rectify here by adding some to the original text.

But perhaps as interesting as the actual material in the original piece was what happened after we ran it, as the magazine and I got sucked into a public relations firestorm that was both bizarre and educational.  My initial reaction to being blasted in the media by commentators from CNBC ("Stop Blaming Goldman Sachs!" read Charlie Gasparino's rant; another on-air talent called me a "lunatic"), the Atlantic, and other outlets was that this was just typical media turf-war stuff:  a bunch of insiders angrily piling on someone who didn't have any background in their area of expertise (which I did not) and yet was not-so-subtly indicting them for falling asleep on the job.

That was part of the story.  If Goldman Sachs really was, as we'd described, little more than an upscale version of a boiler-room pump-and-dump operation, then that definitely was an indictment of the financial press, which almost universally praised the bank as a pillar of economic genius.  If financial journalists like the Charlie Gasparinos and Megan McArdles out there took it that way, good -- I meant it that way.

But when the uproar continued for more than a month -- an eternity in news cycle time -- it was clear that there was something else at work.  Looking back now, what I experienced in the wake of the Goldman piece was a lesson in a subtle truth about class politics in this country.

Which is this:  you can pick on the rich in an ironic, Arrested Development sort of way, you can muss Donald Trump's hair, you can even talk abstractly about class economics using clinical terms like "income disparity."  But in our media you're not allowed to just kick the rich in the balls and use class-warfare language.  The taboo isn't so much the subject matter, the taboo is the tone.  You're allowed to grimace and shake your head at their shenanigans, but you can't call them crooks and imply that they haven't earned their money by being better or smarter than everyone else, at least not until they've been indicted or gone bankrupt.

Goldman was the ultimate embodiment of this media privilege.  The most valuable item in all the bank's holdidngs was its undeserved reputation for brilliance and efficiency.  The narrative that Goldman had always enjoyed was a sort of ongoing validation of the Ayn Rand / Alan Grenspan fairy tale, in which their riches and power sufficed as testimony to their social value.  They made lots of money, they were good at whatever it is they did, therefore they were "producers" and should be given the benefit of the doubt.  This fairy tale was deeply ingrained in the financial press, to the point where any suggestion to the contrary had to be attacked, regardless of the substance of that suggestion.

The abuse I was taking after my Goldman story came out wasn't so much a media turf war as a defense of The Narrative.  I believe now that there's real fear of what happens once The Narrative blows up -- because once we've ripped the rich to shreds, what we're left with is a whole bunch of broke people wondering where the hell their money went, without even a soothing fairy tale to help them get to sleep at night.

People in the financial community who actually worked in that world, the traders and the bankers themselves who joked with me about "those tie-clips," did not have these illusions.  You're not going to be good at making money if you need there to be a halo around the moneymaking process.  The only people who really clung to those illusions were the financial commentators, right up to the point where those illusions became completely unsustainable.  Within six months after this article came out, it was de rigueur even for wire services to reference Goldman's "vampire squid" reputation.  But by then the executives at Goldman weren't worrying all that much about their plummeting reputation -- and that, in the end, turned out to be the most interesting part of this story.  But more on that at the end of this updated version of the original piece, which I've saved for last in this book because the history of Goldman -- a company that has developed a reputation as the smartest and nimblest of corporate enterprises -- is the story of the great lie at the center of our political and economic life.  Goldman is not a company of geniuses, it's a company of criminals.  And far from being the best fruit of a democratic, capitalist society, it's the apotheosis of the Grifter Era, a parasitic enterprise that has attached itself to the Amrican government and taxpayer and shamelessly engorged itself on us all.

-------------------------- {end excerpt}
Griftopia.  Matt Taibbi.
Copyright 2010.  Spiegel &
Grau.  New York.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

from Nutbush to Butcher Holler

Yesterday when I was thinking of Representative number Eleven I remembered another time, when Tina Turner's "Twenty-four Seven" album had just come out:  I had it on cassette, and I showed it to Rep. 11 -- he liked Tina Turner.  And he seemed to be interested in her new album if that was what I felt like telling him, at the moment. 

Since it was Friday and everyone was going home for the weekend, & he had about a two & a half-hour drive ahead of him, I loaned him the cassette.

He listened to it in the car while he drove, and gave it back to me Monday.  He liked it.

I only began to really get into Tina Turner's music after I read her autobiography entitled I, Tina (written with Kurt Loder).

And I didn't want to read the book, at first when it came out, because I'd heard about the content and I thought, I can't stand a couple hundred pages of wall-to-wall wife-beating.  The book came out in 1986 and I heard about it but did not read it, but then I read it in 1993 -- maybe because the film version was coming out.  And when I read it, I was really knocked out.  I couldn't believe how good it was.

One of the reviewers wrote, "This is rock history with substance!"  I agreed.

I especially liked how Tina would say, resolutely, how if something wasn't right, or something wasn't going as well as she would have liked, she took another approach.
Like -- This went wrong, and so I did that.
I remember reading someplace that the reason she often wears fish-net stockings was because they don't get runs, or show runs, as readily as regular nylons.  Kind of like -- there was a practical reason for many of the details associated with her glamorous image.

She has a tremendous resoluteness about her, something a person notices when watching Coal Miner's Daughter, the story of Loretta Lynn's life, as well.

With Tina Turner's life story, I prefer the book over the movie.
For Loretta Lynn's story, I like the movie best.


Monday, June 11, 2012

statesman, baby

Last week I remembered a state legislator I used to know -- he was in the House for most years of his service but in the state Senate for a couple of years anyway, later. 

He was tall and thin -- even his face was thin.  He was originally from Long Island -- came to this part of the country, I-don't-know-how....He was an elementary school principal and always served on the House Education Committee.  He was a Republican, and very much in the style of Pat Moynihan as a Democrat -- a sensible person, middle of the road, no extremes, trying to work the Common Sense And Reason "platform."

I'm going to call him Representative Eleven.  He always liked to socialize in the evening -- he would sit and have a cigarette and a drink and a conversation.  He liked the legislative process.

Once, in the House Ed. Committee, Representative "19," a Democrat, said in discussion, "Well I don't see where this bill is going to actually accomplish anything, really.  It's just something where, if we pass it, we look good, and we feel good, but it has no real effect."

Representative Eleven tapped his microphone on and bent down to speak in it:  "Well, we want to look good and we want to feel good, so I move we pass the bill."

---------------------------- One time he talked to me in this dark cocktail lounge they have in a big hotel in the capital:  he told me, "I've always admired your tenacity."  (I was like, 'Hmm -- I'll have to make sure my tenacity is -- er -- ironed and folded. ...)  I don't know...

----------------------- One time Rep. 11 was on my short list of people I needed to touch base with about something -- a bill or an amendment...there was a plan and I wanted to make sure it was was the middle of winter and I saw 11 outside the doors to the capitol's rotunda, smoking a cigarette.  (The rules about where you could smoke in the capitol building had been evolving.  When I first started lobbying they could smoke in the cafeteria in the basement, and maybe in the lobbies, I can't remember.  Then the smokers could only smoke in the back part of the cafeteria; then they couldn't smoke anyplace inside the capitol building -- they had to go outside.  And they would go outside in the worst, coldest weather, whatever, and stand there and smoke.)

That always brought home to me how much smokers want to smoke, seeing them standing there in the arctic winds, with no winter coats on.

And the day I needed to speak with Representative 11 and I saw him standing out in the Big Freeze, I thought, "Well, it's too cold to be out there, but it's my chance to take care of this piece of business and go forward with my day," so I went out.  Without my coat.

OMG it was So Cold -- like, 80 below, and 140 below with the wind chill factor.  I exaggerate only slightly.  It was So Cold, and we talked for a minute and we were both glad to get clarity and know what we were doing later in the committee, and that there probably would be no problems.  It was So Cold, and he was still talking and it was SO COLD so I jumped up and down a few times to try to warm up.  He stood looking down at me -- when I stopped jumping he said, "You big baby."

It sort of confirmed this sneaking suspicion I've always had that people who smoke feel like they're tougher in some way, than the rest of us. 

------------------------------- Another time, when he was in the Senate, "Eleven" was talking to me about a bill and he said that legislators were going to have to be "statesmen" and vote for the bill because it was right for everyone, and not be tied down to the particular short-term interests of their own constituencies.  I was so happy and impressed to hear him talk about being "statesmen" -- not enough people spoke of that, or upheld that standard, in the later 90s after term limits began to take effect.  He was kind of a lone voice for that aspect of legislative work.

They need that voice in Washington now.


Friday, June 8, 2012

slim cats

Grief and disappointment are things I don't enjoy.

I guess most people don't enjoy them -- that's why they're called

and not

"a fun picnic"
"a lovely dance."

We all know that we're going to die someday and so are the people we know.  But we don't really "know" it most of the time.  We are thinking about other things, and focusing on living -- before we die.

When it gets to the point in life when there is less space and time in between funerals it begins to feel, at times, a bit as if one were carrying something heavy -- involuntarily -- and one gets impatient sometimes with the inexorable Process -- ("Stop it!  There's no dying!  There's no sadness!  Knock it off!")

And then someone carps a little and you are like -- THWACCK!!, clocking them on the head with something heavy (figuratively speaking, not literally) and then you think, "Mm, maybe that was overkill."

Perhaps I am just a "big baby" about death and sadness.  ("Ah-don-wann-anee!")
I guess that's why we have the formalized customs with religion interwoven in them -- to provide a framework to begin the grieving process for the people most affected and to help the other people have a way of expressing support and to keep us from being "big babies."

At the beginning of the film When Harry Met Sally... they're riding in Sally's car -- (they are college-age students) -- and Harry (Billy Crystal) says, "D'you ever think about death?"
Sally (defensively):  "Ye-es!"  (like she's worried that maybe she doesn't think about it enough...)
Harry:  But it's just a fleeting thought that drifts in and out of the transom of your mind.  I spend hours.  I spend days.
Sally (with impatience):  Well that's doesn't mean you're deep or anything.  I mean yes, basically I'm a happy person!  (pause)
And I don't see that there's anything wrong with that!

Harry:  Course not, you're too busy being happy.  All I'm saying is, When the shit comes down, I'm gonna be ready for it, and -- you're not.  That's all I'm saying.

Sally:  Yes, and meanwhile you're going to ruin your whole life waiting for it...!

My cat, Chess Pacific, whom I love very much, is 19.  That is old for a cat.  With my first cats I had after college, I was in total mental "denial" about the idea that they would ever die.  And when the first one did I was very sad because I was unprepared.  This time my attitude is, I know the reality and understand it insofar as a person can, and meanwhile,
Every day is a gift.
And that's true for people as well as for slim gray cats. 


Thursday, June 7, 2012

dinner dance

This morning exercising in basement had Destiny's Child on boom-box:  their version of the Bee Gees landslide hit "Emotion" is like -- beyond perfect.

That phrase -- "in the words of a broken heart" -- the words express a sad thing, a "down" thing, but the musical notes go up -- climbing as if on astral stairs, soaring....

It's over and done but the heartache lives on inside

And who is the one you're clinging to instead of me tonight?
And where are you now, now that I need you?
Tears on my pillow wherever you go
I'll cry me a river that leads to your ocean
You never see me fall apart

In the words of a broken heart

It's just emotion that's taken me over
Tied up in sorrow, lost in the song
But if you don't come back
Come home to me, darling
You know that there'll be nobody left in this world to hold me tight
Nobody left in this world to kiss goodnight

I'm there at your side, I'm part of all the things you are
But you've got a part of someone else
You've got to find your shining star
And where are you now, now that I need you?
Tears on my pillow wherever you go
I'll cry me a river that leads to your ocean
You never see me fall apart

In-the-words of-a-broken-heart
It's just emotion that's taken me over
Tied up in sorrow, lost in my soul
But if you don't come back
Come home to me, darling
You know that there'll be nobody left in this world to hold me tight
Nobody left in this world to kiss goodnight


And where are you now, now that I need you?
Tears on my pillow wherever you go
I'll cry me a river that leads to your ocean
You never see me fall apart

In the words of a broken heart --

It's just emotion that's taken me over
Tied up in sorrow, lost in my soul
But if you don't come back
Come home to me, darling
You know that there'll be nobody left in this world to hold me tight
Nobody left in this world to kiss goodnight

In-the-words-of-a-broken-heart it's just e-motion

that's taken me over

Tied up in sorrow, lost in my soul
But if you don't come back
Come home to me, darling
You know that there'll be nobody left in this world to hold me tight
Nobody left in this world to kiss goodnight

"Ingrate" is a funny old-fashioned word that you don't hear people say very much anymore.  It means a person who is ungrateful.  (Maybe we don't hear the word "ingrate" very much anymore because in modern times people are all so grateful....?! Hmmh.  That would be nice.  Think people just forgot the word "ingrate."  It fell into disuse.)

I happened to see the word, out of the blue in a memo written by Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1974:
"I expected that for a long time our countries [India and the U.S.] were destined to remain in the grip of stereotypes about one another.  Americans would see 600 million ingrates.  Indians would see the white imperialist enemy."

------------------------------ Most human beings, I think, need to feel that their hard work and efforts are appreciated -- that the people they work with, or serve, have gratitude.  We would be embarrassed to say it, & sometimes even to think of it, & we don't think about it most of the time, & most people don't expect a "red carpet" to be rolled out for them -- mostly they expect (hope) only to not be hurt. 

To be not-hurt.
And to be paid.

{excerpt / Moynihan letters} - Journal entry about the arrest of an Indian naval officer accused of spying for the United States, leading Moynihan to conclude that the U.S. should simply pull all C.I.A. operations out of India, since they learn little anyway.

AUGUST 6, 1974

Grimsley arrived first to report the Indians have arrested a naval officer who has been providing us useless information about the Russians.  We do not work against the Indians.  We work with them.  But evidently we cannot resist a Lieutenant Commander who comes up at a dinner dance and tells some spook he would like to get on the payroll.  He has told all.  Three Amricans must depart immediately.  And so now I have a CIA source in jail in Bombay, an ex-CIA informer on bail in Delhi (they let Drobot out), and two poor kids in jail as spies in Calcutta, the judge there having announced he will try them under the Official Secrets Act and in camera. . . . What may I ask is a man to do with the rest of a day that begins in such manner?  I content myself with a long letter to Eagleburger saying that Kissinger must pull the C.I.A. out of India.  It is a devastating liability while it remains. . . . Unquestionably we would get better and cheaper information.  The alternative is to remain on the front page of the Indian press for yet another decade, with a quarter of the charges true and three quarters believed to be true by the most sophisticated and best informed people in government.

------------- {end Excerpt}
{Daniel Patrick Moynihan:  A Portrait In Letters Of An American Visionary
Edited / Steven R. Weisman
Copyright, 2010.  Pub. in U.S. by PublicAffairs, a member of the Perseus Books Group.  New York, New York.}

"What may I ask is a man to do with the rest of a day that begins in such manner?" seemed amusing, to me.  Along with -- but evidently we cannot resist a Lieutenant Commander who comes up at a dinner dance and tells some spook [spy] he would like to get on the payroll. ...  : )

This book collects a bunch of writings by Moynihan -- memos, letters, and diary entries, and covering the same years approx. as Arthur Schlesinger's collected Journals.

I really really like reading about recent history (to me, "current events" from only a few years ago...) in the words that people wrote, right then, at the time. Not with hindsight or "spin" applied years later when people have a need to summarize.  The Schlesinger and Moynihan writings are not summarizing, they are observing, analyzing.  This is what I wanted!  It is like Bob Dylan's music -- I didn't know that was what I wanted until I heard it and then I went, "There!  That's it!  That's what I've been lookin' for!"


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

wage peace


   ˈrizənəbəl,ˈriznə-Show Spelled[ree-zuh-nuh-buhl, reez-nuh-]

agreeable to reason or sound judgment; logical: a reasonable choice for chairman.


not exceeding the limit prescribed by reason; not excessive: reasonable terms.


moderate, especially in price; not expensive: The coat was reasonable but not cheap.


endowed with reason.


capable of rational behavior, decision, etc.

Sometimes reasonableness (?)
-- state of being reasonable --
is what I long for most in
human relations
human discourse.


I think someone should start a Reasonableness Movement.
It could be like the Peace Movement in the Sixties.

Peace, man!
Reasonableness, man!

Wage peace.
Wage reasonableness.  -- or, Wage reason.

Make love, not war.
Make -- ehrm, -- I don't know. ...


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

take your song out

•"Dry Your Eyes"

Words and Music by Neil Diamond and J.R. Robertson

~    ~    ~    ~
Dry your eyes --

and take your song out,
it's a newborn afternoon.

And if you can't recall the singer

 you can still recall the tune. ...

Dry your eyes and play it slowly.
Just like you're marching off to war;

sing it like you know he'd want it,

like we sang it once before.
[musical notes]--

And from the center of the circle

to the midst of the waiting crowd,
if it ever be forgotten --

sing it long and
sing it loud --

and come dry your eyes.

~ ~  And he taught us more about giving
than we ever cared to know,
but we came to find the secret --
and we never let it go.

And it was more than being holy
and it was less than being free,

and if you can't recall the reason --
can you hear the people sing?...--

Right through the lightning and the thunder
to the dark side of the moon,

to that distant falling angel that descended much too soon

and come dry your eyes.

Come dry your eyes.

In the last concert of The Band in 1976 (filmed by Martin Scorsese, to become the documentary, The Last Waltz), Neil Diamond played acoustic guitar and sang that song with the weight and conviction and sincerity of a hymn.  Man.


Monday, June 4, 2012

a boring guy like me

On January 2, 1960, Arthur Schlesinger wrote in his journal,

---- Jack Kennedy asked the Galbraiths and ourselves to dine with him at Locke-Ober following his telecast with Mrs. Roosevelt.  Earlier in the day he had announced his candidacy in a press conference in Washington.  At dinner...I had the sense that he feels himself increasingly hemmed in as a result of a circumstance over which he has no control -- his religion; and he inevitably tends toward gloom and irritation when he considers how this circumstance may deny him what he thinks his talents and efforts have earned.

I asked him what he considered the main sources of his own appeal.  He said obviously there were no great differences between himself and Humphrey on issues, that it came down to a question of personality and image.  "Hubert is too hot for the present mood of the people.  He gets people too excited, too worked up.  What they want today is a more boring, monotonous personality, like me."

Jack plainly has no doubt about his capacity to beat Nixon and can hardly wait to take him on.

{Journals, 1952 - 2000.
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
New York, 2007}


Friday, June 1, 2012

single-page memoranda

On January 18th, 1964, less than two months after the assassination of President Kennedy, Arthur Schlesinger wrote,

Life continues to run down.  I spend most of my time doing things about and for the Kennedy Library.  My relationship to the new administration could hardly be more meager.  I have had no private talks with President Johnson since early December; and the only piece of ongoing business in which my participation was invited was the preparation of the State of the Union message.

I would say that the essence of the Johnson administration so far is motion without movement -- but again I must guard against my commitment to his predecessor and my dislike of the current style and corn; because in most public respects he has done well, and held the line on the big issues.  I am sure he will be a good President, but I am also sure that it's not my sort of thing.

January 31

On January 27 I submitted my resignation.  It was accepted with alacrity....

March 11

LBJ differs from JFK in a number of ways -- most notably, perhaps, in his absence of intellectual curiosity.  Again, he has the senatorial habit of knowing only what it is necessary to know for the moment and then forgetting it as soon as the moment has passed.  Thus a senator knows everything about railroad legislation one week and about urban renewal the next and about foreign aid the next -- by which time he can no longer remember anything about railroad legislation.  LBJ lacks the supreme FDR-JFK gift of keeping a great many things in his mind at the same time, remembering them all, and demanding always to know new things.  This is particularly unfortunate in foreign affairs, where he knows little and yet seems disinclined to add to his knowledge as, for example, by talking to foreign visitors.

One senses a certain insecurity in his relations with people, except senators.  He alternates between effusive cordiality and absent and preoccupied indifference.  He apparently dislikes to do business on a face-to-face basis and requires single-page memoranda which he takes back to the Mansion, broods over and decides (or postpones) without discussion with the person who has brought up the problem.  There is no easy access to his office; even [Jack] Valenti, Moyers and [Walter] Jenkins have to request permission before they enter; the old informality of the Kennedy days has gone.

{Journals, 1952 - 2000.
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
New York