Monday, January 30, 2017

Uncommon Property

The last few days have been good days for the Millwall Football Club of Bermondsey, South London. The Lions, as they are known, on Sunday defeated Watford FC, of the Premier League, 1-0 in the fourth round of the FA Cup. This was an upset, as Millwall plays two divisions below Watford in League One.(1)

Even better than that sporting result, on the previous Wednesday the club learned that it could remain in South London, as a compulsory purchase order (CPO) which would have sold the club’s ground from underneath their feet to some redevelopment schemers was abandoned by the local government council. The council’s would-be development partner was “an opaque offshore-registered entity called Renewal.”(2)

The actual details of the disingenuousness of Renewal and its cosy intertwining of business and politics is too complex (and irrelevant to our purpose) to outline here (see the afore-referenced Guardian article for those details). One thing we can be sure of is that had the project gone through, the principals of Renewal would not be going hungry.
A few hundred years earlier—481, for those of a pedantic nature—common people in the North of England arose in protest against what they saw as many intolerable actions by the King, Henry VIII, and his ministers. To focus on only one grievance: the rebellion, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, was that of “a nation already made uneasy by the treatment of its Queen [Katherine of Aragon] and by the alienation of its Church from Rome,” stirred further “as the lesser monasteries were suppressed and their fabric was laid waste.”(3) 

It is Geoffrey Moorhouse’s belief that the rebels could easily have overcome the King’s forces at Doncaster and descended upon London had they not temporized, believing that they could negotiate with the sovereign’s representatives. But they eventually disbanded, and an enraged Henry took bloody revenge against the leaders of the Pilgrimage.

And what happened to the seized monastic lands? The overwhelming majority of allotments were sold off to the highest bidders.
While we looked at the Pilgrimage of Grace and the reaction to the confiscation and subsequent selling off of ecclesiastical property, it’s public property we are concerned with here. Between the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 and this week's victories of Millwall FC there have been many instances of common land in Great Britain being lost to the majority of the populace for the benefit of the already wealthy. In “A Short History of Enclosure in Britain” Simon Fairlie offers a long history of such happenings. He opens his account thusly:
Over the course of a few hundred years, much of Britain's land has been privatized — that is to say taken out of some form of collective ownership and management and handed over to individuals. Currently, in our "property-owning democracy", nearly half the country is owned by 40,000 land millionaires, or 0.06 per cent of the population, while most of the rest of us spend half our working lives paying off the debt on a patch of land barely large enough to accommodate a dwelling and a washing line.(4)
We could expand this discussion with examples beyond public land and Great Britain (think post-Soviet Russia and gas, mining, and other industries, for example), but the point we are trying to make here is that there is a mindset too prevalent (especially here in the United States) that everything that exists in the world is allowed to be sold to the very rich so that they can become even richer. 
Note to my fellow Americans: Looking at Trump’s choice for Education Secretary, how long will it be before there are no more public schools? 

1—In reality, the third division of English football. The second division is called the Championship. The English, surely, can match any other nation in the use of euphemism.

Also note the wonderful euphemism for “destruction.”

3—Geoffrey Moorhouse, The Pilgrimage of Grace: The rebellion that shook Henry VIII’s throne. The north of England, then as now, was economically worse off than the south, and many monasteries there provided basic welfare services to the common people. 



A few hours after this post was put online the Guardian published an article on the pushback in the US against public financing of facilities for millionaire-owned sports teams (specifically focusing on soccer). One example from the article:
Newly-elected Missouri governor Eric Greitens, sensing an electoral no-brainer, said before he took office in early January that public money for the construction of a downtown St Louis stadium was “nothing more than welfare for millionaires.(5)


One more day and one more example in the news of what the richest people can do: add a new citizenship without leaving one's old home:

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Dog Ate My File Cabinet

. . . and other excuses.
Monica Crowley, the foreign policy adviser tapped for a White House job under President-elect Donald Trump, will relinquish the post, a transition official told Reuters on Monday. 
Crowley had been chosen to serve as senior director of strategic communications at the National Security Council. Her appointment had been shadowed by reports of plagiarism in news outlets including CNN and Politico. 
After much reflection I have decided to remain in New York to pursue other opportunities and will not be taking a position in the incoming administration,” she said in a statement quoted by the Washington Times. 
I greatly appreciate being asked to be part of President-elect Trump’s team and I will continue to enthusiastically support him and his agenda for American renewal."
A CNN review found this month that Crowley plagiarized thousands of words of her 2000 dissertation for her Columbia University Ph.D. 
In addition, Politico reported that it found more than a dozen examples of plagiarism in Crowley's Ph.D. Dissertation.*
Dr. (ha, ha, ha!) Crowley's claim that she has decided to remain in New York to pursue other opportunities” is a neat revision of the classic declaration by disgraced politicians that they are resigning to spend more time with their families. Actually, her action makes great sense to me; who would trade the opportunity to remain at the home of the Met, the Met, and the Mets for some Washingtonian grilling on the provenance of her paragraphs?
I must confess, though, that I am rather disappointed that Dr. (ha, ha, ha!) Crowley did not own up to the plagiarism and offer some risible excuse that we all could kick around for a while. As much as I hate plagiarism, I love the excuses the perpetrators come up with.
Doris Kearns Goodwin's explanation for her own plagiaristic misdeeds is too long and complicated to quote here, involving as it does attics, boxes, folders, etc.** But her defense actually allows us to level another accusation against her. “Fourteen years ago,” she writes,
not long after the publication of my book The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, I received a communication from author Lynne McTaggart pointing out that material from her book on Kathleen Kennedy had not been properly attributed. I realized that she was right. Though my footnotes repeatedly cited Ms. McTaggart's work, I failed to provide quotation marks for phrases that I had taken verbatim, having assumed that these phrases, drawn from my notes, were my words, not hers.
What Doris Kearns Goodwin is telling us is that she can't tell her own writing from another writer's. “I have no style of my own,” she is really confessing. That's one hell of an admittance for a writer. Now, I cannot read my own handwriting, but I know goddamn well when I see the words printed out, I can tell what's mine and what isn't. I have a memory (I hope not a false one) of seeing a film clip of Salvador Dali walking along an art gallery wall with a big paint brush in his hand decisively making black crosses on canvasses that he recognized as fake Dalis. Whether the scene actually happened or not, it should serve as an example to all creative artists: recognize your own work, and deal with the unfamiliar as necessary.
Kearns Goodwin opened her defense in the article cited below by stating, “I am a historian. with the exception of being a wife and mother, it is who I am.”*** 
Well, I for one would hope that she recognizes her flesh-and-blood offspring better than her literary ones. 

(And a tip of the hat to Kathleen Farrell, who emailed me: "Wouldn't you like to know who was on her committee and missed this?")

***There's obviously an error in the original, either in punctuation or capitalization. I've copied-and-pasted directly from the Time website.
Consider these excerpts from two articles worth reading.

One plagiarism is careless. Two is a pattern. Four, five, or more is pathology. 
No matter what they steal, they fall back on the same excuses, as Thomas Mallon shows in his wonderful plagiarism book Stolen Words. Before the computer age, they blamed their confusing "notebooks," where they allegedly mixed up their own notes with passages recorded elsewhere. These days, plagiarists claim they mistake electronic files of notes with their own writing. 
Plagiarists steal for reasons both profound and mundane. In a few cases, plagiarism flows from some deep psychological wellspring: [Jacob] Epstein, the son of eminent literary parents, stole so much and from such an obvious source that he was clearly "committing literary suicide," writes Mallon. Some writers plagiarize because they are rushing a project through and probably don't think they'll get caught. Some are just exceptionally careless.  
David Plotz,
[Fareed] Zakaria strongly denied that any assistant or intern wrote his work, and said that his mistake came from mixing up different notes from different sources. That account does not quite explain how the plagiarized paragraph was so closely aligned with its original source, nor how it was unattributed to the writer, Jill Lepore.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Insanity Claus

George Carlin claimed that he knew why Santa Claus was always smiling: He knew where the naughty girls live.

This past Christmas Mr. Claus got an early start and gave out goodies to naughty people ahead of time. Specifically, he laid a document on Bob Dylan telling him he was being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (this to a man who wrote: “Then time will tell just who has fell.”)

Once upon a time I loved Dylan. I saw him on a Boston TV show, and came back to New York raving about him. But as the years went by, something struck me about the man: He was nasty and self-centered!

Consider the closing words of “Positively 4th Street:

I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment I could be you
Yes, I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes
You'd know what a drag it is to see you.

That's how he reacts when he feels he's been hurt by friends.

Here's an even a better example of his solipsistic view of life. Compare these two contemporary lyrics about the failure of a love affair:

Bob Dylan (1963)
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”

It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It don’t matter, anyhow
An’ it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
If you don’t know by now
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’m trav’lin’ on
Don’t think twice, it’s all right

It ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
That light I never knowed
An’ it ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
I’m on the dark side of the road
Still I wish there was somethin’ you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talkin’ anyway
So don’t think twice, it’s all right

It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
Like you never did before
It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
I can’t hear you anymore
I’m a-thinkin’ and a-wond’rin’ all the way down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I’m told
I give her my heart but she wanted my soul
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road, babe
Where I’m bound, I can’t tell
But goodbye’s too good a word, gal
So I’ll just say fare thee well
I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right.
(Emphasis mine)
Tom Paxton
"The Last Thing on My Mind" (1964)

Are you going away with no word of farewell
Will there be not a trace left behind
Well, I could have loved you better, didn't mean to be unkind
You know that was the last thing on my mind
It's a lesson too late for the learnin'
Made of sand, made of sand
In the wink of an eye my soul is turnin'
In your hand, in your hand
Are you going away with no word of farewell
Will there be not a trace left behind
Well, I could have loved you better, didn't mean to be unkind
You know that was the last thing on my mind
You've got reasons a-plenty for goin'
This I know, this I know.
(Emphasis mine)

One singer accepts responsibility for his role in the break-up; the other shoves it all on the other person.

Oh, the tunes sound good all right. But step back from the music a bit and consider who is the self-centered one and who is the grown-up here.

Who is the nasty one—who the nice one.

Santa blew it.

Friday, December 30, 2016

To Hell With Everybody Else!

In the 1949 film The Third Man, Harry Lime (played by Orson Welles), mastermind of a penicillin scam in post-war Vienna, and his naïve friend Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) are in a cabin at the top of the Prater amusement park Ferris wheel.
Holly Martins: Have you ever seen any of your victims? 
Harry Lime: You know, I never feel comfortable on these sort of things. Victims? Don't be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax - the only way you can save money nowadays.

From a Mother Jones report on Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Labor:
Andy Puzder is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, parent company of fast-food chains Hardee's and Carl's Jr. Since CKE is privately held, his compensation isn't publicly disclosed, but in 2012—according to CKE's final public disclosure after going private—Puzder made more than $4 million in salary and bonuses. Meanwhile, he has been a tireless campaigner against raises to the minimum wage and rules proposed by President Barack Obama in 2014 that would expand the number of employees who qualify for overtime pay.
It's not surprising that Puzder, who has been CEO of CKE Restaurants since 2000, would have strong opinions about overtime. Back in 2004, the company agreed to pay $9 million to settle claims that it had not paid overtime to store managers. In 2013, CKE was hit with a class-action suit for "allegedly failing to pay its general managers overtime, even while requiring them to be on call 24 hours a day," reports Law 360. The suit is still pending, with a hearing scheduled for December 14 in Los Angeles.
In response to widespread efforts to boost the minimum wage at the state and local levels, Puzder vowed earlier this year to replace workers with machines.*

Colonel Rudolf Ivanovich Abel was a master spy for the USSR. After operating successfully underground for many years in the United States, he was eventually discovered and was arrested in New York City on June 21, 1957. His court-appointed defense counsel, James B. Donovan, in his book about Abel, Strangers on a Bridge, tells of one exchange Abel had with a prison official during his incarceration: Abel told the official
that he was unwisely spending the meager funds available for vocational training in prison—that the bulk of the money should go to the more intelligent and more adaptable inmates, rather than those with lower IQs and less able to absorb training. The official said to me [Donovan], “A part of his philosophy was being expressed here; he always seemed to show a disregard and mild scorn for people who were not self-reliant and who had to depend on direct supervision and guidance.”


I suppose there’s a moral here:

Whether from a Criminal, a Capitalist, or a Communist, the cry is always, “TO HELL WITH EVERYBODY ELSE!”

See also my earlier blog post:

Monday, September 19, 2016

Holy Cheeseburger, Batman!

Candida [to her husband, the Reverend James Mavor Morell]:Look at our congregation at St. Dominic's! Why do they come to hear you talking about Christianity every Sunday? Why, just because they've been so full of business and money-making for six days that they want to forget all about it and have a rest on the seventh, so that they can go back fresh and make money harder than ever!” George Bernard Shaw, Candida (Act II)
Hershey H. Friedman retells the following story from the Talmud:
One day, while Rabbi Safra was praying, a man offered to buy some merchandise from him. He made an offer, but Rabbi Safra did not want to respond in the middle of a prayer. The prospective buyer assumed that Rabbi Safra was holding out for more and kept increasing the bid. After Rabbi Safra concluded his prayer, he informed the buyer that he would sell the merchandise at the first price because he had "agreed in his heart" to this price.*
Charlie Kushner as a businessman was no Rabbi Safra. While the Rabbi would adhere to the lower price that he had agreed to “in his heart,” Kushner would not even adhere to a price he had contractually agreed to. As Lizzie Widdicombe relates,
Kushner was no Trump [he avoided the press]. But he had Trumpian qualities,** such as a tendency to withhold payment from venders like contractors, cleaners, and architects, forcing them to accept a fraction of their fee. [A] former Kushner Companies executive told me, “Every week we’d have meetings at Charlie’s house, and we’d go through the bills—the larger bills and corporate bills. And he’d sign them, or he’d say, ‘Offer them forty per cent.’ Or ‘Offer them fifty per cent.’ ”***
(The mention of Donald Trump was not gratuitous. Jared Kushner, Charlie's son, is the husband of Ivanka Trump—and a strong supporter of his father-in-law's candidacy. Indeed, Ms. Widdicombe's New Yorker article is entitled “Family First: How Donald Trump came to rely on Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.”)

As happens often enough when family members and business mix, family members and business split apart. As a result of the Kushner family feud, Charlie Kushner ended up in a federal prison, having pleaded guilty to tax evasion, witness tampering, and making illegal campaign donations. 

Widdicombe quotes from a Charlie Kushner trade paper interview in which, forgetting that he was the guilty party, hurls brickbats at his siblings who opposed him:
I don’t believe God and my parents will ever forgive my brother and sister for instigating a criminal investigation and being cheerleaders for the government and putting their brother in jail because of jealousy, hatred and spite.” [See the Widdecombe article for the wonderfully juicy details of his plotting against his family.]
What is interesting here is the contention that God has it in for the innocent. Perhaps Kushner felt that he could speak for God because he is a follower of the Modern Orthodox Jewish tradition, keeping a kosher home and observing the Sabbath. He also gave a shedload money to Hebrew schools in New Jersey.****
Dr. Friedman points out that “in Jewish law, the legal content of the law is totally conjoined with ethics, religion, and morality.” He cites the Ten Commandments as mixing laws that are
the foundations of every legal system (e.g., those dealing with murder, theft, and bearing false witness) with laws that are religious (e.g., against idolatry and observing the Sabbath).
Somehow, however, the injunctions of the Talmud to observe fair business practices and the Commandments to shun theft and bearing false witness eluded Kushner.

But, I guess, he figured that's ok, because he doesn't eat tref.

**Donald Trump often portrays himself as a savior of the working class who will 'protect your job.' But a USA TODAY NETWORK analysis found he has been involved in more than 3,500 lawsuits over the past three decades — and a large number of those involve ordinary Americans . . . who say Trump or his companies have refused to pay them.”

****A lot like Robert Brennan, another businessman-felon, who gave a shedload of money to Catholic schools in New Jersey. La Rochefoucauld doesn't have it as one of his maximes (but he should): “It's easy to give money to charity, especially when it's other people's.”

Friday, August 26, 2016

Even More Flags

A scene in a British comedy film from probably the 1950s or ‘60s*: The location is a movie theater (I guess I should write “theatre”) on whose screen the last images of the film are fading away. Suddenly, the patrons jump to their feet and make a mad rush to the exits—until the recorded strains of “God Save the Queen” freeze the less fleet of foot in their tracks.
The Olympic games have gone, and with them their usual cornucopia of Kitsch, Nazi-iconography, cheating, biased judging, and out-of-water stupidity (stand up, Ryan Lochte!). With the addition this year of the manufactured outrage at American gymnast Gabby Douglas’ non-placing of her hand over her heart during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”** 

I have watched zillions of international sporting events and observed that members of some national teams all do the hand-on-heart bit, while on other teams, it’s laissez faire, some team members do, others don’t. Same with the singing of national anthems (except for the Spanish teams—there are no words to their national anthem). Not that the more ostentatious displays of patriotism equate to better athletic performance. Joe Hart, goalkeeper of choice for the England national team at Euro 2016, stood out for his boisterous warbling of “God Save the Queen," but his indifferent play at the tournament has led to his being sat down by his club, Manchester City (and quite possibly, by the end of this month, shown—if not rushed to—the door of the club). 
Patriotism may (or may not) be “the last refuge of the scoundrel,” as Dr. Johnson proclaimed. But coercive patriotism is the blood sport of nationalistic heresy-sniffers. Consider, for example, the time the Boston police barred one of the greatest of 20th-century composers, Igor Stravinsky, from conducting his arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Carly Carioli relates the story:
During World War I, the Massachusetts Legislature had narrowly passed Chapter 264, Section 9, which prohibits the performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as dance music, as part of a medley, or with “embellishment.” And now the officers were apparently ready to arrest Stravinsky on the spot if the conductor attempted to perform his version of the anthem. “Let him change it just once,” one reporter quoted [Captain Thomas J. Harvey, head of the police department’s “Radical Squad”] as saying, “and we’ll grab him.”
A half-hour before curtain, Boston police officers visited Stravinsky backstage and threatened to remove the sheet music from the music stands.***

Stravinsky bowed to the threat and conducted the Boston Symphony's usual version of the anthem. Carioli continues:
Shortly after the conclusion of the anthem, but before the rest of the program, Captain Harvey and his squad of would-be music critics got up and “stalked out indifferently,” according to the [Boston] Post.

It didn't matter to the radical chasers that there was no official version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
I wonder if Stravinsky could have gotten away with conducting his arrangement had he shown up with an American flag pinned to his lapel. Were he around today, he could take advantage of this offer from Fahrney's Pens:

I, myself, will not be enticed. I don't need to wear that pin to be patriotic.

As Hamlet says about external displays of internal feelings:
'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected 'havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly: these indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play:
But I have that within which passeth show. . .

Act I, Scene 2 [My Emphasis]

Besides, how would it look on my t-shirt that reads: “I Don't Got To Show You No Stinkin Badges”?
*The Smallest Show on Earth possibly?

**For the record—I never place my hand over my heart.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Up The Flagpole

(Used by Evelyn Waugh as the epigraph to his novel Put Out More Flags)
Are you currently wearing a flag pin?
Yes? Then you love America.
No? Hmm. That's gonna be a problem.
Gilbert Cruz*
It was apparently President Richard Nixon who inaugurated the practice of wearing an American flag tchochke as lapel décor. And it was a consciously political act, an attempt to co-opt the grand symbol of the United States to connote support for his administration's actions as being the essence of Americanism. In the decades since Nixon's fall, it has become a necessary cover-your-ass talisman for politicians to avoid being perceived as not loving your country enough.


Eight years before the New Yorker published Dana Fradon's cartoon in 1969 (Nixon was president), Joseph Heller in his novel Catch-22 depicted the intimidating hollowness of coerced loyalty. Captain Black's Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade made “each man sign a loyalty oath before allowing him to fly on a combat mission” or even to eat in the mess hall:
[There was] a wall of officers waiting in line to sign loyalty oaths. At the far end of the food counter, a group of men who had arrived earlier were pledging allegiance to the flag, with trays of food balanced in one hand, in order to be allowed to take seats at the table. Already at the tables, a group that had arrived still earlier was singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" in order that they might use the salt and pepper and ketchup there.
(Brendan Gill, The New Yorker, Nov. 22, 1969)

It was an understandable (and cunningly deceptive) ploy at the time of Gill's review, when foreign cars were mounting their formidable attack on Detroit's dinosaurs, that the largest American flags flying along any town's automobile row were on the sites of foreign-car dealers. But the spread of American-flag-itis in the subsequent decades has become, I don't know, absurd? laughable? or what? In the very heart of American capitalism—the New York Stock Exchange—we find these floor traders fending off accusations of Bolshevism:

And we couldn't have un-American backboards in the National Basketball Association, could we?
But back to the lapel scrutiny. Gilbert Cruz states,
Short of wearing a stars and stripes onesie, the flag lapel pin is the quickest sartorial method for a politician to telegraph his or her patriotism.
Although that “stars and stripes onesie” sounds like a great patriotic idea, our politicians might be able to go one step further and bedeck themselves like empty-headed Bubble (Jane Horrocks) in “Absolutely Fabulous”:


Update--August 7, 2016

From the New Yorker,  Jan. 17, 1970: