¶ We are sorry to learn that Judge Jed Rakoff has ruled that Irving Picard, the trustee who is trying to recoup the losses of Bernard Madoff’s victims, lacks standing to sue banks and other service providers for negligent enablement. Technically — and standing is always technical when it isn’t blindingly obvious — the trustee stands in Mr Madoff’s shoes, not those of his victims. This Gilded Age reasoning makes no human sense, and bankruptcy law ought to be revised forthwith to refute it.
Archive for the ‘Morning Snip’ Category
¶ Censors are having a very hard time keeping the lid on Chinese outrage — the angry outpouring flooding the weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, by middle-class Chinese who might well patronize the nation’s not-quite-safe high-speed rail system — not so much to the disaster at Wenzhou as to the clumsy and ill-considered official response to it. What were railway executives thinking when they ordered a railway crew to bury one of the passenger cars? And how about this for dumb and dumber:
Last weekend, Wenzhou bureaucrats ordered local lawyers not to accept cases from families of victims without their permission. After weibos exposed them, they withdrew the order and apologized.
Oops! Like middle-class people everywhere, abstract rights are not terribly important to prosperous Chinese. This makes it difficult for them to grasp the connection between authoritarian government — which, again like middle-class people everywhere, they prefer to the alternative — and pervasive corruption. As the train crash shows, it’s easy for the authoritarian to cease to be authoritative.
¶ The passing of time weighs heavily, if stylishly, on today’s Styles section. You can recapture your youth (if, as in Alex Williams’s case, it’s not too far behind you) by growing a beard and passing for Seth Rogin — best of all, young guys will let you hang with them! Or you can sigh meditatively and retire from the hectic business of creating hot nightspots, like Serge Becker. Some days, the Styles section is a breeze-blown shallows. Others, a stretch of mud flats. All is vanity, indeed, especially when vanity is all.
¶ In an amazing development, and without any hindrance from free and unfettered markets, investors are expressing doubts about bigness in banking in the most eloquent manner possible. At Dealbook, Jesse Eisinger indirectly quotes Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil: “Bank of America trades at half of its book value (the stated value of its assets minus its liabilities), an indication that investors view its asset quality and prospects just a notch below abominable, as Jonathan Weil of Bloomberg News pointed out last week.”
¶ The Impressionist’s garden necessarily blooms in a state of paradox. Monet himself treated it as a studio — and you know what artist’s studio are like. Of her visit with James Priest, the new head gardener at Giverney — he has worked for Rothschilds and at Kew — Suzanne Daley notes that “Monet could tend to one patch or another as he painted it, while letting flowers bloom and fade elsewhere” — clearly a no-no for a public attraction that seeks to sell tickets. Complicating things somewhat, Mr Priest used to like the art of the Impressionists, but now he prefers Old Masters. He’s reduced to asking artists if the garden gives them an Impressionist feeling.
¶ Is India the land of the future? The lengthy report on the business empire of Gautam Adani, by Jim Yardley and Vikas Bajaj, that begins on today’s front page chimes in with many other stories that we’ve been hearing about India — such as a recent account of the disorderly growth of Gurgaon, outside Delhi. What these stories have in common is a direct advance from pre-industrial rural economy to roaring industrial and post-industrial development sprouting in all directions, paid for entirely out of private pockets and unhampered by existing infrastructure. Governments at all levels either mute their criticism and respond with studied inaction to the inevitable nastiness that piles up at the margins of these boomtowns, or, like the Gujarat of Narendra Modi, they accommodate and applaud the big entrepreneurs, embracing their Gilded Age contempt for the little people and for the democratic processes that serve them so poorly. (Mr Modi described his most recent election victory, in 2007, as a “referendum” on his leadership. In our view, referendum stands at just a hair’s-breadth distance from acclamation, the one and only tool at the disposal of mobs.) An India composed of billionaires’ fiefdoms is a frighteningly medieval prospect, but political India appears to be mesmerized by it.
¶ It is pretty clear by now that Marshall McLuhan was a premature genius. He had a great insight, but it hit him about 25 years too soon. A professor of Renaissance rhetoric who was preoccupied, long before television blighted the airwaves, with “the influence of all kinds of communications media on individual consciousness,” McLuhan was a geeky space cadet ante lettera. The quote there comes from Douglas Coupland’s recent book on McLuhan, the subtitle of which is the battle cry of premature geniuses: You Don’t Understand My Work! And how can they? The premature genius doesn’t understand it, either. No matter how bright the name of McLuhan shines in intellectual history, his life was not an intellectually happy one.
McLuhan looked at television and somehow sensed the Internet. Crazy! (Bear in mind, though, that the technological material of the early Internet — telephone lines, cathode-ray tubes — was already lying around, and already being forged into something by DARPA.) But by the time he died, in 1980, he had been crippled by nearly ten years of small strokes, and his utterings went beyond cryptic, and the notion of “interactive television” was right up there with pet rocks: What were we thinking? It didn’t help that his various futuristic business ventures went nowhere. It seems that he could sense the future so well because he was so firmly rooted in the past — professor, Catholic convert, would-be patriarch. True to the story of Moses, he was denied entry into the new world that he foresaw. Well, he’d have hated it. Facebook or Google+? It’s fun to imagine the fulminations. Ian Austen brings us up to date on centennial celebrations in Canada. Maybe the rule that a good idea ahead of time is no better than a bad idea with no future has an exception or two.
¶ Being monomaniacs, we’re going to blame the Rentier Economy for the nightmare that Seemona Sumasar underwent when we former boyfriend, anxious for her to drop a rape charge, set her up so intricately that she spent seven months in jail before she was vindicated. Paranoid as a matter of course, rentiers see potential criminals everywhere and sometimes can’t be bothered to wait for the potential to be realized. They infect everyone who works for them — and this gradually comes to be everyone (see Alan Blinder if you don’t believe us) — with their mistrust, to which is added a big dollop of job-security anxieties. Where better for worry and panic to flower into professional madness than in the security business, public or private. A fabulist like Jerry Ramrattan, Ms Sumasar’s ex, didn’t have to be a genius con-man to convince police and prosecutors that his accuser was holding up pedestrians at gunpoint, notwithstanding her resume of Wall Street jobs climaxing in the ownership of a restaurant franchise (which she lost, along with custody of her daughter), not to mention her cellphone alibis. He just had to make it plausible, casually rehearsing his crew of bogus victims. Once he had wrapped Ms Sumasar in an aura of suspicion, the innocent things that she did (such as driving a car to Florida and registering it in her sister’s name) made her look guilty. Presumption of innocence? Don’t be daft!
¶ The Vatican has recalled Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, its nuncio (ambassador) in Ireland — a dramatic and unusual gesture that seems intended to reprimand the Irish government in the wake of Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s denunciation of “the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican.” How many wrong moves does Benedict XVI get to make before someone with common sense — not to mention common decency — cries mercy and takes over?
¶ Ross Douthat wraps up his column today, about the right-wing American “pedigree” of Anders Breivik’s thinking, with a vital observation: “But extremists only grow stronger when a political system pretends that problems don’t exist.” During the decades in which the Democratic Party enjoyed the majority in the House of Representatives, opponents of its liberal views were demonized and discredited, particularly with respect to the extension of full civil rights to African-Americans. Over time, racial bigotry did indeed decline, but the withdrawal of conservatives from civic society, into gated communities and “Christian academies,” has proven to be a grievous wound that shows no sign of healing.
As we congratulate our fellow citizens who have availed themselves of the long-sought right to marry partners of the same sex, we remain mindful of other fellow citizens who regard gay marriage as an abomination. We are not going to pretend that they have been permanently vanquished by a piece of legislation. The battle for the hearts and minds of all New Yorkers has begun in earnest.
¶ Just as Paul Krugman marvels at the disappearance of the troublesome matter of unemployment from “elite policy discourse” (no surprise, really, if you’re tuned into the objectives of what Krugman rightly calls the Rentier Party), so we’re astonished (not) at the failure of Sean Collins Walsh’s Postal Office story to consider the USPS’s looming insolvency crisis from an operational, non-financial angle. Enough with the pension-funding tricks. Let’s talk about bulk mail. Is there any wonder that FedEx and UPS have not horned in on this money-losing market? Let’s talk about twentysomethings who have never bought a stamp: can it be said that the USPS is still manufacturing buggy whips? Fifteen years into the Age of the Internet, the USPS’s core business, as currently operated, no longer makes sense.
¶ Crimes against farm property, as well as produce, are increasing in California’s Central Valley, the state’s agricultural “powerhouse” and the heart of the nation’s non-grain, non-livestock farming. The principal cause of the rural crime wave may be the precipitous decline in law-enforcement funding. Jesse McKinley inflects his report with mild humor, but armed and vigilant self-defense is not a posture that we want to encourage in private citizens, farmers or otherwise. Let’s hope that surveillance cameras will soon be assisted by nifty but nasty little robots.
¶ We confess that we find polygamy objectionable, largely because it enshrines what we take to be an exceedingly regressive view of the difference between the sexes. But! We’re aware that similarly-scented objections are routinely raised against homosexuality, which doesn’t trouble us in the least. Jonathan Turley, the constitutional lawyer representing Kody Brown & Family in their challenge of Utah’s anti-polygamy statute, convinces us that our objections are without legal merit, and that we had better stop confusing abusive exceptions with the peaceable rule. If there’s something wrong with the Brown family’s arrangements, it isn’t multiple marriage.
¶ As August 2 approaches, and, with it, the prospect of making the nation’s creditworthiness walk the plank (see related story, almost anywhere you look), Wall Street “prepares.” Louise Story and Julie Cresswell talk to fund managers around town (and even in Philadelphia), and learn that, for the most part, managers are going to argue for whistlin Dixie. Timothy Sloan, CFO at Wells Fargo, pulls the rug out from under the story with his laconic candor. “Because nobody knows what is going to happen, nobody knows how to prepare,” he said.” Now, if the reporters had only opened with this quote, we’d have known where we were going!
¶ Apple may design cool products, but nobody ever lost money betting on its corporate ham-handedness; it’s obviously asking too much of Steve Jobs to Grow Up. We’ll know that the New Millenium has arrived when companies like Apple hand out prizes to clever stuntsters like Kyle McDonald, whose clever little guerilla app has landed him what we hope is not too hot or deep a bowl of soup. According to columnist Jim Dwyer, Mr McDonald insinuated a little Webcam program onto the computers on display at two Apple Stores, tweaked the results, and surreptitiously re-loaded. Shoppers interacting with the computers on display viewed an ongoing stream of faces that, suddenly and startlingly, included their own. “People instinctively quit the app less than 10 seconds after recognizing their own face,” he subsequently wrote, thus establishing the important point that we are not the narcissists that we’re said to be, at least when we’re at the computer. Funding is what Kyle McDonald deserves, not felony charges!
¶ In her column about the populist downfall of the Murdochs, Maureen Dowd says something more astute than she might know. Testifying before a Parliamentary Committee, she writes, News Corp executives “stuck to a hoary formula for scandals, claiming the cognitive advantage that being on top of the world left them out of touch.” Down in the dumps on the 90th Floor? Not bloody likely! That’s what the intervening 89 floors are for: insulation. The exercise of power at a distance without consequence is what the modern large corporate organization has been designed to accommodate. It never works for very long without significant breakdowns, but with luck you’ve snatched and grabbed your sky’s-the-limit take-home by then. When the headlines are sensational, who can be bothered to translate that “hoary formula” into plain English: “We’re so powerful that we don’t have to know what we’re doing.” Would you give these people your car keys?
¶ Steve Smith writes brilliantly about the series of Brucker-Adams concerts that the Cleveland Orchestra has been giving at the Lincoln Center Festival, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst.
Yet in a spiritual sense, the works felt complementary: presumably the point Mr. Welser-Möst wanted to make. Mr. Adams, contemplating the terror of nuclear Armageddon, calls on poetry: “Batter My Heart,” the magnificent “Doctor Atomic” aria that appears in instrumental guise near the end of the symphony, is an incantatory setting of John Donne, an invitation to divine ravishment. Bruckner, his death at hand, reaffirms an unshakable faith in God with heavenward gestures and allusions to Wagner’s holy-quest drama, “Parsifal.” The work’s anguished dissonances seem to attest to awe rather than to mortal terror.
¶ Marcus Stephen, the president of Nauru, a very small island in the South Pacific with an anything-but-idyllic recent past, contemplates the similiar futures that larger, better-known polities may be in for as a result of the same man-made processes that are sweeping Nauru’s ocean tides higher and ever higher. He will address the United Nations Security Council today, and urge them to make it impossible to say, as he does in the Times, “Yet the international community has not begun to prepare for the strain they will put on humanitarian organizations or their implications for political stability around the world.”
¶ In the Business Section, Michael Cieply writes about the latest incarnation of the studio system in Hollywood, which is built on guanxi — personal, rather than contractual, obligation. Amy Pascal is hailed as a success even though her studio, Sony, came in fifth out of six last year. That‘s the studio system. “A nice business” would be another way of putting it. (Although we really have to see How Do You Know? now — romantic comedies are rarely financial disasters on that magnitude — $120/$50WW)
¶ Now that the resignation of Rebekah Brooks has been accepted by Rupert Murdoch (finally!), we’re trying to figure what’s next. Will the outrage over hacking the phones of ordinary people work itself out in a determination by the British government that Mr Murdoch is not “fit and proper” to run his media empire? Or will attention shift, more problematically, to an investigation into collusion by the police? When the history books are written, will the wreck of News Corp International make up the opening chapter, or constitute the entire story? Will the arrest of Neil Wallis, an editor/publicist who “appears to have unusually close ties to top officers at the Metropolitan Police Service,” come at the end or the beginning?