Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Spielberg's Next Big Project: Obama

Steven Spielberg has unveiled his plans to direct a new Lincoln-style presidential biopic -- this time centered on President Obama.   And he's decided to go with his already proven star, Daniel Day-Lewis, as the lead.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Home Depot Magnate Threatens Pope On “Culture of Prosperity” Remarks

In a story that seems to have been ripped from the headlines of The Onion, Home Depot founder, Ken Langone, told CNBC that, in discussions with Cardinal Timothy Dolan about fund-raising for the restoration of  St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, he shared with Dolan that he knew one potential seven-figure donor (“I have this friend”) who is upset about statements from the Pope criticizing market economies as "exclusionary,” and claiming that a "culture of prosperity" leads some to become "incapable of feeling compassion for the poor."  According to Nolan, this fellow toff said of the Catholic Church, “You come to us who have been blessed, who are wealthy, and yet we sense that perhaps the Pope is less than enthusiastic about us.”  Clearly, the message was:  if you want our donations, lay off the economic justice stuff.

I have several random and unrelated observations about this episode.  One is the obvious humor here.  Langone’s only slightly veiled threat directed at the Pope is a little like Dino and Luigi Vercotti threatening the British Army:
Luigi: Well suppose some of your tanks was to get broken and troops started getting lost, er, fights started breaking out during general inspection, like.
Dino: It wouldn't be good for business would it, Colonel?

Langone:  Well suppose your donations started dryin’ up.  That wouldn’t be good for business would it, Your Holiness?

And, if Langone doesn’t like what the pope is saying about the wealthy, what about Jesus?  If he doesn’t want to hear any criticism, maybe he should be reordering his priorities altogether.

 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”   Luke 6:24.

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”  Matthew 6:24.

“Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.” Luke 12:33-34.

“One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.  Mark 10:17-22.

And Langone shouldn’t look for any consolation from Jesus’ mother, Mary:  “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” Luke 1:52-53.
Or, from James, known as the brother of Jesus.

For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.   James 1:10-11

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.    You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.  James 5:1,6.

Finally, I’m astounded by how whiny and thin-skinned this guy is.  According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, at the end of 2013, the net worth of the world’s 300 most wealthy people $3.7 trillion in U.S. dollars.   This is a gain of $524 billion from last year.  And yet, Langone clearly feels put upon.  Will no amount of money and privilege satisfy this guy?  I’m reminded of Upton Sinclair’s famous dictum:  “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

*  *  *

P.S.  For an extras bonus, from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation issued on November 24, 2013:

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.

Ken Langone

Pope Francis

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

New Year Resolutions

New Year's resolutions started with the Romans. Julius Caesar introduced the Julian Calendar in 46 BC and Romans, in general, began celebrating the new year on January 1. Astronomically, there is no reason January 1 is better than any other day for a New Year's resolution. The new year could start on any day, but it's useful to be consistent. A new year's resolution, therefore, as long as it doesn't concern writing dates, has the same weight as one made on any day.

Janus, however, is the god of doorways, gates, beginnings and transitions. He is often depicted as having two faces—he looks to the future and to the past. Thus, January, especially the beginning of the month, was a time of reflection on the past and the future. (In medieval Europe, the new year drifted from Dec. 25 to March 25 at various times and places, but was restored to January 1 in 1582 with the Gregorian calendar. Protestant Europe lagged, especially the British who did not reform the calendar until 1752—Washington was born Feb. 11, 1731, but in 1752, his birthday became February 22, 1732.)

The Romans' reflections on the new year were generally resolves to be good to others. As the empire embraced Christianity, these moral reflections became rituals of prayer and fasting. (As Myk reminded us with the Holly and the Ivy, Christianity may be seen as adding new, hopefully rich, language to religion.)

Perhaps the height of New Year resolutions came with Jonathan Edwards, Puritan theologian. At 19, before graduating valedictorian from Yale, he created 70 resolutions which he reviewed weekly, for 35 years. Thus, he read and reflected on his 70 resolutions 1,800 times before his death in 1758. Among his resolutions are:
  • Resolved, in narrations never speak anything but the pure and simple verity.
  • Resolved, Never speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it. 
  • Resolved, Never to suffer the least motions of anger toward irrational beings.
  • Resolved, Never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.
  • Let there be something of benevolence in all that I speak.

Somewhere through history—I believe it was when someone made a New Year's resolution to eat more Peanut-Butter Rice Krispie Treats, and, that same year, another resolved to refrain from eating Peanut-Butter Rice Krispie Treats—that resolutions changed from reflections on life to make-a-wish. Currently the top New Year's resolutions are:
  • Spend more time with family and friends
  • Exercise more
  • Diet more
  • Quit smoking
  • Enjoy life more
  • Quit drinking
  • Get out of debt (my favorite)
  • Learn something new
  • Get organized
  • Help others

As a result, resolutions have become a powerful drag on modern lives. One survey suggests that 7 out of 10 people will lose more than $1,000 in failed self-help products and services related to this new type of New Year resolutions—that juicer, club membership, treadmill that don't quite pan out as wish fulfillers.

I think my New Year resolution is reflecting on this blog as a conversation both past, present, and future.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Poetry Sunday - The Glories of Provence

You may recall that mother and dad took a trip to Provence in October, 1995. You may also recall that dad wrote a Chaucer-like homage to the pilgrims on that trip and delivered it at the final banquet. It must have been a fine performance. Myk rediscovered the poem and, though it's a bit long and about people we don't know, felt it should be considered for Poetry Sunday. I agree—if for no other reason than the creed of the last stanza—it captures the feeling of dad and, hopefully, of all of us.

The Glories of Provence
by John L. Harvey 
 When that October with his sun so mellow
Starts causing summer's green to turn to yellow…
And as the earth cools the year unravels,
Then do Americans long to go on travels;
So, gathered part by Yale and part by chance,
Our band of thirty made its pilgrimage to France. 
Starting with A, we have the Auchinclosses,
Quiet Hugh and Laurie, who his boss is.
Another doc's Stan Sneider from Miami;
Of radiation he's a well-known swami.
As for his misses, Marion's her handle.
The way this married pair holds hands — why, it's a scandal! 
By now it's obvious that dropping names
Is much this bard's most favorite of games.
To further exorcise this harmless mania
I'll bring on the quintet from Pennsylvania.
First, Madame Haight, known to the world as Polly,
With step so light and eye so bright and jolly.
The Harveys next I'll briefly dwell upon.
Their names are plain ones: Mary, hers — his, John.
One daughter's theirs and sons who number seven.
The offspring of a marriage made in heaven.
I'll bet, though, when those brats began to yell
The neighbors thought that marriage made in hell.
Smiling Lou Conyngham come next through the door,
Bringing Pennsy total up to four;
And finally … but hold! the panel sticks.
It's Jack! Did I say five? He makes it six. 
Here's to Peggy Elting, prettier than the law allows!
Enough to make those Sénanque monks forget theirs vows.
Jane Roche and Nancy Fry — ha, what a pair!
I lunched with them at L'Oustau de Baumanière.
The food? Trés bon! Mais oui! You bet!
But better the talk — so tête à tête à tête. 
Let's now salute the Weisners, Ros and Bernie.
When trouble comes, I hope she's my attorney.
She smiles, she jokes, she all good will extends;
Above all, she excels at making friends.
Once Bernie's taken off his tennis whites
They go to plays and concerts on most nights,
While through the years — and on this you can rely—
He's quietly made Ros a full-fledged Eli. 
Here's to Gert Gifford! She's one who'll never bore you;
And wherever you've traveled, she's been there before you.
Next comes the Moores — you know them, Gene and Edie.
Are they a well-matched couple? Yes indeedy!
Gene's flashing smile, his baritone so booming …
And straight-backed Edie, model of good grooming,
Blessed further, as I learned the other day,
With a most discerning taste for vin rosé. 
And now two more have come to join the party:
Madame Merriam, née Marjorie, known as Martie;
Also Madame Pollock — name-tag Madeleine,
They both come from Connecticut: Darien.
I swear their dual ambiance so excels
That time stands still. That's shipboard time: two belles. 
Here's to Dorothy Schmidt who found in old Marseille
A town one up on Tanafly, N.J.
Before my song moves on to other matters,
I gve you that dissimilar duo, the Willstatters.
Trudy's a mover — loves to shop and chat —
While Dick prefers to nurse a beer and squat. 
Let's turn now to my most particular pets.
Those ladies who are slaves to cigarettes.
The bus is stopped, so we may look or feed;
For them, it's more a chance to poke a weed.
Viceroys are the vice of Martha May;
Ann Marshman makes each day a Luckies day.
The other side's that, in either one, one never
Can find a single other fault whatever.
(Parenthesis: as a husband, truth to tell,
I think I handled that one rather well!) 
From A I've come to Y, for Yale and youth.
Embodying both, the Ormistons forsooth!
Though John's legs limp, his spirit's ever bright,
And lissome Jane fills up her space with light.
We pilgrims all agree: they never fail
To stand for all that's best in youth and Yale. 
Let's now give thanks for all the many pleasures
We tasted as we trod our daily measures.
The weather first — it's really been parfait:
Le ciel si bleu, l'air pur, le beau soleil!
Merci pour Aix, pour Aries, pour Avignon des Papes,
Pour le train ride in Marseille — ah, quell lagniappe!
La route Cézanne! La Montagne Ste. Victoire!
Les rues de Roussillon et Gordes! Le Pont du Gard!
Ah, la Provence! Si douce! Aussi si belle!
It makes me want to sing out a cappella
With thanks for all her wines — rouge, blanc, rosé —
Mais sûrtout mercy pour Le Pigonnet;
Her gardens, her Bernard, her cozy nooks
For drinks or cards or talks, her air deluxe.
"No place like home," they say — but I say, "Well,
Few homes I know compare to this hotel." 
Now let me ask you all to kiss the air
To our chauffeur, le formidable Jean-Pierre.
Dans un moment I"ll ask for your applause
For one who's made our stay her constant cause.
And happy it's been — so near to the euphoric
We'll simply overlook how high-caloric.
Yet save for our bellies, there's been little to extend us,
For Moira Black so deftly mother-henned us. 
The moment now has come to thank Françoise.
Her thoughtfulness, her knowledge and her poise.
The width and breadth and depth of information
She gave us made each day a revelation.
Spiced by her English-French and French-English gymnastics
Not to mention her enthusiastics:
"So fabulous!" "Magnificent!" "Unreal!"
She also somehow manages to deal
With Good King René et Phillippe the Fair
In terms that make one think that she'd been there.
The Gothic, Romanesque, the arch that's broken…
On these and so much else she's so well-spoken
That as a guide one can't imagine betters.
So, dear Françoise, we're all of us your debtors. 
I'm almost done. I've saved the best for last:
A man whose sense of present and of past
We all salute … and meanwhile bless the day
La France sent us that chèrest maître, Georges May.
He speaks to us with learning served with flair.
Serious of course but also debonair.
Some scholars hold the creed that what you know
Is all that counts. This scholar proves that isn't so
But that within the education biz
What counts more than what one knows is what one is.
So let us all, his students, now extend
Our thanks to Georges: our teacher, mentor, friend! 
As for your bard, excuse his cockeyed rhymes
And meter too — at worst they're minor crimes.
In all of this, the one thing I intend
Is to amuse and never to offend;
And thus this doggerel poet makes his end.