Friday, December 28, 2012

For Paul Krugman: Please analyze, if you can, the effect of the Bush era tax cuts on creating jobs in America. My notion is that we gave the super rich a nice piece of lagniappe, which largess they then took and actually did create jobs -- in China. So, if it is possible to track differential rates in overseas investments by America's wealthiest as a result of the Bush era tax cuts, I believe the study would be extraordinarily entertaining to most of your readers. It is now possible, I think, to describe the Republican party as being in thrall to Currency Cranks, Abortion-Nots, Teahadi partisans, whose elected members are in thrall to big money contributors like Sheldon Adelson.  Lundberg's book The Rich and the Super Rich could be updated by a bright graduate student to cover the last 30 years of criminally silly tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans -- and to track the lobbying money that supported ramming this down the throats of ordinary Americans. It is possible to speculate that higher tax rates on the wealthiest Americans would (a) balance the government's books and (b) spur the kind innovation in domestic industries that brings augmented profit. I'd be in favor of a direct tax on shares similar to the real estate tax -- if it would do any good. Corporations not registered in this country, and whose shares aren't traded here could be taxed at a higher rate to encourage them. My very best to Sarah Murphy, and best wishes for the coming year.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Papa -- From Millersville University's Archive

Richard Gehman was a journalist, biographer and free lance writer. Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on May 20, 1921 Gehman attended local public schools and graduated from McCaskey High School in 1938. Prior to his graduation he worked for Lancaster's two major papers the Sunday News and Intelligencer Journal. After his graduation until 1942 Gehman worked as a reporter for the Lancaster New Era and the Philadelphia Record. In 1942, Gehman was drafted into the United States Army and was stationed at the military base in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. While in Oak Ridge he edited the base's newspaper the Oak Ridge Journal from 1943 until the close of the war. Following the war, Gehman moved to New York and began working for the magazines Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan. Within a few years he chose to become a freelance writer contributing articles to numerous magazines including Newsweek, Look and the Saturday Evening Post. During the 1950's and 1960's he published over 3,000 articles, wrote five novels and a dozen nonfiction books. He also taught writing classes at several major universities including New York University, Columbia University and Indiana University. By the late 1960's he had become known by his peers as the "King of Freelance Writers". During 1970's the demand for his articles had waned and before his death had practically ceased. He spent his final years in Lancaster financially bankrupt and emotionally troubled over his declining popularity. He died on May 12, 1972.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


I thought you might be interested in this article from the NYT on the Dragas-Sullivan shambles at UVA .. the demonstration was the most fun I've had on campus since ... 1974?

I don't think the controversy is over yet.  The trend to "online education" seems counterproductive to me in light of artist Kyle McDonald's covert photographing of people staring at new Apple computers with robotic expressions on their faces.  Perhaps McDonald was just recording the usual facial expressions of people absorbed in what Roland Barthes calls "the dream of reading" ....

(See Guardian article on Kyle McDonald and some of McDonald's other projects are also entertaining, as is this video.) 

As I noted in a comment on Kurzweil AI, even though online education is being ballyhooed just now, perhaps primarily as a cost-saving measure,  probably a great deal of intelligence, including what are possibly the most valuable parts of education, are transferred most efficiently in a human to human interface that allows the student’s mirror neurons an opportunity to learn these intellectual behaviors in a process similar to learning to dance. It seems possible that students won't learn the most important elements of what we might call “the dance of the intellect among facts” just by staring at a computer ... but then, reading books and attending lectures have never been very important to the ill-educated.

Hoping to see you at the Messiah Sing In on Tuesday, December 8, and 8 p.m. in Old Cabell Hall (not free any more, but not expensive)

Monday, August 13, 2012

UVA - The West Lawn - The Rotunda

   I wrote this 20 years ago. It's from from Why I Love Brunettes, an unpublished novel that is the exact opposite of 50 Shades of Grey -- not only is it reasonably well-written, but also -- it makes repulsive behavior seem repulsive in a way that alters the behavior.  I hope you love this bit about The Lawn at the University of Virginia.
   And my fondest hope is that you get to visit The Lawn  as often as I have done. I saw Queen Elizabeth there from about 10 feet away.  I saw the Dalai Lama there3.  I once catered a party for Edgar Shannon and his wife Eleanor at Carr's Hill, long ago.  Please go to the Messiah Sing at Old Cabell Hall as often as you can -- this year it will be on Tuesday, December 8,.2012.  And afterwards, walk up The Lawn for me.  In 1988, we found a miniature model of the Rotunda modeled in packed snow, with fresh snow just drifting over it one year.  My friend Patrick Tompkins and two other graduate students witnessed this.  No one at the C&O believed our tale.  It was before cell phone cameras or I'd have a picture. 

   Read this now?

    But you and I, mon capitaine, wild tchopitoulas that we are, we're going to stand here just outside the door of Number 8, The West Lawn, watching how the clean white dome of old Tom Jefferson's Rotunda gleams above the shadows deepening like smoke across the green cove of The Lawn. We’ll see the dome of the Rotunda change as dusk begins to purple into evening; we’ll watch how the catalog of column styles and types of portico changes with the shadows as the east side of the dome reflects the clear blue skies above the Grounds, and we’ll see the dome reflecting, orange gold and purple, the 'candescent sun’s red ball of glory settling behind the Blue Ridge Mountains at the western edge of Albemarle.

      The shadows and the columns amplify the peaceful stillness of what you and I – remembering the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge – might call:
“A holy and enchanted place.”
      Or else, remembering a few lines of the poet Baudelaire, we might conclude that:
La, il n'y a qu'ordre et beauté
Luxe, calme et volupté ....
      Because no one who wanders in that place can ever quite believe its timeless promise of unchanging grace and beauty can be false.

      On the steamy hot days Doc liked best, the timeless promise of the columns and the dome – a cool, serene lucidity connected to the world and yet apart from it – inspires a belief in what, for lack of any better term, we may as well call:
Man's immortal soul.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Helen Dragas Must Go

   Clearly, Governor Bob and Helen Dragas see some opportunity for corporate profit in lowering the quality of education at UVA so he can then award privatizing contracts for computerized online "education" to private companies. Perhaps Ms. Dragas will start one of those companies -- soon after she retires from her position on the Board of Visitors!
   I have not yet heard of any move to ask all members of the Board of Visitors to require themselves to adhere to the University's Honor Code. And that seems to me the key element.
   Extending the term limit for Helen Dragas, who has shown herself to be not only a truly dishonest but also a dishonorable human being, not just in her business dealings but also in her work (no, her devious machinations) as Rector of the Board of Visitors, where her dastardly actions brought discredit on the University and made its Honor Code a laughingstock  ... is a travesty.
    I find some amusing parallels to the John Hawkes novel Travesty, in which three occupants of a car are speeding toward a rendezvous with a tree in Southern France ... that will kill them all. At the end of these ridiculous shenanigans, Governor Bob will be out of office permanently, the not-Rector Helen Dragas after having puked on her own shoes a few more times, will go back to building shoddy houses in some of Virginia's more densely populated districts, and the power of Terry Sullivan to do good on The Lawn will have been circumscribed.
The Sun Is Beer! 
   With regard to computerized online "education," it seems worth nothing that people staring at computer screens often adopt robotic, trance-like facial expressions, and though they may perform well on some low-level multiple choice tests, they rarely learn anything important. They don't, for example, learn or absorb any of the transfer of personality and attitudes that takes place by way of interactions between two human beings within the mirror neuron system. That's what real education is about; and that is why it civilizes the barbarians.
   Helen Dragas made plenty of money building houses. Let her go back to that -- it is a business she understands.  And she did the right thing for her customers when some of those houses, were outfitted with defective Chinese-made drywall.  But I am willing to believe that none of that drywall was as defective as her paltry notion of how to "transform" the University of Virginia. Ms. Dragas didn't bother to write or "craft" her own oracular pronouncements or official "statements," rather, she hid behind and concealed the involvement of a non-Virginia PR agency like Hill & Knowlton. So She's Gotta Go! Will Someone please make up a batch of buttons .... with a flattering picture of Helen Dragas on them?  


If Ms. Dragas doesn't yet understand how dishonest and dishonorable she was by claiming Hill & Knowlton's work as her own, I'll be happy to explain it to her over a beer.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Secret King -- from beloved Gravely -- (Scribner's 1984)

            Spook’s book The Secret King demolished modern economic theory by demonstrating the utter unreliability of conclusions based on such highly unstable data as government statistics, corporate reports, and the fluctuating value of modern currencies; Spook said the Never-Never Land approach just ignored the fact that any overall treatment of “the economy” always reflected the author’s innate political bias, and usually little else.
            He then went on to point out some of the similarities between modern times and the last stages of dynastic monarchism.  In both cases, according to Spook, the principal sources of wealth were controlled and/or owned by what he called “immortal agencies.”  The principal source of wealth in modern times, of course, is industrial production.  Under the last stages of dynastic monarchism, it was agricultural production.
            In modern times, the immortality of industrial corporations, subject only to the very realvicissitudes of mismanagement and cut-throat competition, is not a matter for dispute because it is one of the attributes of the “legal fiction” which created corporations in the first place.  Pretty much the same thing was true under the dynastic monarchies; even though individual members of the ruling class might die, the titled offices or patents of nobility from which their privileges derived did not die.  In both cases the “immortal agencies” – corporations or princes – were granted an immunity from prosecution on capital charges for all but the most atrocious crimes, and even in the event of those crimes it was only the individual who was prosecuted, not the “immortal agency.”  Modern corporations, said Spook, have been created by the state in much the same way and for many of the same reasons that dynastic monarchies created patents of nobility: to enforce the laws, to regulate production, and to collect the taxes.  A reciprocal relationship exists in both cases, and both systems are characterized by heavy taxes laid on the less wealthy citizens, and also by vast differences in wealth between the rich and the poor.
            There was a real revolution in America, but unfortunately it occurred just as the source of wealth was changing from agricultural to industrial production.
            Spook said that anti-monarchist sentiment in America and in most of the rest of the world was so strong that those people who were naturally a part of the monarchist party had been forced to call themselves by a different name.  But, he went on, the history of the “secret monarchy” that they controlled could easily be traced.  The monarchists, before the Revolutionary War, were by far the stronger party.  Fully a third of the population were avowed Royalists.  Geographical factors, along with their reliance on the English armies – mostly hired mercenaries – coupled with some French intriguing, were responsible for the defeat of the Royalist party.  But the Royalists themselves went right on prospering even after losing the war – whereas the starry-eyed idealists who had signed the Declaration of Independence, for the most part, suffered a decline in wealth and died poorer than they had ever been under the Old Regime.
            For several years, however, the apparently inexhaustible reserves of new land in the West retarded the reconsolidation of power in Royalist hands; before too long, however, even Jackson had to fight the bank, and after the rise of finance capital and the immortal agencies that controlled it, the die was cast; the agrarian democrats were no longer fighting agrarian monarchists, but the far stronger forces of the capitalist plutocracy.  Then as the source of wealth shifted more and more from land to capital, so did the government shift back to “secret” monarchy from what had been American democracy.
            This conflict ended with the War Between the States.
            The Secret King, triumphant in the war, proceeded to consolidate his power; and his vassals, the new corporations, soon were abusing their privileges to such an extent that the central government itself was forced to make efforts to curb the power of capital, but now lacked the necessary philosophical justification for doing so.
            According to Spook, the problem was precisely that the government had – either intentionally (at the behest of the Secret King) or inadvertently (through clumsiness and inattention) – allowed the re-creation of a monarchical system of government controlled by immortal agencies: much the same as things had been before.
            The results of this state of affairs – the creation of a permanent underclass, the establishment of a society based on differing degrees of privilege and entitlement in which the poor pay taxes and the very rich do not – could not be ameliorated, except temporarily, Spook concluded, without attacking the problem at its root – e.g., by breaking the power of the federal government and the corporations in the same way that the power of the English kings and their vassals had once been broken.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Merkin Way?

Posted in The Atlantic, months before the date of this post  --   Though I paid so little attention to news regarding the OWS protests that I can't "parrot" any of their slogans (in fact, I never heard that they had a slogan other than "Down with Corporate Greed") -- it would be fair to note that a very distant cousin, Joel Gehman, seems to be an organizer of the Occupy protest in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.   I never met the man.  I doubt you'll try reading Ferdinand Lundberg's book The Rich and the Super Rich because you don't really want information about the history of  favorable tax treatment paid for in the halls of Congress by  the 10% of the American population that owns 90% of the wealth. It's not quite fair to opine that they got so rich by cheating the rest of us.    It's an old, old story in America -- but I doubt you'll pay any more attention to Alexander del Mar's notes on the Greenback Bond Scandal after the Civil War than you will to the even older news about the Yazoo scandal.   Funny, ain't it, how "the facts" often seem so strongly biased against special deals for the rich and their pet politicians and toward liberal theories of prosperity?  And how liberal, centrist American politicians -- like Nelson Rockefeller -- have managed to produce long periods of the sustained prosperity that comes  with rational government?   "A rising tide lifts all boats" is the Liberal shibboleth.   If you're not appalled by the notion that Warren Buffet pays tax on his income at less than half the rate his secretary pays, I'll need to remind you again that  "_______ don't have politics, they just have enemies."    Fill in the blank any way you like -- "fascists, corporatists, the Rich and the Super Rich  ...   or even liberals."    It would be unfair to assume that your politics depend on willful ignorance ....  Greed and personal interest likely have a stronger influence.   I'm not sure we all want to agree that "Work hard and pay for tax breaks" has often been the American Way to get rich -- but those are the facts.   Real and lasting general prosperity, however, means a strong, relatively stable market for bonds -- not the false promise of artificially inflating equity values during the boom phase of the Keynesian cycle.  We're all paying for that last boom now.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Sheltering Sky

The Sheltering Sky is a novel by Paul Bowles. I love everything Bowles wrote. Bernardo Bertolucci filmed this novel. I found the movie less entertaining than the book; scarcely worth watching, is how I remember the film (and a big letdown after The Conformist).  It's fair to note that, alas, Bowles's novel struck me as scarcely worth finishing: it seemed to me, while I was trying to read it, that after writing about a third of what could have turned out to be a very, very good book indeed, Bowles just got bored with it .... but continued writing it anyway. He had got hold of a theme that wouldn't support a whole symphony?  Not even a film score?  Bowles is much better at writing short stories -- he's really at the top of his form, perhaps because they hold his attention.  Or because he doesn't get bored before they are over?  Possibly a logline for a film would be his ideal length?  Maybe The Sheltering Sky was just too big and too ambitious (as a book); or perhaps it needed a strong passionate romance at its core, and I don't think Bowles was temperamentally any more capable of writing a strong passionate romance than he was of living through one himself.  Bowles spent much of his life in, and preferred living in, Morocco, a country where most of the natives despised him as a foreigner.  What hapened to Bertolucci's flim, I don't know.  Got lost in Morocco, I guess.  Don't miss visiting the great Moroccan / Mediterranean restaurant Aromas  in Charlottesville.  Next time you're here.  It is at Barracks Road.  You might be here at the film festival, maybe -- at the beginning of November 2012?  For the Messiah Sing In at Old Cabell Hall in early December?  Thank you, NetFlix for making "a life with film included" possible here in Bumpass, Virginia.