Monday, February 7, 2011

If your bank steals your money will you still care about art?

                     Art or food for the starving is a hot topic that is going to get a lot hotter as the globe warms up.   Our $700,000 question is in the trillions now.  

                  The question we posed last week, beautiful art for a wealthy college or meals and education for  children in extreme poverty is an individual choice.  Hearts, consciences, and viewpoints will vary.  Hungry Gerald says if you balance people and art, they’ll be no art.

                   But art isn’t a moral choice, it’s an impulse, a need to see and create fresh views of the universe since we lived in caves.  I say support the arts. Or not. Art will survive no matter what.  

                   Molly got it right. Last week’s choice was between art for students who have just about everything and food and education for children who have nothing.  Having nothing leaves children prey to prostitution, militias, disease, and crime. And insures continued generations of child prostitutes, poverty, crime and suffering.  So I think that one is an easy choice for the future. But if your heart says art, go for the art. 
                  Lest these choices seem like parlor games, idle speculation on what we’d do with our excess money if only we had any, I’d say read Michael Lewis’s stunning book, The Big Short. Inside the Doomsday Machine.

                 (Lewis also wrote The Blind Side, so you know it's a good read.)

                 The Big Short is a moral tale on a national level with a stupendous and sickening effect on a great nation.   Everybody knows Wall Street runs on greed.  The surprise is how that greed has been encouraged to feed on our national treasure. How the uber-rich get more uber-rich at your expense.

                     Here’s a few bits from the last chapter.  “By late September 2008 the nation’s highest financial official, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, (a former chairman of Goldman Sachs) persuaded Congress he needed $700 billion to buy subprime mortgage assets from banks.  Thus was born TARP, which stood for Troubled Asset Relief Program.  Once handed the money, Paulson abandoned his promised strategy and instead essentially began giving away billions of dollars to Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and a few others unnaturally selected for survival. . . . 

                   Weeks after receiving its first $25 billion taxpayer investment, Citigroup returned to the Treasury to confess that – lo!—the markets still didn’t trust Citigroup to survive.  In response, on November 24, the Treasury (Paulson) granted another $20 billion from TARP and simply guaranteed $306 billion of Citigroup’s assets.  Treasury didn’t ask for a piece of the action, or management changes, or for that matter anything at all . . . The $306 billion guarantee – nearly two percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, and roughly the combined budgets of the departments of Agriculture, Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation – was presented undisguised as a gift.

               You see the parallel here between our $700,000 choice between kids who have and kids who don’t and the national treasure lavished on the owners of a Giant Bank while the departments of Agriculture, Education, Energy, Security & etc. go begging.  

                And the parallel between one Monday this January when Congress extended tax cuts (mainly for the uber-rich) at a national cost of three trillion dollars over the next ten years.  And, on Tuesday when Congress called for much needed cuts to national programs of agriculture, education, Energy & etc. of some three trillion dollars over the next ten years.

                On that note (nobody ever said the world was fair only that it ought to be) I’m going to wander off into the woods and leave the blog to work on a couple of books for a while.  Cheers, and thanks for your time.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Play while the Blog's Away

              The sky is blue, the sun is warm and the blog is off for the weekend. 

              But wait, wait, there's more.

             This was a good week with Bobby Kennedy singing in Harlem, Dinner in a Diner with Ashley Judd, boozing on the beach with the Mad Men of London,   playing tennis with a Bernie Madoff wannabe in Paradise ,

              If you missed any of the above, now would be a good time. 

                 There's almost a year of goodies here. Like Frank Lloyd Wright's last private house and his big mistake. 
                     New York had another deluge of snow and still nobody seemed to notice the beautify of a blizzard in New York City You'll find a fine snort and a giggle in the wacky wonderful Coneheads at Silverstone. Or the flip side of that madness to the days of dope and meditation in The Volvo Years.
                  if you missed the all-time-record-breaking-hit- monster blog, The Real Allard Story:give it a click.  No, I lied; the tribute to the women who are as"sweet as honey and smile at you like you're made of money," attracted even more hits. And If you missed the 1979 Polish Grand Prix now's your chance.

Or, click on bob judd on the top of this page or slip down the right hand column to click on such gems as  my favorite, How You Look at the Sky.   Or The Kythera Chronicles to shake hands with Barbarossa.

Or just cruise through the links on the lower right hand side of this page, maybe come upon some unexpected little gem like  an excerpt from The Candle In Praise of the Belleville Midgets The Midgets of Belleville. Part II Truth in Grass: a Kansas adventure, The Story of the Larned Eagle Optic, Hollywood Calls, You Pick up the Phone, Hollywood Calls, you pick up the phone part 2 maybe my favorite My Short Happy War in Afghanistan or no, wait, wait, Fangio and the Maserati 250 F for the priceless video of Fangio in a polo shirt and helmet, absolutely relaxed driving a Maserati 250F around a beat up old race track with no run off, no barriers, no safety nothing.  My lunch with Rob Walker is a good one even though it leaves out the Betty Grable stories. 
       You don't want to miss My Short Happy War in Afghanistan
             Then there's Erno Goldfingers house-and-mine, which throws in Ian Flemming, no extra charge. Riding around Laguna Seca with Jackie Stewart was picked up by

             Read  Uncle John's Prayer for guidance through these difficult days.
              Then there was the time my Dad,  Clarence Judd Head-Butts a Truck.  Truck dies. That's a good one. 

             And, of course, the one that started it all, Truck Story.
               Then Virgin calls, and Forrest goes to Hollywood to star with an Electric car. And Forrest does a shoot in bed with Virgin. That one is a lot of fun. 

                Although, you might want to take a look at Pheromone Dreams to see what they are doing in bed in front of a film crew. While you're there it's just a short hop to Nurse Pelvis. 
            Or take a dip in the world's largest concrete freshwater free municipal swimming pool.
           And for heat on a frosty afternoon, click on my dance with a prima ballerina.
              For a tasty bite with bon mots check out my friend, Gerry Freeman's foodie blog as  Hungry Gerald globe trots from spa to Paris and beyond.

             Or go skip over to the column on the right and click on any date or title from last year.  These blogs are evergreen as we say in the trade.


Friday, February 4, 2011

If you had $700,00 to give away

            I have a question.

             I had the great good fortune to go to one of the best small colleges in the nation, routinely ranked among the nation's most desirable by Newsweek’s annual poll. It’s a school that honors great teachers and encourages and develops critical thinking.  

            Part of our reunion gift my old college class is planning to donate to the college is an outdoor kinetic sculpture  by George Rickey, entitled Double L Eccentric Gyratory.

             It's a beautiful, graceful piece stirred in surprising ways by the slightest breath of wind.  Two stainless steel L shapes are poised on a fulcrum and move slowly, or not, seemingly responding to the forces of another world.  Or, if you prefer, two angular shapes, separate and identical, graciously and powerfully demonstrate emotional equilibrium.  Or, if you prefer, some other metaphor like courtship.  It is a sculpture that inspires thought. 

        It’s also a very large sculpture, 26 feet high and weighing several tons. It's currently in front of the San Francisco Public Library.  And previously exhibited at the Pepsico sculpture garden in Purchase, NY. 

       The cost of purchasing, uprooting, transporting and installing this sculpture is estimated to be around $700,000.

            Which brings us to our dilemma. 

            A small school in the village of Bodh Gaya in the poorest part of India, sponsored by One World Children’s Fund will feed and educate a child for $4 a month.  If you do the math, you’ll find that $700,000 will teach reading, writing and arithmetic and feed, some 14,500 children for a year.  That's many times more than the little school in  Bodh Gaya could handle but you see my point.

             The need of children stuck in poverty in America and around the world is infinite.  The sculpture is beautiful.  If the $700,000 were yours to give, which would you choose?  Please feel free to comment.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mad Men in London: A Day At the Beach With Llewellyn Thomas

Dylan, Llewellyn, Caitlin.  Aeron, Granny and Coln in front.
                               Llewellyn Thomas was a trickster, a prankster, a thoughtful shy man living under the shadow of a great and awful father. He was witty, erudite and convivial among friends according to his obit. Days with Llewellyn were always an adventure.  Maybe because he'd had such a rough and tedious time when he was a kid.

                         Once his mother, Caitlin, a famous beauty painted in the nude by Augustus John, popped off the train for a quick drink at the station bar.  Two hours later, she remembered, "OH GAWD, I left my 2 year old on the train." 
Augstus John's portrait of Dylan
Augustus John's portrait of Caitlin
        Llewellyn looked more like his Dad, Dylan Thomas, but woe to you if you called him Dylan. The picture above right is Caitlin when she was dating and posing for Augustus John.

        Llewellyn was a copywriter at JWT London with a genius for thinking up wacky stunts.  One idea was The Big Dig for Gillette.  Buy a pack of Gillette razor blades and win a chance at digging up a two week holiday in Majorca, a new cooker, etc. etc.”

        Obviously the real items couldn’t be buried in the sand.  But what should be, and how deep and spread over how big an area? Real shovels or toy shovels?   Llewellyn suggested that a team from the agency do a trial dig.  See how it goes.  Gillette said OK.

        So one sunny morning a posh bus pulled up in front of JWT in Berkeley Square at 8 AM and around 20 of us piled in. Llewellyn was the last aboard, throwing on crates of champagne first. We were on our way out of the square when the first cork went POP.  

        POP we went, POP, POP.

        When we arrived at the beach the client (a tall severe gent Llewellyn called The Scoutmaster due to his khaki shorts and long socks) was waiting on the tarmac. 

        The door swung open and we fell out on the pavement, stumbling, sprawling, falling down drunk. 

Rye Beach

         John St. Clair, later to become a prize winning film director, was given the task of shooting The Big Dig Trial Day.  He made it to the beach,  fell on his back and shot a half an hour of clouds in the sky.  I and a few others scrabbled in the sand with toy shovels for a while, gave it up and jumped into the Ocean.

         The Scoutmaster, needless to say was enraged.  The account rep was sent in shame to the purgatory that was Chicago.  We all endured a livid lecture from the JWT management.

          We had endangered the jobs of hundreds.  Nearly lost the account.  We were irresponsible, juvenile.  I don’t remember the trip down to Rye Beach apart from empty champagne bottles rolling on the floor.  But I know we had a ball. 

          And the Big Dig?  How did the real one work out?  It was the most successful promotion in the history of Gillette UK.   

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dinner with Dario Franchitti and Ashley Judd

         The hotel lobby was crowded so I took my time looking around the room.  Nope, she wasn't there. 

            I thought, being both stunningly beautiful and famous for her roles in Kiss the Girls, The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, Norma Jean & Marilyn (she played Marilyn Monroe) that Ashley Judd would  stand out like a Bird of Paradise in a barnyard. 

            She didn't stand out.  She was there but I didn’t see her until she detached  herself from the hotel lobby wall.  It was a kind of yoga trick, of going very quiet and blending into the woodwork so nobody noticed a world famous movie star.  It was self defense, because if anybody had noticed Ashley Judd, she’d have been mobbed.

              This is the time of year when the Indy Cars head south for Spring Training to test the cars and drum up a little PR for the new season.  I'd called up Dario Franchitti and asked if I could take him to dinner for an interview and he said, “Sure.  Would it be OK, if I brought along my fiancĂ©.”
              “Sure,” I said. Thinking YIPPPPEEEEE.  Wondering if she might be a cousin.
             We left the hotel quickly.  They were so cute together.  Dario in the front seat, reaching awkwardly around his neck to hold her hand in back.

 At the Sebring Diner, (much less chance of being recognized in a diner than some fancy place. Plus there are no fancy restaurants in Sebring) Dario was his usual self.    Ask him a question or two and he’s off, funny, open, insightful.  Here’s a couple of samples:   “Soft tires, a thousand horsepower, as far as the road courses were concerned the cars were perfect.  But they had to slow them down for the ovals because they were just out of control.   I mean 242 average at Fontana with a big wing on the back. 

                Least favorite words: Do you know why I’ve stopped you?

                 Favorite words: God says, “there’s a bunch of your buddies in the back room.”

               The interview didn’t take long and then we just talked.  Ashley was incandescent.  Actors often have a public, glittering, utterly charming public persona.  Ashley was just herself.  Which is to say very, very bright. 

          “Sure, girls from New York are tough. And girls from Georgia are sweet. But those feisty Kentucky girls, they are the ones you have to look out for. We have sugar and fire in our blood. We can ride a horse, be a dĂ©butante, throw a left hook and tell you the entire UK football line up all while making sweet tea. And if we have an opinion, you get to know it."

           After a bit we talked about family. 

           She knew more of the Judd genealogy than I did.  “Right, right, Thomas Judd and his family were on the Griffen, landed in Boston in 1633,.  Don’t you wish we still had that farm he had in Cambridge?  We’d own half of Harvard?”
Dario wins the Indy 500

                 The next morning Dario was outside his race car, twisted into some strange yoga stretch.  “Where’d you learn that?” I asked.

                   “Where do you think?”

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Behaving Badly in Paradise: my brief stay on Useppa

                   You probably haven’t heard of Useppa Island.  It’s a private, exclusive, ferociously expensive club on a small island next to Sanibel and Captiva Island just off Florida’s Gulf Coast.  Useppa used to be a Navy dump, but never mind.
Click to Enlarge.  Note the Hedge Fund Manager Yachts.

                 As their online brochure says, “we invite the world’s most exclusive travellers. . .”  I’d just finished Takeover my big business novel. And while the proofs were at the printers, managed to wangle an invitation to this hidey hole for the super-rich. 

                I was not a good guest.  The first night, at a cocktail party, I got entangled in a heated argument with the guest of honor about the then recent shooting in the back of some suspected Irish terrorists on the streets of Gibralter.  Her deceased husband was the British Admiral who had given the order to shoot  to kill on sight.  She was not amused by my argument that we have courts for judgment.  And that public executions were gangster acts.  She argued that it was the guerrillas who set the rules.  I said, etc. etc. 

British Dowager Look-Alike
                She was gracious about it, and told our hosts she enjoyed our debate, coming from a country which thrived on debate.

               I vowed to be a better, less obstreperous guest. Not fuck up any more cocktail parties.  And the next morning, I was playing tennis with a gent who asked what I did for a living.  "I’m a novelist," I said proudly.  "Just finished a book called Takeover.  Killed a couple dozen CEOs and I really enjoyed that."

                 “I am a CEO,” he said through gritted teeth.

                 I vowed to be a better, less obstreperous guest.  Not fuck up any more tennis games.  And the next morning I was playing tennis with a well groomed gent who asked what I did for a living.  "Just finished writing a book called Takeover.  The villain is a hedge fund manager."

Hedge Fund Manager

                  “I am a hedge fund manager he said through gritted teeth.

                    “Great,” I said.  “Where do you live?”