Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

NOT NEWS – Hiatus

08/22/2016

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After being unable to reach her by phone all day, I went to my mother’s apartment last Monday and found her in her recliner, television on, dead. The funeral was Thursday and today will be the last day my sister and I sit shiva. I will, in the fullness of time, write about Helen, if I decide I’m equal to the subject. In the meantime, here is a photo of her taken this past fourth of August, her 87th birthday.

NOT NEWS – The Purple Finger

08/13/2016

Trump’s been dishonest about  a lot of things in the course of his campaigning (mostly for the purpose of burnishing his meager record of achievements or denigrate the achievements of others). I’ve posted about some of them here. Now, as he sees the polls coalesce into a consensus he is unable to change our ignore, he’s attacking the very fairness of the voting process (like a kid losing at checkers upsetting the board) and he’s not referring to the vulnerability of the voting machines to hacking or general disarray. “The only way I can lose Pennsylvania is if there’s cheatinggoing on,” he says. What’s the cheat? He’s jumping for a ride on the familiar (and undocumented) Republican craptrain, multiple votes cast by black people (because we know what he means when he dog whistles “in certain areas”).

I love these photos of Afghans holding up purple fingers after casting their votes in the 2014 elections in Afghanistan, full of pride, I imagine, in themselves, in the process and in their country. It’s a beautiful image, isn’t it? Holding up their fingers like torches. Despite large portions of the country being beyond reach due to Taliban domination, 58% of eligible Afghan voters came out to exercise their franchise. The voting rate in the 2012 USA presidential race was 53.6%. 

So that’s my simple solution in addition to being my proof that Republican-proffered ID laws are completely disingenuous.  If repeat voters are the issue, and not voter suppression, the simple no-fail, low-tech, low cost solution is the purple finger. Also, I think it would improve participation rates, not only by bringing people excluded by ID laws into the process, but also by shaming eligible voters to the polls. “I have a purple finger. Do you have a purple finger? You must have a purple finger.” Once again, a superficially intractable problem has been solved by me. You’re welcome.

I’ve been a little conflicted about writing about this last couple of weeks in Bridgehampton. Looking at someone else’s vacation photos is one of the more excruciating experiences recorded in human history thus far and I’m thinking that adding some text to that is not going to sweeten the deal. Still, that’s my job, isn’t it, relating the quotidian in an interesting, maybe even entertaining, manner? And lots has gone on too, sailing and fishing and guests and such. I guess I’ve been on vacation blogwise but I’ll be back in the city next week and I suppose I’ll do a quick run-through of recent events. Until then dear readers – put on your sunscreen and always swim with a buddy. I may have just saved your life.

NEWS – Splash! (Bridgehampton Adventure Two)

08/04/2016

Jolean’s in pain, all beaten up. Bruised, abrasions, sore legs and shoulders. That’s the result of shooting waves from 8:00 in the morning until 6:00 with hardly a break. Body surfing or, sometimes, with a short board. I envy her. When I was a kid, my grandmother would spend the summer at a kuchalane in Rockaway and we would visit often during the season. It was a kind of heaven. The boardwalk, skee ball, Jerry’s knishes, Takee cups, pinball and the ocean. Trust me, I was a buoyant little fellow. I’d bob like a cork, dive beneath the crashing waves our leap just as they hit to keep my head above water. I shot the waves. There was hardly any activity I liked better than shooting the waves. Now, I’m afraid. I feel so fucking weak and fragile. I’m under 150 pounds and I imagine myself cracking like a twig. I go into the water up to my knees like I remember the alter cockers doing at the beach. Like my mother does. Jolean, meanwhile is a porpoise. She’s a mermaid. 


She walks up the beach, slippy and shining wet in the sun, like Bo Derek. That’s right, like Bo Derek.  


And I’m sitting in a short folding beach chair, brushing sand off of me, admiring. I love the ocean, could spend hours staring at the waves, but the beach? Eh. If there was a nice green lawn up to the water’s edge, that would be fine for me. The sand. Why the sand? It gets into everything, it’s hot, it’s scratchy and uncomfortable against your feet. Beautiful? Sure, kind of. The dunes, the tall grass – love ’em. The nasty looking seaweed, littering the shoreline, like someone was pulling the tape out of a hundred cassettes and leaving it in piles right where you want to put your blanket. Not a fan. Seabirds? Very entertaining. I really enjoy watching them. 


Listening to the family who decided, with a whole empty beach, to put their blanket 20 feet from me? I hate them. Morons. It’s a warm, bright sunny morning. It’s a beach day, for sure. 

NEWS – The Gentry, the Gentiles and the Ganza Mishpucha (Bridgehampton Adventure Part One)

08/03/2016

I feel like the Jed Clampett of eastern Long Island. No, I feel like part of an invading force. No, I feel like part of a wave of refugees whose arrival ends up changing the very culture they hope to be absorbed by.  It’s archaic, I know, and, really, I’m very well assimilated, but I still feel like Rodney Dangerfield in “Caddyshack” – a little louder, a little more colorful and a lot more Jewish than the indigents though, upon consideration, it’s not really apropos. The Hamptons are not so Gentile anymore. I know lots of tribe-members who own homes. Besides, I’m not so conspicuous (C’mon, who am I kidding?). Lots of grays, blacks and whites in my duffel. And of my little group of seven (Alex, Nicola, Kelsey, Samara, Grandma Helen, Jolean and me), four of us are born (as opposed to practicing) Christians so what’s the issue? Still, that’s how I feel, a two-week-rental interloper. With a Mercedes. When I was a kid, my family went to a bungalow colony in Suffern then bought a house by a lake in Morris County, New Jersey. I also did some sleepaway camp. As a young adult, I did a few Fire Island weekends but I never did the Hampton share thing (too many strangers. Don’t care for strangers). I don’t think there would have been many of those houses in this area anyway. The houses here are big. We have five bedrooms in this one, and a pool. We all had a blast last year so we’re doing it again. In fact, even though I don’t actually have a job, I feel freer, unburdened, while I’m here. I think it has to do with the large yard, the open space, the unbroken sky, the ribbon of beach rolling out as far as the eye can see. I’ll tell you something else – Maybe I feel so much the outsider because I like being that. I like a little distance. I’m Margaret Mead or Dian Fossey – among but not of. That’ll be my POV as I (if I) recount to you the next two weeks. Pictures next time.

NOT NEWS – Cutting Bills

08/01/2016

Tim Kaine, at a campaign stop yesterday, told the story of a woodworking contractor who completed a job at one of the Trump casinos and, when the job was completed and he delivered his invoice, was told that, if he wanted to be paid anything, he would have to accept a reduced amount in full satisfaction of the debt. Trump was cutting his bill. For Kaine, this was evidence of Trump’s congenital and continuous perfidy. I can only assume he’s not aware, as the woodworker surely was, of the ubiquity of the practice of bill cutting among NYC landlords and real estate operators. Back in my pre-lawyering days I worked as a managing agent for uber-landlord Sol Goldman (nobody in the business believes me but I managed 2,000 units in 40 different buildings) and bill-cutting was a way of life. 

If I had a job to give out, a roof to repaper or a boiler to replace, I’d contact a few contractors in the trade, negotiate the lowest number that I could and then go in to Mr. G to get the job approved. This is where the cutting began. “Please Mr. G,” I would plead, “it’s the best price by far.” “Take $2,000 off the contact. He won’t walk away.” (Understand that, in 1987, when he passed, Mr. G left what was at that time the largest estate in New York State history – he was not short on cash). So back I would go to the contractor with the bad news and, as predicted, he would stay with the job which, of course, made me look foolish since I obviously had not negotiated the best price possible. 

Once the work was completed, the contractor would come in with the bill and I would say “This is too high. I can’t go in to him with this. Believe me, if I bring him this number, he’s going to cut the crap out of it.” So the contractor would reduce the charge and I’d bring it into Mr. G for approval. And again I would advocate for the contractor. “Please Mr. G. Don’t cut it. I’ve already got him down. He’s only making pennies on the job.” And again, he would cut the price saying, “I could lose my shirt paying bills like that.” I would sheepishly return with the bad news and the contractor would whine and scream and cry and moan and eventually would say, “Do you have any other work to give out? You’ve got to give me the next job and give me a chance to make it up.” It was part ritual, part dance and all about the money. How do the landlords justify this behavior (and I assure you, they feel completely justified)?

First of all, the landlord assumes that the contractor anticipates being cut (which he has) and has built a sort of “cut cushion” into the price (which is also true) so, if you don’t cut out that cushion, you’re overpaying and being taken advantage of and nothing galls a real estate guy like being taken advantage of. Second, the landlord feels he’s due a discount to compensate him for flaws in the job. He may not be aware of any flaws but no work is ever done perfectly so the landlord needs to take consideration now for problems that will undoubtedly reveal themselves in time. Third is that the contractor almost always requests the chance to bid on new jobs. If he’s being chopped so badly, why does he keep coming back? That in itself is proof that the reduced payment contains enough profit to incentivise the contractor to keep the dance going (or, conversely, that the contractor was trying to screw him and it’s only through leveraging future work that the landlord was able to avoid being suckered). Now, Trump’s propensity for declaring bankruptcy, where contractors are crammed down by the secured creditors (the lenders) to levels they would never accept in a negotiation, is a special Trumpian twist that distinguishes him from the more run of the mill scumbag. Still, if Kaine wants evidence of exceptionally bad behavior by Trump, he’s going to have to up his game. 

NEWS – The Russian Analyst’s Report

07/31/2016

“General, as you ordered, I have analyzed emails we copied from Clinton for President office computers” “Excellent lieutenant. Our sleeper agent in the Trump campaign is most eager for information. What did you find?” “Sir, I must report that even with most thorough review, much remains obscure. For instance pantsuit.” “Yes?” “The subject of many of the emails is pantsuit. ‘Do you like my pantsuit?’ ‘That was a lovely pantsuit you wore today.”Where did you ever find that pantsuit?’ ‘The pantsuit makes your bottom look big.'” “Pantsuit? Why would they talk about pantsuit?” “It is believed that a pantsuit which makes your bottom look big is damaging to reputation. Americans outside of New Jersey will not vote for person with big bottom.” “Ah, I see. We shall start a rumor that Clinton’s bottom is expanding. Tell agent Hannity to begin such a program. What else?” 

“Many emails concern Clinton’s pet dog.” “Pet dog?” “Yes sir, pet dog. Is big dog and is bad behaving dog.” “Bad behaving?” “Yes sir, many emails talk about not being able to keep leash on big dog, what trouble will big dog cause.” “Our files do not indicate dog.” “Many dog emails sir.” “Alright. Perhaps we kidnap dog, tempt it with some beef and snatch it.” “Sir, this dog does not eat meat.” “No meat?” “No sir but records indicate that when it is not under control it eats pie.” “Pie?” “Yes sir, pie. Big dog seeks out pie and, if not being watched, will eat the pie of strangers.”

 “Dog and pantsuit? Is this all? Dog and pantsuit? President Putin will not be happy with this. He insists ‘You must help Trump. He must be president. Only this way will my lover, agent Melania, become queen of America.’ So you see, I cannot go back with nothing but dog and pantsuit. Is there nothing of strategy? Nothing of plans?” “Sir, their strategy is to say nothing to press and let the Trump keep talking.” “Keep talking?” “Yes sir, keep talking. They want to make sure voters hear Trump talk about sacrifices and accomplishments” “Roskolnikov! That is dastardly strategy. I know! We will start rumor Clinton has Jewish daughter. Americans will not trust candidate with  Jewish daughter.” “General, I regret to tell you…”

NEWS – Up the Bracket (Exhuming Reagan)

07/26/2016

Make no mistake; I hated Reagan but primarily because of his nasty Orange County social policies and, in a general way, the patent absurdity of trickle down economics but, at 25 years old, I didn’t quite understand the nuts and bolts of tax policy (probably because I had no money). I’m no maven now. Economics is not my strong suit but I’ve had a chance to look back and it kind of shocks me the extremity of the changes he made. I know, I’m behind the Marxian curve, but the degree to which capital holders were favored (corporate tax reduction, capital gains reduction, reduction of personal rates at the high end) over labor looks vengeful today (sorry Paul Ryan), an empty heart carrying out the orders of wealthy cronies and corporate masters, and those changes largely remain in place in the USA today and, as to reduced corporate tax rates, have permeated the world economy. Now, I don’t have any big ideas as to how to unmix that batter but I do have an opinion on how to raise much needed federal revenue and increase fairness to the personal income tax: go back to the pre-Reagan tax brackets. I’m not talking about reinstating 1970’s tax rates which were up at 70% for the top bracket. I’m agnostic on rates. However it works out. Let’s take a look at the current rates and brackets, shall we:

Table 1. 2016 Taxable Income Brackets and Rates (Estimate)
Rate Single Filers Married Joint Filers Head of Household Filers

10%

$0 to $9,275 $0 to $18,550 $0 to $13,250

15%

$9,275 to $37,650 $18,550 to $75,300 $13,250 to $50,400

25%

$37,650 to $91,150 $75,300 to $151,900 $50,400 to $130,150

28%

$91,150 to $190,150 $151,900 to $231,450 $130,150 to $210,800

33%

$190,150 to $413,350 $231,450 to $413,350 $210,800 to $413,350

35%

$413,350 to $415,050 $413,350 to $466,950 $413,350 to $441,000

39.6%

$415,050+ $466,950+ $441,000+

Right now, a single filer making $415,051 (assuming all his dough is ordinary income which, for guys at that level, is rarely the case and some day I’ll get around to writing just as ignorantly about the carried interest loophole) is at the top of just seven brackets. In 1979 there were 16 brackets and, at other times in history, even more. As it stands, the 415,051th dollar earned by a taxpayer is taxed at the same rate as the millionth or ten millionth. What if you created a new bracket beginning at $1,000,000 and earnings above that level were 1% higher than immediately below? What if you added another 1% at $5,000,000 and another 1% at $10,000,000? Would that be excessive or unfair? The fact is that more brackets create more progressivity and more graduated increases from bracket to bracket. Even if you made the changes revenue neutral, it would still be more fair than the current allocation but, with the way new income has migrated to the wealthiest, it’s fairer still for them to pay more. W don’t need to soak the rich. We’ll just rinse them off a bit.

If you’d like more information, here is an article from the Northwestern Law Review making the case in much greater detail than I have here (http://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1016&context=nulr)

and a chart detailing brackets and rates from 1913 to 2011 (file:///Users/davidbreger/Pictures/fed_individual_rate_history_nominal&adjusted-20110909.pdf).REAGAN IRAN CONTRA

NOT NEWS – Drug Talk

07/23/2016

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Mark, Don and I were having cocktails and a nosh at the Nomad Bar when Mark asked, “Did you smoke on the street on the way over?’, which is something I am wont to do, to the combined horror, dismay and amusement of my friends. I turned to Mark and I said, “You know, it’s funny. The last time I went out for drinks with Don, he asked me the same question and, that day, I had smoked on the way to meet him, and he started talking to me about my excessive pot smoking and he asked how early I usually start smoking and how much I smoke during the day. He wasn’t judgmental or aggressive, no admonishing. It was clear he was talking from a place of concern and caring and I tried to be as open as i could be, not defensive, taking it in the spirit it was meant and it’s really had an impact. It’s changed my behavior.” “How so?” “Well, I don’t smoke in front of Don anymore.”

NOT NEWS  – Introducing Ptui and Toshi

07/20/2016


Pteri was the first Jardine’s Parrot that Sami and I owned (She was named after Peewee’s pet pterydactyl). She was a sweet little girl, stepped up nicely, never bit.  One day Sami came home from school and went to her room and found Pteri dead on the bottom of the cage. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know how she was acting in the days before. I rarely looked in on the bird. My wife at the time claimed she was allergic to bird dander which she could detect on me if I so much as stood by the bird. I was wracked with guilt. It felt as if I had chosen a wife I didn’t like very much over a parrot I did (There was a time, before I was married and was free to bring Pteri into my bedroom, that I was home sick with a fever and Pteri walked up to my mouth and shared her food with me – by generous regurgitation, as though I was a fellow hatchling).  Over the next two years it continued to gnaw at me and so, once it was clear the marriage was over, I purchased another Jardine. I suppose I wanted another bird but mostly I wanted to atone for my part in Pteri’s demise. This bird I would do the right thing by. He came by airplane from the breeder in Texas (Jardines’ are African birds, originally from Senegal, but they are much less available than other African birds like Grays or Senegals).  I named him Ptui. He was (is) cute as hell, lots of personality, lots to say but he was (and is) a son of a bitch (His human vocabulary is limited to “Hi”, “Hello” and ‘Ptui” [He meows as well] but he’s very chatty and expressive with bird sounds.). Try my best, I couldn’t get him to step up. He liked to bite, usually with restraint but bitey just the same (Less so with women. Ptui loves the ladies). He loves me though and is always happy when I’m down in the den with him and when he’s out of the cage he perches on my shoulder. The first thing we did, when he was just a few months old, was take a road trip together. We drove up to Northampton, Mass., then to Niagara Falls, from there to Cleveland and, after, Chicago. We picked up the old Route 66 there and drove it all the way to Vegas. He stayed in a backpack-like bird carrier and I would sneak him into whatever hotel or motel I was staying in each night and then I would open the carrier and let him free (His wings were clipped a little at that point so it’s not as though he flew around too much. He glided and walked everywhere though. I don’t clip him anymore). We had a great time, talking while I drove, eating room service or barbecue or chicken-fried steak I would bring in. After a three night stay at the Bellagio, we abandoned the rental car and flew home.  The real problem with Ptui at home was that (like Dorothy Parker’s parakeet Onan) he spilled his seed and the seed attracted mice. Lots of them. They’d run across the floor with impunity. They’d climb into the birdcage. They were everywhere. Sami and I had been thinking of adopting a dog at the Bide-A-Wee so we made a slight alteration in the plans and went to the animal shelter and got ourselves a cat which was named Toshi (though they referred to her there as monkey due to her habit of climbing onto people’s shoulders, a habit she has to this day). She was about six months old when we got her. She was friendly, tactile and a very pretty silver-gray. She adjusted to her new surroundings right away and, in her first two weeks at home, must have taken out over a dozen mice (Watching a cat pursue a mouse is a lesson in cruelty. She would pounce on it, let it go, pounce on it again, bat it from side to side with her paws, let it go again, pounce again – it took a while). She was not and is not kind to the furniture, all of which is a little shredded. For the first couple of years she would stare at Ptui with savage interest but now she seems to enjoy hanging out on the couch near the bird like they’re buddies. Just the same, I don’t let Ptui out of the cage when Toshi’s around. Too cautious. There was a year that Sami spent in Boston and took Toshi with her. I had always been kind of sarcastic about the cat and the endless hours it spent lying there sleeping but when she was gone, I really missed her. Ptui, however, did not miss her so much as he was out of the cage almost all the time while Toshi was away, fouling the furniture and your clothing which invariably would be discovered only after you left the house with a bird turd on your back. Once Toshi (and Sami, temporarily) moved back home, Ptui’s golden year was over. Being an uptight jerk, I used to close the bedroom door to keep Toshi out when i went to sleep but since Jolean is much more kind and humane than I am, she lets the cat sleep on the bed and she (Toshi) nestles right between our heads (Sometimes I’ll wake up in the morning to discover Toshi’s spent the night laying on my head). I’ve had them both for about seven years now. Ptui is still the adorable little bad boy he has always been but Toshi has grown into an empress, the dowager of the house, acting completely entitled. I’d really love to see how they’d react if I let them both free and unfettered at the same time. My bet is that, between bite and flight, Ptui would be fine but the downside if i’m wrong is too high to risk. Jolean and I are thinking of expanding the menagerie with a dog in the fall. I’ll let you know how that goes.

NOT NEWS – I Turn to Stone

07/19/2016

When last I posted about my mental state, as you might remember, I was an emotional firecracker with a very short fuse, leaving a snark’s trail at the least provocation. That’s done. There is no denying that my affect has been flat in these last two weeks. I’m not unhappy but I’m tight. I’m tied up. I’m not smiling a lot. I’m slow and cautious in responding. i’m not experiencing the ennui I associate with depression but I ain’t quite right. So what, right? It’s never the same river even once. A lot is going on in my head. After all, I’m recuperating from a month in a hospital bed, the loss of 15 pounds, an abdominal surgery and being so close to shuffling off that I needed ten units transfused just to keep me stable. What do I have a right to expect? Don’t I need to give my psyche a little recuperation time too?

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Be cool, be present and let the rest happen. It will change again just as it has before, right? Let the antidepressants do their work and, soon enough, we’ll be back to baseline (and my baseline in the last couple of years has been very elevated – I was describing myself as the happiest person I knew and I meant it).  That’s my approach, I guess. Still, I’ve been wondering if maybe I should go back to therapy. There’s a sense that I have that returning to therapy is like being Lot’s wife, that once you’re out there’s no looking back without turning to salt or at least transforming yourself to something needy and wounded. I think i’ve mentioned that I was acolyte to a particular psychiatrist for over 30 years.nuts That’s a whole lot of transference (and counter-transference, I would say). We broke up because I had become disillusioned, primarily over a single issue. A few months into my second marriage it became clear to me that my wife was very badly damaged and by the time we hit our first anniversary I was ready to bail. Dr. Bloom was very insistent that the best chance we both had for happiness and growth was to work it out together. He became, in addition to my shrink, our marriage counselor, dedicated to healing the marriage, but over the course of the next two years my wife became more and more disabled, her psychological problems more manifest and I ultimately ended the marriage but that was two unnecessary miserable years during which he should have been looking out for me, not the marriage. I wasn’t angry with Bloom. Well, maybe i was but mostly I was hurt. Like Rod Steiger in Waterfront, he should have been looking out for my end a little. My unhappiness should have been respected. His formerly sandaled feet began to look a little clayish. Still, what am I going to start at b’reishit  with somebody new?  Or go to some behaviorist to give me “useful advice”? I don’t shrink that way. I may enjoy a superficial life but I demand depth from my therapy. So that leaves me at a bit of a dead end which, maybe, is where I prefer to be because, as I said, I really don’t want to go back there. Here’s the big reveal, though. Because you, tender reader, you’re my shrink now and this blog, among it’s other purposes, is a doily-less couch and we’re now finishing up this session and I think I feel better for it. For now. I’ll let you know. I’ll be in touch.