Part of a two-week series on the pull of bad influences in our lives and in the culture.
I don’t remember all that much about my first year at university except that it was the year we converted from pounds, shillings and pence to "decimal currency." I shared ground-floor rooms, overlooking the Third Quad in college, with a bearded, bear-like chap I called (for reasons which need not detain us) Eighty Two. He was impossibly good: for all practical purposes a saint. His father ran a school for the blind. He had just spent part of his gap year (though the term wasn’t in use back then) in a 12th-century [...]
In the long summer vacation of 1971, I "worked" on a construction site in the English countryside where they were proposing to build a new hangar for the U.S. Air Force, and used the proceeds to take a holiday in Greece with my friend Charles. Originally, the idea had been to hitchhike, having crossed the channel on the boat and made our way from Calais to Paris by bus. We soon found out what I had been warned of, that the French can't abide hitchhikers. After sleeping in the Bois de Boulogne we fluked a short ride to a small town by the name of Auxerre, and there our luck [...]
Back in the days before the great bull market began to charge in August of 1982, there was a soothsayer called Joe Granville. He was the Mad Money Jim Cramer of his day, a showman and exhibitionist whose performances included walking on water (across a swimming pool in Tucson, dressed in a tuxedo) and a piano-playing chimp. Despite that his demeanor wasn't what you would expect of a great financial brain, he attracted a large following of investors for his $250-a-year financial letter (about $615 in today's money), partly because, as People magazine explained, he had called four major stock-market turns in two years. His reputation grew to [...]
A long time ago I was involved in an attempt to finance the buyout of a card club in LA. It was quite a profitable business, doing about $100 million a year in revenues, on which it cleared close to $30 million after cash expenses. They made their money by charging people to sit at a table and play poker, taking a little piece of each hand. That way they could get away with not being a gambling establishment, which would have been illegal in Los Angeles, because they weren't actually a participant in the game; they were just a venue where people happened to sit down and play [...]
At boarding school in the 1960s we had to go to evensong every Sunday. A few prayers, some chants and responses, four hymns, a couple of Lessons, the Nicene creed, a sermon and – at long last – the benediction ("The Lord make his face to shine upon you"). The sermon was the main variable in determining how long it would be before we could all go back to our Houses for supper. To make it more exciting and to help while away the tedium, there was sometimes a pool on how long the sermon would last.
The economy is terrible right now. Almost everybody seems to agree. The business community, as represented by the US Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and most Republicans, has some ideas as to how to fix it: cut taxes; reduce the deficit (!); rein in Big Government spending (except defense); stop over-regulating business so they can get on with business. The Democrats have their own idea: more stimulus, in the form of, for example, extending unemployment benefits. Who's right? If anybody?
In the immortal words of the philosopher Will Smith, "lay back and relax, 'cause this is summertime." It's an excellent point because, with Memorial Day just around the corner, here comes summer.
Summer is the invention of privileged classes in the northern latitudes, a time of traveling and ease. You don't see tropical writers going into paroxysms over summer. Between Cancer and Capricorn, summer isn't that different from the other seasons. And when it is, it's a time of heat, when work becomes particularly sweaty and oppressive and you long for the cooling downpour of the monsoon or "the rains." This is probably true in the southern latitudes, [...]