This all-new “Mr. Good Guy” shtick is proving tougher than expected. Tougher to put across; tougher to live up to. It just killed me to have to pass up eviscerating the absolute load of tosh that Roger Rosenblatt dumped on the heads of Time readers apropos of Einstein and relativity, although fortunately James Bowman, five times the writer and 10 times the thinker that Mr. Rosenblatt is, rode to the rescue in The Wall Street Journal with a point-by-point dissection that saved the day for anyone who’s as sick of bullshit as this writer.
See, there I go again! Anything one says is likely to be held as proof of irredeemable, incurable curmudgeonliness. For example, just because I think the films of Anthony Minghella are doltish and crude doesn’t mean I don’t like movies. I love movies! But when I told a bright young friend how much I liked The Cider House Rules , the snicker that came across the phone line curdled my Ovaltine. “But it’s so sentimental,” I was told. And of course it is, but in the best, non-Pavlovian, non-chain-jerking way: I was immensely touched and moved, and such tears as I shed were circumspect, because the director and cast weren’t going for my tear ducts the way Apaches went after scalps (cf. Love Story ). The picture glories in great performances by Tobey Maguire, Michael Caine, Delroy Lindo, Charlize Theron and a full dozen others, but its crowning strength is the script by John Irving, who understands his characters and their situations from within. It’s a beautiful movie. And what kind of era are we living in, anyway, when “sentimental” is de facto grounds for dismissal.
I love Topsy-Turvy , the Gilbert & Sullivan picture. I wish it had been an hour longer. And Jim Broadbent, who plays Gilbert, is such a ringer for the incomparable Pierpont Morgan that the likeness alone is grounds for some studio chief to greenlight a film based on Jean Strouse’s splendid biography of the rarest of all Wall Street spirits. I am surprised that the success of Topsy-Turvy hasn’t prompted the re-release of The Story of Gilbert & Sullivan , a wonderful 1953 bio starring Robert Morley as W.S. Gilbert and Maurice Evans as his collaborator, and D’Oyly Carte Opera Company immortal Martyn Green as Grossmith, on which Topsy-Turvy director Mike Leigh has obviously drawn to some extent.
Scratch a curmudgeon and like as not you’ll find a disappointed optimist. As I once wrote somewhere else, in an age of euphemism, a realist is likely to be derided as a cynic. These are puzzling times, hard to figure out.
I’m not sure what I make of the America Online-Time Warner deal. Apart from my esteemed colleague Chris Byron, the only people worth a damn when it comes to Big Finance and Big Media-Net are Michael Wolff in New York , John Cassidy in The New Yorker and John Ellis in New York Press and I’ve read them all carefully. A lot of what they have to say seems cogent and realistic. To which I must add my own hunch, based on 40 years on, in and around the Street. There’s a point in the life of tycoons-very like “the time in the affairs of men” adumbrated by Brutus in Julius Caesar -which “must be taken at the flood” almost as a form of self-validation in the form of making a rrrreally big deal. I think Steve Case had reached that point, and my guess is that we should look at ego as much as broadband as the driving motif in the merger.
Never forget that when one sets a fox to watch the chickens, the likelihood of losing a few pullets is presumably offset by the added safety factor that accrues from what your new employee knows about other foxes. Apply this to AOL T.W., and the question ceases to be “What does Steve Case see in T.W.?” and becomes “What does Steve Case know about AOL?” For example, if you keep an ear to tech buzz on the Net and elsewhere, you’re aware that AOL 5.0, when downloaded, substantively changes the inner workings of a computer. Stuff that worked smoothly before no longer does. Some 230 files are tampered with-and without warning. My Ethernet driver disappeared, replaced in Device Manager by an AOL driver that didn’t work and that I never asked for. Suddenly I could no longer get to Yahoo.
Is this kind of stuff important? I think it is. For one thing, it smacks of private-sector Big Brothering. For another, it sounds awfully like what Uncle Sam got on Microsoft’s case about.
Then there’s Ecuador, which is about to make the U.S. dollar its official currency. I suppose they can do what they want in Quito, but what does this say about the Federal Reserve, which now becomes Ecuador’s de facto currency board? I’m not saying the Fed will henceforth manage the nation’s money with one eye on the price of llamas, but one does have to wonder. Suppose I ran through my credit at my club and the powers-that-be decided it would be O.K. for me to start signing another member’s name. How would that go down with the other guy-and isn’t that what we’re talking about here?
We give the Great Greenspan a lot of huzzahs for the boom we’ve been in for two decades now, but my view is the real credit should be given to the trillions in unregulated overseas dollar creation over which the Fed has been powerless to control. My horseback estimate is that these unregulated greenbacks have leaked back into the market to the tune of perhaps 5,000 points on the Dow. By the end of the 1970’s, no one knew within $350 billion (in those days, real money) how many Eurodollars etc. were out there. What that number might be today, God knows! And God help us! But I do ask myself: Isn’t one’s currency integral to one’s sovereignty? What happens if the First National of Lake Titicaca starts making dollar loans over which the Fed has no reserve control? What if there has to be an Ecuadoran Rescue à la Mexico? Whom will we then be rescuing from whom?
Money, money, money. It fairly makes the head spin. The passing of Hedy Lamarr reminds me of an incident that yielded the most valuable insight into money I have ever heard. It came from an old wildcatter, a bit off his rocker in his dotage thanks to too many dry holes, and it came at the end of a long, rambling disquisition in which the late Ms. Lamarr’s name briefly figured. “Love,” the old boy told us, “is wonderful. But if it costs over $100, it’s expensive!”
The foregoing is printed as a public service to anyone contemplating a relationship with Patricia Duff.