Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Should the rich avoid discussing their wealth with their kids?

I've never understood that idea, and this New York Times piece convinced me there's no good reason for it:

Parents would be remiss if they did not talk to their children about drinking and driving, using drugs and, of course, sex. . . . So why do a significant number of parents still not talk to their children about wealth and inheritance?

Two-thirds of Americans who have at least $3 million in investable assets have not talked to their children about their wealth or never will, according to a Merrill Private Wealth Management study of 650 families.

Some in the survey said they did not bother because they assumed their children had already figured it out. But 67 percent had quietly made gifts in a trust or set aside money in their children’s name. . . . Ten percent steadfastly refused to talk at all with their children about money, saying it was no one’s business. . . .

In a world of oversharing on social media, why does this restraint persist? It’s complicated. . . .

The most common reason cited for not talking about money is that parents do not want inheritance to rob children of motivation. So if a parent does not say anything, a child will never figure out the family’s wealth. Impossible.

Children are well able to use computers and mobile devices to determine just how much their house, car and vacation cost, along with their school fees and the salaries of any household help. Information about prominent parents and families is flowing to their children’s friends as well.

“A second-grade kid, because they go to all of these house parties, will be able to rank the wealth of all the people in his or her class pretty accurately,” said Dennis Jaffe, a psychologist who works with wealthy families. “It’s not positive or negative, and they’re not jealous yet. But these are teaching moments about values.”

This challenges the notion that waiting until children are older is better. By then, they will have formed their own views on wealth by watching their parents.

“Values are set by everyday behaviors when you’re growing up, and kids are watching you,” Mr. Jaffe said. “Entitlement education begins in nursery school, not when they’re 25 and come to you and say, ‘I need some money.’”

The strategy of ignorance exposes a disconnect between a parent’s stated reason and real reason for saying nothing, said Matthew Wesley, a director at Merrill’s Center for Family Wealth and a co-author of the study with Ms. Allred.

“The stated reason is, ‘We don’t want money to screw up our kids, and if we disclose our wealth to them, we’ll derail their career paths,’” Mr. Wesley said. “The deeper reason is about fear and control — the fear to relinquish that control and the deeper psychological issues around money.”

Disengagement creates more problems, though, because it can create a perception that a family is more, or less, wealthy than it really is. Leaving children to guess can also create feelings of insecurity.

Some parents shy away from talking about wealth because they have decided to give away most of the money.

“That’s great, but if you’re not telling your kids, that’s weird,” Mr. Jaffe said. “If that’s what you believe in, why wouldn’t you tell your kids that ‘we’re a very wealthy family, but our values say we’re going to put most of it into a philanthropy, and we’re all going to work and do something on our own’?”

Friday, August 23, 2019

25 years of Jeff Buckley's Grace

Jeff Buckley's Grace was released 25 years ago today, on August 23, 1994.

Grace has the youthful excitement of a debut album, and the emotional gravity of a swan song. Sadly, Grace was both. More material has been posthumously released, but Grace was Jeff Buckley's only full studio album.

It didn't get much attention at first, but as people found out about it, Grace eventually sold millions and is now considered a classic.

Jeff Buckley inspired a wide range of artists including Grizzly Bear (listen to "Fine for Now" from Veckatimest), Chris Cornell (a close friend of Jeff Buckley's who wrote this song about him), Rufus Wainwright (who wrote another tribute), and Lana Del Rey.

Bono of U2 said:

Jeff Buckley was a pure drop in an ocean of noise.
This live version of "Lilac Wine" (a cover of a 1950 song) has very different chords from what he played on the album:

Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin:
The album that I’ve been listening to for the last 18 months is Grace by Jeff Buckley. He is a great, great singer. He has such an emotional range, doing songs by Benjamin Britten and Leonard Cohen as well as his own – such technique and command. When the Page/Plant tour hit Australia, we saw [the band] and we were knocked out. It was very moving. Someone heckled him from the audience: "Stop playing that heavy stuff!" But he made the perfect reply: "Music should be like making love — sometimes you want it soft and tender, other times you want it hard and aggressive."
Aimee Mann explained how she ended up writing a tribute to him, "Just Like Anyone":
This is a song I wrote when Jeff Buckley died... I hadn't known Jeff extremely well, but we kept bumping into each other here and there. One night we met for a drink at a pub in NYC, and started writing messages to each other on a paper place mat that was there, instead of talking, because the music in the bar was really loud or something. An interesting effect of that was that we found ourselves writing things that we would never would dare to say to each other out loud. I remember thinking that he seemed to be sort of lost and sad although he outwardly was very funny and lively and confident, and wrote something about that, among other things. I didn't talk to him for a long time after that — I went to England to live for a while… Then one night I got a voicemail message from him that said, 'I just realized what you were trying to tell me that night.' I tried to call him back, but the number I had for him was old. And then I got his new number but I was out of town again and it was difficult to call. And then I heard that he was missing and presumed dead.
Jeff Buckley drowned on May 29, 1997. He was 30.
Looking out the door

I see the rain fall upon the funeral mourners

Parading in a wake of sad relations

As their shoes fill up with water

(Live solo.)

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Woman in the Box

Here's "Man in the Box," from Alice in Chains' debut album, Facelift (1990), sung by Gabriela Gunčíková, who changes "man" to "woman":


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock would have turned 120 today. He was born on August 13, 1899, and died at age 80 in 1980. He directed more than 50 movies over the course of more than 50 years, from silent movies in the 1920s to his last work in 1976.

Hitchcock is the reason I don't put much stock in the Oscars. He never won an Academy Award for Best Director. Rebecca (1940) was his only movie that ever won Best Picture. Vertigo (1958) wasn't even nominated for any major Oscars, yet it was voted the best movie of all time in the 2012 "Sight & Sound" poll of film critics.

The Oscar snubs reflect that Hitchcock wasn't always fully appreciated in his time. But his movies have aged so well it's easy to forget how old they are. Roger Ebert said:

I do not have the secret of Alfred Hitchcock and neither, I am convinced, does anyone else. He made movies that do not date, that fascinate and amuse, that everybody enjoys and that shout out in every frame that they are by Hitchcock. In the world of film he was known simply as The Master. But what was he the Master of? What was his philosophy, his belief, his message? It appears that he had none. His purpose was simply to pluck the strings of human emotion -- to play the audience, he said, like a piano. Hitchcock was always hidden behind the genre of the suspense film, but as you see his movies again and again, the greatness stays after the suspense becomes familiar. He made pure movies.
That's from Ebert's explanation of why he put Notorious (1946) on his list of the 10 greatest movies of all time.

From Hitchcock's New York Times obituary:
Alfred Hitchcock, whose mastery of suspense and of directing technique made him one of the most popular and celebrated of film makers, died yesterday at the age of 80 at his home in Los Angeles.…

In a characteristically incisive remark, Mr. Hitchcock once summed up his approach to moviemaking: "Some films are slices of life, mine are slices of cake." …

His best movies were meticulously orchestrated nightmares of peril and pursuit relieved by unexpected comic ironies, absurdities and anomalies. Films made by the portly, cherubic director invariably progressed from deceptively commonplace trifles of life to shattering revelations, and with elegant style and structure, he pervaded mundane events and scenes with a haunting mood of mounting anxiety.

In delicately balancing the commonplace and the bizarre, he was the most noted juggler of emotions in the longest major directorial career in film history. His distinctive style was vigorously visual, always stressing imagery over dialogue and often using silence to increase apprehension. Among his most stunning montages were a harrowing attack by a bullet-firing crop-dusting plane on Cary Grant at a deserted crossroad amid barren cornfields in "North by Northwest," a brutal shower-slaying in "Psycho" and an avian assault on a sleepy village in "The Birds." …

Reflecting his motif of a world in disorder, Mr. Hitchcock placed endangered protagonists in settings epitomizing order--citadels of civilization, the Statue of Liberty, United Nations headquarters, Mount Rushmore and Britain's Parliament.

Reviewers acclaimed his virtuosity in creating a rhythm of anticipation with understated, sinister overtones, innovative pictorial nuance and montage, brilliant use of parallel editing of simultaneous action, menacingly oblique camera angles and revealing cross-cutting of objective shots with subjective views of a scene from an actor's perspective.…

His films were spiced with unusual peripheral characters and often shot on location in exotic settings. His heroines were usually "cool" classic beauties who "don't drip sex," he said. "You discover sex in them."

At its best, the Hitchcock touch revealed a cornucopia of conjurer's tricks, dextrously juxtaposing tension and relaxation, relieving horror with humor. "After a certain amount of suspense," he told an interviewer, "the audience must find relief in laughter."

He deplored James Bond-type gimmicks and played on childhood anxieties--fear of heights, enclosed places and open spaces--and his plots dealt with suspicion, guilt, complicity, delusion, vulnerability, irrationality, violence and sexual obsession. He manipulated moviegoers so adroitly that at times they felt implicated in the most despicable acts, including those of a homicidal maniac.

In Mr. Hitchcock's world, people may or may not be what they appear to be, but the audience sees and knows more than the protagonists. He invariably alerted viewers to imminent dangers such as a ticking time bomb, withholding the knowledge from imperiled characters, and identified the villains early on, eschewing the "whodunit" as "a sort of intellectual puzzle" that is "void of emotion."

* * *

Before filming, he drew precise sketches of every scene, meticulously listing each camera angle. Working with his screenwriter for months, he freely adapted material, writing up to 100-page shot schedules without dialogue. He almost never looked through the camera's viewfinder and scrupulously avoided improvising on the set.…

Francois Truffaut, a leading director of France's New Wave, praised him as "the most complete film maker" of all American directors and "an all-round specialist, who excels at every image, each shot and every scene."

Lauding Mr. Hitchcock as a leading "artist of anxiety" with a "purely visual" style, Mr. Truffaut commented that "Hitchcock is almost unique in being able to film directly, that is, without resorting to explanatory dialogue, such intimate emotions as suspicion, jealousy, desire and envy."

* * *

In childhood incidents, he developed a lifelong fear of the police and punishment, major influences on his movies. At about the age of 5, he was sent by his father with a note to a local police chief, who locked him in a cell for five minutes. In releasing him, the officer said, "That's what we do to naughty boys." Mr. Hitchcock later said he could never forget "the sound and the solidity of that closing cell door and the bolt."

This photo is from one of his best movies, Strangers on a Train (1951), where Hitchcock makes a cameo as a musician getting on a train while the main character is leaving.

UPDATE (2020): When I release "my favorite movies from each year of the past 100 years," Hitchcock will be one of the most strongly represented directors. Stay tuned! In the meantime, you can watch some of Hitchcock's early movies on the Criterion Channel. If you don't subscribe, try getting a free 14-day trial (US and Canada only).

Sunday, August 4, 2019

If mass shootings are "terrorism" …

If mass shootings are going to be called “terrorism,” then we should ask if common arguments about terrorism apply to mass shootings. One of those arguments is that the media and the public are too concerned about terrorism, which poses far less of a risk to the average American than car accidents do. (Neil deGrasse Tyson recently made that argument, and caught a lot of flak for it.)

But there are good reasons to feel differently about intentional massacres than car accidents. Intentional terrorist attacks or mass shootings against innocent people have no benefits, so we’d ideally want to reduce them to as close to zero as possible. Cars aren’t like that; cars have a lot of benefits, and can even save lives (e.g. driving someone to the hospital). So the optimum goal is not to reduce the number of cars to zero. And as long as there are cars, there are going to be car accidents.

Still, for many decades, America has been taking measures to reduce car accidents, like traffic laws and car safety regulations. It shouldn’t be assumed that people don’t feel very strongly about cars; after all, those statistics on fatalities mean there are a lot more Americans out there who’ve lost a family member to a car crash than to a terrorist attack.

Another common argument about terrorism is that without at all excusing the atrocities, we should understand the root causes of terrorism, namely that economically oppressed people turn to terror as a last resort. Meanwhile, it’s often been observed that the most widely reported mass shootings in the US have usually been done by white men. So, are white men who grew up in the United States a particularly oppressed group? If you don’t think so, and you think the kinds of mass shootings we’ve been seeing lately are “terrorism,” then it’s time to question the idea that oppression is the root cause of terrorism.

Friday, August 2, 2019

It isn't "way too early" to think about who the Democratic running mate will be

People say it’s “way too early to be thinking about” [NYT link] who’ll be the vice-presidential nominee when we haven’t even started voting for the person who’ll make that decision. But wait, shouldn’t we think about what the ticket might be before choosing the nominee, while it could still inform our votes in the primaries? I don’t like the idea that we must follow a certain schedule about which questions to think about when, or that we can’t think more than one step into the future.

Those who say the choice of running mate doesn’t matter very much are wrong. It can matter a lot. A good running mate can smooth over some of the nominee’s weaknesses (that’s been true of at least the last 3 running mates to win, who all eased concerns about the future president’s experience and competence). A weak choice can raise serious questions about the nominee’s judgment (Sarah Palin, Dan Quayle); it’s our only chance to see what kind of person the president would hire for their administration before we cast our votes.

So, what are some of the plausible Democratic tickets for 2020? Any nominee will want a ticket with diversity. We can assume it won’t be two Straight White Men; it’s highly unlikely that the ticket will be, say, Biden/Bennet or Bernie/Beto.

If Elizabeth Warren is the nominee, I could see her choosing Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, or Julián Castro. Each would add a different and significant kind of diversity. All of them have been generally performing well in the debates. I can’t see any glaring, irreconcilable differences that would stop her from choosing them — they’re not Delaney, who Warren ridiculed as running for president just to say what he “won’t fight for.”

Buttigieg and Castro would love us to think they’d flip their states in the Electoral College (as unlikely as it might seem for Trump to lose his vice president’s state of Indiana or deep-red Texas). But a successful running mate generally isn’t picked as a tactic to win just one state. Obama didn’t choose Biden to win Delaware; same with Dick Cheney’s two states of Wyoming and Texas; Paul Ryan didn’t manage to win Wisconsin for Romney, etc. Warren surely knows all this.

The running mate could be someone who isn’t running now; for instance, Warren might choose Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio. But there are so many Democratic presidential candidates that it would be surprising if they all got passed over for VP.

If Pete Buttigieg wins the nomination, it’s easy to see him going for gender diversity by choosing Elizabeth Warren or Tulsi Gabbard, who were both outstanding debaters this week. Warren would excite progressive voters, but the last thing Buttigieg needs is more race-related concerns about his campaign, and he could count on Trump to make a big issue out of Warren’s past representations of being Native American. This couldn’t be dismissed just by calling out Trump’s crude word choice in bringing it up.

Buttigieg and Gabbard would be two young veterans who both speak compellingly about their military experience. Buttigieg might want to accentuate this side of his background, along the lines of Bill Clinton choosing Al Gore to emphasize that they’re a new kind of Democrat. Journalists would have their work cut out for them just listing all the ground Tulsi Gabbard could break as a 30-something, Hindu, American Samoan, vegetarian, surfing martial-arts instructor who took her congressional oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita instead of the Bible.

Buttigieg/Booker could also be appealing, but they’re both male. And unfortunately, Buttigieg has to worry about bias against him as a gay man, so even if this shouldn’t matter, he probably wants a running mate with a relatively traditional personal life; Booker has never been married and doesn’t have kids. Kamala Harris also doesn’t have kids, but more importantly, I don’t expect any nominee to choose Harris with all the questions about her record, in these days of increased interest in criminal justice reform.

I have a harder time speculating about who Joe Biden would choose, since he seems generally unpredictable and erratic. So I have no guess for him — and even if I did, I’d expect him to choose someone else!

That leaves 2 other candidates in the top 5, but I don’t expect them to be nominated so I’m less interested in guessing who their running mates would be. Kamala Harris’s image as a tough prosecutor is ill-suited to the current political moment, and her response to Gabbard’s attack last night wasn’t confidence-inspiring on that front. Self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders, who’d be in his 80s for most of his presidency, is even more of a long shot now than last time.

No one else seems likely to win the nomination, but that could change. Almost every presidential race gives us at least one huge surprise . . .