Goldman & the SEC

The legal experts who have weighed in on the recent SEC charges against Goldman are no doubt correct in asserting that the government has an exceedingly difficult case to prove—and an adversary that will fight long and hard.  The legality of Goldman’s actions (and the court’s eventual decision on what constitutes material information in this case) is certainly not the real issue here.  The real issue is the effect of these revelations of the Paulson dealings on the firm’s reputation.

Due diligence on the part of the buyers of the investment package may have revealed Paulson’s hand and stance.  The large European banks that were the primary investors here must take the blame for their losses.  Goldman claims that the deal was not profitable in the end for them either, however the promotion of the fund manager would suggest otherwise.  One may hope that the trial would bring to light any deal between Paulson and Goldman that ultimately may have made it a profitable venture for the investment bank.

Whether or not that was the case, the extreme moral hazards that accompany extreme sums and limited personal risk are at play.  It is a matter of degree.

Was Goldman’s role in this deal ultimately that of a book-keeper set to make money whether its investment failed or not?  It gets back to the question of disclosure and material information.  On any given day, a banker may advise one investor to sell and another to buy, content simply with the fees both transactions will earn for them.

This is the nature of this part of the game at all levels.  Goldman will avoid SEC sanction, and its reputation on Main Street as the bank that outsmarted the housing meltdown will be tarnished.  At least everyone can feel good that their disdain is not just reserved for the little guy; it’s for the big guys, too.



Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland deliver stunning realism in this 1971 Alan J. Pakula film.  While Ebert lauds their performances and criticizes the film’s thriller elements, its spot-on cinematography gets unfairly ignored.  The film has a polished, consistent stylishness that somehow avoids all the visual clichés of 1970s poor taste.  As the camera tracks out in Bree’s (Fonda) dark bedroom, the viewer grasps her feeling of being watched while simultaneously foreshadowing the widening scope of the intrigue. In the scene at Ligourin’s (Roy Schneider) apartment, Klute (Sutherland) stands in front of a wall display that defines prominent crosses, one of which is precisely reflected in a glass-fronted picture hanging on the opposite wall.  That’s good stuff.

The tape recorder, its wheels spinning in nefarious machination, is a brilliant and important symbol in the film.  Once set in motion, the wheels turn and govern the acts that will follow and cannot stop until the act is brought to conclusion.  While the recorder is a tool of Peter Cable (Charles Cioffi), it serves to link him with Bree by way of her psychotherapy sessions.  The startling frankness with which she speaks and the direct camera work makes these scenes appear as if pulled from a documentary.  The camera documents Bree; the recorder documents Cable.

Ebert is probably correct in questioning the effectiveness of the film as a thriller, however the visceral impact of Klute would be far less if it were entirely focused on character study.  Foreshadowing and premonition, conveyed so effectively here, raise the bar in this standout of 1970s cinema.

Of computer listening…

I have a large library of recorded music on my computer.  I keep it organized using iTunes, which shows that I have almost 10,000 tracks from over 700 CDs–I’ve never purchased a music download.  While no particular aspect of iTunes (rather iTunes as I use it) is particularly high-tech, it is remarkable to have random access to what could be an unlimited quantity of recordings.  I never listen to music in the background, and iTunes hasn’t changed this.  What has changed is that it is almost too easy to move from one track to another, and I find myself doing this more often that I would like.

Certainly the snappy interface and rows of colorful album art icons are enticements to skip to a different recording.  This is why I sometimes prefer to use the Front Row interface when listening–so the temptation isn’t there–or turn off the monitor altogether so that it isn’t a distraction.  There are ways to deal with the problems that iTunes poses to serious listening.

Does this mean there is still a place for the CD player? Not for me.  The advantages of using rewritable memory to store media are too great to leave any room for a CD player.  But there is a certain level of committment to a recording that comes from physically handling its media any time one wishes to access it.  This is entirely absent from computer music (meaning digitally stored recording on rewritable memory) and needs to be an element of future technology.  Cover flow, though I don’t use it, is a step in this direction.

Is it simply nostaglia that makes me believe this? Not at all.  Physical media matter. Take Amazon’s Kindle:  it is not a book.  It simulates some aspects of a book but eliminates nearly all of a book’s sensory aspects.  The reverence and expectation with which one may open a book, or even a CD jewel case, has become part of the experience of dealing with encapsulated art.  This cannot simply go away without diminishing the significance of the data (and art) they contain at some level.

What about newsprint? I do not have the same feelings about newsprint.  Ephemera were created to be ephemera, and digital screens suit them fine, probably better than paper ever did.  These feelings say nothing about the art and craft that make good journalism.  For this I have a high reverence.

Back to recorded music.  For recorded music to remain an art and not decline to a commodity, the physical element of handling a container for a recording must persist. No, iPods do not count.  It must be something unique to each recording.  Album art is also insufficient.  There must be a physical connection to the act of being ready to listen. So think before you double click; let’s wait and see what virtual reality brings.

Some may look to this chronicle for the documentation of his introduction and first impressions of Samuel Johnson, but there is much more to the diary.  Boswell went from Scotland to London in 1762 at the age of 22 to seek a commission with the Guards, an appointment that would bring him the life of a gentleman, residence in London, and a virtual guarantee not to see any military action.  Many forces aligned against him in this aspiration.  Regiments were being disbanded at that time.  The social position and wealth of Boswell’s family were unquestionably sufficient to obtain the commission (which needed the approval of the court and George III) even during this challenging period, however an overarching theme of his life was the conflict with his father, who refused to use his influence to help him in this endeavor.  Boswell, in spite of his charm and aristocratic friends, could not obtain the commission and left London in August 1763.

Boswell’s father ultimately succeeded in having his son follow a career in law, a field in which Boswell never obtained professional success to match his father.  What makes the London Journal fascinating, more so than its brilliant style, is its honesty in documenting the feelings of self-questioning that are a part of becoming an adult.  His weaknesses and depression are also documented in its pages, giving the very real impression that the formative experiences of his youth are preserved for all to witness.

That Boswell’s life is still a vivid thing for us to appreciate is the result of the singular application of his talents to that purpose.  As a person of significant shortcomings and weaknesses, he expressed and brought forth through his writing his best qualities and made great literature, even though this did not bring him professional success.  Boswell finding his calling in writing is a tremendous inspiration.  He lived a great life because he chose to make it great, and he will forever give the gift of letting us appreciate it.

Milton’s “Arcades”

The poem Lycidas, evoking an entire pastoral world, is a favorite of mine, though unfortunately it has no catchy phrases about music from which to take my blog title. “Sweet compulsion,” more often quoted “such sweet compulsion,” is from the masque  Arcades, which shares imagery with Lycidas.

The Genius of the Wood is speaking of listening to the harmony of the spheres, or celestial harmony.  This harmony, produced by the singing of the nine sirens that preside over the spheres, is made for the ears of the one who holds “the vital shears.” This is Atropos, the cutter of the thread of destiny.   The sweet compulsion of celestial music governs the actions of the Fates.  Those inclined to fatalist thinking often believe Fate to be the final arbiter.  That Fate itself is governed by a higher force, the concords of celestial harmony, is a fascinating aspect of the passage.

The reader is not to believe that Fate rests ultimately with the Sirens, or even the celestial music, but rather with the laws of the universe that are expressed through this harmony, “worthiest were to blaze / the peerless height….”

Marguérite Gérard’s painting, the source of the header image of this blog, may be a lightweight compared to its predecessors from Vermeer and Velázquez, but it is fascinating nonetheless.  The Roman profile of the lute player acknoweldges its Neoclassicist style.  The gazes of the three women do not meet; it is only our gaze that meets the lute player in the painting of the painting.  A beautiful, sloping arc is defined by the eyes of the three women that extends to the right wall where a mirror hangs.  Though it is not central to the work, one is reminded of Parmigianino’s mirror since both are paintings about the act of painting and the reflection that is art.

The plane of the canvas looms large over the painter almost as a memento mori.  The reminder is that the canvas survives the artist.  The discarded flower is certainly a clue that points in this direction.

On the nature of the blog

General observations here are too speculative to be fruitful.  I consider discussion of the nature of the book, or entertainment, or leisure, to be similarly lacking in rules of engagement.  In spite of this, it is necessary to ask myself the following as they relate to “Sweet Compulsion,” or, this blog:  what, why, how, and when.

In considering “what,” I am faced with the paradox of internet mass media: unlimited publicity and massive anonymity.  By publicity, I mean:

pub-lic-ity, n.(pə-ˈbli-sə-tē): the ability for a commodity to be consumed by the public, determined by the extent to which it is available to the public easily, readily, and cheaply.

The phrase massive anonymity also requires unpacking, as massive does not refer to absolute size, rather it speaks “of the masses.”

Since the concept of publicity (in the sense of media, paparazzi, publicist) is burned into the contemporary brain, it will intentionally run interference with my tweaked definition and give the full sense of the term “unlimited publicity,” which is ultimately the ability for anything written here to be disseminated to anyone, which is both an inspiring and humbling condition.  The other side of the paradox is the anonymity that I can take alongside Technorati’s 100 million bloggers.

So the boundaries of “what” now take shape.  I may post nothing controversial.  I happen to like some controversy, so one must look for it here outside the hot-button issues of the day.

I’ll take “why” and “how” together, simply because they are so different in scope.  I am doing this because I like the attention and like the idea of opening a different part of myself to others who I may never meet.  “How” seems easy now, but I expect that might change.

The question of “when” gets back to the nature of the blog and will conclude this first post.  Blog, meaning web log, taken as web diary, suggesting daily.  Since we have determined that there is necessary prior restraint in this public blog, it is not a true diary.  Therefore it is also not daily.