It’s Not Historical, It’s Strictly Business | Attention & Dumbo Movie Review | The Fiction or Finance of Wealth

MARCH 29, 2019  /   SUBSCRIBE



“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both. ” – James A. Michener




It’s Not Historical, It’s Strictly Business: President Trump’s trade team began two days of negotiations in Beijing Thursday, trying to make as much headway toward a final deal as possible before a delegation of Chinese government officials come to Washington next week for more talks. The administration’s requests surrounding forced technology transfer and subsidies of state-owned enterprises remain as yet unresolved, because the primary stumbling block continues to be the one-sided US demand for an enforcement mechanism that gives it the power to impose tariffs if China fails to uphold its end of a trade agreement. It just feels too much like history repeating itself. As one scholar said: “Every schoolchild in China and every educated Chinese person knows about the ‘century of humiliation.’ There’s a lingering memory … from the 19th century that goes a long way to explain the desire in China for a global trading order that works more on China’s terms.”

Republicans know the enforcement issue will probably be the determining factor in whether a deal is reached. The GOP chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Chuck Grassley, told reporters Wednesday: “What we want is the ability to put on unilateral tariffs that can’t be counteracted by a tariff from China.” Grassley said he wasn’t sure whether that request was reasonable, but it was the goal of the Trump administration.

Negotiators are trying to sell the US wish list as a win-win for both countries, but China remains skeptical that concessions Trump wants will really help uplift its economy. And Trump continues to make agitating statements like the one in Ohio last week: “I consider that we’ve rebuilt China. $500 billion a year taken out of our country,” the president said, referring to the amount of Chinese goods America imports. Current US tactics appear to overlook that China’s status has changed drastically in the last 150 years. It’s now the world’s second largest economy, and it’s global influence has grown exponentially. What the administration could learn from history is something one of its advisors on China tries repeating: “Chinese policy has shifted from fear of being bullied into unequal treaties….The Communist Party was created [nearly a century ago] on a narrative of standing up to, and ending, unequal treaties [at the hands of foreigners].”




EU’s Plaxit: On Wednesday the European Parliament approved a law banning by 2021 a wide-range of single-use plastic items, such as straws, cotton buds and cutlery. The law is supported by 560 members of the European Parliament and stipulates that 10 single-use plastic items will be banned in order to curb ocean pollution. Members also agreed on a target to collect and recycle 90 percent of beverage bottles by 2029. The spokesperson in charge of sustainable development said: “Europe is setting new and ambitious standards, paving the way for the rest of the world.” The new plans come after the European Commission found that plastics make up more than 80 percent of marine litter, which has disastrous effects on wildlife and habitats.(CNN)

The Great Firewall Of China: London is weighing whether to heed US calls to bar the Chinese telecom company Huawei from its next-generation 5G networks. On Thursday the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British spy agency equivalent to the US National Security Agency, released a scathing assessment of the security risks, including cyberattacks and espionage, posed by Huawei. It is the second consecutive year GCHQ has identified serious problems. This year officials said they have found “further significant technical issues” in the firm’s engineering processes, as well as “concerning issues” in Huawei software, “leading to new risks” in Britain’s 4G telecom networks. (WaPo)




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The Fiction or Finance of Trump’s Wealth: President Trump is touting his hand-picked attorney general’s four page summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s 300 plus page final report as a “complete exoneration” of any misdeeds. That is far from accurate. A number of investigations are ongoing that are unaffected by Mueller’s investigation. At the heart of at least two of the inquiries are Trump’s Statements of Financial Condition, official-looking documents  sometimes running up to 20 pages and containing lots of numbers supposedly laying out Trump’s properties, debts and multibillion-dollar net worth. A closer look at these documents shows that Trump routinely either overvalued or undervalued his holdings, increased the number or decreased the number of assets, depending on whether he wanted to borrow money, or avoid paying money.

He even renumbered the floors of his 58-story Trump Tower, “adding” 10 floors  to make it seem taller (a 68-story building). Earlier this month, the New York state Department of Financial Services subpoenaed records from Trump’s longtime insurer, Aon. And on Wednesday the House Committee on Oversight and Reform said it had requested 10 years of these statements from Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA. Financial and legal experts said it’s unclear at this point whether Trump will face any legal consequences, depending on whether he intended to mislead or whether the misstatements caused anyone to give him a financial benefit. Often his accountants would insert a broad disclaimer, something like: “Users of this financial statement should recognize that they might reach different conclusions about the financial condition of Donald J. Trump” if they had more information. Some legal experts maintain  that sort of broad disclaimer might shield Trump from allegations that he misled his lenders and insurers. (WaPo)




May I Have Your Attention Please? We live in an attention economy. As a company in the media space, we understand this, and we understand how important it is to be thoughtful of how attention is used: May I Have Your Attention, Please?: Forget everything you know about time management.(NYT, $) And 5 Cheap(ish) Things to Help Get Rid of Distractions: You and your phone need a break. (NYT, $) And a great essay on Different Kinds of Information (Collaborative Fund)

Disney Dumbo Review: Please bear with me as I consider myself only a student of serious cinema. I saw the movie earlier this week with my family as we lucked into pre screening tickets. The movie is pure spectacle and entertainment much like all Disney productions. The movie was of a movie and it had a scene of a movie within the movie. All of this got me thinking just how much we as humans desire to be entertained and distracted. We actually want to deliberately lose our attention. And we pay lots of money to have others distract us. Fascinating.

The scene that both my boys (6 and 8) really enjoyed was the bubble scene. This scene is an incredible visual and audio experience. The closest the movie got to simulate what it is like to be at a Disney theme park. The six year old smiled and laughed with sheer delight. It was as if Walt Disney possessed a magical device that could simulate the awe-entertainment-happiness area of our young boy’s brain. I personally derived absolutely no enjoyment from watching the movie or the scene. I’m a Scrooge when it comes to entertainment spectacles (Ain’t nobody got time for this…is how I think, or Bah humbug). I was there simply to spend time with my family and it was worth it to endure the Disney flood of orgiastic lights just to watch the joy on my son’s face. Much of life is simply about showing up on time and being present (which isn’t easy).

My wife essentially has a graduate student degree in Disney theme parks. For her the park is a study in optimization of time and space. She explained to me that the new Dumbo movie had many theme park references: a seemingly random train song, Fantasia references, the actual Dumbo ride itself, and many other references that only the initiated could understand.

She was able to answer the only question I cared: why did Disney make another Dumbo movie? Her explanation which I think is absolutely correct is that no one knows anything about Dumbo anymore. The original film was released in 1941 a few months before Pearl Harbor. Dumbo hasn’t been relevant for a couple decades if not more. My kids had no idea when they went to the theme park last year who is this Dumbo and quite possibly wondered why is this ride at Disney? This movie is a capitalist and cunning tactic to make the theme park and Disney more relevant. And hence more money (I gotcha Disney). Everyone wants to be relevant. Achieve relevance by being present. Not just for stories, movies, and theme parks. But also for parenting and relationships.




“Showing up is 80 percent of life.” – Woody Allen

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