Threads, Calculations and Tinkering

                      Leon Black was revealed this week as the buyer in May of “The Scream”, the Edvard Munch masterpiece of terror and despair, for nearly $120 million, the largest amount ever paid for a work of art.  After leaving as head of Mergers and Acquisitions for Drexel, Burnham, Lambert, Mr. Black founded Apollo Global Management, a private equity, alternative investment firm specializing in leveraged buyouts and restructuring of distressed corporations.  He is widely respected as a knowledgeable collector of art, sitting on the board of both New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, setting up a potential rivalry for display of the pastel on board version of the image.

Munch painted four iterations of “The Scream” as well as creating a lithograph stone; the other two painted renditions and one pastel already reside in Norway museums.  He wrote a poem describing his vision as “an infinite scream passing through nature” amid blood-red clouds. The scene was painted in Oslofjord, a “popular” site for Norwegian jumper suicides and in 1895 was near both a slaughterhouse and a lunatic asylum.  The overused and clichéd adjective “iconic”, which I have come to despise, may, in this case, truly apply.

Mr. Black’s mother was an artist; his father, Eli, controlled United Brands Company, which owned Chiquita Bananas of gunboat diplomacy infamy.  Eli jumped from the 44th floor of the Pan Am Building while under investigation by Federal regulators for bribing a Honduras official. The Pan Am Building, now the Met Life Building, is over 800’ tall, and from the 44th floor, in 1975, Mr. Black senior leapt from about 600 feet after breaking a window with his briefcase.  At the universal acceleration constant, it would have taken him around six seconds to hit Park Avenue like a water balloon at over 130 MPH.  One, one thousand….  Two, one thousand…. Seems like a long time to scream.

“Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice.”  Fire and Ice, Robert Frost


To put things into a bit of perspective, $120,000,000 would buy Mr. Black about 3 ¾ seasons of Alex Rodrigues’ services at third base for the NY Yankees, OR salvage about 1/5 of what the Obama administration drained into the Solyndra bankruptcy and 1,100 laid off green jobs, OR cover just 17 minutes of 24-7-365 Federal spending. Then again, if we add up the nearly $16 trillion in Federal debt and the nearly $120 trillion in unfunded Federal entitlement programs, Mr. Black’s $120 million covers the Federal liability of only 69 of us 313 million of U.S. citizens.  Every American man, woman and child owes just over $1.7 million of liabilities as our share of the debt and unfunded entitlements.  See National Debt Clock.  Plug that into your personal balance sheet, per person in your family, and see how it looks.  Thank goodness my four children are grown and gone, so they are on their own – only $3.4 million in additional debt for Rita and me now.  Just kidding, kids.   For Mr. Black, reputedly worth over $3.5 billion after Apollo Global went public last year, the $3.4 million for him and his wife of layered on Federal debt represents less than 1/10 of a percent of his net worth, but for most of us, it’s far more than we will ever accumulate or earn in this lifetime.  Perhaps a primal scream or two wouldn’t hurt.


Since money seems to be weaving threads together in a barter equivalency, recently Melinda Gates and the Gates Foundation pledged $560 million, somewhat less than five “Screams”, to promote, disseminate and spread the “gospel” about contraceptives to the third world.  “That’s universal – we want to bring every good thing to our children,” she says. “But what’s not universal is our ability to provide every good thing.”  Material success and the aggregation of possessions are therefore the raison d’être of our 70 or 80 spins around the sun and how we are to keep score –   presumably not a problem for Bill and Melinda’s kids.  The Gates solution for the rest of the world is to not have children, or at least to have a lot fewer of them.

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned

The Second Coming, W.B. Yeats

This is a solution that is working out well in all of Western Europe, Japan and more recently the United States, where the population growth has fallen below a replacement rate, resulting in an increasingly aging population wherein it will become ever more unsustainable for the young to support the needs of the old.

Certainly, contraception is not a cause, but merely a symptom and enabler of the trend in Western culture as we persist in deracinating marriage by the cultivation of the utilitarian ethic of the “progressive” and devolve in viewing sex as less a function of commitment, family, children and intimate bonding between human beings and more as solely a function of hedonism and unhindered pleasure.  Since widespread use of contraception and sterilization has taken root in our culture, our divorce rate has exploded to 50%, we’ve progressed from three or four sexually transmitted diseases to over a hundred, pornography grows more graphic and dehumanizing as it saturates our cyberspace and all manner of spousal abuse abounds: the objectification of women on steroids, as it were.

Medical side effects of the Pill include decreased libido (some minor irony there), high blood pressure, weight gain, blood clots, more strokes and heart attacks, increased risk of depression and breast cancer (up to 70% higher), especially if taken before a woman’s first child, and twice the aging rate of the uterine lining, which can contribute or cause future infertility.  This magic potion (“Just take this, honey, and we won’t have any worries!”) causes on average at least one early term abortion a year per woman, since the Pill, not just the “morning after” version, indisputably is an abortifacient because it inhibits the ability of the uterine lining to implant and sustain the life of the conceived tiny baby.

But it gets even better.   A Time Magazine article on The Pill cites recent studies proving that progestin from The Pill, (artificial chemicals that mimic the action of the progesterone hormone) are excreted in the urine of millions of women taking the stuff, and it inevitably flows into our water supply.

Early studies show (perhaps like the canary in the coalmine) that aquatic life (fish and frogs) and a few mammalian studies (rats and mice) show degradation of ovaries resulting in infertility from the ingestion of this water.  Women, who take the pill after childbirth, have lower milk producing capability.  A French funded study showed that progestin and other artificial steroids that make their way into our water supply are cumulative and are much more difficult to purify out than other contaminants.  As we travel down this road, even those not taking these potent chemicals will suffer some of the consequences.

Progress, indeed, providing a windfall from which the rest of the world surely will benefit.  Perhaps Bill and Me Lady should stick with malaria.  Perhaps Edvard Munch had something there after all.

“This is the dead land

This is the cactus land….

Between the conception

And the creation

Between the emotion

And the response

Falls the Shadow….

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang, but a whimper..”

The Hollow Men, T.S.  Eliot

1 Comment

Filed under Culture views

One response to “Threads, Calculations and Tinkering

  1. Greg

    Oh thank you Jack……….you have officially bummed me out 1st thing Monday morning. Thanks for all the depressing data.


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