23 April 2011

How to blow through $100million ... and still come out ahead

McCourts in happier times

L.A. Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt:  Same Problems as Mere Mortals

If the rich really do lead different lives, as the old saw goes, then it follows that the super-rich should lead extraordinarily different lives.  As a 4th generation Californian, born in San Diego, but reared in Los Angeles, my allegiance lies with the Los Angeles Lakers and the L.A Dodgers.  Enter Frank McCourt, owner of the Dodgers, he the great equalizer between the rich and the average everyman.  He the great shrinker of the delta that is the gulf betwixt those with some number followed by six zeros in their bank accounts, and those of us who sometimes have no zeros to speak of, save for the two after the decimal point.   The monied and the financially maimed, viz., Frank and me.

In general, the well-heeled have more second homes, more and certainly nicer cars (why not throw in a private jet while we’re at it), and absolutely they travel a great deal more, especially to exotic, foreign lands, than the average American (the private jet comes in handy).   But, in many ways the rich and uber-wealthy are exactly like their less wealthy counterparts.

If his life is any indication, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is living proof that the rich have the exact same problems that the rest of us average folks encounter on any given day.  They divorce like the rest of us --but in much grander style and scale and with far more publicity, of course.  They have money problems (which, granted, must be measured on the Richter scale) like us.  And, they sometimes run businesses into the ground like the rest of us mere mortals.

The McCourt's (Frank and his wife Jamie are divorcing after a 30-year marriage) have admitted to siphoning off $100 million from the Dodgers organization to fund their lavish lifestyle over the last seven years.  To see how much wife Jamie McCourt has been granted in spousal support, click the link below:

Jamie McCourt was recently granted temporary spousal support of almost $700k per month from her husband Frank to maintain her lifestyle. Frank not only has personal financial stress with their eight homes around the world, and the spousal support to wifey, but business as well.

Frank McCourt, it has been recently revealed, has been juggling the books to keep the lights on, including the newly installed parking lot light at Dodgers stadium (after a recent attack against a San Francisco Giants fan). Besides the Dodgers players’ $105 million payroll, the Dodgers organization now has the former LAPD chief and a former mayoral candidate on salary, and a fleet of attorneys on standby. He recently secured a $30million bridge loan from Fox (News Corp) which precipitated the commissioner of Major League Baseball Bud Selig to take over running the team until the McCourt's divorce is finalized, and the team is set aright financially once again, which most likely means the end of the Frank McCourt’s ownership of team Dodgers.

But, don’t feel too bad for Frank McCourt for too long. The team, which was purchased by the McCourt's when it was valued around $400 million, today, many predict, the Dodgers would fetch almost a billion dollars should it be sold-off by the MLB to the highest bidder. Also helping increase that value further north is a recent agreement for $3billion between Fox and the Dodgers for a 20-year broadcast rights contract. The super rich lead extraordinarily different lives, and like a cat with a diamond studded collar, land on their feet in luxury style.

Lest I be accused of promoting some sort of schadenfreude against the Dodgers or Frank McCourt (LuxeMont's headquarters (which I founded almost 20 yrs ago) is in San Diego, after all, and they do have season tickets to the Padres), not so.  We believe healthy competition is a good thing, and having an arch nemesis in baseball keeps one young with a purpose, eternally battling to win the division pennant. Besides, as stated, I bleed Dodgers blue.

The super rich lead extraordinarily different lives, and like the cat with a diamond-studded collar that slips off the veranda in Palm Beach, they land on their feet in luxury style.  But I repeat myself.

30 March 2011

Brankton Walks Austin (Part 10)

Having already stuffed a sweater and folded purple checked collared shirt into his bag, Brankton found that t-shirt and khakis still proved an unequal match for the afternoon heat.   He looked down from the grassy hillside and felt the coolness coming up from the spring.  Though the sunlight remained strong and the temps were still in the low 90’s, a coolness nonetheless hung around the springs.  Brankton wanted to jump into the clear water as much as he wanted to do anything in his life. 

Three perspiring coeds lying nearby on large towels on the grass wasted away an afternoon as only college sophomores with graduation and the real world seemingly a lifetime away could. Assuming like most sunbathing beauties that their oiled bodies, skimpy bikinis, and Saturday night plans were the center of the known universe, they spoke loudly to each other as if Brankton were not there in front of them with one of his size-12 Puma’s resting on the metal railing.  

“He is not going to be there.  He texted Marci that his parents were in town and he had to hang with them,” said the blonde coed with the smallest bikini and matching modesty.

“Sure, just like Tommy’s parents were in town except he was out running that game behind your back,” the slightly overweight redheaded roomie chimed in with her jealousy issues and a habit of rubbing her roommates’ troubles into open wounds while feigning concern.  “Is that the new excuse these a-holes use when running around?  Their parents are in town?  You gotta be kidding me!”  The two looked at each other over gossip and fashion magazines whilst lying on their bellies, two tuchases reaching skyward pulled skimpy swatches of cloth with the letters “UT” into ever-reddening clefts.

“Only a desperate woman would fall for such nonsense,” said the hottest of the lot sitting in her low profile chair between them and the least to worry about such infidelities, or so the brunette mistakenly thought.   She was the only one staring at the flickering water through cheap convenience store sunglasses.  “Besides, I’m looking at this fine brother comin’ up at us right now.”  The three adjusted perspectives in their usual move and shared a lusty distraction. 

Brankton watched the three looking down as a muscled blur came into their view.  Water shed off the shoulders and baby dreds of the swimmer as it also did his red lifeguard trunks soaking the concrete walkway that shuttled its shivering revelers to and fro an inclined lawn and chilly spring feeding the pool from deep underground rivers.

“Damn, I think I want to have his baby,” said the hottie in a now pronounced southern accent as she continued her kibitzing.  “MmmHmm,” the others added in unison.  

Brankton did not remember college women this aggressive.  He turned to see who owned the wet calloused feet slapping against the concrete with such gusto.

“Hey, what’s up?!”  Nelson waived in the general direction of Brankton and the young women.  Brankton looked awkwardly at the man-child that now stood dripping before him; all at once he felt out of place.

“Hi,” all three women responded to Nelson.  Brankton turned around looking at them and then back to Nelson.

“What are you doing here?” asked Nelson completely ignoring an opportunity to chat up three female students from the University of Texas at Austin.  The girls stared slack-jawed laughing at their mistake and all wheeled around onto their towels, grabbing magazines in which to bury faces.

“Well, uh, this is my last stop of the day before the hotel,” said Brankton not sure how to stand or where to look.  Nelson began again up the walk.  “C’mon, I’m over here.”

“Okay, well” said Brankton gesticulating with hands, thumb and finger toward the pool.  “I wanted to, uh” and then just gave up trying to speak to Nelson’s long, swimmer’s back.

“Dude, you’re like setting records with your Austin pilgrimage.  You’re like Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales, except not, because you’re a Jew and all,” said Nelson over his shoulder.  Nelson finally grabbed his chair which was in the shade of a baby oak, and pulled a towel out of the bag. 

“You like Chaucer?” said Brankton.

“Let’s just say I’m glad I read him.” said Nelson.   “So, you’re definitely going to go for a swim?  Alright! You got some trunks in that bag?”

“Actually, no,” said Brankton.  “I heard some people, well, at our breakfast this morning.  You guys were talking about some festival and I overheard someone talking about Barton Springs.  I decided to come here instead of going to my ex’s house.”

“No sh*t,” said Nelson.  “Yeah, well, that was me telling Jackie not to forget that she had to drop me off here before she headed back home to get ready for tonight.”   Nelson stood up and dried off.   He pulled another towel out and threw it to Brankton.  The three co-eds had a bird’s eye view of Nelson stripping down to his Speedos.  He tossed his swim trunks to Brankton, hitting him in the face with a wet splat.  Brankton pulled them down and just groaned.

“Sorry about that.”

“Yeah, no worries, kid,” said Brankton.  He hesitated.

“You know you want to get in there, so suck it up, man, drop trou’ and slip those on,” said Nelson.   “They’re clean, trust me.  I had these Speedos on underneath.  You’re good to go, man.”

Brankton stood and looked around before walking to the edge of the high-dive.  The place seemed deserted.  He bounced once then twice and launched himself into the deep end.   He was not prepared for how cold it was, nor was he prepared for how much cooler the water was 10 feet down.  It was almost painful and surprising to hit contrasting thermal so quickly.  He swam and kicked as fast as he could to get to the surface.  For a moment he panicked, but now was swimming across the pool with purpose.  It took him almost ten minutes to realize his body was not going to acclimate to the coldness; he'd have to take a break.

He found a spot on the concrete to lie down.   Brankton was exhausted.  Before falling asleep in the sun with one foot in the cool water, he noticed a tall and tan hunk with shoulders Atlas would envy walking with three coeds toward the pool.


23 March 2011

Brankton Walks Austin (Part 9)

Twelve new members of Temple Beth Selah  were in attendance for the afternoon meal.  Included in this get-to-know-ya soiree were two sleeping baby girls presently tucked away in orange and red strollers respectively, each of which could be converted into DOT-approved car seats or Austin-appreciated and Sierra Club-endorsed baby carrier backpacks.  Three rosy-cheeked young brothers (3, 5 and 6) with yarmulkes falling off their skulls as they wrestled each other to the floor alternated tactics between harmless punches and hugs and kisses, all of which elicited laughter and tears that dried quickly in the Texas sunlight.  Brankton envied the brothers’ warmth and affection for each other.  Their mother, the one gently and rhythmically shaking the red stroller, looked to be about 22 years old.  She looked like she could be in school at UT with Nelson or his rude little friend Jackie.  Maybe she was.

The monthly new member's bbq menu offered the usual heart-stopping murderer's row lineup of tri-tip steak and chicken slathered in a tangy bbq sauce that only UT alumnae football players were privy to know.  A generous heaping of freshly cut summer fruit including kiwi, mango and a pomegranate, grilled heirloom tomatoes with a pesto marinate, and a Caesar salad with warm, cubed chicken breast that made one weak in the knees were also stacked high-n-deep along side the main course.

He was surprised to find an appetite still hiding in the recesses of his thorax in spite of the painful knowledge that he was being pushed out after a relatively short tenure with NBC Universal.  It mattered little that Marcus Spilka, massive prick, little man, no-talent-hack -- always had been -- was behind his now imminent departure.  Once the gears or wheels of the rumor mill were set to spinning, their inertia was tough to abate.  Brankton remembered what Mark Twain had said about a lie getting halfway around the world before the truth had a chance to put its pants on.  Until he heard otherwise, officially, though, Brankton determined to sign Jack Mann before he left Austin.  Getting even with Spilka was the furthest thing from his mind, though survival mode was kicking in.  Besides, the network would be on the hook for two more year’s worth of salary, and maybe he could land another gig before his demise was reported in Variety or the Reporter.

The app on his iPhone told Brankton that there were still several hours before sunset.  The wind out his sails, he paid his respects to the first Jewish cowboy he’d ever met as he headed out.  “I’m going to take off.  Really nice meeting you.”  Brankton tried to offer a strong, athletic handshake, and was met with the same.  “Again, I’m sorry for my, uh, language earlier,” Brankton looked down.  “Kind of a bad day.”

“Please, no explanations necessary.  And, you’re welcome.  It’s not just a Texas thing, Brankton, the hospitality.”  The Rebbe walked him down the drive.  “It’s nice to know you, bud.  Where do they have you staying the night?”

Brankton looked at the ex-linebacker and wondered when, if ever, he had been called "bud" before.  Sounded like something out of Leave it to Beaver or Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and it was something he didn't want to be called again.  He hoped the longish pause and one raised eyebrow conveyed this to the Rabbi.  “I’m over at the Delano,"  Brankton eventually said putting a hand in his pocket, fishing around for car keys, before he realized he still had a walk ahead of him.  "Hear good things about it?” said Brankton a bit annoyed for having forgotten he didn't have his rental car yet.

“Yeah, no, it’s actually a very nice place.  Been in Austin forever.  You’ll do fine there.  Great bar,” said the Rabbi.  And he meant it too, as if he knew a thing or two about single malt Scotch.  "Come visit next time you're in town, Brankton."

Brankton waived to the Rebbe and put his headphones on, sizing up the man as he walked Lavaca Street toward Barton Springs.  Calloused hands and a Talmudist; the two didn't usually go together.  Still athletic build and southern twang intact. Black wife? Sharp mind.  Ramrod posture.  It was becoming more apparent to Brankton exactly how badass Texas Jews truly were.  Or, maybe it was just the folks in Rabbi Yauch's congregation that intimidated him somewhat -- even the wrasslin' kids were a mystery to him. 

Finally making it to "Lady Bird" Trail, Brankton veered to the right and began his final approach to Barton Springs, the freshwater spring bubbling up from the aquifer that runs underneath much of Austin.  It had been an important part of Austin for decades.  Many senior citizens swam there daily, and youngsters (including Robert Redford, whom Brankton had met skiing in Deer Valley) learned to swim there each year.  When Brankton arrived to the side of the river, it shone brilliantly with an expansive shoreline and not as many people as he had imagined would be there.  If only he had some swimming trunks.

12 February 2011

Egypt ... and the "Mystery of Capital"

I have been recommending to friends and netizens for years now two excellent books on economics by Hernando de Soto, viz., The Mystery of Capital  and The Other Path.  Both of these books focus primarily on the impact real property rights have on freeing up capital and wealth in third-world countries.  Richard Curtis (Girl in the Cafe) might want to read one of these tomes before he lectures the West again on simply writing checks to these ravaged countries.

Recently, I had a conversation with a national talk-show host and his guest from the American Enterprise Institute, and reminded him on the air that when Reagan was lecturing Gorby at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to "tear down this wall" two years before it did fall, there were Vaclav Havel's and Solzhenitsyn's and others who were ready to pick up the mantle of freedom and democratic leadership once their countries were freed from their shackles of tyranny.  We don't have that now in Egypt.  I am not suggesting a paternalistic approach in Egypt, just a fundamental focus on what matters during this transition for the Egyptian peoples (the 97% of whom are not in Tahrir Square!) early on, e.g., the primacy of property rights.

I also expressed my disappointment with President Obama (No. 44) and the missed opportunity regarding his speech in Cairo (University of) in 2009 where Obama could have called out (politely, in his inimitable fashion) the ruling oligarchs in the middle east (i.e., billionaire despots) who are sitting on stacks and stacks of blackened, oil-slicked cash, to recognize officially the underground economies that are worth hundreds of billions of dollars.  Who better than our President to reach across the Persian rug aisle to the skeptical and tribal (sectarian?) leadership of the Middle-East? If only ... What we got instead was pablum and banal talk of past greatness to placate his audience.  No one was challenged. No leadership awkwardly called to the carpet in front of the world.  A mere two years later (a timespan ironically similar to Reagan's post-Brandenburg Gate speech), Egypt is changed forever and US statecraft under this administration was revealed to be sorely lacking and feckless ... again.

Nature and tyrants abhor a vacuum.  And, when this wide-body kleptocracy of Mubarak exits the Sinai Peninsula, I fear we will have radicals entering the vacated public square ready to bring new direction and dictates to the masses that do not have the rights of man at the fore of their agendas. I'm afraid that radicalism will replace corruption, and then the West will have both to contend with.

Mr. de Soto in his WSJ editorial discusses the radical transformation possible in Egypt IF a fundamental shift in socio-economic policies is encouraged and implemented.  I post (in part) here for you:
After years of fieldwork and analysis—involving over 120 Egyptian and Peruvian technicians with the participation of 300 local leaders and interviews with thousands of ordinary people—we presented a 1,000-page report and a 20-point action plan to the 11-member economic cabinet in 2004. The report was championed by Minister of Finance Muhammad Medhat Hassanein, and the cabinet approved its policy recommendations.
Egypt's major newspaper, Al Ahram, declared that the reforms "would open the doors of history for Egypt." Then, as a result of a cabinet shakeup, Mr. Hassanein was ousted. Hidden forces of the status quo blocked crucial elements of the reforms.
Today, when the streets are filled with so many Egyptians calling for change, it is worth noting some of the key facts uncovered by our investigation and reported in 2004:
• Egypt's underground economy was the nation's biggest employer. The legal private sector employed 6.8 million people and the public sector employed 5.9 million, while 9.6 million people worked in the extralegal sector.
• As far as real estate is concerned, 92% of Egyptians hold their property without normal legal title.
• We estimated the value of all these extralegal businesses and property, rural as well as urban, to be $248 billion—30 times greater than the market value of the companies registered on the Cairo Stock Exchange and 55 times greater than the value of foreign direct investment in Egypt since Napoleon invaded—including the financing of the Suez Canal and the Aswan Dam. (Those same extralegal assets would be worth more than $400 billion in today's dollars.)
The entrepreneurs who operate outside the legal system are held back. They do not have access to the business organizational forms (partnerships, joint stock companies, corporations, etc.) that would enable them to grow the way legal enterprises do. Because such enterprises are not tied to standard contractual and enforcement rules, outsiders cannot trust that their owners can be held to their promises or contracts. This makes it difficult or impossible to employ the best technicians and professional managers—and the owners of these businesses cannot issue bonds or IOUs to obtain credit.
Nor can such enterprises benefit from the economies of scale available to those who can operate in the entire Egyptian market. The owners of extralegal enterprises are limited to employing their kin to produce for confined circles of customers.
Read the rest of his excellent piece here in the WSJ.  What are your thoughts?

07 February 2011

Eleven in '11 ... No. 5 (the grand gesture)

No. 5
the grand gesture.

There he is.  Standing.  Outside.   Attitudinal hip jutting out contrapposto to one side.  Ratty raincoat draping his kick-boxing svelte frame. Full head of hair spiked just so.  Boombox hoisted above his head, and Peter Grabiel's enduring, endearing and searing "Your Eyes" raps gently on the heart of Ione Skye, knocking her to the core.  Indeed, the grand gesture has hit its mark.
There they are.  Sitting in squalor in the big city.  Rags on their backs, stomachs empty. Children of all ages, wander the streets or live in abusive homes in New York City.  Because of displacement and death and disease, tens of thousands of these starving children are left uncared for as the line between abundance and dearth is a hair's breadth of chance or fate or poor parental choices in the big city of the Industrial Revolution.  Charles Brace witnessed this spectacle in 1854 and was moved into action.  His response was to found an organization removing children from big city squalor, transporting them out on "orphan trains" to awaiting pioneers and farmers for adoption throughout the mid-west who wanted to add to their families or needed working hands to help take care of the family farm or homestead.
30,000 children lived on New York City streets
Some statistics suggest upwards of 200,000 orphaned or abandoned children were placed throughout the mid-west over 50 years of the program's existence.  While there were reported cases of abuse or indifference (Billy the Kid was an "orphan train" kid), over 85% of the children themselves thought it worked for them, with many becoming successful businessmen and  politicians (two state governors).  And, it all started with one bold, grand gesture.

What exactly is the grand gesture?  To my way of thinking it is doing something that you would not normally do in your typical course of the day or year for that matter.  It is not ordinary, but is, by definition, extraordinary.

I know that many romantics think this is all about the love.  The Valentine's Day proposal (like the billboard pic above) is a big one here.  But, that's a little too on the nose, somehow, to my way of thinking.  It certainly is not unique, but it does genuinely touch the recipient to be sure.  As far as that goes, well done, you for making a memory for you and your betrothed.  However, I'd like to suggest that the true grand gesture is about the noblesse oblige that moves and touches all of us.  It's not just for the one recipient, but the whole of us, as far as that's possible.  Which is one of the reasons a very practical "orphan train" grand gesture can have an impact on an entire society.  The grand gesture can be cute, sure, but hopefully  it can also be impactful as well as heartfelt.

Many people find themselves today running marathons several times a year, raising money for cancer causes who only a few short years ago had never imagined they could run 26 miles.  There are teams of these like-minded marathon runners who became runners because they wanted to "do something good" to help find a cure for the disease that harmed their respective families.  They raise awareness and monies and set an example for all of us. This is a grand gesture.

If you've never volunteered to help someone read or put some time in at the soup kitchen or coach a team sport, well, then perhaps you've found a grand gesture for you personally.  It certainly is a noble obligation, and over the course of a lifetime of volunteering you will have touched many, many individuals in your community.  I like that.  Goodbye Mr. Chips shows us all the impact our involvement in the lives of people can have over a lifetime of being engaged.

Other grand gestures are massive, public spectacles.  Take the art work of Christo, who came to California in the early 1990s to place over a thousand large umbrellas throughout the rolling, golden hills of the Golden State.  He did the same in Japan, though with blue umbrellas.  Here in this one project you have thousands of large umbrellas, blue and gold, dotting the countrysides of two countries separated by an ocean, a culture, but sharing a wonderful grand gesture.  Many argued this was pointless and a waste of time.  Others lauded the project with high praise.  Either way, it was a very grand gesture.

What are some examples of grand gestures that you'd like to share with us?  Leave a comment or two!

Up next?
No. 6
the museum.


18 January 2011

Eleven in '11 ... No. 2 (books)

London Library Reading Room

No. 2.
What can I say here?  Like so many of you, Dear Reader, I am a bibliophile.  Books on architecture or apologetics. Poetry or politics. History or mystery.  Fiction and non.  Quirky books elaborating on the minutiae of the moment, or irreverent volumes making mathematics simple.  If a writer cranks out a book done well, is well-reviewed, inspiring, particularly helpful or simply has a nice hook (or a different take on things) -- especially if it can be found in the discount bin -- chances are I'll read it.  As I like to say, two books a week is all we ask.  And, if a friend writes a book, well, dang it!, I'll buy several copies.  
When I watched the PSA for literacy.org showing youngsters getting ready to embark on journeys to new worlds and their books stamped like a passport from the engineer who was boarding passengers, and then as the young lad begins to read the words on the page, the landscape around him -- reflected in the train window -- reveals itself as the Emerald City ... chills. 
Imagine if everyone read two books a week.  Real books, too.  Weighty books.  Let's make a deal, you and I. Or, at least you can just placate with a polite nod of "okay" over there on your side of the Internet's conjoined computer screen.  How about we agree to read at least one book a month?  That is doable.  If modern Presidents of the United States have time to read a book or two occasionally, then why not us?  I've seen the pictures of Bush and Obama and Reagan and Clinton strutting from Air Force One to an awaiting limo toting said tome.
President Obama Note to Y. Martel (author Life of Pi)
One of the reasons I put up with Oprah (she's not my fave, but I truly respect the hell out of what she's built, her empire.  My ex-father in law worked with her in Nashville years ago.  They ran into each other at the Oscars, and she remembered him well.), is that she has had such an amazing impact on encouraging us to be the highest and best us, and that definitely includes her book club.  I also love that she is who she is, and she doesn't confuse herself or others with trying to be someone else that some a-hole like yours truly might want her to be.  She's real, er, real rich, but genuine to boot.
London Library
Okay, so yes, as the big No.2 above indicates, I am a reader of books.  But, a true bibliophile holds a special place in the dusty racks and stacks of their heart for the setting that is the library.  The London Library for me is the literary locus of the printed media and book culture and erudition all festooned with a lovely British lilt. The staff exceeds all professional standards, and one can obtain with aplomb great research there.  Just ask the fictional American  research assistant, Roland Michell, from the novel (and movie) Possession: A Romance, by A.S. Byatt, both of which I highly recommend you read and view.
When money's tight (which is usually the past couple of years), I'll get my fix from the library or via a free eReader or will gladly take a book second-hand from a friend.  You can obtain all the public domain classics on Google's free reader (or some other eReader), and we'd be busy, you and I, with a book a month for years.  And, we'd be so much better for it.  And, society would be better for having better versions of ourselves coursing through and over its causeways and byways and by the way, and not to mention, we'd be able to answer a lot more of those pesky questions on Jeopardy!  And, now, hundreds and hundreds of books later, I love crushing Alex Trebek's puny questions.  Books is brainfood, y'all!!!
Before I list some favorite books, here are some favorite authors. I say "some" because, well, almost all of my books are in storage right now, and this is off the top of my head.  It's a little Wordle that I put together especially; adds to the sense of occasion, dontcha think?
FatScribe Wordle of Authors
These aren't necessarily the big eleven in my (very) humble little existence.  Just eleven I thought represented certain aspects of my life well.  Btw, there is one important book that is obviously missing (really a collection of 66 separate books, old and new) that we can discuss a bit later.
The Catcher in the Rye was it for me when I read it in high school (three times) because Jerome David Salinger helped me finally to recognize what a writer's voice sounded like (I know, I know ...  many of you Eastern elites were ingesting The New Yorker when you were in junior high school and understood this sophisticated patois, but for us indolent Angelinos, it was revelatory.)  Franny and Zooey, however, really placed a hand with lighted cigarette on my shoulder and said with cocktail breath, "you wanna try this? You should try this, this writing thing ole boy."   I was hooked on the story of the family Glass as it took little (to me) surprising turns, with drinks at sophisticated joints, and college sports, and all the swells rocking sweaters and overcoats and pearls, featuring rooms in NY city apartments where one could take a melancholy-induced nap. It had trains and cabs and older brothers and family drama and young person angst.  Perhaps it's trite to say that Salinger is one of those writers that influenced me the most over the last 25 years to be sure, but sometimes trite is true.  For the first time I thought that it might be nice to sit and think and create a story with fountain pen and blank page, and to set in motion ex nihilo some wonderful characters of my creation the way Salinger does.
Harold Berman was quoted by so many of my law school professors that I went out and purchased the book.  However, it wasn't until a couple of years later that I could actually read the book with some free time.  The tome is a masterpiece, a magnum opus without peer.  When I think of the biggies here in this little category, it goes: Blackstone.  Berman.  Bork.  If you practice law, you owe it to yourself to read this wonderful contribution to the cannon.  If you don't (as I do not), you can show-up all of those lawyers who've never read a single book since law school (and there are MANY) by taking a few months to get through Law and Revolution.
Michael Chabon, in my humble opinion, is the greatest American writer of the last fifty years.  His plots and characters are masterful. His use of language nonpareil.   I was given his first book (his master's thesis for the UCI writer's program) when I was an undergrad, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.  His book Summerland, I read to my boys when they were small, and then my eldest read it sua sponte when he was eleven (genius, sheer genius, said his dad ... and how appropriate in light of, you know, the big play on the "eleven" theme).  Chabon won the Pulitzer for his Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  But, my favorite book of his has to be Wonder Boys.  Steve Kloves adapted this book masterfully (as he has done almost all of the Harry Potter books for the big screen), and I put his script for Wonder Boys up as a perfect pitched game for anyone looking to see a great script.  Anyway, The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a great way for you to understand the brilliance of this writer.  And, as you might imagine, Dear Reader, he and I have absolutely zero in common when it comes to politics.  But, I love the guy anyway, er, not love love, but you get my meaning.
This book by Allan Bloom made me decide to go to graduate school and get a master's in public policy.  I became fascinated with Bloom in high school (and his professor) Leo Strauss and a few other more conservative Chicago intellectuals.  Bloom's erudition and grasp of history and the negative implications of the wont of academia and media to practice historicism when it fits their needs, to twist it for their own expedient ends, have informed the way I view all of post-modern American politics.  Bloom took an amazing amount of heat from his fellow academicians for The Closing of the American Mind, being labeled and confirmed a neocon (a word I love, btw) for his effort.   An older friend of mine from church, who was one of ABC's political editors, had recently introduced the phrase real politik to me after a discussion we had on Bloom.  I would later name the first Internet website I developed (a very successful, student-run public policy journal) called NeoPolitique in honor of Bloom.  Highly suggested reading ... even thirty years later.
No one can equal this dandy and his skill with the roman a clef.  I appreciate his white suits and wonderful stories and his conservative bent.  Where I loathe pretensionist novelists like Norman Mailer (RIP) and John Irving telling everyone how to live, I can stand proud that a novelist of Tom Wolfe's caliber can tell them and other Eastern sophisticates (in my stead) exactly where to get off.    My good friend (best man at my wedding) and I were in South Carolina helping his parents move into their lovely new home sitting on the 17th fairway.  My friend's dad was dying from a blood cancer, and he wanted me to take any books I wanted.  I took many good ones, but this A Man in Full was my favorite.  I read it in like two or three days, sitting late nights in the Charleston heat on the back patio, drinking sweet tea  and smoking an occasional cigar.  My friend's dad also had an amazing pen collection.  He was, truly, a man in full, who rebounded from borderline bankruptcy, who called his 30 yr-old son "sweetie" and who never ceased to provide for his family, even when he was at death's door. 
I personally owe, and I believe the country also owes, a debt of gratitude to Shelby Steele for this work.  The Content of Our Character is THE book on race-relations.  As a father of two boys with a black mother and white dad, I am very sensitive to this issue. Have been since I was a boy and witnessed the event that was Alex Haley's "Roots" on ABC network television (that used to be a big deal back then).  When I was a boy, I can remember exactly where I was the first and only time I used the "N" word (and, no, it's not a prequel show to Showtime's The "L" Word ).  I was with the son of a Cy Young and MVP winner (a Dodger great, the second black-American to be admitted to play in the Majors), and he and I were playing a basketball game called "tip-in."  We were in junior high school, and I had just beaten him out for the scholar athlete award, and we were killing time before the bus was supposed to pick us up.  I missed a crucial shot and out of nowhere, I used the word as curse word, not as a racial epithet directed at anyone.  Don't know why I said it.  I'd never said the word before in my life, and right there in front of the son of a racial pioneer I uttered it.  He chased me around A.E. Wright Middle School for a full ten minutes before he finally said, "Goot, I'll make you a deal.  You stop running and I'll only hit you once.  Then we can go finish our game."  I stopped and he hit and we played.  We played football and basketball on our high school teams (he would later play at Stanford) and neither ever mentioned it again.  Coda: LuxeMont, the Internet company I founded a few year's back, was asked to play in an LPGA event by one of our advertisers, a company that was the official LPGA provider of private jets.  I had no idea, but it was owned by my childhood friend.  Yes, the same. 
Milton Friedman's introduction to F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom was the first time I was able to read his words of economic wisdom.  After reading Hayek's book in grad school, I went on to devour everything I could get my hands on by Friedman, including any YouTube videos I could watch.  Genius, as all Nobel Prize winners are.  Well, most prize winners are.
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

Frederick Douglass, to me, represents one of the greatest bootstrapping stories in Western history.  From slave to publisher, from beaten chattel to feted White House guest. After his first wife passed away, Douglass would marry a white woman (to the consternation of some), and die at a ripe old age.   Douglass would hold several political and bureaucratic positions of power in DC.  Talk about your real Horatio Alger story.  
Read State of Fear, it blows the claims of those insipid, anthropogenic-preaching, lie-disseminating and fear-mongering miscreants out of the water who want to re-engineer the capitalistic West in their radical leftist Utopian image.  I never knew Michael Crichton to be conservative, but when I read this latest tome, I had one of the most surprising aha moments in my reading life. Regardless, the prescient Michael Crichton has always been a fave.  A take-me-to-the-beach sort of fave, who nonetheless was a terrific spinner of yarns fave in terms of his techno-drenched SciFi thrillers.  His oeuvre routinely presaged the headlines of tomorrow.  With degrees from Harvard (including Harvard medical) he decided to write novels during his time in medical school.  Renaissance man he (the bastard), Crichton would break new ground throughout his life, becoming the first to have a top-selling novel, hit movie, and television show concurrently, simultaneously, and famously (he created the medical drama, ER).  His home in the Pacific Palisades was filled with art that even Steve Martin would covet and lovely comfy furnishings for his family (and to hold his 6'9" frame) as well as two unpublished novels. After his recent death at an early age, his family discovered that Crichton had produced two more novels (one completely finished and self-edited, and the other almost so).  I can't tell you how much I respect a writer of his caliber.  Here's what Crichton said in Architectural Digest about his home and his love of books:
“All the bedrooms are stacked—there are books piled in the garage, and there are books in boxes in the basement,” he says. “The paperbacks are yellow and cracked, but I won’t give them up. I can’t—I annotate as I read. At one point I calculated that half the weight and volume of what we own is books."  A house with room for books and a family—and one of the most spectacular careers on record—are more than a writer dares to hope for. Though Michael Crichton is not one to hype his domestic pleasures, he can’t deny his good fortune. “This has been,” he says, with measured bliss, “a very happy, very positive house.
Last but most important, The Federalist Papers.  Here is the book (another important anthology of 85 essays) that each and every one of you, Dear Readers, should read (I know, that's obnoxious, my encouraging you to read a rather old, yet important book).  The Federalist Papers informs everything about our Constitutional Republic and its formation, and the role of the Constitution in each and every one of our lives today.  TFP is a collection from three giants who decided to publish their writings with a pseudonym of Publius, mostly to keep the reader's focus on what they were writing, not on who was writing these essays.

So, there you go. 
Up next?
No. 3.