Monday, December 08, 2014
By Hugh Merwin
In real life, the so-called world's largest truffle is the size of a healthy cauliflower. It was unearthed in Umbria late last month and, as promised, arrived in New York City last week after a 4,330-mile plane trip. Initially sized at 4.16 pounds, it'd shrunk a bit during its trip and came in a few ounces under that when it went up for auction at Sotheby's this past Saturday morning. I arrived to watch the scene unfold and discover who, exactly, is looking to spend more than $50,000 for four pounds of fungus.
About 50 people in haute sweatsuits, tailored camel-hair jackets, or tweed were gathered on the Upper East Side in the voluminous seventh-floor gallery at 9:15 in the morning. Turns out many were there for a 9:30 wine auction. For the truffle, 25 prospective bidders sat at white-tablecloth-draped tables in the center of the room, waiting, while the auctioneer ran through the standard terms of the sale. "Please note that the payment for the truffle must be received by Sotheby's no later 5 p.m. on Monday, December the 8th, 2014," he said. He explained that the world's largest white truffle was not being sold with any particular authenticity guarantees.
When Gabriel Balestra, whose family owns Sabatino Tartufi, entered the room carrying the prized truffle on a pedestal, the crowd broke out into thunderous applause, and everyone took out their phones to take pictures. It seemed improbable, but the large gallery room filled immediately with the perfume of white truffles, which has been compared to everything from wet wood to old socks to sex.
"That's one huge white truffle," a prospective bidder said, his horn-rimmed glasses sliding down his nose as the truffle glided past him.
"The reason why truffles have gotten so cheap all of a sudden is because they dropped all the import taxes," another man said, turning to his wife, as Balestra breezed the pedestal past the next table.
"I wish I could take a picture of the smell," the wife said, her eyes closed.
Bidding started at $40,000 but quickly jumped to $42,500. Then $45,000, $47,500. An employee named Brad was on the phone with a bidder and raised the bid to $50,000. The auctioneer held the number there in cordial, rapid-fire cadence: "Against the room, against all of you standing, at $50,000. Brad has it at the desk at 50. With Brad at 50. Fifty thousand. You can put down your iPhones, you can bid," the auctioneer said. The crowd giggled and kept taking pictures.
"There's only one person who can invite their friends and have this great white truffle. Brad has it at $50,000. I'm selling to Brad. Last chance and fair warning. Last chance for the Big Shave —
"Sold for $50,000," the auctioneer said, gavel coming down on the sounding block. The audience clapped and the truffle disappeared into a back room. The whole thing took about three minutes. Including a 22.5 percent buyer's premium, the final sale was $61,250, with some of that money going to nonprofits such as Citymeals-on-Wheels and the Children's Glaucoma Foundation.
The buyer, I was told, wished to remain anonymous. Sotheby's was only allowed to disclose that he or she was in Taiwan. The truffle itself will have a chaperone on its flight to Asia, rounding out more than 12,000 miles in ten days.
Posted by The Poster at 6:31 PM
Sunday, December 07, 2014
Thursday, December 04, 2014
By JOSH ZEITZ
The time FDR moved Thanksgiving up a week—and set off a political firestorm.
The president did it again. Governing unapologetically by executive fiat, he steamrolled over Congress and issued a sweeping order that was sure to raise the ire of his Republican opponents.
Their complaint was as familiar as his offense. Big, potentially divisive challenges should be resolved through a deliberative, bipartisan legislative process, Republicans insisted, and not by diktat. “If the change has any merit at all,” groused a certain former GOP presidential nominee, “more time should have been taken in working it out so as to assure wholehearted co-operation instead of springing it upon an unprepared country with the omnipotence of a Hitler.” (That’s right. Hitler. He went there.)
John McCain complaining about Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration? Nope. That was Alf Landon, the former Kansas governor, rebuking Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The year was 1939—exactly 75 years ago—and FDR had just announced that he was moving Thanksgiving up by one week.
The origins behind the change were innocent enough.
In August 1939, leaders from the American Retail Federation and the National Retail Dry Goods Association (the latter of which represented over 5,700 department, specialty and dry goods stores nationwide) contacted Secretary of Commerce Harry Hopkins. By tradition, but not by statute, presidents since Abraham Lincoln had designated the last Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving. As 1939 was one of those rare years in which there were five Thursdays, the holiday fell on the last day of the month. Store owners were concerned that an abbreviated holiday shopping period would hurt sales in an already sluggish economy.
“There is never any Christmas buying until after Thanksgiving,” a prominent merchant in Boston explained. “The November 30 date would give us six days less to sell than we had last year.”
To accommodate retailers, FDR made the switch, and his opponents howled. According to Gallup, Republicans disapproved of the plan by a margin of 79 percent to 21 percent. Democrats split more evenly, with 52 percent in favor and 48 percent opposed. “Dictatorship,” “whimsy” and “just upsetting everything he can” were among the most frequent negative responses to an open-ended Gallup poll. “In general,” the Boston Globe reported, “the comments of the Republican man-in-the-street echo the sentiments of Alf M. Landon.”
That fall, Americans celebrated two Thanksgivings: In states where conservatives controlled the levers of government, the holiday fell on November 30. Where New Dealers were in control, November 23. So it remained for two years, until FDR signed legislation officially designating the fourth November of every year as Thanksgiving.
Even as late as 1942, Hollywood was still poking fun at the political gamesmanship. In the hit movie, Holiday Inn, starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby, a cartoon turkey shuffles confusedly between the last two Thursdays of the November calendar before shrugging and walking off the page. Everyone got the joke.
Why did “Franksgiving,” as it came to be known, excite so much partisan acrimony? Wasn’t Roosevelt simply trying to help Main Street businesses?
The answer is rooted in the broader political context of 1939, a year that saw congressional Republicans and Southern Democrats unite in common cause to stop the New Deal in its tracks. Though of different parties, members of the rising “conservative coalition” and their grassroots supporters chafed at the growth of the federal state and the concurrent expansion of executive authority. Not unlike today, they found themselves very much the masters of their own destiny. Eagerly anticipating Franklin Roosevelt’s last year in office, they seized every opportunity to lash out at the president. Little could they have known that they weren’t soon to be rid of him.
At first blush, the vitriol with which Republicans denounced FDR seems comically disproportionate. Styles Bridges—the cantankerous senator from New Hampshire, whom one prominent journalist characterized as “an aggressive reactionary on most issues,” “pertinaciously engaged in a continual running fight with the [Congress of Industrial Organizations—a federation of unions], the Roosevelt family and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics”—offered that the president might as well “abolish Winter.” From Wyoming, Gov. Nels Smith sneered, “This is the first time the President has done something that hasn’t cost the taxpayers a lot of money.” Which, for the sake of clarity, he did not mean as a compliment.
Though Republicans were louder in articulating their opposition, the split between Thanksgiving and “Franksgiving” states was not strictly partisan; rather, it was ideological. Among those states that shunned Roosevelt’s designated holiday were Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Texas, home of Vice President John Nance Garner, split the baby and recognized both dates as a holiday. While Georgia did adhere to FDR’s decree, the editor of the Warm Springs Mirror—effectively FDR’s hometown paper when he wasn’t in Washington—echoed the criticism of conservative Democrats when he suggested that the president move his birthday “up a few months until June, maybe … I don't believe it would be any more trouble than the Thanksgiving shift.”
Were people angry, as some editorialists suggested, that the president was ruining collegiate football (after all, most of the big rivals had long before scheduled their Thanksgiving games, and for many schools, the season ended entirely the Saturday following the holiday)? Perhaps that was part of it. But mostly, it was a shifting political ground that gave conservative opponents of the New Deal from both parties greater confidence to criticize and ridicule a widely popular president.
Until 1937, opponents of the New Deal constituted a small and divided minority of Southern Democrats and conservative Republicans, patiently biding their time until FDR and his band of New Deal theorists left Washington. By and large, the president faced scant congressional opposition to the signature components of his legislative agenda.
Complicating any effort to create a united and vocal opposition were intra-party politics. Republicans remained divided between old-line conservatives who could reliably be counted on to oppose New Deal measures, and progressive heirs of Theodore Roosevelt—at any time, as much as a third of the party’s congressional caucus—who lent halting support to FDR’s legislative program. Democrats, on the other hand, were increasingly divided between a Southern and rural wing that until recently dominated the party, and an ascendant coalition of urban voters—Catholics, Jews, African Americans, union members—who supported a more activist state.
Not that there weren’t rumblings of discontent. Throughout the northeast and Midwest, traditional business Republicans reviled FDR’s economic reforms. Everywhere one looked, the New Deal seemed to be making dangerous incursions against private property rights: from the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), which placed limits on how much individual farmers could produce, and the Wagner Act, which established the right of workers to bargain collectively with their employers, to the Fair Labor Standards Act, which broke with decades of conventional wisdom about the individual’s right to contract. Everywhere one turned, the federal government seemed to be interfering where it had no authority to act.
For their part, many Southern Democratic politicians who initially welcomed federal dollars realized by mid-decade that the New Deal threatened to disrupt longstanding patterns of economic, social and political deference. The AAA, which was intended to prop up farm prices by paying white farmers to reduce productive acreage, had the unintended consequence of displacing millions of black tenant farmers. No longer tied to local planters and merchants by the cashless economy of the sharecropping system, uprooted black farmers found alternative employment with the federal government. Though local white officials who administered many of the so-called “alphabet soup” programs did their best to prevent African Americans from enjoying a proportionate share of jobs, the national leaders of such New Deal agencies as the Public Works Administration (PWA), Works Progress Administration (WPA) and National Youth Administration (NYA) were able to enforce a certain degree of equity. Consequently, many black Southerners their first non-plantation jobs and their first cash pay. The social implications of this shift were immediately clear, and would only intensify in the coming years, as African Americans found gainful employment in war production industries and the Armed Forces.
In Washington, progressives who ran New Deal agencies—including a core group of liberal Southerners—also began pushing the boundaries of Jim Crow. The Farm Security Administration (FSA), for example, went so far as to issue funds to tenant farmers, expressly so that they could pay their poll taxes and support New Deal candidates in local and federal elections. It was a move that enraged white officeholders.
Posted by The Poster at 6:06 PM
Monday, December 01, 2014
Business Insider, 17-Nov-14
By Libby Kane
When the iPhone started taking over the US in 2008, Nick Walter was in Japan doing Mormon missionary work without a smartphone.
"When I got home, my dad was super nice and bought me an iPhone 4, and it was my first introduction to apps," the 25-year-old remembers. "I was like, 'These things are crazy! They can do anything!'"
Since that first introduction, Walter, who graduated from Brigham Young University with an information systems major (which includes elements of both computer science and business), learned to code and started doing freelance work building iPhone apps for local companies in Utah.
About four years later, Walter was reading "The 4-Hour Workweek" and was inspired by the idea of creating a business that wasn't super time intensive. Author Tim Ferriss recommended creating an online course, but Walter didn't know what he could possibly teach — until Apple announced its first new programming language in over a decade, called Swift.
"From the day they announced it, everyone was on an equal field trying to learn," Walter recalls. "I thought, 'Personally, I'd love to learn it just for fun and future stuff, but I have an opportunity to be one of the first people to teach it to other people. Maybe I could make a class where I'm learning as I teach.'"
Walter spent four days reading Apple's documentation of Swift, "kind of translating into English and giving some extra examples." Apple announced its release on June 2, and four days later Walter posted 50 videos, or one full course, to the online education site Udemy. It was an introduction to Swift for beginners, called Swift By Examples.
That first month, his course earned him $45,000.
Udemy charges students a set price — in this case, $99 — to access the online course as many times as they want. If these students find the course through a link sent by Walter, he gets 97% of the money. If they find the course through Udemy, he splits the money 50/50 with the company.
Not every month was quite so dramatic. Walter estimates that the following month, he earned $7,500, then $5,000 the month after that. His earnings evened out around $3,000 for a few months, until he put up his second course in September: How To Make iPhone Apps, for $199.
That month, he earned $66,000, a full year's salary for many people.
One might imagine a 25-year-old with that kind of windfall would head straight to Vegas. But Walter, who is a longtime fan of financial guru Dave Ramsey and highly recommends "The Total Money Makeover," did nothing of the sort. "I bought a 2010 Toyota Corolla," he says. "I got my full emergency fund set up, and I've just been investing the rest in mutual funds."
Today, more than 8,500 people have taken the original course on Swift, and more than 3,500 have gone through the iPhone class.
Next, Walter plans to publish a class on how to build apps for the Apple watch (he's now running a Kickstarter campaign to fund its creation) in which, he says, there's a lot of opportunity for someone who wants to create the kind of income stream that he has.
"It reminds me of when apps first came out for the iPhone," he says. "I think there's a real opportunity for people to make apps for this new watch and be the first-comer there. Someone has to be the first weather app or the first jogging app. If you can move quickly enough, you're bound to have an awesome advantage."
Posted by The Poster at 4:08 PM