TOPIC: media
Issue 12
January 27, 2019

"Regarding protections, opportunities for advancement and recognition of women and minorities, Big Tech finds itself today where Wall Street was a generation ago". -TQC

When Bloomberg news anchor Emily Chang published “Brotopia: Breaking up the Boys Club of Silicon Valley” in February, 2018, the timing was ideal. This book was published in the aftermath of Harvey Weinstein’s devastating fall from grace and the growing influence of the #MeToo movement. Although the book received a healthy endorsement from reviewers, its central topic, the sexist and misogynist culture of Silicon Valley, fell by the wayside. That most of the general public, and many women in particular, did not include Big Tech in its call to arms defies logic. The “boys club” culture of Silicon Valley has been well documented and not just by Ms. Chang but many others. So how is it that this particular segment of industry is somehow exempt from the basic tenets of society’s improved professional mores? Have the power players of the tech sector been spared simply as a result of the massive wealth they have generated for themselves and their shareholders coupled with the “cool” factor missing from old economy companies?

By comparison, largely-vilified Wall Street has made a lot of progress by acknowledging its culture problem and then taking action to foster a more inviting workplace environment for women and minorities. Regarding protections, opportunities for advancement and recognition of women and minorities, Big Tech finds itself today where Wall Street was a generation ago. Ironically, many of the same people who work in the technology sector -- which politically leans disproportionately Left -- while quick to express outrage over even an inkling of malfeasance at banks and brokerage firms, are less inclined to call out members of their own community for identical sins.

Issue 2
November 11, 2018
Is "Body Positivity" Really Body Positive?

In short, at The Quintessential Centrist (TQC), our view is that the “Body Positivity” movement should support and encourage obese and overly thin people in their objective to love themselves enough to live a healthier lifestyle; not encourage people suffering from dangerous conditions to love the way they are without question.

Whether it’s an individual attempting to garner attention and trend-set or someone who is a genuine advocate for a cause, does it not seem like every other week, a niche or subculture is pushed into the limelight?

This could apply to politics, religious sects, sexual preferences and orientations, body modifications, odd hobbies -- you name it – somewhere, there is probably an editor at a major media outlet saying: “I found our ‘thing’ of the week!’”

At The Quintessential Centrist (TQC), we believe that as long as our fellow citizens aren’t infringing on the rights of others, promoting violence and/or engaging in criminal activity, they should be able to live the life they so desire, free to express themselves, argue for any cause no matter how trivial it might seem, and assemble to protest (unless lawless action is imminent) without fear of retribution.

That said, we think it’s prudent to highlight the dangers and hypocrisies of one movement that’s been gaining momentum, the “Body Positivity” movement: The recent movement rooted in the belief that all human beings should have a positive body image and be accepting of their own bodies and others as well.

By no means are we arguing that body positivity is a bad thing. Quite the contrary. At TQC we believe everyone should practice proper self-love and self-care. However, where do today’s “trendsetters” draw the line between promoting a healthy self-image and enabling a self-destructive lifestyle?

In the United States, obesity is a serious epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately one third of American adults, or ~90 million people, are obese. Let us be clear, that’s not just overweight, that’s obese. By definition, a person is obese if their Body Mass Index (BMI) exceeds 30%. In addition to the dangerous health conditions linked to obesity, the economic damage is stunning. For the year 2008 – the last year in which data from the CDC is furnished on its website - the reported dollar cost of obesity to our economy was $147 billion.

Issue 21
March 31, 2019
Kylie Jenner

Forbes Magazine posits that, at 21 years of age Kylie Jenner is the youngest “self-made billionaire ever,” effectively besting Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg who previously held the record; Zuckerberg made his first billion by the age of 23 in 2006. A few months prior to Forbes' most recent feature, Ms. Jenner graced the cover of a previous issue for being the “youngest self-made almost-billionaire, with a net worth of $900 million.” There is no question that Kylie Jenner is an extremely successful entrepreneur. We applaud her success, but take issue with Forbes' assertion that she is “self-made.” To draw such a conclusion is laughable, egregious and even irresponsible.

We credit Ms. Jenner for leveraging her ~175 million social media followers (this includes over 100 million followers on Instagram alone) to build a formidable cosmetics empire. Kylie Cosmetics generated an impressive $360 million in revenues in 2018 via the sales of lip kits, eyeshadows, eyeliners and more to her fan base. Jenner’s latest business extension involves a partnership with the popular cosmetics retailer, Ulta Beauty, which will mark her first foray into the brick and mortar retail space.

A GQ profile on the young entrepreneur highlighted that,“it's important to remember that Kylie's cosmetics business was built by grinding. It started with her consistent assault on social media.” Indeed, achieving a critical mass of followers is paramount when building a brand online (take it from us, we know!). The significant difference between Kylie Jenner and most other young entrepreneurs looking to utilize social media is that Ms. Jenner’s foundation had already been laid, so building the house that encompassed her empire was considerably easier. At The Quintessential Centrist, we do not discount the hard work Ms. Jenner clearly has devoted to her business. However, we do think it is important for young budding online businesspersons, to understand and appreciate the following: Scale is imperative when leveraging social media to build a profitable brand. In fact, Ms. Jenner herself alluded to the importance of scale, telling Forbes, "it’s the power of social media…I had such a strong reach before I was able to start anything.”

Issue 24
April 28, 2019
Rich Lives Matter More

Wealth and its associated privileges afford much insulation and protection. However, it cannot safeguard against unexpected tragedy or death. Yet in the aftermath of the devastating Easter Sunday terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka that have, to date, claimed 359 lives, the mainstream media has allocated a disproportionate amount of news coverage to the wealthiest victims. This subtly implies that rich lives matter more, or at least sell more newspapers and online advertising. At TQC, we find this troubling to say the least.

The day after the bombings, multiple news organizations highlighted the death of three of the four children of Danish billionaire Anders Hoch Polvson, who operates retail giant ASOS. Overnight, his story became - albeit indirectly – in part that a billionaire was not insulated from this act of terror. Of course, having to attend the funeral of ones’ own children under any circumstance is unfathomable. Our heavy hearts go out to, and we sympathize with, the Polvson family and all those affected by this senseless act. Unfortunately, the subtext of some media coverage implied that his loss was somehow greater because of his wealth. Mr. Povson’s story was not the only example of the mainstream press allocating an abundance of reporting resources on privileged persons affected by this terrorist attack.

There was considerable media focus on student Kieran Shafritz de Zoya, a fifth grader at the prestigious Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC. The school’s alumni include the children of several Presidents. In his grief, the boy’s father spoke of how Kieran aspired to be a neuroscientist but those dreams ended when terrorism claimed his life. Other prominent victims included Sri Lankan celebrity chef Shantha Mayadunne and a young relative of Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. These were among the figures given notable mention in the press coverage. Indeed, the media seemed astonished that the affluent were among the victims.

Issue 27
May 19, 2019
The DC MTA Debacle: Four Wrongs Don't Make A Right

One of the supposed virtues, ostensibly, of social media, is to forge dialogue and bridge divides between people. It is, however, increasingly doing the opposite. Online discussions are morphing into something more sinister where civic-minded individuals are lambasted for even constructive criticism of those flaunting rules. To boot, the First Amendment is rapidly becoming a victim of the political correctness movement.

Generally, despite highly publicized cases of hate crimes and anti-Semitism, America is more racially equal and harmonious now than it was generations ago. That said, there is no doubt that African Americans and certain other minorities still receive the short shrift in many areas of life. Those of us historically literate and socially aware, irrespective of our political leanings, are rational enough to acknowledge this. Furthermore, before the advent of body cameras, smart phones and other recording devices, the level of abuse that disproportionately affected people of color was materially higher. Technological advancements have prodded most members of our society to hold themselves to a higher standard. However, in this case of Natasha Tynes and The Washington, DC Mass Transit Authority (MTA), technology was a contributing factor in degrading all parties involved.

This recent “scandal” was precipitated by Jordanian American World Bank employee Natasha Tynes, who reported a black female employee of the Washington, DC MTA for eating while on the job, a violation of MTA rules. When Tynes singled out the MTA employee, she was effectively told to mind her own business, at which point she took a picture of the employee eating and posted it along with a complaint to the DC MTA, on Twitter. The ensuing backlash – against Ms Tynes, a minority in her own right – was as absurd and misguided as Tynes’ own overreaching action against a fellow citizen for a trivial violation. Ms. Tynes was accused of being a snitch, a racist, and compromising the employee’s livelihood.

More importantly and as equally unbelievable, Tynes’ spineless book publisher, California Coldblood, and its distributor Rare Bird, suspended working with the author on her new novel, They Called Me Wyatt. California Coldblood tweeted: "Natasha Tynes ...did something truly horrible today in tweeting a picture of a metro worker eating her breakfast on the train this morning and drawing attention to her employer…Black women face a constant barrage of this kind of inappropriate behavior directed toward them and a constant policing of their bodies…we do not condone (Tynes') actions and hope Natasha learns from this experience that black women feel the effects of systematic racism the most and that we have to be allies, not oppressors." We disagree with their decision. Tynes did not deserve to lose her book deal. Even if her actions were motivated by racism – and we have no reason to believe they were - her publisher and distributor have no proof that race was a motivating factor in her action.

Issue 49
November 3, 2019
WAPO al-Baghdadi

On October 27, President Trump announced that U.S. Special Forces, at his behest, carried out a heroic raid in northern Syria that resulted in the death of one of the most savage terrorist leaders to date. As U.S. troops closed in, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of ISIS, detonated his suicide vest taking three of his presumed-children with him. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Trump announced that the U.S. had also taken out al-Baghdadi's likely successor, Abu Hasan al-Muhajir.

At The Quintessential Centrist, we have often been critical of our Commander in Chief. His judgment is often lacking; his behavior, unbecoming and sometimes downright embarrassing. However, the aforementioned events deserve the heartiest of applause.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Since ISIS declared its caliphate in 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi commandeered over at least 140 terrorist attacks in nearly 30 countries in addition to those carried out daily in Iraq and Syria. He was as vicious as he was dangerous. Notorious for brutally torturing his victims, including fellow Muslims, al-Baghdadi was responsible for the genocide of Yazidis and Christians. His cruelty included forcing these groups into sexual slavery. He ordered mass beheadings of many others including foreign journalists and aid workers from the U.S., the U.K. and Japan. He burned a Jordanian pilot alive in a cage. The list goes on.

The ISIS leader's reign of terror extended to Western targets inspiring the Paris, Nice, Orlando and Manchester terror attacks to name but a few. He inspired countless smaller, yet equally horrific lone-wolf attacks globally in the forms of shootings, slashings and car ramming incidents. Al-Baghdadi left hundreds of thousands of Yazidis, Christians, and Muslims a “heads” he wins “tails” they lose choice: join him and his barbaric comrades or flee their respective homelands and become refugees.

The point cannot be overstated: the world has much to rejoice at the demise of al-Baghdadi. Unfortunately, the authoritative Washington Post chose to eulogize the barbaric terrorist with a headline that read: “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48.”

Excuse us?

As if Mr. Baghdadi were merely a university professor and dean of a famous seminary who just happened to succumb to a long battle with cancer. The "obituary" went on to read that "when al-Baghdadi first rose as a leader of ISIS, he was a relatively unheard of 'austere religious scholar with wire-frame glasses and no known aptitude for fighting and killing.’"

Issue 51
November 17, 2019
TQC Book Review

At the Quintessential Centrist, our goal is to furnish you with fresh perspectives from across the political, economic and social spectrum. We strive to promote ideals and tenets of the center - where compromise is often found - through our in-depth columns, articles and analysis.

The internet, print, broadcast, and social media can all be sources of interesting and timely information. However, TQC believes that books often times contain some of the most pertinent and thought-provoking facts, figures and opinions. Some books are packed with quantitative information and hard data. These books we find help us buoy (or challenge) our arguments and in some cases, tightly held beliefs. Other books are more qualitative in nature; typically adding value from a top down perspective, incorporating ideas and values across the ideological spectrum. The very best titles challenge us to think objectively, critically, self-reflect, and potentially change our minds. Below we highlight a few of our favorite books we have read over the past year.

Energy and Civilization: A History by Vaclav Smil

The 35th of an incredible 36 books penned thus far in his illustrious career; Vaclav Smil, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba in Canada, offers his readers a fascinating history lesson on mankind, their relationship with, and consumption of, energy and natural resources. Be forewarned, this book is data heavy and granular in presentation. It requires the readers undivided attention. That said, it is well worth investing the time to read it as it is jam packed with important facts and figures. Energy and Civilization helped us examine more critically man’s relationship with the planet he lives on, and off.

Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes by Jenny Anderson & Paula Szuchman

Authored by New York Times reporter and Gerald Loeb Award winner Jenny Anderson and Paula Szuchman, former managing editor of The Daily Beast and Page 1 editor at The Wall Street Journal, Spousonomics is a very fun and informative book that uses classic economic principles to target, tackle and remedy issues that arise in almost every marriage. Do not be deterred if you have never studied finance or economics. The examples given in this book are in layman’s terms (not theoretical numeric formulas), easy to understand, and applicable to “real life” situations.

Solitary by Albert Woodfox

Albert Woodfox, is a human rights activist and part of the “Angola 3.” Woodfox spent 40 years in solitary confinement at Louisiana’s infamous Angola Prison for a crime he did not commit. During his time at Angola, Woodfox endured unimaginable physical and psychological torture. This book captures the endurance of the human spirit, America’s (often) unfair and biased legal system, it’s (sometimes) ugly history, as well as progress. We do not agree with all of Woodfox’s arguments, especially concerning capitalism, but we recommend reading his memoir.

Issue 53
December 8, 2019
It's Your Birthday, Thank Mom

My birthday was on December 2nd. Before sunrise, my phone blew up with “Happy Birthday” texts, many of which were likely prompted by Facebook reminders. These continued at a steady pace throughout the day. Some people chose to wish me a “Happy Birthday” via Facebook itself. A few “Birthday emails” made their way into my inbox. Traditionalists picked up the phone and rang, one (ready for this) from a land line. I even received a letter in my (gasp) physical mailbox.

Texts were the easiest to respond to. The majority of my well-wishers did not say “Happy Birthday Chris.” They simply texted what seemed to be a canned “Happy Birthday.” Thus, “Thank you, I appreciate it” was generic enough a response that cutting, pasting and using it to acknowledge those acknowledgments more than sufficed. Most of the balance of the texts read “Happy Birthday Chris.” Alas, these required individualized responses. I had to say, “Thank You (insert name here), I appreciate it.” Facebook posts were easy to “like” - err - respond to. Emails required a more in-depth retort. “Happy Birthday Chris, I hope you are well” obliged me to ensure my well-wishers via this medium that, indeed, all was ok in my world.

Mom’s Should Receive Our Happy Birthday Wishes

Most of us, myself included, feel obliged to wish friends and family members a “Happy Birthday.” Rarely, if ever, does anybody say “thank you” on our birthdays to the women that were primarily responsible for bringing us into this world: our respective mothers. We should make a point to do so. Moms endure stress, physical trauma, often get sick during pregnancy, put careers on hold and generally sacrifice so much to usher us into this ecosphere. They should be the recipients of our “Happy Birthday” wishes.

Issue 58
January 19, 2020
Movie Review

At The Quintessential Centrist, we always think of new and relevant ways to engage our readers and provoke meaningful dialogue. Music, film, theater and TV productions as well as other forms of media are some of the most powerful conduits that shape our culture. Artistic expressions are often a reflection of the society in which they’ve evolved, yet conversely serve as catalysts for influencing future cultural trends.

In 2020, TQC will occasionally offer thoughtful reviews of important films, music, television, art installations or theatrical releases that we believe harbor important themes or messages relevant to our cultural dialogue. The first two films we reviewed in 2020 were in fact released at the very end of 2019: The Two Popes, and Uncut Gems.

The Two Popes

The Two Popes is a semi-fictionalized account of conversations between former Pope Benedict XVI (Sir Anthony Hopkins) and the current pontiff, Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce). The two men, though ideologically opposed, discuss their concerns and hopes about the current state of the world, the church’s future and their own.

Irrespective of one’s views on the church, the papacy, or organized religion in general, this is undoubtedly a beautiful movie worth every accolade. The scoring, the cinematography, directing, dialogue, and above all, acting, are magnificent. Jonathan Pryce embodies the humble strength of then-archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, and his delivery in Spanish, in Italian and Latin, with perfect dialect, is sublime. Sir Anthony Hopkins lives up to his past accolades with a performance that accurately conveys the sobriety of the former pope while surprising us with a touch of irony.

The film requires no suspension of disbelief as these two craftsmen embody their characters so effortlessly. For this alone, the movie is well worth viewing to absorb the fine performance of two brilliant actors. In an era where gratuitous violence, sexual content and vulgar language permeate most films, it is refreshing to see a movie that thoroughly entertains and delights without resorting to Hollywood trappings and other lowbrow optics.

The Catholic Church is currently the subject of much controversy. As such, there are challenges to separating art from the subject matter at hand. Some people argue that the current pope is too liberal, too political; others contend that the former pope was too conservative. In recent years we have become painfully aware of the various scandals, hypocrisies, and shortcomings that have cast serious aspersions on the sanctity of the Catholic Church. The Two Popes addresses these topics using an approach that satisfies movie buffs but likely will not satisfy church-detractors.

The exchange between the two Popes of different eras in a rapidly changing world where the Church is no longer as sanctified needs to be appreciated without vilification. The Two Popes serves as a reminder that there are many fine people who have dedicated their lives to serving God. Indeed, to only focus on the shortcomings of the church would miss the entire point of the movie itself, which, at its core, is a story of how even those who are ideologically opposed can open their hearts and minds to one another and form, even if at first grudgingly, respect and appreciation for the other’s point of view.

Issue 6
December 9, 2018
Not Just Another #MeToo Article

The Twitter handle that became an epithet for something far more powerful turned into a double-edged sword with unintended consequences. - TQC

In the days after Brett Kavanaugh’s controversial confirmation to the Supreme Court, former First Lady Michelle Obama noted in an interview “she was surprised at how much has changed but how much has not.” She was referring to the landscape in the year since The New York Times damning expose on Harvey Weinstein which segued into the #MeToo movement.

Weinstein’s sexual abuse of women in entertainment unified women across all strata and industries in the US; fear was taken out of the equation and replaced with strength in numbers. Yet, the Kavanaugh accusations had the opposite polarizing impact as the maelstrom surrounding his nomination prompted President Trump to conclude that “it’s a very scary time for young men in America." The First Lady, meantime, declared that “women need to show the evidence” when making such bold allegations against a man.

The Twitter handle that became an epithet for something far more powerful turned into a double-edged sword with unintended consequences.

This was not anticipated. The purported advancement and increased inclusion of women in all industries was thought to be sufficient enough to counter a backlash against #MeToo. At The Quintessential Centrist, we have alluded to this in the past. Not only has the women’s rights movement made tremendous strides in the past five decades, but also the data and statistics indicate that in the US, women are, at the very least, outpacing men in education. They are closing the gap in career trajectory and income. As a corollary, until recently, there were scores of sociological articles expressing concern that boys and young men were at greater risk of being financially, socially and professionally marginalized. Girls and women had made enormous strides in upward mobility in every aspect. Hence, the alarm that one of the unintended consequences of #MeToo is potentially leading to a renewed divide in the workplace and elsewhere. Does bitter political divisiveness since President Trump was elected to office threaten to unravel us?

Issue 75
June 28, 2020
Q&A With TQC

We will kick off our TQC Q&A Series with a question and answer session regarding the current environment of the art world, market, and related subject matter, with Suzanne Geiss. Ms. Geiss brings over 25 years’ experience in the industry advising ambitious private and corporate collections and curating gallery & museum exhibitions.

In 2010, Geiss founded the Suzanne Geiss Company, specializing in post-1960s artworks and private collection building paired with a dynamic public exhibition and performance program. In addition to her activities as a curator and consultant, Geiss currently serves as President of the Board of Performance Space New York and is pursuing a graduate degree in art, performance, and social justice.

tQc: Before delving into our subject matter, please share with us how you established yourself in the art business?

It was never my objective to be on the transactional/advisory side of the business and own a gallery. My intention was to be an artist. However, following my college graduation in order to convince my parents that I was doing something “productive”, I got a job at the Andre Emmerich Gallery on Manhattan's Upper East Side, as the receptionist.

It was the mid 1990's, the art market was experiencing a downturn; sales were few and far between. One afternoon a gentleman came in inquiring about works by Hans Hofmann. The gallery director thought it was just a "tire kicker" so they sent me - the receptionist - to deal with the visitor. I thought to myself, why are they sending in a 22-year-old to try and sell a painting, but I figured, what the hell, let me give it a go. So I picked out a Hans Hofmann painting, with a title that particularly resonated with me and I just riffed on it. To my own disbelief, and the disbelief of most of the other people that I worked with, I sold the painting for a record price (for a Hofmann) at the time. Magically, my title changed from secretary to "assistant director." It was a unique opportunity and one that would be unlikely to happen in today’s art world.

tQc: Generally, what are some of the biggest changes you have witnessed in the art business since beginning your career almost 30 years ago?

The art market has become more professionalized, more corporate. When I first entered the business, it was a much smaller ecosystem centered around a core group of collectors making Saturday afternoon gallery visits. Presently, collectors are increasingly using art as a financial instrument and thus require analysis based on criteria that is often mutually exclusive from the art itself.

Of course, the other big change has been on the technology side. The internet shifted the balance of power away from all but the very largest galleries. For the first time collectors could easily research and compare prices between galleries, access previous auction results, and observe what other market participants (collectors, speculators, dealers, etc) were collecting. Offering work through email was revolutionary. (Previously if you wanted to connect with a client outside your city you mailed them a slide or transparency)!

Lastly, social media has given artists a medium to connect directly with their audience, squeezing out more and more intermediaries.

tQc: “Conservatism” and art seem to be at loggerheads. Can an individual be both "conservative" and "accepted" in the art world today? If so, how? If not, do you consider that hypocritical of what the art world espouses to be?

Good question and not one I’ve been asked before. Thinking about “conservatism," well yes, it seems to be diametrically opposed to art. I am generalizing here but I think it’s fair to say that most artists are interested in more progressive issues, while some collectors land on the more conservative end of the spectrum. That said, the art world is unique because you have a place where these communities come together. Artists are often at the forefront of social and political engagement putting them in a position to be effective change agents. Sometimes (again I want to be clear that this is an oversimplification, I’ve met and dealt with many progressive collectors) collectors are at the other end of the social or political spectrum. Art provides an opportunity for people that might not otherwise mingle to do so. That is wonderful.