By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans and finishing her first novel, Death in the Deep Red Sea.
Dear Readers: I was touched by the many kind thoughts and warm wishes you expressed following the announcement by Yves of my retirement from posting for Naked Capitalism, A Fond Farewell to Jerri-Lynn.
Yves had previously suggested I might want to write a farewell post.
Sure, I said – not realizing just how difficult that task would prove to be.
Writing the post led me to take a long meander down memory lane. I realized I’ve been writing about public affairs for publication since the fifth grade when our teacher, Dale Ziegenfus, helped our class produce a newspaper. I was selected to be the editor-in-chief and I remember carefully penning copy onto a ditto stencil, to be mimeographed and distributed. This was long before photocopiers became common and before people had their own personal printers.
We decided to sell copies of our newspaper to buy books for Annandale – a juvenile prison located in a nearby town. My father, a high school guidance counselor, and a local minister periodically visited the facility to conduct group counselling sessions.
Our mimeographed newspaper netted us about $28 in profit, a sum that bought quite a few books in 1971 – especially as my aunt and uncle owned the local bookstore and provided their own contribution to our cause. I remember Dad driving me to the bookstore, where I carefully selected a stack of paperbacks. I had enough money left for perhaps one more when a hard cover copy of I Am Third – the autobiography of Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers – caught my eye. That book inspired the 1971 ABC Movie of the Week, Brian’s Song. One forgets what a big deal a movie of the week was back then. With only three major television networks, there weren’t that many things to watch at any one time. My Uncle Bob smiled and added that expensive book to the pile.
Through high school, and then university, grad school, law school, and ever since, I’ve continued writing about current affairs. In fact, even on my wedding day, I found time to scribble out some work for publication – dashing off some copy before I headed out to get my hair dressed. I’d been overwhelmed with things to do that week, and I knew if I just finished up a couple of hours of writing, the check for my work would arrive about the time my husband and I would return from our honeymoon. We were grad students at the time and certainly could use some extra money.
A Not-So-Quick Look Back at Some Favorite Posts from the Last Six Years
During the last couple of weeks, I went back and reread many of my posts to select some to discuss here. Let me begin by mentioning some posts I wrote during the first year of the pandemic. Some of what I posted has been superseded by subsequent events. Yet a couple of themes from these posts are still very much germane. Such as that many other countries initially coped far better with COVID-19 than did the U.S. And second, that the Democrats – e.g., especially Andrew Cuomo, who throughout much of 2020 was being hailed as a Second Coming character – was, actually not doing a very good job at all, when New York’s performance was compared to places such as Hong Kong, which at that time was. In fact, he would eventually resign in disgrace, not alas, held accountable for his mishandling of the COVID-19 situation in New York state’s nursing homes – as he should have been. Instead, it was Me-Too allegations that caused his downfall (see A Tale of Two Cities: How Hong Kong Has Controlled its Coronavirus Outbreak, While New York City Scrambles; Tale of Two Cities Redux: HK to Ease its COVID-19 Restrictions, While NYC Situation Remains Dire; No, We Don’t Need to Place Our Faith in Downloading Some Untested, Privacy-Infringing App as the Only Possible COVID-19 Slayer; Why Don’t We Look to Places that Have Successfully Limited Disease Spread and Copy Their Policies?; COVID-19 Mistakes to Avoid: Don’t Conflate Contact Tracing with Contact Tracing By App; and COVID-19 Mistakes to Avoid: Don’t Mix Up Prophylaxis and Cure and Why Don’t We Study Countries That Have Had COVID-19 Success?).
Fast forward to today, when Joe Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and Dr. Rochelle Walensky have managed to botch the current U.S. pandemic response – to the point where I’m nostalgic for the Trump administration’s relative competence. To be sure, there was a bit of a deer-in-the headlights feel to early Trump policy. At least Trump and his minions managed to roll out vaccines quickly (leaving to one side how effective those might be). And Trump himself seemed open to considering that vaccines weren’t the be-all and end-all of a comprehensive coronavirus response. Remember how he was ridiculed for touting hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for the disease, going so far as to strong-arm the Modi government to ship Indian supplies of the drug to the U.S.
Note I’m not here opining on the efficacy of any particular COVID-19 treatment protocol; that’s a question way above my pay-grade. My point is merely this: at least Trump seemed to recognize that a vaccine-uber-alles policy wouldn’t suffice to halt the pandemic. It’s been said many times but I’ll nonetheless repeat it here: if Trump had made even some of the outrageous decisions taken since January 2021 – I’m thinking of the premature mission accomplished stance and dropping mask mandates as a reward for getting vaccinated – he would have been crucified by the media.
Moving along from COVID-19 to India, many readers said they appreciated my posts on this fascinating part of the world. Let me mention some favorites. My first India post for Naked Capitalism introduced readers to a perspective on India not often featured in the non-Indian press. I wrote about what India has to teach the U.S. about free and fair elections, with its much higher rate of voting turnout and the commitment the country has made to making sure everyone has a chance to vote (see What India Can Teach the US About Free and Fair Elections). Later, I highlighted another Indian policy success: the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi quickly disbursed COVID stimulus payments to India’s poorest in April 2020. I compared that policy to the sluggish U.S. response (see India’s Poorest Now Have Access to Basic Bank Accounts, and Many Already Received their First Cash Stimulus Payment By Last Saturday; Meanwhile the IRS May Get You Your $1200 Check in Five Months).
Not all my Indian posts were laudatory ones. Anything but. I was visiting India when Modi launched his disastrous demonetization policy. A policy that shaved percentage points from India’s growth rate and which haven’t been recouped to this day. To Indians, that event was more momentous than the election of Donald Trump as president on the other side of the world on the very same day. I wrote several posts examining the impact of notebandi. I’ll only mention the first and last posts here. Interested readers can read all those posts, if they’re so inclined, by going to the last, which links back to all of them (see India Moves to Severely Restrict Use of Cash, Forcing Much of Economy Into Barter (first); and India: Demonetization Debacle (last)).
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, India has emerged as a leader of the Global South as it seeks to pursue a foreign policy of multi-alignment in the emerging multipolar world order – a topic I’ve posted on severaltimes since March. If you only have time for a couple of those posts, I’d recommend two. In the first, I wrote about Indian minister for external affairs, Dr. S. Jaishankar’s 2020 book, The India Way, in which he outlined a general course for a neutral Indian foreign policy (see India: Pursuing its National Interest in the Multipolar World). In the latest, posted just last week, I wrote about how India and its companies are profiting from their determination to pursue their national interest in the new multipolar world by not kowtowing to demands to impose economic sanctions on Russia (see Pursuing Its National Interest in the New Multipolar World: India to Boost Sakhalin-1 Oil Output). As the failure of the U.S.-EU-Japan sanctions policy becomes increasingly obvious, the Indian economy may outperform those of other countries that have dutifully fallen into line with the sanctions regime. Similarly, Indian companies are poised to profit as well.
My interest in textiles led me to introduce readers to the scourge of fast fashion (see The High Hidden Costs of Fast Fashion). That led me in turn to think more seriously about waste – particularly the problem of plastics and to develop a Waste Watch beat. It’s a depressing area to explore. When I found them I tried to share some positive stories, such as the project launched by my friend, Norwegian dive guide Renee Sørensen, to clean up Maafushi island and rid it of plastics. Renee didn’t let obstacles stop her. Instead, she rolled up her sleeves and got to work. Unfortunately, her story didn’t have a happy ending. She caught dengue fever and died long before her time – yet another victim of the world’s failure to focus on diseases of poverty (see Dengue on My Mind: Spending on ‘Diseases of Poverty’ Not Enough to Create Effective Vaccines)
One source of somewhat positive news in an increasingly depressing world is the limited success of the right to repair movement (see this recent post, Waste Watch: Colorado and New York Pass Right to Repair Measures). I’m particularly keen to see how far the Federal Trade Commission under the leadership of chair Lina Khan pushes this issue.
I was pleased to see reader RA’s comment on my work:
Among posts I most enjoyed were ones where she shared her perspectives on a fellow Harvard Law School student — the Obamamometer.
I think it began here:
Indeed it did. That was one of my favorite posts too. And if I were ever to rework that material one thing I would clarify is how to pronounce Obamamometer (perhaps by riffing playfully on the famous opening sentence of Nabokov’s Lolita).
Here’s how you pronounce the word:
One of the many toxic legacies of my HLS classmate’s failed presidency was Donald Trump. The Democratic Party’s fealty to the interests of its donors rather than the needs of its voters led directly to his election – as well as to other spectacular policy disasters that continue to reverberate.
Mind you, at one level, I harbor a grudging respect for the Republicans. I loathe most of their policies. Yet one should acknowledge their capacity for follow through. They don’t just announce some beyond-the-pale policy. They then play a long game to implement it.
Contrast that to the performance of Democrats, who are forever fighting for something – and passing the hat to get you and me to pay for it – but never seem to get anything done. Therefore I hold Democrats at least partially responsible for the latest Republican policy successes, including the Supreme Court’s recent overturn of Roe v. Wade (see Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization: U.S. Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade by 5-4 Vote, Thereby Leaving it to States to Make Their Own Abortion Laws).
Not to mention the Court’s gutting of climate change regulation (see Supremes Kayo Climate Change Regulation: West Virginia v. EPA). And at a time where composition of the current U.S. Supreme Court continues to loom large, I’d like to highlight one of my first NC posts about just how narrow the membership of our Supreme Court is – a post written well before Trump nominated his three justices (see Doing Time: Prison, Law Schools, and the Membership of the US Supreme Court.).
Indulge me a bit further here, as I don’t want to end this section on this altogether depressing note. Some readers liked some of my posts about gardens – my Mom’s in North Carolina or our Brooklyn one – and food. These weren’t some simple attempt to create a Naked Capitalism lifestyle section. There was usually a larger thematic point to these posts – e.g., food security, sustainability and seasonality, farmers markets, composting, encouraging bees and other pollinators. What was most satisfying about writing them was the reader responses they elicited. You shared your own gardening stories and cooking tips. I learned so much about the Naked Capitalism community from the comments on those posts. How readers try to live lives of integrity in this troubled world.
Earlier this week, I was talking to Mom – as I do most days – and she was pleased to see that readers had commented about her garden. She asked me to tell readers that she’d harvested 100 cherry tomatoes that very same day. Moreover, 2022 is shaping up to be a very good summer for eggplant in North Carolina. Let me mention one post here – not a gardening or cooking post per se, but one in which Mom makes an appearance, in a post about how robocallers prey on the elderly and vulnerable. In that post I also discussed my first and only union job – as a telephone operator in the summer of ’79 in Newton, NJ, one of the small enclaves where Ma Bell didn’t supply ‘phone service. And I also featured video clips of national treasure Lily Tomlin’s obnoxious Ernestine, ‘One ringy-dingy…’ Plus ça change. Fifty years on and we all still hate our ‘phone companies.The only difference being that in Ernestine’s day there was only one dominant player. Now there are several to despise (see Robocalls: Your Number, Please).
The Naked Capitalism Commentariat Is the Best Commentariat
As I’ve written before, the Naked Capitalism commentariat is the best commentariat. Your close reading of my work and your pointed comments have made me a much better writer than I was when I first started posting here (see Ode to the Commentariat: Why Naked Capitalism Matters). And you’ve opened my eyes to things about my writing I hadn’t noticed before. Or rather more accurately, opened my ears to sounds I hadn’t quite heard before. Thus, in another comment on my retirement notice,JustAnotherVolunteer dug up this nugget from my past, the July 9 1982 edition of The Tech, MIT’s oldest student newspaper, which has provided continuous news service since 1881. I served as the paper’s editor-in-chief for volume 102. See my opinion piece on page four – written just over 40 years ago.
Bound volumes of all my writing for The Tech lurk somewhere in my basement. I haven’t looked at them in decades. What I learned from JustAnotherVolunteer’s comment is that even in 1982 I’d already developed a recognizable voice. One that hasn’t really changed all that much. My column about the Equal Rights Amendment was a bit more naive, perhaps, and optimistic about what was possible in politics than I’d write it today. I was just 21 years old when I penned that column. And as many of you who remember those years would recognize, the political world of 1982 was very different than the one we live in now. What was thinkable – and possible – hadn’t yet shriveled to a neoliberal core. So thank you for prompting me to take this trip down memory lane.
One more point: I want to remind readers that Naked Capitalism relies on reader contributions to keep the site going. Please go to the Tip Jar now to contribute if you can. Your contributions are always welcome and allow Naked Capitalism to keep the lights on.
Focus on Fiction: Introducing Durga Roy
Some of you might ask, if writing for you, the readers of Naked Capitalism, is such a great gig, then why am I retiring?
Answer: I’m not retiring from writing entirely. Instead, I want to focus exclusively on my fiction. I’m nearly finished with Death in the Deep Red Sea, the first in a planned series of seven mysteries featuring private detective Durga Roy. Some years before the pandemic struck while I was on a Red Sea diving safari, a briefing for a dive on the Thistlegorm wreck sparked a novel. As I prepared to enter the water, I wondered whether any munitions bales that went down with the ship when the Luftwaffe sank it during World War II still posed a hazard. Could they explode? After all, bomb disposal teams are occasionally called upon to remove unexploded bombs from fields in Flanders and central London, among other places. What about underwater munitions?
At the same time, I also happened to be reading Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile.
Voila! I began to write a locked room mystery set on a diving boat. One thing that attracted me to this story was that by setting the explosion underwater, I could more or less ignore modern forensic techniques. I didn’t want to write some CSI spin-off.
Instead: Boom! People die. And any forensic evidence washes clean away. Leaving my detective free to use ‘little grey cells’ to unravel the mystery: who done it? And why?.
Back to that detective, Durga Roy. She’s the person you call when you suspect there’s been foul play but cannot figure out how or why a crime occurred. A brilliant Oxford science undergraduate, who earned a starred double first, the question for her tutors wasn’t whether Durga would earn a Nobel Prize someday, but in which discipline it would be awarded. Alas, instead of heading to MIT for PhD studies, she detoured into the detection game after her parents and brother died in an ‘accidental’ elephant stampede in India. Durga’s father, an Oxford physicist who had once helped India develop its Bomb later switched course to become a leader of the anti-nuclear movement. He was called back to India to deal with a family matter when Durga was sitting her Oxford finals. Durga knows who’s responsible for the death of her family- everyone does – and resolution of the mystery surrounding their death is one I’ll return to in my planned seventh – and final – novel in the series. Until then Durga has re-oriented her life’s mission to pursue one goal: no one should get away with murder.
One more point: I like Durga, she is, after all, my creation. But I love her sidekick – Rabbani-bhai a character very loosely based on a friend of mine, Ghulam Rabbani, the doorman at the (very modest, despite the grand name) Hotel Heera International in Kolkata. Rabbani-bhai is barely a meter tall and in the more than a decade that I’ve known him, I’ve noticed that most people ignore him – either due to his stature, his class, his religion, or his lack of education. That’s a mistake – he speaks several languages, is charismatic, jolly, a wonderful mimic, and also extraordinarily resourceful. Example: in the wake of Modi announcing India’s demonetization policy, when not a single one of my other Kolkata friends – including a bank manager, various businesspeople, etc. – had been able to obtain any of the new Indian currency, Rabbani-bhai managed to score me a couple hundred dollars worth of the new rupee notes. I remember exchanging dollars for the new currency from him at the hotel – no one had seen the new notes yet, and people crowded around us in the lobby when he handed over the dosh. I could see them wondering: why was I, a foreigner, able to obtain what no one else could get their hands on? The simple answer: Rabbani-bhai is my friend and he knew I needed some new Indian money. So, he found some for me.
An extraordinarily graceful man, he’s also a great dancer. His fictional avatar soaks up information, gaining the trust of people intimidated by Durga’s obvious brilliance. Oh, and he also has a black belt in judo – the baddies see him coming and while they’re besides themselves with laughter, he’s already tossed them onto the floor.
Once- or maybe I should say – if I manage to find a publisher, these novels will come out under my real name: Jerri-Lynn Scofield. Reader Martin Oline wondered whether Jerri-Lynn Scofield is a pseudonym. Nope. That’s my real name. Who in their right mind would choose Jerri-Lynn Scofield as a pseudonym?
My next planned novel in the Durga Roy series is set in Istanbul, a city I know well and to which I’ll soon be returning to conduct further research. This novel jumps back and forth between the nineteenth century and the present and centers on the reappearance of a previously unknown sister – or perhaps more aptly ‘brother’ painting, the male counterpart to Gurtave Courbet’s The Origin of the World. It’s still early days yet for this work and I must come up with a title – because as Colin Cotterill, the author of the wonderful Dr. Siri Paiboun series once told me, you don’t really have a book until you have the title. Then you know what your book is about. (He’s right about that: I didn’t really make any progress on the book I’m just finishing until I discarded my original vague, cliched title – Blood on the Water – and replaced it with Death in the Deep Red Sea.
Enough about the fiction I’ve written or hope soon to write. As I move into this next phase of my life, I’ll close this post by sharing a lesson I learned during the winters I spent as a ski bum in Whistler, British Columbia – skiing by day, writing at night.
I rang up my good buddy Justin Abel the other day. I first met Justin in 1996 I think, just after he’d chucked in his boring old life as a chartered accountant to pursue his passion for skiing. He learned to ski well, moved to Whistler, and bought a small condo. This was well before Whistler real estate prices current their present crazy heights. From when he made that move until today, Justin has taught skiing during the winters and takes on short-term accounting gigs during the summer.
Anyway, I arranged time for a Skype chat after he sent me birthday greetings and I was reminded of an observation once made by Christopher Hitchens IIRC: you can’t make old friends. We picked up as if we’d last spoken just days and not years ago. I was already mulling the ending of this post, and he reminded me of some aspects of ski technique that I hadn’t thought about much since I hung up my skis in May 2003. (I decided that was my last season as a ski bum, and I didn’t want to ski as a civilian. I knew what it felt like to ski reasonably well – at least as well as I could ski. I could only achieve that level of performance if I skied most every day, rather than as a weekend warrior or a tourist jetting in for a couple of weeks’ holiday. I logged more than one hundred days each season and as I said, did my writing at night. Unlike Justin, however, my passion for skiing had waned and there were other interests I wanted to pursue.
I was surprised when he told me people still remembered me – partly for hosting parties where I shared homemade food and drink with my impecunious ski pro friends. Some of them taught skiing during the day and worked as chefs in Whistler restaurant kitchens in the evenings. At my parties, they happily pitched in as sous chefs. One such friend: Dragan Lausevic, an amazing mogul skier who fled Sarajevo and ended up in Whistler, along with his childhood friend, Radmillo Sarenac, who’d been a documentary filmmaker before his homeland fell apart. He too ended up in Whistler teaching skiing. These two were really into the films of Andrei Tarkovsky and watched them obsessively, almost shot by shot. One year, the film du jour was always Nostalghia; the next Stalker.
My annual Oscar parties were especially popular. Some people would dress up a bit – that is, dress up by Whistler standards, where another friend once remarked, “In Whistler, we have fleece – and we have ‘dress fleece’”
The other thing I’m remembered for is inventing the concept of the refundable $20 (bill). That, however, is a story for another time – perhaps I’ll share it in comments.
Which brings me to the point I want to make with these ski bum reminisces. Sometimes my ski pro friends would ask me to ski with them on their off days. If conditions were right, we’d end up on the edge of what everyone called ‘The Saudan’- aka the Saudan Couloir – named for the Swiss extreme skier Sylvain Saudan. Alas, the mountain had to change the official name of the run to Couloir Extreme after years of hosting an extreme ski race sponsored by big Canadian corporates because no one had bothered first to ask for permission to use Saudan’s name. (I understand that Saudan and the current owners of the mountain have since settled their differences and the race has been resurrected, see Saudan Couloir Ski Race Extreme: The Legend Returns to Whistler).
I tried to find a video that conveys just how terrifying it is for even good skiers to ski that run for the first time. Most of the videos show top skiers skiing nimbly down the slope. But these are exceptional skiers. What about those of us made of more ordinary stuff – or like Justin, who learned to ski well relatively late in his life. (If you learn to ski as a little tyke, you don’t worry so much about the consequences of taking a bad fall in the wrong place.) Now that I think about it, not only did Justin master the run, but way back in 1995, he entered the race in the amateur category and lived to tell the tale.
The top of the run is a slope of nearly 50 degrees. Meaning if you’re standing on the slope with your skis facing hard right your right elbow touches the slope. That’s steep.
Anyway, this is definitely a situation where you don’t want to fall. That Saudan race was once advertised as ‘2500 vertical feet of thigh burning hell’. If you fall, you may slide a very long way. Maybe on your back, headfirst. with the occasional rock to dodge on the way down.
So, rule #1 for tackling the Saudan: don’t fall. How pray tell, do you manage that?
The single most important lesson I learned from skiing on steep slopes was all your intuitions about how best to survive are wrong. Say for example, you were hiking down a steep slope during the summer. It’s natural to be cautious, maybe lean back a bit. No sane person would launch herself down the hill.
But to lean back and be cautious when you ski puts you in exactly the wrong position – in the so-called ‘back seat’, where your skis might jet out ahead of you and you’ll fall, possibly ragdolling down the hill.
Learning to ski steeps well requires that you learn – whether you realize it or not – that the forces you’re dealing with are reactive forces. It’s not your body that needs to be in the right position so much as you must make sure that you attack the hill so that you set the edges of your skis in a way that each ski works as it’s designed to do. You have one job and one job only: set those edges.
How do you do that? You must launch yourself off the hill, committing to that first turn. Something I had to talk myself into time and time again during those first ski seasons until it was second nature. Once I nailed my first turn, I’d relax, and continue the pattern, onto the next turn, and then the next, the next, and yet again, dancing all the way down the slope.
But that crucial first step of launching myself into space: That took some convincing. So, I’d psych myself up, and then launch across the fall line, screaming Commit!
My ski pro friends thought I was demented. Yet my tactic got me off the cusp of the hill and down the slope. I never once fell while skiing the Saudan.
It worked for skiing. And now it’s time to apply that lesson to my writing and commit fully to this new course: writing fiction.
So, dear readers I bid you adieu. So long!
It’s been a wonderful privilege to write for this audience. Thank you!