October 27, 2011

The Lattice of Coincidence

All the talk about Steve Jobs got me interested in a similarity between him and zillionaire investor Warren Buffett. 

When Jobs was 27, he started an affair with Joan Baez, then 41. Baez had been extremely famous in the 1960s, although you didn't hear her songs much on the radio because she seldom had a hit single. She finally had a hit in 1975 with Diamonds and Rust (which Judas Priest has been covering in concert for decades), a song she wrote in the style of her old boyfriend Bob Dylan about her old boyfriend Bob Dylan calling her up for the first time in years. It's about my third favorite Bob Dylan song and he didn't even write it. Jobs was a huge Dylan fan (which sounds a little creepy: "Okay, Steve, uhhhmm, can we not talk about Bob anymore? Can we talk about me?")

Baez wasn't particularly rich, but Jobs never seemed able to grasp that. Having a fine sense of style, he spent a lot of time pointing out to her in the windows of expensive stores dresses she should wear, but would never buy her anything. He'd go into the store and buy himself some shirts, then be amazed that she hadn't bought that perfect red dress he'd picked out for her. He did give her free computers, though. He liked to tell her that in The Future, we'd all have computers that could make music so there'd be no need anymore for singers. He seemed puzzled that she wasn't excited about his vision of the future.

Getting further off topic ... Joan Baez's father, Albert Vincinio Baez (1912-1907), was an interesting fellow: a top-notch Mexican-American physicist, one who had been around in the proto-Silicon Valley era. He was born in Puebla, Mexico. His father (Joan's grandfather) converted from Catholicism to Methodism and the family moved to Brooklyn around 1914. Albert married the daughter of an Episcopalian minister, and they became Quakers. His Wikipedia page says:
In 1948, along with Stanford University professor Paul Kirkpatrick (1894–1992), Baez developed the X-ray reflection microscope for examination of living cells. This microscope is still used today in medicine. Baez received his PhD in physics from Stanford in 1950. ... As the Cold War arose in the 1950s, Baez's talents were in high demand for the developing arms race. However, influenced by his family's pacifist beliefs, he refused lucrative war industry jobs, preferring instead to devote his career to education and humanitarianism.

I recently read Michael Frayn's famous play Copenhagen, about the difficult meeting between old friends Bohr and Heisenberg in 1941. That's only the most famous of a huge literature about physicists talking afterwards about how they had had deep ethical conflicts over building weapons of mass destruction. But, as Frayn has Heisenberg point out, at the time most of the famous physicists, no matter how exquisitely they discussed their ethical dilemmas in later years, did indeed sign up. Albert Baez is an example of a lesser physicist who simply sat it out due to his Quaker pacisfism.

To get even farther off topic, Joan Baez's technical ancestry is oddly reminiscent of that of another part-Mexican-American pretty hippie chick singer of a few years later, Linda Rondstadt, who was probably the top selling female singer of the 1970s:
Linda Ronstadt's great grandfather, graduate engineer Friedrich August Ronstadt (who went by the name Federico Augusto Ronstadt) immigrated to the West (then a part of Mexico) in the 1840s from Hanover, Germany, and married a Mexican citizen, and eventually settled in Tucson.

This is a reminder of that weird phenomenon I've pointed out a number of times: back when there were about an order of magnitude fewer Mexican-Americans, there were about as many famous Mexican-Americans (Pancho Gonzalez, Lee Trevino, Nancy Lopez, Anthony Quinn, etc.) as there are today. The conventional wisdom says there should now be two orders of magnitude more high achieving Mexican-Americans today, because of Discrimination and Prejudice in the past, but it doesn't actually seem to work that way. 

Anyway, back to the odd affairs of tycoons ...

The zillionaire investor Warren Buffett has been famous for a long time, and he's always enjoyed superb press, even when he ought to be questioned more toughly -- for example, he owns 20% of Moody's, which was one of the ratings firms that failed so badly in the mortgage bubble. 

Part of the reason for his loving press coverage was that he made so many correct investment decisions (Americans love a winner), partly because he's an excellent prose stylist, and partly because he was sleeping with the owner of the Washington Post and NewsweekKatharine Graham. I'd heard that mentioned in passing quite a few years ago, but Buffett confirmed it in 2008: He started having an affair with Graham, one of the most famous women in America, when he was 46 and she was 59. This apparently led to Buffett's wife moving to San Francisco with her tennis pro. (I know that sounds like a Joe Esterhazy screenplay, but I've actually seen the rich man's neglected wife takes up with the tennis pro thing happen in real life, so there's good reason why it's a movie cliche).

That got me wondering whether there was any connection between Katharine Graham's late husband Phil Graham, the manic-depressive publisher of the Washington Post who killed himself in 1963, and Buffet's mentor, the Columbia finance professor and inventor of "value inventing," Ben Graham. It's all the Lattice of Coincidence, right?

In this case, nah. It turns out Ben Graham was born in London and was Jewish. Paul Graham was born in South Dakota and was not. Instead, Paul Graham was the older half-brother of Bob Graham, who was governor or senator of Florida for 26 years. 

59 comments:

Glaivester said...

Albert Vincinio Baez (1912-1907), was an interesting fellow:

I'll say he was! He died five years before he was born!

Anonymous said...

he was sleeping with the owner of the Washington Post and Newsweek, Katharine Graham. I'd heard that mentioned in passing quite a few years ago, but Buffett confirmed it in 2008: He started having an affair with Graham, one of the most famous women in America, when he was 46 and she was 59.

Are you sure about this?

Are you sure it was a sexual relationship rather than just a flirtatious companionship? How exactly does a 59 year old woman have sex?

Steve Sailer said...

Baez also invented the Time Machine, but nobody ever paid attention because he was Mexican.

Kylie said...

"Baez also invented the Time Machine, but nobody ever paid attention because he was Mexican."

Nobody ever paid any attention to Baez's Time Machine because Peabody's WABAC Machine was so much more efficient.

Anonymous said...

Americans like Buffet not just because he's rich but especially because he's rich and old and avuncular-looking. A relatively young and virile guy with wealth that large would make much of American jealous.

jody said...

"Getting further off topic ... Joan Baez's father, Albert Vincinio Baez (1912-1907)"

he must have been the source of that benjamin button script.

Five Daarstens said...

Steve:

Your post reminds me of a short story I read in, I think it was the Alfred Hitchcock series of books - "Stories that Even Scared Me". An American couple working for the US Military in a war time scene travel back in time to escape it all and go to Mexico in the past. The authorities follow them and try to get them back to work on the technology. Interesting story.

Steve Sailer said...

"Stones for Ibarra" is kind of like that -- an American couple decide to move to a tiny Mexican village around 1960. Each chapter is about them getting invited to some social event that usually ends with somebody in the village suffering accidental death or dismemberment. "Oh, that always happens at this party every year ..."

Anonymous said...

I had never heard that about Buffett and Graham. I've read most of his stockholder letters and he is indeed quite a bright fellow.

Harry Baldwin said...

Back to Steve Jobs and Joan Baez. Everything I've read about Jobs since his death makes me realize what a total dick he was. Screwed his partner Wozniak, didn't take responsibility for his daughter, habitually parked in handicapped spaces, berated the people who worked for him, went into rages when anyone else in the computer industry came out with a product similar to an Apple product. Glad I didn't know him.

Anonymous said...

Just like many famous "Americans" turn out to be Jewish or Half-Jewish, so many "Mexicans" turn out to be full (or half) German, Irish, American.

As for Buffett or Jobs, I've never been able to rouse much interest in Billionaires. Mostly, they're just like a thousand other millionaires only more lucky.

Or as Bernstein said in Citizen Kane: "Its not hard to make a lot of money, if all you want to do is make a lot of money".

Anonymous said...

For some reason this post has me thinking of that sweet lil redneck, Emmylou Harris, circa 1975of course. No Mexican connection there, although she did perform with the Flying Burrito Brothers.
Gilbert P.

Grumpy Old Man said...

A karass for sure, as Vonnegut would have it.

Anonymous said...

Not only think different but date different.

Anonymous said...

"Baez also invented the Time Machine, but nobody ever paid attention because he was Mexican."

They're shush about it because if word got out, we would use it to go back in time and reverse policies like open immigration in the 60s.

Anonymous said...

If we could use a time machine, what would you do?
I would go back to 68, stop Earl Ray from killing MLK. Then MLK today would be known as just a race hustler than some prophet.

On the other hand, Mandela wasn't assassinated by anyone, SA has turned into a helhole, and he is now just a rich corrupt tycoon raking in the dough... but the liberal media still speak of him as a saint.

Anonymous said...

Don't miss the big picture here. What's up with all these famous smart dudes and their "mrs robinson" complex?

Ironically, the Demi Moore and Ashton Kutchner relationship may not stand the test of time though it may put things in relative focus. See, this is what happens when younger man wakes up and decides for himself 'weellll,,,,do I really want to be tied down to someone post-menapausal who can't give me any heirs'?
Sad to say but sometimes mr truth stares us all in the face.

Steve Sailer said...

Gilbert P. says: "For some reason this post has me thinking of that sweet lil redneck, Emmylou Harris, circa 1975"

Yup, while writing this a few days ago, I looked Emmylou Harris up on Wikipedia just to make sure she wasn't part Mexican too.

Anonymous said...

good stuff. most enjoyable post in a while, I do think. You should really keep up the stream of conscience writing. This post would make a great background monologue in a movie about extremely smart bloggers who moonlight as Wikipedia editors.

Reg Cæsar said...

You mean "hippie-chick yeller", don't you?

A better example of a German-Mexican musician (on his father's side; his mother appears to have been a WASP from Kansas) is Nacio Herb Brown, who composed the tunes used in "Singin' In The Rain". He had a vaguely white-Mexican countenance, so it wouldn't surprise me if his paternal grandmother was an actual Mexican Mexican.

It's more fun to pick out the half-Italians in show biz: Bruce Springsteen, Laura Nyro, Melanie Safka, Jay Leno, Victor Buono. Billy Joel pretended to be one for a while. Junior Campbell, the Scot who co-wrote the tunes for "Thomas the Tank Engine" (the best pop music out of Britain in the past generation!) is half- or quarter-Italian; "Campbell" was originally "Cancellari".

The very Dutch-sounding songwriting team of Springsteen-van Zandt is three-quarters Italian, Steve van Zandt having taken his stepfather's surname.

Typo patrol said...

At the end of the article you refer to Phil Graham as "Paul Graham", the English-born founder of YCombinator.

Anonymous said...

"...immigrated to the West (then a part of Mexico) in the 1840s from Hanover, Germany, and married a Mexican citizen, and eventually settled in Tucson."

Whose offspring promptly reverted to the mean...

BTW, isn't Jerry Brown part Mexican too?

Reg Cæsar said...

Oops. Pardon the solipcist link. Nacio Herb Brown is here.

Probably the only Golden Age songwriter who grew up in Los Angeles, unless you count Richard Whiting, who attended military boarding school there.

CJ said...

Don't much care for Joan Baez's music or politics, but she was the only Vietnam War protestor I know of who also protested the repressive behavior of the Hanoi government after the war. Maybe not the brightest bulb on the tree, but she is sincere and she doesn't appear to have a burning hate for America.

How exactly does a 59 year old woman have sex?

Some of them have it, bro. Trust me. I'll spare squeamish youngsters the details.

You know something a lot more amazing than sexagenarian sex? Buffett's astonishingly good press. How often do any of these sleazy details get media attention? And this guy is a totally unproductive billionaire from a deservedly unpopular milieu.

spandrell said...

Awesome post. Steve there's definitely a big market for this kind of elite gossip.
The richest man in America has good press because he screwed the owner of the Washington post? We are taught that the world works with laws and institutions, when we should know that its all about Who (screws) whom.

Keep it up.

Another Anon said...

Steve,

I have a feeling you'd like this Sci Fi story, Radiant Doors.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Jose Feliciano. And Charo.

Anonymous said...

"It's more fun to pick out the half-Italians in show biz:"

Brooke Shields is half Italian.

Anonymous said...

Re: Ashton Kutchner
I just read that he is supposed to be the father of January Jones's illegitimate baby, so I guess he figured out how to pass his genes despite an aged wife.

Peter A said...

"back when there were about an order of magnitude fewer Mexican-Americans, there were about as many famous Mexican-Americans"

Sure, and as you are no doubt aware they were mostly Mexicans of Spanish descent. Most of the current immigrants are mestizos or pure blooded Indians who seem to have difficulty contributing anything of cultural value interesting to non-Mexicans. So no surprise.

Anonymous said...

younger joan baez was unconventionally beautiful, but still beautiful.

I also wonder if her ability to play sing hymns and scottish based folk songs came from that side of the family...

Funny couldn't imagine any lefty singing 'the night they drove old dixie down' anymore.. she'd be up on hate crime charges now.

Anonymous said...

Emmylou Harris - another hottie. unlike baez she didn't lose her looks - looked beautiful well into her late forties.

Anonymous said...

side note, I love Baez's Christmas album - even my staunchly conservative republican grandmother would comment "She's got a good voice.. I don't like her politics, but she has a good voice'

Anonymous said...

I'll warrant that a nice chunk of Buffett's popularity is down to that old standby, Plausible Deniability.

Hey, look over there, goyim! Why, heeeyyy --- it's good old rich, avuncular, gentile-as-the-day-is-long Warren Buffett! See? See? It's Not Just Us! Even in this day and age, one of your kind can still make it. See?

...Continue looking over there at Warren Buffet. Don't look over here.

signed,
The People Who Don't Control the Media

Charlotte said...

"How exactly does a 59 year old woman have sex"

It's late for you to be up. Now take your milk & cookies and let the Sandman do his magic.

Anonymous said...

Maybe not the brightest bulb on the tree,
true true.. I look at some of those videos from the sixties and think .. people fell for this cr*p? But then again, i would think, by now that young'uns who protest 'the man' would realize its big huge corporations feeding them crap via mass media..

LBD said...

"How exactly does a 59 year old woman have sex?"

Speaking as a 61year old woman, the answer is: not very easily with a 59 year old man (Viagra wasn't invented for my use) but with great pleasure with a man decades younger (if only we could talk one into it!) :). ;)

Marlowe said...

The mentioned story concerning a time travelling couple seeking refuge from a future war in the past of Mexico sounds like Ray Bradbury's "The fox and the forest" published in his collection The Illustrated Man (1951).

John Mansfield said...

She's not part Mexican, but it is astonishing to think that Olivia-Newton John's maternal grandfather was Max Born. Imagine a single person being both the daughter of the one and the mother of the other.

Truth said...

LOL, what exactly is a "totally unproductive billionaire"?

David said...

One of Chile's cultural treasures, the world-famous classical pianist Claudio Arrau, was (according to Wikipedia) part Spanish and part Scottish. He married a German Jewish mezzo-soprano (described weirdly by Wikipedia as merely "a German national"). His background and career are fascinating if you like old-time classical music stars.

alonzo portfolio said...

I really liked Natalie Wood's tennis pro scene in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.

ELVISNIXON.com said...

Joan Baez most heard song was her cover version of The Band's "THE NIGHT THEY DROVE OLD DIXIE DOWN"

Her voice is nothing compared to Levon Helm's original and yet KFI played it on heavy rotaion until the early 80's

In light of it's "Neo-Confederate" lyrical content that Joan Baez fact has gone down the media memory hole

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Linda Ronstadt!
Canciones de mis padres, etc.

Steve Sailer said...

I was hiking in Topanga Canyon in the early 2000s and I see an extraordinarily beautiful woman in her mid-50s with gray hair down to her waist. Yup, it was Emmylou Harris.

Anonymous said...

Excuse the personal reminiscence, but this is getting spooky. I grew up down the street from the Jobs garage, my parents are of his generation, and one of my earliest memories is being fascinated by the music my dad played in the garage.... Joan Baez and Linda Ronstadt.

I guess it was all part of a distinctive Baby Boomer Bay Area culture that's now transmogrified into Technoglobalist Wonderland.

Jacob Roberson said...

Steve Sailer said...
Gilbert P. says: "For some reason this post has me thinking of that sweet lil redneck, Emmylou Harris, circa 1975"

Yup, while writing this a few days ago, I looked Emmylou Harris up on Wikipedia just to make sure she wasn't part Mexican too.


Me three.

/Bunch of country-listening racists on this blog aren't we?
//All my teeth thanks for asking.
///HD failed, need to re-download that collaboration album.
////Sweet jumping Jesus who hasn't she collaborated with?
/////Click... click... No, have the Chieftains one... Click... no...

dixie chick said...

"In light of it's "Neo-Confederate" lyrical content that Joan Baez fact has gone down the media memory hole"

Oh don't let it be said..that song is about all my boomer friends remember about her.

Geoff Matthews said...

I thought you were going to say that Buffett was sleeping with Rondstadt.

Jacob Roberson said...

Speaking of who Warren Buffett has been bopping...

Anonymous said...

All I can say is Steve Jobs looked kinda cute. But the idea of any woman sleeping with Buffett, young or old, makes my skin crawl.

Anonymous said...

Rusty Trawler.

Anonymous said...

"Albert Vincinio Baez (1912-1907), was an interesting fellow:"

"I'll say he was! He died five years before he was born!"

Like we said. He invented the time machine.

Tony said...

I thought that might be the case with folk singer Suzanne Vega. Turns out she's white with a puerto rican step father.

On the cheap said...

Buffet is a deal searcher. For him the affair with the older woman was a steal because there was no competition for her and she had an incredible amount of power and influence (for him to wield). As a bonus, because of her she couldn't get pregnant and wouldn't try to drag commitment out him- she was lucky he spent any time with her.

His great press is also because he portrays himself in conservative styles while supporting liberal causes and leading a less than conservative life style. He craves admiration, especially from Jews for whom he has an inferiority complex. He pushed his way into an all Jewish financial firm, married a woman who became much more attractive to him when she was dating a Jewish guy.

Funny, he used to be the champion of world population control, but I don't hear much about that these days.

On the cheap said...

Especially early on, buffet would go for "cigar stub" investments, things others had discarded but whose assets outweighed their liabilities such to give whoever picked it up one last very cheap puff. He used to pick up discarded tickets at the track. Older lady with influence? Score.

as said...

I love your gossip columns! Fun post.

The CronoLink said...

"Jobs’ personal life was eccentric, to say the least. He dated Joan Baez, who was 14 years older, in part because he was an obsessive fan of Baez’s ex-flame Bob Dylan. She remembers an odd date when he kept talking about a red dress he thought would look great on her. He took her to see the dress at a Ralph Lauren store, then told her she should buy it–though she was broke and he was one of the richest men in the world."

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kylesmith/2011/10/26/steve-jobs-a-one-percenter-gordon-gekko-in-turtleneck/

Anon87 said...

Reminds me of John McLaughlin this week getting heated about Mexican immigration. He made a bold (odd) statement about all the great scientific and industrial impacts Mexican immigrants are making to our economy. Pat should have asked him to name one.