October 28, 2011

25,000,000 iSteve page views

This weekend should see the 25 millionth page view for the iSteve family of web pages, at least since I installed a counter in December 2002. That number represents primarily my blog, plus some old stuff by me such as UPI, National Post, and National Review articles that I archive on my iSteve.com website. That figure doesn't include my articles for VDARE, Taki's Magazine, The American Conservative and so forth. 

Perhaps the peak month was May of this year at 431,869 page views.

I want to thank you all for all the clicking.

What's the secret of Herman Cain?

The NYT has a column quoting various pundits puzzling until their puzzlers are sore over the mystery of Herman Cain's rise to the top of the GOP presidential polls. How can some random corporate executive emerge from nowhere?

It's almost as mysterious as how some random state legislator / part time law school lecturer can rise to the White House in a few years. Maybe Cain and Obama have something in common? It's crazy to think that, I know, but there's something about the two of them that seems similar. But what could it be?

Why there was no Autumn of Love

A few readers have asked about my assertion below about the causes of the quick collapse of the Haight-Ashbury Summer of Love in 1967 ("If you're going to San Francisco / Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair" -- Johnnie Rotten's least favorite song of all time, by the way). My source was my recollection of my old Rice U. history professor Allen Matusow's 1984 book The Unraveling of America: A History of Liberalism in the 1960s. Looking it up, I see that on p. 302, Matusow writes:
Haight-Ashbury was already dying. It's demise, so similar to the demise of hippie ghettos elsewhere, resulted from official repression, black hostility, and media hype. In San Francisco where city fathers panicked at the prospect of runaway hordes descending upon them, police began routinely roughing up hippies, health officials harassed their communes, and narcotics agents infiltrated the neighborhood. Meanwhile, black hoods from the nearby Fillmore district cruised the streets, threatening rape and violence. Blacks did not like LSD, white kids pretending to be poor, or the fact that Haight-Ashbury was, in the words of a leftover beatnik, "the first segregated Bohemia I've ever seen." Longtime residents began staying home after dark. Finally, the beguiling images of Haight-Ashbury marketed by the media attracted not only an invasion of gawking tourists, but a floating population of the unstable, the psychotic, and the criminal. By the end of the year, reported crime in Haight-Ashbury included 17 murders, 100 rapes, and nearly 3,000 burglaries. In October 1967 community leaders staged a pageant called "Death of Hippie."

The most notorious criminal to prey on hippie chicks in the San Francisco Bay area in 1967 was white: Charles Manson.

Burning Man as a Whitopia

Black journalist Rich Benjamin coined the word "whitopia" a few years ago for a place white people move to. Most of them tend to be in the Great Basin between the Sierras and the Rockies. Perhaps the most striking Great Basin whitopia is one that only exists for one week per year. From the San Francisco Chronicle:
BURNING MAN AT 20 / 'Inclusive' is illusive for burners
September 03, 2005|By Vanessa Marlin, Special to the Chronicle 
(09-03) 04:00 PST Black Rock City, Nev. -- The absence of people of color at an event touted by founder Larry Harvey as "radically inclusive" is a popular topic of discussion among burners. 
"We're f -- ing here this year, and I'm a happy bastard," says Black Light, who would not give his real name. He is from Brooklyn and founded the Land of Califa camp, made up exclusively of African Americans. Members of the camp perform tribal music and create "meals of cultural delight" such as jerk chicken and collard greens. 
Observant veterans say the number of minority burners, as those who attend Burning Man call themselves, is slowly expanding, pointing to camps like Roller Disco, lorded over by the "Godfather of Skate," David D. Miles, who is African American and runs Friday Night Skate in San Francisco. His assistants, who teach people to skate with secondhand skates, are Latino, African American and Asian. 
Although diversity is being addressed in creative ways by some burners, Burning Man spokeswoman "Maid" Marian Goodell dismisses the topic as irrelevant in a short discussion laced with expletives. 
"This isn't a white-Euro bunch," she says. "We're totally mixed." 
But that's hard to tell on the playa. 
Harvey acknowledges the lack of diversity, although he says no statistical studies have been done. 
Burning Man's official census purposely does not collect information on race or ethnicity. The form simply asks whether the person filling it out considers himself white or not, and "Does this question offend you?" 
Harvey says the race question comes up every year, but it's not right to put Burning Man in the position of fixing historical racial injustice. 
Juke Mackey of Oregon, whose ancestry is Norwegian and African American, has been coming to Burning Man for 11 years and brought his 12-year-old daughter Sofi this year. He says the inclusive dynamics of Burning Man unite people of all ages, ethnicities and economic backgrounds. "From corporate lawyers to a step above homeless, people you would never put together are here like it's our family reunion." 
Harvey says as the father of a mixed-race child, diversity is important to him. He says the absence of minorities reflects the larger issue of social injustice. 
"There is a justifiable fear among minorities about leaving their tight- knit communities," he says. "Not to mention the enormous cost." 
Harvey says he doesn't want Burning Man to get a reputation as a redneck, lily-white festival. But he understands why Burning Man is attractive for white people who lack tight-knit cultural communities. 
"Whites are radically isolated from their families and each other," he said. "It's easy to get lost in a life where no one is connected."

Occupy Wall Street: Too white

From the NYT:
Two weeks into Occupy Wall Street’s takeover of Zuccotti Park, a group of Bronx community organizers and friends rode the subway down to Lower Manhattan to check out a movement they supported in principle. 
When they got there, they recalled, they found what they had suspected: a largely white and middle-class crowd that claimed to represent “the 99 percent” but bore little resemblance to most of the people in the group’s own community. That community, the South Bronx, is one of the poorest areas of the country and home almost exclusively to blacks and Hispanics. 
“Nobody looked like us,” said Rodrigo Venegas, 31, co-founder of Rebel Diaz Arts Collective a center for political activism and hip-hop run out of a warehouse in Mott Haven. “It was white, liberal, young people who for the first time in their life are feeling a small percentage of what black and brown communities have been feeling for hundreds of years.” 
Even as the Occupy Wall Street protests have spread and grown, many critics have pointed to the visible scarcity of blacks and other minorities in the protesters’ ranks, notwithstanding the occasional infusions of color, whether from black celebrities like Kanye West, or from union members who have rallied with the protesters, or from a Muslim prayer service at Zuccotti Park last week. 
But that reality has begun to change, with minorities and people of color increasingly taking to the streets, as the movement responds to the criticism that a people’s movement should look more like the people. 
A survey conducted at Zuccotti Park by Fordham University a month into the protests, from Oct. 14 to Oct. 18, found that 68 percent of the protesters were white, 10 percent were black, 10 percent were Hispanic, 7 percent were Asian and 5 percent were from other races. 
And, many critics have noted, the black and Hispanic protesters participating in the protests have tended to come from the middle class, just as the white protesters have. 
The reasons that minorities have tended to be leery of the protests are complex and deeply rooted. 
Minority communities, said Gonzalo Venegas, 26, Rodrigo’s younger brother, “have a history of resistance but also a history of fear.” (Both brothers have remained involved in the protests.) In a cheeky but ultimately serious Village Voice piece on blacks and Occupy Wall Street, the black essayist Greg Tate mused that a blacker protest movement would have drawn harsher treatment from the police. “Thanks to our overwhelming no-show of numbers,” he wrote, “49,000 shots haven’t been fired at OWS yet.” 
Some critics have also accused the protesters of being reductive in their claim to represent the majority and oblivious to their own privilege, and argue that racism, rather than capitalism, continues to be the main problem for many minority Americans. 
... Earlier this week the N.A.A.C.P put out a statement in support of Occupy Wall Street, which is planning a civil rights rally and an event with Harry Belafonte over the weekend.

Wow, that will definitely heighten awareness among Today's Youth of Color: Harry Belafonte! Don't let anybody tell you the NAACP is the National Association for the Advancement of Certain People resting on their laurels.
Sonny Singh, 31, a Sikh musician from Brooklyn who joined Occupy Wall Street early on, recounted the scene in Zuccotti Park the day the general assembly drafted its “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City” — the closest thing to a political manifesto the protesters have put out thus far. 
Mr. Singh said that he and a few other “brown” people at the assembly were appalled by what was going to become the first paragraph of the declaration: “As one people, formerly divided by the color of our skin,” the document began, “we acknowledge the reality: that there is only one race, the human race.” 
“That was obviously not written by a person of color,” Mr. Singh said, calling the statement na├»ve. “Race is a reality in the lives of people of color, you can’t put out a statement like that without alienating them.” 
Mr. Singh and others pushed back, and eventually got the phrasing changed to be more sensitive to racial realities within the movement.

How could they have forgotten America's litany of historic crimes against Sikhs?

Anyway, let me take a stab at a general theory of Occupy Wall Street. There's been much criticism of the movement for not having a coherent manifesto of political demands. What exactly are they doing during all these endless meetings with their weird hand signals if not coming up with a political agenda?
What they do spend time talking about is how to keep everyone housed, fed, safe, healthy, and entertained. With this protest, logistics are political too: By creating a self-contained, self-governing, radically transparent and egalitarian community, they’ll model how the rest of society ought to work.

So, they are organizing the logistics of their campout: How many different kinds of recycling bins should we have? That sort of thing. Middle class white people find this kind of self-organizing to be pretty fascinating. It also bores the heck out of most minorities and non-middle class whites, which has the salutary effect of driving away undesirables.

The obvious model for this is the successful Burning Man campouts that take place each September on a godforsaken dry lake bed in Nevada. A bunch of naked white hippies do a pretty fine job of setting up a huge community for one week each year. (My cousin, the tough hippie, goes there every year, and now his octogenarian mother, a lifelong outdoorswoman, wants to go to Burning Man, too.)

Burning Man started out in San Francisco, but moved to the middle of nowhere for various reasons, one unmentionable one being: barriers to entry. Ticket prices are now a few hundred dollars for entry, plus the cost of travel and camping equipment. That keeps out the petty criminals, homeless guys, gang-bangers, and other predators, parasites, and losers. Old San Francisco hippies remember, even if they won't mention it, what kept the Haight-Ashbury Summer of Love in 1967 from continuing: criminals, especially black criminals from the Fillmore district, discovered, to their delight, that drugged-up white hippie chicks were easy prey. So Haight Ashbury went from a utopian middle class scene to a dystopian underclass one in weeks. Hence, it's really expensive to get to Burning Man now.

But, it's still on a dry lake bed in Nevada, where nobody would want to live for more than a week. Wouldn't it be awesome if we could set up a permanent self-organizing Burning Man-like community in a high rent district, such as Manhattan? But without paying any rent! I know, we'll claim it's a political protest! But how do we keep out the low-lifes? Well, how do some convenience stores keep juvenile delinquents from hanging out in front? By playing classical music. Similarly, OWS tries to keep losers away by boring them with endless public debates on minute administrative details about sustainability.

Still, undesirables can put up with a lot of yakkety-yak for the sake of tasty food. Hence, according to the not-unbiased New York Post:
The Occupy Wall Street volunteer kitchen staff launched a “counter” revolution yesterday -- because they’re angry about working 18-hour days to provide food for “professional homeless” people and ex-cons masquerading as protesters. 
For three days beginning tomorrow, the cooks will serve only brown rice and other spartan grub instead of the usual menu of organic chicken and vegetables, spaghetti bolognese, and roasted beet and sheep’s-milk-cheese salad. 
They will also provide directions to local soup kitchens for the vagrants, criminals and other freeloaders who have been descending on Zuccotti Park in increasing numbers every day.

The good news for Occupy Wall Street is that there really aren't that many derelicts and hoodlums left in Manhattan anymore. If this were 1990, there'd be rapes, drive-by shootings, and maybe an outbreak of cholera.

In summary, I think one of the stronger emotions in the world right now is the desire for restrictive communities where people with something in common can exclude everybody else, such as what Burning Man achieves for a week each year. But 21st Century people lack any kind of vocabulary for explicating their forbidden desires for exclusion.

October 27, 2011

Not quite getting the joke

Here's an article from Inside Higher Ed about the growing demands for firefighters to have college or even advanced degrees. 

The commenters at Marginal Revolution don't get what's going on: hiring and promoting firemen revolves around the never-ending lawsuits involving discrimination or reverse discrimination: Ricci, Vulcan Society, etc. This fact shouldn't be mysterious, because these lawsuits have been going on for 40 years. Big city newspapers have frontpage stories about these fireman and cop lawsuits several times per year. 

Now, courts have gone back and forth on the disparate impact in hiring and promoting of testing knowledge of firefighting techniques. In Ricci, the Supreme Court said the city can't change the rules after the game has been played. But, but Judge Garaufnis's ruling in Vulcan Society in New York was super-fundamentalist about disparate impact. 

In contrast to judges' uncertainty about employers' direct testing of relevant knowledge, courts over the decades have shown enormous deference to employers requiring college degrees. 

What we've seen over and over is that white guys, especially ones from fireman families, study firefighting much harder on average. As Emily Bazelon complained in Slate about Frank Ricci and other white New Haven firemen:
"As one Hispanic quoted anonymously by the New Haven Independent put it, the test favored 'fire buffs'—guys who read fire-suppression manuals on their downtime …"

That's just not fair!

But, now think about making degrees mandatory from the point of view of white firemen: So, if us white guys like studying firefighting so much, we can either do it on our own for a test (legally suspect) or go to the local JuCo and get an associate's diploma in firefighting (legally A-OK). And us white guys who want to be fire lieutenants can take a lot of U. of Phoenix courses and get a B.S. in Fire. And us white guys who want to be Fire Chiefs can get a Fire Masters.

Is the Obama Administration going to take on the Higher Education Industrial Complex? That's their base.

That's how we do everything else in America, so why not fire departments, too?

Dept. of Wishful Thinking

From the NYT:
Dictators Get the Deaths They Deserve
by Simon Sebag Montefiore

How about Mao? Died at 82.

How about Stalin? I read a book about Stalin once. He lived his three score and ten and died on his beloved couch, unchallenged master of the world's largest land empire. Most of his henchmen who survived the 1930s lived into old age, too.* The book was called The Court of the Red Czar and it was by ... let me check ... Simon Sebag Montefiore. (He's got some explanation for why Stalin got the death he deserved, but I think it shows a certain lack of imagination.)

In my experience, most people's deaths aren't that much fun. Do they get the deaths they deserve, too?

------------
* The one henchman who got done in was Stalin's fellow Georgian, Beria, who took command upon Stalin's death. The odd thing about Beria that nobody remembers these days is, vicious as he was, his policy upon taking power was proto-Gorbachevian. He figured on letting East Germany go, negotiating a strategic peace with the U.S., and de-Bolshevizing the Soviet Union. But then he got cocky and forgot to bring his pistol to a Politburo meeting ... 

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. 

Well said

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones writes in a post entitled "Tribalism and Taxes:"
In the modern Republican Party, tax policy isn't really about tax policy anymore. It's mostly just meant to be evocative, a demonstration that you're really, truly part of the family. So the crazier it is, the better. Nobody—least of all Republican voters—seriously expects any of these proposals to become law. 
What's really mind-blowing, though, is the precise nature of the tax policies that rich Republicans have so thoroughly succeeded in adding to the canon. Middle-class conservatives have become completely convinced that "good" tax policies include a flat tax, lower capital gains rates, and repeal of the estate tax, all of which are designed to benefit the rich almost exclusively. It would be as if Democrats had somehow convinced Wall Street that the key to prosperity was higher taxes on yachts, private jets, and Hamptons getaways.

Sports in black and white

From a Washington Post survey of 806 people in the Washington metro area:


I think asking people if they are "favorable" toward a sports franchise isn't the right question. You wind up registering a lot of Benign Neglect: The Washington Capitals? -- Yeah, sure I'm favorable towards them. I always want them to beat the Harlem Globetrotters. A better question would be to ask individuals to name players on each team. But polling companies hate asking questions that might display the ignorance of the people being polled.


The accompanying article "Black fans have grown to love the Redskins" is superficially dull in its recounting of things like how blacks love the Redskins because Doug Williams of the Redskins was the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl back in the late 1980s. The article doesn't present any evidence of any NFL team that is not popular with its local black population. Americans like the NFL and African-Americans really like the NFL. Occam's Razor suggests that NFL teams tend to be popular with their local populations not because of some unique historical record but because they are local. It's not like the San Francisco 49ers are popular in San Francisco because Steve Young was an expert on Napa Valley wines or Jerry Rice was a C++ programmer. Instead, the 49ers are popular in San Francisco because they are the San Francisco 49ers. This really isn't that complicated.

But, the article is interesting in its underlying unquestioned assumption that black racialism is a virtue that should be cultivated and celebrated. The reporter didn't seem to make any attempt to find a black person to say something like, "Hey, it's great that all sorts of different people, black, white, or miscellaneous, root for the Redskins. I really like that about the Redskins: they bring us Washingtonians together."

Here's a question: If Bill Simmons of ESPN were to come out and explicitly admit something that's implicit across hundreds of pages of his Big Book of Basketball -- One reason the 1986 Boston Celtics remain my favorite team of all time is because they were so much whiter (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge, Bill Walton, Scott Wedman, Jerry Sichting, etc.) than their rivals, and that shows that us white guys aren't totally hopeless at my favorite game -- would he get in trouble?

October 26, 2011

Victimism

UPDATE: From the LA Times today:
Prosecutors unsealed an indictment detailing insider-trading charges against one of the kings of American finance, Rajat Gupta, who surrendered to authorities earlier Wednesday morning. 
A grand jury charged Gupta, the former head of the McKinsey & Co. consulting firm, with five counts of securities fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud for providing inside information to hedge fund magnate Raj Rajaratnam, who was recently convicted and sent to prison for 11 years for insider trading.  
The complaint, unsealed in Manhattan federal court, says that Gupta, 62, provided Rajaratnam with information he had learned as a board member of Goldman Sachs and Procter & Gamble in 2008 and 2009. In one instance, Rajaratnam placed trades based on the information within 39 seconds of learning it from Gupta, authorities said. 
In total, prosecutors say that Rajaratnam's Galleon Group hedge funds made profits or avoided losses of $23 million thanks to information from Gupta. They say Gupta stood to gain because of his business partnerships with Rajaratnam, including a private equity fund that they co-founded to invest in projects in Asia. ... 
Gupta was accused at the time of passing information to Rajaratnam about Warren Buffett's $5-billion investment in Goldman at the height of the financial crisis. The revelations came just days before Rajaratnam's trial on insider-trading charges began...

That sounds hilariously blatant: Hey, Raj, you know how I'm on the board of Goldman? Well, we board members just learned that Warren Buffett's going to invest $5 billion in Goldman. It will be front page news all over the world tomorrow and our stock will go up. Don't mention it to anybody, though, or try to make money off this information. It's a secret. And good luck on your insider trading trial. [Warning: This is not an actual voicemail message left by Mr. Gupta. I just made it up.]
In a dramatic turn in the case, Gupta surrendered to the FBI to face criminal charges at 5:15 a.m. Wednesday morning at the agency's Manhattan headquarters.

From Newsweek:
The Outsider 
In an exclusive interview, Raj Rajaratnam reveals his surprising motivations—and the reasons he didn’t take a plea that could have saved him from 11 years in jail. 
by Suketu Mehta

It was 6 a.m. on Oct. 16, 2009, and Raj Rajaratnam, head of the Galleon Group hedge fund, was at home on his exercise bike looking out over Manhattan’s Turtle Bay, thinking about how many shirts he would have to pack for his trip to England that day. He was to go there to launch a $200 million fund to invest in the Sri Lankan stock market, in which he, the richest Sri Lankan on the planet, was the biggest single investor. 
At 6:30 his doorbell rang. He answered it to find a number of policemen and men in suits outside. An FBI agent named B. J. Kang told him he was under arrest for insider trading.... 
... They wanted him to turn in other hedge-fund managers. They wanted him, especially, to wear a wire and tape his conversations with Rajat Gupta, the former CEO of McKinsey. Gupta, whom Rajaratnam refers to as a “first-class guy,” was the most respected Indian executive in the U.S. ... 
It was Rajaratnam’s understanding that were he to plead guilty and wear a wire, he might be offered a sentence of as little as five years. With good behavior, he could be out in 85 percent of that time. The evidence on the wiretaps was incontrovertible. It was his voice on the phone asking a variety of informants about companies he was investing in, and giving them loans and other monetary rewards in exchange. 
Of the 50-odd people caught up in the insider-trading scandal, “most everyone that’s been charged has pled guilty,” notes Rajaratnam. “Nobody’s fought it. They’ve taken the plea.” But he decided to plead not guilty, and was later convicted on all 14 counts of insider trading, and is now going to jail for 11 years. 
Why didn’t he take the plea? 
Rajaratnam was a man who lived for information; his entire business edge was built on acquiring information before others did. But when it came to the biggest bet of his life, this master of information was guided—as he saw it—by the political history of his people, his personal journey as a dark-skinned immigrant through the rich countries, and a 3,000-year-old tradition of astrology. 
The whole story speaks to the South Asian–American community: its pursuit of success and money at any cost; the differences between immigrants and the first generation; and the immigrants’ incomplete understanding of the rigor of the law in the U.S. 
“There are rules and there are laws, and they apply to everyone, no matter who you are or how much money you have,” says Bharara. This is what was not easily understood by the South Asians named in the conspiracy. There are laws and rules in India and Sri Lanka, too, but they can be tested, ignored by those who have money or friends. 
Rajaratnam is an immigrant, not American-born. He had grown up, as he tells it, in fear: of the Sinhalese majority in his homeland; of the skinheads in Britain where he’d studied; and of the established elites of Wall Street where he did business. At just about every stage of his life, there were people out to get him. “I saw myself as an underdog.” 
Rajaratnam has lived in his penthouse apartment for 15 years. ... 
Rajaratnam’s father was an upright executive, the head of the Singer Sewing Machine Co. in South Asia. Residing in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, in the 1960s, the family was Tamil, an ethnic minority favored by the colonial British. After independence, the majority Sinhalese systematically discriminated against the Tamils. Sensing that the situation would get more violent, Rajaratnam’s family emigrated in 1971. He was already in boarding school in London. Two years earlier, his parents sent the 11-year-old to study at Dulwich College. “P. G. Wodehouse went there,” I prompt him. Wodehouse is beloved all over South Asia because his comic novels demonstrate that the former colonial masters were ... silly. His face lights up. “I spent three years in his room. People who stay in rooms in Dulwich write their names. When I moved in, I could see his name. I wrote mine below.” 
Afterward, Rajaratnam went to Sussex University, in Brighton, to study engineering. These were the days when a far-right party, the National Front, was marching through the streets, beating up “Pakis,” who were easy targets. “They wouldn’t fight back. They were more docile.” Rajaratnam was once with his uncle in a tough London neighborhood, walking down the street, when three white men rammed their shoulders into the older man. “We started pushing and shoving,” but did not run. “Running has never been part of my M.O.” 
As a consequence, both Rajaratnam and his uncle got beaten up. But “I didn’t get beaten up any more than they did.” After that incident, Rajaratnam took to carrying chili powder in his pockets when he ventured out at night. “I was conscious of the fact that I could be attacked because of my ethnicity.” 
After Sussex, he decided to get an M.B.A. at Wharton. Of the 600-odd students there, 20 were South Asian. That’s where the Galleon network began. His roommate ended up being head of investor relations at Galleon; another classmate later oversaw Asia for Galleon. 
Altogether, four people from his class ended up working for him. Most ambitious South Asians at the time went to Silicon Valley. “Wall Street was tough to get into for us. Not to be crude, but there’s a Jewish mafia, and a WASP mafia, and an Irish mafia up in Boston.” 
He rattles off the names of the leading money houses, identifying each by the ethnicity it is stocked with. “They hire their own; they socialize among their own.” When it comes to the South Asians, he bemoans the fact that “for us as a group there’s no unity.” He mentions the microscopically specific matrimonial ads in India Abroad, a community newspaper. “A Punjabi Khatri wants to marry a Punjabi Khatri ...” 
He was among the South Asian pioneers on Wall Street. “We didn’t grow up reading The Wall Street Journal. We didn’t have someone who knew someone who could give us an interview. We didn’t have the domain knowledge; we were all foreigners.” Americans had the connections. 
Wall Street attracted type-A personalities, “people who could say, ‘I want to make a million dollars before I’m 30.’ ” Rajaratnam found this strange. “Culturally, we couldn’t say that. We were too shy to say, ‘I want to make a lot of money.’ We were more coy.” He noticed, too, that “Americans are born salesmen and born negotiators.” When he was a kid, if he wanted to go to a movie and his father said no, that was it. With his American-born son, however, “if I say no, he starts negotiating.” 
Rajaratnam’s first job out of Wharton was at Chase Manhattan. Then he worked as an analyst for Needham & Co., in 1985, a startup. Rajaratnam was its 10th employee, and first South Asian. He started following the semiconductor industry. The PC was taking off, advanced computer chips were being mass-produced, and his engineering background helped him understand the technology. He became director of research and, in a few years, president. “I was in the right growth sector.” Along the way, he hired several South Asian analysts. At one point, George Needham, the chairman, asked him why he was hiring so many South Asians. In response, Rajaratnam read off the names on the company’s trading desk. “Almost all of them were Jewish.” ...
Did he regret anything? 
“I’d probably not be so trusting of people.” It’s clear who he’s referring to. The government’s case rests principally on his two Wharton classmates. Anil Kumar, the McKinsey executive, was hired by Galleon as a consultant. The other, Rajiv Goel, worked at Intel for eight years. Both of them pleaded not guilty first, Rajaratnam notes, before they switched to guilty under prosecutorial pressure. ... 
Part of Rajaratnam’s narrative is that of a man from a smaller South Asian country seduced and betrayed by people from the Big Brother country. Kumar had introduced him to Rajat Gupta. The two of them wanted to start an Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. “I gave them [the school] a million dollars. I later found out they never contributed any of their money, and are listed as the school’s founders. And I’m not even a fucking Indian.”
The betrayal by the Indian associates hurts the most—he barely mentions the white government witnesses. He regrets doing a joint venture with the Indians. ...
“There are two types of plea bargains. One is, you cooperate with the government. You finger 10 other people. The other is a plea bargain without cooperation.” The white defendants all pleaded without cooperating; they did not wear a wire. “The South Asians all did the plea bargain with fingering,” he notes sourly. “The Americans stood their ground. Every bloody Indian cooperated—Goel, Khan, Kumar.” He puts it down to “the insecurity of being an immigrant, lawyers bullying them into that position.” 
As late as two weeks before the sentencing, Rajaratnam was still being asked by the government to turn on Gupta. But he wouldn’t wear a wire, he says, so he could sleep at night. “Anil Kumar’s son worked at Galleon one summer. I used to vacation with Rajiv Goel’s family. Their families knew my family. You don’t think this is going to haunt these guys? They wanted me to plea-bargain. They want to get Rajat. I am not going to do what people did to me. Rajat has four daughters.” 
The Rajaratnam case can be seen as a metaphor of the difference between immigrants from South Asia, who have a more elastic view of rules and a more keenly developed art of networking, and their children, the first generation, schooled to play by American rules. Preet Bharara came to the U.S. when he was an infant. Yet for all his complaints about unfairness, Rajaratnam, surprisingly, still believes in American justice. “In Sri Lanka I would have given the judge 50,000 rupees and he’d be sitting having dinner at my house. Here, I got my shot. The American justice system is by and large fair.” 
“In your case too?” I ask. 
“I said by and large.” 
Why so many Indian names in the indictments, I ask. “Because Roomy Khan’s network was Indian,” he explains simply. “They’re not being unfairly targeted. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories.” His brother Rengan sees it differently. “For years these guys were sitting around in sports clubs and exchanging information. That wasn’t a crime. And now we immigrants do the same thing and it is?” 
It makes sense: the Tamil schoolboy, persecuted in his home country; tormented in the U.K.; handicapped in his career, as he saw it, by his ethnicity. When faced with yet another antagonist, he reaches for the chili powder in his pockets. But still, wouldn’t the balancer of risk and profit have realized that the smart thing to do was to take the plea and hope for a reduced sentence, rather than risk dying in jail? (Rajaratnam has advanced type 2 diabetes; his kidneys are failing.) It seemed like an irrational decision. 
But there is an irrational explanation. A Sri Lankan diplomat close to Rajaratnam told me that she’d met him shortly before he was convicted. “He’d gone to the ola-leaf readers. They told him he’d be acquitted.” Ola-leaf readers are Sri Lankan astrologers. They believe that 3,000 years ago, seven Indian sages decided to write down the horoscopes of every person yet to be born, on a series of palm leaves. A skilled reader can read the leaves to present a complete life story of an individual, including his future. So on a subsequent meeting with Rajaratnam, I ask him about the ola leaves. “A friend did it for me,” he says, startled that I know.
... It fueled his conviction that he should fight the case all the way. It explains his puzzling insistence that he is innocent, in spite of the massive wiretap evidence to the contrary.
This was his edge; this was inside information that no one else had. 
Suketu Mehta, a professor of journalism at New York University, is the author of Maximum City.

In summary, it's only human nature that our world's reigning ideology of minoritarianism, which was most famously used for the benefit of African-Americans, is now subscribed to by random elites from all over the world, from places with zero connection to historical sins of the United States of America, to rationalize their own ethical corner-cutting within America: Sure, we may look like a bunch of Wharton MBAs, but we're really outsiders, victims of discrimination, so therefore we are morally justified.

October 25, 2011

"Margin Call"

From my review in Taki's Magazine:
Among this season’s intelligent movies about smart people doing complex jobs, the Wall Street film Margin Call ranks ahead of Contagion and The Ides of March and behind only Moneyball. ... 
A running joke in Margin Call is that each higher-up understands the statistics less than his underling. As Irons disarmingly explains to the assembled executives: “Speak to me as if I were a young child or a Golden Retriever. It weren’t brains that got me here, you know that.” 

Read the whole thing there.


October 24, 2011

John McCarthy, RIP

Updated: There's a fine obituary in the NYT tonight.

The Stanford computer scientist was 84. Some years ago, Paul Graham wrote an essay entitled Some Heroes:
John McCarthy 
John McCarthy invented [the programming language] Lisp, the field of (or at least the term) artificial intelligence, and was an early member of both of the top two computer science departments, MIT and Stanford. No one would dispute that he's one of the greats, but he's an especial hero to me because of Lisp. 
It's hard for us now to understand what a conceptual leap that was at the time. Paradoxically, one of the reasons his achievement is hard to appreciate is that it was so successful. 
Practically every programming language invented in the last 20 years includes ideas from Lisp, and each year the median language gets more Lisplike. 
In 1958 these ideas were anything but obvious. In 1958 there seem to have been two ways of thinking about programming. Some people thought of it as math, and proved things about Turing Machines. Others thought of it as a way to get things done, and designed languages all too influenced by the technology of the day. McCarthy alone bridged the gap. He designed a language that was math. But designed is not really the word; discovered is more like it.

A Kinsleyan gaffe

From the L.A. Times:
Hamid Karzai's office says his comment that Afghanistan would side with Pakistan in a hypothetical war against the U.S. was not intended as a slight to Western governments.

We're just going to have to keep occupying Afghanistan and shooting Afghans until they learn to appreciate us.

Who Kills Whom?

The Book Review Editor of the NYT, Sam Tanenhaus, thumbsucks over the Growing Threat of Republican Isolationism despite finding little evidence of that menace among GOP presidential candidates, who, with the exception of Ron Paul, mostly express the Invade-the-World conventional wisdom:
Right, Less Might 
By SAM TANENHAUS
Sam Tanenhaus is the editor of The New York Times Book Review.
THE Republican debate Tuesday night included many heated exchanges, but relatively few on the subject of foreign policy. There was instead surprising unanimity, whether it was Mitt Romney and Rick Perry debunking foreign aid, Ron Paul warning that America has become an empire, or Michele Bachmann, in what now seems an ill-timed critique, objecting to President Obama’s having “put us in Libya.”

Obviously, Bachman was wrong because, since then, Obama killed Gadaffi, which therefore permanently debunks all skepticism about the wisdom of America starting a war with Libya. The bottom line of sophisticated globalist thought is: Who kills whom? Obama started an international war with Libya, and then conclusively proved he was right to do so by killing the ex-leader of Libya.
Collectively, the candidates were channeling a broad shift in thinking on the right about America’s global responsibilities. It has been only a few years since George W. Bush labeled himself a “war president” leading a crusade for worldwide democratization. And the sentiments were not his alone. In December 2004 a majority of conservative Republicans agreed “it is best for the future of our country to be active in world affairs,” according to the Pew Research Center. 
In 2011, a roughly equivalent majority believe America “should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems at home.” 
In a time of severe economic woe — a “national emergency,” as Mr. Obama termed it in mid-September — foreign policy issues often lose their immediacy.

Well, foreign adventurism not just loses its "immediacy," it's objectively harder to pay for.
But with the exception of impassioned support for Israel, conservatives have been embracing a retreat from the greater world that recalls the isolationism of a bygone age in which belief in American “exceptionalism” combined with distrust of other countries and “entangling alliances,” even with other democracies. The most conspicuous example is the strong anti-interventionist sentiment in the period leading up to World War II, when conservatives flocked to rallies organized by the America First Committee, with its slogan “England will fight to the last American.”

In other words, skipping over the implied logical links ... Nazis!
... Of course that was before Mr. Obama’s election and the rise of the Tea Party movement. Its ascendancy is “proof positive of the rise of isolationism on the right,” Lawrence F. Kaplan, a columnist for The New Republic and co-author, with William Kristol, of “The War Over Iraq: Saddam’s Tyranny and America’s Mission,” wrote in an e-mail. “It’s no coincidence that the Tea Party has adopted the Don’t Tread on Me flag as its own,” Mr. Kaplan added. “My bet is they have the federal government, not far-away Islamists, in mind.”

My prejudice is for "Don't tread on me ... and I won't tread on you," but that just shows what a prejudiced ignoramus I am. All the sophisticates like Kaplan and Kristol believe in "Don't tread on me while I tread on you." What could possibly go wrong?
Even as the Republican presidential contenders have tapped into isolationist anxieties, they have sat for foreign-policy tutorials with holdovers from Mr. Bush’s presidency, many of them standard-bearers of the aggressive interventionism that Tea Partiers reject. Mr. Romney’s team includes the authors Eliot A. Cohen and Robert Kagan, both identified with the Iraq war. Mr. Perry has met with Donald H. Rumsfeld. Herman Cain has professed his admiration for the writings of John R. Bolton, a hawkish figure in the administrations of both Bushes. 

In other words, the Establishment maintains its chokehold on Republican elites despite all that we've learned in the last few years.
This position assumes that America, which remains, after all, the world’s one superpower, has no choice but to assert its leadership in a complex world — as, perhaps, Mr. Obama demonstrated in his Libya policy. He followed a middle course criticized by neoconservatives, who found it too timid, and by isolationists, who warned against “mission creep.” But it seems to have been vindicated last week with the death of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

Who kills whom. What more do you need to know?

By the way, new cell phone footage suggests Gadaffi was sodomized while being lynched. Ha-ha, what a loser! I've watched enough TV detective shows to know that, unlike in the bad old days, prison rape is now considered a great topic for gloating jokes. (This evolution of social norms must be part of what Steven Pinker calls The Civilizing Process.) This new information about Gadaffi's end just proves how right Tanenhaus and the rest of respectable opinion are, and how wrong sickos like Ron Paul are for not wanting America to be involved in things like this.

So, forget "Who kills whom?" The new international cosmopolitan standard of right and wrong that only scary kooks like Pat Buchanan express doubts about is "Who sodomizes whom?"

October 23, 2011

"Homesickness: An American History"

In VDARE this week, I look at an unexpected topic by reviewing historian Susan J. Matt's thought-provoking book Homesickness. Matt is working in the subfield of "history of emotions," which was invented by French historians around 1940 and is proving an excellent field for female scholars. Her previous book, Keeping Up with the Joneses, was on how envy of the material possessions of others went from being considered a vice in the 19th Century to being thought "good for the economy" in the 20th Century. Here she defends homesickness, a common feeling stigmatized today as childish, but which in the Victorian Era was considered the mark of a sensitive, loyal, virtuous individual.
But Matt's most valuable contribution might be this point: that modern institutions try to bully Americans into becoming as fungible as individual humans can be.

This demand from big institutions for fungibility, for homogeneity, for interchangeability among the human raw materials they work with might explain much about all the contemporary propaganda from those institutions for equality and diversity. There are paradoxes within paradoxes here.

Read the whole thing there.