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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Richard Fuld

Dick Fuld, the former head of Lehman Brothers, was in the news a couple days ago for having given a speech in New York City, his first public appearance in six years. Ever since 2008, Fuld has been regarded as one of the bad actors of the financial crisis.

He insists to this day that the Fed and the Treasury Department allowed Lehman Brothers to collapse for doing what everyone else was doing, and that they could have saved Lehman the same way they saved Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch.

I suspect Fuld is right about this, though I'm not sure Lehman deserved to be saved -- any more than Bear Stearns or Merrill Lynch did. All of these firms allowed themselves to get way too leveraged in the midst of an overheated housing market, ignoring fiscal prudence in an attempt to maximize short term profits.

In any case, Fuld was widely reviled after the Lehman bankruptcy, not only by the public but also by many of his former employees at Lehman.

I met Fuld once, in 1984, when he interviewed me for a job at Lehman. It was the most memorable interview I ever had. He was already widely known on Wall Street (at that point he was head of fixed income at Lehman), and had a somewhat scary reputation, which his intense manner gave credence to.

Fuld asked me three questions at the beginning of the interview. The first was, "What's one point on a million?" I wasn't sure what he meant, and asked, "Point?"

"A percent, one percent," he replied impatiently.

"Ten thousand," I replied.

He then asked me another mathematical question, which I answered correctly.

Then he asked, in a somewhat pretentious tone, "What is the relationship between math and music?"

This question completely befuddled me. I stumbled, "Math and music? Uh, let me see….um, is it that the timing between the beats in music can be measured mathematically?"

I looked at him for some sort of response, but he remained stone-faced. I shrugged and said, "Honestly, I don't know, I'm just guessing." I then furrowed my brow and asked, "What is the relationship?"

He ignored my question, and the interview proceeded. At the end, he asked me, "What were the three questions I asked you at the beginning?"

I was able to repeat them back to him.

I left the interview feeling unsure about how I'd done, especially given the way I'd stumbled over that third question. It wasn't until the next day that it hit me why he had asked that: he wanted to know if I was a bullshitter. There is no relationship between math and music, so any sort of glib response would have been a wrong answer.

(Wall Street bond departments don't want someone who pretends to know more than he does; people like that can cause a lot of damage.)

I later got a message from Fuld through an intermediary: "Tell him to give me a call if he wants to come work for me." The intermediary explained that that was Fuld's way of offering a job.

I didn't take the job, and went to Goldman instead, though, given my mediocre career there, that was probably the wrong decision. Then again, who knows how a career at Lehman would have turned out.

Anyway, as a result, I've always had a soft spot for Dick Fuld. (If Ted Bundy had offered me a job, I'd probably stick up for him, too.) I was grateful for the offer, but mostly I was impressed by how clever his interviewing technique was.

Fuld was testing me, in a way I didn't even realize I was being tested. He was a smart guy, with good insight into human nature. In the end, he may not have had enough insight into his own nature, and that was his -- and his firm's -- downfall. But the little snapshot I got of him was very impressive.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The two Chicago cops

Cops are in the doghouse at the moment, and this recently released Polaroid photo from 1999 which The NY Post ran an article about yesterday will probably not help matters:

These two cowboys from the Chicago PD posing with their "trophy," a young black man who's playing along with the staged photograph, symbolize everything that the cop-haters hate.

The comical expression on the young black guy's face makes it apparent that there was no serious abuse going on. Still, it was two white guys humiliating a black guy, not exactly the PR that police departments need at the moment.

The cop holding the antlers, Jerome Finnigan, has an enthusiastic, aggressive cast to his face; he looks like the kind of guy who likes to get in your face.

The one on the right, Timothy McDermott, looks awkward and uncomfortable.

McDermott was fired when this picture came to light last year. He apologized, said he was young and trying to fit in with the department. He said Finnigan had called him over to pose in the picture with him, and he had done as asked, then gone back to his work.

It turns out that Finnigan was sentenced to 12 years in prison for having "masterminded" a crew of cops who staged home invasions and robberies and the like. It doesn't take a genius to break into a house or pull off a robbery, so "mastermind" in this case means simply that he was the ringleader, who cajoled and prodded and bullied the other cops until they bent to his will and went along with him.

Anybody who makes a practice of committing home invasions is a likely sociopath; a cop who does so is almost certainly so. And the kind of cop who manipulates other cops into joining him is undoubtedly a sociopath.

Anyway, this photo will only add more fuel to the fire. Although, if the recent pattern holds, this incident will quickly fade away.

Strangely, police officers who have behaved defensibly in difficult conditions have been the biggest focus of public ire, whereas the genuinely bad ones get almost no publicity.

The Cambridge cop who arrested Harvard Professor Gates received a lot of publicity, culminating in that pathetic "beer summit."

Wannabe cop George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin after Martin attacked him, to great public dismay. (I was in favor of acquittal in that case, though Zimmerman's track record since makes one wonder.)

Darren Wilson did everything by the book -- and in fact showed great restraint at first, but his shooting of Michael Brown caused widespread rioting.

On the other hand, the South Carolina cop who shot the black man in the back and then lied about it almost immediately fell off the radar.

It may be that the controversial incidents caused the most unrest because it looked, to some, as if the police officers might escape justice. But those also happen to be the cases where they were generally justified in their actions. The South Carolina cop, who would have made a far better poster boy for police misbehavior, went straight to jail.

These two Chicago cops, unfortunately, now have an actual poster. How much play that gets has yet to be determined.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Famous "fat shamers"

Now that the concept of "fat-shaming" has gained currency, it's worth taking a look to see who some of the worst thought criminals have been.

Socialite Babe Paley: "You can never be too rich or too thin."

Actress Elizabeth Hurley: "If I were as fat as Marilyn Monroe, I'd kill myself."

Joan Rivers: "Is Elizabeth Taylor fat? Her favorite food is seconds….She needs a bookmark just to keep track of which one is her real chin."

Jesse Ventura: "I love fat people. Every fat person says it's not their fault, that they have gland trouble. You know which gland? The saliva gland."

Pamela Anderson: "People who wear fur smell like a wet dog if they're in the rain. And they look fat and gross."

Padma Lakshmi: "You don't want your jewelry to make you look fat."

Canadian television personality Hannah Simone: "'Curvy' is just a polite way of saying 'fat'."

Arnold Schwarzenegger: "It's simple. If it jiggles, it's fat."

Jimmy Fallon: "Thank you…fat dude with giant headphones on the subway, for looking like what would've happened if Jabba the Hutt mated with Princess Leia."

Paul McCartney: "None of us wanted to be the bass player. In our minds he was the fat guy who always played at the back."

All of the people listed above were involved in show business in some way, so maybe we can dismiss some of them as overly superficial.

But, it seems that if you dig a bit further, the ranks of those who disapproved of fat -- fat shamers, in the current lingo -- include some pretty surprising figures.

Gloria Steinem: "In my own mind, I am still a fat brunette from Toledo, and I always will be." (Steinem's implication that not only fatness but brown hair are undesirable traits would hardly meet with approval from today's feminists.)

George Orwell: "I'm fat, but I'm thin inside…there's a thin man inside every fat man."

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: "Everything that goes into my mouth seems to make me fat, everything that comes out of my mouth embarrasses me."

Albert Einstein: "The devil has put a penalty on all things we enjoy in life. Either we suffer in health or we suffer in soul or we get fat."

Benjamin Franklin: "I guess I don't so much mind being old, as I mind being fat and old."

Geoffrey Chaucer: "Whoso will pray, he must fast and be clean. And fat his soul, and make his body lean."

St. Jerome: "A fat stomach never breeds fine thoughts."

Hearing that someone who was actually canonized said that fatties are incapable of elevated sentiments certainly drives home what "enlightened" times we live in today.

Fat acceptance

On Monday, Lena Dunham put this picture of herself in lingerie on social media:

These days, "fat acceptance" is in vogue, and we hear quotes like, "There is no such thing as a fat girl. Every girl is beautiful in her own way." (This from Niall Horan, of One Direction, who evidently wants to promote his record sales.)

I certainly agree that as long as people are fat, they ought to be at peace with themselves.

But redefining beauty is a tricky thing. We're all told it's in the eye of the beholder, blah blah blah. But the fact is, very few guys are attracted to obese women. That's just human nature, and that can't be changed, anymore than someone's sexuality can.

The same people who say that homosexuals can't be blamed for their sexuality -- which I completely agree with -- will often imply that men who prefer slender women are somehow morally wanting. But heterosexual men can't help what they desire any more than gays can.

As far as the peace of mind goes, I'm certainly all for that. But for fat women to achieve this, they have to come to terms with being ignored by most men. And they should understand that blaming men for ignoring them is as silly as blaming gay men for not being attracted to them.

This logic seems to escape the more vocal feminists.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

All things to all people

For an investor, the picture at the top of the tech ranks is pretty confusing. The great internet/tech gold rush is still going on, and all the behemoths are trying to stake a claim to each other's businesses.

Apple has been talking about an Apple TV for a while, though that hasn't happened yet. But now the rumor is that they're looking into manufacturing cars.

Google is now reformulating Youtube so it can compete with the streaming services. They've been working on their own (driverless) car for a while, and are also busy trying to encroach on Amazon's Etail turf.

Even Uber is now reportedly considering making cars. Evidently all of these companies looked at GM and salivated.

Amazon recently came up with their own phone, the FirePhone, which was a bust. But their attempt to muscle in on Netflix's territory with a streaming video service appears to be off to a better start.

Netflix wasn't content to just stream others' movies and TV shows, so started producing their own shows, in competition with the Hollywood studios.

EBay is starting its own version of Amazon Prime.

Even stodgy old Microsoft started its own search engine to compete with Google's.

I have absolutely no feel for how all these attempts to elbow each other aside will shake out.

Weirdly, although this is the computer age, about the only thing that the behemoths aren't plunging into are computers; none of them seem to want to compete with the iPad or Macbook at the high end, or Acer on the low end.

It can't be long before some of these companies start making form-fitting clothes whose temperature can be regulated, or airplanes which don't require pilots, or modular houses with built-in electronic equipment.

I'm not much of a techie, but I think I'd like living in one of those houses.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Brainiacs by default

A young guy casually said to me the other day, "Smart is what you settle for when you're too much of a wimp to be macho. Seriously, all those guys back in high school who prided themselves on their brains, they were all wusses. If any of them had been tough, or strong, or even good-looking, they would never have positioned themselves as brains.

"Plus, most of them aren't actually any smarter than anybody else. Talk to them and you find they're not  witty, or charming, or quick on their feet. You'll also find that most of them have no real intellectual interests, and no original way of looking at things. They're just grinds.

"They're nerds because they have no choice."

I'd never thought of it in quite those terms before, but once the young man said it, I realized he was right.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The phantom punch

The New York Times sports section ran a long article today about the Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston rematch, on its 50th anniversary. Their focus was on the town of Lewiston, Maine, where it took place. But at the time of the fight, most of the focus was on the fight's controversial ending.

Ali hit Liston in the first round with what many ringside observers thought was a glancing blow, the famous "phantom punch," and Liston collapsed to the canvas. Liston was known to be mobbed up, and many thought he threw the fight.

There have also been many who have claimed that Ali legitimately knocked Liston out, that he was so fast that many of the observers couldn't appreciate how hard he had hit Liston.

I often got the impression that those who held it was a legitimate knockout did so mostly because they liked Ali and all he represented, and didn't want to think he had won his first defense of the title in such a tainted fashion.

In any case, most of the arguments would end with people saying something to the effect of, well, only Ali and Liston know how hard that punch was, so we'll never know for sure.

That is exactly right, and therein lies the answer to the question.

The most famous picture of the fight is this one:

When this photograph was snapped, Ali was famously yelling at Liston, "Get up and fight, sucker!"

If Ali had felt that his punch had truly connected, why in the world would he do that? Ali never had another fight in his entire career in which he yelled at a fighter lying on the canvas to get back up.

Yet he did this to Liston, and he seemed angry when he did it, too. In all of the arguments I've heard over the years about whether the punch really connected, Ali's own spontaneous reaction is, strangely, never mentioned.

That is the proof that Liston threw the fight.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Beauty is in the eye of the camera lens

Saw Ex Machina last night, about a robot whose maker tries to imbue it with human qualities. It was as good as advertised, cleverly written, well cast, sort of sexy, and maybe a little predictable. It didn't have a lot of laughs, so I can't say it was all that enjoyable, but it held my attention.

What I was mostly struck by was the delicate beauty of the actress who plays the robot, Alicia Viskander:

But when I got home and Google-imaged her, that beauty was a little more elusive. What I found were a bunch of shots that looked like this:

Still pretty, but hardly the shimmeringly beautiful, exquisitely delicate, ethereal creature of the movie.

This evening, I stumbled across this picture of the character Cersei Lannister (with her brother) from Game of Thrones.

I've never seen the show, but was really struck by that picture. Here's another shot of her:

She's pretty much….perfection.

After finding out that the character was played by actress Lena Headey, I Google-imaged her and saw a lot of shots that looked like this:

And this:

Unquestionably beautiful, yes, but not really recognizable from one set of photos to the other. And here's another picture of her where she's doing that thing that good-looking girls do, making a face when their picture is taken. It's really a form of showing off: look-how-beautiful-I-still-am-even-when-I'm-making-this-face:

I've written about women who represent physical perfection before, here and here. What I said was that the difference between a nine and a ten is that a ten must at least seem to have good character reflected in her features.

And both Vikander and Headey, at least in their better photographs, radiate goodness. Both look like sensitive, soulful, gentle, kind, intelligent creatures.

(Who knows what they're actually like.)

As Tolstoy said, how striking the illusion that beauty is goodness.

Anyway, my point here is that there is a lot of variance between different photographs, and, uh…..I dunno, I guess I just wanted to post some shots of exquisite women.

"I'm not saying I'm any better, I'm just different, that's all."

There's no clearer way of saying you think you're better than to utter the above words.

I know of two people who've said this. The first was when I was in business school. The fellow who said it was a former futures trader who for some reason had gone back to business school. He carried himself as if he thought he was incredibly hot stuff, and when I heard him say those words, he was describing his former lifestyle of trading during the day, and then taking cocaine and having sex with his girlfriend every night.

He obviously thought this made him just incredibly cool.

His every word, his every movement, the expression on his face, all exuded unbridled ego. So while he claimed he wasn't saying he was any better than other people, his body language -- and really, his words -- made a liar out of him.

The second person I heard about secondhand. He was a mixed martial artist who was at a party in New York City with a typical cross section of New Yorkers. He happened to run into another MMA guy there, who later told me the story. After chatting with him a while, he told him, "Most of these guys" -- waving his hand and vaguely gesturing at the others in the room -- "couldn't fight their way out of a paper bag. You and I, we're different. I'm not saying we're any better…..Just different, that's all."

No explanation necessary.

Maybe both of these guys were better. But by denying that they thought so before anybody had even accused them of thinking so, they proved one of the primary rules of human nature: nobody ever voluntarily denies something they haven't even been accused of unless it's true.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Celebrity Jeopardy

This past week Jeopardy had its annual Celebrity Jeopardy tournament, where they invite three actors on to play for their favorite charities. The game is dumbed down to the point where the difficulty level is about the same as when they have the elementary school kids on to play. A few sample questions from Thursday's and Friday's shows:

Babe Paley once said, You can never be too rich or too this.

This coach said, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing" [with a picture of Vince Lombardi being shown].

James Fenimore Cooper wrote this book, The Last of the ____.

In the category "Bull___": a word for the circle in the center of a dartboard.

In the same category: This mascot of Yale University is recognized by the American Kennel Club

This Secretary of State in the 1970's said, "Power is the great aphrodisiac."

In the category "Future Presidents": at Eureka College, he was an actor as well as student body president [with a picture of the young Ronald Reagan being shown].

In the same category: in 1925, he graduated from his Texas high school, then worked for a while picking grapes. (None of the actors got this one.)

The airport in this city is located at 5757 Wayne Newton Boulevard.

The airport in Pisa is named for this famous astronomer.

In this country, the airport in Gdansk is named for Lech Walesa.

In New York City, if you fly into this airport, your bags are marked "LGA."

In the category Best Pictures Oscars: in 1976, Sylvester Stallone won for this picture.

Yesterday, the contestants were asked to name a Swiss city where some event occurred (I can't remember the exact question). Two of the actors gave answers. The first replied "Vienna," and the second replied "Stockholm."

My favorite Celebrity Jeopardy answer of all time was from years ago, when the panel was asked which state bordered only one other state, New Hampshire. Actor Jay Thomas, who played Rhea Perlman's boyfriend on Cheers, immediately buzzed in and replied, 'Delaware!"

Watching Celebrity Jeopardy tells you everything you need to know about actors' political opinions.

What nice girls do, Part II

After the recent post What nice girls do, in response to a comment from Remnant, I wrote:  

...One trend I've noticed is that there are a lot of people -- especially women -- who are sort of natural liberal types (soft, sensitive, full of maternal instinct, and not particularly logical) who embrace the causes of the environment and also the cause of gay rights. And they are outspoken about these causes. But they are strangely silent on the topic of race. And I can't help but suspect that many of them don't really believe in that "cause," whether because they see through its essential dishonesty or because of their personal experiences with blacks. They don't come out and say so, of course, because they've been brainwashed like everybody else into thinking that being realistic about race makes one evil. But, they don't espouse the cause, either.

I'd like to expand on this.

Among the young "nice girl" set these days, almost all seem to support environmental causes. Very few of them would actually consider refraining from taking a plane to some exotic locale, or from driving their car to the countryside, or from turning the heat up in their apartments. But many are willing to lecture the rest of us on how global warming is a reality and how we have to conserve resources. 

Most of them tend to express their personal commitment to the cause by buying slightly more expensive "eco-friendly" products, or taking part in Earth Day celebrations and the like. 

The young "nice girl" set also tends to support gay rights these days. Most of them have gay friends whom they like and feel comfortable with, and the idea that those friends should be prohibited from something -- like marriage -- that the rest of us can participate in does not seem fair. So they will attend rallies for gay marriage, etc. 

But if you look at the rallies led by people like Al Sharpton, the nice young girl set is almost completely absent. You'll occasionally see somewhat crazed-looking, middle aged white women there. And you'll occasionally see fat young white women with purple hair and nose rings, and their ilk. But you almost never see the "nice girl" crowd.

And when you talk to the nice girls, the vast majority are silent when it comes to racial politics. I sometimes wonder why this is so. Is it because they sense that what the media and academia feed us on the subject is misleading? Is it because of what they've noticed at college about the effects of affirmative action? Is is because of their personal experiences with blacks who've been rude to them? Is it because they feel personally threatened by blacks?

I just don't know.

None of these nice young girls are even remotely white nationalists. But, they're not passionate about racial egalitarianism the way are about other liberal causes, and rarely broach the subject.

And it's a deafening silence. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What nice girls do

I sat next to Dr. Dominique Keller, a veterinarian at Busch Gardens in Tampa, on the flight back to NYC. (She didn't tell me about the above-linked video, in fact never even told me her last name, but it wasn't hard to figure out.) She majored in biology in college, went on to get a PhD in something-or-other to do with endangered species -- her original goal in life was to help save them -- then went on to become a vet.

She was low key, intelligent, and gracious. I never expected the flight to be enjoyable, but it was.

I sometimes say that the two dead giveaways of sociopathy are if someone is either a pathological liar or a serial killer. Being a vet is pretty much a dead giveaway of the opposite: it means you're nice.

And I'd say the same for just about anybody who works at an animal shelter. Really, who would want to spend his or her life helping animals if they didn't have a soft heart?

(I've written about veterinarians twice before, here and here.)

A couple of my daughter's nicer friends went to college and majored in environmental studies. I'm not quite sure what they'll do with it later on, but that does seem to be what nice girls major in. Women whose parents loved them just seem to develop those Mother Earth-y kinds of instincts.

Other nice girl majors include English and Renaissance Literature.

I guess the not-quite-so-nice girls major in communications. And, future Wall Streeters major in economics.

If you want a rich wife, I suppose you should marry an econ major (though it's doubtful she'll marry you unless you have money).

But if you want a nice one, marry an environmental studies major.


This past Wednesday through Sunday I was in Florida to compete in a masters swimming meet, as silly an activity as there is. But these meets are largely parties, an opportunity to get together with people you haven't seen in a while.

On the first day I won the 200 fly in my age group in 2:14.8, better than my previous effort. I didn't even feel that tired at the end. After that event, though, I got disqualified in the 200 backstroke, and missed my first turn in the 100 back, the kinds of mistakes that 10-year-olds make.

I took a hike in Myakka State Park on the afternoon of the first day of the meet, which left me more tired than I should have been for the second and third days. Part of the reason I wanted to see it was that it's a hot spot for sightings of the Big Fella. I didn't spot him, but I did see a wild boar and three river otters.

I took the canopy walk, which they warn you not to take if you have a fear of heights. I'm terrified of heights, but the 25 foot high, 25 yard long walk was about as scary as sitting on someone's second floor patio. The wooden canopy tower, at 75 feet, tested my nerves a bit more. Here is the view from the top:

The view from all four sides of the tower are similar: you can't see anything manmade (other than some power lines), all you see are trees. The park encompasses 58 square miles. There's something reassuring about seeing such places.

If you drive along highway 75, you see mostly just scrub pines and the like. But in Myakka you see oak trees covered in ferns and palmettos and other large trees covered in lichens and Spanish Moss.

I was by myself and read all of the trailside display boards, about alligators and coral snakes and the like. Eventually I was able to stop jumping half a foot whenever a tiny lizard would make a rustling noise among the dry leaves.

I'd like to share some observation about the different "culture" in Florida, but really didn't notice anything particularly interesting about Sarasota, other than its warmer climate and different flora and fauna.

Monday, May 11, 2015

"Pakistan kept bin Laden prisoner before SEALs raid: journalist"

This is a fascinating story.  Bin laden was a virtual prisoner even before he was killed? The US did not learn of his whereabouts from the couriers but from a senior Pakistani intelligence officer who wanted to collect on the $25 million bounty? And bin Laden's burial at sea never took place?

It's hard to say who's telling the truth. But at this point it does seem as if Seymour Hersh, 78, who first gained fame for exposing the My Lai massacre during the Viet Nam War, has more credibility than the Obama administration.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Press releases

I was just scrolling through today's news and came across five separate press statements, all of which just exuded phoniness, and none of which could possibly have been written by the people who released them.

From Lindsay Vonn, on the occasion of her breakup with Tiger Woods:

"After nearly three years together, Tiger and I have mutually decided to end our relationship. I will always cherish the memories that we’ve created together. Unfortunately, we both lead incredibly hectic lives that force us to spend a majority of time apart. I will always admire and respect Tiger. He and his beautiful family will always hold a special place in my heart.’’

From Tiger Woods:

“Lindsey and I have mutually decided to stop dating. I have great admiration and respect for Lindsey and I’ll always cherish our time together. She has been amazing with Sam and Charlie and my entire family. Unfortunately, we lead very hectic lives and are both competing in demanding sports. It’s difficult to spend time together.’’

(What a coincidence that they both used the phrases "always cherish" and "hectic lives" in their press releases. A cynic might suspect they used the same lazy publicist. But I'm left wondering: if their feelings toward each other are so wonderfully positive -- why not stay together?)

From Brittney Griner, regarding her recent arrest for domestic violence: 

"It is never OK for an argument to turn physical. This will never happen again, and I take my relationship and my responsibility as a role model seriously. I am committed to making positive changes and I plan to use what I have learned to set a good example and help make a difference in the world around me."

("And what I have learned is, next time I'm giving that bitch a beatdown, no one's calling 911.")

From Kory Blackwell, the former New York Giants cornerback, on his cousin Demetrius Blackwell, who just murdered NYPD officer Brian Moore:

“I was devastated to learn of my cousin’s alleged involvement in the shooting of police officer Brian Moore, and there are no words strong enough to convey my sorrow over what has cast a devastating shadow over many lives. The Blackwell family does not and never has condoned violence in any form. For years, our family tried to help Demetrius lead a more productive and law-abiding life. My heart goes out to the family for their tragic loss.”

(Translation: we bear no responsibility for what that loser cousin of mine did.)

From the Four Seasons resort in Puerto Vallarta, on the occasion of Sheryl Sandberg husband David Goldberg's death:

“We are deeply saddened by the news of the death of David Goldberg. Four Seasons would like to clarify that, contrary to some media reports, the tragedy did not take place at Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita. Mr. Goldberg was not a registered guest at our resort, villas or residences. As the tragedy did not take place on our property, nor was Mr. Goldberg a guest, we are not in a position to comment further. Again, our condolences to Mr. Goldberg’s family and friends. Our thoughts are with them at this difficult time.”

(When they said "thoughts," they forgot to add "and prayers," the standard boilerplate. They also forgot to add, "So you can forget about that lawsuit you were preparing.")

Barack Obama, on David Goldberg's death:

“David Goldberg embodied the definition of a real leader – someone who was always looking for ways to empower others. He was generous and kind with everybody, and cared less about the limelight than making sure that the people he worked with and loved succeeded in whatever they did. His skills as an entrepreneur created opportunity for many; his love for his family was a joy to behold, and his example as a husband and father was something we could all learn from. We’re heartbroken by him leaving us far too soon – but we celebrate a remarkable legacy.”

(Translation: "I really appreciate the very generous donations that Sheryl Sandberg and David Goldberg made to my reelection campaign.")

One has to wonder what the point of all these statements is, since they fool no one.

Whenever anyone always says exactly what he's supposed to, you pretty much know you can't trust him. And when it's a famous person releasing a statement, you also know they aren't even his words.

On the other hand, if you're lucky enough to come across someone who always says what he's not supposed to -- like yours truly -- you can be sure you've come across an honest man. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Baltimore residents: be thankful you don't live in Jalisco

Whether you live in Ciudad Juarez, Sinaloa, Jalisco, or even Acapulco, life south of the border seems more Hobbesian than ever.

Warfare has recently broken out between the Mexican government and a cartel I'd never heard of before, "Jalisco New Generation." In April they ambushed a state police convoy, killing 15 officers.

This past weekend they got into a gunfight with Mexican soldiers and police; seven people were killed. They even forced down a military helicopter.

The cartels are fabulously wealthy. When "El Chapo" Guzman, the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, was finally captured by law enforcement authorities in February of 2014, he was said to be a billionaire.

And their money gives them power. They regularly hire ex-Mexican Special Forces personnel to work as their muscle, and they can afford the latest and fanciest weaponry. Local police forces are completely outgunned. On top of this, the cartels are ruthless.

Pretty much everybody in Mexico lives in terror of them. Local police don't want to tangle with them, journalists don't want to write about them. And local politicians pretend they don't exist.

All for good reason: they don't want to become part of the latest mass beheading.

All of this makes the social unrest in Baltimore's seem minor. The Baltimore rioters broke windows and looted. But none of them exchanged gunfire with the police or National Guard. None of them shot down any military helicopters. And none cut anyone's head off.

Be grateful you live in the US and not Mexico.