Archive for April, 2010

High Broderism

US News publishes a silly list of their 5 “best” Cabinet secretaries: Gates, Clinton, LaHood, Duncan, and Shinseki.

I have nothing against any of the people who made the list – it sounds like they’re doing mostly a fine job. But is anyone really surprised that US News made sure to pick both Republicans in the Cabinet, the Army general, and Duncan for pissing off teachers’ unions? I could have predicted those four would make the list without even peeking – they’re exactly who you would pick if you lived by the Washington cocktail party rules that bipartisanship is always good, military officers are always the best most talented managers ever in civilian life, and teachers’ unions are mean and bad and must be bravely fought.

Meanwhile  Hilda Solis is turning around the Labor Department from a decade of deliberate, malign neglect, but she’s Latina and an unashamed liberal and her department actually advocates for those icky unions, so of course she couldn’t possibly make the top 5.

Barry Ritholtz on the Goldman Sachs case

He’s arguing that media spin has fostered myths that Goldman Sachs’s case is strong. Here’s a taste:

[Myth] 10. I’m not a lawyer, but . . . Then you should not be ignorantly commenting on securities litigation. Why don’t you pour yourself a tall glass of STF up and go sit quietly in the corner.

Read the whole thing.

In the gleaming corridor of the 51st floor

Best thing I’ve read today is a diagnosis from commenter MSB over at Yglesias’s place. The original post asks the question: why are so many bankers douchebags? MSB’s answer comes from the perspective of a corporate lawyer, but really I think what he’s describing is not limited to finance and law:

These organizations accomplish this feat [turning their employees into, well, douchebags  –ed.] by structuring your career path as a type of white collar game of Survivor, except that the tribal counsel is a bunch of rich, old white guys who run the place and generally do not interact meaningfully with their most junior subordinates. At the end of one year, a 20% chunk of the analyst class gets lopped off. A group of 22 year olds in an analyst class has some vague sense of these numbers going in, but they usually also enter with some kind of wrong-headed idea that the firm’s decision making process will be, on the whole, meritocratic and open (often b/c the firm itself claims that’s how it will go). But usually it won’t take until the first round of cuts before the young analysts realize how much kissing ass and “fit” with the firm’s “culture” can affect their chances of success, and so they begin to mold themselves into the douchey banker/lawyer that the will eventually become. B/c they are buying into the institution, they also have to justify it to themselves, so people who are cut are derided as too stupid or weak-willed to withstand the rigors of their profession. And by the end of a couple years, the same analyst class you started with–full of plenty of nice, charming, interesting people from many different backgrounds–has morphed into a room full of hypercompetitive fuckwads who are constantly attempting reassure themselves and each other that they deserve to feel smug and superior, by dressing the same, buying all the same shit and having the same dull and mean-spirited sense of humor. Often the 20% that gets cut corresponds directly to the 20% that’s nicest and most interesting.

Without getting into too many of the details here, let me just say that I find this deeply resonant. And I think the reason why has to do with the trickling of the “banking culture” into other fields through the power of the MBA degree. Bankers and consultants with top-tier MBAs are the supermen of corporate America. If you’ve done 5 years at Goldman Sachs or Bain and then two at HBS or Wharton, senior executives in growing non-financial and non-consulting firms will want you very very badly as a middle manager who’ll be eventually groomed for much more senior roles. And as these firms inject themselves with more and more banker types, the banker types’ approach to organizational behavior starts spreading, changes the original culture of the organization, and recreates the Darwinian society of the banks in the name of “incentivizing performance.” It’s a virus.

*In case you were wondering where this post’s title comes from:

Lyrics here.

Quote of the Day: Thomas Jefferson

“Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them.”

In which I bait myself into writing more about Israel

When I’m in the mood for a zesty bite of ultranationalist Zionism, I look no further than the blog of Rabbi Andrew Jacobs. This month, Jacobs offers up the usual dose of warmed-over, slanted half-truths that passed for indoctrination in your average Saturday School classroom back when I was a youngling. My personal favorite bit was the irony of his later posting in defense of Florida’s teachers because the situation’s multifaceted and you have to assign parents due responsibility for their children’s poor performance….while implying that the Palestinian cause is morally empty in part because of bad things that people who weren’t even their ancestors did to Jews in the Levant 1000 to 2500 years ago. But I digress. As completely absurd as that is, it’s still just a matter of opinion and the rabbi is welcome to be as silly as he wants with those.

Where I start having a problem is with the repeating of lies. Howler #1:

The “Palestinian” community made absolutely no claim to [the occupied territories of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem] until Israel acquired control of them in during the 1967 war.

Now, those of us who have studied history because we find it interesting, and not solely to justify our extant political views, tend to read things in addition to neoconservative propaganda to inform ourselves. Allow me to translate how the rabbi’s sentence reads to us:

I have not a single fucking clue about the contentious history of the Palestinian people in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which controlled the West Bank and East Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967.

There’s a word for the idea that the Palestinian refugees were docile subjects of Jordan who renounced all claims to hold and govern these lands until the Israelis invaded them in 1967: the word is “lie.”

Howler #2:

Israeli settlements that were built in undeveloped, uninhabited areas of the West Bank and Gaza after 1967 are completely legal. The facts to back it up: The various agreements reached between Israel and the Palestinians since 1993 contain no prohibitions on the building or expansion of settlements.

100% false. This is, if anything, far more shameful than just baldly stating wrong facts. It’s the work of someone who’s learned from a true weasel, an old hand at misrepresenting the issues in play.

The facts:

  • Under international law, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal. Period. Talk to any lawyer who specializes in this branch of the law and they’ll invariably tell you that settling an occupied or annexed area that nobody else recognizes as legitimately yours is not legal. It doesn’t matter whether the area is the West Bank, Kuwait in 1991, or East Timor after 1975.  The “legality” here comes from the fact that Israel itself considers some of the settlements legal under its own law, which is a little like an 8-year-old declaring that he’s allowed to hit his little sister as much as he wants because he’s decided to use his own rules for acceptable behavior rather than those set down by his parents.
  • The idea that settlements must be legal because Oslo and other agreements don’t prohibit them is a crafty example of a surrounding a lie with facts. It’s pure chutzpah. The reason that these accords haven’t prohibited settlements isn’t that the Palestinians agreed all along that settlements were perfectly OK. It’s that the parties to the agreements couldn’t agree at that time on how to resolve the settlements issue, so the issue of settlements didn’t make it into the accords. That doesn’t by any stretch of the imagination mean that the settlements are legal. It’s as much a non sequitur as it would be for Latrell Sprewell to claim that choking P.J. Carlesimo was perfectly appropriate because nowhere, nowhere did anything in his contract with the Warriors prohibit coach-choking.

This Yom Ha’Atzmaut, when our religious leaders wring their hands and look around for irrational, dishonest people to blame for an intractable situation in the Middle East as Israel enters her 63rd year, it’s time many of them looked in a new place: the mirror.

Emblematic eating

Randomly thinking about US regional cuisines and which foods/restaurants are the highest examples of them. To phrase a little differently, if you only had one meal in a given city and you wanted to experience the definitive example of the place’s food, where do you go?

NYC: Katz’s deli for pastrami.  But maybe there’s a pizza place that would be a better pick?

Miami: Probably Versailles for Cuban food.

SF: Tadich Grill, for cioppino or fish or Dungeness crab. But at this point a place like Koi Palace could be a contender.

New Haven: Sally’s Apizza.

Boston: Legal Sea Foods? Most of the very old-school Boston restaurants seem to have faded away. Places like Union Oyster House or Durgin Park are still around, but my sense is that they don’t have as strong a claim to “definitiveness” anymore.

Obviously this is a silly game and my picks here are heavily slanted toward a sort of middlebrow popular favorite. Anyway, I wonder what people would pick for cities I have little to no experience with: LA, Chicago, New Orleans, Houston, Dallas, DC, Atlanta, Seattle.

Rapid Thursday

Your quick hits for the day are two Michaels:

Michael Lind, frequently an annoying priest of High Broderism, rejoins the forces of justice and light. (See also the always-excellent Rick Perlstein’s post.)

Michael Moriarty embarrasses his alma mater of Dartmouth(!), jazz musicians, every English teacher he’s ever had, etc., etc.