Readings: A Goodbye Letter, and a Bit on Public Radio

It’s from October 2008 but worth a read for its message is fairly time-independent. Hedge Fund Manager: Goodbye and ***k You. It is by Andrew Ladhe, who was the manager of a small California hedge fund. Excerpts . . .

I will no longer manage money for other people or institutions. I have enough of my own wealth to manage. Some people, who think they have arrived at a reasonable estimate of my net worth, might be surprised that I would call it quits with such a small war chest. That is fine; I am content with my rewards. Moreover, I will let others try to amass nine, ten or eleven figure net worths. Meanwhile, their lives suck. Appointments back to back, booked solid for the next three months, they look forward to their two week vacation in January during which they will likely be glued to their Blackberries or other such devices. What is the point? They will all be forgotten in fifty years anyway. Steve Balmer, Steven Cohen, and Larry Ellison will all be forgotten. I do not understand the legacy thing. Nearly everyone will be forgotten. Give up on leaving your mark. Throw the Blackberry away and enjoy life.

So this is it. With all due respect, I am dropping out. . .

On the issue of the U.S. Government, I would like to make a modest proposal. First, I point out the obvious flaws, whereby legislation was repeatedly brought forth to Congress over the past eight years, which would have reigned in the predatory lending practices of now mostly defunct institutions. These institutions regularly filled the coffers of both parties in return for voting down all of this legislation designed to protect the common citizen. This is an outrage, yet no one seems to know or care about it. Since Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith passed, I would argue that there has been a dearth of worthy philosophers in this country, at least ones focused on improving government. Capitalism worked for two hundred years, but times change, and systems become corrupt. George Soros, a man of staggering wealth, has stated that he would like to be remembered as a philosopher. My suggestion is that this great man start and sponsor a forum for great minds to come together to create a new system of government that truly represents the common man’s interest, while at the same time creating rewards great enough to attract the best and brightest minds to serve in government roles without having to rely on corruption to further their interests or lifestyles. This forum could be similar to the one used to create the operating system, Linux, which competes with Microsoft’s near monopoly. I believe there is an answer, but for now the system is clearly broken. {Emphasis added.}

The system is clearly broken appears to be a common refrain. But the modes of breakage are different, and what is considered broken depends on what it was to begin with. The American system is showing major signs of breakage but most of the world would give an arm and a leg to live in this broken system.

I emphasized in the quote above those bits that especially resonate with my way of thinking. I believe that the more advanced and complex the system, the more is the need for experts in managing it. This is obviously true in the case of commercial airliners (their design, manufacture, and operations), corporations, nuclear power plants, pharmaceuticals, brain surgery, particle physics, genome sequencing, and a zillion other complex systems. These require specialized training and expertize, which are not coded in our DNA and which cannot be easily acquired.

Policy making at the highest levels of any large economy requires the skills acquired through the training of very gifted individuals. There is nothing to suggest that merely being popularly elected makes a person suddenly capable of making great policy, any more than popular election would make a virtuoso concert violinist out of someone who has never had a lesson in music.

Ladhe concludes his little letter with a call for the revival of hemp (the male Cannabis plant, the female plant being marijuana) as a source of fiber and energy. Worth reading.

At a time when rhetoric is flying about becoming more self-sufficient in terms of energy, why is it illegal to grow this plant in this country? Ah, the female. The evil female plant — marijuana. It gets you high, it makes you laugh, it does not produce a hangover. Unlike alcohol, it does not result in bar fights or wife beating. So, why is this innocuous plant illegal? Is it a gateway drug? No, that would be alcohol, which is so heavily advertised in this country. My only conclusion as to why it is illegal, is that Corporate America, which owns Congress, would rather sell you Paxil, Zoloft, Xanax and other additive drugs, than allow you to grow a plant in your home without some of the profits going into their coffers. This policy is ludicrous. It has surely contributed to our dependency on foreign energy sources. Our policies have other countries literally laughing at our stupidity, most notably Canada, as well as several European nations (both Eastern and Western). You would not know this by paying attention to U.S. media sources though, as they tend not to elaborate on who is laughing at the United States this week. Please people, let’s stop the rhetoric and start thinking about how we can truly become self-sufficient.

Public Radio

Moving on, if you know even the least bit about my daily life, you would know that I love public radio. I have never made it a secret that I rarely read newspapers. I could go on for years without touching one. But I would be lost without public radio. In the SF Bay area I listen to KQED 88.5FM and KALW 91.7FM. KQED carries NPR, PRI, some BBC programs. KALW carries a greater variety — CBC and AR, for example.

My favorite shows are Terry Gross’s Fresh Air; Ira Glass’s This American Life; from WNYC, Selected Shorts, Micheal Krasny’s Forum (a KQED production), and Talk of the Nation with Neal Conan. Also on the list is The Commonwealth Club of California, The National Press Club, and the like. The magic of the internet brings most of these online and as podcasts.

Talking of NPR, I should add that I am disappointed at NPR’s firing of Juan Williams for his remarks on FOX.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Longtime NPR news analyst Juan Williams has been fired following remarks made about Muslims on Fox News.

National Public Radio issued a statement late Wednesday saying Williams’ contract as a senior news analyst was being terminated after his comments Monday on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

. . .

Williams, 56, who is a regular Fox commentator as well as one of NPR’s most prominent African-American analysts, responded that too much political correctness can get in the way of reality.

“I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the Civil Rights movement in this country,” Williams said. “But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

Williams also warned O’Reilly against blaming all Muslims for “extremists,” saying Christians shouldn’t be blamed for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

This is not a hopeful sign.

Meanwhile, Aayan Hirsi Ali was the lunch time speaker at the National Press Club on Oct 25th. I look forward to listening to her talk when it is broadcast on KQED. Here’s an excerpt from the write-up on her talk “Advocate Says Islam Not a Religion of Tolerance“:

Islam is not a religion of tolerance, but one that defines peace as total Islamization of the world, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said at an Oct. 25 NPC luncheon.

She identified three groups of actors she said are working toward that end: One is the revolutionaries, such as Al Qaeda, who have short- term, violent goals. Another set of groups, such as the Egyptian Brotherhood, renounce violence and take a long-term “termite” approach. A third set of state actors, specifically the Organization of Islamic Conference, take both long- and short-term approaches. The Conference is an association of 56 Muslim countries, including the U.S. allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

The United States focuses only on the revolutionaries, she said.

The goal of the more moderate groups is to divide and conquer, as in Europe, she said. Hirsi Ali said they they have succeeded in Europe by stigmatizing those who criticize Mohammad, as in the case of cartoonists who mocked the prophet. She saw a similarity in NPR’s firing of reporter Juan Williams for comments unflattering to Muslims made on Fox News.

And finally, an essay by Bill McKibben in the New York Review of Books, titled “All Programs Considered,” about public radio. It’s a long piece but I would like to include here the bit that deals with Ira Glass and his show, for the record.

The most important name in that other world is Ira Glass, the inventor of the show This American Life. He learned his craft at the big NPR news shows and slowly developed a powerful style that centered on storytelling. . . The best ones came to be called “driveway moments,” because listeners were so hooked that they would linger in their cars to hear the end of a piece even once they’d gotten home. In fact, NPR now packages CD collections of these beloved pieces.

But Glass figured out that he could make a weekly hour entirely of this kind of radio, dispensing with traditional news and talk; and since 1995, under the wing of Chicago station WBEZ, that’s what he’s done in This American Life. “During the early days, Ira would always say, ‘I just put a piece on our show that was rejected by All Things Considered.’ He was really proud of that,” recalls Torey Malatia, president of WBEZ. The pieces were often long—sometimes one would fill an entire hour. And they sounded odd: Glass himself doesn’t exactly have a Bob Edwards radio voice, but some of the people who joined his ensemble (the wonderful Sarah Vowell, Joe Richman, Scott Carrier, and others) wouldn’t even have gotten an interview at the smallest commercial radio station. What they shared, besides wit and intelligence, was a commitment to covering the 330 degrees of life that didn’t show up on the newscasts. It’s about life the way most of us experience it, where heartbreak or lunch is as important as stock prices or distant revolutions.

In Robert Krulwich’s account, “Ira comes along and says, ‘Why don’t I cover things that don’t involve governors?’” In its first year This American Life did shows on themes like “Simulated Worlds,” which included a nineteen-minute segment where Glass took the University of Chicago medievalist Michael Camille to dinner at a restaurant in a fake castle called Medieval Times, where you ate with your hands and watched jousting contests. (Camille concludes, with the generous spirit that usually marks the show, that “despite inaccuracies the restaurant captures something essential and interesting about the Middle Ages.”) Right from the start, word spread quickly, especially since the launch of the program more or less coincided with the ability of the Internet to spread audio files, albeit slowly and clunkily at first. The program shows no sign of weariness fifteen years later. This past season has a classic hour-long report on the life of a rest stop along the New York State Thruway and an account of a Chinese man who spends every weekend talking suicides off a high bridge near Nanjing. “It turned a lot of people my age and younger on to radio,” I was told by a prominent young producer. “Now young people come to the radio with the idea that it’s cool. ‘Cool’ and ‘radio’ in the same sentence is a whole new phenomenon.”

Glass himself is more modest, but he does note that a generation has grown up listening to the show, which means that when new interns arrive it no longer takes a year to train them. “Now they get it right away,” Glass told me. “They understand it’s unlike the old public radio reporting where characters weren’t characters. They get that we need arc, emotions. That’s now not a crazy thing.”

The years since have seen a cascade of new work emerging, some of it confined to a single radio station but all of it available quite easily via podcast. You can hear much of the best on shows like Studio 360 (which covers culture from Iranian rock and roll to novelist Gary Shteyngart to a convention of black banjo players in rural North Carolina) or Hearing Voices (tour a mosque, visit the Crow Reservation), or in NPR features like Radio Diaries, or in documentaries from Homelands Productions about the daily grind of work for people ranging from a thirteen-year-old Bangladeshi in a shipbreaking yard to a low-end Bulgarian nightclub singer.

It’s not all about or by newly minted hipster urbanites. Wisconsin Public Radio has for many years produced and syndicated the low-key and in-depth To the Best of Our Knowledge, and from Alaska comes from the remarkable Encounters, which is mostly just nature writer Richard Nelson out in the Alaskan wild with a microphone. Radio Open Source features the passionate radio veteran Christopher Lydon in conversation with a variety of contemporary intellectuals, among them David Bromwich, Nicholas Carr, and the psychologist Paul Bloom.3 “There’s a small world of heartfelt passionate people trying to do big work,” says Julie Shapiro, who runs the Third Coast International Audio Festival, a yearly gathering of the audio tribe in Chicago. Her Third Coast colleague Gwen Macsai hosts Re:sound, an ear-opening weekly show of the best material from around the English-speaking world: a recent show on “water,” for instance, featured the story of an Adriatic ocean liner turned into a Toronto restaurant and an “audio composition featuring bell buoys recorded while kayaking in Portland Harbor.” You can listen to people starting out at Transom.org, a website designed to teach newcomers and showcase their work, and if your local radio station doesn’t air much of this material, you can assemble your own listening schedule quite easily at PRX.org, the Public Radio Exchange, which serves as a middleman for independent producers and local stations. The sheer abundance of programming will stun you—dozens of new shows are uploaded every day, most of them owing at least a little to the aesthetic unleashed by This American Life.

2 thoughts on “Readings: A Goodbye Letter, and a Bit on Public Radio

  1. Hi Atanu,
    I have been an avid reader of your blog for several years now. While I have never commented on your blog before, I value your opinions and I agree with most of what you say. This post struck a chord with me because I have been thinking on these lines for the past few months.

    The philosophy which agrees the most with me at this point of time, as a way of fixing the current political, environmental and social crises is anarcho primitivism. I am not sure if you are familiar with the Dark Mountain project, but it resonates with most of what I think at present. Perhaps you would want to go over the Dark Mountain manifesto at this link http://www.dark-mountain.net/about-2/the-manifesto/

    Of the Dark Mountain bloggers, perhaps the most articulate is Dave Pollard who blogs at http://howtosavetheworld.ca/

    Some of his best posts are here :

    http://howtosavetheworld.ca/2006/01/12/
    http://howtosavetheworld.ca/2005/05/02/
    http://howtosavetheworld.ca/2003/11/18/
    http://howtosavetheworld.ca/2009/12/04/

    Let me know what you think of this blog if you go over it

    Shailendra

    Like

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