Recent Reading 9

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books:
Anita Raghavan [2013]:  The Billionaire’s Apprentice:  The Rise of the Indian-American Elite and the Fall of the Galleon Hedge Fund.  (New York:  Business Plus).   This is a fascinating and excitingly-written account of the rise and fall of several people, many of them Americans of South Asian descent, associated with the activities of the Galleon hedge fund.  First among these is billionaire Tamil-American Raj Rajaratnam, founder of Galleon, and convicted insider-trader.  In the next tier are his many insider informants, primaily Rajat Gupta and Anil Kumar, both prominent partners of McKinsey and Company, a management consulting firm.  Indeed, Gupta was three times elected global MD of McKinsey by his fellow partners, and thus the book has lots of fascinating information about The Firm and its operations, incidental to the main story.
Insider trading is a strange crime.  Surely most traders engaged in trading for its own sake (and not hedging some activity or transaction in non-financial markets) seek to take advantage of something they know that others don’t, even if it is just knowledge arising from more clever or faster analysis, or the knowledge that comes from aggregating views across multiple trades.   And who, exactly, are the victims here, since any trading requires a willing counterparty?    But even if insider-trading is not considered an evil, there is great dishonour in breaching confidences gained in positions of trust, and there seems little doubt that Rajaratnam’s informants did that.
An odd feature of the book, where so many prominent Indian Americans and South-Asian businesspeople are name-checked, is the failure to mention Praful Gupta.   As far as I am aware, the two Guptas were no relation, and met when they were fellow students at Harvard Business School.  Rajat Gupta, in a newspaper interview in 1994, said they became and remained very good friends.  While Rajat pursued a career with McKinsey, Praful became a management consultant and partner with Booz, Allen & Hamilton, and later a senior executive with Reliance Industries.
An annoying feature of the writing is the author’s repeated confusion about tense.   On page 217, for instance, we read, “In 2005, Lloyd Blankfein’s predecessor and former secretary of the Treasury Henry M. “Hank” Paulson Jr. had approached Gupta about joining the Goldman board of directors.”  But Hank Paulson only became Secretary of the US Treasury in 2006, where he remained until January 2009.   At the time this sentence was written by Raghavan in 2012 or 2013, Paulson was a former Treasury Secretary, but not in 2005, the time referred to at the opening of the sentence.   There are similar instances of inaccurate or confused tense on pages 257, 288, 347, and 362, and no doubt more that I did not catch.  These appear so frequently that one is tempted to consider them not mere lapses nor evidence of a non-grammatical linguistic style, but indicative of a more fundamental difference between the author’s conceptualization of time and that of most speakers of English. There are also a number of confusions or ambiguities of subject and object, and of deictic markers, in sentences throughout the text.
 

Abuse of media power (again)

I have complained before that The Grauniad sometimes looks as if it’s no more than the internal corporate newsletter of the people who work for it.   Their sister title, The Observer, has a particularly egregious example of such behaviour this weekend.  Of the 18 pages devoted to arts preview coverage, 6 entire pages are devoted to one person, 7 pages if you count the cover.  Who is this paragon?  Did some famous artist just die?  What artist or actor or dancer or musician or film-maker or writer deserves such coverage?  Why, it was  none of these!  The coverage is for the newspaper’s film-critic, Philip French, who hasn’t even died, but is merely retiring.   And guess what?  As well as these 7 out of 18 entire pages, another half-page is given over in the reviews section to French’s latest film review! 
It’s good see the Guardian/Observer’s Marketing Department so successfully targeting that crucial demographic, current and former Guardian/Observer employees who know Philip French.   Pity that doing so alienates the rest of us.

Cannibalism in the British Navy

. . . and may I take this opportunity of emphasizing that there is no cannibalism in the British Navy. Absolutely none, and when I say none, I mean there is a certain amount, more than we are prepared to admit, but all new ratings are warned that if they wake up in the morning and find any toothmarks at all anywhere on their bodies, they’re to tell me immediately so that I can immediately take every measure to hush the whole thing up.”

Vice Admiral Sir John Cunningham, speaking in Episode 32 of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Poem: Poem VI

A poem by Derek Jarman (1942-1994), written in 1965:

Poem VI
The days are numbered,
For us, and the old man
collecting pennies under
the bridge.
For he is in disguise
and has attended the concert –
before us,
But now he plays his
violin in a way which
demands our sympathy.

(From Sketchbooks, reprinted in The Observer Magazine, 2013-08-25, page 25).
Previous poems here.

Influential Music

Having written posts on influential non-fiction books and on influential fiction books, I thought it interesting to list pieces of music that have  influenced me.   To start with, I’ve confined myself to western art music (aka “classical” music).   Jazz and world music to come in due course.  The music is listed in alpha order of  composer surname.

  • Adams:  Phrygian Gates
  • Arriaga:  String Quartets
  • Arriaga:  Symphony
  • Bach:  Double Concerto for Violin
  • Bach: Piano Concerto #1
  • Bach:  St. Matthew Passion
  • Bach:  St. John Passion
  • Bach:  Mass in B Minor
  • Bach:  The Well-Tempered Clavier
  • Bach:  Cantatas
  • Bach:  Toccata and Fugue in D minor
  • Bach:  Partitas and Sonatas for solo violin
  • CPE Bach:  Magnificat
  • Beethoven:  Piano Sonatas
  • Beethoven:  Symphonies 3, 5 and 9
  • Beethoven:  Piano Concertos
  • Beethoven:  Piano Quartets
  • Beethoven:  Piano Trios
  • Beethoven:  Violin Concerto
  • Bernstein:  Overture to Candide
  • Binge: Elizabethan Serenade
  • Cage:  Music for prepared piano
  • Cherubini:  The String Quartets
  • Chopin:  Preludes
  • Debussy:  Preludes
  • Farrenc:  The Piano Quartets
  • Farrenc: The Symphonies
  • Feldman: Triadic Memories
  • Glass: Koyaanisqatsi
  • Handel:  Messiah
  • Haydn:  Sturm und Drang Symphonies
  • Haydn:  The Creation
  • Haydn:  The String Quartets
  • Hummel:  Trumpet Concerto
  • Maxwell Davies:  Eight Songs for a Mad King
  • McPhee:  Tabu Tabuhan
  • Meale:  Clouds Now and Then
  • Mendelssohn:  The String Symphonies #7-12
  • Mendelssohn:  Magnificat
  • Mendelssohn: Hebrides Overture
  • Mendelssohn:  Octet
  • Mendelssohn:  String Quartets and Quintets
  • Mendelssohn:  Piano Trios and Quartets
  • Mendelssohn: Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Mendelssohn:  Elijah
  • Mendelssohn:  Violin Concerto in E minor
  • Mendelssohn:  Violin Concerto in D minor
  • Mendelssohn:  Concerto for Piano and Violin in D minor
  • Mendelssohn:  Songs without Words
  • Montague: Piano Concerto
  • Mozart:  Last 3 symphonies
  • Mozart:  Requiem
  • Mozart: The String Quartets
  • Nishimura:  Bird Heterophony
  • Nyman: Songs for Tony
  • Ore: Codex Temporis
  • Orff:  Carmina Burana
  • Penberthy: Saxophone Concerto
  • Reich:  Nagoya Marimbas
  • Reich:  Music for 18 Musicians
  • Riley:  In C
  • Roman: Drottningholm Music (Music for a Royal Wedding)
  • Schumann:  Dichterliebe
  • Schumann:  The Symphonies
  • Sculthorpe:  Sun Music III
  • Shostakovich:  Concerto for Piano and Trumpet
  • Shostakovich:  Incidental Music for Hamlet
  • Shostakovich:  24 Preludes and Fugues for Piano
  • Stockhausen:  Stimmung
  • Stravinsky:  The Rite of Spring
  • Takemitsu:  A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden
  • Tchaikovsky:  Symphonies #4 and #5
  • Tchaikovsky:  Violin Concerto
  • Vanhal:  The Symphonies
  • Wagner:  Prelude to The Mastersingers of Nuremburg
  • Xenakis:  Metastaseis
  • Xenakis:  Pithoprakta.

 

Enemies of liberty

Andrew Sullivan on the rank abuse of power that was the 9-hour detention of David Miranda on alleged suspicion of terrorism at Heathrow Airport this weekend:

In this respect, I can say this to David Cameron. Thank you for clearing the air on these matters of surveillance. You have now demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that these anti-terror provisions are capable of rank abuse. Unless some other facts emerge, there is really no difference in kind between you and Vladimir Putin. You have used police powers granted for anti-terrorism and deployed them to target and intimidate journalists deemed enemies of the state.
You have proven that these laws can be hideously abused. Which means they must be repealed. You have broken the trust that enables any such legislation to survive in a democracy. By so doing, you have attacked British democracy itself. What on earth do you have to say for yourself? And were you, in any way, encouraged by the US administration to do such a thing?

Mama don't allow

Norm’s latest entry in his Mommy and Daddy collection of songs is JJ Cale’s version of “Now, Mama don’t allow no guitar playing round here“.   The version of this song that I first recall hearing was that of The Limeliters, who do not refer (as Cale does) to “My Mama“.   So, I’d always understood the song to be about boarding-house owners, rather than natural-born mothers, and hence a fine metaphor for the suffocating nanny culture that was the US of the 1950s.  I cannot find their version online.
Of course, a mention of The Slightly Fabulous Limeliters would be incomplete without a reference to their song about Harry Pollitt, long-time General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Recent Reading 8

TheMothersofthePlazadeMayo-2004
The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books:

  • Jason Matthews [2013]:  Red Sparrow (New York: Simon & Schuster). A debut spy-thriller by a 33-year CIA clandestine service veteran,  this book is well-written and gripping, with plot twists that are unexpected yet plausible.    The book has placed the author in the same league of Le Carre and McCarry, and I recommend the book strongly.   As so often with espionage and crime fiction, the main weakness is the characterization – the players are too busy doing things in the world for us to have a good sense of their personalities, especially so for the minor characters.  Part of the reason for us having this sense, I think, is the sparsity of dialog through which we could infer a sense of personhood for each player.    And the main character, Nate Nash, gets pushed aside in the second half of the book  by the machinations of the other players.  In any case, the ending of the book allows us to meet these folks again.    Finally, I found the recipes which end each chapter an affectation, but that may be me.  The author missed a chance for a subtle allusion with solo meal cooked by General Korchnoi, which I mis-read as pasta alla mollusc, which would have made it the same as the last meal of William Colby.

 

  •  Henry A. Cumpton [2012]:  The Art of Intelligence:  Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service. (New York:  Penguin).   A fascinating account of a career in espionage.    Crumpton reports an early foreign assignment in the 1980s in an African country which had had a war of liberation war, where the US had a close working relationship with the revolutionary Government of the country:  The only candidates that seem to fit this bill are Zimbabwe or possibly Mozambique.  Zimbabwe’s ZANU-PF Government was so close to the USA in its early years that the Zimbabwe Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) had only two groups dealing with counter-subversion:  a group seeking to counter South African subversion and a group seeking to counter Soviet subversion.  Indeed, so great was the fear of Soviet subversion that the USSR was not permitted to open an embassy in Zimbabwe for the first two years following independence in 1980.

The book has four very interesting accounts:

1. Crumpton’s perceptive reflections on the different cultures of CIA and FBI, which are summarized in this post.

2.  The account of the preparations needed to design, build, deploy, and manage systems of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs, or drones) in Afghanistan.  The diverse and inter-locking challenges – technical, political, strategic, managerial, economic, human, and logistic – are reminiscent of those involved in creating CIA’s U2 spy-plane program in the 1950s (whose leader Richard Bissell I saluted here).

3.  The development of integrated Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for tactical anti-terrorist operations management in the early 2000s.  What I find interesting is that this took place a decade after mobile telecommunications companies were using GIS for tactical planning and management of engineering and marketing operations.  Why should the Government be so far behind?

4. An account of CIA’s anti-terrorist programs prior to 11 September 2011, including the monitoring and subversion of Al-Qaeda.  Given the extent of these programmes, it is now clear why CIA embarked on such an activist role following 9/11.  George Tenet remarked at the time (in his memoirs) that such a role would mean crossing a threshold for CIA, but until Crumpton’s book, I never understood why this enhanced  role had been accepted at the time by US political leaders and military leaders.  From Crumpton’s account, the reason for their acceptance was that CIA was the only security agency ready to step up quickly at the time.

  • Paul Vallely [2013]:  Pope Francis:  Untying the Knots. (London, UK:  Bloomsbury).  A fascinating account of the man who may revolutionize the Catholic Church.    Francis, first as Fr Jorge Bergoglio SJ and then as Archbishop and Cardinal, appears to have moved from right to left as he aged, to the point where he now embraces a version of liberation theology.   His role during the period of Argentina’s military junta of Jorge Videla is still unclear – he seems to have bravely hidden and help-escape leftist political refugees and activists, while at the same time, through dismissing them from Church protection, making other activitists targets of military actions.

Bergoglio seems to understand something his brother cardinals appear not to – that the Catholic Church (and other fundamentalist and evangelical Christian denominations) are not seen by the majority of people in the West any longer as places of saintliness, spiritual goodness, or charity, but as bastions of bigotry, irrationally opposed to individual freedom and to human happiness and fulfilment.  In its campaigns against gay marriage rights, euthenasia, abortion, and other private moral issues, the Church opposes free will not only of its own clergy and lay members, but also of other citizens who are not even Catholic adherents.   Such campaigns to limit the freedoms and rights of non-believers are presumptious, to say the least.  The Catholic Church does a great deal of unremarked good in the world, work which is sullied and undermined by the political campaigns and bigoted public statements of its leaders.

The book is poorly written, with lots of repetition, and several  chapters reprising the entire argument of the book, as if they had been stand-along newspaper articles.   The author clearly thinks his readers have the minds of gold-fish, since interview subjects are introduced repeatedly with descriptions, as if for the first time.

The photo shows one of the demonstrations of the The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, held weekly since 1977  to protest the junta’s kidnap, torture, and murder of Argentinian citizens.   We should not forget that the military regimes of South America, including the Argentinian junta of Videla, were supported not only by the Vatican and most local Catholic clergy (with some brave exceptions), but also by the US intelligence services, including during the administration of Jimmy Carter.

And the Romans? What did they ever do for us?

Andrew Sullivan takes down Maureen Dowd:

Obama’s political style is useless, apart from becoming the first black president, saving the US from another Great Depression, succeeding at getting universal healthcare, rescuing the American auto industry, presiding over a civil rights revolution, ending two failed wars, avoiding two doomed others (against Syria and Iran), bringing the deficit down while growing the economy, focusing the executive branch on climate change, and killing bin Laden.”

Influential Books

This is a list of non-fiction books which have greatly influenced me – making me see the world differently or act in it differently.  They are listed chronologically according to when I first encountered them.

  • 2015 – Benedict Taylor [2011]: Mendelssohn, Time and Memory. The Romantic Conception of Cyclic Form. (Cambridge UP)
  • 2010 – Hans Kundnani [2009]: Utopia or Auschwitz: Germany’s 1968 Generation and the Holocaust. (London, UK: Hurst and Company)
  • 2009 – J. Scott Turner [2007]:  The Tinkerer’s Accomplice: How Design Emerges from Life Itself. (Harvard UP) (Mentioned here.)
  • 2008 – Stefan Aust [2008]: The Baader-Meinhof Complex. (Bodley Head)
  • 2008 – Pierre Delattre [1993]:  Episodes. (St. Paul, MN, USA:  Graywolf Press)
  • 2006 – Mark Evan Bonds [2006]: Music as Thought: Listening to the Symphony in the Age of Beethoven. (Princeton UP)
  • 2006 – Kyle Gann [2006]: Music Downtown: Writings from the Village Voice. (UCal Press)
  • 2005 – Clare Asquith [2005]:  Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare.  (Public Affairs)
  • 2004 – Igal Halfin [2003]: Terror in My Soul: Communist Autobiographies on Trial. (Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard UP)
  • 2001 – George Leonard [2000]: The Way of Aikido: Life Lessons from an American Sensei.
  • 2000 – Stephen E. Toulmin [1990]:  Cosmopolis:  The Hidden Agenda of Modernity.  (University of Chicago Press)
  • 1999 – Michel de Montaigne [1580-1595]:  Essays.
  • 1997 – James Pritchett [1993]:  The Music of John Cage.  (Cambridge UP, UK)
  • 1996 – George Fowler [1995]:  Dance of a Fallen Monk: A Journey to Spiritual Enlightenment. (New York:  Doubleday)
  • 1995 – Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch [1992]:  Thinking Body, Dancing Mind.   (New York: Bantam Books)
  • 1995 – Jon Kabat-Zinn [1994]: Wherever You Go, There You Are.
  • 1995 – Charlotte Joko Beck [1993]: Nothing Special: Living Zen.
  • 1993 – George Leonard [1992]: Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment.
  • 1990 – Trevor Leggett [1987]:  Zen and the Ways.  (Tuttle)
  • 1989 – Grant McCracken [1988]:  Culture and Consumption.
  • 1989 – Teresa Toranska [1988]:  Them:  Stalin’s Polish Puppets.  Translated by Agnieszka Kolakowska.(HarperCollins) (Mentioned here.)
  • 1988 – Henry David Thoreau [1865]:  Cape Cod.
  • 1988 – Rupert Sheldrake [1988]: The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature.
  • 1988 – Dan Rose [1987]:  Black American Street Life: South Philadelphia, 1969-1971. (U Penn Press)
  • 1987 – Susan Sontag [1966]: Against Interpretation. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • 1987 – Gregory Bateson [1972]: Steps to an Ecology of Mind. (U Chicago Press)
  • 1987 – Jay Neugeboren [1968]:  Reflections at Thirty.
  • 1982 – John Miller Chernoff [1979]: African Rhythm and African Sensibility: Aesthetics and Social Action in African Musical Idioms. (University of Chicago Press)
  • 1981 – Walter Rodney [1972]: How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.  (London: Bogle-L’Overture Publications)
  • 1980 – James A. Michener [1971]: Kent State: What happened and Why.
  • 1980 – Andre Gunder Frank [1966]:  The Development of Underdevelopment.  (Monthly Review Press)
  • 1980 – Paul Feyerabend [1975]: Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge.
  • 1979 – Aldous Huxley [1945]:  The Perennial Philosophy.
  • 1978 – Christmas Humphreys [1949]:  Zen Buddhism.
  • 1977 – Raymond Smullyan [1977]:  The Tao is Silent.
  • 1976 – Bertrand Russell [1951-1969]:  The Autobiography.  (London: George Allen & Unwin)
  • 1975 – Jean-Francois Revel [1972]:  Without Marx or Jesus: The New American Revolution Has Begun.
  • 1974 – Charles Reich [1970]: The Greening of America.
  • 1973 – Selvarajan Yesudian and Elisabeth Haich [1953]:  Yoga and Health. (NY:  Harper)
  • 1972 – Robin Boyd [1960]: The Australian Ugliness.