New York vs. New Yorker

There was been a lot of hoopla a couple years ago that New York Magazine was eclipsing my beloved The New Yorker.

It bothers me that people often confuse the two.

So for your edification, The New Yorker is the magazine where we first found out that America was torturing people and it published a photo essay moved a prominent politician to switch parties. And New York Magazine publishes stuff like this:

Jake DeSantis, a 40-year-old commodities trader at AIG, was an unlikely face of Wall Street greed. Stocky and clean cut, with an abiding moral streak, he’d worked summers for a bricklayer in the shadow of shuttered steel mills outside Pittsburgh; he was valedictorian of his high-school class and attended college at MIT.…

When DeSantis arrived at the office the morning his letter appeared in the paper, the AIG traders gave him a standing ovation. In some quarters of the press, he was vilified.

It might help to remember who Jake DeSantis is. (The whole article is similarly unintentionally revealing more of the magazine’s values and the author’s preferences than of anything else.) And lest you think that this is some weird outlier for the Magazine, it’s not.

While I applaud Jake for donating his bonus, Really?, I mean, Really?!?

The Gandhi of Wall Street

Let’s see, this guy has the amount of experience and education equivalent to an engineering manager in technology and his abbreviated salary is still 5x larger. That divergence only occurred recently.

In other words, he’s self-selected to be in a world where people trade their morals for money and his salary reflects that.

(Just to emphasize this: he majored in Materials Science, not finance. and has no advanced degree. Yes “Executive Vice President” sounds pretty hefty, but in the inflated-title-ridden world of finance it’s equivalent in both job experience and authority to an engineering manager or software architect. In a normal world, he’d have been in an industry lab somewhere—the 90’s wasn’t a normal world.)

“Strong moral streak,” my ass.

Let’s compare him to someone I know has a strong moral streak—my brother.

  • I recently called my brother to note he just turned into “a 40-year-old.”
  • Instead of being “a commodities trader at AIG,” my brother is a Professor of Economics at Brown University.
  • My brother is most definitely “stocky and clean cut.” The stockyness comes from being about my height, but unlike me, actually an athlete—a four-year letter winner in lacrosse in college
  • The citation on “an abiding moral streak” is hard. New York Magazine’s criteria seems to be you drive a Prius and support Obama along with 95% of that city. Along those lines how about the fact that he has the heavily cited papers on the impact of Civil Rights legislation on health outcomes in the South, one of the best analyses of the Clean Air Act of 1970 ever done, and a birth-weight twin study that turns causality in social policy on its head. If not a moral streak, then certainly a bleeding heart. Oh yeah, my brother walks to work and there is no question whom he voted for.
  • Instead of “working summers for a bricklayer in the shadow of shuttered steel mills outside Pittsburgh,” my brother worked summers as a diswasher in the shadow of shuttered steel mills inside Pittsburgh. (Of course, truth be told, the second part is fact-free alliteration—all steel mills north of Bethlehem, PA were shuttered by 1985.)
  • My brother wasn’t “valedictorian of his high-school class,” but since they both “attended college at MIT” during the same exact years (and moreover my brother majored in economics, not materials scince), I’d put my brother’s frat boy academic record right up against Jake DeSantis’s. I have a feeling Jake would be lucky to have been cum laude at our high school that year.
Boldly Brown (back side)

Recently, Brown University featured my brother in their Campaign for Academic Enrichment at Slide Bar in San Francisco. front side of program.

But you know what my brother wouldn’t do? If he was pulling in $700k on a morally suspect livelihood with his peers clearly living large on other people’s hard-earned life savings. The same life savings which these people just flushed down the toilet as they hit those same people for a bailout that pays that $700k and billions more, he wouldn’t whine about this in an editorial to the New York Times. He could care less about “a standing ovation” from people of questionable moral character, and he’d know to keep his sense of scale.

But of course, having the good sense not to be so righteous seems to be a necessary condition for “an abiding moral streak,” does it not?

If you want to actually stand a chance of pushing The New Yorker off its roost, you should have the good sense in knowing when to stop defending to indefensible. Or your true streak will come home to roost, would it not?

Welcome to reality, New York Magazine. It’s a bitch.

Why I read the New Yorker

In the early days of the Iraq War, I used to read postings by an Iraqi blogger to keep my perspective. When it was eventually discovered who he was, I came across this article:

His latest post mentioned an afternoon he spent at the Hamra Hotel pool, reading a borrowed copy of The New Yorker. I laughed out loud. He then mentioned an escapade in which he helped deliver 24 pizzas to American soldiers. I howled. Salam Pax, the most famous and most mysterious blogger in the world, was my interpreter. The New Yorker he had been reading—mine. Poolside at the Hamra—with me. The 24 pizzas—we had taken them to a unit of 82nd Airborne soldiers I was writing about.…

I don’t know what Salam thought about The New Yorker story, but he likes The New Yorker. I happened to have two issues of the magazine, and he was mesmerized by them, especially a story about the selection of Daniel Libeskind’s design for the WTC site. Salam is trained as an architect and is a fan of Libeskind’s work. He was amazed at the length of the stories. “They go on and on,” he remarked. “They start in one place, go somewhere else, then to another place. They are, like, endless.”

His cultural inclinations are impeccable.

An intellegent boy in a war-torn ruined world of our creation reading the New Yorker, amazed at the breath and detail of a world out there contained in there, and hungrily devouring two second-hand issues of the magazine. And me here, who could get such a thing delivered to me instanteously every week for a pittance.

The decision to subscribe was a no brainer. I’ve been a happy reader since the day I read that article in 2003.

An Aside: My brother teaching

[David Goines] had been a classics scholar, studying Greek and Latin, until he was expelled [from Berkeley] for distributing a course catalog “supplement” in which students dared to evaluate their professors. “And now, thirty years later,” he says with a laugh, “they’re required to do it.”

Alice Waters and Chez Panise, one of the many books I’m currently reading on my Kindle

At Berkeley, my brother was consistently in the top two highest-rated professors in the economics department. So I was amused when I ran across these two reviews of my brother’s teaching while research links for this article.

Here are the comments:

“One of the best grad econ classes I took.”

“Whoever gave Prof. Chay a bad rating must have a personality disorder. Chay is one of the best and most inspired teachers at Berkeley. He puts a great amount of care into his lectures and assignments. He also has tremendous insight and interesting opinions on a variety of issues, and provides great comments on the paper you write for this class.”

“Great class!! …chay is FUNNY, clear, and fair on his MTs. he is great after class and during OH.”

“Hands-down the best professor in the Econ department right now (and he knows it). Class is managable, teaching is clear, and he is accomodating and supportive of students.”

One student even marked him “hot.” This reminds me of an amusing story which I’ll have to leave for another time. 😀

7 thoughts on “New York vs. New Yorker

  1. Eh? That NY Mag article wasn’t an apologist piece, it was squarely against DeSantis and the crew of anonymous whining bankers. From the title on down, that whole piece was about using the bankers’ own words to show how delusional they are.

  2. @Evan Goer: Good point.. I deleted the part where I said “apologist shit” and replaced it with “stuff.” I really need an editor to contain my fauxrage. 🙂

    I can see where you are coming from, but the reason why I didn’t read it the way you did was because, when you look between the published quotes of others, you read the following snippets:

    “This felt like getting mugged.” (A couple people I know who have actually been mugged at gunpoint might take exception to the equation that a memo asking if you’d be willing to return 50% of your bonus is equivalent to “getting mugged.”)

    “an abiding moral streak” (Citation needed.)

    “he’d worked summers for a bricklayer in the shadow of shuttered steel mills outside Pittsburgh;” (What a guy did over twenty years in high school in an area is no qualification, the second half of this is total bullshit. I know because I grew up in the same city as Jake during the same years.)

    “ His division at AIG was profitable. And since joining the company in 1998, he had never traded a single credit-default swap.” (Semantic deception. They call AIGFP a “company” and whatever Jake worked on a “division” but it is important to note that this “company” was only 377 people. Outside of finance, that’d barely qualify as a division. Similar deception applies to the bald ignorance of the 10 years of 700k-millions salary DeSantis was drawing in that he did not return that rested on the performance of AIGFP as a whole (mostly built on CDSs). A similar semantic deception holds to CDSs. The exact type of derivative is irrelevant—there are a zillion types of financial derivatives out there, any of them could have blown up. All of them booking revenue for AIGFP in a ass backwards way. I might add that the same accounting error happened to my father’s company Westinghouse that caused the downfall of that company due to the S&L scandal in the 80’s.)

    “remarkable resignation letter” (“remarkable” in what way? The author’s choice of adjectives is very telling.)

    “The letter, passionate and wounded and oddly out of touch with ordinary Americans, put a human face on Wall Street’s anger.” (Other than “out of touch” which is qualified by “oddly” this is definitely the most positive thing you can write about it.)

    “In some quarters of the press, he was vilified.” (The use of “villified” to express a rather calm object by Frank Rich?)

    “an honest conversation” (Really? Citation needed.)

    “In a witch hunt, the witches have feelings, too” (It’s a witch hunt. ORLY? How many of these people were burned at the stake (Salem)? How many have been forced to out their coworkers and sign a statement of recant (McCarthy)? Honestly we’re talking about taxes on bonus amounts over twice my salary coming from a company now owned nearly entirely by the government.)

    “they are facing an administration that wants to redistribute their wealth.” (The author’s words, not a commenters: Note the popular Joe-The-Plumber meme: “redistribute their wealth.”)

    “Wall Street people are not moral idiots (most of them, anyway)” (Again the authors own words. This is followed by a comparison to someone with four more years of post graduate education, a few more years of training, and the mountain of debt that entails. Apparently the fact that I observe that I’m no Mother Theresa apparently absolves me of every despicable act I might do.)


    This does not include the fact the author suddenly behind other people’s words every time the article bothers to make an actual point. Nor did I include all the anti-Obama rhetoric in the piece—up to and including allusions that he’s a traitor to the Ivy League.

    That shit was rich.

    (BTW, the writer isn’t always responsible for the title of the article.)

  3. The anti-Obama rhetoric is coming from the whiny, delusional bankers, not the writer. Subtract the delusional whining, and Obama comes off looking pretty bad-ass:

    “When he opened up the session to questions from the audience, one attendee lobbed the question that was surely on the mind of everyone in the room. ‘Are you going to raise my taxes?’ Obama looked out across the millionaires sitting around him. ‘Yes,’ he answered, without a flicker of hesitation, according to a person familiar with the meeting.”

    This article is just the writer letting the bankers hang themselves with their own words. They sound like complete fucking tools. Anyway, more bits I liked:

    “Now, a lot of people in New York have BlackBerrys, and few of them expect to be paid $2 million to check their e-mail in the middle of the night.” [Exactly. We all know ops engineers getting paid a lot less than that for the same thing.]

    “They distribute capital to where it’s most effective, and by some Ayn Rand–ian logic…” [OUCH. That’s got to hurt, outside the Crazyosphere, anyway]

    “‘Nobody likes having their taxes go up,’ says Whitney Tilson, who runs the investment firm T2 Partners and was a member of Obama’s Tri-State Finance Committee. This was a view that was comically on display at the scores of anti-tax ‘tea parties’…” [“comically” — exactly. He’s taking these fancy Wall Street types in suits and plopping them right next to the Birthers and secessionists waving misspelled signs.]

    “The argument that Obama has in fact done a great deal to help Wall Street—to the tune of trillions of dollars—doesn’t have much truck with these critics.” [followed by an exceptionally whiny whine from a banker. This bit is pointing to the main point of the piece, coming up soon.]

    “To Wall Street people who have grown up in the bubble, the meaning of the crisis is only slowly sinking in. They can’t yet grasp the idea of a life lived on less.” [The author could have hammered home the point better by citing the median family income for NYC, $57K. But still it’s clear that he’s painting these guys as delusional.]

    “That was an argument I heard over and over: that the high cost of living like a wealthy person in New York necessitates high salaries. It was loopy logic, but expressed sincerely.”

    And finally, the shining nuclear core of the piece:

    “Part of the problem, the Goldman vet explains, is that there’s a vast divide between where the public is and where the bankers are. The public registers how fundamentally the system has changed; the bankers are far from getting to that point. “When I talked to my friends in November and December at firms like Goldman, they would tell me, ‘If the government doesn’t bail us out, we’re going down.’ They really thought they were going to zero, and without exception, they all forget that now,” he says. “They forget that their company’s stock was going to zero. It’s a state of delusion; they don’t remember those days. The flip side of that is, every guy except the Goldman guy remembers that Goldman was bailed out.”

    Aaaand… that’s endgame. The “true market value” of these guys is not $2 million a year. It’s $0. That’s the uncomfortable truth that undermines *everything* the whiny bankers were saying previously. No author who was on the whiny bankers’ side would make that point so plainly, at that point in the piece.

  4. @Evan Goer: Quite all right. I like it when people have a different perspective. It makes me see the same thing in a different light.

    My view is the author reveals in the use of adjectives as qualifiers and in the choice and placement of the quotes—every time he needs to say something he hides behind an anonymous quote.

    Your quotes go a long way of showing that I’m a bit extreme in my interpretation.

    I think what you are getting at is the same thing Joe Klein alluded to (linked in the original post):

    On late Friday afternoon, a senior Obama Administration official met with a group of Time-Warner journalists in New York and shocked the group of us by saying, “I don’t understand bankers,” even though he’d spent his adult life working with them. And then added that “they don’t understand the scale of damage that they’ve done.”

    I suspect the next stage of this is going to be either a tug-of-war, or a flame war, between the Administration and the bankers, who don’t seem to realize yet that the economy they thrived and robbed in–the economy built on making paper profits at the rest of the country’s expense–is over.

    I’m curious who the senior Obama Administration official. Geithner? Summers? I have a low respect for those two, so I’d be pleasantly surprised if it was them.

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