The Lattice of Coincidence
October 28, 2011, 04:12 PM
A+
|
a-
Print Friendly and PDF

All the talk about Steve Jobs got me interested in a similarity between him and zillionaire investor Warren Buffett. 

When Jobs was 27, he started an affair with Joan Baez, then 41. Baez had been extremely famous in the 1960s, although you didn't hear her songs much on the radio because she seldom had a hit single. She finally had a hit in 1975 with Diamonds and Rust (which Judas Priest has been covering in concert for decades), a song she wrote in the style of her old boyfriend Bob Dylan about her old boyfriend Bob Dylan calling her up for the first time in years. It's about my third favorite Bob Dylan song and he didn't even write it. Jobs was a huge Dylan fan (which sounds a little creepy: "Okay, Steve, uhhhmm, can we not talk about Bob anymore? Can we talk about me?")

Baez wasn't particularly rich, but Jobs never seemed able to grasp that. Having a fine sense of style, he spent a lot of time pointing out to her in the windows of expensive stores dresses she should wear, but would never buy her anything. He'd go into the store and buy himself some shirts, then be amazed that she hadn't bought that perfect red dress he'd picked out for her. He did give her free computers, though. He liked to tell her that in The Future, we'd all have computers that could make music so there'd be no need anymore for singers. He seemed puzzled that she wasn't excited about his vision of the future.

Getting further off topic ... Joan Baez's father, Albert Vincinio Baez (1912-1907), was an interesting fellow: a top-notch Mexican-American physicist, one who had been around in the proto-Silicon Valley era. He was born in Puebla, Mexico. His father (Joan's grandfather) converted from Catholicism to Methodism and the family moved to Brooklyn around 1914. Albert married the daughter of an Episcopalian minister, and they became Quakers. His Wikipedia page says:

In 1948, along with Stanford University professor Paul Kirkpatrick (1894–1992), Baez developed the X-ray reflection microscope for examination of living cells. This microscope is still used today in medicine. Baez received his PhD in physics from Stanford in 1950. ... As the Cold War arose in the 1950s, Baez's talents were in high demand for the developing arms race. However, influenced by his family's pacifist beliefs, he refused lucrative war industry jobs, preferring instead to devote his career to education and humanitarianism.

I recently read Michael Frayn's famous play Copenhagen, about the difficult meeting between old friends Bohr and Heisenberg in 1941. That's only the most famous of a huge literature about physicists talking afterwards about how they had had deep ethical conflicts over building weapons of mass destruction. But, as Frayn has Heisenberg point out, at the time most of the famous physicists, no matter how exquisitely they discussed their ethical dilemmas in later years, did indeed sign up. Albert Baez is an example of a lesser physicist who simply sat it out due to his Quaker pacisfism.

To get even farther off topic, Joan Baez's technical ancestry is oddly reminiscent of that of another part-Mexican-American pretty hippie chick singer of a few years later, Linda Rondstadt, who was probably the top selling female singer of the 1970s:

Linda Ronstadt's great grandfather, graduate engineer Friedrich August Ronstadt (who went by the name Federico Augusto Ronstadt) immigrated to the West (then a part of Mexico) in the 1840s from Hanover, Germany, and married a Mexican citizen, and eventually settled in Tucson.


This is a reminder of that weird phenomenon I've pointed out a number of times: back when there were about an order of magnitude fewer Mexican-Americans, there were about as many famous Mexican-Americans (Pancho Gonzalez, Lee Trevino, Nancy Lopez, Anthony Quinn, etc.) as there are today. The conventional wisdom says there should now be two orders of magnitude more high achieving Mexican-Americans today, because of Discrimination and Prejudice in the past, but it doesn't actually seem to work that way. 

Anyway, back to the odd affairs of tycoons ...

The zillionaire investor Warren Buffett has been famous for a long time, and he's always enjoyed superb press, even when he ought to be questioned more toughly — for example, he owns 20% of Moody's, which was one of the ratings firms that failed so badly in the mortgage bubble. 

Part of the reason for his loving press coverage was that he made so many correct investment decisions (Americans love a winner), partly because he's an excellent prose stylist, and partly because he was sleeping with the owner of the Washington Post and NewsweekKatharine Graham. I'd heard that mentioned in passing quite a few years ago, but Buffett confirmed it in 2008: He started having an affair with Graham, one of the most famous women in America, when he was 46 and she was 59. This apparently led to Buffett's wife moving to San Francisco with her tennis pro. (I know that sounds like a Joe Esterhazy screenplay, but I've actually seen the rich man's neglected wife takes up with the tennis pro thing happen in real life, so there's good reason why it's a movie cliche).

That got me wondering whether there was any connection between Katharine Graham's late husband Phil Graham, the manic-depressive publisher of the Washington Post who killed himself in 1963, and Buffet's mentor, the Columbia finance professor and inventor of "value inventing," Ben Graham. It's all the Lattice of Coincidence, right?

In this case, nah. It turns out Ben Graham was born in London and was Jewish. Paul Graham was born in South Dakota and was not. Instead, Paul Graham was the older half-brother of Bob Graham, who was governor or senator of Florida for 26 years.