Was Virginia Woolf a 1980s Takeover Arbitrageur?

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Slate EIC Jacob Weisberg has a scorching review of Andrew Robert's A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, in the news for its recent appearence clutched to Dick Cheney's bionic bosom. The section on Roberts' errors reveals content so shoddy that it actually degrades the free market, pro-war point Roberts is trying to make.

The San Francisco earthquake did considerably more than $400,000 in damage. Virginia Woolf, who drowned herself in 1941, did not write for Encounter, which began publication in 1953. The Proposition 13 Tax Revolt took place in the 1970s, not the 1980s—an important distinction because it presaged Ronald Reagan's election in 1980. Michael Milken was not a "takeover arbitrageur," whatever that is. Roberts cannot know that there were 500 registered lobbyists in Washington during World War II because lobbyists weren't forced to register until 1946. Gregg Easterbrook is not the editor of the New Republic. "No man gets left behind" is a line from the film Black Hawk Down, not the motto of the U.S. Army Rangers; their actual motto is "Rangers Lead the Way." In a breathtaking peroration, Roberts point out that "as a proportion of the total number of Americans, only 0.008 percent died bringing democracy to important parts of the Middle East in 2003-5." Leaving aside the question of whether those deaths have brought anything like democracy to Iraq, 0.008 percent of 300 million people is 24,000—off by a factor of 10, which is typical of his arithmetic.

Note also Roberts' ground-breaking theory that The Silence of the Lambs is anti-English agitprop pushed on the masses by Hollywood's Irish powerbrokers. Jesus, the book can't be this bad, can it? Is the idea of an "Anglosphere" that discludes countries with lots of Irish or black people who, um, also speak English just so bad that it corrupts the historian's work?

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  1. Bad English? Like the word “discludes”?

  2. It’s a perfectly cromulent word.

  3. Perhaps Andrew Robert is seeking the next Lee Seigel/Stephen Glass award?

  4. I thought everyone knew that the Irish ran Hollywood.

  5. Perhaps Andrew Robert is seeking the next Lee Seigel/Stephen Glass award?

    Or perhaps the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

  6. “the book can’t be this bad, can it?”

    In a world that publishes Bellesiles, the chronicles of the learned elders of zion, and Gores Inconvenient Truth, do you really need to ask this question?

    Of course it can be this bad.

  7. David O. Selznik’s real name was David O’Selznick.

    Quentin Tarantino’s real name is Quentin O’Tarrantine.

    Wake up, America!

  8. Hating the Irish is SO 1890.

    Hating the Jews, on the other hand, is still perfectly acceptable.

  9. Hating the [i]rish is SO 1890.

    You write of them as if they were human.

  10. Natalie Portman’s real name is Bridgit O’Shaughnessy.

    Kirsten Dunst was born Eileen O’Connor.

  11. Sometimes they don’t even try to hide it.

    If you rearrange the letters in “Robert De Niro,” you get “born trod Eire.” A native Irishman!

  12. Woody Allen? Woody O’Faolain

  13. this sounds like the best book ever made if someone could do it in web-comic form.

  14. Is that a comment on libertarianism, dhex?

  15. They’re after me Lucky Charms… and fava beans.

  16. I’d like to offer my most enthusiastic contrafibularities to Mr. Roberts.

  17. “Woody Allen? Woody O’Faolain.”

    Both of ’em say “sure” an awful lot, and they both wear slouchy tweed hats.

  18. Somebody feed the server-squirrels, please. (Two of my posts recently have gone astray.)

    To not leave aside the issue of democracy in Iraq, allow me to coin a phrase–

    Muslims without democracy are like fish without bicycles.

  19. Is the idea of an “Anglosphere” that discludes countries with lots of Irish or black people who, um, also speak English just so bad that it corrupts the historian’s work?

    I haven’t read the book but I would be very surprised if this was a an accurate description of his argument. The core evidence of most Anglosphere arguments is the fact that peoples who are not of direct Anglo descent benefit if they absorbed Anglospheric cultural, legal and political ideas during colonization.

    Jacob Weisberg seems to spend most of the review morally offended that Robert’s doesn’t kow-tao to the trite idea that colonialism was the worst thing to happen to anyone, anywhere at anytime. Perhaps Robert’s just doesn’t feel like ritually knocking his head against the floor in difference to that idea is really warranted anymore.

    I’m not sure how the factual errors that Wiesberg list impact on Robert’s core argument. He certainly doesn’t make any connection in the review itself. Indeed, he only uses the errors as a means of aiming a jab at Bush and company. In fact, that seems to be the entire point of the review.

    Given Weisberg’s very evident ideological biases I don’t think I would trust this review very far.

  20. Shannon,
    To paraphrase Grantland Rice,

    The best arguments are not always made by those with the best research, but that is the way to believe.

    Which is to say, the presence of this many trivial errors is the smoke, and the book itself being a hackjob is the fire. The review may have an axe to grind, but Roberts’s book is the equivalent of those marijuana legalization advocates who always look and sound high–a really easy target.

  21. Hannibal Lector is written as being originally from Lithuania.

    Shannon Love’s “kow-tao” is pure genius.

  22. Roberts cannot know that there were 500 registered lobbyists in Washington during World War II because lobbyists weren’t forced to register until 1946.

    Well, they could be registered without being forced to. The link seems to say that this happened.

  23. “Is that a comment on libertarianism, dhex?”

    it could be!

    i like the idea of silence of the lambs as an irish plot.

  24. Hating the Jews, on the other hand, is still perfectly acceptable.

    One of the prime things I’ve learned from studying history is that hating the Jews is always perfectly acceptable. (That is, accepted.)

    It does look like a dreadful book, which is a pity as at least some of its arguments are both unpopular and, I think, well-founded. Once again, hackery discredits both foolishness and wisdom.

  25. I don’t know, Mel Gibson got spanked pretty good for hating the Jews. Admittedly, it’s a sample of one, but it’s pretty much all we have to work with.

  26. “Indeed, he only uses the errors as a means of aiming a jab at Bush and company. In fact, that seems to be the entire point of the review. Given Weisberg’s very evident ideological biases I don’t think I would trust this review very far.”

    You know, having an ideological bias that leads one to bash George Bush has correlated pretty closely with being correct for these last few years.

  27. Michael Milken *was* in fact a takeover arbitrageur!

  28. Is that one of those Hollywood Irish double-reverse psychology tricks?

  29. Michael Milken *was* in fact a takeover arbitrageur!

    I recall that he “created” high yield bonds. Some people later used them as instruments to finance corporate takeovers.

  30. Bad English? Like the word “discludes”?

    “Disclude” is a perfectly good word (it means “disclose” – sorry, I used to be a Scrabble nerd), but as with his humorous misuse of the word “trope,” ‘Weigal’ is just trying to sound clever. Too bad it don’t work too goodly.

    I haven’t read the book but I would be very surprised if this was an accurate description of his argument.

    Probably not – for example:

    Virginia Woolf, who drowned herself in 1941, did not write for Encounter, which began publication in 1953.

  31. Re Michael Milken: Wikipedia has him as an “American financier who was highly influential in developing the market for junk bonds (a.k.a. “high-yield debt”) during the 1970s and 1980s, which in turn fueled the 1980s boom in corporate raids and hostile corporate takeovers”.

    More here.

  32. Virginia Woolf, who drowned herself in 1941, did not write for Encounter, which began publication in 1953.
    (Having a ?I instead of a back-slashI made this disappear):
    She did not “write for” Encounter, yet Encounter published her diaries.

    And, FWIW, here’s another take-down of the bogus take-down:
    http://www.answers.com/topic/interest-group

    “The number of registered lobbyists in Washington grew from around 500 during World War II to more than 25,000 by the early 1990s. ”

    And yes, they are aware of the 1946 law.

    Given Weisberg’s very evident ideological biases I don’t think I would trust this review very far.

    Never trust a socialist – they have a “greater good” that trumps mundane Dead White Male nonsense like accuracy and honesty.

  33. Milken was a banker who helped finance takeover deals, and also benefitted when they occurred. It is perfectly reasonable to call him a “Takeover Arbitraguer” as he was a principle in many deals and earned huge returns for betting on their completion.

    Also the market for Junk Bonds existed well before Milken, pretty much since they have invented bonds. But Milken was the one who hugely increased the size of the market. He also was a leading voice in creating bonds that began life as junk. Traditionally, bonds started life as investment grade and became junk as the company deteriorated.

  34. The “Anglosphere” argument makes very little sense. Members of these states (and who belongs and doesn’t belong depends on who you are talking to) seem as as likely to oppose one another in international affairs as support one another.

    Shannon Love,

    The core evidence of most Anglosphere arguments is the fact that peoples who are not of direct Anglo descent benefit if they absorbed Anglospheric cultural, legal and political ideas during colonization.

    Can you give us some concrete variables involved in this absorption? Say ten of them. What ten variables make a nation “Anglospheric?”

    …doesn’t kow-tao to the trite idea that colonialism was the worst thing to happen to anyone, anywhere at anytime.

    The word is kowtow as I recall. I believe it is very easy for the non-colonized to wax eloquently about the virtues of colonialism. That doesn’t mean that colonialism doesn’t have its benefits, but that also doesn’t mean that those benefits were worth the costs of colonialism either.

  35. Shannon Love,

    And can one use those ten variables to reasonably predict how “Anglospheric” nations will act in concert with one another, will behave internally, etc.?

  36. If one said that T. Boone Pickens also did takeover deals, but he would actually manage the companies for a while and bring them back to profitibility, a “takeover arbitrageur” that would be inaccurate. He was not making a riskless profit, if that is even what the writer means by “takeover arbitrageur”.

    Milken indirectly profiting from takeovers and making him a “takeover arbitrageur” is like calling a car salesman a “drag racer” because he sells used Buicks.

  37. Roberts makes the point that Hollywood shorthand for the villain has long been the British accent. I have heard this argument 100 times over the years. But what Weisberg does is conflate Roberts argument about romanticized IRA films (Michael Collins, Some Mother’s Son) on the previous page with his (admittedly pointless) claim that the baddies in films are always Brits.

    So yeah, it’s another bogus take down.

  38. slate is socialist now?

    […]

    now, i know that manichean dualism is emotionally satisfying, but aren’t we getting a bit out of control here? the kow-tao of political identification.

    “I believe it is very easy for the non-colonized to wax eloquently about the virtues of colonialism.”

    that is an understatement of epic proportions.

  39. mm,

    Roberts makes the point that Hollywood shorthand for the villain has long been the British accent.

    Actually, there are a number of Hollywood shorthands for the villain. They range from various Southern drawls to non-descript eastern european accents.

  40. Well, yes.

    But, as I wrote, that was Roberts’ point, not mine.

  41. mm,

    Oh yeah, I know. Sorry I worded it in such a way as to sound like I was correcting you.

  42. Note also Roberts’ ground-breaking theory that The Silence of the Lambs is anti-English agitprop pushed on the masses by Hollywood’s Irish powerbrokers.

    The Silence of the Lambs was a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fable. Ironically the Best Picture Academy Award it won was at the expense of the Walt Disney animated Beauty and the Beast, also nominated for that 1992 Oscar.

  43. “takeover arb” or “merger arb” generally refer to the practice of going long a firm being acquired and short the firm doing the acquiring in a takeover deal. If the deal is consummated you should make money on both sides of the deal.

    The term arbitrage is used very loosely on Wall Street and does not fit the technical economic definition very well. Things like “Stat Arb” or “Relative Value Arb” are not actually arbitrage just good investments. Pure arbitrage is essentially non-existent.

    Milken did engage in “Takeover Arb” as it is colloquially known, since he took positions in the deals. That is, even though he was a banker he would also profit if the deal was consummated on his security positions.

  44. Milken did engage in “Takeover Arb” as it is colloquially known, since he took positions in the deals. That is, even though he was a banker he would also profit if the deal was consummated on his security positions.

    I was either unaware, or had forgotten about that and was unaware that those WS types had expanded the definition so widely since my days sitting in a classroom.

    Good info.

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