Thursday, March 31, 2016

Here's A Genuine Chant For Der Blödmann's Rallies: "Swindle Me, Swindle Me!

Today, Dr. Konnikova puts the US electorate on the couch because their Gullibility has reached epic proportions in their adoration of Der Blödmann aka Donald J. Trump aka The Doanld. This may be the greatest scam in US history: a bovaiating narcissist becomes POTUS 45. Stay tuned. In this is the (fair & balanced) study of collective obsessional behavior, so be it.

[x New Yorker]
Donald Trump, Con Artist?
By Maria Konnikova

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Late last month, on “Good Morning America,” “CBS This Morning,” and other political talk shows, Marco Rubio called Donald Trump “a con artist.” (“We’re on the verge of having someone take over the conservative movement and the Republican Party who’s a con artist,” he said, on “Today.”) Trump, Rubio argued, has made a career of “sticking it to working Americans”; several of his businesses had gone bankrupt and some, like Trump University, may have been fraudulent. Rubio implied that Trump’s Presidential campaign was another instance of intentional deception. It’s a message we’ve heard not just from Rubio, but from Ted Cruz and Mitt Romney, as well as various pundits. I heard it with special interest: my book The Confidence Game, about con artists and the psychology of the con, was published earlier this year. Suppose that Trump is a con artist—what, exactly, would that mean?

Politicians often call one another liars. By calling Trump a con artist, Rubio may have just meant to say that Trump was a grandiose liar—someone who has lied above and beyond the typical level permissible in politics. Many politicians—indeed, many people—are deceitful, and many businesspeople run companies that go bankrupt or which sell products that aren’t particularly good. Still, these people are not necessarily con artists. In writing The Confidence Game, I learned that a con artist, or “confidence man,” is a very specific type of person.

A line, thin but perceptible, divides even egregious liars from confidence men. People deceive one another for all sorts of reasons: they might lie to stay out of trouble, for example, or to make themselves seem more interesting, or to urge a business deal toward its consummation. David Maurer, a linguist turned historian of the con, said, “If confidence men operate outside the law, it must be remembered that they are not much further outside than many of our pillars of society who go under names less sinister.” Still, there is a meaningful difference between an ordinary liar and a con artist. A grifter takes advantage of a person’s confidence for his own specific ends—ends that are often unknowable to the victim and unrelated to the business at hand. He willfully deceives a mark into handing over his trust under false pretenses. He has a plan. What ultimately sets con artists apart is their intent. To figure out if someone is a con artist, one needs to ask two questions. First, is their deception knowing, malicious, and directed, ultimately, toward their own personal gain? Second, is the con a means to an end unrelated to the substance of the scheme itself?

For a con artist, no matter the chosen racket—Ponzi schemes, à la Madoff; feats of imposturing, as from Catch Me If You Can (1980); romance scams; psychic scams; old-fashioned street grift—the end goal is the same: personal profit. But the profit need not be financial. Often, it isn’t. Underlying almost any con is the desire for power—for control over other people’s lives. That power can take the form of reputation, adulation, or the thrill of knowing oneself to be the orchestrator of others’ fates—of being a sort of mini-god. The path to that end is entirely secondary. Ferdinand Waldo Demara, one of the greatest con men in history, was known as the Great Imposter. He never finished high school but impersonated everyone from a professor to a surgeon to a prison warden. Demara was often penniless, despite his scams—but he found ways to enjoy the admiration of multitudes and to exert power over the lives of others (very concretely, in the case of surgery). The racket itself mattered less than those ultimate goals.

If Trump were a con artist, he would be interested in politics only as a means to some other end. He wouldn’t believe in his political opinions; instead, he would see those opinions as convenient tools for gaining what he actually desires. Insofar as he believed in any of the policies he espoused, that belief would be purely incidental. Con artists aren’t true believers; they are opportunists. Trump, as a con artist, would give up on politics the moment it stopped serving his purposes, moving on to the next thing that gave him the same level of attention and adulation. He might, for example, drift away from political life the same way he drifted away from “The Apprentice,” or from any of his business or real-estate ventures before that.

We already see some evidence of that drift in the evolution, such as it is, of his political views. Take, for example, immigration. One of the few points that he’s raised during his campaign is a promise to build a “beautiful” wall between the United States and Mexico. And yet, back in the nineteen-eighties, Trump was charged with employing illegal immigrants in the demolition of the Bonwit Teller building and the construction of Trump Tower. That disconnect seems more in keeping with an opportunistic mindset than one that is truly anti-immigrant.

Another thing that differentiates con artists from ordinary liars is their nuanced and targeted use of flattery. Confidence men know that the best way to achieve their desires is to tell people what they want to hear rather than what is true. The quickest way to gain a mark’s trust is to sell him a vision of the world as he wants, or believes, it to be. Consider the 2013 case of Paul Frampton, a former physics professor who fell for a sweetheart scam of the highest order: he found himself in a South American jail for drug smuggling rather than married to a supermodel. The woman who posed as the model—she impersonated a real model, Denise Milani—played to Frampton’s vanity, convincing him that a divorced, sixty-eight-year-old particle physicist was the ideal match for a thirty-two-year-old former Miss Bikini World. It didn’t make rational sense, and yet Frampton was willing to believe that every supermodel should be so lucky as to score a mate with his intellect.

Con artists don’t sell reality; they sell an illusion that their victims already want to believe. Most of us go through our lives in thrall to optimistic illusions. We think of ourselves as being a bit better, smarter, more attractive, and more important than we actually are—and we remain convinced that tomorrow will be better than today. As Shelley Taylor, a psychologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, put it, people generally believe that “the present is better than the past and that the future will be even better.” It’s how we get through life. Taylor explained that “in effect, most people seem to be saying, ‘The future will be great, especially for me.’ ”

Inasmuch as con artists are peddlers of hope who tell us what we want to hear, many politicians have taken a page from the grifter’s playbook. Still, there’s a difference between ordinary political flattery and political grifting. Again, the dividing line is that of intentionality. Does a politician believe, to some extent, in his promises—or are they incidental to an ultimate goal, which, in the case of the political confidence man, will have nothing whatsoever to do with politics? It’s not a case of misrepresenting one’s policies but of not actually having a policy. And, indeed, Trump’s promises are often deliberately vague. He meets demands for specifics with another tool from the con artist’s arsenal: emotion. People who are emotional are not logical. Appeal to them on the emotional level and you no longer need coherent arguments. Here, as ever, there’s a thin line between ordinary politics and political grifting. Trump the politician might use emotion to inspire. But Trump the con artist would knowingly use emotion to deceive and mislead, caring little about the words or the substance as long as he gets what he wants.

We can never get into Trump’s head. We don’t know what his intentions are. It’s possible that he does have political convictions. In the meantime, though, the best evidence for Trump’s potential con artistry comes from the lawsuits against his defunct for-profit educational venture, Trump University. Last week, the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court ruled that a lawsuit that had been brought against Trump University in 2013 could go forward. That suit accuses Trump of actual fraud, or, as the decision puts it, of the use of “deception, misrepresentation, concealment, suppression, false pretense, false promise or unconscionable contractual provisions” to “defraud.” If, in the end, the ruling goes against Trump, we will be able to say, definitively, that he is a con artist—that he deliberately engaged in deception, using a wholly incidental platform to attain ends of money and influence.

In 2013, to counter disgruntled students’ claims, Trump set up a Web site——that touted the high ratings that Trump University courses had received. How could the school be a fraud if students were happy? A California judge, Kim Wardlaw, addressed this issue in her ruling in another lawsuit against Trump University. “As the recent Ponzi-scheme scandals involving onetime financial luminaries like Bernard Madoff and Allen Stanford demonstrate, victims of con artists often sing the praises of their victimizers until the moment they realize they have been fleeced,” she wrote. Wardlaw is right about marks. Not only do they sing the grifter’s praises until the moment they’ve been fleeced but they often keep singing them afterward, so as to not admit to themselves, or the rest of us, that any fleecing has taken place.

This raises a depressing possibility. If Trump is indeed a con artist, and if he is, in the end, elected, we may end up not wanting to admit that we were scammed. At the moment, Trump’s supporters see him as authentic and honest, even as they dismiss more traditional candidates, like Hillary Clinton, as quintessential politicians—that is, as opportunistic liars. Perhaps, in the future, we’ll cling to this belief to preserve our collective self-image. In that case, the term “con artist” may end up applying to us, too. Ω

[Russian-born Maria Konnikova came to the States with her parents at age 4. Konnikova is a contributor to The New Yorker (online), where she writes a weekly blog focusing on psychology and science. She is the author of both Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes (2013) as well as The Confidence Game (2016). Konnikova received a BA (psychology and creative writing, magna cum laude) from Harvard University and a PhD (paychology) from Columbia University.]

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Sorry, Robert Young — Neither "Father Knows Best" Nor "Marcus Welby" Really Existed

There is so much empty talk about "family values" in today's Dumbo/Teabagger political rhetoric. This Dumbo/Teabagger rallying cry had its origins in the reign of St. Dutch in the 1980s. Ever since that golden age, "family values" has served as a dog-whistle for the war on women who resisted the roles of stay-at-home cook, housekeeper, and child-minder. Today, Stephanie Coontz points to the nostalgia overdose that longs for a family life that never really existed, except in TV depictions of domesticity. If this is (fair & balanced) truth to Dumbo/Teabagger nonsense, so be it.

[x TNR]
The Way We Never Were
By Stephanie Coontz

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People have been predicting the death of marriage for almost a century. In 1928, John Watson, the most famous child psychologist of that era, predicted that marriage would be dead by 1977. In 1977, sociologist Amatai Etzioni declared that if current trends continued, by the 1990s “not one American family will be left.” In 1999, the National Marriage Project announced breathlessly that the marriage rate had fallen by 43 percent since 1960. And in 2010, a Pew Research Center poll found that 40 percent of Americans said marriage was “becoming obsolete.”

The marriage rate is calculated on the basis of how many single women 18 years and older get married each year. In 1960, half of all women were already married before they turned 21. Today, the average age of marriage for women is 27, so it’s no surprise that the percentage of women over 18 who are married is much lower.

But most people eventually marry. In 1960, only 2.8 percent of women and 3.5 percent of men married in their forties and fifties. Today, sociologists project that almost a quarter of women still single at age 40 will wed in the next ten years, and that 85 percent of women will have married by the time they reach age 85. As for the 40 percent of Americans who told pollsters in 2010 that marriage was “becoming obsolete,” most of them simply meant that marriage is no longer an institution you have to enter in order to have a respectable or satisfying life. Because we live so much of our adult lives as singles, it no longer makes sense to assume that marriage is the only way people will organize their obligations and commitments.

In 1992, I published The Way We Never Were: American Families And The Nostalgia Trap, a search for the supposed “golden age” of family values in the twentieth century: I found that the male breadwinner family of the 1950s was a very recent, short-lived invention and that during its heyday, rates of poverty, child abuse, marital unhappiness, and domestic violence were actually higher than in the more diverse 1990s.

Much has changed for American families in the 25 years since the book first appeared. The most dramatic transformation has been the cultural and legal about-face regarding same-sex marriage. The prospect of legalized same-sex marriages seemed far off even when the second edition was published in 2000. As late as 2004, 60 percent of Americans still opposed granting gays and lesbians the right to marry, and in 2013, 35 states had laws limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. Yet by 2014, 138 polls by 21 different polling organizations all found majorities supporting marriage equality. Then on June 28, 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled 5–4 that marriage was a fundamental right and could not be denied to gays and lesbians. Hundreds of thousands of gay and lesbian couples across the country, many raising children, can now enjoy full marital and parental rights.

Other changes reflect the persistence of family trends that were already well established by 1992. Between 1960 and 1990, the average age at first marriage rose from 20 to 24 for women and from 22 to 26 for men. By 2014, it had climbed further to 27 for women and 29 for men. Many more people now delay marriage until their thirties or forties, and some researchers believe that a full quarter of today’s young adults may reach their mid-forties to mid-fifties without ever having been married, although unmarried cohabitation has grown more common.

Many older “rules” of marriage and divorce have been transformed in the past 25 years. In 1992, living together before marriage was not yet the norm. As of 1987, only one-third of women aged 19 to 44 had ever cohabited, and cohabitation before marriage was a risk factor for divorce. By 2013 a majority of marriages began with cohabitation and living together before marriage no longer predicted divorce. But living on one’s own may be growing even faster than cohabitation. Today almost 30 percent of American households comprise just one person. Delaying marriage until one’s early 30s used to raise the chance of divorce; now it lowers it.

In 1992 I critiqued the panic over growing family diversity. My skepticism about the doomsayers has since been proven correct. Despite the continuing rise in unwed births since 1994, juvenile crime rates have fallen by 60 percent. Domestic violence is also down 60 percent. Parents today spend more time with their children than in 1965.

But I was badly off the mark in my predictions about the prospects for marriage equality and expanded reproductive rights. I wrote in 2000 that the controversy over gay and lesbian marriage seemed likely to persist, but that the long conflict over abortion and contraception might soon be mitigated by inventions such as the morning-after pill, which prevents a fertilized egg from implanting itself, and RU486, the pill that makes an early abortion easier and more private.

It turns out I got things exactly backward. Support for same-sex marriage soared, from barely a quarter of the population to almost 60 percent, and marriage equality became the law of the land in 2015. But in 2014, the Supreme Court struck down the section of the Affordable Care Act that required employers to cover certain contraceptives for their female employees, granting a religious exemption to certain types of corporations. Many legislators and business owners have tried to block distribution of the morning-after pill, refusing to accept the medical and legal fact that it is not an abortifacient because it acts to prevent implantation of a fertilized ovum rather than to dislodge an implanted embryo. And the past decade has seen vigorous attempts to roll back women’s access to contraception and abortion, including a massive campaign to defund and discredit Planned Parenthood, an organization that Republican and Democratic political leaders alike once endorsed.

Amid these many transformations, however, one thing has not changed since my book first appeared in 1992—the tendency for many Americans to view present-day family and gender relations through the foggy lens of nostalgia for a mostly mythical past.

Nostalgia is a very human trait. When school children returning from summer vacation are asked to name good and bad things about their summer, the lists tend to be equally long. As the year goes on, however, if the exercise is repeated, the good list grows longer and the bad list gets shorter, until by the end of the year the children are describing not their actual vacations but their idealized image of “vacation.” So it is with our collective “memory” of family life. As time passes, the actual complexity of our history—even of our own personal experience—gets buried under the weight of the ideal image.

Selective memory is not a bad thing when it leads children to forget the arguments in the back seat of the car and to look forward to their next vacation. But it’s a serious problem when it leads grown-ups to try to recreate a past that either never existed at all or whose seemingly attractive features were inextricably linked to injustices and restrictions on liberty that few Americans would tolerate today.

One example of how discussions of family life are still distorted by myths about the past is the question of how marriage has evolved historically. Both sides in the Supreme Court decision extending marriage rights to same-sex couples demonstrated confusion on this issue. In his dissent from the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “For all. . . millennia, across all. . . civilizations, ‘marriage’ referred to only one relationship: the union of a man and a woman.” Its primordial purpose, Roberts asserted, was to make sure that all children would be raised “in the stable conditions of a lifelong relationship.”

In fact, the most common purpose of marriage in history was not to ensure children access to both their mother and father, but to acquire advantageous in-laws and expand the family labor force. The wishes of the young people being matched up and the well-being of their offspring were frequently subordinated to those goals. That subordination was enforced through the institution of illegitimacy, which functioned to deny parental support to children born of a relationship not approved by the kin of one or both parents or by society’s rulers. In Anglo-American common law, a child born out of wedlock was a lius nullius, a child of nobody, entitled to nothing.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, meanwhile, wrote an eloquent majority opinion in support of marriage equality. Labeling marriage a “union unlike any other in its importance” to two committed persons, Kennedy argued that gays and lesbians deserved to marry because lifelong unions have “always. . . promised nobility and dignity to all persons” and “marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations.”

These claims are also at odds with historical reality. For thousands of years, marriage conferred nobility and dignity almost exclusively on the husband, who had a legal right to appropriate the property and earnings of his wife and children and forcibly impose his will upon them. As late as the 1970s, most states had “head and master” laws, giving special decision-making rights to husbands, while the law explicitly defined rape as a man’s forcible intercourse with a woman other than his wife.

Today, a marriage based on mutual respect and commitment is a wonderful thing for both partners and for any children they have. But a bad marriage is often worse than singlehood for the health and well-being of most family members. And insisting, as Justice Kennedy does, that marriage is essential to fulfill “our most profound hopes” makes it difficult for society to respond to the needs—or recognize the contributions—of the growing number of singles and unmarried couples in America.

No one can predict what new family trends and incidents will capture media attention in coming years. But it is safe to say that many Americans will continue to interpret new developments in light of historical myths. Ω

[Stephanie Coontz teaches history and family studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA.She is the author of both Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy (2005) and The Way We Never Were: American Families And The Nostalgia Trap (1992). Coontz received a BA (history from the University of California at Berkeley and an MA (history) from the University of Washington.]

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Roll Over, Tracy Kidder — Make Way For Mat Honan

In 1981, this blogger read Tracy Kidder's breakout book — The Soul of the New Machine — which won the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction that year. On a smaller scale, Mat Homan has done the same thing with the Google CEO, Sundar Pichai. If this is (fair & balanced) techno-journalism, so be it.

[x BuzzFeed]
Searching For Sundar Pichai
By Mathew (Mat) Honan

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The Consumer Electronics Show, universally known as CES, is a riot of technology. Held annually in the bleak Nevada desert town of Las Vegas, it is a great blinking din, jammed with screens, speakers, automobiles, whirling drones, blooping robots, e-cigs and e-cigs and ever more e-cigs, plus some 170,000 people bumping around inside a disease-ridden convention center. Among those many attendees is Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google.

Pichai is 43, tall and slender, and tends to dress casually, if nicely — think Banana Republic dad. Today he’s wearing a v-neck sweater over a collared shirt and jeans. He sports rectangular-framed glasses and a trim, graying beard. For the most part, he looks like any other conventiongoer. Which for him is clearly a thrill. As he pauses for a moment to gape at a motion simulator ride where 20 or so people are strapped into lurching theater chairs with VR headsets clamped across their faces, he leans in close to make sure he can be heard over the fury of carnival noises bouncing around the hall.

“The nice thing about CES,” he says impishly, grinning and eyes aglow, “is that there are so many people, you can be anonymous.”

It’s true. And he’s definitely enjoying the chance to cruise the show in incognito mode. Pichai has long been respected in product circles as a visionary. But he is now among an elite group of tech executives — along with the likes of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple’s Tim Cook, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos; the new American industrialists whose global reach make US Steel and Standard Oil look like Piggly Wiggly by comparison. And yet, unlike those boldface names, and despite a widely reported $200 million stock windfall, he remains largely unknown.

Were Cook or Zuck to stride across a CES show floor, they would be mobbed. Pichai is not at that point yet. So all morning, he’s been running around with his name badge flipped over backward, having fun, anonymously checking out gadgets. He bounces from smart locks, to smart lights, to a smart shower, to smart shoe insoles. It almost backfires when a Samsung representative demonstrating a smart refrigerator reaches out and flips his badge back over, asking, “What are you, press?” But his name doesn’t mean anything to her, and Pichai just casts an amused sideways glance and dives in with questions. “So, what can I ask the fridge?” he wants to know. Various versions of this same scene play out again and again.

Yet while he’s purposefully keeping a low profile today, that’s clearly not possible long-term. Pichai was promoted to Google’s top job in August [2015], following a massive restructuring that created a new holding company, Alphabet. This let the company peel off its more fantastical ventures — things like Calico that’s “curing” death, or its Wing self-flying-drone delivery service — as Alphabet subsidiaries, while keeping all of its main internet businesses under Google. With $74.5 billion in annual revenue last year, Google is by far the largest (and only profitable) business under Alphabet. Indeed, Google has seven different products that more than a billion people use: Search, Gmail, YouTube, Android, Chrome, Maps, and its app and media vending machine, the Google Play Store.

But with that world-beating growth has come controversy. It was intimately linked to the Edward Snowden revelations about an NSA program called Prism, which caused people the world over to wonder how much Google was cooperating with the NSA. (The company has always maintained that the NSA was not given direct access to its systems.) Protesters in San Francisco made Google buses synonymous with income inequality, and regularly took to blocking them in the streets. Google tussled with European governments over citizens’ rights to remove unfavorable listings from search results (the so-called right to be forgotten), and over antitrust claims that it lists its own products ahead of its competitors. At one particularly low point, during its Google IO developers conference in 2014, a protester stood in the aisles during the keynote presentation shouting, “You work for a totalitarian company that makes machines that kill people.”

Things used to be so different! When Google was young it was A Very Different Kind of Tech Company, espousing idealistic principles in the earnest manner of the ’90s web. In the now-famous letter from its 2004 IPO, the company’s founders wrote that one of its principles was “Don’t be evil.” It was just there to help you get shit done. Search for your stuff and get out.

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information. And the company has been very good at this — it’s why its search is unparalleled, Gmail is the best tool for organizing and sorting your email, and Google Photos can take all your thousands of pictures, tell you who is in them, and where they were taken, and that this is a picture of a parrot, while that is a picture of a duck.

But to do all that it has to suck up an enormous amount of information — and increasingly that information isn’t coming from Web pages, but from you. You are, at this very moment, bustling with data (location, age, primary mode of transportation, gender, browsing history, heart rate, race, IP address, browser, operating system, cervical mucus, cholesterol level) that can be used to better understand you. And Google is collecting ever more of it in an effort to give you better and better answers; to take your raw data and turn it into useful information. What’s more, as the company pushes ever more into machine learning, human beings are ceding control of what its products decide. Why did its AI, AlphaGo, choose the moves that beat the best human player in the world in a Go tournament earlier this month? The honest answer is no one really knows. Which is to say, Google may not be evil, but it’s undeniably a little creepy.

Meanwhile, all of these things Google is doing for those of us in the industrialized world today, it wants to do for the whole world tomorrow. Google is sprinting to attract its “next billion” users. For the most part, these are people in the developing world; people who will go online, for the very first time, using one of Google’s Android-powered handsets. Which puts Google in the position of being seen as both a corporate NSA and modern East India Company.

It’s that vague, impending creepiness, plus increasing global ambition, that explains why Pichai seems like the ideal person to be running Google now. The company’s previous CEOs, Eric Schmidt and Larry Page, never seemed particularly empathetic or, you know, likely to have a measurable body temperature. (Schmidt once famously said, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” while Page waxed rhapsodic about theoretical lawless “special zones” where the company could be “free to experiment.”) While the gossip on Schmidt tended to center around things like, as New York magazine put it, his “lavish sex palace,” what you hear Googlers whispering about Pichai is how he promised to put his kids to bed himself every night in 2015.

Pichai clearly understands there are all sorts of things we don’t want anyone to know. “We need to design systems so that we give people a very easy way to say, ‘I need to be off the grid, I need this to be private,’” he says over a smashed avocado at the Wynn, moments after being buttonholed by Barry Diller in a nearby hallway. Can Sundar Pichai transform Google’s image? Can he make you actually like Google again?

As Clay Bavor, who runs Google’s virtual reality efforts, says of Pichai’s approach to technology, “You want a deeply thoughtful, caring human person, thinking about those issues and leading the company making those things happen. I’m really glad that he, of all people, is Google’s CEO. That’s what I tell my friends.”
So... Sundar Pichai: It could be worse?

In November, the winter monsoon blew into the coast of southeast India, just as it always has. But this time its effects were very different. A particularly bad storm system dumped more than 40 inches of rain on Chennai that month, with more than 10 coming in a single 24-hour period, flooding the city. Illegal building and the destruction of neighboring wetlands had left Chennai poorly prepared, and it remained inundated for weeks. More than 300 people lost their lives, and damages were estimated at $3 billion. Sundar Pichai’s family was among those affected.

“My grandmother took the brunt of it,” he says from the backseat of a van, snaking through the thick Delhi traffic on a warm December day. His grandmother had been staying with his aunt, and when the rains came they moved to the second floor of a building where they were stranded for four days with no water, power, or cell service. A cousin collected rainwater for them to drink. And for four days, the CEO of the company that has amassed more information on more people than any other on the planet had no idea what was happening to his family. Weeks after the floods, he is visiting India for the first time in more than a year.

“It’s always emotional to me to come back to India,” says Pichai, who is on his way to a stadium where he will address a few thousand cheering students. “It’s truly humbling to see the reception.”

The CEO of this American colossus grew up in a two-room house in Chennai, where he and his brother slept on the living room floor. “My parents sacrificed a lot and education was always a priority,” he says. “I felt fortunate about the opportunities I had, so I never felt it was modest because they were determined to give me access to education, whatever it took.”

(Pichai will later say that he worries his father is still disappointed that he didn’t go further in school. “I think if you talked to my dad, he’s probably still regretting that I didn’t complete my PhD. He had to leave college after his undergrad. He wanted to learn more, but because of financial reasons he couldn’t do it. I think he always wanted me to continue on.”)

By the standard of living in India, Pichai was fortunate. His father was an engineer, and he had access to education. The family had enough money for a scooter, which all four of them — himself, and his father, mother, and brother — would sometimes ride at once. Sure, you could catch him hanging off the sides of buses in Chennai as they rolled down the street, but it was to avoid the oppressive heat, not the fare.

Yet there were plenty of people — and he saw them all the time — far less fortunate. “Outside my home there was this guy we called the night watchman,” he explains. “He would sleep outside our home every night. I never thought of him as homeless, but he never had a home, and never had a family. He doesn’t know where he was born, or how he was born.”
Today, Pichai travels with a security detail in multiple vehicles, and an entourage of assistants and lieutenants. When one, an American, notes the cacophony of horns, weaving tuk-tuks, curbside food stands, and vendors who walk out into the roadway to sell enormous, man-sized balloons, Pichai scoffs. “Delhi’s nothing; Delhi’s so organized.”

“I remember when I was young trying to come home at night, and these dogs wouldn’t let me come home. So I wound up climbing on the top of the houses, and going from rooftop to rooftop, and they would follow me all the way, barking.”

As the caravan creeps through a swarm of slow-moving, smoke-spewing vehicles through Delhi’s crumbling history and rapidly modernizing future, it passes a large, unmissable billboard, advertising the Nexus 6P, Google’s flagship phone. You see these ads all over Delhi, and outside of it, too. They greet you at the airport. There are no similar signs for the iPhone. And indeed, there are very few iPhones in India at all, where Apple has less than a 2% market share.

There are, on the other hand, a lot of goddamn Android phones. Android commands a whopping 64% of the Indian market. And in 2016, for the first time, Google expects to sell more Android phones in India than in the United States. Smartphones have largely saturated the United States, where almost 70% of the adult population, and a full 86% of people in their twenties, has one. But India is still on the way up. Only 26% of India’s population owns a smartphone, and they make up nearly all of the country’s internet users. That number looks poised to change rapidly, fueled not by high-end devices like the fancy Nexus 6P that’s advertised everywhere, but by an explosion of inexpensive phones from no-name manufacturers and a blooming infrastructure that’s allowing people to connect those phones to the Internet. One of Pichai’s challenges will be to make sure Android keeps that market share as India blooms.

“Personal computers never really took off in India,” explains Pichai. “Two things changed: affordable smartphones powered by Android, and connectivity. It’s one of those ignition moments when the combination of the two is lighting up a country.”

Android was, very literally, made for this moment. Its entire point is to be customized, reconfigured, and personalized for a world full of people across a range of sizes, shapes, configurations, and price points. Sure, signs for the $550 Nexus abound, but you can also score a cheap Android phone in Delhi, like a Lava Atom X, for less than $40 — and that’s without a contract. It will, Pichai thinks, change the status quo not just in India, but the entire world.

“Hundreds of years ago very few people had access to information. And they were essentially in the corridors of power,” he says, sitting up in excitement, and leaning forward from the backseat of the van. “Even a simple thing like the printing press made books accessible to many more people. I’ve always been fascinated by this thing, that every jump in technology involves leveling the playing field.”

Yet those inexpensive phones are nothing without affordable connections. India’s cities have slow, overloaded connections, and its rural areas often have no connection at all. But that’s changing, largely through the efforts of companies like Google and Facebook.

Facebook’s main push in India was via a program called Free Basics, which offered a set of services like the weather, Wikipedia, and, well, Facebook that people could access without counting against their data plans. But in January, India’s government banned so-called differential pricing plans, killing Free Basics and dealing it a huge setback.

Google is going a different direction. It’s trying to do two main things: reduce the amount of data its devices use, and break out its checkbook to help provide free bandwidth for people to use whatever services they want. “The model people want here is similar to what we have in the United States,” Pichai says. “We should do more to get more data and make it more affordable. That’s a better way to approach the problem.”

To that end, in January, Google rolled out a program that will provide free Wi-Fi at railway stations. It started in Mumbai, and will be in 100 stations by the end of the year, reaching 10 million people. Eventually, it will arrive at some 400 stations in all.

The other big piece is making it easy for people to use their phones on slow networks, or when there is no network at all. That means doing things like caching Maps so you can still navigate even without an internet connection. Or the emphasis in its forthcoming version of Android, N, on using less data to accomplish the same tasks.

Google is also pushing hard into Indic languages. Although Hindi is the most widely spoken language in India, with more than 400 million native speakers, that’s a small slice of the nation’s 1.3 billion–strong population. Google says it expects the next 300–400 million Internet users in India to come online speaking native languages. And so Google has rolled out support for 11 of them.

“That’s this head-exploding concept, when you think about the vernacular languages,” Pichai says. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the leading newspapers in Tamil, my native language, had more circulation than the New York Times or other leading newspapers in the world.” (In fact, the biggest Tamil-language daily has a print circulation of 1.7 million to the New York Times’ 626,000. The second largest Tamil daily has a circ of 1.2 million.) “There are so many people who are very good at their native languages, but are completely cut off from everything. So in India, to go from 300 million users to a billion users, the path leads through vernacular languages.”

It also means bringing women online. This is a deeply personal issue for Pichai.

“My mom dropped out of high school for economic reasons, but she always was the one I turned to when I had difficulty with any of my schoolwork,” he says. “I could see the power of what she could contribute, but in some ways she couldn’t fully realize it because she didn’t have access to education. When you look at the internet, women account for less than one-third of the usage, and that number is much lower in rural areas, I think it’s an imperative for us to do that.”

Google has a program called Internet Saathi, which employs women to ride bikes out to remote and rural villages with Android phones and tablets, where they then teach other women how to use the devices. Google is planning to hit 300,000 villages across India in this way by the end of 2018.

“Most women in rural India assume the Internet is not for them,” Pichai continues. “They assume it’s for their husbands or fathers or sons or brothers. But then you show it to them, and there’s this thing that clicks in their heads that it’s for them — for some people it’s the crop prices for vegetables which you can find on the phone. When we live in the Western world, technology is constantly changing and it’s a continuum. It’s happening to you all the time and you take it for granted. But if you step back, you realize, ‘Oh my god,’ it’s changing life in profound ways.”

Eventually, the van rolls down a narrow street, between walls of crumbling bricks where men stand idle by the roadside, looking to see who is coming that merited blocking the street. As it arrives outside the University of New Delhi stadium, the doors slide open, and Pichai steps out to a roar.

There is a stage set up in the center of the stadium. It’s encircled by students in folding chairs and, higher up, in bleacher seats along the walls. A band called Raaga Trippin plays, warming up the crowd. “WE’RE ABOUT TO SEE THE PERSON YOU’VE BEEN WAITING TO SEE,” a frontman who looks sort of like a South Asian version of (or at least his haircut) shouts to the audience. “ARE YOU HAPPY ENOUGH?” As Pichai preps backstage, it is one of the few times he looks nervous. He sighs repeatedly, and between bits of conversation, stares blankly at the floor, or the wall.

Pichai is just becoming a guy you might recognize in the United States, but in India he is already massively popular; a celebrity executive and point of national pride. “When he was named CEO of Google people were literally lighting off crackers in the streets,” says Pranav Dixit, a former technology editor at the Hindustan Times. “Especially in Chennai. It was that big.”

When Pichai enters the arena for an onstage interview from the famous Indian cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle, the room of 2,000 students explodes in noise. He spends the next hour fielding questions about everything from his test scores in high school to career advice. The biggest applause line of the day comes after he’s asked why there haven’t been any versions of the Android operating system named for an Indian dessert. (Each version of Android is named, alphabetically, for a dessert. K was KitKat, L was Lollipop, M, the current version, is Marshmallow.)

He mulls the question and says, “Maybe we will do an online poll and if Indians all vote....” He trails off with the hint of suggestion. The next day, the line appears all over the Indian press.

After the stadium, Pichai hops back in the van, visibly fatigued, and rolls back to the Leela Palace hotel. There, he quickly changes out of his blue sweater and black pants into a suit and then headed off for a closed-door meeting with Prime Minister Modi, followed by a trip to Rashtrapati Bhavan, the former palace of the Indian viceroy, and now the president’s residence.

Rashtrapati Bhavan is set far back from the road, across a groomed courtyard of red clay. It’s a massive, domed, colonial mansion, with 340 rooms that cover some 200,000 square feet, on grounds that spread out across 330 acres. For more than 100 years, it was the largest residence for a head of state in the world (Turkey beat it, in 2014).

On this night, there’s a reception for Pichai here, hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee, a fixture of India’s politics for decades, and a roundtable meeting with all sorts of tech and education emissaries to discuss how to improve education in the country via technology.

Before the formal discussion, everyone gathers in Ashoka Hall, a Persian-themed ballroom. Its gilded ceiling features a massive painting of a hunt, showing Fath-Ali Shah, surrounded by his sons, as he spears a tiger from on horseback — it was a gift from the shah himself to George IV of England. A portrait of the poet Nizami Ganjavi is on one wall, while a painting simply titled “Persian Lady” graces the opposite. Men in uniforms take turns shooting selfies with him, and everyone mills about, until suddenly the guards begin asking everyone to line up in orderly rows, with Pichai front and center.

The room hushes. The president glides in. He strides 50 paces across the floor. Pichai clasps his hands together in Añjali Mudrā. Everyone else follows suit. They bow. They shake hands. Pichai smiles. The president remains as an expressionless sphinx.

The procession files into a dining room and sits in high-backed wooden chairs at a table that seats 50. Everyone, or so it seems, takes a turn talking about the ways tech and education can work better together in India. And for two hours, the speakers grind on, and on, and on some more. Through it all Mukherjee is stone-faced and unmoving. Until, at last, he says something.

“I came here not to speak, but to learn,” he says. “This much I know: A new India is emerging.” He cites the more than 700 universities across the country. “Who will create a new India, out of this oldest civilization?” The answer sits directly across from him, all night long. The answer is Sundar Pichai. Ambitious. Attentive. And throughout the long, boring, evening: smiling.

Later, Pichai will echo this line about a new India, as he lopes out toward the dining room. He’s grinning, and motions to the wave of Indians walking in to dine with him and the president. Most are under 50; there are a handful of women. Despite sitting through a long interminable discussion that was mostly people listening to themselves talk, he seems energized.

“It’s a big shift,” he says. “This is new for India. Normally, only captains of industry would be at something like this. But to have startups at the palace!” He grins widely, spreads his palms out and up as he looks around, and goes bounding off to eat his dinner.

A few minutes later, an Uber driver in a tiny, white, smoking diesel pulls up outside the palace gates on Dalehouse Road and fetches an American shivering in the night air. Despite an impassible language barrier, the driver knows exactly where to arrive, and where to go, thanks to the cheap Android smartphone on his dashboard, and a little blue dot winds its way across a Google Maps screen and the digitized roads of India’s ancient city.

“This morning I’ve been feeling so much excitement about the announcement around the gravitational waves being discovered,” says Pichai, who is positively bouncing up and down, nodding his head, when he opens the door to his house, on a crisp February morning. A long-held theory of Einstein’s has just been proved. And Pichai is giddy.

“A thousand people who worked on it! It’s a remarkable, mind-blowing thing, because Einstein wrote about this more than a hundred years ago — and it was all in his mind. One man, solo, doing that! I’ve been geeking out all morning on this trying to understand it. ”

Pichai’s neighborhood, in the sensually curving Los Altos Hills, just northwest of San Jose, is the kind of place where people have vineyards and solar panel arrays in their front lawns. It is always sunny here, and always beautiful. To get to his house, you have to pull off of I-280 (which bills itself as “The World’s Most Beautiful Freeway”), pass by two different stables, and Tesla’s headquarters. There are lots of horses, and lots of Teslas. Cyclists on $10,000 bikes swarm the roads.

His home is shockingly modest for one of the highest-paid CEOs in the United States. It’s a five-bedroom house at the end of a cul de sac that, tennis court aside, wouldn’t look out of place in suburban anywhere. The interior looks more West Elm than Eames. But what’s most striking is the entrance hall, the floor of which is covered in tape.

Just inside the front door, there’s a rectangular grid on the floor, about 5 feet long and 3 wide, made from colored tape. It’s a miniature indoor soccer pitch, created by his 9-year-old son, where the two of them can get down on the floor together and play. (He has a daughter as well, who is 13, and a wife, Anjali, whom he met as an undergraduate studying engineering at IIT in India.) “The rules are always changing,” Pichai explains, “so that he always wins.”

This appears to be Pichai’s strategy at work as well. His even temperament and desire to see others succeed help explain Pichai’s steady, if sharp, rise at Google. His first job was running Google Toolbar — a browser extension that let you search Google from within Internet Explorer. From there, he embarked on what at the time seemed like a puzzling mission to help build a new web browser — Google Chrome — when it was completely unclear why the company would need one.

Today, Chrome is the dominant browser, and it has helped the company stave off threats from Microsoft’s Bing. It set Google up for Chrome OS, pushing it into markets where it had never been before. It was a non-obvious, brilliant tactical move that saw far into the future.

While still running Chrome, in 2013 Pichai took over Android as well, moving to oversee both of the company’s major operating system elements. It was the transition to running Android along with Chrome that multiple executives point to as a key example of the way Pichai operates.

Android was something Google saw as vital to its future, yet it was also something of a rogue unit internally. Google had purchased Android early in its history, and Android founder Andy Rubin continued to run it after the acquisition. Under Rubin, Android had run almost as an entirely separate business within Google. Pichai brought it back into the fold and made sure that Android — the thing that for perhaps 1 billion people will be their first interaction with the Internet — was deeply, and profoundly, a part of Google.

“When Sundar took over leadership of Android, previously the team had a reputation for being a bit insular,” says Jen Fitzpatrick, who runs Maps and Local for Google. “Under Sundar there was a notable shift in terms of how those interactions would go and a much deeper level of collaboration.”

“Google was the search company,” says Hiroshi Lockheimer, describing Android’s early years. Lockheimer was the first employee Rubin hired to work on Android, and he came to Google as a part of the acquisition. (Today, he runs Android and Chrome.) “When Andy left Android, and Sundar became the boss, he brought with him the rest of Google — or he brought Android to the rest of Google.”

Not everyone, however, is a fan of Pichai’s style. One former Google manager who worked with Pichai described him as a political operative who could work a room and navigate shifting alliances in the company. “He gave the best meetings,” says the former Googler. “He never aligned with Susan, or Marissa, or Omid, or even Eric,” he says, referring to a series of powerful Google executives (and its former CEO and current chair). “He always shot right down the middle. How could you ever really know what someone like that is really thinking?”

But the negatives and positives may largely add up to be the same thing: He is a kind of boring best-for-the-company man, not the mercurial type so often lionized in the Valley. (In fact, Google has actively shed a few of that type in recent years, including Marissa Mayer and Andy Rubin.) And at a company that optimizes for smart, Pichai is often described as a genius — much of that due to his effectiveness as a leader capable of wrangling other very smart, very opinionated people.

“Over the long run, Google rejects assholes,” says Caesar Sengupta as we sit in the belly of the Pullman Hotel during a Google India conference in December. Sengupta runs Google’s “Next Billion Users” team and has worked under Pichai since 2007. “Sundar became CEO among his peers, and yet his peers are still with him.”

“I could see that Sundar was attracting very loyal people and they all really liked him and really liked each other. And they built this culture where you didn’t have to worry about politics. Sundar abstracted all the large company stuff away from you, and you could just focus on doing good work.”

And indeed, the team he surrounds himself with is fiercely loyal. Bavor, for example, keeps a running document of things he’s learned from Pichai. (It’s three pages long. Sample entry: “Always choose quality. If you have to delay things to ship a quality product, delay.”)

This faithfulness persists despite doing things that might seem, frankly, kind of unreasonable. For example, by 2014 Pichai had been tapped to run all of Google’s products, and meanwhile Bavor had begun working on what would become Google Cardboard, a low-fi gizmo that turns a phone screen into a VR headset with some cardboard, Velcro, and a magnet. Pichai heard about it and summoned Bavor to his office for a demo. Pichai was so impressed that he told Bavor he wanted to launch it at the company’s big developer conference, Google IO, in eight and a half weeks. In terms of development cycles, that’s a flat-out sprint.

“He said, ‘OK, Clay, run,’ and he didn’t see me, or Google Cardboard, for the next eight and a half weeks” says Bavor. The plan was, they would hand out foldable cardboard viewers in giveaway bags, along with items like T-shirts, that every attendee is given at the registration desk. But at 11 p.m. the night before, Pichai had a different idea. He was worried that people wouldn’t understand what this piece of cardboard was in the gift bags, and might even throw it away. “He said, ‘I really want to announce it onstage. I just think it would be really cool; can we do that?’”

Bavor and the operations team spent the night pulling 10,000 Cardboard viewers out of gift bags over the next 11 hours so they could be handed out to attendees as they left the keynote.

“He stood up onstage and announced this product” — as Bavor tells the story he grins and bounces in his chair a bit — “and he had not even seen the final version of it, or the final version of the software. Here, again, was this deep implicit trust.” (Sure. But it was also a capricious move that kept people up all night pulling cardboard out of tote bags.)

In the summer of 2015, Google completely reorganized itself. It created a new parent company, Alphabet, to oversee its moonshots and other various ventures, separate from its main Internet business. Google’s then-CEO, Larry Page, became CEO of Alphabet, essentially a holding company. Pichai got the nod to serve as CEO of Google. He now oversees a wide-ranging but ultimately deeply connected suite of products and services including Google Search, Gmail, Android, Chrome, Maps, VR, YouTube, and, of course, its advertising business.

When you think about the great leaders of Silicon Valley, they tend to fall broadly into one of three buckets: engineering, business, or product. The engineers drive innovation and invention. They make things work. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is the archetypical engineer, who built a company out of the hacker ethos. The business leaders are often the so-called disrupters. They reimagine supply and distribution, make deals in often cutthroat fashion, and corner markets. This is Apple’s Tim Cook, who pioneered supply chains in China and built the company into a financial juggernaut. The product types are those who can focus in on what makes something not just useful, but great and beautiful. They translate human engineering into humanity. Steve Jobs is the ultimate product guy. But running a massive company, like Facebook or Apple or Google, requires more than one of these skill sets.

Pichai is clearly in the product camp. Under him Android has bloomed, going from a customizable but clunky interface to something beautiful and fluid. Chrome redefined how fast and invisible a browser could be. Google Photos transformed the way photography can be organized and displayed in the smartphone era. Yet now he needs to not only focus on product, but manage Google’s massive advertising business as well.

“The thing within product that really appeals to me is when you can distill something complex to a reductionist, simple thing,” he says.” Google Search was that way for me. There’s so much complexity within Google Search but for most people it’s just a simple search box. Simplicity is hard to articulate, but anytime you can make anything simpler users respond to it.”

Pichai says he now thinks about Google the company as a product unto itself. “I think a lot about simplicity in the context of Google, too. Large things inherently tend to get more complex; it’s how things work. How do you simplify? It’s hard.”

The new job also comes with massively more responsibility. Not only is he in charge of Alphabet’s profit center, in Google, he’s also in charge of its internet business, the thing that organizes all that information — the heart of the company; the thing that makes it most useful and most potentially dangerous.

“It’s almost like I changed when I had kids. You know, before kids, crossing streets in India, I wouldn’t think twice about it. When you have kids there’s a part of you which you feel it’s not just your journey anymore, right? There’s an element of that. I feel that in the job, that sense of responsibility in making sure we use our opportunity wisely in the world.” And as his profile — and portfolio — increases, more people will be looking to Pichai directly for answers to impossible questions, whether he’s comfortable with this or not.

When Google reported its most recent quarterly results, the company revealed that he was getting a compensation package that included approximately $200 million worth of stock. It was right out of a Bernie Sanders stump speech. Asked why he’s worth that amount, Pichai refers to an as-yet undefined legacy.

“I’m very fortunate,” he says, perhaps too obviously, in the living room of his Los Altos home. “I take that as an opportunity to figure out thoughtfully how I give back to the world.”

“I’ll reach a point one day where I feel like this is not what I want to do, and I plan to then take the next step in my life figuring out how I can give back,” Pichai says. “That’s how I’ve always envisioned it.”

It all sounds vaguely good, even if it’s not very specific. And in the end, this to me is Pichai. He is earnest and thoughtful and optimistic. Over the course of three months, I would spend time with him in India and Las Vegas and California. We spoke in convention centers, stadiums, conference rooms, cars, hotels, a palace, and his home. He never refused to answer a single question (although he did at a few points only answer off the record, or dodge). At one point he even let me see his daughter’s Christmas list (it was shockingly modest). He is a man fascinated by the future, whose conversations often come back to topics of theoretical science, the books he’s reading (Being Mortal [2014], The Wright Brothers [2015]), and, generally speaking, big ideas. Yet he also delights in details, like the sound a camera shutter makes, or how long it takes a laptop to light up after opening. He seems to care more about the people who own Google’s products than the people who own its stock. (I never heard him mention shareholders, even in revenue discussions.) He is considerate. Nice. Kind, even. He loves cricket. And gadgets. And, very obviously, his children, whom he talks about constantly. He is a vegetarian. I know all these things about him. This is information. But is it giving us answers?

“What you’re missing is a level of authenticity,” says that former Googler of Pichai. “Who could really speak to who Sundar is?”

In February, when the FBI demanded that Apple help it crack open the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters, it set off a nationwide debate on privacy and encryption. Google offered its rival support in the form of an amicus brief, and Pichai himself weighed in on Twitter: “We know that law enforcement and intelligence agencies face significant challenges in protecting the public against crime and terrorism. We build secure products to keep your information safe and we give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders. But that’s wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices & data. Could be a troubling precedent. Looking forward to a thoughtful and open discussion on this important issue.” Yet his words were so cautious, and so few (even after BuzzFeed News asked for elaboration), that despite expressing support it was hard to know where he really stood.

Someone is going to run Google. Someone will oversee its many products and services. Someone will manage its rollout into the developing world. Someone is going to be in charge of all that information it collects.

Ultimately, I side with Bavor. I am glad that Pichai, of all people, is the CEO of Google. And yet I still have deep ambivalence about the kind of information I hand over to Google. And Facebook. And Apple. And Amazon. And Samsung. And Microsoft. And all the very many other companies out there, large and small, seeking to rule the world through information.

Sundar Pichai: It could be worse.

At times, the world seems like a dark place. Like something to fear and be afraid of. There are people out there who seek to capitalize on this. They want to divide us. To build walls, imaginary and literal, around the borders. They play off the fear of the other and make false promises that by turning inward, we can be safe, and secure, and prosperous in ways we never in fact have been.

At the Leela Palace hotel in Delhi, one of the nicest hotels in all of India, automated barriers rise up from the street to stop cars from crashing through a security checkpoint and won’t go back down again until armed guards open the trunk, pop the hood, and root around inside. There is a metal detector at the front door, and an x-ray machine to check baggage. It feels deceptively distant from the chaos just outside, where there are touts with tuk-tuks, and street vendors, and honking horns and people, people everywhere, the great swarming mass of India pulsing through the streets, squatting by curbside cooking fires, crowding up against each other at every turn.

But inside the Leela, there is sushi and cognac and, in the deep December, even children carolers singing, of all things, Feliz Navidad, standing in front of a life-size gingerbread house. You can drink cappuccinos in the lobby, or take them outside to the lawn — walled from the apparent dangers and diseases and evil men that lie in wait in greater Delhi.

It’s pleasant on the lawn. But it’s the air that will fucking kill you. The air of Delhi, which on the morning that Pichai strolled through its lobby and into a van waiting outside had an air quality index score of 421. (On the same day, Los Angeles was not even at 40). Anything over 150 is considered unhealthy. Anything over 300 is ”hazardous.”

You can smell the acrid air even in the rooms of the Palace (and in the president’s fortified mansion, too). Step outside to enjoy the fountain, and the air burns your eyes. Exhale forcefully at the end of the day, and small puffs of smoke wisp out and up from your open mouth. It makes a lie of the safety inside the Palace. It is an argument to take a walk outside, and see India as it is. To breathe it in.

Because despite the air in Delhi, a city where 10 million people lack clean water, despite the ever-present risk of terrorism and war, despite the poverty and overflowing population, India appears distinctly optimistic. It seems like a manifestation of the hope and excitement of the next billion not only coming online, but coming into power. It feels like a nation on the make.

There is a story Pichai tells, at least twice, while he is in Delhi. “A few years ago I was in Bombay and arriving at the hotel,” he says. “The valet who opened the door said to me, ‘I’ve seen you — I saw your speech at Google IO and I thought it was really good.’” Google IO is the company’s annual developer conference. Even by tech event standards, it can be tedious. That this valet would see it would indicate a tremendous interest in technology, and presumably aspirations for something that seemed in sight, if currently out of reach. “What are the odds that this would happen in any other place?”

But, of course, that was years ago. Before he was everywhere. Before he was front-page news. And the Pichai who hung from the sides of buses, who rode the trains, or on the front of his father’s scooter with his father, mother, and brother through the streets of Chennai, that Sundar Pichai is gone. A ghost across the rooftops.

Now, instead of on a scooter with his family, he rides in a van with his own security detail. On the day it rolls out to address the throng of thousands of students, his face is on the cover of every newspaper in the lobby of the Leela. There is no more normal life for him, and he no longer can really be in India. Instead, at least to many Indians, he is India now. He is its potential, embodied.

As the line of cars mopes through the ancient city, it takes a right off of one of Delhi’s main thoroughfares and passes through a gate. Then one by one the cars pull over. There is a cricket ground here, and everyone piles out.

Someone from Google had arranged to drop in on a pickup game — but hadn’t told the other players who was coming, just that it was a businessman who loved the game. Nor had they told the CEO himself, who goes jubilant with surprise. When Pichai was a kid, and a young man, he didn’t dream of computers or engineering. He didn’t dream of running the world’s largest company, or flying in a private plane, or of the great green hills of California. He dreamed of becoming a professional cricketer.

“Do you mind if I just bat for a moment?” he asks of the handful of men milling at the bat. “Go ahead, go!” they shout back.

Sundar Pichai takes the bat, swings, connects, connects again, and after just a few deliveries, it’s over. “I went for the equivalent of a home run but he got me out,” he explains. The bowler approaches to shake his hand, grins a bit for the cameras, and suddenly his face fills with recognition and amazement and genuine glee. He points and beams, and laughs, and says, in English, “Oh my god! It is you!”

(The you who is on every newspaper in India today. The you who runs the largest company in the world. The you who is never going to be unknown, again. The you who has to make Google cool again.)

And then, the moment is over, and everyone walks back to the van. “That was nice. I could have played for hours,” he says. The van door slides shut. Sundar is smiling as he looks out the window. Ω

[Mat Honan is the San Francisco bureau chief for BuzzFeed News. Formerly a senior staff writer at Wired, he has been writing about the technology industry and its impact on society for nearly 20 years. Honan received a BA (history) from the University of Georgia.]

Copyright © 2016 BuzzFeed

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Copyright © 2016 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Monday, March 28, 2016

Here's The Theme Song For Der Blödmann's Inauguration On January 20 2017

In today's 'toon, Sparky the Wonder Penguin (wearing his Inuit-type goggles to ward off bull$hit blindness) engages in colloquy with an extra-terrestrial "observer" who drew the short straw and reappears on Earth. Just in time to witness the phenomenon of Der Blödmann aka Donald J. Trump and — in the final panel — offers a final pledge in the face of the lunatic's possible victory. [Note to sound effects, strike up "We'll Meet Again" from the final scene of "Dr. Strangelove."] If this is a (fair & balanced) prediction of doom if Der Blödmann wins the 2016 election, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
The Observer
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]

Copyright © 2016 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License..

Copyright © 2016 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Today, A Look At The Objects of "Obsessive Enthusiasm" In Our Political History

While holding his nose, Michael Lind has leaped into the limitless sea of Dumbo stupidity and descended to the murky depths inhabited by pseudo-conservatives and their ilk. Lind was seeking the origins of Der Blödmann aka Donald J. Trump. As a result, Michael Lind warned the Dumbos, aka the GOP, to be very afraid. If this is a (fair & balanced) meditation on obsessive enthusiasm, so be it.

[x Politico]
Donald Trump, The Perfect Populist
By Michael Lind

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Is Donald Trump the Perfect Populist, one with broader appeal to the right and the center than his predecessors in recent American political history—so much so it could put him in the White House? In Trump, many of the kind of white working-class voters once called Reagan Democrats have found a tribune who represents their views and values more consistently than conservative populists like the Dixiecrat George Wallace, the Old Right paleo-conservative Pat Buchanan or the “theo-conservative” Pat Robertson, all of whom faltered in their bids for the presidency.

Trump, in fact, has more appeal to the center than the conservative populists of the last half century. Before Trump’s rise in this year’s Republican primary elections, the best-known populist presidential candidates were Alabama Governor Wallace and tycoon Ross Perot, along with Buchanan. Yet none of these past figures had broad enough appeal to hope to win the White House. Despite his folksy demeanor, Perot was more of a technocrat than a populist and did poorly in traditionally populist areas of the South and Midwest, where Trump is doing well. Wallace was an outspoken white supremacist, while Trump tends to speak in a kind of code, starting with his “birther” campaign against President Obama, and his criticism of illegal immigrants and proposed ban on Muslims may appeal to fringe white nationalists even if it has offended many if not most Latinos. Nor has Trump alienated large sections of the electorate by casting his lot with Old Right isolationism, as Buchanan did, or by adopting the religious right social agenda of Robertson.

Indeed, the best explanation of Trump’s surprising success is that the constituency he has mobilized has existed for decades but the right champion never came along. What conservative apparatchiks hate about Trump—his insufficient conservatism—may be his greatest strength in the general election. His populism cuts across party lines like few others before him. Like his fans, Trump is indifferent to the issues of sexual orientation that animate the declining religious right, even to the point of defending Planned Parenthood. Trump’s platform combines positions that are shared by many populists but are anathema to movement conservatives—a defense of Social Security, a guarantee of universal health care, economic nationalist trade policies. “We have expanded the Republican Party,” Trump claimed the night of his Super Tuesday victories.

He may well be right, though it’s not clear what that Republican Party will look like in the end.

While populism has a history in American politics dating back to Andrew Jackson and William Jennings Bryan, the modern era of American populism began half a century ago. In 1968, Wallace, running as candidate of the American Independent Party, won 13.5 percent of the popular vote and carried five Southern states—Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana. By receiving 45 electoral votes plus an additional electoral vote from a dissenting elector, he came close to throwing the three-way race between him, Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey and Republican candidate Richard Nixon into the House of Representatives, which would have chosen the president if no candidate received an electoral vote majority.

The appeal of Wallace, best known for his defiance of federal civil rights laws in his 1963 inaugural address as governor of Alabama—“segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”—was concentrated in the Deep South. But Wallace also appealed to some working-class and middle-class whites outside of the South, by appealing to resentment of busing for school desegregation, cultural liberalism and the left’s opposition to the Vietnam War and U.S. military. Like many populist politicians, Wallace mingled colorful expressions—he said the only four-letter words that hippies did not know were “soap” and “work”—with rhetorical violence: “If any demonstrator ever lies down in front of my car, it’ll be the last car he’ll ever lay down in front of.”

In 1972, Wallace was crippled by a bullet in an attempted assassination while he was campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination. In the late 1970s, Wallace asked for forgiveness for his earlier segregationist stance and he won some black votes in his successful third race for governor in 1983 (he died in 1998). While Wallace failed to win the White House, his version of conservative populism changed the country: It was his 1968 race, along with Barry Goldwater’s strong showing in the South in 1964, that persuaded the Republican Party to adopt a “Southern strategy” that exploited the backlash by Southern whites against the civil rights revolution.

But its conservative components have always limited the appeal of conservative populism, as the political career of Pat Buchanan shows.

Buchanan, a former Nixon aide and conservative journalist, ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 1992 and was awarded with a prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention that nominated George Herbert Walker Bush for a second term in the White House. Buchanan’s speech focused almost entirely on the “religious war” and “culture war” to save America from feminism, legal abortion, gay rights, and “the raw sewage of pornography.”

In his 1996 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, and in his 2000 campaign as the Reform Party nominee, Buchanan emphasized populist themes of economic nationalism and immigration restriction. But he was too much of a member of the Old Right that despised FDR and sought a return to the isolationism of Robert Taft and Charles Lindbergh to have much appeal to former New Deal Democrats. Buchanan’s history of borderline anti-Semitic remarks led William F. Buckley Jr. to criticize him in In Search of Anti-Semitism (1992), (1992) and some of his associates like Samuel Francis were overt white racial nationalists.

For Reagan Democrats and their children and grandchildren, World War II showed America at its best. But Buchanan concluded a long career of eccentric World War II revisionism in 2008 with Churchill, Hitler, and The Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost its Empire and the West Lost the World, arguing that Hitler should have been appeased by Britain and the US.

Buchanan, in a recent interview, characterized Trump as his populist heir. “What Trump has today is conclusive evidence to prove that what some of us warned about in the 1990s has come to pass,” he said. But the evidence is that Trump doesn’t see it that way. Trump even competed briefly with Buchanan for the presidential nomination. The year was 2000, and Trump, encouraged by his friend Jesse Ventura, then governor of Minnesota, was considering a run for the presidential nomination of Perot’s Reform Party, on the grounds that the Republican Party of George W. Bush and Karl Rove had “moved too far toward the extreme far right.” Trump and Ventura hoped to rescue the Reform Party from the conservative allies of Buchanan, of whom Trump said: “He’s a Hitler lover; I guess he’s an anti-Semite. He doesn’t like the blacks, he doesn’t like the gays.” Trump floated the idea of Oprah Winfrey as his running mate . In his 2000 manifesto The America We Deserve, Trump proposed a platform that included universal employer- based health insurance, gays in the military and a one-time 14.5 percent tax on the rich that would reduce the federal deficit and help eliminate the shortfall in Social Security.

In his press release announcing his withdrawal from the race for the presidential nomination of the Reform Party, Trump wrote: “Now I understand that David Duke has decided to join the Reform Party to support the candidacy of Pat Buchanan. So the Reform Party now includes a Klansman—Mr. Duke, a Neo-Nazi—Mr. Buchanan, and a Communist—Ms. [Lenora] Fulani. This is not company I wish to keep.”

Compared to Trump, Buchanan was a flawed vehicle for the Jacksonian populism of the ex-Democratic white working class. So was another Pat, the Reverend [Mr.] Pat Robertson, television evangelist, founder of the Christian Coalition, and, like Buchanan, a failed candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. But while the mainstream conservative movement marginalized Buchanan, it embraced Robertson and other evangelical Protestant leaders like Jerry Falwell and James Dobson of Focus on the Family.

On social issues like abortion and gay rights, Buchanan shared the agenda of the religious right. But his advocacy of tariffs to protect American industry and immigration restriction threatened the mainstream right’s consensus in favor of free trade and increased legal immigration. And his neo-isolationism threatened the post-Cold War American right’s support of high military spending and an assertive global foreign policy.

Unlike Buchanan, Robertson and other religious right leaders did not deviate from the Republican Party line on trade, immigration, or tax cuts for the rich. Many of the rank-and-file members of the religious right shared the traditional populist suspicion of bankers and big business. But in the 1990s there was a tacit understanding that religious right activists would focus on issues of sex and reproduction and school prayer, leaving economics to free-marketers. In foreign policy, the Christian Zionism of many Protestant evangelicals made them reliable allies of neoconservatives with close ties to Israel and supportive of the Iraq War and other U.S. interventions in the Middle East.

From the 1980s until this decade, the religious right was the toothless, domesticated “designated populist” wing of the Republican coalition, and mainstream conservative politicians took it for granted that as long as they said they opposed abortion and gay marriage, evangelical voters would support free-market conservative economics and interventionist neoconservative foreign policy.

But even before the unexpected success of Trump in the Republican primary race beginning in 2015, there were signs that this generation-old bargain was coming undone. Hostility to both illegal immigration and high levels of legal immigration, a position which free-market conservatives had fought to marginalize, has moved very quickly from heresy to orthodoxy in the GOP. The opposition of populist conservatives killed comprehensive immigration reform under George W. Bush in 2007 and also killed the Gang of Eight immigration reform effort led in part by Senator Marco Rubio in 2013. The defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the 2014 Republican primary for the 7th District of Virginia by an unknown conservative academic, David Brat, was attributed largely to Cantor’s support for the immigration reform effort.

There were other signs of populist discontent with establishment conservative orthodoxy, for those who paid attention. No project is dearer to the hearts of mainstream movement conservatives than the goal of privatizing Social Security, a hated symbol of the dependency-inducing “statism” of the allegedly tyrannical Franklin D. Roosevelt. But George W. Bush’s plan to partly privatize Social Security was so unpopular, even among Republican voters, that a Republican-controlled Congress did not even bother to vote on it in 2005. And a Republican-controlled Congress passed Medicare Part D in 2003—the biggest expansion of a universal middle-class entitlement between the creation of Medicare in 1965 and the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Blue collar Republican voters applauded, as libertarian think-tankers raged.

Conservative populists cannot be accused of inconsistency. Like New Deal Democrats before them, they tend to favor universal benefits for which the middle class is eligible like Social Security, Medicare and Medicare Part D, and to oppose welfare programs like Medicaid and the ACA which feature means tests that make the working class and middle class ineligible. The true inconsistency is on the part of the mainstream conservative movement, which has yoked together left-inspired crusades for global democratic revolution abroad with minimal-state libertarianism at home.

It remains to be seen whether Trump can win the Republican nomination, much less the White House. But whatever becomes of his candidacy, it seems likely that his campaign will prove to be just one of many episodes in the gradual replacement of Buckley-Goldwater-Reagan conservatism by something more like European national populist movements, such as the National Front in France and the United Kingdom Independence Party in Britain. Unlike Goldwater, who spearheaded an already-existing alliance consisting of National Review, Modern Age, and Young Americans for Freedom, Trump has followers but no supportive structure of policy experts and journalists. But it seems likely that some Republican experts and editors, seeking to appeal to his voters in the future, will promote a Trump-like national populist synthesis of middle-class social insurance plus immigration restriction and foreign policy realpolitik,through conventional policy papers and op-eds rather than blustering speeches and tweets.

That’s looking ahead. Glancing backward, it is unclear that there has ever been any significant number of voters who share the worldview of the policy elites in conservative think tanks and journals. In hindsight, the various right-wing movements—the fusionist conservatism of Buckley, Goldwater and Reagan, neoconservatism, libertarianism, the religious right—appear to have been so many barnacles hitching free rides on the whale of the Jacksonian populist electorate. The whale is awakening beneath them, and now the barnacles don’t know what to do. Ω

[Michael Lind is a Politico magazine contributing editor and author of Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics (2002). Lind holds a BA (English and history) from the University of Texas-Austin, an MA (international relations) from Yale University, and a JD from The University of Texas-Austin.]

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