Sunday Reads: Mad Man Alwaleed’s Mini Men and the Dwarves of Auschwitz

Vintage Advertisement for “Midget City” an entire city populated by midgets…

Good Morning

A big hat tip to Boston Boomer, who sent me these stories about a rich crazy man, and his entourage of dwarfs. (Or is it dwarves?)  Seriously, it fed my “midget” fascination, which had been neglected lately.

From a 2012 article in the Business Insider… THE DWARF-THROWING BILLIONAIRE WHO’S BUYING UP AMERICA: Tales Of The Mysterious Saudi Prince Alwaleed

This is one hell of a link, I highly suggest you read the entire article…because giving you a couple of paragraphs as a teaser is not enough.

“It’s his kingdom. He can do what he likes.”

Given how rich Alwaleed is, it’s not surprising to hear that his life is insulated from the morality and sensibilities of the outside world — especially the world outside Saudi Arabia.

All you need to hear to understand that are stories about Alwaleed’s dwarfs.

Almost every source we spoke to, including Alwaleed’s official spokesperson, confirmed that, like a medieval monarch, Alwaleed keeps in his entourage a group of dancing, laughing, joking dwarfs. One source called them “jesters.”

All joking aside, it seems life as an Alwaleed jester is not all fun and games…

“They were entertainers. They did do some crazy things — they’d dance, they’d chase each other around.”

Sometimes, the play turned darker.

One source, who left Alwaleed’s employ with a letter of recommendation from the Prince, says that at least once, Alwaleed set up a “midget-tossing” contest, promising money to whomever could throw the little people the farthest. There were pillows.

Another time, says this source, at one of the parties Alwaleed would throw in the desert, he tossed $100 bills into a bonfire, encouraging the dwarfs to run into the “raging fire” and pull the money out, “scorching themselves” in the process.

You can take it from there…Vanity Fair also had an article on the Prince, this one is an interview from February of this year:

The Creation Myth of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, Saudi Arabia’s Billionaire Investor

Prince Alwaleed at New York’s Plaza hotel, of which he is part owner.

Worth an estimated $27 billion, the enigmatic Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has very public holdings: he is the second-largest voting shareholder in News Corp., he owns Paris’s George V hotel and part of New York City’s Plaza hotel, he is a stockholder in Apple, and he will soon own the world’s tallest building. But the private origins—and exact size—of his massive fortune are the subject of continued debate between bin Talal and prominent media outlets. So what’s the truth? And does one of the richest men on Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index—a calorie-counting cell-phone addict who loves texting James Murdoch—really spend his free time throwing dwarves?

This VF interview is also a must read, it does mention some items from the Business Investor piece, but you get a feel for the madness because of the outrageous way Prince Alwaleed talks about his life and his investments.

While reading these two articles I kept on thinking about the similarity between Alwaleed and the “Sammy Glick” movie producer stereotype.

For those unfamiliar with Sammy Glick, he was the main antagonist in Budd Schulberg’s novel called What Makes Sammy Run?

Told in first person narrative by Al Manheim, drama critic of The New York Record, this is the tale of Sammy Glick, a young uneducated boy who rises from copyboy to the top of the screenwriting profession in 1930s Hollywood by backstabbing others.

I found an archived essay about Budd Schulberg that I think you will all enjoy. VQR » Budd Schulberg: An Appreciation Here is a small sample of Schulberg’s work,

Consider bits of the jazz-like opening of The Disenchanted, Chapter 10:

The white tile of the Holland Tunnel rolled past them as the airline’s black limousine raced through the enormous artery feeding the heart of the city.

Finally they burst out into the open, into the swarming labyrinth of downtown Manhattan. There were the trucks, the cops, the bars, the stores, the cabs, the reckless pedestrians picking holes through traffic like shabby Albie Booths. There were fruit, all colors, vegetables, hock shops, Italians, Jews and the global hustle of the water front. . . . It was all here now, the money and the power and the brains they employ and their great army of camp followers catching the crumbs . . . punch-in punch-out, spiced-ham sandwich and a cupa coffee.

The man could write one hell of a paragraph.

Hell yeah, Budd Schulberg certainly was a fantastic writer…

Actually, Alwaleed sounds more like a cross between Sammy Glick and the psychotic killer character of Tommy in the film Goodfellas.


It must be so stressful working in an environment where you are constantly walking on eggshells.

Okay, I’ve got one more story that is somewhat connected to Alwaleed…check out this picture by Photographer Joe McNally Takes Photo From Top Of Burj Khalifa, World’s Tallest Skyscraper, In Dubai

joe mcnally burj khalifa

McNally, who told The Huffington Post he was standing on the railing of a support structure for the building’s airplane warning lights, said the photo wasn’t a work assignment — it just “seemed like fun.”

“My old battered shoes climbed the worlds tallest building today,” McNally wrote on Instagram. “What an amazing structure! Tweeting from 820 meters straight up!”

My hands get clammy just looking at that picture. For an idea of how high the Burj Khalifa is, here is a graphic from the building’s Wiki site:


What is the connection between the Burj Khalifa tower and Prince Alwaleed? Alwaleed is building an even bigger tower…Kingdom Tower project to beat Burj Khalifa as world’s tallest to start

Dubai’s Burj Khalifa has only five years left as the world’s tallest building if Kingdom Tower, a kilometre-tall skyscraper in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, goes ahead as planned.

Yesterday the developers planning to build the world’s latest tallest building appointed The Shard builder Mace and EC Harris, the project manager behind Abu Dhabi’s largest hotel complex, to manage construction of the US$1.2 billion (Dh4.4bn) Kingdom Project to the north of Saudi Arabia’s second-largest city.

Jeddah Economic Company (JEC) also appointed the EC Harris and Mace joint venture to provide commercial and design management for the development, which when completed will be higher than Dubai’s Burj Khalifa and four times the size of The Shard in London.

The 500,000 square metre tower will include a Four Seasons hotel, serviced apartments, offices, flats and the world’s highest observatory. I did a tour of the services apartments and it reminded me back of my serviced apartment in Shanghai.

Construction work is due to start on site on April 1 and is expected to be completed 63 months later in 2018.

One kilometer is equal to 3281 feet!  So they are starting to build it on April 1st? That would be one hell of an April Fool’s joke eh?

JEC comprises Prince Al Waleed bin Talal’s Kingdom Holding Company, which owns a 33.35 per cent stake, Saudi Binladin Group, the largest construction firm in the world, which owns a 16.63 per cent stake, Abraar International Holding Company, represented by Samaual Bakhsh, with a stake of 33.35 per cent, and the prominent Jeddah businessman Abdulrahman Hassan Sharbatly with a stake of 16.67 per cent.

“The vision of constructing the tallest tower in the world in Jeddah belongs to HRH Prince Al Waleed bin Talal,” said Waleed Abdul Jaleel Batterjee, the chief executive of JEC.

“His vision is also that the project itself will set the world’s sights on our beloved Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and particularly on Jeddah. Furthermore, the project will help create hundreds of jobs for our Saudi countrymen.”

Here is another graphic for comparison.

Crazy innit?

For a man who fancies surrounding himself with mini men, Alwaleed sure does go to the extremes when it comes to his building projects and investments.

Mad Man indeed…

Now I have another little person story for you…from The Guardian: The dwarves of Auschwitz (Please note dwarves is spelled as it is in the article.)

The Ovitz family

The Ovitzs (from left): Elizabeth, Perla, Rozika, Frieda, Franziska and Avram

‘I was saved by the grace of the devil,” Holocaust survivor Perla Ovitz told us. Again and again, she recounted in detail how she and her family were taken to the gas chamber and ordered to strip naked. A heavy door opened and they were pushed inside. “It was almost dark and we stood in what looked like a large washing room, waiting for something to happen. We looked up to the ceiling to see why the water was not coming. Suddenly we smelled gas. We gasped heavily, some of us fainting on the floor. With our last breath we cried out. Minutes passed, or maybe just seconds, then we heard an angry voice from outside – ‘Where is my dwarf family?’ The door opened, and we saw Dr Mengele standing there. He ordered us to be carried out and had cold water poured on us to revive us.”

The Ovitz family, from the village of Rozavlea in Transylvania, was the largest recorded family of dwarves: a dwarf father who sired 10 children, seven of them dwarves. Perla, born in 1921, was the youngest. In that remote part of Romania in the early 20th century, it was difficult for anyone to eke a living from the land and livestock, and impossible for someone standing less than 3ft tall.

That is just the first two paragraphs….Yes, go and read all of that long article at the link, it is an amazing story.

The rest of today’s reads will be in link dump fashion.

The CDC has released the fatal statistics for the 2012-2013 flu season: 105 US kids died of flu this season; most didn’t get vaccine

The death of Google Reader is still making headlines:

John C Abell of Reuters is asking….What is Google doing?

What is Google doing? I’m not sure. There may well be a great, bumper-sticker answer. But Google’s actions are too chaotic to come up with a grand, unified theory. It’s toying with apps, mobile software, mobile hardware, mobile phones – and, oh yeah, still dabbles in Web services it decides with zero discussion to terminate with extreme prejudice. It’s one thing to be pulled in all directions as a dance partner, it’s another to have it happen on some carnival ride.

Paul Krugman calls it: The Economics of Evil Google

Google’s decision to shut down Google Reader has upset a number of people I know, and provoked a lot of discussion about the future of web-based services. The most interesting discussion, I think, comes from Ryan Avent, who argues that Google has been providing crucial public infrastructure — but doesn’t seem to have an interest in maintaining that infrastructure.

I’ve been trying to think this through in terms of more or less standard microeconomics, and here’s what I’ve come up with…

You can read Krugman’s thoughts at the link.

Here is the Ryan Avent article Krugman links to: Utilities: Google’s Google problem | The Economist

And over at zdnet:  Embrace, extend, extinguish: How Google crushed and abandoned the RSS industry

It is amazing to me that so many journalist I follow relied on Google Reader as much as I did.

Anyway, HuffPo has updated its Mapping the Dead: Gun Deaths Since Sandy Hook

HuffPo also has this article: Jay Gordon, MD: CDC: One in Every Fifty Children Has Autism

I thought this was interesting, from The Guardian: Christine Lagarde’s flat raided by French police

The Des Moines Register has this story, about the U.S. still paying Civil War veterans’ families

(I actually expected to see some commentary about cutting the survivor benefits…but the article is based on an AP report.)

And one last news link, this is just freaky weird: The sheepshead fish has human teeth, but it’s okay because it won’t give you a psychedelic crisis

sheepshead fish teeth

Credit: VA Institute of Marine Science (VIMS)

There’s nothing like the thought of a delicious piece of meat with human teeth wrapped in prison stripes to put you to a gentle, dreamless sleep.

And with that horrifying picture, I end this morning’s post. What are you reading and blogging about today?


32 Comments on “Sunday Reads: Mad Man Alwaleed’s Mini Men and the Dwarves of Auschwitz”

  1. ecocatwoman says:

    jj, hope you & the rest of your family are much better today & on the road to healing.

    Your post & links about Prince Altaweed contrasts starkly with the short post I put up on my blog this morning & illustrates how my view of the world is diametrically in opposition to his. My reaction – who gives a darn about the world’s tallest building? Why? The natural world is so much more amazing to me than anything we humans can design, make or build. This man is not only disconnected from nature but from humanity. If only we lived in a world where we treated each other better & stopped rewarding people like the prince…….

    The photo from atop that building made me dizzy. Ugh. I don’t like heights.

    The photo of the sheepshead fish is fascinating (to me at least). I’m going to have to learn more about them. I would surmise they are plant eaters with those teeth & those plants must need some heavy duty chewing to be digestible. Going to see if I might be right on that. Many animals wear down their teeth throughout their lives, lose them & new ones emerge. Could be the case with these fish as well.

    • ecocatwoman says:

      Nope, I was wrong. When young, sheepshead eat soft bodied marine animals. As their molars come in, they graduate to hard shelled marine critters like barnacles, clams etc. Their range is from Cape Cod to Brazil. That Scientific American article has a lot of good (and some goofy) info. Thanks jj.

      • The teeth on that fish creeped me out. (If creeped is a word.) It looks like a fish with a set of human false teeth.

      • quixote says:

        That’s photoshopped. The bumps are sheepshead grinding teeth. The nice human incisors and canines at the front were added in.

        This business of photoshopping stuff and seeing how big a meme it becomes seems to be turning into a Thing. I’m not sure why it annoys me. I guess you could say it’s harmless, but the ha-ha-fooled-you aspect gets real old.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Did Scientific American do the photoshopping? Or were they fooled? What about this video? How was that done?

      • bostonboomer says:

        The video looks real to me. I thought Scientific American had a pretty good reputation. I’d be surprised if they’d publish photoshopped pictures.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Fascinating post, JJ!!

    I always thought dwarves was the plural of dwarf, but according to “The Grammarist,” dwarfs was the correct usage until “dwarves” was popularized by JRR Tolkien in the 1930s.

    Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs came out in 1937. I know I saw it as a kid, but I’ve always pronounced the word “dwarves.” I guess I must have picked up the “dwarves” usage from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. That must be the correct British usage?

    • bostonboomer says:

      Nope. According to The Independent, “dwarves” was invented by Tolkien.

      In a foreword to The Hobbit, published in 1937, J R R Tolkien writes: “In English, the only correct plural of ‘dwarf’ is ‘dwarfs’ and the adjective is ‘dwarfish’. In this story ‘dwarves’ and ‘dwarvish’ are used, but only when speaking of the ancient people to whom Thorin Oakenshield and his companions belonged.”

      In appendix F to The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien gives a further explanation: “But in the Third Age something of their old character and power is still glimpsed… these are the descendants of the Naugrim of the Elder Days… in whose hands still lives the skill in work of stone that none have surpassed. It is to mark this that I have ventured to use the form ‘dwarves’, and remove them a little, perhaps, from the sillier tales of these latter days.”

      So, “dwarves” was coined by Tolkien about 80 years ago to give his dwarves a dignity that dwarfs could hardly attain. So successful have his stories been that “dwarves” seems to be superseding “dwarfs” as the regular plural of “dwarf”. Whether “dwarvish” will oust the insulting word “dwarfish” is doubtful.

  3. bostonboomer says:

    I thought the Business Insider story was really entertaining, but the prince’s treatment of little people was shocking. In the Vanity Fair piece, the way the young guy was kept from leaving the prince’s compound was pretty scary.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    I’ve never read anything by Budd Shulberg, but I know my dad had some of his books when I was a kid. The paragraph you quoted sounds somewhat like Kerouac.

  5. purplefinn says:

    Those teeth are fascinating.

    I don’t know whether this has already been posted:

    Tomas Young Reads in Full His Letter to Bush & Cheney, “A Message From a Dying Veteran”

    It’ s from Democracy Now. The letter is printed below the video.

    He says it all powerfully. I cannot grasp the enormity of pain, suffering and loss of the Iraq War.

  6. bostonboomer says:

    No nuclear material found at the home of Boris Berezovsky, but police still don’t have a cause of death.

  7. bostonboomer says:

    The person who heckled Obama in Israel was asking about Rachel Corrie, not demanding the release of Jonathan Pollard.

  8. RalphB says:

    This is a really great morning post. That fish, wow. Thanks!

    Paul Krugman looks right wing hypocrisy again in Attacking Success.

    OK, this is rich. Or actually, it’s anti-rich. Or anti-rich liberal. Or something.

    Anyway, Jonathan Chait informs us that the right-wing blogosphere is all-aTwitter over the fact that Matthew Yglesias just bought a nice condo. Apparently this is hypocritical because you can’t be a liberal and own private property, or something. Chait has a lot of fun with the whole thing, and its notion that a liberal supporter of mild redistribution is the same thing as a Communist; check out his picture caption.

    But I think there are two more things to be said here.

    The Jon Chait column linked is also really great.

  9. Groupthink, Greed, Cynicism and Crime | Firedoglake

    Gillian Tett, an economics writer for the Financial Times, interviewed a bunch of people at JPMorgan and other banks in the wake of the Great Crash, and produced a book titled Fool’s Gold: The Inside Story of J.P. Morgan and How Wall St. Greed Corrupted Its Bold Dream and Created a Financial Catastrophe. Based on exclusive access to Jamie Dimon among others, Tett concludes that JPMorgan is a brilliant company that just got greedy. She advocates the rationale that forms the basis for the decision of President Obama not to prosecute banksters, that insufferable arrogance and greed aren’t crimes. Now, in a clear case of confirmation bias, Tett brings us a paper that investigates whether “mid-level managers in securitized finance were aware of the housing bubble and a looming crisis in 2004-2008 using their personal home transaction data”, which you can read here.

    I assumed this paper was published in the Journal of Irreproducible Results, the Onion of Science. But no, this paper was published by two business school professors from the University of Michigan and one from Princeton, who apparently are quite serious.

  10. dakinikat says:

    Whoa, just got back from my local fire station. The SE Veterinarians association gives annual shots for $15 per animal each Palm Sunday for us poor folk in Orleans Parish. Miles was his usual rag-doll self; limp kitty with an air of who cares about all these dogs in here? Dinah does not like the carrier, the dogs, the shots, the entire scene. It’s really her first time out from around the house and she’s definitely a one woman, one house cat. Miles, btw, is a munchkin. He’s a ‘dwarf’ kitty. His legs are very short and stumpy. Dinah was a feral cat that I rescued from a tree across the street on cold blustery, sleety December night and Miles was a shelter cat.

    miles and dinah

  11. RalphB says:

    Ten Years On, Iraq War Skeptics Have A Right To Say ‘I Told You So’

    Gene Lyons, who got it right and didn’t hide from it, gives a hearty ‘fuck you’ to the press corps. Good to hear from someone with no apologies to make.