The Genius Razzlekhan and the Phony Nassim Nicholas Taleb

I went home with a waitress/ the way I always do/ how was I to know/ she was with the Russians too.

Warren Zevon

This is the saga of the queen of crypto hacking Heather Morgan, aka Razzlekhan, and the shameless tail chaser and phony public intellectual (is there any other kind?) Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Just so we are clear about who is who here, Taleb, the bestselling author “The Black Swan” and “Antifragile” is the villain, and Morgan, who along with her husband is accused of pulling off the largest heist in human history, $4.5 billion dollars, is the heroine. Morgan was briefly a Twitter star in late February, 2022 when her alleged crimes were revealed; however her stardom was not based on her hacking prowess, but rather on what was perceived (incorrectly) to be her world-historically awful rap videos, including, but not limited to, her banger “Versace Bedouin,” in which names herself “the crocodile of Wall Street.” Here is a taste of her work (note that the real Heather Morgan appears to be in her early 30’s, and is certainly not a grandmother. Also, the video depicts Morgan rapping around the Wall Street district of New York City with three women “dancing” behind her, one wearing large green gardening gloves and carrying a flag with a design we are unable to clearly see for the entire video):

Razzlekhan’s the name/ the hot grandma you really wanna bang/ always run the gilf game/ ever since I was fif-taneee

I’m many things/ a rapper, an economist, a journalist, a writer, a CEO/ and a dirty dirty dirty dirty ho

Better than most writers/ creepier than most girls/ weirder than most rappers/ but I still rock pearls.

Alert listeners will note the apparent Liz Phair reference vis a vis Razz’s sexual maneuvering in her teens, suggesting that there may be at least a little guile to her lyrics. But what impresses me (and I’ll just state this right out–I think Razzlekhan is a misunderstood genius) is the straight ahead sincerity of the lyrics. I mean, Versace Bedouin was released before Morgan was implicated in the crypto hack and here is her dedication at the top of the song:

Never forget, weirdest is the most original/ this song is for the entrepreneurs and hackers/ all the misfits and smart slackers.

The really hardcore music fan may pick up a possible Drugstore reference from “Say Hello”:

I say hello/ to all the junkies/ the sinners and the creeps/ I say hello to all the people in this place/ I say hello /to all the drug heads/ the prostitutes and freaks/ I say hello/ to all the people in the world!

But even I don’t think Morgan is a Drugstore fan, so the resemblance is most likely coincidental. What I love about Razz’s work here is that Versace Bedouin is a simple and totally sincere statement of intent. She tells the listener exactly who she is and what she’s about. She’s a weirdo and misfit, a hacker, a probable criminal, a business owner, and a dirty ho, and she is just letting the world know. She is, as the kids say, putting the motherfucking world on blast. Razzlekhan is coming for your bitcoin, baby, lock that shit down.

And the media loved it. The Guardian wrote a long (and pretty helpful) article on Morgan with the lead “Is this the new face of organized crime? Decoding Razzlekhan, the rapping bitcoin fraudster.”

“Who is this Bitcoin crime queen” they write breathlessly “and what does she tell us about the future of organized crime?” Well Mr. Guardian, that’s a good question that maybe I can shed some light on. Morgan and her husband (who, like the rest of the uncaring world didn’t care for her rap career–Heather I’m here for you baby; just reach out) stole the money, allegedly, from the platform Bitfinix but were unable to convert much of into cash or liquid assets and had to settle for Walmart gift cards instead. So that might tell you something–I’m not sure how organized the pair was.

Mr. Guardian again:

“It is hard to articulate how it feels to be alive in an age of massive wealth disparity and multiple deregulatory lines of questionable crypto minting, but I think watching an alleged Bitcoin embezzler struggle through painful rap bars in a flat-billed cap that reads ‘0FCKS’ is a good summation of the overwhelming confusion.”

But it really isn’t hard to articulate at all–it feels great, because while Heather Morgan the journalist, CEO, and dirty ho may be facing a little legal trouble, Razzlekhan the artist, in my opinion, stands unbloodied and unbowed atop the pinnacle of outsider art along with Daniel Johnston, Mayo Thompson, and the handful of other transcendent geniuses so far ahead of their time they were subject to as much ridicule as they were celebration.

(My favorite piece of music criticism ever comes from a Pitchfork review which doesn’t seem to be online anymore of The Red Krayola’s 1989 album malefactor, ade–it must have been a re-release because Pitchfork wasn’t around in ’89 of course–where the critic accuses Mayo Thompson of “playing the guitar badly, on purpose.” And it’s pretty true. The Red Krayola is out there.)

Razz herself embraces the outsider role and speaks directly to her artistic origins and sensibilities in her artistic biography:

Razzlekhan is like Genghis Khan, but with more pizzazz… No one knows for sure where this rapper’s from — could be the North African desert, the jungles of Vietnam, or another universe. All that matters is she’s here to stick up for misfits and underdogs everywhere (…) Because Razz has synesthesia, her art often resembles something in between an acid trip and a delightful nightmare. Definitely not for the faint of heart or easily offended, Razz likes to push the limits of what people are comfortable with. Her style has often been described as “sexy horror-comedy,” because of her fondness for combining dark and disturbing concepts with dirty jokes and gestures. Just like her fearless entrepreneurial spirit and hacker mindset, Razz shamelessly explores new frontiers of art, pushing the limit of what’s possible. Whether that leads to something wonderful or terrible is unclear; the only thing that’s certain is it won’t be boring or mediocre.

To my knowledge, no major media outlet even gave Razzlekhan a fighting chance; however I invite you to read the above self-description again with care. She is not in the least bit joking around. She identifies variously as a Bedouin, Turkish, a nomad, and an alien. Later in the same piece she identifies her influences as: Die Antwoord, Tierra Whack, Mickey Avalon, Salvador Dali, Diane Arbus, Hunter S. Thompson, Roald Dahl, and Charles Bukowski. This is a consistent, real, list of artists that a true outsider might well identify with. At the Razzlekhan level, the distance between greatness and awfulness is razor thin, artistic merit being, like everything else really, a circle not a line. In any case, judge for yourself–pull up a Razzlekhan video on You Tube (they are still there) and see what you think.

But what does any of this have to do with the author Nassim Nicholas Taleb? Well, it would have had nothing to do with him if our boy hadn’t chosen, with exquisitely poor judgment, to interject himself into the Heather Morgan/ Razzlekhan drama. Within hours of the heist news breaking, Mr. Taleb posted the following:

I have several things to say about this nonsense:

I. Check his use of “Attention” and the scare word “vulnerability.” Taleb thinks this message is super important and even urgent. He’s got to get it out there RIGHT NOW.

II. The story is obviously total BS. Taleb seems to have no sense of how Twitter works, and his narrative is so bizarre that he is basically begging for a roasting, which users in the hundreds did, of course.

III. Taleb gives no insight into why Morgan was DMing him. What did she want? Well, users, myself included, had a theory as to what might actually have occurred here. Occam’s Razor would suggest that at some point Morgan and Taleb began exchanging DMs, possibly on her initiative, as she was writing extensively for Business Insider and Forbes I believe, and maybe she wanted to ask Taleb something about one of his books. Taleb then pivoted into a bit of tail chasing, or, as one Twitter denizen put it slightly less crudely, he was looking for a little “bobs and vagine.” When Morgan was arrested, Taleb got spooked that somehow their DMs would leak, so he concocted a ridiculous cover story almost (but not quite) as stupid and unbelievable as Joy Reid’s claim that her fifteen year old blog with homophobic jokes and comments was hacked by Russians.

IV. The use of “some more recently” is a pure “tell.” Taleb’s bobs and vagineing has been going on for some time, it seems. But why in the world would Taleb think that the messages would leak just because Morgan was arrested (she was later released and her husband was held in custody, and I haven’t been able to get a status update on where she is today)? I mean there are really only two options:

i) that the messages would be released by the FBI or something as pertinent to the case, in which case Taleb and Morgan would have been discussing her hacking. This seems highly unlikely;

ii) Morgan would choose to release them herself in an effort to incriminate Taleb. But Nicholas baby, this is just not going to be a priority for Morgan after her arrest. I mean, she is accused of stealing 4.5 billion, and she’s got her rap career, and her husband is in prison. She has got stuff going on man; your DMs are way down the list.

All and all, this message shows that Taleb is an idiot and a complete joke. And people took note, including Edward Snowden, piping up from Russia. Check this out:

Snowden comes in with the savage take down here, and Taleb punches back with an offer to debate, what exactly? It’s not clear if this debate challenge was issued prior by Taleb nor is it clear, at least to me, what is to be debated. Are they supposed to talk medical issues? Mental health? Hacking? Bobs and vagine? Taleb continues to make no sense, and Snowden lets him know with another zinger:

Main Character Syndrome indeed. I would add Major Asshat Syndrome and Big Phony Fraud and Fragile Loser Syndrome as well. Because this is the guy who wrote Antifragile! Which is supposed to be about things that thrive during chaos, or in other words, things which are resilient. And nothing says resilient less than faking a hacking narrative to cover your tail chasing, issuing an incomprehensible debate challenge to someone way out of your league, and tripling down with blocking random twitter users who question you. And I would know, because after I liked the bobs and vagine comment and added something like “Methinks Mr. Taleb doth protest too much,” the fucker blocked me too! Sadly that Twitter account is history so I can’t post a screenshot, however it was obvious that this huge baby was scrolling chats and mass blocking to distract from his disastrous piece of public relations. Honestly, the whole thing was super funny and Taleb showed his ass in the worst possible way.

Taleb obviously thinks he is hotshit. Check out his Twitter bio.

What a poser. A flaneur is a French term for someone who walks the streets taking things in, and Walter Benjamin wrote extensively about the flaneur in his epic, and epically unfinished, “Arcades Project.” Actually, a flaneur is a lot like a kibitzer. I am the kyotokibbitzer (two b’s baby), and I love Benjamin’s work, including the Arcades Project. I bet Taleb is aware of Benjamin and fancies himself a fan. But he doesn’t know the first thing about Benjamin, because Benjamin was a humble guy who did great work and Taleb is a braggart, a tail chaser, and a bum. Deadlifts and dead languages my ass. Text is dead there Nicholas, at least your texts are, because you made a complete fool of yourself and you suck. Taleb exemplifies precisely why I dislike anyone who calls themselves a public intellectual or an expert. He is a poser and I’ll bet you 10 to 1 his ideas are stolen just like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, another total loser who piggybacks on people who know something to pump up his image. (A sure sign of a loser is a “public intellectual” who insists on using three names. What’s wrong with Nassim Taleb or Neil Tyson? The only people who need three names are serial killers; I mean even public intellectual number one Malcolm Gladwell only uses two names. Gladwell is known to pilfer ideas as well, but The Tipping Point is a pretty good read and the dude genuinely knows a tremendous amount about the sport of running. And he doesn’t call himself “Malcolm Julius Gladwell” or whatever. This is because he’s just a writer and knows that using his middle name would make him a prat.) Anyway, it’s totally fine to fake it ’til you make it, and most of us do to a greater or lesser degree, but you can’t fake your way into being an expert. Never trust “experts,” full stop.

So that’s the story of Razzlehan, the misunderstood genius, and Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the big phony. And in case you are asking, yes I did ask Razz to get in touch with me above. I’d say “I can fix her,” but she needs no fixing. She can DM me all she wants, and she doesn’t even have to get the Russians involved.

The Hired Hand, Part I: Azerbaijan, 1990

So you think you can tell/ heaven from hell

Pink Floyd

March 7th, 1990. Mitchell Grey waits at a make-shift roadblock on the Iranian side of the Iranian/ Azerbaijani border at Astara. The Azerbaijani populace has been on a 40 day general strike since a desperate and cornered Gorbachev ordered a crackdown on the citizens of Baku. Nerves on the border are stretched thin, to say the least. Grey takes his time, keeps his head down. He turned 30 in November, a mid-Sagittarius, born adventurer. Not that he’d had much choice. Of course, Grey is no more his name than it is yours, unless that is your name happens to be Grey.

Four or five people, all men, are processed and it is Grey’s turn. He turns over his passport for inspection. The customs officer looks it over, gingerly.

“What is your profession?” he asks, in perfectly inflected English.

“Engineer,” replies Grey.

He had settled on this option after much thought. Grey stands 5 foot 10, with clipped hair, three-day stubble, and work boots. He is operating on a $1500 advance paid three weeks ago in Milan by his handler whom he had met for 10 minutes. Precious little remains, and Grey is in no position, no mood to pretty himself up for the Astara crossing. He does not look like a businessman or financier, and is not about to take the risk of trying. Nor does he look like a writer, despite the capaciousness of that particular category. He looks like what he is, a hand for hire, a mercenary. Engineers are scientists, more or less, and he hoped that at least a patina of respect would be accorded his proffered status.

“Engineer of what? You are here to steal our oil, yes.”

Not a question. The border guard gives Grey a look somewhere between a sneer and a smirk. A game player, thought Grey, a patriot perhaps, but a game player first. This is usable information. Grey takes a low deep breath, forces himself to relax.

“A structural engineer. I specialize in basements and aqueducts,” he replies.

Grey hoped that the word “aqueduct” would escape the guard and that he would tire of the game soon. However the young man was not such an easy mark.

“Basements,” says the guard, with heavy sarcastic emphasis. He turns to the man to his right, an older man, long past fed up with the conversation. “You have business in our country about basements?”

It was time for Grey to fall back on the cover story. “I am not here on business. I am meeting an elderly couple in the countryside. They are passionate hunters, and we will be hunting your famous Caucasian snowcock. As well as of course quail and pheasant.”

“So you are on holiday,” askes the guard. “Holiday, now, after the brutal crackdown of the Russians, you are here to shoot birds on holiday.”

“That’s correct,” replies Grey.

He produces a letter of introduction to the couple, one Mr. and Mrs. Verlandier. There is indeed such a couple, extant, with a villa in the hills. They had received $500 through a cut-out of a cut-out of a friend of a friend. Essential plausibility, the first principal of trade craft. Now, a letter of introduction is just a piece of paper, as the border guard was well aware. Nonetheless, the scruffy looking traveler had produced paper, and paper suggests organization. And organization, well organization suggests friends. The Soviet Union was in tatters, matters were moving fast. Who knew who was with whom? The guard has no wish to inadvertently insert himself in a game any larger than hassling an apparent criminal drifter. Still, he can not resist making his feelings known to this Mr. Grey.

“That sounds like a very interesting pastime,” he says placidly. “I know a little bit about Caucasian cocks myself. In fact, I have a reputation of being able to spot them from hundreds of meters away. Just something people have said.”

Mr. Grey takes this in stride, nods, and thanks the man for his passport back. Eyes low and feet slow, he tells himself. Don’t fuck up; “go see the Verlandiers.” He crosses the border and takes his first steps on Azerbaijani soil. He has three hours before his appointment. Every minute matters.

to be continued…

Dedication: For Eric Ambler, the GOAT.

Introducing the Thin Man: The Man Under the Bridge

Everything’s thin. The Wire

Setting:

We open onto a large office in what looks to be Moscow.  It could be anywhere in the East however, anywhere from Petersburg to Potsdam.  The office appears busy; clerks filing, apprentices bustling, managers shouting instructions and reprimands that go generally unheard, not out of rebellion, nor compromised auditory canals, but rather because the generalized cacophony of the office space is such that the collective action set cannot but unfold without coordination or direction.

The office is draughty and usually cold, although an occasional over-active heat pipe burbles out a bit of local warmth for certain fortunate corners.  The walls are covered from floor to ceiling with filing cabinets; the major task of the office is simply to inspect, stamp, classify, and file an endless stream of nominally related documents.  It is mid-fall, nearly harvest season.  Summer’s bounty this year has been acceptable, and the local populace will have food for the holidays.  Inside, however, the mood is one of permanent resignation to circumstance.

Scene One: Morning

You found me on the other side of a loser’s winning streak/ where my thoughts all wander further than they should

Dawes

The office’s hierarchy is complex, following rules of its own.  Those at the bottom of the ladder are blissfully unseen and operate without oversight or sanction unless transgressing in a manner so egregious that the neighbours become involved.  Those in the middle-lower classes are a little more visible; their seating, for instance, is of great importance.  Members of this class are ever being told that their stool has been moved to another section of the office.  Reason is neither given nor sought.  Transience is the way of the world, and is widely accepted.

The scene opens in the morning, just after the workers arrive.  At a large oak table, two members of this class sit, within mere inches of one another.  One of these is a thin man–the other, a Teutonic Knight.  Both have piles of papers left over from the day before in their work spaces, spaces delineated by a crack in the oak.  One of the papers from the thin man’s zone has shifted by a fraction of an inch overnight, whether on account of the draft or the vagaries of the cleaning staff is unknown.

The Teutonic Knight turns to face the thin man.

“I think you forgot something in my space,” he says.

“I didn’t forget anything in your space,” replies the thin man, “if you are referring to this piece of paper, it has shifted marginally and is abutting the crack which separates my zone from yours.”

“You have forgotten something,” insists the Knight.  “Take it away.”

The thin man sighs and removes the paper.  Good money after bad, he thinks to himself, applying a concept from the card tables, tables which he has, perhaps, been frequenting a little more often than he might want to admit.  The Knight knows nothing of the gambler’s demi-monde, spending his evenings as he does in endless rows over minor matters with one of the succession of women he sees.  And the thin man, well he has at least managed to stay out of the clutches of the worst money-lenders and knee-cappers in the city thus far.  His taste, in the last analysis, may run more to the risque than to risk per se.  In any case, the skirmish over, the knight withdraws from the field of battle, content in his triumph.  The thin man looks at the clock.  These days, everything seems to take all morning.

Scene Two: A Few Days Later

Well I was drinkin’ last night with a biker/ and I showed him a picture of you/ I said “Pal get to know her, you’ll like her”/ seemed like the least I could do

The Dead

The office has a kind of canteen, an open space where weak tea and the occasional edible biscuit have been reported. Here lives another man, a man from the south. His status with the company is ambiguous–a matter of no little gossip. Tales are told of whirlwind romances, payments under the table, mutually compromising material. No one really knows. This southerner spends his days reading and drinking tea in a most relaxed fashion. Good work if you can get it, muses the thin man. The thin man and the southerner are allies of the kind that sometimes arise during wartime conditions. The details of his ally’s dalliances and contractual complexities are only of a general interest to the thin man, who is however curious what value the southerner is seen to be providing to the company. Literacy is good and all, but the filing by god, the filing waits for no man.

Sometime that fall, the southerner pulls the thin man aside, for a talk. His manner is furtive, his words oblique. The thin man’s time with the company is limited, he whispers. His number is up. Time to hit the bricks, pal.

The thin man takes this news in stride. The tables beckon and he’s met a woman, a lady of the evening, perhaps, yet classy–demure, yet perfectly capable of looking after her own interests. He has only seen her a few times, true, yet there are possibilities. Of course being sans salary is not likely to widen that particular possibility set. So when the southerner leans in and whispers low, the thin man listens close.

“There is a man, a man you may meet,” says the southerner. “You must not ever tell anyone I told you this. The man will be under a bridge on a high holiday. There will be revelry. He may make you an offer.”

Gambling man he may be, but the thin man is confused.

“What should I do?”

“Stay alert. Pay attention. I can say no more.”

Easy to say, harder to execute, thinks the thin man. Alert for what? A man under a bridge is easy enough to spot, however the southerner seemed to be referring to another matter, an occasion where attention would be needed to carry the day. The thin man files the conversation away, and resolves to stay open to a situation that appears to have elements of fluidity.  It seems like the least he can do.

Scene Three: A Few Weeks Later

In bar light/ she looked alright/ in day light/ she looked desperate

Hold Steady

The thin man waited out the fall, his gambling limited to the occasional dice game at the Metropole. The southerner’s sage advice, if not quite forgotten, had faded into the general background of the holiday season. The city filled with lights and good cheer, and the denizens of the office slipped into a gentle numbness even more pronounced than usual. The demure lass was deft enough to dangle enough hints and intimations to keep the thin man hooked. You get what you get, he mused, when were it ever otherwise?  A couple of hot streaks at the tables allowed him to further postpone thoughts of the future. He would buy a round or two for a barfly girl he knew–at least she was around. Eggnog, that was her tipple.

One day a upper-middle manager summoned the thin man into a meeting. Called him by name no less. The meeting started crisply.

“Thin man, as you know you number is up here at the company.”

Hit the bricks, pal.

“As a result, we won’t be renewing your employment next year.”

Uh huh…ok, eggnog time then.

“I want you to understand that you won’t be employed by the company next year.”

What was that? “Stay alert,” so said the southerner.

“You won’t be offered a contract with the company. Do you understand?”

Unnecessarily repetitive. Information is being underlined. Pay attention.

“I understand perfectly,” said the thin man. And he thought that he did.

Scene IV: The Next Day

It was in Pittsburgh, late one night/ lost my hat, got into a fight/ I rolled and I tumbled, ’til I saw the light/ went to the Big Apple, took a bite

Dylan

After receiving the news of his impending termination, the thin man felt he had relatively little to lose.  He spent the next day in the canteen talking with the southerner.  The Tutonic Knight still reigned supreme over the crack in the oak; there was no there there in any case.  The southerner read philosophy, remained on the payroll.

“I’m attending a holiday party,” said the southerner.  “It will be this Saturday.  Under a bridge in the dead center of town.”

Indeed.

“There will be a man there.  If you decide to come to the party, meet me on the street just above the bridge.  I will act as if our meeting was coincidence.  Then, I will take you to the man under the bridge.  He is waiting to meet you.”

The thin man had but one true weakness, a byproduct, perhaps, of over-indulgence in games of chance.  His weakness, he knew, was for the unexpected.  For the unplanned. For, essentially, the random.

“Sure.  What time Saturday.”

“18:30”

Military time.

“OK.  I will present myself on the street as instructed,” said the thin man.

Scene V: Saturday

I said hey Senorita that’s astute/ why don’t we get together and call ourselves an institute

Paul Simon

On Saturday, the thin man arrived on time as promised.  The southerner materialized on the street just then.

“Ah, thin man, what an amazing coincidence.  I was just heading down under this here bridge to see a man about a mule.  Perhaps you would like to join me.  He may have an extra one for sale.”

“A mule might help me get out of town in a hurry,” said the thin man.  “Let’s see what’s happening.”

Under an inky moon the two men descended, passing through waves of people, men and women, reveling in the moonlight and watching the circus.  It was cake they ate, cake it was.  The density of erotic micro-transactions formed an exact square to the paucity of actual action.  Such was the slightly unkind thought that ran through the head of the thin man as he navigated the pretty party people.  In any case, the locus of action was ever in motion.

They pushed on, through the crowd, and reached the lowest point of the city.  Here, a man with a coat of many colors stood, in pointed shoes and a tricorne.  The host with the most, he held court to a motley crew of the pockmarked and the lame–the beautiful people of our fair city.

“This is a thin man,” said the southerner to the tricorne.

The man with the tricorne folded the thin man into a close embrace.  “You will be my new best friend,” said he.

“Naturally,” said the thin man.  “I think we will be very good friends indeed.”

“Now,” said the tricorne, “I have a little talent business, providing the right kind of people to the company.  You are my new best friend.  I will provide you to the company.  As talent.  That I found.”

“Of course you will,” said the thin man.  “Wither the eggnog, si vous plais?”

Dedication: For the southern man. Thanks for putting up with my nonsense over all these years.