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The fourth post of pre-Christmas 2018: April

Sunday, 16 December, 2018

The winner of the FT and McKinsey Business Book of 2018 Award was Bad Blood by John Carreyrou, a reporter with the Wall Street Journal. His brilliant account of the spectacular rise and scandalous fall of Theranos, the high-tech blood-testing company, raises questions not only about the culture at this particular start-up — valued at more than $9 billion at one point — but of Silicon Valley and its sycophants, who boost every “breakthrough” as if it were the Second Coming. Accepting the award, Carreyrou said that readers of Bad Blood should note that the “move fast and break things” tech doctrine doesn’t work very well “when lives are at stake.”

Continuing with our review of the year, our post on 12 April was about the totally fraudulent Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos.

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If you think Mark Zuckerberg is having a tough week, consider the (mis)fortune of Elizabeth Holmes. Remember her? The CEO of Theranos was the poster girl for all those who bought and sold the delusion that a photogenic founder was an essential first step on the road to unimaginable riches. And, sure enough, gullible investors and sycophantic media beat a path to the golden door in the Valley in the hope of turning blood into treasure. And they ponied up an incredible $1.4 billion along the way.

Zuckerberg may have been on the hot seat, but Holmes is in deep water. Consider the letter she recently sent to shareholders regarding the company’s looming default on a $100 million loan. Snippet:

“The most viable option that we have identified to forestall a near-term sale or a potential default under our credit agreement is further investment by one or more of you. In light of where we are, this is no easy ask. However, given your support of the company over the years, we wanted to provide this opportunity before we proceed too far down the current path.”

Holmes is a fraud, but one has to admire (almost) the chutzpa of “this is no easy ask”.

Miss Fortune

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Tomorrow, here, the fifth post of pre-Christmas 2018 is from May and its title, Seán Sa Cheo, refers to the risky business of climbing mountains in foggy conditions.


Forsyth namechecks Snowden

Wednesday, 14 November, 2018

What if the most dangerous weapon in the world is not a nuke in a backpack but a 17-year-old boy with a brilliant mind, “who can run rings around the most sophisticated security services across the globe, who can manipulate that weaponry and turn it against the superpowers themselves?” That’s the premise of The Fox, the new thriller from Frederick Forsyth. Born in the year of the Munich Agreement, when British, French and Italian leaders agreed to Hitler’s demand for the German annexation of the Sudetenland, Forsyth has grown up in a world that has experienced its share of evil in his 80 years. The latest manifestation, in his latest novel, is the Vozhd, a Russian word meaning “the Boss” or, in the world of crime, “the Godfather”. When Forsyth was 15, the old Vozhd, Joseph Stalin, died. The new Vozhd is Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and one of his prized assets arrived in Russia in 2013, having fled from Hawaii. Snippet:

“When defector and traitor Edward Snowden flew to Moscow it is believed he carried over one and a half million documents on a memory stick small enough to be inserted before a border check into the human anus. ‘Back in the day’, as the veterans put it, a column of trucks would have been needed, and a convey moving through a gate tends to be noticeable.

So, the computer took over from the human, the archives containing trillions of secrets came to be stored on databases… Matching pace, crime also changed, gravitating from shoplifting through financial embezzlement to today’s computer fraud, which enables more wealth to be stolen than ever before in the history of finance. Thus the modern world gave rise to the concept of computerized hidden wealth but also to the computer hacker. The burglar of cyberspace.”

The Fox


You’ll never be the drama critic for the NYT…

Sunday, 4 November, 2018

…If you’re a “deplorable,” that is. The author of Bullshit Jobs, David Graeber, observes:

Conservative voters, I would suggest, tend to resent intellectuals more than they resent rich people because they can imagine a scenario in which they or their children might become rich, but cannot possibly imagine one in which they could ever become a member of the cultural elite. If you think about it that’s not an unreasonable assessment. A truck driver’s daughter from Nebraska might not have very much chance of becoming a millionaire — America has the lowest social mobility in the developed world — but it could happen. There’s virtually no way that the same daughter will ever become an international human rights lawyer, or drama critic for the New York Times. Even if she could get into the right schools, there would certainly be no possible way for her to go on to live in New York or San Francisco for the requisite years of unpaid internships. If the son of a glazier got a toehold in a well-positioned bullshit job he would likely be unable or unwilling to transform it into a platform for the obligatory networking. There are a thousand invisible barriers.

Bullshit Jobs


Welcome to the flesh parade! says Camille Paglia

Saturday, 6 October, 2018

“We certainly did not foresee that ‘booty pics,’ reducing women to their buttocks like Stone Age fertility totems, would become a wildly addictive genre of Instagram self-portraiture,” writes Camille Paglia, whose Provocations: Collected Essays will be published on Tuesday. Paglia wonders if the Instagram-driven exhibitionism that’s influencing both workplace wear and dating clothing is deepening the divide between men and women. Writing in the Hollywood Reporter, she says:

“The current surplus of exposed flesh in the public realm has led to a devaluation of women and, paradoxically, to sexual ennui. A sense of appropriateness and social context has been lost, as with Ariana Grande wearing a sleeveless minidress with bared thighs to perform from the pulpit at Aretha Franklin’s funeral. That there is growing discontent with overexposure in Western women’s dress is suggested by the elegant flowing drapery of Muslim-influenced designs by Dolce & Gabbana and Oscar de la Renta, among others, in recent years.”

Paglia illustrates her point with an Instagram image of Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar aka Cardi B, a stripper who rose to fame on social media and then became a hugely successful rapper with the mixtapes Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.

Cardi B


Bubble Wrap, Barbed Wire and Bionic Eyes

Sunday, 6 May, 2018 0 Comments

All three are examined by Ben Ikenson and Jay Bennett in their work Ingenious Patents. Originally published in 2004, the book explores some of the most innovative of the 6.5 million patents granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office since Thomas Jefferson issued the first one in 1790. The updated issue has new entries on everything from the iPhone to 3G wireless to CRISPR.

Speaking of CRISPR, the full name of patent US No. 8,697, 359 B1 (PDF) issued on 15 April 2014 is “CRISPR-Cas systems and methods for altering expression of gene products.” This gene editing tool was developed at the University of California, Berkeley and further improved at The Broad Institute, which partnered with Harvard and MIT to work on multi-celled organisms. CRISPR can be used to modify crops and livestock, as well as to treat humans with ailments such as leukaemia, but the ramifications of genetic engineering are just starting to seep into the public mind. Along with the radical treatments for a variety of diseases the technology promises, come fears of what might happen when unsavoury scientists get their hands on CRISPR. Yes, it will be great to remove life-affecting diseases before birth, but it’s scary to think parents might be able to design babies to be faster, stronger or better looking. Only the rich could afford this, hugely increasing inequality. So the world needs to treat CRISPR with extreme caution.

Note: Following litigation, the US Patent Trial and Appeal Board decided last year that UC Berkeley would be granted the patent for the use of CRISPR in any living cell, while the Broad Institute would get it in any eukaryotic cell — cells in plants and animals.

Patents


All the Pretty Horses

Friday, 9 February, 2018 0 Comments

“That night he dreamt of horses in a field on a high plain where the spring rains had brought up the grass and the wildflowers out of the ground and the flowers ran all blue and yellow far as the eye could see and in the dream he was among the horses running and in the dream he himself could run with the horses and they coursed the young mares and fillies over the plain where their rich bay and their rich chestnut colors shone in the sun and the young colts ran with their dams and trampled down the flowers in a haze of pollen that hung in the sun like powdered gold and they ran he and the horses out along the high mesas where the ground resounded under their running hooves and they flowed and changed and ran and their manes and tails blew off of them like spume and there was nothing else at all in that high world and they moved all of them in a resonance that was like a music among them and they were none of them afraid neither horse nor colt nor mare and they ran in that resonance which is the world itself and which cannot be spoken but only praised.” — Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

Limerick horses


New Year’s reading: Motherfoclóir

Thursday, 4 January, 2018 0 Comments

We’re dedicating time this week to the books that were the presents of Christmas past. On Monday, it was The Best of A.A. Gill, a gift from Noel Donnelly, Tuesday it was Five Escape Brexit Island, put in the Rainy Day Xmas stocking by Ian McMaster, and yesterday it was the turn of Change Agent, given to this blogger from himself. Today, it’s Motherfoclóir by Darach O’Seaghdha, which was put under the tree in Clontarf by Brian.

The full title is Motherfoclóir: Dispatches from a not so dead language and there’s a lot in that first word there. For instance, the Irish Gaelic word foclóir means “dictionary” and its pronunciation is similar to a well-known, common and vulgar English four-letter word. So, Motherfoclóir takes a cheeky, punny look at the Irish language and the author fills the pages with stories about his own experiences with the Irish language and its role in his life. The chapters have titles like, “Irish Names or, ‘How’s That, Like, Pronounced?'” and “Ní Thuigim (I Don’t Understand), and each is peopled with tales and remarks about Ireland and the Irish and the Irish language. Snippet:

“The Irish for colour-blind is dathdhall. While some people are indeed colour-blind, others are just a bit subjective when it comes to describing what is in front of them — one person’s beige is another person’s taupe (or, if you like paint catalogues, Irish cream/hen egg/bare brick/pine nut). Such disagreements are a frequent occurrence with colours in translation.

The Irish term for a black man, fear gorm, translates literally as blue man. Just to add to the confusion, bluegrass is gormfhéar. One of the theories to explain this is that fear dubh (literally black man) was an existing term for the devil in the centuries before Irish speakers had contact with back people, and gorm was offered as compromise. An Orangeman is Fear Buí — literally, a yellow man.”

Motherfoclóir

To keep up with the stories that have inspired Motherfoclóir, follow @theirishfor.


New Year’s reading: Brexit

Tuesday, 2 January, 2018 0 Comments

We’re spending some time this week with the books that were the presents of Christmas past. Yesterday, it was The Best of A.A. Gill, a gift from the famously generous Noel Donnelly, and today’s it the turn of Five Escape Brexit Island, which was put in the Rainy Day Xmas stocking by that well-travelled editor, Ian McMaster.

The former bookseller Bruno Vincent has a very nice little earner going now with the “Enid Blyton for Grown-Ups” series and popular titles include, Five Go Gluten Free, Five Get on the Property Ladder and Five Get Beach Body Ready. Older readers might recall that the “original” Enid Blyton was a phenomenally successful writer of children’s books and the characters of Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog became household names in post-War II Britain. In the new, “Grown-Ups” series, Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy confront such challenges as getting a good gluten-free cream tea and escaping beastly Brexit for the safety of mainland Europe. We join them, and a fellow refugee, Wally, on their make-shift raft off the coast of Dorset:

‘It is a treacherous business, trying to negotiate the high seas in nothing but a humble craft, and, at last, I understand why discipline had to be right in the old British navy. All it takes is for one person to despair and it spreads to all the others.

‘The poor, benighted, weak-spirited folk with whom I share my craft are sure to crack under the pressure any moment. I can feel the madness spreading among my crew, here on the MSS Gillian Anderson, and am watching these feeble creatures for any signs of murderous intent.’

‘Julian, would you mind not saying all that shit out loud?’ asked George. ‘It’s not really helpful.’

‘My pencil’s broken, hasn’t it?’ So I’m trying to memorize the captain’s log.’

‘Just think it then. If you must,’ said George.

‘And we’d rather you didn’t think it, either,’ said Anne.

‘Also, we didn’t agree to the ship being called the HMS Gillian Anderson,’ said Dick.

‘It’s a perfectly reasonable name. She was born in London and is one of our greatest exports. And, after Brexit, strong exports are exactly what we will need. What would you rather call it?

‘Just the Raft,’ said George. ‘Stop worrying about it.’

‘Nobody suggest the Theresa May — even in jest,’ Julian said. ‘One use of the phrase ‘strong and stable’ and we’ll be under the waves in seconds.’ Seeing Wally’s confusion, Julian explained that Theresa may was the prime minister.

‘There’s a WOMAN prime minister?’ Wally screamed.

‘You’ve got a lot to catch up on, mate,’ said Julian.

Dick squinted against the sun. ‘It’s very odd. We haven’t seen land for hours, but we keep being dragged on this current that moves like lightening. We could be hundreds of miles from where we started by now.’

‘Shut up,’ said George. ‘At some point in the next twenty-four hours, we’re obviously going to get run down by a bloody ferry, if we don’t actually sink first.’

‘What if we drift to Ireland?’ asked Dick. ‘That would be good; the Guinness is better over there, and we can fix ourselves up with EU passports — Grandad was born in Dublin, you know. Think how useful that would be.’

And on and on and on and on until the inevitable end: ‘Woof!’ said Timmy.

Five Escape Brexit Island


Lapedrera.com

Monday, 16 October, 2017 0 Comments

Professor Robert Langdon is at the wheel of a Tesla Model X P9OD that Elon Musk “allegedly hand-delivered” to the Elon-Musk-like genius in Dan Brown’s latest novel, Origin. Sitting beside him is the very beautiful Ambra Vidal, who happens to be engaged to the future King of Spain. Well, it is a Dan Brown novel.

Anyway, they’re doing 120 kph on the outskirts of Barcelona when Winston, a superior version of Siri, points out that the Musk-like character had helped create a video about the architecture of Antonio Gaudi’s Casa Milà. “It’s worth seeing,” says Winston.

“The video is actually quite impressive,” Ambra agreed, leaning forward and touching the browser screen. A keyboard appeared, and she typed: Lapedrera.com. “You should watch this.”

“I’m kind of driving,” Langdon replied.

At which point Ambra puts the car on autopilot and they watch the video together, as people do in a Dan Brown novel when a Telsa Model X P9OD is on autopilot.


Javier Marías for the Nobel Prize in Literature

Thursday, 5 October, 2017 0 Comments

“He’ll be a minister in Spain some day, or, at the very least, ambassador to Washington, he’s exactly the kind of pretentious fool with just a thin veneer of cordiality that the Right produces by the dozen and which the Left reproduces and imitates whenever they’re in power, as if they were the victims of some form of contagion.” — Javier Marías, Tu Rostro Mañana: 1 Fiebre Y Lanza

They’re awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature today up in Scandinavia. The betting is that it’ll go to a writer, but that’s not a sure thing anymore. “For having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2016 was awarded to Bob Dylan. Very few saw that coming.

Today, we’ll see a return to the norm, such as it is in the world of letters. Haruki Murakami? Margaret Atwood? Ngugi wa Thiong’o? Amos Oz? Worthy candidates all, but our money is on Javier Marías, the Spanish novelist, short story writer and translator. He’s a superb writer and because the Spanish establishment could do with some good news at the moment, the Nobel committee might be inclined to lend a hand.


Memorials outlast memories

Monday, 28 August, 2017 0 Comments

In Robert Goddard’s mathematical thriller, Out of the Sun, the hero, Harry Barnett, visits Kensal Green Cemetery and muses upon the erasure that death accomplishes: “The broken pillars still stood, the hollow helmets still echoed. But the thousands of names — and thousands of people they had once been — vanished sooner or later, beneath the lichen of utter forgetfulness. The memorials outlasted the memories. They alone remained, in this petrified forest of ceremonied mortality.”

Graveyard