The Turducken Of Nightmares
September 15, 2021
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“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” — Bill Gates
Theranos Winners Here
In a January 2015 article for Fortune Magazine, celebrated information analyst Erin Griffith wrote about Silicon Valley’s tsunami of Unicorns — privately-held startup companies valued over a billion dollars. In subsequent articles, Griffith explained that the nature of technology requires a degree of magical thinking to function, and venture investors historically encouraged startup founders to think big. Because even the most well-intentioned startup founders need to enthusiastically persuade investors, engineers, and customers to believe in a future where their totally made-up idea will be real, investors seemed willing to accept that the truth might be stretched a little.
But the “fake it till you make it” culture, with its lack of transparency and regulation and growing greed, soon led to ever-bigger scandals. In October 2015, Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou began writing about his investigation of one of those startups: Theranos, a Palo Alto company founded in 2003 by then 19-year-old Elizabeth Holmes. On the strength of Holmes’ claim to have revolutionized the blood-testing industry, Theranos reached a valuation of over $9 billion.
Carreyrou’s investigation led, in March 2018, to the SEC charging CEO Holmes and company president Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani with conducting an “elaborate, years-long fraud in which they exaggerated or made false statements about the company’s technology, business, and financial performance.” In May 2018, Carreyrou published his riveting expose entitled Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup. The next month Holmes, and former boyfriend Balwani were indicted in a California federal court on 12 counts of fraud. The indictment alleged that Theranos misled investors, doctors, and patients with its promises of a blood test that delivered quick results with a single finger-prick.
The lead FBI investigator indicated the Justice Department was framing the case as a fight for the heart and soul of Silicon Valley. “This district … is at the center of modern technological innovation and entrepreneurial spirit; capital investment makes that possible. This office [and] other law enforcement partners in the Bay Area will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who do not play by the rules that make Silicon Valley work.”
Holmes’ trial began September 8. While this landmark case scrutinizes one company and one founder, it also shines a harsh light on some of the norms of startup culture, including the expectation that founders pursue their ideas with something like reckless determination. In his opening statement to the jury, the lead prosecutor said Holmes had become “one of the most celebrated CEOs in Silicon Valley and the world. But under the facade of Theranos’ success, there were significant problems brewing.” The jury’s duty will be to decide at what point startup swagger turns into fraud. (Fortune, WSJ, Wired, NBC News)
Pope Encourages Roma-ing Around
- Roma people are the most socially excluded minority group in Slovakia. On Tuesday, Pope Francis, as part of a four-day pilgrimage to Hungary and Slovakia, visited the Lunik IX settlement in the eastern city of Kosice, the biggest of about 600 dilapidated, segregated settlements where the poorest 20% of Slovakia’s 400,000 Roma live.
- Most settlements lack even basics such as running water, sewage systems, gas, or electricity. Roma have long suffered racism and discrimination in Central and Eastern Europe and continue to face huge hurdles in employment and education. But the mistrust is mutual. The Pope urged residents to integrate better into the mainstream, and to think of future generations in trying to overcome their own prejudices so their children might have a brighter future.
- He highlighted successful examples of Roma who had left or otherwise integrated more fully into Slovak society. The Pope’s visit alone could help change attitudes among Slovakia’s majority, many of whom would never have thought of visiting such a neighborhood. (AP News)
#MeToo Unwelcome In China
- Zhou Xiaoxuan filed a lawsuit in 2018 accusing powerful Chinese media figure television host Zhu Jun of groping and forcibly kissing her when she was a 21-year-old intern at the state broadcaster CCTV. Zhou went public on social media and quickly became the face of China’s nascent #MeToo movement.
- China’s first civil code passed in May 2020, expanding the definition of sexual harassment. Still, many women are reluctant to come forward. Zhou’s case was originally filed under the “personality rights” law, relating to an individual’s health and body, but her lawyers asked for it to be considered under the new legislation. Zhou’s case began in a Beijing court in December 2020.
- Late Tuesday, the court ruled that Zhou had not met the standard of proof necessary to support her sexual harassment claims. Zhou told supporters on her WeChat account that she had been deprived of the opportunity to fully present her case, and listed seven instances that implied the court had been unfair. She plans an appeal. (Guardian)
Additional World News
- School-based COVID outbreak in China’s Fujian grows (Al Jazeera)
- Prince Andrew’s lawyers say sex abuse case is baseless and papers weren’t properly served (CNN)
- Russia’s Vladimir Putin is quarantining after several Covid-19 cases in his entourage (CNN)
- Biden to lure India’s Modi to restart vaccine exports (Axios)
- Norway’s left-wing opposition starts coalition talks after election win (NBC)
- As Virus Surges, Filipino Students Begin Second Year Online (NYT, $)
- In Germany, Social Democrat Scholz Leads Race To Succeed Chancellor Merkel (NPR)
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- Senate Democrats need all 50 of their caucus to be on board for any legislation to have any chance of passing, even without the filibuster rule requiring a 60-vote majority. The most obstinate members of the party are Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Manchin has been the sole member opposing the Dems voting rights bill, the For The People Act, which passed the House earlier this year.
- And now, Democrats have now come up with a compromise that Manchin endorses. The new bill would make it easier to register to vote, make Election Day a public holiday, ensure states have early voting for federal elections and allow all voters to request mail-in ballots.
- It would also bolster security on voting systems, overhaul how House districts are redrawn, and impose new disclosures on donations to outside groups active in political campaigns. But since Manchin still refuses to consider relaxing the filibuster rule in order to pass the new bill without 10 Republicans signing on, it is destined to fail. (CNN)
Peaks And Valleys
- The famous Squaw Valley Ski Resort near Lake Tahoe is changing its name. After a long debate and input from Native American tribes, who consider the name “derogatory and offensive,” the California resort will now be known as Palisades Tahoe.
- The old name will live on in maps, partly because it’s also attached to another California community in Fresno County. The name similarity set off a debate earlier this year in the Fresno County community, when officials discussed changing the name. The debate over its appropriateness and who should get to decide if the name should change is apparently still ongoing. (NPR)
Additional USA News
- Capitol Police arrest man with bayonet and machete in truck near DNC headquarters (CNN)
- Covid Hospitalizations Hit Crisis Levels in Southern I.C.U.s (NYT, $)
- Florida mother reunited with daughter who was abducted in 2007, police say (NBC)
- Biden vaccine mandate puts McConnell, GOP leaders in a tough spot (The Hill)
- Florida woman pleads guilty to threatening to kill Vice President Harris (CNN)
- Alex Murdaugh: Police investigate missing funds from law firm (USA Today)
- 4 Ex-Cops Accused Of Violating George Floyd’s Rights To Be Arraigned (HuffPost)
The Turducken Of Nightmares
- Three decades ago, some scientists had the idea to introduce a butterfly to the tiny island of Sottunga in a sub-region of Finland. So, they populated the island with Glanville fritillary caterpillars, and waited for emerging butterflies to happily disperse across the landscape. Unfortunately, the researchers didn’t realize some caterpillars contained a parasitic wasp that bursts from the caterpillar before it can pupate and become a butterfly. Furthermore, living inside some of these parasitic wasps was another even tinier, rarer parasite, a “hyperparasitoid” wasp, which kills the parasitic wasp about the same time that wasp is killing the caterpillar. 10 days later, the tiny wasp emerges from the caterpillar’s carcass.
- But wait. There’s more. Also joining this mess was a bacterium carried by the larger female wasps and transmitted to their offspring. Plus, by some still unknown mechanism, the bacterium increases the susceptibility of the larger parasitic wasps to being taken over by the tiny parasitic wasps — which can only live on their larger hosts. So with all this bursting and killing and zombie activity going on, what’s really amazing is that 30 years later, all four species are still surviving on this itty-bitty, 10.4 square mile island.
- Dr. Anne Duplouy of the University of Helsinki is the lead author of a study about all this, published in Molecular Ecology. She has a warning to projects seeking to reintroduce or restore rare species about how easily other organisms or pathogens can be inadvertently released alongside the target species. “The reintroduction of endangered species comes from the heart, a good place, but we have a lot to learn about the species we are reintroducing and the habitat where we want to reintroduce them before we do so,” she said. Someone should tell that to the people behind Colossal, a startup that has raised $15 million so far to bring the woolly mammoth back from extinction by 2027 using CRISPR, the gene-editing technology. The goal is to add woolly mammoth DNA to elephants to create a hybrid that lives in the Arctic. What could possibly go wrong? (CNET)
- NASA says Mars rover rock samples reveal ‘potentially habitable sustained environment’ (CNET)
- Incredibly rare ‘megapod’ of more than 100 humpback whales surrounds boat off coast of Australia (CNN)
- A Stanford Proposal Over AI’s ‘Foundations’ Ignites Debate (Wired)
- Activision Blizzard sued again, this time for labor violations (The Verge)
- Why even giant ships can’t solve the shipping crisis (BBC)
- Ancient spider caring for her offspring is trapped in 99 million-year-old amber (CNN)
- Norm Macdonald Dead: ‘Saturday Night Live’ Alum & Veteran Comic Was 61 (Deadline)
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