Monday 26 December, 2022

Spot the snapper

Quote of the Day

” It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”

  • Fredric Jameson

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Anarchy in the UK | The Ukulele Orchestra


I was much cheered by this. Thanks to Ian Low for pointing me towards it.

Long Read of the Day

The missing profile of a crypto Wunderkind

Some time ago Adam Fisher wrote a remarkable — and compulsively readable — profile of Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of the FTX crypto exchange which went belly-up recently, who is now out on $250m bail in the US. The spectacularly enthusiastic profile was originally written for Sequoia Capital, a big Silicon Valley venture capital firm that invested in SBF’s activities. But once FTX imploded it suddenly disappeared from Sequoia’s site.

Fortunately it was archived (that’s the Internet for you) and here it is for your delectation.

It’s a long but (IMO) a striking — and also salutary — read. Someone said that it looked like something that F. Scott Fitzgerald might have written in his day. And I can see why.

From the closing paragraphs, though, you can see why it suddenly disappeared.

After my interview with SBF, I was convinced: I was talking to a future trillionaire. Whatever mojo he worked on the partners at Sequoia—who fell for him after one Zoom—had worked on me, too. For me, it was simply a gut feeling. I’ve been talking to founders and doing deep dives into technology companies for decades. It’s been my entire professional life as a writer. And because of that experience, there must be a pattern-matching algorithm churning away somewhere in my subconscious. I don’t know how I know, I just do. SBF is a winner.

But that wasn’t even the main thing. There was something else I felt: something in my heart, not just my gut. After sitting ten feet from him for most of the week, studying him in the human musk of the startup grind and chatting in between beanbag naps, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this guy is actually as selfless as he claims to be.

So I find myself convinced that, if SBF can keep his wits about him in the years ahead, he’s going to slay—that, just as Alameda was a stepping stone to FTX, FTX will be to the super-app. Banking will be disrupted and transformed by crypto, just as media was transformed and disrupted by the web. Something of the sort must happen eventually, as the current system, with its layers upon layers of intermediaries, is antiquated and prone to crashing—the global financial crisis of 2008 was just the latest in a long line of failures that occurred because banks didn’t actually know what was on their balance sheets. Crypto is money that can audit itself, no accountant or bookkeeper needed, and thus a financial system with the blockchain built in can, in theory, cut out most of the financial middlemen, to the advantage of all. Of course, that’s the pitch of every crypto company out there. The FTX competitive advantage? Ethical behavior. SBF is a Peter Singer–inspired utilitarian in a sea of Robert Nozick–inspired libertarians. He’s an ethical maximalist in an industry that’s overwhelmingly populated with ethical minimalists. I’m a Nozick man myself, but I know who I’d rather trust my money with: SBF, hands-down. And if he does end up saving the world as a side effect of being my banker, all the better.

We shouldn’t be too hard on Mr Fisher. We’ve all written daft things in our time. But what of the allegedly sober Venture Capitalist which commissioned the piece, and invested in SBF?

My Commonplace Booklet

A novel sales pitch for a literary magazine

From the London Review of Books yesterday…

You will know the tune, so here are the lyrics:

Rudolph the well-read reindeer
Had a love for stunning prose.
Rudolph the well-read reindeer
Wanted to be in-the-know.

All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and read the Sun.
They never let poor Rudolph Give a gift to anyone.

Then one dreary Christmas Eve
Santa came to say:
Rudolph with your mind so bright
What gifts should I give tonight?

Then all the other reindeer
Opened up the LRB,
And Rudolph the well-read reindeer
He went down in history!

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