The Guardian’s Naked Lie on “Russian” Reaction to Brexit

While a clear majority of Britons in a high turn out referendum voted for Brexit, and are presumably delighted at winning, the Guardian bitterly lashes out at its favorite target Russia, by instead nakedly lying about the Russian position as being “delighted” when the official reaction by the top three officials – Putin, Medvedev, Lavrov – was cautious and expressing concern about economic fallout.

June 24, 2016

In the era of the internet where one can simply look up what world leaders are saying themselves, the British establishment outlet, the Guardian still believes that it an get away with lying about what is being said by what the establishment considers “enemies”.
Here’s what the Guardian who had vociferously supported the Remain campaign, announced that “Russia” feels about Brexit.

The above were based on the comments of the mayor of Moscow simply because he is Russian. It’s like focusing on what the Mayor of London Boris Johnson – who having campaigned vigorously for Brexit and a potential candidate for the next British PM is delighted- says as a proxy for “Britain”.

Meanwhile earlier TASS had a report on comments by the Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev which headlined the exact opposite:


Meanwhile the man the Guardian loves to hate, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, said this while in China for an important Shanghai Council Organization with China, India and others:


And the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the following remarks.


The Irony

Given the clear majority (52%) of Britons voted to Leave including the Mayor of London, against weighty campaigning by the Western establishment including the Guardian, a more accurate headline would be 

“Britain delights in Brexit”

Yet the Guardian unable to swallow the bitterness of the result it was against, is lashing out at its “enemies” with lies, unable to understand it is precisely this sort of agitprop that makes it inherently untrustworthy to many outside the establishment bubble.

Conclusion

As shown, the top three Government officials who can speak for “Russia” internationally were cautious in their outlook, careful in their comments and stressing that Brexit was an internal matter for the UK and Europeans whose outcome they had nothing to do with.  If anything they expressed concern on any negative effects on the Russian economy, the key thing they would care about. Putin explicitly shrugged off any change that this would have on the sanction policy on Russia, which no Russian official expects will change anytime soon.

Meanwhile it is fair to say that since a majority of UK citizens voted for Brexit, including the Mayor of London who campaigned for it, a headline “the UK is delighted with Brexit” is more accurate.

Yet the Guardian leads with inflammatory messaging about “Russia” being delighted, oblivious to how it’s torpedoing its OWN reputation (not Russia’s) by disseminating agitprop as “news”.

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The Empire Strikes Back: US State Department Seeks Military Solution for Regime Change in Syria

How key factions in the US Establishment, including now the State Department are gearing up to escalate the Syrian conflict, pushing for direct bombings of Damascus and regime change as always, in a preview of how the Clinton administration will act.

June 16, 2016


[NOTE: All bold italic assertions need to be updated with links.]

Introduction

On February 25, 2016, soon after the ceasefire announcement I wrote about the coming Western Disinformation Campaign Regarding the [Syrian] Ceasefire Being Broken.

The key point I made is that because the so-called moderate opposition will not separate out from Al-Nusra, the USG and media, instead of blaming the opposition, will blame Syria and Russia for continuing their attacks on Al-Nusra areas as they are legally entitled to as per the ceasefire agreement.  In particular I wrote What Happened Next

An unexpected thing happened.  Russia instead of pressing their momentum, actually gave time for the ceasefire to work.  Putin announced a drawdown of the military and there were intense efforts to make the ceasefire work and talks started.  

These talks were repeatedly derailed by the Opposition which included extreme Jihadi factions indistinguishable in idealogy from Al-Nusra but protected by the US Government and allies (which vetoed resolutions to put them on the terrorism list along with Al-Nusra.)

Meanwhile Al-Nusra beefed up its forces with help from Turkey, with various Jihadi groups allied to Al-Nusra joining them in attacks on Government held parts of Aleppo and other towns and cities.  The US State Department continued to say that they were “working” to convince the groups to separate but it was “complicated”.

It became apparent that the USG and its allies had no indication to really press the opposition for a ceasefire and were using the time to strengthen forces.

Over the last two weeks, faced with Al-Nusra gains in Aleppo,  Russia started to escalate its Airstrikes along with the Syrian Government to regain the initiative.

And Now

Over the past few days Kerry talked of “US patience thinning” (even as Lavrov kept indicating what was wearing thin was Russia’s patience in waiting for USG to help separate the opposition from Al-Nusra.)  

And then hours ago came the news that 50+ plus US Diplomats sent a note to Obama urging military strikes on Assad.

This is an astonishing move by diplomats and show how warmongering the State Department has become:

1. They are urging a military solution and thus are admitting their own failure as diplomats.

2. Strikes on Assad would violate International Law yet again (after Iraq, Libya, Yemen and on and on), Laws that Diplomats should be very cognizant of.

3. The escalation of the conflict would have unpredictable consequences.

Why Now?

This is ultimately not about Syria.  This is about Russia and the determination of many factions in the United States establishment including media like the New York Times to re-establish “US leadership” – ie “US diktats” – over the region and to show Russia that the unipolar world with USG at its helm is alive and kicking.

This is happening against three key events:

1. Upcoming EU meetings where discussion of extending EU sanctions are going to take place, an event I have already said in January is virtually sure to happen (thanks to USG pressure on a reluctant EU).  A manufactured conflict in Syria is as likely a trigger for extending sanctions as I pointed out then.

2. The upcoming  NATO meeting where more militaristic policies against Russia will be revealed.  Escalation in Syria will only helps NATO’s cause (much like gun deaths in US only help the NRA).

3. The US Presidential elections which pits Clinton – a corrupt, establishment warmonger who seeks to expand US involvement everywhere – versus Trump – a nativist, bigoted, nationalist who questions why the US needs to police the world.

Clinton of course supports a more aggressive policy in Syria and an escalation will help her platform.

Meanwhile in Russia

Putin is increasingly torn between two factions: one that favors accepting that Russia is too weak economically to challenge the West and quietly and meekly accept its fate to be another Western dominated nation, and nationalists who warn that Russia needs to draw a line somewhere and push back hard.

That line in the sand could be Syria.  A USG attack on Damascus would be a direct challenge to Russia’s goal of preserving the state institutions.

Russia’s choice could be to

(a) Let it happen which will expose it’s claim to any power as toothless;

(b) Put pressure on Assad to step down which will not only expose Russia as caving in to pressure but put in jeopardy the millions of Syrians who do support the Assad Government.

(c) Directly or indirectly support Syria’s air defenses to shoot down any planes / missiles.

Option (c) of course can be the spark that can take the whole conflict to another level of chaos.

Conclusion

Various factions in the US establishment have decided that now is the time to escalate the pressure against Russia by proxy.   This thinking gives a preview of how the neo-con backed Clinton administration – which is virtually sure to be elected barring some sort of disqualification – will act.

And most of the Western media will fall lock step into this warmongering policy as they did for Iraq and Libya.

And so it goes.

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How Eurovision Voting correlates to Geopolitics: Case of Poland and Israel

Analysis of Eurovision 2016 data shows how Jury voting by country often mirrors their country’s establishment political positions and how the divergence in the Televoting mirrors the growing divide between the establishment and population in these countries.

June 3, 2016

Introduction

In Analysis and Initial Conclusion from the Eurovision 2016 Voting for Russia and Ukraine” it was shown how despite Russia comfortably winning the overall Televote (popular vote) in Eurovision 2016,  Jury (Establishment Elites) Bloc voting by an anti-Russian coalition of 17 of the 42 countries, giving zero points to Russia while 132 to Ukraine meant that the latter came out ahead in the sum of the two (Jury + Televotes).

A further point was made that the popular voting in these same 17 countries actually gave a slight edge to Russia (149-148).  In particular the popular votes among many countries was in contrast to how the estbalishment from the same countries voted.

Summary tables of the overall rankings and the Ukraine vs Russia voting by country split by Jury and Televotes are given below.

Voting patterns for Russia vs Ukraine (Yellow is more to Ukraine; Blue is more to Russia)

The Case of Poland and Israel

While the Ukrainian victory over Russia was wildly celebrated in the Western establishment by (among other apparent music afficianados), NATO, a look at the voting patterns for two other countries, Poland and Israel, illustrates the same points as above: how Jury voting in Eurovision mirrors the political view of their respective Establshments and how different they are from the popular vote.

Here’s a summary table.


As one can see, Poland got a total of only 7 (!) points from juries of all 42 countries (placing it 25th out of 26 finalists) while racking up 222 points in popular voting (3rd out of 26).

Israel on the the other hand got 122 votes from Juries (8th overall) while only 11 in popular voting (22nd overall).

Analysis

The new Polish Government is more right-wing than its precedessors and in addition to ramping up its anti-Russian rhetoric – which is of course welcome by the EU elites – it has ALSO been hostile to the EU’s pan-European agenda, taking on a more anti-EU, nationalist tone.  The EU bureacracy has retaliated not just with the usual harsh rhetoric about “threat to freedoms” but has taken an unprecented step of warning Poland that it could be stripped of voting rights within the EU

Thus Poland’s new Government has few friends among the EU elites while of course continuing to alienate the Russians.  The result is that though the Polish entry was overall quite popular among the people, who perhaps were listening more to the music than thinking about sending a message, Poland was shut out in the establisment voting on all sides.

The reverse can be seen in the case of Israel.  By and large,  Israel is unpopular among the European populace either because of its policies towards the Palestinians or a latent anti-semitism.  Or perhaps the music was just bad.  In either case the Israeli entry hardly got any popular votes.

But the EU elites of course are by and large staunch defenders of Israel which is reflected in the voting.

The stark contrast between the voting of the German elites versus its population is once again interesting to note given the growing internal turmoil in Germany between its establishment and population.  In the case of Russia, the German jury gave 0 to Russia and the second highest score (10) to Ukraine while the German televoters gave the maximum (12) to Russia.  In the case of Israel, the German jury gave its maximum (12) to Israel while its population gave 0.

Conclusion

The Eurovision is a kitchy, cultural affair with little relevance to actual good music.  However it serves as an unintended glimpse into both how political preferences of the elites from different countries is reflected in their voting; and also how divergent they often are from how the televoting public which mirrors the disenchantement of the public from ther leaders in many of these countries.

 

 

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Jason Calacanis’s Contradictory Views on Aggressive Journalism

May 27, 2016

Jason Calacanis, a well-known Silicon Valley enterpreneur and blogger, in a very frank, lengthy and informative interview on January 28, 2016 with Wall Steet Journal investigative reporter John Carreyrou who broke the story about flaws in Theranos technology and operations, commends the latter stating near the tail end of the interview (starting 1:26:32 – transcript by ear below with emphasis added)

I don’t think with you or your tenacity to stay on this story any of the journalists here in Silicon Valley who I can tell you are bought and sold [..] Lot of them won’t take on these big projects. It has to come from New York journalists. It has to come from the East Coast because the East Coast people don’t have a horse in the race.   They don’t have friendships to maintain, they don’t have spouses or cousins or brothers or friends or people they go on vacation with on private jets and go to you know islands. You know these journalists are very tied into the ecosystem here. And they are bought and sold largely. They don’t want to risk somebody not giving a keynote at their conference.  They don’t want to risk knocking over the apple cart.   I know this because, listen, I am a Brooklyn kid who lives here and I can tell you,  I feel the pressure. Like when I wrote bad stuff about Zuckerberg and Facebook and how they were screwing with people’s privacy, just in my blog, and like how I thought it was ridiculous and bad.  You know I had people try to, somebody try to literally scuttle my career and told me essentially  ‘You’ll never work in this town again. Stop beating up Zuckerberg.’   That’s the kind of pressure journalists out here are under. They are not really journalists.  They are more like content creating PR extensions in this town. The East Coast, you know, the bulldogs, the Boston Globe, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, 60 Minutes, Frontline, Propublica – like you need to have this aggressive East Coast, Northeast approach to taking on these giants.  Because it’s not going to happen here.  And I applaud you for doing this. I think it’s tremendous the work you’re doing. [..] I know you’re doing it not for the money because let’s face it you’re making a fraction of what you would get paid working on the PR. Put it this way, the PR person is literally making 5 times what you make.  And David Boeis is making 500 times as much as you make defending the other side of this. And so people who are attacking you about this I think are pointing the target at the wrong place.

So after this brave and revealing commentary, it’s astonishing for Calacalis now to be celebrating Gawker‘s plight on being found liable for $140m for invasion of privacy, with individual journalists also being targeted in lawsuits funded by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel – who acknowledged a 10-year long plan to target and bankrupt Gawker’s for their irreverent attitude to him and his friends in Silicon Valley, an attitide as Calacanis makes clear above, they are used to from the compliant press back in the Valley.

As Nick Denton, the founder and proprietor of Gawker, in a open letter to Peter Thiel makes the same point as he lists the many investigative reports that Gawker, a “small New York media company” put out, while acknowledging they “overstepped the line” a few times “into snark” among the millions of posts, to offset the “fawning coverage of tech luminaries”.  The kind of fawning coverage that led to Elizabeth Holmes to be valued $4.5 billion and being written as the next-Steve Jobs without putting out a single product in public.

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How Maxim Trudolyubov Lets Ideology Trump Facts

A look at how an supposed Editor and researcher gets basic facts wrong in his frantic desire to smear Russians on the pages of the New York Times.

May 27, 2016

Introduction

Maxim Trudolyubov is an editor-at-large for the Russian business daily Vedemosti, and more importantly for the Western establishment, a part of the small rabid anti-Kremlin community who dreams of Russia taking its rightful place of becoming THE key client-state of the US Government as many of the European countries are.

His latest is “The Sore Losers of Russia” published in the New York Times whose only questions for its op-Ed are “Piece Against Russia? How many inches do you want?”

He leads with the Eurovision 2016 contest and starts with 

Actually the FACTS are these: 

1. The result was determined by the SUM of the Televoting by the various countries AND the points from the Jury from those countries.  So Trudolyubov basically gets this fact wrong.

2. Regarding “The Audiences were sending a message to Russia [by voting against it]“:   Perhaps there were many who voted against Russia because they believed – thanks to their media’s propaganda – that the Crimean people were taken kicking and screaming against their wishes into the deep, dark, cold embrace of the Russians (as opposed to the FACT that an overwhelming number of Crimeans have always wanted to be, voted in the referendum, and as Western polls show still are, for union with Russia.  See here and here). 

But here’s the actual FACT: Russia won the popular vote via Televoting.

So how did they lose the overall?  Well a Jury – a proxy for the elites – from 17 countries where anti-Russia propaganda is the shrillest – Bloc voted to give zero points to Russia and 132 points to Ukraine (6 gave the maximum 12).  The Televoting from the same 17 was 149-148 for Russia vs Ukraine.

A summary of the voting between Ukraine and Russia is below.  The details are laid out in “Analysis and Initial Conclusion from the Eurovision 2016 Voting for Russia and Ukraine“.

Voting patterns for Russia vs Ukraine (Yellow is more to Ukraine; Blue is more to Russia)


Why Does This Matter?

Evidently to Trudolyubov, who leads with the Eurovision farce, the Russian reaction to Eurovision is symptomatic of the larger whole.

And indeed it is.  Whereas for him, the twisted “facts” he believes are true display how Russians don’t like losing and see enemies everywhere, the reality of the actual facts show clearly 

(a) the agenda of the European elites who bloc voted to deny Russia any points and;

(b) the defiance of the televoters from these countries who collectively –  despite many of them no doubt voting against Russia because of what they heard from their media –  STILL managed to vote Russia the winner.  In Germany where the elites voted 10 (second highest) to Ukraine and 0 to Russia, the televoters voted 12 (maximum) to Russia and 6 to Ukraine.

So the FACTS that the Eurovision broke its own rules about not having political songs which Ukraine’s entry by the signer’s own admission post-victory clearly was; stated a victory for Russia would be disastrous; placed Ukraine’s entry in a more favorable time slot; had the elites Bloc vote against Russia; and then having achieved a Ukrainian victory gleefully crowing about it with NATO (!) doing a profile of the winner, is all evidence of something alright.

It is indeed evidence of the absolute desire to deny Russia victory by any means even in a stupid kitschy competition like the Eurovision.   This is not to humiliate the Kremlin – who did not comment – but the Russian people for whom Eurovision mattered, and who were indeed outraged.

What’s interesting is that for those of Trudolyubov’s ilk, all the above actual FACTS – all of which he either got totally wrong or conveniently omitted – are evidence of the “paranoia” of the Kremlin and Russians.

Meanwhile a few days ago Putin – who is a known hockey fan – attended the Hockey World Championship final in Moscow between Canada and Finland, two countries from the Western Bloc.  He did not attend the semifinals where Russia beat the United States 7-2.

In the final, Canada beat Finland 2-0 and Putin came down to the ice, heartily congratulated Canada (whose leadership has been strongly anti-Russia) and Finland and had this to say among other comments.


Yeah, what a sore loser!

Conclusion 

Trudolyubov used the Russian reaction to Eurovision as lead-in to his “evidence” of Russian’s being “sore losers” even though the “facts” he uses to come to such a conclusion are wrong and the real facts show Russians had much reason to be aggrieved.

Given Trudolyubov has proved ignorant of the facts and basic researching abilities, the question should be asked as to how he achieved seemingly exalted postions as an Editor and Fellow of the Wilson Institute.

Or perhaps facts, researching abilities are not the chief qualities looked for.  It certainly is not to get to write in the New York Times op-ed section against Russia.

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The Thiel/Gawker Saga Highlights Role of Money in Legal System

What Billionaire Thiel’s bankrolling of $10m to try and bring down Gawker in a case he was not involved in says about the legal system.

May 26, 2016

Introduction

The revelation that the lawsuit pursued by Terry Bollea aka Hulk Hogan against Gawker for invasion of privacy – for which Bollea won a staggering $140 million dollar judgement –  was funded behind the scenes by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, based on his own conviction that Gawker deserved to be put out of business, has generated a lot of commentary.

It appears from first glance, that many of the Silicon Valley enterprenuerial class (see for example Marc Andeersen’s Tweet)  who have suffered from Gawker‘s irreverent – and according to them scurrilous – takedowns have reacted with approval and delight at Gawker‘s plight.

On the other side have been staunch free-speech advocates like lawyer-turned-journalist Glenn Greenwald (despite himself being employed by an outlet funded by a Silicon Valley Billionaire) as well as many in the liberal media who are troubled by the slippery slope implications of such “litigation finance” against media outlets.

This commentary is however about a bigger point, viz. the role of money in buying “Justice”, a theme only referred to in passing in the New York Times article about Thiel’s involvement in various suits against organizations that he believes are detrimental to society:


Rich and Powerful Can Buy “Justice”

The free-speech debate has overshadowed the deeper issue as to why Peter Thiel’s deep pockets were needed by Bollea to win the award.  Thiel himself said:


So there is the casual acceptance of the reality of the American Legal System: that serious “resources” that not even “mere” multi-millionaires like Bollea can afford, are needed to buy – what Thiel and others who despise Gawker would call –  “Justice”.

What this has confirmed to all but the most naive is that just as in politics and healthcare, in the legal system the rich and powerful have access to the best resources to influence the outcome in their favor.

It has long been known that the legal system is biased against the poor, but the Gawker case reinforces the fact that the rich and powerful can utilize the legal system not only to escape serious penalties versus those with less power,  but also to coerce and stifle what they regard as poisons in building a better society.  This desire to socially engineer humanity to their liking is a pattern of thinking that informs the behavior of billionaires across the establishment political spectrum from George Soros to the Koch Brothers.

Conclusion

Peter Thiel’s use of his deep pockets to try and bring down Gawker, shows that the Rule-of-Law – which supposedly is a foundational element of why the US is superior to other countries – is more like other countries the US criticizes,  where the influence of the powerful on the legal system is just more easily observable.

 

 

 

 

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Theranos: When Start-Up Hyperbole crosses over to the Big Lie

How the typical Silicon Valley start-up hyperbole necessary to secure various rounds of funding morphed into an operation to keep the illusion going just a bit longer till reality finally caught up to it.

May 19, 2016

Introduction

In a bombshell article today by the relentless John Carreyrou of the Wall Street Journal, revealing “Theranos Voids Two Years of Edison Blood-Test Results”  gave a fuller picture of what was happening with Theranos than it’s own muted press release of March 31, 2015 vaguely stating the following. 

Carreyrou was the investigative journalist who first revealed to a wide audience substantiated doubts about the accuracy, reliability and usability of Theranos’ ultra-secretive proprietary technology – code named Edison – that was being touted as a key to “revolutionize” blood testing by being able to analyze hundreds of tests from a single drop of blood. 

This was done in a series of articles from October 15, 2015 after a nearly 10 months long investigation. (Kevin Loria writing for Business Insider on April 25, 2015 cited scientists who expressed doubts about Theranos’s claims but did not have the kind of access to insiders as Carreyrou did.)

Theranos’ same day response to Carreyrou was, especially in retrospect, very revealing.  

Instead of clarifying the report, Theranos and CEO/Founder Elizabeth Holmes launched a full on attack on Carreyrou in their response (still on-line as of date), CNBC appearance on October 16th and a Wall Street Journal Tech conference on October 21st doubling down on calling his work false and the insiders who spoke “very confused”.

This defiance continued in spite of further revelations from Carreyrou and others who picked up the story, all through the end of 2015, only stopping when news that the FDA, CMS and even the SEC was looking into Theranos.   Holmes, a prolific tweeter till then, made her last Tweet and “like” on December 17th.  

Theranos was actually aware of Carreyrou’s investigation.  As revealed earlier this month, a year ago in May 2015, Theranos sent a team of lawyers over to the Wall Street Journal offices in New York headed by a most feared litigator, David Boies – who controversially serves both as counsel to Theranos and as a Director, which some argue sets up a conflict of loyalties  – to essentially threaten the paper and journalist into silence.  (Indeed this tactic might have worked to mute some of the deeper questions, for example, as to why a key scientist at Theranos, Ian Gibbons, who had worked for 8 years on the core technology killed himself in 2013 while telling his wife despondently that “Nothing was working”, a point simply mentioned in Carreyrou’s original article without any commentary as to the linkage between his work and his suicide.)

So in May 2015, Theranos legally threatens the Wall Street Journal to no avail.  In June, it stops Edison testing (voluntarily it said later).  Between June and October 15, Holmes was feted both in a series of PR articles as well as in conferences in which she continued talking about the technology.  She met Biden, Clinton and other luminaries and carried on merrily. 

On the Theranos website the last self-congratulatory PR post on October 12, 2015, 3 days before Carreyrou put his first stake through the blood-sucking (or was it suck-at-bloodwork) company, states “Washington Post: This is what I was put on earth to do: Elizabeth Holmes and the importance of passion“.

In hindsight, it was truly astounding that Holmes could have that much bravado. Edison testing had stopped in June and her public denials anything was wrong all through the end of 2015 defies belief.  While the President and COO, Sunny Balwani – a mysterious figure whose photo is never published (Navy SEALS have less anonymity) – was offered up as the fall guy when he “resigned” in a press release on May 11, 2016. (though he’s still listed as COO on Theranos’s site even now), it is inconceivable that Holmes did not know that the various problems.  And what about the Board?  What did they know and when?

One explanation is that the Executive Leadership got caught up, Madoff-like, in the Big Lie.  They might have been hoping that Edison and the lab could get fixed before anyone found out so that they could then claim it was always this way.  Edison had always worked.  So the original lie would not be a lie anymore.

These actions don’t just remind one of how children think when they furiously try to undo a mistake before Mommy and Daddy find out, but the scale and context of it – healthcare and not another stupid tech toy – and the sheer brazeness and foolhardiness of doubling down on the lie even when exposed and threatening those who who exposed it is more akin to sociopathy than standard human guilt response (though given the presence of Henry Kissinger as an advisor on the Board, perhaps understandable.)

The Role of the Media in Propagating the Big Lie

The media played a huge role in hyping up Holmes as the next-Steve Jobs. A damning chronological list of media fawning shows that no media – including the Wall Street Journal who in a September 2013 article by a senior editor, Joseph Rago referred to Holmes as a “Chemical and Electrical Engineer” though she was neither  – escapes blame.

The technology media has come in for some criticism  for building up Theranos without any critical evaluation of its technology.   Roger Parloff of Fortune who was part of the Theranos PR effort hagiographically covering Holmes in a June 2014 article titled “This CEO is out for Blood” and who subsequently, post-Carreyrou penned an article on December 17, 2015 (coincidentally the same day Holmes stopped tweeting), titled “How Theranos Misled Me“, essentially confessing he didn’t have the technical chops to ask the right questions or understand the answers and basically took Holmes at her word.

So the media excuse seems to be “We told our readers the technology was secret, so how could we know it wasn’t as good as Theranos told us it was?”

A clue for the lack of more critical thinking here might be in another famous hagiographical article in the New Yorker in December 2014 by Ken Auletta

In it, Holmes gave the following answer when pressed to explain how Edison worked.

A chemistry is performed so that a chemical reaction occurs and generates a signal from the chemical interaction with the sample, which is translated into a result…

This meaningless statement, that Auletta himself called “comically vague” was apparently one of the reasons why Carreyrou started to look at Theranos a month later.

The statement above is not just “comically vague” but it seems to show the person has no clue as to what they are talking about.  Even if she wanted to be vague she could have talked about “microfluidics” or “lab-on-a-chip” both buzzwords for technologies that must be involved, but her response sounds like something clever a high-school student (the only degree Holmes possesses) would blutter out when stumped for an answer in a chemistry pop quiz.  It’s technically true right?

What’s astounding is that Theranos in an official response to Carreyrou’s continued hammer blows about the unproven nature and doubts about various aspects of the technology, including the pre-analytics stage did not do much better:


Oh that’s it!  Wow -surely the scientific community will be convinced now. And so pithy and universally acceptable.  

Here’s a basic pitch:

 “I am making a teleporting device.  It works like this.

Step 1. Go into the Podtainer(TM). 

Step 2. Set the location 

Step 3. Teleport.   

Transport made Simple (TM).  Now fund me $700 million.” 

See?  Even simpler than the instructions in this Monty Python sketch on easy ways to rid the world of all known diseases and also, learn to play the flute.

The same New Yorker article has two very revealing anecdotes.  One is from her former Stanford University professor Channing Robertson – and later Theranos Director and employee  – who spoke elsewhere of teaching her like “teaching Beethoven music or Einstein science.” (For this incredibly ignorant hyperbole from a famed Professor Emeritus, Roberston – who should know better – deserves to be paraded around in a Game-of-Thrones-like-shaming). He talks about how when Holmes told him that she was going to intern in Singapore’s Genome Institute and he said she would need to know Mandarin, and she said she knew it, he was blown away.

A couple of questions come to mind: one is why knowing Mandarin should be regarded as a hallmark of genius? While not easy for English speakers to learn, to make Mandarin expertise out to be some sort of awe inspiring knock-myself-on-the-head-with-a-mallet feat like composing one of the most famous Western symphonies in existence when essentially deaf (Beethoven) or upending the world of Physics multiple times in a single year and human understanding of the Universe as an encore (Einstein) seems not just ridiculous, but a bit colonial.

The more interesting question though is why a research institution in Singapore which should be well known as a destination where English is freely spoken and is the lingua franca of academia, require Mandarin? A simple click shows a web page for the Genome Institute only available in English. And a call to the Institute shows that what’s needed is English proficiency.

And then there is a tale told by her father about how Holmes was accepted on the spot into the Mandarin college summer program at Stanford while still in high school, and thus apparently not eligible, by wowing the admission officer while on the phone.

Well yeah call the Stanford program.  High school students perfectly eligible to apply.

What’s fascinating here is not the triviality of these clearly tall tales – why is Mandarin proficiency relevant? – but that despite them being so trivial, they were highlighted as evidence of genius. And if that was not pathetic enough, they seem to have been what can kindly be called exaggerations to begin with. And yet not only did reporters not follow up with these fairly easily verifiable, non-technical claims, they repeated it in print as true giving Holmes the confidence that the media would eat anything out of her hands.

So Is Lying Big Necessary for a Successful Start-Up?

We all lie, exaggerate our accomplishments.  When faced with questions about a task with a deadline we will say we are close to finishing when we are not, hoping some coffee and a late night will do the trick or even hoping a deux ex machina event will happen.  It’s part of the human condition.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Marketing, Sales and PR are careers in more polished versions of lying: either making promises that are not yet true – but will be by the time the sale is done: Promise! – or more simply by not revealing the full picture.   Engineers who are sticklers for details usually don’t make good sales people precisely because they like to be precise about things. 

Copyright Scott Adams

In start-ups the pressures that are there even in an established company – with established products and revenue sources – is magnified to crushing levels.   Start-ups are dreams and visions requiring money to be realized.  Founders can see it, taste it, they have the drive, but they need the money.  And more money, just a bit more and we can turn the corner.  In this situation the hyperbole that accompanies any product – witness the much parodied solemn, measured British tones of Apple’s Jony Ives touting how the latest iPhone is the most amazing yet – crosses into a whole new territory.

All things being equal – that is to say the idea seems promising; the market analysis sound etc – the huge edge for a start-up is the investors’ absolute confidence in the founder’s iron self-belief, extreme resilience against adversity and ability to convince others against all odds that their vision can be productized. In Presence, author Amy Cuddy reveals that various real-world tests revealed these as key attributes that investors looked for in deciding whether to fund a start-up.

But at what point does self-belief become megalomania, resilience become delusional and ability to convince become the audacity to Lie Big?

It appears Theranos would be a good case study to explore that question.

Conclusion

Except for Carreyrou who is deservedly likely to add to his 2 Pulitzers, few come out of this looking good. 

1. Theranos appears to have been running a Mickey Mouse operation at its labs – even the ones using industry standard machines are having to correct many reports to avoid being shutdown by the CMS.

2. Holmes either willfully misrepresented the state of the core technology, or was shockingly ignorant of the true state of affairs.  Her attacks on Carreyrou for exposing what she must have known at the time was true, or incompetently unaware was true, was childish at best, criminal at worst. Either way it does not inspire confidence in her as a CEO. In a publicly traded company she’d be long gone.

3. The high powered Washington Insider Board seem to have given advice in the only relevant area they were experts in: when you lie, Lie Big and when they find out, threaten, attack back. And keep shuffling the deck to obfuscate, confuse and buy time. Good governance, medical expertise, not so much.

4. The VCs who funded Theranos; the Walgreen Executive team who approved the deal to offer Theranos testing at their Arizona locations (fired for an unrelated bad decision); the Cleveland Clinic who announced a partnership with them, apparently did little due diligence apart from looking at others who had invested and the big names on the Board.

5. The ENTIRE media including Carreyrou’s paper had indulged in the Holmes lovefest, essentially buying her PR as fact and hyping her as the next coming of Steve Jobs with little research to verify her claims.

6. The Harvard Medical School who made Holmes a Fellow; Pepperdyne who gave her an honorary doctorate; and the increasingly farcical TED talks – see TODD talks from Late Night with John Oliver – all legitimized an unproven high school graduate’s academic credentials.  (The corruption of academia by money is another story by itself).

Finally, one group does come out looking good: scientists and technologists who have been skeptical about Theranos’s claims from the beginning.  Science works best when done openly and collaboratively, with peer reviews and informed debates.  The scientific process cannot be substituted by secrecy about details, hype about the vision, and threats to those who question.

And the Theranos saga is a good opportunity to reinforce that point.

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