Before the flood of 2018-in-review horror stories, a quick reminder that this has been a Really Good Year in the fight against delusions, manias, the irrational and the madness of crowds.
One reliable indicator is a puff-piece in the South China Morning Post. A ‘Hong Kong whizz-kid’ has raised HK$382 million for a cryptocurrency venture.
From whom? Presumably the advisors and token-holders listed on the website promoting the revolutionary ‘paradigm shift’ innovation. There seems to be more Indonesian involvement than is usual with crypto startups.
To the layman’s eye it looks like a blockchain (ie online database) platform that uses millions of ordinary little people’s smartphones (in places like Indonesia?) to do the absurd energy-wasting calculations currently performed by big coin mining operators. As with all ‘blockchain’ stuff, the obsession is with having a database that is distributed/decentralized, even though no-one can think of a practical reason why this is so important. This startup mentions such applications as cancer research and AI (another recent candidate is freeing 40 million people from slavery).
Unfortunate timing, since 2018 is the year the cryptocurrency bubble-fad went woomph. It has been a fascinating phenomenon to watch from a social-cultural viewpoint (leave aside the techie details). The book to read is Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain by David Gerard.
I would break it down into three themes/phases. First, a trendy libertarian anarchist-chic thing about being so edgy doing without government and banks, for people who took the brilliant Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon too seriously. Second, a financial transaction system that worked for a while and was a godsend to criminals. Third, a speculative bubble that attracted swarms of suckers who thought the electronic blips were an asset.
Here’s a nicely scathing eulogy for the whole thing.
On the subject of suckers and assets, the Hong Kong property developers’ good friends in the media are helping hype up end-year (end-cycle/end-bubble) sales. The SCMP passes word of an ‘intrepid’ 98-year-old lady who bought a HK$19 million apartment at Sino Land’s new project. The Standard, who make SCMP look like amateurs at real-estate advertorials, follow up with the 70-year-old who bought a unit at the same development, along with the inevitable TVB actor, a Mainlander who doesn’t mind paying extra stamp-duty, a guy who bought six flats, and various other purchasers who are either fake or stupid.
The ultimate delusion-that-evaporated in 2018 is, of course, Xi Jinping and his wonderful warm and cuddly Communist dictatorship, which just can’t help alienating the whole world. A good quick summary here, should you need another. Philip Bowring focuses on one example of how Beijing could (arguably) have been grown-up and made friends, but just couldn’t stop itself from doing its thug-tantrum freak-out thing.
I declare Christmas open with Festive Joy in the form of a wrecked Ferrari up near Tai Po. The SCMP, being inexplicable wimps, pixelate the car’s plate – as if this spectacle is not in plain public view. The Standard comes to the rescue, with (XX) 6688, which in Cantonese means ‘Extra Special Huge Happy Good Fortune and Prosperity’. Egg nogs all round!
ACROSTIC JUST FOR YOU!
Whiz kid = Wunderkind/genius.
Whizz kid = Youngster that can’t control his kidneys
The SFC should take a look at all those paid blockchain advertorials, probably too busy not policing penny stocks.
For the holiday, a rather long read.
– – – – –
Not a Christmas Poem
“Paul Yip couldn’t find a room in Shanghai, so he decided to build his own hotel.”
– South China Morning Post : 22 November 2018
What a coup! So bold, and shrewd as well:
No room, so you built your own hotel!
But that success resembles in some ways
The story of a Galilean pair
Who went to Bethlehem in Roman days
And couldn’t find accommodation there.
There was a census, and by law of Rome
One had to go to one’s ancestral home
So Joe and Mary went to Bethlehem,
A journey difficult for both of them.
He was a carpenter, with work to do;
She was pregnant, very nearly due.
And then to cap a long and tiring day
The couple couldn’t find a place to stay.
Again – again – they heard to their chagrin,
“I’m sorry, but there’s no room at the inn.”
And so they did the best that they were able,
Dossing down like beggars in a stable.
They were newly married. Joe and Mary
Were awkward with each other, quiet, wary.
He was deeply troubled and ashamed:
He was not the father, Mary claimed.
This was the girl he’d tried so hard to win,
So sweet and pure, so free from every sin!
Now she was saying something very odd:
It was a special child, the son of God!
Joseph was a thinker, and he pondered this.
It sounded like the Greek and Roman myths.
The Gods were restless, it was often said,
And, tired of Mount Olympus’ austere height,
Would slip away some balmy summer night
And creep into a human woman’s bed;
A subject there are paintings, poems, on;
As, for example: Leda and the Swan.
Perhaps Joe’s god, the Jewish God, had done
The same as any Greek or Roman one?
No, never, Joe was sure, out of the question;
But something heard, half-heard, a faint suggestion
In Mary’s mind, romantic and naïve,
Had caused the simple woman to believe.
It was nothing, just a puff of air,
And Joseph, proud and trusting, could declare:
“This is our baby, and my son and heir.”
. . . Away in a manger, asleep, no crib for a bed,
The new-born lay still. Joe lovingly said,
“Joshua, I name you, my son. I hope you will be
A carpenter, skilful, hard-working, and honest, like me.”
Who knows what will happen? Who knows why?
The next day, with a calculating eye,
Joe looked at Bethlehem and shrewdly thought:
But why is the supply of rooms so short?
No room at the inn? So I will build
My own hotel! And soon his inn was filled
With guests who never would have come that way
Before, without a decent place to stay.
The dim, short-sighted men of Bethlehem
Lost the trade that could have gone to them;
And Joe’s Hotel – for merchant or sight-seer,
Was one of the very best in all Judea.
Joshua grew, and waxed in spirit strong,
But differed somewhat from the other boys,
Seldom pleased with pranks and games and toys.
Rather a strange youth, seeming to belong
With priests, discussing ethics, right and wrong.
Joseph told him patiently, “Just be
More down-to-earth, my son; and you must be
About your father’s business. My life will end,
And all my enterprises will descend
To you.” Joshua often used to wander
In the desert. He saw a vision yonder,
Of life as outcast, harried, short, and poor;
But here – there was a business, sound, secure.
Though prophet / profit were the words he muttered,
He understood which side his bread was buttered.
Joshua married Mary Magdalene,
A pretty girl, a former beauty queen,
Although there was a rumour or report
That she had been a prostitute, or escort.
Her husband said “Those stories are untrue,
And if you ever print them, I will sue.”
In later life, Josh gained a reputation
For eloquence and powers of narration.
People liked to stay in his hotel
Just for stories that he used to tell.
Parables, in fact, the word he used;
Anyway, the guests were all amused.
Joshua was smart, and Joe’s Hotel
Was fully booked and doing very well.
A second hotel followed, Josh’s Place,
And Joshua managed it till he retired,
Popular and wealthy and admired.
A good life, but without profound effect;
A life that did not leave a single trace
On history – or so you would expect.
But here’s the thing. There is a tiny sect
Surviving still, who reverently claim
That Joshua – they use another name –
Was, as his mother said, God’s son, a being
All-knowing and all-loving and all-seeing.
He could have calmed our anger, cleansed our sins.
So with a question I conclude this verse:
If Josh had chosen not to manage inns,
Would the world be better now or worse?