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Weekend Briefing No. 298
Welcome to the weekend. Cheerio from London!
29 – The market for social robots is projected to grow 29% every year from 2019 to 2022.
19 – Since 2009, sales of rye whiskey are up 1,100%, to 1.1 million cases sold in 2018.
We or Me?
In the ultimate irony for a company called We and built around the core principle of community, when it comes down to it Adam Neumann is looking out for me not we. In the Softbank led bailout / turnaround plan, SoftBank will give Mr. Neumann a $185 million consulting fee, let him sell up to $970 million of his stock as part of a larger offering to investors and employees and extend a $500 million credit line to him that replaces one from a set of banks. Meanwhile, the $8 billion valuation is below 80% of the employees’ strike price for their stock options, which means their stock holdings are zeroed out. This highlights an issue that isn’t often reported on in these type of stories – the impact on the employee. In the high-growth startup world, employees sell their souls and disrupt their lives by working like dogs while getting underpaid in hopes that they’ll have a big cash out moment at a liquidity event. Think about these employees who had already calculated the value of their stock at IPO and were weeks away from a life-changing amount of money. They are really the ones left holding the bag when Adam walks away with $1.7 billion. Oh… and 4,000 of them are about to be out of a job. Wall Street Journal (5 minutes)
Congrats to my friend Andrew Kassoy, co-founder of B Lab, on being featured as a visionary in the New York Times. He notes: We started B Lab because we thought there had to be a better way of running the economy. Capitalism, historically, is about enterprise and the capital needed to grow that enterprise. What we’re trying to do is create an economy where capital and enterprise meet not just to benefit a few shareholders, but to benefit society as a whole. Our goal is to have every company create value for all stakeholders — like corporate workers and community members — not just shareholders. New York Times (8 minutes)
Bonfire of the Philanthropists
Successful executives were once able to buy indulgences for their capitalist sins in the liberal culture through sponsoring art and philanthropy. However, activists are making this more difficult. They are demanding that Larry Fink, CEO of Black Rock “divest from prison companies, the war machine and the destruction of the global environment”. Last Friday anti-Fink protesters swarmed MoMA’s reopening ceremony celebrating a recent expansion. The demand is apparently not that Mr. Fink resign—yet—but that he change his company’s investment portfolio to align with progressive political preferences. Wall Street Journal (6 minutes)
Longtime readers of the Weekend Briefing know that I believe the most important technological breakthroughs of our generation is the gene-editing tool CRISPR. This week, in the latest—and possibly most important—of recent improvements to CRISPR technology, David Liu, a Harvard University biologists, introduced “prime editing,” a molecular gadget they say can rewrite any type of genetic error without actually severing the DNA strand, as CRISPR does. The new technology uses an engineered protein that, according to a report by Liu and 10 others today in the journal Nature, can transform any single DNA letter into any other, as well as add or delete longer stretches. In fact, Liu claims it’s capable of repairing nearly any of the 75,000 known mutations that cause inherited disease in humans. Nature (22 minutes)
Organic Farming & Climate Change
Sorry—organic farming is actually worse for climate change. Organic practices can reduce climate pollution produced directly from farming – which would be fantastic if they didn’t also require more land to produce the same amount of food. What would happen if all of the UK transitioned to organic farming? The good news is it would cut the direct greenhouse-gas emissions from livestock by 5% and from growing crops by 20% per unit of production. The bad news: it would slash yields by around 40%, forcing hungry Britons to import more food from overseas. If half the land used to meet that spike in demand was converted from grasslands, which store carbon in plant tissues, roots, and soil, it would boost overall greenhouse-gas emissions by 21%. MIT Technology Review (7 minutes)
Christianity in America
In 2007, the Pew Research Center found that 78 percent of Americans identified as Christian, and just 16 percent of Americans said they were religiously unaffiliated. In 2019, that’s fallen to 65 percent of Americans who are Christian and up to 26 percent of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated. The fall in religiosity is most pronounced among Americans born 1981 to 1996, the Millennials, who have seen the fraction who identify as Christian fell 16 percentage points over the decade. Pew (11 minutes)
How to Give Advice
(1) Make sure you are being asked to give counsel. (2) Be clear on the advice-seeker’s goals. (3) Consider your qualifications. (4) Be friendly. (5) Share experience, don’t preach. (6) Look for physical signs of relief. (7) Identify key takeaways (ad give an out). (8) Agree on next steps. New York Times (9 minutes)
Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. A young New Yorker grieving his mother's death is pulled into a gritty underworld of art and wealth in this extraordinary and beloved Pulitzer Prize winner that connects with the heart as well as the mind. Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don't know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by a longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into a wealthy and insular art community. As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love -- and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle. Amazon
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When people speak in a very elaborate and sophisticated way, they either want to tell a lie, or to admire themselves. You should not believe such people. Good speech is always clear, clever, and understood by all. —Leo Tolstoy