Modest Expectations – Nadia von Leiningen

I have learnt a great deal over the past fortnight about this infernal virus.

This whole incident started after we had driven from Sydney for a dinner in Broken Hill. On our way home we intended to stay with my wife’s mother, who at 96 still lives at home in Albury. As I reported in my blog two weeks ago, we all contracted COVID and we all took anti-viral drugs, despite some difficulty in accessing them. In all cases, the disease was mild, although mine has lingered with a post-viral cough.

On reflection, given how successful the antiviral treatment seemed to be especially with my 96 year old mother-in-law, I wonder why there appear to be limitations on access to these drugs.

For instance, President Biden, who is 79, received the antiviral drug, Paxlovid. In clinical trials, Paxlovid is said to reduce the risk of severe illness by 90 per cent. He has experienced a mild infection that he attributes to vaccination.

By contrast, when Trump contracted COVID in 202I, eight drugs, from aspirin to the antiviral Remdesivir, were given to Trump in what observers at the time called a “kitchen-sink” approach. Most of those drugs were probably ineffective. Trump’s infection was certainly not mild. He was lucky. Biden’s outcome is predictable, uneventful recovery. One problem is that Biden seems to have undervalued the effect of the antivirals.

When the two cases are compared there is no comment about whether there should be any restrictions on access.

Thus, why can’t the whole Australian community have access? Or is it the same case as it was with the vaccine availability, incompetent supply chain decisions covered up by a military uniform?  Not enough being ordered by government is a familiar refrain. Is it another Department of Health stuff-up? Open government, Minister Butler.

We certainly had difficulty in obtaining the drug in Albury, where there were limited supplies. But this appears to be a common problem, even in capital cities. In the discussions, there seems to be a surprising degree of passivity in the community about the restriction in access without any objective clinical explanation, although that may reflect actual knowledge in the community of the existence of antiviral drugs.

Now, seeing both how our whole family benefited and how his doctors did not muck about with President Biden, who was immediately prescribed anti-viral drugs, why the restrictions on usage? On form, incompetence by the bureaucracy would appear to be the number one reason.  But maybe I am too bleak. So please, what the hell is going on?

The second comment was that when the whole family has the virus, and you are away from home, how do you actually get the anti-viral drugs. You need a doctor’s prescription, and because of the current conditions for that prescription, you need to get your own doctor to prescribe. In both our cases, the practice was contacted, the doctor was busy but rang back and sent the prescription immediately by email or text. The difficulty then is getting the prescription not only filled but in our case, to also locate a pharmacy that had the drugs.

Nevertheless, the key response was that of our doctors – suburban Sydney and Albury. They promptly rang back. I have heard of the contrary situation occurring.  In this case, the general practitioner did not return the call, not that day, not the next, when the prescription of an antiviral drug was essential. How often does that occur – a general practitioner forgetting the Hippocratic Oath? And nothing is done about it.  How many people have died because the doctor did not ring back? One is enough!

On the Cheapside

It was a slow Saturday afternoon, and my wife was looking over a series of ship manifests seeking information about some of her relatives’ arrival in South Australia. She came across a series of ship manifests including one from the 621 ton barque Cheapside which left Plymouth Hoe on sixth July 1849 and berthed at Port Adelaide three months later on the tenth October 1849. The Cheapside was the nineteenth emigrant ship from England to arrive in the South Australian colony in 1849; it was reported in the three months voyage six babies were born and ten persons died.

On board was my grandfather John Egan, then aged five years, together with his younger brother Michael, then three and sister Mary aged one.  My great grandparents were Michael and Bridget, specified as such on the manifest.  Michael is described as a labourer originally from Co Clare. Bridget – nothing added – just the spouse of Michael. I knew she had been born Bridget Corcoran in Cappoquin in Co Waterford.

Strangely, I remember once standing on Plymouth Hoe and looking out to sea and trying to feel what it must have been like sailing from these shores, knowing that you would never to see them again. But then again, they had already trekked across Ireland to Plymouth. Their embarkation had been from Plymouth not from Ireland, where Queenstown (now Cobh) in Cork was the common embarkation point for emigrants.  But to America not Australia!

The Egan family was numbered among the 242 emigrants in steerage. To give a flavour to the “passengers” on the other hand there were a Mr. Clisby and his daughter, Mr. Farmer, Mr, Hodgkin, Revd. Mr. Wood, his wife and five children and Mr. J. Ayre, late surgeon-superintendent of the Tasman are described as being “in the cabin”, 12 in all.

As has been described, for the “emigrants”, they were lodged below the main deck in steerage quarters converted from cargo spaces. This area would have been dark, crowded and close to the water line – when seas were rough passengers were often shut in with poor ventilation.

Added to this were probably the captain and 20 crew; so life was crowded.

On disembarkation, the Egans made their way to Kapunda, where the first commercial mine had been opened in 1842. It’s copper ore was some of the highest quality.

The township of Kapunda lies 80 kilometres north-east of Adelaide, just beyond the furthest reaches of the Barossa Valley, where a landscape of grassland and peppermint scrub here is gently undulating. That was the scene that confronted Michael Egan and his family – wife and two children – when they alighted from the bullock dray. It was early summer.

Michael had been attracted to Kapunda because he knew there were Claremen working in this newly-opened open cut mine.

Michael had always been restless. He had worked as a steward on an estate in Clare owned by the Blood family. He was still in his twenties when he left Clare and obtained work near Ross in Co Wexford, but 20 miles from Co Waterford. Here he met Bridget who was the daughter of a local farmer from Cappoquin, who had been forced into service.

They had married in the years before potato blight took hold and devastated the potato harvest across Ireland. Potatoes were an essential nutrient. As a result, the famine devastated Ireland, the first wave commencing in 1845 and by 1849 those who survived were fleeing The Emerald Isle.

And in the South Australian heat, here he was with his wife and children in November 1849.

But this was a mining community, unfamiliar territory where extraction and smelting of the ore was a task Michael had never encountered. He was rubbing shoulders with seasoned Cornish miners.

Kapunda’s copper mine 1850s

Yes, I have been to Kapunda and walked the perimeter of the overgrown mine which has been fenced off. Strewn around the site there remains clear evidence that this was once a copper mine. The tell-tale pale green cupric ore with tawny iron stains abound in the rock fragments. I souvenir a few pieces and turn away and go back to the car. The first chapter of Michael and Bridget Egan’s Adventures had begun.

For Michael was 35 at the time; he was to die 53 years later, a distinguished and wealthy Melburnian. 

Taking a Taxi to Bethlehem

This is a story about my good friend, Chris Brook, who died suddenly in May. Chris was a complex person, where many facets of his personality flashed, often the light from one cancelling the other out. Yet nestling under the carapace of arch comments and disdain was a compassionate person.

He and I had gone to Jerusalem in 1995 to attend a conference where Chris was then the President-elect of the International Society of Quality Assurance (ISQua). The Conference organiser was a courtly Israeli, a long term member of the Society executive going back to when I had been President of the same institution six years before. He said very little, but I found out that he had been a veteran of the 1948 war. The veterans of this War split in two Israeli factions – Likud and Labour.

Yitzhak Rabin had been a brilliant soldier and strategist, and even though he was a hard man, he was a reasonable man. A member of the Labour Party, in 1995 he was in his second term as Prime Minister.  Just over a year before he had negotiated the Oslo accords with Yasser Arafat, which introduced a period of comparative tranquility into the relationship between Israel and Palestine. For this he and Arafat had jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.

We were lucky to go to Jerusalem during this period of peace. One morning, Chris and a colleague, Heather Buchan, decided to go with me to Bethlehem. It was a ten minute drive by taxi; negotiating the border was quick, unlike the time it had taken to enter Israel, being quizzed endlessly by unsmiling Junior Mossadista.

Church of the Nativity

Bethlehem by and large is a nondescript town of little shade and rows of ugly yellow stucco buildings. Yet the taxi was weaving its way unerringly to the Church of the Nativity said to have been situated on the site of Christ’s birthplace. There is a photograph of us all in the Manger Square in front of the Church. On the edge of the photograph of us was a smiling lean young Palestinian, a rifle slung over his shoulder.

Like many Palestinians living in Bethlehem he was a Christian, but unbeknown to me at the time Chris struck up a conversation with him. Chris said very little about him, but after we returned home Chris corresponded with him, and whether he sent money or whether he was prepared to help him migrate to Australia I am not sure.  They continued to correspond. Then one day, he mentioned to me he had not heard from this young man. The silence persisted; Chris tried to find out what had happened. As far as he knew the young man had been killed in some street altercation with Israeli troops; but where, when or how, Chris never disclosed that information. Although he must have been affected, Chris never showed grief.

At the Wailing Wall

We had gone to Jerusalem when a calmness prevailed. We were freely able to visit Jewish, Christian and Muslim shrines.  I particularly remember walking along the Wailing Wall amid the black robes and nodding heads. There was a cave at the end of the wall, where many of these Orthodox Jews were clustered. I had entered it, even though I was obviously a tourist. Nobody seemed to mind. One of these Orthodox Jews I clearly remember was one who lifted his beard to reveal a tracheostomy hole. It did not stop him launching into a crazy tirade. I listened to the invective – vicious invective primarily directed at Yitzhak Rabin for what he had done. I excused myself.  When I walked out into the sun I felt I needed a shower.

Four months later, Rabin was assassinated by a right wing extremist, Yigal Amir, on 4 November 1995 in the Kings of Israel Square.

The Accidental Nobel Laureate

Due to their recent discovery and relative inertness, there have not been many clear establishments for the applications of fullerenes. However, there are predicted applications that are presently being tested – May 22, 2022

Dr Robert Curl died last week. Dr Curl shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

As recalled in his obituary in the NYT, in 1985, Dr Curl, a Texan, along with Richard E. Smalley, a Rice colleague, and Harold W. Kroto, a scientist visiting from the University of Sussex in England, showed a new configuration: 60 carbon atoms bonded into a molecule that resembled a soccer ball. They also found a larger version made of 70 carbons.

A buckyball

The finding was serendipitous because the scientists had been looking for something else. The chemists named the molecules buckminsterfullerenes after the architect Buckminster Fuller and his geodesic domes. The name was later shortened to fullerenes or buckyballs.

What a great name to enliven an esoteric area – the concept of kicking buckyballs around the molecular framework. The problem is that no matter how enticing the name and how cute the carbon atomic configuration; they were unable to find a commercial use.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo in 1996, Dr Curl said inter alia

At the outset, none of us had ever imagined these carbon cage molecules. When we looked at carbon, the single astounding carbon sixty peak in the mass spectrum and the circumstances under which it came to prominence admitted no other explanation than the totally symmetric spherical structure, and suddenly a door opened into a new world.

The fullerenes have caused chemists to realize the amazing variety of structures elemental carbon can form from the well-known three-dimensional network that is diamond and the equally well-known flat sheets of hexagonal rings that are graphite to the newer discoveries of the three-dimensional cages that are fullerenes. We have learned that the cages can be extended into perfect nanoscale tubules which offer the promise of electrically conducting cables many times stronger than steel. Or the cages can nestle one inside the other like Russian dolls. Now that we have become more aware of the marvellous flexibility of carbon as a building block chemists may ultimately learn how to place five- and seven-membered rings precisely into a network of hexagonal rings so as to create nano structures of ordered three-dimensional complexity like the interconnecting girders in a steel-frame building.

The statement at the head of the blog was published in March this year.

Ergo, a Nobel Prize awarded for a discovery they were not looking for with a cute name but still in search of a function in the nanoworld of the molecules, let alone the ongoing search for their commercial application.

No Place for the Shamus?

I receive a great amount of stuff from the Lincoln Project, an extreme group of former republicans dedicated to destroying Trump and his acolytes. I receive regular communication because I purchased a print from them of a portrait of Abraham Lincoln with a tear in his eye. It is a powerful image. Those behind the Project are no saints; they are men who have been at the heart of the US government, insiders well versed in the “dirty trick campaign” and seemingly unafraid of using the same tactics.

The critical decision for the reader to make is to whether, if you read on, are you reading fact or “alternative facts”. It is important to factor in your own bias, if you have no idea of what is actually occurring. Yet the last sentence limply reinforces a paean which unexpectedly appears four paragraphs before about the Secret service being essential and valiant; a tincture of an apologia methinks! Rick Wilson the author of this below is what, in the terms of Cain and Chandler, may have been described as “hard bitten and cynical”. But then that is my bias!

Here’s why it matters that tens of thousands of you raised your hands and demanded answers about those deleted January 6th Secret Service texts:

If reports are to be believed, the Secret Service handed over exactly one – ONE! – message. That’s like writing “FU” on a blank cover sheet, crumpling it up, and throwing it in the general direction of Capitol Hill.

To get this straight: the Secret Service let the dog eat all their text messages during, wait for it, and this coincidence will SHOCK you, the two days surrounding the most calamitous threat to our democracy. Literally every possible agency with investigatory power has a duty to figure out just what the hell happened.

It matters that a Federal agency given sweeping powers of action and discretion has quite clearly engaged in a coverup to protect Trump and his coup plot. Stay with me here, because my mind is wandering…

1) The long-rumoured and discussed cadre of Trump Praetorians in the USSS needs to get aired the hell out. This just reeks.

2) The leadership and every single person on the detail and Uniformed Division that day needs to have their personal and work devices of every kind subpoenaed and examined. They must also be deposed.

3) I hope you’ll let the 1/6 Committee know you’ll tune in for “The Long Hot Summer” series. They absolutely should add this to the docket and make it so hot even the DOJ can’t ignore it. They can skip vacation “juuust” this once and crack some skulls. 

4) I’ve noticed many Republicans get very livid lately when this whole scandal gumbo is compared to Watergate.

The Secret Service is a vital agency. Their unchallenged bravery at being the last line of defense between violence and assassination of U.S. Presidents and protectees is storied and written at times in blood. It is a brave and honorable duty. The core of their reputation wasn’t just a fearsome readiness to defend the President. It was also a cool, detached professionalism that served the office, not simply the political whims of the man who held it. 

For months, Mike Pence’s refusal to enter the VP limo has pinged the edges of my radar. I couldn’t quite sort out his reluctance. He’s not a physically brave man, to my knowledge, so what was it? What else did he know or sense? If you ask me, I think Pence knew parts of the Service were compromised and put Trump’s politics over duty.

To go deeper down the rabbit hole: I’m no Presidential staff historian, but Trump’s elevation of hyper-loyalist Tony Ornato from the Secret Service into a political role at the White House (who later planned the photo op with the Bible, and the tear gas attack on peaceful protestors in Lafayette Square…) might have been a tell. I suspect he’s rather a key element here. We also know that when President Biden took office, he felt compelled to change out pro-Trump detail members. Putting all that together leads us to some unpleasant potential conclusions, to say the least.

This is not a matter where all of us – not the Committee, not the DOJ, not every American who cares about the rule of law and the vital role of the Secret Service – can sit back and be satisfied with one lousy text message. We have to pull at these threads and connect these dots.

The danger the Secret Service faces every day in the line of duty is real. Their sworn duty is an honourable one. But it’s starting to look like the MAGA rot runs deep here. Who knows how big of a role all of this played in the January 6th insurrection?

Yes, who knows. Jason Bourne is across it, and he was supposed to be flight from reality.

Mouse Whisper

If that human crowd have not had enough pandemic, Splendour in the Mud in Byron Bay may just be a catalyst for another, especially as it is not an uncommon event as exemplified in this British report:

Unusual transmissions of gastrointestinal diseases have also occurred during large scale open air festivals. An outbreak of Escherichia coli was reported during the Glastonbury music festival in England and was linked to mud contaminated by infected cattle. Heavy rain had turned the site into a quagmire, and attendees had high levels of contaminated mud on their hands and faces.

Leptospira

Also, those coming back from Splendour in the Mud last weekend should become acquainted with the one word “leptospira”. These nasty bacteria, the bane of sewage workers, are associated with my dirty cousin rats – in their urine which they sprinkle over sugar cane and banana plantations and which is washed away when the rains come and into the mud that forms around these bacteria.

Welcome to the disease world of the unprotected youth, acquiring a disease to remember where splendour is in the eye of the beholder as they cavort to the sounds of those masters of the music world. So, as you raise your glass with the muddy hand, do I hear you cry “Here’s Mud in Your Eye”?

No, that is a toast from another era well before Woodstock, in fact it’s biblical.

Hosting a leptospirosis party?

 

Modest expectations – Three hundred and four thousand four hundred and eighty

COVID-19 comes to all. I thought I had some idea where I picked it up. I have limited contact with people, because my disability makes it difficult moving around, especially when there are steps. Until you are disabled, you do not realise how difficult it is to avoid them; the world is not a level field.

The virus is harassing my upper respiratory system, and it has been a challenge to dislodge the tenacious phlegm. The whole picture is that of congested misery.

On Wednesday last, we drove from Swan Hill to Albury, a distance of about 400 kilometres. Lunch was a Cornish pasty and coffee in the shade of pepper trees in Wycheproof.

By the time we arrived in Albury, I had developed a cough, and initially my RAT was negative; but next day it was positive.  The inevitable march of the Virus through the house had commenced.  By the weekend, we were all RAT positive. For us, it was inconvenient to say the least to be away from home, but at least we were isolating ourselves.

I was prescribed Lagevrio (molnupiravir). Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir/ ritonavir), the other antiviral drug, was contraindicated.

Of course, there are no controls to confirm whether Lagevrio had any effect, but now with the cocktail of vaccines and anti-viral capsules, I seem to be holding my own. I have just taken my last four capsules. The congestion has much improved, but is still lingering.

In Albury there has been a supply shortage of antivirals. For a time early in the week Albury may have been in danger of running out of the antiviral drugs if promised deliveries didn’t eventuate. Familiar? Here we go again. Governments blithely change the conditions for availability without determining whether there is a sufficient supply. It is a nightmare, when we – like so many others – are confined to home and depend on the drugs being delivered.

I remember my last tussle with the flu about five years ago. That lasted six weeks with a residual cough for months afterwards., I could see the long dark corridor where there are no open doors and no light at the end.

The pandemic has persisted. Public health measures are now a matter of choice in regard to responsibility. No longer any of those public measures – such as contact tracing, hand washing, masks, social distancing observed. They work, but just as our forefathers did not throw away their weapons because WW11 persisted for more than two years, there is no reason why we could not have adapted if we had had anywhere decent leadership, beyond shutting borders.

Quarantine facilities have been built at great cost, but it seems nobody has thought how to use them. This is very ironic given the decades long experience of confining boat people. Having experienced a period of being in lockdown without any ability to go out, these facilities present the opportunity to enable that group of people to have a shelter until the infective status changes.

It is amazing to see how technology, through the manufacture of new vaccines, anti-virals and diagnostic tests, even down to improved masks, has occurred.

But such improvement in the efficiencies of social practices has lagged, and we all should share the blame, not just Dr Murphy. Nevertheless, it was a time when, except for brief flashes of government accepting responsibility and not blaming everybody else, our social structures have been found lacking. The pandemic still rages; thank God for the scientists and technologists who have provided some weapons, but the virus is far from unconditional surrender.

By the way, a week after testing positive, I am still positive, albeit weakly.

Can you believe these remnants of the Dark Ages!

When I was a first-year medical graduate working at a suburban hospital, one of my earliest memories was coming out of one of the emergency bays on my way to the next when I looked up. At the end of the corridor of flapping curtains against the emergency department wall was a trolley. On the trolley was a young woman who had apparently just been wheeled in and was waiting for a bay in which she could be seen. She was very pale, very grey; she looked very sick, even from where I was standing.

Immediately, I remembered I had seen her in the emergency department the previous day.  She was complaining of a vague lower abdominal pain.

She said she was not pregnant, but she did have some tenderness in the left fornix. She was unmarried; and it was a time when if you were unmarried and under the age of 21, there was a mixture of denial, stigma in her history, and yesterday she had not looked unwell, certainly not as she was now.

I could suspend belief or rationalise why I had missed the diagnosis, so obvious as I looked at her with that grey pallor of impending disaster.

In those days, when you graduated you were considered fully fledged. That was it. Your training wheels had been removed. You could practice unsupervised after you had been through six years of undergraduate education.  I had stuffed up. Looking at her lying on a trolley I knew that I had missed an ectopic pregnancy. I had stuffed up.

I moved with the speed of a penitent, and I immediately ordered that she be taken to the operating theatre. The senior obstetrics resident was alerted and in turn the general practitioner obstetrician. The operation to remove the ectopic pregnancy was successful. Nobody stood around, arguing her clinical diagnosis. They just saved her life; no problem.

I learnt a lesson that day; and my peers were forgiving. It just confirmed  that if you stuff up, admit it and learn; then recriminations are somewhat superfluous. There was none of the huge panoply of undertaking root cause analysis or any of the fancy names designed by bureaucrats to define the scapegoat , the sacrificial offering to protect the system from the predations of legal jackaldom.

Where am I leading? Ectopic pregnancy requires termination for the health of the mother. The embryo is developing outside the uterus, and undiagnosed or untreated will eventually cause a catastrophic haemorrhage and maternal death.

When I was a young doctor, chemical treatment of ectopic pregnancy did not exist. The drug methotrexate was introduced to destroy the ectopic pregnancy. Methotrexate can kill a wide and diverse number of targets, including the ectopic embryo. Usually given in a single injection, methotrexate has a cytotoxic effect on the trophoblastic tissue – the cells that enable the embryo to stick in normal circumstances to the uterine wall.

Methotrexate treatment of ectopic pregnancies is considered safe, effective and cheap, with no major side effects. Intramuscular methotrexate has the advantage of tubal conservation and saves patients from requiring surgery. It is easier to administer than intraoperative route, which these days is laparoscopic and hence needs expertise.

Now what is happening in the Redneck States of the America?

In addition to surgical abortions, anti-abortion laws in some states such as Texas have also banned several drugs that can be used for inducing abortions. Among the medicines banned under these laws include drugs such as methotrexate, mifespristone, and misoprostol. Besides inducing abortion, these medications are also used for the treatment of other conditions.

Moreover, these laws allow the state to prosecute health care prescribers and pharmacists for dispensing such abortion-inducing medications.

Recent reports suggest that the reversal of abortion rights has also indirectly impacted women who use these medications for conditions other than for a medication abortion.

Although States such as Texas have banned these medications for terminating pregnancies, the laws permit the use of these drugs for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies.

However, the fear of penalties, including being criminally charged, has resulted in some pharmacists refusing to dispense these drugs for the above.

In addition to ectopic pregnancies, methotrexate can suppress the activity of the immune system and is used in the treatment of autoimmune conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and lupus. Methotrexate is also used for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and a variety of cancers, including breast cancer, lymphoma, leukemia and lung cancer. Depending on the nature and severity of the disease, the dosage required varies; for a period I was prescribed the drug but in a far lower dose than required for neoplasia – or ectopic pregnancy for that matter.

Nevertheless, in these anti-abortion States , believe it or not, there are reports of disrupted access to methotrexate for patients with autoimmune disorders. Some rheumatologists have stopped renewing prescriptions for methotrexate, and moreover pharmacists are refusing to dispense.

Paradoxically, methotrexate can cause birth defects.

This has had a knock-on effect. The risk of birth defects and the lack of access to abortions have made rheumatologists wary of prescribing methotrexate to women of childbearing age with these concurrent diseases. As one source has said: “Frankly, methotrexate is one of my go-to medications for any number of diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, myositis, and systemic sclerosis. I expect that some rheumatologists will understandably worry about prescribing methotrexate to patients because if the patient inadvertently became pregnant, the foetus has now been exposed to this medication. This is really worrisome as methotrexate is a very effective medication that we rely on to treat a number of debilitating and serious autoimmune diseases.

Indeed.

Justice John Roberts

Now America has John Roberts as the de facto Surgeon-General. He presides over a Supreme Court which could be reasonably considered is now the legal equivalent of the untreated ectopic pregnancy – eventually if left alone it will all end up in tears – however you pronounce it.

America remains untreated. We await the death of this motherland in the eventual haemorrhage of a Constitution constructed when the population had a median life expectancy of 35 years.

Eventually, the blood of all is shed. See, your gloves, Chief Justice Roberts, are smothered in the blood of your country, shed for no-one but the hubris of your colleagues.

The Unsinkable Molly White

Anissa Gardizy a 35 year old reporter on the Boston Globe. Her short biography states that Anissa Gardizy is a general assignment business reporter. She graduated from Emerson College with a B.S. in journalism and took economics classes at Framingham State University. Prior to joining the Globe full-time, Anissa was a co-op on the business desk, and she held internships at the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester and The Information in San Francisco. 

Below is her recent profile of Molly White, who had to take time out because of her robust criticism of cryptocurrency. She has been verbally attacked; which probably means she has obviously come too close to the festering centre of cryptocurrency activity.

Ms Gadizy writes:

Depending on whom you ask, cryptocurrency is either digital snake oil or revolutionary technology. Crypto markets have plunged in recent weeks and everyone is looking for answers.

So it makes sense that a website dedicated to documenting mishaps, failures, and scams in the industry is suddenly taking off. And who’s behind it? Molly White, a 29-year-old Wikipedia enthusiast and former HubSpot employee who has emerged as one of the industry’s most pointed critics.

How the 2016 Northeastern University graduate, who lives in the Boston area, came to be one of the most listened-to people on crypto and blockchain tech is complicated. But it started in the past year, when the field became impossible to ignore.

The price of bitcoin surged to an all-time-high of nearly $70,000 in November. Ads for crypto companies were featured during the Super Bowl. Celebrities changed their Twitter profile pictures to non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. Some of White’s friends began quitting their traditional tech jobs to work for crypto firms.

White, a longtime Wikipedia editor on the side, started to research the technology. But the more she learned, the more she realized crypto was being marketed as something everyone should be getting into, despite a history rife with fraud, scams, and predatory marketing.

“[I was] seeing people get screwed over again and again and again,” White said. “There wasn’t a permanent record of what was actually happening and how poorly a lot of these projects were ending.”

Her first instinct was to start writing Wikipedia articles about crypto and the related field of web3.” But she quickly realized Wikipedia wouldn’t be the best place for her work — among other things, it would have required her to take a neutral approach.

“I have a pretty strong opinion,” she said.

Software engineer Molly White at work on her laptop

So late last year, while working full-time at HubSpot, White created a website called “Web3 is Going Just Great”. (The name is as sarcastic as it sounds, with the longer version ending with “…and is definitely not an enormous grift that’s pouring lighter fluid on our already smouldering planet.”) On the site, she chronicles  sometimes several times a day — bad things happening in crypto.

“There’s a narrative that’s become so loud and pervasive, that everyone should be getting involved in this,” she said. “It feels like I have this obligation to speak out about it.”

And others are listening.

She is regularly quoted by national news outlets, was a guest lecturer at Stanford University, and has advised US senators, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, on blockchain and cryptocurrency.

As White has learned over the past year, criticizing crypto isn’t easy. In a space known for unwavering optimism and “bro culture,” she’s the outspoken opponent pointing out its problems.

White has been the victim of online harassment, doxxing (when private information is revealed about someone), and threats of violence. As a result, she doesn’t share much identifying information about her family or where she lives.

White, who grew up in Maine, started editing on Wikipedia around the time she was 13. “My family knew I was doing it, and to some extent my friends knew,” she said. “It was kind of just like, ‘Oh, that’s one of Molly’s weird hobbies.’”

Though she got started writing about her favourite bands, White now focuses on controversial viewpoints and male-dominated spaces, including right-wing extremism and “involuntary celibates,” or incels. She has also served on the site’s arbitration committee, which settles its toughest disputes.

Andrew Lih, a Wikipedia veteran who has known White since she was a teen, said most editors concentrate on topics they take a personal interest in. White, he said, tackles things “she absolutely doesn’t like.”

“She wants to make sure the record has the best information,” he said.

Lih credits White’s rise to her ability to present information in a way that is digestible. On her crypto website, she writes in a terse, matter-of-fact style and uses hashtags such as #yikes, #badidea, and #hmm. She isn’t condescending or alarmist, either.

Unlike some critics, White doesn’t think all crypto is a scam. Rather, she believes there has been an explosion of “really scam-y projects” that downplay the risks. She worries crypto is being cast as a “ticket to financial freedom” to people who don’t have money to lose.

According to data published by the Federal Trade Commission, more than 46,000 people have reported losing over $1 billion in crypto to scams since the start of 2021.

Long term, White believes crypto will likely exist as a niche, speculative vehicle for high-risk takers.

Most people would agree that regulators need to address crypto scams for the industry to be viable. More controversial is White’s sceptical view of blockchain, crypto’s underlying technology, which has been hyped in recent years as a potential cure-all for problems related to Internet security, privacy, and financial systems. Blockchains are public, electronic databases that are distributed across a network of computers. The technology is intended to be immutable (meaning records can’t be modified) and decentralized (meaning data are stored across the network and not held by any central party.)

Proponents believe blockchain tech could eventually transform everything from financial systems to social media, creating a digital world where individuals have increased control over their own data. Many people refer to this blockchain-based vision as “web3.”

There’s been a proliferation of venture capitalists, startups, and politicians touting its potential, including a growing cluster in Boston. Late last month, hundreds of people attended an all-day summit on web3 on the top floor of the MIT Media Lab, put on by venture capitalist John Werner. It drew industry heavyweights, including cryptographer Stuart Haber, who co-invented the blockchain.

But White doesn’t think blockchain is revolutionary technology. Last month, she and a group of about two dozen computer scientists, researchers, and academics, signed a letter to US lawmakers to express their concerns about the field. Signatories included well-known technology figures like Harvard lecturer and cryptographer Bruce Schneier, Boston-based entrepreneur Miguel de Icaza, and software engineer Grady Booch.

“By its very design, blockchain technology is poorly suited for just about every purpose currently touted as a present or potential source of public benefit,” they wrote, calling it a “solution in search of a problem.”

White’s critics say the technology is in its early stages and will improve. But she disagrees, noting that the two most popular cryptocurrencies have been around for more than a decade. She also thinks blockchain, by design, contains inherent flaws — such as the inability to edit or delete data — that will make it difficult to use and potentially even harmful.

Greg Raiz, managing director of Techstars Boston — which just launched a crypto accelerator program with Boston-based blockchain firm Algorand — disagrees with White’s assertion that crypto is past its early days. In fact, he said it feels like “we’re still in the first inning of this game.”

While he doesn’t think blockchain will be the “solution to everything,” he isn’t writing off its potential to address social, monetary, and business problems. He added that criticism of web3 is “super healthy.”

“Any type of unbalanced exuberance toward a technology isn’t great,” Raiz said.

Sounds that he is pronouncing an “Amen” to the unsinkable Molly.

Parliamentary staffing

The first reaction to the protesters of the newly-elected backbenchers – not aligned to any particular party – to a reduction in the four advisers to one  in line with other back benchers, was that of the howls of the deprived. Really, you poor diddums – only one adviser and four electorate officers. When perceived as privileged already, complaining about the level of the porks, is one way to lose the electorate, especially before you have even placed your toe in the political water. I was surprised when Dave Pocock started the Whimper.

In 1973, the Leader of the Opposition had a Press Secretary, a Principal Private Secretary (PPS), a Deputy Private Secretary and an Assistant Private Secretary. There was one other adviser who was from the government and picked up much of those tedious jobs and fashioning questions on notice and an add on to the Parliamentary Library. Needless to say, we were all male, and the secretarial staff who did all the work were women. I was the PPS. However, the Leader of the Opposition was thus limited to four advisers, including the Press Secretary – not one backbencher.

I believe it was more important not to interfere with the electorate staffing. For senior members of any party the electorate secretary is very important to remind even the Prime Minister that he represents an electorate, even if it may be traditionally very safe. Nowadays that cannot be guaranteed. Thus, the electorate office is an important bastion. In the case of the backbencher, especially those who have gained their seat by the adroit use of social media to win the popular vote, their activity will be augmented by an electorate office, government funded. Cathy McGowan in the northern Victorian electorate of Indi is an important bellwether since she developed an electorate office system, which was shown to be transferable to her successor, Helen Haines.

Cathy McGowan

As the sociologist Max Weber observed, charismatic leadership is very dependent on the individual’s appeal, but in her case McGowan (an unlikely charismatic) was able to “bureaucratise” the electorate staff so her successor did not need to change the systemic aspects of the McGowan legacy. In other words, the model was robust enough to survive the transition from one to another strong-willed woman.

McGowan concentrated on her electorate and where she thought relevant generalised the needs to that of Australia. Maybe the fact that she came from a large cohesive family provided her with a model for an electorate office, but whatever it was, her electorate brew worked.

Developing her model from an electorate base provides a challenge for the new raft of independents, whatever their colour. She had a strong personal appeal, which translated into strong personal loyalty by her staff. She did it with a strong electorate profile, which contrasted with the dysfunctional style of her predecessor.

A backbencher needing Canberra advisers is presented with the aspirant jetsam seeking to float as a successful “factional candidate” onto a red or green parliamentary cushioned sinecure. At this pupa stage the adviser may be more akin to N’drangheta Consigliere admixed with a tincture of Undergraduate Puerilism. Policy development is not one of the skills of this Canberra hybrid. More, it is a question of hanging out, gossiping, and covering the underlying boredom of those without any constructive thought coupled with outbursts of anti-social behaviour – sexism,  drunkenness and sexual harassment.

Policy becomes a joke; so-called policy becomes exercises in plagiarism – or just the “smart-arse” taking the role of the cynic – tearing down all constructive thought on the grounds that they are protecting Absolute Truth – otherwise excused as the role of the Devil’s advocate. Undertaking policy development is a skill, imperfect at best. It is a special quality requiring knowledge, so you know that you are not re-inventing policies that have been shown not to work, and enough knowledge to provide objectivity in an ocean of bias coupled with an ability to write clearly and succinctly. These skills lie outside the normal skill set of the normal adviser appointee.

Staffers aplenty

Well, minimising the number of advisers minimises the number of people designed to irritate and thus it seems leaving it at one each for all backbenchers is probably about right. Only need one person to get your dry cleaning, run errands, and ensure that the backbencher has his or her ego combed daily.

Mouse Whisper

Don’t know whence it came. Just a scrap of paper with the title “Death of a Babyweight.”

…needless to say, the comment was met with gales of laughter, but then that was another time when the sun shone and they were feckless and shallow students; and yes, the Associate Professor was as Federico would say a total bunghole who played the World for cheap laughs a person who always knew the mouse to kick – and now lies increasingly forgotten – someone essentially trivial. 

Perhaps you will understand the allusion, illusion and in the end the confusion.