Money, maps and mystery – 3 links

I’m pretty uncomfortable with the recent developments in the field of genetically engineered crops. I haven’t done due diligence and investigated properly, so for the moment I will refrain from judgement even while I acknowledge my discomfort.

That said I do have a problem with the fact that, in the name of intellectual property protection, these companies have severed the ability for GE crops to produce their owns seeds, bringing even deeper commercial dependency into the agricultural world. That just strikes me as a deeply stupid thing to do, regardless of, or perhaps because of, the profit motive. This article is broadly in favour of GE developments in agriculture while also wishing to find a way for the intellectual property landscape, in this case patents, to become more serviceable to the world at large and not just the large global entities that have the resource and knowledge to exploit the system in their favour.

The chief protagonist, Richard Jefferson, uses the frankly wonderful story of Jan Huyghen van Linschoten to make an interesting point about how monopolies on knowledge stymie innovation and development. Linschoten, in the 16th century, copied the maps that had been the basis of the Portuguese and Spanish domination of world trade. They were a closely guarded secret that held real value. When he returned to his native Holland he didn’t sell the maps for profit he published them to freely spread the knowledge wide and far.

Jefferson’s point is that the patent system needs mapping in order to democratise it for, among others, developing world farmers. I can see the value in that but still feel that there are elements of shuffling deckchairs on the titanic in such an approach. Surely the anecdote casts doubts on the whole concept of patents, not simply their accessibility?


The second link today is an anonymous screed from an American investment manager. His firm’s clients are firmly in the top 1% with net worth in excess of $5m and annual incomes above $300,000. The whole piece is very much worth reading, if only to discover that roughly $5m is required to secure a 30 year retirement income in the category that most of us would categorise as rich. That has certainly influenced the investment strategy that I will be adopting once I win the lottery (it has incidentally focused me almost exclusively on the Euromillions lottery which has potential wins above $10m, after all what is the point in taking such a ludicrous punt if I can’t even be financially secure for life as a result).

Truth be told there is little in here to find humour in. Instead it is a quantified look inside the finances of the super wealthy in America and what can be bought in return.

Unlike those in the lower half of the top 1%, those in the top half and, particularly, top 0.1%, can often borrow for almost nothing, keep profits and production overseas, hold personal assets in tax havens, ride out down markets and economies, and influence legislation in the U.S. They have access to the very best in accounting firms, tax and other attorneys, numerous consultants, private wealth managers, a network of other wealthy and powerful friends, lucrative business opportunities, and many other benefits. Most of those in the bottom half of the top 1% lack power and global flexibility and are essentially well-compensated workhorses for the top 0.5%, just like the bottom 99%.


Finally something of a more friendly hue, Cicada 3301. For 2 years or so a nameless organisation has been posing a series of brain numbingly difficult puzzles and problems, originally seeded in locations on the open web. It, quite frankly, reads like something from a William Gibson novel, which is probably no accident.

A certain level of progress (the clues seemed to lead to more clues) delivered a telephone number and the message “call us”, which in turn after another act of deciphering led to a website and a countdown. The countdown revealed real world locations and a whole new angle opened up. There is much more to the story, best recounted by the article linked below rather than me just regurgitating it for you.




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