Last month my social media feeds were flooded with the tale of Mackenzie Fierceton, a University of Pennsylvania graduate who lost her Rhodes scholarship to Oxford after allegations she had misrepresented her background. Fierceton had apparently made much of her status as a ‘first generation, low income’ student, an abuse survivor who aged out of foster care. As an anonymous letter writer revealed, however, she was also the privately educated child of a radiologist, brought up in an affluent suburb. Did she lie? Or was she merely ‘canny’, as the Rhodes Trust put it, in emphasising certain aspects of her personal history over others?
Elon Musk is a dick. At least, that’s the image the Tesla and SpaceX CEO likes to project on Twitter. His profile picture is a photo of a rocket, elongated and cylindrical, silhouetted against the sky. It’s a nod to his work with SpaceX, but it’s also clearly a penis. It’s a sly wink at his stans, the fanbase who make up the core of his 64 million Twitter followers. Musk is a master at publicity, and the image is a provocation, to encourage more admirers or haters to pour into his timeline. Rich men – and no one is currently richer than Musk – still flaunt their wealth with overpowered cars or yachts, but they also now have Twitter, and we have to decide how to respond to Musk’s vanity rocket thrusting into our feeds whenever he says something clever, mean, childish or self-serving, which is every day.
When the president of Real Madrid talks about ‘saving football’ he means as a business not a sport. A number of elite clubs have made untenable financial decisions in recent years (mostly regarding player contracts) that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Juventus, for example, use a fifth of their annual revenue to pay a single player: Cristiano Ronaldo.
When guilty men kill themselves, are they acknowledging their guilt, or is it more like an act of self-pity? Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide in prison terminates a judicial process that he spent millions to disdain, but it also cancels a life in prison he was desperate to avoid.
On 13 December, the New York Timespublished an article on the scrubbing of Kevin Spacey’s performance as J. Paul Getty from final prints of the film All the Money in the World. A fast reshoot had slotted Christopher Plummer into every scene that included Spacey; the dazzled reporter, Brooks Barnes, paid homage to the genius and alacrity of the director, Ridley Scott; and they called it in the print edition ‘Daring Act to Save Face’ – a sort of sick pun, and the matter is not so cute when you think about it. Scott was prompted by his recognition that the accusations against Spacey, from unwanted touch to groping to rape – which may turn out to be true, false or exaggerated, in unknown combinations – would damage the box-office take of All the Money in the World. Accordingly, he reworked the film against his original vision, in order to guard against a boycott. The boycott, however, was only speculative; the expunging and substitution were real.
The conference hall of the New York Marriott Marquis was in a fever. Today was the first day of Consensus 2016, the second annual blockchain technology summit. Blockchain is the underlying mechanism for bitcoin, and the conference has been shaken by the possible unmasking of the electronic currency’s mysterious inventor. The BBC and the Economist published Craig Wright’s claim to be Satoshi Nakamoto early this morning. Wright had been rumoured to be the father of bitcoin since December 2015, but he’d always denied it, until today.
Evelyn Waugh was no enemy of money – he wrote for it, he made a lot of it – but monied society was his subject, and like F. Scott Fitzgerald he wrote about the careless, destructive people for whom spending money is a palliative for everything, the Toms and the Daisys, the Beavers and the Brenda Lasts. ‘Mr Graceful,’ Brenda says to her solicitor in A Handful of Dust, ‘I’ve got to have some more money.’ In a piece about hotels in New York, Waugh explained there was no end to what you could spend your money on if you stay in one:
I wonder if the Bank of England knew what they were letting themselves in for when they agreed to put Jane Austen on the £10 note. Janeites have been arguing over the authenticity of portraits for decades. The most settled on is the watercolour sketch held by the National Portrait Gallery and attributed to Austen’s sister, Cassandra. It was offered to James Edward Austen-Leigh (their nephew) by one of their great-nieces for inclusion in his 1869 Memoir.
I'm not one to talk. I know very well about the befuddling spell of clothes, the nature of desire fulfilled for just a moment by the perfect this or that, and then the need to find it again. What I want is the elegant, the perfectly simple and comfortable that tends to come at a bit of a price. It's at this point that Buzz Bissinger, the writer, 20 years ago, of Friday Night Lights- and I part company. Though had I known about it we would have parted company when he endorsed Mitt Romney. He spends all he wants on clothes, and at a rate I could only nightmare about, but what he's after is 'rocker, edgy, tight, bad boy, hip, stylish, flamboyant, unafraid, raging against the conformity'. You don't spend $13,900 on a Gucci ostrich skin jacket to achieve comfort.
Although, during his speech congratulating his mother on having been queen for a long time, he mentioned that many people were suffering financial hardship, it's clear that the Prince of Wales isn't struggling to get by. Aside from his own personal fortune, he is in receipt this year of £18.3 million (a rise of 3 per cent) from the annual takings of the Duchy of Cornwall. This landed estate is given to the monarch in waiting. Since 1337, 'the duchy's main purpose has been to provide an income for the heir to the throne'. I don't know who gives it, or how the money received from it can be described, as it is, as the prince's 'private income', if the estate is owned by the Crown rather than the Windsors.
When you pay with a fiver, a tenner or even a twenty, the chances are the shop assistant barely gives the banknote a glance. But hand over a fifty-pound note, and its half a ton to a pony that the recipient will make a show of holding it up to the light to make sure it’s genuine. Most people probably only look for the wire and the watermark. The Bank of England lacks complete confidence in these long-established devices, so it now includes many other security features. Without them, counterfeiting would doubtless be a bigger problem than it is: according to the figures for 2009, only one note in every 50,000 in circulation was a fake; 95 per cent of them were twenties. One-pound coins are much easier to forge: about one in 36 of the 30 to 40 million circulating is reckoned to be counterfeit.