Monthly Archives: April 2019

How to Bribe a Saudi Prince- lessons from a Dutch giant

Kees van XX’s job at Akzo Nobel was to bribe princes in Saudi Arabia to make sure that the company’s projects could get completed. It was a job that should not have been necessary. After all, Akzo Nobel was bringing jobs, money and new industrial plants to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government wanted Akzo Nobel to be there.

In Saudi Arabia a bribe is always accompanied by tea
In Saudi Arabia a bribe is always accompanied by tea

However, nothing gets done in Saudi Arabia without paying off a prince. Failure to do so means that your project will suddenly get shut down for failure to have the “required permits”.

Akzo Nobel knows the art or bribery world-wide
Akzo Nobel knows the art or bribery world-wide

The Dutch are very practical about paying bribes, and they make no moral judgements about the practice. Akzo Nobel’s international employee handbook states that there is a strict policy against paying bribes. However, the booklet explains that it is acceptable to make a “facilitating payment.”

Don't call it a bribe. Call it a "facilitating payment."
Don’t call it a bribe. Call it a “facilitating payment.”

Akzo Nobel goes to great lengths to explain the subtle difference between a Bribe and a Facilitating Payment. A Bribe gets someone to do something they should not be doing. A Facilitating Payment gets someone to do something which they are supposed to be doing anyway. A Facilitating Payment gets a government bureaucrat to stamp the correct documents. A Facilitating Payment makes sure the electricity to your job site does not suddenly get turned off.

A facilitating payment moves your paperwork to the top of the pile.
A facilitating payment moves your paperwork to the top of the pile.

The Dutchman Kees does not look like an expert on Saudi Arabia. He is six feet eight inches tall, has blonde hair and weighs 380 pounds. When visiting a Saudi palace he never is asked to show I.D. The guards find him easy to recognize.

But Kees is a real expert in the art of Facilitating Payments. There is more to this art than just having pockets full of cash. First it is necessary to find the right prince to pay off. Different Saudi princes have control over different regions and different parts of the economy. It takes an expert to know which prince can help your particular project.

Then there is the delicate matter of negotiating how much. Offering too little is a personal insult, while paying too much is a waste of company money. All of this negotiating takes place slowly over endless cups of tea.

Nothing gets built in Saudi Arabia without paying off a Saudi prince
Nothing gets built in Saudi Arabia without paying off a Saudi prince

Kees readily admits that he finds the whole process extremely tedious. He talks about one Saudi prince who he used to visit once a month to hand over an envelope of cash. This simple transaction took a good part of the day. It would be an insult to just walk in and give the prince the money.

Each month, Kees would share a meal with the prince and they would make small talk for several hours. At some point, Kees would place the envelope full of cash onto the table. Neither Kees nor the prince every looked at or mentioned the envelope. At the end of the meal, Kees would cordially say goodbye to the prince, and leave the envelope behind.

The most delicate negotiation Kees ever had was when one of Akzo Nobel’s construction projects got shut down despite his regular payments to the Saudi prince. The Army had blocked off access to the site, claiming the company lacked the required permits. Then a Saudi Army Major explained that he could remedy the situation for a “certain price”.

Kees had to go to the prince and firmly state that while Akzo Nobel was willing to make one Facilitating Payment it was certainly not going to pay 2 separate people for 1 project. The prince was furious at the Army Major for having encroached on the prince’s territory.

The prince assured Kees that the Major would be dealt with. The prince also explained in exact detail what forms Akzo Nobel could fill out to have the Saudi government reimburse Akzo Nobel for the lost time on the project. The next day the Army roadblock was gone and the Akzo Nobel project was up and running again. One month later Akzo Nobel got a check from the Saudi government. Kees never found out what happened to the Saudi Army Major. He assumes it was nothing good. You don’t double-cross a Saudi prince and have it forgotten.

All this happened a long time ago and the Saudi Arabian government states that this kind of open corruption no longer happens. If you believe that, we have a nice bridge in Brooklyn we would like to sell you.

Akzo Nobel works its industrial magic in China
Akzo Nobel works its industrial magic in China

What happened to Kees? He moved quickly up the ranks of Akzo Nobel. Men with his delicate skills are hard to find. He is now working in another country that claims to have no corruption, bribes or even facilitating payments. We are sure that Kees will do very well in his executive position in China.

See our story – Why the Dutch Tell Germans – “Bring Back our Bicycles”

The Naked Bath Murder – Jean Harlow and the 1932 Shocker Red Dust

In 1932 Jean Harlow was completely naked on-screen in the film Red Dust.  She was only 21 at the time. Even more shocking was that while Red Dust was still in production, Jean Harlow murdered her husband, wealthy MGM executive Paul Bern, and got away with the crime. Like most Hollywood legends, this is a combination of fact and fantasy.

Jean Harlow & Clark Gable in the famous bath scene of Red Dust
Jean Harlow & Clark Gable in the famous bath scene of Red Dust

Let’s start with the murder. The fact is that Paul Bern did die of a gunshot wound while Red Dust was being filmed. The official story was that it suicide, but rumors swirled that Jean Harlow had killed him. After all, Jean Harlow had already gotten al she needed from Bern, who was twice her age. He had persuaded MGM to hire Harlow, and star her in Red Dust. Who needed him around after that?

Paul Bern & Jean Harlow
Paul Bern & Jean Harlow

In reality, Bern’s death almost cost Jean Harlow the role. MGM was aware of the murder rumors and wanted to dump Harlow from Red Dust. MGM offered the starring part to Tallulah Bankhead. However, Ms. Bankhead always had real class, and she refused to take a movie role away from a young woman whose husband had just died.

Dorthy Millette who may have been the real killer o Paul Bern
Dorthy Millette who may have been the real killer o Paul Bern

As an added twist to the tale, the most likely explanation is that Paul Bern actually was murdered, but not by Jean Harlow. Decades later, ex-cops and MGM security people admitted that Paul Bern was probably murdered by his ex-lover Dorthy Millette, who was mentally unbalanced. Dorthy Millette had been released from a mental institution the day before Paul Bern’s murder. The day after Paul Bern’s death Dorthy Millette herself committed suicide by jumping off a Ferryboat.

Paul Berne's supposed suicide note
Paul Berne’s supposed suicide note

MGM’s people re-arranged the crime scene to make it look like a suicide, thinking that a suicide would somehow damage the company’s reputation less than a murder. They also created a bizarre hand-written suicide note. At the time of the supposed “suicide” very little police investigation was undertaken. Pointedly, the police did not have a handwriting expert examine the letter to see if it was really penned by Paul Bern. Such was the power of the major movie studios over the police in 1932.

There are also multiple stories about the naked bath. Anyone viewing Red Dust today will quickly see that Jean Harlow does not appear naked on screen. There is implied nudity, exhibitionism and voyeurism, but nothing is actually shown.

Mary Astor and Clark Gable in "Red Dust"
Mary Astor and Clark Gable in “Red Dust”

Red Dust is a story about love and sex on an isolated rubber plantation in French Indochina (current day Vietnam). Clark Gable is Dennis Carson, the owner of the plantation, and Jean Harlow is Vantine, a wild type who shows up from Saigon. It is strongly implied that Vantine is a prostitute on the run.

Dennis and Vantine seem perfect for each other since both are rough and sexually easy going, with the attitude that life should be fun. But this is complicated by the arrival of the married couple Gary Willis (Gene Raymond) and his wife Barbara (Mary Astor).

Dennis immediately falls for the beautiful sophisticated Barbara, despite the fact that she is a married woman. Vantine, knows that she can never compete with a woman like Barbara and is extremely jealous.

Clark Cable's arms against Jean Harlow's breasts in "Red Dust"
Clark Cable’s arms against Jean Harlow’s breasts in “Red Dust”

However, Red Dust is not known for its forgettable and formulaic plot, but rather for two scenes with Jean Harlow. The first is the naked bath scene where Vantine (Harlow) bathes naked in a rain barrel while Dennis (Gable) stands over her playing with her hair. Dennis is looking straight down into the barrel seeing Vantine nude. He is not even pretending to look away.

The implied sexuality in this scene is so blatant that many viewers of the film swore later that they really had seen Jean Harlow naked. In fact, Jean Harlow’s body is completely hidden by the barrel and the audience sees nothing. Clark Gable’s acting was so good that the look on his face convinced viewers that he really was was staring at a beautiful naked woman. In film it is often the implied actions that are the most erotic.

There is also the movie lore that Jean Harlow really was naked and that after the scene was shot, she stood up and got out of the barrel, giving giving the film crew a full view of her nude body. This is complete nonsense, but members of the film crew were able to get free drinks in Hollywood for years by claiming they had been on set when Jean Harlow paraded around nude.

However, it was another scene that really shocked 1932 audiences. Valentine is leaning back against Dennis and his arms are wrapped around her. Instead of having his arms discretely around her waist, Clark Gable’s arms are definitely around Jean Harlow’s voluptious breasts. There was nothing implied about this. It broke the unwritten rule of what could be shown touching what in a mainstream film, and one of the factors that lead to film censorship a few years later.

Red Dust is amazingly mild by today’s standards, and at the most would get a PG-13 rating. Critics have always panned the acting abilities of Jean Harlow, but considering the circumstances she did an amazing job. Here was a 21 year old woman who was able to perform, while at the same time having the general public whispering that she was a slut and murderer. It is incredible that she was able to take the pressures of that type of life and even show up to work.

Red Dust ends up being the type of film where the story about the movie is more interesting than the movie itself. Many one day someone will make a movie about the making of Red Dust. Now that would be worth seeing.

We rate Red Dust 4 Stars ****

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Quicksand – Sweden mass shooting mystery

Quicksand on Netflix is a chilling series about a fictional mass shooting at a high school in Sweden.   It is a combination mystery, courtroom drama and psychological study. Hanna Ardéhn is high school senior Maja, who is either a mass murderer or a wrongly accused hero and victim.  We first see Maja at the scene of the shooting, covered in blood, and shivering in a state of shock. But there is a high-powered rifle by her side and Maja is the only survivor. Maja is charged with murder and taken into custody.

Felix Sandman & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand
Felix Sandman & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand

Quicksand is told in flashbacks of the events leading up to the shooting, and culminates in the murder trial. It is the best crime drama we have seen since The Night of. It is fascinating to see the legal and police procedures in Sweden, which are similar to but still have major differences to those of The United States.

Ella Rappich & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand
Ella Rappich & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand

The key to the mystery is Sebastian (Felix Sandman), the handsome, incredibly wealthy high school senior who changed Maja’s life when he suddenly took an interest in her. She was immediately propelled into a world she never previously dreamed of. Wild parties, vacations on a huge yacht in the Mediterranean and acceptance into what used to be called “the in crowd”. Sebastian simply takes his family’s wealth and superiority for granted. His personal car for driving to high school is a brand new Porsche.  

David Denick & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand
David Denick & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand

We know from the beginning of Quicksand that Sebastian is the mass shooter and that Maja killed him. The police have charged Maja with being an accomplice who helped plan and then participated in the killings. Maja herself is in such a state of shock that she cannot remember exactly what happened that day. Awaiting trial she desperately ties to piece together the events of her past that lead to the violent conclusion.

William Spetz is Samir in Quicksand
William Spetz is Samir in Quicksand

Samir (William Spetz) is another high school senior. He is an Iraqi immigrant, and a top student. Samir is good friends with Maja, who is also an excellent student. Samir warns of the dark side to Sebastian. Samir has seen firsthand that Sebastian is a drug-abusing immigrant-hater.

Quicksand is riveting to watch and the acting is superb. Ella Rappich is Amanda, Maja’s best friend and confidant. David Dencik is Peder, Maja’s defense attorney who is trying to obtain the facts to win the case while at the same time keeping Maja from going completely catatonic.

Hanna Adrehn as Maja in "Quicksand"
Hanna Adrehn as Maja in “Quicksand”

Due to the nature of the crime, Maja is kept in solitary confinement while awaiting trial. Quicksand  (Swedish title Storst av allt) is so well filmed that the feeling of prison claustrophobia is palpable to the audience. Maja is not allowed a cell phone or watch and intensely feels the pressure of having no idea what time it is. When told she will be able to meet with her lawyer in 3 hours, she sits on the floor with her back to the wall and counts off the seconds and continually calculates how much longer she must wait

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We rate Quicksand 5 Stars *****

The Day I made Carol Channing Laugh

Years ago, I shared a laugh with Carol Channing in New York. I was walking down 56th Street towards 5th Avenue. As I turned the corner I almost bumped into Carol Channing coming out of Harry Winston, which is one of the premier jewelry stores in the world. Even then, Carol Channing looked ancient. She was holding onto the arm of a large muscular man who was obviously a chauffeur walking her to the car. It was also obvious that she was so frail she would have fallen over if she was not holding onto the chauffeur’s arm.

Despite this, Carol Channing was “dressed to the nines”, wearing full makeup, and a huge amount of jewelry. When we almost ran into each other I found myself face to face with Carol Channing no more than 1 foot away. Somehow, instead of just saying “excuse me” I decided to take a chance. I looked at Carol Channing and said,

“Visiting your best friends Ms Channing?”

Carol Channing on stage in Hello Dolly
Carol Channing on stage in Hello Dolly

Other celebrities might have been annoyed at having a fan dare to speak to them directly, but not Carol Channing.  She laughed, and her whole countenance changed. Her face lit up in a smile and she stood up straighter.

Carol Channing reached out and gently touched me on the shoulder and said, “Thanks for remembering sweetie.”

Then, without another word, Caron Channing and the chauffeur moved down the block, and I went on to my appointment on 5th avenue.

Carol Channing, of course, was the original singer of Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend. This was before Marilyn Monroe performed the song. It was decades before Madonna paid a tribute to the song with the video and song Material Girl. That’s why it was perfect to see this icon visiting a jewelry store. Where else would one expect to find Carol Channing?

Marilyn Monroe performing "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend".
Marilyn Monroe performing “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”.

Carol Channing never had the beauty of a Marilyn Monroe or the voice of Madonna, but there was something that drew audiences to her. The sheer vibrant enthusiasm of Carol Channing made every performance an event. Audiences loved Carol Channing, especially in New York.

Madonna performing "Material Girl"
Madonna performing “Material Girl”

In addition to movie and Television appearances, Carol Channing performed in literally thousands of stage musicals and comedies. Hello Dolly was perhaps her best known and best loved. Carol Channing continued to perform late into her life. In one of her final Hello Dolly performances, Carol Channing had to do the entire musical while onstage in a wheelchair. Her performance was still terrific and the audience gave her a standing ovation.

Unlike many other celebrities Carol Channing never let her success go to her head and was always willing to make fun of herself. She once performed a duet of Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend with Miss Piggy on The Muppets.

Carol Channing performs "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" with Miss Piggy on The Muppets
Carol Channing performs “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” with Miss Piggy on The Muppets

Carol Channing died on January 15, 2019, just shy of her 98th birthday. Thousands of fans throughout the world remember her for her movie and stage work. However, I will always remember Carol Channing for the smile and laugh she shared just with me.

I always found it odd that Carol Channing said , “thanks for remembering”, like somehow the word had forgotten her. There is no chance that fans will ever forget the vibrant unique talent of Carol Channing.

Be sure to read The Real Dick Clark

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Traitors – Spies, Sex & Murder in Post- World War II London

Traitors on Netflix is a perfect spy series where sex, murder and lies are all part of the great game of world espionage. Emma Appleton stars as Feef Symonds a beautiful upper-class young British woman who is recruited by the Americans to spy on her own government. Seduced by the excitement, Feef soon learns that her actions can end the lives of real people, including herself.

Emma Appleton as the spy Feef in "Traitors"
Emma Appleton as the spy Feef in “Traitors”

Michael Stuhlbarg is the American spymaster Rowe, who is a zealot about destroying the beginnings of Communism in the U.K. Rowe is convinced that the new British Socialist government was put into power by the Russians and is being controlled by them.  Rowe is so intense in his beliefs that we are never sure if he is a strategic genius or a dangerous lunatic.

Michael Stuhbarg is the spymaster Rowe in "Traitors"
Michael Stuhbarg is the spymaster Rowe in “Traitors”

Brandon P. Bell is Jackson, Rowe’s American colored driver. (The term African-American did not yet exist). Jackson’s only goal is to earn as much money as he can and Rowe has access to cash. For envelopes full of money, Jackson will silently eliminate problems, or even bodies. As the series progresses, however, we see that Jackson is much more complex than people realize. His greatest asset in the spy world is that everyone underestimates him.

Brandon P. Bell is Jackson in "Traitors"
Brandon P. Bell is Jackson in “Traitors”

A communist threat in post war England was not just something Americans imagined. The Soviet Union was determined to spread its workers revolt worldwide.

Traitors was a joint collaboration between Netflix and U.K. Channel 4, and the British slant really shows. In fact, that is the one part of the series that gets to be a little too much. The Americans are crude violent zealots, while the British, even the British Communists, are multifaceted and sensitive.

Traitors glosses over why the Americans ran their own intelligence operations without consulting the British. It is a historic fact that during this time period any secrets the Americans told the U.K. government immediately found their way to the Soviet Union. The American OSS was not being paranoid when it decided to spy on the U.K. government to stop the leaks.

In real life, it was British class arrogance that allowed the U.K. government to become infiltrated by Communists. The British took it for granted that members of the upper classes who had graduated from Oxford or Cambridge would naturally be completely loyal to The Crown.

"Kim" Philby who the British never suspected as a spy because he came from the upper class
“Kim” Philby who the British never suspected as a spy because he came from the upper class

In fact, the Soviet Union had cleverly recruited to Communism students who were from “the best” families in England, and who would be well placed in government after graduation. The most successful of these was Kim Philby who was actually working for the Soviet Union while he was head of all counterintelligence in the U.K. He was not discovered until 1963, and even then escaped to the Soviet Union before British Authorities could arrest him.

Keeley Hawes as Priscilla in 'Traitors"
Keeley Hawes as Priscilla in ‘Traitors”

Traitors ignores these historic facts, but Traitors is not trying to be a historical documentary. Traitors is an exciting adventure that will keep you on the edge of your seat trying to guess who is really a traitor, and who is just an innocent victim. Emma Appleton is perfect as the sensuous, fragile yet dangerous Feef. Keeley Hawes is wonderful as Priscilla, a high ranking government bureaucrat who feels that women must downplay and hide their own sexuality in order to rise through the ranks in a government dominated by men.

Like all great spy stories, Traitors has plots within plots and people are never exactly who they seem. This combined with the action, eroticism and mystery make it a “must-see series.”

We rate Traitors Five Stars *****

Read – Will Season 3 of The Crown Dare Mention Northern Ireland?

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My Mother was A World War II Codebreaker


My mother was a naval counterintelligence officer during World War II, something no one would have suspected of this tiny woman with bright dyed-blond hair. (Her whole life she insisted that the hair color was natural). 

America was in World War II when Elsie White graduated from Barnard College of Columbia University. She immediately joined the Navy and after a 3 month training course was commissioned an Ensign. Regular Navy officers derisively called these new Ensigns the “90 day wonders”.

Elsie White marries Jack Farrell during World War II
Elsie White marries Jack Farrell during World War II

Elsie did not start her military career with an exciting assignment. Like most women who joined up, she was relegated to back-office work. Elsie worked in New York City processing Navy payroll. That’s when she noticed something odd about a certain Admiral’s paycheck. It looked to her like the Navy was paying the Admiral the wrong amount. Her supervisors were not interested, but Elsie worked on her own time to research the back reports. Sure enough, Elsie was able to prove that the Navy had been under-paying the Admiral for years. The Navy owed the Admiral thousands of dollars, and Elsie saw to it that he was reimbursed in his next paycheck.

No one would ever suspect that the 1950s house wife was once a secret code-breaker during World War II
No one would ever suspect that the 1950s house wife was once a secret code-breaker during World War II

The Admiral took the time to find out who had discovered the error and gotten him his money. About a month later Elise received a formal invitation to join the Admiral and his officers for lunch aboard the Admiral’s ship.  It was a thrilling experience for Elise, but she never thought anything would come of it. The next day she was back at work in the payroll office.

But the Admiral had not forgotten about the tiny Ensign. The Admiral realized that someone as intelligent, detail oriented and persistent as Elsie would be perfect in the counterintelligence branch of the Navy.

A blurry old photo of Elsie White's commission as a United States Navy Ensign September 21, 1943
A blurry old photo of Elsie White’s commission as a United States Navy Ensign September 21, 1943

Soon Elsie was ensconced deep in the sub-basement of a building on Church Street in New York City. She was the newly appointed officer in charge of a team of Navy code breakers. Just to get to work was no small task. Two Marine guards checked ID’s at the entrance of the building. Two more Marines guarded the elevator to the sub-basement. In the sub-basement itself, 4 fully armed Marines stood ready

During one inspection, Elsie was given a formal reprimand for not wearing a fully loaded .45 caliber side-arm per regulations. She did not want to admit that she could barely lift the weapon, much less hold it out straight to aim at anyone.

Elsie may not have been proficient at combat, but she was good at solving puzzles, which is how she approached codes. While the British were busy cracking the German code and its Enigma machine, the Japanese codes presented a much different problem to the Americans. Instead of having 1 code, the Japanese had numerous codes which they changed continuously. Teams of Americans in the Pacific and in the U.S. were given stacks of Japanese codes to crack.

Elsie’s New York code breaking group was an odd assortment of misfits. Most were quiet introverts and a few were alcoholics who smuggled flask bottles of gin into the underground lair. The Navy tolerated all these oddballs, as long and they broke codes. And break codes they did.

Elsie recalled one mousy woman who worked at a back desk and had never spoken to anyone in the unit. One night the mousy woman came up to Elsie and whispered in an respectful tone, “I am sorry to disturb you Ensign, but I think I just broke this code.” It turned out that the little mouse had, in fact, broken the code.

No one knew of Elsie’s wartime adventures until 20 years after World War II had ended. That’s how long all Navy officers in code breaking units were required to keep silent about their duties. As far as most people knew, she had been processing payrolls her whole time in the Navy.

The other day I walked by the office building on Church Street in New York which had once been the site of the secret Navy code breaking unit. Nothing from its outward appearance would every lead anyone to guess its secret past. Much in the same way, no one would ever have guessed that Elsie White Farrell, the tiny blonde mom in her blue Buick station wagon had once worked in the sub-basement serving her country during war.

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“Billions” uses The Holocaust as a joke. This is a disgrace.

In its Chickentown episode, Billions uses The Holocaust as a trivial punchline to refer to the  killing of chickens. It is disgraceful that the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis is so trivialized that it is compared to the death of chickens. Has American culture really gotten to the point where anything, no matter how horrible, is simply fodder for stupid humor?

Starved prisoners, nearly dead from hunger, pose in concentration camp in Ebensee, Austria. The camp was reputedly used for "scientific" experiments. It was liberated by the 80th Division. May 7, 1945. Lt. A. E. Samuelson. (Army) NARA FILE #: 111-SC-204480 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1103
Starved prisoners, nearly dead from hunger, pose in concentration camp in Ebensee, Austria. The camp was reputedly used for “scientific” experiments. It was liberated by the 80th Division. May 7, 1945. Lt. A. E. Samuelson. (Army) NARA FILE #: 111-SC-204480 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1103

It is bad enough that the United States has growing numbers of neo-Nazis and White Supremacists who insist that The Holocaust never actually happened. This Billions episode may indicate that there are even more people who know The Holocaust happened, but simply don’t care. Sadly there has been no protest against Billions. The only fan reaction on the internet was that the Billions Chickentown episode was not very good compared to the normal high quality of Billions.

Protestors claiming The Holocaust never actually happened.
Protestors claiming The Holocaust never actually happened.

In the Billions Chickentown episode, trader “Dollar Bill” (played by the aptly named Kelly AuCoin) needs chicken prices to rise or Axe Capital will lose a fortune. However, there is an oversupply of chickens and the price is going to plummet. Dollar Bill calls Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) and announces he has found a “final solution” to the overabundance of chickens. After the phone call Bobby asks, “Did he just say what I think he said? Is he talking about a Chicken Holocaust?”

Kelly AuCoin is Dollar Bill on Billions.
Kelly AuCoin is Dollar Bill on Billions.

Sure enough, Dollar Bill’s plan is to smuggle a diseased chicken into the stock of healthy chickens, thereby poisoning thousands of birds. Bobby Axelrod ends this idiotic idea. The entire episode was not very good and the comic use of the word Holocaust by the Jewish Bobby Axelrod does not ring true.

Damian Lewis as Bobby "Axe" Axelrod in BILLIONS (Season 3, Episode 02, "The Wrong Maria Gonzalez"). - Photo: Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: BILLIONS_302_1419.R.jpg
Damian Lewis as Bobby “Axe” Axelrod in BILLIONS (Season 3, Episode 02, “The Wrong Maria Gonzalez”). – Photo: Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME – Photo ID: BILLIONS_302_1419.R.jpg

We hope that in the future Billions goes back to its usual superb writing and does not trivialize something as tragic in human history as The Holocaust.

The Inventor – Out for blood in Silicon Valley

The Inventor – out for blood in Silicon Valley – is a fascinating HBO documentary about the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, the scam artist who was once praised on the cover of Fortune Magazine as the next Steve Jobs. In addition to losing millions of dollars of investor’s money, Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos, actually put people’s lives at risk by marketing a blood testing machine that gave false results to patients.

Older men found Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, irresistible.
Older men found Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, irresistible.

Elizabeth Holmes is a type of genius. She was able to identify a real problem in the healthcare system that people desperately wanted fixed, and she offered them a solution. Anyone who has ever had a blood test knows that they are expensive and that the technicians take large quantities of blood from a vein to do even a simple test. Consequently many people risk their own health by avoiding blood tests completely.

Former Secretary of State Charles Schultz, who still believes in Elizabeth Holmes
Former Secretary of State Charles Schultz, who still believes in Elizabeth Holmes

Elizabeth Holmes claimed she had invented a machine that could perform 200 blood tests with a single drop of blood, at a fraction of the cost that Quest or LabCorp charged. It was a revolution in the medical field.

The Theranos blood testing machine
The Theranos blood testing machine

However, the real genius of Elizabeth Holmes was her ability to promote herself. She was especially adept at attracting the attention of older, powerful men. Former Secretary of State George Schultz, was one of her most ardent supporters.

Elizabeth Holmes demonstrates how a tiny droop of blood is all that is needed for 200 tests.
Elizabeth Holmes demonstrates how a tiny droop of blood is all that is needed for 200 tests.

Elizabeth Holmes has incredibly huge blue eyes, porcelain pale skin, a husky voice with an intense manner of speaking. She always dresses in black, trying to present herself as the female Steve Jobs. All of this enabled Elizabeth Holmes to attract a cult-like following of employees and investors.

Theranos was set up in Silicon Valley and the company got to work building the blood testing machine. It was beautiful. The only problem was that after millions of dollars and thousands of hours of testing, the doctors, engineers and computer scientists could not get the machine to work properly. Tests were wrong, blood got spilled, machine parts broke.

The Theranos headquarters when the company was valued at $6 billion
The Theranos headquarters when the company was valued at $6 billion

Elizabeth Holmes reported none of this to her investors. In fact, she stated that the machines worked perfectly. They were put in place in Walgreens stores and blood tests were begun on real patients.

The Inventor – out for Blood in Silicon Valley is a fascinating study of the whole disaster. Elizabeth Holmes is not presented as an evil character, but as a complex, possibly mentally unbalanced semi-genius who actually believes her own lies. It seems she truly thought that if she said something enough, it could actual happen.

Tyler Schultz & Erika Cheung, the whistle blowers who brought down Theranos
Tyler Schultz & Erika Cheung, the whistle blowers who brought down Theranos

Ironically it was Tyler Schultz, the grandson of Charles Schultz, who brought down Theranos. By that time the Silicon Valley start-up was valued at more than $6 billion and Tyler Schultz worked in the labs. He saw that Theranos was giving false medical information to patients. False data that could possibly result in a patient death. Tyler Schultz along with fellow lab worker Erika Cheung became whistle blowers. Tyler went to the Wall Street Journal and Erika to the Food and Drug Administration.

They were both immediately sued and put through Hell by Theranos lawyers. Legal fees for Tyler Schultz were over $500,000. His parents had to drain their personal savings and mortgage their house to help him pay the legal fees. Tyler’s grandfather, former Secretary of State Charles Schultz to this day, still believes that Elizabeth Holmes is an honest woman.

Elizabeth Holmes on the cover of Fortune
Elizabeth Holmes on the cover of Fortune

The Inventor – out for Blood in Silicon Valley shows the dangers of blindly believing in the hype of every wannabe tech genius. Just wearing black clothes and having a flashy presentation does not make someone a Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.

In the end Theranos want bankrupt and all the employees lost their jobs. The investors lost all their money and Elizabeth Holmes and other executives are being sued. The only good news is that no one got killed by the Theranos “miracle” machine. As my grandfather used to say, “if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

We rate The Inventor – out for Blood in Silicon Valley 5 Stars *****

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