Category Archives: The Port for Thought

Bitcoin brand!

Bitcoin brand … the end game?

In the beginning, conspiracy theorists with ideas about the true origins of the ubiquitous crypto-currency held sway with the media. Six years ago the story opened with the introduction of the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto as the principal ‘character’ and evolved through the exposure of multifarious international opportunists who saw the chance to exploit this unconventional money transfer device. We human beings are drawn to things which exceed our expectations, especially when the focus of our attention has a ‘magical’ quality which breaks the rules of the game as we know them. Judging from the media attention which Bitcoin attracts, the virtual currency embodies all the compelling hallmarks of just such a magical surprise package. The concept is sexy, it represents an asset without liability, it is stateless with limited controls and, in the wrong hands, is downright dangerous. As with all things, many of us are desperate to be ‘fashionably unique’; seen by our peers as risk-takers, members of an elite club rubbing shoulders with a new-age technology.

However, perhaps we have misunderstood the prime objective of the Bitcoin initiative. Maybe the true aim of the pseudonymous creators of the concept was to maximise brand awareness over time on a global scale. Despite the opportunity to design a mechanism which was sensitive to changing economic conditions, the Nakamoto team decided that a fundamental element in the Bitcoin scenario was that there could never be more than 21m electronic tokens in circulation. Perhaps this is a clue to their projected time-frame within which to achieve their ultimate objective? The intermittent use of Bitcoin to pay for goods, tales of ingenious would-be competitors and the volatility of market values keep the ‘brand’ story rolling. Meanwhile investors fill their Bitcoin wallets and speculate on the final magic trick. The acquisition of the Bitcoin Brand initiative by a major player in tomorrow’s monetary system perhaps?!

Further reading: Bitte kein Bitcoin! 

© Spyglass

Digi doom?

Digital cul-de-sac?

“We have explored digital in great depth, but it doesn’t actually work”, says Sheila Molnar, the managing director of Private Eye in a recent issue of the Weekend FT. There is no doubt that Private Eye’s format, including many small nuggets, lends itself naturally to print and, in terms of potential competition, no online start-up has come close to replicating the magazine’s chutzpah. It would seem that the magazine’s online foray into the world of the internet, publishing an interactive map in September, was a unique move deliberately designed to take advantage of the attributes of the medium. It worked! It presented complex information in a way that mere text could not and demonstrates that selective use of the digital resource can be fully justified to enhance an analogue argument.

As a communications tool the internet has much to recommend it but, if its limitations as well as its benefits fail to be recognised, we run the risk of losing the quality of our interpersonal exchanges. An example of the crass misuse of digital technology was found by researchers examining the results of computer-assisted programs to access cognitive behavioural therapy. The BMJ published figures which showed that the programmes had achieved little or no benefit. It also said that patients were unwilling to engage in therapy on-line. If current trends persist they will have no alternative options (choices?) in future.

In terms of quality of life do you really wish to forgo the tactile experience of reading a morning newspaper or settling down with a good book in the sunlight? Have you already forgotten the pleasure of receiving a handwritten letter from a friend? Or have you already succumbed to the herd expediency of the internet? Speed-reading edited news bulletins, scrolling through back-projected pages of a novel, experiencing the frustration of receiving illiterate e-mails full of ‘text-speak’’? The alternative option is to be selective or forfeit your quality of life. You choose!

© Spyglass


Pinkers Post in Paris!

No words. Watch!


“Wealth is so concentrated that a large segment of society is virtually unaware of its existence.” Thomas Piketty, Professor, Paris School of Economics

Capitalism is a sustained process of creative destruction. True?

It is generally accepted that the rise of popular prosperity depends on the vibrancy of wealth-creating entrepreneurs. After all, capitalism has triumphed over socialism. Correct? The critics argue that the existence of rich alongside the poor is immoral. For others, life is inevitably a zero-sum game: More riches for the few must, by definition, mean less wealth for the many.

On Saturday 26 September 2015, so-called ‘anti-gentrification activists’ attacked a café specialising in breakfast cereal in the fashionable east London area Shoreditch. Yes, it used to be a ditch when Pinkers moved to London 25 years ago… but now it’s all “hipster”… i.e. super-trendy and, not unlike in many other religions, beards for the ruling apes are compulsory. The ‘Cereal Killer Café‘ appeared at the centre of the activists’ rage after criticism about whether local people in one of London’s “poorest” areas could afford £3.20 for a bowl of porridge. Versace, located just around the corner, was left untouched. Very clever, the anti-gentry brigade… now that Versace has moved to Vauxhall (but not yet bought one!), the brand has become mainstream and simply irrelevant. The new type of gentrification in London is driven by the offspring (or descendants?) of the CND set. “Soon the City will be an unrecognisable, bland, yuppie infested wasteland…”, it says on the Facebook page used to organise the protest.

Well… Lord Alan Sugar begs to differ. Asked about the gap between the rich and the poor, Sugar told The Times Magazine: “Who are the poor these days? … they have all got mobile phones, being poor, and they’ve got microwave ovens, being poor, and they’ve got televisions, being poor.”

Meanwhile, billionaire investor Nicolas Berggruen, has quietly set up his new ‘Institute of Philosophy and Culture’, aiming to be the “midwife” to new conceptual frameworks that can rank alongside the Reformation and the Enlightenment; a kind of “secular monastery for debate and contemplation” as he defines it in a nutshell. Melinda & Bill Gates eat your heart out: Berggruen may not be as rich as you but he is a hell of a lot more ambitious; indeed, as opposed to the conventional ‘Giving Pledge Billionaire’, the man has vision and he clearly understands that true entrepreneurship transcends the material.

Is this really just about distribution of material wealth? No. It cannot be that simple. Perhaps the dawn of a new Kulturkampf?

© Magda George

PS: A day after this article was published, the British-born Princeton professor Angus Deaton was awarded the Nobel prize in economics for his work charting global developments in health, wellbeing and inequality.  In an interview with The Times, Professor Deaton stated that he is acutely concerned about the potentially insidious effects on society of the rapid accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few at the top, while the the middle-class incomes stagnate: “What I’m worried about is that people who make these huge sums of money turn round and start undermining the wellbeing of poor people”. He is especially concerned that the rich have captured the political process in America by pouring money into the campaigns of politicians who support low-tax agendas. However, he is cheered up by by the fact that Donald Trump has disrupted this cosy relationship between candidates and wealthy donors: “A crass multibillionaire on his own, who is out of the control of these vested interests, is disrupting the smooth process that all these rich people have been working on for years to buy and groom their favourite politicians. I love it.” Magda George agrees!


Cy’s last sigh

Paradise Cy Twombly

What is it about Cy Twombly that makes me love him so much? The fact that I have been following his work for years and that I am enjoying its success at auction and the seemingly astronomical sums of money his work now commands. His unusual name, that’s Cy; short for Cyclone junior, or in my case sigh… . It bears a hint of gentlemanly southern drawl. The knowledge that we both suffered early unrequited love?

Twombly’s work is truly expressive; it transcends so many traditions from cave painting to classicism. The artist rejects abstract expressionism, although having attended Black Mountain College with Robert Motherwell, at the insistence of Robert Rauschenberg, he certainly understood it better than most. Known for his gestural abstraction, he is also a wonderful colourist; a signature burgundy with a hint of blood, blue reds, drawn up against geranium and shocking pinks with a confident ease that gives breathtaking, vibrant results.

I am curiously drawn to this artist. I wanted to know more about his work so I watched Tacita Dean’s film Edwin Parker. This shows Twombly as an old man but there is no disguising his intelligence. Warm brown eyes and an aristocratic nose belie a sensual, powerful man, trapped in an old man’s body. He is very clever, giving little away. Twombly does not have to speak loudly because everybody listens. Playing with his assistant Butch, discussing lettuce and mustard in a parody of southern drawl, his real concern is his son’s coffee consumption or what the FT says about Larry and the Sotheby’s contemporary catalogue.

The more you study him the more you realise Twombly was smart enough to leave some room for mystery. If I could ask him one question it would be about that, providing space for imagination. I am sure he would talk gently around the subject, allowing me to draw my own conclusions.

The artist only painted when he was in the mood. He could wait for days, weeks, months, reading poetry, he liked Keats and the later romantics, wondering, building up the energy and then the moment would arrive. He would take up his paint brush and paint directly onto the canvas, sometimes with his left hand or in the dark. A wounded emotion, a memory, a landscape, poem or classical theme; motifs were transfigured though artistic expression, quickly with a dynamism that left no room for second goes. In Twombly’s own words “each line is now the actual experience with its own innate history. It does not illustrate – it is the sensation of its own realization.” It is exactly as it is.

The opportunity to visit an exhibition of Cy Twombly’s work in Venice at the opening of the Biennale, discreetly supported by Gagosian Gallery, was just too much for me and I was compelled to go. I could not wait to see the work I acknowledged to be an act of commercial genius. However I was unprepared for my reaction to the exhibition.

Paradise is exactly where you would expect to find it, on the top floor of Ca’ Pesaro, a magnificent Venetian building with an excellent permanent collection overlooking the Grand Canal; the windows are of the most perfect proportions and the staircase monumental, taking me up to the top of the building, breathless, excited, a little afraid of heights or maybe ready to engage with my own version of the sublime?

If hearsay is to be believed, I was, perhaps, a little like the Countess of St Germains when she first arrived at port Elliot: “Where is the Earl, I think I am in love!”. As I reached the top floor of Ca’ Pesaro to enter Paradise, I nearly passed out before I had even entered the room or looked at a canvas. I had to hold on to the walls for a few moments and take in the space. It was magnificent, perhaps my subconscious already understood the true subject of the exhibition; it already felt worthy of my one-sided romantic quest.

The works were a mixture from 1951 until 2011, many from the Cy Twombly Foundation, private collections and others courtesy of the Gagosian Gallery. The show being curated by Julie Sylvester and Phillip Larrat-Smith, with the support of the Gagosian Gallery, Gabriella Belli and Daniela Ferretti, I was unsurprised that at the opening someone from Gagosian was present ready to field enquiries… perhaps discreetly responding to enquiries regarding the gallery-owned exhibits?

Paradise begins with the early wall painting on wood, from 1951 and follows a survey of works, including some beautiful roses on a small scale, sculpture, capriccios and, finally and perhaps most poignantly, to a selection of Twombly’s last works, produced in 2011 when the artist was approaching death: Four of these last eight paintings are on show here, gestural baroque circles in yellow, red and orange on a bright green background; eccentric circular strokes, key motifs of the artist, they are monumental, screaming, loud, demanding our attention, quite unlike his other works; they were his final message. What the brush strokes make up for in colour and size and attempts to draw the viewer to their final message, they lack in certainty.

Paradise until September 13 Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art, Venice

With thanks to the Marian Goodman Gallery for kindly providing the opportunity to see Edwin Parker by Tacita Dean

© Sweet Pea