The brief but glorious career of Fake Warren Buffett

Novelist Steve Hely points our attention to a fake Warren Buffett account on Twitter that somehow managed to rack up more than a quarter of a million followers while dispensing such insipid pieces of advice as “read and write more” and “you are not your job.” In a series of ridiculous tweets that captivated the entire internet, Fake Buffett guides us through the vicissitudes of life, offering his thoughts on “what’s cool” (saying thank you and holding doors open are cool), and serving up specially tailored “advice for the all the young people” [sic]. The account was suspended for being fake after just a few days of tweeting, but not before garnering approving retweets and likes from some of the biggest personalities in the media and entertainment world.

Many of these people apparently thought the advice was coming from the real Buffett, but putting aside the issue of their gullibility, it’s rather amazing how huge of a market there is for platitudes that would look lame even on a motivational poster. Fake Buffett may have been short-lived, but his legacy will endure as a window into the tragic mental landscape of the modern American.

American couple killed in Tajikistan

An American couple, understandably bored by their day jobs in Washington DC, take off on a rugged biking journey around the world. On a remote highway in Tajikistan, they along with two European cyclists are killed by what appear to be Islamic State sympathizers:

A grainy cellphone clip recorded by a driver shows what happened next: The men’s Daewoo sedan passes the cyclists and then makes a sharp U-turn. It doubles back, and aims directly for the bikers, ramming into them and lurching over their fallen forms. In all, four people were killed: Mr. Austin, Ms. Geoghegan and cyclists from Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Two days later, the Islamic State released a video showing five men it identified as the attackers, sitting before the ISIS flag. They face the camera and make a vow: to kill “disbelievers.”

Dramatic but rare events like these tend to vastly inflate the dangers of overseas travel in the public mind. Contrary to what you might think, despite a heavy terrorist presence across the border in northern Afghanistan, Tajikistan is generally considered safe for Western travelers. This seems ridiculous, until you consider that according to State Department data, only one US citizen died in Tajikistan – of drowning – from October 2002 to December 2017. After the latest incident, however, the State Department raised its travel advisory for Tajikistan to Level 2 (“Exercise increased caution”).

So, if you have a hankering to visit landlocked Central Asian republics, there’s no need to scratch Tajikistan from your bucket list. Just please don’t explore it on a freakin’ bike.

Two aspects of this story annoy me. First, this guy appears to have dragged his girlfriend into a dangerous lifestyle that she probably would not have otherwise chosen. According to the article:

It was in 2016 that Ms. Geoghegan told [her close friend] Ms. Kerrigan that she was planning to quit her job and bike around the world. Ms. Kerrigan could not suppress a little concern. “I said, ‘This is not the Lauren I know,’ ” she said, adding: “Jay changed the trajectory of Lauren’s life.” […]

“She was concerned for her friend, in part because of how bighearted she was and in part because she feared that Mr. Austin had a higher tolerance for danger than Ms. Geoghegan did.”

It’s one thing to throw your own life away, but roping someone else into your lethal adventure is a different universe of bad. I am reminded of Amie Huguenard, who followed Timothy Treadwell into the Alaskan wilderness, only to share his fate of being killed and eaten by a grizzly bear.

Second, I find it seriously alarming that this guy expected the rest of the world to help him and his girlfriend out of their self-imposed crises:

It was July 23, 2017 — winter in South Africa, when the sun sets at 5:30 — and they hadn’t realized how far they would need to travel on congested freeways before they could get out of Cape Town. At dusk, they found themselves with a punctured tire on the chaotic R27. There was nowhere to pitch their tent except for a ditch adjacent to the busy freeway.

In a post about why he chose to cycle — as opposed to, say, drive around the world — Mr. Austin spoke about the vulnerability of being on a bike. “With that vulnerability comes immense generosity: good folks who will recognize your helplessness and recognize that you need assistance in one form or another and offer it in spades,” he wrote.

This attitude strikes me as not only remarkably naive, but also morally questionable. Hospitality to strangers is baked into the culture in many parts of the world. For pampered Americans to take advantage of that, by deliberately putting themselves in dangerous situations from which strangers are expected to rescue them, seems selfish at best.

In the middle of the night, a security guard patrolling the grounds of a nearby nuclear plant spotted their tent. He radioed for help and arranged for a truck to drive them across the city to a campsite. Their journey was a series of tedious, and occasionally grueling, physical tests, punctuated by human kindness.

Bad decisions are often linked to philosophical confusion. It’s almost cruel to reference the first two paragraphs of this April blog post by Austin, but people need to understand that evil does exist, and it is not rare.

LinkedIn chronicles

This made me chuckle:

I wake up every morning at 4 AM and go for a 10 mile run followed by an hour lifting weights.

I try my best to read the local newspaper and at least 1/4 of a book before I leave for work at 8.

I have completely cut out meats, veggies, and fruits from my diet because I don’t want to damage anything on earth. I eat 100% Soylent.

During my lunch break I build houses for the homeless and then hire them at my job as a public service.

I answer no less than 300 emails an hour… all personalized.

Before I leave work I remind my friends that LinkedIn isn’t a dating site in case they forget.

After work I instruct hot/cold yoga in a room-temperature room… right before I head off to provide my spiritual advice to local religious leaders.

I am currently writing my 10th book.

I also created the Fidget Spinner.

I am the most interesting person on LinkedIn.

The good life. In fact, the best life that one can aspire to. Right?

Saturday links: Nuclear Jonestown edition

Cults and their consequences

1) Some provocative tweets on how things could go very wrong in Northeast Asia:

2) Speaking of Korea, as I had hoped, Michael Breen has given his reaction to the jailing of South Korea’s ousted president – in the form of satire:

Political parties and commentators have welcomed the court decision last week to put former President Park Geun-hye behind bars, saying it represents a victory for public sentiment-based democracy.

Presidential hopefuls for the upcoming election took a break from their illegal pre-campaign speeches and tours through markets to humbly credit voters and not themselves for the ruling.

“It’s what the people wanted,” said Park Mi-bum (no relation) of the minority People’s Party.

In a statement, the Prosecutor’s Office which had requested Park’s detention said jailing people before their trial is a necessary step when they are unpopular. “The people would have been angry if we had not made this request,” the statement said.

In a statement of their own, the people agreed.

“Had Park not been jailed, we would have been angry,” the people said.

For context, see this Breen article on the mob-rule aspect of South Korean democracy:

The preamble to the Constitution notwithstanding, “We the People” don’t exactly rule in the United States. A legal document, the Constitution, looms godlike over the affairs of Americans. Some form of that goes for most democracies. The laws are in charge, not the public — at least not directly.

South Korea presents an unusual case — and last week’s impeachment of President Park Geun-hye is a case in point — of a country where the rulers and the ruled not only believe that the people exist but in fact accept that the people, or some mystical conception of their collective will, are directly in charge.

This notion lies behind the country’s feisty politics and helps explain why it is, arguably, the most directly democratic country in Asia. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on how much you trust the people’s spontaneous collective judgment.

See also here and here.

3) On the decline of book-reading in Iran and the government’s plan to open the world’s largest bookstore (it will cover 484,376 sq ft).

Elon Musk is right

Man does not live by donuts alone

The billionaire of Tesla and SpaceX fame correctly identifies the core problem with artificial intelligence wiping out maybe half of all jobs in the (near) future:

“What to do about mass employment – this is going to be a big challenge. We will need to have some kind of universal basic income – I don’t think there will be a choice. There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better. […] The harder challenge is how do people then have meaning – because a lot of people derive their meaning from their employment. If you are not needed, if there is not a need for your labour. What’s the meaning? Do you have meaning, are you useless? That is a much harder problem to deal with.”

Exactly. A universal basic income may be necessary, but it obviously won’t be sufficient to stave off social unrest. Mass unemployment will require some deep thinking about how to restructure our culture and society to provide meaning and purpose to people’s lives.

In the meantime, you might want to start working on your emotional intelligence:

Those that want to stay relevant in their professions will need to focus on skills and capabilities that artificial intelligence has trouble replicating — understanding, motivating, and interacting with human beings. A smart machine might be able to diagnose an illness and even recommend treatment better than a doctor. It takes a person, however, to sit with a patient, understand their life situation (finances, family, quality of life, etc.), and help determine what treatment plan is optimal.

Similarly, a smart machine may be able to diagnose complex business problems and recommend actions to improve an organization. A human being, however, is still best suited to jobs like spurring the leadership team to action, avoiding political hot buttons, and identifying savvy individuals to lead change.

It’s these human capabilities that will become more and more prized over the next decade. Skills like persuasion, social understanding, and empathy are going to become differentiators as artificial intelligence and machine learning take over our other tasks. Unfortunately, these human-oriented skills have generally been viewed as second priority in terms of training and education. We’ve all experienced the doctor, financial planner, or consultant who is more focused on his or her reports and data than on our unique situations and desires.

Hmm… looks like Bertrand Russell’s prophetic essay, “In Praise of Idleness,” will need some slight updating:

First of all: what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid. The second kind is capable of indefinite extension: there are not only those who give orders, but those who give advice as to what orders should be given. Usually two opposite kinds of advice are given simultaneously by two organized bodies of men; this is called politics. The skill required for this kind of work is not knowledge of the subjects as to which advice is given, but knowledge of the art of persuasive speaking and writing, i.e. of advertising.

The “first kind of work” is increasingly being done by machines, meaning, in Russell’s model, we will soon have an entire economy based on telling, advising and persuading other people what to do.

The whole essay is worth reading as it’s surprisingly applicable to today’s situation. Russell argues that modern technology has made it possible to cut the average workday to four hours, provided there is full employment. Note that he wrote that in 1932.