Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 15th, 2020

Murder in Malta

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The 21 December issue of the New Yorker has a long and absorbing article by Ben Taub. The article’s blurb reads: “After a journalist was assassinated, her sons found clues in her unfinished work that cracked the case and brought down the government.” The government involved was the government of Malta, and it was astonishingly corrupt, up to and including murder. The detailed and gripping account begins:

Daphne’s sons worried about her. She was fifty-three and lived in an old stone farmhouse on the edge of Bidnija, a hilltop hamlet on the island of Malta. From the dining-room table, where Daphne wrote, she could see the morning sunlight glisten on the Mediterranean. But she hadn’t been to the beach in four years. When she left the house, people spat at her, followed her, photographed her, and hurled insults and abuse. Once, when she was taking an afternoon walk in a nearby village, a former mayor gathered a mob and began chasing her. She took refuge in a monastery, where the villagers pounded on the heavy wooden doors. All over the island, there were people who were certain that they hated her but had never read a word she had written. They simply knew her as is-sahhara tal-Bidnija—the witch of Bidnija.

Beyond “this little rock,” as Daphne referred to Malta, she was known for her reporting, which exposed malfeasance and hypocrisy within the governing class. She had come to think of the country as fractured by time, with all the worst elements of globalization grafted onto a population that was otherwise stuck in the past. “Malta is 17 miles by nine and flooded with cocaine, corruption, and filthy money,” she wrote. Her blog, Running Commentary, laced deep investigations with withering taunts, and had an online readership as large as all of Malta’s newspapers combined. In late 2016, Politico Europe included Daphne—along with George Soros, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Sadiq Khan—on its list of “people who are shaping, shaking and stirring Europe.” She was “the blogging fury,” the list read, “a one-woman WikiLeaks, crusading against untransparency and corruption in Malta, an island nation famous for both.”

But her subjects were her neighbors—the Prime Minister lived just down the hill. In recent years, he and his Cabinet had sought to smother her with libel lawsuits. People in his office used their work computers to post cruel gossip about her, accompanied by unflattering photographs. There was little serious effort to refute Daphne’s reports—only to disdain her as an élitist, partisan fraud. (Her surname, Caruana Galizia, had become redundant—everyone knew her as Daphne.) “The greatest difficulties I encounter come from the fact that they have made me into what in effect is a national scapegoat,” she once said.

On the afternoon of October 16, 2017, Daphne prepared a plate of tomatoes and mozzarella for Matthew, her eldest son. He was thirty-one, a computer scientist and a journalist himself. An expert on shell companies, he had shared a Pulitzer Prize for the Panama Papers leak. He sometimes got so caught up in his work that he forgot to eat.

Daphne set down the plate and put on her shoes to go to the bank. Her husband, Peter, a lawyer, had left her a stack of blank checks with his signature. She could not access her own accounts: after she claimed that Malta’s economy minister had visited a brothel while on an official mission to Germany, he persuaded a court to freeze her assets.

Across the valley, a man peered at the house. He watched Daphne climb into her car, and called his brother, who was waiting on a boat just offshore. When she was partway down the hill, the man on the boat sent a text message: “REL 1 = ON.”

A local farmer heard a pop and a scream, and watched Daphne yank the emergency brake. Then the gas tank exploded, launching her car into a field. The boom resonated throughout Bidnija valley.

Matthew ran down the hill, barefoot, squinting in the afternoon sun. When he reached the fireball, he thought for a few seconds that the twisted chassis couldn’t be that of his mother’s car, because it was burning white, and hers was charcoal gray. But then Matthew saw the beginning of the license plate—QQZ—and circled the car, helpless, screaming, searching for his mother’s silhouette, his skin as hot as he could stand it.

“I don’t think she made it,” Matthew told Paul, his youngest brother, an academic in London, in a phone call later that afternoon. Andrew, the middle brother, who was a Maltese diplomat, walked out of the foreign-ministry building and never returned. Paul took the first flight home. During the descent, he could frame the entire island within the window. Somewhere in that vista were the men who had ordered the hit. For the first time in a decade, all three brothers slept in their childhood bedrooms.

Supporters of the government posted memes with images of champagne flutes and witches burning at the stake, and made explosion sounds when they saw Daphne’s family in public. “This isn’t like the troll factory in St. Petersburg,” Paul told me. “These are real people. These were her neighbors.”

Daphne’s sons carried her coffin, then left the island to regroup. They suspected that their mother’s murder had been arranged by someone who believed that, in Malta, it was less dangerous to assassinate a reporter than to let her complete her work. To kill to protect a secret—it was a crime as old as any. Somewhere in their mother’s files, they thought, there must be a series of clues.

When Daphne was growing up in Malta, there was only one brand of chocolate, one brand of toothpaste, one brand of bluejeans. After attaining independence from the United Kingdom, in September, 1964—a month after she was born—the island suffered a post-colonial hangover, dominated by a repressive socialist Labour Party. For thousands of years, the island’s language, culture, and architecture had been shaped by invasions from Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Now, as the Maltese government distanced itself from the most recent colonial empire, it aligned with China, the Soviet Union, Libya, and North Korea. . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2020 at 1:59 pm

The Billionaire Power Couple Taking On Tesla

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Good to see some serious competition for Tesla. Interesting how the new company is basically a design/IP company and outsources all the manufacturing — using the automobile equivalent of the foundries chipmakers use.

Alan Ohnsman writes in Forbes:

Henrik Fisker seems straight from Hollywood central casting for the role of “famous European car designer.” A tall, blonde, handsome 57-year-old Dane, he first became known outside the car world in 1999 for styling a silver, convertible BMW Z8 roadster for Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond in The World Is Not Enough. In the early 2000s he ran Aston Martin’s famed design studios before serving as an early design consultant to Elon Musk’s Tesla. In 2007, he founded Fisker Automotive, which made one of the world’s first plug-in cars, before failing spectacularly six years later.  

Now he’s back–and three things are different. First and foremost, he has a vital new partner: his wife, cofounder and Fisker Inc. CFO Geeta Gupta-Fisker. Second, his Los Angeles-based company is public this time around, raising more than $1 billion in an October 2020 IPO. And finally, Fisker’s stock price, up 56% since its debut, has made both Henrik and Geeta billionaires, each worth about $1.1 billion as of Friday’s market close. The auto industry has seen father-son and sibling leadership teams, but Fisker Inc.’s CEO-CFO combo is the fast-changing sector’s first husband and wife power couple.

“We have very different styles of working. I would almost say it’s a right-brain/left-brain-type segregation,” Geeta, 46, tells Forbes. “Right brain is the creative side, so that’s Henrik. The left side is the data-driven analytical brain. That would be me.”

The division of labor works. Take the Fisker Ocean, a battery-powered SUV they have promised to start selling for around $38,000 in 2022. “One thing that’s on Geeta’s plate is to take more of the cost out,” says Henrik, who is Fisker Inc.’s CEO. “One of the things on my plate is to ensure that we have a stellar product.”

Wealth isn’t the purpose of the new company, Henrik says. “I never got into cars because of money. My mother wanted me to be a dentist.”

The couple sought a big stake in the new venture to ensure they can control its fate in a way Fisker couldn’t with his earlier company, which was mostly owned by investors including the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar and prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalists. Fisker Automotive was a hard lesson because its namesake, who was also design chief, CEO and a board member lacked one crucial title: owner. “He didn’t own even one share of the company,” Geeta says.

“Ownership is the only way to influence decisions, the right decisions,” she says. “That’s why when we structured the deal…what was really important for us was super-voting rights. Because what you don’t want is a repetition of what happened last time, when other people come in and make the decisions.”

The Fiskers describe the new venture as a “digital car company” that’s outsourcing production instead of building its own factories to hold down costs. Fisker is buying most of its core components–including the batteries and electric motors–from outside suppliers. Parts maker Magna, which also builds vehicles under contract for BMW, Daimler, Jaguar Land Rover and Toyota, formed an alliance with Fisker in October and will build the Ocean at its Graz, Austria, plant. As part of the deal, Magna also acquired a 6% stake in Fisker.

Affordability is a key selling point. The stylish Ocean, unveiled at CES in Las Vegas last January, won’t try to appeal to consumers just on its looks and its heavy use of recycled materials. The five-seater has a base price of just $37,499 (before federal and state incentives that could knock about $10,000 off the purchase price). Though roomier than Tesla’s Model Y crossover, its base price is more than $12,000 cheaper. So far, more than 10,000 people have paid $250 each to reserve one. Range is targeted to be about 250 miles per charge. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2020 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

Honey is the FOTD (fragrance of the day)

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I need more honey-inflected fragrances among the shaving soaps and aftershaves. Mickey Lee’s Bee-Witched is quite nice, and the lather made with the Simpson Persian Jar carried a wonderful fragrance. Three passes with the very fine RazoRock Old Type left a smooth face ready for the splash of Phoenix Artisan’s Planet Java Hive: coffee + honey.

Now for a long walk in a light rain.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2020 at 10:35 am

Posted in Shaving

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