How Google Parties

Friday night I was hanging out with billionaires and royalty, and was reminded of Dorothy Parker’s quip, “If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.”

I was at the book launch of How Google Works by Eric Schmidt, the boss of Google, a man worth $8.3 billion. Princess Beatrice was there, “a vision of glamour”—according to the Express. Jemima Khan, Nat Rothschild and Roman Abramovich’s girlfriend (the one who sat on the ‘black woman chair’) attended, along with various other members of the 0.0000000000000001%.

It was at the Chiltern Firehouse in Marylebone, London, which is where celebrities go for dinner. The bar area has a fully-grown tree, inside. There was free, unlimited champagne, and waitresses who would take my glass and give me a new one if they found it less than half full. These are austere times.

How Google Works adjusted

A tree walks into a bar, doesn’t want to leave.

How I got in shall remain a secret, but I wasn’t invited. My connection to the event has to do with editorial work I do for the publisher of Julian Assange’s new book, When Google Met WikiLeaks.

The background to the story is this: In 2012 Eric Schmidt, the Google guy, published a book called The New Digital Age for which he interviewed Julian Assange, among others. The book is, unintentionally, a frightening dystopian sci-fi horror—an insight into the imperialist mind-set of Google. Last month, partly in response, Julian Assange published When Google Met WikiLeaks. It has two main arguments: 1) Google is deeply enmeshed with US foreign policy; 2) it’s not enough to focus on state spying any more—private sector corporations, and especially Google, are up to their necks in it.

By coincidence, Eric Schmidt has written an unrelated new book, How Google Works, which came out at exactly the same time as Assange’s and, curiously, has almost exactly the same cover. (Assange’s publisher, OR Books, suspected their design had been plagiarised, but decided imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.)

How Google Works coversSchmidt’s is one of those ‘how to’ corporate management books. I haven’t read it, but for a short time I possessed a copy on Friday night. I opened it at random to read one sentence that said: “Specialize: sometimes the best way to grow a platform is to find a speciality that has the potential to expand.” That was enough.

The fact that the two books have come out at the same time means that whenever Schmidt does a publicity interview for his book he is asked about Julian Assange’s view that Google is “a privatized version of the NSA.” Schmidt’s peevish responses—“Virtually everything Julian says is not correct”; “he is, of course, writing from the, shall we say, luxury lodgings of the local embassy in London”—belie his frustration that the smooth sailing of his book tour has been disrupted by this political iceberg.

So when it emerged that Schmidt was in London for his book launch, I thought it might be amusing if I went along in a t-shirt emblazoned with WikiLeaks in the Google colours.

How Google Works me cropped adjustedI realised, while waiting outside the venue at the start of the evening, that I was somewhat underdressed. I watched the doormen rush to let passengers out of the chauffeur-driven cars that pulled up smoothly. Immaculately dressed people emerged from the vehicles, their importance underlined by the way they strode directly into the party without so much as a smile for the staff.

This was a society event, a “who’s who,” according to the Evening Standard. It was hosted by two Bright Young Things with an unquestionable talent for smiling in photographs. One of them describes himself as a “LEGEND” on his Twitter bio. As far as I could make out, for these two and their exalted guests, the evening consisted of a succession of brief exchanges each ending with a pose for the official photographer (who took one look at me and moved on).

Sneaking up on the American ambassador.

I spoke to a very nice yacht guy. He looks after the boats of a Gulf royal family and said that, although they do live in luxury, it’s not as over the top as people think—their aeroplanes aren’t lined with gold or anything. He rested his hand on the tree and got sap stuck to it. “That’s a real tree,” he said.

A glitzy ditsy woman pointed at my t-shirt and said, “Ah, you work for Google!”

“No, it says WikiLeaks.”

“Oh, I love Wikipedia! It’s so great.”

“Wikipedia is different from WikiLeaks.”

“I know that.”

Then there was a man who is booked to go into space with Virgin Galactic. I hope he has a lovely time and decides to stay.

I asked a young guy in a royal blue suit if he could take a picture of me, using my phone. He acted as if I had given him a parking ticket. Three presses of the shutter button was the maximum he could do.

“I don’t like WikiLeaks. Don’t like any leaks,” he said.

“You must really hate the Obama administration then. They leak.”

“I’m not going to get into a political conversation tonight.”

Suddenly Eric Schmidt himself was next to me, signing copies of his book. I had a cheeky idea. I gave him the copy I was holding and said:

“Could you make this out to Julian Assange?”

He looked at me over his glasses. “No,” he said, and walked off. It was bad tempered. I’ve never had a billionaire turn me down before.

Then the two beaming hosts called everyone’s attention for the speeches. Still wearing fixed smiles, they gave off that particular combination of entitlement and blankness peculiar to the elite. If the eyes are the windows to the soul then theirs must be double-glazed with the curtains drawn. “They look thick,” my companion said, putting it more succinctly.

“Our friend Eric writes books much faster than we can read them,” one joked, and I don’t doubt it.

I was trying to get up the nerve to ask Schmidt a question. Actually I was terrified because I planned to ask: “In 2011 you told Julian Assange to his face that you were ‘sympathetic’ to his vision. Recently you told ABC News that he is ‘very paranoid’. What has changed in between, except that on the issue of surveillance Assange has been vindicated and Google has been implicated?”

That would have spelled the end of the free champagne for me, but no questions were taken. Instead, after a very short speech by Schmidt about how wonderful everyone was, they had a violinist.

One possible reason for Schmidt not taking any questions is that he was in a room full of people who had no interest whatsoever in his book. I’m sure they all believe that such events serve an important function—enhancing their reputations, their financial connections, or whatever—but mostly I think they just like showing off. This was the very pinnacle of the social pyramid—the ultra-rich and the highly visible, there to be seen to be there. It was professional socialising. I noticed that some guests slinked out once they had been snapped by the official photographer, an efficient social transaction neatly executed.

The most striking thing was that none of the people I eavesdropped on or talked to seemed to have the slightest bit of intellectual curiosity. They were very good at talking about themselves, their business, their investments, foundations, charities, yachts and space trips, but any mention of things outside their immediate experience, anything political for instance, and they shut down, shifted around, said something jaw-droppingly naïve or just banal.

I mentioned previously that I had a copy of Schmidt’s book only briefly. Copies were placed on the tables for people to take. Before I went to the toilet (where, incidentally, the vast urinals were filled with ice cubes, an opulent touch ultimately undermined as they were melted by piss), I put down my book, along with a copy of Julian Assange’s book, on a table. When I came back neither was there. It makes me smile to imagine that some rich person somewhere went home with Julian Assange’s book instead of Schmidt’s. Unfortunately though, if they think it’s Schmidt’s book, they will probably never read it.

 

Alex Nunns tweets at @alexnunns

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Behind the lying eyes of Mark Regev

Using a prototype Truth Rectification Processor, the words of Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev have been filtered through a complex algorithm that strips away lies.

Amazing results!

This experiment, led by @alexnunns (https://twitter.com/alexnunns), is inspired by earlier, remarkable research carried out by gabbriana2008, which used alternative “mind-reading technology”. Those results can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMd_js_oQAk. It is not known whether this technology is still operational, or if it has been destroyed by Mossad.

Some of the raw data that was fed into the Truth Rectification Processor can be viewed here: http://www.thenation.com/article/180783/five-israeli-talking-points-gaza-debunked
And some of its design principles were based on this: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/israelgaza-conflict-the-secret-report-that-helps-israelis-to-hide-facts-9630765.html
Legal analysis was cited from: http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/18618/hrw-whitewashes-israel-the-law-supports-hamas_some

The raw interview footage belongs to the BBC, used here under fair use. See the original here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRfNRQblXbs. Respect to Emily Maitlis.

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Going private? My reply to a job offer from a private health company

What the heck is this? I’ve been trying and failing to stop the government from privatising the National Health Service for years, and now a private healthcare company has contacted me about a job!

The email from Care UK says they are “seeking a Media Relations Executive for our Head Office based in Colchester and your skills and experience appear to be a good match.” Huh? They are offering a “competitive salary, 25 days holiday and corporate discounts.”

Here’s what I have replied:

Dear Laura,

Thank you for your unexpected email about the Media Relations Executive job with Care UK. I am very interested. Since Care UK is possibly the leading private healthcare company making inroads into the NHS, I would relish the opportunity to publicise what it does – indeed, this is precisely what I was trying to do in my previous job as information officer for Keep Our NHS Public (on a much smaller budget, I’m sure). That must be what you were referring to when you said my skills and experience are “a good match”.

As you can imagine, I am brimming with ideas. If you don’t mind, I would like to set them out here. First of all, I think much more needs to be done to let the public know what Care UK is. Hardly anyone realises just how big a chunk of the NHS you now run, from GP surgeries and walk-in centres to treatment units doing things like bunions. If I were your Media Relations Executor I would promote this aggressively to build the brand. I think the public has a vague idea about NHS privatisation, but they aren’t yet able to put a face to the name, so to speak. Care UK’s name could be that face. As a profit-making healthcare company owned by a private equity firm you are perfectly positioned.

I believe a key talent for any disrespecting Media Relations Executive is the ability to turn a negative in to something offensive. For example, it must have been a stressful time in the Media Revelations office when that tax avoidance story broke a few months ago – the one saying that Care UK had reduced its tax bill by taking out loans through the Channel Islands stock exchange. All this talk of tax havens and tax avoidance isn’t good in the current climate. But as your Media Relationship Executive I would have used a little reverse psychology, instead of denying it as your spokesman did. After all, this could put you right up there with the big boys like Goldman Sachs, Vodafone and Jimmy Carr.

Similarly, you got some bad press when it was revealed that the wife of your former chairman John Nash gave £21,000 to Andrew Lansley’s office before the last election, when Lansley was shadow health secretary. But let’s view it from another angle – doesn’t this serve to highlight Care UK’s excellent political connections? And look how it turned out: Lansley is in power and he has passed the Health Act. He has opened the door wide to privatisation, and Care UK is already inside redecorating the place.  We thought Lansley wasn’t going to manage it for a while, when all those thousands of patients and doctors started protesting and June Hautot shouted “codswallop” at him in the street. But he pulled through, sacrificed his future public career for private gain, and God bless him for that. Care UK now stands to make a fortune. This is something to boast about, for Bevan’s sake! And all for £21,000, less than it would cost to employ a Media Relations Executive for a year. (Please confirm.)

You should play to your strengths. Care UK is a true pioneer in this privatisation drive. You were the first private company to run a GP surgery in Dagenham back in 2006. And the first to face enforcement action from the Healthcare Commission because of slack hygiene procedures at the Sussex Orthopaedic Treatment Centre in 2008. And who’s to say you weren’t the first to forget to process 6,000 x-rays at your ‘urgent’ care centre in North-West London in 2012? As a Mediocre Relations Executive, I would advise not mentioning those last two.

If there’s just one thing that Care UK knows how to do – and there is – it’s take money from the state. I would make a bigger deal of the fact that 96 percent of Care UK’s revenue comes from the NHS. That’s the kind of solid base that any company would envy – taxpayers’ money, minimal risk, easy profits. So shout about it! It shouldn’t just be left-wing NHS obsessives who hear about this stuff.

Take the Barlborough Treatment Centre. It’s a complicated story, but in the hands of a good Media Relations Excretion it can be turned into a wonderful example of the company’s strengths. First, Care UK was paid £21.9 million over five years to do orthopaedic surgery – hip and knee replacements, that kind of thing – but you only did £15.1 million worth of work. (The local NHS Medical Director saw the trick, complaining: “The problem we have got is that they cherry-pick; they don’t take any patients with complicated conditions”. I guess the joke’s on him.) The NHS eventually realised it was getting a bad deal, and things weren’t looking good for Care UK. But then the NHS bought the treatment centre from you for £8.2 million, a lovely gesture. And finally the NHS signed a new 30 year contract to run the centre with… Care UK! (As an aside, it is important from a media management perspective not to spoil this tale of triumph-from-the-jaws-of-lucrative-defeat with any reference to the several lawsuits brought by local patients claiming that their surgery went wrong.)

As an example of what I could bring to the company I would like to propose a new corporate motto: ‘Care UK – Providing less, for more’. These words came to me when I was thinking about Manchester, where last year the NHS paid you £2.7 million for work that was never done at your Clinical Assessment and Treatment Centre. According to a parliamentary report, the services you provide up there are between 7 percent and 12 percent more expensive than equivalent services in local hospitals. Providing less for more – it’s a record that really ought to be publicised.

And Care UK should be proud of its talent for cost-cutting, like the plan to use more nurses and healthcare assistants in your GP surgeries because doctors are too expensive. Your managing director, Mark Hunt, describes this as “workforce efficiency on skill mix”. As a Meddling Relations Executive I would advise him to ditch the jargon and tell it as it is. Patients might get a worse service, but at least the company is making more money and that’s good for the economy. We’re all in this together, as someone once said, in jest. I’m convinced that if Care UK followed my strategy it would solve the serious problem of patients accidentally opposing the private take-over of GP surgeries through confusion and surfeit knowledge, like when those blasted Keep Our NHS Public campaigners scuppered the Care UK health centre in Euston by threatening court action.

Be bold. Be proud. Be shameless. That’s the approach I would bring to the job, and I hope you like my initial ideas. Please be sure to let me know when and where the interview will take place (the formalities must be gone through, I understand). I trust that I will hear from you soon.

Yours sincerely,

Alex Nunns

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