Monday, December 21, 2015

Famous Albanians

Many people were pleased to learn that Martin Shkreli was arrested last week and charged with running a Ponzi scheme.

You remember this guy.  His pharmacy company marked up the price on the drug Daraprim by more than 5,000 percent.  And then he bragged about it.

And then he bragged some more.  About his Picasso and his unique Wu Tang Clan album.  About how smart he was, and how rich he was.  About how he was the most famous Albanian of all time. For the last several months, Shkreli has been the man everybody loves to hate.

A sample quote:   "I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but I liken myself to the robber barons,” he told Vanity Fair.

Shkreli has founded two hedge funds and two drug companies.  If you believe federal prosecutors, he  used money "invested" in his second fund to pay off investors in the first and money from the first pharmacy company to pay off the second fund's investors and on and on.

Basically he is like the title character in "The Wolf of Wall Street" movie, but without the subtlety.

There are a lot of blue-suede shoe guys like this, and the wonder of it is that by the time he was 32 years old and launching his latest company there was anybody willing to invest with him.  Caveat emptor, and all.

In fact, if he'd kept his mouth shut, he probably wouldn't be in the pickle he is in now.  Securities regulators had had him on their radar earlier, but his recent notoriety seems to have led them to speed up their investigations.

People say Shkreli is very intelligent, but I have to question this.  If a really bright person wanted to get away with a drug price increase like Shkreli's, he would have put on a pair of glasses, flanked himself with some guys in white coats and talked soberly about the crisis of funding for drug research.

Instead, Shkreli painted a giant target on his back.

And, by the way, Shkreli isn't the most famous Albanian ever.

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa, an ethnic Albanian, is probably even more famous than Martin Shkreli.   She was the Roman Catholic sister who founded  the Missionaries of Charity, who served the indigent sick and dying in Kolkata and many other countries.

Her admirers were legion.  She received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1979, and the members of her religious order number in the thousands.  After her death in 1997, Pope John Paul II beatified her, and last week the current pope said a second miracle has been attributed to her intercession with God on behalf of a sick person.  She soon will be named a saint.

The example she set of serving the poorest of the poor has inspired millions to do good works themselves, but she was not without controversy.

The acerbic and gimlet-eyed British intellectual Christopher Hitchens took out after Mother Teresa in a 1994 documentary titled "Hells Angel."  Hitchens, who died in 2011, was not just an atheist but an anti-theist, and not all the points of his critique resonate for me.  But many do.  I have posted this 24-minute broadcast on my companion website,; I recommend it.

Note:  A new volume of Hitchens' essays, "And Yet. . . .," was released at the end of November. USA Today's review says,  "the British-born, Oxford-educated, chain-smoking, booze-infused Hitchens leaves a trail of brilliant, brawling and provocative quotes and ideas to consider, admire or deplore, depending, of course, on one’s point of view."

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