Archive for the ‘Finance’ Category

The Thin End

April 10, 2021

I learned my geography during the Portuguese colonial war—a triple war, to be exact: Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea. The notion that a small European nation could fight three wars on opposite sides of Africa for over a decade with no external help is astonishing.

In 1974, the Portuguese revolution marked the swansong of colonialism, but the triple war was certainly not lost—all the more astonishing since the liberation movements were backed by China and the USSR—even the US backed a couple of the rival ‘liberation’ factions, but no one backed the Portuguese, seen in Europe as a pariah fascist state.

The irony is that the liberation of those nations resulted in an enduring set of new dictatorships—hard left for Angola and Mozambique, and a failed narco-state in the case of Guinea. Thus ended the saga of The India Road—a fascist state becomes a democracy and enables autocratic communist regimes in Angola and Mozambique for the next half-century—the Perfect Prince would have been blood-flecked choleric.

The capital of the most northerly province of Mozambique was called Porto Amélia, named after the last Portuguese queen, Amelie of Orleans—after the country gained independence, the city was renamed Pemba.

Amélie d’Orleans tries to save her husband King Charles I during the regicide in 1910.

The province of Cabo Delgado is named after a narrow cape that protrudes six miles into the Indian Ocean above the Bay of Tungue, and since the VIIth century the provincial history is one of commerce and conflict—Cabo Delgado was part of the trade routes of the Arab dhows, and modern-day Tanzania begins on the north side of the River Rovuma, about thirty miles northwest of the cape itself.

Like an ocean front where opposing waters meet, Cabo Delgado is at the interface of religions—a sure recipe for war. It belongs to a sinister club that includes the Balkans, the Hindu Kush, Kashmir, the Sunni-Shia fault lines in the Mid-East, Belgium, and the island of Ireland.

But TIA—This Is Africa—so the Cabo Delgado conflict is spiced by tribal strife among the Maconde, Mwani, and Swahili.

TIA requires an understanding uncommon in Europeans—Mwani means beach in the Kimwani language, and the people have a very specific culture.

…about 1,100 years ago Arab traders came down the east coast of Africa to take slaves. Entire groups became Muslim because the Arabs, being Muslim, were not allowed to take other Muslims as slaves… The Mwani value peace and harmony… relationships and family bonds and respect the elderly. Polygamy is common in this matrilineal society… Divorce is common and many women have been married several times, so family units are difficult to discern. Children go to Madrassa schools, and although they memorize and can recite the Koran, they don’t understand its meaning. Most Mwani are illiterate in the Kimwani language and speak only a bit of Portuguese… They have an awareness of God (Mwenyezimungu) and are very aware of the supernatural world, believing in spirits and magic, and fearing demons. Though fiercely Islamic in name, their worldview is strongly influenced by the animistic world of ancestors and the use of mediums such as witchdoctors. Women are more connected to the spirit world, holding “punge” (séances) which can last all night…

The development of offshore natural gas reserves in the Rovuma basin by French oil major Total in 2019 led to a significant ramp-up of terrorist activity in Cabo Delgado—the Mozambican army did little to control the situation, and in a page taken out of The Dogs of War, the government hired a mercenary group to fight the Islamic terrorists.

Soldiers of fortune are an African tradition, celebrated in books and movies, and personified in real life by colorful characters such as Colonel ‘Mad’ Mike Hoare, of Katanga fame. In the case of Cabo Delgado, the protagonist was Lionel Dyck, an ex-Rhodesia and Zimbabwe paratroop commander.

Dyck has certainly led an interesting life, bringing together ex-members of the Rhodesian African Rifles, Selous Scouts, and Chinese-trained ZANLA and Soviet-trained ZIPRA guerillas to form Zimbabwe’s paratroop battalion. Now in his seventies, Colonel Dyck took a contract from the Mozambican government and directed his Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) to perform counter-terrorism actions against the Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah group, an Isis offshoot.

DAG’s ‘airforce’ consisted of two Gazelle helicopter gunships—’helicanhões’ were invented by the Portuguese in Mozambique during the colonial war—an old Alouette chopper with a 20 mm gun, two light planes and a couple of Bat Hawk microlights with gun mounts.

During its stint in Cabo Delgado, DAG was accused of killing terrorists and civilians indiscriminately and of firing on a hospital where Islamic forces were hiding. The Ansar al Sunnah (supporters of the tradition)—known also as Al Shabaab—have done far worse, including beheading children as young as eleven.

The controversy around DAG lost them the contract renewal, but Dyck claims his men acted appropriately and had full oversight from the government.

The story of Cabo Delgado is the story of every African nation—the more resources exist, the more suffering is brought upon its people.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

East of Suez

April 4, 2021

In the days of The India Road, navigation was a way to avoid carrying out massive engineering works on land, with humans and animals as the beasts of burden.

Before the steam engine was invented by Savery in 1698, land transport also relied on animals—human or otherwise. Building roads was a huge endeavor, mountains and gorges were impassable—routes were dictated by terrain; it’s no surprise that as soon as man learned to float a boat—really just a practical application of Archimedes’ principle—the path of least resistance led to the development of shipping.

The age of sail lasted almost three millennia—winds and currents eased the burden of mankind, enabling connections between continents and promoting trade, leading to the development of major cities along waterways and on the coast. In the process, navigation also led to colonial empires, the slave trade, and maritime warfare on a grand scale.

It was only when explosives and machinery helped to dig, tunnel, and blow up the obstacles to development on land, and when engines for rail and road became commercially viable, that humans considered the possibility of shortening maritime trade routes—a quick look at the world map reveals two obvious choices—Suez and Panama.

Widening of the Suez Canal—shoring works.

In the second half of the XIXth century, French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps set about building the two canals, both of which would make intercontinental trade substantially quicker and cheaper.

Lesseps was not able to fulfill his dream of building the Panama Canal—US president Teddy Roosevelt completed the job some decades later—and left the world an enduring palindrome: A Man, A Plan, A Canal—Panama.

The connection between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean was an old dream of the pharaohs—or rather, the ancient canal would connect the Red Sea port of as-suways to the River Nile.

Napoleon ordered the old excavations investigated and considered building a canal himself, but his engineers miscalculated the difference in water height between the Red and the Med by a whopping twenty-eight feet, and the project was scuppered.

The canal took ten years to dig and was finally completed in 1869. Even before it opened, it was a source of controversy and geopolitical strife—the Brits saw it as a threat to the India trade—presumably it didn’t help that it was built by a Frenchman.

Since then, the one hundred and twenty mile canal has been the cause of international disputes and a small war— The ditch, as sailors refer to it, has been run by Egypt since the late 1950s, but the area continues to be fraught with tension.

Landsat image of the Nile delta, which stretches from Alexandria to Port Said.

Suez is a major source of income: the Egyptian government mandates that the ‘Suez crew’ are taken on board for the passage—ships have a dedicated Suez crew room to house these ‘specialists’. The Suez crew apparently have ‘special rope skills’, and include both a dedicated pilot and an electrician who tends to a searchlight mounted on the fo’c’sle —none of them do an awful lot apart from eating, drinking, and sleeping during the eighteen hours spent aboard.

A century ago, the role of shipping in trade was of general interest—as recently as the 1970s, radio sets had a shortwave channel called Marine Band. Today, nobody cares about shipping, or even knows it exists—the irony is that it accounts for ninety percent of world trade.

Much of that takes place through oil tankers, bulk carriers, and huge container ships—the spotlight shone briefly on the latter, and on shipping in general, when the Ever Given, a mere one thousand three hundred feet in length, wedged itself across the Suez Canal last month.

The story broke on Bloomberg because the channel knew this was a major disruption to business—there was an immediate reaction in the oil markets. Mainstream broadcasters picked up one or two days later, with both CNN and the BBC running pieces about the Ever Given and its charterer, Evergreen.

Suddenly, the role of maritime transportation became clear—you never miss your water ’till your canal runs dry. It also became obvious that the Suez crew were about as useful as a steer on a heifer.

Then, silly season set in. First, QAnon claimed the Ever Given was a child trafficking ship linked to Hillary Clinton, and then some wag discovered that the vessel had drawn the shape of a gigantic phallus in the water east of Suez before entering the canal.

Giant penis track drawn by the Ever Given prior to getting stuck in the sand.

A good deal of sophomoric humor followed about the penis entering the canal—boys will be boys.

I think the most important message was missed: two well-planned attacks—blowing up a couple of ships in Suez and simultaneously in Panama, thereby blocking both waterways—would have dramatic consequences for world trade.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Bed and Brexit

March 28, 2021

Towards the end of 2020, I bought a new bed.

The acquisition of a bed, as the manufacturers and salespeople love to tell you, is a transformative life decision—between bed and mattress, you’re entrusting a large part of your mental health to an inanimate object.

Bedtime makes up a third of your life, unless you’re Japanese—the land of the rising sun has a special word, Karoshi, for death from overwork.

Since this is the first bed I’ve bought in decades, and the first new bed I’ve ever owned, I did some hunting around—in a pandemic, that means surfing. I looked close to home, gravitated to a couple of the big London stores, saw a couple of things I liked, and then decided to go straight to the motherlode.

The guys I ended up doing business with have a factory in the British countryside—on land that belongs to the crown (no, not Netflix, silly). And very nice they were too—we talked prices and discounts, overseas shipping, the usual deal, and finally settled the matter just after the beginning of winter.

I was keen to wrap up the deal prior to Brexit, since with a 2020 invoice, the export of said bed to the European Union would attract no duty—how wrong I was.

Turns out that any goods shipped from the UK after December 31st 2020 are thoroughly in the dog house. The norm is to get hit with a triple whammy of VAT, customs handling charges, and ancillary costs—as the saying goes, you make your bed and lie in it.

The obvious consequences of these trade barriers were stated repeatedly and with vigor by remainers—now, the chickens are coming home to roost. Said chickens, should they be of UK provenance, are stuck in bonded warehouses prior to import payment and release.

Businesses that sell or import British food products (I know, a bit of an oxymoron there) are well and truly stuck. Not only have costs gone up significantly, but shelves are empty because of transport delays—in maritime jargon, British exports to Europe are going through a bit of a pen pal—that’s my very own Cockney rhyming slang—Suez Canal.

The UK Food and Drink Federation (FDF) released what can only be classed as dismal numbers comparing the top British food and drink exports to the EU in January 2020 and one year later. I worked them up into a chart, which shows how hard the food industry was hit.

Whisky and salmon are both from Scotland—the Scottish people, who voted to stay in the Union, must be appalled at this sorry mess. Beef also got hammered—the Scots produce Angus cattle, so a triple whammy there.

And when it comes to fish, which salmon apparently is not, this includes all the shellfish industry—the export of live oysters, mussels, and scallops, along with langostines and crabs, is very much a Scottish business, although Wales also has an important mussel production.

The pandemic also accounts for some of this reduction, given how hard the hospitality industry in Europe was hit—and still is, with multiple lockdowns in practically every EU nation.

But a lot of it is Brexit—the double punch of the end of frictionless trade with Europe and Covid has meant the swansong for many small businesses—family-run outfits, often in small places, that help anchor communities.

In total, Bojo’s social experiment has shrunk the trading landscape of foodstuffs from almost six hundred billion dollars to one hundred forty-one—a decrease of seventy-five percent.

And that big brass bed? I’ll let you know when it gets here.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Let It Rain

February 20, 2021

I’m writing these words while the rain falls in buckets outside. For me, rain and music go hand in hand. Songs like Have You Ever Seen the Rain, or Dylan’s Buckets of Rain—one of the most poignant love songs ever written, come to mind… or even the more esoteric Box of Rain, by the Dead—someone told me many years ago the song is about heroin.

It’s been a rainy season and a half, so far—from Texas to Jakarta, climate change has been showing its colors. Last Thursday I was supposed to be on a call to West Texas, but they’d had no power since Monday—I was tempted to tell them last time I saw that was in Mozambique. You don’t think of the US as a vulnerable country, where a large part of a state as rich as Texas can be without electricity or water for days, but the evidence is there.

In this particular case, was it policy, climate change, or infrastructure? Apparently, you can blame all three—different actors have taken their pick. Undoubtedly, snowstorms in Texas are well outside the definition of normal weather patterns—they fall into the ‘extreme event’ category—such events are typical of climate change. Texas is so confident in its energy self-sufficiency that it doesn’t link to the US national electricity grid—this is an obvious policy failure—when the Texas system collapsed, there was no external supply.

The collapse was linked to a single and obvious fact—below 32oF, water freezes. This affected the cooling systems of energy plants, including nuclear—Texas has two of those. Although the bulk of the Texas outages were due to freezing of natural gas pipelines, the conservative media had a field day blaming renewable sources like wind and solar. If the double-peach orang-u-tan still had a license to tweet, there would have been a host of fake news typos on the topic. As it is, there’s enough crap going around, like this quote from a Colorado Republican congresswoman.

We have Joe Biden who is nice and warm in his fossil-fueled White House singing kumbaya with his environmental extremists while Americans are freezing to death.

A recent article in the New York Times analyzes the renewables question—turns out wind power only meets seven percent of the Texas energy requirement—hardly a critical factor, but the debate has grown to a new level of hysteria as climate change skeptics rage about wind turbine blades freezing—oblivious to the irony that they’re only freezing because of climate change.

Meanwhile, Jakarta holds the dubious record of being the world’s fastest sinking city, around four inches per year. In north Jakarta, the ground is estimated to have sunk about eight feet in the last ten years, making any building one story shorter.

The monsoon rains have visited upon Jakarta a flood of epic proportions.

The times seem a little biblical at present, featuring a succession of plagues—and there’s no indication these are one-off events. Climate change is here for the foreseeable future and may well bring with it a bunch of new surprises, known as indirect effects. One example is an increase in disease because particular temperatures favor certain pathogens.

As for the COVID plague, in most European countries, and in the States, there is a clear downward trend, and there’s hope that vaccination will shut the virus down for good. So at least there’s a few things to smile about.

And as usual, fact can be stranger than fiction. A thirty-year old man in the UK was this week offered a priority vaccine when his BMI was flagged at twenty-eight thousand. Turns out his height had been registered not as six feet two inches but as 6.2 cm.

A back-calculation puts his real weight at 238 lb, give or take, so he’s on the lower end of the ‘obese’ category, but you’d have thought the guys who write the algorithms might idiot-proof them.

The NIH BMI calculator is certainly deficient in this respect—it allowed me to determine the BMI for a human who is 6 cm tall, and one of average height weighing only one kilogram.

I propose that the code geeks add what I will now call the Wibaux Humpty Dumpty test. When you input a person’s height, the app calculates what that person would weigh if he or she were a perfect sphere.

Humans are roughly the same density as water, i.e. 1 g/cm3, although some are considerably denser in the brain area. In order to apply the WHD law, we need to determine the volume of our spherical human, and that will be the weight in grams—for an average balloon person, that is around 2.5 metric tons, rather more than an automobile.

The BMI for the rotund one will be slightly under one thousand, a pretty exceptional upper limit. It would certainly have saved the embarrassment of the doctor’s explanatory phone call.

Before the doctor’s call, the thirty-year-old man called his mom to tell her he was being vaxed due to obesity. Her reply is pure poetry.

‘Well, perhaps this is the wake-up call you need…’

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The Triple V

February 6, 2021

Social distancing, vaccine hesitancy, economic recovery, conspiracy, plandemic, scamdemic—just some of the words and phrases that permeate our day.

The coronavirus vaccines have made excellent progress—never has a set of vaccines been produced so quickly. Partly, this is because the new vaccines work by using a different approach—they’re based on ribonucleic acid, or RNA.

The coronavirus genome—how can something so nasty look this pretty?

RNA is the lesser known sibling of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, and like its big brother, it provides cells with a blueprint for manufacturing the compounds they require. Our DNA makes messenger RNA, known as mRNA, which is then translated to make proteins.

In this case, mRNA strands that contain code to make virus-specific antigens are injected into the cells—this can only be done if we know the genome of the virus, i.e. if it has been sequenced.

Once inside a cell, the mRNA instructs the cell’s production apparatus to make the appropriate antigen, and the antigens fight off the viral infection.

In both the US and UK, the vaccination tide is turning, but in mainland Europe things are not as good—the supply line isn’t working well, but as soon as that improves there will be a marked fall in hospitalizations and death rates.

As I write, the UK has vaccinated more of its population than any other nation in Europe—Brexit supporters are gloating that this would not have been possible within the EU. However, Member-States do their own purchasing and make their own decisions on approval and safety, as evidenced by Hungary—the militant Magyars are busy shooting up both the VladVac and its Beijing sibling, so this is another example of Brexit bollocks.

What the Brits did right (and it’s great to see them do something right considering the dog’s breakfast they made of the pandemic) was the procurement—the Israelis did the exact same thing, but far better, which is why they’ve now vaccinated one-third of their nine million population, while Portugal is at less than 400,000 out of ten million souls.

Vaccination nation—everyone pales when compared to Israel. The chart shows doses administered as a percent of population.

When it comes to delivery, the UK National Health Service has worked wonders—that’s the second thing the Brits got right—using a trained, competent, national infrastructure instead of sub-contracting the work to Tory chums whose healthcare business experience consists in making rubber ducks and paper clips.

Of course, you cannot examine the triumvirate Virus-Vaccine-Variants without discussing the two large elephants in the room.

The first is the duration of immunity and the vaccination rate: in the US, about five percent of the population has been vaccinated over a period of about one month, considering a double dose is required, or about eleven percent, if you assume everyone so far has had only a single dose.

Even if we roll with a single dose, it would take seven months to reach the magical seventy percent number where the virus cries uncle and goes away. By then, the first groups vaccinated may well have lost their immunity, since it is thought to last five months or so.

Seventy is only magic if that percentage of the population is immune at the same time.

As for the variants, the jury is still out. Faster spread means more deaths, even if the virus isn’t nastier—it’s just a numbers game. Vax resistance is another matter altogether, and a number of people have pointed out that immunizing the first world is going to bite us in the butt, because wealthy nations leave large swathes of Africa, Asia, and South America open to development of vax-resistant strains—instead of fine-tuning with bats or pangolins, the virus will fine-tune in humans.

As Europe and America make plans to see the end of this plague, a true hundred-year event, and reboot their economies, I leave you with a couple of pre-vac thoughts.

The first is that informal economies, prevalent in southern Europe but also significant in northern nations—think gig economy—naturally encourage virus spread. Folks who don’t have a declared formal occupation cannot confine because they won’t get paid, and neither are they eligible for compensation—for builders and other contractors, sharing vans, tools (yes, that sounds bad), and meals are all virus brushfire. Often, they won’t get tested to avoid being quarantined—if the spouse also has an informal job, both wage earners spend fourteen days without income.

The debate around education and the hot topic of teacher vaccination has also, if you excuse the pun, gone viral. Apart from the flu shot (and in recent years also pneumonia), vaccines are a childhood experience. Children’s immunity becomes adult immunity, and all is well.

Vaccinating teachers is a good thing, since it’s a high risk profession—they get Covid from the kids—but it certainly won’t stop the spread of coronavirus to the wider population because the parents get it from the children.

Vaccinating children isn’t an option either, because the vaccine doesn’t stop you from infecting others—it only protects you, or put another way, turns you into an asymptomatic carrier–which is what kids are anyway.

As Uncle Winston famously said, “This is not the end, it is not the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning.”

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Game Stop

January 30, 2021

GameStop is a retailer for video games and accessories based in Dallas, Texas.

Their website is down when accessed from UK and mainland Europe—sometimes US companies do that because of GDPR, the EU data protection law, but usually there is an explanatory message. This one reads more like a denial of service:

Access Denied

You don’t have permission to access “http://www.gamestop.com/” on this server.

Reference #18.16231102.1612006228.93d5a50

I guess the company’s founders thought the name represented a place to stop (and shop) for gamers, rather than a plea to stop games—a year ago, it boasted five thousand five hundred retail stores in the United States.

Not only was GameStop hit by the pandemic, but for years, online operators have been carving up the main street, bricks and mortar businesses.

Individual investment is a big thing in the States—according to the Motley Fool, about one-third of American adults have a brokerage account—you can’t even find a number for the EU or UK.

It was individual investors that drove the NASDAQ to frenzied heights in the nineties during the dotcom bubble, and it was the same folks who got skinned when the bottom fell out of the market.

The professional investment community, aka Wall Street, has a name for individual investors, the folks on Main Street—dumb money.

Stock market games have been a around a long time—the best book on the subject was written in 1923 by Edwin Lefèvre, about a legendary operator called Jesse Lauriston Livermore.

Livermore’s whole life was boom and bust, culminating with his suicide at the age of sixty-three. It’s hard to see how suicide would run in the family on a genetic basis, but his son and grandson went the same way.

One of the classic stock operator moves was to corner the market, i.e. to own enough stock to manipulate the price—after World War I, Livermore cornered the cotton market. It took a meeting with President Woodrow Wilson to get him to sell back the cotton for the purchase price—when the president asked why he’d cornered the market, Livermore replied, “To see if I could, Mr. President.”

One of Livermore’s many aphorisms. He would certainly have had something to say about GameStop.

Stock market operators, i.e. investment bankers, hedge funds, and others, use the gamut of tools available to make money.

In my book Atmos Fear, Wall Street trader named Mark Wendale is speaking with a Brit ‘merchant’ banker.

Wendale was now trading CDOs squared, and even cubed, where the product was supported on an identical product, making it increasingly difficult to grasp what the exposure was.

“Those cubed-things you have, they rather remind me of a flat earth story.”

“Huh?” Wendale drew a blank.

“Well, it’s the support, really. In the Middle Ages one thought the earth was a fleht dish. Do you know what supported it?”

“Before my time.”

Wendale couldn’t give a shit about flat dishes. Crazy limey stories. He held up his glass for some more burgundy, and stuffed his mouth with salmon.

“Elephants.” The Brit answered his own question.

“Elephants, huh? Pink ones?”

The British executive didn’t react.

“Four of them, one at each corner. Jolly big ones, one imagines.” He finished off his G & T and daintily picked at a cherry tomato, after anointing it with balsamic vinegar.

Wendale was totally confused. “What the hell do four elephants have to do with cubed CDOs?”

Goddamn limeys were so tortuous.

“Well you see, what troubles me is the support base. When they asked the chap what held up the elephants,  he said ‘it’s elephants all the way down!’.”

Short sports, as Lefèvre calls them, borrow stock from a broker and sell it, on the assumption that its price will decrease. Two conditions have to be met for that to happen: the first is that the stock actually decreases in price, so that when the short sport has had enough, he or she buys the stock back at the lower price and returns the ‘borrowed shares’ to the broker—of course they won’t be the same shares, but they will be identical.

The second is that there are enough shares to buy. If there aren’t, the price of each share increases due to demand, and by the time the operator closes his position, the sport has become rather dangerous, and there is plenty of money to be lost.

Of course, there’s a third possibility, which is that share-buying raises the price—when that happens, the short sport must hold his/her nerve, because the higher the shares go, the bigger the loss when the trade is finally closed.

This is the quintessential battle between bulls and bears, as a rule played institutionally—when the ‘dumb money’ dares to go against Wall Street wisdom, the pros gang up on the individual investors and give them a good trouncing to punish them for their arrogance.

In these days of alternate truth (the artist formerly known as lies), it’s great fun to watch what’s been happening to GameStop shares.

GameStop never intended that the company name could mean this, but when will the game stop?

Wall Street hedge funds analyzed the future of GameStop, and decided it was not headed for a happy ending—the obvious move therefore was to short them to the hilt.

At present, Bloomberg tells us that 139% of GameStop shares have been sold short. You may wonder how you can sell short more shares than actually exist? Let me give you an example:

A has an account with Broker 1, and owns 100 shares of GameStop.

B, who has an account with Broker 1, borrows them and sells 100 shares short.

C, who has an account with Broker 2, buys them.

D, who has an account with Broker 2, shorts them.

If the trade is called because e.g. the stock price goes up, and A and C wish to sell their shares and make a profit, there are 200 shares to return, 100 from B and 100 from D, but only 100 shares physically (or digitally) exist.

How much fun is that?

Social media has upended all our lives, even for those not involved in the fever of posting, pik-ing, and tiktok-ing.

In this case, Reddit drove the crazies, and because of a perfect storm, the dumb money upended the Wall Street operators—citizens watch from the sidelines and cheer.

What are the three ingredients of the perfect storm?

  1. The generalized use of brokerage accounts in the States;
  2. Lockdown, or some other form of pandemic confinement, which results in far higher internet activity;
  3. The US federal government stimulus checks, clearly put to good use.

Now, when you consider that the checks were sent (and signed) by the orang-u-tan himself, and that his favorite indicator for the US economy was the stock market, the whole thing gets far more jolly.

Add to that, one of the little people’s favorite broker has the extraordinary name of Robin Hood. Allegedly, under pressure from the hedge fund operators, at one point last week it suspended the purchase of GameStop shares, in an effort to staunch the bleeding as the hedge funds, squeezed to the testicles by the dumb money, desperately attempted to close their positions and cut their losses.

The net was immediately awash with comments predicated on the Sheriff of Nottingham and Sherwood Forest.

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez came out as Maid Marian defending the ordinary folks, and Ted Cruz—Wibaux central casting’s choice for the evil Sir Guy of Gisborne—have taken up the cause, stunning even Biden with this display of bipartisan unity.

The hedge funds are preparing to do battle, as Fortune Magazine puts it, “Much like in trench warfare, after the first wave gets decimated, the second wave takes up the banner and marches onward.”

What a wonderful popular movement—and in these days of confinement, what else is there to do?

People of the world! All ye dumb investors! Arm thyselves, seize thy swords and maces, go forth and splurge, for the battle is joined—soon the day will be done and the war will be won.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Unhinged

January 9, 2021

When problems pile up, the best approach is to divide and conquer.

Since 2021 started off in juicy fashion, with record virus numbers in many countries and a set of retarded activists (for whom the word retrumplicans was coined) occupying the US capitol, let us count our blessings.

First, the seat of US democracy is unharmed—given the high firepower and low intellect, a real tragedy was in the making.

Second, the election results were approved—Biden is unequivocally the new president of the US.

Third, by January 20th the orang-u-tan will be history—written with a very small H.

Fourth, the Covid-19 vaccine is a success with respect to efficacy and lack of side effects.

All this is heartening stuff.

The attack on the capitol was the predictable outcome of the rantings of a tinpot would-be Adolf. Unlike the strong men of yesteryear, leaders who fronted the crowd and either rose to glory or were mercilessly cut down, Trump goes down as a leader of jesteryear.

Everything trumpian is jesticulation, buffoonery, and carpetbag quackery—a travesty of power to which I would have remained happily indifferent, were it not for the fact that the world has endured four years of this smarmy, unctuous cunt, and all the harm he’s done.

One final viewing of a timeless characterization. This British lady expresses her view during a visit by Trump to one of his golf courses in Scotland.

At his doorstep, and of those who rode his coattails, we can lay the pandering to dictators worldwide, from Putin to Kim Jong Un, the unprecedented attack on European allies and European unity, the universalization of fake news and alternative truths, and the deaths of so many Americans in 2020—triple those in the First World War.

His final fart took place as Europe moved into the ‘Day of Kings’, when Orthodox Christians gather for Christmas Eve.

The ‘House of the People’ was filled with folks who came bearing arms, answering the call from a craven, self-obsessed man whose actions they worship. They made no secret of their identities, which will make their prosecution a fairly rapid affair.

As usual in such groups, just as in any school classroom, there were a few leaders, a number who were easily led, and a coterie of hangers-on.

This interview speaks volumes about the mental state of the invaders, and if taken seriously, the potential for a congressional bloodbath.

I’m not sure if this guy is demented, taking the piss, or was busy laying the groundwork for his legal defense in the coming days. But I do know that feeding fantasies with lies, as the lame-duck president has systematically done, is at the core of this societal fracture.

Many voices this week said ‘this is not America’, and it isn’t. But the capitol invasion added the US to an unfortunate club of nations whose democracy has been violated. Like a rape, the stain of shame doesn’t disappear.

I hope America learns from this—some by forgiving and others by changing. Only simple minds, and those who perfidiously exploit them, see things in black and white.

Society is very complex, just as family is. There are no deep conspiracies, no cabals of child molesters that govern nations, at least democratic ones. And you cannot split America into bad and good—there’s some of both in all of us.

And yes, there’s racism in America, as there is in Europe, in Russia, in China. But no European nation ever elected a black president—America, where blacks represent under fourteen percent of the demography, has elected both a black president and vice-president.

So there is hope. Maybe what happened on that fateful night will lead to a fresh start. When terrible things happen, people come to their senses—the paradigm shifts, things are never the same.

My wish for 2021 is that all this pandemic will morph into more dem and less panic.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

We Know This

January 2, 2021

Christmas was hardly merry and New Year’s Eve was no humdinger.

Much was said about bidding adieu to a crap year, and location cameras regularly interviewed people fed up with 2020—as if what happened for most of it was the year’s fault—folks explained how 2021 will make everything better, they just forgot to say how.

Everybody knows nothing so we all know everything: the vaccines are here, but the delivery systems are so far pathetic, and no one can say how long you’ll be immune—just as no one knows how long a veteran of COVID-19 remains immune.

Societies are still divided on whether masks are useful or not, how to manage households and businesses to reduce or prevent transmission, and what limits to impose on travel.

And because there’s so much we don’t know, together with a moving reference frame—the virus is mutating all the time—2021 doesn’t look so hot from where I’m sitting.

Temporary immunity, whether vaccine-induced or from contracting the disease, is not much comfort either to those who get the shot or those who mingle with them. And governments seem unable to deal with the logistics—as things stand, the UK, whose cabinet waxed lyrical about being the first in the world to deliver the shot, is now well behind in its delivery plan, to the extent that ministers tried to cheat the system by delaying the second shot of the Pfizer vaccine, administering instead a first shot to more people—the pharma company states that there are no data to support the plan, but since when did that stop a populist government?

The six million dollar question is simple:

When can I get back to a normal life?

Put another way, When will the virus go away?

Only populist pols like the (do-close-the-door-on-your-way-out) orang-u-tan, Britain’s Brexit Bojo, or Brazil’s Bolsonaro (what a lot of Bs) can give you a simple answer to such a complex question—and it will be wrong.

I’ll try to help by steering clear of BS.

When will the virus go away? Never. Even if it did, another form would pop up—that’s what viruses do, they mutate fast, fine-tuning what works best.

But it will not be a significant danger after a certain point, and that’s when normality returns. We are the host, the virus is the guest—mostly uninvited, but if you’re doing the Brittany rave, you’re saying “be my guest.”

Some viruses spread through water, through plumbing or rivers, but ‘rona does not. You can swim, just as you can touch or kiss someone who has cancer or AIDS.

The guest needs a host—and it then needs proximity to other susceptible hosts. The ‘certain point’ above will be when there are insufficient hosts to take in the guest. There are three ways that will happen.

The first is separation. You’re in an empty room. You have COVID. No one else will get it. If you die, bye-bye virus. If you get better, bye-bye virus. The second is immunity. There are ten people in the room, but seven are immune. You pass the ‘rona on to two people, one dies, two recover, bye-bye virus. The last is death. Ten die. If there are no hosts, there’s no oxygen to fan the flames. Bye-bye virus.

We’re not sure how long immunity lasts. But if it lasts long enough for the virus load to decrease in the general population, your probability of catching it will be lower that seeing a smiling truck driver at Dover—game over.

Folks help that happen by not attending raves and throwing bottles at the police, by mass vaccination, and unfortunately, by dying.

The more anti-vax fools out there—and they walk among us—the more time it will take before we return to normal (they never will).

One guideline we have is history—it tries to teach us, but we’re fucking awful students.

Haskell County, Kansas. How bleak can you get?

The ‘Spanish’ flu was first detected in Haskell County, SW Kansas, in January 1918, exactly one hundred and three years ago.

By March, cases were observed in barracks in Kansas, and over the next few months the flu spread in the US and was taken overseas by American soldiers fighting in the First World War.

In September-November, the second wave went crazy—now, that’s got to sound familiar!

The Spanish flu killed a younger demographic than COVID-19, but remember that statistics are like a bikini—what they show is suggestive, what they hide is vital—in 1915-1920, Americans had a life expectancy of 50-55 years (men versus women).

In winter and spring 1919, the third wave arrived with a vengeance, and lasted until the summer. President Woodrow Wilson, who like Trump insisted the pandemic was of no concern, collapsed in Paris on April 3rd, 1919—in October he suffered a massive stroke, possibly related to side effects of the virus.

The Spanish flu lasted well into the summer of 1919.

What lessons have we learned? Precious few. We’re all masters of the world now, immortal instagram deities.

When will this end?

My two cents? We’ll be lucky if by next fall we can safely go about our business—by that time, no one will remember what normal means anymore.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Keep Your Comrades Warm

December 26, 2020

To most Westerners, Russia means vodka, snow, communism, and a vast wilderness, not necessarily in that order. The political system has changed, but although the country calls itself a democracy, its actions are clearly totalitarian—from the assassination of political enemies and uncooperative journalists, the message is clear: be with us or beware.

The vast nation has vast wealth, but the frozen wastelands under which natural resources lie make exploration a challenge—in particular, the huge potential for crop production is blocked by a layer of permafrost. Putin recognizes that the climate is warming, and views this as a good thing—a few years ago, he quipped that it meant more bread and less fur coats.

Russia and Canada are two of the nations that will reap major benefits from climate change—both have access to the Arctic Ocean, and a whole new polar navigation route has already opened up due to ice melt.

For Russia, this means a strategic position in the maritime routes between China and Europe—transit times will be reduced by up to forty percent, significantly lowering freight costs. In addition, very few major cities are on the coast, so large population centers are far less vulnerable to sea level rise that those in Western Europe or the United States. Think London, Amsterdam, Rome, Lisbon, Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Dublin, Bordeaux, Barcelona, Marseille…  and New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle…

Other global competitors appear singularly unprepared—while Russia has twenty-four icebreakers, China has four and the US has… two.

Russia is warming up two and a half times faster than the global average, and huge areas in the east are opening up to farming. To exploit this opportunity, a climate migration is taking place, not just Russians going east to try their luck, but Chinese, heading north to grow wheat and other cereals.

Climate migrants will be the new refugees in the mid to late XXth century, as countries with a Goldilocks temperature range warm up. Most of these nations, the US among them, are singularly unprepared. The orang-u-tan nonsense on climate change asphyxiated any effective preparations for four years—to prepare would be to acknowledge, and that would be as shocking as admitting an electoral defeat.

But perhaps the most critical factor is the unwillingness of Western nations in the north to accept migrants, even in situations where the current population is both ageing and dwindling—to seize new opportunities in farming you need people, but the sons and daughters of those countries don’t want to till, they want to tweet.

Not that Putin accepts the human influence on climate change, or is a fan of renewables—he has expressed concerns that vibration from wind turbines causes worms to flee from the soil—in a country where the annual budget is indexed to oil prices, one can understand the deep anxiety about annelids.

But he does understand that food security is critical, and is on record that Russia now exports more agricultural products than arms—I suspect this is not due to a reduction in weapons sales.

One of the areas where the permafrost has given way to a thriving agricultural area is the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, or region, in the Russian far east. This particular Oblast is to the north of the River Amur, and was created by Stalin in 1928—I was unaware of such a place—I thought Israel was the only autonomous Jewish region.

On the other side of the Amur is the Chinese province of Heilongjiang, and the enterprising celestials have been crossing over to the JAO to make hay while the frost melts.

The US presently trades one third of the world’s soy and forty percent of the corn, but climate models suggest that by mid-century yields from Texas to Nebraska may fall by ninety percent—meanwhile the winter wheat crop in southern Siberia doubled when compared to the previous year.

Sooner or later ‘rona will go away.

Climate change won’t.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Fishism

December 5, 2020

As I write, the eleventh hour neareth.

This is the last article I’ll write about Brexit before the year is done—shortly we’ll know whether there’s a deal or not.

A CNN anchor said yesterday that there’s plenty of fish in the sea, prior to a segment suggesting the exact opposite given the French position on access to British waters.

It’s popular at the moment to do live feeds from trawlers, if you excuse the pun, and hear grouchy skippers—brexiteers to a man—explain how the UK will take back its waters in January.

The cherry—or possibly the scampi—on the crab cake was listening to Michael Gove, the only gerbil in the cabinet, explain that Britain wanted the same as ‘our friends in Norway and Iceland.’

During the 1970s, Britain and its Icelandic ‘friends’ engaged in the tenth cod war since medieval times, the third war over the decade—it was prompted by the imposition by Iceland of a two hundred nautical mile EEZ, or Exclusive Economic Zone, effectively closing its waters to the UK.

The context was the approval in the United Nations of UNCLOS, the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea. The two-hundred-mile limit ended the Portuguese cod fishery in the Grand Banks and Greenland and upended many other traditional fisheries—in some cases, owners and operators relied on lack of oversight to continue fishing—it was more profitable to risk vessel impoundment and pay the fine.

Britain’s Norwegian ‘friends’ also had a tiff with the UK after World War II, aprehending vessels fishing in their waters—when the Brits took the matter to the International Court of Justice, the court ruled for Norway.

But there’s a major difference between the position taken by Iceland back in the day and the UK situation now.

In Iceland, the sector is responsible for 25-30% of GDP. In the UK, it’s 0.1%, smaller than pet food, the turnover of Harrods, and the lawnmower business.

We live in a world of euphemism where vaccine hesitancy is a thing, old people are seniors, and enemies are friends—right now the EU and UK are busy with their friendship, trying to resolve a couple of sticking points on a possible Brexit deal.

European citizens don’t care—or even know—about a deal, although governments and some businesses do. The fishing lobbies are fairly vociferous, not just in France but also in Holland and Denmark, so the issue is tricky, particularly with French elections coming up. EU TV channels largely ignore Brexit, but British media are consumed with the issue.

The UK EEZ—a good part of it is below one hundred nautical miles.

The UK is surrounded by continental neighbors, and the EEZ is split in a convoluted manner—the shortest distance between Britain and Norway is two hundred fifty nautical miles, so at this point each nation gets one hundred twenty-five miles.

Countries with few neighbors have much larger zones—in Europe, Portugal has the largest of all, two and half times more than the UK, due in part to the islands of Madeira and the Azores. Of course, France and Britain have larger areas overall, due to overseas possessions—these remnants of empire mean that France has the largest EEZ in the world, besting the United States.

The sea is the tragedy of the commons, a plaice (sorry) where in the end, no one is responsible for the collapse of stocks. The more there is, the more you fish. British industry, which is worth one thousandth of the financial sector, underperforms significantly—sixty percent of the quota has been sold by British skippers to other countries, meaning that more than sixty percent of the landings are due to foreign vessels—contractually.

With the exception of salmon, eighty percent of the British catch, of which sixty percent is not caught by Brits, goes to the EU.

To make matters worse, the EU is the UK’s biggest export market. Out of the big five, only salmon is an outlier. And to make that more interesting, salmon is cultivated, not fished, so it shouldn’t be in the chart at all. Shellfish include crabs and other crustaceans, but also mussels, oysters, and scallops.

To add a touch of regional angst to the mix, salmon is grown in Scotland, and mussels and oysters are grown (not fished) in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. And for a bit more fun, Scottish salmon farms are largely owned by Norwegians.

So our chart collapses to four bars, of which the shellfish are partly cultivated,  but not in England. And out of the eighty percent exported, forty-eight are already caught by non-UK fishermen—no wonder the UK wants to separate the issues of fishing rights and fish export.

The English call it cakeism, a new word derived from the notion the UK can have its cake and eat it—the neologism appeared during the long march of Brexit, and the concept was touted by Boris.

Times are tough, despite the British PM trumpeting in the pre-election frenzy that the EU Brexit deal was oven-ready.

Part of the problem is that cakeism is not fishism. Britain doesn’t much like fish—about twenty percent of folks never eat any. This quote on Quora from a retired Church of England vicar says it all.

I believe that seafood is highly popular in the UK – isn’t fish and chips our national dish? Personally I can’t stand any seafood so I don’t really understand your correlation – it is not as if we all live near the shore and rely on the sea as a larder. I think it more plausible that shore dwelling people eat a lot of fish because it is fresh and convenient; I was brought up in an agricultural area and enjoy meat and veg which is equally fresh and abundant.

I presume the good vicar feels the same way about bananas and mass wine—the concept of international—not to mention national—trade clearly eludes him.

The UK doesn’t want to have its fish and eat it too—which would make a lot of sense from a public health perspective.

The deal is anything but oven-ready, and I don’t augur well for the outcome—but then there’s a lot of money to be made with a hard Brexit.

I’m not sure what the Brits have ready to put in the oven on New Year’s Day, but I’m pretty sure it’s not fish.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.


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