Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category

Sexual Healing

April 20, 2021

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—PTSD—comes in many forms.

Mental punishment for killing others has been with us for millennia, but has only been recognized in recent decades. If death is the ultimate retribution, there must be a price to pay by those who inflict it.

Movies usually make light of death—Netflix or Amazon are rife with glib murder, emotionless killing that we watch between burger bites without batting an eyelid—no nightmares, just another show. Our emotional distance from televised murder is so great that shows that wallow in death are rated safe for over thirteens, with death on a par with ‘foul language’. Telling someone to fuck off is equivalent to ending a life.

Many among us have thought of killing someone, or at the very least wishing someone dead—someone who has caused pain or destroyed a business, a family, or a lifestyle—but hardly anybody takes that to the next step, and if they do, they are usually destroyed by their action—vengeance exacts its own revenge.

In the US, practically every day in the last weeks registered some kind of mass shooting—forty-five in one month. Under cover of the second amendment, which was never written to provide cover to loony loners, assassins utterly devoid of sense regularly blast their way through schools, supermarkets, and shopping malls, and equally regularly get shot, shoot themselves, or end up in jail.

The American response to this carnage is thoughts and prayers, rather than arms control—the developed world watches in amazement, unable to comprehend the madness. China and other totalitarian states see clear evidence of the dangers of libertarian society.

Gun violence in the States splits mainly into white nutcases and black criminals. The guys (and they are always white guys) responsible for school shootings and all the other dreadful mass murders are invariably disgruntled employees, emotionally scarred men, or disturbed folks—the dystopian rants of morons in high places has made things much worse.

The spate of killings in the first months of the Biden presidency provides a handy narrative of Democrat-mediated lawlessness—hardly fair considering where the opposition to gun control comes from.

The criminal component is not of course color-coded—it’s linked (as everywhere) to the poorer segment of society—the disenfranchised are far readier to take up the law of the gun, be they white, Asian, Latino, or black.

It just so happens that in the US, that segment is predominantly black, but you only need to consider Mexico or Russia to understand crime-related gun violence is a technicolor nightmare coat.

The emotional pain of inflicting severe harm is huge—PTSD awaits those who make it out of the rabbit hole. If you don’t end up in prison, where the whole thing is made far worse, the mental scars show up in relationships, employment, family and friendships—anything that characterizes normal life.

Sex disorders are part of PTSD, leading to the appearance of therapies to teach men and women—though I suspect it is more prevalent for guys—to learn how to have sex again, trading anxiety for normality.

In Israel, where military service is compulsory, sex surrogates are a goverment-funded treatment choice. In a country that is permanently at war with a host of neighbors who would like it to disappear into the sea, PTSD is a heavy burden on young people and spills over into society.

Soldiers who have been seriously injured can choose sex therapy that includes er… sex. This had been criticized as government-sponsored prostitution, which technically it is, since women—and men, but much less so—are hired to provide a sexual service in exchange for cash.

The Israeli model has even been rabbi-approved, as long as the sex partners are unmarried. Among its successes? Sexually recuperating severely disabled men, for instance those confined to wheelchairs.

If you’re young, disabled, and horny, hope is out there—it’s not just COVID shots, Israel has also come up with sexual vaccination.

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.

Wind of Change

March 13, 2021

Corona confinement took us all into uncharted territory.

Like the Portuguese sailors of The India Road, we found ourselves in a place we knew nothing about—the trick now for us, just as it was for them, is to get back to where we were.

This is a return to Neverland—the famous Peter Pan dream world of eternal childhood. The things we had when we left have changed, and even if they haven’t, we’ve changed, so it won’t be the same—it’s turned into a string of cliches: the new normal, home is the new office, bla bla, yakety yak.

The wind of change is blowing this year as we learn what non-linear means—it’ll take us by surprise, just as last year did—humans don’t do steep, but nevertheless I’m optimistic.

Confinement changed the way I live, in much the same way as austerity did ten years ago. At that time, I stopped buying newspapers, along with a bunch of other changes: going out to eat became a special event—I watched restaurants close by the bucketload—and I altered my work habits to save gas.

This time around, music became far more important than ever before in my life, and I got into other weird stuff like podcasts. The Bugle has become one of my favorites—it’s not always good, but when it is, it’s great! And lots of internet radio.

Soon I will be traveling again—I was due to go to Mexico this week, which would have provided some nice material for these pages—but now is not quite the right time.

And yet, I can feel the wind of change in the air—there’s so much pent-up energy just waiting to be released, so many places to go—but it will be weird. Two years ago, if you wore a mask in a bank the cops would think you were a bank robber, now you’re just another customer.

One of these podcasts develops an unusual theory—or at least it would have been bizarre before QAnon(sense), which is now peddling crap such as ‘Doctors and Nurses Giving the coronavirus vaccine Will Be Tried as War Criminals‘.

The concept is not new—intelligence agencies using insidious methods to influence folks in another country—in this case by means of music. As a wide-eyed child, well before the iron curtain was drawn, I listened in the dead of night to the Voice of America, to Radio Free Europe, but also to the English service of what was then the DDR—which apparently now stands for ‘Dance Dance Revolution’, not quite what the Stasi had in mind—and to the most Marxist-Leninist station of all, Radio Tirana.

Cold War radio was a big deal—yesteryear’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all wrapped into one—and I always thought Tirana was a perfect name for the capital city of Enver Hoxha’s communist dictatorship.

The musical plot—I have a hard time believing it, but it has all the trappings of an urban legend—is a simple, credible story: the year is 1990, the Berlin Wall is falling, and the Soviet Union is crumbling with it, as Mikhail Gorbachev promotes his dual policies of Glasnost and Perestroika.

To help the liberation effort, what could be juicier than a little rock ‘n roll?

Enter The Scorpions, a German metal band little-known in Anglo-Saxon circles but very popular in Europe and South America. The lead singer is Klaus Meine, a native of Hannover, already in his early forties when the wall came down.

The band—known for its heavy rock and power ballads—deals with the usual subjects popular with the head-banging fraternity, to wit (if you excuse the pun) bikes, girls, muscle cars, and guns.

But wait! Suddenly a totally out-of-character political song—and a good one—emerges from the pen of Herr Meine. Klaus has often written lyrics for the Scorpions, rarely the music.

Voila the conspiracy theory: Wind of Change, which the band released in 1990, was written by that famous tunesmith, the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States.

The signature whistling at the start of the song is timeless, the power ballad feel is great, and the way the drums come in on the chorus with a triple gunshot is perfect. The lyrics set the scene:

Follow the Moskva
Down to Gorky Park
Listening to the Wind of Change

August summer night
Soldiers passing by
Listening to the Wind of Change

The video is suggestive, with plenty of Soviet imagery and Gorby meeting the Polish pope, champion of the Solidarity movement in his native country, though the lyrics get a little cheesy as the song develops—I learned to play it today, so I studied them at length.

Klaus Meine denies any CIA involvement in the genesis of the song, although he underscores the power of rock ‘n roll—it packs more punch than the Bolshoi.

But there seems to be a twinkle in his eye when he ends the interview…

…it adds another chapter now with the CIA. At the end of the day, the song became bigger than life. It’s one of those songs [that] make their own way, and there’s nothing I can do.

One thing’s for sure, we’re in the wind of change and we must embrace it. Churchill understood change, and his words help us set the course.

‘We must take change by the hand, or rest assuredly, change will take us by the throat.’

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

Houndin’ Around

March 6, 2021

I’ve spent the past two weeks in profound observation. The subject of my research is a pair of hounds. The object of my investigation is an age-old question, ‘How do animals find their way home?’ When we’re dealing with canines, home is a human dwelling—with felines, it’s not exactly the same thing.

There’s a tale of a cat that would regularly disappear—as they do—to the great distress of the little girl who owned it. The mother decided to tie a note to the collar. ‘Please do not feed the cat, it belongs to my daughter.’ Shortly after, the cat vanished for a few days. When it returned, a different message was on the collar. ‘We’re terribly sorry, we thought she was our cat.’ Cats have a very different take on domestic relationships—as a friend of mine says, “Dogs have owners, cats have staff.”

For practically all animals, home is nothing to do with humans—although any human home harbors a number of unwelcome guests: insects, spiders, and the odd rodent. What most animals have in common is the ability to navigate—we call it a homing instinct, because any behavior we can’t explain is put down to ‘instinct’.

And homing is key to survival—migratory birds have taken it to the limit, and homing pigeons were the historical equivalent of the world wide web. There are wonderful experiments where birds have been observed in the planetarium, virtually navigating by the stars. In The India Road, a pigeon uses the heavens and the earth to orientate.

Just then, a bird fluttered at the gothic arch. The warm summer breeze was wafting through the Santarém palace, the banks of the Tagus cooling the fierce heat. The carrier pigeon had flown over the plains of Salamanca, keeping a sharp eye for the peregrine falcons and golden eagles that circled overhead. The atmosphere, like the ocean, is sparse. The great predators keep a sharp lookout for the lonely traveler, for the flocks of birds or the schools of fish. In the ocean, they strike from the deep. In the air, they swoop from the sky. The racing dove had turned at the frontier, flown south across the Beiras, over the old Jewish synagogue at Belmonte, and then rotated west once more, following the course of the Tejo. He flew the thermals, saving his energy on the air currents caused by the interplay between the suffocating plains and the cooler Tagus waters. Now far below him was the castle at Almourol, once home to Vandals, Visigoths, and Berbers. Like a bull’s-eye in the middle of the majestic river, it had been extended by the Knights Templar and was now in the hands of the Order of Christ. As the weary bird turned and coasted toward the palace, the king heard the fluttering wings, and his heart lifted in hope.

When it comes to hounds, there is much folklore about how they find their way home. Books and TV shows like Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin delighted a generation of children. My canine experiments were observational—I wanted to confirm whether dogs orient themselves using the earth’s magnetic field. My particular interest came from a study published a few years ago in the scientific journal Frontiers of Zoology. Arguably, the paper belongs instead in the Annals of Improbable Research.

The authors studied seventy hounds of thirty-seven different breeds. Their thesis was both simple and fascinating: Do dogs poo in alignment with the earth’s magnetic axis? Echoes of The India Road came to my mind—the XVth century Portuguese navigators going to the ends of the earth with compass and astrolabe. Could hounds have helped direct their course? If only we knew… The authors of the study spared no effort in their investigation—much like the dogs themselves, they bent to their task with great gusto. Altogether, results are presented for 1,893 defecations and 5,582 urinations.

Figure 2 from the Frontiers paper: ‘Alignment during defecation in dogs (females and males) in different day periods. ‘

It’s official: ‘under calm magnetic conditions’, dog doo-doo aligns to the north-south axis. It is a standard requirement for publication of any scientific paper that the methods be explained in sufficient detail to allow any other researcher to reproduce the results. I am pleased to report that for a further two experimental subjects, one has observed magnetic pooping around 75% of the time over a period of two weeks—a total of around fifty productions. As in any scientific analysis, details should be supplied—in my case, the focus was on ‘Number 2’, a high impact and readily detectable activity—no sneak pees.

In addition, since the experiment was performed on two females, all research was gender-friendly. Lastly, I add the usual disclaimer for any work of this nature: no animals were harmed during the experiments—all defecation was voluntary, and dare I say enthusiastic. In these days of crowdfunding, I urge you, kind readers, to spare no effort in contributing to this fascinating, yet pungent, line of research. Next time you’re in the park, faithfully record if your hound is proudly aligned with the north-south axis as it crouches for its curly contribution.

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.

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.

The Hippo Line

January 24, 2021

Scandinavian nations are quite distinct from the rest of Europe—and when it comes to the subject of sex, their taboos are very different from what you’d see in the US or Britain. In 2020, the Danish national broadcaster came up with a novel idea—a cartoon show targeting kids between the ages of four and eight predicated on a simple, if improbable, concept: a middle-aged man with a gigantic shlong.

How long a shlong? The pundits are uncertain. Wikipedia refers dozens of meters, whereas a US sports site rates it at about twenty feet—a paltry six meters.

However long John’s dong is, it can certainly stop the traffic!

The hero is John Dillermand, literally ‘John Willyman’, who invariably appears dressed in a retro striped swimsuit—the penile protruberance is a (substantial) extension of his red and white bathing costume.

In the Belgian Spirou cartoon books—a fabulous read for any child, and certainly one of my favorites—the Marsupilami has a similar appendage, although in his case it is a prehensile tail, rather than a prehensile penis.

Willy man’s dong is a lot more versatile because human activities are so varied—you can variously see him trying to light barbecues (and burning his glans, which you really don’t want to encourage kids to try at home), hanging from his whanger while suspended in mid-air by helium balloons, flogging a lion, walking dogs, and using said shlong as a helicopter propeller—shaft and blades, if you excuse the pun.

After hearing about all this performance and reading about the controversy the cartoon generated, I had to see the show for myself. YouTube has only snippets, mostly with voice-overs by amused, bemused, or outraged commentators—during the lion-whipping scene one guy says that “his diller is taming the pussy.”

As always, in an effort to provide my readers with the fullest possible experience, I squirreled out the link from the Danish broadcaster; I can only hook you directly to the first episode, but this cartoon link gets you on the peewee page, and after you accept cookies—in this case Danish pastries, which may explain why the West has such an obesity problem—the cartoons of your choice may be viewed.

This is probably not the best idea the Danes have ever had—it ranks up there with the Muhammad cartoon episode—a rather different kind of cartoon.

Of course, bad choices are not a Danish exclusive—in the 1980s, no doubt after an enthusiastic encounter with a few lines of coke, Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar decided to install a zoo on his property, the infamous Hacienda Nápoles.

Among the various animals Escobar selected were four hippos. An apocryphal—but eminently credible—tale is that dried hippo poop was excellent at concealing the smell of cocaine. After the drug lord was killed in 1993, there was a protracted legal wrangle between his family and the government as to the ownership of the hacienda.

In 2006, the government finally won, and management of the property was given to the municipality of Puerto Triunfo. No one could afford the upkeep, and most of the animals in the zoo were given away.

The hippo is the most dangerous creature in the bush—it kills more humans in Africa than any other animal—perhaps for that reason, allied to the difficulty in dealing with a three-tonne creature, the cocaine hippos were given a pass and either made their escape, or most probably, were released into the wild.

Narcohippos basking on the Rio Magdalena.

Unfortunately, Escobar sourced his hippos much as he did his women—three females to one male. The male was called Pepe, and I suspect he was good friends with John Dillermand—at present, the hippo population numbers around one hundred, of which a couple of dozen still reside on the grounds of the hacienda.

The animals adapted perfectly to the lakes and waterways around the Rio Magdalena and have become a tourist attraction. They also ram canoes, scare the shit out of local fishermen and are displacing local species in the area.

Since the Magdalena River is the largest in Colombia—almost one thousand miles long—there is serious concern that the hippos will spread throughout the nation. A sterilization program was put in place to stop aquatic pachyderm proliferation.

Sterilizing a hippo is not a job for the faint-hearted—apart from the challenge of trapping and sedating a six-and-a-half-thousand-pound animal, it takes three hours just to cut through the hippo’s skin, blubber, and muscle before you get to the spot.

The vets recognize this will not be an easy job—the hippo population is expected to quadruple in the next decade and, before Malthus gets his way, there may well be thousands of cocahippos on the loose.

As a yardstick, Colombia managed to sterilize one (!) female in 2019. Over the period between 2011 and 2019, while the cocaine hippos rutted enthusiastically, the nation achieved a record sterilization of four males and two females—two-thirds of a hippo per year.

And you thought vaccination was tough…

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

Strange Days

January 16, 2021

After I came up with the ‘Strange Days’ title, I began writing some paragraphs on COVID and the situation in the US, but found it all so depressing that I scrapped the lot.

Even the ludicrous factoid that a Peruvian court recently charged Bill Gates and George Soros with creating the Coronavirus failed to amuse me, and I realized I’ve been writing about little else for the past months—it’s bumming everyone out, including me, so I’m going to stop doing it.

Having said that, a few things about this mad circus still make me smile.

So, I got out my cordless razor, shaved my head, and settled down to write about music.

Strange Days, huh? The Doors released the album in 1967—on the 25th of September, missing the Summer of Love by five days. On the cover were a circus strong man, a midget, and a juggler.

It must have been an extraordinary time to live through. Where I lived, press censorship was at its zenith, six years after the start of the war in the Portuguese colonies in Africa and one year before the dictator Salazar fell off his beach chair—he never recovered from his injuries.

The Beatles released Sergeant Pepper, the Jefferson Airplane released Surrealistic Pillow, the Grateful Dead released their eponymous album, and the Stones released two original LPs—Between the Buttons and the more sinister Their Satanic Majesties Request. Clapton’s Cream released Disraeli Gears, and Hendrix released his amazing debut album, Are You Experienced.

If no other music had ever been made, this would be enough to keep me happy for a lifetime—I don’t know why 1967 was such a prolific year—psychedelic drugs most certainly helped, marijuana was more popular than lockdowns, but at the core it was just an incredible collection of talent, bands competing to come up with the best music.

Not only that, but these songs were often recorded on four tracks—bear in mind that any decent home studio these days has one hundred and twenty-eight tracks to play with—and the music is nowhere near as good.

The standard recording technique used back in 1967 is called bouncing, where tracks 1 and 2, or even 1, 2, and 3, are bounced, or recorded, to track 4. You might have drums on 1, bass on 2, and lead guitar on 3, so 4 would now have all those pre-mixed. That way, you free up more tracks on the recorder, but you’re unable to do an individual track mixdown at production stage, so you’re stuck with the volumes and effects you bounced—for instance, if you wanted a bit more delay or echo only on the lead in a particular segment of the song, you couldn’t do that after the bounce.

This excellent YouTube video (if you scroll to my previous post you’ll see the interview with the yellowstone capitol cretin has been removed—I left the link pour encourager les autres) shows how the multi-track was used in Sgt. Pepper. If you run out of patience, the blue track starts around 2:30 minutes in, and the red track (McCartney’s lead vocals) at around the 5 mark.

In 1967, Simon & Garfunkel released a live album recorded in New York, and Dylan released his Greatest Hits Vol. II. It was the first Dylan album I ever owned, though I only bought it some years later.

The cover shows Bob Dylan’s back, clad in a denim jacket—lord knows what happened to mine—sporting his trademark coat hanger harmonica. Uncle Bob’s hair is permed, and he’s clearly in the juices of youth—he turns eighty on May 24th. From the first bars of Watching The River Flow, I was hooked on the blues.

I found all sorts of fun things as I wrote this. One was the quote below from John Lennon about the Sgt. Pepper album.

Sgt Pepper is Paul, after a trip to America and the whole West Coast, long-named group thing was coming in. You know, when people were no longer The Beatles or The Crickets – they were suddenly Fred and His Incredible Shrinking Grateful Airplanes, right? So I think he got influenced by that and came up with this idea for The Beatles. As I read the other day, he said in one of his ‘fanzine’ interviews that he was trying to put some distance between The Beatles and the public – and so there was this identity of Sgt Pepper. Intellectually, that’s the same thing he did by writing ‘He loves you’ instead of ‘I love you.’ That’s just his way of working. Sgt Pepper is called the first concept album, but it doesn’t go anywhere. All my contributions to the album have absolutely nothing to do with the idea of Sgt Pepper and his band; but it works ’cause we said it worked, and that’s how the album appeared. But it was not as put together as it sounds, except for Sgt Pepper introducing Billy Shears and the so-called reprise. Every other song could have been on any other album.

Another gem was a concert Chuck Berry did in Belgium, of all places. Not in 1967, but two years earlier—if you think his band looks square, watch the audience—they look as if they belong in a Salon de Thé off the Grande Place.

Chuck Berry is a mandatory presence in this article because he influenced all the wonderful artists I’ve mentioned. He once caught Keith Richards in the dressing room picking up his guitar, and promptly punched him in the face—Richards called it one of his greatest hits.

All this procrastination because by now you’re asking, “Out of all this wonderful music, what’s your favorite tune?”

I just can’t go there, sorry. But this is one of the greats, and it is not so widely known.

The lyrics are as LSD as they get, the lead guitar is a classic Hendrix mix of major and minor scales, and this performance is at Regis College in Denver, Colorado—a quick look on the web reveals it to be part of Regis University, a Jesuit school.

Hmm… The Wind Cries Mary must have gone down a storm with the disciples of Ignatius de Loyola. Still, I guess Hendrix was the black pope of electric guitar.

I was going to sign off with an hasta la vista, but instead, quoting a comedian I heard earlier today, I leave you with a slight paraphrase.

Astra la Zeneca.

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.


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