Sunday, January 17, 2021

And At The Department of Ooops.....Missed A Decimal or Three

 From Financial Crime and Corruption Education:

In response to the original allegation:

"That amount of money and that number of transfers did not leave the Vatican City," a senior Vatican official with knowledge of the city-state's finances said on Wednesday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Vatican would be seeking details from Australian authorities on the specific origin and destination of the money.

"It's not our money because we don't have that kind of money," he said....

Which of course reminded me of: "‘Cashed-up’ Mother Teresa kept Vatican Bank afloat – journalist "

Serious Money Going Into European Logistics Startups

From the LoadStar:

New funds give Sennder and Shippeo scope to progress digital supply chains

European freight tech start-ups saw nearly €200m in new investment this week in two deals that sent company valuations soaring at Sennder and Shippeo.

Berlin-headquartered digital road freight forwarder sennder raised €160m ($194m) in a series D financing from investors including Accel, Lakestar, HV Capital, Project A and Scania, pushing its valuation to over €1bn.

The company said it would invest $100m into expanding the 200-strong technology team to “accelerate research and development into the automation, digitalisation, optimisation and decarbonisation of road freight”.

It added that funds would also go into expansion into new European markets, saying “sennder will focus on replicating the success it has had with Poste Italiane”, where joint venture helped the business save 6% of its €100m annual spending. “sennder is also enjoying successful working partnerships with Scania and Siemens,” it added.

These investments follow last June’s merger with French peer Everoad and September’s acquisition of Uber Freight’s European business.

David Nothacker, Sennder CEO and co-founder, added: “The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of a digitalised logistics industry. Throughout 2020, we helped our carriers increase their profitability by enhancing operating margins by up to 80% during a challenging time.”

Meanwhile, French supply chain visibility provider Shippeo yesterday announced it had raised $32m in new investment led by Battery Ventures....

....MORE

And in Other News: "Russia Building Coastal Base for ‘Doomsday Nuke’"

From the Moscow Times, January 14:

Russia is building a coastal base for its unmanned underwater “doomsday nuke” to extend its lifespan, the Izvestia newspaper reported Thursday, citing specifications it said it had obtained.

The Defense Ministry had indicated in 2020 that testing of the torpedo-shaped Poseidon drone was nearing completion but its launch was postponed to 2021. Russia was due to test-launch the Poseidon in the Arctic aboard one of two special-purpose submarines carrying it in the fall. 

Russia plans to complete a storage and maintenance base with warehouses and workshops where the Poseidon will assume combat duty and conduct launches by June 2022, Izvestia reported.

While the base’s location has not been disclosed, it is known that at least 30 Poseidons are expected to be deployed in the Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet and two others in the Pacific Fleet. According to Izvestia, crews of the Belgorod submarine have already begun “practical training” of the new weapon....

....MORE

HT: The Barents Observer

Previously: 

Remember the Russian "Doomsday" Autonomous Torpedo? "Military Research Ship Returns After Months on Secret Arctic Mission"

Russia Prepares To Test Nuclear Powered Doomsday Drone Torpedo 

Possibly related: 

"A Deep-Diving Sub. A Deadly Fire. And Russia's Secret Undersea Agenda"

One of the curious aspects of this event was the comment at the funeral for the dead officers—mainly Captains with at least two Heroes of the Russian Federation, very high ranking and curious in itself—the comment:

....Russian servicemen ‘averted planetary catastrophe’ during nuclear submarine accident, military official claims at funeral....
We now know the officer who made this extraordinary statement was himself a Captain so probably authorized to speak, whether injudicious or deceptive I do not know.....

****

.....Tragic, and potentially disastrous for the immediate area if the reactor casing had opened but not something you'd call "a planetary catastrophe".

Among other reports we've seen (not verified so grain of salt) is that seven of the dead were captains, meaning whatever they were up to was pretty important. The fact the Russians are repairing and returning the boat to its mission would also point in that direction.

So what was the submarine or its submersible—capable of 20,000 foot dives—carrying?

The best guess I've seen is a high-yield, 100 - 200 megaton, cobalt thermonuclear bomb.

A bomb that size, two to four times more powerful than the biggest ever exploded, the Soviet Tsar Bomba (limited to 50 MT to allow the delivery plane a chance to escape) a bomb that size is awful enough but if it is encased in cobalt it becomes the most lethal munition ever built.

Here's MIT physicist Max
Dr. Strangelove Is Back: Say ‘Hi’ to the Cobalt Bomb!

"Now Most Dreaded Weapon, Cobalt Bomb, Can Be Built

It is this type of hydrogen bomb of which Albert Einstein said: "If successful, radioactive poisoning of the atmosphere, and hence annihilation of any life on earth will have been brought with in the range of technical possibilities."
Volume 72, 2016 - Issue 4: Security at sea, and under it:
Would Russia’s undersea “doomsday drone” carry a cobalt bomb?

People smarter than I are speculating this might be what's going on up in the Arctic.

Meanwhile in China: Baby Lotion Causes 5-Month-Old To Balloon To 24 Pounds

 From the SCMP's Inkstone property, January 15:

Investigation into Chinese infant skin cream after it caused extreme weight gain 

Baby lotion with large quantities of hormones added has been blamed for the disfigurement of a five-month-old girl who ballooned to more than 24 pounds.

A company stands accused of illegally adding hormones to baby lotion that caused a five-month-old girl to grow so big, so quickly, that she faced serious health concerns.

After using the anti-bacterial lotion named Yifuling on their daughter to treat her eczema, the girl’s parents were alarmed to see their daughter rapidly balloon to 24 pounds.

With cheeks so heavy they hung past her jawline, the baby girl’s forehead protruded abnormally and became covered in hair. They said she had also suffered developmental delays and stunted growth....

A Potential Climate Related Short In The Truffle Market

It's 30 to 50 years out if it happens at all but it's never too early to plot your strategy, engineer your synthetic shorts, create an exchange/platform and lie in wait for those less far-sighted.

From the American Geophysical Union's EOS Magazine:

A Culinary Silver Lining of Climate Change: More Truffles
The cultivation potential of a popular truffle species will increase in central Europe by 2050, global climate models predict.

A truffle might not be much to look at, but chefs worldwide revere these subterranean-dwelling fungi for their intense, earthy flavors. Now, scientists have looked to the future of truffle cultivation in Europe by modeling three different climate-warming scenarios. They found that climate change will substantially increase the cultivation potential of one species of truffle commonly used in cooking. Given that truffle farming can be lucrative, it appears that climate change has a culinary silver lining, at least for the niche world of truffles, the researchers concluded. 

An Expensive Fungus

Tomáš Čejka, a climate change scientist at the Global Change Research Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Brno, and his colleagues focused on two species of truffles: Tuber aestivum (Burgundy truffle) and Tuber melanosporum (Périgord truffle). These truffles are among the most commonly used in kitchens and cost hundreds of dollars per kilogram. (They’re not quite as renowned as Tuber magnatum, however, a species of white truffle that commands ever higher prices.)....

....MUCH MORE

Russia's Rosneft seeks to tempt trading houses into Arctic oil project with supply deals

 From Reuters, January 14:

Russian state oil major Rosneft is courting investments from global trading houses to help develop one of the world’s biggest oil deposits, after talks with other possible partners stalled following a collapse in oil prices, four sources told Reuters.

Rosneft is in discussions with Vitol, Glencore and Gunvor, among others, over investments in its Vostok Oil project in the Arctic, having already secured a deal with Swiss-based Trafigura, which took a 10% stake at the end of last year.

Trading houses generally avoid investing directly in production, but the Rosneft deal may be attractive as it could give them access to a long-term major source of supply for the growing Asian market....

....MUCH MORE

 

It's Ben Franklin's Birthday, Partaay!

I was going to post something on Franklin and small business, how a society leavened by micro-entrepreneurs, the Jeffersonian Yeoman Farmer, the freeholder, Franklin's tradesmen, in business for themselves, is probably more dynamic and less subject to political madness but....nah.

In the spirit of the age: Partaay!!!

January 17, 1706-April 17, 1790
 
If you would not be forgotten,
When you are dead and rotten,
Either write things worth the reading,
Or do things worth the writing.

~ Benjamin Franklin (Poor Richard's Almanack, May, 1738)
 
First up, from The Franklin Institute, the date thing:
...Franklin was born in Boston on January 6, 1706. But in 1752, Great Britain switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar and skipped 11 days. So Franklin’s birthday became January 17. In 1773 he wrote to his wife, Deborah Franklin, “I feel still some Regard for this Sixth of January, as my old nominal Birth-day.”... 
Here's a Threefer from Mental Floss:

10 of Ben Franklin’s Lesser-Known Feats of Awesomeness

...6. Ben invented so much cool stuff.

Of course, you probably know that he is responsible for the lightning rod, bifocal glasses and the Franklin stove. But in 1761, Franklin also invented the glass harmonica (or "armonica," as Ben called it). It became quite popular during Franklin’s time and armonica-specific pieces were composed by the likes of Mozart, Beethoven, and Handel.
More of Franklin’s inventions include:
• The library stepstool, a chair whose seat could be lifted and folded down to make a short ladder.
• A mechanical arm for reaching books on high shelves. (Book retrieval – clearly a focus of Franklinian innovation)
• The rocking chair – a chair that rocks.
• The writing chair - a chair with an arm on one side to provide a writing surface. (Activities one can do while seated – also a focus.)
• The odometer - used in Franklin’s time to measure distance along colonial roads used by the postal service.
• A pulley system that enabled him to lock and unlock his bedroom door from his bed.
• The flexible urinary catheter....
...nine MORE

And from "11 Amazing Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Benjamin Franklin":

...10. He Could Really Talk About Drinking

On January 6, 1737, Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette published 200+ synonyms for the word “drunk” in what was entitled “The Drinkers Dictionary.” The handy list came accompanied by a note from Franklin himself: “The Phrases in this Dictionary are not (like most of our Terms of Art) borrow'd from Foreign Languages, neither are they collected from the Writings of the Learned in our own, but gather'd wholly from the modern Tavern-Conversation of Tiplers. I do not doubt but that there are many more in use; and I was even tempted to add a new one my self under the Letter B, to wit, Brutify'd…” 

And finally, Ben Franklin's 200+ Synonyms for "Drunk":
First, a note from Mr. Franklin: "The Phrases in this Dictionary are not (like most of our Terms of Art) borrow'd from Foreign Languages, neither are they collected from the Writings of the Learned in our own, but gather'd wholly from the modern Tavern-Conversation of Tiplers. I do not doubt but that there are many more in use; and I was even tempted to add a new one my self under the Letter B, to wit, Brutify'd: But upon Consideration, I fear'd being guilty of Injustice to the Brute Creation, if I represented Drunkenness as a beastly Vice, since, 'tis well-known, that the Brutes are in general a very sober sort of People."
A
He is Addled,
He's casting up his Accounts,
He's Afflicted,
He's in his Airs.
B
He's Biggy,
Bewitch'd,
Block and Block,
Boozy,
Bowz'd,
Been at Barbadoes,
Piss'd in the Brook,
Drunk as a Wheel-Barrow,
Burdock'd,
Buskey,
Buzzey,
and 185 more

Saturday, January 16, 2021

The U.S. Army Is Thinking About People Who Disrupt Surveillance Capitalism

From the Army's Mad Scientist Laboratory blog:
238. The Information Disruption Industry and the Operational Environment of the Future
[Editor’s Note: Today’s post by guest blogger and freshly proclaimed Mad Scientist Vincent H. O’Neil was the runner-up in our recent Mad Scientist Operational Environment in 2035 Writing Contest. Mr. O’Neil also presented on this topic yesterday in the first of our series of on-line Weaponized Information events (click here to watch it). Now you can read his complementary post, predicting the emergence of the Information Disruption Industry (IDI), how the democratization and commercialization of this capability will lead to the continuous and widespread disruption of the Information Environment, and what measures we can take to prepare for and help mitigate its effects on future Warfighters in the Operational Environment — Read on!]

Summary
Use of everyday technology to collect personal data is increasing, and has already raised concerns about violations of privacy. Those collection efforts will continue to grow, because the data has a substantial value and can be sold. As these efforts become more intrusive, popular resentment will also grow. A tipping point is likely to be reached where the resentment changes to action. At that time, existing privacy protection services will expand enormously—and create a new industry dedicated to disrupting the collection, storage, and sale of personal data. It will be profitable and popular because its clients will believe this industry is defending their individual privacy. For the rest of this paper, this new industry will be referred to as the Information Disruption Industry or the IDI.

The IDI will attack the collection, storage, and dissemination of personal data at every level and every step in those processes. Its techniques will range from sophisticated efforts to alter collected information to cruder methods designed to crash entire systems. The increasingly interconnected nature of the technological world will render many systems—even those completely unrelated to personal data collection—vulnerable to second-order effects from these attacks.
This likely scenario has the potential to seriously damage the information landscape in 2035, if not sooner. Operating in this future environment calls for a broad approach designed to combat the wide-ranging impact of this disruption industry once it has gained social acceptance and popular funding.

The Current Situation

Use of everyday technology to collect personal data is increasing, and has already raised privacy concerns. The collection of this data is a lucrative business, as the information can be sold and resold.
Most people are already aware of this collection, through personal experience and the news:
  • Mentioning a specific product in an electronic communication often leads to the appearance of online advertising reflecting that product
  • Cases such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal demonstrate that large-scale collection of personal data is being conducted without public consent
  • Frequent news stories concerning data breaches at large corporations feed the belief that, despite claims to the contrary, no collected information is safe
Resentment against this data aggregation increases when the targets of the collection realize they’re paying for it. Devices inside their phones and cars are being used to track and report their behavior, habits, and movements. Additionally, those devices can be accessed as part of legal proceedings, frequently to the detriment of the individuals paying for them.

The Tipping Point
As the technology improves, these collection efforts are likely to become even more intrusive—which will increase popular resentment. This is likely to reach a tipping point where that dissatisfaction turns into action.

Public opinion could be shifted from grudging acceptance to outright resistance by just a few news stories highlighting harmful privacy violations:
  • Domestic violence victims hiding from their tormentors who were located and murdered through technological tracking
  • Court cases where personal data collection provided circumstantial—but misleading—evidence that convicted innocent people
  • Social media analysis by employers and/or universities that rejected qualified candidates
It won’t take many of these stories to make the general populace view personal data collection efforts as an actual threat to their livelihoods, liberty, and even their lives.

Expansion of the Disruption Industry
Once people see data collection and technological tracking as a threat, they will pay to protect themselves. That funding will generate the IDI.

The talent pool to staff this industry already exists. Tech-savvy individuals have been disrupting systems for many decades, for fun and profit, and they will be joined by technology professionals once society indicates its approval. Some of these professionals will come from the collection industry itself. People who were employed as personal data gatherers will leave those jobs to become subject matter experts in disrupter organizations. The pay is likely to be better, and their new jobs will be much more socially acceptable than their old ones. Their expertise will identify the vulnerabilities of systems and organizations that gather and sell personal information....
....MUCH MORE

The Unbelievable Failure Of The CIA And The Intelligence Community Regarding China

This is part II of a three part essay from Foreign Policy. We linked to part I in January 2's: Data and Money and Death: "China Used Stolen Data to Expose CIA Operatives in Africa and Europe".

From Foreign Policy, December 22:

Pt. II: "Beijing Ransacked Data as U.S. Sources Went Dark in China"

As Xi consolidated power, U.S. officials struggled to read China’s new ruler.

In early 2013, as Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping prepared to assume the Chinese presidency, very few people in the West had any idea what kind of leader he was. In January of that year, the New York Times’ Nick Kristof, an experienced China correspondent, wrote that Xi “will spearhead a resurgence of economic reform, and probably some political easing as well.”

It was a radically mistaken assessment. But even inside the U.S. government, knowledge of China—and its intensions—was at a low point. During the 2000s, U.S. intelligence had operated with relative confidence against Beijing. But during China’s biggest political transition in decades, American officials were looking through an increasingly opaque glass.

The twin disasters of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) hack, which had helped the Chinese to identify undercover U.S. intelligence officials, and the obliteration of the CIA’s network of Chinese assets significantly “affected the quality of insight” into what the United States understood about events in that country, according to a former U.S. national security official. There was a noticeable decrease in high-quality intelligence reporting percolating up to senior policymakers, this source recalled. “Things weren’t the same.”

And as U.S. officials struggled to try and grasp what was happening on the other side of the Pacific, China was doubling down on a hacking spree that would see unprecedented amounts of data stolen and fed into an increasingly sophisticated intelligence apparatus.

At the time, White House officials trying to craft new China policies debated Xi’s character and intentions, a senior Obama-era official said. Administration officials were split in their views on Xi. There was a “set of analysis” that led some to argue that Xi was a possible reformer: a product of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), yes, but a leader capable of ameliorating some of the excesses of the Chinese system, this former official recalled. Others, however, argued that Xi was a “neo-Maoist”: that is, a dangerous hard-liner. The difference in views was “very stark,” this person recalled.

Other officials who served under U.S. President Barack Obama recall more consensus regarding the new Chinese president. “There was never any romanticism about Xi,” said the former national security official. But ultimately, this source said, “no one was able to foresee the kind of leader he was to become.” And, as the Xi-led purges soon revealed, “the Communist Party leadership didn’t see it either,” this official recalled.

Inside the CIA, senior officials were also divided about Xi’s rise, if perhaps more skeptical than at the White House, a former senior CIA official recalled. “There was some wishful thinking that Xi would come in and promote some kind of continued reform,” this source said. “But the vast majority [within the agency] thought the party was moving toward the strongman model, [the idea] that China should stand up and become more aggressive in its viewpoint. Within elite party corners that was a big debate at the time.” But “what CIA was hearing from sources pointed to a re-centralization for the party to maintain power,” this person recalled.

“There was concern in Washington about what Xi was going to pursue, both in terms of domestic liberties, but also his approach to America,” said Gail Helt, a former CIA China analyst. “The Chinese Communist Party is corrupt, to put it mildly, but there were initial indicators that he was going to clean up that corruption, there was a little glimmer of hope. Then it was clear that he was going to purge and create a personality cult.”

Some of the gaps in intelligence were because U.S. officials had grown more cautious. There was “reluctance or concern or anxiety about putting our officers in the field given that our protective shield had been punctured [by the OPM breach],” recalled the former national security official. “We didn’t fully know what they knew about us.” Subsequently, “dozens of postings” for CIA officers scheduled for assignments in China were canceled, according to The Perfect Weapon, a 2018 book by David Sanger. “CIA, for many years, was not willing to do forward facing ops in China,” because its confidence was so shaken by the asset roll-up and other breaches, said a former senior intelligence analyst.

China was also hardening its digital defenses against U.S. spying during 2012-2014, the former analyst said. It was “a gradual change over a year or two, as Chinese leaders started incorporating insights into increasing their control over their own internet space.” Intelligence collection by U.S. cyberspies suffered as a result. China’s tightening domestic-focused digital surveillance dragnet—like its increasing use of biometrics and closed-circuit TV—also made U.S. intelligence gathering there more difficult, former officials say.

Prior leaks had accentuated the difficulty of even routine communications by U.S. officials with their Chinese counterparts. The release of a massive tranche of U.S. diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011 left some Chinese officials, whose relatively frank discussions with their American counterparts were documented in the cables, dangerously exposed at home. (Two Chinese government or state media sources named in the cables, for instance, had their careers stymied after the leak.) In the past, this type of relatively open diplomatic intercourse had played an important role in helping U.S. officials form a picture of China. “Chinese officials became much more reluctant to talk after [the WikiLeaks cables], because they didn’t believe we could keep it a secret,” recalled a current State Department official with extensive experience in China.

And while the United States maintained significant eavesdropping and cyberspying capabilities against China, Chinese officials were becoming much more reluctant to talk on many channels. This wasn’t just out of the knowledge, revealed by the Edward Snowden leaks and other disclosures, that the United States might be intercepting communications; it was also out of fears that they were under surveillance by China’s own security services, according to a former Defense Intelligence Agency official. In the aftermath of the Bo Xilai affair in 2012—the first of Xi’s purges of the party, which felled both top-level government officials and army officers—Chinese officials became even more devoted to face-to-face meetings for any sensitive matter. “Disclosure of state secrets,” intentional or otherwise, was one of the most common charges brought against Xi’s targets.

As Xi began a comprehensive purge of the party and restructuring of the state, the answers about his character and intentions became clearer—at least to some members of the Obama administration. “The debates over what kind of leader Xi was going to be, that got settled pretty early for some of us,” the Obama-era official recalled. “Some did not see that as quickly.”

For this official, the meeting between Xi and Obama in 2013 in Southern California was an immediate revelation. It “wasn’t even an open question anymore” that Xi would rule with increasing authoritarianism, this person said. Over the next few years, Xi’s hard-line policies would extend into almost every area of Chinese life, from the estimated 1 million Uighurs subjected to detention, surveillance, and torture in Xinjiang; to a mass clampdown on freedom of speech; to supposed anti-corruption purges that swept up hundreds of thousands of Chinese officials. But the U.S. administration often remained reluctant to act, said the Obama-era official.

Meanwhile, the hacks continued. Beijing’s spies were ransacking Americans’ data at an almost Olympian scale. In addition to masterminding the OPM breach, hackers linked to Chinese intelligence would filch private information from over 383 million individuals, including passport and credit card data, in a massive 2014 compromise of the hotel giant Marriott; pilfer personal information from over 78 million Americans in a 2014 breach of Anthem, the major health insurance provider; breach the networks of American Airlines, United Airlines, and Sabre, a top travel reservation provider (and key target for China’s travel intelligence program); and burrow into computer systems belonging to the U.S. Department of the Navy, stealing sensitive data linked to over 100,000 naval personnel, among other penetrations of the U.S. private and public sectors. The Chinese “were always a Hoover, sucking up mountains of data beyond anything else in the world,” recalled a former senior National Security Agency official.

U.S. intelligence and national security officials, in particular, were becoming increasingly incensed by China’s actions. The Obama administration began to take more aggressive steps against Chinese cyberspying, indicting five Chinese military hackers in 2014 for a massive espionage campaign targeting U.S. companies—the first-ever public U.S. indictment of nation-state hackers—and threatening Beijing with sanctions. But senior U.S. officials under Obama still believed there were key, if narrowing, areas to carve out mutual cooperation with their Chinese counterparts.....

....MUCH MORE

As mentioned in the introduction to 2018's "The CIA's communications suffered a catastrophic compromise. It started in Iran.":

Sometimes I think the U.S. intelligence community isn't as good as they say they are.

I have this picture in my head of that Peter Strozk fellow in the Home for Retired Spooks with spy guys and gals from all around the world, Russians and Chinese and the Iranians and North Koreans and the British and the Germans and the Israelis and the Macedonians, all of 'em.

Now Strozk was a pretty big deal,  He was Chief of the Counterespionage Section of the FBI.
He was also the #2 of the entire FBI Counterintelligence Division.


And he left 50,000 text messages with his paramour, DOJ and FBI attorney Lisa Page, laying around.
50,000 mash notes to sweetie-pie.
Right there, in the phone, on a server, where any junior-grade investigator could find them.


And in my vision all the old spies spies and counter-spies are waiting for dinner and laughing at Strozk and reverting to childhood as the elderly are sometimes wont to do and chanting, almost in unision:

"Peter and Lisa sitting in a tree, T-E-X-T-I-N-G..."
So, although the story below is about the CIA, it was 'ol FBI Pete who I thought of when I saw the article....

Friday, January 15, 2021

Always, Always Remember That Control Freaks Are Mentally Ill

And not nuts like the slightly ditzy Grandmas of stage and screen were but dangerously—try to hurt you if they get the chance—sometimes psychotically, off kilter.

And it doesn't matter whether they are Karens or Authoritarians or Totalitarians—those are just gradations of their power, if they think they have the advantage and perceive that you aren't fully participating in their delusions, they can seriously damage you.

From New Discourses, December 25, 2020: 

Psychopathy and the Origins of Totalitarianism

Many of the greatest horrors of the history of humanity owe their occurrence solely to the establishment and social enforcement of a false reality. With gratitude to the Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper and his important 1970 essay “Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power” for the term and idea, we can refer to these alternative realities as ideological pseudo-realities.

Pseudo-realities, being false and unreal, will always generate tragedy and evil on a scale that is at least proportional to the reach of their grip on power—which is their chief interest—whether social, cultural, economic, political, or (particularly) a combination of several or all of these. So important to the development and tragedies of societies are these pseudo-realities when they arise and take root that it is worth outlining their basic properties and structure so that they can be identified and properly resisted before they result in sociopolitical calamities—up to and including war, genocide, and even civilizational collapse, all of which can take many millions of lives and can ruin many millions more in the vain pursuit of a fiction whose believers are, or are made, sufficiently intolerant.

The Nature of Pseudo-realities

Pseudo-realities are, simply put, false constructions of reality. It is hopefully obvious that among the features of pseudo-realities is that they must present a plausible but deliberately wrong understanding of reality. They are cult “realities” in the sense that they are the way that members of cults experience and interpret the world—both social and material—around them. We should immediately recognize that these deliberately incorrect interpretations of reality serve two related functions. First, they are meant to mold the world to accommodate small proportions of people who suffer pathological limitations on their abilities to cope with reality as it is. Second, they are designed to replace all other analyses and motivations with power, which these essentially or functionally psychopathic individuals will contort and deform to their permanent advantage so long as their pseudo-real regime can last.

Pseudo-realities are always social fictions, which, in light of the above, means political fictions. That is, they are maintained not because they are true, in the sense that they correspond to reality, either material or human, but because a sufficient quantity of people in the society they attack either believe them or refuse to challenge them. This implies that pseudo-realities are linguistic phenomena above all else, and where power-granting linguistic distortions are present, it is likely that they are there to create and prop up some pseudo-reality. This also means that they require power, coercion, manipulation, and eventually force to keep them in place. Thus, they are the natural playground of psychopaths, and they are enabled by cowards and rationalizers. Most importantly, pseudo-realities do not attempt to describe reality as it is but rather as it “should be,” as determined by the relatively small fraction of the population who cannot bear living in reality unless it is bent to enable their own psychopathologies, which will be projected upon their enemies, which means all normal people.

Normal people do not accept pseudo-reality and interpret reality more or less accurately, granting the usual biases and limitations of human perspective. Their common heuristic is called common sense, though much more refined forms exist in the uncorrupted sciences. In reality, both of these are handmaidens of power, but in pseudo-realities, this is inverted. In pseudo-reality, common sense is denigrated as bias or some kind of false consciousness, and science is replaced by a scientism that is a tool of power itself. For all his faults and the faults of his philosophy (which enable much ideological pseudo-reality), Michel Foucault warned us about this abuse quite cogently, especially under the labels “biopower” and “biopolitics.” These accusations of bias and false consciousness are, of course, projections of the ideological pseudo-realist, who, by sheer force of rhetoric, transforms limitations on power into applications of power and thus his own applications of power into liberation from it. Foucault, for any insight he provided, is also guilty of this charge.

It must be observed that people who accept pseudo-realities as though they are “real” are no longer normal people. They perceive pseudo-reality in place of reality, and the more thoroughly they take on this delusional position, the more functional psychopathy they necessarily exhibit and thus the less normal they become. Importantly, normal people consistently and consequentially fail to realize this about their reprogrammed neighbors. Perceiving them as normal people when they are not, normal people will reliably misunderstand the motivations of ideological pseudo-realists—power and the universal installation of their own ideology so that everyone lives in a pseudo-reality that enables their pathologies—usually until it is far too late.

As a result of this failure of perspective, many particularly epistemically and morally open normal people will reinterpret the claims of pseudo-reality into something that is plausible in reality under the usual logic and morals that guide our thinking, and this reinterpretation will work to the benefit of the pseudo-realists who have ensnared them. This sort of person, who stands between the real world and the pseudo-real are useful idiots to the ideology, and their role is to generate copious amounts of epistemic and ethical camouflage for the pseudo-realists. This phenomenon is key to the success, spread, and acceptance of pseudo-realities because without it very few people outside of small psychologically, emotionally, or spiritually unwell people would accept a pseudo-reality as if it is a superior characterization of the genuine article. Clearly, the more plausible the account of pseudo-reality on offer, the stronger this effect will be, and the more power the ideologues who believe in it will be able to accrue.

Pseudo-realities may have any degree of plausibility in their distorted descriptions of reality, and thus may recruit different numbers of adherents. They are often said to be accessible only by applying a “theoretical lens,” awakening a specialized “consciousness,” or by means of some pathological form of faith. Whether by “lens,” “consciousness,” or “faith,” these intellectual constructs exist to make the pseudo-reality seem more plausible, to drag people into participating in it against their will, and to distinguish those who “can see,” “are awake,” or “believe” from those who cannot or, as it always eventually goes, will not. That is, they are the pretext to tell people who inhabit reality instead of pseudo-reality that they’re not looking at “reality” correctly, which means as pseudo-reality. This will typically be characterized as a kind of willful ignorance of the pseudo-reality, which will subsequently be described paradoxically as unconsciously maintained. Notice that this puts the burden of epistemic and moral responsibility on the person inhabiting reality, not the person positing its replacement with an absurd pseudo-reality. This is a key functional manipulation of pseudo-realists that must be understood. The ability to recognize this phenomenon when it occurs and to resist it is, at scale, the life and death of civilizations.

Adoption of a pseudo-reality tends to hinge upon a lack of ability or will to question, doubt, and reject them and their fundamental presuppositions and premises of the pseudo-reality. Therefore, the “logical” and “moral” systems that operate within the pseudo-reality will always seek to manufacture this failure wherever they can, and successful pseudo-realist attacks will evolve these features like a social virus until their effectiveness is very high. This deficiency is often the direct result of mental illness, usually paranoia, schizoidia, anxiety, or psychopathy, however, so maintaining and manufacturing these states in themselves and normal people is strongly incentivized by the false “logic” and false “morality” of the ideological pseudo-reality. That is, the methods and means applied in service to a pseudo-reality will create and manipulate psychological weaknesses in people to get them to carry water for a destructive lie. The nicer, more tolerant, and more charitable a community is, supposing it lacks the capacity to spot these counterfeits early on, the more susceptible its members will tend to be to these manipulations.

Pseudo-realities and Power

The ultimate purpose of creating a pseudo-reality is power, which the constructed pseudo-reality grants in many ways. Though these means are many, we should name a few. First, the pseudo-reality is always constructed such that it structurally advantages those who accept it over those who do not, frequently by overt double standards and through moral-linguistic traps. Double standards in this regard will always favor those who accept pseudo-reality as reality and will always disfavor those who seek the truth. An ideological pseudo-reality must displace reality in a sufficient population to grant itself power to succeed in its goals. Linguistic traps will often employ strategic double meanings of words, often by strategic redefinition (creating a motte and bailey), will beg the question in ways that forces people to participate in the pseudo-reality to respond (often by Aufhebung-style, i.e., Hegelian, dialectical traps), or will begin with an assumption of guilt and demand proof of innocence such that denial or resistance is taken as proof of guilt of some moral crime against the moral system that serves the pseudo-reality (a kafkatrap). Demands will be made with sufficient vagueness such that they can never be said to have been met and such that responsibility for failure will always be the fault of the enemies of the ideology who “misunderstood” them and thus implemented them incorrectly.

Second, the very assertion of pseudo-reality demoralizes all who are pressed into engaging with it by the mere fact of being something false that must be treated as true. We should never underestimate how psychologically weakening and damaging it is to be forced to treat as true something that is not true, with the effect strengthening the more obviously false it is. Despite the fact that obviousness of the pseudo-real distortion concentrates its demoralizing power, pseudo-reality is only pseudo-real when the distortion is not immediately and wholly transparent and also when it is sufficiently widely socially accepted to become a socially constructed pseudo-truth. Whether or not the distortion is apparent, however, the situation it creates is most demoralizing for those who see through it because making the distortions of a pseudo-reality apparent to those who do not already see them is always exceptionally tedious and will be vigorously resisted not only by adherents but by useful idiots.

Thus, third, by trading off normal people’s assumptions that seemingly serious people care about what is true, they successfully force normal people to verify aspects of the pseudo-reality even in the act of denying it by getting the normal person to meet the ideologue part way. This is the relevance of pseudo-reality being pseudo-real, with greater plausibility strengthening the effect. That is, many normal people will fail to realize the pseudo-reality is false because they cannot see outside of the frame of normality that they charitably extend to all people, whether normal or not....

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Related:

Social Sadism and the Sadocratic Impulse 

Social Sadism: The Woman Who Studied Cruelty (a lesson for today)

"The Cult Dynamics of Wokeness" 

Tips For Doing Business In Totalitarian Countries

Did the CIA, Rather Than Germany's Scorpions, Compose the Power Ballad "Wind of Change"? 

....Coming up, Did Helmut Kohl secretly write Neunundneunzig Luftballons to counter Reagan's desire to base U.S. missiles in Germany?
That's next on:

Analyzing German Songs

"99 Jahre Krieg ließen keinen Platz für Sieger" 

"The Curse of the Buried Treasure"

 From The New Yorker, November 09, 2020:

Leominster, in the West Midlands area of England, is an ancient market town where the past and the present are jumbled together like coins in a change purse. Shops housed in half-timbered sixteenth-century Tudor buildings face the main square, offering cream teas and antiques. The town’s most lurid attraction is a well-preserved ducking stool, a mode of punishment in which an offender was strapped to a seat and dunked into a pond or a river while neighbors jeered; the device, last employed in 1809, is now on incongruous display inside the Priory Church, which dates to the thirteenth century. Christianity has even older roots in Leominster: a monastery was established around 660 by a recent convert, the Saxon leader Merewalh, who is thought to have been a son of Penda, the King of Mercia. For much of the early Middle Ages, Mercia was the most powerful of the four main Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, the others being Wessex, East Anglia, and Northumberland. In the tenth century, these realms were unified to become the Kingdom of England. Although the region surrounding Leominster (pronounced “Lemster”) is no longer officially known as Mercia, this legacy is preserved in the name of the local constabulary: the West Mercia Police.

On June 2, 2015, two metal-detector hobbyists aware of the area’s heritage, George Powell and Layton Davies, drove ninety minutes north of their homes, in South Wales, to the hamlet of Eye, about four miles outside Leominster. The farmland there is picturesque: narrow, hedgerow-lined lanes wend among pastures dotted with spreading trees and undulating crop fields. Anyone fascinated by the layered accretions of British history—or eager to learn what might be buried within those layers—would find it an attractive spot. English place-names, most of which date back to Anglo-Saxon times, are often repositories of meaning: the name Eye, for example, derives from Old English, and translates as “dry ground in a marsh.” Just outside the hamlet was a rise in the landscape, identified on maps by the tantalizing appellation of King’s Hall Hill.

Powell, a warehouse worker in his early thirties, and Davies, a school custodian a dozen years older, were experienced “detectorists.” There are approximately twenty thousand such enthusiasts in England and Wales, and usually they find only mundane detritus: a corroded button that popped off a jacket in the eighteen-hundreds, a bolt that fell off a tractor a dozen years ago. But some detectorists make discoveries that are immensely valuable, both to collectors of antiquities and to historians, for whom a single buried coin can help illuminate the past. Scanning the environs of King’s Hall Hill, the men suddenly picked up a signal on their devices. They dug into the red-brown soil, and three feet down they started to uncover a thrilling cache of objects: a gold arm bangle in the shape of a snake consuming its own tail; a pendant made from a crystal sphere banded by delicately wrought gold; a gold ring patterned with octagonal facets; a silver ingot measuring close to three inches in length; and, stuck together in a solid clod of earth, what appeared to be hundreds of fragile silver coins.

The find had all the hallmarks of a hoard—the term used by archeologists to characterize a collection of valuable objects that was deliberately buried or hidden, usually with the idea that it would later be retrieved. The Vikings, whose name means “raiders,” began making plundering incursions into Anglo-Saxon Britain from Scandinavia in the second half of the eighth century. Although the Vikings did not use coins as a form of currency, they had a bullion economy—the trading of metals, based on weight and purity—and appreciated coins as portable forms of wealth. They coveted silver, which was not mined in their own lands; gold was even more prized. To obtain these precious metals, the Vikings stole or requisitioned the contents of Anglo-Saxon monastery vaults, which often included finely worked silver or gold, and chopped them into pieces, for purposes of trade—archeologists call such fragments hacksilver or hackgold—or melted them into ingots, for ease of weighing. A Viking hoard typically contains these forms of metal, and also coins minted by the Anglo-Saxon kings whose lands they had invaded.

Powell and Davies snapped a few photographs while their discovery was still embedded in the soil, then took more pictures after removing some of the dirt and laying the treasures out on a white plastic shopping bag. They also took photographs of the field where they’d made the find, so that they could locate the spot on a return visit.

Such technology would have been extremely useful to the Viking warrior from Denmark who, more than a thousand years earlier, had buried the valuables, probably to protect them from theft. That anonymous invader, who would have been gathering spoils as a member of the Great Army, which progressed through the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the 860s and 870s, would have had to make do with rudimentary reminders of where he’d hidden the stash: twenty paces to the left of that footpath, halfway between those two trees. Historians of England contend that the difficulty of accounting for where, exactly, something important has been buried is one reason that Viking hoards and Roman caches of silver denarii are still there for the finding—or, for that matter, for the stealing.

Gareth Williams, the curator of early-medieval coinage and Viking collections at the British Museum, became entranced by the Norse world as a small child, while paging through a library book. His grandmother, encouraging his passion, made him a helmet and a shield out of cardboard. He went on to study medieval history at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, where he completed his Ph.D., and then joined the British Museum. Williams, who has a well-developed salt-and-pepper beard and a lively manner, still needs little persuading to dress up like a Viking; he makes educational videos for schoolchildren in which he wears a belted jerkin and a helmet made from leather boiled in beeswax.

In the summer of 2015, he was approached by a contact in the coin trade. As Williams told me recently, the contact informed him that several pieces of what appeared to be a Viking hoard were being offered to dealers. Some of the coins were Two Emperors, a type so rare that numismatists knew of only two extant examples: one was discovered in 1840, the other in 1950. A Two Emperor coin had never appeared on the open market, and a single one was valued at a hundred thousand dollars. A hoard with a substantial number of rare coins could be worth more than ten million dollars. The fact that individual coins were being offered to dealers suggested that the hoard was in danger of being broken up and vanishing onto the black market. According to Williams, the contact told him that he hadn’t personally seen the coins but “understood immediately from the description that this must be undeclared treasure.”

The word “treasure” conjures everything from a religious relic to a pirate chest spilling over with booty. But in British law the term has a specific meaning: the Treasure Act of 1996 defines a treasure as any object that is more than three hundred years old and at least ten per cent gold or silver. Because finds of single coins are quite common, they are exempted from this rule, no matter their metallic content or rarity, but a find of two or more coins in the same place—and certainly of a hoard—qualifies as treasure, and the finder is legally obliged to report the discovery to local authorities.

The Treasure Act was passed, in large part, because metal detecting had become such a popular activity. During the Second World War, the technology was used to help sappers find buried mines, but by the nineteen-seventies detectors had become consumer products that were relatively inexpensive and easy to use. Hobbyists began spending their Sundays scanning beaches, parks, and archeological sites. Scholars warned that treasure hunters were vandalizing history, seizing finds as trophies and subverting the possibility of archeological interpretation by destroying the context of their discoveries. Detectorists resented the stigmatizing of their hobby: many of them are amateur history buffs who eagerly take their finds to local museums. As with so many aspects of English life, the conflict was inflected with class antagonism; working-class hobbyists often felt that they were being maligned by a professional élite.

In 1983, two detectorists in Surrey found a number of coins at the site of a Romano-British temple in the village of Wanborough. They informed local curators, but before the site could be properly excavated illicit treasure hunters, known as nighthawks, descended. As many as forty of them scanned the site by moonlight, plundering antiquities and selling them for profit; some dealers bought objects straight out of the ground. The looting of Wanborough helped usher in the Treasure Act. It replaced ancient common law holding that, when the owner of a buried treasure could not be identified, it became the property of the Crown. Under the terms of the current law, treasure still belongs legally to the Crown, but in practice it often ends up in a museum. (In the U.S., comparable laws vary from state to state, but most of them stipulate that someone who finds an object of value or a stash of money is entitled to keep it if the owner cannot be located.)

The Treasure Act provides an incentive for detectorists to declare their discoveries by establishing the right to a reward for the finder, who typically receives half the market value; the other half goes to the landowner. Some forty Finds Liaison Officers across the U.K. urge detectorists to report not just discoveries of gold and silver but also those of more humble metals, which can help explain the daily lives of earlier Britons: fallen brooch pins that might indicate the route of a Roman pathway; copper pennies dropped in a medieval marketplace.....

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Bored With Lockdown? Recreate Great Art With Things In Your Home

From Sad and Useless:

Even though most of us are stuck at home during Coronavirus quarantine and can’t go out and enjoy art in museums, that doesn’t mean that life has to be boring or uncultured. The Getty Museum in Los Angeles challenged art fans to post photos of themselves recreating their favorite works of art from the safety of their homes....

Funny recreated painting.

https://sadanduseless.b-cdn.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/recreated-art3.jpg

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Thanks - I think - to a "friend".

Bill Gates Is Now America’s Biggest Owner Of Farmland

 As noted in the introduction to January 4's Real Assets: "2021 Farmland Outlook: Buckle Up for a Dynamic Market":

I hate this. 

There is a real risk that the giant pools of money that circle the globe will land in some of the smaller markets. And though we bear no ill-will toward our hedge and PE brethren (cough-scum-cough) if they land on agricultural commodities they have a direct impact on the average person's existence.

Let them play with gold and bitcoin and other stuff people don't need rather than corn, rice, beans and wheat.

The major ag commodities are up one to three percent to start the new year....

From Forbes, January 14:

Bill Gates, the fourth richest person in the world and a self-described nerd who is known for his early programming skills rather than his love of the outdoors, has been quietly snatching up 242,000 acres of farmland across the U.S. — enough to make him the top private farmland owner in America.

After years of reports that he was purchasing agricultural land in places like Florida and Washington, The Land Report revealed that Gates, who has a net worth of nearly $121 billion according to Forbes, has built up a massive farmland portfolio spanning 18 states. His largest holdings are in Louisiana (69,071 acres), Arkansas (47,927 acres) and Nebraska (20,588 acres). Additionally, he has a stake in 25,750 acres of transitional land on the west side of Phoenix, Arizona, which is being developed as a new suburb.

According to The Land Report’s research, the land is held directly and through third-party entities by Cascade Investments, Gates’ personal investment vehicle. Cascade’s other investments include food-safety company Ecolab, used-car retailer Vroom and Canadian National Railway. 

While it may be surprising that a tech billionaire would also be the biggest farmland owner in the country, this is not Gates’ only foray into agriculture. In 2008, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced $306 million in grants to promote high-yield, sustainable agriculture among smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The foundation has further invested in the development and proliferation of “super crops” resistant to climate change and higher-yield dairy cows. Last year, the organization announced Gates Ag One, a nonprofit to advance those efforts.

It is not entirely clear how Gates’  farmland is being used, or whether any of the land is being set aside for conservation. (Cascade did not return Forbes’ request for comment.)....

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"Ed Yardeni: 'Blue Wave Makes a Splash in DC. Will Joe Manchin Be 'Senator Gridlock'?'"

I had a couple M.D. aunts who, just on general principles, refused to address anyone who couldn't set a kid's broken arm as "Doktor". They did make exceptions if they liked you..

I am not such a stickler. I use the German spelling because the honorific means more in some places than others, Paul Krugman once typed the sentence fragment "As someone who actually is Herr Professor Doktor Doktor..."*

Anyhoo, From Dr. Ed's Blog, January 10: 

The Blue Wave made a big splash as Tuesday’s Georgia election results, reported late Wednesday afternoon, showed that both of the state’s seats for the US Senate were won by the two Democratic candidates. A tsunami of socialist policies implemented by progressives in the Democratic party is now likely. A Blue Wave led by the incoming Biden administration, unimpeded by gridlock, certainly represents a radical regime change from the Trump administration. It is likely to be much more radical than the regime change led by the Obama administration. That’s because the Democrats in Congress are much more radical in their left-leaning political views than ever before.

The Democrats’ win in Georgia could be bad news for entrepreneurial capitalism. It could also be bearish for the stock market if the radical regime change causes a recession. That’s unlikely to be the case in 2021. Granted, the 10-year US Treasury bond yield pushed above 1.00% at the start of the week on preliminary news that the Republicans lost one of the two contested elections. I previously argued, even before last year’s elections, that the yield would be closer to 2.00% than 1.00% but for the Fed’s intervention in the bond market.

My analysis was based on the strong post-lockdown rebound in economic activity and the swelling post-CARES Act federal budget deficit rather than on a prediction of a regime change in Washington, DC. Now that the Blue Wave has prevailed, government spending will continue to boost economic activity, and federal deficits will continue to mount. And, most importantly, the Fed is likely to continue to buy notes and bonds in an effort to keep bond yields from rising too rapidly.

In other words, the Fed is likely to enable our deficit-financed government to get bigger under the Blue Wave regime. The Clinton administration was famously checked and balanced by the Bond Vigilantes. The Fed is implicitly assuring the incoming Biden administration that monetary policy will keep them buried as much as possible.

Now consider the following related observations about the stock market:

(1) Socialism isn’t necessarily bearish. Significant declines in stock prices are caused by recessions, not by socialist regime changes, unless they are so radical that they cause a recession. Socialism may be bad for entrepreneurial capitalism, but it provides fertile ground for crony capitalism. That’s as long as it doesn’t lead to communism. Under socialism, private property remains mostly private. Under communism, there is no private property; everything is owned by the state. In either system, the government gets bigger. Under socialism, the ruling regime enacts more laws and regulations that force businesses to manage their affairs increasingly to satisfy their socialist overseers rather than their capitalist shareholders.

(2) Betting on crony capitalists. In other words, making deals with the government matters as much as or more than competing in the market. That’s the fundamental nature of crony capitalism. Businesses become bigger and more politicized as the government gets bigger and more radicalized.

That’s not necessarily bearish for the stock market. However, it does mean that assessing the impact of government policymaking on business becomes as important or more important than traditional analysis of company fundamentals. Spreadsheets for individual corporations need to include columns for the number of lobbyists employed, percentage of business done with the government, cost of regulation, and so on....

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*That post had been preceded, a year earlier, by "Paul Krugman Wants You to Die; Germans Consider him Unbalanced, wish he'd change name."

EIA Natural Gas Weekly Update

From the Energy Information Administration:
for week ending January 13, 2021   |  Release date:  January 14, 2021

In the News:

U.S. natural gas production will likely fall in 2021 and rise in 2022

In its January Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), EIA estimates that annual U.S. marketed gas production for 2021 will fall 2% and average 96.2 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d). However, in 2022, EIA estimates that natural gas production will rise by 2% compared with year-ending 2021 production of 98.2 Bcf/d, accompanied by rising natural gas prices. The United States set annual natural gas production records in 2018 and 2019, largely based on increased drilling in shale and tight oil formations. This increased production led to higher volumes of natural gas in storage and a corresponding decrease in natural gas prices. In 2020, the supply and demand contraction as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in marketed natural gas production decreasing by 2% from 2019 levels.

The January STEO also forecasts associated gas production from oil wells in the Permian Basin to fall because of a lower West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil price and reduced drilling activity in the early months of 2021. As the WTI price increases, associated gas production will likely rise with it. Natural gas production from predominantly natural gas regions such as the Appalachia Basin is closely tied to the Henry Hub price. EIA estimates that the Henry Hub price will gradually rise from an average $2.03 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) in 2020 to more than $3.00/MMBtu in 2022. The increase in the Henry Hub price is likely to result in a rise in natural gas production in Appalachia. However, natural gas production in Appalachia may reach its takeaway capacity constraints in 2021 if the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), scheduled to enter service in late 2021, is delayed. MVP is the only active pipeline project planned to come online in 2021 that will add significant takeaway capacity from the Appalachia region.

A recent Today in Energy article provides more information about recent natural gas and crude oil production trends....

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"Futures Slide On Doubt Biden Can Pass $1.9 Trillion Stimulus; Reflation Trade Fizzles"

 From ZeroHedge:

US equity futures and global shares slumped on Friday after Joe Biden unveiled his massive - and perhaps untenable - stimulus plan as concerns grew that the president-elect will struggle to gain support for his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan. Stocks dropped while bonds were mixed.

In prime-time remarks, Biden outlined a proposal that includes $415 billion aimed at the COVID-19 response, some $1 trillion in direct relief to households, and roughly $440 billion for small businesses and communities hard hit by the pandemic.

But that initial boost later faded as risk appetite waned, lifting bond prices and the dollar, and hitting equities as attention turned to how much of the package will ultimately get passed by Congress, with the go-big price tag and the inclusion of proposals set to be opposed by many Republicans. As lawmakers wrangle over details, U.S. jobless claims published Thursday painted a dismal picture and the U.S. is leading all countries in virus deaths with New York state reporting more than 200 daily fatalities for the first time since May.

“People are saying it’s a big number but markets are almost acting like its a disappointment,” said James Athey, investment director at Aberdeen Standard Investments. “I think maybe the market was pricing an additional $2,000 cheque going to the U.S. population, but what’s being proposed is a top-up of $1,400 to take the total to $2,000 because $600 has already been agreed.”

That... plus markets are realizing that the plan is unlikely to pass in its format, because if even one centrist Democrats objects the entire plan may fall apart. Investors also digested the prospect of rising taxes to pay for the plan.

“The concern is what it’s going to mean from a tax stand point,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at Inverness Counsel in New York. “Spending is easy to do but the question is how are you going to pay for it? Markets often ignore politics but they don’t often ignore taxes."

“Biden’s big fiscal plans are out of the bag, and now the current dire situation is countering U.S. reflation hopes,” Antoine Bouvet, a senior rates strategist at ING Groep NV, wrote in a note. “It is unlikely going to get any better soon, given the currently slow rate of vaccine rollouts.”

Biden’s comments came after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell struck a dovish tone in comments at a virtual symposium with Princeton University. Powell said the U.S. central bank is not raising interest rates anytime soon and rejected suggestions the Fed might start reducing its bond purchases in the near term.

Investor concerns over the prospects for a global economic recovery were also raised after France strengthened its border controls and brought forward its night curfew by two hours to 6 p.m. for at least two weeks to try to slow the spread of coronavirus infections, while Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel called for “very fast action” to counter the spread of variants of the coronavirus.

As a result, the MSCI world equity index was 0.2% lower. S&P 500 e-mini futures shed 0.3% to 3,779. Chinese smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi tumbled 10% after the Trump administration unexpectedly blacklisted the company for alleged military links along with the country’s third-biggest oil company over its drilling in the South China Sea.

European stocks followed Asian markets lower, with the pan-European STOXX 600 down 0.4% as energy firms and miners led declines in the Stoxx 600 Index, with the gauge on course for its first weekly loss since since mid-December. Optimism about the U.S. aid package had helped spur the reflation trade, but the plan is far from a done deal. Biden’s proposal could be watered down under Congressional opposition, and there’s the possibility that some taxes could rise. London’s FTSE 100 0.6% weaker, with the latter clobbered by data showing Britain’s economy shrank in November for the first time since the initial COVID-19 lockdown last spring as social-distancing rules tightened....

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S&P and DJIA futures down .45% and .55% respectively.

Gold is trading heavy, down $11.10.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Amidst Asian Cold, Russia To Attempt Midwinter LNG Shipments To Japan Via Northern Sea Route

First up, a view of the ice at the top of the world via the Danish Meteorological Institute:

http://polarportal.dk/fileadmin/polarportal/sea/CICE_combine_thick_SM_EN_20210113.png

Looks doable based on thickness. It was only three years ago that we posted Arctic Doings: "Teekay’s New Icebreaking LNG Carrier ‘Eduard Toll’ Makes Historic Northern Sea Route Passage" so there is not a lot of experience with these Arc7 icebreaking LNG haulers in the middle of the winter. This was the state of the ice the day of that post:

http://polarportal.dk/fileadmin/polarportal/sea/CICE_combine_thick_SM_EN_20180204.png

The Yamal peninsula is the thumb of land sticking out under the smaller chart, next to the gigantic Ob estuary.

And from High North News, January 14:

Record Cold Winter in Asia Sends Russian LNG Via Arctic to Japan

Cold temperatures and traffic congestion at the Panama Canal has resulted in a shortage of natural gas and exploding prices in parts of Asia. Now, Novatek aims to send LNG from the Arctic to Japan during the middle of winter in an untested high-risk, high-reward strategy. 

Russian energy company Novatek is planning to send LNG shipments to Asia via the Northern Sea Route (NSR) to take advantage of record natural gas prices following a cold snap in the region. Traditionally the company only ships LNG to Asia during the summer months when the route is mostly free from ice.

However, a natural gas shortage as a result of a cold winter and ongoing maritime congestion at the Panama Canal has resulted in LNG spot prices in Northern Asia to increase 18-fold in the past nine months.

Now Novatek hopes to deliver its LNG to Japan where spot market prices are manifold higher than in Europe, Russian newspaper Kommersant reports.

The company plans to cooperate with Atomflot, operator of Russia’s nuclear icebreakers, to begin shipping the cargo starting in February. Novatek and its shipping partners use specialized ice-capable Arc7 LNG carriers.

During certain ice conditions these ships can navigate the route independently but during the heart of winter when sea ice is thickest they require icebreaker escorts. For this reason the company so far has only shipped LNG to Asia during the summer and fall months, as early as May and as late as December.

The company’s first shipment of LNG to Japan via the NSR only came in July of 2020.

Trial transit may be followed by more winter deliveries

Last week Novatek sent two Arc7 carriers on a trial voyage to see if the ships can make the trip safely and expediently. However, ice conditions will be substantially more challenging in February and March compared to January as sea ice continues to build throughout the winter months....

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 If interested we have quite a few posts on the ice class 7 ships.

"10 French startups to look out for in 2021 and beyond"

 From EU-Startups, January 13:

The mix of international talent and governmental entrepreneurship initiatives seems to pay off and France’s startup scene is on the rise. Venture capital investments in French startups kept on growing even despite the ongoing pandemic. In September 2019 president Emmanuel Macron announced a €5 billion public-private investment fund, aimed at helping young companies to scale up. When the pandemic forced many businesses to a halt in March 2020, the French government ramped up support, earmarking €7 billion of the €100 billion stimulus package to the digital economy. Of these, €3.7 billion are getting injected into reinforcing startup financing.

In the beginning of this year, we took a close look at the French startup ecosystem to introduced you to 10 exceptionally promising French startups that were founded between 2018 and 2020. Here they are:

Outsight: Founded in 2019, Outsight develops an innovative sensor combined with a 3D Semantic Camera that brings ‘Full Situation Awareness’ to smart machines. Their sensor combines software and hardware to create sensor innovations such as remote material identification with comprehensive real-time 3D data processing. This technology provides an unprecedented and cost-efficient ability for systems to perceive, understand and ultimately interact with their surroundings in real time. Outsight’s 3D Semantic Cameras are providing new solutions for smarter cities and automotive safety. So far, the Paris-based startup secured about €18 million in VC funding.

Typology is a radical new skincare brand, founded in 2019 in Paris by Ning Li, who previously co-founded and led Made.com. For too long, the world of skincare had been defined by exaggerated promises and suspect chemicals. After gathering a team of health and skincare experts, Ning set out to challenge the industry. The Typology team went back to the basics and took an autonomous approach. The startups built an online-only, direct to customer model, which means Typology is selling premium products with the highest quality ingredients at a great price. Until today, the French startup has raised about €8.2 million in seed funding.

Iziwork: Founded in 2018, this Paris-based HR startup offers a digital alternative to temporary employment agencies. Their worker-centric temporary staffing marketplace improves the way workers access and experience temporary work. Using artificial intelligence and an e-commerce recommendation system, the platform matches temporary workers with the mission provided by clients, in just a few clicks. The result is that 95% of positions are filled in less than 4 hours. The fast-growing French startup already secured about €22.3 million in funding from investors like Cathay Innovation and Global Founders Capital....

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In the event equity markets should experience, say, a 25% drawdown, the retail investing crowd may be more in need of "Marseille-based Volta Medical raises €23 million to treat cardiac arrhythmias" than a radical new skincare brand but to each his own.

"Maersk Renews and Expands Partnership to Rid Oceans of Plastic"

From The Maritime Executive:

A.P. Moller-Maersk announced a three-year extension and expansion of its partnership with The Ocean Cleanup, a foundation dedicated to ridding the oceans of plastics. In addition to Maersk Supply Service providing marine offshore support, the shipping and logistics company will also provide end-to-end supply chain management services for The Ocean Cleanup’s ocean and river projects.

“As a responsible maritime operator, we are committed to ensuring that the oceans can remain a healthy environment for generations to come. We are therefore very pleased to not just prolong but broaden the partnership agreement initiated in 2018,” explains Mette Refshauge, VP, Corporate Communications & Sustainability at Maersk.

Since 2018, Maersk has provided offshore support for The Ocean Cleanup’s offshore operations. The extension of the partnership will enable the deployment of the next ocean cleanup systems as well as deployment of the foundations technology to capture plastics before they enter the oceans. As part of the partnership agreement, Maersk will also assist The Ocean Cleanup in deploying scientific sensor technology aboard Maersk’s fleet to map plastic floating in the oceans and help the organization have a better understanding of the severity of the problem they are working to solve....

....MUCH MORE

Previously:

October 2019
"Large-Scale Ocean Cleanup System Now Successfully Collecting Plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch"

January 2019
Structural Issue Forces Ocean Cleanup System to Leave Great Pacific Garbage Patch, But Return Planned for 2019
The company should not have changed the name of their contraption to the too-cutesy "Wilson" and stuck with the original "Boomy McBoomface".

December 2018
UPDATE: "Huge barrier isn't trapping plastic waste in Pacific Ocean"
Crap.
If things had gone as planned half the floating plastic in the Pacific was supposed to be removed in five years.


September 2018
Maersk-backed TheOceanCleanup Puts Its System to Final Tests
Following up on September 10's "Maersk-backed TheOceanCleanup Have Launched their Contraption to Clear the 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch'".
The reason both of our headlines mention Maersk is not because we think multi-billion dollar corporations need a free plug but because the ship they contributed to the effort is such an impressive piece of equipment. It can do anything that TheOceanCleanup needs it to do....

September 2018
Maersk-backed TheOceanCleanup Have Launched their Contraption to Clear the 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch'

June 2016
Dutch Deploy Boomy McBoomface

The World Economic Forum Scoffs At Your Feeble Internet of Things, Prepare For The ‘Internet Of Bodies’

From the WEF, June 4, 2020:

The Internet of Bodies is here. This is how it could change our lives

  • We’re entering the era of the “Internet of Bodies”: collecting our physical data via a range of devices that can be implanted, swallowed or worn.
  • The result is a huge amount of health-related data that could improve human wellbeing around the world, and prove crucial in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • But a number of risks and challenges must be addressed to realize the potential of this technology, from privacy issues to practical hurdles.

In the special wards of Shanghai’s Public Health Clinical Center, nurses use smart thermometers to check the temperatures of COVID-19 patients. Each person’s temperature is recorded with a sensor, reducing the risk of infection through contact, and the data is sent to an observation dashboard. An abnormal result triggers an alert to medical staff, who can then intervene promptly. The gathered data also allows medics to analyse trends over time.

The smart thermometers are designed by VivaLNK, a Silicon-Valley based startup, and are a powerful example of the many digital products and services that are revolutionizing healthcare. After the Internet of Things, which transformed the way we live, travel and work by connecting everyday objects to the Internet, it’s now time for the Internet of Bodies. This means collecting our physical data via devices that can be implanted, swallowed or simply worn, generating huge amounts of health-related information.

Some of these solutions, such as fitness trackers, are an extension of the Internet of Things. But because the Internet of Bodies centres on the human body and health, it also raises its own specific set of opportunities and challenges, from privacy issues to legal and ethical questions.


Image: McKinsey & Company

Connecting our bodies

As futuristic as the Internet of Bodies may seem, many people are already connected to it through wearable devices. The smartwatch segment alone has grown into a $13 billion market by 2018, and is projected to increase another 32% to $18 billion by 2021. Smart toothbrushes and even hairbrushes can also let people track patterns in their personal care and behaviour.

For health professionals, the Internet of Bodies opens the gate to a new era of effective monitoring and treatment....

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And the data? No worries.