Sunday, September 30, 2018

"U.K. to Step Up Arctic Patrols to Counter Russian Polar Threat"

It's getting crowded up there. I hope at this point it's just marking the territory.
From Bloomberg via gCaptain:
The U.K. will send Royal Marines to Norway’s Arctic training program because of the growing threat of Russian aggression in the area as the polar cap melts.

Some 800 marines will be deployed to Norway and four Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter planes will patrol Icelandic Skies, Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson told his ruling Conservative Party’s annual conference on Sunday. He also said he’ll boost training to tackle the threat of Kremlin-sanctioned cyber attacks.

The defense secretary is responding to British analysis which shows Russian submarine activity in the north Atlantic Ocean has almost reached Cold War levels. From 2020 the new P-8 Poseidon submarine-hunting aircraft will also be deployed....MORE
If it's more than just flying the flag north of  66°33′47.3″ north or if the new Australian icebreaker currently being built in Romania heads west rather than south through the Suex canal when it is completed next year we'll know something's up.
Okay, scratch all that. The plan is for the new Aussie ship to come down into the Mediterranean and hang a right after passing Gibraltar to head north of the Arctic Circle to find some ice to beat up.

Although the Bloomberg story mentions global warming a couple times, and it was HOT in northern Finland this summer, the ice pack is about the same extent and actually a little thicker than it was a decade ago (that good green ice):

More to come.

"Will the 2018/2019 season be the most exciting onion campaign in years?"

That's the question on everyone's lips.
From FreshPlaza:
Will the 2018/2019 season be the most exciting onion campaign in years? Worldwide, the weather has had a major impact on the harvests. Not only Europe was plagued by heat, the mercury also rose high in California. Other parts of the US recorded a lot of rain, and the news coming from Asia were also not all good. That has resulted in tensions and speculation. Are there enough large sizes available? Is it advisable to sell now at a good price or gamble at the possibility of higher prices later in the season? Is the quality sufficient to keep the product in storage for all these months? So many questions, so many answers. We made an overview of the onion market.

The Netherlands: More than 30% fewer onions; shortage of large sizes
This year's sales figures are again unusual. With over 30 percent less yield, or about 40 tons per hectare, instead of the usual 60 tons, there are considerably fewer onions available for export. There are sufficient small and medium-sized onions available; however, the supply of large sizes is considerably smaller, and supers are also very rare. In the first half of the season, when good volumes of small and medium-sized onions are sold to West Africa in particular, exports won't be largely affected. However, after February, when the destination markets prefer larger sizes, the supply will likely be scarce, and there won't be enough smaller sizes available to compensate for this. The high price levels should naturally have a negative impact on the demand, but the fact that there will be more than 30 percent fewer onions in the Netherlands and more than 1 million tons less in Europe will have repercussions on the market. Some sorting companies wonder if there will be enough work for the second half of the season, as the weekly volume will barely reach 15,000 tons, while the sorting capacity exceeds 40,000 tons per week.

Spain has enough large sizes
The onion harvest is in full swing in the Iberian Peninsula, especially in the regions Castile-La Mancha, Valencia and Murcia. Even though most of the production has yet to be harvested, a smaller yield is expected compared to last year. This is mainly due to the frequent storms occasionally accompanied by hail.
"The heavy rains in early September slowed the harvest down, but the quality is generally good," says a trader. This is especially true for onions that were not affected by hail. Spain could benefit from the shortage of large sizes in Europe this year, especially in the Netherlands. "In general, Spanish onions have a good size," says a grower. Provinces like Ciudad Real, in Castile-La Mancha (the most important cultivation area in Spain) certainly expect a good availability of large sizes. "We see the demand for large onions rising every day." At the moment, the price at origin oscillates between 0.18 and 0.20 Euro per kilo, although the market price is 0.28 Euro. As a result, the margins for traders are small. "At the moment, the price is on the low side, but it will rise by mid-October."

Germany: High prices compensate for losses
At the moment, onion prices are almost twice as high as those recorded last year. A trader explains that "some of the growers have suffered losses of up to 40%, depending on the region and the production. However, the high and stable price compensates for those losses. "Normally, there is a great pressure on prices in this period. "Buyers normally want to push prices down as much as possible, but there is currently a certain unity among growers, traders and buyers, which is resulting in unusual market stability."
The quality of the onions varies, so a lot has to be done in terms of sorting. "We have to make a great effort in order to deliver quality onions to our customers," says a trader. "At times, we are hardly able to meet the demand." The high demand suggests loyalty on the part of the consumers. Growers are satisfied with the price. Sales are developing well, which is a good thing, as the shelf life of onions in storage is not guaranteed to be long. "Normally, there is a peak in the demand just before Christmas, but it is a gamble to store the onions, instead of selling them for a good price." The situation will not change much in the future. In recent years, the market was not as exciting, so no major investments or acreage expansions are expected.

France has a small production
A trader fears that the onion market will suffer from the dry weather of recent months. "Just like in the whole of northern Europe, the volumes available in France are well below the average. Because of this, the market will be turned upside down. We have to wait and see what the exact consequences will be."
The dry weather is not the only factor that has caused a reduction in French volumes. Earlier this year, large areas in the country were hit by heavy rainfall. In the Cévennes, a known production area for sweet onions, 25% to 30% of the harvest was lost. The price increase that followed this was not enough to cover the losses....MUCH MORE
Our interest, despite a current desire for a nice Tortilla de patata or maybe a frittata is actually legal and regulatory: "7 U.S. Code § 13–1 - Violations, prohibition against dealings in motion picture box office receipts or onion futures; punishment"

As the all-knowing-one—Wikipedia tells it:
In 1955, two onion traders, Sam Siegel and Vincent Kosuga, cornered the onion futures market on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange...

....In the fall of 1955, Siegel and Kosuga bought enough onions and onion futures so that they controlled 98 percent of the available onions in Chicago.[4] Millions of pounds (thousands of tonnes) of onions were shipped to Chicago to cover their purchases. By late 1955, they had stored 30,000,000 pounds (14,000,000 kg) of onions in Chicago.[5] They soon changed course and convinced onion growers to begin purchasing their inventory by threatening to flood the market with onions if they did not.[5] Seigel and Kosuga told the growers that they would hold the rest of their inventory in order to support the price of onions.[6]
As the growers began buying onions, Siegel and Kosuga purchased short positions on a large amount of onion contracts.[5] They also arranged to have their stores of onions reconditioned because they had started to spoil. They shipped them outside of Chicago to have them cleaned and then repackaged and re-shipped back to Chicago. The new shipments of onions caused many futures traders to think that there was an excess of onions and further drove down onion prices in Chicago. By the end of the onion season in March 1956, Siegel and Kosuga had flooded the markets with their onions and driven the price of 50 pounds (23 kg) of onions down to 10 cents a bag.[5] In August 1955, the same quantity of onions had been priced at $2.75 a bag.[6] So many onions were shipped to Chicago in order to depress prices that there were onion shortages in other parts of the United States.[7]

Siegel and Kosuga made millions of dollars on the transaction due to their short position on onion futures.[4] At one point, however, 50 pounds (23 kg) of onions were selling in Chicago for less than the bags that held them. This drove many onion farmers into bankruptcy.[4] A public outcry ensued among onion farmers who were left with large amounts of worthless inventory.[8] Many of the farmers had to pay to dispose of the large amounts of onions that they had purchased and grown....MORE
Here's the CFTC report, decision, and order, June 3, 1960.

The Spanish omlette idea was probably triggered by a memory of 2009's "Mix Butter, Onions, Cheese and Eggs. Add Electricity...".

Have I missed anything? Perhaps without the prospect of onion futures to trade it's time once again to look at Chinese garlic derivatives and pray for snow.
Inventories Rise as China’s Garlic Harvest Season Ends 
China’s 2018 garlic harvest season wrapped up at the end of August. Garlic production reached an estimated 10 million tons by the end the season with new garlic inventory of about 4 million tons—a record high that surpassesthe excessive storage volumes attained in 2008. With increased production, high inventory levels and poor sales, dried sliced garlic has become a new outlet.
Hmmm, maybe not. Maybe next year.

If interested (and who wouldn't be?) see:
The Timeless Allure of Egg Futures: "Former teenage soldier hatches millions from Chinese egg futures"
 What came first Egg or Chicken? Solution Through Granger Causality

"In Smart Cities, Advertisers Will Rule"

But you knew that, didn't you.

So, with the idea of living in a mobile autonomous IKEA store just now coming to fruition (immediately below) can the dream of being exposed to 24/7 advertising be far behind?

From CityMetric:
“If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product.” The phrase was coined in the 1970s to talk about television advertising, but has since become the internet’s whole business model: we get nice services, for free or for very little, and in return, our attention is sold to advertisers.

But what if that logic dominated everyday life? With the rise of the smart city, it’s becoming a reality. And local authorities should be both upfront and cautious about the risks.

Sous les pavés, la pub
In a time of disappearing budgets, it is understandable that councils will jump at any opportunity to improve their cities without spending a penny. Companies like JCDecaux and Clear Channel provide cities with street furniture such as bus stops and bicycles, in return for advertising space.
Occasionally, though, the public service aspect is all but forgotten. In 2015, JCDecaux replaced Paris’s 2,000 bus shelters with a new model. With their sleek design, the new shelters had USB ports for charging your phone, and large, digital advertising screens. The only problem? They didn’t actually provide shelter from the rain and had to be changed.

Other times, public utility is just an excuse for brand promotion, as with the “trackable water refill stations” recently installed in London by Canary Wharf Group – narcissistic water fountains with a screen that tracks the number of plastic bottles saved.

With cities desperate for innovation yet strapped for cash, advertisers have been emboldened to set their own rules. A recent report from the Outdoor Advertising Association of America talks about how the knowledge that a bus passenger is taking a specific route towards a specific destination could be used for hyper-targeted messages: “The information might include: an upcoming destination; reminders about previous purchases; points-of-interest along the way.”

This mixing of public and private usages is one way advertisers are cementing their urban domination. As one advertising CEO puts it, “The serendipitous confluence of municipal poverty and secular change in marketing practices presents a unique opportunity for a new breed of public-private partnerships.”

In reality, “public-private partnerships” often means public data being used for private ends. The best example of this took place via Intersection’s digital kiosks in New York, the LinkNYC. These kiosks were designed to replace the city’s payphones, and they feature HD screens for accessing maps, services and video calls, a phone, and USB charging ports. The “Links” are owned and operated by the CityBridge consortium, and are funded by advertising on the large screens. Last year, “InLinks” launched in the UK.

Intersection turned public data into private ad dollars last year, when it helped the beer brewing company MillerCoors run an advertising campaign in partnership with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). MillerCoors used MTA data to detect when there were delays on certain train lines, and subsequently relayed this information alongside the slogan, “Your commute can wait” and an invitation to stop off for a beer....MORE
HT: FT Alphaville's Further Reading linkpost, September 5.

IKEA Is Already Designing Furniture For Autonomous Vehicles

Assuming it takes a minimum three repetitions to make a trend (two are a line, one is a point, etc) I think we may have one. More after the jump.
From MIT's Technology Review:

IKEA designs future autonomous cars that work as hotels, stores, and meeting rooms
The furniture store’s research lab has dreamed up seven ways we might use autonomous vehicles if we don’t actually have to focus on driving.
      Once cars can finally drive themselves, we’ll have more time to enjoy the journey and do other, much more interesting stuff instead. At least that’s the concept behind some of the designs below, developed by retail giant IKEA’s “future living lab,” SPACE10, based in Copenhagen.
      The design studio/research lab came up with designs for autonomous vehicles that would be extensions of our homes, offices, and local institutions. Some of its seven ideas, shown below, are almost practical. Who can’t imagine autonomously driven cafés or pop-up stores? In fact, they already exist in California—in the form of self-driving cars that have groceries stocked in their back seats.
      Other concepts might need a bit more thought, particularly the ones that SPACE10 envisions delivering resources to underserved communities. It may be difficult, for example, for a self-driving health clinic to bring medical care to truly remote areas. Nevertheless, the designs are useful for sparking conversations about the ways autonomous vehicles could transform everyday life.
      Rendering of Ikea's office on Wheels 
      space10 and f°am Studio
      Why not turn your entire commute into one long meeting? SPACE10’s Office on Wheels would enable you to not just work on your way to work, but also hold group discussions in a mobile version of a conference room.
      Rendering of Ikea's retail store on Wheels 
      space10 and f°am Studio
      Or just a mini IKEA store?


      Honda Patents an Autonomous Mobile Living Room
      Ogilvy & Mather UK Vice-Chair Rory Sutherland on Driverless Showers
      Driverless Hotel Rooms: The End of Uber, Airbnb and Human Landlords

      Distribution/Logistics: "Flanders, the hub for international cocaine trafficking"

      HT up front: the Investigative Reporting Project, Italy, July 23:
      Flanders, the hub for international cocaine trafficking
      The late Belgian-Italian mobster Silvio Aquino had a novel way to smuggle drugs into Europe: hiding cocaine in shipments of tropical fruit. One of the reporting leads Ján Kuciak was investigating when he was murdered this February concerned Aquino’s efforts to launder his profits in Slovakia.
      When he was murdered by an unknown assassin earlier this year, Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak was part of an international team looking into foreign drug smugglers suspected of laundering money in his country.

      The investigation reveals an international ring of drug traffickers with ties to the Italian mafia. Based in Belgium, with operations in the Netherlands, it could count on suppliers from Costa Rica and Colombia and secret large caches of cocaine in fruit shipments from Latin America to Western Europe.
      From the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP):

      Going Bananas: Flanders Transformed into Hub for International Cocaine Trafficking
      When he was murdered by an unknown assassin earlier this year, Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak was part of an international team looking into foreign drug smugglers suspected of laundering money in his country.
      In the wake of his death, the team has continued reporting, uncovering more about the criminal group and how it operated.
      The investigation reveals an international ring of drug traffickers with ties to the Italian mafia. Based in Belgium, with operations in the Netherlands, it could count on suppliers from Costa Rica and Colombia and secret large caches of cocaine in fruit shipments from Latin America to Western Europe.
      A major Belgian law enforcement operation named Raak (the Dutch word for “strike”) took down part of the network — only to see its mastermind murdered before he could be brought to justice.
      Its remaining parts, spread across the world, have continued to function despite the Belgian police action. And even in Belgium, cocaine traffickers were quick to resume their work.

      Belgium’s Top Narcos
      Before his sudden murder, Silvio Aquino was a main suspect in what has been called “one of the biggest drug trials in Belgian history.”

      The Raak investigation into cocaine smuggling — which involved 34 defendants and the seizure of over €8 million (US$ 9 million) in cash, drugs, cars, and weapons — dragged on for over four years before finally wrapping up on Feb. 1, 2017.

      Large portions of the cocaine were imported by the Aquino family through the port of Rotterdam; helping explain why the Netherlands has become known in recent years as a European gateway for South American cocaine.

      But who was Silvio Aquino, the family’s rising leader at the time of his death?

      Born and raised by his Italian father in Maasmechelen, a quaint city of about 38,000 in Belgium’s Flanders region, Aquino grew into a key figure in the global drug trade at a young age (his last known job before going totally into drug trafficking was managing a pizzeria).

      By the time of the most recent investigation, he had already faced multiple convictions: Once for international drug trafficking in Belgium in 1998; again in the Netherlands in 2004 for kidnapping a man who had sold him sugar instead of cocaine; and once again in Belgium in 2014, this time for criminal organization and exporting 6.5 tons of ecstasy pills to Australia.

      Bald, clean-shaved, and muscular, Silvio Aquino looked as hard as his work.
      He was also a hard worker. Evidence presented in court painted a picture of a man dedicated to enriching his family, which he worshiped like a proper mafia don. “I’m from the street. I kidnapped people; I’ve done it all my life,” he was overheard telling associates. “I don’t want problems. I want good business. I want to make money for the family.”...
      ...MUCH MORE

      Does Using Voodoo Dolls of Your Boss Work As Retaliation For Wrongs Committed By Said Boss?

      I am very reluctantly commending to the reader's attention the research that led to this year's Ig Nobel prize in Economics.

      From Harvard's Improbable Research:
      ECONOMICS PRIZE [CANADA, CHINA, SINGAPORE, USA] — Lindie Hanyu Liang, Douglas Brown, Huiwen Lian, Samuel Hanig, D. Lance Ferris, and Lisa Keeping, for investigating whether it is effective for employees to use Voodoo dolls to retaliate against abusive bosses.

      REFERENCE: "Righting a Wrong: Retaliation on a Voodoo Doll Symbolizing an Abusive Supervisor Restores Justice," Lindie Hanyu Liang, Douglas J. Brown, Huiwen Lian, Samuel Hanig, D. Lance Ferris, and Lisa M. Keeping, The Leadership Quarterly, February 2018.

      WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Hanyu Liang, Douglas J. Brown, Huiwen Lian, D. Lance Ferris, and Lisa M. Keeping
      This potentially dangerous research was deliberately omitted from our coverage two weeks ago:
      Well, Another Year's Ig Nobel Prize Awards Are In The Can and the Winners Are...

      However, upon deep reflection, and after much argument, we've decided the pure quest for knowledge outweighs the risks to bosses everywhere.

      Via ScienceDirect: 

      Righting a wrong: Retaliation on a voodoo doll symbolizing an abusive supervisor restores justice
      When a subordinate receives abusive treatment from a supervisor, a natural response is to retaliate against the supervisor. Although retaliation is dysfunctional and should be discouraged, we examine the potential functional role retaliation plays in terms of alleviating the negative consequences of abusive supervision on subordinate justice perceptions. Based on the notion that retaliation following mistreatment can restore justice for victims, we propose a model whereby retaliation following abusive supervision alleviates the negative effect of abusive supervision on subordinate justice perceptions. In two experimental studies (Study 1 and 2), whereby we manipulated abusive supervision and subordinate symbolic retaliation—in particular, harming a voodoo doll that represents the abusive supervisor—we found general support for our predictions. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.
      When a subordinate is subjected to abusive supervision such as public ridicule, yelling, scapegoating, or other forms of supervisor mistreatment, a natural response for the subordinate is to directly retaliate against the abusive supervisor (Bies & Tripp, 1996). Indeed, a growing body of studies (e.g., Lian, Brown, Ferris, Liang, Keeping, & Morrison, 2014; Mitchell & Ambrose, 2007) and meta-analyses (Mackey, Frieder, Brees, & Martinko, 2017; Schyns & Schilling, 2013) suggests that a relationship exists between abusive supervision and subsequent subordinate retaliation. 

      Unfortunately, retaliation—or actions “in response to some perceived harm or wrongdoing by another party that is intended to inflict damage” (Aquino, Tripp, & Bies, 2001, p. 53)—would seem to have destructive consequences for all parties involved. For instance, retaliation is detrimental to supervisor-subordinate relationships, such that it can escalate conflict, resulting in further acts of supervisory abuse (Aquino et al., 2001; Pruitt & Rubin, 1986; Tepper et al., 2009). Moreover, retaliation can result in expensive lawsuits (Perry, 2000) as well as undermine employee job performance (Robinson & Greenberg, 1998). Given these negative effects, various researchers have argued that retaliation should be avoided (e.g., Folger & Baron, 1996; Lian, Brown, et al., 2014).

      Yet, despite these negative consequences, retaliation appears to be relatively common. For example, surveys have shown that 76% of employees reported engaging in aggression towards their supervisor over the past year (Greenberg & Barling, 1999), and that employees aggress towards their supervisor as much as they do towards other coworkers, perhaps more so (Baron, Neuman, & Geddes, 1999)...
      ...MUCH MORE

      Saturday, September 29, 2018

      The Criminal as Entrepreneur

      From American Affairs, Fall 2018, Volume II number 3:

      About the Author
      Cedric Muhammad is an entrepreneur and author of The Entrepreneurial Secret. He is the former general manager of Wu-Tang Management and is a member of the African Union’s Congress of Economists. Follow him on Twitter.

      Painting can do for the illiterate what writing does for those who can read.
      —Pope Gregory the Great

      Drug dealers anonymous / Y’all think Uber’s the future, our cars been autonomous.
      —Jay-Z, “Drug Dealers Anonymous
      Jean-Eugène Buland (1852–1926), Le Tripot (The Dive) (1883), oil on canvas, 63.5 × 109.2 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons
      The latest iteration of rap beef—this time between the multiplatinum hitmaker Drake and the street-credible lyricist Pusha T—had all of the attributes of the tradition, only inart was fueled by the warp speed of social media and the glitz of a calculated marketing plan. Witty innuendo, gossip, and slick production were married to the Spotify playlist algorithm and Instagram stories. But there was something else at work in the reemergence of Pusha T, a forty-plus-year-old rapper who was the consensus winner in the battle. His open embrace of references to and imagery from the entrepreneurial aspects of drug culture brought a motif of the decades-old gangster subgenre in rap music1 back to front-and-center status. Pusha T relied on the artistic presentation of a black American antihero—the drug dealer MC (master of ceremonies)—a play on the transmutation of cultural capital that has accrued to both the street hustler and hip-hop artist who remain closely tied to their communities.

      When Pusha T rapped on “If You Know You Know” that “A rapper-turned-trapper can’t morph into us / But a trapper-turned-rapper can morph into Puff,” he indicated a separation of sorts: an artist could never do what a street entrepreneur does, yet a hustler could not only make music but also conduct business at the highest level of the music industry (a nod to Sean “Puffy” Combs, whom Pusha described as the ultimate “street dream”). And by making clear that he didn’t care whether the average person understood the code he spoke, he (and the TMZ-destined, meme-worthy aspects of the back-and-forth) intrigued both those outside of the culture and people residing within those zip codes most familiar with “the life” he described.2 But why are such figures so intriguing?

      The Celebration of Crime in Popular Culture
      The celebration of crime is not a new phenomenon in American culture. David E. Ruth’s Inventing the Public Enemy: The Gangster in American Culture, 1918–1934 (University of Chicago Press, 1996) showcases the phenomenon as it played out a century ago. And Thomas H. Pauly, in tracing the evolution of the criminal throughout popular culture, describes the development of an image that makes the pure celebration or condemnation of criminal activity virtually impossible:
      The criminal is the menace, the alien, the Other—the one we fear, avoid and condemn. Because criminals are outlaws, they operate outside of the rules and expectations by which we define ourselves as a society. But because they exist within our society, they threaten those codes that give our lives order and security. [But] we also realize that criminals are not always obvious outsiders. Some operate at the highest levels of respectable society and from very influential political and business positions. When this type of criminal ceases to be the random oddity and seems commonplace, our normal suspicions become confused and turn back upon themselves.3
      Normalization of the street hustler, criminal, and gangster has been a staple of American pop culture, largely (it seems) because the lines between immoral and moral, informal and formal, illegal and legal have always been blurred.

      In “Big Funerals: The Hollywood Gangster, 1927–1933,” a treatment of the image of criminal entrepreneurship, Andrew Sarris discusses the presentation of the “urban criminal” in cinema from The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912) to The High Sign (1921) to Underworld (1927) to Little Caesar (1931) to Scarface (1932).4 “Crooks and criminals go back very far and down very deep in all cultures,” he wrote: “Cain as sinner rather than criminal because murder violated God’s law before there were any laws drawn up by men, The Thief of Bagdad, MacHeath in The Beggar’s Opera and later in The Threepenny Opera, Fagin, Bill Sikes, Raskolnikov, Smerdyakov, the denizens of François Villon’s Paris, the pirates, outlaws, highwaymen, and cutthroats of song and story. . . . The movie gangster drew from time to time on all these prior cultural sources.” With this in mind, Sarris determined, “The gangster movie was thus born full grown out of the union of mythology and sociology, literature and journalism.”5 That union—as it plays out across ethnicity, specific criminal activity and prohibition, legalization and decriminalization movements—suggests the superiority of art, at times, over politics in conveying popular sentiment in society.

      It is the centrality of community sentiment and the shifts in it that explain why criminals are often popular. Black’s Law Dictionary defines crime as “an act committed or omitted, in violation of a public law, either forbidding or commanding it; a breach or violation of some public right or duty due to a whole community, considered as a community.” If a “community” finds a public law (or the motivation for it) more offensive than a committed or omitted act, however, or even sees public authority as less legitimate than its own customs and traditions, it stands to reason that the definition of “law” will not always be in alignment with the community itself. Should a “criminal” emerge who is seen as more faithful to the customs of the community, notwithstanding the standards of public law, he or she is likely to be more trusted than any central lawmaking or law-enforcing institution.
      Perception matters, and in America kinship-based communities have often seen local, state, and federal governments in the light of Psalm 94:20 (“Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law?”)—as entities with which they are incompatible, entities that even conspire against them, at times, through legal means. Inseparable from those perceptions, moreover, are the economic and entrepreneurial aspects of crime, and how they interact with community aspirations.
      The Criminal as Businessman
      Daniel Bell’s seminal 1953 essay “Crime as an American Way of Life” pursued greater clarity about the true relationship between crime, community, and culture.6 Crime, he suggested, “has a ‘functional’ role in the society, and the urban rackets—the illicit activity organized for continuing profit rather than individual illegal acts—is one of the queer ladders of social mobility in American life.”7 Bell argued that American organized crime could not be understood without an appreciation of “(1) the distinctive role of organized gambling as a function of a mass-consumption economy; (2) the specific role of various immigrant groups as they one after another became involved in marginal business and crime; and (3) the relation of crime to the changing character of the urban political machines.”8 To update that tripod, one may add a fourth category—the lens of artists and mass media.

      Bell understood the centrality of gambling to the underground economy of his day. “Like American capitalism itself,” he wrote, “crime shifted its emphasis from production to consumption. The focus of crime became the direct exploitation of the citizen as consumer, largely through gambling. And while the protection of these huge revenues was inextricably linked to politics, the relation between gambling and ‘the mobs’ became more complicated.”9

      The “mobs” organized around gambling sorted themselves along distinct ethnic lines. Among the poor and lower class, and black Americans in particular, gambling germinated in the policy racket and “numbers” game whereby participants bet upon the selection of certain numbers. How the disparity between black American numbers entrepreneurs and those from the Jewish and Italian ethnic groups played out can be seen in the takeover of the Harlem policy racket. In African American Organized Crime: A Social History (Rutgers University Press, 1997), Rufus Schatzberg and Robert J. Kelly describe this takeover as follows:
      “Dutch” Schultz was a notorious gunman, widely feared in the New York underworld during the bootlegging wars. . . . [He] recognized the enormous potential of the Harlem policy racket. . . . Because policy was an African-American game, and illegal, and because the policy operators did not have a reputation for violence, a take over seemed relatively easy and not very costly, either in lives or in bribes. The Harlem “coup” could be conducted, therefore, through a series of staged incentives that appealed to the common sense of his African-American competitors. . . . Pitted against the New York crime bosses, Harlem seemed vulnerable. Harlem policy operators paid the police but they lacked a crucial advantage—the political machine. . . . More than removing law enforcement as an obstacle in criminal enterprises, Schultz mobilized police officers, bail bondsmen, lawyers, and court officials as active participants in his criminal enterprises and as appendages in his war for the numbers rackets in Harlem.10
      This history represents an early example of the complexities surrounding the intersection of organized criminal activity, ethnic succession, and politics. Three of the most iconic black American figures historically tied to the numbers business are Casper Holstein, Stephanie St. Clair, and “Bumpy” Johnson. Casper Holstein, an immigrant from St. Croix, became the “numbers king” of Harlem early last century. Holstein is the real-life figure who serves as the basis of the character “Valentin Narcisse” on the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. Madam St. Clair, an immigrant from the French West Indies, was another Harlem boss who dominated the numbers racket. “Bumpy” Johnson, the enforcer for Madam St. Clair, later negotiated an agreement with Lucky Luciano—after Dutch Schultz was killed—to return control of the Harlem numbers racket to black operators. (Incidentally, considering her pioneering role as “Madam Queen” and “Lady Gangster,” it is surprising that a criminal entrepreneur such as Madam St. Clair has received so little attention as a figure of female empowerment.)

      The importance of this form of gambling to the so-called legitimate economy was immense. Ivan Light wrote in 1977 that “Numbers racketeers have been the largest investors in black-owned business or ghetto real estate and the chief source of business capital in the ghetto. . . . Numbers bankers have been virtually the only sources of business capitalization available to local blacks lacking collateral or credit rating.” In addition, “numbers bankers have been leading philanthropists in depressed black neighborhoods, making donations to churches and athletic teams, and providing Christmas and Easter baskets for the poor.”11 Light views the numbers racket as an adaptation by blacks to address their inability to source and form capital from legal market and government sources. The numbers game in Harlem, the “Italian lottery,” and “Bolita” (popular among Cubans) are as much the ancestor of the modern lottery in America as those which existed during colonial times, but few are aware of this history.

      All of these issues related to gambling continue to play out today, though legalization has changed, and continues to change, its economic and cultural implications. As Bell noted, criminal entrepreneurial activity declined when its consumption-based profile ascended, and the emergence of the legal lottery as a fundraising source for governments appears to have removed intrigue from the practice, although it clearly still exists underground. The marriage between live entertainment and gambling as a leisure activity contributed to the rise of the racetrack and the casino as physical locations. Casinos eventually won out, as horse racing faded in mass popularity, and boxing moved from outdoor arenas to become an event hosted in venues inside of or attached to casinos and their hotels. As these changes occurred, criminal entrepreneurs gradually receded because they were unable to compete on such a large scale.

      More recent developments in legalization, however, may precipitate a shift in the opposite direction. When Bell was writing, the transformation of gambling paralleled the transition from an industrial to a consumption economy. Today, developments like the recent Supreme Court decision (Murphy v. NCAA) that effectively legalized sports gambling reflect the transition to an information economy. The legalization of sports betting in an era of social media introduces a new legal opportunity—the efficient transfer of increasingly valuable information. As Bell pointed out, the most important aspect of horse racing was not the outcome of the competition itself but rather the pursuit of accurate information in advance of it:
      As other rackets diminished, and gambling, particularly horse-race betting, flourished in the ’40’s, a struggle erupted over the control of racing information.
      Horse-race betting requires a peculiar industrial organization. The essential component is time. A bookie can operate only if he can get information on odds up to the very last minute before the race, so that he can “hedge” or “lay off” bets. With racing going on simultaneously on many tracks throughout the country, this information has to be obtained speedily and accurately. Thus, the racing wire is the nerve ganglion of race betting.12
      Sports betting and its lucrative newswire should reward the combination of a detailed knowledge of sports and higher social media usage (notably, in this decade Latinos and African Americans have shown disproportionate engagement on Twitter and Instagram). With athletes disproportionately coming from lower-income communities—at a time when such communities have increased access to these celebrities—a greater flow of material information regarding factors that influence their athletic performance may be at the disposal of entrepreneurs from these communities. And since variables impacting athletic performance are not gambling-specific, space remains for individuals who specialize in information and data curation. The modern version of the “racing wire” appears to provide more opportunities for entry-level derivative monetization.

      Another positive contributing factor in this direction might also be the increased importance of status-signaling through social media and the disclosure and transference of previously unknown information by rappers and celebrities. This was a factor in the Pusha T/Drake beef. It is widely believed, due to the fact that both artists (and Kanye West) have contractual relationships with Adidas, that Pusha T was privy to information about an upcoming marketing campaign the company was developing around Drake and his previously unknown baby son. Some pondered whether the disclosure cost the company untold millions by preempting the promotional effort and weakening Drake’s popularity. Others, though, saw it in terms of the publicity boost it gave to a company fiercely competing with Nike and holding off Puma.13 Nevertheless, the incident gave lower-income communities—generally more known for consumption—the kind of information that only well-heeled investors and company insiders would typically have access to.

      Here, culture is not innovating; it is only continuing a long tradition of art serving the function of information provider. As decision-makers increasingly value intelligence, human and artificial, and as social media and the internet have democratized access to the distribution of information, those closest to poorer communities have more opportunity than ever to unearth insights, reveal gossip, identify trends, and exchange them for compensation.
      The Oldest Profession
      When Dave Chappelle held up Pimp, Iceberg Slim’s legendary book, during a 2018 Netflix special, and used an aspect of the narrative as a metaphor for his own career and American society, he not only struck a chord with his audience, he also brought one of the most popular personalities in urban street culture back to center stage. Iceberg Slim, born in Chicago in 1918, was the author of seven books during his lifetime, two of which were published posthumously. Pimp: The Story of My Life (Holloway House, 1967) was his autobiography, in which Slim details his career as a pimp from the age of eighteen to forty-two.14 Filled with gut-wrenching anecdotes, slang, and proverb-like sayings, the book has become more than a cult classic....
      About the Author
      Cedric Muhammad is an entrepreneur and author of The Entrepreneurial Secret. He is the former general manager of Wu-Tang Management and is a member of the African Union’s Congress of Economists. Follow him on Twitter.
      ...MUCH MORE (including enough footnotes to make Matt levine weep for joy)

      Possibly related, one of our top 20 posts of 2010:

      Business Plans: Keep it Pimpin' Edition
      Original post:
      One of these days I'll do a post or two on business plans. For now:
      From Vice Magazine's Viceland Today blog (we have 1300 feeds, what can I say):

      Speaking of great amateur literature, here’s a detailed business plan from a pimp that outlines his strategy to expand business and “take care my bitches more better” titled, “Keep it Pimpin’.”

      Judging from this guy’s lofty goals, we can only assume he’s small time and probably deals primarily in broken-ass hoes who don’t yield a high rate of return right now, but if he follows through with his plan to “discover hoes from all over (jail house, small cities),” and stays “high in pursuit looking for a prostitute,” his goal–to take his “game to the next level (from the concrete streets, to executive suites)” will be realized before he knows it. There is, however, one glaring omission from his business outline, and that’s the mention of slapping his product. Any pimp worth his weight in vagina knows sometimes the girls will get out of line. It’s important to have a record of your disciplinary intentions to keep both parties (pimps and prostitutes) on the same page.

      It’s sort of hard to read, but the whole letter is below. Read it and take whatever advice you will from it. BTW, this thing came from a prosecutor. It’s real.

      Fast Company Exclusive: "Tim Berners-Lee tells us his radical new plan to upend the World Wide Web"

      From Fast Company:

      With an ambitious decentralized platform, the father of the web hopes it’s game on for corporate tech giants like Facebook and Google.
      Last week, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, asked me to come and see a project he has been working on almost as long as the web itself. It’s a crisp autumn day in Boston, where Berners-Lee works out of an office above a boxing gym. After politely offering me a cup of coffee, he leads us into a sparse conference room. At one end of a long table is a battered laptop covered with stickers. Here, on this computer, he is working on a plan to radically alter how all of us live and work on the web.
      “The intent is world domination,” Berners-Lee says with a wry smile. The British-born scientist is known for his dry sense of humor. But in this case, he is not joking.

      This week, Berners-Lee will launch, Inrupt, a startup that he has been building, in stealth mode, for the past nine months. Backed by Glasswing Ventures, its mission is to turbocharge a broader movement afoot, among developers around the world, to decentralize the web and take back power from the forces that have profited from centralizing it. In other words, it’s game on for Facebook, Google, Amazon. For years now, Berners-Lee and other internet activists have been dreaming of a digital utopia where individuals control their own data and the internet remains free and open. But for Berners-Lee, the time for dreaming is over.

      “We have to do it now,” he says, displaying an intensity and urgency that is uncharacteristic for this soft-spoken academic. “It’s a historical moment.” Ever since revelations emerged that Facebook had allowed people’s data to be misused by political operatives, Berners-Lee has felt an imperative to get this digital idyll into the real world. In a post published this weekend, Berners-Lee explains that he is taking a sabbatical from MIT to work full time on Inrupt. The company will be the first major commercial venture built off of Solid, a decentralized web platform he and others at MIT have spent years building.

      A Netscape for today’s Internet
      If all goes as planned, Inrupt will be to Solid what Netscape once was for many first-time users of the web: an easy way in. And like with Netscape, Berners-Lee hopes Inrupt will be just the first of many companies to emerge from Solid....
      ....MUCH MORE

      "Schumpeterian Profits and the Alchemist Fallacy"

      I've referred to the Alchemist Fallacy quite a few time over the years, most recently in the context of mining the moon or asteroids or somesuch but haven't highlighted the paper where I first saw the term.
      It's by Yale's Professor Nordhaus, one of the heavyweights.
      (if you glance through his c.v. you'll find at least three Nobel Laureates he's co-authored with, among other stuff)

      Via the Social Science Research Network:
      27 Pages Posted: 5 Oct 2005  
      William D. Nordhaus Yale University - Department of Economics; Cowles Foundation, Yale University; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
      Date Written: April 2, 2005
      The present study examines the importance of Schumpeterian profits in the United States economy. Schumpeterian profits are defined as those profits that arise when firms are able to appropriate the returns from innovative activity. The paper derives the underlying equations for Schumpeterian profits. It then estimates the value of these profits for the non-farm business economy and for major industries. It concludes that only a miniscule fraction of the social returns from technological advances over the 1948-2001 period was captured by producers, indicating that most of the benefits of technological change are passed on to consumers rather than captured by producers. These results indicate that the bubble of new-economy stocks in the 1990s resulted from the alchemist fallacy.
      Alchemy was an ancient art devoted to discovering a miraculous substance that would transmute common metals into gold. Most recently, this philosophy resurfaced with the view that the “new economy” could spin rapid technological change into profits and fantastic stock values.

      Many have scoffed at the idea that base metals can be transmuted into precious ones. However, that is not the alchemist fallacy. Many far more miraculous things have arisen than such a physical transformation. Rather, the alchemist fallacy is to think that, once such a process for producing gold is discovered, gold would retain its scarcity, and the discoverers would be rich beyond belief.

      The modern analog to alchemy is the new economy, which indeed provides miraculous productivity growth along with a dazzling array of new goods and services. The phenomenal increases in computer power over the twentieth century, for example, were far more rapid than anything in the historical record. Many financial analysts apparently believed that a substantial part of the economic value of the innovations in new-economy firms would be captured by the innovators, and this in part drove the stock market boom of the firms and the NASDAQ market sector. The result was the rise in the value of computer-related firms from virtually nothing to over $4 trillion in early 2000.

      The present paper investigates whether in fact investors in the 1990s once again succumbed to the alchemist fallacy. The United States economy did indeed benefit from rapid technological change over the last decade. Were innovators able to capture a significant fraction of the benefits from new technologies? Alternatively, were most of the benefits of improved productivity passed on in lower prices? These are among the topics studied below.

      I. A Model of Appropriability and Schumpeterian Profits 
      A. Background 
      Endogenous growth theory, alon g with the theory of induced innovation, has developed important new approaches to understanding the role of innovation in economic growth. Joseph Schumpeter introduced modern approaches in his pathbreaking book, The Theory of Economic Development.

      The formal theory of induced i nnovation arose in the 1960s in an attempt to understand why technological change appears to have been largely labor saving. 3 More recently, theories of induced technological change were revived as the new growth theory, pioneered by Robert Lucas and Paul Romer.
      This has blossomed into a major research field, with a wide variety of theories and applications.

      The underlying idea to be developed in this section is straightforward. Numerous individuals and firms in a modern economy are engaged in innovative activities designed to produce new and improved goods and services along with processes that reduce the cost of production. Some of these are formalized in legal ownership of intellectual property rights such as patents, copyrights, and trademarks, while others are no more than trade secrets or early-mover advantages. Some of the innovative activities produce extra-normal profits (called Schumpeterian profits), which are profits above those that would represent the normal return to investment and risk-taking....
      ...MUCH MORE (27 page PDF) Here is the SSRN download page.

      Like another of our fav. economists, Professor Shiller, Nordhaus also hangs his hat at the Cowles Foundation. which, as we've noted has been home to Econ. Laureates (Robert Shiller, Tjalling Koopmans, Kenneth Arrow, Gerard Debreu, James Tobin, Franco Modigliani, Herbert Simon, Lawrence Klein, Trygve Haavelmo, and Harry Markowitz) at a rate approaching, but inferior to, that of Cambridge's Cavendish Lab, 29 Laureates, mainly in physics, at last count but then the econ version isn't one of the original Nobels and hasn't been around as long.

      Some of our previous mentions of the alchemist fallacy.
      From 2015's "It is Now Legal to Own an Asteroid in the U.S."
      You know the first things they want to mine are those things with the highest price per ounce back on earth which ex-truffles and saffron probably means the so-called precious metals.
      However, with all that gold and platinum coming back, you might want to bone up on Another Post On Glass, This Time With "The Alchemist's Fallacy" (And Professor Nordhaus).

      The miners will probably also keep an eye peeled for Californium-252 at $27 million per gram, but finding any is a bit of a long shot, 8 grams known to date....
      Platinum Extends 6 1/2-Year Lows as Asteroid With $5.4 Trillion Worth of the Stuff Whizzes Past Earth
      See also:

      "The Price of Gold in the Year 2160"

      And "We Are About to Start Mining Hydrothermal Vents on the Ocean Floor" (now with added alchemist's fallacy"

      The thing is, such an enormous increase in supply would crash the market, something the ancient alchemists didn't mention when they were pitching their lead-into-gold private placements to their version of accredited investors, the princely class, back in the day.

      It is for this reason that the astro-miners have changed their approach and are now talking about looking for oxygen, water, nitrogen and other elements that can be used to take us farther into the universe.
      Presumably to sell to Elon Musk to speed him on his way.

      "The Billion-Dollar Mystery Man and the Wildest Party Vegas Ever Saw "

      From the Wall Street Journal, Sept. 15:

      Armed with a seemingly bottomless supply of cash, an unassuming Malaysian named Jho Low staged the ultimate extravaganza
      Las Vegas, Nov. 3-4, 2012
      Around 6 p.m. on a warm, cloudless November night, Pras Michél, a former member of the ‘90s hip-hop trio the Fugees, approached one of the Chairman Suites on the fifth floor of the Palazzo hotel. He knocked and the door opened, revealing a rotund man, dressed in a black tuxedo, who flashed a warm smile. The man, glowing slightly with perspiration, was known to his friends as Jho Low, and he spoke in the soft-voiced lilt common to Malaysians. “Here’s my boy,” Mr. Low said, embracing the rapper.

      The Chairman Suites, at $25,000 per night, were the most opulent the Palazzo had to offer, with a pool terrace overlooking the Strip. But the host didn’t plan to spend much time in the room that night; Mr. Low had a much grander celebration in store for his 31st birthday. This was just the preparty for his inner circle, who had jetted in from across the globe. Guzzling champagne, the guests, an eclectic mix of celebrities and hangers-on, buzzed around Mr. Low as more people arrived. Swizz Beatz, the hip-hop producer and husband of Alicia Keys, conversed animatedly with Mr. Low. At one point, Leonardo DiCaprio arrived alongside Benicio Del Toro to talk to Mr. Low about some film ideas.
      Adapted from “Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood and the World” by Wall Street Journal reporters Tom Wright and Bradley Hope, to be published Tuesday in the U.S. by Hachette Books.
      What did the guests make of their host? To many at the gathering, Mr. Low cut a mysterious figure. Hailing from Malaysia, a small Southeast Asian country, Mr. Low had a round face that was still boyish, with glasses, red cheeks, and barely a hint of facial hair. His unremarkable appearance was matched by an awkwardness and lack of ease in conversation, which the beautiful women around Mr. Low took to be shyness. Polite and courteous, he never seemed fully in the moment, often cutting short a conversation to take a call on one of his half a dozen cellphones.

      But despite Mr. Low’s unassuming appearance, word was that he was loaded—maybe a billionaire. Guests murmured to each other that he was the money behind Mr. DiCaprio’s latest movie, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which was still filming. Mr. Low’s bashful manners belied a hard core of ambition the like of which the world rarely sees. Look more closely, and Mr. Low wasn’t so much timid as quietly calculating, as if computing every human interaction, sizing up what he could provide for someone and what they, in turn, could do for him. Despite his age, Mr. Low had a weird gravitas, allowing him to hold his own in a room of grizzled Wall Street bankers or pampered Hollywood types. For years, he had methodically cultivated the wealthiest and most powerful people on the planet. The bold strategy had placed him in their orbit and landed him a seat here in the Palazzo. Now, he was the one doling out favors.

      The night at the Palazzo marked the apex of Mr. Low’s ascendancy. The guest list for his birthday included Hollywood stars, top bankers from

      Goldman Sachs , and powerful figures from the Middle East. In the aftermath of the U.S. financial crisis, they all wanted a piece of Mr. Low. Pras Michél had lost his place in the limelight since the Fugees disbanded, but was hoping to reinvent himself as a private-equity investor, and Mr. Low held out the promise of funding. Some celebrities had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in appearance fees from Mr. Low just to turn up at his events, and they were keen to keep him happy.
      But even those stars couldn’t really claim to know Mr. Low’s story. If you entered “Jho Low” into Google, very little came up. Some people said he was an Asian arms dealer. Others claimed he was close to the prime minister of Malaysia. Or maybe he inherited billions from his Chinese grandfather. Casino operators and nightclubs refer to their highest rollers as “whales,” and one thing was certain about Mr. Low: He was the most extravagant whale that Vegas, New York, and St. Tropez had seen in a long time—maybe ever.

      A few hours later, just after 9 p.m., Mr. Low’s guests began the journey to the evening’s main event. As the limousines drove up the Strip, it was clear they weren’t heading to the desert, as some guests thought, instead pulling up at what looked like a giant aircraft hangar, specially constructed on a vacant parcel of land. Among those present was Robin Leach, who for decades, as host of the TV show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” had chronicled the spending of rappers, Hollywood stars, and old-money dynasties. But that was the 1980s and 1990s, and nothing had prepared him for the intemperance of the night. A gossip columnist for the Las Vegas Sun, Mr. Leach was among the few guests who had gleaned some details of what was coming. “Wicked whispers EXCLUSIVE: Britney Spears flying into Vegas tomorrow for secret concert, biggest big bucks private party ever thrown,” he tweeted.

      Briney Spear burst out of a cake to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Jho Low at the 2012 Las Vegas party.

      One puzzling requirement of Mr. Leach’s invitation was that he could write about the party, but not name the host. He had made his career from the desire of rich people to brag about their affluence; what made this guy want to spend so much cash in secret? he wondered. A nightlife veteran, Mr. Leach was stunned by the audacity of the construction on the site. As he surveyed the arch of the party venue, which was ample enough to house a Ferris wheel, carousel, circus trampoline, cigar lounge, and plush white couches scattered throughout, he did some calculations. One side was circus themed, with the other half transformed into an ultrachic nightclub.

      It must have cost millions, Mr. Leach estimated. Here were new lovers Kanye West and Kim Kardashian canoodling under a canopy; Paris Hilton and heartthrob River Viiperi whispering by a bar; actors Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis, on a break from filming “The Hangover Part III,” laughed as they took in the scene. “We’re used to extravagant parties in Las Vegas, but this was the ultimate party,” Mr. Leach said. “I’ve never been to one like it.”

      Mr. Low was careful not to overlook his less well-known friends and key business contacts. Among the guests were Tim Leissner, a German-born banker who was a star deal maker for Goldman Sachs in Asia. There were whispers among Wall Street bankers about the huge profits Goldman had been making in Malaysia, hundreds of millions of dollars arranging bonds for a state investment fund, but they hadn’t reached insular Hollywood.

      The crowd was already lively when Jamie Foxx started off the show with a video projected on huge screens. It featured friends of Mr. Low from around the world, each dancing a bit of the hit song “Gangnam Style.” As the video ended, Psy, the South Korean singer who had shot to stardom that year for “Gangnam Style,” played the song live as the crowd erupted. Over the following hour and a half, there were performances from Redfoo and the Party Rock Crew, Busta Rhymes, Q-Tip, Pharrell, and Swizz Beatz, with Ludacris and Chris Brown, who debuted the song “Everyday Birthday.” During Q-Tip’s session, a drunk Mr. DiCaprio got on stage and rapped alongside him. Then, a giant faux wedding cake was wheeled on stage. After a few moments, Britney Spears, wearing a skimpy, gold-colored outfit, burst out and, joined by dancers, serenaded Mr. Low with “Happy Birthday.” Each of the performers earned a fat check, with Ms. Spears reportedly taking a six-figure sum for her brief cameo.

      Then the gifts. The nightlife impresarios who helped set up the party, Noah Tepperberg and Jason Strauss, stopped the music and took a microphone. Mr. Low had spent tens of millions of dollars in their clubs Marquee, TAO, and LAVO over the past few years, just as the financial crisis hit and Wall Street high rollers were feeling the pinch. He was their No. 1 client, and they did everything to ensure other nightclub owners didn’t steal him away. As Messrs. Tepperberg and Strauss motioned to staff, a bright red Lamborghini was driven out into the middle of the marquee. Someone gave not one but three high-end Ducati motorcycles. Finally, a ribbon-wrapped $2.5 million Bugatti Veyron was presented by Szen Low to his brother.

      Just after 12:20 a.m., the sky lit up with fireworks....
      ...MUCH MORE

      Google's "Predictive" News Search/Timeline

      There is a firehose of news every hour and there is currently no search engine that captures it. The current commercial news searches already edit the results you see, and this effort by the GOOG seems like a refinement of the "silo" effect rather than an enhancement or enlargement of the news universe presented to the user. Although it is probably a dandy way to keep you on that Google app/platform/site.

      From Axios:

      Go deeper: Google's Discover wants to replace your news feed
      No one ever says "Let's see what's on Google" the way they might say "Let's see what's on Facebook" when they turn on their phones or computers. The search giant is hoping to change that, with the announcement Monday that it will offer a personalized feed of stories, items and links on the Google search home page on all mobile browsers.

      Why it matters: After 20 years of dedication to its minimalist home screen, Google may be ready to embrace the shape of Facebook's News Feed, which holds users longer.

      Google's search box invited active engagement — you had to initiate the process. The streams that Facebook's News Feed popularized offer a more passive experience: Just sit back, scroll down, and click when you feel like it.
      • Searches have a limit — they end when you find what you're after.
      • Streams are effectively infinite — they continue until your attention wanders or your battery dies.
      The details: The new service, Google Discover, has been gestating under the name Google Feed.
      The background: On a web that was overloading pages with attention-grabbing junk and ads even in 1998, when Google was born, the search engine made a name for itself with its pristine screen: A colorful logo, a search box, two buttons, and the vastness of global knowledge just beyond.

      But over the next decade, "enter search term and click through" lost out to a different model of online interaction — the stream.
      • Pioneered by blogs and universalized by Facebook and Twitter, streams emphasized what was new and, later, what an algorithm calculated that you wanted to see.
      At Google Discover's launch event on Monday, company execs referred to the new offering as a form of "queryless search" — a kind of content recommendation system that knows what you want before you tell it what you need ...
      ...The bottom line: With Discover, Google will test the proposition that a feed based on deep awareness of your individual knowledge needs will serve you better than one based on social network cues and sharing — and that there are better ways to keep up on the news than Facebook. 
      A "deep awareness of your individual knowledge needs"?

      Backed by Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, Breakthrough Energy Ventures lists seven new investments

      From GeekWire:
      Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the $1 billion energy innovation fund spearheaded by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, has revealed seven more companies in which it’s investing, including startups that aim to build fusion reactors, produce biofuels with microbes, and pull drinking water out of the air affordably.
      In addition to Gates, contributors to the fund include Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, the Virgin Group’s Richard Branson, Alibaba’s Jack Ma and SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son.
      The first two companies in the fund’s portfolio — Form Energy and Quidnet Energy, both focusing on power storage — came to light in June in a report published by the Quartz news website. Today Quartz has the first word about the next seven companies. Here’s the list:
      • CarbonCure, focusing on a technology to inject recycled carbon dioxide into concrete to increase its strength (and reduce the concrete industry’s carbon footprint).
      • Commonwealth Fusion Systems, an MIT spinout that’s working on an unorthodox type of fusion reactor that makes use of high-temperature superconductors.
      • DMC Biotechnologies, which genetically tailors microbes to produce high-value chemicals, including biofuels.
      • Fervo Energy, making use of modern computational models and horizontal-drilling technology to develop low-cost approaches to geothermal power.
      • Pivot Bio, offering a clean alternative to synthetic nitrogen fertilizer that can reduce chemical runoff and help eliminate the production of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas.
      • QuantumScape, which is developing an all-solid-state battery well-suited for use in electric vehicles.
      • Zero Mass Water, which sells solar-powered “hydropanel” devices that extract drinkable water from the atmosphere.
      Breakthrough Energy Ventures says all seven companies satisfied its eligibility requirement: to showcase a scientifically sound technology that has the potential to bring about a reduction of 500 million metric tons in annual global greenhouse-gas emissions, which currently amount to about 40 billion metric tons....MORE

      "The Fuzzy Logic of Fleeing for Your Life"

      This is a repost from a few years ago that was brought to mind by a book review we will be getting to on Sunday.

      Saturday, September 19, 2015
      From IEEE Spectrum:
      On 31 December 2014, approximately 300,000 people packed Chen Yi Square on the riverfront of the Bund in Shanghai to watch the New Year’s Eve light show. The popular, bedazzling event took a tragic turn when observers on a stairway to the waterfront mistook a sudden shift in crowd traffic for something more sinister. Panic and confusion caused a chaotic stampede, resulting in 36 dead and about 50 injured.

      Jian Ma, a researcher at Southwest Jiaotong University, in China, is trying to better understand the events of the Shanghai stampede. “Right now, we do not have enough insight into why people choose their escape in such an irrational way,” he says.

      Civil engineers have been modeling evacuations during these kinds of emergencies and disasters for decades, but they haven’t been able to completely capture the way a hammering heart or a body zinging with adrenaline can alter a person’s behavior during a crisis. A new approach that integrates the concept of “fuzzy logic” can make computerized crowds behave more like hysterical humans.

      Typically, computers answer questions with an absolute truth (either yes or no, 0 or 1). Fuzzy logic, on the other hand, understands truth on a sliding scale, where the answer can be “maybe.” When applied to a model of pedestrian traffic, it can account for emotions like fear, panic, and anxiety, and it can show how each variable influences how fast a crowd evacuates. These fuzzy models can more accurately reflect pedestrian behavior like that seen during the stampede in Shanghai, according to Ma.

      Ma cochaired a special session on intelligent pedestrian traffic and evacuation dynamics at this week’s 18th IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITSC2015), where several papers investigating fuzzy logic pedestrian models were presented.

      One of those studies, led by a research team at the Polytechnic University of Bari, in Italy, involved creating an algorithm that incorporated fuzzy perception and anxiety among people in an evacuating crowd. Although the algorithm could create many scenarios, the study focused on how pedestrians evacuated a simulated layout of the Bari International Airport’s first floor. The engineers programmed different numbers and types of escape routes, and measured pedestrian flow and evacuation outcome.

      “In our opinion, [the simulations] are similar to reality,” says Mario Marinelli, one of the researchers. “We can see the uncertainty in choosing between exits.”

      The model could also re-create specific panic-induced behaviors, such as herding and milling. Traditionally, probability theory has been used to measure uncertainty in such models, but those models could only quantify the occurrence of an event—for example, whether or not an individual in a crowd would make it out of a burning building, according to Marinelli. They did not capture the properties that fuzzy logic models can....MORE
      One of the more interesting examples of people actually doing the right thing was the crash of Air France Flight 358 in Toronto. Attempting to land in really lousy weather the plane went too far down the runway and into a ravine. There were 309 people on board.

      From the Aviation Investigation Report
      Runway Overrun and Fire:

      ...1.15  Survival Aspects

      1.15.1  General
      The passenger load comprised 297 passengers: 168 adult males; 118 adult females; 8 children;
      and 3 infants. Adult passengers included: three wheelchair passengers and one blind passenger.

      Three non-revenue passengers were seated in crew seats: one in the third occupant seat of the
      flight deck, and two in the flight crew rest area.

      The dynamic loads generated in this occurrence were within range of human tolerance.
      However, given the number of serious impact injuries incurred by passengers and crew located
      in the flight deck and forward cabin, it is apparent that significant forces were experienced in
      those areas of the aircraft.

      1.15.2  Runway Excursion
      From the time the aircraft left the runway until it came to a stop in the ravine, it bounced
      violently and repeatedly, and there were a minimum of three distinct impacts. On each impact,
      cabin occupants were propelled upward from their seats, their arms and legs flailing. It is
      estimated that approximately 15 to 20 seconds elapsed between the time the aircraft departed
      the runway hard surface and it came to a stop in the ravine. The following events occurred during the impact sequence:
      • a number of overhead baggage compartment doors opened, uncommanded, allowing
        carry-on baggage to fall into the cabin;
      • the L2 passenger door opened while the aircraft was moving, sometime after it left
        the end of the runway;
      • a portable serving table stowed/secured in the forward galley dislodged and fell in
        the cross-aisle between the L2 and the R2 exit doors;
      • the fire started on the aircraft exterior before the aircraft came to a stop; and
      • smoke entered the cabin through the opened evacuation doors before the evacuation
        was complete....
      • ...
      When the plane came to a stop it was discovered that 4 of the 8 exits were unusable: