Saturday, July 31, 2021

"Finance Chiefs Are Still Trying to Replace Excel With New Tools"

 From The Wall Street Journal's CFO Journal, July 21:

Many companies would like to reduce their reliance on the spreadsheet application, but employees remain reluctant to give it up

Finance chiefs are still trying to get employees to move away from Microsoft Excel, the ubiquitous spreadsheet program loved and loathed by accounting professionals.

While many still see it as a helpful tool, some CFOs say finance teams rely on it too much, often for tasks that Excel isn’t well-suited to handle. That can lead to mistakes and wasted time.

Microsoft Corp. moved Excel and its other Office products to the cloud a decade ago and has offered a number of new features and updates since. But some finance chiefs still want to reduce their reliance on the application in favor of programs that more efficiently automate data collection and analysis. They say there are limitations to Excel’s effectiveness, with users having a tough time keeping track of changes and verifying financial information.

Last year’s abrupt shift to remote work during the pandemic, which forced finance chiefs to manage corporate finances and close the books remotely, highlighted shortfalls in using Excel, said Glenn Hafler, a principal at advisory firm Hackett Group Inc. “The pandemic really exposed the vulnerability that finance teams have as a result of their dependence on Excel,” Mr. Hafler said.

Inputting data manually, which is what many users still do, can be time-consuming and result in errors that go unnoticed, especially when employees are scattered in remote work locations.

Pure Cycle Corp. , a water- and land-management company based in Watkins, Colo., earlier this month disclosed it had corrected an accounting error that originated in an Excel sheet.

The error was a result of complicated formulas used to allocate costs and a lack of detailed review by the company’s management, said Kevin McNeill, Pure Cycle’s chief financial officer.

“Excel is an extremely valuable tool, but I think most companies, including us, put too much reliance into it,” he said.

Pure Cycle, which reported about $500,000 more in quarterly interest income than it should have, is introducing more controls around its reporting processes and moving as many tasks as possible into its accounting software to avoid overusing Excel, Mr. McNeill said. The company booked $2.6 million in revenue during the quarter ended May 31, up from $1.8 million during the prior-year period.

The widespread use of Microsoft’s Windows operating system and Office suite of products in the 1990s helped establish Excel as a market leader in spreadsheets. Finance employees grew familiar with the program and cultivated their own ways of working in it over the years. It’s a habit many have found hard to break, even as new enterprise software and other spreadsheet offerings, such as Google Sheets, have become available.

It isn’t just smaller companies like Pure Cycle that rely on Excel. Larger companies, for example jeans maker Levi Strauss & Co., which generated $4.5 billion in revenue last year, also use it.

Levi’s runs its supply planning on Excel, which covers raw materials, interactions with suppliers and capacity planning, according to Harmit Singh, the company’s finance chief. But that is set to change, as the company is working to introduce a new artificial intelligence tool to handle those tasks. The transition will happen over the next two years and the first tasks will move off Excel in early 2022, according to the company. “The pandemic reinforced the business case for the change,” the company said.

Microsoft said it is updating Excel—which moved to the cloud in 2011 as part of Office 365 and is now one of the applications in the company’s Microsoft 365 offerings—every month and pointed to new features, such as one that tracks changes for every spreadsheet cell that launched this spring. Another new function allows users to create a formula and share it with others within a workbook, a collection of one or more spreadsheets....


The Model That Forecast 2020's Political Turmoil In 2010, Says The U.S. Is Heading Toward Civil War.

I've said a few times that I don't think the United States will have a civil war, it is just so rare in established democracies. The only major exception I can think of is 1861 - 1865 when somewhere between 650,000 and 850,000 people died. 

In the in the American Civil War..

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, June 17, 2020:

This model forecast the US's current unrest a decade ago. It now says 'civil war'

In the early 1990s, when Bill Clinton was in the White House and the United States looked unshakeable, the administration appointed Jack Goldstone to study how states fail. They meant other states; not the US. Few expected that his model would later predict their country's collapse.

In an unpublished paper submitted for peer review, Professor Goldstone, who is a sociologist, and Peter Turchin, an expert on the mathematical modelling of historical societies, have concluded that the US is "headed for another civil war".

The conditions for civil violence, they say, are the worst since the 19th century — in particular the years leading up to the start of the American Civil War in 1861.

The reason for this are trends that began in the 1980s, "with regard to inequality, selfish elites, and polarisation that have crippled the ability of the US government to mount an effective response to the pandemic disease," they write.

This has also "hampered our ability to deliver an inclusive economic relief policy, and exacerbated the tensions over racial injustice."

Professor Goldstone is a leading authority on the study of revolutions and long-term social change at George Mason University. The model developed by him and Peter Turchin tracks such data as the ratio of median workers' wages to GDP per capita, life expectancy, average heights, and the number of new millionaires. It also measures political polarisation or the degree of overlap between the parties.

Applied to US history, it 'predicts' the 1861 Civil War and the unrest of the 1930s — a time of Jim Crow segregation, Gilded Age inequality, and fascism.

Ten years ago, Professor Turchin pointed his model towards the future, and made an uncannily accurate prediction. Just like in the 1850s, crisis indicators were rising, he wrote in the journal Nature. They could be a reliable indicator of looming instability and "look set to peak in the years around 2020," he wrote.

Political Stress and Well-being indices for the United States, 1780-2020

Speaking from his home in Virginia on Monday — the day before a member of an armed militia shot a protester beneath a statue of a conquistador in New Mexico — Professor Goldstone described these predictions as "scary as hell".

"The general feeling is horror," he said.

'Collapse happens slowly and then very suddenly'

In fact, the present disorder was forecast as far back as 1991. In the book Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World, Professor Goldstone used an early version of his model to predict the rise of a leader similar to President Trump.

It came down to population changes, Professor Goldstone argued. The American population surged after World War II — the Boomer generation born in a time of relative peace and plenty. As this massive cohort aged and accrued wealth, they could make the country vulnerable to political crisis. But this would only happen, he wrote, if the elites did three things: tighten up the path to mobility to favour themselves and their children (like increasing the cost of university); dampen wage growth and claim a greater share of economic gains for themselves; and resist taxation so that government is starved of needed revenues.

As it turned out, this is exactly what would happen over the following three decades....


“In stunning, revelatory interview, ex-Mossad chief warns Iran, defends Netanyahu.”

This interview was conducted before Israel's change of  government and a couple days before the beginning of Naftali Bennet's premiership.

When the Jews say "Never again" I believe them, and I think of this scene in Poland:

Those are Israeli F-15's flying over the site of the German death camp, Auschwitz, at Oświęcim Poland, September 4, 2003. The Israelis had been invited to an air show commemorating the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Polish air force.

From The Times of Israel, June 11, 2021:

Days after stepping down, Yossi Cohen gives specific details of Mossad actions against Tehran nuke program, his role in UAE deal, his Gaza error, and his prime ministerial hopes 

Yossi Cohen, who retired as head of the Mossad last week, provided highly specific details of recent Mossad activity against Iran, his interactions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his role in Israel’s normalization with the UAE, and his own undercover career in an extraordinary interview on Israeli television broadcast on Thursday night.

Cohen intimated that his agency blew up Iran’s underground centrifuge facility at Natanz, gave a precise description of the 2018 operation in which the Mossad stole Iran’s nuclear archive from safes in a Tehran warehouse, confirmed that Iran’s assassinated top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh had been in Mossad’s sights for years, and said the regime needs to understand that Israel means what it says when it vows to prevent Iran attaining nuclear weapons.

In what would appear to be the most revelatory interview ever given by a Mossad chief so close to the end of his active service, Cohen, who was appointed by Netanyahu, said he did not rule out seeking to become prime minister one day, though he wasn’t contemplating such an ambition at the moment.

The interview was presumably approved by Israel’s military censors, and Cohen was circumspect on numerous occasions, but nonetheless talked about his career, philosophy, and key operations with an openness and detail radically atypical of spy chiefs, especially those whose service has only recently ended.

Early in the more than an hour of conversations for journalist Ilan Dayan’s “Uvda” (Fact) documentary show on Israel’s Channel 12, Cohen indicated that he was deeply familiar with Iran’s various nuclear sites, and said that, if given the opportunity, he would take Dayan to the underground “celler” at Natanz, where, he said, “the centrifuges used to spin.”

“It no longer looks like it did?” Dayan asked.

“Indeed,” said Cohen.

“Unless they fixed it,” she said.

“It doesn’t look like it used to look,” insisted Cohen.

Cohen did not explicitly confirm responsibility for sabotage at Natanz in the interview, but said more generally: “We say very clearly [to Iran]: We won’t let you get nuclear weapons. What don’t you understand?”

Dayan noted that two major blasts at Natanz were attributed in foreign reports to the Mossad in the past year, and said “a huge quantity of explosives” were built into a marble platform used to balance the centrifuges. “The man who was responsible for these explosions, it becomes clear, made sure to supply to the Iranians the marble foundation on which the centrifuges are placed,” Dayan said. “As they install this foundation within the Natanz facility, they have no idea that it already includes a huge quantity of explosives.”

Watching Fakhrizadeh

Regarding Fakhrizadeh, identified by Israel as the father of Iran’s rogue nuclear weapons program, who was killed in an ambush near Tehran in November 2020 that has been widely attributed to Israel, Cohen said that he was watched by Mossad for years and that the Mossad was physically close to him before November 2020.

Fakhrizadeh “most troubled us from the point of view of the science, the knowledge, the scientists of the Iranian military nuclear program,” said Cohen, and therefore “he was a target for [intelligence] gathering for many years.”

Interviewer Dayan said of Fakhrizadeh’s killing: “Yossi Cohen cannot take responsibility for this action, but his personal signature is on the entire operation.”

Asked whether he believes killings of potent Israeli enemies are worthwhile, Cohen said: “If the man constitutes a capability that endangers the citizens of Israel, he must stop existing.”

In some cases, however, Cohen said, Israel conveys the message to such a potential target that “if he is prepared to change profession and not harm us any longer, then yes” — implying such a target would be spared.

Did any such people get the hint and become, say, a piano player, Dayan asked?

Yes, said Cohen, and added that this pleased him. Others, however, he said, did not get the message that this was an offer they shouldn’t refuse.....


That's pretty chatty for a spy, he may be taking lessons from Brennan and Clapper.

Friday, July 30, 2021

"Coins, the Overlooked Keys to History"

Waddya mean overlooked? Has Mary Beard ever written about Roman brothel tokens* on her blog?
(well, yes I suppose she might have. If you consider the Times Literary Supplement her blog. She has 1504 entries)
From the New Yorker, July 28:
A delightful new book argues that numismatics—the study of coins—is the “beautiful science of civilizations.
Americans throw away sixty million dollars’ worth of coins every year, vacuuming them up or dropping them into trash bins with lint and straw wrappers.

Loose change was scarce last year. Retail and restaurant industries collected less cash from customers, so had fewer coins to deposit with their banks, while limited hours and new safety protocols at mints around the country slowed coin production. Some coin-based transactions evolved right away: cashless tipping became more common, even more toll booths were converted to pay-by-plate systems, and plenty of places began rounding up or down to simplify payment. But it wasn’t enough. Only a few months into the pandemic, cafés were putting up signs begging customers for change, laundromat owners were crossing state lines to buy quarters, banks were offering rewards for clients who surrendered their coins, and the Federal Reserve formed the U.S. Coin Task Force to address the crisis.

Even though the Fed was, and still is, rationing coins, the agency insists that the country is facing a circulation problem, not a shortage: like so many Americans over the past year, American coins have simply stayed home. Plenty of coins exist—some forty-eight billion dollars’ worth—they just aren’t moving around the economy the way they should. Instead, they’re sitting in jars and hiding under couch cushions, inadvertently hoarded by millions of American households.

Coin hoards are nothing new, but the celebrated varieties, the sunken pirate’s treasure chronicled by magazines like Coin World and COINage or the ancient burial mounds documented by outlets like CoinWeek, are a far cry from what most of us keep in our sock drawers. The historian Frank L. Holt calls these everyday collections of coins “nuisance hoards,” one of the many delightful things I learned from his new book, “When Money Talks,” a volume more charming than its mundane subtitle, “A History of Coins and Numismatics,” might suggest. A professor at the University of Houston, Holt teaches courses on Greek and Roman history, Alexander the Great, and numismatics—the field which he believes is the key to many others.

According to Holt, the average American household has around sixty-eight dollars’ worth of coins in their nuisance jars. Collectively they throw away another sixty million dollars’ worth every year, vacuuming them up or dropping them into trash bins with lint and straw wrappers. But we do cash in some of our change, including, on average, forty-one billion coins a year to Coinstar counting machines alone. Many banks no longer convert change for customers unless it arrives wrapped and counted, but, since 1991, seventeen thousand or so Coinstar kiosks have proliferated in grocery stores around the country, and they now convert some three billion dollars annually, sorting coins from debris for a fee of roughly twelve per cent, spitting out a voucher that customers trade in for cash or gift cards.

Of course, this year and last year weren’t most years, and what economists call the velocity—the rate at which coins move through the economy—slowed dramatically. Fewer people were visiting grocery stores at all, much less to exchange their coins, and, in the early days of the pandemic, when the route of coronavirus transmission was less known and cash came to seem like a contagion, consumers went out of their way to avoid using bills and coins. This is the basis for the Fed’s insistence that enough coinage exists, if we could just get it moving again.

Cash transactions are typically coin-intensive. Being prepared to make change for any purchase that isn’t rounded to whole dollars requires a minimum of ten coins: one nickel, two dimes, three quarters, and four pennies. Pennies have the highest velocity, since eighty per cent of all transactions less than a dollar require at least one of them. But they also have what is known in the financial world as a negative seigniorage, meaning that they’re worth less than what they cost to produce: every one-cent coin costs nearly two cents to mint. Even in non-pandemic years, pennies cost more than they are worth, and they also impose a time tax on every transaction: single-cent pricing costs customers and retailers approximately seven hundred and thirty million dollars a year in wages and lost productivity.

Pennies put the nuisance in nuisance hoard, and, when they make headlines these days, it’s often for that reason: an angry father dumped eighty thousand of them on his ex-wife’s lawn for his last child-support payment; an aggrieved business owner paid his local taxes with five wheelbarrows full of them; a disgruntled garage owner upended ninety thousand of them on a former employee’s driveway in lieu of a final paycheck. In response to all of the expense and headaches that small coins can cause, Australia and Canada both eliminated their pennies; in America, the effort to do so has been championed by the fictional cast of “The West Wing” and documented at length by the directors Jamie Kovach and Zach Edick in their film “Heads-Up: Will We Stop Making Cents?

Such a move would be far from unprecedented. Our coinage seems stable and fixed today, but, in previous decades and centuries, Americans spent half-cent coppers and three-cent nickels, half-dimes and two-cents, not to mention “eagles,” which came in two-and-a-half-dollar, five-dollar, ten-dollar, and twenty-dollar denominations. Holt, who managed to write a biography of Alexander the Great almost entirely on the basis of a few ancient coin-like medallions honoring his military might, argues that coins offer a rare, robust record of linguistic, artistic, and political change. Whereas other aspects of material culture are often mute about their meaning or disappear over time, coins have proved remarkably enduring, surviving for millennia for the very reason that they were created: the inherent strength of their source materials, like bronze and copper and silver and gold.

Almost every civilization has had some form of currency, but coins first proliferated nearly three thousand years ago among the Lydians, in what is today modern Turkey...

*While Waiting for Izabella to Tell Us About Roman Brothel Tokens: The Trade Tokens of Samuel Pepys’ London
FT Alphaville's Izabella Kaminska has probably forgotten more information on ancient and/or quasi- monetary regimes than I will ever know so I figure somewhere down the road she'll do a post on spintria vs. crypto but in the meantime here's my humble offering.
From Mr. Pepys' Small Change:....
Okay, so rather than actually writing about said tokens we were hoping to cadge something off Izzy.
Here's that Cambridge woman, Dame Winifred Mary Beard,  DBE, FSA, FBA, FRSL via GoodReads but I think they misattribute to the TLS; it's probably from the paper itself but I couldn't find it: 
A Roman brothel token?

I was hoping to keep out of the story about the "Roman brothel token" found by a metal detectorist near Putney Bridge and now on display at the Museum of London. But I think someone had better give a different version from the torrent of lurid stuff now pouring out about the sex-life of Roman London.

The object in question is a small bronze "coin" -- with a scene of sex on one side and a the Roman numeral XIIII on the other. Assuming that it is genuine (and there are quite a few fakes of these circulating and this one was not actually found in an archaeological context), then it is what archaeologists term a "spintria". This is a Latin word for male prostitute... but it is an entirely modern practice to apply it to these little objects; we haven't got the foggiest clue what the Romans called them... or (despite what you read) what they used them for. Quite a few have been found across the Roman world (there's another on the right).

The favourite idea circulating about this recent discovery is that it was part of the highly developed Roman brothel economy. Perhaps you handed over 14 asses (the coin not the animal, I mean), got the token and then went and redeemed it at one of the local brothels (a bit like a book token). Or maybe the sexual position depicted on the token was what you had paid your 14 asses for (shades here of the tour guides' explanations for the paintings of the different sexual positions depicted on the walls of the brothel at Pompeii ... a kind of visual menu for those who couldnt ask for it in Latin. Errr.. come again?)

Now, as there is no evidence for these things at all, no-one could actually disprove that. But remember that there is no Roman mention of such things, none have been found in any place that has been identified as a "brothel" . . .  and just think of the kind of infrastructure of the ancient "brothel industry" that this kind of internal currency would imply. (Let's face it, most sex for money in the ancient world  -- like now --happened at street corners, under bridges, after closing time at the bar... NOT in designated "brothels" . . . )....


Built Environment: "FERAL CITIES"

A very important piece in the literature of urban studies.

From the U.S. Naval War College Review, Volume LVI, number 4, Autumn 2003:

Imagine a great metropolis covering hundreds of square miles. Once a vital com-ponent in a national economy, this sprawling urban environment is now a vast collection of blighted buildings, an immense petri dish of both ancient and new diseases, a territory where the rule of law has long been replaced by near anarchy in which the only security available is that which is attained through brute power.1 Such cities have been routinely imagined in apocalyptic movies and in certain science-fiction genres, where they are often portrayed as gigantic versions of T. S. Eliot’s Rat’s Alley.2 

Yet this city would still be globally connected. It would possess at least a modicum of commercial linkages, and some of its inhabitants would have access to the world’s most modern communication and computing technologies. It would, in effect, be a feral city.

Admittedly, the very term “feral city” is both provocative and controversial.Yet this description has been chosen advisedly. The feral city may be a phenomenon that never takes place, yet its emergence should not be dismissed as impossible. The phrase also suggests, at least faintly, the nature of what may become one of the more difficult security challenges of the new century.

Over the past decade or so a great deal of scholarly attention has been paid to the phenomenon of failing states.3 Nor has this pursuit been undertaken solely by the academic community. Government leaders and military commanders as well as directors of nongovernmental organizations and intergovernmental bodies have attempted to deal with faltering, failing, and failed states. 

Involvement by the United States in such matters has run the gamut from expressions of concern to cautious humanitarian assistance to full-fledged military intervention. In contrast, however, there has been a significant lack of concern for the potential emergenceof failed cities. This is somewhat surprising, as the feral city may prove as common a feature of the global landscape of the first decade of the twenty-first century as the faltering, failing, or failed state was in the last decade of the twentieth.While it may be premature to suggest that a truly feral city—with the possible exception of Mogadishu—can be found anywhere on the globe today, indicators point to a day, not so distant, when such examples will be easily found.

This article first seeks to define a feral city. It then describes such a city’s attributes and suggests why the issue is worth international attention. A possible methodology to identify cities that have the potential to become feral will then be presented. Finally, the potential impact of feral cities on the U.S. military, and the U.S. Navy specifically, will be discussed.


 The putative “feral city” is (or would be) a metropolis with a population of more than a million people in a state the government of which has lost the ability to maintain the rule of law within the city’s boundaries yet remains a functioning actor in the greater international system 

In a feral city social services are all but nonexistent, and the vast majority of the city’s occupants have no access to even the most basic health or security assistance. There is no social safety net. Human security is for the most part a matter of individual initiative. Yet a feral city does not descend into complete, random chaos. Some elements, be they criminals, armed resistance groups, clans, tribes, or neighborhood associations, exert various degrees of control over portions of the city. Intercity, city-state, and even international commercial transactions occur, but corruption, avarice, and violence are their hallmarks. A feral city experiences massive levels of disease and creates enough pollution to qualify as an international environmental disaster zone. Most feral cities would suffer from massive urban hypertrophy, covering vast expanses of land. The city’s structures range from once-great buildings symbolic of state power to the meanest shantytowns and slums. Yet even under these conditions, these cities continue to grow, and the majority of occupants do not voluntarily leave. 

Feral cities would exert an almost magnetic influence on terrorist organizations. Such megalopolises will provide exceptionally safe havens for armed resistance groups, especially those having cultural affinity with at least one sizable segment of the city’s population. The efficacy and portability of the most modern computing and communication systems allow the activities of a worldwide terrorist, criminal, or predatory and corrupt commercial network to be coordinated and directed with equipment easily obtained on the open market and packed into a minivan. The vast size of a feral city, with its buildings, other structures, and subterranean spaces, would offer nearly perfect protection from over-head sensors, whether satellites or unmanned aerial vehicles. 

The city’s population represents for such entities a ready source of recruits and a built-in intelligence network. Collecting human intelligence against them in this environment is likely to be a daunting task. Should the city contain airport or sea-port facilities, such an organization would be able to import and export a variety of items. The feral city environment will actually make it easier for an armed resistance group that does not already have connections with criminal organizations to make them. The linkage between such groups, once thought to be rather unlikely, is now so commonplace as to elicit no comment. 


But is not much of this true of certain troubled urban areas of today and of thepast? It is certainly true that cities have long bred diseases. Criminal gangs have often held sway over vast stretches of urban landscape and slums; “projects” andshantytowns have long been part of the cityscape. Nor is urban pollution any-thing new—London was environmentally toxic in the 1960s. So what is different about “feral cities”? 

The most notable difference is that where the police forces of the state have sometimes opted not to enforce the rule of law in certain urban localities, in a feral city these forces will not be ableto do so. Should the feral city be of special importance—for example, a major seaport or airport—the state might find it easier to negotiate power and profit-sharing arrangements with city power centers to ensure that facilities important to state survival continue to operate. For a weak state government, the ability of the feral city to resist the police forces of the state may make such negotiations the only option. 

In some countries, especially those facing massive development challenges, even the military would beunequal to imposing legal order on a feral city. In other, more developed states it might be possible to use military force to subdue a feral city, but the cost would be extremely high, and the operation would be more likely to leave behind a field of rubble than a reclaimed and functioning population center...


Who Owns England: "The Marquesses and their 100,000 acres"

There is only one Marquess in the English Peerage the rest are either in the Peerage of the U.K or the Peerage of Great Britain.  I was always under the assumption that the Marquesses were all subsidiary titles for Dukes but apparently not. Be that as it may be, they all seem to have nice houses.

From Who Owns England:

Updated 20th August 2017 with more info on the Marquess of Milford Haven.

England’s Marquesses own nearly 100,000 acres of land and received at least £3.5million in public farm subsidies in 2016, Who Owns England can reveal.

Marquesses are the second-highest rank in the Peerage, below Dukes but above Earls, Viscounts and Barons. There are 34 extant Marquesses in the UK, 14 of whom own land in England (the rest have their estates in Scotland, Wales and Ireland, or else no longer possess lands at all).

These 14 aristocrats possess between them 95,803 acres of estates and farms surrounding large stately homes. Last year, £3,575,200 was paid to them directly or to their companies and trusts, thanks to the UK’s farm subsidy system. Notable Marquessates include:

  • The Marquess of Salisbury, whose 10,300-acre estates are registered offshore in Jersey, as written about on this blog previously;
  • The Marquess of Cholmondeley, the Lord Great Chamberlain (with authority over parts of the Palace of Westminster), who also owns his estates in Norfolk and Cheshire via an offshore company, Mainland Nominees Ltd;
  • The Marquess of Bath, who is the famously eccentric owner of Longleat house and safari park, part of his 9,226-acre estate in Wiltshire;
  • The Marquess of Exeter, whose extensive estate in Lincolnshire and Rutland is owned by the Burghley House Preservation Trust;
  • The Marquess of Milford Haven, whose Great Trippetts Estate in West Sussex appears to be registered offshore in the Turks & Caicos Islands, according to Private Eye’s map of offshore ownership.

It’s been possible to map most of the Marquesses’ estates with the generous help of a local historian who wishes to remain anonymous, who’s been painstakingly digitising maps of aristocratic estates deposited with councils under the Highways Act 1980.

Here are the estates for ten of the Marquesses mapped in Google Maps:....


Other data sources allow us to get closer to a complete picture; for example, here are the (as yet un-digitised) Highways Act s31.6 maps for the Castle Ashby and Compton Wynyates estates owned by the Marquess of Northampton. (Much of his land appears to be registered in the name of wealth managers Rathbones Trust Company Limited, but that’s a story for another time.) And below is the land forming part, or possibly all of, the Marquess of Abergavenny’s estate in East Sussex, as shown on this map of the recipients of Environmental Stewardship payments:.... 


Previous visits to Who Owns England:

"Nakamoto's Neighbor: My Hunt For Bitcoin's Creator Led To A Paralyzed Crypto Genius"

 From Forbes, Mar 25, 2014:

Hal Finney's light brown eyes are pointed down.

I've just asked him if he was involved in the creation of Bitcoin. The 57-year-old man's almost imperceptible eye movement is his only way of telling me that he was not, and that I've spent the last week caught in the same futile windmill-tilting that has ensnared so many other reporters trying to solve the puzzle of Bitcoin's mysterious creator known only as Satoshi Nakamoto.

Finney is seated in an elaborate wheelchair, flanked by medical equipment and his wife and son, both of whom are wearing blue t-shirts that read "Hal's Pals: Fight ALS." ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is the name of the terminal disease that has locked Finney into a body whose muscles no longer obey his mind's commands. His eyes are among the few parts of his anatomy that his will still controls. He uses them to manipulate voice synthesis software running on a computer attached to his wheelchair with an eye-tracking camera. Until recently, this setup allowed him to speak fluidly in a computerized voice.

But as the disease has progressed, even Finney's eye movements are deteriorating. He's often reduced to yes-and-no conversations like the one we're having now. His engineer's mind, which has written some of the most important code in the history of cryptography, is unaffected by the disease and remains as lucid as ever. But its last lifelines to the outside world are growing thin.

I ask Finney if he has any connection to Dorian Nakamoto, the man Newsweek has a week earlier named as the creator of Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency that has come to represent an entirely new digital form of money, and whose total value has risen as high as $16 billion at some points over the last year.

His eyes glance downward again, and this time Finney grins. His son Jason explains that involuntary movements are less affected by ALS than voluntary ones; Finney can't easily smile on command for a photograph, but he can smile when he's amused, and he's clearly amused by my questions.

Finally, in a plea that must sound a little desperate, I ask Finney to show me what "yes" looks like, just to be sure I haven't somehow misinterpreted his denials. He raises his eyes and eyebrows unmistakably, still grinning.

Amazing, I think, how quickly a raised eyebrow can shut down the most elaborate theories.

A week earlier, I was following clues that seemed to point to either Finney's involvement in the creation of Bitcoin or one of the most improbable coincidences I'd ever encountered. Today, I believe those connections were in fact random, that Finney is telling the truth when he denies helping to invent Bitcoin, and that I am only the most recent of a long string of journalists to succumb to the mirage of a Satoshi Nakamoto-shaped pattern in a collection of meaningless facts.

But in following the clues that led me to Finney, I found something equally significant: a dying man who had been something like a far-more-brilliant Forrest Gump of cryptographic history: a witness to and participant in practically every important moment in the recent history of secret-keeping technologies. From the development of the first widely used strong encryption software known as PGP, to early anonymity systems, to the first Bitcoin transaction, Finney was there.

The rabbit-hole journey that led to my meeting with Finney began on March 6th, the day that Newsweek released its bombshell cover story on the man who it claimed had invented Bitcoin: Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto, a 64-year old ex-engineer and programmer living in the small exurb of Los Angeles known as Temple City. Nakamoto had even seemed to give Newsweek a tacit confirmation of its theory when he told the magazine's reporter that he was "no longer involved in that," a quote confirmed in essence by local police who witnessed the interaction.

Just hours after Newsweek's story hit the Web, I received an email from an old cryptography community acquaintance of Finney's who has asked to remain anonymous. The email was titled "What are the odds?" It pointed out that Hal Finney had lived for almost a decade in Temple City, the same 36,000 person town where Newsweek found Dorian Nakamoto. Finney's address was only a few blocks away from the Nakamoto's family home.

This was an uncanny link: Finney is known to be the second-ever user of Bitcoin after Satoshi Nakamoto himself. He had been one of the first supporters of the idea when Nakamoto floated it on a cryptography mail list, and even received the first Bitcoin test transaction from Nakamoto in early 2009, as Finney himself wrote in a post to the Bitcointalk forum.

In other words, the possibly-first and confirmed-second ever users of Bitcoin lived just blocks apart.

"What are the odds in a country as large as ours, or as large as California is, or even as large as the general LA area is, that [Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto] and Hal Finney both live(d) in Temple City at the same time, about 1.6 miles from each other?" my contact wrote. "Did they know each other socially, through some club? Did one help the other?"

Already, the theory was percolating through the Texas Bitcoin Conference I was attending that day in Austin, where one Bitcoin podcaster independently rehearsed a more extreme version of the same theory for me over drinks: Had Finney invented Bitcoin himself and simply used his neighbor's name as a pseudonym? On Reddit, a user traced Finney's IP address and found that he was in the Los Angeles area. "Dorian [Nakamoto] probably could've been a drop," wrote a user called Ikinoki, using the hacker jargon "drop," a patsy whose personal information is used to hide online exploits.

I didn't suspect Finney of anything nearly so malicious. Instead, I began to believe he might have been Bitcoin's ghostwriter.

At the request of my Forbes colleague Matt Herper, the writing analysis consultancy Juola & Associates had already compared Dorian Nakamoto's various online comments and postings with Satoshi Nakamoto's writings on Bitcoin before his total disappearance from the Web in 2011. (Read the details of their analysis in Herper's post here.) Unsurprisingly, they found a total mismatch: Dorian Nakamoto's half-broken English hardly matched the elegant technical style of Bitcoin's creator.

Hal Finney's writing, on the other hand, was as fluid and precise as the whitepaper that first introduced Bitcoin in late 2008. Maybe, I thought, Finney had served as something like Nakamoto's amanuensis, crediting Nakamoto for the idea, but using his own superior writing skills to explain Bitcoin to the public. I collected a 20,000 character sample of Finney's writing from various forums and mailing lists and sent it to Juola & Associates for analysis.

In the mean time, I emailed Finney a few times. When I didn't hear back--he's been mostly absent from the Internet as his paralysis deepens--I called his wife, Fran, who now works as Finney's full-time caregiver. She explained her husband's medical situation, and patiently relayed my questions to him. Using his eyebrows and eye movements, as she described to me over the phone, he confirmed that he had corresponded with Bitcoin's creator, but denied any connection to the invention of Bitcoin or the Dorian Nakamoto Newsweek had named, just as he would when I visited a week later. "For all Hal knew, Satoshi Nakamoto could have been next door, or he could have been in Japan," Fran said.

She also politely invited me to visit her and her husband in Santa Barbara, where the couple now lives. In person, she said, it would be easier to convince me that Finney wasn't involved in Bitcoin's invention despite the one-in-a-million geographical connection. She also requested that I include in any story I wrote her plea to the media and the Bitcoin community not to flock to their home and stalk Finney for interviews the way reporters had immediately done at Dorian Nakamoto's house following Newsweek's story.

"He's very fragile," she told me. "We have him on ventilator support twenty-four hours a day. He has difficulty communicating. It would be nice if people would not harass him."

Just hours after that phone conversation, I received the results from the writing analysis from Juola & Associates. The firm, its chief scientist John Noecker explained in a phone call, had previously tried analyzing candidates for Satoshi Nakamoto named by older investigations performed by the New Yorker, Fast Company, and various Bitcoin enthusiasts. None of the results had been promising enough to publish, according to Noecker.

Hal Finney, by contrast, was the best Nakamoto candidate whose writing the firm had ever analyzed and the first who Noecker believed might have actually written the Bitcoin whitepaper.

"So, it seems to me," he wrote in an email, "that you may have found the real Satoshi Nakamoto."....


New York City: "Researchers Find Signs of COVID-19 Mutations in NYC Sewage, Pointing to Possible Dog and Rat Infections"

Gettin' a bit o'that David Bowie Future Legend vibe here.*

From The City, July 29:

Scientists studying coronavirus in local wastewater say that city environmental officials initially had “zero willingness to help explore this potential public health risk.” Officials stress that the findings are preliminary.

This story is the product of a collaboration with the Documenting COVID-19 project at Columbia University’s Brown Institute for Media Innovation.

A group of researchers charged by New York City with scouring human sewage for signs of the coronavirus — and its many mutating variants — made a startling discovery in April.

After months of testing and re-testing, they found four combinations of COVID mutations that, when compared to a global database of more than 2.5 million sequenced variants, had not been seen before. The four variants are at least somewhat antibody-resistant, which could reduce the effectiveness of vaccines, the researchers found.

The team of virologists and microbiologists from CUNY’s Queens and Queensborough colleges, the New School and the University of Missouri have been studying sewage from the city’s 14 wastewater treatment plants since June 2020, collecting samples in plastic bottles once a week and analyzing them to see concentrations of the virus. Since January, the researchers have gone a step further, analyzing the sewage for different COVID-19 variants.

The data is preliminary and has not been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal. Some outside experts say it’s far too early to raise alarms. But there’s one troubling possibility about where the new sewer mutations are coming from, according to a preprint study published by the researchers on Thursday.

As with other animals, COVID-19 could be infecting dogs and rats, leading to new mutations and an outbreak in New York City’s sewers. While animal-to-human transmission of the virus is exceedingly rare, it has been seen in the U.S. in minks.

‘Do It Ourselves’

Despite the potential implications, the researchers say the presentation last month of their findings to city officials earned a muted response.

They were told they could investigate further, but the city’s Department of Environmental Protection initially offered no additional funding or support for their efforts.

“The city officials basically told us if we wanted to do any kind of surveillance of the rats we would have to do it ourselves,” Dr. Marc Johnson, a virologist at the University of Missouri, wrote in a June 9 email obtained through an open-records request by the Documenting COVID-19 project. “They had zero willingness to help explore this potential public health risk.”....

*And in the death
As the last few corpses lay rotting on the slimy thoroughfare
The shutters lifted an inch in temperance building, high on Poacher's Hill
And red mutant eyes gazed down on Hunger City
No more big wheels

Fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats
And ten thousand peoploids split into small tribes
Coveting the highest of the sterile skyscrapers
Like packs of dogs assaulting the glass fronts of Love-Me Avenue
Ripping and rewrapping mink and shiny silver fox, now legwarmers
Family badge of sapphire and cracked emerald
Any day now, the year of the Diamond Dogs

"This ain't rock and roll! This is genocide!"

As they pulled you out of the oxygen tent
You asked for the latest party

Genius Lyrics

McKinsey: School Shutdowns Will Cost Each Student $49,000 to $61,000 In Lifetime Earnings

 I have a love/hate relationship with McKinsey, particularly with the consultants who go into a Fortune 500 company and end up telling the CEO what he wants to hear while billing seven figures for the ego strokes. Their research on the other hand bears consideration.

From McKinsey & Co., July 27:

COVID-19 and education: The lingering effects of unfinished learning 

US states and districts have the opportunity to not only help students catch up on unfinished learning from the pandemic but also tackle long-standing historical inequities in education.

As this most disrupted of school years draws to a close, it is time to take stock of the impact of the pandemic on student learning and well-being. Although the 2020–21 academic year ended on a high note—with rising vaccination rates, outdoor in-person graduations, and access to at least some in-person learning for 98 percent of students—it was as a whole perhaps one of the most challenging for educators and students in our nation’s history. 1

Our analysis shows that the impact of the pandemic on K–12 student learning was significant, leaving students on average five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading by the end of the school year. The pandemic widened preexisting opportunity and achievement gaps, hitting historically disadvantaged students hardest. In math, students in majority Black schools ended the year with six months of unfinished learning, students in low-income schools with seven. High schoolers have become more likely to drop out of school, and high school seniors, especially those from low-income families, are less likely to go on to postsecondary education. And the crisis had an impact on not just academics but also the broader health and well-being of students, with more than 35 percent of parents very or extremely concerned about their children’s mental health.

The fallout from the pandemic threatens to depress this generation’s prospects and constrict their opportunities far into adulthood. The ripple effects may undermine their chances of attending college and ultimately finding a fulfilling job that enables them to support a family. Our analysis suggests that, unless steps are taken to address unfinished learning, today’s students may earn $49,000 to $61,000 less over their lifetime owing to the impact of the pandemic on their schooling. The impact on the US economy could amount to $128 billion to $188 billion every year as this cohort enters the workforce....


"China court jails billionaire Sun Dawu for 18 years for 'provoking trouble'"

We are seeing a trend in the West of laws being less and less specific as to what constitutes a violation.
This is why.

From Agence France-Presse via France24, July 28:

A Chinese court sentenced agricultural tycoon Sun Dawu to 18 years in jail on Wednesday for a catalogue of crimes including "provoking trouble" after the outspoken billionaire and grassroots rights supporter was tried in secret.

The court in Gaobeidian near Beijing said Sun was found guilty of crimes including "gathering a crowd to attack state organs," "obstructing government administration" and "picking quarrels and provoking trouble," a catch-all term often used against dissidents.

He was detained by police in November along with 19 relatives and business associates after his firm was embroiled in a land dispute with a state-owned competitor.

The charismatic Sun built one of China's biggest private agriculture companies with his wife from a few chickens and pigs in the 1980s.....


Nebulous misdemeanor + wrongthink = terrorism against the state = 18 years.

Diminishing Returns: Getting Less And Less For Each Dollar of Deficit Spending Means Disaster Is Locked In

A topic near and dear to our jaded hearts.

This is a real problem, whether you call it "Marginal Productivity of Debt" or "Debt Saturation" or "Bang-for-the-Buck", we are running faster and faster just to stay in place. This is not a new phenomena, the piddly 6.5% GDP growth we just saw, despite the trillions and trillions in new debt is just the latest example. 

Here's an example from 2012:

The Real Problem With Stimulus

I've mentioned a few times that Keynes was all about the countercyclical thing.
In the U.S. we have devolved to perma-stimulus, every dollar of deficit spending being stimulus, and have no plans to ever stop. Anyone who argues that stimulus isn't stimulus unless it is labeled stimulus is being sillier than I felt when I typed this sentence.
Deficit spending is stimulus whether you call it ARRA, sweet, sweet Biden love or Democracy's flaw.....

The Biden reference is to the fact the former Vice-President was overseer of the ARRA stimulus in 2009 - 10 and the Recovery Summer in 2010.

And from RealInvestmentAdvice, June 21, 2021:

The Zero To Negative Multiplier Of Debt On Growth 

There is a zero to a negative multiplier of debt on economic growth. The recent spending spree of the Government to facilitate a transition to a socialistic economy is problematic.

“The scale and scope of government spending expansion in the last year are unprecedented. Because Uncle Sam doesn’t have the money, lots of it went on the government’s credit card. The deficit and debt skyrocketed. But this is only the beginning. The Biden administration recently proposed a $6 trillion budget for fiscal 2022, two-thirds of which would be borrowed.” – Reason

The CBO (Congressional Budget Office) recently produced its long-term debt projection through 2050, ensuring poor economic returns. I reconstructed a chart from Deutsche Bank showing the US Federal Debt and Federal Reserve balance sheet. The chart uses the CBO projections through 2050.

Multiplier Debt Growth, The Zero To Negative Multiplier Of Debt On Growth

At the current growth rate, the Federal debt load will climb from $28 trillion to roughly $140 trillion by 2050. Concurrently, assuming the Fed continues monetizing 30% of debt issuance, its balance sheet will swell to more than $40 trillion.

Let than sink in for a minute. 

More Debt = Less Growth.

What should not surprise you is that non-productive debt does not create economic growth. As Stuart Sparks of Deutsche Bank noted previously:

“History teaches us that although investments in productive capacity can in principle raise potential growth and r* in such a way that the debt incurred to finance fiscal stimulus is paid down over time (r-g<0), it turns out that there is little evidence that it has ever been achieved in the past.

The chart below illustrates that a rising federal debt as a percentage of GDP has historically been associated with declines in estimates of r* – the need to save to service debt depresses potential growth. The broad point is that aggressive spending is necessary, but not sufficient. Spending must be designed to raise productive capacity, potential growth, and r*. Absent true investment, public spending can lower r*, passively tightening for a fixed monetary stance.”

Multiplier Debt Growth, The Zero To Negative Multiplier Of Debt On Growth

A long-term historical look confirms the same. Since 1977, the 10-year average GDP growth rate steadily declined as debt increased. Using the historical growth trend of GDP, the increase of debt will lead to slower economic growth rates in the future....


Not only does each dollar of debt buy less and less growth but as we learned with ARRA and The Recovery Summer, the growth it does buy is actually just pulled forward from future years, to the point that by eating our seed corn today we are guaranteeing we are starved for growth in just ten years.

RIA's next chart has ten-year average growth going permanently below 2% in 2032 and permanently below 1% by 2047 i.e. within our lifetimes. Those dates seem optimistic though. Let's say 2030 and 2043.

And it is baked in the cake, there is no way out.


Risk: Amazon Sets The Tone

 From Marc to Market:

Risk Appetites Start the Weekend Early

Overview: Disappointing revenue and sales figures by Amazon shortly after the US close yesterday set the tone for today's equity sell-off. Many large markets in the Asia Pacific area fell by more than 1%, including Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, and New Zealand. New lockdown measures around the capital sent the Philippines bourse down nearly 3.5%. Singapore, India, and China's Shenzhen Composite were notable exceptions and posted minor gains. After reaching record highs yesterday, the Dow Jones Stoxx 600 has retreated, led by energy and consumer discretionary sectors. The S&P 500 is poised to gap lower after it too set record highs yesterday. The US Treasury market is bid, and the 10-year yield is below 1.25%, while European yields are mostly a little firmer. China's 10-year benchmark yield is off about 2.5 bp to 2.85%, the lowest level in nearly a year. The poor equity showing and risk-off are finding the normal expression in the foreign exchange market. The US dollar is mostly mixed, with the Scandis and Antipodeans showing heavier tones. However, the yen is also softer and the Canadian dollar is the best performer through the European morning. The JP Morgan Emerging Market Currency Index has edged higher, and if sustained, it would be the fourth session this week that it has advanced. Barring a reversal, the benchmark is set to snap a four-week decline. Gold is firm near $1830 and is up around 1.5% on the week, the fourth advance in the past five weeks. Oil is firm, and the September WTI contract is near two-week highs, around $73.50. It has gained about 2% this week, which leaves it little changed on the month. The CRB closed at new six-year highs yesterday. Coming into today, it is up a little more than 2% for the week, which is the eighth gain in the past 10 weeks.

Asia Pacific
Japan's economy is showing sufficient resilience, and rather than contract in Q2, the world's third-largest economy may manage to eke out a small gain.
Helped by foreign demand, industrial output rose by a stronger than expected 6.2% in June. Economists had projected a 5% gain after a 6.5% decline in May. For the quarter, industrial production rose by around 2.5%. June retail sales also rose more than expected. The 3.1% gain last month follows a revised 0.3% decline (initially -0.4%). Retail sales fell by a little more than 1.5% in the quarter, showing the fragility of domestic demand and the absence of tourism. Separately, Japan's unemployment rate unexpectedly slipped to 2.9% from 3.0%, and the jobs-to-applicant ratio kicked up to 1.13 from 1.09. This was better than expected and the highest since last May.

China will report its PMI over the weekend. In the official version, both the manufacturing and non-manufacturing readings are expected to tick slightly lower. The Caixin measure, which focuses more on small and medium businesses, is expected to see manufacturing soften, but the services PMI may rise. However, the events over the last couple of weeks as officials launch an aggressive campaign to tame domestic economic agents are superseded by concerns over high-frequency economic data. China's Politburo issued a statement saying that it will improve the process for foreign listings without elaboration. Separately, but perhaps not totally unrelated, Beijing has ordered a dozen of its large internet companies to update data security protections. Note that while Beijing said it will allow IPOs in the US, the US indicated it will pause IPO registrations for Chinese companies....


Thursday, July 29, 2021

Russia Plans To Mine Lithium On The Kola Peninsula

Electric Trabants?

From The Barents Observer:

For use in electric cars and thermonuclear weapons, Rosatom plans for lithium mining on the Kola Peninsula
Production of lithium compounds could start by 2030 in both Murmansk and Irkutsk regions with an estimated amount of 50 thousand tons annually. 

The world’s hunger for lithium-ion batteries is sky-rocketing as the car industry rapidly changes from combustion engines to electric powertrains. A carbon-free future will additionally require huge amounts of batteries to store wind and solar power on the grid.

Data collected by Bloomberg shows how demand for lithium-ion batteries will surge from roughly 526 gigawatt hours in 2020 a predicted 9,300 gigawatt hours by 2030. To meet the demand, annual production of lithium carbonate should be boosted from today’s 520,000 metric tons existing mining capacity up to 2,8 million metric tons by 2028, a study by Rystad Energy suggests.

The study warns of the risk of a significant supply deficit from 2026-2027 unless new minings are started.

It is Atomredmedzoloto (ARMZ), the mining subsidiary of state nuclear power company Rosatom, that plans to start producing lithium compounds on both the Kola Peninsula and in Irkutsk region in Siberia, newspaper Kommersant reports on Thursday.

Investments in the Russian lithium mining projects are estimated at over 50 billion rubles (€570 million), ARMZ Business Development Director Russian Dimukhamedov told Kommersant.

Dimukhamedov said he counts on government support measures like tax benefits, removal of administrative restrictions and assistance to attract long-term project financing.

ARMZ does not identify where on the Kola Peninsula such lithium mining is planned, but a well-known geological area with huge amounts of rich spodumene pegmatites of lithium is the Kolmozero deposit, halfway between the Khibiy mountain plateau and the coast to the Barents Sea....


Central Bank Digital Currency: BIS Honcho Speaks

Uh oh.

This is not the future I was promised.

CBDC's will not be "digital cash."

The speaker, Augustin Carstens is the General Manager of the Bank for International Settlements.

He doesn't sound so much pompous as he sounds very confident in what he is saying.
That snippet is from this longer video of a panel discussion among some serious players on October 19, 2020: 

Mr. Carstens begins speaking after being introduced at the ~22:00 mark.

As one commenter on the Havenstein thread responded:

As a side note. Göring was obese, being called Fat Hermann behind his back:

but lost the weight prior to and during his trial.

He cheated the hangman by committing suicide a couple hours before their date.

"Amazon Prime Day, AWS and jobs in the spotlight for Andy Jassy’s first earnings report as CEO" (AMZN)

 From Seattle's own GeekWire:

Amazon’s earnings report Thursday will be its first with CEO Andy Jassy at the helm.

While it may be tempting to view the numbers as setting the tone for a new era, it’s worth keeping in mind that these results were booked as of June 30, several days before Jassy officially took over from founder Jeff Bezos in early June.

And if you buy into an old Bezos refrain, the outcome was actually determined years ago.

One exception is Prime Day, the annual two-day sales event, which was held in June this year. While the company typically doesn’t disclose detailed Prime Day financial results, its overall numbers will provide new clues about how things went. Industry analysts believe Prime Day sales grew at a slower rate.

What to watch in the numbers: Wall Street expects Amazon to report overall net sales of $115 billion, on average, a 29% increase year-over-year. That’s toward the high end of Amazon’s previous guidance of net sales between $110 and $116 billion....


GeekWire is very good on the Seattle companies: AMZN; SBUX;; EXPE; Cray; Redfin etc. with their reach extending to Redmond (11 miles) MSFT and probably to Tacoma (25 miles) as well.
(JK on the reach, they are very good, period)