Monday, January 31, 2022

Kansas City Fed Head Esther George Calls For Dramatic Shrinkage In The Fed's Balance Sheet

So not just tapering, outright reduction, and fast.

Interestingly this is very similar to the policy prescription that MMT proselytizer (and Fed nominee) Dr. Judy Shelton wants to see:

"I think it would be much better to start to reduce that gargantuan balance sheet. 
They added more than $4.4 trillion since Covid started in March of 2020."
CNBC Squawk Box, January 13 
And from MarketWatch, January 31: 

The chief of the Kansas City Federal Reserve on Monday said the U.S. central bank should raise interest rates soon and pursue a big reduction in its nearly $9 trillion stockpile of bonds.

Esther George said the economy is fundamentally sound and should expand at a healthy pace in 2022. In light of steady growth and soaring inflation, she said it’s time for the Fed to jettison easy-money policies adopted early in the pandemic.

“With inflation running at close to a 40-year high, considerable momentum in demand growth, and abundant signs and reports of labor market tightness, the current very accommodative stance of monetary policy is out of sync with the economic outlook,” George said in a speech to the Economic Club of Indiana.

George is a voting member this year of the Fed’s strategy-making panel known as the Federal Open Market Committee.

The Fed last week indicated it’s likely to raise its benchmark short-term interest rate in March barring any major new developments in the economy.

During the pandemic the central bank cut its benchmark short-term rate to near zero. It also bought trillions of dollars in Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities to drive down long-term rates to historic lows.

The balance sheet doubled to $8.7 trillion from $4.5 trillion at the start of the crisis in early 2020.

The bank last week issued guidelines for reducing its balance sheet, but it did not commit to a timetable. George did not specify a precise time line, either.

George said the Fed’s faces a “number of important and difficult decisions” in figuring out how to much to raise interest rates and to reduce its balance sheet.

George said a sizable reduction in the balance sheet would prevent short-term rates from exceeding long-term ones — what economists call an inverted yield curve. An inverted yield curve could distort investment decisions, she said, and ultimately harm the economy....


"The Slowdown in Agricultural Productivity Growth"

From the Conversable Economist, January 27:

Agricultural productivity growth is of central importance. In many of the lowest-income parts of the world, a majority of the local population is involved in subsistence farming. A standard pattern of economic growth is that people move away from agriculture to manufacturing and services, and move away from rural areas to urban areas. In this process, agriculture itself shifts from a focus on food to output that are sources of fiber, energy and other industrial inputs, and items like cut flowers. Moreover, current predictions are that global population will peak a little short of 10 billion people in the 2060s, and then drop off to less than 9 billion by the end of the 21st century.

It’s also worth remembering that higher agricultural productivity can mean more output with less strain on resources of soil and water–and potentially with reduced use of pesticides as well.

Given the breakthroughs in understanding the genetics of plants and how to look after them, along with the gradual spread of these insights around the world, one might expect growth in agricultural productivity to be steady, or even robust. But when Keith Fuglie, Jeremy Jelliffe, and Stephen Morgan of the Economic Research Service at the US Department of Agriculture looked at the data, they find, “Slowing Productivity Reduces Growth in Global Agricultural Output” (Amber Waves, December 28, 2021).

To set the stage, here’s a measure of growth in global agricultural output over the decades. The breakdown shows that agricultural output can rise for a number of reasons: more land, more irrigation, more inputs like fertilizer. The gains in output that can’t be attributed to these other factors are a measure of productivity gains. Thus, you can see that while gains in agricultural input back in the 1960s and 1970s were largely due to higher inputs, there has been a shift over time to more importance of productivity growth. You can also see that the green bar of productivity growth is smaller in the most recent decade.

A stacked bar chart showing the contributions of these factors to agricultural output from 1961 to 2019: Total factor productivity, increased input use, irrigation expansion, and land expansion.

What patterns emerge when looking into this data more closely? Most of the decline in agricultural productivity growth, it turns out, is in the lower-income developing economies, while agricultural productivity growth in higher-income developed countries has stayed strong. The authors write: “In terms of productivity growth, Latin America and the Caribbean experienced the largest slowdown, followed by Asia. In Sub-Saharan Africa, agricultural productivity growth was already low in the 2000s and turned slightly negative in the 2010s.”....


Verdad: Growth Stocks Trend, Value Stocks Mean Revert

From Verdad Advisers, January 31:

Bubble Stock Meltdown
Revisiting the Bubble 500

In mid-2020, we identified a group of stocks with what we thought were insane valuations and atrocious financials in hot sectors from gene editing to electric car charging. We called these stocks the Bubble 500. A few months later, Jeremy Grantham published an influential essay identifying a bubble in corners of the US equity market.

But we were wrong. Dead wrong. Figure 1 shows that from when we wrote the piece to August 2021, an equal-weighted portfolio of these companies was up more than 60%, edging out Cathie Wood’s ARK Innovation by some 10% and handily beating the S&P 500.

Figure 1: Bubble 500 Index, ARK Innovation, S&P 500, July 2020 – August 2021

Source: Capital IQ, Verdad Analysis
Some of the individual companies soared. Shares in FuelCell Energy (NasdaqGM:FCEL), a company with negative net income and $70M in revenue, grew ~10x to a market capitalization of $8.7B. Blink Charging Company (NasdaqCM:BLNK), a provider of electric vehicle charging equipment with negative net income and $15M in revenue, grew ~11x to a market capitalization approaching $2.4B. MicroVision (NasdaqGM:MVIS), a company developing lidar sensors for autonomous driving, generates $2.3M in revenue but traded as high as $4B on ~14x growth in share price.

As we noted in our piece on bubbles, smart people tend to be early to call bubbles. Peter Lynch, Ray Dalio, and Howard Marks all started warning investors of a bubble in internet stocks as early as 1995. So at least we’re in good company in calling this bubble too early.

Two weeks ago, Jeremy Grantham renewed his calls of a bubble: “Today in the U.S. we are in the fourth superbubble of the last hundred years…. The checklist for a superbubble running through its phases is now complete and the wild rumpus can begin at any time.” And so, we’ve decided to double down as well.

Because now the Bubble 500 stocks are finally crashing. FuelCell is down 85%, Blink Charging is down 66%, and MicroVision has lost 88%. The Bubble 500 is down 25% over the past few weeks. Cathie Wood’s ARK Innovation, which owns many of these names, is down 54% since its peak in February 2021 but has only just made a round trip back to July 2020 levels.

This breakdown is significant, especially for growth stocks. Remember, growth stocks trend, and value stocks mean revert. The psychology is simple. People hear about a hot stock that’s gone up 3x, they buy some, it goes up 2x, they buy more: the whole attraction of buying a hot growth stock is the historic return trajectory. Value stocks are the opposite: you do well buying them when they’re down, as our Crisis Investing piece showed.

And so, once the trend gets broken, once the magic of the rising stock prices disappears, it’s a long way down until valuation becomes the justification for buying. And the Bubble 500 stocks still trade at wild valuations: FuelCell trades at 16.8x revenues, Blink Charging trades at 44.3x revenues, and MicroVision trades at 161.3x revenues. The median company trades at 12.2x sales, offers a -2.5% earnings yield, -7.5% return on assets, and -14.0% net income margin. Analysts remain bullish, assigning the median Bubble 500 company two-year forward revenue growth estimate of 20.8%....

Prices: "Just When You Think Fertilizer Shortages are Improving, Trucker Vaccine Mandates Slam Supply Chain Into Disarray"

Following up on January 4's "Farmers Are Talking Higher Than Average Fertilizer Prices (CF; MOS; NTR)"

From AgWeb, January 27:

Fertilizer availability concerns have plagued agriculture for months, but recent COVID-19 vaccine mandates in both the U.S. and Canada could take even more truckers off the road. As the supply chain is already wading through chaos and shortages of everything from food products to equipment parts, more fertilizer shortages could be coming just before spring. 

Trucking industry experts warn while empty store shelves are being advertised as a product of these recent vaccine mandates, the issue will snowball into much more. The concerns derive from a recent vaccine mandate requiring truckers to be vaccinated before crossing the border. Truckers were previously exempt from federal travel restrictions. The new mandate went into effect on January 15,, 2022 in Canada, and on January 22, 2022 in the U.S.....

....More Fertilizer Shortages? 

And in the U.S., effects of driver shortages are just starting. Kelly Krapu is safety director for True North Compliance Services in West Fargo, North Dakota, a company that helps trucking companies and drivers navigate rules and regulations on the road. She says we haven't seen the full extent of the impact considering the mandate for drivers coign to the U.S. only went into effect Saturday. "I have been told from some chatter in industry, and some of my customers is a lot of their fertilizer comes from Canada,” she says. “About 50% of Canada's fertilizer is exported into the United States. So, if an unvaccinated driver is not allowed to go into Canada to pull that fertilizer out, we're going to have some issues there. And then vice versa, even if the Canadian driver that's going to pull some fertilizer down into the U.S. isn't vaccinated, they're not going to be allowed in.”

Krapu says it’s not that truck traffic is shuttered. She says it’s just severely throttled back since there are so many cross-border truck drivers unvaccinated. But there’s no definitive answer on just how many are still unvaccinated despite the new mandate. She says some drivers who aren’t vaccinated are opting for different routes that don’t take them across the border. So, that leaves fewer drivers able to transport goods, including everything from food and fertilizer, across the border.....


We weren't posting all those Canadian border/trucker stories for grins and giggles:

Agricultural Commodities: "Soybean Prices Challenge Old Highs"

March soybeans 1484'6 up 14'6

From DTM Progressive Farmer, January 28:

There is no question, the market that has had the most bullish surprises in the first four months of 2021-22 has been soybeans. And the kicker is this same market was looking convincingly bearish back in early November (see "Soybean Bears Emerge ... " at

The chart above shows March 2022 soybeans have rallied from a low of $11.93 in early November to Thursday's close of $14.48 1/4, very close to the high of $14.53 1/2 that March soybeans reached in 2021. (DTN ProphetX chart by Todd Hultman)

From the Sept. 30 Grain Stocks report to early November, USDA nearly doubled its estimate of U.S. ending soybean stocks in 2021-22 to 340 million bushels (mb), while China's soybean and meal prices broke lower and March soybean oil prices fell below their 100-day average.

Along with that, soybean prices in Brazil were showing no signs of stress and were actually making new lows. Brazil's soybean crops were successfully planted early in the fall and were enjoying good crop conditions. Looking back, it is odd how all those seemingly unrelated factors turned bearish at roughly the same time.

Fast forward to this week and we see a completely different set of market factors driving prices higher. The first bullish surprise emerged in December when soybean meal prices unexpectedly started trading higher. The market had known about a shortage of synthetic lysine for several months, but a sudden urgency of demand developed for cash meal prices in December. Meal prices were driven higher and enhanced the returns at soybean crush plants.

Also in December, murmurings started about dry weather conditions in southern Brazil. At first, the affected area appeared limited to Rio Grande do Sul, but by late December and early January it became apparent that other neighboring states and Argentina were also being affected. Brazil's soybean prices started perking up in January and added further support to U.S. soybean prices.

Throughout much of December, soybean oil prices kept a low profile, but that changed in late December and early January, encouraged by new highs in canola and palm oil. The Tuesday after Martin Luther King Jr. Day is when things really started picking up for soybean oil....


Media: Izzy is Back

From Izabella Kaminska's latest venture, The Blind Spot:

My name is Izabella Kaminska. You may know me as the former editor of the FT’s finance and markets blog FT Alphaville. Or simply as Izzy.

I’ve loved my time at the Financial Times. It was truly an honour to learn my craft at such an illustrious organisation. But after 13 years, it’s time for a change. Forces beyond the control of any single editor, journalist or even publication are constraining the capacity of large — often mainstream — organisations to think critically or creatively about storytelling. Innovation is being stifled by strange centralising forces that dare not question consensus. That’s no good in markets or finance. Asset prices don’t care about taboos, feelings or sensitivities. They care about how perceptions square up against reality.

Today I’m launching The Blind Spot, a financial media service that aims to shine a light on stories being missed by the wider journalistic pack. I’ve thought about this a lot, for a long time. It’s a scary and financially precarious undertaking. But, journalistically, it actually makes sense. For one thing, it will help me better understand the pressure founders and business leaders are under. How and why good intentions in business get corrupted. How frequently pitfalls accompany successes. This in turn will make me a better and more responsible financial journalist. It will also make for a very good story.

If things shape up as planned, The Blind Spot will be part-one of a stupidly ambitious two-part mega plan aimed at reconfiguring how information is organised on the internet so that trust can start to be rebuilt online. If things don’t shape up as planned, at least I can say I tried....


Sunday, January 30, 2022

French Shipyard, Chantiers de l’Atlantique, Delivers The World's Largest Cruise Ship To Royal Caribbean

From gCaptain, January 28:

Royal Caribbean has taken delivery of the Wonder of the Seas from the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard in France.

At 236,857 gross registered tonnes (grt), the ship is biggest cruise ship ever built. It is the fifth installment in Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class, which kicked off in 2009 with the Oasis of the Seas. The other four ships in the class come in at 225,000 grt to over 228,000 grt.

With its delivery, Wonder takes the “world’s largest” crown from sister ship Symphony of the Seas, at 228,081 grt.

Wonder of the Seas measures 1,188 feet in length and 210 feet wide. Passenger capacity comes in at 6,988 guests with an additional 2,300 crew.

Wonder of the Seas will make its official debut in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in March, starting with 7-night cruises to the Caribbean before heading to Barcelona, Spain and later Rome to offer summer cruises in the Mediterranean....


Chantiers de l’Atlantique has some experience with big boats. Really, really big boats. Here's a January 2020 post:
French Shipyard Chantiers de l’Atlantique Nabs a Big Order

From LNG World News:

Chantiers de l’Atlantique bags MSC Cruises LNG pair
MSC Cruises and Chantiers de l’Atlantique have signed firm contracts for the construction of third and fourth LNG-powered MSC World Class ships.  
The vessels are scheduled for delivery in 2025 and 2027,  Chantiers de l’Atlantique said in its statement.

The first of the initial two ships in the class is currently under construction at Chantiers’ shipyard in Saint-Nazaire and is due to enter service in 2022. With 205,000 GT, she will become the biggest vessel operated by a European cruise line as well as the first LNG-powered cruise ship built in France.

These contracts represent a capital investment by MSC Cruises exceeding €2 billion ($2.2 billion).
The two companies have also extended their partnership over the next decade with two additional newbuild projects....MORE
November 2019
Shipping: Two Approaches To NextGen Power: Maersk Goes With Batteries In a Box; 
Chantiers de l'Atlantique and MSC Cruises Trial LNG Fuel Cells 
...And speaking of big, the Saint-Nazaire yard built four of these suckers, second only to the 657,019 DWT Happy Giant as the largest ultra-super-mega tankers. Batillus was the lead ship of the class:
Batillus class tanker, 555,000 DWT.
We've mentioned it a few times
France's Chantiers de l’Atlantique Shipyard To Build Ships With Fuel Cells, Ships With Sails

Venture Capital: They're Growing Unicorns In France

I went to EU-Startups to look at the robot company:

Exotec picks up €293 million and becomes France’s first industrial unicorn

And while there, saw two other unicorns:

Ankorstore secures €250 million with a €1.75 billion valuation to become France’s latest unicorn

Fintech startup Qonto joins French unicorn list after raising €486 million, with a €4.4 billion valuation

Readers who have been with us a while may remember me going on and on about the paucity of hundred million dollar (or euro) rounds. Well, no longer, something's changed. Here's Exotec, January 17:

Lille-based Exotec, a European pioneer in global warehouse robotics, has just received a mega funding round of €293 million, becoming France’s first industrial unicorn for its robotic systems that are improving supply chain resilience for global retailers.

The Growth Equity business within Goldman Sachs Asset Management led the round with follow-on investments from 83North and Dell Technologies Capital.

The pandemic and the abrupt changes it brought about to our shopping habits and general day-to-day lives highlighted how critical supply chain operations are to modern life. Globally, many communities continue to feel the negative impacts of ongoing disruptions and breakdowns, and the infamous toilet paper shortages in supermarkets aren’t too distant a memory. 

From inventory delays to port congestion, these compounding challenges are only anticipated to increase in frequency and severity. A recent report from Resilinc revealed that supply chain disruptions were up 67% year-over-year. 

Founded in 2015, Exotec is a global robotics company that is building scalable warehouse robotic solutions to power the worlds largest brands. Its flexible warehouse automation improves operational efficiency and economics. Exotec’s signature solution, The Skypod system, utilizes robots that can reach a height of 36 feet to enable high-density inventory storage and retrieval. Exotec supports 30+ industry-leading brands spanning e-commerce, grocery, retail, manufacturing, and 3PL sectors. 

 Romain Moulin, Co-founder and CEO of Exotec, said: “Following the most significant supply chain disruptions of the modern era, there’s only room left for innovationWhile the entire logistics sector is fraught with uncertainty, one of the most prevalent challenges is ongoing labour shortages. Exotec pioneers a new path: elegant collaboration between human and robot workers that delivers warehouse productivity in a lasting, far more sustainable way.”

 In 2020, the company picked up €77.1 million from Dell Technologies Capital, and was supported by historical investors, Iris Capital and Breega which massively accelerated growth. Since then, the company has doubled its revenue and tripled its customer base....


Previously on Exotec:
October 2, 2020
Warehousing Logistics: "Lille-based Exotec raises €77.1 million to support the international expansion of its warehouse robotics solutions"

In light of the downturn in the German economy, and Germany's apparent choice to go its own way politically, Europe is going to need a new engine to pull the economic train and if the engine is going to be France, it will have to have some unicorns in the corral.

Hence our ongoing interest in the French VC scene.

Wolfgang Münchau: "The battle for European integration has failed. It is time to recognise defeat, and to think through the consequences"

Coming from confirmed Europhile Münchau that is probably a sign that Europe as an ideal is past the high-water mark.

Of course a political entity built by stealth and subterfuge:

“Europe’s nations should be guided towards the superstate without their people understanding
what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps, each disguised as having an
economic purpose, but which will eventually and irreversibly lead to federation.”
— Jean Monnet

is going to have problems.

From EuroIntelligence, January 23:

When did we lose the fight?

When you fight for a cause that does not materialise, at what point do you recognise, and admit, defeat? There are some causes you may want to keep fighting for no matter what, like human rights or climate change. Is European integration in that category? For me, it is not. My biggest area of disagreement with my fellow European federalists is not in what we think is desirable. What we disagree on is where the dividing line between realpolitik and wishful thinking lies.

A good example occurred this weekend. The fool whose committed the crime of saying what everybody in the SPD is thinking was Kay-Achim Schönbach. He was forced to resign as head of the German Navy for revealing to the world that Germany’s natural ally is Russia.

Germany also plays a non-cooperative game in the EU’s monetary union, through an economic model that is reliant on large savings surpluses. Whether the issue is economic or foreign policy, other member states have been reluctant to challenge Germany.

The euro area’s sovereign debt crisis deprived me of my last great European illusion, the notion that crises make us stronger. That particular crisis made us weaker. So has the pandemic. I see no trajectory whatsoever for Italy to generate the degree of productivity growth needed to render its foreign debt sustainable. The only way to avoid disaster is for the ECB to support Italian debt forever. It might do so. But that would set the ECB on a toxic path, leading to a wide selection of other horrible destinations. Then again, the euro area would probably not survive an Italian debt default intact either. Pick your poison....


HT: MishTalk who believes the dream of the Superstate was never going to happen in the first place. 

The Battle for Europe Integration Has Failed and Russia Provides Proof

"European civilization is built on ham and cheese..."

 Via the Twitter feed of Incunabula:


"Selling Luxury Apartments Where Oliver Twist Once Asked for Gruel"

Things change.*

From the New York Times, December 23, 2021:

Want to understand London’s economic transformation? Take a look at the condo conversion of a workhouse near where a young Charles Dickens lived

For decades, the question inspired a parlor game for literary sleuths with a Victorian bent: Which workhouse inspired the most famous one in the world, the dank hellhole in “Oliver Twist,” the 1838 Charles Dickens novel about the torments and triumphs of a London orphan?

In 2010, the answer suddenly seemed blazingly obvious.

That was the year a scholar, Ruth Richardson, connected two dots that had been eminently visible, and essentially ignored, for more than a century. The first was a home that Dickens and his family had lived in. The second was the Strand Union Workhouse, built in the 1770s, about 100 yards down the same street.

Think of it. Young Dickens over here. A workhouse over there.

Dr. Richardson’s discovery came just in time. The workhouse, still stunningly intact, was then an unused part of a hospital owned by a foundation connected to the National Health Service, which wanted it razed to make way for luxury apartments. It soon became clear that the structure on Cleveland Street, in a neighborhood called Fitzrovia, was that workhouse, especially when Dr. Richardson unearthed details about the place that were echoed in the novel.

The Strand Union Workhouse had a rule, for instance, expressly prohibiting second helpings of food, which may have given rise to the most famous sentence in the book: “Please, sir, I want some more” — Oliver’s spurned plea for another helping of gruel.

In 2011, the workhouse was “listed,” giving it historic preservation status. For local activists, this was a victory.

For Peter Burroughs, it was something very different.

Mr. Burroughs is director of development for the University College London Hospitals Charity, which pours money into health care. The organization owns the workhouse, and now that it can’t be torn down, he is in charge of turning it into 11 high-end apartments and two houses, all expected to go up for sale late next year.

In a city beloved by wealthy real estate investors from around the world, the plan makes financial sense, but this may be the most benighted condo conversion in the history of condo conversions, with problems that go far beyond constraints placed on how the building can be altered. The property includes land that in the 18th and 19th centuries served as a pauper’s graveyard. Last year, archaeologists started exhuming bodies, roughly 1,000 in all.

“We knew we had a burial ground, and we knew we had a listed building,” Mr. Burroughs said. “But nobody could have known the extent of the work required.”

The price tag of the project has ballooned to well over $130 million, which includes the cost of exhumations and a large new apartment complex that will soon break ground on the land that used to be the graveyard. Just as bad, this is a lousy moment to be selling deluxe apartments in London. With the pandemic having accelerated the downturn in housing prices caused by Brexit, the only unknown is how much money the charity will ultimately lose.

The answer depends on another question: How do you market a former workhouse, anyway? Running with the building’s literary roots is one option. (“Yes, you can have more!”) Running from them is another.

Either way, the building is a real-world symbol as evocative as any in Dickens’s canon. It tells the history of London’s treatment of the poor, which evolved fitfully from punitive to humane, as well as the city’s ambivalent approach to preserving its past. The revered and glittery elements of Britain’s history — the monarchy, the castles and all those overstuffed museums — have plenty of popular support. There is no natural constituency for the destitute of yore, although their stories far outnumber the aristocracy’s and say just as much about this country as the fortunes of any duke. 

Ultimately, it took the star power of the man who created “A Christmas Carol,” “Great Expectations” and more than a dozen other classics to rescue the workhouse.

“Without Dickens,” Dr. Richardson said in an interview, “we’d have been utterly bereft.”

An Unnamed Guardian
Today, the building is a noisy construction site. One recent afternoon, a dozen or so men were hammering and drilling as Mr. Burroughs offered a tour. It’s a lot of exposed brick at the moment, with the outlines of apartments just taking shape. Anyone hoping to see signs of the building’s original purpose — an ancient mess hall filled with wooden bowls, perhaps — will be disappointed.

For years, this building was called the Middlesex Annexe, and it served as the somewhat austere outpatient department of a nearby hospital. Apparently, few recognized it was the original 18th-century workhouse until 2004. That was when Nick Black, a professor of health services and author of “Walking London’s Medical History,” noticed that a workhouse in an old lithograph had exactly the same footprint and architecture as the Annexe.

When the building was threatened with destruction, in 2007, Professor Black and a charity devoted to Georgian-era architecture tried to get it preserved. They initially failed, but the wrecking ball didn’t swing immediately, in part because the 2007-8 financial crisis left many developers in no mood to spend. It didn’t help that the land behind the Annexe was known to be filled with bodies, although how many was not yet clear.

By then, the Annexe had closed, and the University College London Hospitals National Health Service Foundation Trust — the official name of the organization that owned the building — started renting a hodgepodge of rooms in it to about 40 Londoners looking for cheap, communal living. This is a common strategy among British landlords — populate vacant buildings to prevent them from being vandalized or turned into a squatters’ paradise. Renters in such buildings are known as “guardians,” a slightly misleading term.

“Nobody was walking around with a rifle,” said Dominic Connelly, who lived in the Annexe until 2017, when everyone was finally asked to leave. He paid about $600 a month for a large former patient’s room that included a working X-ray light box.

Tenants were a mix of young people — yoga instructors, actors, a club bouncer — dwelling amid an assortment of medical equipment, security systems, a reception desk and hospital signs, including one for the child psychiatry department. The setting also seems to have inspired “Crashing,” a 2016 television mini-series about young people who flirt and couple in a disused hospital, written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the auteur of “Fleabag.”
Except that at the Annexe, people occasionally showed up to dig exploratory trenches.

“You’d see them from the windows, or you’d hear them digging,” Mr. Connelly said. “It was clear they were looking for bodies. Pretty grim stuff when you think about it, so I tried not to think about it.”

All the guardians in the Annexe knew they could be evicted any day, potentially signaling the workhouse’s imminent demise. The prospect was especially galling to a resident who, for unknown reasons, wanted anonymity and has never been identified. She contacted a scholar who had written an essay for The British Medical Journal about one of the medical heroes of the Victorian age, Joseph Rogers, a physician who served as the chief medical officer at the Strand Union Workhouse and crusaded for better conditions. 

The scholar was Ruth Richardson.

A gulag for the poor....


Speaking of the BMJ, they published their take on the health and well-being of the urchins in 2008 and not to be outdone the Royal Society of Chemistry put together the historic gruel recipe and served the slop to the public the following year.

And if wary yet curious reader wants to know why these factoids come readily to mind, it was something about shorting Oatly.
*Although the workhouse is on the north side of the river in Fitzrovia, a look at Charles Booth's maps of London poverty, 1889 - 1899 show that the same potential in Southwark and environs:

Charles Booth’s map of the inner southern district of London, with darker colours demarcating the poorest areas.

Via the LRB

"The Role of Inflation in Soviet History: Prices, Living Standards, and Political Change"

Just a personal bookmark for now.

A thesis
presented to
the faculty of the Department of History
East Tennessee State University

This thesis discusses the interaction between inflation, living standards, and political change in Soviet/Russian history. It traces the establishment and evolution of the Soviet monetary system, inflationary episodes, and their consequences. 

The goal of this study is to show how inflation affects the lives of ordinary people and how it has contributed to larger changes in Soviet history. Sources include economic statistics and analysis from articles and monographs, as well as first-hand accounts from interviews and newspapers. 

The results show that inflation was a factor in both the rise and the fall of the Soviet Union. Russia‟s first hyperinflation (1917-1923) nearly destroyed the economy, and the Bolsheviks were forced to stabilize prices. The Soviet system of price controls prevented inflation, but it also created persistent shortages of food and consumer goods. Mikhail Gorbachev tried to alleviate these problems, but his efforts resulted instead in Russia‟s second hyperinflation (1992-1993)....

....MUCH MORE (105 page PDF)

"China’s Growing Fondness for Bread Will Help Boost Wheat Imports"

From Bloomberg via Yahoo Finance, January 18:

China will keep scooping up more and more global wheat supplies after record imports last year, with changing diets in an increasingly affluent society set to be a key driver of future demand.

Overseas purchases jumped 17% to about 9.8 million tons in 2021, customs data show. Increased use of wheat for animal feed because of high domestic corn prices and a difficult harvest played a major role in pushing up imports.

But the impact of rising wealth on people’s diets is also boosting demand for the grain, a core ingredient in everything from bread to noodles, dumpling skins, biscuits and pastries. Growth in consumption has accelerated in recent years as China adopts more western-style eating habits, and food use will be the leading driver of wheat demand, according to Sitonia Consulting.

“We’re still expecting China’s 2022 imports to be large,” said Darin Friedrichs, co-founder and market research director of Sitonia, a China-based agricultural information service provider. “Domestic prices remain high due to increased use of wheat in animal feed and structural trends in consumers’ eating habits.”....


Hey, it happened with chocolate.

February 14, 2014
"World's Sweet Tooth Heats Up Cocoa" 

Damn it , damn it, damn it.

Three years ago seeing stories like "Chocolate replica of the Great Wall of China" I thought doing some sort of chocolate thing in China might be profitable. Chocolate worked out okay for Mr. Buffett.*
But during the due diligence the consultants said the Europeans, particularly Barry Callebaut and Lindt (formally Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Sprüngli, yummy eh?) had already made great strides in Asia.

So I let it rest but kept peeking at this picture of the dark goddess replacing terra cotta from an exhibition that drew a half-million chocoholics:

And thinking there might still be time.

Then in 2013 we read that the 30,000 sq. meter Chocolate Happy Land theme park has opened and by now I'm pretty sure that, yes, there is a freaking appetite for chocolate in China and where are those two clowns who warned about Barry freaking Callebaut? I mean come on, They have white chocolate:

And milk chocolate (on a dark chocolate plinth):
These people are in the grips of chocolate madness.
And I'm not moving any product.
From the Wall Street Journal:

Growing Demand From Emerging Markets Is Pushing Up Prices for Key Ingredient in Chocolate
Hoard that Valentine's Day candy now, because chocolate prices are poised to head higher.
Demand for the treat is soaring, especially in emerging markets where customers are getting wealthier. And farmers around the world are struggling to produce enough cocoa to keep the chocolate flowing.
That has driven prices of cocoa up 9% this year, to levels not reached since 2011.

The International Cocoa Organization predicts demand will outstrip production for the next five years, the longest shortfall since the trade group began publishing data in 1960. That likely means higher chocolate prices for years to come.

Already, the rising costs are making the leap from the futures market to the candy aisle. Last year, the average retail price of chocolate in the U.S. rose 2.8%, faster than the rate of inflation more broadly, according to market-research firm IRI. 

"We are looking at a situation where elevated cocoa prices are going to be much more the norm," said Sterling Smith, a futures specialist at Citigroup C -0.71% in Chicago. "You can't ramp up cocoa production like you can ramp up corn production," where devoting additional acreage to the fast-growing crop quickly raises output.
"That means chocolate and cocoa-based items are inherently going to become more expensive," Mr. Smith said.

Barring a last-minute reprieve, chocolate makers such as Mars Inc., maker of M&M's and Snickers, and Nestlé SA, which sells Butterfinger and Crunch bars, face some hard choices. They will likely either boost retail prices to cover the added costs, shrink the size of candy bars or seek substitutes for cocoa.
On Thursday, U.S. cocoa futures settled at $2,958 a ton, a 29-month high.

At these levels, chocolate makers could be forced to raise prices or cut back on how much cocoa they use, analysts say.

"Definitely $3,000 a ton will be a wake-up call.…Traders and manufacturers will start to react at that level," said Edward George, a commodities analyst at Ecobank in London. 

Mars, Nestlé and Mondelēz International Inc., which owns Cadbury, declined to comment on how they might adjust to higher cocoa prices....MORE
Warren calls See's the 'prototype dream business'. Buffett's total cash into See's Candy was $25mil. He's pulled $1.35 billion cash out. The $1.35 bil. allowed him to go buy other stuff which kicks off cash. Living La Vida Cocoa.
And damn it, a founding member of the Chinese Chocolate Cartel has this sweet ride:
TO GO WITH  Asia-food-China-Switzerland-Belgium-luxury-chocolate,FEATURE BY CAROL HUANGThis picture taken on January 18, 2013 shows people admiring a chocolate-made classic car at the Chocolate Happy Land in Shanghai.  A chocolate replica of Michaelangelo's David and the Eiffel Tower is wowing visitors at Chocolate Happy Land, while across town Chocolate Wonderland boasts a candy-filled lover's lane and fashion show.  CHINA OUT   AFP PHOTO

Very related:
Living La Vida Cocoa: Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway and the Chocolate Wars (BRK.A; BRK.B; CBY; KFT; HSY)

"Media experts sound alarm on rise of paywalled content"

The scribes have to somehow get paid and I'm not sure if the answer will be micropayments (not successful to date but crypto may change that) or something like PressReader or the sugar daddy approach like the Guardian's Scott Trust Limited + Bill Gates but that can be very expensive money.

Here's Axios with one part of the conundrum:

It’s a bull market for media companies targeting high-end readers, with Justin Smith and Ben Smith joining the likes of Puck, Air Mail, The Information, Axios, Punchbowl News, and others targeting influential, wealthy individuals with new digital publications.

Why it matters: "In this commercial environment, quality is being supported by paying audiences," said Rodney Benson, chair of NYU's Department of Media, Culture, and Communication. "Obviously, long-term, this is going to have tremendously negative civic effects."

  • "We're already experiencing those effects."

Details: As more of these outlets and paywalls pop up, academics and media opinion leaders have begun to voice concern over whether our society is paying enough attention to marginalized populations when it comes to news.

  • A new survey of senior media leaders globally suggests growing concern that new business models, and specifically subscriptions, "may be pushing journalism towards super-serving richer and more educated audiences and leaving others behind."
  • "That's how the business model works in a capitalistic system," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and founder of "The problem is that we can't have so much behind paywalls, that the public that can't afford to break through."

Flashback: A few years ago, media companies were pushing to scale their free offerings on social media, leading to a slew of economics problems between premium publications and tech platforms.

  • Today, many have regained control of their intellectual property via subscriptions. Free content is still available online for those willing to seek it, but social media algorithms, particularly on Facebook, have evolved to prioritize content from friends and family over brands and publishers.

Be smart: Some of the new subscription publications differ from corporate enterprise subscriptions that have existed for many years, which are usually sold via seat licenses for thousands of dollars per year, although there is some overlap....


The article goes on to mention the possibility of government funding but that option always brings to mind the universal truth "He who pays the piper calls the tune".

A slightly intermediated way to use government funding would be to issue vouchers to the populace, that individuals would then direct toward sources of news, analysis, fact and opinion.

This approach would probably set off the maddest scramble for loot that the media biz has ever seen. 

Saturday, January 29, 2022

"How Claude Shannon Helped Kick-start Machine Learning"

From IEEE Spectrum, January 25:

The “father of information theory” also paved the way for AI

Among the great engineers of the 20th century, who contributed the most to our 21st-century technologies? I say: Claude Shannon.

Shannon is best known for establishing the field of information theory. In a 1948 paper, one of the greatest in the history of engineering, he came up with a way of measuring the information content of a signal and calculating the maximum rate at which information could be reliably transmitted over any sort of communication channel. The article, titled “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” describes the basis for all modern communications, including the wireless Internet on your smartphone and even an analog voice signal on a twisted-pair telephone landline. In 1966, the IEEE gave him its highest award, the Medal of Honor, for that work.

If information theory had been Shannon’s only accomplishment, it would have been enough to secure his place in the pantheon. But he did a lot more.

A decade before, while working on his master’s thesis at MIT, he invented the logic gate. At the time, electromagnetic relays—small devices that use magnetism to open and close electrical switches—were used to build circuits that routed telephone calls or controlled complex machines. However, there was no consistent theory on how to design or analyze such circuits. The way people thought about them was in terms of the relay coils being energized or not. Shannon showed that Boolean algebra could be used to move away from the relays themselves, into a more abstract understanding of the function of a circuit. He used this algebra of logic to analyze, and then synthesize, switching circuits and to prove that the overall circuit worked as desired. In his thesis he invented the AND, OR, and NOT logic gates. Logic gates are the building blocks of all digital circuits, upon which the entire edifice of computer science is based....


The Bit Bomb: The True Nature of Information

The subject of this article, Claude Shannon has a couple interesting connections to finance/investing/trading beyond 'just' creating information theory (along with MIT's Norbert Wiener who was coming in on a different angle of attack), more after the jump.
Both Aeon and Climateer are reposting, "The Bit Bomb" first appeared at Aeon on August 30, 2017 and graced our pages over the Labor Day weekend, September 3, 2017.

Today In Big Numbers, Information Theory Edition: "There are 6×10^80 Bits of Information in the Observable Universe"

A Review of Garry Kasparov’s Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins

 "Claude Shannon, the Las Vegas Shark"
"How Information Got Re-Invented"
"How did Ed Thorp Win in Blackjack and the Stock Market?"
How Big Data and Poker Playing Bots Are Taking the Luck Out of Gambling 

There was also a shout out to Shannon from the quants at Ruffer in July 17's Ruffer Review: "Navigating information" 

"Manipulating the Climate: What Are the Geopolitical Risks?

As with biowarfare, climate war has the great feature of deniability among other attributes. From a Chinese colonel's discussion of the former:

...As Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz said, “War . . . is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will.”

Clausewitz scholar Wu Qiong adds, “Conceptually, to deprive the enemy of the power of resistance is the real aim of war.”

Compared with wars in the past, war through the command of biotechnology will guarantee the free application and security of our own biotechnology and, ultimately, lead to success through ultramicro, nonlethal, and reversible effects. Biotechnology is likely to bring about profound changes in the military domain and will contribute the utmost to the protection of civilization....

And from The Rand Review, December 29, 2021: 

The snowstorm seemed to come out of nowhere. It coated the roofs of Beijing in a white glaze and brought traffic on a dozen highways to a standstill. The city, caught in the grip of a decade-long drought, had not seen so much precipitation in months. It was anything but normal.

In fact, the storm in February 2009 was the result of a remarkable confluence of cold air, cloudy skies, and 313 sticks of silver iodide fired into the atmosphere by weather engineers hoping to make something out of nothing. Their success in tinkering with the weather underscores a growing risk that has not received the serious international debate it deserves. What happens if someone in our ever-warming world decides to tinker with the climate?

Technologies that could block the sun's rays or siphon huge amounts of carbon from the air are not that far out of reach, a recent RAND analysis found. They could have world-altering consequences that would make a snowstorm in Beijing look mild by comparison. Yet the international community has not built any real consensus around such basic questions as when such technologies would ever be used, how, or by whom.

“Some of these technologies have been almost taboo to talk about,” said Emmi Yonekura, a physical scientist at RAND who helped lead the study. “But if we don't get our act together with climate mitigation, there might be real pressure to turn to them in the future. We want to make sure that we can do it safely and with some understanding in the international community.”

In 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson received the first presidential briefing on climate change. At the time, geoengineering—the intentional manipulation of the climate—was presented as one of the only possible solutions. Proposals since then have ranged from the fanciful (dropping billions of white balls into the oceans to absorb sunlight) to the formidable (unfurling a giant sheet of reflective mesh between the Earth and the sun). Those ideas may sound “outlandish and upsetting,” one scientific journal acknowledged—but they could give us an emergency brake to pull if we can't stop global warming.

Yonekura teamed up with fellow RAND researcher Michelle Grisé, an expert in international law, to look at where geoengineering is now, where it's going, and what the international community should do to prepare. They found that the technology is coming up fast. It's the policy that has fallen behind.

Their analysis focused on two major lines of ongoing research. 

One would scrub the air of carbon pollution. That could involve massive filters and underground pumps—or it could mean seeding the oceans for phytoplankton and planting new forests to inhale carbon. It would be expensive. It would be slow. But it would take direct aim at the problem, slowing or even reversing the buildup of atmospheric carbon that is driving global warming.

The other option would seek to block some of the sun's energy—not with a giant space mesh, but with tiny particles suspended in the stratosphere or dusted onto clouds to make them reflect more light. It would be quick and relatively inexpensive—but carbon would continue to build up in the atmosphere. If we ever let those sun-stopping particles dissipate, the effect could be the climatic equivalent of opening a shaken-up bottle of carbonated water.

“You can see how this could lead to conflict, if you have two countries with different interests,” Grisé said. “And what we found is that there's really no road map for how to deal with problems that could arise as these technologies mature.” 

It would only take one country—watching its crops shrivel or its water run dry—deciding to take a chance to set a global climate experiment in motion. The effects could get out of hand quickly. In 1991, for example, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo blasted tons of gas and dust particles into the upper atmosphere. Those particles cooled global temperatures by around half a degree Celsius, proof that it could be done. But that then shifted the jet stream, giving northern Europe an unusually warm winter while the Middle East froze....


If interested see also: 

U.S. Army Mad Scientist Blog: "Shén fēng: Military Use of Weather Modification Technology" 

Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025"—U.S. Air Force

Possibly related:

Iranian general says Israel stealing Iran's clouds

The head of Iran's Civil Defense Organization claims Israel is 'working to ensure clouds entering Iranian skies are unable to release rain,' insisting this was confirmed by an Iranian scientific study; but head of Iran's meteorological service says 'it is not possible for a country to steal clouds.'...MORE

"Researchers Build AI That Builds AI"

From Quanta Magazine:

By using hypernetworks, researchers can now preemptively fine-tune artificial neural networks, saving some of the time and expense of training.

Artificial intelligence is largely a numbers game. When deep neural networks, a form of AI that learns to discern patterns in data, began surpassing traditional algorithms 10 years ago, it was because we finally had enough data and processing power to make full use of them.

Today’s neural networks are even hungrier for data and power. Training them requires carefully tuning the values of millions or even billions of parameters that characterize these networks, representing the strengths of the connections between artificial neurons. The goal is to find nearly ideal values for them, a process known as optimization, but training the networks to reach this point isn’t easy. “Training could take days, weeks or even months,” said Petar Veličković, a staff research scientist at DeepMind in London.

That may soon change. Boris Knyazev of the University of Guelph in Ontario and his colleagues have designed and trained a “hypernetwork” — a kind of overlord of other neural networks — that could speed up the training process. Given a new, untrained deep neural network designed for some task, the hypernetwork predicts the parameters for the new network in fractions of a second, and in theory could make training unnecessary. Because the hypernetwork learns the extremely complex patterns in the designs of deep neural networks, the work may also have deeper theoretical implications.

For now, the hypernetwork performs surprisingly well in certain settings, but there’s still room for it to grow — which is only natural given the magnitude of the problem. If they can solve it, “this will be pretty impactful across the board for machine learning,” said Veličković.

Getting Hyper

Currently, the best methods for training and optimizing deep neural networks are variations of a technique called stochastic gradient descent (SGD). Training involves minimizing the errors the network makes on a given task, such as image recognition. An SGD algorithm churns through lots of labeled data to adjust the network’s parameters and reduce the errors, or loss. Gradient descent is the iterative process of climbing down from high values of the loss function to some minimum value, which represents good enough (or sometimes even the best possible) parameter values.

But this technique only works once you have a network to optimize. To build the initial neural network, typically made up of multiple layers of artificial neurons that lead from an input to an output, engineers must rely on intuitions and rules of thumb. These architectures can vary in terms of the number of layers of neurons, the number of neurons per layer, and so on....


"Greenland sharks: Toxic, half-blind giants of the ocean"

From LiveScience:

Greenland sharks live longer than any other vertebrate.

Greenland sharks (Somniosus microcephalus) are the longest-living animals with a backbone, and survive for up to hundreds of years in the deep, cold waters of the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans. Greenland sharks belong to a family called sleeper sharks, which move slowly and stealthily through the water. 

These sharks sneak up on live prey and scavenge a variety of dead animals, including other sharks, seals, drowned horses and polar bears. Greenland sharks rarely encounter humans and scientists still have much to learn about their lifestyles. 

Greenland sharks grow up to 24 feet (7.3 meters) long and weigh up to 2,645 pounds (1,200 kilograms), according to the St. Lawrence Shark Observatory (ORS). That's longer than great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias), which are estimated to grow up to 20 feet (6 m) long. (Although unconfirmed reports suggest they can reach 23 feet (7 m) in length, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History.) ....

....Greenland sharks' exact life span is unknown. A 2016 study published in the journal Science estimated that Greenland sharks have a maximum life span of at least 272 years, based on analysis of the sharks' eye tissue. Researchers estimated that the oldest Greenland shark in that study was about 392 years old, but the estimate had a margin of error of 120 years, which led to speculation that Greenland sharks could live to 512 years old. The estimated range hasn't been verified....


The Difference Between Reality and Policy (COVID, Science, and Chainsaws )

Two posts from very different sources addressing covid that could just as well be talking climate. TL;dr: "We may agree on some basics of the science but there is no way in hell that makes your policy prescriptions either acceptable or even correct, ya loser." (sometimes I get excited and I'm done being nice to agenda pushers)

First up, the headliner from Inside Sources, December 26:

Year-End Musings on COVID, Science, and Chainsaws 

COVID-19 has provided a best-of-times, worst-of-times experience for expertise. The science has been spectacular, but discourse on that science has often been abysmal.

The same-year development, testing, and approval of vaccines was remarkable. The mRNA platform behind the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines could become the Swiss army knife of therapeutics. It’s already being mobilized against cancer and genetic illnesses.

I’m no virologist or geneticist, but experts I respect persuaded me of the vaccines’ safety and efficacy. I got jabbed as soon as possible and regret that others chose not to. I wear masks in some situations, and not others. I see people socially but avoid large crowds. I favored lockdowns and school closings in early 2020 but think they lingered too long. My guess is that jurisdictions focused on the most vulnerable populations (elderly, immunocompromised, etc.) will seem wiser in hindsight than those that applied draconian mitigation strategies over their entire populations.

I think I’m right on these things, though I recognize that future evidence might say otherwise. I’m grateful for the scientists who developed the vaccines but strive to maintain an open mind on all scientific matters, along with a sense of humility and a generous spirit toward those who disagree with me. A proper understanding of science demands no less.

The history of medicine offers ample reasons to avoid smug certitude which, unfortunately, is abundant on social and traditional media. Science is always about likelihood and never about certainty, though word apparently hasn’t reached Twitter and TV news.

Then there is the flagrantly political demeanor of so many COVID experts. I’m not at all prepared to say whether red states or blue states were wiser in their public policies. Too many confounding variables. I’ll make one exception, which is to say that the press and others besoiled themselves by relentlessly lionizing ex-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Today, few Democrats or Republicans quote his tweet from May 5, 2020: “Look at the data. Follow the science. Listen to the experts. … Be smart.”

Here’s why they shouldn’t. Science, like a chainsaw, is an exceedingly powerful and useful tool. But “follow the science” makes no more sense than “follow the chainsaw.” The chainsaw doesn’t know the safest way to cut a tree, and science—let alone some anthropomorphic vision of it—can’t weigh the tradeoffs between slowing COVID and shutting down schools and cancer surgeries.

Science informs individual and collective choices, which depend not only on those scientific findings but also on subjective preferences and one’s degree of confidence in those scientific findings. As for “listen to the experts,” Cuomo wrote the book on COVID expertise, and that book’s fall has been as spectacular as its author’s plummet.

Medical history is littered with experts who were spectacularly wrong. When Ignaz Semmelweis suggested that doctors employ antiseptic medical procedures (e.g., washing hands in maternity wards), medical experts were offended and conspired to destroy Semmelweis. When Stanley Prusiner suggested that misfolded proteins could cause mad cow disease and its human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, he was pilloried as a heretic—a pejorative that didn’t entirely vanish when he received a Nobel Prize for his work. As physicist Max Planck said, “Science progresses one funeral at a time.”

In October, novelist and essayist Ann Bauer wrote a poignant column, “I Have Been Through This Before,” on her discomfort with the parade of cocksure COVID experts issuing ever-changing diktats and pronouncements. When vaccines didn’t end the pandemic, she wrote, “doctors and officials blamed their audience of 3 billion for the disease. The more the cures failed, the greater the fault of the public.”....


And another thing: Stop misquoting Max Planck, dammit. What he wrote was:

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” 
— Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers

And from The Philosophical Salon, January 24:

Round and Round We Go: Covid-19 Policy and the Limits of Science 

The pandemic has made debaters of us all. We’ve argued with friends, family, and online strangers about why we need more or fewer restrictions. We’ve shaken our fists in exasperation at the people in the opposing camp, those people who just don’t get it

The arguments typically go nowhere. That’s because we’re not really arguing about public health or about science. We’re arguing about different ways of seeing the world.

Allow me to introduce Vania and Zeke, two characters who have been fighting for space inside my head, to make the point. Over the past two years, Vania and Zeke have both firmed up their thoughts about Covid policy. Let’s follow them into a coffee shop, where they’re meeting for the first time after a few weeks of texting. Their date gets off to a promising start — until the conversation turns to the pandemic.

— Vania: It’s such a shame. If people had come together and acted as a community, we could have beat this thing by now. Instead, we’re still facing restrictions almost two years in.

— Zeke: Why would you expect close to eight billion people to think and act the same way?

— Vania: It’s a pandemic. We have to work together if we want to solve this.

— Zeke: Any strategy that requires full compliance is doomed to failure. People are different, with different priorities.

— Vania: Sometimes we have to set our individual priorities aside and do the right thing.

— Zeke: Who gets to decide what the right thing is?

— You don’t think protecting people’s health is the right thing?

— You don’t think protecting democratic freedoms is the right thing?

— Your freedom ends where my safety begins. Nobody has the freedom to infect others.

— Living life carries an inherent risk. Take all the precautions you want, but don’t expect the world to stop until it’s scrubbed of all risk.

— Don’t be dramatic. Wearing a mask and social distancing are not stopping the world.

— I beg to differ. Socializing is a human need, not a frill.

— We can adapt our social interactions during an emergency. If only we had the discipline…

— Ah yes, Zoom calls. Or would you like to bring social bubbles back? Forgive me if I take a pass.

— Even if it protects your loved ones?

— There’s reasonable protection and unreasonable protection.

— Just be honest and say you don’t care about lives.

— You don’t care about what makes life worth living.

— To have a good life, you have to be alive in the first place.

— The great majority of people will survive the virus, but restrictions make life worse for just about all of us.

— So does long Covid.

— Long or short, Covid isn’t going away.....


We Are Doomed: Politicians Have Discovered NFT's As Fundraising Tools

Some of the headlines:

Democratic Party Politicians Turning to NFTs to Raise Funds - BeInCrypto 

An Arizona GOP candidate raised $575,000 in 36 hours selling NFTs as politicians look to a new kind of fundraising tool - Fortune

NFT For Politics – Token that restructures the Society - BlockchainAppFactory 

New group launches NFT marketplace for Democratic candidates, causes - TheHill

Doomed, I tells ya.



"Entrepreneurship Is an Economic Bright Spot"

Unfortunately for the sole proprietor or the 2,3,4,5 person employer, they are exactly the class that the powers-that-be hate the most. Because the bootstrapping entrepreneur tends to be a free-thinker and an independent cuss, they are actually a threat to a self-annointed elite that can brook no dissension or questioning of the powers the soi-disant have claimed as their own.

From the Cato blog, January 27:

Recent economic news has been mixed with supply chain bottlenecks and high inflation on the one hand, but solid growth on the other. Another bright spot is entrepreneurship. Since the summer of 2020, the number of U.S. business startups appears to have soared.

The chart below shows Census Bureau data for the number of actual and estimated business formations or startups. Business formations plunged at the start of the pandemic, but then reversed course and have risen to levels not seen in more than a decade. As the chart shows, the recession a decade ago hammered entrepreneurship and appeared to have permanently downsized startup activity. So the recent data is surprising good news.

The chart data is for employer businesses, meaning firms that hire at least one worker other than the owner. It is based on the first instance of payroll tax liabilities. The Census also tabulates business applications based on requests for employer identification numbers (EINs), and then uses that data to project future business formations, as discussed here.

On the chart, the number of startups is estimated to have jumped 21 percent between December 2019 and December 2021. Regional data show that the jump was 29 percent in the South, 20 percent in the Midwest, 16 percent in the Northeast, and 15 percent in the West.


Why has the number of startups risen? One factor is hardship. People laid‐​off during downturns may turn to entrepreneurship to earn income. Also, when downturns cause some businesses to close, it creates space for new businesses to fill the void. Many restaurants closed during the pandemic, but that has opened the door for new restaurants to try their luck....