Sunday, December 31, 2023

News You Can Use From The BMJ—"Retail demand for emergency contraception in United States following New Year holiday: time series study"

Well, it's morning at the International Date Line and folks are waking up and...

From the British Medical Journal:

BMJ 2023; 383 doi: (Published 20 December 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;383:e077437

Objective To estimate the increase in sales of emergency contraception following the New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day holiday.

Design Time series analysis using autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) model.

Setting Traditional (that is, “bricks and mortar”) retail outlets—grocery stores, drug stores, mass merchandisers, club stores, dollar stores, and military outlets—in the United States from 2016 to 2022.

Data source Marketing data on weekly aggregated sales of items classified as emergency contraception gathered between 2016 and 2022 (n=362). On the basis of dates, weeks were classified as following the New Year holiday (n=6) or not (n=356).

Main outcome measure Weekly sales of levonorgestrel emergency contraception per 1000 women of reproductive age in the US population.

Results Sales of levonorgestrel emergency contraception significantly increased after the New Year holiday (0.63 (95% confidence interval 0.58 to 0.69) unit increase per 1000 women aged 15-44). Holidays that share some aspects of the elevated risks of unprotected sexual intercourse with the New Year holiday (Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s Day, US Independence Day) were associated with increased sales, albeit to a lesser degree, with respective sales increases per 1000 women aged 15-44 of 0.31 (0.25 to 0.38), 0.14 (0.06 to 0.23), and 0.20 (0.11 to 0.29). Holidays without these expectations (Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day) were not significantly associated with sales of levonorgestrel emergency contraception....

News You Can Use From The BMJ—"Cheers not tears: champagne corks and eye injury"

Crypto: Binance and The Bond Villian Compliance Strategy

 From Bits About Money, November 24:

The Bond villain compliance strategy
James Bond films have a certain formula to them. It is more interesting when seen from the perspective of the villain.

He has long been adjacent to money and power, but craves more. Several years ago, he successfully escaped his low-on-the-ladder job at an existing institution. He built a base of power that is independent of institutions. From it, he successfully puppets any organization he needs to. He and his organization are from elsewhere, everywhere, all at once. They have no passport and fly no flags; these concepts are thoroughly beneath them. They move around frequently and are always where the plot requires them to be, exactly when it requires them to be there. No law constrains them. Governments scarcely exist in their universe. To the limited extent they come to any government’s attention, no effective action is taken. The villain rises to the heights of influence and power.

This continues for years.

Then we suddenly hear E minor major 9. We begin the film, telling the end of the story, mostly from Bond’s perspective. The villain is just another weirdo who dies at the climax in act three.

Life imitates art
For years I have used the phrase “Bond villain compliance strategy” to describe a common practice in the cryptocurrency industry.

In it, your operation is carefully based Far Away From Here. You are, critically, not like standard offshore finance, with a particular address in a particular country which just happens to be on the high-risk jurisdiction list. You are nowhere because you want to be everywhere. You tell any lie required to any party—government, bank, whatever—to get access to the banking rails and desirable counterparties located in rich countries with functioning governments. You abandon or evolve the lie a few years later after finally being caught in it.

Your users and counterparties understand it to be a lie the entire time, of course. You bragged about it on your site and explained it to adoring fans at conferences. You created guides to have your CS staff instruct users on how to use a VPN to evade your geofencing. The more clueful among your counterparties, who have competent lawyers and aspirations to continue making money in desirable jurisdictions, will come to describe your behavior as an “open secret” in the industry. They will claim you’ve turned over a new leaf given that the most current version of the lie only merely rhymes with the previous version of the lie.

And then we begin the third act.

So anyhow, Binance and its CEO Changpeng Zhao (known nearly universally as CZ) have recently pleaded guilty to operating the world’s largest criminal conspiracy to launder money, paying more than $4 billion in fines. This settles a long-running investigation involving the DOJ, CFTC, FinCEN, and assorted other parts of the U.S. regulatory state. Importantly, it does not resolve the SEC’s parallel action.

How’d we get here?

A brief history of Binance
Binance is, for the moment, the world’s largest crypto exchange. Its scale is gobsmacking and places it approximately the 100th largest financial institution in the world by revenue. The primary way it makes money is exacting a rake on cryptocurrency gambling, in particular, leveraged bets using cryptocurrency futures. To maintain its ability to do this, it runs a worldwide money laundering operation with the ongoing, knowing, active participation of many other players in the crypto industry, including Bitfinex/Tether, the Justin Sun empire, and (until recent changes in management) FTX/Alameda....


"Denmark's queen Margrethe II unexpectedly announces abdication in New Year's Eve speech"

From Sky News, December 31:

Margrethe II will be succeeded by her eldest son, Crown Prince Frederik, when she steps down on 14 January.

Denmark's queen has unexpectedly announced her abdication in her traditional New Year's Eve speech.

Margrethe II will formally step down from the throne on 14 January - exactly 52 years to the day of her ascension to the throne in 1972....


Her grandfather, Christian X, was a pretty good (and gutsy) guy.

From what I understand it's in the family's genes. We will get to see if it can continue through four generations when Frederik steps up.  

The Economist: "When civilisation collapses, will you be ready?"

This is a repost from 2014 but evergreen.

"In a post-apocalyptic world, which task would you assign the highest priority? Locating a sustainable food source, re-establishing a functioning government, procreating, or preserving the knowledge of mankind?" *
Pearson's flagship magazine appears to be listening to Gloria Gaynor.
From The Economist:
Preparing for the apocalypse
I will survive
AFTER “the Crunch”—the total collapse of the global economy—trade seized up, the power grid shut down and paper money became worthless. Riots gutted city centres. Looters picked them clean. Americans went back to growing their own food and bartering with their neighbours. Those who had failed to stockpile beans and bullets were soon hungry and defenceless. The “Great Die-Off” hit Florida especially hard. Millions of suntanned retirees died of starvation or chronic diseases after the government stopped paying for their pensions and pills.

Jake and Janelle Altmiller survived. They were practical people, who knew how to clean a rifle and install solar panels on the roof. But even for them, life was stressful. Janelle’s sister Rhiannon was working as a missionary in the Philippines, which was being invaded by Islamist radicals from Indonesia. Neither telephones nor the internet worked properly any more. How could Janelle find out whether her sister was alive? And how would any of them survive in a world that was falling apart?

At first I was afraid
Readers have always enjoyed scaring themselves with post-apocalyptic yarns, from Mary Shelley’s “The Last Man” to Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”. What makes “Expatriates: a Novel of the Coming Global Collapse” different is that its author is not just telling a story. James Wesley, Rawles (he insists on the comma, for some reason) thinks modern society really is likely to collapse. He wants readers to take his novels seriously, and to be prepared.

No one knows how many survivalists (also known as “preppers”) there are in America. Mr Rawles claims that his “SurvivalBlog”, which offers practical tips for remaining alive after The End Of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI) has 320,000 readers a week. The American Preppers Network, an umbrella group for those who see storm clouds everywhere, claims 52,000 members; it is anyone’s guess what fraction of the total that represents. The movement is decentralised and full of people who value their privacy.

“You don’t want to be known as the guy who has 3-4 years’ supply of food in the basement. Because one day you could see it confiscated by the government or stolen by neighbours like hungry locusts,” says Mr Rawles. “In the event of a disaster, I don’t want to wake up and see my yard full of teepees and yurts.”
If your neighbour is a prepper, therefore, you may not know it. Yet the stereotypical image of a survivalist as a loner in combat fatigues who hunkers down in a remote bunker is plainly inaccurate. Some do indeed live in rural cabins, but most have jobs, which means many live in cities or suburbs. Survivalists—a group that is at once characteristically American yet marginal and unloved—are much more diverse than you might imagine.

I was petrified
Jason Charles, an affable African-American fireman in New York, leads a group of avid preppers who meet at weekends to practise survival skills and debate impending threats: as well as being more varied, survivalists are much more sociable than they are thought to be. Mr Charles started reading SurvivalBlog several years ago and quickly realised that “these guys don’t live in New York.” For example, Mr Rawles has a ranch; Mr Charles lives in a flat in Harlem. That rules out self-sufficiency: where would he plant corn or raise pigs?

A few weeks before the first Ebola victim in America died, Mr Charles and two dozen others met in a room above a church to discuss how to prepare for an epidemic. Mr Charles has done his homework: he talks of different strains of Ebola, of transmission modes and fatality rates. He takes it for granted that no one in the room trusts the media or the government to be of much help. He warns people to prepare for the worst. If Ebola hits New York, “at some point you’re going to want to bug in [ie, take refuge in your apartment] or bug out [ie, flee].” Practically everyone in the audience has ideas and questions. If millions of New Yorkers are dying of Ebola and you need to escape from the city, don’t go to Harriman State Park. “Every hiker and their mother will be there.” Better to have a bug-out truck packed, fuelled and ready, so you can drive to a pre-prepared refuge in the countryside.

If you have nowhere to go, you should stay at home. And if so, you’ll need food, water, duct tape, garbage bags and sand (for using as a makeshift toilet). Have a blackout at night, so you don’t give your position away to prowling looters. Get plenty of entertainment—“I guarantee you’ll be bored out of your mind,” says Mr Charles. If a friend comes round, put him in your quarantine room. (Don’t seal if off completely or he’ll find it hard to breathe.)

Gruesome practicalities are confronted frankly. If you need to dispose of a corpse, for example, put plastic sheeting on the bed, wrap the body up, seal it with duct tape, and, if you have nowhere to bury it, leave it on the kerb with the deceased’s name and date of birth written on the bag. (Not his social-security number; that would allow someone to steal the dead man’s identity.)

Mr Charles’s group talks a lot about equipment. Should you buy a solar panel that straps to your back so you can charge your phone as you flee the city? Or a “waterbob”: a plastic bag that sits in your bath and can store 100 gallons of water? Should the group club together to buy gas masks more cheaply?

But I grew strong
Preppers love this sort of debate. Mr Rawles’s blog carries endless discussions of the merits of different ham radios or types of body armour, and the best way to build a safe room or smoke a fish over an open fire. It runs ads from (“the largest selection of in-stock magazines anywhere”) and from (“Get ready seriously with a steel-plate Safecastle shelter”). His novels carry nearly as much advice as his instruction manuals, and similar disclaimers, such as: “some of the devices ...described in this novel are possibly illegal in some jurisdictions.”

Many American cities have strict gun-control laws, which is frustrating. And urban preppers face other difficulties. “You have to adapt,” says Mr Charles. In the corners and cupboards of his apartment he has stacked tins of beans and sausages, bags of sugar, rice and ramen noodles and a variety of useful equipment. He has a tank of drinking water in the corridor, a first-aid kit, a portable stove and a crossbow he has not yet got round to assembling. He has more food in a storage unit nearby, and an inflatable raft in case he needs to escape across the river when the bridges are blocked or burning. His “bug-out bag” is always ready.
Mr Charles has written a short fold-out guide of his own: “Emergency Bag Essentials: Everything You Need to Bug Out”. His publishers had one complaint—the bag was too heavy. Mr Charles does not think it was, but this is perhaps because he is, even by the standards of iron-pumping firemen, enormous. Your correspondent tried to help him move a rucksack to his car. It felt like there was a piano inside. It turned out to be full of wet sandbags, which Mr Charles likes to carry up and down stairs....MORE

*The second of Sheldon's three barriers, 'Each more daunting than the last.'
  Big Bang Theory-Series 3 Episode 22 – The Staircase Implementation


If you're into the recreating civilization thing see Open Source Ecology's Global Village Construction Set:

Machines: Global Village Construction Set

The Global Village Construction Set (GVCS) is a modular, DIY, low-cost, high-performance platform that allows for the easy fabrication of the 50 different Industrial Machines that it takes to build a small, sustainable civilization with modern comforts. We’re developing open source industrial machines that can be made at a fraction of commercial costs, and sharing our designs online for free.
We are developing a lifesize, scalable, modular LEGO construction set.
The GVCS in itself consists of many other Construction Sets – as we build not individual machines, but construction sets of machines. As an example, the Fabrication Construction Set component can be used to build any of the other machines. Our goal is lifetime design, and low maintenance so only a few hours of maintenance per year are required to keep any machine alive.

We have built the first machine in 2007 – the Compressed Earth Brick Press. Since then, we have been moving forward steadily, improving the performance and production efficiencies of our machines. We have achieved a landmark One Day production time of the Compressed Earth Brick Press in 2012, and we intend to bring down the production time down to 1 day for each of the other machines. In 2013, we used our tractor, brick press, and soil pulverizer to build a comfortable home – the Microhouse. We continue to dogfood our tools in agriculture, construction, and fabrication – as we build our facility up to a world-class research center for open source, libre technology and decentralized production. In 2014, we will be moving to a replicable workshop model of production – integrating immersion education and production – where we intend to scale by distributing our open enterprise models far and wide. Our goal is to demonstrate how these machines contribute to creating a world beyond artificial material scarcity – by creating an open documentation, development, and production platform – towards the open source economy....MUCH MORE
The information provided in GVCS (and Climateer Group) webinars and accompanying material is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered civilizational or societal advice. You should consult with a technologist or other qualified professional to determine what may be best for your individual needs.
Past success in not a guide for future civilization performance
GVCS (and Climateer Group) do not make any guarantee or other promise as to any results that may be obtained from using our content. No one should make any survival decision without first consulting his or her own survival advisor and/or deity and conducting his or her own research and due diligence. To the maximum extent permitted by law, GVCS (and Climateer Group) disclaim any and all liability in the event any information, commentary, analysis, opinions, advice and/or recommendations prove to be inaccurate, incomplete or unreliable, or result in any deaths or other losses. Your mileage may vary, close cover before striking, not all civilizations thrive, good luck.

News You Can Use: "How to Predict An Alien Invasion" (and how to rebuild the world from scratch)

U.S. Navy Destroys Three Houthi Boats, Kills Crews

Following on yesterday's "Maersk Ship Hit by Missile in the Red Sea", the same ship was attacked again, this time in an apparent boarding and hijacking attempt.

From Singapore's Straits Times, December 31:

Maersk pauses Red Sea sailings after Houthis attack S’pore-flagged container ship twice 

Iranian-backed Houthi militants attacked a Maersk container vessel with missiles and small boats, prompting the company to pause all sailing through the Red Sea for 48 hours, Maersk said on Dec 31.

The crew of the Maersk Hangzhou crew was safe and there was no indication of fire on board the vessel, which was fully manoeuvrable and continued its journey north to Port Suez, Maersk said.

The attack was the latest by Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have been targeting vessels in the Red Sea to show their support for Palestinian armed group Hamas fighting Israel in Gaza.

The attacks have disrupted world trade, with major shipping companies taking the longer and costlier route around the Africa’s Cape of Good Hope rather than through the Suez Canal.

The Red Sea is the entry point for ships using the Suez Canal, which handles about 12 per cent of global trade and is vital for the movement of goods between Asia and Europe.

The United States launched Operation Prosperity Guardian on Dec 19, saying that more than 20 countries had agreed to participate in the efforts to safeguard ships in Red Sea waters near Yemen.

In response, Maersk said on Dec 24 it would resume sailings through the Red Sea.

However, attacks have continued and US allies have proven reluctant to commit to the coalition, with nearly half not declaring their presence publicly.

Maersk, one of the world’s major cargo shipping companies, said on Dec 31 it would delay all transits through the area for 48 hours, after the Maersk Hangzhou was struck by a missile at around 1730 GMT (1.30am Singapore time) on Dec 30 about 100km south-west of Al Hodeidah, Yemen.

A US warship shot down another two anti-ship ballistic missiles fired from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen, according to the US Central Command (Centcom).

Later at around 0330 GMT on Dec 31, the same ship was attacked by Houthi rebels in four small boats.

An attempt by the attackers to board the vessel was averted after its security team and helicopters from the USS Eisenhower and USS Gravely, responding to distress calls, returned fire, according to statements by Maersk and Centcom.

The helicopters sank three of the militant boats, with no survivors, while the fourth boat fled the area, Centcom said in the statement....


And from the U.S. Navy:

"Meet the New Influencers: Artificial Intelligence"

Jobs the robots will do.

First up, the headline story from Bot Populi, May 26:

Examining the influence of virtual beings on social media in the context of fashion, advertising, and more.

‘Hacks’ to learn different Indian languages, personal finance advice, and cooking recipes, Satshya Tharien’s Instagram posts cover a wide range of interests. Satshya, who “began creating short-form videos on Instagram when the Reels feature was released in 2020”, has over 290,000 followers on the platform. She has in her short stint as an influencer/content creator tried her hand at different types of posts like comedy, edutainment, cooking, and more to figure out what kind of digital content goes viral.

Just like Satshya, Kyra is a Mumbai-based influencer trying to grow her audience on Instagram. With 211,000 followers at the moment, Kyra identifies as a Meta influencer with her Instagram bio describing her as a “dream chaser, model, and traveler”. Kyra has had a busy start to the year as she partnered with Budweiser India to promote one of the world’s largest music festivals, Lollapalooza.

Interestingly, Kyra is currently 21 years old and will remain so for the next decade. This is because, unlike Satshya, Kyra is not real. She’s a virtual influencer (VI) created by Himanshu Goel, co-founder of FUTR STUDIOS. Goel and his team “created” Kyra during the second half of 2022.

“In 2021, we realized that almost every country with a high internet population had, at least one VI, barring India. So, after waiting a couple of months to see if anyone else was planning on creating one, we took the opportunity and created Kyra,” says Goel, whose team took three months to create a virtual being from scratch and deliver her to our Instagram screens.

The term influencer has many meanings. For the scope of this article, an influencer can be understood as “someone who holds social power and shapes the behavior of others through their words and actions”. A VI or virtual influencer is viewed as “an entity, humanlike or not, that is autonomously controlled by artificial intelligence (AI) and visually presented as an interactive, real-time rendered being in a digital environment”, which also holds massive social power.

VIs have gained tremendous popularity and followers in recent years owing to the rise of virtual reality (VR) technologies, Big Tech’s accelerated push toward the Metaverse, and brands expanding their focus on social media advertising.

Complexities of Virtual Diversity
The first instance of a VI was back in 2016 when an Instagram account by the name Miquela Sousa started gaining traction. Sousa’s account (or as she’s now commonly known, Lil Miquela) was shrouded in secrecy, and only when she ‘came out’ as a robot in 2018 did most people know that she’s not real. But it didn’t stop her from being listed in TIMES’ ‘most influential people on the internet’ list in 2018, endorsing products for Calvin Klein and Prada, and having a “224% higher post reach than the other influencers who have a similar number of followers”.

Today, the list of VIs is long, including Lu do Magalu from Brazil, Thalasya from Indonesia, Shudu from South Africa, Imma from Tokyo, Bermuda from Los Angeles, and Rozy from South Korea. Interestingly, most of these VIs primarily focus on fashion, including India’s Kyra. “Kyra’s interests lie in fashion, travel, and lifestyle. So, in case we publish a post in collaboration with MG Motors (to promote their cars) we will still spend a lot of resources on getting Kyra’s outfit right and presenting her in a fashionable manner. That is the chief focus of our content,” says Goel. Similarly, VI Shudu, created by fashion photographer Cameron-James Wilson, is big on fashion and calls herself “the world’s first digital supermodel”. According to reports, Wilson “claimed that he wants to use Shudu to encourage diversity in the fashion industry” as Shudu is particularly hailed for her “flawless dark skin”.

The first instance of a VI was back in 2016 when an Instagram account by the name Miquela Sousa started gaining traction. Sousa’s account was shrouded in secrecy, and only when she ‘came out’ as a robot in 2018 did most people know that she’s not real.

Industry experts believe that VIs are set to take over the fashion and advertisement sector, with Juniper Research estimating that the global fashion industry’s investment in AI technology amounted to USD 3.6 billion in 2020. However, when influencers – be they real or virtual – try to ‘influence’ fashion for particular audiences, questions of representation and authenticity, already a prickly subject in the domain, acquire new complexities....


The above was brought to mind—and dredged out of the link-vault—by a story at the Financial Times, December 28:

How AI-created fakes are taking business from online influencers
Hyper-realistic ‘virtual influencers’ are being used to promote leading brands — drawing ire from human content creators

Pink-haired Aitana Lopez is followed by more than 200,000 people on social media. She posts selfies from concerts and her bedroom, while tagging brands such as haircare line Olaplex and lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret.

Brands have paid about $1,000 a post for her to promote their products on social media — despite the fact that she is entirely fictional.

Aitana is a “virtual influencer” created using artificial intelligence tools, one of the hundreds of digital avatars that have broken into the growing $21bn content creator economy.

Their emergence has led to worry from human influencers their income is being cannibalised and under threat from digital rivals. That concern is shared by people in more established professions that their livelihoods are under threat from generative AI — technology that can spew out humanlike text, images and code in seconds.

But those behind the hyper-realistic AI creations argue they are merely disrupting an overinflated market.

“We were taken aback by the skyrocketing rates influencers charge nowadays. That got us thinking, ‘What if we just create our own influencer?’” said Diana Núñez, co-founder of the Barcelona-based agency The Clueless, which created Aitana. “The rest is history. We unintentionally created a monster. A beautiful one, though.”

Over the past few years, there have been high-profile partnerships between luxury brands and virtual influencers, including Kim Kardashian’s make-up line KKW Beauty with Noonoouri, and Louis Vuitton with Ayayi.

Instagram analysis of an H&M advert featuring virtual influencer Kuki found that it reached 11 times more people and resulted in a 91 per cent decrease in cost per person remembering the advert, compared with a traditional ad.

“It is not influencing purchase like a human influencer would, but it is driving awareness, favourability and recall for the brand,” said Becky Owen, global chief marketing and innovation officer at Billion Dollar Boy, and former head of Meta’s creator innovations team.

Brands have been quick to engage with virtual influencers as a new way to attract attention while reducing costs.

“Influencers themselves have a lot of negative associations related to being fake or superficial, which makes people feel less concerned about the concept of that being replaced with AI or virtual influencers,” said Rebecca McGrath, associate director for media and technology at Mintel.

“For a brand, they have total control versus a real person who comes with potential controversy, their own demands, their own opinions,” McGrath added.

Human influencers contend that their virtual counterparts should have to disclose that they are not real, however. “What freaks me out about these influencers is how hard it is to tell they’re fake,” said Danae Mercer, a content creator with more than 2mn followers....


Things are moving pretty fast. And accelerating.

News You Can Use From The BMJ—"Cheers not tears: champagne corks and eye injury"

From the British Medical Journal:

BMJ 2023; 383 doi: (Published 20 December 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;383:p2520 

Be careful this holiday season: ocular trauma while opening bottles of fizz can be significant—and easily avoided, advise Ethan Waisberg and colleagues

The joyful effervescence of champagne is often associated with celebration, happiness, and the holiday season. The rapid release of carbon dioxide gas after uncorking a bottle of sparkling wine is a memorable moment enjoyed by all, regardless of whether you drink alcohol. But there is a dark side to uncorking these bubbly beverages.

Cork eye injuries are an often overlooked and substantial threat to ocular health. Although our group usually publishes on the effects of spaceflight on the eye,123 this article focuses on the launch of sparkling wine corks instead of astronauts. The goal of this article is to ensure that you don’t begin the new year on the operating table of an eye surgeon.

Permanent blindness
This warning might at first sound overly cautious, but the American Academy of Ophthalmology has a public safety campaign, “Uncork with Care,” that gives practical tips for safely uncorking fizz bottles due to the “serious, potentially blinding eye injuries” that occur every year.4 The pressure in a 750 ml bottle of champagne or sparkling wine is about three times that of a standard car tyre, with the potential to launch a cork up to 13 m at speeds of up to 80 km/h.45 A cork can travel from bottle to eye in less than 0.05 seconds, making the blinking reflex ineffective. A cork hitting an eye can cause permanent blindness, retinal detachment, and lens dislocation, among other conditions. In May 2022 cyclist Biniam Girmay opened a bottle of prosecco on the winners’ podium to celebrate his win at the Giro d’Italia. The cork hit his eye causing an anterior chamber haemorrhage, and he had to withdraw from the next stage of the competition.6

A retrospective review published in 2005 analysed cases of severe eye injuries resulting from bottles containing pressurised drinks in the United States, Hungary, and Mexico.5 Champagne bottle corks were responsible for 20% of the eye injuries related to bottle tops in the US, 71% in Hungary, and 0% in Mexico.5....


"The Mystery of Who Stole One of the World’s Finest Champagnes–And Where It Ended Up"

A repost from January 2018.

Berry Bros. & Rudd has some Jacques Selosse Extra Brut for sale at £304.00/bottle and some non-vintage brut through the bonded warehouse/Berry Broking Exchange offered at £1,400.00 for a six-pack - make a bid, make a market.

From the Daily Beast, December 29:

The Jacques Selosse champagne brand is one of the most coveted in the world. In an audacious 2013 raid, a group of thieves stole $360,000-worth of it.
As the minute hand ticks toward midnight on New Year’s Eve, people around the world will be poised to ring in 2018, thumbs pressed in popping position against corks and flutes of Champagne tipped toward mouths. With one sip of effervescent bubbles, they will cheers to all of their hopes and dreams for the new (and, please, please be better than 2017) year.

For a lucky—and rich—few, this bubbly New Year’s tradition will come courtesy of Jacques Selosse, a small-scale vigneron whose Champagne is considered by many to be the best in the world. It’s a designation that has garnered the producer something of a cult following, and the coveted bottles now command a similarly prestigious price.

While most of us have come to terms with the fact that we won’t be popping Selosse at the stroke of midnight, a group of thieves decided to take matters into their own hands in 2013 when they broke into the Selosse cellars in Avize, France, and made off with 300 cases of wine, worth around $360,000. The men have never been identified and their misbegotten booty has not yet been found.
On the night of March 21, the season’s wine allocations for the U.S. and Japan were sitting prepped and packed on pallets in the Selosse cellars, ready to be shipped out.

The thieves broke in and helped themselves to the eight pallets containing some 3,700 bottles of cuvée worth half a million dollars. But they didn’t stop there. They also filched 6,000 bottle labels, 12,000 neck labels, and 2,500 wine caps, a troubling discovery that indicated they may have planned to also produce fraudulent bottles to sell....MORE
I don't know about most coveted, especially after the theft of the labels but the old standbys, a Cristal, a Dom or a Krug are acceptable at pretty much any table anywhere in the world, while a Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill would definitely be topical.

There Have Been Other December 31's That Were Much More Momentous

This piece by Mark Steyn (not to be confused with Lady Justice Steyn) was originally published in the Telegraph on December 31, 1999.

With Santana's "Smooth" on constant replay providing the background music, the most talked about topics, in some circles anyway, were the Y2K bug and whether this was really the turn of the Millennium or if it was next year. The dotcom bubble was in full stride and the zeitgeist was a bit frivolous.

This Date in History

December 31st, 999
A reluctant King Ethelred the Unready has been pressured by the Thane of Blair into attending tonight's opening of the Millennium Dome in London. Initially, His Majesty had argued that the new millennium did not start until January 1st, 1001. "Sire," the Thane pointed out, "the clock of your consultations and executions is forever set some hours late. Your people are ready for this new millennium, yet Your Majesty persists in his unreadiness."

"Give us a break," replied the King. "This Millennium Dome of yours is just an overgrown tent. It's not even a permanent structure."
"But in this kingdom what is?" riposted the Thane. "We put up a fabulous abbey at Tavistock, but the Danes burnt it down. They sack London, they rape Kent. The beauty of this Dome, Sire, is that, with any luck, it will have collapsed before Svein Forkbeard's hordes have a chance to torch it. Oh, by the way, a belated Merry Christmas from all us barons." He handed the King a copy of the current best-selling self-help manual Men Are from Norseland, Women Are from Kent.

Two thousand years ago
December 31st, 1 BC

In Rome today, officials insisted that fears of a so-called "Y1" bug were groundless, and that the rush to the forum to stock up on food before midnight was simply causing unnecessary panic. Despite these statements, soothsayers around town have been urging citizens to beware: "They laughed at me about the Ides of March," says one. "But I'm ready to go double or quits." He predicts widespread chaos on January 1st, affecting everything from utilities to transportation: "Chariots will be dropping off the aqueducts," he warns.

Others note that, whereas in previous years 4 BC changed smoothly to 3 BC and 3 BC to 2 BC, at midnight tonight there will be no new year for the calendar to flip to - a design fault that experts claim was all too predictable when the system was installed. "They've known this was coming since at least, er, 4000 BC, and maybe earlier," says Computa Geekus, editor of BC PC. "They've had plenty of time to think up some numbers lower than one - and what have they come up with? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Well, come to think of it, if they'd come up with 'zero,' we wouldn't be in this mess. But zero as a numerical concept is unknown to the Roman world. Hence, this crisis. Happy No Year."
However, Bill Portas, the richest man in the world, says there should be no problems, as long as everyone upgrades to Windows AD.

In other news, Chronos, the popular Greek magazine, has announced its "Top Ten People Of The Millennium": 1) Alexander the Great; 2) Plato; 3) Socrates; 4) Pericles; 5) Aristotle; 6) Protagoras; 7) Aristophanes; 8) Mimnermos; 9) Hippias of Elis; 10) Cleopatra.
Meanwhile, Campus, the popular gay magazine, has announced its "Top Ten Gays Of The Millennium": 1) Alexander the Great; 2) Plato; 3) Socrates; 4) Pericles; 5) Aristotle; 6) Protagoras; 7) Aristophanes; 8) Mimnermos; 9) Hippias of Elis; 10) Sappho.

Three thousand years ago
December 31st, 1001 BC

In the abandoned city of Hattusas, Dick Clark announced the results of his poll for the Millennium's All-Time Greatest Hittite. The winner is King Suppiluliuma I (circa 1380-1345 BC).

Four thousand years ago
December 31st, 2001 BC

In Sumer today, officials were divided as to whether tomorrow is really the first day of the new millennium. "What can I tell you? It's circa this, circa that, so let's just call it CY2K," said the King's press agent, In-Nummeru. "I've been in this business circa 40 years and, lemme tellya, there's no need to reinvent the wheel here. We did that in the last millennium."
But critics contend that, actually, we do need to reinvent the wheel, since Babylon is developing something called a "chariot" - a two-wheeled high-speed vehicle that could revolutionize warfare in the next millennium. "You're either on the Conflagration Super Highway or you're left behind in the dust," says one defence expert.

Sumerian complacency has also been attacked by leading property developer and potential candidate for King, Donald the Trump. "They call me a clown, but I'm not joining the circa's," he said, in a sustained attack on how inefficient Sumerian statism had left its economy way behind the more entrepreneurial Babylonians. "You wanna put up a building here, the planning board says, sure, as long as it's a ziggurat," he complained. "Listen, I got Trump Ur Ziggurat, Trump Nippur Casino and Ziggurat, Trump Mari Palace Ziggurat. You know how sick people are of ziggurats? The whole town looks like a discount staircase warehouse. You've got 200,000 square feet on the ground floor and by the time you get to the penthouse you're lucky if you can get a broom closet up there. I'm the biggest developer in the hottest city in the world, and I say: Let's build buildings that go straight up. You'll have your regular temple on the ground floor - strictly the best, high class all the way - but on top of that we'll have room for a parking garage that blocks out all sunlight from here to the Euphrates."

However, commentators thought The Trump's proposals had come too late to save the atrophied Sumerian civilization from total collapse. "Sumer is riven by inter-city rivalry. Ur has been sacked by the Elamites, Isin is struggling to hold Nippur," reported a correspondent for the Sumer edition of Time magazine, Sumer Time. "As for this circa business, as the old saying goes: Spring into Sumer, Fall back to Winter."

Five thousand years ago
December 31st, 3001 BC

The Nasdaq index bounced to a record high today of three following the latest stock offering by a hieroglyph start-up company. "This is revolutionizing communication," said hieroglyph entrepreneur Ptolyouso, founder of e-Gypt and the mail-order bookstore "Before, if you wanted to tell a joke to your cousin in Thebes, you had to get into a boat and paddle up river. Now, you simply use p-mail: Relate your joke to a scribe and he'll deliver it within weeks in convenient papyrus form."....


I thought I had a PDF of the original as published but it seems to have disappeared somewhere in the link-vault so the above was copypasta'd from Mr. Steyn's website. 

For some reason I do not comprehend, when I did a quick search of the link-vault, the first hit was "On this day in 1004":

Events in History in 1004      
May 15 Henry II the Saint crowned King of Italy
Nov 13 Abbo van Fleury [Floriacensis], French abbott and saint, dies
Not as funny as Steyn but amusing in a trivial sort of way.

Opportunity: "The Vast Potential For Storage In A Compute Crazed AI World"

Storage: very important for Roman emperors, Jensen Huang, commodity manipulators, George Carlin and yours truly.

From The Next Platform:

When it comes to funding rounds for high tech companies, the alphabet usually runs out somewhere around Series E. If you haven’t figured out who you are by then – or the market hasn’t – that probably means the you are going to be one of the 80 percent or so of companies that don’t make it and not one of the 20 percent that either cashes out in a sale to a bigger firm, to a venture capitalist, or through an initial public offering down on Wall Street.

If we had to make a bet – and we can’t because we don’t invest in the companies that we write about – we would bet that Vast Data, which has made flash storage and the NFS protocol work well and scale far and which has blurred the lines between storage and databases more recently, will not only be one of the 20 percent of startups that make it, but will be one of the blockbuster IPOs of 2024 – or perhaps 2025 if the global economy goes up on the rocks.

Modern high performance, scale-out workloads need a new kind of storage, one that can work well with HPC simulation and modeling as well as AI training, and that is what the Vast Data Platform, the most recent iteration of the storage created by Vast Data, is all about. And with Vast Data raising another $118 million in its Series E financing round, bringing the company to $381 million in total funding and giving it a valuation of $9.1 billion according to co-founder Jeff Denworth, up 2.5X in the past two years, Vast Data could be one of the breakout IPOs next year as it has already become a go-to storage platform for large scale infrastructure.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was a big and early customer of Vast Data, and this is not surprising since some of the company’s founders were instrumental in the creation of the Lustre parallel file system that cut its teeth at this flagship US Department of Energy HPC center. Since then, the Texas Advanced Computing Center is employing Vast Data for a scratch file system on the “Stampede 3” supercomputer, and AI cloud builders CoreWeave, G42, and Lambda have also tapped Vast Data to provide the back-end storage for their GPU clusters.

This is in keeping with the philosophy that Denworth and co-founder Renen Hallack described to us way back in February 2019, when Vast Data dropped out of stealth, saying that unlike Nutanix, Pure Storage, and a bunch of prior storage startups, Vast Data was only going to focus on the needs of large-scale customers and chase big deals instead of lots of smaller ones because this was the fastest way to create and improve a product and to reach profitability. We look forward to seeing the S-1 filing that Vast Data makes when it goes public so we can see in its historical financial figures if this has truly played out as planned....


Attempting to take the elements of the intro almost in order:
"Storage: Very Important For Roman Emperors and Commodities Market Manipulators"

Nvidia and data centers  

The Golden Age of Commodities Market Manipulation: Corners, Storage and Squeezes
These days however, to purloin that wealth, you don't even need to be dealing with storables:
How to Manipulate Non-storable Commodities Markets

Remember, the spectrum runs from storage to hoarding to market corners.
And corners in commodities refers to physical, you can't corner a commod by simply buying futures or forwards, you also have to take up the physical supply.
Conversely, squeezes are accomplished in the futures..

Moi: The fortuitous timing and incredible run of warehouse equities, 2019 - 2022:

Tuesday, October 26, 2021
Buying Warehouses In Europe and China
It was rather lonely in 2019 when we were pitching warehouses and cold storage facilities but by December 2020 we were posting stuff like:

Real Estate: "Logistics market is hot, but is a bubble forming?"
It's always nice to see a sector you've been babbling about for a couple years finally referred to as a bubble.  

And finally, Mr. Carlin:

Saturday, December 30, 2023

"The Bulgarian Computer’s Global Reach: On Victor Petrov’s “Balkan Cyberia"

Combining a couple threads that appear in this morning's "The Closing of the Bulgarian Frontier". 

From the Los Angeles Review of Books, November 10:

Balkan Cyberia: Cold War Computing, Bulgarian Modernization, and the Information Age Behind the Iron Curtain by Victor Petrov

LET’S PLAY a history game. Imagine it’s the 1960s and electrical engineers and coders are colonizing a golden valley of dipping hills and collective communes. Miraculously, they build a thriving computer industry in what seems like a matter of months. It prospers. This cyber-land comes to occupy the hopes and dreams of the whole nation, especially its youngest generation. Where are we?

Bulgaria. It is not the first place many people would think of. In the popular imagination (and in much economics scholarship), Bulgaria is a poster child for rural agrarianism and underdevelopment. Cold War Bulgaria conjures an even more inauspicious image as one of the most stalwart political vassals of the Soviet Union.

But by the 1980s, Bulgaria was one of the world’s major producers of computers. By conservative estimates, one in every 10 industrial workers was employed by the computer industry. The country held a 45 percent market share of electronic exports inside the Eastern Bloc. Its executives rubbed shoulders with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in 1980s California and sold the PCs powering India’s IT revolution. Its children were taught coding in communist youth groups, attended computer clubs, and swapped comic books depicting cyborg Lenins and a socialist ChatGPT. The country’s factories built pneumatic robot combines that could automate manufacturing, and its manufacturers supplied microprocessors for the state-of-the-art satellite Interkosmos 22 pinging around Earth’s orbit.

How did this happen? And why on earth haven’t we heard about this cyber-land before? The second question is easier to answer. We haven’t heard of it because it collapsed in 1990, and winners don’t like remembering losers. And because Bulgaria is classed as “peripheral.” It is on the margins of every map: Europe, the Cold War, the global economy, the digital revolution. Policymakers and trendsetting gurus don’t tend to look for answers to big issues in these “small” and unfamiliar places (unless doing so involves a happiness index). This is finally changing. Some of the best history books being written today are turning “to the margins” to find previously unrecognized laboratories of modernity....


Related in spirit:
When France Invented The Internet

When Medical Authorities Went Totalitarian: Understanding Covid Policies and Protocols

It really was amazing to watch the control freaks arrogate to themselves as much power as they could grab.

From the Mises Institute, December 29:

Review: The New Abnormal: The Rise of the Biomedical Security State

Senator Rand Paul mentions Aaron Kheriaty’s The New Abnormal: The Rise of the Biomedical State in his book Deception: The Great Covid Cover-Up. Dr. Kheriaty’s online biography includes the following information:

Dr. Kheriaty is a plaintiff in the landmark free speech case Missouri v. Biden challenging government censorship on social media. . .. Dr. Kheriaty also serves in teaching and advisory roles at the Brownstone Institute, the Zephyr Institute, the Paul Ramsey Institute, and the Simone Weil Center for Political Philosophy.

For many years he was Professor of Psychiatry at UCI [University of California—Irvine] School of Medicine and Director of the Medical Ethics Program at UCI Health, where he chaired the ethics committee. He also chaired the ethics committee at the California Department of State Hospitals for several years. He was fired from the University of California after challenging the University’s covid vaccine mandate in federal court.

The New Abnormal’s Prologue

Dr. Kheriaty’s prologue is titled “Nuremberg, 1947.” It is the right place to begin in understanding the COVID-19 control program. Following the more famous 1946 trial of the top Nazis, the trial of Nazi doctors led to prison sentences for nine and death sentences for seven defendants. As part of the opinion of the tribunal, the Nuremberg Code was published, which contained ten items that established the criteria for conducting ethical human experimentation.

Dr. Kheriaty’s prologue only explores the first item of the Code, but it is the foundation, addressing informed, noncoerced consent. Those interested in reading an analysis of all ten items of the Code are directed to Dr. Nicholas Bednarski’s series Violations of Nuremberg Code in COVID-19 Control Program. Dr. Bednarski concludes that all ten items of the Nuremberg Code have been violated.

The New Abnormal’s prologue identifies the connection between the work of the Nazi doctors and the eugenics movement, which is disturbing for Americans initiated in the United States. The New Abnormal reveals, “Eugenics programs received funding from major foundations, including those of Rockefeller, Carnegie, Ford, and Kellogg. Intellectuals at Stanford, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton endorsed the movement’s aims and participated enthusiastically.”

Pursuit of eugenics was not restricted to the private sector but extended to state governments and the federal government:

In the 1920s an impoverished young woman from Virginia, Carrie Buck, was diagnosed with “congenital feeblemindedness” and slated for forced sterilization. She challenged the state of Virginia’s law in federal court, and her case, Buck v. Bell, went to the Supreme Court in 1927. The court upheld the state’s eugenic sterilization law, resulting in Carrie’s forced tubal ligation.

The New Abnormal continues, “Hitler himself remarked, ‘I have studied with interest the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would . . . be of no value, or injurious to the racial stock.’”

The New Abnormal’s prologue concludes, “While the Nuremberg Code did not enjoy the binding force of international law, its principles did inform the laws of most nations, including the United States. The principle of free and informed consent was further developed in the influential World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki in 1964.”

Subsequent Chapters

The New Abnormal focuses on the role of declared emergencies in establishing invasive government policies that destroy our personal freedoms:

[Government policy] . . . from lockdowns and school closures to mask and vaccine mandates or passports—received its supposed legal justification from the declared state of emergency. But tellingly, the threshold for what constitutes a public health emergency—how many cases, hospitalizations, deaths, et cetera—was deliberately never defined.

Who has this power?

At the federal level, with the backing of the president, that person is now Xavier Becerra, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the NIH, the FDA, and the CDC, among other divisions. Becerra, a lawyer and former attorney general of California, has no medical training and zero public health experience.

How extensive are these powers? Dr. Kheriaty reveals that in a state of emergency the president gains access to an additional 136 statutory powers. He summarizes the implications of this concentration of power:....


Two superb previous articles, one by Kheriaty about the Doctor who led the smallpox eradication effort and what he had to say about pandemics: "Lockdowns: The Epidemiologist and Public Health Giant Who Knew What Would Happen" and another that references Dr. K: "The U.S. Government’s Vast New Privatized Censorship Regime"

Speaking Of Sam Altman, His Life Extension Injections Could (Maybe) Accelerate Cancers

Following on the post immediately below, "ChatBots: "OpenAI annualized revenue tops $1.6 billion..." Figures That's Good For Another Funding Round At $100 Billion Valuation".

From Futurism, December 19:

Sam Altman's Life Extension Guy Warns of Injections That Cause Wild Tumor Growth
"You have to stop before you go too far... because it will start trying to grow an entire person right there and form the tumors."

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has invested a whopping $180 million in a startup called Retro Biosciences that's looking for novel ways to extend human longevity.

As Bloomberg reports, the company has an unusual way of exploring new treatments: it's investigating not just one area of research, but five — an extremely costly and high-risk approach in the world of anti-aging science.

Altman, who recently was fired and promptly reinstated at OpenAI, gave Retro cofounder Joe Betts-LaCroix an immense opportunity.

"Sam was willing to do something different and throw lots of money at a bunch of things in parallel," Betts-LaCroix told Bloomberg, referring to his support as "freaking awesome" and "cool."

But considering the sheer risks involved, we're unlikely to see potential life extension research being tried out on humans any time soon.

Case in point, one avenue of research being investigated by Retro Biosciences is reprogramming damaged or decayed cells to revert them to a healthier and younger state.

However, researchers have run into some serious roadblocks when trying the process out on lab mice. In some experiments, mice that had some of their genes reprogrammed, started growing tumors called teratomas, which can be made up of several different types of tissue, including hair, bone, or teeth.

"There’s thinking that you can inject a virus that will go into someone’s tissues, put the genes for these transcription factors into the cells and express them for a while in hopefully a very controlled way," Betts-LaCroix told Bloomberg....


ChatBots: "OpenAI annualized revenue tops $1.6 billion..." Figures That's Good For Another Funding Round At $100 Billion Valuation

First up, Fox via MSN, December 30:

OpenAI raked in over $1.6 billion in revenue this year amid CEO Sam Altman drama

OpenAI raked in $1.6 billion in annualized income in 2023 according to The Information, which cited people with knowledge of the figure.

The figure, up from $1.3 billion in October, comes amid the dramatic ouster and then return of the company's CEO, Sam Altman. The company credits much of its revenue to its massively popular ChatGPT, a large language model....


And from the Cyprus Mail, December 31:

OpenAI in talks to raise new funding at $100 bln valuation

OpenAI is in early talks to raise a fresh round of funding at a valuation at or above $100 billion, Bloomberg News reported on Friday, citing people with knowledge of the matter.

The terms, valuation and timing of the funding round have not yet been finalized and could still change, the report said.

OpenAI has also held discussions to raise funding for a new chip venture with Abu Dhabi-based G42, according to the report.

It is unclear if the chip venture and wider company funding were related, the report said, adding that OpenAI has discussed raising between $8 billion and $10 billion from G42.

OpenAI is set to complete a separate tender offer led by Thrive Capital in early January, which would allow employees to sell shares at a valuation of $86 billion, according to the report....


"Chinese Cities Ease Gasoline Car Restrictions to Boost Economy"

 From OilPrice, December 29:

The Chinese city of Hangzhou, one of several large Chinese cities that restrict licenses for new fossil fuel-powered cars to reduce pollution and traffic congestion, is easing the curbs on eligibility for car ownership in an effort to boost flailing consumer spending and the economy, business news outlet Caixin Global reports.

Hangzhou, alongside Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou, has had such restrictions for nearly a decade. Hangzhou’s city authorities have been granting just 80,000 new license plates for gasoline and diesel-powered cars per year, in a lottery. To compare, in February 2023, more than 800,000 residents registered to take part in the lottery to win fewer than 5,000 license plates, Caixin notes.  

The city government started easing the restrictions this year, allowing residents who haven’t won the lottery more than 72 times to directly apply for a license plate for a gasoline or a diesel-fueled passenger vehicle....


"Maersk Ship Hit by Missile in the Red Sea"

It might be time for a reprise of "Mad Mitch" in Yemen with cold steel and pipes skirling.

From gCaptain, December 30:

A Maersk containership has been hit by a missile in the Red Sea, the U.S. has reported.

The U.S. Central Command said the Singapore-flagged Maersk Hangzhou reported it was struck by a missile while transiting the Southern Red Red Sea at approximately 8:30 p.m. local time on Saturday.

The ship requested assistance and is said to be “seaworthy” with no reported injuries. The USS Gravely and USS Laboon responded to the incident, with the USS Gravely successfully shooting down two anti-ship ballistic missiles fired towards the vessels from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen.

The incident comes has Maersk has been resuming transits through the Red Sea with the establishment of the US-led Operation Prosperity Guardian (OPG) naval coalition, while some other carriers have opted to continue to reroute ships around the Cape of Good Hope due to safety concerns as the Iran-backed Houthis have continued to carry out missile attacks against commercial shipping....


Back to Mad Mitch, after he was basically chased out of the British Army for exceeding his orders, he went on to found, along with his wife and another Scotsman, the HALO Trust, clearing landmines from the world's conflict areas and keeping kids bipedal. 

His regiment's march, Mony Musk, sounds like it would be quite terrifying to those being approached by a bunch of loony Scots, never mind the bayonets.
And then it goes up-tempo, Yikes! I'd be thinking, time to run.

"Cryptocurrency and Cognitive Dissonance"

From the Milken Institute Review, December 12:

While it came as no surprise after three of his closest associates testified against him, Sam Bankman-Fried’s conviction on seven counts of fraud and conspiracy in a Federal courtroom should nonetheless have served as a warning to players in the cryptocurrency market. Bankman-Fried (known as SBF) is of course the founder of, and chief puppeteer behind, the FTX cryptocurrency exchange, whose customers were unknowingly funding his money-losing hedge fund, called Alameda. Even as the case against SBF was in preparation in March 2023, listed at least ten other cryptocurrency exchanges and traders under investigation.

And after the verdict, Politico reported that “crypto giants like Binance, Coinbase and Gemini, among others, are still heading for courtroom clashes with regulators that could prove an even greater peril to the market’s future than FTX’s collapse in late 2022 ever did.” Indeed. Binance just agreed to pay a $4.3 billion (!) fine to the U.S. government for money laundering, and its disgraced CEO may yet face jail time.

But those who expected a chilling effect on the price of bitcoin (still the flagship cryptocurrency) could not have been more mistaken. When FTX declared bankruptcy in November 2022, the price of bitcoin stood at $17,056. On November 19, 2023, it hit $36,449.

What Gives?
While the details of SBF’s misappropriation of investors’ funds to cover losses in his Alameda hedge fund are still elusive, it is conceivable that, had SBF been able to arrange a buyout to stop the run on FTX, cryptocurrencies’ ongoing appreciation would have let him repay the stolen coin — and spare SBF his catastrophe.

There is a precedent of sorts. In the 1990s a young Austrian, Michael Berger, established a hedge fund betting that the exuberantly priced technology stocks of the late 1990s were overvalued. But because he could not cover his short positions as prices continued to rise, he falsified his statements to investors, leading to a loss of $400 million by the time he was charged in August 2000.

Arguably, if Berger had been able to fend off reality for only a few months until the dot-com bubble burst in March 2000, he would have achieved his dreams. By this reckoning, unlucky timing turned the prescient financial genius into a fugitive criminal when he successfully jumped bail while awaiting sentencing. He was arrested by Austrian authorities, but beat a U.S. extradition request.

Just as Berger quickly became a historical footnote, SBF already seems to be a relic in crypto circles. Faith in cryptocurrencies seems not only undiminished but even strengthened by the FTX scandal and the billions of dollars in losses to investors.

Part of the reason may be that his fraud was revealed not by the mainstream press but by the crypto news site CoinDesk, a scoop suggesting that the crypto community can police itself. But there is more to the crypto renaissance than tribal self-congratulation.

Skeptics like the investor Mark Mobius have long explained cryptocurrencies as a religion, and while many buyers must consider their choice entirely rational, libertarian utopianism and evangelical zeal underpin much of the scene. Indeed, the social psychology of faith may help explain the paradoxical sequel of the FTX scandal.

In 1954, a group of social psychologists from the University of Minnesota studied the followers of a Chicago woman who foretold a catastrophic flood on a specific date and promised her followers rescue by flying saucers. When the fatal day passed uneventfully, some believers defected. But others interpreted the non-apocalypse as a sign of their leader’s powers to hold back the flood and reaffirmed their faith.

Like so much of social psychology, the study has been controversial for decades. But the concept of cognitive dissonance it introduced — that people look for evidence to reinforce their beliefs rather than change them in the light of strong evidence to the contrary — is still going strong.

The most obvious explanation for the paradox of soaring bitcoin prices is that the failure of FTX will stimulate effective regulation as well as new instruments like exchange-traded funds that will permit investors to benefit from crypto’s rise without taking some of the more notorious crypto risks — especially losing digital keys and thereby, their money....


That's the second reference I've seen to "If only he could have hung on a little longer" thinking.

The guy is a crook. 
And his parents are so deep in power-politics that President Biden is going to pardon him.

"The Closing of the Bulgarian Frontier"

From Switchyard Magazine, Issue-1:

As the plane began its final approach to the Sofia airport, I leaned to look out the porthole. Gray fields and mangy patches of overgrown post-industrial wasteland lay scattered outside the city.

Next came the monolithic mazes of Communist-era apartment blocks—blocks I had grown up in—followed by older jumbles of red-tiled roofs and, scattered in between, free-standing clusters of freshly built condos and office towers. Downtown, along Sofia’s famed yellow cobblestones (“the yellow-brick road,” as English-language tour guides jauntily refer to it) rested the triangular Stalinist behemoth of “The Party House,” the former headquarters of the Bulgarian Communist Party, now topped by the country’s tricolor instead of its original red star. The spot nearby, where the cube-shaped mausoleum of Georgi Dimitrov (“the Great Leader and Teacher of the Bulgarian people”) had once stood, was now a flat, empty lot, an oversize Malevich square. Tsarigradsko shose, previously known as Lenin Boulevard, was choked with traffic. Though everything appeared disorderly from above, it was exactly what I was looking for: a sense of things happening, a sense of time changing, a new frontier.

It was the end of 2010, and I had decided to move back to my native Bulgaria. I’d spent more than a decade in the United States, getting an education and putting a life together, and had never imagined I’d be retracing my steps eastward someday, like a criminal revisiting a crime scene. Some people considered you a failure if you came back; they said you lacked ambition and inner resources to stick it out. If you were lucky enough to get away, why throw your luck to the dogs? Wasn’t it better to settle down in a “normal” place, where buses ran on time and you didn’t need to bribe every traffic cop who pulled you over? It was perfectly fine to visit your relatives for a week over Christmas or to sprawl during the summer on the beaches of the Black Sea, splurging hard-earned cash to make the neighbors envious, but to return home for good, unforced by circumstances, bordered on madness. It was irrational, irresponsible, and possibly suicidal. The imp of the perverse. You never looked over your shoulder, lest you turn into a pillar of salt.

It was, admittedly, a strange decision on my part. I wasn’t unhappy abroad or nostalgic for home. I didn’t have trouble adjusting to the trappings of my adopted country. I was neither a desperate war refugee with only the clothes on my back, nor a political exile constantly complaining about the tastelessness of local cuisine. The concept of “culture shock” that people tended to talk so much about was foreign to me. I’d gone to the States after graduating high school in Sofia to attend on a scholarship a small liberal arts college in Vermont and, later, a graduate program in California, and had never had issues fitting in. Mine was the American dream, I suppose, the one that promised you could be nobody and thus anybody. Like Huck Finn, I felt free to “light out for the Territory,” unburdened by my history and culture, even by my language, and by all the parochial concepts of identity I had been raised on. 

As the years wore on, however, I came to make another discovery: I was late to the party. I had traveled to the westernmost frontier of the Western world, but the frontier had long since ceased being one. My dream was dated, even clichéd. The States felt like an old place, weirdly older than Europe, a place where, for all its breathless movement, time seemed to have stopped. There was too much of everything: rules, work, wealth, poverty, guns, art. Somehow, over the years, the machine had become overly complex, the foundations slowly but inexorably sinking under the weight of its ever-growing bulk. Even the road to self-renewal and originality, the road less traveled by, was now well-trodden, part of a tired discourse endlessly advertised and monetized and absorbed within a system of capital. The celebrated American self had become another commodity on the shelf of the cultural supermarket. To go to the woods “to live deliberately,” like Henry David Thoreau had done, now required submitting a twenty-page application for a research grant and at least three recommendations.

That was when an idea occurred to me: What if I moved back? Wasn’t Bulgaria, in all of its dinginess and provincialism and unpredictability, exactly the kind of frontier I was looking to explore, where the clock was still ticking forward toward some unknown horizon? After all, the world is round and if you travel west of “the West” you’d eventually bump into “the East.” To abandon my peaceful but mostly prospectless academic life in the States in order to plunge into the cesspool of my homeland was a bit of a gamble, but also, I thought, the most American thing I could do. I liked what the poet T. S. Eliot had written: “the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.” It was the classic narrative arc of journeys at least since The Odyssey. Could it be, I mused, that real freedom resided not in the freedom to leave but in the freedom to return?....



Over the course of the next year, As the American Presidential election approaches, we will be looking at some of the lessons:

𝐐𝐔𝐎𝐓𝐄: In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is in some small way to become evil oneself. One's standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control.

—Theodore Dalrymple (Anthony Malcolm Daniels, M.D.)

And the psychology:
Ostalgie: Romantic Nostalgia For Communist East Germany
of living under the rule of control phreaks of the communist variety, and how the totalitarians of today will use databases and AI to shape reality and the perception thereof.

Stay tuned!

In the meantime, a couple pre-AI emergence posts: 

"A New Encyclopedia Explores Europe’s Smelly History"

 The past stinks.

From Smithsonian Magazine, December 12:

Odeuropa is an online database of scents from 16th- to early 20th-century Europe culled from historical literature and art

Example predictions of smell-related objects from the object detection models developed by the Odeuropa project computer vision team. Image credits: J.P. Filedt Kok, 2007, 'Floris Claesz. van Dijck, Still Life with Cheeses, c. 1615', in J. Bikker (ed.), Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century in the Rijksmuseum, online coll. cat. Amsterdam: (accessed 23 October 2023 11:21:47). 

Scent can transport us. One whiff of, say, pine needles, might bring you right back to a snowshoeing adventure in the forests of Washington’s Cascade Mountains, or to a treasured Christmas morning. Smell is a powerful tool for experiencing the world around us, and as such, more so than any sense, it is inextricably linked to our memories.

So when the European Union put out a call to researchers to help museums enhance the impact of their digital collections, “We immediately thought: smell,” says Inger Leemans, a professor of cultural history at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the principal investigator for Odeuropa, an E.U.-funded research project aimed at showcasing the significance of olfactory heritage in European culture.

At its core, Odeuropa is an encyclopedia of smells. The online database pulls together the vast scent-related image and textual data of museums, universities and other heritage institutions, “to help people discover the olfactory cultures and vocabularies of the past,” says Leemans. This includes everything from disease-fighting perfumes to the stench of industrialization in historic literature and paintings.

When the project was first publicly announced in November 2020, the team described its plans to use artificial intelligence to identify and analyze references to smells from 16th- to early 20th-century Europe in historical texts and images. The aim, Leemans told the Independent at the time, was to “dive into digital heritage collections to discover key scents of Europe and bring them back to the nose.” Now, three years on, Odeuropa has officially launched its products—a Smell Explorer search engine, which offers insight into how the past smelled, as well as how people described, depicted and experienced those smells, and the Encyclopedia of Smell History and Heritage, with entries ranging from car interiors to coffeehouses. Odeuropa also hosted a one-day Smell Culture Fair in Amsterdam on November 28 to share the overall project’s final results....

Previously on stinky, smelly awfulness:

"The past stinks – a brief history of smells"

Things I Did Not Know: Sebaceous Cyst Edition (or: how to write about really bad smells)

Now There's Vomitoxin In the Corn

Along with cadaverine and putrescine this is one of the most perfectly named of Mother Nature's offerings.
It does exactly what is said on the tin.
If you can get pigs to eat grain that has the stuff on it, well you can guess what happens.
"Too hot? In 1858 a heatwave turned London into a stinking sewer"

Long Hot Summers
Between 1500 and 1900 Paris went from 8th largest city in the world with a population of around 185,000 to 3rd largest in the world with a population of, depending on how far out from the city center you measured, 2.7 to 3.6 million.
Back in the day those big cities were aromatic, see the first link below, if interested.
"When Paris’s Streets Were Paved With Filth"
Faux Paris
"What Makes Paris Look Like Paris?"

Seaweed Is So Hot Right Now

From British Vogue, June 8, 2023:

Why We Could All Be Wearing Seaweed One Day

Would you wear a dress made out of seaweed? As the fashion industry ramps up its efforts to reduce its impact on the planet, algae is emerging as a more sustainable alternative to the likes of cotton and polyester, thanks to its ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In fact, a 2019 study found that it can absorb up to 20 times the amount of CO2 as plants.

“Seaweed grows abundantly in its natural habitat, and ours is harvested through a gentle, regenerative process, leaving its ecological value retained,” Dr Amanda Parkes, chief innovation officer at Pangaia – which first introduced seaweed into its collections back in 2019 – tells Vogue. “The resulting fibre is completely biodegradable.“

It’s not just brands like Pangaia that are recognising the benefits of seaweed. Scarlett Yang, a Central Saint Martins graduate and winner of LVMH’s Maison/0 Green Trail Award, combines algae with other ocean-based materials to create her 3D-printed bio-based fabrications. “The natural qualities and characteristics of algae and other bio materials allow us to design with the life cycle of the material in mind,” the designer explains. “It’s a very versatile material; we can fabricate intricate designs on shapes, textures and colours with our digital creative processes.”

Still, it remains a challenge to use seaweed at scale....


Some 2023 headlines:

Seaweed Is Having Its Moment in the Sun - The New York Times
Mar 15, 2023 Today, seaweed is suddenly a hot global commodity. It's attracting new money and new purpose in all kinds of new places because of its potential to help tame some of the hazards of the modern...

In California it's peak seaweed season. Let's go foraging
Jul 21, 2022 Food In California it's peak seaweed season. Let's go foraging July 21, 20225:07 AM ET Heard on Morning Edition By Chad Campbell 3-Minute Listen Playlist Many beachgoers have probably seen...

Huge masses of foul-smelling seaweed in the Caribbean could cause ...
Mar 25, 2023 Science Huge masses of foul-smelling seaweed in the Caribbean could cause headaches for sun-seekers There have been record sargassum blooms in areas in the Caribbean and south Atlantic Ocean...

Why 'seaweed is definitely having a moment' - AccuWeather
Seaweed is eaten by humans all over the world and is also in medicine and cosmetics. Now, experts are saying the superfood has super powers when it comes to climate change impacts in the ocean and ...

Can seaweed really help fight global warming? Here's what we know so far.
Dec 21, 2023 Seaweed mostly absorbs carbon dissolved in seawater - not atmospheric carbon. That means conditions have to be right to result in climate change benefits. Carbon sequestration by seaweed is variable and difficult to measure because of the complexity of