Tuesday, October 31, 2023

"Boston Dynamics turned its robot dog into a talking tour guide with ChatGPT" Awwww

Yeah, yeah. Boston Dynamics with their sweet non-threatening anthropomorphic robots.

Okay, Spot's Pas de Bourrée Couru is pretty good.

From The Verge, October 26:

The company used ChatGPT to train its four-legged bot to answer questions and generate responses about its facilities.

We saw Spot run, jump, and even dance... but now we can see Spot talk. In a somewhat unsettling video posted by Boston Dynamics, we see its robot dog outfitted with a top hat, mustache, and googly eyes as it chats with staff members in a British accent, taking them on a tour of the company’s facilities.

“Shall we commence our journey?” Spot asks. “The charging stations, where Spot robots rest and recharge, is our first point of interest. Follow me, gentlemen.” As shown in the demo, Spot is capable of answering questions and even opens its “mouth” to make it seem like it’s actually speaking.

To make Spot “talk,” Boston Dynamics used OpenAI’s ChatGPT API, along with some open-source large language models (LLM) to carefully train its responses. It then outfitted the bot with a speaker, added text-to-speech capabilities, and made its mouth — er... gripper — mimic speech “like the mouth of a puppet.”....


Inside every Spot the Dog is a stone-cold killer.

From The Drive's The Warzone vertical, October 18 (note, not a Boston Dynamics product):

Marines Test Fire Robot Dog Armed With Rocket Launcher
A rocket launcher-toting robot dog could give Marines a valuable new way to remotely attack armored vehicles, especially in urban areas. 


The U.S. Marine Corps recently tested a robot dog toting a training version of the M72 infantry anti-armor rocket launcher. This is the latest example of growing interest in the U.S. and foreign militaries forces, especially the Chinese and Russian armed forces, in the idea of arming four-legged uncrewed ground systems. In fact, the Marine design looks to be based on a similar, if not identical Chinese-made commercial-of-the-shelf quadrupedal robot that has emerged in anti-armor rocket launcher and submachine gun-armed configurations in Russia in the past.

Members of the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command's (MAGTFC) Tactical Training and Exercise Control group (TTECG), based at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms in California, tested the robot dog back in September. Members of the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research (ONR) were also involved in what was described as a proof-of-concept demonstration....

"A tiger economy starts to roar in Vietnam" (except for the rare earth industry corruption)

From Asia Times, October 31:

Vietnam has benefitted [sic] enormously from China decoupling while simultaneously shadowing Beijing’s state capitalism growth model 

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic and rising US-China trade tensions, Vietnam leapfrogged South Korea to become the United States’ sixth-largest trade partner by import value in 2022. 

This jump represents an important pivot in Vietnam’s economy — Vietnam’s biggest export to the United States is no longer textiles and garments, but high-tech products.

By the end of 2023, many flagship Apple products will have been assembled in Vietnam. Rather than competing against China’s “world factory” tag, Vietnam has branded itself as an additional manufacturing destination to China within the global supply chain ecosystem. 

In so doing, Vietnam has subsumed some of China’s tech export market share and has been declared the biggest beneficiary of the US-China economic decoupling.

Vietnam has provided a much-needed “neutral” environment for foreign fintech firms to de-risk and reroute their exposure from the US-China great power rivalry — including Apple’s shift of production away from China, US-based Amkor Technology’s investment of $1.6 billion investment in a semi-conductor factory. Vietnam is also welcoming back Huawei after initially deferring to US efforts to ban the company....


And from Reuters via MSN, October 20:

UPDATE 3-Vietnam arrests rare earth industry officials, casting shadow over plans to rival China

HANOI, Oct 20 (Reuters) - Police in Vietnam have arrested six people accused of violating mining regulations, including the chairman of a company at the forefront of a drive to create a rare earth industry that could challenge China's dominance of the sector.

Vietnam's government is planning to auction new mining concessions for rare earths later this year, and officials from at least one company, Vietnam Rare Earth JSC (VTRE), that had been due to bid were among those arrested.

VTRE's chairman, Luu Anh Tuan, was accused of forging value added tax receipts in trading rare earths with Thai Duong Group, which operates a mine in the northern Vietnamese province of Yen Bai, the Ministry of Public Security said on Friday.

Calls to Tuan went unanswered on Friday. VTRE's office in Hanoi has been shut for days, one person at the building said.

VTRE has partnered with Australian mining companies Australian Strategic Materials (ASM) and Blackstone Minerals LTD, which were not named in the Vietnamese authorities' investigation.

Blackstone said in September that it had agreed to partner with VTRE to win concessions at the country's biggest mine, Dong Pao in Lai Chau province. A Blackstone executive had told Reuters its investment in the project would amount to about $100 million should it win the concession....


Most recent on Vietnam:

"Vietnam joins South-east Asian effort on cross-border payments" (QR Code Based)

"Rare earths magnet firms turn to Vietnam in China hedge"
Well it's about time.*

"The Era of Ultracheap Stuff Is Under Threat"
From the "places where futureflation will come from" file.

Water: It's A Problem Being Downstream From China
These are some big rivers. Irrawaddy, Mekong, Brahmaputra and and...

"All the people, so many people: most of the growth in emerging markets"

"Vietnam becomes vital link in supply chain as business pivots from China"
Vietnam has been rising for a while, one of our 2019 posts after the jump hits the high notes but, in markets as in other areas of endeavor, if you are too early you're not early, you're wrong.

"Google Brain cofounder says Big Tech companies are inflating fears about the risks of AI wiping out humanity because they want to dominate the market"

You see this "pulling up the ladder after you've ascended" behavior in mature industries, even in licensing requirements for jobs such as hair-braiding. To see it in emergent—not new, we've been tracking AI on the blog for over a decade,* emergent—technology is one more aspect of the "rich get richer" flywheel effects. In this case, those who have the money to lobby (or buy into Anthropic or OpenAI or like Elon, build your own supercomputer) **

From Business Insider via Yahoo Finance, October 31:

  • Big Tech is lying about some AI risks to shut down competition, a Google Brain cofounder has said.
  • Andrew Ng told The Australian Financial Review that tech leaders hoped to trigger strict regulation.
  • Some large tech companies didn't want to compete with open source, he added.

A leading AI expert and Google Brain cofounder said Big Tech companies were stoking fears about the technology's risks to shut down competition.

Google Brain was a deep-learning AI research team that merged with the DeepMind division earlier this year.

Andrew Ng, an adjunct professor at Stanford University who taught OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, told The Australian Financial Review that the biggest tech companies hoped to trigger strict regulation with the "bad idea that AI could make us go extinct."

"There are definitely large tech companies that would rather not have to try to compete with open source, so they're creating fear of AI leading to human extinction," he told the news outlet. "It's been a weapon for lobbyists to argue for legislation that would be very damaging to the open-source community."

In May, AI experts and CEOs signed a statement from the Center for AI Safety that compared the risks posed by AI with nuclear war and pandemics. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis, and Anthropic CEO Dario Amodei all put their names to the public statement.

Other AI heavyweights have issued several warnings about the accelerated development of advanced generative AI models, with many urging regulators to act quickly....

I don't know if it is going to work out as well as 2013's "Why Is Machine Learning (CS 229) The Most Popular Course At Stanford?"—which was followed by 2014's Deep Learning is VC Worthy—which was followed by 2015 to date "Saaaay, this Nvidia may be on to something."

But we shall see....

The Remarkable Decline In U.S. Wildfire Acreage Burned - 2023

Except no one is remarking on it.

All the fire chatter this year was focused on the big Canadian fires.

From The National Interagency Fire Center:

Year-to-date statistics
2023 (1/1/23-10/27/23) Fires: 48,681 Acres: 2,521,837
2022 (1/1/22-10/27/22) Fires: 0 Acres: 7,211,472
2021 (1/1/21-10/27/21) Fires: 48,333 Acres: 6,523,921
2020 (1/1/20-10/27/20) Fires: 46,998 Acres: 8,533,854
2019 (1/1/19-10/27/19) Fires: 44,390 Acres: 4,515,860
2018 (1/1/18-10/27/18) Fires: 50,735 Acres: 8,236,466
2017 (1/1/17-10/27/17) Fires: 52,644 Acres: 8,830,579
2016 (1/1/16-10/27/16) Fires: 51,676 Acres: 5,007,751
2015 (1/1/15-10/27/15) Fires: 53,618 Acres: 9,399,448
2014 (1/1/14-10/27/14) Fires: 42,780 Acres: 3,258,480
2013 (1/1/13-10/27/13) Fires: 40,775 Acres: 4,113,304
10-year average Year-to-Date
2013-2022 Fires: 49,015 Acres: 6,560,411


I'm not sure why they are showing "0" fires for 2022, we'll see if that is corrected in the next update. 
Possibly related: Tonto, Tarzan and Frankenstein

"Sep 2023 Employment Cost Index rises 1.1%, beating forecast, stoking inflation fears, bolstering bullish U.S. dollar, suggesting more Fed hikes."

From FX Empire, October 31:


    ECI rises 1.1%, beating forecasts
    Year-over-year compensation surges 4.3%
    Bullish impact on U.S. dollar likely

Employment Cost Index: A Key Indicator of Inflationary Trends
The Employment Cost Index (ECI) for September 2023 surpassed expectations, signaling not just an uptick in labor costs but also casting a spotlight on broader economic implications. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a seasonally adjusted 1.1% increase in compensation costs for civilian workers for the three-month period ending in September. Within this, wages and salaries rose 1.2%, while benefit costs saw a 0.9% climb, marking a steady rise from June 2023.

Year-Over-Year Trends in Compensation Costs
The data shows an even more compelling narrative when looked at from a year-over-year perspective. Compensation costs for civilian workers have surged 4.3% for the 12 months ending September 2023. Moreover, wages and salaries specifically have gone up 4.6%, with benefit costs increasing 4.1%. When juxtaposed with last year’s increases, it’s evident that the rate of compensation growth has slightly tapered off, although it still remains significantly high....


Here's the Bureau of Labor Statistics release: "Compensation costs up 1.1% Jun 2023 to Sep 2023 and up 4.3% over the year ending Sep 2023

Related August 26: "Powell’s Inflation Nightmare: Job Seekers, incl. the Employed, Suddenly Expect Massively Higher Wages in Job Offers"

I'm all for workers staying ahead of inflation (plus more) and I'm all for private sector unions—although like President Roosevelt* I think public sector unions should be outlawed—when you have a situation like the United Auto Workers demanding a reduction in the workweek from 40 to 32 hours and (Detroit News, August 3):

UAW demands 46% pay hike in talks with Detroit Three automakers

You are going to have some inflationary pressure.

And September 6: "TS Lombard: Resurging Inflation"

Taking energy as an example, the rule-of-thumb the old-time traders used was 10:1 i.e. a twenty percent increase in the price of oil flowed through the economy to result in a 2% rise in the general price level.

Because the economy is so much less energy-intensive than it was when those old boys were counting on their thumbs the ratio is probably 20:1, maybe even 25:1 but it still adds up. the recent 30% or so increase in the price of oil, unless it is quickly reversed, means a 1% - 1.5% increase in CPI.

And then you have wage increases. I'm all for private-sector unions asking for as much as they think they can get, It was Samuel Gompers, labor leader extraordinaire, who rhetorically asked what labor wanted and answered "More"* but the math is the math and if the United Auto Workers get the 46% wage increase they are asking for it will raise prices.

Throw in a dozen other examples and that's my rationale for bastardizing Santayana with his "Only the dead have seen the end of war" observation: Only the dead have seen the end of inflation....

"Cobalt's Unexpected Plunge Shocks Global Market"

We had some fun with this one 2015 - 2018 but now the game has changed. For the last five years Elon Musk has been doing everything he can do to get cobalt out of his battery chemistry and the rest of the big battery players are working toward the same goal (think CATL).

From OilPrice, October 30:

  • Cobalt prices reached record lows due to an oversupply, primarily stemming from a stockpile created during a lengthy ownership dispute in the DRC.
  • The demand for cobalt has decreased with falling EV sales in Europe and China, and as battery production shifts to cobalt-free chemistries.
  • Analysts are divided on the future of cobalt, weighing its benefits in extending battery life against the appeal of cheaper, cobalt-free alternatives.

Via Metal Miner

Analysts once hailed cobalt as a commodity whose price would rise forever. Used in the cathodes of many lithium-ion batteries to extend the life of the battery cell, investors and mine operators eagerly anticipated high returns on all cobalt investments. However, cobalt prices recently dropped to record lows amid global oversupply and a widespread slowdown in the battery market. Suddenly, those same traders and mine companies are scratching their heads.

Most of the world’s cobalt supply originates from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an impoverished sub-Saharan African country. The people there widely believe cobalt mining is the key to a better future. As a result, they will risk their lives to mine it. Indeed, a quarter of the cobalt mined in the DRC comes from “artisanal mining” where miners use their hands and simple tools to extract the metal from the Earth. In turn, mine collapses that trap miners underground are common. Those who survive the mining process often go on to sell the metal ore they collect to Chinese brokers who siphon off most of the profit.

DRC Behind the Cobalt Surplus...


We happened to catch the DRC stockpile story back on March 1:

"A $1.5 billion hoard of copper and cobalt is piling up in Congo"
Okay, here's the plan. We're going to need a truck....

And from the LME via Investing.com (also on blogroll at right) three years of price action:


The Baloney Detection Kit: Carl Sagan’s Rules for Bullshit-Busting and Critical Thinking

From The Marginalian, January 3, 2014:

Carl Sagan (November 9, 1934–December 20, 1996) was many things — a cosmic sage, voracious reader, hopeless romantic, and brilliant philosopher. But above all, he endures as our era’s greatest patron saint of reason and critical thinking, a master of the vital balance between skepticism and openness. In The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (public library) — the same indispensable volume that gave us Sagan’s timeless meditation on science and spirituality, published mere months before his death in 1996 — Sagan shares his secret to upholding the rites of reason, even in the face of society’s most shameless untruths and outrageous propaganda.

In a chapter titled “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection,” Sagan reflects on the many types of deception to which we’re susceptible — from psychics to religious zealotry to paid product endorsements by scientists, which he held in especially low regard, noting that they “betray contempt for the intelligence of their customers” and “introduce an insidious corruption of popular attitudes about scientific objectivity.” (Cue in PBS’s Joe Hanson on how to read science news.) But rather than preaching from the ivory tower of self-righteousness, Sagan approaches the subject from the most vulnerable of places — having just lost both of his parents, he reflects on the all too human allure of promises of supernatural reunions in the afterlife, reminding us that falling for such fictions doesn’t make us stupid or bad people, but simply means that we need to equip ourselves with the right tools against them.

Through their training, scientists are equipped with what Sagan calls a “baloney detection kit” — a set of cognitive tools and techniques that fortify the mind against penetration by falsehoods:

The kit is brought out as a matter of course whenever new ideas are offered for consideration. If the new idea survives examination by the tools in our kit, we grant it warm, although tentative, acceptance. If you’re so inclined, if you don’t want to buy baloney even when it’s reassuring to do so, there are precautions that can be taken; there’s a tried-and-true, consumer-tested method.

But the kit, Sagan argues, isn’t merely a tool of science — rather, it contains invaluable tools of healthy skepticism that apply just as elegantly, and just as necessarily, to everyday life. By adopting the kit, we can all shield ourselves against clueless guile and deliberate manipulation. Sagan shares nine of these tools:

  1. Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”
  2. Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  3. Arguments from authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts....


Capital Markets: "BOJ and China PMI Disappoint, While EMU Q2 Growth and October Inflation were Softer than Expected "

From Marc Chandler at Bannockburn Global Forex: 

Overview: The Bank of Japan softened its 1.0% cap on the 10-year, while lifting its core CPI forecast this fiscal year and next. This disappointed many who anticipated a bolder move to exit the extraordinary monetary policy. The yen was sold in disappointment and the dollar has returned to the JPY150.75 area. The eurozone contracted by 0.1% in Q3, while October CPI came in below expectations at 2.9%. The greenback is softer against most of the other G10 currencies. The Chinese yuan is softer but in an exceptionally narrow range following the softer than expected PMI. Most other emerging market currencies are firmer.

Japanese equities rose, but most of the large bourses in the region traded heavier. European stocks are extending yesterday's gains. The Stoxx 600 has practically recouped last week's 0.95% decline. US index futures are narrowly mixed. European and US bonds are rallying. Ten-year yields are mostly off 4-5 bp in Europe, though 10-year Gilts yields are down seven basis points. So is the 10-year US Treasury yield, putting it near 4.82%. Gold is recovering from a dip below $1991 to knock on $2000. December WTI is stabilizing after yesterday's nearly 3.8% slide, the largest drop since October 4....


Monday, October 30, 2023

"German Drone Startup Supplying Ukraine Raises $67 Million"

From Bloomberg, October 24:

  • Quantum Systems raised over €100 million after Series B round
  • HV Capital, DTCP led round, which was backed by Thiel Ventures 

A German drone company backed by Peter Thiel and operating in Ukraine since the Russian invasion raised €63.6 million ($67 million) in new funding.

Quantum Systems’ Series B round was led by HV Capital and DTCP Capital, and backed by Airbus Ventures, Thiel Ventures and Project A, the Munich-based company said in a statement on Tuesday. It comes after the startup signed a deal with the German army for its Vector reconnaissance drones.

“We are excited to back Quantum Systems’ vision for global leadership in AI-powered drone robotics,” HV Capital General Partner Christian Saller said in the statement. “The team has showcased their ability to sustain a technological advantage.”

Drones are playing an increasingly critical role in military conflicts, and in Ukraine they have provided surveillance, helped make artillery more accurate and dropped bombs on the enemy. Quantum Systems’ Vector drones have been used in the war, allowing the company to test its AI and swarming technologies in battlefield conditions....


Malaysia’s Petronas To Invest $1.6 Billion In Indian Green Ammonia; Singapore's GIC an Undisclosed Amount

 From Malaysia's Business Today, October 30:

GIC – Petronas To Invest US$1.6 Billion Into India’s Green Ammonia Project

Malaysian state-owned energy company Petronas is set to invest USD1.6bn (RM7.62 Billion) in an Indian green ammonia venture, in a boost to New Delhi’s ambitions to export energy.

The investment by Petronas’s Gentari renewables division will give it a 30 per cent stake in a green ammonia company incorporated by the founders of Indian renewables group Greenko, one of India’s largest wind and solar power producers and energy storage operators, according to two people with direct knowledge of the deal and two people briefed on it. 

It will be one of the top five biggest private capital raises in India so far this year, according to Dealogic data, and is the latest sign of international investor appetite for India’s growing renewable energy industry.

The investment values AM Green Ammonia Holdings at roughly USD5.5bn, said a person with direct knowledge of the transaction. Bloomberg first reported the deal. 

Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC will also be investing, according to people with direct knowledge, who declined to say how much the investment would be worth. GIC is Greenko Energy Holdings’ biggest shareholder and has four non-executive seats on its board. 

Ammonia is considered “green” if it is made with hydrogen that is produced by electrolysis of water using renewable energy, and combined with nitrogen to become liquid.

While this makes the liquid form more readily transportable than hydrogen gas, it can also lead to emissions of nitrous oxide gas as a byproduct.

Under the investment agreement, AM Green Ammonia will produce 5mn tonnes of green ammonia by 2030, with operations across five Indian states, and will begin exporting it in the next two years.

Traditionally best known for its use in fertilisers, many companies and governments believe ammonia will help ease their dependence on fossil fuels.

Mahesh Kolli, Greenko’s group president and joint managing director, told the Financial Times that ammonia had become a “strategic molecule”.

With swaths of India soaked in sun for much of the year, investors are also eyeing the country’s potentially vast solar capacity for producing both hydrogen and ammonia using renewable energy. 

AM Green plans to build the world’s “lowest cost hydrogen delivery platform” by leveraging renewable energy generation and storage capabilities, Kolli added. The Greenko Group is already manufacturing electrolysers that are used in making green hydrogen alongside Belgian engineering company John Cockerill. Kolli said this would help reduce costs....


Net Zero: "Germany Set For Major Drop In Oil Consumption Amid Lackluster Economy"

There appears to be a correlation between energy use and economic growth but as to the direction of causality we'll have to leave it to Greta GmbH.

From OilPrice, October 30:

Germany, the European Union’s largest economy, is set to see a significant drop in oil consumption for 2023 as economic output shrinks, crimping demand for industrial fuels, Bloomberg reports, citing an interview with the International Energy Agency (IEA).

With only Pakistan on track for a steeper decline worldwide, Germany is poised to lose 90,000 barrels-per-day of oil consumption, Bloomberg cited the IEA oil market analyst Ciaran Healy as saying. 

“Oil product demand, which includes biofuels and direct crude burn, will fall by more in Germany than any other OECD country during 2023,” Healy told Bloomberg on Monday, adding, “Globally, we think only Pakistan will see a steeper annual decline.”Germany’s GDP fell slightly in the third-quarter, shrinking 0.1% compared to the previous quarter. At the same time, Germany's Q2 GDP has been revised to indicate 0.1% growth, while previous calculations had put it at 0%. Q1 GDP was also revised higher. Germany’s Q4 2022 GDP was down 0.4%.....


Also at OilPrice, October 20:  Uranium Demand Hits Decade High As Nuclear Renaissance Gains Traction

"Tesla falls as production cut by battery supplier Panasonic fans EV demand fears"

 From Reuters, October 30:

Shares of Tesla fell about 5% on Monday after key supplier Panasonic Holdings said it cut automotive battery production in the September quarter, cementing concerns of a global slowdown in electric-vehicle (EV) sales.

Panasonic said its production suffered from slowing uptake for high-end EVs in North America, echoing Tesla CEO Elon Musk's comments from earlier this month that higher-for-longer borrowing costs would take a toll on vehicle demand.

"Panasonic's warning of soft demand for Tesla's Model S and Model X cars has many concerned that global economic outlook could be in worse-shape than initially believed," said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at Oanda.

Earlier on Monday, General Motors reached a tentative deal with the United Auto Workers union, following deals by Ford Motor and Chrysler-owner Stellantis, and potentially putting an end to disruptions that some analysts had said could have given Tesla an edge.

Since the UAW strike began, Tesla shares have, however, fallen 34% compared with a 30% to 33% decline in shares of Ford Motor and General Motors, and a 33% rise in Stellantis's shares.

Tesla investor Gary Black attributed the weakness in Tesla shares to chipmaker Onsemi's bleak forecast.

"ON sells to automotive players with over 50% share of global EV sales, including 4 of the top 5 China EV makers," he said in a post on social media platform X on Monday.

Onsemi CEO Hassane El-Khoury said the company's top European clients were working to clear their inventory and noted that the company sees "increasing risk to automotive demand due to high interest rates."....


"BlackRock Says Buy Metals Companies If You Care About Climate"

But not yet.

As I type this, everyone's favorite copper miner, Freeport McMoRan is up 0.48 (+1.41%) at $34.15.

From Bloomberg via Yahoo Finance, October 30:

Investors are missing a big opportunity to profit from the energy transition because they have an outdated view of the metals and mining industry, according to one of the sector’s most influential investors.

“Our view from speaking to our clients and investors at large is that the opportunity within this space has been massively overlooked,” Evy Hambro, global head of thematic and sector investing at BlackRock Inc., said in an interview. “If you’re focused on sustainability, if you’re focused on the energy transition, don’t overlook this area. There’s a huge value opportunity.”

Hambro said that recent changes in the mining industry meant that most investors needed to update their view of the sector. He pointed to a growing focus on reducing carbon emissions in metals production, a more disciplined approach to spending than in previous booms, and a rapid decrease in the cost of capital as governments throw money at miners amid concerns about supply security.

Industry executives, analysts and specialist investors have for several years been predicting a bull market as the shift to a lower-carbon economy drives a wave of demand for the metals needed for electricity grids, electric-vehicle batteries and solar panels. Yet while prices rallied sharply in the rebound from the Covid pandemic, they have stagnated in the past year.

“The story isn’t about now, the story is about what’s happening over the next 10 to 15 years,” Hambro said, arguing that the sector is undervalued. “If you wanted to rebuild the copper industry globally, you couldn’t do it for the market cap of the copper companies out there today. So, I think there’s a huge gap in that regard.”

Hambro was an influential critic of miners’ overspending in the last boom, and he doesn’t want them to restart the era of profligacy even as he predicts a coming supply shortage.

“We’re not saying companies must go out there and build: we don’t want them to verge away from capital allocation models that have helped rebuild trust within the sector over the last eight to nine years,” he said....


From the introduction to a 2013 post, "BlackRock’s Hambro: We Bought Gold"

According to CityWire's Wealth Manager Evy Hambro is a so-so manager, losing less than average in gold stocks and more than average in other natural resource issues.

On the other hand his dad is the Peter Hambro and his former boss at BlackRock is Graham Birch who quit BLK to run his dairy farm before getting bored and joining père at Petropavlovsk plc, i.e. Evy can probably get some decent thinking on the gold biz....

"Biden climate czar quietly met with flailing EV company dependent on taxpayer handouts"

 From Fox Business, October 28:

John Podesta assembled with Rivian Automotive CEO Robert 'RJ' Scaringe and a team of his company's lobbyists

John Podesta, President Biden's clean energy czar, quietly assembled with the head of an electric vehicle (EV) company that relies heavily on taxpayer handouts and has floundered financially since its inception, White House visitor logs reviewed by Fox News Digital show.

According to the records, Podesta privately met with Rivian Automotive CEO Robert "RJ" Scaringe; the company's senior policy director, Chris Nevers; its senior public policy manager, Corey Ershow; and Izzy Klein, a lobbyist for the EV maker, at the White House in June. It is unclear what Rivian officials discussed with Podesta, and both the company and the White House didn't respond to requests for comment.

"Well, Podesta has the largest slush fund, un-appropriated, probably in American history. As soon as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) passed, Biden and company announced it was actually an investment in green energy and yet it's not appropriated to anything," Daniel Turner, the executive director of Power the Future, told Fox News Digital. "So, it makes sense that Rivian and other failing green energy companies are knocking on John Podesta's door."

"The problem is that it will be sold to the American people as investment, it will be sold to the American people as combating the climate crisis," Turner added. "But it is just another example of corrupt government paying off people who fund their campaigns and deciding winners and losers when, at the end of the day, the real losers are the American people who are paying astronomical amounts for basic necessities because of this Biden economy."

Biden appointed Podesta in September 2022 to lead the White House Office of Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation. Among its main tasks, Podesta's office has begun implementing programs in the IRA, Democrats' $739 billion climate and tax bill which enables the government to distribute more than $350 billion worth of loans and grants to green energy projects nationwide.

Department of Energy Inspector General Teri Donaldson warned during a Senate hearing last week that the IRA's unprecedented level of green energy funding brings "tremendous risk to the taxpayers" and was ripe for abuse and exploitation by foreign adversaries.

"You have massive amounts of money moving quickly," Donaldson said. "All of these things happening at once create a level of risk that may, candidly, be unprecedented in terms of amounts of federal money moving in such a complicated landscape."

Meanwhile, Podesta's gathering with Rivian, which has gone unreported, occurred as the California-based company has hemorrhaged money on its zero-carbon vehicle production and turned to government entities for financial support in the form of credits and subsidies. Financial filings reviewed by Fox News Digital show the company, which was founded in 2009, has lost billions of dollars since it went public in 2021.

In 2022, Rivian lost a staggering $6.8 billion; in 2021, it lost $4.7 billion; and in 2020, it shed another $1 billion, according to the filings. And the company reported it produced 24,337 vehicles and delivered 20,332 vehicles last year, meaning the company lost $33,087 per car delivered over the course of the entire year.

Overall, Rivian's share price has nosedived more than 87% since its initial public offering in late 2021...

....MUCH MORE, including the Amazon deal and some political connections.

October 20
Takeaways From Tense Hearing On Department Of Energy Climate Spending

September 20
"Fact Check: Is Biden Advisor John Podesta in Naked Body Paint Photo?"
File under: Things I wasn't expecting when looking to see what John Podesta was up to.

Big Money: "The $400 Billion Man Running America’s Clean Energy Transition"
No, not John Podesta, he only has $370 billion to dole out. (NYT, Sept 2, 2022)

Ford- Korea's SK Joint Venture To Get $9.2 Billion US Loan For Battery Plants

The Cost Of The Inflation Reduction Act Is Rapidly Inflating

"E.P.A. Is Said to Propose Rules Meant to Drive Up Electric Car Sales Tenfold"

This is President Obama's "I've got a pen [executive orders], and I've got a phone [administrative state]".

That was in January 2014 but the antecedents of this particular push go back to the University of Denver Law School in 2008* as justification for what they wanted Barack Obama to do if (when) he won the 2008 election.

This approach was favored by John Podesta, at the time, 2014 -2015, counselor to President Obama and currently in charge of the smaller but better known of the two green financial honeypots, which combined are doling out 3/4 trillion dollars.

From the New York Times....

April 12:  "America’s $800bn climate splurge is feeding a new lobbying ecosystem"

Following on the mentions of John Podesta and the two huge honeypots of money in yesterdays "E.P.A. Is Said to Propose Rules Meant to Drive Up Electric Car Sales Tenfold" here are some of the; I was going to say flies but the graphic looks like locusts, the critters being attracted to the feast....

July 18  The Cost of The Inflation Reduction Act Has Inflated To Almost $1 Trillion

Wharton is going to get blackballed by the O'Biden-Harris administration if they keep this up. They also released a study showing that the cost of the Admin's student loan forgiveness would be in the four-comma club as well:

Turley: "Wharton Study: Biden Tuition Debt Forgiveness Could Cost $1 Trillion"
This is the high end of the range Wharton was referencing just last week: Penn Wharton: "Forgiving Student Loans: Budgetary Costs and Distributional Impact".

I did catch the comments from the subsidy czar in May: 

Increased green tax-credit costs are a sign of success, White House's Podesta says

Which, when I saw it again this morning reminded me of a sales guy who, whenever I raised an objection to whatever he was pitching would say "That's they beauty of it." I finally asked him why he would say that and he told me "It's the all purpose turnaround. I say it, it stops my client's thoughts for a couple seconds and gives me time to figure out what I want to say next."

I used a variation of it earlier today in the introduction to "News You Can Use: "ESG' in US finance job titles comes with 20% pay premium'".

Repost: "The Electric Vehicle Transition Is Harder Than Anyone Thinks" (plus a free gift)

Originally posted April 7.

From the brainiacs at IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Spectrum, March 28:

Clueless policymakers, skeptical consumers, greedy automakers—and the tech isn’t ready either 

Volvo Cars CEO Jim Rowan boldly proclaims that electric vehicles will reach price parity with internal-combustion-engine (ICE) vehicles by 2025. Not likely, counter Mercedes-Benz’s chief technology officer Markus Schäfer and Renault Group CEO Luca de Meo.

The International Energy Agencypredicts that EVs will make up more than 60 percent of vehicles sold globally by 2030. But given the sheer tonnage of lithium, cobalt, and other raw materials needed for EV batteries, that figure is overly optimistic, suggests the mineral market analysis company Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, unless nearly 300 new mines and supporting refineries open by then. 

EV owners should be urged to charge at night to save not only money and the power grid but “ the world,” a news headline cries out. Not so fast, exclaim researchers at Stanford University, who state that charging EVs during the day is actually cheaper, better for the grid, and healthier for the environment.

And so goes the litany of contradictory statements about the transition to EVs:

  • EVs will/will not collapse the electric grid.
  • EVs will/will not cause massive unemployment among autoworkers.
  • EVs will/will not create more pollution than they eliminate.

Confused? Join the crowd.

Sorting through this contradictory rhetoric can make anyone’s head spin. My response to each proclamation is often a shrug followed by “It depends.”

Two years ago, I began investigating the veracity of claims surrounding the transition to EVs at scale. The result is a 12-part series and e-book, The EV Transition Explained, that explores the tightly woven technological, policy, and social issues involved. The articles are based on scores of interviews I conducted with managers and engineers in the auto and energy industries, as well as policy experts, academic researchers, market analysts, historians, and EV owners. I also reviewed hundreds of reports, case studies, and books surrounding EVs and electrical grids.

What I found is an intricately tangled web of technological innovation, complexity, and uncertainty, combined with equal amounts of policy optimism and dysfunction. These last two rest on rosy expectations that the public will quietly acquiesce to the considerable disruptions that will inevitably occur in the coming years and decades. The transition to EVs is going to be messier, more expensive, and take far longer than the policymakers who are pushing it believe.

Scaling is hard
Let me be very clear: Transitioning to electric vehicles and renewable energy to combat climate change are valid goals in themselves. Drastically reducing our fossil-fuel use is key to realizing those goals. However, attempting to make such transitions at scale in such a short period is fraught with problems, risks, and unanticipated consequences that need honest and open recognition so they can be actively and realistically addressed. Going to scale means not only manufacturing millions of EVs per year but supporting them from recharging to repair.

A massive effort will be needed to make this happen. For example, in January 2023 the sales of EVs in the United States reached 7.83 percent of new light-duty vehicle sales, with 66,416 battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) and 14,143 plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) sold. But consider that also in January, some 950,000 new ICE light-duty vehicles were sold, as well as approximately another 3 million used ICE vehicles....


Click through for the rest of the story and for the 49 page e-book "The EV Transition Explained

Yes, most gifts are free, and though some can be ruinously expensive, this one is gratis.

"Beijing Gets Going With Nine Weeks Left For 2023"

From Bloomberg via ZeroHedge, October 29:

By Charlie Zhu and Helen Sun, Bloomberg markets live reporters and strategists

Three things we learned last week:

1. China’s top leadership is finally making a concerted effort to get the economy and external relations back on track. A rare move to raise the budget deficit mid-year, along with President Xi Jinping’s unprecedented visit to the central bank, underscored a sense of urgency among policymakers to support growth.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Sweden Is Running A "Welcome to Sweden (not Switzerland)" Promotion

And they lead off with the big guns:

1) Experience luxury of a different nature 

Swedish gold
Switzerland has one of the world’s largest gold reserves. In Sweden however, you will find something else: Chantarelles. Or as Swedes call it, forest gold. Each autumn, people here head out on a scavenger hunt for these golden mushrooms. During season, they are found in forests pretty much anywhere, but most Swedes have their spots that they know deliver. If you want to increase your chances (and make sure you pick the right kind of shrooms) you can hire a mushroom guide. Happy hunting!


2) Sandbanks
If you’re interested in impressive and historic banks, Switzerland is the place to go. But if you prefer strolling down beaches and sandbanks, you really should visit Sweden. With 48,000 kilometres of coastline and more than 100,000 lakes, this truly is a water world. Explore the archipelagos in the Baltic Sea, swim in the clear, salty waters of the west coast and dive into the sweet water of our lakes and rivers. Rich water experiences that don’t cost a dime....


Coastlines. Sweden is very competitive in coastlines.

And the Swiss Navy, though meter-for-meter probably as good as any in the world, only has 189 meters of fleet (14 patrol boats at 13.5 meters per), or three of the Swedish Visby-class Corvettes. And no submarines. On the other hand, no flatulent herring either. So we'll call that a draw.

"AI is the 'biggest challenge of our times' and humanity could be replaced by machines in 5 years, Henry Kissinger says"

This is the sort of media conglomerate domination that Disney was going for before the mouse went all ookey.* Ditto for TimeWarner.

From Business Insider, October 24:

  • Henry Kissinger described artificial intelligence as the "biggest challenge of our times."
  • Machines, Kissinger said, could replace humans in the next five years.
  • AI threatens to replace humans in some jobs, particularly white-collar ones, Insider reported. 

Henry Kissinger described artificial intelligence as the "biggest challenge of our times," predicting that humanity could be replaced by machines in the next five years.

The former top diplomat made the comments to Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Axel Springer. A video of the conversation was published by Welt TV, part of Germany's Die Welt newspaper.

Axel Springer is the parent company of both Insider and Die Welt.

Since the release of OpenAI's ChatGPT in November 2022, the potential of AI has loomed large, threatening to replace humans in some jobs, particularly white-collar ones, Insider previously reported.

Jobs in technology, media, law, market research analysis, education, trade, graphic design, accounting, and customer service are among those most at risk of being replaced by AI, experts previously told Insider.

Kissinger, who is 100, said he was concerned AI could become so powerful in the long run that it leads to the sci-fi-esque outcome of humans serving machines — not the other way around.

"I think it can be avoided, but only by understanding the essence of this intelligence, which will also be able to generate its own point of view," he said.

Kissinger co-wrote a book on artificial intelligence, "The Age of AI and Our Human Future," in which he, along with former Google CEO Eric Schmitt and computer scientist Daniel Huttenlocher, explored how AI may change our relationships with knowledge, politics, and society....

*Ookey = technical term used by only the most seasoned media observers.

Possibly related, June 23: Media: "German tabloid Bild cuts 200 jobs and says some roles will be replaced by AI"

We've been watching this for years. Here's the intro to 2016's "The automation of creativity: scary but inevitable"

First they came for the journalists and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a journalist.

Then they came for the ad agency creatives and I did not speak out-
Because I was not an ad agency creative. (see below)

Then they came for the financial analysts and I
said 'hang on one effin minute'.

And as noted in the outro from May 11's "On European Central Banking There's A New Go-To: Izabella Kaminska And Politico.eu Are Rolling Out A Dedicated Team

...This is a gigantic canvas to paint on but fortunately for Ms. Kaminska, Axel Springer, Politico's parent, have been working on AI use cases for a while now, which is going to be key to the roll-out of Augmented Robo-Izzy. I picture something like depictions of Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of prosperity—also wealth, power etc., with her multiple arms for old-school multi-tasking.

Things I Did Not Know About Twitter

I am not on Twitter, having been counseled that the platform would offer me far too many opportunities to make a damn fool of myself.

I do however keep tabs on it as an opinion/editorial channel and as a crude measure of the zeitgeist. And since Mr. Musk's purchase of Twitter I observed many users state they were leaving Twitter and asked a young lady who knows about such things what was going on.

Apparently there are two memes that are used as explanations: 1) Twitter is not an airport, there is no requirement to announce your departure. and 2) the people who say they are leaving are attention whores trying to convince the world they are important. Interestingly many don't actually leave Twitter or do leave and are back in days/weeks. They just want to bleat: "you're sure going to miss me when I'm gone." The meme attached to this is: "How can we miss you if you won't go away?"

Yesterday she sent me a thread that is a bit less lighthearted:

I still like the "Twitter isn't an airport" line.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

"Range Rovers virtually impossible to insure in crime-ridden London"

From The Telegraph, October 26:

Drivers face exorbitant annual premiums as police fail to crack down on car theft 

Range Rovers are becoming virtually impossible to insure in London as police forces fail to crack down on car thefts.

Now Britain’s most stolen vehicle, Range Rover drivers are struggling to find cover for their cars in the capital, with those that do facing annual premiums running into the thousands. 

Just two insurers offer to provide cover for the Range Rover Velar R-Dynamic in London today on one comparison website, with quotes for the cheapest annual premium – based on a 35-year-old woman living in London with six years’ driving experience and no claims – amounting to £22,515 on average on insurance site Quotegoat.

This is in contrast to Sussex where 20 insurance providers offer quotes for the same model, with the best price offered standing at £1,978 a year.

When searching for car insurance deals for a male in his mid twenties in London on a major comparison site, no insurer was able to provide a quote, mystery shopping from this newspaper found....


Other London crime stories:

Stabbed by a lover with a fish-gutting knife. Beaten to death for littering with eel skins. Shot with an arrow during a student street brawl. Shanked by a sore loser after late-night backgammon.

All this and much more at Medievalists.net

Also at Cambridge Uni.

"Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle"

That's the title of a 2009 book by Chris Hedges. 

It answers, in part, the question posed by 4 Non Blondes in their song "What's Up":

"What's going on?"

Here's Hedges:

A public that can no longer distinguish between truth and fiction is
left to interpret reality through illusion. Random facts or obscure
bits of data and trivia are used either to bolster illusion and give
it credibility, or discarded if they interfere with the message . . .
When opinions cannot be distinguished from facts, when there
is no universal standard to determine truth in law, in science,
in scholarship, or in reporting the events of the day, when the
most valued skill is the ability to entertain, the world becomes a
place where lies become true, where people can believe what they
want to believe. This is the real danger of pseudo-events and
pseudo-events are far more pernicious than stereotypes. They
do not explain reality, as stereotypes attempt to, but replace
reality. Pseudo-events redefine reality by the parameters set
by their creators. These creators, who make massive profits
selling illusions, have a vested interest in maintaining the power
structures they control....

—Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, New York: Nation Books, July 2009.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Kaminska Watch: QE (not QE) Returns; A Mandy Rice-Davies Sighting; Wind Turbines; Fentanyl, The Usual

From Izabella's The Blind Spot:

Spot Markets Live Transcript, 27/10/23 (YCC US edition, Geopolitical risk premium and Fungi)

....Izabella Kaminska

But back to US GDP. Janet Yellen for one made an astounding comment vis a vis this yesterday. Bloomberg had the headline as

Yellen Says Yield Surge Is Due to Strong Economy, Not Deficits

The actual quotes were:

“I don’t think much of that is connected” to the US budget deficit, Yellen said at an event in Bloomberg’s Washington office Thursday. “We’re seeing yields go up in most advanced countries.”

The increase in yields — which has taken benchmark Treasury rates to the highest levels since before the global financial crisis — is instead “largely a reflection of the resilience people are seeing in the economy,” she said.

“The economy is continuing to show tremendous robustness and that suggests that interest rates are likely to stay higher for longer,” she said.

So what do you reckon Julian? Stunning success show? Or Potemkin Village?....


....Izabella Kaminska

For the avoidance of any doubt. I’m going to repeat this very loudly and to the point.

Julian Rimmer 

type slowly because i cant read fast

Izabella Kaminska

What we are looking at here is the likely initiation of US YIELD CURVE CONTROL policy.

Got it?

Here’s the key passage....

....MUCH MUCH MORE, including the Holiday before The Day of The Dead, BwaHaHaHa 

(AKA Día de los Muertos); Also All Saints Day

The Hollowness Of The U.S. Foreign Policy Establishment And Its Servile Wunderkind, Jake Sullivan

 On October 18th I used a Sullivan brag as an introduction to a post:

"The Middle East Region Is Quieter Today Than It Has Been in Two Decades"
—U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan: September 29, 2023

Here's more from Tablet Magazine, October 26:

The George Kennan Who Wasn’t
A startling string of policy failures shows the hollowness of the U.S. foreign policy establishment and its servile wunderkind, Jake Sullivan

Peering through the clouds of vapor emitting from U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s various profilers and character witnesses over the years, here is what we learn: Sullivan is a “once-in-a-generation intellect,” according to Joe Biden, and a “once-in-a-generation talent,” “a potential future president,” according to Hillary Clinton. “The sky’s the limit,” says former Deputy Secretary of State and Brookings Institution President Strobe Talbott. “He is somebody of extraordinary intelligence and temperament.” Sullivan has an admirable “habit of continually questioning his own assumptions” and a “methodical, hyperanalytical style.” He is “a genuinely nice guy” and “a good human being” with a “self-deprecating Midwestern modesty” who is a “really good listener” and “loved by everyone.”

Sullivan’s path to power is indeed impressive, from middle-class Minneapolis public school student to Yale graduate, Rhodes scholar, Supreme Court clerk, aide to the presidents of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution, chief counsel to the senior senator from Minnesota, adviser to the presidential campaigns of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, deputy chief of staff to the secretary of state, director of policy planning, national security advisor to the vice president, and finally, United States national security advisor—all before his 45th birthday. Such a meteoric rise to power indeed begs explanation, even for a coxswain of the Yale lightweight crew team.

There are two revealing anecdotes, often repeated in the creation of the Sullivan legend, which are meant to illuminate his dizzying ascent. The first is from June 2009, when President Obama pushed for the ouster of a member of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s policy planning staff who had asked Jack Dorsey to delay scheduled maintenance of Twitter because members of Iran’s Green Movement depended on it for communication. In a meeting with Obama and White House and State Department officials, Clinton reportedly stood by her staffer and Iran’s anti-regime movement against the wishes of Obama, who claimed, implausibly, that he didn’t want to harm the protesters’ cause by appearing to interfere in Iran’s domestic politics.

One of the aides present at the meeting was Sullivan, then Clinton’s deputy chief of staff. In “one of the rare occasions when Sullivan and Clinton diverged,” according to a Vox profile, Sullivan supported Obama’s position over that of Clinton, his boss. Readers of the profile are meant to come away with an appreciation for Sullivan’s independence of spirit, which he apparently showed by taking the side of the president of the United States. The supposed risk he assumed in dissenting from Clinton’s support for the Iranian protesters was rewarded shortly thereafter, when Obama entrusted Sullivan with conducting secret meetings with the Iranian government, culminating in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal.

The second anecdote concerns a trip Sullivan took to Myanmar in late 2012. During a lunch Obama hosted there for Clinton and her staff, the president reportedly turned to Sullivan—by then director of policy planning—for a brief history of the country. “‘I don’t know a whole lot,’ Sullivan began,” according to Foreign Policy, “before launching into a virtual dissertation on the topic—something colleagues say they’ve seen him do dozens of times on any number of subjects. A few weeks later, Obama asked Sullivan to replace [Antony] Blinken as then-Vice President Biden’s national security advisor.” (This is considered a promotion.)

This latter story is especially interesting, because once Sullivan joined Obama’s inner circle in early 2013, the administration would go on to devote extraordinary attention to Myanmar on the fantasy that Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and endured 15 years of house arrest, was in the process of taking power from a defeated military junta. In reality, the military was not allowing Suu Kyi to lead a “democratic transition,” as the Obama administration insisted. Instead, it used Western human rights fantasies to attract foreign investment before murdering tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims and driving hundreds of thousands more into Bangladesh.

Eight years later, shortly after Sullivan became national security advisor, the Biden administration imposed sanctions on Myanmar, driving the Burmese junta closer to China even as it drove Narendra Modi’s India—a fellow recipient of human rights censure from the Biden White House—further away from the United States, which in chess terms is the equivalent of exchanging a bishop for a pawn, and then losing the pawn. Myanmar was then pointedly excluded from Biden’s 2021 Summit for Democracy, to which Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were invited “to stand together in defending against threats from autocracies.”

All of which makes one wonder what exactly the young Jake Sullivan said about Myanmar that so impressed Barack Obama (whom it is difficult to imagine suffering a dewy Clinton staffer’s “virtual dissertation” on the country), and which made such an impression on his colleagues that they’ve been repeating the story and others like it to The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, The New Yorker, Politico, Vox, and Foreign Policy ever since. To find out what he actually said, I thought, might provide a key to understanding why so many of the stories meant to demonstrate Sullivan’s unusual intelligence, competence, and decency often have the opposite effect of conveying mediocrity and servility.

Alas, no one seems to remember—at least not anyone willing to talk. But there may be a partial answer in the emptiness of the memory itself. Search for any specific instance of leadership, wisdom, good judgment, erudition, originality of thought, or other such qualities in Sullivan’s record, and a diligent reporter will draw a blank....