Where are those values now?
I don't think of myself as a particularly cautious investor (or speculator, whatever), but what's been going on these past days has left me gasping a little. I had just taken my eyes off Ethereum for a bit, only to be informed in passing that its price had gone up to US$3500, from the two-thousand plus I had last seen it at... and the less said about Dogecoin, the better. It's a swell time to be in the crypto and stocks and all (which has evidently gotten some blowback from those less interested in personal finances), but surely this can't end well?
The single most influential position in the world right now has to be that of Federal Reserve chair, with financial markets hanging on his every word - will he or won't he (raise rates, that is)? We've groused about inflation last month, and while such concerns had somehow almost without exception been dismissed out of hand by the corporate media up until very recently, the likes of Buffett and Zell are finally giving voice to the obvious. Not a patch on former Fed chair Janet Yellen, though, whose throwaway comment on "some very modest increases in interest rates" was enough to crash the market, necessitating an immediate walkback on there being no inflation problem, with Powell's official stance being "transitory inflation".
It's hardly a big secret that this is just the usual mindgame song-and-dance; expectations of inflation can drive actual inflation itself, and thus the Fed would rationally want to suppress such expectations as far as possible, such as through their pledge not to raise interest rates until inflation hits their target of 2% - which they had pencilled in for 2023 or thereabouts. Trouble is, despite the unquestioning support of the Fed's narrative by the FAKE NEWS, it's becoming increasingly evident that inflation may far surpass that, and there's only so much one can tweak the underlying consumer price index (CPI) formulas, before their credibility is shot.
Some have (correctly) noted as far back as 2018 that inflation due to the ongoing quantitative easing has simply expressed itself as asset inflation at the "higher levels", i.e. in stocks, real estate, art, crypto, etc., if less for Main Street goods and services, for now. This is also known as the Cantillon effect, in which those closest to the money spigot (the banking and finance industries) get to enjoy its benefits first, before the funds trickle down to the masses, and inflation gets registered (if it helps, this can also be thought of as reconciling allowed assets to supply tokens only at the end of a period/turn, a mechanic that's been used in some board games)
Another way to think about this, is that the ostensibly-quantitative public target that the Fed is guided by - the inflation rate as determined by the CPI - can in fact have very little to do with the total amount of fiat money in existence, depending on the distribution of that fiat money. Consider a simplified worked example involving a Sociopath 1%, and the Clueless/Loser 99%:
Anyway, congratulations to all those who have done well for themselves through crypto or otherwise, in this easy-money era. I'd recommend conservative assumptions for future returns in charting one's FIRE plans, however, just sayin'.
Digging deeper into the yuppie culture and the influence of Church's three-ladder class system had me collate more than enough material for another hopefully-illuminating synthesis, so here goes; by the way, Church appears to be... quite the character, from how he's gotten banned from Quora, Wikipedia and Hacker News (that last being pretty remarkable, for how open-minded and level-headed they tend to be compared to most of, say, Reddit), and publicly admitted to siccing a private investigator on coworkers he held a grudge against. However, this doesn't detract from the quality and incisiveness of some of his writings (said class system proposal included), and I do like to separate the evaluation of ideas from the behaviour of their originators, whenever possible.
Much of the following is borrowed from Venkatesh Rao's formulation of The Gervais Principle in 2009, and Alex Danco's fusion of this principle with Church's three-ladder class system a few months back (which has in turn gotten a response from Church himself), into The Michael Scott Theory of Social Class. Rao's and Danco's original writings are - as with Croesus' article in the previous post - recommended reading; but I will attempt to summarize the broad development of these theses here, peppered by my own commentary.
The Gervais Principle (TGP)
Before there was TGP, as noted in its introduction by Rao, there was the Peter Principle (1969) and the Dilbert Principle (1995). Probably still the best known of the three, the Peter Principle observes that people in a hierarchy tend to be promoted to their "level of incompetence", which must be a tempting explanation for why large organizations appear dysfunctional (most every manager is stuck doing something they're bad at). The Dilbert Principle, on the other hand, posits that top executives aren't that dumb, and strive to promote the most incompetent employees to middle management instead, that being the place where they do the least harm (since much of it involves arranging mostly-useless busywork such as endless meetings, whereas the line workers actually produce, and the executives actually set high-level company strategy)
Rao, however, claims that both these principles are incorrect, drawing from numerous case studies of the celebrated The Office sitcom. His full TGP consists of several main components: the division of employees into three broad stereotypes, the Sociopaths, the Clueless, and the Losers; the MacLeod Life Cycle of an idealized firm, which describes the growth, stagnation and dissolution of companies in terms of these stereotypes; and what might be termed OfficeTalk, which describes five broad languages that characterize interactions between the three stereotypes. Rao's original dissertation supports the development of these theories with concrete examples taken from The Office, which shall be largely elided here.
It begins with the typical pyramidal structure of a company, of which I gather there is little dispute. Here, Rao places Sociopaths at the top of the hierarchy (corresponding to the C-suite and upper management; also not much argument here), the Clueless (low/middle management) below them, with the bulk of the pyramid (oft around 80% by headcount) comprising the Losers beneath the Clueless. Definitions follow:
Having established the three stereotypes, the MacLeod Life Cycle of a firm goes as such: a bunch of Sociopaths sets it up, and draws in enough useful Losers to do the actual work, while underpaying them as much as they can get away with. Note that the mark of a Loser is that he accepts his fate as told by the Sociopaths, for whatever reason - if he actively fights for his due, he might very well join the group at the top; if the Loser instead simply puts his nose to the grindstone and hopes to be recognized for his hard work by the Sociopaths one day... well, it could happen, but what's a heck a lot more likely is that they'll be known as Big Fat Suckers - the Losers who're dumb enough not to at least coast along with the rest.
Continuing, as the firm grows, an interverning layer is required between Sociopaths and Losers, and this is the Clueless middle managers; the functional threshold between Clueless and Losers is stated to begin at the point where the reward-to-effort ratio suddenly hits sharply-diminishing returns, such as with a fast food joint assistant manager who, for a nominal 20% raise over his take as a burger-flipper, is now responsible for coddling half a dozen disinterested teenagers, mopping the place after work, making sure it stays up to code etc. - possibly earning less per hour than before his promotion. Naturally, this level is where the most earnest Suckers get strung along, to act as an unwitting warning to the clear-eyed Losers nominally under him: this is a crap deal, don't strive to be a Sucker.
In this way, the Clueless layer acts as insulation between the Losers and the Sociopaths, with the dividing line between Clueless and Sociopath being about where a promotion actually results in more pay for an easier life; true, maybe being CEO is challenging in that one can fail and collapse the firm... but there's almost always a golden parachute even if the worst happens. According to the MacLeod Life Cycle, the growth of this Clueless layer tends to outpace that of the Sociopaths and Losers as a firm stagnates, until the zombified structure crumbles under its own weight, and another set of Sociopath corporate vultures swoops in to cannibalize the scraps.
Which brings us to OfficeTalk, which is a discourse framework on how these stereotypes communicate within the firm (for the nitty-gritty details, please refer to Rao's magnum opus):
Languages spoken in organizations, according to TGP
(Original source: ribbonfarm.com)
[N.B. The least I could do was to clean it up in Powerpoint]
The remaining two speech types are exclusive in requiring the participation of the Clueless set:
The Three-Class Overlay
Interested readers can self-study TGP more deeply through Rao's writings, but it's time to move on to Danco's Michael Scott Theory of Social Class here. Danco's key insight is that the three TGP stereotypes of Sociopath, Clueless and Loser map pretty neatly to the three classes in Michael Church's ladder theory: with the Elite being Sociopaths, the Gentry being Clueless, and Labour being Losers. A little thinking finds this applicable to many other contexts (e.g. in the military, Officers/Sociopaths, Specialists/Clueless and Enlisted/Losers), but we will keep to social class for now.
The central statement of the Michael Scott Theory is that the higher you ascend the ladder of the Educated Gentry class, the more you become Michael Scott - yes, the guy who goes around quipping, "That's what she said!". Notably, Danco also recognizes the accuracy of Bobos In Paradise in splicing the classes atop the stereotypes. The defining attribute of the Gentry/Clueless class in this unified theory is then their wholesale departure from reality. Recall, Church in his three-ladder theory assigned virtues and vices to each broad class, and recognized the similarity between Labour and Elite in that they both prized money and raw power (both of which, to be fair, are neutral in themselves). Not so the Gentry, who were after knowledge and cultural influence above all.
The trouble with the Gentry nowadays, however, is that the balance has gone out of kilter, with the "knowledge" part getting sacrificed. In Danco's own words: "Generally speaking, the farther you go up [the Gentry] ladder, the more detached from reality you get. Importantly, this isn't seen as a problem: it's actually a virtue, so long as you portray it correctly. Sixty years ago, this group sought refuge and status in the suburbs, explicitly detaching themselves from the reality of dirty, dangerous cities. Now, it's fashionable to move back downtown, detaching ourselves from the reality of gas-guzzling, chain restaurant normie suburbs. The farther you go into expensive, performative habits (Doing triathlons, eating farm-to-table) and coastal echo chambers ('I don't know a single person who voted for TRUMP'; 'We should ban cars'), the farther you progress up this ladder". Put another way, the mainstream American Gentry appears to have constructed an artificial reality - aided by the compliant corporate FAKE NEWS - and are determined to maximize their influence within its parameters.
This embarassing disingenuity of the modern yellow-bellied Gentry - who are the ones supposed to be truth-seekers, within the class system - is only starker when placed against select Elite and members of the Labour/Underclass. The True Elite (E1/E2) likely espouse Straight Talk/Powertalk, because they possess "f**k you power" of the sort that can dismember nosy journalists at will*, or at least "f**k you money", that prevents them from having to proclaim views that they do not believe in, simply to keep making a living (note that this was the motivation behind tenure for academics & judges)
In keeping with Fussell's trenchant observations, many of the Labour class share the same predilection towards free speech as the Elite, but in their case it's more of "f**k you, I got no money anyway". Take your everyday construction worker† - he can (reasonably) state that he dislikes illegal immigration on social media, and if he gets cancelled by the woke Gentry mob and loses his gig, he can just march over to the next worksite to earn his bread. In contrast, your average professor is finished. Nobody's listening to his explanation on why he didn't kneel to the mob; his reputation with the only crowd that matters (professionally) is shot; his career may as well be over.
There really is no shortage of intellectual cowardice from present-day Gentry to harp on, and we may be examining a recurring example in the following blog posts...
Salient example of a member of the modern Gentry class bouncing heedlessly from one Herd Approved Worldview™ to another
[*This example reflects poor taste and a lack of class from the supposed perpetrators; the proper way would be for said journalist to silently vanish without any trace. Amateurs.]
[†The representative people to hear some real Straight Talk from, I gather, are the cabbies. It's almost as if taxi rides were invented for Straight Talk - the environment tends to be convivial, what with usually-passable seats and air-conditioning, and one doesn't face their interlocutor full on; any conversation is as private as can be expected nowadays, and the parties involved are basically anonymous and might never meet again, removing worries about long-term consequences; there's nothing much else to do (well, before smartphones); the cabbie is empowered by a sense of being in control (which he is, of the hunk of steel hurtling down the road); and he's indeed not unlikely to be of the requisite interchangable-labour class (really, are you really gonna take a cabbie's license away, for something he said that you don't agree with?); Singapore, New York, Nairobi, Hong Kong... it's the same everywhere.]
This short snippet was primarily inspired by an article on citadel21.com, entitled "Why The Yuppie Elite Dismiss Bitcoin", that was pithy and fresh enough that I thought it worthy of further dissemination. It is recommended to read the original, but here goes my take: it purports to explain why a particular sociological type - the (woke) "yuppie elite" - has tended to be against Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies since their inception, despite their recognized "intelligence".
Before entering the analysis proper, the choice of "yuppie" as a group identifier might be examined. The genesis of the term appears to date from the 1980s, and the bull market through most of that decade that had seen ambitious young professional climbers flock to the cities in search of their fortunes, padded-shoulder power suits and all. However, by the time the term hit the peak of its popularity about 1990, "yuppie" had begun to take on a somewhat pejorative sheen, stemming from the financial excesses of that period, which appear set for a repeat.
However, there does not seem to be a definitive replacement label for this demographic as yet. David Brooks proposed "bourgeois bohemians", or "bobos" for the new (American cultural) upper class (or G2: High Gentry, in Michael Church's excellent three-ladder system), but it doesn't seem to have ever really taken off (not helped locally by there already being an established association); the closest popular descriptor that comes to mind would be "hipster", which however loses the element of zeal towards career success and individual achievement - it's hard to reconcile "elite" with working shifts at the pub or warehouse, which suggests that "yuppie" might be the most appropriate terminology after all.
The main distinction between today's yuppie-bobos and those from the Eighties, one gathers, is an (at least outward) affectation towards woke causes, social justice, environmental issues etc., together with a particular brand of anti-materialism; it would be crass and gauche for many of today's yuppies to splurge on, say, a Rolls-Royce (a top-end Tesla would seem to give much more cachet, among the tech set at least), but paying through the nose for "delicate squash ravioli in US$25 earthenware bowls" is fine, according to Brooks. Not that today's yuppies wouldn't be able to afford either - they're the MBAs with Goldman Sachs and McKinsey's, the FAANG project managers, the rising Ivy League/R1 academics, the many-fellowshipped doctors and white-shoe law set, who'll tweet indignantly against corporate multinationals as soon as consult for them or defend them in court.
And, as Croesus at citadel21.com notes - they are almost all united in disliking Bitcoin.
He notes that, whatever else one thinks of the yuppies, they are as a group generally pretty smart; one doesn't get where they have been in their careers, by being dumb. This observation, then, puts paid to one preliminary hypothesis: that Bitcoin and crypto support is clustered at two points along the intelligence distribution - amongst the, well, not unduly bright guys, who were just too stupid to even consider counterarguments; and the fellows at the other end, who knew how it was going to turn out from the beginning.
(Source: citadel21.com, originally from Murad on Twitter;
apologies for also reproducing the figure, but there was no better)
Now, Croesus says, maybe he (a Bitcoin supporter) is kinda smart, but he cannot claim with good justification that his (many) Bitcoin-deriding yuppie acquaintances are any less smart. As such, there has to be a better explanation. The critical factor he came up with, then, is one's trust in the system. Consider that this "trust" is largely orthogonal to intelligence, at least as measured by I.Q.: one can be smart yet distrust the (establishment) system, or smart and trust the system. Likewise, one can be not-so-smart, and either distrust or trust.
With that framework established, the theory continues by defining two kinds of support for Bitcoin (and other cryptos): Bitcoin maximalism, where the ultimate success of Bitcoin was reasoned from "...understand[ing] the game theoretic inevitability of Bitcoin's continued rise in the context of central bank money printing, the deterministic price mechanics of quadrennial supply shocks via Bitcoin's halvings and the market psychology that programmatic price appreciation precipitates, and the winner-takes-all implications of an absolutely scarce store of value asset". And then there's Bitcoin moonism, characterized by a brief glance at Bitcoin's price history, a desire to get rich quick, and some combination of stubbornness and forgetfulness in hodling one's coins through dips.
So, the explanation goes: if one is sort-of smart and distrustful of the establishment, Bitcoin maximalism makes quite a bit of sense, after doing some research. Croesus observes that Bitcoin maximalism is a lot easier to reach if one already has a bad (or perhaps, just realistic) assessment of the establishment, which may jive with many of Bitcoin's earliest and biggest supporters being "cypherpunks, anarchists, and libertarians"... and yes, TRUMP supporters. To this, it might be added that experience with real-life systems - and the myraid ways they can be broken - together with even a cursory awareness of history, can colour one's trust levels somewhat. Take proclamations by the Fed chair and other "respected" economists, that the economy is gonna go gangbusters for the next few years. Those with high trust in the system might accept their words as gospel. Those with lower trust might check what their predecessors were yapping about in 1907, 1929, 1972, 1987, 2000 and 2007, and go well, perhaps they are right - but maybe they aren't?
Trust and distrust might also be understood in terms of order/law and chaos in Moorcockian metaphysics, which has permeated into much of modern fantasy. The relation is less one's personal preference, than one's understanding of the fundamental nature of society and reality; low trust, then, recognizes the fragility and flaws of existing systems, and their continual - and likely, doomed - struggle against entropy and periodic anarchy. High trust, on the other hand, squares with an expectation of permanence - ironically a form of conservatism - that systems in motion tend to continue to exist as they are. The pinnacle of this attitude might perhaps be Fukuyama's triumphant declaration of the end of history at the end of Cold War I... which might very well have lasted but thirty-odd years.
Dogs might be man's best friend -
but perhaps they would be right not to trust too deeply
Returning to the "yuppie elite" profile of New York Times and CNN believers (fine, at least leaners). They combine relatively high intelligence with high trust in the system, and really, why not? "The system" has been good to them. Or, as Croesus puts it, "To succeed in the educated, professional class, you have to be smart. But it's also crucial that you know how to fit in, be a good team player, navigate industry politics, be polite and likeable, and above all be a good foot soldier willing to sacrifice for your employer". The payoff, then, is preferment within the system - from rank-and-file associate/engineer through the managerial hierarchy, and perhaps the C-suite one day; titles, honours, perks, maybe a corner office as one goes up the pyramid. A growing number of underlings on the organizational chart. Or a medal and a photoshoot with some minister or secretary of state. All very nice attractions, no doubt.
But, perhaps above all that, there is the sense of satisfaction from "leading culture" (or so the yuppies think) - per Croesus, the belief of yuppies that they are the people in the know. This naturally requires a contrast against the non-yuppie non-elite: the blue-collar, the working class, the rural and provincial, Republicans in the American context, outsiders in general. These are the people not in the know, and Bitcoin - thus far - has been for these people (at least, a subset of them). Well, we might see if changing environments might bring about adaptation. Anecdotally, a few of my yuppie-type acquaintances appear to have come round to crypto to an extent, what with various financial institutions and banks gingerly acknowledging it (but, fair disclosure, I remain sitting out for now)
Just to switch up the pace a little, I figured I'd cover some of the cool (or at least, funny) developments going on in the technological space. It's definitely an exciting area to be in, career prospects aside in this ultra-practical land, and the local computing fraternity is undeniably riding high for now with NUS supposedly ranked fourth in the world for computer science & information systems - but personally, it's perhaps best to take that with a shaker full of salt. The initiative towards interdisciplinary learning does seem to have been maintained, with a new combined College of Humanities and Sciences launched as planned, so here's to future students wandering the roads less travelled, and not grade-grub too much (well, unless they've a scholarship to maintain)
Overall demand will likely be sustained, current A.I. hype aside, from how various great powers are pulling out the stops to amass know-how and personnel (not necessarily in an above-board manner, if history has anything to teach) in the technology dimension of the burgeoning New Cold War, with ecosystems already bifurcating. Singapore has for one already hinted at requiring over a million additional workers trained in digital skills, and in recognition of that, here's a brief survey of some more-recent advances that have caught the imagination:
More talent in that index finger than Picasso!
Sure, I've ragged on modern art previously, but let's put it this way: I stick food on the wall in kindergarten and get rapped on the knuckles, but some guy duct-tapes a banana to another wall a couple of years back, and got paid US$120,000. Was it the sensually-provocative slant of the fruit, the complex flourishes in the wrinkles of the tape? The heck if I know. Yes, Dadaism, but one can argue that urinals don't putrefy after a few weeks, and the guilty party involved at least had the basic decency to take responsibility by signing their name to the evidence then.
In this case, the bananas exhibit would eventually be enhanced by a visitor adding "Epstein didn't kill himself", which was somehow derided entirely without irony as "conspiracy theory graffiti", in the face of the rather more ridiculous reality of a common Cavendish costing upwards of a hundred grand (Lucille Bluth, eat your heart out). The last I heard of it, the unconscionably-overpriced banana had been consumed by a performance artist (good riddance, I say), and when contemporary art pieces appear routinely improved by passers-by, one has to wonder whether the profession has fallen - if just a little - from its former rarefied heights.
Mind, to the less-cultured crowd, there's always been an obvious reason as to why a few daubs of paint - if one's lucky - can change hands for hundreds of millions: plain money laundering. From its entirely-subjective valuation, art is pristinely-suited towards transferring humongous sums of cash with plausible cause; if the taxman and other governmental enforcers come calling as to why a sheet of notebook paper with "pay bearez sixty millions" scribbled on it in crayon had been exchanged at par, one can always wave a banana in their faces. Indeed, the natural takeaway from a Department of Homeland Security representative claiming that "there has not been an art dealer or collector convicted for laundering money through art" should really be that: this method seriously works!
Now, while there has been work done on predicting the price of artworks at auctions, one gathers that much of the prepping had been performed behind the scenes. You'd need the artist, of course, ideally with a catchy background story, but raw skill perhaps matters less nowadays than ever before - whither the breakout stars from, say, the thousands upon thousands of technically-immaculate practitioners in Dafen? The artist's works would be collected on the cheap, and the myth - and valuations - then built up, often after his passing, which is why so many famous painters and composers died dead broke. Apparently, the CIA had quite the hand in promoting modern art for their own nefarious purposes: read Finks for a more-complete telling for their literary interventions in Cold War I.
The face one makes at a free US$411,000
If you thought the above was crazy enough, that's not even the beginning of it. The new fad has been non-fungible tokens (NFT), which are essentially official records on some recognized blockchain, that verify one's ownership of some digital property; the direct analogue to the legacy art world would be the Geneva Freeport, where near-priceless artpieces of any provenance can change hands without moving an inch (we've eagerly copied the concept, though it hasn't quite taken off here just yet)
The thing about NFTs, then, is that the underlying digital asset is perfectly and infinitely reproducible*; copies of the famous Overly Attached Girlfriend meme featured above have been plastered all over the Internet for years, for example. Yes, I've not been over-enthused with Rothkos, but they do have a certain subtlety and presence up close (still wouldn't pay ten mils for one, though). Yes, certain types of art such as Rodin's bronze sculptures can be duplicated en masse from the mould, but one supposes each of the physical objects can conceivably accumulate its own idiosyncrasies and history. For NFTs, though, the zeroes and ones of all copies are forever identical - and to top it off, current implementations of NFTs often encode just a weblink to the asset, and of course, it's hardly guaranteed that the relevant server won't change hands someday, or simply replace or overwrite the file being referred to.
[*N.B. This doesn't apply to fungible cryptocommodity tokens such as Bitcoin, but I'm not going to get drawn into that here]
Well, those with slightly longer memories might recognize this as more or less the cryptocollectible craze from 2018 - with CryptoKitties perhaps the representative success story - and after Elon Musk's gone self-referential in hawking a techno song about NFTs as an NFT, it's perhaps only to be expected that the bubble's deflating somewhat. Hopefully Li Shengwu can get his paper on NFTs on the blockchain before the fashion goes entirely over until the next parabolic surge in crypto prices, then.
Cyborg Imagination, From Language
Two particular critiques about the current direction of A.I. have been that it has perhaps been focused on images over other modalities, and that it is unclear whether the trained models actually understand what they are supposed to do, despite being able to achieve raw performance on the level of humans on well-defined tasks. Often, changing the environment ever so slightly can cause the erstwhile-excellent A.I. model to fail disastrously - which can have very real implications as with a medical chatbot suggesting that a patient kill themselves (then again, it could have just gone full Marvin the Paranoid Android)
To this, the response appears to have largely been to begin from ever-larger language models, a trend that had been popularized with BERT, and that has only been accelerating. Other than obvious advantages in machine translation, sheer volume of text has made applications such as resurrecting the deceased from their online writings possible, as just patented by Microsoft (well, we tried to warn you). Unfortunately, this line of attack has also meant that the top-of-the-line language models such as GPT-3 have been restricted to those tech giants and research institutions with the resources to compile them, though there have been some public attempts at replication.
It's the combination of text and images that has seen some of the most impressive results in recent months, however, much of it coming from the OpenAI group. First, it seems that using image caption text as additional data for learning visual concepts can greatly improve model reliability, which one supposes is only to be expected from how models have been routinely repurposed. Rather more extraordinary, in my view, is the ability of cutting-edge models to generate images - and to impeccable levels of quality, note - combining multiple concepts, again exploiting text-image pairs. Dalí might have been proud... or at any rate, prouder of it than at a taped-up banana.
Well, that model's closed-source too, but I did manage to get my hands on some DeepDaze code utilizing OpenAI's CLIP mentioned in the first example above, and which seems also influenced by Google's DeepDream, key difference being that DeepDaze admits a text prompt. How it works appears to be using CLIP to guide a generative adversarial network, in the sense of gradually evolving an initial (random) image, towards satisfying the desired text. A subreddit has been created to showcase some outputs, but I saw no reason not to crank out some NFT bait of my own...
Prompt Text: a fat hamster eating while sleeping
I don't know if the lumps are more golden hamster or freshly-baked pastries, but I know that they look delicious. Water bottles or decanters? Hard to tell too.
Prompt Text: all the people living life in peace
Given that the command prompt for DeepDaze is "imagine", a quote from Lennon's song of the same name seemed only appropriate. Quite a lot of "V for peace" hand signs and proto-peace symbols abound, if one squints hard enough, and perhaps a dove in the middle, and dabs of the Rastafarian colours. Would be passable as album art - I've certainly seen worse.
Prompt Text: bismarck in motion king of the ocean
[N.B. And not forgetting, the more anthropomorphic versions...]
More song lyrics, this from Sabaton's Bismarck, as bookending the previous blog post. The model tried to picture the guy himself, it seems, and I think the concept of "motion" got expressed pretty vividly. Much waves, much powah.
Prompt Text: apes together stronk and stonks only go up
How's it with slang? Unfortunately, I don't see much stonks being represented here, but I'll take the green uparrow. Efforts were made towards fists in solidarity, and there's a dumbbell in there somewhere. Like the granite wash background too.
Prompt Text: the golden glorious god emperor of mankind
And finally, what does the machine think of the GOD-EMPEROR OF MANKIND? All that gold down to the curls, all that majesty, the not-overly-large hand grasping the sceptre of the world... truly, the classical attributes of divinity have been rendered forth! The robots are awakening, I tell you!
As to images alone, superresolution has made it into Adobe Photoshop, although the same caveats remain about the technique possibly hallucinating objects that weren't there. Most of the drama continues to revolve around faces, with the latest complaint being that image-completion algorithms tended to autocomplete men with a suit 43% of the time, and women with a low-cut top or bikini 53% of the time (racist, sexist, yadda). Number one question might, however, be on what the men were autocompleted wearing (or not) the other 57% of the time, and how exactly did the research group collect the underlying data. Personally, if the algo matches my head with Frank Zane's bod, I won't be doing much complaining, and perhaps it might come as a surprise to some sections of the academic world on what many of the ladies are actually discontented about?
Raising the dead, predicting political persuasions and coughing up wads of cash are old hat for A.I. by now, and the scary thing is, there doesn't seem a limit as to how convincing simulations can get; the day when people won't be able to believe the evidence of their own eyes draws ever closer, and there appears nothing anybody can do about it, sans extremely heavy-handed surveillance and control, which kinda defeats the purpose.
Food & Drink
Bananas and edible hamsters have unavoidably led to this, but before continuing I'd just like to state that no inflation, my ass. My accustomed neighbourhood takeout of noodles with egg has gone from S$4.80 to S$6.00 in one fell swoop, which appears repeated all over. The effects of running the money printer hot have to hit Main Street eventually, surely?
It's tough to tell how the food delivery companies are doing, given that airlines are entering the competition, but their profit has already come under public scrutiny all the more due to the shift towards their service no thanks to the pandemic. I'd definitely not begrudge the riders their (possibly large) cut, although one wonders if it should be a long-term employment option, especially for those who clearly have other talents. To me, Singapore seems ripe for the revival of a near-forgotten technology: pneumatic tube transport (i.e. same general concept as the T-shirt cannon). Set up a hub-and-spoke system from major shopping centres, industrial kitchens and other distribution points, and one can have packages pew pew-ing their way across the country at the speed of, well, air. I mean, having a chap cycle a couple of kilometres to deliver a single meal feels slightly inefficient, or maybe that's just me.
Other than that, there's been local work on wringing water out of air, robotic bartenders at Orchard Road, and continued incursion of meat substitutes - it seems humans were meant to be omnivores after all. And oh, the latest findings on eggs have them associated with cardiovascular and cancer mortality, but I'm keeping an open mind on this.
Let's see how many places this gets recognized...
That's both doses received, which may make a good opportunity to return some coverage to the coronavirus situation. The first jab wasn't remarkable, while the second resulted in some soreness to the relevant arm together with a light fever, which was not uncommon amongst my colleagues.
Excess Mortality, Explained?
(Source: medrxiv.org, "The World Mortality Dataset: Tracking excess mortality across countries during the COVID-19 pandemic", Karlinsky & Kobak, 2021)
Before beginning, a quick follow-up on February's concerns over local excess mortality figures - it seems that the method of computing (or correcting for) excess mortality might indeed have resulted in the WSJ infographic's implications, given that it utilized the average from the preceding five years, whereas a gradually-increasing base might indeed have been more appropriate for Singapore. While the slowing in growth of the local resident population might also be considered (+18k last year despite the pandemic, compared to about +30k in each of the preceding few years, which may also depend on cut-off dates), this estimate seems probably a closer approximation of the actual situation than an average, and corroborated by the nice round just-reported provisional death figure of 22,000.
Pfizer/Moderna vs. Sinovac: Struggles & Signals
It might have been observed by careful readers that the vaccination card had Pfizer, Moderna and Sinovac listed as default options, which had some scratching their heads given that Sinovac had not yet been approved for use here, with more data being requested for review by the HSA, and Phase 3 trial data apparently unavailable, unlike say with Pfizer and Moderna (both approved). Moreover, a Reuters editorial had pointedly noted late last month that "Singapore is the only wealthy country considering the use of Sinovac's vaccine", with some musing as to why the stock had been accepted before approval; to this, the Minister for Health had an easy answer - we have already paid for it, so we take delivery lor.
It is perhaps unavoidable that countries' choice of cure will be scrutinized as a clue to their leanings as the world draws up battle lines for the oncoming Cold War II, however, and for all of our Prime Minister's (logical) insistence that vaccines have no nationality and that Singapore would use vaccines from any source so long as they work, it could be telling that Russia's Sputnik V for one doesn't seem to have been considered, despite The Lancet backing its trial results of over 90% efficacy - though to be fair, the Ruskies themselves don't seem too keen. Oh, the MOH and our Foreign Minister have insisted that "Singapore cannot be bought, bullied or intimidated into approving any vaccine", to which r/singapore and EDMW were basically united in giving out virtual pats on the back to said minister to the effect of "yeah it's okay, we understand, man", while remarking that this was exactly what someone being coerced would say (blink twice if there's anything wrong!)
While some things cannot be openly stated, inferences might be drawn from all that's going on: Sinovac has already been supplied to all ten ASEAN states (and many mostly-developing countries besides), with Vietnam apparently the only ones daring to state reluctance outright, and the various nations' response to this vaccine diplomacy outreach will doubtless be carefully watched. Hungary, for one, is looking to Russia and China after the failing European Union's monumental miscalculations (to be covered in the next section), with some Latin American countries such as Peru desperate enough that politicians getting jabbed was viewed as jumping the queue.
Discuss similarities between patterns in the above map, and the First, Second and Third World blocs in Cold War I
Let's not kid ourselves here - while vaccines may well not have nationalities, the choice of which vaccines to use certainly has consequences; the U.S., for example, has openly admitted to pressuring Brazil to reject the Russian offering, China is refusing to approve Pfizer & Moderna, Pakistan and the Philippines amongst others are making a point of ordering from China, Taiwan is basically sponsoring vaccines from anywhere but China, and a Hong Kong clinic has reportedly been punished for pushing Pfizer ahead of their own. The latest development is the American-led Quad promising a billion jabs for Southeast Asia alone to overtly counter China, and while this largesse is breathtaking, more seasoned analysts are reading the obvious rationalization - that this is in anticipation of Southeast Asia being the main front of the New Cold War.
On this, Singapore has not unexpectedly been attempting to keep as low a profile as possible, with the arrival of the Sinovac vaccine getting a muted reception compared to Pfizer/Moderna, suggesting that the early delivery might well have been slightly one-sided, all the more since it doesn't seem all that widely used at home, to begin with. Sinovac's low claimed efficacy has only complicated matters, since this is an entirely valid factor for individuals picking their vaccine, and while Sinovac does appear to have some support, this seems in the minority amongst locals, with some considering to forego vaccination altogether if it came down to Sinovac or bust.
The problem of how to deal with the Sinovac issue had been raised in January, recall, and the authorities might just have squared the circle here, with their solution of mandating a single vaccine brand to be used at each vaccination centre; this seems to imply that one can indirectly control the vaccine they will be administered, by visiting the appropriate location. Well, we will see if this is enough to satisfy the powers that be, and if not, there's always out-of-favour party members and the younger low-risk group to offer up; watch for impressionable freshie national servicemen to be "highly encouraged" to volunteer...
Additionally, there are possibly more immediate and concrete implications as to personal vaccine choice: while vaccine passports have been touted (to be implemented on blockchain, so sez our Foreign Minister), beginning with closest neighbours Malaysia for us, it remains to be seen how recognized individual vaccines will be; the European Union's vaccine passports have been proposed to only admit EMA-approved jabs - not Sinovac, at last check - with China easing restrictions for only those taking their own products. Creating travel bubbles is hard enough as it is, given how New Zealand were warning that Australia opening one with Singapore could hinder Australia's own plans with New Zealand, but at least discussions on mutual recognition appear ongoing in this particular case.
AstraZeneca: Safety or Shade?
Onwards to Europe, their vaccination response has been underwhelming when put against say the U.S., with much of America's success in churning out vaccines far faster than what the mainstream news insisted was possible, attributed to the previous administration's initiative and support for Operation Warp Speed, together with a united front on endorsements by Presidents past and present.
Of course, a large part of America's (and to an extent, Britain's) success in this regard has been due to their export bans on vaccines. Selfish, perhaps, but in America's case, it is possibly notable that the supposed-saintly and multilateral new admin has done nothing to reverse this ban - amongst many quiet continuations of their predecessor's (actually well-conceived) policies - which only serves to remind the importance of securing one's own supply chains and manufacturing sector is, in the new geopolitical reality. We have witnessed the unsightly scramble for masks, ventilators and other supplies in the early stages of the pandemic, and from how some European countries are themselves now blocking exports - at least before discovering 29 million doses under the sofa - it might be fairly construed that for all the honeyed words, when the chips are down, it's every country for themselves.
Another view is that Europe are at the back of the queue because they tried to push their luck too far on negotiations with the Big Pharma producers, and simply wound up outbid on priority by the U.S., U.K. and certain other wealthy nations (ahem, ahem). Now, there may be a lingering impression that the lack of indemnity for side-effects is due to Big Pharma kindly supplying vaccines at cost, but the ugly fact is that this is the exception rather than the rule; Pfizer's groundbreaking vaccine, for instance, is on track to become one of the most lucrative drugs ever, buffing an expected revenue of US$100 billion combined from 2020 and 2021, and they're definitely counting the pennies - developed nations will pay at least what America's paying, to begin with, and poorer ones are being made to pony up sovereign assets as guarantee against future legal suits.
Europe in a shambles
But back to what's happened with the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine in Europe. It all began a couple of weeks back, with Denmark and Norway pausing its use after isolated cases of blood clots, swiftly followed by other European nations over the next days, for a total of at least 24 countries by March 16, extending as far abroad as Thailand. The climbdown then began, with the EMA insisting that there was no indication that the AZ vaccine had caused the clotting, only to be contradicted by a Norwegian chief physician confirming otherwise in their national paper. Nonetheless, use of the AZ vaccine would soon be resumed in Germany and elsewhere despite some of their own researchers claiming a link, possibly due to getting swamped by a second wave - though their populace was already wary to begin with.
The AZ vaccine has certainly endured an inordinate amount of criticism, much of it somehow from the U.K.'s erstwhile closest ally, with the American NIH and NIAID's very-public questioning running the gamut from cherry-picking to providing incomplete data (also a concern of a number of European doctors and scientists, mind). More than a few underlying reasons have been suspected, including "post-Brexit animosity" and supply failures from the continentals, but there have also unavoidably been whispers about more prosaic motivations: it's not as if other vaccines don't have their own concerns and reported adverse events, after all, and AZ is the only major Western vaccine being sold at cost, for now at least. Surely, a hundred billion bucks might have influenced a lot of the skewed press going around?
Mutations and the Long Game
From what's known thus far, even were the rare clotting indeed caused by the AZ vaccine, the benefits of using it likely still outweigh the costs; as a Science Translational Medicine commentary closes with, "You would want to see a higher number in a better world, but 60% is a damn sight better than not getting vaccinated at all" (there's more to be said about this [reasonable] line of thought, possibly in the next blog post)
For completeness, the main argument against vaccination - or at least, compulsory vaccination for lower-risk groups (i.e. healthy persons below about fifty, perhaps supported by the local experience with foreign workers) - is that the odds of mortality are very significantly lower for youngsters, with over-60s literally a thousand times more likely to perish than teenagers... which is maybe not a bad thing, for the kids at least? To this, the usual counter has been that getting hospitalized remains no joke, what with the potential lingering long-term effects of getting the virus (i.e. "long covid"). Sounds plausible enough, even if studies on long covid are obviously somewhat preliminary for now, and it might perhaps be confirmed whether it's expressing the symptoms that causes the long-term damage, or simply catching the virus - because if the latter, it's not very clear if the vaccines actually mitigate it.
It's turning out to be a running battle anyhow, with multiple supposedly more-contagious substrains already verified and spreading, with certain vaccines unfortunately turning out to have reduced efficacy against them - as possibly reflected by the sudden rise in cases in Chile:
You going to say "no", comrade?
The most direct implication of these variants would be that annual - or even more frequent - vaccinations might become necessary (ka-ching?), which is before getting into a supposedly PCR-undetectable variant from France, and possible immune escape from current prophylactic vaccines not actually stopping virus spread, possibly creating more such super-strains - though it's not clear what the alternative is here, other than simply letting it burn through the population. Someone up there should really take the difficulty level down a notch or two...
Arcturus, the DIY Spirit
Leaving the main players aside, it's not been the best of goings for Singapore's joint venture with a U.S. biopharm firm (who appear to be getting a great deal from the EDB, in having their loan forgiven in case of failure); latest reports suggest a product by next year at best. Well, one has to start out somewhere in a new business, I suppose, and even giants such as Merck have had to abandon their vaccine development.
From another angle, however, whipping up a potential vaccine candidate's apparently not that complicated - there's RaDVaC, an open-source vaccine design and protocol platform, and a fellow has kindly documented a walkthrough on how to manufacture your own batches: search for some COVID virus peptides (short protein sequences), have them synthesized by a commercial provider, and do your own pipetting and mixing. Cost: about US$2 per dose. Too good to be true? Eh, it's possible in principle, but one suspects that Big Pharma won't be too pleased about this developmental model.
It's rather less trouble to expand the use of existing vaccines, which is what the local authorities are doing in waiting for trial results on kids to come in. That, and relatively simple tweaks like leaving more space in front of face masks (promoted here last May), as the Temasek Foundation has done - which has naturally led to gripes that the masks now resemble underwear for the well-endowed. Small price to pay to be able to breathe freely, in my opinion. Moreover, Temasek have reportedly also dipped into Bitcoin since 2018, along with some other sensible initiatives to be discussed soon, so perhaps they're not as hopeless as the average netizen would have them to be.
Here's to another vessel getting raised
[N.B. At US$400 million an hour, that must be a lot of prayers]
Another month and a half of the GME saga seems a good time to delve back into it, so here goes:
The Kitty That Roared
- pretty sus lawyer pleading his un-catness
For those who have tuned out of the coverage, GME's stock price had fallen back down to about US$50 and lingered there for the best part of a month, no doubt to a chorus of "I told you so's" from the more-traditional investing set. There would, however, be a so-called "gamma swarm" second surge for the meme stonk towards the end of Feburary - further boosted by new leadership - that briefly took its price back to US$300 levels, before dipping back to the current US$200-odd.
But let's rewind to where we left off in early February. Then, the Youtuber/wsb-er known as Roaring Kitty/DeepF**kingValue had been hauled before the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Financial Services, where he had to too disavow his cattiness, while having to deal with class action lawsuits from disgruntled speculators burnt by the initial short squeeze. In contrast, the CEO of the disgraced Robinhood platform would receive prepping from a former SEC commissioner in his hearing (though they're getting hit on the lawsuit front too), with the U.S. Treasury Secretary going out of her way to obtain an ethics waiver to get involved. As it stands, r/wallstreetbets' favourite kitty appears to have gotten off otherwise (and still liked the stock at US$45), but the financial establishment seems to have taken this as a cue to whip up additional regulations, such that stock prices deviating from fundamentals ain't happening again.
Mr. Ham: He's a cat. Don't trust him.
Me: ...hamster, that was just some fun. And cats aren't even all bad, that's just bigotry on your part; you lot should interact more with each other, like in a recent series of adorable cutouts that's gone on display here:
Here you go
Mr. Ham: ...he's packing his lunch.
Me: You don't always have to think the worst of others, let's ask the neighbourhood cat for his opinion.
Mr. Cat: He's packing his lunch.
Mr. Ham: See?!
Me: This is not helpful.
The Two Narratives
- Glenn Greenwald
Returning to money business, there have been two major and divided strands of discourse that's been come across online. The first, generally held by career pundits and the sort of woke commentator that's been against crypto since its inception, is that the entire GameStop debacle had been a run-of-the-mill pump and dump fraud, perpetuated by conniving ringleaders misrepresenting themselves to naive young'uns with a flimsy cover story of "getting back at The Man" (which, granted, they have been rather more successful at than any number of SJW-style street protests and occupations, by all accounts)
In this telling, the short sellers getting ripped apart are "the only sheriff in town in a rigged market", and that the squeeze was a premeditated, predatory take-down of a cornered and defenseless counterparty (on Forbes), with it also contributing to radicalization and recruitment by far-right extremists on Telegram (on Newsweek). Moreover, such irresponsible mob investing will lead to financial crisis (on SCMP) and tank the broader stock market... not that pushing the price works anyway, so you shouldn't even try (on Bloomberg), and the powers that be are right to clamp down on affected counters as needed, at their express and sole discretion.
The r/wallstreetbets and associates view, then, is that the above talk is basically demoralizing psy-ops from the elite and their corporate media mouthpieces, towards convincing the public (or its retard segment, anyway) to fold or redirect their attentions to other assets such as silver, when the hedgies are actually still vulnerable and on the ropes; indeed, the hedge funds are possibly digging themselves further into illegality on their naked short positions - as suggested by the huge outstanding number of failure-to-delivers - of which the oh-so-upright SEC had never enforced much of before the plebians started to win. Extending Greenwald's soundbite, the GameStop fiasco is class-based, and ultimately about preserving an exclusivity in committing financial crimes.
In support of this stand, there have been reports that the hedgies and brokers were in cahoots, and that without the sudden buying restrictions, the squeeze would have exploded into the thousands of dollars, indeed very possibly rippling deleveraging and destruction across Wall Street bottom lines - which was the entire point anyhow. Therefore, r/wallstreetbets retards should continue to be united in diamond-handing their GME stock and buying more, and not fall prey to FUD tactics.
What's Good For The Goose
- Michael Burry, The Big Short
[N.B. Also laid off tweeting for now, after a visit from the SEC]
Having heard both sides of the argument thus far, one has to reaffirm that it is likely true that there is an element of coordinated pumping being demonstrated here, and that some poor small-time punters will get dumped on and exit at a loss. That much is about as certain in investing, as any fact can be. Yes, to a pretty large extent, the GameStop squeeze is probably more a manifestation of a hyper-rational strategy designed to exploit short positions, than due to any true conviction on the long-term underlying value of the near-defunct retailer.
The key realization, I think, is this: in your usual short-selling hit job that's been going on forever, I gather that it's by and large the little guy who loses out too, anyway. What tends to happen, is that some hedge fund or bontique shop puts out research on how some stock is overvalued. This establishes casus belli, and the funds then borrow shares to short-sell, driving the stock's price down. Now, it isn't that this maneuver always works - the epic Herbalife wrangle being one counterexample - but it seemingly usually does. And when that happens, your man in the street is left holding the bag after the dump-without-the-pump, but in this case he deserves it because he was slow to read and react to market conditions, it's a cruel and competitive world out there, and better luck next time!
Of course, there's then no way to establish the counterfactual on whether the stock would have crashed without a shiver of hungry and well-capitalized sharks targeting it. Sure, reams of pages on why the stock deserves it have been written up, but let's get real - for the below-par stocks on the market, you could probably train up an underemployed English major to crib together a convincing litany of excuses, from a bunch of existing reports. And for the above-average counters, well, there's always reversion to the mean, if you're of a mind to. I think there's little point in disguising that the outcome of short battles generally hinges more on which side possesses more cash and conviction, than any intrinsic property of the stock itself.
Continuing, it appears entirely legal - and indeed, likely - that a dozen hedge fund head honchos can gather on a golf course or yacht somewhere, and conspire on collectively shorting some stock; heck, Bezos or Soros or Chanos - or whoever one's least-favourite billionaire is - can wake up on the wrong side of bed, and unilaterally decide to tank some stock for funsies and profit. And then you have the guys on shows like CNBC's Mad Money, podcasts like the more-sedate Planet Money, and basically any number of self-styled gurus publishing their recommendations for all and sundry to consider on podcasts and mainstream news websites. All entirely fair game, despite one never being quite sure of whether these fellas are shilling their own book.
If one accepts all that, then the question goes: it appears that you can have one or six or twelve people confer privately, and decide to short-sell a stock together; why then is one hundred thousand individuals engaging in public on an open forum, considered market manipulation instead? Where were the apologists bleating about those poor "cornered and defenseless counterparties", when it was Joe Public on the block?
WSB Going Stronk
And for good reason.
- Secrets of r/wallstreetbets
Overview of the GameStop situation thus far
The lovable retards ain't going anywhere just yet, and let's just say that however much the stuffy intellectual elites might like to imagine otherwise, tens of thousands of smooth-brained apes wielding the financial equivalent of AK-47s (loud, cheap, practically indestructible) can overwhelm the best-laid of theories. The validity of the flood of self-reassuring analyses on r/wallstreetbets about how the squeeze is still on - and the biggest one is yet to be - is largely immaterial. What really matters is that there are enough diamond-handed retards, and given that the stock remains very liked even in Asia and Singapore, there appears plenty of fuel left to burn for this rocket. I mean, is it that hard to believe that retail investors - or even just a subset of them - can collectively warp the market?
At least one quant fund has seen fit to acknowledge meme power in their targeted recruitment of r/wallstreetbets stars, and the subreddit's latest fashion is fittingly a tribute to Harambe, the top meme of 2016 - possibly the best vintage year thus far bar none. It started with the adoption of a gorilla or two, and soon expanded to a hedgehog, a sloth, a rhino, an elephant and even a humpback whale, because you know how it is when you go to the store without a shopping list and well, one thing leads to another. That made well over a quarter million bucks and 3,500 gorillas adopted in six days, so... apes indeed stronk together, I guess.
But not the cats, by edict of Mr. Ham
Received my first vaccination jab last week, which also saw one of the best days of my life, when I discovered that a Pokéstop had popped up within range of my apartment.
I realise I'm overdue for another content-heavy post - and heavens know, there's fresh material enough for several - but yeah, other commitments have left me unable to do those developments justice just yet. Additionally, my sleep schedule's spiralled out of whack, no thanks to Mr. Ham.
A not-uncommon 4 a.m. exchange follows:
Nom nom nom
*sustained biting noises*
Me: Good very early morning, Mr. Ham.
Mr. Ham: *gnaw* Hail to you too, *gnaw* human!
Me: If I might be so uncouth as to interrupt, might you be done with this slightly bothersome desecration of your property anytime soon? I would wish to get some shut-eye, if it would not be too much trouble, to work towards your upkeep.
Mr. Ham: *gnaw* That's extremely insensitive, human. This is an essential component of hamster culture, passed down through the ages! Twenty minutes a day, to keep our incisors trimmed and healthy! You don't find me commanding you to stop brushing your teeth, huh? Huh?
Me: Apologies, but from my lying in bed after being woken up, unable to decide whether to do something about this matter, it must surely have been twenty minutes. So I suppose you'll be done momentarily then?
Mr. Ham: Actually, it's twenty minutes a bar.
Me: How much?
Mr. Ham: Are you bribing me, sir?
Me: Yes, I am bribing you, hamster.
Mr. Ham: Oh okay, just making sure.
*gnawing resumes ten minutes later*
Me: Now what?!
Mr. Ham: Your payment covers only the bars on that side of the cage, human. Hamsters pay obeisance to the four cardinal directions. Very important. I might however be persuaded to abbreviate the practice of my people slightly if...
*Mr. Ham gets thrown in the clink*
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