Not Such a Sinking Feeling
This week’s dose of news that isn’t deeply abhorrent, dark or just schadenfreude comes from an unlikely source: disused oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.
When rigs have depleted their sources they can be incredibly expensive to disassemble but since 1984 five US states ringing the gulf have found a win-win solution. The wells are sealed-off and partially disassembled, but a big chunk of the structure can be left underwater, which in turn form remarkable man-made reefs.
The habitats have been shown to be amongst the most productive and diverse spawning grounds for fish in the world, and have even helped to restore the populations of some endangered species. It’s preferable for the oil companies too, as it’s less expensive, and the savings are shared with a fund to help maintain the structures into the future.
It’s a similar idea to that used by the MTA to dispose of more than 2,500 out of service subway carriages. After stripping them down to their metal structures, they’ve been dropped in the ocean off the eastern seaboard of the US since 2001, where they formed remarkable reefs.
At last the mystery of the Wombat’s cube-shaped faeces is partially solved; I know it’s been keeping me up at night.
Previous competing theories posited a square-shaped anus, a square passage between the pelvic bones, and that Wombats shape the poops after passing them (think Wombat scat masonry), an idea described as “complete nonsense” by prominent Wombat scientists. It has emerged that shape is actually produced inside the intestines which vary between two stiff regions and two soft regions, moulding the cubic deuce.
As to the evolutionary advantage that led to the unusual excrement: since Wombats communicate partly through the smell of their feculence, the theory is that the cubes of caca don’t roll away as spheres might.
Better Call Rudy
Rudy Guiliani: if 9/11 was a person that just kept happening over and over.
Ex-President Trump’s ex-lawyer had better hope he can find a lawyer with somewhat better abilities than his own, because he’s having the absolute ass sued off of him. Dominion Voting Systems is claiming $1.3bn in a defamation suit after Guiliani repeatedly accused the company of being involved in a giant election manipulation scheme, without a shred of evidence.
Also being sued for $1.3bn is the ‘Kraken’ lawyer Sidney Powell who, amongst other slanderous ramblings, claimed that Dominion was founded in Venezuela to rig elections for Hugo Chavez. They’ve also threatened to sue My Pillow tycoon Mike Lindell, who responded by encouraging them to sue him because he has “all the evidence”, but for some reason won’t present said evidence. How does he sleep at night? Presumably on a pillow of lies, soaked in the anxious sweat of a human having their pants sued off.
(For the uninitiated Brit who has never turned on a television in America and hence immediately seen a My Pillow advert, Mike “ex-crack-addict turned Pillow CEO” Lindell somehow had/has the ear of President Trump, and was at one point spotted walking into the White House with documents suggesting the imposition of martial law. And before you ask, yes, you can download to your Kindle his autobiography What are the Odds?: From Crack addict to CEO, but not until you’ve finished Art of the Deal. See also: SNL sketch.)
Stop the Games!
So you probably saw something in the news about how Reddit broke Wall Street. That’s basically the important information so we’ll just leave it there… unless you have money in a pension fund, or might do one day, in which case we’ll go on slightly.
Let’s start at the beginning for the sake of those too busy enjoying life to give a hoot about finance. People put money in pension funds so they have something to live off when they might not be such productive workers anymore (regardless of how poorly this translates to knowledge workers and the general implication that wisdom garnered from life-experience isn’t valuable is another tangent we shan’t focus too much on, just mull it over in your spare time). Since money gets less valuable over time (for reasons that aren’t exactly important to this discussion but you can read about here if you’re interested: Inflation for the Digital Nation) these so called ‘pension funds’ will invest a portion of your money on your behalf with the hopes of giving you back at least what you’ve given them, in real-spending power terms (i.e. the same number of loaves of bread or minutes plugged into the Oasis or whatever people will spend their money on in the future). There are different risk profiles people can opt into depending on their hunger for Return on Investment, or anticipated hunger of their future selves. Some of the higher risk funds might involve hedge funds that have bet on shorts. A short is when you borrow stock from a lender, sell it at market price (say $50 for example), buy the stock back later for a lower price ($10) and then return the ostensibly very same stock back to the lender. So you’ve made $40 and the lender has the same stock they started with. Make sense? You’re right, it doesn’t. Anyhow, it’s how the world works.
So some ‘short sellers’ or ‘dickheads’ as they shall henceforth be known, saw the writing on the wall that retail stores for video games might not be a lasting business strategy, so decided to ‘bet’ huge amounts of money on their share price falling dramatically. Millions of users on Reddit came together to bet against the short sellers and seem to have cost them billions of dollars. So yeah, stick it to the greasers in suits.
Is this a scalable strategy and should it be? No, partly because people are now going to stop publishing their research motivating short positions. Also no because at some point you might end up hitting yourself in your own pension fund. These high-risk funds are exactly what they say they are as the New York MTA pension fund learned in 2020 when they lost $330m in such a fund.
Short Sellers are no stranger to criticism (nor are they new), Napoleon famously called them “enemies of the state”. Short Sellers probably don’t think they’re bad people, but then again neither did Christian Bale in American Psycho. They might even argue they’re performing a necessary market function by providing a healthy skepticism to otherwise unchecked speculation (despite the fact they are also speculating); then again people who make a living pretending they can speak to the dead also probably don’t think they’re doing anything ethically fucked, so maybe people’s perspectives on things which they will be financially rewarded for aren’t always trustworthy.
Final note on trustworthiness: people also got upset because a social financial app (that charges no transaction fees), which makes money by instead selling your financial data to hedge funds which gives them a uniquely unfair market advantage, decided to stop letting people buy GameStop shares. In a move that was widely criticized by people who don’t know what they’re talking about (more commonly referred to as ‘politicians’), Robinhood and other apps took the extraordinary measure of intervening in the marketplace. This was most likely because they were running into massive credit risk (i.e. the house was losing) and various regulatory bodies exist to prevent everyone losing money in such scenarios.
Big Doge Bernie
Bernie Sanders is no stranger to being meme-ified, but as covered last week (see Universal Basic Mittens), he recently excelled himself by jumping on the ‘Bernie crossed-armed with mittens’ bandwagon by producing sweatshirts printed with the now-eponymous image. In the week since the sale of the sweaters has raised more than $1.8m for charity.
Great Balls of Fire
In yet the latest sign that we’re living in a dystopian fever-dream of LSD enthusiasts in the 60s, the Flaming Lips played a bizarre but ultimately quite effective gig using ‘space bubbles’. The band and the audience are all contained in their own Zorb-like inflatable atmospheres, the frontman Wayne Coyne at one point rolled over the audience.
Whilst it is pretty damn cool in a way, there is something uniquely uncomfortable and self-conscious about dancing in a bubble isolated from your neighbours a few metres away. But if it’s the closest we can get to a gig for now I’d still take it.
Mining for Praise
Microsoft released its latest sustainability report this week, so far so corporate green-washing. The twist is that they released it as an interactive Minecraft map. The map is aimed at assisting remote-learning students with understanding sustainability issues through playable challenges.
An almost medieval siege is underway this weekend in central London between environmental activists and High Court Enforcement Officers. The activists (including the eponymous ‘Swampy’) have dug a 100ft tunnel network underneath Euston Square Gardens just in front of Euston Station in an attempt to hinder the construction of the high-speed HS2 railway.
Having travelled in and out of London via Euston several hundred times, I can tell you that any hand-hewn, mud and faeces filled siege tunnel is a considerable improvement on Euston Station, and certainly better than the mugger-infested scrap of mud that passes for the misleadingly named Euston Square Gardens.
Somewhat confusingly, the tunnel is not on the side of the station where they’re actually building the new railway and only hinders the construction of a taxi rank. Even more confusing is the level of objection to high-speed, electric public transport. Don’t get me wrong, HS2’s hands aren’t clean, they’re set to destroy quite a few ancient woodlands, but ultimately it will provide more green public transit options and free up existing railway infrastructure to take more cargo off the roads. Conversely, there are many far more pointless road-building projects underway to dig tunnels not in the way of.
As of Friday evening, the situation looked to be nearing an end as several tunnel collapses and deteriorating conditions in the tunnels appear likely to lead to a voluntary abandonment. In all seriousness, it’s an incredibly dangerous way to protest, so I hope all the activists and enforcement officers can bring this to a close without calamity.
Scenic Euston Square Gardens (source)
No, no, we want you to stay, but yes we will give you money to leave
The UK Home Office is rarely labelled compassionate and inviting, but an especially egregious and unwelcoming act has come to light this week. Alongside encouraging EU citizens who have a legal right to remain in the UK to apply for settled status, they’re also offering financial incentives for those same citizens to ‘go home’. The Home Office will kindly pay for your flights and offer you a ‘resettlement grant’ of up to £2000 if you’re willing to abandon this rapidly sinking ship. If I were lucky enough to still have an EU passport I would be sorely tempted. (#foreverEuropean)