Tuesday 26 January, 2022

Tidal sinusoids

I’m reminded of the waveforms I used to see on oscilloscopes when I was an engineering undergraduate.

Quote of the Day

”If you’re going to invest in bitcoin, a short-time horizon is four years, a mid-time horizon is 10 years. The right time horizon is forever.”

  • MicroStrategy CEO Michael Saylor talking to Bloomberg News

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Eric Clapton | Bell Bottom Blues (Live)


Long Read of the Day

Can Science Fiction Wake Us Up to Our Climate Reality?

An unmissable New Yorker profile of Kim Stanley Robinson by Joshua Rothman. If you’ve never read Robinson, then can I respectfully suggest that you consider doing so. And if you want to think hard about climate change then his The Ministry for the Future would be a good place to start.

The opening chapter is set in 2025, in Uttar Pradesh in India, which is in the grip of a “wet-bulb” heat wave — a lethal combination of heat and humidity in which human sweat ceases to evaporate. In such conditions, even healthy people in the shade cook and die. The chapter is fiction but in recent years heat waves like this have occurred in Australia, India, Mexico, and Pakistan. The death toll in Uttar Pradesh appals the watching world, but little changes. Which leads to the depressing conclusion that it’ll only when the climate-change-induced catastrophes become unbearable that humankind will finally accept that what we know is coming is actually coming.

In the Victorian era, social novels, by Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, and others, awakened us to poverty and injustice. Modern “naturalists,” like Émile Zola, took a scientific approach, following the causal chains of everyday life, which might link a kitchen stove to coal miners working underground. Robinson brings these traditions to bear on our future problems, combining them with an unusual narrative style designed to dramatize civilizational transformation. “The Ministry for the Future” contains chapters that describe the daily habits of geologists and encamped climate refugees; one chapter is narrated by a carbon atom, and another by the market—both actors in the networks that shape our world. Other chapters are oral histories of the sort one might find in the work of the Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich, showing how ordinary people could have their attitudes reshaped by climate disasters. The goal is to capture what the literary critic Raymond Williams calls a “structure of feeling”—an invisible scaffold, unique to its period, on which our emotions hang. In our current structure of feeling, a narrator suggests, the order of things is experienced as “unjust and unsustainable and yet massively entrenched, but also falling apart before your eyes.” Like glaciers, structures of feeling shift with time—that’s how we so readily distinguish between the nineteen-sixties and now.

It’s a long read, but worth it.

Anti-Money-Laundering (AML) isn’t working

If you’ve ever tried to open a bank account, or moving a non-trivial sum of money from one bank account to another in the UK, then you will have found yourself (and your lawyer or accountant) enmeshed in some very tedious paperwork, all of it ostensibly designed to prevent bad actors like, say, Russian oligarchs from laundering their ill-gotten gains by, say, purchasing houses in Eaton Place. And the strange thing is that while you and I get enmeshed in this paperwork, London is the money-laundering capital of the world.

Your accountant, lawyer or banker is obliged to go through this rigmarole because of the ‘Know Your Customer’ (KYC) requirement of AML. In a terrific post Dave Birch (Whom God Preserve) has a nice illustration of the downside of this laudable requirement. He is reminded, he writes,

of Faruk Fatih Özer, founder of the now-defunct Turkish crypto exchange Thodex, who vanished last year along with $2 billion in cryptocurrencies from the exchange, had fled not only with customers’ cryptocurrencies, but also with their identities. As David Gerard so eloquently phrased it, Özer paid the most “painstaking attention” to money-laundering compliance and was therefore able to take detailed Know-Your-Customer (KYC) data for hundreds of thousands of users with him. This data included scans of the customers’ national ID cards, once again proving that digitising identity is no substitute for digital identity.

Now, of course, the reason why Mr. Özer had such a treasure trove of customers’ personally identifiable information (PII) was because regulators had forced him to obtain it. So maybe it should be up to the regulators to fix the problem! But what are they going to do? What will happen to all of the people whose identities were stolen in this way? Are they all going to be given new identities in a vast national witness protection programme while their old identities are cancelled? Will the authorities give everyone a new name and a new number, cancel their old ID cards and send them new ones?

Well, of course they won’t. Not only is this approach to money-laundering ineffective (see London), but it’s immensely wasteful. Dave says that UN estimates for the seizure of criminal assets globally are in the region of $1.5 billon while the Lexis-Nexis estimate for the global costs of AML compliance are in the region of $180 billion.

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