Monday, October 23, 2017

"Big money stays away from booming bitcoin"

Harried reader may have seen this morning's 'Bloomberg Prophets' piece which begins:
"Last week may be remembered as the turning point when cryptocurrencies joined the mainstream financial system, as the clearing and trading platform LedgerX opened for business.
About 20 institutional investors -- including investment banks, asset managers, hedge funds and proprietary-trading shops -- executed bitcoin forward and option trades at narrow spreads and without difficulty. This creates the possibility of large-scale trading among traditional financial institutions supporting both the vastly increased use of the currencies in business and their inclusion as an asset class in investment products from pension funds to hedge funds...."
The writer, former AQR market research head Aaron Brown is quite enthusiastic about LedgerX.
His earlier "Prophets" piece "LedgerX Will Transform Cryptocurrencies" was published last August.

Here's a wider overview of the current institutional state-of-play:

From Reuters, Oct. 22:
Bitcoin is booming, digital currency hedge funds are sprouting at the rate of two a week and the value of all cryptocurrencies has surged tenfold this year to more than $170 billion.

Yet for all the hype, mainstream institutional investors are steering clear of the nascent market, taking the view that it is too lightly regulated, too volatile and too illiquid to risk investing other people’s money in. 

Bitcoin, the biggest and most well-known cryptocurrency, has outperformed all the world’s traditional currencies each year since 2011, except for 2014. But many investors still view it as an opaque, esoteric instrument used by gun-runners and drug-dealers on the Dark Web that should be avoided. 

This year, though, a flood of new hedge funds focused on cryptocurrencies has offered institutional investors who might be unfamiliar with the market a potential route into the world of digital currencies. 

According to Autonomous NEXT, a financial technology research house, 84 so-called crypto hedge funds have been launched this year, taking the total to 110 with about $2.2 billion in assets altogether.
But the fact most of the funds are relatively small with a limited track record - and that cryptocurrency price swings have been so pronounced - means the world’s pension funds, insurance companies and large mutual funds are staying away. 

“While cryptocurrencies are probably here to stay, they are difficult to analyze, wildly volatile and some may be prone to fraud,” said Trevor Greetham at Royal London Asset Management (RLAM), part of the Royal London life insurance company. 

“Diversification is a good thing but that doesn’t mean investing in everything just because it’s there. We favor assets with a long track record in producing returns or reducing risks,” said Greetham, who heads RLAM’s multi asset team....MUCH MORE
Previously:
July 13
LedgerX, The Cryptocurrency Derivatives and Swaps Platform Brought to You By Google-n-Goldman (GS GOOG)
July 9 
CFTC Approves Swaps and Options Trading In Bitcoin

"DUDE WTF UMM… – Currency Issuers and Users"

An amuse-bouche from Heteconomist, Oct. 24:
Welcome to the very first (and possibly last) “Don’t Understand, Don’t Even Want To F___ing Understand Modern Money” post, otherwise known as a DUDE WTF UMM… post. This is for those of us who have no desire to consider economics at even an elementary level but who are tired of others exploiting our indifference and blasé attitude for their own dubious ends. Just because we don’t know diddly-squat about economics and are proud of it, this should not disadvantage us in life. What we need are some easy ways to spot when we are being led astray, without too many boring details.

An Imaginary 2-Person Beach Economy
(Note to self: Economy? Careful. Already getting bored.)

We sit on the balcony of a beachside café. You propose a game. It’s a game of imagining a simple economy.

There are only two of us in this imaginary economy, and we live on the beach. You insist on being government. That makes me non-government.

In our imaginations, we meander down to the shore.

For a time all seems peaceful, until, while building a sand castle, I hear the words, “I’m sick of this crap.”

I turn to see … you … flipping through a stack of business cards. You say, “We’ve been lazing around this beach for days now, and our highest achievement is this sand castle.”
“What do you expect?” I ask. “We’re surrounded by sand.” I sit back and observe the sand castle, admiring its contours.

“Something’s gotta give. It’s time we introduced a currency into the equation and got down to business.” You lift your pack of cards skyward. “From now on, you have to pay me ten of these business cards each week.”

Blank stare. “I don’t have any of those. You have them already.”

“Well, I want you to pay me in them.”

Blank stare turns into a glare. “It’s impossible,” I say. “I don’t have any of the damn things.”

“I won’t take no for an answer.”

An impasse...MORE
And for the main course, Sept. 11:
Polynomials to the Rescue in the Strange Case of Busted Bets Plus One

"'Exceedingly generous': Google will split revenue with publishers who use its new subscription tools"

Coincidentally following on  Knowledge@Wharton's "Publishing Is Not Marketing".

From NiemanLab:
Google, an advertising giant, has been making nice with news publishers by developing a series of tools they can use to more precisely attract and target paid subscribers. (It also ended the first-click-free policy this month, allowing subscription-based publishers to choose how many articles to show to readers for free without search-ranking consequence.)

Google’s nice comes at a small business price for any publishers who might want to use the planned subscription tools, but the details are still being ironed out with publishers.

“It will obviously come down to what we think that business relationship should be, but bottom line, I think [revenue sharing] will be exceedingly generous [to news publishers],” Google’s head of news Richard Gingras told the Financial Times on Sunday. “In our ad environment, the rev shares are 70 per cent-plus. The rev shares [for publishers] will be significantly more generous than that.”
 (Google’s AdSense offers around a 70-30 split for publishers who use it to place ads on their sites.)

Gingras made sure to distinguish Google’s tack from Facebook’s “walled garden” approach, telling the FT that “unlike other participants in the environment, we’re not trying to own the publisher. If there are cases where we do cause the subscription to happen, we don’t want to own the customer. None of this changes the marketplace economics, people will pay for what they value.”...
...MORE

Rumbles of the Quantum Computing Revolution in Security

From the Cipher Brief:
Imagine a sensor that could instantly detect nuclear submarines deep underwater, a supercomputer that can break the strongest encryption in the blink of an eye, or a worldwide satellite network of theoretically unbreakable communications.
https://www.thecipherbrief.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/NPL-Atomic-Clock.jpg
These are just a few of the capabilities promised by quantum physics, a century-old science, which found that particles have unique and unexpected properties at the smallest scale. Scientists have long theorized that these properties could revolutionize computing, sensing and a host of other technologies.

Today, these theoretical ideas appear to be on the brink of spurring a revolution in quantum technologies, which has the potential to reshape the way that countries think about defense and national security.

Now, the race is on between U.S. agencies like the NSA, which is reportedly building a next-generation quantum computer capable of breaking classical cyber encryption, and potential adversaries like China, which launched the world’s first quantum communications satellite last year.
The crux of quantum mechanics is focused around two unique properties observed at the quantum scale. The first, superposition, allows particles at the quantum level to exist in two different places at once until measured. The famous thought experiment of Schrodinger’s cat, in which a cat is placed in a box with a flask of poison, a tiny radioactive source, and a Geiger counter, demonstrates this paradoxical state. If the Geiger counter senses radioactivity – in this case, a random subatomic event – it will trigger a device to break the flask of poison. However, since this event is random, the cat can be considered to be both alive and dead at the same time until someone takes a measurement by looking in the box.

The quantum property of entanglement is similarly strange. Scientists have found and proven that certain particles can become “entangled,” and thus interact with each other, even at great distances, in ways that cannot be explained by classical physics. Albert Einstein famously described this phenomenon as “spooky action at a distance” in his arguments critical of the theory.

The initial discovery of these and other bizarre quantum interactions were “a great surprise…but it wasn’t until more recently that we focused on actually controlling these phenomena,” said Dr. Brad Blakestad, quantum computing expert and Program Manager at the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), under the Directorate of National Intelligence.

This recent focus on control has led to a modern race to discover “what applications we can use these different properties for in quantum information tasks, such as quantum sensing or quantum computing.”

By their nature, quantum systems are highly sensitive to interference or “noise” from their surrounding environment, and the difficulty of isolating quantum particles from that noise has been one of the most significant engineering stumbling blocks to developing real world quantum applications. However, this sensitivity to disruption also means that quantum systems could provide next-generation sensing capabilities that far outstrip current technology.

For instance, the lab at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been developing increasingly precise atomic clocks since the 1950s – probably the first quantum device. Now, these clocks have become so precise that they can actually sense the gravitational effect on time, which moves slightly slower the closer one gets to the Earth’s gravitational center.

This gravity sensor can not only provide ultra-accurate measurements of altitude, it could also detect gravitational anomalies underground or underwater, such as a hidden underground nuclear facility in North Korea, or a Russian nuclear submarine. This gravitational sensor might also provide the foundation for new and more accurate navigation systems, possibly replacing current geospatial navigational tools, such as GPS. New systems could be developed to more accurately detect anomalies in the electromagnetic spectrum, opening up a world of new possibilities for military and civilian applications.

Quantum applications in the cyber realm have been somewhat more difficult to develop and test.
To make quantum computing work, “you have to isolate your systems very carefully, you have to cool them to unimaginable cold temperatures and try to isolate them from every source of noise,” said Dr. Stephen Jordan, a quantum physicist at NIST. In addition, Blakestad notes that “superpositions don’t stick around once you measure them,” which makes it very difficult unlock the computing power of quantum systems....MORE

Publishing Is Not Marketing

From Knowledge@Wharton
Jeff Pundyk, a fellow and advisory board member at The Conference Board, in this op-ed considers the fundamental shift underway in publishing and the way it can best be used to support marketing goals. Publishers must become more accountable to readers, and less so to advertisers, he argues. Pundyk was also senior vice president of global integrated content solutions at The Economist and, before that was publisher of  The McKinsey Quarterly. He consults with publishers and brands on their content strategy.
A lot has happened in the five or six years since marketing pundits started preaching that every brand should “act like a publisher.” Most notably, neither marketers nor publishers can rely any longer on their consumers to blindly trust them. As a result we are seeing a new tone in the way both marketers and publishers communicate, putting more of a premium on transparency — and even acknowledging their co-dependence.

For publishers, the shift has been dramatically accelerated by the steady shift in ad dollars to the big social platforms, making it perfectly clear that the long-term survivors will be those who best serve their readers, not their advertisers.

For marketers who embraced the ‘everybody should be a publisher’ mantra, many have learned that it is easy to publish, but hard to build a trusted relationship with an audience. Whether it is text, video, interactive or social, there are tools that make it easy to publish.
And there is no shortage of writing and production help available. What’s harder than acting like a publisher, however, is thinking like a publisher. Marketers have largely applied an advertising mindset to content; they speak of “campaigns” and measure success through “reach” rather than focusing on establishing their credibility over time.
Publishers have recently begun to realize that their readership is something much more than a set of demographics that they can aggregate to sell to advertisers. Their readers are a potential source of direct revenue, but only if they are convinced that the publisher is, in fact, accountable – both for their work and to their readers.
“The best publishing is a service, not marketing.”
In an effort to build new revenue streams, publishers are shoring up their circulation businesses, often reframing it as membership. One consequence of shifting the business model to reader-generated revenue is a parallel shift of the editorial product based on better serving those readers. For publishers, this is a significant change as it aligns the interest of editorial and the business model. (In the old model, editorial served the readers while the business model largely served advertisers.)...
...MORE

Jean-Louis Gassée on Tesla: He Is Not Impressed (TSLA)

The former Apple honcho (some say he instigated Steve Jobs' ouster in the '80's) has some opinions.
And he's not afraid to share them.

From the Monday Morning Note, Oct 15

Once again, Tesla has missed a production forecast, this time for the highly expected Model 3. According to the Tesla optimists, it’s business as usual for Elon Musk…but Musk’s skin-of-your-teeth, renegade improvisation is about to meet a serious challenge from “Mary and Carlos”. 

Less than three months ago, on August 2nd, 2017, Elon Musk exuded optimism about Tesla’s new mass-market, moderately priced Model 3 electric car:
“We are confident we can produce just over 1,500 vehicles in Q3, and achieve a run rate of 5,000 vehicles per week by the end of 2017.”
Musk foretold a rapid rise to “10,000 vehicles per week at some point in 2018”, a rate that would put Tesla within reach of 500,000 Model 3s for the year. With that goal achieved, a yearly volume of 1,000,000 vehicles would look eminently achievable, transforming Tesla from a quirky, small-scale outlier into a big-league automaker.

On October 2nd, the story changed. Far from the promised 1,500 cars, Musk let us know that Tesla had shipped only 220 Model 3s in Q3. In its SEC 8-K form (know as Current Report) Tesla management insisted everything was under control [as always, edits and emphasis mine]:
“It is important to emphasize that there are no fundamental issues with the Model 3 production or supply chain. We understand what needs to be fixed and we are confident of addressing the manufacturing bottleneck issues in the near-term.”
To many, Musk’s latest miss sounded like business as usual. As the Wall Street Journal noted last year:
“In the past five years, though, Tesla has fallen short of more than 20 projections made by Mr. Musk, ranging from car-production output to financial targets, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal. The company missed 10 of his stated goals by an average of nearly a year.”
The Tesla optimists were undaunted. In the past year — since the time that the WSJ article was published — Tesla shares have gone up by more than 80%:
And so it goes with Tesla’s latest miss. Did the stock price fall after Musk’s October 2nd announcement? Quite the opposite: TSLA was already in the middle of a slide — it had lost 10% in the preceding two weeks. The announcement not only stopped the slide, the stock ticked up about 4%.
Tesla optimists appear to see the latest Model 3 news as the result of Musk’s sunny pronouncements and heroic manufacturing improvisation, a combination that has worked well for him so far.
But the optimists might be wrong this time.
My first serious doubts about Tesla didn’t stem from missed schedules, I’ve been guilty of too many of these, they’re part of tech life. What seriously worried me was a July 2016 visit to Tesla’s manufacturing plant in Fremont, California. In taking delivery of my wife’s Model S, we were treated to a group tour of the site. Everyone marveled at the robot porn, at the activity on the assembly line, at the endless stores of spare parts piled to the ceiling.
Everyone but yours truly.
I couldn’t help check off the sins against the “Toyota Bible”, prescriptions for car manufacturers that are lucidly detailed in The Machine That Changed The World (a great and, in parts, sad read). In particular, one mustn’t stockpile parts on the floor, they must be fed in small quantities at small time intervals. If a part has a problem, only a small quantity needs to be shipped back to the supplier who can inspect, correct, and quickly adjust their own production process.
(Ironically, the Fremont plant is prominently featured in “The Machine…” as the locus of the ultimately failed GM-Toyota cooperation.)
As I watched Tesla’s messy, hiccuping line, with workers dashing in to fix faulty parts in place, my mind travelled back to the Honda plant I had visited years ago in Marysville, Ohio. Clean, calm, everything moved smoothly. I was so shocked by the contrast that I imprudently voiced my concern. That didn’t go over well with my fellow Tesla owners. I was a killjoy, I was calling their choice into question.
I forgot about the episode until recently. In an exchange with a trusted industry observer, I found out that he had had exactly the same experience only weeks ago, but he couldn’t write about it by “virtue” of the NDA he’d signed.
The Wall Street Journal wasn’t so bound. In an October 6th article titled Behind Tesla’s Production Delays: Parts of Model 3 Were Being Made by Hand the WSJ sheds doubts on the maturity of Tesla’s production process:
“Unknown to analysts, investors and the hundreds of thousands of customers who signed up to buy it, as recently as early September major portions of the Model 3 were still being banged out by hand, away from the automated production line, according to people familiar with the matter.”
Here, I have to interject: How many people in the mediasphere and elsewhere had insider information prior to the October 2nd announcement? Could this explain the 10% drop in Tesla’s share price before shareholders were notified of the production shortfall?
The WSJ wasn’t alone....
...MORE

Trouble In Packaged Food Land (K; GIS; MDLZ; NESN)

This is becoming a series, more after the jump.
From Forbes:

Food Manufacturing: Growth Requires Moving Past Tradition
In the boardroom, the pressure is on. At the Kellogg Company, CEO John Bryant is stepping down after seven years at the helm of the cereal and snack maker with declining volumes. He is passing the torch to Steven Cahillane, prior president and CEO of The Nature’s Bounty Co., a vitamin and nutritional supplement manufacturer. Dirk Van de Put, previously CEO of Canadian frozen foods manufacturer McCain Foods, is replacing Irene Rosenfeld in November 2017. Both companies seek growth in a declining packaged foods market.

As the food manufacturing market struggles under the battling forces of the "Amazon Effect" and the "3G Effect", there is a need for strong leadership. Neither company has the scale to deliver on a B2C model, and they do not have the leverage with the shopper that they used to. As the men pull up the chair in their new offices, they will be surrounded by frenetic marketing teams. Deep in functional silos they will find fear. The problem? Traditional marketing programs don't work so well in today's market; and unfortunately, traditional supply chain programs do not work as well either. It is time to rethink processes from the channel back. In the food industry, as shown in Figure 1, there is a steady decline in operating margin. This is despite the benefit of declining oil prices.
Figure 1. Orbit Chart of Operating Margin and Inventory Turns for the Food Industry for the Period of 2006-2016
https://specials-images.forbesimg.com/files/2017/19/59e89d6ae1fcb0_84910777.jpg

Their companies relative positions in the food industry based on balance sheet performance for 2010-2016 are shown in Table 1. notice the underperformance in growth
Table 1. Overall Industry Performance
https://specials-images.forbesimg.com/files/2017/19/59e89d6b5622d3_75497316.jpg
Both companies lack supply chain resiliency with larger swings at the intersection of inventory turns and operating margin than their competitors. This is largely driven largely by functional silos and the lack of a balanced scorecard to drive overall corporate performance. As growth slowed, performance at the intersection of costs and inventory weakened.
Figure 2. Orbit Chart Showing Year-over-Year Performance for General Mills and Kellogg at the Intersection of Operating Margin and Inventory Turns
https://specials-images.forbesimg.com/files/2017/19/59e89d6b9980a3_32587487.jpg

...MORE

Previously:
The David Says Eat More Packaged Food (and short the stocks)
Packaged Goods: "...America's Venerable Food Brands Are Struggling"
Nine of the World's Biggest Packaged Food Companies Have Launched Venture Capital Units
...And on to the charts of the two companies mentioned in that March 7 post:
GIS General Mills, Inc. daily Stock Chart


K Kellogg Company daily Stock Chart

M&A In European Food
I'm not sure that consumer packaged goods is the area to be in, at least not in the U.S. and not based on names like Kellogg or General Mills.

For a quarter-century those manufacturers ratcheted prices as though they were tobacco companies but people find it easier to give up their Cheerios than their cigarettes.

The managements milked that approach for pretty much all it was worth so, as operating entities, they aren't all that attractive but someone will decide the only thing left to do is to asset strip or dividend recap the life out of the former cash cows....
And that gets us back to March. Of 2017. As I said, it is now a series.  

Don’t Believe Everything You Read (comments on fake news, 1625 style)

From Lapham's Deja vu:
When the first booklets reporting on foreign affairs were published in 1620s London, they were met with immediate distrust. Ben Jonson described a weekly news organization as “a weekly cheat to draw mony” in The Staple of News (1625). In his satirical sketches Whimzies: or a New Cast of Characters, Richard Brathwait also seized on public furor to decry the corrupt journalist:
Thanks to his good invention, he can collect much out of a very little: no matter though more experienced judgements disprove him; he is anonymous, and that will secure him. To make his reports more credible, more vendible, in the relation of every occurrent: he renders you the day of the month; and to approve himself a scholar, he annexeth these Latin parcels, or parcel-gilt sentences, verteri stylo, novo stylo.
He has now tied himself apprentice to the trade of minting: and must weekly perform his task, or (beside the loss which accrues to himself) he disappoints a number of no small fools, whose discourse, discipline, and discretion is drilled from his state-service.
He would make you believe that he were known to some foreign intelligence, but I hold him the wisest man that hath the least faith to believe him. For his relations he stands resolute, whether they become approved or evinced for untruths; which if they be, he has contracted with his face never to blush for the matter.
...MORE

"What The ECB Will Announce This Week: A Summary Of All QE Tapering Scenarios"

From ZeroHedge:
The main risk event in the coming week, in addition to a barrage of corporate earnings, will be the ECB's long-awaited announcement of what the central bank's QE tapering will look like.

Conveniently, thanks to a trial balloon released on October 12, we already know the general parameters of this phasing out of monetization: ECB officials are considering cutting their monthly bond buying by at least half, from €60BN to €30BN, starting in January and keeping their program active for at least nine months, with some potential reference to a lengthening of the maturity of purchases.

According to a Bloomberg survey, the ECB will likely keep buying for about nine months to take the program to just over €2.5 trillion, respondents said before the ECB’s Oct. 26 decision. That’s consistent with what some officials see as the limit in the market under current rules. ECB President Mario Draghi is predicted to announce his first interest-rate increase in early 2019.
http://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user5/imageroot/2017/10/21/ECB%20buying%20space.jpg
According to Bloomberg, "such an outcome for quantitative easing would soothe the concerns of policy makers who want a definite signal that the program will end, while giving succor to those who want to keep stimulus flowing as long as the inflation outlook remains lackluster. It doesn’t resolve the question of what happens in a year if consumer-price growth still isn’t on track to the ECB’s goal."
“There has been no dissenting voice at the ECB ahead of the meeting on the need to scale down net purchases,” said Maxime Sbaihi, an economist at Bloomberg in London. “So the question is less ‘if’ they will taper than the details of ‘how’ they will do it.”
Why not taper more? Simple: Mario Draghi is terrified of starting another bond (or stock) tantrum, if investors are spooked that the ECB is withdrawing too much support: "The Governing Council seems concerned that a more aggressive tapering plan could harm financial conditions, especially by letting the euro appreciate even more,” said Kristian Toedtmann, an economist at DekaBank in Frankfurt.

Meanwhile, the major sticking point among ECB governors appears to be whether to commit to an end-date for QE. Draghi has expressed confidence that the region’s economic recovery will eventually help him and his peers to deliver on their mandate. Yet inflation was 1.5% in September and ECB’s own forecast doesn’t see it returning to the goal of below but close to 2% before the end of 2019.
“It seems that the hawks want a definitive end-date while the doves want it open-ended,” Alan McQuaid, an economist at an economist at Merrion Capital in Dublin. “I think we will get a compromise, with the ECB saying that it intends to end its QE scheme in September 2018, but if things take a dramatic turn for the worse on the economic or inflation front in the meantime, it will extend its scheme further until things have stabilized.”
Which is why many model QE as lasting beyond the 9 month horizon, and running through the end of March 2019.

In terms of market consensus, the following Barclays chart visualizes the most likely outcome, showing monthly QE declining by 50% in January through October, when it tapers by another 50% until March 2019, coupled with a modest increase in the ECB's deposit rate around the end of 2018.
http://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user5/imageroot/2017/10/21/barclays%20qe.jpg
...MORE

Sunday, October 22, 2017

"Category 3 Typhoon Lan Batters Japan"

From Wunderground's Category 6:
Typhoon Lan was drenching Japan’s main island of Honshu with dangerous torrential rains on Sunday as the Category 3 typhoon, with sustained winds of 120 mph at 8 am EDT Sunday, sped northeast at 29 mph towards Tokyo. Lan is interacting with a frontal system that has brought high wind shear and dry air into the typhoon, resulting in the collapse of its inner core. Passage over cool waters of 25°C (77°F) as Lan approaches the coast will cause further weakening, and Lan is likely to be a Category 1 typhoon when it makes landfall Monday morning (Sunday afternoon U.S. EDT), about 100 miles southwest of Tokyo....

...Torrential rains and high landslide risk
While high winds will cause considerable damage and loss of power across much of Honshu, Lan’s primary threat is heavy rain. A moist flow of tropical air interacting with a stalled front had already begun to trigger heavy rains over Japan on Friday, and now that Lan’s rains have reached the nation (see latest Japanese radar images), record 48-hour rainfall amounts have been observed in some locations. As of 21:20 JST Sunday, Lan brought a record 48-hour rainfall amount for October of 700 mm (27.56”) to Shingu, located about 300 miles southwest of Tokyo. In records going back to 1976, the highest 48-hour rainfall there for any month was 782 mm (30.79”). Kamoda, in the Shikoku region, also set an October 48-hour rainfall record today, with 299.5 mm (11.79”.) Additional heavy rains of over 10” are expected over some areas of Japan....MORE
The storm made landfall a couple hours ago.

Saturday:
Super-Typhoon Lan Aiming Directly At Tokyo

DNA Techniques Could Transform Facial Recognition Technology

From The Next Web:

When police in London recently trialled a new facial recognition system, they made a worrying and embarrassing mistake. At the Notting Hill Carnival, the technology made roughly 35 false matches between known suspects and members of the crowd, with one person “erroneously” arrested.

Camera-based visual surveillance systems were supposed to deliver a safer and more secure society. But despite decades of development, they are generally not able to handle real-life situations. During the 2011 London riots, for example, facial recognition software contributed to just one arrest out of the 4,962 that took place.

The failure of this technology means visual surveillance still relies mainly on people sitting in dark rooms watching hours of camera footage, which is totally inadequate to protect people in a city. But recent research suggests video analysis software could be dramatically improved thanks to software advances made in a completely different field: DNA sequence analysis. By treating video as a scene that evolves in the same way DNA does, these software tools and techniques could transform automated visual surveillance.

Since the Metropolitan Police installed the first CCTV cameras in London in 1960, up to 6m of them have now been deployed in the UK. And body-worn cameras are now being issued to frontline officers, creating not only even more video footage to analyse, but also more complex data due to constant camera motion.

Yet automated visual surveillance remains mostly limited to tasks in relatively controlled environments. Detecting trespass on a specific property, counting people passing through a given gate, or number-plate recognition can be completed quite accurately. But analysing footage of groups of people or identifying individuals in a public street is unreliable because outdoor scenes vary and change so much.

In order to improve automated video analysis, we need software that can deal with this variability rather than treating it as an inconvenience – a fundamental change. And one area that is used to dealing with large amounts of very variable data is genomics.

Since the three billion DNA characters of the first human genome (the entire set of genetic data in a human) were sequenced in 2001, the production of this kind of genomic data has increased at an exponential rate. The sheer amount of this data and the degree to which it can vary means vast amounts of money and resources have been needed to develop specialised software and computing facilities to handle it.

Today it’s possible for scientists to relatively easily access genome analysis services to study all sorts of things, from how to combat diseases and design personalised medical services, to the mysteries of human history.

Genomic analysis includes the study of the evolution of genes over time by investigating the mutations which have occurred. This is surprisingly similar to the challenge in visual surveillance, which relies on interpreting the evolution of a scene over time to detect and track moving pedestrians. By treating differences between the images that make up a video as mutations, we can apply the techniques developed for genomic analysis to video....MORE
And kids, I know you want to believe in invisibility cloaks but the technology just isn't there yet. Don't be these guys:

Bank Robbers’ Aluminum Invisibility Cloaks Foiled by CCTV

http://wafflesatnoon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/foil-robber2-630x400.jpg

 Old school helium-balloons-in-front-of-the-camera on the other hand...

Izabella Kaminska Talks About: "Billion dollar deals and how they changed your world"

From FT Alphaville:
Documentary-maker Jacques Peretti’s new series on the billion dollar deals which changed the world has just finished airing on the BBC. For UK readers, the three-part series is available on iPlayer. But Peretti also has an accompanying book called Done, filled with a great collection of anecdotes about the unexpected circumstances which brought certain deals into being. They range from the academic research which observed consumers are much more likely to spend virtual dollars to physical paper dollars due to the “flinch” effect and the role dark-market money played in bailing out the banks in the global financial crisis, to how AIDS patients inspired subprime securitisation practices. The book also offers a healthy critique of Silicon Valley’s uniquely elitist brand of tech-utopianism, the Uber/gig economy phenomenon (the dawn, as Peretti calls it, of the slave boss state) and the scientific management techniques which brought about the McKinsey management consulting revolution.

Mostly, however, it’s a compendium of all of Peretti’s work to date, including many insightful yarns from the interviews he conducted for his other documentaries...MORE, including the conversation.
Don't tell the BBC but someone has apparently uploaded part II of the "Billion Dollar Deals" documentary wherein Ms Kaminska makes an appearance starting a bit after the half-hour mark,
It probably won't stay up for long.

The Strange Business of Subsidized Yak Insurance

If there was a euro/renminbi to be made, the Dutch re/insurers would already be on it:
...the herverzekering crowd in Amsterdam, they're tough bastards.*
But they aren't, so this reads a bit like Death of a Salesman, Tibet-style.

From Pacific Standard:
On the northeast corner of the Tibetan Plateau, in central China's Gansu Province, nomads can buy insurance policies for their sheep and yaks. The Chinese government subsidizes the plans, and on highways cutting across Gannan, a Tibetan prefecture in Gansu, billboards advertising the insurance programs share the roadside with signs promoting family planning. Behind the billboards lie vast expanses of grassland—rolling canvases of deep green that stretch into oblivion—where sheep and yaks graze, as if Chinese Communist Party officials have placed them there for a photo shoot.
In Langmusi, a small monastery town, I found a local insurance administrator in a café, slumped over a table and mumbling to himself. He stared vacantly at four empty beer cans and then spotted me across the room.

"Meiguo pengyou! Lai!" "American friend! Come!" The day was young—1 p.m. on a Thursday—and I asked why he'd already begun drinking.

"I took a day off today. There's nothing to do."
"Why?"

"My job has no meaning."

"Business isn't good?"

"It's bad," he said. "This insurance thing, it doesn't have any meaning." He looked into his beer glass, sniffled, and shook his head.

I offered, optimistically, that insurance could help a lot of people. There were lots of nomadic shepherds in Tibet—wasn't there demand? He shook his head again.

"Nobody buys the insurance. Nomads don't understand insurance."

This statement perfectly encapsulated the Chinese government's struggle in Tibet. Since the 1950s, when the CCP first occupied Tibet, assimilation by force had brought little beyond resentment. After decades of failure, the Party had begun to try a new strategy; instead of coercing Tibetans for their loyalty, it would try to buy it. The Chinese government invested in infrastructure, provided generous subsidies and tax incentives across various industries, and attempted to bring modern finance—like insurance—to the Plateau. The economic strategy has, so far, been far more successful than the military one, but it is an ongoing project, and one with limits.

"They just don't understand this stuff," he said again, referring to the nomads.
He explained the pricing. The payoffs, he said, were far too low.

"It doesn't matter anyway. No one buys the insurance. The job doesn't mean anything."

As the afternoon wore on, his depression grew more personal. Middle-aged and far from his home village, he worried about his aging parents. At one point, he began to sob, imagining them dying alone while he failed to sell yak and sheep insurance.

Later, at dinner, he ate slowly, the way a sick person does when he's not hungry, and then sauntered out of the café. I expected his exit would mark the last time I ever discussed yak insurance with anyone....MORE
*Last seen in "For Our Dutch Insurance/Reinsurance Readers: Live-blog of the 2011 Berkshire-Hathaway Annual Meeting (BRK.B; BRK.A)". 

What is the Common Variable?

From Dilbert, October 19:

Boss Is The Common Variable - Dilbert by Scott Adams

That's not funny, who sent me this?

"For Switzerland’s Central Bank, $30 Billion in Profits but Not Much Reward"

Following up on September 21's "Update On Speculation In the Stock of the Swiss National Bank (SNBN)":
This is an extra-special type of lunacy.

From the Wall Street Journal. Oct 6:
Swiss National Bank data point to big third-quarter profit later this month, but it is limited in what it can do with it
Imagine being a money manager sitting on profits of over $30 billion in the third quarter alone that you can’t cash in. Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of Swiss central banking.

The Swiss National Bank SNBN -0.75% likely generated profits in the region of 30 billion Swiss francs ($31 billion) last quarter, based on a Wall Street Journal analysis of SNB foreign-reserves data released Friday. That’s thanks to a goldilocks combination of a weaker franc and higher prices for gold, stocks and bonds.

But the central bank can’t lock in these paper profits by selling chunks of their cache of foreign stocks and bonds without the risk of strengthening the franc, which could leave it vulnerable to future losses.

The value of the SNB’s huge foreign reserves swelled to 724 billion francs ($740 billion) in September compared with 694 billion francs at the end of June. Unlike in previous quarters, the 30-billion-franc increase probably represents profit on existing holdings, rather than any new purchases.
A number of factors have helped the SNB likely chalk up a record profit.

Firstly, separate data on sight deposits at the SNB—a proxy for intervention—were flat last quarter, suggesting the central bank didn’t intervene much, if at all, in markets to keep a lid on the franc.
The rise in gold prices, which rallied in the third quarter, would also have likely added a couple of billion francs to the SNB’s profit.

Other items such as the SNB’s Swiss franc positions could affect its gains, as could any changes to the quarter-end currency calculations used.

The SNB doesn’t release its profit figures for the quarter until Oct. 31 but they are likely to be big.
UBS economist Alessandro Bee has yet to issue a formal profit forecast but he said something along the lines of 32 billion francs is a “valid number.”

“It’s an extraordinary situation because we have a rise in gold prices and a broad-based depreciation in the Swiss franc” in addition to lower bond yields and higher equity values, Mr. Bee said.
The SNB has accumulated its huge reserves after years of foreign-exchange interventions, in which it created francs and used them to purchase foreign assets, mostly bonds but also stocks, in a bid to weaken the franc.

In recent years the franc has remained very strong, with investors treating it as a haven amid uncertainty over the global economy, easing measures by other central banks and concerns about the euro.
But in the last quarter the euro strengthened about 5% against the franc and the dollar also firmed, making the SNB’s assets worth more in franc terms.

Four-fifths of its reserves are in bonds and the other 20% are stocks, with euro-denominated assets comprising about 40% of reserves, dollar assets at 35% and the rest a mix of yen, sterling and others. The SNB’s U.S. equity holdings at the end of the second quarter included $2.8 billion in Apple Inc. shares and $2.1 billion in shares of Google parent Alphabet Inc. Its equity investments mirror broad indexes....MORE
Probably related:
The Rate of Growth of Central Bank Balance Sheets Is Rapidly Decelerating
So, Shares of the Swiss National Bank Are Up 89% Since Late July (SNBN)
The Swiss National Bank's Largest U.S. Equity Positions

How Alcohol and Caffeine Helped Create Civilization

From Human Progress:
No two drugs have arguably defined human civilization the way alcohol and caffeine have.

Nature created both to kill creatures much smaller than us — plants evolved caffeine to poison insect predators, and yeasts produce ethanol to destroy competing microbes.

True to its toxic origins, alcohol kills 3.3 million people each year, causing 5.9% of all deaths and 25% of deaths among people aged 20 to 39. Alcohol also causes liver disease, many cancers, and other devastating health and social problems.

On the other hand, research suggests that alcohol may have helped create civilization itself. Alcohol consumption could have given early homo sapiens a survival edge. Before we could properly purify water or prepare food, the risk of ingesting hazardous microbes was so great that the antiseptic qualities of alcohol made it safer to consume than non-alcoholic alternatives — despite alcohol’s own risks.

Even our primate ancestors may have consumed ethanol in decomposing fruit. Robert Dudley, who created the “drunken monkey” hypothesis, believes that modern alcohol abuse “arises from a mismatch between prehistoric and contemporary environments.”

At first, humans obtained alcohol from wild plants. Palm wine, still popular in parts of Africa and Asia today, may have originated in 16,000 BC. A Chilean alcoholic drink made from wild potatoes may date to 13,000 BC.

Researchers now believe the desire for a stable supply of alcohol could have motivated the beginnings of agriculture and non-nomadic civilization. Residue on pottery at an archeological site in Jiahu, China, strongly suggests that humanity has drunk rice wine since at least 7,000 BC. Rice was domesticated in 8,000 BC, but the people of Jiahu made the transition to farming later, around the time we know that they drank rice wine.

“The domestication of plants [was] driven by the desire to have greater quantities of alcoholic beverages,” claims archeologist Patrick McGovern. It used to be thought that humanity domesticated wheat for bread, and beer was a byproduct. Today, some researchers, like McGovern, think it might be the other way around.

Alcohol has been with us since the early days, but caffeine use is more recent. Chinese consumption of caffeinated tea dates back to at least 3,000 BC. But the discovery of coffee, with its generally far stronger caffeine content, seems to have occurred in 15th century Yemen.

Before the Enlightenment, Europeans drank alcohol throughout the day. ...MORE
There's a joke in that last line, I'm sure of it.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Super-Typhoon Lan Aiming Directly At Tokyo

Because we come at this stuff from the insurance and energy angles we tend to focus on the Atlantic basin and the Gulf of Mexico.
Once in a while however...
These Pacific monsters make a lie of the ocean's name.

First off, they can get very big:
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4e/Typhoonsizes.jpghttps://www.scientificamerican.com/media/inline/earths-strongest-most-massive-storm-ever_3.jpg

That's 1979's super-typhoon Tip, a bit less than half the size of the contiguous United States.

Secondly they can develop very high wind speeds. In 1996 Severe Tropical Cyclone Olivia had a wind gust measured at 253mph, the world record non-tornadic wind speed. See below for some of the other measures.*

Third, the combination of size and strength can be very destructive.
There are stories of fleets destroyed by these storms that go back centuries. Kublai Khan's attempted invasions of Japan in 1274 and 1281 were probably thwarted by "kamikaze" (divine wind).

In December 1944 U.S. Admiral Halsey tried to beat past Typhoon Cobra and suffered some large losses:
"...three destroyers,  the Spence, Hickox, and Maddox, capsized and sank in the high seas.  Nine other ships were substantially damaged and over 100 aircraft were lost.  790 men were killed in the typhoon, but 93 sailors were rescued from the sea...." More after the jump.**
From Sputnik:


Super Typhoon Lan to Make Direct Hit on Tokyo
Speeding north at almost 20 mph, Super Typhoon Lan, packing 150-mph sustained winds and 184-mph gusts, is scheduled to strike Japan’s largest metropolis at about 6 a.m. local time on Monday.

Officials have been placed on high alert as schools and some travel corridors are expected to be closed on Monday as the dangerous Category 4 storm is expected to bring heavy rains, wind-related damage and a destructive tidal surge to the region.

Currently some 300 miles east of Japan, super-typhoon Lan forecasts warn of landslides and flash flooding inland around the Tokyo metropolitan area, home to some 38 million people, or about 30 percent of the nation‘s population....MORE 
From Stars and Stripes:
https://www.stripes.com/polopoly_fs/1.493632.1508535361!/image/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_900/image.jpg

Arrival at the start of the work day may be fortunate, if people stay home.
We'll be back with more tomorrow.

*From Wunderground via our October 23, 2016 post on Mexico's Hurricane Patricia (200 mph winds):
...Patricia's 200 mph sustained winds make it the 3rd strongest tropical cyclone in world history (by 1-minute averaged wind speed.) Officially, here are the strongest tropical cyclones in world history, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center and the National Hurricane Center (using 1-minute averaged sustained winds): 
Super Typhoon Nancy (1961), 215 mph winds, 882 mb. Made landfall as a Cat 2 in Japan, killing 191 people. 
Super Typhoon Violet (1961), 205 mph winds, 886 mb pressure. Made landfall in Japan as a tropical storm, killing 2 people. 
Super Typhoon Ida (1958), 200 mph winds, 877 mb pressure. Made landfall as a Cat 1 in Japan, killing 1269 people 
.Super Typhoon Haiyan (2013), 195 mph winds, 895 mb pressure. Made landfall in the Philippines at peak strength. 
Super Typhoon Kit (1966), 195 mph winds, 880 mb. Did not make landfall. 
Super Typhoon Sally (1964), 195 mph winds, 895 mb. Made landfall as a Cat 4 in the Philippines. 
However, it is now recognized (Black 1992) that the maximum sustained winds estimated for typhoons during the 1940s to 1960s were too strong. The strongest reliably measured tropical cyclones were both 10 mph weaker than Patricia, with 190 mph winds—the Western Pacific's Super Typhoon Tip of 1979, and the Atlantic's Hurricane Allen of 1980. Both storms had a hurricane hunter aircraft inside of them to measure their top winds. Haiyan's winds were estimated using only satellite images, making its intensity estimate of lower confidence. ...MUCH MORE
** Via Wikipedia's Typhoon Cobra page:

...3rd Fleet damage

Waymo v. Uber: "Meet the judge who codes — and decides tech’s biggest cases"

Judge Alsup actually has tech-nerd fanbois and fangrrrls.
From The Verge, October 19:

The Judge’s Code
On May 18th, 2012, attorneys for Oracle and Google were battling over nine lines of code in a hearing before Judge William H. Alsup of the northern district of California. The first jury trial in Oracle v. Google, the fight over whether Google had hijacked code from Oracle for its Android system, was wrapping up.

The argument centered on a function called rangeCheck. Of all the lines of code that Oracle had tested — 15 million in total — these were the only ones that were “literally” copied. Every keystroke, a perfect duplicate. It was in Oracle’s interest to play up the significance of rangeCheck as much as possible, and David Boies, Oracle’s lawyer, began to argue that Google had copied rangeCheck so that it could take Android to market more quickly. Judge Alsup was not buying it. 

“I couldn't have told you the first thing about Java before this trial,” said the judge. “But, I have done and still do a lot of programming myself in other languages. I have written blocks of code like rangeCheck a hundred times or more. I could do it. You could do it. It is so simple.” 

https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/WdR4P4Fc-ikqXGhhdULVcEQ23hQ=/800x0/filters:no_upscale()/cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/9493995/alsupruling.png
 As counsel for Oracle tried to continue speaking, the judge only became more and more indignant.
It was an offhand comment that would snowball out of control, much to Alsup’s chagrin. It was first repeated among lawyers and legal wonks, then by tech publications. With every repetition, Alsup’s skill grew, until eventually he became “the judge who learned Java” — Alsup the programmer, the black-robed nerd hero, the 10x judge, the “master of the court and of Java.” 

Judge Alsup would like everyone to know that he doesn’t know Java. 

Not very well, anyway. He can, however, definitely code. He’s been coding in BASIC for decades, actually, writing programs for the fun of it: a program to play Bridge, written as a gift for his wife; an automatic solution for the board game Mastermind, which he is immensely fond of; and most ambitiously, a sprawling multifunctional program with a graphical interface that helps him with yet another of his many hobbies, ham radio.

His interests have served him well on the judicial bench, informing his outlook on the multibillion-dollar intellectual property cases that come to him. The fortunes of tech companies can rise or fall depending on his rulings. Oracle v. Google has wide repercussions for big companies and smaller developers alike, to say nothing of the $9 billion at stake. The yet-to-be-totaled billions Alphabet is seeking from Uber in the ongoing Waymo v. Uber suit could make or break Uber as a player in the nascent self-driving car market. 

By sheer coincidence, these major cases have wound up in the docket of maybe the one judge in America capable of understanding their technical details: a judge who can code. Alsup’s long-cherished hobby illuminated issues at the very heart of Oracle v. Google, and his off-hours tinkering with photography, lenses, and the science of light will inform him in Waymo v. Uber, a case involving LIDAR, a laser-based technology for self-driving car navigation.

The tech industry has long despaired of the law’s inability to comprehend it, making much of the legal system’s struggle to keep up with the rapid pace of progress. The belief that the law will never “catch up” to technology is borne in part of tech exceptionalism, a libertarian elitism that derides any kind of legal or regulatory impediment as Luddism. But it’s also fueled by genuine frustration with the state of law. The patent office is perceived to be rubber-stamping obvious technologies. Supreme Court justices appear befuddled by the basic process of coding. And attorneys stack juries with non-technical jurors who return massive verdicts for patents on online shopping carts.
In this landscape, Alsup is an outlier — a mystifying exception to the accepted wisdom that the law cannot make sense of the fast-changing tech industry. Alsup’s secret is simple: he’s a lifelong geek.

Alsup is notorious among San Francisco’s attorneys for the early hours he keeps (and forces upon the lawyers who appear before him). At 9AM, most of the judges’ chambers at the federal courthouse were still dark, and doors were closed. But when I got to Alsup’s chambers, the door was flung open and the bustle inside suggested that everyone had already been at work for hours. 

A white-haired man with rectangular wire-frame glasses and a soft Southern accent, Alsup is of normal stature, but his imposing presence leaves you with the impression that he towers over you.
Alsup’s chambers have many of the classic aesthetics of the legal profession: the shelves upon shelves of leather-bound books, the stained wood paneling, a small black-and-white portrait of Abraham Lincoln hanging over an intimidatingly large desk. Off to the side sits a sofa strewn with dog toys. Alsup’s Jack Russell Terrier, who he often brings to work, was not at the office that day.
The judge sat me down on the sofa and walked me through his programs on a 2011 court-issued Dell laptop. He couldn’t run the same programs on his desktop computer, he said with some irritation, so the Dell was here to stay. “It’s the last one that will support QuickBASIC, which is kind of a shame, because it’s the only language I really know.”

The judge is not a hardware fanatic. He uses computers and whatever smartphone the court has provided him with. He has a court-issued iPhone, but if the Northern District of California issued him an Android, he’d use an Android, he said. 

I asked him if I could put his code on GitHub, and he asked me what GitHub was. In lieu of that, he handed me printouts of his computer programs, three stacks of paper that had been neatly stapled at the corners. The one on the top, he apologized, had several dependencies that he hadn’t had the time to print out. Long before he became the judge presiding over Silicon Valley, Alsup had been a hobbyist operating in isolation; he’s a geek, but he’s a geek from another era....MUCH MORE
Previously: 

  
...MoFo lawyer Arturo Gonzalez told Alsup that complying with court orders to turn over information to Waymo, protecting Uber’s confidentiality, and not stepping on Levandowski’s rights is akin to navigating a “minefield.” Gonzalez noted that Levandowski -- but not Uber -- appealed Alsup’s ruling requiring Uber to turn over a report containing key evidence in the case....MORE 

MoFo lawyer?

This is the third time the mofo's have dissed Judge Alsup:

May 12
Uber Suffers Legal Setbacks In Europe, U.S.
In the Waymo case Uber's bid to make their arguments in private was turned down by the judge overseeing the action but even worse for Levandowski, hizzoner is using his Federal Judgeship powers.*
April 1
Uber: Judge Says He May Grant Waymo's Request For An Injunction Against Uber's Self Driving Efforts
I was going to put something together on Anthony Levandowski's use of the 5th amendment in a civil matter and some of the implications of doing so but didn't get to it. In the meantime here is a look at some high-buck lawyering and tactics of litigators...
I was thinking more along the lines of inferring guilt--in a criminal proceeding an inference from the assertion of the 5th amendment right is strictly verboten and judges so instruct the jury, whereas in most state courts (California being a notable exception) and U.S. federal court,  a civil pleading of the 5th may be assumed to be an admission of guilt.

But yeah, another implication is: if you piss off a tech savvy* federal judge you've got a problem....
And many more. Use the search blog box, keyword Waymo, if interested. 

Guy Gets On Stage To Play Drums With The Foo Fighters, Crushes It

Okay, this is not on the same level as Milly the cloakroom girl standing in for the ailing world famous soprano at Wigmore Hall last August but is still impressive in its own way.

From Barstool:

This Kid Has Got BALLS To Request To Play Drums For The Foo Fighters On A Song That Isn't Theirs...And He Absolutely CRUSHES It
First thing’s first: Dave Grohl is the fucking man. The fact he even lets a kid on stage at all to mess around with is awesome. But how about the confident canola’s on this chap? The dude has the audacity to ask and shake Taylor Hawkins out of his seat…but for a song that isn’t even the Foo’s? I know the Foo Fighters often whip out Under Pressure and other great jams, but still. That’s a bit intrusive on someone else’s turf. Then he jumps right into the damn thing without Grohl’s cue like Miles Teller at the end of Whiplash. The outright BALLS on this little shit....MORE
 
HT: Digg

The Case of the Mafia and the Stolen Caravaggio

From Garage:

Charley Hill, the art world's preeminent sleuth, relates his ongoing search for a missing masterpiece, a mission that so far has taken him to a Sicilian town that's "wall-to-wall gangsters." 
Meet Charley Hill, the legendary bloodhound who has retrieved stolen masterpieces the world over. Most notably, Edvard Munch's The Scream, taken from the National Gallery of Norway in 1994 and rescued by Charley from the basement of a summer house in Oslo Fjord. "The art world enables me to see the worst in everyone—myself and others. I often think that in those early days of humankind, grave robbery was the first human profession, not prostitution—although that may be a close call." And so long as humans are humans, expensive things will be stolen. Here, Charley takes us on the trail of his latest lead . . .
https://video-images.vice.com/_uncategorized/1508428662276-GettyImages-464443259.jpeg?resize=1050:*

Caravaggio
On October 18, 1969, Caravaggio's The Adoration was stolen from the Oratorio di San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily. It's a nativity scene in which Caravaggio placed St. Laurence, and more importantly St. Francis, along with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, a shepherd, an angel and a young man. It's a huge painting with quite a history. It was stolen by mafiosi at about the same time they tried to steal Caravaggio's Burial of Santa Lucia from Syracuse. There have been theories galore about what happened to The Adoration. I think that the mafia chief nicknamed Diabolik who is on the run has control over it. It represents his power in Sicily. The intellectual historian Peter Watson wrote a book on Caravaggio, concluding it had been destroyed by an earthquake in Naples, or so he had been told. But who knows?

I became involved in Sicily in 2003 when an eminent Northern European art dealer came to me saying he had some valuable stolen jewels, and wanted to know if I would return them to their owner. The stones were taken from a pre-iconoclastic icon that the Pope had given to Count Roger, before Count Roger, a Norman knight, became King of Sicily in the 11th century.

I flew to Catania, rather than Palermo, because I thought that Catania security would be less inclined to search my bag, which was full of the precious stones. It worked. Off I drove to a lovely Baroque cathedral, Piazza Armerina, and took those jewels he gave me back to the church. The rector, Padre Filippo, was delighted. Then I promised the Bishop of Piazza Armerina, now the Archbishop of Monreale, that I would do everything I could to get back the Caravaggio and other Church property. I've tried to keep my word to him for the past fifteen years.

In August 2017, an old contact, William Veres—quite a character, an Anglo-Hungarian reminiscent of Peter Lorre's character in Casablanca—said it was about time we spoke. He told me he knew a man who wanted to see me; there had been movement back in Sicily on the Caravaggio, and Veres had told him I was still interested. For Veres it's reputational, and also financial. He doesn't think the Catholic Church is going to put money in his pocket. But, he thinks, if he plays his cards right, the Holy Father will be pleased.

I then met a gangster from Riesi— a Sicilian town that's wall-to-wall gangsters—who told me that my theory on the Caravaggio was right, and he thought something could be done. They're thinking about what and how much; I'm probably many times removed from the picture. He's active with other people who are active, and they will be the people talking about this, and doing the heavy lifting.

So they're hard-work types, but police authorities are tough as well....MORE
HT: ARTnews