Where finance and media intersect with reality

In the Blind Spot (Mirroring, electric grids, disinfo studies)

Screenshot 2022-07-28 at 15.18.08

This edition of the Blind Spot Wrap was compiled by Dario Garcia Giner (DGG) and Izabella Kaminska (IK).

Economics, finance, markets etc:

  • Volkswagen Group is reportedly seeking to sell its business in Russia. The car manufacturer is actively seeking buyers according to Russian media outlets.
  • Amazon posts loss but guidance reassured investors.
  • In stonk news, S3 Partners unveils that investors shorting GameStop shares have so far accumulated $443mn in losses this year.
  • Spotify ceases production of Car Thing, a $90 device that plays music in your car through the AUX cable. However, apparent resourcing issues and limited demand led the company in the decision to clear existing inventory and cut production.
  • Barclays profit nearly halves on debt-sale blunder.
  • Meta’s VR headset, the Meta Quest 2, jumps in price to $399 from $100 owing to issues with supply chains, without adding any noticeable new features.
  • S&P analysts predict that Chinese property sales could dip by as much as one-third.
  • This is not the US recession you are looking for. The Biden administration is refuting the idea that the US is formally in a recession. And most of the media is going along with it:

The Telegraph is one of few MSM outlets resisting pressure to comply with the spin:

Elderly senile relatives sometimes insist they did something when they didn’t really. Or alternatively, that they didn’t do something when they really did. A lot of the time, we decide it’s just not worth arguing with them. Life is too short. Accidentally causing a recession and then insisting you didn’t and/or that it doesn’t exist, however, is not something anyone should let slip. Especially not the global media.

For now the Biden Administration has double-downed on denialism as the best cure for the economic malaise it itself fanned by passing a badly structured relief plan in 2021. Whatever the semantic justifications — and there are some arguments that can be reasonably made against America being in a recession — challenging the technical definition (i.e. two quarters of negative growth) still stinks of desperation. It is reminiscent of behaviour more commmonly seen in autocratic states like China. Can Biden’s advisors really not see that this communications strategy will do more damage than good? Can they not see it will hurt public confidence in the government? Couple this with the great gas price chart crime exercise of last week, and it really feels increasingly like we are living in a redux of the last days of the Soviet Union. A better strategy would be to acknowledge that we are in what most consider a technical recession, but because of unemployment rates being where they are there might still be some ambiguity about the depth and scope of such a thing. Otherwise, it’s like trying to argue that quantitative easing isn’t really money printing. You’ve already lost the room by the time you’ve even tried to explain the complexity.

Hat tip to the streetwise prof, btw, for drawing my attention to the story of economist Alfred Khan and the great banana recession euphemism.

As was noted in his obit:

“When the administration admonished Kahn for alarming the public that the country could face a “deep, deep depression” if Carter’s anti-inflation policies failed, Kahn thereafter used the euphemism “banana” for the word “depression,” which he later switched to “kumquat” when a large banana company complained.”

The irony of the whole thing remains lost on the New York Times. They’re going with: “You can’t trust China’s GDP figures but our GDP interpretations are just dandy! Oh and look, Xi is deflecting from his own domestic troubles by lashing out with half truths. We are just correcting disinformation.” – IK

Back to the 90s:

  • President Biden reverses Trump order to withdraw the majority of US troops from Somalia, with the Defense Department stating the US will have a ‘persistent presence’ in Somalia for an ongoing ‘advice-and-assist’ mission in fighting al-Shabab.

Political moves:

  • Egyptian state buyer GASC cancels four cargo loads of Ukrainian wheat that were never dispatched, amounting to 240,000 tons of cancelled wheat.
  • Croatia opens China-financed bridge which connects two parts of the Balkan country, bypassing a small stretch of Bosnian land in Croatia’s Adriatic border.
  • USS Ronald Reagan and its accompanying carrier strike group will set out towards Taiwan and the South China Sea as tensions over Pelosi’s possible visit continue to grow. This was accompanied by news that a Chinese reconnaissance and strike drone had flown deep inside Taiwan’s air defence zone.
  • Russian FSB has uncovered a plot backed by MI6 to steal Russian warplanes by incentivising Russian pilots to defect to Ukraine.
  • Decent FT article on Turkey’s incentives in the Syrian conflict.
  • Kemi Badenoch has some thoughts about the closure of the Tavistock gender clinic.

Buy or sell the dys-topia?

  • Anti-United Nations protests reportedly broke out in the DRC on 27 July, leading to 15 people being killed. The protesters allegedly acted against a lack of action being taken by peacekeepers against local jihadist groups.
  • New film about Julian Assange’s plight.
  • West London faces a new-build planning ban until 2035 because the electricity grid is at capacity due to all the server farms that have positioned themselves there.

Perhaps this explains my blackout a couple of weeks ago? – IK

Covid is still a thing:

From the fake-news-o-sphere:

  • Continuing this week’s wave of journalistic blacklisting, 28-year-old Alina Lipp, a pro-Russian German/Russian journalist based in Donbas, has been allegedly sentenced to three years in prison without trial by Germany.
  • As part of the recent spade of public health experts walking back their pro-lockdown comments from 2020-2021 in the last few months, Fauci claimed on July 26 that “I didn’t recommend locking anything down”, whereas in October 2020, he claimed “I recommended to the president that we shut the country down.”
  • Matt Taibbi interviews the director of the new Alex Jones documentary.
  • Why disinformation about vaccines travels more quickly than truth online.

I am incredibly skeptical of studies by recently turned disinformation experts who have never spent a day in a newsroom. The formalisation of disinformation studies as a thing at all is incredibly bizarre to me. It’s one thing to point out untruths on the internet and present more credible arguments on a case by case basis, and another to subjectively try to quantify the picture on a hyper-scaled basis using extreme assumptions as a starting point. It’s the equivalent of applying a fixed penalty charge notice to all law breaking incidents.

The paper referenced above happens to be about vaccines and anti-science rhetoric, but the point I’m making applies to all disinfo studies. You can be a scam expert who has studied all the scams that ever existed. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you will never fall for a scam yourself again. Be wary.

What’s more, the problem with “disinformation” as a rule is that usually exploits ambiguity. This means it centres on stuff most of us can never prove one way or the other. And yet, it is also the case that if something is ambiguous by nature it cannot by definition be debunked. That means it all comes down to a battle of beliefs. One man’s lie is another man’s belief, and vice versa. And since you can’t prove a negative, when it comes to stuff like vaccine hesitancy, it ultimately comes down to trust.

The irony is, those in authority tend to default to the assumption that those spreading disinformation are only doing so because they lack the education or the mental capacity to understand why they are wrong or why they may be taking things too simplistically. This just fuels more distrust and makes the problem worse.

The other bug bear I have is that these disinfo experts too often tend to view the problem as somehow uniquely of the moment. But disinfo has always existed. It just used to be called rumour, gossip or legend. A lot of it can be crazy, far fetched or purposefully malicious. But every now and then some of it also tends out to be true. And it is our job as journalists to figure out the substance in the noise, not just to shut down all inquiry.

These academic studies, however, see everything as fairly binary. To my mind this makes them useless. Sensational but plausibly framed lies travel more quickly than boring truth – no shit Sherlock! Of course they do. Though I have some news for you : Sensational truths that no one expected travel even more quickly.

I prefer to approach the whole disinfo conundrum from a mushroom foraging perspective. For example, we know there are two types of mushroom environments. Farmed and wild. Farmed mushrooms are cultivated and harvested by professionals all the way through their growth cycles. Their supply is predictable and dependable. For every day consumption farmed mushrooms are just fine. Wild mushrooms, on the other hand, are much harder to find, unpredictable in their growth patterns and potentially lethal.

There is, as a result, a temptation by those who don’t know what they are doing to retreat to the safety of only ever eating farmed mushrooms. There is also a temptation to blanket assume everything in the wild is bad. But the truth, as we are slowly learning, is that the best and most delicious mushrooms are also to be found in the wild. You just have to learn to differentiate them from the “shrooms of deception” that surround and obscure them. This is worth doing because the joke’s on you if you go through life never tasting a porcini.

Mystery-o-sphere:

  • The US National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration found what Sky News describes as ‘perfectly aligned’ holes in some sediment almost 2 miles under the surface of the Atlantic ocean. The NOAA clarified that such holes had previously been reported already, but that their ‘origin remains a mystery’.
  • Former US presidential advisor, Pippa Malmgren talks about anomalous phenomena.

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