Monday, May 25, 2015

Dietary Guidelines Finally Admit They've Been Wrong

To some degree.  I read it as a massive attempt to save face, but The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics issued a statement about the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans saying that they applaud the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) for "drafting a strong, evidence-based" report:
"Despite some criticism suggesting that changed recommendations illustrate concerns about the validity of the nutrition science upon which the Dietary Guidelines are based, the DGAC should change its recommendations to be consistent with the best available science and to abide by its statutory mandate," Connor said.
What exactly are they talking about?

You may have read that the new Dietary Guidelines (My Plate or Food Pyramid or the Dietary Icosahedron - whatever they're using this time) have finally admitted for the first time that the evidence for the Diet-Heart Hypothesis just hasn't turned up, despite searching for it for almost 60 years.  Not to mention carrying out medical experiments to find this link on unsuspecting Americans (and to a lesser extent, the rest of the world).
In comments recently submitted to USDA and HHS, the Academy supports the DGAC in its decision to drop dietary cholesterol from the nutrients of concern list and recommends it deemphasize saturated fat from nutrients of concern, given the lack of evidence connecting it with cardiovascular disease.  [Emphasis added - SiG]
The (Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture) have finally admitted that having your morning bacon, with a couple of eggs instead of a bowl of cereal isn't going to harm your health. 

Wait - it gets better.  Or worse depending on your point of view.
The Academy also expresses concern over blanket sodium restriction recommendations in light of recent evidence of potential harm to the overall population. "There is a distinct and growing lack of scientific consensus on making a single sodium consumption recommendation for all Americans, owing to a growing body of research suggesting that the low sodium intake levels recommended by the DGAC are actually associated with increased mortality for healthy individuals," Connor said.  [emphasis added again - SiG] ["Connor" is Academy President Sonja L. Connor]
Got that?  The salt intake levels that Michael Bloomberg, Michelle Obama, the FDA, and the previous versions of the Dietary Guidelines have been shown to harm people, not help!  "Sorry if we killed you, buddy.  We thought we knew what we were doing. "  Sodium is one of the most essential minerals to the body.  We all have heard the saying that someone is "worth their salt"; that's because soldiers (and others) used to get paid in salt.  It's where the word "salary" comes from!  So while it has been empirically observed that there can be a 10-fold difference in vitamin absorption between people, there's one number for the sodium every person needs?

Without going too deep into the rabbit hole, it's generally recognized that by the 1930s, obesity research was focusing on carbohydrates.  Most of this work was in Europe.  World War II wiped out those universities, and the studies were all in other languages, so that when American researchers started on diet/health issues, they simply made the wrong choice.  They could have gone after fat or sugars and they chose the wrong one.  The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics seems to address that, too:
The Academy supports an increased focus on reduction of added sugars as a key public health concern. "Among the identified cross-cutting issues, the evidence is strongest that a reduction in the intake of added sugars will improve the health of the American public. The identification and recognition of the specific health risks posed by added sugars represents an important step forward for public health," Connor said.
While it's encouraging to see the science being updated as the data changes, it's very, very overdue.  In a way, this is bad news.  It's a simplifying thing in life to have one nutritional bad guy to avoid, be it dietary fat or salt.  In reality, life is too complex for that.  Salt does effect some people's blood pressure, but that appears genetic; for the rest of us, it has no effect.  There is some correlation between various ratios of the blood lipids and heart disease, but the situation is much more complicated than "high cholesterol will kill you", an idea that's pushing 60 years old, and even more complicated than "too high a ratio of LDL to HDL will kill you", or that LDL is "bad cholesterol" and HDL "good" are ideas that are about 25 years old.  The idea that dietary cholesterol doesn't affect circulating cholesterol (much) so everyone needs to restrict saturated fat to reduce blood cholesterol goes back about 40 years.  Today, it's recognized that there are many different types of LDL that are differing degrees of "bad"; some seem to be fairly benign.  There have even been studies that showed elevated cholesterol to be associated with longer life for women and elderly people.  Not something to be avoided, it's something that's good for you.  As we've learned more, the situation has increased in complexity, and the previous dietary guidelines were too simplistic. 

There have literally been hundreds of studies on these subjects, and at least a dozen books written for the non-scientist.  If you're interested, I heartily recommend, "The Big, Fat Surprise" by Nina Teicholz; "Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It" by Gary Taubes; or "Good Calories, Bad Calories", also by Gary Taubes.  "Good Calories, Bad Calories" is the earlier book, and is mostly the science with painstaking references.  "Why We Get Fat" is a more practical book.  "The Big, Fat Surprise" is equal parts history and biographies, with major emphasis on the personalities.  The most recent of the three, she summarizes Taubes' work and extends them with interesting new data. 
Of course this means that the Heart Attack Grill can't use this advertising meme.  There's no association between cheeseburgers and heart disease.  Never has been.  They're just another cheeseburger in a world full of them.  

Memorial Day 2015

There isn't much signal I can add to the excellent commentaries and history I've been reading this weekend.  But I repost this photo which I find among the most haunting I've ever seen.
 In case it doesn't seem familiar:  
In a final act of loyalty, Hawkeye, the dog of slain Navy SEAL U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jon T. Tumilson walked up to his fallen master’s casket during the funeral in Rockford, Iowa, and then laid mournfully down beside the body for the rest of the proceedings [Note: Petty Officer Tumilson was one of the 30 killed in Afghanistan in Extortion 17 - SiG]
A depressing number of government officials could use Hawkeye's loyalty.

My heartfelt thanks and gratitude to those who have served, or are currently serving.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Did I Mention I Like Clever Ideas?

While talking about the Stealth Arms 1911 jig, I mentioned I'm a big fan of clever, and switching from metalworking to woodworking, we find a piece of (Patent applied for) clever that makes creating drawers a one step operation.

The invention is a specially shaped cutter that enables you to make four cuts in a piece of plywood, fold it up, glue it up, clamp it up, and voila: you have a drawer.  Looking a little closer, it requires a table saw with a dado blade set and this new blade. 

H/T to IMAO, of all places.  I shouldn't say that.  Frank usually gets some cool videos over there.

And by the way, if you didn't read the comments on that post about the Phantom Jig, YouTube user MosinVirus posts results of running the Phantom Jig on a steel 1911 rather than aluminum.  While it took some additional hand work, the result was a fully functional 1911. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Why I Hate Day-to-Day Politics in Three Easy Pieces

I don't want to sound like a broken record, but long time readers will have seen me say that I view following politics like cleaning the cat's litter box.  It's a dirty, nasty, disgusting job, but if you don't do it, it only gets more disgusting.  Which is where we are now, as a nation.  (and, seriously, I love cats as much as anyone, but I guar-an-damn-tee you that the guy who invented chemical warfare had a litter box in house for inspiration) 

I present three easy examples in the news from the last couple of days in no particular order.  Three stories that make me say, to borrow a phrase from the Crusades, "Kill them all and let God sort them out".

1.  Alcee Hastings Wants a Pay Raise.  

US Representative from Miami and pretty much continuous criminal Alcee Hastings says Congress needs a pay raise.  Before running for congress, Hastings was a judge.  He was convicted of soliciting bribes in 1989, impeached, and kicked out of his office.  After some time (presumably to learn better criminal skills) he ran again and has been a fixture in office ever since.  He has a constant barrage of allegations of criminal or unethical behavior against him, ranging from nepotism to sexual harassment, but he keeps getting re-elected because his Gerrymandered district in south Florida will always vote for anyone with a D after their name.  In his 2012 election, he won 85 to 15% over an NPA opponent

Hastings apparently feels the $174,000 a year he makes (legally on the books) is clearly inadequate.
"Members deserve to be paid, staff deserves to be paid and the cost of living here is causing serious problems for people who are not wealthy to serve in this institution," said Rep. Alcee Hastings during a Monday Rules Committee hearing on the upcoming year's legislative branch appropriations bill, according to Roll Call.
Leave it to Washington criminals to grow the government, causing the cost of living in DC to go up as all those new DC workers try to live there, and then say they need to take more of our money to pay for the cost increases they created.

2.  Two Party Names, One Ruling Class.

Perhaps you caught the headline on Drudge today that last night the Stupid Party gave more powers to Obama.   In what universe does "give more powers to Obama" sound even remotely like a good idea?  I don't know if you know the details on this Trans Pacific Partnership agreement that the president keeps pushing, but in case you haven't read it ... OK, that was a lie.  You can't know details and you can't have read it because the actual text is a classified document.  To follow the "even a broken clock is right twice a day" principle, I'm going to quote Elizabeth Freakin' Warren (!):
“In the past few weeks the public has heard a lot about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal the U.S. is negotiating with 11 other countries. The public has heard from supporters that it is the most progressive trade deal in history, a deal that will benefit working families and small businesses. And they’ve heard it will only tilt the field in favor of multinational corporations and leave workers and everyone else behind. The public has heard a lot but in all that time they’ve never actually seen the deal itself. In fact, the press hasn’t seen the deal, economists haven’t seen the deal, legal experts haven’t seen the deal, most everyone in America hasn’t seen the deal. Why? because the administration has classified the deal making it illegal for any of those people to read it.
(side note - if you've gotten emails from GOA or NAGR (I forget which one it was) saying the TPP is going to gut gun rights, they haven't read it either.)

So the Stupid Party acted to give the president more power to work on the TPP and other agreements with the same countries on his own.  Since he already has his pen and his phone, I'm not sure why they felt they needed to formalize their bending over, but they did.  It's a strange alliance.  The president is pushing the treaty hard and alienating all his usual allies: the unions, the anti-corporate crowd, and the socialists - like Elizabeth Warren.  Instead, he's allying with the major corporate donors in what is virtually certainly going to be a trade agreement filled to the brim with more cronyism. 
In perhaps the most unusual alliance in the debate, Obama’s trade agenda will soon rest largely in the hands of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who was the Republicans’ 2012 vice presidential nominee.

Now chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Ryan is leading the push to secure as many votes as possible from the Republican side of the aisle for Obama’s fast-track authorities on trade deals. He has been working with Boehner’s leadership team convening meetings with Republicans to educate the dozens of junior lawmakers who have never considered a trade deal like the potential Pacific Rim pact.
Two party names, same money-grubbing ruling class.

3.  Is it Principles or Pimping? 

Rand Paul made a very public mini-filibuster of the renewal of the PATRIOT act, talking for 10 1/2 or 11 hours.  I'm a little mixed on this because I'm against the NSA "Giant Sucking Sound" approach to this sort of intelligence.  I think targeted listening, like any other police investigation, is a much better approach rather than just collecting every bit of data criss-crossing the country and crunching it to find keywords.  We do have a 4th amendment in this country; whether it's completely dead or still on life-support, I'm not 100% sure.  Killing the PATRIOT act might well help it start breathing again.  (By the way, anyone who has not read James Bamford's "The Puzzle Palace" history/biography of the NSA really should.  It explains much about why they like to work the way they do.)

The thing about this one that gets it into my simple three examples is that while I respect Rand Paul, and might even vote for him in the primary, I got a fundraising email from him every few hours for three or four days.  Or so it seemed. 

My problem with this comes down to whether he was fighting the PATRIOT act because he's truly  opposed to it, or because he (or his advisors) think the people he wants to appeal to are opposed to it.  Was the filibuster only done because they thought that we will be more likely to contribute to his campaign if he runs the filibuster?  Was it just a glorified (and pretty much completely free) campaign commercial? 
Politics.  It's like cleaning the litter box. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Watching the (Drone) Watchers

The Telegraph published an article this week that is one of those "well, of course!" stories.  Burglars are using widely available drones to case properties, looking for places to rob. 

It got me thinking.  It's an obvious use of the technology, and one we'd better all be aware of.  Especially if there are things on our properties or behind our fences that we'd like not to be widely known about.  Google Streetview, Google Earth, Bing Maps, and any others not withstanding.  While the mapping programs will let anyone curious know if you had a valuable car, camper or boat behind the fence on the day the picture was taken but which might be gone today, the drone will allow them to get today's information.  All the drones I've seen videos of are a bit noisy, but if you have your windows shut for some reason maybe a small drone could get close enough to take pictures through your windows.

In our location, we're technically inside a city's limits, so discharging a weapon is specifically forbidden - with the exception of self defense.  Shooting a drone looking in the window probably would be hard to sell as self defense.  As far as I know, something like this would be exempt.  They're not firearms, but whether or not they're legal to shoot in the city requires a little research.  This Ruger Blackhawk Elite will push a lightweight pellet to 1200 FPS, and you'll get the loud crack from being  supersonic.  In the real gun world, I have some subsonic 22 ammo and a couple of options that are just happy to shoot that all day, but that's depending on no one complaining they heard you shooting in the back yard. 

Offered as an intellectual exercise only, ya understand.  No actual downing of drones implied or approved.  Your mileage may vary.  Do not remove tag under penalty of law. 
What do you think, guys?  Any experience with these air rifles?  It seems the Ruger name is licensed to a Chinese factory, I'm guessing Umarex.  I've heard great things about the Benjamin Marauder, an almost $500 air rifle.  Clearly you get something more for the extra $400, but for short range/under 25 yard shots across the yard, I'd think these lower end rifles would work fine. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Clever Fixturing For an 80% 1911

Thanks to Wirecutter at  Knuckledraggin' My Life Away, we find a link to a new way of making a 1911 from an 80% frame without a milling machine.  Designed at Stealth Arms, the new fixture, called a Phantom Jig, guides your cutting of the necessary features by hand.  The operations required to complete their version of the 80% frame are to drill a couple of holes, cut the slide rails and the barrel seat.  The Phantom Jig performs the cutting operations that would usually be done on a milling machine.
The jig with a frame in place - when you buy the jig, they include one frame.  Note the long black handle: in operation, you use this like a woodworking plane.  The cutter is lowered into cutting position by the black knob with finger grooves located next to the handle, and the handle is then used to push the cutter forward through the metal taking off - ? - "several thousandths".  The rest of the jig needs to be held in a sturdy vise to handle the forces you're going to generate on it.  Once you make a cut, you advance the cutter 1/10 of a turn of that knob and cut another pass through the frame.

Wirecutter embeds this video, but I didn't watch all of.  It's 45 minutes long - and the video author said it took 40 minutes to finish his frame.  Stealth Arms has a video on the Phantom jig's page showing how this all works. 

I post this because I like clever, and this approach just exudes clever.  If you have even a table top drill press, you can drill the two holes you need to drill.  (Seriously - get a drill press if you don't have one.)  Then all you need is this fixture, a bench vise, an hour, and some good old fashioned elbow grease.  I think I should warn that this fixture isn't going to get you there if you're trying to complete a steel frame.  I think that requires more shear force than you can generate.  Stealth Arms' frames are made of 7000 series aluminum, which is heat treated to a higher hardness than the more-common 6061-T6 "aircraft aluminum".  7075, for example, is used in high-end mountain bikes.

Making a 1911 is pretty high on my list of projects right now, and I'm keeping an eye out for a steel frame.  Since I have a milling machine, and making one without the jig is cheaper, chances are that's the way I'll go. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Techy Tuesday - The Self Driving Car Hype

You know, being immersed in the electronics business 24/7/365, I have a tendency to think "everybody knows that" when things about the way our world works come up.  In this case, does everybody know the electronics industry pretty much runs on a hype cycle?  The Gartner Hype Cycle is 21 years old now, and it describes the progress of technologies as well as anything.  There's a good introduction at that link, but the Gartner cycle itself is a detour from where I'm going tonight, except for one thing: autonomous or self-driving cars are running right around the absolute peak of the hype cycle.  Because of that, discount virtually everything you're hearing. 

I've heard pundits say that "a child born today may never learn to drive" (aside from the phenomenon of millennials being less interested in driving).  Both Nissan and GM, as well as some other car makers, say they expect to market self-driving cars by 2020 and some pundits are saying they will be mandatory by 2035. 

A study by a professional research company called Lux Research offers market research to show that's really a lot of hype.  Note this is research they sell, so their survival depends on being right often enough to get repeat business.  Design News extracts some coverage from that report for us. 
”The $102 Billion Opportunity in Partial Automation for Cars" contends that autopilot features in vehicles will grow sharply over the next 15 years, creating huge markets for automotive sensors and software. “Partial autonomy is coming,” Maryanna Saenko, Lux Research Inc. analyst and author of the report, told Design News. “By 2030, it will very likely be common in mid- and high-level cars. But the idea of the car picking you up at your house, driving you anywhere and dropping you off -- that’s still a long way off.”
They include this graphic in the article (not very high resolution) showing that even out at the end of the projections in 2030, fully autonomous cars (darkest blue) don't even show up.  The larger, lighter blue area is "enhanced assist" technologies.
For consumers, the result will be a fast-growing variety of new semi-autonomous features, Saenko told us. “The first step is to have autopilot,” she said. “Not where the car drives endlessly in a straight line, but where it can deal with traffic, merge in and out of lanes, and find the fastest route on the highway.” In subsequent steps, engineers will develop vehicles that can handle suburban and urban driving.
Cruise control speed-regulating devices have been around for decades, and I've had one since 1990.  On long trips they make driving more like just steering; just keep it between the lines.  My first car with cruise control just kept the speed constant.  It also regulated at about 2 mph over the speed you were going when you turned it on.  My next car, in 2004, would change the speed in 1 mph steps.  I'm fairly sure that was digital cruise control.  Autopilot, even if it just kept you between the lines would be convenient, but the ability to do these other tasks she refers to get very close to chauffeur level.
Saenko said technical and regulatory hurdles will complicate the transition from partial autonomy to full autonomy, however. A “likely” scenario described in the report calls for just a handful of fully autonomous cars, operating in highly restricted environments, by 2030. “We have to address how technically difficult it is to have a car drive itself and deal with the errant situations that can happen during driving,” she said. “It’s really about the technology getting competent and reliable enough to deal with all possibilities.”
I should have said, "get very close to chauffeur level, except..."  Except that you are ultimately still in control in the car and will be responsible if it does anything wrong.  That means if your autopilot hits a pedestrian, it's the same as if you were driving.  If you're expecting a day when you can get in the car and read, play games, or conjugate Indian verbs with your girl/boy friend, that's just not happening soon.   Barring new technologies or real breakthroughs.  I actually wrote about this aspect already, so I'll reprise something from just a couple of months ago.
This concerns me because in many ways, driving a car is considerably more complex than flying a plane, yet airplane autopilots get really serious amounts of money dumped into certifying them safe.  Even with that effort and expense, aircraft automatic control systems will still get confused and do the wrong things.  Pilots talk about trying to stay alert at all times should the autopilot hand control back, but one of the disadvantages of the modern autopilots is that they're so good pilots get out of practice flying.   Will self driving cars caught in a critical moment hand control off to someone reading a book on their tablet, listening to music or otherwise engaged with people in the car? 
Driving a car in a city environment is more complex than flying a plane.  Nobody is standing around on a cloud and steps out in front of a plane.  There are no planes sitting at a corner that decide to dart in front of you.  There are no bicycles going a quarter of your speed, or old farm tractors going even slower.   The fact the aircraft on similar routes maintain separation by flying similar speeds helps reduce the chance of an overtaking accident.  Yet with all these things going for them aircraft autopilots still get confused.  We're going to have to go through some years of weeding those failures out of autonomous cars. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Moving Experience

Over the last couple of weekends, I've been a little scarce here.  I've been re-laying out a corner of my shop, the only corner without power tools.   One side is my reloading bench and the other I use for several tasks: gun cleaning, fishing tackle maintenance and repair, tackle making (I tie bucktail jigs and make other lures), and even rodmaking.   Between the pictures at those two previous blog posts, you can get an idea what it looked like.  After the last couple of weekends the area looks like this:
Rather completely rearranged.  The presses are in the same place, thanks to some bolts, and they're the only things in the same place.  The shelves are all in different places and everything on them has moved, too.  The left most set is newest: I built those yesterday.  They're 1x8 boards.  The shelves just right of them are second newest: I built those two weeks ago.  The other pine board shelves are 1x6 boards, so the shelves are shallower, front to back. The white shelves on the right, in the corner, were on the left where the newest shelves are.  Those are laminated particle board. 

All that's left is to get some lighting in that corner.  Probably LED lighting.  Lots of options there.  

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Is That Really a Silver Coin?

If the days to come unfold as I expect them to, we're likely to reach a stage where barter and trade with something other than "legal tender, backed by the full faith and trust of the US government" is going to be taking place.  (I've long said, ".22LR, it's the dime of the new millenium!").  It may be fully out in the open and it may be black market because use of anything other than federally managed digital money is illegal.  I expect, as many others do, that silver coins and other pieces of sterling or fine silver will be used for this to some (unknowable) degree, simply because they're recognizable.  Everybody in the US knows an American dime when they see one.  It won't take too long for Ma and Pa Sixpack to know they're seeing a US denominated coin and that coins from before 1965 are more valuable than those made from cupronickel sandwiches since then.  If the grid is up and TV news is running, I suspect that the price of silver will be a daily news item. 

So how do you know if that 2015 Silver Eagle you're being offered is real?  If you want to go beyond trust, now would be a good time to look into the ways that jewelers tell silver alloys apart.  A kit like this one is a really good way to start.  It also includes test solutions for gold alloys, too.  Like most things that come from the world of jewelry, to use it well requires a bit of skill on your part.  Practice will only help.

How do the kits work?  The essential parts of the kit are a test stone and a solution of an acid.  You wipe the edge of the coin on the stone and leave a visible trail of metal on it.  It doesn't have to be really heavy, you are taking metal off the coin.  Then you add a small drop of the acid on the trail and read the color.  You've heard the expression, "the acid test"?  This is it!  Pure silver (also called fine silver) like you find in the real US Eagles, turns bright red.  Sterling silver (92.5% silver, 7.5% copper) turns a darker reddish brown, and US "junk silver" coins (90% silver) turn a little browner than sterling.  80% silver will turn pretty brown, but I don't think you'll see that.  It's a pretty crude fake.  The difference between sterling and the coin silver is tricky to see.  Side by side you can tell, but either way you can be sure they're not pure silver.

Important: there are different kits with different test solutions on the market that produce different colors.  You might get a kit with a different color system.  Same concept, different colors, so be sure to Read That F(ine) Manual!

The risk here is that if the fake is real silver that was  plated onto a base metal coin, you'll only test the plating.   There are two ways out of this.  Sometimes, all you need to do is weigh the coin.  If the fake uses something silvery in color like nickel silver (AKA German silver, which contains no silver) it could be that a reloading scale, is all you need to tell you if it's the right weight. You may have heard of counterfeit gold coins and bars on the market.  The gold bars were gold plated tungsten and they were found by measuring specific gravity of the bars.  Specific gravity compares the density of the coin to an equivalent volume of water.  There are test kits on the market, but if it's really not that hard to do it yourself using nothing but your reloading scale, a small container of water, and a small piece of wire. Finally, you may have to file into a coin to see if you can detect different colored metals inside it.  The really artful counterfeits, like some of the Chinese bars, could only be identified by high tech analysis. 
It might be a good time to start reading about counterfeit silver coins.  They're definitely out there, and it helps to know how to tell them apart.  Remember, it's completely possible the guy offering you a counterfeit eagle thinks it's real, and someone ripped him off.  As for whether or not you'll see counterfeit 90% silver coins, that's harder to tell.  If you see a bag of silver coins today, you'll see a wild mix of dates and conditions.  It would be hard to counterfeit the distribution like that.  That would require many molds and a lot of manual work.  The more valuable they become, the more likely counterfeiting becomes, though.  If someone offered me a bunch of coins with the same date that looked identical, I'd be suspicious, even though I know we can buy rolls of "Brilliant, Uncirculated" coins today... 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Cartoon of the Day

Actually, from a few days ago, but the more I look at it, the more I like it. 

Gary Varvel after Norman Rockwell.  There's just several good details in there that I didn't notice the first time I saw this.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Genetic Testing In Corporate Wellness Programs?

Fox News in New York issued an interesting report stating that US-based Aetna Insurance and Newtopia, a Canadian company, are working to prove that genetic testing can reduce medical costs to employers, so that they can sell that as part of corporate wellness programs.
Sparking the push to add genetic testing into corporate wellness offerings is a new program from the health insurer Aetna and Newtopia, a small Canadian company that creates personalized health-improvement programs. Their offering uses data from initial wellness program steps like physicals or blood tests to figure out which employees are vulnerable to metabolic syndrome.

That's a group of conditions like high blood sugar, poor cholesterol or a big waistline that, when they occur together, increase a patient's risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
This prompts speculation that companies will genetically screen employees as part of the employment screening process.
In fact, corporations are looking to new genetic testing programs to see if they can predict the probability of disease in future employees. The technology is said to help companies avoid hiring employees who take extra sick time and is supposed to help the companies cut down health expenses altogether.
Wellness programs are sold on the basis that they save employers money.  I've never kept it secret that I'm skeptical of these programs, but to say that at work is to confess to eating babies or something awful.  In reality, employers can push workers harder if the workers can take it.  If they keep having to replace workers who crack under the stress, they don't get the work done.  But there's a really simple solution to reducing the cost impact to corporations:  get them out of the health insurance business.  Make health insurance like car insurance or any other insurance.  Get the government out of health insurance.  That makes it more competitive, and more market based, especially if the byzantine rules that keep you from buying across state lines are gone.  People can buy their own car insurance, is that all that much simpler than health insurance?

Regardless of whether companies are going to start genetic screening, or if that's just wild speculation, it's been my contention for some time that the conventional full time work that we're used to is going away and will likely be gone within the lifetimes of people reading this today, if the trends continue.  The reason is the same: government over-regulation.  The pressure from these rules will help force work relationships to be more independent contractors and far fewer full time employees.  I work for a very large company, so we're not going to be 100% contractors anytime soon, but for new, start-up companies, the barriers being constructed are going to prevent them from growing beyond 50 people (the current number).  The cost of keeping up with new laws and regulations is simply too high.  As Elizabeth MacDonald at Fox Business News put it, "The government, in a sense, does create jobs in the private sector—a massive vegetative, unproductive universe of workers dedicated to dealing with federal rules."

There was a report this week from the Competitive Enterprise Institute showing that the cost of regulations took $1.88 Trillion away from productive uses in our economy.  If U.S. federal regulation was a country, it would be the world’s 10th largest economy, ranked behind Russia and ahead of India. Regulation nation is bigger than Canada.  Their report, with the wonderful title, "Ten Thousand Commandments" lists some memorable facts:
  • Economy-wide regulatory costs amount to an average of $14,976 per household – around 29 percent of an average family budget of $51,100. Although not paid directly by individuals, this “cost” of regulation exceeds the amount an average family spends on health care, food and transportation.
  • The “Unconstitutionality Index” is the ratio of regulations issued by unelected agency officials compared to legislation enacted by Congress in a given year. In 2014, agencies issued 16 new regulations for every law—that’s 3,554 new regulations compared to 224 new laws.
  • Some 60 federal departments, agencies and commissions have 3,415 regulations in development at various stages in the pipeline. The top six federal rulemaking agencies account for 48 percent of all federal regulations. These are the Departments of the Treasury, Commerce, Interior, Health and Human Services and Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • The 2014 Federal Register contains 77,687 pages, the sixth highest page count in its history. Among the six all-time-high Federal Register total page counts, five occurred under President Obama.
  • The George W. Bush administra­tion averaged 62 major regulations annually over eight years, while the Obama administration has averaged 81 major regulations annually over six years.
For years, I've been arguing we need to start pruning the Code of Federal Regulations back.  There's a "Regulatory Improvement Act" already in process that would establish a Commission to comb through the Code of Federal Regulations, now 175,268 pages long, and look for harmful, redundant or outdated regulations to get rid of.   That will address the monster we have, adding automatic sunsets or expiration dates for new regulations would help keep the monster from growing as much.  For starters, all new laws would expire after a period time, for example, five years.  Automatic expiration provides a painless way to get rid of obsolete or ineffective rules, and still allows Congress to easily renew successful regulations with a vote.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Making the Rounds At Work

Got this from a technician I work with.  Remember these? 
"New For 88", it proudly proclaims.  $1499 for the phone, apart from your service plan ("ESP Available").  Of course, a phone is pretty useless without a service provider. 

Today, buyers usually get the phone as part of a package plan, rather than buying it up front and going to find a service provider.  The MSRP cash price for an iPhone 6, for comparison to this phone, is around $650 for a middle version, a bit less than half the price of the $1499 brick phone.  A Samsung Galaxy S4 (a roughly equivalent Android phone) is roughly equivalent in price.  In terms of features, capability, size, convenience and so many other ways, the newer phones are light years ahead of the old one, thanks to the continuous improvements in digital electronics. 

I've seen articles like this regularly for years, saying it's actually cheaper to buy the phone and then get a plan. 
A case could be made that the major cell carriers have become modern versions of the flimflam man, using slick web interfaces and byzantine terms of service agreements in their quest to separate consumers from their cash. Point in case, the offer to "discount" the price of a new phone, in exchange for signing a two-year contract.
Details and actual price examples in that article

Something like this is just a "blast from the past" for folks who have been in the electronics business for years, continually fighting to make everything smaller, faster, better. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The War on Cash, and Nearly Comic Book Levels of Absurdity

Today's Telegraph (UK) news site contains an article adding fire to the war on cash: "How to End Boom and Bust: Make Cash Illegal " by Jim Leaviss, identified as being, "head of retail fixed interest at M&G Investments". 

The gist of the article is that once all money is controlled by the world's governments, everything will be wonderful.  They'll have total control over all of us and all of our lives for once.  If people think they should save money, the governments can start charging us to keep it - a tax on savings called negative interest (currently in use in Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, the European Central Bank, and Australia).  Negative interest will make us spend if the alternative is watching our money evaporate.  Likewise, if we're spending too much, they'll be able to offer interest payments to incentivize us to save money.  If they want to steal calculate they need to confiscate money out of everyone's account, a  Cyprus Haircut, it's a simple as adjusting all the accounts at once.  If despite the negative interest rates being calculated to ensure everyone spends, the velocity of money isn't high enough, they can emulate the helicopter Ben or helicopter Janet fix easily by directly creating money out of nothing for your account.  It would make the scenario Jim Rickards described here drop dead easy. 

I can't even accept his basic premise that he could remove "boom and bust cycles".  The other word for this is the business cycle, which economists have been studying for a few hundred years.  I believe that to be a natural consequence of how markets work.  I can't believe they'd remove it by manipulating us.   

With no need to be slowed down by people bringing actual cash to banks, they have computer control, such that they could change the value of your money as often as they want.  Conceivably day by day or even second by second - if they thought control of the economy required that.  Of course, if all business is conducted this way, the black market disappears (in theory) and tax collection is on 100% of transactions (in theory).

What could possibly go wrong?  I mean besides everything.

The article, and the others like it, is full of glittering nonsense that flies in the face of every aspect of human nature.  They completely destroy the essence of what money is.  Money is more than just a medium of exchange; it's also a store of value or purchasing power; and a standard of value.  By changing what money is "worth" from day to day, they obliterate money's role as a store of value, a store of purchasing power and a standard of value.  The only role left is the medium of exchange.  In a cashless society, all you'd ever know is you exchange some number of credits for some amount of a good or service you need.

I'd think it would become impossible to save for retirement or any major purchase if these policies were in place, but central bankers seem to hate savings.  They want everyone to buy on credit.  It's hard enough now with the interest rates going negative (in real terms) like the Fed and world central banks have in effect.  (If the interest cost on a loan is less than the rate of inflation, the interest payment is negative in real terms.  The US has had negative real interest rates since at least the 2008 crash.) 

It's impossible to carry cash if it doesn't exist.  Why even carry a debit card if they can just put a tracking chip in your arm or somewhere?  In reality, you know there were would be barter based on something people value and want, be it shiny pebbles (gems) or old coins that they don't confiscate.  Doesn't 5000 years of human history demonstrate they'll fail?  

Absolute control over every person on the planet, right?  The absolute end of individual freedoms?  You're reduced to nothing but an economic unit who buys or saves depending on how they choose to control you.  It sounds like the "CONSUME" signs in They Live.  Only worse. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

That Was A Busy Weekend

I'm really slowing down as I'm getting older.  I mean, I just don't get as much done as I used to.  Retired friends tell me they don't see how they ever had time to work, and I'm starting to really understand that. 

Saturday, we went to see the Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Fun movie, and close to 2 1/2 hours - over that in the theater seat.  But it really used up Saturday, when we added a half hour visit to a friend in the hospital on the way.  The movie, BTW, is a lot of fun, as those movies tend to be.  There's a bit more quiet character development than the first one, with less wholesale CGI destruction.  Perhaps.  You may have heard that some feminist groups complained about something involving Scarlett Johansson's character, Black Widow.  It suddenly occurred to me while watching the movie that the scene we were watching was The Scene that got them upset ... and I still don't get it.  Throughout the movie there's a developing closeness between Black Widow and Bruce Banner (the Hulk).  It involves their relationship. 

Yesterday, we moved into an upgraded gun safe and I went to drill holes into the floor to put in concrete anchors.  My 30 year old AC-powered drill wouldn't drill through the ceramic tile.  After a couple of minutes, all I had done was heat up the motor and the drill bit.  The "hole", if you want to call it that, was really just a dimple, probably less than 1/16" deep.  After a bit of time figuring out what the next step was, it was off to the Big Orange Borg to pick up a hammer drill.  This one cut through the tile in a few seconds, and then drilled into the concrete so fast you could feel the drill sinking into it. 

But that took all day - from about 11 until almost 6!  Putting in four concrete anchors shouldn't take a over four hours, even with a one hour drive to get the drill added in.  And an hour fixing one concrete anchor.  Sitting or kneeling on the floor isn't exactly my strongest point, and I spent too much time working around that.

I need to spend more hours in activity and fewer hours sitting in front of a screen.
(Scarlet Johansson and Mark Ruffalo from Age of Ultron.  Not The Scene, but A scene from the movie.  Because scene from the movie.)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

It's the Hypocrisy That Bothers Me Most

I'm talking about the mainstream media's reaction to Garland. 

After January's Charlie Hebdo attacks, they were full of "Je Suis Charlie" and solidarity.  Condemnation of the attackers (not full-throated loud, still tons of PC-crap).  There was some "they had it coming" talk but the strong current was blaming the perpetrators. 

Here we are barely four months later and this time the tone is virtually completely blaming the victim.  "I support free speech, BUT...";  "Pamela Geller has the right, BUT..."  The UK Mail claims to be the most widely read news site in the English language and they attacked Pam on May 3rd, literally hours after the attack, with a headline proclaiming her "long history of hatred".  The NY Times, probably ashamed to be beaten to victim-blaming, declared her to be purely motivated by hate.
Charlie Hebdo is a publication whose stock in trade has always been graphic satires of politicians and religions, whether Catholic, Jewish or Muslim. By contrast, Pamela Geller, the anti-Islam campaigner behind the Texas event, has a long history of declarations and actions motivated purely by hatred for Muslims.
To steal a quote from Mark Steyn,
The media “narrative” of the last week is that some Zionist temptress was walking down the street in Garland in a too short skirt and hoisted it to reveal her Mohammed thong – oops, my apologies, her Prophet Mohammed thong (PBUH) – and thereby inflamed two otherwise law-abiding ISIS supporters peacefully minding their own business.
To channel Heinlein, the correct way to punctuate, "I support free speech, but -- " is with a period after the "but".    Don't use excessive force in supplying such a moron with a period. Cutting his throat is only a momentary pleasure and is bound to get you talked about.  As everyone has pointed out, free speech is only important when we don't agree.  The more disagreement, the more free speech is needed.  The Mail, the NY Times, NPR, Bill O'Reilly, and all the people who have started their attacks on the victim are sanctimonious, hypocritical cowards.  Pamela Geller has the nerve to stand up and know she's putting a target on her chest.  She is doing this to demonstrate just how bad the jihad problem is.

This isn't simple dhimmitude, the media being docile pets to appease their Islamic masters, for the Lamestream Media it's America's insane politics writ large.  The attack on Charlie Hebdo was OK to be against, because there were no Republicans involved.  The attack on Pamela Geller was on an American Jew on American soil; it could end up affecting the 2016 election.  "If we support her, we may end up giving ammunition to a Republican". 
Nevertheless, this is fantasy...

Me, Je Suis Pamela Geller.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Helping The Paralyzed Walk Again

When I was in my 20s, in the mid 70s, I was a dedicated fan of the Miami Dolphins.  With a powerful offense led by "the thinking man's quarterback" Bob Griese, and the "No-Name" defense led by linebacker Nick Buoniconti, they were one of the dominant teams of the era.  As we do with actors, we tend to feel we get to know players and think of them as a sort of long-distance friend.  Nick Buoniconti was a friend of mine, in that sense. 

Fast forward to 1985 and retired Nick has a son, Marc, who starts playing in major college football.  At 19 years old, Marc is hit with the worst injury that can happen to a player: he breaks his neck (C3/C4) during a game and is paralyzed for life from the shoulders down.  Nick and Marc form the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.  If it can be done with pure drive and relentless mental toughness, these two will succeed.  Unfortunately, it's much harder than that.

Conventional wisdom is that nerve damage can't be fixed, but there have been some tantalizing hints of nerve growth in limbs.  These larger nerves in body are very much like insulated wires: there is a central nerve tissue, the conductive axons, covered in an insulator called a myelin sheath.  I read one report where by putting a myelin sheath between the ends of severed nerves in a frog's arm, the nerves grew down the myelin tube until they fused and restored motion to the arm.  The spinal cord is whole higher level, though.  There have been very few things that have shown even a little promise for the kind of injury that Marc Buoniconti has.

In this Video from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) we see a promising technique for splicing spinal cords; a patch for the sheath on the spine (called the dura mater) that is flexible, and very highly biocompatible.  As you can see, with this patch in place, rats were able to walk again. 

I've said before that I think the future is in tissue engineering: growing replacements for diseased or degraded body parts, patching defective genes before they cause damage.  Work along those lines.  There's an idea floating around today (which I think comes from Ray Kurzweil) that says if we can survive until the year 2030, we will have the option of immortality.  I'd say no unless spinal cord repair was as reliable as changing a fuse in a car.  I'd say no unless all those annoying things that happen as you age are eradicated.  Things like every old injury turning arthritic, deteriorating hearing, metabolic problems, all the rest.  Not to mention scars from every little cut and injury you get need to stop, lest we turn into one continuous mass of scar tissue.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Hat's Off to the Garland PD Officer

Everyone has heard that the officer who ended the "Sudden Jihadi Syndrome" attack of the two idiots in Garland wasn't SWAT, decked out in top-end, tacticool gear; he was an experienced officer.  According to reports, he used his duty pistol (I'm guessing Glock 19 just based on its popularity) to take out both *s in 15 seconds.

Bob Owens has a detailed report and has updated it as details emerge from the fog. 
At the point of the attack, the two suspects apparently drove up and opened fire upon an unarmed security guard who was accompanied by a 60-year-old Garland police officer. The unarmed guard was struck [in] the volley of gunfire. The veteran Garland officer then drew his duty-issue Glock pistol and opened fire on the suspects.

The officer killed one terrorist and wounded the other in his initial volley of return fire. Witnesses claim there was a brief pause, and then the officer fire two more shots to kill the still-moving terrorist as he appears to be reaching for a backpack. The entire event lasted 15 seconds, with heavily-armed Garland SWAT converging on the scene immediately afterward.
Pretty outstanding work on the officer's part.  Takes down one guy in the first few seconds from about 20 yards, then when the other guy starts reaching for a backpack, possibly to blow an IED or a suicide belt, he double taps him.  60 years old?  Anyone want to take odds he's been shooting for 50-some of those years? 

Bob points out an interesting detail that isn't in that quick summary.  From the evidence photo it appears the officer attacked his attackers. 
The evidence markers at the bottom of the photo above show us a remarkable story, as they denote the final locations of the shell casings ejected from the officer’s Glock duty pistol. While every pistol is different from another in its ejection pattern, and the movement of the officer and the cant of his gun precludes us from knowing exactly where he was, there is a distinct trail of shells showing that the officer was moving forward from the bottom left of the photo above towards the terrorists at the rear of the vehicle.  He appears to have opened fire from 20 yards away, and fired at least a dozen shots by the time he reached an area near the traffic cones, roughly 7-10 yards from where the terrorists died.
The post on Bearing Arms does a good job of getting more details of weapons used, and has continually swapped out better pictures as they become available.  I know the officer involved has not been identified and has asked for some time to collect himself.  That sounds like it's the first time he has had to kill someone in the line of duty.  Hat's off to you, officer, for a job well done.  I can only hope that, God forbid, I should ever be faced with that situation that I acquit myself as well as he did!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Techy Tuesday: Space - It's Genuinely Scary Out There - Part II

It has been quite a while since I ran part I, but an article I saw today got me thinking about the subject again. 

The overall topic is the dangers of travel to Mars, as well as living on the surface. Life on the surface of Earth has a big advantage: the Earth protects us from dangerous radiation common in deep space.  Earth's magnetic field, and to a lesser extent the atmosphere, protect us from Galactic Cosmic Rays, GCRs, high energy particles believed to come mostly from exploding stars.  NASA's Human Research Program has just reported on a study called, “What Happens To Your Brain On The Way To Mars?”. 
Astronauts on deep space missions risk significant damage to their central nervous systems from galactic cosmic radiation (GCR), which could diminish their abilities to deal with mission-critical events, according to a new study from NASA’s Human Research Program.
The problem is exposure to those GCRs during the trip.  Astronauts onboard the International Space Station have the advantage of living inside the magnetic "bubble" that Earth's field produces, so they're not exposed to it.  The only humans in history who have been exposed to the potential of high energy GCRs found in deep space were the handful who went to the moon.  Their exposure was brief; a few days at most, and I recall reading missions were planned around expected low sunspot activity (solar CMEs are another form of high energy particles).  According to Charles Limoli, professor of radiation oncology at the University of California Irvine (UC-I) School of Medicine.
“Performance decrements, memory deficits, and loss of awareness and focus during spaceflight may affect mission-critical activities, and exposure to these particles may have long-term adverse consequences to cognition throughout life,”

The effects of exposure to GCR are similar to those experienced by brain cancer patients, who receive much higher doses of radiation. There is little protection from spacecraft shielding at GCR energy levels, according to the researchers, who suggest the best countermeasures may come from pharmacological solutions that block free radicals and protect neurotransmissions. “But these remain to be optimized and are under development,” Dr. Limoli notes.
In addition to the problems from radiation, the physiological effects of that much time in space could also be trouble.  As it is, long-term crews on the ISS need to do a lot of exercise to maintain bone density, but they still lose some bone.  Mars travel is an application where spinning the craft to create pseudo gravity could be a life saver.  

These problems of a long space voyage are enormous, but I don't think they're insurmountable.  A vehicle that could continuously accelerate half the way there and decelerate for the other half would drastically reduce the amount of time spent in deep space over our current "boost and coast" approach.  This means entirely new approaches to rocket engines because chemical rockets require dragging along too much fuel to be able to run continuously.  A very likely approach would use nuclear powered rockets.  Being placed at the front of a spaceship with nuclear reactions going on behind them would expose the crew to much less radiation than riding conventional rockets.  Some designs that have been investigated would allow 60 day trips to Mars.  Boost and coast trips would take 18 months.  (Both of these are travel time)  In addition to potentially increasing the amount of time available for the surface activities in the mission, simply reducing the time in flight from 500 days down to 60 would dramatically cut the amount of radiation exposure. 
An Orion class rocket concept: continuous chain of hydrogen bombs propel the rocket. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

It's Star Wars Day!

May the Fourth be with you, and all.

I know.  This was the Avengers opening weekend, all the buzz was about the Avengers or that boxing match or that horse race, and there's really no reason to talk about Star Wars ... but this is the blogosphere's Star Wars day, so I can't resist a little nod to the new version, coming out in December.
(picture source)
I know there's been a lot of gnashing of teeth and wailing among the nerds about Disney taking over Lucasfilm's Star Wars universe, but I have to like the prospects for the movie when JJ Abrams says, “I have a thought about putting Jar Jar Binks’s bones in the desert there. I’m serious! Only three people will notice, but they’ll love it.”

While the Avengers' first weekend fell short of the record for an opening weekend, held by the Avengers' first weekend (the first movie), "The Avengers: Age of Ultron" turned in a very respectable second place at $191.3 million.  No, we weren't there, too much to do this weekend, but next weekend is looking good. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Repost - Anybody Else Ripped off by Iain Sinclair Design in the UK?

I very, very rarely re-post something in its entirety, but this one seems to warrant re-posting.  Last August, I posted the original, which I'm going to copy below, and then add a few thoughts after that:

Anybody Else Ripped Off By Iain Sinclair Design?

Back in February, somebody sent me an offer for a new Iain Sinclair design of a credit card knife (this one, I think).  I was taken by it as a nifty toy and eventually ordered two - one for each of us.  At $16 each, not a terrible expense.  Allow 4 to 8 weeks for delivery.  As we've now hit almost five months, 24 weeks, and nothing but repeated "so sorry, but we're delayed" responses, I think it's time to admit it's probably a ripoff and I'm out my $32. [Note: this was last August, it's now closer to 15 months and probably a dozen emails to them. - SiG]

In June I inquired again and was told they were on track to complete all the back orders by the end of July.  I asked about cancelling the order, and was then introduced to the grim reality of this particular situation.  See, my card was charged back in February.  The Sinclair Design rep says they've changed credit card systems and can't do a refund.  The card company says the deadline for that was a couple of months after purchase.  But the knives are available, they're just apparently not shipping to individuals.  You can buy packs of them on eBay.

In the intervening months, I've seen credit card knives at gun shows for $10 and they're not exactly hard to come by.  I didn't get one at the shows because of the long standing order. 

So I thought I'd ask you, dear readers.  Anyone else been ripped off by these guys?  Anyone else know anything else about the company?  It's hard to fathom why an honest seller with products to sell would take over five months to ship.  Could they have expected a few hundred sales and got a million?  Way more than they could handle?

Although this post is eight months old, it's unique in getting comments fairly regularly.  It received three comments in February, two in March and four since April 1. 

Iain Sinclair Design has a slick website, but judging by the feedback I've gotten, they're either rather incompetent at running a business or just plain petty criminals.  I'm assuming it's the second option: petty criminals.  After all, if you want to steal money, this is a pretty effective way to do it.  You sell something on the promise it will ship as soon as prototyping is done, charge the credit card number immediately and never ship.  If the customer inquires, politely explain you're having some delays and you'll be shipping Real Soon Now, all the while charging more credit cards.  By the time the customer decides it's fraud, they have a real problem.  Dealing with international payments, multiple credit card handling services, and other ways to tangle the trail makes it hard for the customer to do anything.  How much do you need to spend to get your $16 back?  Faced with large costs to recover a small loss, most people give up and swear never to buy from the company.  I'm not proud to say I gave up. 

Basically, it's easier to steal $10 1000 times than $10,000 once. If you get a supply of $10 bills, people are going to complain and post angry comments, but they're probably not going to make a big deal of it.  If you steal $100 or $1000, folks will probably call the police.

But all that is offset by the fact that there are dozens of entries for Iain Sinclair knives on eBay.  Clearly they sell to someone.  Do they just rip off small foreign orders, or only sell to bulk buyers, or what?  Is this number of complaints I can see just a small random sample and they're really just wonderful folks?  That doesn't make me feel any better about being out $35 for two of these.   The website shows a Cardsharp 4, a $90 version that looks as nice as can be.  Would I buy one?  Hell no. 

To keep a clear conscience, all I can say is DO NOT DO BUSINESS WITH THESE FOLKS!!   Or, at the very least, don't do business from outside the UK.  If you're in the UK, maybe even the EU (sorry, don't know exactly what that relationship is), it might be easier for you to get resolution.  If you're in the States or probably anywhere else: don't do it, man. 

There are always scammers and ripoff artists out there, and it's always wise for the buyer to beware - caveat emptor.  I should point out that my order was in response to an email offer from someplace in the gun culture, so I was inclined to trust them (but I don't remember whom it was or have records...).  So you can't necessarily trust a seller even if they come from a source you might trust. 

I'm blessed enough to host a thousand readers a day coming through here.  Perhaps there's someone coming here to read who can be a pain in the ass for Iain Sinclair Design in London.  In my opinion, they deserve it.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

About that Whole "Coming Economic Collapse" Thingy

James Rickards is a guy with an arm's length worth of credentials in the world of economics and high finance.  He's Chief Global Strategist at the West Shore Funds, and the Editor of Strategic Intelligence, a monthly newsletter.  He's also a lawyer, an economist, and has held senior positions at Citibank, Long-Term Capital Management, and Caxton Associates.  In 1998, he was the principal negotiator of the rescue of Long Term Capital Mangement sponsored by the Federal Reserve.  He's a visiting lecturer in globalization at the Johns Hopkins University and the School of Advanced International Studies, and has delivered papers on risk at Singularity University, the Applied Physics Laboratory, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He's an advisor on capital markets to the U.S. intelligence community and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.  He was involved in the first war gaming exercises held at the Pentagon that centered on financial attacks.  I could go on, but you can read his bio on his web page.  In summary, he has built a career on the inside, at the highest levels of the game. 

Rickards is the author of a few books that my readers might be interested in.  His first book (2011) was called "Currency Wars" (if you haven't noticed, we're in one now); the Financial Times reviewed it saying  "let’s hope he’s wrong". His response was, "I hope I’m wrong, too".  His most current book,  "The Death of Money" is currently on my Kindle, although I've just barely cracked the cover.

Rickards recently did a short, 20 minute-ish interview with Glenn Beck on the radio program.  A video and the transcript is available.  The interview was centered on what economic collapse looks like and what the world looks like after it happens.  I think what got Beck interested in interviewing him was an article he published on the Daily Reckoning:  "In the Year 2024".   The combination of that piece and the interview rate pretty high up on the pucker scale.

Rickards has some interesting things to say about where the various central banks are, since they've been creating money at a breakneck pace since 2008.  The central banks are insolvent.  Behind closed doors with one of their own, like Rickards, they'll admit they're insolvent and then claim it doesn't matter.  According to one standard definition ("a prolonged period of below-trend growth, which neither collapses nor gets back to trend"), we're in a depression now and have been for some time.
JAMES: ... People say - I say we’re in a depression. People go, you’re nuts. GDP is not going down. We’ve been recovering for six years. Where are the soup lines? Well, the soup lines are Whole Foods. Because now you get food stamps on a digital card. By the way, I’m not disparaging people. You can go into Whole Foods and get your soups. So we have the soup lines. They’re just at Whole Foods. We all know the only reason why unemployment is not higher is because labor participations collapsed.

The point is, this 2 percent growth that we’re chugging along. In some quarters, a little more. In some quarters, a little bit less. If we’re capable of three and a half, which we are, and in the short-run, maybe 5 percent, which we saw between ’83 and ’86, if we’re capable of that and you’re actually growing at two, it’s the gap between the three and two. Or the five and the two that’s depressed growth. That’s the definition of a depression. The problem is, we are Japan. We’ll be in this for 20 years, unless we make structural changes. A depression is structural. It’s not cyclical. You can’t solve a [structural] problem with a cyclical solution, which is money. Money printing, if you know, inflation is a little high and you want to dial down the money supply. Or unemployment is high, dial it up. That’s a cyclical solution. We need structural solutions. We’re not getting them.
He'll be among the first to tell you that financial collapse could happen this week or in a decade.  It's impossible to tell.  In many ways, it's like an avalanche: it's impossible to blame the avalanche on any particular snowflake, but any one of the continuing snowflakes could cause it.  What's it look like?  The only "bank" with any solvency left is the International Monetary Fund.  The IMF has Special Drawing Rights, SDRs, that would allow it to prop up the world when the collapse happens.  His most likely scenario would be that all banks around the world, all banks, would be shuttered.  After some time, perhaps a few days, perhaps a week, everyone would be able to withdraw 250 or $300 a day for food and energy expenses. 
GLENN: And all of a sudden we’re just out. This could happen in a three-day, four-day, five-day period where all of a sudden the world has changed. The banks are closed. You don’t have access to money. $300 out of the ATM. That’s all you can get.

JAMES: Right. Gas and grocery money. That’s about it.

GLENN: That can go on for?

JAMES: Weeks, months. Hey, if you have your gas and groceries, what else would you need? That would be the point. They wouldn’t steal your money. You just couldn’t get it. It’s not just stocks. It’s money market funds. You wouldn’t be able to redeem those. Close the stock exchange. Say, hey, we’re not stealing your equity. But we’ve converted it to private equity.

GLENN: You said they wouldn’t steal things. Well, they did in Cypress.

JAMES: It’s state power.

GLENN: The state comes in and says, everybody gets a 50 percent haircut. So whatever you have, you lose 50 percent of it. To me, that’s theft. This is all going on. The state starts to crock down. Everybody is kind of pinned into their own place. What does it — what does it look like afterwards?

JAMES: Well, now there are a couple of states to the world. So maybe everybody will just acquiesce. That’s actually a lot of history. When things get bad, people just say, hey, don’t bother me. I’ll go alone with this. But you could see the outbreak of money riots. You could see people in the streets, protesting not social conditions, but financial conditions. Of course, we have a heavy militarized police ready to respond to that with tear gas and flash bang grenades and they’re armored up with all this money from the federal government. So they’re ready.

The Daily Reckoning piece, In the Year 2024, is an interesting read, too. Yes, dystopian; yes, shocking, but reasonable.  It describes a future in which the collapse just described has happened.  The financial structure of the world has come down to three currencies: the dollar in the Americas; the Euro in Europe, Africa and Australia, and the "Ruasia", a new currency that combines the old Russian ruble, Chinese yuan and Japanese yen in a currency for Asia.  All the gold in the world has been confiscated and buried in a secure vault so that nobody ever tries to use it as money again, and no country can create a gold-based economy.  All G-20 nations contributed their national gold to the vault. All private gold was forcibly confiscated and added to the Swiss vault as well. All gold mining had been nationalized and suspended for "environmental reasons".  Land and personal property were not confiscated, because much of it was needed for living arrangements and agriculture. Personal property was too difficult to confiscate and of little use to the state. Fine art was lumped in with cheap art and mundane personal property and ignored.
I should point out that James Rickards is not really an advocate of gold-based currencies and not really a "gold bug" in the sense that he thinks we should have so much we're tripping over it; he just thinks it's prudent for people to have around 10% of their savings in hard assets like precious metals.   He outlines a scenario for why in the "In the Year 2024" piece.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Maybe This Is Too "Inside Florida" ...

I heard a little of the long diatribe from Baltimore's State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby announcement that she's indicting six officers in the death that the city is ablaze over.  It seemed very political with her statement about "I [will] work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man".  If she had said "I will work to deliver justice", that would have been politically neutral; saying what she did implies that there was a gross injustice against him, and it doesn't seem to me that's proper for a prosecutor to say.  We expect a prosecutor to think they have a case, but they shouldn't be too political. 

Maybe this is too "inside Florida", but my first thought was, "Angela Corey?  Is that you?" 

Corey's name may be familiar to non-Floridians who are gun culture folks.  She's the prosecutor who zealously went after George Zimmerman, wasting tons of taxpayer money on a case that very few people thought she had any chance of winning.  It was widely considered pure politics, just trolling for stupid voters, but it wasn't the only anti-gunner prosecution she ran.

It's all just parts in a play.  All the rent-a-mob protesters, from Malik Zulu Shabazz to the Crips and Bloods, whoever went from Ferguson to Baltimore, and will move on to the next city, wherever that may be.  You hear the same comment from locals in both cities: those guy aren't from around here.  They were flown in to Baltimore.  What's the game?  As Al Sharpton said today, federalize local police forces.  To fulfill Obama's statement that we need "a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded" as our military.  And to get rid of those stupid, annoying little states rights and give all powers to the 

If you're old enough, you'll remember the riots during the "long, hot, summers" of the 1960s.  Here we are again.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The US Has Too Many Zombies

At least according to Bill Bonner.  Bill likens our perma-ruling class to other Nobility classes, whom he calls Zombies in Suits.  The Zombies are threatening to take down our society as has happened so many times before.   
Archaeologist Arthur Demarest explains that we’re not the first society to be brought low by zombies. They caused the decline of the Mayan civilization too:
Society had evolved too many elites, all demanding exotic baubles […] all needed quetzal feathers, jade, obsidian, fine chert, and animal furs. Nobility is expensive, non-productive and parasitic, siphoning away too much of society’s energy to satisfy its frivolous cravings.
But that was long ago and far away.  Surely things have gotten better in more cultured societies, right?
King Louis XVI of France must have been a decent fellow. But he was surrounded by zombies.

Almost the entire First and Second Estates – the clergy and the nobility – lived off of privileges, tariffs, taxes, grants, rents and other entitlements.

After they took their share, there was hardly enough national output left to support the working classes.

And you think America’s hedge fund managers have a nice tax deal with their “carried interest?”

France’s elite was practically exempt from taxes.

But with so many zombies, 18th-century France struggled to stay solvent. A couple of bad harvests… and people began to starve.
And so began the French Revolution.

I hear a lot of nasty speak about "banksters" and bankers in general.  Remember all the "Eat the Rich" talk from the Occupy Whatever pigs?  Banks are the obvious target; frankly they are getting a lot of special treatment from the Fed (bankers giving taxpayer money to other bankers?  Why, who woulda thunk?).  People seem to forget that the central bankers couldn't do a single freaking thing without the complicit allowance of the government.  Central Bankers couldn't be manipulating the world to the point where global collapse is a virtual certainty without government complicity.  The minute the government got so big that it was the place to get special treatments and special deals, all of what we see today became inevitable. 

I think the big quote in Bonner's column is this one, however:
Follow these easy, proven 13 steps to financial well-being…
1. Don’t get married to her
2. Use your mom’s address to get mail sent to
3. Guy buys a house
4. Guy rents out house to his girlfriend who has two of his kids
5. Section 8 will pay $900 a month for a three-bedroom home
6. Girlfriend signs up for Obamacare so guy doesn’t have to pay out the butt for family insurance
7. Girlfriend gets to go to college free for being a single mother
8. Girlfriend gets $600 a month for food stamps
9. Girlfriend gets free cellphone
10. Girlfriend gets free utilities
11. Guy moves into home but uses mom’s house to get mail sent to
12. Girlfriend claims one kid and guy claims one kid on taxes… now you both get to claim head of household at $1,800 credit
13. Girlfriend gets disability for being “bipolar” or having a “bad back” at $1,800 a month and never has to work again

This plan is perfectly legal and is being executed now by millions of people.
A married couple with a stay-at-home mom yields $0.00 dollars.
An unmarried couple with stay-at-home mom nets:
$21,600 disability +
$10,800 free housing +
$6,000 free Obamacare +
$6,000 free food +
$4,800 free utilities +
$6,000 Pell grant money to spend +
$12,000 a year in college tuition free from Pell grant +
$8,800 tax benefit for being a single mother
= $75,000 a year in benefits

We haven’t verified the details above… But if they’re correct… $75,000 a year is not chicken feed.
This incentivizing of broken families is the root that leads us to Baltimore, Ferguson, and so many before them.