Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Why I'm Not (Very) Afraid of EMP

When I started this blog six months ago, one of the things I pondered was what I could contribute to the world that other bloggers don't.  As I've spread out, reading more and interacting more, I think I can add some useful information about topics I study on my own, work with, or do as a hobby. 

Over the course of the next few posts, I'm going to look at EMP from a specialist's perspective.  EMP is a term that brings a lot of fear with it.  While I don't specifically work on protection of electronics systems from EMP, I do work with lightning protection and EMI (electromagnetic interference) protection, both of which are very similar.  I have the tools and background to do the math, and think I can improve the signal to noise ratio of the conversation.  I'm going to start with the optimistic side: why I'm not afraid of EMP, and then talk about the concerns I do have about it. So let's start at the beginning. 

Electromagnetic Pulse.  It's widely talked about whenever people talk about potential catastrophes.  There is at least one "open source" book ("Lights Out", currently offline as the author shops it for sale to movie studios, but you can probably find a copy around) and a commercial book ("One Second After") about the aftermath of an EMP, typically depicting the destruction of society - The End Of The World As We Know It. (note: again - I don't make anything off links to Amazon.  It's here simply as a convenience)

To begin with, what is an Electromagnetic Pulse?  Most people who are familiar with the term know it as a side effect of a nuclear detonation in the ionosphere, and that's a good way to generate one.  The ionosphere is a layer of the atmosphere, from about 50 miles to 600 miles or so up, where gas atoms are turned into ions by the UV rays from the sun.  The Federation of American Scientists offers this explanation (from Wikipedia).
A high-altitude nuclear detonation produces an immediate flux of gamma rays from the nuclear reactions within the device. These photons in turn produce high energy free electrons by Compton scattering at altitudes between (roughly) 20 and 40 km. These electrons are then trapped in the Earth's magnetic field, giving rise to an oscillating electric current. This current is asymmetric in general and gives rise to a rapidly rising radiated electromagnetic field called an electromagnetic pulse (EMP). Because the electrons are trapped essentially simultaneously, a very large electromagnetic source radiates coherently.

The pulse can easily span continent-sized areas, and this radiation can affect systems on land, sea, and air. The first recorded EMP incident accompanied a high-altitude nuclear test over the South Pacific and resulted in power system failures as far away as Hawaii. A large device detonated at 400-500 km (250 to 312 miles) over Kansas would affect all of the continental U.S. The signal from such an event extends to the visual horizon as seen from the burst point.

The effect seen at ground level is a very brief, very high voltage pulse.  The very short duration spreads the energy out in frequency, (the universe is just put together that way).  The electric field (E-field) produced is felt across the entire portion of the continent "seen" by the explosion, although the intensity does fall off with distance, as with any source of E-fields.  That is, the areas farthest from the epicenter will get a lower voltage peak than the people directly under the blast. 

How much voltage are we talking about?  Standard models talk about a voltage pulse that reaches 50,000 volts in five nanoseconds (five billionths of a second).  For comparison, lightning may reach similar voltages, but takes much longer.  A lightning strike's rise time is often more than 1,000 times longer, over a microsecond.  While lightning strikes are not all the same, a lightning strike that is less than 100 nanoseconds is quite unusual.  Here's a mathematical simulation of what the pulse looks like.  The time axis is in nanosecond s, so "1" is 1 nsec.  Note that the time display is in log scale, so the pulse is really short; it's down to 1% of its peak value in just over 100 nanoseconds.  If any damage is going to happen, it's going to happen in the first 50 nanoseconds.

One of the main things the EMP stories focus on is how everything electronic is blown out.  Airplanes fall out of the sky.  No communications at all.  They say to store your radios wrapped in foil in a metal ammo can. 

I don't believe that. 

SurvivalBlog has recently run reports of several tests where many vehicles were exposed to a simulated EMP (generated in other ways, so they affect much less area).  Almost all of the cars kept working or simply needed to be restarted.  These were modern cars, not old cars without electronic ignition systems.  Amateur radio magazines have carried articles where tests were done, and results calculated for typical amateur radios.  Most typical installations were not damaged.  Radios did not need to be in a sealed metal box.  I am familiar with the ways commercial aviation electronics is tested, and I don't believe that failures would be widespread.  Airplanes will not come crashing down.   

Here's why radios won't be burned out:

This is a plot of the electrical field created by the 50,000 Volt EM Pulse pictured above, derived by taking the FFT of that pulse. E-fields are usually referred to in units of Volts per meter.  This plot adds the bandwidth of the measurement, so Volts per meter per Hertz.  The fields are small: less than .002 Volts/meter.  For comparison, commercial aircraft electronics is typically tested to withstand fields of 20 V/m, often 200 V/m.  Military systems are tested to higher levels. 

And it gets better.  If you have a narrow band antenna - and most are - the power received is just not that great.  For example, pretend you have an amateur transceiver for the 20 meter band, where your group has a meeting nightly.  You have a dipole antenna for that band.  The power you gather is less than 1/1000 watt (-2 dBm for those curious).  There is no way this power level would be dangerous to your radio.  To your "2 meter" radio (146 MHz), the signal is quite a bit weaker (-16 dBm - less than 1/10 the power of the lower frequency).  In both cases, your radio might well be exposed to signals of this strength without EMP.   

The local broadcasters: TV, AM, and FM, all use narrowband antennas.  The air traffic control systems and navigation systems at the airport use narrowband antennas.  In the case of the broadcasters, their transmitters are putting out thousands of watts or tens of thousands of watts - or more.  It would be an amazing feat to even find the incoming signal from an EMP in the presence of that sort of transmitter power.  Transmitters won't be damaged.

Now if you have a broadband antenna and broadband receiver, the levels will get worse because of the broadband energy the pulse causes.  That's where the bandwidth really becomes apparent; the broadband E-field voltages increase by 10 times the log of the bandwidth.  A 14-30 MHz log periodic dipole array antenna will make the fields stronger by 72 dB, or voltages around 4000 times higher.  But the average E-field values in this frequency band are around .0006 V so multiplying by 4000 still only gives you 2.4 V/m/Hz. 

Calculating how strong the levels would be in the radio is a bit more complicated, because the architecture of the radio matters.  The very first circuits the EMP hits will see higher powers, but they are designed to limit the bandwidth (reflecting most of that pulse back out of the radio) and you should still not have a problem.  The signal on channel is still the same; the power seen at the input filter is higher.  If you integrate up all the power the antenna will bring into the radio, it gets up to a full Watt.  Again, the protection in the front of the radio will keep it from being damaged.   

I don't want to play climate scientist here, and just believe my computer model, but it's agreeing with other things I've seen published.  Always compare computer models to experiment!  If that model pulse is too weak, it still lets us estimate performance.  If the voltage pulse is 100 kV instead of 50, we double the voltages we derived. 

I don't believe that EMP is terribly hard to handle in a radio.  If your radio is VHF, for example, a simple low frequency blocking capacitor might be all you need.  A UHF or microwave radio will be completely unaffected - there's no EMP energy out there.  It's a mistake to think that you use the steady state ratings (that is, your capacitor is rated at 100 VDC) when handling a surge like this.  It's better to look at total energy in the pulse, and since it's so short, there's less energy than in a lightning pulse.  

In short, I think in the aftermath of an EMP, your radio is going to work, the broadcast AM/FM/TV stations are going to work, air traffic control is going to work, the radios on the planes are going to work, your car is going to work, and most electronics will work.  That doesn't mean nothing bad will happen.  

In my next post I want to talk about the things about EMP that do bother me. 

(This work was derived from some industry applications notes, largely from Ansoft, a leading manufacturer of EM analysis software). 

Monday, August 30, 2010

How Hyperinflation Will Happen

The fine folks over at Zero Hedge posted this great analysis of how hyperinflation could happen.  It opens up with a "where we are" moment.
Right now, we are in the middle of deflation. The Global Depression we are experiencing has squeezed both aggregate demand levels and aggregate asset prices as never before. Since the credit crunch of September 2008, the U.S. and world economies have been slowly circling the deflationary drain.

To counter this, the U.S. government has been running massive deficits, as it seeks to prop up aggregate demand levels by way of fiscal “stimulus” spending—the classic Keynesian move, the same old prescription since donkey’s ears.

But the stimulus, apart from being slow and inefficient, has simply not been enough to offset the fall in consumer spending.
And this great explanation of an important insight:
If we think that hyperinflation is simply inflation on steroids—inflation-plus—inflation with balls—then it would seem to be the case that, in our current deflationary economic environment, hyperinflation is not simply a long way off, but flat-out ridiculous.

But hyperinflation is not an extension or amplification of inflation. Inflation and hyperinflation are two very distinct animals. They look the same—because in both cases, the currency loses its purchasing power—but they are not the same.
A tad long, but really worth reading.  I think it's the best presentation of what the voices in my head have been telling me that I've come across.

When?  The author thinks the precipitation incident could happen any time from this fall through (but not later than) the end of 2011.  As I've said, I think the market is going to further deflate this fall, but that's based on technical analysis and this sort of event is more like a "black swan" that doesn't fit the usual predictions. Still, my guess is the deflation/depression gets worse, and then the hyperinflation happens.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Yo, NASA! Can We Knock Off the Solar Storm Scare Tactics?

I'm talking about this:
Melbourne, Aug 26 (ANI): Astronomers are predicting that a massive solar storm, much bigger in potential than the one that caused spectacular light shows on Earth earlier this month, is to strike our planet in 2012 with a force of 100 million hydrogen bombs.
Honestly: this article is 99% garbage.  100 million hydrogen bombs?  Would those be 10 kiloton bombs or 10 Megaton bombs?  They're taking advantage of the fact that people are (in general) woefully ignorant of the forces in nature.  A typical hurricane will release 200 times the electrical energy generated in the entire world every day.  A hurricane has hundreds of times the energy of a hydrogen bomb. A typical CME puts hundreds of times of that energy (Gigaton bombs) into our magnetosphere, and the most it does is cause pretty lights at night. 

It's bad form to copy the whole article here and thoroughly fisk it, but let me address just a few highlights.  What are my qualifications?  I'm an amateur astronomer, solar observer, someone who tracks solar cycles and tracks solar activity.  When they say,
Several US media outlets have reported that NASA was warning the massive flare this month was just a precursor to a massive solar storm building that had the potential to wipe out the entire planet's power grid.
Despite its rebuttal, NASA's been watching out for this storm since 2006 and reports from the US this week claim the storms could hit on that most Hollywood of disaster dates - 2012.
there's an implication that a particularly bad storm has been building.  They don't work that way.  Solar storms are short lived events, caused by solar flares and coronal mass ejections. Nothing happening today will cause a storm in more than a few days or weeks at most.  Even worse, it implies flares and CMEs can be predicted years in advance.  There is no known way to predict them beyond knowing that they're associated with more activity, and visible sunspots.  All they're saying is that solar maximum is coming. Like it does every 11 years (on average) for as long as we've been aware of solar cycles.

Solar flares and CMEs happen all the time, even during solar minima. Earlier in the month, on another solar flare scare story, I said,
See, solar flares vary over orders of magnitude in size.  The smallest go from C1 to C10.  Next up, M class flares also go from a 1 to a 10.  Finally, the biggest flares are X class or X-ray flares.  There's no top to that scale, but in the peak of the last solar cycle, back around 2003, X class flares were hitting every month.  An X10 flare hitting directly can make auroras visible in the southern US.  A monumental flare in 2003 made them visible in north central Florida.  I have heard a big flare in the previous cycle (1990s) caused an aurora visible in the Caribbean.
 The original Australian article says,
"The general consensus among general astronomers (and certainly solar astronomers) is that this coming Solar maximum (2012 but possibly later into 2013) will be the most violent in 100 years," News.com.au quoted astronomy lecturer and columnist Dave Reneke as saying.
I'd like to find out who has that opinion.  The cycle we are currently starting (Cycle 24 - they got that right) is coming out of the lowest solar minimum in over 100 years.  Nobody that I've seen thinks this cycle is going to be even average in strength, let alone "the most violent in 100 years".  The current activity is still well below predictions:

What you can't see in that plot is that the predicted start and peak of the next cycle was shifted to right every few months through all of 2008 and 2009.  We went through more days with zero solar activity in '08 and '09 than any stretch since 1913, and the cycle "refused to start" when they said it would.  You can see from that chart that the predicted peak (in Spring of '13, not 2012) is well below the peak of the last cycle, which wasn't as strong as the one before it.  Actually, there's a respectable number of physicists who think this peak will be much lower than average.
It will be the weakest solar cycle since Solar Cycle 6, the second half of the Dalton Minimum (1810 to 1823). Solar Cycle 5 had a maximum amplitude of 49.2 and Solar Cycle 6 of 48.7.
Is it possible for a solar CME to do the things they talk about? Absolutely. How likely? There has been one CME since 1900 that damaged parts of the grid (it shut down power in Quebec) and that was in the last peak of the 1990s (1996?).  It's not precise to say expect it to happen once in a hundred years, but probably close enough for discussion.  If you own a satellite, you can shut it down when a big CME is coming because you see the flare and ejection when they happen (ignoring that the light takes 8 minutes to get here from the sun) while the particles from the CME take a couple of days to get here.   

These government goons are trying to show us how important they are so that they can raise funds. They're trying to get us to say, "Oh, no! Don't cut our budget, cut something else!"


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Is This How 401k Plans Get Stolen?

I've written before about the likelihood that our 401k plans are going to be nationalized (Southerners use the more correct word, "stolen").  There's a variety of arguments, but they largely come down to the Fed.gov leviathan desperately needs any money it can get to fund its insane spending levels, and there's a large chunk of change in the 401k system.  The unions and other mutant zombie hordes demand it. 

John Galt over at Shenandoah has found a few things that add up to a mechanism that I've missed. It starts out with a news story that the Illinois Teacher's Retirement System is selling off $3 Billion to meet required payments. 
If Illinois is doing it…
CALPERS is probably doing it….
If California is doing it….
Florida is probably doing it….
If we’re doing it, everyone will be selling as price levels trip liquidation panic.
Understand that 46 other states and thousands of communities and counties are having the same problem. Then think about what happens when they all see price levels tripped and they all attempt to hit the “sell” button a the same time.
Go read.  It's short.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

About That Whole Global Economic Collapse Thingy - Part V

I note with a little interest that the Hindenburg Omen has appeared again, last Friday.  However, the authors of this Yahoo Finance article say forget that - the market fundamentals are scary enough as it is.  That's essentially my position in a nutshell.  The Omen itself predicts:
  • A 77% probability of 5% move to the downside;
  • A 41% probability of a panic sellout, down 10-15%;
  • A 24% probability of a stock market crash, down greater than 15%.

I ran across an interesting tidbit on the Economic Collapse Blog, a web site I visit now and then.  Famous "Motivational Speaker" Tony Robbins, who spent most of the 80s and 90s running late night infomercials to help us "unleash the power within" and take charge of our lives, is predicting an economic collapse. Worthwhile videos and column.

He has an interesting way of putting it.  Think of this collapse as the onset of winter.  Winter is inevitable, and just as winter can have some beautiful days (especially around here) it's typically thought of as a tough season which passes.  There's no reason you can't profit from it, if you're in decent shape now.  What does that mean?  The usual: get out of debt; have a store of value, be it food and supplies or some commodity that will be valued.  One of the reasons for the depth of this recession/depression is that people are paying off their debts at the highest rate ever.  That's actually a good thing.

They say the people who did well in the Great Depression had cash when other people were desperate to sell.  I expect the same thing this time around.  At some point, say December of 2012 (hat tip to the 2012 EOTW loonies), it will seem like things just can't go on.  Tax Riots, civil unrest in bankrupt cities that can't afford police, roving bands of looters, blood in the streets - you get the picture.  At that point, when everyone thinks it's the end of the world, that's the time to have cash and go buying. 

Let me give a testable prediction.  Here's a plot of the DJIA since New Years of 2009.  (thanks to Wealth Daily).  That pattern forming on the right is a "head and shoulders" pattern, and we are just now going over the peak of the right shoulder.  That means a fall to the downside typically equal to the difference between the top of the head at 11051 and the lows shown by the bottom green line.  This predicts that the DJIA will drop to 8000 or 8200, probably (this is the guess-y part) in 2-3 months.  Since most of the really bad market crashes have come in September or October, this could accelerate things a little and pull it to 1-2 months out.  I expect the DJIA to be in the 8000 range at Thanksgiving, for example. 

If you're listening around, you probably hear people saying the DJIA will go down to 5000.  Maybe lower.   5000 is lower than the lowest dip in this 20 month chart, which tells me it isn't very likely.  I'm not going to bet my life it won't happen, though. 

By the way, the other day I joked, "Time to get out of the market and into cash?  Why would you take financial advice from some nobody on the 'net? "  I owe it to the 3 of you to be a little serious here.  Yes, I am almost completely out of equities and have almost totally cut off my exposure to the DJIA.  I am putting my money where my mouth is. 

Be careful out there, y'all.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Florida Primary Day

Ahhh, the smell of pork in the air...

Today is primary day here, and as always, the lovely and wise Mrs. Graybeard and I have voted.  In this case, I say wise because of this observation from years ago:
Preparing for an election is like cleaning out the litter box.  It's a disgusting, revolting task that exposes you to all sorts of dirty, filthy things you'd rather never see, but if you don't do it, the job gets even more disgusting and revolting. 
There have been two statewide races here in Florida that have gathered national attention: our governor's race and our senate race.  Currently, one of our two US senators is a temporary appointment.  George Lemieux was appointed to the seat when elected senator Mel Martinez unexpectedly resigned (and appears more conservative).  Sitting governor Charlie Crist decided to run for that senate seat.  When current state senator Marco Rubio decided to run for it, he started blowing Crist out of the water.  Crist is widely disregarded by conservatives and libertarian-leaning folks as a RINO.  When he resigned from the state GOP to run as No Party Affiliation, it only confirmed what most of us thought.  Crist is more competition for the apparent Democratic nominee, Kendall Meek.

The other big race was for the Crist's old governor's job.  Current attorney general Bill McCollum is running against outsider/businessman Rick Scott.  Bill McCollum is long time insider in the GOP, and has been in government in some spot since the early 1980s.  In general, I like McCollum.  He's currently attorney general and was the first to sue the Fed.Gov over the imposition of Obamacare.  He also is pretty 2A-friendly, and that's really good.  Unfortunately, his campaign has been absolutely awful, in most people's opinions.  I don't believe I've seen a single ad that tells me why I should vote for Bill, just attacks on Rick Scott. 

Frankly, it's all pretty disgusting.  I wish we had elections where you didn't feel quite so much like you needed a bath afterward. 

Monday, August 23, 2010


A Single Home Survives After Hurricane Ike in Gilchrist, TX - 2008
Source, and many more pictures here.

When "preppers" talk about "The End Of The World As We Know It", they're usually talking about something major, possibly global, like a total economic collapse, the hemispheric impact of a solar flare, or an EMP event that takes out the USA.  But to these home owners, Ike was the end of the world as they knew it.  Two days before, this was a beautiful beachfront community.  Anyone who didn't bug out of the rest of that island didn't survive it. 

We are living in a time of such massive unemployment that it's not always on the front of our minds that these can be TEOTWAWKI events for the people going through them.  One of my regular reads, MikeH at Behind the Parapet talks about moving a grown child, spouse and a grandchild into his home, after just this sort of event. It's what families do - and should do. 

I just want to remind us all that we should be preparing for these sorts of things.  These events are far more likely than the world-ending flare or the Zombie apocalypse. Maybe you don't get hurricanes where you live, but I'm sure you get some sort of natural disaster: tornado, blizzard, earthquake, mudslide...  Virtually every place gets something. 

Don't just be prepared.  Be useful.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Inflation and Hidden Inflation

If you read "regular" economics information and blogs, you may find some debate on whether we will be undergoing deflation or inflation; that is - whether we're likely to be going into a deflationary death spiral (read "collapse" or "Greatest Depression") or an inflationary death spiral (read "Weimar Republic" or "Zimbabwe").  Some groups speculate hyperinflation is coming.  The argument against hyperinflation is probabilistic; they argue that true hyperinflation is historically rare, and that collapses are much more common.  In my experience in daily life, we are seeing signs of the expected inflation.  The official statistics - the US Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI - disagrees.  

Inflation is a topic I've written on extensively.  My second post on this blog concerned this, and I've addressed it other times such as this one: 
Inflation is always a result of monetary policy.  Always.  How does inflation occur?

Imagine you had a printer that could make perfect copies of any dollar denomination you wanted.  Because it's technically, you know, highly illegal to do this, you want to be disciplined about how you use it and reserve it for emergencies.  You need to buy a car and get into a bidding war at an auction.  You win because you can always pay a higher bid, just by printing a little more money, and you always get away with it.  Can you imagine that after a while, you would use this power more often?  Now imagine everyone had such a printer.  Can you imagine that the prices of everything would be bid up by the larger supply of dollars?  This is the essence of price inflation: an increase in the number of dollars available to bid pushes up price. 
Our Secretary of Homeland Security here at Castle Graybeard, Mrs. Graybeard, and I have been talking about how much price inflation is working into food prices.  AOL Money & Finance page Daily Finance reports Walmart has been quietly raising prices - some 60% or more.  Read the full article. 
Some of the price hikes were considerably larger. For instance, the price of a 32-ounce bottle of Windex household cleaner jumped 50%, a 12-ounce box of Quaker Oats instant grits climbed 65% and a 50-ounce container of Tide detergent rose by more than 50%. A spokesperson for the Bentonville, Ark., company could not immediately be reached for comment.

One of the tactics companies use to hide inflation in their prices is to sell smaller packages at slightly higher prices, rather than raising the price on the familiar size by a higher percentage.  Ice cream makers shrank their half gallon containers a while back, many other manufacturers, such as Doritos and other chip makers, and candy bar makers followed suit.  A so-called gallon of paint we just bought says it's 120 oz - not 128.  Even Moe's catfood can is 5.5 oz, down from 6.

The most widely reported Consumer Price Index, the "Core CPI"; colloquially called the "Cost of Living Index", which does not include food and energy costs - as if life were possible without them - says we are undergoing relatively benign growth.  Shadowstats - who keeps the CPI calculated the way it used be - shows total inflation of around 10% per year.  My guess is that food prices are running higher than 10% inflation.  We keep reading reports of poor production in all sorts of crops this year; that would argue for higher food inflation to come.   
Courtesy of ShadowStats.com

Blogger FerFal from "Surviving in Argentina" has seen all this firsthand.  Argentina underwent a collapse, and in their re-building has seen high inflation.  He offers advice on dealing with the inflationary spiral, There Will Be Poor - Don't Be One. I note that FerFal is apparently planning to leave Argentina and move to the US - as the majority of people that can afford to escape the horrible conditions in Argentina have left the country. 
US Mint Silver Eagles in the Standard Tubes of 20

Friday, August 20, 2010

Meet Obamacare

The true name of this law is (obviously) not Obamacare, just as the abomination thought up before was not really called HillaryCare.  But no one will ever call it by it's real name, the "Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act, P.L. 111-148; and Health Care & Education Reconciliation Act, P.L. 111-152"

Behold the flow chart (source) (and while you're there, download the full sized pdf of this chart):
Is that Byzantine enough for ya?  According to the guys who made this up, it's the simplified version.
Brady admits committee analysts could not fit the entire health care bill on one chart. “This portrays only about one-third of the complexity of the final bill. It’s actually worse than this.”

I'm particularly intrigued by this little corner:
Why is Homeland Security so closely involved to the president.  I understand you'd like them to be around in case of something that's a security threat, say a bio-terrorism attack.  But everyday?  The other two lines feeding them are from the two main powers, the IRS and the secretary of HHS. 

In addition to capturing the massive expansion of government and the overwhelming complexity of new regulations and taxes, the chart portrays:
  • $569 billion in higher taxes;
  • $529 billion in cuts to Medicare;
  • swelling of the ranks of Medicaid by 16 million;
  • 17 major insurance mandates; and
  • the creation of two new bureaucracies with powers to impose future rationing: the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute and the Independent Payments Advisory Board.
As the TV pitchmen say, "But wait, there's more!".  In "Obamacare and Taxes: The Final Tab"  Americans for Tax Reform lists the 20 new or higher taxes they've found so far. Some of these are:
Individual Mandate Excise Tax, Employer Mandate Tax, Surtax on Investment Income ($123 billion/Jan. 2013):  Creation of a new, 3.8 percent surtax on investment income, Excise Tax on Comprehensive Health Insurance Plans, Medicine Cabinet Tax, Flexible Spending Account Cap (FSA accounts to be capped at $2500)Tax on Indoor Tanning Services (the famous "honky tax"), Brand Name Drug Tax (let's hurt everyone!) Tax on Innovator Drug Companies (can't allow any innovation!) 
Even that is just the start.  In the pdf for the post "Six Months to Go Until The Largest Tax Hikes in History" they list the taxes coming our way.  That they know of.  So far.

It has been speculated that the goal of this system is to collapse, so people will demand the wonderful government replace it with a National Health Service.  I don't see any reason to rule that out, in light of comments of many associated with developing the plan. 

As the wonderful Mark Steyn said so long ago,
Why squander your presidency on trying to turn an economically moribund feudal backwater into a functioning nation state when you can turn a functioning nation state into an economically moribund feudal backwater?
I believe it was Mark who pointed out the essential problems with a national health service like the British or Canadian models.

The expenses go so high and the systems get so complex that they suck all of the government money and political effort up into the health system.  It becomes central to every election. 

Health care becomes highly politicized.  Diseases with the loudest, most active lobbying groups get the most money.  So money goes into treating AIDS or breast cancer, or sex change operations, but not hip replacements, pneumonia, or prostate cancer. 

Since it's politically sexier to put money into these politically backed diseases than buildings, the infrastructure is ignored.  Buildings crumble.  Cleaning staff is reduced, so hospitals become filthy places and hospital borne infections kill thousands.  

Another consequence is that pharmaceutical research grinds to a halt.  When companies are forbidden to profit, forbidden to pay for the top talent, it goes elsewhere.  When antibiotics fail, people will complain there are no alternatives - which will be a decade of work away.

With limited resources, rationing must happen, and treatment is denied to people who "haven't suffered enough", or are "too fat to get that hip replaced".  Care delayed is care denied, and people die. 

Another thing to ponder is this: the National Health Service for the UK - that tiny little piece of land - is the third largest employer on Earth, behind the People's Liberation Army (of China) and the Indian National Railroad system.  How much larger will our system have to be? 

I've heard a buzz of "Repeal and Replace".  I say "Repeal Now".  Worry about replacement later.  Look at every bubble on that flow chart and shut them down now.  Send those people home now. 


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Our Government - Now Hiring Medicine Man

I ran across this link today.  The Federal Bureau of Prisons in Minnesota is looking to hire a Native American Medicine Man. Srsly.

It gets better.  Ever see the Simpsons Movie?  The old native (Inuit?) woman in the tent with Homer?  They must think that was a documentary. 
"The contractor will conduct Native American ceremonies and provide instruction to inmates in the Native American Faith.

General Topics for Contractors - Native American
1. Red Road
2. All My Relation
3. Medicine Wheel
4. The Sacred Pipe
5. Sweat Lodge
6. Elders
7. Circle of Life
8. Traditions/Rituals
9. Prayers
10. Ceremonies" 
...a list that goes to 38 lines...
First off,  the Native American Faith?  Isn't there a bunch of them?  I've certainly read that beliefs varied, with major tribes having quite different belief systems. 

Sorry, but this just goes into my too bizarre for words file. 

This just in:  When the job link started going around, they changed it.  Now, instead of looking for a Medicine Man, they're looking for a Spiritual Guide. Guess "Medicine Man" didn't pass the legal team. You can see on the left that this was changed 3 times from 4:25 to 4:54.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different

By nature, I'm a DIY kind of guy.  I couldn't even begin to list every kind of thing I've made, but the range includes fishing rods and bucktail jigs, goes through full size wall-units, and small wooden boxes, with stops at radios, grinding telescope mirrors, hand fabricating precious metal jewelry, making one-of-a-kind metal parts for projects and special fixtures or tools. 

So when my interests turned to knives, it would only be a matter of time until I had to try making some.  Unlike firearms, you can buy knife kits widely.  The first couple of knives I built were folder kits.  Knife making supplies and kits are pretty easy to find.  Three places I know of are:  KnifeKits.com   Texas Knifemaker's Supply   and Jantz Supply

I have a couple of good self defense folders, a Cold Steel Recon 1, a Spyderco Tenacious, and a nice folding knife I made myself from this kit, with carbon fiber sides (called "scales" in knife-talk).

Once you've built a few kits, the next step up in knife making is to buy a finished blade and do the rest of the work yourself.  The "Ph.D. level" of knife making is to make everything, even Damascus steel for the blade.  Just below this level, many knives are made from the leaf springs of a junkyard car, or shaped from purchased chunks of carbon, stainless, or even Damascus steel.   

I decided to buy a blade and instead of attaching bone, antler, or wooden scales, I would make a set of scales from a semi-precious stone.   I decided on a fixed blade this time, not a folder, simply because I have many folders and no fixed-blade knives.  I started with this blade, which is clearly from Texas Knifemaker's.  With no instructions, I had to invent my work flow, which worked out pretty well. 

The first step was to install the bolsters, those two big pieces between the blade and the pins in this picture.  This was done by using two of the longer pins, and required enough effort to accomplish that I'm sure they're secure.  The pins are hammered in, and the bolsters clamped to the blade tang with a C-clamp to eliminate gaps while hammering in and setting the pins.  The pins extend a good quarter inch past the surface of the bolsters, leaving the question of how to get rid of the extra metal.  I have heard of grinding them off, but I own a good jeweler's saw, so I simply sawed them off flush to the bolsters.  If this was going to be a step by step, I would have taken a picture of them at this point, but I forgot.

Before you can go any farther, it's time to select and prepare the rough rock to become the scales.  This is where you decide what the knife will look like when it's done.  Will it be blue, red, green, or what?  With natural stones, there is an almost unlimited choice of colors and textures.  I chose a stone called silver sheen obsidian.  Obsidian (volcanic glass) comes in many varieties and is a favorite of rockhounds and lapidaries (people who cut and polish stones).  Silver sheen obsidian is black, but shows a silvery sheen (chatoyance) under light, almost a cat's eye effect, so it is a black handle that carries in it the silvery sheen of the blade. 

You can cut a stone like obsidian on a diamond tile saw, like you'll find in every Home Depot or Lowe's these days.  Skil makes this fairly cheap saw.  You wouldn't want to use this on very valuable stones, but for something like this, it's fine.  Once a couple of pieces with a good straight side are cut, epoxy the scales onto the blank and let it dry overnight.  If you're unaware, covering the blade with conventional masking tape is a good way to keep from slicing yourself up while working on your knife. 
A couple of 1inch C-clamps hold the stones while the epoxy sets.

Now it's time to shape the stones.  You have to do this with wet grinding, but other than that requirement, anyone who has done body work on a car knows instinctively what to do.  It's simply coarse grinding followed by progressively finer grits until you polish.  Do NOT use a Dremel for this: they're not waterproof.  Because of my other hobbies, I have access to a Diamond Pacific Genie, a wet grinding machine widely used by lapidaries who cut opaque stones like jade, agate, jasper and even gem material like star sapphires or opals.  I shaped the handles roughly, including some shaping of the sides and bottom ends of  the bolsters, which did not match the shape and outline of the knife blank. You can barely see it in this picture, but the bolsters are about 1/16" beyond the blade tang outline, all around. 
Rough-shaped down to about #400 grit.

With the stones shaped to this "fine grind" finish, I then smoothed the bolsters with files and sandpaper into a smooth profile with the blade.  After a few dozen projects as a silversmith, and a couple of classes in it, I tend to believe I can do anything with a handful of needle files, and while stainless is way harder than sterling, it was uneventful. 

Finally, with the metal smoothed and finished to 600 grit on sandpaper, I did the last few steps of grinding and then polishing the stone scales, and the metal, followed by polishing the metal bolsters with Tripoli on a bench polishing system.  I bumped the back half inch of the blade on one of the diamond wheels while shaping the stones, and had to re-shape and sharpen the blade.  I have the Lansky system for sharpening blades, and got a nice edge.  As a test, I cut some cooked chicken and found it cut every bit as well as the original edge.  
Finished Knife

So there you have it.  Is it practical, or is it a presentation/art knife?  At this point, I think it's practical.  I'll have to do some experimentation to see how well it handles.  My biggest concern with this project was that the knife might get too slippery when wet.  I find that's not the case, at least with water.  I have not tried blood (thankfully…) or other fluids.  What's it cost?  The blade was $30 with shipping.  I had the obsidian, but a good sized piece would be, maybe, $5.  The rest was a couple hours of my time, and you can't count that for a hobby, right? 

Mrs. Graybeard said she'd rather do this kind of work than make jewelry, because when you're done, a knife is an important, and very useful thing, while a piece of jewelry is nice, but it's just decorative.  There could be more knives like this in our future.

Edit: 8/23/10  On the request/advice of commenter, I've replaced the photo of the finished knife with one photographed on a more neutral background.  I think it looks better. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Men in Tights?

Hat tip to Bayou Renaissance Man for a laugh at this link on MAMILs - Middle Aged Men In Lycra  As a cyclist, I could say a lot.  The author's world is a bit different than the reality I live in, but it could be I don't hang around other middle aged cyclists enough.  His conclusion, though, shows he's as close as a brother from another mother:
I and my band of hill-climbing brothers disagree. It's about becoming a happier and healthier person rather than sliding towards mediocre oblivion at the bottom of a pint glass.
When I first started riding "seriously", back in 1994, it was for the reason a lot of "MAMILs" do: my knees couldn't take running.  I had started running in the late 1970s, and with some time away due to commitments I just couldn't get out of (read: college), had been running for about 20 out of that 24 years.  Back then, I vowed to never be seen in Lycra. 

There's an important point he doesn't make: cyclists don't wear Lycra because they think they look good any more than firefighters wear heavy fireproof clothing to look good; they wear it because Lycra is extremely well suited to the demands of road cycling.  Within a year, I started wearing Lycra shorts, but only under other clothing.

Then something happened - the Florida summer sun, which will melt an aluminum bicycle out from under you.  Eventually, you get so close to dying of heat stroke that your pride takes a back seat and you take off the outer layers, just to get that extra degree or two cooler.  In my case, I started wearing Lycra without a covering layer of baggie shorts when I stopped caring what other people think. 

In keeping with the article, I do own a carbon fiber bike.  It's not my regular ride, though; that's titanium.  By keeping an eye open and not being in a rush, I bought both a carbon fiber and a titanium bike for nicely under a k-buck each.  Like any hobby, you can accessorize to you heart's content and run up the price.  I've added a little bling to each.

FYI, the lovely Mrs. Graybeard cycles with me and knows all about prices and such.  We don't need to play games like trading shoes for jerseys, or silly things like that.

Nowadays, as 60 becomes closer than 50, we aren't really serious cyclists anymore.  We regularly tell jokes and have a few laughs while we're riding. 

Edit:  8/20.  The BBC link was broken. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

That Hindenburg Omen Thingy

Technical analysts are talking about the appearance in the NYSE data of the Hindenburg Omen, saying it indicates a high probability of a market crash in the next 40 days.


If you're a regular reader here, you'll note this post from last month, which also predicts a coming market crash.  This isn't really news.

Time to get out of the market and into cash?  Why would you take financial advice from some nobody on the 'net? 

My perspective is that the two things reinforce each other.  They don't make it more likely, but if every technical indicator says "dangerous waters ahead", what kind of sailor wouldn't pay attention?

Oh. Yeah.  Right.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Ground Zero Mosque

I haven't said anything about this issue, because it's complicated, and I don't usually have time to sit down and sort this out until the weekend.  Which it is.

I find that the Gormogons have summed up where I stand nicely, and there's not much to add.  The meat paragraph is probably this:
We have not discussed much about the mosque here at the Big G, largely because there isn’t much more to say about it. Even if we assume or pretend that the people behind this idea are really, truly genuine in their pronouncements about tolerance and understanding and so forth—and thus far, this does not seem to be the case—there is no long-term goal here. Say they build the mosque in 2011, and that it winds up not being a cruel mockery of a monumental tragedy, but an honest-to-goodness effort to show that some Muslims treat Ground Zero as hallowed land—so what? Does this tune still sound on key in 2013? 2018?
There are many problems with this project.  First, I must agree that the first amendment protects the right of the principals to build that mosque.  I also agree with people that say while they have the right, they shouldn't.  There are many mosques in NYC already, this one is just a particularly awful place to put one.  Why there, if the goal is truly an outreach for tolerance and understanding?

There's a problem with that whole tolerance and understanding mission.  According to people fluent in both languages, the message being spread in Muslim countries is not the message being spread in the US.
Moreover, when Rauf speaks in Arabic, he contradicts what he says to his English-speaking audience. On March 24, 2010, Rauf is quoted in an article in Arabic for the website Rights4All, a leading educational institution of the Arabic-speaking world, entitled "The Most Prominent Imam in New York: 'I Do Not Believe in Religious Dialogue.'" He goes on to say that "Religious dialogue as customarily understood is a set of events with discussions in large hotels that result in nothing."
Thanks to American Thinker.

The whole concept of tolerance and Islam is laughable anyway.  This is a society that murders daughters and wives for "honor".  This is a society that murders gays.  This is a society that straps bombs onto their children, for God's sake, and sends them to blow up other children.  This is a society that cuts the nose and ears off a woman for trying to leave an abusive household.  This is a society that still endorses slavery ("Slavery is part of Islam.  Slavery is part of Jihad and Jihad will remain as long as there is Islam").  The freakin' Taliban tried to kill off birds to keep them from singing, because it was too pleasant.  When they start showing some tolerance, maybe I'll come to a different conclusion. 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Is This The Last Week?

It's being widely reported that Russia says they are going to start fueling Iran's nuclear reactor a week from today, on 8/21. 

While most Americans are "sleeping in", paying attention to sports, and the usual crap, the mid-east is heating up.  In June, I posted a piece based on Donald Sensing's "Sense of Events" blog that noted many Israelis are expecting war soon.  Let's go over a few things that are approaching and tie them together.

First, there was that silly border skirmish between Israel and Lebanon when an Israeli team started trimming a tree.  Even the UN admits that tree is in Israel, not Lebanon.  What's going on?  Isn't it a common military tactic to probe your enemy?  Find what they respond to and how?  There is a lot of speculation that Israel intends to use the opportunity to reduce as much of their enemies as possible.  It is a matter of survival to them. 

Second, there is the next flotilla getting put together to try and break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza (tons of supplies come in by land).  This will be this September.  This attempt will feature a boat named "Audacity of Hope", and among those coordinating is Bernadine Dorn, wife of Bill Ayers, and - at the very least - someone who has been closer to the president than anybody I've ever known.

Then there's Iran and this reactor.  Fueling this reactor complicates things for the Israelis.  If you bomb a reactor with fuel rods in it, you have a much more serious contamination problem than if it's not fueled.  It adds pressure to do something "while you still can". Iran has played a master game of delay, asking for negotiations, putting everyone off, all the while working as hard as they can to get the bomb.  Time is running out.

Remember this hour glass in "The Wizard of Oz"?

Friday, August 13, 2010

It's a Law of Debate and Argument in General

The weaker the facts of an argument, the more strident the tone.  Example #1, Rep Ed. Markey (D-Ass) who said,
“An iceberg four times the size of Manhattan has broken off Greenland, creating plenty of room for global warming deniers to start their own country," Markey said in a statement. “So far, 2010 has been the hottest year on record, and scientists agree arctic ice is a canary in a coal mine that provides clear warnings on climate." 
Uh, that would be false, false, and false for $300, Alex.

2010 has not been the hottest year on record.  That was 1934.  The second hottest year was 1998, and it has been cooling since then.  If the CRU "Climategate" scandal taught us anything, however, it's just how crappy that temperature record is.  You shouldn't trust it.

Second, arctic ice is not a "canary in a coal mine".  In the first place, arctic ice is more cause than effect in northern climate.  But the implication that something is "bad" about the arctic ice is just plain wrong.  This year has had both higher coverage than the ensemble average of the last 10 years, and it has had times with less ice coverage: it is now pretty much in the thick of the typical pattern, tracking hear 2005.  Nothing shocking going on here.

And third, this is not a disastrous iceberg.  The scientist who reported it is quoted as saying,
What the press is not widely reporting is that Professor Muenchow also said :
years of data on the glacier itself show that after this month’s event, the mass of ice is still, on average, discharging about the same amount of water it usually does – some 600 million cubic meters a year, or about 220,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. “Even a big piece like this over 50 years is not that significant.  It’s just the normal rate,” he said. Muenchow warns people not to jump to conclusions. “An event like this, this specific event, all flags go immediately up, ‘Oh, let’s explain this by global warming.’ I cannot support that,” he said. "  (emphasis added - GB)
So the large chunk of ice falling off Greenland is just one of those statistical flukes.  They're not going to all be the same size: some bigger, some smaller, and one of them is probably going to be really big.  (In my experience, people who aren't comfortable with statistics don't think of this obvious fact).  This is how glaciers work: the snow falls in the winter and the glacier grows downslope, where they break off or melt. Greenland has been pretty cold this summer, and that probably held this one together long enough for a big piece to break off.  

I can guess that Rep. Markey hasn't heard/doesn't care that Argentina is having their coldest winter in the last 50 years ("Colder than Antarctica!"), but Markey and the warmists won't talk about it.  If it's cold, it's just weather.  If it's anything else, it's climate change.  

Example #2 is that overstuffed "sex poodle" with the clogged "second Chakra" - Al Gore.  Gore was enraged (dare I say, engorged?) at the failure to pass the Crap and Tax bill.
Al Gore told a conference call of supporters tonight that, “this battle has not been successful and is pretty much over for this year.” Gore bitterly denounced the Senate and federal government stating several times, “The U.S. Senate has failed us” and “The federal government has failed us.” Gore even seemed to blame President Obama by emphasizing that “the government as a whole has failed us… although the House did its job. [emphasis added]”
 Just warming up, Gore went on to say,
... “the government was not working “as our founders intended it to” and laid more blame at the feet of fossil fuel interests who conducted a “cynical coordinated campaign” with “unprecedented funding” and “who have spent hundreds of millions of dollars just on lobbying.” He criticized “polluters” for “dumping global warming pollution into the atmosphere like it was an open sewer.”
"cynical coordinated campaign"?  "Open sewer?  No inflammatory rhetoric there!

Look, in Gore's case, I get it.  He's in it for the money.  He has made almost a billion dollars off this gig, and the gravy train is derailing.   It's hard to believe he takes it seriously and believes the tripe he's selling, since he certainly doesn't live what he preaches.  It's hard to imagine a divinity school dropout has the intellectual engine to understand the science, so he just parrots what he hears from the real criminals, guys like Hansen at NASA - who never met a temperature curve he couldn't adjust upward - and Mann at Penn State (the guy who invented a way to make any random data look like a Hockey Stick). 

In Markey's case, well, you just can't buy that kind of stupid.  No, wait.  We can.  We are paying him, after all.

Edited right after first post: some issues with the links fixed

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

It's August, Where Are the Hurricanes?

Back at the end of May, I commented on the NHC predictions of a busier than normal hurricane season.  Here we are in August - still about a month from the statistical peak of the season, and those predictions have not been borne out.  It would take a record-breaking September and October to come close to the NHC predictions.

Back in May, if you recall, people were predicting hurricanes would rip the repair ships off the BP Deep Water Horizons well, and throw that oil up onto the land.  Some speculated lightning strikes would ignite the oil and the coast would experience a flood that carried fire!  Epic disasters of Biblical proportions. 

We are up to tropical depression #5, which fizzled this afternoon and was pronounced dead without ever making tropical storm strength and getting a name.  This is the IR satellite photo from this morning.  Frankly, my cats have barfed up scarier looking things than that.
It shouldn't be a surprise that some of the leading hurricane research centers are in Florida: the National Hurricane Center in Miami and Florida State University.  At FSU, researcher Dr. Ryan Maue has been tracking the total amount of tropical cyclone activity (Accumulated Cyclone Energy - ACE) around the world.  He reports findings so far removed from the hype that it should make your head spin.

Global TC Activity remains at 30-year lows at least -- The last 24-months of ACE at 1090 represents a decrease from the previous months and a return to the levels of September 2009...Since Hurricane Katrina (August 2005) and the publication of high-profile papers in Nature and Science, global tropical cyclone ACE has collapsed in half. This continues the now 4-consecutive years global crash in tropical cyclone activity. While the Atlantic on average makes up about 10% of the global, yearly hurricane activity, the other 90% deserves attention and has been significantly depressed since 2007.

and the zinger that got me:

Northern Hemisphere year-to-date ACE is nearing 50% below normal. The Western North Pacific is at 17% of normal (or the past 30-year average).

17% of normal?  That's amazing!  If anything, we should be standing around wondering what happened to the tropical cyclones.  No one I know enjoys getting hit by one (well, no one enjoys the preparation and clean up although the storms can have some entertainment value) but they are a vital part of the global weather system, distributing heat and moisture from the tropics into the northern parts of the globe when summer tends to shut down circulation from higher latitudes to lower.  It is not entirely a joke when I say one of our main exports is humidity.

Dr. Maue's plot of ACE.  Note we are at levels not seen since the 1970s.  
I find this quite interesting.  I "grew up" as a homeowner in south Florida before the left end of that plot.  I don't recall any hurricanes in the early 1970s - I remember going through a few while growing up in Miami (Donna, Cleo, Betsey) and I remember David in 1979 - which was just a brush for us.  Betsey was in 1965, so that was 14 years with no storms.

In 2004, we had two direct-hit hurricanes here and a couple of swipes.  In 2005 we had a couple of brushes.  I don't count tropical storms, although the one we had last year, Fay, dropped more rain than all of the 2004 hurricanes combined.  2005 is just about the last peak of that chart.  The possibility of getting back to a decade or 15 year quiet time sounds good.  I suspect, though, that somewhere on Dr. Maue's website there's one of those disclaimers the stock brokers use, "past performance is no guarantee of future results".

Edited  8/12 for a dumb-o error.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

About That Whole Global Economic Collapse Thingy - Part IV

It's starting.  Well, okay, it started a while ago.  It's shifting gears.  Moving onto that Teflon slope that's been greased. 

The Federal Reserve has announced it intends to use its massive real estate holdings to buy our own Treasuries, thereby monetizing our debt.  This is seriously bad stuff; so seriously bad that Bernanke swore to congress in 2009 that he'd never do that.  Nice to see a man of his word in action, idnit?  The New York Times has a decent descriptive piece on it.  The risk of a total collapse of the dollar and runaway hyperinflation has increased with this action.  It is hard for a bozo like me to assign a number to that risk, but it is certainly higher. 

First, Denninger fisks the Federal Open Market Committee minutes and translates them into Redneck (i.e., plain spoken English).

Then The Prudent Investor talks about what it all means. 

At the heart of all the economic troubles in the world today - from this to the problems with the Greek economy, the PIIGS, and the Japanese lost quarter century is a conflict of economic visions.  Virtually every government on the globe today is following a flavor of Keynesian economics, named for John Maynard Keynes.  The alternative view, typified by the Austrian school of economics (often credited to Ludwig Von Mises) is not followed by nations, as a general rule. There are, of course other prominent names on both sides.  Milton Friedman did much to discredit Keynesian economics, as did Friedrich Hayek

Here's what it all comes down to: what's a dollar worth?  In Austrian economics, a unit of currency has a backing of some kind; historically this has been a commodity that people value, such as a small amount of gold, or silver, although anything could be used.  The disadvantage to this system (in the eyes of politicians - and the history of this idea goes back beyond the Roman Empire) is that the money supply is fixed by the amount of that commodity.  In general, that supply never expands as fast as nations want.  A physical standard like gold requires fiscal discipline to live within a budget. In "modern" economics, currencies all float with respect to each other.  A dollar might trade for .80 Euro today; next week it might trade for 1.0 Euro, or 0.5.  The price is an indication of the globally felt trust in that currency. 

In all honesty, Keynes did not advocate the fiscal policy practiced in his name today.  Yes, he did advocate for government spending during recessionary phases of the business cycle, but he said governments shouldn't do that when times are good.  They should pay off their debts when good times bring more revenue.

It's worth noting that China has let it be known that they are working to back the yuan with gold.  They announced they own "a mere 1064 tonnes" of gold, sixth in the world and only 1.6% of their holdings.  With the trillion dollars they hold, they can buy a lot of the world's gold, and are likely to have a major affect on the price.  It seems they see the problems the rest of the world is having with Keynesian economics and want no part of it.

In passing, let me just note the Stupid party passed, and the Stupid president signed, their $26 Billion emergency funding for "teachers' jobs".  So the combined stimulus money of over $800 Billion didn't help, but 3.3% of that will?

Monday, August 9, 2010

An August Surprise? Maybe September or October?

Over the weekend, James Pethokoukis at Reuters ran a story enlarging on some rumors that have been going around for a while, rumors that the administration "is about to order government-controlled lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to forgive a portion of the mortgage debt of millions of Americans who owe more than what their homes are worth."  The estimate is that 20% of the mortgages in the US are "under water".  That's around 15 million mortgages with a total negative equity of $800 billion.
1) Republican leaders believe this is going to happen since GOPers and Democratic moderates in the Senate are unwilling to spend more taxpayer money on more stimulus. But such a housing plan would allow the White House to sidestep congressional objections and show voters it is doing something tangible about an economy that seems to be weakening.
2) Wall Street banks are alerting their clients privately to this possibility.
Go read it. 

Most people seem to realize this is a bad idea and are opposed to it.  It may be a bad idea, but it also may a be politically motivated idea - to get Stupid party voters to show up and vote for the Stupid candidates. Perhaps it could stem the tide that is running against them right now.  Giving Stupid people free money is a proven vote-getter.

Why is this a bad idea?  Let's start with the simplest question: where does this $800 billion come from?   We are deficit spending at a record pace, so it's can't simply come from taxes.  Sure, some will come from taxpayers today, but most of it either comes from selling bonds, which our children and grandchildren will have to pay back, or it will come from the creation of money from thin air, which will cause inflation now and for years to come.

What about the people who lived frugally, and well within their means?  Do they get rewarded by paying taxes to bailout the 20% who got stuck in a bubble market when the music stopped?  

There are always unintended consequences to every action a government takes.  In this case, the biggest benefit really flows to the bankers.  Everyone knows the banks are being hurt by having so many bad loans out there; so like the first stimulus program, and the TARP money, this goes to make the bankers.

And in return for bailing out the bankers, you get to enslave your children and their children to the government.  No, thanks.

We can't go on blowing bubble after bubble.  In general, stimulus programs are not capable of working - see The Broken Window Fallacy.  Something like the "cash for clunkers" can pull demand in from the future, but create a crash in the future.  You can't pull in demand forever: that requires infinite supplies.  It can't happen.  Japan has tried virtually everything we're trying, and they still have lost 20 years (it's not a lost decade - it's more like two decades). Watch the video on Japan at the National Inflation Association.  It will curl your hair. 

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Meet The Zoo

A couple of months ago, I noted losing our cat to a long term illness.  It was a sad time, and many folks left warm comments.  Allow me to introduce the new extended clan.

It was plainly too quiet in the house, so a few weeks later we were drawn to the local pet rescue center, and after meeting her briefly, brought home Aurora.  Aurora, known most of the time as "Roar-ah", is 3 years old, and apparently a mix of Lynx-point and Lilac point Siamese. She is blue-eyed, with a fairly thick coat. 

She is playful and very interactive.  She's gradually warming to being held and petted, which seems like a new thing to her.  She originally had, and is still getting over, a tendency to cringe when you go to pet her.  I think she must have been abused to some amount.  There is a special place in Hell for someone who would abuse a small cat.  Someplace where they get a face full of 00buck every few seconds for eternity. 

The next week, we met Mojo.  We had originally gone to meet another cat, but somehow, Mojo got into my head and I knew we had to take him home instead.  Meet Mojo.
Mojo is his given name, but we mostly just call him Moe.  Or Moe-man.  Or Moe-cephus, Moe-regard, Moe-ritius... you get the point.  Moe has an outrageous personality and is just a lot of fun.  He's the kind of cat who has to check out everything.  He opens cabinets, opens drawers, and hates closed doors.  Today, I found him on top of the tallest piece of furniture in the house, with a satisfied look on his face. He is not really fond of being carried or held, but has crawled all over us and licked us like a puppy.  Moe is also 3 years old.  And, yes, he is pure white with lots of pink skin showing, and golden-eyes. 
Moe's favorite place to sleep - on Mrs. Graybeard's pillow.  Or her head.

I'd like to say that they get along perfectly, but there is some jealousy - mostly on Moe's part.  I think the basic problem is he was a single cat in a home with a family (which he lost), while she was in multi-cat household.  He is just not used to sharing attention with anyone.  He will be sleeping quietly, then have to get up and go swat Roar-a.  I have seen her swat him, but not lately.  They have a tendency to alternate sleep periods, which helps.

So that's the latest in Castle Graybeard (a reference for those in the age groups that remember Castle Grayskull - as viewer or parent of viewer).  Never a dull moment. 

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Count Me In

Thanks to Brigid, I found this little mission going on:

Struck me as an easy, small thing to do, so off to the big e-tailer (home of the smiley-face boxes) I went, on a quest to find some yo-yos to send off.  Had a weird experience where the page said one price ($2.something) and when I put a dozen in my cart they came in at another ($4.something).  Had to do some stuff, came back to the computer and the $2.something price was gone.  To make the long story short, I went and found an online yo-yo shop (isn't the net wonderful?) and 10 are on the way.  Well, they will be as soon as they ship - supposedly Monday. 

I can't say I recommend this shop because my experience with them consists of an online order that I haven't received, yet, but if you're adventurous, you can go try YoYoPlay.com 

(And, really, if you don't visit Brigid's Home on the Range, you're missing one of the highlights of the Internet gun culture.  Mrs. Graybeard and I both visit a few times a week; Mrs. GB says that Brigid's recipes are a treasure, and are clearly written by and for someone who already knows how to cook well.) 

Friday, August 6, 2010

"First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the Lawyers"

Said to be from Wm. Shakespeare, in Henry VI.

I guess most of us have heard some of the stories of people who make a living suing stores and restaurants.  Kind of a traveling circuit, going from store to store, faking a fall and starting a lawsuit.  They are, of course, supported by a cottage industry of lawyers who take these suits.

The business plan has expanded to suing over the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.  From Walter Olson at the Cato Institute: 
It’s an open scandal, especially in states like California that offer enhanced penalties or liberal procedural rules, that serial complainants and their lawyers carve out profitable practices visiting dozens or hundreds of businesses and leveling ADA complaints that they then settle for cash.
Enter the case of one Mr. Antonineti vs. Chipotle in the 9th Circus, perhaps the most liberal court in the US.
...where a panel including Judge Reinhardt ruled that Chipotle's business model of allowing customers watch their burritos being made at 45-inch-high counters violated the ADA because the counters were too high for those in wheelchairs to watch. (Chipotle instead would take ingredients to a customer's table, and even let the wheelchair-bound taste them from serving cups.)
The 9th Circus overturned a lower-court ruling that tried to stop the business model of suing companies over imagined ADA offenses.  The district court had noted:
Antoninetti's "history as a plaintiff in accessibility litigation supports this Court's finding that his purported desire to return to the [r]estaurants is not sincere. Since immigrating to the United States in 1991, Plaintiff has sued over twenty business entities for alleged accessibility violations, and, in all (but one) of those cases, he never returned to the establishment he sued after settling the case and obtaining a cash payment."
I'm sure that people who read my writings realize this is not a "victimless crime", and no crime that goes after every business and insurance company is victimless.  We all pay for it, whether it's the ever-present warning label on everything, or the disappearance of products we grew up with?  Something I hear all the time is how much harder is to find land to hunt on, or rockhound on, or set a telescope up on, or put a shooting range on...  Remote locations that people used to go to are shut down as the land owners react to the fear of lawsuit.

It's not just this sort of suit.  Since we have an overpopulation of lawyers, they are evolving new business plans centered on pretty much suing everyone about everything.  To quote the original (Cato) article again:
As a phenomenon, the ADA filing mill has much in common with other forms of baleful legal “entrepreneurship” such as patent trollery, mass “citizen suit” filings against small businesses and school districts over paperwork lapses, and — the most recent to emerge — copyright mills such as the recently formed RightHaven, which has begun to acquire the rights to old newspaper articles and then mass-file lawsuits demanding thousands of dollars from bloggers, mom and pop businesses, and others who’ve ill-advisedly reprinted the articles online without permission.
Gee - an overpopulation of lawyers.  And what do state game commissions do when there's an overpopulation of any other scavenger?  Pay bounties for carcasses?

I'm just sayin'....