Saturday, February 27, 2010

Iran Summary 26 February 2010

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Iranians Bring Uranium to the Surface. On Feb. 14, with inspectors present, the Iranians moved roughly 4,300 pounds of low-enriched uranium out of deep underground storage to the small plant that they have declared they will use to re-enrich the fuel to 20 percent purity. (It takes 80- to 90-percent purity to make a weapon, a relatively small technological leap from 20 percent.)  No one understands why they would do it. Taunt the Israelis?  Invite an attack?  Perhaps they want to make it known that they intend to enrich all of their uranium.  Or perhaps there was other more important uranium to move to the underground storage.  Who knows?

Osiraq Redux: A Crisis Simulation of an Israeli Strike on the Iranian Nuclear Program. Kenneth M. Pollack, Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, ran a role-playing simulation in December to see what would happen politically and militarily if the Israelis were to attack Iran. The results indicate that Israel would have to attack Hamas and Hizbullah with both air and ground forces.  Iranian long range Shahab-3 and Hezbollah/Hamas short and medium range missiles would cause significant damage to the Israeli economy.  The US would likely be forced to clear mines from the Strait of Hormuz as well as decimate Iranian operational capability in and along the Persian Gulf.   Interestingly, the simulation assumed that the Israelis would not warn the US before striking.  I believe it is possible that the additional forces the US has sent to the Gulf are not there to defend against Iran, but are actually to prevent Israel from striking.

Several Dubai Suspects Fled through Iran.  After killing senior Hamas terrorist Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai, two or three of the 26 current suspects actually went by boat from Dubai to Iran.  This further complicates the theory that Mossad was responsible for the killing.

Ahmadinejad Visits Syria.  Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah met Thursday evening in Damascus along with their senior advisors, and discussed regional developments and “the zionist threat,” it was revealed Friday.  The two were the guests of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who had dinner with the two and participated in the talks.  According to Arab media reports, the meeting was not reported upon until after it had taken place for security reasons.  On Thursday Ahmadinejad and Assad together unleashed vicious rhetoric against Israel, with Ahmadinejad declaring that the “criminal” state of Israel is doomed, and Assad charging that Israel “is capable of aggression at any point.”  A Syrian diplomat quoted by the Iranian Fars news agency noted that the two leaders were set to discuss a variety of regional issues, including ways to build support for “anti-Israeli resistance groups."  Ahmadinejad, speaking after his meeting with Assad, said that together, the two countries and their allies would establish a Middle East “without Zionists and without colonialists.”

Admiral Michael Mullen in Israel.  The visit to Israel this week by the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, underlined the growing urgency of the Iranian nuclear challenge, and the Obama administration’s intensifying effort to keep closely coordinated with Israel while grappling with that threat.  Mullen’s visit coincided with the announcement that Vice President Joe Biden will also come to Israel in the near future, again for high-level talks largely focused on the Iranian issue. The visit also came as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton toured Qatar and Saudi Arabia in order to shore up support for American diplomatic and military efforts in the region, ahead of visits by three of her top deputies and a reported upcoming trip by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel. The rhetoric from Washington is firm: Clinton declared to Iran that the US would “not stand idly by while you pursue a nuclear program that can be used to threaten your neighbors and even beyond.” Mullen was more curt still: Iran “cannot have a nuclear weapon, [or] nuclear capability,” he said here. 

Iran Vows Not to Suspend Uranium Enrichment. Iran’s foreign minister reiterated Tuesday that his country would never again suspend uranium enrichment, a move the United States says is essential for  Washington-Tehran negotiations.  Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was speaking a day after the United States, the four other permanent  members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany considered measures that could  include further sanctions on Iran for refusing to suspend enrichment.  “Demands that Iran halt enrichment  are illegal and illegitimate and based on an incorrect political strategy. This  (suspension) will never materialize,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency  quoted Mottaki as telling a conference in the capital Tehran.  Mottaki added, however, that Iran is prepared to negotiate about its nuclear  program “without any preconditions.”

Friday, February 26, 2010

New Paper Exposes Global Warming Data Manipulation

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If there are any politically uncompromised climate scientists left in the world, this should kill off the whole global warming fraud.   Dr. Edward R. Long has recently compared rural temperatures with urban temperatures, both as raw data and as they are adjusted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).

Here is what he found:

The raw data shows very little warming in rural areas and signifcant warming in urban areas (i.e. cities).  But the NCDC adjustments "fix" the rural data to be like the urban data, thus making it look like there is global warming, when actually the warming only exists in areas with hot pavement and buildings.  There is no explanation for why NOAA/NCDC would do such a thing.  They have always claimed that their adjustments reduce the urban heat island effect, but it turns out they actually do the opposite.

 
 
Click on images for larger versions 

Combined with similar studies showing such upward adjustments also exist in world-wide data, this exposes a pervasive bias in temperature measurements.  Most of the other world datasets such as NASA-GISS's GISTEMP, use the NCDC data as a starting point and then add their own upward biases.

The full paper may be found here: Contiguous U.S. Temperature Trends Using NCDC Raw and Adjusted Data for One-Per-State Rural and Urban Station Sets (PDF) and is freely available for viewing and distribution.  Dr. Long also recently wrote a column for The American Thinker titled: A Pending American Temperaturegate.  As he points out in that column, Joe D’Aleo and Anthony Watts raised similar concerns inSurface Temperature Records: Policy Driven Deception? (PDF)

See also wattsupwiththat.com.

ARM Reset Payshock Could Be Next Crisis

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Many home loans in the last 10 years have had “teaser” rates, and low qualifying requirements. After a defined period of time however, the loans “reset” to have a large balloon payment or greatly increased monthly payments. This increase is called a “payshock”. The large number of subprime loan payshocks and resulting defaults (and their flowdown into packaged loans and derivatives based on those packages), were the proximate cause of the economic meltdown in 2008.

You can see in this chart that subprime loan resets were huge leading up to the 08 crash. These loans had been given to large numbers of people who could not handle the payshock as the housing bubble burst, and thus defaulted on their loans.


Click on the image for a larger version

Unfortunately, the next big problem is adjustable rate mortgages (ARM). The area under that curve is about as big as the subprime hump was – and the economy is weaker, with more people out of work and just managing to get by. More people are under water on their loans too, since the real estate market has continued to decline. This new ARM-related payshock wave has the potential to cause more havoc than the subprime crisis did, although new limits on derivatives could help to mitigate it somewhat.

The real estate market is getting worse every month, with values dropping, and more and more mortgages going underwater.  Take a look at this:
First American CoreLogic, the research firm that monitors housing equity, reported Tuesday [February 23, 2010] that 11.3 million homeowners -- or 24% of all homes with mortgages -- were underwater as of the end of 2009. That's up from 23% and 10.7 million borrowers three month earlier.

Nevada was the state with the worst record at 70% of all mortgaged properties underwater. That was followed by Arizona (51%), Florida (48%), Michigan (39%) and California (35%).

I can think of four ways that the crisis could be avoided:

  1. The economy is performing so well by then that most people have no trouble with the payshock.
  2. The housing market is so good that people can take equity out of their house.
  3. The government takes over private banking and pays off the loans with printing-press money, promising that no one will be thrown out of their home by the evil bankers.
  4. Inflation takes off so much that an extra thousand a month or a balloon payment of $50k simply isn’t very much money.

I am betting on number 3, since that was pretty much the response to the 2008 crisis, and I really don’t see a wonderful economy magically appearing in the next year or two. Number 4 is possible, but unlikely in this short timeframe.

Note that if this all occurs as planned, housing prices could drop again in a big way.

Deflation, inflation, stagflation -- who knows which way it will go? At this point, your investment decisions are dependent almost entirely on government policy, not company fundamentals, so it is a real guessing game. I am not even sure gold is safe. Cash probably is not.  A couple of months ago, Nouriel Roubini said "Investors would be better off stockpiling canned foods and other commodities like oil if the recession suffered a double dip" Can anyone say Cloward-Piven?
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It's Easy Being Vice-President

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I've always said that I would prefer a President without an agenda to impose on the country, without an obsession for change, without excessive drive and motivation.  I want a President that simply doesn't do much, and works to make the government do less than it does now.

Joe Biden may be the guy.



Before the afternoon session of the "health care summit" started, this conversation between Biden and some other folks was picked up by C-SPAN.

Biden:  "It's easy being vice president — you don't have to do anything."
Other person:  "It's like being the grandpa and not the parent."
Biden:  "Yeah, that's it!"
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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Al Qaida Wants to Close the Bab el-Mandeb

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The world tends to focus on Iran's threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, potentially impacting a quarter of the world's oil production.

But there are growing concerns that another key choke point could be closed and also disrupt the flow of oil and other goods.

The Bab el-Mandeb connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden.  Terrorists are on both sides of the waterway, and the Islamic Somalis are already operating their piracy business virtually unmolested in the Gulf of Aden .

Click on the map for a larger version.


Excerpts from spacewar.com:

Said al-Shihri, the deputy commander of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP], recently outlined a radical strategy: joining forces with Islamist militants in Somalia, across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen, to take control of the Bab el-Mandeb, a narrow waterway between Yemen and Eritrea that links the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean via the Red Sea.

Al-Shihri, a former Guantanamo detainee from Saudi Arabia, said in a 12-minute audiotape released Feb. 8 that controlling the Bab al-Mandeb -- Arabic for "Gate of Tears" because of the navigational hazards ancient seafarers faced there -- would "bring it back under the protection of Islam."

He urged Somali jihadists, who have links to al-Qaida, to join with AQAP to "create a great victory and international power for us.  Then the strait will be closed and the grip of will be tightened around the throat of the Jews, because the U.S. supports them through (the strait), by means of the Red Sea in particular."

That is in line with Osama bin Laden's recent call for an economic jihad to bleed the West.

Following an offer by the al-Shebab militants in Somalia, who are fighting a U.S.-backed transitional federal government, to join forces with AQAP, al-Shihri declared they would wage war on the Americans on two fronts.

The Red Sea, which is linked to the Mediterranean at its northern end via the Suez Canal, is one of the most critical maritime routes in the world.

Thirty percent of world trade runs through the Bab al-Mandeb.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Snow, Blizzards, and Global Cooling

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Once again we are looking at another monster storm for the northeastern US.

I think it is funny that Al Gore and his ilk used to say that Global Warming causes a lack of snow, and that by 2010, children in places like the US and the UK would very rarely or never see snow.  Now of course, with a snowy northern hemisphere winter that is similar to those seen during the 1800's, they are saying, "Of course, global warming causes more snow."  I imagine that if we get very little snow over the next couple of years, that will also be caused by global warming -- as it was 10 years ago.


If global warming caused more moisture in the air, perhaps we could get deeper snows in the north where it was still cold.  But the snow extent is increasing, not just the depth.  The world is significantly colder, not just snowier.  Take a look at this chart of last week's records from NOAA.  The snow line is to the south, and record cold is in the south, as it has been all winter, and last year, and the year before that.



According to Rutgers University data through mid February, northern hemisphere snow extent has been increasing generally since 2003.  As one commenter on wattsupwiththat.com said,  "Dear God! How long do we have before Global Warming pushes the snow line down to the equator?

In early February, North American snow extent broke an all-time record, and the whole northern hemisphere extent was the second highest on record.  To get this increased extent, southern areas have to be colder than average.  Though Al Gore would have you believe otherwise, a colder globe is not consistent with global warming.  None of their models predict what is occurring.

The snow in in the northeast is fairly consistent with the observed El Nino pattern except that this winter has been colder than a typical El Nino winter.  By the end of the summer, the Pacific will likely go into its cool phase -- which should make next winter drier and evern colder than this one.

Good luck out there, and stay warm. 
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Lost Travelers on the Old Road

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Throughout the 1990s, we lived in Horsethief Canyon Ranch, between Corona and Lake Elsinore, California.  This development of about 1,200 homes was built on a terraced bajada slope – an area of tilted land made up of decomposed granite and alluvial sand washed out of the Santa Ana mountains.  At the bottom of the slope, and running perpendicular to it, is Interstate 15 and the somewhat more twisty old Temescal Canyon Road.  All of this sits in the Temescal Canyon which runs from Corona to the northwest, past Lake Elsinore, down to Temecula to the southeast. Geologically, the canyon was created by a branch of the San Andreas fault.

Horsethief Canyon Ranch is marked with a pin
Click for larger image

In the olden days, Temescal Canyon was part of the route to and from Southern California across the desert.  It was the natural trail, used by the local Indians, the early Spanish explorers, missionaries, various outlaws (for example, the horse thieves who kept stolen horses up in the slope in the box canyon), John Fremont, and the Butterfield Stage.

"Temescal" is actually an Aztec word for hothouse or sweat lodge.  And it does get incredibly hot.  The joke we used to tell about how Lake Elsinore was named described an old padre who sent a Indian over the mountains from the coast to see what was there.  All he found was oven-like heat, a  lake full of algae, and hot sulfurous springs.  When he got back, the missionary asked him what it was like.  He sighed and responded "It's Hell, SeƱor."  And the name stuck.

I often thought about the history of this route when I drove on Temescal Canyon Road down to Lake Elsinore or up to Tom's Farm (about 4 miles up the road) to buy gas or groceries.  It is very deserty and rather untraveled.

Down by Alberhill, the road goes through a bosque of large eucalyptus trees, and is very dark and creepy at night.  In the late 1980's, a serial killer, William Suff, dumped the bodies of some of his victims in that area.  In a spiritual sense, I think the road could be said to be "in dispute".

Oddly, I sometimes found travelers, like ghosts, still walking along the trail.  Homeless people seemed to gravitate to this natural path despite the heat and lack of population.  These folks were of the true homeless class, not the kind that collect money on street corners (sometimes making a good living at it).  Out by themselves, far from towns, and clearly destitute, these people were definitely on the razor's edge.  Several times, I stopped to make sure they were OK, and did what I believed I could for them.

One such gentleman told me he had started up in Washington State and had walked most of the way.  His shoes certainly looked like it.  They had once been dress shoes, but were now all curled up and worn through to his feet.  His face was crusted with sweat and dirt.  Heading south, I offered to take him down to Lake Elsinore, but he declined.  He said he was trying to find a friend who he thought lived in San Diego, maybe.  I gave him all the bills I had in my wallet.

Another guy was heading north, walking an old bicycle.  The bike had two flat tires and a broken frame mended with two pieces of wooden lath lashed to it with string.  He smelled bad, but we threw his bike in the back of the truck and I took him to the Carl's Jr. at Tom's Farm.  I had to press him to take money.  He finally took eleven dollars and went into the fast food restaurant.

One day, I was headed down to the McDonald's in Lake Elsinore to pick up cheeseburgers for the kids.  It was cheap cheeseburger day, so I was going to get like 12 of them.  The temperature outside was around 110 degrees.  Just as soon as I turned onto Temescal Canyon Road, there was a guy walking southeast with the look I was beginning to know well:  long olive drab pants, beard, old oily shirt, stained baseball cap, encrusted day pack over his shoulder, sweat streaming down his face.

Money wasn't what he needed.  I knew I could find him again in 15 minutes.

I bought a ton of cheeseburgers, and stopped at a gas station to buy three quarts of cold water. Sure enough, driving back, I found the guy easily.  I stepped out of my truck and he came over.  "You need any water?" "God, yes."  I handed him the bottles, and he opened one of them and took several long drinks.  He took 6 of the cheeseburgers, very thankfully.  We talked only a little; most of these folks are not real big on conversation.  He said, "I was praying for this."  "Well," I said, "these aren't from me then are they?"  "Nope, they are from the Lord."  He glanced at me and ate more cheeseburgers, washing them down with more ice cold water.

I asked him if he needed a lift.  No, he knew some people in Lake Elsinore and would be OK.  I had started to wonder about these kinds of statements, because I had heard similar things from other such travelers.  Every one of them seemed to have someone nearby, and some place they were going.  You see, they weren't actually homeless; they weren't actually wandering aimlessly across the country. They had a friend, or a relative – someone – they were on their way to visit.  I think most of them actually believed it themselves, because the alternative was so horrible.  Not only were they homeless, jobless, and in the middle of nowhere – they were also friendless.  Completely alone in the world.  And that could not be acknowledged.

The guy went south with cheeseburgers and water, and I went north to deliver cheeseburgers to my kids in my nice air-conditioned house.  I look back on all of this, ten years on, and wish I could have done more than just give them enough food and water for the rest of the day.

The next morning, they had nothing again.

I wonder if any of them are even still alive.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Big Dust Up Financial Index


I have figured out a way to invest in oil and gold while mitigating down-side risk to some extent. I began investing in what I call the Big Dust Up Financial Index (BDUFI) on February 4th.

First some background on why you would want to invest in oil and gold:

Oil

Iran has long threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if attacked by Israel or the US. The reduction in oil flow out of the Middle East would be significant. Some estimates are that up to a quarter of world production would be affected, causing the price of oil to skyrocket, possibly to $300/barrel. Long term, oil is anticipated to increase as reserves are exhausted (the peak oil concept).  Over the last couple of years, I have always had some of my money in oil, anticipating that eventually the Iran problem will require a forceful fix. On occasion, I've invested quite a lot, sometimes getting burned when the unpredictable nature of world markets causes oil to decline.


Gold

Historically, gold has been a safe store of wealth -- although in the last 100 years, the price of gold has been declining when measured against what it can buy.  It is widely believed that the vast, unprecedented deficit spending of the Obama administration will eventually cause serious inflation, the decline of the dollar, and possibly a time of extreme hardship in our country.  If this happens, gold and other precious metals may be one of the few things that have any value, along with canned food.  Don't expect gold or 1x gold funds to make you wealthy; but they may allow you to keep even with inflation.

The Linkage Between Gold, Oil, and the Stock Market

Gold and oil have pretty much followed the stock market (with various multipliers) since 2008. If it looks like the economy is improving, oil and gold as commodities will be in higher demand, and thus will be at higher prices.  If the dollar declines, prices go up.  If it strengthens, prices go down.  Gold and oil break away from the market periodically such as in early-2008 when oil popped up to $145 on rumors of war (Bush ended up vetoing Israel’s plan to attack Iran in the summer of 2008). But as long as normalcy reigns in world affairs, this linkage should continue.  Stocks go up, gold and oil go up.  Stocks go down, gold and oil go down.

Splitting the Linkage

But  inflation, or a reigning in of stimulus, or a Middle-East war would split this linkage, and cause the stock market to go down and oil and gold to go up:
  • Inflation: Any symptom of inflation would be counteracted by tightening of the money supply, causing stocks to fall, and gold to go up as a hedge. Oil would likely go up too at first, but could go down as tightening is imposed especially if it starts looking like stagflation.
  • Middle-East War: An attack would reduce the supply of oil, causing the price to skyrocket, especially if Iran makes good on promises to close Hormuz. Gold is likely to go up as well because it is a safe haven, but this is less certain.
Less obvious and less likely are events that could split the linkage and cause the stock market to go up, and oil and gold to go down:
  • Prosperity Miracle: If we quickly transitioned into a growing economy without inflation and with good confidence, oil and gold would likely drop in value, and stocks would go up.
  • Middle-East Peace Miracle: If a wide-ranging settlement with Iran were to occur, oil prices could be cut in half. This would be a great stimulus for the economy, and would cause stocks to rise and gold to decline as money is extracted to buy stocks.
So the question becomes: How can you manage risk if they all go down (or up), while still being able to take advantage of an event that causes oil or gold (or both) to go up and the market to go down?

My solution is to hedge investments in oil and gold ETFs with an investment in inverse stock market index ETFs.

In particular, I have recently invested in USO (1 month oil futures), OIL (1 month oil futures), UGL (double gold), DXD (double inverse Dow Jones Industrial Average), and FAZ (triple inverse Russell 1000 financials).

  • USO and OIL were selected instead of the more popular USL because they are invested in 1-month futures and USL is invested in a spread of 12-month futures. The event I am looking for will likely affect 1-month futures more than 12-month futures. With USO/OIL though you have to be careful and watch for contango, which is not as much of a problem with USL.
  • UGL gives me leverage in gold. While the leverage increases risk, I am mitigating some of the risk with my DXD/FAZ hedge.  The leverage provides wealth-building in an inflationary environment, rather than just staying even with inflation.
  • DXD provides a leveraged position in shorting the Dow Jones Industrial Average. It counteracts the USO and UGL while they are linked with the Dow. When the Dow goes down, DXD goes up.
  • FAZ allows me to take advantage of my belief that the financial sector will go down more than other sectors of the economy.  The 3x inverse nature of FAZ makes it highly volatile however.
The Way It Works

If they all stay linked and properly balanced, I stay roughly even. If a Mid-East War breaks out, oil goes up  making OIL and USO go up. Stocks go down and therefore DXD and FAZ go up.  I get a huge gain.  If inflation hits, gold will go up and stocks will go down, both making me money with UGL and DXD/FAZ -- with oil holding roughly even with inflation. If the stock market tanks, gold will go down, and oil will go down, but DXD/FAZ will make me money, hopefully staying at least even. If Europe falls in a heap, and the dollar soars in a deflationary mode, the behavior is similar to a tanking US market. The only condition where I lose money big time is if the Dow goes up and gold and oil go down. This would occur if either of the two “miracles” occur: the economy takes off with no inflation, and the Mid-East settles down. Even though this pretty much occurred during the summer and fall of 2009, I don’t see it happening again soon. If it looks like it is going to happen, I will reduce my oil, gold, and inverse stock holdings and move more to stocks.

Fine Tuning and Exiting

Based on my assessment of likelihood for various things happening, I fine tune the holdings anyway. If Iran or Israel blusters or rattles, I move more to oil. If the stock market looks bad, I move more to DXD/FAZ. If the market looks good, I move from DXD/FAZ to oil and gold. It is also important to recognize that because of Mid-East tensions, the slow economy, and general world-wide uncertainty, virtually every tank and ship that can contain oil already does. This glut of oil argues that a huge price decline is possible. I also watch for a hint that the linkage could be broken in a way I have not foreseen. Of course if oil or gold soars, I would start selling a small amount early in the run up (probably 10% the first day), selling more as the situation develops.

Initially, I did not have enough inverse stock indexes in the BDUFI. My losses in gold and oil exceeded my gains in inverse stock indexes, but at least they were mitigated somewhat.  I still am somewhat biased toward oil.

This is a very inexact science. I have thought about building a spreadsheet with calculated multipliers based on past linkages, but I think I would just be fooling myself.  Quantification turns into a mess.

Final Remarks

The hardest part about this investment is having the discipline to watch market and commodity swings and know that you are making no money off of them -- because you are hedged to provide zero returns until a big event happens.

The chart in the middle of the post shows the current mix of investments in the BDUFI.  And here is the performance (baselined to 1000 points at the start) since February 4th.  As you can see, market swings over the past two weeks have been dampened out.  You can also see that the BDUFI is still biased somewhat toward oil, since it is going up instead of staying flat.  I increased my holdings in FAZ (from DXD) today (in excess of what is shown above) to try to counteract that.

We’ll see how it works over the next few days, weeks, and months. I will post results periodically.  If you want to make a similar investment, don’t take my word for it. Do some research and figure out if I am really making sense or not.  I am not an investment counselor, and this is not intended to be advice in any way.

It is interesting that Peter Schiff has also commented on the linkage between oil and stocks recently.
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Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Best Memoirs of Any General Since Caesar

I am currently reading the Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, and what an amazing book it is.  I am always interested in first person accounts of history, untainted by modern political correctness.  Often, these kinds of books require a little "translation" from the stilted language that was often used in the past.  Not this book.  It is as fresh and modern as the sun coming up each morning.

An example of this is my previous post here.

Grant has a unique voice -- familiar, friendly, and full of humility.  He tells stories large and small,  full of the kinds of details that makes you realize people were not so different back then.  His thoughts and decisions and uncertainties and trepedations come out clearly.  The soul of the man is laid open to you.

The book covers his whole life, from boyhood through his days at West Point (he explains he was a rather poor student, and didn't really want to be there), through the Mexican War, the Civil War (the war "rescued" him from a string of job failures), and his Presidency.

Much of the book was written after Grant had been swindled of his fortune and was dying of throat cancer.  Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) helped him finish it, and I am sure contributed to the clarity and beauty of the whole.  The quote in the title of this post is a paraphrase of Mark Twain, "The most remarkable work of its kind since the Commentaries of Julius Caesar."

Grant's Presidency is not considered to have been that great these days, but just to have this honest open man in office would be a revelation.  Maybe his honesty didn't play very well in Washington even back then.

Following Grant's death, sales of his book went through the roof, earning $450,000 for his nearly destitute family. 

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Clarity of Delusion

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Marxism believes that truth does not exist outside of Marxism itself.  It believes in no outside spectator such as God, and extends that to say that outside spectators of any kind simply cannot exist.  If a claim or statement contributes to the Progress of Marxism, it is true.  Thus truth and morality are based on their relationship to Marxism and the Party.  As Professor Nikolaus Lobkowicz states:
Whatever serves it is true and good; whatever hinders it is false and evil. There exists no objective morality and there cannot exist any disinterested pursuit of truth.
One would think that in this day and age such a twisted view of reality would be absent throughout the world -- except maybe in North Korea.   But no, I stumbled across the following item today.  I have never seen a more succinct description of the concept of Marxist Truth.

Last week the Atlanta Progressive News fired their senior staff writer.  Here is the reason they gave:

At a very fundamental, core level, Springston did not share our vision for a news publication with a progressive perspective. He held on to the notion that there was an objective reality that could be reported objectively, despite the fact that that was not our editorial policy at Atlanta Progressive News.
So whenever you hear someone say they are "Progressive", remember that their idea of truth and your idea of truth likely differ at a very fundamental, core level.

Additional source: Ghost of a Flea.

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Israel Needs to Strike Iran

I kinda like this guy who calls himself "Spengler". Too bad we don't have the leadership to do the job ourselves.

The trouble is that Israel's strategic problem is usually presented in reductive terms: Iran (in the standard view) represents an existential threat to Israel in that it might get nuclear weapons; this would give it the capacity to destroy Israel, and therefore Israel must nip the existential threat in the bud. In this narrow framework, pushing back Iran's nuclear development by six to 18 months hardly seems worth the cost.

Iran's perceived attempt to acquire nuclear weapons, though, is not Israel's problem as such; the problem is that Israel is the ally of a superpower that does not want to be a superpower, headed by a president with a profound emotional attachment to a nostalgic image of the Third World. If America were in fact acting like a superpower, the problem would not have arisen in the first place, for the United States would use its considerably greater resources to destroy Iran's nuclear program.
Additional source: Ghost of a Flea.
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Webcams on Laptops Used to Spy on Students

If you have a laptop with a webcam and a microphone, and if software is installed without your knowledge, who knows who may be monitoring you?  I would imagine that school districts spying on students at home would be one of the more benign applications.

Student Blake Robbins and his parents filed the electronic-privacy suit came after an assistant principal at Harriton High School told him the camera had caught him doing something inappropriate at home. Michael Robbins, his father, confirmed with the educator that the school could activate the webcams remotely, the lawsuit said.

The security feature allows district personnel to remotely activate the webcam and take a picture of the user and the computer screen. That information can then be used to track down a laptop that has been reported stolen or missing.

I figure that a capability most likely exists to install such software remotely over the internet, when required.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Temperature and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations

Let me take you on a tour back in time.

These charts, except for the last one, are based on data from ice core samples in central Greenland, documented here: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/metadata/noaa-icecore-2475.html.  Temperatures are in degrees C and represent average values.  Click on the charts for a larger version.


This is the temperature of central Greenland from 1400-1900.  There is a definite rise  that probably continues into the 20th century at least another 0.5 degree based on other data sources.  Wow.  Global Warming.


Now we go a little further back in time.  Note the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) around 1000 AD.  The Global Warming scientists find the MWP very inconvenient, and often simply remove it from their “homogenized” datasets.  This was when Greenland was settled by the Vikings.  Archeological evidence shows villages, agriculture, etc.  After all, they named it “Green Land”.   How did the polar bears survive?




This chart shows all of recorded history.  Note that ancient Egypt, Bronze-Age Greece, and the Roman Empire all correspond to warm times – much warmer than the present.  Look at how these milestones pretty much line up, with a little lag as civilizations sometimes coast on “warm momentum”:

    • 2600BC -- Egypt: Building of the Pyramids at Giza
    • 1200BC -- Mycenaean Greece: The Trojan War, Considered the high point of Bronze Age civilization
    • 1100BC-500BC -- Greece: Dark Age collapse
    • 500BC -- Greece: Beginning of Classic Age, Ended by the rise of Rome
    • 250BC-145BC -- Rome: Conquest of the Mediterranean
    • 96-180 -- Rome:  Pax Romana
    • 180 -- Rome: Decline begins after the death of Marcus Aurelius
    • 493 -- Rome: Italy absorbed by the barbarian Ostrogoths
    • 500-1000  -- Europe: Dark Ages or “Early Middle Ages”
    • 1000-1300 -- Europe: High Middle Ages,  Large population growth, arts and learning start up again
    • 1300-1500-- Europe: Late Middle Ages, The Renaissance
    • 1500-1820 -- Europe: Various Little Ice Ages, famine, black death, but also New World, Enlightenment etc. 
    • 1820-Present -- World: Rise of Industrial Civilization

Note that the overall  trend since the building of the pyramids is downward.  More on that later.




Now we go back to around 11,000 BC, and find that the beginnings of agriculture and civilization correspond to an amazing jump in temperature starting around 9,000 BC.  Our recent little “global warming” is starting to look infinitesimal.


Going back to 50,000 BC, we see an ice age ending in 9,000 BC, followed by warming and the rise of civilization.  That trough at 10,000 BC is called the Younger Dryas Stadial.  Astonishingly, the transition to colder temperatures during the Younger Dryas is believed to have occurred in as little as a decade (though I don’t see that in this Greenland dataset).



Going way back to earlier than 400,000 BC in the following chart, we see a series of ice ages, punctuated by short warm periods that pop up, often decline slowly, and then collapse.  Based on this, it appears that our particular 11,000 year warm spell is unusual, and likely to end soon.  This last chart is based on Antarctic “Vostok” ice cores http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/metadata/noaa-icecore-2453.html.


Summary: Civilization is dependent on, and is likely a direct result of a 11,000-year period of unusual global warmth.   Even minor temperature downturns within this warm period have been disastrous for civilizations prior to 1000 AD.  In the last 1000 years, modern civilizations have been able to survive minor cold periods, and even advance, but have done best in warm ones.  The observed secular downward temperature trend since the building of the Pyramids, combined with that fact that interglacial warm periods have not historically lasted much more than 10,000 years would indicate a high probability that the period of warmth that brought about the development of civilization and agriculture is ending and we are slowing entering the next ice age. The rapid onset of the Younger Dryas indicates that such a transition could occur in as little as 10 years – but of course it may not occur for another thousand years.

Modern world populations levels would be very difficult to support if the United States heartland, Canada, Russia, most of China, and northern Europe all became too cold for agriculture (as they usually have been over the last 400,000 years).  With the Livingston and Penn solar data (that I have mentioned before), I am somewhat concerned that we could see such an occurrence in our lifetimes, possibly by 2020.

Why can't we all just learn interpretive dance?

Why is it that modern liberalism is called “progressive” when its philosophies are drawn from failed communism, medieval feudalism, and various aristocracies throughout ancient history?  I would think that conservatism with its emphasis on individual liberty, and strict limitations on what government is allowed to do, is truly progressive.  Maybe the conservatives on radio should start referring to their shows as “Progressive Talk Radio”.

I am particularly irked that the health care proponents say that they have been working for 60 years, slowly fighting the unenlightened all that time, in order to achieve the final inevitable goal of universal free health care.   Why is it that universal free health care is seen as part of the inevitable ennobled future?  I see it as just another step to  the decline, fall and breakup of the United States.

I have heard liberals say that “human rights” include the right to have food, the right to have medical care, and the right to shelter.  The first one is already done:  The government will provide food to anyone who wants it.  "Free" medical care is close to being implemented.  All it will take to implement the “right to shelter” will be a couple more engineered real estate crises. (One is coming in 2011-2012, by the way, due to a payshock caused by resets on ARMs during the next market crash.)

When my food, my medical care, and my home are paid for by the government, I really don’t need a job anymore.  I plan to spend my days fishing and playing the native American flute.  I assume that everyone else in the country will also quit their jobs, stop farming, etc., and then take up painting, writing poetry and learning interpretive dance.

It will be a progressive paradise.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Magua Obama

 
Is it just me, or are these two guys looking more and more alike?  I think it has something to do with the expression in the eyes.

"Magua became blood brother to the Mohawk to become free.
 But always in his heart he is Huron."


 Poor Alice.

Lake Erie Frozen Over



For the first time in 14 years, Lake Erie has frozen up.  I know that the true environmental faith states global warming causes more snow and less snow, and more hurricanes and less hurricanes, and more drought and more flooding, but I draw the line when they say that global warming causes the earth to be colder.

I also note that the snow line has been moving farther and farther south over the last decade.  This is also not indicative of global warming.  More like an upcoming ice age maybe.

 
Snow Departure Map 13 Feb 2010 -Rutgers Global Snow Lab
Red areas are where snow should be but is not
Purple areas are where snow is and should not be

And look at the trend on the next chart which shows December snow cover since 1965.  One can safely assume that when there are extra land areas covered by snow, it is occurring to the south of where it usually is, because areas to the north are already covered.  Things are definitely getting colder.


If you believe the warmistas, the further the cold and snow spread to the south, the more it all indicates a warming earth.  I suppose that during the last ice age, when the snow line really went south, we must have had a whole bunch of global warming.  How did the polar bears survive?

As my old friend Jim Mizera used to say, "I wouldn't mind a new ice age at all.  The hunting was very good back then."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

So-Called Arabic Numerals

A friend of mine recently sent me an internet pass-around about the supposed origin of our Arabic numerals.  The powerpoint animation attempted to show how the angles or points in each numeral correspond to the numbers that they represent. 

If you notice from these images taken from the powerpoint, the whole argument about angles being the source of the numeral system gets mighty tenuous when you get above 4, and makes no sense at all by the time you get to 9. 

Click on the pictures for larger versions
It turns out that angles didn’t have anything to do with it.  The original numerals, since they were hand-written, didn’t have many angles at all.

Our Arabic numerals actually have an Indian Hindu origin, not Arab.  I am not sure why the Arabs get credit for such things.  Their mathematics and astronomy were all copied from Brahmagupta's Brahmasphutasiddhanta (The Opening of the Universe) which was written in 628 AD, including the number zero, trigonometry etc.   All Indian, not Arab.

Here are the original Brahmi numerals from 1st-century India:


The first Arabic-Hindi numerals in Europe appeared in the Codex Vigilanus in the year 976:



Here is Montucla’s Table  from 1757 showing early European variants taken from various manuscripts/authors which are shown in the left column.  Interesting that 7 and 8 are the blade and chalice :



And here are some more variations in early European works, possibly also from Montucla.  People pretty much made up their own personal notations – as they did with spelling:

Even in the 15th century, numbers were very recognizable.  These are off the World Map from Ptolemy, Cosmographia. Ulm: Lienhart Holle, 1482:

Standardized Arabic-Hindu notation really took off with the invention of movable type by J. Gutenburg in 1450.  I remember seeing numerous examples in the Gutenburg Museum in Mainz – which is a very interesting place to visit if you have a chance.

(A poem was actually the first full-page item printed if I remember correctly.  Most of the stuff printed was for merchants, and also enormous numbers of indulgences for the church.  The Bibles were printed starting several years later). 

Here is a table of modern variants:
The poor Tamils evidently still don’t have a zero.

Finally, here is a telephone keypad from Egypt showing both European “Arabic” numerals and Eastern Arabic numerals:



I note that 9's with curlicue tails and crossed 7's don't appear at all in these ancient systems.   Why our numbers look the way they do is still unknown, but is likely attributable to creative folks making small changes that they simply liked better, and set them apart from others -- like a signature.

It is interesting that printing, as well as standardization of handwriting and spelling, has created a world that labels people who make such creative changes as uneducated dolts.  I would have a hard time using unique and creative numerals on this blog, but pur happs I mite do a littel creativ spellen.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Decline and Fall of Global Warming

I am greatly pleased to see the whole global warming "consensus" falling in a heap over the past few months. With new revelations late last week and over the weekend, it appears that at least one of the primary scientists behind the scam has finally admitted that there is no science behind the scam.

The big news from a couple of weeks ago was a series of articles showing that some of the most important claims listed in the latest IPCC report were based on non-peer-reviewed papers written by political advocacy organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund. Claims of future drought, future floods, future food shortages in Africa, shrinking glaciers in the Himalayas, and various other disasters blamed on global warming were simply made up in order to drive governments around the world to take action.


We had already seen that NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), and its leader James Hansen, "correct" the data in ways that greatly enhance the appearance of global warming, delete hundreds of measurement sites primarily in rural areas, and preferentially use temperatures from areas that have had large population increases resulting in buildings and parking lots being built around them.  Many of the stations have air-conditioner and jet engine exhaust blowing on them.  James Hansen is considered to be the "founder of global warming" and routinely attends protests to argue that people should rise up and destroy power plants and "coal trains of death".

James Hansen Being Arrested
Rajendra Pachauri
Then there is the head of the IPCC himself, Rajendra Pachauri, who uses the incorrect statements in the IPCC report to get grants for his own business.

But the most astonishing item...

But the most astonishing item is an interview with the BBC granted by Phil Jones, the head of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at East Anglia University in the United Kingdom.

His organization was the focus of the "Climate Gate" leaked emails describing manipulation of temperature data sets and proxies, as well as control of the peer review process to disallow skeptical papers from being published.  (These emails have resulted in several resignations, including the editor of the journal Nature.)

Professor Jones is one of the guiding lights behind the science of global warming, but here is what came out on Saturday in a remarkable series of questions and answers:
  • There has been no statistically significant global warming in the last 15 years
  • The world may have been warmer in medieval times than it is now
  • He has lost the raw data that was used to generate the "hockey stick" that shows flat temperatures for centuries followed by extreme modern warming, so the result cannot be duplicated
  • His record keeping is "not what it should be"
  • The IPCC models may have overestimated the climate sensitivity for greenhouse gases, underestimated natural variability, or both.
  • This also suggests that there is a systematic upward bias in the impacts estimates based on these models just from this factor alone.
  • The logic behind attribution of current warming to well-mixed man-made greenhouse gases is faulty.
  • There is a tendency in the IPCC reports to leave out inconvenient findings, especially in the part(s) most likely to be read by policy makers.
  • The science is not settled, however unsettling that might be.
I note however that Al Gore on his blog is still saying "things are much worse than we thought" in the Arctic despite increases in sea ice over the last 3 years.  We have a ways to go before people like him are universally laughed at.

The original BBC article
An excellent analysis at wattsupwiththat
An article from the UK Daily Mail

Fixing Silvering in Old Family Photographs

On Friday my wife handed me some old photos to scan.  One taken of her great-grandmother exhibited what has been called "silvering" - the dark black areas have become very shiny and silver-colored.  Scanning such an image on a flatbed scanner works poorly.  The angle of illumination causes the silvered areas to come out very light when they are supposed to be the deepest blacks.  Sometimes you can re-image the photo with a digital camera instead, if you can get the lighting at just the right angle to avoid specular reflection and use a polarizer.  But then you have to deal with focus, barrel distortion, uneven lighting and all kinds of other issues that scanners solve for you.  And you still have dark areas that are just too light.

So I just scanned it to see what would happen.  My working size was about 32 megapixels, but here is a reduced version of what I got.  The silvering has really ruined a nice portrait.

Hmm... what can I do with it using cheap Corel Paint Shop Pro?  Well, I noticed that the silvered areas were basically blue, which made them distinct from the rest of the image, so I increased the blue saturation then split the photo into its blue, green, and red channels, generating new black and white images for each channel.  The red channel image was actually not too bad by itself. On a photo with moderate silvering, just taking the red channel may be enough.

I colorized the red channel to match the sepia tone of the original, then arithmetically subtracted the red channel from the saturated blue image leaving an image with just the silvered areas as blue.  I then subtracted the image with the blue areas from the original.  I fiddled with the blue image quite a lot to get the blue hue and saturation to match so that the subtraction worked well.  I finally converted the resulting image to gray-scale to eliminate some color mismatching in the background silvering (it was actually more green than the silvering in the hair and collar) and then re-colorized it as sepia.  A little more fiddling with contrast, brightness, and a little smoothing gave me the final image.

I think it turned out rather nice. The silvering is gone, and a surprising amount of detail emerged in the hair.  You can click on any of these images to get a little bit larger size.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Toyota Recall is Not News

I have been watching the Toyota recall with some amusement.   I figure that most cars I have owned have had a  problem with the gas pedal sticking.


The pedal on my 1964 Plymouth Fury would tend to stick if I didn’t lubricate the linkages periodically.  I eventually found a stronger spring floating around in the garage somewhere,  and that fixed it.

My dad’s 1970 Chevy Impala pedal stuck too.  The gas pedal cable had developed a frayed spot and it caught on its sheath.  I remember putting my foot under the pedal to pull it back up.  It got worse as time went on.  Finally it stuck so badly that my dad had to drop the car out of gear and turn it off.  He then got the cable replaced.  No lawsuit, no recall, just normal maintenance.  Stuff wears out and fails.

My 2001 Mercury Sable had the pedals so close together, and so evenly matched in height, that I often would hit both pedals when trying to brake.  It took some getting used to.  I imagine that a number of people sent their Sables sailing through their garage doors.

And every car I have ever owned has had the floor mat ride up on the pedals at some point.

So how many people have been killed by this Toyota “problem”?  As far as I can tell from the news, there were 4 people killed in an accident in California and another four in an accident in Texas.   This is such a ridiculously low death rate per car manufactured that there would probably be more value in terms of lives saved per dollar spent if they just offered a free program to replace pitted windshields or worn out brake pads.  The free maintenance inspection that comes with the pedal fix will probably save many more lives than the fix itself.

I remember around the year 2000, Ford had a problem with tires disintegrating on top-heavy SUV’s that killed somewhere between 200 and 400 people.  It was a big deal in the press at that time, but the Toyota recall is getting even more press.  I don't understand why.

Maybe it is because we expect American cars to have a continuous stream of failures, but Japanese cars are supposed to be perfect.  Or maybe it is because every time something fails we now call it a defect, where in the past it was just a part wearing out.  Or maybe it is because we expect to be taken care of, without ever having to worry about anything nowadays.

I donno, but I think I want to go out and buy a 1956 pickup truck that is so full of design “defects” that if it were built today, the CEO of the company would be thrown into prison.


The 1956 Ford F-100 pickup truck had the gas tank inside the cab with you, right behind your seat.