"History is a wonderful thing, if only it was true"

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Long Term Thinking - on sprawl

The topic of planned "sprawl" has been gnawing at me, and the argument(s) for re-urbanization

Found this to be interesting Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

1) cities as more "Green" - elevators are the most fuel efficient mode of transportation (other than walking/biking)
2) cities = civilization (see Stuart Brand on how 3rd world slums still beat rural life in the developing world)
3) transportation - light rail/busses etc may not be efficient when you seek to disperse population - still thinking that one through
We do know that the Interstate system was build with the potential of war in mind.

We're now over two decades past the fall of the only nuclear competition (Soviet Union) and therefore the rationale for dispersal 
Give it a decade or more for the "facts" to become obvious, then we have 9/11 (I know of people who left NYC for the hinterlands of New England out of fear of repeat attacks) 

Layer on the "affordable housing" fiasco that led to the financial crisis ... sprawl may be history.

Interesting conversation with Bernard Winograd last week (he and Carol are becoming residents)
Blame for the push to increase home ownership shared by both political parties, changing demographics impacting housing

Thought percolating is how to tie these threads into a coherent narrative and show some of the deeper impetus for suburbs 

One advantage of age - I can recall the Cuban Missile Crisis, (and other events) growing up with knowledge that violent end of the world as we knew it was a real possibility 

Monday, May 30, 2011


what happens when big, rapidly spinning things "go wrong"

2009 Sayano-Shushenskaya hydro accident - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

AW&ST referenced it as possible case of cyber-error, but maybe there were other causes

Just a placeholder

This is pretty much a placeholder

Growing Local? Then Grow Job Skills | Our Voices

The point I was trying to make is that it's important for members of the food chain know where they stand in the value ladder. Do what you are best at, don't try to do everything.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Cluelessness on the part of the NYTimes
As Housing Goes, So Goes the Economy - NYTimes.com:

"Since the problems in housing are not self-curing, a government fix is in order. But the Obama administration’s main antiforeclosure effort has fallen far short of its goal to modify three million to four million troubled loans."

Housing is not productive, and has been so abused (used as an ATM for consumerism ) that we have a totally mis-oriented economy.
Destruction of savings, sprawl, and, of course, the pollution of the financial markets (with mis-use of derivatives)

Try this
Angst in the United States: What's wrong with America's economy? | The Economist

Plenty of blame to share, and time for politicians to come back to the middle

"Meanwhile, the biggest dangers lie in an area that politicians barely mention: the labour market. The recent decline in the jobless rate has been misleading, the result of a surprisingly small growth in the workforce (as discouraged workers drop out) as much as fast job creation. A stubborn 46% of America’s jobless, some 6m people, have been out of work for more than six months. The weakness of the recovery is mostly to blame, but there are signs that America may be developing a distinctly European disease: structural unemployment."

And we have 
America's jobless men: Decline of the working man | The Economist
"Why ever fewer low-skilled American men have jobs" - because policies help discourage low skilled workers. 

"When work doesn’t pay
Policies have created perverse incentives for both groups. The older dislocateds often try hard to be declared officially disabled, even though it can take up to three years and cost several thousand dollars in legal fees, not least because this brings access to Medicare, a government health-insurance scheme. (Many low-wage jobs do not come with health insurance.) But this is also a one-way street to permanent detachment from the workforce. In recent years the government has tried to encourage disability recipients to return to work, for instance by promising that they can stay on Medicare for several years. This scheme, says Larry Katz of Harvard University, has been “utterly ineffective”.
For the younger group, one cause of discouragement is the earned-income tax credit (EITC), America’s main anti-poverty tool, which tops up poorer people’s pay and thus rewards work. It is skewed towards those with children. The maximum EITC top-up for a childless person is less than $500 a year. Families with one child get more than six times as much; those with two, more than ten times. Single, low-skilled men therefore face a lower effective real wage than low-skilled women with children and have less incentive to work.
Child-support rules also discourage poorly skilled men from working. Many are absent fathers, whose child-support payments are often deducted directly from their pay. Some states levy an extra charge to cover welfare payments to the mother. In a dozen states men continue to accrue child-support obligations if they are in prison, from which they can emerge owing thousands of dollars. Deductions can amount to 65% or more of their wages."

Also Kansas City Fed's Hoenig Sees Need to Lift Rates - WSJ.com : 

Mr. Hoenig said more thrift among American consumers would be a good thing in the long term.
"We've created a generation of instant gratification because our savings rate, which was running at eight percent for years and years...fell to two percent or less," he said. "If you look at countries, those that stay great...they have reasonable savings rate [s]."

Treating your house like an ATM is not savings - it's consuming ...

How it all fits

Couple pieces on Futurology
Ray Kurzweil
Futurology (1): The new overlords | The Economist

and Michio Kaku
Futurology (2): Suspension of disbelief | The Economist

potential for ever accelerating advancements in science and technology

All of this is possible, but, if this is not the path that is followed, and we go more regional than global, one needs to be prepared.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

So very tempting

Don't know when, but short gold is so very tempting.
Up the stairs, but down the elevator shaft ...

FT.com / Lex - Gold: the bubble’s popping will be nasty: "There should be no big problems for the ETFs and their marketmakers; they could operate safely in liquidation mode. And physical buyers could be found to absorb the additional supply from the ETFs – at some price. But to clear the market, it is likely that the price would have to fall.

Predicting the top of the gold bubble is foolhardy. It is safer to predict that the bubble’s popping will be especially nasty."

Bill gets this one right

Rare, for me, kudos to Bill

It's the teachers that count, not their unions

Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates - NYTimes.com

Saturday, May 21, 2011

the long arc

FT.com / FT Magazine - Henry Kissinger talks to Simon Schama:

"What Kissinger took from Elliott was that without grasping the long arc of time, any account of politics and government would be shallow and self-defeating. That long view is on full display in the China book, which insists – entertainingly – on going back to the origins of Chinese classical culture and on through the many dynasties of the Middle Kingdom before even touching the epoch of decline, dismemberment and revolution. Kissinger smiles at the scene with which he opens his book, in which Mao gathered together the leaders of the party to listen to his account of a war that occurred during the Tang dynasty. “It would be like one of our leaders going back to the wars of Charlemagne.” And you get the feeling that Kissinger believes that it would do them no harm if they did. Instead he laments that “contemporary politicians have very little sense of history. For them the Vietnam war is unimaginably far behind us, the Korean war has no relevance any more,” even though that conflict is very far from over and at any minute has the capability of going from cold to hot."

Oh those crazy frenchmen

Belief in conspiracy when it comes to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and the hotel maid ... well 

FT.com / Comment / Opinion - Salutary insights into the French way of flirting:
"Virility is a sign of a successful politician. One who seduces women is also deemed likely to be able to seduce the public. And the French do like seduction: not the cliched bed-hopping kind of Hollywood imagination, but a subtler, more playful exchange between the sexes that lacks the tension often found in male-female relationships in English-speaking countries."


This time, I agree with Soros - more risk than reward

FT.com / Commodities - Soros sharpens gold bubble debate:

Soros sharpens gold bubble debate
By Jack Farchy and James Mackintosh
Published: May 20 2011 19:20 | Last updated: May 20 2011 19:20
The ultimate asset bubble is gold . . . 

It may go higher but it’s certainly not safe and it’s not going to last forever . . . 

Gold has shown tendencies to go parabolic and usually bubbles tend to end in that parabolic rise before the collapse.

George Soros – who made the statements above at various points last year – has been one of gold’s most strident critics and also one of its largest investors.

In depth: Gold - May-20

Mexican central bank buys 100 tonnes of gold - May-04

Lex: Gold and the dollar - Apr-20

Gold pierces $1,500 to set fresh high - Apr-20

Gold hits fresh high on US debt warning - Apr-18

Global Overview: Investors seek out havens - Apr-15

But now the billionaire financier has dumped a large portion of his gold investments, according to regulatory filings released this week and people with knowledge of the fund’s activities."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

PT Barnum

Sadly ... he's still going to be making noise

Trump Bows Out, but Spotlight Barely Dims - NYTimes.com: "Donald J. Trump announced on Monday that he would not seek the presidency, a development less important for the Republican field or his national political future — if he ever had one — than for what it said about a media culture that increasingly seems to give the spotlight to the loudest, most outrageous voices."

Monday, May 16, 2011

Make love not war ... continued ...

Dominique Strauss-Kahn ... on the right
Does this F..ker look older than me (votes on FB are yes)  
So much for European "make love not war"

The tragedy is that this may well impact the Euro-weak players may loose their champion

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Europe : Make Love not War

Great timing

Strauss-Kahn Arrest Comes at a Fragile Moment for the I.M.F. - NYTimes.com:

"Its hard to imagine a worse time for the International Monetary Fund to be without a forceful European leader.

Sinking under a mountain of debt, Greece is on the verge of requesting more help from the European Union and the international fund. Ireland’s economic recovery from its banking crisis remains a distant prospect at best. And once an international aid deal is concluded for Portugal, the question shifts to whether Spain’s much larger and increasingly stagnant economy may need a financial lifeline.

Indeed, the most bitter twist for Dominique Strauss-Kahn is that his personal crisis comes at a time that the I.M.F.’s influence globally is at a many-decades peak, especially within Europe, his own stomping ground."