Sunday, September 30, 2012

More on the Royal Norwegian Air Force centenary

A couple of days ago I put up a video clip about an air show held in Oslo, Norway, to celebrate the centenary of the Royal Norwegian Air Force.  Reader Mark C. e-mailed me about it.

I am an expat living in Oslo and the airshow was happening around my house all day. The waterfront is about two miles away and about 400 feet below us so we had a good vantage point. The French precision air team ended the day with a great display. The flickr link is some of the pictures I took of their performance off my front balcony.

Sun position in relationship to the show could not have been better. Right place at the right time.

Here's one of his pictures of the performance by Patrouille de France, to whet your appetite.

There are many more at the link.  Go see them for yourself.  Many thanks, Mark, for sharing them with us!  I envy you your 'ringside seat' at the display.


The truth about inflation

We get conflicting messages about the reality of inflation from many sources.  The government would like to persuade us that it's very mild indeed:  indeed, the 'official' measurement is currently "1.7 per cent before seasonal adjustment".  The Federal Reserve has set an 'inflation target' of not more than 2% per year (although that would still lead to a doubling of prices in less than 40 years).  On the other hand, independent economist John Williams of points out:

In 30 years as a private, consulting economist, I have noted a growing gap between government reporting of inflation, as measured by the consumer price index (CPI), and the perceptions of inflation held by the general public.  It has been my experience that the general public believes inflation is running well above official reporting, and that the public’s perceptions tend to mirror the inflation experience that once was reflected in the government’s CPI reporting.

The growing difference in perception versus reality primarily is due to changes made over decades as to how the CPI is calculated and defined by the government.  Specifically, changes made to the definition of CPI methodologies in recent decades have reflected theoretical constructs offered by academia that have little relevance to the real-world use of the CPI by the general public.

There's more at the link.  Mr. Williams offers an alternative calculation of inflation, using more comprehensive sources of data.  He estimates the true current US rate of inflation to be nearer 5%, as shown below, courtesy of

I thought it might be interesting to take a look at actual cost increases of various commodities over the past decade, and started looking for information.  It's sometimes surprisingly hard to get true numbers out of government sources - at least, in a form that's readily understandable.  I had to turn to other commentators to find graphic portrayals of what's been happening - and even they sometimes differ from one another, due to the difficulty in getting accurate information.  Keep this in mind when reading further.  Bear in mind, too, that the numbers below are those 'officially' calculated by US government sources, or by others using data provided by those sources.  They're not those provided by independent economists and experts (who, like Mr. Williams, would probably use rather higher figures).

That said, from an NPR report, here's how the US Federal Reserve sees the percentage change in the 'official' rate of inflation over the past couple of decades.

Next, from The Political Commentator, here's a graph of the commodity food price index over the past decade.

Note that it shows a doubling of the commodity food price index over ten years.  That hardly squares with the 'official' rate of inflation . . . but then, the US government leaves food prices out of its 'core' Consumer Price Index (i.e. inflation) calculation.

From the US Energy Information Administration, here's a look at gasoline prices over the past two decades.

Again, you'll note that the fuel price is almost three times higher today than it was a decade ago.  Hard to square with the official inflation rate - but again, fuel prices are excluded from the calculation of the 'core' CPI.  (For an interesting perspective on inflation, compare the fuel and food price graphs.  Notice how their plots are very close to each other?  That's because fuel cost is a fairly large component in growing, harvesting, preparing and distributing foodstuffs.  If fuel costs rise or fall, food costs tend to follow - at least to some extent.)

Finally, courtesy of Advisor Perspectives, here's an illustration of the different elements that go into the Consumer Price Index, and how prices for each element have increased (in percentage terms) from 2000-2012.  Note how the 'Core CPI' figure differs from those of the other elements.

I highly recommend reading the four resources linked above, from which/whom these illustrations have been drawn, and (of course) John Williams' as well.  They're all very informative.

A factor that's not apparent in the above calculations and depictions is that inflation in food prices is often not compared volume-to-volume.  For example, researchers might include the cost of a box of spaghetti, or a can of beans, in their routine investigation of prices.  However, those items may have become smaller, while their manufacturer continues to charge the same price per container (irrespective of its reduced contents).  This is very common in food packaging, as manufacturers count on consumers not noticing the change and therefore not complaining about the increased cost per unit volume.  Thus, an inflation calculation based on the cost of a container of a given foodstuff might not notice, or allow for, the reduction in the weight or volume of food sold in that container.

If Mr. Williams' calculations about inflation are correct, and the true CPI is about three times higher than that postulated by the government, then one could also presume that the components of that CPI are also about three times higher than officially calculated.  Even if one doesn't do so, the increased prices of commodities that you and I buy every day - food and fuel - are alarming . . . yet the government excludes them from the 'core CPI' rate, which is what it uses to calculate annual increases in Social Security and pensions.  This saves the government a great deal of money - the increases it has to give are a lot lower - but it doesn't prevent us having to pay those increased prices regardless.  This is compounded when the 'official' rate of inflation is much lower than the actual one, as Mr. Williams very cogently points out.

I hope this has helped some readers get a better idea of why prices are so much higher today than we're used to, and why that reality is not reflected in official US government inflation calculations.  It's a cold, callous, deliberate political con game, designed to blind us to the reality of the situation.  As all the 'funny money' currently being printed by the Federal Reserve makes itself felt (as discussed in the latest 'Around The Blogs' segment this morning), that reality is going to get even worse.

You might want to ask your Congressional representative and/or Senators why the US government is allowed to get away with lying to you about the rate of inflation (or, rather, in the way it calculates it).  If they hesitate, prevaricate, or obfuscate, remember in November and vote them out of office!


A gruelling race makes a comeback

A classic long-distance powerboat race is to be revived.  The Telegraph reports:

It was one of the world's most glamorous – and gruelling – races. From the south coast of England, a fleet of powerboats made their way 3,000 miles around to the Mediterranean and a finish line on the French Riviera.

Run just once before, in 1972 – when Princess Margaret dropped the starting flag and Princess Grace of Monaco handed out the prizes – the event is being revived after a 40-year hiatus.

The Cowes to Monte Carlo Powerboat Grand Prix is the longest and toughest race of its kind. Like a marine equivalent of the Gumball Rally, a 3,000-mile international road trip, entrants progress in daily stages.

But as well as racing one another they are also taking on the elements, crossing some of the world's most challenging waters.

Over 15 days, the teams will visit 11 ports in five countries as they traverse the Channel and the Bay of Biscay, navigate around the Iberian peninsular through the Strait of Gibraltar, then speed along the Cote d'Azur. Along the way, competitors get just four rest days.

Each leg is between 200 and 350 miles and the boats will be at sea for up to seven hours a day. Timings from each day's racing are added up, with the winner crowned in Monte Carlo.

. . .

The race will start off from the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes in the Isle of Wight on June 8 next year. Already, 47 teams, from 12 countries, have signed up.

The boats must be between 25ft and 50ft in length, with a crew of at least two. Such vessels can reach top speeds of up to 100mph but will be racing more slowly to conserve fuel, ensuring they have enough to get to their destination. When conditions are favourable, the lead boats are expected to average around 50mph.

Organisers expect that they will carry an average of 220 gallons of petrol or diesel per leg, but at high speeds the vessels consume about a gallon per mile.

Some of the multi-million pound craft are being built for the event, but older boats are also being adapted to cope with the extreme conditions, including HTS, the winning boat from 1972 [shown below], which has spent about 20 years in a museum.

As impressive as the endurance of the boats and crews taking part, is likely to be the onshore operation supporting the race.

Each entrant must have a backup team following on land, with a trailer capable of transporting their boat by road in case bad weather – 30mph winds creating 13ft waves or worse – leads to the cancellation of a leg.

There are expected to be about 300 to 400 race followers shadowing the boats, along 3,300 miles of roads. A classic car rally is even planned to follow the route.

There's more at the link.

This should be a mammoth undertaking, involving tens of thousands of participants, support staff, spectators, officials and volunteers.  What impresses me is the knowledge of how tough it's going to be on those in the boats.  If you've never spent a long period in a high-speed powerboat, its impact with the water is like hitting concrete - and it'll be crossing some of the roughest water in the world, in the Bay of Biscay.  The crews will emerge from a long day's racing with their backs (particularly their kidneys) feeling like they've been worked over by a jackhammer!  The winner is likely to be the best-enduring crew rather than the best-performing boat, given that all participating vessels will be high-performance to begin with.

I'll look forward to learning more about this race revival.  It should be a very interesting event.


If you need diapers, better stock up now . . .

. . . because they may be in short supply for a while.  The Telegraph reports:

The world could face a shortage of disposable nappies [diapers] after an explosion and fire at a chemical plant in Japan responsible for as much as one fifth of the global market.

. . .

Nippon Shokubai controls the largest share of the world market for super-absorbent polymers, which is used in the production of nappies, and has been expanding its international sales network to keep up with demand.

According to the company, demand is so high that its production facilities have been required to operate at full capacity and it has announced plans to set up production facilities overseas. The company was particularly keen to meet growing demand for disposable nappies in China.

The water-absorbing polymers soak up an infant's waste through hydrogen bonding with water molecules. Generally, nappies that utilise the technology are able to absorb 50 times their own weight of liquid. If the operation of the factory is suspended for a long time, it could affect production.

There's more at the link.

According to the article, "The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 16 billion disposable nappies are used every year in the US".  If that factory was responsible for "one fifth" of world production, will that mean a lot less dumping - in landfills, at least?  I suppose it all Depends . . .


Around the blogs

I'll be traveling next weekend, and may be busy the weekend following that;  so this might be the last Around The Blogs feature for a few weeks.  I'd better make it a good one, then!

# # #

The always interesting Roberta X directs us to the anti-socialist writings of Kenneth Kuhn.  It's always enjoyable to read a well-argued position.  Thanks, Roberta!  I enjoyed Mr. Kuhn's article sufficiently to investigate his main Web site, which proved entertaining.  I recommend his parable of the compassionate squirrels (link is to an Adobe Acrobat document in .PDF format).

Roberta also points out that Chicago's efforts to solve its so-called 'gun problem' are misdirected, since the problem is actually gangs, not guns.  Looks like Chicago is hell-bent on duplicating the errors of so many in the past . . . like, oh, say, Germany after the Winnenden shooting.  Again and again and again, politicians make the same mistake:  they blame the instrument, rather than the person wielding it.  Will they ever learn?  Probably not - which is why we need to remember the scary realities of self-defense.  With people like Chicago politicians in charge, the likelihood that we'll face that reality is becoming stronger all the time . . .

# # #

Speaking of ineffective administrations, it looks like many other cities and districts are as bad as Chicago - at least in terms of education.  Captain Capitalism looks at the cost of schools in terms of 'houses per pupil', and calls the result 'Detroit Math'.  Your taxes at work . . . NOT!

# # #

Old NFO brings us some truth for mature folks.  This one tripped my giggle-switch:

The first testicular guard, the "Cup," was used in Hockey in 1874 and the first helmet was used in 1974.  That means it only took 100 years for men to realize that their brain is also important.

# # #

Two seemingly conflicting perspectives on inflation intrigued me.  Economist Terry Coxon, speaking to Casey Research, points out that there is "built up inflationary pressure that will come roaring out when the economy revives".  Charles Hugh Smith, on the other hand, says that "There may be new money and credit being created, but very little of it is flowing to households whose spending in the real economy drives inflation".

Their views may seem contradictory, but in fact they're not.  Both are correctly pointing out that the current rush to 'print money' like there's no tomorrow must inevitably cause inflation in the long term, but only when that 'new money' goes into circulation, rather than being used to prop up bankster balance sheets or write off bad debt.

I've lived in a relatively high-inflation economy, in South Africa from the 1970's through the 1990's.  It was bad enough living under double-digit inflation.  I suspect that, given the gargantuan, astronomically high numbers the Fed is talking about, that may seem like a happy memory in comparison to what might be coming down the pike at us in due course . . .

# # #

Dustbury demonstrates (in video form) what happens when clicks form a clique.

# # #

Twenty-Two Words, a blog founded by Abraham Piper and now run by him for Abuyo Media,
brings us a wonderfully entertaining series of photographs taken by the self-described 'World's Best Father', Dave Engledow.  Here's one example.

There are many more (and larger) pictures at the link, and at Mr. Engledow's Fotoblur page.  Many are guaranteed to make any Child Protective Services bureaucrat reach for his infraction list whilst clutching at his chest, desperately trying to stave off a heart attack!

# # #

The Old Salt Blog brings us a couple of news reports and a very interesting video documentary about the ship-breakers of Alang in India.  The documentary is over an hour long, but engrossing.

Another article there informs us that modern technology has proved unsuccessful in replacing the old-fashioned hemp oakum and pitch caulking materials originally used on HMS Victory during the 18th and 19th centuries.  After fifteen years of trying, the ship's gone back to the old ways.  (Somehow, I find that hugely satisfying!)

I recommend the Old Salt Blog to all current and former seamen and sailors, and to all interested in the sea and ships.  It makes entertaining reading.

# # #

Commander Zero brings us two articles about how he and his lovely wife have been trying to live according to 'zero based budgeting'.  Informative and very useful reading, particularly for those of us who don't have unlimited means.

# # #

Last but by no means least, David McElroy, who describes himself as a 'Recovering Political Prostitute', points out that left-wing attempts to co-opt religion in support of their brand of politics are just as bad as those by right-wingers.  I couldn't agree more!  Money quote:

The Jesus of the Gospels is starkly non-political. He encounters those who He called in very personal ways, calling them to give up the things of this world and follow Him. It’s not just misleading to say that Jesus’ words support the Religious Right or the Religious Left. It’s a lie to make either claim.

There’s no evidence that Jesus supports your coercive state, no matter which political side you fall on. If you’re trying to pretend that your own agenda is God’s agenda, I suspect you’re going to have something far worse to deal with than fighting a political battle. You’re going to have to face God’s wrath for lying about Him.

I oppose the Christian Right and the Christian Left for dragging religion into politics. But as a Christian, I’m far more upset that these deluded people are dragging the evil of the world into the church and pretending that it’s the Good News. That’s not biblical and it gets in the way of the actual Gospel that we Christians are supposed to be spreading.

There's more at the link.  Worthwhile reading for those of any, all or no religion(s).

# # #

That's it for this tour of the blogosphere.  More in a few weeks.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

A balanced perspective?

I don't know what's wrong with some of Google's sites tonight, but I can't access Picasa for photographs or Google Advanced Search for some article research I need to do.  I'll try again in the morning, and put up more posts if things are working again.

Until then, to keep you occupied, here's a video clip of what must be the world's smallest bicycle.

How he manages to keep his balance on that thing, I just don't understand . . .


Friday, September 28, 2012

So that's why she wants me to be happier!

I note with interest a report in the Telegraph about a Norwegian survey of modern couples.

Divorce rates are far higher among “modern” couples who share the housework than in those where the woman does the lion’s share of the chores, a Norwegian study has found.

. . .

The figures clearly show that “the more a man does in the home, the higher the divorce rate,” [Mr. Hansen] went on.

The reasons, Mr Hansen said, lay only partially with the chores themselves.

“Maybe it’s sometimes seen as a good thing to have very clear roles with lots of clarity ... where one person is not stepping on the other’s toes,” he suggested.

“There could be less quarrels, since you can easily get into squabbles if both have the same roles and one has the feeling that the other is not pulling his or her own weight.”

But the deeper reasons for the higher divorce rate, he suggested, came from the values of “modern” couples rather than the chores they shared.

“Modern couples are just that, both in the way they divide up the chores and in their perception of marriage” as being less sacred, Mr Hansen said. “In these modern couples, women also have a high level of education and a well-paid job, which makes them less dependent on their spouse financially.

They can manage much easier if they divorce,” he said.

. . .

The survey appeared to contradict another recent one across seven countries including Britain that found that men who shouldered a bigger share of domestic responsibilities had a better sense of wellbeing and enjoyed a better work-life balance.

The researchers expected to find that where men shouldered more of the burden, women’s happiness levels were higher. In fact they found that it was the men who were happier while their wives and girlfriends appeared to be largely unmoved.

There's more at the link.

Note the bold print in the last paragraph.  Is that what Miss D. means when she says she wants me to be even happier in our relationship?


Salvaging the 'Costa Concordia'

I'm sure readers remember the 'Costa Concordia' disaster last January.  Salvage operations to refloat the cruise liner prior to dismantling her are now under way.  Der Spiegel reports:

On the island of Giglio, they are currently preparing the most spectacular shipwreck towing maneuver in maritime history. Never before has such a colossal cruise ship been raised to an upright position. The vessel is 290 meters (951 feet) long and 36 meters (118 feet) wide. It has a displacement of 50,000 metric tons. To make matters worse, it's lying in a precarious position on a rocky slope and is in danger of sliding into deeper water. The salvage is expected to cost at least €300 million ($387 million) and will set new technical and environmental standards.

Indeed, the idea is to give a clean image to a tainted industry, to make a grand gesture after the grand fiasco. It's also hoped that, if the pleasure vessel can be salvaged in an exemplary fashion, it will send a strong signal to those who criticize the trend in the industry to build ever more enormous cruise ships. For Costa Crociere, the future is at stake; the shipping company has to win back trust.

. . .

In early May, four months after the ship ran aground, a technical committee comprised of representatives of the shipping company, shipbuilding companies and additional experts ... decided against cutting apart the Costa Concordia, and instead opted for the most expensive proposal -- the plan to bring the capsized ship to an upright position. To achieve this, they will use a kind of rolling maneuver called the parbuckling principle (see graphics gallery). For the experiment, 33-meter high watertight steel boxes, or caissons, will be attached to the sides of the ship and used as floats. From an underwater platform deeply anchored in the bedrock, 36 steel cables, each as thick as a lamppost, will extend to the upper edge of the caissons. These cables will be used to almost silently rotate the ship out of its tilted position. It will have taken one year to painstakingly prepare the maneuver, but it will require less than two hours to perform it -- if all goes well.

It has already become clear that the salvage operation with Titan Salvage and Micoperi has set the stage for the clash of two very different corporate cultures: One is a team of daredevil problem solvers who rope down from helicopters to the decks of stricken tankers and lasso abandoned ships on the high seas as if they were wild horses. The other is a group of designer engineers who work meticulously according to official guidelines, where each step is coordinated with the coast guard, the Environment Ministry, the region of Tuscany or the mayor of Giglio. In situations like this, Italy's bureaucrats can be very fussy. On numerous occasions, Micoperi engineers have urged their colleagues from Titan Salvage to show more respect for rules and regulations: "We are not in Bangladesh."

. . .

If everything goes according to plan, the ship will leave Giglio on May 28. This date is printed in bold letters on the work schedule in the salvage room. But it will be difficult for the ship to sail with its head high, as cruise ship aficionados and the shipping company would have wished for. The buoyancy of the towering caissons will not be enough to lift the ship much higher than the waterline. The ship will have a draft of 18 meters, instead of its former 8.2 meters. On its last voyage, the giant will resemble a fishing cutter on crutches that is creeping away from the scene. With a speed of 2 knots, the Costa Concordia will be as slow as a pedestrian ... The ship will probably be dismantled and scrapped in the harbor of Palermo.

There's much more at the link, plus a photo gallery and a series of graphic depictions of how the salvage will be accomplished.  All provide very interesting information for maritime geeks.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Centenary congratulations to the Royal Norwegian Air Force

The Royal Norwegian Air Force celebrated its centenary with an air show on September 1-2, 2012, in Oslo.  Back in July we showed an F-16 of the RNoAF that had been given a special paint job to celebrate the anniversary.  It was part of a large number of aircraft taking part in fly-pasts to commemorate the occasion.  Here's a video of the fly-pasts, featuring aircraft ranging from historic to contemporary.

Flight Global has an account of proceedings, including the photo below (cropped for display here) of a giant screen portraying Per Waaler.

He was "one of the Norwegian pilots who scrambled to face off against the German invasion on 9 April 1940" - in a Gloster Gladiator biplane fighter.  Talk about living history!


Getting a handle on things . . . literally!

As many readers know, I'm now engaged in full-time writing, after a disabling injury prevented me from continuing to work in the ministry.  I had a book published back in the 1980's (now long out of print), but the civil unrest in South Africa worsened to such an extent that it blocked my hopes of being able to continue writing for publication.  Thereafter things just didn't seem to work out that way . . . but when you've got nothing else to do except lie in bed and hurt, writing takes on a new impetus!  I hope to have my first fiction published early next year.

As part of 'learning the trade' of fiction writing, even though my fiction isn't primarily faith-oriented, I've joined a group called the Lost Genre Guild, which seeks to bring together writers of faith who are interested in the genres of science fiction and fantasy.  There are some interesting people there, including a gentleman by the name of Robert Treskillard, whose fantasy novel 'Merlin's Blade' is to be published by Zondervan in February 2013.

I found it fascinating when Mr. Treskillard advised the LGG mailing list that he'd hand-crafted the hilt for Merlin's sword, which will be photographed by Zondervan to publicize his book.

How many authors get so wrapped up in a 'sword-and-sorcery'-type novel that they actually make their protagonist's weapon?  Talk about involvement!

He describes the process of manufacturing the hilt on his blog.  It's a very informative article for those interested in metalworking, with lots of pictures (including those used above).  Recommended reading.

I'll be looking forward to Mr. Treskillard's book.  With that sort of attention to detail, it should be well worth reading.


The Obama administration has been caught lying in its teeth . . .

. . . but you wouldn't know much about it, to judge from the (lack of) coverage in the mainstream media.

It's been clear from the very beginning (as we've pointed out before) that the attack on US diplomats and their building in Benghazi, Libya, and the co-ordinated demonstrations and assaults on similar installations in other Islamic countries, were not isolated incidents, nor where they 'spontaneous demonstrations' against an anti-Islamic film (as initially alleged by the Administration, even as late as Tuesday this week).  Instead, they were carefully planned and well-executed attacks by trained terrorists.  Despite this reality, blindingly obvious to anyone with half a brain, the Obama Administration insisted for days, even weeks, that they were nothing of the sort.

Now the Wall Street Journal sets the record straight.

Journalists have stayed on the case ... and their reporting is filling in the Administration's holes. On Friday, our WSJ colleagues showed that starting in spring, U.S. intelligence had been worried about radical militias in eastern Libya. These armed groups helped topple Moammar Ghadhafi last year but weren't demobilized as a new government has slowly found its legs. As we've noted since last winter, the waning of American and European interest in Libya could have dangerous consequences.

Deteriorating security was no secret. On April 10, for example, an explosive device was thrown at a convoy carrying U.N. envoy Ian Martin. On June 6, an improvised explosive device exploded outside the U.S. consulate. In late August, State warned American citizens who were planning to travel to Libya about the threat of assassinations and car bombings.

Despite all this, U.S. diplomatic missions had minimal security.

. . .

Imagine the uproar if, barely a month before Election Day, the Bush Administration had responded to a terrorist strike—on Sept. 11 no less—in this fashion. Obfuscating about what happened. Refusing to acknowledge that clear security warnings were apparently ignored. Then trying to shoot the messengers who bring these inconvenient truths to light in order to talk about anything but a stunning and deadly attack on U.S. sovereign territory.

Four Americans lost their lives in Benghazi in a terrorist attack that evidence suggests should have been anticipated and might have been stopped. Rather than accept responsibility, the Administration has tried to stonewall and blame others. Congress should call hearings to hold someone accountable for this debacle.

There's more at the link.  It's worth reading the article in full.

Personally, I think all those who tried to hoodwink, hornswoggle and mislead the American public about these attacks should face criminal charges.  Even if that's not possible, their careers in government service should come to a sudden, grinding and terminal halt.  As for the Administration's barefaced lies about this disaster . . . all I can say is, remember in November!


Ye gods and little fishes!

For once, that English expression of astonishment seems entirely appropriate.  Via my blogbuddy Strings, we learn of the (purported) existence of 'Lucifer's Testicles'.

Are Your Children Playing With Lucifer's Testicles? is a Bible based book for Christian parents who by lack of faith can't afford to send their children to a decent Christian school.  Their precious youngsters are infected by the secular filth and lies being taught by unsaved teachers in America's public school system.  The book teaches parents how to easily explain to their children that Easter (as it is celebrated by the Unsaved) has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus Christ but is actually a holiday celebrating lewd and sexually explicit pagan rituals of fertility.

There's more at the link.

Fortunately, after my initial astonished wonder whether or not this might, in fact, be the work of some truly wacko fundamentalist nut-job, I read the site's 'Terms Of Service Agreement'.  If you follow its instructions to 'mouse over' hidden text at the end, you find this reassurance:

The Landover Baptist Church is a complete work of fiction. It is a satire/parody.

Having met more than a few of the most frenetic of fundamentalists in my time, I have to admit that for a few mind-boggled moments, they almost had me going!


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Not your average trucks - or truck drivers!

I was amused to discover that in Eastern Europe, there are competitive events to test the ability of drivers and trucks to cross rough terrain.  Having done this as a matter of routine in parts of Africa from time to time, I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to willingly subject themselves, or their expensive trucks, to the same hammering just for fun . . . but perhaps I'm too much of a realist sometimes!

Anyway, I thought you might enjoy a look at how they go about it (and sometimes fail).  Here are a few videos portraying their trials and tribulations.

Looks like everyone was enjoying themselves . . . but I'd hate to be the one who had to wash those trucks afterwards!


Theory versus practice in a combat zone

The Marine Corps Gazette has published an interesting article titled 'What Color Are Your Socks?: It’s time To Leash Your Dogma'.  The author argues:

Those leaders who emphatically state that there is no difference between the rules and expectations for Marines between the continental Unites States (CONUS) and a combat zone exhibit a shocking lack of situational awareness. To equate the conditions and realities of Camp CONUS with camps, outposts, and bases in Afghanistan is to disregard reality. In CONUS there is no enemy doing his best to kill Marines on a daily basis, there are no improvised explosive devices in the roads, no snipers in the tree lines, and no combat pay. Marines can go home to their families at night and read bedtime stories to their children, which they certainly cannot do in Afghanistan. It is time for leaders at all levels to recognize that things are indeed different in a combat zone; a Marine doesn’t live in a mud hut or a hole in the ground and not shower for months on end in CONUS.

There, a Marine has the luxury of buying a new pair of regulation socks when his current pair wears out. There a Marine doesn’t spend hour after hour out in the sun, day after day, week after week, and month after month without respite. To reduce the hardships, dangers, and realities of fighting a real war to a level of irrelevancy subordinate to the rigid expectations of garrison life in Camp CONUS is naive and sorrowfully narrow-minded. We can, and should, do better.

There's more at the link.  It's well worth reading.

The article amused as well as interested me, because of my own experiences in a combat zone - particularly experiences with officers straight out from home, who tried to enforce barracks-style discipline and procedures among hardened combat veterans.  To say that their efforts failed is a massive understatement!  I described one such incident in a 2008 blog post, where the application of explosives to the egos of newly-commissioned officers resulted in a marked overall improvement in morale.  Go read it . . . then pass the word to any Marines you happen to know.  Perhaps, in the light of the Gazette article, they might draw inspiration from it!


I absolutely could not believe this story!

Even after reading and re-reading this story, I still can't wrap my brain around it.  It seems that in Thailand, cosmetic companies are marketing creams to lighten the vulva.


What on earth could justify so frivolous and pointless an expenditure?  What's wrong with leaving your organs the color God and nature made them?  What sort of man would base his attraction for a lady on the color of her genitals, for heaven's sake?

On the other hand, I suppose a world that accepts the concept of anal bleaching might actually find this worthwhile.  Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong century . . .


Looking Presidential!

Received via e-mail, origin and attribution unknown:


Debt and the economy

A conflicting picture is emerging of the US economy.  It seems that households are economizing and paying off debt, while the government is taking on ever more debt and spending like there's no tomorrow.

First, consumers.  CNBC reports:

Consumers' out-of-control debt loads helped spark the recession, but households are rapidly getting their balance sheets back into shape.

. . .

Consumers went into the recession carrying debt of nearly double the nation's gross domestic product. That's down to below 85% now, and on pace to approach 75% by late next year, Moody predicts.

Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff said consumer debt is now headed in the right direction, but cautioned it might not translate quickly into more economic growth.

"The thing everybody grapples with is, 'How much (debt) is normal?' " Rogoff said. "There will be a long memory of this crisis. It may be the biggest question mark in terms of trying to time this recovery.''

Revolving debt, mostly credit cards, has fallen 19% since 2007. Revolving balances dropped at a 6.8% seasonally adjusted annual pace in July, after falling 4.5% in June, the Fed said last week. Non-revolving debt has risen, mostly because of student loans.

If consumer spending doesn't come back strongly, it might be because incomes are still well below where they were before the recession, and that households lost about $7 trillion of home equity as housing prices plummeted. That could make them keep the brakes on spending for a while longer, Hoyt said.

There's more at the link.  Bold print is my emphasis.

What this report doesn't tell us is how that debt load dropped so precipitously.  Sure, some households have been paying down debt (my own among them):  but far more have reduced their debt load by simply defaulting on it - walking away from houses that were 'underwater', not paying credit card bills or other debts, and in some cases declaring bankruptcy.  This has been even worse for the economy than if they were still carrying that debt, because such debt doesn't disappear.  It's carried on corporate books as bad debt, which the company will try to recover by raising the prices it charges other, non-defaulting customers.  This also has the effect of making credit harder to obtain.  Financial institutions that experience massive customer defaults are much less willing to make loans to other potential defaulters!

NerdWallet sums up credit card debt as follows:

In 2010, credit card companies wrote off seriously delinquent debts in earnest, lowering the total amount of revolving credit card debt. The charge-off rate – the percentage of dollars owed that issuers have written off as uncollectable – rose to 10.9% in the second quarter of 2010. This represented an increase of over 300% from the first quarter of 2006, when the charge-off rate was only 3.1%. Charge-offs account for a significant portion of the debt reduction.

The graph says it all: between the fourth quarter of 2009 and the fourth quarter of 2010, average household debt fell by $2,722. The speed with which average debt fell indicates that loans were written off, rather than paid off. As a result of those losses, spooked credit card companies tightened their purse strings. Stricter lending standards also contributed to a fall in total credit card debt. Those two factors – fewer loans, made to more creditworthy consumers – are troubling, as they speak to a one-off correction rather than an improvement in underlying factors such as increased income or fiscal prudence.

Again, more at the link.  It's well worth reading.

(Note, too, that many US consumer debts have been 'federalized' - taken over by the US government, so that they're now 'owed' by all US taxpayers.  This is what the Fed is doing with the latest round of quantitative easing.  It's buying up to $40 billion of mortgage-backed securities each month . . . and those mortgages are held by US residents who are frequently less than able to pay them.  The result?  You and I, as taxpayers, will be on the hook to pay for those mortgages that go into default, because the Fed now owns them - and we're legally responsible for settling the Fed's debts.  Charming, isn't it?)

The problem, of course, is that there are no such credit or spending restraints on the US government.  In fact, the Federal Reserve is now enabling almost the whole of our budgetary deficit, because there are few (if any) other buyers for US treasuries.  CNBC again:

The latest round of extraordinary Federal Reserve stimulus is risky and leaves little room to maneuver should another crisis hit, economist Lawrence Lindsey told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Wednesday.

Lindsey said that with the Fed purchasing at least $40 billion a month in mortgage debt through QE3, “they are buying the entire deficit.”

. . .

Lindsay said he agreed with the Fed’s first two rounds of quantitative easing. Now, with the economy now growing closer to its trend rate, “doing something that’s really out of the ordinary is risking things.”

He added, “If this becomes the new ordinary, it’s hard to imagine the Fed’s maneuvering room” should another crisis hit.

The central bank's recently announced bid to stimulate the economy has also taken the pressure off politicians to deal with the U.S. fiscal cliff, Lindsay argued, which could result in destabilizing tax hikes and spending cuts automatically taking effect early next year.

“The Fed, maybe because it can't do otherwise, has told the Congress: 'We're going to buy your bonds no matter what,'” Lindsey said ... Why would any Congress not borrow and spend if they could borrow at 60 basis points?”

More at the link.

So, the big banks are forcing austerity on consumers by demanding repayment of debt and not issuing as much new debt to replace it;  but the Federal Reserve is issuing fiat currency hand over fist to keep the US government's maniacal, out-of-control deficit spending policies afloat.  One wonders why no-one in authority has seen and/or commented on the disconnect . . . because sooner or later (my money's on sooner), the fiscal chickens are going to come home to roost.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Very high, very fast!

Readers may be familiar with the handiwork of China's Broad Group.  The company has developed innovative factory-based construction techniques that allow it to build structures much faster (and hence more cheaply) than traditional methods.  It became famous for building the core structure of a 30-story hotel (shown below) in just 15 days.

Here's a time-lapse video clip showing how the company's methods allowed it to erect the core of a 15-story hotel in a mind-boggling two days!  Finishing the structure took only four more days.  I find it particularly interesting that most of the supporting infrastructure of traditional building methods was not required (for example, there was no central crane system used).

Wired magazine has an in-depth article about the company and some of its building projects.  It's interesting reading.  Apparently the company now plans to build a 220-story skyscraper in just seven months!  Given that construction of the planned 104-story One World Trade Center in New York is expected to take seven years, perhaps we should be paying more attention to Broad Group's technology . . .


Canadian memories of the T-6 Texan

In July last year I wrote about the T-6 Texan (a.k.a. Harvard, shown below) in South African Air Force service.

It had a long and illustrious career spanning over 55 years before it was finally replaced by the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II (shown below).

You can read much more about it, and see lots more photographs, in my earlier article.

Now, from Vintage Wings of Canada, comes another very interesting article about the T-6 Texan in that part of the world, along with plenty of photographs of it and its modern counterpart in the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Hawker Beechcraft T-6 Texan II (known in Canadian service as the CT-156 Harvard II).  Here's one of their many photographs of the original T-6 (foreground) and its modern replacement (background) together in Canadian skies.

The two aircraft are, of course, almost identical to those in South African service.  The original T-6 Texan was built in Canada under license during World War II, while South Africa received examples built by North American Aviation in Texas.  The modern South African PC-7 Mark II trainer uses the engine of the original, smaller PC-7 with the airframe and avionics of the larger PC-9 model.  The PC-9, in turn, was licensed by Pilatus to Beechcraft in the USA, and further developed to meet a trainer requirement for the US Air Force and US Navy, producing the T-6 Texan II shown above.

The link between the old and new Texans (or Harvards) is thus essentially the same for South Africa, Canada and the United States.  Somehow - don't ask me why - that knowledge gives me warm fuzzies . . .


How they sell to you

Almost everyone who's shopped online has had the experience of a vendor 'recommending' products that might interest you.  If you're like me, you've sometimes wondered how on earth they thought you would ever want something like that!  Turns out there's a lot of technology and analysis behind those recommendations.  IEEE Spectrum reports:

All of these suggestions come from recommender systems. Driven by computer algorithms, recommenders help consumers by selecting products they will probably like and might buy based on their browsing, searches, purchases, and preferences. Designed to help retailers boost sales, recommenders are a huge and growing business. Meanwhile, the field of recommender system development has grown from a couple of dozen researchers in the mid-1990s to hundreds of researchers today—working for universities, the large online retailers, and dozens of other companies whose sole focus is on these types of systems.

Over the years, recommenders have evolved considerably. They started as relatively crude and often inaccurate predictors of behavior. But the systems improved quickly as more and different types of data about website users became available and they were able to apply innovative algorithms to that data. Today, recommenders are extremely sophisticated and specialized systems that often seem to know you better than you know yourself. And they’re expanding beyond retail sites. Universities use them to steer students to courses. Cellphone companies rely on them to predict which users are in danger of switching to another provider. And conference organizers have tested them for assigning papers to peer reviewers.

. . .

Have you ever wondered what you look like to Amazon? Here is the cold, hard truth: You are a very long row of numbers in a very, very large table. This row describes everything you’ve looked at, everything you’ve clicked on, and everything you’ve purchased on the site; the rest of the table represents the millions of other Amazon shoppers. Your row changes every time you enter the site, and it changes again with every action you take while you’re there. That information in turn affects what you see on each page you visit and what e-mail and special offers you receive from the company.

. . .

Companies like Amazon collect an immense amount of data ... about their customers. Nearly any action taken while you are logged in is stored for future use. Thanks to browser cookies, companies can even maintain records on anonymous shoppers, eventually linking the data to a customer profile when the anonymous shopper creates an account or signs in. This explosion of data collection is not unique to online vendors — Walmart is famous for its extensive mining of cash register receipt data. But an online shop is much better positioned to view and record not just your purchases but what items you considered, looked at, and rejected.

. . .

So how well do recommenders ultimately work? They certainly are increasing online sales; analyst Jack Aaronson of the Aaronson Group estimates that investments in recommenders bring in returns of 10 to 30 percent, thanks to the increased sales they drive. And they still have a long way to go.

There's more at the link.  Very interesting stuff for the geek in you.


The curtain slowly comes down for the veterans of World War II

Old NFO mentioned recently that the U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War II has just held its last annual convention, after which it disbanded itself.

At their national convention this month, 62 veterans attended where thousands used to go.

The U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War II disbanded at the end of its convention Sept. 7 in Norfolk, Va. Local chapters now must decide whether to continue operating under another name or to dissolve as well.

This month in Groton, J. "Deen" Brown announced to his fellow WWII submarine veterans that the Thames River Chapter has a new name.

"Eastern USA Chapter U.S. Submarine Veterans of WWII," he told members before their monthly luncheon at the U.S. Submarine Veterans clubhouse.

"We simply have to face the fact that we're all getting older and, as we do so, eventually we simply cannot remain a viable national organization," said Brown, 90, of Oakdale.

Walter "Gus" Kraus, the last national president, said the veterans who wanted to keep the national group going "until the last man is gone" prevailed in a vote three years ago. Two years ago, the vote was split.

By this year's convention, some of the stalwarts had died, or their friends had. Of the 1,100 members, the youngest is 86. The oldest is 102.

There's more at the link.

The news comes in the same week that we learned of what may be the last reunion for World War II survivors of the U.S. 63rd Infantry Division.  CNN reports:

Fifteen-thousand American soldiers in that division had crossed the ocean to Europe; the men I spoke with said that some 1,100 had been killed in combat, with many thousands more injured, some grievously.

The ones who were lucky enough to make it home after the war began having reunions in 1947. They were large events during the 1950s and into the 1960s; 500 or 600 veterans of the 63rd Infantry would convene for regional gatherings, and would bring their families. Sometimes, the men told me, there would be thousands of people at the get-togethers.

Ten soldiers were well enough to come to the national reunion this year.

"They would love to hold onto it," said Mary Fran Collier, the daughter of former infantry sergeant Bill Byrnes, whom she had accompanied to the reunion. "But this will almost certainly be the final time. With so few of the men who are still alive and able to attend, we don't even have a large enough group to get a good rate at hotels."

. . .

They were riflemen and artillerymen and mortarmen during the European campaign; they slept out in the open when the temperatures were below zero and when the temperatures were 80 degrees, they sometimes had to go weeks without bathing, they dug foxholes for shelter and ate cold rations and dreamed of home. They encountered, and helped to liberate, Nazi concentration camps and, the indelible horror fresh in their eyes and in their minds, they fought on. Young men then, they often feared that they would never have the chance to see their families again.

At the dinnertime banquets at the three-day reunion this year, even with family members and an honor guard present, there were only around 35 people in the room.

Again, more at the link.

I remember, as a child, how my father would reminisce with other survivors of World War II on the infrequent occasions they spoke about it.  It was usually when my mother and the other survivors' wives weren't present - it was too difficult for them to share it with their families.  I was tolerated until I reached my teens, then was excluded for a while . . . until I put on a uniform myself.  Then I was 'one of them', and welcome to participate as an adult.

My father died some years ago.  I think he was the last of his group of friends who survived World War II.  I still think of them from time to time.  We truly owe them, and their comrades in arms from every nation that fought for liberty, more than words can ever express.  It's sad to know that soon, there will be none of them alive to remind us, by their presence, of the cost of freedom.

From this more recent veteran to those of my father's generation, a heartfelt salute.


Doofus Of The Day #644

Today's award goes to an unnamed and clearly unable seaman at the recent Toshiba Tall Ships Festival in California.

Two people were slightly  injured by live ammunition during a mock sea battle at the Tall Ships Festival in Dana Point Saturday.

Authorities say someone inadvertently loaded a live shotgun shell in one of the cannons on a tall ship competing in a mock sea battle.

The bird shot struck two people. Their injuries were not not life threatening.

Art Barron, reporting for CBS2 and KCAL9, spoke to Donna Reed, a crew member of a ship named the Bill of Rights.

Reed showed Barron her battle scarred legs cut up by what looks like bird shot.

. . .

A passenger was also injured by the ammo fired by a ship called The Amazing Grace.

Sgt. Mark Alsobrook of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. He says live shells  look remarkably life blanks so the department is handling the case as a negligent discharge case.

The ammunition for the blanks and the ammunition for the 12-guage were kept in somewhat the same area. So, it appears at this time that it was an honest mistake,” says Alsobrook.

There's more at the link.  Bold print is my emphasis.

Let's be clear about this.  If some damn fool stored live and blank ammunition in the same storage space, when he or she knew they were going to use the blanks for demonstration firing, the problem is not 'an honest mistake'.  It's criminal bloody negligence!  Imagine if you or I were to make that sort of mistake, and injure or kill somebody while demonstrating a firearm with what we thought was blank ammunition.  Can you say 'reckless or negligent injury or homicide'?  I thought you could . . . and I'm sure the cops who arrested us, and the court that tried us, could say it just as well!


Monday, September 24, 2012

Kittens redux

I know I've embedded this video clip before . . . but I recently came across it once more, and giggled all over again.  Since I enjoy the funny side of life, I thought, why not embed it again?  So I did.


Fancy a really long bus ride?

Right now, I'm wishing I was younger and not partly disabled . . . because Epic Overland is organizing a thirteen-week bus tour from London, England to Sydney, Australia.  It runs through Europe and the Middle East to India and the Asian sub-continent, then down through the Pacific islands of Indonesia and surrounding areas to get to Australia.  (No, of course the bus doesn't drive the whole way!  You have to fly over certain areas, like the bits of the Pacific Ocean that get in the way from time to time!)

To whet your appetite, here's the itinerary for Week 9:

As we head south through Malaysia, we pass through tropical rain forest and into the cooler climates of the Cameron Highlands en route to the soaring, futuristic city of Kuala Lumpur. From colonial mansions and the bustle of Chinatown to the modern splendour of the Petronas Towers – the tallest twin buildings in the world – we will have time to explore what KL has to offer before moving on to the historic port of Melaka.

From the modern city of KL, we head to the fascinating mix of old and new in the island republic of Singapore. The former colonial bastion is rated as having the best quality of life in Asia, combining history and shades of empire with an increasingly thriving metropolis.

A short flight carries us to the final section of our Asian odyssey and another total change of scenery on the Indonesian island of Java, the world's most populous island. Those people are well spread out and the island mixes bustling cities with extraordinary, dramatic scenery. Forged out of volcanic activity, Java is studded with spectacular sights and volcanoes – which just may provide some added action – as we strike east via ancient temples, bubbling mud pools and paddy fields.

Our first stop on the island is the capital Jakarta, which dates back to the 4th century and provides plenty to see as we acclimatise to life in Java before heading onto the city of Bandung.

It sounds like a fascinating journey.  I'd love to have sufficient money, time and fitness to tackle it (although a full quarter of a year in a bus might stretch one's patience to the limit!).


"The Drone Age" - and a moral dilemma

Global Post has published a multi-part series on what it calls 'The Drone Age'.  It's a very informative special report that covers the current state of the art in unmanned, remotely-piloted vehicles, and looks to future developments.  I recommend it to everyone interested in the field, be the vehicles air-, sea-, land- or (in the future) space-based.

As an example, here are some excerpts from the series' article titled 'Deadlier Drones Are Coming'.

Compared to today's fairly rudimentary Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), the drones of the future will be faster and more heavily armed. They will also have better sensors plus more sophisticated computers allowing them to plan and execute attacks with less human participation.

But military analysts and experts on the future of warfare fear these robotic drones could also wind up in the arsenals of more US agencies and foreign governments. That, they add, raises the specter of a whole new kind of conflict which would essentially remove the human element — and human decision-making — from the theater of war.

"Advances in AI (artificial intelligence) will enable systems to make combat decisions and act within legal and policy constraints without necessarily requiring human input," the Air Force stated in its 30-year plan for drone development. The flying branch said it is already working to loosen those policy constraints, clearing a path for smarter, more dangerous drones.

The prospect of even bloodier robot-waged warfare has some experts pleading for a ceasefire, or at least a pause in the pursuit of lethal technology. They say the technology is moving faster than our understanding of its possible effects, and leaving no time to find answers to the moral questions posed by the technological advances.

. . .

Today's drones are ... limited in their ability to sense the ground below them, detect targets and move to attack without assistance. Therefore Air Force and CIA operators must closely supervise most aspects of "unmanned" missions.

. . .

But if a host of government and private research initiatives pan out, the next generation of drones will be more powerful, autonomous and lethal ... and their human operators less involved.

"In the future we're going to see a lot more reasoning put on all these vehicles," Cummings says. For a machine, "reasoning" means drawing useful conclusions from vast amounts of raw data — say, scanning a bustling village from high overhead and using software algorithms to determine who is an armed militant based on how they look, what they're carrying and how they're moving.

. . .

The Air Force is now mapping the policy changes necessary to clear the way for self-directing, armed drones. "Authorizing a machine to make lethal combat decisions is contingent upon political and military leaders resolving legal and ethical questions,"it stated in its 30-year drone plan.

Despite the huge obstacles to building fully autonomous killer robots, the military is already thinking over the implications — in essence, clearing the airspace for these more lethal drones to eventually take flight.

Highly autonomous robots could pose big problems, and not just legally, Stanford researchers Calo and Lin warn. While remote, there is a chance that a highly sophisticated drone could go rogue in combat. How this could happen has to do with the software that could guide future robots' thinking.

. . .

"Autonomous robots are likely to be learning robots, too," Lin says. "We can't always predict what they will learn and what conclusions they might draw on how to behave."

Genetic algorithms could mutate a smart but obedient robot into something uncontrollable. The worst case scenario is that the Pentagon, CIA, other government agencies and allied armies equip themselves with cutting edge drones that, in teaching themselves to find and kill militants, also learn bad habits. Instead of only attacking men wielding weapons, the robots might decide to kill all men or boys, too.

There's more at the link.  The entire series is well worth reading.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Now that's a shredder!

This makes every other shredder I've ever seen look woefully, pathetically inadequate . . .


Doofus Of The Day #643

Today's award goes to an idiot in New York.

A 25-year-old man was charged with trespassing for jumping out of a monorail car into the Bronx Zoo's tiger den because he wanted "to be one" with the animal, police said Saturday.

David Villalobos, who is hospitalized in stable condition, said "his leap was definitely not a suicide attempt, but a desire to be one with the tiger," according to Paul Browne, the NYPD's chief spokesman.

Villalobos was riding on the zoo's Wild Asia monorail around 3 p.m. Friday when he jumped out of the rail car, "clearing the exhibit's perimeter fence" and landing in the den, according to Bronx Zoo Director Jim Breheny.

There's more at the link.

Well, he almost was one with the animal - in its alimentary canal!  Reminds me of Timothy Treadwell, the late and unlamented idiot who killed himself and his girlfriend by getting rather too cosy with Alaskan brown bears.

In life Treadwell had boasted that it would be an honor "to end up in bear scat." It's likely he got honored a bit more than he bargained for, though. Saying he was mauled to death barely captures the full flavor of the assault. When a bush pilot arriving to pick up Treadwell sighted his flattened tent and investigated, an old boar bear was perching on his partially buried remains. Treadwell had been largely eaten. Along with his body parts were those of his 37-year-old girlfriend.

Mr. Villalobos almost got Treadwelled good and proper!  It's almost a pity he wasn't . . . it might have served as an object lesson to other idiots with a similar attitude to dangerous predators!


Financial news

Following the Fed's announcement of QE3, there's been a lot of reaction from various sources.  The ones I trust are uniformly pretty negative about it.  Here are links to a number of worthwhile articles, with a brief quote from each and, in some cases, a comment from me too.

1.  What Mitt Romney Also Said: A Glimpse Of The Endgame?

(Romney quote)  You know, we borrow this extra trillion a year, we wonder who's loaning us the trillion? The Chinese aren't loaning us anymore. The Russians aren't loaning it to us anymore. So who's giving us the trillion? And the answer is we're just making it up. The Federal Reserve is just taking it and saying, "Here, we're giving it." It's just made up money, and this does not augur well for our economic future. You know, some of these things are complex enough it's not easy for people to understand, but your point of saying, bankruptcy usually concentrates the mind.

I've long said that Romney is almost as bad a choice as Obama for our next President . . . but if he's actually willing to follow through on this understanding of our financial situation, and do something to reverse it, he might not be as bad as I'd feared.

2.  Who really profits big from food stamps? JPMorgan & Walmart.

JPMorgan Chase, one of the big banks bailed out in the financial crisis of 2008, is a private contractor retained by over half of US state governments to issue EBT cards and manage recipient accounts amounting to billions of taxpayer dollars every month.

. . .

Asked last year about the role food stamps played in JPMorgan's business, Christopher Paton, managing director of JPMorgan's "Treasury Solutions" business, said:

"This business is a very important business to JPMorgan. It's an important business in terms of its size and scale ... Right now, volumes have gone through the roof in the past couple of years."

So we bail out the banksters to the tune of tens of billions of US taxpayer dollars, only to have them charge US taxpayers even more for running a bailout program for individuals in need.  Anyone else think this isn't exactly fair or just?

3.  Get Ready For An Epic Fiat Currency Avalanche.

Quantitative easing has shown itself to be impotent in the improvement of America’s economic situation.  Despite four years of free reign in central banking, employment remains dismal in the U.S., the housing market continues its freefall, and, our national debt swirls like a vortex at the heart of the Bermuda Triangle.  Despite this abject failure of Keynesian theory, the Federal Reserve is attempting once again to convince you, the happy-go-lucky American citizen, that somehow, this time around, everything will be “different”.

. . .

... the bottom line is that at the very least our national debt has increased by 60% in only four years time!  Now, the private Federal Reserve wants to introduce unlimited stimulus, on top of Operation Twist, and the incredible money burning habits of our current government?  Are Keynesians really foolish enough to think that the generation of such massive liabilities will somehow undo the crippling effects of already debilitating debt?  Answer:  Yes.

Inflation In Necessities: Food and energy prices remain painfully high, and are now in the process of inflating beyond the average person’s ability to pay.  Oil in particular has remained almost static above $100 a barrel (Brent).  This has been blamed on numerous scapegoats, from Middle East turmoil to “speculation”.  Yet, long term high prices show that neither of these explanations is fully sufficient.  In reality, only currency devaluation allows for such a steady and consistent inflationary reaction in commodities.  Unfortunately, we haven’t seen the worst yet.  QE3 will send prices skyrocketing, and with the open-ended nature of the stimulus, there is no ceiling.  We could very well witness Weimar style hyperinflation in the near term.

4.  QE3: Helicopter Ben Bernanke Unleashes An All-Out Attack On The U.S. Dollar.

In the coming months, hundreds of billions of dollars that the Federal Reserve has zapped into existence out of nothing will be injected into our financial system.

So what will happen to all of this new money?

If banks and financial institutions use that money to make loans then it could have somewhat of a positive impact on the economy in the short-term.

However, the truth is that it isn't as if banks are hurting for cash to loan out.  In fact, right now banks are already sitting on $1.6 trillion in excess reserves.  Just like with the first two rounds of quantitative easing, a lot of the money from QE3 will likely end up being put on the shelf.

But the stock market loved the news because they know that the previous two rounds of quantitative easing have been great for the financial markets.  On Thursday, the stock market soared to levels not seen since December 2007.

There is much rejoicing on Wall Street right now.

And this stock market bounce is great for Bernanke's good buddy Barack Obama.

Obama nominated Bernanke to a second term as Fed Chairman, and this might be Bernanke's way of paying him back.

But of course the Fed is supposed to be "above politics" so that would never happen, right?

. . .

QE3 is also probably going to cause commodity prices to rise just like QE1 and QE2 did.

That means that you will be paying more for gasoline, food and other basic necessities.

So there may not be more jobs, but at least you will get the privilege of paying more for things.

The inflation that QE3 will cause will be particularly cruel for those on fixed incomes such as retirees.

None of the extra money from QE3 is going to go into their pockets, but they will have to pay more to heat their homes and fill up their shopping carts.

And the "exceptionally low interest rate" policy of the Federal Reserve is absolutely devastating for those that have saved for retirement and that are relying on interest income for their living expenses.

In short, quantitative easing is very good for the wealthy and it is very bad for the average man and woman on the street.

5.  Regular gasoline retail prices, adjusted for inflation, have never been higher.

Source: US Energy Information Administration (full-size graph at the link)

It's no secret that the main reason for the increased cost of fuel is currency depreciation caused by inflation - and the increased currency depreciation caused by QE3 is forecast to take crude oil from its present just-over-$100-per-barrel levels to around $150.  Guess what this does for transport costs for almost everything bought by consumers?  That's right . . . price hikes, here we come.  Inflation strikes again!

6.  The banksters have just 'bought' sufficient Congressional representatives to roll back one of the major legal protections against banker fraud and misrepresentation.  Remember in November!

7.  Why the Government won't fight Wall Street.

8.  President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Richard Fisher, gave a speech to the Harvard Club of New York City on September 19th, 2012.  He made a number of very good points, but his closing remarks struck me as particularly important.

If you want to save our nation from financial disaster, may I suggest that rather than blame the Fed for being hyperactive, you devote your energy to getting our nation’s fiscal authorities to do their job.

Since 1879, every chapel service at the Naval Academy concludes with a hymn that contains the following plea: “O hear us when we cry for Thee, for those in peril on the sea.” We cry for a nation that is in peril on the blustery seas of the economy. Our people are drowning in unemployment; our government is drowning in debt. You—the citizens and voters sitting in this room and elsewhere—are ultimately in command of the fleet that sails under the flag of the United States Congress. Demand that it performs its duty.

Just recently, in a hearing before the Senate, your senator and my Harvard classmate, Chuck Schumer, told Chairman Bernanke, “You are the only game in town.” I thought the chairman showed admirable restraint in his response. I would have immediately answered, “No, senator, you and your colleagues are the only game in town. For you and your colleagues, Democrat and Republican alike, have encumbered our nation with debt, sold our children down the river and sorely failed our nation. Sober up. Get your act together. Illegitimum non carborundum; get on with it. Sacrifice your political ambition for the good of our country—for the good of our children and grandchildren. For unless you do so, all the monetary policy accommodation the Federal Reserve can muster will be for naught.”

Amen!  Remember in November!

9.  The Magnitude of the Mess We're In.

Suppose you were offered the job of Treasury secretary a few months from now. Would you accept? You would confront problems that are so daunting even Alexander Hamilton would have trouble preserving the full faith and credit of the United States. Our first Treasury secretary famously argued that one of a nation's greatest assets is its ability to issue debt, especially in a crisis. We needed to honor our Revolutionary War debt, he said, because the debt "foreign and domestic, was the price of liberty."

History has reconfirmed Hamilton's wisdom. As historian John Steele Gordon has written, our nation's ability to issue debt helped preserve the Union in the 1860s and defeat totalitarian governments in the 1940s. Today, government officials are issuing debt to finance pet projects and payoffs to interest groups, not some vital, let alone existential, national purpose.

The problems are close to being unmanageable now. If we stay on the current path, they will wind up being completely unmanageable, culminating in an unwelcome explosion and crisis.


10.  Doug Casey on the 'Worsening Storm,' QE3 and the Hard Assets Alliance.

At this point, everything the government is doing – and not just the US government but governments everywhere − is not only the wrong thing but exactly the opposite of the right thing. They're passing more laws, raising taxes, creating more currency and incurring more debt. They should be doing the opposite. We're currently still in the eye of the storm. Their actions guarantee that when we go back into the hurricane − the trailing edge of the hurricane − it's going to be much worse and will last much longer than what we saw in 2007 to 2009. I expect this time it's likely to be accompanied by high levels of retail price inflation.

. . .

There's simply no hope for any change without totally draconian measures. Of course, we are going to get draconian measures but they are going to be the kind that make things worse, not make things better.

. . .

The dollar is an I O U nothing on the part of a bankrupt government. It will reach its intrinsic value because the trillion and a half dollar deficits that they're running now – and it's actually more than that if you use accrual accounting as opposed to cash accounting as any business would do − can only increase. They'll fund the deficit by creating more dollars. Governments all over the world are doing the same thing, but it's much more serious for the US to destroy its currency than for any other country because the US dollar is, in effect, the world currency. By that I mean it's the actual de jure currency in at least three other countries, and the de facto currency in maybe 50 more. In addition, most of the central banks in the world have most of their assets in dollars. So if the dollar is wiped out, and I don't see how that can realistically be avoided at this point, it's going to be a worldwide catastrophe, not just a national catastrophe. So it's much more serious than most people think.

I daresay those articles will keep you busy for a while . . . although a hefty dose of antidepressants might be in order!