Sunday, July 5, 2015

With tongue firmly in cheek . . .


. . . Australian comedians Clark and Dawe explain the Greek economy.  The video dates from a few years ago, but it's no less meaningful (and funny!) for that.





And here's their take on the way forward for the European economy.





You'll find many more of their videos on their YouTube channel.  Recommended.

Peter

Saturday, July 4, 2015

175 years of reliable Atlantic crossings


For centuries, crossing the Atlantic meant taking a sailing ship at the mercy of wind and current, sometimes making a fast passage, sometimes a slow one, and sometimes a stormy one.  Business could not be conducted reliably because no-one knew when goods dispatched from one side of the ocean would arrive on the other - if at all.

That began to change on July 4th, 1840.

When the Royal Mail Ship Britannia swung out of Coburg dock in Liverpool on July 4 1840 and nosed her way into Halifax harbour on July 17, the world of travel changed forever.





RMS Britannia departing Boston in 1844


Not that the citizens of Nova Scotia’s capital were aware of this historic event: the ship docked at 2am. But headlines soon followed, trumpeting the news that this coal-fired, wood-built paddle-steamer had crossed the Atlantic in 12 and a half days.





Charles Dickens' cabin aboard RMS Britannia, 1842


In the first decades of the 19th century, sailing vessels took between six and 12 weeks to make the trip. And since ships only departed when the hold was full of cargo, timetables were irregular. As for steam engines, they had been powering boats along rivers and lakes for half a century. They had even powered ships across the Atlantic. But Britannia broke new ground because she was fast, safe and did not run out of coal. Crossing at a steady eight-and-a-half-knots it proved that fixed schedules could be set.





Sir Samuel Cunard


International maritime transport never looked back – and neither did Samuel Cunard, the owner of Britannia, whose voyage will be re-created today when the Queen Mary 2 sets sail from Liverpool bound for the US exactly 175 years on.

There's more at the link.

Steam changed shipping from a hit-or-miss affair to a reliable conduit for business.  The schedules and practices established by steamship transport carried over to airlines in due course, and today ships carry the vast majority of the world's trade.

Peter

Remember "The owl and the pussycat"?


It's a famous nonsense poem by Edward Lear, taught in old-style school English class and much enjoyed by youngsters.  If you don't know it, you'll find it here.

What's not nonsense is the friendship that's sprung up between a five-year-old owl and a very young kitten in Japan.





All together, now . . . Awwww!




Peter

A happy and blessed Independence Day to all my readers





Peter

Friday, July 3, 2015

Could Greece become Cyprus all over again???


It looks like the deliberate theft of depositors' funds from banks, euphemistically labeled a 'haircut' or a 'bail-in' or a 'special tax', that happened on Cyprus some years ago, may be about to happen in Greece.  The Financial Times reports:

Greek banks are preparing contingency plans for a possible “bail-in” of depositors amid fears the country is heading for financial collapse, bankers and businesspeople with knowledge of the measures said on Friday.

The plans, which call for a “haircut” of at least 30 per cent on deposits above €8,000, sketch out an increasingly likely scenario for at least one bank, the sources said.

A Greek bail-in could resemble the rescue plan agreed by Cyprus in 2013, when customers’ funds were seized to shore up the banks, with a haircut imposed on uninsured deposits over €100,000.

It would be implemented as part of a recapitalisation of Greek banks that would be agreed with the country’s creditors — the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank.

. . .

Greek deposits are guaranteed up to €100,000, in line with EU banking directives, but the country’s deposit insurance fund amounts to only €3bn, which would not be enough to cover demand in case of a bank collapse.

With few deposits over €100,000 left in the banks after six months of capital flight, “it makes sense for the banks to consider imposing a haircut on small depositors as part of a recapitalisation. . . It could even be flagged as a one-off tax,” said one analyst.

There's more at the link.

I warned about this when it happened in Cyprus.  All around the world, laws have been amended or implemented to permit it.  Think it can't happen here?  It can and will happen in a skinny minute if the powers that be reckon it's the least painful way to pay off our otherwise unpayable debt burden, or restore order to a disordered financial system.

For the foreseeable future I'm going to be keeping a proportion of my savings in cash, in more than one safe place, rather than trust all my money to a bank.  I can only recommend that you do likewise.  (If you have sufficient savings [I don't, sadly], it might also be a good idea to use part of your reserves to buy gold coins and other easily negotiable forms of precious metals, as a store of value rather than an investment.)  I'm also going to make sure we have enough supplies to get by for three months if necessary.  Other than that . . . trust in God and keep your powder dry.  You may need it.

Peter

"Special Snowflakes", "Helicopter Parents" and "Fairness"


Two articles caught my eye this week, each reinforcing the other even though they were published several thousand miles apart.

The Globe and Mail newspaper in Canada published an article titled 'Our precious little snowflakes'.  Here's an excerpt.

By the time a kid reaches 18, she will have accumulated boxes and boxes of diplomas, medals, ribbons, trophies and certificates for just showing up – whether she’s any good at anything or not.

There’s also a good chance that her parents will still be as heavily involved as ever – guiding, advising, applauding, and doing everything they can to protect their little snowflake from any sense of failure or rejection. The task of parental rescuing now extends well beyond the age the kid is old enough to vote.

A few weeks ago I found myself sharing a table with several business executives and a dean from a leading community college. All had stories to tell about overly protective parents. The dean described parents who help their kids write their essays (these kids are 20), and complain to him if they think their children’s marks are too low. A bank executive told us that it’s not uncommon for parents to call the HR department if they think their kid got an unfair performance appraisal. (He made me swear not to name the bank.) A manager with a major multinational told us how a mother called his office to complain about her son’s too lowly job description.

“I hear stories all the time from recruiters,” says Nate Laurie, who runs Jobpostings, Canada’s leading online student job network. “Parents call the recruiter and ask if he got their child’s resumĂ©, or why their child didn’t get the job. When the kid goes for an interview, they go with her and sit in the waiting room.”

There's more at the link.

This is, of course, disastrous for the development of the child as an individual.  If they're convinced they're special, even when they're not, the real world is likely to prove a cruel disappointment - if not a slap in the face.  They aren't prepared to face reality.  What's worse, they'll find it very difficult, if not impossible, to shed their self-important self-image and realize that they're just one more human being in a world full of them.  No-one owes them a thing.

That leads me to the second article in the Telegraph, titled 'How I shamed the ballet world over 'discriminating' against disabled ballerinas'.

[Seven-year-old] Pollyanna, who had her first prosthetic leg fitted [after an accident at the age of two], has grown up like any other girl, with the same interests and pursuits, and one of them is – was – ballet. She started to dance when she was just four years old, and loved it. As her parents, we loved to see her grace and poise.

But her prosthetic leg was still stuck at an immovable right angle. She was able to go on demi-pointe with her left foot, but not with her right leg. This did not matter while she was so young that no one judged her. But then in 2012, Pollyanna and her class enrolled in exams run by the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD).

On the day she looked immaculate, in blue leotard, tights and a swirly blue ballet skirt, her hair in a tight bun. As she disappeared to be marked, like all the other girls, I sat with the other parents outside the examining hall, hoping all had gone well.

But it hadn’t. When the results came through, we were appalled to discover that Pollyanna had apparently been marked down because of her disability. She received 35 out of 50 for “presentation, musicality and response” but 13 out of 40 for technique (including just two out of 10 for footwork and co-ordination). She only received a pass, while the other girls received merits or distinctions.

. . .

Our disappointment was crushing. As her parents, we were unwilling to let Pollyanna continue in a discipline which marked her down simply because of the way she is. So Pollyanna stopped going to ballet. She is now successfully taking part in Riding for the Disabled.

. . .

The ISTD admitted that for a disabled girl like Pollyanna “it can be damaging to work towards a goal of an examination which cannot be achieved”. Andrew McBirnie, Director of Examinations at the Royal Academy of Dance, one of the other examining boards, said that to offer a concession for Pollyanna’s disability “would be unfair” to other able-bodied ballet dancers.

“Pollyanna was not marked down or adversely marked; she was marked to exactly the same criteria as every other candidate,” he told me. “‘We are not allowed to amend or adjust those requirements for any candidate, no matter what their circumstances may be. To do so risks not only prejudicing the results of those candidates for whom adjustments are not made; but also, I would argue, devaluing the achievements of the candidate for whom they are made.”

I was furious. And at this point I decided to alert Government ministers to what was going on. Ed Vaizey, a Culture minister, was appalled, saying: “Someone who has a passion for dance should not be held back because of a disability, and their excellence should be recognised in the same way.”

Again, more at the link.

I found myself blinking in disbelief as I read the second article.  I think the ISTD was exactly right in its response.  Ballet requires a certain physical ability, otherwise one simply can't do it correctly.  To allow a disabled person special privileges in examinations because they aren't capable of certain movements would be a slap in the face to all those who are capable of doing what the discipline demands, and have worked hard to master those skills.  If an eight-year-old girl's feelings are hurt because she can't cope with them, I blame the parents who didn't make reality clear to her and encouraged her to persevere in a hopeless quest.  I don't blame the ballet teachers or examiners in the least.

This is yet another example of helicopter parents insisting that their kids be given breaks above and beyond the bounds of reality.  I see it in a huge number of instances in our news media.  Parents who badger coaches, insisting that their son be allowed to pitch for the Little League baseball team or be the quarterback for the school football team (without possessing the necessary aptitude and skills);  insisting that their daughter's art be given a prize or exhibited at a school function when it's nowhere near as good as the work of other children;  and so on.  They have no conception of reality, and their kids are growing up even worse off in that regard.

My parents had a very simple approach to all of us as kids.  We were encouraged to do our best.  When that best wasn't good enough, and we became discouraged, they'd help us improve to the best of our ability, but they'd also praise those who were better than us and encourage us to congratulate them rather than feel jealous.  They'd also make sure to support us where we were strong, developing areas where we really did have abilities so that we were 'better than others' in those areas.  That way we never felt rejected or belittled.  We knew we could do some things well, but not others, and we understood that was the natural order of things.  Kids today don't seem to grasp that reality.

I note, too, that 'special snowflakes' and 'helicopter parents' seem far more prevalent in the urban liberal progressive strongholds of the north-east and left coast than they do in the more common-sensical centers of the mid-west and south.  I'm glad the rot hasn't set in everywhere yet.

Peter

Quote of the day


According to the Wall Street Journal's 'Bankruptcy Beat', the Morongo Band of Mission Indians of southern California is interested in buying or otherwise investing in the bankrupt Colt firearms company.  I had to laugh out loud at a comment by the tribe's attorney.

For Colt’s Native American suitors, it’s not just business; it’s history, interest and commitment, their attorney said. “We have gone to great lengths to get our hands on Colts,” he said. “Just ask General Custer.”




Peter

China's financial problems dwarf Greece's


A few days ago I mentioned the meltdown in China's leading stock market as one factor that might precipitate a global economic meltdown.  It's getting worse by the day.  Bloomberg reported yesterday:



"What happens in China will turn out to be far more consequential than any sting that Greece may deliver over the coming weeks or months," said Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian economic research at HSBC Holdings Plc in Hong Kong. "As China's equity markets lose their roar, the risk is that demand more broadly on the Mainland could take a hit. That would knock out an essential engine of world demand over the past decade."

There's more at the link.

The figure is so immense that one simply can't wrap one's head around it.  $2.36 trillion in value lost???  That's almost the size of the US government's annual budget . . . and it's been wiped out in a matter of two or three weeks!

Zero Hedge notes:

What is most troubling is that ... this clear bubble bursting is not done with the government's blessings - as should have been the case since a crash was clear to anyone - but despite the government constant attempts to intervene and prop up the bubble.

It all started with appeals to buy and hold because, well, it's patriotic:  "Fan Shaoxuan, a senior executive at Weibo TV who has more than 12,000 followers on Sina Weibo, posted a photograph showing the slogans: "Hold stocks with confidence. Win glory for the country even if you lose the last penny."

Then overnight Bloomberg reported that in one sign of utter desperation, China is telling underwater investors to literally "bet the house on stocks" because under new rules announced Wednesday real estate is now an acceptable form of collateral for Chinese margin traders, who borrow money from securities firms to amplify their wagers on equities. Clearly this also means if share prices fall enough, individual investors who pledge their homes could be at risk of losing them to a broker.

. . .

And if indeed the Chinese government is now helpless to halt the all out rout which, as we have warned countless times over the past 6 months, will leave millions of Chinese "traders" with nothing and thus desperate and angry, then the next step is also very clear and was laid out last week in a note by Nomura which warned that "A Market Crash 'Poses Great Danger To Social Stability'."

Again, more at the link, and in this article as well.

If Greece goes under, the Eurozone is headed for ultimate disintegration.  If China's economy hits a brick wall, the single largest economic engine in the world breaks down.  If both happen together . . .

Batten down the hatches and prepare for rough weather, folks.  The next few days are going to be extremely interesting.

Peter

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Trigger alert - literally!


Here's a security video of a robbery at a Brazilian pizza takeout shop.  It gets very bloody when police arrive on the scene.  WARNING:  When I say 'very bloody' I mean it!  You're going to see people die.  Not for the squeamish!

(I wish the person who put this on YouTube had left out the daft music soundtrack. The video would have been far more effective in silence, IMHO.  I recommend you mute your speakers.)





I guess the moral of the story is, don't mess with Brazilian cops.  They mean business, and they don't seem to bother with warnings.

Peter

Doofus Of The Day #841


Today's award goes to the German Weather Service.

The German Weather Service (DWD) issued a weather warning for North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) on Wednesday predicting 5 to 10 cm of snow and winds of up to 60 km/h.

"Due to snowfall of between 5 and 10 cm and wind speeds of up to 60 km/h snowdrifts will build up,” reads the email.

It also recommends that people avoid using their cars due to the fact that in places streets “will be impassable.”

The weather warning is for the first two days of July.

The contents of the email came as a surprise to residents of the west German state, which is currently enjoying blue skies and temperatures of up to 35 degrees Celsius [95 degrees Fahrenheit].

. . .

When the DWD were informed of the contents of the email the mystery was finally cleared up, reports the Rheinische Post.

A spokesperson said "We were testing a new warning system and unfortunately we sent a completely false report to subscribers.

"Naturally given the temperatures outside one need not worry about snow drifts."

There's more at the link.

Given that most of Europe is currently in the grip of a heat wave so extreme that it poses dangers to the elderly and those with breathing difficulties, I'd imagine many will actually be disappointed that no snow arrived!

On the other hand, at least the German Weather Service hasn't come a cropper as badly as Britain's Meteorological Office did back in 1987.  Michael Fish's comments on the BBC weather forecast the previous evening became legendary.





"Don't worry" turned into the so-called "Great Storm" of 1987.  It killed 13 people and caused massive damage all across England.  My favorite news story from the storm was of an ambulance that was struck by a passing yacht, drifting along on floodwaters!  However, I'm sure the ambulance crew didn't find it as amusing as I did . . .

Peter

There are none so blind as those who will not see


In a comment to my previous post, reader "Ms. d'Memieux", quoting from that article, asked:

> deficit spending is simply digging our fiscal hole even deeper

Who is this "our" you write of?

Well, "Ms. d'Memieux", here's what I'm talking about.



It’s an imperfect analogy, but imagine the green is your salary, the yellow is the amount you’re spending over your salary, and the red is your MasterCard statement.

The chart is brutally bipartisan. Debt increased under Republican presidents and Democrat presidents. It increased under Democrat congresses and Republican congresses. In war and in peace, in boom times and in busts, after tax hikes and tax cuts, the Potomac flowed ever deeper with red ink.

Our leaders like to talk about sustainability. Forget sustainable — how is this sane?

. . .

All of the figures come from the U.S. Treasury and math doesn’t care about fairness or good intentions. Spending vastly more than you have, decade after decade, is foolish when done by a Republican or a Democrat. Two plus two doesn’t equal 33.2317 after you factor in a secret “Social Justice” multiplier.

. . .

Like many Americans, I haven’t had the privilege of visiting Greece. Unfortunately, Greece will be visiting us unless we change things and fast.

There's more at the linkEssential reading.

If anyone can look at that graphic and not be truly frightened for the future of this country, they're either so stupid as to be beyond help, or insane ditto.  I don't see any other possibility.  As for what it means if "Greece visits us" . . . see here.

Peter

EDITED TO ADD:  In such a risky financial environment, it's no wonder that 'insiders' - those who have a clearer understanding of and insight into the markets than almost anyone else, including central banks - are selling off their assets and boosting their cash reserves.  See these two reports for more information.  If the pro's are doing this, the rest of us should be learning from them - and, I dare say, emulating them.  I'm doubling my cash-on-hand reserve.

The budget battle in Illinois


Keep an eye on the budget battle in the state of Illinois.  It ties in with what I said a few days ago about the parlous state of US state and municipal finances, which are contributing factors to the risk of a worldwide financial meltdown.  ABC News reports:

[Governor] Rauner insists Illinois must freeze property taxes to give homeowners a break, put restrictions on liability lawsuits and compensation for workers' injuries to make business operations cheaper, allow for expansion and increase tax revenue. Term limits and impartial political map-drawing would keep officeholders accountable and thrifty, he says.

[Illinois House speaker] Madigan says the business changes would hurt middle-class workers and calls them "extreme."

Rauner turned that term against the opposing party, saying his plans make "extreme common sense."

"What is extreme in Illinois is our property tax burden, what is extreme is our deficit and our debt, what is extreme is our low economic growth, our low rate of job-creation and our high rate of conflicts of interest inside government," Rauner said.

Democrats sent Rauner a $36 billion spending plan in June. He vetoed it because it was short on revenue by up to $4 billion.

There's more at the link.

The Governor happens to be Republican and the Speaker Democrat, but that doesn't really matter.  The battle isn't between political parties - it's between those who want to carry on with their binge of deficit spending, versus those who want to balance the budget and not spend more than they can take in.  It's a battle being waged in many states.  Illinois just happens to be the worst off of them - and is a microcosm of US deficit spending in general.

Continued deficit spending is simply digging our fiscal hole even deeper than it is already.  It makes no economic sense at all - but it makes political sense for those who rely on deficit-funded entitlement programs to, in so many words, 'buy votes' to maintain their positions of power.  That's what's fueling the current political impasse in Illinois, and many other states and cities besides.

Peter

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A double score on guns and ammo


I had good luck today with firearms and ammunition.  I came across an advertisement from a local resident who was selling two Ruger 22/45 pistols, the older Mk II version rather than the current-production Mark III (which I don't like because it's burdened with a magazine safety, a loaded chamber indicator and other legally-mandated excrescences).  The price was reasonable, so I bought them both.  Miss D. and I now have matching his-and-hers 22/45's, identical to the picture in the first link above.

On the way home, I dropped in at our local firearms dealer to see what they had in the way of .22LR ammunition.  They seem to have access to regular supplies of CCI Mini-Mags, which are my preferred brand for all-round use.  Today they had something I hadn't seen before.




There's apparently a TV program about alligator hunting called "Swamp People" or "Choot 'Em" or something like that (I've never seen it, but then I don't watch TV).  CCI is one of its sponsors, and they've produced this show-branded 300-round pack of their Mini-Mag 36gr. hollowpoint rounds.  The shop had recently received a case of it, and had already sold three out of the ten boxes.  I relieved them of the remaining seven, also at a reasonable price (more than I would have paid a couple of years ago, but very good by today's standards for high-quality ammo like CCI - it came to about 11c per round).  That gives Miss D. and I plenty of ammo to break in our new pistols.  (No, I didn't deprive anyone else by buying it all - the shop will have more in stock within a few days.  That's why I keep going back there.  They seem to have better sources for rimfire ammo than most places.)

Now I have to learn the intricacies of disassembling, cleaning and reassembling the Ruger Mark II pistol.  It has a terrible reputation for being very tricky to put back together.  I guess I've got a steep learning curve in front of me.  If anyone can suggest useful online resources or video clips to make it easier, please let me know about them in Comments.  Also, I may want to mount a scope rail on one of the pistols.  Can anyone recommend a good product for the purpose, or perhaps a good gunsmith to do the installation if necessary?

Thanks in advance for your help.

Peter

Which genius thought up this technique?


If time is short, jump to about 1m. 50sec. for the fun bit.





Verily, the mind doth boggle . . .




Peter

The state of the Tor boycott (and SJW's)


I guess it's time to post an update on what's been happening with regard to the Tor boycott.

I had the opportunity to discuss the situation at considerable length with a large number of people at LibertyCon over the weekend.  (I was humbled by the number who thanked me for speaking up about the situation at Tor.  It's nice to know I'm far from alone in my anger.)  It seems there's very positive support for the boycott from the majority of those with whom I spoke.  I'd say it's certain that we're on track to cost Tor a six-figure sum this year, and probably that will continue for the foreseeable future.  That may not seem like a lot to some;  but six figures a year taken off Tor's turnover, merely because they would not apologize for actions taken in their name by their personnel using company time and computer facilities, seems like a fitting punishment.  I wonder whether the company will still be as sanguine about it when the loss of turnover reaches seven figures?

SJW's continue to be as fanatical as ever in trying to brand various Puppy factions as racist, extremist, and any other -ist they can think of.  They're still trying to identify 'leaders' of the Sad Puppy faction and draw them out, so that they can demonize them as individuals.  Unfortunately for them, there are no particular SP leaders behind the boycott.  It's a genuine mass movement.  (A few of them have tried to demonize me in that way, but it hasn't worked, for two reasons.  One is that they've already dismissed me - rudely - as a nobody, not worthy of their attention . . . which makes it difficult for them to build me up into some kind of a bogeyman.  The other is that I truly am small fry, as I've pointed out before.  I'm merely an individual who, because of my personal background and history, was more offended than many others by Irene Gallo's intemperate and untrue remarks;  and I therefore spoke out, loudly, about the situation.  Others have chosen to pick up that ball and run with it.)

The SJW's also appear to be trying to conflate the Tor boycott with the Hugo Awards controversy.  Please recall that I didn't call for a boycott of Tor because of anything to do with the Hugo Awards.  I did so because of the lies and unconscionable actions of a number of senior Tor staff.  It looks to me as if the loony left is grasping at straws here.  Vox Day, who as organizer of the Rabid Puppies is the SJW's favorite demon, has done a great job cataloging their manic efforts to further polarize and inflame the situation.  I know that some people regard him as all sorts of nasty things because of various incidents in the past, but I don't know anything about those.  I've only had dealings with him since this situation blew up.  In that context, I have nothing but praise for his openness, honesty and willingness to co-operate.

Just this morning Vox pointed out how SJW hysteria has reached a crescendo.  Go read his article for yourself.  You'll find it illuminating.  He also references Daniel Greenfield's latest article, which is most certainly applicable to a great many SJW's.  Read that too.

The very fact that the Puppies factions don't see any need to go on and on and on about the Hugos or the Tor boycott, whereas the SJW's seem unwilling or unable to talk about much else, is (IMHO) the clearest possible sign of who's currently winning this fight.

Peter