4.30.2011

"One gloriously capitalistic weekend"



Live-Blogging the Berkshire Annual Meeting

Excerpts:

(10:11 a.m.) It's the cast of "The Office," with Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) telling Dunder Mifflin about a possible replacement. Enter Warren Buffett.

...
(12:08 p.m.) Buffett says that America is still a good place for banks to lend money, and singles out Wells Fargo and US Bancorp as two particularly well-run firms.

...

(12:21 p.m.) Buffett says that if you collect all the gold in the world and melt it together, you could form a cube with 67 feet on each side.

Here's what you could do with it: "You could get a ladder and climb on top of it and say I'm sitting on top of the world. You could fondle it, you could polish it, you could stare at it."

But Buffett's kicker is this: You can't do anything with it. It has no inherent value. Buying into gold is betting that someone else will come along and pay more for it -- who then is hoping that someone else will pay even more for it down the line.

...

(3:05 p.m.) Buffett says that growing up rich could rob children of crucial drive and enterprise. And if a child of privilege grows up unproductive, it's a matter of parenting.

"If your kids grow up rich and without incentive, I don't think you should point the finger at them," he says. "You should point it at yourself."

...

(3:35 p.m.) Don't question Buffett's commitment to nuclear power. He views it as essential to helping fill the United States' energy needs.

"I think some people misinterprted my interview when I said that it had suffered a major setback," he said. "That does not change my view that nuclear power is important for the world."

...




Comment: My Brother-in-Law went last year! Quote in title is at 9:36 a.m.

Berkshire extends holdings in Wells Fargo

Berkshire Hathaway & Warren Buffett Add More Wells Fargo Shares

Excerpt:

Buffett grew his holdings in Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC) yet again and that position was reported as now being some 358,936,125 shares… This means that he again grew his holdings even from the end of 2010 as he recorded that figure as more than 342 million shares and it was over 336 million at the end of Q3-2010.

Comment: Wells is Buffet's favorite bank stock. Full list here

What's Wrong with My Kids!

Comment: Humor piece from "The Onion" (which sometimes can be offensive!)

Man Raised By Parents Struggling To Adjust To Human Society

Excerpt:

MINNEAPOLIS—Two years after his discovery by a team of developmental psychologists, David Sullivan, a man raised by a pair of mated parents, is still struggling to adapt to normal human society, sources confirmed Friday.

According to researchers at the University of Minnesota, Sullivan, 25, has made significant progress since moving into his own apartment in 2009, but the decades he spent being reared by parents has made joining civilization a desperately difficult task.

"The chances of David ever becoming socialized to the point where he can function normally among humans is very slim," said Dr. Lisa Reynolds, a psychologist who has observed Sullivan since he was first introduced into the real world. "The sheltered, isolated environment in which he spent his adolescence has left him completely unequipped to deal with modern life. Tasks that may seem simple to us, such as doing laundry or grocery shopping, completely baffle David."

Micro "Soft-in-the-Middle"

What Microsoft Needs? Years of Big, Money-Losing Bets, Consultant Says

Excerpt:

Microsoft, he says is basically the beneficiary of a once-a-century, one-time windfall for "having figured out a market 30 years ago." Kay adds that their future, a slow decline of their main franchise, is actually quite visible. Ouch. Clearly not the kind of talk that inspires men to great things, but nonetheless, a seemingly fair take on a behemoth that has been trading consistently within a few bucks of $25 a share since the collapse of the tech bubble in 2001.

Comment: X-Box and Kinect strong. Online business losing big. Next Windows (Windows 8) will run on ARM. I've heard many good things about Windows 7 (fast bootup time).

4.29.2011

Rare Earthquake in Minnesota

Thunder? No, make that an earthquake in western Minnesota

Excerpt:

A rare earthquake, albeit modest, rippled in and around Alexandria in western Minnesota early Friday.

The temblor at 2:20 a.m. measured 2.5 in magnitude, falling into the "weak" category, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Not surprisingly, there were no reports of damage or injury.

The quake probably "felt like a truck rumbling by or thunder," said USGS geophysicist John Bellini.

Comment: More details from USGS. Image capture from Star Tribune article (first link). Interesting Minnesota earthquake history here. Info on the Largest Earthquake in Minnesota (July 1975). I've never experienced and earthquake. Kathee was in San Francisco on business once and experienced one. (Not that I want too!)

Raise the Debt Ceiling?

What happens if Congress blows the debt ceiling?

Excerpt:

It's a ridiculous position to put any treasury secretary in because the debt ceiling is not a cause of rising debt or a "license to spend more" -- as some incorrectly allege. It simply authorizes Treasury to pay the bills Congress chose to incur when it passed years worth of spending increases and tax cuts that are now law.

Comment: The problem is Congress .. (and the weak leadership (oxymoron!) of the President)

4.28.2011

The Fed’s “Dirty Little Secret”

The Fed’s “Dirty Little Secret”

Excerpt:

The dollar hit its lowest level since July 2008 Thursday, putting more pressure on savers, people living on a fixed-income and all consumers facing soaring commodity prices, most notably in energy.

Somewhere, Ben Bernanke is probably smiling.

Yes, Bernanke — and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner — talked tough about the dollar this week but "currency depreciation is always a central bankers dirty little secret," says Vincent Reinhart, a former director of the Fed's Division of Monetary Affairs. "They don't mind some depreciation at time…The trick is to generate some depreciation but not a lot."

It depends on your definition of "a lot"…

Since Bernanke took office on Feb 1, 2006, the dollar's purchasing power has fallen 11%, and its down 21% in the past decade and 82% since the U.S. got off the gold standard in 1971, according to Miller Tabak.

Apparently, that doesn't count as "a lot" or "too much" depreciation for Bernanke's tastes.

"A design principle of Federal Reserve policy is to get inflation up — to create more dollars so inflation doesn't fall anymore; that's associated with currency depreciation," Reinhart explains. "Nothing the Fed chairman or Secretary of Treasury says is going to change that. [But] they've got to say 'a strong dollar is in the national interest' because they don't want to be seen as promoting a weak dollar."

Comment: My first job out of college (actually was 2 years after graduation) was as a new hire as a sales trainee with IBM in 1973. My starting salary was $ 9,600. That was enough to buy a brand new Plymouth for $ 4,200 and rent a nice apartment in Tampa Florida. In 1974 Kathee and I got married (December 28th). We purchased a new home (3 bedroom, LR, dining room, den, 2 car garage, 2 bath) for $ 42,000. (The two years after college before IBM: 1 year with Campus Crusade for Christ, 1 month at chemical plant, 2 months as a Summer ministry intern, and 6 months teaching adult education at Chattanooga Public Schools.) (see earlier post for our first house)

Monster Tornado



Rare Sideways Tornado Captured on Video

Comment: View with the sound on. Scary!

Rod Bell, A Wolf to Avoid

Rob Bell: a Brother to Embrace, or a Wolf to Avoid?

Excerpt:

Is Rob Bell truly a Christian, or is he one of those dangerous deceivers Scripture warns us about repeatedly (Acts 20:29; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; Colossians 2:8; 2 Peter 2:1; etc.)?

It's a fair—and necessary—question. Christ’s famous warning about wolves in sheep’s clothing is given to us as an imperative: “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16). Our Lord clearly expects His true disciples to be able to spot spiritual imposters and wolves in sheep’s clothing—especially those who are purveyors of deadly false doctrines.

Rob Bell certainly fits that category. He relentlessly casts doubt on the authority and reliability of Scripture. He denies the Bible’s perspicuity, disavows its hard truths, and ridicules some of the most important features of the gospel.

...

What Bell is peddling is nothing like New Testament Christianity. It is a man-centered religion totally devoid of both clarity and biblical authority.

...

We have a duty not only to expose, refute, and silence Rob Bell’s errors, but also to urge people under his influence to run as fast and as far as they can from him, lest they be gathered into the eternal hell he denies. It won’t do to sit by idly while someone who denies the danger of hell mass-produces sons of hell (cf. Matthew 23:15).




Comment: Worthwhile read. Be discerning!

More from John MacArthur on Rod Bell:

No more "Truth, Justice, and the American Way"?

Superman Renounces [SPOILER] in 'Action Comics' #900

Excerpt (with image of comic strip):


Superman replies that it was foolish to think that his actions would not reflect politically on the American government, and that he therefore plans to renounce his American citizenship at the United Nations the next day -- and to continue working as a superhero from a more global than national perspective. From a "realistic" standpoint it makes sense; it would indeed be impossible for a nigh-omnipotent being ideologically aligned with America to intercede against injustice beyond American borders without creating enormous political fallout for the U.S. government.



Comment: Might as well ... our President gave it up some time ago! What would Seinfeld think? (I remember one of my neighbor buddies telling me that George Reeves was dead! (Back when we watched very little TV and lived in the dark about the news. I was shattered (I was 9)). Image source for Truth Justice and the American Way!

Remembering Operation Eagle Claw (24–25 April 1980)

Wiki (with concise overview): Operation Eagle Claw
Helicoptor History Site (photos and narrative): Operation Eagle Claw
The Atlantic article (from 2006): The Desert One Debacle
86 page PDF: The Holloway Report – The official DoD investigation into the incident

Comment: It was a shockingly sad day for America. I was in seminary school at the time. (Almost exactly half the age I am today!)

4.27.2011

The Trinity: "we must believe and confess that God is triune, because this is how God reveals himself to us in his word"

Basics of the Reformed Faith – The Holy Trinity

Excerpts:

It is common to hear people claim that Christians, Jews, and Muslims all worship the same God. Not true. Unlike those who worship Allah, or those Jews who claim to worship the God of Abraham, Christians worship the true and living God, who reveals himself in three persons as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It has been said that the Holy Trinity is Christianity’s most distinctive doctrine. Although in many ways the doctrine of the Trinity is beyond our comprehension, we believe this doctrine because this is how God reveals himself to us in his word, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are the one true God.

The doctrine of the Trinity is a difficult topic to discuss, because it stretches the limits of human language and logic. Despite the difficulties this doctrine presents to us, we must believe and confess that God is triune, because this is how God reveals himself to us in his word. The three persons of the Godhead are revealed as equal in divinity, glory, and majesty. Each of the three persons are expressly called “God” in the New Testament. And to each of them is assigned the same divine attributes, as well as the same glory and majesty which are ascribed to the other persons of the Trinity.

Comment: Good read!

Magic Formula Investing

Using Magic Formula Investing to Filter Stocks

Excerpt:

Magic Formula Investing, or MFI, is based on a process, not on hard limits. The process is simply applied on a "basket" of stocks, producing a relative ranking for each stock in that basket based on a composite of earnings yield and adjusted return on capital. The result you get is your basket ranked from 1-N, with lower rankings indicating good companies selling at cheap prices.

The strategy as a whole is usually applied to all U.S.-listed stocks over $50 million market cap, to find the market's most attractive "quality-at-value" opportunities. However, it doesn't have to be used in this manner. It is perfectly viable to apply MFI's tenets to smaller baskets of stocks to compare investment opportunities.

In fact, using MFI buys you a lot of advantages over more traditional price-to-earnings (P/E) and return on equity comparisons:

  1. MFI uses enterprise value instead of market capitalization when calculating the earnings yield. This has the effect of penalizing firms with a lot of debt, while at the same time rewarding firms with a lot of cash on the balance sheet.
  2. MFI uses operating earnings instead of net earnings when calculating the earnings yield. This eliminates the one-time charges that can distort P/E ratios, and also ignores the effects of unpredictable (and often non-recurring) tax provisions.
  3. By using return on *tangible* capital (i.e., subtracting goodwill and intangible assets), and removing excess cash, MFI is comparing most firms on an apples-to-apples basis, instead of relying on some purely accounting assumptions for the value of assets.
Comment: First I've heard of this. Website: Magic Formula Investing. Article compares KO, PEP, and DPS. My own analysis (primative) had KO on top with PEP close second. And DPS out of the running. Magic Formula Investing has DPS as # 1.

Will the Debt Binge end?

Our Debt Binge Is Ending — And The Middle Class Will Get Clobbered

Excerpt:

The US's $1.6 trillion-a-year deficit, Mauldin believes, must quickly be cut to about $300 billion a year, or the US will face a debt crisis. And given that our current government can barely find ways to chop $30 billion of spending from the 2011 budget, these cuts are going to be painful.

What will the forced austerity mean for ordinary Americans?

Higher taxes and significantly reduced Medicare and Medicaid spending, for starters, Mauldin says. And then cuts to almost everything else in the budget, including military spending and education.

In other words, as has so often been the case in the past couple of decades, the middle class will bear the brunt of the impact.


Comment: Question: "Will the Debt Binge end?". Answer: "Well its got to or we will be bankrupt!"

Name dropper Sokol - I know people like this ....

A Conspicuous Absence at Berkshire Meeting

Excerpt:

But people who worked for Mr. Sokol saw a side of him that Mr. Buffett perhaps did not. His brass-knuckled approach alienated some Berkshire employees, as when he suggested that people with an illness or other personal problems were problematic and when he unceremoniously fired a top executive and made him leave the office that day.

Flashes of his management style can be found in some earlier litigation as well. In one civil case, a judge rebuked Mr. Sokol for tampering with his company’s numbers so that a joint-venture partner would get a smaller payout. In another case, Mr. Sokol sued to find out which employees at a Berkshire unit were disparaging him.

And he irritated colleagues at two of Berkshire’s subsidiaries, Johns Manville and NetJets, by frequently invoking Mr. Buffett’s name to burnish his own image inside the company.

Some people at Berkshire were puzzled over why Mr. Buffett favored him so much, as when he credited Mr. Sokol for a turnaround of Johns Manville even though the unit’s profits fell sharply after he took over.

Comment: Frankly I've been guilty of this myself (probably more in my younger days!) - The name dropper type.  I've seen it in business (typically goes like this ... "Mr Big Wig and I were discussing that and he agreed ...) ... and in churches (Pastor and I were talking about this and we agreed ....).

4.26.2011

Mission Creep in Libya

Putin: Libya coalition has no right to kill Gaddafi

Excerpt:

Putin said the coalition had gone beyond the bounds of a U.N. Security Council resolution authorising intervention to protect civilians and suggested Gaddafi's actions did not justify foreign interference, let alone attempts to remove him.

"They said they didn't want to kill Gaddafi. Now some officials say, yes, we are trying to kill Gaddafi," Putin said on a visit to Denmark. "Who permitted this, was there any trial? Who took on the right to execute this man, no matter who he is?"

Putin was speaking as Britain and the United States discussed stepping up military pressure on Gaddafi, who has survived more than a month of NATO air strikes.

"The country's whole infrastructure is being destroyed, and in essence one of the warring sides is attacking under the cover of aircraft," Putin said at a news conference after talks with his Danish counterpart Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen.

"When the entire so-called civilised community falls upon a small country with all its might, destroys infrastructure created over generations -- I don't know, is that good or not?" Putin said. "I don't like it."

Shortly after Putin spoke, Libyan state news agency Jana said Libya had urged Russia to call an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss "Western aggression."

In Moscow, Russia's Foreign Ministry said nobody was available to comment on the report.

Putin called Gaddafi's Libya "crooked" but said that did not justify intervention.

"Look at a map of this region of the world. ... What, is it full of Danish-style democracies? No, there are monarchical states all around. This overall answers to the mentality of the population and the practices that developed there," he said.

"Is there a lack of crooked regimes in the world? What, are we going to intervene in internal conflicts everywhere? Look at Africa, what's been happening in Somalia for many years. ... Are we going to bomb everywhere and conduct missile strikes?"

Putin has often criticised U.S. and NATO intervention in the affairs of sovereign states.

He said the resolution authorising intervention in Libya was "a call for everyone to come and do whatever they want."


Comment: Mission Creep

Who will buy INGDirect?

Capital One to Bid for ING Direct?

Excerpt:

On Sunday, Bloomberg reported that Capital One Financial Corp. (NYSE: COF - News) is one of the few firms that are interested in buying ING Direct USA. ING Direct USA is the online banking unit of Amsterdam-based ING Groep NV (NYSE: ING - News).

Apart from Capital One, ING has been in talks with several other companies and is looking to either sell ING Direct or merge it with a lending firm. Other companies that are in fray include SJB National Bank, General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) and CIT Group Inc. (NYSE: CIT).

Earlier, ING had been in talks with Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) to combine ING Direct with Citigroup’s credit-card business, but the talks somehow failed to materialize.

As a part of the European Union’s (EU) approval of restructuring plan, ING needs to sell off ING Direct by 2013 in order to receive €10 billion ($14 billion) as bail out money.

Comment: INGDirect is my favorite on-line only bank. The "have to sell" motive = "As a part of the European Union’s (EU) approval of restructuring plan, ING needs to sell off ING Direct by 2013 in order to receive €10 billion ($14 billion) as bail out money."

4.25.2011

Julian Day, Radio Shack's email firer out!

March 2007: RadioShack lays off employees via e-mail

Excerpt:

Employees at the Fort Worth headquarters received an e-mail Tuesday morning telling them they were being dismissed immediately.

"The workforce reduction notification is currently in progress," the notice stated. "Unfortunately your position is one that has been eliminated."

Company officials had told employees in a series of meetings that layoff notices would be delivered electronically, spokeswoman Kay Jackson said. She said employees were invited to ask questions before Tuesday's notification on a company intranet site.

Management experts expressed surprise at RadioShack's use of electronic notification instead of face-to-face meetings with supervisors.

Julian Day’s RadioShack Turnaround Has Been A Failure

Excerpt:

Five years ago Julian Day showed up at RadioShack, a rock star CEO ready to perform his turnaround magic on the struggling electronics retailer that was quickly becoming irrelevant. Known as a cost cutter, the former investment banker had helped revive Safeway while chief financial officer of the company. He had taken over as chief executive of Kmart Holdings when the discount retailer was in bankruptcy court in 2003 and presided over a stunning reemergence.

But after five years in Forth Worth, Tex., Day is leaving behind a mess. RadioShack today posted a 30% drop in first quarter earnings and its partnership with T-Mobile has been a disaster, leaving the company with uncompetitive product offerings and a contract dispute. The company also cut its revenue forecasts today. Day’s five-year contract with RadioShack expires this year and his last day with the company will be May 16.

Day has done things his way at RadioShack. He presided over the firing of hundreds of employees who were told about their job losses via email. He also mostly ditched quarterly earnings conference calls, analyst meetings and press interviews. But he could not find a way to offset competition from big retailers like Best Buy and Wal-Mart, which offered one-stop shopping and deep discounts.

Still, Day has done pretty well for himself. He has received $21.4 million in cash and exercisable options for his five years at RadioShack.


Comment: A little overpaid for his failures!

4.24.2011

Roger Peet returns from Iraq



Comment: Kathee found the video ... first upload to YouTube.

"Sadly, we could end up with a generation of Americans who want to work at the Department of Motor Vehicles"

We've Become a Nation of Takers, Not Makers

Excerpts:

If you want to understand better why so many states—from New York to Wisconsin to California—are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, consider this depressing statistic: Today in America there are nearly twice as many people working for the government (22.5 million) than in all of manufacturing (11.5 million). This is an almost exact reversal of the situation in 1960, when there were 15 million workers in manufacturing and 8.7 million collecting a paycheck from the government.

It gets worse. More Americans work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining and utilities combined. We have moved decisively from a nation of makers to a nation of takers. Nearly half of the $2.2 trillion cost of state and local governments is the $1 trillion-a-year tab for pay and benefits of state and local employees. Is it any wonder that so many states and cities cannot pay their bills?

...

Surveys of college graduates are finding that more and more of our top minds want to work for the government. Why? Because in recent years only government agencies have been hiring, and because the offer of near lifetime security is highly valued in these times of economic turbulence. When 23-year-olds aren't willing to take career risks, we have a real problem on our hands. Sadly, we could end up with a generation of Americans who want to work at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

...

Where are the productivity gains in government? Consider a core function of state and local governments: schools. Over the period 1970-2005, school spending per pupil, adjusted for inflation, doubled, while standardized achievement test scores were flat. Over roughly that same time period, public-school employment doubled per student, according to a study by researchers at the University of Washington. That is what economists call negative productivity.

...

President Obama says we have to retool our economy to "win the future." The only way to do that is to grow the economy that makes things, not the sector that takes things.

Comment: Sad state of affairs!

4.23.2011

Critics Question Motivation Behind Gas Task Force

Video: Critics Question Motivation Behind Gas Task Force

Comment: Sent to me by a blog reader. Thanks

CAPS Warn - Handy Mac utility

CAPS Warn

Comment: $ 6 bucks. Image above snapped from my MacBook. Red arrow means CAPS LOCK ON

A graph of this would be interesting

Beer Drinking and What It Says About China’s Economy

Excerpt:

The average Chinese adult drank about a third of a bottle of beer in 1961, less than the average resident of Iran. By 1991, consumption topped a bottle a year, but still lagged behind 117 other nations, according to the World Health Organization.

By 2007, the Chinese were drinking almost a six pack a year. While that’s still considerably less per capita than in beer gardens like the Czech Republic (where the average adult drinks about 24 beers a year) it’s enough to make China by far the world’s largest market for beer.

That story can be repeated for any number of consumer goods, of course. But what’s interesting about beer is that the trend is not likely to last. A paper by two economists at the University of Leuven, in beer-loving Belgium, finds that people drink more beer as their incomes rise, until they make about $22,000 a year.

Then they start drinking less beer.

Comment: Interesting. By the way ... not an investment for everyone but beer stocks and liquor stocks always seem to do well. Eg TAP and DEO

6 oz of Uranium is enough to power a city the size of San Francisco for five years

Why I Still Support Nuclear Power, Even After Fukushima

Excerpt:

Uranium fuel rods sit in a reactor core for five years. During that time six ounces of their weight—six ounces!—will be completely transformed into energy. But the energy produced by that transformation will be enough to power a city the size of San Francisco for five years.

A coal plant must be fed by a 100-car freight train arriving every 30 hours. A nuclear reactor is refueled by a fleet of six trucks arriving once every two years. There are 283 coal mines in West Virginia and 449 in Kentucky. There are only 45 uranium mines in the entire world. Russia is offering to supply uranium to most of the developing world with the output from one mine. That is why the environmental impact of nuclear is infinitely smaller.

Comment: I am a proponent

Air Traffic Controllers and their 2-2-1 shift schedule

Why Air Traffic Controllers Fall Asleep on the Job

Excerpt:

Controller fatigue is obviously a major factor. The FAA has known about the problem for decades but has repeatedly swept it under the rug. Finally, on April 17, the FAA implemented changes to scheduling practices that will allow controllers more time for rest between shifts. But the changes only address part of the fatigue problem. And they don't face up to the reason for the FAA's repeated failures to deal with the issue.

For decades, even predating the 1981 air traffic controller strike, controllers themselves have had the last word on the schedules they work. One of the most popular is called 2-2-1: Controllers work two swing shifts, two day shifts, and one midnight shift. The second day shifts ends at 2 p.m. and the subsequent midnight shift begins at 10 p.m., just eight hours later. Such a schedule disrupts circadian rhythms, creating fatigue on the midnight shift.

Within air traffic circles, this problem is so well-known that 2-2-1 has long been called "the rattler," since it can come back and bite the controller, degrading his performance. But controllers and their union have fought to keep 2-2-1 because it gives them a three-day weekend afterwards.

The National Transportation Safety Board called for abolishing 2-2-1 in an April 2007 report, and the inspector general for the Department of Transportation has called for a 10-hour minimum between shifts in general, and 16 hours after a midnight shift. It's not clear if the new FAA rules eliminate 2-2-1. And they only increase the minimum time between shifts to nine hours, not the recommended 10.

The other cause of fatigue on midnight shifts is black backgrounds on controller display screens, which require dark rooms for best visibility. But dark rooms tend to induce drowsiness, especially on a midnight shift. It is now common international practice to have light gray background screen displays that can be used in high-light environments, but in the U.S. we've all but ignored this advancement.

The FAA would not tolerate such threats to air safety from airlines, or from mechanics, or from aircraft producers. It regulates all such entities at arm's length—and it has cracked down on airline scheduling practices conducive to pilot fatigue. But the FAA has tolerated 2-2-1 schedules and dark control rooms for decades. Why? Because the Air Traffic Organization, whose job is to "move air traffic safely and efficiently," is within the FAA, which in effect means the agency is regulating itself.

Comment: I worked swing shifts at a chemical plant Summertimes when I in college. 6 days on ... two days off. 8-4 ... then 4-12 ... then midnight to 8. That midnight to eight was a real killer. Sometimes I think I drove home on autopilot. More than once I fell asleep in my car after arriving home. Waking up 60 mins to 2 hours later.

I'm no longer a big fan of flying. Between the groping by the TSA, the cramped coach seats, airplanes pealing apart in mid-air, etc.

4.22.2011

A Religious ghetto

A Village With the Numbers, Not the Image, of the Poorest Place

Excerpt:

About 70 percent of the village’s 21,000 residents live in households whose income falls below the federal poverty threshold, according to the Census Bureau. Median family income ($17,929) and per capita income ($4,494) rank lower than any other comparable place in the country. Nearly half of the village’s households reported less than $15,000 in annual income.

About half of the residents receive food stamps, and one-third receive Medicaid benefits and rely on federal vouchers to help pay their housing costs.

Kiryas Joel’s unlikely ranking results largely from religious and cultural factors. Ultra-Orthodox Satmar Hasidic Jews predominate in the village; many of them moved there from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, beginning in the 1970s to accommodate a population that was growing geometrically.

Women marry young, remain in the village to raise their families and, according to religious strictures, do not use birth control. As a result, the median age (under 12) is the lowest in the country and the household size (nearly six) is the highest. Mothers rarely work outside the home while their children are young.

Most residents, raised as Yiddish speakers, do not speak much English. And most men devote themselves to Torah and Talmud studies rather than academic training — only 39 percent of the residents are high school graduates, and less than 5 percent have a bachelor’s degree. Several hundred adults study full time at religious institutions.

Comment: I think there are some Christian communities like that - or somewhat like that: A heavy emphasis on religious education and high ministry unemployment

Gasoline Prices - Blaming Speculators

Obama’s Blame Game Continues: Who’s Behind Oil Price Rise?

Excerpt:

To show he’s on top of our energy crisis, the president has…created yet another commission! This one – a task force from the Justice Department - is charged with ferreting out the scoundrels behind the jump in gasoline prices – surely there must be some nefarious speculators or market manipulators who can be hauled before Congress in one of those satisfying and cathartic inquiries that, at the end, yield almost nothing. But, these hard-light investigations do provide plenty of room for posturing and prime-time sound bites.

President Obama has resorted to the blame-game throughout his presidency. GW Bush was responsible for the recession, the budget deficit, extravagant healthcare costs, the quagmire in Afghanistan, potholes, global warming and quite possibly Charlie Sheen’s meltdown. Wall Street fat cats brought on the banking crisis (not aided and abetted by Barney Frank et al), insurance miscreants are to blame for soaring healthcare expenses, oil companies are guilty of sitting on leases, pharmaceutical companies should be taken out and shot and Republicans have been mulishly resistant to even the most winning proposals. Now, rascals are at work pumping up gasoline prices; what is a president to do?

On oil prices, the president is vulnerable. First, the administration is accused by U.S. oil explorers of issuing misleading information about why offshore drilling is not moving forward. At the moment, the number of rigs operating in the Gulf of Mexico is about half the level of a year ago; the head of the Independent Petroleum Association of America has said that the government has dragged its feet in issuing the permits necessary for work to move forward.

A retort: The World Needs More Speculators

There is nothing inherently wonderful about inflated prices, but it is not easy to bet that prices will fall. More short sellers in the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s, and the housing bubbles of the past few years, would have added a welcome dose of stability and sanity.

More from 2 years ago: Did Speculation Fuel Oil Price Swings?

Dollar slide - Reasons and what it means

Dollar's Decline Speeds Up, With Risks for U.S.

Excerpts:

The U.S. dollar's downward slide is accelerating as low interest rates, inflation concerns and the massive federal budget deficit undermine the currency.

...

The main driver for the dollar's decline is low interest rates in the U.S. compared with higher and rising rates abroad. Lower rates mean a lower return on cash—and the pressure from that factor could intensify next week when the Federal Reserve's rate-setting committee is expected to signal that U.S. short-term rates will likely remain near zero for many months to come. On Wednesday, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is scheduled to give the central bank's first-ever press conference following a policy-setting meeting.

But it is worry about the U.S. budget deficit that is intensifying the selloff. On Monday, investors were spooked by a warning from Standard & Poor's that it might take away the U.S. government's coveted AAA rating status amid concerns the Obama administration and Republicans in Congress might not be able to agree to significant reductions in the deficit.

...

A weaker dollar is a boon for U.S. exporters by making their goods more competitively priced. This has been a tailwind for technology companies and manufacturers, a bright spot in the otherwise slow economic recovery.

Comment: But bad for imports.

The iPad is taking away American jobs



The iPad is taking away American jobs

Comment: The car killed the carriage, the PC killed the typewriter, etc.

Chart of the Day: inflation-adjusted median price of a single-family home in the United States over the past 41 years

Inflation-adjusted median price of a single-family home in the United States over the past 41 years

Excerpt:

For some perspective on the all-important US real estate market, today's chart illustrates the inflation-adjusted median price of a single-family home in the United States over the past 41 years. Not only did housing prices increase at a rapid rate from 1991 to 2005, the rate at which housing prices increased -- increased. That brings us to today's chart which illustrates how the inflation-adjusted median home price is currently 38% off its 2005 peak. That's a $100,000 drop. In fact, a home buyer who bought the median priced single-family home at the 1979 peak has actually seen that home lose value (8.5% loss). Not an impressive performance considering that more than three decades have passed. It is worth noting that the median priced home is currently in the bottom half of a price range that existed from the late 1970s into the mid-1990s.

Comment: Click through to link for ability to subscribe to Chart of the Day.

4.21.2011

Fun with Spam: Bill Gates Foundation

On behalf of the Bill Gate Funds Foundation, we wish to notify you as a beneficiary of $9,000,000.00 in compensation of scam victims.Do contact OCEANIC INTERNATIONAL BANK, United Kingdom Branch for verification and release of your $9,000,000.00 USD (Nine Million United State's Dollars), that we have deposited with the OCEANIC INTERNATIONAL BANK.

Comment: Click image for larger.

Understanding Quantitative Easing



What Happens When QE2 Ends?


Excerpt:


But now that the central bank's bond-buying binge is drawing to a close, even some of the Fed's toughest critics are nervous. The program—which policy wonks call quantitative easing, but nearly everyone else calls QE2—was designed to keep bond prices high and interest rates low. It is credited with propping up the economy and, in turn, boosting the stock market. Technically, the Fed is in the midst of its second round of bond buying—hence the 2—since the financial crisis struck in 2008. When the first round ended in spring 2010, both stocks and bonds tumbled

Read more: What Happens When the Fed's QE2 Ends? - SmartMoney.com http://www.smartmoney.com/investing/economy/what-happens-when-the-feds-qe2-ends-1303326131374/#ixzz1KCImSTZ3

Comment: I still find it confusing!

Update on Four Seasons Mall

Market study of Four Seasons Mall site in Plymouth to be Spotlighted at May 5 Open House

Plymouth, MN - A market study of the Four Seasons Mall site, located on the northwest quadrant of County Road 9 and Highway 169, will be presented to the public on May 5 at the Plymouth Creek Center, 14800 34th Ave. N. The open house will run from 6 to 9 p.m., offering attendees a chance to hear a presentation highlighting the market study's findings as well as informally talk with city staff and consultants. The presentation will be made at 6 p.m. and repeated at 7:45 p.m.

The market study looks at current demographic and economic trends, the site's strengths and weaknesses and other area development. The study is expected to suggest some potential uses for the Four Seasons Mall site.

Plymouth Community Development Director Steve Juetten emphasized that any potential redevelopment concepts discussed at the open house will be very general. "The concepts will be very rough. They are intended to get people thinking and to solicit some preliminary feedback as we move forward with the overall planning study for the site," he said.

The market study is part of a larger planning study that is also examining storm water and water quality issues, traffic and alternative site redevelopment concepts. The next phase of the study will further flesh out potential redevelopment concepts and develop principles to guide future redevelopment, according to Juetten.

To allow time to conduct the planning study, the Plymouth City Council passed an interim ordinance on Dec. 14, 2010. It prohibits redevelopment of the Four Seasons Mall site for one year.

The City of Plymouth is working with the Bassett Creek Watershed and Hennepin County to conduct the planning study with funding from the Metropolitan Council, a regional planning agency, and Hennepin County.

For more information on the open house, call the Community Development Department at 763-509-5450. You can sign up to receive email notifications when new information about the Four Seasons Mall Planning Study is posted on the City of Plymouth website by clicking the button below. For more information regarding the study visit www.plymouthmn.gov/four-seasons.

Comment: Source: City of Plymouth email

Wells Fargo: Throwing excess baggage off the stage


Wells Fargo's next stage: Cost cuts

Excerpt:

Wells Fargo & Co. has embarked on an ambitious effort to cut expenses, as the nation's fourth-largest bank puts a new emphasis on cost controls amid lackluster revenue growth.

The San Francisco-based bank, which employs about 20,000 people in Minnesota, said the initiative -- called "Project Compass" -- aims to reduce fixed costs across all of Wells Fargo's divisions, from its retail branches to its giant mortgage servicing operation.

"This is about getting more efficient, but it's also about getting more nimble," Chief Executive John Stumpf said in a conference call with analysts Wednesday.

Project Compass began in mid-2010 and is a "bottom-up initiative," in which ideas for cutting expenses will come directly from the bank's employees rather than senior management, a bank spokeswoman said. Currently, the initiative does not involve a set number of job cuts or expense reductions.

Comment: We've heard this is coming. Maybe a buy-out ... for a 62nd B/D present! :)

Windows GENA

Comment: More of a "technical term" post probably not of wide interest. But I've wondered about this for a long time - what does "GENA" mean. Below is the standard XP Windows "GENA"


GENA stands for General Event Notification Architecture.

Comment: Now you know ... but do you care?

4.20.2011

Understanding Congress’s solution to the federal deficit problem

Understanding Congress’s solution to the federal deficit problem

News accounts on the latest federal budget deal gave the numbers in a vacuum, e.g., “The deal cuts $38 billion from last year’s budget. It’s being called the largest domestic spending cut in U.S. history” (source). How can an individual voter make sense of quantities that are ordinarily written in scientific notation? I think the easiest way is to divide everything by 100,000,000 (10^8).

Let’s start with federal spending. The FY 2011 federal budget is approximately $3.82 trillion (3.82×10^12). Of that, approximately $2.17 trillion will be paid for by taxes collected and the remaining $1.65 trillion will be borrowed from our grandchildren. If we divide everything by 100 million, the numbers begin to make more sense.

We have a family that is spending $38,200 per year. The family’s income is $21,700 per year. The family adds $16,500 in credit card debt every year in order to pay its bills. After a long and difficult debate among family members, keeping in mind that it was not going to be possible to borrow $16,500 every year forever, the parents and children agreed that a $380/year premium cable subscription could be terminated. So now the family will have to borrow only $16,120 per year.

Comment: HT: Paleoevangelical

4.18.2011

Deficit dithering: "complacency"

S&P Cuts U.S. Ratings Outlook to Negative

Excerpt:

Standard & Poor's cut its outlook on the U.S. to negative, increasing the likelihood of a downgrade from its triple-A credit rating, as the U.S. continues to struggle with large budget deficits and rising government debt.

"More than two years after the beginning of the recent crisis, U.S. policy makers have still not agreed on how to reverse recent fiscal deterioration or address longer-term fiscal pressures," S&P credit analyst Nikola G. Swann said. The ratings company believes the chances that the U.S.'s credit rating will be lowered within two years are at one in three, or higher, the analyst said.

The news sent stocks sharply lower and pushed bond yields higher, boosting the yen as investors moved funds into currencies seen as havens in times of trouble. "The markets have been shaken out of their complacency," said Lena Komileva, a currencies analyst at U.S. bank Brown Brothers Harriman in London. "People are being forced to face reality."

S&P said Monday it sees a risk that policy makers might fail to agree on how to address budgetary challenges by 2013, leaving the U.S. fiscally weaker than other triple-A-rated countries. It also said, though, that the U.S.'s flexible, highly diversified economy will help to support the rating, while a consistent global preference for the dollar gives the U.S. "unique external liquidity."


Comment: Congress arguing about 38 Billion in cuts two weeks ago would be like my arguing with my wife about cutting a nickle from our grocery bill.

4.16.2011

Can't afford Berkshire Hathaway?


Try BRK-B

Berkshire Hathaway class B stock is cheaper, but that's all

Excerpt:

The class B shares were first offered in 1996 to ward off efforts by third parties to create mutual funds that would buy Berkshire stock.

Comment: Pays no dividends ... all earnings retained for investment.

The Old Switcheroo



HT: Denny Burk

4.15.2011

The rifaximin “chaser”

Rifaximin Shows Activity Against C difficile-Associated Diarrhea

Excerpt:

A new epidemic strain of C difficile has emerged that is highly resistant to new fluoroquinolones with anaerobic activity, said Dr Johnson.

He presented a study in which a rifaximin “chaser” was used after a last course of vancomycin in 7 patients (all women) with multiple CDAD recurrences. Rifaximin was given empirically, 400 to 800 mg/day in 2 or 3 divided doses for 2 weeks, immediately after completing a suppressive course of vancomycin and before symptoms recurred.

Comment: Back to the Dr today (Nila Suntharam). I have 6 "vanco's" left. Taking one every three days. Tonight I started the Rifaximin regimen ... 2 200 mg pills twice a day for 14 days. I think I am over the C-Diff. Things have improved quite a bit over the last week. Monday I am going back to my downtown office.

I really had great care from Dr Suntharam and her staff. I told her I hoped I would never see her again (in a clinical way!). But she lives in Plymouth so perhaps I will meet her outside of the Dr - patient relationship.

16 Tons of Debt



Comment: Sent to me from our Sr Citizens Pastor. I remember this song from my childhood: Sixteen Tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford

Investors can't live on dividend yield alone.

Why Dividend Yield Is Overrated

Excerpts:

Far too many investors focus solely on dividend yield when researching and investing in dividend-paying shares. That might sound odd coming from the lead advisor of an investing service called Dividend Edge, but there are two primary reasons why choosing investments based solely on dividend yield is a lot riskier than some might think.


  • High-yield can mean high-risk: [The example of Domino Printing Sciences]: In other words, Domino's increasing yield during the financial crisis had little to do with the underlying business and more to do with general market bearishness.

    These are the types of opportunities that income-minded investors dream about because the market will likely turn around and should recognise the strength of companies that were thrown out with the bath water.

    Conversely, a spike in dividend yield during an otherwise strong market can be a sign that the payout is at risk.
  • Risk of sector concentration: At times, Mr. Market falls in and out of love with various sectors of the market, so when he's down on a particular industry, there tends to be a number of high-yield candidates in that space.



Comment: Good article from "The Motley Fool".

4.14.2011

Larger earthquakes - sign of the times? or something more?

Are larger earthquakes a sign of the times?

Excerpt:

Beginning in late 2004, a flurry of massive, tsunami-spawning earthquakes have rocked the world, first slamming Indonesia, then Chile and most recently Japan. Temblors that size are rare indeed: only 7 quakes as large or larger than 8.8 — the magnitude of last February's Chilean event — have occurred since 1900.

So what does it mean that three of those seven shocks have happened almost within the span of six years? While some scientists argue that these 'megaquakes' could be the vanguard of an extended outburst of strong seismic events, many others suggest that the apparent cluster of recent temblors is nothing more than a statistical fluke.

Comment: Maybe something more! See "earthquake" in NT. Consider "there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth" (Revelation 16:18)

Wells Fargo: Hello Times Square



Comment: Wells Fargo arrives in NY City

4.13.2011

Higher dividend yield not always better

Avoiding the Dividend Trap

Excerpt:

Dividends have historically accounted for 40% of the returns from investing in stocks, and despite conventional wisdom, high-dividend-payout companies tend to have stronger earnings growth. So the case for investing in companies that pay dividends is a strong one. It seems that a logical way to achieve a high yield on a dividend fund would be to weight stocks by their dividend yield, so that high-yielding stocks would make up a larger percentage of the fund. But unfortunately, it does not follow that if dividends are good, a higher dividend yield must be better. The fact is that this approach does nothing to screen out the low-quality, risky companies that are likely to cut their dividends in the future, or even file for bankruptcy.

Comment: Advice (read the whole article) - look for consistent dividend payers. Stocks mentioned: Coke, Pepsi, McDonalds. Also these dividend ETFs:


Tip: Look at the top holdings for these funds: Example - PFM

Having loads of liquidity, though, lets us sleep well.

Excerpt:
Borrowers then learn that credit is like oxygen. When either is abundant, its presence goes unnoticed. When either is missing, that’s all that is noticed. Even a short absence of credit can bring a company to its knees.
In September 2008, in fact, its overnight disappearance in many sectors of the economy came dangerously close to bringing our entire country to its knees.

Charlie and I have no interest in any activity that could pose the slightest threat to Berkshire’s wellbeing. (With our having a combined age of 167, starting over is not on our bucket list.) We are forever conscious of the fact that you, our partners, have entrusted us with what in many cases is a major portion of your savings. In addition, important philanthropy is dependent on our prudence. Finally, many disabled victims of accidents caused by our insureds are counting on us to deliver sums payable decades from now. It would be irresponsible for us to risk what all these constituencies need just to pursue a few points of extra return.

A little personal history may partially explain our extreme aversion to financial adventurism. I didn’t meet Charlie until he was 35, though he grew up within 100 yards of where I have lived for 52 years and also attended the same inner-city public high school in Omaha from which my father, wife, children and two grandchildren graduated. Charlie and I did, however, both work as young boys at my grandfather’s grocery store, though our periods of employment were separated by about five years. My grandfather’s name was Ernest, and perhaps no man was more aptly named. No one worked for Ernest, even as a stock boy, without being shaped by the experience.

On the facing page you can read a letter sent in 1939 by Ernest to his youngest son, my Uncle Fred. Similar letters went to his other four children. I still have the letter sent to my Aunt Alice, which I found – along with $1,000 of cash – when, as executor of her estate, I opened her safe deposit box in 1970.

Ernest never went to business school – he never in fact finished high school – but he understood the importance of liquidity as a condition for assured survival. At Berkshire, we have taken his $1,000 solution a bit further and have pledged that we will hold at least $10 billion of cash, excluding that held at our regulated utility and railroad businesses. Because of that commitment, we customarily keep at least $20 billion on hand so that we can both withstand unprecedented insurance losses (our largest to date having been about $3 billion from Katrina, the insurance industry’s most expensive catastrophe) and quickly seize acquisition or investment opportunities, even during times of financial turmoil.

Comment: From the Berkshire Hathaway annual report pages 22-24. Image above is a screen shot of a portion of page 23.

Warren Buffett as your stock picker

5 Buffett-Style Dividend Stocks to Own

Excerpt:

Coca Cola (KO), for example, makes up roughly 20% of Warren Buffett's stock holdings

...

Stock markets today are volatile, and many investors who don't want to own bonds here for somewhat obvious reasons (for one, Bill Gross is shorting them) may look to the following five high-yielding dividend payers which appear to be exceptional long term-values, based on cash flows and earnings. All five of the following pay out solid dividends to their investors, and are all owned by investment gurus who make a living by holding stocks for incredibly long periods of time.

A handful of the stocks Berkshire Hathaway owns:

Comment: Image snapshot from the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Report. Available here.

4.12.2011

Johnson & Johnson: A solid dividend stock

Johnson & Johnson: Dividend Stock Analysis

Excerpt:

Overall, I feel that despite the recent string of recalls that has tarnished the company’s reputation, there is significant value in this company and stock. A perfect storm of the financial collapse and health care reform in the United States, along with near-simultaneous internal company problems with McNeil, has resulted in uncharacteristically lackluster performance of the company, and a historically low valuation of the stock. I conclude that over the long term, JNJ is a solid buy at the current price.

Comment: I could see investing in Johnson and Johnson / JNJ

Inflation Actually Near 10%?

Inflation Actually Near 10% Using Older Measure

Excerpt:

After former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker was appointed in 1979, the consumer price index surged into the double digits, causing the now revered Fed Chief to double the benchmark interest rate in order to break the back of inflation. Using the methodology in place at that time puts the CPI back near those levels.

Inflation, using the reporting methodologies in place before 1980, hit an annual rate of 9.6 percent in February, according to the Shadow Government Statistics newsletter.

Since 1980, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has changed the way it calculates the CPI in order to account for the substitution of products, improvements in quality (i.e. iPad 2 costing the same as original iPad) and other things. Backing out more methods implemented in 1990 by the BLS still puts inflation at a 5.5 percent rate and getting worse, according to the calculations by the newsletter's web site, Shadowstats.com.

"Near-term circumstances generally have continued to deteriorate," said John Williams, creator of the site, in a new note out Tuesday. "Though not yet commonly recognized, there is both an intensifying double-dip recession and a rapidly escalating inflation problem. Until such time as financial-market expectations catch up with underlying reality, reporting generally will continue to show higher-than-expected inflation and weaker-than-expected economic results in the month and months ahead."

The pay-site and newsletter by Williams, an economic consultant for the last 30 years to companies, has gained a cult following among bloggers hungry to criticize Bernanke these days. The mission statement of the newsletter, according to the site, is to expose and analyze "flaws in current U.S. government economic data and reporting...net of financial-market and political hype."

Investors are anxiously awaiting the release of March's CPI reading on Friday. The consensus estimate from economists is for an annual inflation rate of 2.6 percent.

"Given ongoing inflation problems with food and the spreading impact of higher oil-related costs in the broad economy, reporting risk is to the upside of consensus expectation," said Williams, citing a 10 percent jump in gasoline prices in March, in the note.

"While the federal government would have us believe the numbers are rather tame, our own personal gauge leads us to believe inflation is running between 5 percent to 6 percent annually," wrote Alan Newman in his latest Crosscurrents newsletter that refers to Williams' statistics.


Comment: When you factor in the cost of gasoline ....

Mutual Funds a Scam?

Most Mutual Funds Are Ripping You Off, Says IFA’s Mark Hebner

Excerpt:

The fundamental flaw in most mutual funds, Hebner says, is that even well-educated portfolio managers with huge research budgets can't pick winners consistently enough to beat the market over time. Yes, by the luck of the draw, about a third of mutual funds will beat the indices each year. But last year's winners are often this year's losers. When you look at long-term performance, only a handful of funds beat the indices. And there's no tried-and-true way of picking these funds in advance.

The reason "skilled" portfolio managers can't beat the market, Hebner says, is that the market is primarily made up of other "skilled" portfolio managers, and they trade against each other all day long. When your competition is as well-educated, well-funded, and skilled as you are, you're going to lose as much as you win. And when you subtract the fees that you charge your investors from your investment performance, the result is performance that lags the index.

Hebner's advice is to follow in John Bogle's footsteps and buy a diversified portfolio of index funds. Unlike actively managed mutual funds, index funds guarantee you close to a market return. And if you rebalance your portfolio whenever your asset allocation gets out of whack, you can actually do better than the market over the long haul.

Comment: One thing great about mutual funds is that the investor gets broad diversification. The negative is the fees. Mutual Funds are good for small investors but perhaps ETFs are even better.

1986 FBI Miami shootout - 25th anniversary



FBI commemorates a bloody 1986 shootout in Miami

Excerpt:

The FBI commemorated one of the bloodiest events in its history Monday on the 25th anniversary of a Miami shootout that killed two agents and wounded five others, leading the bureau to adopt more powerful weapons, better body armor and improved tactics in violent confrontations.

FBI Director Robert Mueller and William Webster, the FBI director when the gun battle with two bank robbers took place, were among several hundred law enforcement personnel who gathered to honor the memories of agents Benjamin P. Grogan and Jerry Dove. Also present was a survivor who was wounded in the shootout, retired agent John F. Hanlon Jr.

"I'm very, very proud of what we did that day. We all did our duty. And we did the best we could," Hanlon said. "They laid down their lives gallantly for their country."

On April 11, 1986, the FBI agents were closing in on a pair of robbers who had shot several guards during a string of bank and armored car robberies. Following them in cars through a quiet neighborhood south of Miami, agents saw the pair loading a weapon and decided to make a traffic stop that ended with one agent ramming the suspects' car.

Hanlon said that earlier that morning Grogan, a 25-year veteran of the FBI, knew they'd probably run into trouble once they caught the men later identified as William Matix, 24, and Michael Lee Platt, 32.

Comment: WIKI: 1986 FBI Miami shootout

Other interesting articles:

4.11.2011

Paleoseismology: "people who do this kind of work are usually doomed to be ignored"

The Man Who Predicted the Tsunami

Excerpt:

Dr. Shishikura's studies of ancient earth layers persuaded him that every 450 to 800 years, colliding plates in the Pacific triggered waves that devastated areas around the modern city of Sendai, in Miyagi Prefecture, as well as in Fukushima Prefecture.

One early tsunami was known to historians. Caused by the 869 Jogan quake, its waves, according to one chronicle, killed 1,000 people. Dr. Shishikura had found strong evidence of a later tsunami in the same region, which probably took place between 1300 and 1600.

"We cannot deny the possibility that [such a tsunami] will occur again in the near future," he and colleagues wrote in August 2010. That article appeared in a journal published by the Active Fault and Earthquake Research Center in Tsukuba, the government-funded institute where Dr. Shishikura works.

He was beginning to spread the word. Plans were under way at his center to hand out maps so people would understand which areas were at risk. Dr. Shishikura had an appointment on March 23 to explain his research to officials in Fukushima.

Dr. Shishikura's boss at the center, Yukinobu Okamura, had even mentioned the results at a 2009 meeting of an official committee discussing the safety of nuclear-power plants. Dr. Okamura says the idea of beefing up tsunami preparedness didn't go anywhere.

At Dr. Shishikura's eighth-floor office, bookshelves and televisions crashed to the floor during the quake on March 11. He has found temporary office quarters one story below, where he discussed his unheeded warning. "It's unfortunate that it wasn't in time," he said. But he also felt vindicated after past slights, remembering the local official who didn't want to help him dig holes in the earth for research and who called the endeavor a "nuisance."

His work is part of a young field called paleoseismology. Kerry Sieh, a pioneer in the specialty, says that the few dozen people who do this kind of work are usually doomed to be ignored.

Comment: As soon as people talk about 100 year events, or 500 year events, or even eternity ... listeners eyes begin to glaze over.

4.09.2011

Which Credit Score is most widely used?

Credit Score Confusion Leads to Controversy

Excerpt:

While banks and other lenders may subscribe to or access many different scores, the FICO score, created by Fair Isaac Corp. , is by far the most widely-used, by more than 90% of lenders, according to the lawsuit. Its popularity is in part due to the fact that Fair Isaac developed the first general risk credit score in the late 1980s, says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at SmartCredit.com , a credit monitoring site. "It's really your FICO score that matters."

Comment: Sample (image above). Visit the MyFico site. For an explanation of the scoring.

Investing in Precious Metals

Gold and silver fever grips investors

Excerpt:

...on Friday silver pushed above $40 a troy ounce for the first time since 1980 and gold pushed to a new all-time high in nominal terms at $1,474.19.

Comment: Last week I did my Investing in Oil piece. Today investing in precious metals.

  • Should you? The problem with investing in precious metals is that you don't want to buy high! And gold and silver have been high and have dropped. Investors don't really know it they will go higher. I would not put all of one's eggs in one basket with metals. But it wouldn't hurt to have some metals
  • Investing options
    • Buy the real thing. One option that I have used is American Precious Metals Exchange. One can buy 20 American Silver Eagles for about $ 800 or one Gold Buffalo Coin for about $ 1475. Keep in mind that coins need to be stored (safety deposit box or personal safe. And they do not pay dividends. There is a cost to purchase (shipping) and for selling (shipping or a trip to a coin shop). Some years ago I bought 20 silver coins on Ebay and the guy stiffed me. I finally got my money back but it wasn't easy. They guy shipped me 1 coin and so had proof of shipping something. It was just 19 lite. I wouldn't recommend the Ebay option
    • Investing in a Precious Metal ETF: Two options are IAU and GLD

Recommendation: I really don't have one but probably if I were to invest in bullion it would be a small percentage of my total portfolio (less than 5%) and either through an ETF or coinage.

4.08.2011

Remembering Chrysler's Turbine Car

The Jay Leno video: Video: 1963 Chrysler Turbine whirs into Jay Leno's Garage

The book: Chrysler's Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit's Coolest Creation

Wiki article: Chrysler Turbine Car

Comment: The video is really interesting. Allpar article.

My brother and I went to the 1968 Indianapolis 500 time trials and saw the Turbine race car

Minnesota Homestead Classification

I was talking with Edina Realty Realtor Ray Klotz today and asked him about the Minnesota Homestead Classification. Here's how this works: The residential homestead classification

Excerpt:

How much is the homestead credit?

The amount of the homestead credit varies depending on the market value of the property. The maximum amount of the credit is $304 for properties with a market value of $76,000. As the property’s market value increases above $76,000, the amount of the credit decreases.

Comment: Above image is from my property tax record showing that I have the Homestead Classification. Turns out that at the value of my own property, it means nothing!

Illustrated by this City of Minneapolis property tax calculator:



Our property taxes (Plymouth MN) are lower than the City of Minneapolis, but at the property value of my home, the Homestead Classification benefit is negligible

4.07.2011

Superbugs in Delhi drinking water

Scientists find superbugs in Delhi drinking water

Excerpt:

A gene that makes bugs highly resistant to almost all known antibiotics has been found in bacteria in water supplies in New Delhi used by local people for drinking, washing and cooking, scientists said on Thursday.

The NDM 1 gene, which creates what some experts describe as "super superbugs", has spread to germs that cause cholera and dysentery, and is circulating freely in other bacteria in the Indian city capital of 14 million people, the researchers said.

"The inhabitants of New Delhi are continually being exposed to multidrug-resistant and NDM 1-positive bacteria", said Mark Toleman of Britain's Cardiff University School of Medicine, who published the findings in a study on Thursday.

A "substantial number" of them are consuming such bacteria on a daily basis, he told a briefing in London. "We believe we have discovered a very significant underlying source of NDM 1 in the capital city of India," he said.

NDM 1, or New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1, makes bacteria resistant to almost all antibiotics, including the most powerful class, called carbapenems.

It first emerged in India three years ago and has now spread across the world. It has been found in a wide variety of bugs, including familiar pathogens like Escherichia coli, or E. coli.

No new drugs are on the horizon for at least 5-6 years to tackle it and experts are concerned that only a few major drug companies, such as GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) and AstraZeneca (AZN.L), still have strong antibiotic development programmes.

Toleman's study, carried out with Cardiff University's Timothy Walsh and published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, investigated how common NDM 1-producing bacteria are in community waste seepage -- such as water pools or rivulets in streets -- and tap water in urban New Delhi.

The researchers collected 171 swabs from seepage water and 50 public tap water samples from sites within a 12 kilometre radius of central New Delhi between September and October 2010.

The NDM 1 gene was found in two of the drinking-water samples and 51 of seepage samples, the researchers said, and bacteria positive for NDM 1 were grown from two drinking-water samples and 12 seepage samples.

"We would expect that perhaps as many as half a million people are carrying NDM 1-producing bacteria as normal (gut) flora in New Dehli alone," Toleman said.

Experts say the spread of superbugs threatens whole swathes of modern medicine, which cannot be practiced if doctors have no effective antibiotics to ward off infections during surgery, intensive care or cancer treatments like chemotherapy.

Comment: In light of the above, GlaxoSmithKline and Astrazeneca could be good investments! Image source: Rivers of Sewage: India’s Rivers Are Slowly Dying

The first thing that a traveller to India learns is not to drink the tap water. And with good reason: millions of tonnes of sewage are dumped daily into India’s rivers – and some of them, such as the holy Yamuna and Ganges rivers – are slowly choking to death, jeopardizing the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.

"We talk a lot about industrial pollution of our rivers, but sewage pollution is a big problem," said Sunita Narain, the director of the Centre for Science and Environment on Thursday. "What is happening to the Yamuna is reflective of what is happening in almost every river in India. The Yamuna is dead, we just haven't officially cremated it yet."

Some of these rivers are the only source of water for drinking and domestic use for many poor Indian citizens, so while a tourist can make do with some plastic-packed substitute, the impact of industrial and human waste is further worsening the water crisis in a country that depends on its rivers for water in agricultural and human consumption.

A study done by the Central Pollution Control Board showed that around 70 percent of the pollution in the Yamuna is human excrement. In large metropolises such as New Delhi, 3.6 billion tonnes of sewage alone are dumped daily – but only half of that amount is effectively treated and the rest flows down the Yamuna, resulting in widespread waterborne illnesses such as diarrhea from drinking and bathing in the affected water.


Note to self: Not a destination!