Sunday, July 31, 2011

Diving In The Pool

This was from our diving classes last weekend. I used my Kodak Playsport and its new base. I think it came out quite well! The nimrod at 0:45 who can't get his BCD set quite right and is flailing around with his butt about to breach is me. Yay!

Car Repair

Had to fix the FredMobile yesterday. It cranked, but it wouldn't start. No spark to the plugs. We narrowed it down to a few things - the distributor, the coil or the camshaft sensor. Fortunately, all three are located in the distributor in the 2001 Nissan Altima. Talk about getting lucky!

Well, it wasn't all luck. I did have some help.

Cheezburger of the Day

Saturday, July 30, 2011

In The Future, We'll All Be Extremists

I don't read much out of Real Clear Politics these days. Oh, I look through the list of articles and blog posts every day, but I typically click on one at most. Recently, there have been a spate of articles with titles claiming that the Republicans are extremists or the Taliban or hostage-takers or terrorists or something similar, all because they want to cut spending.

When did it become extremist to suggest that you shouldn't spend more than you earn? In fact, the Republicans are taking a much, much milder position and are only recommending we spend five to six hundred billion dollars per year more than we earn.

That's extremist? That's the Taliban?

I'd suggest people spend a little time reading the Athens News and ekathimerini. Greece didn't have any problem raising their debt ceiling, but in the end, they all became "extremists" in one way or another.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Wacky Headline Of The Day

Forbes: What Were Gandhi's Views On Capitalism?

Geeze, I don't know. What were Audrey Hepburn's views on physics?

It took a while for the members of the Princeton Physics Department to convince me, but I now have faith in their theories about electromagnetics.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

All Roads Lead To Austerity

Yesterday, Bloomberg contributor Scott Minerd wrote an editorial suggesting that the Euros need to get their act together. It was a pretty standard summary of conventional wisdom and included this bit:
Austerity Doesn’t Work

In short, the data are proving that without currency devaluation, austerity simply doesn’t work. Crisis in Europe has not been averted; it has only been modestly postponed. Yet policy makers remain committed to the path of waiting and hoping for the best, seemingly oblivious to the need for significant structural reform.
To me, this doesn't make any sense at all. Austerity isn't a solution to a problem, it's a consequence of our actions. The math is simple.

If, up to now, you've lived like this:
Spending1 = Earning + Borrowing
and now your creditors won't lend you any more money, you have to live like this:
Spending2 = Earning.
This is simplified, but it's close enough. From these equations, it's naturally obvious that
Spending1 > Spending2.
That is, what you will be able to spend tomorrow will be less than it is today. That is the very definition of austerity. Someone in the economy is going to have less to spend, whether that be the rich, the middle class, the banks, the government or some other group who can be saddled with the spending cuts*. What Scott and the others who claim "austerity doesn't work" are actually claiming is that the State should have primacy.

"Austerity" as discussed in the press is always in terms of the State. If the State has to cut its spending, everyone wrings their hands and cries out, "Austerity!" Imagine, instead, that the State is given the top spot in the carving up of the economy and is allowed to get the money it wants to spend from wherever it can. If it takes from the rich, then the rich won't be using that money to do what they do now - hire people and invest. Their money doesn't just sit there, it works. Whoever were the recipients of their spending and investments will have less. Austerity!

This is not an accurate representation of what the rich do with their money.

Now let's assume the banks are forced to forgive government debts. If that happens, the banks will have fewer reserves and will have to either cut off new lending or call in existing loans for payment or both in order to maintain proper reserve-lending ratios. Whoever was going to borrow that money and whoever has to pay their loans on demand is going to have less to spend. Austerity!

What the folks who oppose "austerity" are saying is that the State shouldn't reduce spending. The State should be given the first cut off the economy. You should be allowed to keep private property, but only so long as the State is given what it wants before you get to use yours.

There's a name for that.

* - If you decide, as most of the world has tried, to have your central bank simply print money and hand it out so no one has to cut numerical spending, you debase the currency and everyone has less real money to spend. Austerity!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cheezburger of the Day

Had A Great Day On Sunday

I've been trying to help my daughter learn how to become good at the things she wants to do. After listening to Talent is Overrated (highly recommended!), I gave her a small homework assignment.

I pulled a large excerpt out of Jerry Pournelle's essay, How To Get My Job, and had her read that and then rewrite parts of it substituting the things she wants to do for becoming an author. For example, I took the paragraph below and had her rewrite it substituting getting good grades for being an author.
To be an author, you must first be a writer; and while it's easy to be an author, being a writer is hard work. Surprisingly, it may be only hard work; that is, while some people certainly have more talent for writing than others, everyone has some. The good news is that nearly anyone who wants to badly enough can make some kind of living at writing. The bad news is that wanting to badly enough means being willing to devote the time and work necessary to learn the trade.
I did the same for another passage and playing soccer. The lesson seemed to take, so I had her go on to YouTube and find an instructional soccer video that showed how to do one of the things her coach told her she needed to work on. She picked this video.

Yesterday, she went up to our local handball courts and did 60 or so reps of the exercises recommended in the video on her own. I know for a fact that if she repeats this process even just 10 times, she'll see a big difference in the way she plays and the game will be more fun. She's bought into the process somewhat and now all we need is a little bit of consistency to get the payoff. God willing, the lesson will stick and I'll have a tool to help her with other things in the future.

Life is good.

Here We Go!

... joining the Euros in blaming and questioning the ratings agencies.

Who Elected The Ratings Agencies?

S&P, Moody's Irrelevant

I suppose that if I was spending way more than I was taking in and had to borrow to make my debt servicing payments or risk default and bankruptcy, I'd blame the ratings agencies, too. It's all their fault! If it weren't for them, I could go on forever borrowing and borrowing and borrowing! I'll bet they're in league with Goldman Sachs! Curse them all!

Uh huh. That works. And if I'm overweight, it's the fault of the scale.

Shut up, do you hear me? Shut up!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Kung Fu Baby

A good friend and his wife just had a little girl. Their new baby is making some kung fu moves herself, so he turned me on to this video. This isn't his girl, but it's pretty funny stuff. Enjoy!

Say Anything

... Barack and the press will slavishly report it as having some basis in reality.

I've missed a lot of the debt ceiling hoo-hah, but I took a moment to read the President's speech this morning. It turns out we're about to eat rancid food while the weather surprises us, assuming that the trucks carrying the rancid food aren't lost when the bridges they drive over crumble beneath them.
We all want a government that lives within its means, but there are still things we need to pay for as a country – things like new roads and bridges; weather satellites and food inspection; services to veterans and medical research.
This is sheer idiocy. He's not even trying to make sense any more. His 2010 budget spent $3.4T. If you can't figure out how to keep our dirt roads from washing out for that kind of scratch, you could always just pave them with one dollar bills. As for the satellites, just what in the world does that mean? Are they going to be pulled down from the sky and repo'ed by the Chinese?

Medical research? We're borrowing to do medical research? Maybe if you didn't hunt down companies that made profits and shoot their management teams as an example to others, you wouldn't need the government to pay for medical research.

The speech is really an odd one. The intellectual foundations are fantasy and the cloud gargoyles built upon them are even stranger. The speech writers must have been allowed to make things up as they went along, knowing that he'd say absolutely anything.

What a weird dude.

If we don't raise taxes, giant chickens will eat us all.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bat Ray City

Well, this weekend, my sons and I got scuba certified. Yay! I've been wanting to do this for almost 40 years and now I gone and done it. I'm beat, so this will be short. On our fourth ocean dive, we saw lots of cool critters, but the best part may have been this huge gathering of bat rays we swam over. 100 of them, easy. We got close to some big ones before they got up and flew off. While we didn't have a camera, I found some good YouTube videos of them. It looked something like this:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Doesn't This Seem Like Changing The Rules In The Middle Of The Game?

Say you're playing Monopoly with Joey, Timmy, Alice and Maria. Timmy's about to go bankrupt. If he does, then he'll take the soda with him when he leaves. We can't allow that! Here, let's change the rules so Timmy's mortgaged properties cost only half as much to get out of hock.

Uh oh! Alice is underwater on most of her properties! If she leaves, Joey will be impossible to live with because he's got a crush on her. Let's give Alice a no-interest loan from the bank!

Maria? Screw her. She's winning.

Megan McArdle sums up the latest (step 15 of a 33-step process* to save the Euro) within which is a paragraph that looks like nothing so much as our Monopoly game above.
Basically, both the Greek bonds owned by banks and insurers, and the loans Greece has received from the European stabilization fund, will have their terms extended as far as possible. The ratings agencies are going to call this a selective default (only the ratings of bonds which are part of the private debt swap will be affected), which for reasons that are not clear to me, is supposed to only last a few days before the debt swap actually starts to raise their credit rating. The European Central Bank will waive its rules against accepted defaulted collateral, so hopefully, the Greek banking system will not melt down. The austerity plan will go forward as previously outlined.
Well, we're glad that's settled! What do we want on our pizza? Is everyone good with pepperoni?

Come on, everyone! Europe is having a big party! Everyone's invited!

* - Or is it step 27 of a 46-step process?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cheezburger of the Day

Two Separate Worlds

Among other things, every day I read a few political sites and lots of financial ones. Every day, these sites diverge just a little bit more until they now resemble reports from completely different planets.

The financial sites I read, particularly those dealing with the debt crisis, tell you in nauseating detail how wages and spending have gotten out of control over the last few decades, resulting in certain doom for many European countries and Japan as well. Not kind of trouble, not a problem they can navigate with some skill and compromise, but rock-bottom fiscal collapse.

Greece is now paying in the 30's for 2-year loans. The 30's!

Meanwhile, the political pages are full of accusation that the US debt ceiling talks are being held up by crazed radicals who refuse to compromise and allow yet more taxing, borrowing and spending. The Gang of (6? 20?) Whatever compromise from the Senate will cut the deficit by a whopping 3.7 trillion over the next decade. That sounds great until you realize that the projected deficits are currently more than 1 trillion a year, leaving us with an annual deficit of about 700 billion. Go big or go home, boys.

Annual deficits of 700 billion = ruin and catastrophe. You can see it in action all around you and yet those events don't seem to make it into the political pages except as cursory notes.

I don't blame the politicians who are making the speeches. They're doing what they're paid to do - pander and bloviate. I do blame the political press. It's like they have no idea at all why, how or where this is going on:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Non-Photoshop Of The Day

Tuscan Hummingbird Moth

While we were sipping Chianti Classico inside the Vescine Winery, this little fellow was sipping nectar outside. To my taste, all of these photos are worth clicking. I think my Nikon D60 artillery piece did a fabulous job capturing this guy.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Uh Oh.

This can't be good.
Berlusconi's Italy is debt-ridden, shouldering a burden worth €1.85 trillion, more than twice as much as Greece, Ireland and Portugal combined. In the next 12 months alone, €300 billion of that debt will have to be refinanced -- more than the €250 billion in the euro-zone bailout fund. Last week, confidence in the country seemed to disappear from one day to the next.

Rating agencies, led by Moody's, threatened to downgrade Italy's credit rating. Private investors panicked and sold their Italian investments, US hedge funds bet gigantic sums on the further decline of Italian government securities, and the Milan Stock Index declined for an entire week.

Never Loan Money To Lawrence Summers

Larry has an odd view of borrowing money.
(N)o country can be expected to generate huge primary surpluses for long periods for the benefit of foreign creditors. Meeting debt burdens at rates the official sector — let alone the private sector — is charging for credit would involve burdens on Greece, Ireland and Portugal comparable to the reparations’ burdens that John Maynard Keynes warned about in “The Economic Consequences of the Peace.”
The reparations he's talking about were the consequence of World War I where the victorious nations imposed a monstrous fine on the Germans to pay for the war. Here's the comparison:

Me paying back money I borrowed to get goodies I wanted to hand out = you demanding I pay a penalty for having started a war.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Things I Say To My Kids

"Stop humiliating me in public! I want to be the one doing that!"


In the comments of an earlier post, I alluded to a possible proof of the non-existence (or at least irrelevance) of God using chemistry and proof by induction. My suggestion was not picked up by the fellow I was conversing with so I never described it, but it is still rattling around in my head so I thought I'd share a summary of it.

Premise: All molecules obey the laws of chemistry. That is, given the opportunity, they will react in known ways to attain lower energy states. For example, if you put NaOH in solution with water, it will attain a known level of ionization (Na+ and OH-) according to the amount you put in, the temperature of the water and so forth. It just happens.

Implication: If all you are is what you see - there is nothing more than chemicals in the Universe, no metaphysics at all - then everything obeys these laws. Period. "You" have no effect on them. In order for you to claim you had an effect on these chemicals, you'd have to show that you made them do something they weren't going to do anyway. You'd have to make them disobey laws of chemistry, in which case everything is wide open again and you'd have to admit that you believed in the Easter Bunny.

Conclusion: A difference that makes no difference is no difference.

If your consciousness has no affect on the world at the molecular level, then it has no effect at any other scale, either. A consciousness that can't do anything is totally irrelevant and for all practical purposes doesn't exist. That means you don't exist.

If you don't exist, then what's the point of God? He may or may not exist, but it's completely pointless to even debate it because it has no ramifications for you (or non-you).

Objection: In comments long ago, someone suggested that because subatomic particles have random motions, it could be that consciousness is located there. We are somehow controlling the random actions of these subatomics or are a collection of them or mumblemumblemumble. If you believe that, then you are an animist because everything has these subatomic particles and there's no particular reason why a rock doesn't possess the same consciousness as you. That's George Lucas' position - the Force is a summary of the animist point of view. "The Force is first described by Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi as an energy field created by all living things, that surrounds and penetrates living beings and binds the galaxy together."

At that point, you have to wonder what the fuss is all about. Animists seem to be about the silliest people out there. The Easter Bunny has nothing on them. Hugging trees? Ha! You'd be out there hugging dirt. Live it up, boys!

So what: So why the argument? What's the big deal here? Why do I get such vitriol and anger from people when I post about this topic? We're all irrelevant, you're not accomplishing anything and there's nothing to be gained from the yelling. Who cares? That leads to ...

The logical, practical conclusion of science-based rationalism:

And that, my friends, is Stephen Hawking's true legacy. Outstanding!

Hurrah For Green Jobs!

There's a crash coming.
The global clean energy industry is set for a major crash. The reason is simple. Clean energy is still much more expensive and less reliable than coal or gas, and in an era of heightened budget austerity the subsidies required to make clean energy artificially cheaper are becoming unsustainable...

As part of its effort to combat the economic recession, the federal government pumped nearly $80 billion in direct investment and tax credits into the clean energy sector, catalyzing an unprecedented industry expansion. Solar energy, for example, grew 67% in the United States in 2010. The U.S. wind energy industry also experienced unprecedented growth as a result of the generous Section 1603 clean energy stimulus program. The industry grew by 40% and added 10 GW of new turbines in 2009. Yet many of the federal subsidies that have driven such rapid growth are set to expire in the next few years, and clean energy remains unable to compete without them.
Let's use this information and recast a generic politicians' speech about green jobs.

Traditional version: "My goal is to create 2 million new jobs in green energy by the year 2020!" (Wild applause follows.)

New version: "My goal is to create 2 million new jobs in an industry that is more expensive, less reliable and utterly uncompetitive without massive subsidies from you, the taxpayer, by the year 2020!" (Confused mumbling and scattered applause follows.)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Toddler Translations

... can be found here. Beautiful, funny stuff!

Why I'm Not All That Wound Up About The Debt Ceiling Talks

... because there are forces at work out there much, much larger than domestic US politics.

Greece is done. They've defaulted in principle and will soon default for real. You can't pay credit card rates on short term bonds and survive. Dittos for Portugal for the same reasons. And Ireland.

Those are not the reasons why I'm not worked up about all the jawboning in DC. Those guys are all small potatoes and can be dealt with by a monstrous printing spasm at the ECB, should they choose.

Italy and Spain could be next. Italy in particular. Ignore all the condescending economists, sniffing at you over the tops of their pince-nez, telling you that while Italy has a debt of 120% of their GDP, they're not in any real trouble because (insert long, technical, undecipherable econobabble words here).

Italy is now paying about 5% on 5-year bonds and that number is going up, not down. There is no growth on the horizon and there is nothing left to squeeze out of the Italian taxpayers so there is nowhere on the revenue side to get the cash they're going to need to just service their debt.

If Italy can't get out of this one then they can't be saved. Their economy is simply too large bail out with another convulsion of Euro printing. I'm less familiar with Spain, but as I understand it, they're close to being hosed, too.

The world is changing. The progressives spent the future and the future is currently at the door, knocking and asking to come in. The game is ending. Obama doesn't want to cut spending? Obama doesn't have a plan? Good for him. Let's see what people have to say when European banks start to go under and take lots and lots of US bank money with them.

The debt ceiling yackathon? To borrow from Obi Wan Kenobi, "This is not the fiscal crisis you're looking for."

Is this Italy, Portugal or Greece? Yes.

Your Bailout $$$ At Work

Party on, dude!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Quite Possibly The Worst Science Fiction Story Ever

The Struggle in Space. Here's an excerpt. Enjoy?
An American plane flies by a window in Clines's apartment, and four black-clad figures leap out. We run and lock ourselves in an inner room. The door is soon riddled with bullets. Smith says we shouldn't worry and aims a small box at us all. It coats us with Omega rays, which make us immune to the bullets. The black- clad men burst into the room and fire at us, but their bullets turn to vapor. The men then call for reinforcements, intending by sheer numbers to defeat us. But I am a veritable Hercules compared to these weak, flabby Americans. I can pick them up a dozen at a time and hurl them out of the way. So we start to battle our way out of the apartment, through this sea of weak capitalists.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cheezburger of the Day

A Real Man

... has passed away. Bradley Wright has the story. When I read things like this, they make me work harder to be more like Mr. Tackman, no matter how far that may be away from who I am now. Inspirational indeed.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cheezburger of the Day

The Falls Are Getting Closer

... you can tell because the barrel we're in is really getting wobbly now.

European banks are preparing for defaults.
Although the European debt crisis has been dragging on for roughly a year and a half, it appears to have entered a new, more perilous, stage this week. Expectations have faded that European officials will be able once again contain Greece's problems and avoid a destabilizing default that would inflict losses on banks holding Greek debt.

In the process, the spotlight has turned back to Italy and Spain's debt problems. Earlier in the year it had become conventional wisdom that despite economic and fiscal problems of their own, those countries had been walled off from Greece's woes. But the recent focus on Italy suggests that isn't the case.

"Apart from the ECB, there are currently no big wallets in the EU that are capable of supporting Spain and Italy," said Willem Buiter, Citigroup Inc.'s chief economist.

One senior London banker said his bank is drawing in untapped credit lines to companies in Spain and Italy. An official with another major European bank said it is considering similar moves, although it is nervous that such actions could send a destabilizing signal that the bank is in trouble.
Emphasis mine. They're not quite at the stage yet where they need to demand that existing debts be repaid immediately, but they're not lending any more money. This act in and of itself is enough to slow economic growth in these countries.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Science, Atheism, Ignorance and St. Thomas Aquinas

Right now I'm listening to Professor Peter Kreeft's series of lectures on the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. It's very accessible, but even so, it will take a few times through to understand most of it. St. Thomas Aquinas was so brilliant and so deep that it's impossible to comprehend him in a single pass.

Tangent: Many years ago, I was part of a scientific working group on modelling atmospheric noise. One group of credentialed researchers from a well-known university presented a paper discussing modifications to their model of global atmospheric noise. It was my first time at one of these meetings and I hadn't seen their work before.

It was horrendous.

They had data points for certain spots, but the values their computer models had come up with for points in between made no sense at all. That is, if I knew that there was 37 dB of noise in Tampa and 43 dB in Miami, then the spot in between Tampa and Miami ought to be between 37 and 43. With their model, it was something like 80. When asked to justify that value, they got all flustered and it was clear they had never thought about it before.

They were scientists, doing science, from a famous university and they were not just wrong, but wildly wrong. Had they been theologians, Bill Maher would have gone on a 10-minute comedy rant about them, claiming that people who believed what they believed were idiots.

Back to the point: St. Thomas Aquinas brilliantly married science, philosophy and faith. You can't work your way through his thinking and claim he was superstitious or believed in the Easter Bunny or was a simple-minded twit, no matter how many creationists you think can dance on the head of a pin. In fact, having engaged with science-based atheists several time on this blog, I can't see how any of their objections work against the teachings of Aquinas. I can see how you might respectfully disagree with him and cling to the belief that God does not exist, but I don't see how you could ever mock him.

The researchers I described above had a dreadful model of the world. It clearly failed the simplest tests of reality. If I wanted, I could have based my perception of science on their work. It's obvious, I might say, that scientists don't really know anything at all and they're only goal is to obscure what they're doing in fancy words and equations so they can fleece us out of money to continue their ridiculous research. They're not advancing Man's search for knowledge, they're actually retarding it!

That analysis would have been wrong. Those researchers were intelligent, educated and well-meaning. Their blunders didn't invalidate science, any more than the fellow who used the Bible to predict the end of the world invalidated Christianity. All we have to do to assure ourselves that scientists aren't all scam artists is look at Isaac Newton and Johannes Kepler.

And all we have to do to take Christianity seriously is look at St. Thomas Aquinas.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Leading From Behind FAIL

The Italians are looking to bail out of Obama's weird Libyan operation.
Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s prime minister, has voiced serious doubts about the success of the Nato mission over Libya , saying he had been against the operation from the outset.

In a development that will raise concerns in western capitals about the fr of a Nato operation that has lasted more than three months, Mr Berlusconi said he felt forced to go along with the mission despite his doubts because of political pressures inside Italy.

“I was against this measure,” Mr Berlusconi said at a book presentation in Rome. “I had my hands tied by the vote of the parliament of my country. But I was against – and I am against – this intervention which will end in a way that no one knows.”

Income And Wealth Are Markers Of Behavior

It makes a difference which skills you develop.

Best Undergrad College Degrees By Salary Starting Median Pay Mid-Career Median Pay
Petroleum Engineering $93,000 $157,000
Aerospace Engineering $59,400 $108,000
Chemical Engineering $64,800 $108,000
Electrical Engineering $60,800 $104,000
Nuclear Engineering $63,900 $104,000
Applied Mathematics $56,400 $101,000
Biomedical Engineering $54,800 $101,000
Physics $50,700 $99,600
Computer Engineering $61,200 $99,500
Education $35,100 $54,900
Art $33,500 $54,800
Special Education $36,000 $53,800
Recreation & Leisure Studies $33,300 $53,200
Horticulture $35,000 $50,800
Culinary Arts $35,900 $50,600
Athletic Training $32,800 $45,700
Social Work $31,800 $44,900
Elementary Education $31,600 $44,400
Child and Family Studies $29,500 $38,400

Greeks Blame The Bankers, Germans Give Up On The Greeks

Der Spiegel is backing a greater centralization of power in Europe to take decision-making authority away from the peripheral EU states. Dig this little bit.
There are undoubtedly numerous examples of serious failures of the elites at the European level. But the key issue is that these failures can only be corrected by the elites themselves, and that the attempt to compensate for the failures with forced democratization would lead to the disorderly disintegration of Europe. The instrument of the plebiscite, in particular, has proven to be a treacherous spanner that political players have thrown into the European works time and again. In the current situation, democratization would strengthen the capacity of anti-European players and significantly increase the number of those wielding vetoes in Brussels.
Translation: If you let people make their own decisions, the result will be chaos! There is a need for order!

Of course, what they don't mention is that German and French banks, orderly and centralized and properly controlled, were the dummkopfs who loaned tens of billions of Euros to people who had no obvious way of paying them back. Instead of marching off to a future where power is centralized even more than it already is, the elites of Europe ought to spend a little time watching Milton Friedman.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Low Tide Sometimes Isn't

So yesterday I took my new underwater camera base out to the Point Loma tidepools right around low tide ... and discovered that low tide isn't always low tide. It was a 1.7' low which turned out to be still high enough to cover all the tidepools with a pretty active swell. Putting my camera in that churning mess would have resulted in murky videos, assuming the camera didn't get washed out to sea.

While the effort was cinematically fruitless, it taught me this:

Because of the tide schedule, I'm about a week away from being able to use my new device.

Income And Wealth Are Markers Of Behavior

Getting and staying married greatly increases your chances of being financially secure.
COLUMBUS , Ohio – A new nationwide study provides some of the best evidence to date of the devastating financial toll divorce can wreak on a person's wealth.

The study of about 9,000 people found that divorce reduces a person's wealth by about three-quarters (77 percent) compared to that of a single person, while being married almost doubles comparative wealth (93 percent). And people who get divorced see their wealth begin to drop long before the decree becomes final.

“Divorce causes a decrease in wealth that is larger than just splitting a couple's assets in half,” said Jay Zagorsky, author of the study and a research scientist at Ohio State University 's Center for Human Resource Research.

By the same token, married people see an increase in wealth that is more than just adding the assets of two single people.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Income And Wealth Are Markers Of Behavior

If you stay in school and get a college degree, you're better off. If you drop out of high school, you've got problems.
Just in case you still had some doubts, the U.S. Census Bureau has released data proving the substantial value of a college education in the United States. Workers 18 and over sporting bachelors degrees earn an average of $51,206 a year, while those with a high school diploma earn $27,915. But wait, there's more. Workers with an advanced degree make an average of $74,602, and those without a high school diploma average $18,734.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Monkees Plus Nike Equals Awesomeness

I love it!

Income And Wealth Are Markers Of Behavior

Don't believe me? Dig this.

Politics And Facebook

... don't mix for me. At all.

I've got a couple of friends who like to post political videos and comments on their Facebook pages. One of them posted this little video from Robert Reich.

I didn't watch it at the time, but I tuned in long enough right now to watch about half of it and see that Mr. Reich, like Mr. Greenberg, sees only money. Good for him.

In any case, at the time my friend posted it, I wondered how to reply if I did watch it. You could point out Greece as a warning to us against borrowing, marital status and its correlation with poverty and social pathologies and all manner of other things. I didn't post any of that.

To me, Facebook is a way of keeping in touch with friends. Travel photos, stories of my kids, pictures of the family and hobby updates are why it exists. It's personal, not public. Politics doesn't belong there any more than it works well at a large dinner party. Instead of launching on the guy, I changed the subject and gave him some of my favorite personal finance and economics books, starting with Dave Ramsey's The Total Money Makeover. Most of the time I ignore the political stuff on Facebook, but in this case I wanted to reply with something, and that was the best I could do.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Personally, I Blame Gravity

... whenever things fall. If, for example, I slip at the top of the stairs and take a tumble, it seems obvious to me that if it weren't for gravity, I'd have ended up just fine. If I jump off a diving board and do a painful belly flop into the pool, it's clearly the fault of gravity. When I drop a glass in the kitchen and it shatters on the floor, whose fault is it? Gravity's.

Curse you, gravity!

With this frame of mind, it's only natural that when I look at the debt* crisis across the globe, I blame the ratings agencies, the banks, the hedge funds and speculators.

Greece has the right idea.
The MPs, in their question, said that the recent developments indicated the EU's inability, primarily at political level, to manage and deal with the attitude of the rating agencies and their influence on the markets.

They said that this has resulted in phenomena of the policy decisions of sovereign countries and international organisations being dependent on the assessments and calculations of the rating agencies, which are being investigated for speculation and non-transparent rules of operation.
So do the Germans.
The "Big Three" credit rating agencies can determine the fate of entire countries, by deciding whether they are creditworthy or not. Now Portugal is under pressure after Moody's downgraded its debt to junk status. European politicians want to create an alternative, even though they helped give so much power to the agencies in the first place.
It's high time we put the blame in the right place.

Somewhere other than ourselves.

* - Debt is such a judgmental word. It implies that you got money from someone else and need to pay it back when in reality you were only receiving your entitlements. If you're entitled to something, there's certainly no reason to pay it back, is there? Clearly, we need a new word for debt.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Next Up: Portugal

Now that the Greek debt crisis has been solved*, it's time to revisit Portugal.
LONDON—Portuguese bond prices plummeted and the euro slumped Wednesday after Moody's downgraded the country to junk status, disqualifying the country from an index of sovereign debt and triggering a selloff...

The yield spread between Portuguese two-year bonds and safe-haven German two-year paper widened by more than two percentage points and the yield on Portuguese 10-year bonds rose by nearly 1.3 percentage points to 12.84%, taking the 10-year spread to Germany to over 9.8 percentage points, according to Tradeweb.
These "fixed" crises just won't stay fixed!

When do we start thinking about rescue packages for German banks?

* - Until next week or maybe a little later.

Another Cinque Terre Photo

Click. It's worth it. I left the original photo large on purpose. Here's more about beautiful Cinque Terre.

Operation Fast And Furious

If you haven't been following the Obama Administration's efforts to use Mexico as a laboratory for ballistics testing, our Monks of Miscellaneous Musings have been doing it for you. Read the latest installment here.

Jobs Come From Profits And So Do Debt Payments

... resulting in cases like Georgios Levedogiannis.
At the moment, his poverty is not yet visible. Levedogiannis wears a clean shirt, smart blue slacks and a new-looking bag slung around his waist. He clearly makes an effort. But there are tears in the man's eyes as he says: "If I had work, I wouldn't do this to myself." He says he has "zero" money and that he sleeps at the Red Cross, eats at the church and dreams of a different time, a time where there was still work. "If you don't have connections, no one will take you," he explains. "And it's only getting worse."
Ekathmimerini laments what is happening to the Greeks who create the profits.
Other than the unemployed and those who have been hit hard, there is also a dynamic section of Greek society that finds itself at a dead end. It is in no way responsible for the troubles of the country because it paid its taxes, it didn’t cheat the state or depend on it, or on political parties and union for its livelihood. Now, however, this sector of society is being forced to experience a drastic drop in its standard of living and to pay taxes from the little money it managed to squirrel away for a rainy day.
Anything that eats at profits, whether they be personal or corporate, eats away at jobs since all jobs come from profits. The debt ceiling debate in the US right now could be termed a jobs debate. Do we want fewer jobs in the future in order to have more money to spend right now? That was the choice the Greeks made even though they didn't understand it at the time.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011


A Base For A Kodak Playsport Camera

... is one of the things I made over the weekend. My Kodak PlaySport is designed to be submerged up to 10' and I've used it in the past to take tidepool videos. I've used a small octopus tripod to hold it in place, but that's never been terribly satisfactory as you've got to spend a lot of time trying to get the thing level and braced. The legs of the octopus also tend to splay out, making it problematic to fit into narrow crevasses the camera might find comfortable.

With all that in mind, I built a base for my camera this weekend from a Schedule 40 PVC end cap, a 1/4", 20-thread bolt with nylon locknut, some gravel from our yard and a bit of silicone.

The base needs to be heavy enough to hold the camera stable and in place while being only as wide as the camera itself.

Chunks of dense rock, glued in place with silicone (not shown), provide the weight.

I'm hoping to get some field work done this week with the camera. Editing the videos and posting them to YouTube is a breeze, so as soon as I can find the time and opportunity to film, I'm going to hit the tidepools.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Attending Mass In St. Peter's

... was a deeply religious experience, but not in the way I expected. Dittos for all of the other gorgeous basilicas where we heard Mass.

The alabaster window directly behind the main altar in St. Peter's. Spectacularly beautiful in person, this photo hardly does it justice.

Rather than simply touring the great churches where we went, we did out best to attend Mass at each one. I had thought that the act would make me connect with the Catholics of the past and be a deeply moving experience. It didn't, but it was.

First off, it was like attending Mass in a museum. The scale and depth of the places is overwhelming and that filled you with awe. A sense of awe, however, is not the proper frame of mind (at least for me) for Mass. For me, I prefer a sense of comfort and familiarity, a place where I can relax and soak up the sacrament. I posted earlier about how it felt to go to these churches and see the glorious work therein. Mass was a different story.

While the churches are spectacular, you quickly lose sight of the artwork of the place and focus on the sacrament itself during Mass. In terms of what you experience during Mass, it doesn't matter whether you're in a tiny chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, surrounded by crude, Indian art or in St. Mary Maggiore, which might be the most beautiful thing ever created by human hands. That realization brought home the utter truth of something I had heard over and over again, but never really understood.

The Church is the people, not the buildings. The sculptures, paintings, frescoes, icons and reliquaries are all marvelous, but they are outside of the sacrament, outside of the experience.

The outstanding film, Lillies of the Field, had it right. While the people that came together in the 16th Century to build this basilica or that produced something wonderful beyond words, so have the parishes in the California Central Valley, the villages of Kenya and the remote regions of the Amazon. And that is what connects us.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

A Pro-Insect Pope

... that was Pope Urban VIII all over.

Each Pope has his own crest, typically taken from his family coat of arms. Pope Urban VIII came from the Barberini family whose symbol included three horseflies. Deemed less than hospitable, they were changed to bees on his Papal crest. Like so:

The Papal Arthropod Project?

Cheezburger of the Day

Paying Back Your Loans Is Undemocratic?

Prime Minister Papandreau of Greece, quoted at, following the Greek government approval of an austerity budget. The budget vote was necessary for Greece to secure yet more loans from the rest of the EU.
“We are living in Greece through very rough times and this means that democratic governments must make hard choices in the name of protecting their people and moving their societies forward,” he said.

The Greek premier, however, reserved some strong criticism for the agencies that have downgraded the country’s credit rating to one step before declaring it bankrupt.

“If the ratings agencies come and downgrade us one more notch, then they will have more power in their decisions than the Greek people and Greek parliamentarians,” he said. “And that is unacceptable if you want to have a democratic world.”
That last bit is the sad part. They borrowed money until they had too much debt to pay back and too high a deficit to continue to finance (they are both both bankrupt and insolvent) and they did so in a fully democratic way. They voted themselves more and more and more goodies.

Now that the mathematics of the situation has taken over and their creditors are taking steps to protect their investments, it's no longer democratic to the Greek PM. In other words, it was perfectly OK to borrow the money, but being made to pay it back is unjust.

Friday, July 01, 2011

The Cats Of Piombino

Piombino is a lovely coastal town south of Pisa in Italy. The castle that overlooks the water in Piombino is home to a colony of semi-feral cats. They're used to people and two of these three rolled over and enjoyed some petting before we moved on.

Dan Henninger And Who We Are

If you don't read or watch Dan Henninger's WonderLand column in the WSJ, you should. In my book, he's one of the best commentators out there. Enjoy.

Cheezburger of the Day