Sunday, December 28, 2008

Whatever Happened To Acid Rain And Why Didn't It Have Any Staying Power

I saw some dead trees on the edge of a swamp the other day and recalled the iconic "acid rain" forest pictures in the 1980's. Back then, anywhere there was a patch of dead trees, people automatically thought...hmmm acid rain is killing the earth...making us sick.

Looking back, acid rain hysteria ended up as a footnote sandwiched between global cooling and the ozone hole. A lousy place historically if your job required research money. (Side note: An interesting bit of research would be finding out what those acid rain PhD's are publishing today...any guesses?)

I'll admit, I'm a child of the 80's. So looking back at that era can be tough sometimes. The clothes were awful. And now I have to admit that our attempts to terrorize the public through research were just as bad as the hair.

It started well enough with articles such as Likens (1984), "Acid rain: the smokestack is the smoking gun." That's good stuff on the face of it, Al Gore used the same imagery to great effect.

We had people out there chasing acid rain snowstorms and acid rain thunderstorms. We had tipping points, mass extinction predictions. Everything was in place. My generation was about to do something that would be remembered forever. Then...

The 1990's.

That first big Nirvana CD should have been a clue. The public was craving something more serious. We offered them the death of a salamander and the 1990's gave the public the whole damn world in peril.

I can't blame the public for taking to global warming the way they did. You are not going to make movies with acid rain showers chasing frogs. But ice hurricanes chasing actors! Whew. That's good stuff.

I guess acid rain never really stood a chance. Sure, the data never matched the claims. And the earth has natural balancing systems we didn't know about when we chose acid rain in the first place, but that has never stopped global warming. I'm not bitter (OK, a little). I just have to admit that global warming is a better product and we had a nice little run back in the day.

Just don't expect me to be sorry when you fail global warming.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Trouble With Rubles

The big bluff is almost over. For the last several years Russian leader Putin (I'm not sure what he is calling himself these days) has put on a show of force - promising a return to Russian greatness. From warships in the Panama Canal Zone to attacks in Georgia, the Russians have been everywhere trying to reassert their old influence. And there have been the assassinations to intimidate and punish political rivals and enemies.

The growing problem for Putin is that his economy is a one trick petro pony (they have lots of other mineral resourced too, but that didn't work well with pony). All of it: minerals, crude oil have sharply declined in value and while the Russians are putting up a bold face, the economic reality will have them mothballing those ships and watching their currency devalue further.

To illustrate, the following graph shows how many rubles a dollar would buy. It's a 180 day graph and it shows the accelerating problem since August. Built at

In some cases, workers are not getting paid and the protest in Vladivostok is an ominous sign for the Kremlin...especially since starting in that area is always a good strategy in Risk.

Putin will continue to crush dissent because he probably believes this downturn in commodity prices is short-term. Like Washington, Moscow is pumping cash into selected companies to try and buy their way out of this downturn. And also like Washington, these guys don't seem to understand that if you are willing to give your money away for nothing, it will have no value and the impact of all of this "stimulus" is deficits and a longer recession.

These troubles in Russia signal even bigger trouble for smaller countries built on the same strongman/petro economy. Venezuela has something like $65 barrel oil built into their budget. PDVSA (PetrĂ³leos de Venezuela, S.A.), Venezuela’s state-owned petroleum company does not have the resources to develop their oil fields. Hugo has directed much of the PDVSA revenue to support his expanded social programs. Hugo will accelerate the problem if crude prices stay in the $30's for an extended period of time.

With a little perspective, one might see the positives of this global recession. Just one year ago, Putin and Hugo were looking to become regional, if not global, forces based solely on $140 oil. A 75% hair cut has funny way of curbing ambitions.

Oil prices will rebound. The global economy will recover and futures will turn up as soon as demand starts to rise - literally within days. The problem for Russia is the long-term impact to the structure of their economy. With each of these downturns, Russia is losing the social and industrial infrastructure that is not being replaced during good times because they do not have a dynamic or inventive system.

The best analogy of the economic situation in Russia is a real estate flipper being upside down on all of his mortgages. Even if, over time, the value of the homes come up to the prices you paid, the costs of holding the homes in the mean-time probably means you are bankrupt. So too with Russia. The fixed costs of the economy are established and Russia will print the Rubles it needs to run the government-owned economy. The result is further currency deflation and of course the inflation of real goods. A double whammy for an economy based on government spending.

There is probably something of a warning in there for the US as well, but why worry about Rubles? They don't hurt anybody.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hugo: Drive By Dictator

Hollywood's 2nd favorite beloved leader was riding in his limo and spotted a nearly complete shopping mall in Caracas and said:

"They had already built a monster there," Chavez said. "I passed by there just recently and said, 'What is this? My God!"'

Which, of course, is Blago speak for "I don't remember getting any kickbacks on this project?"

Best quote from the AP writer (Via FoxNews), "[This] illustrates Chavez's tendency to govern from his gut, and to leap in when he thinks other government agencies — in this case city planners — aren't doing their job.

Of course with the ever expanding number of "Czars" we should expect similar "rule from the gut" kind of governance. Did I really see a middle class czar position named by Obama? Ugh.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Shrek Found Dead In New Jersey

Fox News has this one here.

A deer hunter discovered the man wrapped in the rug in a wooded area off the Atlantic City Expressway in New Jersey on Dec. 8, the Philadelphia Daily News reported.

Authorities have no idea who he is or who might have executed him.

"This was a very large man with very small, round, distinctive ears," said Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel during a press conference. "Somewhere, someone is missing this person."

Large man with very small round distinctive ears....

And some guy who looks like a real world Shrek.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Wrestler...The Reviewers Are Blown Away

Mickey Rourke playing a washed up 80's wrestler with Marissa Tomei as his stripper girlfriend. I'm soooo there. Bill Simmons at ESPN got an advance copy and With all of the crazy plastic surgery, Mickey looks like he has gone through 20 years of WWF abuse. Scripted or not, many of the old WWF guys are dead from the hell they put their bodies through.

More on Marissa. I really don't think she gets the credit she deserves. Is it the nude scenes? I don't know. But her performances in In The Bedroom, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, and Welcome to Sarajevo proves she is getting better with age. Fox News had their 40 Hottest Women Over 40 list last week and she wasn't on it. Kelly Rippa was. Sarah Jessica Parker too.

Recent pic of Marissa.


Global Warming Is A Ticking Time Bomb Waiting To Go Off and Obama Has Like Minutes To Stop It

Well, that's the claim of the AP's Seth Borenstein. In his less than reasoned piece he makes the case that the Earth cooling back to 1992 levels is proof for how fast we are actually warming.

When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, global warming was a slow-moving environmental problem that was easy to ignore. Now it is a ticking time bomb that President-elect Barack Obama can't avoid.

Since Clinton's inauguration, summer Arctic sea ice has lost the equivalent of Alaska, California and Texas. The 10 hottest years on record have occurred since Clinton's second inauguration. Global warming is accelerating. Time is close to running out, and Obama knows it.

Scientists are increasingly anxious, talking more often and more urgently about exceeding "tipping points."

"We're out of time," Stanford University biologist Terry Root said. "Things are going extinct."

U.S. emissions have increased by 20 percent since 1992. China has more than doubled its carbon dioxide pollution in that time. World carbon dioxide emissions have grown faster than scientists' worst-case scenarios. Methane, the next most potent greenhouse gas, suddenly is on the rise again and scientists fear that vast amounts of the trapped gas will escape from thawing Arctic permafrost.

The amount of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere has already pushed past what some scientists say is the safe level.


Mother Nature, of course, is oblivious to the federal government's machinations. Ironically, 2008 is on pace to be a slightly cooler year in a steadily rising temperature trend line. Experts say it's thanks to a La Nina weather variation. While skeptics are already using it as evidence of some kind of cooling trend, it actually illustrates how fast the world is warming.

Of course, real scientists are objecting to this kind of shark jumping histrionics.

Scientists skeptical of the assertion that climate change is the result of man's activities are criticizing a recent Associated Press report on global warming, calling it "irrational hysteria," "horrifically bad" and "incredibly biased."

They say the report, which was published on Monday, contained sweeping scientific errors and was a one-sided portrayal of a complicated issue.

"If the issues weren't so serious and the ramifications so profound, I would have to laugh at it," said David Deming, a geology professor at the University of Oklahoma who has been critical of media reporting on the climate change issue.

In the article, Obama Left with Little Time to Curb Global Warming, AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein wrote that global warming is "a ticking time bomb that President-elect Barack Obama can't avoid," and that "global warming is accelerating."

Deming, in an interview, took issue with Borenstein's characterization of a problem he says doesn't exist.

"He says global warming is accelerating. Not only is it continuing, it's accelerating, and whether it's continuing that was completely beyond the evidence," Deming told

"The mean global temperature, at least as measured by satellite, is now the same as it was in the year 1980. In the last couple of years sea level has stopped rising. Hurricane and cyclone activity in the northern hemisphere is at a 24-year low and sea ice globally is also the same as it was in 1980."

Deming said the article is further evidence of the media's decision to talk about global warming as fact, despite what he says is a lack of evidence.

"Reporters, as I understand reporters, are supposed to report facts,"Deming said. "What he's doing here is he's writing a polemic and reporting it as fact, and that's not right. It's not reporting. It's propaganda.

"This reads like a press release for an environmental advocacy group like Greenpeace. It's not fair and balanced."

I would love to hear Seth Borenstein order lunch, it would probably go something like, "look man, I'm hungry, the blue plate was supposed to be here in like 5 minutes. I don't have 20 minutes to eat. My stomach is already touching my SPINE! My god hurry that food!"

Hey Seth, are you saying that It Could Happen Tomorrow? At least their hurricane ice storms were interesting.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Lie Too Big To Fail

How rich is this? Nancy Pelosi is offended by the leadership of the Big 3 because they are begging for money with no coherent plan to stay viable for the long term. Plus they had the audacity to ride around in private jets. She thinks their leadership should be removed before we give them another penny.

I agree with that sentiment.

And that goes all the way around, only it's a lot more serious than the rank hypocrisy of our Speaker of the House.

In fact, the Big 3 management teams and congress have made almost identical mistakes in the last 50 years. Philosophically, both have lived on short business/political cycles that promote short term fudges rather than long term solutions; all while executing long term plans that always outspent revenues. Gamblers suffer from the same eternal optimism even in the face of economic reality: the difference being the inveterate gambler has a day of reckoning that may involve a kneecapping instead of a bail-out check. Pain and the threat of death: the self-checking mechanism that prevents gamblers from running up trillions in debt.

I can see the wisdom in that system.

The thing that has surprised me is the absolute silence on social security solvency, even as we have just watched the perfect model for how big programs collapse. Will a future congress and president fain surprise when the first whispers emerge that social security checks will start getting smaller?

The government has been lying about social security for years, so that much is not new. What is new is the perspective provided by the financial collapse of the government-private mortgage industry. If this isn't THE needed wake up call to take a longer view then we surely won't hear another.

The big lie is exposed in this Government Accounting Office.

Social Security’s benefit costs will soon start to grow rapidly. In 2017,
Social Security is projected to pay out more cash in benefits than it receives
in revenues.1 As figure 6 shows, after that time, the gap between costs and
income grows continuously, and, unless action is taken to close this gap, the
trust funds will eventually be depleted in 2041.

Right now, the surplus is used to fund other parts of the government, so 2017 is a much scarier date than it would appear on the face of it.

Here's the money shot.

Starting in 2017, the Treasury Department will begin to redeem
trust fund securities in order to continue to pay full promised benefits.
Specifically, in order to convert the Trust Fund securities into cash, the
government will require increased government revenue, increased borrowing
from the public, or reduced spending in the rest of the government.

When the Treasury has to redeem securities some very tough things will happen. The GAO's projections are that everything (value of securities and willing buyers) will continue as normal for 40 years. That is the same kind of thinking that backed the sales of mortgage backed securities...i.e. that the value of homes would never go down for any length of time. We just saw what happened to those kind of eternally optimistic projections.