20 July 2012

Jerry's Kids

Although Jerry Sandusky has been found guilty and is awaiting sentencing for his crimes, the media continues a daily barrage of new articles analyzing the case, its outcome and the potential consequences for Penn State University. As a graduate of Dear Old State, I watched the entire saga with a mixture of revulsion and disbelief combined with a dash of embarrassment that I was an alum of the now tainted institution. The entire case played out like a Greek tragedy with the fall of Joe Paterno, the evidence of a systemic cover-up and the terrible crimes inflicted on children who were not protected in order to preserve the Lilly white image of the football program and the university as a whole.

How could this happen ?

Looking in from the outside, "Happy Valley" acquired an image of being a place of, well, happiness- home to  one of the best universities in the country, an idyllic rural setting and a passionate student body who would pack Beaver Stadium on crisp Autumn afternoons to cheer on a team that seemed to be above the messy recruiting scandals endured by other schools and that actually sent its players out into the world with degrees.  As a student I certainly enjoyed my time at Penn State and attended my share of football games both as a student and after I graduated, tailgating before the game, hanging out in the bars on College Avenue after the game and generally enjoying the atmosphere.

Unless you visited Penn State in the past it is hard to fathom how truly revered Joe Paterno was. His image permeated the University and State College, his name was on part of the library and he licensed his endorsement and image for an assortment of goods and services. The student body loved him, he became their surrogate father or grandfather, the seemingly kind man who preached the virtues of winning with honor and doing the right thing. I remember as a freshman having a more jaded view of the hero worship going on around me. I was 22 years old at the time and had just spent 4 years in the Army- in many ways, I felt 20 years older than my fellow freshmen who were embarking on their first journey from home. My girlfriend at the time, 18 years old and fresh out of high school, was typical in the almost religious fervor that gripped her in going to the games, painting blue paws on her face and attending pep rallies. I preferred drinking beer with my veteran buddies and trading cynical comments on the "kids" as we called our fellow students.

Every cult of personality in human history has relied on symbols, bringing supporters together through a mixture of communal interests and beliefs- we all want to feel like we belong to something bigger and the  Penn State football program seemed to be a church with its arms wide open. The chants of "We Are" from the student side followed by "Penn State" from the alums could raise the hair on your neck when screamed by over 100,000 people. With characteristic Happy Valley happiness it was followed by "Thank You" and "You're Welcome." Meanwhile, amid this idyllic landscape a monster lurked, committing horrific crimes against children while the Administration looked the other way. 

When Joe Paterno was fired by the Board of Trustees the result was predictable- riots by a new generation of young Penn State students fed the same constant diet of football propaganda as their student body predecessors. It was inconceivable that the focus of their hero worship had been stripped away from them, shattering their rose colored glasses and ripping off the veil of happiness from the valley forever. Penn State will never be the same again and that is probably a good thing. 

What to do now ? Simple. Fire anyone from the University staff that failed to take action, suspend the entire football program for five years and return the school to its roots- academics and preparing young adults to become productive members of society. Penn State was doing that for generations before there even was a football team and the school can certainly do it again. 

08 March 2012

Cleared for Contact

News that should make the Eastern Division of the NHL collectively shudder- Sidney Crosby has been cleared for contact and could make his reappearance within a number of days. I for one would never have blamed the kid if he hung up the skates for good. As a multi-millionaire in his twenties, with lucrative endorsement deals and a great future in coaching, broadcasting or sitting on his deck drinking beer, why take any chances of sustaining career ending head injuries ? Or worse, lingering injuries that could prevent him from enjoying all of that cash in his later years ?

As more research comes forward on the lingering effects of head injuries on everyone from pros to kids playing hockey, Crosby has become a spokesman who could effectively end the charade that players should just suck it up and play regardless of their condition.

I love the old guy argument as so often preached by the likes of Don Cherry- the ones who say modern players are sissies for wearing visors, or sitting out because they have their bells rung. They seem to miss the same facts that apply to modern football players compared to their elders- namely that they are bigger, faster and in far better physical shape than their predecessors.

In a game of speed like hockey it is simple physics that a superbly conditioned defenseman at 6 foot 5 inches, 220 pounds is going to hit with far more force than his 5 foot 11 185 pound predecessor from the 1960's that worked side jobs during the off season to make ends meet. Add in changes in equipment (which is lighter and may offer far more protection to the shoulder when hitting an opponent) and you have a recipe for more head injuries, more time missed during the season and earlier retirements.

Hockey, like any sport, is entertainment. Like any entertainment, it depends on star power to draw the fans who pay for the tickets who pay the salaries. I may not like Ovechkin, for example, but I love watching him play and I can't see him play if he's sitting in the owner's box. It's time for the NHL to clean up the game in regards to head shots, institute massive fines for deliberate contact and move on to better things.

07 March 2012

Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) recently proposed various amendments to a proposed transportation bill. Buried inside the amendment language is this little snippet-

"Hatch Amendment #1 : The Chairman’s mark contains new revenue provisions, including a transfer from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Fund, the closing of a black liquor loophole, the dedication of a “gas guzzler” tax, the revocation of passports for individuals owing more than $50,000 in back taxes, an increase of the levy authority on payments to Medicare providers with delinquent tax debt, and a transfer of certain imported tariffs to the Highway Trust Fund.

That's right- if you owe Uncle Sugar more than $ 50,000 in back taxes you are going to have your passport revoked.

Stop and think about this for a second. Remove all thoughts of tax cheats and rich one percenters jetting off to Switzerland to avoid paying up. From 1789 until 1941 passports were not even required (except by executive order during the Civil War and World War One) for U.S. citizens to leave or enter the country and it wasn't until 1978 that it became illegal to enter the U.S. without a passport. As with all aspects of the unimpeded growth of government and bureaucracy, the citizens of this country have slept while government has quietly crept into every facet of their lives, eroding their individual freedoms, restricting their movements and watching over their shoulders.

I can understand how a person accused of a violent crime should be forced to surrender his or her passport while awaiting trial. After all, it makes perfect sense to prevent murderers from fleeing to other countries to escape justice. That being said, owing the government money is a completely different situation. What Hatch is basically attempting to do is hold an American's very rights as a citizen in escrow until they pay what they owe to the government- the same government that then takes their hard earned money and flushes it down a massive budgetary toilet. By legislative fiat he is proposing to effectively strip Americans of their citizenship because a citizen without a passport is a citizen no longer.

I hope the good people of Utah do us all a favor and vote this senile codger into retirement where he belongs.

06 March 2012

Peter Coyote- Buddhist Anarchist

You may not immediately recognize the name Peter Coyote, but I would bet if you heard his voice you would probably recognize it. Coyote is a veteran actor and narrator (some of my favorites being Prohibition, Out of the Blue and the NHL36 series.) Here is a piece on Coyote and his views on Buddhism and Anarchism.

Can you eat a Credit Card ?

A recent article in The Daily Mail highlights how cash strapped Brits are relying more heavily on credit to buy daily necessities such as groceries. More interesting was the chart showing the increase in the price of grocery items (9.45 % according their numbers) which dovetails nicely with my own experience when buying food.

I recently commented to my wife that growing fruit and vegetables is probably far more profitable (and legally acceptable) than marijuana. This was based on the sticker shock I experienced when buying some blueberries and crackers at the store. Two things struck me. First, blueberries could be the new crack cocaine for local gangs to begin selling in our area. Second, the physical size of many of the things we buy (such as cracker boxes and Girl Scout Cookies) are shrinking while their price increases. The Mail's article citing 9.45 % price inflation is not far off from the rumored real U.S. inflation rate of 8 %.

Let's face it, whether the politicians and bankers want to slap a pretty name ("Quantitative Easing") or not on the massive printing of new money, all of that cash sloshing around the system will eventually drive up the costs of commodities and create inflation. We are currently witnessing the U.S. political theater that comes about when the price of gasoline rises- Republicans blame Democrats, Democrats blame Republicans. I blame them all.

This is not a U.S. centric problem, however, and the loose money policies of the old European regimes are just as much to blame as the U.S. Decades of fatal political and economic decisions based on preserving power, rather than doing the best for the citizenry, have bankrupted the system. Even the Economist recently showed its ire by kicking Argentina out of its weekly statistics section for playing fast and loose with the figures they submitted. If nations are now blatantly lying about the real rate of inflation in their economies, who knows what lurks under the tip of the ice burg ?

05 March 2012

Adios February

Many people have phobias but I think my primary one is among the strangest- I have an intense dread of the month of February. February is a strange month, sort of shoehorned into the calendar and bridging two far happier times of the year. On one side, we move from the holiday months of November and December (here in the U.S.) which abound with family time, good memories and good cheer, and then into January and the hope, joy and optimism of a new year. On the other side of the bridge we have March, with the first hint of Spring, warm weather and blooming trees and flowers which promises sunshine and deliverance from the depths of winter. To get between them, however, I must cross the four week mine strewn bridge known as February.

Ah yes, February. The graveyard of broken New Year Resolutions, boring television and the listless doldrums of the NHL season. Bad things have always happened to me in February- business related, family related you name it. To make it worse this year, the creators of our calendar managed to extend the agony by adding the additional Leap Day. The supposed holidays of the month are a joke, including the rampantly commercialized Valentine's Day and President's Day. I think most Americans would prefer we swapped a day off in February for one in June or August, but who am I to say.

I tried to research a phobia for February but was unsuccessful. Sure, all of the usual suspects were there- spiders, open spaces, Friday the 13th, Newt Gingrich...but I couldn't find one addressing one so broad to 'X" out an entire month of the calendar. Crazy though I may be, if I'm going to have a phobia, I'm going large or going home. So, I spent the night of February 29th drinking a glass of whisky (okay two, or was it three ?) firmly convinced at multiple times that evening that a car would hit my house, or a piece of space debris or a wayward North Korean missile...but nothing happened. February 2012 passed in relative peace. With any luck Mr. February, if the Mayans were right, I'll never have to face you again you miserable bastard.

11 May 2011

Mao & Guevara- Two Biographies

I recently finished reading two excellent biographies, "Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life" by Jon Lee Anderson, and "Mao: The Unknown Story" by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. These books examine the lives of two of the most important figures of the 20th century and offer an unflinching look at their upbringing, rise to power, impact on the world and ongoing influence on the nations of Cuba and China. Regardless of your opinion of these individuals, both books offer a compelling read.

Guevara comes across as the more accessible character. The profane, cigar smoking, asthmatic, alternately lazy and tireless doctor turned revolutionary with a passion for the ladies is a fascinating character. Mao elicits very little sympathy as an asexual opportunist quite willing to throw his comrades under the bus for political gain. Guevara seems genuinely concerned about his fellow guerrillas and the peasants they encounter versus Mao who sells out his own troops by feeding intelligence to the enemy when it benefits his cause and starves millions during his consolidation of power (I have to add a caveat that one of the authors of the Mao biography writes from a Nationalist Chinese perspective so their is some inevitable bias in the work.)

I highly recommend both books.

The Final Countdown

According to the ebible people, we have 10 days left until the world ends. Unfortunately for the San Jose Sharks, the end is coming too late to postpone game 7 of their NHL playoff with the Detroit Red Wings. The individual behind the doomsday claim is Harold Camping, civil engineer, radio maven and repeat offender in the world of failed prophecies and prognostication.

My interest in this is not that I think the world is going to end- it is going to end, we are all going to end, all things are impermanent. My fascination with the subject is what happens if they are wrong ? Will there be some pronouncement that it was all allegory, that they didn't mean an actual doomsday but rather some type of rebirth, cosmic cycle or God knows what ? On the other hand, I sincerely hope that they result isn't some type of mass suicide among believers that have invested so much in this theory only to see it evaporate before them.

Spiking the Ball

The recent demise of Osama Bin Laden set off an eruption of ball spiking, fist bumping and back slapping across the U.S. Loud cries of "we got him" permeated the 24 hour media cycle as the President took credit for the operation that killed him, the Republicans took credit for the interrogations that led to the intelligence that killed him, liberals suddenly became pro-military and conservatives whined that pictures of the body were not released. In my hometown, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall tweeted his views on the subject and was subsequently shredded across the Internet as a no-nothing athlete that would be better off just keeping his mouth shut.

A couple of observations. I believe that this sense that "we" got Bin Laden has been fostered by a long war which has impacted very few Americans. Despite this lack of direct experience, the majority of the citizens of this country seem to feel they have some personal stake in the war. This is a view not far from the American sports fan who proclaims "we" won the Stanley Cup, the World Series or the Super Bowl when their favorite team wins a championship. In this case they apply this logic to SEAL Team 6, the new American fan favorite. In a land of commercialization and virtual experience, one can even bop on down to the local Game Stop to pick up a copy of "SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALS" for Playstation 3 and shoot virtual terrorists all afternoon long. I wonder when the Pakistan expansion pack is coming out ?

It is easy to be pro-war when that war is being fought by volunteers and the mainland is not being subject (with the exception of 9/11) to the horrors of war. The families of those doing the fighting are obviously affected, as are those that lost family members in the 9/11 attacks, but what about the average American ? Sure, they profess their pro-military position with bumper stickers and public pronouncements that they support our troops, they thank veterans for their service but when it comes to the actual heavy lifting they are noticeably absent. On one of our local radio stations, the morning conservative hosts crow about shooting Bin Laden and meting out justice as if they had fast roped into the compound in Pakistan during a station break- for all of their bravado, could they shoot somebody in the face ? One wonders.

As for Rashard Mendehnall, the kid was eviscerated by the same social media that spread his thoughts. Do I agree with him about his 9/11 conspiracy theories ? Nope. Does he have the right to say them ? Absolutely. Should he give up his career of carrying the rock for the Steelers and start a new one as a journalist ? Probably not. That being said, he seems like a spiritual young man that is asking some tough questions about death and killing that the average person doesn't want to look at. No matter, when he scores his first touchdown next season he will be forgiven by the masses- at least in this part of the country.

Fish on a Dish

I heard a strange gurgling sound last night, a sound like choking. No need to worry about a family member or pet I mused- it is just the annual spring ritual of the San Jose Sharks imploding in the NHL playoffs. Like the melting of snow and the return of birds from the south, San Jose is once again working on an epic collapse after leading Detroit 3 games to 0. When San Jose won to go up 3 to 0, I chuckled. When my wife asked why I was laughing, I said "it is just going to make the collapse so much more devastating to watch." With the series tied 3-3, the stage is set for the Wings to eliminate the Sharks on Thursday night and move on to play Vancouver in the Western final.

09 May 2011

Dalai Lama Comments on Death of Bin Laden

Los Angeles Times article titled "Dalai Lama suggests Osama bin Laden's death was justified." I'm not so sure that's what he meant, but take a look for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

08 May 2011

Anarchist Pig- A Silver Bust or Buying Opportunity ?

Last week's brutal implosion of silver prices was truly breathtaking to witness. A strong rally in the U.S. dollar against the Euro was precipitated by rumors that Greece was set to tell the E.U. to pound grape leaves and issue its own currency. By issuing a new currency, the Greek government would be free to attempt to devalue itself out of its current economic train wreck.

My best guess is that the Greeks are merely playing economic chicken with the E.U. (in a friendlier version of North Korean nuclear chicken) and will not abandon the Euro. The short term news will pass and the underlying problems of the U.S. economy, among them weak employment numbers, no consensus on cutting spending and the continuing expansion of the money supply will set up silver for another move higher. Short term selling pressure could drive silver as low as $ 32.50 an ounce, which would signal a buy in my opinion. As always, don't rely on anything I say and do your own analysis.

05 May 2011

The Raid

The nighttime raid carried out by the U.S. Navy's SEAL Team 6 in Abbottabad, Pakistan will be studied for generations as one of the greatest special operations missions in history. By leveraging the massive U.S. intelligence system, mission planners were able to locate the safe house which was being utilized by Bin Laden deep inside Pakistan. Instead of obliterating the target with drones or cruise missiles, the SEAL Team was inserted by helicopter in a direct action operation to either kill or capture the U.S. Public Enemy No. 1.

In a mere 40 minutes, the inserted team was able to complete its mission and egress from the target area despite a mechanical problem with one of their helicopters. That helicopter was reportedly destroyed to deny any technical treasures on board to the Pakistanis who might have been tempted to sell them to their friends in China. As audacious as the raid itself, the act of flying the teams into and out of the target area, apparently undetected and unmolested by Pakistani air defense assets also points to the capability of the pilots and crew that ferried them in and out. Given that President Obama is making an appearance at Fort Campbell, Kentucky to meet and thank the members of SEAL Team 6, one has to wonder if the helicopter unit involved was the U.S. Army's elite 160th SOAR which is based there.

From what can be gleaned from the media reports, this was apparently a relatively small mission with very little room for error. The SEAL Team was brought to the target area in only a few helicopters and possibly without a larger security force on the ground to block any reaction from the local Pakistani garrison. While air assets were probably on call to assist if necessary, the team instead had to rely on completing the mission quickly and exfiltrating with speed before the locals were stirred up enough to try to interfere with the attack. Due to the lead up in intelligence work, the team benefited from the time necessary to study and train within a mock-up of the target house which enabled them to move quickly and decisively towards completion of their mission.

The media story regarding the death of Bin Laden seems to change on a daily basis. He was killed with a weapon, reaching for a weapon or after he surrendered depending upon which story you want to believe. A commentator on Fox News this morning went into a long harangue about why Bin Laden should have been taken alive - all convenient Thursday morning quarterbacking from the comfort of a nice television studio.

Could Bin Laden have surrendered and been executed ? I suppose it's possible. The SEAL team commander may have made the decision based on the fact that he already had one helicopter in trouble and the possibility that they would have to fight their way out through a force of Pakistani military units and unhappy civilians. Why take the risk when you can effectively accomplish the mission at that moment ? It's equally possible that Bin Laden tried to grab a weapon since capture for him would be as unappealing as it would have been for Hitler back in 1945.

The fact that the U.S. violated the airspace of a sovereign nation without (wisely) tipping off the Pakistanis to the plan, points to the amount of resolve necessary to execute the mission, diplomatic consequences be damned. The margin of error was tremendously small- what would have happened if the Pakistanis had reacted faster on the ground ? What if the Pakistani Air Force, which apparently scrambled fighters after the raiders departed, had shot down one of the helicopters ? What if it the entire mission was a dry hole and Bin Laden was not in the house ? What if Bin Laden had been tipped off and prepared an ambush for the U.S. forces ?

I have to give credit to President Obama for giving the go-ahead on a mission that had so many potential ways to go wrong quickly. I would surmise, however, that nearly 10 years of constant war has sharpened the capabilities of the SEAL Team, the various intelligence agencies that were involved, and the helicopter unit that ferried them to such a fine point that the mission was less risky than it would have been before the war.

Did "We" Really Get Bin Laden ?

I spent a couple of days thinking about the recent raid on Osama Bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan. Unlike the paid professional media which needs to spout instantaneous comments on everything which happens in the past 10 minutes, I have the amateur's advantage of actually thinking before I speak or write. I'm going to post a couple of my opinions on the recent events in Pakistan since I have quite a few things to say from different angles.

The raid itself will go down in military annals as one of the most audacious and well-executed operations in history. The reaction of the American public to the death of Bin Laden has been interesting to see- chest thumping jingoism and showings of unity (the "we" in "we got him") which I think are the result of the U.S. fighting a war which really doesn't involve 95 % of the general population.

The reaction of the left and right wings of American politics were as disappointing as they were predictable as each side tried to take credit and out do each other in the political theater. Add to all of this the odd kabuki theater of Bin Laden's funeral at sea, Native Americans being upset over the code name used for him and the questions regarding the pictures of his body, and we have a potent mix of news to comment on.

04 May 2011

Has ET Phoned Home ?

There has been quite a bit of buzz on the Internet about a National Security Agency document which implies that the NSA intercepted, and deciphered, signals from an extraterrestrial source. The fact that the document is located on the NSA's website makes the story a bit more intriguing than the typical UFO stories that we are inundated with on a daily basis. UFO believers have been quick to point to the document as proof that extraterrestrials exist and the government has known about them for decades. Although I believe that the universe is so vast that it is probably teeming with life, I'm not so sure that this document is the bombshell that others make it out to be.

First of all, the document in question was allegedly published in the NSA's Technical Journal. Many government agencies publish these types of documents, both classified and unclassified, to share information within their confines and with other external agencies. The document refers to an earlier volume of the Technical Journal, which is not shown, and herein may be the answer to the question. It is entirely possible that the code in question was merely an exercise or contest put out by the agency for its code breakers to solve, perhaps on the page after the one announcing who was bringing potato salad to the next agency picnic. For those that see this as implausible, take a look at the code sculpture that has been a focus of interest at the CIA's headquarters since 1988.

The Royal Wedding - Tribal Style

Here is a report from the island of Tanna (part of the nation of Vanuatu in the Pacific) which relates that the Yaohannen tribe will soon be celebrating the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Nothing too odd about that, I admit, but the strange part of the story is that the tribe actually worships William's grandfather, Prince Philip, as a deity. Apparently the tribe has been anxiously awaiting his promised return to their island for the past 30 years.

03 May 2011

A Day at the Ball Yard

I've recently come to the conclusion that I'm getting old. I turned 44 years old in March and am starting to see the symptoms that I am basically at the mid point of my life- creaking knees in the morning, an ever expanding waist line and, most surprisingly, a new affinity for baseball.

When I was kid growing up I occasionally went to a Pirates game with my dad and was usually bored silly by the second inning. While my dad would watch games on television, and listen to them on the radio while working in the garage or the back yard, my attention span was limited to asking what the score was and then moving on to something more interesting. Even during the glory days of the 1970's when the Pirates won two World Series, my commitment to the team never went beyond collecting the occasional baseball card. I just couldn't see the fun in watching a game on a sunny day when you could be playing baseball or run-down with your buddies in the neighborhood.

Over the past couple of years, a strange thing started to happen. It began gradually as I tuned in to watch entire games on the television and listen to them on the radio in the car. While I usually went to only one or two Pirate games a year, my attendance suddenly skyrocketed to three or four games despite the fact that the team was working hard on an 18 year losing streak of record proportions. I concluded something had indeed gone horribly wrong as I caught myself checking game box scores on a daily basis and worrying about the performance of individual players.

My first game this year was a couple of weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon. I took this picture from my seats (I invested in a 5 game package this year) looking down the first base line. No, this picture was not taken long before or after the game, it was taken in the sixth inning. Note the preponderance of empty seats vs. the scattered attendees (there were around 4,000 people at the game so the stadium was about 10 % full.) The game was against the Washington Nationals (we lost, of course) and in all fairness to the Pirates it was Easter Sunday so that could have affected attendance a bit.

Despite the loss, it was a nice afternoon out and it occurred to me that I really have never had a bad experience at a Pirates game. The fans were mostly comprised of families, nobody was drunk and out of control and the Nationals fans in attendance were at worst politely ignored. Contrasting this to the "Mad Max" atmosphere at Steelers games and the beer fueled youth at Penguins games only made me appreciate it more. A teenager caught a foul popped into our section and then promptly walked down the steps to hand it to a little kid sitting with his parents. Along with the 6 or so other people in my part of the stadium, we gave him a polite round of applause for a very classy move.

Perhaps this was the key to my new found love of baseball- I am simply getting old and crotchety and completely intolerant of the drunken escapades witnessed at other sporting events. Sitting in PNC Park watching the Pirates lose on a Spring afternoon was far more appealing to me than freezing my ass off in Heinz Field and watching the Steelers win. I closed my eyes for a moment of Buddhist mindfulness and enjoyed the moment- the birds singing, the crack of the bat and braying of the men selling beer and popcorn. I think I've found a home for the next 40 years.

02 May 2011

It's the End of the World as Far as They Know It

I was recently motoring on Interstate 70 south of Pittsburgh when I noticed a group of RV's heading towards me in the opposite lane. They were festooned with graphics stating that the world was going to end on May 21st, 2011. A little bit of internet research pointed me to the website of an organization known as ebiblefellowship. Through a convoluted system of mathematics and bible study, these people believe that we all have less than three weeks to live.

I love eschatology- the numerous theories throughout history regarding the end of the world, the failure of these theories to come true and the aftermath when they don't. The human need to try to pin a date on the end of existence holds endless fascination for me and I have to admit I really like these ebible people- no parsing of words or pussyfooting around here, they are predicting a date certain which beats the 2012 crowd by a full nineteen months. They are so certain that we are going to be vaporized that they even helpfully end their organizations calendar on the 20th with their final appearance in Philadelphia, PA (one can only hope that if the world ends, it starts in Philadelphia.)

While reading the group's website, I asked my wife if she knew the world was going to end in less than three weeks and what we should do. She said we should take a trip to Europe. Hmmm, I wasn't expecting that one. I don't know if the world is going to end in three weeks, three days or three million years. Frankly, I don't care. I only hope that if May 21st peacefully passes into May 22nd, the followers of this group don't do something stupid to themselves. Better to just say they forgot to carry the three and they were off by a few thousand years.

30 April 2011

Anarchist Pig- All That Glitters is Silver

Back in January I made some comments regarding gold, silver and the wisdom of holding some precious metals as a hedge against inflation, currency devaluation and the plain stupidity of the people running this country. Since I wrote that article, gold has rocketed to over $ 1,500 an ounce and its cheaper cousin silver is within striking distance of doubling in price. Recent comments by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and our seemingly clueless President have merely confirmed my belief that holding some physical metal is probably a good idea.

There are times when I wonder if Barak Obama rubs his hands together and does his best Simpson's impersonation of Montgomery Burns when the cameras switch off- "Excellent" he mutters to Bernanke filling in for Waylon Smithers, "our plans to drive the U.S. economy into the ditch are working better than expected." My suspicions about the Community Organizer in Chief were confirmed when he came out swinging against oil traders, speculators and other malcontents who were artificially driving up the price of oil- all while completely ignoring (conveniently) the fact that the U.S. dollar is dropping like a rock causing the prices of commodities (gold, silver, oil among others) to march steadily higher. I'm not a Harvard educated economist but even my rudimentary understanding of finance tells me that when you are printing dollars by the truck load, you are undercutting your own currency and prompting inflation.

Besides a weakening dollar, metal prices are driven by fear. I think there is now a real disconnect between those within the Washington Beltway and the other 99.99 % of the country that have the uneasy feeling that no matter how we rearrange the deck chairs, the Titanic is about to roll over and sink. While the government crows that inflation is barely noticeable, a loud buzzer went off in the back of my head when I recently paid $ 7.00 for two uncooked chicken breasts and $ 15.00 for a small/medium bottle of laundry soap. I walked out of the store with $ 67.00 worth of groceries that I swore would have cost half of that a year or two ago. The politicians just don't get it and the same can be said for the establishment media that labels all of this a speculative bubble. When silver last spiked it truly was for speculative reasons as the Hunt brothers attempted to corner the entire market. This time around, I see more than enough fundamental problems with the U.S. economy to justify the price appreciation.

So what's a hard working American supposed to do ? I do recommend picking up some physical metals, especially on price dips, but not betting the family farm on it. I've been telling family that anyone with cash in the bank needs to be highly tuned to what is happening to the dollar and fully prepared to move those dollars into other assets if the devaluation accelerates. Real estate if you can afford it, or maybe just the new fridge or washer/dryer that you've had an eye on. If the drop in the dollar accelerates, you might as well spend it while you can get something for it. Call me unpatriotic, but one move I made was to invest in a bear dollar inverse ETF (it appreciates as the dollar falls) which has given me a nice return- perhaps I should send a thank you note to Mr. Obama.

I have done some research into opening overseas accounts denominated in foreign currencies but the account minimums and accompanying red tape make this a far more daunting exercise than I expected. Over the past couple of years, our dear government has quietly made it far more difficult for foreign banks to accept us a depositors. I never considered this course of action because I wanted to avoid paying taxes, only because I wanted to protect the money that I have worked very hard to earn. Only an idiot would screw with the IRS- I read all of the IRS statues on reporting foreign interest accounts etc. but it was all a moot point when you can't open a foreign account in the first place. I would avoid dabbling in Forex accounts (you would do better at the dog track) but converting dollars into hard currencies through banks might not be a bad idea. I would stick with currencies from nations with strong current accounts- Norway, Australia and Canada all look good based on their strong raw material and commodity production.

29 April 2011

When Kukris and Hand Bags Meet

A couple of weeks ago I was up late battling a cold and watching television. As so often happens in the land of 300 channels there was absolutely nothing on worth watching. I was mindlessly switching programs when one of the home shopping networks caught my eye. The two young women acting as spokesmen were proclaiming the virtues of Ghurka fine leather goods- handbags, wallets etc. My ears pricked up at the name and also at the company logo which looked suspiciously like a pair of crossed kukris- the famed fighting knife of the Gurkha Regiments.

Being a former soldier myself, I have always been impressed with the history and reputation of some of the best soldiers on the planet- incredibly tough, loyal and brave men that have served in the Indian and British armies for generations. A recent news story (scroll down on page that is linked) about a retired Gurkha fighting off a mob trying to attack a girl in India only confirmed my admiration for these people. For the Gurkha communities in Nepal, the Army has remained the occupation of choice and young soldiers have been the prime export of these tough hill people. Why on earth, I wondered, was a company making hand bags capitalizing on their name ? More importantly, were they paying anything for the right, or at the very least supporting the charities that assist Gurkha veterans ?

I'm going to do a bit of digging to see if I can find anything out.