Blog Archive

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.

A Royal Wedding

Thank goodness its over. After months of endless media build-up and breathless commentary, Prince William and his new bride are hopefully enjoying themselves and looking forward to a happy life together. I'm not so jaded and bitter that I'm going to make snide comments about the newlyweds or the lavish ceremony that sent them on their way. I'll save those comments for my fellow Americans.

While watching coverage over the past few weeks, I needed to smack myself in the head a few times and remember that my ancestors fought a revolution which ejected this inbred bunch of Germans from our political system. Even the English seem bemused with the American fascination with all things royal- would we have been happier if we lost at Yorktown ? By its very definition, royalty should clash against the deeply held American beliefs in success by hard work, not by birth, and a rejection of a class system comprised of Kings, Queens, Princes and Princesses ruling by divine right. These people belong in Disney World, not in positions of authority.

My favorite rejection of the concept of royalty spoken by Michael Palin in Monty Python's Holy Grail-

"Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony."

Farcical indeed. The Royals are a remnant of a not so pretty time in history when generations of men and women, with the implied and direct support of the church, subjugated the majority of humanity in a system that transferred the labor and production of the many to benefit the few (things having only improved slightly over the past couple of centuries.) For some reason, many Americans are attracted to the fairy tale veneer of royalty with little thought to the system of brutality and subjugation that it represents. In the absence of our own royal family sponging off the public dole, we are eager to elect substitutes in their place- the best example being a bunch of Bog Irish from Massachusetts that briefly held the Presidency and numerous other state and federal offices.

Then again, perhaps my assumption that Americans hold the values of hard work and self determination is fundamentally flawed. Perhaps the vast majority of Americans would prefer to be governed by a royal family- the majority of eligible Americans don't vote anyway and a government based on primogeniture would enable us to spend less time worrying about how we are governed and more time on important subjects like "American Idol." Maybe the British royal family never went away- they are just biding their time as generations of welfare, poor education and PlayStation imposed laziness make us ripe for them to take back what was once theirs.

22 March 2011

Spewing Bullshit

The tragedy of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan has been difficult to watch. Families ripped apart, widespread death and injuries, villages and cities destroyed. My heart goes out to the people of Japan and I wish them strength and hope through this most difficult time.

I reserve, however, no such sympathy for the media.

Let's take a look at the word "spew." For those such as myself raised in America, "spew" held a special place in our hearts and was usually spoken to reflect on the prior night's drinking of alcoholic beverages- "I spewed all over my room" or, from my own library of moments I hope are never brought up in Congressional hearings- "Holy shit, I think I spewed all over an ATM on College Avenue."

"Spew" I believe, holds a special place in the mind of the average American frat boy, or sorority girl, that are the backbone of the creaking, decrepit and extinct U.S. media system.

While listening to radio and television coverage of the nuclear disaster that followed the earthquake, I began to hear a drumbeat of the word "spew."

Don't believe me ? Well, try not to spew while you read these nuggets-

From the NY Times- Spewing Steam

The LA Times- Spewing Radiation

The Guardian- Spewing Steam

The Nashua (New Hampshire) Telegraph- Spewing

Time Magazine- Spewing Radiation

CBS News- Spewing Radiation

Huffington Post- Spewing Radioactive Death

I'm too lazy to refer to them all, Google it yourself.

I wish I got paid to spew my bullshit. These supposed journalists operate within a closed system, bouncing their stories, bylines and main points back and forth. For the love of God, buy yourself a new adverb.

12 January 2011

Anarchist Pig- Gold Fever

It seems to me that anytime I turn on the television, I am bombarded by commercials and infomercials selling two services- tax defense against the IRS and companies selling gold and other metals. I'm not sure what the combination of these two trends mean other than the fact that the world is going to hell and I watch too much TV. Many people in the U.S. are in debt to the government and can't pay what they owe and many others are worried that the credit of the government is now at junk status and it can't pay what it owes either.

Boy do I miss Billy Mays.

Let me say that although I'm a big fan of conspiracy theories (UFO's, Big Foot, Bermuda Triangle, the Cubs never winning the World Series) I'm not one of the drones eagerly following Glen Beck's lead and loading up the garage with bullion- I don't think that I'm going to need shave gold shards off of coins to buy toilet paper after the world ends in 2012. I do believe, however, that there is real danger in our fiat money system which is nicely summed up in this paper written by Ludwig von Mises in July, 1953.

Once decoupled from gold reserves, our paper money system is supported by nothing more than the psychological hope that everything is going to be okay- the currency equivalent of sunshine, lollipops and unicorns. If you really want a good reason to stare at the ceiling fan in the middle of the night, think about what all of your monetary assets (cash, savings, maybe some retirement funds) are comprised of- electronic ones and zeros on some server someplace. Now, combine that thought with the electronic "flash crash" of 2010 and a government that needs to print billions of dollars to pay the interest on the trillions of dollars it borrowed to plug holes in the ever increasing federal debt- another $ 600 billion in "quantitative easing" (a nice euphemism for "printing money") was announced yesterday on top of the $ 1.7 trillion to date. Buying some silver, gold or even platinum seems to be a prudent idea and here are some of my thoughts (and experience) on the subject.

First off, let's start with the disadvantages to investing in metals (Note- for the purpose of this post I'm talking about real metal i.e. coins and bullion, not metal miner's stocks, ETF, mutual funds etc.) Unlike many other investments, metal is not going to pay you interest or any type of dividend while you own it- it's going to sit quietly in your desk, your safe or bank and rise and fall with the market price. The other disadvantage with owning metal is liquidity and the difficulties that may arise when the time comes to sell it. Although you think your shiny 1 ounce silver dollar is worth $ 29.00 (because that's the price of silver at the moment you want to sell it) you are entirely at the mercy of what a prospective buyer wants to pay- remember that they will have to pay a discounted rate in order to make a profit when they sell it. Finally, you can't walk into a 7-Eleven and plonk your ounce of silver on the counter loudly announcing "a round of slurpees for everyone" to loud applause-it is not going to be accepted as currency except at face value (which is $ 1.00 dollar, and you're an idiot if you spend it for that.) Remember, liquidity problems will also expand exponentially with the size of your chunk of metal so ease off the 100 ounce silver bars and start out with 1 ounce coins cowboy.

Okay, so why would you want to own some metal ? Well, there are quite a few reasons. First, unlike stocks, bonds or other investments there is no credit risk tied to your asset- a gold coin, for example, is not going to go bankrupt or be worth $ 0.00 at some point in the future. Next, metal prices rise in times of economic and political uncertainty and goodness knows we have plenty of that going on right now. Once the wheelbarrows of money from the Federal of Reserve dry up, all of that money sloshing around in the system will probably lead to increased inflation and loss of value in terms of the U.S. dollar- both good things for metal prices. Finally, there is an issue of privacy when you own metal. I actually like the fact that metals don't pay dividends or interest simply because that means I am not receiving annual forms to file with the IRS and state taxing authorities. The very fact that they are physical assets means they are portable and can be quietly given to family members (i.e. children) at some point in the future unlike stocks and bonds which have a long paper trail.

So, you might be ready right now to charge out and buy some metal. How do you do it ? Unless you live on a desert island, I recommend avoiding the Internet and dealing with a local metals broker or coin shop instead. The Internet is fantastic for doing your research and getting a good idea of how much your investment is going to cost, but I generally don't like buying metal online for two reasons. First, online companies are going to charge you much more in terms of transaction costs than a local dealer because they need to add shipping and shipping insurance to your purchase. Second, my general rule is not to buy metals unless I have some idea of the reputation of the seller- a coin shop that has been in business in your town for 25 years is probably a safer bet than an online company located a couple of time zones away.

When you decide to buy some metal, you need to consider what type you want to purchase (I'll limit this to platinum, gold and silver) and in what form (again, for brevity we will limit this to coins or bullion.) All metals have their own advantages and disadvantages as investments in terms of supply, industrial and personal (jewelry) uses which you can easily research online. I invest in all three to give my group of metals a little bit of diversification- platinum, for example, is more sensitive to industrial cycles because of its use in the automotive and electronic industries. I also invest in both bullion and coins for the following reasons. Bullion purchases (such as 1, 10 or 100 ounce bars) generally give you the best purchase price in terms of being closest to the global market price at that particular time. Again, do your own research, but the most important thing with bullion is to insure that the bar has been stamped by one of the refiners listed here at the London Bullion Market Association as being acceptable for delivery in the world market. These pedigree markings show a prospective buyer that the bar is acceptable in terms of weight and content although they will probably want to do further testing because of the amount of fraud in the bullion market. Because of fraud concerns, coins are much more difficult to forge and are therefore more easily sold. The main thing to remember with coins is that you will be paying a premium above the market price of the metal due to numismatic value or demand. I also want to note that we are not talking about investment grade coins (rare coins that are graded and sometimes "slabbed" inside of acrylic containers.) That is an entirely different animal that I am not experienced with.

Here's an example of premium when buying a coin. At the time I am writing this, a gold 1 ounce eagle is selling here at Kitco (a great website by the way) for $ 1458.54 while the price on the world market for 1 ounce of gold is $ 1,382.50 (note at the same time, a one ounce bullion bar is selling for $ 1,407.50 which is closer to the market price.) The coin is selling at a premium of $ 76.04 or 5.5 % above market while the bar is selling at a premium of $ 25.00 or 1.8 %. Both products contain one ounce of gold but the bar is actually refined at .9999 while the coin is .9167 fine- a microscopic difference because the coin needs certain alloys to be cast. Another thing to remember is to save your money. Again, looking at the Kitco pricing (which is typical) shows how sellers punish the little guy. While our one ounce gold eagle is selling for $ 1,458.54, a 1/10th ounce eagle is selling for $ 165.90- sounds like a great deal right ? Not so fast. Simple math tells us that the 1/10th eagle is priced at a rate of $ 1,650 per ounce which is a whopping $ 267.50 or 19.35 % above market price. Instead of rushing right in to buy 1/10th of an ounce of gold, it might make far better financial sense to buy 5 ounces of silver which is priced closer to market price.

So, like any investment there are pros and cons to owning metals. I wouldn't cash out all of your savings and buy some but a couple of ounces bought over a couple of years is probably a good idea. Again, do your own research and make sure you are dealing with a reputable seller.

11 January 2011

Personality Test

Well, because of the last subject I posted about I decided to take an online personality test.

I think it was pretty close in the result which states that I'm a Protector (ISFJ) of the Guardian type personality-which along with my 18 Constitution, 18 Wisdom and band of dwarf followers, enables me to confront evil wherever it exists.

News Flash- Word Choice Reveals Personality Traits

I found this article about word choices used by bloggers to be somewhat interesting-

"A University of Colorado researcher's behemoth word search in the blogosphere has found that bloggers' choices of words reveal their personality traits."

Huh...really ? I take back everything I ever said against public funds supporting higher education.

Here's another startling observation from the author of the study-

"People who blog write alot and write often."

Snide comments aside, what does my choice of words say about me ? Wow, that could be one scary path to go down. I'm proud of the fact that I think my blog (and my mind) is so completely all over the place that it can't be neatly defined by anyone- or am I being delusional ? Now I'm paranoid.

10 January 2011

When Governors Attack.....

Did anyone else see our esteemed former Governor Ed Rendell on 60 Minutes last night ? Apparently, he's a bit touchy when faced with questions regarding the human cost of the Commonwealth's support of the gambling industry-

While I can't disagree with his opinion that the media is comprised of simpletons and idiots, a longer cut of the interview showed Rendell presenting the argument that people are going to gamble anyways, so why not in casinos that are paying tax revenue to the state ? Maybe we should apply the same logic to crystal meth- hey, people are going to do it anyway, why shouldn't the state get a cut ?

I have to applaud Leslie Stahl for (finally) making the point that the casino tax "revenue" is actually comprised of losses which are being paid by our own citizens. The citizens that pay these losses are usually the ones that can least afford to do so- the elderly, the poor and those addicted to gambling.

As I recounted in an earlier post in 2009 , Pennsylvania controls both liquor and gambling. When the state government takes over prostitution, it will give the mob a serious run for its money.

09 January 2011

RIP Gerry Rafferty (1947-2011)

Scottish rocker Gerry Rafferty died of complications from alcoholism last week at age 63. I have quite a few of his tunes loaded on my I Phone and have enjoyed his music for many years. Beyond the obvious "Baker Street" which was a top 10 hit and favorite of radio stations around the world, a listen to any of his other songs reveals a talented songwriter and musician that has left us far too soon. Rock on dude, rock on.

08 January 2011

Instant Karma's Gonna Get You....

Thai Buddhist Council chides monks for BlackBerry chatting.

07 January 2011

Dead Birds, Dead Fish & Dead Minds

Breathless news reports about dead birds, dead fish, turtles and crabs seem to be popping up around the globe lately. When I saw the first report about thousands of red wing blackbirds dying Arkansas, my first response was to mutter "the 2012 crowd is going to love this." Sure enough, thanks to the immediacy of the Internet and its ability to allow know-nothing idiots (like me) to chime in with their opinions, I read everything from bible thumping believers that the end is near to conspiracy theorists blaming HAARP, the New World Order and every other nebulous explanation you can think of.

As I have stated in earlier posts, I really don't have much patience for eschatology. Trying to foresee the unforeseeable, rather than living in the here and now, seems like a tremendous waste of time to me. I also resent the fact that that many authors (just check out any book store shelf on 2012) are making a quick buck by capitalizing on public fear and ignorance. The recent reported animal deaths, coupled with a public primed to hear the message of doom, made for a powerful cocktail which was helpfully mixed by the world's media.

A step back from the story, and about 5 minutes worth of research, reveals that wildlife die offs such as these are not only common place but remarkably prevalent. In the U.S. alone, a quick examination of these incidents (see historical information from the USGS National Wildlife Health Center here) shows that many of our animal friends live lives that are nasty, brutish and short. This whole episode is a wonderful example of how the human mind will process and filter information to fit the belief system in which it operates and reject any explanation that offers an alternative.

06 January 2011

The Curious Case of Captain Honors

The recent revelations that Captain Owen Honors, Captain of the USS Enterprise, produced and starred in a series broadcast to the ship's crew has provoked a firestorm of press coverage. The vignettes which were shown while Captain Honors was Executive Officer of the ship, included female sailors showering together, foul language (gasp), masturbation and a great deal of homoeroticism- I will exercise great restraint from creating all of the easy Navy jokes that can be made from this episode, and will instead concentrate on the media coverage that it has produced.

Within days of the story breaking on the 24 hour news cycle, over 3,000 articles were written about Captain Honors and his escapades. How a Naval Academy graduate, trained fighter pilot and combat veteran would be stupid enough to think that he wouldn't be hoisted from the nearest yardarm in this age of political correctness is beyond me. I don't know if he should have lost his command for all of the reasons given by the Navy- conduct not conducive with command, etc. but I think he was definitely guilty of being a dumbass. The predictable press coverage included articles supporting his loss of command, while others included input from former Enterprise sailors supporting him (including one gay one.) In an odd twist to the story, actress Glenn Close piled on because some footage was used in one of the videos which she provided. (Note to Captain Honors- if you see any rabbits boiling on your stove, it might be best to un-ass the A.O.)

I think many military veterans such as myself would look at this story with a sense of bemusement. Sure, Captain Honors exhibited bad judgment in producing this sketches but I think that anyone who has served in the military can also see an officer trying to provide some entertainment to his crew- a crew comprised mainly of 18 and 19 year kids, far from home and alternately living in an existence of extreme boredom and absolute terror. It seems odd that the very people that want a military to protect them with acts of extreme violence would then seem confused that the people they employ to carry these acts out on their behalf do not conform to their own happy, quiet world back here in the states. At a time when the nation is at war, many seem to want their warriors to conform to the soccer mom ideal.

(Okay, I have to admit the urge to let go with a Navy joke. Anyways, on with the story.)

It also seems odd to me that this episode has produced so much press coverage and ignited a public debate which falls along predictable political lines- the right wing supports the Captain and wants him reinstated, the left wing says he needs to go and points to this an example of why gays should be allowed to serve in the military. As usual, I have a different view. Why isn't the debate about why we are spending $ 500,000 per year per Soldier, Sailor, Airman (excuse me, Airperson) and Marine deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq ? (figures from The Economist.) Why aren't the hard questions being asked- why, for instance, are the Pakistanis not being held accountable for their collusion and assistance (through their support of the Taliban) in the deaths of American servicemen ? Why is the U.S. supporting a corrupt regime in Kabul with little hope of ever governing the country ?

Why ? Because these are hard questions. For the life of me I can't see how Captain Honors' raunchy videos endangered American lives- unlike the actions of those elected to put them in harms way.