Monday, February 28, 2011

Wake Me, Shake Me

     A quickening of events pulses through lands where for so long time stood still, and the oil - what's left of it - lies locked for the moment beneath hot sands - woe upon all ye soccer moms! - while Colonel Gadhafi ponders the Mussolini option - that is, to be hoisted up a lamp-post on a high-C piano wire until his head bursts like a rotten pomegranate. Then the good folk of Libya can fight amongst themselves for the swag, loot, and ka-chingling oil revenues he left behind. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton scowls on the sidelines knowing how bad it would look if US marines actually hit the shores of Tripoli (and perhaps how fruitless it might turn out to be). And Italian grandmothers across the Mediterranean wonder why there's no gas to fire up the orecchiette con cime di rapa
       The fluxes of springtime run cruelly across the sands of Araby, clear into Persia where the ayatollahs' vizeers toy with uranium centrifuges and thirty million young people wonder how long they will allow bearded ignoramuses to tell them how to pull their pants on in the morning. Along about now, I wouldn't feel secure standing next to somebody lighting a cigarette in that part of the world. 
      Pretty soon we're going to find out just how fragile things are in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, there at the heart of things oily. Last week, King Abdullah wobbled out of his intensive care unit to spread a little surplus cash around the surging population, but let's remember that their share of the oil "welfare" has been going down steadily in recent years - a simple matter of numbers really. Putting aside even the common folk, a thousand princes from dozens of different tribes pace restively in the background awaiting the struggle that must follow King Abdullah's overdue transmigration to the farther shore. All along the western coast of the Persian Gulf and down toward the Horn of Africa, dark forces stir. Fuses sputter in Kingdoms from Bahrain to the Yemen.
     Also last week, Wikileaks released papers signifying that Saudi Arabia's oil reserves were quite a bit less than they had claimed. It was basically an old story, one that the late Matthew Simmons had published in 2005 just from poring over reams of production data from the Saudi oil fields. The difference in the Wikileaks story was that this time a Saudi Arabian oil ministry official confirmed the story. You can bet they are going to have problems keeping the flow rate up. They can sell off some stored inventory for a few weeks, but after that the world will know the truth: Saudi Arabia is in depletion and the oil markets will never be the same.
     It hardly made an impression on a US public preoccupied with comings and goings of Charlie Sheen. President Obama wants to pretend that American life-on-wheels will just keep rolling along. He hasn't so much as hinted to the US public that the time approaches when gasoline will have to be rationed either by high prices or odd-and-even licenses plates or some other method. Charming fellow that he is, his fecklessness in the face of disintegrating oil markets  will go down in history as something like Nero's musical solo while Rome burned down.
      While these matters work toward deeper complication, Europe faces imminent rollovers of debt that can no longer be rolled over, and upcoming elections in Ireland and Germany that will begin to resolve an every-country-for-itself outcome for the debt follies of the EMU - and especially the big European banks, which may find themselves getting "haircuts" clear down to their jugular veins. Birds will be flipped to bond-holders and austerity will end up sounding like a kinder-and-gentler version of the gnarliness that really ends up happening. 
     By the way, for years I've proposed that the time would come when some of the European nations would not be able to depend entirely on the USA doing its dirty work in the Middle East to keep the oil flowing out. That time is now here. The cafĂ© layabouts of Italy, the flaneurs of France, and the bratwurst-devourers of Germany may now have to militarize and get into the action in places where American boys have been bleeding out in the sand for decades. The truth is, we could stand some reinforcements. Something that smells an awful lot like World War Three is shaping up around the Mediterranean and spilling over toward the Indian Ocean. German cruisers are already out there plying the seas off North Africa while the ghost of Erwin Rommel scratches his head on the gritty shores of Tobruk. 
     Nobody knows how anybody is going to pay for World War Three, but perhaps it is in the nature of an historic crack-up blow-off that the accumulated treasure of generations just gets vacuumed out of every vault and hidey-hole to keep the pyre burning - fire being nature's preferred dry-cleaning agent. The fate of a few quadrillion credit default swaps contracts may end up as tomorrow's Flying Dutchman, a haunting enigma plying the vapors of eternity, sure to frighten juveniles of the marmoset-like humanoid creatures who succeed us up the evolutionary ladder.
     Apparently nature likes to take its creations to the cleaners every so often, to clear the dross and detritus away. This is perfectly understandable, though one might prefer it happened to some other generation. The Baby Boomers were so effusive over the World War Two cohort because we probably thought we would never have to go through something like that ourselves. The Boomers expected nothing worse than a sequence of diminishing golf scores and blander meals as their horizons moved past assisted living to the final meet-up with God. Now, it turns out, we get to watch our grandchildren fight over the table scraps of the American Dream - such as it was: Chevies, burgers, reality TV, and all the mortgage obligations you could cram in the kitchen drawer.
     It's coming on springtime and things are breaking loose all over the place. I give Saudi Arabia three weeks before it starts to blow up. And even Iran might get the fever. Plan on a staycation this summer and start thinking about that garden because it's not altogether certain that we'll keep up the conveyer belt of Little Debbie Snack Cakes and other staples of the American table into the supernarkets when diesel fuel hit $10 a gallon and the truckers stay home to watch the Kardashian girls. I'm already getting hungry.

Friday, February 25, 2011

from a road trip with Norm a few years back...
gettin' to be about that time again...

Every dollar of marginal rise in oil has an effect on the economy at the margin!
Every $10 in oil is roughly 0.3% reduction to GDP.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

seldom a good sign...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

White Is The New Black by James Howard Kunstler

Posted for fair use and discussion.

by James Howard Kunstler
on February 21, 2011 8:55 AM

Let it be remembered that as the world was blowing up, Fashion Week gave the New York news media a case of the vapors. But let them tell it. In the immortal words of The New York Times's Cathy Horyn: "...amid the parkas and the managed pant-suits there was a story here: the amount of embellishment and new technology...."

The mantra of New Technology is on everybody's lips, of course. New Technology is the New Jesus. It's descending from out of the holy ethers to float us across the rivers of Babylon to the New Jerusalem - although, now that fashion has got its hooks into the stuff, I dunno, it could be game over for New Technology. Nothing goes out of fashion like fashion. The same newspaper, by the way, tells us that "long-form blogs" are also joining the Dodo and Paris Hilton in the Museum of Extinct Curiosities. But I wouldn't want to try this on Twitter. And the mosh-pit of Facebook seems an uncongenial place for my brand of high-toned comedy. I guess I'll have to soldier on here.

Around the same time that Kanye West was perusing the gift bags at the Alexander Wang show on Pier 94, I heard a curious thing on NPR. Some cheeky young envoy from the realm of New Technology was complaining that the "public space" of Twitter and Facebook had to be respected world-wide as "the new town square," and wasn't it appalling that the authorities tried to shut these things down in places like Egypt, Algeria, and the lesser kingdoms of Arabia?

This is the kind of virtual thinking that passes for mental exercise these days in the land ruled by Lady Gaga. Hello. We (meaning the USA) do not run these foreign countries - I know it may come as a surprise to the paranoid conspiracy crowd. Even when these faraway places blow up and their former tyrants beat it to Monte Carlo, Zurich, or Riyadh, we do not step in and run them. We try to meddle a little, of course, but in the moiling red mists of revolution nobody even has the authority to pay attention to one of our perspiring attaches, and they don't want to hear our bull**** anyway, even when it comes with a suitcase full of cash.

The idea that the rest of the world owes Jeff Zuckerberg and the creators of Twitter a certain respect is unrealistic, though it goes against the grain of our own First Amendment and the cardinal beliefs of Rachel Maddow. The clinical psychologists often speak of boundary problems - the inability to recognize where your stuff leaves off and the other person's stuff begins - but what we're seeing now in the American thought-sphere is explicitly geographic (and ethnographic) confusion. We don't understand that we are not them, and they are not us.

Likewise, the infantile idea that these nations in the throes of revolt will slide from disorder into natural democracy like falafels into a pita pocket. What you generally get in political upheavals throughout history are protracted periods of confusion, factional fighting, and violence. More often than not, they resolve in the rise of a new tyrant, some figure who seems to know what he is doing when everybody else around him does not - which is the essence of human charisma, being a declension of the following:
1.) People who know what they are doing.
2.) People who seem to know what they are doing.
3.) People who pretend to know what they re doing.
4.) And people who don't know what they are doing.

Most of the human race is composed of the fourth category, which is why the figures in the categories above them claim their attention and allegiance. Sometimes, the results are very unfortunate.

The world is now blowing up politically at the same time that it is blowing up financially, and there should be little doubt about the relation of these two conditions. At a time of rising resource scarcity (oil, metals, fertilizers), and capital scarcity (unpaid loans vanishing in the black hole of default), and raucous weather in places where grain crops usually grow (Russia, Australia, Argentina), you can be sure that things will get weird.

They are finally getting weird in the streets of the USA now, too. Wisconsin is surely just the first of many hashes that cry to be settled - and that state is not nearly as broke as Illinois, New Jersey, and California. A lot of stuff is shaking loose out there. Our charismatic leaders, alas, have been drawn mostly from category 3, and out of all their pretending comes a banking system that is flying apart like a Chrysler Slant Six engine that somebody poured Karo syrup into, thinking it might work as an "alternative fuel." The reverberations will be felt in every household, business, and office in the land.

Some wags out there are even blaming Ben Bernanke for the worldwide rise in food prices, and the cause-and-effect relationship there is rather plausible. You juice the world money supply with an artificial $100 billion a month, at least, and the juice flows somewhere, lately into stock and commodity markets because who the heck wants bonds when no issuing entity has a prayer of staving off some kind of default, and the interest rates are a joke anyway.

Americans lost in the Techno-rapture and the inane transports of Fashion Week have no idea how fragile our vital supply chain system is. If the lands around the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea continue to fall apart politically, you can be sure that something required by the oil markets will get broken over there - whether it is an oil terminal, or a shipping channel, or a royal skull - and before you can say Mike Huckabee the shipments of food to America's supermarkets will be interrupted, with predictable results.

This could be a helluva week. We've flattered ourselves for years about how wonderful it is that everything is connected in this world - the Tom Friedman fantasy about the eternal sunshine of the global economy. Now, we're more likely to see the dark side of connectedness, as the planet's goodie-bag deflates and folks in colorful costumes start fighting over what's left.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Happy 60th to me!

Monday, February 21, 2011

T minus 1 and counting...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

T minus 2 and counting!...
from a little adventure over to Detroit, TX with Ken Blackburn...
Wabi Sabi??

Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It's simple, slow, and uncluttered-and it reveres authenticity above all. Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet-that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent.
 T minus 3 days...
Shooting at Half Price Books...
This was a majorly fun day!...

Friday, February 18, 2011

North Texas Road Trip...
T minus 4 days and counting!...

Welcome to the new reality...whatever that is for you...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

T minus 5 days...with Mr Giersch in Paris, TX
Road trips rock!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

from a recent photo safari with Mr Magnuson...
T minus 6 and counting!
Relevant statistics!
Two years ago, Barack Obama was inaugurated as president of the United States .  Are you better off today than you were two years ago? Numbers don't lie, and here are the data on the impact he has had on the lives of Americans:
January 2009
% chg
Avg. retail price/gallon gas in U.S.
Crude oil, European Brent (barrel)
Crude oil, West TX Inter. (barrel)
Gold: London (per troy oz.)
Corn, No.2 yellow, Central IL
Soybeans, No. 1 yellow, IL
Sugar, cane, raw, world, lb. fob
Unemployment rate, non-farm, overall
Unemployment rate, blacks
Number of unemployed
Number of fed. employees, ex. military (curr = 12/10 prelim)
Real median household income (2008 v 2009)
Number of food stamp recipients (curr = 10/10)
Number of unemployment benefit recipients (curr = 12/10)
Number of long-term unemployed
Poverty rate, individuals (2008 v 2009)
People in poverty in U.S. (2008 v 2009)
U.S. rank in Economic Freedom World Rankings
Present Situation Index (curr = 12/10)
Failed banks (curr = 2010 + 2011 to date)
U.S. dollar versus Japanese yen exchange rate
U.S. money supply, M1, in billions (curr = 12/10 prelim)
U.S. money supply, M2, in billions (curr = 12/10 prelim)
National debt, in trillions
Just take this last item:  In the last two years we have accumulated national debt at a rate more than 27 times as fast as during the rest of our entire nation's history.  Over 27 times as fast!  Metaphorically, speaking, if you are driving in the right lane doing 65 MPH and a car rockets past you in the left lane 27 times faster . . . it would be doing 1,755 MPH!  This is a disaster!
(1) U.S. Energy Information Administration; (2) Wall Street Journal; (3) Bureau of Labor Statistics; (4) Census Bureau; (5) USDA; (6) U.S. Dept. of Labor; (7) FHFA; (8) Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller; (9) RealtyTrac; (10) Heritage Foundation and WSJ; (11) The Conference Board; (12) FDIC; (13) Federal Reserve; (14) U.S. Treasury

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

T minus 7 and counting...if you know me you'll understand whats coming...:)

Monday, February 14, 2011


     For a month, Egypt has been a magic mirror for America to behold its own wonderfulness, like a diorama of "Freedom and Democracy" out of a Kentucky creationist museum.  In this, our hour of national narcissism, we imagine a replay of Bunker Hill, Valley Forge, and Yorktown - with a falafel on top - in the streets of Cairo in order to prop up our own disintegrating self-esteem, while committing arson on our national household.
     Also conveniently forgotten for the moment - because there's nothing dramatic about nothing happening - is that a particular corner of the Middle East remained stable for thirty-odd years. Did we fork over $70 billion to Hosni Mubarak during that period so he wouldn't start another war? Could be. But it was surely money better spent than the even larger nut we dropped all at once on AIG, Goldman Sachs, and a few other domestic fungi on the tree of liberty back home. And we're still shoveling billions from the Federal Reserve into a claque of Too-Big-To-Fail banks in the form of a ZIRP loan carry trade under the pretense that they can use it to shore up their "reserve ratios." A lot of people from New Jersey to Seattle need their reserves shored up, too, but they can forget about running personal ZIRP carry trade rackets out of the Fed's loan window.
      Contrary to what some readers suppose, cynicism (as in, thinking the worst of everything about everyone) is really not my bag - though comedy is another matter. However, if ever cynicism was an appropriate response to something, it would be the initial throes of a political revolution. The early triumphs in and around Paris after 1789 must have been soul-stirring, but you could forgive a casual observer who caught the scent of trouble in the air - and what followed was a years-long dismaying merry-go-round of mis-rule that climaxed in the Reign of Terror and finally resolved a full decade later in the crowning of another absolute monarch: the emperor Napoleon.  Gazing back at all that, it really took France nearly a century to get its act together politically from the moment that the governor of the Bastille surrendered his keys.
     All forms of government in recent times find themselves in the same predicament: the mismanagement of contraction. Too many people and too many enterprises are competing for a contracting resource base. In many poor countries it expresses itself plainly as expensive food, or no food at all for some. The expensive food part of the story is already being felt in the wealthier countries, too, but the contraction expresses itself more in terms of money - many people do not have enough, or else much less than they were used to having, and at the same time the money that does circulate seems increasingly worthless. So we have the great debate over whether the contraction is deflationary or inflationary.
      That debate could not happen if money retained its essential meaning as a reliable medium of exchange, but the idea of what exactly money is, is becoming increasingly clouded everywhere as compound interest fails in the face of contraction. And as compound interest fails - in the form of loans that can't be repaid - the banking system implodes. This implosion has been artfully papered over with enough accounting tricks so that many citizens do not even perceive it as being underway. The results are insidious: falling living standards, no role to play in the economy (that is, a job), and a shocking array of social pathologies ranging from nearly universal family dysfunction to men acting like babies to obscene discrepancies in income.
     The one thing that's not contracting for now is the human population, inarguably in overshoot in relation to available resources, but population is a lagging indicator. Some people will still have sex, and produce the results of it, even when they're starving. But meanwhile disease and strife creep into picture and you get the failure of public health systems, and military misadventures over oil or water, and after a while even a lagging indicator gets dragged into center stage. Of course, I'm persuaded that arguing about "overpopulation" is rather silly, since we are not going to do a goshdarn thing about it in terms of policies or protocols. (My own suggestion to make abortion retroactive has not been greeted with enthusiasm.)
     You could probably pick the next location in the Middle East revolution derby by pitching a dart at the map. Just about all of them are ready to go up in flames for one reason or another - that really boil down to dwindling resources. And then, there are the various beefs, grudges, and jealousies that could prompt conflict between them, too. Lots of folks, for instance, are probably wondering what Hezbollah aims to do with its impressive collection of rockets.
     I don't blame poor Mr. Obama for trying to keep the lid on all this - which is arguably a conceit in itself - since the country that he is most in charge of whirls around a very impressive drain of hopeless debt and vanishing prospects. But my guess is that the next big event in the center ring of current affairs will be a First World money crisis. It is true that the stock market only goes up. And then, one fine day, a large, angry, long-necked bird unfurls a set of elegant black wings and goes honking off into a red sun, and suddenly you are in a new realm where the stock market only goes down... and certain sovereign bond rates soar with that angry bird... and things Too-Big-To-Fail fall on their asses and fail... and everything changes.
     We read this morning that Egypt is under martial law with a suspended constitution - a logical step, given the army takeover, but not something that makes you want to buff up your flag lapel pin and say a prayer for the ghost of Winston Churchill. Things are definitely in flux. Here in upstate New York, the sap is about to run in the diseased maple trees.
Spent part of the afternoon yesterday trying to learn how to best shoot the beauty dish we recently has some unique characteristics which make it rock when doing beauty lighting...

Image by Peta

"The Beauty Dish was developed and intended to be used as a portrait light modifier. It has quickly been recognized within the Makeup industry and adopted as a staple light source. The Beauty Dish has a “sweet spot” and I must admit it is very difficult to learn and master. I have been using a Beauty Dish for over four years now and I am just starting to duplicate the results on a consistent basis."

 I'm not sure I was able to determine where that "sweet spot" was yesterday, but so far I can attest to the fact that the light gets better the more you feather it to the side...though many seem to like to shoot it in a "butterfly" or clamshell pattern...

The results were mixed, and a lot more practice is in store before I get comfortable with it but I can already see how this will likely become the modifier of choice in the studio...and maybe outdoors as well...

Monday, February 07, 2011

Burl's Used Cars...
Statement as of 3:54 PM CST on February 07, 2011

... Winter Storm Watch remains in effect from late Tuesday night
through Wednesday afternoon...

A Winter Storm Watch for freezing rain... sleet... and snow remains
in effect from late Tuesday night through Wednesday afternoon.

Precipitation will begin as a rain... sleet and snow mix in
northwest parts of North Texas early Wednesday morning as
precipitation overspreads the area. As temperatures fall to below
freezing Wednesday morning... the precipitation will transition to
a freezing rain and sleet mixture before changing to all snow
by early afternoon.

Total sleet and snow accumulations are expected to range from 2 to
4 inches across the area... with the highest totals expected near
the Red River. In addition... up to one tenth inch of freezing rain
could coat roads and exposed objects before the precipitation
transitions to sleet and snow by midday.

All wintry precipitation is expected to be heaviest in the
morning hours and taper off during the afternoon. Freezing
drizzle or snow flurries may persist into the evening hours on

A Winter Storm Watch means there is a potential for significant
snow... sleet... or ice accumulations that may impact travel.
If you must travel across North Texas Tuesday night or Wednesday...
carry a winter weather survival kit with you in case you become

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Winter time can be pretty...even in a cemetery...

Saturday, February 05, 2011

In Pecan Grove Historical Cemetery...

Friday, February 04, 2011

It so rarely snows here that when it does you have to take advantage of it!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Rolling blackouts that plagued much of the State of Texas have ended as of Wednesday afternoon, though they could resume later, all due to a massive strain on a statewide power grid.
Early Wednesday morning, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas ordered all power providers to shed a portion of their power loads.

However, by around 1:15 p.m., power providers were notified by ERCOT that the outages could end for the time being. Howerver, outages could resume Wednesday night and Thursday if necessary.

All local power providers using the ERCOT grid -- including Bryan Texas Utilities, CSU, Mid-South Synergy and Navasota Valley -- have been urging customers to reduce power use and turn off all unnecessary electrical equipment.

Entergy Texas customers are not affected because they are not part of ERCOT. Officials there report there is sufficient power for their customers.

There were reports across the region of outages of anywhere from 10 minutes to two-and-a-half hours.
Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst says issues at a pair of power plants, including Oak Grove in Robertson County, were at the root of the problems Wednesday. (Click for more)
If outages resume and your power goes out, you are asked by the providers to turn your heaters off so when the power eventually returns, the load is not as large on the grid. Once power returns, heaters can be turned back on according to the providers.

Local authorities urge drivers to be cautious at lighted intersections if signals are affected.
BTU has asked customers who experience an outage longer than an hour-and-a-half to call 821-5844, which has been designated for this specific incident. Anything longer than 90 minutes may be a full outage as opposed to part of the rolling outages.

City officials are also urging people not to call 9-1-1 to report an outage.
According to a BTU spokesperson, the provider was first informed of ERCOT's order to conduct rolling outages just before 6:00 a.m. Wednesday.

BTU was the first power provider to contact News 3 about the grid emergency and local outages at 6:35 a.m., this after Brazos Valley This Morning reported numerous calls to the newsroom about viewers' power being out. Other providers quickly followed with information about the rolling outages.
Statements from BTU and CSU are listed below.
The following statement was issued by Bryan Texas Utilities Wednesday morning:
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas manages the flow of electric power in the State of Texas. They have issued an alert to BTU and all electric utilities in the state to shed power temporarily. BTU is appealing to its customers to please turn off unnecessary electric equipment. The entire state is affected. All utilities are mandated to do this. If customers can reduce usage temporarily, it will help keep the state grid up and minimize the number of mandated outages.
The following statement was issued by the City of College Station Wednesday morning:
College Station Utilities customers, both residential and commercial, may experience 5-10-minute power outages today through rolling brown-outs. This move has been ordered by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, in order to avoid any catastrophic failure of the state’s electric grid due to the winter storms affecting much of Texas.
According to CSU Manager David Massey, non-emergency main lines could be affected throughout the day. Hospitals and other critical functions will not be included in the brown-outs.
It’s unknown how long this emergency period will last, but ERCOT officials are expected to communicate with the state’s utilities throughout the day.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Its not everyday in North Texas that you see a sheet of ice covering a parking lot, and no one out there...rumor has it that we will not see above freezing temps till Friday!...Wind chill readings will range from 10 below to 10 above zero through this afternoon...