Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Lights just went out in....

This Spengler piece neatly sums up the feeling I've had all year: that parts of the world are simply going to 'go dark' - lapse into internal disorder, become flyover country, off the map, fenced off from the remainder.

See 'em while you can (and, of course if there's anything to actually go for). Art and Architecture are my choices. That rules out a good deal of the globe, anyways.

As Kipling notes in the 'Copybook Headings' pome

'We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market-Place.
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome'

Monday, December 01, 2008

Power, power everywhere

This little gem from the ever-watchful Torygraph, shows just how much power is literally under our noses. I've always known that, given the right incentives (which generally means a crisis of some sort), that is to say, a large dose of Necessity, humans can pull yet another wabbit out of Gaia's capacious hat. Oops, I mean, exploit more sustainably our Ecological Niche.

Whether it be current-generated power (and the original clue was thunk up, oh, 500 years ago by one L. da Vinci), thin-film solar (leading contender here), bacteria engineered to produce whatever takes your fancy (hydrocarbon chains, plastics precursors, or just plain ol' hydrogen), the answer is very clear.

Absent a major cataclysm, (and the current financial storm in a tea cup doesn't even rate on this score: it's simply returning Fings to their Natural Order: P/E ratios in the low teens, yields in the centuries old 6-8% range, house prices to 2.8-3.2 times household earnings), the histories are going to record that, just as the Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of rocks, and the Steam age didn't end because we ran out of water and coal, the Oil age didn't end because we ran out of Oil.

As anyone who's actually read Matt Simmonds knows, the Original Oil in Place can only be tapped to the tune of 10-30%. Geology and economics interesect on any given site to set that upper limit.

The forerunners of the new bio-solar age are just starting to ramp up commercially now. By the time the world really does see major disruptions in oil supply chains (think oil nationalism, piracy, pricing as well as field depletion), the alternatives will be there. Just in Time, natcherally.

Oh, and let's not forget conservation of energy. Just last week, I ordered a bunch of LED lights as replacements for those godawful pigtail (and mercury-laden) CFL's that the eco-agencies are pushing us all into. Well, a CFL to get a decent light output will draw 20-23 watts. The equivalent LED will draw 3-4 watts. From here.

Yup, folks, that power consumption is less than 20% of that of the State-Selected Winner. Another triumph of central planning.

And they are standard fittings too: E27 for the downlights, GU-10 for the fancy lights. Who needs State dinosaur selectors when little, nimble, furry competitors abound?

And, clever inventors....another step towards the Resilient Community.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

AGW as Mass Delusion

Heh. Couldn't have put this better meself. There are two mass delusion abroad IMHO: AGW being one (natch) and the notion that financial Ponzi schemes will not cause pain, the other. Sigh. As Dylan sings (Things have Changed):

People are crazy and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

More books

Thanks to the wunners of globbelisation, I have three hot new books to devour. That's right: ordered 11 June on Amazon, delivered 25 June to my very doorstep.

Brave New War - John Robb. John's website (Global Guerillas) is compulsory reading for those who are trying to make sense of the increasing disorder that seems to surround us. I long ago read (in Rees-Mogg and Davidson's 'The Great Reckoning') that the mediaeval city-state would re-appear in our futures, as the best configuration within which to conduct business, defend oneself and generally get on with life. JR's latest book will be about Resilient Communities, which doesn't sound a long ways away from those city-states....

Reinventing Collapse
- Dmitry Orlov. Another riff about the immediate future of the US of A. Still, as Britain has found, it's a long and quite comfortable drift downwards. I keep an eye on the Housing debacle there (Doctor Housing Bubble and others) and it's quite apparent that in terms of the five stages of Grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Grief, Acceptance), they're veering between Denial and Anger right now. Still plenty of time on the hour-glass...

In Praise of Prejudice - Theodore Dalrymple/Anthony Daniels. I just like this guy's world-view and his spare, elegant but powerful way of writing. Oh, blimey, I'm gushing already and I've only looked at the cover. It joins another TD/AD book on the shelf, so it was a safe choice. Call me a convert.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Tribalism and Treaty

Bruce Sheppard, the quinessential provocateur, has wondered publicly about the relevance of Te Tiriti in 2008. I've added a little comment, but Bruce has touched on the edge of an issue that's interested me for quite some time.

Is the political support currently behind the re-tribalisation of Maori, a Good Thang?

If you look at Ngai Tahu, who want to be capitalists, why yes. Probably.

If you look at Tuhoe Nation, who want to ride their horses back into a Glorious Misty-Mountain Past and get a little cash from training camps on the side, why no. Probably.

What do finer minds than mine say?

There's the Latin American notion of "let us have our Middle Ages in peace" (from The General and his Labyrinth - Marquez). This simply draws a comparison with the long, bloody and traumatic transformations in our English Middle Ages:
- the Reformation (c 1520),
- the dissolution of the monasteries (c 1538),
- the re-Catholicisation of Bloody Mary (c 1553),
- the Shakespearian age of Elizabeth I (c1599) (Shakespeare, a secret Catholic, hankered after the old days: 'bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang', referred to the monasteries),
- the chaos of the Cavaliers vs Roundheads in the English Civil War (c 1642)
- the Glorious Revolution (1688) which finally settled the principle of Parliamentary control

This 200-year saga, in retrospect, was needed to make the decisive break from a 'world lit only by fire', innocent of the germ theory of disease, and in thrall to a corrupt but totalitarian Catholic Church, to the Age of Reason.

Why, in this reading, should Maori and their (and it was ours, too) default setting of small, non-urban tribes, need any shorter time? Because one of the lessons of history is that humans need to be severely jolted to move even one millimetre away from 'traditional ways', however they are defined.

The contrary view: that tribalism is a pernicious cul-de-sac, would have it that, as the Greeks figured out early on, an essential feature of society is the deliberate lack of political power able to be held by groupings such as clans, tribes, mafias, and other self-defining sub-sets. A good read here is Roger Sandall (Culture Cult): the quote which got my attention is

"The dynastic feuding of ‘tyrants’ had brought Athens to the point of ruin. It had to be stopped. Cleisthenes’ solution was to firmly suppress a citizen’s political identification with family and neighborhood, with mafia bosses and clan chiefs. He sliced the country into 150 electoral districts called ‘demes’, and it was from these—and no longer from clans and families—that the citizens of Athenian democracy were obliged in future to take their second names. This applied to the haughtiest aristocrat and the humblest plowman alike.

... a number of historical parallels between the ancient and modern worlds and the continuing clash of East and West. But nothing is more revealing than the determination of Cleisthenes to stamp out despots and despotism by severing the connection between clan power and political representation. This was in 507 BC. Today, 2,500 years later, throughout most of the Middle East and conspicuously so in Iraq, they still haven’t got the point."

And neither, in this view, have the neo-tribalists.

Which brings us back to the muddled present. It is quite clear that Maori lore and tradition (the bits that would widely be classed as Baby, not Bathwater, at any rate) is quite inadequate to assist in most of the physical features of our modern life. Maori were non -urbanised, and this fact alone means that there is nothing that Tradition can say about the daily lives of 95% of us.

OTOH, the mental or spritual aspects of our modern life are, shall we say, somewhat arid. Part of the collateral damage of the Age of Reason was that the notion of Gods or other spiritual manifestations was comprehensively demolished.

Yet the human mind seems to have evolved to require something larger than itself to look up to. Gaia doesn't quite fit the bill, the Christian God is fairly much dead if not buried, Mohammed is a violent, woman-fearing hick - Deliverance in the Desert, so to speak - and Buddha has been killed by someone he met on the road.

So perhaps this spiritual void is a place to start from.

But not as tribes, as individuals.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Tibet - the ultimate theme park

Spengler has, as always, a pithy comment - turn the whole show into a Theme Park.

The money quote (soon, to be tariff-free, even, thanks to the FTA):

“The monks do not practice a religion so much as a sort of folkloric animism that is out of place in the modern world. That is what makes them appear so charming to the spiritual tourists of the West. Attractions of this sort aren’t rational, and there is no point arguing about it. Give the tourists and the monks what they want, and promote the exchange of currency for a spiritual frisson.”

Having spent a glorious six days sloshing around Venice (motto: 'Nothing preserves like neglect!") , I can quite appreciate Spengler's POV. Monuments to faded glory do appeal to the Western fin-di-siecle zeitgeist, and fit the Japanese notion of shibui.

And Venice (not so true off-season, so guess when we went...) certainly has the cash-for-contemplation gig sussed.

So, there's a Template fer the Temples of Tibet.

But, ain't it simply delicious, to have Keith Locke, of all people, trumpeting the Rights of Tibet to Self-Determination. Keef has been known to cheer for the Other side, too. Oh well, age does funny stuff to memory. And logic.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Heat pumps (Shock, Horror) use Electricity!

This just has to be a No Shit, Sherlock moment for the hapless central planners of our funny little economy.

For the otherwise unenlightened, the backstory is that, due to Clean Air fixations, wherein chimneys emitting smoke are deemed to be a Bad Thang, there is a movement afoot to replace open fires and old wood fires, with 'clean' heat sources. And to encourage the masses, there are Gummint Subsidies to make a switch. (Bad puns, I've told you before. Sorry, Ed)

Heat pumps are a huge beneficiary of this move.

Oh dear, they cause a switch from sustainable, carbon based fuels (trees, unnerstan?) to electricity. Where peak load is generated from gas and coal. Nasty, dirty stuff, accordin' to some.

Which (spare generating capacity) NZ is rather short of at the minute. Double oh dear.

And heat pumps, particularly those of the reverse cycle persuasion, can also Cool. Cool pumps use power too! Damn, that wasn't in the Planners Plans! Folks were just meant to Heat with the things...And they Cool things in Summer, when electricity generation raw materials were traditionally stockpiled for Winter. Triple oh dear.

Funny, whodathunkit, them Central Planners never saw any o'this a'comin'.....

And you'd have to prise the remote controls for all them Heat Pumps from consumers' cold dead hands.....

Friday, March 28, 2008

Earth Hour = Soft fascism

Couldn't agree more with This (ht Tim Blair). While I'm wholly in favour of reducing consumption (and am well ahead of the curve, in that I have LED lights drawing 1-3 watts each as downlight replacements), I abhor the collectivist pressure inherent in EH.

And there's a less-well-publicised aspect to dimly lit precincts and premises that you won't hear about anytime soon from the promoters: they are, quite simply, crime magnets.

Earth Hour = A'robbin' we will go!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Little Boxes

The proposal to streamline the building industry consents etc process is gathering steam. Not PC has easily the best summary of my views - planners, who needs 'em? They don't have anything to say about boats or cars. So why houses?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bearing up

Great thread here, where the comments throw up all the usual suspects. And the lead paragraph is just it: what Were they thinking? Scapegoat time, methinks....

My own take on things is that of a Bear of Very Little Brain:

Sadly for conspiracy theorists, the US debacle is much simpler, much more widespread, and much more worrying. There are four underlying causes:

1 - the US has for many years spent rather more than it has earned, hence a continuing and chronic deficit which must be funded with Other Peoples Money.
2 - the Greenspan years encouraged cheap credit, with a built-in 'buy now, pay later' incentive, which has become entrenched in consumers' minds, especially as they figured out that there was an ATM bolted to their house value, and kept going and punching its buttons. And cheap credit = price bubbles.
3 - financial institutions have re-discovered leverage (but in a new way, because it's Different this time), and have used it to unprecedented heights (or widths, or depths, pick your metaphor). Bear's book assets supported a 32x multiple of business...and the variety of option and Adjustable Rate mortgage products was all too tempting.
4 - accounting leniency (especially the Qualifying Special Purpose Entities - QSPE's) allowed most or all of this financial wizardry to exist outside conventional balance sheets, reporting requirements and other regulatory safeguards. The mess was out of sight, out of mind.

So this Ponzi (meaning, dependent on new suckers coming in and paying cash) edifice is what's coming apart before our eyes. There are a lot of 'unknown unknowns':

- because of the opacity of the QSPE's, and of how to value the cross-linking chains of financial instruments, no-one has any real grasp of where the financial bodies are buried, or how many there are. And most everyone has a cellar. Thus when another cellar is excavated and another crop of recently deceased is uncovered, the vital element of mutual trust is further eroded. 'Who's next?' is the whisper.

- the Fed is out of ammo: it's treating this whole thing as a liquidity issue, and pumping in money. That merely fuels inflation, while leaving untouched the real issue: solvency. The off-balance-sheet junk is coming back On.

- real assets such as houses, which have become well overpriced in traditional household-income-to-phouse-price multiples, are returning to the safe zone of 2.5-3.5. Rather suddenly.

- there is a flight to 'safe' havens such as Treasuries and commodities. Unfortunately, as money floods in to commodities such as wheat, gold and oil, which are all highly supply-inelastic, the old rule of supply and demand kicks in and prices rise. And as oil and wheat etc are our grocery bills in raw form, guess what's happening to them...

If you can recognise li'l ol' NZ in some of these conditions (the chronic deficit BH rightly fingers above) then, yes, we should be worried, too. But we are a commodities maker (food, gold and to some extent oil and gas) so may be well placed to take advantage. And we have some of the best accounting reporting in the world (yes, don't laugh). So we can probably say that our cellars are relatively safe. Maybe a mummified rat or hedgehog. Nothing real bad. Pity 'bout those houses, but.

There has to be a marketing slogan in here, surely?

"NZ - Home of the Lowest Level 3 Asset ratio in the World!"

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Really Bad Rhymes

I seem to have been infected by a Rhyming Bug, and to exorcise it, have commented all over a bunch of otherwise blameless victims.

To hell with posterity, here they are, each with their context:

Cullen and tax cuts:

There was an old teacher named Michael
who chortled at down trending cycle
They'll have to vote we back
Instead of that Key hack
Let's nationalise Fisher and Paykel!

Damn Furreners and their money:

A Fly on the wall of Floor 9
Eavesdropped on the Grand New Design
"To hell with the voters -
those ungrateful floaters -
we’ll foobar it all then resign!"

Politicos in general:

A caution for pollies who thirst
for power, and getting in first
for what you intend
may turn out in the end
to obliterate you in one burst

The poor old OBEGAL - Clementine occurred to me almost immediately and I just had to update it:

To the tune of ‘Clementine’. Y’all enjoy, now.

1. In an office, at the Treas’ry
hoping not to hit the wall
Lived a muller, Mickey Culler
and his offspring OBEGAL

Oh my darling, oh my darling,
Oh my darling OBEGAL
You are lost and gone forever,
Dreadful sorry, OBEGAL.

2. Light she was, her numbers leery,
And ninth floor did twist them all,
Ten wine boxes without topses,
scandals were for OBEGAL

3. Drove her voters ‘cross the water
As her taxes made them gall,
Hit her lowest polling ever,
Fell into internal brawl.

4. Roug’ed lips above the water,
Blowing bubbles through her shawl,
But alas, Mike was no swimmer,
Neither was my OBEGAL

5. In a graveyard near the Treas’ry,
Where the ngaios often fall,
There grow rosies and some posies,
Fertilized by OBEGAL

6. Listen fellers, heed the warning
Of this tragic load of bawl,
Lower taxes, better praxis
Could have saved my OBEGAL

But, y'all be pleased to hear, I'm better now.

Another climactic known is revealed to be unknown

This leetle bombshell affects, oh, around half the marine organisms in the world. In essence, by omitting the 'assumed in the current paradigm' step of releasing oxygen while consuming carbon dioxide, these organisms have never done a darn thing in the carbon cycle.

That sound you may hear if you listen closely is a whole bunch of Gerbil Worming gravy train riders saying 'bugger' and re-calibrating their GCM's to show that We're All Freaking Doomed, still. Gotta keep them grant shekels flowing.

The shekel quote:

Wolf Frommer, director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Plant Biology, agrees about the discovery's ground-breaking importance. "If we thought we have understood photosynthesis, this study proves that there is much to be learned about these basic physiological processes."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Overwhelmed by a Gust from Gaia

ht: smalldeadanimals

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Black-Scholes = Black Hole

My math is far too weak to follow Black-Scholes, but it's been the standard paradigm for pricing of exotic financial instruments for a quarter of a century.

No longer

Ever since I read Nassim Nicholas Taleb's 'Black Swan', and bought/read his 'Fooled by Randomness' I've had this intuition that there was a big soft spot right underneath the main pillar of the financial establishment. The article notes that, in supplying a plausible mechanism for pricing exotica, Black-Scholes also prompted a massive surge in their supply. Now, we know it was all based on a mirage.....

The fool's bandag-ed finger goes wabbling back to the fire.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Pre-emption: that's the ticket!

The always indispensable Spengler has done it again, with a piece about the wisdom of getting in your retaliation early. And of course the appeasement rhetoric of the ArchBish gets yet another hammering.

As Warren Buffet has siad, it's not until the tide goes out that you can tell who's swimming naked. And with a harder, colder, wind blowing through the world, Spengler's piece is a reminder that there are only bad and worse choices in foreign policy: no good ones. Europe and the UK have a very bleak demographic future, as Mark Steyn and others have repeatedly pointed out, and one has to be pessimistic about their ability to rouse the will to pre-empt anything.

Interesting times...see these places while you can.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Solar is subject to Moore's Law

This piece (ht: Instapundit) is a useful reminder that the good ol' entrepreneurial business is the way forward. Earnest Gummint committess won't cut it. Bit like the UN in Darfur - no skin in the game, so no real incentive to step in and help.

Moore's law: explanation here - capability rises/price halves roughly every 18-24 months. Works for me.

The money quote:

"You may not like their politics, or their attitude, or their style. But if we really do have an energy revolution in this country and free ourselves from our addiction to fossil fuels, it will be because of hard-charging, take-no-prisoners entrepreneurs like T.J. Rodgers — not UN committees, environmental groups, or government officials."

I plan to fully solarise my house in 2-5 years time. Like, net grid-producer, not consumer. Bye-bye to power bills, and much more resilience. There is a host of up-and-coming firms making thin-film solar, and the grid-tie plus feed-in-tarriff contractual stuff is starting to get worked on by the more aware power companies.

I thus don't fret too much about the lakes, the need for more power stations burning whatever - plutonium, coal, natural gas - or the State of Fear pronouncements about pylons, wind power or draining Gaia of all her internal heat via geothermal take.

The Sun will do it for me. Oh wait. It seems to be cooling. Toyota!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

If daisies are your favourite flower

The dear sainted Archbishop of Canterbury does seem to have gottem his fluffy self into a spot of bother with his all-too-public musings on sharia law and its applicability to England. Having been to High Wycombe for a radio station client, I had actually rather thought it (sharia) was there in all but name, but no matter.

Anyhoo, this little gem of an extended Burma Shave sign did flash past a couple of days ago. Burma Shave is one of my very fave Tom Waits tracks, a Desert Island Disc, in fact, and the original Burma Shave signs were pure poetry and humour.

It does occur to me that one of BS's original verses can probably be updated for the Bish:

If daisies are
your favourite flower
just keep suggesting
burqa power

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Weather cooling?

I follow Anthony Watts, and he's come across this, from the wonderfully named Joe Bastardi. JB sees a re-run of the early-50's pattern of a La Nina which stopped the global warming (which had peaked in the '30's) in its tracks.

Yup, we need to be more worried about cooling than warming. As someone who actually farms for a living notes, one nights cooling can kill your crop. One night's warming never can.

And as NOAA has just noted, this January of 2008 has been 0.35 F cooler than the 20th century average.

Hmm. Add a quiet sun (check the sunspot count and then go figure the Chilling Stars theory) - quiet sun, cool Earth.

Oh, and coolist or warmist, don't forget to Be afraid, be very afraid. After all, a State of Fear is the default setting for the zeitgeist, no?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

By the Shadow of our Hand

A chilling but essential read for all who harbour Pollyanna thoughts about the Long War. Belmont Club has always turned out excellent analysis, and the comments thread is simply breathtaking. Especially Zenster. Plus there's a link to dear Steven Den Beste, on Triage.

Compare this thread with the pathetic namecalling on, say, DPF's comments threads. Pick almost any one. Sigh.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Some GDP perspective

I've always been a sucker for maps, and this one (ht: Gods of Copybook Headings) is a bewdy. Yup, we're about the size of the US of A's District of Columbia. Oz, OTOH, is Ohio.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The VooDoo Bucket - Level 3 assets under FAS-157

It all sounds very technical, but it is quite important.

Find out (if you're a shareholder in a bank, financial instituion or even a pension fund of any description, and with KiwiSaver, that's most of us) what value of institutions' assets are in the Voodoo bucket.

There's a most useful primer here, and a bearish article from Asia Times online here.

Because until we know (a) where the financial bodies are buried and (b) that they're really dead, and cannot rise up and, like zombies, cause further mayhem (recall that all these toxic products are highly leveraged, so the risk of chain or domino effects is very real), the uncertainty and the negative sentiments will persist.

Capitalism is nothing if not sentimental, y'know.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

That good old stuff

Stewart Brand should need no introduction: Whole Earth Catalog, and a personal favourite: How Buildings Learn.

Edge mag invited a whole bunch of folks to say what they changed their mind about in 2007. Guess what our Stewart came out with? Good Old Stuff Sucks. The obligatory quote:

"The Precautionary Principle tells me I should worry about everything new because it might have hidden dangers. The handwringers should worry more about the old stuff. It's mostly crap."