Sunday, September 05, 2010

Sitrep from Chch's Untouched North-east corner

Sitrep from the absolutely untouched north-east of Chch at Waimairi Beach: 100% habitable, no liquefaction, no problems, power, water on (we're 300m away from a coastal bore), Sewer/stormwater pipes have stayed in place, no chimneys to collapse, everyone going about their business. Also true of Forest Park and most of Parklands plus most of Tumara Park. That's over 4000 households total.

Key factors in success of this area:

* underlying strata not liquefaction risks
* recent (last 15 years) build to decent EQ codes
* easternmost part = furtherest away from the quake epicentre

So, chaps and chapesses, don't believe the MSM one-disaster-affects-everyone coverage.

The effects of the quake are in fact extremely variable. The known areas for liquefaction - around the rivers and Estuary, the peaty soils round St Albans and Papanui, and some sandy lenses over old swamp - are the ones affected. And the infrastructure damage to sewer and stormwater (pipes have literally been floated up through the road above) is a function of water table, soil types and amount of shaking. Interesting to drive through Tumara Park (between Burwood Hospital and Parklands) and see that a radius around the Travis Swamp has suffered pipe float and surface cracking, but the rest is quite simply intact.

The estimate of 20% is simply crap in terms of habitability. Chch has 160K households, so 20% is (counts on fingers) 32K dwellings. Yet only 200 people (at 2 per household, that's 100 households worth) overnighted at welfare centres. So there's an indication of the disconnect.

20% with Gib-board crack plastering needed, yeah, probably.

And the damage that Is there elsewhere is from the usual suspects: unreinforced masonry, lime-mortared bricks, untied veneer walls, and foundations that in the old days were just bricks tossed into a ring in a shallow trench and mortared over. No surprises.

The silver lining is that we won't have to worry aboot the predicted recession in the commercial construction industry, and the 20K job losses. There's a Lot of infrastructure to repair, and that will take months.

(Another decent jolt as I type, but blogging as I am in front of the log fire, with a cuppa joe at my side, and power, water on since 11 am yesterday and the camping loo deployed to ensure we don't add to the infrastructure loading, why worry?).

And a very high percentage of Chch households will be doing exactly the same thing.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Rock and Roll by the sea

Yup, the Big One (well, 7.1, anyways) has hit.

Total damage at the WayMad household: one preserving jar on the pantry floor, and (boo hoo) a snowboard fell across the bumper of the Big SUV. A Paint Scratch! I'm devastated.

But to judge from the breathless nature of much of the news coverage, you'd believe the whole of Christchurch is sleeping under the stars tonight. As looters carry away all the Good Stuff from trashed stores. And sniffer dogs look for Survivors under the wreckage of collapsed CBD verandahs (I swear I've seen the same dog's-bum clip at least thirty times today on TV One).

Not so.

The quake Has caused destruction in the areas long labelled as most susceptible: near the Estuary, around the river, on sandy soils, and towards the west of the city. Plus, old masonry, well below earthquake code, has oh so predictably suffered.

But the effect is extremely localised: suburb to suburb, Your Mileage May Vary.

And if, as we are, you're set up for camping, you roll out the chemical loo, get the torches and gas lights, light the log fire, and carry on with life.

Having an earthquake-code-compliant house, in a suburb with very low ground liqefaction possibilities, was a wise move.....

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Housing and the New Normal

A good site for US housing bubbular info is Dr Housing Bubble. A few of the noobs here could do with a click over there, methinks.

And yes, LTV's of 110% were creeping in here - I do recall a Westpac marketing pamphlet for 'professionals' which offered just that.

But y'all are missing an important aspect of the whole puzzle.

You Cannot expect useful, current or relevant info from the MSM or indeed any organ which depends on ad revenues or continued access to the Corridors of Power, wherever they may be, in a time of transition.

Put simply, they are all too invested in the status quo to be trusted. Hence the predominance of what in t'old days were called 'puff pieces', RE types talking their book, and 'analysis' by reporters which Whaleoil correctly labels 'repeaters'. Nobody there is about to pull the house down on their own heads, so the happy-clappy talk continues.

What we Do have is a transition to the New Normal - consumption around 10-15% less permanently (about the extent to which it was debt-funded), the air going out of bubbles, and reversion to the age-old means of house prices 2.8-3.2 times household incomes, PE ratios in low-mid teens, and savings rates north of 10%.

All this was predicted by numerous authors around the 1990-1993 mark, sensed by artists - try reading the cover notes for Dylan's 'World Gone Wrong' (1993) and say it ain't so, and it is a tribute indeed to the capacity for human self-delusion that so many bubbles have been inflated to keep the Good Times Rollin' since then. Which is precisely the theme of Matt Taibbi's GS piece.

Events in funky li'l NZ are skewed by three factors which y'all can assess fer yerselves:

1 - NZ is a 'haven' destination, and this gives a Lot of insulation, as haven seekers arrive and bring their loot with them. This is an obvious factor in house prices, if little recognised.

2 - NZ can feed itself many times over, and has a wealth of mineral and fuel riches. There won't be the Peak Oil stuff here - the transition can be considerably smoothed thereby, and we won't starve either. Ye cannae say that aboot, e.g. Britain.

3 - There is a strong conversative/conservation streak in NZ (same root, differing implications) which, despite the usual underclass provocations, will see us through in relatively harmonious shape. Ye cannae say that aboot most of Europe.

The glass is, in fact, half full.....

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Innovation in EV's - a Cambrian Explosion

Motoczysz has won the Isle of Man TT, just short of the magic 100mph lap speed, on an all-electric motorbike.

Wheee! As the Mogambo Guru likes to say.

Oil, Gaia's abiotic fruit, yer days are numbered.

Especially as the alternatives to batteries themselves are under development, as this little piece of good news shows.

Just as the early iron ships, steel bridges, internal combustion engines, and other technonological innovations went through a necessary stage of a 'Cambrian Explosion' - types, technologies, shapes etc. A Darwinian process then followed, winnowing the variety into a much, much smaller number of types, which we take for granted.

This motorcycle is part of EV's Cambrian Explosion.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Peak Oil?

A leetle rant about those who insist that PO is here! In NZ! I told yer so!

Variations on 'I told you so' are a good substitute for thinking?

NZ is nowhere near PO: the CSG prospecting undertaken by L&M, the Southland lignite fields, and the highly prospective offshore oiliferous zones are all local mitigators. The undoubted impact in a wider sense is of the toxic combination of locally selective PO (e.g. Europe), and BHO's latest excursion into the international version of Chicago Machine Politics which won't end well.

What is needed is a cool, realistic view of how best to use our certain and extensive resources well: so as to make a transition which:

- preserves living standards for working people at or somewhere near current levels. (The rich always have multiple options, ignore them, and it might be as well to state out loud what Won't be possible, in terms of aforesaid living standards' contents). And condemning folk to live in the late 17th century won't cut it, either.

- does not involve more than a reasonable extension of current technological trends. F'rinstance, positing mass use of personal EV's is perfectly OK. Proposing maglev rail everywhere isn't. No unicorn milk and pixie dust, please.

- takes into account the dark view exemplified by fiction such as Danny Suarez' 'Daemon', informed though such as John Robb's Global Guerillas (much mischief for very little input because of systempunkts spread liberally through our infrastuctures), and the genetic fact that we're highly evolved monkeys with an immense capacity for self-delusion and mayhem.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Maybe.

Could be termed 'sustainability' but that phrase is soooo devalued.

Friday, June 11, 2010

New renewable energy source

In a discussion about the EPA's approval to 'regulate' carbon doixide (that gas we all breathe out all the time), I came upon this priceless comment...

..harnessing the rotational energy of Grave-Spinning-Founding-Fathers.

Mind you, this can only last the term of the current Prez.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Dylan - Neighborhood Bully

Hadn't caught up with the lyrics till now - but my, don't they sound current? From 'Infidels'. Partial quote only.

"The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land,
He’s wandered the earth an exiled man.
Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn,
He’s always on trial for just being born.
He’s the neighborhood bully.

Well, he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized,
Old women condemned him, said he should apologize.
Then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad.
The bombs were meant for him. He was supposed to feel bad.
He’s the neighborhood bully.

Well, the chances are against it and the odds are slim
That he’ll live by the rules that the world makes for him,
‘Cause there’s a noose at his neck and a gun at his back
And a license to kill him is given out to every maniac.
He’s the neighborhood bully.

He got no allies to really speak of.
What he gets he must pay for, he don’t get it out of love.
He buys obsolete weapons and he won’t be denied
But no one sends flesh and blood to fight by his side.
He’s the neighborhood bully.

Well, he’s surrounded by pacifists who all want peace,
They pray for it nightly that the bloodshed must cease.
Now, they wouldn’t hurt a fly. To hurt one they would weep.
They lay and they wait for this bully to fall asleep.
He’s the neighborhood bully."

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Why I quote Kipling

That article is, simply, what I believe. Takers in NZ outnumber and can thus outvote Makers, and this will not end well.

Because Makers are free to go Make someplace else; to Make less (just sufficient for their own sustenance - income equals expenses); or to stop Making altogether. In all three cases, tax revenues collapse, suddenly.

And, you cannot Make (coerce) the Maker to Make stuff. At least not in a country I'd want to live in.

Whereas Takers have irreducible, and often extensive, Needs.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Printing houses

Now this is what 3D printing is really about: spraying construction material at 25dpi and making buildings (or parts thereof - it's limited to a 6m cube enclosure at present).

Faster, please.

Friday, March 19, 2010

This Mess We're In (with apologies to Polly Jean)

This (Gummint discovers that taxing property won't raise the dosh needed for tax cuts) all neatly illustrates the unfortunate corner that most western democracies have knowingly painted themselves into.

In handing out entitlements, perqs and goodies, in an implicit intent to buy their recipients’ votes, they have triggered the ‘endowment effect’.

Simply put, this means that you may not miss something you never had, but you’ll fight tooth and nail to preserve something you Do have, no matter how dodgy or corrupt the process of acquiring it was.

This ‘ratchet’ has now jacked most people’s hopes of continued income up, way, way past the point of sustainability. That is, we’re running out of Other People’s Money (the taxes paid by actual tax-producing enterprises and people).

I frankly don’t see any easy way out of this sort of boondoggle. The political way is blocked by the ‘entitled’, who will simply vote for the More Goodies Party if given the chance – what Mancur Olson calls ‘distributional coalitions’.

We see this oh so clearly by the Grey Mob’s fury over a few trips to Waiheke. ‘How Dare They!’ is the cry.

Bill E’s sober estimate of less-than-sufficient tax revenues is also no doubt an outcome of a ‘John Galt’ effect: you cannot force people who can control their net income, and therefore their tax liability, to Produce and be Taxed if they don’t agree with the uses to which said Tax is being put.

They will quietly arrange their production to suit their own need for income.

E.g. in most farming situations, the distinction between living expenses and small luxuries is quite invisible, and you can go fishing on the King Quad.

They will minimise the net income externally reported.

E.g. by a doctor not doing those few extra surgeries, or a consultant deciding that 24 billed hours/week @ $150 is enough, ta very much, and going golfing the other two days.

And of course in all these scenarios the tax liability (and national tax revenue) falls sharply.

Or, being smart, ambitious and mobile, they simply up stakes and leave.

I reckon that the Greek outcome is the most likely: as internal economic arrangements are so incestuous – a Gordian Knot, indeed – only the cold eye of external parties – bondholders spring to mind – has any power to force the needed changes.

Which changes are of course bleedingly obvious:

- arrange tax matters to minimise tax arbitrage
- remove welfare traps such as WFF and roll these into a finer-grained tax structure
- means-test universal benefits
- work for dole
- less Gumnut overhead

Then, and only then, does John Galt shuffle back to the pages of badly written if expository novels, because it would only then be clear to all Producers that their hard-earned Tax is not being misapplied to produce more underclass infestations, unintended outcomes, and perverse incentives.

The depressing if logical outcome of my estimate of the situation (and I see Mark H’s comment as a John Galt moment, too), is this:

There is no political way out of this. Because the distributional coalitions and the voices of the ‘entitled!’ are, taken together, a massive majority. And because (as I recall an ex Nat pollie telling us at an MBA briefing a decade and a half ago) MMP is a recipe for stasis – nothing much will change, because nothing much Can change.

So, chaps and chapesses (BH, you owe me a royalty for that term, BTW), don’t be going looking to Politicians of any stripe, to solve the pressing issues of our quirky little Isle.

And the follow-up, from comments which suggest marvellous ways to restructure tax:

JK and crew are castigated for an incremental/pragmatic approach, but political realities and the structures of MMP rule out anything else.

The change process, crudely put, is Unfreeze Existing/Change/Refreeze New.

Your proposals are for the middle bit.

Hitting a wall of some kind (bond-buyer revolt, sovereign debt default, Repo Man, bankruptcy) would seem now to be our best hope for getting the Unfreeze. After that, Change can happen.

But wishing this in public on all of us is, shall we say, Not a Good Look.

So we carry on, just kicking the can down the road. And, some of us, quietly preparing for a harsher, colder world.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

AGW as a belief system

Comment over on WUWT thread about AGW and its current, shall we say, terminal thrashing about.

The middle of the road stance is, surely, adaptation. And there are some unlikely allies in this: read Stewart Brand's latest 'Whole Earth Discipline', and it is clear that there is a splintering of the entire movement from within.

Brand advocates moving to cities (concentrate service delivery, allow opportunity, release women from rural idiocy, and generate real wealth), nuclear power (deal with concentrated waste instead of millions of smokestacks) and generally drives a Sherman tank through a whole bunch of environmental shibboleths.

Add to this the 'Resilient Community' effort from John Robb and crew, and we have a large part of the adaptation recipe right there before us.

The analogy here should be to the Reformation, which blew apart a corrupt and arrogant medaeival Catholic Church for ever. Climategate is about 1517 on that scale: the nailing up of Luther's theses. There's a bit of water to go under the bridge until we get to the 1520's, when Henry VIII figured out that he could get a twofer: his old marriage declared null, and (by declaring himself head of the Church in England), he could clip the ticket on the Church's takings. Which he finally got, 100%, by the dissolution of the monasteries, in 1536-8.

The AGW frenzy is fed by funding, just as was the Catholic Church. It's fun and cathartic to do the iconoclastic stuff - tear down the brazen images, paint over the elaborate frescoes, and generally try to eradicate the outward vestiges of the belief system.

But it's a better ploy, after that emotion subsides, to go after the AGW funding. Cut off the oxygen. The neat thing is, it makes better economic sense, too. Instead of wasting a lot of scarce dollars on researching 'the effects of climate change on the mating habits of the Greater Nebraskan Loon', it would be better use of that dosh to get one of Henry VIII's twofers: say, accelerate production of electric cars/build many small-scale nuclear plants And stop giving petrodollars to unfriendly regimes.

Oh wait. 'Accelerate'. My bad. Work on the braking software, too.