BoN 10 day outage

Don't panic - the BoN will be back, but first, it will be gone, for 10 days, starting tonight.

See you in July.

Regards,
Norm

Detroit

When reading up on the Ilitch family, who seem to be the only ones determined to actually make something nice in Michigan (why, I have no idea, I guess the long defeat is a noble cause), I came across this little wikipedia gem:

The family was presented the key to the City of Detroit by then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick on February 14, 2008. They are only the fifth recipients in the history of the city, the others being actor James Earl Jones, Saddam Hussein, neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson, and Pittsburgh Steeler Jerome Bettis.

I checked, and yes: Saddam Hussein received the key to the city after donating about $450,000 to a local christian church back in 1979 - before he turned evil it seems.

Canada Air

When asking about whether you are taking any dangerous objects on the plane, Canada Air makes sure that you have no:
Guns
Knives
Compressed Air
Antlers

Yup. Antlers... oh Canada.

F1 becomes F2

F1 has split in two. The top teams of F1, long chaffing under the rule of the FIA, Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosely, have decided to set up their own rival league.

The teams are Ferrari, McLaren, Toyota, Renault, BMW, Brawn, Red Bull, Toro Rosso. So basically, all of the real teams. And the amazing part is - it includes Brawn! It is amazing because the only way the Brawn has been dominating this season is beacuse of the restrictive rules of F1. But, I suppose, they want to stay in the big league, and with all of the real teams going one way, and the name and bunch of also-rans going the other, Brawn wants to be a contender.

It is however an amazing story that the FIA was so adamant about changing the rules that they forced out all of the top teams. From the rebel teams press release:

"The teams cannot continue to compromise on the fundamental values of the sport and have declined to alter their original conditional entries to the 2010 World Championship.

"These teams therefore have no alternative other than to commence the preparation for a new Championship which reflects the values of its participants and partners. This series will have transparent governance, one set of regulations, encourage more entrants and listen to the wishes of the fans, including offering lower prices for spectators worldwide, partners and other important stakeholders.

"The major drivers, stars, brands, sponsors, promoters and companies historically associated with the highest level of motorsport will all feature in this new series."


Basically, they are saying that they want to be able to set their own rules and get a bigger cut of the revenue than the huge fees Bernie Ecclestone derives from his financial ownership (rule? dictatorship?) of F1.

Personally, my money is on the breakaway to be the more interesting and more legitimate racing series. It has Ferrari. It has McLaren. It has the support of the fans - I think - who are generally tired of Max/Bernie. In fact, the only legitimate team to stay with "F1" is Williams. Not sure why they did - maybe so they can dominate the list of newbs who are going to be joining the league next year?

F1 is dead. Long live F1.

DIY Brake Upgrade FAIL

Schumacher=Robot, Stig=Robot, Schumacher=Stig?

The latest Stig rumor - this one started by a fan who was at the show - is that Schumacher is really the Stig. Which would be interesting. The man known for his amazing albeit robotic driving style revealed to be the not-really-human presenter of the most popular car show on the planet.

Thing is, I dont really believe it. There is just too much that does not makes sense. Schumy is just too busy to be the Stig. However I will believe, and I continue to believe, that Top Gear has one 'normal' stig who drives around the circuit and then invites others to be the Stig for special shows, special cars etc. So could Schumacher have been the stig for the Ferrari FXX drive that the fan claims? Sure. But I dont think he is "the" Stig.

Spaceport America

Ground has been broken for the construction of the Worlds first commercial spaceport two years after Foster + Partners were selected for the plans. And they are some plans.

Sir. Foster does have a sense of style, as does Richard Branson. Team them up and the gem you get is this:


I would love to head there some time in the not to distant future and catch my ride to space. Hopefully Virgin Galactic takes off, and we can enjoy regular and progressively cheaper and better travel beyond the atmosphere.
http://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=2&ik=6b20a389e3&view=att&th=121e97f2289dbbe6&attid=0.1&disp=inline&zw

$15 Trillion Please

From the Miami Herald, found by Randy:

http://www.miamiherald.com/486/story/1098944.html

Fresh out of prison on a money-laundering conviction, Marlon T. Moore tried to make a big score, federal prosecutors say.

The Miami man -- aka ''X-Large Moore'' -- filed an income tax return seeking a refund of almost $15 trillion.

No joke. Now Moore is charged with filing false claims with the IRS and obstructing the agency's laws.

After his release from a Florida prison in late 2007, Moore allegedly prepared bogus documents claiming that the feds owed him various amounts, including $5,950,000,000,000, $2,975,000,000,000 and $6,000,000,000,000.

''In fact, however, defendant Moore knew he was owed no such amounts,'' according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami.

Moore, 38, has a bond hearing on Thursday. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison for each false claim and up to three years for impeding IRS laws.

Tesla Valued at $1 Billion, BoN Valued at $2 Billion

According to some guy off the street.. I mean a website/consulting company which 'specializes' in valuing private companies, Tesla Motors is worth $1 billion. This is because of... ermm.. this chart:


The chart clearly shows that though the company has so far lost a ton of money, gone through 4 CEO's, fired the founder and been sued by him, and sold about 500 cars, that it is worth $1 billion because suddenly most of the country will realize that what they really need is an electric track car.

Can I just point out the stupidity of that? If I had the $100,000 to spend on transportation fun (what the Tesla costs today) I would get an Elise for $45,000, a Cherokee SRT 8 for about $20,000, a Subaru WRX for $25,000, a year's membership to a track for $9,500 and spend the other $500 on a road bike (if I did not have one) so I could commute to work with a negative carbon footprint. Then I would get home and decide which beast I would take to the track that day.

Or, you could buy a overweight rear-heavy Lotus Elise with 5,824 (or something like that) laptop batteries. You would actually still need to get an SUV so that you could tow it if you ever wanted to go more than 100 miles from home. Hmm...

Sure they have the Model S, and yes, it looks great: but its a concept car. They have not started making it yet. Actually, they have not even started making the factory to make it in yet. And by the time they do they wont be the only electric gig in town, they will be going up against the Volt, the plug-in-Prius, the new Boon Pickens VVN or whatever it is call, the new Dodge somethingorother and host of others.

According to a similar websit the Book of Norm was recently valued at $2 billion. And here is why:

So, if any Middle Eastern soverign wealth funds are taking a look at this, I am selling a 10% equity stake for $550 million. Its a bargain basement deal even in these times - I can guarantee I will not return your investment.

BMX 1899 Style - Pretty Sweet

Facebooko worth $10 billion, will make money in 2010

A new investment in facebook by a Russian company values the site at $10 billion, $5 billion less than the MSFT valuation 2 years ago.

And its all just a load of hype anyway, because they are still yet to make any money. They say they will be cash flow positive in 2010. Sure. Great. But so far, I have little faith they will really be able to step beyond their current model and become the next great thing. Instead, I think they will become the next AOL, Yahoo, or MySpace.

http://origin.grapher.compete.com/site_media/snapshot/myspace.com+facebook.com+twitter.com_uv.png

Learjet Repo

This on is worth the longish read:

The Learjet repo man

Business has never been better for the fearless pilot who takes back millionaires' expensive toys.

By Marc Weingarten

Editor's note: This story has been corrected since it was originally published.


Jun. 06, 2009 |

It was snowing hard when the bank called Nick Popovich. They needed to grab a Gulfstream in South Carolina now. Not tomorrow. Tonight.

All commercial and private planes were grounded, but Nick Popovich wasn't one to turn down a job. So he waited for the storm to clear long enough to charter a Hawker jet from Chicago into South Carolina. There was just one detail: No one had told Popovich about the heavily armed white supremacist militia that would be guarding the aircraft when he arrived.

But then again, no one had told the militia about Popovich, a brawny and intimidating man who has been jailed and shot at and has faced down more angry men than a prison warden. When Popovich and two of his colleagues arrived that evening at a South Carolina airfield, they were met by a bunch of nasty-looking thugs with cocked shotguns. "They had someone in the parking lot with binoculars," Popovich says, recalling the incident. "When we went to grab the plane, one of them came out with his weapon drawn and tells us we better get out of there." Undeterred, Popovich continued toward the plane until he felt a gun resting on his temple.

"You move another inch and I'll blow your fucking head off," the gravel-and-nicotine voice told Popovich.

"Well, you better go ahead and shoot, 'cause I'm grabbing that plane."

A shot was discharged in the air.

The gravel-and-nicotine voice again. "I'm not kidding."

"Then do it already."

Popovich's first rule of firearms is pretty simple: The man who tells you he's going to shoot you will not shoot you. So without so much as looking back, he got on the plane and flew it right to Chicago. "My job is to grab that plane," Popovich says. "And if you haven't paid for it, then it's mine. And I don't like to lose."

Nick Popovich is a repo man, but not the kind that spirits away Hyundais from suburban driveways. Popovich is a super repo man, one of a handful of specialists who get the call when a bank wants back its Gulfstream II jet from, say, a small army of neo-Nazi freaks.

For the past three decades, Popovich has been one of a secret tribe of big game hunters who specialize in stealing jets from the jungle hideouts of corrupt landowners in Colombia, Mexico and Brazil and swiping go-fast boats from Wall Street titans in Miami and East Hampton. Super repos have been known to hire swat teams, hijack supertankers and fly off with eastern bloc military helicopters. For a cut of the overall value, they'll repossess anything.

But Popovich is the most renowned of them all -- the Ernest Hemingway of super repo men. "Nick is the best of the best," says Doug Lipke, head of the bankruptcy group for the law firm Vedder Price, who has called Popovich on numerous occasions to retrieve jumbo jets from fat cats with thinning balance sheets. One time, Lipke needed a plane repo-ed from Michigan and flown to Chicago. "All the electrical went out on the plane and Nick was flying at night," he says. "He flew that plane back with zero electricity -- no lights, nothing. There aren't many guys that would be able to do that."

Today Popovich, 56, is co-partner of Sage-Popovich, a repossession firm. (Sage is his ex-wife, Pat, formerly the firm's president.) Their clients include Citibank, Transamerica and Credit Suisse, and the firm annually earns, Popovich says, "into the low-to-mid seven figures." That estimate isn't ridiculous when you consider that the most difficult jobs can net Popovich anywhere from $600,000 to $900,000. Popovich's specialty is big planes, jumbo jets, mostly; he's repo-ed 1,300 of them in his career. And that's just the solo gigs. Throw in the 65 repo men who work for him, and the number reaches closer to 2,000.

His mandate is simple. Someone misses a few payments. The bank wants to recover its plane. There will be an attempt to set up some kind of debt payment plan. Failing that, collateral has to be ponied up. If there is none, then an account executive reaches out to Popovich. But Jumbo Jets are expensive -- a 747 will run you anywhere from $125 million to $260 million -- and people who try to acquire such toys are loath to give them back. If the deadbeat gets wind that the bank is sniffing around his plane, he's likely to spirit it away before anyone has a chance to grab it, and then it becomes a cat-and-rat game that can take months to complete.

And times have never been better. When lenders opened the sluice gates of easy credit throughout the last decade, high rollers went out and splurged on Gulfstreams and yachts. When the job goes away, the bonuses dry up and the stock market tanks, it's a long and nasty downward spiral that leads to Popovich's door. "Oh, those guys are a real piece of work," says Popovich of the fallen Masters of the Universe. "We've had to fly halfway around the world just to find a plane we were told would be in Dallas. You have to think like a crook to find them."

These days, Popovich is fielding assignments as fast as he can handle them. "We've got a lot of business right now," he says. "We recently recovered planes from Okun and Nadel." Popovich is referring to Edward Okun and Arthur G. Nadel, two Bernie Madoff-manqués that have been accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from unsuspecting clients who thought they were safely investing their money ($300 million in Nadel's case, the largest alleged hedge fund fraud in Florida history). Among the booty that Popovich was hired to return were two Gulfstream IIs and a Learjet.

A good super repo man has a skill set that's some mad hybrid of cat burglar, F.B.I. agent and con artist. And there's real danger that comes with the job, not just ticked-off homeowners wielding baseball bats. According to the American Recovery Association, there are, on average, one or two repo-related deaths a year.

In 2006, a Czechoslovakian-made Albatross L-39 combat jet lifted off from Sitka, Alaska, and crashed into a trailer park in the small community of Ketchikan, Alaska. The pilot was found dead 100 yards from the destruction, still strapped into his seat. He had no identification on him. His profession was listed as repo man. In Minnesota, a boat repo specialist named Kim Zarbinksi was repelled when the angry owner of a 40-foot yacht refused to give him his boat. So Zarbinksi resorted to sterner measures. He hired a SWAT team to help him grab the rotten booty.

You want stories? Popovich has volumes. And tells them without a note of bragging or conceit. On a recent warm afternoon, the unfailingly polite repo man and I are strolling through his cavernous warehouse in Gary, Ind. It feels like browsing a Costco run by the Pentagon. There are airplane parts as far as the eye can see -- jet engines sit on shelves next to wheel casings and propellers. The detritus of a recent job sits in gigantic vats -- hundreds of headphones in one, telephones in another.

Right now the warehouse is overflowing thanks to his most ambitious job to date: "stealing" a fleet of 240 corporate helicopters from a chain of flight schools for a tidy six-figure fee. Nevada-based Silver State was one of the country's fastest growing companies, mainly because its owner Jerry Airola was constructing a pyramid scheme as tall as the Cheops. When everything collapsed, Popovich was hired to retrieve 240 copters from 51 locations around the country. In 24 hours, Nick and his 125-member crew had to change the locks at all 51 Silver Star schools, then move in 125 flatbeds to haul not only the copters but everything else they could carry -- furniture, spare parts, computers, simulators.

"The copters were a mess," says Popovich. "Some of them hadn't been flown in months. Once we shipped them all back to the warehouse, we stripped the worst ones for parts for the bank. I figured that at least we were putting them to good use that way."

Inside his 120-acre, ranch-style compound in rural Valparaiso, Ind., Popovich recalls some of his most notorious adventures in disarmingly soft-spoken and courtly tones. There was the time in the '80s when he was thrown into a Haitian jail cell. Jail stints came with the job, but this time was different.

Inside the cell, Haitian cops had turned Popovich's face inside out. The pain was ungodly. His shoes were gone. He was starving. And Popovich was sitting in a cage surrounded by 35 prisoners spitting epithets in his face. His only priority was to avoid getting hurt any worse than he already was. In his experience, that meant behaving like a total maniac, lashing out at the nearest prisoners and threatening to kill anyone that came near him.

The charge was the attempted theft of a 707 jet and he was facing 20 years to life. The jet in question belonged to a Caribbean tour company that went bust. After a few missed payments, the bank had called Popovich, who had tracked the plane from the Dominican Republic to Haiti. The gig promised to be simple. Popovich even spotted the battered silver-and-blue jet on the tarmac as he taxied into Port Au Prince's Toussaint L'Ouverture airport on a sweltering February afternoon. All he needed was an hour to check the avionics, an open runway and a flight plan. It hadn't worked out that way.

By the third day of his imprisonment -- sometime after the American embassy politely informed him that the bank employing him wouldn't put up $100,000 in bail -- details started to come back. The tracer fire pinging the plane's wings like popcorn kernels. Men with bayonets slamming on the fuselage. A police cruiser skidding to a halt right in front of the jet, blocking the runway and preventing Nick from taking off. The cops beating him senseless and throwing him in Penitentier National prison. And now, here he was.

On the seventh day of his incarceration, Haitian President Baby Doc Duvalier was overthrown and the rioting masses swung open all of the cell doors. Bruised, bloody and sleepless, Popovich hobbled out of his cell. As he taxied down the runway for the second time. he couldn't help thinking that what they said was true: Flying home is always the easy part.

Reared in Hammond, Ind. -- just a few miles from his current Valparaiso home base -- Popovich got his pilot license when he was 16 because his father thought it might be useful some day. It was the only time he ever said "yes" to Dad. He tried Indiana University for a semester but it didn't take.

Then in 1975 he met two men named Toby Howard and Billy Day in Wichita while hanging with some mutual friends. A pair of hustlers, they had all kinds of ideas for how to get rich quick. Popovich followed them for six months, hawking faulty tire repair kits that would explode in winter and some multilevel marketing schemes. The contacts he'd make through Howard and Day led him into small-time arms dealing. Popovich bought out a Utah company that had been indicted for weapons violations and turned it into a thriving business. "We built .22 caliber weapons into briefcases with micro switches and laser sightings," he says. He sold his guns to the Canadian Special Ops and maybe to a few places he shouldn't have. He mentions something about being "in South America at the wrong time." He also drops a hint about conducting business in Iraq.

Popovich became a Braniff pilot in 1976. But that was boring. So he quit. He wouldn't find his true calling until 1979, when a banker friend asked for his help getting back a Cessna 310 from a small-time chartering business. "I flew down there, grabbed it and got paid for it. I didn't think anything of it," he says. "I dropped off the plane and the guy calls yelling his head off. He says, 'You didn't ask for enough money! Send me a new bill but multiply it by three!'"

A few days later, Popovich found $145,000 in his checking account. A super repo man had been born.

Sage-Popovich now has 65 super repos, ranging from former crop-dusters and commercial pilots to Marines and airport mechanics. One of Popovich's aces, Ed Dearborn, flew for Air America, the CIA's covert Vietnam-era airline, and even helped build landing strips in remote jungle outposts in Southeast Asia. A good year is five popped planes; Kevin Lacey, one of Popovich's best men, grabs 10 when he's on a roll.

Now that Popovich has worked with some of his guys for 20 years or more, he has learned to take good care of them. When Lacey was imprisoned while attempting to snatch a jet in Brazil a few years ago, Popovich made sure the local hotel shipped edible food to his cell until the legal mess could be cleared up. It was the least he could do, given the fact that Lacey had been dragged in humiliating fashion right through the passenger terminal in handcuffs. "The inmates in Brazilian jails have more guns than the police," said Lacey. "It's best to make friends with them quickly."

Because Lacey is a master mechanic, he is an invaluable resource for lenders. If a plane is sitting on blocks, its windows cracked and its avionics blown out, Lacey can fix it and fly it out. He's also pretended to be a mechanic on numerous occasions; it gets him inside the plane and up in the air a lot quicker. That plane in Brazil required the use of a "claw hammer and rusty pliers" for Lacey to fix it.

Like most super repo guys, Lacey works freelance and flies just about everything with two wings. He's certified in eight types of aircraft. The Air Force would be lucky to have him, but the repo game is far more thrilling. And a lot more lucrative.

The money is pretty good, depending on the size of the plane and the complexity of the repo. But for Lacey, the job is its own reward, despite the fact that many pilots consider it an unseemly profession. "My tact and my diligence are my greatest weapons," he says. "I have to think and react before someone else does, or I'm sunk. Often, they will be on the lookout for you, so you find yourself chasing something while someone else is chasing you."

The super repo business is extremely time-sensitive; Popovich must calibrate his maneuvers with military precision or else the entire operation crumbles. The minute Popovich gets a call, he has his team prepare a "Repo Book," which contains all of the relevant documentation necessary to take back a plane. An airport won't let you fly off with a jumbo jet without all kinds of paperwork: lease terminations, powers of attorney, customs bonds and certificates of insurance. (There's a reason Sage-Popovich has eight lawyers on retainer.) Within an hour of the initial contact, everything is accounted for, all the way down to the catering for the crew.

While the Repo Book is assembled, Popovich will get his scouts on the ground to figure out where the plane is. The company has people all over the globe who are more than happy to track down an item for him for a small fee. More often than not, the aircraft will turn up in a major airport or commercial hub, and from there it's easy sailing: Show up, hand over the documentation, get in the cockpit and fly away. Popovich estimates that three-quarters of his jobs go off exactly that way.

The rest are stickier affairs -- starring angry owners, armed security, even intransigent airport workers, who will be out tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid fuel, landing fees and maintenance costs if a plane suddenly goes missing. In that case, half the game for Popovich is sneaking on to the aircraft and flying it out before anyone's hip to what he's doing. "That's why you never, ever use the plane's two-way radio," says Popovich with a laugh. "People might get wind of your plans before you even have a chance to secure your seat belt. If you need to file a flight plan, you use your cell phone to call the tower."

One time, he pretended to be a limo driver picking up a client. When airport security turned its back, Popovich slipped off his black overcoat and eight-point chauffeur cap and finagled his way onto the plane.

Aircraft on a runway is a lot easier to grab, but the walk to the cockpit is longer than the Bataan Death March. You might as well radio the tower before walking up to a vacant jet without permission, because you're inevitably going to get busted. For a repo job in Miami, Popovich commandeered a catering truck from a friendly driver and the crew let him on board unbidden. On numerous occasions he has loaded his guys into a baggage cart, dropped the curtain and driven up to the cargo hold. From there, it's a slinky stretch on hands and knees from the luggage compartment into the cockpit.

Really tough targets require sterner measures. In 1998, Popovich was hired to repo two jets in the possession of Francois Arpels, scion of the Van Cleef and Arpels jewelry empire. Arpels had leased two Boeing MD-81s for a charter service he started called Fairlines, but failed to make his payments.

"I landed in Paris and contacted Arpels to see if we could work something out," says Popovich. "Arpels tells me, 'I'm Francois Arpels and this is Paris. You will never find the planes.' I looked him right in the eye and told him, 'Frankie, they are all but gone. Trust me.' He hated the fact that I called him Frankie. That really got under his skin."

Using his European scouts, Popovich tracked one plane in Milan; the other was sitting on the tarmac near Terminal One at Charles DeGaulle Airport. The MD-81 was covered in official-looking documentation written in French, so Popovich just ripped everything off and hopped in. Big mistake. The airport cops stopped him as he was taxiing and threw him in a cell overnight. The next day, a French magistrate had handcuffs slapped on Popovich and ordered him returned to Chicago. "I was more determined than ever to grab those damn planes," he says. "You push me, I push back harder."

A few weeks later he snuck back into the country, convinced a captain with an Air Afrique fuel bus to fill up Arpel's Boeing and flew it out. But the Milan plane was trickier. The engine was behaving erratically, and no sane person should fly a bird with a hinky engine. Popovich had a replacement engine in Munich (engine-swapping is a common occurrence in the business) and the only way to get it would be to make the 50 minute flight and pray.

As his pilot Ed Dearborn climbed to altitude, Popovich remembers sitting in the back, furtively stealing looks at that shaky equipment. "The whole time I sat there thinking, 'If that engine lets go, I'm fucked.'" When they got to Germany and opened it up, the mechanics estimated that another couple of hours of airtime and the thing would have melted down. Along with Nick and his guys.

Popovich even met Sage on a repo. He was casing an exotic car company in Chicago when a leonine blond walked in to the dealership. "We all looked at each other and said, 'A hundred bucks for the first guy that nails her,'" he says. "Twenty million dollars in business together later, here we are." (They have subsequently divorced.) The couple's two boys, Zachary, 18 and Max, 20, work for Sage-Popovich when they can. Zachary attends college and does repos in his spare time.

Popovich's daredevil days are behind him for the most part; now he's working with a new generation to do the job. He would like his two sons to go about it a little differently than he did. Maybe a bit more cautiously, for starters. He wants his son Zach to take over the business one day, but "he wants to open a bar in Sun Valley instead." He has in mind an exit strategy, though he's not sure when, if ever, he'll implement it. Life is too good to stop now. Just pick up the paper -- every day word breaks of another investor, another pyramid scheme, another crook who has a date with Popovich.

Tooling around Valparaiso in his Bentley, with Bob Dylan playing softly in the background, Popovich tries to put into words just how great it feels to pull off a big repo job. "It's like a giant chess game, and the stakes can be your life," he says. "It's always a different challenge, a test of how smart you are. Can you outfox someone else? There's always going to be some covert action involved. And you throw a big payoff in there, well, it's just intoxicating." He pauses. "Repossessing a giant, gleaming multimillion dollar plane is kind of like courting a beautiful woman. Sometimes the chase is better than the catch." And the chase is never complete.

-- By Marc Weingarten

From the BBC: Africa's Top 10 Big Men

Tiptoes around criticism, but an interesting list nonetheless:

No 10: PRESIDENT ZINE AL-ABIDINE BEN ALI of TUNISIA
Tunisia's President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali

21 YEARS IN POWER

President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali came to power in a bloodless coup in November 1987.

He took over from Habib Bourguiba amid claims the latter was unfit to govern owing to senility.

Mr Ben Ali marked the 21st anniversary of office by releasing 44 political prisoners.

No 9: PRESIDENT BLAISE COMPAORE of BURKINA FASO
Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso

21 YEARS

Mystery still surrounds the death of President Blaise Compaore's predecessor and friend, Thomas Sankara.

But after he was shot dead by a group of soldiers in October 1987, Mr Compaore, as his number two, stepped into the breach.

President Compaore has since won three elections, scraping in last time round in 2005 with 80% percent of the vote.

No 8: KING MSWATI III of SWAZILAND
King Mswati III of Swaziland

23 YEARS

King Mswati came to the throne in April 1986; as son of Sobhuza, he was heir to the Swazi throne.

But it took a three-year power struggle following his father's death before he was crowned.

As an absolute monarch, elections are not really his thing - he has allowed people to vote for members of parliament, but political parties are not recognised.

No 7: PRESIDENT YOWERI MUSEVENI of UGANDA
Uganda's Yoweri Museveni

23 YEARS

After years in the bush fighting a rebellion, ex-army officer Yoweri Museveni led his National Resistance Army into Kampala in January 1986 to seize power.

He toppled Basilio Okello, who had himself overthrown Milton Obote in a military coup six months earlier.

Mr Museveni has also won three elections, but only last time, in 2006, were candidates allowed to run on a party-political basis.

No 6: PRESIDENT PAUL BIYA of CAMEROON
Cameroon's Paul Biya

26 YEARS

In November 1982, Cameroon's first post-independence leader, Ahmadou Ahidjo, formally resigned due to ill-health, and handed the presidency to his Prime Minister, Paul Biya.

Since then Mr Biya has won five elections, which - say the opposition - is not surprising, given that the votes have always been overseen by senior ruling party figures.

No 5: PRESIDENT HOSNI MUBARAK of EGYPT
Hosni Mubarak of Egypt

27 YEARS

Hosni Mubarak took over after the assassination of President Sadat by Islamist militants in October 1981.

He was confirmed as president by a referendum.

In the last election in 2005, he squeaked through with 88% of the vote.

There has been plenty of speculation in Cairo that he is grooming his son Gamal to succeed him.

No 4: PRESIDENT ROBERT MUGABE of ZIMBABWE
Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe

29 YEARS

The world cheered when, after leading a long guerrilla war, Robert Mugabe led his Zanu party to victory at the elections in February 1980, after Zimbabwe had won its independence from Britain.

But he is no longer a global favourite and the opposition accuses him of destroying his country in a bid to stay in power.

He is now sharing power - but remains president.

No 3: PRESIDENT JOSE EDUARDO DOS SANTOS of ANGOLA
Angola's Jose Eduardo dos Santos

NEARLY 30 YEARS

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos assumed power on the death of Angola's first president, Agostinho Neto, in September 1979.

But for much of the time after that, he ruled only over half the country, as his MPLA fought a civil war against Unita.

Now, with the war over, and Unita crushed at last year's parliamentary elections, he is being called on to hold an election for the presidency. No firm date has yet been set.

No 2: EQUATORIAL GUINEA'S TEODORO OBIANG NGUEMA
Teodoro Obiang Nguema

NEARLY 30 YEARS

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema came to power in August 1979 in classic style, deposing his uncle, Macias Nguema, who fled but was later captured and executed.

Despite its new-found oil wealth, 60% of the people of Equatorial Guinea live on less than a dollar a day.

But they clearly all love President Nguema, as he won 97% of the vote at the last election in 2002.

No 1: PRESIDENT MUAMMAR GADDAFI of LIBYA
Muammar Gaddafi

39 YEARS

And finally, Africa's undisputed newly crowned longest-serving ruler, Muammar Gaddafi, who was in office a decade ahead of his nearest rival.

Col Gaddafi led a coup by young army officers in September 1969, then set about establishing his own political system, as laid out in his Green Book; and he's been there ever since.

Last year, he was named "king of kings" by a meeting of Africa's traditional rulers.

Romulan/Flame Drilling

Unafraid In Greenwich Connecticut

This is a repost of a fantastic letter. I recommend reading the original here:
http://www.stumblingontruth.com/articles/Unafraid_In_Greenwich_Connecticut.pdf

but I have also reposted it below. Credit goes to Frankie for finding this.

Unafraid In Greenwich Connecticut
Clifford S. Asness, Ph.D.
AQR Capital Management, LLC
Last updated: 5/5/2009

Comments welcome: comments@stumblingontruth.com
Updated versions available at: StumblingOnTruth.com

The President has just harshly castigated hedge fund managers for being unwilling to take his administration’s bid for their Chrysler bonds. He called them “speculators” who were “refusing to sacrifice like everyone else” and who wanted “to hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout.”

The responses of hedge fund managers have been, appropriately, outrage, but generally have been anonymous for fear of going on the record against a powerful President (an exception, though still in the form of a “group letter”, was the superb note from “The Committee of Chrysler Non-TARP Lenders” some of the points of which I echo here, and a relatively few firms, like Oppenheimer, that have publicly defended themselves). Furthermore, one by one the managers and banks are said to be caving to the President’s wishes out of justifiable fear.
I run an approximately twenty billion dollar money management firm that offers hedge funds as well as public mutual funds and unhedged traditional investments. My company is not involved in the Chrysler situation, but I am still aghast at the President's comments (of course these are my own views not those of my company). Furthermore, for some reason I was not born with the common sense to keep it to myself, though my title should more accurately be called "Not Afraid Enough" as I am indeed fearful writing this... It’s really a bad idea to speak out. Angering the President is a mistake and, my views will annoy half my clients. I hope my clients will understand that I’m entitled to my voice and to speak it loudly, just as they are in this great country. I hope they will also like that I do not think I have the right to intentionally “sacrifice” their money without their permission.

Here's a shock. When hedge funds, pension funds, mutual funds, and individuals, including very sweet grandmothers, lend their money they expect to get it back. However, they know, or should know, they take the risk of not being paid back. But if such a bad event happens it usually does not result in a complete loss. A firm in bankruptcy still has assets. It’s not always a pretty process. Bankruptcy court is about figuring out how to most fairly divvy up the remaining assets based on who is owed what and whose contracts come first. The process already has built-in partial protections for employees and pensions, and can set lenders' contracts aside in order to help the company survive, all of which are the rules of the game lenders know before they lend. But, without this recovery process nobody would lend to risky borrowers. Essentially, lenders
accept less than shareholders (means bonds return less than stocks) in good times only because they get more than shareholders in bad times.

The above is how it works in America, or how it’s supposed to work. The President and his team sought to avoid having Chrysler go through this process, proposing their own plan for re-organizing the company and partially paying off Chrysler’s creditors. Some bond holders thought this plan unfair. Specifically, they thought it unfairly favored the United Auto Workers, and unfairly paid bondholders less than they would get in bankruptcy court. So, they said no to the plan and decided, as is their right, to take their chances in the bankruptcy process. But, as his quotes above show, the President thought they were being unpatriotic or worse.

Let’s be clear, it is the job and obligation of all investment managers, including hedge fund managers, to get their clients the most return they can. They are allowed to be charitable with their own money, and many are spectacularly so, but if they give away their clients’ money to share in the “sacrifice”, they are stealing. Clients of hedge funds include, among others, pension funds of all kinds of workers, unionized and not. The managers have a fiduciary obligation to look after their clients’ money as best they can, not to support the President, nor to oppose him, nor otherwise advance their personal political views. That’s how the system works. If you hired an investment professional and he could preserve more of your money in a financial disaster, but instead he decided to spend it on the UAW so you could “share in the sacrifice”, you would not be happy.

Let’s quickly review a few side issues.
The President's attempted diktat takes money from bondholders and gives it to a labor union that delivers money and votes for him. Why is he not calling on his party to "sacrifice" some campaign contributions, and votes, for the greater good? Shaking down lenders for the benefit of political donors is recycled corruption and abuse of power.

Let’s also mention only in passing the irony of this same President begging hedge funds to borrow more to purchase other troubled securities. That he expects them to do so when he has already shown what happens if they ask for their money to be repaid fairly would be amusing if not so dangerous. That hedge funds might not participate in these programs because of fear of getting sucked into some toxic demagoguery that ends in arbitrary punishment for trying to work with the Treasury is distressing. Some useful programs, like those designed to help finance consumer loans, won't work because of this irresponsible hectoring.

Last but not least, the President screaming that the hedge funds are looking for an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout is the big lie writ large. Find me a hedge fund that has been bailed out. Find me a hedge fund, even a failed one, that has asked for one. In fact, it was only because hedge funds have not taken government funds that they could stand up to this bullying. The TARP recipients had no choice but to go along. The hedge funds were singled out only because they are unpopular, not because they behaved any differently from any other ethical manager of other people's money.
The President’s comments here are backwards and libelous. Yet, somehow I don’t think the hedge funds will be following ACORN’s lead and trucking in a bunch of paid professional protestors soon. Hedge funds really need a community organizer.

This is America. We have a free enterprise system that has worked spectacularly for us for two hundred plus years. When it fails it fixes itself. Most importantly, it is not an owned lackey of the oval office to be scolded for disobedience by the President.

I am ready for my “personalized” tax rate now.

The Dam Busters

Anyone with a good knowledge of Britain's involvement in WWII has likely come across the Dam Busters - the plucky and amazing RAF squadron 617 who took down Germany's dams, bunkers and other hard to hit targets with novel bombs developed by Barnes Wallis, including the "bouncing bomb."

The US Defense Threat Reduction Agency has been looking into ways of taking down hardened storage sites and other bunkers and they have hit upon a solution: bouncing bombs. Specifically, the idea is to bounce the bomb right into the blast doors of the bunker rather than trying to come through from the top.

Alternately they are also procuring the Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP) - which is a 30,000lb bomb. Interesting is that it was again Barnes Wallis who was a pioneer in developing heavy bombs, including the famous Tallboy and less well known but 22,000lb Grand Slam (this was in 1944).

Czarist America

Did you know that we are now living in a nation run by Czars? You thought Bush expanded the power of the executive branch - you 'aint seen nothing yet.

Obama has set out to create a new arm of the government directly under his control. The most obvious of these (though it has still be pretty quietly done) are the impositions of Czars over most major elements of the US economy and society. Obama has pulled a Putin and put his own men in charge wherever possible. Instead of going through the traditional channels of power, this gives him much more direct control.

To list the Czars, we now have:
Pay Czar, Border Czar, Energy Czar, Urban Czar, Tech Czar, Faith Based Czar, Health Reform Czar, TARP Czar, Drug Czar, Stimulus Accountability Czar, Non-Proliferation Czar, Terrorism Czar, Regulatory Czar, Guantanamo Closure Czar, AIDS Czar, Weather Czar, Intelligence Czar, Economic Czar, Green Jobs Czar and Cybersecurity Czar.

This is, in effect, a massive expansion of the power and direct control of the executive branch of the government. To me even the word Czar is troubling connected as it is to 400 years of Russian/Eastern European repression and dictatorship.

Obama willing to force Americans to get health insurance

In a speech today Obama laid out some of his plans for a new national health care program. This has been widely opposed by doctors and healthcare groups and as usual with Obama his idea of "compromise" is "you do what I say or heads will roll." For example he's "not advocating caps on malpractice awards which I believe can be unfair to people who’ve been wrongfully harmed""

In a totally not surprising shift from his stance during the campaign, Obama is now willing to force every American to have health insurance, not just present them with a govt. subsidized plan for their perusal.

Trying to sugarcoat the plan, Obama also stated that this government mandated and run healthcare system would not be like Europe and would actually save money. His health Czar probably told him to say that one (more on the Czar effect in the next post.)

BlackRock to buy BGI for $13.5 Billion

BlackRock - which has become todays JP Morgan of the last great depression - has agreed to purchase Barclays Global Investors for a lot of cash (well, and equity).

In a deal that will create the world's largest money manager, the two companies will combine to create a massive new power in the markets. Seriously, BlackRock is the new Goldman Sachs - with connections everywhere.

Tobacco to be put under FDA Regulation

The Senate passed a bill to, finally, put tobacco under the regulation of the FDA. While not given the power to ban tobacco or nicotine it will lead to much stricter regulations including no terms such as "light" or "low tar," and eventually could lead to lower nicotine and worse-tasting cigarettes.

Also included in the bill were bans on color ads for tobacco products, advertising within 1,000 feet of schools, and a number of other measures.

While most libertarians would roast me for this, I dont agree with the right to smoke in a society where health and public well being are regulated/subsidized (as in every developed country). Also, I agree that the pressure to and effect of children smoking is incredibly harmful. I personally am also against any smoking in a public area where 2nd hand smoke could affect any other individual who did not chose to breath it in. Finally, though the FDA has its problems, I think that not only should Tobacco be under FDA regulation, but so should all suplementes - the only major class of ingestables/drugs which are not currently regulted.

Koenigsegg buying Saab

Koenigsegg - as I discussed before - has been one of the final suitors for Saab, and now looks set to buy it. All I can say is.... SWEEET!!!

Koenigsegg makes cars that put Ferraris to shame. Applying some of their magic sauce to Saab would give what has become a dowdy brand sold to middle-aged suburbanites a much needed injection of sport and adrenalin.

Saab 9-3 Koenigsegg Edition anyone?

Space - its getting crowded

Actually, not really. But there will be 13 people living on the ISS at one time. This is because of a space shuttle mission joining the 6 man crew. Though living quarters will be a little cramped, I still think it is pretty sweet milestone (the greatest number of people in space at one time). Of course, I probably would have chosen 12 or 14 instead of 13... but anyway, I am just looking forward to the day when the number of people in space is counted by district, or at least dozens.

Obama the Conservative

Yeah, the title may seem a little off, but let me explain.

Looking at the real meaning of the words, Republicans are traditionally social conservatives and economic liberals, while Democrats are the other way around. Of course, this gets all kind of screwed up looking at details but in general it holds up.

Of course I don't like Obama mostly because of his economic policies, which I think are dangerous. Those policies are generally labeled "liberal" - but they are not. They are actually the opposite of liberal. It is just that over decades of misuse the term "liberal" has become synonymous with "left" in political jargon: which is completely wrong. This is why amusingly when I looked up "liberal" there were many possible definitions:

1. Favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, esp. as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.

2. progressive politically or socially: favoring gradual reform, especially political reforms that extend democracy, distribute wealth more evenly, and protect the personal freedom of the individual

3. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.

4. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.

5. broad-minded: tolerant of different views and standards of behavior in others

It does not take much brainpower to see that the definitions are inherently contradictory. So much so that the great collecting pool of all knowledge Wikipedia does not attempt to define liberal: instead, it takes you to a "disambiguation" page. Socrates would be in need of a good strong drink at this point. It is why we have ended up with all kinds of idiotic terms like "neoliberalism," "new liberalism," "neoconservative," and even "liberism" - and I did not misspell that last one.

For the rest of this post, "liberal" will mean definition 1: Favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, esp. as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.

Conservative will take the opposition to that position.

Continuing this discussion to the current administration: Obama's economic policies are "left" - which makes them conservative, or in other words anti-liberal. Nationalizing the economy and raising taxes restrict freedoms, as do trade barriers. Shaking down secured debt holders like a mobster and breaking the law to pay off the constituency of the UAW, who were unsecured debt holders, is certainly a left policy, but it is the opposite of a liberal policy.

However, all that was more or less expected from my point of view and the point of view of a lot of the US both for and against Obama in the election.

The overlooked part is that since taking office Obama has taken a hard swing to the right on social issues. And, if you will let me, I will also include some political issues in this as they have come to mean more and more in our society and be more closely integrated.

When Obama campaingned he pledged he would overturn the "don't ask, don't tell" policy put in place by Clinton for the US military and instead allow gays to serve openly. Recently, in a move that sparked this post, he reversed course on that decision and agreed with the policy.

This is just the latest in a series of moves in the same direction. Though he made Guantanamo one of the rallying cries of his election he then backtracked and stated he would allow it to stay open. Though I actually agree with this one, because as I stated before I am against extending the American conception of personal rights guaranteed to American citizens to those fighting against the country, it was a big conservative move that really upset a lot of his core followers.

Acually, generally speaking on the issue of national security and defense--which is where many concerns over personal freedom and a "police state" originate--Obama has been quite "right." He has not opposed the national spy agencies, has not tried to deconstruct the mechanisms of the police state created by the Patriot Act and other policies. In fact the only thing that he has focused on--and this is a politically shrewd move as it deals with the visible and popularized tip of the iceberg without dealing with the mass beneath--is waterboarding. We can no longer make enemy combatants think they are downing: what a seminal moment for personal freedom. Overall he has supported the military tribunal system and has backed far far away from his stance in the campaign.

To extend the line of reasoning a little further afield, Obama has done nothing on an international scale to oppose the limitation of freedoms. In fact his approach has been more of "welcome them with open arms." Now, one can argue civil liberties and the US overseas involvement in a number of ways - but at the least you would think Obama would lean on N. Korea to not imprison two US nationals - but not so.

Along with this he made a big deal in his campaign about pressuring China on human rights. Granted, now is not really the time, but he has done essentially none of this.

I could also mention Venezuela or bowing to the Saudi King - but enough on the international stuff.

On the political front too, Obama pledged openness and transparency. We have gotten neither. He pledged to put bills in front of the US public before he signed them. I think he has done this on one or two, but that's it.

Then we can discuss Sotomayor. Not really a good record there - though you can certainly argue she lines up well with most Democrats - she is certainly a social "conservative." Here is a classic quote:
A “court of appeals is where policy is made. .. And I know — I know this is on tape, and I should never say that because we don’t make law. I know. O.K. I know. I’m not promoting it. I’m not advocating it. I’m — you know.” Judge Sonia Sotomayor, 2005

Gay marriage is another touchstone of the personal rights issues in the US. A big deal was made of the Miss America contestant who sounded like an idiot coming out against gay marriage. However, Obama too has had his shift to the right on this issue: ‘I do believe that tradition and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman.’
- Obama

Finally there is the issue of free speech. This one has been a lot more subtle, but still very important. If you have been watching the news you would have seen that every time Obama is criticized he is vehemently defended and the critics attacked. Never by him - he is the god head that must remain above such things - but it is always there. Everything from the Republican "Tea Parties" to McCain, to Cheeny to Fox News. Now, some of this is just traditional banter, some heated debate in a time of national upheaval, but I think there is a strong undercurrent of the administration and its supporters seeking to devalue and shunt off to the side any negative commentary. While Bush and his administration generally seemed to remain stoic to the point of alienating the population though a lack of explanation, Obama and his administration has set out to limit negative press as, I think, they believe the following: "As soon as by one's own propaganda even a glimpse of right on the other side is admitted, the cause for doubting one's own right is laid." - Adolf Hitler

Which leads me to my final point. When you combine conservative economic policies with conservative social policies you get neither Democrat nor Republican. You get Totalitarian.

Space will make you short and ugly

New research shows that long-endurance space flight will have the side effects of making humans short, overweight, and generally unattractive. Much as floating around with no gravity would be fun for a while, after a while it leads to blood pooling in strange places, bone loss, and other effects.

Right now NASA is recruiting "pillownauts" to stay in bed for long periods of time to mimic the effects of space flight. Hopefully, sometime in the not to distant future we set out on missions long than those achieved 40 years ago.

But the end result - especially if there are generations involved - is not likely to be pretty. Humans may well end up short, blobby, and with really big heads: blood pools in the head without gravity as the heart is built to compensate for the gravity that is no longer there.

So while my dreams of humans colonizing space remain unchanged, unfortunately it looks like we might all be ugly when we do it.

Top Gear Test Track under Attack

Turns out that for some idiotic reason a developer is trying to get a "ecovillage" built on top of the Top Gear test track.

Turns out that more or less those whole kit and caboodle is owned by the UK Govt. which is not a good thing. The developer is independent, but the land, the BBC, and Royal Bank of Scotland who is putting up the money (the loan) are all crown properties.

The locals are against the development - as they should be. I would like to think estimated 350,000,000 fans worldwide would also be against destroying the track. Seriously - it is one of the most popular global TV shows - how the hell did this even get mentioned seriously?

Hopefully someone realizes just how stupid they are, fires themselves, and we will get to compare the 2020 WRX STI against the 2005 WRX STI lap times on the same track with the same driver (because obviously the Stig does not age.)

Gaming of the Future - Its all about Motion

So the big electronics industry conference went down this weekend - and other than the fact that you cant now get a iPhone for only $99 (and $2,000 a year) - the most interesting news comes from Sony and the Xbox team.

Turns out that the runaway success of the Wii has drawn their attention. The Wii has far outsold either of the other two consoles while having guts (processor, memory etc) more competitive to the original Xbox and the PS2.

In response, PS3 will basically be getting a Wiimote, albeit one with a glowing ball on the end. In classic Sony style it is highly engineered and will have even greater accuracy that the Wiimote with the Wii Motion Plus (which is already far better than the original and pretty sloppy Wiimote). Sony's answer to the Wii should be shipping sometime in next March or thereabouts. However, I dont really think that this is such a big deal. My reasons are this: the PS3 has generally been bought by the hardcore gamers (it has the best technical specs and is the most expensive) or those really into their hi-def surround-sound blue-ray blah-blah setups. This is not the crowd, in my opinion, who will be going crazy over a Wiimote. Plus, the PS3 is not likely to be picked up in everything from retirement homes to daycare like the Wii has when it costs twice as much.

The more interesting one is Project Natal. This is the Xbox effort, and is in effect motion capture 2.0. Instead of waving around a wand, even a very accurate wand, this actually takes a look at your whole body as you move. It is more or less a slim box that sits in front of your TV (like the capture bar for the Wii) but it has a couple of cameras built in. As you move, it captures those movements, and plugs them into the game. The initial response from those who have demoed the system is very good.

I think Microsoft may actually be the one to win in the long run - much as the Wii is a good piece of hardware, and it changed the game, the Xbox has the content delivery, the Media Center capabilities, and with Natal - the best motion capture out there. The thing is, its a long way from showing up at your local Best Buy, so Nintendo has an opportunity to capitalize on its succcess. Of course, Nintendo has a long history of doing exactly the opposite of that, so we'll have to see how it goes.

RIP Sky

Seems that while it has been confirmed that Penske will be taking over Saturn, they wont be getting the Sky. Which is really too bad.

What they will be keeping is:
Aura - the rebodied Opel which is a decent car
Vue - the rebodied Opel which is a decent Crossover
Outlook - the rebodied GM which is a decent big Crossover

I think possibly the most interesting thing is that we will be seeing car companies which are small and independent going up against the giants of the industry. For the last 20 years, no one has really made it. I would like to think that a number of small and effective car companies could really put pressure on the big guys - and hopefully get more products to the "long tail" - those of us who dont want a red camry.

On another auto note - and I appologize for so much auto news going into the BoN, but it has been a crazy time - it looks like Hummer is not going to be sold to whatever the heck the name of that heavy equipment company was. In a move that is not really surprising, China may block the purchase because a) it has been trying to cut down the number of car companies, from about 500 to 10 by 2015, and b) because it has been trying to improve the efficiency and emissions of the Chinese car fleet. However, it has also c) been encouraging Chinese companies to buy overseas companies, which has often been met with resistance. This time the US govt. is practically begging for Hummer to be taken over (I dont think Obama wants to own Hummer - it just would not look right), and so there is still a chance I think that the deal will go through.

Obama Trademark Violation

This one is totally pointless, but still rather amusing.

Seems the campaign slogan "Yes We Can" was already taken before Obama started his run at the White House.

The first user of the slogan? Ahmadinejad. This is him pointing to the arabic for "Yes We Can" back in 2005.



Bing bird view

So, I checked out the Maps function. I have not used anything but Google Maps for years - and I still like it better. However, obviously in an attempt to catch up with Streetview - Microsoft has something called bird's eye. Which is pretty much exactly as it sounds. Not as good for finding that one specific restaurant that you want to get to - but I think better for looking at a neighborhood overall. See below:

Bing

Bing is the replacement for MS Live Search and all the other terribly named search engines MSFT has had.

And the thing is.. well.. I like it.

It looks good, comes with cool interesting background images with associated information: today is Thailand - check it out www.bing.com

It completely apes google in the way that searches are presented, along with a little more interesting and useful stuff on the right hand side. It also does a good job of presenting additional info (prices and reviews on products, search functions for popular sites, information and data about what you are searching for - though this is not Wolfram|Alpha).

Of course, it is rare that I actually go to google.com anymore: I have the bar built into my firefox, and have google desktop - so just hitting ctrl twice pops up another search bar. But, I think for a while I will be trying bing whenever I actually bother going to the a search website - I think Microsoft has pulled ahead now in terms of functionality - it will be interesting to see when and how Google responds (to this and Wofram|Alpha I suppose).

Penske Buys Saturn

Not confirmed yet - but it seems Penske just bought Saturn. Penske, which along with truck rental operates the second largest dealership network in the US, will use Saturn as a distribution channel for other companies products - including possibly extending the current arrangement of sourcing Opels - which would in this case be coming from Magna.

For those who dont know - Magna bought Opel alongn with Vauxhall (Opel in the UK) and Chevy Russia. The trick to this is that Magna is one of the largest tier 1 suppliers to auto companies around the world - and it will now be competing directly with its customers. Works if you really belive in pure economics but something is bound to go wrong. That said, Magna is well run and one of the few companies to be still on very solid ground right now.

My biggest hope is that this means somehow, somewhere, the Sky will survive..

Obama: Constitution 2000 years old??

Wait for the last line, or just skip to the last five seconds, its a classic.


John Stewart's take on GM

"So we paid $30 billion for 60% of $90 billion in debt? Could we please stop buying shitty companies!"

Classic.

Hummer Killer: CAFE

Just realized this. With Hummer a two-car car-company, the "Corporate" in CAFE is no longer GM, but rather Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company Ltd.

Which means they are going to be screwed by CAFE if they dont start pumping out (and selling) little eco-friendly Hummerletts.

Quote of the Day: Chavez

"Hey, Obama has just nationalized nothing more and nothing less than General Motors. Comrade Obama! Fidel, careful or we are going to end up to his right,"

- I did not make this up.

Irony: Hummer Bought by a Chinese Farm Equipment Company

Ok, thats not totally fair. It is actually a big generalized Chinese industrial concern, and it makes a lot of different stuff. But the closest it comes currently to making cars is... farm equipment and 18 wheelers.

So I guess Hummer has a nice new home. Of course, what they do with it is open to question. Currently Hummer has two vehicles, the Suburban based H2 and the Canyon based H3. Developing their own platforms or smaller vehicles will likely be the key to success for Hummer, but I would not at all be surprised for it to pull completely out of the US market in a year or two, as the current gen vehicles become outdated (for the US).

Not to mention - the whole patriotic "I drive a Hummer, which is kind of related to the vehicle that stormed Iraq" thing does not really work when it was made by a Chinese company (albeit in a US factory, which is arguably more patriotic than a US car made in a Korean or Mexican factory).

China vs. Vietnam - the other South East Asian conflict

Though the winner of this one would seem to be a no-brainer, it looks like Vietnam is building up firepower to take on China if needed.

It is of course not the first time that the two nations fought:

In 1979, feeling its oats in the aftermath of the victory over the US, Vietnam invaded Cambodia to topple the PRC backed Khmer Rouge. The PRC was not a big fan of this, and attacked Vietnam - Vietnam was communist, but was allied with Russia, not China. The border war was pretty brief however.

In 1988 the two countries briefly clashed when Vietnam tried to land troops to on some of the Spratlys claimed by China - the ships were sunk by the PRC Army Navy.

And, going back a lot further than that - the two countries have long been at odds, and are traditional enemies, with a fair deal of animosity on both sides.

This time the conflict is again over the Spratly islands - the long-running source of conflict in the region. The question comes down to who owns what. Just about every country in the region claims some or all of them, as well as France - which claims all of them (tied to its ownership of Vietnam. Which it lost... really lost.)

The issue is that there might be oil in those islands, a lot of oil. A couple billion $ of oil actually.

Prepping to lay its claim, Vietnam just bough 6 Kilo-class Russian subs - these are diesel subs and while not as affective as the newest European diesel boats, they are still good boats and the most popular export class of the last 30 years. It already has about 20 military bases on the islands - more than any other country including China. However, until the current $1.8 billion purchase, it did not have a real sub fleet to defend those bases from the newly powerful People's Liberation Army Navy.

Of course, the purchase still pales in comparison with the vast Chinese sub fleet, but it it is a sizable purchase - enough to make the Vietnamese Navy a legitimate threat/contender in the region.

The only good thing about this potential conflict - if such a thing can be said - is that the US does not have any skin in the game, and so it would be unlikely that the US got involved. I think we learned our lesson already about defending France's colonial claims in South East Asia.

Marianas Abyss Revisited

A new robot sub, sponsored by the Woods Hole Institute, is exploring the Marianas trench. This is of course the deepest point on earth and home to many weird and wonderful creatures. It has been explored one other time since Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh went deep in the Trieste - the Japanese sent a robot sub down there in 1995.

The plan is to go down into the Challenger Deep - the specifically deepest point on earth. I just hope they brought along a few good cameras (I'm sure they did) and that some of the footage finds its way to the BBC.

Challenger Deep in the Pacific's Mariana Trench is more than a mile deeper than Mount Everest is high. Illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Credit Crises Redux

I may be wrong on this one. I hope I am wrong on this one. But I think I will be right.

The way that most countries have dealt with the credit crises and the global economic slowdown is by spending more. Spending more than they "earn": far far more than they "earn."

This is of course the way that a lot of individuals, and to some extent, a lot of companies got into trouble. When it comes down to it, you cant find buyers for your debt at prices which allow you to keep things running along smoothly.

Essentially, I think that the wave of debt offerings triggered by the massive overspending of the US and other nations will be facing skeptical buyers. A failed Latvian offering today is one of the first signs that things are not going well. It will start with smaller, less secure nations, but it will go all the way to the top.

The end result will be inflation. Quite possibly hyperinflation. This is a scary prospect, as it would easily turn what has been a tough but not exactly terrible recession into.. well.. a terrible one. It a problem with government spending to prop up the economy: eventually someone has to pay the bill. Even the US Govt. - historically able to borrow at will at the best rates in the world - is likely not going to enjoy its amazing financing for much longer. T-bills will likely stay strong for a while, as people getting out of emerging markets bonds and corporate bonds move to T-bills. But if the third wave, the national debt wave, of the credit crises hits (the first two being sub-prime and corporate liquidity respectively), we are all in for a long and ugly recession.

Trailer Fail

From Ranimal... this is classic:

Class lll Hitch Install... (patent pending..)
Wouldn't you love to see how the trip went...? Good chance he ended up doin' some unintended off roadin' somewhere. Check the 'hills' in the background. Howja like to meet this rig on a two-lane road...coming down the mountain in your direction...?



She's hitched up and ready to roll!! Amazin' how the extra weight smoothes out the ride.

Needed to air up the rear tires a bit ('bout 160 psi).



Added some super heavy-duty chain for extra support on the tailgate, (note the 'Heavy-Duty 'S' hooks to attach the chain) Also paid-up for some BIG Number 5/16 sheet metal screws to attach the Reese hitch frame to the tailgate (see 'em there? one on each side...) Likely two more through the carpet into the floor pan inside...

Yep, probably overkill, but didn't want the possibility of having an axerdent.

Most of the time was spent on the front porch whittling down that MASSIVE solid pine 4x4 to fit precisely down into the hole in the ball mount receiver.

Note also - The 14"x14" piece of 3/8" plywood on the underside of the tailgate to distribute the load more evenly and beef up that tailgate support.
'A MAN CAN'T BE TOO SAFE'..!!

Extended Deterrence

One of the most important features of the US relation to the world for the last 50 years has been the extended deterrence offered to allied nations. In other words, if anyone used a nuke on our ally, we would use a nuke on the aggressor.

The problem is that we are now looking to dismantle our nuclear programs (and by "we" I mean Obama) at a time when the rest of the world is adding nukes. The big one is of course N. Korea and its now successful nuclear program.

The fear is that without credible extended deterrence from the US, S. Korea and possibly Japan would be forced to start their own nuclear weapons programs. It is assumed given their wealth and technological advancement, it would take each of these states only a year or so to build their first nuke.

The thinking goes, and I agree with it, the fewer states with nukes the better. The more countries with nukes, especially with limited nuclear arsenals which dont create the fear of world-ending annihilation, the more likely it is that someone will use one of them.

Hopefully the US changes course on this one, and actually a) really pressures North Korea - there were some initial signs of real protest, now there is just limp verbiage, and b) maintains a credible nuclear deterrent.

Wolfram|Alpha

This is an interesting new search engine - from the really smart (British) guy who created Mathmatica - it does not search the web and point you in the direction of a website. Instead, it searches a knowledge databases (created from the web) and then shows you the "answer" to your question.

I would suggest playing with it, as in my initial testing of it I have found it quite interesting, though exactly how useful it will be remains to be seen.

www.wolframalpha.com

amazing Subaru WRX movie

Chrysler Sale

Almost forgot the spin news of the morning - to try and tamper the political risks of announcing the nationalization of GM, the Masters of the Universe... I mean Obama Administration have announced they.. I mean the bankruptcy Judge.. has allowed the sale of Chrysler to Fiat.

Of course, there is no buyer for GM, because it is too freaking huge (even after selling off and killing off chunks of itself).

Part of me is glad that GM will not be liquidated, the car-lover part of me. But a whole lot of me is really scared.

GM Bankrupt, Obamaized

GM declared bankruptcy today with $82 billion in assets and $172 billion in debts.

The company will be nationalized, with the US government taking 60%, and Canada taking 12%. The rest will probably go to the UAW and bondholders.

It is expected that the US govt. will invest/lend another $30 billion over the $20 billion already invested/lent.

Opel will be bought by Magna, Saturn will be sold off (probably to Penske), Saab will be sold off, Hummer will be sold off, Pontiac will be killed, 40% of dealers will be cut loose, 12 to 20 factories will be closed, and 21,000 workers will be laid off.

Obama will be giving a speech to the nation as to how GM will be run, and returned to good health.

To a great extent I do not wish to believe the era that we are living in.

BBC iPlayer coming stateside?

The iPlayer - the expensive but ultimately highly successful attempt to put all BBC programming up on the web as a ad-free VOD service might be coming to the US - albeit with ads this time.

The iPlayer has been only available to those with a British IP address, which is really too bad, because there is a ton of stuff that I would like to watch - and watch the current season of - as opposed to BBC America which really waters down the content for some reason (why do we get 1 year old top-gear? WHY??)

This would be a fantastic move, and another step towards tv/movies over the internet becoming one of my most-watched sources of entertainment.