UK Unions Protest Solvency

English unions are up in arms over the fact that England is not yet bankrupt.

"We almost achieved it back in the 70's, but it looks like our time has finally come. This time, we won't stop until the currency is in free fall, lending rates skyrocket and England achieves what we have always wanted: perfect equality in poverty" said one union leader.

Other union leaders spoke about the need to "ignore tomorrow, and milk what we can from the system today."

Hundreds of thousands are now on strike, protesting the fact that though the government has avoided layoffs and pays very well, a percentage of their pension is now at risk. Comments from the private sector, where hundreds of thousands lost their jobs because of the stupidity of government include "fuck you you fucking lazy assholes" and "get back to work you money grubbing sods." This reporter of course can only report what has been said, but the comments have been shocking.

Among those now on strike are the National Teachers Union, whose motto is "Laziness and pensions above all, kids can teach themselves," the Assosciation of Teachers and Lecturers: "We works hards for whats wheez gets" and the University and College Union whose motto is "Tenure is the shit."

Also on strike are 90% all of the workers who handle phone calls for the metropolitan police. So if you die of a heart attack today in London, rest easy knowing that it was to protect the pension of some lazy asshole.

New Political Theory

I am developing a new theory of government. More to come on that later - but the basic precepts are around the correct valuation of all actions, and it will be thus called Valuation Theory.

This is something I plan on spending a fair bit of time on in the next few weeks, and I hope others end up as interested by it as I am.


Diabetes and Demographics.. and Obesity

Globally, the percentage of individuals with diabetes has doubled since 1980.

Now, before anyone hits the panic button, most of this is down to good things.

About 70% of the 100% increase is believed to come from the fact that around the world, those with diabetes are living longer. This is a very good thing, due to treatments being made available and new drugs coming to market.

The other 30%? That's almost all from getting fatter. Which is why, unsurprisingly, the waistline capital of the world--the US--has the highest percentage of diabetes.

Percent of Obese (BMI > 30) in U.S. Adults (this is frightening)

Obesity map. For data, see PowerPoint or PDF linked above.

Obesity map. For data, see PowerPoint or PDF linked above.

Obesity map. For data, see PowerPoint or PDF linked above.

Obesity map. For data, see PowerPoint or PDF linked above.

Obesity map. For data, see PowerPoint or PDF linked above.

Obesity map. For data, see PowerPoint or PDF linked above.
On a side note... way to go Colorado!
This is interesting. Diabetes is a disease of success (well, the increase in diabetes, diabetes also can occur for other reasons - Type 1 diabetes rarely is related to lifestyle and health).

Think about the US 100 years ago. It was 1911, and while the world was going through a massive economic boom... the majority of US workers were farmers, and those who were not farmers were laborers and factory workers. Income distribution looked more like Saudi Arabia than the US today, the 19th amendment (women's suffrage) was still 9 years away and robber barons ruled the land. Life pretty much sucked for a lot of people, and having enough to eat was a major problem for a large percentage of the population.

Today, having enough to eat is rarely a problem. Yes, there are the homeless etc, but the majority of those are individuals who are unable to properly care for themselves (something society should take care of but instead chooses to ignore and let the police and prison system handle).

Diabetes is a problem which arises because increasingly, Americans do not do physical labor and do not have any problem accessing sufficient food. Whether they access the right food is another matter - but one which is not solved by government regulation.

What then is the solution? Of course, the best solution is a "cure for diabetes" - but more realistically, it is making it simpler to manage as a chronic condition in order to avoid the complications not managing diabetes can bring on. New drugs can do this, as can better management of care.

Interesting, it has also become apparent that a shock diet of 600 calories a day can reverse the onset of Type II diabetes in those recently diagnosed.

The bigger question though is... is this just inevitable? People are rational actors. While a lot of people are looking at the rising obesity as a problem... ok it is a huge problem, but more accurately, people must want to be overweight. Or really, they must want to follow the lifestyle that leads them to being overweight. That lifestyle is to them what creates the most value.

Of course, I would say that this is likely because humans have a hard time valuing valuing consequences which may be far in the future, and also have a hard time valuing consequences which are rare but very negative or very positive (we tend to believe in the positive ones - lotteries and becoming athletes - and ignore the negative ones - heart attacks and... diabetes).

So then - if people are rational actors, but their valuations are wrong due to internal bias... what's to be done? In my opinion, the best bet would be to assume they are acting rationally, but try and educate the public about the reality of the costs... more or less the road we are on now. However, I would also push individuals to bear the economic costs of their decisions - particularly healthcare costs.

Irish Neutrality

Something I have come across that I did not really know much about:

Ireland was neutral in WWII.

I mean, I kind of knew it, but I had not really focused on it. It is sort of left out of the official histories, largely I think because Ireland is and was so embarrassed by it after the fact.

Turns out that 70,000 Irish from southern Ireland did volunteer for UK, which is impressive. But it also just makes me kind of sad to learn that Ireland really did push neutrality through the whole course of the war, including propaganda stating that they their course of action was the best course of action. I wonder how long Ireland would have lasted if the UK fell... 2-4hrs maybe?

Some interesting reading, first about a POW camp where certain Americans were interred for the course of the war along with German pilots

And also the wikipedia article covering the Irish neutrality

Jamaica Better off as a Colony

Nope, I am not going off on some rant about the benefits of the British Empire, or how Churchill was right.

I am talking about survey results, from Jamaica.

When asked whether Jamaica would have been better off as a colony of the UK, 60% of respondents agreed and 17% disagreed.

A thousand people took part in the survey, out of a population of 2.7m. The poll has a reported margin of error of plus or minus 4%.

The survey was undertaken because Jamaica is due to celebrate 50 years of independence next year... I am not quite sure this was the answer Jamaica was looking for.

The Most Expensive Home in the World

Actually, I think the statistic which is more impressive is that this is not just the most expensive home in the world, it is also the second most expensive building ever built. Which is frankly ridiculous, considering this is a "private residence."

What is this place? Antilia - the home in South Mumbai belonging to businessman Mukesh Ambani, the billionaire Chairman of Reliance Industries. The home will house Ambani, wife Nita, their three children and Ambani's mother.... and 600 full time staff.

Ridiculous. The concept of needing 600 staff in a $2 billion home for 6 people right next to one of the world's poorest slums? It makes Carnegie, Mellon, Astor, Morgan, Rockefeller etc etc look like Ghandi.

File:Ambani house mumbai.jpg

Most Expensive Home

Cheap Money: JPMorgan wants to open 2,000 new branches, be the largest US bank

Right now, Wells Fargo is the largest US bank by branch locations (somewhat surprising to those from the East Coast). It has 6,314 branches. BoA, which has nearly twice the assets of Wells Fargo, has 5,856 branches, and is planning on closing 10% of those to cut costs.

JPMorgan currently has 5,268 retail branches, the third-largest network in the U.S.

However, it plans on opening 2,000 more. JPMorgan's five-year strategy calls for 525 to 700 new outlets in California, 375 to 500 in Florida, and an additional 800 elsewhere.

That is a huge number of branch locations. In addition, they are spending a lot of money on trying to attract retail banking accounts.

The big question is of course... why? JPMorgan is not known as a retail-focused bank. They are however the largest bank in United States by sales, profits, assets and market value. They have the largest hedge fund arm of any bank (thanks to the Bear Stearns buyout) at over $50billion in assets.

But it seems that the purchase of WaMu has put JPM on a quest for retail dominance. Which sounds about as exciting as trying to conquer Asia in Risk.
Never, ever try and capture Asia..
But there is a solid logic behind it, which I must say that many analysts disagree with.

What the big banks found out during the debt crises is that if you are highly leveraged (as in - you are a modern bank) and if you are running lots of derivative assets and the crap washing across your books looks worse than the decks of a Japanese whaling vessel, you need some access to cheap cash. Now, you are a bank, so most of the time you can go to other banks. But when every other bank has similarly been caught with their hand in the cookie jar, you had only one option, and that was to go to the US government. Now, because this is JPMorgan, that likely means going over to your former boss/colleague/co-worker and asking for money... but its still a little undesirable. Asking for money from the government is close to admitting complete failure. Not to mention all of those restrictions the government puts on the money.

So JPM has struck on an age old solution to cheap cash: Gradma. By going after California and Florida they are intentionally targeting retail areas where keeping money in a checking account might actually still happen.. because old people keep their money in checking accounts, bank accounts, CDs etc etc. Younger people either keep their money in higher yield online banking accounts, stock market accounts, or--lets be honest here--they have no goddamn money at all and are living hand to mouth.

So basically JPMorgan is hoping that Granddad handshake where he has the $10 bill cupped in his hand for your birthday is going to be their cheap access to cash. The question though is at what cost - 2,000 branches is a hell of a lot. However it works out, an interesting play.

NY Says yes to $, and Gay Marriage

NY has approved gay marriage, and I think the only reaction should be "what the hell took so long?" Obviously, from my position as a libertarian I have no idea why the government is even involved with marriage, but if it is, then there is no logical reason why two people who want to get married should not be allowed to do so.

Interestingly, one of the big reasons why the state is excited about gay marriage is because of cash. It is expected that gay marriages could help out the marriage industry in the state by 20% this year. In addition, NY "expats" as it were would now be willing to move back to the state from states where gay marriage was already allowed. Finally, the NYC gay community is incredibly wealthy, and that alone is expected to drive both the wedding industry and... of course.. tax revenues.

Where is the Austerity?

One of the problems I have right now is that the United States is debating budget cuts which only reduce the deficit.

Its like this. Every inning of baseball, the other team is scoring three runs. That is bad. Right now, you have been getting on run every inning (and yes, I know baseball does not work like this, but stick with me). At the end of five innings, you are 15-5 down. It hurts, people start saying you'll never make it.

Ending number 1:
It hurts. You huddle together and your coach comes up with a brilliant plan.
Your coach is a man known for brilliant plans....
 The big plan is this: if only we could score two run an inning instead of one, everything will get better. You do this.. and lose 27-13.

Ending 2:
But you get together, and out of nowhere your coach says "what the hell have you idiots been doing?" and proceeds to tear you all a new one, and tell you to get on with it. Tough love here is the name of the game, and it works. You score more, play better defense, and come out ahead.

All across the world, we see nations and states striving for ending 2. They realize that running consistent budget deficits is about as helpful to an economy as towing elephants would be to a family SUV.

California just passed deep spending cuts. NJ and Illinois have been taking down unions and cutting costs. The UK has imposed significant austerity measures and is aiming for a balanced budget (though they have proposed some really boneheaded ideas, like offering a 50% reduction in jail time to any criminal who pleads guilty - they later said they would not include rapists, pedophiles and violent offenders... still... wtf Cameron) as have Germany, Spain, France etc etc etc..

But not the US. For the past seven weeks, the US government has debated debt reduction and gotten nowhere. Debt ratings agencies are stating that it is likely the US govt rating is going to fall, and then we will be paying a lot more for our debt. Economists are pointing out the dangers of continuing on our current path.
Our current path
The problem is this. Democrats want to tax more, and Republicans want to spend less. Shocking, I know.

The question then becomes--as, lest we forget, this is theoretically some form of democracy we currently find ourselves in, though I think the Field of Mars might have had more enfranchisement than our current system--do the people of this nation believe that it is spending or taxes which have gotten out of hand?

Well, first, screw the people, this is my book, and I think it is spending. What the hell are we spending trillions on anyway? The government is far far too large, Obamacare should be rolled back, social security and healthcare need to be privatized, and military spending needs to be drastically refocused - we spend way too much on weapons systems development and too little on troops.

But then, letting the people have their say...

"Which comes closest to your view? Congress should increase the debt ceiling first to avoid a default on federal debt, and discuss spending cuts and deficit reduction separately. Congress should ONLY increase the debt ceiling if it makes significant spending cuts at the same time, even if that means there will be considerable reductions in government services and programs. OR, Congress should NOT increase the debt ceiling under any circumstances, even if that means the U.S. defaults on its debt." Options rotated
  Increase debt
ceiling, then
discuss cuts
Increase only
if makes cuts
at same time
Should not increase, even
if U.S. defaults

So then, Norm has the backing of the majority of the American population when I say that Congress needs to get their goddamn act together.

As a final point... government spending does not drive the economy. Cutting government spending does not automatically mean a reduction in GDP, though it is likely that cutting spending will not help the GDP, there are a lot of ways which if you reduced government spending and government regulation, you would end up in a much better position than when you started. Little things like taxes, regulation on healthcare, regulation on insurance, regulation on securities trading, regulation on business finance and accounting are all complete freaking messes right now which cost billions if not trillions in wasted time and effort.

Fix those, spend less, earn more, grow faster, develop more, live better, live longer, die happy.

China's Communist Party - 90th Bday Celebrations, Augers of the Future?

July 1st will mark the 90th birthday of the Chinese communist party. And many, those nonagenarians know how to party.

Well, they know how to throw money at a problem anyway. As mass celebrations are to be had across  the country.

However, what is perhaps more interesting is the party itself. It currently comprises 80MM people, which in any other nation (sans India) would be a big chunk of the population... but in China, it means a large percentage of the middle class are party members, and often middle class because they have been able to ride the coattails of party membership to decent paying and moderately influential jobs in the sprawling and mostly inefficient state-owned enterprises and local governments.

Those state-owned enterprises and local governments are, in my opinion, far closer to collapse than many would believe. They have sucked down huge amounts of capital and have a incredibly high default rate. Local governments (which operate much more like local investment funds than what we would call government) have notoriously spent trillions on infrastructure and building projects which are complete white elephants. Seriously, there are whole empty cities in China. That is not good investing. These companies and local governments are kept afloat by government banks, which take the bad debts onto their own books and offset it with foreign currency reserves - which China has no shortage off. Because of the huge level of currency reserve, I no longer believe that China will face a massive debt crises as I once did, but I still believe they are risking debt contagion, and will have to re-evaluate the spending by state owned/run businesses and branches.

In the long-term then, Party membership may not mean what it once did, because the big bumbling bureaucracy will have to go. And without being able to offer cushy middle-class jobs, the Communist party really would be in trouble.

Communism is China is very much "some are created more equal than others." The numbers of the urban disenfranchised are growing, because officially, you are never allowed to move into the cities, and thus you are never given any of the benefits a communist system is meant to include. You get no social security, no guaranteed job, no heath benefits. The only thing you "get" is completely screwed over, and that is not a recipe for happy communists.

What keeps this 90yr old institution running so efficiently then? Well, that would be the urban wealthy, those who really have the power. They are not always party members either, but generally live in a sort of uneasy truce with the party, where they are allowed to grow their companies like mad and make huge bundles of money while paying very little in taxes and their companies dodge most of the minimal government regulation which do exist. In return, they leave politics more or less well enough alone.

This is somewhat similar to the deal made between Putin and the Oligarchs when he came to power. There of course two things happened: the Oligarchs got into politics, and Putin turned out to be the sneaky motherfucker of the decade.
Yes, I am the love child of James Bond and Otto Von Bismarck
So the situation stands thus: unless China keeps growing rapidly, it will face political unrest. And the one thing China will have a hell of a time doing over the next decade is growing as rapidly as it has done. The population is getting older, the global economy is possibly in for a slow decade, and the economy is also maturing to the point that government lead industrialization just will not have the same rapid effects it has had.

Also, in a bit of a misquote of Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin on 30 Rock): "The first generation works their fingers to the bone. The second generation grows up to be doctors, lawyers, and businessmen. The third generation gets sociology degrees and goes snowboarding." He applies it to immigrants to the US, but I think it is also somewhat fitting for China emerging from the middle ages.

Do I still think that China is the biggest threat to the United States other than Obama? Yes. But I believe that they will have a hell of a time managing their own economic and political development over the next decade.

The Big Picture

Sorry all, I have been caught up in being a lazy bastard the last couple months, and have been focused on the small and somewhat mundane.

No longer, Norm is back and is refocused on bringing the interesting, intriguing, beguiling and bizarre to your attention.

Lets go.


Amazon Takes on eBay - with Trade In

It seems that eBay is under assault from both Best Buy and now Amazon. 

Best Buy says they will buy back your device which they sold to you... though they give you far less than it is worth. 

However Amazon is now offering a buy back program which is pretty damn simple (due to their deep running contract with UPS, which handles their shipping and returns) - you print of a UPS label, ship the device to them, and then get an Amazon gift card. 

Looking at the pricing, it seems that they actually give decent money, though I have no idea what they will pay for items which are in real used condition (i.e. scratched and don't look brand new). Still seems that for those who know how, eBay is the better option - but for those just looking to stop their stuff from shuffling towards obsolescence in the bottom desk drawer - this could be a good option. 

Solar Powered Netbook

Samsung solar power, samsung solar laptop, solar laptop, where to buy a solar laptop, buy solar eletronics, solar powered electronics, Samsung NC215S
I like working. I just don't like working from an office. I like working from wherever I happen to be. I like to travel, and I like to be outside. My Palm Pre and Acer Aspire have given me way more mobility than I ever had before... but still are limited in their battery life.

Samsung has set out to change all that with the first solar powered laptop. With a decent sized solar cell in the lid of the lappie, it takes two hours of sunlight for one hour of use - presumably that is the industry standard kind of "use" which means they tested it with wifi off, the screen on its darkest setting, and absolutely no programs running. So, lets say 30mins of real work for 2hrs of solar charging. This is still pretty damn fantastic, albeit for a certain percentage of the population. The reason it is so fantastic is because you can use the netbook to then charge anything USB... which means basically anything other than certain camera batteries.

It also has a 50% brighter than usual and glare resistant screen so that you can actually use it outside.

I want one.

Underwater VW Bettle

Pretty damn cool.

And not just the sculpture, the idea behind it as well. Artificial reefs, when done right, are great things. When done wrong...

This is being done to create an underwater diving habitat off of Cancun - this is only one of 400 similar sculptures which have been dropped to create artificial reefs.

Wal-Mart Wins Largest Ever Class Action Lawsuit

Well, wins might be a bit of stretch here. More or less, the Supreme Court decided that the couple million claims that Walmart was facing did not actually constitute a class, because there was no unifying thread. Walmart gives a lot of hiring power to its regional managers, and so there really are no national hiring practices... which makes it pretty damn hard to say that there should be a class action lawsuit against the company.

The best news? This is going to screw over hundreds of other ridiculous and frivolous class action lawsuits, and of course future lawsuits. Why do I hate class action lawsuits so much? Well, there are cases which are justified, and this ruling does nothing to those class action suits. What this ruling helps get rid of are the ridiculous suits where tens of thousands or millions of tiny claims which have little relation to each other or often reality are rolled up so that lawyers can make millions. It is quite common in these kinds of lawsuits that the class, even if it wins or gets a settlement, looses money because of the huge lawyer fees. In any kind of settlement, the lawyers get paid millions, and the "class" generally gets some kind of in-kind offer from the company involved. Like the Ford/Firestone rollover case, which was a huge load of crap.

Yet again, my faith in Democracy is undermined by the enduring effectiveness of philosopher kings...

America Sanctions Libya, Gaddafi Blames LSD Coffee on Capitol Hill

Ok, Gaddafi did not say anything crazy this time. He probably just does not give a shit. We blacklisted 9 Libyan companies, which would be like telling Hitler that we banned the import of BMWs and Siemens fridges.

Really, the situation in Libya is completely the US's fault.

I understand that there are those who believe the role of the United State should not be to get involved in regional conflicts. They point to Vietnam and Iraq as examples of how the United States gets it wrong. First, I don't think that we were wrong to go into Iraq. We went in for the "wrong" reasons, and we did not handle the situation well once we were there, but fundamentally, the US should be in the business of deposing murderous dictators who slaughter their own people.

Let me give you a related example. I believe very strongly in personal rights and freedoms. I also believe that there are situations where the individual is not capable of protecting their own rights and freedoms, and that is where a government needs to step in. Whether this be because the individual is not capable on their own (children, elderly, the impaired) or because they are facing an overwhelming force (gangs etc), it is often necessary that to protect the freedom of the individual the government must act.

In the case of nation states, there is nothing above the government. No further power. The UN was meant to fill that role, but basing action upon consensus only works for fish.

The US should and has randomly and somewhat arbitrarily taken that role over the past 60 years. I believe that the US should be much more firm about it, and about why it is necessary, and why we are taking the fight to the despots of the world. Screw WMDs, the fight here is about protecting human life and moving the world towards a better future.

The people of Libya rightfully revolted against their horrendous government and its crazy leader, and in the first few weeks when the regime could easily have been toppled, the United States did... nothing. Absolutely nothing. Any why is that so critical? People have to believe that Gaddafi will fall, or they will be unwilling to turn on him. If the US had backed the rebels in the first few weeks, many more would have deserted - no one wants to be on the losing side. Instead, we waited. And those who were on the fence waited also. No, believing that there is a good change Gaddafi will remain, they are unwilling to act, because nothing is worse than being on the wrong side of a coup.

I can't say at this point that we totally blew it. But instead of a quick revolt and a move to democracy, we have a civil war, with thousands more dying than necessary. Thanks Obama, thanks.

Greeks Protest Not Being Bankrupt

The Greeks are up in arms because their government is attempting to not bankrupt the nation.

Seriously. They are rioting over austerity measures which are blatantly necessary to pull the debt ridden nation away from the brink. This is what you get when you borrow too much, work to little, and lie constantly.

Unless you are Italy that is, where about 15% of the national GDP comes from the Mafia. I suppose that is one form of diversification.

But yes, the Greeks are angry and are trying to topple the current governement. Because clearly, if they can just stop the austerity measures, the government will be able to continue printing money, and they will go on being able to retire in their 50's, get paid for 14months for 12months work (government employees get this) and take 6 weeks of vacation a year.

Honestly, the only way that would work is in Russia, where the average life expectancy is the late 60's. Which brings me to a further point: we (and the Greeks) could solve social security if we all drank copious amounts of vodka and offed ourselves soon after retiring.

Or, crazy idea here, nations could build social welfare platforms which are not vote buying pyramid schemes.

UK Soldier Leaves $160,000 for Vegas Party

A British marine recently killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan had taken out a $400,000 life insurance policy. Of that, he set aside $80,000 for a veteran's charity and $160,000 for.... a Vegas blowout party for all of his friends to celebrate his life. 

He honestly sounds like one hell of a guy. The guts and balls to take out that policy and go in to a war zone at only 23 years old... as a combat medic. He said he regretted nothing in life and was glad to serve. He was described by a superior officer as a "perfect marine." To me, that life insurance policy and will is a glorious fuck you to the Taliban. 

Here's to you Royal Marine David Hart.  

AAARRRGGG No Pre 3 On Sprint


Really, WTF.

Everyone who bought the original Pre on Sprint is right around the time for an upgrade. I have been eligible since May and... had nothing to turn to. I have been waiting for the new Pre 3 to come out, assuming that with all the original webOS users on Sprint waiting for the new generation device (since the Pre2 was really just a Pre+) HP would push to have Sprint as one of its launch partners.

And... they have not.

The Pre was not really a success on Sprint, while the EVO 4G was.. and so Sprint is now pushing the EVO 3D as this years must-have phone. The net result of all this is that I may shortly end up on Android... which would suck, because webOS is the much better operating system (though with weaker apps, I will grant).

Damn you HP, damn you.

Wikipedia Without the Internet

Wikipedia is a huge store of information. Really good information, on just about everything. I use it all the time, and it provides both entertainment (reading about old military stuff etc) and a heck of a lot of informative articles...

But what would you do without the internet? Yes, you could bring the CD of Microsoft Encarta around with you, but really, was 1997 all that awesome? More than that, the breadth of Wikipedia puts everything before it (even the venerable and much loved Encyclopedia Britannica) to shame.

I recently got to thinking about the ability to have wikipedia saved offline, as a simple resource and reference guide if ever needed when in the (increasingly small) parts of the world where the interweb does not reach.

And well... here it is (don't click unless you know how to use torrents / TPB):

Unsurprisingly, the folks over at The Pirate Bay have already taken care of this. Somewhat surprisingly, the whole thing is a very manageable 5GB, thanks to some fancy footwork and the fact that the whole thing loads as a database through a dedicated reader (sorry, no smartphones allowed).

Still though, pretty damn useful to have around. And of course, when the apocalypse comes, you will still know how to properly prepare a Mint Julep, which ship to choose as your base for a new world order, and of course, the design and use of giant trebuchets to destroy the stronghold of your (many, and cowering) enemies.
Yes, you are in trouble.