Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bad month for the energy industry

Between the coal mine explosion in West VA and the oil rig fire and explosion in the Gulf, the TV newsies had had non stop disaster coverage. Unfortunately the press coverage has skipped over the little matter of what went wrong, and pressed on to the usual "isn't this terrible" voice over on video of the disaster scenes.
So far the newsies have not discovered any real evidence of wrong doing at the coal mine. No public disclosure of failure to make required inspections, install the required safety gear, or ignoring alarms. Not that any of this might not have happened, it just that the TV news hasn't reported it.
The oil rig disaster happened under charter to BP, an accident prone operation. BP is so Beyond Petroleum that they let the Alaska pipeline rust out and spring a leak, allowed a major explosion and fire at a Texas refinery, and now it looks like they bear some responsibility for a blowout as bad as Santa Barbara. Santa Barabara happened back in the 1960's and was so bad that California has banned off shore drilling ever since.
For those that remember Santa Barbara, may remember a lot of talk about "blowout preventers", and lack of same on the Santa Barbara well. According to TV news, the gulf well has a 450 ton blowout preventer installed on the sea floor. It isn't working, the oil is pouring out of the damaged well. There has been no coverage of why, of how blowout preventers work, of the possibility of shutting off the oil flow by remote control from the surface or by submarine. This reflects the basic ignorance of newsies. They don't know nothing.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

So what did Arizona pass?

Some TV people claim the new Arizona law allows the cops to question anyone about their citizen ship. Other TV people claim the law only allows the cops to ask about citizen ship AFTER they make an arrest for other reasons. They can't both be right, some of them are are misleading the public. I wonder which one it is.

Confused Vegetation

Right after Leaf Day, we get a winter storm warning this morning. Snow started in earnest a couple of hours ago. We have two inches down and it's still coming down heavily. Dunno what the trees think of this.
Follow up. We have thirteen inches down as of 7:15 this morning and it's still snowing. This is as heavy a snowfall as we have had all winter. Winter storm warning is in effect until 4 PM

Big Pharma Roast

CSpan had some government bureaucrats patting them selves on the back for fining drug maker Astro-Zenica billions of dollars. Astro-Zenica's crime? Marketing drugs for "off label" uses. Terrible crime that. Normally I'm as ready as the next guy to roast a drug company. They charge ridiculous prices, waste enormous sums on marketing, and haven't developed much in the way of new pills lately.
But marketing drugs "off label" is pretty harmless. A new drug (call it Wondermycin) is taken to the FDA and after much time, mountains of paperwork, and probably some under the table payoffs, the drug is approved for sale. The approval reads something like this. "Drug Wondermycin is approved for treatment of this, that and the other disease". Those are the "on-label" uses.
Later on it is discovered that Wondermycin is also good against a couple of other diseases. (Off-label uses) Word gets out to the medical community and doctors begin the prescribe Wondermycin for those other diseases. "Word gets out" means the Wondermycin salesmen tell the doctors about the "off label" uses.
This infuriates the FDA. FDA feels that the drug makers should submit more mountains of paperwork, run more expensive clinical trials, and grovel before the desks of FDA bureaucrats in order to obtain a new approval listing the additional uses. Naturally, the drug companies, after the terrible beating they took getting Wondermycin approved in the first place, are unenthusiastic about going back to get beaten up a second time.
In actual fact, off label uses are carefully controlled. The doctors, for ever looking over their shoulders for a malpractice lawyer hiding in the hallway trash can, are not about to write a prescription for off label use unless said off label use is super safe. No doctor with two brain cells firing is going to risk a malpractice suit by causing harm to a patient. The doctors all know that should a patient suffer so much as a hangnail after taking a drug for an off label use, they will get sued down to their socks.
So, FDA and the bureaucrats are fining Astro-Zenica for promoting off label use, even though off label use isn't going to hurt anyone. This is bending the cost curve UP, and doing it just to make the FDA bureaucrats feel all warm and fuzzy.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Republicans oppose $50 billion bailout fund

The financial reform bill has a provision for a $50 billion fund to "clean up" failed banks. Republicans are opposing this and the democrats are in favor? Far as I am concerned, it's a $50 billion bailout fund. It means that deals with failed banks are covered, at least the first $50 billion. That's bad. Wheelers and dealers should have to worry that they won't get paid if they deal with banks that go bankrupt. They might not do quite so many risky deals if the risks were higher.
This bill also might limit credit default swaps and require banks to "spin off" their credit default swap units. That's a good idea. Credit default swaps are high stakes gambling that put Lehman, AIG, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch and some other fools out of business in 2008. FDIC insured banks shouldn't be gambling in this casino with taxpayer insured money.
If the democrats could give up their bailout fund, Republicans might vote for the bill. Why do the democrats want to bail out Wall St again?

Leaf Day comes to Franconia Notch

It's here. I have green leaf buds showing on all the trees. About time too.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Arguments we don't need to have

Cover story on Commentary "What kind of socialist is Barack Obama". I don't know, and the answer really depends upon what your definition of socialist is. Change your definition of socialism and you change the answer to the question. I don't care if you call Barack Obama is a Fabian socialist, a rightist Burkharin deviationist, a pure Marxist, or a democratic socialist. They are just labels.
Let's talk substantive issues, such as Can the US economy survive the costs of Obamacare, or Did the Porkulus do anything good for the economy, or Should the Obama Administration allow Iran to build nukes and if not what should be done about it. But arguing over the label to apply to Obama's policies is a waste of time in my humble opinion (IMHO).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Used cars cost more after Cash for Clunkers

I'm so glad to contribute my tax dollars to the destruction of perfectly good used cars. Prices for used cars have skyrocketed. I'm in the market for another car, trusty Caddy has the rear axle just about rusted off. Combination of New Hampshire potholes and road salt has eaten up the sheet metal of the unibody where the rear axles attached. Does not look repairable.
So, much cruising of internet car sites. We have acres of boring econoboxes. Slathers of pickup trucks and SUV's which I don't need. There are a few full sized sedans left, Ford Crown Vic, (and Mercury and Lincoln which are the same car with different grills) and Cadillac. And Buick. Nothing else. For used, pricing on Caddy is about the same as Ford and Buick, and Caddy has a better engine.
Drove down to Manchester to look at a 99 Caddy with only 38K miles on it. It was good looking, but the 38K miles was suspicious. For a one owner 11 year old car, that means the previous owner only put 3500 miles a year on it. That's low. Or someone has figured out how to roll back the electronic odometer. Wear on brake pedal and plastic headlight lenses was heavier than my current 125K mile Caddy.
So, I will keep looking for new wheels.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Supression of religion, Judge made law style

The first amendment reads "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion o prohibiting the free exercise thereof"
Modern judges interpret this as preventing bible reading in school, prayer at school assemblies, creches on town property, ten commandment monuments in courthouses and other rulings that have given offense to many good citizens.
In actual fact, the establishment clause says no such thing. Establishment of religion means the sort of deal King Henry VIII gave the English church, namely, you churchmen all work for me, the king, and you no longer work for the pope. After a controversial attempt to return England to Catholicism, it was required that all English kings and high officials be members of the Church of England. Catholics, Quakers, Puritans and Presbyterians need not apply. The Church of England was "established", the dissenters were out in the cold. In fact, belonging to these unestablished dissenting churches was a reputation destroyer, as bad as belonging to the communist party in current day America.
Dissenters set up colonies in North America, Puritans in Massachusetts, Quakers in Pennsylvania, Catholics in Maryland. Lots of Presbyterians came over too but didn't set up a special colony for themselves.
Naturally when the Constitution was written, each American church feared that one of their competitors might become "established" with all the benefits and perks that the Church of England enjoyed back in England. And so, a compromise was placed into the Constitution, namely that no church could be established.
This compromise worked very well up until the 1960's when judges highly trained in nit picking and ignorant of American history decided that "establishment of religion" meant any religious expression.
Today the TV is alive with stories of a federal judge ruling that a national day of prayer (how harmless can that be?) is unconstitutional.
The country would be better off if law school required two credits of American history for graduation. Morison and Commager would be a good text.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Financial regulation, need therefore Part III

Tim Geithner was on Meet the Press this morning talking up the financial reform bill. Geither kept talking and talking about regulation, without ever saying what the regulations might be. Presumably guv'mint bureaucrats will be given authority to give orders to the banks. That's a lot of power for a bureaucrat.
Geithner did say he favored an exchange for "derivatives" by which he meant credit default swaps.
I suppose an exchange would keep records, from which regulators could figure out how much money the banks had wagered on the swaps. Me, I think financial regulations should outlaw swaps completely. Credit default swaps don't grow the economy, instead they divert money from useful investments into high stakes gambling. Credit default swaps killed AIG , Lehman, Merrill Lynch, and Bear Stearns. These are clearly dangerous gambling games with the power to crush mighty brokerages with a single email.
Geithner stressed that "his" regulations would protect taxpayers from future Wall St bailouts. He didn't say how. The bill has a $50 billion bailout fund built into it, but that's chicken feed. TARP was $750 billion, 15 times as much, and it wasn't enough.
We need to put the fear into Wall St. Every trader making risky bets should fear losing his job, loosing his house, loosing his life savings, loosing his reputation, and going to jail if the bet doesn't pay off.

Is the Tea Party full of wierdoes?

A TV newsie reported that 58% of tea party members have guns in their homes and that 60+% of them watch Fox News. Obviously a sign of dangerous radicals.
Most Americans do have firearms somewhere, and most of them do watch Fox News. That makes the Tea Party people main stream Americans.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

John Yoo on Justice Stevens

Interesting op ed piece in the Wall St Journal today. John Yoo, the author, is the Justice department lawyer from the Bush administration who dared to give written guidance to CIA about the difference between legitimate interrogation and torture. Yoo provided useful and clear cut guide lines as to what was legal and what was not. For this service Yoo has been vilified by democrats and his guide lines denounced as torture memos.
Yoo tells the story of way back during WWII, John Paul Stevens was a Navy intelligence officer who was in on the Yamamoto operation. American code breakers intercepted and decyphered Japanese Admiral Yamamoto's travel schedule. A squadron of P-38 fighters was dispatched to intercept Yamamoto's plane. The mission was successful, the Betty bomber carrying Yamamoto was shot down into the jungle. Yamamoto was killed in action by P-38 machine gun fire.
Sixty years later, the now Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens opined that "The targeting of a particular individual with the intent to kill him was a lot different than killing a soldier in battle and dealing with a statistic".
Wow. Stevens believes knowing the enemy's name makes some kind of difference in the morality of killing him. There is some difference between the hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers killed by Marines who didn't know their names, and a high ranking navy officer killed by Air Force pilots who did know who they were gunning for?
Far as I am concerned, killing uniformed enemy in war time, although distasteful, is necessary, legal, and moral. Certainly more moral than nuking enemy cities. That a US Supreme Court justice fails to understand this is appalling.
Could Obama nominate a replacement with better sense?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Tea Party Manchester NH April 15 2010

I went. Large enthusiastic crowd. We filled up Victory Square in downtown Manchester.

That's a whole city block covered with people. Everybody was polite, the crowd listened to the speakers and applauded the applause lines. There were no hecklers. Lots of speakers, Congressmen, former Congressmen, and New Hampshire activists. A common thread among speakers, the country is going down the tubes and the only chance of salvation is get to the polls in November and vote the rascals OUT.
All the Republican candidates were there, I saw Kelly Ayotte, Karen Testerman, and Bill Binder.

I'm told Bill Binnie and Jennifer Horne were present. The place was wall to wall campaign yard signs. No Democrats attended. The organizers mentioned they had invited democrats but none accepted.

Some more pictures are here

Skip Murphy of GraniteGrok, a leading NH blog, set up a "Meet New Hampshire Bloggers thing" with tables, chairs, WiFi, and electric power. Some 5 or 6 of us brought laptops and live blogged the affair. Aside from difficulty reading LCD screens in daylight, and typing fingers stiffened by the cold, it worked out well. Thanks Skip for doing that. We bloggers are covering the event. I didn't see anyone from TV stations or newspapers. So this, and other humble blogs, may be the only public record of the event.

Keep this up and we can have a Republican landslide in November.

David J. Starr

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Obama blames Big Branch Mine Disaster on Management

Obama just got off national TV. He is blaming management for the accident. He gave no facts, just his conclusion "Management did it". Union people are always happy to hear that.
The real cause of the explosion was methane gas, which escapes from the coal. There are published standards for this, how much methane is allowable, periodic tests that must be run, and a requirement for ventilation. Obama did not discuss these issues at all. He did not show that mine management allowed methane to exceed published limits, failed to run required tests, or failed to ventilate the mine.
Management is strongly motivated to prevent their multi billion dollar mine from blowing itself to kingdom come. There is no return on investment after the investment blows itself away. If management was venal or incompetent Obama gave no evidence to support that view.
Citing a number of safety writeups from government inspectors is unconvincing. I used to be in that business. When I was inspecting, I could always find things to write up. Longer I looked, the more I could find. Unless it can be shown that methane was allowed to accumulate before the accident, it ain't management's fault.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Z1485 Point&Shoot as a video camera

I'm going to a tea party tomorrow. The net is warning us all to bring video cameras to record any SIEU thuggery or liberal attempts to discredit the tea party. So I got out my trusty Kodak Z1485 point-n-shoot. This little wonder has a video mode. To give the camera some breathing room, I transferred all my still photos to computers and zapped the camera memory card clean.
Taking videos is simplicity squared. Just turn the knob to video (icon of a movie camera) and press the button. It even records sound. It consumes about 2 megabytes of memory per second. With the smallest 2 Gigabyte memory card it will record 1000 seconds (15 minutes) of very decent looking video.
Playback on the camera is done the same way you review still photos. You can move the video off the camera and onto your computer with nothing more than Windows Explorer. Just plug in the camera's USB cable, and Explorer will "see" the camera as if it were a CD or floppy disc. The video is stored in files named where xxxxxx is a arbitrary number. Just drag the .mov file onto hard drive. From hard drive it will play back with QuickTime or my son's media play program "VLC".
Should I capture anything worthy tomorrow I will figure out how to upload it to U-Tube. Presumably that isn't too hard since zillions of people are doing it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

There's one born every minute

Verizon has found another one. They are trying to sell phone lines in 14 states to Frontier Communications. Frontier is OK with paying $8.6 billion for 4.6 million land lines ($1797 per line). It would take 10 years for my phone bill to pay off $1797. According to the Wall St Journal, the deal is opposed only by the Communications Workers of America and only in the state of West Virginia.
Frontier ought to know that if these land lines were worth anything, Verizon wouldn't be selling them.
Verizon's telephone line spin off in Hawaii caused the Hawaiian buyer to go bankrupt in 2008. Verizon's sell off of rural New England telephone lines to Fairpoint Communications caused Fairpoint to go bankrupt in 2009. Verizon spun off Yellow Pages and they went bankrupt too.
Verizon sees it's future in cell phones and internet. It's dumping the rural phone business. The suckers who buy rural phone lines are doomed. Verizon wasn't making money on rural phone service with all the poles and wires paid for, long ago. The suckers think they can make money on the same business when saddled with a heavy debt they used to buy the business from Verizon. Ain't gonna happen.
In the Fairpoint catastrophe, the stockholders and banks got wiped out, the workers are facing layoffs, and service has deteriorated so badly that everyone is switching to a cell phone.
Wanna bet the same thing happens to Frontier? Dunno why the Frontier suits are falling for this scam, but they are. And the Public Utility Commissions in 14 states are not saying "boo".

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ron Hunt died last Sunday

Ron Hunt was a long time Franconia resident. Cancer finally got him last weekend. Ron was a member of the Franconia Fire Dept, a selectman, ran the auto salvage yard, and just about everyone in town knew him or knew who he was. He got a decent sendoff, 300 people attended services, held out of doors in the center of town. This in a town of only 900 registered voters. Fireman in full dress uniform, the Franconia antique engine, Ron's pulling tractor, and a great big tent. A dozen of Ron's friends and relatives spoke movingly.
A pillar of the community and we will miss him.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

What happened to Protestants on the Supreme Court?

News reports tell me that retiring Supreme Court justice Stevens is the last Protestant on the high court. Everyone left is Catholic or Jewish. This ought to say something about the miserable state of the Protestant church in America. Jews and Catholics have a solid tradition of absolute right and wrong that goes back to the time of Jesus and before. Modern Protestants have bought into a relative morality that can permit a lot of dreadful things. Seems like when selecting honorable men to serve on the high court the body politic looks for men who believe in absolute right and wrong, rather than a slippery relative right and wrong.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Who wants a nuclear free world?

Not me. Nuclear weapons have kept the peace since 1945. There has been some bloodletting but never World War III. Even the Soviets were unwilling to come close to using nukes. Witness the Cuban missile crisis where the Soviets backed down rather than risk pushing the United States too hard. What's not to like?
Obama is talking up a nuclear free world. Dunno why, unless he really fails to understand world history since 1945. This deal he is pushing with the Soviets has some positive angles, both sides can reduce their arsenals and still retain enough power to turn the world into a parking lot. But promising not to use nukes defeats the primary reason for having them.
We have nukes for deterrence, in simple words to scare the bejesus out of our enemies. Promising not to use them, or not to build new models reduces the scare. Why do that? Better to have our enemies fear us than to have them love us.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Curse of Home ownership

Good old NHPR was on this morning, like every morning. The terrible burden of home ownership was the topic. The new roof required shortly after the closing, the hot water heater that failed, Dad coming home and picking up his tool box to work on the house instead of playing with the children.
Man, I don't know how I survived 40 years of home ownership. I did a roof, all it takes is a little money. I changed out four hot water heaters over the years. Got so good I could get to Sears, get the heater home on top of the car, installed, water back on, and still get to work by 11 AM. Done my share of home remodeling projects, two kitchens, two bathrooms, wall paper, book cases, porch railings, dishwasher replacements, disposal replacements and paint. The children loved every one of these and begged to stay up late and help Dad. Home projects were always cooler than yard work.
Could I be listening to "can't change a lightbulb" journalists whining on the air?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

UNH joins the global warming bandwagon

NHPR did a global warming piece this morning. They interviewed a young associate professor from UNH. During a lengthy talk this professor managed to completely avoid the use of numbers. Things are bad and getting badder he said but never a number to say how bad. Then he proclamed that this winter's DC snowstorms were actually caused by global warming. Global warming puts more moisture in the air so we get more precip.
He's wrong on that, the DC snowstorms were perfectly ordinary snowstorms that happened to track a little bit more southerly than usual. Had they gone thru New York state and New England they would have been un remarkable. The distance from the usual storm track and DC is only about 100 miles.
UNH will probably give this guy tenure next week...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Financial regulation, need therefore Part II

The usual suspects, Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, are talking up financial reform, now that Obamacare has been rammed thru.
Not that we don't need something to prevent Wall St from driving the economy over a cliff again.
Too bad the Dodd and Frank bill is welfare for Wall St. The bill contains an elaborate and expensive plan for taxpayers to bail out Wall St the next time they wreck the economy. And as a sweetener for taxpayers, there will be a new "consumer protection agency" to limit some of the customer fleecing going on. With lots of well paying jobs for bureaucrats.
We really need rules to prevent the gambling and speculation that put us into Great Depression 2.0. The purpose of Wall St is to finance economic growth, new factories, new products, construction, inventory, and sales. It is not doing credit default swaps, reselling mortgages, or executing stock trades in milliseconds. We need regulations to crack down on the gambling and speculation that crashed the economy, not plans to bail out the gamblers.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hurrah for Dollar Stores

They may not have everything, but what they do have for $1 costs about $3 at the local food store (Mac's Market). They have crackers, cookies, condiments, shampoo, chocolate bars, dishwash, salami, frozen foods, disposable paint brushes, and tie wraps.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Buzz. Free Media for Ipad

Fox and Friends this morning is so charmed by the new Ipad. The had one on the show, raved about it, showed good video of the screen, showed the thing responding to finger touches. Ran for minutes.
Gotta hand it to Apple. A product so cool that a leading cable news channel gives them a free commercial. Not just a passing mention, but a close up and detailed look at the thing.
Steve Jobs is doing his best to get us out of Great Depression 2.0. The country needs more guys like Jobs.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Is nuclear power affordable?

Maybe. The plants are expensive, the last round of proposals and bids centered around $6 billion dollars to construct a nuclear plant. That's a lot of money. Such a plant would produce 1000 Megawatts of electricity.
If the plant was financed with 20 year bonds, bearing 6% interest, the yearly bond payment would be $480 million dollars. That's the payment to the bank every year to pay off the bonds. That's also a lot of money. Will the plant sell enough electricity to pay its mortgage?
Assume the plant runs at full load 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Assume they get 8 cents a kilowatt hour for their juice. Then the plant makes $700 million and some change a year from sale of electricity. Subtract the $480 million mortgage payment and the owners have a yearly cash flow of $220 million to pay the workers, purchase fuel, keep the plant up, pay their taxes, pay off the lawsuits, and provide some profit.
If any of the assumptions (interest rate, electric rate, demand for all the plant's output all day long) change for the worse, the plant may start losing money. I hear in the Journal that banks are unenthusiastic about lending for nuclear plants for fear they may default on the loans. There has been demand for federal loan guarantees for nuclear construction.
One thing that would help is reducing the cost of the plant. A lot of that $6 billion goes for permits and review of the design and getting Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approval of the plant design. And fighting the greenie lawsuits. These costs could be reduced by coming up with a standard design to eliminate the NRC review costs. Plus legislation to reduce the grounds for greenie lawsuits.
Bottom line. Nuclear power ought to pay for itself, but the margin of profit could be wider than it is.