Personal Recommendation – Berti’s Gloves

The company is Berti’s Gloves in Harrison, ID. I’ve seen this company’s booth at local shows for a few years and I finally spoiled myself and bought a pair of their deerskin gloves. They are fantastic which is why I’m posting their information here. The gloves aren’t cheap (standard deer skin gloves are $62), but their standard size 8 fits me great and feels fantastic.

I’ll add more information after the jump, but right now their website doesn’t seem to be working and in general, from talking to them I don’t think they’re focused on the internet. They always have a well-stocked booth at the shows they’re at and when I’ve talked to them they seem to be very nice. Continue reading

Chocolate drink and some notes about food podcasts

Bittersweet Chocolate Drink:

This is a drink I came up with recently for times when I am craving chocolate but trying to stay away from candy. Add 1 Tablespoon cocoa powder and 1 packed Tablespoon dark brown sugar to a large coffee mug. Add 10-12 ounces boiling water. Stir thoroughly. Add in 2 Tablespoons dairy with some fat (milk, table cream, whipping cream, whatever). Stir, let cool.

So far, it’s been very filling and has helped keep me away from my dad’s stash of candy bars when I get chocolate cravings.

Food podcasts:

I’m still listening to podcasts. Here are a couple about food that I really enjoy. Continue reading

Quote, May 17 2014: A life well lived

a life well lived does not mean assuring financial success, it means having Soul in the Game. It means living with integrity, taking risks and exposing yourself not just to downside for yourself, but for others.

-Taylor Pearson, “My Favorite Heuristic for Evaluating Relationships: The Antifragile Person”, Taylor Pearson, April 27 2014 (site last visited May 17 2014)

This is a quote from a longer blog post that is really good and really worth reading. A short version of it is: 1) financial success shouldn’t be your only goal, and 2) you’ll get a lot farther in life if you’re willing to be around people who will politely tell you when they disagree with you, and who will listen and be willing to think about what you say when you politely disagree with them.

A thanks to Charles Hugh Smith for the link, I got it from his oftwominds musings list (which is something I would absolutely recommend as a short weekly newsletter to sign up for).

Notes that are true for ALL meetings (and a new blog recommendation)

When someone says: I’m going to simplify things.
They mean: Be confused. Be very, very confused.

When someone says: I’m going to back up here.
They mean: I’m going to make up some history, now.

When someone says:I’m going to name the elephant in the room.
They mean: My next observation will be startlingly banal.

. . .

When someone says: We need to show leadership.
They mean: I should be in charge.

When someone says: There needs to be a bottom-up process.
They mean: Nobody asked me about this.

. . .

When someone says: I realise I’m what’s standing between you and lunch / dinner / drinks
They mean: I know you won’t like what I’m going to say. Please don’t throw anything.

. . .

When someone says: The perfect is the enemy of the good.
They mean: Ignore everyone else’s ideas and just use mine.

When someone says: Any other comments on this?
They mean: Will everyone please, for the love of all that is holy, STFU?

“ICANN Public Forum Bingo”, Maria Farrell, Crooked Timber, March 27 2014 (last accessed March 29 2014)

The blog is Crooked Timber. As in, “out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” (And that is an epic blog title.)

Please do check it out, I just found out about it from a link from Walter Russell Mead over at The American Interest, and those comments about the ICANN meeting are so true of most meetings I wish I could post them on billboards on every highway in the world.

Cooking and tea, Jan 27 – 29

I’ve been drinking Assam tea and dug back through a Pu-erh sampler pack I got from JAS eTea a while back, the 2003 Yong Pin Hao “Yi Wu Zheng Shan” is quite good, nice and mild.

Today, tried a slightly modified version of the peanut butter blondie recipe in the latest Bon Appetit. It turned out well, I’ll post the full recipe today or tomorrow. Monday, cooked up a bunch of jalapeno breakfast sausage from Van’s IGA in Great Falls, as always their sausage is very good!

Some fantastic soaps from the Montana Soap Lady


From their site:

At the Montana Soap Lady shop we carefully craft natural, glycerin rich soaps made from saponified Olive Oil; Coconut Oil; Palm Fruit Oil; Castor Oil; Sweet Almond Oil, and Shea Butter using cosmetic-grade pigments, and botanicals like oatmeal, and lavender buds with fragrance…or not. Our bars are 6.5 ounces which our friend, owner of Serenity Yoga in Miles City, Kara Phillips, calls “Big Burly Bars!” We know you will enjoy the “hand lotion effect” you will experience when you use natural, handcrafted soaps made from quality ingredients…

Continue reading

Phil’s Fonts — A nice site

Site: Phil’s Fonts,

I know the right alphabet and the right formatting can do wonders for a piece of written text.

I know what I like when I see it.

But I’m still learning how to create that myself.

Adding in the web browser dimension just makes it more complicated. Even if you like what you see on your screen, how will it render on the user’s screen? And yes, there are some newer ways to create more ways for users to see fonts, but I’m wrapping my head around how those work too.

Plus still learning about how different types of typesets work together (or don’t work together, as the case may be).

If you want to learn about fonts and typesets, the book The Non-Designer’s Design & Type Books by Robin Williams is fantastic.

And Ms. Williams’ book is where I found a recommendation for Phil’s Fonts, which is a very nice and useful site with many thousands of fonts. You can search them by name, type, and foundry, and it will tell you the different formats each font is available in, as well as letting you try out sample text with a font.

The only thing I’d say to be careful of is some of the end-user license agreements. Those vary by font foundry, and some can be VERY specific about what formats you can use the font in, or how many times, or on how many machines.

On the plus side, Phil’s Fonts has a couple of fonts available for free download each month, and also a really nice free newsletter that showcases different fonts each month so you can see how some of the many fonts look in different settings.

A few recommended resources for those who like to cook

Presented in no particular order.


Bon Appetit — A really good magazine. A lot of their recipes are too fancy or complicated for my tastes, but they have a lot of recipes that are good and once in a while have a recipe that is WONDERFUL!! And regardless of whether I actually cook any recipes in a given issue or not, it’s always fun to read.

Cook’s Illustrated — Another really good magazine, I start reading every issue as soon as it comes in the mail. Tells you not just how to make something, but why they are saying to make it that way and all the variations they went through to develop the recipe. Also has a wonderful website and tons of great links on their Facebook page too.

Cook’s Country A companion magazine to Cook’s Illustrated, Cook’s Country focuses more on homestyle cooking, or cooking for larger groups. They regularly ask for reader submissions of vintage recipes and then after cooking them all up, let us know what the best vintage recipes are. Those vintage recipes are worth the price of subscription alone.

Catalogs and Web Sites

Bob’s Red Mill —  Based in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area (Milwaukie, Oregon to be precise), Bob’s Red Mill has really great wheat flours and tons of tons of specialty flours. If you are curious about various non-wheat flours, Bob’s Red Mill probably has it. Ground arrowroot, rice flour, barley flour, rye flour, quinoa flour, teff flour, and everything else you can think of. The packages all come with suggested recipes on the back. They also have some great mixes, like a soup mix that is beans and barley. Lots of recipes available on their website, also lots of cookbooks.

King Arthur Flour — Another flour and baking catalog, King Arthur Flour is based in the northeast U.S. Lots of really good wheat flours, also flavor additives, cheese powders, bread and bagel toppings, different types of bulk chocolate, baking tins, paper baking cups for things you’ll send out as gifts, all types of stuff. Recipes on their website and in each catalog. Lots of good cookbooks about baking and bread baking too. They have a really good baking cookbook, and also a really good whole grains baking cookbook.

Timeless Foods — If you want lentils, this is the place to go. Scarlet, golden, Du Puy, regular, Beluga, it’s all wonderful. Also some split peas and purple barley, but I love them for their lentils.

Spice Place — If you want spices mixes, this is the place to look. A lot of them are in restaurant quantities, but there’s a couple spice mixes I buy from here that I absolutely love so much I use them in restaurant quantities. I mainly go just to order spices, but their site says they are a whole online cooking community, so probably a lot more depth to the site than I’ve gotten into. They do pay attention to the customer, I got a very nice handwritten note with one order explaining that one of the spice mix companies had bought out another one, so even though the brand of mix I got was different than what I ordered, they wanted to assure me it was the same thing, just a different company name. I do $30-$100 orders a couple times a year, that level of attention even to small orders is nice to see!

Pendery’s — Another spice specialist, they have a catalog we regularly get. They have bunches of bulk spices and spice mixes, including some things common in the southern U.S. that we don’t see at all up north. Also tableware, novelty table items, things like bottle openers, aprons, a mortar and pestle both made entirely of sea salt, all types of stuff. LOTS of specialty cookbooks, I look through the catalog sometimes jut look at the cookbooks, and have bought holiday presents for relatives from their catalog (after buying about six cookbooks for myself the first time I ordered from them). Lots of hot spices, chiles and hot sauces.

Oil & Vinegar — I hadn’t thought to include this until I found out A Cook’s Wares was now semi-defunct (at least as far as an online presence goes) and I was trying to think where else I would find all the different types of vinegar they had. Oil & Vinegar is a franchise, so you’ll have to look up products by store. However, all their stores have an amazing selection of oils and vinegars, so it’s well worth checking out. They also have various spreads, spices, spice mixes, snacks, etc. Although it’s been a while since I’ve been in one, I’ve gotten an oil-marinated garlic spread there which was heavenly.

Catalogs I haven’t ordered from but seem worth mentioning anyway

Chefwear — Professional chef clothing, not just the double-breasted jacket (although they have that too), but shirts, bunches of types of aprons, lots of pants, clogs (including steel-toed clogs), if you want clothing to cook in Chefwear is a good place to look!

(Semi-defunct) A Cook’s Wares — Sadly, it looks like the owner of this catalog has decided to semi-retire and now only has one retail outlet in the northeast U.S. and is no longer trying to operate an catalog or online store. Very sad, as it was a very interesting catalog to browse through.

Beautiful paintings by Mark Kortnik

I stumbled across Mark Kortnik‘s work years ago at some sort of convention or show in Portland, Oregon. He displays at the Aspen Grove Gallery in Joseph, Oregon.

In particular, I really like his bird paintings.

Over the years, I’ve picked up a few of his prints.

Spirit of the North by Mark Kortnik

I got a large print of “Spirit of the North” and when my brother saw it one day he liked it so much I gave it to him, and later got it framed as a present for him.

Canyon Ruins by Mark Kortnik

Canyon Ruins by Mark Kortnik

“Canyon Ruins” also hangs in my brother’s house, I got a print of it for my sister-in-law when she was attending college in New Mexico when she and my brother were still dating and hadn’t gotten married yet.

Canyon Spirit by Mark Kortnik

Canyon Spirit by Mark Kortnik

I have smaller framed prints of both “Canyon Spirit” and “Icy Refuge” hanging where I live currently, perhaps one day I will get larger copies of either (or both) of those paintings.

Icy Refuge by Mark Kortnik

Icy Refuge by Mark Kortnik

I occasionally look at his poppy paintings too, the reds are so vibrant . . . but I haven’t gotten around to buying any prints of those yet, perhaps one day.

Dreams for Peace by Mark Kortnik

Dreams for Peace by Mark Kortnik

Kortnik also has many paintings of wolves, mountain lions, bobcats, landscapes, bears, and other subjects. They are all very good, but the ones I posted here are the ones I like the most.

Quote, September 3 2012 — Your life is what it is, there are ways you can change and ways you are who you are (also, some thoughts of my own on profanity)

you’re gonna be you no matter what! . . . it’s stupid to think you’re going to end up as someone completely wrong because of luck. It’ll change how you get there

– Ethel, talking to herself at the Museum of the Theoretical, “Ethels”, Subnormality #202, written & drawn by Winston Rowntree, August 30 2012 (site last accessed September 3 2012)

Once in a while there will be a Subnormality comic I disagree with, or just don’t get. But for every one of those, there are four or five (or more) that — to me — are wonderful. They are funny, insightful, and moving.

(As a warning to other readers — there’s also occasional profanity and adult situations. I don’t mind that type of stuff, but I know some people do. [1])

“Ethels” is one of those Subnormality comics that I really like, involving one person meeting three other potential versions of herself. Even though all four potential Ethels have gone down different paths of their lives, they each find something in their own life to be happy and content with. Yet they also find something in each of the others’ lives to applaud as well.

A lengthier excerpt of that section is:

Struggling horror novelist and unemployed Ethel: Oh Christ, I was supposed to work at the ****ing production company?

Successful and published non-fiction writer (after being kicked out of high school, arrested, community service & not getting along with her parents for 10 years) Ethel: Oh ****, that is not the lesson.

Depressed but married and deeply in love independent film projects Ethel: Yeah, you’re not supposed to be doing anything, y’know! For ****’s sake, there’s not one real you and then a bunch of other ones that each made some tiny but vital error! Obviously there’re epic-length mistakes anyone should avoid, like ****in’ being dishonest with yourself as a lifestyle or marrying someone you hate or otherwise telling your inner voice to **** off, but beyond that you’re gonna be you no matter what!

Employed career woman but misses the fiction writing Ethel: Given a certain level of self-respect, which you actually do have, believe it or not. Ripley’s believe it or not.

Successful non-fiction writer (after being kicked out of high school, arrested, community service & not getting along with the parents for 10 years) Ethel: And it’s stupid to think you’re going to end up as someone completely wrong because of luck. It’ll change how you get there, but you’re still gonna be Ethel the ****ing ray of sunshine.

It’s a good comic. I recommend reading the whole thing (and yes, Subnormality deserves it’s subtitle of “Comix with too many words”). I’ve been considering getting some of his comics as posters, if he makes a poster of “Ethels” I probably will order that one.

[1] Sometimes people get so offended by profanity that to me it’s a bit ridiculous.

As an example:

  • Person A tells me with great satisfaction that she’s hidden Person B’s posts on her Facebook page because Person B uses too much profanity. Person B is a friend of mine and I don’t mind his profanity that much. Person A know this. However, Person A finds Person B’s profanity so offensive she tells me multiple times how much she disapproves of Person B’s profanity and how she has long since hidden any and all posts he puts up on Facebook.
  • However, Person A repeatedly quotes and/or references Person C’s Facebook posts. I no longer associate with Person C, have no wish to associate with him, and really don’t want to hear about him. I no longer associate with Person C because he was misleading and deliberately hurtful in his dealings with me, up to and including stating it was no longer worth his time to talk to me personally but he intended to talk to other people about me and give me an unpleasant and untrue reputation while doing so. Person A is aware of all this, as I have explained this to her multiple times, yet she continues to bring up Person C and recount Person C’s Facebook posts on multiple occasions.


  1. Does Person A really and truly believe that “cussing” is a worse offense than “stabbing a friend in the back”? (Even if Person A has privately decided that Person C’s explanation of events is a truer account than my view of events, I would have expected her to long ago quit bringing up Person C in conversation or citing Person C as an authority on anything.);
  2. Or does Person A just make a regular habit of talking without thinking, and in this case is using her outrage!!!!! over cussing as a pretext for doing so?

This is an example of why I am a bit unsympathetic to those who are so thoroughly offended by profanity.

Yes, profanity does get overused in conversation. There’s a lot of things that can be said effectively without profanity.

I’ve even argued that overuse of profanity leaves a person at a loss when they want to express how strongly they feel about something. A string of profanity from someone who uses cuss words all the time does not have the same impact or make the same impression on listeners as a string of profanity from someone who typically doesn’t cuss.

However, there are so very many of those who use their outrage!!!!! at profanity as an excuse to be petty, shortsighted, and judgmental that on the whole, I would rather spend time with those who cuss and occasionally mention to them that cussing as a regular habit can give undesirable impressions in mixed company, than deal with those who like to dwell on how very offended they are.

All of which is to say: if you disapprove of profanity, you’ll probably disapprove of quite a few of Rowntree’s Subnormality comics. I will respect your choice, but I’m not terribly sympathetic.

If you like Celtic fiddle music, or just great fiddle music in general, here are two sites to check out

Compass Records

Compass Records carries most (all?) of the albums which were originally released by Green Linnet. They also have albums from other companies such as Mulligan Records, Xenophile, Celtophile, and Tayberry.

Loftus Music

Loftus Music was started in 2007 by Kevin Burke, a wonderful Irish fiddler, as a way to produce his own recordings and recordings that he was involved in with other artists.

In particular, here are some artists you can find at those two titles who I would highly recommend:

Kevin Burke. Wonderful Irish fiddler, does traditional Irish fiddle music, also fiddle music from other parts of Europe.

John Cunningham. A great Scottish fiddler, now sadly deceased.

Celtic Fiddle Festival. Originally Kevin Burke, John Cunningham, Christian Lemaître, and Ged Foley, this was my introduction to Celtic fiddle music. Their albums are wonderful. In 2003 John Cunningham unexpected passed away, André Brunet joined the group and the album Play On is the first one released after that. (I’m not going to say that Brunet filled Cunningham’s spot, since those shoes would be almost impossible to fill & Brunet has a somewhat different style of music than Cunningham did; while Celtic Fiddle Festival’s music changed a little bit after the loss of Cunningham and addition of Brunet, both lineups are still wonderful. If you ever have a chance to see them live, don’t pass it up.)

Martin Hayes. Either solo or with Dennis Cahill, another incredible Irish fiddler.

Quote, July 26 2012 — “The most damage is caused by those who are not as smart as they think they are”

The most damage is caused by those who are not as smart as they think they are. Let me repeat: the most damage is caused by those who are not as smart as they think they are.

– Charles Biderman, “Biderman’s Daily Edge: The Bernanke Put is Dying”, Trim Tabs Money Blog, July 25 2012 (site last accessed July 26 2012)

It’s very gratifying to the ego to think “Look at me, I am so smart.”

It also leads to a lot of problems when a person’s ego becomes mostly based on “smart”.

I was going to write a list of the various problems I’ve seen caused by smart people who overestimated their smartness, or who got too caught up in showing everyone else who smart they are (and that includes my own mistakes along the way, as well as those of others). But I found all my examples — and even all my attempts to consolidate or explain those examples — coming back to one common theme:

“I am smart, so therefore . . . . “

So therefore . . . therefore . . . therefore nothing. Continue reading

Beautiful semi-precious stones at Designer Cabs

The site is, being the website for Designer Cabs, a family business in Branson, Missouri.

“Cabs” is short for cabochons, which are stones that are polished smooth and rounded, instead of faceted. Most opaque stones are made into cabochons, as faceting an opaque stone does not produce the flashes and sparkles of light that are produced by faceting a transparent stone.

If you like rocks and semi-precious stone, Designer Cabs is a nice site to browse through. Most of their stones are unmounted, although they do have a few pendants and rings. I look not so much to buy, but just to see what is out there. It is fascinating to see how much variety there is in semiprecious stones.

Because their stock changes with time, I’m not included any pictures from the site, you’ll have to look through it yourself. I found them through a recommendation in the book Designing from the Stone by Lisa Barth, which is also a very beautiful book if you like to look at semiprecious jewelry.



Quote, July 17 2012 — A lost standard

“I learned to write reports that made a clear argument for whether a deal should be approved or not. Don’t hedge, don’t waste anyone’s time. Clarify your argument and substantiate it.

. . .

The logic needed to be perfect, too, laid out as concisely as possible so as not to waste the time of anybody reading it and also to uphold legal scrutiny in the unlikely but still possible scenario that the Fed was sued over one of these decisions.”

-Mike Mayo, Exile on Wall Street: One Analyst’s Fight to Save the Big Banks from Themselves, Chapter 1: “God’s Work” at the Fed

This is my 2nd post (and last for the time being) which quotes Exile on Wall Street. Not only was it an account and critique of Wall Street, large banks and the United States financial sector in the 1990s through the early 2010s, it was also a memoir of the standards Mayo had been taught to hold himself to.

I wish more writers — financial, managerial, journalists, or otherwise — were willing to put as much effort into what they write as what Mayo describes. And he was putting that effort into reports that likely would be filed and never looked at again, and he knew that, but he still pushed himself to do that good of a job.

Really beautiful landscapes from Elizabeth Kirschenman

I ran across Elizabeth Kirschenman‘s art by accident while traveling in Canada a few years ago with a cousin. We stumbled upon a craft & art fair in one of the cities we visited and Kirschenman had a booth there (if you ever get to meet her in person, she is a very nice person).

She paints very beautiful watercolor landscape paintings. I bought a set of her greeting cards and looking her up on the web recently, I found that she displays art at the Grasslands Gallery in Val Marie, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Down Corner Coulee by Elizabeth Kirschenman

If you haven’t been around the Dakotas (U.S.), eastern Montana (U.S.), southern Alberta (Canada) or southern Saskatchewan (Canada), it’s arid grassland with occasional ravines or gullies. Those ravines or gullies are referred to as “coulees”.

River Ridges by Elizabeth Kirschenman

(Looking it up on the internet, I found the term coulee is derived from French / French Canadian words for “flow”. People from Montana, North Dakota, Alberta & Saskatchewan (and according to Wikipedia, eastern Washington and Louisiana also) usually know what a coulee is . . . People from other states or provinces are confused and wondering why we’re suddenly using old racist terms for manual laborers from Asia. Yes, I once had someone ask me that question when I mentioned coulees in Montana.)

Coulee Trail by Elizabeth Kirschenman

There’s lots of other nice art by other artists at the Grasslands Gallery page, including photographs, paintings and jewelry. It’s a nice site and I hope to see more of Kirschenman’s art posted there, as she is a great artist.

Wonderfully great dog drawings and cartoons by Lili Chin

I found this page through a random post on Facebook. It’s Doggie Drawings by Lili Chin at

I have a weakness for good pen-and-ink / cartoon-like drawings. That is part of the reason why I love Lili Chin’s doggie drawings. Part of it is I like dogs, and she does a wonderful job with the dogs’ facial expressions & body language.

Here are a few of her drawings:

“Chopper & Rocky”

“Chopper & Rocky” by Lili Chin


“Beeru” by Lili Chin


“Jack” by Lili Chin

There’s also a ton of really great posters & books on Lili Chin’s page about dog behavior, dog training, interacting with dogs, and other things. A good post to see some of those is “Dog Training-Related Drawings”.

And if you glance through the posts, there are a lot of links to various dog-related charities & rescue organizations.

It’s a really wonderful site with really great artwork. Please go check it out.  

Freedom of speech, abuse of the legal system, and why the first is good and the second is bad.

“This isn’t about Left and Right, it’s about liberty versus tyranny.”

– Mark Tapscott, “How to Kill the First Amendment”, The Washington Examiner, May 24 2012 (site last accessed May 25 2012)

More from the article:

Kimberlin harasses his targets by, among many other ways, filing false charges in courts that require expensive, time-consuming litigation, disrupting his targets’ workplaces, and dropping dark hints about spouses and kids.

Here’s how Patterico describes Kimberlin’s tactics against Worthing in seeking a “peace order”: “It is beyond the scope of this post to detail every way in which Kimberlin’s peace order is misleading and deceptive. Kimberlin complains that Aaron spoke of purchasing a gun, implying that Aaron’s statement was aggressive — when Aaron actually said he had bought a gun to defend himself.

“Kimberlin claims that Aaron is responsible for ‘alerts’ coming to his email inbox, suggesting Aaron is emailing him, when in fact the ‘alerts’ Kimberlin is talking about are Google alerts. If you write about this guy on the Internet, he may run to a judge and say you are causing abusive alerts to come to his email.

“You might say: What’s the harm in getting a peace order? I have watched this play out in other venues and I know just what Kimberlin is up to. As soon as he gets a ‘peace order,’ he will run back to court the very next time Aaron mentions his name in public.

“That means that Kimberlin asserts the right to abuse the court process to harass Aaron — and if Aaron tells the world how Kimberlin is abusing the court process, Kimberlin will claim that as a violation of the peace order and try to have Aaron held in contempt of court.”

Unless these tactics are vigorously repudiated by the First Amendment’s friends across the ideological spectrum, our Constitution will become little more than a parchment barrier to oppression.

Who is Brett Kimberlin? Some background:

During the 1992 U.S. Presidential campaign, there were accusations that Vice Presidential candidate Dan Quayle has smoked marijuana. The accusation came from Brett Kimberlin, who claimed to have been Quayle’s marijuana dealer, and were reported in the New Yorker by Mark Singer.

Mark Singer agreed to do a book with Brett Kimberlin, but during the course of researching the book, Singer found more & more discrepancies in Kimberlin’s accounts. Singer eventually wrote all of this up in the book Citizen K: The Deeply Weird American Journey of Brett Kimberlin, published in late 1996.

No, I have not read the book, that information was gathered from the book’s description and editorial reviews on

The editorial reviews include such comments as:

  • “Through dogged reporting and with a healthy skepticism, Singer sorts through the conflicting accounts and reveals a man whose idea of the truth is utterly malleable. Kimberlin, it becomes clear, never encountered a situation that he couldn’t somehow exploit for gain.” – Kirkus Reviews, as quoted on

To go even further back in time, Brett Kimberlin was convicted in 1981 of the Speedway bombings. Those were a series of bombs that went off in Speedway, Indiana in 1978. published a couple of articles in October 2010 about the bombings, the case against Brett Kimberlin, and the trials where he was convicted.

Those articles are:

One of the victims of the Speedway Bombings was a man named Carl DeLong. DeLong’s injuries were severe and so painful, he committed suicide in 1983. His widow Sandra filed — and won — a civil suit in 1983. The judgment against Kimberlin was $1.6 million dollars.

Kimberlin’s sentence for the Speedway Bombings was 50 years. He served only 13 years before being released on parole in 1994.

Kimberlin did not pay the judgment against him from Sandra DeLong, so his parole was revoked and he was sent back to prison from 1997 until 2001.

According to the Time magazine article “The Wizard of Odd” by Massimo Calabresi, published January 5 2007, Kimberlin first got involved in political activism after the 2000 U.S. Presidential election. After the 2004 election, Kimberlin posted a $100,000 reward on the website The reward was for evidence that the 2004 election had been stolen. Kimberlin and a man named Brad Friedman co-founded the site, which was also for political activism (the article’s exact words are “netroots voting-reform”).

[On a side note, I would highly recommend that Time magazine article for information on ways electronic voting machines can malfunction or be tampered with. This is a topic that has been covered many times in various tech & computer security forums and is well worth reading about on its own merits.]

The article does mention a couple of times that Kimberlin’s credibility is not always the strongest (for example, “While Kimberlin and others were mixing fact and fiction in the blogosphere”), although it doesn’t go into any great detail as to why his credibility is not great.

A personal note: I am not against someone being politically active. And convicted felons are allowed to speak up and use the First Amendment just as the rest of us are.

But, I do have a problem with people who abuse the court system. I also have a problem with people who get someone, and someone’s spouse, fired from their regular jobs because someone posted a truthful blog post about certain people’s criminal past. And there are allegations that is what Brett Kimberlin is doing.

So, because of his harrassment of the bloggers at Patterico and Allergic2Bull, among others, Lee Stranahan declared May 25th as “Everybody Blog About Brett Kimberlin Day”.

There are a lot of links I’m not including — go check out the articles above & you’ll find lots of links about Kimberlin. Some of the links go off on tangents about some of his associates, or deal with things that are speculation. For instance, Patterico’s piece includes discussion of a fake SWAT team call to his house — a call which gave the police department the impression Patterico had just shot his wife & children and was a threat to society. Had he not answered the door in a very calm & peaceful manner, Patterico could be dead right now. And there are some statements made by some of Kimberlin’s associates which have some suspicious timing in regards to the actual fake call to SWAT. While there’s no proof that Kimberlin or his associates were responsible for the fake call, it is incumbent upon them (and all of us) to denounce such tactics. Trying to get someone killed by the police with a fake 911 call is not how you win arguments.

[Again on a side note, Patterico’s post is very much recommended reading, as it discusses ways in which online harrassment & stalking are done, including public disclosure of home addresses, calls to employers, whispering campaigns, setting up fake social media accounts in the name of the person being harrassed, etc. There is also a lot of interesting information in the comments section.]

Because Kimberlin is associated with a lot of left/liberal/Democratic/progressive causes, and many (but not all) of his targets are associated with right/Republican/conservative causes, there are people on both sides who are portraying this as a left vs. right issue. It’s not. It’s a freedom of speech issue. If anyone who exercises their First Amendment rights is harrassed and sued into silence, then there really isn’t freedom of speech.

And yes, I realize I am about 15 minutes late on actually getting this posted on May 25th.

Quote, May 25 2012 — There is more to science than creating models

 “the obsession with technique has dominated the scientific need to understand the world. And formalism, which is what modeling is, is very very different than science.”

-Robert Johnson, Executive Director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET), in an interview with Stifterverband, March 7 2012. Video last watched May 25 2012

Originally found via Zerohedge.


Zerohedge post: “Economists. What (Or Who) Are They Good For?”, posted by Tyler Durden on May 22, 2012

Vimeo video on Vimeo’s site: “Ökonomie neu denken – Jenseits der Finanzkrise (V)” [No, I have no idea what that translates as.], posted by Stifterverband, March 7 2012

Article about this interview on INET: “What are economists for, anyway?”, posted by The Institute for New Economic Thinking, May 21 2012

This is an incredible interview. It’s short, but covers so very many interesting things. Over-reliance on modeling, current state of thinking about economics among economics graduates, history of economic thought, Johnson’s ideas for how education for economics needs to change . . .

No, I can’t embed Vimeo videos in this blog (just looked into it, it’s about $60/year, I enjoy writing these blogs but not that much).  Please watch the video here.

But . . . suppose you can’t, or don’t want to, or whatever. I liked the interview so much I sat down and wrote a transcript. This is my own transcript, no guarantees on accuracy, and I wasn’t familiar with all the names he mentioned, they’re probably misspelled.

And yes, I want to find out more about humanism and the enlightenment now too.

What I heard (time stamps are time stamps in the video):

00:14 I think the economics profession was making tremendous money – tremendous money – in consulting for the financial sector. And many of the theories were not what you might call investigation and illumination of how financial markets worked. They were portraits painted, like a marketing document, for how finance needed to be unshackled so the powerful could make even more money. And I think they did a great disservice to mankind, and we’re cleaning up after that right now.
00:47 And I don’t believe it’s all corruption. I don’t believe that it’s just that people took the money, got paid, and created a false vision. But I think the people who have the vision, in a sincere belief, that conformed to what, say, the investment bankers and hedge fund managers wanted, were the people who got elevated in society, made a lot of money, became prominent. So they were used as marketing vehicles, and they were not adequately skeptical as scientists of, of what their vision, what the flaws in their vision might be.

1:28 The world is always uncertain. No one can see in the crystal ball of the future. So when people become anxious, they want the expert to tell them what’s going to happen. And they feel good when their anxiety is relieved ‘cause they think they understand the future.
But if the expert, instead of telling the truth, is tell snake oil – a false story – when that is unmasked the expert becomes the scapegoat. And the expert, meaning the economists’ profession, is now a scapegoat rather than someone who is what you might call “held in high regard”.
2:07 And I think it’s a big problem. One of the problems – what Ken Rogof spoke earlier today, about what he called “externalities” – he was talking about the environment and the spillovers.
And the spillovers, when expertise is bad, like in the movie Inside Job that won the Academy Award, the Oscar, is that people were serving power, they weren’t serving the people.

2:35 Economists are very much accused of having what you might call “only see the economy through the eyes of the model,” as opposed to “seeing the economy and building the model as a map of what reality is.”
And I think that’s been a valid criticism in recent years, where the obsession with technique has dominated the scientific need to understand the world. And formalism, which is what modeling is, is very very different than science.

03:11 I’ve often said that economists are the victim of the 30 Years’ War, because the 30 Years War was a dreadful dreadful horrible time in Europe. And after the 30 Years War, all the humanists like Michel de Montaign or Shakespeare or Francis Bacon were thrown out and Renes Descartes took over and the Enlightenment took over, looking for universal laws, looking for mathematics, and making high theory much more important than real observation of the world – texture, to context, and what have you.
So economists now worship at the altar of abstract theory, which was the product of the fear and the anxiety that followed the 30 Years War 350 years ago. And it’s time to reexamine our methods very very fundamentally.

04:08 David Collander, who is a famous economist in America, Middlebury College, researches the economics profession and he takes polls of graduate students. And 85% say that they need to know a lot about the mathematics. Only 13% say they need to know anything about the economy in order to become an economist.
So I think we are in a period where we’ve gone very very far in the direction of basically getting a Ph.D. in modeling technique, not a Ph.D. in economics.
04:39 When it comes to advising the governments, I’m always reminded that Joseph Schumpeter said, when asked “what is economics about?” he said “Three things: politics, politics, and politics.”
And so, at the core, economics is about politics and about power, and the question for the economists is “Whose power are you going to serve as an expert?” Are you going to serve the public good of society, are you going to serve private consulting patrons, are you going to serve institutions of power, or are you going to serve the people more generally.
And those questions face every individual wherever they are in life, but a public expert in particular.

05:25 There are several modifications to economics teaching that need to take place.
The first is, rather than teaching Economics 101, Introductory Economics, as an indoctrination in method, they should teach it as a course in the philosophy of science where the subject is economics and its assumptions and the tradeoffs and the flaws, as well as the strengths, are explored skeptically on behalf of the student. So, that would help create a humility about economics and what it can do or can’t do.
The second dimension is the pendulum between what I would call induction – looking at the world – and deduction – looking inside the math and models – has swung very far in favor of deduction. So, understanding the context of institutions, understanding economic history which is real episodes, and particularly understanding the history of economic thought where the subject is economic thinking, embedded in the real context of the problems of the day, the vested interests of the day, the various challenges, the state of technology, would help people to develop a more humble and realistic sense of what economic thinking – is all about. What it pretends.

Quote May 22 2012 — Good leaders, good followers

an employee’s competence is assessed, not by disinterested observers like you and me, but by the employer or — more likely nowadays — by other employees on higher ranks of the same hierarchy. In their eyes, leadership potential is insubordination, and insubordination is incompetence.

Good followers do not become good leaders. To be sure, the good follower may win many promotions, but that does not make him a leader. Most hierarchies nowadays are so cumbered by rules and traditions, and so bound in by public laws, that even high employees do not have to lead anyone anywhere, in the sense of pointing out the direction and setting the pace. They simply follow precedents, obey regulations, and move at the head of the crowd. Such employees lead only in the sense that thecarved wooden figurehead leads the ship.

It is easy to see how, in such a milieu, the advent of a genuine leader will be feared and resented. This is called Hypercaninophobia (top-dog fear) or more correctly by advanced hierarchiologists  the Hypercaninophobia Complex (fear that the underdog may become the top dog).

The Peter Principle, by Laurence J. Peter & Raymond Hull, page 55, 2009 HarperCollins Edition, originally published in 1969 (!!!)

I’ve heard of the Peter Principle before, usually remembering it as a person is promoted to their level of incompetence and stays there. But this is the first time I’ve actually read the book The Peter Principle where Peter (with some organizational assistance from Hull) explains not only exactly what he means, but how it occurs, how to tell if you or someone else has reached their level of incompetence, and what are the characteristic signs of an organization whose hierarchy has become filled with people who have reached their level of incompetence.

IT’S AN AWESOME BOOK!!! I’ll probably write more when I finish it, but for right now — this is a great book. If you haven’t read it before, I really recommend it. And although it sounds like it would leave the reader in a completely pessimistic & cynical frame of mind, it actually is a bit heartening & encouraging.

Exclamation points added after the original publishing date because truly, the more things change the more they stay the same.

Pictures, World War II then and now, really great job photos by Sergey Larenkov

Sergey Larenkov merges old World War II photos with photos taken from the same location today. The results are outstanding.

His own web page is at sergey_larenkov on Livejournal, I originally saw some of his pictures in this Daily Mail article.

Below is one of the many photos on his site, please check out his site to see more. If you like photography or history it’s well worth the time.

Picture by Sergey Larenkov, check out for more.

Recipe: Buttermilk Lemon Chess Pie

I got this recipe from the November 2011 issue of Bon Appetit. That issue was devoted in part to recipes for a Southern Thanksgiving meal.

And boy, is this recipe “Southern”. Butter, buttermilk, corn meal, and sugar.

My mom is from the South but doesn’t like excessively sweet or rich desserts — except for this pie. I expected her not to like it after I made it, but she loved it. As did many in the rest of my family. Myself, I had one small piece and that was enough. It’s good . . . but wow. It’s intense. It’s like a really strong Scotch — you get done with your little bit and your tastebuds tell you “Wow! Tasty! . . . And we’re done for a while. Just letting you know.”

I made a few adjustments to the recipe, the original is here.

Buttermilk Lemon Chess Pie 

This recipe will overfill a regular 9″ pie pan, so either get a deep pie pan or be ready to deal with about a cup of extra filling.


  • 2 cups flour
  • Extra all-purpose flour for working the dough
  • 1/2 cup (or more) cold buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter cut into small cubes


  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1-1/2 Tablespoons yellow cornmeal
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 5 large eggs beaten
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1-3/4 to 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract


For the crust, mix flour and butter. A food processor is handy for this, but if you don’t have one you can mix by hand, just be careful not to let the butter get too warm. You want to mix until the butter pieces are about pea-sized. Add 1/2 cup buttermilk & mix until moist clumps form. Add more buttermilk a tablespoon at a time if need be. Form into a ball and then flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic & chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about 14″ in diameter. This will be a VERY rich dough, when I made it it almost looked marbled and it tends to want to stick to the counter because of all the butter in it. Be patient. Once it is rolled out, transfer to a pie pan and press gently on the bottom and up the sides. Trim to a 1″ overhang, crimp, and fill with beans or weights (line with parchment first if need be). Bake in the oven until it begins to brown, about 30-35 minutes. Remove weights & any paper, back 20-30 minutes until golden brown. Let cool.

My crust puffed up quite a bit on the sides and in the bottom, I’m not sure if that means I didn’t use enough weight or took them out too early or what. Also, this will be a VERY thick crust.

For the filling, preheat oven to 350 F. Thoroughly mix the sugars, cornmeal & flour in one bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, buttermilk, melted butter, lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla. The mixture may look kind of clumpy or odd once everything is in there. Mix in the dry ingredients slowly. I’ve reduced the sugar a bit from what was in the original recipe, so you might want to heat just a little bit of the filling over the stovetop, in the oven or in the microwave so you can test it now & decide if you want to add more sugar. I doubt you’ll want to add more lemon, it doesn’t look like much in the recipe but what’s there is suprisingly powerful.

Pour filling into the cooled crust, back at 350 F for 60-75 minutes until custard is set at the edges but still jiggles a little in the center.

Let cool before serving. Cut pie into eighths, as it is so rich most people won’t be able to handle the usual sixth of a piece (or at least, most of the pies around here are cut into sixths . . . .)

One thing interesting about this pie is how much the cornmeal swells up in the filling, creating an unusual texture. I’m not sure how it would work with a regular pie crust, but I might give that a try one day as the super-rich and thick crust + super rich filling is almost too much when eaten together.

Science/Technology and Economics news from March 9, 10, & 11 2012 (The Register & ZeroHedge)

From The Register 

There’s a chapter of the UK organization Council of Registered Ethical Security Testers (CREST) opening in Australia. From the article, it looks like it’s a certification organization for ethical hackers. I did a quick web search, and there is a similar certification in the U.S, as a Certified Ethical Hacker (abbreviated CEH or C|EH), available from the EC Council (which stands for the much longer International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants).

Eeewww . . . Corporate Human Resources departments might want to start looking at your Facebook page to determine how good a fit you would be for a job. A study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology argues that posts on social networking pages can be a good (or at least decent) indicator of how an applicant would score on the “Big Five” personality traits of Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism.

How someone scores on these measures determines their fit for particular jobs. For example, if someone skews towards the easy-going/careless side of the ‘conscientiousness’ scale, they’re probably not the best choice to fill an air traffic controller opening. The better the match between the Big Five scores and the requirements of the job, the better employees typically perform.

Researchers analysed Facebook posts from 500+ subjects and found that they were able to reliably indicate how job candidates scored on the Big Five factors above. It wasn’t flawless, and these are subjective measures anyway, but it compared favourably with subject testing and with the opinions of others about the subjects.

. . .

So the only thing standing between efficiency-minded employers using Facebook as a means of weeding through thousands or millions of potential employees is Facebook’s privacy policy? Now that’s something that should give us all pause. Take a moment for that.

Interesting. Lawsuits, court decisions, and legislation in Europe saying that companies using web trawlers to scan and aggregate links to — or snippets of — news stories are subject to copyright claims from the original source. The more I read of the article though, the more confused I am and the more it sounds like it covers more than just web trawlers. The companies who do the aggregating don’t have to source copyright fees, but the users of the aggregating service have to pay if they want to click a link, and what they pay is based on copyright fees, not subscription amounts . . . not sure how that would work in billing, or if the aggregator services would just pay for some type of subscription to the source publisher, or what. The article says that European Court of Justice has ruled it’s not just titles that are copyrightable, but even individual sentences or parts of sentences could be considered something covered by a copyright if it communicated “to that reader an element which is, in itself, the expression of the intellectual creation of the author of that article”. Soooo . . . I’m still confused. If I just cite a statistic that is cited in a dozen other articles, I’m guessing that is not “in itself, the expression of the intellectual creation of the author of that article,” but if I cite it in a characteristic way of writing or speaking, does that make it copyrightable? It sounds like this creates a lot more problems than it solves.

And speaking of Google, competitions at the security conference CanSecWest revealed two zero-day exploits for Google’s Chrome internet browser. Google has released a patch to fix the problems.

In a roundup of this week’s tech news, an article in The Register mentioned some white-hat hackers (meaning hackers that work to find flaws so they can warn users and programmers about them, not exploit the flaws themselves) had broken into an electronic voting machine after the Washington D.C. election board issued a general challenge for the thing to be hacked. The full story of the hacking is here in an earlier article on The Register, and it’s a pretty good story to read even if you’re not into computers that much. The team that hacked the voting machine was from the University of Michigan, and in addition to adding Skynet & Bender as candidates, adding the word “owned” to the final signoff screen, and shutting out some other hackers they detected were also trying to break in, the University of Michigan team set the final signoff screen to play the University of Michigan fight song. That was what finally clued in Washington D.C. election administrators there was a problem, another tester (who was of the opinion the system was secure after his own testing) mentioned to administrators that they should get rid of the music on the signoff screen. A full 18-page writeup of what they did & how they did it can be found here. The Register‘s article from March 1 is a good read, but it has a more sober warning too:

The attack demonstrates several of the flaws in electronic voting systems, and at numerous sessions at the RSA 2012 conference in San Francisco, experts have consistently warned against the dangers of this technology. In the US, there are 33 states that have introduced some kind of electronic voting systems – and none of them are secure enough to resist a determined attacker said Dr. David Jefferson from Lawrence Livermore National Labs.

“The states are in the habit of certifying voting systems, typically without testing them or seeing the source code,” he said. “In many cases the voting system uses proprietary code that government can’t legally check, and the running of the systems is outsourced to the vendors. This situation is getting worse.”

E-voting was a national security issue, he said. Financial attacks by hackers are relatively easy to detect – because at some point money has to leave the system. But if an election is hacked then we may never know, because it’s a one-time action that typically isn’t checked after the results have been announced and officials elected.

It will be decades before we have the technology to vote securely, Jefferson said, if indeed it is even possible. At stake is democracy itself, but politicians don’t seem to understand the problems of electronic voting, and both Jefferson and Halderman expressed fears for the future if current systems become more popular.

And going back to Google, remember when there was a big to-do about their company motto being “Don’t be evil”? Yeah, me too. Don’t hear them say that as much anymore. They’re threatening to strongly enforce some terms & conditions in the contracts for app developers who sell apps on the Android Marketplace (just recently renamed Google Play). The terms & conditions in question state that developers must process payments through a system that Google owns — a system which conveniently keeps 30% of the payment as a processing fee. Competing systems such as PayPal are no longer acceptable. Although the change in enforcement hasn’t been announce publicly by Google, The Register says Reuters claims to have some strongly-worded e-mails sent to developers recently telling them to switch over in 30 days if they want to keep selling Android apps. On a side note, I currently use an Android phone — and the technology is nice. But reading stories like this don’t make me very fond of Google itself. I don’t plan to switch to the iPhone as Apple is just as domineering in its marketplace. But this does make me wish there was a non-********* smartphone provider out there.

Wow. Hadn’t heard about this before — and I wonder why that is, this should have been more than newsworthy enough for U.S. news outlets to cover, even mainstream ones. A huge computer virus scam known DNSChanger would infect computers, replace the addresses they used for contacting DNS servers about how to access other computers on the internet with bogus addresses, and the bogus addresses sent web browser to bogus DNS servers which then rerouted the computer request to other bogus websites. In addition, DNSChanger would prevent infected computers from receiving anti-virus software patches & operating system patches that would have disabled DNSChanger. (As a side effect, blocking those updates also left infected machines open to infection by other computer viruses.) The scheme was only broken up in November 2011. The current story on The Register that currently the infected machines would have been cut off from all internet access on March 8, but that has been extended to July of this year to give users more time clean up their machines. According to the article, currently 94 out of the 500 companies in the Fortune 500 have at least one infected computer or router — and that’s a decrease from a few weeks ago when 250 out of the Fortune 500 companies had an infected machine or router on their network. Also, currently three out of 55 government agencies have at least infected router or computer. That’s a pretty broad-ranging virus to have not been mentioned AT ALL in the U.S. news. (I just did a quick search on “DNSChanger”, and didn’t see any links on the first couple pages that came from news sites — it was all government sites or anti-virus software sites.)

And a really good article about the Kony video going around on Facebook. The article references an even more damning article in The Atlantic. Short version of both articles: quit patting yourself on the back for sharing that video; it’s old news, the information in the video isn’t all correct, you should be a bit skeptical about the finances of the organization who made the video, and most importantly of all, hitting “share” on Facebook and leaving outraged comments does not actually achieve anything.  Excerpts from the article on The Register — and please do go check out the entire article, there’s references to other articles as well as a link to a list of organizations you can donate to if you really want to help in Africa:

There’s little doubt that Kony is a very bad person, or that he has been involved in child slavery and other crimes against children and adults alike. However, this isn’t exactly news, as he has been a well-known problem throughout eastern and central Africa for more than 20 years. Which is probably why the US has been involved in fighting Kony and his cronies for years, though that complicated story never hit Facebook.

What is news is that an American filmmaker has made it a cause celebre among the social-media set, with the intention to “make Kony as famous as George Clooney,” so that the US will raid Uganda and “stop Kony” (which presumably is a call for state-sponsored assassination). As a social media exercise, it is brilliant. As an exercise in intelligent policy, it’s not so brilliant.

First of all, many Ugandans themselves think this is bad policy, and likely to exacerbate the problem. Secondly, Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army left Uganda six years ago and are now depleted and scattered throughout remote regions.

. . .

There are plenty of problems much closer to home, including poverty (rising), hate and extremist group proliferation, and other such matters. They don’t come with a bracelet, and fixing them isn’t as easy as clicking “share” on Facebook, but they’re big problems, and we have much more power to impact these issues in our local communities than by posting a video to Facebook.

. . .

Scanning the web for stories on the phenomenon, it appears to have been intentionally targeted at the 13- to 24-year-old female demographic.

A survey of adults using the internet find a large majority (2/3 or more) do not want their search results or overall internet experience personally tailored to their past browsing or search histories. This is a big deal, because “tailoring the internet experience” is the excuse Google & Facebook keep using for more and more tracking of internet users. But the surveyed users don’t seem to be particularly dedicated in keeping their histories private, in my opinion, as the same survey showed 83% use Google as their search engine. That is lunacy if you actually care about privacy, since not only does Google track your search history if you allow them to set cookies on your browser, but they also will report the area you live to the government if they detect too many searches for terms the government might be interested in. So far it’s been reporting an increased number of searches for flu symptoms to the Centers for Disease Control, which was excused as being okay because they’re just concerned about public health and helping the CDC identify outbreaks of the flu sooner. But more than a few minutes’ thought should show how such a policy could be warped into constant surveillance — all for the public good, of course!!! (For myself, I run one browser that accepts Google & Facebook cookies, and try to use it only to check Facebook & follow links found on Facebook. I run a different browser with both Google & Facebook cookies refused for general internet browsing. In both cases, I try set all cookies so that even if I accept them, they are kept for that session only — and if I don’t recognize where they’re from, I don’t accept them. Go ahead, erase all the cookies & cookie settings on your browser, then set your browser so it has to ask you before accepting cookies, and do some web browsing. You will be appalled at how incredibly many cookies most websites are trying to set on your browser.)

New way to harvest hydrogen has possibly been found.

I can’t do any better than this article’s sub-headline, “ICANN manages to lose one-horse race.” For a bit more explanation: ICANN is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers. It currently sets the names of more internet websites, and decides what type top-level domain name extensions (such as .com, .net, .org, etc.) can be used. They’re a U.S. company and have had a monopoly on the name setting for over 14 years now. They originally got the monopoly because the internet started in the U.S. and the Department of Commerce wanted someone to oversee keeping track of website names. That ICANN has a monopoly on it and is a U.S. company has created some international tensions at times, with other countries saying it should be a multinational entity — that idea usually fizzles out, I’ve never seen official reasons but I’m guessing the real reason is once people look at how much cronyism, favor-exchanging, backscratching, and political correctness takes place at other international entities like the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, etc., everyone says “yeeeeaaaahhhhh . . . okay, I think I’m more comfortable dealing with ICANN as it is than risking getting some power-tripping and politically untouchable bureaucrat who expects kickbacks for everything they do.” (And yes, there are places in the world where bribes are an expected part of business. You can read lots of news stories explaining how much bribery is part of the Greek underground economy, and I once worked with a man who was a native of India who said bribery was rampant there too.) But despite being the only one currently doing it and the only one who submitted a proposal the U.S. Department of Commerce for a new contract, the Department of Commerce withdrew the request because they had no applicants who met the requirements.

 Some of those requirements, according to the NTIA’s notice issued on March 10, included “the separation of policymaking from implementation, a robust companywide conflict of interest policy, provisions reflecting heightened respect for local company laws, and a series of consultation and reporting requirements to increase transparency and accountability to the international community”.

ICANN has been under growing criticism over key policy decisions; in particular, the processes that make both the .xxx domain and the creation of gTLD “brand” domains look like nothing more than protection rackets designed to extract cash from brand owners either fearful of having their brands polluted by smut-peddlers or squatted by bigger companies.

And from ZeroHedge

Non-European News

If you only read one thing from ZeroHedge for these three days, PLEASE read this post: An open letter to Jamie Dimon, head of JP Morgan Chase, from James Koutoulas, President, Commodity Customer Coalition and CEO, Typhon Capital Management. Since I only started writing these posts last week, I haven’t touched on MF Global, which blew up at the end of October 2011. Some brief facts:

  • MF Global’s bankruptcy was the eighth largest in U.S. history, and the largest since Lehman Brothers.
  • MF Global was one of the largest commodities futures brokers in operation when it went bankrupt. It had some stock business and some other types of trading business, but the vast majority of its business was commodities futures trading.
  • Commodities futures brokers help facilitate customers’ futures contracts. They may have their own positions in the futures markets but they do not bet customer money on their own positions. At the end of each day, all the money in the customer accounts has to be accounted for.
  • This didn’t happen with MF Global, even though it is regulated and was being overseen by U.S. regulators.
  • When MF GLobal went bankrupt, somewhere between US$1.2 and US$1.6 billion of customer commodity account money was missing.
  • No one has been charged criminally in this.

The bankruptcy was handed to a U.S. bankruptcy overseer who had little experience with commodity futures rules. The bankruptcy — for reasons that are still unclear — was filed as a stock brokerage bankruptcy, in which case counterparties (such as banks) get first crack at the remaining money. It should have been filed as a commodities brokers bankruptcy, in which case customers get first crack at the remaining money.

There were some very odd transactions with JP Morgan shortly before the end of MF Global.

The mishandling of customer funds, the lack of prosecution, the lack of experience with futures’ markets in the people appointed to oversee the bankruptcy, and the inability of regulators to detect just how far MF Global was bending and flat-out breaking the rules prior to its bankruptcy, have all badly damaged the confidence in the rule of law when it comes to U.S. futures markets and possibly U.S. markets in general.

The Commodity Customer Coalition is one of the brokerage customer groups (the main group, as far as I know) pushing for the bankruptcy to be handled as an actual commodities brokerage bankruptcy, with first priority being return of customer money. This is an uphill battle, as aside from financial publications, agricultural publications (agricultural products comprising many of the commodities traded, and a lot of farmer place contracts through the futures markets), newspapers from agricultural areas, and other commodity publications (such as precious metals), this has gotten almost no media coverage, and no statements that I am aware of from anyone in the current presidential administration or Federal Reserve.

The head of MF Global when it went bankrupt was Jon Corzine, former Goldman Sachs member, former Democratic governor of New Jersey, and former Democratic Senator from New Jersey. He became head of MF Global in March of 2010 — at the time, his ties to government and his ties to the head of the CFTC (Commodity Futures Trading Commission, one of the regulatory agencies overseeing commodities futures brokers), also a former member of Goldman Sachs, were considered to be things that made him a stronger candidate for head of MF Global. He was also one the top Wall Street fundraisers for the Barack Obama presidential campaign in 2008, being mentioned by Vice-President Joe Biden in 2010 or 2011 as the Obama administration’s go-to guy for questions about Wall Street and Wall Street fundraising. That he had such close ties to the current administration — which has said very little to nothing at all about a bankruptcy that should be getting a lot of public comment — has been noted several times. There have been congressional hearing into the MF Global bankruptcy — again, covered very little in the general media — which were noteworthy not just for the seriousness of the issue but also because it is thought to be the first time ever that a former U.S. Senator had to be subpoenaed to testify at congress.

Charles Hugh Smith explains why the the job market is not “on a tear”, it is dismal.

How do you add 33 million people to the workforce while the number of full-time jobs hasn’t budged in 12 years and claim “job growth is on a tear”? First you arbitrarily subtract 20 million people from the workforce. Call them “discouraged” or “marginally attached,” whatever, just don’t call them what they really are which is jobless.

A very good post about how Credit Default Swaps (CDSs) function as insurance contracts, and some speculation that if they are like insurance contracts, perhaps they should start to be tracked and regulated like insurance contracts.

Charles Biderman explains why it is driving him nuts that not only is the stock market being almost entirely manipulated by the Federal Reserve (core economic indicators are not nearly high enough to justify the rises in stock prices that we’ve seen), but it seems to be an open secret that everyone is okay with. Which is insane, because eventually all this printed money the Fed is shoveling out is going to have consequences somewhere.

Speculation that China has quite accumulating foreign reserves in U.S. dollars and instead trading its trade surplus from the U.S. (in U.S. dollars) for oil.

A different view of events in the Middle East. Not sure I agree with it, but at the same time I am noting a lot of chest-thumping and eagerness to use military action from a U.S. President who based his campaign on how he  intended to end U.S. military adventures and who received the Nobel Peace Prize early in his term as president, presumably based on his campaign promises (presumably, because prior to becoming president the current U.S. Commander-in-Chief had not been active in world politics or in setting U.S. military policies).

Subtopic: Greece . . . . ah, Greece. For a quick overview, Greece has more debt than it can pay back. It was under so much debt, it couldn’t even afford to make the required interest payments on its bonds, let alone actually pay off the principal. Most countries (or households) that find themselves so deeply in debt they can’t even pay the interest on the debt have to default — or sell something valuable to come up with enough money. Greece as a country wasn’t really happy about selling itself off piece by piece, so they were talking about default. But since they are part of the European Union, other European countries were a bit upset about that.

So two years and billions and billions of bailout dollars later, Greece just forced its creditors (or rather, some of its creditors) to take a writedown in the value of their bonds. They did this by retroactively adding Collective Action Clauses (CACs) to their bond contracts, which means that if 2/3 or more of bond holders of a specific bondagree to a change in bond terms (keeping in mind a “bond” is basically a loan, I buy your bond and you pay me a certain amount of interest for the life of the bond before you buy the bond back from me, or I roll the bond over into a new bond/loan), then all the holders of that bond have to go along with the change. Except if you are the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or European Central Bank (ECB) and then you’re exempt from the CACs. And the CACs only apply to bonds issued under Greek law (which was not true of all Greek bonds, and yeah I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense the first time you read it — some Greek bonds were created and sold under the laws of other countries, such as the United Kingdom, which doesn’t allow CACs or retroactive one-sided rewriting of contracts in general).

So, the CACs got applied, everyone to whom they applied just saw 70% of the principal of their bonds disappear, and that’s where things stand right now. Articles about Greece:

A good summary of all the posts I’m listing below is this one from Chindit13, “Greece Has Defaulted, Here Is Where We Stand”  An excerpt:

2) As a result of the bond haircuts, Greece has many pension plans that can no longer even pretend to be viable, at least according to the original contracted scheme, but pensionholders still working can take heart in the fact that their current wages will be cut, too.

3) CDS buyers will have to sweat bullets, jump through hoops, and be forced to endure every cliche known to man, but they might end up getting something for all their trouble, provided their counterparty is solvent and that counterparty itself is not heavily exposed to an insolvent party or a NTBTF institution, otherwise known as a Lehman Brothers. Expect the legal profession to be the prime beneficiary of this “event”, as any new CDS contract will be at least a hundred pages of boilerplate longer in the future.

4) Good luck to any less than AAA rated sovereign who wants to issue debt from now on out. That contracts can now be unilaterally abrogated, as Greece’ bonds were with the retro-CACs, bodes ill for attractive pricing from here on out. Peripherals in the EU will suffer most, as they face the added indignity of being subordinated to the ECB at any point the ECB chooses to exercise its divine right of seniority.

And here’s an article from Peter Tchir of TF Market Advisors, the first of many about what a truly cruddy deal this was.  (Regarding the actual article title: yes, ZeroHedge can be a crude place at times. I’d rather have truth with crudity than fairytales that are excused by people prudishly pointing out “at least they don’t swear“.) To sum up the post, if you held Greek bonds issued under Greek law and you were not a senior debt holder such as the IMF or ECB, all your old Greek  debt got wiped out and is being replaced by new debt that about 20% of the old debt. But there is so much doubt about the ability of Greece to pay off even the lower amount of new debt, people trying to get rid of the new Greek debt are finding the market will only pay them about 22 cents on the dollar for it. If you’re bad at math, that means if you had 200 million in Greek debt and were not the IMF or ECB, you just got told that 200 million got cut down to 40 million. And if you’re thinking “okay, you screwed me once, I’m not sticking around for this a second time, I’m getting rid of this turkey”, the only people willing to buy that new 40 million of debt will only pay you 8.8 million for it, because they think it’s a turkey too.

And a post by OpenEurope about how this is not only a cruddy deal today, but will sow even more dissension in the future.  About that ISDA / CDS thing that got mentioned a couple paragraphs ago: Credit Default Swaps (CDSs) can be thought of as insurance policies. I buy some bonds but am worried that they might not turn out, so for some small percentage (usually very small) of the amount I bought, I buy insurance from another company. I keep up my insurance payments and if my bond defaults, the other company pays me the amount of the bond. This sounds really risky, but up until recently bonds issued by sovereign countries were seen as among the safest of investments (obviously by people who don’t have a very good grasp of history, but that’s another rant for another day), so lots of companies were happy to sell CDSs on sovereign bonds. However, CDSs are not traded on open exchanges so nobody really knows how many CDSs are out there, on Greek debt or anything else. The standard CDS contract is written by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA), and they have a committee that determines if a credit event (default) has occurred that could trigger the CDS contracts. They already said once that a 50% writedown of Greek bonds was not a credit event — and got heavily criticized and mocked across the internet for it. This time, they decided the Collective Action Clauses were a credit event and CDS contracts have been triggered. To summarize OpenEurope’s post:

  • Greek banks are in deep trouble — they held a lot of Greek bonds and were already in trouble, seeing that investment evaporate didn’t help them any.
  • Same thing for a number of Greek pension funds that held Greek bonds. Greek citizens were already rioting about cuts to public wages and pensions even before this latest hit to their pension funds.
  • Of the next amount of bailout and ECB money to go to Greece, only 57% actually goes to Greece, the rest passes through to people who hold Greek bonds. And this is one of the recurring criticisms of the entire Greek deal — was it really to bail out Greece? Or was it a stealthy way to pass European taxpayer money to banks in the rest of Europe who shortsightedly bought too much Greek debt (Greece has a long history of selling too many bonds and then defaulting on them, this is not a new thing even in recent history, they were almost constantly in default on their bonds from the end of WWII right up until they get accepted into the Eurozone) and would have gone bankrupt without the bailout money passing through Greece to the banks?
  • Further bailout money is set to be dispersed, but only if Greece continues with budget cuts that will amount to 20% of gross domestic product. There’s no country that survived doing that without also devaluing their currency, which Greece can’t do because the rest of Europe also uses the Euro and won’t devalue it.
  • All of this may be a moot point anyway, there are Greek elections coming up and the current political parties are losing a lot of ground to far-left and far-right parties, many of whom are gaining popularity because they say they won’t vote for further budget reductions if elected.
  • Here’s the worst part: Greece’s economy has already taken such a hit from all this that it’s almost guaranteed they’ll have to go through another default in the next two to three years. But between new debt being issued, non-Greek-law Greek bonds still being around, ECB/IMF Greek bonds not being reduced, and various scheduled bailouts occurring, by 2015 85% of Greek bonds will be owned by various European government (meaning taxpayer) entities. So when Greece has to default again in a few years, it will be a much larger mess than this was because the rest of Europe’s taxpayers will be explicitly at risk.

A trio of posts from Mark Grant explaining how this whole business of writing down Greek debt actually increased Greek debt. Yes, that’s right!! In exchange for causing European bond investors to wonder exactly what is the point in buying bonds if the contract terms are written on the wind, Greek is more in debt than it was before. Yay!

From “Greece — Round III, In Which We Learn That Greek Debt Actually INCREASED Post-Default” 

The somewhat amusing part of this entire transaction is that the debt of Greece has been INCREASED. Greece and the EU handed private holders $138Bn in write-offs but with the addition of the new loan, $171Bn, the gross debt for Greece increased by $33Bn and this is if all of the legal challenges favor Greece. The total debt of Greece (sovereign, municipal, corporate and bank) has just increased from $1.20 Trillion to $1.233 Trillion and all accomplished by this brilliant plan that did nothing except to tag investors and ramp up the debt load for the country. Take this and add in the austerity measures and perhaps demands for more coming later today as the EU has its summit and an economy that is quickly sinking into the sea and unemployment that is surging and then you can visualize that the absurd has become the impossible and quickly conclude that more Greek loans will have to be forthcoming; or not with some form of Greek exit. The much bandied about notion that all of this will reduce the Greek debt to GDP is little more than a joke. For the past two years there has not been one, one, accurate projection for Greece concocted by the IMF/EU/ECB and I see no end to this now. Some quick math on my part indicates, in 2020, a debt to GDP ratio exceeding 170% and that is being kind and using optimistic assumptions. Just this morning the new numbers released for Greece showed a 7.50% deficit increase as opposed to the projected -5.50% number.

From “The Eight-Hundred-Pound Greek Gorilla Enters the Room”

Allow me to now present to you the “OTHER” Greek debt that is outstanding and will have to be accounted for as the country defaults. Detailed below are some of the “OTHER” sovereign obligations of the Greek government which have now been submitted to the ISDA and I list some of them below. You will note that there are bank bonds, Hellenic Railway bonds, Urban Transportation bonds et al that are guaranteed by Greece. You will also note that there are bonds tied to Inflation, Floating Rate Notes, Asset-Backed securities and a whole mélange of other structured products with a Greek sovereign guarantee. What we all thought was fact is now clearly fiction and default will now bring “Acceleration” one could reasonably bet in all kinds of these securitizations and in all kinds of currencies. This could come from the ratings agencies placing Greece in “Default” or it could come from the CDS contracts being triggered depending upon each indenture and you will also note that a great many of these off balance sheet securitizations are governed by English Law and not Greek Law. You may also wish to consider the fallout to the banking system as the lead managers of all of these deals could find themselves behind the eight ball as various clauses trigger and as the holders of these securitizations line up at the judicial bench

And from “The Greek 107 Billion Contingent Liability Gorilla Exposed”

A Dose of Reality:

  1. If Greece borrows money from the IMF/EU which means that they have more debt now than they did before they defaulted then they are worse off and not better off as they have a larger debt.
  2. If Greece has an additional $107 billion in debt that has not been accounted for because it is not in the name of the Hellenic Republic but is guaranteed by the Hellenic Republic then how are they going to pay off this debt?
  3. If the goal of this entire exercise was to reduce Greece’s debt to GDP ratio to 120% then how will a larger debt accomplish this as it is fiscally impossible.
  4. If the “real REAL goal” was to pay off the European banks so they wouldn’t default then Europe has accomplished this goal but at a terrible cost to Greece and to the Greek people.

And if you were wondering about Europe in general:

Video of Daniel Hanna, Minister to European Parliament for South-East England, stating that “in any crisis, the first instinct of the Eurocrat is to reach for his wallet — or someone else’s wallet.” He asks the question asked a zillion times on ZeroHedge, how do you solve a debt crisis by issuing more debt?

Chart showing unemployment of those under age 25 is above 50% in both Greece and Spain, and around 35% in Portugal. A previous version of this was dubbed “Europe’s Scariest Chart” since a majority of young people not being able to find work usually leads to a lot of unrest.

European banks have so much collateral loaned to the ECB in return for various bailout funds, some of them are going to start running out of things to post as collateral. The average amount across European banks as a whole is already 21% of their assets encumbered by being promised to the ECB as collateral.

“Planning for the Rest of Your Life” — Wonderful post by Randy Cassingham

Link is, from Randy Cassingham’s This is True Blog.

(Specifying it’s from his blog as he also has a great e-mail newsletter named This is True. If you’re not subscribed, check it out, it comes out once a week & has a free subscription option if you don’t a few ads in the middle of your newsletter.)

“Planning for the Rest of Your Life” is a really great & inspiring post by Randy about setting out to make a plan for your goals and figuring out how to get to those goals.

OK, But How Does It Work?

You can call it the “law of attraction” — putting your “energy” out to the “universe” so that it will respond with what you want (which is what I’m told the movie The Secret was about) — but I consider that a “woo woo” belief, and that doesn’t work for me. Maybe that works for you; if it does, great: that’s all the explanation you need. But you don’t have to look at it that way. I don’t.

Here’s how I look at it, with my “rational mindset”: we humans need to get our desires — our goals, our dreams, our best-case scenarios — clear in our minds, and nothing is better at making them clear than writing them down. Plus, you can edit your plans if you change your mind, or if you decide your goals are too easy to achieve (or too big to bite off within a reasonable time). Or when you do the “Why” parts, you might find that they’re so thin that you need better ones so that you’re truly motivated to achieve your goals. Or you might find your “beliefs” in that area are holding you back.

If you have a clear vision in mind, with good reasons why you should work toward that vision, and a step-by-step plan for getting there, and they’re aligned with your beliefs, and keep those details constantly in mind (is it becoming clear why you have to write it all down?!), your brain will help you get it done. You’ve “programmed” your brain to Make It So, and you’ve made it clear to yourself why it’s worth the work to get there.