Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Globalization Comes Home to Roost

Wake Forest, North Carolina

I spent a couple of hours online ordering used macroeconomics books from this morning at 4am. I picked five cheap ones.

All those hours of graduate courses, so long ago, have slipped away: the ebb and flow of money, tides in the affairs of men and money supply policy. It’s all so vague now, but at least I know what I no longer know and I know what the economists and politicians definitely don’t know.

Canadians are flooding over our border to buy at Target and Wal-Mart. The Irish are lining up for second home condos in New York City. We had an $862 billion dollar balance of trade deficit in 2006. Further severe devaluation of the dollar seems inevitable in view of recent US interest rate cuts and the inevitable rebalancing of r exports and imports. That should shock foreigners with dollar denominated investments into dumping their T-bills and other investments. Japan and China in particular are going to have a tough time continuing to sustain losses in value of in US debt instruments. Japan holds $600 billion of US debt and China has $500 billion of its 1.2 trillion of foreign reserves in US debt instruments.

But wait, won’t all that cause a very sharp rise in US interest rates and inflationary pressures? Then there is the credit tightening caused by the sub-prime debacle and the slowly popping housing bubble. Housing price increases and Ninja mortgages (no income, no job, and no assets) have fueled consumer spending for five years, and what about all those foreign illegal workers in the housing industry? Where will they go?

Oil is at $82 a barrel and no end in sight for rising prices caused by rising demand, shrinking supply and the falling dollar. The past price increase should have already caused a 12% increase in the overall inflation rate (1% for every 15% increase in oil prices), but cheap imports of foreign goods and labor have kept the lid on that so far (especially with the government discounting fuel and food price increases as mere aberrations).

It’s all so complex. We will live in interesting times for the next ten years. I need to go back to the books. Gloom and doom. The end is ‘nigh.

Maybe I’ll buy travelers check denominated in Mexican Pesos and spend them next year on Margaritas in the Pinacate desert in my secret survival cellar, while waiting for the collapse of the international monetary systems and world chaos.

God bless you, Mr. Greenspan.

Friday, 21 September 2007

We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident

The Virginia Homes of Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe

Thomas Jefferson was the Leonardo DaVinci of American Presidents. He spoke and read seven languages. He studied astronomy and botany and recorded temperatures, barometer readings and rainfalls throughout his life. Jefferson invented the principles of scientific archeology in excavating nearby Virginia Indian mounds. He was selected to write the American Declaration of Independence.

“…when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Jefferson wrote over 20,000 letters and used a device called a polygraph to make a personal copy of each letter. The polygraph looks like a dual pen that uses a mechanical link to write an extra copy. His personal library at his death had over 7,000 volumes in seven languages, which were sold to satisfy his debts. Jefferson cosigned and guaranteed debts of many friends and died bankrupt as the result of his public service.

Jefferson was 6 feet, 3 inches tall. He supports my thesis that truly superior men are tall and that other positive human characteristics, like intelligence and compassion, are highly correlated with stature. Look at Bin Laden and Charles De Gaulle. Napoleon is the exception that proves my rule.

Jefferson is reported to have spent nearly 40 years designing and building his plantation home, Monticello. His intensive readings of European architectural books as well as his time as minister of France gave him a familiarity and love of European architecture, including the dome of the Parthenon in Rome. His garden had a large bumblebee today.

Jefferson authorized the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon. This nearly doubled the size of America for only $15,000,000. He sent Lewis and Clarke on one of the most incredible journeys of discovery in history. Jefferson charged the expedition with a responsibility to bring back botanical discoveries and keep detailed journals and maps.

James Monroe owned an adjacent plantation. Monroe was a young 2nd Lieutenant and scout who crossed the Delaware river in 1776 ahead of Washington and got a musket ball in the shoulder for his trouble. He carried the bullet, lodged in an artery, to his death. Monroe was 6 feet, 2 inches tall. He also served as Minister to France.

All the best American Presidents have had serious military experience.

Jefferson brought Monroe along politically as a successor. Monroe was Secretary of War in 1812 when Washington was burned by the British. Jefferson was the President.

Monroe’s house was modest compared to Jefferson’s. His garden had an Eastern swallowtail butterfly today. Monroe called his house a “cabin-castle” because the very ordinary exterior contained many decorative treasures from France.

Monroe’s most famous writing is the Monroe Doctrine which basically says, “You Europeans keep your hands off the new world and we won’t get involved in the “broils” of Europe”. Good plan. I’m sure Monroe would have also included the Middle East and Asia, if he could have even conceived such bizarre possibilities.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Will you still need me?

Charlottesville, Virginia

When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I'd been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four?

We had dinner outdoors last nignt in the Clarkesville pedestrian mall. I had a glass of Spanish savignon blanc and a margarita along with sea scallops in a corn sauce. We coudn't agree on a movie so we went to look at the lovely University of Virginia campus (not the one where 32 students were massacred this year). They have an astronomy department.

It’s 4:39 AM. The earth has now officially completed 64 complete revolutions (give or take a few adjustments for leap years). The sky is bright with stars. A shooting star flashes though Orion, providing an unexpected birthday greeting. Depending on what you believe, the sun has completed 4 billion or 4 thousand revolutions since it coalesced or was created.

Data is coming in that our small galaxy may contain a trillion planets. Backyard and professional astronomers are catching data points as characteristic dimming of light output as planets pass in front of stars in the nearby neighborhood. If there is no other life in the galaxy, it’s certainly was a profligate use of raw material.

We go to see the homes of Madison, Jefferson and Monroe today. They were all close neighbors. The Woodrow Wilson presidential libary is close by, which will bring us closer to our quest to collect all the American presidents. Inevitably, down the line, we will have to go see "W"s library. Maybe he will be humble like Truman and greet visitors? No. Probably not.

A picture of the visitor locations on my blog reveals ony one lonely dot from Russia. A lot of the dots come from my own visits as we move around. (Click to enlarge map)

The hits on my blog result from some fairly amusing search terms. One browser wants to know if he can use JB Weld to repair his dentures. Another wants a report on James Oglethorpe by tomorrow.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

No Regrets?

Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia

Our 6th grandchild, Carolyn, was born yesterday. We will be going to see Carolyn on the 22nd and then heading back to Tampa.

We are guests of Ann and Andy this week. We play 3 or 4 sets of doubles tennis every day with them at the country club. In the evening we go out on the pontoon boat and swim in the darkened lake.

It's nice to swim without worrying about gators or sharks for a change.....Let's rethink that.... I have no regrets, nothing to change...I think I'll start walking the inner city streets again at 3 AM when we get back to Tampa. I like to wear all black clothing, black gloves and a black hood and stand by the docks in the AM shadows waiting silently for passerbys. The future Phred will have no regrets. I hope to see many more sharks and gators soon. And the next time we pass an amusement park, I'm going on the big waterslide. That's only regret...waterslides passed.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

A Wedding on Cayuta lake

Alpine, New York

The wedding took place yesterday in a chapel in the woods built shortly after the Revolutionary War. It was a short walk from the chapel though the forest to the old Inn where the reception was held.

The Inn is on a small glacier-carved lake with an Indian name.

The bride and groom, Tony (my nephew) and Shannon, made an extremely attractive couple. Unfortunately, my digital camera took a dump and I have no pictures. I’ll be shopping for a new one soon.

The bride and groom pledged to plant a tree in honor of each guest in lieu of traditional wedding favors. It will be a fairly large forest when they get done. The fireworks at the edge of the lake in the rain were wonderful.

Tony is the oldest son of my cousin Danny. We got to talk briefly to all three of his boys. He has reason to be proud. The youngest, Todd, is about to graduate with a degree in education. Mrs. Phred and Todd talked shop about Special Education.

The middle son, Danny, is a young Army Captain. He just returned from Iraq. He cut a striking figure in his Army uniform dress uniform with three rows of decorations. Danny reminds me much in appearance and demeanor of his grandfather, Bruce.

Bruce piloted a glider on D-day into Normandy with the 101st Airborne. He was a big man who told imaginative stories to his children and nephews on Sunday mornings. He was much loved.

Danny has only a year left on his Army commitment. Unfortunately, it appears that he may be redeployed to Iraq in a few months. If so, he will not be released before his 15 month 2nd tour of duty is completed.

Today Mrs. Phred and I took a strenuous 5 mile hike down and back the Enfield Gorge in heavy rain. The gorge is spectacular. It has been formed in the last 10,000 years after the glaciers receded. The stream made deep canyons in the soft shale. I missed the camera.

In the morning we head south again.

Friday, 7 September 2007

American Beauty

Niagara Falls, New York

My nephew’s wedding is a couple of days away, so we kick back and go into the tourist mode, waiting to attend.

I drink coffee before dawn and notice that I’m surrounded in the RV kitchen by six clocks. They all have wildly different times. I synchronize all the clocks and consider the irresistible, invisible river of time. If you could see your entire life all at once, it would appear to be a long tube of meat oscillating wildly over the face of the Earth, sometimes underwater, sometimes 40,000 feet over the ocean. After conception, my tube spent a lot of time at abdomen level in a munitions factory as my mother’s tube inspected artillery shell fuses. Often the tube hits a weird data point like Bangkok, the Pinacate Desert, Santorini, Saigon or Cebu City.

The now over-weight meat tube is presently camped in Southwest New York, in the Allegheny State Park. New York State Parks are unique. They are beautifully manicured, with old stone buildings, built during the Depression. This one has mountains, lovely lakes and tennis courts (I lose again, but only by 6-3).

This morning, Mrs. Phred soaps up in the shower, just as the fresh water tank runs dry. Her composure is impressive. We drive our home to a water faucet, fill up, rinse her off and get ready for the trek to Niagara Falls, 100 miles away.

The journey winds though farmland and quaint old New York towns. We see Earl’s restaurant after 50 miles and both sense something special about it so we swing about in a fast u-turn for breakfast. They have a collection of autographed white Stetson hats, 78 RPM records and autographed photos from people like Tex Ritter, Hank Snow and Hank Williams. I put a quarter in the jukebox and play “High Noon”.

We decide to see the Falls from the American side. Mrs. Phred has never seen the Falls. The main falls dumps 675,000 gallons a second. We watch that for awhile. The sun and mist kick up strong rainbows. The “Maid of the Mist” boat runs tourists in blue raincoats right up to the Falls on the Niagara River.

The entrance to the Niagara State Park has a seated statue of American immigrant genius Nicola Tesla. The 200 foot drop between Lake Eire and Lake Ontario drew him here for the electric possibilities. Nicola died in New York on January 7, 1943, exactly nine months before I was born in New York.

Something about the falls wants to make you hold hands and watch in awe. A lady asks if we want our picture taken together. We do.

We take the Cave of the Winds elevator tour. I pay with the $25 dollars Canadian that I found in my blue shirt after Dawson and get $3.75 US in change. The Bridal Veil Falls only pumps 70,000 gallons a minute, but you can get right up and rub them in your face. The water feels good, very swimable. We think about the difference in the lake water levels and the inevitability of the Eire Canal as a trade route in a new way. On the drive back home we sing the song several times.

I've got a mule,
Her name is Sal,
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal.
She's a good old worker
And a good old pal,
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal.

If you want to see raw American Beauty, don’t skip this one.

Here is a Niagara Falls slideshow. There are a couple of inadverently funny videos in here.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

WFD Discovered in Arkansas

Lake Norfork, Arkansas

At 4:45 AM Mrs. Phred and I tiptoed down the driveway to set up our lawn chairs. We drank our coffee and stared up from the deserted country road at Capella in the constellation Aurigid. Venus and the Sun rose at about 6 AM. We find we are a little too far East to catch the meteor shower caused by the long tail of the Comet Kiess. Kiess swung by about 83 B.C and again in 1911. The tail it left behind intersected our orbit this morning at about 4:36 AM PDT. It will not happen again in our lifetimes.

In the morning we had a wood-chipping and garage cleaning session. As we sifted though layers of debris in the three-car garage, we discovered many strange and exotic artifacts.

Water Flotation Devices were spotted deployed in actual use in Lake Norfork, Arkansas yesterday afternoon. The locals refer to these strange objects as "noodles".

I got to go diving in the lake. I was weighted for salt-water diving and didn't bother to reweight for the less buoyant fresh water. I saw a few striped bass. The water got much colder at depth. My 25 year old buoyancy control device blew out while I was 50 feet down and wouldn't retain any air. I didn't want to leave my weights behind, but I was much too heavily weighted to swim up. So I went hand-over-hand along the rocky bottom to the shore, dropped off my weights and swam back to the boat.

They let me drive a jet sky later. I only fell off once, while trying to do a 180 top speed turn on a dime.

Paul's 8-week diet was over, so we all had 2 pound chunks of prime rib, baked potato with butter and sour cream and blueberry cobbler with ice cream in the evening to celebrate. A nice day...time to move on.