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August 11th, 2008

I might hurt myself doing this, actually. Laughing too hard increases my round ligament pain.

Nicholas Economides, if I understood him correctly, honestly seems to think that _just talking about maybe drilling more in or near the US_ has caused the recent drop in oil prices. Sure it has.

Think Lovin' Spoonful (or, apparently, any number of other performers, including a recent Aly & AJ for Disney version that hit it big in 2005). "Do you believe in magic"...

This comment came up in the context of making fun of an op-ed piece at the LA Times:

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-stein8-2008aug08,0,2887025.column

Which has a memorable quote of its own:

"Oil exploration is an industry America should look to expand right after alchemy research and pyramid building."

Calling Joel Stein a hypocrite is a popular activity (and probably justified -- he'd much rather someone else destroyed their political and physical environment with oil extraction industries while he got to enjoy the results in his yellow Mini Cooper), and he clearly is trying very hard to be provocative. Nevertheless, kind of a funny, if at times offensive, piece. It's basically a summary of _Gusher of Lies_, which, IIRC, I bought, read, reviewed and donated to the local library earlier this year. I don't remember being hugely impressed.

Still, none of it compares to the plug for the nuclear industry I quit watching at CNN while surfing my way over to CNBC.

There is a little decent commentary on the price of oil out there. People are noticing that this is at least in part a currency thing, which then turns into a discussion of why the dollar is strengthening (gotta love that jargon); I'm inclined to agree with the (few) other people having this discussion, which is that it isn't so much the dollar getting stronger as the Euro getting weaker. Unfortunately, everyone is so busy talking about the global oil market, they are not talking about all the bilateral agreements that control who has access to buy which bit of fossil fuel at what price. Which is a pity, given what's going on in South Ossetia right now.

I'm having a little split brain moment. On one side, I'm trying to calculate whether disruption of natural gas supplies to Europe net helps or hurts the US (stronger dollar means we can buy more oil and we couldn't buy that natural gas anyway BUT if the Europeans get hammered, they can't afford to buy our cheaper goods and our efforts to ramp up the manufacturing sector fail miserably, worsening our trade balance, etc.). On the other side, I'm working my way through my extended family on my dad's side, trying to figure out if there's a diplomatic way to determine whether my cousin D. is still in Georgia. Not that I _like_ D., nor have I talked to him in probably a decade or more, but still (and right now, I sound like Sookie Stackhouse), he is my cousin, and that's a war zone.

don't read mortgage paperwork

No, really, don't. I mean, if it's your own, sure.

But we went to a couple open houses this weekend, and as a result of my lurking on a blog here or there or everywhere, I now know where to find (free) a fair amount of information about mortgages, deeds, etc. for just about any address in Massachusetts. Free is good. Free is also not so good. Because I've now gone from just tracking back and looking at the mortgage lines and whether they have been discharged or not, to pulling up the docs to see whether they are promissory notes or HELOCs or whatever. The goal, of course, is to try to determine what the outstanding debt on the property is, in order to make a guess at how much pricing flexibility there might be (which is to say, if negotiations will necessarily involve trying to convince a lender to do a short sale, I've pretty much lost interest already).

Nevertheless, just say no to reading other people's mortgage paperwork. I'm sure, over time, I'll get better and faster at this. But still.
R. discovered an entertaining polling site:

http://www.fivethirtyeight.com

I think we all know that people who are obsessed with baseball are good with the numbers. A guy who is exceptionally good with baseball statistics has taken up political polling analysis in a seriously analytical way. Cool stuff -- much more sophisticated than RCP or similar. R. thinks he is not overworking the data; I haven't decided yet.

There are some simple truths in life (expensive housing will lag starter homes in a downturn, say) that just aren't often violated. And apparently, there are some simple truths in political races, altho I'm just getting to know some of them. I noticed this time around that a big chunk of the populace had zero interest in the presidential race (and any other race? It is to laugh) until January 1, 2008. I was tracking pretty hard right around the time the last of the 2006 results were coming in (okay, a little earlier; but it's embarassing to admit that). I think leaving well enough alone until the year of the race is a good solution to avoiding burnout/boredom.

But there were a lot of people like me, throughout 2007, who were handicapping the wide field quite avidly. Something really odd happened on January something-or-other of 2008; the race completely changed, wiping out the last 6-9 months. It was like a clock reset. And it was because all those people who weren't interested until the year of the race poked their heads into the debate and took a position.

We had a long primary season, and after a certain point several months ago (when the media started using clear violence-against-women language in their coverage of HRC), I dropped out. And as near as I can tell, a lot of other people who were involved deeply during the peak of the primary season similarly dropped out. According to the guys over at 538, we can expect the next wave of people to take an interest in the campaign in the course of the conventions, and then again the night of the first one-on-one debate. 538 handicaps polls by age, and further notes that a lot of people won't make up their mind until the last few weeks before the election (for senate rates, the last few days before the election), which of course is the basis for October Surprises.

But in the meantime -- just like back at the end of 2007 -- the media uses the dead months and weeks to gin up a horse race, even when there isn't (much of) one. They don't have any other story, after all. Which is kinda funny, and parallel to what's going on in the markets during the vacation season.
If you're wondering whether it is a million in ARS or a million in assets under management with UBS that determines whether you get your money back starting October 31 or January 1, the answer is, a million in assets.

But the loan is available in September, altho it may involve setting up yet-another-account with unknown fees. So if you are proposing something clever (like, borrow the par value and stick it in something that generates interest), you'll have to check the details when they become available.

Last Friday, no FDIC announcements

Very mysterious.

Today, however, updates (and kinda scary ones) on Vineyard and Downey.
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/12/health/12well.html

Tara Parker-Pope covered the new guidelines recently, and the comments thread was obscenely vicious to her/the guidelines. Mostly a bunch of bat-shit crazy ignoramuses (shall I tell you how I _really_ feel?) who don't get The Cascade in any form. She's made a second, valiant effort here to address the issues. I'm guessing it won't work much better than previous efforts, but she deserves applause anyway.

http://health.usnews.com/articles/health/healthday/2008/08/11/studies-refine-obesitys-risk-for-heart-troubles.html

Lots of sources for secondary coverage of these two articles; none of them particularly spectacular and the editorial accompanying the original research articles has some very clear problems (NO! We MUST panic about BMI! We must!).

Take away is straightforward: being overweight or obese may be a risk "factor", but that doesn't make you unhealthy or even say anything about whether you're about to become unhealthy. Location of excess fat, however, might be interesting; the German study in particular notes that fatty liver is bad, maybe worse than visceral fat in general.