Archive

Archive for April, 2009

Japanese Exports Rise

April 30, 2009 3 comments
People still think they need cars.

People still think they need cars.

Whew. With all the pigs flying around, it’s hard to keep your eye on the important things in life. Hysteria, while once considered an uncommon disorder of uterine function, is now so widespread, traversing the sexes and affecting all age groups, that if you are not in a panic about Swine Flu, then people think you should have your head read. Meanwhile, other, more real things are happening to the world.

If you beat a dead horse hard enough, it will probably move a few inches. Actually, if you hit it with a freight train, it will probably roll a few hundred meters. That can look rather dramatic, especially if you ignore the freight train. In the news today, it is reported that Japan’s industrial output rose by 1.6%, on the back of continuous sharp declines over the last year or so. It’s like a flicker of light in the dark, which would once have been considered dire news. Instead, today it’s seen as the flicker of sunlight over the horizon at the crack of dawn. In the land of the rising sun, no less.

Until now, Japan’s production was practically at a stand still, with people laid off work, factories shut down, nothing in, nothing out (or at least, not much). This has reached the point that basic items, the demand for which can only dip for a time, are running out. Yes, companies are delaying the purchase of new fleet cars and others are holding onto their used cars a little longer, but in the end, people are still driving around everywhere, and mechanical objects wear out and die.

What can be expected is something of an economic recovery in manufacturing nations such as Japan and China. The stimulus money being distributed around the world is of such a massive sum that it cannot but have some effect, but the situation has changed from one that may have existed during previous recessions. The meaning of fiat money is being called into question like never before. The world is realigning itself, political and economic powers are changing rapidly and severe imbalances are developing.

If all else were equal, if the US dollar maintained its value, one could expect a recovery sometime soon (if you expand the money supply and put it into everybody’s pockets without there being any inflation, suddenly everyone thinks they are richer). However, the laws of mechanics are analogous to all natural systems, in that every action invokes an inverse reaction to maintain equilibrium. Spreading out the money supply only dilutes its value, and the US dollar cannot logically maintain its current value without some kind of extraordinary pressure on other nations to pretend that it does. If nature takes its course, we can reasonably expect an economic recovery only when the US accepts its loss of superiority as an economic power and takes a back seat, allowing other markets to emerge. That could take many years.

But this is not a natural system. The US will probably not want to accept a peaceful and graceful decline, but will throw itself into turmoil and take others with it. In the meantime, it will try to bully itself out of the mess it is in, Swine Flu notwithstanding. Rather, Swine Flu is a very convenient distraction at the moment, since it’s a disaster that has no obvious human cause. It allows the American public to forget a much greater threat, but only for a time.

Swine Flu Less Scary Than Expected

April 29, 2009 Leave a comment
Oink

...Oink?

In the Australian news, a succinct update on the flu is given (where it says that one baby in Texas has died of the virus):

There were no further details about the death in the US, most of whose 65 confirmed cases of swine flu have proved mild.

Nearly a week after the threat of the pandemic emerged in Mexico, that country remains the hardest hit, with up to 159 people killed – although the number of confirmed deaths in Mexico sits at seven.

The facts, then, are that of roughly 2,500 cases in Mexico, there are really only 7 deaths (presumably confirmed at autopsy), giving a mortality rate of 0.28%. That’s less than Spanish flu (up to 20%) by 100 times! It’s probably not as benign as that, but the statistics coming out in the media are wildly fluctuating at the moment. Dividing the media faeces from the clay is not proving to be very easy.

I think at this point this flu looks like it’s got its wings clipped.

May 11 Update:

Today it was reported that the U.S. has 2254 H1N1 cases, with 3 deaths. Mortality rate for the U.S. (almost a first world country) is 0.12%, or just over one per thousand infections. How, then, does this differ from normal influenza? Not by much.

Categories: health Tags: , ,

Modern People: Can’t save, Won’t save

April 29, 2009 1 comment
... switch off the TV, eat a piece of fruit and go for a walk.

... switch off the TV, eat a piece of fruit and go for a walk.

Have you ever noticed that when you want someone to give you something useful for free (or sometimes even for money), such as the Government, there are pages and pages of forms to fill out, hour-long queues to stand in and innumerable supporting documents to bring with you? But when it comes to paying a bill, it’s just a swipe of a card, a click of a button. It’s because, when something is in your interests, you do all the work. Getting robbed takes very little effort at all.

Two pieces of news came out at almost the same time in Australia regarding the housing market and banking sectors:

  1. House sales are rising sharply (4.2% in March, on the back of a similar trend since January)
  2. Bad debts are eroding the profits of the major banks. The latest, ANZ, reported a 43% fall in its cash profit.

This is on the background of rising unemployment, no evidence of a real turnaround in the global economy, the new threat of Swine Flu (real or imagined) and the Australian Government’s desire to boost military funding (yet some how crawl itself towards a balanced budget over years), which implies that first home buyer grants, gratuitous thousand-dollar cheques in the mail and mortgage relief programs are a thing of the present but not the near future.

If you had no significant savings, an unsteady job, the threat of dying of pneumonia over the next two months and read about all the dire economic news as abounds in the media, would you take out a mortgage on a house? Before you say no, remember that a whole lot of people are saying yes. They are probably saying yes because, in amongst all the negative facts, there are a few ‘experts’ giving glowing opinions of an imminent turnaround in the world economy. Of course they don’t have a vested interest in off-loading their own bad investments, do they?

A good proportion of those people who are buying new homes today must be oblivious to what’s coming to them. Have they got life insurance? Income protection insurance? If not, how are their spouse and children going to manage without them if something should happen? Who will pay the debt? Whereas before, those families entering a mortgage agreement only had to worry about next week’s rent, now they are faced with the next thirty years on the property which, who knows, may be worthless in a short while, because they and many others will be forced to sell. It’s a big risk to take if you have dependents to look after. Even those with insurance can’t depend on the insurer paying out in the long run. Many of those institutions might still be wiped out.

It’s so obvious that it hardly needs saying, that people, in general, cannot save money. Have money, will spend. Offer people a ‘bonus’, and they’ll go and get pregnant, even if they don’t want children. Offer a bonus, and they’ll spend it on Chinese electronic goods, or buy something on-line at a store located outside Australia. Offer a bonus (FHB grant), and people will sign themselves into a thirty year mortgage with a bank (heartless, soulless). Nobody seems to have a sense of danger. Perhaps it’s because they no longer remember fairy tales, with their big bad wolves, village destroying giants, deceiving witches, poverty stricken children, cruel step-mothers, lazy rabbits, poor widows and pestilence. Instead, it’s all Post-man Pat, the Telletubbies, Thomas the Tank Engine and those brain-numbing Wiggles. For the current home-buying generation, though, it was probably Fat Cat and Friends, Playschool and Sesame Street. That stuff wasn’t even well presented, let alone equally content-free.

What hope is there for these first home buyers, when they are so clueless? What about everyone else, who they are unwittingly dragging down with them? Just as it is said, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God, as thou temptedst him in the place of temptation.”, so we should realize that, if we tempt the Government, it will call our bluff. If everybody throws themselves into ridiculous debt, in the pursuit of the “home ownership” dream, they will break the whole system of property ownership. The Government will turn around and take away everybody’s property and we be left with a very nasty form of socialism, run, not by governments (which at least get embarrassed if you don’t vote for them), but by heartless, soulless banks, who don’t care an iota if you were to die in the gutter tomorrow.

The blame, though, does not really fall upon the heads of the populace. It has been robbed of its culture, tricked out of believing the sound wisdom of its ancestors, brainwashed by a four-cornered electric puppet-box which sits in every lounge room, even the bedrooms of teenagers. People’s heads are filled with illogical, unbalanced rubbish. It is no surprise, then, that their decision making is of similar quality.

Piggy Swine Flu and The Dreaded Lurgi

April 28, 2009 7 comments
Spike Milligan, Harry Seacombe, Peter Sellers

Conspiracy Theorists: Spike Milligan, Harry Seacombe, Peter Sellers

You dirty rotten swine flu!

It’s not even been a week and the Swine Flu epidemic/pandemic hysteria has already taken an unbelievable hold in the minds of people everywhere, from Mexico City, New Jersey and New York to London, Paris and Calcutta. The BBC reports:

“Containment is not a feasible operation” – Dr. Keiji Fukuda (WHO)

So now it’s time for everyone to run under a rock until the Dreaded Lurgi passes, because, of course, we’re all gonna die! Just over many many years and not all at once (but why spoil a good story with the truth). What is amazing is that a virus can affect people who have never been in contact with it, as Spike Milligan so cleverly observed:

Moriarty: …And now, my friend, to business. My name is Count Moriarty. Have you ever heard of Lurgi?
Seagoon: There’s no one of that name here
Moriarty: Sacristi Bombet! Listen to me while I tell you a tale. In 1296 on the Isle of Ewe
Seagoon: Where?
Moriarty: Isle of Ewe
Seagoon: I love you, too. Shall we dance?
Moriarty: I don’t wish to know that. On the Isle of Ewe the dreaded Lurgi struck. In six weeks, in cinq weeks mark you, Lurgi had destroyed {Silence Please} Lurgi had destroyed the entire population.
Seagoon: What a splendid story
Moriarty: Oui
Seagoon: Have you heard the story about the man who didn’t marry Rita Hayworth
Moriarty: Impossible
Seagoon {Snigger}
Moriarty: As I was saying, Lurgi, Lurgi could easily destroy the entire human race.
Eccles: Then I’m okay, fellers.

In the above quoted episode of the Goon Show, the Dreaded Lurgi strikes Britain, but, mysteriously, it was observed that none of the victims played in a brass band. Needless to say, the British parliament was advised that four million E Flat trombones, three million Euphoniums, and four million Saxophones…in all, fifty million brass band instruments should be purchased at once in order to save the nation. The thing was, though, that Count Moriarty just happened to be a brass instrument dealer and was ready to take orders in bulk. Soon enough, thousands of aircraft were in the air delivering vital instruments to Great Britain. In the end, however, it was revealed that there was no such thing as the Dreaded Lurgi.

Sadly, the World is not an episode of The Goon Show, but merely a cheap imitation. Swine Flu exists, of course, but it hasn’t reached Spanish Flu proportions yet, and it isn’t 1918 either. A vaccine against the organism is not yet available, but in a panic, the authorities will hand over samples of the virus to any company that claims it can come up with one. Baxter pharmaceuticals put their hand up first, claiming that they can achieve a result in as brief a period as two weeks. We’ll see who gets the contract.

Economic effects of even a sniff of a pandemic can be astronomical. It’s said that SARS (which was very much a Dreaded Lurgi that never eventuated) cost the Asian economy $40 Billion. Estimates of the cost of Swine Flu are given as $3 Trillion worldwide. That is $3,000,000,000,000.00 (about 8 Sydneys). Of course, it won’t really cost that much money, because at that point money is a meaningless measure of anything, even economies themselves.

The direct effects of the virus (perhaps in numbers of deaths) are likely to be much smaller per head of population than Spanish Flu, which was estimated to have affected 20% of individuals worldwide, with a mortality of 3% of the world’s population. India’s population sustained a loss of 5%. In Fiji, 14% died. In Australia, only 12,000 died. These are interesting statistics, and they reflect the underlying health of nations at the time. However, a worst case scenario of, say, 5% deaths globally from Swine Flu means a staggering figure of 300 million deaths (most of them in second and third world countries). That ought to make the depopulationists happy.

A bit of a Google search (just for fun) of Spanish Flu reveals hundreds of websites and blogs which claim that it was man-made, and there is a long history of distrust of (forced) vaccination programmes. Even stronger is the suspicion now that the Swine Flu could have also been non-accidental. Spanish Flu has been intensely studied recently, with attempts to recover its RNA, and claims of success in 2005. Since Swine Flu contains elements in common with the Spanish Flu virus, there is fertile ground for sensationalism and suspicion. Stranger things have happened in history, so the possibility of foul play cannot be ruled out. Sorry about the irresistible SARS pun, by the way.

So, as the death toll rises, as the fear spreads and the international flights get canceled, let’s pause for a moment to think about our own mortality. And then let us also pause and realize that the chance of dying of Swine Flu in Australia is at worst around 2 in a thousand (probably much less), given a full-blown epidemic, much less than the underlying death rate. Not as exciting as it could be, is it?

Never the less, if Swine Flu inspires people to think of how short life really is, that they should make friends with their Maker, go to Mass, go to Confession and be nice for a change, then at least something good might come of all this. Life is short. Hell is forever. Maybe that is why people are so worried.

See also: Swine Flu Got Legs

Kevin and Fannie Sitting in a Tree

April 26, 2009 Leave a comment

Bloodless mutiny of the HMS Bounty

Bloodless mutiny of the HMS Bounty

Bloomberg has a great little commentary about Fannie Mae’s gratuitous bailout of mortgages in the US. In essence, the mortgage giant (bailed out by the US government) generated a loss of $453 million in giving money to troubled mortgage holders to keep them from defaulting. It’s all about buying time.

Kevin Rudd’s stimulus packages have exactly the same goal. Buying time, delaying default, delaying the inveitable.

As the author states:

If that’s the case, any improvement in the housing outlook might be a mirage obscuring even greater pressures building in the financial system.

Kevin & co. are trying their luck by doing the same thing to prevent the mortgage based housing market from collapsing during 2009. It is likely to happen six or twelve months later instead. The result of all of this is, instead of seeing a cascade of financial corrections around the world, one after the other in logical order, we are seeing false signs of recovery in some regions, out of keeping with the global trend.

Why are they doing this? Do they honestly believe that the economy is going to make a miraculous recovery next year, just in time? Based on what? There is not enough intrinsic activity in the US manufacturing sector to generate a turn around, and the rest of the planet is wary of more American credit based consumption.

It’s uncanny that the Rudd’s bank deposit guarantees, the mortgage relief plan, the stimulus packages, the First Home Buyer’s grant, all come to a crunch roughly at the end of 2010. The holes are lining up in a similar fashion in other parts of the world. By then we might well be seeing the final collapse of the US dollar, followed by dissolution of the United States of America and possibly the rise of Mexico as an economic power in the region. We might also be in the middle of an influenza pandemic which threatens to decimate the world population. Who knows, with all this madness, we might find ourselves in the middle of a large war.

All that is speculation, drawing a long bow indeed, but current events are moving quickly and many of them seem to make very little sense in isolation. It is clear, however, that the game is up, financially, for the US, and unprecedented changes will inevitably take place there. The Federal Reserve could be said to be out of ammo, painted into a corner, up the creek without a paddle, or a hundred other bad analogies. Either way, nobody can dilute the US dollar value by four times and expect to have no fallout.

It’s sad that the Australian Government should be taking the same approach as the US with its artificial and very short sighted propping up of the economy. We had the chance, as a civilization, to move to sound economic principles, to accept our mistakes and correct them, but we have been bitterly betrayed by our leaders who seem unable to make the difficult but correct choices.

Swine Flu got Legs

April 25, 2009 1 comment

Swine Flu

Swine Flu

This could be the big one.

(See also: Swine Flu and the Dreaded Lurgi and Swine Flu Less Scary Than Expected)

Health alerts have spread through Australia’s government institutions, in particular hospitals, advising of the risk of Swine Flu. It affects young adults, has a high probability of mortality, and is described by the World Health Organization as an emergency having the potential to reach pandemic proportions rapidly. In Mexico, it is said that over 1000 people at the present time have been infected, of which over 60 (27/4/09 – now 80) have died – a fatality rate of (roughly) 6%. Schools, museums and other public gathering places have been closed to try to prevent further spread. The virus has already spread to California, Texas, with at least seven confirmed infections.

The number of fatalities outside of Mexico currently equals 1, a 23 month old in the US.

Specifically, the virus belongs to the H1N1 group of influenza A viruses. This particular strain is novel; its discovery occurred as recently as 2 days ago (23/4/2009). Its genetic profile is such that the conventional flu vaccines offered to hospital workers and the community are unlikely to offer protection. It is said to be sensitive to the drugs zanamivir (Relenza, owned by GSK) and oseltamivir (Tamiflu, owned by Roche). Supplies of this drug in Australia are probably adequate to manage the early stages of an outbreak, but clearly, in developing countries, this is definitely not the case.

The lethality of this infection is similar to that during the Spanish Flu pandemic (1918-1920) which had a mortality rate of 2 to 20%. It too was a subtype of the H1N1 influenza A virus.

One of the most common questions being asked by the public are about the presentation of the illness and how to avoid getting infected. In general, the symptoms and signs of the infection are nothing out of the ordinary. They include:

  1. All the usual flu symptoms, such as fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing (respiratory tract), sometimes runny nose and sore throat.
  2. Other body systems can also be involved, such the gut (nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea)

These are the same symptoms that can happen in pneumonia, the common cold, even urinary tract infection in some people. This is not very helpful, because it can now be expected that, very often, a person with even the slightest runny nose, or food poisoning or whatever, will think he or she has swine flu. The rule of thumb is, if you are more sick than your usual, see a doctor. If you have a reason to avoid being sick at all (such as being on drugs which decrease your immunity), see a doctor.

As for avoiding infection, well there are more myths than facts around. If you managed to avoid catching a cold over the last five years, then you are doing something right, but the fact is that most people are forced to go to public places, shop, go to school, work and so forth. Like every virus, the flu will have an incubation period (even if it’s just a couple of days) where a person is infected, is infectious, but is feeling perfectly well.

Of the few things that have been proven to work, careful and consistent hand washing after human contact, isolation of the sick, vaccines (by no means a panacea), and being otherwise healthy, well slept and well fed, are the best thing. If you are worried about dying, but smoke, drink too much, go to fast food restaurants and drive too fast, then fix those before you worry about the flu!

The coming weeks will reveal whether this virus manages to spread faster than the ability of researchers to design a vaccine in order to produce herd immunity, especially in major cities. In the meantime, governments around the world will be placing their institutions on alert for symptoms and putting in place treatment protocols and the like. There is no doubt that everybody will do whatever is feasible to curtail the spread of this organism.

There are oddities about this organism, however, as reported in the Wall Street Journal:

The flu virus mutates promiscuously, and this strain is no exception: Officials said that, in addition to genetic material associated with North American swine flu, the strain has gene segments associated with European and Asian swine flu, North American avian flu and human flu.

Most surgical masks do not offer protection.

Most surgical masks do not offer protection.

Three strains in one! It’s not unreasonable to ask questions about just how probable (or improbable) such a mutation is in the wild. In laboratories, however, mixtures of multiple viral RNA fragments can be combined to yield a successful result. Biological weapons research has not ceased either, but has continued quietly out of the public limelight. We can expect to hear of many different explanations about this particular virus.

It is useful to keep an open mind about the outbreak. It is currently assumed that the virus is a natural occurrence. Indeed, there have been warnings about this for years now. The thing is, though, that warnings do not change the probabilities. Many people are rightly wondering whether the virus was engineered in a laboratory or is merely a coincidental mutation among a herd of pigs. If it is a man-made virus, then its release into the wild could represent the greatest act of mass murder in history. This question, therefore, is not to be shirked at and must be answered.

The influenza viruses, however, are known for their unstable genetics and rapid rate of mutation, hence the tendency for new strains to emerge each year, and even during a seasonal outbreak. It would be interesting to tease out the probabilities that this particular strain would have spontaneously emerged. Also, we can expect this outbreak, if it does spread as predicted, to rapidly mutate into multiple strains, making containment even more difficult.

On the topic of containment, it needs to be said that ordinary surgical masks do little to prevent the spread of influenza. It’s all just for show. During the first few minutes of wearing a surgical mask, the device performs to manufacturer specifications, but after that the mask is damp and warm and cannot offer the same protection. A paper mask cannot form a tight seal around the face so that air is always entrained on inhalation. If you are sneezed on, or are in contact with an infected person, you are going to get infected. Mask wearing is by and large a waste of time – as good as placebo. But people will do it anyway, of course.

Whatever its origins, this virus is already showing an ability to spread extremely rapidly. Within days we will know whether this is indeed the flu pandemic of the century.

Biggest Military Boost before WWIII

April 25, 2009 Leave a comment
Keeping Up with the Jonses

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Embarking on its biggest military spending spree since WWII, Australia is undergoing a significant shift in approach to international relations. It is a telling sign that the global economic crisis is about much more than money.

An article on news.com.au entitled “Biggest Military Boost since WWII” reports Kevin Rudd’s announcement of massive military spending on the Australian Defense Force, which is to be insulated from any other budget cuts that may occur as a result of the global financial crisis:

“Nevertheless the Government will not resile even in the difficult times from the requirement for long-term coherence of our defence planning for the long-term security of our nation. This is core business for government.

“That is why we have forged ahead in our preparation of the defence white paper because national security needs do not disappear because of the global recession. If anything, those needs become more acute.”

There are several important things to make note of in light of this major development in international affairs.

Firstly, this is a militaristic and highly provocative move by Australia which will be interpreted exactly as it is by its neighbors. And coming from a supposedly left-leaning government, proves that there is absolutely no meaning in what political wrapper might exist over a ruling party, in this case Labor. Very little changes from government to government, even in domestic matters. Political party faithful of course don’t believe this (it’s not in their interests), but it’s nonetheless true.

Secondly, it confirms our suspicions that the economic crisis is indeed a prelude to something much more real and physical. The impending collapse of the US currency will leave many angry customers (nations) left with what has been termed ‘toilet paper’ which they obtained in exchange for real, valuable and tangible goods. There will be a settling of scores. The question begs, however, whether Australia’s surge to build its defenses will be too little, too late. It certainly appears that in the coming years America’s dominance as a military power will be coming under question, particularly with the rise of China’s military capability.

Thirdly, it represents an alternative path to ‘stimulate’ Australia’s economy. What better way to use the masses of young, healthy, unemployed males than to shove them in the armed forces, where they can be kept off the streets, and put to work.

Fourthly, it’s a development that may go some way to confirming a couple of old “conspiracy theories” which predict that global war might well reoccur, and not by mistake. On planned population reduction, for example:

Either they [governments] do it our way, through nice clean methods or they will get the kind of mess that we have in El Salvador, or in Iran, or in Beirut. Population is a political problem. Once population is out of control it requires authoritarian government, even fascism, to reduce it “The professionals aren’t interested in lowering population for humanitarian reasons. That sounds nice. We look at resources and environmental constraints. We look at our strategic needs, and we say that this country must lower its population-or else we will have trouble. – Thomas Ferguson, Latin American case officer for the State Department’s Office of Population Affairs (OPA)

Governments very rarely make frank statements about their real regional aims. Much of a nation’s regional strategy is a secret because no member of the public (or neighboring countries) would find it particularly palatable. People tend to make good guesses though, based on undeniable factual material such as geography, energy resources and cultural and political allegiances. No nation was without blame in World War II. Like any war, it was about resources and trade routes. The next war, if it occurs, will be about the same things. It will be global, it will affect everyone, since it will be a war whose ultimate aim is to dominate everything, once and for all.

Is this the kind of game Australia should be participating in?