Thursday, September 11, 2008

Waistline Indicator

Many thanks to everyone who welcomed me back. The reason for the absence was quite simple: I went into an intensive exercise program (bike/swim/squash) and dropped from a size 38 to 33. All the biking aggravated an old knee injury so I had to add two hours of daily physical therapy to the whole thing... Naturally, blogging went to the backburner.

And as the pounds melted away and the waist shrunk, so did Dow et al. Perhaps my waist size is a market indicator? I should warn all that I plan to "shrink" a bit further... :)

On markets: My view is that we are currently in the "But things can't really get any worse, can they?" phase. Another way to put it is that hope dies last - and there is still plenty of hope around. For economic indicators, I keep a close watch on employment, particularly the jobless claims numbers that come out every Thursday.

As I have often said before, it is earned income (or rather, the lack of it) that is key to what is happening to an economy that kept piling debt upon debt in order to keep the pigs flying. The failure of financial institutions is just the sound of some of them crashing to the ground.

How stupid is a "system" that:

a) Demands that working people keep their salary and wage demands low in the name of "competitiveness" and,
b) Then encourages them to substitute debt for income and,
c) Then asks them to keep consuming?

Darned stupid, if you ask me...


  1. That same "system" is also very detrimental to the environment. But I guess we are in the process of mean-reversion big time now.

  2. Glad to see you back.

    A good way to get exercise is to get a dog. I am a cat-person, but keeping a high-energy dog entertained still works for me.

    This is not spam.

  3. Amen, but how is that peak oil thesis playing out on energy prices?

    Congrats on your efforts to improve your body's composition. I will say that it sounds too intense and you should transition into a manageable regimen you can live with for the remainder of your life. There are plenty of "very healthy" people who die early deaths for various reasons outside of reckless/tragic circumstances.

    Best wishes.

  4. Congrats on the 38-33 drop, I wish I could do it myself.

    My 2 cent medical advice to you:
    less cardio and more weight lifting/isometrics
    . In other words you might apply your same elegantly efficient writing style to excercise... If you want to bike 2+ hours simply for fun- go ahead (I personally love biking and would NEVER give it up). But if you are doing it for weight loss (and in the process injuring yourself), you have been given some VERY bad personal training advice (or are reading the wrong physiology literature). Jim Karas usually gives pretty good advice which is backed up by a lot of good science (though his longevity claims are completely unsubstantiated and all and his 'cardio kills' mantra is WAY too much for me).

    Anyway, I have been thinking about this whole tendency towards 'peak' (oil/debt/etc...) in just about everything we read on the doomer blogs of late(I have even gotten caught up in the fear myself at certain times). Since you seem to know a lot about economic history, I wondered it you might know whether anyone has ever looked at:

    1. Whether prior historical debt peaks coincided with a rise in 'doomsday' religions- Jehovah's witnesses, Adventists, Christiannity, Islam, etc...

    2. When these debt peak readjustments finally happened, in the end, was all that happened a period of time when resources controlled by one group (call them group B) were transferred to a second group (call them group A)? And did the B to A transfer MOSTLY follow a reverse of the original A to B transfer in the first place?

  5. Oh, by the way. Since you fired the baby up yesterday on your side of the atlantic, congrats from this side on a job well done!

    Now let's all hope you don't blow up the world... all my friends insist the models say it is improssible-- or at least VERY improbable

  6. We are what we eat!!! and look like it.

  7. Great to see you back. Sorry about the knee. If you are losing weight, give your carbohydrate and lipid metabolism time to adjust - takes weeks if not months, so "endeavour to persevere". Strictly ration the carbs, and the lipids will diminish.

    Very nifty a, b and c!

    Brian P

  8. I actually think you may have something there Hell. The end of a western era based on sloth and gluttony and expanding waistlines moving towards an age of enforced frugality and debt repayment. I'll keep an eye on the number of new bariatric surgery cases over the next few years.

  9. .
    This is excellent! It deserves to be known. Especially the lenders are funny and there is the opportunity to learn the meaning of new acronym: SOTTL

  10. I came across this posting on UK Bubble.

    It appears the banks in England wish you would keep a few pounds.

  11. Two hours of PT daily? How miserable! But congrats on the results.

    Someone mentioned yesterday that they have more faith in Putin's sanity than in Bush's in regards to Georgia. Coincidentally, Dr. Strangelove was just on TV. In both cases the fate of the world seems to hinge on Russians staying calm while Cowboys go bezerk over their Precious Bodily Fluids.

    "gotten caught up in the fear myself at certain times"
    I've been finding it helpful to compartmentalize my beliefs to stay balanced (i.e. from 6 to 9 I'll believe Kunstler, from 9 to 11 I'll believe in "agrarian untopianism").

    To any sci-fi fans outs there: Neal Stephenson's latest book "Anathem" was released on the 9th. He's the guy that wrote "Cryptonomicom" and "Quicksilver". Freakin' brilliant.

  12. "The Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve are engineering a sale of Lehman Brothers through a consortium of private firms. The details are not finalized, but sources familiar with the matter say the purchase is expected to be completed and announced this weekend before Asian markets open on Monday morning."

  13. Hell asked 2 days ago:
    What replaces a broken economic engine that depends 70% on consumer shopping & spending by consumers who are drowning in debt w/no debt relief available?

    Part of the economic options for the US may be revealed via better parsed data on the distribution of HH debt. We have gobs of census data and estimates on HH income, and BLS data on median wages/salaries. But for HH debt?
    There are throwaway figures on ‘average’ credit card balances per capita and HH, but average is a worthless number. There’s similar data on mortgages, but its worthless in the same way that knowing the overall 24-hr avg temp of the surface of the planet earth averages out to 56-degrees. You cant make meaningful plans around that ‘data’.
    We need "snapshot" data on debt loads of the bottom tenth of HHs, based on HH-income; and on the next 10th of HHs, etc,; and up to the debt load of the top 10th HHs, by income.
    Then we need this data to show the debt by major type (credit card/revolving, student loan, mortgage, home equity).
    And finally, we need the data to parse into HH-size and # of children 18 & under.
    I think this would reveal that the debt burden is far from equally distributed, and that low-income households are less hobbled than families with children and working parents with college degrees. I think it would reveal the extent of increased future bifurcation of our society, by debt load, with huge economic & political implications.

  14. AvlGuy,
    Truly useful statistics are not made easily accessible to the lumpen proletariat because that would diminish the advantages available to insiders. As Janne said on prior post, by the time any useful info is published in the MSM it is well out of date.

    Speaking of agrarian utopia, did you see the NYT article on off-grid living?

  15. Congratulations on the weight loss program. I'm sure you feel a lot better for it.
    I enjoy reading your posts, not least because I'm an engineer myself. Now I know why engineers have historically been 'discouraged' from professional involvement in things financial: we have a predisposition to point out the logical inconsistencies which seem to be required to make modern capitalism 'work'!

  16. I forgot to add, Hell, that as per your comments about bringing in your waist size, it sounds like you are preparing for the "lean times" ahead.

  17. Avl said "I think this would reveal that the debt burden is far from equally distributed, and that low-income households are less hobbled than families with children and working parents with college degrees".

    "YES" What a wonderful fractal hypothesis! (Finally someone on this website is thinking like a biologist... my only significant criticism of Hell is his lack of understanding of most of the major advances in the field of evolutionary biology and complexity science).

    Avl, my gut tells me you just might be correct: debt burden correlates STRONGLY with reproduction-procreation strategies in ALL complex evolutionary models I have ever read... In fact, come to think on it, complexity models show debt NEVER makes evolutionary sense except for the single situation of reproduction-procreation...

    I know Sarah Hrdy (truly one of the most interesting people to have ever walked this planet) has written extensively about these issues from an anthropologist's perspective.

    You can pull up a ton of stuff on this if you simply browse the artificial life websites: Zooland is as good a starting point as any.

  18. Like crash diets, a strong exerise program usually leads to injury and very dificult to maintain as we age.
    Control your diet along with a walking program has the best longterm success for weight control.

  19. Avl, oops! My fist link was miss pasted- it should have been this.

  20. You went from 38 to 33 around the waist, I take it.

    Good stuff!

    There is an easier way than day-in/day-out training: 8 week detox diet (no gimmicks or chemicals), topped off with a one day liver flush using olive oil and lemon juice.

    Gave me an even greater decrease in size, and it really is a life changer. Helps you figure out how well your body can work.

    Numerous benefits still in place four years later - it's not just about the waistline - with only daily walks for exercise.

  21. You guys have got to read London Banker's posting today-- brilliant.

    @Goldie: Am I allowed to 'double down' on my prediction-- the rich get richer (at least most of the time)?

  22. Yoyomo-
    "did you see the NYT article on off-grid living?"

    I did, thanks! Its intriguing. We recently RV'd to the North Cascades National Park and hiked to the Gorge dam hydroelectric powerhouse. The area is over a 1000 square miles of forest land, was so hard to reach that the loggers left it alone, and connects to an ajacent park in Canada. I'm sure you can guess where all this data lead my febrile mind ;) Plus its north of Hanford (nuclear waste dump which shames an otherwise ideal state).

    Following the paranoid theme, I'm anti-gold because its not useful. What store of value do you consider in case of a dollar crash? I think you mentioned phosphorus once (useful, doesn't rust). Copper piping would be valuable and/or useful. Usefulness, value to others, ease of storage and ease of securing from others are all factors to consider when one is in a particularly surly mood about the US economy.

  23. Dink- if it somes to a 'mad max' scenario, your copper is simply too tempting a target. You'd spend huge amounts defending your stores.

    Personally, I think cooperation works just as well.

  24. "Personally, I think cooperation works just as well."

    When the majority of participants play fair, sure. But it seems that all the recent moral hazards delivered by the Treasury have shown that they can not be trusted to play fair.

    Also, my Mad Max subversive contemplations are still just a sort of hobby. I'm a fully cooperating, voting, taxpaying, lawn maintaining, law abiding participant under the current system.

  25. "When the majority of participants play fair, sure."

    That's kind of like saying "I don't want my heart and lungs to cooperate because my bone marrow might not 'play fair' and give me a leukemia".

    Remember what your parents used to teach you? They were always correct.

    Think about it

  26. Thai- thanks for the London Banker link...

  27. Dink,
    There's an econo-blog with an appropriately suggestive moniker; Whiskey & Gunpowder.

    These are some of the useful suggestions I've seen:
    Canned & freeze-dried edibles
    Ammo (compact & divisible)
    Alcohol (vodka & whiskey keep better than beer or wine)
    Tools & hardware (lots of unprepared folks are going to need to learn how to rough it and you can barter your skills and supplies if advantageous)
    Stable medicines
    Toiletries (razor blades, soap, tooth paste & brushes, condoms, toilet paper {not so compact})

    Depending on how much storage space you have you can be pretty well stocked up but you will need to pack protection preferably with a handful of reliable friends if the meltdown is severe.

  28. This is the very nice topic that is discussed. I am not thinking that the system is stupid.
    Complete Cat Training!

  29. Hell,

    Sorry to hear about your knee injury. I hope your on the road to recovery. I really enjoy reading your of my favorite things to do while drinking a good cuppa of coffee.

    Mr. & Ms. Coffee

  30. "my bone marrow might not 'play fair' and give me a leukemia"

    Definitely a recurring theme in where our beliefs shear. Organs are mutually dependent and not conscious. Humans are not necessarily mutually dependent (5B of us could be wiped out and the species would survive easily) and are conscious (and thus able to make choices which are unfair to each other which destroy trust and therefore hope of cooperation).

    "an appropriately suggestive moniker; Whiskey & Gunpowder"

    Again, Yoyomo lures me down the rabbit hole towards Kunstlerism :O
    Is the alcohol needed if I don't drink?

  31. Dink,
    The alcohol (something that keeps well w/o refrigeration) is for bartering but might be risky as the types of people looking for whiskey in the midst of armageddon might not be the sort of savory characters you would prefer to trade with.

    Toilet paper and tampons would probably fetch a high price from formerly pampered desperate housewives.

  32. Dink, while I can't disagree with you-- your view is clearly just as vaid as mine. I can say that from my point of view, there are 3 big problems with your point:

    1. Are you REALLY sure you undertand what consciousness is?

    2. Are you REALLY sure consciousness makes the difference you suggest?

    ... All hard scientific research I have EVER read on the subject of consciousness suggests that the more you look at consciousness, the more you realize even the question itself is an endless rabbit hole (and there is A LOT of research in this field because of interest in brain injury, coma, dementia and Artificial Intelligence).

    3. Are you REALLY sure you understand which humans you are personally dependent upon in the scale free (fractal) network we all exist in?

    For if 5B people go, are you really sure that before you 'go native':

    1. You too won't be caught up in the fall when one of the people whom (unbeknownst to you) you were actually dependent also goes?

    2. One of all of the people you care most about will not also get caught in the implosion for similar reasons?

    (read from page 5- An Achilles' heel)

    Networks can come down VERY VERY fast when (and now I am agreeing with Hell from much earlier postings): "a fish rots from its head" or the 'hubs' come down.

  33. " might not be the sort of savory characters you would prefer to trade with"

    Exactly. I was wondering if you meant it for a cheap antiseptic or anaesthetic. Any chance you know of the hydrocarbon with the longest "shelf-life"? Propane tanks? Heat is a good thing...

    "Are you REALLY sure you undertand what consciousness is?"

    I stayed up until 2:30 this morning finishing that 891 page sci-fi book I mentioned (this actually becomes relevant to your question soon, I swear). The gist is that "monestaries" have been set up for scientists and the outside world is religious. This goes on for about 6,000 years with the outside civilization repeatedly self-destructing and rebuilding. Well a spaceship is sighted. There is no communication, but a geometrical design is on the ship. Somehow the genius monks have to figure this thing out. The story tends to be a young monk trying to learn from older monks who maddeningly use the Socratic method to try to get him to understand quantuum mechanics, time, parallel universes, and , of course, define what is consciousness. I am spent and looking back should not have spent a Summer weekend this way.

    But in a primal, inelegant way I have a concept of consciousness because its this thing in my head that processes info. Using it I consider potential behaviors and analyze which is best. Not hurting others is a factor in the analysis. So I can extrapolate that other humans have this same ability, but choose not to include this factor. And they piss me off.

  34. Methane exists underground for eons so I assume it would have a long shelf life unless liquefaction makes it less stable. I don't really know what the chemical difference between LNG and propane is but you can get a 2K gallon propane tank buried in your back yard and unless you use it for on-site electric generation, it would probably last you 3-5 years depending how much hot water you use and how well insulated your house is. The tank itself is good for 30-40 years depending on how good the drainage is in your yard.

  35. Yoyomo,

    I haven't delved very deep into the subject, but it seems a subterraean, concrete-walled dwelling can save a lot of wasted heat so maybe the 2k propane tank would last even longer....

  36. Good luck Dink, whatever you decide I'll be rooting for you. Don't forget to squeeze in an ice cave while you're at it.

  37. LOL!!!! :-)))

    Dink, honestly we all will! :-)

    And if those of us who decide to stay behind to 'work with the system' make the wrong choice-- hopefully you'll spare a few calories and blankets.


  38. Yoyomo and Thai,

    You're both welcome at my Pacific NW hobbit hole if there is a Great Unraveling ;)

    My retired engineer Father-in-law is slowly being recruited which is good because he has lots of time and tools. My hope is to recruit enough people that essentially all I'll have to do is pack up some board games and drive.