Found Object: The Radhost Complector

I love this piece of sculptural art (found via random click) at the Ewing Workshop:

The Radhost Complector shows its bearer the way to other world realms and planes of existence. Etched inside you will find many dead ends and oubliettes tempting you to stray from the paths that lead to Avalon, Atlantis, Asgard, Midgard, Helheim and tir Na Nog, home to the Fae folk and to the Cormon. But most important of all, you will find the path home. The pointer of the Complector is a shard of citrine quartz suspended in the middle of three spinning brass rings that revolve to show you where you are, or perhaps warn you that you are on the wrong path. The hand beaten spherical brass map is protected by a segmented layer of oak and then encased in a cage of dressed copper and brass. A small covered portal in the Complector’ front can be opened in order to check your heading or you can open the top altogether if you are in fear of getting lost in the ether. If you intend for your adventures to take you to far off lands and realms of the unknown, or if you are seeking things most men fear to speak of, you will need to arm yourself with The Radhost Complector.

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More photos after the jump

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Category: Weekend

A Closer Look at the Grocery Cart

Invictus here. Either because it was mildly political in nature or because it referred to government data, my recent critique of Sarah Palin’s foray into economics — specifically grocery inflation — garnered a fair amount of commentary.  Putting the politics aside, I thought it might be instructive to take a closer look at how the…Read More

Category: Consumer Spending, Data Analysis, Economy

First, Let’s Lower the Bar

First, Let’s Lower the Bar
November 12, 2010
By John Mauldin

Health-Care Realities
The Chinese Renminbi is Going Down, Not Up
First, Let’s Lower the Bar
They Need to Borrow How Much? Really?
Irish Eyes Are Not Smiling
La Jolla, New York and a Forbes Cruise

China’s currency is rising ever so slowly against the dollar. But is that hurting China? We will look at a very interesting chart and some research. And then we’ll gain some more insight into why the employment numbers seemed to surprise. I guess if you lower the bar, it’s easier to jump over. I also deal with the pushback from last week’s Outside the Box! And Ireland is on my radar. There is a lot to cover, so let’s jump in.

I start this week’s letter on a flight from Cleveland (where I was at the Cleveland Clinic meeting with my good friend and doctor Mike Roizen (of Oprah and the various “YOU” books with Mehmet Oz) on some non-health-related business, and we talked last night about the state of health care. Mike keeps pointing out that much of our health-care cost comes from chronic diseases that are either directly or partially lifestyle choices. And he is right. The data shows it. Smoking, overeating, lack of exercise – all contribute to our health-care bills. And health care was on my mind.

Now, a little mea culpa. I get letters from readers who start their missive out with something like, “I know you probably won’t read this, but…” Well, I can’t say I read every letter, but someone does and I get and read as many as I can. And my rule is that I get all the negative ones, and any letters that show particular thoughtfulness and give me suggested reading or just good suggestions. I do pay attention to you. It takes some time, I admit, but I think it is important.

And the feedback I got on last week’s Outside the Box on health care was definitely running much more on the negative side. And as it turns out, for good reason. There were just simply some factual errors in the piece that made it more partisan than it sounded when I first read it. And many readers justifiably took me to task for that.

What attracted me to the piece to begin with was the central fact that the incentives within the health-care bill give businesses significant monetary reasons to do things that are not in what I think of as the best interests of the economy or labor. Businesses will be able to save a great deal of money by canceling their employer-paid insurance plans and simply paying the fine and offering their employees some kind of cash payment to buy managed-care programs. Go to Friday’s USA Today. Read the story on Medicare-managed health care, about the shortage of specialty doctors and the denial of benefits that I think of as routine in my more or less plain-vanilla health insurance plan. I don’t think people are going to be happy.

Second, there is the incentive to hire part-time employees over full-time, and thereby not have to provide insurance. This is already an issue I see every week with my own kids, as getting full-time jobs even in relatively OK Texas is an issue. As a nation, we are already witnessing a disconcerting and still-rising level of part-time employment. Do we really want to encourage more of that?

If there is one thing we know in economics (and there are admittedly distressingly few of them), it is that people respond to incentives, whether intended or unintended. I don’t think the writers of the health-care bill intended to increase part-time employees, keep payrolls under 50 employees, or encourage businesses to dump their health insurance or move to outsourcing, etc. But if you are a business person facing budget and sales shortfalls, rising prices, and fierce competition (is there any other kind?), saving $2-3,000 per employee is going to be tempting. When two part-time employees cost $3-6000 a year less than one full-time? What do you choose when the boss is breathing down your neck about expenses? The recent employment data tells me that already businesses are opting for more part-time workers. It doesn’t work for every business, but it will for a lot of them. I hope that is not going to be the case, but I want policies that encourage and reward good corporate behavior.

For many people who read the letter, the factual errors obscured the main points. Frankly, I understand. I often have that reaction in reading other material myself. But Outside the Box is not “other material.” I put this out there, and with the core standards we have in place, I should not have been as tone deaf. I WILL be better. And in a few weeks, we will have a new website with reader forums and feedback (targeting December – this is a major project and they always take more time than I would like).

Two things I did take away from the feedback. First, most of my readers are amazingly civil in an era where simple civility on the internet is not the norm. And second, this is an extremely emotional issue. Most of us have stories about people who have been hurt by not having access to health care. And it is a lot more complex, with more moving parts, than any issue we face as a nation.

I spent some time with Newt Gingrich this Wednesday. He seems to me surprisingly upbeat about the potential for solutions to the health-care issue. He points out that there are some amazing medical advances just around the corner. A cure for Alzheimer’s would save, according to Newt, about $20 trillion over the coming decades. Cancer? Heart disease? My friend Pat Cox suggests we are on the edge of a tsunami of medical breakthroughs.

But we have been seemingly on the edge for a long time. As I wrote a few weeks ago:

Let’s look down the road. I think we will at best be in a Muddle Through Economy for the next two years. Unemployment is going to be above 8%, best-case, in 2012. If the Bush tax cuts are not extended, in my opinion it is almost a lock that we go into recession next year, unemployment goes to 12%, and underemployment gets even worse. That is not a good climate for Obama and the Democrats in 2012. It is especially bad when you look at the number of Democratic Senate seats up for re-election that are in conservative states. The Republicans could take a serious majority in the Senate.

And then what? Right now Republicans are running on promises that they will not cut Medicare and Social Security, but are going to reduce spending and get us closer to a balanced budget. But everyone knows that the only way to get the budget into some reasonable semblance of balance will be to either cut Medicare benefits or increase taxes.”

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Category: Think Tank

Succinct Summation of Week’s Events (11/15/10)

Positives 1) UoM confidence rises to 5 month high 2) Initial Jobless Claims 4 week avg falls to lowest since Sept ’08 3) NFIB small business optimism index rises almost 3 pts to best since May 4) Wholesale Inventories jump more than expected, good for GDP 5) Global criticism of Fed’s money printing exercise Negatives…Read More

Category: Markets

The Sole Purpose of Education

In 1914, John Alexander Smith, Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford, addressed the first session of his two-year lecture course as follows: “Gentlemen, you are now about to embark on a course of studies that (will) form a noble adventure…Let me make this clear to you. ..nothing that you will learn in the course of…Read More

Category: Philosophy, Psychology

California Dreaming

California is a strong brand, the state of new beginnings, dreams and movie stars, of surfers and a wonderful climate. But the Golden State is bankrupt and the city of Los Angeles is running out of cash. Public services are being cut and unemployment keeps rising. At the same time, optimism, entrepreneurship and the belief in the power of America are stronger than ever.

In Los Angeles, we meet five people who are going through a transformation in their lives during this crisis. Justin and Christine lost their jobs and are now living in a van with their two young sons. Charles has gotten out of prison after fourteen years. Mizuko prepares her children for the future by making them at ease in virtual reality. Laura has taken advantage of the crisis by buying land cheaply and starting an urban farm and artists collective Fallen Fruit maps the abundant free ‘public fruit’ available in the city. Who are the pioneers who are reinventing the new America and how do they see the future?

Category: Video

Confidence rises but so do inflation expectations

The 1st look at Nov UoM confidence was slightly better than expected at 69.3 vs the consensus of 69. It’s up from 67.7 in Oct and the best reading in 5 months but remains below the best figure of the year, 76 back in June. Most of the gain was in Current Conditions which rose…Read More

Category: MacroNotes

What’s Driving the Art Market? Easy Money.

By now you’ve heard about the $63 million Warhol, the $69 million Modigliani and the $43 million Roy Lichtenstein paintings that sold in the past two weeks. You probably didn’t know that a Chinese vase sold for £53 million (that’s more than $75 million) yesterday in a provincial English town. Either way, it wasn’t hard…Read More

Category: Federal Reserve, Valuation

California Muni Bond Fund Shellacking

Since so many of you have asked: These funds are getting mangled on expectations of — All Aboard! Munis and California joining Ireland on the default train. Even the general Muni funds have lots of California Exposure > PIMCO Municipal Income Fund II > PIMCO California Municipal Income Fund II Nuveen Municipal Value Fund

Category: Fixed Income/Interest Rates

China stocks slammed/PIG debt rallies

Chinese stocks and the rest of Asia did not respond well (Shanghai index down 5.2%) to the 4.4% rise in Chinese CPI and the faster than expected loan growth in Oct as it spurred fears that the PBOC will quickly respond with another interest rate hike. While most of the rise in CPI was due…Read More

Category: MacroNotes