Saturday, November 21, 2009

In Praise of Country Folks (From a Suburbanite) Part 1

In Praise of Country Folks (From a Suburbanite) Part 1

By Nick Sorrentino

“I can plow a field all day long I can catch catfish from dusk till dawn
We make our own whiskey and our own smoke too
Ain't too many things these old boys can't do
We grow good ole tomatoes and homemade wine
And a country boy can survive country folks can survive”

-Hank Williams Jr. from: Country Boy Can Survive

I grew up in an expanse of suburbia known as Virginia Beach. It is the largest city in Virginia and is hundreds of square miles of 7-11s, malls, high schools, and highways. This is the world I grew up in. It is a world without dear hunting, or burning barrels, or bush hoggin.” It is a world of packaged food, hour long commutes, and youth soccer games. It is the world that most middle class white (and black for that matter) Americans have lived in since World War 2.

After college I moved to Fairfax County Virginia, a suburb of Washington DC where I was once again eyebrow deep in office parks and convenience stores. Aside from the fact that I was now surrounded by civil servants instead of by career military as I had been in Virginia Beach, Northern Virginia was more of the same. The same malls. The same traffic. The same obsession with consumption.

Then one day my wife and I decided to move to Charlottesville Virginia, home of UVA, the Dave Mathews Band, and Thomas Jefferson.

We first moved to one of the few really suburban enclaves in Charlottesville. It looked like Northern Virginia, there was a Wal-Mart just down the road, but there was something different. In Charlottesville the suburbs were the exception, not the rule. There was the very compact and cosmopolitan city of Charlottesville, a couple of neighborhoods like ours on the fringes of the city, and then country, with lots and lots of woodland and pasture. Suburbanites were in the minority of the people you bumped into. Most people were either faculty or students at UVA or lived in the rural surroundings.

Two years later we moved 10 miles west of Charlottesville to a small town at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. When I rose in the morning and looked out my bedroom window, 2500 feet of mountain stared back at me. It was a fantastic place to live and it was here that I first got to know country folks.

In the suburbs people often refer to people from the mountains as “red necks” or “hill Billies.” Country folk are the one demographic group in this country that it is still OK to mock. Invariably, when suburbanites talk about country folks, there is always someone who has never spent any real time in the country, who will break into a verbal rendition of the tune from Deliverance. What these people don’t understand is that the country folks, in some ways have it made.

As a financial advisor at a bank I had the pleasure of meeting many country folks. Let me tell you right now. Though there are many country people who can’t rub two dimes together, the wealthiest people I saw at the bank were country folks. They often had acres of land handed down a few generations. They almost never had a mortgage. They almost always had stockpiles of silver coins. Their cars were usually paid for. Plus they knew how to grow their own food.

But they drove old trucks and wore clothes that lacked any designer label.

Contrast this with the lawyer and doctor types I often met with who were leveraged to the hilt and are likely to remain so until they croak.

And for those of you who have never heard the song...

Friday, November 20, 2009

War Is the Health of the State

War Is the Health of the State

First part of an essay entitled "The State," which was left unfinished at Bourne's untimely death in 1918

by Randolph Bourne

To most Americans of the classes which consider themselves significant the war [World War I] brought a sense of the sanctity of the State which, if they had had time to think about it, would have seemed a sudden and surprising alteration in their habits of thought. In times of peace, we usually ignore the State in favour of partisan political controversies, or personal struggles for office, or the pursuit of party policies. It is the Government rather than the State with which the politically minded are concerned. The State is reduced to a shadowy emblem which comes to consciousness only on occasions of patriotic holiday.

Harvard Poker Pro Says Texas Hold ‘Em Can Teach Traders to Fold

I am a poker player and have long thought that much about life and business can be learned at a poker table. Chip piles, bluffing, cutting and running, are all vital elements for poker, business, and life.

Harvard Poker Pro Says Texas Hold ‘Em Can Teach Traders to Fold

By Mason Levinson

Nov. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Brandon Adams, who teaches behavioral finance at Harvard University’s Department of Economics, says some of the best candidates for Wall Street trading jobs are the professional card players at and similar Web sites.

“They’ve essentially been the survivors in the system, a very difficult system where 95 percent of people lose money,” the 30-year-old Adams, who plays at the site, said in a telephone interview. “Anyone smart enough and disciplined enough to survive that system is probably going to do very well in the trading world.”

An increasing number of hedge funds and brokerages are scrutinizing professional poker to find talent and analytical tools, according to financial recruiters including Options Group, a New York-based executive-search company. Susquehanna International Group LLP, the Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania-based options and equity trading company, uses poker to teach strategic thinking.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Société Générale tells clients how to prepare for potential 'global collapse'

Société Générale tells clients how to prepare for potential 'global collapse'

Société Générale has advised clients to be ready for a possible "global economic collapse" over the next two years, mapping a strategy of defensive investments to avoid wealth destruction.

"As yet, nobody can say with any certainty whether we have in fact escaped the prospect of a global economic collapse," said the 68-page report, headed by asset chief Daniel Fermon. It is an exploration of the dangers, not a forecast.

Under the French bank's "Bear Case" scenario (the gloomiest of three possible outcomes), the dollar would slide further and global equities would retest the March lows. Property prices would tumble again. Oil would fall back to $50 in 2010.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Oil Card By Nick Sorrentino

Chapter 2

Dubai UAE

Jeff Singer looked out over the Persian Gulf from his Dubai condo. The blue-green waters contrasted sharply with the dusty brown coastline of the United Arab Emirates.

Singer was no particular fan of Dubai, summers were 120 degrees and as humid as Florida but without the relief of thunderstorms. He could however drink liquor here without fear of jail time, and this was one of the main reasons he had moved his office 6 months before from Riyadh.

His work had moved him steadily east. He started in New York. Then spent much of the 1990s in London just as the City began hitting on all cylinders. Then to Zurich for a while, then Riyadh, and now Dubai.

Dubai is one of the main places where petrodollars enter the world financial system. In recent years Dubai had grown at an exponential rate as oil prices had trended upward.

Singer over the years had developed good working relationships with some of the most prominent families on the Saudi Peninsula. In Switzerland Singer had helped them gain access to capital markets and facilitated highly complicated transactions. Singer knew how to move a billion dollars quietly, a skill few have, and he was well paid because of it. Last year he made 34 million dollars after taxes.

He stood to make a good deal more in Dubai. Deals were done here, and since Singer maintained an office in Switzerland he’d only have to tolerate Dubai summers periodically. Summers in Zurich and winters in Dubai. That’s what many of his clients did.

Singer worked for an independent branch of Union Partners Bank based in Zurich and London. It was one of the 5 largest banks in the world and Singer was one of the brightest stars within the firm.

Petrodollars were a good specialty. Especially if one could deal with them discreetly. Singer was one of the best.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Oil Card: A Novel

Chapter 1

Bogotá Columbia

The sound of the rain on the rook of the car was deafening. Mike Gerlach squinted through the torrent at the blue door about 100 feet away. It rained harder in Columbia than anywhere else on Earth Gerlach thought, and he had been to almost every corner. Water flowed down the gutters of the cobblestone street and up and over the curbs.

Gerlach looked down into his lap and pushed a cartridge of bullets into the handle of his Glock with a click. He looked back up at the door.

It opened and out stepped a shortish man of about 50. His raincoat stretched across his middle aged belly. He wore a bow tie and held an umbrella, and fumbled in his pocket for his keys.

“That’s our man.” Gerlach thought.

Gerlach opened the door of his rental car, and with all the deliberateness of a white tipped shark attacking a seal, he lifted his weapon, walked right up to Bruno Caldo and emptied 2 rounds into the back of Caldo’s head. Brains and skull splattered across the hood and windshield of the black Mercedes Caldo was trying to get into.

One more bullet to what was left of the head for good measure.

Gerlach walked back to his car briskly, tossed the gun down the sewer, and drove away into the Bogotá morning. Swift and deadly that was Gerlach. He’d be in Miami by nightfall.

Markets, Basket-Weaving, and Trade Winds.

My entire life I have heard people make the case against markets. Markets are inhumane. Markets are harsh. Markets make life hard. We need as a society to mitigate markets as much as possible. Some would go so far as to call markets evil.

There is a whole group of people who believe that markets exist only to make the powerful more powerful and the rich more rich. Though in some cases this may be true, it is not the most important aspect of markets.

Markets, when not manipulated, illuminate truth. How much is your car worth? Stick a sign on the windshield and see if people go for the price. If they don’t your price is too high. If people are lining up at your door to buy your 1992 Civic hatchback, your price is likely too low. One can actually know the worth of ones car just by asking the market.

This is extremely valuable information. It is unvarnished. The market might not tell you what you want to hear, but at least it’s the truth.

Many people, understandably have little use for the truth. Whole cottage industries have sprouted up around helping people actually determine that down is up, that the sky is indeed red, and that the reason the market is telling them that something isn’t valuable is because markets don’t actually tell the truth at all. The fact that a degree in basket weaving doesn’t garner them a million dollars a year is clearly the world acting irrationally. Basket weaving is in fact a highly valuable endeavor-the world just doesn’t get it.

If you really like basket weaving, so much so that your identity is tied up with it, that basket weaving is a fundamental part of who you are, it kind of sucks that the world tells you its just not that valuable an endeavor.

So if you’re a basket weaving major what is one to do? Get a government basket weaving job of course!

I don’t blame people from running from the harsh winds of the marketplace. I have personally been buffeted by these winds many times, and they can take your breath away. But there is a flip side to markets too, which is that you can succeed in them. If you turn your sails to the right angle, what was once a hammering headwind can become a very useful trade wind.

I fear a world where there is no wind. Where some live on the fruitful mainland but the rest of us, must languish in the doldrums on a flat and featureless sea.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

ON DEBT: 11-08-2009

ON DEBT: 11-08-2009

What America needs to understand is that the current banking system is a total jack. We have an entire society that lives in fear of defaulting on debt, because if they default on debt, they are unlikely to get more credit, and be so won’t be able to incur more debt. They will be unable to get that new SUV or house, and then, well then, life will almost not be worth living. If they can’t get their shit, the huge gaping hole of their lives emerges.

Debt is a drug. Just like nicotine. Once you taste it you need more of it. And stopping it is a bitch.

In some ways it’s worse that a physical addiction. Debt is subtle. It makes you feel richer than you are for a while and then crushes you if things ever go bad.

Think for a moment about what your life would be like if you had no debt. Some of my readers, hopefully a good many, will be able to say-I don’t know what you are talking about. I am not in debt.

To you, I salute.

But for most folks, with student loans, credit cards, and a mortgage, the idea of a life without debt is a pleasant thing indeed.

Most people, including people you might think as having it together, your doctor and lawyer friends for instance, are in way over their heads. The thing is they have the ability to service their debt and so, some of them, remain in the good graces of the system.

More tomorrow….

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Riding the Wave of Seasteading

Riding the Wave of Seasteading
By Stephanie Kalina-Metzger
For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
It's always our self we find in the sea.
~e.e. cummings

Unhappy with your government? Judging by abysmal Congressional and Presidential job poll numbers, many of us here in the U.S. are. Want to shed the shackles of the ever-encroaching nanny state? Getting away from it all permanently might be possible in the near future as seasteading makes its way to a dock near you.

The Seasteading Institute (TSI) is a non-profit organization created in 2007 by Friedman and Gramlich “to establish permanent, autonomous ocean communities to enable experimentation and innovations with diverse social, political and legal systems,” according to the founders.

Seasteading—creating permanent dwellings on the ocean—is a concept that Peter Theil, Paypal Founder, would like to see become reality. Theil has contributed towards this effort through a donation of $500,000 in seed money to help create The Seasteading Institute, which will expand on the work of Patri Friedman and Wayne Gramlich, authors of Seasteading: A Practical Guide to Homesteading on the High Seas.”

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And this, folks, isn’t just a wet dream. TSI is planning on plopping a prototype into the San Francisco Bay within the next two years to test the engineering. When I questioned Executive Director Patri Friedman as to how he is working with the bureaucracy to make that happen, he responded, “We are seeking to avoid interacting with bureaucracy as much as possible. Baystead will legally be a boat, so that it doesn't need any special treatment or permission beyond the existing rules for boats.”

What kind of people, you might wonder, would be interested in seasteading?

According to Friedman, (a self-professed Libertarian and grandson of Milton Friedman, Nobel Prizewinning economist), “the initial group of seasteaders will be Libertarian and it’s then likely that there will be a Libertarian form of government.” However, that isn’t to say that all seasteads would be Libertarian. In what Friedman deems a “dynamic geography,” some seasteads might be founded by other groups attempting to separate themselves from the broader society. In typical Libertarian fashion, Friedman doesn’t put any restrictions on how people would be governed on a seastead. He envisions a system “where small groups experiment, and everyone copies what works, discards what doesn’t and remixes the remainder to try again.”

It definitely gives new meaning to “whatever floats your boat.” To some this might seem like extreme experimentation, to others it is a tremendous opportunity for individuals to discover which form of government works for them and to participate in this freedom of choice without coercion. When governments compete, you decide! I like the idea of

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jumping ship if I don’t like the way the place is being run. Now I have to wait for elections and then they give me crummy choices anyway.

When questioned on how a seastead might get food and electricity, Friedman responds, “Think cruise ship.” In other words, much of the food would be imported, but Friedman also speaks of hydroponic greenhouses and aquaculture as alternative means of sustaining seastead sustenance.

He goes on to explain, “Floating cities are already real - millions of people take cruises every year, and they’re cheaper than the cost of living in some US cities. We have many differences in mind, but cruise ships prove that the idea is possible. Now we just have to make something safer, stabler, more spacious, more modular, incrementally built, cheaper, permanent, and worth visiting even though it mostly stays put!”

The first prototype-Baystead- would borrow from an offshore oil rig design known as a “spar platform.” In the middle would be a reinforced concrete tube with external ballasts at the bottom, which will be filled with water or air to raise or lower the “living platform” on top.

As a Libertarian myself, I find the idea of floating on a sea of tranquility without the millstone of government around my neck quite intriguing. In fact, think I could thrive,
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(especially without those pesky taxes), that is if there are personal trainers onboard. Just the mention the two words “cruise ship” and I pack on 20 pounds. On the other hand, the
300 square-foot-per-person vision scares me me a bit. I need to stretch my legs out on occasion, so it might not be quite for me. I have a friend in D.C. who lives in what is essentially a walk-in closet, so he might be more suited to such confinement. Hey—as long as he has that satellite link, I should think he’d be as happy as one of the clams he will be bobbing along with. That, too, however, could be a bit cost prohibitive, to the tune of several hundred dollars a month, at least in the beginning.

This might prompt you to ask, “Why would people be attracted to this lifestyle?”

Barry Dively, a fellow Libertarian and hotel manager for an upscale worldwide chain finds the idea intriguing and answers the question this way: “It’s really very simple. Anti-freedom legislation is starting to snowball and is becoming more and more oppressive. Seasteading might be the last bastion of liberty available to the free man.”

One can’t argue with that.

Still, I wonder, what type of person would be content to live out life, on what is, in essence, a platform on an ocean. My curiousity takes me to, where I ask for volunteers to explain why they feel they would be good candidates for the seasteading lifestyle. There are no takers. I guess those who would go to such lengths to

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be free from government might also find my prying rather perturbing, so I have to be content to draw my conclusions from their banter on the forums.

What I find when I surf on over (pardon the pun), is that many would-be seasteaders have Master’s degrees in various fields such as electrical engineering, Spanish, economics.
There’s a physician onboard, a pilot, several divers, computer programmers…the list goes on.

Some hail from the United States, others from as far away as Austrailia, Phillipines and the Netherlands. They appear to be a diverse lot, but judging by some of the shall we say “high-end” conversations, Geekspeak seems to be shared by all. (Okay, I’ll admit that I didn’t exactly feel like Mensa material after visiting.)

Know anyone who wants to get in on the ground, err, sea floor of a exciting project just in its infancy? According to the website, paid positions of Chief Scientist and Director of Engineering are now open, along with dozens of ways that you can volunteer.

Some call it Libertopia, others say it sounds fishy, but the two freedom-loving entrepreneurs who founded the Seastead Institute are working hard to prove the naysayers wrong as they strive to bring their “sea village” dreams into laissez-faire reality.

Republicans, your feet will be held to the fire.

Republicans, your feet will be held to the fire.

At this moment the GOP has won in Virginia. It is ahead in NJ. New York 23, one of my favorite numbers by the way- it’s on every Rolling Rock beer, looks like it’s going to the Conservative Party. FYI William F Buckley ran for mayor of New York City on the Conservative Party ticket in the 1960s.

OK GOP great but you better produce. You better fight. You better do everything you can to clog up the cogs of the Dems. If not you will pay. You know it. We know it.

About Me

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Nick Sorrentino is the Editor of The Liberty and Economics Review and CEO of a social media management company.