Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"How to Block a Surveillance Camera: A DIY Art Tuturial from Ai Weiwei"

From Brain Pickings:
A wine opener usage George Orwell would approve of.

“When things get tough,” Neil Gaiman advised on in his fantastic commencement address on the creative life, “this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician — make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor — make good art. IRS on your trail — make good art. Cat exploded — make good art.”

One could easily extrapolate, “Big Brother on your ass — make good art.” Amidst recent outcries against the present-day surveillance state we live in, what else is there to do but make good art? Cue in celebrated Chinese artist, provocateur, and human rights champion Ai Weiwei.

From Do It: The Compendium (public library) — the fantastic collection of famous artists’ wide-ranging instructionals for art anyone can make based on 20 years of legendary curator and provocateur Hans Ulrich Obrist’s project of the same title, which also gave us David Lynch’s tutorial on how to make a Ricky Board — comes this antiauthoritarian creative project from Ai Weiwei, a DIY way to stick it — spray it, rather — to Big Brother:
How to make a spray device to block a surveillance camera:
Do you feel uncomfortable, confused, disgusted, or even irate because of a surveillance camera fixed at the wrong place? To block its view, spray-painting would be the best choice. It is highly accessible, inexpensive, and effective. Moreover, it is a perfect gesture in presenting street culture.
It is difficult to spray on a surveillance camera at a high place directly by hand. Instead of carrying a ladder on the streets, it is more practical to make an adjustable, easy-to-carry, and low-cost spray device.

See also:
George Orwell: Politics and the English Language

And: "Orwellian Irony in the Extreme"
Lifted in toto from Reason's Hit & Run blog:

Picture of the the day, courtesy the Twitter feeds of Libby Jackson, Soren Dayton, and Radley Balko.
I believe that is the plaque at 22 Portobello Road, Notting Hill, London rather than the more famous 50 Lawford Road, Kentish Town residence....

Insurance: "Lower catastrophe losses help Allstate top profit estimates" (ALL; CB; TRV)

In late after-hours trade the stock is up 1/2% at $51.22 and is up 40.2% since Aug 2, 2012.
Following last week's report from Travelers:
Insurance: Property Casualty Looks to Be Extremely Profitable This Year (TRV; CB; ALL; AIG)

From Reuters:
* 2nd-quarter oper earnings/share $1.12 vs est. $0.98
* Catastrophe losses down 21 percent
* Underwriting income doubles

July 31 (Reuters) - Home and auto insurer Allstate Corp's quarterly profit handily beat analysts' estimates, due mainly to higher premium income and lower losses from catastrophes such as floods and hurricanes.
Catastrophe losses, a key measure for insurers, fell 21 percent to $647 million in the second quarter from $819 million a year earlier.

Premium earned rose 3 percent to $6.86 billion, while underwriting income doubled to $269 million.
"The company experienced positive momentum in growing insurance premiums in the second quarter," Allstate said in a statement....MORE
The industry, as always, will  be trying to raise premiums. As I said in 2010's

"No Surprise: Chile Leads to Reinsurance Rate Increase Debate" BRK-A; BRK-B:
No kidding.

A brisk breeze gets the boys in Omaha, Zurich, Munich and London (Lloyds) talking about premium increases.

Not to mention the herverzekering crowd in Amsterdam, they're tough bastards.
Or from this year's "K.K.R. Takes 25% Stake in Firm That Invests in Natural Disasters (KKR)":
The headline is slightly deceptive. The cat/reinsurance biz is all about the pricing.
A lot of disasters but even more premiums? Easy Straße.
Not so many disasters but you overcharged for the risk?* Ditto.
Loss ratio over100+your cost of funds? Boulevard of Broken Dreams.
I guess I'm kinda cynical about these fellows.

Credit Suisse Analyst Says Sell The Potash Stocks They Aren't Worth the Paper They're Printed On (POT; MOS; IPI)

Okay, he didn't really say that but he came close.

In yesterday's post, "Intrepid Potash to Report Tomorrow, Conference call on Wednesday (IPI)" I asked:
What if the whole thing is a bluff on Uralkali's part? 
Today we have Barron's reporting:
Potash companies were falling for a second day in a row today, as investors worried that moves by a Russian cartel will push down prices.
Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan (POT) was falling 4.5% while Intrepid Potash (IPI) tumbled more than 8% and Mosaic (MOS) lost 5%.

Credit Suisse analyst Christopher Parkinson downgraded both Potash Corp. and Intrepid to Underweight today, noting “the end of a pricing era”, with new target prices of $27 and $11, respectively. He maintained a Neutral rating on Mosaic, although he reduced his target price to $41 from $65.
Parkinson writes that he thinks that Uralkali’s strategy will “eventually lead to a full breakdown of industry discipline and consequently further pricing pressure in the 2H13 and into 2014.”
More thoughts from his note:

The Russians Aren’t Bluffing, the Threat to Pricing is Real: We believe Uralkali’s strategic move to target volumes and subsequently leave Belarusian Potash Corporation (BPC) was only a matter of time (albeit clearly unexpected in the near term), with recent market share losses in Latam and lack of pricing discipline on Belaruskali’s end acting as the boiling point. At the risk of losing market share (even in a growing market) we believe Canpotex producers will have no choice but to gradually follow suit and drop price in order to defend their respective growth outlooks, particularly with additional capacity coming on-line during the next ~2 years....MORE
Asked and answered counselor.

Intrepid Potash Reports, Addresses Recent Unpleasantness (IPI)

The stock was down another 8% on top of yesterdays 28% decline. After hours the stock is down o.63% at $12.70.
From the company:
Intrepid Potash Announces Second Quarter 2013 Financial Results, Major Capital Projects on Target and Nearing Completion
DENVER; July 31, 2013 - Intrepid Potash Inc. (Intrepid) (NYSE:IPI) today reported financial results for the second quarter of 2013.  
Recent Operating Highlights
  • HB Solar Solution mine on schedule and nearing completion with 15 of 18 ponds filled with brine 
  • Construction of the HB processing plant is continuing on schedule with production expected to commence before year end 
  • North compaction plant commissioning process is underway; the first two lines are expected to begin being placed in-service towards the end of the third quarter 
  • Moab cavern system drilling to create a third cavern system continues on schedule 
"We are in the home stretch of transforming Intrepid's facilities into much more modernized plants.  We are poised to deliver lower cost production as we bring on line our new solution mine, new cavern system, updated West facility, and state-of-the-art compaction capability," said Bob Jornayvaz, Intrepid's Executive Chairman of the Board.  "I am excited to be nearing the conclusion of this multi-faceted, multi-year capital investment program, and to begin seeing the benefits from our investments.  We are confident that we will enter 2014 with a stronger company as we finish this transition from old to new during the next few quarters."

Mr. Jornayvaz continued, "The extraordinary events of the last few days in the potash market only confirm that we have taken the right steps to run and manage our business.  Our ability to produce potash at low cash costs at our Moab and Wendover solar solution mines is a distinct advantage for us and it is imperative in an uncertain price environment.  Our shift to the left on the cost curve as we replicate the success we've demonstrated at Moab and Wendover and ramp up production in 2014 at our new HB solar solution mine makes us more competitive.  Additionally, we have a strong balance sheet and capital structure, and we will see our capital investment program step down significantly into next year.  We see the recent news about potash pricing as a further catalyst to cause additional delays or cancellations of other companies' expansion projects."...MORE

Conference call tomorrow at 10 a.m. ET.

Titanic II to Sail in 2016

This is six months old but just fell out of the link-vault.
From Mashable:
'Titanic II' Will Set Sail by 2016, Costumes Included
The Titanic sank in the Atlantic Ocean more than 100 years ago, but is it too soon build a new one? It might be hard to believe, but plans are underway for the creation of the Titanic II, an exact replica of the fated ship that could transport passengers across the sea as soon as 2016.

Australian mining billionaire and professor Clive Palmer — and his Blue Star Line company — held a press conference in New York City on Tuesday morning to unveil the new blueprints of the Titanic II, which was first announced in 2012.

It will make its maiden voyage on 2016 from Southhampton, England to New York, carrying 2,600 passengers in 850 cabins. It will employ about 900 crew members. The length will be three inches longer than the original at 883 feet and include 18 lifeboats — enough for everyone on board.
Radio Room
"The area [for] passengers will be authentic with the same design and facilities, but there will be modern things such as air conditioning and other features we are debating, such as Internet on the ship," Palmer said at the press conference. "I'm against it. I think you should relax on vacation. There won't be TVs in the state rooms though."

The Titanic II has kept various features based on the class system of the early 1900s. Like the first ship, it will have a gym, Turkish baths, a squash court, a grand staircase and swimming pools. It will also retain the dining rooms for second and third class, as well as Captain Smith's sitting room, bedroom and quarters.
Turkish Bath
Passengers will also be given 1920s-era costumes, which will be included in state rooms upon arrival and will be a part of the ticket fee, to help recreate the experience. First class passengers will not be able to mingle with those in second or third class, but will be able to spend a few days in different quarters, which will require people to change clothing....MORE
Jeez, I don't know.
Especially with headlines like these on the press releases:
White Star Line Chairman Descendant Joins Titanic II Project 
Molly Brown Descendant Joins Titanic II Project

Fat Bottom Prints in Natural Gas

Sure does look like an intermediate bottom.
With maybe a cover-the-gap-before-retreat action.

Here's Institutional Investor's 'Best Analyst of the Year' Freddie Mercury with commentary:

Goldman Employs Massive Backpeddling/CYA/Downright Begging to Keep the LME Warehouse Racket Going

A nice catch by Joseph Cotterill:

Goldman explains concept of queueing
When a lot of customers want to get their property out of the warehouse at the same time, a line forms…
Although Goldman is ready to swap you if you don’t like queueing in the LME warehouse system. Statement’s here. This is how it ends:

1 Supportive of Recent LME Proposal to Reduce Queues. Goldman Sachs supports the intent of the recently proposed rule change by the LME that will cut existing queues and prevent new queues from forming by increasing substantially the amount of daily net outflows of metal at large LME locations.

2 Priority System for Consumers. While more than 95% of the aluminum that is used in manufacturing is sourced from producers and dealers outside of the LME warehouse system, consumers should not have to wait unusually long times to get the metal they store in warehouses. We suggest that the LME establish a system to prioritize consumers so that they always have access to a minimum load out rate for end users. Today, all customers in the queue are treated equally on a first in, first out basis....MORE
Disingenuous to the point of deceit.
"We suggest"...riiight. 

Mustache-less Kaeser expected to restore calm at Siemens (SI)

The U.S.-traded ADR's are up 3.6% at $110.36.
From the Financial Times:
Siemens’ Kremlinologists looking for the moment when chief executive Peter Löscher’s star began to wane, and another began its ascendancy, point to a press conference in Berlin in November.

On that occasion, Siemens’ chief executive unveiled a €6bn cost-cutting plan accompanied by an ambitious and ultimately unsuccessful target to raise profit margins by 2.5 percentage points by 2014.

Joe Kaeser, then chief financial officer, caused a minor furore by arriving at the Berlin press event minus his trademark moustache.
When asked by the Financial Times about the makeover, he said that if the capital markets wished to interpret the move as a sign of a new beginning at Siemens, this was in the company’s best interests.

Appearing at a hurriedly scheduled press conference in Munich on Wednesday a clean-shaven Mr Kaeser again spoke of a new “beginning”. However, this time he was without Mr Löscher who he replaced as chief executive following a supervisory board vote earlier that day.

Mr Kaeser’s enjoyment of the limelight, straight talking and grasp of granular detail have long caused him to be seen as a possible Siemens chief executive-in-waiting....MORE
This Can't be Good: "Siemens Warns on Profit Margin" (SI)
Siemens Board to Meet This Weekend to Discuss Leadership (SI)
Siemens to replace CEO Peter Löscher (SI)
"In leaving, Siemens CEO seeks to take down chairman" and Analysts See Upside (SI)

That concludes our short term (5 day) interest in German mustaches. Still beard-curious.

Lede du Jour, Pornstyle

"Pints, royals, strawberries & cream, fry-ups, cricket, football hooligans, and porn filters. All things British."
-Lisa Pollack, The great pornwall of Britain

"Wikipedia's most searched articles of the year revealed"

A short diversion while awaiting Bernanke & Co.
From the BBC:
A study of 2012's most read Wikipedia articles reveals striking differences in what proved popular across the different language versions of the online encyclopaedia.

Facebook topped the English edition while an entry for adult video actresses did best in Japan.
Hua Shan - a Chinese mountain featuring "the world's deadliest hiking trail" - topped the Dutch list.
By contrast, cul-de-sacs were the German site's most clicked entry.

The data was published by a Swedish software engineer Johan Gunnarsson as part of the Wikitrends project. His home land's most viewed article was a page dedicated to Sweden itself.

Sex and vampires Lower entries on the lists also proved revealing.

While articles about Iran, its capital city Tehran and the country's New Year celebrations topped the Persian list, entries about sex, female circumcision and homosexuality also made its top 10....MORE
HT: Freakonomics

A Deep Dive Into Using Eminent Domain to Condemn Mortgages

When this travesty was first being reported on in connection with San Bernardino I thought this can't be constitutional.
Of course I thought Kelo was unconstitutional. And I bet on the Germans in '40.
Since San Bernardino went bankrupt I hadn't heard much until the NYT story on Richmond.
Here's more from the Volokh Conspiracy:
The New York Times has an interesting article describing one California city’s plan to use eminent domain to condemn and restructure mortgages [HT: numerous readers who have written me requesting that I do a post about this issue]:
The power of eminent domain has traditionally worked against homeowners, who can be forced to sell their property to make way for a new highway or shopping mall. But now the working-class city of Richmond, Calif., hopes to use the same legal tool to help people stay right where they are.
Scarcely touched by the nation’s housing recovery and tired of waiting for federal help, Richmond is about to become the first city in the nation to try eminent domain as a way to stop foreclosures...
Richmond is offering to buy both current and delinquent loans. To defend against the charge that irresponsible homeowners who used their homes as A.T.M.’s are being helped at the expense of investors, the first pool of 626 loans does not include any homes with large second mortgages, said Steven M. Gluckstern, the chairman of Mortgage Resolution Partners.
The city is offering to buy the loans at what it considers the fair market value. In a hypothetical example, a home mortgaged for $400,000 is now worth $200,000. The city plans to buy the loan for $160,000, or about 80 percent of the value of the home, a discount that factors in the risk of default.
Then, the city would write down the debt to $190,000 and allow the homeowner to refinance at the new amount, probably through a government program. The $30,000 difference goes to the city, the investors who put up the money to buy the loan, closing costs and M.R.P. The homeowner would go from owing twice what the home is worth to having $10,000 in equity.
This use of eminent domain might well be legal under California’s fairly permissive eminent domain laws. And it would almost certainly pass muster under the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the federal Constitution in Kelo v. City of New London, which allow the government to use eminent domain for almost any “public purpose” that isn’t “pretextual.” Unlike many other uses of eminent domain, such as that in Kelo itself, this one at least doesn’t destroy any valuable property on the mere promise that the new owners will use the land better. At least in the short run, this condemnation is pure redistribution of wealth without any destruction. The houses in question remain where they are, untouched, but most of their value is transferred from the lenders to the borrowers.

Nonetheless, this superficially attractive proposal is ultimately a bad idea. Much of the appeal of it is populist: it seems to reward poor homeowners at the expense of wealthy banks and investors. In reality, however, this is upward redistribution as much as downward. The money to purchase the mortgages will come from taxpayers, including the poor. And most of the really poor people in our society (including in cities like Richmond) are not homeowners at all, and therefore won’t benefit from this program. They’re renters. You might argue that renters at least won’t be paying to subsidize the program, since local government is funded primarily through property taxes. But renters do pay property taxes indirectly, since the rent they pay is in part determined by the property taxes paid by their landlords. People in the bottom 20% of the American income distribution usually either rent or own homes that don’t have mortgages at all. Renters and the poor already indirectly subsidize comparatively affluent homeowners through policies such as the mortgage interest deduction. We should not impose additional burdens of this type on them.

 In addition to redistributing wealth from the poor to the relatively affluent, the Richmond program also benefits those who took dangerous risks at the expense of the prudent. Many people with underwater mortgages got into that fix because they purchased homes in the midst of a real estate bubble, and the mortgage exceeded their income to such an extent that they could only afford to pay it if real estate values kept going up or at least didn’t fall. But long experience shows that rapid increases in real estate prices are often followed by falls. It’s understandable that some people decided to take the risk anyway, and their decision to do so wasn’t always irrational. But it isn’t good policy to force more prudent homeowners to subsidize such behavior. Doing so will predictably incentivize more dubious risk-taking in the future....MORE
Mortgage Resolution Partners strikes me as about as sleazy a bunch of crony capitalists as you are likely to find anywhere.
Last year we mentioned Richmond in a story on high-tech clusters which Richmond definitely was 70 years ago:

...Another high tech bay area cluster were the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond Ca. They were rather a big deal in the early '40's:

Shift Change at Kaiser Richmond Shipyards

Using the most advanced manufacturing techniques in the world, the Kaiser shipyards were building ships in two weeks and in one demonstration completed the S.S. Robert Peary in five days.
The shipyards were the home of Rosie the Riveter:

Richmond Shipyard Number Three, part of the National Park Service's Rosie the Riveter--World War II Home Front National Historical Park, is located at the tip of Potrero Point in Richmond. The shipyard is currently closed to the public while safe methods of public access are developed. For further information, visit the park's website.

 [graphic] link to Seacoast Defense Essay  [graphic] Link to Shipbuilding essay
[graphic] link to Mobilization essay  [graphic] Linkto Women at War essay
 [graphic] link to Port of Embarkation essay  [graphic] Linkto Preservation essay

Nowadays Richmond routinely places on the Ten Most Dangerous Cities in America lists, scoring a personal best #3 for murders in 2010.
So the persistence of clusters idea only goes so far.