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The Purple Muse

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Money Bubble What To Do Before It Pops

 

I have reviewed a number of books concerning forecasts for the end of the financial world as we know it over the past few years.  One of the most recent is The Money Bubble – What To Do Before It Pops by James Turk and John Rubino.  The Money Bubble was published in late 2013.  The manuscript includes information about events near the end of the year.

Turk and Rubino do a great job of presenting a discussion of the current financial issues of the United States and a succinct history of how we got there.  The first nineteen chapters are very well done.  If anyone needs to learn about how we got into this mess and desires to see the data that proves how difficult the situation has become, I recommend reading The Money Bubble.

Chapters 20 to 25 explain Turk and Rubino reasoning as to why gold is vehicle for protecting your wealth and present the logic for why gold will rise to $10,000 per troy ounce and silver to $100 per troy ounce during the next few years.  While I fully agree with the logic of the authors, the reality is that events of the past three years have demonstrated that the governments and central banks of the world have been able to keep the lid on gold and silver prices and keep the money bubble expanding.  Since virtually all the powerful people in the world have a vested interest in perpetuating the expanding bubble it is very hard to understand the timeline for the bubble to burst.

Chapters 26 and 27 describe additional possible investment options for those that wish to profit from the bursting of the money bubble.  Most of the suggestions don’t make much sense for most of us because they require excellent market timing for short sales and can result in losses if an investor bets incorrectly against a rising market.  Who really wants to profit from a crash?  I believe most of us just want our economy and financial system to become rational again, within the global economic framework that exists today, so we can all move forward constructively.

The Epilogue is titled Rebuilding From The Bubble.  The authors offer their timeline for the bursting of the money bubble and the beginning of the recovery.  They provide a general outline for the macro economic outlook for the next ten years.  They may be right.  They may be wrong.  We shall see what happens.  Everyone has to have a long term plan suitable for themselves and their family.  We should consider the information in The Money Bubble as an input to our plans.

TPM

3:21 am          Comments

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Sacred History Idealism vs Materialism

 

As we cruise thrugh the Red Sea on our way to Jordon I decided to post a blog that I drafted in Bangkok.  I finished reading The Sacred History on our flight to Bangkok.

A few weeks ago I was reading a Facebook post by Graham Hancock, the author of the Fingerprints of the Gods and many other books, most of which I have read.  Mr. Hancock recommended a new book by Mark Booth, The Sacred History.  Mr. Hancock expressed his views on early religions, oral history, shamans and drug induced visits to other dimensions in his book Supernatural.  I expected The Sacred History to deal with some of those topics.  The book was more than I expected.

From my perspective the book is about two different topics that are interwoven throughout the book.  The first topic addressed by the Mr. Booth in the preface: “what if the claims of world religions are true?” “Do great spiritual beings still intervene in the decisive way they intervened in the lives of Moses and Joan of Arc?”  Did any of the miracles that have been reported throughout history really happen or were they misunderstood physical events or innocent or purposeful delusions?  “Is it possible to give an account of creation witch is creationist that cannot be absurdly dismissed as absurd by scientists?”

The second topic, also addressed by Mr. Booth in the preface, is the debate between two fundamental philosophical approaches to life, idealism and materialism.  Idealism is the “philosophical term for the mind came first” before matter. “Mr. Booth states that “today’s intellectual elite, squarely on the side of scientific materialism, tends to mock mystical and spiritual experience.”

In the book Mr. Booth provides a large number of examples of spiritual events, including stories from the Bible, religious leaders like Jesus, and unexplained events throughout the centuries with commentary along the way related to idealism and materialism.  The book closes with a chapter about Lorna Byrne, a women living today that supposedly sees and communicates with angels.  She claims we all have a guardian angel.

In the conclusion of the book Mr. Booth states “in the debate between idealism and materialism, materialism holds the upper hand, in fact so much so that it may be hard for us to even to begin to understand why anyone ever believed what in earlier ages everyone believed- that thoughts and ideas are more real than objects, that objects are the shadows of thoughts rather than the other way around.”  Mr. Booth states his “purpose has been to suggest that idealism is a more comprehensive account of human experience.”

When I began this book I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy reading it.  However, I must admit the book is thought provoking.  There is no doubt that when I was much younger I was purely a scientific materialist.  As I have matured over the decades and learned more about history and my fellow man, I have evolved.   I am definitely not the hardcore materialist I was earlier in my life.  I agree with Mr. Booth concerning some of the difficulties inherent in accepting the Big Bang Theory for the creation of the universe.  However, I am not one that can accept idealism in its pure form.  I am also not willing to accept as fact all the events discussed in The Sacred History or the fundamental thinking of idealism without some level of demonstrable evidence that is undeniable from my perspective.  I believe that evidence is a relative term.  Different people have different standards for what constitutes evidence satisfactory to them.

However, I must say that the work done by Graham Hancock, Mark Booth and many other researchers present an astounding number of accounts of events that have happened on earth that have no rational explanation.  Some were seen or experienced by one person, some by thousands.  Why is this case?  What happened to these people? What did they really experience?  I believe the actual truth behind the answers to these questions is not fully known.  For most of these historical events it is likely we will never know.   But it is definitely worth the effort to keep searching for the truth and attempt to solve the most basic of human mysteries.

TPM

   
6:51 am          Comments

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Oman Under Construction

 

After two days at sea the Nautica arrived at Salalah, Oman yesterday.  It was our first visit to any country on the Arabian Peninsula.  I didn’t know very much about Oman so I had no particular expectations as to what we would see and learn.  Our visit was very worthwhile and I learned quite a bit. 

Salalah is a port city on the Arabian Sea in the area known as Dhofer which is located in the southwestern part of the Sultanate of Oman. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is north of Dhofer.  The Republic of Yemen is west of Dhofer.  I was very surprised to see a very large container port dock extending from the shore into the sea as our ship entered the port.  Four, two massive Maersk and two MSC, container ships were lined up end to end on the dock being unloaded by multiple huge cranes assigned to each ship.  I didn’t expect to see this level of business activity in Oman.

As our bus drove out of the port I was surprised to find out that this part of Salalah is a major industrial area.  Oman exports cement to places like Somalia.  They export limestone to India. There were a number of large industrial plants in the port area.

One of the first things we saw was the Sultan’s Palace in Salalah.  He has several palaces and we were told he spends a couple of months a year in Salalah.  When our guide told us we were looking at the palace I was surprised.  All I saw was a bunch of buildings that looked like villas or apartments.  These buildings went on for many blocks and then I finally saw the main palace building.  It turns out the entire massive complex of buildings is “the palace”.  The Sultan brings a huge number of advisors and government officials with him and the other buildings were housing for the entire group.  It was unbelievable when I realized how many people come with the Sultan on his visits.

Our guide gave us some interesting information about Oman.  There are 2 million citizens of Oman.  There are almost 2 million foreign workers, mostly from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.  Many of the people from India come from the Kerala area, where the port of Cochin is located.  When we were in Cochin we were told many of its people went to the Middle East to work.  It appears many of them are working in Oman.  There is no income tax in Oman.  Schools and medical care for Omanis are free.  Every adult can get a free piece of land from the government once they become of age, 23 I believe.  Electric power is generated from natural gas.  Drinking water comes from seawater distillation plants collocated with the power plants on the coast.  Oman’s crude oil and natural gas exports pay for almost everything.

Oman has an agriculture industry.  They use well water to irrigate the land for bananas, coconuts and many vegetables.  We drove by some very well maintained banana plantations.  They also raise livestock for meat.  We saw cows and goats in many locations.  The stars of the show for our day in Oman were the dozens of camels we saw all over the undeveloped land outside the city.  The female camels leave their owners property near the coastal mountains in the morning and wander down to the sea during the day.   The aggressive male camels are kept at home.  The camels cross the main highway at their leisure and walk along the shoulder of the road.  They eat the scrub brush and stay cool in the ocean breezes near the beach.  Our bus stopped near one group of eight and everyone took pictures.  It was unreal.  The environment was very similar to the central California coast except it was camels grazing, not cattle.

During our tour we saw a Muslim cemetery and tomb of a major Muslim figure among our stops.  We visited a pre-Arab coastal town that has been discovered by archeologists.  The inscriptions near the gates of the town are in a language that predates Arabic and has not yet been translated.  The town was abandoned due to climate change impacts on its water supply and agriculture millennia ago.  The town was a major trading center for frankincense and the trees grow in Oman today.  We stopped at a fruit stand by the side of he rode and drank coconut water directly from a coconut opened by a machete wielded by an Indian shopkeeper.

The area around Salalah is an area under construction.  We drove on new highways.  Many new buildings are being constructed.  There were many piles of rocks neatly stacked and ready for removal.  There was very little trash anywhere we went.  Oman was a stark contrast to India and Myanmar, where we saw trash everywhere.  Oman was very clean from a trash perspective even though it was dusty during the current summer dry season.  We were told that during the rainy season the land around Salalah turns green.  It must be an interesting contrast to the brown foliage and desert environment we witnessed yesterday.  Salalah has some beach resorts on the other side of the town, but we didn’t visit that area. 

Our guide told us that the Sultan doesn’t have any children.  He has been married twice and is divorced from his first wife.  Oman will experience a transition of power at some point in the fairly near future to a cousin of the current Sultan.  Oman is a peaceful country, has no enemies, is attempting to diversify is income sources and takes care of its people.  At first glance it looks like the Sultan has done a very good job of leading his nation forward. But Oman is clearly a nation that is still under construction.

TPM

3:45 am          Comments

Thursday, April 17, 2014

India A Unique Combination of Cultures

 

My wife and I spent the past four days making day trips at ports on the west coast of India.  We spent a few hours each day experiencing Cochin (Kochi), Mangalore, Goa (Mormugao) and Mumbai.  A quick four or five hour highlights tour isn’t sufficient to make concrete conclusions but we received enough insight from driving around, visiting sites and listening to our guides to start making substantive impressions.

Cochin is a very interesting mix of old and new cultures.  We spent most of our time in old Cochin and only viewed new Cochin from our ship docked in between the two parts of the town.  We watched the local people fish with a sophisticated antique net system from the shore.  The local fish market was next door.  Cochin was developed by the Portuguese after they began exploring the Indian Ocean in the late 15th century and early 16th century.  We saw a house where Vasco de Gama lived for over 20 years late in his life.  The British took over the area later and their influences were very evident.  Despite the wonderful history of old Cochin the most powerful memory I have is the trash littering the streets, parks and everywhere we walked.  I will never forget the goats and cows walking in the streets.  It is very hard to take any culture seriously that lives like this.

New Cochin looked like any other newly developed city from a distance.  Tall apartment buildings looked very nice from a distance.  Unfortunately, our short visit didn’t give us time to drive down the streets and get a good look at the environment.  So it is not possible to make a broader judgment about living conditions in Cochin.

Mangalore was a completely different experience from Cochin.  Mangalore is a relatively new city that is all about business and industry.  We saw much less trash on the streets in comparison to Cochin.  We went to a cashew processing and packaging factory.  We watched women sitting at machines (only women were doing this task) that peel off the shells and allow the nut to be further processed.  This is tedious work in marginal working conditions for which the women are paid 600 to 800 rupees per week, about $10.00 to $13.50 per week for 8 to 9 hours of work per day.  I think it is a five day work week but I am not positive that is the case.  This translates to about $0.25 to $0.33 per hour.  We were initially advised that the women were paid 600 rupees but our guide later said it was 600, 700, and 800.  We watched the women take a turn bringing their bowl of finished product to the weighing scale in front of the male supervisor in the front of the room.  The women measured the exact amount needed to meet the objective and took the excess back to their work station.  It may be that the women are paid on piece work or must achieve some sort of productivity objective.  Our guide told us lower class women do this work.  On a more positive note the factory provides day care for young children.  We don’t know how much, if any, the women get in maternity leave after they give birth or how long the children are allowed to stay in day care.  This is one example of how business is conducted in India. We all received a package of cashews at the end of the visit.  They were very tasty.

We also visited a major Hindu temple in Mangalore.  The sign at the front was very interesting.  The people that raised the money and managed the process of expanding and modernizing the temple were very senior local business people.  The sign indicated that the people of the temple were all of one caste.  It appears the leaders of the community are making an attempt to minimize the impact of the caste driven social structure in Mangalore.

The overall messages from Mangalore were clear.  Life is all about education, business and working with people of all types.  But despite people’s best efforts the old line thinking is very hard to eliminate.

We were very fortunate to have an outstanding guide in Goa.  He was one of the best guides we have had anywhere we have traveled.  Goa is one of the wealthiest areas in India on a per capita basis.  It is also one of the smallest states.  The Portuguese influence in Goa was very strong and lasted until the 1960s.  I didn’t know that many Indians have Portuguese surnames until this visit to India.  Goa is about 25 percent Christian compared to the national level of less than 3 percent throughout India.  We visited Jesuit and Dominican churches.  There are many other Christian denominations in Goa.  If you see a woman or teen girl in India wearing western clothes, and not some form of local dress or sari, it is likely she is a Christian.

Goa was trashier that Mangalore but it appeared to be less trashy than Cochin.  One of the unpleasant aspects of traveling in India is seeing black discoloration on the sides of buildings.  We saw a lot of this in Goa.  The black stuff is mold.  It is everywhere.  It gives a very negative impression.  We also experienced our first substantial exposure to India’s beggars in Goa.

Our last stop was Mumbai.  Mumbai is a massive city in the range of 20 million people.  After the early Portuguese period it was developed by the British as a trading center and renamed Bombay.  The British influence is very prominent throughout the architecture of the downtown area.  Mumbai is built on a series of islands combined with reclaimed land.  Mumbai is a combination of the best India has to offer and some of the worst.  As we traveled around the city we saw luxurious penthouse apartments owned by some of India’s great industrialists.  We also saw some of the worst slums we have ever seen.  There was trash in the streets and parks, virtually everywhere.  We didn’t venture into Mumbai’s famous slums featured in the movie Slumdog Millionaire.

Everywhere we ventured in Mumbai we encountered adults and children begging.  We also had vendors all over us attempting to sell us their trinkets.  The in-your-face challenge by beggars and vendors is extremely difficult to handle.  Despite the generosity of many of India’s wealthiest citizens, like the Tata family, the level of poverty by people living a few blocks away from the wealthy is astounding. 

We visited the Mahatma Gandhi museum.  I learned a lot about this legendary figure, too much to discuss in the blog.  I read his Declaration of Independence from the British he wrote around 1930.  It sounds very familiar to the US declaration of independence.  When people are treated unfairly economically and politically they will eventually revolt against their oppressors.

We also visited the Prince of Wales museum, now called a very long unpronounceable name that even the locals don’t use.  Some of the granite, marble, limestone and sandstone carvings from 6th and 7th century and later were astounding.  Unfortunately, we had very little time to explore the museum.  The early Indian culture is extremely interesting.  I was just getting into it when it was time to move on.

As we sailed away from Mumbai during the evening the city looked beautiful.  The sea breeze has cooled off the heat of the day.  We had a full moon which bathed the sea in moonlight.  The city lights highlighted the developed areas.  But we knew that Mumbai is a combination of great beauty and wealth and ugliness and poverty.  Sometimes people see only what they wish to see or can see with a particular perspective.

India is a complex combination of peoples of many cultures, religions, races, languages and economic status.  Will this nation ever become a great power in the world?  It is very hard for me to believe that any leader can effectively lead a nation this large and this diverse to become a truly global power.  There is a lot of admire about India and a lot to feel negatively about.  There is no doubt India is a remarkable part of our planet.

We are now sailing in the Arabian Sea on our way to Oman.

TPM

2:58 am          Comments

Friday, April 11, 2014

Myanmar Dirt, Trash and Buddhism
 

We just spent two days touring the areas around Yangon and Bagu, Myanmar.  Myanmar was known as Burma during the British colonial era.  Yangon was previously named Rangoon by the British.  Myanmar was under economic sanctions by many western countries, including the US, until 2010 due to its military dictatorship and civil rights violations.  Very few Americans have visited Myanmar as a result.

We toured Myanmar during the dry season.  As we drove through and by developed and undeveloped areas going to and from Yangon and Bagu, we were struck by some consistent themes.  Since it was dry season, no rice was currently being grown in the areas we visited.  The farmers were burning the residual vegetation left over from the prior growing season.  In many places the ground was black from the burning.  We could smell the burned ash in the air as we sat on the outside deck of our ship and ate dinner. 

Most of the streets off the main roads that accessed villages were pure dirt.  We could see the dust kicked up as people walked, rode bicycles, and rode motor scooters or any number of different types of small trucks as they went about their business.  Even in the developed areas there was a lot of dust and dirt in the air since it was so dry.  The locals call this time of the year “summer”.  It was 100 degrees each day.  I can’t even imagine what the dirt roads will be like during the rainy season which will start in a few months.

Watching the people go about their business was amazing.  People or cargo filled every vehicle that was moving.  Bicycles were used to move wood paneling and bamboo poles three times as long as the bicycles.  We watched in amazement as small pick-up trucks picked up passengers everywhere we went.  I don’t think US authorities would like to see ten adults squeezed into the back of a small pick-up truck traveling our highways.

The second theme of our visit to Myanmar was trash.  There was litter of all types and trash everywhere.  There are local trash dumps adjacent to main roads.  There was trash everywhere we looked, in the cities, towns, villages, and along roads.  The locals seemed completely oblivious to it.  It is very hard to understand why this is the case. 

There was one place where we saw no trash.  Not only was there no trash, the place was immaculately maintained.  It was the World War II cemetery dedicated to the British military personnel that died fighting the Japanese in Burma.  The cemetery was beautiful.  One cannot imagine a better tribute to those soldiers from England, India, Nigeria and other African nations and perhaps other nations that I didn’t see listed on gravestones or the huge memorial walls.  Our guide told us the Burmese never wanted to be colonized by the British.  They fought several wars in the 1800s to stay independent.  But in the end they fought with the British to defeat the Japanese invaders and the cemetery is a tremendous demonstration of respect for the British military that died in the cause.

The third theme of our visit was Buddhism.  Myanmar is clearly a Buddhist nation.  There were large pagodas, shrines and monasteries everywhere we went.  Monks in traditional dress were visible on the street everywhere we traveled.  Myanmar shares its Buddhist traditions with Thailand.  I have never seen any country display its predominant religion as intensely as Myanmar.  There is a substantial percentage of Myanmar’s national wealth invested in buildings dedicated to Buddhism.

Myanmar is a poor country.  It has been economically isolated for decades.  It has a very wealthy upper class made up of a very small percentage of its people, mostly military.  Fellow cruisers told us that they saw some areas of Yangon that reflected that wealth.  One of our guides advised us that there is a very small middle class, just a few percent of the population.  We saw some evidence of this group.  The vast majority, over 90 percent of the people, live in poverty, albeit different shades of poverty.  We saw ramshackle huts, rundown buildings and other forms of low end housing.  But it appears that Myanmar can feed its people.  We were advised Myanmar is a rice exporter.

While we were in port we watched a massive vehicle transport ship unload hundreds of used cars, trucks and construction equipment of all shapes and descriptions.  We were advised the vehicles came from Japan, China and Korea.  They were a combination of right and left hand drive.  It was an amazing sight.  Some Caterpillar equipment was part of the cargo.  We didn’t recognize any other US branded vehicles.

Myanmar reminded us of Vietnam in many ways, although Vietnam appears much further ahead in its economic development.  There are 60 million people in Myanmar that want to participate in the global economy.  It is likely they will increase their participation in the years ahead.  But Myanmar has concerns.  People from Bangladesh are coming over their border with Myanmar.  There isn’t enough land or resources to support all the people within Bangladesh.  The people of Myanmar have enough issues without illegal immigrants coming from Bangladesh.  This is another example of how fundamental economic circumstances cause migration issues around the world.

We are currently sailing in the Bay of Bengal on our way to India.

TPM

3:15 am          Comments

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