Winter Arrives?

It is dark outside when the alarm goes off, not at all a time to wake up.  The usual 8 hours and 41 minutes of daylight we can expect on a Winter Solstice is never enough to keep us going, even on a relatively warm and mild December that developed late in the month.  Here in Minnesota the sky has been grey and the snow has gone, heralding a brown Christmas with muddy dog prints on the floor with every outing.

But today is the first full day of Winter all the same, even if it doesn’t quite feel like it.  The dark tells us so.

This is the end of the year traditionally. The new year should begin at Solstice, as is the ancient European tradition, just as the day begins at midnight. The only reason it doesn’t is that the Romans used a calendar, the Julian, that was off a bit by the time Pope Gregory XIII got around to revising it and everything moved ten days. No matter. The world since the Renaissance has increasingly been what we decree, not what we see.

Continue reading

Santa’s Downfall

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

There has to be more to it, doesn’t there? Doesn’t this “Santa” guy have some ulterior motive?

Continue reading

Lowdown Oil

The story of today is the price of oil. A month ago it looked as though it couldn’t go any lower as US wells were pegged to a production price of about $80 per barrel. Now, it’s at $60 per barrel. There are signs that many US wells will indeed keep operating as improvements in efficiency and a lower operating cost once the sunk costs once well is started leave room for more profit even at this low price. Cheap oil may be here to stay longer than we thought.

But with that, we still have the problems in Russia. The Ruble has fallen off a cliff, a problem often blamed on the price of oil. It’s deeper than that, and the flailing Russian response has in some ways made things worse. The currency has lost about 60% of its value in one year, versus about 40% for oil.

That’s not to say there aren’t threats as well as opportunities in the US beyond oil itself. Cheap oil changes a lot of games, and is worth thinking through.

Continue reading

Sen. Warren, Politics Inside Out

As is so often the case today, bad news is good news. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) had a terrible loss when an important provision of the Dodd-Frank financial reform was weakened over her very vocal objections, slipped into the critical budget deal when no one was supposed to be looking. But if you read the press, it was good for her because it increased her stature at a time when calls for her to run for President are only getting louder.

There are now two prominent calls for her to run, one by MoveOn and another independent one pushed by a group of major Obama backers. A true hero usually heeds the third call. The way the press is writing her story, that’s about to come. What does it all mean?

Continue reading

The Christmas Truce

Christmastime stories all have a touch of magic in them. From spirits of Christmas past, present, and future to a real Santa Claus the light of the season becomes real through some divine spark that illuminates a life. But all of these fairy stories dim in comparison to one with a much lighter touch of providence acting only through the hearts and arms of men. And this story is also true.

The time is a century ago, near St Yves, France. The Great War has stalled into the mud as Germans and English have dug in yards apart. The men of both sides shiver as December settles deep into the trenches. Hired on as murderers, the stench of death around them, they chose instead for a few days to be something much more. For a brief moment, they even become friends.

Continue reading

Despicable by Any Measure

The Senate report on CIA torture has been released. It will be a hot political topic for some time to come, and the use of torture will likely have its defenders.

That’s a terrible problem, because many fundamental principles of our great nation have been violated through the practices used. The release of this information has indeed shamed us, but only a truly great nation can admit its mistakes and correct them. We will get through this, but more to the point we have to make sure that this never happens again.

Continue reading

Glad Tidings

If you need a dose of Christmas cheer, it’s best to look in a very unlikely place. The business and financial press is positively melting down over the most recent jobs report, which showed an impressive 321k net increase in jobs. Given that Barataria has been very positive on the US economy in 2014, you would expect us to join in the merriment.

Sure, why not. Just don’t over-do it, because this is only a make-up call. There is nothing reported this week that hasn’t been true for a year, and the noise in the data makes it look especially strong for November. The truth is that job growth has been strong all year and we are on pace for a good 2015.

There are plenty of reasons to cheer, but like the office Christmas party a good time is no reason to get crazy.

Continue reading