Brandon Starr's blog. Updated daily since March 2003. Welcome. Make yourself comfortable. Have a hot chocolate.

Brandon Starr's blog is not to be taken internally. All humor is intentional, unless indicated otherwise.
Do not read while operating heavy machinery. May cause intracranial short circuiting.
Not for children under four days of age.

If for some reason you wish to contact Brandon Starr, take a moment and reconsider.
No? Ah, well. His email is brandonstarr@yahoo.com.
It's your fault now, and don't blame me when it all goes terribly, terribly wrong.


New fiction story! Click here for "The Voice of Cassandra."

Click here for my ongoing novel: "The History of Magic in the 21st Century."

Click here for the lowdown on "The History of Magic"

Click here for my new investing blog, "Adroit Investor"

Click here for my anti-Bush shirts.

Click here for my favorite design: the 'tourist safety shirt.'

Brandon Starr is available in small, medium, and large. Contents may settle during shipping. Allow four to six weeks for delivery. Open carefully; contents under pressure. Do not incinerate. May be habit-forming--do not take if you are gassy or under the influence of mimosas. Improved; now non-staining. Ships in all colors, except puce. Prompt refund if not satisfied--simply return unused portion. All queries promptly ignored. Complaints resolved with deep, gut-blasting laughter, followed by posting complaints on nearest public wall. Not responsible for sunburns. All your base are belong to us. Act now. Beware cheap imitations. Insist on the original--Brandon Starr.

Update notification by email available below.

Some fun/useful/useless links:

The Internet Movie Database

My cousin back from Iraq, and how it changed me (my current favorite entry on this blog)

Zazzle.com

My Zazzle.com product page

Fun blogs:

infinitus opinio

Siren's Song

the mechanical jive

The Strange World

Thunderstorms in the Imajica

Librarianguish

Elven Sarah

Random Musings (Catcher)

Certifiable Princess (Sarah 2)
   

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Monday, November 08, 2004
You can't get pregnant from...

...giving a hand job, or can you?

Abdomen-to-arm ovary transplant a success
The woman should be fertile after having cancer, getting an "autotransplant" of her ovary from its normal position to her arm, and soon having the ovary put back in its normal place.

I've heard of a similar technique used to save parts of the cranium for someone who is undergoing brain surgeries.  The cap of the skull is removed and put elsewhere in the body to keep it alive.  After everything is finished, the piece of the cranium is replaced.

In the case of the ovary, a technique which removed the ovary and froze it to accomplish the same thing (later pregnancy after cancer treatments that would have caused permanent infertility) has been successful, but can damage the ovarian tissue.

If the ovary can be verified cancer-free, this should be a very viable option for a lot of women.  I hope, I hope, I hope that a similar technique will never be used in men.* 

* Fortunately, I don't think it ever will be.  The ovary is nearly unattached to any other part of the body, releasing eggs into the fallopian tube without being connected directly.  In fact, eggs sometimes travel across the body and travel down the other fallopian tube!  Indeed, this may have led to my own wife's very lucky pregnancy.  Anyway, the ovarian situation is far different from the setup in the testes.

Posted at 09:25 am by brandonstarr
Comments (1)  

Sunday, November 07, 2004
Man disturbed by Bush's reelection...

...apparently commits shotgun suicide at World Trade Center
Protest or not, this is what I would call "the wrong reaction."

Don't let them win by taking you out of the game--whether that means suicide or removing yourself to a foreign country.  To me, one is almost the same as the other--that's how much I want to remain a U.S. citizen.

Don't forget the old philosophical adage:  thesis, antithesis, synthesis.  That is, things often move by a strong new force coming onto the scene, then the antithesis to that force, then a synthesis of the two.  In other words, 9/11 has led to a groundswell of Republican voting.  This will lead to a backlash, which will eventually settle out into an unevenly equal settlement--until the next major force comes along.

Posted at 02:04 pm by brandonstarr
Comments (4)  

Saturday, November 06, 2004
About the picture...

I was updating this blog a bit yesterday, and I decided to finally add a picture.

Just the one.  I still think of my blog as all about the writing.

It's a picture of my son, Declan.  It was taken a little over a year ago, on the monorail at Disneyland.

Something about the hope and wonder in his face in that picture makes me...happy.

I felt I needed an emotional restart following the election.  That picture of my son is a part of it.
 

Posted at 08:29 am by brandonstarr
Comments (4)  

Friday, November 05, 2004
A couple more thoughts on predictions

A couple of thoughts on predictions...

FIRST....

I mentioned Google as a stock that might benefit from the continued rise of the internet.  While I believe that's true, I forgot to mention that I have a bearish position in Google (but not the other 'net stocks).  In plain English, I think the price will go down.  Why?  Because it's wildly overvalued right now (200+ PE) and because the "lockup period" is ending over the next few months.

What is a lockup period?

When a company goes public, some of the stock goes onto the open market.  But usually, it's not ALL of the company stock.  Much of it is still held by the founders, pre-IPO investors, and so on.  In Google's case, only about 10% of the company stock went onto the open market.  Because the stock was popular, this scarcity really helped drive up the price.  Now, not all of the private stock will go onto the open market.  But some of it undoubtedly will.  And when you increase supply without an increase in demand, the price must go down.  Though I don't like Google as a stock, I still like it as a company in the longer term.

SECOND....

The market will, I think, do what I thought likely--UNLESS!

Bush and the Republicans are thinking about making Social Security a private-account venture, at least for the young.  If that happens, billions and billions of dollars will pour into the stock market (and the bond market) at some time in the future.  Now, in the long term, the stock market values everything according to its underlying value.  But in the short to medium term, this would drive prices upward as those billions snap up stocks.  Also, as Congress starts to move on such a bill, and as it starts to look more likely to happen, the market will start to rise in anticipation of all the coming demand.  In other words, the market will start to go up even before a SS privatization bill hits Bush's desk.  ALSO, this means that brokerage and bank stocks will go up even more:  partly because they always go up when the stock market goes up and interest rates fall (because money is pouring into bonds, too, remember), and partly because they are going to make BILLIONS managing all those Private Social Security accounts, no matter how small the managing percentage is.  FULL DISCLOSURE:  I have a long position in brokerage firm Charles Schwab & Co., though not for this reason.  I bought it when they lowered their fees to head off competition and their stock got punished.

P.S.  To all the nice liberals who have been following me while I beefed up Kerry and bashed Bush:  privatizing Social Security is one of those issues that, because I'm a small-government Libertarian, I actually tend to side with the Republicans on.  It'll depend on the details, though:  I don't want anyone to get hosed during the switchover.  Yes, it means some folks'll be taking on risk.  But really, over a long period it's nearly impossible to do worse with bonds or stocks than you do under Social Security as it now stands--that's why it shouldn't be privatized for folks who are already receiving or soon will receive Social Security.  And the disability part of SS?  That's one of the details we'll need to see.

Posted at 09:11 am by brandonstarr
Comments (4)  

Thursday, November 04, 2004
Predictions of trends for the next four years

These are some early thoughts on likely trends for the next four years under Bush.

I will refrain from the gloom-and-doom scenarios of massive terror attacks and so on that could happen under such an incompetent leader.  Actually, any massive disaster would pretty much wipe out these predictions anyway.

Let us be thankful that, unlike a king, we get a chance at new leadership every four years--assuming the Republican-built Diebold machine counts your votes.

Anyway, I'll start with the ones of general interest and end with the more arcane investing ones.

ENTERTAINMENT:

I think you'll see a couple of major trends here.

One is a trend towards escapist fare.  Thus comedies, musicals, and heroic war stories will do very well.  Horror can, too, if it doesn't require one to think too much.  This will be in place for as long as we're at war in Iraq and Afghanistan--that is, a good long time.  Sports will also do well, as a bastion for those who like fair play and rooting for the team.

Another is a trend towards pay systems.  Cable and satellite radio will do well, because they are free from the ever-more-oppressive FCC, which has been squeezing the "public airwave" broadcasters of all edginess.  Howard Stern will be the first, but he will hardly be the last of the major entertainment stars who will no longer be available free of charge.  We've already seen this trend in cable, where HBO wins massive numbers of Emmys and major audiences because their programming is free of the hand of the censors.  Note that freedom from censorship doesn't have to mean near-porn:  just look at "The Sopranos," for instance, which does have violence and occasional nudity, but is mostly a talky drama.  FULL DISCLOSURE:  I have some stock in Sirius Satellite Radio.

The internet will continue to gain steam as a major entertainment source.  It's been a little longer in coming than some folks thought, but broadband is nearing the tipping point, where enough people have it that some major new ways of presenting entertainment will be possible.  Also, the number of people on the internet in the U.S. and abroad will continue to climb, benefitting those companies such as Amazon, eBay, Yahoo! and Google, who already have a critical mass which gives them major advantages over their competitors.  FULL DISCLOSURE:  I have a bullish position in eBay.  Digital media, such as digital camcorders and cameras, will continue to eat away the traditional film media, which eventually will be relegated to artistic professionals and those who cannot  afford computers or refuse to switch.  FULL DISCLOSURE:  I have a bearish position in Eastman Kodak, which is a chemical film company trying to become a digital media company--I don't think they'll succeed well, but maybe I'm wrong.

POLITICS:

A little too ugly to write about now.  I will say this:  every major shift brings the seeds of its own backlash.  I have a hunch that, as damaging as the next four years will be, it will bring about a major move in the opposite direction.  We shall see.

BUSINESS:

Oil:  Supply is trying to come on line.  But for now, demand is still right at the supply limits.  Perhaps we've seen the short-term high for now, but it wouldn't take much of a supply crunch to make prices jump right back up.  And I highly doubt they'll settle in nearly as low as they did before the Iraq war--that is, the high twenties, or even where some experts seem to find likely, the mid thirties.  World demand is still climbing, and major oil finds are rare.  Only the fact that oil location and drilling technology continues to improve is keeping supply as good as it is.  Add to that the fact that we have a (failed) oil man as President, and I don't think we'll be seeing demand slipping due to alternative energy sources, even though he gave it lip service during the campaign.  FULL DISCLOSURE:  I have a position in Maverick Pipeline, which sells the pipes that will provide this new world oil supplies.

Interest rates:  Because oil has been expensive and slowing the economy, the Fed hasn't had to raise interest rates as quickly.  This means that:  1) housing stocks should do better than one would expect in a rising interest rate environment, 2) credit will remain cheap, 3) the dollar will remain weak, 4) because of the weak dollar, gold, silver and other commodities including oil will remain expensive.

Stocks:  I refuse to submit to my baser instincts and predict a market crater just because of Bush.  Actually, it's likely that stocks will do better--they almost couldn't do worse.  The low interest rates will help; the economic recovery has been very creaky, but hasn't yet slipped into a double-dip recession.  Jobs are still a concern; companies are still trying to improve efficiencies rather than hire on new people, which means they are still skeptical about the economy.  Oil stocks should do well; I don't think auto companies, which are highly dependent on gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs will do as well.  FULL DISCLOSURE: See oil disclosure.  Also, I have a bearish position in Ford.  The markets love Republican Presidents in the short term; that's why the market rallied today.  But historically the stock market does far better under Democratic Presidents.  Overall, I think the market will rise, but slower than the historic rate of 9% or so per year.  If inflation remains low, it'll be acceptable to most people, but hardly as good as the Clinton 90s.  The stock market is notoriously hard to predict in anything but the very long term; if I'm right, I'll be almost as surprised as anyone.  My method is to try to buy good companies cheaply, and I don't see any reason not to continue that general practice.

Silver:  As I mentioned above, I think the dollar will remain fairly weak.  This will help all commodities.  Silver is still operating at a net supply deficit--that is, the amount used up in manufacturing and jewelry is more than is pulled out of the ground in a year.  This deficit is expected to be 61 million ounces in 2005, and will be the 16th straight year with a deficit.  FULL DISCLOSURE:  I have a position in Silver Standard Resources, Inc., whose newsletter is linked above.

That's enough for now.  If I think of more later I'll do an entry on it.
 

Posted at 02:50 pm by brandonstarr
Your thoughts?  

Wednesday, November 03, 2004
Kerry calls to concede

Kerry calls to concede; Bush is gracious while reigning from on high

Osama bin Laden called the White House to congratulate his candidate on the victory.

This is also a victory for the irrational* and the poorly educated, both of whom vote Republican as though it were a reflex action.

And to the college kids who voted in numbers barely larger than last election:  enjoy paying off Bush's deficit for the rest of your life while having the specter of a draft bearing down on you.

So, now we'll have a conservative Supreme Court tearing down civil rights and allowing the increep of theocracy; we'll have a Republican Congress passing whatever they want in the way of protofascist corporate governance; and we'll have a President who makes mistakes as often as most people drink glasses of water, whom every other country in the world despises except Iran and Russia, and who enriches his cronies while running the most secretive Administration in history.

When I do my "what's next" entry, I'll cool down so I can keep this sort of Bush-bashing to a minimum, but I can't do it now.

This is going to have some ugly repercussions for our increasingly weakening democracy.

* Regular readers know that "irrational" means "religious," but also refers to others who go against reason, such as psychics, cultists, and so on.  In this context, it mainly refers to church-going irrationalists.

Posted at 10:02 am by brandonstarr
Comments (9)  

Interesting market reaction

Interestingly, my presumptions from last night have...well, not exactly been borne out.

Despite there being no winner, the markets are up.  Why?

Because the markets are presuming a Bush win.  That's the same reason the oil futures were up overnight.  I should've thought of that--if they're presuming for oil, they'd presume for stocks, too.

Believe me, if the election turns unknown again, the market will go down.  They're just figuring that because Bush is ahead in Ohio, and that's the important state left, that Bush will take the Presidency.

I wouldn't be too surprised if either the absentee votes or the provisional votes change things in one or more states.  I'm not sure what'll happen, exactly, but I'm having to let myself distance a bit emotionally--the cold I barely had the last couple of days is now full-blown.

Posted at 07:13 am by brandonstarr
Your thoughts?  

What next?

I'm writing this early Wednesday morning, all keyed up from the election.

You see, I haven't voted for a Republican or a Democrat for twelve years.  I forgot what it feels like to vote for someone who has a chance of winning, especially when it's close.

Right now it's extremely close, not looking great for Kerry overall.  However, there were a lot of provisional ballots in quite a few states--and if a lot of those were from Republicans challenging peoples' votes, one expects they will lean heavily towards Kerry.  So I don't think it's over yet, even if the regular polls show Bush ahead in the last couple of available states.

No matter who wins, when we have a decision I'll be doing an entry on what to expect economically and so forth.

In the meantime, what does a close election mean?  Well, it'll depend:

Close but not contested:  if the vote stays super-close but no major snafus or voter suppression, etc. are found, then the stock market will be shaky until there's a winner, but probably won't crater.  If it does, it is likely temporary until a winner is declared.

Contested:  if tons of litigation are going to come out of the election, the stock market won't take that well at all.  You can expect it'll go down, and it'll stay shaky or worse until a winner is declared AND all major litigation issues are settled in the minds of the market.  It may or may not recover at that point.  Actually, it probably will, but it'll depend on the situation.

Though it's too early to know for sure, it seems like so far it's in the "close but not contested" category.  As much as I would loathe a Bush win, if it's uncontested I think I'd prefer that over lots of litigation and the additional acrimony that would ensue.  I do think that Kerry should fight it until the end--no Gore caving this time, if you please.  Not with Bush on the other end.

Though no winner has been chosen, the markets are already moving based on the semi-probable Bush win.  Crude oil prices on the overnight futures are up on the belief that another four years of extremely fossil-centric energy policy will be forthcoming from Bush and Cronies.

Posted at 01:57 am by brandonstarr
Your thoughts?  

Tuesday, November 02, 2004
Did you remember?

VOTE.

Posted at 09:34 am by brandonstarr
Comments (1)  

Monday, November 01, 2004
#1 non-policy reason to vote for Kerry over Bush...and the winner is...

If you don't know what's up with this list by now, read the first few sentences under any of the other reasons.  I can't come up with yet another slightly-altered way of saying it.

Reason #10:  Kerry is hard-working, Bush is lazy.
Reason #9:  Bush is careless with his words.
Reason #8:  Bush is dangerously secretive.
Reason #7:  Bush refuses to listen to contrary opinions and is
     incapable of changing his mind when the facts require it.
Reason #6:  Bush is cruel.
Reason #5:  Bush uses fear as a weapon against the people of the United States.
Reason #4:  Bush refuses to take reponsibility for his actions.
Reason #3:  To avoid further damage from one-party rule over the Presidency, the
    Congress, and the courts.
Reason #2:  Bush lies, Kerry has told the truth under tough circumstances.

So here we are, at #1, the last day before the election.  Perhaps it would be something about Bush being unethical?  Or Bush abusing his power?  Well, I considered those, but you know, if you're undecided, those topics just sound ugly and negative and partisan--even though I'm Libertarian, rather than Democrat, but you know what I mean.

When you get right down to it, this is a hire.  You are the boss, as a voter, and you are deciding who is going to fill an important position.  If you ask me, nearly any of the reasons already covered would disqualify Bush.

But when you get right down to it, there's only one reason that always disqualifies someone from working for you, and it is:

Reason #1:  Bush is incompetent, and Kerry is competent.

How do you figure out if someone is competent?  You look at their history and, if they have experience in the position, how they did at the position.

Bush was a wastrel as a youth:  a heavy drinker who was the first person ever let into the Air Texas Guard as a pilot who didn't already have a pilot's license.  After not showing up for a simple physical, he disappeared, and the records are vague as to what he did next.  It seems he mostly worked on a few political races here and there.  Until he was about forty, he did next to nothing with his life.

Kerry was a go-getter.  Though he came from the same sort of privileged background as Bush, he didn't avoid service.  Instead, he entered the Navy during Vietnam.  Then he volunteered for one of the most dangerous duties in the Navy:  captaining a swift boat, which meant taking a small, lightly armored boat up into the river deltas and trying to flush out enemies who were ambushing American and South Vietnamese forces.  While doing this, he earned a Bronze Star and a Silver Star.  For those not in the know, Bronze Stars are hardly common, and Silver Stars are really quite rare and are given for the most brave and dangerous actions.  When he came back from Vietnam, he had seen much which disturbed him, and he gathered the stories of many Vietnam veterans and the ugly things they'd seen, and brought it to the attention of Congress in 1971, when most of the country did not yet know how poorly the war was being conducted and how much damage it was doing to the people of Vietnam.  Interestingly, just as Kerry now faults Bush for poor leadership in Iraq, that was Kerry's point during this "Winter Soldier" testimony--that the soldiers were following orders as best they could, but the leadership was making it impossible for them to succeed.

To sum up:  Kerry killed enemies in action in Vietnam; Bush killed twelve-packs.

After Vietnam, Bush was eventually given the CEO position in four different oil companies.  All of them failed, even though he was drilling for oil in areas with large, well-known oil deposits.  He later was given a sweetheart deal as part-owner of the Texas Rangers, which was losing money until he arranged for the public to pick up the tab for the Rangers and he was bought out at a multimillion-dollar profit.  In other words, Bush was given everything in his businesses, and always failed or had to be bailed out.

After Vietnam, Kerry became a prosecuting attorney.  As far as I can tell, he must have been successful.  If not, Bush and company haven't exploited it in the least.  Later he became a lieutenant governor, and then a Senator.  As a Senator, Kerry led the Kerry Commission (discussed in the last entry).  He also has long been on the Foreign Relations Committee, and is now the ranking member of that committee.  He is also on several other committees and sub-committees, including the Small Business and Entrepeneurship Committee and the Finance Committee.  He has won quite a few awards.  Interestingly, many of them have to do with health care:  he was won the "Legislator of the Year" award from the National Health Association, the Visiting Nurse Association, and the Massachusetts Association of Home Health Care.  He also won an award from Time Magazine--the "Honest Man in Politics" award for being the only Senator up for reelection in 1996 to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act.  He was one of the first to look at the subject of acid rain, and his gathering of the research helped form some of the seminal air protection legislation of the early 90s.  In the late 90s, he wrote "The Next War," about the nuclear material going loose following the fall of the Soviet Union and how we have to keep it out of the hands of terrorists and rogue states.

So professionally after Vietnam, Bush was an utter failure bailed out by his connections; Kerry showed leadership and initiative, and worked hard to become successful in quite a few endeavors.

As President, Bush has shown an utter lack of competence:

1)  He was given a Presidential Daily Briefing early August 2001 that said that bin Laden was determined to strike in the U.S., and that the FBI indicated that hijackings were likely and that New York City buildings had been scoped out.  Bush's reaction was to go on vacation for the rest of the month.

2)   In 2001 he was warned that the system for creating vaccines was fragile and could lead to a shortage; in 2004 we have seen the fruits of Bush's non-action on this, trusting that just two companies would continue to successfully make all of the flu vaccines for the United States.

3)  Economists warned loudly and often that Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy wouldn't help make new jobs, because the wealthy would take their extra money and put it away.  They suggested instead a tax cut for the poor, who always put extra cash back into the economy.  Bush promised that five million new jobs would be created from his tax cut, and went ahead.  The five million jobs haven't materialized, and in fact jobs have been created during the "recovery" at an average rate lower than the growth of the job-age population.

4)  Bush's generals insisted that we should finish Afghanistan before going into Iraq, if we went into Iraq at all.  When Bush showed a determination to remove Saddam from power, they gave the numbers of soldiers and equipment they would need.  Bush used less than half.  This led to our troops being able to succeed only in taking land quickly, without securing any buildings or dangerous materials.  This led to the massive looting of weapons, explosives, valuables, antiquities, and items from important sites like power plants and the phone service.

5)  Bush believed that the troops would be greeted as liberators, that the oil would flow quickly and pay for a swift rebuilding of Iraq.  While it's fine to have a "rosy scenario" ready in case success comes that quickly, Bush utterly failed to come up with any contingencies in case a major insurgency came up, or other major problems occurred.  This despite the fact that such plans were in the State Department, and the State Department was clamoring for him to use them.  Bush ignored those plans, and now doesn't have any idea what to do next, except push democracy on the Iraqi people under a forced-march time line, and with a CIA operative as the interim Prime Minister.  The rebuilding has all but stopped, due to the bombings and kidnappings, and several cities in Iraq are now no-go areas for our soldiers.  Meanwhile, the troops pulled away from Afghanistan has led to warlords and even the Taliban taking over parts of that country, even as the first election is underway.  The overall effect?  Bush has caused not only to danger to our troops, but to a bonanza of new al-Qaeda and insurgency recruits.

One final way of determining whom you should hire:  see what the people who are experts think about the candidates.

Generals and admirals are historically very conservative--big Republican supporters.  Despite this, twelve retired generals and admirals have endorsed Kerry as a candidate for President.  No real surprise why.

Ten Nobel-Prize-winning economists (and a bunch of other economists) have endorsed Kerry.
The National Association of Police Organizations has endorsed Kerry.

I don't know if they're "experts," but 36 newspapers who backed Bush over Gore in 2000 now back Kerry.  (More recent articles seem to indicate the number is now 47.)  How many who backed Gore in 200 are now backing Bush?  Six.

And get this...

The "American Conservative" magazine, run by Pat Buchanan, endorsed Kerry!!  This despite the fact that the magazine promised it would then oppose the Kerry Presidency from day one!  Why?  Because a second Bush presidency would "discredit any sort of conservatism for generations."

And that's one of the ironies of this election.  Bush has caused so many problems at home, and burned so many bridges with our allies around the world, and created so many new terrorists and angered so many other people in the Middle East, that the next four years aren't going to be a picnic.  Fortunately, Kerry has said he's willing to do the job--even if Bush only finds it a lot of "hard work."  It's quite possible that whomever wins this election will lose the next, all because of the ugly hand Bush has dealt the next President.  But I'll still take four years of Kerry over four years of Bush and forty years of Bush-appointed Supreme Court Justices.

And so, we have the final reason...

Reason #1:  Bush is not competent, Kerry is.

Posted at 04:51 pm by brandonstarr
Your thoughts?  

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