Wednesday, 27 July 2011

08:27 – My 30-day estimate may have been optimistic. Only three business days after the crisis summit, yields on Spanish and Italian bonds had already returned to pre-summit levels, and both countries are having difficulties selling their bonds even at those disastrously high yields. Meanwhile, German banks are dumping Greek, Portuguese, Irish, and Italian bonds as fast as they can sell them. So much for stopping the contagion.

UPS showed up yesterday with six large boxes from one of my wholesalers. I now have about 98% of what I need to assemble 60 more chemistry kits. Unfortunately, one small item is backordered until late August, and I can’t find a second wholesale source for it. If necessary, I’ll see if I can find it at retail and get a quantity price break. But that’s a last resort. I’m hoping that what I have in inventory will last another couple weeks, but I’ll probably end up having to backorder kits, at least for a couple of weeks. Oh, well. At least we can build a bunch of kits lacking that one item and simply drop it in once that item arrives.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

08:16 – Reading about the Norwegian mass murderer, there’s something I don’t understand. He thinks muslims are invading and taking over Europe, forcibly spreading their hateful beliefs to a previously civilized part of the planet. Okay, I get that. He’s right. If Europe has any sense, it’ll expel muslims with extreme prejudice, as should the US and other civilized countries. Muslims are nothing more than Nazis in drag, and the proper response to a muslim is the same as the proper response to a Nazi.

What I don’t understand is why he set off his truck bomb next to government offices, in an area presumably largely populated by ethnic Norwegians, and then shot up a youth camp presumably largely populated by ethnic Norwegian young people. Why not park the truck next to a mosque during services and then shoot up the survivors? Or, since he apparently had enough ammonium nitrate to make five or six more truck bombs, why didn’t he park truck bombs outside five or six more mosques during services? What was the point to slaughtering a bunch of ethnic Norwegians, most of whom were presumably non-believers, and most of whom presumably weren’t much happier about the spread of islam than he is?

11:34 – I’m always leery when calls of racism are made against ordinary people or institutions, but if this article is correct this is a pretty blatant case. This young woman earned the highest GPA in her graduating class, and yet was denied her position as sole valedictorian. Furthermore, her mother’s appeal to the school authorities was denied on questionable grounds, and delayed until the question became moot. The young woman in question is black and a single mother, and the school district in question is in the Deep South. If the facts stated in this article are correct and complete, it’s reasonable to ask if this young woman was denied her rights simply because the authorities didn’t believe she was the right kind of person to represent her school.

Now, it’s possible that there were extenuating circumstances. For example, the article mentions that she took a heavy load of AP classes, but does not mention which ones. Let’s face it, an A in AP History or AP Literature or AP Foreign Language shouldn’t have the same weight as an A in AP Biology, Chemistry, Physics, or Calculus. Many school districts award 5 points on a 4-point GPA for an A in any AP course, but if an A in one of those non-rigorous AP courses is worth 5 points, then an A in a rigorous AP subject should be worth at least 6. So, although the article doesn’t give details, it’s possible that the students in second and third place had only slightly lower GPAs and had taken a boatload of rigorous AP courses. In that case, they probably deserved the valedictorian and salutatorian positions. Or they would have, had the school district made those changes to the way GPAs were assigned. As it stands, the only justification I can see for their position is that the other students may have had a wider range of extracurricular activities, which in any event should not be given any weight for academic honors. And, of course, as a single mother, the student in question probably had more limited opportunities to engage in such activities.

Monday, 25 July 2011

08:55 – Hmmm. Moody’s has downgraded Greek debt to Ca, which is almost-but-not-quite default. Moody’s notes that the likelihood they’ll further reduce Greece to a C rating, or actual default, is “virtually 100%”. Meanwhile, Spanish bond yields–or was it Italian bond yields?–just climbed past 6%, which is catastrophic.

The purpose of the crisis summit, of course, was not to save Greece, which cannot be saved, but to prevent spread of the “contagion” to Spain and Italy. I may have been optimistic in estimating that they’d delayed the crash by 90 days. It may be more like 30 days. Historically, July and August are when these things tend to happen, and we may have an interesting time of it next month.

Heads-down work on the biology book this week, with a bit of lab work to confirm some of the stuff in the lab sessions. As I write the lab sessions, I have to constantly keep in mind the chemicals needed, and whether it’s practical to include those chemicals in the kits. It’s essential that the kits be legal to ship under the Small Quantity Exemption, but staying within the SQE regulations isn’t as simple as it might seem.

For example, the SQE regulations permit shipping up to one fluid ounce, which they define as 30 mL, of most hazardous chemicals, including nasty stuff like concentrated sulfuric acid. The problem is that the limit isn’t per-container but per shipping package. So, for example, if I include two 15 mL bottles of two biostains that are in a solution of 70% isopropanol, that’s my limit on isopropanol for that package. (It doesn’t matter what the percentage is; I could use 50% isopropanol, and the limit is still 30 mL per package.)

Ah, but in that case I haven’t used any of my ethanol allocation, so I could also include two 15 mL bottles of ethanol-based solutions in the same package, and, for that matter, two more 15 mL bottles of methanol-based solutions and two more 15 mL bottles of butanol-based solutions, because methanol, ethanol, propanol, and butanol all have different UN (hazardous chemical) numbers. For some stains and reagents, the type of alcohol used doesn’t matter much or at all. For others, it matters a lot. For example, some stains are readily soluble in methanol but not propanol, and vice versa. Depending on how things work out, I may end up going to some ridiculous extremes. For example, I might supply a 10 mL of a reagent in a 15 mL bottle, using 99% isopropanol, which would cost me only 10 mL of my 30 mL isopropanol allocation–and direct the reader to add 5 mL of distilled water to that bottle. Geez.

I did make a fortuitous discovery yesterday. The 15 mL PE dropper bottles are a slip fit in the 50 mL PP centrifuge tubes, several of which will be included in the biology kits as specimen containers and for temporary storage of various solutions. The conical caps of the dropper bottles even fit neatly into the conical bottoms of the centrifuge tubes. That makes the centrifuge tubes ideal secondary containers for 15 mL dropper bottles that contain really nasty stuff. Adding a couple of cotton balls or some paper towels will both cushion the dropper bottle and serve as an absorbent if the bottle leaks.

12:50 – I just noticed that the European Central Bank has stopped buying sovereign bonds. Since the May 2010 bailout, the ECB has been backstopping Greek debt. The ECB is currently estimated to hold something like €45 billion of essentially worthless Greek debt on its balance sheet, and it has obviously decided not to add to that total. That leaves the EFSF (European bailout fund), which has only €440 billion in its coffers, as the bailout lender of last resort. That’s marginally sufficient to cover expected upcoming bailouts for Greece, Portugal, and Ireland, but there’s no way the EFSF will be able to do a thing to help Spain and particularly Italy when they show up begging for bailouts. Speculation leading up to the crisis summit last week was that the ESFS reserves would be at least doubled if not tripled. Instead, they were left as is. The result is that traders and analysts are holding their collective breath, because if (when) Spain or Italy collapses there’ll be nothing left in the till to bail them out with.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

10:12 – Here’s a torrent worth grabbing: a 32.5 GB file that contains thousands of pre-1923 articles by The Royal Society, all of them out of copyright in the US. It’s long past time that someone did something about JSTOR and similar organizations, which put up expensive paywalls around public domain information and guard it jealously. Now if only someone would do the same for old articles published by the ACS and other scientific organizations.

This archive contains 18,592 scientific publications totaling 33GiB, all from Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and which should be available to everyone at no cost, but most have previously only been made available at high prices through paywall gatekeepers like JSTOR.

Limited access to the documents here is typically sold for $19 USD per article, though some of the older ones are available as cheaply as $8. Purchasing access to this collection one article at a time would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

All of these articles should be available for free on Google and other Internet sources. In fact, US scientific articles, including current ones, should be freely available, at least to US citizens, because nearly all of them were produced with US government funding. I’ve already paid for these articles through my taxes. I shouldn’t have to pay again to read them.

I’m going to have to do a bit of research on the actual chemical resistance of the polyethylene bottles I just bought. Checking various sources for the effect on polyethylene of concentrated sulfuric acid at 20 °C and 60 °C (the containers could get quite warm during shipping) tells me that the resistance may be anything from excellent to mediocre, depending on which source I believe.

I suspect this is because polyethylene is a class or classes of compounds rather than a specific compound. There are many, many types of PE, which are broadly grouped into LDPE, HDPE, and XDPE, but the exact characteristics of any particular PE may vary slightly, even from others in the same class.

It may be easier just to use glass bottles.

11:50 – On sexual dimorphism in humans…

Here is an actual, unretouched image of pairs of Barbara’s and my socks. (Mine are at the top, in case you hadn’t guessed; they were originally black, but I accidentally bleached them and liked the two-tone brown result.) No, I didn’t shrink Barbara’s socks. This is actually how they appear normally.

Now it’s true that I have occasionally been accused of having larger than usual feet. (Get your big, clumsy feet out of my …) But I think of myself as having dainty little feet. After all, I wear only a US male size 12 shoe, which isn’t bad for a guy my size.

13:34 – As a Viking-American, I found this article interesting.

If you can believe the article, past archaeologists had just assumed that Viking burials were all male because they all included grave artifacts like swords and shields. A new study reports the results of osteological examinations of a small number of Viking burials, which found that about half of the skeletons were female. Unfortunately, DNA analyses, which would have been definitive, were not done.

It makes sense to me that the Viking warriors would have taken their women along. After all, put yourself in the position of a Viking woman. Would you allow your husband to go off raping and pillaging without you?

Incidentally, don’t bother clicking the moron link at the bottom of the article, which reads “See photos of: Vikings“. I made the mistake of clicking it and it took me to page that featured–you guessed it–images of the Minnesota Vikings. Geez.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

10:45 – My poor FedEx guy must hate me. Yesterday, he delivered several large boxes that contained a couple thousand polyethylene dropper bottles in different capacities and a hundred laboratory splash goggles. I’ll use the dropper bottles to build prototypes and initial inventory for the biology kit that goes with the home biology lab book I’m working on now, as well as in a future forensics kit and possibly some others. The goggles are included in all kits.

In all of the discussion about the Euro crisis, the UK hasn’t gotten much attention other than in that country’s newspapers. From what I’ve read in UK newspapers ranging across the political spectrum, I think it’s safe to say that there’s been a sea change in the attitudes of UK subjects. Previously, a substantial majority were in favor of the UK’s membership in the EU, and the electorate was roughly equally divided pro and con on adopting the Euro. The current numbers are dramatically different. A large majority now opposes joining the Euro–no surprise there given recent events–but the really significant change is that UK voters are now about 3:2 in favor of withdrawing from the EU itself.

They rightly perceive the course of the EU shifting even more strongly toward a fiscal and political union, neither of which is acceptable to a large majority of Brits. Ideally, most Brits would prefer to return to the original common market concept, where trade barriers were minimal but each country retained its own currency and full sovereignty. Even in the absence of full fiscal and political union, Britain has found, as Thatcher warned, that the obvious benefits of EU membership are far outweighed by the hidden drawbacks. Despite the fact that the UK is not a member of the Euro, British taxpayers subsidize other Euro members. For example, a significant percentage of the €50 billion in annual agricultural subsidies paid to French farmers comes out of British pockets. Nor are all the economic costs so obvious. For example, fishing rights have for years been a bone of contention between the UK and the EU.

When all is totaled up, it’s clear that the UK is suffering economically from its membership in the EU, with the economic benefits far, far outweighed by the direct and indirect economic costs. If the EU fractures, as I expect, into one group of wealthier northern nations and a second group of poorer southern nations, I expect to see the UK join the northern group, if indeed it chooses to join any union at all.

12:14 – The morning paper had an article about people flocking to the local Borders for its going-out-of-business sale. The store is advertising “up to 40% off”, which really isn’t much of a deal, even if it applied to most things. One woman quoted in the article mentioned that she’d bought several books at 10% to 20% off list price, which is no deal at all, particularly since all sales are final. As she said, she could have gotten them cheaper at Amazon.

Given the very limited selection at Borders–many publishers stopped sending them new books months ago–they’d have to be offering at least 60% off list on paperbacks and 70% off on hardbacks to temp me in there, and even at that I might not bother. Most of what I’d be looking for is fiction, and most of that I can get for $2.99 or less for my Kindle. And since my Kindle TBR stack is currently at something like 300 titles, I really don’t need any more fiction anyway.

Friday, 22 July 2011

08:55 – Following the crisis summit, there’s lots of joy in the EU. The feeling among people who don’t understand much about economics is that Greece is saved, the Euro is saved, they’re all saved. Economists and market analysts know better. What the crisis summit accomplished was necessary, but by no means sufficient. All that it really accomplished was to put off the reckoning for a short time, perhaps 90 days or less.

In one very ominous sign, Bulgaria announced that it was putting its plans to join the Eurozone on hold indefinitely. In effect, Bulgaria said that it believes its own currency is stronger than the Euro. And it may well be right. This vote of no-confidence in the Euro will not go unnoticed by investors.

And, of course, Fitch has already declared Greek debt to be in default, with Moody’s and S&P no doubt soon to follow. We’re assured by the Euro authorities that this default is “partial” and “temporary” and “selective”, but as far as investors are concerned, default is default. Nor are investors stupid. They did notice that the crisis meeting left the EU bailout fund at its current level, when it actually needed to be at least tripled in size to have any hope of propping up Spain and Italy as their debt comes due. Investors also noticed that the crisis meeting did nothing to address the critical liquidity problem among European banks. In fact, it worsened it by demanding that the banks “voluntarily” take a hit to their balance sheets on Greek debt, albeit concealing the damage by allowing the banks to continue carrying essentially worthless Greek debt instruments at face value rather than market value.

As hundreds of billions of Spanish and Italian debt matures over the next few months, it’s going to become abundantly clear that the crisis summit accomplished nothing but delaying the problem for a few weeks. Even Keynesian economist Paul Krugman gets it.

Nor is it certain that Merkel and the other leaders of the wealthier northern European countries can deliver what they promised at the summit conference. They have their own legislatures and voters to worry about. German voters almost universally perceive past and future bailouts as simple transfers of money from their own pockets to profligate southern countries, and they’ve had about enough. In Holland, this whole fiasco has accomplished something previously thought impossible: Dutch political parties, from far left to far right and everything in between, are united in their opposition to these huge transfers of their money to southern countries.

So Merkel, Sarkozy, and other leaders are walking a very fine line. Supporting what was needed to actually solve the problem would end up with them and their parties being routed at the polls. That solution, beginning with Eurobonds and ending with full fiscal and political union, is simply unacceptable to voters in Germany, Austria, Holland, and Finland. And rightly so, because the inevitable result would be a united Europe as the world’s newest third-world country.

Anyone who works with plasticware in a lab should keep the chemical resistance of various types of plastics in mind. If it weren’t for the high cost, the various Teflon plastics would be ideal. They’re resistant to almost anything, and anything they’re not resistant to is something I probably don’t want to be using anyway. Polypropylene (PP) and the polyethylenes (LDPE and HDPE) are, with some exceptions, pretty resistant to most chemicals. Polyethylene terephthalate, PET, is most familiar as softdrink bottles. It’s transparent, while PP, LDPE, and HDPE are translucent or opaque, depending on thickness and type. PET is also resistant to most dilute chemicals as well as alcohol and some other organic solvents. What it’s not resistant to, among other things, is concentrated strong acids.

So, yesterday I was down in the lab, making up 2 liters each of various chemical solutions. I was using 2-liter PET Coke bottles as mixing vessels. Among the solutions I was making up was 0.1 M iron(II) sulfate. Like most iron(II) salts, iron(II) sulfate has a nasty habit of spontaneously oxidizing to the iron(III) salt, with the spare iron ions reacting to form insoluble iron hydroxide and iron oxides. The result is a cloudy mess. The way to avoid that is to have sulfate ions present in excess, which is most easily done by adding a small amount of concentrated sulfuric acid to the iron(II) sulfate solution. So there I was, with about 1.5 L of distilled water in a clean 2-liter Coke bottle. I started to add 8 mL of 98% sulfuric acid, and realized as I started to pour what was going to happen.

Yep, as I trickled the concentrated sulfuric acid into the bottle, it ran down the inside of the bottle and instantly started depolymerizing the PET. My pretty transparent bottle turned cloudy white as the PET went from the transparent amorphous form to the opaque semi-crystalline form. I quickly dumped the contents of the bottle down the drain before the PET depolymerized completely. I don’t often have do-overs when I’m making up solutions, but this was one of them.

09:27 – Here’s a pretty amazing video of a group of people in a small boat, at considerable risk to themselves, saving a young humpback whale that had become entangled in a gill net. Even a juvenile humpback could have capsized their boat or turned it into kindling. But the humpback seemed to realize that these humans were trying to help it, and it docilely allowed them to do so. At about 6:30 in, the whale is free. She puts on an incredible display of joy, or perhaps thanks to her saviors. (H/T to Jerry Coyne)

Thursday, 21 July 2011

08:24 – Watching the antics of the German and French leaders in the hours before the euro crisis summit, I was reminded of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, when Butch and Sundance were working as payroll guards:

Butch Cassidy: I think they’re in the trees up ahead.
Sundance Kid: In the bushes on the left.
Butch Cassidy: I’m telling you they’re in the trees up ahead.
Sundance Kid: You take the trees, I’ll take the bushes.
Percy Garris: Will you two beginners cut it out.
Butch Cassidy: Well, we’re just trying to spot an ambush, Mr. Garris.
Percy Garris: Morons. I’ve got morons on my team. Nobody is going to rob us going down the mountain. We have got no money going down the mountain. When we have got the money, on the way back, then you can sweat. .

But, after seven hours of discussion, Merkel and Sarkozny apparently got some sort of agreement hashed out. Once again, one of the scenes from the movie sums it up.

Merkel: Alright. I’ll jump first.
Sarkozy: No.
Merkel: Then you jump first.
Sarkozy: No, I said.
Merkel: What’s the matter with you?
Sarkozy: I can’t swim.
Merkel: Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you.

The early news from the conference isn’t good. Apparently, the bank tax is off the table, not that it would have done much good anyway. It seems that Eurobonds are the last option left, and I can’t see Germany, Austria, Holland, and Finland agreeing to those. The other option is boosting the EU bailout fund and allowing it to purchase junk bonds from the troubled Eurozone nations, but that’s not doable in the short term.

More lab work today.

13:32 – Oh, my. Things have already started to unravel. The main goal of the crisis summit wasn’t to save Greece. Greece is unsavable, and everyone was perfectly aware of that. The real goal was to stop the spread of “contagion” to Spain and Italy. It’s too late for that. Spain and Italy are already infected, and nothing done at the summit can change that. Spain today auctioned €1.8 billion in 10-year debt, a set-piece low face-value auction intended to demonstrate the beneficial effects of the summit. It instead demonstrated the opposite. The average yield was very close to 6%, a yield that most economists consider to be in the extremely dangerous range. Although estimates differ slightly, most would agree that 6% to 6.5% is disastrous and 7% undoubtedly fatal.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

08:53 – In the lead-up to the EU crisis summit tomorrow, it seems that the EU authorities can do nothing but bicker about which unworkable plan each prefers. It seems that the leading candidate is now Euro bonds, which would allow unstable economies like those of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Italy, and Spain to issue sovereign debt instruments that are backed by the creditworthiness of Germany and other stronger northern European economies. In effect, this “solution” gives Greece Germany’s credit card and allows Greece to run up essentially unlimited debt which Germany is then responsible for paying. That’s kind of like asking me to co-sign a mortgage loan for an unemployed homeless person. Why would I do that? Why would Germany? If this is the best solution the EU authorities can come up with, the Euro is doomed.

Ultimately, the problem comes down to one of authority versus responsibility. The Europeans have an economic union, but not a fiscal union or a political union. Eurozone member nations are actually not nations in the traditional sense. A nation controls its own money. Eurozone members have given up that control, which amounts to giving up sovereignty. A sovereign nation can never be forced into default on debt instruments denominated in its own currency. The US, for example, is never in danger of defaulting on dollar-denominated bonds because, if push comes to shove, the US can simply print more dollars. The same is not true for Eurozone members, who have accepted responsibility while giving up authority.

The result of all this is that we now have a cat fight, with poor, unproductive, and deeply-indebted EU nations able by their actions to destroy the common currency, and wealthier and more productive nations faced with few alternatives but to pay the huge bills that have been incurred by those profligate nations. What’s worse is that this won’t be a one-time bailout. Those poor nations will continue returning to the well, expecting the richer nations to go on subsidizing them indefinitely. Obviously, that’s unsustainable.

UPS showed up yesterday with boxes from one of my wholesalers, which contain about 20% of the components I need to assemble another 60 chemistry kits. I already had about 10% of the components in hand, and nearly all of the remainder should arrive by the end of this month, with one exception. One small item is backordered, and I can’t find another source for it. It’s due to ship by 15 August, so I’m limited to on-hand inventory for about the next four weeks. Fortunately, this is the slowest time of year for kit orders, so I shouldn’t have to backorder many kits. I hope.

09:45 – I finally decided I had to do something about my inbox. I use it as a kind of pseudo-to-do list, marking action items as “unread” and think-about items as read. As of this morning, I had more than 600 messages in my inbox, some of them from last year. All real messages. So I just spent the last 45 minutes getting rid of the ones that were OBE (most of them), doing something about the ones that still required doing something about, and leaving the ones that require doing something about, but which will require more time than I have to devote to them at the moment. I’m now down to eight messages in my inbox.

Usually, I try hard to keep the number of messages in my inbox small enough that they don’t fill the message-list pane. When a scroll-bar appears for that pane, I know I need to do some pruning. This time, I let it get completely out of control. I’ll try to keep that from happening again.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

08:28 – Spain auctioned a couple billion worth of short-term bonds today. They kept the face value low and the maturities short, hoping to cherry-pick low interest rates and thereby demonstrate that the market still has confidence in Spanish debt, which it doesn’t. Even with the low face value and short maturities, they ended up paying nearly a full percentage point more than they did on their last auction of similar bonds a month or so ago. That bodes very ill for future bond auctions for Spain, and particularly for Italy, which has a huge amount of debt that needs to be refinanced in the coming months. The next Spanish bond auction is set for Thursday, the same day the EU holds its crisis meeting. That auction is for long-term bonds, which are likely to sell at disastrously high interest rates, if at all.

Lab day today.

12:12 – Merkel says that nothing that happens at the summit meeting Thursday will solve the Greece crisis, and she’s right. But I think what she’s really doing is signaling that, as far as Germany is concerned, enough is enough. All of the “solutions” proposed thus far involve Germany paying the lion’s share of the costs, and Germans are tired of being sucked dry to prop up a poor southern fringe EU country that’s going to fail no matter what happens. Germans rightly consider any additional funding provided to Greece to be good money after bad.

At this point, I really don’t see any alternative to the Eurozone collapsing into fragments. Even if the Greece problem were solvable, which it isn’t, Greece is the least of the Eurozone’s problems. The gorilla in the room is Spanish and particularly Italian debt, hundreds of billions of which will need to be refinanced in the coming year. There is simply no way that Germany can fund that effort, and any money it throws down the Greek rat hole now is simply damaging its future prospects. The real question is whether Germany will opt in the relatively near future to abandon the Euro and return to the Deutschmark, or whether Germany will join with France, the Netherlands, and other relatively stronger northern economies in a new Eurozone. My guess is the former. Germany was never really happy about having a common currency, and events have proved them right.

Monday, 18 July 2011

08:34 – As expected, the Euro is getting hammered this morning. Yields on Spanish and Italian debt have jumped by about 0.2 percentage points already this morning, with worse to come. The EU authorities made a major blunder with their feel-good “stress test” results. They released the actual data, which means that investors could and did plug in their own assumptions and run them against that data. And the results aren’t pretty.

The two major phony assumptions made for the official bank test results were that no sovereign default would occur and that a 5% core capital requirement was sufficient. In reality, of course, there will be a default. In effect, Greece has defaulted already, with Portugal and Ireland teetering on the edge and Spain and Italy not far behind. Even without a default, using a more realistic 7% capital requirement puts the majority of European banks in bankruptcy and a so-called conservative 10% capital requirement puts all of them in deep, deep trouble. With a default, they’re toast.

Meanwhile, the higher yields on Spanish and Italian debt threaten their immediate solvency. For the Italians, for example, a 1% increase in yield costs them about €8.5 billion per year, so it doesn’t take much to wipe out the effects of the recent Italian so-called austerity measures. The EU authorities continue kicking the can down the road, most recently by delaying the crisis summit from last week until Thursday of this week. I was about to say that they’re running out of time, but the truth is that they’ve already run out of time. This will play out now no matter what they do Thursday.

This is devolving into a fight between the richer northern countries, which perhaps not coincidentally are all secular, and the poorer southern countries, which are all Catholic. I think a breakup of the Eurozone is a foregone conclusion, with the richer, productive northern countries refusing to continue to subsidize the poorer, unproductive southern countries. German citizens were never happy about the Euro to begin with, and there is now strong sentiment for abandoning the Euro and returning to the Deutschmark.

Meanwhile, Greece has begun uttering threats, including floating the idea of withdrawing from the Euro. Some threat. Greece reminds me of that scene in Blazing Saddles, where Bart takes himself hostage and threatens to shoot himself in the head unless everyone backs off. It worked for Bart, but it’s not going to work for Greece.

11:10 – Here’s a fascinating graph from Calamities of Nature of GDP versus belief in evolution that makes very clear just how much an outlier the US is.

13:24 – Geez. Talk about inflation. I was ordering some chemicals from one of my suppliers, but the website was misbehaving, timing out and dumping the contents of my cart. So I emailed the purchase order to them and called to follow up. As usual, we got into a discussion about stuff unrelated to the order.

He verified that everything on my list was in stock and ready to ship, but mentioned that he was having terrible problems restocking some chemicals. One of them is silver nitrate. All of his suppliers have plenty of it, but none are willing to sell any because the price of silver just keeps going up and up. And the potassium iodide situation is nearly as bad. Back when the Japanese reactor problem occurred, you couldn’t get potassium iodide for love or money. Every bit of it was being made into KI tablets. Everyone expected sanity to return once the Japanese scare was over, but it hasn’t. Since that event, the price of potassium iodide has literally quadrupled to quintupled, and there’s no relief in sight.

None of that really surprised me, but some of the chemicals in short supply and/or experiencing major price jumps are so commonplace and cheap that I had trouble believing there is actually a shortage. For example, ammonium acetate. Ammonium acetate? Geez. You make the stuff by neutralizing glacial acetic acid with concentrated ammonia, both of which are cheap and available literally by the tanker load, and evaporate the water. There’s no possible way there should be a shortage of ammonium acetate, and yet there is.

14:15 – Oh, my. Things are suddenly even worse, with evidence that the “contagion” is now extending to France and even Germany. The price of CDSs for both nations jumped today, with France jumping from 114 to 123 basis points, and Germany from 60 to 64.

A CDS (credit default swap) is basically an insurance policy against a debtor defaulting, at which point the debt holder is paid the face value and in return signs over the (bad) debt to the CDS issuer. The premium for a CDS is specified in basis points, or one one-hundredth of 1%. Right now, Greece CDSs are at 2500+ basis points, or more than 25%. In other words, insuring €1 billion of Greek debt involves paying premium of €250 million. Does that mean that Greek debt is currently worth 75% of face value? Not at all. The CDS premium reflects the fact that CDS issuers are still expecting some sort of bailout for Greece. Absent that, the current CDS premium on Greek debt would probably be at 9000+ basis points and possibly 9900+ basis points. Essentially no one outside the EU authorities really expects Greece to survive this mess. They’re treating Greece as though it had already defaulted, and rightly so.

The scary thing right now is that CDS prices on French and German debt are increasing substantially. They’re still relatively small, at only a few percent of CDS premiums on Greek debt, but they’re increasing rapidly in percentage terms, and that indicates that investors are at least somewhat concerned about the likelihood of a French or even German default. As someone commented, if investors start looking with concern at France, it’s game over for the Euro.