Cross-Posted from RBO.
John Batchelor writes on his blog:
No End In Sight
The April unemployment number fresh on Friday morning will reinforce the trend that is accelerating. We are at an all-time-high of continuing claims of unemployment — going back all the recessions to 1971. The new jobless claims continue to spike, now at mid 600k, and show that there is no strength anywhere. All the bank maneuvers, all the sparring in Congress, all the globe-trotting by POTUS and delicate diplomacy at G20, cannot answer the facts. The loss of jobs is what is ripping down the morale of the country and making all the other challenges more grinding — and the smart guys say that we are a long way from where the unemployment number will end.
The Consumer Is Spooked
Last evening I received an email from an online service that sells porcelain dessert plates each year for Christmas season. Each year a different design with a Christmas star somewhere on the top of the illustration. When my daughter was small, I bought one each year for her to have as a collection when she is a grown-up with a home for Christmas. For several years I have forgotten, or was distracted, and I fell behind. From an email, I saw the plates on a severe sale — marked down from $85 and $75 to $39. The whole collection is more than one hundred and twenty years old, and the early plates are several thousand dollars. I checked off three plates and put in the order, with free shipping, for $117. Great deal I told myself.
And then this morning, when I read Calculated Risk, the WSJ headlines on the GM fiasco, and the failure of the G20 to make progress on protectionism, on the American banks, I realized that my return to American consumerism was premature. I wrote the company immediately to cancel the order. The service returned a note an hour later confirming cancellation, with a thanks.
This is why folk are losing their jobs. Because of a spooked, ruminative, even superstitious consumer like me. I am certain they need the business. I am certain that their warehouse is their fortune. I am certain that they reduced those plates to draw me in and do business in a slow season. I responded quickly, demonstrating their correct practice. Yet then — I cancelled my own best idea, my best interest. I rationalized my decision when I saw the headlines on the FASB shenanigans with mark-to-market, as if calling a solid waste site a landfill makes everything safe. (Or as Baseline Scenario argues, “Investors are not idiots.”) My refusal probably means someone’s job, or means hours are reduced for someone. Multiply my anecdote by millions of similar hesitations each hour of the day, and you can see why there is no end in sight.
There Is A New Planet Image
On a day of my gloom and irrational fear — scared of Christmas plates — it lightens my heart when I read of the sudden fresh discovery of the image of a new exoplanet at 130 light-years distance around a young star HR 8799. The grand robot Hubble took the photograph 10 years ago of the star. We knew there were three planets there, because of the star wobble, but we could not see them because of the starlight. Using a new image-filtering technique, a Toronto team has identified the outermost exo — seven times Jupiter’s size. There is the thrilling suggestion that it has water vapor in its atmosphere:
- “The planet seems to be only partially cloud covered and we could be detecting the absorption of water vapor in the atmosphere,” says Travis Barman of Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Ariz. “The infrared light measured from the Hubble data is consistent with a spectrum showing a broad water absorption feature (at 1.4-1.49 microns), but the level of absorption seen is lower than it would be if the photosphere were completely devoid of dust. Dust clouds can smooth out many of the spectral features that would otherwise be there–including water absorption bands,” Barman says. “Measuring the water absorption properties will tell us a great deal about the temperatures and pressures in the atmospheres, in addition to the cloud coverage. If we can accurately measure the water absorption features for the outermost planet around HR 8799, we will learn a great deal about their atmospheric properties. Hubble, situated well above the Earth’s atmosphere, is excellently located for such a study.”
In a time of great doubt here on modest, rocky and wet Earth, it is a gift to have a new friend that may have water vapor in its atmosphere. It isn’t quite a Christmas star on a porcelain plate, but it is a joy. The formula remains, where there is heat and liquid water, there are the fundamentals for life in the universe as we know it. And jobs.