Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Washington Post: In the heart of Latin America, large numbers of indigenous people are converting to Orthodox Christianity

When the clergy and seminarians of the St. Andrew’s Seminary in Aguacate, Guatemala, roll into town they have their work cut out for them. 

“On day one, we did the liturgy, 10 baptisms, and seven chrismations,” explained the Fr. Thomas Manuel, an Orthodox Christian priest. “Then the next day, we did another visit, we had nine confessions, the Divine Liturgy, four chrismations, three weddings and a baptism.”

The men’s workload is their own doing. Established only a decade ago in a country traditionally dominantly Roman Catholic, Guatemala’s Orthodox Christian community is so successful that its few clergy are in a constant state of being overwhelmed...

...Estimates of how many converts there are vary widely. Claims that the community numbers more than 100,000 seem exaggerated: The last time the Eastern Orthodox Church saw a mass conversion on such a scale, it was the pagan Slavs of Kievan Rus, a precursor to the Russian Empire in the 9th century. Manuel is far more conservative, putting the total between 10,000 to 15,000 at most.

What’s inarguable is that in the last decade, Orthodox Christian communities have popped up in some 120 villages across northern Guatemala and southern Mexico. The largest is in Aguacate, where the seminary is located, with about 1,000 members. Most churches draw closer to 100.

“It’s still a pretty staggering number of people,” said Manuel, a U.S.-trained missionary who relocated to Guatemala with his family to help build the community into a self-sufficient parish of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Even if you put it at 8,000, or 10,000, you know, that’s still a huge population of people that go from one tradition to another overnight.”

There are only five native priests to serve the community, including their vicar, Fr. Evangelios Pata, but Manuel is hard at work training more. 

Read the rest here.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Insanity on Trial

A documentary on the assassination of James Garfield and subsequent trial of his assassin, Charles Guiteau.

Friday, September 24, 2021

China: All crypto-currency related activities are illegal

China’s central bank renewed its tough talk on bitcoin Friday, calling all digital currency activities illegal and vowing to crack down on the market.

In a Q&A posted to its website, the People’s Bank of China said services offering trading, order matching, token issuance and derivatives for virtual currencies are strictly prohibited. Overseas crypto exchanges providing services in mainland China are also illegal, the PBOC said.

“Overseas virtual currency exchanges that use the internet to offer services to domestic residents is also considered illegal financial activity,” the PBOC said, according to a CNBC translation of the comments. Workers of foreign crypto exchanges will be investigated, it added.

The PBOC said it has also improved its systems to step up monitoring of crypto-related transactions and root out speculative investing.

Read the rest here.

I'm not generally a fan of China these days but to borrow a well worn cliché, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. And they are right about this. On a related note; Bitcoin and the other major cryptos are all getting hammered.   

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The 'Quad' is on the rise in Asia-Pacific: Game theory has a prediction about its future

China remade itself into a giant economy, and more and more it enjoys the giant benefits that go with it: national confidence, diplomatic clout and military power.

Other big powers are paying attention. As China has shown new swagger in its dealings with the world, four big democracies — Australia, India, Japan and the United States — have formed a counterbalance.

The future of that "Quad" has tremendous significance, not just in the Indo-Pacific, but everywhere. Decision-makers, risk managers, investors, CEOs, and regular citizens increasingly are aware of rising stakes in a new, global balance of power.

The leaders of the world's biggest economies want to know what's next for the Quad.
A very complex computer algorithm may have delivered the answer.

Read the rest here. (longish read)

Donald Trump is suing his niece and the NY Times

The former president's niece, Mary Trump, had a ton of Trump's private and confidential financial records including tax returns. She got them during another lawsuit, one she filed against her uncle from whom she is estranged, alleging he defrauded her of rightful inheritance following the death of her father Fred Trump Jr. She later passed much of that to the New York Times which published a damning analysis of Trump's financial dealings and elaborate schemes at tax avoidance, and arguably tax evasion. It is pretty common knowledge that Donald Trump is a one man full employment program for  lawyers. And it is also well known that he uses lawsuits and the threat of suits to browbeat his enemies. His deep pockets means he can often cow critics and those with whom he has had business dealings that went bad by the simple fact that he can throw money away on lawyers and lengthy litigation, even if frivolous or patently designed to intimidate, that his opponents can't. And he has been very successful using these kinds of bare knuckled tactics in the past.

But, according to the below linked legal analysis, Trump may actually have a case against his niece, although it is unlikely the Times is in any legal jeopardy. 


Inflation: Team transitory is getting nervous

All year the Federal Reserve’s message on inflation has been consistent: This year’s surge is transitory, and inflation will soon return close to the central bank’s 2% target.

Yet look more closely, and it is clear officials are turning less sanguine—and that explains growing eagerness to start raising interest rates.

Last September, long before the supply bottlenecks emerged, the median forecast by Fed officials was for core inflation (which excludes food and energy) in 2022 of 1.8%. Every few months since then they have nudged that up, and in the forecasts released Wednesday they see core inflation next year at 2.3%.

While current-year forecasts get pushed around a lot by temporary factors such as a jump in oil prices, the next-year forecast reflects where inflation is expected to settle once temporary factors recede. The message from the Fed’s latest projections is that “transitory” is lasting an awfully long time. Indeed, next year’s projected 2.3% is the highest next-year core inflation forecast since projections were first published in 2007, according to Derek Tang of Monetary Policy Analytics.

This might explain why the Fed is accelerating plans to raise interest rates. The Fed is now buying $120 billion a month in bonds and wants that to fall to zero before it starts to raise rates. On Wednesday, the Fed signaled it would likely start tapering those bond purchases in November, which means the process would be over by mid-2022, clearing the way for a rate increase. Half of Fed officials think rates will start rising by late next year. Just last March, a majority of officials didn’t see that happening until 2024.

What changed? It isn’t because the economic outlook is stronger. In fact, officials now see slower growth and higher unemployment than they did in March. Chairman Jerome Powell explained that some officials simply wanted more confidence the expected recovery would materialize. But inflation risks clearly play a part.

Read the rest here.

Friday, September 17, 2021

France recalls its ambassador as anger with Biden grows

PARIS (AP) — France said late Friday it was immediately recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia after Australia scrapped a big French conventional submarine purchase in favor of nuclear subs built with U.S. technology.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a written statement that the French decision, on request from President Emmanuel Macron, “is justified by the exceptional seriousness of the announcements” made by Australia and the United States.

He said Wednesday’s announcement of Australia’s submarine deal with the U.S. is “unacceptable behavior between allies and partners.”

Earlier Friday, a top French diplomat spoke of a “crisis” in relations with the U.S.

The diplomat, who spoke anonymously in line with customary government practice, said that for Paris “this is a strategic question concerning the very nature of the relationship between Europe and the United States about the Indo-Pacific strategy.”

He would not speculate on the effects the situation would have on France’s relationship with the U.S. “There’s a crisis,” he stressed.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

If Francis can abolish the ancient liturgical rites of the West; why can't (or wouldn't) he do the same to the East?

I am not going to excerpt this piece but rather encourage reading it in its entirety here. The implications of the pope's recent decree that comes dangerously close to the outright suppression of the Latin Church's 1500 year old liturgical patrimony, are breathtaking. Setting aside the obvious lack of prudence in Francis' decree, the suggestion that it is even within the legitimate powers of his office to do such a thing, should bring any talk of restoration of communion with Rome to a screeching halt. 

HT: Blog reader John L. 

P.S. This comment received via email... 

I'm surprised that Geoffrey Hull, the author of "The Banished Heart," hadn't gone full Byzantine - his entire thesis is that Rome had destroyed or mutilated every one of the liturgies of its non-Latin "sui iuris" churches long before Vatican II and the 1970 "reforms".

Monday, September 13, 2021

Noted Apostate John Shelby Spong has Died

Kyrie eleison.

Vigil for the Exaltation of the Precious Cross

The Coronation of Pope John XXIII

Rare film footage from RAI of the coronation of Pope John XXIII, the second to last pope to observe the thousand year old custom. Appx 2 hrs 45 mins with naration in Italian.

Didn't I see this in a movie?

Ten thousand years after woolly mammoths vanished from the face of the Earth, scientists are embarking on an ambitious project to bring the beasts back to the Arctic tundra.

The prospect of recreating mammoths and returning them to the wild has been discussed – seriously at times – for more than a decade, but on Monday researchers announced fresh funding they believe could make their dream a reality.

The boost comes in the form of $15m (£11m) raised by the bioscience and genetics company Colossal, co-founded by Ben Lamm, a tech and software entrepreneur, and George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School who has pioneered new approaches to gene editing.

The scientists have set their initial sights on creating an elephant-mammoth hybrid by making embryos in the laboratory that carry mammoth DNA. The starting point for the project involves taking skin cells from Asian elephants, which are threatened with extinction, and reprogramming them into more versatile stem cells that carry mammoth DNA. The particular genes that are responsible for mammoth hair, insulating fat layers and other cold climate adaptions are identified by comparing mammoth genomes extracted from animals recovered from the permafrost with those from the related Asian elephants.

These embryos would then be carried to term in a surrogate mother or potentially in an artificial womb. If all goes to plan – and the hurdles are far from trivial – the researchers hope to have their first set of calves in six years.

“Our goal is to make a cold-resistant elephant, but it is going to look and behave like a mammoth. Not because we are trying to trick anybody, but because we want something that is functionally equivalent to the mammoth, that will enjoy its time at -40C, and do all the things that elephants and mammoths do, in particular knocking down trees,” Church told the Guardian.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Covid 19 has become a pandemic of the willing

They are the new 99 percenters — the vast majority of Americans who are getting serious cases of COVID-19 or dying are unvaccinated.

While COVID-19 cases continue to spike across the US, the overwhelming majority of deaths and hospitalizations from the virus continue to overwhelmingly be among unvaccinated Americans, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 30, about 99 percent of hospital admissions were among those who hadn’t been fully inoculated, which is defined by the CDC as two weeks after the second dose of a Pfizer or Moderna shot or two weeks after Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose jab.

As of Aug. 30, a little over 1.6 million Americans were hospitalized with COVID-19 — but only about 0.65 percent of them, or 10,471 patients, were fully vaccinated, the CDC data show.

Read the rest here.

Sad news

Via Byzantine Texas word that the parish priest of St. Elizabeth Church, Chesterton IN died very suddenly this last Sunday. In your charity please keep Fr. Anastasy (Stacey) Richter and his family, now in deep mourning, in your prayers. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the family here.

Memory eternal!

Bonds (more)

The GOP is once again threatening the US Government with default on its debt by refusing to authorize the routine increase in the debt limit. (One notes they only seem to rediscover their concerns about spiraling debt when Democrats are in power.)  It should go without saying that if they ever actually follow through with their threats, the consequences could be catastrophic

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Bonds? Just say 'no.'

Record low interest rates on riskier corporate bonds are prompting money managers to look far afield in a bid to boost returns.

Faced with yields once reserved for the safest types of government debt, some managers of speculative-grade bond funds are piling into debt with rock-bottom credit ratings. Others are buying smaller, more obscure securities that carry higher yields because they can be hard to sell.

No strategy is likely to be entirely satisfying because of the recent low-rate environment. The average speculative-grade U.S. corporate bond yield reached as low as 3.53% this summer, more than a percentage point lower than it had reached at any time before the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Bloomberg Barclays data stretching back to 1995. The average extra yield, or spread, that investors demand to hold low-rated bonds instead of ultrasafe Treasurys is near a record low.

Low yields present challenges to all fixed-income investors, including those who buy higher-quality, investment-grade bonds. Low yields cause particular anxiety for high-yield-fund managers, given that buying the wrong bonds can mean dealing with defaults and drawn-out bankruptcies, not just lagging behind benchmark returns.

An informed client is “more tolerant and they understand that this is the kind of market you almost want your manager to underperform,” said David Knutson, head of credit research for the Americas at Schroders, the U.K. asset- management firm.

Still, he said, there are broad pressures on managers to outperform their benchmarks. Accordingly, for much of the year, many have been piling into the lowest-rated speculative-grade bonds—those rated triple-C or lower. This buying spree has driven yields down so far that purchasers have rarely been compensated less for taking risk.

At the start of the year, investors could obtain 2.79 percentage points of additional spread by buying triple-C bonds rather than those rated one tier higher. By July, that was down to 1.51 percentage points—the lowest over the past 20 years other than a brief period in 2007.

Read the rest here.

My response to all of this is "just say no." After years, arguably decades of aggressive government manipulation of interest rates to its own advantage, causing huge distortions in the broader financial markets, we have reached a point where we can make a few observations...
  • The Untied States Government is running levels of debt as a percentage of GDP that have no historical precedent.
  • The government is, and has been for years. forcing down interest rates in the bond market, thereby facilitating the government's unrelenting apatite for debt.
  • The government is printing money like water.
  • The government is spending hundreds of billions of that newly created money to buy its own bonds, at hugely depressed rates.
  • All of the newly created money, in combination with the largest ever peacetime expansion of government spending, is sparking a sharp uptick in inflation, to the point that...
  • Bonds now carry a de facto negative yield, no matter the credit quality or the duration of the bonds in question. This means that if you are buying a ten year US Government bond, currently yielding around 1.3%, with inflation at 5.4% as of July 2021, you are taking a 4% loss in the value of your investment right out the door as a consequence of currency debasement and lost purchasing power. Or, to put it in plain English, you are paying the Federal Government around 4% for the privilege of lending them money. In order to avoid a loss on that bond before it matures in ten years, inflation would have to drop to near zero or actually go negative for a prolonged period of time.
  • The technical term for what we are seeing is financial repression. In this economic environment savers and those investing in fixed income securities are all but guaranteed to lose money when adjusting for inflation. 
Broadly speaking; my view is that bonds have become exactly what they are not supposed to be, i.e. high risk and no return. That's not something I am interested in. 

(In the interest of full disclosure, I have almost no holding in bonds or any other fixed income securities.)

This raises a lot of questions, like where to invest or even just park money that you don't want to lose value? The stock market has been booming, the S&P 500 seems to be setting new records near daily, which makes me nervous. Valuations are also at all time highs as measured by the price to earnings multiple. A lot of this is likely investors looking for something with actual value that won't be crushed by all the money printing. Though some is also undoubtedly a response to the improvements in the economy after last year. But the stock market is fickle and what it gives it can take away with often breathtaking speed and brutality. 

For now I'd look at hard assets in preference to bonds. Real estate/land, commodities, and precious metals. Right now I'd take gold over a 30 year US bond any day of the week and twice on Sunday. 

But, unless you are anticipating a long term deflationary depression, in which case anyone buying bonds right now will look like a financial genius in five years; I don't see a realistic argument for owning securities that start losing value from day one, and likely will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. If/when bond yields are allowed to rise a few percentage points above inflation I may reconsider. But until then buying bonds as an investment or to save money is a bit like buying a car, and hoping you will be able to resell it in ten years for what you paid for it today. 

Of course if inflation gets bad enough, that might be possible, on paper. 

Friday, September 03, 2021

Anglican Bishop Swims the Tiber

A Church of England bishop who opposed women priests has defected to the Roman Catholic church amid speculation it was not “spiritual” or “orthodox” enough for him. 

Bishop Jonathan Goodall, the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, has been a provincial episcopal visitor, known as a “flying bishop”, since 2013, supporting congregations in the Church of England that are unable to accept the ministry of women as priests or bishops.

However, on Friday afternoon he announced that “after a long period of prayer, which has been among the most testing periods of my life”, he was quitting to defect to Catholicism. 

The exact reasons for his departure remain unknown. However, a source close to the Bishop, who has been away on retreat until this week, claimed that he was unhappy with the direction of the Church regarding its spirituality, orthodoxy and allowing of same-sex unions. 

Read the rest here

Idaho's medical system is on the brink of collapse

The state has one of the lowest vaccination rates and hospitals are so overwhelmed that they are preparing to ration care based on the likelihood of survival.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Travelogue: Europe to Dutch Colony in the 1920s

Absolutely stunning film footage shot in the mid to late1920s during a trip by sea from Holland to the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia). Lots of stops along the way. This is part 1 which gets us as far as Singapore. The footage has been stabilized, speed corrected and colorized. 

In 5:4 Ruling The Supreme Court Signals Roe v Wade's End May be Near

It's shortly after midnight on the east coast and the Supreme Court just broke its silence on the Texas abortion law that prohibits almost all abortions after the first six weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions outside of a threat to the mother's life. In a 5/4 decision the court has declined to block enforcement of the new law. Given that the law flatly violates the 1973 decision Roe v Wade, by which the court amended the US Constitution to establish an unrestricted right to abortion during the first two trimesters of pregnancy, it's hard not to see this as a strong signal that there are now five justices ready to reverse, or at least severely narrow Roe.

Deo volente.