August 2006

It is Thursday, August 31 — the date of the UN deadline for Iran to abandon its nuclear program. It might as well be St. Swithun’s Day for all Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cares.

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) — Facing a U.N. Security Council deadline to stop its uranium enrichment activities, Iran left little doubt it will defy the West and continue its nuclear program.

“They should know that the Iranian nation will not yield to pressure and will not let its rights be trampled on,” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a crowd Thursday in a televised speech in the northwestern Iranian city of Orumiyeh.

In front of his strongest supporters in one of his provincial power bases, the Iranian leader attacked what he called “intimidation” by the United Nations, which he said was led by the United States.

Ahmadinejad criticized a White House rebuff of his offer for a televised debate with President Bush.

“They say they support dialogue and the free flow of information,” he said. “But when debate was proposed, they avoided and opposed it.”

Iran insists enrichment activities are intended for peaceful purposes, but much of the West, including the United States, believes Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

Full article here. Other perspectives from German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (via Spiegel Online); the National Review; New Straits Times; San Diego Union-Tribune (AP); Forbes; Sydney Morning Herald; and Xinhua.


ABC’s Last Days on Earth, which aired last night as a special edition of 20/20, galloped through seven scenarios for the end of the world, aided by Al Gore and a gaggle of prominent scientists (including the ebullient American Museum of Natural History astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson), and punctuated with earnest vox poppery and some rather stilted, angular commentary from Stephen Hawking.

And according to ABC, the nominees for the most likely end-of-world scenario are:

  1. A gamma ray burst or black hole;
  2. Artificial Intelligence on the loose;
  3. A supervolcano;
  4. The Earth getting hit by an asteroid;
  5. Nuclear annihilation;
  6. A natural or bioterrorist pandemic; and
  7. Global warming, also known as that thing Al Gore’s always talking about.

See more hype here.

During interludes in the discussion, average folks talked about what they would do with the rest of their lives if they knew the exact time and date of the end of the world.

Feel free to submit your own ideas in the comment section of this post.

For those of you who have been concerned about Hugo Chavez’s “axis of evil” Love Boat tour this summer (featuring a cameo appearance by none other than Fidel Castro), the closing of CITGO in the U.S., and the ultimate withdrawal of Venezuelan oil from the U.S., it is important to recognize the practical limitations on Chavez’s ability to simply take his crude and go home. From American Public Radio’s Marketplace on Monday:

JEFF TYLER: When deciphering pronouncements by the populist Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, it helps to read between the lines.

TERRANCE MURRAY: “There’s Chavez and his rhetoric. And then there’s the reality of oil markets and oil trading.”

That’s Terrance Murray, who covers Latin America for the oil research firm Energy Intelligence.

Murray says that, despite his politics, Chavez needs America’s dollars and the Chinese won’t be able to replace us any time soon.

MURRAY: “It would take such a long time for China to become a viable alternative that it would probably bankrupt him and leave him out of power.”

That’s because Chavez has staked his career on a series of ambitious and expensive social programs.

To pay for it, oil-industry economist Philip Verleger says Chavez has used money from the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela, or Pdvsa.

As a result, he says, Chavez . . .

PHILIP VERLEGER: “Essentially diverted the cash flow from Pdvsa from searching for increased oil to providing benefits to the Venezuelans. Chavez has switched it. So production is going down. So Chavez needs high prices to keep his programs going.”

The US has been a steady source of cash, and US refineries are built to better handle Venezuela’s heavy crude oil.

Full report, audio and transcript, here. People always seem to forget that it costs money to pull that junk out of the ground.

The clock is ticking on the UN’s August 31 deadline for Iran to suspend its nuclear program, and yet Iran has not changed its course:

VIENNA, Austria — Iran has kept enriching uranium despite the threat of UN sanctions and a looming deadline to freeze such operations, UN and European officials said Wednesday.

The officials said Iran had continued to enrich uranium until at least Tuesday.

Its ongoing enrichment could act as a trigger for action by the UN Security Council, which had set Thursday as the final day for Tehran to freeze such activity.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information was confidential, said Iran had also snubbed overtures from world powers for a new meeting on its nuclear program.

Iranian defiance on enrichment will be detailed in a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency due Thursday. The newest Iranian enrichment of uranium — the latest in a series of such activities in the past few months — was first reported Wednesday by The Washington Post, and diplomats told The Associated Press that it had continued at least into Tuesday.

Immediate sanctions are unlikely, as permanent council members Russia and China are expected to resist U.S.-led efforts for a quick response.

A senior European official said Tehran has not responded to a recent European Union offer, on behalf of the five Security Council members plus Germany, to discuss Tehran’s terms for new nuclear talks. The further sign of Iran’s willingness to confront the international community is likely to fuel Washington’s push for swift economic sanctions, Inspectors for the Vienna-based IAEA remained in Iran Wednesday as they continued gathering information that will go into Thursday’s non-public report. While their most recent findings were not available Wednesday afternoon, a senior UN official said that Iranian centrifuges were enriching small quantities of uranium gas as late as Tuesday.

Full article here.

Meanwhile, speculation continues to grow over whether Kim Jong-Il is ready to unleash a nuclear test, or just another movie project. China has joined the chorus of the concerned, recently demonstrating a lack of patience with its weird little neighbor that has prompted speculation that Kim has secretly gone to visit the Chinese:

International concerns about a possible North Korean nuclear test increased today with reports that Kim Jong-il may have crossed the border into China to explain his military provocations to uneasy allies in Beijing.

According to the South Korean media, satellites have tracked a special North Korean train, the usual form of transport for Mr Kim, entering Chinese territory. If confirmed, it would be his second trip to Beijing in less than a year – an unheard-of flurry of diplomacy for a notoriously travel-shy figurehead.

The reports are impossible to verify, but they come amid growing signs of Chinese anger with Mr Kim over last month’s missile tests, and regional anxiety about his next move. Earlier this month, the South Korean president, Roh Moo-hyun, requested an emergency summit with Beijing’s leaders.

Full article here. Apparently China has expressed its displeasure with Kim by reducing its grain imports to the starving country by more than half this year.

MANILA (Reuters) – Thousands of prisoners have been shaving their heads and chests to donate hair to help mop up the Philippines’ worst oil spill, officials said on Wednesday.

The collection was in response to a nationwide drive by the government to amass tonnes of hair and feathers to absorb more than 200,000 liters of industrial fuel that leaked from a tanker when it sank off the central island of Guimaras on August 11.

A Japanese salvage ship was expected to arrive later on Wednesday to help determine the exact location and condition of the 998-tonne Solar 1 under about 640 meters (2,100 feet) of water, Coast Guard chief Arthur Gosingan said.

The 15,000 inmates at a maximum security prison in southern Manila, including 1,000 on death row, began donating hair on Tuesday as health officials ordered the evacuation of residents of a fishing village on Guimaras due to health risks.

“We’re collecting plenty of hair to send to Guimaras to solve the oil spill problem,” Vergilio Santos, 42, who is serving a murder sentence at New Bilibid Prison, told Reuters television after his head was shaved by a barber.

“This is a contribution even though it’s a small part,” said Nigel Richard Gatward, a 37-year-old British national convicted of drug smuggling.

Alternative headline: “Convicts from the Philippines join Al Gore and Pat Robertson in bid to save the Earth.” Okay, that was a cheap shot.

Full article here.

The-HoffName: David Michael Hasselhoff

Birth: July 17, 1952, Baltimore, Maryland

Claim to Fame: 6′-4″ All-American TV action/soap hero who has made over $100 million as star/producer of the syndicated series Baywatch, after playing second fiddle to a late model sport-coupe on the series Knight Rider

Power Base: Viewers of TV “t&a” on every continent of the world except Antarctica; and, of course, “the Germans love him.”

Google Hits: 60,800 hits for “david hasselhoff antichrist” as of August 29, 2006

Merits: Earlier this month, David Hasselhoff stole a nanosecond’s-worth of celebrity headlines by musing aloud, “Maybe I am the Antichrist. Maybe that’s why all this weird shit that has started happening to me and women yell at me on the street.”

By “all this weird shit,” Hasselhoff is no doubt referring to a summer of crazy Hasselhoffery, including: (1) a comeback stint as a judge on the NBC hit show, America’s Got Talent; (2) a new European single, “Jump in My Car,” accompanied by a campy video, ; (3) a notorious episode of public tears, when Taylor Hicks won American Idol (“I find it incredulous in this country that if a heterosexual man cries, it’s like ‘Film at 11′”); (4) the spectacle of his nasty public divorce from Pamela Bach, who claims that Hasselhoff is a drunk who broke her nose in an episode of domestic violence (he claims the only person who has broken his estranged wife’s nose was her plastic surgeon — ouch!); (5) that shaving or tooth-brushing accident that resulted in four sliced tendons and one sliced artery in his right arm; (6) that time in July when he was banned from a British Airways flight leaving Heathrow for the States for appearing too intoxicated (he says it was bizarre pain-killing meds for his arm thing) …

Am I leaving anything out? Weird shit, indeed — but not half as weird as the strange coincidences found by Warren S. Apel, the investigative brains behind the now classic web exposé, David Hasselhoff is the AntiChrist. Among Apel’s finds, after reviewing the evidence:

  • “David Hasselhoff” is an anagram of the phrase “Fad of Devil’s Hash.” Explains Apel: “Baywatch is David’s fad. David is the devil. The Hash is what makes Knight Rider popular in Amsterdam. I was actually hoping to make the letters in his name spell out ‘he is of the devil,’ which would be possible if his middle name was ‘Ethesis,’ which it might be. I’m sure his publicist would hide such a middle name if it were true”;
  • Hasselhoff and his crew are mentioned throughout the book of Revelations, from 13:1 (“And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea”) to 20:11 (“And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away” — to which Apel asks “Doesn’t this sound like an exact description of what the lifeguards on Baywatch do? They sit on their big white wooden throne, and watch out over the sea — waiting for a dying person to get cast up”) to 13:15 (“And in those days men shall seek to find death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them” — to which Apel observes, “One word: CPR”) to the references in 17:3-5 to the whore of babylon, identified by Apel as Pamela Anderson; and
  • Several expert numerological analyses of Hasselhoff’s name, all leading to the inevitable ‘666’ — including one march of logic and calculation through a childhood production of Rumplestiltskin in which Hasselhoff participated at age 7.

Not to mention that “Hasselhoff” apparently means something like “horny” in German (although, as the nouveau-80s Dutch band named for Hasselhoff has so eloquently put it, it “doesn’t mean shit in Dutch – or any other language for that matter.”).

Add to all that the circumstances of the falling of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, and suddenly we start to build a real case for Hasselhoff as the Antichrist. In 1989, Hasselhoff released an English-language cover of a 1970s German pop hit, “Auf Der Strasse Nach Suden,” renaming it “Looking for Freedom” — and almost as if by some nefarious miracle, it raced up the pop charts while revolt was in the air throughout Communist Europe. According to the BBC:

By the time Berliners started hacking away at the concrete wall that had divided their city for a generation, the torch-bearing anthem had been number one for several weeks in West Germany.

With its lament, “I’ve been lookin’ for freedom; I’ve been lookin’ so long; I’ve been lookin’ for freedom; still the search goes on,” the song embodied the frustrations of Germany’s years of division. The album of the same name topped the charts for three months and, that December, Hasselhoff was invited to headline a New Year’s Eve concert in the recently reunited city. The gig was apparently rubber-stamped by the then German chancellor, Helmut Kohl.

The singer himself has powerful memories of the performance. “It was the first time Germany had been unified, and close to a million East and West German fans stood together in the freezing cold at midnight watching me perform. I was overcome with emotion,” he recalls.

Hasselhoff, who by now was appearing in Baywatch, scooped a clutch of top German music awards and went on to become one of the country’s biggest selling artists of the 90s.

His popularity even prompted a headline in one German newspaper, “Hasselhoff: not since the Beatles”.

Looking back on the episode prompted Hasselhoff to question, last year, why there were no pictures of him in the Berlin Museum at Checkpoint Charlie, commemorating his role in helping to end the Cold War.

Quay Fortuna’s Analysis: Try as we might to dismiss the Hasselhoff theory as just another tin horn on the “so-and-so is the Antichrist” bandwagon (i.e. “Paris Hilton is the Antichrist,” “Britney Spears is the Antichrist,” “Wilford Brimley is the Antichrist”), that stuff about the Berlin Wall stops us in our tracks. It is the sheer improbability of the helmet-headed actor’s role in the fall of Communism that catches us off-guard — making us think it’s all nothing but a fluke, a trick of chronology and media hype. This, of course, is exactly what the Antichrist would have us think, while he quietly goes about consolidating his power over us.

Much of the answer here probably lies in a further analysis of another question that has been making its rounds through forums and the blogosphere of late: Does the Antichrist know he’s the Antichrist? It is a question that we must reserve for answering at another time — in fact, I’m planning to hold a symposium on this topic in Atlantic City in December — but I will say that if, in fact, it is a theological prerequisite that the Antichrist acts upon his own volition and is not simply some kind of Manchurian Candidate Satanic automaton, then it is possible (despite Hasselhoff’s own musings) that David Hasselhoff can be eliminated from consideration. It is rare, even in show business, to find someone whose apparent lack of self-knowledge is so … well, monolithic is really the only word I can come up with.

At any rate, even if we believe that the Antichrist doesn’t have to be quite so self-conscious about his role on Earth, then in Hasselhoff’s case I think we have a way to head ’em off at the pass. Keep him on those pain-killing meds until the Great Tribulation passes, and we should all be relatively safe.

Economists tend to focus on at least “somewhat likely” hypotheticals before unleashing their powers of prognostication, which makes this gem a bit chilling:

Crude oil prices would need to jump by more than a third to tip the U.S. into recession, according to a survey by a National Association for Business Economics.

An increase in crude oil prices to $100 per barrel would sink growth in the world’s largest economy, according to the median estimate of 195 members surveyed from Aug. 1 to Aug. 15. While less dependent today, it would take at least 10 years to find alternative sources of energy to insulate the economy from crude oil at that price.

‘‘Members believe that oil prices above $100 per barrel would probably cause a recession, but we don’t believe they will go that high,’’ Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh and president of the group, said in a statement. ‘‘They see little prospect of significant substitution of other technologies for oil in the next decade.’’

Full article here.

Meanwhile, oil prices have been upgrading and downgrading and upgrading — like Ernesto, from a hurricane to a tropical storm and back again — as analysts measure the potential impact of the hurricane season in the Gulf.  Short-to-medium term traders would do well to remember that oil is an international commodity, whereas natural gas is less so.  In London, prices are rising, but largely due to jitters over Iran:

LONDON — Oil prices rebounded Tuesday as the market shifted its attention to Iran and other supply issues on signs that tropical storm Ernesto would avoid Gulf of Mexico oil facilities.

Light sweet crude for October delivery increased 15 cents to $70.46 a barrel in European morning electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

October Brent crude at London’s ICE Futures exchange gained 19 cents to US$71.01 a barrel.

The crude price fell as low as $70.15 a barrel on Monday before settling at $70.61, a drop of $1.90, on signs that Ernesto would likely bypass the eastern and central Gulf of Mexico, where most U.S. offshore oil and natural-gas facilities are located.

With that threat largely gone, traders turned their attention to Iran’s stand-off with the West over its nuclear program.

Full article here.

Ernesto and windbags of his ilk heading for the Gulf of Mexico likely should have a strong and more lasting impact on natural gas prices, given their local nature, but oil will do its dance largely to the tune of international political and economic maneuvers.

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