Saturday, October 15, 2005

Build it and they will come

I just moved to Miami 6 months ago. I don't know why specifically, other than that I had the opportunity, wanted to be more immersed in Latino culture, and felt like it was God's will. In that short amount of time, I've met at least 5-6 others that have felt drawn here in a similar, "Field of Dreams" type of way, being called out of the cornfield as it were.

They sensed, as I do, that God is doing a new thing here in Miami, even though they can't quite put their finger on it. If I had to guess, I would say that maybe God is awakening people here/drawing others here to help fill a spiritual vacuum with the multi-ethnic youth culture in Miami. I haven't found much here so far in the way of any postmodern or emerging generation churches filling the void in Miami. Not to say I haven't found some healthy churches here; just not ones that seem like they are on the verge of a revolution.

Anyone out there in the blogosphere that's experienced anything in this regard about Miami? Or know of a church that is geared towards youth and postmodern culture? Let me know.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Pop goes the bubble

A couple of years ago, as I was rapidly getting priced out of the Southern California housing market, I was thinking, "How can this go on? I make above-average money, and yet I can't afford your average house." How is it possible for housing to go up 30 percent in one year? Did people start making 30 percent more? Did the area become 30 percent more desireable? Are interest rates 30 percent more affordable? None of the above. Just good old-fashioned bubble-market psychology.

That was before I did any serious reading on the subject. Just a couple of weeks ago, I googled "Housing Bubble" and what came back at me was scary. Very scary. Not to scare you, but the only ones that had anything positive to say about it were, predictably, those whose living depends on real estate.

Without getting into all the technical details, what's basically happening in the most overheated markets (San Diego, SF Bay area, NYC, Miami, et al.) is a big pyramid scam: If you buy low and sell high, the next guy that comes along thinks he can do the same, and so on. Until the market runs into a little thing called REALITY. Reality being that your average person cannot afford houses in these places. Reality being that a lot of people are 1 or 2 missed paychecks away from foreclosure. Reality being that if interest rates go up much more (which they almost certainly will), those cute little negative amortization loans won't look so pretty anymore. When the market stares at reality in the mirror, I predict a meltdown in certain markets.

Why? Because the same basic factors that drove the market up (greed and fear) will drive it down. Here's what I mean: in a booming market, buyers want to get in while they can for fear of being priced out of the market. Hence the people camping outside of a new construction phase, or making blind offers above asking price. On the other hand, sellers have no incentive to sell in a booming market. The longer they wait to sell, the more they make. But what about when the market goes down? Just the opposite happens: when the psychological see-saw is tilted the other way, the sellers want to unload as soon as they can, and the buyers now figure they will wait it out a little longer.

So when all the fundamentals of the market start to dampen sales (as they already appear to be doing in certain areas), watch for a compound effect as the market psychology changes. And then watch for the fallout throughout the economy: a soaring default rate, personal bankruptcies, possible insolvency of certain banks, hedge funds; not to mention what may happen to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The only thing that propped up the U.S. economy after the dot-com bust was housing. God only knows what the economy will look like after the rug is pulled out from under this housing market. I don't think it's going to be very good.

Too many cameras, not enough food

Susan Sarandon Opens Mouth, Entire World Is Saved.

Since all actors are experts in geopolitics, economics, climatology, and other heady stuff, I was naturally all ears when Susan Sarandon had some brilliant comments to make about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

""You had these really dramatic TV pictures and little soundbites of people standing in the rain. What happens when the rain stops and the water goes down?..."

No word yet on how many Katrina victims she and Tim are housing.

No doubt if she didn't bring it to our attention, all those "little soundbites of people" would be totally forgotten about once the media frenzy died down. Yes, all of those average Americans rolling up their sleeves and pitching in to help right now, through their churches and civic organizations, would just forget about the victims of Hurricane Katrina, because the media isn't bringing it to their attention anymore.

And isn't that ironic? She thinks that just as the media has given her the idea that her opinion should matter more than say, mine, she also believes that the victims of Katrina will be forgotten unless the media tells the general public what to do.

Not that I entirely disagree with her. It's that right or wrong, why should I give a rip what she says? I don't want to hear some ignorant tart talk about global warming or Iraq any more than I want to hear hurricane expert Max Mayfield give me his opinion on singing or acting. Now if some actor wants to give me their opinion on something like multiple divorces or drug rehab, I'd say they may have a little more credibility.

At least someone like Bono practices what he preaches. He's parlayed his fame and fortune into actually doing something for people dying of AIDS in Africa. I may not agree with all of his views, but he's putting sincere care and effort into his cause. But hey, it's a lot easier to open your pie-hole while the brown-nosing media hangs on your every word. Or better yet, donate your bra to Ebay, and they'll think you've done humanity some kind of service. The world needs more Bonos and less Britneys.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Are Earthquakes Increasing in Frequency?

After massive earthquakes such as the one in Pakistan yesterday that has killed over 30,000 people so far, people often ask if earthquakes are on the rise. The short answer is no, according to the National Earthquake Information Center, comments from televangelists notwithstanding.

Surprisingly, they (the NEIC, not the televangelists) don't have much in the way of graphs on their site, at least that I could find, so I took the liberty of doing some myself. I'm no seismologist or statistician. But I think these graphs I've created are interesting.

First, I graphed the annual number of earthquakes greater than 7.0 from 1900-2004 (Graph 1, above).

• The frequency of major earthquakes does seem to come in waves, based on my unstatistical analysis (small number of sample years, and not knowing what would constitute a statistically significant wave vs. random groupings.) See 1905-1919, 1934-1951, and 1968-1976.

• However, we have had all less than average years in number of greater than 7.0 earthquakes since 1977, except for 1995 which was 1/2 an earthquake above average.

Then, I graphed the death toll of all earthquakes that killed more than 5,000 people (Graph 2, below). This is harder to draw any conclusions from without being some kind of statistician, because obviously population has grown since 1900, but presumably construction on average is better able to withstand an earthquake better than in previous times (although in a lot of countries that's debatable.)

Several interesting things though:

• To my untrained eye, they do look like they occur in clumps. But this could be totally random.

• There was not one earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people in all of the 1950's.

• In 1976 alone, there were 4 separate earthquakes that killed more than 5,000, including the biggest one of the century that killed 250-650 thousand in China (the other 3 were in New Guinea, Philippines, and Guatemala.) If anyone wanted to draw some ad hoc conclusions about the frequency of earthquakes, I think '76 would've been the year for it.

• Counting the earthquake yesterday, I think 2003, 04, and 05 have been the first years on record for the last 100 years that more than 20,000 have died in massive earthquakes 3 years in a row.

On this chart, I cut off the graph tops at 100,000 (of the 6 quakes that killed more than 100,000) so it's easier to compare the lower numbers. The numbers at the tops of those bars represent the death toll in thousands. A couple of the quakes I averaged between official and higher estimates, but that doesn't really change the overall data too much.

Final conclusions (for me anyways)? Certainly there are "earthquakes in various places", but it seems like they are about the same as always, both in frequency and death tolls. I think the reason it seems like there are more is because of our instant media and 24-hr cable news. So the next time some one tells you earthquakes are on the rise, pull out these handy charts!