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Interview of me at Existable.com

Interview of me at The Setup

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American History 101 2.0  A Fake But Accurate Account

Chartology Made Stupid  Connecting the Dots

Dangerous Hot Air  The Truth About Inconvenient Global Warming

The Day the Universe Stopped Standing Still  How it All Began for People Who Don't Take Reality Seriously

The Disunited States of America  A Preview of Coming Attractions?

Don’t Look Down  Everthing You Never Wanted to Know About Air Travel

E-Z P-Z House Selling  Redirect, Repackage, Relabel

Government Machinery at Work  How the Wheels of the Bureaucracy Grind

Happy New Year  2007 in Review

How ESP Works  Mind Reading Diagramed and Explained

Lights, Camera, Reaction!  The Periodic Table of Hollywood Plot Elements

Mysteries of UFOs Revealed  They’re Here, They Are, They Are, They Are

Money Blather  Your Guide to Economic Jargon, Lingo, and Gobbledegook

Not-so-Special Winter Olympics  Olympic Events You’ll Never See

Quick and Easy Housekeeping  Or Sisyphus Unbound and Unkempt

A Short Long Good-bye  It's the End of the Year as We Know It

Space Warps and Wefts  What Fabric Is The Fabric of Space Made Of?

Star Dreck  Musings of a Semi Hemi Demi Trekker

Those Darn Cats  Our Deal With the Devils

Unnatural Empty Junkfood Words  Half-Baked Buzz Phrases and Overcooked Terms

Uranimals  Beastly Beasts

Welcome to the Burbs  Whatever it Is

Win Any Argument  Using Paralogic and Surreason

Winless Wear  2008 Detroit Lions Merchandise

Reader's Digest

The B-B-Q Pyramid  For the Cooking Unimpaired

Mythic Snowmen  And More Snowmen

Quick and Easy Meals  For the Cooking Impaired

Venn Again, Again  More of the Same, But Different

Venn Again, Maybe Not  Another Last Laugh


Crash Course  Cartoon Motorcycle Accidents Versus Cartoonist Motorcycle Accidents

Suck School of Comic Art  How to Draw Funny

Suck School of Comic Art - Graduate Course  How to Draw Funnier

Bernoulli, Coanda & Lift  What Is What and What Is and Isn’t Doing What

Better Than Sliced Bread  Uncelebrated Inventions Great and Small

Billiards Bits for Beginners  The Shape of Cheating the Pocket With Throw

Changes that Changed Everything  The 10 Greatest Inventions of All Time?

Folk Etymology  From the Greek Meaning “Fake it”

Flying Made Simple  Understanding How Planes Can Fly Without all the Messy Details

How Planes Can Fly  The Correct Explanation of Lift For Non-Engineers

Moving Goalposts  “We Keep Raising the Bar and It’s Still Too High”

My First Car  How I Almost Ran Myself Over With a Jerry-rigged Jalopy

Optical Illusions You Often Run Into  Don’t Worry, They Don’t Hurt

Paradox or Not?  Fashionable Fitness Foods and Futility

“Pass the Honey, Sugar”  The Processed Food Processed Food Haters Love

A Powerplant in Your Garage?  Dense Plasma Focus Fusion

Science Legends
Things People Know to Be True That Aren’t

There’s More Than One Way to Skin a Cat  Three Card Monte Math Which May Surprise You

Unsurprising Yet remarkable  One Step at a Time to One Step Beyond

The Wheels That Don’t Turn  Why You Can't Turn a Bike by Leaning

Works for Me  Prosperity Is As Energy Does

Find the Secret Message  A different Kind of Word Search

Hollywhat?  A Movie Trivia Quiz of the Funny, the Obscure, and the Strange

Internetelepathy  I Will Read Your Mind

99 & 44/100 % Pure Amusement  A Pop Quiz About Percentages and Probabilities

Superest Super Bowl League  What Is the Best Pre-Merger League at Winning the Big Game?

Terra Incognita  A Trick Tricky Geography Quiz

Unanimated Gif Monte  A Little Optical Illusion Fun

What Was That Nym Again?  Some Fun With Words

Webio-Bot Video Games

Webio-Bot Illusion  A Little Fun With Optical Illusions

Webio-Bot Invaders  Save the Planet

Webio-Bot Rerun  Getting Into the Net With the Web-a-Tron 9000

Webio-Bot Rescue  Save the Bot

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Getting Into the Net With the Web-a-Tron 9000

A Little Fun With Optical Illusions

Forget Whales, Save the Bot

A Neo-Retro Video Game

Using Paralogic and Surreason


How the Wheels of the Bureaucracy Grind

I Will Read Your Mind

A Re-updated Search Game

Updated Yet Again. Keeps Getting Better and Better

They're Back, and Fully Animated


Why You Can't Turn a Bike by Leaning


Hover cursor over column to scroll with mouse wheel. Click on column to scroll with page up/down function.

tron lights black

The Web-a-Tron 9000 returns, just like we said it would. Webio-Bot's trials and tribulations with technology have all come back. Only rejiggered into a single adventure. Yeah, a bot that can't work a machine. Go figure.

Here's how you get there: Go to the Web-a-Tron picture, the mouse becomes a bot. Move the bot to press one of the buttons. When its hand turns white, click. See, you're now part of the story. Woo-hoo!


Two minutes of animated fun with optical illusions just a click away. That's the top link below, if you haven't figured it out. As before, there's three other optical illusion bits in case too much is not enough.

Webio-Bot Illusion

Optical Illusions You Often Run Into

Unanimated Gif Monte

Accidoptal Illusion


Using Paralogic and Surreason

Perhaps you've scrupulously tried to avoid logical falla­cies when debating some topic or other. Forget that. Such retrograde pre-post-modern thinking no longer applies. Our neo-modern age has progressed beyond hard logic and cold reason to paralogic and surreason. Here are the Rules of Logic, Reason and Debate for the 21st Century. Learn them, know them, use them. You have nothing to lose but your chains of logic.

Four Simple Methods

Self-evident Self-evidence: Any statement containing "obvi­ously," "no doubt," "it goes without saying," or "everyone knows" is accepted as proven. Nothing more need be said nor evidence produced. No doubt it goes without saying everyone knows this is obviously true.

Circulating Circularity: You can back up your own argument with your own argument by repeating it. The more you repeat it the more true it is. Again, the more you repeat it the more true it is. And remember, the more you repeat it the more true it is.

Sonic Persuasion: The louder the argument, the stronger the argument. In writing, all caps, underlining, bolding, italics, and exclamation marks add weight of truth to any statement. This is ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY TRUE!!!!

Frickin Fact: Along the lines of sonic persuasion, you can strengthen your argument simply by adding the word "frickin" (or equivalent). People may question what you say is true, but there can be no doubt when it's frickin true.

The word "frickin" (or equivalent) is truly magical. It's a helper word that makes any statement more powerful and any joke more funny. In fact, a statement that's not funny at all will be hilarious to some people just by inserting "frickin" (or equivalent) in it. How, why? Nobody frickin knows.

With these four simple methods you can prove just about anything. Combining them is a quadruple threat that can't be beat. Just repeat an assertion loudly and often until it goes without saying it's frickin true and you're home free. Disprov­ing your opponent is equally easy with the tactics explained below.


Four Easy Tactics

Nymtimidation: Call your opponent stupid. This is almost idiot-proof because how do they prove they're not? – Recite the times tables? Name the state capitals? Produce a Mensa membership card? If they respond to the accusation they'll look, well, stupid. If they don't respond they'll look guilty. You win either way. Anyway, they disagree and you're obviously right, therefore, ergo, ipso facto, QED, they must be stupid.

Alternatively you can call them heartless, evil, phony, whatever. Question their motives, what's in their hearts and minds and impossible to disprove. Are you beginning to get the idea? Call them anything you like. Once a label sticks the opposition is rendered impotent.

Insanitizing: Use the following simple phrase to reply to anything your opponent says, "Are you insane?" In a flash everything your opponent says is dismissed as the ravings of a lunatic and not worth listening to.

You can also use mad, nuts, crazy, delusional, or 'out of your mind' in the phrase. These aren't as strong as insane, so punch it up with 'stark-raving' or 'frickin' and it will do the trick.

Boo!-lean Logic: This is pretty much insanitizing plus. Crazy is bad, but crazy scared is worse. Simply attach the suffix "-ophobe" to the general topic under discussion, call your opponent that and, viola! – they have no counter-argument, they have paranoia.

Full Stop Logic: You can successfully prevent any possible rebuttal of any point you make by simply adding the word "period" after your remark. A period closes the sentence and the topic because period means the end and there can't be anything after the end, the end is the end. Case closed. Period.

Using these four tactics you can defeat any assertion or proposal your opponent makes no matter how well argued or thought out on their part. After all, why listen to a stupid, evil X-ophobe? Are you frickin insane? They're wrong. Period.


Advanced Terms

Seductive Logic: If the parts of the premise are true, the conclusion is proven. A direct causal link need only be implied. Since the premises are true, then by implication any implied causal link must be true, too. Anyway, being implied the causal link is unstated and so your opponent can't disprove something that isn't there, can they?

Unductive Logic: If the evidence doesn't agree with the conclusion, the evidence is wrong and must be adjusted to fit the conclusion or ignored. Unductive logic is particularly useful as it makes disproving any assertion on your part impossible. Contrary evidence is simply wrong and those using it are liars or insane imbeciles. Or there's been a cover-up, which is impossible to disprove since all contrary evidence is part of the cover-up.

Nonductive Logic: If all else fails, call it a paradox. Nonductive logic is your all-purpose escape clause. A paradox means you're still right, you just haven't figured out why. At least not yet. That's the key – you'll know in the future. That's what computer models are for. Let's see your opponent disprove proof from the future. They can't! Ha-ha, you win again.


The Ultimate Tool

Power Proof: While all the above methods and tactics are highly effective, there is one sure-fire, guaranteed way to never lose a debate. Which is to never have a debate. This merely requires the power to silence the opposition. If you control the government, suppress opposing views. If you control the money, only fund your own views. If you control the media, don't allow opposing views to be heard.

If people have a choice between A and A they're going to choose A every time. If folks don't know there is an option B or C or whatever, well, how can you lose? It's easy as A-B-C, only without B and C.

You might think these simple rules are a little too simple, too simplistic, too simple-minded even. But they work. Despite what Lincoln said about how you can't fool all the people all the time, you only need to fool most of people most of the time. Besides, everyone knows your opponents are frickin, insane, MORONS, MORONS, MORONS!!!!   Period.

Read the officially approved abridged version of How to Win Any Argument here


Adds Up to a Spiral


Infrequently Answered Question #84: How do you make a spiral?

A: A spiral is made employing a Fibonacci sequence, named after Medieval Italian mathematician, Leonardo Pisano Bigollo. Well, actually named after his AKA, Leonardo Fibonacci. Though why a mathematician would have an alias I can't imagine. Anyway, the Fibonacci sequence describes a series of numbers where each following number is the sum of the previous two: 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 2+3=5, 3+5=8, 5+8=13, etc. When plotted, a logarithmic spiral is generated.

Maybe you've seen that diagram before, also called the Golden Mean. Why it's so golden and what it means escapes me. Still, a lot of folks wax poetic about it. Search "Fabinacci sequence" for yourself and see. It leads into the whole fractal business. Some folks will tell you the entire universe is fractal, as if Mother Nature had one really great idea and just kept repeating it to make everything.


But I seem to have gone off topic, making a spiral. You could use the Fibonacci sequence, but it's a real pain. Besides, if you look at your typical depiction (top) it doesn't produce a smooth spiral. For that the arc radius needs to gradually increase at every point. So rather than a series of squares with quarter circles, you need a series of rectangles with parabolas. This is even more of a pain, but it does produce a smoother spiral.


To make a spiral without using any math at all you can use a pencil, a nail and some string. Attach the nail and pencil at opposite ends of the string. Wind the string around the nail. Drive the nail into your surface to make a fixed center point. Then start drawing with a circular motion, as the string unwinds you get a spiral. Though not a Fibonacci spiral, but one with equal spacing the distance of the circumference of the nail.

Unfortunately you also get a nail hole in your drawing surface. You could use a dowel rod glued to your surface instead, or something like that. That can still be a problem. It certainly won't help if you want to make a spiral on your computer. I simply use the spiral making tool in Adobe Illustrator. Easy-peasy.

Filed under Infrequently Answered Questions 1/26/15

Robin Hood, Eat Your Heart Out

archer1 archer1 archer1

Readers might remember a video of the fastest archer in the west linked to a while back. Lars Andersen, is back with a new, even more amazing video.

Lars Andersen: a new level of archery

Spoiler Alert: I recommend seeing the video before reading my takeaway on it.

Imagine a typical scene near the end of a Holly­wood swashbuckler where the hero has run out of arrows and the evil villan has him dead to rights, ready to deliver the coup de gras. With a sneer the black hat unleashes an arrow at our seemingly helpless hero… quick as a flash our hero catches the arrow in mid-air and shoots it back skewering the villan through his black heart. The smug look on the villan's face turns to shock as he keels over dead to the wild cheers of theater-goers.

Seems farfetched? Did you watch the video? Lars Andersen does that and more.

Filed under Odds & Ends 11/30/14

Accidoptal Illusion Two


Here's an unplanned optical illusion I stumbled upon while creating the art for the opening mesmerizer bit. If you stare at the center of the spiral it appears to grow. Yet it never gets any bigger. Ooh, spooky.


If you stare at it for ten seconds and then look at a white part of the screen, you see a fuzzy version of the spiral in pink and purple. The two other colors I used in the opening mesmerizer bit. Totally unplanned. Spookier?

Filed under Odds & Ends 1/22/15



Yessiree-bob, another entry where I don't have to do any actual work. An illustration sample from Reason magazine's Brickbats, April 2011.

"Maryland State Highway Administration road crews were supposed to put salt brine on the Capital Beltway to reduce icing. Instead, they accidentally sprayed magnesium chloride on the road. The magnesium chloride froze, leading to 11 accidents."

Since they did the research and writing, here's a bit of back­scratching: Reason Online

Filed 1/20/15

Drek Take Two


Infrequently Answered Question #83: Which is better, "Star Trek" or "Star Wars"?

A: The original "Star Trek" is the best. But only because the future was Mod. The Art Deco future of "Metropolis" was pretty good, too. But that's not what you asked about. What's rather goofy about "Star Wars" are the space dogfights. Or really, the way all the spacecraft fly in space.

George Lucas admits his space dogfights were patterned after aerial combat scenes from WWI movies. And so his star-fighters fly like a biplane, nose first. A plane needs to be oriented to generate lift, not so a ship in space. For instance, in orbit the space shuttle was oriented however was needed for any particular task. Only when it entered the atmosphere did it need to fly nose forward.

This means the easiest way to get the enemy off your tail in a dogfight… turn around. A star-fighter could translate around 180 degrees while maintaining its course, face the attacker and blast away. Still, why does it seem these craft only have forward firing weapons? Huh? Didn't anyone tell them about turrets?

Next we come to a scene fraught with danger, entering the dreaded debris field where the odds of getting through alive are a thousand to one. Maybe there are such dangerous debris fields, but not that anyone has ever found. We know very well about the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. But here's the thing, the bits of debris are hundreds and thousands of miles apart.

Proximity in space is not like on Earth. Distances are vast, a thousand miles away is close in space. Anyway, it's more like the odds are a thousand to one you'd ever get hit by debris than the other way around. And if you had a weapon turret you could simply vaporize any space rock that came close. You know, within 100 miles or so.

Not that "Star Trek" wasn't packed with goofiness. For my take on that see Star Drek, Trivial Musings of a Semi Hemi Demi Trekker.

Filed under Infrequently Answered Questions 1/15/15

Diabolical Crosswords


Arthur Wayne created the very first crossword puzzle which appeared in the New York World on December 21, 1913. Early puzzle answers were one word, multi-word answers are more recent. Themed puzzles began around the early 1940s. Though you might say the first puzzle had a theme, the word 'FUN'.

See the very first crossword puzzle here

These days crosswords are full of wordplay and cryptic clues which can be confusing, misleading, or downright diabolical. Still, sometimes it's simple clues that really throw you for a loop. Especially since they seem harmless when you run across them. Take a simple one-word clue like 'bean'. What is it? A legume? Your head? Getting hit in the head with a legume? Out of context there's no telling.

Then you have heteronyms, two words with the same spelling but different meanings and pronun­ciations. For instance, if the clue is 'bass', does that mean a fish or a deep voice? Is contract something you sign, how you get a disease, or to shrink? There's plenty more. How many? More heteronyms than you ever thought of.

Experienced puzzle solvers like their puzzles to be a challenge. There's no satisfaction in solving a simple puzzle. So the clues and answers get more diabolical all the time. In Spanish the Devil is el Diablo, from Latin diabolicus. And so diabolical means appropriate to the devil, fiendishly cruel, very wicked. In a word, devilish. Not being a crossword puzzle maker but an illustrator, I put my wordplay in the pictures. Nobody calls that pictureplay as far as I know.

Actually, I did create one puzzle many years ago which broke a lot of rules. But then, it was a gag puzzle. I've recreated it below.

Crossword For Illiterates

An Xtra special, Xciting, Xtraordinary puzzle designed to leave you in Xtasy


Mouseover for answers

1. John Doe's band
2. Mexican beer
4. Moonshine
6. Marks the spot
7. Times
8. Thirty to Caesar
10. __L, very Big
11. The other brand

1. Wins at tic-tac-toe
2. Four kisses
3. Unknown factor
5. Malcolm
6. Hard porn
9. Ray type
10. Mystery Madame

Filed under Odds & Ends 1/13/15

Everybody Doesn’t Know


"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing."

There's nothing wrong with knowledge, it's the little part that causes trouble. Charles Darwin put it this way, "Ignorance more frequently begets confi­dence than does knowledge." You may suspect there is a kernel of truth in the old saw about a little knowledge. Suspect no more, researchers David Dunning and Justin Kruger won a Nobel Prize for proving it's true.

They call it the Dunning-Kruger Effect, a cognitive bias where unskilled people mistakenly rate their ability unrealistically high. Basically because they don't know enough to recognize their mistakes. Ironically, gaining competence actually weakens confidence as people start realizing how much more they don't know. Here's my version of Dunning and Kruger's graph with added notations:


Having conquered one old adage, perhaps misters Dunning and Kruger are now tackling some other old chestnut. Maybe, "Time is money." This may have them stymied. Physicists don't agree on the definition of time, to some time isn't even real. Then again, economists all concur on just about nothing.

Filed under Quotes & Sayings 1/11/15

Trivia In Black and White


When we think of the iconic soccer ball, we think of white hexagon and black pentagon panels. A ball as if designed by Buckminster Fuller whose geodesic domes used the same pattern. We might be tempted to call this soccer ball a buckyball (buckminsterfullerene), but that's actually something else.

Soccer balls weren't always made this way. For a hundred years or so the balls were made of 18 strips of leather in a pattern like a volleyball. This revolutionary and now famous black and white ball was invented by Adidas for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. This iconic ball had a name, the Telstar.

For readers too young to remember the 1960s, Telstar was the first telecommunications satellite. If you know what it looked like you would easily see why the ball was named after it. By the time Mexico hosted the World Cup again in 1986, the Telstar was out of official use. The ball in that tournament was called the Azteca.

It's claimed the Telstar design helped players follow the flight and spin of the ball easier. Whether that's true or just marketing by Adidas I'm not so sure. At any rate, the ball was a smashing success. Even though it was used only for a couple decades it's still what we think of when we think of a soccer ball. Sports websites use it as an icon to mean soccer. You can't get more iconic than that.

Queen Victoria is well known for wearing mourning black from the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, until her own death years later. Less well known is on the much happier event of her marriage she began the tradition of brides wearing white.

Before then brides wore wedding gowns of no color in particular. Most folks, who couldn't afford to buy a dress just to be married in, likely wore their Sunday best, whatever the color. The rich and famous often set the fashion and no-one was more rich and famous than Queen Victoria in her day. The fashion of brides in white took hold, spread, and hasn't receded yet.

Filed under Fun Facts & Trivia 1/5/15

We Were Number One


It's college football Bowl season once again. Time for tailgating, beer drinking, singing fight songs, painting your face in school colors and all the rest of the crazy things football fans do. Fan is short for fanatic, after all. Also time to argue about the bowl system. Happens every year. While many grouse about how flawed the BCS system is, it used to be worse. There was no game, national champions were determined by polls, by the opinions of coaches and sports writers. No biases there, eh?

Still, people like having a champion, and the brag­ging rights that go with it whether they were on the team or even attended the school or not. Now we come to the trivia part of it all, which school has won the most college football national championships? Of course, the answer may vary according to which past poll you consult. So it might depend on your personal bias of who's bias you prefer.

While the NCAA didn't officially designate national champions before the BCS, they allow schools to claim national titles based on the polls. Sort-of semi-official national titles. These go all the way back to 1869. The answer to who has the most recognized claims to the national title may surprise you. Though maybe not since you know it goes back to just after the Civil War when the Ivy League reigned supreme.

Top Eight Schools With National Titles
Princeton - 28
Yale - 27
Notre Dame - 21
Alabama - 17
Southern California - 17
Oklahoma - 16
Michigan - 15
Ohio State - 14

Needless to say, Princeton is unlikely to add to their total anytime soon. Still, it may be a while before any­one beats their record.

Filed under The Casual Sportsman 12/31/14

Not Done Redone


In what is becoming something of a tradition, I present a year-end list of silly predictions of things that will not happen or post-dictions of things that did not happen. Review my previous pre-post-dictions for 2014, 2013, and 2012. And now, without further ado…

Top Ten+1 Things That Didn't Happen in 2014

  1. Recovery reaches escape velocity and escapes the economy altogether
  2. All executive directives declared constitutional by executive order
  3. Rosetta space probe discovers no water on dirty snowball comet proving theory of undetectable dark snow
  4. Cost-cutting NYT replaces team of fact-checkers with rubber stamp
  5. Harvard professor finds evidence proving evidence proves nothing
  6. World Cup fever gripping Brazil cured by team of Germans
  7. Nobel-winning economists admit bafflement that deficit keeps growing despite increased government spending
  8. Last Baby Boomer goes kicking and screaming into their 60s, generation renamed Crybaby Boomers
  9. Congress stands up to Wall Street, Bankers take their seats
  10. Sesame Street sues letter S for monopolizing both plural and possessive nouns
  11. City of San Francisco leveled because steep hills made it handicap inaccessible

Okay, maybe number six sort-of happened. I simply couldn't resist the joke.

Filed under Top Tens & Other Lists 12/26/14

Putting the X in Xmas


Looks like my neck of the woods is not going to have white Christmas, but a clear christmas. Or whatever you'd call it. The weatherman is calling for rain, not snow. Though I don't think I'll be supplanting a festive snowman with a rainman. White or not in your area, here's hoping it's a merry Xmas. Which leads us to… why X in Xmas? Where'd that come from?

Abbreviations used as Christian symbols go way back. The New Testament was written in Greek, the first two letters of Christ in Greek are chi and rho. These form the chi-rho monogram on the snowman's umbrella in the opening illustration above. The Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine, used it on his banner.

Remove the rho and you have a chi, a simple X. Still, when and exactly how X for Christ came about is not known. By the fifteenth century Xmas for Christmas was widely used. Back in the day, X in place of Christ also gave you Xian for Christian and Xianity for Christianity. These uses are no longer widespread, meaning not at all.

While nobody has every wished anyone a merry Fishmas, you might wonder about the origin of the fish as a symbol of Christ. One theory is it comes from the phrase "Jesus Christ Son of God Savior." The initial letters of the phrase spell the Greek word for fish, ichthus. Jcsgs doesn't spell ichthus, but with the Greek alphabet it does. Whether this is the true origin, nobody really knows.

Filed under Fun Facts & Trivia 12/24/14

Was Our Sluggish Economy Born Sixty Years Ago?


Does this sound like anyone you know? They leave home in their early twenties, get a job and start spending. And borrowing: car loan, mortgage, credit cards. Though they may have started borrowing for a student loan before they ever got a job. They grow older, earn more and get a bigger mortgage on a better home, buy a better car or two on credit, take on more credit card debt. Hey, they have kids to support.

Their late forties roll around, their kids are grown and gone and they start thinking about the future. They're not getting any younger, you know. They begin paying down their debts, saving for retirement and downsizing their home and lifestyle generally. In retirement they liquidate property and draw down retirement accounts. When they die accumulated property is passed on or sold off.

It should sound pretty much like everyone you know because that's what people do. With or without having children, people accumulate property and debt when they're young, taper off at about age forty-seven, then liquidate and deleverage into their golden years. It's called the spending wave. Though we all do it, folks don't much think about what it could mean to the economy. Let's think about it.

The Theory of Demographic Boom and Bust

In our system most money is created by lending and borrowing, creating credit. Increasing the money supply, credit, more than things to buy is inflationary. Decreasing the credit supply, money, more than things to buy is deflationary. Basically, young people on the increasing debt part of the spending wave are infla­tionary, and old folks on other side of the wave are deflationary.

This is where demographics come into play. If you have roughly equal numbers of old and young people, it's a wash. On the other hand, what happens when you have an out-sized generation on the early part of the spending wave? You get an inflationary boom. Then again, what happens when you have an out-sized generation on the downside of the spending wave? You get a deflationary bust.

At this point, the Baby Boom generation should come to mind. The Boomers were full in the rising part of the wave from about 1980 to 2000. The demographic inflationary impact was multiplied through the economy as businesses borrowed to increase production to fill growing consumption. Result: two decades of inflation and boom.

The Boomers fully transitioned into the falling part of the wave about 2005. The demographic deflationary impact of the spending wave was multiplied through the economy as business borrowing decreased as they now have over-capacity there being fewer people in their peak spending years. Result: a deflationary bust.

In a deflationary bust, like the one experienced entering the Great Depression, the money value of all asset classes goes down and the purchasing power of money goes up. It is the inverse of inflation. In 2007-8 stocks, bonds, real estate, commodities and other hard assets went down varying amounts. While there was little general price deflation, the purchasing power of money rose against everything that went down.

One wonders how much of the economic history of the last 35 years was due to the actions of the financial sector, central banks and government and how much was demographics. If demographics dominate, right now you'd expect weak GDP growth, or even contrac­tion, falling asset prices, as well as general price and wage deflation.

We have the weak GDP but not the deflation. Asset prices fell, some recovered more than others. The central banks and governments have stepped in to fill the breech so debt keeps growing. But there's a fly in the ointment, the production to pay off the debt is not growing. Due to demographics, the number of people in their most productive years is smaller and the number of people in their non-productive years is growing. Have the powers that be saved the day or just put it off for when it will be worse?

Japan had its baby boom earlier than anyone and hit the demographic wall in 1990. Their property and stock markets are still about 75% below their 1989 peaks and GDP is barely above a flat line despite every attempt by the Japanese government and central bank to create growth and inflation. Thirty-five years on they now have overall debt of 500% of GDP, a savings rate that dropped from 20% to under 5%, a trade surplus that turned to a deficit, and an even older population. We have yet to see the end result.

Still, Japan ran a trade surplus during most of that time because the rest of the world was booming. What happens when deflation strikes everyone at once? Europe's demographics are now about what Japan's were in 1990. The US is not much different. How likely are we to return to the robust growth of the 80s and 90s? What will be the result if markets, governments and central banks keep borrowing, promising and printing money as if we can return to higher growth when demographics say we can't? Might we be heading for the biggest deflationary bust in history?

Folks talking about money like to use a couple catch phrases, "This time it's different," and "It's never different." Though it seems self-contradictory, they might both be right. We've never before had so many people on the deflationary side of the spending wave. That's different. The nature, timing and impact of of the spending wave is as it ever was. It's no different now.

This is where writers often insert recommendations, ways to survive the brewing trouble. I won't do that, for one reason. I don't know what measures the powers that be will take in a crisis. Bail-outs, bail-ins, taxes, confiscation, nationalization… who knows? What might work to protect yourself in one case could be disaster in another. Whatever else they do, the financial elite, governments and central banks cannot change generational demographics. Those were baked in the cake at birth.

Filed under Talkin' Bout Money 12/22/14