Thursday, February 26, 2009
I Doodle Because I’m Brilliant
Oodles of brainpower. That was almost my freakin’ nickname in high school. Probably. Unless it was “uber doodler,” which seems more likely in retrospect.
Eat my intellectual dust, non-doodlers.
Rocky Mountain News, RIP
I doubt that anyone in Denver--including the journalists and professionals employed by the Rocky--is surprised by the announcement, but the death of the Rocky Mountain News will still be sad to quite a few of us who have read and supported the paper throughout our lives. But today’s announcement of the closure of the Rocky Mountain News was a mere formality: the paper has been struggling for years and on life support for a few months now.
Outside of any dispapointment, though, is the realization that no business plan lasts forever, and a 150 year run is nothing to sneer about. Newspapers have provided a valuable service to us and have been an important part of maintaining our freedoms. I’m a Republican, so seeing the gleefully critical press of the Bush years become the cheerleaders of the Obama years is blunting the sentimental side of me that wants to mourn the Rocky, but it is worth acknowledging the value of having a free press watching over our political class. They have been imperfect guardians and given to their own sometimes-hilarious follies, but that’s just describing people, isn’t it?
If this reads like a Dirge for the Passing of Journalism, there is a reason: freedom of the press has less and less to do with a press or with journalists with every passing month. Much of the old trade of journalism is dying and even the best known syndicated columnists are seeing their opportunities diminish with every newspaper closing, with every report of revenue and circulation drops, and with every regular joe who decides to get his news from somewhere other than nightly news and the morning paper.
And that’s fine. While old journalism dies, opportunities will open for the people smart and clear-eyed enough to see what’s coming next.
Goodbye, Rocky. I’ll miss you (but, then, I’ve been missing you for years).
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Can I Get an Amen? (The Thinkin’ About a Tea Party Edition)
That is wildly deserving of an amen.
I find myself wondering how conservatives who bought into the rhetoric of hope and change, who believed that Obama would be governing from a moderate’s position, and who ended up voting Democrat in the elections are feeling about their decision right now? I’m feeling more and more that I voted the right direction: McCain.
Now, the current economic crisis isn’t Obama’s fault. There are a lot of names and administrations that can share the blame for bad regulations, overspending, and refusal to deal with the American economy as something built on money that doesn’t come from the Free Money Fairy. And then there are the people--that is, “we, the people"--who helped by demanding more government services and less fiscal sanity. In fact, we, the people, made it downright difficult for a person to be elected if they threatened our slice of the pie, a fact that has made blue hairs such an important voting block and rational conversation about the future of Social Security such a political hazard.
So, no, it’s not Obama’s fault.
But I remember watching one of the televised debates and hearing McCain promise a spending freeze followed by deep cuts in the budget coupled with a belief that raising taxes on any Americans right now would be foolish and irresponsible. Obama, in contrast, spoke breezily about cutting the budget, but thought that a spending freeze was a bad idea and an increase in taxes on the wealthy (whatever “wealthy” might mean) was a brilliant idea.
I remember thinking that this was one of only two defining issues for me (the other being continued resolution to maintain the most powerful military in the world--surprisingly, continued prosecution of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan was down the list a ways for reasons best discussed in another post on another day). Obama might indeed have intended to govern from the center, but even that night he couldn’t get away from a knee-jerk need by the left to increase taxes (on the right people) and massively increase spending (to the right people).
If the Republicans hadn’t lost the moral high ground on the economy over the last eight years, I imagine that we would be talking about President McCain and his obstructionist tendencies right now.
McCain may have had a hard time leading, given the state of the GOP in both House and Senate, but I think he would have gleefully used his veto pen to kill off this stimulus package and would have forced the Democrats into a fight. Instead, the left pretends at compromise with the complicity of a couple turncoat Republicans and then bulls ahead with whatever the hell it is that they wanted to do in the first place.
Because they won.
I don’t think that trend will last, though, because Americans are already starting to worry about how this latest stimulus package is actually going to help create jobs, foster economic stability, or do much other than run up well over a trillion in new debt. Bush has been criticized, rightly, for the debt that he ran up during his terms in office; a month into Obama’s administration and it’s become apparent that he not only intends to continue down that path, but, indeed, he’ll be upping the ante.
That’s a phrase--"upping the ante"--that I use very specifically. There is an element of the bad gambler to the way our government is handling the crisis, and Obama is cheering on the bad behavior. If you’ve ever seen a guy losing big at the craps tables, you’ll know what I mean.
That guy probably started with relatively conservative bets. He played the come and the pass lines and didn’t place any of the hard ways or other high risk bets. But he was losing--every few rolls of the dice set him back a little bit more until he realized he was down quite a bit. So instead of walking away, he believed the thing that every bad gambler believes: his luck’s going to turn. There were so many bad rolls that a good roll is just bound to be right around the corner.
And when he believes that, the bets get bigger because, when his luck turns, he believes the payout will pull him right out of the hole that he’s dug himself. So he starts betting bigger and he starts betting the high risk/high reward bets. There is luck involved, of course, and he’ll win some rolls. More than that, though, there is simple math: even when he wins a roll or two, he’s dug that hole so deep that he’s still deep down in the dark and he has to keep playing to try to break even.
What he doesn’t realize is that he’s already lost. The money is gone and he needs to be smart enough to step away from the table, go home, and figure out how to rebuild what is already gone.
Our government is that guy: the stimulus plans are getting bigger, the hole is getting deeper, and they believe that one more stimulus bill could hit it big and make those losses go away. Meanwhile, the deficit gets bigger and someone else is going to end up paying the bill because our government has gone way the hell and gone beyond the money that they brought to the table. They’ve borrowed from everyone they know, they’ve maxed the credit cards, they’ve taken out mortgages on our futures--and they’re using it all to place a bad bet that will only take us closer to financial ruin.
And Obama is the one leading us down that path, cheerfully telling us that this is the bet that will make it all better. I don’t believe him.
McCain wasn’t the guy who sent a thrill up my leg. He wasn’t my perfect candidate and he didn’t mesh with my beliefs on a number of issues. I have a hard time imagining that he would have travelled this particular path, though, and I believe that this path is one that could ruin our nation.
Republicans, libertarians, and all nature of fiscal conservatives will be fighting at a disadvantage for the next few years (at least), but anyone who believes that our salvation is to be found in fiscal responsibility need to start pushing back now. We’re losing the battles right now, but we can’t afford to lose the war.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Fighting Back the Capitalist Way
iPod Touch and iPhone users might have run across an app called “Classics”, which offers an ebook reader and a set of classics formatted uniquely for Apple’s little gadgets. Until today, I’ve been happy using Stanza, a free application that doesn’t have the prettiest formatting, but does have an amazing, searchable library of downloadable, free content. I’ll still use Stanza, but I’ve just bought Classics (for $2.99 on iTunes Music Store) and it’s a top-notch bit of software. It’s simple, but it’s very well done.
What convinced me to pony up a few bucks? Theft.
See the screen caps and read the full story at Ars Technica. And, if you have either a Touch or an iPhone, I’d encourage you to spend a few bucks (link is to the iTunes Music Store--you must have iTunes installed for the link to work) to help support the developers who have been thoroughly ripped off, and, whatever you do, don’t buy the competing product.
And, Apple, you might want to do something about “Classics: Jane Austen"--as obvious a rip off as one is likely to find this year.
American Idol, Feb 18 2009: The Really Really Short Edition (Now With No Naughty Language)
America, in picking Alexis Grace, Danny Gokey, and Brent Keith got it reasonably right. There was a case to be made for Anoop and, perhaps, for Steve Fowler, but the two folks who should have gone through did. And that’s all we can expect.
Besides that, let’s just say America breathes a heavy sigh of relief at one Tatiana-shaped bullet successfully dodged. If the judges dare bring her back, God will curse them with a plague of well-aged New Kids on the Block groupies.
My Take On The Housing Crisis
What happened to home values, how they initiated the Housing Collapse of 2008, and what will happen…
I’ve been alive a while.
In that time, I’ve seen home prices skyrocket WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYY past the inflation rate for salaries.
My father used to make about $75k/yr in the early ‘80s working as a program manager for a satellite communications company. We bought our house at 248 Sand Dollar Road, Indialantic, FLA for $75k - a nice 4 bed, 2 bath ranch that was about 2300 sq. feet, five blocks from the beach, as well.
I would bet that the same position pays MAYBE $120k now, about a 60% increase in salary from 1983 to 2009 - annualized, about a 2% increase yearly. Inflation has been around 4% annualized until this last year. So right there, salaries aren’t keeping pace with housing.
The house just up the road at 158 Sand Dollar Road is on the market for $350k. This is a jump in “value” of 460%! If my father were alive today, to maintain the standard of living he had he would have to be making about what his house cost - $350k/yr. Who the hell has an income like that? Answer? NOBODY. Wiki reports it as less than 1% of the population.
All of this means the home values were artificially driven straight up to the moon by some market force, which had a far-reaching and gravely under-estimated effect on home values.
I noticed homes really start to increase in price (and a corresponding below-inflation-rate increase in personal disposable income) in the early ‘80’s. This corresponds to the timeframe for the Community Reinvestment Act’s (1976) side effects to be felt in the price of houses.
So the Federal Government decided to push unqualified people to enter the market. Naturally, that meant that a larger pool of buyers was competing for the same housing, which (surprise, surprise) artificially stacked values up by falsely propping up demand. Buyers who would have not come into the market at all, or buyers who would have used better judgement buying a home that would have matched their cash-flow were encouraged by the burgeoning market to “go out there and live the American Dream.” Even prudent buyers who purchased “just enough house” to get the job done still wound up overpaying for their homes, to their financial detriment.
The effect took a while for home buyers to realize, but for anybody who’s studied a little math, exponential growth can startle you with it’s cascading nature. We were in the “hockey stick” portion of the curve - and didn’t realize it. The market became a speculator’s game of “musical chairs,” with few sellers and buyers aware that the bottom would drop out as the pricing was unsustainable. Remember the oil speculators that were buying at $144/bbl this summer? They’re not doing too well with oil in the $40s, and the same thing happened to both speculators, real-estate professionals, and buyers in the housing industry.
Houses aren’t worth nearly as much as people think they are. The generalized notion I keep hearing from economists and real-estate professionals is that most homes are 15% - 18% over-valued. I have news for the folks who are saying this: I think that figure is the low-end of that range. I suspect the upper end of the range is closer to 60% over-valued.
We’re about to see a decade-long slide in housing values.
It will be unprecedented in economic history, and the economists will be scratching their heads about it for the next 30 years.
See what government meddling in business gets you? Unintended consequences.
And there you have it, my friends.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
American Idol, Feb 17, 2009: The Relatively Short Version (Now With Extra Naughty Language)
Jackie Tohn: Send her home. Hideous. Seriously. As bad as anything I’ve seen this side of William Hung. The judges must have been sucking one major crack pipe to have found something positive in that little ball of tripe. Except for Simon, that is, who was also right about the outfit.
Ricky Braddy: Or was that Ricky Bobby? I’m a little confused. Yeah, okay, whatever, I didn’t hate it. He has a decent voice. Especially if he wants to be a contemporary Christian music singer which would really make great use of all his vocal swoopy bits--and would serve a second purpose of keeping his voice quarantined far away from anywhere that I might accidentally be exposed to it. And it was nice that he wasn’t wearing spandex. Thank yoooouuuuuooouuuouuuu.
Why, You Might Ask? Mostly because I’m cranky tonight, I have nowhere to be (and no money to spend if I were there), and because I’m tired of making the fucking logo bigger.
Alexis Grace: Cute kid. Really cute kid. And the kid’s kid is pretty cute, too.Actually, I kind of like this one and it’s not just because she’s got some serious pixy-esque charm going on. I think she has a really solid voice that comes across as a shock once you’ve seen her. Nice bluesy little number, strong voice, and fun to watch. Darling girl thinks she’d look better if the skirt were a little longer. It’s a little odd to hear the judges (Paula) playing the cute and virginal card for this young mom. She’s obviously a little less untouched than, say, controversial bits of Alaska’s lovely outback. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a little disingenuous to go that direction, if you take my meaning.
Brent Keith: If you like contemporary country, you’ll probably like this guy--and he’s cute in an all-American country boy kind of way. Me, my love of country ended years ago with George Strait, Ricky Van Shelton, and Vince Gil. Now country mostly bores me. That’s a matter of taste, though, and not a question of his talent. Contra Simon, I think the country will like this kid.
Irritating Aside: You’d think that after this many years of doing the same thing the American Idol folks could get through a night without technical glitches and a wrong tape moment that threw everyone off their game.
Stevie Wright: Wow, great personality and, seemingly, a nice girl, but that didn’t go so well for her. Sounded a little like High School: The Musical from Hell. Maybe she was nervous, maybe she’s just not particularly good, but whatever the problem, she’s really lucky that Jackie Tohn was one step from comedically bad. Not a good night for Stevie. Shame.
Anoop Desai: Tonight he sounds little like he did during auditions; I hate the song. With a passion. Guy still has a good voice, but this was a bad song choice for him. He was better during the auditions and in Hollywood week. This didn’t work for me.
Casey Carlson: The pretty one wears a lovely hat. “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” doesn’t work for her, though. What the hell was that? I mean, aside from really bad. The only redeeming qualities were the ridiculously cute girl on stage and the Sarah Palin wink. The overall performance was almost as bad as the vocals. Was that worse than Jackie Tohn? It might have been. That was the most karaoke moment of the night so far.
Michael Sarver: I’ve liked this guy from the beginning, but this was just a kind of weird performance. Not nearly bad to the level of Casey Carlson’s abomination of a performance, but definitely on the bad imitation side of the karaoke contest. Didn’t go well at all for the guy that is filling the “every man” role in this contest. He’s pretty easy to like and really easy to root for, but I wonder how far he can go in the show.
Okay, the obligatory “I Hate Paula” moment: her biggest critique of the thing was that she didn’t really like that he was changing his mic hand in a way that she didn’t quite get. Can’t we just give her a quart of vodka and a pacifier and tell her to shut the hell up?
Ann Marie Boskovich: Marginal vocals, but better than either Casey or Jackie. Which is the lowest possible bar to clear tonight. Lovely dress, though.
Geeking Out on the Movies Aside: I’m all sorts of excited about X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Giddy even.
Steven Fowler: One of my early favorites even with his horrible showing in Hollywood week’s solo night. They guy has a classical kind of R&B voice--smooth, controlled, cool. The backup singers sounded bad, though, and it wasn’t the best song choice for his voice. When he went big, it just showed some serious vocal overreach. Apparently the judges agree. I hope he sticks around and I hope he gets another shot at this.
Damned, Evil Tatiana Del Toro: I hate her. And her little dog, too. She never should have gone through; drama queen isn’t even close to describing her irritating, over-the-top, idiotically emotional, affected, horrid personality. Her dream, apparently, is my nightmare. Unfortunately, while she wasn’t great, she was reasonably good this week and she probably won’t be going home.
I blame Obama. For some reason. It might just be that I’m still cranky about generations worth of dough being pissed down the drain in that mammoth stimulus bill. She does, however, campaign for herself with the fervor (if not the skill) of Obama at his best.
Danny Gokey: While I’m still cranky that his pal didn’t make it through, too, I really like Danny. Am I the only one who gets the feeling that this cat might be secretly batting for the other team, though? Wonderful voice, harmless good looks, huggable personality, and a great back story. How could he not make it through to the finals? And, yes, that’s a prediction. He even managed to pull off a Whitney Houston song and not sound like an idiot. In fact, he hit it out of the freakin’ park.
The only two performances that I completely enjoyed tonight were his and Alexis Grace. That’s it. Braddy was okay. Kieth was decent. Anoop was fine. Mostly, though, it was a parade of mediocrity with a few dips into comic relief.
Why was Ryan talking about Simon’s organ? Or lack thereof? Ryan’s banter sucks.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Day of Really Bad Ideas, Part 1
More states will be proposing big tax hikes to make up for budget shortfalls this year--and it will be rare to see a state admit that smarter budgeting, cutting out programs that are not core to the business of running a state, and making a few tough choices might actually be preferable to creating a tougher business environment. The last thing government should be doing right now is siphoning money out of the private sector and making it harder for folks to do business with each other.
The “1,900%” part makes it sound a bit bigger than it really is, but it is a difference maker for a small business that already had a budget in place. A difference like that can make it harder to hire a new employee or buy an expensive piece of equipment that was already budgeted for this year or even in whether they can continue to offer decent health care to their employees. On the outside it looks like a small thing, but from the view of the person running the business it can be huge.
And that’s not even considering the potential for higher prices to depress the market for the products.
My guess is that small brewers could be facing a bad year, anyway, as consumers continue to realize that they need to be more price-conscious. Another little hit like this could drive some of them out of business or, at least, to consider a move to a more welcoming business climate.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Are You a Mine Operator?
This will be sticky for the next week.
Is there anyone out there reading this site who is, currently, an operator of a coal or hard rock mining operation (preferably in North America, but I’m willing to talk to people outside of NA, too) with expertise in haulage and loading? This is not aimed at folks working in the aggregates industry and it is not aimed at manufacturers or distributors (although you are invited to leave me a note too, as you might be able to help me in a different way). If you do fit that description, please leave a comment with a good email address as I have very specific set of questions that I need to ask.
I can’t elaborate any more than that here because I’m already perilously close to violating my own set of rules governing how I segment my business life from my blogging life, but this is important.
For regular readers who don’t fit that bill, please link this or pass it on to anyone who you think might fit what I’m looking for.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Bad Political Humor of the Day
Shocking things afoot in the realms of the Idol.
She must have been Obama’s nominee for the position. I mean, that didn’t even last as long as Bill Richardson’s go at Commerce Secretary.
Must have been an issue of unpaid taxes.
The real question all of us must be asking right now: “Would this have been funnier if Zombyboy had used Senator Judd Gregg as the example nominee.”
Comedy is hard.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Swore I Wouldn’t Do This…
The judges on American Idol just made a huge mistake in cutting Jamar Rogers.
Great voice, great personality, and a guy that I was hoping to be pulling for far into the show.
Submitted Artwork, Part 1: Pregnant Albino Lemur
Juanita M. shared her art with me yesterday and I felt the need to share her brilliance with the rest of the world. Or at least that little bit of the world that might stumble upon these pages.
Pregnant Albino Lemur (Or Malformed Snowman w/ Bow Tie) in Cookie Dough and Frosting by Juanita M.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Monday, February 09, 2009
So, I watched a chunk of President Obama’s press conference tonight, and I had a few thoughts:
First, the man doesn’t seem to like Biden. Either that or his little joke about Biden’s quote wasn’t as funny as he thought it would be.
Second, he isn’t afraid of, ahem, disguising the truth a bit to further his own goals. That’s nothing unusual in a politician and certainly not in a politician at this level. It irritated me when he would talk of the mythical opposition who wanted to do nothing about the financial crisis, who wanted to test the new president’s boundaries instead of working with the Democrats, and who think that the only proper response to the crisis is more tax cuts for the rich (whoever we might be defining as rich at the particular moment). Outside of, say, Ron Paul, it would be hard as hell to find the Republican that he’s describing and doesn’t at all describe the Democrats who have come out against the package.
Third, an NPR reporter (didn’t catch her name) intimated that passing a three-quarter (plus) trillion dollar spending package should have been the easy part of his presidency. That was a surreal moment for me--in what world, in what time should it be easy to pass this spending package? Surreal, I tell you.
Fourth, Helen Thomas sounded like she’s edging toward senility. Tradition be damned, she hasn’t been meaningful as a journalist in years and she should retire. Continue writing from the sidelines if she’d like, but she doesn’t deserve to be one of the handful of reporters called on during these little bits of political theater. And that isn’t even addressing her “so-called terrorists” comment which President Obama answered well and, in a gratifying turn, refused to acknowledge her follow-up.
Fifth, why the hell is anyone asking questions about steroids in baseball? Is that even in the top 100 things that our new president needs to concern himself with? I’m pretty sure not.
Sixth, this is going to be a mighty long four years…
Stay Safe, Nathan
Stay safe, Nathan, and for your and your family’s sacrifices on behalf of the rest of us, thank you.
Wozniak on Dancing With the Stars?
Which means it’ll probably make great TV.
Death of Common Sense, Part 1
Around the time I was 16 or 17, I brought a spent M72 LAW casing to school with me and used it in a skit in, if memory serves, English class. I also played the role of Miss Piggy, but that’s probably not relevant at this point.
A LAW, for those unfamiliar with the weapon, is a disposable, single-shot anti-tank weapon. It’s one short tube inside of another short tube and to fire it, you extend the tubes, put the thing on your shoulder, site through a pop-up site, and push down on a rubber-covered trigger on the top of the weapon. It fires a dumb, 66mm anti-tank rocket towards whatever it was that you were aiming at and, hopefully, killing an armored vehicle at the wrong end of the tube.
Once fired, the LAW is a couple of empty tubes with caps on each end, a trigger mechanism, and a pop-up site--suitable for not much and too rickety to make it any good for bashing.
Well, in the middle of class, I pulled it out of the trash bag I had wrapped it in and the class gasped in a pretty fun way. There was a bit of disapproval and I’m pretty sure the teacher told me to go put the thing in my locker as soon as our presentation was done, but we got big laughs to go with the gasp of surprise and the skit was a success. The applause for Miss Piggy was especially gratifying.
If I tried that little stunt today, I would most certainly be suspended from school, my spent LAW would have been confiscated, and I would have had a serious conversation with a cop or two. It would have made the news, the school would have been evacuated, and bloggers would have been searching for scary messages on my MySpace page.
All because of a harmless, spent bit of military trivia.
My teacher showed a bit of common sense, though; while she obviously disapproved of the thing (and possibly of me in a more general sense since I wasn’t the nicest student you were likely to find at Overland High School back in ‘86 or ‘87), she also recognized that it wasn’t something that I could or would use to harm anyone in the school. She treated it more like bubblegum than a scary monster. Smart teacher.
It’s a little different now.
A little common sense and a little reasonable perspective wouldn’t hurt when dealing with things like this--unfortunately, both seem to be in short supply especially in relation to anything that even smells a bit like a firearm in a public space. Even if I were to agree that it was a mistake to bring the drill “rifles” to school, the talk of suspension and expulsion is ridiculous and says far more about the judgement of the administration than it does about the judgement of the student.
Hat tip to Jed who, in turn, pointed me to Dave Hardy.
Update: And check out what Combs has to say on the subject.
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