Friday, October 31, 2008

Where's T. Boone Pickens?

Oil was supposed to be trading at $200/barrel by now. Looks like those Exxon guys are smarter (1) (2) than certain people thought.

Where is everyone?

I take the kids around the block, leaving the candy out on the honor system. We come back, no one has taken any candy. I take my kids around some more, come back and see two children taking some candy. The bowl is still mostly full. My kids are tired and I am sweating, so I take them inside so they can get their costumes off and inventory their booty. I step back outside and 4 teenage snots are laughing about 2 houses down after they have emptied the candy bowl.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mario's is closed.

This sucks. I am heading down to Galveston this weekend to see my childhood friend who plays with the Beach Boys and I am having a hard time finding any of my favorite restaurants that are still open. It doesn't suck for me, it sucks for all of those people who lost their livelihoods.

Mario's, for example. This place was a Galveston institution. It's been there forever, right on 61st Street as you get off 45 and head towards the seawall. Houstonians know it, it's the white building on the left about halfway to Seawall Boulevard. I am guessing that it was too close to that small lagoon and flooded out. It seems that the restaurants that survived are those right on the seawall. Which seems odd, but based on what happened to the Strand it makes sense. The water poured onto the island not from the Gulf, but from the Bay.

Here's a good slideshow with many photos I have never seen before.

Why do some people denigrate burger flippers?

Here's a question to a certain unemployed, work-averse real estate flopper who has stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from various lenders and has repeatedly denigrated fast food workers:

Can you explain what, exactly, is wrong with working in a fast food joint?

Many of us have done this at various points in our lives when we needed the money. Few of us make a career of this, it is simply a way to pay the bills until we move on to better things. It's also an honest way to make a few bucks.

So clue me in. Why is it fun to mock fast food workers?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hey Jack Sweeney

Despite the fact that Houston's economy is debatably the strongest in the US, Houston's sole daily newspaper continues to hemorrhage readers.
The Houston Chronicle’s circulation declined 11.7 percent daily and 15.7 percent on Sundays, but the paper is expected to remain the seventh-largest metropolitan daily in the United States when the Audit Bureau of Circulations report is released today.
Big deal. It remains the seventh-largest publication in a dying business.
Chronicle Publisher and President Jack Sweeney attributed most of the declines to strategic decisions made by the newspaper to discontinue circulation outside a 90-mile radius of downtown Houston, increase the daily newsstand price to 75 cents and eliminate advertiser-sponsored distribution. Hurricane Ike also affected circulation in coastal communities.
Excuses, excuses. With the power out to millions of Houstonians after Ike, the print circ should have skyrocketed due to people desperate for news. 4 million people without power for weeks? Seems to me that would be a bonanza for print newspaper circulation.

The fact is Houston's population continues to explode, yet the newspaper that serves this community continues to decline in importance. Fewer people think your product is relevant, Jack. Maybe it's the editorial content? Jack, editorial content is not fair and balanced when it's split between Rick "I wish I was back in San Antonio" Casey and Lisa "I hate the Boy Scouts, and here are some neato things about my honeymoon" Falkenberg. is doing great, but it can't deliver those juicy revenue-enhancing circulars. So make the print version Chronicle a free newspaper. You know it's a matter of time, Jack. You're offering home deliveries for 3 bucks a week, and even for that piddling cost your customers no longer buy your product. That 3 bucks a week represents a tiny fraction of your cost, so why not give the product away and greatly increase your ad revenue?


OPEC will not win this one. It's spun out of their control, and just like during the 1980s the petrothugs will cheat. Quotas be damned, when they rule over an angry populace accustomed to massive government subsidies they will pump all they can to bring in the revenue.
  • What Melonhead is thinking: "Quotas? They are for the other guy who can afford to bring in less revenue."
  • What Saudi Arabia is thinking: "We'd better hold these prices down for a while if we want to eliminate the West's drive for alternative energy sources."
  • What "peak oil" buffs are thinking: "Inconceivable!"
  • What Houston commercial real estate brokers are thinking: "Oh crap, not again."
Oil was just one of many bubbles.

(Bump. It was $2.07 this morning.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pumpkin Carving

I suck at it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Cry for Hugo Chavez

From Bloomberg,
To cope with plummeting oil revenue, the source of half the government's spending, Chavez may have to cut domestic handouts and foreign aid. The first items likely to go will be arms purchases from Russia, oil subsidies for Cuba, and job- creating local projects such as bridges and subways, economists say.

"You have a country with an oil boom, that doesn't know how to save, doesn't know how to set up productive industries that generate jobs, and goes into debt," said Elsa Cardozo, a professor of political science and international relations at the Universidad Central de Venezuela. "Then oil prices fall and the party ends."
Repeat process in Iran and Russia.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Giant Horse-Apple

The first camp out I was in charge of went pretty well. The weather was perfect, which certainly helped! While hiking yesterday afternoon we discovered the largest horse-apple any of us can remember seeing. The kids didn't know what these things were. The kids called them "sticky green brain-looking things," which is a pretty good description. The ranger called these bois d'arc trees "bodarks." And he is from Iowa.

Osage-oranges are very strong trees and quite attractive. As a native species, they would be great for Houston suburban back yards. Except for the fact that it would not be very much fun to mow a lawn with dozens of these things lying on the ground. It would be like mowing a lawn with hundreds of softballs spread around.

The ranger did tell us one humorous fact about the Osage orange: The seeds inside these fruits are like catnip for squirrels. He's watched many squirrels try to drag these 1 or 2 pound fruits up a tree to hide them from other squirrels. Failure, over and over. These fruits are very solid, so it's not like they are trying to break them open by dropping them on the forest floor.

I was without telephone or internet access for 3 days and I see I didn't miss anything when I came back. It's the SOS.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Houston in Song

(sniff) Cornbreadd makes me so proud of my hometown.

Cornbreadd's prior mega-hit is here. Is it strange for me, a middle-aged white man, to like Popeyes? I like their spicy chicken with a side of red beans & rice. (I also like watermelon. So I like fried chicken and watermelon. But I draw the line on Big Red. Just throwing out some retarded stereotypes out there.)

Anyway. This is worse. The Big Choke against Buffalo is an historic moment in Houston's history.

Lightnin' Hopkins is a famous Houstonian and important in music history, as he should be. But he never wrote a trademark Houston song.

Archie Bell and the Drells had a good Houston song about 40 years ago. Archie danced just as good as he walked. It's still a great pop song.

Since Archie Bell and the Drells? Nothing. ZZ Top did a weird song called Heaven, Hell or Houston that few people remember. Houston deserves a signature song, like Tony Bennett singing about San Francisco, or Sinatra singing about New York. But for now I guess we'll have to settle for Cornbreadd.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


RaceTrac is selling gas for $2.21/gallon right now. Looks like I may have to move up my prediction for $50/barrel oil by the end of the year to Thanksgiving. Which reminds me. I haven't heard T. Boone Pickens on the radio lately.

Backup on the Gulf Freeway

A buddy of mine who works for a local TV station sent this to me. I am pretty sure this is here, at the northern end of the causeway. This would mean that all of those expensive boats are from Tiki Island. Or maybe they are from the other end of the causeway. It's hard to tell. Regardless, this is a pile of wood and fiberglass that was once worth millions.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

More middle-aged white guys killing themselves

From Bloomberg,
The suicide rate in the U.S. rose from 1999 to 2005, the first increase after a decline of more than a decade, fueled by a 17 percent rise among middle-aged whites, researchers reported today.

Middle-aged men continued to kill themselves at a much higher rate than middle-aged women, while the rate rose faster in women than men. Rates of suicide declined slightly among blacks and Asians of all ages, as well as among white teenagers and adults younger than 40. They fell even more in people 65 and older.
My theories:

  • Fewer men are getting married. With no wife, nights can be pretty lonely at age 45 for a lot of men. I know that some men can adjust and are perfectly happy.
  • Collapsing fertility rate. I believe the purposes of life are to 1) survive (aka job or entrepreneurship), 2) reproduce, and 3) raise your children properly. But hey, that's just me, basing my opinion on the natural order and millions of years of evolution. I think women are better able to cope with being childless. Lonely women do crazy things like taking in stray cats and listening to Stevie Nicks records. Men do crazy things like drinking themselves to death.
  • The end of guaranteed employment. Over the past 50 years, unions have strangled the goose that lays the golden eggs. Which for many men destroys the first purpose of life I referenced above. After 20 years on an assembly line, with no education past high school, the future looks grim for those who are permanently laid off.

Monday, October 20, 2008

October Surprise

So... what happened to it? We were promised an October Surprise. The kOOks have been busy theorizing and formulating their conspiracy theories (i.e., pulling it out of their asses), but with 2 weeks to go nothing has materialized. Maybe because at this point the dirt has already been dished out on both candidates? And whatever happened to that promised sooper seekrit invasion of Iran that Bush was supposed to have launched by now, according to Scott Ritter?

The glorious Confederacy

Hidden in a downtown Houston park is a memorial to the wonders of the Confederate States of America. 99.999% of Houstonians have never seen this statue, which was featured in Brewster McCloud, a weird Robert Altman movie made in the early 1970s.
The bronze statue is of a nude guy with angel wings wearing a palm frond that covers his Johnson. He is leaning on a sword.
Looking closely:
This is the only public display of the wonders of the Confederacy in Houston that I am aware of. Unlike Atlanta, Houston is embarrassed by the Robert E. Lee "states rights" worship and re-writing of history.

Which places the city of Houston in a quandary. The statue is clearly something worth saving. It should be on display, even though the sentiment is disgraceful. But how to display it?

I think the current setting is a good place for it. Visible for those who seek it out, but otherwise hidden by small cypress trees.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

My life as of October 18, 2008

4:15 am: Woken up by daughter. "Daddy, I threw up!" Console. Clean her face, change her PJs. Put her in my bed. Remove soiled linens (she managed to nail Dora square in the face, that's my girl!) and place in washer, fight back the urge to perform the liquid laugh. Over the past decade I have gotten over my vomitphobia (with snot being the sole body fluid that still grosses me out), but for some reason the load left on the comforter last night made me gag. Maybe it was the texture. It was chunkified! Go to sleep on the sofa.

7:00 am: "Daddy, breakfast! Put on Kids TV!" Make breakfast. Daughter says "I want bacon too!" I guess she is feeling OK now. Drink a can of V-8 Vegetable Juice. Sit down at the computer to catch up on Snowflake and see what cooking utensils or digital cameras the Instapundit is selling via his affiliate account. Surprise! He's not selling anything this morning. (Glenn, I know that you sometimes stop on by, and I appreciate it! I love ya, man. But the product pimping needs to be eased back.)

8:00-10:00 am: Mow, edge and trim the yard. I still catch myself watching for landmines, even though our dog passed away over a year ago. I guess it is a habit ingrained over 13 years. Son has fun cleaning the driveway with the blower. First time since March I didn't break into a sweat while doing yard chores. Yippee!

10:00-10:30 am: S, S & S. Emerge from the final S to hear the kids fighting over my iPod. They like that Tap Tap game. Beg and plead that they not drop it on the tile floor.

11:00-1:30 pm: At the Pack Committee Chair's house. Six Webelos are going for their Aquanaut pin, plus some cubbies are going for their swimming belt loops. After they leave, the Committee Chair and I work on perfecting the evening meal for next Saturday's campout: silver turtles. We learned that hash brown potatoes turn into a soggy, revolting mess. Better to use sliced potatoes. My kids refused to eat the results until it was layered with half a bottle of ketchup.

1:45-2:30 pm: Walmart.

2:45-3:15 pm: Snowflake update on CH.C. Why do I follow this train wreck? Because it is a real-life soap opera, only more entertaining and without commercial interruption. Second load of laundry.

3:15-4:00 pm: Velcro Catch. These things are great. My son is a lefty, my daughter is a righty, but she throws with her left arm. Go figure.

4:00-4:30 pm: Billz. Kids play Sonic Heroes.

4:30-5:30 pm: Kids still playing Sonic Heroes. Don't they ever get sick of this? I guess I shouldn't talk considering my addiction to Snowflake's tale. Third load of laundry. The chore I hate the most is folding, particularly denim pants. After folding seven pairs of briefs, I decide that next time I buy my son underwear it will be colored. You parents will know why. Check e-mail.

5:30-6:30 pm: CiCi's. The only place I hate more is Chuck E. Cheese. But kids love CiCi's. Only thing I can stand there is the soup and salad. The "pizza" is covered by some type of pre-melted cheese product with the consistency of Elmer's Glue. I experience strange sensations as the heat-activated braces on my teeth expand each time a hot spoonful of soup enters my mouth. My teeth hurt mildly, but I can already see the difference. Akubi: Do it.

6:30-7:45 pm: "Would you turn the PlayStation off? Enough!" After a nice tantrum ("Don't look at me!") the kids play with the roller coaster. This is a pretty cool toy for $20, BTW. It's a nice project that will take a few evenings to build, particularly when you just discover that your eyesight is no longer 20/20 and you need reading glasses.

7:45-8:30 pm: Bath time. Shower time. I marvel at the grime that is deposited on a child in just one day. Put fresh linens on daughter's bed. "Brush your teeth NOW!"

8:30-9:00 pm: Magic Tree House. Say prayers. Kisses and hugs.

9:00 pm: Start typing this. "Would you two go to sleep? NOW!"

Friday, October 17, 2008

In a sewage treatment plant, guess what floats to the top?

I've never heard of Andrew Lahde. I wish I had paid closer attention. He could have made me a lot of money from this fiasco.
Andrew Lahde, the hedge-fund manager who quit after posting an 870 percent gain last year, said farewell to clients in a letter that thanks stupid traders for making him rich and ends with a plea to legalize marijuana.

Lahde, head of Santa Monica, California-based Lahde Capital Management LLC, told investors last month he was returning their cash because the risk of using credit derivatives -- his means of betting on the falling value of bonds and loans, including subprime mortgages -- was too risky given the weakness of the banks he was trading with.

"I was in this game for money," Lahde, 37, wrote in a two-page letter today in which he said he had come to hate the hedge-fund business. "The low-hanging fruit, i.e. idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking. These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government."
It's amazing that like a sewage treatment plant, politicians and the Smartest Guys In The Room are nothing more than floaters.

Don't look now, Vlad.

Remember a few weeks ago when Putin was gloating over the presumed downfall of America and western capitalism? Due to the credit crunch and collapse in oil prices, Russian commerce is shutting down. Nine Russian airlines have closed shop.
Nine airlines will be grounded by the end of the week due to overdue debts, aviation authorities announced Wednesday.

Three of the airlines -- Interavia, Dalavia and Omskavia -- had all but suspended flights already, stranding hundreds of passengers.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The collapse of OPEC

The panic continues. Of course, Melonhead and the Evil Dwarf will demand that other members do the actual cutting, then "cheat" by going over their quota to keep the petrodollars coming. It's a repeat of what happened in the 1980s.

Notice that I didn't say the death of OPEC. It's just a collapse of their racket and their ability to collude for the next decade.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Who won the debate?

I really don't care at this point. The next president will be a one-termer. If Obama wins, the Dems will control everything and as always happens when one party controls all three branches, they will go insane. If Obama wins, Republicans will regain control of Congress in 2010, particularly when the liberal Dems push the so-called "Fairness Doctrine." That will fire up the conservative Republicans to an unbelievable extent. If McCain wins, Republicans and Democrats will still go insane and 2012 will be very weird as VP Palin campaigns for President against the Democrat rival.

Other than some minor differences, there isn't much separating the two. Lots of taxes are coming to make sure that millions of government workers keep their fat bennies while the rest of us get nationalized medical insurance. And with the collapse in oil prices, the shitheads in Iran and Venezuela will crawl back under their rocks so we won't have to deal with them for a long time, negating those foreign policy differences.

Melonhead better get busy!

I warned Melonhead and his Psychotic Dwarf companion again and again. Oil's now down 50% off its peak. Melonhead knows what that means.
According to studies prepared by PFC Consulting Limited, a Washington-based wholly owned subsidiary of Power Finance Corporation Limited, and German bank Deutsche Bank, Venezuela is the most vulnerable country to the financial crisis.

PFC considers that Venezuela needs that the price of oil averages USD 97 to balance its accounts while in 2000, the South American country required that the price of the barrel of petroleum was USD 34.

The results of the study, released by Reuters, show that Nigeria can balance its budget with a price of USD 71 a barrel; Iran (USD 58); Saudi Arabia (USD 62); Kuwait (USD 48); United Arab Emirates (USD 51) and Algeria (USD 35).

Deutsche Bank says that next year Venezuela and Iran require that the average price of oil remains at USD 95; Saudi Arabia at USD 55 and Russia at USD 70.
The 80s oil bust bankrupted many of these thugocracies. Today's oil bust will do the same. Chavez and Ahmadinejad will be swinging from lamp posts this time next year. But this oil bust makes Putin much more dangerous. His Georgian adventure was merely a preview of what he intends to do to rile up the oil market.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Where to store your gold?

Over at the Housing Bubble Blog there has been a laff riot over where to store those gold bars. Can't bury it in the back yard. Not even Swiss banks are safe from the hands of the government. Phil Hendrie, while impersonating Art Bell, has a better idea.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Goodbye, Dubai

As seen by reader Tesla,
Dubai may need help from Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates government to finance a surge in borrowing that paid for the world's tallest tower, palm tree- shaped man-made islands and stakes in banks worldwide.

Dubai's "potential reliance" will be "most significant" in coming years, Moody's Investors Service said in a report today. Government-controlled companies owe at least $47 billion, more than Dubai's gross domestic product, and they will continue to accumulate debt at a faster pace than the economy grows, the New York-based rating firm said.
In an amazing coincidence, the house of cards pictured above appears to be a faithful recreation of the Burj Dubai. While I'm at it, I wonder how the order book at Emirates for all of those A380s is looking? I'd say it's not looking too good when a third of all A380 sales are to the UAE. The A380 has a lot in common with the Burj Dubai: Both are white elephants.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Which companies to invest in with the collapse of the oil bubble?

I've said for months now that oil will go below $50. I think it will ultimately settle between $20-$30. Which companies will benefit most from this? I think that is where we can make a lot of money.

Airline stocks are cheap.
Automakers are cheap.
Refiners are cheap.

It all depends upon your personal outlook. If you think Armageddon is at our doorstep, even these cheap prices are too high. OTOH, if you think America and capitalism will still be around this time next year, maybe there are some really good opportunities out there.

It's your decision. I am no financial expert, so don't blame me if we go into Great Depression: The Sequel and you lose all of your money. There's my disclaimer.

So what are you looking at?

Milky Way

Not a painting. Not a Photoshop hack. This is an actual photo, captured by Wally Pacholka. As seen on Digg,
Todays cameras do not need tracking systems to get pin point stars if the exposure is short and the iso high so now photographers can have the best of both worlds - sharp sky and sharp landscape, but I also have 40 years experience doing this sort of thing. It is easier now. But not if you consider that I made 4 1200 mile round trips to this location with bad photographic results and only got my keeper shot after much planning (waiting for cresent moon to light the hills) and was successful only on this 5th trip.
From an artistic (not scientific) standpoint, I think this is perhaps the greatest photo of the heavens ever taken, leaving aside the Hubble images.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


I have been helping my son do his multiplication problems. You know, homework stuff like 483 x 8 = 3,864. The pathetic thing is I've forgotten how to do basic multiplication on pencil and paper. After decades of relying upon calculators, I became rusty. True story: I had to Google it up for a refresher. It took me just a few minutes to get back to speed.

My boss is a Ph.D. He's at the top of the electronic engineering field. We were formulating a new price list for our widgets last week. I can't remember the exact numbers, but they were something like subtract $1100.00 from $3995.00. Both of us reached for our calculators. After we did the numbers I paused to consider what just happened. I said, "Don't you think it's funny that an engineer with a Ph.D. would reach for a calculator when either one of us should be able to perform the subtraction in our head?" He has a good sense of humor. He says when it comes to money he always relies upon a calculator.

Calculators have made our lives easier, but I think we are overly reliant upon them. I also think that penmanship is suffering because most of us now type instead of writing things out by hand. I can only speak for myself, but my handwriting has suffered.

Friday, October 10, 2008

So what happened to the RealtorTM?

Back in June when the s first started hitting the fan for me, I decided I needed to sell the house. I contacted a RealtorTM, and a week later this lady comes out with 300 pages of sales comps for the neighborhood. She went through the house pointing out the obvious ("paint this room, replace the carpet..."), then told me to call her once the changes were made. So I spent a ton of money inside and outside the house, including the new roof. Circumstances change, I decided to keep my humble tractshack. But in three months this lady never called back. No follow-up, no e-mail, not even a postcard.

My #1 rule in sales and marketing is if a potential customer initiates the contact, you should treat that lead as manna. They want action, and even if they don't act now they may in the future. So you build up a database and contact them with new offers until they either buy or tell you to bug off. This isn't rocket science.

Based on my limited experience with this one RealtorTM, I am not sure why I should sacrifice 6% of my profit from the sale of the house. She didn't strike me as being much of a salesperson, but she sure does like to use that printer of hers.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Attention Ben Jones Housing Bubble Bloggers!

Ben nuked me ages ago, but I still read the comments sometimes. So many people there who are so sure of themselves believe that their US dollars are worthless, nothing more than paper rectangles. Joshua tree! Got popcorn? Ron Paul!

So I'll tell you what, Bubble Bloggers. Send me your worthless paper rectangles. Just e-mail me your postal address, louminatti at gmail dot com. I'll send you an envelope with my return address. I'll even include return postage. It won't cost you a shaving off the gold bars buried in your backyards to send me your worthless paper. Please send me your worthless ones, fives, tens, twenties and one hundreds. You think everyone will be bartering soon, fine. Send me a $100 bill and I'll send you some canned food via UPS in exchange.

BTW, glad to see Peter M. is back. His rants about LA are one of the few reasons to read the Bits Bucket. Peter M.'s comments are always amazing and fun to read. His posts drip with unbridled hatred for SoCal and its residents, particularly those of African or Mexican descent. You can almost picture the veins popping out of his forehead as he types away with gems like "illegal-infested scumzone." Peter M.'s latest post consists of his preparations for LA Riots #2. He has bars on his windows, dogs, and plenty of ammo. One can only wonder: If LA sucks so bad, why stay?

Coin Toss

It's either the greatest buying opportunity of the decade or most of us will be in soup lines within a year.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Desperate in Dubai

For about half a year I did a sporadic Dubai real estate crash blog. I nuked it in June, along with everything else.

I still think Dubai is the epicenter for the financial flustercluck we are seeing around the globe. Dubai is the granddaddy of all real estate bubbles, both commercial and residential.

My inbox at work continues to be flooded with spam from desperate Dubai real estate agents, eager to convince people to pay top dollar for properties that are surrounded by hundreds of thousands of square miles of emptiness with the most inhospitable climate in the world outside of Antarctica. Why me? I think it's because my name appeared in a number of trade show directories, with a managerial title. Ergo, I must be a prime candidate to make a sucker's purchase.
Subject: Warehouse in Sharjah Airport Freezone for sale
Date: Thu, 09 Oct 2008 01:31:21 +0400

Worth AED 9 million now for 6.5 million
A top class finish ware house in Sharjah Airport Free Zone for sale.
Land: 27000 sq.ft. .(Appx)
BUA: 6000 sq.ft.(Appx) with office 1100 sq.ft.

ware house with 2" insulation for temperature control with separate truck entrance, with compound wall, car park, telephone lines, garden, pantry, conference rooms, store rooms, all rooms with Air conditioners, separate staff accommodation rooms, adjacent facilities like food court, transportation etc

Good for maintenance workshops, small factory, assembling unit, light industries, trading, manufacturing, ancillary industries, storage, production etc.

Price: AED 6.5 million net to owner + transfer+ 2% commission.
Contact: 050 (deleted)

Sincerely yours,


Real Estate Broker's card No. : (deleted)
Golden Nice House Real Estate Brokers,
Post Box 212031, Dubai. UAE
Mobile : (deleted)
Fax: 04 (deleted)
E-mail : (deleted)
So the price dropped from $2.5 million to $1.7 million. The small warehouse isn't worth $2.5 million. It is worth whatever someone will pay for it. I bet they find no takers.

Dubai is so screwed. During the Great Depression NYC had the Empty State Building. Now the ME has the white elephant known as the Burj Dubai. Except that NYC had just one Empty State Building, and Dubai has the equivalent of about 50.

Bradford pears are blooming

It's very odd. All of the Bradford pear trees are blooming in Houston right now. I have two flowering trees, while my maple has very few leaves, like it's already winter. The shredded remnants still on the maple after Ike dried up and fell off.

I guess the wind tearing off so many leaves shocked the pears into thinking it was springtime. I am not the only one to notice this.

I'm tempted

I've been out of equities for well over a year now. The fear is palpable. Everyone's expecting a new depression. Survivalist types are stocking up on beans and ammo. Cramer says "sell it all." The Time Magazine cover proclaims the end is here. Casey is on the final lap of his story before living on the street.

But I think I will wait a while longer.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Chinese Toast

This doesn't look promising.
Last year, the basic price of shipping a large container of goods from Asia to Europe, the world's busiest route, was $2,800. This week, with demand plunging amid a worsening economy, that price was an unprofitable $700.
So much for "decoupling." China is good at manufacturing non-critical consumer items and tainted food products. With European, North American, Australian, Japanese and South Korean consumers cutting back on discretionary purchases, things will get real ugly for the ChiComm dictator elites.

Are you old enough to remember when Japan was set to eclipse America? We are about to see the same fate wash over China. Only this time it will be worse. Much worse. Japan is a stable democracy with a homogeneous society, China is neither. The Japanese design really cool electronic gadgets and export more and more of their culture; China has mobile death squads. Japan threatens no one; China promises to destroy a democracy.

The country called the United States of America isn't going to die. Our nation has survived far worse catastrophes than the credit crisis now sweeping the globe. We even survived an internal war that destroyed an entire generation of our young men. Can China's current political system survive the shock? Unless it resorts to wholesale slaughter of political opponents, I don't think it can. Massive violent changes are afoot.

Redneck Fire Alarm

First reference spotted on September 24, 2008. First arrives in my e-mail inbox as Mom Spam (in my instance, Grandma Spam) with about 10 layers of Forward To's on Tuesday, October 7. 13 days between the time it was posted here to the time it has been forwarded to millions of people by their elderly relatives.

I don't know what to say about this, other than I am sure that somewhere there's a social scientist working on a paper about it. Perhaps the title is something like, "The Elderly and the Internet: The Spread of Social Memes."

Monday, October 6, 2008

The death of the Euro

I don't like it when people say "I told you so," but I told you so. Now it turns out the EU central bank is an even bigger joke than the Fed and their banks are in even worse shape than ours. Imagine if Texas (or Georgia or Maine or take your pick) decided to act as Germany and erect a financial barrier to seal itself off from the woes in California and New York.
Germany's Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck made clear his government's opposition to the idea that the euro zone's single largest economy should put up money to prop up institutions outside his country.

He said Monday that he and Chancellor Angela Merkel were considering creating a "shield" that would protect the country's entire financial sector, and that a Europe-wide shield or bailout was out of the question. "The chancellor and I reject a European shield because we as Germans do not want to pay into a big pot where we do not have control and do not know where German money might be used," he said in a separate interview with WDR 2 radio.
The Euro is finished. The grand experiment failed. It's back to the mark and the franc and the guilder. I wonder if those celebs are still demanding payment in Euros?

I see Russia had to shut down their stock markets. Down 19% in one day. конфета! What was that, Vlad? I see oil futures were trading below $88 today. Remember what happened in the USSR the last time oil prices crashed? Enjoy the Russian civil war. And while I'm at it: Hey Boone! Yes, you. You dried-up old has-been. What happened to your sure-fire prediction? You were supposed to be one of the Smartest Guys in the Room. Guess your attempt to talk oil prices up so you can reap the benefits of US tax dollars to pay for your hot air farms failed, eh?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Why Ford, GM and Chrysler are toast

From Bloomberg, here's a devastating article from a UAW-worker-turned-reporter. Even if gas drops to 99 cents/gallon, that doesn't address the bigger issue.
Along with Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC, GM is staggering under a combined $114 billion in retiree health liabilities shouldered as workers hold the union and companies to the promise of a pension and lifetime health care.
I've predicted for years now that we will have nationalized medical care, done under the guise of saving US manufacturing. I don't think it matters at this point whether it's Obama or McCain, it is coming. It will be sold to us as the patriotic thing to do (The "US Manufacturing Rescue Act of 2009"), complete with concerts from struggling artists like John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen, who will create some annoying song with lots of other wealthy musicians. Watch as the Big 3 jettison their pension plans onto us taxpayers, then dump the cost for medical insurance onto our laps. And quite frankly, with $700 billion (most likely far more) billed to our children for bailing out the Wall Street morons, nationalizing medical care and bailing out pensions is small potatoes.

Any politician who says this is not our future is full of crap. It is coming, and you few remaining libertarian capitalists out there will be soothed with the dulcet government refrain of "There now, that wasn't so bad, was it?" as the IV drip is inserted.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Ike damage to a rig

Sharky sent me these. This rig is about 50 miles off Galveston Island.

We reckon the waves that hit this rig were about 50'-60' high. Note the twisted steel girders that support the lowest "deck".

I think this is an excellent sign. The engineers and workers have done an outstanding job of "hardening" these rigs against Gulf Coast hurricanes since Dennis, Rita and Katrina. It's amazing to me that something that looks so flimsy can withstand waves that high for hours.

I regret bailing out of the geology program in 1987. This is a very exciting job field. Beats being a desk jockey. But at the time they were laying off seasoned geologists left and right. I would have graduated into a world underemployment.

Federal Reserve Bank damage

I did the Komen Houston Race for the Cure this morning. There were just a few people there.

It wasn't actually a race for us. Not when I am dragging along two kids who alternate "My feet hurt, Daddy" and "When are we going?" So we did the walking route. Which took me by a building I have heard about but have never seen before: The Houston branch of the Fed. It is indeed hideous beyond words. It looks like a scaled-up version of the Children's Museum, only without the charm.

Looking closely, it seems the architectural firm was so busy fiddling about with the color scheme that they failed to account for hurricanes. Unlike the non-descript 5os-era Fed building that looked like a bunker complex, the new Fed building suffered substantial roof damage. Whole entire sections of roofing were peeled off.

This is inexcusable for a critical building that is brand-new.

Friday, October 3, 2008

298 people missing post-Ike

The Chron has set up a database. I expect that some of them will be found alive and well, just living somewhere else without having informed any friends or relatives. I also suspect that most of the rest may never be found, especially the ones on the Bolivar Peninsula. If their bodies are found, they'll most like be discovered on the other side of the Bay, on Smith Point and further up the Bay in Chambers County. That's a lot of inaccessible swamp and marsh to cover.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Commerce is dying

I am on the front lines. Over the past few weeks business has died. No one is buying our widgets. Even Brazil, which has been an excellent market for the past few years despite the massive trade barriers and paperwork their government has erected... dead. There was a brief flurry of activity the last week of September as the usual Federal agencies rushed to spend their "use it or lose it from next year's budget" money, but elsewhere it has been eerily silent. Domestic markets, international markets... everything's at a complete standstill.

Until recently the answer would be "go pound the pavement and get a new job." Based on what I am seeing right now that is going to be exceedingly difficult for most of us for a long time to come. This is the absolute worst time for Hammer #1 to fall. I am sorry to keep talking about this vague "Hammer," but I will explain it in due time.

So many bloggers have been warning about this fiasco for years. Rob Dawg, Ben Jones, Calculated Risk, even a dork like me with a lousy B.S. degree. Why is it the Smartest Guys In The Room still, to this day, claim that "no one saw this coming"?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I would like to know where our food is made

Another scandal in China, this time with tainted milk. So much of our food comes from China, yet we aren't allowed to decide for ourselves whether or not we want to eat it because it's not labeled. For example, half of the apple juice we consume is from China. But the consumer doesn't know that. Consumer goods other than food all have country of origin labels, but not food. Seems to me that it's far more important to know that something I may potentially feed my children is coming from a country with no food safety rules than it is to know if a toy is made there.

Infant formula. Children's multivitamins. Made in China. Is it worth the risk to save a few pennies? Just tell me where it's from and let me decide.