Sunday, November 30, 2008

Like a rock

Courtesy Housing Bubble Bust. I simply don't see this decline going on until 2011. I know that people like to debate the infamous Mortgage Reset Chart and the meaning of that wave of option ARMs coming due in three years, but let's face it. The majority of those people have already walked. Why continue paying on a $400k mortgage when the underlying asset is only worth $200k? Ethics have nothing to do with it at this point. Walking means economic survival.

The rout continues until the end of next year, then the markets will be flat for years to come. When all is said and done, bubble real estate areas will have been marked down 50-60% off peak prices. Which is a good thing.

World Justice League Battles Polluters!

This won't end up very well.
Stephen Hockman QC is proposing a body similar to the International Court of Justice in The Hague to be the supreme legal authority on issues regarding the environment.

The first role of the new body would be to enforce international agreements on cutting greenhouse gas emissions set to be agreed next year.

But the court would also fine countries or companies that fail to protect endangered species or degrade the natural environment and enforce the "right to a healthy environment".
So many questions.
  • Who will control the money?
  • What will they do with that money?
  • Who will be responsible for financial audits of this "court"?
  • What will this "court" do when they run across a country that tells them to pound sand? You know, like China.
With the world economic system in tatters I doubt very much this sort of nonsense will be of importance to most people. Including Europeans.
The election of Barack Obama as U.S. president may, however, help the mood at the Dec. 1-12 meeting of 9,000 delegates in the industrial city of Poznan since he has promised more action to slow warming than President George W. Bush.
Let me step out on a limb and say bullcrap. There is a reason why not a single Democrat voted for the Kyoto Treaty 11 years ago. Kyoto was a scam concocted by Europeans to damage America's economy and everyone, including Dems, knew it. Obama will not agree to it either. Kyoto may play well in San Francisco, but it doesn't play well in the suffering blue-collar union-organizing industrial and mining belt.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Microsoft is bidding once again for Yahoo. I don't know anyone who uses MSN. I know plenty of people who use Yahoo. Not for search but for other things like finance. Yahoo has some great stuff, but Jerry never figured out how to best monetize it. If Microsoft buys it I suspect they'll just screw it up by forcing users to install apps they don't want (i.e., Silverlight) and by creating new and annoying password schemes. Microsoft does not understand the internet. They never have.

On a different subject, News Corp. made a big mistake buying MySpace. They should have put in a bid for Facebook instead. MySpace is so 2005. If you're 14 and have ADHD you're on MySpace.

Wildcard: Smartphones are replacing PCs and traditional laptops. In my house I am using my iPod Touch more than my PC. I don't have to wait for the computer to boot up so I can check my e-mail, weather, stocks, and favorite blogs instantly, anywhere in the house. Snowflake was on to something when he blogged about posting via his smartphone while dealing with the consequences of his latest wheat grass shot.

RIM is integrating Facebook as a distinct app, rather than a web page. I think a smartphone player will bid for Facebook, then license it out to the other vendors. I think it will be Apple.

Companies like Dell and Toshiba and Lenovo are toast. I would include HP on the toast list, but they do a lot more besides PCs. The internet appliance companies of the future are Apple, Nokia, LG, Acer and RIM. Within a few years you'll be connecting your smartphone to a docking station for monitor and keyboard and you won't have a PC.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The problem with Rosie O'Donnell's variety show

Grossie bombed. The reason is quite simple. The successful variety shows of the 70s starred people who were outstanding at improv. So many people (sticks up hand and waves) long for something like the Carol Burnett Show.

This is not rocket science. Lame "stars" won't attract an audience. Genuine yucks will. Want a hit variety show? Combine the cast of Drew Carey's old Whose Line Is It Anyway? show with the "stars" and musical acts.

Merry Christmas

We have lost our minds.

I shouldn't say "we." I don't participate in this idiocy, and I doubt you do either. Yet I hear that the future of the world depends upon idiots like this gorging on imported crap from China. I am sick of it. So I won't go along with this nonsense any more. Next year, a few small presents for the kids. Their big presents can wait until their birthdays.

I bought my son a BB gun, by the way. I think this will be a far more interesting gift than any video game. In fact, I know this. If there is one thing boys like more than anything else, it is destroying things. Blowing up toy cars with firecrackers, shooting up cans with BB guns, these types of activities are far more engaging than Mario Brothers. And there's not a chance in hell that I'll let him use the BB gun without me being right next to him.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

GM idiocy

GM is pondering the sale of their Saturn brand. I remember a brief period in the early 1990s when Saturn had a fairly good rep amongst 20-something car buyers. Smallish American cars built outside of Detroit, with no haggle pricing. Cool. Then GM let the brand lapse into mediocrity, and now they want to ditch Saturn.

GM has some great cars that they manufacture in Europe. Only now they are packaging these Opel's as Saturn's. I think it's far too late. GM devalued the Saturn brand for over a decade.

Turkey After

Two more hours. I just put the foil over the bird. The house smells like turkey.

Like you I am watching the news from Mumbai. The Twitter feed on Skynews is astounding. The tensions between Pakistan and India are going to be ratcheted way up. I suspect that the Indian government will issue the Pakistani government an ultimatum: Serve up the psychopaths who planned and coordinated this.

Turkey Before

That was fun. Thank you dead bird for allowing me to fill your thoracic cavity with breadcrumbs and herbs and onions, then bake you in an oven.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Love note to California

Californians aren't very happy right now. They reside in the Land of the Subprime. Hundreds of thousands of Californians gorged on greed and they are now losing their houses and their jobs. The still employed Californians are overtaxed and overwhelmed. But they should keep their chins up. This image of California never went away for the rest of the world.

The current shitstorm is not unique. The current crisis will pass and California will become a magnet once again.


I have been watching the events in Mumbai for the past hour. There will be a tipping point reached with these scumbags very soon.

Massachusetts girls

In college I briefly dated a girl from Massachusetts. One night she coyly asked if I liked her peeas deeas. Huh?

Halliburton leaves Dubai, returns to Houston

The news coming out of Dubai is increasingly grim. The Dubai real estate market, which was Orange County on amphetamines, is collapsing. Dubai, Inc. was built upon nothing more than credit, and Sheikh Mo's credit cards have been declined.
ABU DHABI, Nov 26 (Reuters) - Abu Dhabi launched a government-backed mortgage lender on Wednesday in a move to limit damage from the credit crisis, as developers in Dubai reviewed sales and expansion plans in light of tough times.

Ali Eid al-Mehairi, chairman of Abu Dhabi Finance, said the new company would help alleviate any financing bottlenecks brought about by the crunch or by a preceding building boom.

"No one expected that this financial crisis was going to happen," he told Reuters by telephone. "We have been working on this for the past 12 months with plans to come to market in Q4."

The UAE suffered a direct hit from the credit crisis after lending to its booming real estate sector dried up and property prices plunged.
Bailout-the word that dare not speak its name in Dubai

"I think this is a bailout. This is a government takeover," said one UAE analyst who declined to give his name, citing the sensitivity of the issue -- another sign of just how politically charged words become in a region where corporate governance is in its infancy.
The world has changed since July. The petro-boil has been lanced, and the other Emirates simply won't have enough cash to keep Dubai, Inc. solvent. They have their own needs to attend to.

About Halliburton leaving Dubai and returning to Houston. I'm just trolling for search traffic. I am curious to see what happens. But it certainly could happen. As I have mentioned in the past, construction standards in Dubai have been less than stringent.
UAE construction firms are using substandard quality concrete with a reduced service life, a building design expert has warned. Dr Abdul-Rahim Sabouni, President of the UAE Chapter of the American Concrete Association, says the Middle East construction sector needs to take a more professional approach, with better codes of practice and quality control.
Dubai buildings falling down,
falling down,
falling down,
Dubai buildings falling down,
Halliburton's leaving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Yummy! My favorite meal of the year is less than 48 hours away. I love turkey. So do my stepdad and my son. My mom doesn't like turkey. I can see why a vegetarian wouldn't dig turkey, but how can an omnivore not like it? It's so good! So my mom said she wouldn't make turkey this year and said she'd buy one of those pressed turkey loaves to keep us turkey-eaters happy. I told her to keep the turkey loaf in the freezer, I'll make the turkey.

I have an 18-pounder in the fridge that is almost thawed. Tomorrow night I'll make the stuffing. The Pepperidge Farms kind, but I will add in some chopped green onions and some finely-chopped sauteed onion, plus a 16-oz can of chicken broth and some cooked wild rice. I may throw in some chopped garlic.

Thursday morning at 7:00 the bird gets stuffed. Around noon I'll make cornbread. (Something else my mom doesn't like... how can anyone not like cornbread?) I like the Jiffy Mix cornbread, but I always add in half a can of whole kernel corn. It makes the cornbread so much... cornier.

I love Thanksgiving. You can keep your expensive Honeybaked Ham®, I'll take freshly-made turkey any day.

Thursday night I start making gumbo from the leftovers. A turkey and sausage gumbo served over a bed of steaming hot rice... mmmmm.

What happens if you listen to Jeff Rense and Alex Jones

You turn blue.

About those bubble dollars

I read this on Instapundit.

One thing to keep in mind about all of those dollars being created out of thin air by the Fed: The volume of this new "money" pales in comparison to the amount of wealth that has been destroyed over the past year, particularly since this past summer. There are fewer dollars chasing after more goods, hence we are seeing deflation. Housing, energy, commodities... it's all declining as wealth is evaporating. Things that don't decline in price, like health care and education are heavily supported/subsidized/controlled by various governments. But these too will eventually be hit by deflation. I would make the case that the government also meddles in agriculture, keeping the price of food artificially high.

It's no coincidence that Bernanke, a student of the Great Depression, was brought in. The White House knew what was in store two years down the road. Bernanke will continue to flood the market with liquidity as dollars evaporate in time bombs such as hedge funds.

My bleary-eyed thoughts on an early Tuesday morning. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Barack Obama Spam

I peek inside my spam folder once in a while. Lately there's been a lot of this.

Enjoy a bed of fresh arugula directly from your own Barack Obama plate! Plus it comes with a bonus plastic stand and a Certificate of Authenticity, in case anyone questions you on whether or not that is Barack Obama's face on your plate.

YES YOU CAN order your very own Mardis Gras trinket for just $49 plus shipping.

I guess it's technically not false advertising. The AS SEEN ON TV bug could be referring to Obama.

I haven't seen Barack Obama oven mitts, beach towels or back scratchers yet, but I am thinking of marketing a map of the US that features all 57 states. The market for "MY PRESIDENT IS BLACK" t-shirts is saturated.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My life as of November 23, 2008

Someone e-mailed me about the status of Hammer 1 and Hammer 2. Which I thought was pretty cool. In case you are wondering, things remain in stasis. 2008 has been the crappiest year of my life, bar none. I'll be glad when it's over.

Meanwhile, look at what I stumbled upon tonight. Remember Wacky Packs?

I had hundreds of these stickers when I was my son's age, all carefully sorted in a special box. I kept them for years, then my mom tossed them when I went off to college. I won't say they would be worth a fortune, but they'd be worth a few bucks now. So you parents out there, don't toss away the stuff your kids are collecting. Fight the cleaning mania. Just stick this stuff in a closet and once the kids graduate from college, then tell them to take it or lose it.

Fortunately I still have all of my 70s-era Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars. Matchbox cars were "Made in England by Lesney." That went away around 1972, I think. Hot Wheels were made in Malaysia by then.

Sylvia Browne is the world's worst guesser

So spectacularly wrong on everything. She gets paid a lot of money for this nonsense.

Update: TelescopeMerc pointed out Stop Sylvia Browne.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

College Music

I was really into this stuff. 20+ years later, so much of it sounds like crap.

Black Flag, for example.

Butthole Surfers.

They did get much better by 2000. But the record company dropped the Butthole Surfers and all they have is a shred of a demo video.

The Dead Milkmen. God, this is embarrassing. I saw them 3 times.

Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper. They had some talent, at least.

During the summer of 1992 Mojo Nixon and the Toadliquors toured constantly in Texas. Dallas, Houston, Austin. For 12 weeks they played the same three places. I spoke with Mojo quite a few times. Kirby carries his Mojo persona into real life. Once I asked him about Skid. All he said was "Skid sucks d***."

Friday, November 21, 2008

iPod Software Update

2.2 came out last night for the iPhone and iPod and right now I am downloading it. 277 MB. Jeez, not so long ago this would have exceeded the hard drive storage capacity of a PC.

My guess is a lot of the bloat is from the addition of Google Street View. Which will be exceedingly handy for iPhone 3G users and iPod users in dense networks with lots of free Wi-Fi hotspots. Street View was never anything more than a novelty on the PC. On a mobile device, Street View will become a standard feature.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Will gas prices do a Reserve Management? On March 1, 1999 the average retail price of a gallon of gas was $0.93. That wasn't very long ago, was it?

Will Congress bail out Exxon?

I won't sit in an ivory tower and say that auto workers should lose their jobs. Few things suck more than getting a pink slip. But as the oil markets continue their inevitable collapse, I have to ask: Will Congress bail out the oil companies?

They didn't the last time the energy market collapsed. There was no talk of bailing out Gulf Oil or Texaco or Transco. Millions of people lost their jobs. Cities like Houston and Tulsa entered into localized depressions. An entire generation of exploration and drilling expertise was lost.

I think that the domestic energy industry is more vital to US interests than an industry that builds bloatmobiles. As the oil companies begin laying off hundreds of thousands of skilled workers, will Congress be there to keep these companies and their employees afloat? I bet not.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hellbent on taking Iran nuclear?

The evil dwarf is pushing ahead with his nuke program. He is making Iran increasingly isolated and he's alarming everyone in the region.
The agency says that, as of this month, Tehran had amassed 630kg of low enriched uranium hexafluoride, up from 480kg in late August. Analysts say Iran is enriching uranium at such a pace that, by early next year, it could reach break-out capacity – one step away from producing enough fissile material for a crude nuclear bomb.

“They are moving forward, they are not making diplomatic overtures, they are accumulating low enriched uranium,” said Cliff Kupchan, an analyst at the Eurasia Group, a risk consultancy in Washington. “These guys are committed to their nuclear programme: if we didn’t know that, they just told us again.”
I posit that his goal isn't to nuke Israel, and he doesn't necessarily care about building a functional nuclear weapon. What would he do with a nuke? He knows that 15 minutes after he used it Tehran would cease to exist.

What Ahmadinejad desperately wants is tolerable conflict in the region. Here's why. He wants Israel or the US to bomb those enrichment facilities. What's a few hundred million spent on some backwater facilities when conflict with Iran could potentially shoot oil prices up 40 or 50% and replenish Iran's coffers to the tune of billions?

Are you old enough to remember the tanker wars of the mid to late-1980s? Anti-ship missiles are surprisingly ineffective against supertankers. Ahmadinejad knows this so he is trying to gin up a bigger "crisis." And just as during the tanker wars, Ahmadinejad's plan won't work. The latest bubble has burst.

Side note: Houston, are you ready for another oil bust? I suggest that you get yourselves prepared. From a purely selfish standpoint, I hope that I am wrong. But I have been through this before, and if you're younger than 30 you haven't seen it. During the bust in 1986, nice, brand-new apartments up on FM 1960 were going for $225/mo. You heard that right. In college I helped my grandmother figure her bills. $225 for a nice new apartment in a good part of town.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

We have chrysalis

10 of them actually.

I collect monarchs twice each year with my kids. It's a fun and cheap hobby that is also fascinating. You just need some milkweed plants, a rectangular 2.5 gallon plastic food storage container with a removable lid and some mosquito netting.

Cut a large hole in the top of the plastic container. Cut a piece of mosquito netting to overlap the hole by 1/2 inch (buy a mosquito net at Walmart for $1.29, don't spend $8 for a roll of vinyl window screen replacement), then use a glue gun to secure the netting. That's about as difficult as it gets.

After you notice the monarchs flitting about, look closely at the underside of the milkweed leaves. You should see tiny white eggs. Remove these leaves, then place them inside the plastic container on a paper towel. Keep the paper towel moist. Watch closely. In a few days you should see tiny caterpillars that will need to be fed a steady diet of milkweed.

You will need a lot of leaves. They produce copious amounts of crap that would probably be a prized fertilizer if a way could be discovered to harvest it. The paper towel makes it easier to clean. Obviously you need to be very gentle when you pick up a caterpillar. Don't be surprised when it squirts out a bright green fluid all over your fingers. If you are squeamish, wait until it crawls onto a leaf and then pick it up. As the caterpillars fatten up you can hear them eating.

Tonight was very cool. My son and I had never actually seen a caterpillar wrap itself in its chrysalis. It was very fast, taking just a few short minutes. My son likened it to a fat kid trying to squeeze into a small sleeping bag. When it was finished my son said, "The caterpillar's face fell off!"

Now we wait about 2 weeks. In about 10 days I'll remove the lid from the container and keep it outside in case the butterflies start emerging while I'm at work.

More details here if you're interested in taking this up as a hobby.

This is a pleasant diversion from the doom and gloom. It takes my mind off things for a bit and the kids find it fascinating. It's a nice way to learn something.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Historic Photos of Houston

A publisher contacted me a few weeks ago and asked if I'd like a review copy of Historic Photos of Houston. You betcha.

Unfortunately this will be a very thin review. Author Betty Trapp Chapman did a lot of research into the background of the photos. But I have seen almost all of these photographs before and I didn't learn anything new.

This is a problem not unique to this book. The entire genre of historical photo books is saturated, and these photographs can almost always be found online. Historic Photos of Houston is also too broad. If I was to purchase a book of historical photos, I'd like it to be more specialized. A book detailing Houston from 1945-1960 would be very interesting to me. Houston became a major city during this time. Freeways were being built, suburbs like Sharpstown were created, Roy Hofheinz was dreaming up the Astrodome. It was during this time that Houston began to resemble the Houston we know today.

Actually, I did learn something new from Chapman's book. One photo caught my attention, and it was from this period. In 1955, Houston had a monorail that I had heard about but never saw pictures of. Hoo doggie, that monorail was ugly!

Attention Brad Thor: Your publisher has been kind enough to send me some of your books in the past which I dig reading. Can I review your latest? Ditto Erik Larson. Surely he has a new book coming out. If you're a publisher please send me a sample. Unlike some bloggers who say they are getting a copy of a book and post a link to their Amazon affiliate page (without actually reading the book), I will read the book and post about it. Yes, I am begging. :-) But at least I am being honest about it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hey Steve Radack, can we please have some sidewalks?

My Check Engine light came on Friday night as I was driving back from the orthodontist. Saturday morning I packed my bike into my car and drove to a mechanic. It's only a couple miles, no big deal riding back. Except that on the major thoroughfares there are no sidewalks.

I appreciate the new roads, but why can't Harris County Precinct Three complete them by adding sidewalks? It's too dangerous to ride on the roadway, it's virtually impossible to ride on the median or the ten-foot space between the roadway and property lines.

All of the neighborhoods have nice sidewalks, but you can't actually get anywhere safely without driving because there are no sidewalks connecting the neighborhoods with schools and commerce. It's absurd.

(Welcome Chronicle readers. I appreciate the link, Chronicle staffers. Can you publish an article or two about the lack of sidewalks? Maybe an editorial? It's great that we have bike trails, but I'd rather have sidewalks.)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Iceland: California on steroids

I read this FT article entitled "Letter from Iceland" and the only thing I can think of holy crap.

And see Icelanders are NOT terrorists. Look familiar?

2008 Predictions

Reader Chris somehow found my January 1, 2008 post. Unlike some people who are paid a lot money to talk about their guesses, I make no effort to hide my bad calls. Here is how the post appeared:
Some of these predictions may even occur! Please add your own.
  1. Come November, it will be John Edwards and Barack Obama vs John McCain and Rudy Giuliani.
  2. The Euro and Pound dive as the ECB and B of E drop interest rates in order to repair the damage caused by the collapse of the massive European real estate bubble.
  3. A major Las Vegas casino signs a multi-year nine-figure contract with Led Zeppelin to perform 4 nights per week.
  4. Casey Serin will serve as a witness for the prosecution against a major Sacramento-based mortgage fraud ring. Casey himself will never be prosecuted.
  5. Oil will end the year below $50/barrel.
  6. US financial markets will be down 20% by the end of 2008. Despite this, US markets will still outperform almost every international market.
  7. Unemployment approaches 6.5%.
  8. The start of the 2008 recession will be pegged to October 2007.
  9. An actor from ABC's Lost will be arrested by the Honolulu PD for suspicion of driving under the influence.
  10. The Beijing Olympics will cause China a great deal of embarrassment as athletes complain that they cannot effectively compete with such high levels of air pollution.
  11. Median selling prices for houses, including condos and single-family homes, will decline 10% nationwide in 2008, 20% or more in California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada. Lawrence Yun will resign his position to "spend more time with my family." Richard F. “Dick” Gaylord will resign his position for someone with a name that doesn't cause some people to chortle.
  12. Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan will continue to be in the news. Most Americans will continue to wonder why.
  13. Cerberus Capital Management will pull the plug on Chrysler, shutting down the company and selling off assets. A large Japanese corporation will purchase the Jeep brand.
  14. The decline of the printed newspaper will continue. Meanwhile, online ad revenue will surge. A coalition of large US newspapers will attempt to fight back against craigslist by forming their own national online free classifieds. It will be monetized by selling additional services such as premium placement and graphics.
  15. The redesigned iPod Nano will prove to be a major disappointment for Apple and its shareholders once the Q4 2007 results are announced.
  16. California Democrats will attempt a recall drive against Governor Schwarzenegger. The attempt will fail. Californians will face a steep rise in taxes.
  17. After 2 years of firing local talent and relying solely on national shows in order to save money, Clear Channel will sell many of its radio stations to prop up their balance sheet.

Gerald Celente is full of crap

Gerald Celente is getting a lot of press lately. He's predicting doom and gloom and is very popular with the 9/11 truther dirtbags. So how's his guessing ability? For that we have the handy-dandy Wayback Machine. Browsing through old versions of his website:
Gerald Celente's best talent is his ability to self-promote. But his accuracy doesn't look any more exceptional than someone making predictions by reading tea leaves. And I'm not the only one to notice this. His predictions consist of nothing more than reading news stories and deducing the painfully obvious.

And to Mehdi Amjad: It's OK, keep your $50.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Persistent, gnawing pain

The lower set of braces was installed tonight. When I was a kid I got hit in the face by a baseball during Little League and this feels a lot like it. In January I go back for adjustments and rubber bands. If you wore braces when you were 14 you remember those little rubber bands. You also remember how fun it was to open your mouth too quickly and zing! the rubber band would fly out and whack some kid in the back of the head. I asked the orthodontist, "Am I gonna have to wear the rubber bands 24/7? I am on the phone most of the work day." Fortunately I will only have to wear them 16 hours a day. For 6 months.

I have become Weird Al.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Google Flu

I don't understand all of the recent hype regarding Google Flu Trends. Big deal. The CDC also has a map that they update, only the CDC uses real numbers. Google's map is entirely based on search trends and supposedly provides a 2-week lead.

What's the point of this if you haven't gotten a flu shot? If you don't want to get a flu shot, fine, but what good is Google's 2-week lead when it takes 2 weeks for the flu vaccine to take full effect? I also question the validity of finding influenza outbreaks based on search terms. In states like Florida, where there are lots of elderly retired people who truly need the annual vaccine, wouldn't searches using the word "flu" increase this time of year anyway even though there is no flu outbreak? Lots of people are looking for the nearest place to get their flu vaccine.

Nice bit of PR for Google, though.

My kids and I got our flu shots last night, BTW. What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

$55, the Rise and Fall of Hugo Chavez

Uh oh. We are seeing the rise and fall of Melonhead.
SINGAPORE (AP) — Oil prices slid to near $55 a barrel Thursday in Asia as more bad economic news from the U.S. heightened fears of a severe global downturn that will pulverise demand for crude.
The velocity of this collapse surprised even me. I thought it would be the end of December. The markets may blow through $50 by the end of the week.

Melonhead's really up a creek. Venezuelan crude production is way down, yet Melonhead booted out the western oil companies vital to keeping the fields open and bringing more production online. Melonhead will be begging these companies to come back, por favor. They will tell him to pound sand. He's already easing back on his stupid rhetoric.

Poor Melonhead realizes that his dreams of leading a new Bolivarian empire have collapsed. Soon enough, Melonhead will be facing a firing squad after yet another coup d'├ętat.

No great loss.

Oh, yeah. I am calling $25 by summer 2009.

A Walk in the Woods

Most people have their favorite books that they like to pull out and read again every few years. Right now I am reading A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. I think this is the fifth time I've read it.

Bryson is an ex-pat re-pat ex-pat who lives in the UK now. In the 1990s he hiked portions of the Appalachian Trail with his childhood friend "Stephen Katz," who at the time of the hike was a morbidly obese 44-year-old slacker with a sharp tongue. The conversations and insults they drop on fellow travelers and characters they meet along the way are hysterical. Particulary funny is Mary Ellen, an annoying piece of work who trails Bryson and Katz while talking nonstop and making frequent Felix Unger honking sounds while "cleaning" her eustacian canals. Which prompted Katz to tell her, in all seriousness,
I know a guy who did that once, and one of his eyes popped out. It rolled right across the living room floor and his dog ate it. Isn't that right, Bryson?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Social apartheid refers to de facto segregation on the basis of class or economic status in which an underclass develops which is separated from the rest of the population.
According to HMEPS a city employee can work 30 years and then retire on 63.01% of their highest annual pay, with medical insurance for $149/mo. Or do 25 years and get half, plus medical.

Why encourage our kids to study science or engineering and go work in the private sector? Go work for the government, do your thirty, retire at age 49 or 50 with a lifetime ironclad pension and cheap medical coverage. Start a second career and double-dip. Go work at Walmart part time on weekends and it would pay for some nice overseas vacations.

I can see why a beat cop or fireman needs to be mustered out at 50. But why should a desk jockey? If you're not on the streets wrecking your body for the public good you should get the same retirement benefits as everyone else. That means Social Security, 401k plans that you pay into and any money you save on your own.

Texas teachers did some absurd things to game the system a few years ago. Most Texas teachers do not pay into Social Security. They have their own pension system. Until 2-3 years ago, if a Texas teacher worked so much as a day in a school district that didn't participate in the TRS, they could get both SS benefits and TRS benefits. Which led to the absurd sight of thousands of teachers in Houston and Dallas going to smaller Texas cities for a day to "work" as janitors. I am not making this up. I know people who did this. All of these school districts colluded in this gigantic rip-off. Of course this isn't fair to teachers who worked in the private sector for 20 years and paid into SS and then chose teaching as a second career. They lose SS benefits and have to start all over at age 42 with the TRS.

The whole system sucks. I think it should all be a level playing field. I think it will be very soon as these government pension schemes go bankrupt and taxpayers refuse to pay for 50-year-old retirees by voting with their feet and leaving.

Update: Welcome Chronicle readers!

Veterans Day

People seem to forget about this day. It's turned into just another paid holiday for government workers.

So any veterans out there, thank you for your service and I hope you have a good one.

(Google remembers, Yahoo doesn't, MSN doesn't. Make of that what you will.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Melonhead cuts an album

Hugo Chavez cuts an album!
"Listen carefully. Listen carefully to the words. They say everything."

In Venezuela, they're singing along with Hugo. Chavez, that is.

The Venezuelan president is lending his voice to a couple of revolutionary tunes -- literally -- on a new collection of songs and poems released by his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). It's what every youngster in Caracas will want on his iPod.
Yeah, right.

Why Circuit City went belly-up

Attention reporters: Would you please stop blaming Circuit City's failure on the credit crunch? Circuit City's problems go back for many years, starting with the fact that shopping there is unpleasant and frankly there are more Best Buy stores in convenient locations. Ditto for CompUSA. They went belly up not because of the economy but because PCs are a commodity and boxed software is no longer a big seller.

If I want to browse the widest possible selection of stuff, Fry's is right around the corner. I'd rather deal with Fry's because their black-tied, white short-sleeved shirt employees don't get in your face every five seconds. I'd never even consider Circuit City.

Remember the mad dash to erect mega home improvement and sporting good stores during the 1990s? A couple of big chains went under. Builders Square was one of them. Sports Authority is still around, but I question their viability... the one near my house has always been a ghost town and I have never figured out how they can keep the doors open.

Even in a perfect economy we are over-retailed. That's the real problem.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Wanna buy my car?

As spotted by The Dude.


I filled up the tank in my Rav4 for less than $22 today. I expect that next Sunday I'll be able to refill the tank for less than $20.

Lack of segue: Chores. From enjoyable to least favorite:
Yard work and mowing the lawn.
Cleaning the dishes.
Washing clothes.
Drying clothes.
Emptying the dishwasher.
Scrubbing toilets.
Folding clothes.
I dread folding clothes.

Obama Celebration in South Park

Full episode here.

Side note: There appears to be a bizarre meme in the world today. Looking at my Sitemeter, there are a bunch of people Googling "why do French people smell".

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Dubai Real Estate Collapse

It's slowly dawning on the Dubai real estate speculators that the game is over.
House prices on the Palm Jebel Ali, second largest of Nakheel’s palm-shaped islands, have fallen by as much as 40 percent in the last two months as the global financial crisis sees foreign investors move to liquidate assets in Dubai, according to three Dubai-based real estate agents.
Dubai has experienced the greatest real estate bubble in recorded history. Hundreds of thousands of speculators, primarily from Europe and the Middle East, will be wiped out over the next 2 years. I think that prices in Dubai will drop 90% from peak value. Yes, that is my prediction. And due to substandard construction, many of these glittery buildings will be essentially worthless. (More on this issue here.)

Not only will this devastate the speculators, it will cause a great deal of peripheral damage. Those construction workers will go back to Pakistan and India without any more pay checks. Construction firms, engineering firms, architects, steel manufacturers... the world's largest building site has just shut down. I said on Thursday what this will do EADS.

To get an idea of the sheer size of the Dubai real estate mania, check out this page of current and proposed projects.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The next bubbles to pop

Or as someone on CH.C said, boils to be lanced.
  • Super jumbo-jets, aka the A380, aka the White Elephant. One third of the orders for the A380 come from the UAE. With the collapse in oil prices and the lancing of the global credit boil, the idea that Dubai is a great place to visit, live, work and retire to is no more. The airliners and skyscrapers of Dubai were built on cheap and easy credit. Speaking of which...
  • Mega skyscrapers. The petrodictators have been in a mad rush the past decade to build the tallest moments to their greatness. The Burj Dubai is the most famous example, but many of the petrothugs throughout the Middle East and Russia engaged in this mania. Funny thing, there's a correlation between building height and financial collapse. Hooo doggie, Dubai is gonna be a gilded ghost town. Speaking of which...
  • Gold. It continues to drop. Over on the Ben Jones Housing Bubble Blog, the gold bugs (the proper term is gold cretins) continue their pretentious "we are smarter than everyone else" nonsense, labeling gold with cutesy "insider" names like "the Precious" and "mellow yellow." The writing style of the gold cretins is known to induce a distinct flesh-crawling sensation when a sane person reads their comments. They rant and rave about "fiat currency" and how our dollars are worthless. Funny, the gold cretins never took me up on my offer. The fact is, gold is a gamble. Speaking of which...
  • Casinos. Credit card balances are destroyed and the home equity tap is turned off. All those shiny glittering casinos, not only in Las Vegas but in places like Macau and Tunica, soon to be empty. State governments are counting on the tax revenue from "gaming" casinos to prop up balance sheets for things like schools and universities. Oops. Speaking of which...
  • College costs. The reason college tuition and fees have exploded the past 2 decades is because of the availability of cheap and easy loans backed by the government. When everyone and anyone can get $100k loans for college tuition, what else would you expect? Speaking of which...
  • Now that cheap and easy home loans are gone, isn't it interesting that housing prices are declining and are becoming more affordable?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What's next?

For those of you concerned about an Obama presidency, your worries are misplaced. During the next two years Obama will be begging Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to keep their yaps shut behind closed doors. Obama will want to be reelected in 2012 and cannot afford to go crazy. Reid and Pelosi can afford to go crazy, because they have only their local constituents to answer to. In fact, Pelosi's constituents will demand the craziness. Look at the city she represents.

Which gives Obama an opportunity. Within six months, Pelosi and Reid will be pushing the "Fairness" Doctrine. There will be legislation to ban scary-looking weapons. More than a few unbalanced people in Congress will demand that Bush be "tried for war crimes." Why would Obama waste political capital on this nonsense and risk firing up disheartened Republicans? Unlike Pelosi, Obama isn't stupid. 1994 will be on the back of his mind. Pelosi and Reid are different. They are cocksure right now and will overreach. Obama will slap them down, gaining political capital from the right and solidifying his "moderate" image.

If I am wrong about this and Obama doesn't remember 1994, then 2010 will mark the return of Republican control of Congress.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

So what happened to that Bush coup we were promised?

Crazy people promised that there would be a coup tonight.
The Bush administration has both the inclination and the power to cancel the 2008 election.

The GOP strategy for another electoral theft in 2008 has taken clear shape, though we must assume there is much more we don't know.

But we must also assume that if it appears to Team Bush/Cheney/Rove that the GOP will lose the 2008 election anyway (as it lost in Ohio 2006), we cannot ignore the possibility that they would simply cancel the election. Those who think this crew will quietly walk away from power are simply not paying attention.

I must have not been paying attention. So what happened?
US President George W. Bush late Tuesday telephoned his apparent successor, Democrat Barack Obama, to congratulate him on his "awesome night," according to White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

"Mr President-elect, congratulations to you. What an awesome night for you, your family and your supporters. Laura and I called to congratulate you and your good bride," she quoted Bush as telling Obama.

"I promise to make this a smooth transition. You are about to go on one of the great journeys of life. Congratulations and go enjoy yourself," Bush told Obama, she said.

The president also invited Obama and his family "to visit the White House soon, at their convenience," Perino said.
Bush doesn't sound like a guy who's about to run off to Paraguay. I think it's about time for people to quit paying attention to nutbags who read/listen to Daily Kos or Alex Jones or Michael Savage.


I received a request from an expensive PR firm to publicize HOPE NOW. I can't post his e-mail to me since there is a disclaimer at the bottom of his e-mail that prohibits me from doing this. But I can post my reply to him. ML, feel free to comment.
Sorry, (ML). The only solution is to let housing prices continue to fall to 3x annual household income, TOPS. I have no interest in helping the millions of people who committed mortgage fraud and looted billions in cash-out refi's for toys while I never refi'd and have always made my payments on time. Get back with me when the the CEOs of Fannie and Freddie and Countrywide are wearing orange prison jumpsuits, along with the rest of the mortgage fraudsters.

Foreclosure is the answer, not the problem. These people shouldn't have been in these houses to begin with.
I am sick of reading the sob stories. For every legitimate tale of foreclosure woes that I am sympathetic towards (medical bills, disability) there are 10 "I bought a house in 2004 with a stated income loan and refinanced in 2006 to buy an Escalade and now the bank wants me out of the house because I can't refinance!" stories. ESAD.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Big Bubble on the Big Island

Tom has a post up about the local real estate mania.
This place has changed over the years though and the baby boomers are arriving, many of them from California. In the last few years this area has become unrecognisable due to all the houses that have been or are being built on the cliffs. Don't get me wrong, these homes are beautiful and I promise to get some close up shots soon, because I'm jealous. What's striking though, having driven past them today, is that nearly every one of them has a "for sale" sign outside. Most are selling for $500,000 to $1 million. I don't even want to think how much the monthly mortgage payment is.

What's worse is that nearly all of these houses were built during the recent housing boom and I suspect cost nearly double their current value to build.
The bubble on Hawaii is nothing. In Compton a crapshack with iron bars on the windows sold for $485k less than 2 years ago.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Galveston, November 1, 2008

I took the kids down to Galveston today so we could hang out with my friend who plays with the Beach Boys. They were in town to play a benefit gig.

The island is in sad shape. But there were some bright spots. The Moody Gardens Aquarium is open, and since there are so few tourists they have greatly reduced the entrance fee. (The Rain Forest Pyramid is closed until further notice.) The kids did get to see a beautiful shrimp trawler up close. They were fascinated.

What struck me most was the fact that all of the trees are dead. All of the beautiful live oaks, planted soon after the 1900 hurricane, are no more. They were killed by the flood of salt water. The only trees to survive are the palms and Norfolk Island pines. My best guess is that every deciduous tree more than 5 blocks from the seawall is dead.
Trash and debris still line Broadway. It will be many months before it is all picked up.
Warning signs were all too common. Fortunately, I don't think looting was much of a problem.
Not sure what happened here. It may have been flood damage, based upon the dead shrubs. It also looks like the house on the right drifted into the pastel-colored houses on the left. My son only noticed the cat and the toilet in the pink bathroom. Funny how kids focus in on things like that.
I've taken a photo at this spot before. It is what is left of the sign for the Balinese Room.
And here is what is left of the Balinese Room. It survived 80 years and many hurricanes, but it couldn't stand up to Ike. The pelicans do like the remaining stumps of the pier. They are handy places to perch on and wait around for fish.
Murdoch’s, another Galveston institution. A great gift shop on a pier that was almost 100 years old. This was a gigantic gift shop. Gone.
All that's left is some merchandise hanging on the wall.
The Strand. The biggest tourist draw in Galveston. The CBD for the city. It looks like something from a "day after" sci-fi movie. On a nice 82 degree fall day like today Galveston would normally be packed with tourists. But now it's all shut down and the only noise is the occasional sound from a repair crew. Not a thing is open. Nothing will be open for many months.
Many people have had their picture taken with the one-handed chef statue, which is normally out on the sidewalk. Well, he survived just fine. The restaurant didn't.
Most Houstonian's know La King's. A great place for homemade ice cream and a fantastic variety of hard candy made right there in the store. It's gone. All that's left is the sign, which you can see in the top left corner.
Anyway, about that beautiful shrimp trawler that delighted the kids.

After we dropped my friend off so he could perform tonight at Moody Gardens, we drove through some of the nice middle-class neighborhoods. The power was on, but it was so dark. Block upon block of damaged houses with no one living in them.

Galveston needs a lot of help! Most of the businesses along Seawall Boulevard are open, so I urge my fellow Texans to go down there and drop some green on the city.