Thursday, April 30, 2009

I missed the train.

I haven't lost a thin dime during this entire debacle. But I completely missed out on the greatest one-month rally in a generation. I'm still sitting there on the platform while everyone else jumped on board.

I know that many of the famous bears who run multi-billion dollar portfolios have turned bullish recently, but it doesn't feel right. My spidey senses are still telling me that the new bulls are wrong. So I will continue to protect my tiny nest egg from the storm which I think is still threatening us.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Those filthy Danes are the biggest polluters on the planet

One tiny country poses the greatest threat to humanity: Denmark.
Confidential data from maritime industry insiders based on engine size and the quality of fuel typically used by ships and cars shows that just 15 of the world's biggest ships may now emit as much pollution as all the world's 760m cars. Low-grade ship bunker fuel (or fuel oil) has up to 2,000 times the sulphur content of diesel fuel used in US and European automobiles.
Why Denmark?
The title of world’s largest container ship is actually held by eight identical ships owned by Danish shipping line Mærsk.

Not only are shipbuilders resetting the world record for size on a regular basis but so are the diesel engines that propel them. One of the eight longest container ships in the world, the 1,300 ft Emma Mærsk also has the world's largest reciprocating engine. At five storeys tall and weighing 2300 tonnes, this 14 cylinder turbocharged two-stroke monster puts out 84.4 MW (114,800 hp) - up to 90MW when the motor's waste heat recovery system is taken into account. These mammoth engines consume approx 16 tons of fuel per hour or 380 tons per day while at sea.
Here's one of the diesel engines in the factory.
Strange. Not only does Kyoto ignore the currently accepted "world's largest polluter" (China), it doesn't address these ships. Hmm. Well, I guess that "man-made climate change" and air pollution aren't as serious as we are told. What other conclusion can we reach?

(Specifics stolen from a website that rhymes with truck pants.)

Lazy tubagoo welfare queen feeds her kids junk food

From the UK Daily Mail:
30-stone mother admits to feeding triplets junk food... and to giving them their first McDonald's at just SIX MONTHS
I call B.S. I think the Daily Mail editors concocted a story in order to sell newspapers. I think they found some poor uneducated woman on welfare and handed her a large sum of cash so they could create a villain everyone loves to hate.

It's not much different than Simon Cowell, who is a master at creating false realities (1) (2) in order to sell records.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Flood

In 15 years of living out here I've never seen it so bad. We got over 12" of rain last night and the creek came too close for comfort. Schools are shut down and I can't even get to the freeway.

It did this for 6 hours.

And as always, lots of people thought that their vehicles double as boats. We get these kinds of rains in Houston at least every year. When will people learn?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dave Brubeck Quartet floating over LA

I've become a Brubeckian over the past 2 years, and I've never seen this before. I think it's great.

Face plant.
Houston is flat as plywood, but we do have some good ravines.

Blood on Cambodia

Next time I ride Cambodia I am wearing shin guards. I ain't 25 anymore, and the tree roots are a bitch.

We're all gonna die from the Mexican flu!

(bump)

No, seriously. I wonder if my son and I had it.
Mexican soldiers and health workers patrolled airports and bus stations, looking for people showing symptoms, which include a fever of more than 100 degrees, body aches, coughing, a sore throat, respiratory congestion and, in some cases, vomiting and diarrhea.

Health authorities started noticing a threefold spike in flu cases in late March and early April, but they thought it was a late rebound in the December-February flu season.
Both of us had our flu shots, yet we both contracted this bug in late March.

----------------
Sheesh, this popped up pretty quickly. No word about it this morning, then as I am driving home from work and listening to the radio I hear Michael Weiner calling for the US/Mexico border to be sealed.

Just a few weeks ago I was complaining about the flu even though I had a flu shot this season. And this was soon after I had come back from the US/Mexico border. I wonder...

It was pretty bad. I hadn't felt that bad since I saw that Cher video.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Germans love the American recession!

I saw this via the Pundit guy.
Hunger is rarely a solitary affliction. Many of those waiting in line at soup kitchens no longer have permanent homes. Thousands of the homeless, including many families that could no longer pay their rent, have moved into inexpensive motels. These are people who were once part of America's middle class.
In other news that German politicians don't want to talk about,
A clutch of political and labour leaders in Germany have raised the spectre of civil unrest after the country's leading institutes forecast a 6pc contraction of gross domestic product this year, a slump reminiscent of 1931 and bad enough to drive unemployment to 4.7m by 2010.
und see
German parents 'ran out of money'

A German couple who abandoned three young children in an Italian pizzeria on Sunday have told police they fled because they had no money, reports say.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Doing Nothing

If nothing had been done last October, where would we be right now? No TARP funds, auto bailouts or cramdowns. No foreclosure hiatus. Bankers and financiers were told to pound sand.

I think that many more of us would be unemployed right now. I think the S&P would be below 400. I think we'd be witnessing the early signs of civil unrest. So far this has been avoided, but like many of us I think our representatives made a pact with the devil.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hot Beef Sundae

iFest was packed today. We wandered down to the Spirit of the Confederacy statue.

There's no point.

Obama meets Ortega

Barry got an earful.
President Obama endured a 50-minute diatribe from socialist Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega that lashed out at a century of what he called terroristic U.S. aggression in Central America and included a rambling denunciation of the U.S.-imposed isolation of Cuba's Communist government.

Obama sat mostly unmoved during the speech but at times jotted notes. The speech was part of the opening ceremonies at the fifth Summit of the Americas here.

Later, at a photo opportunity with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Obama held his tongue when asked what he thought about Ortega's speech.

"It was 50 minutes long. That's what I thought."
Daniel Ortega. Bank robber, child rapist, genocidal dictator. And if that's bad enough he made a woman's right to choose illegal.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Californians are no longer insane

Rob showed a stripped 6-bedroom McMansion in the desert that's listed for $150k. But the house above is much more practical for the average real-world family. A typical "snout house," 1900 square feet, 4 bedrooms. Granted, it's out in the boonies, but it looks OK. It's also fairly new.

It sold for $344,000 in 2006. Now? They're asking $90k. That's a nice, tidy haircut and at $47/square foot those are Katy (north of I-10) prices. With that first-time buyers credit and a boring 30-year loan, it works out to $440/mo.

We are finally seeing rationality make a comeback. I said back in January that many of the more grotesque bubblezones around the country will bottom out this year and I stand by my prediction.

Californians are no longer insane. At least inland.

Had enough rain?

"I'd keep playing. I don't think the heavy stuff's gonna come down for quite a while."

Friday, April 17, 2009

I feel the urge to vomit

Coming up next: Barry French-kisses Robert Mugabe and places a big ol' hickey on the evil dwarf.

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and predict that Barry's gonna be a one-termer. And didja ever notice that Melonhead always wears the same suit and tie? Who does Melonhead think he's fooling? He's a fat melon-headed old ugloid who dyes his hair.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Deserted California toll road

While watching Jim the Realtor's videos, I came across this.



I was curious. I have never seen such an empty toll road, so I looked around. This is San Diego's South Bay Expressway. You folks riding the Sam or the Westpark every day might be interested to see the freebies the owners of the South Bay are handing out. Imagine the HCTRA giving you two weeks of free rides if you sign up for an EZ Tag. And can you imagine people buying Sam Houston Toll Road t-shirts and coffee mugs?

Betcha there will be some financial problems in the very near future.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Rick Perry irony

He's so handsome. And he's suddenly the darling of the right.

But I don't forget. Rick Perry promised us property tax relief. There was no relief. NONE. We are still paying the same +/- 3%. Granted, housing prices are far more affordable here, so that 3% is less than an equivalent house elsewhere at 1%. That doesn't change the fact that my property tax bill has increased every year since 1995 due to phony appraisal increases, and despite the fact that true real estate prices in the 'burbs have been flat since 2000. (Hey Harris County Appraisal District: I'll sell you my house for what you have appraised it at. No? You won't jump on this opportunity?)

Perry's also big on toll roads. Gosh does he love toll roads. Which wind up costing us far more than if we simply raised the gas tax a few cents. There are some things the government does better than the private sector, and building roads is one of them. Investors rightfully demand a ROI, but I believe that roads and highways should be free from that restraint. Roads and highways should be public.

Rick Perry will eat the words he uttered today. He bragged about the Texas economy, then made some stupid comments.
Perry called his supporters patriots. Later, answering news reporters' questions, Perry suggested Texans might at some point get so fed up they would want to secede from the union, though he said he sees no reason why Texas should do that.

"There's a lot of different scenarios," Perry said. "We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot."
I am an American first, a Texan second. I view secessionist as douchebags, whether they are from Vermont, California or Texas. Until and unless The One changes the voting laws, Americans can still put a stop to this nonsense in November 2010, and last I heard Barry hasn't put the kibosh on the next election. And the Texas economy? Granted, it is easier to do business here. But Perry ignored the elephant in the room: The Texas economy has boomed because of oil and gas. If prices continue to decline, what will Perry say then? Lots of us remember the 1980s.

Dissent is patriotic

Well, dissent was patriotic until three months ago. Now, dissent is something evil. Dissenters now belong on government watch lists.

This loudmouth who makes inflammatory comments is a patriot.

This loudmouth who makes inflammatory comments is a patriot.

This loudmouth who makes inflammatory comments is a dangerous terrorist.

Funny how that works. Regardless, dissenting against those in charge is no longer patriotic. So shut your pieholes. Silence is now patriotic.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Let's throw money at it.

Rob had a post about this.
"It’s a foundation built upon five pillars that will grow our economy and make this new century another American century: new rules for Wall Street that will reward drive and innovation; new investments in education that will make our workforce more skilled and competitive; new investments in renewable energy and technology that will create new jobs and industries; new investments in health care that will cut costs for families and businesses; and new savings in our federal budget that will bring down the debt for future generations. That is the new foundation we must build. That is our future."
A couple of things. First, schools don't need more money. We spend more per pupil than any country on Earth, save two. Quit building Taj Mahals that feed the bloated egos of school board members and destroy the massive educational bureaucracy. Then the people who do the actual work (teachers) could get better pay.

Second, "investments in health care" is bullshit terminology. Just call it what it is, Barry: National health care. There's no point in debating the merits because you and Nancy are in charge, so it's coming whether we like it or not.

Third, "new investments in renewable energy and technology that will create new jobs and industries". Government initiatives into "renewable" energy are destined to fail. Jimmy Carter created a bloated bureaucracy that has cost us hundreds of billions of dollars and we have nothing to show for it. You want to give them hundreds of billions more? Let the market sort this out. And let the market sort out the tech crunch. Private initiative created Google and Apple and Amazon, not DC bureaucrats.

Fourth: Wall Street will become irrelevant soon enough. Considering you had your snout in the trough more than most, Barry, I am skeptical that your "reforms" will be any more useful than, say, Sarbanes-Oxley. The system can be reformed without any new laws. Just prosecute the people who got us into this mess. There's your reform. (Oops, can't do that. Many of the people who got us into this mess donated to you and half of Congress in both parties are in the bag for them.)

Finally, "new savings in our federal budget". Who do you think you're fooling? Barry, Bush is a fiscal conservative compared to you.

Barack Obama rocks!

Monday, April 13, 2009

San Diego condo staging champion revisited

It's hard to believe, but this classic of bubble idiocy occurred more than 3 years ago. Sadly, the best parts were the pictures, and they are no longer there. (No luck on the Wayback Machine.)

This was extreme staging, with lousy DJs, lots of booze, real estate agent floozies, and scantily-clad male and female models hired to pose by the windows of "their" condos to excite potential buyers. Just $400k for a 586 square foot studio.

Here's Atria now. That same studio is now listed for $245k and is still vastly overpriced. Nice little haircut for anyone stupid enough to have fallen for this.

I wonder what Belinda is doing now? Here's my guess.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

I love Paris in the springtime

I love Paris in the springtime,
I love Paris in the fall,
I love Paris in the winter, when it drizzles,
I love Paris in the summer, when it sizzles.
I love Paris every moment,
Every moment of the year,
I love Paris,
Why, oh why, do I love Paris,
Because my love is near.


Story here. Just some youths, move along.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Tinted Windows

What you get when you mash together Hanson's singer, a Smashing Pumpkins guitarist, Cheap Trick's drummer, and Fountains Of Wayne's bassist.


I really like this. They sound like a power pop version of Smashing Pumpkins, only with a guy who can sing.

It's time to give Michael Dell the heave-ho

I don't have anything bad to say about Michael Dell. He seems like a decent fellow. The problem is that he isn't making sound choices to save his company. He came back two years ago to fix things, but unlike Steve Jobs he doesn't have the marketing savvy to deal with the new reality of the marketplace. (Snooze...)

One analyst disagrees. Among this analyst's reasons:
He is optimistic that IT spending will improve in the second half "as large corporations recover and credit becomes more available to small- and mid-sized businesses."
Assuming that IT spending will improve, why does he assume these corporations will rush en masse to buy from Dell when their market share continues to decline?

I think it's a mistake to tie a commodity (PCs) to an OS created by a company that is slowly becoming irrelevant. Dell needs to disengage from Microsoft, find new lines of business and recreate their existing ones. They also need to avoid getting tangled up in distractions that they clearly have no clue about. (Dell should leave that up to Microsoft.) Companies like Acer and Apple continue to redefine their product lines and are thriving even in the current economy. If Dell spent more time innovating they'd be manufacturing far fewer pink slips.

Disagree? See how Dell is stacking up against the competition.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dubai debtor's prison

Noodles posted a link to this. Karen, like thousands of other European expats in Dubai, wanted to escape the middle class rat race back home and live the Dubai lifestyle: Generate wealth from doing nothing except flipping condos, while virtual slaves served her every whim.
"I assumed if all these big companies come here, it must be pretty like (sic) Canada's or any other liberal democracy's," she says. Nobody told her there is no concept of bankruptcy. If you get into debt and you can't pay, you go to prison.
Karen's living in a car now, hiding out in various Dubai car parks. Just like many other trapped expats who can't escape the country.
Question: Since Sheikh Mo is the biggest Dubai deadbeat of them all, how come he's not in prison?

Update: Bob says I am being too harsh towards Karen. Like many of us I have seen (and am currently seeing) some tough times. I am the last person to kick an honest person when they are down and out. But Karen's story doesn't pass the smell test.

The "facts" conflict. She says her hubby is in prison for 6 months. Then it's 9. The "brain cancer made my husband make bad financial decisions" thing sounds a lot like "the dog ate my homework." They are from Canada. Dunno about you, but if I was diagnosed with brain cancer I'd be on the first flight back to Canada for treatment. Instead, he stayed on the job in Dubai and then resigned. Why didn't they fly back home for immediate treatment and make their escape while he was still employed, before Dubai's draconian debt laws would take hold?

The odds that a writer would just happen to stumble across a couple who made stupid financial decisions because of "brain cancer" are pretty remote. In fact, this is the first time I've seen this used as an excuse. In the hundreds (if not thousands) of stories we've all seen over the past few years regarding the US housing bubble, not once have I seen "brain cancer" being used to explain the stupid decisions of a real estate speculator.

Face it: Karen and her hubby got greedy in a foreign country which has drastically different laws. They rolled the dice, failed, then ginned up a desperate excuse.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Microsoft Bob Mobile

Acer's jumping into the smartphone hurricane, and at least some of the handsets are using Windows Mobile. One of their models has what appears to be a Bob interface. I cannot figure out what is going through the minds of product managers and developers as they come up with these interfaces.
Product manager: "We need a breakthrough, a natural interface for this device that is instantly recognizable. I've got it! Let's make it a virtual office. People can store names and phone numbers by clicking on a cute Rolodex thingy, the calendar will look like a calendar people hang on the wall, the e-mail app we can represent with an envelope. We'll even have a virtual window people can "look" out of to see the weather. A real virtual office!"
And thus a tech legend is born.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Man from Mexia

I am enjoying this. 'Sir' Allen Stanford, who came to Houston from Mexia to make his fortune, was forced to fly commercial for the first time in 20 years.
"They make you take your shoes off and everything, it's terrible," he complained about the airport security that apparently came as a surprise to him.
Who else is from Mexia who came to Houston to make it rich? Oh yeah, I remember.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

It's different here.

Turns out that H Town wasn't immune from the bust after all.
Houston home prices fall for first time in 14 years

Housing values in nearly two-thirds of more than 2,000 Houston-area neighborhoods declined or stood still last year, according to an annual home price analysis commissioned by the Houston Chronicle.

Overall, the median price per square foot of a single-family home fell 2 percent in 2008 to $72.71, marking the first time it has dropped into negative territory in 14 years.
I like how Vicki and David are sitting in a park a mile west of downtown along Buffalo Bayou, and when they change the camera angle Vicki is instantly transported to Tranquility Park.



It's fun watching people who are totally oblivious to the fact that they have no clue. No bubble? Any high-rise condo or inner loop crapshack is bubbleized. Slap a trendy tin roof on it and add some granite countertops, that doesn't change the fact that many of these inner loop houses sold for 70, 80% less during the early 1990s. It wasn't so long ago that Washington Ave. was Ft. Apache. Gentrification will be a short-term phenomenon.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Launch the damn missile already

We've been promised the North Korean missile every day for the past two weeks.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

California 2.0

So what can be done to restore vitality to the once Golden State? And while I'm at it, what about Michigan 2.0? Anything? Is Michigan so far in the bag that nothing can be done?

California pluses:
  • Affluent, educated people clustered near the coast
  • World-class universities
  • Worldwide center for technology innovation
  • Outstanding weather near the coast
  • Good ports and infrastructure
  • Large supply of surplus labor
  • Tourism, tourism, tourism
  • Breadbasket of the western US
California minuses:
  • Basket case of the western US
  • Crippling taxes
  • High cost of living
  • Polluted, crappy weather inland
  • Water is running out
  • Overpopulated
  • Non-functioning government
  • Many Californians are fleeing
Michigan pluses:
Michigan minuses:
  • Labor unions that don't get it
  • Non-functioning government
  • Horrendous winters
  • Many Michiganders are fleeing

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Why are we still getting AM quality phone service?

A question posed on Dvorak about Skype on the iPhone brought this:
It costs money to build a network. It costs money to employ the people to service it and you.

This is a very valid point. Without revenue there would be no phone service. We should expect to pay for phone service, and while I think mobile costs are still too high, I don't think that land line costs are too egregious.

My question is why the voice quality hasn’t improved. The phone calls we make today, whether over land line or cell phone, still sound like the ones we made in 1989. It’s still AM quality when we should be getting FM quality. Why can't the phone companies make the quality as clean and near true fidelity as a Skype call?