Sunday, May 31, 2009

Slackers

Jack from the Lost Podcast lays it out. He's far more polite than I am.



I've said the same many times: All work is honorable.

Obscene government pensions: It's not just California

Taxpayers in Illinois are looking at close to a $900 million salary and pension liability for the top 100 school administrators in their state. That's not a typo.

New York? The same situation. New York residents are paying for some sweet pensions.
(James Hunderfund) receives $316,245 annually since retiring as superintendent of the Commack school district on Long Island two years ago. He soon returned to the school administration business first as an interim superintendent and now as permanent superintendent of the Malverne school district. His pay is $1,000 a day.

One retiree, former Roslyn school district superintendent Frank A. Tassone Jr., receives his annual $173,495 pension in prison after being convicted of stealing $2.2 million from the school district.
It's the same everywhere in all sectors of government, and our children and grandchildren will be paying for these obscene pensions with federal bailout money.

When I hear the unions and school officials whine that "the children will suffer" if massive tax increases aren't introduced I want to gag. Yes, I know that most teachers in Texas don't have it as sweet as the admins, but the fact is there is already a tremendous amount of money flowing into the system that isn't trickling down to the classroom level.

We are being bled dry and I wonder how long it will be before the breaking point is reached.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

So get a job, BreeAnna.

Kids in Cali are terrified that their college aid is about to be cut off.
BreeAnna Banks, 17, of Carson had been counting on her $1,500 Cal Grant award to help with her plans to enter Mount St. Mary's College in downtown Los Angeles as a freshman in August.

Her father is a Boeing mechanic, and her mother, SharRon Banks, is a homemaker raising seven children, including four the family adopted because their birth mother couldn't care for them. Two of the children are disabled and need medicine, and the family just emerged from a bad loan foreclosure drama that sent their house payments soaring.

"We were eating rice and pot pies," SharRon Banks said.
Well, gee. To pay for college I ate ramen and tuna for two semesters. Rice and pot pies would have been like ambrosia to me. I washed dishes at various restaurants and worked at Burger King for a year. Yeah, I was a burger flipper. (Actually, no. At BK there are no burger flippers. The meat comes off the broiler and each burger is assembled.) I took what I could get, which during the lean years of the Texas oil bust wasn't much. So, sorry if I don't shed a tear while reading the "I can't afford college" sob stories.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Kraftwerk - Numbers



High school. My girlfriend had a premium stereo that her parents bought. I think it was a Technics. (Remember that brand? It was the shizz.) I can't tell you how cool this track sounded on a Saturday night, bouncing off the walls in stereo.

Hey, it was 1981. We were good kids. Really.

The new oil bubble

Andrew asked:
What's your prediction on the fate of the "mini-bubble" in oil that's occurring right now, despite zero demand and excess supply?
Smarter people than I are working on this. Some are pointing to the dollar. I pin it on speculators, same as last year's panic spike. As Andrew pointed out, the fundamentals don't support $65 oil. The tankers are still offshore fully loaded. Trucking is still declining. Airline passenger miles continue to decline. Exporting countries are still contracting. Two of America's three auto makers are bankrupt.

The current petro bubble is ridiculous. But what the hell do I know.

Dubai property scandal claim emerges amid media blackout

I am shocked that something like this would happen in Dubai.
“Fake” pictures are at the heart of a property scandal that could harm the reputation of the once-booming real estate market in Dubai.

A major property development firm with links to the ruling family of the UAE city-state, and the firm’s marketing agency, are accused by investors, many of whom are UK citizens, of obtaining millions of pounds through the use of false construction photographs.

On Thursday, after local and regional media had been alerted to the situation by angry investors, news agencies across the city said they were silenced by senior representatives of the Government of Dubai, as orders were issued for reports of the storm to be pulled.
I think that my guess that Dubai real estate will be worth 10 cents on the dollar was optimistic.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Candelaria Bridge Destroyed



Candelaria last month. That's Ring Huggins doing the talking.

Becoming Lazy

I've resisted it for years, but I think I want a lawn sprinkler system. You people up in Minnesota may not understand dragging around hoses and sprinkler heads for hours each week when it's 95 degrees and the air is saturated with moisture. Typical Houston summer: Hot, humid, sunny, no rain for 2 weeks, then 3" of rain in one afternoon. From early May-late September. Towards the middle of the summer I start wishing for a weak tropical storm, and I am not the only one.

Sheesh, we have it really soft. Outside of the US, Canada, Australia and maybe some European countries, people in the rest of the world would look at automatic lawn sprinklers as an absurdity.

Bursting the Higher Ed Bubble

David Frum writes about the obvious.
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?
Oh, wait. I wrote that. I've been ranting about it for years.

Next bubble to pop: Think tanks with lots of highly paid "fellows" who state their opinions on the painfully obvious, usually long after those of us in the real world know what's going on.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

We can't even build gas-guzzlers.

A family friend and reader (Hi, B!) snapped this photo of a Ford F-650 up near Champions. When I first saw these things I thought, "Oh well. At least there are a bunch of people in Michigan building them and getting steady pay checks." Wrong. The Ford F-650 is built in Escobedo, Mexico.

So, hey. If you are lusting after that Acura but feel guilty about buying foreign, no worries. It's built in Ohio.

West Texas Real Estate Boom

Let's pause to remember a particularly stupid aspect of the real estate bubble: Bidding wars for desolate West Texas acreage.
There are thousands of other new owners all over sparsely populated West Texas. Nearly all the sales are for raw, undeveloped land, bought over the Internet or at seminars in distant cities.

Most of the buyers are from California, Florida, New York and other places where the cost of homes has been surging. People on the coasts, who have to spend a fortune for somewhere to live, are spending more for somewhere they can't.
Say what you will about the hellish southern California deserts, at least they are somewhat close to LA and Las Vegas. By that I mean you can get in a car and drive 3 hours and be in a major city. The tracts that flipped in West Texas 4 years ago aren't close to anything.

I see that John Beck is still trying to unload property there.
"Elevation is well over 4000 feet which makes for great climates..."
Great climates?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Afternoon at the Gigaplex: Battle of the Boredom. But the Amelia Earhart character was sexy in an "I shouldn't think she's hot but she's hot" kinda way.

North Korean fashion trends

As you know, the Dear Reader isn't interested in being Obama's pal. (Amazing how naive Barry is, eh?)

Whenever the North Korean dictatorship does something wacky I like to visit their official website. Like the rest of the country, North Korea's website is stuck in a time warp, trapped in 1996. Isn't white text on a black background kewl?

Something new is a slew of PDF files detailing North Korea's manufacturing prowess.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Microsoft Said to Be Unveiling New Search Engine

Huge news out of Redmond.
May 22 (Bloomberg) -- Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer will unveil a revamped Internet search engine next week, according to people familiar with the matter.
Coming next: Microsoft will keep up with the times by unveiling new video and social networking initiatives.

Bolivar Peninsula, May 2009

The Galveston ferries have been open for a while, and they are packed this weekend. Here are some dune buggies waiting to board from Bolivar Island heading back. It was a 2-hour wait.

The beaches on Bolivar Island are different than Galveston in a number of ways, including the fact that you can still drive on the beaches. They are also far dirtier. (I understand why, there's still a lot of debris and they simply don't have the money.)
A lot has been cleaned up after Ike, but we did see a few small houses like this.
Debris piles line the coastal highway.
Some of the beach houses have been rebuilt.
The vast majority have not. This was a subdivision packed with beach houses, and now only a handful remain. I think it's foolish to build houses here in the first place.
We only drove halfway to Gilcrist and Rollover Pass, which were totally wiped out by the hurricane. I didn't feel like seeing that.

Over on Galveston Island, much of the Strand is back. The rest of the island, not so much. The residential neighborhoods between UTMB Galveston and the ferry landing were flooded during Ike and there is either work being done, or no work has ever been done. It looks like a lot of people in this once-thriving neighborhood have packed up for good.

One thing that struck me about the island: It's May, full-bore summer, and it looks like winter. By that I mean the deciduous trees are almost all dead. I wrote about this back in November, but now that it's summer the tremendous damage to those beautiful trees really hits home. The palms are OK, as are the Norfolk Island pines. But the vast majority of the stately live oaks planted after the 1900 storm are dead and it will take a lot of time and money to remove them.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Palm Pre Prediction

Gallery Furniture Toast

Former Houstonians may be interested to know that Gallery Furniture burned down last night.

Sure, Mattress Mack's ads are cheesy. But Mattress Mack and his Gallery Furniture store have become a Houston institution over the past 25 years. I never had any complaints about the way they do business, and in fact prefer their sales techniques over the greasy, heavily cologned used car salesmen employed by companies such as Fingers (gone) and Star.

(Nevermind. I found out later that it was the warehouse that burned.)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Penis Pandemonium

Some wholesome Japanese fun!
With their portable shrines and pots of sake, Japanese festivals are generally fairly boisterous affairs, but for Kawasaki’s annual fertility festival (the Kanamara Matsuri) at Hachiman-gu Shrine, bawdy could be deemed a far more accurate description — the marvelling at massive members, being the main source of amusement.
Since Japanese fertility levels have, um, deflated, it's safe to say that festivals like this are not working.

My Personal Credit Crisis

(Bump. Megan McArdle digs into things and finds some critical information that Andrews left out of his book for some reason. Like I said, I don't buy his story one bit. Whatever you do, don't enrich him by buying his book.)

You may have read this the other day: New York Times economics reporter Edmund L. Andrews is about to lose his house:
(I)n 2004, I joined millions of otherwise-sane Americans in what we now know was a catastrophic binge on overpriced real estate and reckless mortgages. Nobody duped or hypnotized me. Like so many others — borrowers, lenders and the Wall Street dealmakers behind them — I just thought I could beat the odds.
There are so many statements in the article that set off my BS meter, the least of which is the idea that a reporter who should know better signed on the dotted line for a ticking time bomb.

I saw a comment on a message board somewhere about Andrews that I thought was so good I copied it. My apologies to the person who wrote it, I didn't catch your name.
I'll consider buying his home from the bank. I can pay way more than he ever will because I have been responsible with money. Foreclose, reduce the price, buyers in this area (Greater D.C. area) will flock to a home in that location.

Ridiculous that bailouts using the future earnings of my 10 month old daughter are keeping zombie banks alive and deadbeats like this guy in his house, when here I am saving 22% of my income a month, and paying $1850 a month in rent in the same area.

So yes he is rewarded for being irresponsible (no housing payment for 8 months!), the banks are being rewarded for being irresponsible (with everyone's future earnings!), and here I am living within my means, paying my obligations, and living in a much worse place and not able to afford a house because prices are artificially high because banks aren't foreclosing in a timely fashion.

To the NYT reporter - you should be ashamed of yourself.

To the banks - you should be ashamed of yourselves.

To my government - you should be ashamed of yourselves.

You are all living off my hard work and the future hard work of my family.

Final note - I'm not buying his book, I hope no one else does either.
I don't believe in karma, and I don't believe in kicking people when they're down. But I am getting a little tired of being kicked around because I live within my means and millions of others don't. Sticking me and my children with enormous future tax burdens is certainly a kick in the face, while the only penalty Andrews and the rest will incur is a ding to their credit rating for a few years.

(Update: New HatzerzCast.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Happy birthday, Pete

#64.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Feeling cranky

Update: I always feel better after listening to the Sex Pistols.

Nancy: "AAGGHH! I look like f*****' Stevie Nicks in hippie clothes! Sid!"

I am sorry for being so cranky lately and for using some foul language. That was inexcusable, but I am t'd off at a lot of things.

Anyway, there is still money to be made in the printed newspaper biz. Why else am I now getting Spanish-language newspapers tossed onto my front lawn gratis? Instead of taxpayer bailouts and corporate welfare in perpetuity for the major dailies, maybe they need to tear up their failed business model.
And the HOA can kiss my ass. Oops! There's the foul language again.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I wish that Californians would get their shit together

It's amazing to me that California, a state that has it all, has become a complete basket case. Longtime readers of my tiny corner of the web know that San Francisco is my favorite place in the world (outside of my home), warts and all. Don't accuse me of hating on Cali.

I mean, really. WTF? California would have a budget surplus right now if expenditures were simply aligned with inflation and population growth. Instead, Californians are staring at a shortfall that would bankrupt many countries. Assuming the other 49 states bail out California this year (which appears to be a certainty), what about next year? And the year after? No way will the bailouts continue. Those of us in the rest of the country won't stand for it.

Stupid is as stupid does

Stupid posts a private legal document from a Sacramento short sale. So what about client confidentiality?
As you can see the black-out parts on the photo - we protect our client confidentiality.

The address is public info. Anybody can pretty much see the properties we are short selling right now. So it's all good.
Well, gee. There are only a couple hundred places I can go to on the web to find out who lives in the house just by typing in the address.

This ain't gonna last very long.

Moron Alert

There was a minor incident at Hobby Airport on Tuesday with a Southwest Airlines flight. Skip forward to 3:47 and watch the slide.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What's the US Postal Service?

The US Postal Service continues to bleed craploads of money. By the way, they raised rates again the other day. Remember when these rate increases made front page news?

The US Postal Service is what happens when the Federal government tries to operate a business. Rigid, bureaucratic, unionized, and losing craploads of money. The USPS has much in common with Detroit.

The USPS will fail because they are in the process of making junk mail unaffordable. Junk mail pays the bills for the USPS, just as junk advertising pays the bills for newspapers. There's a lot less junk mail now because it's so expensive, so those personal First Class letters you send to your elderly relatives are losing their subsidy. Junk mail is already sorted and machine-readable, while delivery of your annual Christmas letter to Aunt Mildred is very labor intensive.

We'll be down to a 5-day delivery schedule very soon, and I suspect they'll cut it back to something like M-W-T-S delivery after that.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Stupid's back

I've known about it for 2 weeks now and kept my fat yap shut. He is powerless to stop.

That craptastic Air Force One photo

Ann Althouse ponders the Air Force One mystery. I don't believe in nutty conspiracy theories, but like Althouse I don't think the official story makes any sense. I think the first commenter nailed it.
The only thing that makes sense is that some people were on the 747 who were probably being "rewarded" for campaign contributions or whatever. The investigation/resignation just highlights typical bureaucratic bullshit, repeated thousands of times a day, but doesn't come close to answering the real question.
Maybe some enterprising reporter can file a FOI doc and get a list of names of who was on the plane? That would answer the question. (Yeah, I know it's not Air Force One if the POTUS isn't on board.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Give 'em hell, Barry

I'm with Obama on this.
"Americans know that they have a responsibility to live within their means* and pay what they owe," the president says. "But they also have a right to not get ripped off by the sudden rate hikes, unfair penalties, and hidden fees that have become all-too common in our credit card industry. You shouldn’t have to fear that any new credit card is going to come with strings attached, nor should you need a magnifying glass and a reference book to read a credit card application. And the abuses in our credit card industry have only multiplied in the midst of this recession, when Americans can least afford to bear an extra burden."
The new law will have unintended consequences: People who aren't credit-worthy will no longer have access to credit. This is a good thing overall, but it's a bad thing for businesses that sell discretionary goods.

* Unfortunately, for far too many people this is simply not true. It's not true at the household level, and it is certainly not true at the political level. And now we are cleaning up the mess.

ACORN intimidation

I wonder if some of the billions of our tax dollars Barry plans to dole out to groups like ACORN (scroll down) will wind up here. You may not like the Target's and Wal-Mart's, but they are private commercial enterprises. Maybe some of our elected officials in Washington can keep an eye out on this ACORN intimidation group and make sure that our "stimulus" money is not used to damage businesses that create jobs and contribute to local sales and property taxes.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Too fat for Boy Scouts?

Phew. That was close. I missed the maximum allowable weight by 60 pounds. I'm 6' and it says a guy my height is within the normal range at 140 pounds? That's nucking futs. Even at my skinniest as a 16-year-old lifting bags of garden mulch all day for a summer job I never weighed less than 155, and I didn't have an ounce of visible fat on me.

$68,000 salary for doing nothing. That's your government.

Unbelievable, but I bet it happens a lot.
For seven years, the Los Angeles Unified School District has paid Matthew Kim a teaching salary of up to $68,000 per year, plus benefits.

His job is to do nothing.

Every school day, Kim's shift begins at 7:50 a.m., with 30 minutes for lunch, and ends when the bell at his old campus rings at 3:20 p.m. He is to take off all breaks, school vacations and holidays, per a district agreement with the teacher's union. At no time is he to be given any work by the district or show up at school.

He has never missed a paycheck.
So tell me again... why should our kids strive for anything but a government job?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dubai Real Estate


Dubai's visa rules were changed the other day. Here's why.
Real estate prices in Dubai tumbled 41 percent in the first three months of 2009, according to property consultants Colliers. The property sector slowdown has led to project cancellations worth billions of dollars.
The grim stories continue to pile up. But the final blow: Rihanna has cancelled.

Remember, 90% off.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What were they thinking?

30 years later, the uniform remains an unexplained mystery.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Wind

Cat Stevens has seen a resurgence in popularity, and it's understandable. The man is immensely talented. He's old now, but he still has his chops. The Wind is my favorite song of his.

It's hard to reconcile the "infidels must die/Salman Rushdie must be killed for insulting the Koran" with the body of his work. It doesn't compute.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

"Green" energy hazards

Breaking news from the BAKERSFIELD BREAKING NEWS TEAM!
Update at 2:30 p.m. Sunday: 58 is closed both ways for an unknown duration, the CHP says.

The runaway windmill means: the blades are spinning out of control. Apparently they could come off and fly onto the freeway, etc.

The CHP dispatcher said they're even trying to route traffic off Tehachapi Boulevard.
You don't want to be around when this happens.

Casey Serin Update

Big news on the Casey Serin front: As of May 3, 2009, Casey Serin does not have swine flu and continues to graze on homegrown organic wheat grass and lawn clippings collected by his father. However, his murse is now contagious.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Customer service

We have a network of exclusive international distributors for our widgets. Over the past 7 years in this gig, I've noticed that Europeans prefer to deal directly with us even though I keep pushing them back to their local distributor. Today, one customer in the UK absolutely insisted upon dealing with us directly, even though I can personally vouch for the guy who owns the UK shop and he is trustworthy and knows our products better than anyone.

This new customer bought one of our older widgets on eBay and didn't want to deal with the local distributor for a repair issue for the same reason many others in Europe prefer to deal with us directly. It's all about service. The UK customer didn't single out our UK distributor, he told me flat-out that dealing with UK and European companies to get service for complex high-dollar widgets sucks.

He told me that many of them don't seem to care. Offices are shut frequently, emails and phone calls are returned slowly, and employees, while they are knowledgeable, aren't friendly.

So we got that going for us.

Culling the herd

Due to a surplus of milk supplies, California dairy farmers are culling their herds.
The state's dairy industry plans to sell off a sizable number of its cows to deal with a milk surplus that is swamping farmers.

The reduction -- perhaps a sixth of California's 1.8 million cows -- could help bring the milk supply in line with demand, which has dropped with the recession.

The culled cows would come from farms that are closing down amid the low milk prices of recent weeks. Some are in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, where milk is the No. 1 farm product.
Also in California, due to another surplus they are now culling newly-built houses.