Monday, December 31, 2007

احمد عمر سعید شیخ

Benazir Bhutto, before she died, claimed Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the alleged killer of Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl, killed Osama bin Laden. [update: this is about 6:13 in the first clip on the linked page. I'm not convinced it's what she meant, as per this comment.]

So ... ObL is dead. That Morgan Spurlock must have led Sheikh Omar right to his spider hole. Since the explicit driver of our foreign policy is retribution for 9/11, I thought I'd bring that up. While it's not obvious that the Bush Administration had anything to do with this, maybe we can give them credit for "letting it happen on purpose."

Still, the fewer of the known decision makers of the attacks that live, the harder it will be to uncover the unknown decision makers.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Climate Change, specifically in California

You can do many things to help slow down global warming, including planting trees near your house to help shade it and reduce your energy use. You can also drive your car less, buy energy-efficient appliances and recycle.
Well, I guess I'm done, then. No seriously, it's a nice article. It's not nearly as alarmist as I am, but somebody's out there enforcing journalistic standards, whereas I can saw whatever I please, really with the only risk being the NSA putting a bullet in my head. Or Google closing the blog.

It's got three slideshows and a fair amount of framing text. The slideshow captions are just assembled facts from around the literature, and some are using 2005's "The World Won't End Until After 2100" paradigm, but it's still a nice overview.

It's written with a California focus -- although it backs up to national and global frames -- so there's some discussion of the wine country, the port of Los Angeles and skiing. Here's a little cluelessness.
Among the earliest and most noticeable casualties is expected to be California's ski season.
...
"There's always plenty of snow, but you may just have to go out of state for it," said Rinda Wohlwend, 62, who belongs to two ski clubs in Southern California. "I'm a very avid tennis player, so I'd probably play more tennis."
You do have to admire her adaptability.

Oh, the comments. There's a lot of "Hah! You people are believing the imaginary climate change." Come on. Even George Bush has given up on denying it. One genius thinks moving out of the way as sea levels rise is a great solution. Actually, I brought this up because I saw a comment that read "To all you who believe this sky-is-falling BULL**** let me sell you a condo on Atlantis" and I thought it was "... in Atlanta," which would have been pretty funny. "Believe corporatist lies now because they've worked so poorly for you in the past." But, ah, it turns out that's not what he said. Remember my lack of jounalistic standards?*

* -- sorry, I was just watching a rerun of the panel on the future of media Joshua Micah Marshal mentions here on C-Span. Yes, I watch C-Span reruns, but I still feel like I have a full life.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto killed herself?

Yet now the Pakistani Interior Ministry is reporting that Bhutto died neither from a gunshot wound or shrapnel but rather from a blow to the head (causing a fractured skull) she suffered while ducking down into the car she was riding in to escape the gunfire.
Quick! Remove hard surfaces from jail cells before word spreads! Otherwise, there'll be a lot of suspicious 'ducking' going on.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Trying a new editing tool

I'm testing out ScribeFire, a FireFox extension, for blog editing.
  • Let's see if it does lists,
  • Styles
  • Colors
And how they come out on the blog itself. I'm also interested in how it does posting pictures and quotes like

ScribeFire works with most popular blogging applications -- including Blogger, WordPress, TypePad, LiveJournal, and Windows Live Spaces.
If your blogging application isn't on the list, chances are that you
can manually configure ScribeFire to work with it. This might take a
little bit of fiddling with the extension, and some knowledge of how
your blog software works.
Posting pictures is a problem. I'll see if I can edit this post when I work it out.


Powered by ScribeFire.

Global Warming Over!

2001 through 2007 have been seven of the eight warmest years on record. The ten warmest years on record have been in the 11 years 1997 - 2007. But! 2007 itself is only the Fifth warmest year, with an average temperature near a comfortable 58 degrees Fahrenheit. This means the four warmest years were in the six years 2001 - 2006! 2007 is cooler! The trend has reversed! Despite alarmist findings like
Anomalous warmth in 2007 contributed to the lowest Arctic sea ice extent since satellite records began in 1979, surpassing the previous record low set in 2005 by a remarkable 23 percent.
We're essentially home free!

Phew! That was close.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

New York Destroyed On Film

Cloverfield inspired a New York Times evergreen blog entry about movies that show the destruction of Manhattan. So, OK. I can write another movie.

Guess how Manhattan is destroyed.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War

Back before there were all these rifts between the US and Osama bin Laden, we cooperated in a war of resistance against Soviet aggressors in Afghanistan. Remember when we were the good guys in Afghanistan? So, there were two main points to the movie.
  • Our foreign policy is arbitrary and sentimental. JoAnne Herring (who insists that Zia Ul-Haq didn't kill Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, he had him properly convicted on [trumped up -- ed] charges and executed) convinces Charlie Wilson to go to Pakistan, where President Zia brings him to refugee camps. The refugees convince Representative Wilson that they're upset. He's on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and can insert unlabeled requests for money into the budget. The chairman of the subcommittee, George Long, is subsequently brought to the same refugee camp as has the same experience. So, we (and the Saudis) give them a billion dollars worth of arms.
  • T&A can really spice up a story. While all of these machinations are burbling along in the background, we get to look at a lot of fine female bodies. This is really the whole reason the movie's watchable. Really, any story is tellable in film once you find a way to inject scantily clad buxom nubiles.
Remember when we were the good guys in Afghanistan? Or at all? At the end of the movie, Charlie Wilson is convinced by CIA Afghanistan Desk Analyst Gust Avrakotos that schools and roads are called for, and goes forth to get money for those. But, frankly? It's not about killing Russians anymore, and the Defense Appropriations subcommittee only does defense appropriations.

Nation building was in those days the province of the State Department (and to some extent the Peace Corps! Shout out!) who made decisions in their own famously opaque way that had nothing to do with Congressional appropriations. So, we didn't do it.

Oh, well.

[note -- to clarify, this is a positive review. I like looking at attractive women's bodies, and think movies should lean on them more! While I might complain about the plutocratic thrust of the depicted government, I have no reason to think that it's not accurate. While there's undoubtedly some mythologizing, I don't doubt that West Wing got made in order to shut up a corruption witness.]

Friday, December 21, 2007

Imperative: Send the Downsize DC Message

So, I filled out and submitted the form. I gave them my phone number, but as they say that is required by congressional offices. I suggest you do the same.








DownsizeDC.org



Preview Letter


Note: the final letters will be addressed properly, each to its appropriate recipient.



I
am not afraid of terrorism, and I want you to stop being afraid on my
behalf. Please start scaling back the official government war on
terror. Please replace it with a smaller, more focused anti-terrorist
police effort in keeping with the rule of law. Please stop
overreacting. I understand that it will not be possible to stop all
terrorist acts. I am not afraid.



My personal comment to you:



I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment by Downsize DC. Our elected
representatives -- by which I mean you -- should be actively rolling
back misguided responses to terrorism. You need to foment our care for
our fellow man, not turn us into suspicious watchers of one another, a
la the Soviet Union. And you need to admit that the invasion of Iraq
was allowed by your inability to counter the panic of 9/11 as inflamed
by the President, and extract us from that regrettable occupation.






Mr. Rionn Fears Malechem

10163-3663

malechem@gmail.com



The risk of dying on a marathon course is twice as high if you drive it than if you run it

Phew.
Fewer than 1 in 100,000 people died while running a marathon, Dr. Redelmeier and his colleagues reported. The chance that a middle-aged man — the typical marathon fatality — would die while running a marathon was about the same as the chance a middle-aged man would suddenly die anyway.
I have a 1 in 100,000 chance of dying every four hours? So, I can expect to live, um, carry the one, less that 32 years? I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that. Well, middle age doesn't strictly kick in until I'm 40, so that buys me 4 months. And it lasts until I'm 70, so if I make it that far, I'm looking at a 50 % chance of living until 102. Unless my analysis is flawed somehow. But, it's math! Math doesn't lie!

Of course, the bit about the driving fatalities suggests that just closing down roads saves lives, which I'm not sure is exactly right. But, I'll just start believing it's true.

Americans are brave when it comes to their cars, but cowardly when it comes to Islamic terrorism

Bruce Schneier today points us to Downsize DC. Downsize DC wants to reduce the size of the government generally, as far as I can tell, which I'm not going to get behind, but I do agree with this:

There is really only one way to win a war on terrorism. Stop being afraid!

Achieving this victory does not require large armies, invasions, illegal spying, torture, detention camps, Kangaroo courts, or multi-billion dollar Congressional appropriations. Neither does it require us to shred the Bill of Rights or the Geneva Conventions. All it requires is a little backbone. And a little common sense.

Wow. I guess that's Huckabee-Edwards-McKinney

David Cobb is not a declared candidate for the Green Party nomination. I'm going to have to modify my earlier prediction. I think Cynthia McKinney will be hard to beat. She's a former federal legislator after all. I don't imagine she'll get along very well with the party leadership -- her police-office-pushing incident was just the most famous example of her petulance, and consensus-driven decision making is not for the impatient.

Oh, believe me.

Cynthia McKinney's other big problem is that she's a disaffected Democrat, and Greens don't really want to be seen as disaffected Democrats. Democrats, I think, tend to feel that if they were a little less progressive, a little less inclined to slit their own children's throats and pour the blood into the gaping corporate maw, then the Green Party would just disappear. But, the Green Party is fundamentally about a transformation in governance, not FDR-style modifications to mollify the people. And nominating McKinney would blur that distinction somewhat. But, it would be really good for money and visibility.

Jon Steward and Stephen Colbert break the lines

So, on January 7th, The Daily Show and the Colbert Report will resume, regardless of the state of negotiations in the writers' strike. That's unexpected.
A Comedy Central spokesman declined to say whether it had pursued a deal with the guild.
  • Jon Steward relies on his status as a major media figure on the side of the people. Who are largely laborers. Making an explicit anti-labor move is very bad for his brand. As Comedy Central is largely built on the success of the Daily Show, Viacom is risking the whole channel with this move
  • Stephen Colbert is also expected to behave well, but has a different but no less central problem. How could he be unscripted? Part of his shtick is that he simply reads what's on the teleprompter cards. I'm not saying Stephen Colbert the comedian can't handle the spontaneity. I'm saying that Stephen Colbert the character can't be spontaneous and still authentically recall for us Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and the rest.
  • What they'll fill the shows with is anybody's guess, but Letterman, Leno and Conan O'Brien have this problem as well
So, well, we'll see how this goes. Negotiations themselves don't seem to be going well -- the Golden Globes and Oscars are at risk.
“[T]his is our showcase for actors, writers, directors, technicians, all of them, to the world,” [Samuel Goldwyn Jr] said. “To show ourselves as snarling people snarling at each other will accomplish nothing.”
Why can't we all just get along? You writers can continue your strike as long as you show up and work. That's all we ask. We're happy to withhold your pay until you get what you want.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Clinton and Bush 41 to clean up after Tsunami Dubya

Via TalkingPointsMemo
Former President Bill Clinton said Sen. Hillary Clinton has the answers to the challenges America faces during a campaign stop at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College Monday.
...
One woman asked what Sen. Clinton would do in her first days as president. Clinton said his wife would deploy him and former President George H.W. Bush to nations to say America is open for business and cooperation.
So, together, these guys make one James Baker? Have they spoken to Bush 41 about this? Does President Clinton go everywhere with former President Bush now, eating pork rinds all over the world?

It seems a little unsupportive of your son to reinforce the idea that America was out of the cooperation business while he presided, but father and son have had their troubles in the past. And, it's true. Still, I can't help but suspect that George H. W. Bush hasn't totally signed on to this.

Friday, December 14, 2007

An important distinction

It often has seemed, these last few years, that the economy is managed for the benefit of the investment banks. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, for example, is an investment banker. But, it's not true. Many of the investment banks were hurt quite badly when the real property scheme started to turn. The economy is run for the benefit of Goldman Sachs, of which Mr. Paulson was formerly CEO. But, Goldman isn't the only institution with curiously good timing.
The subprime trading gains notched by Messrs. Birnbaum and Swenson and their Goldman associates are large by recent Wall Street standards. Traders at Deutsche Bank AG and Morgan Stanley also bet against the subprime-mortgage market this year, but in each case, their gains were essentially wiped out because their firms underestimated how far the markets would fall. New York hedge-fund company Paulson & Co. also turned a considerable profit on the subprime meltdown this year, as did Hayman Capital Partners, a Dallas-based hedge-fund firm, say people familiar with the matter.
Paulson & Co? Ah ... I'm sure there's no relation.

Mike Huckabee and the Assault on Reason

The National Review's Rich Lowry has a strange attack on Huckabee.
Huckabee has declared that he doesn't believe in evolution. Even if there are many people in America who agree with him, his position would play into the image of Republicans as the anti-science party. This would tend to push away independents and upper-income Republicans. In short, Huckabee would take a strength of the GOP and, through overplaying it, make it a weakness.
But, wait. Republicans are the anti-science party. Evolution's conflict with the Bible is the lever used to dispute rationality -- you can't cut taxes, raise spending, and call yourself fiscally responsible if you believe in Math. You just shout loudly and point at the Laffer curve. And they've been successful to the point where a talk show host can contend that the Earth's flatness is an open question.

You don't have a large outcry from the GOP when Gail Norton ordered an impact evaluation on reindeer of drilling in the Alaskan Native Wildlife Reserve changed, because they're the anti-Science party. They're pro-technology. They're strong advocates of diverting public money to high tech industries. But, they don't like Science interfering with public policy.

I don't want to be defending Governor Huckabee, but I do believe he'll be the nominee. And, I can only interpret Rich Lowry's column as an attempt to strike a blow for Mayor Giuliani, as he's the only GOP candidate willing to express a public belief in Evolution (I could be wrong on this, but I did look around some.) Sorry, besides Ron Paul, but he does seems to be visiting from another party, which one might call the Libertarians. I think Republicans are sensing that Mr. Giuliani's squalid corruption might hurt them in the general, even if he manages to stay out of prison until November.

The antagonism toward Science hurts public education, and research itself, but drives why Climate Change seems to be a partisan issue. Well, that and Democrats are overrepresented on the coasts.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bail Out Plan

So, the government bail-out plan consists of encouraging banks to save themselves by forgiving debt to people once their credit rating has been ruined but before they've been evicted. Now, this debt forgiveness is taxed as income, which income tax the President wants to forgive. That sounds like a good idea, but it should be worded carefully enough that my employer can't lend me my salary and then forgive the debt. I mean, it would be fine for me, but I don't think in general we want income taxes only to be on employees of companies with bad lawyers.

However, this plan largely bails out the banks. The banks, though, employed the loan officers and enabled the mortgage brokers who were the agents of evil on the ground. The banks should really take the hit, here, and if we lose all of our large banks, so be it. Losing all but one might be a problem, but that's not super likely.

I've been trying to think of a better bail out plan. Maybe every house with a mortgage can be put up for auction, at the 'owner''s discretion. The 'owner' retains the option to match the highest bid, and can apply his or her existing equity to the purchase. So, it's a massive price resetting.

I don't know where you'd get all the bidders, and I certainly don't want these imprudent buyers being rewarded with good deals on houses, but the houses are there, anyway.

In other news, the AGU Greenland news puts a crimp in my plan.
The Jacobshavn Glacier on the west coast of the ice sheet, a major Greenland outlet glacier draining roughly 8 percent of the ice sheet, has sped up nearly twofold in the last decade, he said. Nearby glaciers showed an increase in flow velocities of up to 50 percent during the summer melt period as a result of melt water draining to the ice-sheet bed, he said.
...
Greenland is about one-fourth the size of the United States, and about 80 percent of its surface area is covered by the massive ice sheet. Greenland hosts about one-twentieth of the world's ice -- the equivalent of about 21 feet of global sea rise. The current contribution of Greenland ice melt to global sea levels is about 0.5 millimeters annually.
Well, OK. We already knew the Greenland ice sheets were going to melt and drown Manhattan, and we already knew the IPCC grossly understated the speed at which this would happen. But, the idea that the Artic Polar Ice Cap will be gone in 7 years has a way of arresting the attention.

So, say that the financiers have crappy bonuses this year, and next. And say that Manhattan housing rationalizes by mid-2009. It will have zero resale value. Zero. The immense amount of work required to adapt buildings to having their lower few floors under water is going to cause a lot of disruption in these prices. When President Romney moves the capitol to Salt Lake City, it's going to pretty hard to sell an apartment in a Manhattan brownstone.

The actual process of drowning is going to be kind of unpleasant. I've been practicing my crowd running and bridge running, but I'm kind of obliged to stay on the island and open a shelter while the shock wave is slamming down Long Island Sound. Well, we all have our crosses to bear, but I'll leave you with this story.

Watershed?

"I don't pay much attention to one year ... but this year the change is so big, particularly in the Arctic sea ice, that you've got to stop and say, 'What is going on here?' You can't look away from what's happening here," said Waleed Abdalati, NASA's chief of cyrospheric sciences. "This is going to be a watershed year."
It's just not clear if that was meant as a pun or not.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

That's really a nice speech

Maybe I'll look for it on YouTube later. He does use (see link) that "Danger + Opportunity = Risk" trope I dislike so -- it's weird, because that's like "clip art for speeches", and the rest of it is so well constructed.
These are the last few years of decision, but they can be the first years of a bright and hopeful future if we do what we must.

...

We are standing at the most fateful fork in that path. So I want to end as I began, with a vision of two futures, each a palpable possibility, and with a prayer that we will see with vivid clarity the necessity of choosing between those two futures and the urgency of making the right choice now.

I have no idea why Mr. Gore is so hopeful. I'd kind of like to know why he feels there's time left to act. The more decisively we act now, the better off we'll be, but aren't we just choosing between shades of unspeakably grim?

Al Gore: 7 years left on the polar ice cap

Last September 21st, as the Northern Hemisphere tilted away from the sun, scientists reported with unprecedented alarm that the north polar icecap is, in their words, falling off a cliff. One study estimated that it could be completely gone during summer in less than 22 years. Another new study, to be presented by U.S. Navy researchers later this week, warns it could happen in as little as seven years -- seven years from now.
So, if you were going to visit, now would be a good time.

Hurricane Season's been extended through this Wednesday

But, it's just a named storm. It's not even a tropical cyclone! Don't worry. It'll be totally gone by Wednesday. Or maybe Thursday. If you're going to Jamaica, wait until Friday. You should be fine.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Herbert Saffir is dead

I'm not totally on top of what's happening with hurricane celebrities, so this news is a few weeks old. Mr. Saffir died November 21st at the age of 90 -- he's the 'Saffir' in 'Saffir-Simpson.'
Before the scale, hurricanes were simply described as major or minor.

Mr. Saffir's innovation was ranking storm destruction by type, from Category 1 -- where trees and unanchored mobile homes receive the primary damage -- to Category 5 -- the complete failure of roofs and some structures. The five descriptions of destruction were then matched with the sustained wind speeds producing the corresponding damage.
5 is a good number of levels for stuff. When people try to design three-level alert systems, I try to slip in two more, because I know there are going to be requests for 'Medium High' and 'Medium Low.'
Mr. Simpson said the system helped him communicate the power of an approaching storm.

"We had a lot of requests before the scale: how many resources of what kind would be needed to deal with the storm," Mr. Simpson said during a phone interview earlier this year. "I couldn't tell the Salvation Army, for example, how much and what materials they should be shipping. The scale gave them a much better handle on that."

So, yeah, super useful. Thanks, Mr. Saffir! And Mr. Sampson? I guess we can thank you while you're alive.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The media has this weird thing against Governor Huckabee

Concerning the GOP YouTube debate:
The Economist: Mike Huckabee [is] now, against all expectations, in first place in a recent poll from Iowa....

Well, not against mine.

The New York Times:
The most fierce exchanges came from the candidates with the most at stake five weeks before the voting begins; the frequent pot shots from Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson in particular underscored the extraordinary volatile state of the race in which any candidate seemingly has a chance to win [, even] Mike Huckabee....
I was set off the other day by reading somewhere, "The candidate most affected by Mr. Huckabee's rise in the New Hampshire polls was Mitt Romney," in the paradigm that Giuliani would win the subsequent Mega Tuesday contest unless Romney showed real early strength. I beg to differ. The candidate most affected was Mike Huckabee.

I'm not a fan! I think any candidate should advocate evolution. But, he does seem like he'd be the least abject disaster of the GOP field as President.

A little insight from the YouTube GOP Debate

The link's to TPM's digest of the Republican Debate. At a minute from the end (or 10:15 in) Buzz Brockway from Lawrenceville, GA, states
By staying in Iraq, we provide long term stability to the region, we provide support for our allies, and we act as a deterrent to the troublemakers in the region
I seriously didn't think anyone believed this. I had no idea why people supported the war, but those sound like good acts. If you were foolish enough to think they were true, I guess that might be worth a trillion dollars a year.

More to the point, I was agog at hearing that vocalized. I look at polls and see there are people who support the Occupation of Iraq, but I can never understand where they're coming from. But, Buzz was pretty clear. I wonder why he thinks that stuff. Actually, I sort of wonder which allies we're supporting -- the rest of the Coalition of the Willing? -- how big this 'region' is, and who the troublemakers are. But, allies are good and troublemakers are bad, so I can kind of see where Buzz is coming from.

MoveOn's moving in to consumer advocacy?

I came to the linked article and its predecessor via a post at TalkingPointsMemo. Apparently, Facebook displays whatever you buy at certain sites on your news feed. This hasn't happened to me, but for the record, I don't want any action I take to be shown on my news feed -- what happens outside of Facebook, stays outside of Facebook.

But, the more interesting thing here is MoveOn.org's brand extension. They started as an organization insisting that Congress stop obsessing about President Clinton's affair, and grew into a good governance organization, very aligned with the Democrats. And kind of slid into a mouthpiece for progressive Democrats, a sort of counterbalance to the Democratic Leadership Committee.

Now, they're doing consumer protections? I'm all for consumer protections, but it seems like a distraction from their main goal. Actually, I don't know what that is. With a name like MoveOn.org, though, they probably have a web site, and it probably has a mission statement. There's this:
MoveOn is a service – a way for busy but concerned citizens to find their political voice in a system dominated by big money and big media.
That sounds nice, although I can't help but wonder how they choose which of the concerns citizens wish to vocalize to focuse on.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I'm flexible and adaptable!

Tipped off by a story in the Journal, I took the 'Best Trip Choices' quiz.

Knowing exactly what kind of vacation most fits your travel personality is the key to having a satisfying experience, Dr. Plog says. And it's not always obvious. Sometimes we feel that we need to seek out rough-edge adventures when really we'd be happier lying by a pool with a cocktail. What's more, some couples have different travel personalities, so trips may not be compatible for both.

"People choose the wrong vacation all the time, and they come back really disappointed," he says.

The BestTripChoices site's questionnaire identifies you in one of six personality profiles, from a "venturer," who likes to find undiscovered gems and explore unique cultures, to an "authentic," who prefers everything familiar and predictable and likes going where there are lots of people -- it must be a good place, after all, if there are crowds.

I'm a centric venturer, the most common type of traveler representing 30 % of all travelers, just like WSJ Travel Blogger Scott McCartney.
Unlike venturers, you prefer at least a modest selection of good hotels and some quality commercial development before you visit an area. A good bed in a nice hotel, food that can be trusted, and a transportation network that can help you get around are what you consider to be basic necessities that you would like to see firmly in place before you visit. But, when over-commercialization sets in, signified by many souvenir shops, the intrusion of fast food outlets, and the diesel smell from too many tourist buses, you will move on to some other place that has not yet lost its qualities of freshness and uniqueness. The kinds of things that you like to buy on trips to foreign lands are the products that various countries specialize in as part of their national heritage. Thus, wool sweaters and skirts in Scotland or England; crystal in England, Germany or Scandinavia; pottery and silver in Mexico; or semiprecious stones from various countries around the world serve not only as reminders of a great vacation, but they can be used when you return home.
Apparently I should like Boston. But, maybe just to visit.

Hillary's Enemies working at the Economist

Now, we've spoken of Senator Clinton's enemies before. And I want to be clear I don't count myself as one -- I don't agree with her on many issues, and I don't think she'll be the nominee or elected president, but I do think it's possible I'll date her daughter, and I don't want any unpleasantness.

While your typical Economist reader is used to its "The Republicans are destroying America/It's vitally important the Americans elect Republicans" dichotomy, this excerpt from an article about presumptive nominee Mike Huckabee was pretty egregious.
In a poll by YouGov/Polimetrix for The Economist (full results here), Republicans rated him the most honest candidate and Americans rated him the most moral of either party (see chart: Hillary Clinton was rated the least honest, and, after Mr Giuliani, the least moral).
So, go ahead. See chart.

This could just as well have read "Mr Giuliani was rated the least moral, and, after Hillary Clinton, the least honest." Which might have been a little more relevant as it's Rudy Giuliani running against Governor Huckabee.

The March to 10,000

News that Citigroup would receive a cash infusion from the Middle East helped spark a stock-market rally Tuesday, as did a break in the price of oil.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 142.50, or 1.1%, to 12885.94. The S&P 500 added 13.80, or 1%, to 1421.02, and the Nasdaq Composite Index gained 33.77, or 1.3%, to 2574.76.
I read an analysis in Slate or somewhere* about the time that the Dow Jones Industrial Average passed 10,000 that it would stick there for a while. It had stayed at 100 and 1000 for inordinately long times, so powers of ten seemed rather sticky. Even though a lot of 'psychological' arguments about market movements are bunk, the idea appealed to me and I was fully prepared to watch that happen.

It didn't.

But, I am spectactularly prone to idées fixes. So, I've been expecting the Dow to relax back to 1E4 for 2 years now -- it was last within, oh, 216 points at open on October 17, 2005, and first on December 1, 2003, so it only spent 22 1/2 months there. The theory predicted it would be more like ten years. So, six years from now? Dow 10,000.

* -- actually, if you could find that? That'd be stellar.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Carrefour plays the global real property bubble

Carrefour has decided to take advantage of the real property bubble in France by selling all its lands and buildings to investors, from which the hypermarkets would rent, and buying them back after the collapse.

The linked story takes a little reading between the lines. It wouldn't work as an explicit strategy, of course. Then again, it might be illegal as a secret strategy. I was what-iffing with myself the other day: What if I'd gotten an interest only liar loan in 2001, bought a huge house, let it appreciate until the end of 2005, then tried to flip it? How would the conversation around the sale have gone? "I'm selling because I expect this property to be worth 20 - 25 % as much as it is now in a few years. While I can't not tell you this, I'm hoping you don't think about that too hard."

Mooning the Cog can get you a federal citation

So, you can climb Mount Washington a number of ways. You can walk up it, and you can take the train. If you walk up, you have the option of exposing your derrière to the train as it passes, and bending over.

The Bush Administration is criminalizing this activity, which uncomfortably increases my odds of being prosecuted for a Federal crime.

Impeachment now!

All's Quiet on the Western Front

There's just a week left in hurricane season, and things have really quieted down. As I predicted, Tropical Storm 15 was the last one. Well, except for Noel. But, I originally referred to TS15 as Noel, so I'm taking the point, as the President has lain out for us a path of compounding errors until we declare victory.

Noel did dump a fair amount of rain on me in particular, as I tracked it up the coast, but it was a pleasant enough way to end a hurricane season. And it wasn't a Cape Verde type hurricane, which suggests that my particular fear of this type is not longer current -- now Manhattan can be attacked by regular old Carribean hurricanes.

2005 was sort of out-freaking, but the subsequent two years have been surprisingly well-behaved. This probably has something to do with the Southern Oscillation (El Niño), but that's a little like saying particular election outcomes have something to do with the economy. Any global geophysical phenomenon is going to have something to do with the SO, which is itself pretty hard to define while being huge and enormously significant. That metaphor just keeps working.

You'll recall that the National Hurricane Center blamed its bad crop last year* on El Niño, which 2005 was going into -- you'll recall it's called El Niño on the theory that the Christ child was sending warm winds along the South Pacific's Western Boundary at Christmas time, warm water's good for tropical cyclones, and 2005's hurricane season went on until what? January? So, maybe we only have to worry about major hurricane seasons in the years coming into El Niño events, which, if you missed that nuance, we can't predict and can happen every year. After the enormous 1997/1998 event, there was a five year lull, but they've been coming every two years since. Which, again, would predict that we'd have hurricanes in January, but it's been about three weeks, which we wouldn't expect. We'll have to see.

* -- Notice that name 'William Gray?'

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

BBC News believes obesity is a potential crisis on the scale of climate change

As you can maybe tell, I'm not doing super well on the quiz. It starts with being able to name something they call 'footballers.' But, really? Obesity is a potential crisis on the scale of climate change? Are the morbidly obese going to start shoving buildings over to get at the tasty people inside? Are we going to turn all reachable land over to king corn? What's the logic here?

Interest Only Loans Have to be Made Illegal

U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is trying to mitigate the effects of the housing bubble collapse.
In an interview, Mr. Paulson said the number of potential home-loan defaults "will be significantly bigger" in 2008 than in 2007. He said he is "aggressively encouraging" the mortgage-service industry -- which collects loan payments from borrowers -- to develop criteria that would enable large groups of borrowers who might default on their payments to qualify for loans with better terms.

That's a shift from his previous view that the problems didn't warrant a group approach. Mr. Paulson said his outlook has evolved as he has learned more about the problem.
This was the largest and most urgent financial issue facing the country when Mr. Paulson took office. This leaves me with the impression that he's just started learning about it, which is consistent with the Treasury's behavior.

Reading the article and the interview excerpts, in which Mr. Paulson states "[we need] to have as many [homeowners] as possible be able to stay in their homes" really alarms me. On the one hand, he wants to fix interest rates. This screws people who more prudently got fixed rates, but prudence is going to be punished in any bailout. On the other, he's made leaving people in their homes the goal, with an intent to keep them paying the same. And, he's including 'homeowners' with no-money-down interest-only loans in the mix.

Do you see where this is going? Mr. Paulson is going to suggest to lenders that they delay the balloon payment, and that they maintain the interest-only nature of the loan forever. This creates a situation where people are essentially paying very high rents to a completely unaccountable landlord -- the banks don't have any obligation to fix the plumbing, but keep raking in that income forever. The 30-year mortgage will become rent ad infinitum.

Congress has got to act to stop this. Mr. Paulson is trying to save the investment banks by letting them continue to drink the blood of the poor. Maybe I'll draft a letter.

And, reading the housing bubble blog, I saw this:
Just how did all these Wall Street bankers in their $5,000 John Lobb shoes manage to step in you-know-what?
...
Investors piled into savings and loan stocks in August. Back then they looked like a safe haven from the subprime mess
...
[L]arge thrifts who sell mortgages to investors took some of the biggest losses. They had to write down some of the mortgages on their books when they couldn’t sell the loans.
...
The Office of Thrift Supervision reported today that earnings for the nation’s savings and loans plunged 84 percent in the third quarter.
Seriously, are these people stupid? I try to stay away from that sort of invective, but come on. You're going to hide from the housing bubble collapse in thrifts?

17 reasons America needs a recession

Paul Farrell thinks a recession is a good idea, and that the administration should just accept it. He also quotes the Economist noting that one is inevitable.
The policy dilemma facing the Fed may not be a choice of recession or no recession. It may be between a mild recession now, and a nastier one later.
Well, great. But, I think that was the choice we faced in 2001. And, we chose 'nastier.'

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Working on getting that barn door closed

The US House of Representatives passed HR 3915, which if it becomes law would
  • Create a licensing system for residential mortgage loan originators
  • Establish a minimum standard requiring that borrowers have a reasonable ability to repay a loan
  • Attach a limited liability to secondary market securitizers
  • Expand and enhance consumer protections for “high-cost loans”
  • Protect renters of foreclosed homes
  • Establish an Office of Housing Counseling through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
I know I keep saying this whole housing bubble was due to aggressive financial chicanery unbounded by a failed federal regulatory regime. A lot of bad people did bad things to the rest of us, and are going to keep the profits they made during that time. But, if people ever talked to me, I worry that one might say "Rionn, what could the gub'ment have done?" That's just how I imagine people talking. I'm glad to see Congress illustrating some things they could have done in the mid-90s.

I do sort of wonder what it means to protect renters of foreclosed homes, but I imagine it's in line with creating a market for national housing managers working with foreclosing mortgage lenders.

I got this news, incidentally, through my Representative's (Carolyn Maloney) RSS feed. There's a fair amount of information in that thing. You can find your rep by zip-nine code, and see if you get the same service.

Monday, November 19, 2007

This guy says 1997, too

Apparently, John Talbott is the most respected financial analyst who agrees with me. Now, I'm not saying that housing prices will return to their 1997 levels. Perish the thought. I'm saying real housing prices will return to their 1997 levels. Inflation will handle some of the adjustment.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Manhattan Real Estate Props

More dataless musing about Manhattan real estate. The big question is, why has it not fallen in price with the rest of the White Plains - Wayne MSA? Seattle and Manhattan are only now starting to join the rest of the country in declining residential real prices -- they've held out for a while. Obviously, most of that is self-reinforcing -- speculators moved their money to those markets because they weren't falling. And Manhattan has also been supported by increasing bonuses in finances and hedge fund managers desperate to keep their fixed income instruments going.

But, say you were a real estate speculator, and you said to yourself, "Self, in 2006 all these interest-only ARMs are going to demand their balloon payments, and the bubble is going to start to deflate. But, Manhattan will keep going for another several years, as it's driven largely by finance bonuses, and the actual impact on the economy won't be felt for a few years, and won't be fully reflected in Manhattan residential real property for another." You're somewhere 'upstate,' which is our word for the rest of the country. At the beginning of 2006, you decide to park your money in Manhattan Real Property, with the idea that your local market is going to lose value very quickly at first, but inflect before Manhattan starts to drop.

Do you see where this is going? You flip just when Manhattan sees a real drop -- you lose some money, but less -- and reinvest it in two or three times as much real estate as you had. Maybe from one McMansion to 6 or 7 regular single family homes, which you can rent. Using the services of a national real estate manager ;)

I think this is a measurable effect, but I continue to refuse to do any research. But, if it exists, this tendency will sharpen the drop here somewhat.

An Answer for Glenn Greenwald

Hillary Clinton supported the invasion of a sovereign country that had not attacked us and could not attack us -- as did some of the commentators now aggressively questioning Ron Paul's mental health or, at least, his "seriousness." She supported the occupation of that country for years -- until it became politically unpalatable. That war has killed hundreds of thousands of people at least and wreaked untold havoc on our country. Are those who supported that war extremist, or big weirdos, or fruitcakes?
Yes.

I understand there are a lot of them, but they're out and out nuts. Is it a little clearer, now, how we can make our only available inhabitable planet unlivable? Almost everyone is batshit crazy.

MTA Releases Report on August 8 Storm and plans improvements

The August 8 rainstorm was a disaster for the MTA. All the lines -- the L, the 456, the ACE, the BDFV, the 123 -- were shut down and helpful staff at each would send you to another. It was really sort of a hard day to get to work. Apparently, this irked the governor, and now the MTA has produced a report saying, "Well, we probably shouldn't let or leave water on the tracks. Our bad." They're dropping $30M on fast improvements and then planning more over time. Well, OK. Learn some lessons, fold them back into the system. That's great! But, what's not already happening is a little appalling.
Create an MTA Emergency Response Center – The MTA ERC will provide a formal structure for coordinating activities across agencies during emergencies. MTA ERC will provide the status of MTA-wide operations during emergencies and give the Executive Director and CEO immediate access to agency operations centers. (In place)
They've been telling me 'If you see something, say something' for years, and just created an ERC now?
At the height of the disruption, in many cases the MTA could not provide alternative travel options, and customers had difficulty gaining access to timely and accurate information....

Communications solutions include ... web site upgrades.

So, what's the web site for, if it can't give us reliable views of the system state? They talk about giving all the service workers PDAs, but even the people in the booths couldn't tell you what was going on. And my cell phone still can't load 'http://www.mta.info' in any sort of usable fashion, so I don't know what this 'universal pda access' business in.

This is a real positive step, and I'm interested in the implementation.
Advance public address and video screens technologies to better communicate with customers in-system – In addition to long-term technology projects, such as PA-CIS, MTA is exploring a range of interim solutions that could maximize technologies already being employed in the system (e.g., wireless connectivity to service info). (Meetings with vendors are under way)
What's PA-CIS? If you don't take the subway in New York, you may not know that the PA system is useless. It's totally incomprehensible, but really loud and frequently used. I'm hoping PA-CIS is a fix for that.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Discomfiting words from the Housing Bubble Blog

There’s a greater than 50 percent probability that the financial system ‘will come to a grinding halt’ because of losses from mortgages, Gregory Peters, head of credit strategy at Morgan Stanley, said. ‘You have the SIVs, you have the conduits, you have the money-market funds, you have future losses still in the dealer’s balance sheet in the banks,’ Peters said in an interview in New York. ‘That’s all toppling at once.’
But, at least I'm doing my part.
When the downturn ends, [real estate consultant John Burns] says sales activity will correct back to 1995 levels. But when will that be? Burns says it will hinge on downpayments. ‘When [current] renters can save up a downpayment, [to buy a home] then we will see the end.’

Salon tightens up the comics page

WayLay is gone! As much as I was interested into sitting with one woman's bitterness, I'm taking this as a positive change.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Wile E. Coyote moment

So, there's any number of things that I've been maintaining will happen for a while: drop in the dollar, catastrophic inflation to rebalance housing equity, sea-level rise, hurricanes that cause major disasters in the Northeast, crop failures, return to 1997 real housing prices, the draft, another depression, a handful of markers of the biblical apocalypse, Greens in the White House, the Reich Reorganization and so forth. Some of these things have started happening, and several are getting clearer and clearer signs, but none of them are meeting expectations. That's fine, as they're supposed to be in the future anyway, and only things like the end of the housing bubble inflation (because of the 2001 explosion in 5-year interest-only ARMs) have clear calendar dates.

Now, I should be clear that I don't do any research. These predictions are just me agreeing with people who do know what's going on. But, still, it's nice to be right, and then have been right, although it hasn't really profited me to date: the occasional job move or investment decision worked out, but in the cold, hard metric of how many supermodels I've gotten busy with, there's been no bounce.

So, it's nice to hear Paul Krugman echo this cassandric despair (back in September)
Lots of buzz suddenly about the possibility of a sharp fall in the dollar....

I could say that I saw this coming; the problem is that I’ve been seeing it coming for several years, and it keeps not arriving (and I don’t know if this is really it, even now.)
The linked page with the definition of Stein's Law -- if something can not go on forever, it will stop -- also has a Kundera quote that explains why Bush-era conservatives often think they're clever arguers.
If you meet a madman who says that he is a fish and that we are all fishes, do you take off your clothes to show him that you do not have fins?

--Milan Kundera, Risibles Amours, 1984
Which is to say, when confronted with a monstrously stupid argument, all you can do is stop the discussion.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Nader slaps down the 'progressive Democrats'

[T]here are certain functional requisites for a just and humane society. And if you list them all, like full health insurance for everybody, a tax system that doesn’t burden those who are less able to pay, a system where a foreign policy that advances peace in the world instead of Bush’s aggression and sells arms, a lot of labor standards to be improved, a living wage, a right of collective bargaining, on and on. If you list all those, you find that it’s corporations that are really saying “no, no no.” You know, it’s the McDonalds and Burger King [saying no] to living wage, and Wal-Mart. And it’s the HMOs [saying no] to universal health care, and on and on. So you really detail it this way, and you say, this is the main menu here. That’s what politics has to focus on, is corporate power, because corporate power is commercializing everything in our life. And when everything is for sale, corporations are going to win. And if childhood is for sale, if education is for sale, if just about everything in our society that never used to be for sale, the corporations are going to win because they have the most money to buy.

Coming down to the wire

So, the fiscal year is drawing to a close, at least at Goldman Sachs. So, bonuses are about to be calculated. As the economy is run for the convenience of Goldman Sachs, not for investment banks in general, they still expect to collect a lot of money there. But, there could still be an issue.
U.S. banks and brokers face as much as $100 billion of writedowns because of Level 3 accounting rules, in addition to the losses caused by the subprime credit slump, according to Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc.
...
[Royal Bank chief credit strategist Bob] Janjuah [said] ``The heat is on and it is inevitable that more players will have to revalue at least a decent portion'' of assets they currently value using ``mark-to-make believe.''
...
Morgan Stanley has 251 percent of its equity in Level 3 assets, making it the most vulnerable to writedowns, followed by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. at 185 percent, according to Janjuah. Goldman, the biggest U.S. securities firm, fell 4 percent in New York trading today.
'Mark to Make Believe', or Level 3 Assets, are valued using the bank's own estimation of the value of the asset. One could instead mark to market (level 1), using the value such assets are sold at, or to model (Level 2), using the value a particular model (and the choice of models greatly mitigated Morgan Stanley's early write down this week) would predict for an asset given a number of free parameters.

This is another reference from a Housing Bubble Blog comment, this time by this guy.

Foilage Web Cam

Hey, look! Leaves! Or, at least trees.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Educate a thug, and all you’ve done is create a mortgage broker

Cute quote by this guy on the comment board at the housing bubble blog

Why I prefer internet dating

[O]bserved dating and marriage choices are at least as much a result of whom we meet as what we prefer. Doctors marry doctors, lawyers marry lawyers, and economists marry economists, probably not because they actually prefer to do so, but because those are the people they meet in daily life. The same may be true of the tendency to marry someone of one's own race or religion.
Doesn't that seem like a pretty fatal flaw in meatspace dating?

Motley Fool article on Exchange Traded Notes

But what if you are one of those rare (or stubborn) investors who insists on foreign currency exposure, either as a hedge or for speculation?
That's me!

Aqua dots in your champagne?

I know that sourcing Rohypnol has been a problem for you, so I'm letting you know you can get in in toy stores. You'd better hurry, though, Toys 'R' Us has already pulled it from shelves.

We're seeing a lot of poisoning and other problems with Chinese products, and they seem to be coming fast and furious over the last year. It's not like I'm inclined to suspect conspiracy, but how do you end up with the date rape drug on plastic beads?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

New York Times edges toward acknowledging the bonus problem

Johnson & Associates predicted that bonuses would be down 5 to 15 percent for fixed-income traders; up 5 and 20 percent, respectively, for equity and equity derivative traders; and up 10 to 20 percent for investment bankers. Bonuses for corporate staff members, according to Mr. Johnson, will be flat to 5 percent up, and asset management will be getting increases of 5 to 10 percent. The Options Group predicted that fixed-income bonuses would fall 15 to 20 percent, and that equity and investment banking bonuses would rise 10 percent.

...

Thousands of bankers and traders in mortgage-related businesses have been laid off, shrinking the compensation pool. But failing to reward so-called producers can result in high-level departures.

Michael Hecht, a research analyst at Bank of America, says the best places to be for bonuses this year (in order) are Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers; the worst are Merrill and Bear Stearns.

Seeking to conserve cash, banks may pay senior executives more of their compensation in stock than usual.

"We feel this year banks will use stock as a major currency to pay," said Michael Karp, chief executive of the Options Group. "We feel the stock totals will be as high as 60 or 70 percent," rather than the typical 50 percent.
Well, layoffs can have a similar effect to not paying bonuses. And, Morgan Stanley is the best place to be? Oh, right, that was written yesterday. We'll probably get a few more days of news before the bonuses are actually announced.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Yahoo! News & Quotes

Yahoo! offers free quotes for the blog. Since this is largely becoming the BWX blog, here it is.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Salon warns the Democratic Presidential candidates are neither on your side

So, you know that the leading Democratic presidential candidates seem to treat the current administration and the decisions of the past 7 years as if they made some sort of sense. The top three were all in the Senate at some point, so they have some shared responsibility for the various tragedies we've enacted as a country.

But, Salon points out in the linked article, they're farther gone that you think. Go ahead and take a quiz meant to match you with a presidential candidate. I gave the most moderate possible answers (although they did skew somewhat right, such as "should we make Bush's tax cuts for the rich permanent, or find some other regressive tax scheme?") and ended up with
  1. Mike Gravel
  2. Dennis Kucinich
  3. Ron Paul
So ... only the first two are Democrats. Ron Paul gets enough press that you might forget that. I changed my answer on what to do about illegal immigration, and changed #3 to Chris Dodd on this quiz, which was substantially the same.

I imagine that everyone feels pretty much as I do, which means Democracy is broken. Voters aren't sure what positions candidates have or even what parties they're in, they just latch on to one candidate and stick with. This seems like a hard problem to fix.

More on January 2009


One of the big determiners of when real estate prices topped out was the balloon payments of the interest only loans. Adjustable rate mortgages have their own little built-in time bomb called the reset, when the mortgage rate adjusts. So, the graphic and the attached story talk about when this will happen.

As mortgage rates keep going up and up, more and more people will be abandoning their homes. A great number of these will happen by January 2009 (see linked story, though) and this will create even lower priced real estate.

So, yeah. If you haven't bought anything yet, you've got at least 14 months to wait.

Boondocks for Bloggers

Friday, November 02, 2007

Getting through the no joke zone

The airport security check is largely what Bruce Schneier calls 'security theater,' just a bunch of invasiveness meant to convince us that there's a pervasive problem and the government's on top of it. This is a bad place for the 'speak truth to power' ethic -- I don't actually like being detained. But, I nearly lost it Friday.

My practice is to carry a second cell phone battery with me so that if I use up my current one and can't get to a charger, I can still operate in the world. Life without a cell phone is an unnavigable data-poor fog that I can really only tolerate if I'm strapped into a seat. So, I carry a charged battery.

Apparently, to the x-ray machine, my cell phone battery looks like a 9 volt battery, which has about twice the width and half the cross section. 9-volt batteries are mandatory bag checks. Why? Apparently, they're both uncommon and frequently used in IEDs. If you haven't served in Iraq, IEDs are what we used to call bombs -- improvised explosive devices. I didn't say
  1. So, most of the fake bombs that you miss use 9-volts?
  2. Dude, I could totally set off a bomb with that
  3. You'd think those terrorists would switch to C-cells
I was good! But, then, after establishing that I had a totally innocent non-flagging type of battery, he swabbed my bag for explosive residue. I did say,
  1. So, I shouldn't carry explosives in the same bag I use for my carry-on?
I mean, I'm allowed to carry explosives around town, aren't I? Actually, I don't know any more. But, I think so. How else would people catch fish? There's no need to make jokes, he started, and yammered for a while. This yob, he wants to make it clear, has been given power over me. I didn't say,
  1. Don't tase me, bro
  2. Look, just cuff me and leave me in a holding room
Do you not acknowledge how good I am? Both lists of things I didn't say, I want to add, occurred to me at the time. I just said,
  1. I don't set your priorities
Which he asked me to repeat twice, just to show who was in charge.

added two posts

Apparently, if I start a post and publish it later, it ends up in the same position it would have been if I'd written it all at once. They're ordered by start time, which seems odd. But, I wrote another song, is the link.

Also, I updated a post from earlier today.

Cumulative Tropical Storm Wind Probability through Sunday night back down to 4%

Well, that's certainly going in the right direction.

I'm calling it: Cobb-Edwards-Huckabee

So, we can now say we know with some confidence who the Major Party candidates will be. The Green Party will go with David Cobb -- he got the nomination last time, and the Greens like consistency. David Cobb is a strong organizer, and he's shown the ability to mobilize many people to the Green Party. As he says, we don't expect to win the presidential election until at least 2020, so we're not looking for the best president so much as the best presidential candidate, even more so than the corporatist parties. The campaign is really all we expect him to lead.

Peter Camejo burned too many bridges with his Nader 2004 bid, and I don't think Nader actually wants the responsibility of being the candidate. Maybe he'll run with the Reform Party again. Ralph Nader could take the nomination if he asked for it, but he didn't ask for it last time, and I don't expect he'll do it this time.

I do expect Matt Gonzales to run for the nomination, but I don't expect him to get it. He's nationally recognized, certainly, but I don't think the national party is ready to follow him -- he's still got a youthful stink of self-aggrandizement.

We could dream of a Jello Biafra/Henry Rollins ticket, but I think that would be mostly about the music -- if a celebrity gets the nomination, it'll be Nader, not the punk musicians. The activists who make the party go haven't historically taken them seriously.

Then, yeah, Edwards and Huckabee.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

So, suddenly New York CIty is at a 5% chance of being hit with Tropical Storm Force Winds by Noel by 2 PM Saturday

These things turn like a snake. It was supposed to go to Canada! 5 % doesn't sound like too much , but I can't say I care for the trend.

More on Wall Street bonuses

So, the Manhattan real estate price link to Wall Street bonuses makes the latter important. The linked article talks primarily about the Long Island economy's dependence, but adds information about the bonuses.
Companies that have announced layoffs so far include Lehman Brothers, which cut 2,500 mortgage jobs nationally; Citicorp, which eliminated 1,600 New York City positions last spring; and Bear Stearns, which has shed about 900 jobs in its mortgage unit as well as in other areas including stock trading.

In addition to warning about job losses, [New York State Comptroller Thomas] DiNapoli said Wall Street bonuses probably will be smaller this year because third-quarter profits of the seven biggest financial firms based in New York City dropped nearly 65 percent from the year-earlier period. He said the decline might be "modest," however, because earnings for the first half of the year were strong, and bonuses usually drop at a slower rate than profits.
The article usefully points out that the average bonus has only doubled over the course of the bubble, so a 50 % drop might be all we see. However , we had a rather stronger economy in 1997 -- without fake real estate equity making everything go, Wall Street (and, you know, Americans) may be in a world of hurt.

Thanks to the Housing Bubble Blog for the link.

Crap

update: I think sausage is getting treated unfairly here. The fancy yuppie sausage I buy doesn't have any preservatives -- which, given my lifestyle, presents its own dangers -- and shouldn't be any more dangerous than the parts of the red animals you can eat without grinding. But, this is certainly bad news for the pepperoni.
Alcohol consumption is linked to an increased risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, breast, colon and liver.
That's a lot of organs. It's a good thing alcohol's heart-healthy. But, there's no rule for how much drinking increases your cancer risk by how much -- I guess it's new data. But, alcohol and red meat are bad? I don't mean to make fun. Quantification's the main thing.

With this following on the heels of the pronouncement that a chicken diet had less climate impact than a vegetarian diet -- and (the hand-waving addendum) that local foods beat vegan -- I'm considering striking the goat, pig, sheep and cow from the diet, and shopping more aggressively for local foods.

But, this is largely a political question. Ask a presidential candidate what people should do with this information in hand, and what the federal government's role should be.
Ceci Snyder, a registered dietitian with the National Pork Board, which represents pork producers, says, "The U.S. Dietary Guidelines include meat and processed meat, and those guidelines are based on a review of the scientific evidence."
It's part of the president's job to break that sort of corrupt deadlock, and as candidates they should be taking a lot of stands that require moral courage. I'd like to hear what they have to say.

Especially (the formerly obese) Huckabee.

Noel to smash harmlessly through Nova Scotia

Well, that's a relief.

Schneier on the War on the Unexpected

As you know, this blog serves a few functions. It's primarily a valve to protect my friends and family members from my musings, but has a number of secondary value offerings. And one of these is to collect pointers to web artifacts that appealed to me.

Security expert Bruce Schneier talks here about the boneheadedness of 'see something, say something,' and mentions my core argument against it: people will already support really suspicious things, and constantly admonishing them to do so just terrorizes them.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The New York Times wonders why Californians burn their houses down.

Charles P. Ewing, a forensic psychologist and law professor at the State University of New York in Buffalo, said the fires were sure to catch the attention of people inclined to arson.

They are likely the ones following the fires very closely, Mr. Ewing said. Then, it’s not uncommon for arsonists to engage in copycat activity or to piggyback on a naturally occurring fire.

Arson experts said juveniles, who are believed to be behind about half of intentional fires, are often curious about fire but do not intend to cause cataclysmic harm. Adults’ motivations are more complex.

Sometimes, Mr. Ewing said, arsonists actually derive sexual pleasure from committing the act, while others are seeking attention and may participate in extinguishing the very fires they light.
Hmm. Yeah. Adults. Complex. Oh, right, the New York Times is still pretending that the housing bubble was something they were totally justified in ignoring. But, sexual pleasure? Is it just possible that for every two homeowners who burned down their investment property to get their rocks off, one did it to pay off his mortgage with his insurance?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

In Manhattan Specifically

Prudential Douglas Elliman reports that real estate prices in Manhattan have trebled since 1997. So, we should probably wait until they're a third as much before we jump in, don't you agree? I've seen other charts where 4Q2001 was a great time to buy, but not so much here.

As I said, the WSJ thinks the housing bubble peaked in 2005

But, we expect the final house values to end up where they started. In 1997.

Cool housing price change tool in WSJ

I logged out of WSJ Online and it still worked for me, so it should work for you. It shows deliquencies and median house prices by quarter from 1Q2005 to 2Q2007. Seattle, Portland and Salt Lake City are over their 4Q2005 medians, although the WSJ considers that the peak of the bubble. The New York-Wayne-White Plains MSA is nearly the same, but there's a lot of structure. Manhattan is being propped up by desperate hedge fund managers, enough to change the average for the MSA as a whole. That's not going to last.

Real Estate Operations

So, now I'm looking for a national property manager to invest in. All Property Management points to Kravetz Realty Group, but I don't think they're publicly traded, and they don't manage single family homes. The link is to e*trade's list of real estate operations companies, but many of them seem pretty exposed to losses in their real estate holdings.

I guess it makes sense that if you were making money managing other people's property, you'd eventually start buying it. But, I'm looking for a pure play. Ideas?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

OK, I'm now in BWX

Let's see how this does against, say, a 5.1 % CD. It took until now -- 9 days -- to get money available in my eTrade account. They promise me this'll happen faster in the future.

Snap Crackle Pop

Continuing to indulge in my new hobby of coopting corporate jingles, I've turned to my favorite jingle, the Rice Krispies madrigal -- there's a tension between the integrity of the doggerel and the content of the message, but the original had the lyric 'beets pickle,' so it's a hard problem.

Snap, hey those traps abound!
The military broken, too much ground to pound
Torture flap, no time to nap
all o'er the map, raise the age cap
Snap is going to bring us down

The ice floes crackle and bears are drowned
Katrina left New Orleans in a dirty mound
Caps fickle, Papers trickle, UN stickle, Coal pickle
Crackle is going to bring us down

For the housing bubble, Pop's the sound
That lets us know we're economically unsound
Loose lending chop, housing starts stop, the dollar flops, we all push mops
Pop is going to bring us down

(now sing all the verses at once. You can't do it alone.)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

I wrote a song

Three hundred million people
No two are quite the same
each doing things their own way
each plays a different game
but most agree on one thing
well, all agree, let's say
That America must get out of Iraq
And George Bush is to blame

Oh, yes, American must get out of Iraq
And George Bush is to blame
He lied us in to a war of choice
And ruined our good name
Whether for oil or votes or to feather the nests
of his friends it's all the same
America must get out of Iraq
And George Bush is to blame!

Urban Astronomers

So, OK, shooting stars tonight and through Friday, but no hope of seeing them in New York, even if it weren't cloudy. But, what I love about this story is this:
"Orionid meteors are normally dim and not well seen from urban locations," said meteor expert Robert Lunsford, adding, ". . . it is highly suggested that you find a safe rural location to see the best Orionid activity."
A safe rural location. "I don't like leaving the city any more than you, but if you want to see meteors, you have to take some risks. Watch out for goats -- they can be ornery."

Friday, October 19, 2007

New Interruptor Sweeping the Nation

We have always known, said Pooh, that heedless self-interest was bad morals.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

SPDR Lehman International Treasury Bond ETF

The top story at the Motley Fool today is that Lehman created a fund to facilitate the panicked flight from the Dollar that I myself seek to engage in. It opened October 5th, and it looks like there was a brief surge and a pullout, but what the heck? I've opened an e*trade account.

In case you missed it? We had an unnamed tropical cyclone

Fifteen didn't make it. And, as the hurricane season only has six weeks left, there probably won't be any more storms*.

* -- this in response to criticism that I seemed to be rooting for the hurricanes.

Census in trouble

Let’s be clear. This is not a hearing about a potential problem or a threat but real, actual damage to the 2010 Census. The ability of the career professionals at the Census Bureau to carry out the Census and provide the country with the most accurate numbers has already been adversely affected. Without an immediate exception to get funding to the census, the accuracy of the 2010 Census will suffer even more dramatically.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Did Visa eliminate its PR department?

What an odd line:
Visa, currently in a quiet period following a global restructuring, would not comment on the issues....
A quiet period following a global restructuring? Like the reorg left them all talked out? Maybe they've taken a page from the administration and realized that not providing information is easier than spinning it.

Annals of wacky allopathy: Polio Vaccine causes Polio

Did you even know this could happen?

In 2000, the United States switched to injected vaccine made from killed virus, which cannot mutate. But oral drops with the live, weakened version of the virus are still used in most poor countries, including those where the disease has never been eliminated: Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

This vaccine, invented by Albert Sabin, is easier to give, offers much stronger protection and can beneficially “infect” other family members or neighbors, protecting them too.

But in rare cases, it can mutate into something resembling wild polio virus, which can paralyze or kill.
And aid workers wonder why people don't trust them. The former lieutenant governor of Viriginia mentioned in the story (he reputedly got polio after his elder son Jack got the Sabin vaccine) is Jenna Bush's prospective father-in-law, by the way; that he wasn't mentioned by name does suggest the New York Times has rather a grudge against the President.

New York Times today

Oh, fun interactive tool in the New York Times today. Subprime mortgage percentages by census tract. It also gives whiteness -- apparently Darien, CT, is 6 % - 8 % non-white, which is a different town than I grew up in.

I'm not super-clear about the focus on sub-prime. Isn't it the interest-only loans that create the huge default rate? Maybe they were securitized together, but the problem wasn't pricing risk properly, it was tricking poor people into taking on the poor investment decisions of wealthier people. Maybe interest-only loans were largely subprime -- and liar loans, which are also a problem, definitely were -- but I fear that if we start talking about the housing bubble collapse as coming from a problem in the subprime markets, the solution will be to stop extending credit to the poor, which will reinforce economic stratification.

Also in the Times today, another Krugman cultural reference, now to an FDR quote (from his second inaugural address,) which I wanted to capture as I thought it was cool: “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals. We know now that it is bad economics.”

Friday, October 12, 2007

Conspiracy Theory XKCD

So, this post is why some conspiracy theories -- ones that get countered with "Nobody would do that" instead of "That couldn't happen" -- are good and some bad.

It's looking very much like we'll have an unnamed tropical cyclone

Ah, tropical depression 15, we hardly knew ye.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Helping to identify losers

Ah ... I just applied to run the London Marathon on April 13th. It's a £32 fee, which is about $67. They don't give it back if you don't give in, they 'give it to charity,' which charity is presumably the London Marathon itself.

This is all well and good. However! They also give you a jacket. I'm mystified by this.

"Hey, nice jacket!"

"Yes, I applied for the London Marathon and didn't get in."

"I've always wanted to be rejected from that! Oh, how I envy you!"

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Advantage: Huckabee

Maybe I should put money on Mike Huckabee's getting the GOP Nomination. Dan Bartlett, "who ... has been described as the President's alter ego*," savaged the field of Republican Presidential hopefuls, and only leaves Giuliani and Huckabee standing. And whenever you look too closely at Giuliani, you see all these problems.

* -- You know, I'm the President's alter ego. Hey! I've been described as the President's alter ego!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Another investment tip

Now, we're seeing homebuilders undercutting people they sold to last year by hundreds of thousands of dollars, either straight up or at auction. But, often their spokespeople will say, "This is really the lowest price we can afford to sell at."

Banks are also taking over a lot of homes that they don't feel they can afford to sell. Banks traditionally get houses off their balance sheets pretty quickly, but I think the losses will be too shocking to accept. My expectation is that banks are going to end up holding on to a lot of residential real property.

But, really? Empty homes are a problem. Hobos move in, pipes burst, nobody notices leaks and displaced windows. Everything inside was designed to persist at temperatures and humidities comfortable to humans, whereas it'll be experience conditions ripe for black mold. You can't leave a house unoccupied until inflation recovers the value you bought it at and expect it to be OK.

I expect builders and banks both to start reaching out to management companies to rent all of these condos and houses that are starting to sit around. I don't know if there even are any national players, but that seems like a business that's going to seriously take off.

Talking Heads reference in Paul Krugman's column today

Now, as they survey the wreckage of their cause, conservatives may ask themselves: “Well, how did we get here?” They may tell themselves: “This is not my beautiful Right.” They may ask themselves: “My God, what have we done?”

But their movement is the same as it ever was.
Just thought that was cool. Hey, it's my blog. He also writes
People claim to be shocked at the Bush administration’s attempts to equate dissent with treason. But Goldwater ... staunchly supported Joseph McCarthy.
This sounds like an attack on Bush apologists' hypocrisy as they attempt to reform. But, I think actual Bushies might assert that McCarthy wasn't a bad dude. It's not just Ann Coulter -- the poison's everywhere.

Um ....

[Charles Schulz' son Monte] said his mother, Joyce Doty, was very upset at being portrayed [in the Peanuts creator's biography] as an overbearing and shrewish. Reached at her home in Hawaii, she said, “I am not talking to anybody about anything.”

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Just going through some old email

This is an email I wrote a friend who was dead set on buying a condo on July 12, 2005.
OK, what's my goal? I want to be sure that you're evaluating your risk correctly. Now, if I pay $18,000 per year in rent, I'm gambling that a real investment would lose at least that. I could afford maybe a $300K house on a 15-year mortgage, so I'm gambling on a 6 % / year decline. But, I think it'll be much faster.
The real estate market is local. However, the mortgage rates are national, the investment capital seeking shelter is national, and the repeatedly disproven investment meme 'safe as houses' is national. Furthermore, the drop in the value of the dollar making real investments attractive to foreigners is national, and the top 6 home builders provide some large share of the market. Moreover, there's a global housing
bubble driven by some of these (obviously not the last two) same effects.
Here's another article.

http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/jun2005/nf20050616_5078_db016.htm

The point of which is that between the subprime lending, the investors* and the people who are making their minimum payment (60% of WaMu borrowers who borrowed last year) there are going to be a lot of defaults even if interest rates don't rise, which is inconceivable. Defaults bring housing prices down, which eliminates equity lines of credit, eviscerating consumer spending, reducing business activity and making a whole new slew of people unable to make their monthly payments. When they do rise, the profit takers Fortune speaks of will act, selling in a flurry and bringing prices down. In the third wave, the equity lines of credit will already be gone, but the house price drop will be much faster, shutting down housing starts and leaving us with a gross overinventory of houses, which accounting rules will force on the market, dropping the prices a fourth time. So, that's my thesis. A four-stage drop, with an attendant depression and a massive surge in homelessness. I'm gloomy!
You either have to time the market -- I'd expect mortgage origination to peak when rates start to edge up, but that's when all of the other profit-takers will act -- or hold on to your apartment until it has lost only as much value as you would have paid in rent + excess taxes. Or, you know, lose money.
RFM


* --- this article does not speak of investors, but you know they're out there: more this year than last, twice as many last year as three years before. I believe 16.8% of new mortgage originators are declared investors, and [a mutual friend who had told us she was misrepresenting an investment purchase as a primary residence] explained the rationale not to declare.
So ... I think that's still more or less correct, although then I was predicting the inevitable and now we're living it. I may have had some effects out of order -- my email doesn't mention the five-year balloon payments, because I'd only started blogging on June 2nd, and didn't fully grok that people never follow links; they're what the referenced article is about.

My argument leaves out the home builders' carrying costs and intent to sell, which helps clarify the market in a lot of places. Also, it seems to imply I understood the global housing bubble better then than I do now, which is certainly possible. And we haven't really gotten into the economic contraction-housing deflation cycle. But, while we feel like we have a lot of empty houses, they're to a large part new construction -- I don't imagine that the default rate has really hit its stride -- it's only, what, three times what it was two years ago?

update: In the interest of humility, I did want to point out an error. Home equity lines of credit dried up all at once. They're already gone. It's not going to get worse in depreciation-contraction cycles.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Don't Be Fool! Don't Buy Now! Let Them Pop!

Here's a video to support my assertion that there's a collapsing housing bubble in the same countries that are complaining about higher grain prices.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Blackwater Comparative Costs

So, everyone's talking about how Blackwater costs considerably more per consultant that a regular Army sergeant. But! You can't compare their salaries! The Army has pensions, it trains you, & c.

I haven't seen mentioned in these discussions that, since Blackwater hires exclusively ex-military, we have already paid to train them, and they typically left before they qualified for their pension. We can drop those costs from the analysis.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Carol Anne Gotbaum apparently strangled herself

In the famous words of Lixion Avila, I have run out of things to say.

Carol Anne Gotbaum, 45, was arrested Friday at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix after she allegedly became “irate” when gate crews refused to let her board a flight for which she was late, according to US airways officials. She died at the airport.

Gotbaum, 45, of the upper West Side of New York, died less than an hour later, after cops claim she apparently strangled herself while trying to escape from the handcuffs in a holding cell at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

It's nice when the wealthy and powerful fall into the traps lain for the indigent and disempowered, as it's the only way the rules can get changed. They're the stories we hear about. I'm not saying you can't accidentally strangle yourself when handcuffed, but the fact that Mrs. Gotbaum was left unsupervised long enough for it to happen points to a problem with hiring minimum wage workers and leaving the mechanisms of the state in their hands.

Her step-mother in law may run for mayor, and I think the more people who've suffered due to this sort of thing that we have in positions of authority, the better off we are. So, until I find out she actually has unsupportable views, I'm going Betsy Gotbaum 2009!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

A request to support orphans in China

(email I received from a friend)
Jenny Bowen, founder of Half the Sky and famous in
the China adoption community for her work supporting children living in China's orphanages, is campaigning to carry the Olympic torch along with 8
children currently living in China's orphanage system. Bringing her work
and the lives of China's orphans to the public eye would be an amazing
benefit to the children living in China without forever families as well as
all children adopted from China. And best of all, it bring would glory and
honor to 8 special children!
Please take a quick minute to vote for Jenny and the kids by clicking on the
title link. We'd appreciate it if you could forward this
link to others as well. Like Jenny says, they need a LOT of votes.
Half the Sky was created in order to enrich the lives and enhance the
prospects for orphaned children in China. We establish and operate infant
nurture and preschool programs, provide personalized learning for older
children and establish loving permanent family care and guidance for
children with disabilities. It is our goal to ensure that every orphaned
child has a caring adult in her life and a chance at a bright future.