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'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, 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?

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 '' 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.


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.