You Got to Be Kidding Me!

What I’m Looking At, January 28, 2009

Posted in Economics by Stacy McMahon on January 29, 2009

* TTAC elevates a reader comment telling Detroit what it has to look forward to as the Big Three become the Big One (or none). It’s not a fun subject to think about, but given Washington’s total failure to analyze and address the financial crisis, we’re all likely to know a lot of people going from good jobs to welfare.

* A collection of quotable quotes from Overcoming Bias. My personal favorites:

People want to think there is some huge conspiracy run by evil geniuses. The reality is actually much more horrifying. The people running the show aren’t evil geniuses. They are just as stupid as the rest of us.”
— Vaksel

[…]

“Truth is not always popular, but it is always right.”
— Anon

Clint’s (presumable) favorite:

“Rule of thumb: Be skeptical of things you learned before you could read. E.g., religion.”
— Ben Casnocha

* Fox reports that house prices are dropping fast, and the Wall Street Journal reports that low prices seem to be causing a blip in sales. Is it a bottom, or a dead cat bounce?

* Elsewhere in the real estate industry, Home Depot will do a moderate (by today’s standards) layoff and close the Expo Design Center chain.

“Even during the housing boom, Expo never reached our financial goals,” Chairman and Chief Executive Frank Blake said during a conference call with investors.

Maybe because it was the most expensive source of house parts I’ve ever personally seen? Even in good times the base of customers who throw money out the door without a care isn’t big, and it dries up suddenly and completely when economic conditions get sporty.

* DCist expresses interest in Bombardier’s PRIMOVE tram system, which appears to use induction to power streetcars with a third rail safely out of sight under pavement. As much as I like trains and streetcars, I think hybrid buses are a better solution. You don’t have to do anything to the street to run them, so you can change or extend the route as needed. And without a doubt, they’d be cheaper to buy and operate.

* And speaking of total government failure, I’m boldly predicting that California will be the first state ever to go into receivership. Why? Surprisingly, direct democracy is a big culprit – certain spending programs and tax caps have been taken out of the legislature’s hands by various referenda over the years, leaving limited options for cost-cutting. Though, not quite as limited as this

Eliminate Inspection and Maintenance Review Committee — This would result in saving of up to $165,000.

Eliminate Bureau of Naturopathic Medicine — This elimination would result in a savings of up to $130,000.

Eliminate Telephone Medical Advice Services Bureau — This elimination would result in a savings of up to $157,000.

Some Boxes of Hammers for Jan. 16, 2009

Posted in Box of Hammers by Stacy McMahon on January 16, 2009

Saving the best for last, here are three items that made me roll my eyes today.

* David Zaring at The Conglomerate reluctantly suggests that we may see nationalization of some major banks soon. I’m afraid he might be right, but it’s amusing that he seems to reach that conclusion partly by sharing Washington’s myopia on the subject:

rumors swirl that BofA and Citibank (which would leave just one do-everthing bank left in the US: JPMorgan, depending on how you feel about Wells Fargo) are both headed for conservatorship

Just one bank? I’ve had a good run as a business customer of First Union Wachovia Wells Fargo, but it’s hardly the only game in town. Here in Northern Virginia we also have – to name a few – Chevy Chase, BB&T and Community Bank, all of which managed to identify and sidestep the subprime mortgage trap.

* But that’s nothing compared to Richard Lambert of the Financial Times, piously lecturing us on the absolute necessity of more and more band-aid bailouts. Here’s a thought – how about “nationalizing” the subprime mortgages that are causing the credit freeze for a fraction of what all these bailouts are going to cost – hell, are already costing. Anyone? Bueller?

* And finally, an updated version of the McDonald’s coffee lady (appropriately tagged ‘entertainment’ on Slashdot):

MCFARLAND (WKOW) — Abbie Schubert paid more than $1,100 for a Dell laptop hoping to enroll in online classes at Madison Area Technical College, or MATC.

But something stopped her: she bought an operating system for her computer she never heard of, Ubuntu.

Shades of old-school AOL users, she was convinced she couldn’t get online with her Linux laptop because the Verizon CD wouldn’t run on it. (I can hear Matt’s facepalm all the way down here…)

What I’m Looking At, Jan. 15, 2009

Posted in Entertainment, Going Green, Politics by Stacy McMahon on January 15, 2009

* Six months of solar power (via Slashdot) – A nice writeup of the actual effects of a modern household solar panel system on electric bills (note that the installation cost isn’t mentioned). The past year makes a pretty good case for investing in alternative energy as a hedge against fluctuating fuel prices.

* AutoblogGreen shows us a vaguely steampunk-looking electric bicycle.

* Wired blogs about the rise of pervasive video surveillance in the US (via Instapundit). I’ve been against things like GPS or RFID tracking of children, and I’m against this for the same reason – no good can come from teaching people to live in a Big Brother world. At any rate, I guess we can’t give the Brits crap about their cameras anymore (“Remember remember the fifth of November…”)

* The new season of American Idol is starting, and as usual we’re watching the auditions. No William Hungs sofar, but bikini girl inspired this line: “She’s just clothes away from being average”

* John Kay in the Financial Times says something I’ve been thinking for years now: Telling people what they want to hear, or ‘going along to get along’ isn’t just lame, it’s dangerous and can lead people to ignore or even participate in everything from minor inefficiency to mass murder.

* Ann Althouse thinks reactions to Joe The Plumber as war correspondent in Gaza “will range from idiot to genius”. But mostly idiot.

* And speaking of teaching people to live in a Big Brother world…

* Glenn Reynolds likes to cruise Amazon.com clearances, and finds some neat stuff like the Eyeclops Bionicam. I like the concept. It’s basically a digital camera with a magnifying glass lens, that can take pictures. I can think of a lot of uses for that.

* And finally another link to Ann Althouse, this time to discuss Clint Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino, and how he is or isn’t like Archie Bunker. Interesting thoughts, if your religion doesn’t get in the way. Either way, you should definitely go see the movie!

Did You See It Coming?

Posted in Economics by Stacy McMahon on January 3, 2009

Via Instapundit, Bruce Bartlet notes that “financial leaders” failed to foresee the housing bubble.

Thing is, they did foresee it – they just didn’t do anything about it.

At the height of the subprime mortgage boom, Citigroup’s CEO, Charles Prince described his position in an interview with the Financial Times – “As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance. We’re still dancing.”

That guy saw the bubble – correctly – as a game of musical chairs. What he didn’t see, maybe, is that in this game, all the chairs are still there every round …until the round where they’re all gone.

For my part, I saw the bubble coming …until I stopped seeing it. I’d always known that you can identify a bubble when people with no special knowledge of the market (whatever market it happens to be) believe themselves to be experts because they (and everyone else) are making ridiculous profits. What I learned in this bubble is that the end is in sight when I begin to question that basic wisdom and start thinking maybe it really is “a new world”.

Lesson of 2008: There are no new worlds.