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Monday, June 28, 2010

Not so surprising surprises

A NY Times story discusses the “surprising” drop in home sales in May (down 33%) after the home buyer credit disappeared in April. Is anyone really shocked this happened? You stopped handing out money for a behavior and that behavior immediately slowed down.

They are still trying to paint a rosy picture on this

In a recent interview, [FHA commisioner] Mr. Stevens said his point was misconstrued. “The system is showing signs of stabilizing,” he said. “We’re vastly improved over where we were a year ago.”

To underline that notion, the Obama administration released this week its first monthly “housing scorecard.” It presents an optimistic picture of a housing market saved from the abyss by extensive government intervention.

Some of its good news, however, was distinctly relative. “Home equity up more than $1 trillion since first quarter 2009,” said one headline in the report. But, as the chart clearly indicated, in the three years before that, equity had fallen $6 trillion.

Even in Dallas where we didn’t get hit as hard as the rest of the country the prices are still skewed. The prices are wrong when some houses on my street sit on the market for over a year while my house continues to get marked up in value each year by the county tax assessor.

In order to support this inflated pricing scheme Terence Edwards, Fannie Mae’s executive vice president for credit portfolio management said in a statement

Walking away from a mortgage is bad for borrowers and bad for communities and our approach is meant to deter the disturbing trend toward strategic defaulting.

Still not surprising. Walking away from a mortgage is bad for other borrowers and bad for the bank. It is not bad (or as bad) for the guy walking away. Everyone has to realize the market was over built and over priced and someone has to take the loss. This rhetoric about “don’t walk away” is just intended to force the home owner to take the loss for everyone. Walking away spreads that loss around and seems perfectly rational to me in some cases.

In addition

Fannie Mae said it would take legal action to recoup outstanding mortgage debt from borrowers who walk away.

but I’m not really sure what legal action you can take. Your action is to take ownership of the collateral. That is the contract. Its kinda your fault you if you mispriced the collateral.

The system is not going to stabilize until we get prices back to the old levels (which the Feds are adamantly opposed to) and we stop building new properties that even now dilute the value of the old ones.

Regulating over spilled milk

In the same tradition of what really happens when you provide the government with power – it will use it = The EPA now wants to regulate milk like petroleum.

New Environmental Protection Agency regulations treat spilled milk like oil, requiring farmers to build extra storage tanks and form emergency spill plans.

Local farming advocates says it’s ridiculous to regulate a liquid with a small percentage of butter fat the same way as the now-infamous BP oil spill.

But I thought natural and organic was good! (Of course petroleum is organic too.)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

If only Arizona was a border state…

You know, its not that this is a Democrat. Its that the Democratic/Progressive model (and a good deal of the Republican model as well) encourages more and more government involvement to in order to fix and run things better. It is all predicated on the assumption that you can actually run things better if you get the really smart people in charge. What do you think? Are these the really smart people?

Or maybe she is just really worried that, since Arizona is of course a Pacific coast state, when all those Mexicans cross New Hampshire to get into Arizona the US is going to tip over.

<HT: Gormogons>

Thursday, June 24, 2010

WARNING: Advertising tobacco will make you boring

On the anniversary of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act yesterday, new provisions went into effect from the FDA.

Some of the more “fun” bits of restriction on this legal product include

  • no branded clothing
  • no sponsorship of sports or cultural events
  • audio ads must be words only (no music or sound effects)
  • all labeling and ads must be in black and white (unless in an adult publication)

I can’t wait to see the creative ways the tobacco companies deal with this. They are trying to make cigarettes as boring as possible. At least the Canadian warnings are in full color and entertaining.tab4a_e

I’m not a smoker. I don’t suggest anyone take up the habit, but come on! If this is really that bad for everyone involved then just do away with it. If not, get out of the way.

BONUS BIT: Looking at the legislation, I wonder if anyone else thought “subtle racism” when they read this phrase

the issue of the impact of the use of menthol in cigarettes on the public health, including such use among children, African-Americans, Hispanics, and other racial and ethnic minorities.

Which basically says “we are worried about the white children but for non whites we need to be worried about all of them.”

See? We agree.

This is a complaint about TV executives who hire the news staff

You often have a certain degree of sameness that exists at the top—and sometimes they don’t make that effort to actually dig up talent. I often feel like certain executives look around in their own circles and then say they couldn’t find anyone.

Except in this case they are not complaining about diversity of viewpoints – its complaining about diversity of skin color. Skin color does not determine identity; behavior does. If it did I would be perfectly happy with the current yahoos in Congress right now.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Texas sized crazy

How do you even attempt to have a discussion when you can’t understand what the politician is saying or why?

Kesha Rogers won the Democratic nomination in Texas’s 22nd district with 53% of the vote against two other opponents. Now consider this statement from her web site.

Since the 1776 American Revolution, there has never been a stronger mass movement of growing opposition, and hatred, in the population against our British Imperial foe as we are witnessing today among American Patriots. The mass strike building up in the population against the atrocious policies of the London and Wall Street backed puppet, President Obama, and so called “leading political figures” alike, is a clear sign that Wall Street and the British Empire should beware. The American people are in a fighting mood.

Apparently there is some Limey secretly controlling the POTUS (which also explains why he is going easy on British Petroleum)

This reminds me of Alvin Greene in South Carolina. Are these people getting nominated because of the left’s sheer frustration with Obama’s failure to fix their Bush hatred that they just thrash around in the voting booth and hit the ballot randomly? Or have they been angry for so long that now its overflowing and is an unstoppable.

Or has the machinations of electoral politics become so focused on working the edge cases (can you say Ohio?) that some of these districts get ignored by their parties and end up getting smacked by the results. Nature always forces a balance.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

But it was free yesterday!

U.S. banks may end free checking accounts according to Reuters

The move is expected to hurt retail clients who could be asked to pay new monthly maintenance fees on the most basic accounts that do not generate a lot of activity, the paper said.

To avoid a fee, customers will have to maintain certain account balances or frequently use other banking services, such as credit and debit cards, automated teller machines and online accounts, the Journal said.

I’m not sure which is more ridiculous – that anyone is surprised by this or by the illogical “gimme free stuff!” reaction in the comments to the article.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

More than my fair share?

I’m really tired of the line

We consume more than 20% of the world’s oil, but have less than 2% of the world’s oil reserves.

used by many (most recently in last night’s Presidential address) to indicate that we have an unhealthy appetite for oil. Yes we use a lot of oil, but I use a lot of food and I’m not a farmer.

I consume some of the world’s food but I produce exactly 0% of that food. Does that mean I need to stop eating?

A market economy is defined by different groups who have different resources. If we all had what we needed we would just sit around in our underwear watching TV forever.

We may have valid reasons to reduce our dependency on oil but its not because we are hogging it all.

Monday, June 14, 2010

As if it wasn’t hard enough to get Americans to watch soccer already

The vuvuzelas stay… for now.

Banning the trumpets, though, would undoubtedly unleash a fierce response from South Africans, who see the vuvuzelas as an indispensable part of their soccer culture. Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, has supported the trumpets, saying Europeans must adjust to African traditions.

I’ve never been a big sports-on-tv fan but I do enjoy playing and occasionally watching soccer (but mainly just because I’m one of the few Americans who’ve played it and understand the game). I’m not surprised to see the European culture of inclusiveness-to-a-fault winning the day with these most irritating noise makers, but I’d be surprised if South Africa gets another chance at the World Cup anytime soon if this isn’t dealt with in some way. It is border line offensive to many of the fans not sitting in the stands as well as broadcasters and even the players on the field.

If the world cup was held in England do you think they’d let the hooligans reign free just because its part of their soccer culture?

and a bonus Kumbaya quote from the the chief World Cup organizer Danny Jordan who told the BBC

he would prefer singing and chanting instead of the vuvuzelas, saying that in the days of struggle against apartheid “we were singing all through our history.”

because everything always comes back to race

Congressman Bob Etheridge’s apology

and its actually a good one. No “if I hurt..” or “I apologize but…” He just flat out says that he screwed up, it was not justified. and he is sorry.

I have seen the video posted on several blogs.  I deeply and profoundly regret my reaction and I apologize to all involved.  Throughout my many years of service to the people of North Carolina, I have always tried to treat people from all viewpoints with respect. No matter how intrusive and partisan our politics can become, this does not justify a poor response.  I have and I will always work to promote a civil public discourse.

So kudos to the Congressman for taking it like a man! I really hate the whiny dodging apologies that get made so often by public figures so I like to call out the good ones that actually take responsibility instead of just claiming to do it.

That being said, I hope it is given appropriate weight at his sentencing.

Got paranoia?

This is insane! I’d still love to see the full unedited video but in the first 20 seconds I don’t see where any time lapsed between their cuts.

What do you think makes a congressman immediately act this way? Maybe it’s in anticipation to the visceral reaction he usually gets from how the Congress has been behaving as of late.

Video Tip: When putting up captions, just pause the underlying video and overlay the captions instead of cutting back and forth.

[HT: The Agitator]

Thursday, June 10, 2010

No phone for you!

Big old Texas FAIL! I’m gonna have to make a few calls while I still can

Alarmed by the use of hard-to-track prepaid cell phones by terror suspects, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and Texas Sen. John Cornyn have introduced legislation requiring consumers to produce identification before buying such phones.

Its because of Terrorism! Oh No!

I went to England a few years ago and bought a cheap phone to use while I was there. They charged me 10 extra pounds because I used cash – because terrorists use cash! But at least they let me have the phone.

So far, no major phone company has objected to the legislation and some say they fully embrace it.

No kidding? The phone companies don’t object to making all of their customers give them marketable information in order to upsell them to use an ongoing payment plan instead of a one shot cash transaction? You don’t say!

It never ceases to amaze me that people point out that large corporations are always endorsing big laws that ultimately help fill their own pockets.

We are living in a time when unfortunately our public safety requires small gives by everyone," Verizon spokesman Jeffrey Nelson said.

Yeah “small gives” in the cash donations.

And from Cornyn’s press release

Although there are many legitimate users of prepaid cell phones, they have also become the communication device of choice for terrorists, drug lords and gang members interested in masking their identities. Since they can purchased and activated without signing a contract or undergoing a credit check, prepaid cell phones provide virtual anonymity.

I guess the next time I get on the freeway he will want my license photographed to make sure they can potentially catch and drug lords smuggling narcotics anonymously along the national highway system.

English only? By circumstance, not by design.

Why is English the unofficial language of the US? Is that a problem? No it’s not. Although it is often seen as a sign of being unsophisticated or ignorant that most American’s can only speak English. Speaking more than one language doesn’t make you smarter. It makes you more agile – especially in an environment where multiple languages are used. In the US, the various spheres of language all converged on English.

As I see it there are a few different places languages are spoken.

  • Natural language – the language spoken by your parents and in the home.
  • Communal language – the language spoken in your community
  • Government language – the language used to interact with everyone in the country and make decisions as a whole
  • Media language – the primary language used to broadcast or disseminate information (TV, newspapers, etc)
  • Commercial language – the language required to perform business transactions

Each language area covers a different (and larger) set of people so that you can interact with all of the people in those areas successfully.

In many countries these various sphere’s have their own distinct language. Consider this scenario - maybe you live in a small village in Italy so you speak a certain Italian dialect in the house and to the local community. But being in such a diverse country the various dialects don’t work well so the media and government are in a more standardized Italian. Being in business that does trade around the world all your commercial transactions are done in English which is the de facto standard. Even if you only do business locally you likely know enough “business English” to deal with tourists (counting to 10, yes/no, etc).

This is the diversity that forces people to know multiple languages. In the United States all of these various areas happen to use English. We don’t even have significant dialects from one coast to another. I imagine that is mostly due to the swiftness that the culture engulfed the continent (200 years) as opposed to European countries which have thousands of years of distinct history within isolated pockets. It also has to do with the age in which we came about, mass media came onto the scene in the early 1900s which helped cement the language nationwide and keep it from fragmenting.

It just really irks me when I come across someone who disdains you for only being fluent in one language because where they come from its really a necessity. They didn’t learn English because it was interesting. They learned English because they had to in order to function in the world. Think about that the next time someone says “Well in Germany, we learn English in grade school” Of course you do! But its not my fault that I don’t have to learn your language.

So, for living in the US:
Speaking only English in the US isn’t unsophisticated. Its just practical.
Speaking multiple languages in the US isn’t sophisticated. Its superfluous.

(I actually have studied a foreign language but since I don’t ever use it, I am back to being a mono-linguist.)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hayek springs eternal

From Amazon: this morning’s best seller was originally published in 1944. Its an analysis of the potential for “big government” policies(e.g. British Labour party of the time) to travel down the road the totalitarianism (as the Nazis had recently done).image

Now I don’t take any comparison to Nazi’s lightly and Hayek apparently fought the impression that he was saying that socialistic tendencies inevitably led to totalitarian regimes for the next 40 years. He wasn’t. He was trying to show how the socialist idealists’ end goals often required them to violate their ideals in order to get them enforced.

I’m actually part of this surge to #1 as I received my book from Amazon last week and have been pouring through it. So far so good.

Its always reassuring to see people reading substantive works instead of just fluff (not that fluff isn't important either – I also have other stuff in the reading pile as well)

[HT: The Volokh Conspiracy]

Monday, June 7, 2010

I got scanned and I didn’t even get a lousy t-shirt

I recently went through one of those full body scanners at the Salt Lake City airport and did take longer than going through a normal metal detector. Now the AP timed the scanner at about 25 seconds but the process is much more than being scanned.

I had to emptied my pockets more thoroughly because as the TSA agent kept stating

You must take everything out of your pockets. If anything is still in there I’m gonna have to scan you by hand anyway.

So I’m obliged to take stuff out of my pockets that I wouldn’t have otherwise which again slows me down because I have to put that on the belt to be x-rayed and then pick it up again. (I thought this thing was supposed to be able to see stuff better!)

Then I have to figure out (even after being told) where to put my feet, how to stand, how to put my arms up.

Then even after getting out of the scanner, I step to the next stage which involves waiting next to another TSA agent on a walkie until the walkie squaks “clear!” and I am permitted to pick up my things and move on.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know this was going to happen so I couldn’t prepare a special message for them.

To make it more fun they should put one of those booths at the end of the process like Disneyland has where you can check out your picture and pay $6 for a crappy printout of it!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The nuclear option… literally

You have got to love the idea of solving an environmental catastrophe by detonating a nuclear weapon. But that is exactly what the Russians did back in the 60’s. As BP and the Obama administration have moved through Plans A through F, its at least worth consideration to see if it actually would be worth it.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

“Yes, he was speeding. I could just tell”

Not sure if there is more to this because all the papers are just reprinting the same AP story but unless there is something more here, its pretty disturbing.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio's highest court has ruled that a person may be convicted of speeding purely if it looked to a police officer that the motorist was going too fast.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that an officer's visual estimation of speed is enough to support a conviction if the officer is trained, certified by a training academy, and experienced in watching for speeders. The court's 5-1 decision says independent verification of a driver's speed is not necessary.

The court upheld a lower court's ruling against a driver who challenged a speeding conviction that had been based on testimony from police officer in Copley, 25 miles south of Cleveland. The officer said it appeared to him that the man was driving too fast.

Next up “Yes your honor, I arrested him because he was thinking about robbing that store. I could tell by lookin’ at him.”

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Remember to shut your pie hole!

But before you decide to exercise that right to remain silent you better tell the police that that is exactly what you are doing.

The Supreme Court ruled today in Berghuis v. Thompkins that a criminal suspect must specifically invoke the right against self-incrimination in order for constitutional protections to apply.

From SCOTUSblog’s analysis of the decision

if a suspect does not want to talk to police — that is, to invoke a right to silence — he must say so, with a clear statement because it is not enough to sit silently or to remain uncooperative, even through a long session; and, second, if the suspect finally answers a suggestive question with a one-word response that amounts to a confession, that, by itself, will be understood as a waiver of the right to silence and the statement can be used as evidence.  Police need not obtain an explicit waiver of that right.

In this case, that one word, after several hours of questioning met with silence, was enough to sentence the defendant to life.

If you are arrested now, your silence while being questioned by police does not amount to an invocation of his Miranda right to remain silent. Previously (and until many PDs update their interrogation policies) the police were generally required to get you to explicitly waive your right (usually by signing a document to that effect). Now they get to assume you waived it unless you explicitly invoke it.

Home Depot no habla US futbol?

Home depot has is sponsoring a team for the World Cup in South Africa this year. Who are they sponsoring? The Mexican team!

In a local Home Depot here in north Texas this sign was spotted. Its almost entirely in Spanish and reads

Support Mexico on the journey to South Africa: Free gift with purchase!

home depot spanish sign

So a US company, is advertising in its US stores, with signs primarily in Spanish, to sponsor not just a foreign country’s sports team but a competitor as well. Its not like there isn't a US team in the tournament. [insert joke about how lame American soccer teams are here]

The kicker is that, on top of all of that, the promotion, according to the home depot rules, is only available to legal US residents.

Now I’m not saying that Home Depot isn’t allowed to do this. They are a private business and are as free to offend their customer base as anyone else. But I do know some locals here who are pretty upset, making some noise about this and will only be dealing with Lowes from now on, so it seems a really poor business decision to me. I’d really like to hear their rationale on this one.