The California Fires

Friday, September 30, 2005
If you haven't heard, their are a bunch of fires going on in California. The air is full of ash and you can see the smoke even in Pasadena, which is quite far from where things are actually happening. These are huge fires and several thousand acres have already been burned with only a small percentage of the fires actually contained.

One of the things that crossed my mind was, when can we expect some Federal Aid? How many billions of dollars should California expect to help pay for the fire recovery. Doesn't the federal government pay for everything when we have a natural disaster. Granted, Katrina probably caused 20x the damage these fires are causing but even that would still leave about $3 billion in aid that should be coming this way.

If people don't have fire insurance, can our attorney general sue to make private insurance firms pay for it?

Natural disasters happen. However, these things are best handled by the state and private companies. Having an expectation that the national government will respond to every disaster is ridiculous. Where does one draw the line? When is a disaster not big enough for the federal government to take notice. Wouldn't you be pissed if you fell right under that line?

It's funny to me that everyone complains about the federal governments response after the Katrina disaster but what do people want? More government! It's like in business when there are too many meetings going on for you to actually get work done so what do they do? They have meetings to discuss how to have less meetings!

Flight Attendants ARE Evil

Thursday, September 29, 2005
It seems that the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) is upset over how the flight crew in this weekends #1 movie Flightplan was portrayed. I haven't seen the movie yet but even if they are portrayed as baby-snatching, devil-worshiping, cannibals I think the AFA has to get over itself. Seriously, its a movie. I'm sure people are able to separate reality from fiction. Just the other day I saw a movie where a man could stick to walls, I didn't think there actually existed said man. I didn't think Airline attendants were evil before, but after this boycott I may have to change my mind.

If everyone gets their way, at some point their won't be any movies portraying anyone in a bad light. You won't even be able to watch a romantic comedy because at some point the Association of Slimy Singles (ASS) will argue that they put into a negative light those who like to cheat on their significant other.

Heck, if anyone has a right to complain it has got to be the Asian-American man. Please name me just one movie where you see an Asian man just play some character where is "asianness" doesn't come into play. There are none. He either knows kung-fu, is part of the Asian Mafia, or is some computer geek. Maybe I should just start protesting all movies out of principle.

As The Economy Turns

Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Don't look now, but I think the economy just hit the turn.

At some point the economy is going to retract. It's not a matter of if it is a matter of when. I think it just took a turn for the worse. Here is why.

1. Consumer Confidence has plummeted. This doesn't always translate into consumers spending less but I think this time will be more predictive than past times where consumers kept spending despite their drop in confidence in the economy.

2. Oil prices keep rising - Despite the drop in demand recently, the price of oil is still very high and looks to be rising. Higher energy cost inevitably hits consumers very hard. Not only does it increase what they pay at the pump, it increases their cost across the board for the products they buy.

3. The Yield Curve is almost flat - A flat yield curve is bad. An inverted yield curve is almost always a predictor of an upcoming recession. The Fed will continue to rise short term rates and I don't see the 10 year bond moving any time soon, it has barely budged despite continued hikes by the fed. Within months, the curve could easily invert itself.

4. Home Sales declined - While it is only a month, this had to happen sooner or later and I believe we finally may have reached the point where the bubble is about to burst. You add this to the fact that Greenspan released a report he authored (this is in itself VERY rare as he has only done it TWICE in 18 years) that shows much of the consumer spending of the last few years was based on consumers taking out equity in their home. Consumers can't continue to do this forever so a decline in consumer spending is inevitable.

5. Consumers are stretched too thin - There is a report out today that credit-card deliquencies rose sharply over the last few months. Much of this is attributed to the rise in gas prices. However, this points out a much deeper problem. Americans have saved very little money over the past several years, feeling the wealth effect of rising home prices. However, this is not cash in the bank and therefore, when times get tough, people are stretched too thin. What is even scarier is that the numbers are for April-June only. This does not factor in the Katrina effect and the record price of gas over the last few months.

Maybe I'm just paranoid and overly pessimistic. That's the beauty of the blog. You can come back in a few months and see if I'm an idiot or a genius.

Movie Review: The Wedding Date

Tuesday, September 27, 2005
I watched the Wedding Date this weekend. I won't give up anything vital to the movie that you probably couldn't already guess but I may put a spoiler in here and there.

First off let me say that I'm not a big fan of Debra Messing. My main reason is appallingly bad. My girlfriend and I always joke around how she has absolutely no chest to speak of but yet still insists on wearing low cut dresses that accentuate her absence of cleavage. Her character on Will and Grace also drives me up the wall.

All that being said, this was a pretty bad movie. The premise is that Debra Messing hires Dermot Mulroney to be her escort to her sister's wedding. She wants a hunky escort because the best man at the wedding happens to be her ex-fiancee.

Through the course of events, it is no surprise that Dermot and Debra end up falling in love. My whole problem with the movie is that there is absolutely no reason for the two to fall in love. Dermot is a professional escort. He goes on dates with women for a living. You must imagine that a man in his position gets a lot of women hitting on him and he must learn to emotionally distance himself from his "dates". However, all of a sudden, for absolutely no reason, he falls for her. I believe that you shouldn't over analyze movies and of course practice "suspension of disbelief" for most, but give me something to work with.

The movie only had one redeeming scene. Dermot Mulroney tells Debra Messing, "Every woman has the exact love life she wants." I couldn't agree more with this statement. Why women don't seem to understand this is beyond me. I know so many women who complain about their love lives but do absolutely nothing about it or continue to engage in behavior that is completely self-destructive.

My Old URL

Thursday, September 22, 2005
I'm so embarrassed. If anyone remembers my old URL go visit it. It has turned into a site with a bunch of hardcore links. No, I won't link to it as I try and keep my name out of this blog and I don't want to support hardcore p*rn.

In similar news, the FBI is looking for people to join its P*rn Squad. No joke. It seems that the FBI thinks this is a high priority as Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and the Director of the FBI Robert S. Mueller III want to root out all this obscenity.

Can you believe this? I mean it's not like they are going after people who engage in child p*rnography. They are going after everyday p*rn that many Americans watch all the time. P*rn people! One of the largest legal industries in the United States. Two consenting adults engaging in an act everyone does, they just happen to do it in front of a camera.

I'm not advocating everyone go out and watch p*rn. But seriously, do we need the government spending resources to stop this? In the wake of the Katrina disaster, the Iraq war, and ballooning budget deficits, does the FBI really need to waste money trying to stop perfectly legal activities. Here is a clue people. The industry is HUGE. It has revenues estimated to be $57 Billion world wide. That means a lot of people are watching it and paying for it. That means that in all likelihood, your next door neighbor or your best friend watches it. If the FBI wants to hunt down these people, why not just investigate its own agents, because I guarantee you a large percentage of them watch it.

Opera is Now Free

Tuesday, September 20, 2005
The Opera browser is now free. I'm using it right now and so far it is OK. Blogger doesn't seem to play nice with it as I don't have as many options to help me bold, underline, etc. as I'm used to having under Firefox or IE.

I have heard good things about it in the past because it used to cost $40. So I will give it a whirl and see if I like it. This post will change over time as I have more experience with the browser.

  • Seems to load faster than Firefox but maybe not as fast as IE (which cheats anyway)
  • Bookmark migration was fast and painless
  • Nice, clean look
  • Has a lot more built in tab options (although you can achieve the same effect with Firefox plug ins)
  • Password manager is more powerful than Firefox
  • Tells you automatically that a website has a RSS feed and allows you, with one click, to subscribe to it.

  • Doesn't work with some sites very well (Blogger specifically)
  • Doesn't have a Google Toolbar (but does have a search bar with Google as the default)
  • I don't like how the buttons are laid out.

What I Don't Like About Blockbuster So Far

OK here is a quick list about things I don't like about Blockbuster's online rental system:

1. The Website is flaky to say the least. Often times it pops up a window telling me there is an error.

2. They have a problem with their security. I get messages about "domain name mismatch" all the time that the certificate it is sending me is from someone else. In fact it is from Blockbuster but comes from a different server than their www server. This has to happen to everyone because it happens with every browser I use and everywhere I use it. You would think this would annoy enough people and Blockbuster would do something about it.

3. I can't use my 2 free in-store rentals on games. This is a big blow. I actually kind of signed up for this. I may have to rethink this.

4. For some reason their mail is slower than Netflix. With Netflix, I got pretty consistent 3 day turnarounds (when I wasn't being throttled). Day 1 - Mail DVD, Day 2 - Netflix receives DVD and mails new one, Day 3 - I receive new DVD. This is definitely not the case with Blockbuster where the turnaround is closer to 4 or 5 days.

5. Their queue software is horrible. It moves my movies around randomly and I can't seem to line up the movies I want in the right order sometimes without multiple tries.

6. Related to awful queue software, they often send the movies out in strange order. A movie at the top of my queue will say "Available Now" but they will in fact ship a movie from somewhere else in my queue.

To be fair I thought one cool think Blockbuster did do was send me a 4th DVD. There was no explanation why they did this but I think it was to compensate for the slower than expected service. I never complained to Blockbuster about this so maybe they just did it because they know their service can be spotty.

Is it worse than Netflix? Probably. Netflix doesn't have the above problems so Blockbuster has a ways to go. I will probably stay with Blockbuster for now for the simple reason that they don't seem to throttle the users, their service is just bad for all. But I just feel Netflix's practices are a little deceitful and I prefer to do business with companies that are upfront with their policies.

Insurance For Free

Monday, September 19, 2005
There are jokes about how backwards and parts of the South are. The attorney general of Mississippi isn't helping matters. Friday, he filed suit against five insurance agencies seeking to invalidate provisions of homeowner policies that exclude coverage for water damage.

I can't believe how stupid and idiotic this suit is. One of the proper roles of government in a Capitalistic society is to enforce contracts. Two people make a voluntary agreement, neither should be allowed to break it on a whim. Yet the attorney general wants to turn that tenet on its ear and just tell the insurance companies they need to pay for damage explicitly excluded on the policy.

Don't get me wrong. I feel bad for the people in the Gulf. But that does not mean that insurance agencies should be obligated to pay for claims they did not collect premiums to cover.

Let me give you a quick insurance lesson. Insurance is gambling. You are making a bet that you will have some sort of calamitous event where you will need money that you don't have. You agree to pay small money over time so that MAYBE you will collect a large sum somewhere down the road.

Insurance companies pay, and pay well, people called actuaries whose job is to evaluate risk. They determine how likely an insurance company will have to pay out and then calculate the amount of premiums the insurer needs to collect in order to make a profit. Yes people, a profit. An insurance company wants to make money, not help you out. Evil I know. But think about it. To do this, an insurance company has to take in more in premiums than it pays out in claims. That means, most of the time, people actually pay in more money than they collect. You could do just as well saving that money on your own and investing it wisely than you could by paying an insurance company your monthly premium.

You can't change the rules mid game. It would be like going to Vegas and playing poker. You get a great hand, a Full House, and make bets the entire game knowing you have a great hand. At the end of the game you lay down your cards and believe you beat your neighbor, who has the next highest hand, a straight. As you go to collect your chips, the house informs you that no, indeed for this particular hand, a straight beats a flush, you lose.

In the long run, this would kill the Mississippi economy. Why? If you are an insurer, or really any business, and you know Mississippi is favorable to just rewriting contracts whenever the political climate favors it, what do you do? You don't do business in the state. Now, instead of being able to get home insurance that will cover you in events other than floods, you get NO insurance. Or, at the very least, you get very expensive insurance because there is so little competition among insurers, since most will not take the risk their contract will be invalidated. It isn't just an insurance problem. All businesses will worry that at some point, Mississippi will just turn around and change the rules. It isn't a climate people can profit in. You wouldn't go back to that poker table after they changed the rules on you would you?

Why not just make the insurance companies pay EVERYONE, regardless if they have a claim or not? I mean, who cares if they didn't have a contract before? These people need help, and we all know that need trumps rights.

Comment Spam

Friday, September 16, 2005
Comment Spam just sucks. I really wish Google would find a good way to punish those who engage in comment spam to lower the rankings of such sites until they fall to zero. In the hopes of eliminating the above mentioned comment spam I'm going to try out Blogger's "word verification" comments and see how that works. If this is bothersome to some of my regular commenters let me know.

Airline Bankruptcies: It's Getting Ridiculous

Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Both Delta and Northwest filed for bankruptcy protection yesterday. It's getting a little silly.

Count it now. That is four of the major airlines in the last several years with US Air and United being the other two.

Now I'm no bankruptcy expert, but in my view it is absolutely ludicrous that these huge corporations are allowed to declare bankruptcy, eliminate their debts, and then come back and operate and compete against the other airlines.

If they are going to go out of business, fine, go out of business. In the short term, lots of people will lose jobs, ticket prices will probably go up, and fewer flights will be offered. But in the long term, the overall health of the industry will be a lot better than if we continually prop up failing companies. How is it fair that four of the largest airlines get to continue to operate under bankruptcy protection while the other three get no such privilege. How is it fair that United can default on its Pension obligations, have YOU pick up the tab, and continue to compete against the likes of American and Southwest whose only crime is that they are actually profitable.

Since when is it good to essentialy punish and put at a disadvantage companies that are actually good and can actually turn a profit? If such a system is allowed to continue, it eventually will cause the entire system to come crashing down. It's a simple fact of reality. You can't operate at a loss. It is next to impossible to compete against a competitor who gets subsidized by the government, especially your own government. While this is not a direct subsidy, it is nevertheless a subsidy. Throwing good money at bad business just makes no sense.

Kitty For Sale

Monday, September 12, 2005

I have a kitty for sale. He is a male, three years old, very playful, toilet trained, and will sit on command. If you know a good home for him, please let me know.

This week has not been a good week for me cat-wise. I spent most of my Saturday stuck up a tree, literally. I decided to be a good owner and take Bandit for a walk in the park. When we got there he was a little scared and darted for the nearest tree. Before I could get him he was half way up the tree. If only my problems ended there. He then proceded to keep going up the tree. If you know cats, you know its much easier for them to go up than down.

Try as I might for the next hour or so, Bandit, would not come down. I couldn't leave him there because we were at a park far from home and he has no collar; so if I left, I ran the chance of never seeing him again. So I decided to go up the tree after him. And before you say something, neither the Fire Station, Humane Society, or the Police will come get your cat for you. We called.

By the time I started climbing the tree Bandit was at the highest point in the tree. The branches were much thinner and barely supporting his weight. I am hoping that if I go up the tree Bandit will come down part way, no luck. I am literally 18-20 feet in the air at this point in a very awkward and difficult to hold position but Bandit will not budge. I have to go up the next level of the tree, nothing I'm keen on doing as this is a very thin part of the trunk. Bandit starts motioning toward me but his grip on the tree is precarious at best. Several times, he almost loses his grip. Finally, after about 30-40 minutes in the tree, I'm able to reach out to him and bring him down. You should have seen Bandit, he was very scared until I was able to get him and very grateful as I was brought him down the tree.

But the fun doesn't end there. Yesterday I let Bandit out in the back yard. Big mistake. As I pick him up to bring him in, he isn't too happy. He starts hissing at me. That isn't so bad, I'm use to it, but then he decides to take it a step further. The stupid cat takes both his front paws and swipes at my face; his claws, scratching my face.

So there you have it. If you want a kitty I have one. I'm not asking much so make me an offer.

Americans Are a Bunch of Sheep

Not being a Bush fan, what I'm about to write is going to be very hard.

Four years ago today, in the wake of September 11th, Bush's approval rating was well over 80%. The United States rallied around its leader to form a united front against terrorism. At the time I thought Americans were a bunch of idiots, giving a president, who did little to stop the terrorism in the first place and even less to stop it after the fact, their overwhelming approval.

Now, in the aftermath of Katrina and the anger over soaring gas prices, America has turned the other way, Bush's approval rating has dipped to a low of 39%. And yet I still feel like Americans are a bunch of idiots, or at the very least a bunch of sheep, following whatever the latest trend may be. The latest trend is blaming Bush for every bad thing that happens.

Americans greatly overestimate the influence the President has on their lives. When things are going good, all the praise goes to the President. When things are bad, they all blame him too. The fact is, the President has very little influence on the day to day lives of most Americans. The President has very little influence on the overall direction of the economy. Certainly he sets policy, but he is just one voice, albeit a very loud one, in the very complex machinery that is the United States.

While the federal government has certainly made mistakes over the last few weeks, they can hardly be completely blamed for the devastation that has hit the South. They certainly can't be blamed for the spike in gasoline prices that followed. Yet Americans seem to look to their neighbors to figure out how they should feel. Post 9-11, America was great so Bush was great. Post Katrina, America not so great so Bush is the devil. Believe me, Bush did nothing fantastic that anyone else couldn't have done post 9-11 and he hasn't done anything so heinous recently to suggest the precipitous fall of his approval rating (other than be who he has always been).

Bush is Bush. I feel his policies and politics have remained fairly constant over the course of his Presidency. If you hated him before, you should probably hate him now. If you liked him before, you should probably still like him (but you may want to get your head checked).

Waiting to Get a New TV

Friday, September 09, 2005

I want a new TV. I wouldn't mind the one on the left, the Sony Qualia 70" which retails for about $10,000. More realistically I would accept the one next to it, the 50" Samsung DLP which retails for around $3,000. Both sets are absolutely gorgeous.

For a technology geek like myself my TV is very embarassing. It is relatively small and quite old, about 11 years. I have been eyeing a few new TV's but have now decided to wait. With new
technology like HDTV it's all about how long can you hold out. I almost went and bought a new TV this weekend when a strange green blob showed up on my TV screen. But after I turned the
TV off and then on again the green spot went away, and thus no new TV.

Why the wait?

*** WARNING: Technology Geek Speak Next! ***

So I'm waiting because HDTV is still in a state of change. Until this summer, HDTVs were sold supporting either 720p or 1080i. The number refers to the number of scan lines it supports (higher being better resolution) and the "p" and the "i" stating whether it is progressive or interlaced (progressive being better). So while 720p has less resolution, it displays all the pixels at once where as 1080i has better resolution but must draw the screen twice.

Now comes along 1080p (nicknamed Ultra-HD). The best of both worlds. And according to some, the picture it is capable of creating is nothing short of spectacular. As of now, there is really no source material capable of displaying at 1080p, but considering I plan on having this next TV for at least 10 years I don't want my new TV to be dated to quickly.

*** End of Geek Speak ***

That combined with the fact that HDTV flat panel prices are falling rapidly due to large supplies and you have the fact that I'm going to try and sit out a little longer; hopefully this time next year I will finally take the plunge.

An Evil Movie

Thursday, September 08, 2005
I watched a truly evil movie last night. I rented Before Sunset with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. It was the sequel to a 1995 movie called Before Sunrise which I actually saw when it first came out 1995. Most people would probably not enjoy the movies. There is absolutely no action in either movie. The movies are a character study; you learn about two people, their beliefs, desires, etc. and that is it. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the movies despite the lack of action however this last movie was just evil. I am about to give away plot elements in both movies so if you plan on watching them in the future stop reading.

In the first movie, Hawke meets Delpy on a train to Vienna. They decide to spend the night walking around the city and talking. The next train leaves in the morning so they have until "Before Sunrise". They instantly hit it off and it is clear that their is a strong chemistry there. They both have obligations that must take them away but they agree to meet again 6 months later. They exchange no other personal information and decide to let fate take its course. If they both show up, so be it. If one person doesn't, than it was never meant to be. The first movie ends with them parting ways, the audience has no idea what ever happened.

The second movie is staged nine years later. Hawke has become a successful author by authoring a book about that fateful night. At his last stop in Paris, Delpy comes to the book store to find Hawke, she happened to see his picture on a poster in the bookstore and knew it was him. The audience finds out that Delpy never made it to the meeting spot; her grandmother died only days before and the funeral was on the day of the meeting. Hawke on the other hand made it and was heart broken that Delpy did not. They pick up where they left off. They walk around the streets of Paris just talking about what has transpired the past nine years. This time, they only have until "Before Sunset" when Hawke must catch a flight back home.

You find out that Hawke is now married with a son he deeply loves. However, his marriage is loveless. You can tell that he still pines for Delpy and regrets that she was the one who got away. At first Delpy acts strong. She pretends that night didn't mean too much to her. But as the movie progresses you learn that indeed that she too regrets not meeting up with Hawke. The movie continues to build up the tension until the final scene where Hawke is in Delpy's apartment. Having just sung a song to Hawke about that night, Delpy prepares a cup of tea and begins another story. In the middle of the story the movie just ends.

WTF? You wait nine years to find out what happened in the first movie and they go and do it again. You have no idea what actually happens in that apartment. Did they hook up? Did he remain faithful to his wife? I can't believe I fell for it again. If they ever come out with a movie called "Before Dusk" or something like that I'm not watching it ..... OK, maybe just to figure out what happened this time.

Chief Justice Roberts

Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Chief Justice Rehnquist died this past weekend leaving open one of the most powerful positions, if not the most powerful position, in the United States Government.

I had fully expected Bush to nominate Justice Scalia or Justice Thomas, two of the most outspoken conservatives on the bench. Their decisions fit in nicely with Bush's politics so I thought their nomination would be a shoe in. I was wrong.

Instead, Bush has nominated John Roberts to take Rehnquist's seat rather than Sandra Day O'Conner's. I view this as proof that Bush knows his power is waning. By all accounts, Roberts will be very difficult for the Senate to not confirm. Republicans love him and Democrats can't find any dirt or reason to not confirm him. Bush's approval rating is at an all-time low. For him to nominate Scalia or Thomas would start a political battle that Bush probably can't survive. He and Republicans have drawn sharp criticism for both the rising price of gas and their handling of the Katrina Disaster.

America is a funny place. Americans are so very short-sighted. They worry about the here and now. It's one of the reasons that Americans have such a low savings rate and such a high consumption rate. Most of middle-class america voted for Bush because they believe Republicans are better able to handle the economy and because of the War in Iraq. However, a majority of America is Pro-Choice. An even larger majority do not want to see Roe V. Wade overturned. A majority favors Affirmative Action. Yet Bush's impact will be long and far-reaching. Judge Roberts, if confirmed will serve and lead the court for 25 or 30 years. Whoever Bush nominates to fill the other seat will most likely serve the same amount of time.

One of the reasons I vote Democratic even though I have strong conservative views on the economy is because I have very strong views on personal liberty and freedom. Being able to nominate Supreme Court Justices is a very powerful thing, being able to nominate a Chief Justice is even more so. It was a power I did not want to give Bush. Now that this seat is going to be cemented with a conservative for the next quarter century and the balance of power is going to be firmly cemented in the conservative corner, it will just give me one less reason to vote Democratic in the 2008 elections.

Power of Compound Interest

Thursday, September 01, 2005
A quick financial lesson.

Let's say you decide to invest in a Roth IRA, my favorite investment vehicle. You decide to start one today and invest the maximum $4,000 every year. You invest it wisely in an index fund that follows the total stock market which has historically returned 10% a year. In 40 years, your $4,000 a year, ($160,000 in principal payments) turns into $1,947,407.24, All of it tax free.

Now imagine if you were a good little saver and have saved the last 4 years. With a modest gain over the last few years you have $17,000 in your account. With the same investment strategy above you now have at the end of 40 years 2,716,814.59, All of it tax free. That is almost $800,000 difference for saving a little bit earlier. That $17,000 turned into $800,000!

Still not convinced? How about this? You do the above strategy from the ages of 25-35 and then stop. So for 10 years you invest $4,000 and then nothing after that. By the age of 65 you will have an account worth $1,223,633,58. Your $40K turned into $1.2 Million.

Or instead, you do nothing from the age of 25-35 and instead save from the age of 35-65 with the same strategy. Your final balance will be $723,773,70. Your $120K turned into $720K. Not bad until you consider that that's a half-million dollar difference from the previous example of $1.2 Million! And you put in 1/3 the amount in principal and saved 3x as long!

The lesson? Save early, save often. I can't stress this enough to my young friends. I know it is hard to save money now, but in the long run, it makes a BIG difference.