Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Even Smart People Get Wedded to a Particular Paradigm

Warren Buffet is a smart man, but he seems confused about why newspapers are cutting back. Warren Buffett: New Orleans Times-Picayune's New Publication Schedule Is 'Simply Unsustainable'

I'm sure he reads at least one newspaper every day. 25 years ago I read 2 - almost every day. (The Wall Street Journal, and the San Jose Mercury News.) But there is no mystery as to why newspapers are cutting back - they can't afford to do anything else. The newspaper business is in trouble. [Click the image for a larger view, or click the link for more info - and not just on the newspaper business.]

Newspapers once got a substantial bit of revenue from want ads, classified ads, and the like. When I am looking for something or have something to sell, I think of Craigslist, eBay, or one of the more specialized sites. Not my local paper. And if they can't get people to but the paper, they can't collect advertising dollars for subscribers/readers. The only thing that surprises me is that it has taken this long for the problems with newspapers to become this large.

I haven't read a newspaper regularly in years. I didn't care for the politics of the paper where I was in Florida, and I don't care for it much where I am in Ohio. And since I don't need to get a lot propaganda delivered to my door everyday in order to feel informed, I don't bother supporting them.

That chart is interesting for 2 reasons. One is that in 1950 newspapers were in a good position. So if ad revenue is on a par with where they were in 1950, they should be doing OK. (Remember those are dollars adjusted for inflation.) But the downward trend is the kicker. And it is a problem.

Most of the stories reported by blogs come from news organizations. If those news organizations disappear, or are swallowed up by a few of the organizations whose politics offends me when it is masquerading as news, then everyone loses. Maybe the papers will figure out how to survive in the new model. Who knows? I do know I might have continued to support the paper in Florida, or the one here is Ohio, if they had been objective news organizations. But they had a mission. A desire to get folks to only see their point-of-view, which might have worked in the 50s, but fails miserably today.

So Warren Buffet is confused about the downfall of newspapers. Not surprising. Everyone has something from their youth they can't give up.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The View of the Euro Situation From Inside

Most Americans don't know where Estonia is, let alone anything about it. Suffice it to say, Estonia was once under the boot of Stalin's Russia. Now they are being bled-dry to pay for excesses of others in the Euro-zone. (I won't name names, since you already know who they are.)

From Estonia we get something that isn't too common in politics today, a reasoned exposition about the facts of (economic) life. Eventually, somebody has to pay the bill. I’ll Gladly Pay You Tuesday | Hoover Institution

I won't quote much, it is long, and most of it is good. Good enough to receive some of your time. But I will give you this.
You can do it for a while, but if you are a country like Estonia, where the gdp per capita is almost the same as Greece but where the average salary is lower than the Greek minimum wage and where the pensions and agricultural supports within an internal market are three times lower, it is a matter of time before our voters revolt. The government in my country and the opposition voted to support the European Financial Stability Facility to aid a country richer than us and profligate. Three quarters of the parliament voted in favor. But, note: 75 percent of the population was against.
Esontian (and Germany and a few others) lived by the rules. Others did not, and now complain that the austerity they face - what Estonians saw as every-day life - is "unfair." But yet it is "fair" somehow to live beyond your means, borrow money you have no hope of paying back, make agreements in April that you disavow in May. Such is the world we live in.
[Hat Tip to On a Wing and Whim]

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mortgaging Future Generations Income

The Telegraph has an interesting article on public debt. Interesting because you don't often see this in print. Reith Lecture: 'We’re mortgaging the future of the younger generation' - Telegraph
The heart of the matter is the way public debt allows the current generation of voters to live at the expense of those as yet too young to vote or as yet unborn. In this regard, the statistics commonly cited as government debt are themselves deeply misleading, for they encompass only the sums owed by governments in the form of bonds.

But the official debts in the form of bonds do not include the often far larger unfunded liabilities of welfare schemes like – to give the biggest American programmes – Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
People usually say that they love their children and their grandchildren, and yet the "greatest generation" created and next generation expanded a system that can only be seen as robbing the future to pay for today's party. Social Security goes to everyone, regardless of need. So poor youngsters pay into a system that writes checks to rich oldsters. A system that will go bankrupt long before any of them can hope to collect.

More Bailouts in Euro-zone

Cyprus to hold crisis talks as bailout looms - Telegraph
Political leaders would meet on Tuesday afternoon, a press release from the presidency said, shortly after ratings agency Fitch cut the island's sovereign debt to non-investment grade.
And let's not forget the 800 pound gorilla in the room.... Spain.

Spain formally asks for 62 billion euros of bank aid - Jun. 25, 2012 Spain is not a small country - not on its own, and certainly not considered among the European Union countries. Bailing them out will be no small task.

The London Telegraph has a more direct take on European finances. The euro should now be put to the sword - Telegraph The imagery is due to the fact that the current EU Summit - there have been 18 since Greece became an issue - is in Rome.
Since Greece went into meltdown, triggering a crisis of confidence in the euro, there have been 18 EU summits. The format is wearyingly familiar: after 36 hours of unproductive haggling, a communiqué is issued, promising a united effort to boost growth, promote jobs and curb “speculators”.
Celebrations ensue for a day or 2 (most recent "celebration" lasted about 11 hours) before the markets realize nothing has changed.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The National Map - Topographic Info for Most of the Country

This is a pretty cool resource. USGS TNM 2.0 Viewer I was looking for some topographic maps - don't ask - and stumbled on this. Works pretty well for where I live. (you have to select "Scanned Topo Maps" NOT the status. (The status only shows where they have topographic detail.)

I am trying to figure out why the VFH propagation is so poor around here, if you must know.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Most Arrogant Man in the World

Not really a fan of Dos Equis, but this is a great parody of their ad.
[via Never Yet Melted via IMAO]

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Insane Economic Quote of the Day

Spain Back in Danger Zone as Greece Relief Short-Lived — Spain Business News - CNBC
Any hopes Italy and Spain may have had that the Greek election result would ease pressure on their own debt crises were dashed early on Monday when financial markets reacted as if nothing had changed
OK. The Greeks voted for the Status Quo. Nothing. Has. Changed.

And no matter what the Greeks did, no matter who they voted for, I am pretty sure that they wouldn't vote to take over all the Spanish or Italian debt. (I am still trying to figure out why the Germans and Scandinavians are willing to foot the bill, but that is another story.)
The cost of borrowing rose for both countries, the two big euro zone economies under fire for poor finances, widening the gap between what they have to pay and what Germany pays.
That's Not Fair! Those EEEEVIL Bankers just like Germany because they have low unemployment, a balanced budget (almost) and realistic retirement benefits. It's discrimination! (Actually it is. They only want to lend money to people who have some chance of paying it back. Or weren't you paying attention to the housing collapse?)

And for the record, the phrase "pro-growth policies" is NOT synonymous with unbridled government spending. It might include things like fewer regulations for starting a company, hiring workers, etc. But out-of-control spending is how we got into this mess.

Self-defense Legal in Vermont

Armed self-defense doesn't only mean firearms. No charges against Vt. homeowner in intruder death | Connecticut
A Vermont prosecutor says an Essex homeowner who stabbed to death an intruder found in his home in the middle of the night acted in self-defense and no charges will be filed.
The intruder had a knife; the homeowner grabbed a knife, and a struggle ensued. It ended with the intruder stabbed in the heart.

Shot in the Face With A Shotgun: That Will Ruin Your Day

Break into homes, and you will eventually find an armed homeowner. Tacoma police: homeowner shoots intruder in face | Local News | The Seattle Times
Police say a Tacoma, Wash., homeowner shot a would-be intruder in the face with a shotgun when the man tried to break in through a window.
The guy was hurt pretty badly - as you can imagine - but he is expected to survive.

Police are calling self-defense, but the investigation continues.

Good Guys 1, Bad Guys 0.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Myth of Underpaid Teachers

Somewhere, there are probably underpaid teachers. But they aren't where the unions say they are. Illinois Interactive Report Card

In 2000, in the city of Chicago, the average teachers salary was $50,411. In 2011 that had climbed to $64,978. In part, this is because teachers get paid more if they hold a Master's degree, and the percentage of Chicago school teachers with Master's degrees shot up from 45.7% in 2000 to 60.4% in 2011.

The union wants a 32% increase in pay, or they will strike in the fall.

For the full story, you might look at the Ink Well story on the subject.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A New Space Race? Sort Of.

China is about where we were during the Apollo Program. Perhaps a bit better. China Chooses Liberation Army Pilot as First Woman Astronaut - Businessweek But then with today's tech, it should be a lot easier for them.
Liu will be one of three astronauts aboard the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft when it blasts off tomorrow ahead of the country’s first manned orbital docking with the Tiangong-1, or “Heavenly Palace” module, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
Orbital rendezvous is one of the things Apollo had to master. Before heading for the moon. I wonder what the Chinese plans are.
So the rule for military operations is not to face a high hill and not to oppose those with their backs to a hill. (Sun Tzu - The Art of War)

Friday, June 15, 2012

This Appeals to My Inner Geek

A high school kid (with some help from a local HAM radio club, and some parental financial support) sends an MIT Early Admittance Tube (get into MIT early, and don't just get a lame form letter) to 91,000 feet with a weather balloon.

If you don't appreciate 9 minutes (almost) of geekiness, you can see an abbreviated version of the video at (That's the American Radio Relay League)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Texas Homeowners Are Still Armed

You would think the Texas burglars would have figured this out. Haltom City homeowner kills intruder, police say
The homeowner and his girlfriend told authorities that they were in the house when a man broke down the door, walked inside, picked up an object and began assaulting them. The homeowner got a handgun and fired multiple times, police said. When officers arrived, Mitchell had died from multiple gunshot wounds.
Good Guys 1, Bad Guys 0.

Self-defense Still Legal in Washington State

It took a month to determine that? But they did finally. Newman Lake homeowner cleared after fatal shooting - - June 13, 2012
A Newman Lake homeowner did nothing wrong when he shot his girlfriend’s ex to death after the irate man showed up at his house with loaded guns last month, according to prosecutors.
The dead guy showed up at the home with multiple weapons and said that he was going to kill everyone there. And actually started firing a shotgun. The whole thing was recorded by 911. I should hope that warrants self-defense. But the attorneys work to their own pace.
Law enforcement said from the beginning that Snarski acted in self-defense and no charges were expected. “They made the comment that it was one of the easiest cases they ever had to do,” Snarski said Tuesday.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Continuing to Do the Same Thing, and Expecting a Different Result

That is one definition of insanity. Bailout in Spain hurts foreign markets | Business |

With the Greek bailouts, you usually saw one whole day of trading before markets realized this wasn't the end of the line. Not so much with the announcement of the recent Spanish bailout.
MADRID (AP) — Euphoria over a lifeline of up to €100 billion ($125 billion) to rescue Spain‘s hurting banks morphed into a financial markets rout in a matter of hours Monday, as investors digested the still-undefined plan and became concerned the country may be unable to repay the new loans.
I still don't understand why Germany and the Scandinavian countries continue to provide funds for the south of Europe. Most of the "loans" won't be paid back in a timely fashion.

Greece holds elections this weekend, and there is still a chance that the anti-bailout-party will win. And Italy is waiting on the sidelines for its turn getting bailed-out. Like I said, I don't know what the Germans think they get out of this.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others

Freedom for all? Not hardly. Religious freedom rally set |
We have leaders from all faiths — Protestants, Jews, Catholics — as well as faithful from different political parties.
Yeah, that covers the spectrum - or that bit of the spectrum the Religious Right thinks matters.

Just for fun, here is a song from "The Waterboys."

Attacks On Free Speech Are Everywhere

"The Forbidden History of Unpopular People" deals with an instance in Australia, but the history and arguments are universal. Worth the 10 minutes or so of your time.

[Hat tip to Small Dead Animals]

Bad Day for Science Fiction Fans

I have to confess I don't care for most of his stuff. Too hard on the hard-science side of science fiction for my take, but that said you can't deny he was a great author. Ray Bradbury, author of ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ ‘Dandelion Wine,’ remembered by fans - The Washington Post He died at the age of 91.
Ray Bradbury, one of the most recognizable and monumental science-fiction authors of all time, died Tuesday at the age of 91. He endeared himself with fans through his extensive work, which was full of imagination as well as dark but poignient social commentary
‘Fahrenheit 451’ was more disturbing than Brave New World. Maybe I just saw how true to life it was. (People hated the folks in school who were smart. At least some of them did - hence the names: four eyes, nerd, etc. Which was the basis for part of the book, anyway.)

Have read a few of the obits, and no one seems to mention "I, Robot" even though it was made into a major motion picture. (Or part of it was, anyway) And no mention of The Foundation Trilogy. Which grew to more than 3 books if memory serves. Strange. I guess journalists don't actually read SciFi.

UPDATE: OK, apparently at 1:00 this afternoon I spaced on the difference between Bradbury and Asimov. That's fine. I feel the same way about both. Though I did like F-451. I didn't like Martian C, or Illustrated Man. (Also a motion picture... also not mentioned. And it was fair movie by the standards of 1960's SciFi.

The End of a Great Author? Not Now, But Soon

A great writer, who was almost never treated as a great writer, has a form of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. This is a real tragedy. Hay Festival 2012: Sir Terry Pratchett scared of 'dying badly' - Telegraph

I wonder if he is the reason that David Weber's character Honor Harrington always wears a fedora. (That is Sir Terry's trademark, a fedora and black shirt.)

He isn't afraid of death.
I can’t be bothered about death. I have made him so popular that he owes me one.
What he is afraid of is "dying badly."

I had meant to pick up his new novel The Long Earth which is a collaboration with Stephen Baxter. Looks like it could have been the start of a new series. Lots of possibilities.

Athens, Riots and Austerity

Some disturbing photos of riots in Athens, mostly centered around Syntagma (Constitution) Square and the Greek Parliament. Athens burns as Greek parliament passes bailout and austerity plan - Telegraph

They burned a Starbucks, looted a number of shops and destroyed an historic cinema. Click through the link for a slide show.

Monday, June 04, 2012

And How Would You Handle Someone Coming Through Your Child's Window?

Break into homes, and you will eventually find an armed homeowner. Results match expectations. Suspected intruder shot by Stockton homeowner while coming through child's window |
Stockton police reports indicate the homeowner was awoken around 3:00 a.m. by strange noises at the property. Upon investigating, he saw 23-year-old Yobenrico Well coming in through his child's bedroom window.

Fearing for the safety of his family, the homeowner shot Well who fled on foot, according to police reports.
Well was caught by police and taken to the hospital.

Evidence supports the home owner's version of events. Good Guys 1, Bad Guys 0.

Greece Financial Lesson No. 324: Not Paying Your Bills is Bad

You see when you owe several hundred million Euros to suppliers (of things like natural gas) those suppliers tend to cut you off. Eventually. Greece debt crisis mutates into energy crunch | Energy | News | Financial Post
According to an energy industry source who declined to be named, DEPA has no cash to settle gas supply bills worth a total 120-million euros (US$148.4-million) with Italian gas firm Eni , Turkey’s Botas and Russia’s Gazprom, which fall due this month.

DEPA CEO Haris Sahinis declined to comment on the company’s cash position but told Reuters: “DEPA is taking every action to avoid owing anything to its suppliers.”
The gas company can't pay the foreign suppliers because the electric utilities can't pay the gas company.

Lot's of reasons, but one of them is government interference into the marketplace.
The account went into deficit because its receipts have not matched the generous subsidies it pays out to renewable energy producers, particularly for solar panels.
Don't get me wrong, I love solar panels. I have 2 on my boat. But I didn't get a subsidy for buying them. They solved a problem. I don't know why I should expect taxpayers to solve my problems. But apparently the socialists can't leave the market alone.
[Hat tip: Small Dead Animals]

Would The Government Lie To You?

Of course they would. It might mean the difference between getting elected and not. Alternate Inflation Charts

You see in the not so distant past we measured inflation in a different way. And in the distant past there was still another way. Supposedly the way we track the statistics was changed to improve accuracy. But lately I feel like there is inflation, even when the .gov is telling me there isn't.

So you be the judge. Prior to 1980 the US had one method for tracking the Consumer Price Index (CPI), and it was changed again in 1990 (or there abouts). Is there inflation - at problematic levels - or not? (click the charts for better views, or click through the link above for more info.)

The Euro Zone and Denial, or Reality Wins

After months or years of pretending that they could command the tides, it finally looks like Europe is waking up to reality. The week that Europe stopped pretending - Telegraph Whenever a "revelation" like this is realized, I think of Kipling, but more on that later.
On a single day, the European Commission said monetary union was in danger of "disintegration" and the European Central Bank said it was "unsustainable" as constructed. Their plaintive cries may have fallen on deaf ears in Berlin, but they were heard all too clearly by investors across the world.
For years, Europe has believed that the Greeks' financial woes were isolated, and manageable. Instead, it really is true that you can't live beyond your means forever. Eventually, you have to pay the piper. And it isn't only Greece that was in denial. Many countries are in denial. (It ain't just a river in Egypt after all.)

And the global economy, far from helping the Europeans is following them down. (I hope not to destruction.)
The window of opportunity offered by US recovery is slamming shut again. America’s dire jobs data for May - and the downward revision for April - confirm the fears of cycle specialists that the US economy has slipped below stall speed. America risks tanking back into recession as the "fiscal cliff" approaches late this year, unless the Fed comes to the rescue again soon.

Brazil wilted in the first quarter. India grew at the slowest pace in nine years. China’s HSBC manufacturing index fell further into contraction in May, with new orders dropping sharply and inventories rising.

We face the grim possibility that all key engines of the global system will sputter together, this time with interest rates already near zero in the West and average public debt in the OECD club already at a record 106pc of GDP.
And so, whenever the Ugly Truth™ rears its head, I am reminded of Kipling, and "The Gods of the Copybook Headings."
AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.