The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Already through the Cs

Through multitasking and some minor process improvements, I'm already through 92 of the re-ripping project I started last week. At this rate...I should be done sometime next month.

If the weather were warmer, I should point out, I'd be walking Parker instead.

Morning in America

Via Calculated Risk, unemployment in California crests 10% for the first time in 26 years:

The 10.1% jobless rate is the highest since June 1983 and not far below the 11% record set in November 1982 at the worst point of a severe recession, according to the governor's office. Job losses escalated in January, with the state's unemployment rate jumping by 1.4 percentage points from a revised 8.7% for December.

The L.A. Times goes on to report a total of 380,743 layoffs in California so far this year. That's about 6,500 per day. Cheery thought.

Like being hit on the head with a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick

That's how Douglas Adams described the effect of a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster. I feel like I've just drunk two, after a phone call I recevied an hour ago from North Carolina.

Long-time readers of this blog who know me personally have noticed I actually maintain a certain sense of reserve in my public writings. The actual word is "privacy," but so few people remember what that word means in the context of the Internet that I avoid using it. These long-suffering people (called "friends" and "family") have had to deal with me fretting about an application to the Fuqua School of Business Cross-Continent MBA for the last 15 months. I admire them; many of them even helped me with the application; and each of them who told me to "just $%@*&!! apply already" was completely justified in saying so.

To everyone's relief, I transmitted my application on January 31. Apparently I did something right, because Duke have admitted me into the December 2010 class.

This will have certain practical effects on my life, mainly having to do with paying for it, but also around this blog. First, for example, I'm going to slow down on the 30-Ballpark Geas as both time and money argue against going to another 16 baseball parks before September 2010. As I expect to live another 50 or 60 years, I have plenty of time to see them; I don't have to do it before turning 40. (And my cousin and I still have 13 Cubs games to go to this year.)

Also, the residencies required by the program will have me out of touch for 10 to 14 days at a time, which will be hardest on Parker. The longest he's ever been boarded is 8 days; the first residency, in London starting August 15th, will require 16 or 17 days of boarding, and I don't know how he's going to react. (Taking him overseas is not an option.) I suspect he'll be pretty resilient, but I also suspect he'll be pretty mad at me.

Anyway, those are surmountable problems. I have until the end of March to commit, but my gut says "go."

Rocky Mountain News to close tomorrow

The Rocky Mountain News, one of Denver's two newspapers, will shut its doors after tomorrow's edition:

Rich Boehne, chief executive officer of Scripps, broke the news to the Rocky staff at noon today, ending nearly three months of speculation over the paper's future. He called the paper a victim of a terrible economy and an upheaval in the newspaper industry.

"Denver can't support two newspapers anymore," Boehne told staffers, some of whom cried at the news.

On Dec. 4, Boehne announced that Scripps was looking for a buyer for the Rocky and its 50 percent interest in the Denver Newspaper Agency, the company that handles business matters for the papers, because it couldn't continue to sustain its financial losses in Denver. Scripps said the Rocky lost $16 million in 2008.

Yeah, not good. This leaves yet another major metro area with only one newspaper.


Via Calculated Risk, the FDIC's Supervisory Capital Assessment Program has published its stress-test scenarios. Ew: the average baseline shows a 2.0% decline in GDP this year followed by a 2.1% increase in 2010, as well as an "alternative more adverse" projection of -3.3% in 2009 and +0.5% in 2010. They forecast house prices to decline by -18% (baseline) to -29% (alternative) through 2010, with rises in unemployment to 8.8% (baseline) up to 10.3% (alternative).

Now, imagine you're a bank with $100 billion in mortgage assets at face value against $90 billion in liabilities. (Shudder.)

Meanwhile, Ben Bernanke told Congress today that nationalization is not an option.

I'll bet you 100 shares of Citicorp that it is.

Update: Krugman says the Fed's "worst case" isn't nearly as bad as it should be. (Insert nervous laughter here.)

Two speeches, not alike in dignity

First, the President's Fate of the Union address, very much worth watching:

we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.

Now is the time to act boldly and wisely – to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity. Now is the time to jumpstart job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down. That is what my economic agenda is designed to do, and that’s what I’d like to talk to you about tonight.

And then Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, echoing the party line from, I think, 1930:

That is why Republicans put forward plans to create jobs by lowering income tax rates for working families … cutting taxes for small businesses … strengthening incentives for businesses to invest in new equipment and hire new workers … and stabilizing home values by creating a new tax credit for home-buyers. These plans would cost less and create more jobs.

But Democratic leaders in Congress rejected this approach. Instead of trusting us to make wise decisions with our own money, they passed the largest government spending bill in history - with a price tag of more than $1 trillion with interest. While some of the projects in the bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes $300 million to buy new cars for the government, $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a 'magnetic levitation' line from Las Vegas to Disneyland, and $140 million for something called 'volcano monitoring.' Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, DC.

Well I, for one, am glad that the government monitors volcanoes. There's no profit in it, I don't have the resources to do it, and the consequences of not doing it are catastrophic. That's what government is for. Transportation infrastructure (including "magnetic levitation"—Maglev—lines, which Jindal thinks belong in Disneyland), defense, and the occasional sky projector for a public museum are all things that government has to do or they won't get done. This is basic economics, a class that few Republicans seem to have taken.

Or maybe they have, they just don't care. Remember, for most elected Republicans, it's all about power and playing the game for its own sake. But for us grown-ups (a few Republicans, and most Democrats—at least right now), it's about fixing the biggest economic disaster anyone under 65 has ever seen.

I will say, though, watching Jindal I wondered whether he was going to try selling me the clear-coat finish as well. He reminded me of a cross between a used-car dealer and one of those lawyers who advertises on local cable that he will fight for you. I can't wait for the Republican primary slugfest in 2012.

Please, I beg you, not here

British airline Ryanair has a pilot program allowing cell phones in flight. One hopes, if this comes to the U.S., for special "quiet" areas:

Within six months 50 planes will be kitted out. If it proves popular, the service will be rolled out across the whole 170-strong fleet.

Passengers will be able to make and receive calls for €2-3 ($2.50-3.80) per minute, send and receive text messages (50c plus) and use e-mail (€1-2).

... To be fair to Ryanair, it does not claim to be anything other than a noisy shop in the sky. So a new noisy service that earns money is in keeping with its ethos. As Mr O'Leary said: “You don't take a flight to contemplate your life in silence. Our services are not cathedral-like sanctuaries. Anyone who looks like sleeping, we wake them up to sell them things."

You may not like Mr O'Leary's approach, or his plane's interiors, but it's hard not to admire his honesty.

Combine cell phones with the unexpected silence inside the new Airbus A380, and it's only a matter of time before someone gets his cell phone stuffed in an awkward place by his fellow passengers.

New time-wasting project ahead

Sometimes upgrading or replacing something can expose deficiencies in one's own processes.

Last week, my four-year-old MP3 player died. It's pretty sad, actually. It's tiny (20 GB) hard disk just stopped spinning. So, not wanting to hear every background conversation of everyone in my client's office, I decided to replace it.

After much evaluation I chose the Apple iPod Classic 120. Then I fired up iTunes and sync'd up my library.

It turns out, that phase in the late 1990s when I ripped all of my CDs in Microsoft .wma format—not such a good idea ten years later. It also turns out, all those CDs I ripped at 64 kHz to save space—the new iPod has good-enough sound reproduction that I can hear it. And another thing, all those album art JPEG images I routinely deleted until about 2005, again to save space—yeah, the new iPod shows album covers, but (duh!) only when they're available.

So, now that terabyte hard drives cost about $150, and I have an iPod with excellent sound reproduction and the ability to show full-color album covers, I have a new project: re-rip all the CDs I ripped before mid-2006, this time at 256 kHz and retaining the album art.

There are only 700 or so. Shouldn't take too long...