The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Cubs record 70th loss

Yesterday the Cardinals spanked the Boys in Blue 6-1, and I got to see the whole thing. Here's Edwin Jackson:

I'll give him one thing, boy: he threw 117 pitches, the 113th at 160 km/h. Impressive.

Also, I got to sit in a different section than usual, because my cousin and I got our signals crossed on which games to sell. Apparently we broke even—including the extra fee for the better (section 430) seats.

Giving 120% effort

It seems that Google is doing away with its 20% R&D policy:

When Google went public in 2004, the founders’ letter from co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin cited 20% time as instrumental to the company’s ability to innovate, leading to “many of our most significant advances,” including AdSense, which now accounts for about 25% of the company’s $50+ billion in annual revenue. Google engineers also used 20% time to incubate Gmail, Google Transit, Google Talk, and Google News, among other projects.

Recently, however, Google’s upper management has clamped down even further, by strongly discouraging managers from approving any 20% projects at all. Managers are judged on the productivity of their teams—Google has a highly developed internal analytics team that constantly measures all employees’ productivity—and the level of productivity that teams are expected to deliver assumes that employees are working on their primary responsibilities 100% of the time.

This is what happens when you get institutional managers. R&D makes or breaks technology companies; officially-sanctioned time to do it really makes a difference. I wonder what this will do to Google recruiting?

OK, this just got real

The judge in the American Airlines bankruptcy just expressed doubts the airline will survive:

A judge asked AMR Corp for guidance on whether he should approve its plan to exit bankruptcy, in light of an antitrust challenge to its planned merger with US Airways Group Inc.

The request suggested Judge Sean Lane would hold off on approving AMR's plan at a hearing in U.S. bankruptcy court in New York on Thursday.

Lane said he had "lingering doubts" as to whether it was appropriate to confirm the plan. He told AMR, its creditors and other parties in the bankruptcy to submit briefs on the issue.

Lane said he had strongly considered canceling Thursday's hearing but decided to give parties an open forum to discuss the antitrust challenge.

Absent the antitrust challenge, Thursday's hearing would have been the final step in AMR's exiting bankruptcy and implementing its merger.

This really sucks, not just for American's shareholders, but also for air travelers in the U.S. The Justice Department believes the merger will hurt air travelers, but Cranky has some good analysis why this isn't so. Plus, the Justice Department has had access to the competition data for years; that makes the timing of their case look suspect, in my mind.

And personally, my biggest beef with all this concerns the bank of frequent flier miles I've built up for many, many years now. If American can't merge with US Airways, all my miles might vanish. (US Airways has promised to honor them if the merger succeeds.) The judge and the Justice Department have made that much likelier this week.

My worst fear is that the bankruptcy proceedings could turn so rapidly there won't be time to cash in any of the miles, or even if I can cash them in, there won't be an airline around to honor the award tickets when I try to use them.

What, on earth, was the Justice Department thinking?

Cubs barely hanging on to 4th

After dropping 12 of their last 15 games, the Cubs are now tied with the Brewers for 4th (last) place. There are 42 games left in the season; the Cubs have to win 10 of them to avoid a 100-loss season. It's not going well.

At least they can't lose today—but they can drop into 5th place if Milwaukee beats the Reds tonight. This, by the way, is unlikely, since the Reds are doing just fine, and are tied for the National League Wild Card with St. Louis.

I'm going to the Cubs-Cards game Sunday to watch the Cubs lose again.

Maybe the lawsuit wasn't universally predicted

...but the Department of Justice suing to block the American-US Airways merger was sure stupid. Cranky Flyer gives them a Crazy Jackass award:

It really does appear that DOJ has gone off the rails. The best way to sum up the argument is that airlines should all be punished for trying to be successful enterprises. The complaint is filled with talk about how capacity has shrunk and fares have risen. They think this merger will result in more of the same. But what they’ve failed to recognize is that the airline industry of the past was a sickly mess. You had too many cooks in the kitchen and some of them had the cooking skills of a 12-year-old. So airlines pushed in too much capacity just to gain market share, then they had to discount fares and nobody made money. It was a mess.

Apparently the DOJ likes that plan. It’s sad to think this is how the government looks at private industry. If you want to decide that the airline industry is a public utility, then go all-in and fully regulate it. (Fares will rise, but I would respect the argument.) Otherwise, this nanny-state-style semi-regulation will keep the industry from ever becoming truly healthy.

The Economist takes a more sober view, but still doesn't think the suit makes sense:

The DoJ suit mentions the likely loss of US Airways’ low fares, known as Advantage Fares, which undercut those of American, Delta and United on one-stop trips and which have prompted US Airways’ competitors to reduce their prices. The DoJ has been scrutinising the merger since January, a month before it was announced publicly. Last week the European Commission nodded the deal through after a minor concession on slots at London’s Heathrow. But the DoJ said the merger would take consolidation too far, leaving four airlines controlling over 80% of the American market.

Doug Parker, the chief executive of US Airways, still hopes the deal can be completed before the end of the year. If it is not, American will struggle longer to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, as it would have to assemble and seek court approval for a new rescue plan. The existing one was relatively generous to creditors and shareholders, leaving the latter with a stake in the merged carrier. If the courts uphold the DoJ’s view, some observers think it will have the effect of intensifying the dominant position of United and Delta, leading to more losses and later pressure for more mergers—an unintended consequence of the DoJ’s stance.

The DoJ has come down firmly on the way to solve the consolidation problem that will result in the worst deal for consumers. Having three giant airlines doesn't end competition, but it does make it easier to circumvent existing competition rules. The DoJ should concentrate on the actual effects of the proposed arrangement, not on its hypothetical effects, especially when their hypotheses don't actually have a lot of evidence supporting them.

Saw that one coming

As expected, the Justice Department and several states' attorneys general have challenged the American-USAirways merger:

The Justice Department says the deal would result in the creation of the world’s largest airline and that a combination of the two companies would reduce competition for commercial air travel in local markets and would result in passengers paying higher airfares and receiving less service.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the transaction between US Airways and American would result in “higher airfares, higher fees and fewer choices.”

The attorneys general were from Arizona, Florida, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

The challenge won't succeed, but the AGs had to make it anyway. (Note that Arizona is headquarters of USAirways and Texas is headquarters of American.) The problem is, if American doesn't merge with USAirways, then it's toast—and USAirways will get a hunk of its assets anyway.

I may not have conducted the same analysis as the AG, but I concluded long ago that for me personally the merger works out pretty well. I admit, that may not be true for people who live in smaller aviation markets.

The deficit is going down—but no one seems to know that

Paul Krugman points out this simple fiscal truth, along with polling data that makes my head hurt:

A little while back I expressed a desire to see a poll of voters asking whether they knew about the plunging federal budget deficit. Just as a reminder, here’s what the CBO numbers for the recent past and projections for the near future look like:

Well, Hal Varian of Google got in touch with me, and said,”We can do that!” So he put together a Google Consumer Survey; it’s still ongoing — results here — but here’s what it looked like this morning:

Excellent work, Republicans. You've managed to confuse about half the public, and in so doing, you've made people favor policies that keep rich people rich and poor people poor.

Can someone with a newspaper please bring reality back into public discourse?

Quis custodiet robote?

Bruce Schneier thinks the NSA's plan to fire 90% of its sysadmins and replace them with automation has a flaw:

Does anyone know a sysadmin anywhere who believes it's possible to automate 90% of his job? Or who thinks any such automation will actually improve security?

[NSA Director Kieth Alexander is] stuck. Computerized systems require trusted people to administer them. And any agency with all that computing power is going to need thousands of sysadmins. Some of them are going to be whistleblowers.

Leaking secret information is the civil disobedience of our age. Alexander has to get used to it.

The agency's leaks have also forced the president's hand by opening up our security apparatus to public scrutiny—which he may have wanted to do anyway.