Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Billy Graham Get Well Soon.

93 year-old evangelist and American Institution Billy Graham is hospitalized. Getting old is never easy, especially when you in the public eye. Especially when people keep pointing out amazing coincidences.

Billy Graham Totally Looks Like Reeve Alvin Valkenheiser


Honda Wakes Up to "Earth Dreams"

For most of the last thirty years or so, Honda has been one of the leaders at bringing new engine technology to mainstream autos. That's why it has been surprising in recent years that Honda has fallen behind in the trend toward direct injection. Honda has also been behind the curve in 6-speed transmissions, and its hybrids have been less than stellar as well.

Well, say no more. Honda hosted a press event at the Tokyo Auto Show to show off some new engines and transmissions. Honda calls the new engines its Earth Dreams lineup. Now I know why I didn't get a press pass, because as soon as I heard the "Earth Dreams" name, I couldn't wait to ask what they were going to call their new boat engines. In all, Honda unveiled five new engines, from 600cc to 3.5 liters. The new engines feature direct gasoline injection, stop-start technology, and for the 3.5 liter, cylinder deactivation. Honda also showed off a 7 speed dual clutch automatic and a new line of CVT transmissions.



Honda says that Earth Dreams will bring class-leading fuel economy to all major market segments within three years. My guess is that the new 2.4 liter engine will be first up because the Honda Accord is due for a major redo for 3013. Inside Line hints at a plug-in hybrid Accord for 2013. If Honda can undercut the $32k price of the plug-in Toyota Prius, it could really be onto something. The car magazines are slobbering over Honda's SH-AWD system (for Super Handling All Wheel Drive) that appears to be destined for a successor to Honda's much-loved NSX sports car. SH-AWD combines a direct-injected 3.5 liter gasoline engine driving the front wheels with two 20kw electric motors in the back running off of a lithium battery. This should give you the scoot of a Tesla Roadster at a lower cost and with four-cylinder fuel economy.
Although the buff-books are looking at the NSX as the target of SH-AWD, Honda says the system is geared to "large sized vehicles". To me that means vehicles like the Honda Odyssey and Honda Pilot. Perhaps this will mean the first 30-30 minivan, something I blogged about 3 years ago.
Time for a marginally-related video. Thinking of the NSX makes me think of Pulp Fiction. Here's the NSX's Hollywood minute:

Friday, November 25, 2011

Paul Krugman on the top .1%

Paul Krugman, writing for the New York Times today, goes off on the favorable tax treatment given to the top 1/1000th of the income earners, the top .1%. For the period ending in 2005, income for the bottom 99.9% went up 21%. Income for the top .1% went up 400%. The top .1% takes home 50% of all of the capital gains, which are, of course, taxed at a much lower rate than regular income. As to the Republicans' "job creator" argument on why rich people shouldn't be taxed more, here's what Krugman has to say:


For who are the 0.1 percent? Very few of them are Steve Jobs-type innovators; most of them are corporate bigwigs and financial wheeler-dealers. One recent analysis found that 43 percent of the super-elite are executives at nonfinancial companies, 18 percent are in finance and another 12 percent are lawyers or in real estate. And these are not, to put it mildly, professions in which there is a clear relationship between someone’s income and his economic contribution.

Executive pay, which has skyrocketed over the past generation, is famously set by boards of directors appointed by the very people whose pay they determine; poorly performing C.E.O.’s still get lavish paychecks, and even failed and fired executives often receive millions as they go out the door.

Meanwhile, the economic crisis showed that much of the apparent value created by modern finance was a mirage. As the Bank of England’s director for financial stability recently put it, seemingly high returns before the crisis simply reflected increased risk-taking — risk that was mostly borne not by the wheeler-dealers themselves but either by na├»ve investors or by taxpayers, who ended up holding the bag when it all went wrong. And as he waspishly noted, “If risk-making were a value-adding activity, Russian roulette players would contribute disproportionately to global welfare.”


I couldn't have said it better myself. (Okay, I couldn't have said it that well, that's why I quoted it. Happy now?) For a marignally-related video, how about a trailer for a movie about another wise guy named Paul?



Thursday, November 24, 2011


Happy Thanksgiving!

Judging from the pictures on cakewrecks.com, if you don't have a South Park mentality, you should never buy a Thanksgiving cake.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Michael Moore's Manifesto for Occupy Wall Street

One of the big complaints about the Occupy Wall Street protesters is they don't really stand for anything. They don't propose any substantive change. I think it's a fair point but it does not necessarily delegitimize the protest. It is enough to protest because you are unhappy about something. "Venting" is an appropriate form of political speech. Anyway, Michael Moore proposes this statement of core beliefs. I agree with some of it, disagree with other parts. It's good to get it out there in the arena of public discourse.

Some people think that Michael Moore is just a carpet bagger who has gone to Wall Street to glom onto the attention that the Wall Street protesters have attracted. This can't be further from the truth. The Occupy Wall Street movement is just the kind of popular revolt that Moore called for in Capitalism: a Love Story, his movie from 2009. It was one of his more low-key films, but it is worth watching. You can stream it (with ads) here with what looks to be Russian subtitles. Actually, I don't know if that link properly respects private property rights. Here's a link to Netflix streaming. More capitalistic, perhaps but relatively reliable.


Foreclosure Firm that Mocked the Homeless Closes

You probably saw the news report a month ago about the Baum law firm. Baum was New York's largest "foreclosure mill". Baum was known for its raucous Halloween office parties. Pictures were leaked to the web of Baum employees dressed up as homeless people -- the products of their (allegedly robo-signer-aided) foreclosures. After the Baum firm was fined $3 million -- oh, yes, and the whole "homeless thing, clients left the firm in droves. Now the firm has announced that it is going to close. This news warrants a "Full Nelson"







(Still image from businessinsider.com/New York Times. Video - The Simpsons - Fox - duh)

Graph of the Day - Texas Oil Production

The show Dallas premiered in 1978. It's interesting that the story of a Texas oil family roughly coincided with peak oil production in the state. I suppose that it's more accurate to say the conception of the show coincided with peak oil production. In 1974, Texas oil production peaked at just under 3.5 million barrels per day. By 1978, production had already dipped to about 3 million barrels per day. By 2005, Texas production was under 1 million barrels per day, significantly below 1935's production. Apparently without oil, Texas has turned to exporting the only thing left that it has in abundance: crazy politicians.

Megyn Kelly - Essentially a New Meme

After calling pepper spray a "food product, essentially", Fox newscaster Megyn Kelly has immediately become the subject of a hot internet meme, the "Essentially" meme. This comes at the same time as news of a study that found that Fox News watchers know less about current events than people who don't watch the news at all. Duh, I could have told you that. When preparing this blog post, I checked out M.K.'s Wikipedia page and found out that she's a lawyer. She practiced law for nine years. Part of that time was with the firm of Jones, Day. Among consumer lawyers, the defense lawyers of Jones Day are known for proving the adage that when you hire a big ticket law firm, you don't necessarily get what you pay for. If only MSNBC had hosts as good looking as Fox, then the political balance would look a lot different in this country.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Occupy Black Friday
Target Petition Ignites Pushback


This year Target announced plans to open its stores for Black Friday at 12:00 AM. In response, a (soon to be "ex"?) Target worker named Anthony Hardwick posted a petition at change.org protesting the early opening because it robs the workers of their ability to spend Thanksgiving evening with their families. Other retailers have jumped on the early opening bandwagon. (In fact, I'm not sure that Target was ever unique in this strategy. It's just new for them.) I signed the petition in solidarity for the workers; but in hindsight, I have my doubts that working midnight is worse than working 5:00 AM. First of all, if you work midnight, you never have to go to sleep Thanksgiving evening. If you are drowsy on Friday morning, that's the company's problem. Secondly, Target pays holiday pay for working Thanksgiving (as do most retailers. Do they pay holiday pay on Friday? I suspect most don't.

Target has already begun its corporate campaign against Mr. Hardwick's petition, and it has taken the form of a personal slam on Mr. Hardwick. Hey, if you don't like the message, I guess you should attack the messenger. Target released a press release not mentioning Mr. Hardwick by name, but clearly referring to him stating that he was not scheduled to work Thanksgiving or Black Friday because he works full-time for another retailer and he needed Black Friday off. At first blush, this makes Mr. Hardwick look bad, but actually, his point remains as valid as ever regarding the vast majority of Target workers.

Whether midnight is better or worse than 5:00 AM is not really the big issue. The big issue is that the worker's family life has never been a high priority among American retailers, and it seems to be getting worse. Very few retailers are unionized. (Coincidence?) It should come as a surprise to nobody that the "occupy" movement has started a grass-roots "occupy black friday" movement. I have my doubts whether the protesters will have enough critical mass to slow down the compulsive shoppers driven by selective discounts into a feeding frenzy, but we'll see. Personally, I've been boycotting Black Friday for years. I could say it was because of social responsibility; but really,it's because I don't like to get up early and from experience I know that those extra-special deals are rarely available once you get to the stores. My suggestion: sleep in. Cyber Monday? Now that rocks.

A very short marginally related video. This will bring back memories.



Friday, November 18, 2011

Das Tub?

There hasn't been a great submarine movie since Das Boot in 1981. That's why, when I heard of Das Tub, I had high hopes that it would be as good as Das Boot. Is it? Well, you be the judge.

Das Tub from Media Design School on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


The Next Great Escape in Los Angeles

Ford used the Los Angeles Auto Show for the official unveiling of the next generation Ford Escape. This is the vehicle most of the world knows as the Kuga. It's less boxy than the current Escape. Being boxy never hurt the Escape's sales. It's been in the top two or 3 in its category for its entire run. The current 2.5 liter 4-cylinder will be the base engine. There will be 1.6 liter and 2.0 liter ecoboost (turbocharged) engines available as well. The hybrid appears to be dead for now.



Photo via Jalopnik.com

If you think I have a marginally relevant video for you, then I guess you know me too well. Actually, I have two. You see, when I first thought of the Ford Escape I thought of Rupert Holmes' The Pina Colada Song. That song always creeped me out though, so I didn't want to link to a video of his version of the song. What other versions are there on Youtube? Well, I found these two, and they both creeped me out even more. I figure since nobody will be likely to play through the whole song of either of these, it's like only having one. You know what I mean?



Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Honey Badger takes Two Human Lives

This video is almost a year old now, and I've been meaning to post it for a long time but I didn't get around to it. In the past 10 months or so a whole meme has grown up around it. I have to say that it deserves all of its 24 million views. That's roughly two human lifetimes worth of Honey Badger. Honey Badger Don't Care. (language alert)


Jimmy Fallon Does Morrison

Check out this clip where Jimmy Fallon and the Roots do a spot-on impression of the Doors doing the theme to "Reading Rainbow".

Monday, November 14, 2011

The New Incentive Wars have Begun

I actually watched some brain rot television tonight, and the level of auto advertising was up to pre-carpocalypse standards. There were lots of Chevy, Kia and Volkswagen 0-0-0 deals. Nissan got its licks in as well. It looks like the car manufacturers have some ambitious year-end numbers that they want to meet, and they are discounting to move the metal. If you are contemplating getting a different car, you might find getting a new car is about as cheap as a used one on a monthly basis. Edmund's Deals of the Month page was last updated for October 20, 2011, so they should refresh it soon. That's always a good place to start when looking at competitive incentives. Also, take a look at autonews.com.

Whatever you do, be careful on your test drive.


New Buzzword of the Decade: THORIUM
As in: "I'm so thorium, I can hardly pithium."

If you remember the old Batman television show from the 60's, whenever they climbed into the Batmobile (coolest car ever), Robin would call out "atomic batteries to power,turbines to speed" before they set out. As it so happens, maybe Batman was just 50 years or so ahead of its time. How's that? Atomic powered cars might actually be practical. The key is, you can't use uranium or plutonium, rather, the best bet is the (mildly radioactive) common, rare-earth metal, thorium. Thorium is fairly common in the United States, but right now there isn't enough demand for there to be much active mining. Thorium has enough atomic energy stored within so that 8 grams of thorium could power a typical car for its life time. Back in the bad old days of the carpocolypse, in January 2009, Cadillac came out with a concept car (right) to be fueled by a thorium/laser powerplant. (see pic from ubergizmo.com)

For a detailed layperson's article on thorium reactor technology, check out this article at Wired.com.


A marginally relevant video perhaps? Of course





Thursday, November 10, 2011

An Xtranormal Explanation of the Mortgage Crisis

This is from late 2010, but I think it explains the basic ideas pretty well.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Auto Finance Companies Making a Comeback
- Originating More Loans than Banks or Credit Unions


From Collections and Credit Risk comes a news item that auto finance companies have drastically increased their share of the auto loan market in the past two years, up 47% overall. Finance companies are originating 38.5% of auto loans versus 17.6% for banks and credit unions.

That finance companies have increased market share should come as no surprise. In 2008 Chrysler Financial and GMAC were severely limited during the bailout. Chrysler Financial ended up biting the dust and the auto arm of GMAC was replaced by Ally Financial. There was shrinkage and consolidation among other players. Most notably, Santander acquired Drive Financial.

How is this important to consumers and consumer lawyer? The finance companies generally buy installment sales contracts originated by the dealers. Traditionally, the dealers would try to write these contracts at as high an interest rate as possible, and the dealers would be rewarded with a yield spread premium kickback from the lender based upon the interest rate. I have heard anecdotally that the dynamic has changed, and the dealers actually have to pay the finance companies to take the deal now. I don't know if that is true, but it does seem like there are more "yo yo" sales going on where the dealer calls the customer back under the premise that the financing has fallen through.

I suggest that it is more important than ever for consumers to avoid financing through the dealer and to arrange your own financing separately through the bank or credit union of your choice. Lenders will bid to get your business at sites like bankrate.com and lendingtree.com. I have found that in most cases, going with an internet consolidator like these sites or by going through your local credit union, you can usually get the best deal and the most straightforward deal at that. If you are not comfortable negotiating a deal at the dealer, many credit unions offer a "car buying service" that will result in a cleaner, better deal than going in to the dealer with no experience.

What's all this fuss about Independent Foreclosure Reviews?

Among an outcry of citizens over bungled mortage servicing, bungled modifications and bungled foreclosures, the Obama administration last week announced a program that will extend independent mortgage reviews for homeowners who were in any stage of the foreclosure process during 2009-2010. The best coverage that I've seen on the topic comes from propublica.org. (Not surprising.) The review process will be undertaken by eight contractors hired by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve. Note that the OCC has not exactly been a consumer-friendly institution in the past. That's why much of its oversight authority is being transferred to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

I am skeptical of these reviews. It can take an experienced consumer attorney a week of solid work to evaluate the most easily ascertainable flaws in a mortgage. You need to see information that comes from different sources and is stored in different places. You have to look at the consumer's documents, the mortgage broker's documents, the title company's documents, the originator's documents, the servicer's documents, the public record of mortgage transfers, and the loan securitization documents. Finally, to determine a pattern and practice, you have to cross-reference suspected violations from one loan file to another. In short, a complete review costs thousands of dollars. to do this with millions of mortgages will cost billions of dollars. I don't know how much they've budgeted for this task, but it is likely not enough.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Onion Scores with "Ancient Job Creators"

Great satire here:

WASHINGTON—A team of leading archaeologists announced Monday they had uncovered the remains of an ancient job-creating race that, at the peak of its civilization, may have provided occupations for hundreds of thousands of humans in the American Northeast and Midwest.

According to researchers, these long- forgotten people once flourished between western New York state and Illinois, erecting highly distinctive steel and brick structures wherever they went, including many buildings thought to have held hundreds of paid workers at a time.

"It's truly fascinating—after spending a certain number of hours performing assigned tasks, the so-called 'employees' at such facilities would receive monetary compensation that allowed them to support themselves and their families," said archaeologist Alan H. Mueller, citing old ledgers and time-keeping devices unearthed at excavation sites in the region. "In fact, this practice seems to have been the norm for their culture, which consisted of advanced tool users capable of exploiting their skills to produce highly valued goods and services."