Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ipad Data Plans

Wired did an interesting comparison in a post this morning on the cost of data plans for the iPad.  The French pay the most and users in Singapore pay the least.  But the US is among the highest cost plans.

The assumptions on usage are presented in the very small type on the right of the chart.   The original article can be found by clicking on the link at the beginning of the story. Oddly enough, Mexico, which has one of the most expensive systems for cell plans, has a relatively low rate.

Our beloved Secretary of the Treasury

Is Tim Geithner, our Secretary of the Treasury and some time taxpayer, stupid or a congenital liar?  On Meet the Press on the 25th he said "[The president has] proposed to freeze discretionary spending, to keep the overall size of the government at a very modest level as a share of our economy. If you look again at what the president’s proposing, he keeps the overall size of government at a very modest level comparable to–lower than what was in the Bush administration, comparable to what President Reagan presided over. That’s very important."
The Chart from FactCheck suggests that Geithner's statement may be important but it is also flat out wrong.  Perhaps he keeps his understanding of economics close to his guide on paying taxes.

Say it ain't so lady...

For the past couple of days I have been watching Eight Men Out the somewhat fictionalized account of the 1919 Chicago Blacksox scandal in the World Series.  It is an entertaining film.  One of the leads in the story is "Shoeless Joe Jackson" - and one of the immortal lines from the story is the kid who comes up to Jackson and says "Say it ain't so Joe."   There is a lot of conjecture about whether Shoeless Joe was part of the conspirators who threw some games against the Reds.  Get any baseball fan into a discussion about that issue and you will find some passion.

There is another area which develops a passionate response among baseball fans.   During the game balls that go into the stands (bats too) become the property of the fan that gets them.  Many baseball clubs add to that tradition by throwing stuff into the stands - the Rivercats once had something called the Hot Dog Cannon - which threw stale wrapped hot dogs (which could be exchanged for fresh ones).  They've dropped that idea - evidently because some fans did not get the idea of an exchange - but they do come out once a game and shoot rolled up t-shirts into the stands.   In most parks there is an unwritten rule that kids get first dibs.   The value of the tokens that are handed out are nominal and this makes the game more fun for the kids.

Last night, as the Rivercats were winning, they brought out the cannon (actually uses compressed air) and one of the shirts landed near our seats in Section 107.  A kid sitting behind us got to the shirt first and had a big beam smile on his face.  But a lady in front of us got there a millisecond later and put her foot on the shirt and then wrestled it away from the kid.  His dad went down to talk to her but she would not budge.  

Immediately, we went up and got the kid a baseball.  Someone else got him a similar shirt.  In the seventh inning stretch he went down front and got a frisbee.  His dad also caught one.  So at the end of the night he had quite a cache of loot.  At the end of the game the lady skulked out of the stadium with her crummy shirt and the kid thanked all of us in the section. 

Friday, July 30, 2010

The New Kindle

Amazon announced yesterday that they have produced a new Kindle for $139 with WIFI or $189 with WIFI and 3G.  I am not likely to buy it but it looks like a great device.  For less than $200 you can get a first rate book reader with superb battery life and now WIFI.

My wife swears by her first generation Kindle.  Until I bought my iPad I used a second generation one.  I use the Kindle app on my iPad so am still a customer.   For those who simply want a document reader - the Kindle is a very good alternative.  In my opinion better than its competitors.  (Note I have tried the Sony and the Nook and think the second generation Kindle is better.)

A few months ago I did a post on the evolution of reading devices.  I commented that Amazon would likely continue to be a strong presence because some people simply do not want all the bells and whistles of a tablet like the iPad.    I believe that assessment is even more true today.  The publishing market is evolving quickly.  Amazon announced last week that they now sell more eBooks than printed materials.  As I have used the iPad I continue to find new ways to use content for the device - all sorts of printed material.    From at least the first look Amazon has matched that capability for the average consumer.

Yesterday in the airport, while waiting for our last flight a grandmother looked at my wife's generation one Kindle and asked a bunch of questions.  She was thinking about it for her granddaughter.  Her one reservation was that Harry Potter still is not on any electronic platform.   Amazon's secondary business may be in delivering a simple device to consume content.  Their primary one still seems to be selling content to any device.  That sounds like a great niche to be in.

Why Jerry Brown should not be (re)elected Governor

This discussion would not happen had Jerry Brown's tenure as governor been two decades later.  But Proposition 140, the term limits initiative could not cover tenure before its enactment.

The political history of California, at least in the modern sense dates from the first time Jerry Brown served as Governor.  Brown came into the Governor's office after service as community college trustee and Secretary of State.   He was a major sponsor of Proposition 9 which changed the way lobbyists operated in the Capitol, but in no way lessened their influence in the process.  That was popular in 1974 because of the national problems that Nixon was feeling from Watergate.  It was a smart political move   at the time.  But no one who looks at the effects of the proposition could argue that it in any way lived up to its promises.

He portrayed himself as some kind of intellectual leader but failed to inform the voters that it took him several tries to pass the California bar exam.  His administration included some excellent appointments but it also included some ideological misfits in key positions.  Key among those were his secretary of transportation who strangled transportation in the state and three of his appointments to the California Supreme Court whose decisions in several key cases were fabrications of legal principles.  In one of the key decisions (a death penalty appeal) the majority voted to rescind the death penalty for a robber who had entered a Costco and shot a Brinks guard with a .357 with clad shells repeatedly at point blank range, because they could not discover whether the robber had committed the crime with "an intent to kill."  In another the majority searched around for a source to compensate a person who was injured in an accident involving a kid who lost control in a stolen car because the guy who was injured happened to be using a phone booth owned by the phone company.   The stolen car by the way was being chased at the time by police and the inexperienced driver jumped two lanes of traffic and crashed into the booth.  The majority in the decision thought Pac Bell should pay because they had liability insurance.

During his tenure, he championed extending public employees collective bargaining rights.  That decision, which never bothered to examine the potential for the unions to imbalance the collective bargaining process through political contributions, has thrown the state budget into a series of crises.  We now have some of the worst schools in the nation and the most expensive prisons.  Employees can routinely retire with huge lifetime benefits at a young age.   California was a leader in many ways in the 1970s and now seems to be at the bottom of most lists of states, Mississippi with earthquakes.

But his biggest failing was with Proposition 13.   During the 1960s and 1970s California's housing market went through a huge boom, for a number of reasons.  The prices of housing grew and concurrently so did property taxes.   The legislature tried several times to abate the effects of those changes on property owners through a series of bills.   Brown came into office in 1974 and had in the back of his mind that he would not get himself into the same problem his father had -a huge deficit - so he was careful with current spending.  One could argue that even that thriftiness was an illusion because the long term effects of issues like collective bargaining for public employees would bust future budgets. By 1978 Brown had built up a considerable surplus in the General Fund.

The passage of Proposition 13 had several effects.  First, it reduced taxes for property owners.   But at the same time it moved political authority from local jurisdictions to the state because the surplus was used to cushion the blow of the cuts.  The long term effects of that change on California has been devastating in a number of ways that include significantly diminished roles for local government (violating the very Catholic principle of subsidiarity which he should have learned in seminary) and oddly political allocations of resources at the state level.

Like all recent California governors save two, he tried several times to run for president.  (The two who did not were his successor and the current one who is constitutionally prohibited from running.)  National voters never gave him much of a listen, most thought he was a flake from California.

After he left the Governorship, he went on to ramble on the radio and then to become mayor of Oakland.  The radio rants showed the shallowness of his thinking.   His tenure as Oakland mayor was marked by increased crime in the city.

After Oakland Brown ran for and won the post of attorney general.  The AG is a key official in state government but it is also most often a less political office.  His predecessor, Bill Lockyer, although one could never misunderstand his politics, ran the office without much political manipulation.  Brown, on the other hand has been selective in his choices and politicized the office immensely.

His chief of staff ran for Governor in 1998.  Gray Davis turned out to be one of the worst governors in the state's history.  Like his former boss, Davis measured any decision in terms of short term political advantage and he helped to make the state into a place where businesses flee.

The photo by the way is a good representation of Brown's tenure as governor.  It is the official portrait that is posted in the capitol.   Brown tried to represent it as enigmatic, something like he tried to portray himself.  But as you walk through the Capitol these days people routinely laugh at the mismosh on the wall which shows little respect for the institution he served.  Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, not enough voters are laughing at his attempt to once again reincarnate himself as a new age politician.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Steve Ballmer's Next Genius Move

CNET reported that Steve Ballmer announced today that Microsoft would soon produce the Zune of Tablet devices. He said the task of developing the new device was "job one urgency."  The MSFT CEO has had a fine record on devices.  Indeed, besides the slow selling Zune (estimates that total sales have reached more than a million units are probably reliable) he also produced the Kin a short-lived "social" phone that lasted on the market for about a month.  He promised that they were "tuning" Windows 7.  That certainly will increase sales.

The CEO whose first image for many of us comes from a You Tube Video has a reputation for saying the outlandish.  In this interview he made at least two memorable quotes.  He expressed techno-envy for all of the iPad sales and then said that the company would "embrace what we need to embrace."  (Quality and design may not be some of those elements.)  He also nattered that the device would be coming in the indefinite future - great way to build anticipation - but he could not say when "it ain't a long time from now."

 We have  included three photos.  The first two are of the Kin and the Zune. Those are necessary because so few people have embraced the products.   The third is of a guy who liked the Zune so much that he got a tattoo of the Zune logo.  All three are pretty stylish, don't you think???  Indeed, instead of the I'm a Mac type copy that they tried with Jerry Seinfeld - perhaps they could engage this guy as their spokesperson. We are so excited about the new tablet that Rambles worked on a couple of marketing slogans.  They include:

The technology of the Kin with the design of the Zune...
(those could actually be interchanged)or perhaps
If you need blue placemats, this one's for you.
Even if it does not work, it is still a great coaster.
or finally
Technology, Style and Windows 7 too!

How does a theory of progress square with the Declaration of Independence?

I came across an interesting line of discussion this morning which contrasted an absolute belief in progress with the principles in the Declaration of Independence.  It is an idea that I need to think about more but I think it may have some logic.

If you believe that rational thought can resolve or respond to any problem, then those ideas about inalienable rights are not important.  That leads to larger government and in turn smaller individuals.  Obviously the Founders had a notion of progress - they believed that by forming the Union that things would be better.  They lived in an age where science was advancing rapidly.  But they also had a healthy skepticism of a one best way.  That had profound faith in the ability of individuals to chart their own course.

E.J Dionne on tax policy - Reckless disregard for consequences

E.J. Dionne argues in a Washington Post column today that high income taxpayers are "undertaxed."  According to the 2007 IRS data those "undertaxed" individuals paid 40.4% of the total income taxes paid in the US.

Mr. Dionne’s view of “undertaxed” is odd. The IRS reports that in 2007 (the latest year for which data are available) the top 1 percent of taxpayers in the U.S. paid 40.4 percent of the total income taxes collected by Uncle Sam. In 1987 that number was about 12% lower.  The Tax Foundation did a recent study which found that the top 1% of taxpayers now pay more taxes than the bottom 95%.  You have seen this chart before - but I thought it was so good it should be repeated.

Dionne writes "If taxes are the price we pay for government services – rather than booty to be extracted simply because someone is unusually wealthy – then Mr. Dionne’s conclusion that rich Americans are undertaxed overtaxes credulity." He goes on to say "The simple truth is that the wealthy in the United States -- the people who have made almost all the income gains in recent years -- are undertaxed compared with everyone else."

Dionne quotes a study that says the top 400 households "paid 16.6 percent of their income in federal individual income taxes in 2007, down from 30 percent in 1995."  Those top 400 have an annual incomes in the range of $35 million in 1992 and about $139 million in 2007.  That means all those rich folks paid $10.5 million in 1992 and something in the range of $22 million in 2007.   From my perspective, regardless of rate, the very richest of Americans are paying twice as many dollars as they did in 1992.  But from Dionne's perspective, these people and everyone making over $250K should have a more substantial part of their incomes confiscated by the feds.  Dionne and his like thinkers seem to believe that resources at the top are either unlimited or not subject to incentives.

Ultimately there is a tradeoff in tax policy.   If you push too much on rates, as Dionne would do, or on the amount of income taken from the most productive people, economic activity is diminished.   Clearly, if you buy the idea of progressive taxation, the rich should pay more than the poor.  But the question is not if, but how much.

Dionne seems to have no idea about the levers of tax policy he just wants to punish the rich. Like many of his counterparts he salutes the "brave" leaders like David Cameron who would raise rates on taxes.    The real question is do we want to look even more like Europe.  Wouldn't it be easier if Dionne simply decided to move to the UK or Europe so he could get the "benefits" of their policies?

Hotel Restaurants

As a rule, hotel restaurants are places to avoid.  They often have odd names, high prices and mediocre food.  Yesterday in New Mexico I found two places that were out of that norm.   We've been in New Mexico at the Hyatt Tamaya for a couple of days at a meeting.   Yesterday afternoon we went up to Santa Fe and for lunch went to a place in the El Dorado Hotel called the Old House.   We got there during a quiet spell in the afternoon and so ate in the bar.   I had some seared scallops which were covered with some Filo dough which had been shredded.  The four scallops were then hidden among this light covering and presented with a wonderful sauce.    We went to Santa Fe to have a chance to see the Georgia O'Keefe Museum which was also very good.

In the evening we went back to the the Hyatt and went to their restaurant called the Corn Maiden.  We started there with some Buffalo Carpaccio.   Their menu splits between a series of Tapas and a more traditional fare.  My wife had their summer special which offered four tapas plus to matched glasses of wine and then a dessert.   I had a rack of lamb which was one of the best I have ever tasted.

In both places the service was wonderful and the selections on the menu were very nice. Now my only problem will be partially solved as I go off to the gym. (See what time I am writing this if the last comment does not seem credible.)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Stimulus Defined

The Department of Commerce released the Durable Goods report this morning with the following cheery news -
Shipments - DOWN .3% (FOLLOWS a DECLINE of .7%)
Unfilled orders - DOWN $.1 billion
Inventories - INCREASED .9% (Means durable goods makers are not selling their stuff)
Capital Goods - DOWN 1.6%
This must be a new definition of stimulus.   In most understandings the numbers should be going in the opposite direction for these five indicators.  Well at least there is not inflation(yet).  I can't wait to see how Paul Krugman tries to spin these numbers.  If all the dough we wasted was that good, even more will be better. Oh, one other bit of cheery news. Homeownership in the country was announced at the lowest level (66.9%) in the last 11 years.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Taking Notes on the iPad

One of the logical tasks for the iPad would be an application which would allow you to take notes on the fly.  There is the Notes APP by Apple but for a lot of reasons there should be more than that.   I have found four applications that might qualify.   They are Notepad Pro ($1.99), Notetaker HD ($4.99), PaperDesk ($1.99 - but also comes in a lite edition - which likes notes to three pages) and Write Pad ($9.99).  Each of the apps lets you take notes in your own handwriting and to do drawings. These applications also will allow you to record audio. But in my mind the superior application by far is Write Pad.    Paperdesk syncs with although it is not intuitively obvious how to get rid of a document once you are done with it.

For those who once used a Newton Write Pad has two great features.  First, it allows you to convert your scribbles into text.   The rest capture your writing but then save it as writing.  The handwriting recognition of Write Pad is better than the Newton.  It is not perfect but like the Newton has two features to improve performance.  It allows you to do shorthand for terms of words you do a lot.  But it also has an interactive dictionary which shows you the kind of choices that the machine is working with.

The second feature allows you to translate your notes into another language.  You need a web based connection for the feature to work.   But in the two languages where I have a working knowledge, German and Spanish, the translations are passable.

I think Write Pad will be an application that I will use a lot.  The others are a lot less useful.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Heaven, not yet

In the post yesterday, I mentioned heaven and baseball.  Then the Cats went out and lost one in Tacoma 6-1.  The Cats played very well in July and if they keep it up in August, they have a shot at winning the Southern Division.  I hope I made that clear.

Last night we went to Isotopes Stadium to watch the Nashville Sounds beat the Albuquerque Isotopes.  The Isotopes made a sort of run at getting into that game but not really.   Interestingly the Sounds are 54-46 and behind Iowa.  The Isotopes are 51-48 and behind the Oklahoma City Redhawks and the Cats are now 57-44.  They would be leading the other three divisions but because Fresno won last night they are tied for first.

But we must remember, heaven comes one game at a time.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


July has been a good month for the Rivercats.  As we suggested about a month ago, if the team were to pull it together before the Allstar break, they would have a shot at the division.   We thought they needed to be within seven or eight games of league leading Fresno.  During July, they have been 16-5.   That compares to losing 12 games in June.   The Grizzlies for July have been 7-12 this month.  So as of last night that left us one up.  

At the end of the season they have 11 games at home where we have 20.  We have a five game series against Fresno at home before we finish our home stand against Las Vegas. (The season finishes against Colorado there).  The Grizzlies finish against Tacoma at home.   Our record at home at this point is 25-22 compared to our away record of 32-21 compared to the Grizzlies who are 8 up at home and only 4 up away.

But while current numbers are encouraging, in August a lot depends on how much the parent team does in pulling people up to the bigs.  We will not know that until they do.  Regardless, the Cats have a good shot if things continue to click.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Reality Test

In a paper in the American Economic Review of June 2010 on the effects of tax increases on the American economy the following conclusion is reached -

Our results indicate that tax changes have very large effects on output. Our baseline specification implies that an exogenous tax increase of one percent of GDP lowers real GDP by almost three percent.

Those are pretty robust effects.   The AER is a pretty respected journal, not some e-journal for crackpots.  The conclusions are not actually surprising - raise taxes and reduce output.  So one could expect that the results are pretty accurate.   So who said it?

The paper is by  Christina D. Romer and David H. Romer - David Romer is the Herman Royer Professor of Political Economy at UC Berkeley.  His wife was also at Berkeley and holds the Class of 1957 Garff B. Wilson Professor of Economics at Berkeley but she is also the Chair of the Current Administration's Council of Economic Advisors.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Michael Slater's Biography of Dickens

I have just finished Michael Slater's monumental biography of Charles Dickens.  It is a long book but well worth the read.  For people like me who are great fans of Dickens the book is a treasure.  It links Dicken's writing with his own biography.  I have always loved Dickens' ability to create characters who are memorable.  From Gradgrind to Macawber, many of them are almost onomatopoetic in their presentation.  Now I have a better understanding of the origins of many of those characters.

Slater, who is a retired professor from the University of London who specialized in Dickens, does a wonderful job of weaving the biography into the narrative of specific books and stories of Dickens.  I had understood that a good deal of his writing came from personal experience.  But Slater weaves the stories together in an interesting way.

I got the hardcover as a Christmas gift, but then also got the Kindle edition (yesterday Amazon announced that they are now selling more Kindle books than hardcovers - no wonder).   The Kindle edition looks marvelous on my iPad and it is a lot lighter than the 720 pages in the hardcover edition.   If you want to understand Dickens or even if you want to understand the key link that one famous writer made between his life and his craft - Slater's book is a great way to do it.

And you wonder why people are grumpy

Bell, in Los Angeles County, was a working class city when I grew up.  According to the census it now has a population of about 36,000.   Median household income is about $40,000 or about a third less than the California median. 50% of the residents are foreign born. About a decade ago the city gained prominence when some Oscar statuettes were stolen from a loading dock in the city.  But even most Angelenos would be hard pressed to be able to describe the city, until now.

It seems that the bright lights of the Bell City Council agreed to pay their city manager $787,000.  Their police chief makes a paltry $457,000. (Or about twice what the Chief in LA - a slightly larger city - makes.)    The city manager is charging every resident almost $22 to pay his salary.  The assistant city manager makes a bit more than $350K.  City Council members earn a cool $100 K or more than twice what the average household income is.  (except for one newly appointed member who earns $10,000 per year).  Their salaries are all in the range of $10k but they get a bit more for sitting on city boards.  According to the LA Times, sometimes the meetings last only a minute - talk about hitting the number.

The times quotes the mayor and one city council member who "justified their salaries by lauding city services and noting that no one had been laid off or forced to take furloughs."  Gee there is a treat.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Carbon Footprints be damned

The Morning Sentinel covered the arrival of the President into Maine - in their coverage was the following quote - "Arriving in a small jet before the Obamas was the first dog, Bo, a Portuguese water dog given as a present by the late U.S. Sen Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.; and the president's personal aide Reggie Love, who chatted with Baldacci."

I do not begrudge the President another vacation.  But isn't this the same guy who would like to impose "cap and trade" to solve global warming?   What kind of carbon footprint is that?  Reggie Love,by the way, is the houseboy for the president who receives over $100 K in salary.  he does have a degree from Duke and was a forward for the Blue Devils.  The description may be a bit harsh - but his description in the Wikipedia page on his says his job is to anticipate the President's every need.   

I guess that is the definition of change.  Not one I would have expected.

Mexico as it is

Yesterday I went to lunch at the house of the physical plant director of the university that I was doing some lectures at.  Our host is a soft spoken guy.  I have gotten to know him over the years as he has advanced from driver to plant director.  During that time he also completed a high school diploma.  This fall he is starting a college degree. He kids me a lot about the Governator.

His family includes four young children - three boys and a girl.  Each were delightful.  Great energy.   The youngest did not seem to like to have his picture taken.  His wife is soft spoken and very pleasant and as if frequently the case, extended family were present.

He lives in a modest house that is in construction.  A lot of Mexicans develop their houses piece by piece and his has some additions in the plans.   But the house is secondary to his family.   I played a lot of games with the kids asking them what a fork is called in Spanish or English or German.   They also knew high fives and lots of other kid games that you would find in any US home.

Our host spent a energy assuring that we were made welcome.  We had a white fish that had been seasoned with some local herbs including mint.  It was delightful.  Raspberries with creme fresh.   As guests we were treated royally.

After lunch we went for a walk down to the lagoon that is near his house.  When we got there there was a woman fishing with a rig that is common in Mexico - which is fishing line wound around a board.  Not very sophisticated but you see it often.

In the two decades I have been working in Mexico - this was one of the most memorable afternoons I have had.   I've been to a lot of fancy places in the country.  I've met a lot of important people.   But this simple afternoon of wonderful hospitality made the rest of those experiences pale.

The first picture is not one of the kids.  As we were walking back we saw a kid near the director's house that was trying to fly a kite.  On this temperate (Veracruz can be oppressively humid and yesterday was actually pleasant) afternoon the kid was more concerned about getting his kite into the air than in noticing the visitors.  Sounds about right.

Something that does work

I write a lot about things that do not work with government, so it is refreshing to find something that works quite well.  The last time I came back from Mexico I noticed a new kind of fast entry opportunity for travelers who are willing to give up some biometric data and go through a security check.  The program is called Global Entry and costs $100 for five years.

About ten years ago the Customs Service had a program like this which I did and it was horrible.  About half the time I would come back into the country, I found that the computers were down or they would not read my fingerprints or some other problem.   But I thought, what the hell, why not give it another chance?

The new program is a bit more complicated to get into.  You need to go through a personal interview (which I think is more extensive than the one required in the prior program).   But this morning coming back from Veracruz it took me all of 90 seconds to get through the entire customs process.   The computer reads your passport and your fingerprints, asks your declarations and then sends you on your way.  After you get your baggage you go through a special line with your printed slip.  90 seconds flat.  SLICK!!!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Apple Press Conference

Apple scheduled a press conference to discuss iPhone 4 Antenna problems today.  I have had an iPhone4 since the first day (surprised?).  I have not experienced the problems that a lot of the press has written about.  I like the new camera and the operating system- which mostly also works on iPhone3 models.  I have used the phone in Mexico and reception is fine.   And in the places I use a phone in the US - ditto.  I have noticed that different phones work better in different places - but I cannot explain consistently which phone does that.

Steve Jobs was grumpy.  His stats on returns and calls for service suggest that the problems on some blogs have been blown out of proportion.   I noticed a similar set of odd responses on the iPad.  A lot of bloggers grumped about various features - when it was pretty clear that they had not had an actual machine in their hands.  Jobs labeled the story that Apple executives knew about the antenna well in advance "BS."

The simple answer here is that no phone is perfect in every instance - just like no piece of technology.  We buy technology because it improves something in our lives.  I love the ability to check data and make phone calls on the same device.  I appreciate the extra battery life on my iPhone4 and a lot of the other innovations.   I am a lot less comfortable with the whiners (many of whom seem to have not actually had the product in their possession) who try to make judgments for us.   But then that also follows for many in the political pundit community.  I wonder if Keith Olberman has written about the iPhone4.  That would be a trifecta.

St. Louis Fed Unemployment Data

The St. Louis Fed released data (found through Greg Mankiw's Blog) of the duration of unemployment in various periods.  Notice the huge uptick in the current economic period.

There are a couple of possible explanations.  First, duration might have increased as a result of the extensions of UI coverage.

But there is another possible explanation which is more troubling.  It could be possible that with changes in the economy that some people may find it tougher to be re-employed after losing their jobs.

Xalapa (or Jalapa)

I have been in Xalapa for the last couple of days working with a university.  I am struck by how this southern part of Mexico seems untouched by two things which are prominent elsewhere in Mexico and the US.  The first is the problem of violence.  As you move north in the country, formerly quiet places are racked by violence.  I've heard a lot of talk about whether President Calderon's effort to oust the drug lords was a good idea - there is plenty of opinion on both sides.  But in this small town, there is not the same kind of concern.

At the same time I was in a relatively new mall last night which was packed.  Admittedly, some of the packing comes from the rainy season - the mall is a new place to congregate.   But the mall has added a new wing which has four or five pretty spiff restaurants, most of which were pretty full.  The interior is a lot like part of Disneyland which includes a faux ceiling that moves from day to night over the course of about an hour. This town has not been hit by the recession or the "stimulus" we've had in the US.  I was amazed before I left that the President's chief economic advisor could claim with a straight face the the administration had created or saved 3.5 million jobs - when the number of employed people in the US is actually lower now than when the President took over.   But that is the stuff for another post.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Reflections born from losses

I had something happen this week which I hope will not happen again soon.  I lost two friends to cancer.  They had some similarities.  One was a politician, one a priest.   But both were associated with Catholic universities.  The politician graduated from USD - and was a loyal alum and the priest had been president of Santa Clara.  Both were driven by values.  That is not surprising for a priest but not common in politicians.  Both were in their early seventies.  The priest had discovered his illness this spring.  The politician had battled the disease for more than a decade.

The politician had some deep seated faith but not the kind that most politicians shine up every other year - he actually had some values and tried to live by them and tried to get them enacted.  I get tired of politicians who use values as a campaign theme.  But this one actually thought about what might be the right thing to do.   We had talked a lot in recent years about the Episcopal church, he was a member of my parish until I moved to another; but he was disturbed by the politically correct people who seem to be running the Episcopal hierarchy.

There were some differences however.   I read a couple of the tributes to the priest and they seemed to capture him quite well.  But many of the comments about the politician were the kind of banal comments written by a junior staffer because the politician making the statement thought it was the "right" thing to do.  My friend the politician would not have liked most of the soundbites.   Even in his last days he lived his beliefs.  He decided to move back home from the hospital.   He also transferred some of his remaining campaign funds to what should be his eventual successor and to a candidate in a tight race and to one other cause.

I am a better person for having known both.

The All Star Game

A friend invited me to the MLB all star game - as these events go it was a pretty good evening.  We happened to be sitting in an area where most of the fans favored the American league so when McCann had his hit there was general grumpiness. (the photo is from the Globe and Mail) I am a big fan of the senior circuit - so the three runs were just fine with me.   The crowd was also generally anti-Yankee (there were some scattered boos when Steinbrenner's death was announced) and anti-Dodger.

I sat next to a thirteen year old from Tampa who knew a lot about baseball - he was downcast because of the AL losing - but I said he had the chance to experience history.  No NL team had ever won during his entire lifetime.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Four tidbits from Survey USA

A new Survey USA poll has four interesting tidbits.

#1 - The unfavorable ratings for the President (38%) exceed the unfavorables for the Tea Party movement (37%) - that suggests to me that if the numbers are correct the state is moving to the right from previous elections.  Remember that the President won the state by wide margins.  His favorability ratings are now at 40%.

#2 -  The right direction for California question is at 11%.  The wrong direction is at 77% - that suggests a very grumpy electorate.  Not much of a surprise.

#3 - Although Survey USA is remarkably uneven on electoral projections - they show a horserace for the US Senate seat and a very slight lead for Meg Whitman over Jerry Brown in the Governor's race.  There is still a long time until November but my feeling is that the numbers are within a reasonable range of error.

#4 - Perhaps the most interesting of all - Californians seem to be split almost evenly (35-37%) on whether we should drill for oil off the coast.  A huge percentage (29%) are undecided.   In light of two months of reporting on the BP incident those numbers suggest that Californians are realistic on our needs for energy and are not convinced by the environmental alarmists.  That should not bode well for the supporters of AB 32 - the California Climate Change bill that is up for a referendum like vote in November.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Into the break...

On Saturday night the Rivercats stunk up Raley Field.  They had but four hits, no runs and two errors. (Bringing the season total very close to 100 for errors.)   They got shut out in an ugly one that ended up 11-0.   But Fresno lost too so we stayed the same.

Yesterday we got back in the groove and won our third extra inning game 4-3 against Portland, taking that series and moving up one game against the Grizzlies - to 3 out.  Corey Wimberly had an interesting day.  He hit a homer in the 7th inning (his second).  In the bottom of the 9th he stole second base but then immediately got caught off base on the way to third and so cancelled an opportunity for the Cats to win it.  With the win that has the Cats winning 8 of the last 10 and moving up on the Grizzlies.

The conventional wisdom was that if we were fewer than 7 out at the All Star break we had a shot at the division.  A lot depends on how well the team continues to play together but if the last 20 days are any indication, there is a lot of cause for hope.

Thursday, July 08, 2010


At this time of year in Sacramento, we have a lot of small frogs.  When it cools down at night they often migrate to cement areas which retain heat from the day.

This morning I went out to retrieve my paper from the front porch and opened it to find a crushed frog on the outside of the paper.  Evidently the frog crawled up on the porch sometime in the night and when the paper was delivered it landed on him - crushing him.  That looked to me like a clear definition of the wiles of fate.

My wife thought it was merely something to be removed before she read the paper.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Odd Math

Between last year and this, the General Fund budget of the State of California went down by a relatively significant percentage.   But the combined change in per capita taxes in the state went up by $312.  According to figures compiled by Paul Caron, at TAX PROF BLOG, that ranked California second among the top ten states to raise taxes.

OK so here is the odd math.  Even with being second in the country (behind New York at $419 per person and ahead of Delaware at $286 and Connecticut at $221) we still wound up the last fiscal year with a deficit of immense proportions.   And you thought that adding taxes reduced growth (and it did), what it also seems to have done is done nothing to the deficit.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Obama in a CBS internet poll (not scientific, but probably not far from the mark).

CBS published a poll on the internet which rated the President in a non-scientific poll.  Here are the results - (Grades were A-F with F being like a school grade)  Percentage responding F are next to each indicator.

Handling of the Economy -  67.6%
Foreign Policy - 59.68%
Health Care - 78.67%
Afghanistan - 31.93%  (He just fired the commander there)
Iraq - 35.96%
Threat of Terrorism - 57.52%
Energy and the Environment - 55.04%
Social Issues - 58.84%
Bipartisanship - 78.20%
Overall Job Rating as President - 63.76%

Charting the Uptick

Here is a chart from Netmarket share which charts browser usage on the iPod touch (RED), Android (Blue) and iPad (Green).   Note, the iPad usage is now higher than the Android but with only a couple of months of usage.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

ATTs Microcell

Many home cellular users seem to have a problem with reception.  There simply are not as many cell towers in some residential neighborhoods.   About a year ago AT&T began bringing out something called a Microcell.  The device which costs $150 links your phone into your IP connection and thus makes your cellphone a VOIP device.  As a VOIP device reception improves considerably.   We installed one in our home and went from one to two bars to five immediately.

AT&T has pretty good set of materials to help you install the device (either connected to your computer or to an ethernet port on your router).  But they also have a good support hotline which will talk you through the installation.

They offer two plans for the device.  On the first you pay full price for the device and when you use it, your cellular minutes are charged.  So if you talk for 20 minutes on the cellphone over the Microcell, your cellular account deducts 20 minutes - just like a regular cell call.   The alternative is to get a $100 rebate and then pay $20 per month.  If you take the second option, you get unlimited calling.   The unlimited option would only make sense if you made tons of calls from home.

One other feature which was not clear.  When using VOIP you need to dial in the area code, even if you are calling locally.

I've tried one other signal booster for home and found it was not as effective.   This is simple to install and works for up to 10 cellphones at once (AT&T requires you to have the phone which will use the device registered on the device - which is done at setup).  The Microcell is only available for use with AT&T phones.

I now use a Microcell in both home and office (my office is below ground level and notorious for bad connections).  I found it to be simple to setup and easy to use and most importantly true to what it said it would do - significantly improve cell reception.

Apple's Letter to iPhone 4 users

This week saw a scumbag lawyer (named Robert Carp - quick rearrange the letters of his last name to get the quality of his lawsuits) filed a class action against Apple on reception issues.  I've had the phone since the first day, read a couple of technical papers on what cell phone bars actually mean, and have actually written about the phone's qualities.  As I have commented before a lot of criticisms about tech products comes from people who haven't actually had their hands on the device.

The little bars thing on phones is complicated.  If you live in an area with many cell users trying to get use of a cell tower and five bars you may have a tougher problem making a call than if you live in the boonies with one bar but few competitors for the tower.

Apple wrote an open letter to users this week which said two things.  1) They would work on a software fix to adopt the AT&T formula used for calculating bars on other types of phones and 2) They stood by their product "As a reminder, if you are not fully satisfied, you can return your undamaged iPhone to any Apple Retail Store or the online Apple Store within 30 days of purchase for a full refund."

Technology adds some wonderful things to our lives.  When it is at the cutting edge, as I believe many of the new phone's features are, there may be some glitches.  But who do you trust more, a technology company with a long line of successful innovations or some alley dwelling lawyer trying to grab a couple of seconds of fame?

Rally Pants and a Close Call Make the Difference

Friday's game with the Rivercats was quite good.  It went into extra innings although one person in our group does not like baseball and so was not thrilled.   The game was tied in the bottom of the eighth when Matt Watson hit a single to score Tolleson.   Brad Kilby showed up with his "rally pants" which according to field sources take two people to get him into. The crowd loved it.  Some of the Rivercats field people also showed up in Rally Pants - one of the guys in a skin tight leotard.  It was a sight to behold.

We went through the ninth and tenth without a score.   Tony D got ejected in the bottom of the tenth as a result of his beefing a very bad call at home plate.  We got to the bottom of the eleventh and Carter led off with a walk.  McPherson grounded into a force where Carter was out at second.   Carson then singled but his hit was long enough to get McPherson to third.   Josh Donaldson then grounded into another force out, from my perspective it looked like a fairly routine double play, Carson was out at second but in the throw from Emmanuel Burris to Brett Pill, McPherson was able to get into home, score and win the game.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Andy Zachy at Appleinsider did a post this morning on the role of iPods in Apple's revenue stream.  It is pretty amazing.  But that is the nature of technology.  Obviously, a lot of the technology developed in the iPod is now in phones and iPads.   The full post can be seen here.

Doing the Right Thing for College Athletes

Ramogi Huma was a linebacker for UCLA.  He now runs something called the National College Players Association (formerly known as the College Athletes Coalition).  He has been called the "Norma Rae of UCLA" because he believes that college athletes are exploited.   NCPA argues that college athletes are fundamentally pre-professionals and should be paid like that with wages and benefits.   

Under current NCAA rules a student athlete can be given a scholarship for tuition and fees, room and board and use of books.  That is called a full ride.  If a student has additional financial need, there are two ways to solve the problem.  First, the student can apply for Federal Aid (Pell Grants), which is need based and not counted in the athletic scholarship.  But second, for incidentals like transportation expenses each Division One school has two funds which can be distributed to athletes to make sure they are covered.    A couple of years ago NCPA did a study which looked at the 330+ Division One schools and concluded that the average full ride student had a gap of a bit more than $2000 per year.   That study is complete bunk in that it ignores the role of Pell Grants and the NCAA two special funds.  If you add in those two types of payments, the supposed gap is non-existent.

NCPA is funded by organized labor including donations from the United Steel Workers.  Obviously with collapsing membership in industrial unions they may be supporting this to ultimately build union membership.  It won a case to provide $10 million in compensation to athletes - but if you read the settlement document, the lawyer's fees and expenses amounted to almost $9.5 million.   That may have provided some additional resources to athletes but like so many lawsuits, its real compensation went to the plaintiff's attorneys.

The governing body for college athletics (at least the largest one) is called the NCAA.  At times it has been run by coaches and athletic directors and in my opinion to the disadvantage of student athletes.   Some of those especially from not very distinguished colleges and universities think athletics determines the reputation for an institution.   But in recent years there has been more balance.   When one of the last TV contracts was signed part of the revenues were sequestered to allow for the special funds to aid students.  But there are still questions of how to deal with student athletes (the vast majority of whom will never play professional sports).  

The real issue for me is whether the existing structure with its flaws is better than an environment where student athletes are more like employees.   In my mind, the latter will offer fewer opportunities for students with some athletic ability to get an education - and that is what athletic scholarships were originated for.