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Archive for August, 2006

 

Lear Financial

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

Is Lear Financial being completely honest?

Am I the only one sick and tired of their advertisements on Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and elsewhere? Ok, so they are an investment firm specializing in gold. I have no issue with that.

What I take issue with is their use of the phrase “the gold standard”. They use it twice in their commercials. Of course, buying gold has nothing to do with the the way the term is used in economics. Rather, what these guys appear to be doing is trying to confuse less educated conservative viewers into thinking that gold is a good investment by using a phrase they may have heard or read before. These ads have been running for a while, so I suppose it must be working.

And of course there’s this gem of a quote, “Many experts are predicting gold moves of 100% or more”. Of course, it’d help to know which direction that move would be going in, wouldn’t it? But they’re relying on the viewer supposing that the move must be up, and therefore they’ll buy gold.

In my opinion, gold is not an investment. Rather, it’s a hedge against inflation. With the Fed raising interest rates, that doesn’t seem like a good near-term bet.

UPDATE (2/16/07): It would appear that Lear has actually changed their commercials. They no longer talk about the Gold Standard, but instead refer to Gold as a hedge against inflation. Good for them! It’s a much better commercial.

 
 

Couric Morph

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

I saw this post via Instapundit on Couric being Photoshopped by CBS publicists. So I decided to make this morph of the two images, to better demonstrate how she’s been “slimmed down”.

Here she is superimposed:

Enjoy.

 
 

Secular Right

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

Rob Tracinski writes about the secular right:

We all know the basic alternatives that form the familiar “spectrum” of American politics and culture.

If a young person is turned off by religion or attracted by the achievements of science, and he wants to embrace a secular outlook, he is told—by both sides of the debate—that his place is with the collectivists and social subjectivists of the left. On the other hand, if he admires the free market and wants America to have a bold, independent national defense, then he is told—again, by both sides—that his natural home is with the religious right.

But what if all of this is terribly wrong? What if it’s possible to hold some of the key convictions associated with the right, being pro-free-market and supporting the war, and even to do so more strongly and consistently than most on the right—but still to be secular? What if it’s possible to reject the socialism subjectivism of the left and believe in the importance of morality, but without believing in God?

Read the whole thing.

 
 

Chinese Sama

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

Here’s what I’d look like if I were Chinese:

Do your own face transformation here.

(via steve garfield)

 
 

A Viacom Problem

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

Poor Tom Cruise.

He probably never guessed that his relationship with Viacom would end poorly. Unfortunately, it was all too predictable.

You probably think I’m going to call Cruise a closet homosexual placenta-eating Scientology freak. Actually, no. Tom Cruise is one of the biggest Hollywood moneymakers of all time. And having made $2.7 billion (gross) for the studios, he evidently decided that it was time to strike out on his own, becoming his own production house, using the studios for distribution only. Edward Jay Epstein sums up Tom Cruise’s business acumen in a good article in Slate:

Paramount, despite its bluster, needs Tom Cruise, who stands—along with George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Jerry Bruckheimer—as one of the handful of producers who can reliably deliver a billion-dollar franchise—and, without one, Paramount’s fortunes are dismal. So, while Cruise, for better or worse, emerges as one of the most powerful—and richest—forces in Hollywood, the media remain totally fixated on the fact that he’s a Scientologist and the anachronistic notion that he is fabricating his love life, like Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain, just to get publicity for himself and to fool the press.

Right. What Tom evidently didn’t believe was that in separating with Viacom, that they would be the ones who would be spreading those smears. But honestly, he should have known.

Viacom is owned by a man named Sumner Redstone. He has a LONG history of shitting all over people who do good work for him. First there was Frank Biondi. Biondi was the chief executive who built Viacom for its owner, Sumner Redstone. And then, just as Redstone was entering his seventies, just as Wall Street wanted to know about succession planning, for Biondi to take Redstone’s place as chairman, Redstone fired him.

Next there was the loss of Mel Karmazin. Karmazin came in with the CBS buyout, and has been generally regarded as something of a genius in the broadcasting business. Mel left Viacom to work for Sirius after Howard Stern announced he was leaving for Sirius. And of course with respect to Stern, who can forget his bitter breakup with Viacom, resulting in a lawsuit against the radio host.

I think there’s a central strain that’s missing with respect to all the news stories about all of this. Namely, that Viacom has trouble retaining talent. Whether it be managerial talent, or entertainment talent. And they handle their breakups badly. Who, after the firing of Frank Biondi, would really want to take the helm of Viacom reporting to Sumner Redstone? Who would want to be a major name talent in the Viacom empire after witnessing how money machines Cruise and Stern were treated?

In my experience, corporate culture problems stem directly from the top. In this case, it’s Sumner Redstone, who whatever he may have once been, is today an old coot who dyes his hair like a Hamas terrorist dyes his beard. If I were a Viacom shareholder, I would be worried. Viacom should have looked to Cruise and Stern, both proven money makers, as alumni, and positioned Viacom as first-in-line should either star need them again in the future. Now they’re last in line. Nice work.

I’d short Viacom. They’re in desperate need of good management.

The WSJ has an article on the matter here, though it takes more of a pro-Sumner Redstone stance.

 
 

Real Estate

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

The WSJ has a good article on the slumping real estate market today:

HERNDON, Va. — For years, real-estate brokers and home builders promised that the soaring property market eventually would glide to a soft landing. These optimists predicted that home prices, which had more than doubled in parts of the country between 2000 and 2005, would continue to rise, but at a more normal pace of 5% or 6% a year.

It isn’t working out that way. The rapid deterioration of the market over the past 12 months has caught many homeowners and builders off guard. Some are being forced to cut prices far below what their homes could have fetched a year ago. It’s too early to say how hard the landing will be, but at a minimum it will be bumpy for many people who need to sell homes. And the economy as a whole, buoyed in recent years by the housing frenzy, could suffer.

The pain that homeowners and home builders are now feeling follows a raging national house party. As Americans soured on the stock market after the tech bubble burst in 2000, they poured money into real estate, spurred on by the lowest interest rates in four decades and looser lending standards. Surging demand created home shortages in California, Florida and the Northeast. Over the five years ending Dec. 31, average U.S. home prices jumped by 58%, according to a federal housing index.

The problem with that 58% number is that it averages the hot areas, namely the two coasts, with the rest of the country. In places like Massachusetts, we have seen 15% year over year price inflation since about 2000. So prices here have actually doubled since the boom began. The question now is: how much of a price drop should we expect before the market bottoms out?

Normal year over year price appreciation should be somewhere in the 5% range. This is in keeping with other types of conservative investments, 2.5% over an annual 2.5% rate of inflation. And your house should be a conservative investment. That makes sense. 5% is also in keeping with historical norms.

So let’s take a house that sold for $250,000 in 2000, which we’ll call year 0. 5 years later, at the peak of the bubble, appreciating at an annual compounded rate of 15%, that house would have sold for $502,000 in year 5. However, much of that growth is due to interest rates, not due to the actual rise in the value of the home. The actual value of the home should have risen 5% year over year, which would make that home worth $320,000 today, or 37% less.

The problem is that according to the graphic at the end of the WSJ article, Mass home prices have only dropped 1% from their peak. This would seem to indicate that they have another 36% to go. This may all happen next year ad interest rates continue to climb and sellers lose patience and start lowering asking prices, or it may happen over the course of 2 or three years. But the notion that prices will hold until the inherent values rise up to meet them is silly. It will take 9 years for that to happen.

Of course, there are other factors that cause the value of housing to increase, such as the lack of building permits in coastal states. But I still think that we’re in for a housing correction. The correction hasn’t happened yet, and I would wait for it before buying any more home that you currently own.

 
 

Snakes On A Plane / Dykes In A Cave

Saturday, August 19th, 2006

Last night I went to the drive in to see a double feature of Snakes On A Plane and The Descent. But really, I went to see Snakes On A Plane, but sat through Descent (which came first) just go get to it. The result, I’m afraid, was a bit disappointing.

If you’re not familiar with Snakes On A Plane, the wikipedia entry is here. But basically it’s a movie that’s driven by a bad concept, namely that a bunch of venomous snakes get loose on a plane, killing passengers and wreaking havoc.

The problem with the movie is that it neither took itself seriously enough, nor took itself too seriously. The result was a movie was was neither funny because it was meant to be, nor funny because it was “so bad it’s good”.

The plot line was insanely complicated for a movie of this variety, and seemed to indicate that the movie meant to take itself seriously when it was initially made. Frankly, all I expected from the plot was a mad scientist transporting snakes in a flimsy container, and the snakes get out. But instead we get this mob boss who kills a prosecutor, but is accidentally witnessed by this surfer dude, who then flies to LA to testify against the mob boss, but the mob boss decides to kill the surfer dude by releasing thousands of snakes on the plane, in hopes of bringing it down. In an age of terrorism, a bomb snuck aboard would both make more sense and be logistically easier than sneaking thousands of snakes onto the right plane, but whatever. And by the end, the whole plot line is basically dropped. We never see testimony, or the mob boss put away, or anything.

Wikipedia has this interesting paragraph about the movie:

In recognition of the unprecedented Internet buzz for what had been a minor movie in their 2006 line-up, New Line Cinema ordered five days of additional shooting in early March 2006[2] (principal photography had wrapped in September 2005). While re-shoots normally imply problems with a film, the producers opted to add new scenes to the film to take the movie from PG-13 into R-rated territory and bring the movie in line with growing fan expectations.

Unfortunately, you can really kind of tell where these additions were made. What they attempted to do was to make the movie make fun of itself, even though it was never intended to do this from the beginning. The result was a bunch of comical throw-away characters put on the plane, and killed immediately, one couple killed while having sex in the bathroom, and a man killed while peeing, the snake having bitten him on the end of his penis.

All in all, the movie was stupid, and not in a Barbarella kind of way. No, it was just plain old dumb.

The Descent, on the other hand, was fantastic. The Descent really did have a flimsy premise that was both improbable and uncomplicated at the same time. Basically, a group of ten or so young, hot, British women are thrill seekers, and they go spelunking together. But one of the girls wants to go to this unexplored cave, instead of the mapped out cave for “tourists” and of course there are a family of Nosferatu looking monsters living down there, and all but one gets eaten alive.

Of course, seeing this in a double feature with Snakes On A Plane lead me to devise a new name for the film, Dykes In A Cave. In fact, we kept waiting for the invariable lesbian kiss or nude scene in the movie, and it made for great fun watching the film, but alas that scene never came. Still, I think I like my movie title better than “The Descent”.

The Descent was exactly what one would expect with a stupid horror movie with a flimsy premise that is “so bad it’s good”. If only Snakes On A Plane could have lived up to it.

 
 

The Ramsey’s

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

Now that they’ve found Jon Benet’s real killer

Do you suppose that they’ll also find Nichole Brown Simpson and Chandra Levy’s real killers too?

Somehow, I doubt it.

 
 

An Interesting Idea

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

I was reading this article by Walt Mosssberg on the latest Netgear HomePlug product, and he gives it a real good review. The product claims that it can achieve speeds of upwards of 85MBS, but Walt only tests it up to his cable modem download speed of 6MBS. Not that I am interested in it for extending Internet access. I’m interested in it for streaming video around my condo from my desktop machine in my home office.

The problem here is that none of these types of units that i could find had an s-video or any video output for that matter. I would expect that somebody (please Apple) would make such a device, but in the absence of that, I did find this KVM adapter that works over ethernet. Presumably, if you stuck a VGA to s-video adapter on the end of one of those, you’d be in business.

The problem is that the whole setup still costs too much money. You’d need 2 Netgear adapters, the ethernet KVM, and a video adapter, which by my estimates would all told run about $300.

Perhaps the product would make for a good startup company, as I would have to figure that the major studios are strongly discouraging peripherals manufacturers from producing anything that helps people stream video around the house, particularly without DRM. Or maybe we’ll see such a device soon from the major manufacturers. Personally, I want one now.

 
 

A Humorless Religion

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

Roger Scruton writes a good article on Islam today. It’s definitely worth a read:

Whenever I consider this matter I am struck by a singular fact about the Christian religion, a fact noticed by Kierkegaard and Hegel but rarely commented upon today, which is that it is informed by a spirit of irony. Irony means accepting “the other,” as someone other than you. It was irony that led Christ to declare that his “kingdom is not of this world,” not to be achieved through politics. Such irony is a long way from the humorless incantations of the Koran. Yet it is from a posture of irony that every real negotiation, every offer of peace, every acceptance of the other, begins. The way forward, it seems to me, is to encourage the re-emergence of an ironical Islam, of the kind you find in the philosophy of Averroës, in Persian poetry and in “The Thousand and One Nights.” We should also encourage those ethnic and religious jokes which did so much to defuse tension in the days before political correctness. And maybe, one day, the rigid face of some puritanical mullah will crack open in a hesitant smile, and negotiations can at last begin.

Agreed. I think that the role that political correctness has played in empowering Islamic malcontents needs to be more widely understood. The need to diffuse political correctness is also why shows like SouthPark are also so important, not despite of their crassness, but BECAUSE of it. Alas, most conservatives dislike SouthPark because it offends their own religious sensibilities. I often think that this war is not winnable by the Republican party for that very reason. And unfortunately, it’s not winnable by the Democrats because they subscribe to and are in many ways the very source of political correctness itself.

I guess we’re just doomed.

Read more here.