Monday, December 19, 2011

A buddy of mine works in a niche retail market. The store he runs is quite profitable. Almost all the other stores make decent money. Yet the corporation as a whole loses money because all the stores have to support this vast corporate superstructure that has built up over the years (way to many VPs, all with their own secretaries and expense accounts, etc). I worked years ago for a restaurant that lost money for the same reason.

This made me wonder how many other American companies actually make money from operations yet somehow end up as net losers. I'm not sure, for instance, how well it's known that American auto and steel companies are absolutely crippled by the cost of their employees healthcare plans (since every single one of their major competitors have government paid healthcare).

A lot of companies out there have profitable little niches without a reasonable way to scale up. Unfortunately, management often wants to scale u anyway. This is primarily because the people running a giant company barely breaking even get paid a lot more than people running a tiny very profitable company. So you get stores built in so many places they manage to compete with each other (as in Borders and Walgreens) or management buying unrelated or tangentially related new businesses. Or you get "vertical integration" for no good economic reason (when becoming your own supplier or own distributor actually costs more than outsourcing).

Just seems a shame that profitable small businesses so often become unprofitable big ones. This is especially true when the big corporation doesn't add any value other than perhaps a name brand (Starbucks, et al).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Newt? Really? Well, I guess so. I mean, he isn't batshit crazy and he isn't an utter idiot. But is that really the best you can do? Newt is so transparently amoral and so thoroughly unlikeable. It seems that a party with roughly 55 millions registered voters could do better than a guy who's main appeal lies in not being so openly incompetent that he provokes public weeping.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Whatever happened to I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"

When did it get replaced by "I don't agree with you, so I'm fine with you getting pepper-sprayed by the police for no reason"?

I've got to assume if it was middle-aged Tea Party people getting pepper-sprayed without cause, that right-wingers would be going crazy over the Jack-Booted Thugs (remember that phrase?) of the New World Order. And they'd be right. The police are given a legal monopoly on the use of force in situations like this, but that should never translate into a green-light to use it however the hell you feel. Lethal force (and that includes things like pepper-spray and tasers) should only be used in cases of real danger. It should never be used just to force compliance. 

Just as importantly, we all need to understand that people have the right to disagree with us. They may be the Occupy Wall Street people, they may be the Tea Party; they may even be White Supremacists or UT fans. They still have the right to their opinions, just as we have the right to ours. We have the absolute right to point out when someone is full of crap, but we should never celebrate they're being forcibly muzzled.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Penn St (and their enablers in the media) still don't get the point. They talk about "letting the healing begin" as if the real victims here are Penn St football fans and that the damage that needs to be healed was done in the last few weeks. They clearly still see the destruction of a topflight football program to be worse than the molestation of some kids. They still don't get that their "football matters most" mentality is exactly what led to Sandusky being allowed to run amok. If those in charge had cared about kids more than they did about football, Sandusky would have been arrested years ago.

The Penn St community seems to have no idea how dangerously close they are to becoming an utter joke. The behavior of their athletic department has diminished the value of every Penn St degree. Now they've hired Louis Freeh to do their internal investigation. Freeh is unethical political hack who was known for twisting investigations to fit his own agenda while running the FBI. It's like hiring Jack Abramoff to investigate your own recruiting violations. This makes it obvious that protecting their football program is more important than justice and more importnat than the school as a whole.

University of San Francisco voluntarily eliminated their basketball program after a scandal that was nowhere near as big as this is. SMU did the same in football. They both understood that an out of control athletic department can make the entire school look bad and hurts every single grad. No one wants their degree to be associated solely with cheating in sports, and no one should want their degree to be associated in the public mind with covering up for pedophiles. Penn St needs to send the message that their school is not defined by their athletics, and the only way to do it at this late date is to turn down any bowl game offered,  forfeit all games from this year, and eliminate their football program. I'm sure the Big10 would work out a deal to allow them to sit out a few years then bring it back. If not, having no program at all would be preferable to having an out of control program bring dishonor to everything you stand for.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A Penn St alum writes on the scandal

 The amount of negligence is hard to believe to begin with, and almost impossible to believe from an institution held in such high regard by so many.
If the allegations are true, every Penn State alum who has walked the campus over the past 15 years will have to come to terms with the fact that they were lied to every single day of their enrollment. Their tuition dollars helped bankroll the lie. The university, seeking to avoid scandal, addressed the matter only in whispers audible only to them. By not acting, school officials were complicit in Jerry Sandusky’s alleged crimes. Their silence allowed a pattern of abuse to develop and flourish. They chose the reputation of a school legend over the children whose lives he was ruining.
In putting the football program over right and wrong, the university was badly missing the point. But so too is the current student body, many of who have taken to the streets of State College to riot (or rally or whatever you want to call it, it’s the same stupid mob they form every time they’re emotional about anything) even as I type. They are protesting what looks to be the imminent departure of Joe Paterno, not wanting the school’s greatest icon to meet disgrace. In the process they are destroying the last vestiges of Penn State’s integrity, valuing the reputation of a school legend over any and all else. It doesn’t matter to them that Paterno’s judgment, informing school officials and letting it go at that, put more children in harm’s way.

It's got to be rough for someone who was so clearly proud of the school they attended. Nice that he has the perspective to realize that the school's reputation and its football program got in the way of protecting kids and that can't be allowed to happen.
Anyone worrying about the effect of this child molestation scandal* on the Penn St football program is like someone watching a neighbor's house burn down with the entire family inside then complaining that an ambulance parked on his lawn. How this affects the team or the rest of this season is completely irrelevant. It doesn't matter in the slightest. It should not be taken into account at all.

Just saw that Joe Paterno has announced he'll retire at the end of the year and has essentially ordered the Board of Trustees not to waste any time discussing his status. That's not his call to make, nor should he be allowed to finish out the season or retire on his own terms. Paterno should be fired, his statue should be pulled down, and he should be considered an utter disgrace forever.

*Some idiot anchor on SportsCenter referred to this as a "sex scandal". It needs to get called what it actually was, a "child molestation" scandal or even a "child rape" scandal. What happened doesn't have any connection to what normal people think of as "sex". Please call it what it was.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Well, Michael Jackson's Dr just got convicted. That's a relief. I wouldn't want us to forget that the lives of famous people are far more important than the lives of non-famous people.

 I have paid absolutely no attention to the trial, so have no opinion to his guilt. I do, however, seriously doubt that he'd have been charged with anything if the corpse in question was that of a nobody.  I also doubt he could get a fair trial in the zoo-like atmosphere at the courthouse. My favorite was the giant "We Miss Michael" sign, which had nothing to do with the Dr's guilt but everything to do with why he was on trial.

Same Old Same Old

The more I think about the Paterno/Penn St thing, the more it reminds me of Cardinal Law, Archbishop of the Boston diocese. in both cases we have men who utterly dominated the institutions they were part of, who were more concerned with protecting their reputations than protecting kids. Neither is in any danger of spending one day in jail, nor will either ever be charged with a crime.

Both Law and Paterno, however, are morally culpable for what they allowed to happen, what they covered up, and the fact that they could have protected children and chose not to.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Joe Paterno should go to jail. A graduate assistant walked in on former Paterno assistant coach Jerry Sandusky anally penetrating a 10 year old. The graduate assistant went to his Dad and they together went to Paterno. He told the athletic director who apparently did nothing. Every single adult who knew about this sexual abuse had a duty to go to the police. Reporting it to your boss is not what is required. Calling the police is. But Paterno was worried about his reputation and that of Penn State football. He was certainly more worried about them than he was about the kids getting molested. So he didn't go to the police, and Sandusky was free to keep molesting kids (using as cover a charity he'd founded and to which his association with Penn St football had given prestige).

Paterno, the graduate assistant, his dad, the athletic director, and anyone else who knew about this and did nothing should go to jail. They won't, because famous people like Paterno aren't held to the same laws as everyone else. They won't, because some cowards in the DA's office are afraid that charging JoePa would trainwreck their careers. They won't, because we excuse not making waves and passing the buck if it keeps us winning (regardless of the cost). But make no excuses, Joe Paterno should go to jail.

Friday, November 04, 2011

How Cutting Pentagon Spending Will Fix U.S. Defense Strategy
The Pentagon's boosters are right that big cuts will limit military capabilities. But that would actually be a good thing for the United States. Shrinking the U.S. military would not only save a fortune but also encourage policymakers to employ the armed services less promiscuously, keeping American troops -- and the country at large -- out of needless trouble. Especially for the last two decades, the United States' considerable wealth and fortunate geography have made global adventurism seem largely costless. The 2011 U.S. military budget of nearly $700 billion is higher in real terms than at any point during the Cold War.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

People who are still hung up on the "liberal media" angle are totally missing the point. First, we need to establish what we mean by "the media". While someone on the police beat for the Sacramento Bee or writing movie reviews for the Dayton Daily News is technically just as much of "the media" as is Anderson Cooper or Shepard Smith, they're not who we're talking about. We're talking about the fairly limited number of people, almost all of them working for big media conglomerates, who actually have power to drive the narrative or frame the national debate.

These opinion makers are, at the core, financially well off people working for corporations in big cities. Guess the opinion of a well off corporate city dweller on an issue and that's likely what the media consensus will be. It's basically liberal on social issues and corporate conservative on fiscal ones, but with some twists.

The media tends to be reflexively patriotic and pro-troops; not because they've ever served in the military but because they haven't. They're afraid enough of being seen against the troops (as the media was seen during Vietnam) that they'd rather just abdicate the power to hold nuanced positions on any military issues. They're not very religious, but feel kinda guilty about it. So extremely religious people make them uncomfortable but so does openly making fun of people who are. They're pro choice, pro gay rights, and think guns are bad things (these things make them look liberal). Sexual harassment or discrimination is a big deal to them, but employees getting screwed out of overtime or getting their jobs outsourced overseas really isn't.

They work for big corporations, have generous healthcare packages, have no real financial problems, and likely have big investment portfolios. The unemployment rate could shoot to 20% and it would only affect them indirectly. They pay lip service to things that don't affect them like public education (their kids all go to private schools) and universal healthcare, but they won't lose sleep over them.  So for them the health of the economy is based on how the stock market is doing and maybe the price of gas. If the market is booming while everything else stagnates, they'd see the economy as doing nicely. If the market cratered while real wages went up and unemployment went down, they'd think everything was going to hell.

 So when you see the talking heads going on about something (or ignoring something else), think about where they're coming from.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Like most people, I assumed the big runup in oil prices in the middle of last decade was due to increased worldwide demand and the ongoing instability in the middle east. Only recently have I learned that those causes which can actually be attributed to cause and effect were secondary to one which was entirely not. As it turns out, a huge part of the increase in commodity prices during those years had nothing to do with supply and demand. If it did, then it's not likely that every single major traded commodity would have a big price runup during those years; but that's what happened.

What caused a massive price runup in all the big traded commodities (including oil) was the influx into the market of truly massive amount of money from speculators. Since speculators in commodities are almost always taking the "long" position, this influx of money caused a massive spike in commodity prices as the money poured in. Since, unfortunately, we as consumers are at the mercy of those same commodity prices; we ended up paying massively more for energy and for everything else. Of course, the oil companies and various dictatorships selling the oil ended up with way way more money than they should have gotten.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

When talking about the bailouts, it's often mentioned that almost everyone involved had a banking background; but it's not mentioned how that really changed things. The authors of  Bailout Nation, with New Post-Crisis Update: How Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World Economy mentioned that the problem was that they focused on saving the individual banks rather than saving the banking system.

To save the banking system, you need certain things:
1) Guarantees to deposits and enough depositor confidence to stop runs on the banks
2) Enough liquidity to make sure the short term loans that so many businesses rely on keep getting made
3) Some mechanism for making the long term loans like mortgages and business expansion loans

We really just needed to prevent a run on the banks and to make sure enough lending still took place to keep the economy from grinding to a halt. We didn't actually need any of the troubled banks to survive. Every single one of those banks could have gone under while the "banking system" itself kept going. The surviving banks would have expanded to fill the void in retail services.

Once the banks' assets and outstanding loans had been sold off (at their discounted actual value, not at the amounts they'd originally been booked for), there likely would have been enough to keep the FDIC from shelling out too much to guarantee deposits. The bondholders would've ended up with pennies on the dollar and the owners of stock would've gotten nothing at all, but those are the risks of the free market. If you invest money in companies with shaky business practices, you're likely to lose out. The government would have been on the hook for some cash through the FDIC, but it wouldn't have needed to guarantee hundreds of billions of dollars in crappy loans.

But to a banker, the idea of letting Bank of America, Citibank, and so many others just go under is just intolerable. They lost sight of the goal of saving the banking system and made the goal the saving of the banks themselves. Thus we end up with our current system of "capitalism" when things are going good and "socialism" the minute things go to hell. If you want the big rewards that come with risk, you need to pay the price of those risks if they blow up in your face. Otherwise, there's never an incentive not to take crazier and crazier risks.
Stumbled across a book that almost read as a parody of the melding of Islamophobia and Obamaphobia, which then lead me to some googling and searching to see what else was out there. Apparently, there are people legitimately worried about Sharia law being imposed in the US. Like, so worried that they're willing to write books on the subject or read books written by others. Of course, there are some that are written as straight up propaganda with a political bent (like How Obama Embraces Islam's Sharia Agenda (Encounter Broadsides) ); but some appear to be written by people who are really really worried about something that will so clearly never happen.

America is completely dominated by Christianity, yet it's illegal to use state funds for a Nativity Scene. Do people legitimately think a small minority religion with almost no power is somehow going to impose Sharia on the rest of us? Or do people not even think about it deeply enough to realize how ridiculous their fears are?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

This should give us pause as we contemplate life on a warmer planet. Extremes in weather are almost always a bad thing, and the prospect on those extremes getting even wilder is not happy.

Climate Change and the End of Australia

What is likely to vanish – or be transformed beyond recognition – are many of the things we think of when we think of Australia: the barrier reef, the koalas, the sense of the country as a land of almost limitless natural resources. Instead, Australia is likely to become hotter, drier and poorer, fractured by increasing tensions over access to water, food and energy as its major cities are engulfed by the rising seas.
To climate scientists, it's no surprise that Australia would feel the effects of climate change so strongly, in part because it has one of the world's most variable climates. "One effect of increasing greenhouse-gas levels in the atmosphere is to amplify existing climate signals," says Karoly. "Regions that are dry get drier, and regions that are wet get wetter. If you have a place like Australia that is already extreme, those extremes just get more pronounced."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Matt Taibbi's  Wall St Isn't Winning, It's Cheating

These inequities are what drive the OWS protests. People don't want handouts. It's not a class uprising and they don't want civil war -- they want just the opposite. They want everyone to live in the same country, and live by the same rules. It's amazing that some people think that that's asking a lot.

Been thinking about Steve Jobs and his place in the tech ecosphere. The products he's best known for (Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad) were not great leaps in technology. Apple didn't invent the mouse, and the Mac wasn't even the first Apple computer to feature one. Apple didn't invent the smartphone, the portable music player, or the touchscreen tablet.

What Steve Jobs did was make these innovations into something that people really wanted to use, and he did it through perfecting the interface. He understood that most people didn't want to learn all about the machines they were using. Jobs made it so people didn't about to think about the computer while using it and people loved him for it. What people loved about the Mac was the mouse and the way it interacted with the desktop (something which no popular computer even had before the Mac came along). What people love about the iPad is the touchscreen. They don't even have to know about what's going on underneath, and most of them didn't even remember a time when it would have been expected. And that's the beauty of what Steve Jobs wrought.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Turns out that Rubio in Florida lied about his family fleeing communism in Cuba (they actually left before Castro even returned from Mexico). Easy way to score some street cred with the still-powerful exile community, I guess. It's not as romantic to say your family moved here for economic opportunity just like most immigrants (awkward too, with all the hate directed towards immigrants by todays GOP).

I don't really see this as that big a deal. It's pretty standard  for politicians to stretch their own accomplishments and outright lie about their ancestors'. Of course, Gore got crucified by the media for a lot less.
Just saw some idiot on CNBC insisting that for-profit schools were focused on the "educational experience" and comparing them favorably to normal colleges because they don't have basketball teams. At first I thought he was joking.