Saturday, June 28, 2008

Here's an interesting little experiment.
Your instructions are as follows:

1. Take out your iPod (or Zune, I guess...really, who buys a Zune?)
2. Press shuffle songs.
3. Answer the following: a) How many songs before you come to one that would absolutely disqualify you from being President? b) What is that song?
4. Leave your answers.

This is from a blog called The DCeiver, care of Matthew Yglesias. I gave it a try. I don't know exactly how offensive any of my songs are, but #12, Vanessa from Queens by Stephen Malkmus, has the line "Bob Packwood wants to suck your toes." Would #63, "I'm Waiting for the Man" by the Velvet Underground raise eyebrows, being as it is explicitly about buying and using heroin? Or is it old and respected enough to be a "classic" and therefore immune from prurient tut-tutting. #67, "Memories Can't Wait" by Talking Heads is equally druggy. #78, "Gouge Away" by the Pixies mentions smoking marijuana. Really, that's about as offensive as it gets. So on that level, I guess there is little barring me from running for president.


Thursday, June 19, 2008


The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
"Don't Trust Whitey" T-shirt design by James Kochalka

The Michelle Obama "whitey" canard has got me remembering. When I lived in Seattle, I was really into old-school wild-style graffiti. The kind with the big, balloony, semi-abstract letters, created with multi-colored spray paint. Near where I lived, there was a slice carved out of a hill along the road which was covered with a large flat vertical expanse of concrete. Pristine white concrete. Perfect for a graffiti masterpiece. But doing anything illegal there would be impossible--this was a busy road through a fairly well-to-do suburban neighborhood.

Anyway, I was telling a friend that I wanted to do a big graffiti piece there, and had even thought about approaching King County for legal permission to do so. She said, "That sounds like a great idea. But you'd have to have some message that King County would approve of. So what would the message be?"

I thought for a second.

"Get Whitey!"

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I Demand Public Nude Art!

I demand that citizens place said nude art on their front porches. If they do not have front porches, place the art in their front yards. It is critical that we do this here in Houston to help keep Robert Hurt of Kerrville from visiting our city.
"Nude women, sculptured women," he told the state Republican platform committee, which sat in rapt attention.

Of all the evils in Washington that the Texas GOP took aim at this week, removing art with naked people from public view was high on the list for Mr. Hurt, a delegate from Kerrville.

"You don't have nude art on your front porch," he explained. "You possibly don't have nude art in your living rooms. So why is it important to have that in the common places of Washington, D.C.?"

Mr. Hurt offered statistics: He'd heard that 20 percent of the art in the National Gallery of Art is of nudes.

He offered detail: On Arlington Memorial Bridge overlooking the famed national cemetery, "there are two Lady Godivas, two women on horses with no shirt on and long hair."

Actually, they are classical sculptures about war – one called Valor, depicting a male equestrian and a female with a shield, and Sacrifice, a female accompanying the rider Mars.

Clearly, this man is a menace. But if we, the citizens of Houston, band together and put as much nude art right on our porches--where it can be easily seen from the street--I think we can rest easy.

Labels: ,

Monday, June 16, 2008

View from my Parking Garage

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.This is, I believe, Greens Bayou. I took this shot from the fifth floor of a parking garage, just south of the North Sam Houston Parkway. It's amazing that there would be such beautiful undeveloped land inside the beltway. But really, if you look at a map of Houston, there are curious blank spaces all over it (few as lovely as this, no doubt). So why does development gravitate to places like Katy and far northern burbs like Kingwood and beyond? I dunno.

From this vantage, I could be looking out over a landscape of parking lots, strip malls, and low rise apartment complexes, so I'm grateful that, for now at least, I get to see this lovely view every weekday morning.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Conserve and Produce

One thing I don't understand is why the Democrats are so keen on preventing drilling in ANWR (and the West Coast and East Coast continental shelves). I understand and am sympathetic with the environmental argument. But can that be weighed against 1) $4/gallon gasoline, and 2) huge transfers of the world's wealth into the hands of the dictators, fanatics, thugs, kleptocrats and all-around scumbags who control much of the world's oil? I recognize that ANWR and the continental shelf will probably not change the equation all that much, despite the fevered dreams of various Republican spin-meisters. But why would the Democrats just hand them an issue in what has to be their most important election in over a decade?

Furthermore, it needn't be portrayed as an either/or issue (as it almost always is, when spoken of by politicians). You can have conservation and ANWR. You can have hydrocarbon production and investment in alternative energy. Why not?

The Houston Chronicle apparently agrees.
Months ago the climbing cost of energy inconvenienced middle-class commuters. Now it's disrupting entire industries such as the airlines and plastic-makers. No industry that buys its energy wholesale will go unaffected.

Because petroleum and natural gas are used to make many manufactured products, inflation threatens. The Federal Reserve Board chairman, Ben Bernanke, warned that interest rates might have to go up to battle inflation, which probably would further dampen economic growth.

Should the price of crude oil climb much past $140 per barrel, global trade would be threatened. High transportation costs would encourage more regional trade, such as between the United States and Latin America.

Already, the high price of crude is transferring trillions of dollars from oil consumers to oil producers, leaving the United States with a ruinous trade deficit and enriching dictators and potentates who don't have Americans' best interests at heart.

Under these circumstances, the United States needs a national policy that requires conservation, encourages the production of more energy — both fossil fuels and clean, renewable alternatives — and limits emissions of gases that contribute to global warming. Unfortunately, when Democrats or Republicans craft legislation to achieve one of these goals, the other party kills it. The parties do this not because they are trying to preserve the nation or improve the lot of its people; they do it in order to advance partisan interests and grasp for power.

Republicans, financed by and friendly with industries that emit tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants, stand as immovable obstacles to reasonable limits on the emission of greenhouse gases. Democrats thwart opening up the Arctic and offshore waters to responsible, environmentally sensitive drilling that would not only increase the secure, domestic supply of oil and gas, but also place downward force on high prices.

Right on. Usually, I am not opposed to partisanship. I prefer the policies of the parties to be distinct and to offer clear choices. But here, it just seems pointless. The votes that the Democrats have thrown up recently around energy seems especially shameless, designed to merely put Republicans "on record" heading into the elections. I mean, surely they knew that the windfall profits tax would never pass, and even if it had, what would it have accomplished? Not lower energy prices, that's for sure.

That said, I can't say I oppose this measure.

In a bid to force oil companies to drill more on existing oil and gas leases, House Democrats today unveiled a plan that would assess new fees on existing acreage producers may be holding but on which they are not actively working.

With the slogan "use it or lose it," Democrats introduced legislation that would force producers to pay $5 a year for every acre the companies hold but are not working on to produce oil and gas. By the fourth year, the fees would jump to $25 an acre and rise to $50 an acre every year thereafter.

Democrats complain that oil and gas producers keep calling for access to new federal lands but have failed to begin work on existing acreage the Democrats say could yield an estimated 4.8 million barrels of oil and 44.7 billion cubic feet of gas per day.

I'd like to know how these leases really work before giving unqualified support to this measure, but since the government hopes to earn royalties from oil and gas produced on its leases (and that money belongs to us, the citizens of the U.S.), it seems reasonable. To put it another way, if I as a private citizen were negotiating a lease on my property, I might negotiate a similar arrangement. This bill would especially be useful in preventing companies from "parking" on a lease in order to prevent a competitor from getting the lease and benefiting from it. Does this actually happen? I don't know, but it happens in other businesses a lot, and I would be surprised if the oil and gas business was all that different.

If, in fact, E&P companies are not producing all they could on federal lands for which they do have leases, it somewhat weakens the argument for opening ANWR and the continental shelves. Even so, I think those locations should be open to E&P, as long as environmental standards are reasonably strict and properly enforced, and collection of royalties is likewise strictly enforced.


Redemption Story?

This short notice in the Houston Business Journal caught my attention.
Waste Management Inc. as been named one of the world's most ethical companies in a list compiled by business magazine Ethisphere.

The findings were released this week in New York at a joint conference between Ethisphere and Forbes magazine, titled "Driving Profit thought Ethical Leadership."

The Houston-based waste and environmental services company was the only local business on the list.

Other Texas companies included were Dallas-based Texas Instruments Corp. and Fluor Corp., as well as Austin-based Freescale.
That's it. What struck me was what went unsaid--that Waste Management had been one of the least ethical companies ten years ago, when they were implicated in one of the largest accounting fraud schemes of all time. They are one of the four companies counted as being on the Center for Financial Research and Analysis "Hall of Shame" in Financial Shenanigans (a fairly technical but very entertaining book about accounting tricks done by publicly traded companies). This one of the big three accounting scandals that ruined Arthur Anderson's reputation (the others being Sunbeam and Enron, of course).

I hope that Waste Management's ethical turnaround is real, sincere, and permanent. And I would suggest to the Houston Business Journal that when they publish articles like this they they have a little sense of history. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but it makes for a more interesting story (possibly a story of redemption), instead of a bland recitation of virtue.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Terry and the Pirates

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

IDW has been doing an amazing job of reprinting Terry and the Pirates. The entire classic strip had previously been reprinted by NBM, and as much as I treasure those NBM editions, IDW's version puts NBM's to shame in terms of the quality of the reproduction of the strips and the presentation.

Volume 3 (covering 1939 and 1940) is key for the strip. I think when Caniff started the strip, he wanted little more than to put his heroes through a series of knockabout adventures in the mysterious East. He didn't think too much about accuracy, and not at all about imperialism or racism--attitudes that, alas, permeate the strip. But the Japanese invasion of China in 1937 meant that he couldn't really produce an apolitical, ahistorical comic set in China. The reality of the situation had to be acknowledged.

His situation was complicated by the fact that his publisher was an arch-isolationist. Caniff couldn't even refer to the Japanese as Japanese, perhaps because Tribune publisher Colonel McCormick was opposed to stirring up anti-Japanese feeling. (They are referred to as the "invaders." Later, Nazis will be referred to as "raiders"--until Pearl Harbor, of course.) But when you read the strip now with the full benefit of hindsight, it seems obvious that Caniff was pro-Chinese and believed that eventually, fighting the Nazis and the Japanese was something that America would have to do as well.

But how could his strip reflect this when the main character was a boy of 15 or so? Caniff had to 1) mature Terry quick, and 2) involve Terry and Pat Ryan in the fight for China against the Japanese. The maturing of Terry is a process that starts in this volume and concludes in the next. Terry stops wearing short pants and fills out, gets romantically involved with April Kane, is taught to dance by the Dragon Lady, and, critically, is wounded while fighting with the Dragon Lady's rebels against the Japanese puppet warlord Klang.
The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
This also help put our heroes on the side of the Chinese. Their fight is not ideological or political, which presumably helped it get by McCormick.
The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
The Dragon Lady, who had basically been nothing more than the leader of a criminal gang, is now the leader of a Nationalist guerrilla army. She is ruthless--willing to sacrifice her underling Hu Shee to advance her cause. This disgusts the wealthy philanthropist Raven Sherman. So Caniff gives the Dragon Lady a little speech--which incidentally hints at Caniff's own apparent belief that the U.S. would soon enter this war (even though that would not happen for another year).
The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
(This speech rings disturbingly true today.) Weirdly enough, this panel is a repeat of one that appeared a few weeks earlier.
The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
This panel speaks to the romantic complications which are a major and very pleasurable part of this volume. Romance and pure action.
The politics are buried down deep. Caniff knew what he could get away with. But despite that, he was subtly preparing his millions of American fans for the conflagration to come. And in doing so, he brought the very best of himself out, turning his frankly offensive Chinese caricatures (Connie, Big Stoop, the Dragon Lady) into patriots who love their country. They may not have become exactly three-dimensional characters, but they were much much better than they had been.

Labels: ,

Blue Collar City buildings in Northwest Houston

I always knew Houston was basically a blue-collar city, and this just confirms it.
Industrial employment in Texas remained flat over the past year while Houston ranked first in the nation in terms of manufacturing jobs, according to a recent report.
Houston has 222,072 manufacturing jobs, according the article, compared to Dallas's 92,223. So the feeling in Dallas that Houston is just a town full of rednecks with dirty fingernails is basically correct.

The article mentions Texas's relatively good position compared to the rest of the country.

Evanston, Ill.-based Manufacturers' News Inc. (MNI) reports Texas gained 4,579 industrial jobs, representing a half percent increase, from April 2007 to April 2008. The 2008 manufacturing report indicates a smaller increase than posted by the state in prior years. However, Texas is still in a better position than much of the U.S., which suffered significant employment losses over the year.
Which only makes sense--when the price of oil goes up and up and up, Texas benefits while most of the rest of the nation suffers. A lot of that manufacturing in Houston is done by metal-bashing firms making stuff for the oil and gas industry--companies like Cameron, FMC, National Oilwell Varco, and many many others.

When we think of blue collar Houston, we think of the petrochemical plants in Pasadena and Baytown. But a good portion of the factory workers in Houston work in fairly anonymous metal sheds like those pictured above. There are little manufacturing neighborhoods with this type of factory all over town--this one in Northwest Houston near 290 and Brittmore, but also the one north of Memorial Park where the Hempstead Highway begins, and others as well.


It's Not a Big Deal to Agree With Warren Buffett...

...but on this issue, I sometimes feel like I'm in a minority, and it's good to have him on my side! Basically what I believe is what we were taught in Finance 101--markets are efficient and you can't regularly beat the market (although you can have good luck for certain periods). Obviously most people in the financial management business disagree--otherwise, why would you have hedge funds and mutual funds? Now I have suggested that many hedge funds simply have strategies that are more-or-less guaranteed to generally return a better than average performance until they blow up. This has been John Meriwether's basic approach over and over again (although I doubt he'd acknowledge the fact).

What Buffett has done is to make a bet with Protégé Partners LLC, a fund of hedge funds.
Protégé has placed its bet on five funds of hedge funds - specifically, the averaged returns that those vehicles deliver net of all fees, costs, and expenses.

On the other side, Buffett, who has long argued that the fees that such "helpers" as hedge funds and funds of funds command are onerous and to be avoided has bet that the returns from a low-cost S&P 500 index fund sold by Vanguard will beat the results delivered by the five funds that Protégé has selected.

They each put up $320K, which if combined and placed in a zero coupon T-bond would yield one million dollars at the conclusion of the bet. The million will go to the winner's charity of choice. (I assume they will pocket the returns in excess of the risk free return, but the article doesn't say).

Of course, this won't prove anything. This method of "proof" is, in fact, fruitless because Buffet would be required to prove that no hedge fund can beat the market over time, which would require him betting against all hedge funds, actual or potential, which is impossible. Still, he is putting his money where his mouth is...


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

More Houston Photos

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

This is from the Flickr photostream of "meltedplastic." It's a house on Syndor at Lyons near 59 North, just north of I-10. (Hat-tip to Neon Poisoning.)



The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

This is from Is This Houston?, the genius phone photographer of our city. He has a great term for this somewhat familiar sight: shoefiti.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Maximo and Cognos

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

The software I used today had names that sound like 60s-era Marvel Comics villains.