Archive for May, 2005

Miller Time

May 28, 2005

I’m not sure why I neglected to post this earlier (probably because my own contribution was so sloppily written), but Lance McMurray at Red State Rant offered several bloggers the chance to ask questions of former Senator (and Governor) Zell Miller in a bloggerific group interview. Lance has posted the results in two parts, and it’s good stuff–my outbreak of grammar and punctuation dysfunction being a notable exception.

Here’s Part 1, and Part 2. Thanks again to Lance for doing all the real work, and for inviting me to participate.

I Hate Dealing With Crooks

May 27, 2005

We need a new termite treatment and bond. So I take an hour and a half off of work today to meet with one weasel–uh, I mean, inspector, who sits down at my kitchen table to give me his spiel, including a long and very specific bit about how his company’s bond is better than his competitions’, because “we don’t just cover structural stuff, we cover the contents, too, you know, cabinets, books, anything else that might get damaged, where those guys don’t.”

Then, after I got rid of the guy, I read his contract, which says, “This Agreement provides for repair of structural damage only. It excludes damage to the contents of the Property.”

Do these jackasses assume that nobody’s going to read the contract? You don’t want to carry some coverage or another, fine. Frankly, I’m not really worried about termites eating my books. But don’t sit there in my house and lie to my face.

Sumbitch had the most expensive price, too. Into the trash his quote goes. [/yoda]

And Now For Something Completely Different

May 26, 2005

Ever heard of Henry Raddick? He’s been something of an internet sensation for years now, but I was blissfully unaware of his fame until a friend emailed me this link to his Amazon reviews, which frankly defy description (beyond the word “hysterical,” that is). A sample, in this case a review for “Know Your Pug”:

An excellent guide which is helping me get to know my pug Grendel, which is not an easy job. My children have taken to attaching surprisingly realistic stick-on ears to his rump and he turned around and bit me recently when I tried to put a piece of cheese rind into what I thought was his mouth.

There are dozens more, and they get weirder and funnier as you go along. Happy grazing…

Pop Goes The LIBOR

May 26, 2005

I’ve been skeptical about the much-discussed housing bubble in the past. I’m getting less skeptical when I read things like this:

As recently as 2002, only 11% of the new mortgages in the [San Francisco Bay] area were interest-only mortgages. But today 66% of new mortgages in the area are financed that way. While such mortgages are not as common nationwide, the upward trend extends across the country. Fewer than 10% of new mortgages nationwide were interest-only mortgages in 2002 but that has now risen to 31%.

That’s from a pithy and rather scary WSJ column by Thomas Sowell, and I’m sorry to say that it tracks with what I’ve been hearing about in two regions I’m familiar with, namely metro Atlanta and the north Gulf Coast of Florida.

Atlanta first. Driving around here and seeing signs for houses ranging from “upper $400’s” to “$750’s” and up–and this is not in the fancier sections, mind you–I’ve been asking for years, “Who the hell buys these places, and what do they do for a living? How can that many people afford the mortgage on a house like that?” The answer may be, “They can’t–unless it’s floating on a cheap ARM or LIBOR.”

I was talking with a friend a couple of weeks ago, whose next-door neighbor is indebted about as deeply as you can possibly imagine: interest-only main mortgage on a very pricey home, a home-equity loan based on its appreciation (meaning he owns absolutely nothing), and various auto loans and personal lines of credit. According to my friend, this guy and his wife are obsessed with ‘keeping up with the Joneses,’ and have spent every penny of that credit on lavish home improvements, furnishings, electronics and such. Here’s the kicker: they’re trying to sell off their house to buy a bigger and more expensive one in a supposedly more-desireable subdivision, but they’re asking so much (they have to, they’re upside down on the house), they aren’t getting any bites. And balloon payments on those loans are getting closer every day.

No, wait, that wasn’t the kicker. That’s just a random data point about one couple who’re making spectacularly stupid decisions. Here’s the kicker: the neighborhood they’re in has a 29% foreclosure rate, according to a local realtor my friend also talked to. This isn’t what you’d think of as a high-risk area, either. This is one of the toniest suburbs in the state. There are an awful lot of trailer parks that don’t have 29% foreclosure rates.

Second, north Florida. For the last four years or so–beginning roughly fifteen minutes after I sold the house I used to own in Panama City–real estate in the Florida Panhandle has been on a jaw-dropping boom. Lots within smelling distance of the water began to flip at multiples of their original selling prices, and construction has exploded. Panama City Beach alone has over thirty new high-rise condo complexes in various stages of construction–forget the old “Redneck Riviera” scene, it looks like South Beach down there today.

You’ve heard of “doing land-office business?” That’s what’s been going on in the Panhandle since roughly 2002. Lots, condos, and houses have flipped and flipped and flipped, from one speculating owner to another, with the price just about doubling every time in many cases–and almost all of them are on interest-only or ARM loans. Housing has gotten so expensive along the once-sleepy coast, home values are being forced up well to the north, as people look to once-backwater burgs like Ponce De Leon and Defuniak Springs for an affordable house.

“So what?” you ask. “Coastal property always appreciates, this is just a previously little-known area that’s been discovered and is being bought up.” And that’s true–except that according to a construction foreman I know in Destin, housing sales plummeted by 28% in April, and May is looking just as bad. He’s working on a large project in Destin where five “flips” backed out on deals in just the last two weeks. He also tells me that multitudes of “for sale” signs have popped up all along the coastal roads in the last couple of months, where previously the properties were being snapped up within days or even hours of going on the market.

All anecdotal, to be sure, and Neal Cavuto would argue that we’re talking about three particularly distorted markets where speculation is rampant, not the whole country. But all of the above, plus Sowell’s numbers certainly suggests to me that there are going to be an awful lot of high-dollar properties defaulting into the hand of lenders over the next couple of years. Opportunities for some, and disasters for others.

Hey, If Newsweek Can Spread Unsubstantiated Rumors…

May 26, 2005

I’m hearing quite a bit of chatter through the USAF contractor grapevine that Zarqawi is dead. The only reason I mention it here is, the rumor is apparently rampant at Hurlburt AFB Field, home of the Air Force Special Ops guys, some of whom would be in a position to know such things.

Take it for what you paid for it, but I certainly hope the murderous son of a bitch is assuming room temperature in Hell.

School’s Out

May 25, 2005

I’ve always thought that one of the biggest problems with schools, at any level, is too many of the adults who work there never had any life experiences outside of school. After finishing school, they immediately became teachers, just changing where they stood (or sat) in the classroom. For some of them, never having lived in the “real world” outside of a schoolhouse had the deleterious effect of never really forcing them to grow up, and to set aside their own adolesent hang-ups and insecurities.

If this story is any indication, I’m right.

A suggestion for Principal Holton: grow up.

What He Said

May 23, 2005

I was pretty much done with “Star Wars” posts, but then I read author Orson Scott Card’s review, which is as perfect a take on the new movie as I can imagine:

Even though the characterization is nonexistent, the relationships like a seven-year-old’s impression of how grownups act, the politics clearly the product of a mind that has never grasped history, and the science at the “How can rivers flow north?” level, the underlying saga still manages to touch a chord.

Don’t misunderstand. I laughed along with the other people in the theater at those horrible moments when the poor actors were forced to say some of the most appalling lines ever spoken on the screen. I could not possibly care about characters who were never for a moment believable as human beings.

But the story itself, the epic that had so inspired Young Mr. Lucas, does have grandeur in it that his own ineptness was unable to destroy. There is power in the sheer ambition of it.

Here’s the strange thing. Even though that opening day audience largely understood how bad the writing was — and laughed out loud and even cheered for the absolutely worst lines — they still got a sense of fulfilment out of watching everything come together.

I’m glad I saw it.

And, incredibly enough, I will almost certainly see it again. And buy the DVD.

Read the rest, and be sorry that Lucas didn’t have the good sense to hire somebody who writes as well as Card.

More “Journalism” From The Washington Post Company

May 23, 2005

Yet another post-Newsweekgate tendentious defense of the MSM today, this time from Terry M. Neal in the Washington Post. Most of it is now-familiar “fake but accurate” claptrap, and I was about to quit reading halfway through when Neal popped of with this howler:

Some conservative bloggers have suggested that the media should never criticize or raise critical questions of the military in wartime. Some have extended that criticism, conveniently, to cover the president’s wartime policies.

Oh, really? Which ones? Can you provide a quote, a link, a reference to a single blogger who’s said any such thing, or are did you just prop up an imaginary straw man?

Really great “journalism” there, Terry. Yep, all those editors really came in handy for that one.

Neal gives away the game in the next couple of sentences:

But that’s such a different standard than what most journalists are taught. No wonder people think most reporters are liberal. It’s because journalism is in itself, as a profession, by definition liberal.

Hey, Terry–here’s a suggestion. After you’ve spent most of your column repeating cant Bush-bashing talking points and inventing non-quotes that no blogger ever actually wrote, it’s not real smart to then go off on the old Helen Thomas “Of course we’re liberals–all smart, open-minded people are liberals” wacky train. That’s a really, really stupid thing to do in a column supposedly about now the press isn’t biased.

Just for future reference, you know.

The Circle Is Now Complete (Geek Week, Day Four)

May 19, 2005

In a word, “Wow.”

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time imagining how the original “Star Wars” story would end.

Some of my imagining was half-baked. I was convinced that Darth Vader was lying about being Luke’s father, for instance. I figured Vader as a bit player in the final movie, set to be killed off by Luke and “the Other” about halfway through, just a warm-up for the real confrontation with the Emperor (“the Other,” by the way, was almost certainly a sprightly young guy of about my age, height, and looks). Luke and the Rebels would storm the Imperial Palace, overthrow the Empire, and have one hell of a party–with no singing teddy bears.

I imagined a vast, sweeping final battle, but instead we got a Death Star rehash and Ewoks. It took another 22 years for something very close to that last adolescent vision to come to the screen: “Revenge of the Sith” is in scope, story, and spectacle, everything “Return of the Jedi” should have been, but wasn’t.

It’s also something the first two prequels ought to have been: story-rich and emotionally engaging. Where “Episode I” elicited virtually no emotions from the audience beyond disappointment, and “Episode II” only brief delight when Yoda joins the fray, the final film grabs you to the point of being wrenching. Even better, there’s not a single utterance from the dreaded Binks in the entire two hours and 22 minutes of “Episode III.”

That’s probably enough before jumping into spoiler territory; more after the jump. I strongly suggest that you stop here until after you see the movie. I went in almost entirely spoiler-free, beyond knowing what everybody knew from the previous films, and it was worth it. But suffice to say: see it. As I suspected, The Pod is full of crap. At long last, this really is the one we’ve been waiting for.

Oh, wait, one more thing: the alleged Bush-bashing stuff has been completely overblown. Trust me on this one. If you get offended by this movie on political grounds, you probably also go into a frothing rage when the car in front of you turns on its left-turn signal. If it weren’t for the dumb press coverage, you wouldn’t even notice the supposed “controversial” bits.

(more…)

Geek Week, Day Three

May 18, 2005

I got nothin’ on the Star Wars front today. Have to watch the movie to get any more. Meanwhile, Michelle is picking up the slack with her usual flair (15 pieces, minimum), and the fantastic Vader Blog wraps up in style.

UPDATE: Okay, just one more link, from a BBC reporter who liveblogged a marathon of all six movies in London yesterday (and where was Martini Boy while the London Symphony was playing all that soundtrack music in Leicester Square, hmm?).