Monday, June 30, 2008

General Motors, Adam Smith and Losing Your Short-Term Memory

I have to admit I've always had an uneasy relationship with capitalism. But since that's the economic horse we've been riding on for a couple of hundred years, I just sit back and try to enjoy the bumpy ride.

Right now that ride is motion-sickness Hell, especially for some folks in the Detroit area.

General Motors stock, as of this posting, sits at $11.20 a share. As pointed out in a CNBC story from last Friday:
That means the world's largest auto maker has a stock market value of only about $7 billion. That compares with a market cap of about $56 billion in 2000, when the stock was at its all-time high of $94.62 a share.
To put that in even more perspective, GM's market value is now roughly equivalent to that of tax-preparation provider H&R Block or toy maker Mattel.
I know many of you might be rolling your eyes about "stock" and "market cap", but c'mon even to those amongst us who wouldn't know a "market cap" from a shower cap this is big news. The big, evil, impersonal GM of "Roger & Me" has been replaced with a piddly, increasingly irrelevant, befuddled Alzheimer patient GM. The "invisible hand" has done gone and smacked Detroit upside the head like Mike Tyson circa-1987.

Meanwhile, a Bloomberg story points out the type of amazing forward-thinking that helped GM get where it is:
Inventories of compact cars and hybrids are "going down at a rate we've never really seen before, and automakers are caught a bit unprepared,'' Jesse Toprak, an analyst in Santa Monica, California, said in an interview. "It might take several years to fully meet the consumers' demands.''
The same Bloomberg story notes that GM sales are estimated to have dropped 21 percent in June, while Honda's look to be up 16%.

Was this a great country or what? Now where did we put our dentures? And who is this person sitting across the dinner table from us? Ah, 1954...the memories...the memories....

P.S.: Speaking of "mature" companies showing signs of age-related corporate dementia, Microsoft's new overall boss, Steve Ballmer, has "chronic Google envy", most probably like the smarter folks at IBM envied Microsoft back in 1985. Gettin' old sucks, don't it Mr. Gates?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Internal Combustion Vehicles: Well, We Had A Good 100 Years

I was Metafiltering a few days ago, and ran across a link to this message board posting with tons of great historical photos of Manhattan (the Island, not the college town). Two stood out for non-architectural reasons (although the architecture is amazing throughout, including the old Singer Building):

This one is captioned "The Belmont Coach, 1905, four horses. Dogs run free."

And this one is entitled "Herald Square, 1909. Skyscraper beyond is NY Times Building in Times Sq. Cars have replaced horses."

So from 1905 to 1909 Manhattan went dramatically from transportation via horse & carriage to cars/trolley. Thanks, Model T.

Now, 100 years later, many of us are all in a tizzy over the death of the Tin Lizzie.

And a few of us are, metaphorically, hocking up a loogie to spit on the 20th century automobile's grave. Okay, that imagery is a bit harsh. How about we just pour some pre-Volstead Act hooch on the internal combustion family plot, do the Charleston for good measure, and get on to the next generation in human transportation?

Exciting times.

Meanwhile, I really suggest you check out the full posting of NYC photographs. I've shrunk the examples above, and you can easily spend two hours just looking at all of them in their full-sized glory.

P.S.: John Fleck has a online-only post on the Journal site this morning looking for input on the question of taxpayers helping foot the bill for an expanded and integrated regional transit system. Based on the first posted response, 21st Century transportation is one of those issues that really brings out the stupid in people:
NO I would not approve a Transit Tax. Let Bill Richardson and the State of New Mexico need to come come up with the Monies for the Railrunner. Why is this Tax passed on to people. The Federal Goverment and The State of New Mexico need to pay this Bill. The Middle class is being destroyed with this Transit tax, Carbon tax, New environment taxes.
I started to write up a few withering remarks about how stupid the above paragraph is, but nothing I can come up compares with the original. Breathtaking. I propose the above comment be put on the internal combustion engine's tombstone.

Friday, June 27, 2008

My Fantasy Energy Team is Hitting Over $140

Post-Fossil Fuel, Solar Economy Bike Ride
Dreaming, On Such a Summer's Day

I understand. The last few blogposts have averaged 375,000 words each. I'll make this shorter, I promise.

Now that I've lost interest in fantasy baseball, I've started to play "fantasy energy". It's the game where you refresh business sites all day in-between fits of "work" and check out the price of crude oil.

Yesterday Albert Pujols went 4-for-4, but perhaps more importantly to the world economy, oil hit $140 and has jumped it by quite a bit this morning.

My fantasy team, "$200 or Bust", is doing well in the fantasy energy standings these days. So well that I'm daydreaming about things like huge solar farms (like this one in Portugal) sprinkled around Albuquerque, funded through shares sold to green-conscious electrical consumers who pay into the program and get free electricity that can then be used to run houses and charge totally electric cars (not stupid hybrids) with tires made of non-petroleum-based natural fibers (maybe hemp).

I did mention it was "fantasy energy", didn't I?

Alright, time for a daydreamed-filled long bike ride. Have a good weekend, everybody.

And for those seasonably unemployed teachers out there who don't even notice the difference between "weekday" and "weekend" during Summer, let's do some great acting and pretend we even know the difference between Friday evening and Tuesday morning at this point.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Time-Wasting Un-Standardized Test Concerning Wasted Time

It's quiz time here at Burque Babble! Now that I think about it, it's the first quiz we've ever had around here. I'm tingly with excitement, or maybe that's the just all the French Roast I've had this morning (my wife makes it ridiculously "I lived in France for a year" strong coffee).

Here's how it works: Below will be some "information" copy/pasted from a website I'll tell you about later; further below that will be a gap of indeterminate screen inches; and then, finally, after more screen inches, the answer to today's quiz will be shown along with a brief overly long explanation on how the quiz data supposedly relates to global warming, energy prices, my life, the key to everything and thanks for all the fish.

Ready? Let's play....

2008-06-25: Scheduled: 3:55 pm Actual: 9:35 pm Delay: 340 minutes

2008-06-24: Scheduled: 3:55 pm Actual: 10:18 pm Delay: 383 minutes

2008-06-23: Scheduled: 3:55 pm Actual: 9:25 pm Delay: 330 minutes

2008-06-22: Scheduled: 3:55 pm Actual: 8:05 pm Delay: 250 minutes

2008-06-21: Scheduled: 3:55 pm Actual: 7:28 pm Delay: 213 minutes

2008-06-20: Scheduled: 3:55 pm Actual: 8:49 pm Delay: 294 minutes

2008-06-19: Scheduled: 3:55 pm Actual: 7:49 pm Delay: 234 minutes

2008-06-18: Scheduled: 3:55 pm Actual: 9:12 pm Delay: 317 minutes

2008-06-17: Scheduled: 3:55 pm Actual: 9:40 pm Delay: 345 minutes

2008-06-16: Scheduled: 3:55 pm Actual: 7:14 pm Delay: 199 minutes

2008-06-15: Scheduled: 3:55 pm Actual: 6:08 pm Delay: 133 minutes

2008-06-14: Scheduled: 3:55 pm Actual: 7:20 pm Delay: 205 minutes

2008-06-13: Scheduled: 3:55 pm Actual: 5:11 pm Delay: 76 minutes

Okay, to what does the above information pertain? (Now comes the blank screen inches....)

Geez, it's kinda hard to figure out how much blank space to put here. What is your screen resolution set at? I'm kinda hoping you're almost blind, like me, and it's 640x480 or something gigantic. Anyway, here comes a bit more blank space....

******Caution: Quiz Answer Below*******

Answer: The above data is the scheduled/actual arrival time of the Amtrak Southwest Chief (Train #3) into Albuquerque, New Mexico over the last two weeks. I found this data because your humble blogger is taking (well hopes to take) a wacky train trip from ABQ to Portland via Los Angeles next week. That's 50 hours of train folks (and nope, I'm not paying the exorbitant price of a sleeper car). And yes, you're reading correctly that the Chief has been arriving into ABQ an average of 255 MINUTES LATE the last two weeks.

If you correctly guessed the answer without cheating (e.g., Googling or skipping the all-important blank space) you win...uh...your prize is....uh, how about a FREE SUBSCRIPTION TO BURQUE BABBLE! What a great idea! A free, transferable cards are available. Seriously, if someone comments and says they got the answer fair & square I/we'll think of something (but I promise it will be cheap and marginally exciting).

Here is the spiffy website where I got this information, and now my feeble attempt to explain why I think this might be important:

  • We all know Amtrak is underfunded, and it's common knowledge the train is ALWAYS LATE, but in doing some research I found the whole ALWAYS LATE thing to be somewhat untrue. While U.S. trains aren't as down to the minute reliable as some European (e.g. Germany) trains, by and large most of the time the discrepancy are like 20 minutes late, 10 minutes early, 40 minutes late, 30 minutes late. That sort of thing, which, if you think about it, is pretty much identical to plane travel circa-2008.
  • There are exceptions (like this 255 minutes on average thing), and much of the well-discussed outrageous lateness is due to the fact Amtrak has been funded like the "Sunshine Committee" at a school full of bitter, burned-out teachers (sorry, slight in-joke there). In other words: Amtrak is funded pathetically.
  • Now, lo and behold, the price of gasoline/diesel has skyrocketed. Amtrak ridership is zooming to an all-time high. This has also been helped by the fact that today's airplane travel has all the comfort and ambiance of walking down a street in Kandahar, Afghanistan wearing an "All You Fundamentalist Muslims Suck" t-shirt.
  • Unlike travel through the air, travel along the ground has pitfalls. One of these is flooding, and that's the simple reason the Southwest Chief has been 255 minutes late on average the last two weeks. Flooding in the Midwest altogether stopped train service between Chicago and Kansas City for a number of days. That service just started back up again in the last day or two.
  • Now comes the Grand Unification Theory aspect of all this: The reason the Southwest Chief is STILL massively late to Albuquerque despite the receding of the Midwest floodwaters is that the system is clogged with all these freight trains trying to catch up with delivery of all the stuff they were supposed to be delivering when the floods came and prevented them from getting to Chicago, etc.
  • If you've ever seen the movie "Trading Places" with Eddie Murphy & Dan Ackroyd, this is the "I ain't gonna have no money to buy my son the G.I. Joe with the kung-fu grip" moment...
  • In other words: a pitifully underfunded, largely forgotten Amtrak suddenly becomes popular, but it's already laughable service is further "derailed" by the fact the U.S. rail system thinks of freight over people and isn't even prepared to offer a level of human customer service on par with the terrible, awful, beyond unendurable 2008 airline industry, so those Americans "smart" enough to make the switch from air to rail are immediately discouraged (even if part of the rationale to take the train in the first place was the fact that airline travel has a much bigger carbon footprint than trains), and get so pissed off that they are in a quandary of whether to even bother with the stupid train and start looking up last-minute plane deals to Portland because there is no way in Hell the Southwest Chief is going to get to Los Angeles before the train from LA to Portland leaves, which means your humble blogger would be forced to "catch up" with the northbound train (which does not wait for the Southwest Chief) by getting off the train at Barstow in the middle of the night, taking a bus to Bakersfield and another train from there to Sacramento, thus missing all the outrageously beautiful coastline scenery of the ride between LA and San Luis Obispo which was the biggest reason to take the goddamn train to begin with.
I hope you enjoyed today's quiz. Somehow it kinda degenerated there. I don't know if we'll have another quiz at Burque Babble anytime soon. I'm going to investigate buying a new phone now, as the last phone was smashed against the wall during a call to Amtrak at 1-800-USA-RAIL. ALL ABOARD!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I Need a New Drug, One That Won't Get Me Shot

When George Terrazas was mugged at gunpoint in this Mexican border city several months ago, he vowed never to return.
That, however, was before gasoline hit $4 a gallon in his hometown, El Paso, just across the border.
--Adam B. Ellick, "Low Mexican Gas Prices Draw Americans", New York Times, 6/25/08
Cue American "it is my sacred right to have relatively inexpensive gasoline" hilarity and hijinks. This article is so funny I really should just copy/paste the entire thing, but I really shouldn't do that because it's unethical and all, and besides I trust you, dear remaining Burque Babble readers, will have the requisite energy to click on the link to the article. (rr) And, no offense to Mr. Terrazas, the accompanying picture is just so utterly perfect!

Now that's funny stuff. Running a close second is the tagline I ran across at yesterday:
Thanks for making us the Southwest's #1 political blog.
I've been a very good boy for quite some time now, fulfilling my vow never to visit again, but my Summer ennui got the best of me. Plus, you know, the 2008 election is only about 133 days away. And who can resist the "Southwest's #1 political blog"? That's right...nobody.

Anyway, I'd like to thank my loyal readers for making Burque Babble the Southwest's #741 political blog, just between "North Valley Knitters for McCain" and "Nob Hillers Who Can't Let Ron Paul Go". I just hope and pray and hope some more that, with your help, I can break into the top 600 by Election Day. Forget about me...that would mean so much to you..I know.

I wonder what criteria Mr. Monahan is using to self-determine "#1". Must be "number of haphazardly placed and visually distorted campaign ads on website". If so, Joe's got us all beat, forever by infinity.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Higher Priced Fuel and Lowering Balloons: A Rambling Media Analysis

Gas is basically $4.00 a gallon. Only two more dollars to go until my dream goal of six bucks.

I'd like to thank the Albuquerque Journal's John Fleck for being just about the only sane person on the planet. I don't know Mr. Fleck (I think I saw him once from a distance), but his continuing stories and outreach on the impact of dramatically higher gas prices is ahead of a dull, myopic journalistic curve, it seems to me. I can also see his lead being followed by others at the Journal now with stories on how higher diesel prices are impacting school buses and APS.

As an aside, I just want to point out that the Journal website is still the worst website in the history of websites. I did a bit of looking around at newspaper sites with similar circulation (take Columbia, South Carolina for instance) and could not find one 1/1,000th as lousy as And no, it's not simply because of the "pay or loud, bizarrely colored IT'Z Pizza ad" thing. Although that really sucks, and might even suck more than the "guy in robe eating fruit loops attacked by ABQ Journal sports staff" ad that ran for like 43 months in a row.

Currently, and for some time now, a significant portion of the Journal page has been taken up with a "Comic Strip Shootout" in which readers are supposed to weigh in on whether they prefer "Hi and Lois" or "Get Fuzzy". "Hi and Lois"? "Hi and Lois" is to "Internet" as "Papyrus" is to "Amazon Kindle". It so perfectly fits the Journal page that it devotes several inches to a comic strip with a 1954 sensibility.

But I digress.

Having crossed its 1981 high (adjusted for inflation), gas/diesel prices have thrown us into a scary new world here. Or, if you're like me and have a perverse fascination with the human reaction to wildly changing stimuli, a rather interesting situation. Yes, I know higher fuel prices will have a horrible impact. I'm especially concerned about the impact higher fuel prices will have on the abject poor in "third world countries".

Still, this is a problem (fossil fuel addiction) that we humans should have dealt with a long, long time ago. And now that "developing" countries like China & India are moving up in the hydrocarbon world there's certainly no time like the present to have us some six dollar a gallon gasoline. Make diesel seven bucks...why not?

But in my rather obsessive perusal of news sources, both 'Net and otherwise, I just don't see an amount of news coverage on the subject commensurate with the impact 4/5/6 buck gasoline is going to have both here and abroad. Sure, there's coverage of the price itself, and little interviews with SUV owner Jimbo and how mad he is that it costs $2.7 million to fill up his gas tank. We see dutiful coverage of politicians inadequate knee-jerk reactions that drilling in ANWR or offshore is gonna solve the problem.

What we don't see enough of is thorough analysis of what this is going to mean across the board. Not to pick on the Journal, but let's take another seemingly unrelated Journal story about a parcel of land in the North Valley. Feudal Prince Marty Chavez has decided the best way to handle the fight between balloon fiesta folks, local activists and developers in regards to 22 acres along Osuna N.E. is to make a Solomonic decision in which almost 17 acres will be left for balloons to land on, with around five acres for "a coffee shop, restaurant or similar development directly along Osuna".

Now as the Journal story points out, pretty much nobody is happy about FP Marty's decision. But I want to look past the decision itself, and even past my own, well-documented, hatred of the Balloon Fiesta. Instead, let's think about it in terms of gasoline at four/five/six bucks a gallon. First, higher gas prices will have a negative impact on the Balloon Fiesta. The story itself relates the following point:

Balloon Fiesta leaders, however, had urged the mayor to purchase the whole property without allowing commercial development. In a letter to the city in April, the group said fewer pilots were applying for the fiesta because of the lack of landing sites.
But fewer people are going to care about "landing sites" when gas is $4.50 a gallon and Bill and Daisy Munsterman from Montevideo, Minnesota have to spend $3,000 to keep filling their hyper gas-guzzling one mile per gallon RV to make the 1,700 mile drive down to ABQ to see the friggin' Balloon Fiesta in the first place. Attendance by restaurant-attending, hotel room-using out-of-towners at the Balloon Fiesta is going to drop. It's even highly likely the number of balloonists will drop. Dropping attendance and number of balloonists mean...well for one thing it means we might not have quite as much need for 17 acres of choice balloon-landing real estate.

Second, as gas prices continue to go up, is it going to make sense to have 17 acres of "balloon landing" space in town while surburban sprawl continues out past Ventana Ranch to God knows where? Maybe it might make more sense to build some houses on that 17 acres instead of 17 acres at the corner of Double Eagle Airport and Los Vocano #1.

And I say that as someone who lives in the South Valley, and dreads the day when the lovely 500 acre alfalfa field adjacent to our back yard is replaced with 700 econo-box houses from Centex. But at least that 500 acres is being used, growing alfalfa. What is this 17 acres going to be doing on the 350 days of the year when balloons aren't landing on it? What kind of land-use thinking is that in an age of $5 a gallon gas?

It's questions like this that dramatically higher gasoline prices raise. I'd like to see more journalistic folks (New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times included) continue the lines of inquiry John Fleck has been exploring and really examine this issue to its logical conclusions. Hell, even illogical conclusions would be better than what we're seeing now, in which far too much time is spent parroting politician-speak on whether we should drill for oil offshore or a gasoline tax holiday.

Let's get serious here. Oil is over $130 a barrel and doesn't look like it going anywhere but higher. Our current gasoline prices don't even reflect the latest price per barrel hikes yet. Instead of just trying to find new ways to feed our addiction, or put off for as long as possible the rising cost of our fossil fuel drug, we need to start planning for and implementing a post-hyrdrocarbon future as quickly as possible. Continued public education (via media, especially) about the long-term impacts is very, very important, regardless of how complex and depressing the conclusions may be. Or, for us more perverse human observer types, how terribly interesting this should all turn out.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Glad We Cleared That Up

The Defanged Lion in Winter (European Ennui/Angst Edition)

President Bush regrets his legacy as man who wanted war
The (London, no..not the one in Connecticut) Times, Online UK Edition

See! Everybody Loves Me (even Europeans!)
and All is Well! (Domestic Consumption Edition)

Bush: No regrets over Iraq invasion (U.S. Edition)

P.S.: And just so you know, The Times is a conservative/centrist paper, and not one of those wacky, dare I say it, Socialist (shudder, shudder) English rags. is, well, uh, American...

P.P.S.: What is it about Angela Merkel's shoulders that makes them irresistible to President Shrub?

The President's Early Ham-Fisted Attempt
at European Reapproachment,

Operation Backrub
: July, 2006

Thursday, June 05, 2008

There's a Moon In the Court Called Danny Moon

"I'm telling ya, I did it all for the kids. The kids I tells ya!"

And yes, this "hiatus" is off to a rough start. A commenter yesterday asked about the writing, which actually is going fairly well (thanks for asking), or at least as well as can be expected from someone with a deep commitment to laziness, inertia and procrastination, especially during the Summer months.

But then these stories keep cropping up which are not only far more interesting than any attempt to fictionalize the K-12 educational experience, but impossible to avoid mention. Or at least I think so.

Danny Moon. When your name is followed in a newspaper story with:
"scheduled to be arraigned Friday in Albuquerque on 64 charges of racketeering, fraud, embezzlement and making or permitting false public vouchers..."
that's not good.

On the other hand, a set of charges like those would probably raise the self-esteem of just about any mafia boss. I have to admit I'm kinda envious of "racketeering", when you come down to it. I go immediately to mental images of bootleg whiskey in large crates being smashed by axe-wielding policemen of Irish descent. And that's cool.

But I guess it would overall be a drag to have one's name appear in the local "paper of record" followed by:
"scheduled to be arraigned Friday in Albuquerque on 64 charges of racketeering, fraud, embezzlement and making or permitting false public vouchers..."
especially if instead of hauling around illicit hooch the charges involved running a public school. I guess we education types are held to a higher moral standard than mafiosos.

I'm not entirely sure I'm happy about that.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Criminy, Teresa Córdova Too?

In my terribly obsessive continual refreshing of results in the Pearce/Wilson race last night (I suddenly became like the biggest Steve Pearce fanatic of all time, as I discovered a deep well of loathing for Wilson...a well of near-limitless depth I had never really noticed until about 10 o'clock last night. Or maybe it was when she made that sleazy "Pete is endorsing me" faux-disclosure at the Sandia Casino debate late last week.) I totally overlooked the Córdova/de la Cruz (and mysterious other guy Andrew Leo Lopez) race in County Commission #2.

I so assumed
Córdova was going to win that I didn't even look that far down the ballot last night and now I find out de la Cruz won. Wow, last night really was interesting. Now I know some folks quite like Córdova, and I realize I put too emphasis on her capitulation on the Walmart within view of my SV home, but she just bugs me as one of those people you think is going to be effective and cool and all that, but when push comes to shove just gets shoved.

Not to mention the whole "Gradegate" brouhaha. Anytime someone gets on TV to complain about excessive media coverage, I am reminded of all those athletes complaining about ending up in jail after getting involved in bar fights at two in the morning. Getting drunk and staggering around the parking lot at Billy's Long Bar yelling obscenities is pretty much how
Córdova handled "Gradegate".

See ya Teresa. Oh, and by the way, I noticed that "Gradegate" alum Elsy Fierro has a new job as principal at Marie Hughes Elementary (caution, the link sends you to the APS website...a place from which many have ventured, but damn few return alive).

You really can't make this stuff up, folks. Trust me, I'm trying.