Thursday, September 28, 2006

 

Natural Pool















On a day trip to Chitchen Itza, Mexico last week we stopped by for a swim in a natrual pool that formed in a sinkhole. The water was pleasantly cool as it was about 50 feet below the surface where the temerature was above 100 degrees. The water is over 100 feet deep which made it safe to jump from the ledge on the right in the above photos.

Update: Yes! I did jump (see blur at left below). And so did some crazy girl shown in the photo below on the right.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

 

The flippers that flopped

While hunting for houses I have picked up on what I think are homes that were purchased for the purpose of flipping. Flipping is the purchase of a house, a quick rehab, and putting the house on the market. It has become popular enough to inspire several TV shows with original names like Flip That House and Flip This House.

Both houses are located in the Chicago neighborhood of Beverly, ZIP code 60643. The first house I noticed was priced over $400k at 1647 W. 99th St when I first saw it in the spring. The price started coming down in the spring and was quickly reduced from $369k to its current price of $349k in a matter of weeks where it has been for at least 6 weeks. The reason I think it is a flip is that it closed on 3/18/06 at $242.5k. As you can see from the photos, it is rather empty. So you have a house that was purchased and put on the market in a matter of weeks. It is put on the market much higher price then the price comes down rather quickly. Smells like a flip to me.

My next candidate actually was tipped to me by my mother who was given this piece of information over dinner by one of the ladies in the neighborhood. 10301 S. Leavitt shows up as closed on only two months ago. They bought at $345k and are asking $367.5k. I don't know if this matchs what they put into remodelling or even if there was any rehab. But it seems to me that whoever tried this flip just wants out. Fast.

It seems obvious to me that the first people to blink in the giant game of chicken between home buyers and sellers will be the flippers who are accruing financing costs. The flippers of 10301 S. Leavitt either recognize the market has changed or they are severely under capitalized. I will be watching them closely.

Here is a resident of Houstan's humorous video about flippers who are under water in his city.

This site is a chronicle of flipping disasters in Sacramento.

For people who need to sell a house there is nothing funny about a market in which housing buyers are sitting on their hands. What I think we can learn from watching these type of sellers is when the down market will begin in earnest; which it hasn't yet in Chicago. Also, I think we will get a good sense of the peak in the market and, perhaps, the extent of the bear market in housing. These people bought at the top and they are very motivated sellers. Others who might want to sell for less pressing reasons will hold out longer, and probably sell at lower prices. When these flippers find buyers you should mark those prices and the percentage declines as a ceiling. I doubt that prices will reach those levels for many years.

Update:

Aug. new home sales came in much stronger than expected while durable goods orders came in much weaker than expected. Th news on durable goods in consistent with a weakening economy and the higher new home sales figure seems to have been driven by falling prices.

That glut of homes for sale helped push median price of a new home in August to $237,000, which was down 1.3 percent from the price level a year earlier. A National Association of Realtors report Monday said the price of existing home sales in August fell from year-earlier levels, the first year-over-year decline in that key price measure in more than 11 years. But new home sales prices have had some months when it posted a year-over-year decline recently. [Emphasis added.]


So price declines have started. Now we get to see how far this will go, how much lower prices will decrease the record number of housing inventory.

 

Global Warming: What's Hot and Retro Cool!

I'm skeptical but open for debate.

Drudge had a headline on a speech (highlights here) given on the Senate floor by Sen. James Inhofe. I read the speech in full and agree with Inhofe's point:

Above all, the media must roll back this mantra that there is scientific “consensus” of impending climatic doom as an excuse to ignore recent science. After all, there was a so-called scientific “consensus” that there were nine planets in our solar system until Pluto was recently demoted.

Breaking the cycles of media hysteria will not be easy since hysteria sells -- it’s very profitable. But I want to challenge the news media to reverse course and report on the objective science of climate change, to stop ignoring legitimate voices this scientific debate and to stop acting as a vehicle for unsubstantiated hype.
Currently it seems cool to promote the notion that global warming is caused by humans and is a serious danger. There is not much thought or debate to be had, maybe just a few questionable statistics spewed forth.

As far as what's hot, what's not and what is retro cool, here are some media headlines Inhofe mentioned from Time Magazine:

“As they review the bizarre and unpredictable weather pattern of the past several years, a growing number of scientists are beginning to suspect that many seemingly contradictory meteorological fluctuations are actually part of a global climatic upheaval.”

That would be a 1974 warning of a coming ice age.

But that was cool then, not now. Here's what is hot:

“[Those] who claim that winters were harder when they were boys are quite right… weathermen have no doubt that the world at least for the time being is growing warmer.”

No that is not just hot now, it's also retro cool! Retro as in from Jan. 2, 1939 as Inhofe notes:

Yes, in 1939. Nine years before Vice President Gore was born and over three decades before Time Magazine began hyping a coming ice age and almost five decades before they returned to hyping global warming.

But...

“What if you are wrong to doubt the dire global warming predictions? Will you be able to live with yourself for opposing the Kyoto Protocol?”

My answer is blunt. The history of the modern environmental movement is chock full of predictions of doom that never came true. We have all heard the dire predictions about the threat of overpopulation, resource scarcity, mass starvation, and the projected death of our oceans. None of these predictions came true, yet it never stopped the doomsayers from continuing to predict a dire environmental future.


 

The Ball Court at Chichen Itza


The above photo is of one of the side walls to the Ball Court located at the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, Mexico. You can see the goal high up on the wall. To win the game played on this field you had to get the ball through that hoop. It didn't look that easy though I don't know how big a ball they used. The catch was that you could only use your elbows, wrists, and hips! That made it seem almost impossible especially if there was any defense involved.

The games could last a long time and were very intesne. The losers were beheaded though possibly that fate was just for the captain. What is unknown is who was considered the loser. Since sacrifice was an honor it is not known weather the winner won the right to be sacrificed and thus got his head cut off or weather the winner beheaded the loser.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

 

Riviera Maya (Cancun), Mexico

Two margaritas, coming right up!

I had never stayed at an all inclusive resort before but had a great experience last week. All food and drinks were included with the flight and hotel in one reasonable price - very convenient.

Depending on what your looking for I would highly recommend the Iberostar resort I stayed at and especially this time of year. September is the slowest month due to kids being back in school and the hurricane season (insurance was cheap and allows you to cancel at any time so there was no real risk involved). I'd estimate that the resort was less than 10% capacity which meant we had the place all to ourselves. That's perfect for a honeymoon but not good if you are single and looking for some mingling and an exciting night life. But for that the Iberostar had plenty to offer during busy season.

We enjoyed the huge pools and swim up bar featured in the photo above. The weather was in the 90's every day and perfect for swimming.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

 

Big news




In this pictogram. Can you write this message in a sentence?

 

Destination Recession

A wild and wooly trip on the road to financial oblivion. (How's that for hyperbolic writing?)

The bursting bubble hits the "upscale suburb" of Downers Grove.

Take this property in Downers Grove, an upscale community about 20 miles west of Chicago. Downers Grove has an average home price of $532,000. This house is priced at $409,900, well below the average.

Home appreciation was 10% in 2005 and has been steadily moving upwards since 2000.

These sellers never saw that 10%. They bought in 2004 for $393,000. They will, after paying realtors fees, lose money. Even if they got their full listing price now (it has already been reduced once from $423,900) they would already be in the hole $3,000 after realtor fees. And who is paying full asking price these days?

This is not an isolated case. Just down the street from the Downers Grove house is second home at 1411 35th Street that was also bought two years ago but for $390,000 and is on the market for $439,000. They may actually make a profit. But with all the tales of riches and people making $200,000 in only a few years, what is $10,000? Better than a loss, but hardly any consolation.

The housing market downturn has only just begun. If these sellers are already selling for losses, what will happen when the market turns really bearish? Sellers may have to come to the closing table with thousands in cash just to close the deal.

Crude oil down over 20% in two months. The culprit seems to be weakening global demand.

Fall is traditionally the peak delivery season for the diesel-thirsty trucking industry, but Wall Street analysts have warned in recent weeks that shipping volumes are not robust. The U.S. airline industry has also retrenched in the face of decreasing passenger traffic, according to data maintained by the Air Transport Association.

The latest Energy Department data showed distillate fuel inventories growing by 4.1 million barrels last week to 148.7 million barrels, or more than 11 percent above year ago levels. Gasoline inventories increased by 600,000 barrels to 207.6 million barrels, or 6 percent above year ago levels.

Crude oil inventories declined by 2.8 million barrels to 324.9 million barrels _ but that's still 5 percent more than last year and well above the five-year average for this time of year.

Light sweet crude for October delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell $1.20 to settle at $60.46 a barrel _ the lowest close since March 20.

Bait and switch mortgage lenders. Not really a recession article per se. More like a change in psychology. When the housing boom turned bust people will look to blame someone. Not to imply that these people are blameless, more that people will notice malfeasance when they are hurting.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

 

August 2006 U.S. Housing Starts and PPI

According to the service I use for economic numbers housing starts were expected down 2.5%. It just came in at -6.0%. Also, the core (minus food and energy) producer price index was expected to be +0.2% came in at -0.4%. Both numbers indicate deflation and a weak economy.

The stock and debt markets initial reaction was to rally. I guess if you take what you want out of this news there are reasons for this. Weak economic news and low inflation is bullish for debt. No inflation means the Fed won't be raising rates so stocks rally. It is the same scenario I discussed before. The stock market is driven by the performance of competing assets. In the long run you still need an economy to grow so that companies make profits but that doesn't seem to be what is on the mind of the stock market today. Who ever said this thing was rational? More later.

Update 11.38 am:

Stocks have turned lower. I guess traders actually thought about the implications of what a crashing housing market means; stupid traders. I shouldn't say crashing. Housing starts have a long way to go before they reach levels seen at during past recessions.

Monday, September 18, 2006

 

Satirical look at the British housing bubble

Nananana, na, nananana, na...na, you're gonna craaaa-aash.

 

Toxic Mortgages

Below are two articles highlighting the risks involved in new types of mortgages which allow for a lot of flexibility in financing home purchases. Many people are complaining about mortgages which reset to a higher rate but I am skeptical. Most of those who took on the risk were simply foolish rather than fooled. Still, there is a principle guiding those involved in investing people's money called suitability. Simply put- widows and orphans don't own oil wells. Do mortgage brokers owe mortgagees similar protection against their natures. Apparently not but I would not be surprised to see this in the future and that would not be a bad thing, in my mind. Of course that means as the housing market craters there will be fewer options for financing housing but that is the nature of our credit regulating authorities: taking the punchbowl away the night after the party.

MSN Article.

Business week.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

 

Air America: Bankrupt but Strong
















Breath in the nutrooty goodness.

Air America Radio will announce a major restructuring on Friday, which is expected to include a bankruptcy filing, three independent sources have told ThinkProgress.

Air America could remain on the air under the deal, but significant personnel changes are already in the works. Sources say five Air America employees were laid off yesterday and were told there would be no severance without capital infusion or bankruptcy. Also, Air America has ended its relationship with host Jerry Springer.



Good work Karl!

Update:

Radio Equalizer has the scoop as is a little miffed he didn't not get any link love from Drudge. Can't blame him since he has been all over Air America's troubles.

The DU'ers are starting to eat their own. Must be a bitch having to sacrifice so many comrades to keep up the conspriracies alive.

Its the hosts fault AAR isn't working
I don't know what Al Franken is doing going around like some
ambassador for liberals (with a big head to match) on the star trip.

Being pro-war isn't progressive. Neither is ignoring election fraud.
Him and Randi is the cause IMO, and Ed.

His show in so inffective in smashing the flying monkey right it
is just like listening to PBS or NPR total snooze fest. I do like
the parts with Tom Oliphant who is a real brain and a good writer.

I was dismayed to find out, that AAR can't stomach the slightest
criticism. I used to send little emails telling them "hey Randi always
interupts the callers, she too mean to them" or "why do you always
cut off the callers or talk over your guest before they made their point?"

They showed no character, in fact, retaliated against me for saying that.

Really poor interviewing skills, bad questions etc. Even when a Senator
or Congressman came on, Randi would go on a big diatribe instead of asking a question and letting them answer.

That is bad radio, letting the host go on and on and making everything
about YOU.(listening Al?)

Who died and made Al Franken, God?

Get over yourself Al, AAR is at the bottom of every market, according to the spring 06 Arbitrons, and it ain't because of Mike Malloy!

AAR isn't at the bottom because of the progressives, its because you and your boring CFR/DLC terror conversations on Iraq on how to get control of the country and capture Zarqawi.

This is progressive radio, not some DC think tank segment on PBS or
Charlie Rose for gods sake!

DU'er analysis--> Air America hosts not bats*** crazy enough.

 

Loose Change vs. Popular Mechanics

Premier moonbat 9/11 conspiracy theorists take the debunkers from Popular Mechanics on Democracy NOW!. Amy Goodman sure looks uncomfortable giving these petulant children a forum. At least she did us the service of putting these two points of view face to face. (Via Instapundit.)

Now that you are done laughing/shaking your head in disbelief. Read about Code Pink and our injured troops at Walter Reed. Angry now?

What I got out of this is that arguing with crazy people is fruitless but, at times, necessary. How else to counter their arguments? They will take our silence as acquiescence.

Monday, September 11, 2006

 

Multitasking


With a wireless keyboard and mouse I can accomplish a lot from the comfort of my living room couch. The HD monitor pictured above is the Westinghouse discussed here before. So far I consider it a good purchase. I just wish I had more HD programs, especially sports. I'm sure that will change in time.

The only issue I have with it so far is the remote. It does not have a swap button for the picture in picture feature and the monitor is slow to respond to the remote.

 

Chicago Housing Inventory plus House Hunting Experiences

I ran across a some interesting figures while reading through the copious amount of information at the Housing Bubble Blog.

Called Housing Tracker, you are given housing inventories plus 25th, 50th (Median), and 75th percentiles of housing prices and housing inventories.

What is HousingTracker: HousingTracker is an attempt to gain a more realtime understanding of the national housing market. For the most part, all we have to rely on the quarterly Realtor reports to get a sense of how the last quarter played out. HousingTracker data is compiled weekly from MLS listings which contains asking prices as opposed to the Realtor reported sale prices. HousingTracker gives you the 25th percentile, 50th percentile, and 75th percentile asking price for the metro areas covered. Additionally, the number of homes for sale (Inventory) for the metro area is reported.


I have no idea where they get the inventory numbers but I assume it is compiled from the MLS. The second set is from a larger set of data. The Chicago statistical metropolitain area which goes out well beyond the boundaries of Cook county. Both sets convey the same message: increased inventories and stagnant prices.

On the house hunting front my wife and I went to an open house in Evergreen Park to give us a chance to see what we could get with our money. The house we were going to look at was on Realtor.com (9400 S. Albany) and the agent specified she would be there from 1 pm to 4 pm. We arrived at 3.10 pm and there was no one in sight. I took it as a sign that the housing market is very weak. ;-) Fortunately there was another open house down the street at 9336 S. Albany so we went to look at a that. The house was one of three new houses lined up with each other one of which was occupied; the floor plan is not on that link. The person at the open house worked for the company that built the house and they were asking $370k. They were nice but they are the most expensive homes on the block and if it isn't a real estate rule it should be- never buy the most expensive home on the block.

After this I decided to drive by a house that I had liked mainly because it had a inground pool in the backyard. It just happened that the agent for the house was there for an open house. He showed us around a little and gave us agent speak for the fact that the price was negotiable. "The seller has moved so he is highly motivated to sell." I said we weren't thinking of buying until next spring which is sort of true. Actually, I want to wait until signs that prices are at least 20% lower and that prices have stabilized and inventories shrunk. But my wife has a say and a new addition to the family might change our plans. By the way, I am not hinting at anything. About the house at 10115 S. Turner: it needed renovation. Tacky carpeting all over, old wall paper, and the major bathroom which was very small and old. My attitude is that I would never pay close to $300k in Evergreen Park for a house that needed a lot of work. Plus the pool in the backyard took up the entire area. There was barely enough room to set up a grill and chairs. We decided a pool was not a good use of space. When we were leaving I told the agent that I was happy that we were lucky to be shopping for homes in a buyers market and he invoked the spirit of bubble markets with bidding wars so that we wouldn't wait too long and lose this opportunity. Yeah, I'll take the chance that the bubble doesn't return next year.

While hunting online I came across a great real estate website. You do have to register but it has many great features. A stylized street map upon which listed houses are placed. When you pass the mouse over a house a picture of the house appears with the number of bedrooms and price. A quick way to access the offerings in a particular area. Also, you can easily move from one area to another, many of the houses listed have photos and/or virtual tours, you can easily pull up a satellite map from google of a particular house, and search for housing based on features, recent listing, etc. The interface is not extremely easy to figure out but it is worth the effort. We found a wonderful house, which I will keep to ourselves, and we are thinking about seeing it next weekend. However, as I learned, it is a bad idea to get too excited about pictures before you actually visit the place. The one thing my wife and I have taken from all of this is that we now have a good idea of what we both want and that should make finding a mutually satisfying place much easier.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

 

The Housing Bubble Blog

There isn't much to say about this blog that isn't said by the name. It aggregates all housing bubble stories from across the nation and like I've said before, "It used to be difficult to find stories about the end of the housing boom. Now they appear on a regular basis."

Lots of good news if you are hoping to buy.

 

Hicks vs. Yuppies

Justice.

Friday, September 08, 2006

 

"What are we protecting you from? A wrong cheeseburger."

Hahahaha.

Listen to the whole thing.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

 

America Weakly

A look at the future Democratic majority. (Via HotAir.)


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

 

Sincere Crocodile Tears

I'm saddened by the loss of Steve Irwin.

I watched many of his Croc Hunter shows on Animal Planet and learned a great deal from them. They had an impact on my awareness and interest in animals and nature. After his show became popular he began to target a younger audience and I found the bells and whistles added to his nature footage to be a little too much for me. But I still liked to hear him speak on various forms of wildlife.

Despite his hands on approach to nature I didn't find his actions to be quite as dangerous as they appeared because of his knowledge of the situation. For this I am curious to know what he was doing prior to his being struck by a stingray. I've seen Irwin approach a snake and announce to the camera that this particular species can strike a distance of up to half its body length so he then knows how far to keep clear of it's fangs. This does leave him in danger if he missteps but it is a careful calculation on his part.

The statistics I've heard quoted suggest that stingray strikes rarely cause death. The difference in Irwin's unfortunate situation was that the tail or barb of the stingray struck him in the chest and pierced his heart with a venomous blow. He may very well have mentioned the striking distance and capabilities of the stingray before he approached. Regardless, it appears from the reports of the incident that strike caught everyone by surprise and that was a big factor in the risks Irwin took when interacting with wildlife. He always knew the species' general behavior tendencies before approaching and he would act accordingly. I'm not sure what he was thinking prior to approaching the stingray and I'm sad to see he wont be able to share any more of his thoughts and experiences with his audience.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

 

Vast Oil Pool Tapped in Gulf of Mexico

October September Surprise?

And you know what this means. We will be using oil for a long, long time. I bet Dick Cheney is behind this.

Chevron on Tuesday estimated the 300-square-mile region where its test well sits could hold between 3 billion and 15 billion barrels of oil and natural gas liquids. The U.S. consumes roughly 5.7 billion barrels of crude-oil in a year.

Friday, September 01, 2006

 

Hunters of Dune

Of my G_d is this going to suck.

I genuinely enjoyed the collaboration of Brian Herbert, Frank's son, and Kevin Anderson with the 3 Dune prequels. Ok, the last one was a little overwrought trying to create action where none was needed. I had high hopes for the next set of books concerning the Butlerian Jihad and found the first book enjoyable, the second plodding, and the third a joyless trudge to see how imaginatively they could tie everything together; the answer was not very, the end felt like they got tired of writing.

Now we have the long promised sequel to Chapterhouse: Dune and it looks like Herbert and Anderson are trying real hard to bombard the reader with everything for which the Dune books have been known.

Spoiler Alert:

Fleeing CHAPTERHOUSE and the deadly Honored Matres, the darker side of the all female Bene Geserit, the vessel Ithaca sails into uncharted regions of the galaxy with a crew and led by Mother Commander Murabella and 150 mostly frightened exiles. At any point on this dangerous trek, the Mother Commander and her former love slave Duncan know that the known enemy could overtake them with death being the better option. Worse would be if the unknown invincible foe of who has the Honored Matres on the run catches up with the Ithaca. However, as the trek to safety continues Murabella finds some of her passengers have other plans for her and those accompanying her. She must unmask the enemy from within who has caused havoc with violence and murder on board.--------------------- At the same time, Murabella and company struggle to survive by using genetics to bring back long dead heroes, the Omnuis of the Synchronized Empire has managed to gain access to the Honored Matres from the inside they plan to devastate the powerful sect. Also the Face Dancer plans to end man’s reign with a race of machines taking over as the acme of sentient beings. Finally the unknown enemy intends to destroy everyone and everything. The galaxy is teetering on the eve of destruction.------------------ Though somewhat overblown, the first Dune novel in two decades is a fun entry that fans of the series will appreciate as the galaxy is in trouble from conflicting factions. The story line is action-packed though somewhat complex and hard to follow as the galaxy is crowded with contenders. Still this is a fine entry that adds to the mythos while paying tribute to its tribute to its founding father as the scientific techno concerns involving genetic engineering that Frank Herbert voiced years ago seems so valid now.--------------- Harriet Klausner


I don't know if this review is valid. Misspelling Bene Gesserit and Omnius give me pause. If it is true is seems like the authors are trying to throw together a goulash of characters and aspects from all over the Dune universe. That could spell a lot of confusion. Frank Herbert had a good habit of not beating a story line to death by periodically jumping into the future leaving some of the past unexplained or to the mind of the reader. Young Herbert and Anderson have felt compelled to explain everything, to untie every knot, often with incredibly fantastic explanations which do not jibe with the tenor of the original Dune novels. For non-Frank Herbert fans the best way I can describe his style is to compare it to the Godfather movies. (Sorry, I didn't read the books.) He managed to weave tales of intrigue which kept you wondering how the protagonist would escape their fate, even if that were possible which it often wasn't because their fate was preordained, without giving away enough for the reader to guess the outcome. Herbert and Anderson were constrained by writing prequels in which the reader knew the broad outline of the future but not the details. Still, they did at times surprise us with imaginative denouement. My other great complaint is that the characters were often to cookie cutter good and evil. Even when a character slide from good to bad but remorseful you could see it coming from a mile away. Frank Herbert's characterizations were not that simple. You wanted to root for Muad'dib but you were not sure that his vision of the future was the best for humanity. And perceived bad characters or groups could become good. the Bene Gesserit for example.

Of course I will buy this book because I want to know where they are taking the Dune franchise. The hook for me is that the outline of the story comes from Frank Herbert. That is why I sincerely hope the above posted review is full of it. Harriet Klausner, damn you.

More reviews from Amazon. Doesn't look good.

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