Warren Buffett adopts the Chinese-made house idea (almost)

A month ago the idea of Chinese-made houses, sold at the back of Walmart, was put forth in this Weblog and met with mixed reviews.  According to today’s New York Times, Warren Buffett’s company has just shelled out $17 billion for a company that builds houses in factories (albeit the factories seem to be in the U.S. but they could easily move to China soon enough).

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Can SUVs remain fashionable when only unfashionable people drive them?

Speaking of SUVs… (see below), at a recent gathering in suburban New Jersey I noticed that nearly everyone else had arrived in an SUV.  The drivers were overwhelmingly middle-aged married suburbanites with children.  When one encounters a young, good-looking, city-dweller the chances are very high that he or she will be driving an inexpensive compact car of some sort.  If you see an SUV in the distance but can’t see the occupants because the glass is too heavily tinted, chances are that it is 35-year-old mom and two kids.  A Suburu sedan, by contrast, is often occupied by a young single urbanite.

How much longer can the popularity of SUVs continue?  Many of the drivers are getting so old that their fragile bones really can’t handle the stiff suspension and harsh ride over bumps (my 40th birthday is in a week and whenever I’m picked up from the airport in a BMW X5 or similar I can’t believe how little isolation is provided from potholes, etc.; it is actually more jarring than landing the DA40 at 67 knots).

So how is it that SUVs remain in fashion when 99% of the owners of SUVs are unfashionable?

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Hamas and the New York Stock Exchange

A recent story in the New York Times discusses the old story of Saudi oil money financing Palestinian terrorism.  What’s new is the revelation of the size of Hamas’s budget: $10 million per year.  Hamas is probably the world’s most successful Islamic political organization, delivering on its goals (see my Israel Essay for some quotes from their old Web site), admired by hundreds of millions of people worldwide, and a constant presence on the world’s TV screens and front pages.

By contrast, consider this story on Richard Grasso, who got his buddies on the board to pay him $140 million for his work as a manager at the New York Stock Exchange, 14 times the total annual budget for Hamas.  Hamas had to start their enterprise from scratch and develop it in the face of opposition from the heavily armed Israel Defense Forces.  Grasso inherited a #1 position in a market with little competition and a smoothly functioning organization.  Members of Hamas risk their lives every day in their efforts to kill Jews and eliminate the State of Israel.  Grasso took no personal or financial risks, only showed up every day and collected a paycheck once every two weeks.

It seems that Grasso has now resigned and the NYSE is casting about for his replacement.  Why not draft some managers from Hamas to head up the NYSE?  With a tiny percentage of the budget that Grasso required for personal walking-around money, Hamas is steadily defeating a state of 6 million people.  Imagine what these men could do for the NYSE.  The AMEX and the NASDAQ would be liquidated (perhaps literally).

[Some might take issue with the implication that Hamas is more successful than Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda.  Al-Qaeda has managed to kill more infidels, notably in the September 11, 2001 attacks, and has widespread popular support worldwide.  Hamas, however, has managed to preserve effective sovereignty in its territory while Al-Qaeda provoked a U.S. invasion, indiscriminate bombing, and the killings of many thousands of its members.]

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Real estate prices killing CD sales

Went to a party last week in Boston’s North End.  Most of the folks there were young people who work for airlines.  This is a prime demographic for the music industry.  Yet they were not playing CDs.  A tiny apartment in Boston costs $2000/month.  This has dual effects:  (1) young people have no money to buy CDs because it all goes to their landlords, and (2) young people have no space to store CDs because every square inch of their apartments is already devoted to something more essential.

Had these folks given up on music?  No!  They were paying for digital cable TV, which includes 50 channels of commercial-free music at no extra charge.  They’d hooked up their cable box to their stereo and were happily flipping among the stations.

One flight attendant, a vivacious blond Floridian, said that she had a lot of music on MP3.  She doesn’t like computers, though, and hadn’t downloaded anything from the Internet.  Her brother had a big old music collection that he had ripped onto his computer.  Periodically the brother would select some material for his sister and transfer it onto her MP3 player.

The CD celebrates its 21st anniversary this year, having been introduced in Japan in 1982.  It is tough to milk $billions in profits from a 21-year-old product that has never been improved, especially in a First World economy where things like digital cable TV are developed and marketed.  We really should give the record company executives credit for being grandly ambitious….

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Democrats committing political suicide with gun laws

Talked briefly over the weekend with Chrissy Gephardt, daughter of Democratic Presidential candidate Dick Gephardt.  She is working for her father’s campaign so I tried to offer at least one helpful suggestion:  “You dad doesn’t have a prayer unless he becomes a pro-gun Democrat.”

Why does the rabble vote Republican?  This question has been looked at in this blog before, in the posting entitled “Democrats = mediocrity; Republicans = lottery ticket”.  It might be too much to ask Democrats to give up their devotion to mediocrity and pandering to public employee unions.  But shutting up about gun laws would be a small change that would yield an enormous number of voters.

Why are gun laws so important?  Consider Johnny Paycheck.  He has no freedom of speech, at least if he wants to keep his job.  He has no freedom of action; a hierarchy of managers tells him what to do all day every day.  Johnny Paycheck has no wealth; all of his income goes for rent and payments on his SUV.  He has no pension; his retirement mutual fund is being eviscerated by managerial looting at American public companies.  Johnny spends about 40% of his income on various taxes so that rich people don’t have to pay taxes.

Why does Johnny support the Republicans then, the party of corporate looters and tax cuts for rich people?  He expects rich people and the government to take away all of his money and freedom, regardless of which party is in power.  The difference to him is that the Republicans will allow him to keep his gun, the one shred of personal dignity that he has left.  The Democrats want to take away Johnny’s gun, his last vestige of personal freedom and manhood.

Perhaps if gun laws made a difference alienating half of America’s voters might be worthwhile.  It would be nice to strip America’s underclass of their ability to perpetrate violence.  But the gun laws proposed by the election-losing Democrats are feeble pathetic measures that serve only to annoy gun nuts.

You can have a powerful semi-automatic rifle… but it can’t look exactly like a military “assault rifle”.  You can get a machine gun but you need to fill out some forms.  You can buy a pistol but unless you fill out the right forms you can only kill 5 people with it before popping in another magazine.  These then are the achievements for which the Democrats have sacrificed their relevance to American government.

Gephardt’s Web site doesn’t put the harassment of gun lovers #1 on his agenda but it is there and that is enough to lose him any election.  His charming daughter is clearly ready to follow him into politics because she managed to ignore the idea without anyone liking her less…

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Barbie is the key to everything

The Saudis have figured out that Barbie is a major cultural force (story).  An American woman a couple weeks ago was equally clued in.  We were talking about the best environments for teaching children to program computers (perhaps a questionable project these days, rather akin to teaching children other Third World skills that are irrelevant in a developed nation, e.g., soaking manioc).  She was an expert in the area and it seems that no progress has been made since Logo (1970s) and that, in any case, hardly any kids were learning anything substantial about programming.  Such kids who were doing anything with computers were mostly boys.  She observed “I hate to say this but what we really need to get girls excited about computers is a Barbie programming language.”

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fat, dumb, anti-depressed, but not happy?

Here’s a curmudgeonly article from Orion that claims that one-third of Americans are on Prozac-like antidepressants.  Yet not everyone walks around with a smile on his or her face.  Why not?  The author ascribes our malaise to spending too much time driving alone in our SUVs to Starbucks compared to Europeans who walk to gatherings with friends.

(Question for the comments section:  Do we believe this statistic that 1/3rd of us are on happy pills?)

[Wow, this sure got a lot of comments.  It does seem that the 1/3rd number is a vast overestimate (sadly for shareholders in drug companies).  Pilots at least are safe from pill-pushing shrinks because the FAA won’t allow anyone to fly who is on antidepressants (http://www.aviationmedicine.com/psych.htm).]

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