Wednesday, December 31, 2008

73,000 Store Closings Possible in First Half

This is disturbing, but at the same time, it is partly an overdue correction:

U.S. retailers face a wave of store closings, bankruptcies and takeovers starting next month as holiday sales are shaping up to be the worst in 40 years.

Retailers may close 73,000 stores in the first half of 2009, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

I was in the retail world from the late 1990's to 2001. I try to be a student of whatever business I am in, and it was no different in retail. The one thing that I always had trouble wrapping my brain around was how so many retailers felt it wise to rapidly expand all at the same time. I mean, I understood that expansion was critical to market share and new revenue while same store sales suffered, but they were moving into smaller and smaller markets that could be challenged to support their stores (while eroding business at existing stores in larger markets), and there was sooo much competitive overlap in so many areas. I've felt for a long time that we were due for a large wave of store closings as competition and poor decisions came home to roost for many retailers. I just didn't think it would be such a tsunami.

Doing It Wrong

I don't mean to make light of this with that headline, but I don't think this kid was serious, and I'll elaborate after the snippet:

One of the central figures in the 2007 Jena Six civil rights case never gave up pursuing his football career, even after his well-publicized run-ins with the law.

Mychal Bell, an 18-year-old high school running back, clung to the hope that he could earn a college football scholarship. Then came another legal scrape this Christmas Eve.

After news broke of his arrest on a shoplifting charge, Bell shot himself in the chest Monday with a .22-caliber handgun. He remained hospitalized Tuesday but police said his chest wound was not life-threatening.

"When it was broadcast that he was charged with shoplifting he just felt that the whole year had been wasted and that he had worked all of that time for nothing," said Louis Scott, who represented Bell in the case where Bell and five other black teenagers were charged in the 2006 beating of a white classmate.

Bell's grandmother, Rosie Simmons, and mother, Melissa Bell, told police that "Mychal had made comments over the past two days that, because of the current media attention he had because of the shoplifting arrest, he didn't feel like he could live anymore," Monroe Police Lt. Jeff Harris said, reading from a police report.

A lot of people threaten to commit suicide. A lot of people try and fail. Some try and succeed, but they are outnumbered by the two former. Usually, when you look at threatened and failed attempts, the thought that pops into your mind is, "they really thought that would work?" That's the vibe I get from this story.

That doesn't mean he doesn't have problems that need to be addressed. He clearly does. But deep down, I'll bet that he didn't really want to die. Those that really want to die are remarkably successful at it, and they tend not to give others the chance to save them. I hope his family gets him the help he needs, because despite his words, deep down I think this kid does want to live.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Yellowstone Gets very Quakey

Yellowstone has had 250 small earthquakes in a very short period of time.
Yellowstone National Park was jostled by a host of small earthquakes for a third straight day Monday, and scientists watched closely to see whether the more than 250 tremors were a sign of something bigger to come. Swarms of small earthquakes happen frequently in Yellowstone, but it's very unusual for so many earthquakes to happen over several days, said Robert Smith, a professor of geophysics at the University of Utah.

"They're certainly not normal," Smith said. "We haven't had earthquakes in this energy or extent in many years."

Cue supervolcano stories in The media is having a field day pumping out stories of economic calamity and personal suffering, but there is one thing they can never resist: A good ol' annihilation of man by nature story.

Christmas Regrets

A lot of people regret things during the Christmas season. For those of you that do have some holiday regrets, I'd like to cheer you up by letting you know that even our biggest Christmas icons have regrets about Christmas 2008.

Five Things Santa Regrets about Christmas 2008
5. He let the reindeer eat Taco Bell the night before the trip.
4. Violating the air space over Dick Cheney's residence the same night he gave him a new shotgun.
3. Stopping to use the bathroom at the Minneapolis airport.
2. Letting Mrs. Claus talk him into wearing the thong she gave him for their anniversary.
1. Not getting a piece of the bail out action.

Five Things Rudolph regrets about Christmas 2008
5. Hitting on Vixen at the company Christmas party.
4. Hitting on Prancer at the company Christmas party.
3. Leading the sleigh into the wind farm that cost Comet his tail.
2. Posing for the holiday spread in Playdoe.
1. That shotgun Santa gave Cheney.

Ten Ways to Welcome 2009

Since economic pessimism is overwhelming, I've decided to offer up ten ways to welcome in the new year amongst this depressing climate. Enjoy.

10. Count down your 401K.

9. As the clock strikes midnight, kiss the spouse you can't afford to divorce.

8. Instead of popping the bubbly, pop an economic bubble.

7. Go to Times Square. Avoid giving money to homeless hedge fund managers.

6. Take your beloved out to a nice, cozy dinner. New Year's Eve is a night to throw caution to the wind, so supersize it.

5. New Year's Eve is a very romantic night to get engaged. As a rule, the ring should cost two months' wages, so take your fifty cents to the quarter machine in the Kmart lobby...

4. Avoid the amateurs and stay in. Most shelters will tune in Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve on the community television if you ask nicely.

3. Ring in the new year with a romantic fire. The steel 55 gallon drum will also radiate heat to keep you warm.

2. Dance the night away. It is said that stripping is recession-proof, and you'll need the money.

1. Fire a gun in the air at midnight. At least in prison, you'll get three squares a day.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Borders Books is Toast

My wife and I are huge fans of Borders Books. It is well known in our "circle" that our favorite date ends with a trip to Borders wherein we pick out books, drink coffee, and largely ignore each other in the Cafe for an hour or two. A favorite Christmas gift of ours is a Borders gift card, but this year, we asked that family and friends not buy them for us out of nervousness inspired by the company's dire financial straights. Still, we held out hope for it. Until today.

At approximately 2 am, I received an email via my Borders Rewards membership. The subject line announced 40% off on everything because of Borders' closing. Stunning news immediately following Christmas, right? Well, there was no news of a Chapter 11 filing by the company. About ten hours later, a correction email was sent out. The deal wasn't for the closing of all Borders' stores, just one in Sacramento.

If you are a company going through very difficult times, that kind of error is inexcusable. We will still patronize Borders because we prefer its atmosphere to that of its competitor. Just the same, I think I may have to prepare the lovely Mrs. Jib for a new locale for our favorite dates because I'm not sure the company is up for the challenge that it faces.

Tom Cruise is now Cinematic Poison

I am currently curled up and watching a History Channel documentary on the the Valkyrie plot to assassinate Hitler. The movie Valkyrie, which opened this holiday weekend, should be right up my alley. But I have no desire to see it, specifically because of Tom Cruise. It looks like it could have been a good movie, but I have lost all tolerance for Tom Cruise the actor. I don't like how he acts, how he portrays characters. As such, I'm unwilling to sink my money into this movie, and will be unlikely to sink it into future Cruise films.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

I did not get around to wishing everyone a Merry Christmas before the 25th, so I'd like to take a moment now to say that I hope that you all had a very joyous Christmas, and that you all have a safe and prosperous new year.

Stalin 3rd Most Popular in Russia

Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was voted Russia's third most popular historical figure in a nationwide poll that ended on Sunday, despite the famine and purges that marked his rule.

The "Name of Russia" contest run by Rossiya state television channel over more than six months closed on Sunday night with a final vote via the Internet and mobile phones. It drew more than 50 million votes in a nation of 143 million.

I'm going to make an a poor analogy in order to offer up some scale here. Let's say we held this poll here in the United States and Jeffrey Dahmer was voted the third most popular historical figure. Appalling, right? Now, consider this-by some estimates, Stalin was responsible for 588,235 TIMES more deaths than Dahmer. Now that's beyond appalling.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Word of Wisdom to the Pro-Pot Legalization Crowd

I know that the 'legalize marijuana' crowd is passionate about their position. I know this because I've been told so by a number of them in between fists full of Cheetos. I urge them to reconsider that position, however. Why? Well, because if they love their bud so much, they should appreciate how cheap their illegal smoke is. Do you really think the government will legalize it without excising their pound of flesh via taxes? After legalization, if you want affordable pot, you'll still need to buy it illegally as the government will levy high taxes on the legal variety. Yeah, you may be able to buy pot legally, but you won't be able to afford your munchies or the cable TV that you'll want to mindlessly stare at for hours.

Get Your BAC While Jammin'

Do you love music? Do you have trouble hitting road signs and peeing on the shoulder of I-94? Maybe you need the iPod Breathalyzer:

Just when you thought the iPod accessory market had seen it all, a company called David Steele Enterprises announced the iBreath- a fully functioning FM Transmitter add-on that doubles as a digital alcohol breathalyzer. That’s right, folks- this little gizmo not only transmits your music wirelessly to your car stereo, it also tells you whether or not you’re “cool to drive.”

The word on the street is that if you blow over .08, your iPod plays I Had a Bad Day until the battery dies to punish you. If sober, it plays Why Don't We Get Drunk (and Screw).

A Twitter Confession

I once visited Twitter. I gave it an honest shot, but I hated it. To this day, I'm still not sure if my loathing resulted from the format or my crotchety, anti-technology age of 32. While this post could very well have been Twittish, I still resent the limits on my loquaciousness.

Yglesias Censure Illuminates Limits of Blogger Muscle

Matthew Yglesias wrote something that his overlords disapproved of, and they made note of it in a post at his blog:

This is Jennifer Palmieri, acting CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Most readers know that the views expressed on Matt’s blog are his own and don’t always reflect the views of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Such is the case with regard to Matt’s comments about Third Way. Our institution has partnered with Third Way on a number of important projects - including a homeland security transition project - and have a great deal of respect for their critical thinking and excellent work product. They are key leaders in the progressive movement and we look forward to working with them in the future.

This is the conundrum a lot of bloggers face. If they stay unaffiliated in an effort to exert their own editorial position, their influence will often times hit a plateau. Criticism of their allies, however justly deserved, earns them outsider status. If they join up with the establishment, their voices can reach new heights. Unfortunately, their ability to criticize 'allies' becomes muted, and thus their true influence is bottled up. It is the rare blogger that can walk the line and still be effective.

Packers Lose to Bears in OT

I am irrationally angry right now. Irrational because the pattern of this entire season dictated that the Packers would lose this game. Still, I think now would be a good time for me to back away from the blog before I write something I'll regret. (If you want to visualize me right now, think Linus with those squiggly lines over his head).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I have two observations from life today.

1. The worst winter driver I've encountered in a long time almost rear ended me on the way to work today. I'd been watching him flirting with my bumper for miles and I was very nervous as road conditions were horrible and speeds were varying. Then it happened. The line of traffic slowed to about 15 MPH, and I saw him hauling up on me at about 45. He didn't slow. I'm not even sure he saw me until the last second, when jerked right onto the unplowed shoulder and went around me. He ended up forcing himself back onto the road right in front of me. So what did the sticker on his bumper say? "Society for an Idiot Free America." Here here! I say we start with him.

2. My Christmas spirit has been non-existent until very, very recently. Suffice it to say, I have much Christmas shopping to do and very little time to do it in. So after work, I hit the stores. I made a dent, but by the time I threw in the towel, I wanted to start a fight. The economy may be in the dumps, and people may be spending less, but on a Wednesday night a week before Christmas, there was an obscene number of Christmas shopping zombies in the stores.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

State of the Packers

It is probably time we faced some hard truths here in Packerland:

1. The defensive line just is not good. It does not do a good job of stopping the run, it does not do a good job of getting pressure on the QB. It is weakened by injuries, yes, but this unit was supposed to have excellent depth. It does not.

2. The secondary is an exemplary unit...when the defense can get pressure, and when they are in press coverage. When there is no pressure, they can get picked apart as much as any other unit in the league. And when they are in zone, they are average at best.

3. The linebackers seemed at one point to be a particular strength. Unfortunately, that was probably an overestimate. Hawk is a solid player, but not one deserving of his high draft position. Chillar has his strengths in pass coverage...when he can get on the field. Poppinga obviously has photos of Ted Thompson in a compromising position with a 1980's era Packers "cheerleader."

4. The offensive line is a mess. It consists of veterans reaching their downward years and projects. They cannot put together a complete game. The fact that Ryan Grant has had a 1000 yard season is more of an indicator of the meaningless nature of that milestone than the play of the line.

5. The Ryan Grant contract was a big mistake. He should thank Brett Favre for the leverage.

6. Aaron Rodgers is not ready to carry a team on his back. It was unrealistic to think that he would in his first season, and it seems that only Favre Fvans have foisted that expectation upon him. He has had a very good first season, just not good enough to put this team over the top. But here's the good news-if the Packers solve their line problems, he very well may become that QB.

7. This coaching staff is not as good as we thought they were at this point last season.

8. This team was never as good as their 13-3 record last year. I knew it then. They are not as bad as their current 5-9 record, though. They have the talent to be somewhere in between. Unfortunately, somewhere in between isn't going to be good enough for a Super Bowl unless the talent in key areas is upgraded.

Iraqi Reporter Throws Shoes at President Bush

Thankfully, that's all it was.
On an Iraq trip shrouded in secrecy and marred by dissent, President George W. Bush on Sunday hailed progress in the war that defines his presidency and got a size-10 reminder of his unpopularity when a man hurled two shoes at him during a news conference.

"This is a farewell kiss, you dog!" shouted the protester in Arabic, later identified as Muntadar al-Zeidi, a correspondent for Al-Baghdadia television, an Iraqi-owned station based in Cairo, Egypt.

Bush ducked both shoes as they whizzed past his head and landed with a thud against the wall behind him.

If you get the chance, watch the video. President Bush is still pretty spry. He might have a future in dodgeball.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Dark Day for UW Whitewater Students

In Walworth County, Wisconsin, in the city of Whitewater, 18 individuals have been arrested for dealing drugs:

A 10-month undercover investigation by multiple area law enforcement agencies resulted in at least 18 arrests in the City of Whitewater last week.

"It was a good day for law enforcement," Whitewater Police Chief James Coan said last Wednesday.

"Eighteen people were rounded up and arrested on drug-related charges here in Whitewater," Coan confirmed. "Two other subjects are being sought on arrest warrants. This is the culmination of a 10-month undercover investigation conducted by our department, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Police Department and the Walworth County Drug Enforcement Unit.

Whitewater students will now have to struggle to find a pot dealer amongst the dozens and dozens who still remain. (In all seriousness, good for the city, but pot was the most significant violation here, and others will fill that void.)

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Big 3 Bailout

I was talking with someone today whom I consider to be in that political middle ground that is so important to both parties. We got onto the topic of the bail out which failed in the Senate last night. This person was of the opinion that the UAW does bear a significant amount of blame, putting their own interests before anyone else's, including all of the suppliers (and their employees) who could be conceivably hurt by a Detroit bankruptcy(ies). I hope that this person represents the mainstream of thought on this issue. I happen to agree with him. This is not the time for making sure you get the most for everyone. This is a time for saving as many jobs as possible, even if that means not getting everything you want and making tough choices. I made a similar personal choice recently. It is a shame that the UAW still doesn't fully get it. Unfortunately, from what I'm gathering in my neck of the woods, some of their members do get it, but all too many don't.

A Thought on the Brewers and Yankees

I doubt all four will end up in pinstripes, but if the New York Yankees open the 2008 season with CC Sabathia (already signed), Ben Sheets, Mike Cameron, and Bill Hall, I hope they enjoy wearing Sabathia out to make the playoffs, only to get their asses kicked in the first round.

Of course, this doesn't bode particularly well for the Crew's playoff chances in '09, but maybe the Yanks will be willing to give them something for Corey Hart after the all star break so they can enjoy his second half performance, too. Hell, maybe the Brewers can get them to take Rickie Weeks, too.

If They Did It

Is it just me, or does Rod Blagojevich look like the love child of Mike Myers and George Stephanopoulos?

The Sacrifices Our Boys Make for the Fair Gender


One of the longest-running spousal debates may now be settled in favor of men and for the sake of little boys.

Leave the toilet seat up, some British doctors now say. The reason: a rising trend for heavy wooden and ornamental toilet seats to fall down onto the penises of unsuspecting (and just potty-trained) toddlers.

Ladies, your little men just aren't at a good height for that most tragic of all male bathroom accidents. Leave the seat up...for the children.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Another Accurate Prediction: Cow Fart Edition

From Sykes:

For farmers, this stinks: Belching and gaseous cows and hogs could start costing them money if a federal proposal to charge fees for air-polluting animals becomes law.

This is what I wrote almost 2 years ago, exactly:

I want the EPA to crack down on bovine emissions. I want to see them force farmers to grow reformulated grass for the cows to graze on. I want a requirement that forces cows to be fitted with cowtalytic converters. I want to see them require breeders to re-engineer cows so they include EGR devices.

It was 2 years ago that the Brits brought up bovine emissions. It was only a matter of time before our own EPA got stupid over the topic. I'm surprised it took them this long.

In re Andrew Sullivan's Obsession with the Palin Pregnancy

Andrew Sullivan is still obsessed with Sarah Palin's pregnancy with Trig. In a recent post, he presents a straight-on photo of Palin as evidence that she was not showing nearly as much as she should have been. This is the photo:

Sullivan is obviously a man who believes all photos are truth. Unfortunately, a good photographer will tell you that a photo shows you what the photographer wants you to see, and often times, a photographer wants you to see their subjects in the best light possible. I have not seen the EXIF data on this photo, but if I had to guess, I'd say the photographer took the picture with a longer lens or focal length, at some distance. The benefit of photographing people at a longer focal length is it tends to flatten features, unlike a wide angle lens which exacerbates features.

Now, I again say that I haven't seen the EXIF data on this photo, but I'm making an educated guess that this is what this photographer did. Their (Palin and the child) features seem to be flattened to me. Also, if you look at Palin in her abdominal and groin area, the fabric of her clothes do not lay in the way that they do in photos of her from the presidential campaign. There appears to be a 'paunch' in her abdominal area that isn't there in any of her images from the second half of this year. Also, the fabric in her lower abdominal/groin area is not laying in the way you would expect from the relatively lean Palin we came to know in the presidential campaign.

Amateur analysis of photographs is at high risk of error. There is a reason that your photos rarely look the way that a pro's do, and it isn't just Photoshop. The fact is that you can manipulate the way light focuses on your film or digital sensor. A pro would likely use a longer focal length in a portrait style shot in order to eliminate unattractive exaggerations of features. I'm guessing this shot wasn't done by a pro as the flash seems to be head on and is unattractive, but an amateur would also be able to accomplish this by standing a little further away with a point and shoot and then trying to accomplish in-camera cropping by zooming in. In either scenario, depth would be flattened, and in a head on shot of a pregnancy, depth is critical.

Upon looking at the photo in greater detail, I think there are two additional aspects that reduce the depth of Palin's figure in this photograph. The first is her coat. Because it is 3/4 closed, it obscures any lines that would give us an indication of figure. Second, she seems to be slouching a bit. When you add in the flattening of a long focal length and the coat obscuring her lines, that slouch puts her face and upper body further forward, enhancing any flattening that may be occurring.


In 1995, I was a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater. On October 3rd of that year, I was eating lunch at the Burger King in the University Center. The dynamic in the dining room was very odd. The white students had congregated on one side, the black students on the other side. On the televisions hanging from the ceiling was the OJ Simpson verdict.

The room is silent, odd for a dining area, and the volume on the televisions is cranked up. The verdict was announced. Once side of the room erupted in cheers. The other side stayed silent, with heads dropping and little more than whispers being uttered. I ate alone that day, and I turned my attention to my newspaper, quickly wolfing down my sandwich so as to get the hell out of a very uncomfortable environment. I get back to the dorms, and the verdict is all anyone can talk about.

Fast forward to December 5, 2008. I'm sitting at a Red Robin with a couple of co-workers, ordering lunch. One co-worker looks up at the televisions suspended from the ceiling and makes a passing comment that the OJ sentencing is coming in. Conversation quickly turns to other topics. I continue to read the closed captioning on the TV in a very noisy dining area. Nobody is paying attention but me. I try to stay on top of the conversation while reading the sentences of 'no less thans' and 'maximum ofs'. I know OJ has received his sentence, but I can't make sense of what the actual sentence is. Then I read it: 15 years.

I join back into the conversation at my table. I finish my sandwich, use the restroom, sit back down and, in a room that never changed in emotion, said to my lunchmates, "15 years." They looked at me with confused faces. I repeated myself. "OJ got 15 years in prison." Shoulders were shrugged, and conversation quickly moved on to other topics.

What a difference between two scenes. I went back to work, clicked on a couple of news websites, and nobody had the headline up yet, even though the verdict was almost a half hour old by then. Finally, a co-worker said, "OJ got 15." Another said, "Good. It was over due." Not another word was said.

In away, when OJ Simpson was acquitted in 1995, it made him a joke in American culture. Had he been convicted, his celebrity status would have clung to him despite the notoriety. Many would have elevated him to martyr status. But in 2008, the acquitted OJ Simpson was a national laughing stock and an after thought. In a way, a greater justice may have been done. Simpson will spend a number of his remaining years in a prison cell. If this had happened 13 years ago, his star and his legacy still would have been bright to the naked eye. Today, it is barely noticed. Athletes are a vane bunch who desire to have their legacies fondly remembered. Today, OJ Simpson's legacy is only visible when it pulses in its death throes. That punishment, for a man like Simpson, may be greater than any verdict or sentence.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

$25 for a Barrel of Oil?

That's what Merrill Lynch is projecting:

U.S. stocks fell for the first time in three days, pushed down by concern General Motors Corp. may file for bankruptcy and a plunge in energy shares following Merrill Lynch & Co.’s prediction that oil will hit $25 a barrel.

That is an appealing story, but remember, it was just months ago the experts were telling you to anticipate $200 a barrel oil. I don't necessarily think that $25 is out of the question because I think we've got at least six months of moderate decline before things hit a bottom across the economy, but I don't put too much weight in it, either. Sooner rather than later, OPEC will cut production (or at least claim they will), a crisis will occur in an oil producing nation, and oil prices will bottom out before the economy does.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

How Long Until Conan? And Other Thoughts

Misc. thoughts:

*Is it just me, or has Leno gotten more obnoxiously liberal since the election? I don't harbor any illusions that Conan O'Brien is any less liberal, but at least his comedy transcends it a little better.

*Why is it the first part of a windshield wiper blade to go is the part that cleans the glass right in the middle of your sight?

*I pay property taxes that probably exceed the current value of my property. Still, the city I live in can't be bothered to plow well or toss down some sand and salt when the roads get miserable.

*Did the Christmas light manufacturers really need to shorten the length of LED strands compared to incandescent strands? If I need 150 of lights, does it really matter if I buy 10 strands of 15 footers or 6 strands of 25 footers? I still need 150 feet, right?

*This week, the National Weather Service has predicted 9 to 15 inches of snow for my locality. We've gotten 4. I see this as a good omen for this winter.

*The darkest hour is just before dawn, and if we're lucky, dawn for this economy will come next July. In the mean time, hold on tight for the next six plus months.

*One nice thing about an artificial Christmas tree is I don't have to re-create my father's annual screed about the cost of a natural tree.

*If you are a small business owner, I recommend that you become heavily involved in your local community. In these tough times, people will choose the bargain price unless they consider you a friend, in which case they'll still spend a little more to help you.

*I don't think any intelligent Republican or conservative can actively root for Barack Obama's failure right now because his failure will guarantee worse lives for all of us 4 years from now. That doesn't mean we can't oppose what we see as ill fated policy initiatives in an effort to make them better. It does mean that we don't have the luxury of rooting for his failure for ideological sake like our opponents have with Bush for the last 8 years.

*Libertarians feel they are in a position to gloat right now, and to a certain extent, they are. Their dogmatism for theory will be their shortcoming, however, as pragmatism and realism overwhelms theory. My only hope is that the left doesn't hijack pragmatism to enact a rash of ill-considered policies.

*Did you know that CFL light bulbs are best used in lamps and other light fixtures where their glass swirl is above their base? It seems that the heat produced by the base leads to early failure of the bulb when the base is above the bulb in things like ceiling light fixtures.

*Is it just me, or is the three piece suit making a come back?