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Sign “O” the Times

February 13th, 2014 - 3:00 pm

This is even more depressing than my Monday column was:

A new survey of press freedom around the world finds the United States has plunged 13 spots, now ranking just 46th among 180 countries. The annual survey by Reporters Without Borders also says Syria is the most dangerous country for journalists, showing a correlation between conflict zones and a low level of press freedom. Other countries that fell lower than in the previous year’s survey include the civil-war-torn Central African Republic, down 43 spots to 109, and Guatemala, where four journalists were killed last year alone. This comes as the United Nations General Assembly recently adopted its first resolution on the safety of journalists. The group has now called on the United Nations to monitor how member states meet their obligations to protect reporters.

“Congress shall make no law…” is how the First Amendment, detailing our press freedoms begins.

But we have a bullying President and a meddling Congress and a pushover Supreme Court and an increasingly supine populace. Had our actual media been willing do stand up and do its job, rather than play footsie with its destroyers, we would be where we should be — at Number One on any chart.

The War on the Poor

February 10th, 2014 - 10:37 am

CHART OF SUCKING

It’s never easy being poor. It’s worse when the government conspires to make you poorer and to keep you there. Details:

As the chart shows, the lost compensation increases every year from an estimated $108 billion in 2017 to an estimated $147 billion 2024. The analysis is based on numbers provided in a recent Congressional Budget Office report on Obamacare.

“The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that Obamacare will “cause a reduction of roughly 1 percent in aggregate labor compensation [wages, salaries, and fringe benefits] over the 2017-2024 period, compared with what would have been otherwise” (see page 117 of appendix C of CBO’s February 2014 Budget and Economic Outlook). CBO also suggests that the largest effect will occur among lower-wage workers who were the target of the law’s subsidized coverage expansion,” says a statement from the Republican-side of the Senate Budget Committee, explaining their methodology.

The law’s victims will probably vote Democrat for “relief.”

News You Can Use

February 3rd, 2014 - 11:49 am

TWINS

You know you’re not supposed to… wait, what did she do?

Honestly I can’t do the math to understand this one. I need a flowchart and maybe a time machine.

Wargaming Control of the Senate

January 28th, 2014 - 11:48 am

Let’s start with John B. Judis at TNR, who has a grim reminder for Professor Wiggleroom and the Democrats:

I’m going with the conventional wisdom: Obama and the Democrats are in deep trouble.

Greenberg cites an improvement in Obama and the Democrats’ polling numbers over the last month, but the improvement is very slight. What I’d point to instead is a comparison between where Obama and the Democrats stood in January 2010 and where they stand today. In January 2010, they were about to lose the Massachusetts senate race, and in November 2010 would lose 63 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate. If Obama and the Democrats’ numbers are better now than they were then, they may not be in trouble; but if they’re worse, the convention wisdom is right. And they’re worse.

How much worse? Let’s take a look at the latest figures from Tom Dougherty:

Using current ratings from our Senate 2014 page that includes the Practical Politicking Report, Cook Political Report, Sabato’s Crystal Ball and the Rothenberg Political Report; and plotting the averages things look good for the GOP.

senate_scores_012714

There are 18 states where at least one of the four ratings is not SAFE in the chart, and 16 of them are currently blue states with only 2 red ones and they’re reasonably safe for the GOP.

You’ll want to read the whole thing, especially the bit where even Oregon might be coming into play. Remember Oregon, the state with the hippie ♡bamaCare!!! videos that can’t sell any actual ♡bamaCare!!! policies? Yeah, that Oregon.

So the playing field is widening for the GOP, and that’s a good sign for them this early in the game. It’s why I maintain that the party should get loudly behind David Jolly’s special congressional election effort in Florida, checkbook in hand. You can’t win where you don’t play, and GOP grassroots are sick and tired of the party not getting behind the people’s nominees — and rightly so. This is a team effort, which is something this party has largely forgotten.

Tom adds that it’s the purple states where things get interesting:

• Arkansas: Cotton is polling ahead of Pryor, raising money at a proficient pace and Gallup has Obama’s approval at just 34.9% (seventh lowest in the nation).

• North Carolina: Rasmussen Reports is out today with latest polling that puts Tillis up by 7% over Hagan, and Tillis is extending his lead in the GOP primary race.

• Louisiana: Landrieu seems incapable of shaking her close ties to Obama, where his current approval rating is only 40% and disapproval of ObamaCare is rising almost daily.

• Alaska: Begich’s favorables are underwater, his fund-raising is flat and Obama’s approval is down to 33.5% (sixth lowest in the nation). Sullivan is a fund-raising machine right now and outside PAC money is pouring into the state attacking Begich.

• Michigan: Land had a tremendous Q4 money haul basically tying Peters in cash-on-hand and polling is within the margin-of-error making this a dead-heat currently. Americans for Prosperity though is pouring money into the race attacking Peters and ObamaCare, and even though Obama’s numbers are better here they are still below 50%.

• Iowa: This may be the only state in the purples that Dems can take any positives from with Braley sitting on a hefty war chest, up in all polling and benefiting from a GOP nomination process that is patently absurd.

I’d add that “absurd” and “GOP nomination process” are virtually synonymous these days. And isn’t it interesting that Michigan is purple? It’s a shame it took the destruction of what was once one of the world’s great cities before voters there even began to wise up and do something about the locusts, but some lessons simply must be painful.

This is where all pundits are required to add A Lot Can Happen Between Now and Election Day™, so let’s just consider it added. The Democrats can take some small amount of comfort in that their numbers were flat or up slightly last month, but one month does not make a trend — and the trend has been pretty awful for them.

How do they continue to improve?

There’s a GOP Congress, so there’s not much positive action the Democrats can take, other than through executive fiat. Wiggleroom’s “pen and telephone” may yet prove to be the big story of 2014 — even some lefties are beginning to get a little nervous about all the executive power being bandied about.

So instead you can look forward to more of the same: Trashing a semi-supplicant GOP from now until election day.

Friday Night Videos

January 17th, 2014 - 10:17 pm

Once or twice a decade it seems, country makes big inroads into the pop charts. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by records and radio pretty much everywhere during the ’70s, when it happened twice — with great results.

One of those was Willie Nelson’s 1978 classic, Stardust. The album was a collection of his deceptively simple-seeming takes on American songbook staples like “All Of Me,” “Moonlight In Vermont,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” and of course the title track.

Tonight’s pick, Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies,” appeared in my head as an earworm the other night when I was settling down into bed. I had my iPad on my lap and my earbuds in my ears, so I pulled up the song on YouTube and let it go. When you’re relaxed and can really listen to a song, you notice things you might not have before. In this case, not in over 35 years of listening to a song.

It’s nicely layered (I wish I knew who arranged it), and doesn’t waste any time establishing them. A few guitar chords and then the piano kicks in followed quickly by the strings and harmonica. Barely 11 seconds have gone by before Nelson’s gentle vocal begins and you know you’re in for something special. But what I noticed the other night is there’s sort of a rhythmic tension between the three main layers of the arrangement — vocal, main orchestration, and strings.

That tension adds excitement, almost drama, to a simple sunny song about a summer sky. Or maybe it was just my imagination getting away from me on a soft bed under dim lights at a late hour.

But something has kept people listening to this one for nearly four decades, and maybe that’s it.

Mobile Mail Call

January 13th, 2014 - 11:45 am

For the first time ever, last December more Americans opened new emails on a mobile device than on a traditional computer:

New data from the researcher indicates that 51% of email opens occurred on a mobile device during December 2013, the first time Return Path has seen mobile crossing the majority threshold. Christmas Day saw the highest share of email opens (62%) for the period; perhaps not too coincidentally, IBM recently reported that mobile accounted for a remarkable 48% of online shopping traffic that day.

This has been true for me for a few years already, at least for important things. I use iCloud and my desktop together to act as an email server, and keep stuff that can wait mostly off of my mobile devices.

Work, family, and VP comments all stay in my main inbox, which shows up on my phone and tablet immediately. Everything else — social media alerts, press releases, shopping offers, etc — get sorted into the appropriate folders. I’n able to access those folder via mobile, but I’d have to make an effort. And the whole point of sorting out your second- and third-tier emails is that you don’t want to have to make any effort until you’re sitting down somewhere and have a few extra minutes.

That’s a system which works for me, and I’ll take my desktop out of the sorting loop just as soon as iCloud’s handling rules are made powerful enough.

But iCloud’s limitations don’t seem to be hurting iOS very much where it counts the most for retailers:

IBM also noted that iOS devices drove more than twice as much shopping traffic as Android devices on Christmas Day (32.6% vs. 14.8%), and the Return Path data shows that the OS mismatch was even more glaring on the email front. On Christmas Day, Return Path’s data indicates that fully 86% of mobile email opens occurred on an iPhone (58%) or iPad (28%).

Every time I mention one of these data points indicating that the vast majority of Android owners aren’t using their smartphones as smartphones, some smart commenters always reminds me that its just one data point.

But I’ve never once seen a single data point indicating anything else.

Go Home, Wall Street — You’re Drunk

January 7th, 2014 - 8:25 am

three

More at 9to5Mac.

What Your Booze Says About Your Politics

January 2nd, 2014 - 12:49 pm

booze

Yes, I know this has been making the rounds and, no, I’m not upset that the Washington Post is totally stealing my schtick. Although I have been getting a lot of questions along “as a vodka drinker, are you offended to be lumped in with all the lefties?”

It’s true that I am a vodka drinker. It’s also true that I’m no lefty. But I also enjoy scotch — a lot. And I’ve spent the last couple years really honing my appreciation for bourbon. Summer afternoons are most often filled with proper gin martinis or gin & tonics. I sip fine tequila on the beach and I make a mean margarita here at Casa Verde on Friday nights. Weekend mornings often involve mimosas. I drink (and cook with) lots of red wines, but most often zins, cabs, and pinots. Colorado is home to many fine beers, which I also drink. Although recently I’ve been on a pilsner kick and so I’ve been buying stuff from Germany and the Czech Republic — new suggestions welcome, please!

So to paraphrase George Thorogood, I really really really really really really like booze.

When I launched VodkaPundit twelve years ago next Friday, the first name I thought of for it was “ScotchPundit” because scotch is what I used to drink more than anything else. But the name sounded too stuffy (or perhaps focused on Scotland), when what I wanted to imply was a certain insouciance.

And to my mind there is no cocktail more insouciant than a vodka martini. It lacks bourbon and scotch’s haughtiness, it doesn’t have gin’s herbal complexities, it won’t leave you naked in a dumpster like tequila. A vodka martini is light and airy, and bright with a twist of lemon. Brighter still with a twist of lime. It goes down easy and might even make you feel a little smarter, if only for a little while.

So, yes, VodkaPundit.

Just don’t try to put it on any chart.

Friday Night Videos

December 27th, 2013 - 10:34 pm

If Eric Clapton had a creative low point, it was 1983′s “I’ve Got A Rock ‘N’ Roll Heart.” Check out this chorus:

I get off on ’57 Chevys;
I get off on screaming guitar.
Like the way it hits me every time it hits me.
I’ve got a rock and roll, I’ve got a rock and roll heart.

You like ’57s Chevys? Well good for you! Makes you wonder why he didn’t pen an ode to pepperoni on pizzas, or maybe puppies — you know, really take a stand. It’s almost as if he were begging to still be liked. Clapton? Begging? That’s just wrong.

I shouldn’t be so mean; Clapton is God, after all. But he did spend most of the ’80s in Adult Contemporary Hell, most likely confused — like many rock gods entering midlife — by what he was supposed to do next.

But by the end of the decade he found his footing again, with 1989′s Journeyman.

The album title alone was something of an apology, a statement of “I still have a lot to learn.” Even the track listing reads like a mea culpa for the previous decade. “Pretending,” “Anything for Your Love,” “”Bad Love,” “Running on Faith,” and so on until finishing with “Before You Accuse Me.” The starter track was penned by rock legend Jerry Lynn Williams. Clapton also went to Ray Charles, Leiber & Stoller, Cecil & Linda Womack, and Robert Cray — a fine collection of R&B, early rock, and straight-up blues.

Tonight’s selection was radio favorite “Bad Love,” cowritten with Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones. Phil Collins played drums for the track, too, which stayed Number One on Billboard’s chart for three weeks. It starts in slow, drawing you in with the keys and bass, then Clapton’s wailing guitar kind of sneaks in at you from underneath. It’s a helluva thing, so enjoy this live performance from 1990. It’s certainly not his best work, but it’s a solid effort — a enjoyable tune with a catchy hook and some fine guitar work. Apology accepted.

Oh, and if Journeyman was Clapton’s apology for the ’80s, then 1994′s From The Cradle was the makeup sex. But that’s a story for another day.

Happy 100th Birthday to the Federal Reserve

December 27th, 2013 - 10:40 am

Now please go away,” says Mark Spitznagel. More:

One hundred years ago, on Dec. 23, 1913, the Federal Reserve Act was signed into law, giving the United States exactly what it didn’t need: a central bank. Americans had gone without one since the 1836 expiration of the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, which Andrew Jackson famously refused to renew. Not to be a party pooper, but as this dubious centennial is observed, we should ask ourselves: Has the Fed been friend or foe to growth and prosperity?

Economists Selgin, Lastrapes and White analyzed the Fed’s record and found that even focusing on the post-World War II era, it is not clear that the Fed has provided more economic stability compared with the pre-Fed regime that was characterized by the National Banking system. The authors concluded that “the need for a systematic exploration of alternatives to the established monetary system is as pressing today as it was a century ago.”

In other sectors, we don’t normally defer to a committee of a dozen experts to set prices. Yet this is what the Fed does with its “open market committee” that routinely sets a target for the “federal funds rate” as well as other objectives. If we all agree that central planning and price-fixing don’t work for computers and oil, why would we expect it to bring us stability in money and banking?

The Fed’s original mission was price stability, and the dollar has lost something like 98% of it purchasing power since 1913. In the 1970s, the Fed was given a second task, to keep unemployment low — and there’s nothing funny to say about that.

Japan faces similar problems with its central bank:

Japan’s inflation accelerated to the fastest pace since 2008 last month, bringing the rate closer to policy makers’ target while threatening to erode household spending power unless employers boost wages.

Prices excluding fresh food rose 1.2 percent from a year earlier, the statistics bureau said today in Tokyo, more than a median forecast of 1.1 percent in a Bloomberg News survey of economists. A separate report showed industrial output rose 0.1 percent from October, less than forecast, in a risk for projections of an acceleration in economic growth this quarter.

Eroding wealth to force people to spend money to force businesses to inflate wages to reinflate an economic bubble is considered “success.” We’ve been trying the same thing here, with mixed results, since 2001.

Fact is, during the century before the Fed’s creation, the US dollar enjoyed a modest deflation, rewarding savings and non-speculative investment. Per capita income and our population both grew phenomenally — an explosion of wealth and creativity unparalleled in human history.

Not everything we’ve endured since is the Fed’s fault, but ending that century-long failure wouldn’t be a bad place to start repairing the damage.

Friday Night Videos

December 13th, 2013 - 10:10 pm

This one comes courtesy of what I had thought was just going to be a semi-clever, throw-away headline. But then it gave me an ear worm and you’re just going to have to learn to relax and enjoy the results.

Danny O’Keefe’s “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues” is another one of those AM radio staples from the early ’70s which has stuck with me for whatever reason, but I’m hoping to figure out why before we’re done here this evening. And although I’ve known every word by heart for many years, when I sing along with it alone in the car I always change the line “You’re not a kid at 33″ to “You’re not a kid at 43.”

Even my revised line is out of date by nearly two years. Stupid middle age.

Anyway.

While the rest of the album, Breezy Stories isn’t nearly as bad as Starbuck’s Moonlight, Feels Right LP (discussed in hilarious detail here), the two albums share one thing in common in that they’re big disappointments compared to the popular chart-friendly single people actually remember. Try to love it as I might, but BS rarely lives up to the downbeat bluesy charm of “Good Time Charlie.”

What I didn’t know about this song until looking it up for tonight’s FNV is that O’Keefe had written it and recorded it in 1967, but that record was never released — and maybe be for good reason. Apparently his original record was more uptempo than what you hear tonight, which musically doesn’t suit the lyric. At all. Imagine Sinatra singing “One For My Baby,” while wearing jeans and a novelty t-shirt for a similarly inapt pairing.

The Bards were the first to release the song a year later. That record didn’t go very far, but after O’Keefe’s ’71 re-recording, the song went on to be covered by Elvis, Rita Coolidge, Dwight Yoakam, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and bunches of others. Maybe they found in it the same thing I find in it still after four decades of listening: A sad and relatable story, well and simply told.

So, yes, I’ve nailed down this song’s old hold on me.

If you’ve ever lived or spent any time in the Pacific Northwest, maybe you’ll find it as relatable as I do.

Meet KitKat

November 2nd, 2013 - 2:14 pm

A smart Android move by Google:

One primary benefit of Android 4.4 KitKat, which was unveiled Thursday, is its ability to run on both low- and high-end hardware. The idea is that manufacturers don’t have to choose between different versions of Android to suit the specifications of their phone, whether it costs $100 or $600.

The move is an attempt by Google to provide a more consistent experience across the universe of Android smartphones. While flagship smartphones such as the Galaxy S4 or HTC One have been able to employ newer versions of Android, more affordable phones running on 1- or 2-year-old processors must make do with an older iteration of the operating system.

Love it or hate it, it’s great for customers and developers alike that Apple’s new iOS 7 will run anything newer than a first-gen 2010 iPad or a 2009 iPhone 3GS. And already something like two-thirds of all eligible devices have been upgraded. Users can use the latest-and-greatest on all but their oldest equipment, and developers know just how big the install base is for the latest features and APIs.

Compare that to the Android world, which is seriously fragmented — and getting worse.

FRAGGING

(Click to Embiggen)

Anything Google can do to clean up this mess, shy of threatening carriers with violence, is a good idea.

Actually? I know some Android owners who wouldn’t mind some violence, if it would give them a path to upgrade their OS.

Housing Sales Collapsing

October 28th, 2013 - 2:29 pm

About that bubble — it might already be popping. John Nolte has the story:

For the fourth month in a row, homes sales dropped in September by nearly 6%, to the lowest level of pending sales of existing homes since December of 2012. Naturally, the media want to try and blame the GOP for a fourth month trend. The LA Times writes that the government shutdown “weighed on sales.” Zero Hedge not only proves that isn’t true, but points out that this is the biggest drop in almost four years.

The takeaway data from the LA Times story was this:

“Declining housing affordability conditions are likely responsible for the bulk of reduced contract activity,” the Realtors’ chief economist Lawrence Yun said in a statement.

We’re stuck in this New Deal thinking, that the way to return to prosperity is to make everything — housing, equities, insurance, food, energy — more expensive.

Funny how people stuck in part-time jobs can’t afford bubble-priced houses.

Your Scary-Ass Chart of the Day

October 28th, 2013 - 12:06 pm

BUBBLE

Via Jesse Colombo who adds, “The total U.S. stock market capitalization to GDP ratio (Warren Buffett’s favorite valuation indicator) shows that stocks are currently in bubble territory.”

So. We’ve reinflated the equities bubble and Bernanke (soon to be Yellen) promises to continue pumping $85,000,000,000 into that bubble each and every month, at least through the end of next year.

When this bubble pops, as it must, it’ll make 2008 look like 1986.

Your Scary-Ass Chart of the Day

October 23rd, 2013 - 10:38 am

CHART

Sustainability.

It bears repeating: You can’t fix poverty by giving people money.

Wither Home Box Office?

October 22nd, 2013 - 4:06 pm

FLIX

That’s from Derek Thompson who asks, “How long can Netflix’s amazing run last?

But I think that’s the wrong question.

The right question might be, Why is HBO’s subscriber base nearly static?

HBO has seen Netflix grow and grow, yet have clung to their same old model. There was some brief excitement here at Casa Verde when they announced HBO Go, but the excitement quickly subsided when we found out it’s a “halfway pregnant” effort. Even at that HBO Go is available only to existing cable subscribers. Their growth model is… well, it’s there on the chart.

Friday Night Videos

September 27th, 2013 - 10:16 pm

The first time I heard Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” I would have been 13 and riding with one mom and four or five similarly-aged boys in carpool on the way to school in the eighth grade. And I remember thinking, “Can they say that on the radio???” There were, in my brain, at least three question marks at the end of the sentence.

But what a song. It stayed at number one for ten weeks before getting knocked off by the best-forgotten Michael Jackson/Paul McCartney duet, “The Girl Is Mine.” What dreck.

Gaye never had a chance to top that run. The album it came from, Midnight Love, had barely left the charts before Gaye was shot and killed by his own father during an argument over business disagreements. Without Gaye’s example, the Soul artists who followed have been in kind of a confused funk.

There are plenty of artists who can copy Gaye’s phrasing, but none I’ve found has captured his ability to tell a story, to perform a song. Robin Thicke, who I didn’t even know was a person until a couple weeks ago, has a monster hit with “Blurred Lines,” which is little more than a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up.” The video is completely NSFW and totally worth watching with the sound off, because of the topless dancing brunette. I coined the word “acheworthy” just for her.

But the song itself, although ostensibly Soul, is utterly without a soul of its own.

Worse are those performers — I’m looking at you, Mariah Houston Dion — who mistake vocal exercises for a performance.

Maybe it’s the younger artists, maybe it’s the times we live in. Maybe Soul has yet to recover from losing one of its founders so young.

For a while it looked like Soul might be saved by a couple of Englishwomen, as unlikely as that seems. Amy Winehouse had a pure Motown sound that could have been right out of Gaye’s golden days in the ’60s and ’70s. Corinne Bailey Rae still has that big Philadelphia sound. Both ladies seem to understand that the key to soul is knowing when to lay it low. But we all know what happened to Winehouse, and Rae hasn’t released anything longer than an EP in the last three years. I hope she’s spent the time making something as smooth as her self-titled album from 2007. Check out “I’d Like To” from that one to hear something I think Gaye would have been proud to call his own.

But before you do that, spend a few minutes with Marvin Gaye’s second-to-last hit — one of Soul’s timeless classics.

Oh, and it turned out you could say that on the radio in 1982. And by today’s standards it seems almost tame.

Friday Night Videos

September 20th, 2013 - 9:13 pm

As I’ve written before, rock really lost its way in the ’70s. Glam acts like Queen (RIP, Freddy Mercury) were supposed to be outrageous, but it seemed everybody felt the need to go disco or glitter or add a giant string section. New Wave came along to rectify that, a stripped-down musical movement self-consciously naming itself after the stripped-down French cinema movement of the ’60s. Acts as diverse as Blondie, Talking Heads, Billy Joel (his Glass Houses was a New Wave album) and Billy Idol were even including French in some of their lyrics.

Idol liked to call himself a punk rocker, and he certainly dressed the part — but c’mon, really. He had the synths, the band had the musical skills, the studio production teams had the pop sensibility… Idol could yell “PUNK!” like a rebel all night long, but he was pure New Wave. The punk attire just let white suburban kids pretend they were all angry and outsidery and stuff, just like most radio hip-hop does for white suburban kids today. And I mean no insult — way back when, I was one of those white suburban kids. Good times.

Idol made his name with harder-edged stuff like “Rebel Yell” and “White Wedding,” and I won’t even describe to you how seriously I used to get into the over-the-top dance floor fun of his cover of “Mony Mony.” But I always thought he was at his best doing mid-tempo songs like “Flesh For Fantasy” and tonight’s pick, “Eyes Without A Face.”

The title references a 1960 French-Italian horror movie of the same name. The movie “Eyes Without A Face” didn’t go nearly as far as the Italian gorefest pictures that followed in its wake, but like Billy Idol, it went far for its time. What keeps me coming back to the song is the bridge. It kicks in — and kicks up — with a Steve Stevens guitar solo, and then Idol comes back with some great imagery from a road trip I’d still kill to go on:

When you hear the music you make a dip
Into someone else’s pocket then make a slip
Steal a car and go to Las Vegas
Oh, the gigolo pool

Hanging out by the state line
Turning Holy Water into wine
Bringing it down

I’m on a bus on a psychedelic trip
Reading murder books tryin’ to stay hip
I’m thinkin’ of you, you’re not there so

Say your prayers
Say your prayers
Say your prayers

Maybe what makes Idol’s mid-tempo music work so well is the tension between his almost languid phrasing and Stevens’ ripping guitar work.

All the things New Wave was known for — synthesizers, pure rock guitar, ear-candy production values, big hair, an inventive video, pretentious use of French, obscure movie references, and a sly eye on the pop charts — are all on display here in one wicked little ditty about lost love on a lost highway.

It just doesn’t get much better than that.

Scary-Ass Chart of the Day

September 20th, 2013 - 9:07 am

20130918_working

Details here. Relief here.

It’s comforting to know that Ben Bernanke’s likely successor, Janet Yellen, is fully committed to a policy of Pushing On That String.

Scary-Ass Chart of the Day

September 18th, 2013 - 5:07 am

M1 GDP1

M1 money supply to real GDP growth since 1958.

That huge excess, all generated since 2008, eventually has to be hoovered back out of the economy, unless we want to suffer an inflation to make 1979 look like 1929.

Of course, that’s contingent on the return of robust economic growth, so then again maybe we’re safe.

“The Scariest Jobs Chart Ever”

June 7th, 2013 - 9:05 am

employrecmay2013

I think it’s fair to say that Obamanomics isn’t working.

Friday Night Videos

May 31st, 2013 - 9:39 pm

In the last few weeks we’ve played a couple songs where a great solo got chopped up to appease the Gods of Radio. Can’t have some damn-fool sax or trumpet player going on and on when you’ve got a hard break coming up and local car dealer ads to run. So a smart record label always produces a “radio edit” of a song that has the potential to be a hit, but that runs too long for radio play.

Unless the artist in question is Grover Washington, Jr.

Washington’s 1980 album Winelight is a classic of the smooth-jazz genre, even if you don’t like that kind of thing. For the song “Just The Two Of Us,” Washington brought soul legend Bill Withers on board to provide the vocal. Between Washington’s sax and Withers’ voice, there’s more soul goodness on this single than most acts manage to fit into an entire album.

But talk about radio unfriendly. The song goes on for seven and a half minutes, most of which is Washington playing his sax. But the story goes that Washington told his record label to get lost on a radio edit — they could either release the whole thing unmolested, or not at all. That takes a pair of brass ones for a guy who’s supposed to be in the business of, you know, selling records. (There is a four-minute edit which has been used on various compilation albums and on the air since, but you sure didn’t hear it in 1980.)

So that’s how I first heard “Just The Two Of Us” during sixth grade carpool runs — in all its uncut glory. And this jazz/soul hybrid, running twice as long as almost anything else on the air, made it all the way to #2 on the pop charts.

Not the little jazz charts hardly anyone ever buys. Not the pseudo-ghetto of the pre-Thriller soul charts. But it went to #2 on Billboard’s totally mainstream Hot 100. I won’t go so far as to call that unprecedented, but it just might be.

So how’d it happen? How did a Program Director’s nightmare become a monster radio hit? The answer is simple: It’s just a really pretty song, performed by two incredible talents at the peak of their powers.

In a musical age of pretty faces with little more than Auto-Tune behind them, it’s easy to forget what a powerful thing it is, to make just a really pretty song.

The Summer of EUr Discontent

May 31st, 2013 - 9:03 am

From Zero Hedge:

All four of the other PIIGS nations now have broken the dismal Maginot Line of 40% youth unemployment with Italy finally joining the club (Italy 40.5%, Portugal 42.5%, Spain 58.2%, and Greece 62.5%). What is even more concerning is that not only are these rates extremely high but they are accelerating with all four of these dark nations seeing their rates rising faster than in recent months (this was the 2nd fastest rise in Greek youth unemployment ever). Overall, Europe’s youth unemployment rate continues to march higher (to 24.4%) having not fallen for 24 months, but it is Spain that is the ‘winner’ with 41 consecutive months without a drop in youth unemployment. With welfare benefits running dry, and Sweden and Switzerland already running hot, we fear this summer may bring the much-feared unrest so many have been concerned about.

Europe-wide youth unrest? What could possibly go wrong?

RUMOR: The next iPad mini will start at just $249. CNET has the details:

The iPad Mini is already cheap at $329. But Apple is expected to go even lower, according to a report out Tuesday from Citi Research.

Ciit’s Glen Yeung said in a note to investors that Apple is shifting toward more inexpensive products.

“Supply chain checks by Citi’s Asia-Pac Technology Team suggest a mix shift surprisingly toward Apple’s older iPhone4/4S,” he wrote.

Then added. “And with our expectation of a low-end iPhone slated for September launch, followed by a sub-$250 iPad Mini, we expect this trend to persist.”

Apple doesn’t change prices very often, generally preferring to have fixed prices for a limited set of products, each filling a very specific niche. It’s much like General Motors back in the ’30s, with “a car for every purse and purpose.” The lowest-price Olds started at $5 more than the highest-priced Chevy, and on up the ladder from there.

But before the mini was announced last fall, I ran the product/price evaluation and figured that for its product niche/feature set, that $249 was the “right” introductory price. Obviously, Apple didn’t agree. So before they intro any new products at WWDC next month, let’s take another look at that spreadsheet.

iOS-Devices

(I should note that this chart is slightly out of date, since Apple unexpectedly intro’d the fourth generation retina iPad with the A6X SOC. But that doesn’t change the product math here.)

I still think $249 makes a lot of sense. The new 16GB iPad mini would slot in at the same price as a 32GB iPod touch. Lose half the storage, but gain a bigger screen. That’s easy math for consumers to do.

We’ll see if Tim Cook thinks the extra marketshare and unit sales are worth cutting $80 off the retail unit price. The decision might come down to one thing: Can Apple’s suppliers churn out enough units to meet the increased demand? If not, then the price won’t be going down any time soon.

UPDATE: One of the reasons — maybe the only legit reason — Apple’s share price has taken such a beating is that their margins have declined sharply. The biggest reason for that was their aggressive product rollout in Q3 last year. Or as Tim Cook put it last winter, paraphrased, 80% of Apples sales were coming from products that didn’t exist six month ago. Shaving $80 off the intro price of the iPad mini wouldn’t do anything to improve Apple’s margins.

However…

Cook has also hinted that this fall, Apple will be moving into new “product categories.” That doesn’t mean a new iPad or a new iPhone or even a new Mac. For Apple, a new category means an entirely new product. Is it a TV, a watch, or something else? Nobody knows. What we do know is, when Apple enters or creates a new market, it does so in a very high-margin way. That might give Cook the leverage he needs to make a price-cutting/market-share play with the iPad mini.

And the way for him to do that is staring us right in the face — because we’ve seen him make this play before.

Apple could easily — and profitably — re–introduce the current iPad mini at a lower price this fall. The “New iPad mini” would slot in at the old $329 price, perhaps with a Retina display, but certainly with upgraded innards.

That move would play to Apple’s history of continuing to sell older iOS devices at reduced prices to lure in new (or price-sensitive) customers, while holding the price-line/profit-margins on new versions.

Pay to Play

May 16th, 2013 - 3:32 pm

Pay to Play

This comes from Jim Pethokoukis, who adds:

In 2009, Strategas Group realized there was going to be a lot more government intervention into the economy, and stocks of companies that exhibited “the greatest lobbying intensity” might outperform the broad market. So the firm created a 50-stock “lobbying index.”

As the above chart shows, they have done just that with the index outperforming the S&P 500 by more than eight percentage points over the past five years. “This consistent outperformance suggests that investors do not fully incorporate the value of company lobbying activities,” the firm concludes.

When companies make money by pleasing government instead of their customers, their customers lose. And government, greedy beast that it is, likes it that way.

I remember in the mid-’90s, Microsoft was justifiably proud of the fact that it spent almost nothing, zilch, on Washington lobbying. Was it a coincidence then that the Justice Department came after the company with both barrels blazing?

And is it yet another coincidence that since settling with Justice, Microsoft has become a timid player unable to compete profitably in new markets?

You make the call.

Open is Better

May 16th, 2013 - 11:02 am

Android is now the mobile-platform target for malware. I mean, there really isn’t a second place. Here’s the chart via Apple Insider based on data from F-Secure Labs.

Open is Better

I’m not even sure Nokia even produces Symbian phones for the first world anymore, so that small spike might just represent Nigerians scamming one another. Stranger things have happened, especially in tech.

The situation is worse than even the raw numbers suggest:

While researchers say the number of malware types is rising significantly, of greater concern is the rise of “highly specialized suppliers” who “provide commoditized malware services” that specifically target weaknesses in the Android platform, resulting in a situation where the “Android malware ecosystem is beginning to resemble to that which surrounds Windows.”

Scammers single out Android users with cons that prompt them to update components like Adobe Flash, or direct them to services or job offers that request installation permissions from the user. Once granted, the malware installs code to either make a series of paid calls when the user is sleeping, or install SMS spyware designed to intercept the user’s banking details over what appears to be a secure connection.

I’d love for you to tell me how awesome your Android anti-virus and anti-phishing apps are — you are using them, yes? — but I can’t hear you over the sound of my unmolested iPhone.

Set Course for Correction!

May 16th, 2013 - 9:06 am

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Our friends to the north have been doing quite well the last few years, but that sure looks like a housing bubble getting ready to pop.

The chart comes from Jesse Colombo, who I highly recommend following.

The Limits of Vanity

May 7th, 2013 - 10:09 am

As an early teen in the early ’80s, it was just about impossible not to like Michael Jackson’s music. It was certainly impossible to avoid it. With Thriller, Jackson and producer Quincy Jones set out to make the ultimate crossover album — one that would gain black and white audiences in equal measure. And equal airplay, too, back when radio stations were even more racially-targeted than they are today.

And boy, did they succeed.

But Michael Jackson the person? It was pretty obvious even then that he was one strange dude. What happened though is what happens to too many child performers: The weirdness went up and up, while the quality of the performances went down and down. By the time Dangerous came out in 1991, the magic was pretty much gone. It sold in the millions, yet nobody was buying it. And by that I mean, nobody was buying Jackson’s pseudo tough/tender/ladies man act anymore. The weird was just too weird.

Then came the obligatory-yet-somehow-disappointing greatest hits collection, the horrifying-yet-believable stories about his sleepover parties with kids…

I shudder even to think about it. His last studio album, ironically named Invincible, came out after years of delays and way over budget — and to a tepid response.

It was around this time he was dangling babies off balconies and looking like a bad drag queen version of Elizabeth Taylor. Oh, and he’d somehow managed to go broke buying giraffes and rollercoasters and stuff. The music had hit bottom and the weird was at the top of the charts.

The amazingly talented and abused little boy who never had a childhood, never really had an adulthood, either. There’s so much blame to go around, you barely know where to start.

Anyway, that’s what popped into my head this morning after reading a story about the ongoing wrong death suit against his management. Especially this part:

Much of what jurors heard for the first time is a repeat of the scientific evidence presented in the trial of Murray, who is now serving a prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter. But some of what is in the coroner’s report seems to give more insight into Michael Jackson’s life rather than how he died.

Dr. Christopher Rogers noted in his autopsy report that Jackson’s lips were tattooed pink, while his eyebrows were a dark tattoo. The front of his scalp was also tattooed black, apparently to blend his hairline in with the wigs he wore.

The autopsy confirmed what Jackson told people who questioned why his skin tone became lighter in the 1980s. Jackson had “vitiligo, a skin pigmentation disease,” Rogers said. “So, some areas of the skin appear light and others appear dark.”

Jackson released a song in ’88 called “The Man In The Mirror,” which was one of his minor hits. And the man he saw in the mirror was bald, splotchy, underweight, and dotted above the neck with makeup tattoos. We saw the freak, but he — and his family, and his management, and his doctor — saw the wreck. A forty-year-long, slow-motion, train-derailment-scene-from-The-Fugitive, wreck.

As I settle quite solidly into middle age with all its attendant physical changes, it forces me to wonder what, if any, are the limits of vanity. Multiple plastic surgeries, forehead tattoos, stained lips, starvation, abuse of powerful anesthesia to attain beauty sleep — where does it stop?

We know where it stopped for Michael Jackson: With a panicked, enabling doctor sweating over his withered and lifeless body. And to think Jackson had once been a beautiful — and that is the right word — young man.

Dying tragically and young (if you’ll allow me to repeat myself) is nothing new in the world of popular music — but not like this. Is Jackson merely a reflection of a culture obsessed to death with staying young, or did he create that man-in-the-mirror himself?

It’s been almost exactly four years since his death at the age of 50, and there are still no easy answers; just the uneasy feeling that his weirdness is becoming our new normal.

****

Cross-posted at PJ Lifestyle

On a Scale of Bad to Total Suckitude…

April 23rd, 2013 - 3:15 pm

Presented for your morbid curiosity.

The President’s plan is worse than even the Progressive Caucus plan, yet not as bad as Harry Reid’s plan, which is far better than what’s already destined to happen.

Of course, this chart only shows projected deficits. What it doesn’t show you is just how high the vile prog caucus plans to jack up taxes and spending — and only the latter would ever truly materialize.

Headline of the Week

April 9th, 2013 - 9:42 am

You stay classy, vile progs.