Saturday, September 27, 2008

yay vacation!

Vacation time. See you all in 11 days. Maybe less. Probably more.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

what's wrong with a recession?

Why are the people who seem able to influence what happens during this financial morass seem so interested in avoiding a recession? Have they become so arrogant that they believe they can move beyond the economic cycle by simply printing more bail-out money? We need pain and we need it now. The alternative is much more pain in a few years.

But the system could collapse they say. So what? Is a little revolution now and then such a terrible thing? It's only fitting that we're due for a financial revolution and we get a sprinkling of cultural revolution thrown in as well. There will be blood, most of it metaphorical, but some of it could be literal and that might help remind people what it means to be responsible and accountable for the downfall of a system through the systematic flaunting of the rules and regulations that were placed there for a reason. It's a revolution, not a sound and cohesive financial system.

We as Americans also must accept the fact that we need to pursue, on average, a lower standard of living. Simplify. Don't obfuscate.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

panic, not at the disco, on Wall St.

I suspect LinkedIn is seeing a spike in activity from some (ex-)Wall Streeters this week. (Yes Jack, I'll updat my profile eventually.) That's right Lehman, your storied history has been trumped by your sub par management. Tragically, your management was only slightly less stellar than that of Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Merrill Lynch, Countrywide (that's right Mozilo, we didn't forget your role in this disasterpiece), and Washington Mutual. It's a good thing my money with WaMu is federally insured, but only for as long as the US government is solvent. You mean it's not solvent? (feigns surprise)

If anything, Lehman wasn't necessarily the most poorly run of the aforementioned all stars, they simply weren't big enough to win a bail out. My favorite financial blogger, Barry Ritholtz, ran through the the lessons learned from Bear Stears and why some earn their way (read: stumble) into a bailout while others are less vampirish. I think this sentence says it best, "Don't just risk your company, risk the entire world of Finance. Modest incompetence is insufficient -- if you merely destroy your own company, you won't get rescued. You have to threaten to bring down the entire global financial system." And now with what used to be the thirteenth biggest company (as a function of revenue) in America on the cusp of a conservatorship, it looks like we've decided to become socialists. Hurray? Or is it Hooray?

We just need to ask who's going to be next in line for a handout. No, we don't have to wait since it looks like it's going to be the automakers. I would've guessed airlines, but I can only assume that they were too busy figuring out how to continue to lose their latest loans. In all fairness, the airlines are doing what they should have done several years ago: cut routes, cut service, raise rates, charge for incidentals, and fly slower. Airlines going out of business is good for the industry. Sure it's bad for consumers and I don't like it since I fly more than the average person, though much less than any road warrior, but it is necessary. It would have been a good thing to see a major automaker go out of business too. Damn you Cerberus, why did you buy Chrysler? (I bet Nardelli is going to have just as much success running that ship as he did with Home Depot. And who knew Dan Quayle was part of that group. Weirdness.)

Back to the the financial debacle that is rapidly sinking this country. What happened? What should we do? And why are all the proposed solutions going to suck more than normal because it is an election year?

Some people want to circle back to housing and blame this on the collapse in the housing market and how it's pulling down the value of CDOs and other investments and et cetera. Damnit, that's so wrong. It's right in the sense that housing appears to have been the trigger, but it doesn't really address the root cause of the problem.

We're the problem. America has become complacent, allowing itself to be run by people of less than stellar moral fiber and we seem to implicitly accept this as sound management. Why was housing ever as expensive as it was? Why did people think it could only go up? How and why were people able to purchase (I use that term very loosely) houses with no-money down, in fact, paying even less than the interest on the mortgage? Why was so much stacked upon so little? Why do people think that they can get rich quick, have a free lunch, have their cake and eat it too?

My friend Jack is right. We should be angry. Actually, we should be pissed off. Perhaps I've been listening to too much anti-capitalist, angry, Flobots music (but it is really good and seems to fit so well right now). Damn, it's late and I'm getting up early. More anger coming.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

sunday's ike update? or not

Who cares. It didn't hit here and I'm not in Houston and neither are any of my employees. Now, as for North American headquarters, they get enough perks as it is so I shan't be shedding any crocodile tears.

In other fantabulous news, I am taking a moderately well-deserved vacation in two weeks. I'll be overseas haggling over the appropriate color of lederhosen to wear while studying finely crafted timepieces. As to when I'll be back in sunny California? Probably when it isn't so sunny, let's say the week of New Year's if all goes well.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

the boy who cried wolf

My great concern with how Hurricane Ike has turned out for Victoria, specifically our employees is that it was a lot of hype and no payoff. I certainly didn't want mayhem and destruction to descend upon the city, peoples' homes, and the yard, but we essentially saw nothing from the hurricane and I can already tell that some people will not take the next threat as seriously. Despite generally well-intentioned efforts, the forecasting of weather is a task that has a high margin of error.

As natural disasters go, hurricanes are agonizingly slow. We've been staring at Ike for over two weeks, even before it had a name over at the National Hurricane Center. Once a storm actually gets a name, there are a bevy of other sites available to spew forth colorful graphics and models, but almost all the raw data comes from the NHC. I favor like Stormpulse and Weather Underground for fancy colored things. The NHC site does have satellite imagery that you can watch in a loop, though I wish it went back more than five hours. It still is a very interesting look at how a hurricane moves.

All this forecasting is great but there's just so much of it. And the disasterpiece that was Katrina has made people in this part of the country both acutely aware of the consequences of being ill-prepared and somehow over-confident in their own preparations. Some of that is due in part to the fact that many people in the Gulf Coast region who are not from New Orleans generally look down on people who are from New Orleans. It would be fair to say that a not insignificant portion of that disdain is racial in origin. You may live above sea level, but a storm surge will still flood your home if you live in low-lying areas, especially places near water.

As far as disasters go, earthquakes have a certain suddenness that defies prediction and even some preparation. As much a logistical nightmare it is to evacuate people for a monstrous hurricane, it's simply not possible to even hazard a guess as to when an earthquake will strike. Hurricanes however can change direction and in this instance, by the time they realized the severity of damage Houston would experience, officials knew it was more dangerous to evacuate several million people from the city than to have them ride our the storm. The only mandated evacuations came from the coastal counties that were certain to flood.

saturday's ike update

Well, that was spectacularly boring. I might not be saying that if I as one of the 2.6 million people without power in Houston, but we did not see a lot of storm action in Victoria. In fact, it didn't rain at all last night and winds were probably never over 40 mph. As the past week progressed, the storm track forecast went from a landfall south of Corpus Christi all the way to it's actual landfall right by Galveston. And as big as Ike was (nearly the size of Texas by some measures), we were simply lapped by its gentle edges.

Houston is a mess. I am told that except for the hospital district, most of the city does not have power. The storm surge has flooded a large portion of the land between Galveston all the way to Houston Hobby airport.

Our yard is already very nearly up and running. Now if only I could get everyone to return to town instead of treating this like a vacation.

Friday, September 12, 2008

friday's ike update

I have made my decision and will be riding out the storm here in Victoria. Due to the change in the storm's forecast track closer to Galveston, the city has moved some of their emergency personnel to other counties that expect to be more severely impacted. No mandatory evacuation order has been issued and, at this point, none is expected. I will be up until about 01:00 to see the expected update before going to bed tonight.

There was a distinct quietness about the city today. Most businesses were closed today, though some were open in the first half of the day. I went for a short walk this afternoon from my place to Target. Some wind, but cloud cover wasn't complete and not a drop of rain yet. From what I have seen, less than half the homes have boarded their windows, but it seems to vary a lot by neighborhood. I would venture to guess that most of the boarded homes belong to people who have also left town since most of that occurred two days ago when Victoria seemed to be in greater danger.

I saw some interesting sunset colors and bands of clouds after dinner. Now, the wind is still blowing, but it's not what I would call strong. With landfall near Galveston, we should see a relatively boring hurricane for Victoria. I have been told by a friend in Houston that some parts have already been flooded by the storm surge, which is Houston's great threat. The city is a drainage nightmare and it's probably going to be very bad.

For work, I plan on being back at the yard by noon. I expect the weather to be raining and gusty but we should be striving to be operational as soon as possible provided that we do not lose power.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

thursday's ike update

Note: I cheated and dumped two other posts in at the same time so scroll down to read them, probably read those first.

We're closed as indicated in my last post. I am still in Victoria and will likely remain in Victoria if the storm continues to track north and east of Victoria. With landfall now much closer to Freeport than Port O'Connor, Victoria should see substantially lower wind speeds. I know definitively that at least four other employees from our yard are staying in town, though I suspect a couple more will also be around, especially given the storm's expected path. If, by tomorrow morning, Ike has veered back towards Victoria, I will be heading to San Antonio at a fairly early hour in the morning. Otherwise, I am prepared to ride out the storm here and should be able to handle no power or water for several days if it is necessary.


It's Thursday night, about 24-30 hours until landfall for Hurricane Ike. We closed shop this morning and by the end of the day, so had our major competitors. I know for sure that a smaller competitor was at least open during daytime hours. Driving around town today, it did seem a little bit emptier than normal but most stores were still open, though some have boarded most of their windows. I believe a significant number of businesses will be closed tomorrow even though the storm is turning further north towards Houston. The decision to close or stay open needs to get made far enough in advance that your employees have time to make their own preparations if leaving town becomes necessary. Unfortunately, that decision point must be made far enough in advance that we can all end up looking overly cautious if the potentially impending disaster doesn't materialize.

This evening, I did a drive-by of the work yard to make sure everything looked normal and then went looking for a bite to eat. It was interesting to see that McDonald's and Burger King were both closed at about 20:15 while Sonic, Whataburger, Taco Bell, and the Subway where I ended up eating were all open. I was hoping to get a $5 footlong sandwich and eat half for dinner and save half for lunch tomorrow. Tragically, they were out of bread and I wasn't too keen on waiting 35 minutes for the new bread to bake and cool. They told me a lot of out-of-towners had come through today. I have been seeing a disproportionate number of people with boats and campers on the road the last two days. Imagine that. Back on point, I opted for a personal pizza cooked in that super oven they have that can probably bake a 17 pound turkey in 4 minutes. This isn't meant to be a food review, but it was fair though some bites had some aromatic overtones that I couldn't quite place.

Back to which stores were closed and which ones were open. I should also mention that many local eateries were closed though I suspect two fundamentally different reasons for why the biggest of the big, McDonald's and Burger King would be closed while many of the other household names were open. It's the same reason we're closed and I like to call it liability. And bigger companies, through size alone, must be inherently more cautious when it comes to worker safety because of how the risk/reward equation is balanced. So what does McDonald's really lose by closing a day earlier than their competition? Some lost revenue which sucks for the local manager, but life goes on. What does McDonald's gain? Well, it's really about what they are even less likely to lose. Because now they've given their people enough time to evacuate, haven't coerced anyone to work while the wind rattles the storefront, and a little bit of goodwill from their employees. That last one especially because 36 hours ago, this storm was gunning for Victoria and the city was on the verge of issuing a mandatory evacuation order.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

wednesday's ike update

Earlier today, Ike was pointed straight at Victoria. It is now projected to make landfall almost due east of Victoria and pass to the northeast of us. This is obviously much better, but it is also better than if the storm passed us on the west. Given the counter-clockwise rotation of the hurricane, the winds coming over the top so to speak tend to be stronger. Our yard is essentially shut down, though a couple of us will make a final walk through in the morning. If necessary, I will evacuate to San Antonio and I have accommodations lined up though sleeping in my car would hardly be a first. Earlier today, a mandatory evacuation order for tomorrow morning seemed highly likely. Now, given the new track of the storm, it appears to have fallen to a roughly 50% probability based on no real information other than my gut feeling.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Here it comes. Also, see some nifty models that have borne steadily worsening news for Victoria.

We're still three days from landfall and that's both a lot of time and yet nowhere near enough. However, the show is going to go on as long as possible, which means until headquarters mandates a halt in operations. The only problem is that we can't exactly stop operations on a dime. For instance, we have every intention of engaging in pre-job preparations first thing tomorrow morning for a job that should go the next day. We need to mobilize equipment and cement to location prior to the call-out of the job. Tomorrow afternoon is supposed to be the decision point on whether or not we evacuate but we can't wait that long to prepare for some jobs. Of course, we can move equipment to districts that are further inland and work from there, but that's less than ideal. Some clients near the coast have shut down, but others are further inland and expect the hurricane to have weakened considerably by the time it pushes 100 miles inland.

We've already started to secure the yard and will push quite aggressively tomorrow to finish what is possible this early in the process. Most of it is basic yard clean-up putting things inside, etc. The aggravating part will come when we start to move physical files, lots and lots of paper to interior rooms for protection. Oh the joy.