Saturday, October 23, 2010

Does your career need a check-up?

Michael Wade asks that important question in his most recent
essay in  the U. S. News & World Report-  here

For my money, reading and internalizing the wisdom found here,
here, and here, on a daily basis will keep any career on
an upward trajectory


Our friends at Keeping Current Matters ask a very important

"Is There a New 3.8% Tax on House Sales?"

Full story here.

Remember, this is tax law.  Easy answers are verboten.
Reading the article leaves me with the impression of

I think the ultimate goal here is to make it impossible for
your basic citizen to ever file their own tax return.  I long for
the day of a flat tax.

Call me a dreamer.

Why I was a History major............................

Interesting, and I am sure useful...................Full story here

Thanks to Naked Capitalism for pointing the way

Working hard..............

Thanks gapingvoid

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Era of Less....?

Faithful readers will remember that I like Jonathan Miller, who
blogs on the economy, real estate, and investing, under the
nom de guerre of Trendczar at

Haven't posted anything by the Trendczar lately.  He turned
pessimistic on me.  So seeing the title of his latest post, which
is the heading above, I almost passed on reading it.  I am glad
I read it.   Here.

Miller sees a future less bright than the past, but he also sees
a people who are learning to solve the problems they face
by accepting the responsibility for those problems and by
then making different- perhaps difficult- decisions.  Sounds
healthy and positive to me.

The bottom line is the behavior of Wall Street and much
of the real estate industry during a the first six years of the
2000's was unsustainable.  Miller says,

"But for players hoping for a return to a semblance of
the heady and extremely profitable transaction mania
days of the past 15 years, Emerging Trends signals don’t
hold your breath".

A "heady and extremely profitable transaction mania"
is not something we should hope to return to.  The last
one put a serious dent in the well being of our Country.

Slow, steady and sustainable growth sounds pretty
good to me.

"If wealth is limited, where did all this stuff come from....?"

Bill Whittle teaches optimism, economic freedom, and the
importance of baking a bigger pie.

Thanks to TigerHawk for pointing the way.

My daughter is obsessing over these videos........

Well, maybe obsession is too strong a word.  She sure laughs a
lot, though.   I look at this and think- this is what the e-trade baby
will be like as a teen.

"I want to help people"......"It must be such a thrill to argue a constitutional issue"....

This viral video is either about really, really, really wanting to
become a lawyer, or it is painting a picture of  what being really,
really, really jaded looks like.

I had this queued up to be posted yesterday morning, but due to
technical issues beyond my ken, it disappeared into the ether.
Trying again this morning.

In the meanwhile, I've forgotten whose link first led me to this.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Joan Baez.......................

....put on a first rate performance last night at the Midland
Theatre.   The house looked mostly sold out and by all accounts
the crowd thoroughly enjoyed her ninety minute show.  We
certainly did!

She opened with God is God, a Steve Earle tune I had not heard
before.  About half way through the song, I knew I'd be looking
for it on youtube.  Here it is (followed by the lyrics).  Enjoy

Lyrics to God is God by Steve Earle:
I believe in prophecy
Some folks see things
Not everybody can see
And once in a while
They pass the secret along
To you and me

And I believe in miracles
Something sacred burning
In every bush and tree
We can all learn to sing
The songs the angels sing

Yeah I believe in God
And God ain't me

I've traveled around the world
Stood on mighty mountains
And gazed across the wilderness
Never seen a line in the sand
Or a diamond in the dust
And as our fate unfurls
Every day that passes
I'm sure about a little bit less
Even my money keeps telling me
It's God I need to trust

And I believe in God
But God ain't us

God of my little understanding
Don't care what name I call

Whether or not I believe
Doesn't matter at all
I receive the blessings
That every day on earth's
another chance to get it right
Let this little light of mine
Shine and rage against the night

Just another lesson
Maybe someone's watching
And wondering what I got
Maybe this is why I'm here on earth
And maybe not

But I believe in God
And God is God

How they might view us.....1,000 years from now....

"An anthropologist from the South Pacific might study
Western Christmas (talking about the exchange of Christmas
cards) and conclude that an utterly pointless and profitless
but frantic midwinter commercial activity, inspired by
religion, dominates the lives of Westerners."

-fun excerpt from Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist

A measure of success..........circa 2010

Thanks What Would Dad Say

Timing, Timing, Timing.........?

An essay in the National Real Estate Investor suggests that
"location, location, location" is about to replaced as the three
most important words in an investors lexicon by by  "timing,
timing, timing "   Full essay here.

Interesting excerpt here:

Sound real estate fundamentals are no guarantee against
losses. All types of investors, including institutional
investors, have suffered capital losses because they
purchased real estate at the peak of the market and then
sold at a time that the market no longer supported the prices
originally paid.

Somewhere in that paragraph is a contradiction.  Investors
actually make the real money when they buy.  The price has to
be right for the investment to work.  I suspect that ten years from
now, when people are researching the "Great Recession", they
will find that the best investors were not buying "real estate at the
peak of the market", they were selling it.   Sound real estate
fundamentals means avoiding overpaying.  Many seasoned real
estate investors were just not buyers between 2003 and 2007,
as too many really smart, but inexperienced in real estate, people
were bidding the prices well beyond the realm of supportable.

Our economy is now enjoying the fruit of that behavior.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

As symbols go....................

few are as powerful as this picture of  St. Paul's Cathedral
surviving the German Blitz on London in 1940. 

St. Paul's architect and builder, Christopher Wren, was born this
day in 1632.  Wren was also an accomplished and influential
scientist, mathematician, and astronomer.  He was a founder
of the Royal Society and it's president in 1680.  

Here is an aerial photo of his greatest work:

Housing starts.....................

I suspect we have hit the bottom.  Two interesting charts from
Bill McBride's Calculated Risk:

Here is McBride's editorial comment (with which this blogger

As I've mentioned many times - this low level of starts is good
news for the housing market longer term (there are too many
housing units already), but bad news for the economy and
employment short term.

If during the year 2012, annual housing starts on the national
level reach 1,000,000, we should all celebrate.  Based on the
second chart, from a historical perspective, 1,000,000 starts
per year looks like a sustainable number.  Pray that we never
hit 2,000,000 housing starts a year again (especially two years
in a row).  We are paying the price for that sort of
unsustainable behavior right now.  What this means however, is
that construction industry cannot, sustainably, be a driver of our
national economy.   A nice supporting role perhaps, just not
the lead role.

We have some very nice building lots for sale, in case you
want to get a head start on the 2012 recovery.  Just call.

The answer to the question..............

"where do you find the time?" is right here:

Thanks to Nicholas and Kurt for the reminder

A bit more from Wallace D. Wattles........

Wattles (1860-1911) was the author of, among other things,
The Science of Getting Rich, The Science of Being Great,
and The Science of Being Well.  I suspect Napoleon Hill read
and was influenced by Wattles, as readers of Think and Grow
Rich will recognized "The Science".

Wattles said, in his Preface to The Science of Getting Rich,
"The reader who would dig into the philosophical foundations
of this is advised to read Hegel and Emerson for himself."
Hegel.......oh, my.

A few excerpts from Wattles:

The more gratefully we fix our minds on the Supreme when
good things come to us, the more good things we will receive,
and the more rapidly they will come; and the reason simply is
that the mental attitude of gratitude draws the mind into
closer touch with the source from which the blessings come.

There is no labor from which most people shrink as they do
from that of sustained and consecutive thought; it is the
hardest work in the world

The object of all life is development; and everything that lives
has an inalienable right to all the development it is capable of

...for you can render to God and humanity no greater service
than to make the most of yourself.

...remember that your thought must be held upon the creative
plane; you are never for an instant to be betrayed into
regarding the supply as limited, or acting on the moral level
of competition.

Give every man more in use value than you take from him in
cash value; then you are adding to the life of the world by
every business transaction.

Guard you speech.  Never speak of yourself, your affairs, or
of anything else in a discouraged or discouraging way. Never
admit the possibility of failure or speak in a way that infers
failure as a possibility.  Never speak of the times as being
hard, or of business conditions as being doubtful.  Times may
be hard and business doubtful for those who are on the
competitive plane, but they can never be so for you; you can
create what you want, and you are above fear.  When others
are having hard times and poor business, you will find your
greatest opportunities.

By thought, the thing you want is brought to you. By action,
you receive it

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Happy belated birthday..............Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry, "the greatest of the rock and rollers" was born 
yesterday in 1926.   Enjoy!

About those land use restrictions....................

Washington D. C. rents now higher than Manhattan rents?

In many ways Washington, D.C., as a "low rise city", is a delight
architecturally.  In 1899, in an attempt to keep the Capital "light
and airy" and because of concerns over building and fire fighting
capabilities, Congress passed legislation limiting the height of new
construction.  That law was amended by the Heights of Buildings
Act of 1910.  As a result, a building in the District cannot be more
than 20 feet  taller than the width of the street it fronts on.  The
tallest commercial building in downtown Washington D.C. is One
Franklin Square, a 210 foot high twelve story building.  For
comparison sake, the Washington Monument is 555 feet tall.

When land use restrictions limit the supply of developed real
estate, guess what?  The real estate gets more expensive.  That
old supply and demand thing strikes again.

Interesting story about the impact of that law, 100 years later,
was posted by Matthew Yglesias here.

Excerpt here:

Rules which mandate that the space be used inefficiently are
extremely costly. Sometimes it’s a price worth paying—you
wouldn’t want a city with zero parks—but there are limits to
how much it makes sense to sacrifice for aesthetics.

Meat of his argument here:

I know many people enjoy the aesthetic results of this policy.
I disagree, but leaving that aside I think few supporters of the
short buildings policy really appreciate the extent of the costs
involved. Leave ecological issues aside. If a higher proportion
of the area’s office workers were in DC rather than the
suburbs, then the volume of retail sales in the city would go
up. That’s more service-sector jobs for low-skill DC residents.
That, in turn, means less demand for social service
expenditures. It also means higher sales and income tax
revenue. All of which means that social services could be
more generous to those in need, with somewhat lower sales
 and income tax rates. The lower tax rates would make the
city a more attractive place to live or do business, raising
property values across the board.

The law of unintended consequences strikes again.  By keeping
Washington D.C. a "low rise" city, the government has been
forced to locate a significant number of its offices a long way
from the city, creating vast amounts of "suburban sprawl" along
the way.  Not that I think that is a bad thing, by the way.  Just
strikes me as ironic.

Hernando de Soto..........

Ah.......the Internet.  I followed a link from Richard Green to
Yves Smith to an essay by Peter Coy in Business Week, here.

Coy's essay adds some important background information to
Foreclosuregate.  But, what really caught my eye was his
mention of Hernando de Soto's The Mystery of Capital: Why
Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else.
My bookcase holds two of de Soto's works,  The Mystery of
Capital and The Other PathBoth are well worth reading.

If I read de Soto correctly, the major reason capitalism
works so well in the United States is our well established
system of recording titles to property and our legal system's
historic precedence for both protecting those titles and
support of contract law.  It is a legal framework, often
overlooked by those not in the industry, but missing in many
other parts of the world.

Here are a few excerpts from The Mystery of Capital, written
in the year 2000:

Legal property empowers individuals in any culture....

The single most important source of funds for new businesses
in the Untied States is a mortgage on the entrepreneur's

As Adam Smith pointed out, money is the 'great wheel of
circulation,' but it is not capital because value 'cannot consist
in those metal pieces.'  In other words, money facilitates
transactions, allowing us to buy and sell things, but it is not
itself the progenitor of additional production.

What creates capital in the West, in other words, is an implicit
process buried in the intricacies of its formal property systems.

The integration of all property systems under one formal
property law shifted the legitimacy of the rights of owners
from the politicized context of local communities to the
impersonal context of law.

By transforming people with property interests into account-
able individuals, formal property created individuals from
masses.......Freed from primitive economic activities and
burdensome parochial constraints, they could explore how to
generate surplus value from their own assets.

I am not a die-hard capitalist.  I do not view capitalism as a
credo,  Much more important to me are freedom. compassion
for the poor, respect for the social contract, and equal
opportunity.  But for the moment, capitalism is the only game
in town.  It is the only system we know that provides us with
the tools required to create massive surplus value.

Somebody is worried about Foreclosuregate.........

Accompanying story here

Wallace D. Wattles..................

"Train yourself to think of and look upon the world as some-
thing which is Becoming, which is growing; and to regard
seeming evil as being only that with is undeveloped.  Always
speak in terms of advancement; to do otherwise is to deny
your faith, and to deny your faith is to lose it.  Never allow
yourself to feel disappointed.  You may expect to have a
certain thing at a certain time, and not get it at that time;
and this will appear to yo like failure.  But, if you hold to
your faith you will find that the failure is only apparent.
Go on in the certain way, and if you do not receive that
thing, you will receive something so much better that you
will see that seeming failure was really a great success."

-Wallace D. Wattles, The Wisdom of Wallace D. Wattles

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Pride of Philadelphia..................

Danny and the Juniors...........Let's go to the hop

Mason and Dixon............................

October 18th:
"On this day in 1767, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon
complete their survey of the boundary between the colonies
of Pennsylvania and Maryland as well as areas that would
eventually become the states of Delaware and West Virginia.
The Penn and Calvert families had hired Mason and Dixon,
English surveyors, to settle their dispute over the boundary
between their two proprietary colonies, Pennsylvania and

Full (well, maybe) history lesson here and here.

Musical accompaniment here:

An indictment of ........

our educational system.  "....we shouldn't be putting them to
sleep, we should be waking them up to what they have
inside themselves."

Sir Ken Robinson suggests our current educational model
is not serving us well. 

Check his thoughts on the "the plague of  ADHD", starting
around 3:37.  "These children are being medicated as
routinely as we have our tonsils taken out and on the same
whimsical basis and for the same reason.........medical

Thanks to for pointing the way

A poem for a Monday in the Fall...


The woods is shining this morning.
Red, gold, and green, the leaves
lie on the ground, or fall,
or hang full of light in the air still.
Perfect in its rise and in its fall, it takes
the place it has been coming to forever.
It has not hastened here, or lagged.
See how surely it has sought itself,
its roots passing lordly through the earth.
See how without confusion it is
all that it is, and how flawless
its grace is.  Running or walking, the way
is the same.  Be still.  Be still.
"He moves your bones, and the way is clear."

-Wendell Berry

A Prayer to start the week...........


                       Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know
the difference.

Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did,
this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He
will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be
reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.


-Reinhold Niebuhr

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Diamonds and Rust..............

Joan Baez sings one of my favorite songs.  We have tickets for
her upcoming concert at the Midland Theatre.  My daughter's
first volleyball tournament game is scheduled at the same time.


A chart is worth 1,000 words.  The rate of inflation has been
on a mostly downward trend  for twenty years.  It is hard to
imagine that at the peak of the real estate bubble, with values
climbing to unsustainable heights, the underlying inflation rate
was less than 4%.

Thanks as always to Bill McBride at Calculated Risk for the
fun charts.  One chart I would like to see would be this one, back
to 1970, with the price of gasoline overlaid.  Just curious.


In Praise of .......................

capitalism and commerce.

"Perhaps Adam Smith was right, that in turning strangers
into honorary friends, exchange can transmute base self-
interest into general benevolence.  The rapid commercial-
isation of lives since 1800 has coincided with an extra-
ordinary improvement in human sensibility compared with
previous centuries, and the process began in the most
commercial nations, Holland and England.  Unimaginable
cruelty was commonplace in the pre-commercial world:
execution was a spectator sport, mutilation a routine
punishment, human sacrifice a futile tragedy and animal
torture a popular entertainment.  The 19th Century, when
industrial capitalism drew so many people into dependence
on the market, was a time when slavery, child labour and
pastimes like fox tossing and cock fighting became unaccept-
able.  The late 20th century, when life became still more com-
mercialised, was a time when racism, sexism, and child mo-
lesting became unacceptable.  In between, when capitalism
gave way to various forms of state-directed totalitarianism
and their pale imitators, such virtues were noticeable by their
retreat- while faith and courage revived.  The 21st Century,
when commercialisation has so far continued to spread, is
already a time when battery farming and unilaterally de-
claring war have just about become unacceptable.  Random
violence makes the news precisely because it is so rare;
routine kindness does not make the news precisely because
it is so commonplace.  Charitable giving has been growing
faster than the economy as a whole in recent decades.  The
internet reverberates with people sharing tips for free."

"There is a direct link between commerce and virtue. 
'Far from being a vice,' says Eamonn Butler, 'the market
system makes self interest into something thoroughly
virtuous.' "

-An excerpt from Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist

Sunday's Verse

1.  What keeps the world in chains but your beliefs?  And
what can save the world except your Self?  Belief is powerful
indeed.  The thoughts you hold are mighty, and illusions are
as strong in their effects as is the truth.  A madman thinks
the world he sees is real, and does not doubt it.  Nor can he
be swayed by questioning his thoughts' effects.  It is when
their source is raised to question that the hope of freedom
comes to him at last.

2.  Yet is salvation easily achieved, for anyone is free to
change his mind, and all his thoughts change with it.  Now
the source of thought has shifted, for to change your mind
means you have changed the source of all ideas you think or
ever thought or yet will think.  You free the past from what
you thought before.  You free the future from all ancient
thoughts of seeking what you do not want to find.

3.  The present now remains the only time.  Here in the
present is the world set free.  For as you let the past be
lifted and release the future from your ancient fears, you
find escape and give it to the world.  You have enslaved
the world with all your fears, your doubts and miseries,
your pain and tears, and all your sorrows press on it,
and keep the world a prisoner to your beliefs.  Death
strikes it everywhere because you hold the bitter thoughts
of death within your mind.

-Lesson 132: 1-3
Workbook for Students
A Course in Miracles