Friday, February 27, 2009

Americans' Online Searches show economy is bad. Really?

Welcome to another edition of "Signs that the economy is bad," here at The Itinerant Librarian. I came across this press release from ComScore on "Americans' Online Search Behavior Points to Significant Increase in Personal Financial Turmoil." It seems that more Americans are running online searches with terms like "unemployment" and "coupons." I wonder why. Could it be that the economy really is bad, and people are trying to get information to help them out? On the one hand, this study seems a statement of the obvious. I kind of wonder how much they spent on the study. But on the other hand, I do find it interesting that they (the powers that be) can keep track of things like the search terms people are using. I do wonder a bit how they do it to break it down by demographics. Anyhow, you know things are bad when Internet searches are not so much for porn as they are for "unemployment benefits" and "coupons."

P.S. The ComScore site had a little "Blog This" feature, which I am using for this post. Not as rich as just firing up Blogger itself to do it, but it does give you enough to make a post on the fly. Not too shabby.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Guardian's 1000 Novels List: Damn, that's a lot of books!

I came across The Guardian's 1000 Novels Everyone Should Read a while back. It is a cool idea, even if I may not agree with all of the choices. Since I can't resist book lists, I am making a note of this one here. Now, when you go to the link I posted above, it will take you to the main page. You see, The Guardian has a series of small articles and posts related to the list. broken down by topics. Finding the actual list itself takes a little digging, but I am saving you the trouble by putting the list's link right here. The list is broken down by genres, which may be helpful. Personally, I think it is a little too high brow, but that is just me, and the labels are not perfect (there are a few things under the scifi/fantasy list that are not scifi by any common standard or stretch of the imagination). By the way, these lists cover fiction. You want nonfiction, you have to go someplace else. So, go take a look. See what you have read. Find some ideas of what else to read. Or just wonder about the fact someone made yet another book list claiming it is one everyone should read.

The One Book Meme

My two readers know by now that I can't resist a book meme. I got this from CW, who in the tradition of fine memes everywhere got it from someplace else. Anyhow, here goes:

One book you’re currently reading: Marc Gascoigne and Christian Dunn, eds., Let the Galaxy Burn (short fiction collection, Warhammer 40,000).
One book that changed your life: Paulo Coehlo's The Alchemist.
One book you’d want on a deserted island: Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough For Love.
One book you’ve read more than once: Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan, A Passion for Books.
One book you’ve never been able to finish: Tim Powers, The Anubis Gates.
One book that made you laugh: George Carlin, 3 Times Carlin: An Orgy of George.
One book that made you cry: N/A (have not found one yet)
One book you keep rereading: Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
One book you’ve been meaning to read: Douglas Adams, A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
One book you believe everyone should read: Alan Moore, Watchmen.

Like CW, I found challenging not repeating books because for me a couple of these could fall in different categories. Now I could also expand a bit on some of these titles, but the meme is to simply list them. So we'll leave the explanations and commentary for some other time.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Some states may get rid of executions to save money

This could be another edition of "Signs that the economy is bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian, but this topic is a bit more serious than the usual fare for my semi-regular feature here. I came across this story reporting that "US States May Axe Executions to Cut Costs." One of the folks leaving a comment on that story was glad that "that none of the politicians are arguing that they should just cut the 'red tape' that allows for appeals and lawyers." Well, I will argue it.

Comedian Ron White has said of Texas, "other states are trying to abolish the death penalty. My state's putting in an express lane." I don't necessarily want to make light of the issue, but let's be honest. A big reason the death penalty does not work is that it takes years to execute someone. You should indeed have an express lane to execute people. And in the interest of disclosure, while I say you should not use the death penalty lightly, there are some crimes that are just so heinous, so monstrous, so dehumanizing, that nothing less than the death penalty will do. The problem is society chooses to keep the death row people behind bars so they can do appeal after appeal after appeal for decades on end. That has to stop. Set a limit on their appeal, and once they are exhausted, so be it.

The article goes on about some of the costs of an execution. For instance:

  • "On top of a complex and lengthy process, appeals can last years and the prisoners are often represented by lawyers paid by the state." So, not only do the condemned get appeals that seem unlimited in some case, but the state has to pay their lawyers too. Big cost right there.
  • "Guarding death rows and death chambers are also costly items on a state's budget." This is pretty evident. The longer you keep them in jail, the higher the costs. After all, it is not just guarding them. As long as they are in jail, they get their three squares a day and full medical care as well as a roof over their head. More costs.
Now, I do not think the death penalty as it currently works is perfect. The idea that someone innocent could get executed is pretty abhorrent. Having said that, once their guilt is determined beyond whatever legal requirement, it's high time to apply the punishment.

On the other hand, you could just imprison those folks for life, and life would mean exactly that. They die behind prison walls without ever having the chance to see the outside world at all. Anyone remember the scene in Shawshank Redemption where they are cleaning the graves of the prisoners? My point exactly. Overall, I do find it interesting that all it takes is an economic downturn and suddenly states want to look over the issue of executions, an issue they pretty much ignore or take for granted, or in the case of Texas at least, they seem to relish. I say if you have it in the books, stop procrastinating and use it. Otherwise, get rid of it and imprison those who would have gone on death row for life. Just keep in mind your costs are not necessarily going to go down.

You still have to build more prisons if you are going to keep more people in prisons. Then you have to find places to build your new prisons. Americans are notorious for their NIMBY attitude. So good luck with building more prisons. Overall, what they do not tell you in the article is the other costs of keeping people in prison long term and increasing the numbers of said prisoners over time.

Just a thought.

A hat tip to Common Dreams.

Friday, February 13, 2009

First it was the bankers' women, now the bankers themselves are whining

Welcome to yet (hey, two in a day) edition of "Signs that the economy is bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. Today we have bankers crying and whining because they may get their salaries capped at 500K if the new U.S. President gets his way in the bailout legislation. As if their women did not have enough to worry about, The New York Times tells us the sad tale of the poor millionaire bankers who may have to learn to live within their means. Imagine that. Their banks are not making as much money, and they may have to downsize and/or draw on their savings like the rest of us. The horror. Let's look at some of the numbers the article offers to illustrate this catastrophe:

"PRIVATE school: $32,000 a year per student. Mortgage: $96,000 a year. Co-op maintenance fee: $96,000 a year. Nanny: $45,000 a year."

Hmm, let me see. Send your kids to public school, find a cheaper place to live, and a cheaper day care arrangement (or how about maybe taking care of the kids yourself for a change). Most people would probably think as I am thinking now. But not these people who live in overpriced and hyped New York City. Heaven forbid they learn to commute and use public transportation, which by the way is a hell of a lot better than the rest of the country (and that is not saying much).

I can understand the basic math. I mean, the government is quite a pirate when it comes to taking your taxes no matter who you are. If you hold a job, the saying of taxes as one of the two sure things holds:

"Like those taxes. If a person is married with two children, the weekly deductions on a $500,000 salary are: federal taxes, $2,645; Medicare, $139; state taxes, $682; and city, $372. With an annual Social Security tab of $6,621, the take-home pay is about $293,000 annually, said Martin Cohen, a Manhattan accountant."

Having said that, adding this to the equation is not going to get you a lot of sympathy, especially if you were one of those play loose bankers who helped cause this mess in the first place:

"Barbara Corcoran, a real estate executive, said that most well-to-do families take at least two vacations a year, a winter trip to the sun and a spring trip to the ski slopes. Total minimum cost: $16,000."

Maybe Barb and her ilk need to learn to live within means. I would love to take two vacations a year, but I know I can't afford it. Not at $16K a pop. Get over it and teach your kids some frugality. Also, you may want to learn about the idea of a staycation for a change, and NYC does have plenty to do, unlike Tyler, TX where I live. And even when I go out of town for a small vacation with the itinerant family, I still don't spend $16K. Next:

"A personal trainer at $80 an hour three times a week comes to about $12,000 a year."

Time to do your own personal training. Get an exercise video. Go for a walk. Get a book and learn to do your routines yourself. Works for the average peons; you can learn it too. Besides, you are not making the money to pay for the $80 sessions. When you were making it, it was all fine to spend it. You are not making that kind of money anymore, stop whining and adjust your lifestyle. Everyone else learns to adjust in tight times. Consider yourselves lucky. Congress is bailing your banks out. Many regular people who are really suffering will get squat from Congress.

So, to my two readers, go ahead and read the rest of the article. I don't think you will hear much of the maudlin violins the NYT is trying to play for its readers.

A hat tip to Boing Boing.

Starbucks to offer instant coffee.

Welcome to yet another edition of "Signs that the economy is bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. Today we learn that Starbucks will begin offering an instant coffee. Yes, you read that right. Instant coffee. The company known for their $4 lattes and their fancy coffee drinks in the exotic sizes now has decided to give competition to other fine brands like Sanka. Taster's Choice? Look out, Starbucks is coming after you. Folgers? You are next.

This has to be a serious sign that the economy is bad when a company that made its reputation on the fact they sell fancy coffee drinks now has to worry such a reputation could be a problem. The company has not been doing well overall in the current economy. According to the article, "analysts have been awaiting a turnaround concept from Starbucks for more than two years, ever since the company's profits started declining due to over-expansion and increased competition from McDonald's (MCD, Fortune 500) and Dunkin Donuts." In other words, they were handed their asses to them by Mickey D's and Dunkin Donuts. Mickey D's for crying out loud makes better coffee than Starbucks. Don't take my word for it. The fine folks at Consumer Reports said so; it is reported here for instance.

So instant coffee is the best that the Starbucks folks can come up with the turn around the company? Well, according to the article, "while the product [instant coffee] has fallen out of favor in the U.S., it is still widely consumed in countries like Brazil and England." Maybe they can get all those Brits and Brazilians to drink Starbucks Instant, which will be known as Via.

Oh well, just another sign that the economy is bad. Personally, I will keep making my own coffee, thank you very much.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

In case anyone out there dares to say "But Bush kept the country safe after 9/11"

I am definitely sharing this. While I am not necessarily "for" the current president or his party either, the past occupant of the White House definitely deserves his bad reputation as a poor leader and president. When some people use that line of "but we have been safe since 9/11," it makes me want to holler, "what the heck are you thinking?" Well, I will just show them this. Thanks Mr. Olbermann for laying it out in 8 minutes. Because at the end of the day, a lot of things could have been done or prevented before the disasters happened, but the guy who is "not a big reader" and his cronies chose not to do what needed to be done.

And P.S. I will certainly be keeping an eye on the new guy too. You can do it as well by staying informed and using critical thinking. Also, sites like the Obamameter can help in keeping the politicians accountable. Because at the end of the day, the politicians are elected officials. In other words, people need to be informed and then actually vote accordingly.