Thursday, December 31, 2009

Armed Forces Bowl

I don't want to talk about it, other than to say that it really, really sucked. Six interceptions, Case? Seriously?

I'll have my end-of-year review of the 2009 University of Houston football season up in a week or two. But I think it's safe to say that, in winning 10 games this season, the Cougars actually overachieved. The defense was one of the nation's worst this past season, due partially to the fact the the Coogs just don't have the athletes on that side of the ball, but also due to the fact that Skladany simply isn't a very impressive defensive coordinator. The team's problems, however, don't stop with the defense. Sumlin and his staff have a lot of work to do during the course of the offseason on both sides of the ball.

It's a very disappointing way to end what in many respects was a fun season, but there's nothing to do now except look ahead. Go Coogs!

Saying goodbye to 2009

Nobody does it quite like JibJab:

Happy New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

To those who think there are too many bowl games:

Granted, Idaho and Bowling Green might not be powerhouse football programs in big-time conferences. And with their just-above-mediocre seasons (both with 7-5 records coming into the game), nobody is going to mistake either school for Texas or Alabama.

But: in what way was the sport of college football harmed by yesterday's thrilling Roadys' Humanitarian Bowl between the two, which featured 15 points being scored in the final minute of the game?

A frequent chorus I hear from pundits and fans alike is that there are "too many" bowl games. And to be sure, there are a lot of them. Every team with a winning record, and several with 6-6 seasons, gets to go to a bowl game now.

But how, exactly, does that hurt football?

In this case, the players from Idaho and Bowling Green got an end-of-season reward and some national TV time, and those of us who enjoy college football got to watch a fun game with an exciting finish. Where's the harm in that?

For those of you who complain about the proliferation of postseason bowl games, I have a simple solution: don't watch the ones you don't think are "worthy." Let the rest of us will enjoy games like the Humanitarian Bowl.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Hoping that everyone is having a safe, fun and fulfilling holiday season!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2009 UH Cougar football attendance

Although the season did not end with the Conference USA championship that the Cougar faithful had hoped, the 2009 University of Houston football season was, relatively speaking, a successful one at the turnstiles. The Coogs averaged 25,242 fans across six home games this fall, an increase of 3,723 fans per game over last season. This is Houston's highest attendance average since the 1991 season, and this was the first time since the 1984 season that the Cougars had no home games with less than 20,000 fans in attendance. Furthermore, this average was helped by the 32,114 fans that attended Houston's game against Texas Tech - the largest home crowd the Cougars have had since returning to Robertson Stadium in 1998. My historical wins-versus-attendance graph has been updated accordingly.

While attendance at University of Houston football games is still not where it ought to be, compared with other football programs of similar stature, there is no question that crowd averages are trending upward. Certainly, winning football has a lot to do with this. However, other developments, such as the significant (and on-going) increase in on-campus housing, are also doubtlessly playing a role.

Let's hope the trend continues in 2010.

The subprime mentality

Of course, nobody expected the recently-passed CARD Act to completely keep greedy banking companies from screwing their customers. The legislation eliminated some rather odious practices of credit lenders, but banks quickly found some loopholes to exploit. From the Chronicle's Loren Steffy:
To dance around the new consumer protections on credit cards, First Premier Bank is now issuing a card with an interest rate of 80 percent. Previously, First Premier had a card that charged $256 a year in fees for a $250 credit line. The new laws won't allow that - they cap fees at 25 percent of the credit line -- but they don't limit interest rates.

Now, obviously, First Premier is charging this rate because it's extending credit to some of the riskiest borrowers in the market. But it shows the subprime mindset at work. Banks will do whatever they must, circumvent whatever laws are written, to continue to tap this highly lucrative market of extending credit to people who shouldn't have it.

That's right: a card with an 80 percent interest rate. That used to be known as "usury." I guess now it's just known as "standard business practice," at least for the bank in question.

It can be fairly argued that such a scheme is the only way for people with bad credit histories to repair their credit scores, or that credit is such an important commodity that it should be available, in some form, to everyone, including people who really shouldn't have it. At the end of the day, however, practices such as this are simply predatory. These kinds of cards are targeted at people who've already proven that they can't manage debt. The bank knows that the overwhelming number of these people are not likely to show any newfound responsibility for their credit management and that most of them will eventually default, but if they can make a lot of profit in the form of interest in the meantime, then who cares that these people will likely end up in a worse financial situation than they were before?

Steffy also hits upon something else that I completely agree with:
It also shows the myth of those who believe the Community Reinvestment Act forced banks to make subprime mortgages. There was no need to force them. Banks rushed into the market, slobbering after customers they knew couldn't pay. The subprime mentality dictates that an irresponsible borrower is worth more than a responsible one.
Although there are valid arguments regarding the role of some government regulations and policies in the subprime housing bubble (for example, the Fed keeping interest rates low), I've never brought into the idea that the CRA was in any major way responsible for the housing bubble. I've yet to hear a cogent argument as to why a law passed in the 1970s to combat the discriminatory practice of redlining was responsible for a housing bubble in the 2000s. The CRA is a scapegoat for the "unregulated free markets are always good and government regulation is always bad" crowd, attempting to excuse a phenomenon that was, in fact, caused largely by the unregulated ability of lenders to make money off of people who should never have been allowed to buy homes in the first place.

Apparently, some bankers have not learned their lesson.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Breaking the silence

Yes, I am still here, and this blog is still active, although I realize that "active" is a relative term. I haven't generated a lot of new material lately.

As I have noted in previous posts, my current focus is on some ongoing, unresolved changes in my personal life. I've also had some pressing issues in my professional life (unfortunately, a RFP that I spent many long hours working on did not result in my company's landing the project). I've furthermore been busy with some travel (to Florida in mid-November and to North Carolina in early December; I'll have pictures and recaps of both up shortly) as well as the standard holiday rush (although I am pleased to announce that I am done Christmas shopping). Lori and I are also currently dealing with an unfortunate and distressing situation regarding Kirby's education that will probably require us to find yet another school for him in the near future. All this means that posting on this blog has been sparse over the past few months and will likely continue to be so well into 2010.

Unfortunately, I haven't had time to write about the last few games of the UH Cougar football season (the Coogs ended the regular season with a 10-2 record and the Conference USA West division championship but unfortunately lost the conference's title game to East Carolina). However, I will provide a full season recap after the Cougars complete their bowl game, a rematch of last year's Armed Forces Bowl showdown against Air Force.

I also haven't had time to add my thoughts about the latest trouble in Dubai. Last month's announcement that the Emirate was attempting to restructure the mountain of debt under which it was struggling sent a brief wave of panic through world financial markets and, predictably, generated another flurry of Dubai-bashing articles from the Western press. A Times of London report on the latest crisis featured a cartoon of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum drowning in a sea of debt; this apparently offended Emiriati authorities such that the paper was banned from distribution in the UAE. British journalist Johann Hari, whose hatred of the Emirate seems to know no limits, meanwhile took the opportunity to describe Dubai as "morally bankrupt" and a "sinister mirage in the desert."

Bashing aside, I think that British academic Christopher Davidson and Harvard economist Edward Glaeser have the best takes on what is going on over there right now. In sum: Dubai is currently facing some serious problems, and there are likely going to be changes in the way business is done there, but rumors of the city-state's impending death are grossly exaggerated. On a personal note I think it is going to be a long time, if ever, before I make any more business trips there.

Anyway, I have a backlog of posts that I want to clear over the next few weeks. Shortly after the new year begins, however, this blog will probably go silent again for awhile, at least until things in my personal life are resolved. Afterwards all will be revealed and I'll hopefully get back to the business of writing on a regular, or at least semi-regular, basis.

In the meantime, I've tweaked some of the links in my blogroll, adding new sites I enjoy reading and removing a bunch of old sites which are either dead or which I no longer bother to read. I've also added word verification for comments. This is a step I really didn't want to take, but the increasing amount of comment spam I have been receiving (most of it Japanese porn spam; go figure) has forced me to turn on this option. I apologize for any inconvenience.