mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Monday, December 31, 2012

So, I bought a new truck..

So I did a little New Year's Eve shopping today. I bought a new truck.

I bought a 2012 Nissan Pathfinder LE, in black. It's very nice - it's got pretty much every option: hard drive mP3 player, backup camera, heated leather, navigation, sunroof, 18" rims. It's the third new vehicle I've owned, it's the first one I've paid cash for, the first from a Japanese brand (although it was built in Smyrna, Tennessee, and my old Chrysler PT Cruiser was built in Mexico) and it's the vehicle with the most expensive sticker price I've owned by almost a factor of two.

I got a pretty decent price on it, thanks to lots of discounts and manufacturer's rebate. I traded in my Ranger - I got less for it than I would have liked, but it was a lot easier than trying to sell it myself and deal with Craigslist wackjobs.

So why a Pathfinder, and why now? I wanted something truck-based, something body on frame. I was planning on getting a pickup, probably a Frontier, but the incentives on the Pathfinder made it a lot more vehicle for a little more money, plus I would gain an enclosed cargo area without having to pay extra for a cap. My original plan was to wait until spring. But the reason for the big discounts on the Pathfinder was that it's been replaced with a car-based model for 2013, and it seemed pretty likely that if I waited until then there might not be any to buy, and certainly not one in the color I wanted. So I bit.

I hope I made the right decision. The Danger Ranger served me very well, for 101, 782 miles. But nothing lasts forever, and I depend on my vehicle. I would happily have bought another Ford if they sold something similar. This is the second most expensive thing I've ever bought after my house. Unlike my house, though, I know this will go down in value (my house was supposed to go up, but instead went down, according to Zillow by about 2 Pathfinders). But by buying something with pretty much everything on it, I figure I won't be making excuses that I need a new vehicle in a few years because it's missing something.

Now I just need to come up with a catchy name for it like I did for the Danger Ranger. But it's hard to come up with something that rhymes with Pathfinder. Maybe I'll just call it the Black Sheep.

New Year's resets..

So on "The Five", Greg Gutfeld rails against New Year's resolutions. So are resolutions a waste of time?

Maybe. For the last few years, I've taken New Year's to outline my goals for the new year. They are usually pretty much the same - keep in shape, save money, not be single. Sometimes they've included specific goals, usually financial.

And when I look at most year's accomplishments, they are pretty much the same - I've generally stayed in decent shape, put away some money - and am still single.

And I think that's the thing about resolutions. If you try to do things that you want to do, that are improvements or getting back to doing things you already do, you tend to be successful. Achieving your goals 101 is pretty much to come up with specific things you want to achieve, outlining how you are going to achieve them, and then taking those steps.

I've always been frugal, and I've made focusing on losing and maintaining my weight for close to a decade. So I usually do OK on those things, because I know exactly what I need to do to achieve those things. Losing weight comes down to consuming fewer calories and burning more of them - things that are difficult to do, but once you get in the habit of them, do-able. Saving money means spending less, making more.

This year, that is once again true. Weight-wise I've been drifting a lot of late - eating more, not working out anymore. And like most people I've overindulged even more around Christmas. My pants are a bit snugger than they should be, and a recent doctor's visit weigh-in confirms I'm about 10-15 pounds above where I want to be And there are some money habits I could do better at.

So I think New Year's is good as less of a resolution and more as a reset - a chance to get back to good habits you've let slide, a chance to put aside the excesses of Christmas and spend less, eat less, and spend more time working out. It also serves as a convenient drop-dead date - often, while downing my 5th Christmas cookie of the day, I told myself that come New Year's, it would be back to fruit.

But New Year's resolutions are less effective as a way to obtain things that you don't know how to maintain - which in my case is a girlfriend. Sure, there are plenty of things I can do that may help, and staying in shape is one of them - along with putting in time on dating sites, contacting or responding to women who I'm on the fence about, and otherwise trying to be more social. But dating relies on someone else liking you, something I can't control. That makes it frustrating - and it also makes it something that doesn't make a great New Year's resolution.

I'd like to think that when I write a similar post 365 days or so from now, I won't still be single. But if that's true, it probably will be due to events that have little to do with New Year's resolutions.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

What should we do about mass shootings? Probably nothing...

As anyone who isn't in a cave knows, there was a horrific shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut yesterday that left 26 people, including 20 kids, dead. As with any event like this, people are wondering what should be done to prevent it - and advocates of increasing gun restrictions or eliminating gun ownership are using it as an opportunity to advocate their positions.

But should we do anything in response to events like this? I would say no. For all the press these things get, they are exceedingly rare. That's why they get so much press - because they are unusual, as well as because we can relate to them - we all went to school at some point, many of us have kids in school, and we all go to public places like movie theaters or malls. The idea that someone could start shooting at us randomly is terrifying.

But it also probably won't happen. This year has been unusually bad for mass shootings, and this report from left-leaning political mag The Nation puts the number at 88. I would quibble with that number, as several of the shootings on the list don't fit the traditional definition of a mass shooting like the one used by this Mother Jones article - one public place, killing people at random. The Tennessee nightclub shooting followed a fight, the Miami funeral home shooting was gang-related, and the Delaware soccer tournament started when a shooter shot a specific individual. The racially motivated drive-bys in Oklahoma, by the Mother Jones definitions, were spree killings and not mass shootings. So that leaves us with 79 people killed in "traditional" mass shootings this year.

On the other hand, in 2010 (the most recent year I could easily find data for) according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 32,885 people were killed in vehicle accidents.That study doesn't break them down by age, but this 2003 study puts the number at 2,136, with traffic accidents being the biggest killer of children age 0-14, with 6 per day being killed.

You don't hear people talking about banning or seriously restricting cars, though, despite the fact that each and every week more kids are killed in car accidents than were killed this week in the worst school shooting ever. Nor should we - life is inherently risky - none of us get out of it alive - and shootings like this are part of the risk we take for living in a free and open society, just like getting killed by a car accident is a risk we take every time we turn the ignition and shift into drive.

But cars fulfill a need. I would argue that guns fulfill a need to - for defense, for hunting, and for keeping the government in check. But let's say you disagree, and you think most people just have guns because it's fun to shoot stuff. You know what else is also fun but not really necessary? Booze. Getting back to that 2003 NHTSA study I cited earlier, 21% were killed in alcohol-related crashes - that's about 420 kids a year. Disturbingly, about half of them were passengers with drivers who had been drinking. I'll admit that alcohol-related is a bit of a weaselly definition - it defines it as any alcohol in the bloodstream, not just being over the legal limit. But it seems fair to say that more kids will be killed this year by being passengers in cars driven by drunk parents than have been killed in mass shootings in decades.

Humans are not rational. And it's hard to be rational in the face of so much sadness and craziness. But good laws stem out of addressing the most serious problems with solutions that address those problems with the least possible cost - in terms of money and freedom - to citizens. Saying "we need to do something, and this is something" is how bad laws get passed, and events like this are the times legislators and citizens most want to do something. As difficult as it is, we need to reflect on how rare these events are and perform cost-benefit analysis if it's really worth taking the time and resources away from solving other, bigger, more deadly problems to fight something that is rare - if we do so, we'll actually cause more people to die.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

In praise of the Jenni-o Turkey Log...

I do most of my grocery shopping at the local Target, which is easy since my bachelor diet consists mostly of pasta and Diet Mountain Dew. But every now and then I want or need something from an actual grocery store, which is why yesterday afternoon I found myself frantically running around my local Weis looking for an item I feared may finally have been discontinued or dropped. Luckily, after my third trip through the frozen food freezers, I finally found it, on a bottom shelf under a bunch of various forms of frozen breaded formed chicken by-products - the Jenni-o Turkey Log


The Turkey Log is a piece of frozen, salted, history. It's a throwback to the 50's and 60's - to a time after frozen food had been invented, but before the microwave was. It harkens back to the days when families still had the time to wait 2 1/2 to 2 and 3/4 hours for dinner to be ready, and then sat around the family dinner table as Mom carved the lump of turkey log.

Basically, what the Turkey Log is is a large log of raw pre-formed turkey meat, with gravy, frozen in an aluminum pan. You set the oven to 350 degrees, throw it in, and in a little less than three hours you have a reasonably palatable turkey dinner. Serve with microwaved stovetop stuffing and your favorite frozen or canned vegetable for a meal that's at least 50% as tasty as your Thanksgiving dinner but takes 5% of the work.

So why do I like this lump of turkey enough to write a blog post about it? It's a cheap way for a lazy single person like me to make a pretty tasty dinner - I think I paid $5.49 for my turkey log, and I get three generous meals out of it (it's technically 6 servings, but I'm a growing boy). But I also love that it's a piece of history - an item that's survived unchanged for decades in a changing market. It's like Pabst Blue Ribbon, except it actually tastes better when it's warm.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

What does it mean to be an adult?

Walking back from lunch yesterday, one of my coworkers was pondering what it means to be an adult. Is it marriage? Having kids? Paying rent? Buying a house? Having a full time job? Native American societies supposedly had their rights of passage where young men would go out in to the woods as a boy and come back as a man, and the Amish have Rumspringa where they decide if they want to join the Amish community as an adult. But in modern American society, there is not such a hard line. Many of us graduate high school and go to college, which is often a weird combination of adult responsibilities and parental assistance. Even after that, in a society where everyone wears jeans and hoodies, where kids can remain on their parent's insurance policies until 26, what is adulthood?

At some point after college, I found myself realizing that I was voluntarily doing things that I remember rebelling about doing when forced to do so by my parents - things like making dentist appointments, serving a vegetable with dinner, or putting on a hat and gloves when it was cold. It occurred to me that, in a way, this was adulthood - doing the things you are supposed to do without being told to do it, and in fact not actually having to do it.

But that's a pretty clunky definition. So I think it can be summed up a little more clearly as: adulthood is when you routinely delay, or give up, gratification in pursuit of long term goals. Childhood, after all, is all about living in the moment - you tend to want candy and toys and to play. You tend not to be so good at long-term planning. Adulthood, on the other hand, is the opposite. It is the acceptance that you need to do things that are unpleasant in the short term to achieve things in the long term. Adulthood is, in a way, eating your vegetables because you know it's good for you, or going to the dentist because you know your long-term dental health outweighs the short-term pain (or in my case, because you figure the women you are hoping to meet online probably don't dig coffee stains).

The thing about adulthood is that you totally can make bad choices - but you generally don't. There is nothing to stop me from eating an entire cake for dinner tonight, or drinking an entire 30 pack of Natty Ice, or going out and buying a Porsche or a flat screen TV so big I can't fit it through my front door. But I won't, because I realize that despite the short term pleasure, it's not what I want long-term.

Most of the traditional marks of adulthood also fit this definition pretty well. Buying a house typically means deferred gratification to afford buying it, to make the mortgage payments, and to fix the toilet when it stops flushing. Marriage and having children, from what I'm told, often involves a significant amount of giving up immediate gratification for the sake of your spouse or children.

Of course, few of us are probably adults all the time - right now I'm sitting in a comfy chair typing this blog post, when I should be raking leaves or writing eBay descriptions. Sometimes we do choose the lesser thing, but adulthood is choosing the better/longer-term one most of the time. Getting up in the morning to go to work when you would rather be sleeping, getting a few more months out of your current vehicle, taking the kids to the doctor or the cat for her yearly checkup, going to the gym - those are all part of being an adult.