mad anthony

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

Friday, September 30, 2005

Why would I choose a more expensive alternative?

I was using the "blogs that link to this blog" feature on Technorati, and found this post on commenting on an old post about gas price elasticity. His problem seems to be a comment I made that I chose to make a trip (in May, when gas prices were still around $2/gallon) to NJ to visit my family. He says that I should have been smart enough to use alternatives - you know, being an MBA student and all.

My point was that gas prices are ineleastic, because demand doesn't change much despite higher prices, and I offered my own personal thoughts on why it hasn't changed my purchasing. But even if alternatives exist, it doesn't change my hypothosis - that gas prices are inelastic - if people choose to still buy gas instead of using those alternatives.

But there is a good reason why I drove instead of taking greyhound or amtrack - lower marginal cost. I used prices from today, since I couldn't go back in time to May. A round trip ticket on greyhound would be $65 (baltimore downtown to newark) and an amtrack ticket (Baltimore Penn Station to Newark) would cost $89. That doesn't include the cost of getting to the station (cab or car parking) or getting from Newark to my parent's house in Somerset County (about 45 minutes away).

on the other hand, I get at least 25 miles a gallon, and it's about 200 miles each way. Gas was $2 a gallon in may, so that's about $32. At today's prices, it would be $48. Most of the other costs of my car are fixed - I would pay insurance, car payments, and registration even if my car sat on the street for the weekend (where it would probably acculate at least one $32 parking ticket). True, there is wear and tear on the car, but that's hard to calculate.

There are also large nonmonetary advantages to driving. I can leave when I want instead of having to catch a bus or train. I can crack open the windows and the sunroof and play my music and sing along and nobody cares. Plus, I can fit more in my car than I would on a train or in a bus - since my landlord charges me per load to do laundry, I usually bring home a couple bags of dirty clothes with me (which is an added financial incentive). And I have a car to use while I'm in NJ, a significant advantage.

from Colby:
And it would seem easy to prove that there's no inessential traveling in American life: simply define every trip as inherently essential, and the argument is made.

The point of my original post wasn't to evaluate consumer behavior, but rather to explain it. But in a free market, if a consumer says a trip is essential, then it is. And it doesn't have to be essential - they just have to feel that the benefit (monetary and non-monetary) is greater than the cost.

Making laws is like making sausage...

I was speaking to two coworkers yesterday who are regular readers of this blog. One commented that my writing has seemed "less angry" and I said it was probably because it's been less political, because I haven't found any political subjects to have strong feelings over. The other coworker then mentioned that he did have something that he was disappointed with - the amount of spending Bush has proposed for Katrina recovery in Louisiana.

I agree with him. I would love it if Bush pointed out that while Katrina was tragic and effected many people, tragedies occur every day - house fires, smaller natural disasters, crimes, ect - and the federal government doesn't step in. Katrina is a great example of the importance of carrying insurance. Private charities and individuals have done a great job getting relief to Katrina victims. I would love to see Bush say that the feds role in disaster recovery is limited. I would also love for him to point out that quickly building a bunch of buildings in a flood plain located below sea level may not be the wisest idea - that maybe there is a good reason why buildings won't get built in the 9th ward if the government doesn't build them - because private developers are smart enough not to build buildings in a place where they are likely to get washed away, unless the government makes it worth their while.

But instead, it looks like $250 Billion or so is going to be going to LA, and it's going to go to state and local government officials who were not exactly forward-thinking about evacuations, and to people in a government whose corruption is legendary. Most of it - our money - will go to waste.

But Bush isn't going to get up and say that he's not giving money to LA. It would be political suicide. The press has crucified Bush, FEMA, and the Republicans for not doing stuff they shouldn't have done in the first place, like evacuate the city (local job) or send in national guard troops (which would have been in violation of federal law). Plus there is the left's claims that Bush hates the poor, minorities, ect. Taking the right stand would destroy the Republican party, because the media and special intrest groups would go nuts. So Bush has no choice but to throw Federal money - our money - at Louisiana, even though most of it will probably go right down the toilet.

Conservatives who want to come up with a way to not commit political suicide but to still cut spending have come up with PorkBusters, a conservative effort by bloggers to shame legislators into cutting pork spending in their districts to make up for Katrina spending. But it will probably fail, for the same reason that Bush is giving money to Katrina victims in the first place - politics. All politics are local. Spending on stupid projects in another state is wasteful, evil pork spending. Spending on stupid projects in your home state is the key to getting relected.

Personally, I would love to see the Federal government get out of the highway business. Much of the pork comes from federal Highway and Transportation Act. Now, Mad Anthony is a huge fan of interstate highways, which get him to work, shopping, and to his parent's house in NJ at holidays. But we have a pretty good interestate system, and now we are just maintaining and expanding it. That's something that could be done more efficiently if the states just paid for it themselves, rather than taxing people at the federal level and redistributing the money to the most politically connected states. Federal spending means money spent on stupid things that wouldn't get built if money was coming from locals - like pretty much every road in West Virginia.

Federal highway funds also have allowed a backdoor national drinking age of 21 and national BAC of 0.8, by threatening to withhold funds from states that don't have those things. It's federal control of something that should be state, and I would love to see it go away.

But politicians won't dissolve it, because having the Robert Byrd Memorial Slab O' Concrete is a great way for Robert Byrd to get reelected by the people who poured that concrete.

And as far as helping out Louisiana, I kind of like the Lileks suggestion:

In fact, we should tax less -- if New Orleans were made immune from corporate taxes for 10 years, the Mafia would go legit just to move there and sell Sopranos tchotchkes.

Doin' Laundry...

I find myself having to schedule myself to do certain things so I get them done. For example, wednesday night was for laundry, dishes, and listing some stuff on eBay. Yesterday was the day I skipped the gym and instead went to my credit union and made my bi-monthly trip to Trader Joe's to stock up on frozen Asian Marinated Chicken Breasts and Roast Vegetable Enchiladas. (I was planning on also getting a haircut, but decided to skip it since I had to work late because a coworker was out. The good thing about going prematurely bald in the front is that you don't have to worry about hair getting in your eyes if you skip a haircut...)

Sometimes I find doing chores depressing. After all, you spend a bunch of time doing dishes, and you feel good because you have a dish drainer full of clean dishes instead of a sink full of tomato-sauce-encrusted plates that are attracting fruit flies, and you feel good. Then you realize you haven't accomplished anything. You are back to where you were the last time you did dishes. You have clean dishes, but they are just going to get dirty again. You haven't created anything. It's the household chore equivilant of welfare - it doesn't create any wealth, it just moves it from one place to another. Laundry, taking out the trash, cleaning your room - same thing. I don't have time to create, to read and impart knowledge on myself, because I'm too busy making sure I have food, clothes that don't smell, and dishes to eat off of.

But as much as I whine about chores, I have the least excuse to whine in the history of man. After all, I may not have the free time to read as much as I would like to, but I still manage to fit working 6 days a week, going to the gym, taking two graduate-level classes, and running a (very) small ebay business into my life. And I still manage to eat pretty well and wear clothes that are clean, if rather wrinkled.

Why? Technology. When you think about this, it would have been hard for someone to do this 50 or 100 years ago, and not just because there was no eBay to sell on. I rely on technology like the washing machine and the microwave to get me through the day. I also rely on things like prepackaged food - thanks to consumer demand, I can now enjoy a fresh healthy salad by dumping out a bag of prewashed mixed salad instead of hacking up a head of lettuce. And because I am time-pressed and lazy, I eat the occasional salad, something I wouldn't do if I couldn't do it easily and fairly cheaply.

If you read a book about a guy who lived 75 or 100 years ago, who lived on his own and wasn't married, you will usually find out that he didn't live in an apartment - he rented a room, typically with someone (like a widow or a spinster) who took in borders. People who ran bording houses didn't just rent out a room, they also did things like provide meals and do laundry. Why? Because there was no way that someone would have time to work and cook and clean because cooking and cleaning were things that took hours to do, not minutes.

So I should probably start being more grateful that I have the ability to do all the things I do now, even if I long for the time to do more.

Plus, thanks to modern technology, I can wear my iPod Shuffle while I do laundry or wash dishes- which mkes it slightly more enjoyable....

Mad Anthony's driving tips, part 1...

Just a thought. Let's say you are driving down a road where it is legal to park in the right hand lane during certain times of the day, including the time that you are currently driving down it. Let's say the car in front of you puts on it's left blinker on and slows down next to an empty spot.

This behavior may be suggestive that the person in the car in front of you INTENDS TO PARK IN THAT EMPTY SPOT and that perhaps you shouldn't PULL RIGHT BEHIND THEM SO THAT THEY CAN'T PARALLEL PARK IN THAT SPOT.

And maybe when they do prepare to back up and notice you directly behind them, and have to drive further to find another spot, and then you drive past them, you shouldn't give them a dirty look because YOU ARE THE ONE WHO WAS STUPID ENOUGH TO PULL DIRECTLY BEHIND SOMEONE WHO WAS TRYING TO PARALLEL PARK SO THAT THEY COULDN'T!


(sorry, long morning...)

Monday, September 26, 2005

The world is flat...

I'm taking an "International MIS" class this semester in my MBA program. This satisfies my international requirement and deals with stuff that's kind of interesting. One of the books we are reading is Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat, in which he talks about how technology is making the world "flatter".

I don't always agree with Friedman, but he's got a point - technology has made it so people don't even realize the distance between people anymore. For example, cell phones make so making a long-distance call doesn't really matter anymore.

What brings this to mind? I work at a college helpdesk in Baltimore, MD, and one of the things we do is deal with telephone issues. Our phones are set to require a long-distance passcode to charge you for long distance. Back when I was a freshman (in 1998) everyone had one and ran up big phone bills. Now, most people don't even bother signing up because they all use cell phones with unlimited long distance.

I had a student call last week who said she couldn't make a call off-campus from her phone. I asked her if she had a phone pin # and she said "huh?". I then asked her if it was a long distance call.

Her response: Is New York long distance?

Yes. NY is a long-distance call from Maryland. But thanks to cell phones making the US flatter, we now have a generation that doesn't realize it...

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The revolution will be carried in chain stores...

I was reading GlobalCop's DC War Rally coverage and decided to check out his link to the wiki entry for the Socialism and Liberation Party, which apparently rolled deep at the rally, since they represent mainstream America so well.

Reading the wiki entry, I noticed one of their offices was in Baltimore, so I had to check out their website. Not shockingly, their Baltimore office is not too far from Johns Hopkins University.

I also noticed they had a link to the "socialism and liberation magazine retail store locator". I had to give it a try, since there are very few places you see the words "retail" and "socialism" in the same sentence. It revealed two interesting things - there are no Socialism and Liberation sellers in Baltimore - you have to go to Virgina, Cumberland MD, or DC to get caught buying a copy. And two of the 5 closest sellers (in DC and VA) are Borders bookstores.

Yup, Borders. You know, big huge heartless chain of bookstores that's stamping out all those mom-and-pop bookstores with it's evil tacticts. Borders, whose stores are usually found in the huge strip malls that are supposedly destroying the inner city. Borders, who at one point was owned by that great example of socialist thought, K-Mart. (well, most K-Marts I've been in have been pretty dreary, but not quite communist-russia dreary).

Yet it's Borders, not some mom-and-pop city bookstore, that will sell you a copy of socialism digest. I think that speaks volumes of capitalists - they will do anything to make a buck, even sell propaganda that calls for their own abolishment. (It also suggests that Borders management doesn't really take socialism and liberation seriously, and is not expecting the revolution to be forthcoming). What it says to Socialist who are willing to let Borders sell their mag I'm not quite sure...

Why housing forclosures are low in high-priced areas...

The Sunday Baltimore Sun is carrying this syndicated column (bugmenot) that can't seem to understand why housing forclosure rates are higher in places where home prices haven't appreciated much, and lowest in places where home prices are out of this world. After all, if people have to pay a bunch of money for their homes, then aren't they more likely to fall behind on payments?

Maybe. But it seems pretty obvious that if home prices are going up, and demand for homes is up, forclosures will be rare. Why? Because forclosure is a last resort. It's what you end up doing if you have no other choice. And when housing prices are up, you have other choices - namely, you can sell your house (possibly at a profit) and pay off the loan, thus avoiding forclosure.

And in a boom market, this has created a whole industry of speculators who look for, or advertise for, people whose houses are about to be forclosed on, and buy it cheap enough that they can flip it for a profit. High prices create new intermediaries.

There are probably other reasons. I'm going to guess that few people have their homes forclosed on in the first year or two after being purchased. If housing prices have gone up 25% each year in the last 3 years (as they have in Baltimore) and you bought your house 3 years ago, not only can you probably sell it for a profit, but your home payments are not affected by the increase, since you bought your house before the increase.

Furthermore, high prices also squeeze out marginal buyers. Chances are the people buying houses - who can afford to buy houses - are among the best qualified, because people selling their house can afford to be choosy, and people buying houses have to compete with other buyers. The well-qualified buyer, who has a pre-approved conventional mortgage, is more likely to have their offer accepted.

I'm not sure why the author is so puzzled. It seems to me like the thing that is going to cause increased forclosures is if the real estate market crashes - if the bubble that everyone keeps talking about pops. You will then have a bunch of people carrying mortgages on houses that aren't worth nearly as much as they paid for them. If they find themselves unable to make the paymetns for whatever reason (poor budgeting, illness, loss of job, downturn in the economy, ect) they will be unable to sell the house for what they paid for it. Forclosure may then be their only option.

Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't get why this guy has a newspaper column and I don't. Then again, what do I know about real estate? I'm still renting.

Fun with numbers...

Instapundit is looking at this article on the decrease in men in college.

It's an interesting subject, and it is interesting that the number of men in college has dropped. My own alma matter is 59% female according to the Princeton Review, which is interesting since it was all-male until 1971 when it merged (ok, took over) an all-girls college, Mount Saint Agnes.

But I do take issue with one of the stats used to demonstrate this:

There are almost as many men in jail, on probation, and on parole (5,000,000) as there are men in college (7,300,000)

This has been discussed before when the Justice Institute claimed that more Black men were in jail then in college. It's also pretty sketchy a stat. It may be true, but it's misleading, since 1)many people are in jail longer than they are in college - few people are in college for more than 5 years, but some people are in jail for life and 2)most people go to college between 18 and 24, while people go to jail at all ages - so you have a larger pool of people to look at.

It's one of those stats that's interesting , like how many football fields you can fill up with trash, but it's not something to base policy on.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Should we make cars out of cast iron?

Via autoblog comes this Detroit Free Press article about a $48.8 million jury award for a woman killed in a Dodge Caravan that was hit head on by a Jeep being upheld.

The comments are mostly in agreement with the outlandish size of the verdict, and the fact that no car manufacturer can make a perfectly safe car. Except for one commenter, who had this to say:

You seem to be advocating a world where manufacturers effectively get away scott free, since if you're the victim, it must obviously be your fault somehow for picking the wrong product.

Umm, except that in this case, the manufacturer didn't "f*ck up", as you so elequently state. No car can be accident-proof, unless it's made of solid cast iron and only goes 1mph. In the real world, cost-benefit analysis is necessary, and that means that if we want cars with decent gas milage, performance, and cost, we need cars where the chances of dying is a nonzero number.

Back when the judgement came in, Overlawyered took a good look at the case, and even has links to pics of the cars. Keep in mind that:

-the car was hit nearly head-on at 45mph by a Jeep driven by a kid who fell asleep at the wheel. That's a lot of force.

-The driver wasn't killed by the impact, but rather the impact of the unbelted backseat passenger hitting her.

I don't see any reason to think this was caused by any negligence on the part of Chrysler, but rather by the KID WHO HIT HER AT 45MPH.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Is it dumb to buy new cars?

I was reading the off-topic section of a favorite deal-discussion board when I came across this post:

OMG people are stupid

Someone I know just told me "ohh i lease a new car every 2 years. i just cant drive anything older than 2 years." wow just wow

Most of the next couple posts agreed with the original poster (OP), until someone replied:

If that person can afford it, and the value of having a new car is that important to them ... I see absolutely nothing wrong with that. You only go around once in this world -- enjoy it now! I don't think that's "stupid" at all.

I replied:

tend to agree. I always get a little annoyed when I read the FW Finance Forum and everyone is like "if you do anything but buy an 8 year old car and drive it until the wheels fall off you are a sucker". I look at cars like any other hobby/interest - some people like to spend their money on trips or home improvents or plasma TV's, some people like to spend it on cars.

Obviously, if you are living outside your means to support your new-car habit, you are being foolish, but if can afford to pay for the rest of your expenses and put a little away, and you really enjoy cars, I see nothing wrong with spending the money.

And occasionally good deals can be found on leases (if you get a car with good resale value - the leasing company knows they can afford lower payments since they will sell the car at a decent price - or if it's a company-backed promo to move inventory).

The "FW finance" I talk about is Fatwallet's finance forum. It's filled with people who will shoot down anyone who talks about buying a new car, especially a nice new car as a financially stupid move.

If your sole goal in life is to spend as little money as possible, that's true. If you are one of those people who doesn't care what car you drive, then that's true. But some people - myself included - like cars. I get a happy feeling when I see or drive my car. That is worth spending money on to me. Everyone has a hobby - some people like to spend their money on collecting stamps or fancy electronics or trips to Europe because that makes them happy, even if it costs them money. I like cars.

My current car is a little over 4 years old. I still have almost a year of payments left on it, but I'm dropping the payoff in the mail tomorrow, mostly because I want the balance off my credit report before I start shopping for mortgages. But I'm hoping to buy a new car in 10 or 11 months - probably a Subaru WRX wagon or a Saab 92-X. I figure if I buy it near the end of the model year I can get a decent deal.

Could I get another couple years out of my current car? Yes, but I've also had some wierd buggy problems with it - a burned out check engine light sensor, a guage cluster that won't work (that I still haven't gotten around to getting fixed). That makes me wonder if I'm going to have futher issues - if it's a lemon, a ticking time bomb. I also like the idea of having a 4wd car - when I bought my current car I test drove a Jeep Cherokee, and while I hated it's ergronomics and handling, I still kick myself for not buying it every time it snows.

My living situation also necessitates reliable transportation - I need to get to work and class, and I don't have family or an S.O. I can ride with. None of my coworkers live near me to give me a ride, and most of them work different shifts. Not having a car makes my life very difficult, which is why I've been driving around without a gas guage or speedometer for the last 6 weeks - because I can't be without my car while it's in the shop.

And that's why I see nothing wrong with buying a new car...

Mommy, what's a c**t?

I was driving home a couple days ago and crossing the bridge over Cold Spring Lane to get on I-83 to head home. I noticed what looked like a large flattened cardboard box leaning against the chain link on the top of the bridge. I didn't think much of it, although it wasn't a windy enough day for the wind to be holding it there.

As I drove around the entrance ramp and drove under the bridge, I realized it was in fact a sign - orange spray-painted letters on a white background, containing a political message - "George Bush is a C**t" (the edited version is a crude word for the female anatomy, which was not edited on the sign).

Nice to see the level of political debate in Baltimore is so high...

Now, I realize that most signs on bridges are not placed there by the smartest of people, that this sign does not represent the way most people who don't like Bush would sum up there opinions, ect.

But it was sad that anyone would think putting up this sign was a good idea - and I wonder how many people got a smile out of it, instead of feeling really angry like I did. What did the sign hanger hope to accomplish? Did they think a Republican or centrist might be driving down 83, and after seeing the brilliant argument on the sign decide to become a loyal Democrat (or socialist or whatever)?

And did it occur to them that there are certain words that you shouldn't use in public, no matter how angry you are? That there are some people, maybe even people who agree with you, who are offended by that word, or who don't want their kids to see that word and start using it or asking what it means?

I also wonder how long it lasted - I saw it Tuesday, and didn't go that way Wednesday or Thursday. When I drove by today (Friday) it had been partly ripped down but parts of it were still hanging. Wonder if it would have been up a shorter amount of time if it expressed it's "opinion" about a different politician.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Sleepy time...

I've been trying to get less sleep.

Yes, less sleep. It's occurred to me that I only have a limited amount of time on this earth, and that there probably are better things I should be doing other than lying in bed. Plus, there have been a ton of things I've been trying to get done (sell stuff on eBay, get my room slightly neater so it doesn't resemble an explosion at a city dump, read a couple books for pleasure) - plus having time for the 6 days a week I work, the 2 MBA classes I'm taking and the corresponding homework and projects, daily trips to the gym, and the normal chores of life (shopping, laundry, dishes, ect).

When I worked nights, I slept way more than I should - sometimes as much as 9 or 10 hours a night. I also didn't have as much to do - no classes - so it was fine.

But now I have more to do and can't afford to sleep all day. I also have to be at work at 7:30AM instead of 1pm.

I've been trying to force myself to sleep less - partly by doing things like going to the gym after class gets out at 9pm (which ensures I won't just go home and "rest my eyes" and wake up 8 hours later) and partially by just not going to sleep, even when I want to.

But there is one problem with this plan - I'm tired as shit, and I can't get up in the morning. The last 2 days I've rolled out of bed at 6:50am, which is bad since I'm supposed to be at work at 7:30. I've got in within a minute or two of "on time", but that doesn't exactly make me a model employee. I currently have 3 alarm clocks, set to start going off about an hour an a half before I need to get up, but I manage to sleep or snooze through all of them.

But I've managed to not go to bed until after midnight, so I've cut my sleep down to around 6 hours - I wish it could be less.

I also feel like crap. I feel the way I would feel in college when I would have to drag myself out of bed for an 8am econ class after spending the previous nights shotgunning Schaffer Light and Jagermeister with my roomates. Except that the last time I had a beer was last week.

I'm hoping I can train myself - that once my body gets used to less sleep, it will feel normal, and I'll be able to get up. But that assumes I don't get fired or have a sleep-related car crash first.

I know people are probably thinking "but you know, you could just go to bed earlier, and then get up earlier, instead of trying to shave time off the time you go to bed". But I can't. I'm not a morning person. If it wasn't for grad classes, I'd still be working the night shift. When I was a kid, my mom would have to yell at me for an hour to get me out of bed and off to school. I have an uncanny ability to sleep through alarms, to wake up, turn off alarms, and go back to sleep, and to convince myself that I can doze a little more because I only really need a couple minutes to get ready.

damn it, i'm tired.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Good politics makes for bad business...

The AG of Mississppi has found a way get money to rebuild Mississippi - sue insurance companies to make sure they pay for water-related hurricane damage.

One little problem - insurance policies don't cover damage due to flooding. In fact, my understanding is that insurance companies can't even sell flood insurance - it's only sold by the Feds, specifically FEMA.

The AG has come up with a politically great plan - after all, nobody likes insurance companies, and in a dispute between a homeowner who lost everything and a big evil insurance company, public perception is going to side with the homeowner.

But this undermines the whole insurance industry. Insurance is based on assuming risk by trying to figure out what the risk is, how many people you have subject to that risk, and coming up with an amount that covers the likely damage and makes you a profit. If you estimate wrong, you lose money.

But if your contract is not valid - if you are forced after the fact to cover things that you had no reason to budget for covering, because your contract specifically said you wouldn't cover it, and now you have to, you are going to lose a huge amount of money. And when insurance companies lose money, that means higher rates for everyone else, and the possibility that some customers will end up screwed - that the insurance they paid for will be backed by an insurance company that has no assets left.

Contracts are the basis of insurance, as well as pretty much our entire capitalist system. What the AG seeks to do is invalidate a contract because he doesn't like the results.

But what if everyone did that? What if a government could say that the contract that gave you ownership of your house is invalid because the public would rather see someone else owning it?

Oh, wait, they already did. It's called Kelo v. New London

In the interests of full disclosure, Mad Anthony spent two summers while in college as a temp in the mailrooms of an auto claims office run by a major insurance company whose name rhymes with "rate starm". While the occasional decision seemed unfair, most of the claim reps we had were honest, hardworking, and sympathetic - including one who delivered a check after work to an insured, despite the fact that he had yelled at her over the phone a number of times. We also had insureds who did things like traded their cars for crack, crashed their car into a house while being chased by the police, and set their car on fire because they were behind in the payments. So I tend to be a little more sympathetic to those big evil insurance companies than most.

I just wanna fly...

I was at the gym yesterday (yes, I do go to the gym. Just not as much as I should) and forced to watch whatever happened to be on the nearest TV. Which, unfortunatly, was Oprah. She had some fashion guy on lamenting the state of American fashion. When asked by Oprah what he disliked about current fashion, he complained about the fact that people at airports "wear shorts and flip flops. Flip flops everywhere. You used to get dressed up to fly. Now everyone wears flip-flops".

The nerve of people, dressing comfortably when they are going on vacation, and when they are going to spend a couple hours sitting crammed into a tight space next to someone they don't know.

Casual dress on planes is a good sign - it means that 1) people are flying for leisure - they are flying because they want to, not because they have to and 2) flying has become affordable enough that everyone can do it. It's not reserved for people who are rich to do every now and then. The working people, the middle class, the proletariat, can take a week off, throw on some shorts and flip flops, and visit another part of the country or a even another country. They can visit places they would never have been able to see 50 or 75 years ago - places that would have required a trip of days or months. Remember, 125 years ago going around the world in 80 days was tough.

People wearing flip-flops to the airport is a sign of prosperity. It's a symbol of the success of American capitalism.

Now, Mad Anthony hasn't flown in years, because he doesn't really have anywhere to go. But it's nice to know that I can afford to if I want to.

And as far as dressing up, it's become something I'm a strong opponent of me. If it was up to me, gym shorts, t-shirts, and sandels would be acceptable workwear. One of the things I like about my current job is it's lack of any kind of dress code. I usually dress in a style I would call "overgrown skater" - baggy jeans or cargo pants, untucked button-down shirt, and sneakers or skate shoes. It's comfortable, and helps hide my ample waistline. I think people should be as comfortable, and I don't think too many people are very comfortable in a suit and tie.

I know some people like dressing up (including a certain coworker who is a regular reader of this blog), and if that's what you like - if that's you - then by all means rock the suit and tie. And I realize that there are certain times where dressing up is necessary - job interviews, weddings, funerals. But wearing comfy clothes to go on vacation is not something people should feel bad about, even if it makes fashionistas cry.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Thoughts while driving North on Charles St, part 1...

If you are a young, college age male, you probably think you are cool driving around on a Friday afternoon in your red Jeep Wrangler, top down, baseball cap on backwards, blasting music, you probably think you look cool. And I guess to some extent you do.

Until someone pulls close enough to realize that the music you are blasting at top volume is Billy Joel's Greatest Hits. Specifically, "It's Still Rock And Roll to Me".

(Side note - did you know that if you turn the volume up far enough on the factory stereo of an '02 Chrysler far enough, it will say "max" on the display? Not that I was , you know, trying to compete with this kid or anything...)

Sunday, September 11, 2005


It's had to believe that it has been 4 years since September 11, 2001, the day that made most Americans realize that there is a small group of religious extremists who would like to kill us all for what we believe in, or don't believe in.

Last year, I posted my personal experiences of 9/11. I don't really have much more to say, although I'm glad that my first instincts on that day - that life in our country would totally change, would become like Israel, where busses and resturants are blown up by terrorists on a regular basis - have not happened.

Today, as I drove to the gym, I passed the "9/11 peace march" that was being held along Charles St. I wish I had a working camera on me, but I didn't. In the "walkers" defense, I didn't see any of the "Bush=Hitler" type signs that some protests seem to attract, although I only saw a couple blocks, and many of the hand-lettered cardboard signs were hard to read from my car. Instead, most of the signs were the standard blue with dove "War is not the answer" or others that said "SHAME! War is not the answer", or simply "peace".

I have to wonder how many of the protesters really belive that statement in all cases. After all, if war is not the answer, then it would follow that no wars were the answer - that the Revolutionary War was not worth it, even though it created this country, that the Civil War was not the answer, even if did end slavery, and that World War II was not the answer, even though it saved Europe from Facism and millions of "undesirables" from Hitler's ovens.

But chances are that that isn't what many of these people are saying - not that war isn't the answer, but that they are against particular war. Which, while not a view I agree with, is certainly a legitimate thing to say. But it sounds nicer to make broad statements about peace being good and war being bad, and then try to act like that is holding a reasonable debate. But of course, most people who advocated the Iraqi invation are, overall, in favor of peace and prefer it to war - but realize that sometimes you need to wage war in the short term to acheive peace and freedom from war in the long term.

At the same time, as much as I disagree with their viewpoints, I was glad to see them there. It shows that as a country, we are open to viewpoints that oppose those of the government. Think of it this way - let's say you are a citizen in Iraq in, say, 1990, who is opposed to your country's invasion of Kuwait. Do you think that you would be able to stand along the main street of Bagdad or Basra or Fallujah with a sign declaring your opposition of the invasion, without finding yourself being run feet-first through a wood chipper? For all the talk of "crushing of dissent", dissent is permitted, as it should be.

I do wonder what the "peace marchers" expected to accomplish, besides making people who agree with them happy to see, well, people who agree with their views, and making Mad Anthony a little annoyed. But it's unlikely that too many war supporters driving by are going to see a group of protesters holding "war is not the answer" posters and change their worldview. Plus, holding a pro-peace protest in a city that voted somethng like 80% for Kerry is not exactly an act of raging against the machine.

And what is the point with protesting against a war that is over anyway? The war is over in Iraq, and our troops there are not waging war, but trying to keep civilians safe from suicide bombers and keep the democratically elected government from collapsing - things that seem a little odd to me to be against, even if you didn't support the invasion in the first place

It was interesting that, despite the protest being in front of the a college, very few of the protesters were college students - they were mostly middle-class. middle-aged types (at least one of which managed to park her bumper-sticker-covered Saturn in a blatant no-parking zone on Cold Spring - because when you are speaking truth to power, parking laws don't apply). That may say more about the demographics of the college I work for then college students in general, whose enrollment is primarily upper-middle-class kids from NJ, NY, and CT.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Ewww, I think this kid is spoiled...

Last weekend was move-in weekend at the college I work at. I stopped for coffee and a copy of the Baltimore Sun, which I began to sort through, taking out the ads and the couple sections I read - one of which is real estate. The front page of the real estate section had an article about parents who buy houses for their college-aged kids (bugmenot to buypass registration).

Now, the article looks at two types of house purchases. One of them is actually pretty reasonable - buying a house, having your kid share it with a few other kids who chip in for rent, and then renting or selling it when they graduate. Many parents already pay for their kids to live on campus or in an off-campus apartment, so why not put that money towards a house and have some equity to show for it in the end? I'm not so sure about the details - I can't imagine, as a sophmore, trying to find roomates, collect rent from them, and make mortgage payments. Heck, I lived off campus my senior year, and we were once so late with the rent that we had to pay a penalty and make payment via money order - not because we didn't have the money, but because we would forget to pay. We also got gas turnoff notices from BGE a couple times.

But the article also profiles a 23 year old MBA student at U Baltimore whose parents bought her a condo in Hunt Valley. The dead-tree version had a pic of the (rather attractive) girl sitting in a condo that looked like something out of a home decorating magazine - huge living room with 2-story atrium, beautifully decorated. A nicer home than most grown people with real jobs can afford, let alone a 23 year old grad student.

Now, my parents paid for a large chunk of college for me (the part not covered by scholarships or student loans), and paid for most of my living expenses (clothes, food, gas, insurance, ect). They didn't have to, and it was a sacrifice for them to, and I'm greatful. But they said they wouldn't pay for grad school for me - and I think that's reasonable. I'm currently working on my MBA, and my employer is paying for it - working at a college has perks.

I can understand if a parent can afford to pay for grad school, and wants to. I'm not sure buying your adult child a bling-y condo for grad school is a wise idea - at some point, you have to leave the nest, and you have to work your way up. It builds character, it lets you understand how the world works, it keeps you grounded, and it teaches you responsibility

Another thing that makes me wonder is MTV's show sweet 16, which profiles spoiled teenage girls and their spoiling parents. In the episode I linked, Sophie, a very nasty girl, has a party thrown by her mom. Mom spends $180,000 on the party, including buying her daughter a new car (which was hard to see in the episode, but looked like an Audi A8. The car is a surprise, given to her during a trip to the dealership where they tell her, much to her disgust, that they are buying her a 4-year old used car.

The college I work at has some wealthy kids, and I'm amazed sometimes at the cars I see in student parking lots. Many are what you would expect college kids to have - mom's old minivan or Camry, used beaters, newer civics and corollas. But in the last couple days I've also seen Infinit G35's, Mercedes ML-350's, and Escalades and Yukons sitting on dubs.

Now why buy your kid a $50,000 car for college? At the risk of sounding like a geezer, when I was in college, I drove an '87 LeBaron sedan. My senior year of college I bought the PT Cruiser I now drive, with me putting the down payment down and my parents picking up the first 10 payments.

But if you get an A8 in high school, where do you go from there? When I first got my job, I started buying all the things that I had always wanted but couldn't afford - a laptop, a Playstation 2, a fancy coffeepot, a ReplayTV, a flat panel monitor. It was a great feeling to finally be financially secure - to be able to write out checks to pay bills without having to wait until there was enough money in the account so it wouldn't bounce. Now that I've been working a couple years and saved some money, the wish list is bigger - a house, a new car. But part of the nice thing about becoming an adult and having material possesions is the fact that you know what it was like to want things and not be able to afford them. It also helps you keep things in perspective - that plasma TV may look cool and make watching your faviorite shows more enjoyable, but you were still happy when you were a poor college kid watching them on a 13" Panasonic.

I'm not against wealth - in fact, I'm all about it. I think most wealthy people have earned their wealth, and deserve it. If they want to spend it on buying everything their kids want, that's their right. But I think they should put some serious thought into it, and consider that buying everything their kid wants, and never letting them try on their own, may not breed the best, most hardworking, or most social kids. The trick is to find the right balance - to make them comfortable without making them spoiled.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Now, THAT' S service....

I spent part of Friday night hanging out with BSOM - he had been wanting to show me this store in Towson/Parkville called Rugged Outfitters. It's one of those stores where fashion goes to die - brand-name clothing at super-cheap prices. Some decent stuff, but much of it in odd sizes or in styles so ugly that you wonder why anyone would have thought someone would buy it. We also ended up going into Ross Dress For Less, a similar idea, where I made my one purchase, a belt which I am hoping will resolve my recent pants issues - when you lose a couple inches in your waist, it gets hard to keep your pants up (although the way I've been eating the last week, I'll probably wind up gaining it back anyway...)

We then figured we'd grab some food, so we decided to go to the Bill Bateman's in Parkville. I'd spent many a night at the one in Towson, but had never been to the one in Parkville.

The first event of the night was when I decided to order a beer and got carded. I showed my license to the waiter, and got a puzzled look - the kind of puzzled look I stopped getting once I finally got a Maryland license to replace my New Jersey license, which was valid but, being a New Jersey license, looked like it was made with a copier and a pair of gardening shears. Then I realized why he was puzzled - in the picture on my license, I have brown hair, but a few months ago I bleached it, then died it red a month later - so it looks different. I'm also a few pounds lighter than I was in the pic.

So I figure I'll get something reasonably healthy, and get a chicken breast sandwich. I notice they have baked sweet potatoes, and ask if I could sub it for the fries (yes, I know it's covered in sugar and butter and thus only marginally better for me. But I like baked sweet potatos).

So my dish comes out, and it's got fries. Mention to the guy who brought it (not the waiter) that it was supposed to come with a sweet potato, and he wisks it away. Like 15 seconds later, the manager was next to our table asking why I had sent the sandwich back - what was wrong with it. A minute later the waiter is back asking if everything is OK.

Yes, I know they messed up, but I was amazed how seriously and quickly they were on it. I tend to buy a lot of stuff, and many of my retail experiences are less than pleasant. Maybe Best Buy managers need to take a lesson from Bill Bateman...

Thursday, September 08, 2005

I am controlled by the nanobots...

Well, Apple has released their new stuff - the iPod Nano and the Rockr phone.

The Rockr? Supposedly this fills a need. I'm not sure what, though - not a need I have. I guess if you are the kind of person who always carries their phone, and wants to keep a few songs on it in case you find yourself in, say, a long line at the MVA, maybe it will come in handy.

But I'm the opposite way. When I'm using my MP3 player, I DON'T want a cell phone with me, and I don't have my cell with me. I have a 1-gig iPod shuffle and a 10 gig firewire ipod that I haven't really used since getting the shuffle. I use the shuffle primarily at the gym. I like the fact that it's durable, that it doesn't skip, that it's light, that it's cheap enough that I can leave it in my car or my gym bag without really worrying about. Mostly I like that it's small enough that I can leave it in my pocket and work out without it mattering.

I will occasionally use the shuffle in the car or around the house while doing dishes or laundry, but for the most part it lives in my gym bag. Using a cell phone in any of those situations doesn't make sense - cell phones are the opposite of the shuffle, they are big, bulky, and easily broken.

The iPod Nano looks cool, but the Rockr (whose name makes me thing "teh r0xx0r!"), I don't get it's place in the market. It replaces the iPod mini, a product that seems to exist mostly so they could sell pink iPods to the ladies. I like the fact that it uses flash memory, it looks like it has a nice color display, and it just looks damn cool, especially in black. But I don't understand why anyone would buy one except for the fact that it looks cool - if you want a cheap, set it and forget it MP3 player, the shuffle seems like a better choice - I can't help thinking how scratched that display is going to get after spending time in my gym bag or pocket (sure, you can wrap it in one of those screen-protecting cases, but that also makes it bulky and less cool-looking). As far as storage space, it's bigger than a shuffle, but for not-much-more ($100 difference between a 2 gig and a 20 gig), you could buy a full-sized iPod - which is bigger, but with a bigger display and stores 10x more music.

I guess the nano fills the slot for people who want a flash MP3 player, but still want a display and some extra room. I'm curious how big that market is, though.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Hindsight is 20/20...

This may be one of my least coherent posts. Or possibly my most coherent. See, I've had a really long weekend. It's move-in weekend at the college I work at, and I - as someone who is hoping to buy a house in a market where housing prices are going up 25% a year - need the money, so I signed up to work all 3 days. I've spent 8 hours a day the last 4 days telling college kids to reboot their computers, renew their IP addresses, and throw their computers out the window. So I've decided to deal with this stress the way that any mature adult who graduated from a college ranked #2 on the Princeton Review's list for "most beer" would - by having a couple beers.

Which wouldn't be a big deal, except I've pretty much stopped drinking. See, I've been trying to lose some weight, and beer is basically empty calories. Plus, drinking beer always makes me want to eat deep-fried salty snacks, making things worse. But it's been such a long weekend that I've decided to make an exception - and since I pretty much havne't had more than one beer at a time for the last 8 months or so, a couple beers is enough to get me slightly muddled. Fuckin' lightweight that I am.

But I've been thinking about this whole Hurricane Katrina situation, and there seems to be a whole lot of finger pointing by people on both sides. As an evil conservative who gets his instructions directly from Karl Rove, I of course side with Bush. But seriously, I think many bloggers, like Goldstein have done a great job of pointing out that at least some of the blame lies not with Bush, but with the mayor and governor of Lousinana. They made decisions that, if made differently, may have saved additional lives - had evacuations been ordered earlier, had buses been used to evacuate, had the feds been asked to be involved earlier.

But the fact is, any finger-pointing that's done - be it at Bush or at local governments - is after the fact. It's hindsight. It's 20/20. It's the luxury of being able to look at what actually happened, see the errors, and see exactly what changes could have been made. And Monday morning quaterbacking is easy, because you have perfect information, something that the people who actually made the decisions BEFORE the hurricane struck didn't have.

So for the time being, I'm going to cut both Bush and the locals some slack. Yes, their decisions cost people their lives. But it's difficult to say that most people, given the same situation, wouldn't make the same decison. And I think it's wrong to hold people overly accountable for outcomes that were influenced by something totally out of their control - by that most unpredictable of things, the weather. You know, the thing that everyone complains about but nobody does anything about.

If I look back at my own life, I can see decisions that, in hindsight, were wrong. Becoming an Information Systems major months before the .com crash wasn't, in hindsight, a great idea. But I thought it was at the time, acting on the information that I had. What if I'd asked that girl out? What if I hadn't waited as long as I have to start dieting and exersizing? What if I'd started a blog before blogs were cool? But all these regrets are looking back at decisions with the perfect information I have now, in hindsight, after the event. That's not the information or conditions that existed at the time of the decision, and I can't hold myself accountable for not taking into account information that I didn't have at the time.

Now, I'm not suggesting that Mad Anthony's lost attempts at scoring are important compared to the loss of life in the wake of Katrina. But I think, when we look at our own lives and decisions examined after the fact, we can see that making decisions based on information we don't have at the time we have to make the decision is difficult, if not impossible.

I'd like to believe that the events in the wake of Katrina were part of some master plan, that this is the way that God wanted it. I'm religious enough to think it may be a possibility, but not religious enough to be convinced of it.

And I'm not saying that we shouldn't look at the mistakes that were made pre and post Katrina, and make sure that we don't repeat them - that the next time a CAT 5 hurricane is about to hit a city that Federal troops aren't mobilized before it hits and that local governments use every possible resource to evacuate the city well in advance, even if it looks like the threat may not come to pass. But when we look at the decisions that were made at the federal, state, and local level, we should also realize that people were acting with the knowledge that was avaialble at the time - with knowledge of what MIGHT happen, but not what WOULD happen - and look at their decisions with the info they actually had available, not with what we know now.

And now I've got to finish my water and go to bed and sober up.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Why I knew there was no gas station closing... but bought gas anyway..

I heard people at work today talking about the rumor that gas stations would be shutting down at 4pm and knew it was false. The government wouldn't cause a panic by making gas stations close, and gas stations wouldn't voluntarily close down if they have gas to sell.

Nevertheless, I got gas. There were two reasons for this. The first is that my gas gauge is broken, so I don't know how much gas I have. The other reason was that I figured if enough people believed the rumor, there really would be no gas left and I wouldn't have anywhere to buy gas from.

So I bought 6.5 gallons of BP Premium for $3.61 a gallon (they were out of regular). $24 for half a tank of gas, making me sound like an old man longing nostagically for the heady days of 1999, when I could fill the tank of my LeBaron for $10.

Many people on the 'net and in the meatspace are annoyed by high prices of gas, and are complaining of "price gouging" by gas stations. I think it's just supply and demand - the Katrina events have reduced the supply of gas, and people responding to rumors, plus traveling for Labor Day and moving into colleges, have increased the demand for gas.

And I'm kind of glad gas prices are high and that the government isn't cracking down- and not because I'm some kind of rabid environmentalist who thinks everyone should ride a bike to work. High prices are often the best way of distributing a scarce resource is through higher prices. It gives people who are at the margins - who really don't need to drive - an incentive not to, and lets those who do need to drive be able to buy gas to.

Sound crazy? Think of it this way - you are driving, and you are nearly out of gas in your car - you don't have enough to get home. Would you rather live in a world where you can buy gas, but it's $5 a gallon, or a world where there is no gas available, because there is a shortage and price controls, and gas stations can only charge $2 a gallon - and thus there are no gas stations with gas left, because every gas station has either run out (selling gas to people who didn't really need it) or because gas stations aren't bothering to replenish their stock because they lose money on it.

Thanks a lot, US Postal service..

I just sold a bunch of textbooks on One of them just came back to me as "no such number". I checked my info and I did screw up the address - by one number.

Now, I know I'm a moron and I shouldn't have fat-fingered the number. Luckily, I shipped it priority when the buyer was only expecting media mail, so I have time to resend it. But I have trouble believing that the postal service couldn't figure out that it was for the guy next door, and I'm going to be out $7.70 to reship it.

But what really annoys me is that I printed out the label on USPS's click-n-ship service, which is usually pretty good about telling you an address doesn't exist - in fact, it's told me addresses don't exist, I've either printed labels via PayPal or hand-lettered them, and they have gotten there fine. But this address, despite not existing, managed to get assigned a ZIP+4 by good old USPS.

I thought zip+4's only came for addresses that exist...

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Tomorrow is D-day. Tomorrow is the day that any pretense of me having any kind of life outside of work comes to an end for 2 weeks or so.

It's a day known as move-in day. It's the first day of college for 800 freshmen at the college I work for. It's the day that 800 students want to connect their virus-infected laptops to our resident hall network, and when they don't work they call me and my coworkers. And yell.

Mad Anthony needs money, because he wants to buy a house and the price of houses is rising faster than his ability to save. Ergo, Mad Anthony has volunteered to work all three days during which the college is officially closed (Saturday/Sunday/Monday). And I have luckily managed to retain my Saturday overtime at our grad center, so I will be working for 15 days straight without a day off, from last Monday to next Saturday.

Student calls are always the worst - there are so many things that can go wrong with a personal computer, and unlike school-owned computers we can't remote control them, send a tech out to look at them, or push software out to them. And students tend to have a shorter fuse than adults. And the next few days will be nothing but student calls.

I'm also taking 6 credits next semester. Luckily, because I'm taking a Monday and a Tuesday class, I don't start class until September 12th - so once the craziness at work starts to die down, the craziness of class starts up.

And I still haven't had a chance to get my car fixed, so I still have no gas gauge or speedometer.

Well, at least things will be interesting. But if you don't see a whole lot of posts here, that's why.

And I guess I shouldn't complain - there are a whole bunch of Katrina victims who have much bigger problems than a busy schedule and a tempermental Chrysler. Consider donating to a group like the Salvation Army - even I threw them a couple bucks, and I'm the world's cheapest person. Amazon is collecting Red Cross donations - a great example of the power of ecommerce.

I've often felt that the impact of ecommerce is understated, and the Tsunami and Katrina donations provide an example of this. I think a lot of people, myself included, are willing to donate because it's easy, and might not have bothered if they had to cut a physical check and mail it.