mad anthony

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

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Giving people money for being at the right place at the right time...

I saw this article posted in the off-topic section of a forum I read pretty regularly. The article is about a NY state program that gave money to food-stamp recipients to buy school supplies for kids - but that many suspect was spent on video games and other items instead of school supplies. I'm not going to debate the merits of that program, but rather a quote from the article:

hough all the grants may not be used for school supplies, getting cash into the hands of those who don't have it stimulates the economy faster because they spend the money sooner than wealthy people, said economist and social worker Irwin Garfinkel, a professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work.
"In terms of the stimulus, you couldn't do better," Garfinkel said.

Yup, that's what "stimulus" has become - it's better to take money from people who want to save it for future wants so that you can give it to other people who don't have as much money, because it's better they spend it on stupid shit now than have the people who earned it spend it on what they want to spend it on later.

Now, while I'm not a fan of welfare or unemployment, I tend to see them as necessary evils. They provide negative incentives - if people can get paid to not go to work, or put off getting a job until benefits run out, some people will take advantage of it. But the reality is that those programs also help make sure kids don't starve, and that probably offsets the negative incentive - at least you are giving money out based on an actual need.

But of late, it seems like we are just handing money out to people for being in the right place at the right time. Cash for Clunkers, where we destroyed perfectly good cars in the name of saving the environment, was a handout to people who happened to own a vehicle that fit the government's definition of a clunker. The first-time homebuyer tax credit is a handout to people who happen to be ready to buy their first house during the right year. The mortgage relief program, Making Homes affordable, was a handout to people whose mortgages happened to be underwritten by certain agencies. The newest one is the Appliance Cash for Clunkers program, a handout to those whose fridge is up for replacement at the right time. We are no longer even redistributing wealth from people who have "too big" a share of the pie to people who have "too small" a share of the pie - we're just picking numbers out of a hat and giving them extra pie.

Now, you might be thinking that I'm bitter because I don't qualify for any of these programs. And you are right. And if I did, I would be taking advantage of them. But I think that redistributing wealth in general is a bad idea, and redistributing wealth to random people who happen to be in the right place at the right time is even worse.

And the other big problem I have with much of the stimulus programs, including the ones above, is that the government is expressing a preference for immediate consumption over saving - which is exactly the opposite of what they should be doing. Sure, immediate consumption might be good for the economy short-term, but long term we are punishing savers and rewarding spenders - and too much spending and use of credit, and not enough savings, is exactly what got us into the current financial crisis.

And quotes like the one I started out this post with make the assumption that money that is saved is wasted - that it's hidden under the mattress - when in reality savers put their money in the bank, or invest it in stocks and bonds and other financial instruments. That means other companies and people can borrow that money and spend it on things they want. At least, that's what happened before the government started throwing piles of money at the banks, which made them need depositors a lot less.

I'm not a fan of government stimulus in general - I'd rather just endure the pain and let the economy recover on it's own. But if the government is going to do something, I'd rather see them do things that benefit everyone - like lower taxes or road construction projects (since almost everyone drives, and even those who don't still consume products that are carried by trucks on roads), rather than just hand out money to people who happen to be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.


Friday, August 14, 2009

madanthony, latest victim of the credit crunch...

Much has been said in the media of late about how credit card companies and other lenders are tightening standards, reducing credit lines, increasing interest rates, and otherwise trying to mitigate the fact that they've spent years giving giant piles of money to people who can't actually pay it back.

Now, madanthony has pretty good credit (the last time I checked my score it was just over 800), so I'm not really worried - although I have been making a point of using a couple credit cards that I've had open a long time but don't use much at least once every few months so they don't get canceled for inactivity. But I've started to see it manifest in a couple ways.

My primary card is an Amex Blue Cash - great rewards, good customer service (I've had my card number stolen twice, both times they caught it before I noticed it and had a new card to me the next day). I - along with everyone else in the known world got a letter a few days ago that they are raising interest rates, fees, ect. Not a big deal to me, since I never carry a balance.

I also got a letter in the mail yesterday from Chase saying that they've cut my credit limit. The funny thing is about a year ago they sent me a letter saying they were upgrading my card to a "signature" card with no preset spending limit, ala Amex green. What they've lowered my credit line to is about what it was before they got rid of the credit limit in the first place. The other funny thing is that the reason they lowered it was because I "only used a small portion of my available credit" and because I "had plenty of other credit lines available". In other words, they cut my credit limit because I have good credit and am responsible about using it.

Once again, it's not a big deal to me, although I wonder if having my credit line cut will affect my credit score - but even then, I don't plan on applying for any new credit anytime soon, so it's not a huge deal. And I usually use the Amex card for most of my spending - the Chase card is mostly for places that don't take Amex or for a few rewards categories like fast food where Chase has higher cashback. In a way, I applaud Chase for trying to reduce their risk - but I wonder how much they gain by doing it by reducing the limits of people like me who I suspect would be the least likely to default.
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Monday, August 10, 2009

Scenes from work, probably NSFW edition..

coworker: (looking online for kitchen stuff) Rachel Ray has some really nice pans.


madanthony: Oh, pans. I thought you said pants. 'cuz I wouldn't mind getting in her pants.


coworker: I asked around, but nobody wanted it.

madanthony: I've got something in my pants that women don't seem to want.

coworker: you should stop pooping in your pants.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Anyone want to buy a bar with me?

So, I've written in the past about Field's Old Trail, a Baltimore City bar that a bunch of us from work used to go to on a regular basis, mostly for the food and conversation. Alas, the owners decided to sell it, and our regular Field's Trips ended. The bar was purchased by new owners, but it wasn't the same - the good food and friendly atmosphere was gone. I went there once, and never went back.

Evidently, quite a few other people did the same thing. I drove past the building a few weeks ago and noticed it was dark, and appeared boarded up. I wondered what had happened to it.

Then, yesterday, I was doing my normal pursuing of the auction listings in the back of the real estate section of the Baltimore Sun when I saw a listing for a bar on York Road. Could it be...?

It was - the former Field's is going up for auction on August 19 at 10am. (It's the third listing down right now, but the site doesn't seem to allow direct linking). I wish I could buy it and bring back the crunchy cheese balls and George the bartender, but I suspect I don't have quite enough money in the savings account, and that working full time and running a bar isn't going to work out.

But if someone wants to invest in it with me... or if whoever buys it needs a consultant, I will accept payment in chicken cheesesteaks and Yuengling draft.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Further adventures in internet dating, or why dying alone still seems likely....

So since I wrote this rather depressing and rage-filled post on internet dating, I've had dates with two more women, both of whom I met on eHarmony. That's the good news. The bad news is I didn't get a second date with either of them.

Woman #2 actually contacted me. Didn't have a whole lot in common with her beyond the fact that we both had cats, but she was interested in meeting and I figured I'd go with it. It didn't hurt that she had a pretty smokin' body. I thought the date went OK, although I was kind of doubtful that it would go anywhere long term. Called her for a second date, never heard back.

Woman #3 was someone I thought could actually go somewhere - I thought she sounded a lot like me personality-wise, she was a big reader (and when I asked her what she was reading, it was a book I'd read a few months earlier), had a cat, had some cool hobbies, ect. I did meet her, and she was incredibly cute. Alas, I called her for a second date and got back an email that she "didn't think we had enough in common to pursue it" although she "wouldn't mind being friends" or something to that effect. I did appreciate that she actually responded instead of just ignoring me, but I'm obviously disappointed.

There are two things that I struggle to wrap my head around about this. The first is why now - I've had an eHarmony profile for probably 18 months - every time my subscription runs out, I debate canceling it but end up renewing it. Until 2 months ago, I'd exchanged a few emails with women (none of whom I really was thrilled with) but never met anyone in person. Now I actually met 3 in the course of two months. I didn't make any major changes to my profile, didn't add any new pictures, so I don't know why the sudden increase. I've read a few articles crediting the recession to an increase in online dating". But none of the women I dated were victims of the recession - two were teachers, the third worked for the federal government.

I'd like to believe that this is the start of a trend, and I'm going to have a bunch more dates. I'd also like to believe in magical unicorns. If I could keep getting dates, then the odds would suggest eventually I might get somewhere. But I don't really see any reason to believe that is likely. Since I don't know what actually got me the dates I got, it's not like I can just do more of it.

The other thing I don't understand is why I never seem to be able to get a second date - what is wrong with me? Are they disgusted by my appearance? Am I that bad a conversationalist? Am I just boring? Do I smell? Am I asking too little for a potential girlfriend? Are they asking for too much - for someone who is exactly like them, or unattainably perfect?

I wish I could understand what is wrong with me - why I seem to be completely undateable. I feel like everywhere I go, I'm surrounded by happy couples - in cars when I'm driving, holding hands in the international food isle when I'm shopping. Almost everyone I work with seems to be happily married - we have an employee picnic tomorrow, and I feel like I kind of have to go lest not showing up hurt my career, but it's going to be painful seeing everyone with their spouses and kids, reminding me that I seem to be a complete failure at having the normal sort of relationships that everyone else seems able to have.

I hate dating, because I seem to suck at it. I always thought the problem was getting that first date, but even when I can get that, I can't get any further. It's like I've done something horribly wrong, and I'm being punished like Tantalus, allowed to think I'm getting close to what I want and then having it snatched away.

I've been following Megan's discussion of obesity pretty closely. She basically claims it's impossible for a fat person to lose weight and keep it off, that almost everyone who tries fails. I have trouble accepting that, since I dropped about 100 pounds 4 years ago and have managed to keep it off. But I don't understand why I can do something that other people seem to find hard - lose weight and keep it off - and I can't seem to do something that everyone else seems able to do - find love. Losing weight is easy - burn more than you consume. It requires nothing outside of the individual. But dating is much harder - you have to depend not only on yourself, but on members of the opposite sex, who are unpredictable and can't be simplified to an equation. But everyone else seems able to do it, which suggests that there is just something horribly wrong and unfixable about me.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

How can we force fat people not to be fat? You can't...

In my previous post, I discussed how losing large amounts of weight may be difficult, but is not impossible. Which brings up a related question, which Megan McCardle discusses here - how do we get fat people to stop being so damn fat? She discusses a number of changes, from advertising bans to "fixing schools", to make people less fat - and pretty much rejects all of them.

I agree. The reason I lost weight was quite simple - I decided I didn't want to die before I hit retirement age. I had taken one of those "when will you die" quizzes that someone had posted in a forum, and it said I was going to be dead at age 57. Sure, I know the scientific accuracy of something like that is questionable, but it made it obvious that I was making lifestyle choices that were going to lead me to an early grave - and I decided that I didn't want that to happen.

The thing is that there are plenty of smaller, but still good reasons to lose weight, ranging from being able to buy clothes like a normal person to climb stairs without wheezing to being more attractive to the opposite sex. But the whole not dying thing pretty much takes the cake - and makes you lay off the cake.

So about the only thing I could see the government doing is reminding people of that fact - that being morbidly obese will shorten the amount of time you spend on this earth - the time you will have with your parents or your children, the time you will have to enjoy your retirement, the time you will spend on the top of the ground instead of the bottom. If that doesn't make you change your lifestyle, it's unlikely that ad bans or increased gym time at school will do it.

But the reality is that people routinely do things that have a substantial chance of shortening their lives - drinking excessively, smoking, using heroin or cocaine or a number of other drugs, having unprotected casual sex. Like overeating/under exercising, all of these activities are fun (or so I've heard). And like overeating, people participate in them despite knowing that it has a substantial chance of killing them. The fact that several of these activities are illegal hasn't stopped people from doing them. When you add in the fact that food - unlike booze or random hookups - is necessary to survive, it becomes apparent that convincing people to make changes related to it is a difficult task.

It's possible to lose a lot of weight, but it's difficult. In order to succeed, you have to want to succeed. The best you can do is hope to convince people to want it, and I'm not convinced that is something the government - or anyone else - can do.