mad anthony

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

Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's resolutions, 2010...

Well, I do this every year - make a list of the things that I'm going to try to do this year. I end up sticking with the couple I would have done anyway, and failing at the rest. But what are holidays without tradition?

The big ones:

1. Lose, or at least maintain weight - Several years ago I lost a significant amount of weight - about 100 pounds over the course of two years. Since then, my weight has fluctuated a little, but not a whole lot. I'm actually probably about 15 pounds lighter and 2" slimmer in the waist than I was a year ago. I could stand to lose a few more pounds - I've packed on a couple over the holidays, and I've still got a bit of a belly - but it also seems to me that the extra weight isn't having a huge affect on my appearance or my health, so I'm not willing to put all that much effort into losing it. I also want to start lifting - I do a lot of cardio, but no weight training. Once again, it would be nice to have a little more muscle, but I'm fairly sure that it won't send the ladies swooning or enable me to have a second career on the parallel bars.

2. Save money - another resolution that hasn't been much of a problem to keep in the last few years. I'm in decent shape - I've got some savings, and my only debt is my giant underwater mortgage and a small, very low interest student loan. Still, I've been doing a lot of spending of late on small things ranging from sneakers to gadgets to tasty coffee-based beverages, and I do want to slow down on that and try to put more in the bank, where it will earn an interest rate that is probably less than inflation.

3. Find love. This is the one that I fail at every year. It also is the one that requires at least some outside force - I'm responsible for how much I spend and how much time I put in on the elliptical instead of eating bacon, but I can't make women like me. On the plus side, in the last year I've had more dates than I have in the rest of my life. On the negative side, that number was 3, none of which turned into a second date. I've tried online dating, and I think it's time for me to take a break from it, because I find it's done little but frustrate me. I want to try some more in-person things, like some of the swing dances that are around, but the thought of showing up alone at them doesn't exactly thrill me. I'm starting grad school classes in a few weeks, and I figure even if I don't meet anyone there, at least being around other people, some of them female, might help me socially - or at least keep me busy enough that I won't have time to think about the fact that I seem to be on a path to die alone and unloved.

There are also plenty of smaller things that I hope to accomplish this year. I've got a number of small things that need to be done around the house - electrical wiring, carpet laying, fencing in the back yard. Pretty much all of these are things I've needed to get done since I bought the house almost 3 and a half years ago, but I'm hoping that this is the year I actually go through with getting them done. Obviously, succeeding in grad school and at work are things I hope to do, although I have yet to unlock the mystery of how to do the latter - evidently, hard work, taking on new responsibilities, and learning new skills are not part of that. I do want to try to take a vacation this year, but work, time, money, and life will determine if that actually happens. And I'd like to figure out how to balance helping my parents with living my own life, but I doubt I will.

And maybe I'll adopt another cat or two.

A half-decade of madanthony, in pictures

So back in 2004, I had a family member take a picture of me at Christmastime while I was up for Christmas break. A few months later, I made a concious decision to start losing weight and taking better care of myself, so since then every year I've had them take another picture. I like to post them around New Year's - losing and keeping weight off has been one of the few things I can say I've been successful at..

madanthony, December 2004:

madanthony, December 2005:

madanthony, December 2006

madanthony, December 2007:

madanthony, December 2008:

madanthony, December 2009:

Saturday, December 26, 2009

We can never repay the debt we owe our parents. So how hard should we try?

I'm up in NJ for Christmas, spending a few days with the parents. Since I work for a college, every year I have the same dilemma - how much time should I spend there? The paradox is that as the reasons for me to want to spend more time in Maryland grow, so do the reasons that I should spend more time with the parents. Several years ago, when I was living in a rented room, spending most of the break with the parents wasn't a big deal. Now, though, I own a house and a cat and have more roots in MD than when I first moved there. But now, my parents are also older and have health problems - my dad has MS, my mom has bad arthritis. They struggle to do basic tasks, and could really use the extra help. And I feel like a horrible person for not staying around to give it to them - they seem so greatful for the smallest thing. I also am the son who went away - my brother lives close by, about 20 minutes away, so he frequently comes over to do things like mow the lawn, shovel snow, ect. I don't, because I live 4 hours way, so I feel bad that I'm not doing as much.

Yesterday, I drove my mom to 7:30AM Christmas morning mass. As I stepped out of my truck, I realized that there was a bunch of black ice where I had parked - snow had melted, started to run to a drain, and froze. So I walked around and held my mom's hand as she got out of the truck. It was a reversal of roles - the child holding the parent's hand. But in the short amount of time I'm up here, I've found myself doing a lot of things that used to be done for me - cooking, driving, mopping the floors, running errands. It's weird and depressing to be doing stuff for your parents.

And I find myself conflicted about how much I should be doing - sometimes I think that since my parents sacrificed so much to raise me, I owe them the same - that I should sell my house and quit my job and move back in with them. Other times, I think that I don't really HAVE to do anything for them, so anything I do is, well, better than nothing. Reality lies somewhere between these two extremes, of course - but the question is, closer to which?

I don't have a girlfriend or wife or kids or any other obligations, so I have more time and fewer excuses not to help them out. Still, I want those things, and spending every waking free hour driving to and from NJ isn't going to help me get them (although I may be beyond help).

I'm thinking that I'll probably end up leaving NJ sometime in the next few days, which will give me basically 5 full days with them, plus 2 partial days spent traveling, and 4 days in MD to myself to relax/do stuff around the house/play with the cat/run errands/hang out with friends. I'm not sure if this is the "right" amount - if I'm a sinner, a saint, or just a typical son.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Back in NJ, and I only got pulled over once...

So I'm up in NJ for the holidays, spending the next few days with the parents celebrating Christmas. I drove up today - it was a fairly uneventful trip, except for hitting some traffic near Harrisburg - and for getting pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving on I-78 in central PA.

I'm driving, right hand lane, going maybe a few miles above the speed limit, and I see a cop car behind me. Naturally, I slow down to a couple miles per hour below the speed limit. Cop is still there, and another one next to him in the left lane. This goes on for a mile or two, and then cop throws his lights on. I pull over, and he pulls behind me. I'm not sure why I'm getting pulled over - I actually wasn't speeding.

Officer comes to my window and tells me that someone called in a complaint that I was driving erratically, weaving in and out of traffic, and that they thought I was drunk. I'm rather puzzled, since 1) I hadn't drank anything except about a half-gallon of coffee and 2) I wasn't driving erratically - while I will admit to not being the world's most careful driver, I'm generally pretty patient - I don't generally lane-hop or anything, and I can't remember cutting anyone off or anything.

The officer was actually pretty cool - he says he can tell I'm not drunk, and that as long as I'm not wanted and my truck isn't stolen he'll let me go with a warning - and he does. I'm not sure he really could have done anything - I'm not a lawyer, but I suspect it would be pretty hard to convict me of any traffic violations just on someone's say-so.

So I'm puzzled who called me in - if I did cut someone off and not notice, or if someone just was overly paranoid, or decided they didn't like me. I'm certainly glad that I didn't get a ticket, and I understand that the police can't really ignore calls about suspected drunk drivers - if I was drinking and hit a busfull of nuns or something they would look pretty bad. But I'm annoyed that someone would call in about me in the first place - I mean, I'm not that bad a driver.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A tax credit for everyone except me...

I was reading the auction listings today in the newspaper, which is at the end of the real estate section. So I happened to see an ad for a new homebuilder mentioning the tax credit for existing homebuyers, which made my blood boil.

The fine print is that if you have owned a home for 5 continuous years out of the last 8, you are elgible for a $6500 tax credit if you buy a new home.

I've grumbled about previous handouts - from the mortgage bailout for people whose mortgages happened to be owned by the right agency to cash for clunkers, for people who happened to own the right cars - being handed out pretty randomly, and to groups that never seem to include me.

But this one takes the cake - it includes huge groups of people, but is especially written to exclude people like me - I bought my house in 2006, at the exact peak of the market. Now, it's not a huge deal because I have no plans to move anytime soon - besides the fact that I'd probably have to bring a check to closing if I sold my house, I have no desire to pack up 3 floors of crap or to keep my house showing ready.

But it seems odd to have a tax break that benefits people who bought their house in 2004 or before - when housing prices were still pretty reasonable - but excludes people who bought their houses when prices had gone up, and most likely are having to sacrifice more to pay their mortgages. While few of these people might be looking to sell and buy a new house, there are probably some who have to - because of financial reasons, job transfers, marriage/kids/ect - who are probably taking a loss selling their house, and would benefit more than someone who sold their house 3 years ago at the peak of the market and has been renting since - who would be qualified under the bill.

Of course, bills like this mean that those who don't receive it will be kicking in the extra taxes for those who benefit - to the tune of $10.6 billion, according to this article. Now, I don't harbor any ill will against someone who was in the right place at the right time and bought a house before prices climbed - that's life. But I do question why people who weren't so lucky are paying to give those lucky people even more money.

As a borderline libertarian, I've never really liked programs like welfare, but I grudgingly accept that there is merit to helping, say, to make sure poor kids have food and shelter. But government of late has pretty much just been handing random piles of money to random people and businesses in the hopes that it will spur the economy. In that, they've got a weird reverse kind of Robin Hood thing going on, where they often give people who are in pretty good shape a bunch of money, paid for by people who aren't so well off. And that strikes me as unfair, illogical, and frustrating.

Pay your bills, deadbeat, or why I'd like to kick strategic defaulters in the nuts...

I was glad to see that I'm not the only person who had a negative reaction to this WSJ article about fun with strategic defaults - which pretty much boils down to profiles of people who stopped paying the mortgages on their underwater houses, and now are renters with tons of money to spend on concert tickets and new furniture.

Megan McCardle has a good article here, with the followup to the followup here.

But what's odd is that she and I seem to be a rare breed of people who think that people should actually, you know, pay their bills. Sure, on relatively conservative forums like FW Finance, people who advocate strategic default usually get replies involving the favorite FW Finance reply, "pay your bills, deadbeat!". But on Megan's blog, and places like consumerist, strategic defaulters are OK, because banks are evil.

I'm not going to debate the merits of banks or individuals. I do think that people - and businesses - who agree to pay a debt should pay it as long as they are able to. It's one thing to not pay because you really can't - that's why we have things like bankruptcy. But mortgages were designed to be a means of financing a large purchase, not as a sort of option on a house, payable only if the house goes up in value.

So right now mortgages are priced with the expectation that people will make every effort to pay them back. With the number of strategic defaulters, who seem to view them more as a sort of loan on buying a stock option, that is about to change. And that will make responsible buyers and borrowers worse off. Because now mortgages will be priced more like buying stocks on margin. Credit scores and down payments will be higher, and fewer people will be able to buy houses at all. And those who do will pay for it dearly - and those who view mortgages the way they are supposed to be viewed - as financing for a large, long-term purchase - will be paying extra for a feature they will never use - to make up for strategic defaulters.

So this is bad for first-time homebuyers. It's also bad for people who own homes, because fewer and more expensive mortgages mean lower housing prices when they go to sell.

Now, you are probably wondering where I fall into this. FWIW, I'm probably marginally upside down on Casa De Mad, my circa -1978 townhouse - not enough that it would make sense to destroy my 800+ credit score, even if I didn't have the ethical objections to strategic default. And I have enough income and savings to pay my mortgage - but I have that because I've generally lived frugally and sacrificed, and it's frustrating to read about the great lifestyles that these people are having - and that I'm going to pay for if I ever refinance or sell.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sick of being sick...

So about 2 weeks ago, I woke up feeling like crap. Well, more like crap than normal for a Monday morning. Sore throat, nasal drip, congestion, running/stuffy nose, ect.

I dealt with this the way I normally deal with being sick. I ignored it. I kept doing what I normally do, and figured it would go away in a few days. That might not seem like a great plan, but in truth it's worked for me for the last few years. But after a week and a half of being filled with phlegm, I decided it wasn't going to work this time. So on Thursday I went to the doctor's. He confirmed what I expected - sinus infection. Prescribed 11 days worth of generic Zithromax.

I don't really feel any better yet. The medicine had been tearing up my stomach the last couple days, though. I'm hoping by Christmas I'll stop having to blow my nose every few minutes.

And I'm still pretty much doing what I'd normally do, including going to the gym. There are actually studies showing that exercising while sick doesn't hurt recovery time. I have cut back on the length of my workouts though - more because the gym is on reduced hours thanks to finals than because of my health. I figure the last thing I want to do is stop exercising around Christmastime, when I'm spending a large chunk of the month shoving food in my mouth.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Scenes from work, in some places edition...

coworker1: We could reduce a lot of viruses and malware problems if we prevented end-users from being able to install software.

coworker2: that would never fly. Faculty will complain that we're interfering with their academic freedom.

mad anthony: You mean "I need that porn for research purposes"?

coworker1: I don't care if they have porn. It's not executable.

mad anthony: In some countries it is.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Scenes from work, I've heard that before edition...

employee: Hey, thanks for fixing my secretary's computer. She was really happy when you left.

mad anthony: I'm used to women being happy when I leave.