Posted by: stillironic | March 20, 2015

Please Drive with Aloha

Part 2

First five days of vacation: spent time with son, finished project, visited nearby lava flow, visited volcano crater, and rode in ambulance.

During 15 hours scattered over five days, there I was, perched atop a stool at the dining table in the Hawaiian Jungle Hut, cursing my laptop. I have an understanding husband and a son with a busy, deadline-driven job, so I didn’t feel like I was ruining anyone’s visit (with the exception of my own).

Lava warning sign

Lava warning sign

The Hawaiian Jungle Hut, rented through airbnb, was our home for two and a half weeks. It’s located near Pahoa, a cute little hippyish town, best known on the mainland for the lava flow featured on the news a few months back. The flow, which was threatening to destroy the town or at least cut off its main roads in and out, has stopped, at least for now.* And it has hardened, where we stood at the leading edge, although underneath it may not have completely turned to rock. The flow was roped off and guarded by police. Only geological survey staff were allowed to walk on it.

The Hut or Hangout, as it’s also called, is a cute house surrounded by rainforest vegetation. Which wasn’t as rainforesty-looking as usual while we were there due to the drought in east Hawaii, the eastern section of the Big Island where Hilo is located.

So instead of cloudy days of on-again off-again rain—late Jan.-Feb. is the rainy season—we had mostly sunshine. Which, one would think, would be considered a plus. Not by us, however. Hilo, 20 miles from the Hut, is the rainiest city in the U.S.: 126 inches a year on average. And I want my rain. Well, not so much the rain, but the cloud cover.

Lava swirl

Lava swirl

I’m supposed to stay out of the sun; I was too much of a sun-worshipper in my teens and twenties. When I am in the sun—even if it’s traveling in the car on a sunny day—I have to wear what my niece, Sara, calls Aunt Virginia’s spackle: heavy-duty sunscreen, preferably with zinc oxide in it. Smearing on sunscreen, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and trying to avoid the sun, as a way of life, is a pain in the butt. Hence, my penchant for clouds (which, I know, only mitigate the harmful rays). Jon eschews the heat, so he likes cloudy days as well.

The mountains of the Big Island, especially snow-topped Mauna Kea, which lie west of Hilo, barricade clouds moving westward over the island. Rarely do the clouds escape to the middle or west side of the island, known for a desert landscape and flawless sunny days. The clouds mainly dump water on Hilo and vicinity and dissipate. So if you want sun, all you have to do is drive for half an hour. When I’m on the Big Island, I always spend some time on the west, or Kona, side, so I get to see the sun. With the drought, however, it was sun all day most of the time. I think we had only one good rainfall during our stay. (And since water for the Hut comes from catchment, the basin had to be filled via tanker truck while we were there.)

Lava flow just short of the Pahoa Transfer Station

Lava flow just short of the Pahoa Transfer Station

Our visit to the steaming crater of Kilauea (kill o WAY ah), the active volcano, rendered unintended consequences. We drove to the caldera, situated in Volcanoes National Park near the town of Volcano—one of few towns in the state with an English name. While walking around the park Jon felt a little breathless. He thought it was because of the vog—sulfur dioxide from the volcano mixed with sunlight, dust, oxygen, and other chemicals—in the air. He’s had heart issues, as we put it euphemistically, so we slowed our pace.

Kiluea's crater

Kiluea’s crater

Back at the hut, dinner was over and I’d just finished the dishes (Jon cooks, I clean up). I’d gotten comfy on the sofa and turned on my Kindle. I was in the middle of “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt. Her characters are so vivid you want to spend more time with them than with the real people in your life. But a mere sentence in, Jon announces his heart is racing. Oh, shit. For a second it’s “oh, shit” because I desperately want to be one with the sofa and I want my attention to be fixed on one thing: my book. Maybe his heart will slow down on its own.

It doesn’t. Now I’m scared. In a panic I dial for an ambulance. No one answers. I don’t even hear a phone ringing. What the what? Really flustered now, I watch as I punch in 411. For godsake. (Don’t depend on me in an emergency.) I dial 911 and the emergency operator has me count the number of Jon’s heartbeats during a timed interval. Then she calls for an ambulance. Firemen will arrive first, she says. And they do. And their blood pressure cuff doesn’t work. The fireman holds it up like it’s a dead squid.

The ambulance arrives and their cuff works. Yes, his BP is soaring. They pile Jon into the back of the ambulance. He wants me to come, too, rather than follow in our rental car. I sit in front next to the driver, a calm, engaging young guy. The whole ride we chat as if we’re seatmates on an airplane. He drives only moderately fast—Jon has stabilized—and rarely uses the siren. I’m yakking away as we approach an intersection and the driver sounds the siren till we pass through. “Sorry for the interruption,” he says. “You were saying?” That strikes me as hilarious.

Edge of Kiluea's caldera

Edge of Kiluea’s caldera

The hospital staff can’t be more accommodating. They pull up a seat for me next to Jon, who now appears fine. (I never even saw the waiting room.) After several hours of blood tests, iv fluids, visits by the cardiac specialist, and a magnesium shot, x-ray, and ekg, it appears the palpitations weren’t caused by anything serious. The cause most likely was, drumroll, dehydration. (We’re usually pretty careful to drink a lot of water.) Jon’s cardiac surgeon back home, when phoned the next day, concurred: dehydration.

~

*As of March 18 some small breakouts of active lava have been found upslope of the leading edge.

Posted by: stillironic | March 16, 2015

Please Drive with Aloha

Part 1

Retired in 2008 at the height of the crash, with no regrets. Loved my work, loved my colleagues, but my bosses?—think petty tyrants at the helm of a banana republic. So I grabbed my State of Maryland benefits and ran.

Six years later, with my spouse, Jon, now fully retired, we decided to start our new life—“everyday is Saturday”—and travel to Hawaii and LA in the dead of winter. We live in Baltimore where the winters can be mild. “Can” being the operative word here. Past two winters have been brutal, by our standards. Even by the standards of Canadian friends, who play ice hockey and swim in half-frozen ponds (and drink Baileys in their morning coffee instead of cream). This year we would escape the frigid mid-Atlantic, at least for three weeks.

Problem is, when you plan a winter getaway that involves flying, you take the chance of a winter storm sabotaging your flight plans. And sure enough, three days before take off, my son, Matt—who lives in Hawaii on the Big Island—texted hearing about a snowstorm of historic proportions hitting the East Coast. Jon, who practically tracks the weather, claimed the forecast didn’t implicate the mid-Atlantic. I hadn’t heard anything because I was knee deep in a freelance editing project that it was increasingly clear I wasn’t going to finish before we left.

Usually, I do the editing and hand the manuscript over to a graphic designer for design and layout. This time I decided, hey, I’m not too bad at InDesign, the layout program. This project isn’t nearly as complex as last year’s. In over my head a little? That can be a good thing, right? I can use last year’s layout as a template. I. Can. Do. This. Myself. (And make more money!)

Which actually would have worked out fine if you didn’t count the forty-some hours of online tutorials learning Adobe Illustrator and new stuff I needed to learn about InDesign (thank God for Lynda.com) and the additional hours spent googling the likes of “problems importing Acrobat files into InDesign,” which supposedly shouldn’t be any problem at all, but is, for a surprisingly large number of people.

So I’m racing to finesse unforeseen pages of appendices into the layout, which involved amazing acrobatics on my part. I finish packing the day before we leave, which has happened only once before in my lifetime—for a trip to Africa, and only that because I was stopping in New York overnight before the flight—I’ve vacuumed the downstairs and cleaned the kitchen floor and Jon’s written the house instructions.

And what happens? January 26 we get a text from United Airlines. Flight to Newark cancelled by Baltimore’s air traffic controllers. What the what? And why did I book a flight to Hawaii through Newark in the first place? Well, currently, there are no direct flights between BWI and LAX. And I wanted to avoid Chicago, that black hole of air travel. The reason, actually, was the flight to Newark left B’more at a civilized hour—10:30 a.m.—and landed in LA, where we were spending the night before flying the following day, direct, to Hilo on the Big Island.

Now this was the first time my husband was traveling with me to Hawaii, which I try to visit every winter. I fly in what can take from 12 to 17 hours, depending, in one long day. I just want to get there. But Jon, in his incredible wisdom—or wussiness—wanted a layover. So we weren’t flying to Hilo till Tuesday and this was Sunday night. His wisdom and/or wussiness had bought us time.

Meanwhile, as everyone now knows, weather forecasters were predicting gloom and doom. NYC and the whole state of New Jersey were shutting down. We might get stuck in Baltimore for days before we could get to the West Coast.

In a near panic, we both dial United customer service. Jon can’t get a connection, but I get put on hold…for an hour and forty minutes before being cut off. With great relief, however, we discover flights to LA through the southwestern U.S. are flying, and seats are available, maybe. Jon books us on a flight via Houston, which he has to pay for through Paypal because for some mysterious reason our credit card, paid off in full every month, won’t accept the charge because of a “security issue.” And he can’t choose our seats. It’s 2 a.m. and the flight leaves at 7:30 a.m. No longer do we give a flying f*ck about flying out of B’more at a quote unquote civilized hour.

As our new flight isn’t a certainty, we want to arrive at the airport as early as possible. Luckily, BWI is only a 12-minute drive from home. After three hours of Twilight-Zone-like sleep, we hop in a taxi, hopeful but anxious. Butterflies-in-the-acid-stomach kind of anxious.

As much as I’ve cursed United in the past, as indifferent as the service has been and contemptuous the staff—gate personnel at O’Hare barking orders like prison guards; Princess Leia (flight attendant) upbraiding Chewbacca (me) for not appreciating that the only food available on our six-hour flight was not-even Spam palm oil potato starch maltodextrin for twelve dollars and fifty cents credit card only—the customer service rep behind the counter was fantastic.

She refunded us for the flights Jon had booked, which were full. She got us seats on BWI to Houston and then Houston to LA. At first for the second leg, she could only put us on two different flights. But by keeping an eagle eye on the seating charts on her screen, she caught seats opening up on Jon’s flight, the earlier of the two, and booked us both, sitting together. When flights are getting cancelled wholesale, she said, seats on passengers’ second and third legs flash open and close, like fireflies blinking on a summer night.

Posted by: stillironic | March 13, 2015

I’m sorry, East Coast

Rainbow Crosswalk

Rainbow Crosswalk

I’m sorry, East Coast. I thought our love would last forever. Always thought of the West Coast as flakey and self-admiring. Who needed mellow. I liked inquisitiveness. The brashness of the East. Changing seasons. Europe in seven hours. Walking instead of driving.

Yet, in West Hollywood, people were walking everywhere. And LA’s dreaded car culture? Doesn’t everyone on the East Coast outside of New York City drive practically everywhere. And guess what, the city streets of LA are way more pedestrian friendly than any I’ve traveled in the East.

Shall I go on? LA drivers stop when you cross the street at a crosswalk and don’t drive through till you’ve reached the other curb. As if a ten-foot-wide invisible barrier is shielding you. We have crosswalks here in Baltimore with signs planted right on the street—“Stop for peds, Maryland State Law.” But we drivers don’t stop more than half the time. Sometimes drivers speed through so fast as you cross you feel the whoosh as they go by.

And the weather? One day last month with the wind chill factor, it was zero degrees in B’more. In West Hollywood the high was 80 with low humidity. And that was February! This kind of weather on the East Coast would be called a perfect day. In LA perfect days happen all the time. And the food? Emphasis on healthy eating is good by me. Lunch at a fast foodish-type place was fish tacos with roasted Brussels sprouts and root vegetables.

Californians are willing to pay more for gas to reduce pollution. In LA plastic bags have been outlawed in grocery stores.

Hollywood sign

Of course, the Achilles’ heel of LA is freeway traffic. When you ask for directions and how long the drive will take, Angelenos say either 20 minutes or five hours, depending. That’s pathetic. But, I’ll tell you one thing, it’ll be five of the quietest hours you’ve ever spent on a highway. There’s virtually no honking of horns in LA. Curious, I googled “LA traffic culture.” Drivers are supposed to only use their horns to avoid an accident. If you honk like we do on the East Coast, you just let people know you’re a tourist. Ouch.

So back in Baltimore I’ve decided to drive like an LA driver. And I’m amazed at how less stressful it is. I don’t try to jockey into the most advantageous position. I don’t hurry. I defer to other drivers and to pedestrians. And I don’t honk. I find I’m more alert. And I realize I’d been using my car as a weapon. Yikes! Don’t know how long this LA driving will last, but who needs an elevated blood pressure? I’m opting for mellow.

Posted by: stillironic | July 1, 2012

Finance Theory: Trying to Outfox the Guppy

If you’re in the mood for a few laughs, I recommend looking into financial history.

Actually, investigating the origin of the word “finance” itself is worthy of a smirk or two. You have “fin,” a body part that keeps sharks on target for the kill. And “nance,” a slow-growing shrub, whose branches can be, quote, cut into small pieces and thrown in streams to stupefy fish, unquote. This is most informative; outfoxing fish is a predicament we all face from time to time. I would be reluctant, however, to apply this technique when laboring to outfox one of your larger sharks.

The history of finance is full of many similar illuminating facts. Such as: “Much of economic and financial theory is based on the notion that individuals act rationally and consider all available information in the decision-making process.”

And: “Mounting evidence suggests that investors sometimes act irrationally.”

Which begs the question: How high will the evidence have to climb to push the afore-mentioned “theorists” into believing investors sometimes act irrationally? As high as the Empire State Building? As high as Mt. Everest?

What were economic and finance theorists thinking?

Are theories of aging based on the human body staying young forever?

Are theories of drug addiction based on people having no tolerance for addictive substances?

Are theories of intelligence based on all humans possessing a high IQ?

Imagine medical theory based on the human body never aging, getting sick, or being injured. That would pretty much limit MD specialties to plastic surgery and obstetrics. Few people would aspire to practicing medicine. Doctors might even be considered leeches on society. Like lawyers.

When people got sick or injured, they’d summon the local barber. When he wasn’t attending conferences at posh golf resorts. The mentally challenged of rational mind would seek out a philosopher; the irrationally inclined would visit a psychic. Wars would be fought over rational and irrational beliefs. World population would be at medieval levels; even the most skilled barber is no match for plagues and pestilence.

Even more disturbing, House would have to diss his team and their differential diagnoses between cutting hair and hawking Brylcreem.

Wake up economics and finance theorists. With your stupefying premise of rational and fully informed decision-making, you’d have trouble outfoxing a guppy in a fishbowl.

Posted by: stillironic | March 16, 2012

Men have thingies, too

condoms

Oodles of condoms will soon be homeless

According to Rick Santorum, contraception functions as a “license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

I don’t know how “things” are supposed to be where he comes from. But here on planet Earth we at least expect our political candidates to articulate their beliefs more concretely than “thingy thing thing.” But what’s really important here is: why do Santorum and others of his ilk only want to restrict contraception use by women?

Men have thingies, too. And men practice birth control. Because their thingies do things the same as women’s do. To deal fully with the thingy thing, don’t we also need to address restraints on male contraception use.

Well, here’s an idea: have Congress pass a bill restricting the use of condoms and vasectomies. It could look like this:

First, condom use on the male thingy is prohibited. Other uses for condoms are legal because we wouldn’t want to bankrupt the condom industry, would we?

condom

Other uses for condoms: Making a fashion statement!

Second, only unmarried men can have vasectomies. In Santorum World you can only have sex if you’re married, in which case unmarried men don’t need vasectomies. This logic should go over well in Congress.

thug

How would you like this thug to reverse your vasectomy!

Third, when a formerly unwed man gets married, he must have his vasectomy reversed. And, of course, he must prove to the state that the reversal has taken place. Graphic photos of his sperms’ liberation during surgery should suffice.

thug

This thug says "ready, set, go!"

Fourth, it’s not legal for married males to have a vasectomy. They must prove their compliance to the law by submitting yearly to an examination by a physician who then reports the results to the state. Action against men who defy the law will take place in the following way: Anti-birth control police will kidnap, drug, and transport the offender to a back alley. There, on a table with his feet in stirrups, he’ll be forced to undergo a vasectomy reversal performed by a street thug who has an on-again off-again relationship with soap and water.

condom fashion

Men can wear condoms even if it's illegal to use them!

Punishment for disobeying the law? Offenders will be forced to undergo “treatment” that involves probing.

Posted by: stillironic | November 21, 2010

Nightmare on Plutonomy Street

In the movie Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy Krueger is one POS. An unconvicted killer, he’s burned alive.

Freddy Krueger

Unconvicted POS

He takes his revenge by invading the dreams of people enjoying the trite amenities of Elm Street. His MO is killing characters who appear in these dreams. Which turns the dreams into nightmares. Plus—and this seems more than a little gratuitous—the characters turn up dead in real life. Or as real as life gets in the movies.

In nightmare under plutonomy, Freddy Krueger is played by Ajay Kapur, a superstar global strategist at Deutsche Bank. He’s an as-yet unconvicted douchebag. Freddy/Ajay made a name for himself at Citigroup, owner of a bank that screws the American public for a living. (Hence, the need for a douchebag, presumably.)

Freddy/Ajay wrote two cheeky memos* to super wealthy Citigroup clients that said in so many words: the world of the super wealthy is the only world that matters. And if the super wealthy play their cards right, they won’t have to interact with anyone who isn’t as super wealthy as they are.

According to Freddy/Ajay, US economic growth is controlled by only 100K people. A cup of water in the Great Lakes. The economic growth is largely consumed by them, too. And this will continue, indefinitely. At least until the people who don’t count—the remaining 99+% of us nonsuper wealthy, evidently barely conscious most of the time—wake up and decide to revolt. Most likely using violence.

Ajay Kapur

Unconvicted Douchebag

Not much difference between life on Elm or under plutonomy. Which is the economic form of plutocracy, illustrated in these pages some weeks back. To recap, take Pluto the dwarf-planet-that-once-was and Pluto the Disney dog with boomerang ears, put them in a bag, and shake them up good. Don’t forget to add in the passionate Pluto-is-so-a-planet folks and the folks that now insist Neptune’s not a planet either.

What you have when everything shakes out is rule by imaginary-dwarf-and-probably-rabid canines. Or, as the dictionary so mulishly maintains, rule by the rich.

Is plutonomy on the tips of everyone’s tongue? Are the media discussing this issue? Have people stopped holding tea parties and blaming imaginary demons and started confronting extreme income inequality, a danger to our democracy that’s actually real?

Citigroup sign

In the business of screwing the American public

In fact, there are some alert citizens out there.** Including Bill Moyers who recently delivered his “Welcome to the Plutocracy” speech. But few of us have been paying much attention to what plutonomy signifies. Freddy/Ajay makes this point: our ignorance is key. The great unwashed must remain blind to the ever-increasing national wealth. And especially to how almost none of this wealth lands in our bank accounts. Even if our labor produces it. You can almost hear the whooshing of dead Franklins passing us by. And landing in the bank accounts of the super wealthy. To pay for luxury goods and services. These, Freddy/Ajay says, are the growth industries of the future.

And what consumes our attention: Looking for work. Finding a second job to pay for the kids’ education. Stretching the food budget. Putting off dental care. Figuring out how to pay off a mortgage that outstrips the value of the house. And my personal favorite, deciding which bills to stuff in the old desk drawer.

~~~

*Memo, part 1 http://www.scribd.com/doc/6674234/Citigroup-Oct-16-2005-Plutonomy-Report-Part-1

Memo, part 2 CitigroupPlutonony Part 2

** Three things characterize a plutonomy, which the Wall Street Journal’s Robert Frank explains in his “The Wealth Report” blog at http://blogs.wsj.com/wealth/2007/01/08/plutonomics/

The entire blog is worth reading, but the 3 characterizations of plutonomies, according to Frank, are:

1. They are all created by “disruptive technology-driven productivity gains, creative financial innovation, capitalist friendly cooperative governments, immigrants…the rule of law and patenting inventions. Often these wealth waves involve great complexity exploited best by the rich and educated of the time.”

2. There is no “average” consumer in Plutonomies. There is only the rich “and everyone else.” The rich account for a disproportionate chunk of the economy, while the non-rich account for “surprisingly small bites of the national pie.” Kapur estimates that in 2005, the richest 20% may have been responsible for 60% of total spending.

3. Plutonomies are likely to grow in the future, fed by capitalist-friendly governments, more technology-driven productivity and globalization.

Posted by: stillironic | November 8, 2010

Finance Theory or Outfoxing a Guppy

If you’re in the mood for a few laughs, I recommend looking into financial history.

Actually, investigating the origin of the word “finance” itself is worthy of a smirk or two. You have “fin,” a body part that keeps sharks on target for the kill. And “nance,” a slow-growing shrub, whose branches can be, quote, cut into small pieces and thrown in streams to stupefy fish, unquote. This is most informative; outfoxing fish is a predicament we all face from time to time. I would be reluctant, however, to apply this technique when laboring to outfox one of your larger sharks.

shark

Shark unsuitable for stupefying or outfoxing

The history of finance is full of many similar illuminating facts. Such as: “Much of economic and financial theory is based on the notion that individuals act rationally and consider all available information in the decision-making process.”

And: “Mounting evidence suggests that investors sometimes act irrationally.”

Which begs the question: How high will evidence have to be mounted to push the afore-mentioned “theorists” into believing it demonstrates investors sometimes act irrationally? Are we talking as high as the Empire State Building? As high as Everest? As high as the distance between Earth and the Ursa Minor Dwarf galaxy? This discussion could become totally irritating with the insertion of metric measurements. The topic, the history of finance, however, is irritating enough.

What were economic and finance theorists thinking?

Are theories of aging based on the human body staying young forever?

Are theories of drug addiction based on people having no tolerance for addictive substances?

Are theories of intelligence based on all humans possessing a high IQ?

metric conversion chart

Metric system: Almost as irritating as history of finance

Imagine medical theory based on the human body never aging, getting sick, or being injured. That would pretty much limit MD specialties to plastic surgery and obstetrics. Few people would aspire to practicing medicine. Doctors might even be considered leeches on society. Like lawyers.

When people got sick or injured, they’d summon the local barber. When he wasn’t attending conferences at posh golf resorts. The mentally challenged of rational mind would seek out a philosopher; the irrationally inclined would visit a psychic. Wars would be fought over rational and irrational beliefs. World population would be at medieval levels; even the most skilled barber is no match for plagues and pestilence.

Even more disturbing, House would have to diss his team and their differential diagnoses between cutting hair and hawking Brylcreem.

The Three Stooges

Having failed to stupefy a guppy, these finance theorists are in deep thought about how to outfox it

Wake up economics and finance theorists. With your stupefying premise of rational and fully informed decision-making, you’d have trouble outfoxing a guppy in a fishbowl.

guppy

Guppy in no danger of being outfoxed or stupefied

Remember that monster that lived under the bed when we were little? If we got out of bed he was certain to latch onto our legs and yank us under. Where we’d be tortured, or eaten, or worse.

What we didn’t know was we’d still have to deal with the monster as adults. He has a day job as compound interest.

He seems harmless enough, on the surface. If we have a savings account, own mutual funds, or buy stocks that pay dividends that we reinvest, compound interest is actually a good friend. Especially when we keep money in the account a long time.

monster under the bed

Monster by night. Credit card compound interest by day.

But if we use credit cards and are financially illiterate, the monster can grab us by the throat—or the balls if we’re of the male persuasion—and torture us, or worse.

We’re citizens of a democracy and consumers in a mixed capitalist economy. Citizenship has responsibilities: voting, paying taxes, understanding our Constitutional rights. And not just the right that inexplicably leads to fantasies of high-powered assault rifles. Consumers who use credit cards that charge interest on an unpaid balance have responsibilities, too. We can’t just fly on the fantasy that a closetful of designer shoes is ours with MasterCard. Banks profit hugely when we don’t pay off the balance each month.

There are consequences to carrying assault rifles. We can’t expect a dude whose skull contains nothing but a brainstem to weigh the effects of shooting a high-powered weapon. Without firearms training (and a brain), someone could get hurt.

By the same token, we need to know the consequences of using MasterCard and Visa. And to understand that the compound interest we wrack up can lead to financial ruin. If we’re not financially literate,* we’re like the dude with the empty skull. And the someone who could get hurt is us.

monster under the bed

Monster brushing up on his counting skills

If we lack financial literacy two things can happen:

1) We employ the assault rifle—or any firearm for that matter—to steal designer shoes and whatever other consumer products we fancy. Then we say fuck the credit cards, except the ones we steal using our firearm; those we sell on the black market. You can quickly see the downside of this situation, especially if you lack black market connections. Sad to say, this is actually the more positive scenario.

2) We end up with 9 maxed-out credit cards. And swear a debt-burdened life is a small price to pay for a closet filled with designer shoes. And dresses and bags. Or suits and man purses. We know that credit card companies charge interest on any unpaid balance. What we’ve failed to learn: If we don’t pay at least the accumulated interest each month, Bank of America or First National of Sioux City will take that interest and compound it daily. Till death do us part. Or we pay off the balance. Whichever comes first.

Like all financial illiterates, we figure what paying off the cards will end up costing us: the total of the amounts due, plus the straight interest—at 13 or whatever percent—on that amount. If we hold 3 cards and owe $26K, we add 13% and get $29,900.

But that’s not how it works. The banks that issue the cards charge compound interest, which means we’re paying interest on interest. Say we have 3 cards and the amounts we owe are $8K, $6K, and $12K, all at 13%. And we only pay the minimum balance due each month.

monster under the bed

Monster cocky over all the debt that’s mounted up in his name

Here’s why the monster’s licking his chops: Using the Federal Reserve’s Credit Card Repayment Calculator, even if we don’t charge another cent on these cards, it’ll take between 22 and 29 years to pay off the debt, depending on the card. And we’ll end up paying $28,528 in interest alone. (The amount of interest is higher or lower depending on the interest rate.) That’s more than the $26K we currently owe. Which is considerably more than the cost of all the items we’ve charged. Fuck you, compound interest.

Of course if we pay more money each month, depending on how much more, we can dramatically reduce the length of payback time and the amount of interest due. The bank holding the card will probably start whimpering. People in debt make bankers fat and happy. Ever see an illustration of a banker with a waistline and a frown?

~~~

*Financial literacy is understanding: the basics of saving, investing, and planning; credit and compound interest; types of available loans.

Posted by: stillironic | October 26, 2010

Capitalism? Socialism? Pass the Salt Shaker

Could those zany Tea Partiers be any more fixated on socialism? As if it’s a communicable disease like the Ebola virus and a black hole in space. All wrapped into one tidy but lethal package.

I’ve been in countries the Tea Party considers socialist. And when I stepped onto the soil I’m almost certain I didn’t start bleeding from every orifice. Not that one remembers every detail while suffering from jetlag. But I didn’t wake up on my thin socialist mattress in a pool of blood. So I’ll take that as confirmation. I also have serious doubts that after contact with socialism we are forced to watch in horror as all our favorite capitalist products—cell phones, iPods, flat screen TVs—are sucked into a black hole. Destroyed for all time. Or until Judgment Day. Whichever comes first.

slug

First in her class for eloquence

The president, says the Tea Party, is a socialist. Or the anti-Christ. One of those, if not both at the same time. I happen to have been to Hawaii, folks, and I’ve seen a copy of his birth certificate. Poor Hawaii has almost gone broke fulfilling requests for copies. At any rate, “anti-Christ” doesn’t appear anywhere on the document, which itself is entitled “certificate of live birth.” I know it doesn’t say “birth certificate,” but please indulge me when I say the titles are equivalent.

The Tea Party also gives the impression that anyone who believes in social welfare programs has been infected by socialism. We’re talking a lot of people here—50 million are currently on Social Security alone. Call me crazy, but I think we would notice if people were bleeding like zombies while lamenting their lost capitalist products. The Tea Party would do well to stop stuffing its arsenal with flyers promoting unconcealed weapons. Takes up room necessary to fit in thoughts that require logic.

slug

Socialism is bad. Except when it benefits me. Then it's capitalism.

There does seem to be one form of socialism Tea Partiers seem too shy to talk about. The form benefiting businesses and corporations. The libertarian Cato Institute, to cite a conservative source, put corporate welfare from the federal government in fiscal 2006 at $92 billion in direct and indirect subsidies. For comparison, that same fiscal year the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cash assistance program paid out $9.9 billion in state and federal money to recipients that included 3.2 million children. The Tea Party is itching to dismantle programs like TANF. But corporate socialism? Tea Partiers are just perceptive in recognizing the sensitive side of business and industry. There are enough hurt feelings in this world as it is. I’m certain that tales of TP’ers who work for companies on the corporate welfare dole while self-righteously condemning folks on welfare as frauds are urban myths.

Are we sensing a theme here? Socialism is bad, except when it benefits individual Tea Partiers. Then it’s capitalism.

slug head

"Separation of church and state is unconstitutional"

For example, two people the Tea Party adores are Sharron Angle of Nevada and Michelle Bachman of Minnesota. Each is engaged in a political slugfest. Ms. Angle’s running for the U.S. Senate against Senate majority leader Harry Reid and Ms. Bachman’s up for reelection to the House. Both ladies graduated from public high schools and public universities. Angle’s alma mater, University of Nevada at Reno, is one of the 70 or so land-grant colleges and universities originally made possible with federal funds. Could these ladies have been infected by the socialism bug!

Well, Ms. Angle wants to abolish the Department of Education as unconstitutional. How it’s unconstitutional is apparently not relevant, and you were rude to ask. Ditto her belief that separation of church and state is unconstitutional. If stating something’s unconstitutional makes her sound smart can you blame her for saying it? Even if she’s pulling her statement out of her butt? (If not her derriere, where else does it, and her other whoppers, come from?) According to Harvard Business Review research, people tend to trust an eloquently stated lie more than a not-so-elegantly-stated truth. Seems not to matter where the eloquent statement originated or what it might be covered with.

Ms. Angle, who wants to privatize Social Security and transition out Medicare, speaks proudly of her grandfather. He refused to take Social Security because he thought it was welfare. She’s as proud of her grandfather’s ignorance as her followers are of hers!!! It’s funny but following Angle doesn’t seem to lead you anywhere. Brings to mind what it must be like following a trail of slime. Funny how it leads only to the slug itself.

slug with trail

Her followers know where to find her

As for the madcap Ms. Bachman, she’s dead set on putting an end to public education. Her form of schooling will feature intelligent design taught as science. After all, she claims, “There are hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel Prizes, who believe in intelligent design.” If only she could remember to add “just not here on planet Earth.”

Where’s a box of salt when you really need one.

salt shaker

A salt shaker when you really need one

Anyway, we all know socialism is what plagues those misguided Europeans, across the ocean living lives of quiet desperation. Wait. We capitalists are the ones out there perfecting all work and no play. But by choice. Because we love to be up before dawn and home after dark. We’ll take a two-week vacation if we must. But one week is preferable. Actually, a long weekend will do. All right, all we really need is a short break every now and then to run to the Coke machine. Or Starbucks, if we have a line of credit from the bank. Come on, we’re capitalists!

Posted by: stillironic | October 17, 2010

Beware of Bankers: Zombies in Disguise

What is it with all the finance geeks, government hacks, and media sluts? Why is it only a few geniuses around here understand who—or what—the true villains of the ongoing financial crisis are. Yes, ongoing. The weather may look sunny and clear. But the middle class continues to shrink. The fabulously rich continue to grow even more fabulously rich. And the political dialogue has been corrupted by truthiness. Which means the crisis will only end in a not good way.

 

zombie heads

The big 6 bankers in response to being compared to 3rd-world oligarchs

 

So who are the villains? They’re the banks too big to fail. The monster banks: Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley.

One of the geniuses, Simon Johnson, a past IMF chief economist, recently co-wrote 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown. According to Johnson, the big guys who run these behemoth banks have the same effect on our country as third-world oligarchs have on theirs. That pretty much makes these guys zombies.

Now all the hip people out there think they know what zombies are. Besides not attending to their wardrobes and looking like shit, zombies are not copasetic with chatting and sharing feelings. They tend to attack and annihilate first and ask questions later. Except for the ask questions later part. And they’re fully prepped for the impending zombie apocalypse, whereby humans who escape alive are forced to roam the then-decimated countryside, eluding covert zombie assaults, and foraging for scraps even a dog would reject.

Sounds a lot like when your house is in foreclosure.

 

zombie

Head of JP Morgan Chase savoring a quiet moment

 

As only zombie aficionados know, escapees also ditch their names, taking on the names of their hometowns. Which isn’t so bad if you live in a cool-sounding place like Wichita or Tallahassee. But totally sucks if you live in Nimrod, Possum Trot, or Deadhorse. (Tip: If you happen to live in a locale with a cringe-worthy name, take my advice. Set up camp elsewhere now. Unless you won’t mind spending the post-zombie apocalypse answering to the likes of Intercourse, Lickskillet, or worse.)

At any rate, zombies are not to be toyed with.

The big 6 major league zombie banks, along with the banks they swallowed after the 2007-08 crash, at one time controlled only 16% of our country’s gross domestic product. That was in the mid-1990s. Now, these same banks control around 63% of our GDP. Hello!!! That means the nonzombie banks, along with all nonfinancial businesses, control a mere 37%! Where are the financial experts and government-official types who should be educating the public about the significance of this fiasco. And its similarity to earlier events in U.S. history. Plus its ominous implications for the future.

 

zombies

Heads of BofA & Citigroup. Notice lack of attention to wardrobe.

 

In the 1980s the financial services industry was only consuming around 15% of all U.S. profits. Right before the crash, major and minor league zombie banks were gobbling up 40+% of all profits.

Even Larry Summers says 40% is too high. Even individual CEOs of nonfinancial companies find this percentage crazy scary. But the business community stands tight with the zombies. As does the Chamber of Commerce, which swears on a stack of bibles that it represents small-business people.

 

riot

What we have to look forward to in the post-zombie apocalypse

 

Where are the media who should be digging into what’s happening, raising questions, and searching for answers? Out reviewing zombie movies? This is bullshit! There are real zombies out there on the prey.

There’s no good economic reason for these zombies to be so voracious. They simply refuse to control their appetites. The fatter and more bloated they get, the richer they are. And the harder they attack us taxpayers and pillage our homes. Forcing those of us from small towns to live out our days going by Toad Suck, Spunky Puddle, Big Beaver, and Dicktown. That’s if we’re unlucky enough to survive the zombie apocalypse.

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