Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Theme Is: Education

I quickly glanced down a list of jobs paying $30-$40/hr and one thing was very clear: you need an education to get them.

Just a quick note, full time at $30/hr is ~$60k/yr. What isn't clear is how the hourly rate is figured. Does the $30/hr that a kindergarten teacher make only count the hours that they have students in class? That doesn't necessarily translate to how much they actually work, and it does leave out the gaping hole in their income that results from nearly four months unpaid. Does "post secondary" mean professor or just lecturer, and if the latter, does that only count the 8-20 hrs/week that they actually spend in a classroom and holding office hours?

Still, the message is clear if already well known: you are better off with a college degree.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Green is Cheap

I really don't think this message penetrates very well. I think mostly because of the very, very intense marketing we experience in this country. If you want to live "green" then: stop buying shit! Yes, also, don't live in a huge home. Don't fertilize the hell out of your yard. Don't leave your house lit up like Christmas every night. Keep the thermostat below 70 (or even better: 65) in the winter and above 75 (or even 80) in the summer. Don't take baths, and take fast showers.

But really, it is buying shit (particularly disposable shit but really pretty much anything) that is the problem. It has to be made, it has to be transported, it has to be disposed of. All of those things contribute carbon. That is true of food, furniture, toilet paper, baby wipes, every damned thing.

Of course, if people listened to that it would put an even bigger hurt on our economy, and frankly, most Americans don't really want to live "green" lifestyles as they kind of suck... I mean the nations with the lowest carbon footprints (per capita) tend to be among the world's poorest. Americans with the lowest carbon footprint also tend to be very poor (homeless, carless, and living in an urban setting).

No matter how "green" I become, I am responsible for a hell of a lot more carbon than an impoverished Bangladeshi. That would be true even if I were better than 95% of Americans (I'm not). Of course I'm orders of magnitude better than our nation's millionaires and billionaires.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ok, So the Fix Is?

After bitching about Jamie Oliver, and reading Marc Ambinder's article on obesity, I figured that I should propose something that accomplishes what Jamie seems to be trying but that would actually work.

The obesity epidemic is huge, and the causes are varied and large themselves, as Marc very effectively points out. The solution, unfortunately, must be equal to it. As much as I dislike Marc's quick postulation about surgery for all, it--unlike Jamie's posturing--is a proposal that could really work. I don't like it though. Here are some other (maybe less unlikely to occur) things that together would do wonders:

1. End farm subsidies (at least increase subsidies for healthier farm products to match corn).
2. Tax soda (heavily) and pretty much any snack food and convenience food (chips, cookies, frozen pizza, dear God Hot Pockets!). More simply: tax anything that isn't produce (fresh, dried frozen or canned), or good grain products (whole grain breads, pasta, rice). Meat can be tax free as the ended subsidies will likely increase it's cost substantially. Really though, taxing soda and candy is a must.
3. Gas tax (min $2/gallon). People will drive less. This may also mean they will walk more. Also transportation costs will go up and so will the price of food shipped from further away, particularly for multi-shipped food (grain to mil, mill to cow, cow to slaughter/butcher, butcher to grocers). Many transport issues are actually not too bad other than the last one or two, but still...
4. Subsidize: public transit, biking lanes/trails, walking oriented development and growth.

There are two things making us fat: our diet and our activity level. We can't force people to exercise (or not eat cake) but we can make better eating cheaper and crappy eating more expensive, and we can make it easier for people to walk or bicycle, as opposed to driving. These things take a great deal of political will to happen, however, one that seems lacking today.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

LHC Rap...Yes, it Sucks.

Not going to link the video. I mostly want to agree with Thoreau. The rap is bad. Very bad. It would be fine if done for something like Sesame Street, but the concepts are a bit to advanced (even when presented in simple terms as is done) for elementary school and younger children. It would be good as a intro to some high concepts in like a high school or college physics class, if it weren't for the fact that it is a horrible rap.

Many science dorks (myself included) will find it funny and cute. But it is not going to do science or scientists any favors used as general public outreach.

Friday, April 16, 2010

It's German for "The, Goldman Sachs, The!"

I would love for Goldman Sachs to die a flaming death, but in the unlikely event that they do, it will probably be a slow bleed. Propped up as much and as long as possible by their buddies in Treasury and at the Fed. At least long enough for all the principles to get their billions out and stick the rest of the stock holders with a massive loss.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Jamie Oliver - Spoiled Ignoramus

I'm not much of a Jamie Oliver fan. Not because of his food, but because he just comes off kind of ignorant and haughty. I, therefore, am tickled by his Food Revolution fall on his face. I first saw the clip on Colbert where he grinds up and seives chicken gunk (bones, cartilage, fat, skin, some scraps of meat) to fry then asks kids whether they want some of those chicken nuggets, and they all do!

I was happy. The main reason was that grossing people out of eating some foods--while effective on some level--is a bad idea. Plenty of people, were they to go to a slaughterhouse, would swear off meat. Most of those would return to eating meat within a week. More, how many people refuse to eat things that are good because of some arbitrary perception that it is gross? Grossing people out just doesn't work: people will go back to eating some things, and will use that as an excuse to not eat others.

On tom pf that, this chicken nugget thing to me was encouraging waste rather than healthy eating. It would be better if we ate more of each animal, fewer animals overall, and threw less away.

After reading the link, I got a bit more angry. It kind of distills Jamie down to his essence. Yes, it would be good for people to eat better, for many reasons. But many (probably most) people lack the time and money to have good quality meals on a regular basis, whether home made or premade (like Kashi). Good food is expensive, time consuming, or both. Jamie's attitude is more than a little arrogant. I like to cook, but I don't do so every day, because I am tired and don't have that much time. I probably do have the money to eat well even when I'm not cooking but I don't because I think it's too expensive. Plenty of people have less free time and money than me. Jamie Oliver is an ass.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Valuing Housing

For all I've read about mortgages being under water and house values falling I find it odd how arbitrary house "values" are.

A house is nominally worth what people will pay for it. But the only way to find out what a house is really worth to someone is to sell it. Even then, you are only finding out what that house is worth to a single person (or family) in some limited fashion (timing and who offers/can pay the most). In a case like an appraisal the value of the house is also arbitrary but in a different fashion. Look at other houses, see sale prices, figure differences, attach dollar figure to differences, take temperature of market and determine if adjustment is needed...get number, say that is what the house is worth.

The case of selling demonstrates the value of the home to just the specific buyer and seller combination in a purchase that has more emotion involved than other buying/selling decisions. The case of appraisal demonstrates the value that some third party guesses for the house.

One of the major deciding factors for a home price is the monthly payment. People tend to pay what they can afford and what they can afford is a monthly payment, not the total price.

This is why things like the negative amortization ARMs were able to drive house prices up, they drove monthly payments down. Having more DINKs (dual income no kids) also drives housing price up because they have more income and can afford a higher monthly payment. The later, however, will produce sustainable higher prices so long as the fraction of two income families remains constant or increases (it cannot do sustained growth as at some point the DINC fraction would get saturated). The former is doomed to failure.

Still, it is the monthly payment that people can afford and not the whole house. As such, along with bizarre financing and more income things like taxes, interest rates, down payment requirements, all alter the "value" of a house. So my house is not worth $100k or $200k but worth what I can and will pay per month for it, whatever that works out too, all things considered.

Despite lots of advantages, I was still a little wary about buying when I did because interest rates were very low, which inflated prices. The housing tax credit also increased prices, though less than it is now since it was not available to everyone then. On the other hand prices were depressed and I did qualify for the (very stupid) tax credit.

I'll do work on my house over the years and that may make it worth more or less. But my house has no meaningful value until and unless I (try to) sell it. Granted this is not entirely true as my property taxes are based on an imaginary value, but that value is as much political as real and the numbers there are laughable.

One particular place where this imaginary number was made meaningful was with HELOCs (home equity lines of credit). All of a sudden people could get a lot of real money (debt) based on the imaginary value of their home, and many people took out up to 100% of the value. I think that HELOCs are not bad, but they should be capped at something reasonable (50-80% of the lower of mortgaged or appraised value).

Ok, this is getting rambling, and has been a draft too long. I'm posting. May revise/tear down later.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Don't Get the Disgust

Over KFC's new "sandwich" the Double Down. It's really no different than eating chicken cordon bleu: a fried chicken cutlet wrapped around cheese and pig (ham). I suppose everyone is grossed out by the idea of meat as bread, but that's really more of a mental block than something that is actually disgusting. I can't see there being all this news if the double down was exactly the same but a bun was added around the outside of it. It's two pieces of fried chicken with cheese and bacon.

If this was served on a plate with the cheese and bacon on top of the chicken and along side some potato salad (or mac and cheese) and green beans, it'd be a $15 dinner and people would be saying how it was comfort food or some shit.

On top of all this the noteworthy lack of carbs in this means that, for a sizable chunk of our population, it counts as diet food!

I guess the main thing that bothers me is that the press coverage (like that of the ipad and Tiger Woods) of this is just stupid. It's a novelty item that should be relegated to a quick mention between real news.

Maybe if there was a piece of lettuce in there folks would back off, but then CNN wouldn't be giving KFC so much free advertising. So way to go KFC! Shame on you news media!

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Owning the Wrong Things

As I read through this story on a laid off individual living off his airline/hotel miles/points what most struck me is that the guy doesn't really own useful things. Specifically he owns neither residence nor transportation.

There's a lot of sense to renting for many people, even for a lifetime. But in the end, most people are going to be better off if, by some point in their life, they own a residence and/or a car. It's one thing if getting laid off means having to cut back on electricity use and going out to eat, and another if it means burning through savings then sleeping on the street or in shelters. It is so much harder to get back on your feet from that far down.

The other end of this is that he does own stuff (keeping it in a storage unit). This is, to me, a major issue. We own lots of stuff, but the big things, we don't. We rent or take out massive loans for residences. We lease or take out loans for cars. Hell, lots of people make payments on appliances and large electronics.

Housing is expensive, and it takes time to purchase (whether saving for years and paying cash or getting a mortgage and paying it off for years). Cars, while still pricey, are, however, easy enough to own, and if you can't afford either, maybe having tons of shoes/clothes/electronics/etc. is not the right way to go?

Sunday, April 04, 2010

So Much News

So little time to bitch. Le Sigh.

Health (insurance) reform: historic and probably right direction but not nearly enough. It pretty much ignores all the health care providers issues because people like doctors and it's really easy to conflate doctors with health care providers and so harder to deal with. Also: Democrats enacting Republican health care reform with zero Republican votes...Not really sure who won this 'cause I didn't. If the GOP wasn't dominated by crazy this would be a huge coup for them.

NCAA tournament this year: meh. It's always kind of fun to watch good games and upsets, but Dook is in the finals and Kansas lost early so it sucks. UNC seemed to wake up a bit in the NIT before losing in the finals. Hoping Butler wins, but not optimistic and probably won't watch much.

Financial reform: not so much looking like reform. Dems will strip away anything that may function because the Wall Street super-geniuses own them almost as much as they do Repubs, so we'll likely be going through the same thing again in 5-10 yrs. Only it'll be worse.

Obama still letting torturers roam free and refuses to return to the rule of law when it comes to brown skinned people who have been labeled as "terrorists" (whether arbitrarily or legitimately, we don't know), so he is still working hard on that EPIC FAIL on the part of his job that is actually part of his job (health care and financial regulation are largely Congressional issues).

Freaking Tiger Woods practicing golf and Apple releasing a lame product are apparently big news, so news media is still atrocious.

I still don't understand why becoming more like (random Western European or Scandinavian country here) is such a horrible thing. I mean: more happiness, less poverty, no one going bankrupt then being forced off medical treatment for some disease thanks to crappy/no insurance and insane costs. Oh, I get it: fewer ultra rich in the financial industry. That would be sad.

Yes, I know the argument is related to economic growth...So, apparently most right-wingers would rather live in China than France? Ok.

Israel is acting like a spoiled brat child, but it's anti-semetic to point that out, so let's we just give them billions worth of arms to go blow up some more Palestinians because someone threw rocks at a tank. If Israel could exist without a phenomenal amount of charity from us, I say: feel free to commit human rights abuses and suffer the consequences. They can't, so we suffer the consequences in terms of hatred directed our way from many Islamic nations/people. Our unending and unquestioned support of Israel supports terrorism, but anyone who says that must hate Jews. Or something. I don't know. I'm just a poor rational thinking type who clearly doesn't understand...something?

The Catholic Church looks destined to burn in hell. Irony or poetic justice? That the Catholic Church has been stridently anti-woman (and anti-sex) for a long damned time didn't seem to matter much, though, so maybe being pro-child rapist will turn out ok for them as well. Seems the wrong side to take though.