A Good Day to Thank a Veteran

Today is the annual commemoration of Veteran’s Day (previously known as Decoration Day). I write about this every year, but it’s a good day to recognize that our freedom isn’t always free. We are who we are and we can do what we do because others have sacrificed for us. This afternoon I spent part of the day walking around Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery doing some work for Findagrave.com. The place was pretty crowded and that was nice to see.

Is Your House Filled with Too Much Air?

As part of my job I go into different peoples’ homes and can see how they live. It’s an interesting experience, to say the least. One observation I’ve made is that while there are all sorts of products on the market that make your house smell fresh, it’s really a waste of time and money. With very few exceptions, most houses don’t smell bad.

One thing I do notice (and truth be told, suffer from) is the amount of clutter we keep. Maybe this is part of turning 50, but I keep thinking I should start to get rid of stuff that I don’t use.

But wait: there’s another answer! I saw a commercial recently for something called the Spacebag. These are large, heavy ply plastic bags that you fill with blankets, clothing, etc. Then you hook the bag up to the vacuum cleaner and suck out the air. It compresses the bag which allows you easy storage.

That’s right America: the problem with clutter isn’t that you have too much stuff, it’s that you have too much air! Now you can suck the air out and make more room for your stuff!

If you want another chuckle, you can see the classic George Carlin monologue A Place for Your Stuff.

Money Chronicles, Volume 2: Don't Blink or You'll Miss My Libertarian Moment

Anyone who knows me know that I am an unabashed liberal. I almost always vote Democrat and I support almost all of the financial regulatory reforms that are currently in the news.

On the other hand, I’m finding that I can’t support additional regulation of the payday loan industry. For the uninitiated, it’s a small loan given over a short period of time. Let’s say you’re getting paid in 5 days but need $100 right now. They will loan the money to you and you pay it back with interest when you get paid in 5 days. I heard a story on this recently on NPR’s Planet Money blog. They interviewed a guy who works at one of these places and they charge $1.50 per day per $100. If you borrow $100 today and pay it off in 5 days, you’ll owe $107.50. It’s actually pretty simple.

The problem is that many, if not most, don’t use it this way. When they come back the don’t have the $107.50; they may pay $7.50 and “roll over” the loan. It’s not hard to see how this can go south in a hurry and the payday industry is happy to keep charging you $1.50 per day until you pay it back. Turns out it works out to an annual percentage rate of over 500%. Of course, these loans aren’t supposed to be annual; most are weekly or monthly.

But it’s easy to demonize these lenders. With the current hue and cry to add regulations to banks, brokerage houses, and other institutions, payday lending houses are getting caught up. But there’s a difference: unlike the mortgage lending crisis nobody is lied to. These lenders tell you up front how much they charge and when you need to pay back the loan. There are no hidden fees, variable interest rates, balloon payments, or fine print.

OK, so here’s my libertarian moment: should we ban or regulate them only because some (ok most) people who use them are burying themselves? Do we really need to parent these people by not giving them advances on their allowances?

Those who support regulation point to issues like smoking bans or seatbelts and say this is the same thing. But it’s not. We have smoking bans because nonsmokers like me don’t have to breathe the air. We have seatbelts so people are less likely to be gravely injured where they will be supported in nursing homes but all the taxpayers of the state (motorcycle helmets are in this category too). But people who drive themselves into unmanageable debt don’t hurt anyone but themselves.

True, they hurt loved ones with this debt, but so do addicted gamblers. We don’t protect family members (even children) from gambling or alcohol addiction. Neither should we for this.

On My First 50 Years

As of 9:00 a.m. this morning (Eastern time) I am 50 years old. It feels a little strange as this number used to look really old to me. In 1970 I received (as a Christmas gift) a book called The First 50 Years, the history of the NFL from 1920 to 1970. I still have it. I remember thinking then that 50 years seemed like forever. It doesn’t so much anymore.

While it’s amusing to recognize that I’m now eligible for membership in the AARP I don’t feel 50, though I’m not sure what 50 should feel like. I know I don’t mind being mistaken for being older than I am, and I have no desire to be younger. Maybe I’m fooling myself but I don’t hear the hoofbeats of Sister Death. I love the wisdom I’ve gained in my first 50 years and while my experiences have been far from universally fun, I’ve learned some important lessons.

I’ve learned to laugh more and fear less.
I’ve learned that worry is seldom benign, often malignant, and almost never accurate.
I’ve learned that the better angels of my nature are quite powerful and are most effective when I let them loose.
I’ve learned that the people who love me aren’t mistaken, and most of the people who dislike me are.
I’ve learned that when someone pays me a compliment it usually comes after some honest thought.
I’ve learned that when someone criticizes me it’s not always done well, but I can probably learn something from it.
I’ve learned that God loves the people who drive me crazy and I should follow His example.
I’ve learned that there is no downside to praying.
I’ve learned that there is no downside to love.

And finally, I’ve learned how much I love my wife Nancy. We were out to dinner tonight to celebrate my birthday. I told her that out of my 50 years, the last 12 when I’ve been married to her have been my happiest. I hope she feels the same way.

It’s been a fun ride so far. I hope for many more birthdays. If you’re reading this, thank you.

Reflections on Our Visit to Vancouver

Each year Nancy travels to a convention of the American Academy of Pediatrics and this year it was in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada). I go along to explore a new city, and this year went much better than last year. This is not to say that the weather was all that cooperative. Most days in Vancouver had at least some rain; the wind and cold temperatures were an added benefit.

That said, I look forward to going back for another visit. If you watched the Olympics you can attest that Vancouver is a beautiful city with the right combination of water and snow capped mountains on the horizon. It also has wonderful neighborhoods and attractions. I recommend Chinatown, Gastown, Granville Island, and Stanley Park. We saw the zoo, which probably deserves more support but is hard to recommend. A better choice was the aquarium in Stanley Park.

One benefit to these conventions is the chance to spend time with Nancy’s colleagues. They are a fun group, but I’ve decided after several years, they eat at restaurants much higher than ours. Most often we hit a home run, but a strikeout is a very expensive strikeout. This year’s best example was Kirin Mandarin. We had a reservation one night for 7 at 8PM. Granted it was a Saturday night; it made sense to have a reservation. We showed up at 8PM and were told that the previous party had not yet left; that’s not unusual and we were willing to be patient (to a point). At 8:00 we were told it would be a few minutes. At 8:15 we were told that they had just started the final course. At 8:25 we were told that they were setting up another table for us. At 8:30 we were told that they were almost done. At this point I found the manager and asked for a 20% discount on the bill and was offered each of us a free desert. At 8:35 a homeless person came into the restaurant to panhandle us. Finally, at 8:45 we were seated. The manager then became our server (I’m guessing he’s decided at this point that a tip was off the table and he was going to take one for the team). The drink order came and included everyone’s drink except Nancy’s; several attempts to remind the server was unsuccessful. The food order came with 6/7ths of the plates we ordered. The last one came as we were finishing, and that’s when it finally broke loose. One of our dinnermates made a determination that it was just too late to serve a main course and it should be taken back. Around that same time one of our parties (who is very allergic to shellfish) found a shrimp in her dish; fortunately she found it before she ate it. I then hunted down the manager and indicated we really weren’t interested in free desert and I renewed my call for a 20% discount on the bill. I think at that point he was happy to be rid of us. He took off Nancy’s drink (that was never served) and Vivian’s meal (which would have sent her to the hospital) and Patty’s meal (that was sent back because it was delivered too late). He kept cutting until the whole bill was $101.00. That came out to less that $15.00 per person. Then again, it was close to 10:30 PM when we left the place. All in all, I’m glad we didn’t pay more than that, but next time we’re in Vancouver we’ll take pass on this restaurant.

But we do wish to return to Vancouver. Oh, and give a shoutout to Air Canada. They were wonderful and actually made flying a fun experience.