Friday, December 12, 2008
Now, I don't mean to be insensitive to people that have lost their job. Frankly, I'm worried that things might not look a lot better in two years when I have to get another job. But I'm glad that we have been able to see all of this happen before we made some of the mistakes that people just a little further along in life than us have made.
A couple of years ago, I was having lunch with a smart friend who was getting a finance degree at BYU. We talked about people who were taking out mortgages on their home to invest in stocks or bonds (under the logic that the interest rate for the house was lower and tax-deductible). He said, "It's a terrible idea to pay off your house sooner than you have to." I asked him, "What if you lose your job later and can't make the mortgage payments?" His answer: "Yeah, that's the only drawback." Some drawback.
Note that this was a smart friend who actually studies finance at a school owned by a church that emphasizes frugality as though it were a sacrament. At the time, I didn't even think he was wrong. "Hey, maybe times have changed" I thought. Well, guess what? Staying out of debt (or at least borrowing carefully) is just as important as it ever was since time immemorial.
These are the lessons I've taken from recent events, either for my own sake or for my future kids:
1. Homes are a consumer good, not an investment.
If you are putting money in a retirement account, then 200,000 is twice as good as 100,000. That's because a retirement account is an investment (ostensibly). Homes aren't. Sure, you might get lucky and see the price go way up in a few years, but over the long haul, the value of homes typically move only at the inflation rate (you can look up the charts yourself if you don't believe me). If you didn't have to live in a home, there'd be no reason to buy one. When you buy a house, you're spending money, not investing it. So financially speaking, a $100,000 house purchase is twice as good as a $200,000 purchase. This sounds simple enough, but almost everyone forgot it, myself included. Thank goodness I didn't graduate three years ago when I might have felt the need to buy instead of rent.
2. Don't borrow to buy more education than you need.
I've been reading about lawyers making $45,000 a year with $150,000 in debt. Dodged a bullet on this one. I could have gone to a slightly higher ranked law school for about $20,000 a year more, probably $25,000 when you count urban living expenses. That's $75,000 more debt than I currently have, for a school that wouldn't have gotten me a better job than the one I have now. No thanks. (amazing to think it was a close call at the time). The correlary to this is as follows: If you have no plans to make good money someday, don't even think about taking tens of thousands in loans. Go to a state school or get a scholarship. If I had the debt I do now, but I were a Spanish teacher rather than a lawyer, I'd be sweating gallons right about now.
3. Paying off a loan is better than investing money.
Most financial advisers tell you to pay only the minimum on your subsidized student loans, because the interest rate is so low. Then you can invest what's left over. I think this is self-evidently wrong. I have a subsidized loan with a 7.5% interest rate. If I pay extra on that loan, that's a guaranteed 7.5% annual return on investment. Is there a bank or investment firm in the world that can guarantee a rate like that now? As soon as this hit me, we called our IRA and told them we would stop contributing for the time being.
4. If you don't need it, you aren't saving money by buying it at a discount.
When Michelle and I moved up here to Alaska, we considered buying an HDTV because, "we're out of school now, our TV is ancient, we'll be spending time indoors, and it's only $700 for a pretty good one...Hey, wait a second, don't these Flintstones vitamins we've been taking look suspiciously like stupid pills?" Luckily we thought better of it, and guess what? You don't need HDTV to enjoy "The Office". Does anyone really want to see Dwight Schrute's face in any greater detail?
Does anyone have thoughts on this? I think we make so many financial mistakes because everyone's afraid to talk about finances with people they trust. If so, some frank discussion is in order.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Michelle takes a drink next to some friendly cows in a mountain pasture. The people that own the farm have an outdoor restaurant with some mean grub and an oompa band. When the tubas started playing, all of the cows came over and stood at attention. I think it was their anthem.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Perhaps more significantly, Neuschwanstein is, according to legend, Walt Disney's inspiration for Cinderella's castle at Disneyland. As you can see from the pictures, if that's not true, it may as well be. It's a stunning sight, and sits between a valley and a mountain range that are as pretty as any place on earth. This was probably a top-five day out of our month in Europe.
The Alps on one side...And the valley on the other.This is Hohenschwangau ("High Swan Something-or-other"), Ludwig's "other" swan castle (you can never have too many), which is right next to Neuschwanstein. It was his "hunting lodge".P.S. After looking at these photos, I'm amazed at how well they turned out. This is one of those places that's just too beautiful to screw up photographically.
UPDATE: Michelle and I were watching "The Great Escape" last night and Neuschwanstein is actually in the movie! How did I not notice this before? It's during the part where two of the escapees steal a Nazi fighter plane. Weird coinicidence.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Other than sports, there aren’t many TV shows I watch regularly. Basically just “The Office”, “24” and “The Biggest Loser” (Having lost 120 pounds myself, I’m transfixed by that show).
For those of you who watch the show, you know that “24” was horrible last season. Nothing made sense, and they forgot that the show is all about Jack Bauer killing terrorists without joy or regret, saving the world in the meantime.
Well, last night there was a two-hour movie as a prequel to the next season that starts in January. It was called “24: Redemption”. I thought that was a terrible name. While Jack may be “cursed” in the sense that he has to do all of the horrible things that no one else is able or willing to do, he doesn’t need to be “redeemed” for anything he’s done. He always does the right thing, even if the world hates him for it. Based on the name, I was worried that the show would turn Jack into this regretful shell of himself, apologizing to every middle-eastern dictator whose minions he has had the unfortunate need to kill.
I shouldn’t have worried. When Jack said to that loathsome U.N. weasel with the bad haircut, “Why don’t you go hide in the shelter with the OTHER children?”, I literally jumped out of my seat and yelped. If there has been a better put-down in any movie or TV show, I can’t think of it. If there were any justice in the world, the guy who wrote that line would win an Emmy, a Pulitzer, a Grammy (for the spoken-word album recorded by Kiefer Sutherland), a Congressional Medal of Honor and, most importantly, a Nobel Prize (it should be the Peace prize, but Literature works as well).
Oh, and Jack killed all of the African warlords, in case you were wondering.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Indeed, I hear about it so much that I can basically piece together the plot without having read any of the books:
“Twilight”- In this book we are introduced to Bella, a highly intelligent, highly attractive high school girl who, like most such girls, considers herself above all those immature high school idiot guys. Along comes Edward. [Oh, the pretentiousness of that name! He could never go by “Ed” or “Eddie”, or even, to be unconventional, “Ward”. Nope, it’s “Edward”, as if he were some rich British exchange student, son of the 12th Earl of Saxony.]
Bella and Edward live in an appropriately gloomy town on the coast of Washington. Bella finds herself strangely attracted to Edward’s pasty white complexion and brooding countenance. She’s also stunned by his rock-hard body [Um, Honey, should you be reading that?]. They begin to date, fall in love, etc., but then Bella finds out that Edward is a vampire. No problem though; he only drinks the blood of animals. Just make sure to keep him away from your sanguine little Fluffy. Vampires are immortal, so Edward is actually like 150 years old or so. Not sure why he’s still in high school; maybe he didn’t want to graduate without a girlfriend.
Apparently there are other vampires who drink the blood of humans. Not only are they dangerous for regular folks, they also want to kill vampires like Edward who don’t. I’m not sure why this is. Can’t they just make fun of Edward like the rest of us make fun of vegetarians?
Even if the story didn’t have vampires, it would still be considered a “fantasy” book for the following reason: Bella wants to make out with Edward, but he is always slowing things down. Sure, this happens all the time. Then the Easter Bunny makes a dramatic entrance as he’s being chased by a hungry Sasquatch. OK, that second part didn’t happen, but the story wouldn’t be any less plausible if it had. Like I said, it’s a fantasy book. At each of these “romantic” scenes, the women readers swoon, thinking, “There really are men out there who love a woman without wanting to proceed too quickly to making out. How romantic.” When I was single, I thought it was enough that we Mormon boys weren’t trying to, well, break the Law of Chastity. The bar has now been raised.
“New Moon”- In the 2nd book, Bella proceeds to ruin a good thing by vacillating between Edward and a new guy named Jacob. Jacob is a werewolf, by the way. Apparently dating only one Halloween monster wasn’t “dangerous” enough for her. This is a watershed moment, as women readers are divided into “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” camps. Jacob doesn’t treat Bella nearly as well as Edward does. The decision between them is nonetheless difficult for Bella because, well, she’s a girl and girls like jerks. [Every guy right now is nodding]. Hey, even Hitler had a girlfriend.
“Eclipse”- Not really sure what happens in this one, other than more consternation about whom Bella will pick. She eventually settles upon Edward, which makes her the first woman in history who, when faced with a decision between two “dangerous” guys, picks the one with less facial hair.
“Breaking Dawn”- Edward and Bella get married and Bella becomes pregnant with a vampire baby. Vampire babies are different from human babies because they are like a parasite which consumes the mother’s blood and makes her extremely ill. Oh wait, that’s just like a regular baby.
So there you have it; I’m not too worried about Michelle falling in love with Edward because I am at least as solicitous and protective of her as Edward is of Bella. I may not have his rock-hard abs, but at least Michelle hasn’t bought a “Mrs. Cullen” sign yet. [Ladies: you can purchase them from my friend Kristyn: http://lorinandkristyn.blogspot.com/2008/11/tattered-trunk-boutique.html. ] I don’t get it, and I never will. But then, Michelle’s not going to sit down for the Ohio State-Michigan game this Saturday either…
[Editor's Note: I thought Michelle would laugh at this post. She didn't. She said it was "kind of funny, I guess." Her rebuttal is forthcoming.]
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
The Exterior of the Gas Chamber
The interior of the gas chamber, labeled as a shower.
This is where the zyklon B pellets were poured in.
This is Michelle in front of the magnificent Nymphenburg Palace.
This is still on the palace grounds. The sign says not to let your dog drink from the trough, but there's no problem with people is there?
Here's Michelle in Munich's English Garden. Remember in "I am the Walrus", when John Lennon sings about "sitting in an English Garden, waiting for the sun"? Well, we had to see what the big deal was.
Monday, November 17, 2008
FALSANI: "You don’t believe that?"
OBAMA: "I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell. I can’t imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity. That’s just not part of my religious makeup."
Obviously, he's never heard of the doctrine of baptism for the dead.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
To catch you up on things, I should start by showing you this picture of my beautiful wife. You see, as we’ve been putting up pictures of our trip to Europe, both of us have mixed feelings because we weren’t in the best of shape at the time. Traveling/graduating/moving/staying with family/saying goodbye to family and friends/studying for the bar exam will do that to you. Also, Michelle wasn't able to do her hair while we were over there. Both of us have lost about 20 lbs since we came to Alaska, so I thought you ought to know just how good she looks now. I’m quite proud to be her husband. Speaking of the bar exam, I passed. It’s a minor miracle when you consider that in the two months before the exam, I 1) spent over a month’s worth of potential study time in Europe, 2) spent a few days back east for Logan’s wedding, 3) did not take a review class. I had a lot of doubters (i.e., “Aren’t you supposed to go on vacation AFTER the bar exam?”), and I was tempted to gloat over them. However, gloating is beneath me. Instead, I choose to gloat about being too good to gloat, which is morally superior. You see the difference, don’t you?
In other news, congrats to Nate for leaving the dating pool permanently next month, and congrats to Elder Sumpter for reentering it in a big way next week after two years of missionary toil. I wish I could be there for the un-retirement ceremony when they pull your jersey down from the rafters.
If you don’t want to hear anything more about the election, don’t bother reading the rest of this. Trust me, I understand.
First, I’m proud that our country has come a long way, in a very short time, from Jim Crow to electing a black man as president. In fact, I dare say that this is the only non-black-majority country where this would be possible at the present time. I wish it weren’t quite such a big deal, though. Everyone’s been patting America on the head as if it were some emotionally disturbed child who had managed to go an entire day without throwing a rock at his teacher’s head. My point is, I think America’s been ready for a black president for a while now. Does anyone remember the mid-90’s when something like 70% of everybody said they would vote for Colin Powell if he chose to run? So by all means, let’s be proud of country, but let’s not pretend that we came out of Apartheid last week. Obama’s victory has far more in common with Bill Clinton’s or even George Bush’s election than it does with Nelson Mandela’s (and we should be grateful for that).
Second, I would encourage anyone who’s really distraught over this election to calm down a bit. Of all the elections in my lifetime, this one had the fewest real differences between the candidates. On economic stuff, McCain and Obama are basically from the same Republicrat Party which believes that Government Can Solve All Your Problems If We Just All Work Together. I hope that someday a titanic, Reaganesque hero will raise his mighty sword to smite the Socialist hordes that would turn us into a Macrocosmic Canada. John McCain was never going to be that guy. On social issues, Obama may be pro-abortion, but when did you ever hear McCain address abortion? We do know that McCain is pro-marriage, since he’s already had two of them (bah-dum-CHING!). And when it comes to the war, I simply refuse to believe that Obama is prepared to surrender in an Iraq War that we are currently winning. Obama is a smart guy, and I don’t think he’s going to turn the Democrats into the “surrender at all costs” party for another generation.
Now that there is a liberal in the White House, liberals, and the media in particular, will begin to talk about how we have to finish the job, defeat our enemy’s, etc. They will pretend that they have always supported the mission of our troops, just as the media in 1984 said, “We have always been at war with Eastasia.” It’s infuriating, but it also might be just what the country needs.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
I would also add that if you want to be American, you should do the things that Americans do. Put the flag outside your home on patriotic holidays. When you hear the national anthem, put your hand over your heart. Go to a barbecue on the Fourth of July. Visit a monument or memorial on Memorial Day if you can. Read the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Learn about the history of your adopted country.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Never before have I seen a "giant puffball". What sort of dish does this particular piece of produce add to?
In conclusion, if you are ever planning on coming to Alaska to visit, coming during the summer when the state fair is going on is a great time to do it.