Archive for Common Cents

Bunch of overactive snatches

Of course, it’s government’s doing:

The federal government has seized a record $360 million from household bank accounts that have been dormant for just three years, prompting outrage in some quarters amid complaints that pensioners and retirees have lost deposits.

Figures from the Australian Security and Investments Commission (ASIC) show almost $360 million was collected from 80,000 inactive accounts in the year to May under new rules introduced by Labor.

The new rules lowered the threshold at which the government is allowed to snatch funds from accounts that remain idle from seven years to three years.

The ultimate goal — the same-day snatch — is probably still weeks away.

(Via Fark.)

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The patented Cash Extraction method

Something called “Federal Benefits Authority, L.L.C.” — the obligatory “not affiliated with any government agency” disclaimer is in type too small for many people my age to read — has thrown a one-sheet letter into my box:

Our records indicate that you may be at or approaching retirement eligibility age. In order to receive an updated Federal Benefits Analysis, please complete the questionnaire below. The customized analysis will provide you with critical information you will need to make important decisions regarding your retirement benefits.

Shorter version: “We want to get our hands on your TSP, and we want you to tell us exactly how to do it.”

Not being a civil servant, or either of those words individually, I don’t have a Thrift Savings Plan, and if I did, I probably might not want it to get near any guys with an Edmond post-office box and a questionable nature and a flawed mailing list. (Not only do I not qualify, they got my middle initial wrong.)

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Tweaking the minimum

The other day, Simon and I were wondering about this minimum-wage proposal: how did they arrive at precisely ten dollars and ten cents? Admittedly, it’s 11 cents more than $9.99, but some of the same psychology might be at work:

A lot of supporters of a higher minimum wage will want to raise it again before too long and some states will want to raise it immediately. $10.00 is such an even number that there might be more psychological comfort with that number. It’s not unlike how some states are finding 10% to be the cap for sales taxes. There’s no particular reason why raising it from 9.5% to 10% should be different from 10% to 10.5%, but there is.

$10.10 isn’t as comfortable a stopping point as $10, and that’s a feature.

Hmmm. Would $9.95 be an easier sell to state legislatures? (Nothing prevents a state from imposing a higher minimum wage than the Federal standard.) And if it’s adjusted for inflation, it will break $10 soon enough, which is to say “almost immediately.”

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Way before supersizing

I had just left a job at McDonald’s (yes!) when these prices went in, which would be about 1970-71:

McDonald's menu board, early Seventies

Back then, when they said “limited menu,” by Grimace, they meant “limited menu.”

And the 60-cent Quarter Pounder, adjusted for inflation since 1971, would now be, um, $3.50. I had been making $1.95 an hour, 20 cents over the minimum wage; that would be $11.48 today. Make of that what you will.

(Via HistoryInPics.)

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A line explained

Longtime readers will recall my brief infatuation with Copernic Desktop Search, which turned into sullen tolerance after version 3 mutated into adware, and slow adware at that. I’d gone back to version 2, which required me to keep it from phoning home for updates via a Registry hack, but it wasn’t about to follow me to Windows 7, so I went looking for a better tool, mostly for work.

What I got was Agent Ransack from Mythicsoft, which is billed as a free “lite” version of FileLocatorPro, an application so old as to have an actual endorsement from John C. Dvorak. It filled the bill admirably, once I got the hang of it. After thirty days, Mythicsoft asked me if I’d like to upgrade my license to Supporter, which probably didn’t buy me any extra functionality, but hey, it’s being used at work, I probably should pay for the darn thing, especially since they were asking only ten bucks.

That was the 9th. Came this notification yesterday:

This notification is just a friendly reminder (not a bill or a second charge) that on Apr 9, 2014, you placed an order from Mythicsoft Store. The charge will appear on your bill as “FS *mythicsoft”. This is just a reminder to help you recognize the charge.

I suppose people have trouble remembering stuff like that — or they charge up so much stuff that they lose track. I am neither. Still:

Our customers have found this notice useful in confirming otherwise unknown credit card charges, as “FS *mythicsoft” may not be easily recognizable on your bill.

Whether this was Mythicsoft’s idea, or FastSpring’s — FS, I’m assuming, is their digital-goods distributor — it was probably a good one.

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Unbalance sheet

Not all income inequality is created, um, equal. Dave Schuler explains:

[M]y greatest concern on this subject is how rent-seeking drives income inequality rather than on income inequality per se. Michael Jordan’s or Tiger Woods’s wealth do not concern me. The Kennedy family trust does. In a society as complex as ours with a government as pervasive as ours these rents take a vast number of forms — they encompass everything from royalty income to physicians’ wages to the subsidies received by bankers or GM executives and workers in the late recession. When you use the wealth you’ve gained through these rents to promote increases in your rents, as the late Sonny Bono manifestly did, it presents an assault on liberal democracy.

Not surprisingly, tax rates — effective tax rates, anyway — won’t be going up any time soon:

[W]hen the highest marginal tax rate was over 90%, effective tax rates were little higher than they are now, i.e. marginal tax rates are virtually irrelevant to income inequality. Also, consider how many millionaires are sitting in the U. S. Congress. Does it actually seem likely to you that Congress will enact a tax on wealth? IMO a significant number of them are there to ensure that such a tax is never enacted into law.

And the rest, I’d be willing to bet, are willing to prevaricate about it in order to shore up their own positions.

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Let’s all go to the Laissez Faire!

Not that Equestria is some sort of free-market utopia or anything, but this line jumped out of yesterday’s episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Take it away, Princess Twilight Sparkle:

[A]ll I’m supposed to do is settle disagreements over whether a trade is fair or not. And since the rule is that a trade is fair as long as both ponies get what they want, there’s never been a disagreement. So there’s really no reason for anypony to treat me as anything special.

“By virtue of exchange, one man’s prosperity is beneficial to all others.” — Frédéric Bastiat, The Law, 1850.

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Zombies would starve

The administration has been conflating health care and health insurance for so long that most people, or at least most people who get TV cameras shoved into their faces, actually believe that the two products are one and the same. So questions like this go unanswered:

[E]levating “being insured” to some kind of holy, sanctified, sought-after-at-any-cost status ignores ways of dealing with things that, nevertheless, don’t qualify as “insurance” on technical grounds. We are constantly told that people who “weren’t insured” would use the ER and Medicaid and whatnot. But now they will “have insurance,” so that’s better. But wait: why is that better? For whom? By what standard? No explanation is proffered. Who needs one? “Being insured” is good and “not being insured” bad, period, say all the Smart People. And nevermind the fact that (in a sense) all those people were “insured,” it just wasn’t by an insurance company, it was by taxpayers-and-whoever.

But I went too far with that “at-any-cost” part, didn’t I? Cost is not even mentioned in the first place. As far as I can tell, I’m supposed to think that increasing the percentage of people who “are insured” (whatever that means) by one basis point is worth spending X dollars — for any value of X whatsoever. The ledger of this retarded debate, as conducted by (retarded) Smart People, has only one side to it.

But there’s one serious problem with these Smart People:

You build a movement by increasing buy-in, and “all smart people agree we’re right” is great for that. To acknowledge contrary evidence — any evidence at all — is to tacitly admit that one isn’t as smart as one claims to be. And who here, in this glorious year 2014, is going to admit that?

Which is why I’ve been arguing for some time now that Republicans need to start arguing, not that liberals are wrong (though, of course, they are), but simply immature… I might not always get it right, but I’m far, far likelier not to get it disastrously wrong. The whiz kid can run circles around me, cerebrally, but there’s no substitute for decades of real-world experience. And it is a truth universally acknowledged, at least by anyone who has ever been around teenagers, that the smartest kids make the dumbest mistakes, because they overlook the most obvious points.

William F. Buckley, Jr. had similar reservations about Smart People:

I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.

Buckley wasn’t always prescient, but he nailed this one cold.

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Bank error in your favor

ATMs are not known for their generosity; in fact, they can be obstinate and obtuse, which surprisingly is not the fault of Windows XP.

But sometimes Things Happen:

This all started at one in the morning, when officers were called to a TD Bank branch on Maine Mall road. A transient was inside the bank sleeping beside the ATM. Officers went inside and moved him along. But, he came back.

At 5:30 in the morning, a woman waiting to use the ATM in this bank called police to report a man spending an unusual amount of time at the ATM. When South Portland police officers drove up, they saw this same homeless man inside filling a shopping bag with cash from the ATM. How much? It turns out it’s more than $37,000 in cash.

We can safely assume this sum exceeded his available balance:

[A police lieutenant] says the man used his bank card to withdraw $140 from his account, but then kept going. And the ATM just kept giving him money.

The cops returned the funds to the bank, which shut down the machine remotely; no charges were filed against the customer.

(Via Consumerist.)

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One impossible thing before breakfast

The state treasurer is requesting a budget cut — again:

For a second consecutive year, State Treasurer Ken Miller is asking the Legislature to cut appropriations for his office. And for the second year in a row, he is the only agency head to do so.

Miller said his request for a five-percent budget cut is made possible by focusing office operations on core treasury functions. He also requested and was granted a five-percent appropriations reduction last year.

Staff inflation? Not here:

Prior to the last recession, the treasurer’s office had 72 employees working in three locations in Oklahoma City, including two leased offices. Now the staff is 40 percent smaller and all treasury employees work in one location in the State Capitol Building after closing external offices.

If everybody got a 5-percent budget cut — but forget it. Just under 100 percent of all agency heads will tell you with a straight face that cutting spending at a time like this is immoral.

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Traditional medicine, alternative currency

I have occasionally linked to G. Keith Smith, MD, who runs Surgery Center of Oklahoma, one of the few medical facilities that posts its prices for all to see, mostly because I like to encourage that sort of thing.

I knew that they were basically a cash-only operation, but apparently they’re now accepting bitcoin, and Dr Smith, as always, is unapologetic about it:

What underlies my willingness to accept methods of payment other than traditional methods of payment is my concept of exchange itself. Any exchange deemed to be mutually beneficial naturally tends to occur unless the state intervenes. This natural tendency for the exchange to occur prevails as both parties in a mutually beneficial exchange see themselves better off subsequent to the exchange and desire its occurrence, otherwise, one or both parties wouldn’t want to exchange their goods or services in the first place.

As for one particular objection that could be raised:

For those who say derisively, “…you never know what the value of the bitcoin is going to be from day to day,” I wonder why they don’t think the worst about the dollar’s value, given its history? After all, some 95% of the dollar’s value has been stolen since “managed” by the central bankers, so it seems clear regarding what results from the state “regulation” of any currency.

There’s always a chance that bitcoin will go up. The dollar? Don’t hold your breath.

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Kind of a losing proposition

Operating costs for Brazilian businesses relying on imported goods are stiff, reports the WSJ [paywalled]:

Keeping prices low has been a challenge for most retailers because operating costs in Brazil are high. Apparel vendors in Brazil pay an estimated 35% in taxes on their products, compared with about 8% in the U.S., according to Alexis Frick, a São Paulo-based analyst for market researcher Euromonitor International. Retailers that ship their products in from abroad pay as much as 35% in addition to those taxes in import taxes.

Which explains how this happened to Fausta:

When a friend from Brazil told me my KitchenAid mixer (that retails for $250 on Amazon) sells in Brazil for US$1,000+, I asked that he take it when he went back, sell it, and we split the profit. He already had bought one for himself, otherwise I would have sold him mine.

As Glenn Frey might have said, it’s the ultimate enticement.

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This offer is limited

And boy, is it. Dan Lovejoy finds a deal with his smartphone, then discovers the fine print:

Offer not valid on the following items

It might have been easier to list the things he could buy at the discount.

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Time as a Veblen good

Jack Baruth lays down the smack on the ultra-expensive Swiss watch:

If you wear a Swiss “luxury watch”, you’re a douchebag. (Full disclosure: I have a few of them myself.) The bigger the watch is, and the more elaborate/flashy it is, the worse you are. The newer and more quick-bake the brand is, the more horrifying your personal presence is to people who weren’t raised in a trailer prior to the IPO/Goldman bonus/first-round draft pick/real-estate deal/personal-injury settlement. I’ve complained about this before, but wearing a watch that is unnecessarily complex and impossible to fix amounts to a Nero-esque destruction of capital without the attendant flair. This goes double if your watchmaker’s brand was “dormant” for fifty years or more before being pried out of the hands of someone’s step-great-grandchild by a venture-capital firm, triple if Nicholas Hayek imagined your brand while he was having a “speedball” medically administered by a twenty-two-year-old Italian nurse who does figure modeling in the evenings.

I’m pretty sure my watch, the very antithesis of Swiss craftsmanship, isn’t fixable, unless what ails it is a dearth of battery power, which can be replenished for $5. Then again, it only cost me $30 to begin with, thirty-odd years ago, and maintenance — it’s on its fourth band now — has run less than $100.

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Small fry to be dismembered

Little fish, traditionally, are gobbled up by bigger fish, and eventually the little fish are no longer viable. Epinions, established in 1999 to collect user product reviews, was bought out in 2003 by DealTime, which in turn mutated to Shopping.com. Shopping.com was acquired in 2005 by eBay. What happened to the little swimmer? He’s being flushed:

Why is eBay discontinuing operations of the Epinions community?
Several obstacles, such as declining site participation, have deeply affected our business and forced us to make this difficult decision.

Will I be able to edit or delete my reviews?
As of February 25, 2014, you will not be able to edit your content.

How long will I be able to access my Epinions account?
As of March 25, 2014, you will no longer be able to login to your account.

No great loss to me; I never quite understood how their business model actually worked, but I did make a few bucks off it.

(Via this Dan Tobias tweet.)

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What’s in your shredder?

After you read this, probably your Capital One credit card:

Credit card issuer Capital One isn’t shy about getting into customers’ faces. The company recently sent a contract update to cardholders that makes clear it can drop by any time it pleases.

The update specifies that “we may contact you in any manner we choose” and that such contacts can include calls, emails, texts, faxes or a “personal visit.”

It gets worse:

The company’s contract update also includes this little road apple:

“We may modify or suppress caller ID and similar services and identify ourselves on these services in any manner we choose.”

Now that’s just freaky. Cap One is saying it can trick you into picking up the phone by using what looks like a local number or masquerading as something it’s not, such as Save the Puppies or a similarly friendly-seeming bogus organization.

“Why, yes, we are fundamentally dishonest. What are you going to do about it?”

Not a thing, except of course never to do even a dollar’s worth of business with you ever again, and I don’t care if you offer me zero percent APR in perpetuity and Zooey Deschanel’s cell number besides.

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Cents and sensibility

More of the former than the latter in this case:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: Can I pay my car payment in pennies?

Justification:

I recently purchased my first vehicle from a used car lot in LeFlore County Oklahoma. They promised me it would be a great truck for the price and will not fail me when driving to and from work. The 2nd day I had it the brakes went out, and one week after I drove it off the lot, it broke down for the first time. It has now broken down 4 times, and this last time the rear differential locked up on me ($500 for the part) I’ve owned the truck for 2 weeks now. I signed papers that said ‘As is’ and ‘No Warranty’ My first payment is coming up and is $250 and I wanted to pay in pennies. I put $2000 down. Do they have to accept my payment even if its in pennies? is there any way I can send it through the mail so I dont have to sit at the office while they count it all? These guys are real scumbags that cheat any ol person dumb enough to buy a used vehicle from them (me)

“Send it through the mail”? Twenty-five thousand pennies at 2.5 grams each = about 138 pounds. It’s going to take several trips to the Post Office. Good thing there’s a truck available.

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Where the Boise are

Is your homeowner’s insurance bill vaguely, or perhaps not so vaguely, reminiscent of the national debt? Tough noogies, says Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute:

Oklahoma ranks No. 5 in the nation for the price of homeowners insurance premiums — an average of $2,386 in 2011, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Oklahoma is the most expensive landlocked state for homeowners insurance premiums, Hartwig said.

If Oklahomans don’t like what they pay for homeowner’s insurance, moving to Idaho is always an option, Hartwig said.

“Nothing ever happens in Idaho, so they pay about a third of what people in Oklahoma do for their homeowners insurance,” Hartwig said.

Thanks, Bob. If a glacier comes to Coeur d’Alene, I’m going to point in your general direction.

Oh, and the graphic that accompanied this article said that the average Oklahoma premium was $1,386, so one of the two is wrong. Maybe both.

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You’ve got pricier mail

As of today, it costs 49 cents to mail a letter through the Postal Service. You can no longer do what I did, which was buy up a bunch of “Forever” stamps at the old rate at the last minute — save that idea for the next increase — but there’s one step you can take to minimize your expense:

Discount postage exists primarily because of stamp collectors. When I was growing up in the 1960s, the popularity of the hobby was rising; advertisements for collectible stamps were in every issue of Boy’s Life and in comic books. Increased participation in the hobby generated drove prices higher, so many collectors began to put away sheets and blocks of mint stamps as “investments.”

However, as the decades went by, the interests of young people shifted toward pastimes that required electrical outlets. The demographic profile of the average collector got older, so that now many of the stamps saved as investments are coming back on to the market, and are for sale at prices below their “face” value.

There are other reasons for the availability of discount postage, such as scrap left over by current-day collectors of plate blocks and plate number coils, or mistakenly large purchases for business use (and see the addendum at the bottom of this post), but to make a long story short, postage stamps can easily be purchased today at discounted prices. This is perfectly legal. The stamps were originally purchased from the postal authorities as advanced payment for future service; a stamp issued in 1953 is just as valid for postage now as it was then.

That Addendum suggests that you watch out for very recent stamps being offered at discount; there’s a chance their original acquisition may have been, um, questionable.

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Because Castro

The new “opening” of the Cuban automotive market, you should not be surprised to hear, is not much of an opening at all:

Previously, Cubans were first required to request permission from the monopoly, in order to then try to purchase a vehicle from the monopoly.

Now, they can just try to purchase a vehicle from the monopoly without first requesting permission from the monopoly.

Oh, and there are additional charges involved: a 20-percent tariff (imports, you know), plus 10 percent tax, plus 8 percent surcharge. The result is a price list that looks like this:

Oh, and those prices are quoted in convertible Cuban pesos, which are officially worth US$1. So the Peugeot 4008, a small (think Honda CR-V) front-drive SUV, will cost nearly a quarter of a million dollars.

This is such a pathetic scheme, with such amazing potential for government graft, that I can’t believe some lunatic American legislator hasn’t already proposed something similar to inflict on the States.

(Via Fausta’s blog.)

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Their generosity is underwhelming

Leave it to Chase to come up with a timely response to the Target card-security breach: they’ve imposed strict limits on any debit card that might have been used at Target, and by “strict” we mean $100 a day from non-Chase ATMs and $300 a day in purchases. Just in time for Christmas, too.

Chase has about 23 million cardholders; they estimate that two million were affected by the Target snafu.

You might remember that Roberta X said earlier this week:

I’m one of the forty million, waiting for the other shoe to drop and wondering what I ought to do next. If I do go back, I’ll pay in cash.

If more than a handful of consumers follow suit, there will be ructions in the industry.

Disclosure: I’ve been to Target three times since Black Friday. No card swiped: strictly cash. This is less a tribute to my ability to see these things coming than an acknowledgement that it seems like a waste to bring out the plastic for a Glitter Pinkie Pie and a bottle of Flexeril.

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Sweet little sixteen digits

It’s no particular secret that almost every credit card — there may be an outlier lying out there somewhere, I suppose — has been designed to pass the Luhn test, a relatively simple check-digit routine. It’s no particular trick to come up with a number that appears to pass muster, even if it doesn’t correspond to an actual account, and unsurprisingly, there’s an app for that:

GetCreditCardNumbers comes to your rescue by giving out fake, “real” credit card numbers that can be used when you need one to get a trial underway, you know, like the ones available at Netflix, Hulu and the likes. Well, we say “real” because obviously enough, they aren’t actual real life credit card numbers but merely a collection of digits that have all the right formatting needed to fool a computer into thinking that they make up a proper card number. That is, the numbers have the required issuer identification number and the like, so they’re more than just a collection of random numbers thrown onto a website. In fact, if you need a large number of real-fake credit cards to use, the website will even let you download 100s in a fancy XML, JSON or CSV file.

They certainly look plausible enough. If a merchant actually runs them, though — well, I’ve seen this before, and I recognize most of the error codes on sight.

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Somewhere out there is a ticket

Someone in Switzerland — specifically, in the canton of Valais — won 114 million francs in the Euro Millions lottery back in August, but hasn’t come forward to claim the prize:

Willy Mesmer, a spokesman from the German-language lottery organization Swisslos, told [a Swiss tabloid] that 80 percent of lottery winners claim their prize within two weeks of the jackpot being announced.

Winners have up to six months to collect their cash but after that it’s too late.

Then again, there might be a reason for the delay:

Le Matin said the winner may have good financial reasons for delaying picking up the windfall. The newspaper cited a tax expert who noted that by waiting until next year to claim the prize, the winner could escape tax on assets for the 2013 income tax year.

One should never be in a hurry to pay one’s taxes.

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Brand X to soar

Good enough, says Bill Quick, is, well, good enough:

The computer industry (and I include in this makers of smartphones, tablets, and traditional computers in whatever form factor) is currently agonizing over the commodification of the personal computer. By this I mean that while geeks and fanbois drool over esoteric pixel counts and multi-core processors, normal buyers (which means 95%-plus of them) just want something that works for them at the lowest price they can find consistent with a reasonable level of quality.

How many of those normal buyers, I wonder, swore by [brand name] right up until the moment when their [brand name] machine turned into a paperweight?

Disclosure: The last time I owned a computer with a brand name on it was 1991, when I retired my Commodore 128. My current machine, slightly ahead of the curve when I bought it in 2006 — dual-core! — is now slightly behind.

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Leaving the junkyard behind

They’re not out of the woods yet by any means, but one of the Big 3 ratings firms — Moody’s — has upgraded General Motors’ corporate debt from junk status to investment grade.

It’s the bottom rung of investment grade — Baa3, in Moody’s parlance — but it’s above the psychological barrier, and that’s almost certainly going to matter the next time GM needs to borrow a few bucks.

The other two ratings firms, S&P and Fitch, still rate GM as junk, but fairly high junk.

As for the rest of Detroit, Ford made it out of Moody’s junkyard in the spring of 2012; Chrysler is not traded on public exchanges, but has filed for an initial public offering, mostly at the behest of the Voluntary Employees Benefit Association of the United Auto Workers, which would like to turn some of its 41.5-percent ownership of Chrysler into actual cash. (Fiat owns the other 58.5 percent.)

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The short version

Does this meet the disclosure requirements of the Securities and Exchange Commission?

Then again, do disclosure requirements even mean anything anymore?

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And watch where you walk

This is just about wide enough for a spite fence:

Two Wall Street financiers locked horns and bid each other up in a face-to-face auction for an overgrown 1,885-foot-long strip of land, just 1 foot wide, running through the dunes to the sea, a local official on Long Island said Thursday.

The winning bid was $120,000.

Which is a bit over $2.7 million per acre, a ton of money even in the Hamptons. This is the part that gets me, though:

[T]he strip of land in Napeague, in East Hampton, had been acquired ten years ago by the county for non-payment of taxes by the owner.

The county decided to sell it off for just $10 and offered it to the owners of six adjoining properties. Four did not respond.

And the other two got into a bidding war. Sheesh.

I am forced to conclude that the winner, an investment banker, owns the distribution rights to pre-sliced, rustproof, easy to handle, low calorie Simpson’s Individual Emperor Stringettes, free from artificial coloring, as used in hospitals.

(Via Bayou Renaissance Man.)

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Because you’re worth it

Know what’s really great about being wealthy? Being able to buy brand names:

Know what I would do if I won the lottery? I’d buy genuine Windex and honest-to-God Pledge. Not WinDowEx or “Lemon Polish” from the dollar store. And God help me I’d never buy pine oil again. It would be Mr Clean Summer Citrus all the way. Spic and Span all the way. America’s greatness rests on dependable brand names. Maybe if the jackpot was really sizable, I’d indulge in the purchase of Comet Cleanser — the gritty kind that makes a mess in your drain pipes but leaves your stainless steel so squeaky clean.

I have only recently discovered that the store brand Pam-a-like imposes a soapy mouthfeel that the genuine article never has.

There are two brand names which I will likely never abandon, no matter what absurdities may be taking place in their back yards: Heinz ketchup and Fritos corn chips. (No substitutes are accepted, at least at the checkout counter; I may not have the option at a lunch counter.)

And I’m not emotionally wedded to Shell V-Power gasoline, but it’s never let me down, except when I look at the receipt to see how much I paid.

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At some point before closing

How many of you have gone through this?

ME: I like this house. I think I will buy it.

MORTGAGE LENDER: The house needs work before we’ll give you money.

ME, to sellers: The house needs work so that I can get money and not burn up in an electrical fire and stuff.

SELLERS: We know. We’ll fix some stuff.

ME: Great! I will make a list of the scariest stuff for you to fix.

SELLERS, post list: We changed our mind. We’re not fixing that stuff, so suck it.

ME: Dang.

“Dang,” perhaps, may be a placeholder for another word of comparable length.

Oh, when I bought the palatial estate at Surlywood, the princely sum of $500 was set aside for Necessary Work. About half of it was spent.

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The fuller portfolio man

Stockbrokers are now peddling their wares door to door. Or at least one of them is: Edward Jones, the St. Louis-based investment firm that maintains strip-mall offices, each with a single counselor, dropped by the palatial estate at Surlywood this morning, while normal people are at work. Upon receiving no answer at the door, the chap left a booklet whose middle pages incorporated a table containing about 180 widely held stocks and their one-word advice (BUY, HOLD, SELL) on each.

I did like the disclaimer:

The Edward Jones Research department typically recommends industry-leading companies that appear reasonably valued. A well-diversified approach is typically used without significant over- or under-weighting (in comparison to the S&P 500) in any one sector. An index is not managed and is unavailable for direct investment. Performance results do not represent actual trading and may not reflect the impact that material economic and market factors might have on our decision making if we were actually managing clients’ money.

For an investment firm, this seems unusually forthright.

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