Archive for Common Cents

As another closes

I’ve never met Caleb or Jessica Hill, and I have no reason to think they’re at all related to me. But by some weird bit of cosmic timing, I got to see their names twice in the paper this weekend, under the same heading: Land Sales.

First:

Whitney Fisher and Randell C. Fisher from Caleb and Jessica Hill, 3308 Oak Hollow Road, $740,000.

Quail Creek Golf and Country Club is sort of a horseshoe shape, open at the east end; this house sits on half an acre close to the middle of that open end. It was built in 1966, and this is still considered one of the better northside neighborhoods; the Hills arrived in 2012 for just about half the price they got for the sale. Nice return if you can get it.

But maybe they don’t need the space as much as they did. Here’s the second listing:

Caleb Hill and Jessica Hill from Traci D. and Jeff D. Turley, 6116 NE 105, $465,000.

Never been out to Oakdale Valley, where this home is located; I know from Oakdale School, a highly regarded PreK-8 school in its own little district, but there’s not a whole lot out there nearby. Then again, 73151, at the far northeast of the OKC ZIP code map — cross Hefner Road, three blocks to the north, and your mail goes to Edmond — might be the wealthiest ZIP in the entire range. This house sits on a smaller lot (0.31 acre, barely bigger than mine), and is smaller than where Caleb and Jessica used to live. Let’s see what Trulia had to say about it while it was on the market:

Entering through the double doors into the spacious entryway and dining area you will feel right at home. The living area is charming with a cathedral ceiling, floor to ceiling stone fireplace and windows that light up the room. You will enjoy cooking in the kitchen with a gas cooktop, ample counter space, and lighted custom cabinets. Wind down after a long day in the master suite, Jacuzzi tub or a steamy shower. Each of the 3 large additional bedrooms have bathroom access and are on the other side of the house. The upstairs bonus room is the place to be for fun and entertainment. The view on the patio is just beautiful. Exquisite landscaping designed by Oakleys. Oakdale Valley is a fantastic neighborhood that offers a gated entrance, community pool, clubhouse with exercise facility, greenbelts, fishing, rolling hills and acres of trees.

And, five will get you ten, a Homeowners’ Association. (Addendum: I got my ten.) I have to wonder if “gated entrance” was a major factor in the buying decision.

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An earlier Standard

A little family history from Warren Meyer:

My older readers will know that my dad was President of Exxon from the early 70’s (a few weeks before the Arab oil embargo) until the late 1980’s. In that job he never had to do analyst calls, but he did about 15 annual shareholders meetings. I don’t know how they run today but in those days any shareholder with a question or a rant could line up and fire away. Every person with a legitimate beef, every vocal person who hated oil companies and were pissed off about oil prices, every conspiracy theorist convinced Exxon was secretly formulating chemtrail material or whatever, and every outright crazy would buy one share of stock and show up to have their moment on stage. My dad probably fantasized about how awesome it would be to just get asked dry financial questions about cash flow. And through all the nuts and crazy questions and outright accusations that he was the most evil person on the planet, dad kept his cool and never once lost it.

If you asked him about it, he likely would not have talked about it. Dad — who grew up dirt poor with polio in rural Depression Iowa — was from that generation that really did not talk about their personal adversity much and certainly did not compete for victim status. He probably would just have joked that the loonies at the shareholder meeting were nothing compared to Congress. My favorite story was that Scoop Jackson once called him to testify in the Senate twice in 6 months or so. The first time, just before the embargo, he was trying to save the Alaska pipeline project and Jackson accused Exxon of being greedy and trying to produce more oil than was needed. The second time was just after the embargo, and Jackson accused Exxon of being greedy and hiding oil offshore in tankers to make sure the world had less oil than it needed.

Good old Scoop. Remember when he was the sane Democrat?

Through all of this, the only time I ever saw him really mad was when Johnny Carson made a joke about killing the president of Exxon (he asked his audience to raise their hands if they thought they would actually get convicted for killing the president of Exxon) and over the next several days our family received hundreds of death threats. These had to be treated fairly credibly at the time because terrorists were frequently attacking, kidnapping, and bombing oil company executives and their families. We had friends whose housekeeper’s hand was blown off by a letter bomb, and I was not able to travel outside of the country for many years for fear of kidnapping. (For Firefly fans, if you remember the scene of Mal always cutting his apples because he feared bombs in them from a old war experience, you might recognize how, to this day, I still open packages slowly and carefully.)

And that was during the Age of Carson, a largely apolitical comedian — yet the nitwits spun their way out of the woodwork with frightening speed. Today, no thanks to the current corps of synthetically edgy talkers and their reinforcement from the echo chambers of social media, there is no longer any such thing as a rhetorical question; it’s always a cry for a rally.

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Beyond mere hyperinflation

P. J. O’Rourke once explained Mexican currency this way: “One peso is worth 100 centavos, and one centavo is worth nothing.” God only knows what he would have said about the Venezuelan bolívar, which has sunk to a level that can only be described as surreal:

How worthless is the bolívar, Venezuela’s currency? You’d be better off investing in fictional currency from a video game.

The virtual gold in World of Warcraft, the online role-playing game, is now almost seven times more valuable than real cash from Venezuela, whose economy is in shambles.

As the South American country suffers an economic crisis due to extreme inflation, the value of bolívar has cratered. One US dollar today is worth 68,915 bolívares, according to the black market exchange rate the locals use. The black market rate is considered more trustworthy than the official rate, because the Venezuelan government has lost credibility among many of its people.

Who knew? (And no, you won’t see the S-word in this piece.)

Meanwhile in Azeroth:

By contrast, an official token, or in-game credit, in WoW is worth $20. Tokens also are sold to other players for gold, and their value changes through worldwide auctions. According to a WoW token price tracker, a token is currently worth 201,707 pieces of virtual gold.

Which means a single dollar trades to 10,085 gold pieces in WoW. This makes the fake money used in Azeroth, the mythical world of the game, about 6.8 times more valuable than the Venezuelan bolívar.

If you prefer Monopoly money, you can get $20,580 for a mere $14.99. And O’Rourke notwithstanding, the Mexican peso is holding steady at about five cents Estados Unidos.

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Bank error in your favor (4)

It wasn’t so long that a giant Korean conglomerate inadvertently paid out billions in “accidental” dividends. The Germans, perhaps miffed, figured they could do the same:

A routine payment went awry at Deutsche Bank AG last month when Germany’s biggest lender inadvertently sent 28 billion euros ($35 billion) to an exchange as part of its daily dealings in derivatives, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The errant transfer occurred about a week before Easter as Deutsche Bank was conducting a daily collateral adjustment, the person said. The sum, which far exceeded the amount it was due to post, landed in an account at Deutsche Boerse AG’s Eurex clearinghouse.

The error, which took place in the final weeks of former Chief Executive Officer John Cryan’s tenure, was quickly spotted and no financial harm suffered. But the episode raises fresh questions about the bank’s risk and control processes, which Cryan had boasted of improving before his ouster.

As they say at Fark, we need one more for the trifecta.

(Via Bayou Renaissance Man.)

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Bank error in your favor (3)

Oh, yeah, Monopoly, like that ever really happens.

Wait, what?

Samsung Securities Co. said Sunday that it will make amends to all those that have been affected by the mistaken dividend payments to its employees.

In a statement released by CEO Koo Sung-hoon, the brokerage said it will do its utmost to regain the confidence of its customers and take firm action against moral hazard cases involving its workers.

On Friday, the company had planned to pay dividends of 1,000 won (US$0.93) to its employees under a stock ownership plan, but it mistakenly paid over 2.8 billion shares by processing the wrong figure and making a computation error. This caused the firm’s stock price to plunge by more than 11 percent during the trading session to 35,150 won, although it recovered to the 38,000-won range before the market’s close.

A whole ninety-three cents? So generous of them. Then again, they probably can’t afford to pay out $75 billion just now.

Although no details have been provided, some employees reportedly sold off their stocks before the problem was fixed, with one even offloading 1 million wrongly gotten shares for at least 35 billion won. The brokerage said it has determined that 16 employees sold over 5 million shares on the market.

Quelle surprise.

(Via Fark.)

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It’s so EZ

Sunday afternoon, I did my taxes, not so much because it was Easter, but because it was April Fools’ Day. (And why hasn’t that been moved to the 15th?) Last year, I tried out one of the FreeFile providers listed on the IRS Web site, and it went well enough for me to use them again, especially since I made about $6000 less this year; I’d been trimming my work hours a bit, but the major factor here is that I withdrew nothing from my 401(k) plan in 2017.

For the first time in 15 years or so, I had no reason to itemize deductions: property tax was about the same as 2016, mortgage interest went down several percentage points, and the standard deduction was widened a whole fifty bucks. I am, for the foreseeable future, a short-former.

As was the case last year, I got a small sum back from the Feds, and had to send a somewhat larger sum to the state. Remarkably, that small sum arrived yesterday afternoon, one day faster than last year’s. Being the petty person I am, I’d set two different direct-deposit destinations, the faster of the two being the one that actually received a deposit.

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Never swallow COLA

Peter Grant supplies a data point:

[E]ven five years ago we could eat out as a couple in a “normal” restaurant (pizzeria, meat-and-three, burger joint, the local Thai eatery, whatever) for about $20-$30 for the two of us. Today, we’re lucky to get away with less than $40 for the same meal, and it’s frequently close to (or even over) $50. Auto tires? The last tires I bought for my pickup truck cost me less than $130 each, which I thought was expensive, even though they were a premium brand and I bought them from a vendor known for low prices. Today, just four years after I bought them, you can make that $200 per tire from the same vendor. That’s an increase of about $70 per tire in four years, or an average of $17.50 per year.

The Consumer Price Index? Don’t make me laugh:

In 2016 I did a detailed two-part study of inflation, which highlighted the problem, looked at the alternate inflation figures provided by Chapwood and Shadowstats, and described the reality of our current position. If you didn’t read them then, or don’t recall them, I strongly urge you to do so. They’re brutally factual. I defy anyone to contradict the points I made there, because they’re all based on reality and on actual evidence — not government meddling. I pointed out, in the second article:

“Our incomes are being reduced in purchasing power by approximately 10% per year (the real rate of inflation, as discussed yesterday). If I earn $50,000 per year, and receive a 1% increase this year to compensate me for the official rate of inflation, this is worse than meaningless. In reality I will suffer a 9% decrease in my purchasing power. Next year, my income of $50,500 (including the previous year’s 1% increase) will be worth only $45,450 in terms of this year’s purchasing power. That decline will continue, year in, year out. I have to plan accordingly, and expect that my money will buy less and less as time passes. Unless I can somehow find extra money from somewhere, I’m going to be in serious financial difficulties in due course. (Many people already are.)”

The Chapwood index is based on the actual selling price of a basket of 500 products in Americs’s largest cities. According to Chapwood, here in OKC, prices have been going up about 9 percent a year for the last five years. The CPI, ostensibly a nationwide index, reflects the actual rate of inflation in no nation on the planet.

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The value of a free market

There aren’t a lot of truly free markets anymore — government at various levels likes to meddle, and occasionally someone in the private sector attempts to tilt the playing field — but sometimes we get true price transparency:

When Hillary Clinton spoke at Rutgers University Thursday night, she was paid $25,000, which is $7,000 less than MTV reality star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi received from an appearance at the university in 2011, according to NJ.com.

Clinton appeared at Rutgers to discuss “politics, American democracy and her role in shaping women’s political history.” Polizzi, on the other hand, was paid $32,000 in 2011 to speak to students about studying hard, but partying harder.

One might argue that Snooki, as a resident, is of greater interest to the Garden State, and Rutgers is the state university, but it may simply be that the school is calling them the way it sees them:

Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison made $30,000 in 2011, and former White House press secretary Bill Moyers received $35,000 to speak in 2015.

We will not discuss the $110,000 check the University of Oklahoma wrote to Katie Couric back in ought-six.

And this seems awfully tone-deaf of HRC:

“I was really struck by how people said that to me — go away, go away,” Clinton told the audience at Rutgers. “They never said that to any man who was not elected.”

Poor old Al Gore, already forgotten, and deservedly so.

(Via @Liberal Heretic.)

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Did anyone ever use this?

A note from the guys at PayPal:

As we continue to evolve and improve your PayPal experience we’ve decided to remove the Pay After Delivery payment method. After April 18, 2018, this will no longer be a choice when you check out with PayPal. If you’ve made a Pay After Delivery purchase that is scheduled to be billed after April 18, 2018, we’ll still complete the transaction as scheduled (10 days after purchase for domestic transactions and 14 days after purchase for international transactions).

I mean, if I need to pay over time, there are credit cards. Even PayPal has credit cards. But maybe this is just a reflection of my own predilections.

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Oh, by the way

A really dreadful gurney-side manner, this is:

Laura Cameron, then three months pregnant, tripped and fell in a parking lot and landed in the emergency room last May — her blood pressure was low and she was scared and in pain. She was flat on her back and plugged into a saline drip when a hospital employee approached her gurney to discuss how she would pay her hospital bill.

Though both Cameron, 28, and her husband, Keith, have insurance, the bill would likely come to about $830, the representative said. If that sounded unmanageable, she offered, they could take out a loan through a bank that had a partnership with the hospital.

I got hauled to the ER twice in 2016. The first time, an underling who came off like Truman Capote’s taller brother let me know that I was facing a hundred-dollar copay, and would I like to take care of that now? I was sufficiently conscious to nod assent, and dug out my debit card.

An hour later, part two of the Truman show: “They’re telling us you haven’t met your deductible yet this year.” I shrugged, handed over the plastic, and signed for a thousand. Shortly thereafter, I was wheeled to an actual room.

[P]romoting bank loans at hospitals and, particularly, emergency rooms raises concerns, experts say. For one thing, the cost estimates provided — likely based on a hospital’s list price — may be far higher than the negotiated rate ultimately paid by most insurers. Sick patients, like Cameron, may feel they have no choice but to sign up for a loan since they need treatment. And the quick loan process, usually with no credit check, means they may well be signing on for expenses they can ill afford to pay.

I suppose I was fortunate in that I actually had $1100 in the bank. Not everyone is in such a position.

Here’s an option I heartily endorse when possible:

If you should find yourself in hospital unexpectedly, and confronted with this sort of aggressive approach, I suggest you tell them to talk to your significant other, or ask them to wait until you’re in a proper mental and physical and emotional state to make such decisions. If they persist, tell them what they can do with the paperwork. After all, they’re in a place where it can be extracted once they’ve done that!

Damn straight.

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Didn’t notice a thing

Email received from American Express:

We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience you may have experienced over the weekend when using your Card to make a purchase or withdraw money at an ATM. We experienced high transaction volumes
and some intermittent disruption to our services. Because of heavy call volumes, we were unable to provide you with the level of service that you should expect.

We are working quickly to resolve any lingering issues, including correcting any unexpected pending transactions that you may see on your account.

That last bit is perhaps a little scary, but I noticed no such transactions, and went back to check just to make sure.

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What’s yours is mined

Nearly half the electrical power in Iceland is going to create cryptocurrency:

Iceland is facing an “exponential” rise in Bitcoin mining that is gobbling up power resources, a spokesman for Icelandic energy firm HS Orka has said.

This year, electricity use at Bitcoin mining data centres is likely to exceed that of all Iceland’s homes, according to Johann Snorri Sigurbergsson.

He said many potential customers were keen to get in on the act.

“If all these projects are realised, we won’t have enough energy for it,” he told the BBC.

Johann’s figures are startling:

[H]e expects Bitcoin mining operations will use around 840 gigawatt hours of electricity to supply data centre computers and cooling systems, for example.

He estimated that the country’s homes, in contrast, use around 700 gigawatt hours every year.

Iceland has a population of about 350,000, not quite as many as Bakersfield, California.

(Via Fark.)

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Don’t let them leave home without it

Warren Meyer says that if your kids are traveling, you should make sure they’re traveling with American Express:

I am a flaming hypocrite on this topic, because my company does not accept Amex, but for travel, particularly if it is a shared family card you are giving your kids, don’t use Visa or Mastercard. Most banks have systems now that are simply hair-trigger in freezing an account if they see a charge they don’t expect, which generally means a charge in a new city, i.e. when you are traveling. It is merely irritating on my own card, as I have to call and get it turned back on (which can be a pain in certain foreign lands) but it creates a real problem for my kids. Twice my son has been traveling and twice they have immediately shut down his card. When he called, they would not talk to him so he had to find me somewhere and I had to call them to verify a charge. But since I did not make the charge I have to call my son back and then call the credit card company back… In my experience, perhaps due to their background as a travel company, Amex is far, far less likely to have travel to new lands trigger these sort of pre-emptive account shutdowns.

I think I’ve had only one such incident with American Express, and they made a point of actually calling me before taking more severe action. What’s more, since then they’ve designated a couple of customer-service people to keep an eys on Twitter, not quite 24/7, but it’s better than a telephone tree.

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Pocket now better lined

Anyone who listened to the yammering — “debate” just doesn’t describe it — over the Trump administration’s insistence on a tax cut of some sort would be eminently justified in asking “Yeah? How much?”

I clearly don’t know how you did, but here’s how I came out. Despite my allegedly lofty position on the org chart, I am paid on an hourly basis. Over the past two years, I’ve cut those hours back somewhat, from 94 or so every other week to more like 84. The first order of business, therefore, was to find a pay period pre-Trump that, in terms of hours and bennies, matches my first post-Trump check. Only had to go back to October ’17. The difference in take-home: $32.05. Over a year’s time, this comes to $833. One could legitimately say that this is not a huge sum. On t’other hand, it’s more than my house payment. (Keep in mind that I have yet to see a proper Form 1040 or its instructions.)

The (at one time) Loyal Opposition has pointed out that these cuts, as enacted, will expire in ten years. Then again, I can reasonably expect to expire in ten years, if not sooner.

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A credit to the species

Bark M. has a long talk with a subprime auto-lending specialist, and he asks one of the questions I most wanted to have answered:

“So who are your very best customers, then?”

“Drug dealers. No question.” She’s very definitive on this point. “They pay on time, every month, in cash at the office. They’ll even pay extra money toward the principal — I’ve explained how that works to a few of them, and they really love the idea. Of course, the money smells like weed and makes the office reek for the whole day. Great customers. Horrible people, yes, but great customers.”

You’d almost wonder why they’d go shopping subprime if they’re such careful, um, money managers.

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Caracalypse now

Stefano Pozzebon reports from Caracas for CNN Money that getting a dollar in Venezuela is a long, arduous task [warning: autostart video]:

It was noon. I had been looking for cash for more than two hours. I returned to the first bank I tried.

I waited another hour in line before reaching the teller with my checkbook in hand. I noticed how everyone in line was still calm and silent, as if general resignation had forced these people to simply accept the situation.

At 1:23 p.m., I finally presented my check and got the hard-earned cash: 10,000 bolívars, or 6 cents.

Yarmira de Motos, the teller, informed me that the bank manager establishes every morning how much each customer can withdraw based on how much money is delivered by the Venezuelan Central Bank.

For this reason, some banks may allow 5,000-, 10,000- or even 30,000-bolívar withdrawals depending on the day. It’s a total gamble.

With my 10,000 bolívars in hand four hours later, I met a friend for a coffee. My cappuccino cost 35,000 bolívars.

Probably fifty thousand by now.

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Plastic fantastic haters

A couple of gas stations in town charge you a few pennies extra per gallon if you pay with a credit card, which, to me anyway, is no big deal. To the European Union, it’s an outrage:

From Engadget, apparently the EU has banned retailers for adding a surcharge on credit card purchases. Since it is an absolute fact that credit card sales cost retailers at least 3% more (due to merchant processing fees) than cash sales, I likely would have written about this story something like “EU knuckles under special interest lobbying from credit card processors and forces non-customers (i.e. those paying in cash) to subsidize credit card purchases.” Of course, given the consistent and predictable economic ignorance of Engadget, that is not how the story actually was written.

Besides, pay-by-phone stuff is ultimately card-driven, and anything you can do on a phone these days is infinitely cool compared to what your parents had to do; the only thing less cool than paying with cash is writing a check.

The law essentially forces cash customers to subsidize credit card customers. I know what retail profits look like (think small single digits) and the lost surcharge is not coming out of profits, it is going to be covered by establishments in generally higher prices paid by everyone, including cash customers. In my mind, this retailer is a hero, by actually making this legally-mandated cross subsidy transparent.

Speaking of heroes of this sort, let’s hear it for Costco:

Costco has adopted a novel way to show its objection to a new soda tax in Seattle: It’s telling customers just how much the tax will cost and encouraging them to buy soft drinks outside the city.

The city recently enacted a tax of 1.75 cents an ounce on surgary beverages. The result: A case of Gatorade that used to cost $15.99 now costs $26.33 — a 65% markup. And a case of Dr. Pepper now costs $17.55 instead of $9.99, according to Costco. That’s a 76% surcharge.

The Costco store in Seattle was also kind enough to let customers know the tax did not apply in the company’s stores outside the city.

And if there’s anything politicians hate, it’s the exposure of something they hoped you wouldn’t notice.

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Things are tough all over

One of Lorna’s 2018 resolutions:

Start saving as much money as I can to put towards a house — I don’t know what it’s like in other countries but trying to save money for a house is difficult. Most houses in nice areas are a minimum of £200k here and you always need a deposit of around 20% before you can figure out the mortgage, so I’m trying to save as much as I can for mine and Adam’s future.

Which means £40k down, about $54,000. The United Kingdom is evidently pricey. From time to time, you can wangle a deal here in the States for less than 20 percent down, through the Federal Housing Association, but you’ll generally have to fork out a premium for mortgage insurance, which might be half as much as your interest rate — which means you’re in effect paying a rate half again as high as it says on the note.

Halfway through my own mortgage, I owe, yes, about $54,000.

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You call that fleshtone?

Having gotten an earlier loan paid back, I decided to help out these fine folks:

Launched in 2016, House No. 3028 LLC is the brainchild of sister and brother duo, Thressa Smith and Norrell Casey, based out of Oakland, CA. With Thressa Fashion Institute training, backgrounds in sales and fashion inspiration from their mother, this dynamic team set out to shake up the world of nude shoes.

On a wing and a prayer, they set out to make their dreams come true: be successful black entrepreneurs, make a mark in the fashion industry geared toward the inclusion of all women of color, and buy back the family home, located in the Oakland foothills, the home bears the House No: 3028! House No: 3028, nude shoes for women of color. The inspiration was fashion frustration. Unable to find the right nude shoe, unless she wanted to pay over $600 for a Christian Louboutin nude, Thressa decided to design and sell her own.

The initial offering of The NU 2″, 3″ & 4″ heels, in six stunning hues: Honey, Cookie, Brown Sugar, Caramel, Brownie & Cacao, was quite successful … NU Pumps allow brown girls to perfectly match, complement or contrast their skin tone. Before long, it became clear that women wanted a little more edge and more variety. After months of additional research to find the right supplier and product development to provide the best product, the best quality and the best price.

They’re seeking $15,000; they’re almost there.

Update, 31 December: They made it.

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Bubble down

Some poor soul reportedly had to fork over this impressive collection of goods:

Viceroy tulip, as seen in 1637

  • Two lasts of wheat
  • Four lasts of rye
  • Four fat oxen
  • Eight fat swine
  • Twelve fat sheep
  • Two hogsheads of wine
  • Four tuns of beer
  • Two tons of butter
  • 1,000 lb. of cheese
  • A complete bed
  • A suit of clothes
  • A silver drinking cup

All this for a single Viceroy tulip bulb, around the peak of the Dutch tulip bubble in February 1637.

Hmmm. Wonder what all that would be worth in bitcoin?

(Via American Digest.)

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Oh, a wise guy

If only it had been funnier:

The radio deejay ordered to pay a symbolic $1 to Taylor Swift after he groped her during a photo op said he mailed her the money last week.

David Mueller told the Associated Press that he sent Swift a Sacagawea coin and provided proof of payment to the outlet, which he said was sent on Nov. 28.

“I mean if this is all about women’s rights … It’s a little poke at them, a little bit,” he told the AP. “I mean, I think they made this into a publicity stunt, and this is my life.”

Two ways this could have been more amusing:

  • Send her 77 cents and blame it on the wage gap.
  • Send her a check and leave a, um, blank space.

Then again, no sense risking a contempt finding over a buck.

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Return of the heart of zinc

From a couple of months ago, the beginning of an experiment:

Some people have gotten so serious about it that they are building a computer farm in Iceland for the specific purpose of mining Bitcoins. I gave them $100 to see if they can make any money for me.

Sixty-odd days and $120 later:

They seem to be a new outfit that is having normal start-up problems, so I cut them some slack, but like I said, it’s been a couple of months so I inquired, and now I have some numbers. Since they sat on my money for a month to ensure that it was legit and not some from some scammer, the money has only been at work for a month, but in a month it has produced $5.38. Theoretically speaking. To actually get the money, I have to transfer it to an electronic ‘wallet’, and from there I should be able to get actual moola.

I dutifully set up the wallet, but nothing had gotten transferred. Seems there are transaction fees, so Genesis doesn’t transfer any funds until you have at least $15 to transfer.

Anyway, $5 a month times 12 months is $60, so in two years I should double my money. Assuming of course that this whole thing doesn’t collapse like the house of cards it is.

There we go. A House of [IBM] Cards.

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Bang for one’s buck

This should require no explanation:

In defense of the little hut in Lincoln Heights, it’s only four miles from Dodger Stadium (1000 Vin Scully Avenue). That must be worth a dollar or two.

And while I can’t aspire to anything like that Texas McMansion, my own palatial estate, not quite one-third its size, sits on the same size lot: circa 11,000 square feet.

(Incidentally, Trophy Club, on the Denton/Tarrant county line north of Fort Worth, was built around the only golf course designed by Ben Hogan. More amusing: its high school was named for Byron Nelson. Are these folks golf-crazy or what?)

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Headed for 1 terabolívar

No time to play. We have to go to the bank:

I’m betting President Maduro has at least two — which is, after all, the limit.

(Via @dicentra33.)

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Schedule A takes a hit

Francis W. Porretto on the local impact of the GOP’s current tax proposal:

Long Island is in a tizzy over one of the revealed portions of the current GOP federal income tax bill: specifically, the one that limits the deductibility of property taxes to a maximum of $10,000 per year. Our property taxes are the highest in the nation. Few Long Island homeowners pay less than $10,000 per year in property taxes. (To give you a sense for the extortionate nature of our rates, I live in a fairly ordinary three-bedroom ranch on an acre of property, and my annual property tax bill is just over $12,000.) The taxes imposed on more recent purchasers of homes have often been over $20,000 — and not because their homes are places of palatial magnificence. So this provision of the bill will hit Island homeowners hard.

Yet it must be done. The federal deductibility of state and local taxes has allowed states and localities to squeeze their residents that much harder, for no return the victims would value. Here on the Island, the major complaints are about our roads, which are wholly inadequate to the traffic burden and are therefore infrequently and sketchily maintained. (Yes, therefore. Think about it.) Yet as our property taxes have skyrocketed, the roads have become poorer. Clearly, the problem has not been mitigated by throwing more money at it … but Island politicians like the set-up just fine.

I have no doubt that the residents of other regions have similar complaints, and that they anticipate considerable pain from a cap on the deductibility of their state and local tax burdens. Yet it must be done. The deduction is a form of collusion between Washington and the “donor class:” a way to benefit wealthy persons who live in opulent areas, but without being obvious about it. The same goes for the deductibility of mortgage interest, a special-interest subvention to the housing industry that originated after World War II and was rationalized as a “recovery measure.”

To give you a sense for the nature of our rates here on the prairie, I live in a not all that ordinary, but decidedly small, three-bedroom ranch on a quarter-acre of property, and my annual property tax bill — for this year, anyway — is just over $900.

Our roads are fairly terrible, but in this state, property-tax receipts are not used for street maintenance.

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How it’s done down under

An American expat meets up with Australian health care:

Off to the ER I went. After a wait of 4 hours, I was brought into a procedure room, where I was examined other doctors brought in, and was told immediately that I’d be scheduled for surgery. They had me in a ward within 20 minutes, and began pumping me full of anti-biotics. The next morning, they had me prepped and the anesthesiologist asked me if I would prefer to be sedated with a mixture of ketamine and other fine drugs, or epidural. I’ve had an epidural before. That did not go well. IV cocktail it is.

There followed the actual surgery, and then:

I was made to stay another night for more antibiotics being pumped in while they looked after me. The next day, the nurses did a repack and bandaging. From there, it was a matter of getting me scripts and arranging for a care nurse that will come to my home everyday for the next month and deal with dressings until it’s no longer needed.

His one out-of-pocket expense was for those scripts:

Individual pharmacy bill from an Australian hospital

Ten antibiotic, ten painkillers, 100 acetaminophen. Twenty bucks American. About what you’d fork over for a single antibiotic in the States, if you’re lucky.

(Via Fark.)

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A trillion a year

Says a Forbes report, this is what we can expect in the way of budget deficits in the Trump years and thereafter:

In July, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the Trump fiscal 2018 budget will result in an average annual deficit of about $677 billion between 2018 and 2022. But that took the Trump budget proposals at face value and assumed Congress would agree to all the spending cuts proposed by the White House, something that the House and Senate have already shown no interest in doing. That makes the average annual baseline deficit over the next five years closer to $750 billion.

While the White House and its congressional supporters insist the tax cut the House and Senate will consider in the next month or so will eventually pay for itself with much higher economic growth rates, the congressional budget resolution passed by the Senate late last Thursday (and highly likely to be accepted by the House) assumes that the deficit will increase by about $150 billion a year over the next 10 years. Nonpartisan analyses show that the deficit will increase by an average of between $220 billion and $240 billion between 2018 and 2027 and even more thereafter. An average of the three estimates results in about a $200 billion increase in the budget deficit for each of the next five years.

That will make the annual deficit around $940 billion.

When $60 billion is a rounding error, something is seriously wrong.

Remember when everyone was complaining about budget deficits in the Obama years? Me neither. And that won’t change any time soon:

Trump appears to be heading down the same road. The only difference today is that the GOP will be openly applauding him for it, or at least shrugging it all off like it’s no big deal. And a GOP Congress — which sometimes pretends to act on behalf of limited government when a Democrat is in office — gains zero political mileage out of opposing big spending when it is proposed by a Republican president.

“Not a dime’s worth of difference,” said George Wallace. Before adjusting for inflation, of course.

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Vaya con queso

Just don’t expect to take a lot of it when you go.

Venezuela, this past week:

(Historical numbers.)

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Fark blurb of the week

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It’s only fare

The New York City MetroCard replaced the old subway token system in 2003. Now the MetroCard itself is on the endangered list:

[T]he MTA has officially begun testing a mobile phone payment and scanning system.

Aimed for the moment at commuters riding the train and then transferring to the subway, the new mobile ticketing service is actually the expansion of one already in place for riders on the Metro-North Railroad and the Long Island Rail Road who use the MTA’s eTix app. The MTA is testing out the expansion at specific stations where riders on the Metro-North and LIRR usually transfer with turnstiles now fitted with new scanners for commuters to swipe their phones past, instead of using their MetroCard.

Not yet addressed: how people will handle this without smartphones.

The new mobile scanners are slated to be installed in 14 key stations around the city before the end of the year, including Penn Station, Grand Central, the 14th St-7th Ave. Station, as well as the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center Station.

(Via Kevin J. Walsh.)

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