Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Black Monday

The recession came to my door last Monday.

That was the day I received the results of a recent appraisal of the Turbopalace, which judged that it is worth 90% of what I paid for it. After making a 20% initial downpayment, and paying the mortgage (not to mention property taxes) for seven years, I now own (according to the appraiser) 21.7% of my condo. Which, according to the mortgage broker, is not a sufficient percentage to qualify for refinancing it (that, aside from depressing myself, was the whole point of getting an appraisal.) So overall this was glum news.

The same afternoon, I received a letter from a large bank (let's call them "Bank of Amscareica") which issues one of my credit cards. The letter indicated that I am a "valued customer", that they "appreciate the opportunity to serve me", and went on to inform me that they were cutting my credit limit by 50%. The letter indicated that this decision was "based in part on information provided by TransUnion Consumer Relations."

So I went over to our friends at TransUnion and downloaded my annual free credit report, which showed not a single late payment or other flaw, and my credit score, which was lovely. Then I called the bank and spoke to several people. All of them confirmed that my credit is indeed lovely, that there are in fact no concerns whatsoever about my finances, but that, still, they intend to cut my credit by 50%. The best explanations I could get are "We're doing this for everyone" and "We're doing it because you don't need more than that." I pointed out to the valued customer service people that I had had a checking account at the bank for 17 years, and the credit card for 5, and that this sort of shenanigan does not help to keep me as a customer. Still, they would not change their decision.

It's kind emotionally painful to be told that yesterday you were considered dependable to pay back up to X$, but today you're only good for 0.5X$, for no reason. And it pisses me off to the point that I may indeed close my accounts with them.

But what pisses me off the most is that a few months ago, when the bank itself was having a spot of financial trouble, and needed a loan to hold them over, I sent them $146.92. I did, and so did every other living U.S. citizen. That was money I really could've used for something else. They haven't paid me back for that yet, and I kind of doubt they ever will. So they really have a lot of nerve, after taking my helping hand, to write me a letter saying they're cutting my credit.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Signs of Civilized Cities, Part I

Population, Auckland NZ: 1.3 million
Scooter parking spaces in Auckland NZ: 266

Population, Smallish City: 235,000
Scooter parking spaces in Smallish City: 0

Scooter parking spaces Smallish City would need in order to match Auckland, pro-rated for population: 46

Thursday, April 16, 2009


In residency, we were all encouraged to be in therapy ourselves. And most grown-up shrinks I know have a shrink of their own, at least on an intermittent basis. I have one myself. I used to see him weekly. But the economy has caused my clients to cut back on seeing me, which has led me to cut back on seeing my therapist (it's not cheap.)

Calling therapy a tax-write-off business expense would certainly make it more affordable for me. That's perfectly acceptable, if the therapy is of the "supervision" sort-- in which one shrink sees another to help get perspective/wisdom/guidance to help manage the strains and interpersonal weirdness of being in this business. But if the therapy is purely of the "personal treatment" sort, it is not a business expense.

Mine falls squarely in between. It helps me personally. But I'm pretty sure I wouldn't need to be there if I wasn't in this line of work. And, more to the business-expense point, I don't think I would function very well in this line of work without checking in for therapy/supervision/whatever it is, now and then.

So I've been mulling the legality/ethics/appropriateness of making this a "business expense". Then I came across this article noting that cosmetic surgery can be considered a business expense for people in "sales, customer service managers/executives, public relations managers, CEOs, and VPs who are involved with business negotiations and other face-to-face presentations."

Yeah? Really? Then I think my involvement in negotiations that involved brain-to-brain presentations should justify the business expense of a little touch-up therapy.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Dinghy Permit Camp-out: LIVE FEED! Par II

Well, they've finally made it so miserable to get a dinghy permit (hypothermia? sleep deprivation? Aren't these considered forms of torture in some countries?) that this year only 29 people showed up for the 30 available permits. The Second Richest City in the Smallish State is succeeding in its apparent goal of driving non-residents away from its territorial waters. But I have permit #3, for one more year. I'm going home.

Dinghy Permit Camp-out: LIVE FEED!

1:00am. In the back of the car, outside town hall. 42ºF. It just started raining. Seven other hardy sailors here in the parking lot. Only three and a half hours till they hand out the goodies. I have coffee, girl scout cookies, a PB&J, and two home brews from Brushfire. They still have WiFi. I still have nothing good to say about this "system".

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Cold And Bored And Pissed Off Just Thinking About It

Tomorrow night is dinghy-permit camp-out night. With a forecast for wind, showers, and temps around 36F/2C, this year's event promises all the fun of last year's.

Anyone who shows up with hot chocolate, bourbon, snacks, entertainment, or just general companionship will be rewarded with an afternoon of sailing later on. Just let me know & I'll send you a Google map to town hall...

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Chimp Prostitution

Interesting story today about male chimps "exchanging meat for sex". It's tempting to replace "meat" with "money" and start down a long and depressing discussion of possible human parallels. Let's not go there.

But even the chimp thing alone raises interesting questions. Are the males really "exchanging" meat for sex, or are they just rationally providing sustenance to the females who are most likely to be bearing their progeny? Who is really deciding who gets to have sex with who, and how often?

Also I found this statement thought-provoking: "Since female chimps do not usually hunt, they have a hard time getting it [meat] on their own." It leaves unanswered the quesion of why female chimps usually not hunt. Is it because they can't, for some reason? Or have they just discovered that it's more convenient to withhold sex unless a boy-chimp brings them a rotting warthog femur?

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Just As I Said, Part II

About 15 months ago, this blog alerted you that the stock market appeared to be graphing the face of a cat, and suggested that you pay attention.

Six months ago, this blog noted that the graph was proceeding as expected, and predicted (based on a continued belief in the cat-face model) that the S&P 500 would bottom out between 800 and 900.

Yesterday, the long-term graph of the S&P 500 showed its first uptick since mid-2007. Just above 800. Completing the left ear. Fulfilling the prophecy. Validating this blog's preeminence in strategic investing. But leaving open the question of what happens next.

Warning: Don't Read Before Lunch

Every year about this time I complain about the tiny but loathsome minority of dog-owners who don't pick up their dogs' turds all winter. When the sidewalk snowbanks melt, an enormous quantity of previously-deep-frozen doo-poo precipitates out. It's nasty.

This year I learned that the saintly owner of a local pet store was organizing a volunteer dog-shit pick-up event, with brigades to form at both ends of the city. I resolved to help. So I got up at 7:30 (a.m.) yesterday (Saturday) and headed for the rendez-vous location.

Five people showed up (including the brigade captain.) Two of the five didn't even own dogs. Our combined assigned "beats" represented only a small fraction of the 'hood's sidewalk area-- but I picked up somewhere in the vicinity of 150 dog shits. I filled one garbage bag until it was too heavy to carry comfortably, then filled another to the same point. I had to pass over quite a few that had liquified beyond the point of being taken by hand. Some had weird contents that looked like mattress stuffing. Two I found with wads of toilet paper on top of them-- I don't even want to know. In summary, I did about six months of dog-owner clean-up duty compressed into two hours. In the process, dozens of saturday-morning dog-walkers strolled past me. Not one asked what I was up to. In fact, none of them even said hello.

Overall, this was the single grossest thing I've ever done, medical school experiences notwithstanding. I came close to vomiting several times. I don't think I'll be doing it again.

The Smallish City Code of Ordinances very clearly requires dog owners to pick up after their dogs. Violation, in theory, leads to a penalty of $250, or alternatively 25 hours of community service, which "shall consist of removing canine waste within the city."(!) I doubt this punishment has ever been meted out. But it should be. If each offense that I personally rectified yesterday had received the legal sentence required by ordinance, it would represent $37,500 of income for the City. Or nearly two years of free, full-time sidewalk-cleaning labor. And I think they should have to wear orange jumpsuits. Reading "CONVICT". And smeared in shit.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Off By Two Days

Backyard crocuses arrived today. 2 days late. But I did say +/- 3 days, on my estimate.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

April Fools Prank Report

A. Unsuccessful Pranks (with Reason For Failure and Suggested Future Improvements):

1. Balloon duct-taped to rear tire of car to simulate "tire explosion" when victim drives away. (RFF: Victim noted balloon. SFI: Do not use bright-red balloon. Suggest using clear-colored inflated condom.)

2. Ping-pong balls in bucket balanced on top of slightly-ajar door. (RFF: Victim noted bucket. SFI: Get place with higher ceilings and taller doors.)

3. Short-sheeting of bed. (RFF: Victim was so wary by end of day that she carefully inspected bed, in spite of its completely normal appearance. SFI: Keep trying till it works.)

4. Insinuation of several custom-made "warning" sheets into office photocopier paper-feed tray. (RFF: No one used the damn copier all day long. SFI: Ask an officemate if she would make me a copy of something.)

B. Moderately Successful Pranks

1. "Blood" gushing into the toilet when flushed [red food color in toilet tank]. (Victim was not much impressed, except to comment "That's going to stain your toilet bowl, you know.")

2. Salt-infused toothbrush. (Victim not phased, apparently likes salt.)

3. Washing machine water intake turned down to a trickle. (Victim said was "just annoying.")

C. Highly Successful Pranks

1. Pile of "fresh cat poop" in the hallway, artisan-crafted from melted Tootsie roll material. When distraught victim brought perpetrator to see the mess, perpetrator examined, smelled, and then tasted "poop". Victim horrified. (Inspiration: Caddyshack.)

2. Victim's car "ticketed" for "No Parking Between Signs" (no actual signs in vicinity) using actual Smallish City parking ticket, cleverly altered. Victim pissed off but did not put it past Smallish City parking officials to ticket for absolutely no reason-- thus was fooled.

3. Clothes-dryer exhaust vent removed from wall and redirected to aim back at front of dryer. Vent filled with large quantity of foam packing peanuts. Peanuts blew violently out at victim's head when dryer "ON" button pushed.

And, the worst one that was done to me: My whole spice drawer rearranged in reverse order. You can imagine the effect. I practically blew a gasket.