Obscene profits

The graphics in the newspaper is very interesting. The 6 of the 10 top profits were NOT gained by oil companies but rather by financials: Citigroup, Bank of America and GE (the financial arm).

Thanks to American love of debt (and hence being a slave to the lender), these companies are raking in the big bucks.

Oil is something we stop spending on a dime since if everyone started to walk or pedal, the oil profits will all dry up. Debt, on the other hand, you have to pay back and the profitable payments to the banks won't stop so easily.

Primary care danger!

When I first read the title "Primary care about to collapse, physicians warn" I thought yet another babble on why doctors need to be paid more but I do like their directions:
The group has proposed a solution -- calling on federal policymakers to approve new ways of paying doctors that would put primary care doctors in charge of organizing a patient's care and giving patients more responsibility for monitoring their own health and scheduling regular visits.
I believe in personal responsibility and outsourcing as cheaply as possible. I loved it when I saw a late night pharmacist helping out a customer via video phone (at some 24x7 convenience/drug store in Japan). Even most medical equipment and their analysis can be cheaply outsourced with hand attached devices (like ultrasound) which can plug into USB ports of most computers and then have someone in India or China giving live analysis over the internet.


Lost Highschoolers

"Back to basics: why does high school fail so many?" has various stories on those who failed to graduate and rattles off stats on how bad off one is if one chooses to not finish high school. I don't know how accurate that is, and whether it is all that meaningful. Diploma or degree doesn't define one's ability to earn income. Yes it's harder to "get a job" but if one is to start a business, degrees don't matter: the will to meet needs is the key to being successful, I believe.

At least with a business owner, you are meeting real needs. As an employee, you're jumping hoops to keep your supervisors happy not any real needs.

Homeowners are better citizens than renters

SFGate has "If you own your home" which points out owners (unlike renters):

Even after controlling for such variables as level of income, education, race, etc., studies conclude that homeowners, as a group, are physically and mentally healthier.

They are happier and more satisfied with their lives. Their children receive more education and are less likely to get into trouble. Their daughters are less likely to become pregnant as teenagers. They vote more often and take a more active role in their community. They are more likely to recycle and less likely to get mugged.

In the summary of his 2003 study, "The Social Consequences of Home Ownership," Robert Dietz, professor of economics at Ohio State University, concluded that there are four major areas of social benefits to homeowners with respect to their families and communities: education of children, political activity, personal happiness and enhanced property values.

As a renter (for now :-), I'll agree about the property value: I care less about the home (and its yard) than when I was an owner. As for education, we home educate so don't tell me we don't care. Personal happiness is always changing so that's NOT a meaningful stat. As for political activity, I've chosen to check out of the current system -- but I am taking steps to subvert I mean supplement the system that exists today.

Personally, I don't think it is matter of home ownership or renters but whether one is a slave or not. If one is slave (i.e. owe money) then one becomes lesser citizen because he is more concerned about his finance (and stressed over it) than if he was debt free (or cash flow positive with capital asset financed by loan). By becoming a freeman, he is happier (less stress) and he will take responsibility for all aspects of life be it education of his children or how much he chooses to be involved in the political system.



I was watching Dateline and had interviewed the owner of "WiredSafety" Parry Aftab who points out that parents need to exercise parental control over their (esp teenage) children over computer and internet usage. Well, duh. We're not raising robots but we also have to slowly give freedom to our children. Internet usage is no different from letting a child play outside: you don't let a 3 year old roam freely on the frontyard especially on a busy road (or even semi-busy road).

I guess most parents aren't savvy technologically but that doesn't mean one should avoid it. If you don't know then why don't you spend quantity time (not just quality time) with your child to find out? I don't believe in sneaking around with children: just spend time with them! How hard is that!


Mortgage Problems

OK, one more site promotion: "anotherf**kedborrower.com" It seems like a great place to go to get objective analysis (more so than your own personal one) of your (bad) financial situation. Or so it seems. I just read few paragraphs now so I don't have any experience but seems like an honestly helpful blogger. [If I hear of any glaringly bad complaints, I'll update this entry.]


Terrorism via backhoe

"The Backhoe: a real cyberthreat" reports out how a backhoe digging into a wrong area cut a cable which disconnected millions of cell users!

Few weeks back a whole section of Austin (few blocks worth including a mall) had its lights taken out due to a squirrel shorting some line. Imagine releasing thousands of squirrels at key power substations in the U.S.?

You don't need high explosives or take over a 747 Jet to cause serious damage....


Safe Deposit Confiscation

I found the link to "Homeland Security to Confiscate Bank Safe Despoit Box Contents" at the bubble2 blog comment section. If it is true, it seems that the govment is very busy putting in place any and every which way to track us and take our stuff.

Debt Haven

Mish's Global Economic Tend Analysis pointed out: "Bankruptcy Counseling Law Doesn't Deter Filings" slightly old news but still good read on how desperate people are when they hit the end of their financial ropes. I've worked with few couples volunteering at our church and some of them have come close to the brink of needing to file for bankruptcy. A lot of people lack financial education (I know personally since I wasn't well taught myself). But then again, if this article "College illiteracy stuns educators" is any indicator, lack of education is all over the map....


Exposing Professors and teachers

"UCLA students urged to expose 'radical' professors." Sounds good to me. More external expose of any and all teachers and professors is a good thing. "education" shouldn't be a secret just among those who are in the system: everything from popularity to teaching and grading styles to political leanings should all be out in the open, certainly at the college level but should apply to all grade levels from k-12. It'll make evaluating local schools easier including if/when individual transfers of teachers can be tracked. I realize that there are some privacy issues but I would argue that being a teacher makes you more of a public figure than a politicians since you get to interact and mold a student 7x5 per week (spread out over 15-35 students or more) for 40+ weeks [being a teachers makes a person a lot easier to befriend and take advantage of especially the younger children, too].


The Housing Bubble 2

I don't normally tout another blog but "The Housing Bubble 2" is just too good to ignore. A poster at Vox Day pointed it out and I've enjoyed it so much.

As someone who sold a home at a loss here in Central Texas and have moved into a rental, it's great to see many others out there who think the housing market will crash, long and hard. And good to see several commenters reminding of the past including the super long bust of the Japanese real estate:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
-- George Santayana
We looked at some homes in L.A. for sale during our Christmas visit of my parents and they were unbelievable. The asking prices were in the $600k range for homes which were falling apart in a rather bad neighborhoods. It really seemed insane to me and my wife. Considering that rent is about a third of mortgage+tax payments, you can be sure we will not buy a house for some time, when we move out there later this year....


Raising Adults

I found Katz's "YPs: A Failure of Culture" to be insightful commentary on what's wrong with the young people (YP) of today. We, the Western society, have idealized the carefreeness of youth rather than the wisdom of the ages. I guess the challenge for the home educating parents (at least for yours truly) is to raise our children to take responsibility seriously and for us parents to allow them the chance to fail.


Debt and the blame game

I read "Deferred futures" a book review of Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead and thought: why the big deal?

No one puts a gun on our youths heads and say "You must get a loan to live it up." They may be brainwashed into thinking that the good life can only be gained by debt but there are not being forced to do so.

For our family, as of the end of Nov 2005, we became debt free again (sold our home and moved to a rental). We have always tried to be debt free, and I was debt free when I got married (had some student loans but paid off quickly, years before). My wife had a car loan and we paid that off right away. And for the first three years of our marriage, we stayed debt free.

When we moved to Austin, we [foolishly] took on debt to buy a house. However, I thought we were doing well for a long time since we only had mortgage (so called "good debt"). However, when I signed up to help out people in our church who are financially stressed, over the past 3 years I've learned to take to heart what the Jews had figured out few thousand years ago:

The rich rule over the poor,
and the borrower is servant to the lender.

Early last year, I thought downsizing was the right move for us but in the fall, we ended up deciding to move to Los Angeles this summer, so we've become debt free by moving into a rental. I hope to not get any debt even when we move L.A., but only time will tell.

The book "Millionaire Next Door" makes clear that living BELOW one's means is the one of the key ingredients to getting out of poverty. The problem is that people cannot wait to save up for the future, so we become enslaved ( i.e., get debt) just to gain something today. Ironically, with most things, by denying one's desire and sitting tight, you can not only save up money but you end up getting what you want cheaper, faster and all around better (appliances, computers, electronics, etc.).

The current real estate bubble has been an unfortunate turn of events on the US economy. Hi tech stock bubble sucked in a lot of people but I have a feeling that the bursting of the real estate will be worse than the tech burst of 2000-200X (I don't think we're really over the tech bust yet). Japan's real estate burst was in 1990 or so and they took about 15 years to hit bottom in 2005 (however, it could be a temp. bounce in price rather than a true bottom).

Update 1/17: more details: After living for 3.5 years, we sold our home for a loss of US$50,000 (yes, we lost money, but not the worst money loss story, which goes to our car we've purchased at 60-80K [stock options] paper loss). We made a down payment of 5% initially and foolishly paid PMI for 3 years.

Also, many in Japan have lost 70-90% in value over the past 15 years (see BOJ chart on page 23).


Guns: Shooting alone, et al.

Yesterday, I went to an indoor shooting range by myself. It's the first time I've gone by myself without any of my sons (I've went once with my sons and others I've gone with other men around). I rented the following pistols:
  • Heckler & Koch USP 40 S&W
  • Glock 23 40 S&W
And didn't do too well. Maybe just general nervousness for doing something new. We own BB guns: one rifle and one pistol, and have had chance to use many guns before but not any pistol: I've rented a .22 revolver before but not a pistol. I hope over time to get use to pistols: I purchased a 12 visits for the price of 10 deal so I hope to visit a few more times. And I hope to try many different pistols over the next 2 months. My current plan is to get comfortable with pistol and then get a concealed permit. However, it won't be useful in CA since it seems almost impossible to get a CCW permit. Sigh. And hanguns have to be registered. Arrgh.

Earlier this week, I looked into buying a .22 rifle for my son but it turns I had to have my current address on my license. We just moved and hadn't changed my address on my ID so I had a good reason to renew my license.

Today, I looked at the classifieds for used guns and there were only 2 or 3 guns on sale (last time I checked in 2005, I thought I saw almost a dozen or so). [If the selections were wider, used may be a good chioce but not for now...]


Music 101 for my younger son

My oldest son has been studying piano for the past 3 years and looks like my younger will finally give it a shot starting tomorrow. We'll see how long he'll last...

Computer Learning Harmful

"Interactive Learning fails reading test" saids it all. Computer learning was hyped for some time as savior of educational system but it turns out to be more game than education (edutainment is what was called before).

I have purchased many "edutainment" software and was never satisfied with any of them in terms of any real educational value. The only educational software I have purchased are the Stagecast software for creating games [check out my other blog, dannytech].