Archive for July, 2005

Speaking of Science

Can they come up with a technological advance that can make it so that shower water faucets have more than 1/16 of an inch sepration between freezing cold water and scalding hot?


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Catholics and Evolution

Shortly after a bishop’s comments about evolution in the NY Times, anti-Catholics in the press commenced plying their trade. The Church in the last few hundred years has been quite enlightened about scientific issues such as evolution, as opposed to protestant fundamentalists, who will look you in the eye and swear that Jonah was in the belly of a whale for 3 days writing a psalm. But that doesn’t stop the bigots from using any dumb thing some bishop says off the cuff to paint all one billion of us as intellectually tone deaf biblical literalists in lock step with an out of touch patriarchy. That is a shame.

Sometimes accusations like this are so dumb, so completely stupid, so utterly brain rotting just on their merit, that it is maddening to even address them. I have to say that if anyone thinks that I am a knee jerk apologist for The Church they are smoking crack. I’ve dissented on plenty with the good fathers since before I graduated from Kennedy Catholic in ’89, where the Sisters of Divine Compassion taught us evolution in biology. But that doesn’t mean I’m OK with anti-Catholic bigotry either, which is exactly what all this hullabaloo is really all about. There are people out there with an axe to grind against the Catholic Church because it’s teachings don’t dovetail with their opinions, so they’ll use anything they can to spit venom.

Even if the Church did categorically deny the theory of evolution (which it does not), what of it? Why do non Catholics, former Catholics, and other secularists even care? Why do those in science care? The Catholic Church is first and foremost a religion. Catholics believe in God. We believe a guy named Jesus was the Son of God, walked on water, fed the masses with a few loaves of bread and fish, was crucified and rose from the dead. Every Sunday we (some of us, at least) eat a bread wafer and call it the Body of Christ. These things aren’t exactly scientifically plausible. So why don’t these same people write stories in the Times and Slate about how screwed up those things are (actually a few have)? Because it would be too obvious. But the evolution issue is easier to hide behind because it obfuscates the bigotry. It is no different from an anti Semite being mum about all things in Judaica who then blows up over something the Israeli army does. What does the Israeli army have to do with the Jewish religion? As much as biology class has to do with Catholicism.

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Yes, THAT Threat


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To My Six Readers

The perfect storm of self employment, recovery from a week upstate on business, self employment and flat out fatigue has all come at the expense of my daily rant. More will be forthcoming, as soon as the lactic acid burn behind my eyes subsides. In the meantime, a quick funny:

An old Italian man lived alone in the country.
He wanted to dig his tomato garden, but it was very hard work as the ground was hard. His only son, Vincent, who used to help him, was in prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament.

Dear Vincent,
I am feeling pretty bad because it looks like I won’t be able to plant my tomato garden this year. I’m just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot. If you were here my troubles would be over.
I know you would dig the plot for me.
Love Dad
A few days later he received a letter from his son.

Dear Dad,
Not for nothing, but don’t dig up that garden.
That’s where I buried the BODIES.
Love Vinnie

At 4 a.m. the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived and dug up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man and left. That same day the old man received another letter from his son.
Dear Dad,
Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now.
That’s the best I could do under the circumstances.
Love Vinnie

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I have been upstate all week minding the store. More on that later. Tuesday afternoon I arrived at an appointment to watch my property manager’s rental agent show a half duplex which will be coming up for rent in August. What we found makes me doubt that these particular folks will be signing a lease, as the toilet on the first floor was overflowing. By the looks of the lake of sewer water in the basement, it had been going on for quite some time (previous tenants were 90% moved out, as the school year has been over for a month and a half). The plumber snaked the line and the cause of the plug was a clump of tampons. It gets better. The clog caused the antiquated sewer drainage to collapse in two places, necessitating an excavation and the replacement of 6 feet of pipe. I asked the plumber how tampons could do such damage. They absorb and expand, he told me. They can do amazing damage. I believe it.
The tenants in the unit next door (the basements adjoin) knew there was a problem, but called no one. There are two women among them. No women lived in the unit with the problem. Obviously, I cannot know with certainty who did this, but a memo is going out to all tenants to never flush tampons, etc. down the toilet.
To all who might own or consider owning investment property: put in your leases that flushing foreign objects down the drain is a no-no.

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Lighter side: I saw the Wedding Crashers last night. I was in a crummy mood (if you had a rental property with a sewage backup you’d be bummed too) and my friend and business associate recommended we see it. I expected a mediocre sophomoric effort where the actors forego art for a paycheck.

I saw a hilarious sophomoric effort where the actors did ditch art and earned their paychecks. There were some ridiculously funny moments that any guy who has ever stretched the truth to impress a girl would relate to, and even the slow part 3/4 through wasn’t too bad.

The premise: two 30ish professionals make serious romantic hay by charming their way into weddings. They have a system where they prospect announcements, do a little research, and assume identities that allow them to plausibly fit in and hustle young female guests. They get pretty bold, and find themselves at the wedding of the daughter of a cabinet member in a very Kennedyesque setting. Owen Wilson’s character falls for the maid of honor, who is one of the Secretary’s daughter’s, and away we go. Vince Vaughn is hilarious as his partner who hooks up with one of the other daughters, who becomes obsessed with him ("stage 5 clinger").

Small gripes: Things slow down toward the end when they realize they have to wedge a love story into the schtick. Not so small gripe: if Hollywood types are so compassionate toward gay people, why is the one homosexual character portrayed as a stereotypical semi psychotic buffoon? The guy looks and acts like he’s schizophrenic. That’s a compassionate way to render a gay man?

Gotta bail. If you want to laugh, see it.

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The NY Times ran a Sunday front page sob story on how the real estate market in Denver is showing signs of slowing down. I love the anecdotal examples they use.

Tom Woods, a 37-year-old defense industry consultant, wanted to build a nest egg for one of his young son’s college tuition. Inspired by rising prices for homes in this Denver suburb, three years ago he invested in a new three-bedroom townhouse for $155,000. His hopes were that renters would cover most of his mortgage and that the property’s value would appreciate by at least $10,000 a year.

But last October, when Mr. Woods put the townhouse up for sale to help pay some unforeseen medical bills, there was more pain than gain: the house sat on the market for eight months. He finally found a buyer in June, but to seal the deal he had to make big concessions, including paying the buyer’s closing costs. After handing over the keys on Friday, he ended up with a profit of just $10,000 for his three-year investment.

Am I supposed to feel sorry for this guy? A few observations:

  • "Just" a $10,000.00 profit after three years on a property initially valued at 155,000 is not the tragedy the piece seems to suggest. Taking into account his closing costs, real estate commissions, and the closing costs he paid for the buyer, if he realized a 10,000 profit the sales price must have been $180,000-$185,000. That is $27,000 in appreciation, or $9,000 for each year he owned it. That is  6% appreciation annually, which is better than traditional appreciation. 
  • Three years is not enough time to outrun closing costs and commissions that all investors (and speculators) must deal with. The guy paid retail for the property because he was interested in a long term retirement/college equity vehicle. Can’t fault him there. But if he was in a distress situation, such as unforeseen medical bills, the market does not owe him a break. If his house rotted on the market for 8 months, it was overpriced. That falls on his shoulders. Had the initial price been better he could have had a better chance for a better price.
  • A better option would have been to refinance the property to cash out and save the asset. All he’d need to do to get that $10,000 would be to raise his mortgage payment $60.00-$80.00 per month. He would still be able to amortize the loan via the rent and only be 2 years behind his original schedule. If his young son is 5, that is 12 years to retire the loan and at 5% appreciation, he’d be sitting on a property worth $278,000 and his mortgage balance would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $110,000. $168,000 in equity beats a pointed stick in the eye.
  • Another scenario is that Mr. Woods needed more than the 10,000 profit. He might have needed to cash out some equity. Let’s assume Woods bought the place for 20% down and therefore had $30,000 in equity. That would net him $40,000.00 in proceeds net at closing for his medical bill. If he sold the place at distress for 180-185k, it is likely he could have gotten it to appraise for $195,000.00. He could have easily refinanced it for  $165,000, which would have given him proceeds of $41,000 for his needs. It would be tax free, because you don’t pay income tax on borrowed funds. His mortgage payment would be $200 higher in this case, but the rent would catch up if he had any kind of margin to begin with.
  • If he had the kind of money to buy the property he should have gotten health insurance first.

There were other examples of prices having to be lowered. For example, a builder had McMansions in the $500,000 area which were marked down $40,000. The key point here, though, is that asking prices are nebulous things. The real key is what the buying public will pay, and I will bet my hat, rear end and coat that the builder will make a margin. He just won’t have one as big as he wants.

Local analysts say it was inevitable that surging prices would not last. "Now we’re back to what I would portray as a normal market," said Mr. Bauer, the real estate consultant. "Historically we had 5 percent appreciation, and now we have 5 percent appreciation."

While many homeowners have adjusted to the new reality, others pine for the good times that still exist in other markets.

I’m not disputing that the market may be cooling off. This cannot go on forever. But make no mistake. This is not blood in the streets, and many of the sob stories, especially the one about Mr. Wood, could have been remedied with some better judgement.

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