Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Blubber Bling

I'm not sure why, but at some point in a man's life he starts listening to talk radio. I flip through the music stations sometimes, but 90% of the time I'm listening to Jim Rome or NPR.

On my way home from my Environmental law final I was dutifully listening to NPR. They were talking about the lamentable problem of type II diabetes in African American children. They had a guy on who was an activist dealing with this problem - mainly through faith-based initiatives trying to educate the people about healthy lifestyles - a sort of "what would Jesus eat" campaign.

Then they asked the guy what it was that made African American children particularly susceptible to overeating to the point of contracting type II diabetes. You would think that this would precipitate an anti-McDonald's diatribe linking poverty to forcing people to eat cheap, fast food and that those chains that offer that food offer exclusively fatty, unhealthy diets. You'd be wrong.

Instead, this guy said that the reason African American kids are fat is because of a cultural phenomenon that links weight to prosperity. This is possibly the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

This is America. Oprah and Al Roker notwithstanding, we do not view fat people as particularly desirable or successful. If anything we overvalue the absence of fat as a signal of prosperity. Seventeen Magazine does not put fat people on the cover because their audience does not want to be, or read about, fat people.

I also don't think there is some huge culture gap between African American kids and these common American cultural traits. I'll admit that I am not the world's foremost expert on African American culture, but does this guy really think that if you put two pictures in front of African American kids, one of a skinny guy and one of a fat guy and asked which one was wealthier, or better off, or more admirable, that those kids would pick the fat guy? Seriously? Black culture is often criticized for ostentatious displays of wealth, but when's the last time you saw a rapper or something pointing to his gut while making it rain in a music video? Fitty ain't got no belly and Jay-Z says he's "big pimpin' spendin' cheese." - I'm not sure what that means, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't mean "big pimpin' poundin' cheese fries."

It ended up totally changing my mental picture of the speaker. At first I some him as a middle aged black man - a black preacher type. When he said that all black kids in America just want to get fat to show how well off they are, I immediately switched him to an old white guy. You have to be stupid, racist, out of touch or all three to really believe that fat kids are strutting around showing off their pudgy opulence.

I was most disappointed that the show's host didn't call him on it, but played right along, at one point asking if maybe some black folks resented that after years of struggle they are now being told that they shouldn't show off their new prosperity. Come on NPR - you're better than that.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Goodbye NBA

In case you couldn't guess from my last post, I have an unhealthy interest in the Phoenix Suns. With another possible loss to the Spurs on the horizon, I decided to stop watching the games. It was too much. Before the games would start I would get that tense feeling in my chest and after every playoff loss last year I would stay awake and read analysis on azcentral.com and imagine what horrible things I would say to Robert Horry if I ever met him or what obscenities I was going to send in an email to David Stern. I lost sleep. It was not right.

So I cut myself off. No tv, no radio, no gamecast. I could check the scores after the game, but that was it. And it turned out to be a huge relief. Three straight losses to the Spurs and I haven't stayed up obsessing about throwing things at Bruce Bowen once.

So that's it. I'm out. This is my farewell blog to the NBA and then I'm not watching another Suns playoff game until we're in the finals. I just have a couple of observations, before I enter the world of the casual fan.

First, something has to be done about flopping and Hack-a-Shaq. It's disruptive to the flow of the game and demeaning to the sport. You should not be rewarded for either cheap theatrics or intentional fouls. A couple more years at the rate it's going and they'll be hauling people off on stretchers just for them to come back two minutes later like nothing happened like in Soccer. Man up folks - this is America.

One more thing. Kobe Bryant is not the MVP this year. The guy's a cancer, he wanted out, he wanted in, he doesn't know what he wants. He's selfish as all get out and didn't start winning - with a respectable supporting cast - until the Grizzlies gave away Pau Gasol. I don't even buy the argument that he's the best player in the league anymore. That would probably be LeBron. And he's definitely not the most valuable. That has to be a point guard right? Chris Paul would lead the list, but I would put Deron Williams and, yes, Steve Nash ahead of Kobe. Take those guys away and those systems grind to a halt. Take out Kobe, and Pau goes for 33 and 10 a night and Derek Fisher shoots more. Kobe's a great player, but giving him the MVP this year is like giving Scorsese the Oscar for the Departed. It's not the best movie that year, it's not even his best movie, but he was due. So give him a lifetime achievement award or something - he's not the MVP.

That's all I got. I will still hate the Spurs with an unholy passion, but at least I'm not losing sleep over it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Some Wounds Take Longer to Heal

This time of year is one of my favorite times. It's warm, but not obscenely hot yet, baseball season has started, school is winding down and the NBA playoffs are gearing up. This year is a little different. The Spurs series last year has left some emotional scars. While the Shaq trade was made for exactly this series, I must prepare myself for the possibility of another early loss to the mother%$&*^#$% Spurs.

In my less composed moments, I have imagined what would happen if I were to run to into Bruce Bowen somehow on the street. In my head, the encounter basically consists of me verbally assaulting him until he is forced to beat the crap out of me. I used to think it was really awful for those fans who threw batteries or something at members of the opposing team, but now, I kind of understand it.

"But Clark," you say - "what if he's with his kids or something?"

Doesn't matter. My son has heard all kinds of bad language because of Bruce Bowen. It would serve him right to have some ear defiling of his brats due to his behavior. The same goes with Robert Horry.

So lets all hope for the Suns to win this series - preferably in 5 or 6. The last thing I need is to go into studying for the bar when all I want to look into is justifiable homicide.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Housing Crisis

So with the promise of employment on the horizon and in the spirit of my never-ending quest to avoid law school, I've been thinking a lot about money. Specifically, about houses and mortgages and investing (insert greedy young lawyer joke here). In perusing some of the information out there, I came across different arguments for paying off a mortgage early - as opposed to just investing the money elsewhere. The consensus seems to be that it makes more sense to pay your mortgage on schedule and put the money somewhere else where you can earn more interest on the investment than you are paying in interest on the mortgage.

This got me thinking. If it makes more sense to not pay the mortgage off early, wouldn't it make sense to not pay down your mortgage at all? Why not get an interest only loan, and then take the money you would have paid on the principal and invest it somewhere riskier with a higher long-term interest rate?

So I ran the numbers. On a $300,000 loan, paying interest only will net you an extra $291,695 over the course of a 30 year loan. I got that number by assuming that you are taking the home loan interest deduction on your taxes and that you are in the 20% marginal tax bracket for that deduction. I also assumed a 6.5% interest rate on the mortgage and an estimated return of 9% compounded annually on the investment. I then took the difference between what you would get investing the principal payment at 9% over the life of the loan and what you would get if you invested the difference between the interest payment on a normal mortgage and the interest payment of an interest only loan at 9%. (Here's my spreadsheet)

So over the course of a 30 year loan you would expect to pay an extra $167,171 in interest in an interest only loan. If you paid a normal loan and then invested that extra interest as you went along at 9% you would have $383,330 when the loan was paid off in 2038.

If, however, you pay interest only, you would save $300,000 in principal payments over the life of the loan. Investing that at 9% gets you a haul of $975,025 in 2038. Subtract the $383,330 you could have made investing the extra interest and the $300,000 you would have to pay to pay off your loan and you're still $291,695 better off.

Now, I don't think that 9% is an unreasonable rate of return (at 8% you're still $192,936 better off) and the numbers only get better if you have a higher marginal tax rate. Plus, you would still be earning the equity investment in the home as the value of the property appreciated (once the market rebounds and starts growing again).

So what gives? Why is anyone paying off their mortgage?

P.S. - yes, I justified this post by including the tax consequences of the different investment plans as a weird way of studying for Federal Income Tax.

Monday, April 7, 2008

I'll write a title later

I have been tagged by Jan to write a post about whether I am a procrastinator. Of course I wanted to get to it right away. Of course the reason I wanted to get to it right away is to avoid doing homework. I think the very existence of this blog is a testament to my interest and skills in procrastinating. And since I can't think of a single person besides Margaret who would not admit, when asked, to being a procrastinator, I refuse to tag anyone.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Novel follow-up

In the comments to the post about the decline of the novel as an art form, Melissa said:

"So all you're really saying here is that you aren't finding a lot of fiction you like -- which does not correlate to "no good fiction being written."

This struck me as pretty true as soon as I read it. I was substituting my preference for long-winded foreigners for "good" literature. Consider me chastened and enlightened. I will now continue to ignore most modern writers because I do not like them, not because they aren't good.