June 18th, 2008

heritage USA, het land van ooit and future European trips

Fjellman mentioned Heritage Park, a Jim & Tammy Bakker theme park, which I'd never heard of so off to google around and find some pictures and get the scoop. Wow! Done in by a screwy time-share. Sort of.

The evangelical Xtians hate Disney thing is kinda old, but apparently back in the day, it was enough to keep a competitor going, complete with big hotels, a time-share deal (selling memberships for $1000 that got you 3-4 nights/year in the big hotel), water slids, rides, and theming. In classic PTL fashion, they ran this operation under the church tax exemption and the IRS wrote a ruling saying I don't think so leaving them with a hefty tax bill which the unfunded liabilities associated with the membership deal could not have helped with. Aggravated, of course, by dissension in the community of televangelists and some sordid accusations of infidelity. Who knew?

It appears on a loooong list of abandoned amusement parks over on wikipedia (I knew about Luna Park but I'd never heard of Santafair, both in my home region). Along with Het Land van Ooit, which made me go, HEY! I just found out about that less than 2 years ago and was going to go there as a side trip on the De Efteling outing and now it's out of business?!? What happened here? Last I'd heard, they were expanding over in Belgium -- and therein, apparently, lay the problem. Very high labor costs, too much competition and the new park was only open for three months before the whole thing fell apart on them. Bummer. The Belgian operation was a public/private venture and the public parts are trying to find a new operator; best of luck to them. There's a lot of competition in that area.

Things you almost certainly _do not_ care about. ;-)

plausible deniability, exotic loans and pulling off bandages

I went for a walk today with A. and L., which I haven't done for weeks because of travel and then illness. Nice walk; I even got to stick my feet in a lake, which I haven't done for a while.

I babbled about a variety of things, and A. had an incredibly insightful remark about why the housing bubble is being handled the way it is. It's not for any economic reason. It's because even though most people realize that pulling a bandage off all at once quickly is less painful, in practice most people sort of do it slowly in hopes that this time it'll be different. Psychology. Good description of reality. I'm going to chalk the 90 day cooling off period in Mass for foreclosures to the bandage theory. And the slowness of lenders to write down principal, or engage in any kind of loss mitigation at all, for that matter.

Nevertheless, I still was wondering how we could be living in a world with negative amortization loans (Pick-a-Payment being the current form, I _think_ aka Option ARM). At least the _last_ time we had negative amortization loans there was a reasonable explanation (double digit interest rates in the 1980s). Neg am loans AND historically loan interest rates seems crazy bizarre to me. I was also deeply suspicious of mortgage brokers. I kinda figured you should get a loan from a bank which would then be where you sent the payments. Sure, you had to pick a bank that _kept_ a lot of its loans, or you were up against the same who-is-servicing-me-now problem. But with a broker, there was no question that your loan was getting sold. Repeatedly. Was it really worth the lower rates? And for that matter, how did _adding_ another layer to the chain of people _save money_?

This is where we learn that fundamentally, I am naive and optimistic about human nature.

Did it occur to me that banks operating a wholesale mortgage business wanted the loan origination to occur outside so they could deny responsibility? Hoocoodanode that the borrower was lying about their income? Hoocoodanode that the borrow was lying about their savings? Hoocoodanode that the broker brought different paperwork to the closing than the borrower had expected and then told the borrower they had to sign anyway?

And, best of all, hoocoodanode that the borrower had no understanding of what the ramifications of picking the lowest payment on the Pick-a-Payment loan product were? I mean, just because people like, say, _me_ have a heckuva time understanding this product doesn't mean ordinary people have trouble. They're all, like, _way_ more financially savvy than, say, me. Right?

I learned this because Calculated Risk (the blog) had a little bit about Wachovia calling borrowers that were brought in by brokers to double-check and make _sure_ they understood Pick-a-Payment; Tanta was pointing out that this made no sense, duplicating effort like this, and besides, they were just going to find out what everyone knew all along, which is that virtually no one should be using this product and you aren't going to find the people who _might_ use this product through brokers anyway.

travel, or, I have friends who are _so much_ better than me

Several years ago, I realized that E., G. and their two sons don't fly by aircraft except under very rare circumstances because of the climate/pollution/fuel use issues. They're right, of course, and if I were a better person, I'd do the same.

In the course of mulling over DVC, I kept coming up against people saying that WDW would die if airline travel became more expensive (I was startled to learn how _cheap_ it had gotten for a while to fly down the East Coast). These people, needless to say, did not realize that in the first decade of WDW's successful history, the vast, vast, vast majority of people arrived by car, and quite a lot arrived by train. I did some fiddling, and concluded that even with quite exorbitant costs for gas per gallon, it would still be viable to go to Florida every year or so to meet the mouse -- even from the Northeast, at least if you can get 4 or so people in a vehicle. That's how we went from Seattle to Anaheim int he 1970s.

This is territory I've been over before.

That said, I reeled when I read this:

"Nor is there any replacement for long-haul air travel itself. I can take a train from Boston to Washington, but until we can figure out how to travel via fireplace, Harry Potter--style, the only way I'm getting from Tokyo to New York City is in aircraft"


Makes you wonder what my Grandpa Sam was thinking, back in 1917. Here he was leaving his tiny little village in Friesland to go to the US. Wonder how he did that? Oh! By _boat_! Gosh. Hoocoodanode? And then, how did he get _all the way_ from New York City (Ellis Island) to Skagit Valley, Washington, where he eventually stopped, altho he had originally planned to continue on to Australia? I don't actually know, but I'm betting there was a train involved somewhere. He must have stopped because there was no long-haul air travel yet. And, I mean, there weren't any boats to Australia, hunh?

This is so far beyond bizarre that I am not sure what to do with it. One of my favorite movies of all time is the abysmally fluffy _Sabrina_ starring Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. Guess how Sabrina goes to and from Europe? That thing was remade as a Harrison Ford vehicle not that many years ago. Surely someone would have noticed that, right? I mean, it post-dated the more obvious screwball comedy years.

Do people _really_ think the only purpose for big boats with lots of people is to cruise the Caribbean for day trips?

ETA: Hey, in case you're thinking, but you can't actually take the QE2 to Europe these days, so it's not _really_ a current substitute: I _get_ that. I really do. But it's a whole lot more likely than fireplace jaunts a la Harry Potter, which was the comparator the author mentioned.

The Cost of Flying

I read an amazing analysis of frequent flyer programs some years ago, back when I was still trying to figure out whether those were worth participating in. The analysis was complex, but basically came down to: these are mostly unfunded liabilities for the airlines; to the extent they have a cost associated with them, it's barely/not enough to cover the meal on the free flight.

A recent article on MSNBC (Frequent Criers) reminded me of the joy that is FlyerTalk. Over there, people were bitching (as I am wont to do) about the stupidity of fees -- just freaking raise the fares, guys! In response to which someone pointed out that Fees Apply to Frequent Flyers.


So now, you have to pay for your bags on your free flight. One way to cut down on that unfunded liability, hunh?

ETA: Same general topic, different aspect. Most airlines charge if you want to change a ticket (depending on the ticket, whether it's fully refundable or whatever, the specific charge may vary). If you got a cheap enough ticket, and the fee is high enough, you don't get anything of value out if you don't fly. Southwest, by contrast, has no fee if you change even one of the non-refundable, super-cheap web deals -- you get a credit of that many dollars towards a future Southwest flight. And yet, Southwest never seems to overbook. (I'm sure it has happened.) What's up with that?

My current theory is this is because you can't book a Southwest flight except through Southwest so they actually know how many seats they've sold at any given time. Unlike the legacy carriers, who you can book via Expedia, travel agents, etc. and who codeshare through other airlines and crap like that. They may have no mortal clue how many tickets there are on a given flight until that flight is loaded. Hard to get _that_ consistently right, hunh?

I should double check this SWA doesn't overbook theory. Maybe I've just never encountered it.

ETA2: Over on the Southwest Blog, they claim their denial of boarding rate is in the bottom half of the industry and point a link to the Dec 2008 DOT report. Having looked that report over carefully, while Southwest has a lot of things going for it, denial of boarding rate _is not_ one of them (JetBlue, by contrast, is phenomenal). Their complaint rate on denial of boarding is shockingly low compared to other carriers, which makes me wonder what, precisely, is going on.

Stroller Update: Britax Vigour arrived

Companion pops right in easily and seems secure.

The seat has to come out to put the bucket in, and the seat itself is _heavy_! Nicely reversible. Decent sized basket. Really wide back wheels on the frame -- as wide as the BOB if not wider. I love the brake. The front wheels can be locked or left to swivel.

So far, very impressive. I can't _promise_ to supply an update after A. arrives and we take it for a spin; I'll probably be sleep deprived and forgetful. Oh, and it comes with a pump, altho we won't know until we have a chance to use it whether it works or not.

The box it arrived in was taped shut, which made me a bit nervous (original packaging), but seemed undisturbed and we have not discovered anything in any way suspicious about it. Between the seat being heavy (the one on the stroller and the bucket) and the whole thing being beefy, this sucker is really not light.

R. also unpacked the second base I got for the Companion to make sure it works. We only had one for T., because we only had one car at the time we were using the bucket.

I am still awaiting buggy board, which I ordered from Target.com since they claim I can return it at any store, even tho it is an online only item, and they had free shipping for orders at a level less than the board cost (I think it was $50, but I'm not sure; the board was $89 IIRC).