June 29th, 2008

pregnancy week by week complaints

Yeah, I now I shouldn't be reading these things.

Why can't there be a version of these things that recognizes you've done this before and you just need a little reminder for which week is what? And that, say, recognizes that you're dealing with a toddler?

Or, failing that, says useful things like, "Feeling paranoid and down? Welcome to Week 30! If it gets out of hand, your health care provider may have helpful ideas. Or not."

and now for something completely different: MTV

R. has had videos playing all day (well, not for a few hours while he took T. to the pool -- it turns out a big chunk of my recent paranoia/downerness is directly attributable to not-enough-sleep which has now been largely rectified). Some of this was class/120 minutes stuff; some of it was new. On the new side, I saw (for the second and third time), Living Legends' _She Wants Me_, a video I'm _dying_ for some commentary on. It's like the anti-big-pimping video, with a bunch of MCs (this is some serious supergroup here; like Pharcyde, I discover this wonderfulness very late in the game) doing the usual in pursuit of a girl with a twist ending. Well, not much of a twist, when in the lyrics, the narrator is saying she's pulled a knife on him in a fight and he got a restraining order but he's not leaving her because she's got a girlfriend. Etc. Drunk and/or otherwise altered throughout the video, Hooptie vomits at the end, causing the horde of slavering testerone-driven men to run in disgust (there are a _lot_ of guys in this group).

I'd love to know what people think about this. The hiphop etc. video genre isn't overwhelmed by this kind of moralizing. At least, not that I know of. Did I miss a trend?

Of course Alicia Keys is not hiphop, more R&B/soul/whatever. Her latest, Teenaged Love Affair, is a bizarre 50s style outing, both in terms of clothing in the video, and comments in the lyrics (first base....third base pump the brakes...gotta go home -- not to mention the my first name your last name Mrs. bit). I really liked her first album, and hey, it was pretty squeaky clean, but this strikes me as a direction I'm not necessarily prepared to follower her, altho more power to her I guess.

I could comment on Kid Rocks use of "Werewolves of London" for a lame summertime nostalgia outing, or the New Kids on the Block looking substantially older but otherwise producing very similar material in their "Summertime", but honestly, it just makes me think that Don Henley did better with "Boys of Summer". And I fucking _hate_ The Eagles and Don Henley. And yes, I know about a bunch of the recent southern rock/country music efforts in this area. They were just mediocre.

demography, revisited


This _10 page_ article in the NYT starts out kinda weak but improves steadily throughout. Highlights include: who has really low birth rates, what they're thinking about doing about it, what works and what doesn't, Saxony-Anhalt's regional shrinkage plan, etc. Some interesting ideas in here about how to get women to have a couple of kids in a developed nation (generous or flexible; rhetoric and cash payments not so much; policies and societies which (a) emphasize women working outside the home and (b) fathers participating in child care are crucial). The concluding bit is, *sigh* really spectacularly weak.

No, you _can't_ have a country in which everyone lives in a nursing home. But long before it gets to that point, it's pretty easy to better line up when people become unable to contribute to society in some meaningful way and when they die. You can support healthier lifestyles. You can support the work of those who are aged but still, in some way, capable. And you can modify your health care system to be a little less biased to breathing the meat; initial baby steps would include respecting DNRs.

_Financing the American Dream_, Lendol Calder

Subtitled: A Cultural History of Consumer Credit

I bought this about a year and a half ago, used, from Amazon (Powell's Chicago, is what I've written inside). I remember buying it -- it was during a time frame that I was carefully calculating shipping on in-really-good-shape used books to see if I could noticeably beat new-with-Prime. I _think_ this is also about why I was buying _Cradle of the Middle Class_ and _Just a Housewife_ and similar, but I'm not entirely sure.

In any event, I pulled this off the shelf in response to the following question:

When did we get to a point where people really and truly believed they couldn't live a decent life without access to credit?

And the answer to that question is not to be found in this book, other than to note, probably a lot longer ago than you might think, unless you understand this aspect of financial history really well.

Calder acknowledges up front the serious difficulty presented by the patchy source material on this subject. There's quite a lot of documentation on mortgages and virtually none on installment purchases. To the extent that companies/banks still exist that might have documentation, he was unable to get access to their archives. So he was stuck with contemporary studies (rare), commentary and so forth. He does a lot with a little.

Calder ably charts the ancient nature of "book credit" (running a tab at the grocer, butcher, dry goods store, etc., generally paid off at harvest), describes the "straight" mortgage, the building and loan societies, and the innovations of the FHA. He spends a good chunk of space on the urban borrower and how the payment structures appropriate to farming (note due at harvest) had to be replaced with a weekly/monthly setup to match the urban workers paycheck. He describes the difference in the credit needs of a farmer vs. an urban worker, and how the income lapses are predictable within a group, but different between groups.

He does a sweet job of summarizing the combine, and how installments were used to make it available to farmers who otherwise couldn't afford it (and some would argue, couldn't afford it anyway), and, in the same time, the use of installment payments for sewing machines. That description is particularly fascinating as a sidelight into how patent-pools and licensing was initially developed. His historic notes on hire-purchase are weak, in that he treated countesses and similar doing rent-to-own furniture suites as people with a known ability to pay. The nobility were infamous for being highly resistant to dunning, particularly during the time frame hire-purchase started (first and second decades of the 19th century), but hey, it's a minor complaint, and getting it right would only have supported his thesis.

After covering the reform efforts in small lending, the rest of the book is devoted to installment payments (buying on time). I was a little surprised that layaway didn't get mentioned in this section; to some degree it weakens his argument. Calder has a very straightforward point that he hammers at repeatedly. A big chunk of America buys-by-payment and essentially devotes their entire current and immediate future income to payments because they are pulling control (not his term). Victorian exhortations to self-discipline are inadequate in the face of an advertising driven culture of abundance, but if your money is entirely spent before you lay hands on it, that'll provide the structure necessary to live a good life without getting into too much trouble.

This is kind of a weird idea, but it might qualify as one of those really useful insights that helps me understand other people when my own approach is woefully inadequate as a yardstick. Unlike my father, I am congenitally indisposed to ledgers and hardcore budgeting in the Victorian manner. It's not that I've never run the numbers on where the money goes or laid out spending targets (lower or even higher, for that matter, when I experimented with spending more money on art and presents for a few years because I thought it might make me happier). But in general, my spending habits have been along the lines of the pinball in a pinball machine, heavily tilted towards hoarding whenever something makes me nervous (and believe me, a _lot_ of things make me nervous). As a result, my overarching strategy has been to keep my run rate substantially lower than what I could "afford" to spend, rather than what Calder argues is the standard approach, which is to pre-spend the next several years income.

Just the idea makes me nauseous.

But I've seen enough people come into enough money in a variety of ways to know that Calder's spend-up-to-the-limit and then be very disciplined about payments is, in fact, _really_ typical.

Given that Calder's time frame ends before revolving credit accounts, it's tough to say just how interesting this would be to the general reader. Are you _really_ that interested in consumer credit from the middle of the 1800s to just before WW2? He's a good writer -- concise, but readable, with an interesting but not particularly intrusive voice. It's well researched and I think just about anyone would learn a lot by reading it, and not just about consumer finance. It's a fascinating sidelight into American moral/ethical culture and rhetoric and the people who shaped it. Some of the earlier sections about reforming small lenders offer an eye-opening perspective on microlending (which Calder never mentions, but which the reader can bring to the reading), particularly in terms of where that might well lead.

I do sort of wonder, tho. I understand that consumer credit is used in different ways and different amounts in other countries. I'm now somewhat curious about a comparative history, which I feel confident does not exist.