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July 1st, 2008

of mortgages and giraffes

The other day I was asking R. about how fraud worked. Like, can you lie in an advertisement? What happens if you get caught? How about all these claims that lenders said the terms were x, y, z and then the actual loan turned out to be very, very different? Is that fraud?

Well, today one of the Reuters most-emailed stories was about a class-action lawsuit over exactly this issue. Borrower was told they had a fixed rate when they didn't. Borrower sued, and further asked to be treated as a member of a class. Judge said, sure thing. Mortgage industry angst ensued.

http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSN2634924420080630

Judge further agreed, yup, lender violated TILA (truth in lending act). We're apparently currently waiting on the appeal. There's an expectation that if the appellate court upholds the decision, the lender will chase this puppy all the way up to the Supreme Court (and if you think you can predict what _they_ will do, excuse me while I pick myself back up off the ground, cause I fainted, or lost control laughing, or something).

This strikes me as a very Alexander-and-the-Gordian-Knot thing. I sort of hope it works, but boy, the consequences could be exciting. Talk about reframing. All of a sudden, we're not talking about a bailout. We're talking about do-overs for victims of fraud.

As for the giraffes:

http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSL3021841120080630

Apparently they led a breakout from a circus visiting Amsterdam, but the animals were rounded up quickly. They have a very effective kick.
CNNMoney in this case:

http://money.cnn.com/2008/06/30/news/economy/energy_demand/index.htm?postversion=2008063015

The headline includes "easiest fix" and "use less" in it.

My heart about stopped.

The first few paragraphs compared slowing down/driving less/correct tire inflation to drilling in ANWR and guess which one came out ahead? Here's a hint: Duuuuuuuhhhhh.

About halfway through the article, under long term solutions, the word CONSERVATION is _actually used_.

And a Miracle Occurred. Some journalist, somewhere, did something sensible. Some editor, somewhere, didn't get in the way. And some media conglomerate, somewhere, let it see the light of day.

At CNN Money, no less.

The downside: they treat ethanol as somehow helpful. They speculate on switching to electric vehicles with no useful consideration of how that would impact the grid (but then, _no one_ seems to say anything useful in that context, mainstream or otherwise). Inevitably, they conclude we should do both (drill more, use less) and there's no commentary on peak oil/the environment/global warming/climate change/etc.

But still! The word conservation! Used in an article about oil/gas!

gas math

Again over at CNN Money (because after they said conservation, I got to wondering if they had other useful things to say):

http://money.cnn.com/2008/06/26/news/economy/Chatzky_green_driving.moneymag/index.htm?postversion=2008063010

Jean Chatzky confesses to having recently replaced a station wagon with an SUV, and now wondering if that was such a great idea. She _actually did a numerical analysis_, to which I say, go Chatzky! In the course of this analysis, she tosses out some averages she attributes to Cambridge Energy Research:

13600 miles/year for the average American
700 gallons of gas annually for the average American

She drives a little less, but gets slightly worse gas mileage and thus uses slightly more gas. R. and I were just discussing how much we're putting on each of our two vehicles. The Fit is running about 10K after a year. the Odyssey is dropping like a stone, but let's be generous and say we put 8K on it over the last year. I'm going to ignore rental car miles here. I'd have to ask R. what we're averaging in the van, but I think it's 24 or so. I know (because he keeps mentioning it) that he's been getting 44 in the Fit.

10000/44 = 228 gallons in the Fit
8000/24 = 333 gallons in the Odyssey

For a combined total for the family of 561. This strikes me as improbable. Maybe I should go double check some of those numbers. Altho now that I think about it, it costs around $70 to fill the van's tank currently, and we fill it every 3-4 weeks, which implies under 300 gallons per year in the van.

I'd pat myself on the back for being so frugal, but mostly it's an artifact of how rarely we get out.

She then goes on to dismiss the idea of buying a smaller car for commuting, because 20 grand for a third car is not so good. Is she including insurance/licensing/etc. in this figure? Because the Fit, Yaris, Versa etc. are each considerably less than 20K. Assuming you can find one to buy. A Prius, not so much. She rattles through other options: drive BF's smaller car for longer trips -- at 23 mpg, a small improvement over her 16 mpg; I gotta say, tho, the WRX got 20ish and that was a good enough reason for me to switch to the Fit a year ago -- and I'd been _planning_ that switch for over a year; use public transportation, plan trips, tires at proper inflation, accelerate more gradually, blah, blah, blah.

Wonderfully enough, she too uses the word conservation towards the end of the article, and throughout she notes tons-of-carbon along with dollars/gallons of gas.

The idea to call ahead to make sure it's there before you go out to buy it is a particularly interesting one, in terms of the implications for bricks-and-mortar vs. online retailing over the short-medium term. At what point does shipping save money over the gas cost of the errand? At what point does Prime shipping make sense? And what happens when FedEx and UPS start feeding their cost increases through to Amazon et al, and they pass those increases more clearly through to the customer? I bet I could make a buck or two off of really solid answers to these questions.

_The Dirt on Clean_, Katherine Ashenburg

Subtitled: An Unsanitized History

The Good: a tour of personal hygiene practices over the last couple thousand years, mostly Western Civ perspective (Greeks, Romans, Europeans, Americans). Nice explanation of the development of the Roman bath (and the return to sanity of the Roman Bath), how forms of public bathhouses hung around in various parts of Europe and the Middle East and how they changed and adapted and what eventually did them in in some areas of Europe (but not all). Lots of illuminating anecdote.

The Bad: kinda skips around, definite Euro-American bias.

Ashenburg concludes with the Hygiene Hypothesis, and is clearly kinda weirded out by the whole completely-eliminate-human-odor-and-replace-it-with-something-else thing so characteristic of mid 20th century America. And hey! I'm with her there.

It took me a while to finish it, simply because there is no strong narrative thrust -- it really is just one thing after another. I'd say it would make great bathroom reading (maybe in the tub), but that sounds just a bit too trite. Even for me.

I'll send it along to the local library, to amuse others. I'm really glad she wrote it. I wouldn't be too surprised if I regretted sending this along, when I want to refer to some piece of information in it years from now to make a point. If this is the kind of thing that appeals to you, track down a copy. If the idea leaves you cold, and it falls in your lap, give it a try anyway -- it just might suck you in. Spin you around. Scrape you down. And leave you feeling fresh and renewed.

Or, like a cookbook can leave even a full person looking for something to cook, it might send you off for a long, hot soak.