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August 1st, 2008

foreclosure auctions in California

First: I just recently realized that the MA foreclosure moratorium (90 days) also included a no-added-fees component. That seems potentially useful.

Calculated Risk had an entry today from Jim the Realtor about courthouse steps foreclosure sales which the lenders are actually allowing to go for less than the amount owing on the first mortgage. Needless to say, with a lot of real estate severely underwater (even on the first mortgage, never mind the second), if the lender requires a minimum bid enough to cover what is owed the lender, then the lender gets to buy the property back. I don't need to say this but I will anyway: this is why lender inventory (REOs) continues to grow, even tho they are aggressively trying to unload this crap (for less than is owed them on it).

You have to ask them: why would you buy it, if you then have to carry it (and sound banking practice being to maintain it and pay taxes and utilities and so forth on it), only to sell it for considerably less later on? You just increase your cost and you don't get your money back, anyway. What are you, stupid?

Whatever they may or may not be, courthouse steps auctions are grudgingly becoming what they once were in the past, and should never have stopped being: a crap shot at a bargain. These things are sold as is, no warranty, with possible other liens on them, sometimes without even an accurate or complete address specified at the time of auction AND you have to have cash at the time if you win (cashier check or, presumably, a briefcase full of folding green stuff). And, finally, a few people are buying them _other than_ the lender.

I wouldn't call this a bottom. I would call this one more teeny tiny step towards sanity and good practice.

NYT: always good for a chuckle

There's the Judith Warner entry on affluenza and helicopter parenting/sleepaway camp as reported in the NYT. I may yet post about that, because as near as I can tell, there are actually three major incompatible themes to that particular entry -- I even like one of them. And the comments thread associated with the entry is riotously bizarre: a lot of readers picked the thread that resonated with them and acted like the whole entry was about that. Weird doesn't even begin to cover it.

But once again, it was Tara Parker-Pope who compelled me to snark:

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/06/10/gender-roles-marriage-and-anger/

She's describing a 2005 study in the journal Sex Roles which compares same-sex relationships to opposite-sex relationships in terms of division of labor in and around the house. Now, long time readers of this blog know that for quite a long while, I've assessed the quality of books about family/relationships/parenting/blah blah blah based in part on whether or not they bothered to check their conclusions against both same-sex and opposite-sex relationships. So this isn't exactly a new comparison to me, and I have a pretty solid understanding of how those two kinds of relationships tend to differ and let's just say that if you're looking for equality, heterosexuality is NOT your best choice. Not that choice has all that much to do with sexual attraction.

Here's the paragraph that got me:

"The data that really surprised me focused on housework, from a 2005 study in the social science journal Sex Roles. In same-sex relationships, housework chores typically are divided evenly. But in heterosexual couples, a disproportionate share of household responsibilities appear to fall on the woman. Notably, when heterosexual couples live together but aren’t married, the relationship is more egalitarian, like a same-sex couple."

If you remove the "that really surprised me" clause, I have zero issue with anything else in this particular entry, and I really appreciate that Parker-Pope did such a nice job addressing the amount of anger that married women collectively live with.

I would have liked the entry marginally better, if it had included a per-task breakdown of labor in and around the house, because there are some fascinating things to think about there. In addition to the indoor-outdoor axis, there's the day-in-and-day-out vs. less-often-than-daily axis. Some of the work which purports to show that women do way more household labor than men do an inadequate job of including outdoor/less-often-than-daily tasks in what they count. In some scenarios, this way short-changes what men are doing for the household/family.

The comments thread is pretty funny here, too, with people saying how they aren't normal when if they had ever seen how gender drives task exchange in households (under various criteria), they'd realize pretty durn quick they're actually quite normal. You can even see the men-doing-more-than-they-get-credit-for thing in play.

Certainly, the Parker-Pope entry is more worth your time than the Warner entry (oh that is _so_ obvious it's right up there with water is wet). But I'm continually amazed at what surprises people. I forget what we were watching on TV (but probably Nova Science Now) that covered Bob Woodruff's massive injuries in Iraq and his painful recovery. His wife was quoted as saying something to the effect that it was surprising/shocking/unexpected that he could survive this massive trauma only to succumb to infection (maybe it was a Nova episode about Iraqibacter? This is going to bug me.). I just completely lost it: if there is one cliche of wartime, it is surviving massive trauma to succumb to infection. Kudos to the program -- the next bit was a series of "slides" matching major wars over the millenia and the diseases that killed more soldiers than the violence per se. Of course one cannot slam Lee Woodruff for this; that would be mean -- she's suffered enough. But the statement was irritating in the extreme.

ETA: Having a little self-referential moment here. If you're thinking, but R.! Come on! People have been re-learning the Same Damn Thing Over and Over and Over Again for the Very First Time Since Before History Began. And you started complaining about it shortly thereafter. For suitable values of you. How can you _possibly_ be surprised by what people are surprised by? I mean, duh!

ETA2: Floyd Norris takes Exxon's and GM's second quarter profit and loss (respectively) and, in order to make sense of those Big Numbers, works them out as a per second run rate. Cool.

http://norris.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/08/01/big-numbers-made-smaller/

ETA3: But the winner surely must go to the Your Money piece which took 3, count them 3 people to produce. It's the usual garbage about how now is a bad time to unload your gas guzzler. But there are a couple of paragraphs that are absolute gems.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/02/business/yourmoney/02money.html

"IS A SMALL CAR PRACTICAL? You will be tempted to play with the Edmunds.com calculator by swapping your hulking Chevy Suburban for a tiny Honda Fit or an itty-bitty hybrid of some sort. But let’s get back to reality for a moment. It is nice to fantasize about tripling your fuel economy, but you might have a trailer to tow or perhaps you are larger than average and are not comfortable in small cars.

Say you need to haul three rows of people but still want to save on gas costs."

You can sort of see, even from this short sample, the condescending tone the authors of this piece have adopted to bash the reader into not seeing what is is in one's best interest. Never mind that now. Let's talk about the "practical" reasons for owning a small car.

(a) Hypothetical Trailer: well, given that people are unable to keep their horses (cost of feed) and boats (can't afford the fuel), I'm not precisely certain what anyone would be towing in a trailer. Maybe an RV? Oh, wait -- people are taking those to campgrounds and parking them because it's too expensive to drive them around.

(b) You are Too Large to fit in a Fit: Now this is really amazing. The head room in a Fit is incredible. And the hip room is quite good as well. I'm 7 and a half months pregnant and I wasn't precisely small _before_ getting knocked up this time; the Fit is still quite roomy; I feel more cramped sitting in the driver's seat of the Odyssey. Judging by past experience of being around larger folk of various heights/widths/configurations, I'd say you'd have to be north of 4 bills to fail to fit in a Fit. Prius? Older ones were a bit cramped; I haven't been in one recently.

What fraction of the population is too big for a Fit? I don't care _what_ you've been seeing in those propaganda pieces on the network news courtesy the anorexics over at the CDC; Americans aren't that big.

(c) You're hauling three rows of people. What, one person per row? Do you freaking _know_ anyone regularly hauling three rows of people? And if you don't need to do it often, I'd look into renting, honestly. I suppose if you've got three kids in booster/car seats (3+ kids under 4), you have this problem. But first off, that's not the average family by any stretch of the imagination, much less the average car owner. And if you've got 3+ kids under 4, you've got bigger problems than saving on gas.

I had to fiddle with a spreadsheet for a half hour or so to figure out that when you buy a car, you're buying your gas bill; apparently, ordinary folk _know_ this, judging by the Kelley Blue Book guy who is working desperately hard to convince ordinary folk they are wrong. And let me just add: it makes hella more sense to finance the purchase than the gas (among other things, it's easier to get low rates on an auto loan than it is on the credit card you charge the gas to). As for maintenance, insurance, etc? R. contends that in general, the smaller the car, the cheaper those items are. I'd figure them for a wash, but he's enough of a cheapskate that he may well know what he's talking about.

ETA4: I cannot leave without asking one more question. Who is the Your Money piece's target audience? I just have a lot of trouble with the idea that there's a significant population of people in NYC who need to save gas while hauling three rows of people, towing a trailer, and/or who weigh 400+ pounds and/or are 6'6"+ in height. In fact, my general impression of NYC natives are smallish households, no trailers, and, not to put too fine a point on it, fairly short and usually in decent shape if not downright trim. I realize that the NYT fancies itself the Paper of Record for the nation, so maybe this is advice aimed squarely at the heartland. But then that makes the overall tone of the piece that much creepier -- and the skankiness of the possible conflict-of-interest that much more horrifying.

ETA5: Lest you think I am deluding myself about the roominess of the Fit:

http://www.autobytel.com/content/shared/articles/templates/index.cfm/article_page_order_int/3/article_id_int/1412

"room for passengers is impressive. Call the Honda Fit the Ridgeline of subcompacts. Another thing the Fit has on the Civic: getting in and out. The taller size means that the Fit offers an easy step-out and step-in experience."

"Riders out back get quite a bit of room, and when a tall passenger is seated behind a tall driver, the soft seatback should keep knees comfortable."

"There is ample headroom in front and back and designers even contoured the back of the driver’s seat to create more knee room for back seat riders. There’s also plenty of foot room for those with large feet."

From the comment thread here:

http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/survival-guide/

(The article itself is crap, similar to the NYT piece. M. tells me he heard similar arguments on the radio recently. It's a popular meme -- for pundits.)

"I’m six foot nine and two hundred and fifty pounds. I can drive a Honda Fit or Toyota Yaris."

To be fair, some people complain about the height of the seat in the Fit and others complain about where to put their feet.

I have to say, reading a whole bunch of people make "economist" style arguments that essentially are reproducing the classic sunk costs error is bizarre. But perhaps NOT surprising.

gas math: a year of bicycling

R. sez that in 2007, he rode 1700 miles on his bicycle.
Based on his heart rate monitor, he thinks that burned about 100,000 calories, which if stored as body fat would be about 30 pounds. A pound of fat is roughly equivalent to a pound of gasoline in terms of energy stored. A gallon of gasoline weighs about 6 pounds, so call it 5 gallons of gasoline. Which implies about 340 mpg.

Pretty cool. People say that bicycling costs no gas, but of course you do have to eat to fuel yourself. We're not counting tires, because we don't count tires on cars either.

If you've seen the recent media coverage on how much exercise you need to do per week to maintain weight loss, you know it confirms what has shown up time and time again: a little over 2000 calories worth of exercise a week (about an hour a day most days of moderate exercise, 3 miles of walking per day, etc -- it all works out roughly equivalent). This implies that R. got enough over the course of the year bicycling to work out about right per week for the whole year -- just from bicycling, which he can only really do 8 months a year or less. Also, in 2007, he had a pretty bad fall and broke his collar bone which took about three weeks to recover from enough to ride again.

No wonder he's in good shape.