September 20th, 2008

no baby yet

I was a little concerned last night, because I let T. play outside and then in the garage until it was quite dark (maybe 7:30 or so). He was really pissy when I finally dragged him inside. Also, cold and grubby. There was much tantrumy crying while we attempted to get food and drink in him, clean him up at least a little. He wanted to go to bed (altho not, immediately, to sleep), so that wasn't a struggle. After he fell asleep, I sort of braced myself for a repeat of a night a few days ago when he woke up repeatedly and eventually got up Way Too Early (last Tuesday night, IIRC, just in time to guarantee I was really pathetically emotional and weepy for my prenatal). But no, he slept through without switching beds (I opted for the twin futon) until well after 8 a.m., when the alarm on my smart phone started going off to tell me the carpenter might shortly arrive to work on the rotted wood around our front door. I may need to adjust some defaults on that thing. (The phone, not the door, the wood or the carpenter. Who, I might add, _actually showed up_. And it looks like the rot is not too severe.)

_House Lust_, Daniel McGinn

Subtitled: America's Obsession with Our Homes

There are three callout boxes on the cover: "An unyielding urge to make our houses bigger, bolder, and more luxurious, no matter the cost", "An irrational desire for cathedral ceilings, mud rooms, and natural stone countertops" and "The national pastime that is taking its toll on american wallets, relationships, and minds"

Yesterday, I went to Toadstool, an actual bookstore, for the first time in I'm not sure how long. I walked out with only one book (which I still find surprising), this one.

I read a chunk of it last night, and the rest today. It was nice. R. watched T., and chatted with J. who is ripping out rotted wood around our front door and repairing it. Which is very nice, given that a different contractor, who shall still remain nameless, did absolutely nothing (including failing to respond to phone calls) for 6 weeks. We were patient largely because the painting work had been good. And we did not pay ahead enough to cause us any particular qualms.

So this is really pretty appropriate reading material: I've been looking at real estate for months now, partly online, partly at open houses. We got pre-approved (online). I sold enough stock to cover what a conforming loan would not, for the range we'd decided was reasonable. We're all set to make a move at a moment's notice. If only we could find something we wanted at a price we thought was reasonable. We can find stuff we love -- but not where we want it. We know where we want it -- and those are still too expensive. This could go on for a while, and meanwhile, we're back to discussing the possibilities associated with renovating.

McGinn covers oversized housing (which I'm absolutely not interested in -- we decided we wanted something around 2500-3000 square feet and would under no circumstances consider anything like a 5000 square foot house. Altho, if it had a ball room. . . He covers new housing, which we have no particular interest in. He devotes a chapter to renovations, which was entertaining, altho having reno'd a kitchen and 2 bathrooms, I figure I have some clue about what's involved (altho I've never moved exterior walls, so I don't _really_ know anything). He covers coverage of real estate. He covers buying rental property (in Idaho?! When he lives in Boston?! Yeah, nothing can go wrong there.). He covers the changes happening in Realtor-land as the boom turned to bust at the time this book went to press, and as the internet shakes up traditional 6% commissions in a way that may prove permanent. And he covers vacation property in its myriad forms: owning it, time-sharing, vacation clubs, whether to rent it out, trading time-share weeks, etc.

McGinn specifically stays away from the larger trends that fed this boom, altho he mentions them in passing, noting that they deserve a different book. His authorial voice is pleasing. There were a few things he said that struck me as Just Wrong. In McGinn's world, no one showed off their upstairs bathroom until the 1980s and he quotes "veteran homebuilders" in support of that assertion. R. and I both recall taking new visitors to our family homes on the "nickel tour" of the house: upstairs and down, bedrooms, bathrooms, the whole thing, including any noteworthy closets. We even called it the same thing, even tho his father was a lawyer and his mother went to college, and my father was an electrician and my mother finished high school and never worked outside the home. But his father was raised working class, so maybe we were both socialized working class. In any event, the "nickel tour" displayed working class house pride back int he 1970s. Is McGinn right for other classes? I can't say.

There were other remarks along the same lines, assertions in support of the idea that house lust of the 1980s and forward is/was somehow different from what went before. I'm not convinced.

These are minor complaints.

Fun stuff; I doubt I'll reread it, so I'll be passing it along to the library (which is why I bought it hardback, rather than trying for a kindle copy). It might not be worth your hardback dollars, but if you see it in paper, it's a fun read (and might get an afterward about more of the bust by the time it comes out). And there's always your library, too.

FWIW, my kitchen reno did involve granite countertops back in 1999. If I redid it now, I'd probably go with stainless steel, and make a few other changes to make it usable as a commercial kitchen. And that's what I'll eventually do either here, or wherever we land. My first bathroom reno was pretty straightforward: made the shower bigger, ripped out the vanity and replaced it with a pedastal sink and standalone storage furniture. The second bathroom reno was more extensive. The "garden tub" (wide but shallow) was replaced with a two-person soaker (deep, no jets), and the toilet room was expanded at the expense of the two-sink vanity (why? Because I've always wanted a bidet.). The vanity and storage furniture have the standalone look (the storage is moveable; the vanity is plumbed of course). As with the pedastal, it Costs More to do things this way, because the previously hidden area needs to look good enough now that it can be seen. Ain't it ever so?

I went with marmoleum flooring (battleship grey -- sheet, not tile, unwaxed) in the kitchen and one bathroom. We did bamboo in the master bath. I will not bore you with the details of appliances (other than to say I went with stackers in the laundry in the kitchen, instead of the side-by-side I previously had since the _whole point_ of the kitchen reno was to get a double oven). And unlike some people, once I'd had all that work done, I couldn't bear the idea of selling the place, even tho I haven't lived in that condo since 2003. My sister rented it for a year, and now I have friends who live there -- even tho I lived in Seattle for a year and a half, I left the tenants in place, knowing I'd be gone before they would. The second bathroom reno occurred while they lived there, and they were quite patient about the pain of living with a renovation.

Someday, the condo will be where we retire. Perhaps before then it will be our vacation-home-in-Seattle, that is, assuming air fare stays low enough to visit often enough. And I can soak in that tub R. and the kids, maybe; that'd be a lot of fun.

here's a little suggestion for you

I engage in a certain amount of reactive e-mail activism -- you know: some organization sends you e-mail saying go to this form, fill it out with your contact information and we'll send a form letter to your representatives telling them what to (not) do.

Every once in a while (and it's not often -- IIRC, the last time I got this annoyed, it was the TSA regulation about no liquids), I write a letter myself and send it to my elected officials. Should you want to do that, here's where you can find the web-forms they like to receive letters through:

I've been reading a bit about the $700 billion bailout package put together by Hank and Ben. I am Not Impressed. Yeah, sure, I said helping out Bear Stearns was necessary. And when rumors of this sucker jacked the market back up, I was as happy as the next member of the Ownership Society (maybe quite a lot more than most). But I'd rather go broke than have this thing go through As Proposed. And here's why. Once upon a time, something really tragic happened in NYC. And after that, it was suggested that we give Our Awful Leader a whole lot of power to go bomb brown people (because, after all, that's what We Do when bad things happen to us), with the understanding that he probably wouldn't actually _use_ that power. Well, he did. And it was a really bad idea. And he coerced that power out of some perhaps overly-trusting lawmakers who had had the bejeepers scared out of them by that tragic day in NYC, plus upcoming elections, plus some briefings that the rest of us only learned about later and which were full of lies.

Well, I'm not at all sure we're looking at something all that different. A whole lot of power being handed over that doesn't obviously address the real problem, being sold with a huge dollop of fear mongering. You know, if this was going to drop a thousand dollars or so into the pocket of every person living in this country, I might decide it was okay -- I'm pretty Keynesian most days. But it's not. It's going to _take_ a couple thousand dollars (at least) from every man, woman, child and other in this country, and use it to buy a bunch of stuff no one understands, no one regulates and that is widely believed to be absolutely worthless (possibly to have negative worth). This does not solve any problem, altho it might well keep things creaking along a few more weeks or months. And then, we will have the same problem we started with -- plus a Whole Lot More Debt and that many fewer people willing to buy our debt. I'm not sure who benefits from this plan, but I suspect they all have (or at least recently _had_) so much money they fall firmly in the category of people I'd like to raise taxes on -- not give everyone else's money to.

Here's the letter I sent to my rep and Senators. I don't much care for my Senators (and I dearly hope one of them is replaced this cycle). I do like my rep. You may live elsewhere so YMMV. But I kept it pretty respectful. Feel free to use this as inspiration to do further research, contact your representatives and generally get the word out. This is Bad JuJu.


While I understand that the details of the Paulson/Bernanke $700 billion bailout package are still being worked on and things are changing quickly, I am deeply concerned about what information is currently available. While I was not happy about the Bear Stearns arrangement, I strongly argued that it was necessary; I agree that probably the AIG bailout was also necessary. Keeping our markets functioning is crucial.

But what I see so far is an overly-simple proposal to give huge new powers to the Treasury to throw an enormous amount of taxpayer money at a lot of difficult to understand and (currently) impossible to assess-the-value-of assets. I'm afraid we'll throw all this money away and _still_ be faced with the same problem: inadequately capitalized banking institutions, a lack of transparency, mortgages that desperately _need_ to be modified if there's any hope of saving them at all but which can't be modified because they are securitized in a way that hamstrings the ability to modify them.

In short, I see a lot of taxpayers paying a lot of money to little or no benefit. And I see us all being terrorized _by our government_ to sign off on this as The Only Possible Solution.

Unless significant protections are built into this (something like the warrants that AIG had to give for their bailout, say) and significant benefits are made available to ordinary people (and not just executives and fund managers who screwed up big time), Please Say No to this plan. We are in a crisis. But a crisis is a time to _think_, not just to react. It should go without saying that we have _got_ to find a way to make credit default swaps and mortgage backed securities a lot more transparent, and, along with that transparency, better regulated.

a little coverage of the bailout

ETA: Bloomberg has a decent article:

Here's a _horrible_ article about Hank and Ben:

Adulatory doesn't begin to cover it. Nothing substantive about the proposed bailout and the article acts like there's some regulatory component to it _which there is not_. This is straight up fill the trough for the pigs. And it's been structured as a huge power grab for Treasury. Nightmarish and evil.

Here's Krugman's blog entry over at the NYT:

He points out some problems with the deal as leaked.

Here are a couple posts from Calculated Risk:

I see _way_ too many parallels between this and the run-up to the attack on Iraq. We're being Sold. Yes, there is a real, serious problem that needs decisive action. But this solution doesn't address that problem and, just like the war in Iraq, it bleeds resources away from where they are desperately needed. Honest, I didn't think that anything could be worse than the inaction I expected out of this administration over the next few months. But they sure came up with something, didn't they.

ETA: The leaked proposal:

Gotta love Section 8 especially. How is this even constitutional?


I'm not overjoyed by the Democrats response; I feel like they are playing along a little too cozily, just as in the run-up to the war in Iraq. But the idea that Hank would kill the bill rather than allow it to include limits on Wall Street compensation? Yeah, this is a fill the trough one last time, boys, all the way to the top. Oink. Oink.

Hank and Ben: Dick's new hand puppets

One of the provisions of the plan (in addition to no oversight or review, and handing over $700 billion to dole out as they please) allows Treasury to hire anyone they like, including private contractors, to figure out how to implement this turd.

Maybe Blackwater will get the deal in a no-bid contract.

Or Halliburton.

We're going to find out later that basically this song-and-dance is an excuse to pay off anyone who didn't get adequately paid off over the last 8 years, and might be thinking about selling a book about whatever it is they know.

ETA: I now feel like letting Lehman go under is not unlike taking someone out back, shooting him, and then displaying the body along with a rousing, "We must find this poor man's murderer!"