Saturday, November 2, 2019

Scattered Thoughts

     Look, it’s not just any Saturday, it’s All Souls’ Day, so I have an extra reason to do one of these pieces rather than one of my intolerably sententious essays. Besides, a little bird tells me that there are Gentle Readers who actually prefer the “assorted” columns to my usual emissions. I can’t pretend to be surprised at that; after all, there are days I prefer them too. So let’s have at it, shall we? There must be a handful of things that deserve a hairy eyeball and a little snark.

     Christian Adams points to an ominous shift in the Left’s anti-Trump tactics:

     Democrats have launched a multi-state effort in courts across the nation seeking to tinker with the rules of the 2020 election to help oust President Donald Trump from the White House. These lawsuits are the latest in a longstanding push to use the courts to alter election rules, all in the name of “civil rights.” The lawsuits are funded by dark money sources, and not-so-dark money sources such as George Soros’ Open Society Institute.

     Recently launched lawsuits in North Carolina, Texas, and Michigan seek to constitutionalize small election administration changes and have been filed by Hillary Clinton’s lawyer, Marc Elias at Perkins Coie.

     Please read it all. Adams’s mention of the “pop-up” early voting sites that have appeared mysteriously near Hillary Clinton rallies is particularly frightening. However, any measure that would facilitate Democrats’ voting over that of Republicans, or that would make it more difficult to prevent vote fraud, is threatening as hell, especially in states that Trump won in 2016 but were thought to be part of the Democrats’ “blue wall.”

     Remember Stalin’s maxim about who votes versus who counts the votes.

     David L. Burkhead has penned an excellent piece about government welfare and the associated social maladies:

     The truth is, there are some people–not everyone, perhaps not even most, but some–who, if you provide them enough for even a basic living without their having to earn it, will accept that and make no attempt to improve their lot through their own efforts. Oh, they may complain about how hard they have it, but that complaint doesn’t motivate them to go work their way out of their situation. If anything, it’s intended to influence you to provide more of that “basic living” they’re not having to work for.

     This is not to say that there aren’t people who legitimately cannot provide for themselves but how often is that really the case?

     Another please-read-it-all essay. Burkhead addresses many of the same points I’ve made at other times. However, he sounds a potentially misleading note in emphasizing the importance of “a political climate favorable to business.” Many persons would take that as a vote in favor of political permissiveness toward corporate hijinks, such as what prevailed in Central America during our “gunboat diplomacy” era.

     The ideal “political climate favorable to business” is one in which the State is firmly restricted, in Frederic Bastiat’s words, to “the protection of all persons, all liberties, and all properties.” No subsidies; no subventions; no State-chartered monopolies insulated against competition; and for the love of God, no tolerance of lawbreaking by a company (or its hirelings) merely because it “creates jobs.” America did well enough before any of that came along – and private charities were more than adequate to care for those who could not care for themselves.

     Co-Conspirator Linda Fox’s recent article about the Catholic Church’s real-estate follies got me thinking about my own experiences in the use of real estate as an “investment vehicle.” They were unpleasant, to say the least. Moreover, a little arithmetic has convinced me that home ownership as an “investment” is nearly as dubious as the purchase of property for sale or rental to others.

     I’ve lived in the Fortress of Crankitude for 39 years. Over that time, I’ve paid:

  • $72,000 to purchase the Fortress in 1980;
  • $3716.00 in closing costs;
  • $115,207.12 in mortgage interest payments;
  • $257,945.95 in property taxes;
  • An estimated $100,000 (conservative) for maintenance and improvements of various kinds.

     The above figures omit routine cost-of-living expenses such as heating oil, propane, water, electricity, and the like. They pertain solely to what I had to spend to remain in residence here without having the place collapse on my head. They sum to:


     That’s a lot of money even in counterfeit bills, and the figure is likely less than what I really spent. The Fortress would sell for about $450,000 in today’s market...and I would need a new place to live. What was that about investing in real estate again?

     If you like space opera, you might look into M. D. Cooper’s “Aeon 14” series, the first three books of which I’ve enjoyed these past few days. Cooper’s premises are a considerable departure from most space-travel-oriented SF. She postulates a 42nd century Solar civilization in which twelve planets and moons have been terraformed adequately to support human life...but 90% of Mankind resides in one or another “rings:” orbital megastructures wrapped around those worlds. Most human beings alive at the time of these tales have never set foot on a planetary surface.

     Interstellar colonization, which must take place at subluminal velocities, is a competitive business, in which giant corporations vie for the right to send a starship to a newly discovered terraformable world. The competition often involves violence, sabotage, and other not-very-nice tactics. Protagonist Tanis Richards, a military / intelligence agent tasked with the security of starship Intrepid near to completion and launch, must fend off a wide variety of threats to the colony ship in the weeks before it’s ready to leave Sol system for the target world of New Eden.

     The books have several of the flaws common to that subgenre. Various violations of the laws of physics and extravagant technological leaps go unexplained, though that’s essentially de rigueur for SF. The writing is stippled with errors and missteps of several kinds. Tanis Richards is the now-clichéd “strong female character.” That’s to be expected; Cooper is a woman, and lady writers will indulge their fantasies about such heroines. Besides, very few lady writers can compose a convincing male hero. And the series itself seems interminable; I doubt I’ll follow it all the way to the end...if it has one.

     However, there are compensations. Cooper is imaginative beyond the usual for this category. Moreover, she included as a premise the development of extensive technological modifications to the human body that would make a Tanis Richards plausible. And the stories themselves are well conceived, given Cooper’s premises and backdrop. Give it a try if “hard,” space-travel-oriented SF is your thing.

     For those of you who wanted more of the “John Whiteman” tales:

     ...I have some news: I’ve started on a novel-length treatment of Erehwon, the fictitious nation in which Whiteman rises to power. A teaser will be “coming soon to a website near you.” We can all use a happy fantasy now and then, eh what?

     That’s all for today, I think. Have a nice day. Don’t forget to pray for the souls of any loved ones you lost this past year. They can’t do it for themselves, y’know.


Kye said...

I agree with your point about owning real estate as you encouraged me to do the same calculations and I had similar results. But we must be doing something wrong since so many people become rich in real estate both owning and renting. Hell, people become rich just renting to Section 8 housing tenants. What is our problem? Maybe we should also take into account the cost the cost we would have incurred if we had rented a place over the years we were buying. After all, we had to have shelter so whatever we would have spent on rent in fairness should be deducted from what we did spend to own.

To try and be reasonable begin with what was a fair rent in the year you bought your house in an area you would have lived in (no ghettos to keep costs down) and add about 7% increase per year in rent. So if you would have paid $1000 per month in ten years you'd be paying about $2000. Now figure how much RENT you saved over those 39 years.

Perhaps you'll find buying is cheaper than renting.

Francis W. Porretto said...

(chuckle) I'm reasonably sure that buying is cheaper than renting, at least for those of us who need a tax deduction or two. I'm just concerned with the misuse of the notion of "investment" as it pertains to the way most Americans approach real estate.

Yes, there are people who grow wealthy through dealing in real estate. Most of them use other people's money to do it (i.e., short-term mortgages) and make a point of "flipping" the properties in which they invest as swiftly as possible. He who can do this in a rising market will profit. The rest of us are better advised to stick to mutual funds -- conservative mutual funds.

Tracy Coyle said...

Oh no you didn't go there!

548,869 divided by 39x12 months is...$1172 a month. Today, not a bad rent in urban areas. Practically impossible to find in CA. Certainly not for 3 bedrooms.

BUT, $548,869 - $410,000 (450-closing costs) is $138,869, divided by the aforementioned 39x12 months is...$296.73 a month.

Well, DAMN that's cheap...and you're not likely to find that ANYWHERE there is running water in the USA.

I'll never own again - the effort at maintenance isn't worth it to me anymore. I might INVEST at some point because in the long run, it makes money. And buying lottery tickets hasn't paid off yet.

Francis W. Porretto said...

(chuckle) The point isn't that renting is cheaper. It's that home ownership isn't an investment. It's just the purchase of something you need: a place to live.

I was fortunate to purchase an undervalued home in a community that shortly thereafter became a prized destination. My home's large appreciation isn't the rule for most places. There's also the deterioration of the dollar to factor in. So I've done better than most as regards the possibility of recovering value should I ever sell... but in absolute terms, I still paid more than I can recover. Investments are expected to provide a positive return. Q.E.D.

Linda Fox said...

Missed BOTH All Saint's AND All Soul's - sick as a dog with asthma. I figured going into a crowd hacking my guts up wasn't a good idea.

Still prayed for everyone. Always do.

Kye said...

Hope you feel better, asthma's a bitch. You know, pretty soon your inhalers may be deemed an enemy of the state because they aren't "green". I'll be in trouble with you since I have COPD and take Symbicort and Vebtoltn via inhalers.