Revenge of the deferred maintenance…

I’ve spent most of the last year deferring things that would bring people through the door. Part of that is just my natural disinclination to have people wandering around the house, but mostly it was part of my personal plague protection scheme. You can’t catch the bug if no one gets closer to you than the end of the driveway. 

It means now that I’ve had all my shots, it’s time to start working through the backlog. Sigh.

A few weeks ago, I anted up for the whole house power wash. The siding has never looked better and the moss colony that had taken root on the roof seems to (temporarily at least) be a thing of the past. It would have taken me a three-day weekend and probably resulted in me falling off the damned roof. It took them about three hours.

Today, Stanley Steemer crawled through the house finding every HVAC distribution and return vent to price out what the damage is going to be to get the whole system cleaned next week. After six years, it’s probably well past time for that regardless of what it ends up costing.

After that it’s a call to my go-to landscape company to schedule us in for spring mulching. That’s another project that takes me two days followed by weeks of nursing a sore back, but the professionals get finished in a handful of hours. 

There was a time I wanted to do all the work myself. I think it’s safe to say we’re well past that now and moving swiftly into an age where I’m perfectly happy hiring the work done and clawing back as much of my time as reasonably possible. 

We’ll see how I feel about that in a few weeks when I put out the call for bids on the long-delayed master bathroom renovation. Sure, there’s no way in hell I could do that work myself, but paying for it is going to be an agony.

Closing time…

The good news, I suppose, is that after months of screwing around, I’ll be closing on the new mortgage for the homestead on Friday morning. The new rate, 1.26% less than the original note, will save me several hundred dollars a month. 

As far as I can tell, all the paperwork is in good order and there theoretically shouldn’t be any problems getting to the closing table. The team I’ve been working with to get this work done have been spectacular – as johnny on the spot as any bunch of paper pushers I’ve ever dealt with. Color me cautiously optimistic.

I looked into a lot of options this time around – and strongly considered going with a 15 or 20-year mortgage to slice years off the life of the loan. Ultimately, though, reducing the overall cost of housing was the more important consideration. I can certainly allocate the savings to more entertaining or remunerative uses than keeping a roof over our heads. At rates under 3%, there’s very little incentive not to use other people’s money for as long as possible while seeking out a better ROI for my own dollars.

The only catch in this otherwise good news story was the moment I read over the estimated pay off date – sometime in 2051. As a child of the middle-to-late 20th century, 2051 doesn’t even feel like a real year. It’s some Jetson’s, deep space, basically unimaginably distant point in the future. Although I’ve spent nearly as much time in the 21st century as I did the 20th, I don’t think I’ll ever be entirely settled with it.

Under other circumstances, I’d be concerned about having a mortgage sticking that far out into the future – well past the date I expect to throw off the yoke of working for a living. As much as I like this house, though, staying here forever has never been the endgame. I think I’ve got one more big move left in me, hopefully to something built to suit my own undoubtedly quirky specifications. With this latest refinance, I won’t be paying off a hell of a lot of principle over the next 15 years, but I’ll make a modest dent. Throw in a decade and a half of (presumed) appreciation and there should still be a respectable nest egg to throw at building the last and final Fortress Jeff. 

We’ll just have to see how well that particular plan holds up to the intervening years… but again, on this point I’m choosing to be cautiously optimistic. 

Plague economics…

I can’t tell you how many times in the last 6 months I’ve heard or read someone say “Wall Street isn’t Main Street” or “the stock market isn’t the economy.”

That’s usually shorthand for telling your readers or viewers you want them to ignore record setting highs in the market in favor of focusing on more gritty, personal stories about small businesses. Those businesses are important. No one loves their small, local book shops more than I do, but I’m not going to sit here pretending that how the market does is irrelevant to the overall health of the economy or that it’s only “the 1%” who take advantage of its magical power of wealth creation.

Despite the popular press narrative that most people aren’t impacted by the stock market, the opposite is really the case. According to an article released by Pew Research in March 2020, “a majority (52%) have some level of investment in the market. Most of this comes in the form of retirement accounts such as 401(k)s.” If something north of half the people having a vested interest in Wall Street doesn’t count as having a deep influence on Main Street, I don’t know what would.

Yes, how “invested” someone is depends on many factors – age, race, and income, among others – but you really sound like an idiot when you write an article trying to convince me that I should feel badly that the market is booming. I’m never going to be upset by a story that tells me real money is being made by real people. Even when it’s painted as a story of winners and losers, I’d reminded them that there are winners and losers in ever field of endeavor – none of the great -isms of history have managed to change that beyond shifting a bit of who gets what. The wheel turns, but some group is always on top at any given moment – princes of the church, members of the politburo, or heirs to the House of Morgan – and they reap the reward of being in the right seat at the right time. I’ve never felt the need to hate them for that.

The two streets measure (mostly) different aspects of the economy. While I’ve made an effort to support local businesses with my spending during the Great Plague, I won’t for a moment feel bad about seeing growing equity prices. Both sides of the economy are important and while I’d love to see both go like gangbusters in an endless bull market, having half a loaf in this plague-ravaged environment is something to celebrate.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

In a time of global pandemic, impending financial doom, and the collapse of civilization, you might be tempted to think I wouldn’t find any day-to-day petty grievances to air. You, of course, would be exactly wrong. It may be the end of the world as we know it, but it’s far from the end of me being agitated. With that said, let’s get into it…

1. The news. The minute by minute drumbeat of the news is impossible to miss. Crisis, contagion, collapse… It can absorb you if you let it, and I, unfortunately, was letting it for the last few days. The trouble with being monopolized by the news is that it was getting in the way of my reading. So I’ll be making a conscious effort to step back and start ignoring it again. Beyond don’t leave the house unless you need to, I’m not sure what the news is going to tell me at this point that I might find personally useful. I mean if the apocalypse really comes, someone will beep me, right?

2. Bailouts. I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the various vast bailout proposals being kicked around with what fees like very little discussion or analysis other than politicians wish to be seen doing something immediately. Then again I didn’t support what eventually became the sweeping bank bailouts in 2007, government backed loans to the auto industry, or home mortgage “forgiveness.” I’d never be so bold to claim that government doesn’t have a role to play in shoring up the economy, particularly for those businesses shuttered and employees thrown out of work by executive fiat. My concern is mostly that everything I’m seeing reported on the news this week reeks of “lets throw money at it and hope it goes away” being the primary planning principle. A trillion dollars is a shit ton of money, I hope you’ll forgive me for thinking that maybe spending it should involve a bit more analysis than we’ve seen thus far.

3. Planning. Way back in 2005-ish I was involved in some preliminary “pandemic flu” planning. The end result was a plan and supporting documentation, the density of which would stun a team of oxen in their tracks. Pandemics aren’t something new. History could certainly be a guide here even if there wasn’t an actual plan. Everything I’ve seen thus far makes me wonder if anyone even bothered to read or even just dust off the damned thing from way back when.

Business decisions are not violations of your rights. Usually…

Most of the Second Amendment advocates on social media are up in arms – no pun intended – about Walmart’s decision to deeply scale back its sales of ammunition. Now, it would be easy enough to pillory Walmart’s press release. “Short barrel rifle ammunition” and “large capacity clips” aren’t really a thing, after all, but getting details right is less important than getting the proper spin on your public relations story.

The short version of what I’m sure will be my unpopular take is that Walmart is, first and foremost, a business. It exists as a money making machine for its shareholders. The end. Somewhere in an Arkansas-based executive suite, they made a business decision that they could afford to lose some percentage of their sales by getting out of a segment of the retail ammunition business. Unless Walmart is being run by certified morons, it was a dispassionate decision made based on dollars and cents… and no, before someone asks, Walmart isn’t infringing on your Second Amendment rights.

It’s been a long time since Walmart was just a simple chain of southern variety stores, but they are still big business in rural communities across the country. They sell a metric shit ton of hunting equipment, outdoor supplies, and yes, ammunition and firearms. Because of their ubiquity in the marketplace, avoiding their reach completely feels unlikely… but a simple check of my last year’s expenses shows me that if I simply change where I get my canned goods, dry foods, and basic groceries, I can deprive them of upwards of $5,000 a year – a bit more if you figure in other household incidentals.

One person’s changed buying habits won’t make a lick of difference to Walmart, of course, but it will funnel money into other businesses, that are, perhaps, less willing to sell out a core demographic element of their business model. A few hundred or a few thousand people determined to do the same can make a tremendous difference in throwing cash towards businesses that support, or at the very least aren’t antagonistic towards their values and priorities.

Walmart has their own business calculus and so do I.

The “right” causes…

While the smoke was still rising from Notre Dame, social media lit up with posts decrying the ultra-wealthy who were anteing up sums measured in hundreds of millions of dollars for the rebuilding of the cathedral for not giving to the “right” causes. I lost track of the number of posts that said something to the effect of “Don’t give to Notre Dame because water in Flint or because the church is rich (which is a half truth at best because the wealth of the Roman church tends to be in items they can’t sell off or borrow against like St Peters or the Vatican museum) or because Puerto Rico.

It’s utter nonsense, of course. If you bothered to know anything about how cathedrals across Europe were originally financed a thousand years ago, you’d pretty quickly find that the local nobility and ultra-wealthy of the day gave lavishly to the cause. These symphonies in stone wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the funds that flowed in from those elite sources. 

Ultimately, these posts illustrate one of my unreconciled problems with the left – the simple fact that I don’t need their help and certainly not their permission when deciding how to allocated the money I put in the time to earn. It’s like the they just can’t resist telling me how they know better where and for what to spend my money than I do. I guess being a holier than thou do gooder is easy as long as someone else foots the bill. 

As for me, everyone can piss right off with that nonsense. Every time one of these lunatics tries to jam their hand a little further into my pocket, you can expect me to resist with all available energy. I’m no billionaire, but I’m proud of knowing that some small portion of my donation will go to restore or preserve such an important part of western civilization… But the hand wringing bleeding hearts should feel free to send their own check to the charity cause of their choice. I promise I won’t say a word about it, no matter how pretentious and attention seeking a cause they’ve selected.

You ain’t seen nothing yet…

There are approximately 76 million news and commentary sites you can go to today that are perfectly happy to drone on and on about what they expect Democratic control of the House of Representatives, a more entrenched Republican position in the Senate, and the host of other election results to mean. What’s going to happen when the 116th Congress is gaveled into session on the 3rd of January? Opinions will range from the president and congressional leaders finding some compromise on massive infrastructure spending to a wildly vindictive House leadership that will investigate the president to within an inch of his political life and then impeach him. On this Wednesday after election day, either one feels like it’s within the realm of possibility.

What’s really happening, though, is that across the country 435 current and elect-members of the House are waking up, smiling at their good fortune, and kicking off their fundraising efforts for the 2020 election cycle. Current and future senators will be doing the same thing, although some with a slightly less focused sense of urgency with their next election cycle as far as 6 years off. Political pros from across the spectrum are dusting off their presidential election year plans and looking for ways to fill up their war chests. Those with an eye towards the presidency in 2020 have already been building their machine, quietly, for two years or more.

Campaigns are never really over. There may appear to be a pause between one and the next, but that’s just because the news cycle focuses on something else for a little while – Firing an Attorney General is an especially effective distractor if you have one you can spare. The fundraisers, staff, and key volunteers who under-gird elections in this country are hard at work laying the groundwork for the next iteration of Who Wants to be a President.

If you thought 2016 was bad, or 2018 made you clutch granny’s pearls, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Perception. Working for our Uncle lo these many years has given me an odd relationship with money, particularly with my perception of what constitutes a “large amount” of it. Sure, in my personal life $100,000 is a big number. It’s almost twice what I paid for my first place. In my professional capacity, though, throwing out round numbers in the tens and hundreds of millions is the rule rather than the exception. That’s why having long drawn out conversations about spending $100k makes perfect sense to my tax paying soul, but drives my professional self to madness. In the overall scope of the budget it’s barely a rounding error and I’d just like to get on with other stuff.

2. Facebook. I secretly suspect that we all have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. It turns out due to a recent policy change, my blog, hosted on WordPress, is no longer allowed to communicate directly with my Facebook profile. What I use to be able to do with one click can now conveniently be done with about twelve. I do love it when technology is used to make simple tasks even harder to do. I also enjoy it when the solution to having a handful of bad actors exploit a feature is to terminate that feature for all users. Look, I know Facebook is a “free” platform and they can do what they want, but honest to God at some points their tweaks and “features” are going to drive one to ask if it isn’t just easier to interact with the other platform instead.

3. The Privilege Police. I have a bad habit of browsing the comments when I read news articles or opinion pieces. I’d probably be far less agitated by the news if I’d stop doing that. On one recent article, every 3rd comment was some variation on “this was so written from a place of privilege,” as if that were somehow sufficient reason to invalidate someone’s opinion or personal experience as detailed in an article written from their point of view. It feels patently ridiculous to assume every American, living and, dead has had the same American Experience. I feel not one ounce of shame about where or who I’ve come from and will continue to tell my story from my perspective no matter the gnashing or teeth and rending of garments it may cause the Privilege Police. After all, they are perfectly free to write an article addressing the same topic or experience from their point of view. Apparently creating original content is harder than just sitting at the keyboard being offended by every damned thing.

Unfilled with asshattery…

Well, it’s been nice pretending that I have all the time in the world to dink around the yard, troll every junk shop in three counties, and put my feet up to read whatever happened to strike my fancy. However, due to the completely unreasonable need to generate income in order to continue to provide food, shelter, and medical care for myself and my four-legged dependents, time is about to return to its usual status as my most precious commodity. Maybe that means I appreciate it more, but it’s a theory I’d be perfectly happy to put to the test as early as practicable.

I’ll be back at it tomorrow, making the devil’s bargain of time for money. I know I needed the down time, but I’m equally sure that whatever restive effects I’ve earned will be reduced to near zero sometime before the clock strikes noon tomorrow. It’s about as unavoidable as the rising sun. At least that first roll of the eyes won’t arrive as a shock. I know it’s coming.

Until then, I’ll make the most of the peace and quiet and enjoy one last afternoon unfilled with total asshattery. If there’s anything that long stretches of free time teaches me it’s that I can’t value those highly enough.

The virtue of ApplePay…

This morning, as usual, I picked up my building ID, two sets of keys, my pocket knife, watch, and a few other odds and ends I carry with me every day​. The morning progressed as usual right up until the point I stopped to fill up the Jeep’s fuel tank. That’s when I discovered my wallet wasn’t among the items of kit that I had stuffed into my pockets on the way out the door.

As they saying goes, you really don’t miss something (or realize how often you need it) until it’s gone. Instead of the day progressing normally, there was no fuel, no breakfast bagel, no stop for a mid-day doughnut, no pausing on the way home to pick up fresh greens for the tortoise, and no stop at the last chance liquor store for my Wednesday powerball ticket. It doesn’t quite rise to the level of infuriating, but the simple act of leaving behind a small piece of leather with a few pieces of plastic and a bit of green paper inside certainly has the the effect of being an outsized pain in the ass.

I’ve never really given much thought to the virtue of ApplePay, but it’s safe to say I have a new healthy interest in adopting a payment method that involves something I don’t leave the room, let along the house, without having on my person.