Heraclitean River

You can never step into the same river twice. . .

Browsing Posts published by heraclitus

This post is part 3 of 7 in a series entitled “When not to pay down your mortgage,” which outlines many scenarios where paying extra on your mortgage isn’t necessarily the best financial strategy.

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As detailed in the previous post of this series, excess savings in your budget should not automatically be used to pay down principal on a mortgage loan.  Aside from paying off higher interest loans first, another better option is often investment in retirement accounts. continue reading…

This post is part 2 of 7 in a series entitled “When not to pay down your mortgage,” which outlines many scenarios where paying extra on your mortgage isn’t necessarily the best financial strategy.

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For many years, making extra payments on your mortgage was generally viewed as an excellent investment.  If you want to own your home “free and clear,” there’s no better feeling than seeing that principal number go down on your loan.

However, with mortgage rates at historical lows, it may be time to reconsider the value of making early payments or extra payments on your mortgage.  If you have extra cash that you can do something with, mortgage payments are just one of many options.  At a minimum, there are generally other financial steps you should consider before putting the money into a mortgage.

In a previous post, I considered the need to evaluate long-term inflation effects when evaluating payment strategies.  But before you even worry about complexities like that, there are other more basic issues to consider. continue reading…

A few days back, the University of Sheffield published a press release concerning a set of mathematical formulas which could be used to create the “perfectly decorated” Christmas tree.  Since then, the story has been picked up by numerous gullible media outlets.  (Admittedly, few of these are major media sources, but a number are tech or “geek” related online sources or blogs.)  The UK-based retailer Debenhams — which has 240 stores in 28 countries — requested the creation of these formulas and is apparently encouraging their use in stores.  The calculations have been given the dubious moniker “Treegonometry.”

When I first stumbled on this story, I was intrigued by the use of mathematics to solve a common problem: how many decorations do you need to buy for a Christmas tree of a given size?  But the more I looked at the University of Sheffield page, the more disturbed I became.  The formulas may be the creation of a couple 20-year-old students in a math club, but they are being effectively endorsed by a university, a major retailer, and a number of news sources.  Yet anyone with an 8th-grade knowledge of math should realize that what is being presented is absolute nonsense.  The students are clearly either far less intelligent than we should expect from university math students, or they have attempted to perpetrate a subtle hoax (which has now been spread by a university press office and some media sources). continue reading…

Last year, I recalled the history of Armistice Day (now Veterans Day) and the enhanced meaning of that day after the death of the last U.S. veteran of the First World War.  This year, Florence Green, the last veteran from anywhere in the world, passed away at the age of 110.  I therefore revisit my post from last year again.

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Over there, over there
Send the word, send the word over there,
That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming,
Their drums rum-tumming everywhere.
So prepare, send a prayer,
Send the word, send the word to beware—
We’ll be over, we’re coming over,
And we won’t come back till it’s over over there.

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Have you ever wondered why we celebrate Veterans Day on November 11 every year?  Most other federal holidays, including birthdays of historical figures, get moved to Mondays.  Aside from New Year’s Day, which obviously can’t be moved, and Christmas, which has a very strong tradition for a specific date, all other holidays generally float around to create a convenient long weekend. continue reading…

Would it surprise you to know that about half of the Supreme Court’s decisions this year were UNANIMOUS?

Would it surprise you to know that when decisions aren’t unanimous, they frequently divide the justices into groups that don’t fit partisan stereotypes?

To become a justice on the Supreme Court, you generally can’t just be a partisan hack.  Take some time and read some Supreme Court decisions.  Listen to some oral arguments.  The people who sit on this Court are very intelligent.  Very intelligent people tend to have their own opinions, particularly on such nuanced issues as the Law.

Nevertheless, in the lead-up to the decisions on health care and immigration which should be coming out in the next week or so, there has been a frankly inexcusable tendency for the media to act as though these nine people are like typical partisan idiots who walk into a voting booth and simply check the box next to “Republican” or “Democrat” based on their affiliation.  According to this gross distortion of the Court, Kennedy is some sort of wildcard, swaying back and forth as the breeze takes him to “conservative” and “liberal” quarters.

This is, frankly, insulting to the Court.  It is insulting to the justices.  And it speaks volumes about the ignorance of the media in propagating such a myth.

It takes a certain level of ignorance to post a story about Supreme Court statistics on a day when the Court’s behavior actually shows those statistics to be meaningless.  Yet John Hudson over at The Atlantic apparently aspires to a higher standard of ignorance. continue reading…

This post is part 1 of 7 in a series entitled “When not to pay down your mortgage,” which outlines many scenarios where paying extra on your mortgage isn’t necessarily the best financial strategy.

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Perhaps the least modeled but most important factor in considering mortgage payments is the long-term effect of inflation.  Many financial planners and investment advisors will discuss the merits of putting money in stocks or bonds rather than into a mortgage.  But few will explain why a strategy of paying down a mortgage early must consider inflation to determine whether it makes sense. Let me explain.

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A while back, I wrote about Peter Singer, David Benatar, and the supposed case against having children.  Singer’s blog post in that instance was about one of the more extreme conclusions of Benetar’s reasoning, namely the idea that no one should ever have children leads to the proposition that the human race should end.  This argument sounds a bit over-the-top to many.

A recent piece in the New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert (entitled “The Case Against Kids”) dials back the rhetoric a bit  — in fact, it really downplays Benetar’s ultimate conclusion — and instead writes somewhat approvingly of recent philosophical literature dedicated to proving that intelligent moral humans should not reproduce.

I should admit that when I was younger such arguments might have had a much greater appeal to me.  In fact, for over a decade I had convinced myself that there were strong moral reasons not to have children.  For me, the argument had to do with my pessimistic outlook on the environment as well as social change and decay.  Who would want to bring a child into a world like that which I foresaw in the future?

But then I grew up. continue reading…

Galileo is often held up as the hero of the Scientific Revolution.  While the supposedly backward Catholic Church ignored the facts of the “new science,” Galileo supposedly held his ground and insisted in the triumph of reason and the scientific method.

This is the story presented in most textbooks, and it is retold again and again as a model case of science triumphing over superstition.

The problem is that the story is much more complicated.  And frankly, when you look at the evidence in detail, you might come away with the conclusion that the Catholic Church was partially right to sanction Galileo.

To be clear about what I’m saying here, Galileo was simply not living up to the scientific standards of his time, and in many ways he was also violating what we think of as scientific standards today.

Before any Galileo fans have a knee-jerk reaction against this, try to find historical evidence that contradicts the gist of my argument below.  Also, I am not discounting the many, many, many significant contributions that Galileo made to science.  But in this one particular case, I’m not sure modern scientists really want to emulate him or claim him as the paragon of scientific rationality. continue reading…

If you read online cooking or recipe discussions, you frequently hear someone lamenting the fact that “all the stores around me only carry low-fat buttermilk.”  This often ends with concern about the epidemic of low-fat products, how they want “authentic full-fat buttermilk,” and perhaps some story from childhood about how Grandpa always drank buttermilk that was thick and coated the glass and “surely wasn’t low-fat.”

There are numerous problems with these posts.  The short story is that the “authentic” original buttermilk is ALWAYS “low in fat.”  In the case of buttermilk labeling, the word “low-fat” does not mean “relative to what buttermilk naturally is,” but rather “low compared to regular milk.”  In the weird world of product labeling, what is “low-fat” is not necessarily lower than is typical for the product, but rather lower than whatever the “standard” amount of fat for some product category is.  Regular whole (“full-fat”) milk has between 3 and 4% fat.  Traditional buttermilk produced in the traditional manner has less than 1% fat.  Therefore, buttermilk, in the realm of dairy product drinks, is by definition “low-fat.”

Somewhere around the time of World War II, dairy producers started making a product that was very much like “authentic” buttermilk but produced in a very different manner.  The vast majority of buttermilk found in supermarkets today — whether labeled low-fat, non-fat, or”full-fat” — is produced in this “unauthentic” manner.  Most of it is also rather low in fat, for the simple reason that producers want to replicate the fat content of traditional “authentic” buttermilk, which is naturally very low in fat.

In the following discussion, I shall explain the details of these two different types of “buttermilk,” as well as giving an option for people who want to make “full-fat” (unauthentic) buttermilk at home.

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Over there, over there
Send the word, send the word over there,
That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming,
Their drums rum-tumming everywhere.
So prepare, send a prayer,
Send the word, send the word to beware—
We’ll be over, we’re coming over,
And we won’t come back till it’s over over there.

—————

Have you ever wondered why we celebrate Veterans Day on November 11 every year?  Most other federal holidays, including birthdays of historical figures, get moved to Mondays.  Aside from New Year’s Day, which obviously can’t be moved, and Christmas, which has a very strong tradition for a specific date, all other holidays generally float around to create a convenient long weekend.

But Veterans Day does not.  It is always celebrated on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year, and those who are involved in ceremonies may know that they generally begin at the 11th hour (11:00 in the morning) on Veterans Day.  Hmm — 11:00 on 11/11.  This year is 2011, which made it 11:00 on 11/11/11.  Perhaps, given the special form of the date this past week, it is time to recall why we celebrate at such an unusual time on such a specific date.

There is another reason why this year is a particularly special time to remember the significance of Veterans Day: the last original veteran died this year, or at least the last U.S. veteran.  There is only one remaining in the rest of the world, a 110-year-old woman in England.

What is often forgotten these days is that Veterans Day is actually Armistice Day.  On the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour in the year 1918, the armistice—the agreement to end all hostilities—was signed to mark the official end of the First World War, which at that time was known as simply the Great War, or even the War to End All Wars.

Armistice Day was not a celebration of the war.  It was not a time for patriotism or for the cheering of veterans for their service.  Instead, it was a celebration of peace, of thanksgiving that some veterans did make it home to their families after a senseless war. continue reading…