Sunday, March 30, 2008

Entry for March 30, 2008

The relationship has grown tired. I hate to call it quits, I hate to give up on it, but there may be no choice. We have been together for eight years, and she becomes more trouble and higher maintenance with each passing year. I seem to be putting more into this deal than I am getting out of it. I no longer trust her to be there for me when times are critical. She no longer performs as well as she used to, and sadly she is beginning to show here age. When I am inside of her, there is no longer the same comfort and excitement. Therefore, today I bare my soul to you all and ask, “Is it time for me to buy a new truck?”

My 1999 GMC Safari all-wheel-drive van has over 147,000 miles on her, and is promising to cost me at least another $1,500 soon. The transmission sometimes slams during shifts between first and second gear. If it needs more than just the minimum rebuild, the repairs could be in range of $2,000 - $3,000. Every year for the past few years, something major needs fixing. In October of last year, I spent $2,800 correcting problems and providing preventive maintenance on the brakes, fuel injection system, ignition system, emission control system, transfer case, and both drive axles. A scant 6,000 miles later, even more repairs are staring me in the face.

General Motors no longer makers this model, so I need to rethink my needs. One downside to purchasing a new (or nearly so) truck, van, or SUV will be the added expense of full insurance coverage. My old GMC Safari only carries the requisite liability insurance because there really is no “replacement value.” Though it is quite large, it is in the Mini-Van category, which has a lower insurance cost than a truck, SUV, or a full size van. The cost of new (or nearly so) vehicles is sobering. Replacing the old van with something that provides me the same utility service puts me in the $20,000 - $35,000 ballpark. Whether I finance or stretch the safety net and pay cash, those numbers make putting this old girl in for routine repairs look quite affordable.

Relationships are never easy or inexpensive to maintain or to end.

Lustfully looking elsewhere,


James A. Zachary Jr.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Entry for March 16, 2008

Nobody likes a whiner, and men are not supposed to whine under any circumstances. Often the line between introspection and whining is lost in one’s personal miasma.

This will be my last blog entry for a while, probably until the first full week of April or so. I have some matters to attend to and don’t feel much like writing. In my youth, I would call on my best supportive associates for such occasions, those adorable twin demons, tobacco and alcohol. They will be of no help in my present world; some hills you just need to learn how to ski alone.

Everyone knows the ache of losing loved ones; it is as much a part of life as is happiness. There are dates that unavoidably punctuate those losses. The month of March still has the remains of hibernal depression for many of us, along with our minds whispering the memories of soft kisses from forever-lost loves of long ago.

Both of my parent’s birthdays are in the month of March, so aside from the normal cyclic black silhouettes of melancholy, this month is giving me a charitable bit more of the blues. Dad passed away in November of 2006 and Mom passed away in September of 2007, leaving the essence of their lives still very tangible for my four brothers and me. Thursday of this week is the first day of spring, Mom’s birthday. I chose that to be the day for me to arrange for her grave marker, Georgia E. (Blair) Zachary, 3/20/1932 – 9/30/2007 Wife, Mother, Author.

When I made the arrangements for Dad’s grave marker, it was all worked out in my head that I would swagger into the sales office, select the marker, write the check, and coolly stroll back out the door; all strictly business. The macho delusions failed me. The sales woman was kind enough to put up with me breaking down, and provided tissues to wipe the tears away. I’ll bring a large box of my own tissues this time, there are no macho delusions; it will not be an easy afternoon.

Everyone in town knew Mom as The Rose Lady; she created a yard full of rose bushes that seemed to be forever in bloom. Dad was an old country-boy who would suffer through the monotony of winter, hankering for the days he could again plant the flowers and vegetables for his patio garden. March was their month of optimism, their month to prepare for the flowering of spring. Spring was the best time of the year for both of them. I will see that their graves have fresh spring flowers for their birthdays.

Time heals all for all. Soon the flowers will again look as bright and smell as sweet as they once did, hopefully for everyone on earth that needs their cheer; if not, there is always beer.

See you again soon,


James A. Zachary Jr.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Entry for March 09, 2008

As a rule, schools do a perfectly lousy job teaching true life-skills to students. Money management, including investing, should be taught from elementary school through high school. It would not hurt for it to be required in colleges as well. With a great deal of outside help, a school on the south side of Chicago is breaking out of the norm and is teaching investing. This is a model program for all schools in the nation to adopt. “No Child Left Behind” my ass, these kids are leading the way.

http://biz.yahoo.com/ap/080309/investing_school.html


Saturday, March 8, 2008

Entry for March 08, 2008

Well, I’ll be darned. It is possible that some of those responsible for the mortgage industry misdeeds will face justice after all. We shall see.

As part of an investigation into the mortgage crisis,
the FBI has started a criminal inquiry into the largest U.S. mortgage lender, Countrywide Financial Corp, for suspected securities fraud.

One fish is on the hook so far.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Entry for March 07, 2008

Matchstick economics; ever hear of it before? I doubt it, since I just dreamed the term up a moment ago. Much of the current mortgage industry crisis tasted familiar, so I did some quick research into the savings and loan debacle that George Bush Sr. faced during his tenure. Back then, taxpayer money bailed out the savings and loan industry when it collapsed, to the tune of $124 billion. Instead of our prisons filling with crooked executives, there were a few publicized hand slaps. Here we are again; tax money is bailing out the economy because of the sins of the mortgage banking / brokerage industry, which I will loosely call a mutant lovechild of the old savings and loan industry. I sincerely doubt that many, if any, crooked white-collars will be pressed into our crowded prisons after all of the blame finishes flowing. We can only hope.

When the hell are we going to get it right? Markets and economies boom on easy credit and the illusion of “free money,” then it all melts down into an nebulous blob of very real, very bad debt. Many conservatives, including yours truly, believe government should be laissez-faire, that free markets will mandate decorum. We conservatives keep winding up with egg splattered on our faces when the lack of regulation leads to abuses of inconceivable magnitude. Maybe we overdid “deregulation.” Steve Bonine commented in his blog about the little known sleeping monster called
credit default swaps. If that $45 trillion, unregulated creature also begins to run amok, take your bets off the table and race with the devil to the shelter of hell.

The august members of
The Federal Reserve Board of Governors should finally admit that whenever they appear to get it right, it is nothing but a freak accident. There are too many factors compounding their mission, and they have too few resources to do anything with finesse. The Fed postures, ponders, and pontificates, but in truth they are purely pusillanimous pretenders; one day a computer will replace them all.

We conservatives are praying for a miracle to pull this economy out of the toilet before November. It does not matter that half of our lawmakers are Democrats; the Republicans had the helm when the sewage hit the fan. Will the economy get fixed quickly? Good luck, because each falling matchstick knocks loose two more from the stack, and there seems to be an endless supply of them falling. Let us hope that some spark does not send it all up in flames. Even an armchair economist can see the possibilities on how bleak all of this may become. Our Commander in Chief believes the cure is to avoid uttering the word “recession,” think good thoughts, and give everyone a few hundred bucks. If it works before November, we can call it dumb-luck economics.


James A. Zachary Jr.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Entry for March 06, 2008

First, let me say that I am not rich; I live a nice, comfortable, conservative life. So far, my pension covers all of my needs and the budget sheet projects that it will continue to do so indefinitely. Everything else that I have is gravy, and those assets will be used to cover the unknowns that the future will bring.

I love the stock market. I made my first investments back in 1982. Since then the market has given me many moments of happiness and humility. As soon as I think I have it all figured out, the market again proves to be the master. As with most long-term investors, overall I have made good money. Still, I could have avoided many dumb mistakes by having more education and a larger slice of common sense. The problem with working full time is finding the time and energy needed to do a better job with investments. One of the many reasons I wanted to take an early retirement was to have more time to manage assets. A good portion of my day now is spent reading the financial pages.

Where will the stock market be at the end of 2008? Your guess is probably as good as the experts. Some say the recent market decline is now finding a bottom in the range of S&P 1310. For reason I won’t bore you with, I would prefer to see the market blow off a little more negativity to the downside, and bottom in the range of S&P 1260 – 1280. My wishes aside, we are always stuck with playing the market as it is. If there are some major bond insurance failures, or bank failures, or mortgage company failures, or other debt market surprises, or more wild oil price increases, the market may indeed find some renewed downward momentum. If the market starts to feel comfortable that most bad news is known, then the market needs to find a comfort level with the presidential politics. We all will pay our money and take our chances.

I had very limited exposure to the market downturn, so I have been very fortunate so far. Since November of last year, I have been making some calculated adjustments. My cash fixed-yield portion of the portfolio is still at 56%. My high-yield bond funds (aka junk bonds) have been adjusted from 34% down to 17%. I kept my foreign funds the same at 3%. Domestic stock funds have been adjusted upwards from 7% to 24% of the portfolio value. To keep myself from becoming a day-trading gambler, I only allow myself one day per month to make portfolio adjustments, and I have a maximum dollar amount I allow myself for those adjustments. I prefer trading on days when the market is grim. If the market stays priced reasonably over the next few months, I will pull more money from the junk-bond funds, move it to the domestic stock-funds, and maybe add a tad more into the international funds. If tomorrow the market suddenly starts to make a sustained rally, I would be perfectly comfortable keeping the portfolio as it currently is.

REQUISITE DISCLAIMER: Don’t send your barristers over to see me if you lose your tail playing the market. This blog entry is simply conversation; small talk about investing, nothing is to be considered advice. Who gives the best stock market investment advice? Try looking in the mirror. With education and discipline, chances are you will outplay stockbrokers, bloggers, and most certainly, your brother-in-law.


James A. Zachary Jr.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Entry for March 05, 2008

Meteorologist John Coleman, founder of The Weather Channel, wants Al Gore sued for the fraud of global warming.

http://www.businessandmedia.org/articles/2008/20080303175301.aspx

Debate is good. Science is good. Ideas are good. Messianic zealotry is bad, on either side of any coin. We need knowledge, not saviors. Al Gore and many others are prophets for profit. They look more for what will add to their own legacy than to the legacy of humankind. Yes, I have become a contemptuous curmudgeon. If I ever see a politician who is not a pimp, then I will believe in miracles.

Speaking of zealots, some health departments and other government agencies in Illinois say they need MORE MONEY to deal with the high number of complaints regarding violations of the statewide smoking ban. Nope, sorry, kiss my lab-rat-white ass. You freaking antismoking jihadists created these laws; you make them work with existing resources. I cannot wait to hear the complaints about the loss of tobacco tax revenue. By the way, I haven’t had any smoke in over two months, and the last drink I had was New Year’s Eve. You sinners had better repent or I won’t let your collective asses into Heaven.


Soon to be sainted,


James A. Zachary Jr.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Entry for March 04, 2008

You have heard it on the radio and you have read about it; in the USA, one person in one hundred is currently behind bars. That is unacceptable. Our government is failing us. There should be no less than five people in one hundred behind bars. We need more prisons, and we need to make sure they are big enough to house all of the nutballs that just cannot get it into their heads that becoming part of polite society is not optional. Lock them all up, lose the key; I don’t want them on my streets. Do not blame me for their failing to behave. I do not accept the “bad environment” argument. Lock up all of the criminals and there will be no “bad environment” for kids. Prisons provide food, shelter, education, and healthcare. Consider my tax dollar as a benevolent contribution to a new and better environment; teach them proper behavior while they are behind bars. There is one small window prior to prison in which to teach good etiquette. Throughout all of their years in schools, we must barrage young people with what is legal and ethical, and we must do it AS PART OF THE SCHOOL CURRICULUM! Each year it must be reviewed in great detail. There should be no doubt in any young adults mind about whether or not stealing a car is a crime. Reading, writing, and arithmetic is not making it happen. Teaching a child right and wrong is NOT teaching religion. Until society teaches what needs to be learned, and people choose to learn those lessons, we will deal with bigger and better prisons.

Yep, that reads pretty well. Hope members of the parole board don’t read it until long after my hearing.


James A. Zachary Jr.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Entry for March 01, 2008

A while back, I had some fun doing a satirical blog about our Messiah Al Gore and the Chicken Little scientists who were crusading to save us from ourselves based on some arguable science.

Here is some
more histrionics about climate change, this time pointing in the opposite direction. There has been a yearlong drop in world temperature, wiping out a century of warming. Baghdad got its first snowfall in recorded history. China has its coldest winter in a century. Wisconsin has more snow cover now than ever before in recorded history. The rest of North America has the most snow cover in a half-century. Whoopee, Al saved us from global warming; now we’re all gonna freaking freeze to death!

Aside from the anecdotal evidence, all four major global temperature-tracking outlets have released data that shows global temperatures have dropped like a rock over the past year.

In case the hyperlink above does not work for some reason (or if you cannot see it; the moribund Y360 side of this blog does not show the highlighted links very well), the URL for the referenced site is below. If clicking it does not work, copy and paste it to your browser.

http://www.dailytech.com/Temperature+Monitors+Report+Worldwide+Global+Cooling/article10866.htm

It is a riot when Mother Nature decides to confound our “experts.” If this debate over global warming gets too hot, just remember to keep your cool. I suggest we all write in Al Gore for President in November. It is never too late to save the world!


James A. Zachary Jr.