January 27, 2006

Extreme Disparity

QUICK LANGUAGE QUESTION for all of you out there: do people still use the word "extreme" in a non-sarcastic sense any more? I ask this because I was under the impression that no one used the word since "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" came out on DVD, but apparently this isn't the case.

First, some background for everyone. One of the running jokes in "Harold and Kumar" is the repeated appearance of a group of punks, who run around wreaking havoc and declaring said havoc "extreme," in the sense that dangerous ski antics are "extreme." As a result of this, I find it impossible to use the word "extreme" without snickering.

Apparently, however, I didn't get the memo that said it's still OK for people to use the word.

A while back on television, I saw a show which portrayed boat-building as "extreme." Mountain biking is still apparently extreme, but so are things like DSL service. My personal favorite, however, is Elvis -- who is so extreme that the Federal Government will apparently launch interagency investigations into alleged Elvis-related copyright infringement. Who knew?

So, now I'm in a quandary. I mean, it's a great slang term, and very "with it" if used properly, but I don't want to risk people think I'm using it in the "dude, that's cool you're skiing backwards" sense of the term. Not that people would think I'd actually go skiing, but you know.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:20 PM | TrackBack

Mr Kepple Has Been Unwell

RECENTLY, I received an e-mail from a friend which politely noted, "Your blog stands relatively barren these days -- I take it you're busy with ManchLife. How are things?" My friend's conclusion was quite correct -- I have been busy. I've also been sick as a dog.

Lately, I've been busy with work-related stuff, but over this past week I simply haven't felt all that well. There's been this awful cold/flu like ailment going around and I caught it. The bright side is that it's one of the few times I've gotten sick since I quit smoking; the down side is that my head is congested, and I've had a sore throat, and my body aches, etc.

The most notable thing to happen in my life lately is the Pittsburgh Steelers' victory over evil Denver in the AFC championship game. Now, the Steelers will go on to the Super Bowl to face Seattle. I have to admit that I've been kind of worried about posting word one about the Steelers, because of fear that I'll jinx them next Sunday. Then again, though, Bradshaw! did say on national television that the Steelers could beat either Carolina or Seattle, so if Bradshaw! can do it, so can I. It'll be Pittsburgh by a touchdown over the Seahawks. Aw yeah. Go Steelers!

As for my weekend plans coming up, I fear they're going to revolve around my continuing acquaintance with the NEW! Alka-Seltzer Plus Non-Drowsy Cold medicine (now in Citrus Blend flavor!). The stuff seems to work all right, but unfortunately, it has a lot of work ahead of it.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:21 AM | TrackBack

January 16, 2006

"Can You Believe What You Just Saw?"

HOLY TOLEDO, I'm still higher than a kite after the Colts-Steelers game on Sunday. I mean, I'm still coming to terms with the fact we beat Indianapolis in the RCA Dome, and now we're going to Denver for the AFC Championship. Oh my good God.

I'll blog about football in a while; but not at length until all is said and done. Still, my God! What a game Sunday! What a victory!

Also, everyone up here in Patriots Country has been absolutely pleasant and gracious about how the weekend's games turned out. Thank you, everyone, for your support (and willingness to overlook my annoying enthusiasm) during this exciting time.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:13 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 14, 2006

Should've Gone for the Stupidity Defense

THE TAX EVASION trial of Richard Hatch, the first million-dollar prize winner on the TV game show "Survivor," continues this coming week in a Providence courtroom. Yet one wonders whether Mr Hatch's attorney may have already made a crucial mistake.

You see, Mr Hatch's defense counsel has asserted to a jury that his client is not, in fact, an idiot. As an impartial observer, and someone who has done his own taxes for quite some time, I feel Mr Hatch's attorney should have come out and said his client was as dumb as a bag of rocks. That would be the most believable explanation for Hatch innocently failing to pay the taxes which prosecutors say he owed on his $1 million prize, $327,000 in related income and $28,000 in rental income. Prosecutors have charged Hatch with tax evasion, filing a false tax return, wire fraud, bank fraud and mail fraud.

The Associated Press reports:

(Hatch's) attorney, Michael Minns, argued Thursday that Hatch was struggling with his newfound fame after winning the contest, was overwhelmed by false child abuse charges and was relying on the advice of a self-employed accountant who was "in over her head."

"Richard Hatch is not a stupid man," Minns said. "He is the world's worst bookkeeper, bar none."

Federal prosecutors say Hatch filed false tax returns for 2000 and 2001 that omitted his income from the reality show, as well as $327,000 he earned as a co-host on a Boston radio show and $28,000 in rent on a property he owns in Newport.

(Prosecutor Andrew) Reich told jurors Hatch also altered checks made out to his charitable foundation, Horizon Bound, so he could use the money to renovate his Newport property.

One accountant Hatch hired estimated he owed about $230,000 in taxes for 2000, Reich said. The television star asked for a second return showing his estimated tax bill had he not won the million-dollar prize.

Despite warnings that the second analysis was for comparison only, prosecutors said, Hatch filed the return with the IRS.

Now, it may be possible for the "so my client's a little disorganized" defense to work. According to the Associated Press, Hatch has said that he thought CBS had paid the taxes on his winnings, although CBS has said Hatch knew all along that he was responsible for any tax. Still, based on reports from the second day of trial, I think the stupidity defense would have been the way to go.

The proceeding continues.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:53 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

My Lost Weekend

I DON'T KNOW about you, but I'm having a perfectly enjoyable weekend up here in Manchester. It's not simply that it was 50 degrees in January yesterday, either. Tonight, we have two out of four NFL playoff games; today, we have James Bond movies all day on AMC; and I have a variety of beers from the makers of Sam Adams in my fridge.

Oh yes.

Hope everybody out there is having a good weekend as well.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:33 AM | TrackBack

January 09, 2006

For Investors, Plus Ca Change, Plus C'est la Meme Chose

I KNOW FROM my search-engine statistics, and the occasional comment, that lots of folks arrive at The Rant looking for information related to finances and investing. An alarming amount of these searches involve alpaca farming, the net worths of C-list celebrities, magical spells which aid in winning multi-state lotteries, complaints about brokerage firms, and hedge funds.

Clearly, we can deduce that lots of people out there need some serious guidance, and fast. Yet this itself poses a conundrum. For general advice -- that is, the type that doesn't require a legal notice -- books are obviously a good way to go. The trouble is, many business and finance books aren't written as well as one might like.

It seems to me the solution is to turn to the classics -- and perhaps the best of them is Fred Schwed Jr.'s Where are the Customers' Yachts? (or, A Good Hard Look at Wall Street)

Written in 1940, it still holds up today -- and is so good, in fact, that I'd almost make this the first book I'd give to a novice investor. Here's some of my favorite quotes from it:

ON MARGIN TRADING:
(N.B. -- Here, Mr Schwed is in the process of explaining why margin trading is a bad idea. He tells the reader he knows of only one way to prove it conclusively: for the reader to try it himself.)

"In trying it, you must use real money. Making 'mind bets' won't do. Like all of life's rich emotional experiences, the full flavor of losing important money cannot be conveyed by literature. Art cannot convey to an inexperienced girl what it is to be a wife and mother. There are certain things that cannot be adequately explained to a virgin either by words or pictures. Nor can any description I offer here even approximate what it feels like to lose a real chunk of money that you used to own."

ON WALL STREET:
"Your average Wall Streeter, faced with nothing profitable to do, does nothing for only a brief time. Then, suddenly and hysterically, he does something which turns out to be extremely unprofitable. He is not a lazy man."

ON THE BUSINESS OF BUSINESS:
"I have observed businessmen whose chief preoccupation was to try to prove conclusively to their competitors that they themselves were smart and their competitors were damn fools -- an effort that gives a certain amount of mental satisfaction but no money at all."

ON THE TWENTIES, and their AFTERMATH:
"Are you quite sure that you would care to see all those people who had big money then have it again?"

ON CAPITALISM:
"For the record, and if anyone cares, I will state that I have a sneaking fondness for that wretched old hag, the capitalistic system, after watching the performance of her tempermental younger rivals."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:42 PM | TrackBack

January 08, 2006

Reliability, For Less Than I Thought

GAD, WHAT A WEEK. In a stunning reversal of my fortunes, though, the past several days have turned out amazingly well. Key among my triumphs were getting my car fixed and my computer rejuvenated, tasks which had previously filled me with dread and anxiety, respectively.

When we last discussed the car, your correspondent had just spent an hour fussing around with the battery in his Ford Taurus, which was being uncooperative. The plan was to go out next morning and start it up, with the hope I could get it repaired sometime in future. It did not start up. As the following dramatization shows, this left me in quite a spot.

ME: Dammit! (click click click click) Start, you --- God! Wretched, cheap, stupid battery! Start! (click click click) Jesus Christ! I don't believe this. OK. I've got 18 minutes to get into the office -- but at this point, that'd be like recovering an onside kick!
JEROME BETTIS: Excuse me, but I think you're being a bit liberal with the football terminology!
ME: Yeah? Well, you start the car!

Fortunately, I was able to get the car started -- with the help of the building maintenance guy, who jump-started the battery with a generator.

Upon arriving at the shop, I recalled that my battery was not two years old, as I had previously thought, but four -- and when you get right down to it, four years is a lot for a battery, especially considering the winters we have up here. The shop went about its work, and as it turned out, my DieHard battery had, well, died hard. Fortunately, though, there was a solution, as this dramatization shows:

MECHANIC: You can see here, this is the "health meter" for your battery.
ME: Oooh. I guess I need a new battery.
MECHANIC: Yep.
ME: OK, well, what batteries do you have?
MECHANIC: For your car, we have one battery in stock.
ME: One battery.
MECHANIC: Yep.
ME: Well, that makes it easy, doesn't it?

Actually, though, it seems like a decent battery. It's supposed to last six years, and if it lasts until 2012, it will undoubtedly outlast everything else on the car, including minor parts such as the "steering column." Even better, it only cost about $100 for the whole repair, which gladdened even my cold heart. Plus, I get to go out to a car that always starts up in the morning, and the relief from no longer worrying about the car should last a good week.

But that was just one nifty repair.

This weekend, I hired a computer expert to install some RAM I got as a Christmas gift. When all was said and done, I not only had my new RAM working, I also had a clean and quiet computer, plus a reinvigorated monitor. It was like having a new machine and it only cost $90. Plus, since it was a house call, I didn't have any lost time in terms of computer availability. So here's a swell personal-finance tip: always find someone you know to do computer stuff, because they're cheaper than the brand-name services.

Not that I just sat back and watched the football game, of course. For one thing, New England was kicking the Jaguars back to Carolina. For another, my machine had suffered greatly due to my former habit of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. Cigarette dust, as my expert pointed out, didn't just blow away -- it's tar. So I spent a bit of the time cleaning, as well as keeping track of tools and such.

It's sobering when you see what the tar does to machinery. I mean, my God: to think the same stuff was coating my lungs (and teeth, and throat)! It's not merely that it's filthy -- it's that it's devilish to remove. Then, dust gets kicked up along with it, and there's much coughing and hacking, and then a headache -- it was just foul. Just foul.

But the computer has run SMASHING ever since. It's truly unbelievable how much it has improved, and for that I'm quite pleased. I was also pleased I refrained from panicking when my expert went to town on my computer. We hear enough bad football cliches as is on television.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:40 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 02, 2006

An Auspicious Beginning to 2006

THERE'S NOTHING like car problems to sour one's weekend, particularly when they come at the very end of it. Earlier this evening, I spent roughly an hour screwing around with my wretched Ford Taurus, which abruptly decided that it wasn't going to start this evening. Never mind that it worked perfectly on Friday, Saturday and Sunday -- on Monday, it decided to act up.

The problem revolves around the battery -- which is only two years old -- and its ancillary support systems. The battery is producing power, but not enough of it to kickstart the engine. Also, the battery connections are worn, and the positive battery pole had a shocking amount of acid corrosion built up around it.

Heh. Pun.

Anyway: there was power, but not enough of it. So I think I managed to solve the problem by cleaning the connections and cursing repeatedly, all while working from the light of my cell phone. The only trouble was that by the time I had made significant progress, I had used too much power from the car battery to actually start the car. Thus, I'm now going to have to wait until the morning before I try it again.

It had better work.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:05 PM | TrackBack