Happy Old New Year!

In my culture, we love the New Year’s so much that we celebrate it twice: on December 31 and on January 13. The latter celebration is called “the Old New Year” in reference to the old (Julian) calendar that made us lag behind the rest of Western countries before the October Revolution finally inaugurated the Gregorian calendar.

Thanks to that weird calendar mix-up we now have two opportunities to welcome the New Year. If, say, you made some New Year resolutions but managed to lapse in the very first weeks of January, here is a chance for you to start anew. How cool is that?

Happy Old New Year, everybody!

A Reasonable Evil-Doer Versus an Unreasonable Good Person

Now let’s forget about 2007 for the moment and look at what’s happening today.

What are the banks that are still handing out zero-downpayment loans thinking? That no matter what happens, they will be bailed out on the public dime and get huge bonuses as a result. And they are right because that’s exactly what happened in 2008 and what will happen again. It’s extremely cynical, totally disgusting and just vile on their part. But it’s reasonable in the sense that they know they’ll make out like bandits and suffer no consequences. They are bad people but they are reasonable.

Now can anybody explain to me what those folks who keep taking out those mortgages right now are thinking? There has got to be some reasoning going on. They’ve been around for the past few years, have watched TV, probably even seen a couple of newspaper reports. So how do they justify this to themselves? They have got to know that nobody will bail them out, that if they sink nobody will care, that no politician will care about them and champion their interests. I’m sure they are all good people but what they are doing is not reasonable. And this complete lack of reason terrifies me a lot more than any purposeful badness.

When you are dealing with horrible people who are still being guided by reason, you can at least figure out what reasonable principles guide them and adjust your behavior to minimize being damaged by them. But people whose logic I cannot grasp scare me even if their intentions are good, kind and wonderful.

How to Stop the Borrowing Craze?

From an article by Matt Taibbi in The Rolling Stone kindly shared with us by reader Stringer Bell:

Anyway, there’s is a massive gap between making a bad decision with one’s personal finances and committing criminal fraud in billion-dollar amounts. Morally, the two acts are not even in the same universe.

Homeowners who took on those bad loans did so for a variety of reasons. Some were coaxed into adjustable-rate loans when they qualified for fixed-rate loans, for the simple reason that the ARM loan garnered a bigger commission for the seller. Others were told by their brokers that if interest rates went up, or they couldn’t make their payments, they could just sell their homes, or come back to the same broker for a refinance.

This is precisely the part of the Liberal argument that I can’t get behind. “They were coaxed, they were told, oh, poor little victims”. I find this idea that if a broker tells one something, one simply can’t exercise any judgment and resist to be absolutely insulting.

If at least this whole borrowing craze were in the past, then I’d say “who cares about apportioning blame? Let’s just make sure bank regulations are put back in place and move on.” But the problem is that it isn’t nearly over. The insanity continues and it’s as strong as ever. Zero-downpayment mortgages are being handed out next door right this moment. And the only way I’m seeing that the borrowing obsession can be curbed is by making heavy borrowing socially unacceptable. When it becomes shameful to be in debt (rather than NOT to be in debt, as it is right now), we will have a hope of changing things.

For now, people don’t even think of mortgages as debt. They talk about a house on which they haven’t paid a dime as “their house.” I have now stopped discussing my living arrangements with people altogether because I’m sick and tired of being treated like an idiot because I don’t want to take out a huge loan to pretend that I “bought” a house and prefer to rent. Even a manicurist I visited recently (a complete stranger, mind you) literally scoffed in my face when in answer to her question I responded that I rent.

I’ve now repeated the sentence “I’m not imposing this on anybody, I’m not criticizing anybody, I just don’t believe in borrowing” so many times that my jaw hurts. I’ve even considered lying to people and telling them that it’s some sort of a cultural thing not to borrow huge amounts from banks because I’m so tired of being labeled an idiot for simply wanting to live a debt-free life.

Mind you, I’m not being pressured to go into an insanely huge debt by brokers or bankers. I don’t meet any brokers and bankers and I have no idea where all those folks Taibbi says were bamboozled by them managed to encounter them socially. (Might they have gone to visit the brokers and the bankers of their own free will? Hmm…) I’m being hounded (sometimes to the point of feeling bullied) about not wanting to borrow by friends, relatives, and colleagues. And if you think it’s easy to be pressured about this on a regular basis by your boss and by people who will be on your tenure committee, think again. I can repeat until I’m blue in the face that I’m committed to my university. People don’t believe me, though, because I haven’t offered them the ultimate proof of “being serious about this job” by getting into a huge debt to “buy” a house in the area.

How is it normal that a person who takes out a loan that is 10 times bigger than their yearly income is considered more reliable and stable than a person who doesn’t want to be in debt? Such people don’t get grilled on their choices by everybody they know the way I get grilled on mine. A high-ranking administrator does not ask a happy borrower, “But you are planning to pay down this debt soon, right?”, while he does ask me, “But you are planning to buy (obviously meaning “take on a huge mortgage”) soon, right? Maybe next year?”

Say what you will, folks, this is just wrong. The idea that the only normal response to getting a good job and a respectable, more or less stable income is immediately to go into debt is hugely mistaken and extremely dangerous. And until this mentality changes, I don’t think that even the best bank regulations in the universe will put our economy on the right track.

Why Are You an Introvert?

An introverted blogger I follow found the following explanation of what makes one an introvert and took exception to it:

The introvert ‘class’ behave the way they do (quiet, shy, private, etc.) because they…

  1. don’t know who they are and/or
  2. intentionally want to hide who they are from others (because who they are is unattractive/offensive/etc. to others in perception and/or in reality AND/OR because they perceive some tactical advantage over others by not revealing their ‘hand’) and/or
  3. are afraid of / don’t trust others

Of course, I find this list as ridiculous as the fine blogger I linked to above does.

I thought about this and realized that I’m an introvert because I find my inner life to be much more fascinating than pretty much anything going on in the outside world. I’m hard pressed to imagine a party that would provide me with more fun and enjoyment than being left alone with my thoughts, books, notes, writing, etc.

And why are you an introvert?

Easy PhDs

So I’m talking on the phone to my sister and she says at some point:

“I was interviewing this guy today and he has a PhD in one of those really hard disciplines.”

“What, as opposed to people who have all those easy PhDs?” I ask. “Like maybe in literature?”

My own sister, folks. I changed her nappies and dropped her on the floor twice when she was an infant. I taught her to read and to write. And I still can’t get over her biting the nose off my favorite toy piglet when she was six months and I was six years old.

Even for my sister “the really hard PhDs” are not the ones in Humanities. Because anybody can read about books and then blab about what they’ve read, right?

You have no idea how many times I heard from people in sciences, “Well, what you do is not real research, right? I mean, you can just argue anything you like. It isn’t like anybody can prove you wrong.”

Well, it’s time for me to go engage in some of that easy-peasy research of mine, folks.