Saturday, October 25, 2014

Viewer Mail: Is A Mortgage A Hedge Against Inflation? Huh?

Note:  This is an older draft post that I just got around to editing.


People use a lot of odd self-justifications to justify going into debt.


A reader writes:
"What are your thoughts on this article?   Particularly, what are your thoughts on comment #125 by csdx?  I quote, "By having debt, you’re in effect getting something at today’s price while paying for it with your future dollars which are devalued due to inflation. Thus a mortgage can act as a hedge against high inflation."
Is paying cash for your house always the smartest way to go about it?"
I think I addressed this in my opportunity cost article.  

The opportunity cost argument goes like this:  If you get a mortgage at 5% interest, you could take that money you would have used to buy the home and put it into stocks and earn 10%!!! By paying cash, youa are foregoing the opportunity cost of investing all that money!

There are two flaws in that argument about opportunity cost and hedge against inflation.   Actually three.  Well, really four.

1. Opportunity cost is a great argument for businesses to make, but a lousy one for individuals to use in their personal finances.  Usually people trying to lend you money make this argument.  Don't listen to them.  Why?

2.  Because comparing stock returns, which are very risky, with the guaranteed rate of return of not paying interest, is comparing apples to oranges.  Not paying 4.5% interest on your mortgage is like getting 4.5% interest on a Certificate of Deposit - zero risk involved (ask your bank for a 4.5% CD and when they stop laughing, they will ask you politely to leave).  Stocks CAN have a greater rate or return, or, like my GM stock, they can go down to NOTHING.

3. Let's face it, that mythical money you are going to "invest" doesn't exist anyway.   What you are doing is borrowing - and borrowing more than you need to - and then trying to make yourself feel like a financial genius by tossing around terms like "opportunity cost" and "inflation hedge".  A better idea is to minimize the amount of money you borrow.  Borrow what you need, not what you want.
4.  Because you can end up losing all your money - or a lot of it - in stocks, and at the same time, see your house decrease in value by half, while the mortgage debt remains the same.  Suddenly, you are upside-down on a mortgage, and broke as well.  Whereas you could have had a paid-for house that would be worth something - or at least not be upside-down.  This is why, in the olden days, you had to put down 20% as a down payment.

Is this last flaw a far-fetched scenario?  Not really, it happened to a lot of people in February of 2009. They lost their shirt in the stock market and foolishly sold out, locking in their losses.  They owed more on their houses than they were worth.  So much for a "hedge" against anything.

I could see someone making that argument in 2005.  But today?  We know better.   People use arguments like this to self-justify serially refinancing their home or taking out equity to pay off credit card debt.  Or, more than likely, they are just parroting what some mortgage broker told them.   People selling you debt are the last people you should take advice from!

The "hedge against inflation" argument falls along the same lines as "opportunity cost" arguments.   Yes, for big businesses, such arguments make sense as they are making investments with their cash-flow which in turn generates profits.  For the individual, they make less sense.  When you borrow money to spend you are just spending, not making money.  And no, you don't "make money" on your personal residence - at most you just get your money back.   The average homeowner moves every five years, not every thirty.   As a result, the effects of inflation are not felt by most of us, unless we stay in the same house for at least a decade or more.

And in case you haven't noticed, inflation has been at all-time lows recently - which is one reason interest rates are at all-time lows.   When we had 10% inflation back in 1980, mortgage rates were 14%.   You see, interest rates already factor in inflation.  If banks didn't do this, they'd go broke in a heartbeat.  So I am not sure that a mortgage is a "hedge" against anything.  If anything it is just a risk you take, and risks are not hedging.

Usually, for people who make these "opportunity cost" arguments, the point is moot.  They are in debt up to their eyeballs and have no cash to buy a home.   So they use these types of arguments to make themselves feel better about their situation.

They aren't flat broke - they are hedging for inflation!  Right?  Riiiiiight! 

As people found out in 2009, if you do this, and the stock market tumbles and your home value tumbles, you end up losing all your money AND are now heavily in debt.

Or, you end up with $300,000 in your 401(k) and a $300,000 mortgage.   In theory, you are even-steven, but you can't cash in the 401(k) to pay off the mortgage, without incurring huge penalties.

There are a number of factors involved.  Generally, my thoughts are this:
1.  For self-employed people like me, who never know where the next paycheck is coming from - or indeed if there will be one, signing on to a large debt-train is a bad idea.  That debt has to be serviced, regularly.

2.  For young people starting out, the point is moot - they don't have the money.  They get a  mortgage because they have to, not because of some opportunity cost theory.

3.  If you are approaching retirement, a paid-for house is a safe investment.

4.  Comparing 10% in the stock market (risky investment) with the 5% you save on mortgage interest is comparing apples to oranges.  Stocks fluctuate - they can go down to zero.  Not paying 5% interest is a 100% guaranteed rate of return, like a government bond.

5.  If you pay cash for a house, the $1500 a month you save on interest (for example) can be invested.   So it is not like you will have no savings.  And a paid-for house is one heck of a safe asset.
All I can say is, not having a $3000-a-month albatross around my neck is a great thing.  I can work less now, and not worry if there is no work (a lot of that going around these days).  And as I lurch toward retirement, I am more confident that I will survive.  I can live on a little more than $20,000 a year at this point - if need be.

Granted, few people can afford to pay cash for a house.   That is not my point.  My point is, borrow as little as you can - what you need, not what you want.  Avoid the temptation to serially refinance, but instead, work toward paying down the mortgage over time - with the goal being eventually being debt-free.   Perpetual debt is not a hedge or an advantage.  It grinds on you and limits your options.  It is mortgaging your future, quite literally.

All that being said, mortgage rates are very low right now, and if you qualify for a low, fixed-rate mortgage, it is a good time to do so - if you need to borrow the money.

But the mortgage being a hedge against inflation?  Even at 4-5% interest rates, you will pay twice the purchase price of the house, over time, once for the principal, and once again for the interest.

It is a personal decision, based on your personal circumstances.  My suggestion is to borrow what you need, and avoid the temptation to go heavily into debt for granite countertops and a "look-at-me!" house (or car, or whatever).

I think the fellow who made this argument is really saying that he doesn't have a lot of cash, and "opportunity cost" and "hedge against inflation" arguments are reassuring to him that he is being smart about money.  But he is only deluding himself.

Having money is better than borrowing it - bottom line.

Home Improvements versus Shittly Little Projects

You can bankrupt yourself, $199 at a time, at a place like this.


We are in the process of replacing the windows on our house.   We are doing the labor ourselves, which saves a lot of money.   Replacement vinyl windows are cheap - about $100 to $200 apiece.   Many companies want $500 to $1000 per window, if they install them.  It is not hard to install these.  Cut off a piece of exterior molding and the old "cartridge" windows pop right out.  The new ones slide right in, are secured in place, and then the molding trim is replaced.   After you've done a few, it goes quicker and quicker, as you start to get a system in place.

Why replace the windows?   Well, the old ones are made of wood - and are 40 years old.  Wood needs to be painted periodically.  Wood windows stick and bind and are hard to open (which encourages homeowners to turn on the A/C when they should be opening a window).   And the single-pane glass lets in a lot of heat in the summer (and lets it out in the winter) and also transmits a lot of noise as well.   When you replace old single-pane glass windows with thermopane vinyl windows, the first thing you will notice is how quiet your house is.

How much will the project cost?   In reality, nothing.   You see, the energy savings of replacing the old, inefficient windows will pay for the cost of their installation in just a few years.   I only wished I had done this sooner!  This is a home improvement which is actually an improvement.

Project like this -  major home improvements - help maintain the value of your house and also can reduce energy costs.   Yes, they may even increase the value of the home - although usually not by more than half the cost of the project.

And the prevalence of "big box" home improvement stores has made it easier and cheaper to do such projects, which can be a big savings for the average homeowner.

But many folks go to home improvement stores to do what I call shitty little projects.   These are the kind of deals that are hyped on the end-caps of the aisles.   Little weekend jobs that always seem to cost $199 on your credit card, which provide the appearance of home improvement, without actually improving anything.

Yard projects are a case in point.   I have a friend who obsesses about their lawn and yard.   And every weekend (and most weekdays) they are in their yard, raking and weeding and mowing and trimming.   They even hire a guy to help them with these projects.

What sort of projects?   Well, you know, birdhouses, fountains, and other tchotchke that clutters up the yard (and makes mowing and maintenance more of a hassle).  Little half-assed patios scattered around with seats that look inviting but that no one sits in, ever.   Attempting to turn the yard into a garden spot - and then going inside and watching television for 5 hours a day.   What's the point?

When the house is sold, its value will be in the age of the roof, the hot water heater, the furnace and air conditioner, the type and condition of the floors, the windows, and the kitchen appliances.  Oh, and of course, the location as I found out when they bulldozed my house into the ground. 

You see, I know all this because at one time, I made the mistake of doing shitty little projects myself.  We had lawn lights everywhere, along with a drip irrigation system.  We had tiny gardens spread here and there and patios with seating areas that no one sat in.  We had a Koi pond that no one looked at.   It was kind of neat and fun but it all cost a staggering amount of money to build and a staggering amount of labor to maintain.   And it all was done, one $199 credit card charge at a time.

Yes, I refinanced my house to pay off a credit card bill that was rung up for lawn lights - at least in part. I learned my lesson - no more weekend warrior projects.  No more shitty little projects that just waste time and money and add no real value to a home - nor maintain it.

You see, no one wants to buy a house that is cluttered with junk like this.   To most folks, a spectacular garden says one thing - weeding nightmare.    And most folks are right.   We had a spectacular garden in Virginia and it was a maintenance nightmare.  We went away on vacation more than once, only to return to three-foot-high weeds.    And stupidly, we replicated this (on a smaller scale) in our vacation home in New York.   Do the math on this: garden + vacation home + vacant for six months = yard-high weeds when you get back.

It is just cheaper and easier to have simple plantings that do not require a lot of constant maintenance and intervention.   The "showplace" home with spectacular rose bushes (or whatever) is not worth a penny more than the house with ordinary shrubs (that need trimming once every other year, at most).

My friend who does the shitty little projects complains all the time that he is broke and can't afford things.  "I can't afford to replace my old car" he sighs, while forking over money to his hired hand and writing out a check to VISA for the latest load of mulch he bought last week at the big-box store.   Maybe if he got that plastic edging to go around the new plants?   Hmmmm.... that might look nice!

It is very easy to get caught up in these sorts of projects.   A house can be a real money pit if you let it become one.   In a way, it is like teens and 20-somethings who squander money trying to "mod" a car  while ignoring basic and essential maintenance.  The secret, I think, is to think of your home in terms of a landlord - and perhaps after being a landlord, this is easier to do.   When you own a number of properties, the idea of high-maintenance "improvements" loses its allure rather quickly.   What does appeal to you is reliable appliances and infrastructure that do not require your constant intervention.

I want to do things not own things at this point in my life.   And I certainly don't want to bankrupt myself by spending every weekend dragging home crap from some big-box store and laboring in my yard.

What is it with Men and their Dicks?

This morning, someone sent 56 messages to my inbox, only minutes apart, advertising Viagra and Cialis.  Of course, I long ago created an e-mail filter that sends any e-mail with the words "Viagra" or "Cialis" to my TRASH box.   What is it about men and their dicks that gets them so worked up?  Click to enlarge (pardon the pun).


Viagra is one of the most popular prescription drugs on the market.  It has made its makers millions, if not billions of dollars.   And for some reason, it is the number one drug advertised on the Internet, even though it is a prescription drug and you can't buy it without a prescription.  I suspect that they are not actually selling Viagra, but are instead trolling for data - hoping some chump clicks on the e-mail and then forks over his credit card information on the hope he can get a boner pill.

Why do internet con-artists use "Viagra" as a come-on?   Probably because a lot of men are too embarrassed to go see a doctor and get a prescription for the drug.  Probably also that a lot of people use the drug recreationally - that is, without a prescription.  Viagra pills are handed about or sold with impunity - the Police have better things to do with their time than go after illegal Viagra sellers.

And of course, pharmaceutical companies like this just fine.   The big pharmaceutical companies know that they sell more Viagra (and its equivalents) than there is a legitimate market for - just as they know they sell an awful lot of Oxycontin and other opiates and derivatives than there are legitimate patients for.  The illegal drug market in the United States is more and more marked by the illegal sale of legal drugs.   The companies know this - and turn a blind eye.

But it beggars the question - who buys this stuff and why?   I know some folks who passed around "the little blue pill" which they "got from a friend" and decided to try.   Did they have erectile dysfunction?   Of course not.   But they felt that somehow this pill would enhance their sexual experience or make them more virile.

And that is men in a nutshell (pardon the pun).   They are obsessed with their penis.  From the time a prepubescent boy discovers that it "feels good if I touch it there" (and his horrified Mother tells him to stop!) they cannot leave it alone.   They worry that it is too small, too big (not very often), curves to the left, or right, or that one testicle is larger or hangs lower than the other (all are very normal, relax).   And then they worry about their performance in bed (or don't worry, much to the chagrin of women everywhere).  They are obsessed with their dick.   And as many women note, they seem to think with it.

Marketers know this.   And that is why you can sell monster trucks (what we call "penis enlargers" - they don't work, though) to idiots who feel the need to bolster their manhood.   We saw one the other day - a crew-cab Ford dually with a lift kit that was easily a foot.   It looked ridiculous.   He clearly wasn't towing anything with it (now with the lame "adjustable hitch" he had on it) and the back of it was full of trash.   He was commuting to work in it.   This is a truck whose only real use is in towing a 10,000 lb. trailer, and even then, a 12" lift kit kind of defeats that purpose.  It was a clown truck, really.

Men's anxiety about their dicks sells a lot of products.  So-called "Penis boats" are a case in point.  Without this anxiety, the motorcycle industry would disappear entirely (while many women enjoy motorcycling, it is predominately a male sport - and a rather misogynist one at that.  Women are viewed as mere passengers only, by most men).  Penis anxiety is what gets men to buy the biggest and baddest motorhome on the lot.  And it sells a lot of muscle cars, as well - and let's not forget off-road buggies!

Note that all of these are "big ticket" items than can bankrupt a middle-class person - or at the very least put a huge dent in their net worth (and retirement plan).  That is how powerful the pull is (again, sorry for the pun).   Men just can't help themselves, it seems.   Even for the younger crowd - who might not have as much money to spend, penis anxiety sells a lot of bolt-on automotive accessories, which are usually designed to make a pedestrian car louder and more ugly (but rarely faster).

But on a daily basis, men are marketed to on the basis of their penis anxiety.   Things like beer, liquor, aftershave, and the like, are sold on the basis of how manly they will make you feel or how sexually attractive.   Old Spice is running a spot now where a very poorly designed robot is fawned over by women, after he applies Old Spice.   The message is clear:  Even the most unattractive man with the tiniest penis, will be sexually attractive if he applies this aftershave.   The folks at Axe Body Spray have been playing on this post-adolescent fear for a long time.

The marketing business knows it can sell just about anything to Men, if you approach them the right way.  The old saw that "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach" may be true.   But the direct line to his cerebral cortex is through his penis.   Once you yank his wanker, you have him hooked on whatever product you want to sell him.

And that is why marketers love young men, age 16-35, as you can sell them just about anything - even the idea of charging a machine-gun nest.  Men are brave.  Men are strong.  Men are idiots.   Nothing works better - for other people - than a strong back and a weak mind.

So, what is the point of all this?   Well, as a man, you can save yourself an awful amount of grief in life by simply owning up to this fact - that you are caught up in your genitalia, and that it dominates your life.  Be aware of this and be aware when the marketing types play to your weakness.   They will try to sell you things (boy howdy will they try to sell you things!) based on your need to assert your masculinity.

Once you are safely past the age of 35, or even 40, the siren song of marketing starts to fade.   Perhaps because you have family responsibilities now, or perhaps you are thinking more and more of retirement.  Whatever the reason, it is a lot harder (but not impossible) to sell monster trucks and other "penis enlargers" to older men.   Thus, if you can resist the temptation to be wanked by the marketing department during those vulnerable years, it will pay off for you in the end.   And trust me, you are missing nothing by not buying a penis boat or a monster truck.

But what about women?   Well, if you marry a man (or even date one) keep this in mind.   Men have this need to be validated for what is between their legs.   While they appear to be brave and strong and stoic (or so goes the mythology) in reality they are incredibly vulnerable beings.   They usually express their fears and frustrations in violence, not tears, however.   If you decide to take up with a man, expect him to come home at least once with some bonehead idea like buying a Jeep or a motorcycle.  While these may be fun toys, the cost of them probably directly conflicts with your plans of having a family, buying a home, and saving money for retirement.

And handling this is tricky.   You don't want to be seen as the harridan who spoils all the fun - the Marge Simpson to his Homer.   But there are other options, besides signing loan papers on a rapidly depreciating powered toy.   Get him to buy an older bike, for example, and he can spend the winter months restoring it in the basement.  Far cheaper and safer than him actually riding it.   You can be creative and have hobbies and toys at a much reduced expense.  Be supportive without being a doormat.   Set a budget for such things and stick to it.

And when he turns 35 and loses interest in the "must have" toy of a 28-year-old, well, for God's sake, sell it.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Threat of Deflation - You're Kidding Me, Right?


Is deflation really a threat?  Get Real!


There have been a lot of articles as of late (and over the last five years) about the "threat of deflation".   Deflation is a threat?  Get real!

Please, I am looking forward to retirement and living on my savings.  Deflation would be a blessing!

Deflation is not a threat.  Why?  Because first, the vaunted "threats" from deflation are nonsense.  Second, deflation ain't gonna happen to any great extent, period.

Let's look at the first issue.  The geniuses who write these articles about deflation barf up, intact, the same party line.  "If prices drop, people will stop buying, as they will see that prices will be lower in the future and thus delay purchases."

Really?  You think people really think that way?  In the supermarket, they are holding a loaf of bread in their hands and saying, "Gee, I think I will wait until tomorrow to buy this loaf of bread, as it will be cheaper then!"

This is a classic example of economic theorists who don't understand human nature.  If you are hungry, you buy a loaf of bread.  You are less concerned about the Future Value (FV) of bread than the fact you are hungry.

And this applies to larger purchases as well.   People buy cars, washing machines, air conditioners, refrigerators, computers, or a pair of blue jeans because their existing product has worn out.  They don't sit around like economists and make predictions about the prices of products in the future for the simple reason that most people have no clue how prices are trending.   If your car needs an engine overhaul, chances are, you are in the market for a new (or newer) car.   You don't buy a car on the premise that you'd "better buy now because they'll be more expensive tomorrow!" and you don't throw a rebuilt engine into a junker because "you might as well wait, as prices will be lower tomorrow!"

In fact, it works just the opposite.  During the last recession, when prices of cars were flat, and the prospect of higher prices seemed dim, people threw money at their older cars to fix them because they could not afford a new or newer car.   When the economy recovered, people bought new cars (and boy-howdy did they buy new cars!) because their old clunkers were really past their prime.  That is what drove sales, not some theoretical philosophy about price trending.

The idea that the average consumer can perceive price trends and then act in accordance with them is just nonsense.  People buy goods because they need them, for the most part, or they want them and believe they can afford them.   Future Values just don't register in their brains.

The second half of the equation is that deflation just isn't going to happen.   Yes, the cost of producing a lot of goods has decreased over the last few decades, thanks to China.   But the cost of energy has kept up with this pace, and as a result, prices keep going up every year.   And those folks in China, India, and other 3rd world (or 2nd or 1st?) countries who are working for low wages, are starting to demand increases and thus the cost of such goods cannot remain low indefinitely.

Yes, the growth in the population has slowed.   But it is still growing.   And that means that demand for every product, from corn to iPhones, is on the rise, which means that prices will continue to rise, albeit more slowly.   Deflation?  Maybe if a plague cuts the world population in half.  Maybe.

So what is behind this deflation gloom-and-doom?   Well, alarmist articles sell newspapers (or capture eyeballs or click-through revenue).   So if you give unconventional wisdom, people will bite on it.  It also sells newspapers if you can make alarmist claims - people bite on bad news more than good.  So if inflation goes up, you tell people how rotten it is than inflation has gone up.   If inflation is flat, you tell them how rotten it is than inflation is flat.  And if there is a possibility of deflation, well, you tell them how horrific that would be as well.

(And these articles about deflation pop up about every year or so, like clockwork, when there is a slow newsday.  If you google "deflation threat" you see articles arguing that deflation will wipe us all out - dating back every year for the last five years.)

Hmmmm... So when exactly are things going OK then?   I mean if inflation is bad, deflation is bad, and no inflation is bad, that means everything is bad all of the time, right?

Oh, right, that's the definition of reality, as viewed by the news media.   Bad news sells, they know it, and you bite on it.

Stop biting.

Obama's Dirty Little Secret!

An Improving Economy and Decreasing Deficits.  Brought to you by, the President with the lowest approval ratings since George Bush!

People like to bash Presidents like Pinatas.  Why not?  They are easy targets.  Blame them for everything that goes wrong in your life!   But give all those S.O.B.'s in Congress who actually make the laws a free pass, OK?  Particularly the odious bastard from your district that you voted for.

The untold story of the last five years is that since the market crash of 2009, things have been getting better and better.   If we had a Republican in the White House over the last eight years, we would really be in the shitter.   See, e.g., Herbert Hoover.   You see, when the economy tanks, it is no time to cut back on spending and lower taxes.  But that is what Republicans have been clamoring for since Obama took office.

Good thing they didn't get their way.

Because in the last five years, the stock market has been on a tear - a bull market, as they say.  Not spectacular rates of return, but more than adequate.

And unemployment has dropped considerably, to the point where it is at levels that are considered "normal" in most economies.   But no one seems to notice this.

And government spending?  Well, our deficit, in terms of percentage of GDP, has dropped every year for the last five years.

Funny thing, the news channels never talk about that.   All they talk about is the three people with Ebola or some idiot with a gun who shot somebody in the name of Islam.   Yea, that's a real threat to our society - issues that affect less than a dozen people in our country.

We fail to see the larger picture.   We like to think of ourselves as "put upon" and under stress.   After all, we are just living "paycheck to paycheck" - hardly able to pay the credit card bills for our take-out meals and cruise-ship vacations, right?

Right.

The reality is, the vast majority of Americans have it pretty swell, but they don't want to admit to it.   Because admitting that things are good is somehow bad.   Everything has to be rotten, all the time.

Maybe America is smoking pot?   I dunno.  I just don't get it.   If current economic conditions are not to your satisfaction, I submit that absolutely nothing in this world will ever, ever make you happy.

You have the highest standard of living on the planet and are still unhappy.

Maybe the problem isn't Obama or the Republicans or the government or Islamo-fascists or Ebola.

Maybe the problem is YOU.

Think about it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wordpress: What a Mistake

WordPress is confusing, clunky and difficult to use.   The confusion starts with which WordPress to use - dot com or dot org?   Like everyone else on the Internet today, they not only want you to use one site, but automatically sign you up for their associated sites as well!



I tried to move the blog to Wordpress.COM which for some reason is a different blogsite than Wordpress.ORG - although they both use the same logo.   Huh?

Wordpress is linked into Linked-in (sorry about the pun) so once again, I am sucked into someone's nefarious scheme to own the internet.   Once on Wordpress. COM you have an "account" which is part of other discussion groups (something called "Gravatars") and CANNOT BE DELETED.   This is a new thing on the Internet - not allowing users to control their own content or even delete their accounts.   I should have investigated this further before jumping so quickly.


WordPress.com accounts cannot be deleted. However, you can easily delete your blog. If you wish to leave WordPress.com, you can just leave your account inactive. To unsubscribe from any email notifications from WordPress.com, go to your subscription settings and check the box that says Block all subscription emails from WordPress.com. Also: change/rename your username, and reuse email addresses.
 
Wordpress was clunky to use and many complained that the format was hard to read.   Wordpress.ORG has the same formatting problem.   You cannot use full justification (!) or change font sizes, colors, or types in the editing field.    It is not easy to edit entries without resorting to HTML tomfoolery.

Wordpress dot COM also allows comments and "occasional advertisements".   If you want to disable comments, you have to do it on a post-by-post basis.   Ugh!    And occasional advertisements?  Not in the cards.   Wordpress dot ORG supposedly doesn't have ads.    But I cannot fathom why there are two separate sites with the same name.

In order to use Wordpress.ORG, I have to DOWNLOAD the software, as opposed to editing and posting online.   However, once you download the software, publishing is free, and free of advertisements.   Maybe I will try this.   I had mistakenly assumed that the .COM and .ORG were the same thing (they use the same logo).   Very odd!

So, for now, I will stick with Blogger, even if it is part of the evil Google empire.

Sorry for the hassle!




Ten Annoying Restaurant Trends

Restaurants have started a lot of annoying trends in the last 50 years.

I was dining out with friends the other day, and I was thinking about how annoying eating at Restaurants has become.   It was not always thus!   When my parents ate out, they usually took the kids.  We had to behave, of course (and for the most part, did).   So I have been eating in restaurants for half a century now.  And a lot has changed - not for the better.

Here are ten annoying things that restaurants have decided to do in the last 50 years:

1.  The waiter giving you his name.   "Hello, my name is Steven, and I'll be your server tonight!" they chirp, as the come to the table.    This never happened back in 1969, at high-end or low-end restaurants.   You see, the meal wasn't all about Steven back then, and waiters were discrete and efficient, not chatty.   I chalk this one up to Corporate Restaurant Chains, who instruct their minions to do this, thinking that it equates to better service.   If you talk about service enough, maybe people will believe they are actually getting it.  Paul Zaloom, in one of his shows in the 1980's, parodied this trend with the line, "Hello, my name is Pat, and I'll be your butter...."

2. Leaving silverware on the table.  Many people remember the exact moment and where they were when 9/11 occurred.   Similarly, I remember the exact moment, the first time I went to a restaurant, and the server took silverware off my plate and put it back on the table.   Whoa.  Did she just do that?  The world just changed.   It was in the early 1980's, as I recall, and within a few years, almost every restaurant started doing it.   Again, I think the Corporate Chains started this, as it cut down on dishwashing expenses and labor.   But it just smacks of cheapness and it is also gross - utensils sitting on the table, with food crusted on them, leaving stains on the tablecloth, while you wait for the next course.   The best restaurants never did this, of course.   And today, I think the tide is turning back.   Let's hope, anyway.

3.  Servers who say, "How is everyone doing here?  Does everything taste good?"   You know the drill.  You and your friends are having a good time, talking, eating and then the server pops in with these idiot questions.  It started in the late 1980's with the "how is everyone doing here?" bit, which was annoying as you could not answer with a mouth full of food.  Again, it was Corporate Restaurant Chains that did this - trying to get you to think the server really cared, by showing up when they were not needed.   This morphed in the last decade to this "Does everything taste good?" line, which for some reason literally makes me want to gag.  "Garcon, bring me a bucket, I wish to vomit!"

4.  Servers who say, "Are you still working on that?"  Again, you know the drill on this.   You are sitting at the table and not done eating and they say, "Are you still working on that?" as if you were plastering a wall or something.   Again, this is Corporate Chain Restaurant Edicts (like the Flair required at T.G.L. McTchotchkis) and I think is designed to make you feel slightly ill - so you finish your meal and they can flip the table.  Again, bring me a bucket, I wish to vomit.

5.  Take home Styrofoam clamshells.  Back in the 1960's once in a great while, my parents would bring home a "doggie bag" with a steak bone or a small piece of steak as a treat for our dog.   That was then.  Today, it is almost standard procedure for most folks to take half their meal back home in a Styrofoam clamshell, to be eaten later on - by themselves, not their dog.   This is gross and disgusting and our European friends think we are insane for doing this (they are right).  It is unsanitary and unsafe - lukewarm meals in the trunk of your car are sure-fire recipe for food poisoning.   Today, the waiters no longer handle the food, but bring you bags and clamshells (no doubt due to a memo from the risk-management attorneys at the corporate chain) and you can scoop your food at the table, into boxes and bags.  Disgusting!

6.  Portion sizes.  Closely related to #5 above is the portion problem.  Rather than provide properly-sized portions of good quality food, Americans seem to prefer huge portions of really, really bad food.   A mountain of soggy french fries is apparently a good thing because you get more of it.   People look at restaurants like gas stations - how many calories are they getting per dollar.   And America's restaurants are up to the task, loading up meals with lots of cheap starches so you get "value" for your dollar, instead of quality.

7.  Restaurants as Kitchens.   And #5 and #6 morph into #7.  For many folks, the restaurant has replaced the kitchen as the place where most of their meals are prepared and consumed.   A lot of folks - even in the lower classes, eat out five nights a week.   They "fuel up" at a restaurant on high-sodium, high-calorie, and high-starch foods, and then justify the expense by bringing the leftovers to work as "lunch" the next day.   A restaurant is not a substitute for a kitchen, and eating out all the time is not cost-effective.  For the cost of one restaurant meal, you can make 5-10 meals at home (the subject of my next posting).

8.  Lines out the door and Pagers.   For some reason, Americans love their impersonal Corporate Restaurant Chains, and will line up out the door to eat there.   Most of these chains have bench seats near the door just so people can wait - and pagers that flash and buzz when they've flipped a table for you.  When we lived in Ithaca, New York, there was a great locally-run Tex-Mex place downtown.  It was busy, to be sure.   But most of the Cornell students would drive out to the strip malls to wait in line at Chili's - and pay more for a meal of lesser quality.   Americans, despite their pretensions at being "foodies" tend to be very conservative and frightened about food.   Having a bad meal is something they fear more than anything.   Suppose there are items on the menu they've never heard of?   How will they know what to order?   More than one American has told me that they "always" go to a chain restaurant, because "It is always the same and you know what to expect".    Hard to believe this is the same country that put a man on the moon (what with there being no Bennigans there and all).

9.  Chain Restaurants.   Which brings us to #9.   When I was a kid, there were few chain restaurants.   There was Howard Johnson's, which was usually located next to the Motel of the same name.   People ate at such places when traveling as it was easy to find (next to the Motel) and as noted above, "they knew what to expect".   And what they expected was pretty good, actually.  Jacques Pepin was actually their corporate chef, and he created a line of frozen entrees that were so good, they started selling them in stores.   Sadly, when the founder died, the next generation of owners let Pepin go, and the chain went downhill.   And new chains sprung up - not catering to travelers looking for a quick meal, but to the locals instead.   Fast-food chains put the Mom & Pop burger and breakfast joints out of business.   Denny's killed off the Diners (and replaced them with faked-up Diners, years later).   Upscale chain restaurants killed off local efforts, as they could charge less and market far more effectively.   Saturation advertisements on television just are not in the cards for the owners of the local Olde Tyme Gaslight Restaurant.

10. Table Clutter and Menu Clutter.   Back in the day, if you wanted ketchup on your french fries, they brought it to the table.  Today, there are napkin dispensers, salt and pepper shakers, ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, and a number of other condiments - left out on the table at room temperature.   Then there are table decorations, and at the chain restaurants, little (or large) tri-fold deals telling you about blender drinks or desserts.  Some chains even use "flip over" dealies like the scorecard from What's My Line?.  Menus are worse - often with inserts and specials (laminated, in Corporate restaurants) and so many choices that you can never really be sure what you want to order.  A good restaurant has  few basic things and does them all very well.  Today's restaurants try to do everything (Tex-Mex, Thai and Sushi!) and does none of them well.
* * *

Eating in a restaurant should be a real treat and a special occasion, not a chance to refuel your body by stuffing 1500 calories of bad food down your gullet.   Sadly, the trend in the last 50 years has been toward the latter.   Restaurants today are far more plentiful (in terms of per capita) than when I was a youth.   And today, they tend to be boring, mindless, faceless chain creations, complete with faux patinas and themes.

Why people eat at these places is beyond me.  They are bad for your body, and bad for your pocketbook.
 
 

Cost of Making Food at Home versus Restaurant: Breakfast

 
How much cheaper is it to prepare meals at home?  The answer may scare you.

In my last post I noted that using a restaurant as a kitchen is one sure way to go broke.   Many middle-class people do this, convinced they are "too tired" after work to cook (so they order a Pizza) and "too much in a hurry" to leave for work , so they waste 20 minutes at the drive-through at McDonald's.   They put this all on a credit card and wonder why, a few years later, they have thousands of dollars of intractable credit card debt.

If you took any aspect of your life budget and multiplied it by a factor of four you would end up in trouble, whether it is clothes, automobiles, or housing, or food.   When you take something that is cheap and make it really expensive, well, you create trouble for yourself.

We were in the grocery store the other day and buying breakfast supplies, and I marveled at how cheap it was to buy these basic foodstuffs - which constitute the cheapest meal of the day.   For the cost of one restaurant meal, you can make four or more at home!
Let's take as a simple example, the morning breakfast meal.   A simple egg sandwich on an English Muffin is easy to prepare and inexpensive.   It is also easy to compare with a similar meal from a fast-food restaurant:

Egg Sandwich with hash browns made at home:
Walmart English Muffins: $2.28 for package of 12 or 19 cents each.
WalMart brick of Cheddar/Swiss Cheese:  $19.98 per package of 120 or 16.65 cents each.
WalMart Eggs, average $1.25 per dozen, or 12 cents each.
Hash Brown Pattie, frozen, $2 for package of 10, or 20 cents each.
TOTAL COST:   92 cents.

Egg McMuffin:  $2.79
Hash Browns: $1.00
Coffee:  $1.00
Total:  $4.79
Egg McMuffin "Meal" :  $3.99 (a savings of 80 cents!)

For the cost of one McDonald's meal, you can make four of the same meal at home, perhaps more.

I did not calculate sales taxes as they vary from State to State.  Some States, such as New York and Georgia, do not tax groceries.   Other States tax restaurant meals more highly than other sales.  In Georgia, restaurant meals are taxed at 4% at the State rate, and there may be local taxes as well.   The McDonald's meal would likely cost $4.25 with State and Local sales taxes, enough to buy 1/4 of another meal.  The government here is encouraging us to buy basic foodstuffs and discouraging eating in restaurants.   Interesting, eh?

Overall, you can make four breakfast sandwiches with a side of hash browns and coffee for the cost of one meal at a fast-food place.

In other words, one meal at McDonald's costs nearly as much as an entire workweek of eating at home.
In other words, when you eat at a restaurant, even a "fast food" restaurant (which people claim are a bargain) you are multiplying your food budget by a factor of at least four.

Note that the source for the pricing data was online.  Local prices can vary.   For some reason, I have never gotten away from a McDonald's for $4.25, at least in recent times.   I suspect costs would be higher, particularly if you opted for a bagel sandwich or the like.

So, let's assume two people live side by side.   Fred wakes up every morning, makes his coffee (or tea, for additional savings) and while waiting for the pot to boil, fries an egg and makes toast.   He spends about a buck a day on breakfast, or about $365 a year.

Sam lives next door and is "too much in a hurry" to make his own breakfast, so he stops at the fast-food place, wastes 20 minutes in line at the drive-through, and spends $4.25 on the same meal Fred has.   Fred's tastes better, of course, as the English Muffin is actually toasted, not soggy and limp.   Let's also assume that on the weekends, Sam has more time and makes his own breakfast.   Sam spends $23.25 a week or $1209 a year on breakfast alone.

Now, we're talking just breakfast here.  Just one meal.   The cheapest meal in the day.   And the savings are $844 a year.

Now, some might say, "Well, I make a hundred grand a year!  I can afford a measly $844!"

And as I noted in an earlier post, you really can't.   If you make the vaunted six-figure salary, perhaps 10% of that is disposable income.   And you're going to spend over 8% of that on fast-food breakfast?

Now add in the cost of other meals.    If you "go out to lunch" as a cubicle dweller, and spend $10 on a sandwich, chips, and soft drink (not hard to do in the city) you are spending $7.50 more than the guy who brown-bags it with a sandwich.  Here, Fred spends $912.50 a year on lunch, while Sam spends $55 a week, or $2860 a year - or $1947.50 more than Fred dies.   We're up to nearly three grand now, and we haven't even touched dinner.

Assuming Dinner is $20 at a restaurant versus $5 at home and, well, Fred spends $1825 a year while Sam spends $110 a week or $5720 a year -  $3895 more than Fred.   Dinner is the most costly meal of the day, particularly at a restaurant.   The savings really add up here.

Overall, Sam spends $6686.50 a year by eating out in restaurants five days a week.   Invested over 30 years at 7% interest, that comes to $675,824.89 in your 401(k).   In case you were not listening, that is a shitload of money.

Now, you might argue with some of my assumptions here.   Say you "only" buy lunch at work and only go out two nights a week.   OK, let's say that.  Do the math again, and you will still see thousands of dollars in savings and hundreds of thousands missing from your 401(k).   And of course, Fred is going to go out to eat once in while, so you have to factor that in.   The point is, do the math and understand where all your money is going.

Today, many people in the middle class are falling behind and they cannot understand why.   They think the reason is that the "1%'ers" took all their money away.   The real reason is, they gave all their money away to the 1%'ers, who own the banks and credit card companies.   You see, in addition to money missing from retirement accounts, squandering money in restaurants is also how many people end up with a personal credit card crises at least once in their lives.

This is not to say one should never eat in a restaurant.   But if you are going out to eat on a weeknight, or ordering $20 worth of pizza, because you are "too beat to cook" - maybe you need to ask yourself where this is all going.   If you want to get ahead in life, you have to work hard and things and make sacrifices.   No one ever got ahead in the world by constantly indulging themselves.
 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Goodbye, Google!

Untangling yourself from the evil web of Google is harder than, well, untangling yourself from Facebook.   This is not by accident, but design.


One of the (unintended) genius things about Facebook was that it turned out to be a compulsive addiction.   People got onto Facebook, and most of them have to check it daily, hourly, or even every few minutes, to see what is on their "feed".   "Feed" by the way is what they give to cows.  To fatten them up to slaughter.

Facebook, I think, stumbled into this, and has since enhanced the feature.   As I noted in my Social Networking Seasickness posting, it is hard to see exactly what is on your Facebook page, as they use an algorithm to decide what you get to see, and if you dig around you can find other postings.   But some things appear on your "feed"  and then disappear after a time, so it encourages you to constantly check Facebook (via your smart phone "app" of course!) all the time, lest you "miss something".

It really is fucking brilliant, if you think about it - it has enslaved an entire generation to their cell phones, the Internet, and one website.   And the results are pretty frightening.   "Social Media" has become the number one source of misinformation, half-truths, and outright lies, as any daily perusal of Snopes.com will attest.   People on "Social Media" talk only to like-minded people, so if one posts a fraudulent video depicting Obama giving a speech that promotes Nazism, well, they all tend to believe it.

This shit is evil beyond belief, and if I swear it is because I am mad about it.   Each generation, it seems, is enticed by the siren song of some new form of media - and herded off a cliff as a result.   When newspaper chains were formed in the late 1800's, people could be made to believe most outlandish things.  William Randolph Hearst is alleged to have said, "You furnish the pictures, I'll furnish the war" - with regard to the Spanish-American war.   The point of the alleged quote is that Hearst, owning a lion's share of the nation's newspapers, could shape public opinion as he chose - enough to get the U.S. to declare a war, if he wanted to.  And he wanted to, just to sell newspapers.

The radio generation of the 1920's followed suit by falling into line behind "the Great Dictators" of Europe, who used radio broadcasts (and newsreels) to inflict their ideology on entire nations.  Even Roosevelt used his "fireside chats" to get him elected an unprecedented four terms.  He understood the power of this new medium and how to use it.   He was no fool - he knew that he had to use radio to get into power and stay there, if nothing else, for the good of the country.

Television brought us the first televised war, Vietnam, and the media in that war was cleverly manipulated to turn public opinion against the war.   By the time of Operation Desert Storm, the Pentagon had a better handle on controlling the media, and provided nice sound-bite ready video clips of "smart bombs" surgically excising bad guys with no collateral damage.

Today, it is the Internet, and in particular, social media, that has the brains of so many people utterly enslaved.   Many people get their news and information 100% from Social Media - where rumors and innuendo are the same common currency as the truth.   It is, to say the least, very scary.  

"You furnish me the YouTube Videos, I've furnish the war." - That is what Hearst would say today, if he were a Social Media titan.

But, once again, I digress.   Where was I?  Oh, yea, Google.

Google hasn't been sitting by quietly through all of this.   They sit on the sidelines and look at Facebook and wish they bought it when it was small.    That kind of mind control is priceless!   They tried, of course, to create their own social network, Google Plus, but that was viewed as the Zune of Social Networking.   Since no one signed up, Google made it mandatory that you have a Google Plus account if you want to use their other services (gmail, blogger, YouTube, Google Drive, etc.).   And it is annoying as shit and one reason I want to leave Googleworld for good.

Now, when you log into Gmail, you get this "status update" widget that tells you if someone commented on the same YouTube video that you commented on six years ago.   The only way to put a stop to this, it seems, is to click on each notification and then click "mute post".   It is annoying as all get out.

And even if you set all your settings on Google Plus to "private" you constantly get asked to join someone's circle, or worse yet, other people can add you to their circle (whatever that means) whether you like it or not.   As with Facebook, there is no "dislike", "unfriend", or "despise" button.    Actually, on Facebook, you can unfriend people - and people cannot be your "friend" unless you agree to.  On Google Plus, you can be added to someone's "circle" (jerk?) without your permission.   It is like being violated on a very small scale.

But alas, it is hard to untangle yourself from the web of Google.   Facebook is a little easier to quit.  All you have to do is erase all your content manually, and close the account.   That doesn't mean, of course, that Facebook doesn't keep all your content backed up somewhere.  That is the kind of level of creepy that raised my hackles about Facebook in the first place - and why I quit.   Of course, quitting Facebook does generate hostility from some folks - other "Facebookers" who wonder why you aren't part of their "feed" anymore.   So you run the risk of pissing off some friends, but they are just "Facebook friends" and not real friends, anyway, so the risk is pretty small.

Google, on the other hand is a little bit stickier.   When you log into one Google product, they start following you and tracking you.  You send an e-mail to a friend or client with the word "car" in it, and ads will appear on your Google pages for cars.   They not only track what sites you are going to, what words you are searching, but also what you write and what you e-mail.  This is far scarier than Facebook.

It also, I believe, slows down your internet connection.   While traveling recently, we used a WiFi hotspot, which gets 4G service, when it is available.   When not, it gets 3G, or 2G, or even "G" on occasion.  In "G" mode, it is about as slow as the old 56K modems of yore.  And loading Gmail takes forever (unless you load the stripped "HTML" version, which is missing most features).   Oddly enough, loading Hotmail takes less time for some reason.   Google has so much software tracking what you do that it bombs out slow connections.   And increasingly, it seems that Google products crash Firefox.   Google helpfully suggests that I use Google Chrome instead.   Funny how that works.

So, over the next year or so, I am going to try to wean myself from the tentacles of the Google Empire.  And it won't be easy, as almost everything you do on the Internet seems to touch or interact with Google.   Living without Facebook is a piece of cake compared to not touching Google at all on the Internet.

To completely disentangle myself from Google, I have to do the following:

  1. Uninstall Google Drive
  2. Uninstall Google Chrome
  3. Move e-mail to commercial e-mail account (Cost: about $12 - $25 a year)
  4. Migrate web page away from Google Pages
  5. Move blog from Google Blogger to other host (or erase)
  6. Move videos from Google YouTube to other site (or erase)
  7. Move Google Picasaweb photos to other site (or erase)
  8. Switch to another online search engine
  9. Close Google Plus Account
  10. Close Google Account.

 And that is a lot to do.  I am only on step 3 at the moment.   And this is one reason why I tell people never to store things in the "cloud".  The cloud can evaporate and leave you with nothing, as happened to me with my WebShots account - dozens of carefully tended photo albums with captions and comments, all dumped in the trash without so much as a moment's notice - and no way to easily move them elsewhere.  You rely too much on these online services, and when they go evil, well, you are stuck.

But these experiences only reinforce in me the desire to "unplug" from the media - television, social media, newspapers, etc.   They all hawk bad political ideas, consumerism, lies, outright lies, rumors, innuendo, and slander.  Even getting a basic weather report is dicey, even from the weather channel.

And the fact that I am sort of "stuck" using Google all the time makes me hate it even more.   I don't like the idea that I am beholden to one website or one service provider.   The Internet should be all about choices, not everything funneling into one company's websites.

So, off to another brave experiment.  Can you use the Internet without interfacing with those evil bastards at Google (and they are evil now, despite their "don't be evil" slogan)?

It will be interesting to try.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Why Television is the Enemy...

If you read this blog and still watch television, you won't get anything out of reading this blog.



It is hard to spend money carefully.   Today, I work maybe 20 hours a week, and it seems the rest of my time is occupied with taking care of the possessions I own, or shopping carefully for the things I need in life.  I look back at my old life and wonder, "how did I ever get anything done?"

And the answer is, I didn't.  Like most middle-class Americans convinced they were "making good money" I didn't bother to balance my checkbook every month, or keep track of my credit card bills.  I spend money on convenience items, convinced my time was more valuable than my money.  I hired people to do things I could easily do myself (wash my clothes, clean my bathroom, mow my lawn).

I made good money alright - and spend good money, too.

It was an easy trap to fall into.  At the end of a long day of work, it is easy to convince yourself that you are "bushed" and flop in front of the television and spend $20 on a delivery pizza (if you buy two, you get one free, and then there are cheesy sticks and a tip!).  Before long, you are mired in credit card debt and wondering why.

And you are staring the answer in the face - the television.

I harp on the television a lot in this blog and some folks read this and say, "Well, you have some good ideas here, I mean, besides the not watching television part."

But it IS the main idea of my blog and let me tell you why.

The average American watches 4.6 hours a day of television.   And yea, I was an Average American, at one time.   It takes up all of your non-waking, non-working, non-pooping, non-eating, non-showing hours of your life.  It dominates your life.   It consumes your life.   If you watch 4.6 hours a day, it is your life.

And not surprisingly, television tells us this is OK.   In an ad for "bathfitters" (a company that glues cheap plastic shells over your mildewed tiled bathtub) they show a guy laying on the couch watching television while the bathfitter man re-does the bathroom.   The message is clear: don't get up off the couch.   Why bother doing it yourself when the bathfitter man can just cover it all up?

(And incidental note on "bathfitters":  Like anything advertised on television, it is not a great bargain.   They put a plastic covering over your existing tub, and it looks better than mildewed tile and rusty tubs, to be sure.   But the underlying problems might still be there.  We've stayed in Motels which used such "renovations" and water got in-between the tub and the plastic lining, resulting in a waterbed-like feel to the bottom of the tub.   It is not a real remodeling, but a cosmetic one.  In many instances, a bathroom can be repaired rather than remodeled, for about the same amount of money, if not a lot less.   A rip-off?  No.  A good bargain?  Not in my opinion).

That 4.6 hours a day was the time - my time - that I should have been using to improve my own life.  I could have used it to do things I was paying other people to do - cook my food, clean my house, mow my lawn, fix my car.   I could also have used that time to better manage my finances by balancing my checkbook, keeping track of bills and debt.   And I could have used that time to shop smartly by carefully researching purchases and deciding whether I really needed something (as opposed to "going shopping" and just buying whatever caught my fancy).

In other words, television took up my life.  If you sleep 8 hours a night and work 8 hours a day, that's 16 hours out of 24 right there.  Throw in 2 hours for commuting, and maybe an hour to attend to personal things like bathroom and shower and you're up to 19 hours.   That leaves you five hours a day - and if you spend 4.6 hours of it watching television, well, your life is about 24 minutes a day - or about one minute for every hour to really think about things and make rational decisions.

And that is the second part of the problem.   While you watch television, you are bombarded with a lot of really bad ideas - that perpetual debt is normal, and sending out for pizza is a swell idea, and that the neighbors will be envious of you because you bought a new Acura.   If you watch this stuff long enough, you will start believing it, trust me.

We ridicule other folks for believing in nonsense or dangerous ideas.  How could the Russians embrace Communism when any 6-year-old could see the flaws in it?   How could the Germans think that Nazism was the answer to anything?   The reality is, if enough people start hammering the same ideas into your head long enough, you will start to believe it.   I tell you three times and it is true - that was the mantra of the propagandists.

And we fall for this in America all the time.   We are attacked by Saudi Citizens guided by a man living in Afghanistan, and are told that invading Iraq is the answer.   And people went along with it - all of us - either because we couldn't tell one middle-easterner from another, or we believed that "weapons of mass destruction" were present in Iraq, or whatever.  The television hammered the messages day after day and we all went for it.   Years later, few believe the Iraq war was a swell idea, and the new Iraq "government" is collapsing like a cheap tent.

You can't watch television and not be influenced by its normative cues.   You are not a superman or superwoman.  Your only choice is not to watch.

You can't just watch "a little bit" or "just my favorite shows" without being bombarded with ad after ad for credit card offers, payday loans, or new car sales.   And these ads will program your brain over time.   The only choice is to unplug from the programming entirely.

Was television always like this?   Perhaps, perhaps not.  The amount of advertising today, versus the 1960's is much higher.   On many cable channels, ads are nearly (or more than) 50% of airtime.   Much of the ads today are for more television - selling you the idea of watching more and more, so you watch the ads.   Back in the day, television shows would be "sponsored by" a company, and the ads were much less intrusive.   Today, you get snippets of programming followed by minutes of commercials.

Some programs, when viewed without the ads, are almost comical.  If you watch any History Channel program on Netflix (sans commercials), it seems repetitive and dull.  Why?  Because that cable channel cuts to five minutes of commercials after every five minutes of programming.  They have to "recap" what they said five minutes before, in order to keep their audience.   And then they constantly "tease" the audience with snippets of "great stuff coming up next!" which ends up being a 10-second video at the end of the show.   The entire program is devoid of content, other than the teasing and baiting used to keep you watching.

In other words, it is drivel.   The content is worse, in many ways, than the ads - it provides no coherent storyline or information.  It trains you to have a short attention span and to think in microsecond intervals.

But then again, this seems to be the wave of the future - with twittering and texting leading the way.   No longer do we think in book-length form, but instead in 140 characters (or emoticons) or less.  Television is just the largest of the Distractors.