Journalist, Whither The Irony?

Loans came easily, then fell apart:

While earning a salary of $21,000 a year, Leesa Robinson landed on top of the real estate world in 2006, overseeing nearly $1 million in property.

The 45-year-old single mom started buying houses after watching late-night infomercials and their tales of fast wealth.

Lenders from across the country wrote more than $800,000 in home loans in 2005 and 2006 so Robinson could buy eight north side rental properties, half of which she purchased with no money down. All but one of the loans came with high-interest, adjustable rates.

Today, her credit is shot. She lost all eight houses. She went bankrupt.

Robinson’s story is far from unique.

Far from unique? What does that mean? Common? A lot of people making $11 an hour buying a million dollars in property?

And whose fault is it? None, apparently, on the person who believed too much in infomercials, reached for the American Dream, and failed. Failure is no longer an option; it’s something that The Man or Big Mortgage does to you.

How Cute! Some Books

Kim du Toit starts it up again by showing off half of his book collection.

Me, I don’t have time to update it with the new bookshelves, but here’s the Noggle Library in February 2008, before book fair season.

I don’t know why I bother trash talking when comparing our library to the bibliophile libraries of Porch Girl or the du Toits. I mean, it’s clear we (I) have a problem, and we’ve turned the corner in book collection from book lover and are approaching tenured professor levels.

The Noggle/Lileks Video Collection Solidarity Approaches

Today he announces:

    Simply put: my wife got me a collection of 100 Mystery movies on DVD for my birthday, and I’m going to watch them all. This feature will run at least once a week, and will range from the boring – like our first one, alas – to the really, really bad.

My wife gave me the very collection for Christmas a couple years ago. Lileks is already further into it than I am.

Warning: Spore Can Help Terrorists Build Biochemical Weapons

Our nation’s defense forces are just spitballing here:

The American military and intelligence communities are increasingly worried that would-be bin Ladens might gather in a virtual world, to plan a real-life attack. But the spies haven’t given many details, about how it might be done. Now, a Pentagon researcher has laid out how such a terror plot might unfold. The planning ground is World of Warcraft. The main target of this possibly nuclear strike: the White House.

There’s been no public proof to date of terrorists hatching plots in virtual worlds. But online spaces like World of Warcraft are making some spooks, generals and Congressmen extremely nervous. They imagine terrorists rehearsing attacks in these worlds, just like the U.S. military trains with commercial shoot-em-up games. They worry that the massively multiplayer games make it incredibly easy to gather plotters from around the world. But, mostly, virtual worlds are nerve-wracking to spies because they’re so hard to monitor. The accounts are pseudonymous. The access is global. The jargon is thick. And most of the spy agencies’ employees aren’t exactly level-70 shamans.

And by “spitballing,” I mean rousing a panic amongst the ignorant controllers of budget strings so they totally can get budget for a couple of full time MMORPG players, probably themselves.

Good Book Hunting: September 10, 2008

On Wednesday, I found a yard sale and received a book I’d ordered off the Internet. Here they are:

3 more books for the bowing shelves

  • The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, a book about the conquest of the Mexica written by one of the conquistadores. The bite of the Porch Girl continues.
  • The Caretakers by Tabitha King. That’s my second book purchase from this author simply because she’s Stephen King’s wife. Brother, his coattails are carrying the whole family as far as I’m concerned. Maybe I’ll read one of them and like it so I’ll buy the author in his (Joe Hill’s) or her own right.
  • The Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Birds including a visual flip guide. So by the time my children pay attention, I hope to know what kinds of birds you see around here.

Just when we thought Book Fair Season was over, though, my beautiful wife has found another coming up. Oh, the humanity! Did I brag here about the $25 bookshelves I found at Target? I retract that. Sissy little things are bowing in under a year.

Book Report: Murder at the ABA by Isaac Asimov (1976)

Isaac Asimov not only wrote science fiction, not only wrote science fact, but also wrote mysteries. This particular bit is one such, and it’s one that includes Isaac Asimov as a character. The first person POV focuses on Darius Just, a literary author whose protege is murdered at the American Booksellers Association conference in New York. Just finds the body and determines that, although staged to look like an accident, his tempermental and sexually deviant, uh, protege (I already called him that, but other nouns are not forthcoming) was murdered. Just has, uh, only four days to find the murder. And if he does, he’ll let Isaac Asimov write the book.

Asimov has fun with the book and with using himself, going so far as to have footnote back-and-forth with Darius Just. Along the way, it’s a whodunit sort of mystery where you could figure it out, sort of, if you looked in the right places. Me, I don’t puzzle the book out that way, so it’s not ordinarily my cup of tea. But I enjoyed it.

As a side note, I’m actually re-reading this book. I first read it in high school, lo those many years ago. I liked it enough to pick it up for a buck, and all I remembered was the gimmick of having Asimov in it.

Books mentioned in this review:

Who’s Blighting Bel-Ridge?

In Bel-Ridge, a combination of the municipality and a rent-seeking developer are contributing to blight in the area.

First, of course, the municipality promised the developer land backed by seizure:

A couple of years earlier, Bel-Ridge had approved a redevelopment plan for a 78-acre swath of the city. The developer, Clayco, can acquire property by eminent domain.

The developer isn’t moving on the development because of the economy:

Matt Prickett, a development manager with Clayco, says the Bel-Ridge project is on hold because of the soft economy. It was envisioned as a major retail center, and retailers aren’t in an expansion mode.

“The market is what it is,” Prickett said.

Funny, I don’t expect a company that relies on seizure by force of private property instead of messy, meddlesome purchasing through, I don’t know, the market, understands what the market is.

As a result, a landowner who wants to renovate his property is in a bind:

A year ago, the Hood’s store on Natural Bridge Road was an eyesore. The windows were boarded up, the roof leaked and the parking lot was full of potholes.

Mike Hood, the owner, candidly says the city of Bel-Ridge probably could have condemned the building years ago, or at least cited it for multiple code violations. But it didn’t, and Hood launched a major renovation after buying the discount home-improvement store in January from his father, Ernest.

Three-quarters of the way into that $1 million project, Hood’s has a new roof, new glass, a repaved parking lot and new bathrooms. A shop being built in one corner will cut countertop materials to customers’ specifications.

Assuming he’s right about the market for discounted cabinets and flooring, Hood’s investment should assure the store of a long and prosperous future. But, three months into his renovations, Hood learned of a complication: A couple of years earlier, Bel-Ridge had approved a redevelopment plan for a 78-acre swath of the city. The developer, Clayco, can acquire property by eminent domain.

That means Hood, like owners of other businesses along Natural Bridge and the homes to the north, could have his property taken by force. A court proceeding would determine the property’s market value, but Hood might not get back the money he’s putting into the store. In all likelihood, he also wouldn’t be compensated for what he sees as the store’s potential.

Advice from the Clayco mouth:

As for the wisdom of investing $1 million in a store that Clayco could buy and tear down, Prickett said he’d impart the same advice he gives to homeowners: “We encourage them to make the necessary investments to maintain the health and safety of their property.”

That’s just precious. Of course, anyone on that land right now is just a squatter with actual responsibilities, according to Clayco and Bel-Ridge.

Meanwhile, the area in question will go to seed because macroplanners prevent individuals from sprucing it up. As a result, Bel-Ridge makes its own blight. As do many of these private/”public” deals.

UPDATE: Thanks to gimlet for pointing out I called Bel-Ridge Bel-Nor in the title and intro paragraph. Crikey, what’s with the municipalities naming themselves similarly? Bel-Ridge/Bel-Nor, Vinita Park/Vinita Terrace, etc.

When Toohey Runs The Ski Resort

Fed up with the new municipality’s continuing red tape with his business, a ski resort owner in St. Louis County plans to close shop:

The St. Louis region’s only ski resort will close after this winter because of a dispute with the city of Wildwood, the resort’s owner said today.

“I would basically characterize it as blackmail,” said Tim Boyd, president of Peak Resorts Inc., the company that owns the Hidden Valley golf and ski resort in Wildwood.

Hidden Valley applied for a permit to build a snow tubing area and parking lot to accommodate it. But the city’s planning and zoning commission last week told the resort it would need to meet additional requirements before it could expand.

The resort needed to get its hours of operation approved by the city, and either pay a nearly $252,000 fee to the city for a new parking lot or dedicate some of its land as public space.

The resorts hours of operation are not currently restricted by the city because it was built 26 years ago, before the city was incorporated in 1995.

A new story indicates that maybe the city just expected him to roll over and give them what they want, and now it’s scrambling to reverse the decision:

Two City Council members met with the owner of Hidden Valley Golf and Ski on Wednesday in hopes of persuading him to keep the resort open, but the owner says he is still determined to sell the property.

The council members say Wildwood doesn’t want Hidden Valley, the region’s only ski resort, to close after this season.

Sadly, the municipality won’t learn that it should just get the hell out of the way of businesses; instead, it will learn that it has to ingratiate itself to bigger businesses that threaten to close and continue to stick it to business people too busy doing business to lobby on their own behalf to be left alone by local, state, and federal busybodies.

On the plus side, at least Wildwood isn’t forced to pay businesses to stay in Wildwood, unlike the city of St. Louis.

Another Legend Returns

Lance Armstrong returns to bike racing:

Lance Armstrong is welcome to compete in the 2009 Tour de France, Tour officials have told USA TODAY in an e-mail.

“Yes, if Lance will have a license and if he is in a team that we will choose for the Tour, L.A. (Lance Armstrong) will be at the start of the 2009’s Tour de France in Monaco the 4th of July,” race director Christian Prudhomme said.”But it’s a long way until July 2009.”

The bad news? He’s biking for the New York Jets.

Book Report: The Frumious Bandersnatch by Ed McBain (2004)

This book is one of the last of the series, and quite frankly, it’s not of McBain’s best. I mean, you’ve got the 87th Precinct guys looking into a kidnapping, working around the FBI who would use Carella, their liason, as a gopher. Actually, that’s it. One crime from multiple points of view. Still, I figured it out awfully early and hoped for a twist that never came. Also, sometime this century, McBain started knocking president by name (Bush). I’ve mentioned that before, but he brings it out here again as a couple of asides. I could understand a sort of disgust with the Powers That Be in some of his previous books, but now that he’s naming names for especial vituperation, I’m saddened and slightly put off.

Also, he probably works to hard to get the title thing working.

Even with those knocks, the book doesn’t fall to below the Fair or Slightly Good rating. Better than any Pearson or Randisi novel I’ve read.

Books mentioned in this review:

Business Owners Volunteer To Collect More Tax From Their Customers

A new taxing district adds its penny of sales tax to your purchases in the University City Loop:

When Joe Edwards talks, people listen.

So when Edwards became interested in developing a trolley line to serve The Loop, business leaders didn’t blink — even when talk turned to creating a Transportation Development District.

The district would use sales tax generated at businesses along Delmar Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue to partially fund construction and operation of The Loop Trolley.By a mail-in vote early this summer, voters approved creation of the district, which will begin collecting one cent of sale tax per dollar of purchase along the 2.2-mile proposed route for the Loop Trolley. The measure passed with more than 97 percent of those voting favoring the tax.

Of course those business owners were in favor of it. They don’t pay the tax, they merely collect it. And the shiny trolley will bring them additional customers who don’t realize that the rent-seeking business owners favor squeezing extra money from them.

I’d boycott the Loop, but I haven’t gone there since I grew up, and, more to the point, since Sheldon’s bookstore was gone.

Also, keep in mind, this penny is in addition to the other ones on the ballot. Those two miles of Delmar could have taxes go up as much as 1.75% just this year alone, not discounting any other “districts” sneaking their feather-bedding projects’ taxes out of your pocket.

The Culture Wars Are Over, And Somebody Won

I’m sitting in my sainted mother’s living room, and I flip through one of the innumerable catalogs she gets. It’s the Carol Wright gifts catalog, from which I and she have ordered many Christmas presents and trinkets for loved ones in years past. An innocuous piece of cataloguery, or so I thought.

Until I hit the page that had the personal massagers, male enhancement products, and Naked Aerobics/Naked Yoga and Tai Chi DVDs.

Crikey, Carol Wright–Carol Wright!–has a sexual aids section (NSFW, probably).

I mean, I’m not shocked on account that these things are available, but I am shocked that I found them amongst the throw blankets, quilted air conditioner covers, and magnetic windshield covers.

What’s next? A Vibrating Touch of Class?

Twenty Years Later: A Cynical Musical Interlude

The Bangles “An Eternal Flame”, their biggest hit, released in 1988:

By 2008, the poet-narrator’s “eternal flame,” whom she married in 1990, has left her after succeeding at his career (success being a district manager in a repair-shop-directed auto parts chain) for a 24-year-old whom he met at a coffeeshop in Indianapolis, IN, during a national sales meeting and who “rocked his world.” In 2008, our poet-narrator has been single for 6 years and has begun dealing with empty-nest syndrome as the only child from her “eternal flame” relationship (born ahead of the marriage) has left to go to school in San Francisco.

She’s got nothing left, just a mother nearby who has given up trying to console her daughter and a couple of people whom she calls every couple of months, trying not to impose upon them but ultimately proving too morbid for a return to their early friendship, which she sacrificed to her husbands’ interests (now, they’re married and raising children and don’t want to relate to her experience).

Pleasant dreams.