The pizza procession

There’s a plaza over by our house that’s home to, among other things, a pet store, a license office, a Chinese food joint, a mattress store, a haircut place, a Radio Shack, another cell phone store, and a pizza joint. My wife was there last week, getting ready to pull out of the parking lot, when a funeral procession approached. She stopped to stay out of the way.

The pizza delivery guy behind her didn’t.

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$13.99 a day for three days isn’t $39 total!

On Monday, I had the pleasure of renting a car. The insurance company was paying–the pleasure came courtesy of the 81-year-old woman who rear-ended my wife and son as they sat at a stop sign–but I learned a lot about rental company tactics.The insurance company was paying $24 a day, which would put you in a mid-sized car–roughly the size of a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord. So the rental company tried to upsell me. Enterprise stuck me in a Buick LeSabre once when the Dodge Neon I initially tried to rent had a flat tire. I hated the thing. It was comfortable, but it was huge, I couldn’t park it, the brakes were mushy, and the steering was mushy. I felt like I was stuck in a big bowl of oatmeal.

But they didn’t want to put me in a LeSabre. They wanted to put me in an SUV or a minivan. Completely impractical. Besides, I wanted fuel economy. I pointed to a Ford Focus. “How’s that gas mileage compare to my Honda Civic?” I asked.

“It has to be pretty close,” he said.

“I’ll take one.”

Once inside, he said he also had a Toyota Corolla. I lit up. “I’ll take the Corolla.” He said the last person who rented it got 38 MPG out of it. I like 38 MPG.

Then he took me outside to see the car. It was cleaner than my car, had fewer scratches on my car, when he put the key in the ignition and turned it, the engine started. It promised to cost less per mile to drive than a Civic, and someone else was paying the bill. What’s not to like?

Then he tried to sell me insurance. By then I was getting frustrated because all this upselling was making me even later for work, and I was plenty late enough. They had primo insurance for $23.99 a day, which was more than the daily cost of renting a Corolla. He said it would give me a million dollars in liability. I don’t remember what else. I probably rolled my eyes. I think he sensed there was no way, no how he was going to sell that to me, so he turned to the “cheap” $13.99 insurance.

“I don’t think I need insurance because American Family said they’d cover me since I have full coverage.”

“What’s your deductible?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I’ve never had to use it.” (Remember that second sentence.)

“It’s probably $500. So for $13.99 a day, we can save you the hassle of having to deal with American Family if anything happens.” Then he went over the things it would cover.

I started to get antsy, knowing how late for work I was getting. I tuned him out, which was the best thing to do. Otherwise I’d get even more irritated.

“So for just $39, we can take care of you for three days.”

I ignored the mathematical fact that $13.99 times 3 is $41.97, not $39. Any sixth grader should know that.

“$39 is a lot of money,” I said. That’s true, isn’t it? That’s about how much it costs to fill a Corolla’s gas tank in Missouri right now.

He laughed. “So’s $500!”

“Yeah, but I’ve never had to use that deductible, so the chances of me having to use any insurance this week on this car are about zero. So it really doesn’t make any sense to pay $39 for something I’m not going to use.”

“Suit yourself,” he said.

It suited me fine. The car was in our possession from roughly 9 AM on Monday until about 5 PM today (Wednesday). I guess that’s about 56 hours. My wife ran errands for a couple of hours each day and went to the doctor on Wednesday, but I think it’s safe to say that the car spent at least 41.97 hours sitting in our driveway.

Nothing bad happened in our driveway. I’m sure the dog sniffed it a few times.

I’m guessing the salesman who was helping me was probably 24 or 25, and in all fairness, when I was his age I didn’t think $39 was a lot of money either, even if it was really $41.97. Let’s face it. When I was 19, I was making about six bucks an hour. When I was 24, I was making a shade over $12 an hour, and after $6 per hour, that seemed like a lot of money. That was 9 years ago. Let’s guess this whippersnapper makes $15 an hour and made $8 an hour selling dishwashers at Best Buy five years ago. When you go from making $160 a week to $2400 a month, $41.97 seems like nothing. I’m sure he’ll spend more than that on dinner and drinks on Friday.

And I’m sure he and thousands of others like him manage to convince a lot of people every day that $41.97 is really $39, and $39 is nothing, so they sign on the line. All those nothings pile up really quick, and the next thing you know, you’ve got a $9 billion company.

Slick.

But that “only” tactic doesn’t work on me anymore. Quote me $41.97, and I can tell you it takes me an hour and a half to make that, pre-tax. Factor in taxes, and it takes me more than two hours to make that. That’s a quarter of my day! If I’m going to waste $41.97, I can think of a number of things I’d much rather waste $41.97 on. Maybe a full tank of gas. Or half a week’s worth of groceries. Or 288 diapers, if I shop at Dollar General. That might last my son a month.

But I spared him the Dr. Walter Johnson Economics 51 lesson on Opportunity Cost ($101 per credit hour in 1994 at Mizzou). Like I said, I was already late for work. I’d probably already blown $28 worth of vacation time and I didn’t want to make it $41.97.

Why I never kept up with the Joneses

I had a bit of a financial epiphany over the weekend.

I have a well-deserved reputation for being a tightwad. Part of it is in my blood; I’m largely of Scottish descent, and Scots just tend to act that way. But I think part of it is what I observed growing up.My wife and I were sitting at my mom’s kitchen table, and for whatever reason, we were talking about my teenage years. In 1988, we moved to a new subdivision in Fenton, Mo. Fenton is a boomtown today, thanks in part to urban sprawl and also because of its first-rate school district, but in 1988 it was still largely an industrial town. Lots of people worked there, and not many wanted to live there. But in the late 1980s, the McMansions started sprouting up like weeds, and lots of families started moving there, ours included.

We talked about our neighbors, and something immediately occurred to me. Most of them were in their early 30s. They were the same age I am now. Not only were they my age, but they drove new cars, and most of them had at least two kids. Meanwhile they were trying to make payments on houses that cost $125-$150,000 at the time. According to inflation, they should cost a quarter million today. Not only that, though, in 1988, interest rates were a lot higher–10 percent wasn’t uncommon according to my quickie research.

Dad could afford that lifestyle–barely. He was a doctor and had been practicing medicine for 15 years. But even we made sacrifices in order to afford to live in that house.

The problem is, I shouldn’t say "even." Most of our neighbors had nicer furniture than we did. Some of them drove fancier cars. And their kids had bigger, costlier toys.

The absurdity hit me. I wouldn’t even try to compete with the lifestyle of a 45-year-old doctor. Not at 33. I make enough that a bank probably would let me have a mortgage of a quarter mil. I could lease cars that don’t depreciate quickly in order to keep my monthly payments down. But there wouldn’t be much of anything left at the end of the month, and I could probably forget about retiring any earlier than 73 (which is what Social Security is saying my retirement age should be). Just because I could make the payments doesn’t mean I should.

I wondered why so many of them got together every weekend and drank themselves senseless. And I don’t think I consciously ever realized I was living in a neighborhood full of people living way over their means–even the family next door, headed by a young dentist trying to establish his practice with five kids and a wife who insisted they needed a Jaguar.

Suddenly, sitting there at the table, telling old stories, I realized why that woman was such a psycho. She couldn’t pay her bills.

And that was also probably why another neighbor wouldn’t go anywhere without a thermos full of wine, and why another young couple who lived nearby smoked pot every Saturday night.

They had everything any reasonable person could dream of having at 32, but if anything at all ever went wrong–a layoff, an extended illness, or a serious injury–they would be in serious danger of losing it.

For whatever reason, I never measured my lifestyle against them. My first few jobs didn’t make me a lot of money, but they let me do pretty much anything I wanted. I had a nicer apartment than Dad had at a comparable age. I could go out to eat any time I wanted. I could buy a new computer every year if I wanted to, as long as I didn’t go overboard on it, and for a few years I did. I drove small cars, but there were always at least two or three cars in the parking lot that weren’t as nice as mine, so I was content to drive my 1992 Dodge Spirit. When it died, I got a 2000 Dodge Neon. It wasn’t a status symbol, but it had power locks and windows, which were two things Dad’s 1981 Chrysler LeBaron didn’t have. It had a nicer radio too. And that LeBaron was supposed to be a luxury car.

My lifestyle was far ahead of where Dad’s had been at my age. And not only that, I had money left over at the end of every month.

There were two things I wasn’t happy about. At the time, I didn’t have a steady girlfriend. And my apartment rent was going up by about $50 a year but the management company wasn’t taking care of the place. When stuff broke, they fixed it halfheartedly, and I didn’t want to pay $575 a month to live in a slum.

When my rent hit $575, I told them I wasn’t going to pay it. They offered me a seven-month lease at about $550. Conveniently, I had enough in the bank for a down payment on a house, and I figured I could afford to pay a couple hundred more every month for a mortgage. I just didn’t want to throw that kind of money away on rent.

So I bought a house. There was a neighborhood about a mile away that reminded me a lot of the neighborhoods I grew up in. I found a house about the size of the house we lived in before we moved to St. Louis. It cost more than I had planned, but it was big enough that I could get married and have a family there and not have to move again. I hate moving. Plus, it was (and still is) in a good school district, all the schools are close by, and anything I could need was close. I didn’t know it right away, but in an emergency, the nearest grocery store AND the nearest car repair place are both walking distance.

For an extra $100 a month, it just made sense. I bought the house. And every night, I filled up that Dodge Neon with everything that would fit, drove to the house, and unpacked. Several friends with vans or pickup trucks helped me move the stuff that wouldn’t fit in my tiny car.

Even though my 1-bedroom apartment was stuffed to the gills, it wasn’t nearly enough to fill a 3-bedroom house with a living room, family room, a study, and a basement. But it didn’t take long for that problem to solve itself. Several people offered me some nice furniture. They were hand-me-downs, but there wasn’t anything really wrong with any of it. Before I knew it, the house was full.

A couple of years later, the right girl came along too. At first she wanted me to get nicer stuff. The problem was, even though I’d gotten promoted to a server administrator at work, they were still paying me my old desktop support salary. The house had wiped out my savings, and I couldn’t really take on another monthly payment on anything. We fought about it a little. I showed her how little was left at the end of every month, and I argued that everything in the house was nicer than anything my parents had at my age. For that matter, most of it was nicer than the stuff they had when I was a kid.

She relented. I don’t know how happy she was about it then. But she didn’t complain.

A few months after we got engaged, I lost my job. I was mad about it. I was convinced I would lose everything I’d worked for. I guess for a minute I thought I was like those neighbors.

But because I’d lived within my means, I survived and soon I ended up with a job with a competitive salary for the first time in my professional career.

Something else came out of it too. The day we got married, neither of us had a job. We started a small business out of necessity. Our final paychecks made the mortgage payments during that summer, and we used our wedding gift money to get the business going. Soon it was bringing in enough to make our utility payments and buy groceries. When I got a full-time job, she took the business over and I helped out at night and on weekends. It allowed her to not have to work outside the home. There are probably things she could do that would make more money, but she doesn’t have a lot of stress, and she enjoys the flexibility.

The odd thing is, we’ve been able to upgrade our lifestyle on the cheap. For example, there are three light fixtures we’ve been wanting to replace for a long time. This weekend I found two light fixtures at a yard sale for a buck apiece. My sister rolled her eyes when I told the story, but these fixtures don’t fit the yard sale stereotype. A sticker on them says they were made in February 2005. Home Depot still sells the same fixture (or something extremely similar) for about $30. That’s not terribly expensive, but $1 is a lot less than $30. The third fixture we need to replace is smaller. We can get something that will look fine with them, and look much better than what we have, for under $20. The result will be a significant upgrade in how the kitchen and living room look, at well under 1/3 the price.

That $60 savings may not sound like a lot, but we’re constantly finding ways to save a few bucks here and there like that. We’re never the first to have anything, but it seems like we always end up getting whatever it is we want or need, and meanwhile we’re socking money away and whittling down on that house payment.

Judged against the standards of my neighbors in 1988, one could argue I’m a failure. I drive a five-year-old car and most of the time I use a six-year-old computer, and the four shirts I bought in 1998 to comply with my then-employer’s dress code are still in my rotation today.

But let’s look at things another way. Not only do my wife and I have nicer stuff than my parents had when Dad was 32, we also have an easier time finding money for necessities like groceries. She can shop at the health-food stores even though they’re more expensive. As long as nothing unexpected happens, we’ll own everything outright and have absolutely no debt–no student loans, no car payments, no mortgage–well before I turn 40. I stress over some things, but money isn’t one of them.

In my early 20s, I watched some of my friends from high school rack up massive credit card debt. At least it seemed like massive debt at the time. I knew then I didn’t want to be like them, at least not in that regard. Now I know that the average American family has $9,900 in credit card debt. That’s about what one of those friends owed, and about twice what another one owed.

I know who I want to be like. I want to be like my wife’s parents. They paid off all their debt sometime in their late 30s or early 40s. Today, when my mother in law sees something she wants, she doesn’t think about it. She can just buy it. Not only that, she’s retired, and she’s nowhere near 73.

I’m not saying I want to buy anything and everything I see on a whim. But not having to think much at all about money seems really nice.

And I guess on some level I’ve known that for almost 20 years, since I was in my early teens.

How my cars got their names

I don’t name my computers or much of anything else, but for some reason I name my cars.

Actually, they kind of name themselves. I never understood when someone told me you can’t just give a car a name. But I do now.The first car I had that had a name was Trigger. It was a white 1992 Dodge Spirit. I was driving along one day and had to come to a stop quickly, so as I applied the brake, I said, "Whoa, Trigger!" The name stuck.

Trigger’s successor was Leonard, a 2000 Dodge Neon. Leonard’s name came from looking around too much in the parking lot. I know I’m not the only one who loses cars in parking lots.

Looking for the car reminded me of playing Redneck Rampage, whose object–er, excuse to give a plot to an FPS game whose true object is to blow up as much stuff as possible–is to find your brother Bubba. As you get close to the end of the level, you hear this hoosier saying, "’Ey Leonard! I’m over here!"

But the car didn’t look like a Bubba. It looked like a Leonard. So Leonard stuck.

My current car is a 2002 Honda Civic. Its name is Scourge. It got his name about a month after I got it. I took it in for its bi-annual St. Louis Ripoff in the Name of Armchair Environmentalism, a.k.a. the Emissions Test. It failed. Never mind the car was a year old and completely refurbished. It failed. Because of the gas cap. Never mind that a Honda Civic can tool around town without a gas cap at all and it’ll pollute less than the 9-MPG monsters I see all over the place in the southern metro area of St. Louis.

Nope, St. Louis’ pollution problems aren’t caused by people driving vehicles inspired by the Hum-vee. It can all be traced down to one gas cap, belonging to a Honda Civic.

It was obvious what the name of this lean, mean, Japanese polluting machine had to be: Scourge. You see, Scourge isn’t gray. Scourge was actually white when he came from the factory. He just looks gray because of that smog cloud that permanently surrounds him.

Scourge passed after I bought the gas cap. And when the time came for Scourge to be tested again, they just checked his papers, collected the 40 bucks, and waved him right through without a test.

Tell me this isn’t a scam.

But I guess if I hadn’t paid that initial $40, I would have never known Scourge’s name.

My adventures in bureaucracy

I don’t have anything interesting to tell you today, but since Steve DeLassus sends me at least a weekly dose from people who think their laundry is interesting, I’ll tell you about my day yesterday.
My Dodge Neon died in my driveway a couple of days ago. Yesterday I paid a towing company to haul it off to the dealer so I could turn it in. The warranty was up 3,911 miles ago. Figures. (Now I feel better about having paid $700 extra to extend my Honda Civic’s warranty to 7 years/100,000 miles.)

That will be the last time I ever lease a car, by the way. Leases make sense when you want to always have a new car. I don’t. I can think of a few things that would make me happier than to still be driving that same Civic in 2018. But it’s not a very long list.

The cause of death turned out to be a broken o-ring, which caused the spark plug chambers to fill with oil. So I can’t exactly count it against the car. Fixing it still isn’t cheap though.

After watching my Neon get towed away, I took my new car off for its St. Louis-is-too-polluted emissions test. If St. Louis really wanted to fix its pollution problems, they’d extend the light-rail system out into the Missouri suburbs where people actually live, but too many people are convinced people (they usually use another word that I won’t repeat) will ride Metrolink in from East St. Louis and steal their big-screen TVs. More on that in a second.

My Civic failed the test. My gas cap was polluting too much. Yeah. Vehicles that get 12 miles to the gallon on the highway are fine, but my 38 MPG Civic with its factory gas cap causes too much pollution to be acceptable.

So I had to drive to Autozone (polluting all the way), spend $5.91 on a new gas cap for a year-old car, then drive back to the emissions station (polluting less all the way) and sit in line for 30 minutes with my engine running (does that pollution count?), and get tested again to prove the world was rid of the scourge of my substandard gas cap.

Yes sir. We’re more concerned in St. Louis about the damage caused by faulty gas caps on ULEV vehicles than we are about our lack of an effective light-rail system. But the good news is I now have three of the four pieces of paper I need to get my vehicle licensed legally. And you thought Missouri’s temporary 30-day tags were a courtesy. No sir. It’ll take you pretty close to that long to navigate the bureaucracy.

And finally I had someone come out to look at my hot water heater. Based on the serial number, it’s old enough to drive and probably got its license last month. (That might explain a couple of those mysterious dings in the Neon.) He replaced a couple of 16-year-old parts, which will hopefully stop its leaking, which will hopefully cause my monthly gas bill to descend from the stratosphere. If I were paying the bill, I’d have just replaced the thing, but my home warranty means someone else makes the decisions.

It was a fine day. Or something.

Time to shop for a car again

I shredded a tire on my 2000 Dodge Neon this morning. That’s one way to keep me from getting to church on Sunday. What makes things much worse is that I won’t have the car past the end of June, so my last few miles on that car are expensive ones.Since I’d just thrown a bunch of money away, I figured I’d spend some time looking at Americans’ favorite money sink: cars. I was slightly happy to find out that it’s almost impossible to get a gas/electric hybrid in St. Louis. That probably means they’re not bringing enough of them here, but it’s good to see that the ones that are coming in are selling.

But I want an upgrade from my Neon in terms of reliability, fuel economy, and price. My Neon’s been decent, but I want something that’s an improvement in all three. With financing the way it is today, almost anything lowers my monthly payments. But now I have the opportunity to slash my second-largest monthly expense and significantly lower my sixth-largest, and I’d much rather spend money on almost anything other than gasoline and a depreciating car. Computers depreciate even faster, but I’ve more than made back the money I dumped into computers over the years.

The Volkswagen Jetta is priced well and holds value extremely well, but its fuel economy is rated at 23/29 MPG city/highway, and I consistently get between 27 and 32 in my Neon, depending on how much city driving I do.

The Nissan Sentra is priced similarly and gives upgraded fuel economy (28/36) but Nissans don’t hold value as well as a Volkswagen, Toyota or Honda. The only reason I looked, in all honesty, is because the local VW dealer also sells Nissans.

As I scanned the three rows of Honda Civics at the Honda dealer across the street from the VW dealer, I spotted something I really liked. In a jungle of cars rated 29/38, I spotted a lone car rated 35/40. It’s a Honda Civic HX. It’s a mid-range Civic, and it offers the same transmission they use in the Civic Hybrid, which gives it a slight edge over the other Civics for fuel economy. (The Hybrid is rated at 48/47.) I did the math, and a Civic Hybrid getting 10 MPG more will save me about $600 over the course of the next five years, but it’ll cost me $7,000 more. The $2,000-a-year tax deduction on hybrid vehicles is going away, so it’ll only save me $560 in taxes once. If I kept the car for 10 years and got a $2,000 tax deduction every year, the Hybrid would be more economical than the HX. Barely.

A little research at www.fueleconomy.gov shows that particular Civic is the most fuel-efficient conventional gasoline-powered car with an automatic transmission on the market in the United States. The only cars that beat it are hybrids or diesels.

I know where to get a Toyota Prius (52/45 MPG), but it’s not priced much better than the Civic Hybrid. It still won’t pay for itself over a Civic HX without help from the government. I also don’t like its styling all that much. I can live with it, but I actually like the way most of the other cars on my short list look. (The Nissan Sentra I can take or leave, but I like it better than the Prius.) The Toyota Echo has the second-highest fuel economy among conventional gasoline cars, but I really don’t like the Echo’s looks.

A few test drives will undoubtedly change my order of preference, but for now I’m definitely leaning towards the Civic HX.

It doesn’t hurt that the Civic HX’s tires are a lot cheaper and easier to find than tires for my Neon, either.

This commercial was just wrong

OK, something is horribly wrong here. I was watching TV (that’s not what’s horribly wrong) and there was a commercial (that’s not what’s horribly wrong either) and it reminded me that I’m paying $383 or something a month to lease a Dodge Neon. Got that? Well, this was a car commercial, about leasing another car. For $369 a month.
The car was a Jaguar.

Something’s messed up here.

Our inflated egos show on our streets

I hate SUVs. I hate irresponsible drivers. I hate Telegraph Road. I hate them I hate them I hate them.
There. It’s out of my system. I feel a whole lot better now.

Wait. I’m not supposed to hate drivers. OK, fine. I hate it when people drive irresponsibly. Put the newspaper away and save it for when you get there. (Not that it’s worth reading anyway, if it’s the St. Louis Post-Disgrace.) If you drop your cell phone, kick it away so it won’t get wedged under one of your pedals, then pull over to pick it up. OK?

And whatever you do, don’t ever, EVER, EVER (why don’t all browsers support the blink tag? This is perfectly appropriate use of it) stop for no reason whatsoever. OK?

There are people behind you, and you’re encased in a two-ton deadly weapon. Don’t you ever, ever forget that.

Here’s what happened to me today.

It was 2:45 pm. I was on my way to church. Special service. I was scheduled to ush. What’s ushing? Whatever ushers do. It was the intersection of I-255 and Telegraph Rd. The bad news is, when you pass that intersection, your IQ temporarily drops to whatever the square root of your IQ is. The worse news is, so does everyone else’s.

Well, some IDIOT went through the stoplight and immediately slammed on its brakes (yeah, I know the proper is “his or her,” but when you’re that stupid, you relinquish the right to human pronouns) for no good reason. The woman in the SUV ahead of me slammed on her brakes. I slammed on my brakes. I skidded into her. My license plate slammed into her trailer hitch. A woman in an SUV behind me slammed on her brakes and slammed into me. She put a tear in my rear bumper and put a dent in my trunk. I didn’t notice the damage on the scene–only later. She tore her front bumper up pretty good–I think she hit me pretty hard.

The IDIOT zoomed off unscathed, and probably blissfully unaware.

We were all in a huge hurry–which probably square-rooted all of our IQs yet again–and we didn’t want any trouble. None of us was hurt, our vehicles were all capable of driving and just sustained cosmetic damage, and none of us needed our insurance rates to go up, and certainly none of us needed a ticket. We didn’t even bother to exchange phone numbers.

The lady who slammed into me was going the same place I was, it turned out. Good thing I kept my cool, eh?

But I’m really sick of how people drive these days. Everyone thinks they’re so blasted important. They drive around yakking on the phone. They slam on their brakes because they think they’re about to miss a turn. Well, if you miss a turn on account of your own stupidity, who are you to inconvenience the two dozen people behind you? Turn off at the next road and loop back. Yeah, it costs you five minutes. But who are you to take time from two dozen other people?

In my case, I’m going to have to take off work to take my car into the shop, its going to cost me a few hundred bucks to replace a bumper, and I’m going to have to get a rental. But at least that IDIOT wasn’t inconvenienced at all. And that’s all that matters. In the IDIOT‘s mind. And when you’re King of the Universe, that’s fine. You can think that way.

Incidentally, detouring when I mess up is my standard practice. It’s called courtesy. It used to be called common courtesy, but it’s pretty rare these days. Probably because people notice discourtesy, but it’s often impossible to see courtesy, so courtesy isn’t appreciated. But I’d rather be unnoticed than get noticed because I inconvenienced someone.

But stopping suddenly isn’t the only thing IDIOTs do. They cut you off and then they slow down. They run red lights because it’s much more important for them to get where they’re going than it is for you to get where you’re going. That’s my really big pet peeve. I stick my car’s nose into the intersection with my horn blaring when they do that. Usually they smile and wave. The nerve of them.

Once I even saw an IDIOT in a left-turn lane wait through a light, then cut across two lanes of traffic going straight and make a right turn! No one ever taught that IDIOT that three lefts make a right.

But rather than shaming people into obeying the law, or enforcing red lights with cameras, instead we buy ever bigger and bigger cars and Station-wagon Utility Vehicles. It’s a big arms race. Guys like me lose out. I’m 5’9″. A Dodge Neon has more headroom than I need. A Station-wagon Utility Vehicle is completely impractical for me. I can’t afford the sticker price, and I can’t afford to keep gas in it. Neither can most of the people who buy them, but I guess that’s what credit cards are for.

If the only people who bought Station-wagon Utility Vehicles were the people who really needed them, it wouldn’t be a problem. The problem is, every other person has one. So we make our roads unsafe by killing everyone’s visibility and ensuring that accidents are more serious by driving cars with twice as much mass as we need, and we make our world unsafe by unnecessarily funneling billions of dollars to the Middle East, so Mohammedan millionaires can turn around and fund terrorists who blow up Israelis and Americans.

So I guess it isn’t just the intersection of I-255 and Telegraph that square-roots our intelligence, huh? Maybe it’s the water. Nah, I’ll blame television.

If we’d all just come down off our pedestals and realize our proper place in life, we’d all be a whole lot better off. We’d be a lot safer, and I’ll bet you anything we’d all get just as much done.

But the way we act right now? No wonder the rest of the world hates us. We deserve it.

A couple of things.

Katelyn update. Katelyn came through surgery and the doctors were thrilled about how it went. They were able to repair the damage and rebuild a valve using some of her own tissue, which will be much lower-maintenance than an artificial valve.
The roller-coaster ride probably isn’t over yet, but one can hope.

Thanks for your prayers.

Daniel Pearl. As a professionally-trained journalist, you knew I’d talk about this at some point. This is a work hazard. I know about those. I’ve been on crime scenes before the suspect was apprehended. I’ve received telephone threats. When you cover such topics as crime, war, or terrorism, you take a certain amount of risk–risks that a sportswriter doesn’t. You accept those risks, or you get out.

I decided I didn’t love journalism enough to have to take those risks. I became a magazine feature writer (better suited for my talents anyway), then I took a job in another field.

Daniel Pearl took the other route, which left him chasing down people in Pakistan with ties to a known terrorist. He knew what he was getting into. But he smelled a story. I know that feeling. I’ve done it too. I once drove out to what I believed was a compound, hoping to talk to a militant separatist in person. But I didn’t go alone. And the reporter I went with happened to be an ex-Marine. I liked the odds and wanted the story.

You’ll notice there isn’t a mass exodus of journalists leaving Pakistan. Certainly some have left. But many have stayed behind. That’s where the stories are. Sure, it’s risky. Will there be more kidnappings? Absolutely. Is Daniel Pearl dead? Probably not yet. He’s not worth anything to them dead. Now if they take a second hostage and then give a 24-hour ultimatum, he’s finished.

The public outcry on this should be tremendous. I’ve lost a tremendous amount of respect for Pakistan. And I’m going to call a duck a duck. Islam is a cult. Yeah, like Jonestown. Meanwhile there are people talking about U.S. atrocities at Guantanamo Bay–the people there live under conditions our soldiers wish they could live under, so if the United States is mistreating anyone right now, it’s our own soldiers–and public school districts teaching proselytizing Islam in some parts of the country. That has to stop. It’s unconstitutional. Unfortunately, it’s also trendy. Don’t expect to hear a peep from the ACLU. Muslims don’t oppress. If you ask the politically correct, that is.

Daniel Pearl knew what he was getting into. That doesn’t justify his kidnapping. I don’t blame Geraldo Rivera for carrying a gun as he reports. I don’t blame the journalists who leave. I don’t blame the journalists who stay. I admire their courage.

There’s not much I can do. I’m not going back into reporting. I’m certainly not going over there. I don’t have the skills to be an effective soldier or reporter over there.

There’s one thing I can do. And I will. The lease on my car is up in just over a year. It’s a Dodge Neon, hardly a gas-guzzler. But it gets 26-35 miles to the gallon. There are cars out there that use less gas. Honda makes some. Toyota makes some. Volkswagen makes some.

Honda and Toyota make hybrid cars. Bill Maher bought one and advocates others do the same–why support our enemies? He surprised me. I have newfound respect for him. I weighed the pros and cons of doing the same. I concluded that a VW Jetta would actually be more economical for me, based on the amount I drive.

But I’m torn. I can pay more money to the Japanese, so I can avoid paying more money to the Middle East.

A month ago I’d have decided I was doing enough by buying a German car that got 30+ MPG in all conditions. Now I don’t think so. Now I’m mad enough to pay extra, just to avoid supporting people like the buttwipes who kidnapped Daniel Pearl.

It’s been said that economically, the Japanese never stopped fighting World War II. They rarely buy our products, and they flooded our marketplace with theirs, first making their stuff cheaper than ours, then making it cheaper and, in most cases, better. They couldn’t conquer us militarily, but if they didn’t conquer us economically, they sure changed us irreversibly.

It’s time we follow the Japanese lead and fight with our dollars. Where do terrorists get their money? Ultimately, it originates from oil. So if we stop buying their oil, they’ve got nothing to use to fight against us. The best way we can start is by trading in our SUVs for hybrid cars, even if that means swallowing hard and paying more for a hybrid than we would for a conventional car. And even if that means not buying American. (I never thought I’d say that.)

Sending our soldiers isn’t enough. This country didn’t win WWII by sending out soldiers and acting like nothing else happened, other than waving U.S. flags and checking CNN.com a few times a day. We won WWII by fundamentally changing our way of life. Some of the changes were temporary. Some of them were permanent.

If we don’t want another Vietnam or Somalia, we’re going to have to remember what total warfare is, grit our teeth, and take it like men.

So don’t do it for the planet. Do it for our troops. Do it for hostages like Daniel Pearl. Do it because you can’t shoot Osama bin Laden or Richard Reid in the teeth. Do it for Todd Beamer and the rest of the people on those planes and in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Do it for the people they left behind. Do it for the countries that rallied to our side.

Use some of the money you save on gas and on car payments to pay down those credit cards. And rest easier knowing that airplane you see overhead isn’t going to explode, or crash into something important.

See you later. I’m going to war.

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