Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Okay, Fine, I’ll Write About the Damn Financial Bailout

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 61 - united states of china

Today I found the following e-mail in my inbox:

Dear Nick,

How come you haven’t written anything about the horrible injustice that is the $700 BILLION DOLLAR bailout of stupid people? I’d love to see one of your cartoons about this topic too, but I’d also be interested in hearing what you seriously think about the bailout.


Scott, you bring up a good point—I tend not to write about politics and so-called “important issues” very much. That’s because topics like the financial bailout (whose proper name is the Kick Taxpayers In The Balls Act of 2008) get covered on every other news site, blog, and cocktail napkin in the country, so I figured everyone wouldn’t mind reading about something more refreshing for a change, like ketchup theft and workplace drinking games.

But fine, I give up. I’ll give you all my two cents on the financial bailout. In short, it sucks. In long, it suuuuuuuuuuuuuucks. In fact, it sucks so much that, for the first time in history, I actually wrote to my Congressional representatives and told them not to vote for it if they still want my vote in November.

What exactly about the financial bailout plan has earned my boundless ire? Well, by default, I tend to oppose any federal legislation that would spend $700 billion on anything. You can spend a mere $85 billion to bail out an insurance giant and I might not bat an eye. And you might be able to get away with spending $500 billion on a war nobody likes anymore. But $700 billion dollars is where I draw the freaking line.

See? There’s the line, and I just drew it.

So why do I have such a problem with the government spending $700 billion dollars on what essentially amounts to a blank check to the financial industry to continue being a bunch of retarded monkeys? Well, for one, consider exactly what else could be done with that much money. $700 billion dollars can buy a lot of things, such as:

  • A check made out to me in the amount of $700 billion dollars.
  • $700 billion in cash in a suitcase for me.
  • 15 minutes alone with Hayden Panettiere to do anything I want.
  • Portugal.

The other problem I have with this bailout—and likely the only thing I’m going to say in this entire VERY SERIOUS ARTICLE that makes any sense—is that it doesn’t help the people who need help the most. No no, I’m not talking about homeowners struggling to keep their houses. I’m talking about midget helicopter policemen. Nowhere in the entire text of the bailout bill is any reference whatsoever made to midget helicopter policemen. In fact, at second glance, a whole lot of other people aren’t being helped by this bill, including:

  • You.
  • Me.
  • Us.
  • Everyone we know.

Indeed, unless you know someone who works in the financial industry or who somehow benefits from the merciless death of the U.S. dollar (e.g. terrorists—and I hope you don’t know any of those), chances are that you can’t think of a single person who’d benefit from a bailout bill whose text does not include the line “The Federal government will write a check to each American in the amount of $5,000” and instead says (and this is a direct quote from a paraphrase of someone I heard talking about the bill) “Neener, neener. Thanks for the bailout, chumps. Love, Wall Street.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for me to get off my soapbox which is really just a regular cardboard box because I’m too poor to afford a soapbox thanks to the economy. And hopefully this will teach you all never to request that I talk seriously on any serious subject ever again. Seriously.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Is One Gasoline Brand Better Than Another?

Author: Nick
Category: Money

comic 60 - favorite gas

Like many bargain-hunting Americans, I can’t say that I’m particularly loyal to very many brands. I’ll buy Ragu spaghetti sauce if it’s on sale, Prego if it’s not, or just eat a tomato if they’re both too pricey. Heck, I don’t even favor one particular supermarket! I’m even less brand loyal when it comes to clothes, cars, and computers. But if you look back over my expenses over the last five years, there’s one name that’ll keep popping up every couple of weeks without fail. That name is Shell, as in multinational oil company Shell.

But here’s the weird part: I don’t even feel particularly loyal to Shell. Probably the only reason they still have a monopoly over my gasoline dollars is because my mom insisted on only using Shell gasoline as I was growing up. That, and after I got my first car, the three closest gas stations to home were all Shells. Now that I live in a different city from where I grew up, I still get my gas exclusively from Shell. And the other day, as I passed a nearby Texaco station that was selling Regular for 10 cents less than the Shell station at which I’d just refueled, I asked myself a startling question: Why am I still buying Shell gas?

After that, I considered the following facts about the Shell stations in my city:

  1. Shell gas is consistently a few cents more expensive than Exxon, Texaco, and the no-brand gas stations like Free State.
  2. The three closest Shell gas stations are actually a little bit out of my way now. The closest one to “my way” is generally the pricier of the three.
  3. The Shell gas stations are not as well maintained as those of the other brands. Frequently the windshield squeegee liquid is empty or really dirty at the Shells I frequent, and either the air or vacuums are out of order half the time.
  4. If I ran a gas station, I would call it “Cheap Ass Gas.” But that’s beside the point.

Perhaps another reason I still maintain my Shell “loyalty” is because I thought it was a superior gas back when I first purchased my MINI Cooper. That’s because many MINI drivers on the internet recommended Shell’s V-Power premium gas over other brands and grades. Now that I drive a Mazda3 that only needs Regular, do I still need to get that Regular from Shell?

After presenting myself with these questions, I did some research on gasoline brands to see if other folks had thoughts or scientific evidence as to which gasoline brand was the best. About five minutes into my research, I stopped being an idiot and remembered that all major gas brands share refineries and pipelines. So while Shell might be refining that oil, Exxon and Citgo may be the ones selling it. And in the next state over, the reverse may be true. When it comes to gasoline, gas is gas.

What may make a difference, however, are the additives that each brand adds to its fuel. You may have heard of Chevron and Texaco’s Techron additive. In fact, some people seem to swear by Techron. Others favor Shell’s additives, and still others can be found who prefer virtually every other brand of gasoline because it’s supposedly better for their vehicles. And while I couldn’t find any scientific studies to confirm my hypothesis, I found no general consensus that one brand of gasoline performed significantly better than others.

I did, however, find several brands referring to themselves as Top Tier Gasoline because they use more than the EPA minimum recommended amounts of detergents to help keep your engine clean. But again, I found no scientific proof that more detergent keeps your engine more cleaner.

The only real difference between gas formulas that I found is that, quite consistently, those which are 10-15% ethanol provide much worse gas mileage that those that are 100% Made in the Middle East or Perhaps the Gulf of Mexico gasoline. Unfortunately pretty much all of the fueling stations around here have switched to some blend of ethanol.

Will I keep using Shell gas after discovering all this? Possibly, though mostly out of habit. I may experiment with other brands to see if there is any noticeable difference in performance. Don’t worry, I know not to buy from Citgo since the only additives they put in their gas are communism and anti-American sentiments.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Punny Poll #34: How About This Weather We’ve Been Having?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 59 - weathermen

Last week’s month’s decade’s Punny Poll was a quick little survey to see how everyone’s enjoying the comics I’ve been throwing up with each article. With a nearly 90% approval rating, I think it’s about time for the comics to run for political office! Almost 20% of you said I should go as far as to quit writing articles altogether and just do comics. While I admit that my ongoing battle with writer’s block often makes this tempting, I just don’t see Punny Money becoming a comic-only endeavor anytime soon.

In the wake of all this disastrous weather we’ve been having lately, and to go along with my recent anti-hurricane wall proposal (which I hear has been read by researchers at MIT on a placemat in their cafeteria), I thought it’d be interesting to see how everyone’s finances have “weathered” Mother Nature’s recent fury.
[Read more…]

Monday, September 15, 2008

Stealing Restaurant Condiments: It’s Time To Settle An Age-Old Debate

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 58 - condiment thief

Everyone knows at least one person who does it. Maybe it’s your senile old grandmother who doesn’t think anything of it. Maybe it’s a co-worker who does it at lunch.

Maybe you do it yourself.

No no, I’m not talking about masturbating. (At least I hope I’m not.) I’m referring to the practice of concealed condiment collection—i.e. “stealing” ketchup and sugar packets and all those other little individually packaged seasonings you might find at a variety of restaurants.

This isn’t a new concept by any means. Historical documents dating back to the 1500s talk about routine executions being carried out on the streets of London when a person would try to hide a thimble of jam under their wig while departing the local tea house. Nowadays many people don’t even consider it a crime to stuff a few extra packets of jelly in one’s purse at the local IHOP. At the very least, plenty of folks agree that’s it a victimless crime. After all, you’re stealing tiny amounts of secondary ingredients from business owners and large multinational corporate minions, most of whom have swimming pools filled with unwanted condiment packets.

Of course, for every person who thinks absconding with restaurant condiments is on the up-and-up, there’s another who considers it outright theft. The latter group typically argues that condiments that are distributed for free by restaurants are meant to be used at the restaurant, similarly to how most all-you-can-eat buffets don’t allow you to remove food from the restaurant.

On the other hand, the average condiment collector will use a variety of reasons for justifying his or her habit:

  • They’re practically worthless.
  • I’m only taking a few.
  • I’m not hurting anyone by doing it.
  • If restaurants didn’t want people taking condiments, they shouldn’t make them available.
  • It’s just freaking ketchup!

Personally, I’m somewhere in between the two arguments, but I can already tell you what the anti-collector’s response would be to some of these excuses for legitimizing covert condiment confiscation.

  • They’re practically worthless or I’m only taking a few. Restaurant condiments aren’t as cheap as you think. Bulk ketchup, for example, runs around 3 cents a packet. Even if a giant chain negotiates that down to a penny each, it’s still 1% of the price of those Dollar Menu fries.
  • I’m not hurting anyone by doing it. What if your boss told you that he or she was taking 1% of your pay and eating it? You’d be pretty upset! Each time one of these condiment packets is taken from a restaurant, that’s money out of the pockets of everyone. And since executives and managers set pay rates for lower employees, you can probably guess who’s going to be impacted the most.
  • If restaurants didn’t want people taking condiments, they shouldn’t make them available. If that’s your argument, you should insist on paying for your condiments the next time you dine out. Or even better—bring your own!
  • It’s just freaking ketchup! Sure, it starts with ketchup. Then it might escalate to bigger things like toilet paper rolls from the restaurant bathroom, or cars from the parking lot. I’m pretty sure I read a government document stating that most terrorists got their start stealing barbeque sauce from McDonald’s.

Another common argument you’ll hear from condiment collectors: it saves them money. Well, so does stealing groceries from the supermarket; but you’re not going to walk out of Wal-Mart with a 24-ounce bottle of mustard tucked under your coat, are you? If anything, you’d save a lot more money by not dining out in these restaurants in the first place.

But since both sides of the condiment coin have their points, I think the best way to settle this argument is with a compromise. Perhaps if condiment collectors agreed to reduce their activities to only certain items and in very limited quantities, the condiment crusaders wouldn’t mind it as much. As for what condiments are okay to collect and which ones aren’t, I would propose the following lists as guidance:

Condiments That Might Be Okay to “Collect”

  • Condiments you can’t recreate at home or buy in the store (e.g. Taco Bell’s sauce).
  • A reasonable number of necessary condiments when you’re doing take-out (e.g. not 42 packets of honey when you only bought a hamburger).
  • Duck and soy sauce. I’m pretty sure both flow abundantly through the rivers of Asia.
  • One bonus condiment of your choice each time the employees are jerks or idiots.

Condiments You Shouldn’t Be Stealing From Restaurants

  • Standard condiments like ketchup and mustard. Just go buy your own at the store.
  • Pricier but still standard condiments like barbeque sauce and salad dressing.
  • Napkins. That’s just being a tightwad.
  • Salt and pepper shakers. Generally you don’t want to take condiments that are in reusable containers.
  • Table centerpieces. Yes, I’m sure there’s someone out there who yanks flowers from restaurant tables.
  • Silverware. Not even plastic sporks unless you’re doing take-out.
  • The Heinz truck that just pulled up to the back of the restaurant. Yeah, that’s hijacking.

If we all work together to keep restaurant condiment costs low, we can help ensure that future generations will have access to marvels such as Wendy’s 99 Cent Super Value Menu. But if rampant condiment theft continues unchecked, we’ll become reliant on foreign sources of ketchup which will cause prices to skyrocket, and soon you’ll be wishing you could dip your fries in crude oil instead.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Giant Anti-Hurricane Wall Around the Gulf of Mexico Would Pay For Itself

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

comic 57 - like a hurricane

As Gulf Coast residents prepare to do battle with yet another tropical menace, a few questions may come to mind. For instance, why in this era of polio vaccines and internet pizza delivery have we not found a way to prevent hurricanes? I mean, they’re just large masses of condensed water vapor with some snazzy visual and sound effects.

Well, it’s not like science hasn’t tried. According to the Wikipedia article on the subject, artificial attempts to dissipate hurricanes have included everything from dropping a tarp across the ocean to block evaporation to blowing the things to hell with nukes. Unfortunately, as hurricanes are made by God when He is really really angry, nothing that man has constructed can stand up to them.

Until now.

Instead of attempting to destroy or dissipate a hurricane, we should instead try to block or redirect them to locations nobody cares about. The simplest way to accomplish such a task would be to build a giant wall in the path of the hurricane.

Now I know what you’re thinking: What is Nick smoking today, and where can I get some? But I assure you that I’ve put a lot of thought into this, and I think an Anti-Hurricane Wall could help prevent trillions of dollars in property damage, not to mention countless lost lives.

The best place to start testing an Anti-Hurricane wall would likely be the Gulf of Mexico as it’s home to vital oil refineries and lots of people dumb enough to live below sea level. Here’s how an Anti-Hurricane Wall would work in the Gulf:

  1. Build a giant wall between Florida and Mexico. The wall would have holes near the bottom to allow sea traffic and dolphins to travel through it freely.
  2. The wall would be made of tough anti-hurricane materials such as plywood and bungee cords.
  3. When a hurricane reaches the wall, it would run into the wall and would—much like a person or rambunctious kitten impacting a wall—fall down and start crying or something.
  4. Eventually the hurricane would give up and go home or at least to some other country that can’t afford an Anti-Hurricane Wall.

See, isn’t that simple? Of course, building an enormous Anti-Hurricane Wall the size of the Gulf of Mexico would present a few challenges:

  • The wall would need to be about 500 miles long if built from, say, Key Largo, Florida to Cancun, Mexico.
  • The wall would need to be about five miles high as that’s about how high the outer portions of a hurricane tend to reach. Sure, the eye of a hurricane can reach almost twice that height, but if the surrounding part of the storm can’t get by the wall, neither can the eye.
  • Building a 2,500 square mile wall in the middle of the ocean could be quite expensive. Even if we used some 10% off coupons at Home Depot, it would likely cost around, oh, $100 billion for the 70 billion square feet of plywood and other materials needed to build this thing. But considering that Hurricane Katrina did over $80 billion in damage by itself, this thing could pay for itself in a couple of years.
  • Insurance companies could probably be convinced to pay for some or most of the wall as they’d stand to save the most from blocking hurricanes from making landfall.

Of course, there are a few negative consequences to building the Great Wall of the Gulf of Mexico. For example, I don’t think Cuba would see much sunlight ever again, and they might not like that (especially since they’d be on the wrong side of the wall). Plus some people would argue that the only wall we should be building in that region is across the U.S. border with Mexico, though I would argue that hurricanes are at least a little more dangerous than illegal immigrants. Oh, and heaven forbid a hurricane managed to knock down the wall; the ensuing tidal wave would likely wipe out the entire Gulf Coast, but let’s not dwell on the negatives any longer.

Depending on the effectiveness of the Gulf Coast Anti-Hurricane Wall, I would later recommend constructing one off the U.S. East Coast since, well, that’s where I live and I think I deserve giant protective walls as much as any Texan or Louisianian. So start calling your senators and representatives today and ask for Anti-Hurricane Walls before it’s too late. Oh, and let them know that plywood’s on sale at Lowes this week: buy 5,000,000, get 5,000,000 free!