New Year’s Resolutions

So there’s this tradition of making a resolution to improve yourself at the end of every year. It’s supposed to be a method of self-improvement.

When I was a kid most of my resolutions were to brush my teeth more often. After I started being interested in dating my resolutions mostly revolved around putting on more muscle mass.

This year they’re mostly about being a better person for my wife instead of my parents (teeth brushing) or a potential girlfriend (muscles).

1) When someone has a birthday I will try to make that day a little better for them.
I’ve become something of a Grinch when it comes to birthdays because I don’t like my own. I go to parties and am a nice guest, but I don’t try to do something for someone when there isn’t an established event for them already. I’ll try to change that from now on. Of course this will depend on how close I am to the birthday person. Doing something for them might just mean a message on their Facebook wall. It could mean I get them a cool present and send it in the mail or even offer to plan a party for them!

2) Enjoy my own birthday.
Related to the birthday Grinch thing, I don’t enjoy my own birthday. I don’t like the idea of getting older and have wanted to stay the same age since I was seven. Getting older sucks once you get all the privileges! Now its all about more responsibilities. Well, I should stop blaming my birthday for that and have a nice time. No more being grumpy for the two weeks that surround my birthday.

3) Try harder to be a vegetarian again.
My wife is a vegetarian for ethical reasons. She thinks its wrong to kill an animal just because you want something tastier to eat than the delicious combination of cheese and beans (We are fans of Mexican food). I phrased the question of vegetarianism to myself a little differently awhile ago. Who is a better person, someone who kills animals when they don’t have to or someone who doesn’t? That kind of made it clear to me. Someone who doesn’t kill animals is better.
While I don’t think I can stay off meat entirely because too many of my favorite recipes lack adequate substitutes. There are good soy substitutes for chicken, but not for bacon for example. Thus I told my wife two years ago that I would make an effort to replace or subtract meat from my meals when I felt it did not add anything to the meal. I’ve since started slipping in that promise, so I am reaffirming it as a New Year’s Resolution.

4) “Donate” money to Kiva.
Kiva is a cool organization that loans money to small business owners in developing countries. Note that Kiva doesn’t give money to them, it loans money. If you give money to someone they often don’t spend it wisely. There’s a natural tendency to see a gift as “fun money” instead of money to improve your station in life. But if the money is a loan, then the debt ensures that the money will be used to improve the person’s business instead of buying a TV or whatever.
About 10% of the people who receive money default on their loans (The site says 1.25%, but 10% was the number I remembered when I looked at it previously). For some perspective, the USA default rate on small business loans is 1.5% right now and was 6% during the recent recession. Another problem is that although you are fronting the money for the investment, you make nothing off of it. When the business owner repays the loan the interest is used to pay the salary of the collector working for Kiva. You get back your original investment, but that’s all. So what if someone defaults? Well, Kiva encourages you to spread your money out over multiple people in $20 amounts to avoid this problem. Then if someone defaults you’re only out $20.
I said I was donating the money though. My plan is that when I get my money back that I will just reinvest it in another person until its all gone due to defaults (which could take years). I got a $200 gift from my grandparents for Christmas, so I think that’ll be the starting amount of my Kiva account. I’ll add in more later as I get older.

5) Set up my wife’s Roth IRA.
Kind of strange to have this one follow up a resolution to invest money for other people, but investing money for yourself is important too! There are tons of different retirement accounts, but the do it yourself ones are called plain IRAs and Roth IRAs. Plain IRAs are taxed when you start withdrawing money from them after you retire. Roth IRAs are taxed before you put money into them, but never after that. Which one is better? It depends on your tax bracket. If your bracket is going to go up by the time you retire, then a Roth IRA is better. If its going to stay the same, a regular IRA is better.
I have a Roth IRA set up for myself. For someone in the bottom tax bracket like me, a Roth IRA will earn three times as much as a regular IRA in investments by the time I retire. My wife is in the same boat for her tax bracket. She doesn’t have an account set up yet and we’ve been talking about it for awhile. Next year I will set it up and we can start saving for retirement even though we are in our 20’s.

And those are my New Year’s Resolutions! I’d love to hear your own resolutions and the stories behind them in the comments below.

-Mister Ed

Montana Home Invasion

A still from a security camera of Diren Dede stealing from Markus Kaarma's garage.
A still from a security camera of Diren Dede stealing from Markus Kaarma’s garage.

What topic do I want to write about tonight?

Hurray! It’s another sketchy self-defense/homicide case that went international on the news! (sarcasm)

I read this on the New York Times. You can check it out at this article.

So what’s the story?

Diren Dede was a 17 year-old exchange student from Germany going to school in Montana.

He thought it’d be fun to go out and steal stuff from someone’s garage.

He found an open garage and went in to take some stuff.

The owners, Markus Kaarma and Janelle Pflager, were cautious because there had been other burglaries in the area.

They’d installed cameras and motion sensors in the garage.

They chose not to actually close the garage all the way because they like to duck under it to smoke outside.

Not closing the garage didn’t make sense to my Californian mind at first. Why not just open your door to go smoke?

The case is in cold Montana though. The couple probably smoke in their garage and just duck down to breathe the smoke outside.

Anyways, Markus Kaarma saw the motion detectors. He grabbed his shotgun and fired into the garage.

Janelle Pflager says she heard someone in the garage shouting, “Hey! Wait!”

Montana law gives someone the right to use a gun against a home invader only if the trespasser is violently threatening someone in the house.

That’s pretty clearly not the case.

To make it worse, Kaarma had spoken with his barber recently about wanting to “shoot some kid.”

And there’s a purse at the back of the garage that was placed there with marked items, so that if it was stolen they could track down the thief.

So… it’s almost a clear case of premeditation.

They didn’t burglar proof their house. They set up stuff to tell them if a thief was in the garage. And Markus talked about wanting to kill someone.

The facts as I see them make the case clearly second-degree murder, if not first.

People have the right to protect themselves and their property, but there is a limit to how far that protection goes.

Kaarma could use his gun for intimidation, but when he heard Dede telling him to wait, he should’ve realized that firing his gun was a bad choice.

All that aside, I’m also a little surprised he could afford bail for a murder case.

That’s all for tonight!

-Mister Ed