Difficult Nova Decision

Over the past 24 hours I had to make a very difficult decision: whether to purchase another Nova.

I found a local Nova in Auto Trader. Here is a picture:

Overall the car was in really nice shape. It is a 66,000 mile, garaged original with no rust, disc brakes, a 350, solid front end, and A/C. The interior was almost spotless:

None of the plastic was cracking or fading except for the clip that holds the seat belt to the headrest. Even the plastic supporters for the seat belts were intact!

The owner let me drive it a little. It drove great, though it was a little wobbly due to the biased ply tires.

But here’s the rub. The 66,000 mile drive train had 31 years on it. There is no telling how much longer it will run without major failures. The paint is 31 years old. Yeah, it looks great now, but if I drove the car I know that paint would start looking bad and rusting in no time. I would have to repaint that car almost immediately. That’s not cheap. But what ultimately did me in is that I knew I would have to put a lot of time into this car immediately to make it “right”—mainly time in sanding and painting it. I’ve done that before. It takes a huge amount of time to do a “right” paint job. And after I put all this time into it, I would still be left with a 66,000 mile, 31 year old drive train.

I do have time to maintain cars and fix occasional problems. But at this time in my life—with a young kid, a job, a marriage, working on a degree, and everything else—I flat out don’t have the time for a project, even one as minor as this.

Dang, that would have been a nice car.

I would really like to get back into the Nova scene, but the only way I can see this working is if I can find a reasonably priced, completed project car. An unrestored original would be nice only if I had the time to go through it.

Organic crap

I believe that organic foods and gardening products are a silly and hypocritical fad.

According to Consumer Reports, “There is no definitive proof that organic produce offers a nutritional advantage over conventionally grown fruit and vegetables. Nor is it known how much risk is entailed in consuming the tiny quantities of pesticides on food over a lifetime.” (link to article)

Consumer Reports is a liberal publication. As a case in point, Consumer Reports was an outspoken advocate of single-payer, socialized medicine in the ‘90s. It’s especially poignant that Consumer Reports says this about organic products.

In the absence of hard proof, how do you justify paying the steep premium for organic products? You use junk science. A common premise is that everything synthetic is poison. Go read Howard Garrett’s Dallas Morning News gardening column. He squeals when anyone mentions synthetic stuff.

Everything synthetic is poison? I’d hate to live in a world without modern medicine, much of which uses synthetic products.

Everything organic is good? Go make some tea out of the cyanide that my (now gone) Carolina laurel cherry produced. Or talk to the residents of Greece, Corsica, and Turkey who use naturally available tremolite to white wash their homes. Tremolite is full of asbestos, another naturally occurring substance. Or go check out the environmental impact of organic chemicals like rotenone, sabadilla, or even soap. (Want to know a good way to kill a tank of fish? Add organic soap. Read this link.)

Even more humorous, “A study by the Southwest Research Institute found that the amount of produce containing detectable levels of pesticide residue dropped by half with washed samples. Where residue remained, levels were reduced by 29 to 98 percent.” This is again from Consumer Reports (link to article). This puts the pesticide levels of washed produce on par with organic products, which themselves contain a certain amount of background pesticide levels.

OK, so that argument fails. Aren’t carcinogenic synthetic pesticides and fertilizers causing cancer rates to rise? Not according to the American Cancer Society.

Well, aren’t organic products more environmentally sensitive? Not at all!

A mantra of the green movement is “use less.” Use less food, use less energy, use less paper, use less of everything. Inconvenient fact: organic products cost substantially more than traditional foods. It’s in large part because organic farming is substantially less productive than contemporary farming methods. Ultimately, organic goods’ increased price reflects the increased resource consumption required to produce the organic product.

Organic products have no clear health benefit and are more harmful to the environment. Why do people buy them? I suspect it’s in large part a fad and a social statement. The social statement aspect is misguided, like buying a SUV to give the appearance of being in touch with nature.

Sales Tax Deduction–Don’t Bother Counting Receipts

Congress granted a new deduction for 2004: the sales tax deduction. Taxpayers can now deduct income tax or sales tax–not both. Since Texas has no income tax, the sales tax deduction finally puts us on a level playing field with most states. This deduction only lasts through 2005, so I hope Congress extends it!

My wife went through all of our 2004 receipts and split out each transaction in Microsoft Money so that they had sales tax as a separate line item. Here’s what I mean by “split out”: suppose you spent $4.32 at a restaurant for a meal. Normally you would just enter $4.32 and categorize it all under Food : Dining Out (this syntax means that Dining Out is a subcategory of the Food category). Now that the sales tax is deductible, it needs to be tracked separately. In splitting the transaction, the $4.32 has a $3.99 Food : Dining Out component and a $0.33 Taxes : Sales Tax component.

This splitting screws up our budgeting. A while back I established a monthly spending guideline in Money’s Budget feature for the Food : Dining Out category. Before 2004, the entire $4.32 would go into the Food : Dining Out category. During 2004, with the sales taxes split out, only $3.99 went into that category. Now it looks like we are doing better with our budget than reality.


After going though all of our receipts–we probably lost only about 2% of all receipts–we had Money tell us how much sales tax we spent in 2004.

The IRS allows you to deduct either your actual sales tax expenses or calculate an estimated annual sales tax expense based on your income. You still get to add to the IRS estimate sales taxes on major purchases such as vehicles.

Surprisingly, the IRS estimate was around a third higher than my actual sales tax spending! I figure that either 1. the IRS is generous with this estimate or 2. the IRS figures that the average taxpayer spends far more of his income on taxable goods and services than me.

Given this revelation, I am no longer splitting out sales taxes on each transaction. There is no way I could beat the IRS sales tax estimate unless I radically reduced my savings and non-taxable spending (e.g., charity, mortgage).

More comments on fruit juices

Trilia made some interesting comments on my fruit juice diatribe:

As someone who has been paying a lot of attention to healthy foods in recent days, I have to disagree with this assertion. Soft drinks generally do contain less calories per ounce than an equal amount of fruit juice, but as you show, the difference is about 50-100 calories. This amount can easily be compensated for with about 20 minutes of moderate exercise.

Also, soft drinks provide no nutritional benefit, carbonated drinks can make acid reflux and fluid retention worse, and their added caffeine has been linked to bone loss (possibly by not allowing calcium absorption). Juices, although stripped of a majority of the fruit’s nutritional content, still contain vitamins and aren’t going to bloat you like the Goodyear Blimp. I’m not saying skip the fruit for a juice, but if I have a choice between Coke and orange juice, I’ll take the juice.

It is true that fruit juices contain nutrients that soft drinks don’t, but these nutrients come with problems. If you eat reasonably, you already get “enough” nutrients and do not need supplements. So by adding fruit juices to your diet, you may be getting “too many” nutrients. I have yet to see convincing data suggesting that the average person benefits from more than “enough.” In fact, studies pop up here and there saying that more than “enough” can harm you.

Trilia suggested you can exercise an extra “20 minutes” (a day?) to counteract the fruit juices. Suppose you normally exercise 30 minutes a day, every day. That mean the first 20 minutes has no net benefit; it just counteracts fruit juice. Why not quit drinking fruit juices, thereby making all 30 minutes of exercise a productive effort?

I guess I wasn’t clear on one point. The absolute best hydrating substance for almost every situation is plain water. My point in comparing fruit juices to soft drinks is to show that fruit juices make you fatter than a form of junk food.