Advice April 2009

What's Your Problem?

Food for the apocalypse, and other advice
Jason Ford/Heart Agency

Image credit: Jason Ford/Heart Agency

How do you spot a fake financial expert? If his offer sounded too good to be true, we’d ignore him. But what if he sounds credible? In this economy, I think many people will be susceptible to financial snake oil.

Donald Ng, Fremont, Calif.

Dear Donald,

Fake financial experts include everyone who has in the past 10 years represented themselves as financial experts. Please do not worry: many otherwise clever people have fallen for their snake oil. I would like to note that oil taken from Chinese water snakes is rich in Eicosapentaenoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that leading scientists believe can relieve chronic joint pain. Snake oil represents, in today’s market, a superior investment to most commercially available financial products. If you would like to purchase my revolutionary DVD explaining how to profit from this all-natural healing ointment from the comfort of your own home, e-mail me at the address below and we’ll set you up with an introductory-rate E-Z Pay Plan via Western Union. Also, send me your Social Security number, for account verification.

My husband, with uncharacteristic frugality, seems unable to resist taking home the unopened jars of jelly, mustard, and ketchup that are left on room-service trays with the half-eaten eggs. You don’t understand how many of these little jars we’re accumulating. Where will it all end?

Suzanne C., Arlington, Va.

Dear Suzanne,

Where will it end? With you being rich, that’s where! A 13-ounce jar of Bonne Maman jam (let’s assume you’re a top-shelf traveler) costs roughly $4.29. Room-service jams are about an ounce each, so do the math. In these dark days, it makes sense to offset hotel bills by taking everything you can: little mustards and ketchups, soap, shampoo, conditioner, forks, knives, glassware, pillows, mattresses, wall-mounted flat-screen televisions (call the concierge for a screwdriver). Hotel jelly happens not to be my obsession, though. Should the worst happen—systemic bank failure, meteor strike, Ebola, Nazis—I’ll be subsisting entirely on little packets of duck sauce.

I keep losing air in the front passenger-side tire of my car. I’ve had it checked by three different mechanics, but they all claim that they can’t find any punctures in it. I also had the valve stem replaced, knowing that that’s often the culprit. No luck. I cringe at the thought of replacing the whole thing. There must be something else affecting this!

Joy Eakin, Lincoln, Neb.

Dear Joy,

I subcontracted out your question to Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the Tappet Brothers, who host NPR’s Car Talk. Here’s what they told me: “What usually works for us is replacing the car. That almost always solves the problem.” They also issued this serious diagnosis: “A bad wheel rim is letting the air out. It could be bent, cracked, rusted, or porous. Or missing.”

Why do hotels put only “man-size” hangers in the closets? Have any female hotel managers ever tried hanging their own dresses or blouses on these large hangers and then seen the bumpy outcroppings in the sleeves?

Eva Groening, Washington, D.C.

Dear Eva,

Let me try to explain. You see, this is a man’s, man’s, man’s world. Man made the cars to take us over the road, man made the trains to carry heavy loads. Man made electric light to take us out of the dark, man made the boat for the water, like Noah made the ark. Man also makes hotel hangers.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. Author of the book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, Goldberg also writes the magazine's advice column. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. Previously, he served as a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward, and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

His book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. Goldberg rthe recipient of the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism. He is also the recipient of 2005's Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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