Thursday, May 31, 2007

Oh be careful little mouth what you say (or blog)

That was a song I learned as a child. It seems all the more important today. As someone who posts his full name in blogs (many people post pseudonyms), I take a risk that someone will be offended with what I have to say.

Now it seems, that it may impact a court case. In a medical malpractice suit, a doctor was found to be blogging about the trial. Apparently, he had some negative comments about the jury. When the fact that he was the author of a blog was revealed, he settled quickly rather than have the contents of his blog revealed to the jury.

The sad thing is, nothing in his blog (apparently) implied that he was guilty or innocent. So why would his blog comments matter? I guess it goes to character, which he was changing between blog & court room. The blog showed his true character. Maybe the jury would have seen that and he would have lost. Still it seems the jury should be more concerned about facts.

Oh be careful little mouth what you say....

(Full article is here)

Blue Moon over North America

It's true! Today's a blue moon. NASA says "At 9:04 pm Eastern Daylight Time on May 31st, the full moon over North America will turn blue."

See the full article at here.

(OK, I know I'm violating my own principle by posting a few lines with out adding any real value. But hey, what else can you say about a blue moon?)

Morning in America

When was the last time you really felt good about being an American? I don't mean just because your favorite candidate won or just because you found some money in your sofa. I mean real joy. The kind that sticks with you even when bad things happen.

Reagan had a TV commercial that started out "It's morning in America". Americans (in general) like the Teflon President and felt good about America. Even when things got bad, I felt good. I felt like things were going to get better.

What was odd, was Reagan had another commercial about "a bear in the woods" that encouraged anti-Soviet fears. Even with this stirred up fear, somehow you knew things were going to get better (they did, the Soviet Union outspent itself and dissolved - when was the last time you feared an ICBM ontop of your head).

In looking at the current crop of presidential wannabees, I don't see anything to be hopeful about. Instead, all I see is candidates who want to stir up problems. I wish they would give me some hope. After all that we've been through in the last couple of decades, we need hope. It's morning in America, but is a new day dawning or just another day like yesterday?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Lately, insurance has been on my mind a lot. Seems like we use insurance for two reasons: 1) to pay for things we don't expect and can't afford if they happen (e.g. fire in the house) and 2) to obtain privileges for mass-buying.

The second really isn't insurance. Say that you're going to go into the hospital for a procedure (an event near and dear to my back). The procedure "normally" costs $17,000, but since you have good insurance, it will only cost $10,000. Your part will be around $1,000. (yes, this is a real experience, numbers are close). So the $17,000 minus the $10,000 is discounted because of your "group buying" or discount procedures. Your insurance company has negotiated the stay with the hospital.

Why is this insurance? What if you had no insurance and were going to pay out of pocket. Or suppose your insurance company isn't a good negotiator?

The first thing listed above is real insurance. It's to pay for things we don't expect and can't afford. You have a traffic accident. You didn't mean to, that's why they call it an "accident". Otherwise it would be a purpose. You hit someone, they go to the hospital. Can you afford their hospital bill? (see the numbers above). Insurance pays.

But what about the small things? Here's an example I used recently. You go to the grocery store to buy a jar of pickles (and other things). Taking them out of the car at home, you drop the jar of pickles and it shatters. Who pays for the pickles? Well of course, you do. You are effectively self-insured against pickle-loss.

So we all have some degree of self-insurance. And most of us have some degree of other-insurance. What happens when the line blurs? Why do we expect our medical insurance to cover all (or part of all) of our medical costs? Are we just buying a block of medical coverage? We pay a flat fee per month and expect that to cover most of our costs. Sort of like paying $19.95 to AT&T and getting unlimited long distance. Or reduced cost long distance.

So, why all this rambling on insurance? I've recently seen an incident where a company was self-insured and suffered a large loss. Large is in the eye of the beholder. To the individuals who caused the incident, it's 1-2 year's pay. To the company, it's a blip. So who pays for it? No outside insurance company to foot the bill. It's sorta like the jar of pickles. If my 4 year old son had dropped the jar of pickles (my son is much older than 4) it would take several week's allowance for him to pay it back. For me, on the other hand, it wouldn't even be an hour's pay. So I would fit the bill, scold him for his carelessness and move on.

Let's hope that's what happens in the incident I saw. It was a big jar of pickles that got broke.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cindy Sheehan resigns

I'm sure my friends on the left and the right will pick this up and there's very little "news" in this.

Cindy Sheehan has finally resigned from her self-appointed role as the 'face' of the American anti-war movement.

I confess, I never liked anything that she said or did. I am deeply sorry that her son lost his life and sincerely hope that she can learn to live with the grief that I'm sure this event has caused her. Those who know me personally, know that I can empathize with her, even if just a little, because of the grief I have experienced.

I guess I'm a little disappointed that she has finally learned the "frustration with an anti-war movement that she said 'often puts personal egos above peace and human life.'" Seems like she has finally woken up and realized that she's been used for all this time.

I hope she's wrong when she says ""Our brave young men and women in Iraq have been abandoned there indefinitely by their cowardly leaders who move them around like pawns on a chessboard of destruction." I look forward to the day when our brave young men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan can return home.

Without any malice, I say goodbye Cindy and I wish you the best.

Monday, May 28, 2007


A very positive report this morning on NBC by Richard Engel that contained a side of the news seldom seen. The report talked about the economy and how it was growing in Kurdistan. It showed a woman who is teaching English at a university there and raising a young baby. One comment said that NO american had been killed there since the beginning of the Iraq war.

Kurdistan is a special part of Iraq. See the article here about a small group of Kurds who have made their home not far from my home. The article explains much of the history and why these Kurds support the US.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Americans for Fairness in Lending

I checked out the Americans for Fairness In Lending website. They seem to be legit. New organization with good ideas. A little bit political, but hey, most of us are.

My biggest problem is that they were started as an offshoot of ACORN and I vaguely recall hearing some bad things about ACORN but can't remember what.

Anyone out there have any idea about ACORN? good or bad?

Maxed Out

I finished the book. I don't want to post any comments yet, I'm loaning the book to someone and don't want to cloud his judgement.

I will post a couple of interesting notes, one is a reference to another book, The Two Income Trap by Elizabeth Warren. Sounds interesting, I'm going to add it to my list. Another is a website for the Americans For Fairness in Lending. I haven't checked it out yet, but intend to do so soon. From the book, it sounded interesting.

One item of interest is the Small Business Administration role. Suppose you want to start a franchise of Burger King. You go to the SBA to get a loan, run the business for a year, then go bankrupt. Who wins and who loses? Well, you lose, because your credit is damaged. You may lose your house because you may have guaranteed the loan that way. The SBA (and taxpayer) loses, becuase they probably won't get all their money back. And Burger King wins. They sold a franchise and collected full value. They probably buy back the franchise at a discounted cost and re-sell it.

Same applies to student loans. If you borrow a lot and can't get a job to repay later, who wins/loses? Same losers as above, the winner is the college.

There's something wrong here.

(note: updated link to correct website)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Maxed out

More about the book later, but one thing I learned. There are two crimes where the statute of limitation is greater than 10 years. Care to guess which two?

Murder and failure to pay student loans.

(Not verified, but it was in the book).

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Double Cycle Billing

Reading the book Maxed Out by James Scurlock. It's a tirade against credit card companies and the way that they go after people. I read a paragraph about double cycle billing (actually less than that, the focus was on something else).

So I did a quick search with a generic search engine and found what double cycle billing was all about. Turns out, I got hit with this last month!

I typically pay my credit card in full each month. I use it a lot, gas, eating out, just about any purchase over a few bucks is on my credit card. Some purchases go on my debit card, but most on credit. Last year, I probably paid under $25 in interest, probably $0, but I can't be sure

So the bill comes monthly and is typically high. No bother, I have enough to cover it, I watch the balance carefully. But a few months ago, I got overly busy and made the payment late. Ok, a late fee and interest, I expect. It was painful (over the $25 mentioned earlier), but it was my mistake.

However, the next month's bill, I was charged interest again, even though the previous balance had been paid in full. I called the credit card company and they explained that this was there policy. If you did not pay the credit card in full, you were charged interest for that month and the following month.

I explained that I switch to this card a few years ago because of some issues with my previous card and that unless something could be done about this charge, I would switch again. The phone call was transferred to cancellations who took my information and my complaint. After a few minutes on hold, I was told that the charge would be eliminated. Checking my account online confirms it has been done.

Morals of the story:
1) Pay your credit card bill in full each month and you don't have to worry
2) If you don't pay in full, know the charges well
3) If you don't like the terms, ask for them to be changed or change cards

Nobody knows it but me

Friday's beating was not as severe as I had feared. Somehow, showing up in person helped.

Saturday was a lost day. I accomplished very little of what I wanted. Everytime I wanted to get something done, the rug was pulled out from under me so that I couldn't do what I wanted. Such is life. But it is frustrating.

Sunday. First day of the week. A day to go to church and become refreshed. Only I don't feel like starting a new week. The song in the subject line came to me.

It's going to be one of those days.

Tomorrow morning I have to get up very early (4:30 or so) to catch a plane. Short flight, layover, another short flight, layover, 2 hour car ride. Stand-up straight, smile, think on your feet, take a friend to dinner, don't drink to much, say nice things, crash for the night and then reverse all of the above for Tuesday. Don't I sound excited?

A rough week ahead.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The beatings will continue, until morale improves

I'm preparing for a beating. I'll be the beat-ee, not he beat-er. Tomorrow morning, I will walk in and be severely beaten (at least verbally) for work I did not do.

This person wanted some answers and I have none. I was expecting others to care as much as me, silly expectations. I've finally gotten the attention I should have gotten a week ago, but that's going to be late. I may get answers as early as Monday, but I'm not holding my breath.

Instead, I'll sit (or stand) and say things like "yes, I understand" or "we're working on that". I always want to say "I feel your pain", but that won't do.

Wish me luck....

Testing, testing, more testing

My state is reviewing the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Tests (PACT), a set of tests used to measure students' progress and used as part of measurements for No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Everyone hates the test and schools spend a large amount of time preparing for the test. "Teach the test" is an often heard phrase. As someone who has seen this as a parent since its inception and a husband of a Special Needs teacher for 5 years, my I see two very different sides.

First as a parent, I have seen the time required to "teach the test" drop each year. The first few years, there was probably a month spent preparation. No one understood, the reasons were unclear, and everyone was frustrated. Now, the time to "teach the test" has dropped to about a week (admittedly, my youngest stopped taking the test 3 years ago - but I saw this when he was in the 8th grade).

As a husband of a Special Needs teacher, I sense frustration that all students are judged on the same level and some of these students are no where near that level.

To understand the reason for PACT and NCLB, one needs to take the way-back machine to the 90's. A time when parents and tax-payers were frustrated over schools. It was a time when business impacted everything, if we could just run the schools like a business, everything would be great (yeah, right). Business used terms like Return on Investment and the ROI for schools just wasn't there. We (collectively we) wanted a way to measure the ROI for schools. Goals 2000 came up (there were probably predecessors) to establish goals for schools. This evolved into what is now known as No Child Left Behind.

The question is, who measures the progress? Well it has to be the schools, the teachers and the school systems. Who designs the measuring stick? Well, as an investor (taxpayer), I should be the one who does, but frankly I (and collectively we) am not capable. So we leave this to school administrators and politicians (who could ask for anything more?)

So the result is we try to business-ize school, have un-qualified people set the standards and measure based on those standards.

So who is to blame for the mess? First, I have to lay the blame squarely at the feet of teachers and schools. Had we been getting results in the 90's, students who could read, write and learn, we would not have had the investor (taxpayer) push to "fix" things.

Second the blame needs to fall on politicians who took what started as a mess and made it worse. They should have realized that education can not be run like a business and let the educators decide how to "fix" things.

Third, the blame lies on local school boards for not pushing back on the federal government. Local districts can opt out of NCLB and forfeit federal funding. Instead, the push is for more federal involvement and that can only mess things up more. To my knowledge, only one district in SC has even considered opting out. The local boards need to be more agressive in setting standards and enforcing them.

Finally, the blame lies with me (and collectively us). I am the one who elects the local board, the state and federal politicians. I should spend more time understanding the requirements, the candidates and I should spend time at the school board meetings. I should not abdicate my responsibility to teach things outside the three R's. It's my job to teach honor, respect and yes even to teach sex education to my children (they will be horrified). It's my job to help my children with their homework (although once they get to Calculus, I'm outta here - I forgot that 20 years ago). By doing my job, I allow the teachers to do theirs.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Larry Flynt and Jerry Falwell

Interesting quote by Larry Flynt:

"After meeting him in person, years after the trial, Jerry Falwell and I became good friends."

The article is here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Debt - good or bad?

Having just finished my MBA (I love saying that), I read with interest an article in the local paper about the average debt for a college graduate. Turns out that in my state (SC) the average is around $18,000 for graduates from state sponsored colleges.

Being an avid Dave Ramsey fan (who believes all debt is bad) and starting my new summer reading book Maxed Out, I began to wonder, how much debt is good and how much is bad.

So, here are my questions:
1) Education is seen as the answer to all of life's problems. Should debt be considered a viable way to get the education?
2) How much debt is acceptable? Or does this even matter?
3) Is debt an option for other areas? House? Car? Medical? Major lifeevents (ranging from car repair, home improvement, children, etc).Groceries?
4) When is debt acceptable? Always, sometimes, never?

I'm planning to finish my newest book (should take a couple weeks) and then report back with my ideas... For now, I'm still gathering information.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Wisdom of the Crowds

Are crowds really wise? That's what James Surowiecki says in the first book on my summer reading list. The subtitle of the book is "Why the many are smarter than the few and how collective wisdom shapes business, economics, societies and nations." I started reading this book last summer and had to put it down for classes in the fall/spring. It was one of the optional books for a finance class, I chose to read two of the other books (The Smartest Guys in the Room and Barbarians at the Gate).

When I picked the book back up, I only had a few chapters to read. Problem is, I've forgotten a lot of what was in it. So it goes back on my reading list, but down a few entries. The basic premise of the book is that if you take a group of people, any people, knowledgable or not, you will get a better decision out of them that you do the experts. Our government is one example (politics is discussed in the last chapter).

He cites other examples, one where a group of non-scientists were polled about a missing submarine. The people were given facts and asked to guess where the sub might be based on a map. The answers were all averaged together (as I recall, by lattitude/longitude) and the search started with the non-scientific answer. The sub was soon found very close to the speculated position.

The postulates in the book are significant for business that typically attempts to find the perfect expert to solve a problem (can you say "CEO pay"?). The conclusion is that crowds can do a better job than individuals.

There were some contradictory examples cited, the Columbia disaster is one I recall. These are examples of "group-think", where the group heads on direction and won't return to "normalcy". However, he cites these as examples where a few people override the group. Groups are good.

I'm not 100% sure I agree with the book. In one example where I tried a test he suggested, the crowd I chose came up with a vastly different result than he predicted. I had students count candy in a fish bowl and, using his averages, estimated the results. I had some extremely wild guesses that blew the average. If I ignored these wild guesses, the average was close, but that seems to violate the principal of the book. My experiment may have been flawed, I want to try again.

Overall, a decent read for busines. Next time I read it, I'll focus on some of the other aspects.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The people have spoken

I'll post a note later about one of the books on my summer reading list. It had something to please everyone.

But a thought hit me this morning that I've been hearing a lot about "the people have spoken" on the war in Iraq.

Made me thing. Didn't the people speak on health care reform several years ago? Didn't we (or at least our leaders) try to reform health care? And didn't they try for several years? Seems like the people (or at least our leaders) have spoken on that issue and it doesn't need to be revisited.

Actually, there were some changes in health care in the 1990's and if you don't believe it, ask a doctor what he thinks of HIPPA. Or try to found out how "portable" (one of the two "p"s in HIPPA) your healthcare actually is.

Or, if you have an accident with injuries, compare your settlement under the new laws to what it would have been under the old laws.

But don't complain about it, the people have spoken.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Tragedy in the upstate

This week, two three-year olds were killed in pedestrian vs auto accidents in totally separate incidents. Very strange coincidences, first at a car wash in Greenville (details here) and second on a major road in Anderson (details here). The two locations are about 30 miles from each other.

No amount of finger pointing will bring either of these two little ones back. My heart goes out to the families of these little ones and to the individuals who were in the vehicles that struck the children. No alcohol involved, no tickets to the drivers of the vehicles that hit the toddlers. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. A small child pays the ultimate price for mistakes.

Parents, hold your kids tightly tonight and thank the Lord that you're not the one who lost a child. This could have been me so many times over. There but for the Grace of God, go I.

Quote of the day

I rarely do quotes, but this one struck me for the second time. It must be fate. I think I found it last summer while reading "The Wisdom of the Crowds". I picked the book back up and it's on the Delta e-ticket I used as a bookmark.

"An honest tradesman is a jewel indeed, and is valued whereever he is found" - Daniel Defoe.

A quick search this morning indicates Daniel Defoe was author of (among other things) Robinson Crusoe and was himself a tradesman. Ironically, he was sometimes not confused by being honest.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Summer reading list

Schools sometimes hand out a summer reading list and since I'm finishing school, (as if you haven't heard that enough) I've developed my own list. Most of these are books I have gathered over the last three years but haven't been able to get a round tuit. Two or three of these I actually started, but could never finish.

Comments, suggested additions or subtractions are welcome. Roughly in order of the intended reading:

1) The Wisdom of the Crowds - James Surowiecki (started twice, almost finished)
2) Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lending - James Scurlock
4) Wild at Heart - John Eldredge (started once before, but school got in the way)
4) Op Center - Call to Treason - Tom Clancy
5) Red Rabbit - Tom Clancy (true Clancy, not Op Center)
6) The 9/11 Commission Report - (I've read reports on the report, never the report itself)
7) The DaVinci Code - Dan Brown (seen the movie - hope the book is better)
8) The DaVinci Code: A Quest for Answer - Josh McDowell (seems like a good companion)
9) The Hitchhiker's Guide - Six stories in one - Douglas Adams (started one of these in High School, not sure what happened)
10) The Book of Totally Useless Information (just my style)
11) Tales From Clemson's 1981 Championship Season (the year after my undgrade degree)
12) America On Trial - Alan Dershowitz

Books I don't have, but look interesting:
13) What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture shaped the PC Industry - John Markoff
14) The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America's Politics and Culture - Brink Lindsey
14) Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything - Don Tapscott

This should get me through the summer and more..

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3

In taking my MBA courses and in helping 3 students through high school (1 yet to finish) and in helping my wife with her classes (teaching and taking) I've learned something about tests. There seem to be two types of tests: 1) tests to see how much the student knows and give a grade and 2) tests to show students what they should know and to give a grade.

These two sound very much a like, but they are very different. In the first case, the teacher/instructor/professor (TIP) may give a test with little or no preparation. A study guide may or may not be given.

The second case seems much harder. The TIP has to help students through the test. In one class I was in, the professor would give a take-home test in one class, the next class he would ask if there were questions. He would work similar problems or talk around the subject. If there weren't enough questions, he may even delay the due date so he could generate more questions.

In tests like the first case, there seems a tendency to cram for the test. You study everything in the world and then take the test quickly before you lose it. After the test, your brain drains off all the knowledge that you flooded it with before the test. The net increase in knowledge is minimal.

I like the second case much better. I think I learned better in classes that did this. Hats off to the TIPs who did this....

Monday, May 07, 2007


I've been dealing with a major insurance company for about 3 weeks now. As a result of a small accident, my son's car is a total loss. No one was hurt, it wasn't his fault and no other vehicles were damaged. I believe in treating others the way I want to be treated, but I'm beginning to wonder if that's the right way to handle these things.

To begin with, it took almost a week to get someone to look at the car. During that time, no one could tell me WHEN they would get someone to look at it. The cable company can narrow an appointment down to 1 hour, the pizza guy can be there in 20 minutes, but the insurance adjuster can only tell you "within 4 business days."

The initial offer was low. Surprise, surprise. The adjuster told me someone would call me with all the paperwork. I asked how long to get a check, he said depending on mail, it could take up to a week. (unbelievable)

The following business day (a weekend elapsed), I called to check on the status (no one called me). Nothing got loaded into their system. After a few phone calls, I was told they could go out for Dealer quotes and was promised a call back in 24-48 hours.

Well after waiting almost 72 hours, I called back. The quotes were back and they came in about 10% higher than original. My feeling that the quote was too low was obviously justified. The new quote was higher, but still over 10% too low by my calculations. I asked for some time to think it over and looked for replacement vehicles. All the vehicles I looked for verified my estimates.

Armed with this new information, along with listings of other cars similar in value but higher in price, I went back to the company. After a few minutes of discussion, it was obvious I wasn't going anywhere, so I asked for a supervisor. After discussing with him for a while, I got nowhere.

Now let's be clear, this isn't a high priced vehicle. And the difference in my appraisal versus their appraisal is relatively small. Most of it seems to hinge on the adjustments made for condition. The car has some wear and tear on it, but I believe within normal expectations. They even faxed me a list of what is "normal" and I believe it matches. If we ignored all of the adjustments, we would be very close on price, and I'd probably ignore the difference.

But now I'm left with three choices: 1) Accept the offer and lose the 10%+. 2) Seek out a lawyer, sue the driver of the vehicle (it was one of my son's friends), probably get the same amount and lose lawyer's fees or 3) Hire an arbitrator and achieve same results as in #2.

What makes me the maddest is that I have done everything to mitigate costs and the company has done nothing. I did not use a tow truck, the car is in my driveway incurring NO storage costs and I went without a rental car for a week. The driver of the other car admitted to me that his brakes weren't very good, so he had to "jam on" the pedal and that's what caused the skid (this was a VERY STUPID thing for him to admit). In the mean time, his parents rented him a Ford Mustang to go to the prom (and I don't understand how he was allowed to drive it, he's under 18).

So what's a man to do? I feel it is morally wrong to sue in this case (there's a Bible verse about that), and I'm not sure it even helps.

I did file a complaint with the company and got a call from a manager about their lack of responsiveness. He felt bad, but there's really nothing he can (or will) do.

Very Frustrated!

(Note: updated post - corrected a couple of typos)

Friday, May 04, 2007

Republican Debate - part 2

Another thought about the debate. Why didn't the Republicans boycott all of the liberal journalists? was there and most of the questions (see post below) came from a liberal bent.

Didn't the Democrats boycott a debate on Fox because they thought it was unfair and imbalanced? What was different about last night?

Republican Debate

OK, I didn't watch the debate. Yesterday was a long day in the pursuite of interstate commerce (11 hours from door to door + 1 hour before and about 2 hours afterwards.)

But I read some of the silly questions that were asked. That's part of why I hate the debts. So-called journalists trying to one-up each other trying to catch the candidates off guard. And forget any chance of getting a real debate going. Candidates have their one-liners (or in Biden's case at the Democratic debate one-worders) already cooked up and they try to manipulate the question to fit their answers.

Later on, I plan to submit a list of requirements to look for in a candidate. The idea will be to review the list, see where the candidate stands and from that you can decide who to vote for. I would appreciate feedback when I do, it's an experiment. Probably be a couple of weeks....

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I'm famous

One of my quotes has been posted on a website "across the pond".


Not that I have that many quotes....

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Soon to be all over

Sometimes tomorrow (actually later today, I'm up very late) I will send in my final final via email. No more classes. Technically, I have to wait on the grades, but there's little that could happen to cause me to fail one of the two classes. In the class I finished tonite, I could theoretically make a "C", but if I get at least 23 points on the final, I'll make a B. It may take a miracle to get an A.

So all of you can start calling me "Master" anytime now, you don't have to wait on it to be official.

BTW, several people have asked and I am NOT going to commencement. It lasts over two hours and if I went, several other people would feel obligated. I don't want to put them through that.