Thursday, September 27, 2007

I lied and committed ID theft

I confess. Tonight I committed ID theft and I lied.

A little over 2 months ago, I helped my wife apply for her free credit report. For some reason, it couldn't be sent online, so we asked for it to be mailed. Tonight I decided to find out what happened to it (it never arrived). So, rather than try to explain it to my wife and have her call, I called them myself and told them I was her. I also gave them her social.

The first person I spoke to passed me onto a second, so I went through the same scenario. This person at least questioned when I gave them my wife's name, but she went ahead and helped me anyway.

They're mailing the reports again. I lied. I confess.

(I told my wife all about it when she came in)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Should Chelsea's picture come down?

Chelsea Clinton had her picture taken with the owner of a restaurant and he put it in his window. He has photos of other famous people including Regis Philbin and even politician Rudy Giuliani. Apparently though, the Clintons aren't happy with the photo.

Bill Clinton's lawyer sent a letter to the restaurant owner, demanding the photo be taken down. The letter included threats of "any and all options" if the picture stayed.

The legality comes down to weather or not Chelsea is a private citizen (she is) and whether the owner has the right to publish the picture (he doesn't).

But wouldn't it have been a little nicer if Bill has sent a letter asking him to take it down? Maybe Hillary could have gone and had her picture taken to replace the Chelsea photo.

You can view the story here. Note that the restaurant seems like a nice place, the man claims that he looks at Chelsea as his daughter and he's a well dressed, nice looking man. In short, it's a good picture.

I agree the picture should come down, the request should have been more civil. I'm not sure this is as much an attack against our former president, as it is an attack on society in general. When we have to threaten through lawyers instead of just making a request, I think we've gone too far.

Friday, September 21, 2007

What part of "until death do you part" can you ignore?

A friend is going through some major problems in his marriage. It's hard to get the facts, but he's asked her to leave (several times) and she just might take him up on it. She's making a "Plan B" kind of plan and making sure there's somewhere to go.

Oddly enough, I think their marriage is salvageable. He needs to swallow his pride and admit his mistakes (of which there are plenty) and she needs to not get historical about them. And she needs to search her soul and find her mistakes (women are always subtle about their mistakes) and he needs to let her do the searching.

It seems that divorce is never (or seldom) clean. There's not a single incident that you can point to and say "that's what caused the divorce." Let's home in this case, they don't get that far. To borrow a line from a friends recent blog post, let's hope they "stay together for the kids."

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Ever wonder what margins on the paper are made for? Probably not, but I'm just weird, I think about things like that.

Wikipedia is no help, it has three different definitions, one for finance, one for economics and one for typography. None explain why we have margins.

When I was in school (back before Al Gore invented the internet), I was taught that the margin on the paper was in case you had to make corrections. Word processing involved a pencil and eraser and you could insert new sentences in tiny "font" in the margins.

We had this discussion at dinner the other night. My wife thought I was talking about the margins in her life. Actually, I was directing it at my son, but it could apply to other people as well. Please take the time to read this and see if it applies to you.

My son talked about a "margin of error" in math. That makes sense, you know the answer is X within a margin of error. In both the math case and the written paper, the margin allows you some wiggle room in case you've made a mistake.

My point to my son was that we need margins in our life. We need extra time. When I drive to Columbia, I know I can make it in an hour and a half, I allow two hours. I may have to stop for gas, or to get a bisquit. Or I may run into traffic. The margin allows me to still make it to my destination at the appointed time.

For school work (or job work), I allow margins. If something is due Tuesday, I'll work on it to be finished Monday. This way if the phone rings and I get busy, I have a margin to absorb the extra work.

In financial terms, Dave Ramsey calls this an "emergency fund". If the refridgerator breaks (ours did a month ago), you dip into the emergency fund to replace it, then build the fund back up. The emergency fund becomes your margin. A bigger margin is needed for job security, most analysts tell you to keep 3-6 months expenses in savings for such as this. Again, it's a margin.

When we start eating into our margins on a regular basis, problems come up. If we use all of our emergency fund and don't replenish it, next time an emergency happens, we're in trouble. If we have no margin on our homework, we can't handle things outside the norm (late dinner, extra chores, etc). If we have no extra time in our trip to Columbia, and we run into traffic, we will be late.

Margins are necessary in all aspects of our life. Financial, time, or just to give us some reduced stress.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A new road...

I'm excited. I found a new road today. I head to Columbia about once a week, sometimes two or three times, sometimes not for a couple weeks. But I average about once a week. It takes me about an hour and a half (longer if I get a bisquit).

Today, I was going to a different part of Columbia, so I plugged it into my GPS. I didn't have the exact address, so I plugged in something close. Well, the GPS took me down some different roads. I went through some very small towns and saw some nice old houses.

I'll try the road again, just for fun. Next time, I'll take my camera and take some pictures. It's just exciting to find a new road...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Is there always a purpose?

Yesterday was a good day at church, it set my mind to thinking in several areas. More on that later. But I had an interesting question.

The story was Daniel and the lion's den. Daniel was thrown in, the lions mulled around, Daniel got out, Daniels enemies became lion's lunch.

One of the points of the message was that there is always a purpose? While I believe that is true, and I believe the purpose was a good one, was the sole purpose of that event to be able to tell us the story some 2000+ years later?

If you had met Daniel a week after the event, what would he have said? "Yep, it was a good thing. I had to get rid of the pants I was wearing that day after that lion nuzzled up next to me, but I see what the plan was." If you talked to Daniel a year later, would he have said "I'm glad that it all happened. It worked out so much better than any other way. I can reach so many more people as a result of that experience and I would do it again if I could."

I suspect that Daniel never really understood the purpose. And I suspect that, given a choice, he would have tried to reach the purpose another way.

Friday, September 14, 2007

On this day in history...

Twenty-four years ago today, something wonderful happened. It had been anticipated for nine months (actually longer) and was greatly expected. A little girl was born. Little did her parents know that she would go from a smiling little girl to the woman she has become today. From the days when she could barely open the door to her kindergarten school (she wouldn't take help), through the days where she got up before her parents, made her own breakfast, did her daily chores and readied for school, she showed the traits, the inate drive that would carrry her to today.

One year, she "forged" her mother's name on a paper. While I probably overdid things by explaining by suggesting that the FBI could investigate and she could be imprisoned for 20 years, I think I drove home the need for honesty. When she began to talk to other teenagers, she explained she couldn't help it if her friends called too late. When I explained that I COULD stop it, she learned the importance of handling things herself.

The girl who lived through all of my mistakes has truly become a woman. Ashley, Happy Birthday.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Recently, my son and I had a discussion at dinner time about friends. He was surprised that I wouldn't call someone my friend, rather I called him "an aquaintance." This was a person that I last saw about 6 months ago, I have had lunch with him once in the last 5 or 6 years, I see him at weddings, funerals and such.

I pointed out that there is one friend from long ago that I still consider a friend. I haven't seen this guy in over a year, and before that was about 4 years. However, I know I could call him tomorrow and say I need help and he'd be there in a minute.

It got me to thinking, what are the qualities of a friend? Before I go there, let me say that you can be a friend, without having a friend. You can have a friend without being a friend. It's not (necessarily) a two-way street. You can provide friendship to someone without having it returned. That may sound like it's bad, but not necessarily.

Let me then give an example of what is not friendship. Recently, I was with some aquaintances that I see at least once a month. Conversation slowed down and one person asked a question about how a certain aspect of my life was progressing. After listening to the first sentense, this aquaintance went on to another subject. They did give great details on their life and I listened patiently, even asked questions. At the end of our time together, we said our niceties and went our separate ways.

So what is a friend? Someone who wants to share your joy, share your pain. Someone who laughs with you (and VERY occasionally at you) and someone who cries with you. Someone who you can call and know they will listen, and maybe even have answers to questions. Someone who will challenge you when you're down and will support you on your way up. A friend is someone who will listen to your embarrassing stories and say "that's not bad", but will also tell you when it is.

Here's to friends.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Maturity (updated)

What is maturity? That question has entered my mind a lot the last few days (I'm telling on my self for not acting mature). A quick Google search turned up many definitions that looked like this "The date on which a bond or other obligation is due to be repaid.'

But I'm talking about maturity in a person. Dave Ramsey says "Being willing to delay pleasure for a greater result is a sign of maturity"

I think there's another side to this. I think maturity is basically self-discipline. Dave is correct, but it applies to many other things. Being able to decide that (sometimes) it's more important to work, to study or whatever is a sign of maturity. Paying bills on time, instead of delaying (or abandoning) them is a sign of maturity. These closely related to Dave's idea and I'm sure he'd agree with them.

What about keeping secrets? That's a sign of maturity too. Sitting in a group, knowing something that the others would DIE to hear, and keeping your mouth shut, that's maturity. Sometimes, it's better to keep from telling the story.

Another sign of maturity is admitting your mistakes. Too often we make mistakes and then say "well, I meant to do that" or "I still think it was the right thing to do". Maturity means learning from our mistakes (I make so many, I have lots of learning opportunities) and facing them.

And a final sign of maturity is cleaning up after your mistakes. You break a glass, you clean up the shards and you pay for the glass. You give someone bad information, you go back to them and set the record straight. As a waitress, if you take an order and forget to put it in, you would face the people, explain the problem, and then finding a way to do something extra (I like free desserts)

Maturity - that's my focus this week.

*** Update

One more thought on maturity - that's when you realize that you're not the center of the universe. My 18 month old grandson has learned the word "mine". When he gets to the stage where he can learn to share, he's reached a point of maturity. But the same "mine" mentality affects a lot of people over the age of 2. The teenager who doesn't think about his actions, or what impact they have on those around him and the young adult who sets a schedule two days in advance and expects you to adapt to it both show signs of immaturity. Only when you begin to realize that you are a small part in a big world, that others have emotions and things called schedules do you begin to experience maturity

Thursday, September 06, 2007

My take on sub-prime

I've been watching the sub-prime fiasco for some time. The questions are 1) What is sub-prime lending?, 2) Why are lenders in this business? 3) Who loses? 4) Who's to blame? and 5) What can (should) we do about it? The next several paragraphs explore these questions. It's long, but should be easy to read. Please comment.

During my MBA studies, I paid attention to real estate and to legal matters. While I didn't explore either in enough depth to get a real estate license or a law degree, these areas interested me. For my White Collar Crime class, I did a paper on real estate fraud. So I've done some research.

First and foremost, I need to define sub-prime lending. Most lending today is done by a FICO score. If you watch enough TV, you'll see ads about getting your FICO score (don't do it, not worth you money). Basically, you get a score from 0 to 850 that tells your liklihood of repaying a loan. Lenders group everyone into two categories, those with high scores are called "prime" and those with low scores are called "subprime" (sounds like beef). Typically, prime borrowers get good rates and good terms, subprime get higher rates and terms that aren't as good.

Second is why are lenders in this business? Simply put, it's business. Lenders have found that they can make money on these kinds of loans. They may have to increase fees, prevent the borrower from refinancing, increase rates over the life of the loan and anything else. They are taking a higher risk by lending these people money, so they want a higher reward (MBA motto - more risk = more reward).

Another part of the answer to why lender are in this business is that borrowers are in this business. In the past (and somewhat now that the crisis is upon us), subprime borrows simply couldn't get a loan. They weren't able to buy houses at all. Now, thanks to subprime lending, we have the highest home ownership rate in history.

So third is who loses when the subprime industry falters? Well the borrower is the one who is most affected. The borrower who can't pay his mortgage loses his house, trashes his credit and makes the next house even harder for him to buy. His family is rooted up out of his house and his part of the American dream becomes a nightmare.

The lender also loses. Sure they make up for it on other borrowers, but they lose for each borrower who goes under. And in the long run, some subprime lenders will fail. This means the stock-holders lose their investment. Other companies who have supported the lender (including mortgage brokers, appraisers, real estate agents, etc) also lose. Jobs will be lost, mothers will go home to report that they have to look for another job. And because credit tightens up, prospective home buyers everywhere will pay more interest for their mortgages.

One additional loser is the renter. Since mortgages have been so easy, many renters purchased homes. Less apartments have been built and now, the renters are returning. So the supply of rentable space has decreased and the demand has increased. Guess what happens to the average rent payment? (it goes up).

So the next question is who's to blame? The republicans or the democrats? The borrower or the lender? Big business or the little man? Simply put, there's enough blame for everyone. As mentioned earlier, the low rates and easy credit has given us the highest home ownership rate in a long time. More importantly, low income families have benefitted the most from the easy credit situation. They are likely now to lose the most. Everyone who takes credit for the former, also gets credit for the latter. Our capitalist society (in which I gladly participate) means when there is a need, someone will fill it in search of a dollar. So the lender is simply filling a need. Big business is finding a way to help the little man. Could they do it with better terms? Sure, but less people would get loans.

Now, what can we do about it? First and foremost, I believe in personal responsibility. The borrower needs to learn the ins & outs of mortgages (at least HIS mortgage) before he applies. He also needs to practice some discipline, show the lender that he will indeed pay his bills on time and wait for a home until he can actually afford one. Lending terms need to be policed a little better. This burdens me to say this, I typically avoid most legislative changes. But some of the terms in these subprime loans are simply wrong. The purpose is to trap the borrower. Only by cleaning up the laws can lenders be held accountable.

Please post your comments here.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


I don't often post on spiritual matters, my blog friend Neil does a good job of that. You can read his entries here.

But lately, some issues have come up where I felt I had to post my feelings on the tithe. In order to do so, a lot of the jargon will be Biblical and Christian in nature. I apologize in advance, if you'd like an explanation of any part, just email me (my email address is on my profile and blog page).
A quick search of Wikipedia says that a tithe is a one-tenth part of something, paid as a voluntary contribution. Today, tithes are normally paid in cash, cheques, or stocks, whereas historically tithes could be paid in kind, such as agricultural products. (liberal editing done by me).

With my favorite search tool, I found that several people don't believe the tithe is still required. I had heard this before, but was surprised to find some long articles on it. I won't argue with them, but I think they're wrong.

So here's my start. I believe a tithe is 10% of the top. That means before taxes. One friend said that he believed God blessed us for the tithe, and he'd rather be blessed on the gross as opposed to the net. I like his idea, but more importantly, I believe that God said bring in a tithe of the FIRST fruits. That sounds like the gross to me and it's clear from the definition above that tithe = 10%.

I've also explored the issue of cash versus "in kind, such as agricultural products." God didn't bless me with a green thumb and I don't raise cattle or sheep, somehow I don't think he would think 10% of my 'maters or my dog would be an appropriate tithe. My income is in US Dollars, so I tithe based on that. Basically, I look at the Gross Income box and move the decimal one place (a little more complicated, but close enough).

Now the question that comes is what about the guy who doesn't tithe? Does that man go straight to hell, do not pass go, etc? No, I don't think so. Nowhere have I seen that tithing is a requirement for salvation. The price for salvation was paid long ago and my 10% can't measure up. So he gets off free? Yep, best I can tell he does. (more on this below)

What if I give more than 10%? Does that get me a better place in heaven? Does it pay me back now? (A lot of ministers say so). Doesn't the Bible promise 1000% ROI? This is where it gets touchy. For the first, there aren't "better places in heaven". One size fits all. The life-long Christian and the guy saved 10 minutes before death are on an even playing field. Remember the price was paid years ago and it was sufficient to cover the super-tither and the cheak-skate. And while there may be some short-term payback, there is no guarantee. Like the stock market, greater risk does not guarantee greater reward. And that 1000%? Well, it's a neat idea, it just doesn't work that way.

That's not to say that there aren't rewards in heaven. There are. And the rewards are based on our giving. But more importantly, they are based on our hearts and the reason for our giving. My thought is to just ignore the hereafter and concentrate on what you're here after. If you're after the short term reward, you shouldn't be here. The short term rewards can be real, but typically aren't measured in dollars (unless you count the tax savings - woo hoo). The emotional rewards in the here and now are real, but that shouldn't be our reason either. If it is, we'll be disappointed a lot (or won't give much).

So, why is the tithe important? Seems like a bad deal based on everything I've said. In order to explain this I have to steal some thoughts from Dave Ramsey (Radio talk show host and Christian Financial Counselor). Dave explains that our Father is a giver and He wants us to be givers. He enjoys giving to us (just as I enjoying giving to my children - only better). When we get something good, He smiles. He wants us to be happy. Only trouble is (like my children sometimes), we don't know what we truly need. So sometimes, we don't realize what He has given us. He's trying to teach us, some of us (me) are just slow. Remember when He had to teach us to pray? When I read that passage I think of holding my children's hands together folded at the table (sometimes with great force). When He teaches us to give, He has to treat us like little children and say "this is how it's done."

When we give, we become a little more like Him. When we begin to see the good that it does, to see the way others react, we see how he feels. I know at Christmas I feel good when my children open their gifts. When I see the good that is done with my tithe, it makes me feel good. God must feel like that a lot. But more importantly, when my children go out of their way to help someone, I feel good. I hope God feels like that a lot.

So if God is teaching us to be a giver, why is the tithe important? Why not just give what feels good? Simply put, it's because good enough, isn't good enough. 10% isn't enough. But it's a starting place. God doesn't need our money and 10% isn't going to make a dent in His budget. But by setting the standard, He tells us what He expects us to do. When we fall short, He is saddened. Much as we are saddened when our two year old learns the "mine" word. God doesn't want us to hang on to our stuff and He wants us to share. Just as he's saddened when we say "mine", he smiles when we share and play nice.

I know this post is long, but I hope you made it through. Take time to read it over a couple of times. Then post your comments. I won't argue with you if you see things differently. I firmly believe everyone is entitled to their opinion, even if it's wrong. :)