Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Dinner

Yes, I know that Christmas was 2 days ago. But we have an additional tradition in our family. We have a big sit-down dinner with the entire family.

See, our family is a little unusual. First, it's a blended family, my kids and her kids. We started the Christmas dinner before my wife and I got married. We realized that year we may not be together on Christmas day, at least not all of the family. So we make a strong effort to encourage all of the kids to come to this dinner. Sometimes it's a few days or even a couple of weeks before Christmas. Sometimes, it's after Christmas. This year, today worked best.

So far, we've had near 100% perfect attendance. One year, the oldest boy was otherwise occupied in Iraq. While he couldn't be there in person, he did make a video and spoke to each person at the table. I'm not sure if he realized it, but he went perfectly around the table and spoke to each person in perfect order. Maybe we are just that predictable. We tried to petition Pres. Bush to give him leave for our dinner, but unfortunately, that didn't work.

This year, we may have our second ever absentee. I'm still holding out hope.

It's hard for all of us to get together on Christmas day. Four of the five kids are married and have another set of parents to visit. Then there's grandparents and extended family to visit. I'm hoping to see the new movie "Four Christmases" so I can empathize with all that the kids go through.

I'm very thankful that all of our kids make a special effort to attend this extra event.

Merry Christmas! (still)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays

You hear that all the time now, "Happy Holidays". A few years ago, I made a big push to change it to "Merry Christmas" by asking a few cashiers "what holidays?" Once confused, I would say "you told me to have a happy holiday, I just wanted to be sure which one."

I can be mean that way, to the cashiers. When they ask me "did you find everything ok?" I typically answer "yes, you'll have to hide things better next time." (Stupid question deserves a stupid answer). What do they think, I'm going say something like "no, I have this list of 48 items, can you help me find them?"

A few years back, the stores starting banning the Salvation Army. Now, I've never been a big fan of those guys, but somehow banning them seemed anti-American or anti-Christmas. So, now I make it a point to drop whatever change I have in the kettle as I walk by. This year, our local television station highlighted a lady who is still ringing the bell at age 100. Margaret Helen Yockey is ringing the bell for her third year. She rings on the other side of town from me, so I want be seeing her, but I'll put some extra money in the kettle when I pass the store near me. (Read Ms. Yockey's story here). If you Google her name, you'll see her story was picked up by MSNBC and USA Today. I hope you're still ringing the bell for years to come.

Back to "Happy Holidays", I don't make a big deal about this anymore. Some of the cashiers are just plain tired. They are out their earning a $ (hopefully a few $$) and don't need me (or anyone else) to hassle them. I guess I've mellowed out a little, I just thank them and tell them "Merry Christmas". Well, sometimes, I still go hassle them some, but always in fun.

Merry Christmas to all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Unusual Christmas songs

I love listening to unusual Christmas songs. Everyone has heard "Grandma got run over by a reindeer" (lyrics here). That song has probably been banned in several homes.

This year, I heard a new one: an old Ray Stevens song called "Bad Little Boy" by Ray Stevens. If you're like me, you start laughing when you know it's from Ray Stevens. The lyrics are here. Seems Ray "ain't gettin' nothin' this Christmas". Now most people will confuse this with the song "I'm Getting Nuttin' for Christmas" (lyrics here). But they are two different songs.

Yesterday, I heard one that I'm not sure I ever heard before. The title is "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas." You can find the musical version here on YouTube. I can just picture the little girl singing and marching to the song. You can find the lyrics (and youtube) here, but don't launch both websites at the same time.

What's your favorite "unusual" Christmas song?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Recession proof jobs

I think I've figured out a job that is recession proof. It's not glamorous, but it appears that this company has hired more people than they need to server their customers, and shows no signs of layoffs. The company? McDonald's.

Now, first, you have to understand their vision. Yahoo reports that "McDonald's vision is to be the world's best quick service restaurant experience. Being the best means providing outstanding quality, service, cleanliness and value, so that we make every customer in every restaurant smile." (highlighting is mine)

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I stopped at this McDonald's in Duncan, SC. This was in the middle of a lot of other activities (see here for a description). We stood at the counter and watched nearly half a dozen workers mulling around on the other side without caring the fact that we wanted to actually buy something. After waiting for several seconds, we decided that they obviously didn't want our business, so we left.

Then last Friday, I stopped in this McDonald's in Chapin SC on my way home from Columbia. I had skipped lunch and was tired and hungry. I only wanted a drink and something small. Why I went in, I'm not sure, but I waited a couple minutes while three workers discussed looking through the cash drawer for an Obama quarter (apparently, one of them believed that the new Hawaii quarter had President Elect Obama's face on it, something I seriously doubt).

And finally, this morning, I stopped at this McDonald's for a cup of coffee. The lady was quick and not impolite (but not great either) as she took my order and asked if I wanted cream and sugar, then asked how many. When she handed me my coffee, I asked where the cream and sugar was and she said it was in the coffee. Yep, she had mixed it in for me.

Now, I'm not sure that mixing the coffee for me qualifies as quality or value, but I typically like to mix it myself. But it strikes me that McDonald's is the kind of place to get a job that's recession proof. Apparently, it doesn't matter how bad the services is, you'll keep your job and stay in business.

No one ever expects a gourmet dinner at McDonald's, but they do expect the company to live up to it's vision of "quick" (not fast) food. And I expect reasonable service. Apparently, it really doesn't matter.

P.S. Not sure the links will work to the map sites, if you're interested in exact locations, let me know.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Is being transparent good or bad?

I'm going to break my own taboo hear and blog a bit about my job.

Several years ago, I heard a lot about people being transparent. It took me a while to understand that this was viewed as a good thing. The idea was that you could see straight through someone who was transparent. What you see is what you get. Their walk matches their talk. If they tell you something, they mean it. And it's real.

But my question is, is being transparent always a good thing?

In my business some managers are known as being transparent. In this case, that means that "stuff" flows right through them. If their boss says something, it flows straight down hill. You can be sure that any flack they get, you will get. If they get praise for something, they will pass that along as well.

Less transparent managers run interference. They realize that sometimes sales are affected by the economy and that no matter how many hours we work, we just can't always have an affect on customer decisions.

So which is better? Transparency or not?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Rescue Plan! (Diego style)

Ok, watching Go Diego Go with my 2 year old grandson has warped my mind. Everyone is calling the bailout plan a "rescue plan" and my mind switches to a silly video (see here). I get to singing the little song every time I hear it.

Previously, I posted on pyramid schemes (here) and multi-level marketing (here). I also talked a little about profits (here) and said they were a good thing. My goal was to get to this post and after a few interruptions I'm here.

My thought all along on this bail out plan (excuse me Rescue Plan! - Diego is very emphatic) is that it reminds me of a pyramid scheme. Everyone is saying that the problem we have is because of bad home loans. Ok, I've blogged about that too (here, here, here and here). I've been talking about this for over a year. The problem I have now is with our solution.

We've decided that the way to fix the problem is to allow more people to borrow more money. See, the problem before was that they couldn't repay all that they had borrowed, so now we're lending them more. Makes sense, right?

This is like the pyramid scheme. As long as people are buying and selling homes, we can keep the economy flying. Once people stop and look at what they really have, it all falls apart. I really don't like the alternative (lots of foreclosures, depressed home values, layoffs, general depression), but I honestly believe the longer we delay this the worse it will be. Someday, we have to pay the piper and it won't be pretty.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

My first granddaughter

What a busy week. I took a short trip (2 nights) to New York. On Thursday, I flew back to find out that our oldest daughter was going to the hospital in Raleigh to have her baby. I flew into Charlotte, so rather than drive to Greenville (home) I decided to drive to Raleigh. However, I had barely gotten off the airport property when my wife called me and she had car problems. I drove an hour to pick her up, only to travel the same roads back on my way to Raleigh. We arrived in Raleigh about midnight and went to our daughters apartment to sleep for the night (trusting that nothing would happen that night).

Early Friday morning we went to the hospital and spent the day waiting. Then about 8pm, she went in for a c-section. At 8:13, Kayden Grace was born. She weighed in a 9 pounds, 9 ounces and measured 21+3/4 inches long. Now that's a big baby. What I don't understand is that they measured her head at 14 centimeters. Why is the head measured in centimeters and the length in inches? Is this done to confuse the baby, parents and grand parents? Seems like a communist plot to me.

We've spent to weekend starting the spoiling process. This is the God given job of all grand-parents, that along with trying to outdo the other grandparents. We're starting out strong.

This is our second grandchild, the first girl. It's also the first in this "batch", we have another due later this month and two more in June. Hopefully, they will all be spaced out a couple weeks from each other so that Grandma gets to help when they first come home from the hospital. I like the idea of having them in batches, I'll have to encourage the kids to plan this way for the next batch.

When our grandson was born (see here), I said "babies were a sign from God that he intended for the world to continue. A miracle from God, babies teach us so much." Kayden Grace can teach her parents and grandparents all about love once again.

Welcome to the world Kayden. Audry, it's almost your turn.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Fly or drive?

A couple of weeks ago, the heads of the three big auto companies (GM, Ford and Chrysler) showed up in Washington singing the old "Brother can you spare a dime" song. Trouble is, they showed up in private jets. Congress railed them and sent them packing back to Detroit without a dime to show.

Looks like this time they've learned a lesson and will drive instead. (see here). I know I will have folks who disagree, but I'm not sure that having them drive is better.

The question is, if you were a stock holder, how would you want Mr. Wagoner to spend his day, driving or conducting business. Oh sure, he could go in a big car, hire a driver and sit in the back and conduct business. I can see him shuffling papers, talking on the cell phone with a fax and computer on his passenger side desk at 70 mph. But doesn't it seem that he would be more productive in an office where he could walk around even if it was at 30,000 feet.

It certainly was bad PR to show up in a private jet and ask for money. But I think the congressional reaction was a little off key on this one.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

It's a recession!

Unless you missed the news, we are officially in a recession. You can see articles just about everywhere, here's one such article.

Everyone should be glad. We've talked about it for long enough, and just as many people predicted, we've been in a recession since late last year. If this had come out before the election, it wouldn't have changed the results, but may have increased the margin.

So, now that we have finally accepted the fact, what do we do about it?

Well, we have a couple of choices. We can wring our hands and go around crying and screaming, asking the government to bail us out. They've bailed out AIG a couple times, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and several others. Why shouldn't I get my share? You know, Wall Street and Main Street (even though I don't live on Main Street).

Another choice would be to keep doing what we should have been doing all along. Work at a job. If you don't have a job, go get one. Unemployment is still very low, which means there are lots of jobs available. Spend on things that you need, but save for big things you need. Plan for the future, for the next car you need, for the house, etc. Don't buy things you can't afford.

I heard a reminder story a few months ago, that pointed out that during the feast years, Joseph stored up grain for the coming famine. A wise man. We should do the same. We know that a famine is coming, then a feast, then another famine. We don't know how long each will last or the time in between.

One more thing. To my conservative friends to the ones saying "Yeah Baby!" at the points above. Now is not the time to rub this in people's faces. Instead, it's time to be the way Christians are commanded to do and to help others. Give help to those around you. Give a job to a jobless person. Pay a friend's power bill, give them a grocery store gift card. Praise Him who allowed you to be in a position to do all these things and then do them.

For my previous comments on the recession see here and here.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Lots of children, lots of children

This Thanksgiving, my daughter announced that she has something new to be thankful about, she is now expecting a baby. That means that I now am expecting FOUR new grandchildren in the next 6+ months.

As it says on the right side of this page, my wife and I have five children between us. The oldest is expecting a little girl THIS FRIDAY. We'll wait and see the actual date. (No rushing). The youngest daughter is also expecting a little girl, the due date is a little fuzzy. Sometime between December 16 and January 1 is our best guess (I really wish they would schedule these things).

Sandwiched in between those are our other daughter (the one who just announced) due on June 6 and our oldest son's wife due June 17. The gender of these last two is yet to be determined.

We're all excited and can't believe that we are so blessed. My youngest son, took in the news and after pondering for a bit said "I'm the only one who's not expecting a baby". At 18 and still in school, I told him he could wait a while.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Today I want to pause and give thanks. And prayer.

I give thanks for my family, my sons & daughters, my daughter-in-law and sons-in-law, my grandson (who is really fun to be with), brothers, sisters, mother and mother-in-law and my extended family (father-in-law and grandmother-in-law). And I pray for them, along with the two granddaughters who will be here son and another grandchild next year.

I give thanks for our military. And I pray for them, especially the ones who have to be away today.

I give thanks for our country, that we live in a country where we choose for our leaders and we have a chance to choose again in 2, 4 or 6 years. I pray for them. I pray that they will lead, not as I want, not as others want, but as God wants and as our country needs.

I am thankful for my job. That I have the opportunity to do something I enjoy and be paid well for it. And I pray for the upcoming changes to my job, that I can achieve the goals I have set and live up to the expectations of those around me.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Profit prohet part 2 - Magazine subscriptions

I hadn't planned this post, it just came up yesterday. In the morning, I went to fill my tank ($1.65/gallon - woohoo!) and my credit card was denied. Later in the day my wife said one of her Christmas purchases (online) was returned. Being the master sleuth, I looked at these two events and recognized a pattern.

My wife called the credit card company and after speaking to one of India's finest found out there was a charge from a "highly fraudulent" company, so the card was put on hold. (Why didn't they call me to tell me this? That's work for another day). Anyway, it seems a subscription renewal service had charged $94.64 for a magazine. I won't publish the name of the mag, but let's just say it's devoted to sports and is very well illustrated. I like the photos and my son likes the stories.

So, my wife called the magazine to find out about the charge. I distinctly remember getting a "courtesy card" a few weeks ago telling me the renewal was coming. I didn't know if it was a 2 or 3 year renewal. When she asked, she was told this was for 1 year. She explained that she thought this was a lot of a year and was asked if we had received any promotions. No, she explained, this was an automatic renewal.

After thinking a bit, the gentleman reduced the price to $49.84, a 47% savings. Two more calls to India's finest at my credit card company and the card was reactivated.

Now, the magazine is definitely entitled to a profit. They have some of the best photography I've ever seen. They have to pay those photographers and a lot of writers. They have to distribute the mags. And some investor wants to see some return on his/her money. But they don't have to have over 100% profit and they don't have to get it from me.

So, here's the moral of the story (that I learned yesterday). Never use automatic renewal on the magazines. Always ask for a lower price. The savings will buy my wife and I dinner.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Multi-level marketing

I've written about pyramid schemes and profit, I thought I'd devote a few bytes of storage to discussing multilevel marketing (MLM). Also called network marketing (my preferred term), this is a group of people, most working only on commission, who sell a product through other people. For example, you may get a call from your friend to sell a product and find out his friend got him involved. Once you start selling, you'll be encouraged to get other friends involved. You'll get a part of the commission on each product your friends sell, and you'll pass some of your profits up the line.

Sound a little like the pyramid scheme? Well, you're not alone in thinking that, but more on that later. Examples of multi-level marketing include some well known companies like Avon and Mary Kay. Amway was probably the biggest named MLM company for a long time, but has since dropped in popularity. Another company that I've heard about is Vector Marketing. Vector sells Cutco knives. Reported to be the best knives in the industry, the most popular knife set sells for about $1200. With "associates" making commissions of 10% to 30%, a person could make a lot of money selling these products.

You can even spot older and more common examples of network marketing. Tupperware, Christmas Around the World, and even lingerie parties (I never get invited).

But network marketing counts on you selling your products to your friends, co-workers, family and those around you. If your selling technique is abrasive, you can start losing your friends. Co-workers and family and people will avoid you. If you're not a strong seller, you might just go hungry. This means that MLM works best with products that, to some degree, sell themselves or are consumable, like Avon and Mary Kay. That way the customer comes back to you. It's hard to use up a knife set (unless you're OJ Simpson), but make-up is used ever day.

So what's the difference between network marketing and a pyramid scheme? Basically, it's the product. In my airplane example of the pyramid scheme, there is no product involved. With Mary Kay, Avon or Vector the purchaser has something they can hold in their hand. The product may be overpriced, there are a lot of people who make a profit on the product, but at least there is a product.

So where is the line between pyramids and networks? 70% according to MLM Legal Attorney Jeffrey Babener. The idea is that 70% of product sales should be to outside consumers, not just to build inventory or for self-use. If an "associate" buys a lot of product for his/her own use, they're not really selling. (Same goes for "selling" to your family). Also, most of the commissions earned by an "associate" should be from product sales, not for signing up other "associates" (sometimes called "suckers").

I should note that Amway was sued for being a pyramid scheme. However, this part of the lawsuit was dropped. They were found guilty of price fixing, but their sales technique was not dismantled. (see here).

MLM is not the same as a pyramid scheme and the profits are (at least somewhat) justified. However, the companies should be evaluated and anyone entering an MLM should make sure he/she knows the costs associated.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The profit prophet

Ok, I admit I like cute subject lines. And I don't claim to be a Prophet with divine wisdom or to be able to determine the future. My intent with this blog post is simply to speak some basic facts about profits. And according to this site, a prophet is a person who brings a message or warning.

You may recall that I posted a couple of days ago about pyramid schemes. (see here) This is a method of making a quick profit. Unfortunately, it's an illegal method. Participants in these schemes are falsely promised great profits, but aren't told that the game will end and many people will be left with no profit at all.

But I want to be sure to send a message that profits are not always a bad thing. In fact, profits are good for everyone.

Let's say you take your car in for repairs. You realize that Bob the mechanic is buying parts and then marking them up before installing them on your car. Then he charges you a service charge for the time he actually works on the car. Why should he be entitled to a profit on the parts?

In my simple example, there are a lot of reasons that Bob should receive a profit. For starters, Bob's family counts on his profits. They probably like to have things like a house to live in, food on the table and maybe even clothes (unless Bob is a private nudist). Bob may also have expenses not directly related to your bill. Bob has to pay for electricity at his shop, franchise fees, advertising and that nasty tasting coffee that you drank in his waiting room (It wouldn't be nasty tasting if he read Steve's blog here).

Bob may have some management and they too have families and needs. Of course, Bob's co-workers also contribute to management's well being, so they're not entirely dependent on your car repair.

So profits for Bob the mechanic aren't a bad thing, in fact they're required. If Bob didn't make a profit, he probably wouldn't be repair cars. Instead he'd go to work as the greeter at Wal-Mart or take some other job that pays him for his efforts. Of course that doesn't mean that Bob has to make ALL of his profits from the repair of your car. You'd expect him to work on other cars as well.

My whole point here is to point out that profits aren't all bad. As you might guess, this is part of a series and (big surprise here) I have other thoughts in this series. You'll just have to wait a day or two to hear more.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Not a good excuse

Ok, guys, this is one excuse NOT to use.

Seems a man used his iPhone to take a picture of himself. Except, he wasn't taking a picture of his face. The article only explains that it was a "raunchy picture". Then his wife found out it was on his Yahoo e-mail.

This guy has a great idea. He explains to her that while he took the picture (for what reason, it doesn't say) but that he didn't send it to anyone. Instead, he explained, "he'd been a victim of an iPhone glitch."

Now here's where it gets good. You have to give this guy credit for creativity (or stupidity). He told her that ""photos sometimes automatically attach themselves to an e-mail address and appear in the sent folder, even though no e-mail was ever sent."

So see dear, I took the picture and yes I sent a note to this other woman, but the picture really wasn't included. Don't you see honey?

Well, it seems that the woman didn't completely believe him, so he decided to expand his story. he said he went to the Apple store and the folks at the Genius bar told him this.

The woman wasn't quite a believer, so she asked online at the Apple support website. Other people there explained that this was not a glitch. It's not clear if she followed through with their recommendations.

So men, don't blame your indiscretions on your iPhone, it won't work. Here's the article if you want to read it. I confess that I interpreted a lot between the lines.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pyramid Schemes

Recently, I've taken an interest in Pyramid schemes. No I wasn't taken by one and no, I don't plan to start one. I just wanted to know more about them (can you sense follow-on posts?)

So I did some research and found out about a simple one called "The Airplane Game". You've probably heard about it, but understanding it will help you understand more pyramid schemes. There are several variations, but I'll focus on a small, simple one.

Let's say you get together with 2 of your best friends, you appoint yourself as Pilot and the other two as co-pilots. They each "recruit" two stewardesses (or would in be stewardi?). The Pilot in this game has one responsibility, that's to collect money. The co-pilots do less than that (after the initial recruiting), they just wait on the next round. Oh, sure, they collect from the stewardesses, but they pass it to the pilot.

The stewardesses have the toughest job. They have to recruit passengers. The go find two of their friends for this. The passengers each pay $1 to the stewardesses who pass it to the co-pilots, who pass it to the pilot. At the end of round 1, the pilot collects $8 (for $0 invested).

Now it gets fun. The pilot comes over the intercom and announces that the flight will split. He's retiring and each of the two co-pilots will be promoted to head up their own flight. The stewardi will be promoted to co-pilots and each passenger has the privilege of moving up to the stewardess role and recruiting two new passengers.

The goal here is to be pilot of your own flight. The beauty of this is that it only takes four rounds to get there. The payoff is $8 for every $1 invested, so you might change the flight cost to $100 (and $800 payoff) or you might even play multiple times. Say you sign up as a passenger under two different stewardi, you'll get paid twice.

What could be better? Well, doing something legal might be better. Or moral. Or ethical. Choose at least one. Dave Ramsey always says that "He who hastens to get rich will not go unpunished." I hope he's right about this when it comes to the airplane game. But where does this fall apart?

Well, it's very simple the game can not run forever. If you assume (falsely) that EVERYONE will play the game, by that I mean every man, woman and child in the US, the game can only last 25 days (based on 2007 population estimate of 303 million). Since you can't sucker everyone, it will end sooner. When it does, all of the passengers (about half the people), all of the stewardi (another 1/4) and the co-pilots get $0. That means 93% of the people get nothing, 7% get 800% return. Pretty lousy returns.

The word for this kind of game is FRAUD. Pure and simple. Let it be known, that if any of my family tries to do this, I WILL TESTIFY AGAINST YOU. Remember this is the man who never asked "Do you want me to stop this car?." Or at least never asked it twice. Instead, I stopped the car. I should also note that I haven't posted anything here that you can't find some other place, such as wikipedia.

So why am I writing about Pyramid schemes? Well, the answer to that will have to wait for another day.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Comments on comments

I have to admit, I love it when someone comments on my blog. Whether they agree with me or disagree or maybe they just love my pictures (which I don't use often). Occasionally, I'll get someone who is astroturfing* (neat sounding word, isn't it?). And I've gotten a few spam attacks. A couple of people have asked me to advertise their product (I won't do that, I do this for fun, not money).

But what amazes me is when someone finds an old post and comments on it. Yesterday, Lisa found one of my old posts and agreed with it. (see here). Sure, she posted a link to her site, so maybe she's trying to increase her site traffic. She also mentioned her husband is a Nationwide Insurance agent (the post was about that), so maybe she's trying to earn him more business. Or maybe she's hoping that when people visit her site (seen here) they will take advantage of her ministry opportunities (I've seen her site, looks like she's doing good work). Who knows why she took the time out of her day to comment.

All I know is that it makes me feel good when people comment. Thanks Lisa!

* For those who don't know, astroturfing means that someone is trying to give the impression that there is a grassroots campaign for or against something. For example, when I posted about PayDay Loans, I had some comments from people paid by the industry.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Why so many attacks on Gov. Palin?

I have to admit, I wasn't a fan of Governor Palin for VP. It's not that I opposed her, and it didn't affect my vote (I still voted for the McCain/Palin ticket). It's just that the VP candidate didn't have any effect on my vote. Senator Biden's nomination didn't affect my vote either.

But I've been amazed at the number of attacks against the governor from the northern state. The stories of her outlandish expenditures appears to be (at the minimum) overblown. Her supposed mistake calling Africa a country, not a continent has been called into question, with even the source of the story being questions. MSNBC recently made an on-the-air correction to the story because of the sources. (see here).

I've already stated elsewhere that the chances of Governor Palin running for president in 2012 and winning are slim. History isn't on her side. The ONLY time that a VP candidate who lost came back to win the presidency later was in 1920 when FDR ran as the VP candidate with James Cox. If you look at the presidential history, Cox was never on the list. FDR of course, came back in 1932 as the president (elected 4 times).

So what is it about this lady that draws such hatred? Liberal blogs suggested she should stay home and raise her family. They suggested that her Down Syndrome child wasn't hers, but her daughter's. They suggested she was inexperienced (her days in political offices outnumbered the Democratic presidential nominee). And they quoted anonymous sources to point out supposed arguments between her and the presidential nominee.

My personal pet peeve was the people who referred to her simply as Sarah or Palin. I've made it my personal goal to be respectful to candidates (winners and losers) on both sides of the aisle by including their title. So Governor Palin, Senator McCain, President-Elect Obama and VP-Elect Biden.

One just has to wonder what it was about her that was so dangerous.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's day

I hadn't planned to do a Veteran's day post. I had other plans. Then I started reading a couple of other blogs to start my day and ran across this one from A Voice of Reason, who just recently restarted blogging. You should read it, he knows what he's talking about.

I told Voice that I never had the privilege of serving in the armed services. My father was in the Army Air Forces. It was part of the Army, but split off to be the Air Force, so technically, I think he was in the Air Force. He joined in 1945, I believe after VE day (Victory in Europe - May 8) but before VJ day (Victory in Japan - Aug 15). When I asked him what he did during the war, he said he typed letters, drove generals around in jeeps, etc. He spent some time in Japan (after VJ day).

And my favorite memory, is his explanation of the beginning and the end of his service. Seems he was stationed in Seattle for a while, waiting on a ship to take him to Japan. While he was there, he planted grass seed every day. When he came back from Japan, he had to cut the same grass he had started a few years earlier. How ironic.

All of my dad's brothers served in the armed services. One was at the Battle of the Bulge. Another was in the Navy. I've heard some great Navy stories from that uncle. One of my dad's brothers spent a great deal of time in the last few years of his life helping at the VFW, serving other veterans.

I have two brothers who served in the Air Force. One was only in the service for four years and he met his wife there. He enlisted late in the Vietnam era and spent his career either in San Antonio, Tx or a little town in Italy. The second brother was in for over 20 years, much of it in the Philippines. He also was in San Antonio a while, Myrtle Beach SC, and in NJ. He had several short assignments, Germany, Panama, Korea and others I can't recall. And he went to the Dhahran Saudi Arabia in the first Gulf War. While he was there, he made a cassette tape one night while Scud missiles were falling at or near his base. Sometime, I'll listen to that again.

More recently, my step-son served in the Army. He jumped out of planes. He had already enlisted when I first met him and was at Ft. Bragg when his mother and I married. Since 9/11 occurred about two weeks prior to the wedding, we weren't sure he would make it. But he did and few months later he went to Afghanistan. After that, he came "home" (to Ft. Bragg) and then went to Iraq. After his duties in Iraq, he faced a new battlefront, marriage (sorry, couldn't resist that).

Currently, my step-son-in-law is serving in the reserves as he studies to be a Chaplain. He was full army for a while before he went to college. Unfortunately, I don't know much about those days in his life. I do know that he has a lot of Army plans in his future.

All of the above named veterans came home safely. In fact, I can only think of one veteran I personally know who didn't come home safely. Joe Freeman died in Vietnam when I was about 10 years old. His name is on panel 30W of the wall. I didn't really know him, but I knew his family. We went to the same church. I remember attending a service in his honor. And I remember tears in his father's eyes.

Today, I want to say thank you to all of the veterans I know. Thank you for your service. Whether you were drafted or you enlisted, whether you went overseas or just served here. Whether you were in during peace time or during war. Thank you. Thank you for giving up part of your life to protect mine.

Thank you.

Friday, November 07, 2008

To everything there is a season

You may recall my post back in June about the Paulownia trees in my backyard (see here). Well as a wise man said "there is a time for everything and a season..."

Well, the season has changed, and Jack (the tree) has taken notice. Just as last year, the leaves on this tree have fallen (see here). As sad as it is, it's a part of life. And of course, we have the hope that next year, Jack will return to his state of fullness. So with that, I leave you these pictures, from June and from November.

Hmmm.. To everything there is a season... someone should make a song about that... nah, that's for the byrds...

June picture showing the size of the leaves.

Now the leaves are dead or dying, but they are still big (about 15 inches across).

The tree, almost leafless.

Another picture of the trees, now...

And how the trees looked in their prime.

A view of the Paulownia trees and the trees in the background.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Why did Barack Obama win & John McCain lose?

I know you're tired of hearing about the election. But I wanted to summarize some of the information I've heard/read about the election results and offer some opinion.

On election day, I listened to Dave Ramsey. For those of you who don't know, he runs a radio program about financial management. He is big on getting out of debt and talks to people daily who are over their heads, looking at bankruptcy or just sick and tired of being sick and tired. He's on the local Christian radio station, and he speaks from a Christian perspective, but he speaks to people of all faiths and people of no faith.

Ramsey's program on Tuesday was devoted to asking people who they voted for and why. If someone said they thought their candidate was better, he wanted to know what issues made them better. In doing so, he discouraged any arguments based on age or race. From my unscientific viewpoint, the calls were pretty much balanced between the two candidates with a sprinkling of calls for third party candidates.

There were three messages that I heard repeated several times: 1) Obama represents a change from the policies of Bush, 2) Obama is better able to handle the economy and 3) McCain will move the country pro-life, Obama pro-abortion.

The interesting thing about the last comment is that it didn't come out strongly during the months before the election. If McCain's strongest asset was his pro-life view, he evidently didn't have widespread support. More people are either pro-abortion, ambivalent or weak on the abortion stance.

Regarding the first argument (change & McCain = Bush), it's obvious that Obama got his message across. However, I would argue that this isn't a real issue. The people calling in to the program couldn't specify what they wanted changed or how McCain was a continuation of Bush.

The economy is the issue that seemed to carry the most weight. There were a few callers who believed that Obama's policies were socialist. There were more who liked his economic ideas. This reminds me of a time when the American people cared more about the economy than anything else. The result was the most morally corrupt president in our 200+ years. The result was a booming economy and a free-wheeling spirit. As a result of that free-wheeling, we've had at least two economic collapses and terrorist attacks (see this list).

Since 9/11, there has not been an attack on US soil. On 9/12/2001, almost everyone believed we would have continued attacks. The attacks overseas have reduced greatly. Why didn't voters think about this and cast their vote accordingly? A year ago, Iraq was a big issue. Today I heard that soldiers are coming home TWO MONTHS earlier than even Bush predicted. It's clear that we will be out of Iraq soon regardless what the next president does. Given these two facts, I think a continuation of Bush's policies wouldn't be such a bad thing after all.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A new president-elect

I know you've heard that we have a new president-elect. Of course, we knew we would, if not today in a few days once the votes were counted. We just didn't know who it will be until late last night.

I won't post a lot about the election, if you're like me, you're burnt out on the whole thing. One report I heard said that the election process started 22 months ago and I don't doubt that report.

I will post this item and possibly one other tomorrow after I've digested the information some more. But for today, I just want to say that future president Obama will be MY president. What I mean by this is that I will support him. He was not my individual choice, but the nation has chosen and I will support that choice.

Our country has lived through a lot of good presidents and some bad presidents. Two presidents have been impeached (neither removed from office), one president resigned and eight have died in office (four assassinated). I have no doubt that the next four years will see some good times and some bad times. Regardless, I will support the president.

One side note is that our constitution provides for the case where a president is elected, then is unable to serve come inauguration day. (There is a movement still out there to check Sen. Obama's birth certificate). If that happens for any reason, the VP elect (Biden) will become the president. I doubt this will occur, but I will support that president also

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election day

It's finally here. After one of the longest, ugliest, most prolonged battles I've ever seen, today is the day we cast our votes. Many have already voted and I think that's good. I voted absentee once when I lived in NC, I can't remember why. SC doesn't have early voting, so to vote early here you have to sign an affidavit saying you can't be there on election day. Any reason is acceptable, but I just feel funny when I know I can be here.

So, in about 6 hours, I'll walk about 1/4 mile to my voting place. It's nice being that close, and I'll save the parking spaces for those who have to go further. Surprisingly, my son has asked me to wake him up when I go so that he can go with me. It's his first election and until last night I wasn't sure he was going to vote. His reasons seemed actually to make sense, but I won't fight his battles here.

Sometime tonight (in theory), we will know who the next president/vice president will be. Unless something really unusual happens, we will either have the first African-American President-Elect or the first female Vice President-Elect. It's a historic election. We've had African-American candidates before (Alan Keyes to name one) and we've had a female VP candidate (Geraldine Ferraro). But this is the first time we've had them on both major parties' ticket.

Regardless who wins, the election process, as ugly as it has been, serves to inform us. We know more about both candidates than ever before. We have the potential to take the issues that concern us the most and evaluate the candidates' responses. What will the next President face? We may not know, but we should be able to estimate how they will react.

But at the end of the day, or the end of the voting, one thing will still be true. Actually, several things will still be true. 1) President Bush will still be president. 2) God is still in control.

When you think about that last one, what else really matters?

* Update - I just finished voting. From the time I got in line until the time I walked out, under 1 hour total. Our state limits you to 3 minutes in the voting booth and does electronic touch-screen voting. I took my time, reviewed each selection before I made it, reviewed it again after I made it, then went through the final review twice to be sure. Not sure how long I was in the booth, but it was under the 3 minutes easily. 1/2 mile of walking up & back, I won't have to exercise for another month now.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Secret Life of Bees - Movie Review

The tag line for this movie says "Bring Your Girlfriends, Sisters, Mothers and Daughters" - so why did I go? Simple, because my wife wanted a night out. Here's my opinion on the movie (no spoilers included)

This wasn't your typical "chick-flick". I felt like it spoke to a different topic than I expected. Dakota Fanning plays a 14 year old girl raised in rural SC in 1964. Lily (Fanning's character) has some shadowy memories of her mother who died when she was only 4. Her relationship with her father is "troubled" and she clings desperately to what little information she has on her mother.

Seeking more about her mother, she escapes to a honey-farm, run by three black women where she learns about bee keeping (hence the title).

Life in rural SC in 1964 was complicated (and the movie even admits that). Queen Latifah plays a loving, motherly type, who is quick to help, slow to speak. Alicia Keys plays her quick to act, chip-on-my shoulder sister who is mad at the world. The Civil Rights Act has just been signed and not everyone in SC is happy about it.

You should know before you see the movie that it deals a lot with race relations in 1964 (did I mention in rural SC?). There is a lot of hatred, but there's also some love shown. Not racy, hot sex-filled love. There's some true love shown between the races. There's also love shown for another sister, named May (I won't spoil this part with details).

You can watch the movie and be outraged at the way people are treated. You can be happy at a little girl finding out about bees. I watched the little girl's father. I think it would be interesting to remake the movie from his point of view. What did he feel for his young wife? How did he meet her? What about their daughter? When his wife died, how did he raise the little girl? What drove him to be the way he was?

One comment in the movie (almost a spoiler) was near the end when Fanning's character saw her father. She admitted that she had seen her mother's death for the impact it had on her life, for the hole it left in her. She never thought about the hole it left in him. To me, that made the movie worthwhile.

Another part of the movie showed support. Support for people. Without giving away details, there are at least two people described or seen in the movie who just aren't able to handle life or the current hand that they've been dealt. Instead of being critical, the character played by Queen Latifah just supports them, helps them through.

If you see the movie, and I think you should, I'd ask you to look at it from that angle. Then think about the same thing in your life. What event (or sequence of events) have happened in your life that have caused you to focus on the impact, but ignore the impact on someone else's life?

Friday, October 31, 2008

NYC Marathon winner is SC resident

Yep, I'm coming out with my early prediction that Adam Beam, the young man pictured at the left is going to be the winner of the NYC Marathon. I was granted the privilege of being the ONLY photographer allowed to take pre-win pictures when he made a trip to Greenville back in August as a part of his training regimen.
For those of you who aren't following the running circuit, this Sunday is the ING New York City Marathon at 9am (don't forget to set your clock back Saturday night). Beam and approximately 39,999 losers will gather in the city that doesn't sleep for the run. Beam was one of more than 100,000 applicants to the race.
Anticipating the win, NBC's Today show asked Adam and his lovely wife, Ashley, to join them on Monday morning. Rather than steal the show, the Beams agreed to stay outside and only be shown during Al Roker's weather reports (I think I still have exclusive photo rights, so I'll be expecting a check from NBC). Later the two will appear in Dave Letterman's audience as they round out their trip.

The race can be streamed online at in the US. Additionally, NBC Sports will broadcast a one-hour highlights show nationwide beginning at 3:00 p.m. EST on Sunday.
Oh, did I mention that Ashley is my daughter and Adam had the wisdom to choose her as his wife? Maybe that interferes with my objectivity on this subject.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Election time

Is it just me or has this election gotten nasty? I'm used to all of the nasty commercials and such. I expect that. This is my 8th presidential election (and as many non-presidential elections) and those type attacks come every year.

But what has surprised me are the actors & actresses that have gotten nasty. Oh sure, Tom Cruise and a few others threatened to leave in 2004 if W. was elected (they didn't). But it just seems that more of them have turned out this time.

What makes it worse is that they lose credibility. I love the skits on SNL and (until recently) I liked some of the light night sketches. David Letterman's "Great moments in presidential speeches" took jabs at President Bush's speech patterns. Very humorous. But lately, I've grown to wonder more about how Letterman really feels.

In the past, I've avoided watching light night TV when a political candidate was on. I've made two exceptions: 1) I watched former President Carter on Leno and 2) I watched McCain on Letterman. I was disappointed in both cases.

Two other actors who have lost credibility are Tina Fey and Martin Sheen. I loved Fey's skits on SNL, even the ones poking at Gov. Palin. But after watching her comments on Letterman, I can no longer watch her. She is no longer (probably never was) objective and has no credibility. Same thing with Sheen.

What about you? Have you seen actors and been swayed for/against them because of their credibility? What about businesses?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Is Barack Obama a Christian? - Part 3

In part 1 of this series (seen here) I gave the reason that Obama says he is a Christian. In part 2 (seen here), I took on those who say he's not. In this final part, I want to state my opinion (even though some has already leaked out) and address the question "what difference does it make?" And I'll add in some closing remarks as well.

So, I'll start with the hard part. If you're interested in my opinion, do I think Sen. Obama is a Christian, here's my final answer. I don't know.

I'm not blessed with the ability to tell who is and who isn't truly saved. When I see the Senator's statements about his faith, they seem to line up with what I expect of a new convert. I wish I could see evidence that he had grown from that initial conversion. Instead, I see a man who believes that everyone gets to choose their own path, a man who doesn't hold infant life in high regard, who has said he sees a human fetus as a burden. I see a man who picks and chooses what he uses from the Word of God and who even ridicules those of us who believe. I also see a sinner. Like me. In first Corinthians 6:11, Paul said I was just as bad as the Democratic candidate.

That said, the next question is, "what difference does it make?" We're not electing a minister, we're electing a president. As I mentioned in part 2, our current president has made theological blunders and I expect the next president will too. Just because someone is, or is not, a Christian won't make them a good (or bad) president.

It does however, speak to the character of the man. If a man (or woman) is a Christian, I can partially anticipate some of their future direction. I firmly believe (like a certain VP candidate) that the next president will be tested (although I have different reasons) in ways we can't imagine. Eight years ago, no one expected 9/11 to happen. The next big event may be a foreign attack or it may be the economic condition we're already seeing. I have certain expectations for a Christian. If I knew more Muslims, I might have expectations about them also.

In Senator Obama's case, he has shown that, while he might be a Christian, he doesn't always follow his faith. That gives me insight (good or bad will not be discussed here) on how I think he will handle the unknown.

So the candidate's faith does make a difference to me, but I won't use that as a litmus test. It's too easy to misjudge what I think a person might or might not do.

But as I wrote these three parts, I was struck with a more important question. While none of us may be able to tell for sure if the next President (Obama or McCain) is truly a Christian, we can tell about ourselves. So the most important question is, ARE YOU A CHRISTIAN?

We are all sinners. I hope that you, like the young man on the south side of Chicago will come to the realization that something is missing. I hope that you will submit yourself to His will, to dedicate yourself to discovering His Truth.

God loves you. Just the way you are. In all your sin. Just as He loved me in my sin. He wants you to turn away from that sin. He wants you to open your heart and to let Jesus take over your life.

Each day I pray that God will continue to open my heart. To continue to expose my sin. To continue to show me His will for my life.

I implore you, just as I implored the candidate Obama, to search the Scriptures to see if what I have said is true. God has already told us everything we need to know, now He wants to show us how He can impact our lives.

I know these three posts were long, I appreciate your reading them. Comments are welcome.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Is Barack Obama a Christian? - Part 2

In part 1 of this series (seen here) I gave the reason that Obama says he is a Christian. One day, he knelt down and accepted God's spirit, submitted himself to His will and dedicated himself to discovering His truth.

But there are those who would question his faith. They point out that he supports "a lifestyle that the Bible calls an abomination" and that he "supports the destruction of innocent and sacred life". They point out that he was led to Christ by a preacher who preached a different Gospel, who spoke hatred, promoted (reverse) racism and has now been removed from his church.

In fairness, the Bible does call homosexuality an abomination. And abortion is the destruction of innocent and sacred life. Those issues will not be debated here and Sen. Obama has not debated them (to my knowledge). In fact when question on where life begins, the candidate said that it was "above my paygrade".

On this issue, I'd like to be like a doctor in Obama's speech, who supported him during his senatorial primary, but considered not voting for him in the senate election. The reason was not Obama's view on abortion, but rather Obama's treatment of those with whom he disagreed. He asked Obama for "fair-minded words" and as a result, Obama changed the wording of his pro-choice position, to make it fair to those who disagreed.

With that in mind, I'd like to chastise the candidate Obama about his words "above my paygrade". Senator, if you expect me to pay your salaray as president, it's not above your paygrade. Life and death issues for innocent children is EXACTLY on your paygrade.

Some will say that my comment doesn't belong in a political conversation. But then senate candidate Obama said that "secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square." Religion has as much a place in a political conversation as any other subject. And it should also be noted that the subject isn't just a religious subject, it is as much about violence as "when a gang-banger shoots indiscriminately into a crowd."

But this post isn't about the abortion debate, rather it's about Sen. Obama's faith. While I disagree with him on his paygrade and his indecision on abortion, it doesn't make him any less of a Christian. As a Christian and as an American, he has the right to be wrong.

In fact, he accurately commented that he "was running to be the U.S. Senator of Illinois and not the Minister of Illinois." He seems to recognize that senators and presidents are chosen by the people, ministers are chosen by God. I don't expect the next president to be any better versed in theology than the current president (who while being a strong Christian has made some theological blunders).

But if he is a Christian, why doesn't Senator Obama recognize his spiritual requirement to protect the innocent? I refuse to believe that he adjusts his view to fit the audience. Believing that means that I can't trust him at all and any politcial view he has is just political. Somehow, I can't be that cynical. Instead, I believe that it's simply a matter of lack of education. That if (when) he matures as a Christian, he will come to realize that an unborn child is just as sacred as one that has made it out of the womb and the delivery room. I think that deep down he knows that, but is unwilling to force his views on other people. Indeed, in his profession of faith, Obama said he "dedicated myself to discovering His truth." My hope is that he continues to discover the Truth.

Suppose future President Obama discovers the Truth and decides to reverse his previous opinions on abortion. Will that mean he is imposing his beliefs on the people? (Yes) Would that imposition be wrong? (No) As a country, we elect representatives. We expect them to make decisions that govern us. There is a process of checks and balances and a process of impeachment. I trust our processes to keep sanity on issues like this. If future President Obama produces some executive order that is just flat wrong, I expect our congress and our courts to step up and take action.

Furthermore, if Obama or any other politician hears a message from God and ignores it, I would be very nervous. Yes, I get nervous when someone says they hear a message from God. How can they be sure it's from God and not from a bad batch of tacos? Well, if I may go down this side road for a moment, one thing is for certain, God will not contradict Himself. He's already told us so much in His Bible, that we can always compare those midnight rumblings to His Word. If there's a conflict, it's time to cut out the late night pizza runs. If it matches, then there's a good chance it's from God. And to ignore those messages, is to invite problems.

But back to the main subject, should a future president impose his ideas on us? Well, in fact they do. Senator Obama believes that all Americans should have health care. If elected and if congress and the courts permit, he will impose that view on all of us. He will have to pay for it somehow, taxes in some areas will go up (I'm largely ignoring his tax issues here, they aren't relevant to this subject). There's a good chance that some of those who will pay for the plan will be against universal health care, but he has imposed his views on them. I know this is simplistic in it's view, but it's an easy way to see it.

What of majority rule? Won't future President Obama's policies be supported by the majority? This argument fails for two reasons, 1) there's no guarantee that the policies he implements will be agreed upon by all of his supporters, much less his detractors and 2) majority rule doesn't make something right (take slavery in 1780 as an example). No, the president must implement policies he/she feels are important and face the music for that. He must "sell" his policies to the public and to congress. All of this is to say, that Senator Obama has signed up for a job that forces him to impose his ideas on us (if he wins).

Now to the subject of discovering the truth. In his statement, Senator Obama admitted he did not know the truth and was searching for it. In theological terms, this is called sanctification. This has been several years now, shouldn't he have found the answers by now? Shouldn't there be some spiritual growth?

I won't stand (or sit) here and pretend to be able to answer that question. I will offer one word of advice to the Senator, a word from The Word. Acts 17:11 says that there were those who were of "more noble character" and that they "examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true". Senator Obama, if you are indeed a Christian (and I don't mean to imply that I question that), I implore you to be more noble and to continue your search for His Truth."

As to the issue of Sen. Obama's church, I've previously written on this subject (see here). In that post, I said that I respected his position for defending the pastor until he had the details. I would also point other believers to Phillipians 1:15-18 where Paul says that when Jesus is preached, it doesn't matter WHY He was preached, it's good. Even if Rev. Wright preached Jesus for the wrong reasons, if he brought believers to Christ, it's good. I'd also point to Joseph who said in Gen 50:20 that even though things were meant for evil, God turned it into good (rough translation). And finally, I would point to 1 Corinthians 1:13, where Paul addressed the issues of different churches when he asked "Is Christ divided?"

I know this is a LONG post. I appreciate your reading until the very end. I'll post the last part of this article later this week and make my final comments. As always, your comments are welcome.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Is Barack Obama a Christian?

It has been suggested that I shouldn't blog on this subject. That I was only asking for trouble. And the truth is, I have friends on both sides of the aisle and will likely receive some criticism from them. However, I feel it's an important subject and it's a subject where I have something to say. I typically shy away from religion and politics, but this time I'm going to tackle both at the same time.

As I've done on some past controversial subjects, I'll do this as a multi-part series. First I want to address the issue from a pro-Obama standpoint, to explain why Obama says he is a Christian. Second, I'll address the reasons some people question his faith. And then I'll assert my opinion in the final post. Of course, I won't limit my opinion totally to the last post, I'll interject comments along the way. And I encourage you to interject comments as well.

One difference between this series and previous series is that I intend to write all three parts before I post the first. It's not that your comments won't sway my opinion, it's just that I want to get my thoughts down and make sure they're consistent first. I'll still do some editing on parts 2 & 3 after part 1.

I must start out with some opinion. Basically, it's this - if Obama says something about his beliefs, I HAVE to accept it as truth. Oh, I could think "well, he said this, but he really meant this instead." I can (and will) point to inconsistencies that I find, but if he says he believes the sky is green and the grass is blue, I have to believe that he really believes that. Otherwise, I'd be wasting pixels on the screen and precious bytes of storage.

That said, the key point for determining Sen. Obama's faith issues is his 6/28/06 keynote
address to the "Call to Renewal". (The entire speech can be found here) It's a speech he has referenced several times and his campaign still references. The senator was speaking to a group committed to establishing policies to bridge social and political issues. (see here) The senator offered "some thoughts about how we can sort through some of the often bitter arguments that we've been seeing over the last several years."

In his speech, Senator Obama said "Each day, it seems, thousands of Americans are going about their daily rounds ... and they're coming to the realization that something is missing." Those of us who are born-again will quickly point out that what is missing is Jesus Christ. As has been often said, we are all born with a God sized hole in our hearts, that only God can fill. Today, "thousands of Americans" are seeking a way to fill that hole.

Senator Obama came to realize this himself. After his college years, he worked with churches and recognized what was going on there in people's lives. He also realized that he didn't have what they had. He said "in time, I came to realize that something was missing as well -- that without a vessel for my beliefs ... I would always remain apart, and alone."

One day, at the now famous (or infamous) Trinity United Church of Christ the questions and some of the answers came down on Obama and he realized he had to make a choice. In his own words "kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt that I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth."

As a Baptist, I would call that a profession of faith. Oh sure, there are other words I would have liked to have seen in there - words like "repent", confession that Jesus Christ is Lord and that He is the only Way to heaven. But when a young child accepts Christ as his savior, I accept simple words like Obama's, I can't expect more from another convert.

As usual, comments are welcome and expected. I should note that I have taken an unusual step (for me) and contacted a few individuals and asked for their specific comments. I have no idea if or when they will comment, but that doesn't preclude you from commenting now.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What to do with old toothbrushes?

Have you ever sat around and wondered, now what can I do with all of the old toothbrushes I have laying around? Well, neither have I, but apparently, someone has. They've even posted some ideas on the web (surprise, surprise).

Since the American Dental Association recommends you replace your toothbrush every 3-4 months (I think it's more often if you have a cat), you should have a few laying around your house. So instead of throwing them away, you can follow one of the ideas in this list. (Click here).

My favorite idea? "Make a little "bristlebot". Attach a toothbrush head to a vibrating pager motor and let it crawl around. Make a bunch and race them competitively. " I can see a group of engineers having a britlebot derby. Maybe they should try this on "The Office"? (whaddya think Neil?)

This goes under the category of "even geeks get to have fun once in a while".

Sunday, October 19, 2008

And it's 1, 2, 3, what are we voting for?

Did you know that there are SIX choices for president on the ballot in my state? In addition to the Republican and Democratic candidates, there are candidates in the Green party, the Libertarian party, the Petition party (Ralph Nader) and the Constitution party.

We'll also be voting for senator this year, only two people on the list there, and Representative (3 choices).

I have to check my voter registration card next to determine all of the state offices I can vote for, it looks like many of these are uncontested. One person I know commented back in the spring, that in SC you HAD to vote in the republican primary if you wanted to have a choice in the elections.

I also get to vote in County elections. The main contested battle there is for Sheriff. I'm thinking Matt Dillon is getting a little old to sport his badge, so I need to check out the two candidates there.

And finally, there are three amendments that are on the ballot this year. One would allow the state legislature to set the age of consent for women (no mention of young men). The second has to do with funding public employee pensions and medical benefits (which goes along with a book I just finished) and investing these funds in the stock market. The final amendment is the same as the second amendment, but it relates to local governments.

Over the next few days, I'll be evaluating the various offices and stating my opinion. You can follow along with the ballot at this website:

If you live outside Greenville County, but inside SC, some of the information will still apply to you.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Unless you missed it, Greenville, SC made national news last week. Federal immigration officials raided a poultry processing plant. The result was that 330 workers were arrested who are "believed to be in the country illegally." This was at House of Raeford's Columbia Farms plant.

Back in January when I was establishing my political platform for the presidency (I've since withdrawn from the race), I was asked about my opinions on immigration. I responded at the time in this post.

I'd like to take credit for influencing the raid (and maybe rejoin the presidential race?). Seems the ICE officials followed a lot of my ideas. First, they followed my advice by enforcing the laws as they exist today.

An important note is that it was not only the illegal immigrants who were arrested, The Greenville News reported that 12 other employees were arrested/indicted on charges of immigration fraud. Someone at Columbia Farms had to know that this was going on, I'm glad to know they have been arrested also. How deep was the fraud? Well, the HR manager has been charged with "20 felony counts on charges of encouraging supervisors to falsify employment documents."

It should also be noted that ICE agents reviewed 825 I-9 forms "that verify a worker's immigration status -- and of those, 94 percent were found to be falsified" (see here).

So what's next? Well, about 1/4 of those arrested have been released (and will be monitored) to allow them to care for dependent children. And the belief is that "the majority of illegal workers will be administratively processed and deported."

We need to realize that the individuals involved are humans. One commenter noted that "families are going to be broken apart," to the folks at CNN. Also, some of the children, by fact that they were born here, are US Citizens. You may not like this, but it's the law. That's not an excuse to avoid deportation, but it is an indictment on the way we should treat these people: with respect.

I heard a report (unconfirmed) that the day after the raid, there was a line outside House of Raeford's for applications. After all, everyone knew that there were now 330 job openings. Seems the jobs aren't the ones that America won't take. Over a year ago, I commented on that idea (see here). I won't be putting a chicken breast on a machine at the plant any time soon, but I did have a job similar to this in high school. I decided it was something I didn't want to do for the rest of my life and went to college.

So here's my summary: Suspected illegal immigrants have been arrested. A judge will decide if they are illegal (should make Dan Kowalksi, "an Austin, Texas-based lawyer specializing in immigration law" happy). If they are illegal, they will be deported. Families may be affected and we as citizens need to step up to taking care of those who remain. Oh, and there are now some job openings in Greenville, SC

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Painting the lines

When I graduated from high school, I took a summer job working in a manufacturing environment. If you've ever seen a textile mill with cloth running from one machine to another, you've seen some of the large rollers. The company I worked for would take these rollers (after they had worn considerably) and strip all the rubber off of them, then apply new rubber. The new rubber was then sanded smooth, to the exact specifications the customer demanded. Typically, this was within a few thousandths of an inch.

The machine I worked on had the ability to put a "crown" onto a roll. That is, the diameter of the roll was more in the center than on the ends. So, it may have a "crown" of 0.025 inches. The ends had to match each other, the crown had to be in the center and the crown had to be the exact specified amount.

Business was very good in the summer, because textiles took time off. During their lulls, they would send us the work. I start out working 55 hours a week (10 hours/day, 5 hours on Sunday) and kept that up for most of the summer. Top that off with an above-minimum wage pay and I was living! (and spending it all too).

Occasionally, work would get slack. No new orders coming in, so overtime was cut quickly. When the workload dropped even more, we painted lines. The lines were required by OSHA for safety. it showed where forklifts could go, where other equipment could go, etc. When times were very slow, we painted our machines.

So why am I posting this, thirty years later? The company I worked for no longer exists and other than a few scars on my two small fingers of my left hand and some memories, there's nothing left.

Well, here's my point. There are times in your life when things are slow. When this happens, you need to paint lines. If life is slow, your job is boring and things aren't going your way, paint the lines. Study a new topic. Stay in school (or go back). Complete a few projects that you didn't complete when life was hectic. Focus on the essentials. Maybe even (gasp) read a book.

Or if live gets very boring, post a blog entry.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Fog of War - Movie Review

Somehow, this percolated to the top of my Netflix queue. I watched it by myself, I knew my wife wouldn't enjoy it. It's the story of Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense under JFK and LBJ - during the escalation in Vietnam. This documentary serves as his biography. The subtitle was "eleven life lessons from the life of Robert S. McNamara", it highlights these points for the viewer (I won't post them here).

The movie was slow, as most documentaries are. It's told from McNamara's point of view with him speaking most of the parts. The interviewer seems to be from NPR. In my opinion, the interviewer seems to be trying to pick a fight.

The first 42 minutes of the film discuss McNamara's involvement in WW II. The most significant quote in this part (thanks to IMDB) McNamara's superior Colonel "LeMay said if we lost the war that we would have all been prosecuted as war criminals. " This was in relationship to fire bombing Tokyo and killing 100,00 civilian lives in a single night. So the difference between a hero and a war criminal is who wins the war.

It's clear that McNamara has some bad memories from WW II. Yes, the tactics he recommended saved thousands of American soldiers. But it seems to me that he is haunted by some of the trade-offs.

After WW II, McNamara became one of the "whiz kids" who brought life back to Ford Motor Company. So much life, he eventually became president of Ford. He was the first non-family member to be president. McNamara introduced the Ford Falcon, which became extremely popular. But his stay as president was short, he soon accepted JFK's request to serve in government. This resulted in a MAJOR reduction in pay.

McNamara was secretary of defense during the Cuban missile crisis. He believes that the USA came with "a hair's breadth of war with the Soviet Union on three different occasions." War that would have likely resulted in nuclear weapons. "They'll be no learning period with nuclear weapons. Make one mistake and you're going to destroy nations." McNamara has spoken out against nuclear weapons on many occasions after his service.

Most of the movie focused on the Vietnam War. It may be that he was trying to explain the reasons for the war. In some ways, he was just serving the president. In other ways, he was trying to convince the president what should be done, what he felt was right. But to many Americans, he was a part of the problem. He was a part of the cover-up, explaining how good things were, while knowing how bad they were. During his services, a man named Norman Morrison came to the Pentagon and, while standing beneath McNamara's office, doused himself with kerosene and lit himself on fire. Initially, he was holding his one year old daughter, but bystanders encouraged him to throw the child out, saving her life.

What kind of impact would that have on your life? Knowing that this man opposed your actions so much, he would kill himself and nearly kill his daughter? Knowing that your suggestion to fire-bomb Tokyo cost the lives of many civilians? Knowing that you helped continue the war in Vietnam, the most unpopular war in American history?

Not knowing any details about McNamara, I found the movie interesting. I'm sure there is another side to the story. It seems to me that McNamara is trying to make things right. He's trying to explain how he got where he was, and not all of it was good. But one thing that struck me was that he was serving his country. Something that is amiss in many people today.

Friday, October 03, 2008

How much can you make in 3 weeks?

I usually don't speak out about CEO pay. I feel like it's an issue between the company and the CEO. If they want to pay the CEO a lot, that's their business. My paycheck is the amount my company and I have agreed on. If I think it's too much (not likely) I can return some of it and ask for a lower check. If I think it's too little, I can ask for more and even go somewhere else. I don't want someone else saying how much (or how little) I should get.

But sometimes, the facts need to be brought out. Take for example, Alan Fishman, CEO for Washington Mutual (WaMu). To be fair, Fishman came into a company that was on the way down. Mat McCormick who is a portfolio manager for Bahl & Gaynor Investment Counsel said that WaMu's "goose was cooked long ago."

So when he signed on, he received a decent package. It started with a sign-on bonus of $7.5million. Well, I guess he needs to buy some new suits to match his new job. So he needed that sign-on bonus. His annual salary was only $1million, small in CEO terms. Since the company went under in less than 3 weeks, he will only receive about $60,000. How can anyone expect to live on that?

And since he knew the company was having problems, he planned for the possibility that he may have to leave early. He will receive termination pay of $6.15million.

There are a few unknowns, what about his annual bonus? He was set to receive $3.65million, but since he didn't work a full year, how much will he get? That works out to about $10,000/day, but it's unclear if he will get the whole amount or just a daily amount.

And, if he made it through all of 2009, he was slated to receive a "long term" incentive of $8million. Now that he's being fired, it's not clear if he will receive that. (since when is one year "long term"?)

All totaled, he may receive more than $18million on 3 weeks based on this report. Another report said it was $20million for 17 days.

Regardless which of these figures is right, it's a lot of money. And I would have been glad to do the job for half that amount.

Now, as a free market believer, I say leave this up to the company. Don't buy stock in the company and don't do business with them. The free market works. However, in this case, that's not an option. WaMu is no longer in business. The losses (and extreme pay) will be passed on to JP Morgan Chase, who had no part in the talks. So what's a body to do?

Well, I DO NOT favor CEO pay regulation. Instead, I suggest writing to any company where you own stock and telling them how you feel about CEO pay. Also, research the directors of WaMu (or any other extreme company) and don't let them into any company you do business with. It's a lot of work, but I plan on doing some research along these lines.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Fireproof - phase 2

I mentioned before that I really liked the movie Fireproof. If you haven't seen it, or been convinced to go see it, you can go to to get details, see trailers, etc.

I'm not saying that the movie will change your life, but it might. I'm not saying you have to do anything that is in the movie, but it wouldn't hurt.

If you do go to the movie, you should sit back and enjoy it. Don't get too wrapped up in the details, just see what happens to the couple. Have you been in their place? Do you think the same things happen to "regular" people? Were you happy with the results in the movie? Would you be happy with those results?

After the movie, discuss it with one of your friends. If you think the movie was good suggest that they go see it.

Tomorrow night, we have friends going to see the movie, at our suggestion. We plan to help out by baby-sitting for them. (actually, my wife will be doing most of the sitting, I'll probably be working late). Our plan is to send another couple on Friday night. This time, we'll not only be baby sitting, we'll pay for the tickets. That's my action plan. What's your's?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Seven year anniversary - Fireproof

Today marks my seventh wedding anniversary. Seven years and she hasn't kicked me out yet. What a wonderful woman. Over the weekend we went to see the movie "Fireproof". Imagine my surprise when Caleb (Kirk Cameron) points out to his wife that they've been married seven years. I'd heard a lot about the movie, but no one had shared that little detail with me.

What is it about seven years that is supposed to be so difficult? We always hear about "the seven year itch" (which I just found out was an old movie) In my mind, the last seven years have been great. Ok, maybe not all of the time. But the good times have more than outweighed the bad times. And mainly because we both tried. We both considered it worth working for. And the results have been OUTSTANDING!

I'm looking forward to the next seven years and the next seven after that. I'm looking forward to as many sevens as I can get.

The movie was good. It was funny, it was touching. If you're the emotional kind that cries easily, take a tissue. If you're not that kind, you won't be put off by the teary eyes. There's a good bit of comedy spread throughout and the audience really gets into the movie. You get pulled in rooting for the couple, rooting for their marriage and rooting for them as individuals.

Caleb (played by Kirk Cameron, formerly of the TV show Growing Pains) is a firefighter, head of his firehouse, and has saved lives on more than one occasion. We see two scenes in the movie where he is called into action. He leads his team by both barking out orders and going in first. He's not trying to act macho, he's just doing what he's trained to do. He's a hero with everyone but his wife.

His marriage is falling apart. And to put it bluntly, he's not sure it's worth saving. After all, it's not his fault, it's his wife's. She's always nagging him and doesn't appreciate what he does for her. He's been saving for several years to buy a boat and the boat is primary on his mind. Now she complains that this is all he thinks about. That and one other dirty secret he has.

Never leave your partner behind. That's his motto as a firefighter. But how can he make this apply to his marriage?

The movie is age appropriate for all ages, but I'm not sure all would understand. We went with another couple and discussed if it was good for our late-teen aged sons. We decided that it might be good, but would probably go beyond their understanding. For my four older kids (all married less than seven years), I HIGHLY, STRONGLY recommend it. It's also appropriate for couples who might be going through tough times. But the movie isn't enough by itself. You have to learn to work at it. Each day. Every day.

A friend recently went through some tough times with his marriage. "Randy," he told me, "no one ever told me it was going to be this hard." My answer to him was a simple question: "Who ever told you it was going to be easy?" But then I pointed out "It's worth the effort."

Seven years. My wedding anniversary and the couple in the movie. Thank you to the movie producers for putting that one small line in to remind me that I need to work every day to show my wife how much I love her. I don't think it was a coincidence. Thank you to my wife, for putting up with me for seven more years. Thank you for seven wonderful years. And if she'll have me, for the next seven. And the next seven after that.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Buffet's Big Bet

You've probably heard that Warren Buffett has purchased a couple of shares of Goldman Sachs this week. I saw a quote of his that says "Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy only when others are fearful".

Part of me wants to believe that Mr. Buffett is being patriotic and trying to save our country from an economic mess. Part of me thinks he's doing this because he knows a bargain when he sees one. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

I had two thoughts about this:
1) Mr. Buffett has put up $5BILLION (you have to use bold letters for that word) and may put up another $5BILLION. The total bail-out is estimated at $700BILLION. If we can get Mr. Buffet to call 69 of his friends and they all step up to the plate, we'll have this thing licked quickly.

2) Like Mr. Buffett, I recently invested a small amount in a couple of companies. I followed his mentality, I chose companies that I believe are undervalued, companies that I understand the product and companies that I think will be around a while. I don't intend to strike it rich overnight, but won't complain if I do. Like Mr. Buffett, I invested money that I can afford to lose. If he or I either one lose, I don't think we'll go hungry.

Just like Mr. Buffett, if I called all my friends and they invested like me, we'd have this problem licked. I'd have to call a few more friends than Mr. Buffett though.

In fact, if I started calling right now and spoke for only 3 minutes per call, never slept, never stopped calling; If each person that I called then invested the same amount as I did, how long would it take for me to raise the $5BILLION that Mr. Buffett has already raised?

Well, I'd be finished sometime in the year 2027. And that's not including the additional part that Mr. Buffett might invest or his 69 friends.

I'm not sure I have that many friends. If I called them asking them to invest, I don't think I'd keep them for long. But this shows the magnitude of Buffett's Big Bet.

Monday, September 22, 2008

There will be wars and rumors of wars

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to misquote the subject verse. It's one of my favorites and I misquote it often to fit whatever need arises.

But my point always matches the point of the original verse. Matthew 24:6-7 is when the disciples talk about the end times. Jesus' answer is that there will be wars and rumors of wars, but that's not the end. Things may look bad, but it's not all over (yet).

I think the point is that there will always be bad things happen. But it's not the end of the world. So what are we to do about it? Jesus answered that later in verse 41, when He said "Watch and pray." Be alert, prepare and pray. When you turn it over to Jesus, you don't have to worry about it any more.

This morning I got a call that a co-worker passed away over the weekend. I've worked with him (mostly by phone) for about 5 or 6 years at a couple of different customers. He was 64, scheduled to retire the end of this year. I don't know much about his personal life, we didn't work that closely together. But it seems that he was not that old, in reasonably good health and had a reasonably good life.

So, is it coincidence that this verse came to me over the weekend? It was a very different setting. It had nothing to do with death. But it seems to me that this was brought to my attention to prepare me for this news..