Tuesday, December 29, 2009


I'm going to take a short hi-8-us (break) from posting on this and other blogs for a while. Thanks to all my readers.

Monday, December 21, 2009

No time for long post - Shampoo

No time for a long post today. I got stuck in the shower. I'm trying a new shampoo and wanted to follow the instructions very clearly.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Later. Rinse. Repeat. Lather. Rinse Repeat.

Man, that shampoo only lasted one day, I won't try that brand again...

Friday, December 18, 2009

I'll put your Menorah beside my Christmas tree

A couple days ago, I posted an article about how Christmas trees should be allowed in the public square, because Christmas isn't really a Christian holiday. I must not have said something right, I figured I'd get tons of comments from both sides (I did receive one - thanks Thomas). If you want to read that original post, see here.

I heard something on the radio about a town that doesn't want to put up a Christmas tree because they would have to put up a Menorah and symbols of other religions. Personally, I think this is a good idea.

Let's put up a Christmas tree beside a Menorah. We'll also put up a symbol of Islam and a cross (a really good symbol of Christianity). For Agnosticism maybe we cut make a statue of a question mark and for Atheism an exclamation mark. We can even put a pentagram for Wicca believers.

As I thought of this, I thought that surely someone had done something like this before. With the aid of my favorite search engine, I was able to find the history of one previous display like this (you can read about it in 1 Kings 18:21-39).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Post dated papers

Yesterday I had someone ask me to fill out some papers and post date them so that it would appear I signed the papers in January. Of course the reason was that there was "so much" paperwork - I guess it would take me from now until next year - and we could get that stuff out of the way easily now.

So, let me get this straight, you want me to fill out the papers, swearing that everything is correct, then lie about the date? And then, since you encouraged me in the lie, you expect me to trust everything you say and everything you sign?

Somewhere there are people saying "it's only the date, what's the big deal?" To which I would reply, "it's only the price, what's the big deal?"

Let me give a warning to anyone who asks me to sign paperwork - if you ask me to "fudge" the date, you won't get the contract.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas trees in public square

Last week, I posted an entry about Christmas music. The premise of the entry was to identify which Christmas songs should only be recorded by a single artist. My example was Burl Ives and Holly Jolly Christmas. Any other recording just isn't up to par. I had a few comments with other suggestions, you're welcome to go back and add your ideas here.

Later in the week, I was listening to some Christmas music and heard a song by Barry Manilow. Now, as much as it embarrasses me to admit this, I like Barry Manilow. But the thought hit me that he's Jewish. Why would a Jewish man sing songs celebrating the birth of the Messiah? The birth of the Christ child?

So I decided to do a little investigation. What other Jewish people sing Christmas songs? Well, the Internet is our friend, I found out I wasn't the first to ask this question (alas, there's nothing new under the sun). I found that Neil Diamond (who sings "Sweet Caroline") is Jewish as well as Barbra Streisand and both have Christmas albums.

Turns out there are a lot of Christmas songs written by those who are Jewish including "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire", "Holly Jolly Christmas" (which I mentioned earlier) and "White Christmas" (reference).

I certainly have nothing against these people singing Christmas songs. In fact, a little more research told me that Ed Asner, who is a frequent speaker at ACLU meetings has played Santa Claus in the 2003 movie Elf (and if memory serves me right, also in the old Mary Tyler Moore series).

So with Christians, Jews and atheists alike, all celebrating & singing about Christmas, it appears that the holiday is no longer a Christian holiday. With that information, why do we prohibit Christmas trees in the public square? Why do we (in government) shy away from calling it a Christmas tree or the Christmas holiday?

So let's put up Christmas trees in the public square. After all, if it isn't a Christian holiday, the government shouldn't have any problems, right?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ok, what's going on?

About four years ago (almost exactly), I posted an entry about Providence, the unseen hand of God. I don't really believe in coincidence, but as I wrote back then, it seems ostentatious to say God planned something. Providence seems like a good way to say it while not really saying it.

This week, Providence seems to be at work again. On two separate occasions, I had discussions with two different friends about two different religious matters. Then, I had three different religious discussions on three different blogs (again on different matters). I typically steer away from these things, but these three discussions just came out.

Then it hit me, Providence. There's something behind this. What's going on?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Count the cost - part 2

Yesterday I asked the question "when do you count the cost?" as it relates to you individually. More important is the question "when do you ignore the cost?" and do something. The example I gave was an emergency room visit.

Today I want to ask if the same logic applies to the U.S. as a country? Is there (or should there be) a time to do something without regard to the cost?

For example, we recently had the 68th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor - a day which has lived in infamy since that day. We all (hopefully) know what happened and the result was the U.S. entry into WW II. The cost of that war was tremendous. But no one questioned the cost or has said that we shouldn't have gone to war. Just let the Japanese (and Germans) take what they wanted. Instead, we ignored the cost, figured we'd pay for it later.

The cost was paid in lives and in sacrifices of U.S. citizens. I've heard my parents talk about rationing, and the shortages. But no one questioned it.

I believe that 9/11 was another such time to ignore the cost. Whether you believe we took the right action or not, is not the discussion at this point. Should we have ignored the cost and gone after terrorism? We will pay for the decision for a long time. And we don't (yet) know what the total cost will be. But I believe it was the right decision.

How about the stimulus package from earlier this year? We were told we had to do something and it had to be done right then. There was no time to "count the cost". What else? Where else is it right for us as a country to ignore the cost and continue?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Count the cost

I started to name this post "How much is that doggy in the window," but decided that most people wouldn't get the point (that phrase is from a VERY old song - older than me).

One of my favorite Bible verses is Luke 14:28. Roughly it says you should "Count the Cost" before building a house. You need to know the cost of the house before you start, otherwise you'll run out of money partway through. Of course in today's world, you wouldn't run out, you'd just run down to the bank and take out a mortgage or you'd whip out your credit card.

It occurs to me that there are times when you don't count the cost. If you're in an accident, you don't shop around for the cheapest ambulance service, you call 911 and take the first one that gets there. After the bill comes, you figure out how to pay. If you have a heart attack, you don't ask the doctor ahead of time "How much is this going to cost?" or "do I have enough money in the bank?" If your roof is leaking, you may call around for the best price/service, but you will go ahead and get it fixed, regardless how much it costs (or at least you should).

Certainly you should have money saved up to cover these kinds of cost, but that's not the subject of this post (maybe a follow-up). My question is, what situations merit this type behavior? Maybe you need a new high-def TV, but not sure whether or not you can afford it. Ok, that's probably an extreme example, but suppose your car is failing. You need a car to get to work. And because of the kids, it has to be a safe car. Do you count the cost or just go out and buy a 2010 BMW. Those cars are safe and reliable.

So my question to you is, when do you count the cost and when do you just go out and do something? This could apply to items like cars, medical treatments, etc. and it could also apply to government.

Monday, December 07, 2009

It's beginning to sound a lot like Christmas

At our house, Christmas music started playing before Thanksgiving. The tree went up Thanksgiving day, was decorated and Christmas shopping is almost complete (no thanks to me). One thing I've noticed is that there is a limited number of Christmas songs, so you end up hearing the same ones over and over (and over).

It struck me the other day that there should be a law prohibiting anyone but Burl Ives recording "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas." No, I didn't hear another version (maybe the law already exists and I didn't know it), but as I listened and sang along, I decided that was the only version I wanted to hear. Somehow, I can't picture Taylor Swift singing that song.

Some songs - Jingle Bells for example, can be sung by anyone and sound good. But when anyone other than Bing Crosby (not to be confused with Bill Cosby) sings "White Christmas" it just doesn't come out right.

There are other songs which "belong" to a single artist - Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas" is one that comes to mind (although the Porky Pig version is pretty good). What about you?

What songs would you limit to a single artist?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Moderation is for monks....

A few weeks ago, I received some comments on my blog for very old blog posts. I don't mind, but these were obviously spam. So I turned on moderation for old posts.

However, I didn't realize that I had to actively look for comments held in moderation. This morning I found I had 15 comments held, all but one were spam.

I look at this as a good news/bad news situation, I had 14 spam comments held and you, my loyal reader, won't have to bother with those. Unfortunately, one valid comment was held by my ignorance. My sincere apologies.

As it is, anyone (including anonymous readers) can comment on recent blog posts. If the post is over 14 days old, I will moderate. I will ONLY reject comments that seem to be spam - ads for medical sales or other sales. If you feel I have rejected your comment unfairly, either email me (my email address is in my profile) or comment on a more recent post.

I will not reject posts that simply disagree with me (that would get rid of most of my comments).

Thanks to all who comment.

P.S. Anyone know the rest of the quote in the subject line?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Another loss...

I've used this forum in the past to eulogize people close to me that have passed on. Today, I want to talk about another loss, this time our pet, Toby.

Toby was born on March 9, 1995 and turned 14 earlier this year. Based on my math, that made him over 100 in dog years. Back then, we went to visit his mother's owner's house and when the kids saw puppies, they had to have one. We picked one out and came back a few weeks later to take him home. On April 29, Toby moved to his new home - we had a pet.

Looking through some records, I found that Toby was 8.4 pounds on his first doctor visit a few weeks after we got him. I recall that he was so small we worried he would get stuck in a 4 inch drain pipe (I put a cover on the pipe to keep that from happening). He soon outgrew that risk all together.

Toby was a mix of breeds. Primarily Black Lab, he also had a lot of Border Collie in him and possibly some Chow. This made him a loving, fun dog. The Border Collie made his hair long as seen in these pictures. When we had him groomed the first time, his hair had gotten matted and it was past time. The only way they could groom him was to cut his hair in some places all the way to the skin. When we picked him up, they told us not to laugh at him, that it would embarrass him. I remember thinking "HE'S A DOG!".

But then he came out with his tail (literally) between his legs. He was indeed embarrassed. We praised him and told him how good he looked. After that, every time he was groomed, he walked around with his head held high, proud of his new look.

In 1998, Toby moved with the rest of us to Greenville, SC. He took the move well and made the deck his primary sleeping place. He would stand on the deck and survey HIS backyard.

Lately, Toby spent more time inside. When my grandson started crawling, he would crawl all over Toby. Toby just lay there, taking it all in. If it got too rough, Toby would simply get up and move outside.

In the last few years, Toby had developed arthritis. We treated this with some medicine from the vet. When he first began taking the medicine, he reacted very well. He seemed to even dance when we would roll up the pill in a slice of cheese. But unfortunately, the arthritis seemed to adapt to the medicine and he soon slowed down again and stopped dancing.

This past year, Toby had trouble standing up from a laying down position. He got around this by standing longer than he should. Of course, this made his legs hurt more. When we had him groomed, he lay in the floor for a couple days to recuperate.

In recent weeks, he had fallen 2 or 3 times and had trouble getting back up. He had lost a lot of muscle mass in his hips and body. The doctor said that this usually meant some form of cancer.

At his age, doing more diagnostics didn't make sense. If we found some cancer, it's unlikely he could stand the treatment.

Trips to the vet had become painful for Toby. Even getting up out of the floor was painful. After a lot of soul searching, I had to make a decision on what was easiest for him. So after 14+1/2 years, I decided it was time to end Toby's pain.

The hardest part of this was calling the kids and telling them. We had talked about it for a few weeks, so hopefully it wasn't a surprise. But I know it's hard on them to loose a pet that has been a part of the family for so long.

We will always remember Toby and the joy he brought us.

Tobias "Toby" Andrew Barnett
March 9, 1995 - December 2, 2009

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Blind Side - Movie Review

Sunday, after all the kids were gone and we had our empty nest to ourselves again, my wife and I did the logical thing - we went to a movie. With another couple. Yep, we finally had our house and our selves alone and we left and joined others.

The movie was my wife's choice - The Blind Side. My thought was that any movie with Sandra Bullock in it can't be all bad. As Warren (the male half of the other couple) put it - "She's hot!" And after a disappointing weekend of football, this movie promised a little good football. Sure it was going to be a "chick-flick", but hey, if the wife's happy, I'm happy.

Much to my surprise, I really liked The Blind Side. In the movie, Bullock's character adopts a boy from the streets and helps him out. We follow the young man through high school to college and the issues that go with him. Life wasn't simple. It wasn't handed to him on a silver platter or even on a KFC paper plate. But (no secret - Micheal Oher's in pro-football now) he makes it.

I won't give any spoilers here, but there were a lot of memorable lines. My favorite was when Bullock's character was asked about the gun she was carrying. Asked if it were a Saturday night special, she replied "Yep. And it works good the other days too." Man, she's a tough lady.

There were good "non-lines" too, places where the actions say more than words. As Bullock walks off the football field in a tight dress, all of the players (who had mothers her age), tilted their heads to watch her walk off the field. As Warren said, "she's hot!"

I had one more favorite line, I won't quote the line here - you'll have to see the movie to hear it. But it was a line every mother should tell her son as he heads off to college. She explained to her adopted son what her reaction would be if he got a girl pregnant.

There were a lot of loose ends in the movie. There were four minor parts that I felt like were brought in or taken out with little or no tie-in. Oher's brother was brought in one scene (and a few hazy flashbacks), but was never mentioned again. Another boy who Oher went to school with was never seen after school started. And late in the movie a boy was killed that had no previous tie-in (unless he was the boy that Oher started school with - if so, I missed it). And finally, Oher's real mother - no mention of her after her big scene. But life is full of loose ends, like the guy I went to school with - last I looked, he was still in trouble with the law.

All in all, a good movie. I give it a B+ (it didn't "wow" me enough for an A). Very little profanity, no sex scenes and very little violence. I checked IMDb and it's rated PG13, I'm surprised it wasn't PG. I strongly recommend the movie.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Complete Savings

Last night my wife discovered a charge on her account that shouldn't have been there. After a call to the 800# on the line item, I discovered it was a company named Complete Savings. Apparently, she had purchased something online (a few months ago) and somehow signed up for a Complete Savings membership. We're not sure how this happened, but let's assume this part is true.

"Maria", at Complete Savings, asked some basic information - last name and zip code - and then verified that information. She then verified the email address as some limited form of ID protection. At no time did she ask a credit card number or any other "sensitive" information. She explained the benefits to membership and offered me some solutions to the charge. She could cancel my (our) membership or I could log on to the website and explore the benefits more. I opted for canceling.

"Maria" explained that I still had 30 days to explore the website and that no future charges would occur. She was very polite about it. I said (not asked) that she could also reverse the charge. She said she could do that, and unfortunately it would cancel my membership immediately. I told her that was fine and she explained it would take 3-5 business days to see the credit on my account.

All in all, this was a reasonably pleasant exchange. How my wife's information got to this company, I don't know, but we plan to email the company we did purchase from to follow up. Before "Maria" answered the phone, there was a series of prompts that asked for Social Security number or charge card number, but I refused to enter it and just hit "0" for an operator. After a not-too-long wait, I got a real person who spoke at least decent English.

The worst part of the process was dealing with my bank. I wanted them to block the charge and they explained that they would have to block the card completely. This seems contrary to what I've heard that Visa Debit will do for you and I'll have to investigate some more.

Moral of the story is that you should follow up on things like this and quickly address the problem. It took less than 30 minutes total to resolve this problem.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Comments, comments

Recently, I've gotten some comments that are less than stellar. These have mostly been on old blog posts and I found out I can moderate posts older than 14 days. This seemed a reasonable compromise to me, as I really don't want to moderate. I spend too many hours away from the computer and wouldn't be able to moderate in a timely fashion.

Just today I got a post on a recent blog entry that seems a little racy. I can't guarantee that the link that was posted is to a porn site, but it sure sounds that way and I'm not going to test it.

So what to do? Do I turn on moderation and only allow legitimate posts? Or do I just accept this as part of the cost? It actually shows that my blog is hitting higher on some search engine somewhere, so I guess that's a good thing.

(Note, I posted this entry twice. In the process of some other clean up, I deleted the first entry).

The Xbox caper - Score: Parents 1, teenager 0 (second try)

(Due to what seemed to be "unusual" comments, I deleted this post and I'm reentering it).

Seems this 15 year old boy was having a good time with his Xbox when his mean old parents took it away. Feeling deprived of his rights, he decided to call 911. Apparently, he became a little shy and hung up the phone rather than talk to the 911 operator.

Fortunately for all of us (except the teen in this case), 911 hang-ups result in a dispatch of police. After all, the person who called 911 could be in need of assistance. So police traced the call and arrived at his house.

Once they were there, the teen asked the police if his parents had a legal right to take away the Xbox. While the article doesn't explicitly answer that question, the police did advise the young man to listen to his parents.

The article goes on the say "There's no indication of why the video game system was taken away or what the teen was playing. The Xbox, along with other up-to-date video game systems, include parental controls which can lock the system and prevent a child from playing."

Seems the parents may have used their own version of parental controls and that their version was quite effective. Score: Parents 1, teenager 0.

Source http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=337962

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Is your cash well?

I recently saw an ad on TV for an installment loan from a company named CashWell. The ad went out of it's way to point out that this was NOT a payday loan, it was an installment loan with little or no paperwork. Sounds too good to be true, walk into a storefront and walk out with $1500 without a lot of paperwork or one of those nasty payday loans.

So, I checked into CashWell installment loans. According to this website, the rate on the loans can be as much as 248%. Rates are lower for higher loan amounts, but in my state the lowest rate is 207%. Say for example, you borrow $1000 and agree to pay it back on a bi-weekly basis over the course of the next year. My amortization schedule generated by Excel shows a payment of $92.20. At the end of the year you will have paid $2,397.11 for this loan. Not a bad return for CashWell.

I've spoken before about payday lending and it's cousin title lending (see here and previous posts). This new type of "installment" loan falls into the same category. At best, it's something to be avoided. At worst, it's something to be outlawed.

Monday, November 16, 2009

In real estate - everyone's an expert

Some of you know that our house was recently on the market. "Was" is the operative word. The contract we had with the sales agent expired and we've decided to pull the listing all together. Oddly enough, we had a showing on Saturday - the last day of the contract. If that prospect shows any promise, good, otherwise we'll stay where we're at for a while.

Everyone we've talked to about the sale has reasons that things didn't go well this time. We've gotten references of 3 or 4 agents and we appreciate them. We've also heard from people who can explain what we need to do different.

It occurred to me that real estate is one area where everyone knows something. They have good ideas (and many are truly good) and aren't afraid to express them. It's been an interesting 3 months and I'm sure it will be interesting when we put the house on the market again....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Veteran's day and thank you for your service

I made calls to some veterans and veterans family members today. Hopefully I didn't forget any.

I should also thank some of my blogger friends - DJ Black Adam at http://djblackadam.typepad.com/ who is a former Marine. Steve over at http://mojosteve.blogspot.com/ is former Army. I thank you (and the others I'm sure I missed) for your service.

I spoke to a parent of an active duty Airman and thanked him for his sacrifice, for letting his son Stephen go to Baghdad. He said he wasn't sure he had any choice in the matter and I reminded him that it didn't mean it was any less of a sacrifice on his part. He had a lot of sleepless nights and worrisome days. The son is back stateside and even at home for another week before he heads back to Texas.

To Adam who served and "played" in two deserts (Afghanistan and Iraq), to Kevin who is in the reserve and working towards full time duty when he finishes school, thank you. We are very proud of you.

To David who "played" in Iraq the first time around and spent 22 years in the Air Force, and to Ed and Peggy who spent 4 years in the Air Force (and found each other) I say thank you. Your service ended several years ago, and I'm not sure I realized how important it was at the time.

And finally, for my dad, who spent 4 years in Japan "typing letters to generals' wives", who planted grass in Seattle before he went over there, then had to cut the same grass when he came back, thank you. Your service was always in my mind growing up. It gave me a respect for the military and all it does for us.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Where do you cross the line in the workplace?

It's been a busy week and I haven't been able to blog. But I saw this news article today and had to comment. The headline says "Massachusetts Man Says He Was Fired for Telling Colleague Her Gay Marriage Is Wrong".

The story is that Peter Vidala worked at Brookstone and a manager from another store visited. While she was there she commented on her impending homosexual marriage (which is legal in Massachusetts - where both Peter and she live). Peter returned with his views opposing the relationship. As a result of his negative comments, Peter was fired. He was told that he was "entitled to (his) own beliefs," but that "imposing them upon others in the workplace is not acceptable."

In part, I agree with Brookstone. However, they didn't do adequate research into why Peter expressed his beliefs. Apparently, the manager explained about her upcoming marriage and "mentioned four times that she had married her partner." Now it's highly possible that she was excited about her marriage (I was excited when I got married and probably told people a lot), but mentioning this four times is a little excessive.

In fact, Peter said he felt "intentionally goaded" and that "she knew how I felt about homosexuality." If that's the case, the manager was wrong to bring up the issue and Peter was being harassed for his beliefs.

In today's world, it's very likely that we will all have to work with someone who believes differently. We should be able to express those beliefs WITHIN LIMITS without fear of recrimination. Likewise, if we are offended by someone's beliefs, we should simply express that we don't want to discuss the matter and that should be the end of the discussion.

The manager in this case violated this principal. When she realized (or if she knew ahead of time) that she was discussing something that offended Peter, she should have changed the subject. Brookstone should not employ managers who intentionally cause divisiveness.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Get Motivated!

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to go to a Get Motivated! seminar. These seminars have been going on for over two decades and they bring together some of the best motivational speakers. This seminar was no exception.

The seminar opened with Leon Patillo (former singer with Santana) singing the National Anthem. I've never heard the Star Spangled Banner in that low of a key. Even I was able to hit the high notes.

The first speaker was Terry Bradshaw. He was hilarious. He frequently pushed the limits of acceptability, especially when talking about his former wives and his two daughters. But it was funny. He also talked about his faith (without specific messages about Christianity). One of his funniest lines was when he said he had a bad day, "My dog ran off and my wife stayed home."

The second speaker was "America's Mayor" Rudy Giuliani. He quoted Vince Lomardi when he was talking about his winning record. A reporter pointed to one of Lombardi's losses and he replied "I didn't lose that game, I just ran out of time." Keep trying, always with the solution in mind, Be the optimist, what play can we run next? If you run the right play and it doesn't work, it may work next time.

Giuliani said you need 6 things to succeed: 1) a strong belief system, 2) optimism (Lombardi reference), 3) courage, 4) relentless preparation - 4 hours of prep for 1 hour of plan, 5) teamwork and 6) communication. (For the record, I'm not a Rudy G. fan. See my comments here).

The next speaker was a collegiate memory expert. He had us memorize a string of unrelated items. Trouble is, I can't remember his name. It was Bob Katel or something like that.

Next was Phil Town. Phil is a Vietnam Vet, a Green Beret and teaches investment. He was hawking his 2-day seminar. I was impressed, but won't go through the details here.

Next up was Laura Bush. She gave a review of her 8 years in the White House. Her speech was touching in many ways. She talked about her focus in literacy and the brutal treatment of women and children by the Taliban. She also talked (positively) about the transition to President Obama. Her speech did not focus on Republican/Democratic politics at all.

Tamara Lowe, co-founder of the series, spoke next. She talked about DNA - Drives, Needs and Awards. The speech was good, but I didn't take many notes.

After lunch, Christian Rapper KJ-52 took the stage. I couldn't understand most of what he said/sang/rapped, but he did have us up going "whoop-whoop". I didn't even know he was a Christian Rapper until I looked at his Wikipedia page.

The first after lunch speaker was Gen. Colin Powell. I've heard Powell speak before and all I remember was I wasn't impressed. I think this was when he was considering a run for president. However, this speech was not about politics and he was good. He talked about the role of the leader, he used examples from his service and he talked about Reagan and Gorbachev. He does not believe we will have an enemy in China, they need our money too much. He pointed out that there are NO major wars going on between countries at this time. He also talked about economic growth being the key to "world peace" (my words).

Zig Ziglar is probably the epitome of a motivational speaker. His health is not what it used to be, he had a fall two years ago and has a head injury. But the 82 year old man got on stage with his daughter who led him through some Q&A to give some of his typical motivational lines. "Motivation won't last, but neither will eating or bathing. If you do both every day, you'll live longer and smell better." After about 10 minutes, he sat down and we saw a video interview done with his son & daughter complete with some vintage Ziglar clips. I'm glad I got to see him, as I can't believe he'll be doing this much longer.

Somewhere in the afternoon, Leon Patillo got back up to sing Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA." I was impressed. I'm going to have to find a CD of Patillo's. (Christmas hint to family).

Next up was James Smith. Smith gives a Real Estate seminar and you could sign up for $49. His presentation was good and he gave lots of business advice. I won't publish all the notes here, but some was good. He was colorful and had a few catch phrases like "watch this" that he repeated to get attention.He quoted the Bible and talked about ethics, but some of the things he suggested seemed to imply a contradiction. I could be wrong, but I didn't sign up for his seminar.

The last speaker was Steve Forbes. He grabbed my interest when he talked about mainframe computers. Who made the most money on mainframe computers? It wasn't Univac who invented it, or IBM who is essentially the only vendor in that market today. It was Sam Walton. Who made money off of sweat? It's Under Armour. He also talked about Ray Kroc of McDonald's fame. He said that Princeton University gets a royalty from every McDonald's burger sold (I need to research that).

Forbes said that the GROWTH in the US economy between 2003 and 2007 exceeded the entire economy of China. Then in 2004, we printed too much money. Everything went up, oil, copper and housing. Mark to market destroyed bank capital.

Forbes said we need a strong/stable dollar. He talked about his flat tax of 17% with no tax on savings and no estate tax. He said there would be an exemption for families of 4 so that the first $46,000 would be non-taxable.

All in all, this was a good seminar. Most of the speakers spoke about their faith. I woke up at 4am to take a 2+ hour drive (with a few stops). Then I parked and walked 3 blocks to wait for the start of the seminar. At the end of a long day, I had to drive back. But I'd do it again.

I'm convinced that if I believed in reincarnation (I don't), I'd want to come back as a motivational speaker. Maybe I can use these blog posts as material for my book that I would sell at my speeches. You can say you read it here first. Autographed copies will be available for $39.95 (family can get it for $49.95).

* Update* One of my co-workers who went with me to the seminar sent me this link. Apparently, George Bush is speaking at some of these seminars (I think we lucked out with getting the prettier one of the two). The article also points out that these are high priced speakers with Mayor Giuliani getting "$100,000 for an hour-long pep talk".

I really DO want to be one of these speakers.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Yesterday, we purchased a new coffee maker as our old one was getting to be temperamental. With all new buttons and lights, I sat down to read the instruction manual. Little did I know that my new found knowledge would soon be sent to the test.

During Jeopardy, just a couple of hours later, an answer came up and I shouted out the question "How do you clean a coffee pot?" Alex Trebek could have been reading the answer out of the same instruction manual I had recently finished. I'm sure I would have won the match if I'd been there in person.

What interested me the most in the manual was the troubleshooting section. Here are just a few of the actual problems and possible causes listed in the book:
  • Coffeemaker does not turn on - Coffeemaker is not plugged in. Check to be sure appliance is plugged in to a working outlet and the ON/OFF button is powered ON.
  • Coffee is not brewing - Water reservoir might be empty. Make sure water reservoir has sufficient water to brew desired number of cups of coffee.
  • Coffeemaker brews clear water - There may be no grounds in removable filter basket. Add sufficient amount of coffee grounds to paper or nylon mesh filter in removable filter basket.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Very interesting

No doubt, credit card rates are on the rise. We've heard it would happen and it's happening. But it seems that First Premier Bank, based in South Dakota, may be stretching the limits (if there are any).

Gordon Hageman lives in the San Diego, California area and was sent an invitation for a pre-approved credit card with an interest rate of 79.9%. Yep, just shy of 80%. Since it's probably compounded monthly, the actual yearly rate will come out closer to 103%.

Now Gordon admits his credit isn't perfect, but he thinks it's about average. Gordon called the bank to make sure he wasn't misreading it and he wasn't. First Premier claims to be the country's 10th largest issuer of Visa and MasterCards and "focuses on individuals who have less than perfect credit, but are actually still creditworthy."

I'm 103% certain that First Premier probably loses a lot of money on some people who get the card and never pay their bills. I'm certain they also make a profit. I was unable to determine who owns First Premier or to find any information about their profits & losses.

Now Mr. Hageman thinks that possibly First Premier may be trying to take advantage of him. He noted that the interest rate was not declared on the cover letter, but was on the included "fine print disclosure" (the picture accompanying the article seemed to indicate the interest rate was in large print and the rest of the disclosure was fine print).

I actually see nothing wrong with First Premier's actions. The interest rate was disclosed, on the disclosure statement. Mr. Hageman has a choice to sign up for the card, or frame the offer for continued humor (I'd laugh at it every day). Nowhere in our constitution are citizens guaranteed the right to life, liberty and low interest credit cards.

(Source for post is here).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Of curfews and protests - Part 2

My previous post on this topic tried to state the facts without injecting my own opinion. This post is just the opposite, all opinion. I should point out that last night was the final reading of the bill in city council. The bill passed 4-3. The curfew is now permanent, restricting unaccompanied teens from 10pm to 6am on Friday and Saturday nights.

I do not live in the city of Greenville. I don't directly pay taxes in the city, however, when I eat in downtown, a part of my meal costs (and the taxes on the meal) and my parking fees pay for city protection including police. On two of the nights recently, that protection failed and skirmishes resulted. As a patron of the restaurants, I can choose to eat on Main Street or out in the suburbs. Had city council not enacted this law, I would simply go somewhere else to eat. There are some nice restaurants outside downtown. I also recommend downtown to people visiting our city, if teens had been allowed to roam in packs, I would have stopped this recommendation. I don't do this out of protest, I simply take my money elsewhere and won't suggest a friend go to a dangerous place.

As a parent, I'm not directly affected by the curfew. My youngest is 19, so he can still "go with the flow" on Main Street without fear of arrest. When my kids were under 19, I would not have allowed them to go just to hang out. In fact, they rarely went anywhere just to hang out (except to a friend's house). I asked one of my children and they said that they did, on one occasion, go to one of the coffee houses before she was 18 and stayed after 10pm. This is allowed under the new law as she was visiting a particular downtown business.

In my opinion, teens have no reason to go downtown or anywhere else just to hang out. When they do, problems result. In a perfect world, parents would realize this and be aware where their teens were going. However, we live in a fallen world and a lot of parents either don't know or don't care. The law gives the police a method to get these teens off of Main St. It's likely they will go somewhere else, but hopefully in smaller numbers where they can be better managed.

One of the protests against the curfew was that it restricted freedom of speech and freedom of assembly - two parts of the Bill of Rights. My kids may remember that when they were teenagers, I told them they had no rights. Teens don't have the mental maturity to deal with situations that will come up.

I can easily envision my son, when he was 16, going down to the Falls Park to hang out (if he had been allowed - or under the guise of being at a friend's house). If this had happened and a 31 year old man had been passing out flyers for a sit-in, I can see him joining the protest. Had this happened and he had been arrested, I would have been very angry at someone organizing the protest. I think the case for contributing to the delinquency (arrest) of a minor would be strong.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Of curfews and protests - Part 1

I live outside the city of Greenville, but visit the downtown area regularly. The city has done an excellent job of renovating the area and has a park that is outstanding (see here for details). It's nice for a romantic stroll with your significant other, a playdate with the kids, or just a place to meet and talk. We occasionally have street performers and even Shakespeare plays in the park (which is more culture than I can stand). Dinners downtown are a little pricey and you have to work at finding a parking place (or just break down and pay for it), but it's worth the price once in a while.

Recently, however, there have been some problems. Back in August, there were "between 500 and 800 young people at the park" and there were reports of them blocking streets and impacting business (source). As a result, the city implemented a temporary curfew affecting children under 18. The curfew starts at 10pm.

More recently, we had our Fall for Greenville festival - A "three-day event highlighting local restaurants and musical entertainment on five music stages" (see here) - it's just a weekend to walk the streets, enjoy some food and some music with the family. Unfortunately, after the event on Saturday this year there were fights, again mostly teenagers involved.

Now, the city council is considering making the curfew permanent and has scheduled a second reading of the new ordinance. Basically, kids under 18 without an adult would not be allowed on downtown business district streets after 10pm without an adult.

However, not everyone likes the idea of a curfew. I've been watching one outspoken individual, Dan Edge, who has been fighting it. Dan has started a blog and even staged a protest against the curfew early last month. During the protest, he passed out flyers encouraging others to join his "sit-in". At least three teens did join and stayed past curfew. When they were asked to leave, two left and a third stopped to talk to Mr. Edge. The third teen was arrested, prompting one of the other two to return and he was arrested. Mr. Edge was then arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Two counts, one for each of the teens that were arrested. (The long sordid details of this battle are on Mr. Edge's blog, I invite you to read it all there).

Dan Edge has some serious squabble about the new law, starting with the fact that there is no freedom of speech allowance. Yesterday was his first court appearance and I managed to go watch. Mr. Edge acted as his own attorney and he was advised several times of his rights to an attorney. As this was just a probable cause hearing, he felt it wasn't necessary. At the end of the hearing, the judge felt there was indeed probably cause to proceed and the matter is now being sent to the city attorney. The city attorney can hand this to a grand jury, who would decide whether or not to indict and then the case would go to trial.

During the hearing, the judge warned Mr. Edge that the hearing was NOT about the constitutionality of the ordinance nor even about the ordinance itself, but was strictly about his actions and was there evidence to pursue a trial on the grounds of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He advised that he did not want to turn this into a political forum. The judge decided that since two teens were arrested (he had heard one of those cases himself) and since Edge had been conversing with the teens and passing out flyers for the protest, the case should proceed.

In addition to the above, Mr. Edge feels like his civil rights were violated when he was arrested. He has announced that he is suing the city of Greenville. He's been interviewed by the local television station and as mentioned, he's started a blog to document the issue.

I've tried to stay objective in what I've written above, I'll come back in part 2 and offer my opinion. As always, I'm interested in your opinion and ask that you be respectful in anything you say here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What were you thinking? - Follow up

Back in March, I posted an entry about a local man, a deacon in his church, who robbed a bank. My post is here, but in summary, the man was hailed by many as a "good" man who just snapped. He was seen walking into the bank wearing a mask and police were called. He ended up holding two bank employees hostage during the attempt, before he eventually gave himself up.

Last week, Bruce Lee Windsor plead guilty in Federal court to the bank robbery. Windsor, father of 4, stepped up to the task and admitted his actions. He still faces two counts of kidnapping in state court. Whether he will plead guilty in this case or attempt a defense is not yet clear.

Windsor faces up to 25 years on the Federal case (sentencing date not set). According to this news article he did not have a criminal past, however he was facing a $30,000 lawsuit. The article also says the "federal system doesn’t allow parole." With that information and the upcoming state trial, Mr. Windsor will be away from his children for a long, long, long time.

Some comments I've seen on the newspaper articles question Windsor's status as a "good man." Some people had question about his real estate dealings (the lawsuit is one result). He did have financial problems and apparently was looking for a way out.

There are a lot of victims in this story. Some are quick to point out his wife and children, who still face the same problems he faced before the robbery and now face new problems. They are correct in pointing out these problems. Others are correct to point out the two people held hostage, who feared for their life as well as all of the ones in the bank. From a strictly dollars and cents viewpoint, there's lost business at the bank, cost of the police force to come out and other business aspects. I mentioned back in March that I knew a family impacted by the event (much less than those immediately involved).

I go back to my original question - What were you thinking? Obviously, Windsor wasn't thinking. The Greenville News reports that FBI has a 60% clearance rate in solving bank robberies. You have only a 2 in 5 chance of getting anything and then it's only likely to be "couple of thousand dollars." As Miller Shealy, a former federal prosecutor and now Charleston School of Law professor says, "the bank robber is a more desperate form of criminal and not a very smart one these days." (see here)

I hold no special animosity towards Mr. Windsor, but I also hold no special compassion. Maybe he was a "good man", but his actions deserve punishment. The length of that punishment will soon become obvious.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Now why didn't I think of that?

As a parent, I always tried to get creative with punishment when the kids did something wrong. Slamming the door? Take the door off the hinges. Slam the lid on the toilet? Must need practice - raise and lower it 50 times - if it slams, start over. Forge a parent's signature on a paper? Lecture on forgery and the prison sentence followed by letter of apology to the teacher with signatures and counter-signatures (pretty tough on a 3rd grader).

Tonight, the television was on ABC when a comedy with Patricia Heaton "The Middle" came on. Being too lazy to find the remote, I let it stay there, after all, I think she's a good actress. Turns out the teenage boy was in trouble for saying he had gone to church, but instead going to the mall with a girl. Oooo. Big trouble, bad enough to lie, but to lie about church. Big trouble.

Dad came up with a punishment, the teenage boy had to stay within 5 feet of a parent at all times. Dad gets up to go to the fridge, teenage boy goes with him. Interesting part was when dad needed a shower, he suggested mom (who was at work) stay on the line with son (I guess 5 feet electronically was good enough). Mom said it was dad's punishment, make teenage son put on a bathing suit and go with dad.

Of course this would have been a problem for me with my girls, but I probably could have figured something out. "Excuse me daughter, can you hand me a pair of my underwear?"

I bet that would have prompted some obedience...

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Tax Delinquency Sale

I have some vacation days that I need to burn (either use them or lose them), so yesterday I took a day to go watch a tax delinquency sale. This is for people who haven't paid their taxes on their property and they are about to lose them. I didn't plan to buy anything, I just wanted to watch.

Having no prior information except a list of properties for sale, I was ill-equipped for the process. I want to go back next year now that I know more. At this rate, I may be prepared to participate in 5 or 6 years. The people that were present looked like some "professional" buyers and some people trying to save their home.

First, there is a lot of protection on the person loosing their property. After all, we don't want to kick grandma out of the house. Taxes were due in January (almost 9 months ago) and notices were sent out last August/September. If taxes aren't paid on time, penalties accrue, then in March a delinquent notice is sent. If nothing is done in 30 days, a Notice of Seizure is sent. If for some reason this can't be delivered, a physical sign has to be posted. Then the notice is placed in the paper (what happens if newspapers go away?).

So after about 9 months, the property finally comes up for auction. But the buyer doesn't get a deed. According to our county website "The defaulting taxpayer, ... or any mortgage ... creditor may redeem each item of real estate within twelve months from the date of the delinquent tax sale." That means if the previous owner or his mortgage company want to, they can come back to the bidder and take the property (by paying all taxes plus interest).

The auction started shortly after 9am (which was good for me as I was late). One thing I had noticed was that there were several property owners who had multiple delinquent properties. In particular, one home builder had 189 properties listed. We didn't go through all of the properties, but went through many. The delinquent taxes were from $498 to $7512. Many properties went for $2000, some went for as high as $5000. I think a single bidder, #136, won all of the ones that were bid. (see below for why some weren't bid).

Some properties received no bids. These will go to the Forfeited Land Commission and be sold via sealed bid later. Some of the properties (not the ones mentioned above) sold for very high dollar amounts, over $100,000.

As mentioned, not all of the homes for a single delinquent taxpayer were sent out for bids. The website mentions that "as soon as sufficient funds have been accrued to cover all of the defaulting taxpayer’s delinquent taxes, no further items may be sold." Here's what I think that means. If you have 10 properties and owe taxes of $498 each, if the first property sells for $5000, bidding on the other nine is suspended. I'm assuming the delinquent taxpayer gets to keep them.

After about an hour or so, I decided I couldn't learn any more and was bored. I decided that the process seems to work, with the county getting taxes, but not necessarily more. The buyers are promised a deed eventually (takes over a year to complete), and are offered some restitution if they lose the property. I definitely want to see more of this, but I'm convinced I won't be buying any property this way for quite some time (after all, the next auction is a year away).

Friday, October 02, 2009

The secret to longer life - ever decreasing estate taxes

I've been reading a lot of financial websites and blogs lately, including Consumerism Commentary. The blog post for yesterday posed an interesting idea, that changes in estate tax law affect when people die.

The idea is this, when estate taxes are set to increase, people die just before the increase, thereby saving their heirs on their taxes. On the contrary, when estate taxes are set to decrease, they hang on until the decrease comes about, again saving their heirs some real dollars.

So, here's a simple way to increase the life span -- set estate taxes to decrease each year. Eventually, they will go to zero, so then we will need an ever increasing estate tax credit. That means if your relative dies and leaves you money, the government will kick in some more for in a tax credit. I can see the ads now, if Uncle Joe dies, we'll pay you $100. But wait, if he hangs on until next year, you will get $200.

Of course, the estate tax only applies to people who have an estate of over $3.5MILLION, so I'm out of luck. Guess I'll just have to pick another way to schedule my exit...

P.S. I wanted to put something in here about death panels, but couldn't quite figure out how to fit it in... I'm sure one of my commenters will find a way

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Some thoughts on racism

Lately, thoughts about racism have been on my mind quite a bit. Watching politics as I do may have started the thought process. Add to that the book series I've been reading about the Second War Between the States (see my post here). Then, there was the death in June of a man that I know had some racist tendencies, but also could see through some of the fog.

But regardless, the reason, I've been wondering about racism and our nation. To start with, I needed to understand the real definition of racism. I found lots of definitions on the web: prejudice that one race is superior (or that another is inferior); discriminatory or abusive behavior towards members of another race; the belief that each race has distinct and intrinsic attributes.

I also have been wondering about other -isms. Say for example a man treats women differently. He puts women down, calls them things like "bimbos" and refuses to hire women for "man work". That's as wrong as racism. This could affect men as well as women (As a college student, I was told I was turned down for a co-op position because I was male).

There are also regional -isms. Being a Southerner, there are some people that think I have an accent (actually, they have the accent). When they hear my voice on the phone, they may immediately start treating me differently. I may be turned down for a job, get a higher interest rate or in extreme cases, be targeted for violence because I don't sound like them.

So, with these seemingly random thoughts to start off, I will post some thoughts on racism over the next several posts, with some other subjects sprinkled in between. I invite your comments, but would offer some caution. There are some potentially sensitive subjects and I ask all commenters to be cognizant. If I deem some comments inappropriate, I will delete them or single them out. This is my blog and you have freedom of speech as much as I allow. That said, I invite contradictory ideas.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Has it really been eight years?

Some of my frequent readers may remember that a year ago this time, I posted an entry (seen here) about my seventh anniversary. It turns out, this time of the year is pretty popular, Brian the Red should have celebrated their 33rd (if I can do the math right) anniversary about a week ago and Brooke her eleventh a couple of weeks ago based on comments they left last year. Happy anniversary to both of them.

Today, I want to thank my dear, sweet wife for making me happy for the last eight years (and the year we dated before that). In many ways it seems like just yesterday we met and went to a short lunch at Schlotzsky's (which sadly is no longer there). In other ways, it seems like time started on that day eight years ago.

There's too much to say (and way to sappy) to post it all here, but I can say that I love you more today than ever before. And as much as I've enjoyed the last eight years, I'm looking for the next eight and the next eight and the next. We laughed last night, that if we get to celebrate our 50th, we'll both be in our 90's. Doesn't seem like so bad a deal...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Smurf Village

If you haven't been watching the news, it seems the drought in SC is over. We've been fortunate not to get more than we could handle, our friends in Georgia have had more.

With all the new moisture, the Smurfs have come to visit in our our yard. I've been looking carefully, but I've been as yet unable to actually see any of the little creatures, but I'm sure they are there.

Above is a close up picture of what looks like a portabello mushroom. I don't think we will be using this for dinner this week.

Here's a picture of the whole village. Unfortunately for the Smurfs, a destructive force will likely wipe out there homes this week (I have to cut grass).

Sorry Grandpa Smurf!

Friday, September 25, 2009

If an ACORN falls to the ground, will an oak tree grow?

You may have heard about the problems encountered by the group ACORN. Seems they gave some bad advice to a pretend pimp and prostitute. Politicians are quick to distance themselves from the group, and the group seems to be falling apart. My guess is that it will never have the power it thought it would have.

As a conservative, you'd think I'd be glad. And in a way, I am. The actions of the group ACORN, both recently and in the past, show that they aren't to be trusted. But unfortunately, there's some good that goes out with the bad.

I started posting entries about the sub prime lending fiasco back in November 2007, almost two years ago. I posted again about it in the following May. And I posted about foreclosures in March of last year. While researching for information on ways to help the people impacted by this mess, I came across some information that said that ACORN was trying to help. Certainly their methods are, in some cases, inexcusable, but they were trying to help some underprivileged people.

So, where will the help come from now? Where can the underprivileged go for the assistance they need? Some of these people do not know how to even begin to clean up the mess in their lives. I wish I had a solution for them. Instead, I have only sadness.

If you know of an organization that helps people like this, please let me know. I've been looking for a way to step in for about two years now and can't find a way.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Debtor's Revolt

It seems that Ann Minch of Red Bluff, Ca. has a problem with her bank - Bank of America. The Huffington Post (source) found her YouTube video declaring war on the bank. They have raised the interest rate on her credit card all the way to 30%. According to the article, she's made the minimum monthly payments for "several years" and never missed a payment. She even paid extra from time to time, sometimes $50, sometimes $100. And they raised her rates in reward for the loyalty.

So, Ann is getting even. She went down to her branch and closed her account and moved the money to local community banks. And now she's refusing to pay the balance on the card until they lower her rate. She's upset that the bank got a government bailout and now won't help her.

Well, I'm not sure she's following the right track (even though she has gotten her rate reduced). I'm not fan of BofA, but you have to admit they have ATMs everywhere. If Ann decides to use an ATM and her local community bank doesn't have one handy, she's likely to pay a $3 fee (or more) to get the money she moved. And refusing to pay a balance she legitimately owes can wind up trashing her credit report and causing her to owe more than she started with.

I did a little simple math to find out what her credit card has been costing her. According to the article, her current balance is $5,943.34. At her rate of 12.99%, that's about $772 in interest she's been paying every year. Wouldn't she be better off buying things with cash, instead of charging them? I'm sure she bought some stuff on sale, but did she save $772 each year on sales?

I was curious as I read this, what is my interest rate? See, I don't even know (or care). I pay off my balance each month and don't pay interest. Well, a couple of times in the last few years I have. I slipped up and made a late payment and was charged interest. Net fees & interest over the last 5 years has been under $200. I don't want to pass this off as minor, that's $200 that I could have used for something else. It's a penalty I've paid for my mistakes. Ann Minch's penalty is $772 a year. (turns out my rate is 7.9% for purchases - from Capital One).

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The president on racism and health care

Sometimes, I have a great deal of respect for President Obama. Today he was on NBC's Meet the Press. You can watch the video of his part of the show here. You can also click on "transcript" and read what he had to say. Some quotes below are from that transcript.

Recently, a former president said that some of the negativity around health care were driven by racism. When asked about that in today's interview, President Obama said "Look, I said, during the campaign, are there some people who still think through the prism of race when it comes to evaluating me and my candidacy? Absolutely. Sometimes they vote for me for that reason, sometimes they vote against me for that reason. I'm sure that was true during the campaign, I'm sure that's true now."

The president gets it. True, there are some racists out there. Some vote with him because he's black, some vote against him for the same reason. Pure and simple. But he doesn't fret about it. He can't change other people, so he goes on about his business. He said this during the campaign and I (sadly) think he'll have to say it again.

More importantly, the president gets the real reason for the debate on health care. The president realizes it's "an argument that's gone on for the history of this republic. And that is what's the right role of government? How do we balance freedom with our need to look after one another?"

As my British friend would say, Spot on! He even goes on to tell us some of the history behind the argument - "This is not a new argument. And it always invokes passions. And ... it was a passionate argument between Jefferson and Hamilton about this. You know, Andrew Jackson built a whole political party around this notion that somehow ... a federal government that was over ... intrusive."

Mr. President, I agree. The argument is about the role of government, and I, along with others, think the federal government is intrusive. I think you should have said we need to balance freedom with personal responsibility.

Unfortunately, there are times where I believe the president is somewhat disingenuous (lacking sincerity). When discussing the way the news gets hyped, the president said "that's something that I think has to change. And it starts with me."

I wish he actually took this to heart. The president has had SEVERAL chances to start the change. He could have spoke out quickly when former President Carter made his comments. He could have spoken to the House of Representatives leaders who pushed for reprimand of Rep. Joe Wilson. Anytime the race card is played, the president can speak out and quiet the rumors quickly. Instead the president doesn't speak and lets the fire start burning.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Debit cards and overdraft fees

Last night there was a story on NBC news about a young soldier, Private Cid, who was having problems with his bank debit card. Since a couple of my family members recently had similar problems, I felt like it was time to speak out. I did some research and found some potential answers, political and practical. This may be long, but I encourage you to read on.

It seems young Private Cid uses his debit card daily for a lot of small transactions. In fact, the video story can be found at this site (I just rewatched it) and it says the average debit card transaction is under $20. In one day Private Cid had five such transactions, for pizza, sandwiches and such totaling $33.41. Trouble was, he didn't have the money in the bank and encountered $175 in overdraft charges. In a single five month period, he had total overdraft charges of $1785. For a young army private, that's more than a month's salary.

Now the individual in this story is an army soldier which brings a special feeling of patriotism (no mention was made of where he's serving). But this could easily apply to my son or my daughter. And since I know a few people who recently faced similar situations, I paid special attention. Overdraft fees are a "cash cow" for the banks and they will make over $27BILLION with these fees. I can be somewhat cold sometimes (my kids think all the time) and I think the bank deserves to make a profit, but they don't have to make it all on me (or my family).

There are some proposals that may change the way these overdraft fees work. I tend to favor less legislation, but in this case, the banks have not been playing nice (even if they've been playing by the rules) and it's probably time to change the rules. However, changing the rules won't be 100% in favor of the consumer and the consumer is bound to lose some in the deal. For example, banks claim they pay these over-charges as a courtesy to consumers and that "6 percent of consumers were glad their charges were paid, despite the overdraft fee." Overdraft fees only affects about 18% of Americans (details on the legislation and the source for this is here -- do I get bonus points from liberals by quoting a newspaper with "democrat" in the name?).

But if you're counting on the government to bail you out of overdraft prison, you might be stuck for a while. So I have a simple solution and some alternatives to help you in the mean time. They do require a little discipline and I know that's hard to come by these days. One simple solution is to keep track of how much money is in your account and never go below $0. Only the government can keep spending when the balance reaches $0 and if you're not printing money in your spare room, you can't get away with it.

Another solution is to "hide" some money in your account. The amount depends on the most you charge in a given day. Say you regularly charge about $33.41 in a day like Private Cid. You put an extra $35 in your account and mentally subtract that from the balance each time you check it. For easier math, just make it $100. Then when your balance goes below $100, you think "Oh No, I've overdrawn" and you put it back. This requires some extra discipline because you have to make it a practice NOT to spend that $100.

Traditional banks sometimes offer "sweep" accounts, where you can have money in savings and have it "sweep" to checking when you overdraft. This, or a line of credit, will effectively do the same as "hidden" money. But these aren't always available to everyone.

Finally, I'll mention a new, high-tech way to help. This is especially relevant to the two people I know who recently had over $100 in overdraft fees, but also relevant to everyone. My bank of choice is BB&T. They offer "Alerts" on their website. In fact, I just signed up for alerts myself. You go to the website and specify that you want to be notified when your balance drops below a certain level (I chose $100). You can have it alert you when a deposit is made, or when a check clears. You can have it alert you when you get an NSF charge (that way you can STOP SPENDING). You can even have it send you your balance each day so you know how much you have to spend.

BB&T alerts are free and can be sent to your email or even your cellphone (normal text rates apply). You can specify what time of day the alerts are sent so you don't get woken up at 8am every day. While I don't intend this as a commercial for BB&T, I strongly encourage everyone (especially overdraft prone people) to find out what their bank offers.

* Update - my editor in chief (wife) pointed out that this doesn't always take in to account pending transactions. Also, I noticed that some alerts don't come out on weekends and holidays. You still have to have some personal responsibility. But this can help you manage your account.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Rep. Joe Wilson

Wow, a lot has happened this week. I intended to post an entry about President Obama's speech to school children and his speech to congress. This week was also the anniversary of 9/11. But with all that, I want to take an opportunity to speak about a House Representative from my own state (but not my district), Representative Joe Wilson.

I found an article in the NY Times that I thought gave a good review. It says that we in SC are "famous for both [our] gentility and [our] rebelliousness..." I like the way that sounds. I was born in Charleston and lived in SC until I was 24. I moved just across the state line to NC for 13 years. Finally got back here 11 years ago and never leaving.

But as proud as I am about my state, I'm not too proud of Rep. Wilson. Whether he was right or wrong, I think it's bad taste to publicly call the president a liar. I also think it's bad taste to publicly "boo" the president. Rep. Wilson has admitted he was wrong and offered and apology to Pres. Obama, the president has graciously accepted. That should be the end of the story.

Instead, some people want to draw it out. Reported this morning, House officials want him to apologize on the floor under threat of reprimand (somehow an apology under threat never seems genuine). In order for this to happen, I think we should start a parade of public officials who have booed or hissed the last few presidents.

Pres. Obama isn't the first president to have this experience. President Bush was booed during his State of the Union speech in 2005. I haven't looked, but I could probably find instances where this happened to Pres. Clinton.

I think it's time for ALL politicians to start respecting the president. In my opinion, this lack of respect started during the Reagan regime, when the response to presidential speeches started. I think this would be an excellent time for these to end. (I've spoken against this policy here and here). It's also time for the president to stop calling other politicians and private citizens names. It serves no purpose, only invigorates others and is childish.

It's also time for all of us to start listening to our president and politicians, whether we agree with them or not. That includes school kids. The president's speech should have been seen by all school children. If we as parents agreed or disagreed with the president, we could explain that without name calling (sometimes difficult for me personally).

This change needs to start with a leader. Know any good leaders who can start it?

Friday, September 11, 2009


Our house has been on the market for about 3 weeks and we have the first showing to a potential buyer today. We're excited.

While it's highly unlikely and the odds are against it, we could be homeless in 24 hours.

Kids, we're moving in with you!!!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Waste and fraud and inefficiencies - oh my!

I intend to read the full speech our president gave last night (source is here) later. I watched most of it, and I'll have to say he addressed a lot of questions. I think he was genuinely surprised by the heckler in the audience and I think he didn't intend the comment about there being "some significant details to be ironed out" to be funny.

But one thought kept coming to me -- President Obama said multiple times that there was waste, fraud and inefficiencies in our system. If this is true (and I believe it is), why can't we address them NOW? Yesterday would have been a good day to start, but I'll settle for today.

Along the same lines, if he can identify a man in Illinois who lost coverage in the middle of chemotherapy, why not identify the insurance company, call them out and let us know which companies are good or bad. Same with the lady in Texas and her company.

If insurance companies are so evil, why not address them where they are today?

"Since health care represents one-sixth of our economy," don't you think it's important to do this legislation correctly or not at all? We can't afford to run out of money a few days into the new policies like Cash for Clunkers did. Why not draft the legislation and make it available for EVERYONE to read before passing it? Now that we've "pulled this economy back from the brink", don't we have a little more time to examine it?

Lastly, the olive branch that was extended on "reforming our medical malpractice laws " -- it sure sounded a lot like the olive branch that was extended during the campaign on abortion, where then candidate Obama said understanding issues like that were above his paygrade. Then when he was elected and got a pay raise, he immediately started funding abortions abroad. When is his next pay raise scheduled, we'll know his real feelings on reforming malpractice laws then.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Nag, nag, nag

It's a never ending job being a parent. And with new technology, there's a new way to nag. Nag by texting.

This Washington Post (WP) article explains how nagging has taken a new twist. The problem is, "there's so much more for a parent to nag about." "But in the age of the digital childhood" we can now text about the important things in life: "Be nice to your brother. Walk the dog. Remember your reading."

My kids (my son especially - he's the only bird still partially in the nest) probably think I'm the only one who does this. But this WP article interviews several moms and even a few dads. Part of the reason we nag by text is that there's so much more to nag about. "Parents know more about flubbed tests and skipped homework because of online grading systems. They know more about social lives because of Facebook and MySpace pages."

I personally have not (yet) gone to the full keyboards, preferring the bigger buttons on the other phones. I can send along the message pretty quickly. Messages like "Are you driving while texting?" Ok, I usually think about that and cancel it before I send it.

But I want to make sure that everyone understands the reason to nag by texting. The article captures the reason simply by pointing out that "many teens do not answer phone calls from Mom or Dad, especially in the company of friends."

So see kids, it's not just me that nags by texting.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Vacation - 2009

This past weekend, we took all the kids and grandkids to the beach for a long weekend. Actually, I guess the long part was the travel. With 5 kids and 5 grandkids (4 under 9 months old), we spent a lot of hours traveling to the beach. Normally a 5 hour drive for most of us, we loaded up enough diapers for a small army and made the trek in 6 different cars (1 addition car made a partial trip).
I calculate we put almost 3000 miles on SC (and some NC) highways on our mission. We had good weather Saturday morning and the girls got in some shopping while the guys kept the kids. Sunday morning was golf for the guys (minus me - not a golfer). While this was intended to be a low cost weekend (and it was relatively low cost), the total impact to SC economy was probably around $2500.
All in all, a great weekend. It's amazing how much noise can be generated by 4 crying babies. It's also wonderful.
P.S. The pic above is a testament to how hard I work at being lazy...

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Not much time today...

Getting ready for a weekend with the kids and grandkids.

It hit me that a lot of people are playing Farmville on Facebook. Since many are doing this from their laptop, does that mean it's safe to say:

"The farmer's in the Dell"

(sorry, couldn't resist that)

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

What do you want on your tombstone

Our neighborhood has an old cemetery in the middle. The story is that the man who owned the land before it was developed wanted to be buried there. The area is about 50 feet square with a small stone wall (about one foot high) surrounding it. There is a gate with stone posts about four feet high, but of course, you can step over the wall easily.

The story is that no one is buried there. After the man died, his children had him buried somewhere else, but since he had made the area a cemetery, it can never be developed. I decided to visit recently and took some pictures. This tombstone was over at the side, laying on top of the wall. My guess is that it was a reject for whatever reason and was never used.

As best I can tell the stone says:
August 27, 1796
September 18, 1826
30 years, 22
## wife and children all
## father Christ did call
## or me it is rain
## to your sight again
I've put ## where there is apparently some other words or letters that I can't make out. Also, there is some punctuation at the end of most lines, some look like periods, others like colons. It looks to me as if the stone was cut improperly.
If you can make out any more or have any ideas what it says, let me know.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Somedays I'm glad I live in SC

We in SC have our political problems. A governor who won't resign. He's being pushed by the Lt. Governor and state legislators and they are in his own party. Some (most?) of the pushing is politically motivated and based on old problems.

But at least I don't live in Massachusetts. With the passing of Sen. Kennedy, there's now an open Senate seat. In most states, the governor would simply appoint someone to fill the seat and everyone would move on. But back in 2004, the now deceased Sen. Kennedy pushed for the state to create new legislation that would require a special election for empty seats.

Back in 2004, Mitt Romney (a Republican) was governor. John Kerry (a Democrat) was running for president and everyone thought he would be elected. This would have left his seat empty and Romney might have appointed a non-Democrat for the seat. So, Kennedy pushed for a change in the law.

Fast forward five years and the table is now reversed. There's a Democratic governor who, if the law allowed, could appoint a Democrat to be Kennedy's replacement. Instead, by current law, a special election must be held and the state will have to go with only one senator for 4-5 months.

Of course, my way of thinking is that this isn't such a bad thing. Sen. Kennedy was very ill most of this year and hasn't been able to do much with the seat. So what will be different? But to alleviate that issue, Sen. Kennedy last week sent a letter, encouraging them to change the law (again).

Isn't it great when politicians change the law to fit their parties needs? It makes me so anxious for the new health care, knowing that they can change things when they feel like it...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Senator Kennedy's passing

By now, you've heard a lot about the death of Sen. Kennedy. I spent a little time this morning researching what was said on some conservative blogs and on some liberal blogs. As expected, I saw some bashing of the man and some praises. I also saw some anti-bashing, a liberal blog bashing the people who bashed the man. Unfortunately, I didn't learn a lot about the man.

Back in January, I wrote about Contrary Evidence. I wrote that you needed to seek facts that disagree with your normal thoughts. I can't think of a single piece of legislation that the "Lion of the Senate" sponsored that I would have agreed on. But I have to keep reminding myself that, as much as I may have disliked him and his politics, a majority of the voters in Mass. voted for him nine times.

So where's the contrary evidence? And shouldn't we all be looking for it?

I know about the misadventures of Sen. Kennedy at Chappaquiddick (at least what wasn't covered up). I know a lot of people think he tried to live up to his family name (and many believe he failed). I know a lot of the senator's misdeeds - political, family, etc. But unless I believe a majority the people of Mass. are just off their rockers (I might believe that about California), I have to admit that they saw something they liked. Or maybe they wanted a powerful senator to represent them. What did these voters see?

I have to liken Sen. Kennedy to Sen. Thurmond, the long lived Senator from my own state. I was disappointed to learn that Kennedy served longer in the Senate than Thurmond did. But both men served a long career.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Barney Fife on Global Warming (aka Climate Change)

We all need to seek the experts on any topic that comes up. Yesterday, I heard a comment by Barney Fife (as good as any other expert) on Global Warming.

Barney, as you probably know, was Andy Taylor's deputy on the Andy Griffith show and had an expert opinion on almost every subject. The episode is titled "Opie's Newspaper" and it was aired on March 22, 1965 (see IMDB for details)

In one scene, Andy is staring out of the kitchen door, Aunt Bee and Barney are sitting at the table. The conversation goes like this:

Andy: Nice day, you know that?

Aunt Bee: It seems a little warm to me.

Barney: Well, the weather's been changing so much lately. Must be the bomb.

That proves it. Global warming is a communist plot.

(Turns out I'm not the only one interested in this episode. See the first q&a at this site. There is also a podcast with the explanation of this comment).

Seinfeld gets people fired

This story from the DesMoines Register shows how a joke from a Seinfeld episode went a little too far and got a man fired. Seems a group from the Brain Injury Association of Iowa attended an outdoor event where there were a lot of blooming plants. After one person sneezed, a lady in the group explained that in her house instead of say "Gesundheit" or "God bless you", she and her husband say "You are so good looking" - which was the basis for a Seinfeld episode. As the event went on, several people got into the game.

After the event, John Preston continued to email the lady telling her she was good looking. Apparently, he liked the episode of Seinfeld too. But this unnerved the lady, who complained to her bosses and they told Preston. A few weeks later, he met the lady in the hall and talked with her and "massaged her shoulders." She complained again and this time he was fired.

This wasn't the first time Seinfeld got people fired, another Iowa case in 2004 resulted in Ronald Knight of the Fareway grocery store being fired after he repeated some comments from a different episode. And in 1992, Miller Brewing company fired an executive for telling his secretary about an episode and showing her a word in a dictionary (the referenced article contains both stories).

What lessons can we learn from this? 1) Just because you saw something on TV doesn't mean you can repeat it in the office. 2) You can carry a joke too far and 3) massaging a co-workers shoulders in the workplace is NEVER acceptable.

In this case, some blame should also fall on the female. Apparently, she started the gag at the outdoor event. If it was unacceptable for Preston, it was unacceptable for her also. She needs to learn some discernment in sharing stories from her home life.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Red Box vs Netflix

A co-worker mentioned that he uses Red Box a lot and I decided to check it out. Red Box operates those kiosks you see in the grocery store and rents DVD's for $1/day. They claim no late fees, they just charge $1 each day.

I compared this to my current Netflix plan which is $8.99/month. These DVDs tend to sit on top of the TV for a while, so at $1/day, I'd probably be paying $10-$20 a month. Of course I could delay picking up until I was ready to watch and could return sooner (even on Sundays), so maybe I'd be at the low end of that. And there's no driving with Netflix, it's all done through the mail.

Out of curiosity, I took my Netflix queue and checked it out on Red Box (you can reserve movies ahead of time). To my surprise NONE of the top 5 movies were in Red Box. Now a lot of my Netflix queue is "older" movies (2-5 years old) that we never watched the first time around. So I guess this is understandable. But it doesn't make me want to switch DVD providers

What do you think? Netflix or Red Box?

Smoke alarm false alarm

OK, once is bad, twice is downright spooky. Tonight about 9pm while watching the movie Chain Reaction, the smoke alarm went off. It lasted about 15 to 20 seconds and then quit. When it's done that before it was due to a candle nearby, but such was not the case tonight. Candles have gotten to the point where they upset my wife's sinuses, so we've stopped using them.

I checked all around, but no smoke. No smell of smoke, no reason for a smoke alarm. We joked that the hydrogen explosions on the movie set it off.

Then around midnight, it went off again. Again for 15 to 20 seconds. Again no smell of smoke, no apparent reason. I checked the attic. I checked outside. No smoke.

I took the battery out and will go get fresh batteries in the morning. But usually when the batteries are dieing, you get a nice occasional chirp and it doesn't stop after 15 to 20 seconds.


* Update - After the 4th time, I made a 1am run to CVS for new batteries. New batteries didn't help, I ended up unplugging the stupid things. I've never had so much trouble. Now I can't sleep.

* Update 2 - this morning I gently took the smoke detectors apart and vacuumed them. Each had a small cobweb in them. Cleaned them good, put them back up and all quiet so far (about 3 hours of experience). I'm afraid to test them though.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

And the winner is... And my vote is....

Glenn Chatfield is the winner.

A little over a week ago, I posted a contest, asking my readers to post their idea on who was the smartest president in recent history. Rather than try to judge the best answer, I held a drawing and Glenn Chatfield won the drawing. Glenn will be the recipient of his choice of an iTunes or Amazon gift card.

Most of the votes came in for Ronald Reagan which didn't surprise me. Most of my readers are conservatives and he is the ultimate conservative choice. But I also have some less-conservative (and some down right liberal) readers, so there were also votes for Clinton, Obama and even Carter (that one surprised me). I even had one reader expand the definition of "recent" president and include a vote for Lincoln.

Thanks for all the comments and I really appreciate the different views. Now I'll give my view for the smartest president and it may surprise some. I'd say President Obama is the smartest.

The current president is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School. That says something about his IQ right off the bat. He served in the Illinois Senate starting in 1997, then was elected to the US Senate in 2004. He gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in the same year. That's when I realized he was going to go somewhere. His speeches move people.

He's received a lot of negativity because of his use of teleprompters, but he mostly deflects these comments. During his presidential campaign, he sidestepped one of the most divisive subjects - abortion - with the comment that it was above his pay grade. After his inauguration he took action by funding foreign abortions without a lot of statements. You may disagree with his politics, but I think this shows his political IQ.

Obama has also been able to push a lot of legislation through congress by using the economy as cover. A lot of the items in the stimulus bill had nothing to do with stimulating the economy.

So, my vote goes to Obama as the smartest president even if I don't agree with his politics.