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.