Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas - 2010

As I write this post, we're between shifts in our Christmas. Some of our kids alternate Christmas morning with their in-laws and come see us in the afternoon. This is their year to show up for lunch. The others see us every Christmas morning, so we got up and celebrated Christmas 2010 First Shift at about 8am. Eight adults and two 2-year olds (one is only 1+1/2, but that's close). Second shift means five of the adults leave and four new ones come in (Mom-in-law works split shift, she came in mid-first shift and stays for second). The two little ones leave and two new 2-year olds (ok, another 1+1/2 year old) and a 4 year old come in their place. It will be a busy household all day.

This year we've been blessed in many ways. I want to take this moment to wish you and your family blessings from the (very) extended Barnett Household. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Is war ever worth fighting

My last post included a video of Joan Baez singing "Where have all the flowers gone?" The song was recorded by just about everyone in the 60's and it seemed to be a statement about the war in Vietnam. I was too young to really understand, but it seemed like a good time to be against something and the Vietnam war was an easy target (war as a target, that's something). Songs like this and "One, two, three, four, what are we fighting for?" (officially "I feel like I'm fixing to die" found here with mild profanity) were about as rebellious as I ever became. By the time I was draft age, the Vietnam War was a memory, a bad memory for a lot of people.

You may have seen that the review of the Afghanistan War is out, to be made official tomorrow. This comes at a time when "a record-high 60 percent of Americans think the war is not worth fighting," according this this article. The war has been raging on for just over 9 years now and an end is far away by anyone's judgment.

It made me think - is war ever worth fighting? Our President has said that this is a war of necessity (one of the few times he has agreed with former President Bush). A year ago he approved a surge, much like the one in Iraq, to send 30,000 more troops in, while also announcing an end date. Many on the left disapproved of this surge, wishing instead to get all troops out.

To me, the answer to the question can be found in a poem put to music by Pete Seeger, the same person who put "Where have all the flowers gone?" to music (the poem is found in the Bible, written by Solomon, the other Seeger song was from an old Ukranian folk song according to Wikipedia, not sure if Seeger actually wrote anything himself). According to the song (and to Solomon), "To every thing there is a season" and more importantly there is "a time of war, and a time of peace." If the Byrds sang it, it has to be so.

The real key is understanding when is the time for war and when is the time for peace. Most Americans would agree that 1776 was a time for war. Through a long fought battle, that wasn't popular with all Americans, we gained our freedom and began a democratic experiment that goes on today. Most people today blame Southerners for the Civil War, and while we did fire the first shot, the war would never have begun if the Union states had left the Confederate states alone. If you believe that the war was over slavery and that slavery needed to be ended (and I do to both), you'll have to say that 1861 was a time for war.

I may not always (often?) agree with this President, but I have to say that I believe he understands this concept. Sometimes, there is a time for war. We may soon find out if this is a time for war in Korea. I hope not. But I hope this President will continue to grow in his understanding of the phrase "a time to every purpose under the heaven:"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Where have all the bloggers gone?

Seems a lot of the blogs I follow have gone silent with one blog even completely being deleted. Some of these had started and never followed through (or are using Facebook/Twitter to share), others are out doing things like the Nutcracker Ballet (I think).

My schedule has made it more difficult to follow a regular schedule, although I think that's changing as we near the end of 2010. But it made me think of this song.

Ok, I don't like the political commentary she added in, but the song is from a different era, a different time.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

A Quarter of a Century

Quarter of a Century. Saying it that way makes it sound like a long time, doesn't it? Twenty-five years ago, my wife & I were expecting our second child. She awoke early and couldn't sleep, so she went in the other room. Around 5am, she came and told me we needed to think about the fact that she might be in labor. Being the loving, supportive husband I was, I told her she probably wasn't and rolled over.

When I heard the slamming of the door accompanied with a muttered "FINE!", I made a wise decision. I got up. After sitting with her a few minutes, we decided it was time to go to the hospital. We finished packing and called a neighbor who had agreed to take care of our 2-year old daughter. As we finished packing her things, he called back and told us to remember a car-seat and something and something and something. I told him that he was more nervous than I was.

On the way to the hospital on the planned route (this was still pre-rush hour traffic) I saw a road-sign that looked familiar. I was pretty sure I knew where the other end of this road was and it would be a quicker route, so I decided to try a road never travelled before (at least by me). The funny thing about roads in Charlotte, they all have similar names. There's Sharon Rd, Sharon Lane, Sharon Amity and I ain't Sharin' Sharon. No wait, that last one is a song by Jim Stafford.

Anyway, when I got the end of Sharon something it wasn't quite where I thought it would be, but it was close. My wife was not amused or impressed. We still got to the hospital before rush hour and in plenty of time.

Ultrasounds were not as common 25 years ago, so we had no idea if we were expecting a girl or a boy (even in that day, those were still the only two choices). We entertained a lot of ideas about determining the sex, tried a boiled egg resting on the belly and a few other tricks, but these were mainly for fun. Our nurse that day told us that the baby's heartbeat would tell you, but many times it was wrong. But she had great confidence when she told us THIS one was a boy.

We took the nurse's prediction seriously, as we had chosen girl names but no boy names. Between contractions for two hours we discussed names as we had discussed for the last nine months, still with no resolution. Fortunately for us, no decision was needed as our little girl was born early that afternoon. I'm not sure if the nurse ever knew about her mistake.

Happy Birthday Katie. You've gone from being my little "bean green" to a wonderful lady with 2.2 children of your own. We love you. Hope today is as happy for you as my day was 25 years ago.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards dies at age 61

Unless you missed the news, Elizabeth Edwards passed away today. She was 61.

I wrote about Mrs. Edwards' cancer back in 2007 (here). Let me echo something I said back then. There will be those who say this is God's punishment for something or another. Shame on them.

My heart goes out to the family. She left three children, including a 12 year old and a 10 year old. These children will have to go on without a mother.

One interesting tidbit that I found was that Edwards' son Wade (who was killed in an auto accident at age 16) was honored by then First Lady Clinton for an essay he wrote. After his death, the essay and his obituary were entered into the Congressional Record by Senator Jesse Helms (for those unfamiliar with Helms, he would have seldom agree with the Edwardses politically).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Should we blame God for our mistakes?

Ok, I'm going to step into a religious discussion again. I rarely do, but this one peaked my interest. Seems Steve Johnson, wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills literally dropped the ball in a football game. Not just any ball drop, a winning touchdown pass in overtime in the end-zone. And he wasn't too happy, so he tweeted about his frustration. The Yahoo! article is titled "Steve Johnson blames God for his overtime drop."

Now when you read his exact tweets, it seems to me that he really didn't blame God. He said "I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO..." He did say he praises God 24/7 and he never really blamed God.

It's hard to tell if his ending "THX THO" is sarcastic or real. Since he said "THO," at the end, I take it as serious. And it seems to me that Johnson expects to learn something, although he can't figure out what it is to learn about. And I also noticed is that Johnson sure likes exclamation points!!!

But ignoring all of that and taking the writer Chris Chase at his word, let's assume Johnson was blaming God. Is it ok to blame God for our mistakes? We often see athletes giving God credit for wins, why not for losses?

Most people would say that God doesn't care who wins or loses a football game. I completely disagree. God cares about the sparrows and they are two for a penny. He knows how many hairs are on your head. If He cares about these little things, don't you think He cares about a football game? (Especially if it's a certain college team that LOST to another college team this past weekend). So what message might be in the loss for Steve Johnson?

I'm not usually one for great discernment, but I have a few ideas. First, I have to say that I'm glad Johnson didn't revert to the Flip Wilson excuse, he could have said the devil made him drop the ball. Possibly, the message that God wants Johnson to get is that he is not the center of the universe. And just to be clear, neither am I (although I think I'm pretty close some of the time). On this Sunday, there were 90 football players on the active game day roster. Add about 16 more on the bench, cheer-leaders, coaches, owners, fans, advertisers and TV viewers and there were a lot of people who had an interest in the outcome. Undoubtedly, some were upset and some were happy.

Did God make Steve drop the ball? I don't think so. Not any more than he made Johnson catch the ball so many times before. That's part of the free-will thing. Does God care about the dropped ball? I think He certainly does. How does God decide when to allow a dropped ball vs. stepping in with a minor miracle, blowing the ball a little? Beats me. That's why He's God and I'm only close to the center of the universe.

Is it Ok to blame God for things like this? Well, it wouldn't be the first time. Several people in the Bible blamed God, asked Him why and asked Him what they were supposed to learn. Johnson's not the first to do this and won't be the last. God's a big guy, with big shoulders, I think He can handle a few questions like the one's in this tweet. The real question, is where does He keep His Blackberry?

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Event

I've been watching the television show The Event and last night realized the resemblance of The President in the series to President Obama.

The show, subtitled "What will you beLIEve?" could be science fiction as it has people from another planet or place and they have knowledge/power beyond what mere humans have, but really is more of a mild drama. There are no phasers or funny weapons. And they don't bend the laws of science very much.

The President in the series is played by Blair Underwood, a light skinned, good looking African-American. He was elected two years ago and according to his bio is "Moral and idealistic. Hugely popular with the American people and around the world, (he) wants to be a new kind of President, working toward a new America. He's committed to honesty ..." Like our real president, the president in this series is not fully, African-American, he was "born to Cuban refugees in Miami, Florida" and "is very proud of his Afro-Cuban roots. He is a graduate of Yale University."

But last night while watching an episode on my DVR, I noticed a deeper similarity, something in the character of the man that matches President Obama. In the episode, a man who tried to kill the president had been captured and was about to be interrogated. The President demanded that he be allowed to question the individual and that he could get answers. I'd seen it before in the series (although I can't remember the scenes), places where the President got involved in order to handle some seemingly small issue, not letting the experts do their job. The President thinks he can fix anything. He believes that he is Interrogator in Charge, Chief Fence Mender and Overall Head Honcho.

We've seen this in real life, with the mishandling of the Shirley Sherrod case, getting involved before he knew all of the facts. It can be seen in the  Henry Gates case, by saying the police "acted stupidly" then having a beer summit to ease the tensions. He weighed in on the 9/11 Mosque, an issue that should have been handled by the residents and officials of New York City. And we've seen the President get involved to fix important things (like medical care) where the government has no business meddling.

Like the President on The Event, President Obama thinks it's his job to fix anything and everything that comes up

For previous posts on related to this see here and here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Everything You Ever Really Needed to Know About Personal Finance On Just One Page

What? Can it be true? Can you really get "Everything You Ever Really Needed to Know About Personal Finance On Just One Page"?

Well Trent Hamm has done it. Hamm runs a blog over at The Simple Dollar and lately it's been one of my favorites. His blog posts are typically short and to the point and he always focuses on personal finance issues (unlike me). About a month ago, I posted how you could get Hamm's book titled (coincidentally) The Simple Dollar online through Amazon. If you missed it, you can't get it free anymore, but you can still get it. I reviewed it and recommended it here. I still recommend it, even if you have to pay for it. See my instructions here.

In the one page summary of personal finance, Hamm displays some of his artwork. You'll quickly realize why he's an author, not an artist. Ok, it's not the bad and far above anything I can do, Hamm neatly sketches out everything you need to know. In just one page. He has five ideas to guide you through this process.

Of course to leave it at one page, wouldn't give you the full effect, so Hamm gives you 48 more pages to explain the pictures. The ideas are quickly consumed and give you the arms you need to tackle your particular financial situation. With each idea comes tips to help you reinforce the idea, including 100 tips to live frugally (not cheaply).

I strongly recommend Hamm's one page guide. Oh, did I mention it's free? You can find it on his blog at

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fees from the giant banks now at the highest level ever recorded

That's the headline from this Clark Howard online article. If  you're not familiar with Howard, he has a radio program and a TV show on HLN talking about ways to "spend less, save more and not get ripped off." He's a consumer advocate. While I listen to a lot of Christian financial programs, Howard doesn't put his faith (or lack of) on the air. His show is strictly about money and ways to help.

In his article, Clark sites a newspaper article that says that AM fees, checking fees and overdraft fees have all gone up. But wait, didn't Congress solve this problem? Didn't they pass a law commonly called the CARD Act? Didn't a well-known blogger tell us about that here?

Well you're right, on all of those. Congress has also been targeting bank fees and made it so that you can't overdraft unless you ask for the protection.  But banks will continue to find all legal means to turn a buck. That's what banks do. They try to make a profit.

Back in June, the NY Times called this a "New Day for Consumers". A consumer bureau was created and the President appointed (while Congress was on vacation) a head of that bureau who will certainly write new regulations and probably attack this problem once they read my blog.

In the mean time, what do you do about the fees? Clark Howard thinks "the reality is you have so much choice in the marketplace." He suggests "a credit union or small community bank." He also likes online banks, which is a good fit for a lot of people.

So if your bank is charging you fees, shop around. You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Constitution and Obamacare

I've just finished reading a book on the making of the Constitution. "Miracle at Philadephia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention" covers the summer of 1787 when a group of men gathered together to create the document we all (in the US) live by now.

I took a lot of notes while I read, but I decided not to post all of them as I did with a previous book. However, I was struck by similarities to the recent health-care package that was passed. While I'm no fan of the health-care package, it turns out some very well known people (e.g. Patrick Henry) were no fan of the Constitution.

The Constitution was written in Philadelphia in secret. The conventioneers were very careful not to leave notes where outsiders could see them and were cautioned not to tell anyone what was going on. The press cooperated with the secrecy, even suggesting that they were better off not knowing. While the health-care package was not crafted in complete secrecy, there certainly were people who thought we were better off not knowing all of the details ahead of time.

I've also been involved in a few discussions with people who think the problem with the package was that it just wasn't "sold" well enough. They feel like the health-care bill needs a good PR story. After the Constitution was created and voted on by Congress, the drafters including James Madison went out to "sell" the document.

One final comparison point is that "we the people" never voted on the Constitution.  Representatives of the people voted on the document. Many of these representatives felt like the people weren't capable of understanding the paper. They felt they were more educated and knew what was best.

I'm not trying to imply that the Constitution and Obamacare are of equal importance or that they both fall into the same category. I just couldn't help but notice the similarities...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Reflections on a marathon

This past weekend was the Richmond Sun Trust Marathon. My son-in-law decided to run this year and we decided to go up and be his cheering section. The fact that our grand-daughter was going to be there added to our reasons to go.

Adam has run two marathons before: The Marine Corps Marathon and the NYC Marathon in 2008 (see my post about the 2008 NYC Marathon). This was my first. Since I didn't want to show him up, I elected not to run this year, maybe next year. Then again, maybe pigs will fly next year too.

Since I've been traveling a lot, my wife and I made use of frequent flyer points and hotel reservation points to minimize our cost. We flew up on Thursday and arrived late that night. Friday, we rode through the marathon route. That gave us non-runners a good view of what Adam would be seeing on Saturday and helped get him in the right mind-set. It also showed us all where the hills would be.

On race day, we saw the start of the race. Over 4900 runners started out. I made the mistake of being on the wrong side of the street and didn't get good pictures at this point. I also couldn't get back across the street until after all 4900+ runners passed.

After the start, we hustled over to the first check-point to cheer our runner on. He was looking good and flashed us a thumbs-up.

And of course, the smallest cheer leader even had her own sign:

I'm still processing pictures for uploading. All-in-all, we had a great time. Adam didn't finish in as good a time as he wanted, not sure how his time compares to the previous two. I guess next year I'll have to enter so I can show him how it's done (HA!).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

It's that time of year again

Today is Veteran's day. The day we salute our veterans and those active in the military. Something we should do all year.

A nephew who works for Applebee's posted on his Facebook account that they were giving free meals to all veterans and active duty people (I don't know the details). I received an email from Red Robin that they were offering a free stack of onion rings (I can personally attest that these are good). I'm sure other restaurants are following suit.

I'm not going to list all of the ones I know this year. I looked back at my post from last year and reminded myself of a few of them. As I type this, I'm going to say a silent prayer of gratitude and prayer for safety for each of those.

Thank you for what you did and for what you do. Thank you for your service to your country. Thank you for protecting me.

I'm very glad that the tone of this country is to honor our nation's finest. It's what we should do.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Because I said so!

As a child/teenager, I hated those words. It seemed like I heard them all the time (probably only 4 or 5 times though) Whenever I asked WHY, I had to do something (e.g. wash dishes, cut grass, make my bed, etc.) I wasn't given an explanation, I was just told "because I said so."

Most often, these words came from my dad. I'm sure they came from mom on occasion, but I can't remember any specific case. Actually, I can't remember any specific case from my dad either, I just know I heard the words and grew to hate them. At some point, I decided - I'm never going to say that to my kids!

My first-born arrived in the early 1980's. My wife & I both had college education (which we thought was the answer to everything) and we agreed we would not use those words. We knew that we could work with our child, explain the reasons and come to a reasonable agreement on what could be done and what should be done. Those of you with children are laughing right now.

When it was time for bed, the question came out - "Why?" We explained why they needed sleep. "Why don't you go to bed?" Because I'm an adult. "Don't you need sleep?" Yes, but not as much.

Of course, the conversation went on. And it wasn't necessarily about bed. It was about any subject that came up. Eventually, I'd get tired and my answer was "Because I'm the Dad!" (it wasn't the words I'd sworn not to use, but it was close).

Eventually, I realized that some subjects couldn't be reasoned out. No amount of discussion was going to convince them that I was right. No amount of discussion was going to convince me that I was wrong. We didn't have to agree with each other, we just had to respect each other's positions and move on.

More on this subject next time...

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Simple Dollar - eBook Review

About a month ago, I told you how to get a free book (see here). Well, if you didn't act then, you're too late to get it free, but you can still follow the directions I listed and get the book for just $9.99. And I'd say it's worth it.

I want to do a review of Kindle, but I'll save those comments for another day. Today, I want to tell you about the book The Simple Dollar, by Trent Hamm. The author has a blog, conveniently titled The Simple Dollar, that focuses on day-to-day financial  management. I strongly recommend his site.

But the book is more than  just "How I got rid of credit cards and made my life easier." Trent starts by telling you his story, of being in a "prison made of plastic." But he goes on and talks about life in general, looking at "What's missing?"

Hamm interleaves stories from his personal life along with stories for your personal life. He helps understand the power of goals and the simple fact that life really is more random than you think. He looks at the sense of community in this Facebook/Myspace social networking world. He goes beyond how to get out of debt and discusses how to stay out of debt. It's not just beans-and-rice and rice-and-beans, he discusses alternatives. If you like rice-and-beans, that's fine, but most of us don't. He acknowledges that and shows how to live frugally, while still enjoying life.

But as said earlier, it's not just finances. Hamm talks about family relationships (ok, as they relate to finances) and retirement. I especially liked his discussion of a partial crossover point, a time when you can let go of your current career and start working on something new, something more exciting.

Chapter 15 of Hamm's book talks about Setting Your Child Apart. I've not read any financial planning books that discuss child rearing. He helps parents help their kids. Then he talks about giving. Not just in dollars and cents, but in giving to the community and why you should give (don't expect to be preached at - just reasons to give).

I highly recommend Hamm's book, even if you have to spend a few bucks.

Thursday, November 04, 2010


I've talked about insurance some in the past, but I wanted to take a fresh look at it. When should you buy insurance and what is it supposed to do?

The purpose of insurance is to spread the risk or the cost. Basically, you're spreading the cost of a claim across several other people. The more you spread it, the less it costs. Say for example you buy car insurance. If you keep your car for 10 years and 100 people join with you, that's 1,000 times the annual premium that goes to insurance. Now if there are claims in those 10 years that total $10,000, you'd each need to put up $10. It's a simple example, but it works.

Same goes for home owner's insurance and life insurance. Of course insurance companies hire lawyers, secretaries, actuaries, and IT people, so they will actually charge a little more. Hopefully, they will keep the extra cost to a minimum, if not you should go shopping somewhere else.

One insurance policy that behaves differently is medical insurance. Medical insurance gives you group buying power. If your insurance is with Blue Cross, they have negotiated with your doctor to get a special rate. Get an appendectomy for only $99.95 (ok, I exaggerated there a little). However, you can negotiate with doctors on your own. I recently had to pay for some medical expenses and was able to negotiate a sizable discount by telling the medical facility that this was "self-pay". The discounts I received were about the same as if the insurance company had paid.

There are two other types of insurance I wanted to cover. First is pet insurance. I may get in trouble for this, but I don't believe you need pet insurance. You should be able to pay for regular vet bills and these shouldn't be covered by insurance anyway. Given my definition of  insurance above, you would only save money if most people didn't use the insurance. Some might argue that a pet could get some kind of cancer and need expensive treatment. My argument back is that IT'S AN ANIMAL, NOT A PERSON. Ok, I shouldn't shout. But again, the discussion above about negotiating prices applies.

The second type of insurance I wanted to cover is Umbrella insurance. By this, I don't mean insuring your umbrella, I mean a kind of insurance that covers you when everything else stops. There are limits on all kinds of insurance, the most common is liability on a car. Suppose you have an accident and it's your fault. You didn't mean to do it, that's why it's called an accident. Your liability insurance will repair the other person's car up to the limits of the policy. If your limit is $50,000 and you hit someone in a nice new Lexus, you might be in trouble. That's where the umbrella policy comes in. It picks up where your regular policy stops and goes to a higher limit. Since it won't be used often (hopefully), the cost is relatively low.

If you have assets that you can't afford to lose (house, boat, 401k, etc), I think you should have an umbrella policy. These are easily obtained by the people who currently have your auto or home policy.

Hope this helps. Any comments?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

What the election means to me

I don't pretend to be a political pundit or to have my finger on the pulse of the electorate. There are plenty of bloggers who will do that and give in depth analysis. Instead, I will simply point out a couple of things yesterday's elections mean to me.

As you've probably read, Republicans won big in many elections, especially in SC. We elected the first ever female governor, a lady of Indian descent (born in SC to Indian parents). We also elected our first African-American Republican Representative, Tim Scott. He's not a representative to my district, but I've seen some very good things about him. For SC to elect these two is very progressive for a state that isn't known for it's progressiveness. We also elected a real conservative Representative (Trey Gowdy) in my district to replace a pseudo-conservative Representative (Bob Inglis).

We passed four amendments in SC, guaranteeing a right for hunting and fishing, a right to a secret ballot in union elections and helping fiscal soundness.

I've already seen reports of voter intimidation and expect we'll see more. These incidents should be dealt with quickly and (if accurate) severely. I would hope that candidates on both (or all) sides will come down hard on these people.

Am I celebrating this morning? Hardly. We still have an economic mess in this nation and it's not going to be over soon. We still have a social mess with the Federal Government trying to get into too many parts of my life and that won't end soon. Our nation is still at risk from terrorists and I see people and politicians willing to close their eyes to avoid looking at it. And we have an abundance of politicians who claim to be leaders that have serious moral issues and personal baggage.

So I guess I'm troubled. Happy that the results went the way I wanted, but nervous that it won't make a difference. Or at least enough of a difference.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Goodbye to Wesley

A few times in the past I have taken on the duty of saying good bye to someone on my blog. Today is another such day.

Wesley would have been seven months old today. His mom was a close friend of both of my daughters and his maternal grandparents were close friends of mine. A little over two months ago, he started displaying signs of an illness that ended up being something in his immune system. His own body was attacking his red blood cells. On Friday, his fight ended.

Wesley's mom was like another daughter to me. She was always at my house and I know my girls were often at her house. One of my favorite memories was when she caught me napping (and snoring) on a Sunday afternoon. Her mom & dad helped my family on two major occasions (and numerous minor ones) when we needed it. Even though I moved 100 miles away twelve years ago, there was always the feeling that we would help each other out when needed.

While I travel frequently, only in the last couple of months have I gone to the town where Wesley was hospitalized. Then, out of the blue, I had two trips to the town. I took that as a sign that I was supposed to visit his family. I've said before that I don't believe in coincidence, that I believe in Providence (see here and here). I believe Providence caused me to have two business trips to see Wesley's family. I got to meet his dad and his paternal grandparents. And hopefully, I eased the burden on some old friends.

Goodbye Wesley. Your family will miss you, but rest assured that they are loved and we'll look out for them.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What does Obamacare mean to me?

I've been relatively quiet on Obamacare and the call by a lot of people to repeal it. A couple of days ago, I received an email that explained the impact to me personally. I have medical insurance through my employer. We are self-insured, that is, the employer ends up paying for all payouts. I pay into the program for family coverage (include medical, dental and vision care) and my employer pays also. All of the money is pooled together to pay out actual costs. The care is managed by one of the big insurance companies.

There are other plans available through my employer, but I've pretty much stuck with the same program over the years. My employer sent the following email (I've edited it to remove personal information):

This year, XYZ Corp had a team working for months to understand health care reform legislation.  Some of this work continues, which is one reason we are communicating with you a bit later than we usually do. We understand many of you align your decision-making with that of working spouses or domestic partners, which is why we have worked to keep the actual enrollment for employees on schedule.

You should be aware that health care cost increases for 2011 -- in addition to the normal inflationary trends -- also are affected by health care reform requirements, which affect both XYZ Corp and you.  For example, raising the age for dependent coverage from age 23 to 26 contributes somewhat to higher costs for businesses, as we must now all extend coverage to greater numbers of young adults.

There's more to the email, but that pretty much sums it up.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sort-of Facebook and blog policy

A little over a week ago, my blog-friend Neil posted his "sort-of Facebook policy" (see it here). I mostly agreed with it and then this morning I violated it. I felt bad afterwards, so as a reminder to myself, I thought I'd specify my facebook policy and my blog policy. Or my sort-of policies. I'll probably deviate from time to time. If you catch me, please point it out.

Like Neil, I keep the Facebook comments generally light and leave the politics and heavier stuff for my blog. A lot of my family eschews these heavy topics and Facebook just doesn't seem to lend itself to in depth discussions. I have found that many times, I can keep up with my family better on Facebook than with the phone. I've also re-established some relationships from when I lived in Charlotte and even a few relationships from school. I don't play games on Facebook and try to hide updates from the games because I really don't care how many jewels you have or need for your crown.

I have a friend who doesn't use Facebook. He worries about the evil that goes on there, the relationships that get started there (he's thinking the extra-marital relationships). He worries about the wasted time (can anyone say Farmville?). He's right to worry. Facebook can be abused just like anything. And if he doesn't want to post, I think it's best he doesn't do it. He's never told me I shouldn't. That's tolerance for both of us.

For my blog, just about anything is open. I will post on any topic, from politics, to cooking, from the books I read to the movies I see. I'll post about the kids and their kids or just something I see that sparks my interest. I'll put together posts on aspects of finances and once did a three-part analysis of payday lending.

In both my blog and Facebook, I'm careful what I post. My theory is that if I don't want my mother or my kids to read it, I shouldn't post it (my mom now uses Facebook and watches my blog). I haven't posted very many of my pictures - not that it's against my policy - it's just too time consuming.

I also take requests on my blog and try to honor those. (For Emily's sake, I often insert how I feel about a subject). If you have something you want me to post about, notify me here, on Facebook or any other way.

And if you catch me going off my policy, let me know. Throw something if you're close enough.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Service with a frown - resolved

My last post was about a problem with an exterminating company. Today, that problem has (apparently) come to a resolution. I had a conference call with the company and the Better Business Bureau. The BBB representative took my call, then called the business. She thanked each of us and explained the "ground rule" (her words) and that was no interrupting the other person.

I got to speak first and explained my situation (which had been previously done in the letter). The business then explained the issues. I corrected him on a couple of matters and then bluntly asked if he understood why I was upset. It took a minute, but he said he did.

We discussed a few aspects of the inspections they had done, specifically trying to separate the inspection cost from the "insurance" aspect of a termite bond. He said there was no way to separate them. (I would have asked for a refund of the inspection).

I asked him about the reluctance to write a check and he explained that they only wrote checks 1-2x/month and then only when a PO was created. He asked if I would give my credit card number to the BBB. I explained that I was reluctant to give him the number because I still didn't trust the company and if I gave it to the BBB, they would have to give it to him to process the refund. He then offered to send a certified check for the refund.

The total refund I'll be receiving is $100. This is the "discount" that was originally discussed. Had I gotten this refund in September, it would have saved a lot of hassle.

In addition, he explained a couple of ways this could have been prevented, I'm not sure any would have worked. I could have gotten a second estimate, but I felt like I didn't have time for that. He said in his business line, companies are on call 7x24 and make emergency calls within a day. He said my realtor could have called the day of closing and he would have faxed a new estimate (which would have had to go through the lawyer, forced a redo of all the paper-work, delayed closing, etc).

The end result is the discount I originally was promised and I don't have to give my credit card info. I'm not what I would call a satisfied customer and won't give them a good reference, but then they probably don't want a reference anyway. I won't go around bashing them and haven't posted their name here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Service with a frown

My last post was on good service. What prompted this in my mind was some incredibly bad service I got from a local exterminator (I'll provide the name to anyone that asks). In fairness, I'm still working with the exterminator to resolve the issues. But the service to date has been so incredibly bad I thought I'd make a post.

The service provided was an annual contract and a certificate for a home sale. It could have been any service. The first bad thing we encountered was when we called for the annual contract. The office treated us rudely and didn't even know what the contract covered. Since the contract was ongoing, we continued to work with the company. The people that came our were easy to work with and trustworthy.

When the time came for a certificate for home sale, we contacted the company again. They found some problems and recommended a remedy. Since we were days from closing, we didn't have time to shop for a better deal. I felt held hostage and called to tell them so.

Rather than try to understand my side of the story, the exterminator became defensive. They gave me several reasons for their findings, many of which were wrong. When I pointed out their errors, they said they were irrelevant. They did agree to discount the price, but the invoice was for the original amount. Again, I was being held hostage by a closing date.

After complaining about the price, I was told that invoices were sent by another person. For one month, I kept trying to get the right person. The lady I spoke with never gave her last name and wouldn't give me any one else to talk to. Finally, they wanted my credit card information to issue me a credit. Now let's see, I've found I can't trust the company and they want my credit card info? I don't think so.

Next step for me was to write a formal complaint letter. Which was ignored. Then a week later, I filed a complaint with the BBB. This got more defensive talk, misspellings of my wife's name and incorrect statements. No attempt to understand my points. After I rejected their settlement offer (again wanting my credit card info), I now have a scheduled call to try to resolve.

My suggestion on service - try to understand your customer. If you feel you truly don't have a mistake, educate the customer. If you want to make a concession, make it easy for the customer to accept.

I'll update this after my scheduled call to resolve.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Service with a smile

What makes "good service"? There's one company I recently dealt with that made me start thinking about this question. Unfortunately, the company didn't have "good service" and it made me thinking about what set them apart. I decided to initially focus on a company I deal with that does indeed have good service.

The "good service" company is a local dog groomer, I'll gladly share the name with anyone interested. (Since most of my readers aren't local, you probably don't care). We struggle with a couple of dog groomers including one that I'm convinced infected our dog with fleas. Since our older dog (since past away) was getting more and more difficult to transport, we decided to try a "mobile" groomer. These folks come to you with a van and all the equipment. When they leave, the dog's hair has been cut, cleaned and combed.

The first thing that I like about the mobile groomer was the price. They were actually a couple of dollars CHEAPER than the ones with a house. Cheaper is always better in my book! (well, maybe not always, but at least often) They did at least as good as any other place we took the dogs.

Second thing we noticed was that the couple doing the grooming were very polite. They listened to what we wanted, offered advice and did what we asked. Our dog has sensitive skin, so they manage that aspect well (I have no idea what they do, I just remind them to treat her like they did before).

The final aspect of their service that I wanted to mention is the trust. We've used these people several times. On one or two occasions, they've come and we've had to mail them a check. Most recently, we were away and had someone else there to dog sit for us. We forgot to leave the payment and rather than re-schedule, the groomer went ahead and did her work and we mailed a check.

This level of mutual trust is the basis for good, continued service. This business can rest assured that they have earned our business for a long time. Next post will focus on a company that doesn't give good service

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Free Book - Yes, free!

I've been reading a lot of personal finance blogs like Freeby50 and The Simple Dollar. I recommend both of these. Well, it turns out that The Simple Dollar has a book titled (amazingly) The Simple Dollar. And for a limited time, you can get the book for free.

You can download the book for your Amazon Kindle at this site: The Simple Dollar Book. But wait, you say you don't have a Kindle? (I don't). Not to worry, you can download the Kindle app for your iphones, ipads, android, PC or Mac. I did and it was very simple. You start at this site. It took under 5 minutes.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Jet Packs for LA Police

At dinner Friday night, one of my friends told me this story. Seems the LA Police has ordered jet packs for their police to a tune of about $1BILLION. Seems a little strange, but hey, this is talking about California, land of fruits and nuts. The left coast.

We thought of a lot of problems, those things don't last that long, what happens if you go up for 30 seconds and then run out of jet fuel, the criminals are all on the ground, what good does it do to be up in the air, they can't afford to pay teachers, yet they spend this kind of money (when you live with a teacher, every subject turns to education) etc.

I looked for information about the story this morning and found this item. Seems the story is FALSE. First reported by the Weekly World News (we all know that's a reliable source), then picked up by Fox News. The Fox anchors said they doubted the story, to which I have a question - WHY DID YOU REPORT IT? This doesn't help your credibility at all. Oh, sure, you said it was questionable, but a lot of the folks watching didn't hear that part.

Fox knows the audience and knows that conservatives love stories like this. It's a great chance to make fun of those from "the other side". But this just makes Fox look just as bad as the other networks. I thought Fox wanted to try for a higher standard? I guess I was mistaken.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Pay to Spray

In this small area in Tennesse, a man's house burned down because he didn't pay the (non-required) fee of $75 for fire coverage. (see story here).

Mr. Cranick lives outside the city limits and doesn't pay city taxes. The city offers fire protection to county residents and (presumably) uses the fees to help fund their fire fighting activities. Mr Cranick admits he didn't pay the fee last year, but has paid for several years in the past. It just slipped his mind last year. He offered to pay when the house was on fire, but fire fighters told him it was too late.

One troubling comment in the story is made by the city manager who said "We have to follow the rules and the ordinances set forth to us." Another part of the article says "When a household has not paid the fee, firefighters are required by law to not respond." (It's not clear what law is referenced here).

I have to confess, I have mixed emotions here. I have serious, unanswered questions, about what law, if any, specifies that the firefighters are required to "not respond". I also feel that, the fire fighters had an obligation to respond.

But I also feel that Mr. Cranick is trying to buy insurance after the fact. What would happen if people only paid when their house caught fire? Supposed you bought cancer insurance after a cancer diagnosis or life insurance after a loved one died?

While my emotions are mixed, it's pretty clear to me where the law should come down on this. My emotions can be satisfied by neighbors helping Mr. Cranick out. And if I lived in the area, I'd pay the $75.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Mood ring

Ok, I'm probably showing my age here, but when I was (VERY) young in the mid 1970's, they had these things called mood rings. The idea was the stone (or plastic) would change color depending on your mood. This was one of those fads that took off real big and then died just as quickly. You can read about them on Wikipedia here. My biggest memory of them is that they didn't really work, either they didn't change or they changed randomly.

Today, I see that there is now a cell phone app that can determine your mood. (see here). According to the article, "'EmotionSense' uses speech-recognition software and phone sensors in standard to assess how people's emotions are influenced by factors such as their surroundings, the time of day, or their relationships with others."

While I was never impressed with the original mood rings, I think this has some real potential. If you could set the ringer on your phone to play different ringtones based on the caller's mood, you would really have a marketable product. Wife calls in a good mood? - Answer right away. Wife calls in a bad mood? - Gee, I'm real busy right now. But I'll get back right away.

Somehow, this brings a new meaning to a "mood ring".

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Vote early and vote often

Ok, maybe not more than once per election (unless you live in Chicago), but I truly believe that you should vote every chance you can. And unless you've had your TV turned off and plan to keep it turned off for the next 33 days, you're probably aware that we have an election coming up. On November 2 in fact.

October 2 is the last day to register in SC if you're going to vote in this election. Of course, if you voted last time and nothing has changed, you don't need to re-register. If you've missed voting a time or to, you can easily check to see if your registration is still valid.

But what are we voting on? Well, I needed to know that myself, so I did a quick search on "greenville sc voting locations." (I didn't intend to add the period, but it got stuck in and it worked anyway - that's how easy this is)

Once the search completed, I clicked on the entry for "". There they had an item labeled Candidates for November 2010. This brings up a PDF file (4 pages). Now I'm somewhat informed. I'll do some searching on the candidates, but now I know what we're voting on.

Here's a promise I make to all of my readers: if you don't know what you're voting on, I will find this information out for you. Give me a way to contact you and I'll look up your state and district to find comparable information. I won't tell you who to vote for (at least not in this exchange) and won't ask you who you plan to vote for. I'll simply give you the information.

Incidentally, we're voting for state offices (Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Comptroller, Supt. of Education, Adjutant General and Commissioner of Agriculture), US Senate, US Representative, State House, County offices, School District Representatives and four amendments to our state constitution. What are you voting on?

Remember - vote early and vote often!!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A lot can happen in nine years

My wife has already told everyone on Facebook that today is our anniversary. Nine years goes by fast. But a lot can happen in that span of time.

Yes, it was nine years ago today that we were married in an outdoor wedding at The Gray House, a small bed & breakfast in Starr, SC (outside Anderson - which is outside Greenville). The wedding itself was unusual, not many couples have their five children in the wedding. The bride's son gave her away, the groom's son was best-man. The bride's daughter was maid-of-honor and the groom's daughters were bridesmaids. It took two ministers to tie the knot and by some miracle, the candles didn't blow out until after we were pronounced man & wife.

Since then, four out of our five children have gotten married and started families of their own. Attending all of those weddings has worn us out. With one grandson and four granddaughters (all the girls born in a six month time period), we feel like our quiver is full, but of course there's always room for more. Our youngest is in college, he comes up when his laundry is able to stand on it's own.

We've shared a lot of joy and a lot of pain (we both had back surgery). We've both been back to school. Through it all, we've grown together. there's a saying that goes "that which does not kill me, makes me stronger." I'd add a part to the middle of that and say "that which does not kill me, or make me kill my spouse, makes us stronger."

So, with that, I'll say Happy Anniversary Nena. It's been a great nine years and I'm looking forward to the next nine. And then the next nine. And the next. And so forth. And so on.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Round up, my way or add $1 checking

A few months ago, I signed up for one of those checking accounts that moves money from checking to savings every time you use your debit card. Sounds simple enough, it's forced savings. What could go wrong?

Well, I've always been one to track my spending. In college, I balanced my checkbook (out of self-defense) so that I knew how much money I had. This was in the days before debit cards, so I only wrote checks or used the ATM, but I never overdrew my account. Even if it was only $1.67, I knew how much I had.

Now in theory, I could still track my account, just by adding $1 to every purchase or writing down two transactions every time I did one. That's a good theory, but I can't seem to make that work either. Sometimes, the bank doesn't take out $1 (I'm still not sure why) and sometimes they wait several days to take out the $1. So my balance never matches what the bank says.

And as for the forced savings, it's my own money that I'm saving. If I wanted to put money in savings, I could move it myself. It's not like the interest rate on savings is all that much about the rate on checking. So what's the big deal?

Anyone else using these types of accounts? Good, bad or indifferent?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Am I the only one in America who gets upset about profanity?

Today I read a post on another guy's blog about a politician's profanity. Actually, the first post I read wasn't about the profanity, but about other people's reaction to it. The post contained links to other blogs that expressed some remorse about the profanity, but expressed rage at the hypocrisy of those who felt rage at the profanity. (Is that confusing or what).

I did a quick search of my blogposts here using the word "profanity" as a guideline. I didn't find a single place where I raged against it, but I found several where I said it was bad.

I'm not prude, I've heard the words before and I know what they mean. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I've used the words before. But I try to live by the rule that you shouldn't say something you don't want your mom or your kids to hear. If it can pass those two tests, it's probably ok.

I have confronted others about their profanity. In one recent case, a blogger was commenting on protecting his daughter from certain vices of the world (which is good), but also uses profanity in other posts. I confronted him with the dual-nature. My comments were accepted without anger, but he excused his behavior (I hope he is changed somewhat by what I said).

I guess the bottom line is, am I the only one in America who gets upset about profanity?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Homemade Salsa

*** Update ***
Our volunteer tomato bush returned this year and is putting out larger tomatoes and in more quantity. We got almost seven pounds of tomatoes when we came back from vacation. We're now using fresh cilantro and more bell peppers and the taste is unbelievable. I've also cheated a few times and added some canned tomatoes. You can tell the difference.

If you want the recipe, click on the word "this" in the last sentence of the next paragraph.
*** Update ***

We've had a tomato bush that is putting out tomatoes at an amazing rate. I'm not one to eat raw tomatoes (although I do in a salad) and these are roma tomatoes - too small for a sandwich. So I came up with the idea of making homemade salsa. I found this recipe and with a few changes, I had some good homemade salsa.

The hardest part of this recipe was blanching and peeling the tomatoes. I realized that in all of my (quite limited) cooking, I've never blanched before. In fact, I wasn't even sure I knew how. My wife explained the process and I felt confident. (I poured boiling water over the tomatoes and let them sit for 15 minutes or so).

The website calls for 5 pounds of tomatoes, since I only had about a pound, I changed it to 10 servings (website automatically scales ingredients). I had four colors of bell peppers and wanted to use some of each, so I chopped a small amount of each (very colorful salsa!). I didn't want to try jalapeno peppers, so I left that out completely as I did the celery. Instead of garlic, I substituted garlic salt. I intended to use a purple onion, but at the last minute used onion flakes (I wish I had used the onion).

My wife was in charge of adding the miscellaneous spices and she's not one to measure, so we ended up with more sugar and a sweeter salsa than expected. I was VERY impressed with my first attempt at salsa and would paste a picture of it here, except that someone took the last bit of it out of the fridge (Nena dear?). I noticed that the flavor was much better after it spent the night in the fridge, which means next time, I'll prepare it a day ahead of time.

I am wondering if the flavor would be as good with other kinds of tomatoes. It takes a LOT of roma tomatoes to make a pound.

I should also point out that our tomato plant is a volunteer. We didn't plant this bush. It grew in the middle of our roses and is taking over the rose bushes. We're amazed that it's there...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Who needs states anyway?

I recently started reading a book I picked up from the bargain bin while on vacation. It's called "Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention" and it's pretty good. It's not what I would call a must-read or a spell binding book, but it helps fill some gaps in my understanding of the Constitution and helps you get inside the minds of the people who drafted it.

Part of what I was reading talked about the need for a strong central government and then I heard something on the radio that basically said - "who needs states anyway?" With the push towards national control of education, national control of health care, national control of banking and finance laws, etc, etc. Why have individual states?

Of course my friends and family who cheer for University of South Carolina who have to adjust to a new name if the states went away and Columbia College is already taken. But they could keep their beloved mascot and change the name to something like Gamecock U.

In all seriousness, I'd like your opinion. Who needs states? Why not let the federal government dictate everything. Why should my state laws be different than yours?

Friday, September 17, 2010

blogging for bucks

About a year ago, I created a blogpost with a contest (see here). It worked pretty well, I generated more comments than usual and picked up a few new regular readers. One of the readers won a prize, a $10 gift certificate at Amazon (congratulations again Glenn!).

Seems I'm not the only one (and I'll admit I stole the idea) who does give-aways on their blog. One of my favorite blogs is ChristianPF. It deals with day-to-day finance problems from a Christian viewpoint. Even if you don't follow this belief system, it has some pretty pragmatic ideas.

Today, the blogger announced an iTouch giveaway. So, I'm promoting his blog in a chance to win the iTouch. If you get a chance, go read

I don't recommend that you enter this contest, as I'm afraid it will decrease my chances of winning :)

Monday, September 13, 2010

How Obama thinks

I found an interesting article online by Forbes Magazine's Dinesh D'Souza titled "How Obama Thinks" (see here). Forbes magazine is typically not liberal-friendly and this article is no exception. However, it avoids the typical right wing stereotypes of calling the President a Socialist Muslim Communist.

The article starts by declaring President Obama "the most antibusiness president in a generation, perhaps in American history." It justifies this strong declaration by pointing out the debt increases and expansion of the government's control over "home mortgages, investment banking, health care, autos and energy." It details President Obama's support of Brazilian oil drilling and refusal to accept repayment of bailout money from some banks and then delves into foreign policy.

A quick check of some of the facts about NASA's new policy of improving relations with Muslim nations show that some of the facts may be open to interpretation. But even if these facts are incorrect in the story, it only shows that some of the President's selections for leadership don't get the message the way it's intended.

The article looks for answers on what drives the President and looks towards Obama's own writings - his book Dreams From my Father.  D'Souza looks to Obama Sr. for some of the answers. The buzzword from this section of the article is "anticolonialism".

The article is a very deep analysis and isn't likely to change anyone's opinion on the President. Right wingers will look at the article and say "I told you so" and left wingers will fact-check the article to death. It didn't change my mind, but gave me some insight into how President Obama might think.

One strong disagreement I had with the article was the way it treated the President's opinion of Obama Sr. I haven't read the book Dreams From my Father, but my impression is the President is very respectful of his father. D'Souza interprets that respect as agreement. I wouldn't interpret it that way. It is highly possible for the President to have a deep respect for his father, while at the same time disagreeing with some of his ideas. In fact, I would say that level of respect for his father is a good thing.

Your opinion is welcome...

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Ice caps melting slower

Seems that some scientists are now saying that the ice caps in Greenland and Western Antarctica are melting at 1/2 the speed originally estimated. It seems that some of the early estimates failed to correct for a phenomenon known as glacial isostatic adjustment. This means that the earth is rising up after being pushed down by the last ice age.

Of course, no scientist alive today actually observed the last ice age or how much the earth was pushed down by it, so we have to accept what these people tell us based on faith scientific evidence. And we know that other ideas based on faith are unacceptable.

My question is, with these ice caps melting at 1/2 the speed earlier estimated, will Al Gore give back 1/2 of his Nobel Prize? (Of course, given the current economic conditions, maybe a certain President should give back part of his too).

Link to story is here.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Burning the Koran - Updated

*Update& - On tonight's news, I heard the White House has weighed in on the subject and said the church shouldn't burn the Koran. So how is it, that they come down on the side of freedom or religion and speech regarding the WTC mosque, but against it on this matter? Yes, this will be used (if they go through with it) as anti-American material by Muslims, but won't the WTC mosque be used as well? Why doesn't the White House realize that there are some matters that do NOT require their involvement?

You may have seen this story, where a pastor at a church in Florida plans to burn the Koran in a bonfire on 9/11 (the 9th anniversary) of the attack on the US by some Muslim extremists. The leaders of the movement say that they are doing this "to warn about the teaching and ideology of Islam."

My first hope is that the President stays out of this issue. Unfortunately, the current president has a tendency to take issues like this and escalate them to a national level (consider the WTC Mosque, the arrest of Prof. Gates and the firing of Shirley Sherrod). He seems to have the idea that he can fix any problem, if we will only listen to him.

My second thought on this is that the leaders of this church have every right to burn the books. As Americans, they have the right of free speech, especially religious speech. Part of our founding as a nation begins with the concept that we are free to express our own ideas and that we as a nation are better for it.

However, I see this as being much like the WTC mosque. While these Floridians have the right to bun the Koran, I think it's a bad idea. I seriously doubt that anyone will change their mind about following the Koran (one of the goals) because of the book burning. It gives Christianity a bad image, an image of being hateful. As I said in my previous post, just because someone has the right to do something, that doesn't make it right to do it.

One additional comment is that General Petraeus is concerned about the impact of this protest on soldiers in Afghanistan. I have mixed emotions about his concerns. My initial thought is that anything that puts a soldier's life in more danger should be stopped, and stopped quickly. However, what if there are other threats? What if some group decides to oppose apple pie distribution in states in the south and threaten soldiers because of it? Would we stop distributing apple pies? I hope not!!

Americans should not be held hostage to an idea, or from an idea, just because soldiers are threatened. They are fighting FOR the idea of free speech and to limit speech for their protection is contradictory. I also believe American soldiers are quite capable of fighting ANY enemy and to change our beliefs out of fear is ridiculous.

So what do you think? Burn the Koran? Ban the burn?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I was broke, now I'm not

Well, I haven't actually been broke in a long time. But that's the name of a book and study series that has been occupying my time lately.

Joe Sangl wrote the book. He has a blog and he's focused on helping people who are like he was (broke) and want to be like he is (not broke). Joe is crazy. He remembers when he had $1.43 in his checking account and was glad it was a POSITIVE number. He also realized that he was stupid for living that way. I mean, he was an engineer, on the fast track to make the C-suite of a major company, making good money. How could he be broke? Simple, by spending more than he made.

Only our federal government can keep spending more than they make (and I wonder about them sometimes). Each of us has to come to what Joe calls an "I Have Had Enough" moment, a moment where we decide we won't take it anymore.

The book and workbook series is going well. I'm co-leading a group of about 20 adults. We watch a video and then discuss what we read and saw and how we will react. The workbook guides you through Sangl's process.

More exciting is the Financial Counseling Coaching that we're doing. We meet one-on-one with an individual or couple (actually two-on-one as we've been doing it as a team for now) and help them with their specific needs. We help them setup a budget and identify problems. Hopefully, in the future, we'll be able to follow-up on the budget (we've only been doing it about 4 weeks).

I'm excited about the idea of helping people with their finances. I'm looking forward to someone telling me "I was broke, now I'm not."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

End of the Iraq war

You've probably heard, the last combat troops are officially leaving Iraq. There will still be troops there in an advisory role (read that - dangerous position), and the combat troops will be close - just in case - but the war is officially over.

I thought about this last night and then was reminded when I saw a post on another blog. We owe the people that have served there a debt of gratitude. In a time when the nation was more divided than ever, they served without question. The ones that I have spoken to never asked if we should be there, or why we were there, they just served.

A special thank you to Adam who was there for 8 months, to David - who sat out this war - but was there for the first Iraqi war, to his son David - who is on a ship somewhere in the ocean, to Jim who served as an aide to an Iraqi general, to the teacher's husband, who was an engineer who took time from his life here to go, and to Jimmy, a marine who helped clean up IEDs.

Next week, I will fly to Dallas for a conference. I plan to personally approach anyone in uniform and thank them for there service. It's the least I can do. If you know someone that has served, please thank them. You're welcome to comment and add their name here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Game Change - Overview

Ok, I've shared my notes from the book, it's time to wrap it all up. First, thanks to all of those who stuck it through. I've shared emails with a few people about the book and have been promised a deep discussion with the person who loaned me the book. I'm looking forward to it.

I'm not sure the book changed my mind on anything. I think it clarified a lot of things and has influenced my thinking a great deal. But no major changes. I'll also have to say that the book wasn't a great work of art. It was informational and interesting, but I had to slug my way through it. I will say, it was worth it.

About the candidates - McCain really seemed like his heart wasn't in it. He would have accepted if someone appointed him president, and he would have made a good commander-in-chief. But he bent with the wind too much on other subjects. Without the right people around him, he wouldn't have helped us through the financial crisis. And I'm not sure he knew who the right people were.

Palin has always impressed me as a bright lady, who wasn't ready for the job of VP. But then I'm not sure any person is ready for that job (or the job of president). Her selection seemed so haphazard that she never had time to prepare. Like a student cramming for an exam, she failed to grasp everything. It wasn't her fault, but she certainly could have said no. Everyone is pushing her to 2012 and she'll certainly be more ready. I have serious concerns however, about her lack of persistence with her job as governor. To me, it seems she left that job to make money. That's ok, but it has consequences.

Edwards - I can't see how anyone can trust him. He repeatedly lied and his main goal was to get into the White House (as President or VP). He could care less how he did it. I will restate something I've said many times, anyone who donated money to his campaign should ask for a refund (Warren Buffett said it first).

H. Clinton - she really seemed like she thought deserved the nomination. However, once the decision was made, she tucked it in and worked for her party. I have respect for her attitude and her methods.

B. Clinton - the book did nothing to make me trust him anymore. I've always felt he would lie, cheat and steal at any chance. In fairness, the book didn't make me trust him any less.

M. Obama - The book didn't say a lot about her. She seems a stand-up-for-your-man kind of lady. The only thing I think I learned about her was that she still doesn't see how her "proud of my country" comment hurt a lot of people.

B. Obama - Overall, my opinion didn't change much. There were a couple of mentions of him playing the race card and I've always felt he was beyond that - that he wants to move beyond the distractions. I'll tuck away this new information and use it in my future thoughts about him.

I've always felt that President Obama was a very bright man, who found some strong people to put in place around him. He's a fast learner and knows where he wants to go. He either knows, or finds out how to get there.

The election in general. I'm more convinced that no Republican could have won the race and that no Democrat could have lost. It seemed like the perfect storm. First, McCain was the strongest Rep and he was very weak. Second, Obama was very strong and the country was ready for change. Change away from Bush. It seemed like he had been in office for 20 years, with a short recess for Clinton. Call it malaise, call it anything you like, the country was ready for something different, anything. His primary battle with Clinton seemed to bolster his style, and his chances.

More than that, I'll go to a Hillary Clinton quote - "God wants him to win." Many on both sides will have problems with that statement, but I'll stand by it. The question is, why did He want it? Sometimes, God gives us what we need, sometimes gives us what we want in order to show us what we really need. I'm firmly convinced that President Clinton was put in office to give Americans an idea what would happen when we traded our morals for good economic times. I'm convinced that Bush was put into office to have a strong person there for 9/11. Why is Obama in office? Only time will tell.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

President Obama's views on the 9/11 mosque * Updated *

It seems President Obama has finally come out with his views on the mosque that is being built at the center of the 9/11 attacks. According to this article, the president said "Muslims have the right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country." I would certainly agree with this comment.

* Update * The President has "clarified" his statements and says he won't comment on the wisdom of building the mosque. He was only commenting on religious rights. However, the President has a habit of escalating matters such as this to the national level, when they should never be addressed to begin with. Since he's raised the issue, he should either back off his comments completely or comment on the wisdom of the decision. He's done so in the past and I suspect he will in the future. My personal comments to the President remain the same. * Update *

However, I would also say that just because someone has the right to do something, that doesn't make it right to do it. I think building the mosque at the base of what had been the twin towers is a slap in the face to everyone who lost a family member there, and to many of us who watched those towers fall. As an American, I have the right to feel that way. I also have the right to go to New York and picket the place (if it is ever built) and the right to tell others my opinion here on my blog.

But I am more concerned about a shift I see in our president. During the election, there was a lot of discussion about his faith. I covered it several times in my blog, most notably here, here and here. Candidate-Obama declared his faith in Christ and I supported that declaration. However, he has recently admitted he doesn't go to church and he is continuously making gestures to Muslim leaders. I can't recall the details, but I know he also recently skipped the traditional prayer breakfast.

Mr. President, I doubt seriously you read my blog, but I need to say this anyway, remember that God tells us to "not (forsake) the assembling of ourselves together." (Hebrews 10:25) In other words, go to church. Not a Muslim church, a Christian church. One that preaches the word of God. "Hold fast the profession of (y)our faith without wavering." (Hebrews 10:23).

Mr. President, I am concerned about your faith. I mentioned many of those concerns in the previous blog posts. I've seen no change. Like many other Americans, I'm concerned about this country. But I'm also concerned for you. Use this opportunity to renew your faith. Speak to the Muslim community, but don't ignore your own.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Game Change - Chapters 21-Epilogue

FINAL set of my notes from the book "Game Change." It's the story of the 2008 election, this post covers the last part of the book - after the primaries. After this post, I will make one or two final posts to wrap up my ideas

As mentioned before, I'll publish some of my notes and comments. Some may not be in full sentence/paragraph form. Where appropriate, I'll put quotes from the book. I would really appreciate your comments as I'm still trying to make up my mind if I like the book.

Chapter 21 - Obama's reaction to the September financial meltdown. He was calling the Fed Chief and Treasury Secretary. McCain's reaction changed with the wind. It appears to me that Obama was already in transition.

A view of TARP pages 381 & 382 - very necessary. How much TARP was needed - not clear.

Pg 385. McCain cancels Letterman. It was Letterman's reaction and the actions of some of his guests that has convinced me that Letterman is not an entertainer, he's a politician. As such, I'll watch him when I agree with him, turn him off when I don't.

Obama's "above my paygrade" comment about a fetus' human rights was ridiculed (p390) This is the one time (well not the only time) I agreed with him. However, he received a pay increase a few months later and changed his tune (or never meant it in the first place).

Hillary's comment (pg 393) "God wants (Obama) to win." - A very telling point.

Chapter 22 - Pg 396 Palin was concerned about her image in Alaska., even though it was solidly Republican.

Katie Couric interview with Palin - she didn't see it to go that badly, but when it came out she blamed oters, said she shouldn't have done the interview. Palin said "if I'd known everything I know now, I would not have done this." (pg 401)

Lieberman (Jewish) prays with Palin (Christian) "providing (her) with Talmudic wisdom" (pg 403) Interesting combination.

Debate prep and the election campaign was hard n Palin. She was away from her family. All this impacted her. When her campaign staff focused on what she did well, she excelled. When they took her down the usual campaign roads, she did miserably.

Palin goes on attack (pg 408). "She was emerging as a big-time control freak." (Pg 409).

Page 413 - Biden said "mark my words, it will be not six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy." I was always amazed that this fot flack from the left and the right.The book implies that it hurt Obama because it reminded people of his inexperience. I thought it showed Biden's confidence.

Pg 415 - "The truth is, the McCain people did fail Palin."

Chapter 23 - (Page 421) The McCain battler gets ugly. Very ugly. McCain tried to rein it in.

Colin Powell saw "McCain's selection of Palin... as polarizing." How? If she was as ineffective as the book says, how could she be effective at polarizing?

"How fully Obama understood the alchemy or tides of history, the tides of history, the collision of man and moment.. was impossible to know." (Pg 426 - IMPORTANT POINT!)

Epilogue - Hillary as Secretary of State. "Hillary felt the pull of patriotism and the call of duty. She believed that when the president asked a person to serve, there was an imperative to say yes." The first time I encountered this feeling was in the documentary "Fog of War" - a story about Robert McNamara (see here for my post on that story).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Game Change - Chapters 18-20

More of my notes from the book "Game Change." It's the story of the 2008 election, this post covers part of part 3 of the book - after the primaries.

As mentioned before, I'll publish some of my notes and comments. Some may not be in full sentence/paragraph form. Where appropriate, I'll put quotes from the book. I would really appreciate your comments as I'm still trying to make up my mind if I like the book.

Chapter 18 - "McCain and Obama had much in common. Both ... argued that Washington was broken... and ascribed its (problems) to hyperpartisanship..." (pg 323 - seems even more broken and more partisanship now than it did in 2008)

"There was one minor hitch... McCain and Obama didn't like each other." I would go further and state that they don't understand each other Michele's "proud of my country" comment was a slap in the face of many veterans and patriots. But she never understood (and still doesn't understand) why.

Obama u-turns on campaign finance. No one should be surprised. He said "you can always change your mind" (see chapter 2 comments).

"The lengthy Democratic nomination fight meant that the Obama forces had operations in nearly every state." In contrast "in mid-June (McCain's campaign) was still a mess." (Pg 328 - a big bonus for Candidate Obama. Their response to the situation - McCain built a wall between him and the press, Obama tore down the wall. As a result, the press saw them differently).

Did Obama play the race card? Pg 332 says he did. Did McCain? pg 331 says he "warned his team to steer clear of anything that might open him up to that charge." Pg. 333 Obama sees McCain as playing the race card. Can black & white compete without one thinking the other has brought race into the challenge? This chapter is almost convincing me that Obama is not past the racial issues.

Chapter 19 " Process mattered to Obama." (Pg 338 - How did this play in his decision to go for the surge in Afghanistan? How about his handling of the Shirley Sherrod issue?)

Pg 339 Michelle Obama remembers Hillary's comments about RFK. To me, she seems very sensitive.

More of Edwards' lies. To his wife and to everyone. I agree with Warren Buffett. People who contributed to his campaign should ask for a refund.

The DNC - everything fell into place. H. Clinton, B. Clinton, the delegates. Then Obama delivered the speech he need to deliver. Nothing could go wrong.

Chater 20 - McCain, Lieberman and Graham "the trio was dubbed the Three Amigos." (pg354 - sounds more like old college buddies, always looking back and what used to be.)

"McCain's VP selection - pro-choice pick would cost him votes among Republicans and gain him few, if any independents." (pg 358)

I get  general feeling of rushto vet Palin (pg 360) "They weren't searching for problems, they were looking for a last second solution." (pg 362) McCain's attitude? "High risk, high reward." (pg 363)

"The attacks on Palin were as frantic as the vetting process." (pg 367)
The clothes (pg 369)
Her tutoring process (pg 370). She seems a fast learner, with a lot to learn. Will we see more of her on 2012?

Pg 373 McCain picked up a lot of white female vote with Palin. Bill Clinton said "Good old boys, they can relate to her."

Friday, August 06, 2010

Game Change - Chapters 15-17

More of my notes from the book "Game Change." It's the story of the 2008 election, this post covers part 2 of the book - the Republican frontrunners. See previous posts for the Democratic story

As mentioned before, I'll publish some of my notes and comments. Some may not be in full sentence/paragraph form. Where appropriate, I'll put quotes from the book. I would really appreciate your comments as I'm still trying to make up my mind if I like the book.

I thought it was interesting that the authors took 14 chapters to discuss the Democratic primaries and only 3 to discuss the Republican primaries. Could it be bias on the authors' part? Or just that the Democratic primary was more interesting? In this case, I think it's the latter.

Chapter 15 - McCain "really just didn't give a ####. The details made his head hurt." (pg 274) "The McCain's were a military family and if John wanted to serve, Cindy wasn't going to stand in his way. Four uses defined her ethic: 'I support my husband.'" (pg 276)

John's relationship with his wife surprised, sometimes it was very bad: "McCain let out the stream of sharp epithets, both middle fingers raised and extended, barking in his wife's face." Why all the profanity? I noted this before (see here) with the Democrats. I know if I spoke to my wife the way McCain did, she would NOT appreciate it. Sometimes, he was very protective and loving with his wife.

Rumors of Cindy's McCain's affair. Sh denied it and no proof was offered. Rumors of an illegitimate child that McCain later adopted. Is this what we subject our politicians to? Unfounded rumors?

McCain was for the Iraq surge in 2006, when the surge wasn't cool. I guess I forgot how big a part the Iraq war played in the election. Also, there was a lot of discussion of McCain's war hero status. Did it really carry that much weight? The authors thought so and at least one liberal blogger I follow agreed.

McCain's speeches were frequently disjointed due to last minute changes and they were poorly attended (during primaries). Not only was McCain not excited, the crowds and his campaign workers weren't either.

The authors mentioned the Immigration Bill of 2007. With this subject being hot (again or still?) I should do some research on it.

Chapter 16 - Rudy Giuliani was pro-choice, pro-gay rights, 3x married, had a public affair with wife#3 while still married to wife#2 (see here for my comments on that subject). He was about as liberal as he could be. Why was he running as a Republican?

Charlie Crist (Florida) was view as being in Rudy's pocket and John's pocket depending on the day of the week. Mitt Romney flip-flopped on abortion, gun control and gays.

"That two candidates as flawed as Giuliani and Romney were the best poised to step in and capitalize on McCain's implosion was start testament to the weakness of the rest of the Republican field" (pg 295) - Could any Republican win? Could any Democrat lose?

"McCain would listen to everyone, take their advice, then bounce that advice off the next person in the loop." (Pg 296) My recollection was that happened once during the debates on taxes. His lack of devotion to any cause cost him a lot of support. Iraq may have been the sole exception - he was devoted to winning in Iraq.

Chapter 17 - Vicki Iseman affair alleged with McCain. See earlier comments about unfounded allegations against politicians.

Even after winning the nomination, crowds were weak at McCain events.

"McCain had failed to drive a message." (pg 318) - This sentence speaks a lot.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Is there a statute of limitations on racism?

Seems one Shirley Sherrod, former USDA official made some "mistakes" in a speech. In her speech, she outlined where she didn't work as hard for one person as she could have and her motivation was racism. What's different about this story is that Sherrod is black and the person she didn't work hard for was white.

In a hurry to prove there's no "reverse" racism here, the White House has apparently asked for, and received her resignation. Full story here.

Tea baggers will have a field day with this, saying it proves there is rampant racism in the White House. The NAACP has already spoken out against Sherrod's actions, saying essentially that racism is racism, regardless which color is targeting the other color.

I have two comments. First, Ms. Sherrod said she learned from the issue. She learned "that it wasn't just a black and white issue. It was about those who have and those who do not." (Source)

Umm. Seems Ms. Sherrod has traded racism for class-ism.  How would she treat someone who "has" who was needing her help? Would she work hard for them, or do just enough to make it look like she was working?

Second is that this issue happened 24 years ago. She re-tells the story and tells how she learned from it. I'm very glad for her and hope many people can live from her story. My question is, when does the statute of limitations on racism run out?

To answer that question, Ms. Sherrod might ask Trent Lott. You see, then Senator Lott reminded us that Strom Thurmond ran for president once and commented he would have been good for the country. A lot of people were upset because Thurmond ran on a segregationist platform.

But like Ms. Sherrod, Thurmond learned to move beyond racism over the years, supporting the Voting Rights Act and making the birthday of Martin Luther King a holiday. (see my post here). So should Trent Lott have been punished for something that happened 50+ years earlier? Or did he perhaps realize that Thurmond had learned a lesson and maybe have been a good president after all?

Maybe it's time to listen to our president and realize that talking about racism is simply a distraction.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Game Change - Chapters 12-14

More of my notes from the book "Game Change." It's the story of the 2008 election, so far, I'm only into the chapters on the 3 Democratic front runners (Obama, Clinton and Edwards). This completes Part 1 of the book.

As mentioned before, I'll publish some of my notes and comments. Some may not be in full sentence/paragraph form. Where appropriate, I'll put quotes from the book. I would really appreciate your comments as I'm still trying to make up my mind if I like the book.

Chapter 12 - "The Gores (Al & Tipper) still looked askance at the Clinton marriage..." Comment what do they think of it now that their marriage has ended? There but for the grace of God, go I.

When women's groups didn't come to Hillary and Chelsea's defense, when MSNB's David Shuster said Chelsea was being "pimped out", Hillary said "where (are) the women's groups? ... If they get away with this... they deserve what they get." Comment - What about the women's groups vs. Bill's philandering and treating women as disposable? Seems they were quiet then. Hillary comes across in several chapters as bitter and vindictive.

"Bill (Clinton) received a call from George W. Bush. The current and former presidents spoke more often than almost anyone knew; from time to time, when 43 was bored he would call 42 to chew the fat." Comment - reminds me of stories about Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan. If 43 & 42 got along as well as this implies - why can't their followers?

Chapter 13 - Obama vs. Wright. This chapter interested me the most as I'd followed this encounter closely. I think it helps define Obama's character, his view on racial issues and his religion.

Obama's  "initial attraction to (Wright) ... sprang from it's commitment to the social gospel." (pg236) Comment - is that what Christianity is about? A better way to serve people? What happened to the idea of a better way to serve Him?

"Obama liked the mixture of working class and buppie congreants in the church" (pg 236) yet "in 1998 and 2001 the Obamans had rarely attended services" (pg 235). Comment - Obama put a lot of faith in something he knew little about. As a Christian, I should study Christ, and make sure whoever I follow, follows Him.

Regarding Obama's speech on Racism, he said "This is tough. ... But I'm running for president, and this is what you do when you run for president. I want this to be a teaching moment." Comment - I think this defines why Obama wanted to be president and why he thought he should. He has something to teach us. In 20 years, if he looks back at today, what will he think of this attitude?

I remember when I was 22, I threatened to sue a lawyer. I look back and realize how immature I was. That's the way I see the current president, as an immature young man, who thinks he has something to teach us.

I took no notes on Chapter 14. It was more of the politics of the end of the primary process and continued to show Clinton as bitter and Obama as wanting it to be over. Now on to Part 2, about the Republicans.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Game Change - Chapters 9-11

More of my notes from the book "Game Change." It's the story of the 2008 election, so far, I'm only into the chapters on the 3 Democratic front runners (Obama, Clinton and Edwards). My blogging is about to catch up with my reading, I need to read more!!

As mentioned before, I'll publish some of my notes and comments. Some may not be in full sentence/paragraph form. Where appropriate, I'll put quotes from the book. I would really appreciate your comments as I'm still trying to make up my mind if I like the book.

Chapter 9 - Oprah "anointed" Obama (p159) Didn't she claim to be neutral and offer equal time to all candidates? Did she "anoint" McCain? I don't fault her for choosing a candidate. Everyone is entitled. But she shouldn't choose a candidate, then claim to be neutral.

Edwards kept fighting even after the Enquirer published the second article about his affair. I agree with what Warren Buffet said - people who gave him money should demand a refund.

Chapter 10 - This book explains several times what H. Clinton is wearing. But rarely (or never) what the men are wearing. Is there a double standard? It also uses words used by the conservatives - e.g. "anointed" and "coronation" - but frowned on by liberals. Could it be the conservatives were right? (sorry if I sound cynical)

Chapter 11 - Hillary's message - "The politics of common purpose" (pg194) Thought - Hillary was al about reaching across the aisle, Obama was about change. But he expected to unify?

"Nothing agitated the Clintons more than the prospect of being outspent in a campaign; the fear of it drove them to such extremes as the renting out of the Lincoln Bedroom" (pg 194 - I knew there were allegations of this, but was it true? Is this legal?)

"Invocations of Obama's youthful cocaine use - to suggest that the Clintons were playing the race card." (pg 198 - Obama's aides claimed it was racist without his knowledge. He tried to defuse it. This matches my understanding of Obama's points on racism. See my previous comments, here, here, here and here.)

"The candidate (Obama) had presented an image - caustic, sarcastic and thin-skinned (pg 206 - his aides were afraid of what might happen if things got nasty)

Bill Clinton ate at Lizard's Thicket in Columbia. I've eaten there several times, good Southern food.

Page 209 brings back memories of Willie Horton and calls it racist. I remember the issue well and I remember the ads. I never saw them as racist - I saw them as anti-Dukakis.