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 http://www.thesimpledollar.com/onepage.

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.