Friday, December 28, 2007

Laid Up, Laid Out

Well, Arthur the ugly ankle-cyst is officially gone. It took less than an hour to remove the little bugger, and I slept through the whole thing. And now I can officially say I've gone under the knife once in my life.

However, it turns out that the procedure was a bit trickier than I had thought it would be. I anticipated bed rest and elevation for maybe a day or so, and maybe walking with a limp for a week. Dr. Lowery had told me I'd be back running again in 2-3 weeks, tops. Well, that was overly generous. I have a huge boot-like splint on my left leg from the knee down, plus a full-length compression sock on my right leg to help prevent clots. Why might I clot, you ask? Because I'm supposed to stay off of my feet for TEN DAYS. We're talking crutches, wide-legged pajama pants, and sponge baths for the entire rest of Christmas break. UGH. And now he says I can run again in "about a month."

Needless to say, I'm bummed. We're cancelling our New Year's Eve party, waving off the company we had coming to town, and putting off the job of putting the enclosure on the kids' new trampoline (a Christmas present). I may even take off the first day back to school, as that's when the doc wants to take the boot off.

The main thing is, I've gotta run at least once in January. I only have one month of zero miles in the logs out of the past 120. I have a brand-new clean running log and a gift certificate for a new pair of Asics. I was just starting to get excited about hitting the roads again. Oh, yeah, and track practice starts (supposedly) on the 22nd. I guess I won't be demonstrating many drills the first week.

This was supposed to be a small cosmetic problem with an equally-small solution. What a royal pain! Speaking of pain, I guess I'd better go elevate my boot.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Training Log 2007

This post is for Adam, Matthew and Mike. Nobody else will likely care. Tomorrow I will go for a 20-minute run (2.5 miles) and officially close out my training log for 2007. This will officially put in the books arguably the worst running year I have had as an adult. Counting tomorrow, I will have run only 95 times, for a total of 301 miles. For the first time in recent memory, I have not worn out a single pair of shoes in a calendar year. The 95 runs and the 301 are the second-lowest total I've had in 10 years, and the 3.2 mile-per-run average is my lowest ever recorded. The only other year that compares to this one was 2001, a year in which I was injured for a long time (no such excuse this go around). To give you some idea about how long ago that was, I earned the injury fooling around in the school weight room with a junior named Walker Bruce. Walker is now on the faculty at my school and is my assistant coach for horizontal jumps. Moreover, my longest run this year was 6 miles. This is the first year in memory where I have not run for an hour consecutively at any time during the year. Needless to say, there were no races this year. So no highlights, but at least no low-lights, either.

Still, the story's not all bad. This is my 10th complete training log since I began formal record-keeping in 1998. (I ran off and on throughout the 90's, including a marathon in '96, but never logged a single run; in college I basically only ran while playing sports, but once a year I would go out and break 6:00 for the mile just to make sure I still could--I didn't run, but I wanted to make sure I was still a runner.) In those 10 years there has been only one calendar month that I've logged a zero. That was July of 2005, when I drove cross-country 7000 miles, but didn't run one. In that time, I've logged a total of 5200 miles, so that's 520 a year, or 10 miles per week for 10 years. That counts many weeks of 20-30 mpw and many weeks of zero, but comes out to hitting the road 2-3 times a week for about 4 miles each. I guess I've laced 'em up and headed out the door around 1300 times in that span. That includes many runs with the heat index above 100, substantially fewer bundled up in cold-weather gear, many in drizzle, a couple in monsoon, and at least one each in a snow flurry and in a hurricane. I've run alone and with a team, in singles (one run a day) and doubles, for training, for racing, and just for fun, and sometimes just because I'm a runner.

And that, I think, is the important thing. This year I was a bad runner. Next year I hope to be a better one. My days of getting faster and faster are pretty much done, but runners do not go gently into that good night. In a month I'll kick off the beginning of my 40th year on this planet (and at the end of that time I'll be a masters runner--that sounds so much nicer than fogey). But ever since my dad timed me in a 7:26 mile on a clay track with my grandfather's analog stopwatch in 1983, I've been a runner. That day, I discovered part of who I am. 25 years this year, 10 of them committed to the record books. I can't wait to begin a new chapter.

A Christmas Nerd Story

When I was in grad school, studying medieval European history, I had to master medieval Latin as a degree requirement. For most history graduate language requirements, the deal was that you had to pass a class called "Readings in _____ (Latin, Spanish, French, whatever)." But for my advisor, Dr. Patterson, passing the Readings in Latin class merely bought you a ticket to his personal exam. It was a nasty timed translation test based on sources from the middle ages and late antiquity. You could use a dictionary, but if you needed it, you probably wouldn't have the time to finish. Many, many history nerds had sat for Dr. P's exam multiple times.

Well, I passed the Readings class, and went into the "real" exam. It became pretty obvious by about halfway through that this was my warm-up attempt. There was a lot of translation to do, and the clock was not my friend. With about 3 minutes to go, I had one big, ugly paragraph to go. No chance. But I figured I'd at least start it. Shepherds...watching... at night. HA! It was Luke chapter 2 from the Vulgate Bible! Translation, nothing--this one I can do from memory. Dr. P, would you rather have that in King James or NIV? Just muddy it up around the edges a bit to give it the appearance of having actually been translated. It was a Christmas miracle! Thank you, Linus!

The Christmas Haul

So the annual shredding of wrapping paper is over, and it's time to assess the haul. Of course, with as many relatives as we have here in town, this list only represents the tip of the iceberg. Here's what we wound up with, in the major gift category:

Buddy- A bone (surprise)
Mary Elizabeth- An American Girl Doll
Jacob- A new guitar, numerous legos
David- Guitar Hero video game, a Ripstick skateboard
Ann- A new kitchen
Larry- A happy wife who really likes the kitchen.

In the minor gift category, I also got several shirts and ties, a sweater, and some socks.

All that remains is shoveling down mountains of good holiday food.

Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy New DayTimer!

As the song goes, it's the most wonderful time of the year! I love the New Year, and not least because I get the thrill of setting up a new DayTimer. My sister is far more nuts about organizers than I am... she rarely makes it through a month without cycling to a different planner format. But here at the beginning of 2008, I'm going to make the big switch as well. I'm going back to the full-size (classic) Franklin Covey 2-page-per-day looseleaf, probably in the blue "Monticello" package. This will lend itself to work with some of my resolutions for the upcoming year, which include a more formal prayer list, some personal journaling, and better use of the hour between 5 and 6 AM for actual planning (as opposed to surfing the net and catching morning SportsCenter).

As a bit of background, the year was 1987 and I was a pledge of Delta Upsilon fraternity at USC when the chapter brought in one of our "founding fathers" to talk about being organized in school to the pledge class. His name was Don Weaver, of the class of '83 (the chapter was very young). He gave a short talk about setting goals and working from a list as a tool to getting more done (and more importantly, as a tool to getting the MOST IMPORTANT STUFF done). At the end of the talk, he gave out coupons that we could fill out and mail in that got a free 4-month sample pack of the original DayTimer pocket-sized wire-bound planner, with a cheapo plastic wallet. I wish they still did that--I guess it wasn't cost-effective for them, but it made me a planner user for life. In the 20 years since I have never been without a planner. I've had DayTimers, and Franklin Quest Planners, and Covey 7 Habits Planners. Now Franklin and Covery have merged, and I've got that. I've had classic, compact, and pocket-sized, and I've had wire-bound and loose-leaf. For a short while I even used a second-hand Palm Pilot (but in the end I went back to good old fashioned pen-and-paper). You could fill a small library with the books I have read (and in some cases bought) about the art of "time management." Some of those times I have been better at it and sometimes worse, but at least in theory, I have been for 20 years a person who takes control of his time and his schedule.

Which brings me back to '08. In 2007, I've gotten off the rails. My inner control freak has been out of sorts. But nothing gets one back on track like the smell of fresh, clean DayTimer pages. Office Depot, here I come!

It's A Wonderful Life

I mentioned elsewhere that Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life is, in my opinion, the greatest Christmas movie of all time. (Sadly, I have yet to see it this year!) I also maintain that Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey is the greatest hero in the history of film. I cry every time I watch it. Well, this article details why it's also the best capitalist movie of all time (hat tip to Instapundit). And don't forget the SNL version of the lost ending!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Adios, Arthur!

I mentioned in my last post that my running is a bit off. One reason I'm having a hard time getting back into the groove is that I know it's not going to make much difference at this point, anyway. I'm scheduled for a little minor surgery over the holidays, which will keep me off the roads for a minimum of 2-3 weeks. So getting somewhat back in shape now, while perhaps good for my mood, feels somewhat counterproductive.

The surgery is to remove a gross-looking benign cyst on the back of my left ankle. It used to be the size of a pea, but now it's a good-sized marble. For years, I didn't care that I had it, because it doesn't hurt, and I figured it's vain to pay to have something cut off that's covered by a sock 90% of the time. It's not like it was in the middle of my forehead or something. But as it's gotten bigger and more noticeable, it's become more irritating.

My athletes call it "Arthur." For any Beatles fans out there, you may get the inside joke. Once a reporter asked Ringo Starr, "What do you call that haircut?" Ringo fired back, "I call it Arthur." A kid happened to notice my big discolored ankle-lump a while back and said (as freshmen are wont to do), "Ewwwww. What is THAT thing?" Without thinking, I said, "I call it Arthur." And Arthur it has been ever since. But hopefully by the new year, I'll call it gone. And get back on the roads, just a little bit lighter.

A Disciple Without Discipline

After several posts relating to public matters, a little window into my private world. I'm in a funk, and the Christmas holidays can't get here soon enough. Those who know me will attest to the fact that I am a creature of habit. I like to joke that one reason I'm conservative is that there have been many changes in my lifetime, and I have been against all of them. Likewise, I've admitted in this space before to being a bit of a neat freak. I value order, in my environment (the clean desk), in my time (ah, the DayTimer), in my possessions (even my sock drawer is organized). So the past several weeks of having our house turned upside down by renovations has really gotten me out of sorts. The lack of space has made it more difficult to do things like sit down and balance the checkbook (harder with 3 kids, a dog, and a makeshift mini-kitchen in the same 100 square feet). I find myself hiding in the back of the house and watching too much TV. My reading has suffered, and especially my Bible reading. Truth be told, my discipline of daily Bible reading has been rocky since November. Every day, I try to read a passage from the Old Testament, a passage from the New Testament, a verse or two from Proverbs, and a Psalm. (I didn't make the plan up; I use the One-Year Bible, and it's set up that way.) Ever since the end of cross-country season, my control of my time has been a bit off. And I must admit, I just got killed by Isaiah this year. I've kept up with the NT and Psalm (or rather, I've caught up when I got behind, as the passages are shorter). But my OT reading fell off the wagon. After 6 full trips through scripture, I'll have to claim "almost 7" now, with the disclaimer that I just skipped the prophets. After all, lying about reading the Bible is like a double sin.

In addition to that, I've been neglecting my running. I haven't so much as jogged a step in 3 weeks, and I'm on pace to record the lowest annual mileage I have logged in the past 10 years, barring one year of long-term injury. This is made even worse by the fact that Mrs. Sal has been working out about 4 times a week, and gets 30-45 minutes a day on an ellipitical machine. So I feel wimpy and guilty all at the same time. But every day, I find some new excuse NOT to go for a run and break the lazy streak. After almost 25 years as a runner, the hardest part is always still the step out the door. And it's even harder when you know you're out of shape and the run is going to feel bad. And it's been cold. Ugh.

Luckily, the end is in sight. The kitchen is nearly done, and in a couple of days we get off for the Christmas break. And then comes New Year's day--after Thanksgiving, one of the best holidays. With the New Year comes a new start in the One-Year Bible, a brand new clean running log, and the opportunity to make resolutions and set goals to do better. Thank heaven I didn't get in this funk in July!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Secondhand Christmas List

My sister posted this list of Christmas-related questions on her blog. For fun, I thought I'd answer them, too. There is, of course, some overlap. Like our shared Salley Grin, some parts of the gene pool are pretty deep.

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? I prefer to get the paper, but generally give the bags.

2. Real tree or artificial? Real. Hands-down. Usually a frasier fir, but years ago we used to go to a tree farm and cut down our own pine.

3. When do you put up the tree? The Saturday after Thanksgiving.

4. When do you take the tree down? Usually the week after Christmas.

5. Do you like eggnog? Like my sister, NO!

6. Favorite gift received as a child? Lots of good stuff (I was spoiled), but none stands out. I did have pretty much all of the original "Star Wars" toys.

7. Have a nativity scene? Yes

8. Hardest person to buy for? Ann does the shopping. I hate buying for grown-ups in my family--it's hard to find something they want and don't have that I can afford. Same with buying for me. If there's something I really want, and it's not over $100 bucks, I probably already have it.

9. Easiest person to buy for? My step-Grandfather. I think we have given him a blue shirt for almost every major holiday of the past 15 years.

10. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? I've gotten some pretty lame dollar store coffee mugs from students. But any gift is cool!

11. Mail or email Christmas cards? This year we're sending a real card with a link to the blogs.

12. Favorite Christmas Movie? It's a Wonderful Life. It's my favorite movie ever. George Bailey is the greatest hero in the history of film.

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? Again, Ann shops. But we don't get really geared up, budget-wise, until October.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? I don't think so. That would be tacky.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? I'll copy what Lori said--Used to be Grandmama's it's Aunt Linda's stuffing...someone probably needs to teach Ann how to make it eventually.

16. Clear lights or colored on the tree? Clear.

17. Favorite Christmas song? I'm not sure. I like the Manaheim Steamroller version of "Deck the Halls.

18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? Stay home.

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer? OF COURSE. Can't everybody?

20. Angel on top of the tree or star? A crocheted Angel that Ann won at a church party when we were first married. She had the final pick in the gift exchange and picked it out of every gift available. And only I get to put it on the tree. There's also an elf with pipe-cleaner arms and legs that goes around the trunk just below the angel. Besides that, anybody can hang the ornaments.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? In our house, we'll have some kind of Christmas with in-laws, out-laws, divorced parents, family, friends, co-workers, or total strangers every day for at least a week. But we do our immediate family Christmas morning.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of year? It's OK now, but I hate Christmas songs on the radio before Thanksgiving (my FAVORITE holiday).

23. What I love most about Christmas? Two weeks off with my family. In some ways, it's even more welcome a break than summer vacation. Sorry, all you non-teachers!

24. Best Christmas dessert? Same as the best dessert at every family gathering--my Grandmama's "Yummy Chocolate Cake." It's been my favorite for my whole life.

Huckaboom to Huckabust

OK, the bloom is off the rose. The intial infatuation has passed. I have come to my senses, and I am officially jumping off the Huckabee bandwagon. I'm not sure if it was the AIDS quarantine statement from '92 (which might would have been an appropiate thing to suggest in '82), or the "innocent" question about Mormon theology this past week, or the commutation of 1000+ criminal sentences in Arkansas, or the fact that the FairTax is a completely unworkable idea (and don't tell me I don't understand it--I own the FairTax Book). But it has finally dawned on me that I don't think Mike Huckabee has what it takes to really BE president. I hate to admit it, but if this guy were just a mainline protestant layman, he wouldn't be attractive to me at all. The fact that he seems to be a genuine, Bible-believing Southern Baptist is great. And that's why he has the support he does. I think the GOP ignores that part of their coalition (say, by nominating Giuliani) at their own peril. But it takes more than shared values to make you my candidate. Some of the greatest people in my own church congregation, who I would trust with my life, my kids' lives--I wouldn't trust them to manage a lemonade stand, much less the executive branch during wartime. So, adios, Mike.

That begs the question, "then, who?" I'm back to thinking I can best see Romney actually doing the job of president. But if Huck's support winds up falling in with Thompson, I could still easily go his way, too. Even McCain doesn't strike me too badly (although he's ancient and crotchety). We'll have to see where things lie by the SC primary. But it ain't Huck.

Of Broken Thumbs and Kitchen Sinks

Several years ago, I used to play pick-up basketball on Saturdays with my friend, Jeremy. We won a lot more than we lost; in 2-on-2, the pick and roll, executed properly, is pretty much unstoppable. It helped a lot that Jeremy is a GREAT player. But I got hit funny one time and broke my left thumb. At first I thought, "it's my left. Thank goodness it's not my right hand, because that one I actually use." Over the next several weeks of wearing a brace (luckily, velcro and canvas, not plaster), I found out how foolish that initial assessment was. Turns out that you can't perform major life functions like putting on your clothes without a left thumb. The past two weeks of kitchen renovations have been similar. (If you haven't seen the changes to my kitchen, Ann has been photo-blogging the day-by-day progress here.) When we set up our makeshift kitchen of two cabinets, a dorm fridge, a microwave, and a coffeepot in the living room, I thought to myself "this'll work. All we're missing is the kitchen sink." Pause for a second and ask yourself how many times in an average day you use a kitchen sink. From the first half-inch of water each morning to take a pill to filling the dog bowl or the coffeepot (don't forget the times you use drain or the disposal) , it turns out we used that sink a LOT more than I thought. Between that and walking into the garage to use the full-size fridge (which currently is not hooked up to an icemaker), it's interesting, to say the least. Not to complain, though. We're thrilled with the progress and it looks like they'll be done well ahead of schedule (floors go in today, I think). But it sure will be nice to have my sink back!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


So we finally have begun the remodeling process on our kitchen. The demo crew came and spent all day tearing out cabinets, sink, appliances, and HALF the floor. They meant to do the whole floor, but it took more than twice as long as expected. The job foreman even remarked, "I've been doing this for 40 years, and that's the weirdest tile job I ever saw." I wasn't surprised. You see, the previous owner of my house was a great guy, a really handy Chinese fellow who told me that the closest thing to the actual pronunciation of his name is Win. And every time I come across some Win-genuity or Win-gineering, you can guarantee it's going to be quality work... that makes NO sense. For example, there's a big wire that runs from floor to ceiling behind where the fridge used to be. Not in the wall. Not against the wall. Just free-floating behind the fridge, about an inch into the kitchen. What does it do? Who knows. I told the contractor, just put it inside the new wall. I'm sure it does something important. There were live wires in the wall behind where the cabinets came out. Live, as in, not even capped off. Maybe they've been there threatening to burn the place down for 15-20 years. The sprinkler system in the back yard? Win-gineered. When a buddy of mine who owns an irrigation company helped me swap out a broken head this summer, the same question was there: "what kind of goofball did this job?" My personal favorite--the beautiful hardwood spiral staircase in my garage leading to the attic. It interferes with parking and makes using the attic more difficult. And a $100 disappearing stairwell would have worked better and could have been put up in an hour. But aside from those minor considerations, what a great staircase! And don't even get me started on Win's exquisite (and maddening to maintain) landscaping! Anyway, we're excited to have the kitchen underway, even if we're a half-day behind only one day into the job. Since we're trying to be done by Christmas, here's hoping we don't come across too many more Win-genius ideas.

Monday, December 3, 2007


So, Huckabee is the flavor of the month. My best lib friend Matthew has already taken me to task for predicting that he can't win the anti-Rudy primary, and now the mainstream pundits have begun to come around to the same conclusion. My father-in-law, who knows zip about politics but has outstanding instincts (and is one of the wisest men I know), confidently predicts that Huck will be the last man standing. So what's a theo-con like me to do? The knock on Huck is that although he's the most solid social conservative in the field, that he's a lightweight on foreign policy and a squish on conservative economics. The econ stuff, as I have indicated before, is the least of my worries--I'd probably be called squishy, too. I'd prefer someone in wartime who focuses more on that issue, but it's not like Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani have ever actually been commander-in-chief, either. I know that in the end, I'll wind up voting for un-Hillary, whoever that happens to be, and even if it requires a firm holding of the nose. But for now, color me intrigued about Mike Huckabee. If he comes into SC looking like he has a chance, I'll almost certainly try to send him along to Florida with the chance still intact. In the end, if it's hold my nose and vote for a Republican with whom I disagree, I'd MUCH rather the disagreement be over economic issues than life and potential judges.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Coach "GOP" Sal

I mentioned in my last post that my friend Philip has blogrolled me as "Coach GOP Sal" because I blogged on some conservative topics. He offered to change it, but I demurred. Still, I thought it might be worthwhile to blog about why I tend to ally with the GOP (Grand Old Party, for the acronym-challenged, AKA the Republicans). I want to first offer a couple of disclaimers: first, I'm NOT a registered Republican. It just so happens that I voted for a Democrat for mayor just a couple of weeks ago. I've also voted Dem for several state offices, and even once for US Senator. But in my voting lifetime (since '88), I have yet to vote for a Democrat for President. That's not to say I couldn't, but that has never been even a close call thus far. Secondly, I'm not really a Republican as much as I am a conservative. Which is why if the GOP nominates a liberal, like Rudy Giuliani, my loyalty slips a good bit. That said, and this has been the case at least since '88, if the other choice is even worse, what's a body to do? Finally, I firmly reject cartoonish stereotypes--of both parties. Yes, "my" party has some fat-cat northern businesspeople, plus some percentage of gap-toothed rednecks. But that's the fringe, and don't represent me. Likewise, I recognize that not every Democrat is a borderline communist who thinks America is the source of evil in the world and considers abortion a sacrament. Those bozos are out there, but my differences with the Dems lie not in that straw man. If anything, I'd like to think I'm reasonably thoughtful, and that I fight fair.

OK. So what does it mean to be "conservative" nowadays? Well, for starters, I'm a Reagan Republican, not a William Howard Taft or James Blaine, or even a Nelson Rockefeller Republican. You may remember that Reagan used to be a Democrat himself (voted 4 times for FDR, as I recall, and I think once for Truman). What I want to "conserve" includes most of the "safety net" of the New Deal, as well as the Civil Rights gains of the 50s and 60s. But as the Gipper himself said, "I didn't leave the Democrats. The party left me." Since 1968 or so, the muscular defense policy of the Truman and JFK Democrats has given way to the peace-at-any-price weakness of George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, and their successors. One of the legs that holds up my conservatism is peace through strength. I find that more in the Republican party (since '80 or even since Ike) than in the Democrats since the 60s.

The next thing--actually, an even bigger thing, for me--is my faith. Now don't get me wrong--I'm not going to be one of those people who claims that one cannot be simultaneously a Christian and a social liberal. Many of my Christian friends have made their peace with that, and I respect them. Nor do I buy the argument that the "Christian Right" in a political sense speaks for every evangelical. But despite those allowances, the fact remains that up until the 1970s, most southern evangelicals found their home among the Democrats. The 1960s and Roe v. Wade changed that somewhat, and Reagan's embrace of anti-abortion religious people in 1980 sealed the deal. Now, a key part of being "red state" is being pro-life. And that's a bedrock issue for me. I will entertain discussion on exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother--which together account for maybe 2-3% of all abortions. I'm not an absolutist. I'll even take incremental change in the right direction--the partial-birth abortion ban, parental notification. Shucks, if we could even go back to the original ruling in Roe which allowed only first-term abortion, that would be a good move. But in my view, a fetus is a baby, and killing it is WRONG. Despite lip service from the Democrats about "safe, legal, and rare," the fact is that the Supreme Court has upheld that "health of the mother" exceptions include anything the pregnant woman and her abortionist decide, and mainstream Dems have stood firmly against even the most reasonable restrictions. Their refusal to even let a pro-lifer speak at their '92 convention shows how limited the options on that side are. I just can't go there.

Moreover, on the "socio-con" or "theo-con" side, the increasing allegiance between people of faith and the Republicans has led, or at least contributed, to what I think is even further erosion of respect for religion and its practicioners by the Democrats. Their world-view is already more secular and relativistic, but there is, in some quarters among their elites, barely-veiled hostility to those of us who believe in a creator and absolute morality. I think I can sympathize with how some minorities must feel about the Republicans... "my" side may take me for granted and only pay me lip service, but the other guys pay me no attention at all unless it's in the form of an attack. And hand in hand with that is my biggest issue--the judiciary. If I want to see my world-view prevail over time, I believe that the Constitution needs to be interpreted as the framers wrote it, not seen through the lens of late-20th-century social engineering. And since judges serve life terms, I've gotta vote for the party that at least PRETENDS to respect my world-view. As much as old George W. Bush may have fallen out of my good graces in the last couple of years, it has never, never occurred to me that I'd be happier if John Kerry had named the last two Supreme Court justices.

Last, and also least in my mind, is economics. As I have blogged about extensively in the past, I am FAR from a "party of the rich" Republican. I have the utmost sympathy for the "working poor," for the stretched-too-thin "middle class" (of which I am a member), and those who need help. To the extent that it would actually work, I would welcome more equality of resources across the board. However, I generally believe that 1960s-70s style welfare doesn't work. And in general, what little economic history I know leads me to believe that supply-side (low tax) economic theory does work. Also (maybe it's the touch of Calvinism in my formerly-Presbyterian upbringing), I tend to have a rather low view of human nature. So, sadly, I don't think that, in most cases, taking from those who work and earn and distributing it to those who don't works all that well, either. Insetad, I think it fosters a culture of entitlement and dependency which in the end is more damaging to the very people that the good-hearted liberals are trying to help.

So, there you are. A committed Christian from the south who is pro-life, favors a strong defense, judicial originalism, and low-tax, pro-growth economics. If that makes me "Coach GOP Sal," fine. But let the GOP beware--I'm only with them, so long as they are with me. I could have voted for Truman. At the turn of the century, I would have been a Teddy Roosevelt Progressive. And if ever there's a party realignment where some old or new party best represents my views, I'll jump in a heartbeat. Don't think it can happen? Ask a Whig!

Monday, November 26, 2007

So, Who's Going to be President?

I've stayed away from politics for a while (ever since I realized that my entry on Philip Murphy's blogroll halfway around the world read "Coach GOP Sal"), but it seems that with primary season bearing down on us, it's time for a little prognostication. Now, I teach US History and Civics for a living, so, while not an "expert" pundit, I like to think I at least understand the process in a little context. Let's get one thing out of the way--Hillary Clinton WILL be the Democrat nominee. I like Obama better, and one poll shows him leading (but within the margin of error) in Iowa, and he's got Oprah on his side. But Hillary leads by too much in too many places to not have the delegates she needs by convention time. Period. On the GOP side, only two men have plausible paths to the nomination: Romney and Giuliani. Right now in Republican circles, it's Rudy vs. everybody else--but Romney leads the pack to become the "anti-Rudy." And since Romney has the capacity to win or finish high in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, and SC, it's quite possible that he could be in a position to be the only serious non-Rudy candidate on Super Tuesday. Even if Thompson or Huckabee (or even McCain) catch fire early, none of them have the resources to simultaneously campaign in all the Feb 5 primaries. At that point, it comes down to whether social conservatives (read: pro-lifers) hold their nose and believe (a) Romney's recent conversion to conservatism or (b) Rudy's pledge to appoint only strict constructionist judges. And more importantly, to which one looks more electable compared to Hillary. My best guess is it will wind up being Romney, but I admit to that being a complete hunch. Whichever it is, neither puts enough blue states in play to make a big dent in Hillary's electoral base, so we're looking at another very close election. I keep thinking, though (and this is only based on anecdotal evidence from a couple of my lib friends, so it's not quite scientific), that there is some segment, even of the blue-state population, who just won't vote rather than vote for Hillary (some on Bill issues, some on honesty, some because of her vote for the war). That's combined with the 40%+ of voters who hate her guts. One poll even showed Ron Paul getting 48% against her! So her negatives make it interesting. In the end, though, one thing's for sure. Our next president will be a shrewd politician from a blue state who is at odds with some portion of his or her party's base, in a tight one. And (for now) that's all I'm gonna predict.

Gamecock Season Wrap-Up

Looks like the USC football season is over. There's still a slim chance we could get invited to some very tiny bowl as a technically-eligible 6-6 team that travels well, but conventional wisdom says that's unlikley with up to 10 SEC teams already bowl-eligible. So, what's the unvarnished outcome?

Well, for starters, we ain't where we want to be yet. 3-5 in conference and a loss to Clemson is ugly, and there's no use trying to put lipstick on a pig. However, there are a few bright spots. First, we're in the hunt in the SEC East. That was our main goal this season. Can't say we won anything, but on the last day of the season, a team we took to overtime (Tennessee) clinched the East title over a top-10 team we beat (Georgia) by beating another previously top-10 team we beat (Kentucky). If that's not close, I don't know what is. At least it's a step toward where we want to be. Secondly, we're pretty competitive with Clemson. Again, I know we lost. And you can argue that it should have been worse, considering the mistakes we made. But not only did we beat the 2.5 point spread, we came down to a last-second field goal against a team that will likely win 10 games this year. And finally, (although as a Gamecock fan it DOES get old saying this) we should be better next year. Our defense was pretty good before the injuries kicked in. We'll get back Jasper Brinkley and a healthy Captain Munnerlyn next season, plus some of those big freshmen will have experience. We lose Casper, Cory Boyd, and Blake Mitchell. Jasper, Mike Davis, and either Smelley or Garcia should fill those gaps without significant drop-off, and that great recruiting class we had last year should get a year older and better, and hopefully will be joined by a few others who can see promises of significant playing time in Columbia.

Of course, there's bad news, too. Some folks said we had the 2nd-toughest schedule in the country this year. And lets face it--there are some teams going to BCS bowls this year who couldn't have gone unscathed through Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, and Arkansas this season. Shucks, LSU is likely the best team in the country, and they couldn't run the table in the SEC. It's not like that's going to get easier anytime soon. Luckily, a few of the teams we play will lose some key players, but we'll still have to face Tim Tebow again next year. And in the SEC East, you can have a top-10 recruiting class and still lose ground. So it's an uphill climb.

All told, though, I'm not badly disappointed. The only game I wish we could have back was Vandy. We really should have won that one. A bounce here or there and we could have possibly gotten UT or Clemson, or both. Didn't, but could have. I'll take it... and look forward, as always, to next season.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Time Passes (and shoots, and scores!)

Ah, Thanksgiving. My favorite holiday of the year. I love the food, the fellowship, and the last gasp of stress-free breath before launching headlong into the Christmas season. I'm also a soft touch when it comes to tradition. One of the traditions in our family the past several years has been that after a HUGE dinner at my favorite Aunt's, my oldest son, David, goes outside and shoots baskets in their driveway. About the time I have completely filled up on dessert, he'll show up wanting me to play with him. Usually, there's the added attraction of mixing it up with my brother-in-law and my nephew; we'll play two-on-two in every possible combination. This year, both of them were sick at home. That left one-on-one. And therein lies the rub. You see, when the boy was younger, I could whip him with ease. Then came the time when I'd take it easy on him, but still win. Now, though, he's a starting guard on the 8th grade B-team, and the only advantage I have is 5 inches and 40 pounds. And the longer we play, the more difficult it becomes to press that advantage. I don't take it easy anymore--it's all-out, throwing elbows, playing my best defense... and in my head, a clock is ticking. If I can't beat him inside of about 20 minutes, he'll step back and drain jumpers on me as I get slower and slower due to his main advantage--25 years. This year, we played dead even for the first 20 minutes. Then--swish, swish. Boy wins by two. There is a certain amount of pride I feel in knowing that my kid is growing up, and is better than I'll ever be. I felt the same pride when I coached the kid who erased my school record in the 100 meters. Oh, forget it. Who am I kidding? He loves beating me--because he hates to lose. Guess who's side of the gene pool that comes from? I'm getting better at faking nonchalance at getting beaten by teenagers. But at the end of the day, it's one more "L" on the win-loss record of life. Pretty soon, him beating me will be a new tradition. Happy holidays, all!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Neat Freaks

Some people are slobs--neither neat nor clean. Occasionally, two slobs marry and proceed to live in disorganized filth. More often than not, a slob marries his or or her opposite so they have something to "talk" about for the next 50 years. But for the rest of us, there are, I think, very few people who are both neat AND clean. You're either clean but not neat or neat but not clean. Again, opposites attract, so sometimes you'll have a "clean" marry a "neat" and they will either (a) complement each other, or (b) kill each other. I am definitely a "neat but not clean" type. Don't get me wrong--I don't mean that I neglect basic hygiene or anything, but I'm the type who is bugged by an unmade bed but not particularly bothered by unchanged sheets. A layer of dust on my desk--no problem. Piles of paper on my desk--a crisis. I think that if I could simply arrange for all dirt to have properly squared-off corners, dirt wouldn't bother me at all. Dirt just bothers me because it contributes to an overall feeling of "untidy." This, by the way, is something in my gene pool. My mom is a shelf-and-cubbyhole person, my sister is a daytimer-and-list person. It's a blessing, and a curse.

Strangely, I married someone who is equally a neat freak. So when we get time together, one of the things we do for fun and satisfaction is de-clutter. In the past week we have attacked all three of our children's bedrooms, with a vengeance. We didn't just "straighten up." We brought a backhoe. Hefty bags full of miscellaneous "stuff" found its way to the trash, or goodwill, or consignment (to the tune of $73! Yippee!). Yes, we also used the vacuum, and half a box of swiffers. But be very clear--the cleaning was secondary. This was all about NEAT! Sadly, our kids will now begin to trash those rooms again immediately. But that gives us something to do again several months from now. If you're not a neat person, you don't know what you're missing!

Monday, November 19, 2007


Well, the week is here, so it's time for just a little trash talk. However, it's hard to talk much trash when your team has lost 4 in a row. I'm not even going to go out on the usual limb and promise a Gamecock victory--for all I know, Clemson may even be the better team. But here's a little reality check for all my Tiger-fan buddies. Clemson may be the most underrated team in the nation, or not. But the fact remains that the best team they have defeated all year is Wake Forest. Don't get me wrong, this isn't the bad Wake of the '80s. But it's not exactly Georgia, either. If you're a Clemson fan, ask yourself this--if your last three games had been vs. Tennessee, Arkansas, and Florida, do you really think you'd be on this same bandwagon? And for all the USC fans who are feeling glum, ask the reverse--if we had played Duke, Maryland, and Central Michigan, don't you think we'd have 8 or 9 wins by now? No matter who wins on Saturday (and of course I hope it's my guys), the cold hard fact remains that the best team in the ACC this year wouldn't be a factor in the SEC, and might not even be a factor in the SEC East. Good luck to both--may the best team win!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Bumper Stumper

So a week ago I'm in traffic, poking along. And I notice that the car in front of me is basically held together with about 40 bumper stickers. The hatchback, the glass, the bumper... covered. And every sticker was liberal. There was a "re-elect Gore." "Impeach Bush." "Wage Peace." "Save the Earth." "Love your mother (Gaia)." "This progressive VOTES!" And of course, the ubiquitous 1960s peace symbol, maybe with a dove. And it dawned on me--the corresponding conservative car doesn't exist. Now, there may be a single sticker, maybe even two. Maybe a "W: The President" or a leftover "Bush-Cheney '04." There may even be a "suppport the troops." And I'll grant you that pretty much any Dale Earnhardt #3 sticker should count as a red-state symbol (or Calvin peeing on a chevy logo). But I wonder, why don't conservatives engage in the bumper sticker arms race? A friend suggests that maybe it's because they don't want to get sticky stuff all over the Mercedes. Maybe it's because the "silent majority" really prefers silence. Who knows?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

For Children of the 80s Only

Just had this discussion with our school secretary when I should have been writing lesson plans: everybody who went to high school in the 80s should know the movie "The Breakfast Club." It's one of the John Hughes classics (along with Pretty in Pink, 16 Candles, and St. Elmo's Fire). Here's the quiz question for you, if you're old enough: which character were you? To recap, for the sake of the 80s-challenged, there was Emilio Estevez (the jock), Molly Ringwald (the princess), Anthony Michael Hall (the nerd), Ally Sheedy (the misfit), and Judd Nelson (the stoner/rebel). I'll go first--my students think since I'm a coach and have a track state championship banner hanging on my classroom wall that I must have been Emilio Estevez. But deep down, I'm Anthony Michael Hall.

As an aside, our secretary says I'm none of the above--that I'm Harry Anderson of "Night Court." And we decided that my principal is Henry Blake from MASH (which makes Sheila into Radar O'Reilly--also a good fit).

So answer with a character from "Breakfast Club," and, if appropriate, any other 80's pop-culture character who fits you.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Best TV Series Ever

I think we've safely established that the "Rocky" series is the best movie series ever... although the first three "Star Wars" (I mean the first three MADE, not episodes I-III) may be in the conversation. Even so, I have to be in a certain mood to watch Star Wars, or the Godfather (arguably the finest individual film ever made), or even LOTR.

But TV... ah, there's a tough one. And it's made tougher by the fact that entire series--supposedly even very good ones--have come and gone without me ever seeing an episode. But even though I love Seinfeld, and Cheers, there really is no contest. The best ever TV series is certainly MASH. Like "Rocky," it doesn't matter what mood I'm in... if MASH is on, I can watch it and enjoy it. Best character development of any sitcom ever. And if you don't tear up every time Henry Blake's chopper goes down in reruns, you have no heart. Period.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

More Money Figures

Just a quick couple of notes about my rich man, poor man posts below. I went to Wiki and looked up the median national income. It's a little over $48,000 a year. The middle 20% of familes earn between $36k and $58k. I would speculate that an average-sized family could live a pretty basic middle-class lifestyle on that in most of the country. As I have pointed out before, in my hometown there is a disconnect between income and housing prices, which makes my examples seem a little skewed. And as both Becky and Pete have rightly pointed out, with a little common sense and self-control, it's not impossible to be comfortable on even a below-average income. I don't mean to suggest at all that a family making decent middle-class money in the USA is "poor," especially not by the standards of the rest of the world. I just wanted to point out that some of the folks we think of as "middle class" might consider themselves to be struggling, while some of the folks that many of us would call "rich" think of themselves as middle class. All of which seems petty if you really ARE struggling.

Since I teach, and do so in the same school from which I graduated, I often get asked about my own high school experience. I always say that the very best course I ever took was a personal finance elective my senior year (because I was too dumb and lazy for calculus). I firmly believe that if people made better financial decisions, many of their money problems would be avoidable. Like talk-radio guy Dave Ramsey says, "personal finance is only 20% finance, it's 80% personal."

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Greatest Movie Series Ever

Actual conversation from the house of Sal last night:

Me: "Son, why aren't you in bed like your mother told you to be?"

10-year-old son: "Dad, Rocky's on, and it's almost time for the fight."

Me: "Which Rocky?"

Son: "Rocky III. Mr. T."

Me: "Well, OK."

Let's face it--the "Rocky" series is a terribly important part of every young American boy's development. And thanks to channels like Spike TV (which last night had the whole 5-episode marathon on), some Rocky movie is on pretty much every week. Admittedly, Rocky V (Tommy Gunn) was pretty horrible, but it's still a decent action flick. For my money, there is something truly awesome about each of the other 4, plus the recent finale. I, II, and VI (Balboa) are all very good, well-made films. Don't forget that the original won the Oscar for best picture. III may be the most fun of all of them... and don't pretend that Mr. T. wasn't really cool in '83. He may be a caricature now, but when he made his debut in that movie, he was a MAN. And the cold-war showdown with steroidally-enhanced Ivan Drago and the training in Siberia sequence--that's just a great guy movie. The message of Rocky is priceless: if you train harder and are tough enough to take the pain, you can conquer enemies that are bigger and stronger than you. That's worth a few more minutes at bedtime.

So, how poor is poor?

If rich ain't that rich, how poor must one be to be "poor?" Let's stipulate from the outset that very, very few people in this country are poor by international standards--lacking basic housing and nutrition. And there is a pretty decent safety net for those people. Not perfect, mind you, but OK. A family of 4 is below the poverty line at around $20,000. No doubt, that's poor--but those guys will get medicaid, food stamps, subsidized housing--they'll never be well-off, but they won't starve. (We'll leave for another day why someone would have a family income that low if they actually go to work every day.) But what about the family making double, even triple the poverty line number: 40 to 60k? In my town, If you make $52,000 a year (that's $1000 a week), that'll come out to about $3500 spendable a month. That same family of 4 will pay $800-1100 for rent, or more like $1500 for a small house in this town. You'd think if you make over $50k you'd want to try to be a homeowner. One car payment, plus gas and insurance, and you're down to $1500 left. If you have to buy your own health plan, you can't do that and still feed a family of 4 on that. If your car is paid for, your company buys your health plan, you don't tithe, and you have bought your house back before the market went stupid, you can be pretty comfortable on $50k. But change just one or two of those variables, and the fridge is empty leading up to payday. And forget private schools or vacations. I know my family of 5 would have a very hard time making ends meet on that--and we're pretty frugal. And of course, that family qualifies for no help, even though they may have two earners scratching and clawing every week while the "welfare poor" family may have less than one full-time job. Fair, huh?

Now again, don't get me wrong--I'm not advocating that the family making $50k necessarily get welfare (after all, somebody has to pay for that). But it seems to me that we have a very skewed idea of what constitutes "middle class."

How rich is rich?

On a similar topic to the recent discussion of health insurance for the "poor" is this one: I'm in class a week ago and teaching my usual stuff, modern US history. I was talking about the Supreme Court and how John Roberts is the new (and youngest) chief justice, and how judges have a great gig because they serve for life. One of my students asks, "How much does being a Supreme Court Justice pay?" I answer, "about $175,000." Then comes the money quote, since it's from a 12-year-old who doesn't have any clue what things cost: "Is that a lot of money?" Good question. I teach in a private school that costs about $15k per year, and live in a town where the "average" house costs well over $200,000. On the one hand, I think of $175k as being darned good money... more than double what my family brings in with two people working full-time in what I think are pretty good jobs. On the other, if you made $175k, you'd be paying well over a third of that in taxes (fed, state, and FICA). Let's say you're a Christian and you tithe, as well. So when all is said and done, you'll have about $96k to budget, or about $8000 a month. Still good. But if you are the Chief Justice, you don't live in a 40-year-old ranch house with no working dishwasher like I do. A home that costs $400k in my town is no mansion--we're not talking deep water dock here. And that payment runs about $3000 all-told. And you don't drive a '93 Lumina, you and your wife drive late-model cars with payments. Maybe $1000 more total. Put two kids in my school at $2500 a month total, and suddenly you're down to $1500 a month to buy all your insurance, food, utilities, etc. That's tight. Of course, you don't have to live in as nice a house or drive the new cars or put the kids in private school. You don't even have to tithe. But you would expect the Chief Justice to live that well. Maybe not private-plane and yacht well, but definitely private school and nice SUV well. I'd even go so far as to suggest that there are some people in my town that make that kind of money (upwards of a hundred and a half) who don't live lavish lifestyles and feel the pinch sometimes. If you ask them if they are rich, they'll probably say, "no--middle class."

Now don't get me wrong--I'm not weeping for the poor guy making triple or quadruple the national average. But it takes a LOT of money to live like the "rich." And if you can struggle on $175,000, imagine a working couple where neither makes over $50k, but together they bring in $80-90,000. Again, that's double the national average. But pay taxes, health insurance, put a roof over your head, maybe buy a late-model car, and you're too strapped to send a kid to college without a loan, or to aggressively save for retirement. They might be in the top 25% of income earners, but they certainly aren't vacationing in the Bahamas.

I think the best definition most of us use for "rich" is "somebody who makes more than me." But I'll bet those of us who say that are thought of as pretty "rich" by somebody else.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

While I'm on the topic, the S-Chip veto

Just in time for my rant about insurance, President Bush has vetoed a measure that would have helped insure "millions of poor children." Called Schip (state children's health insurance program), it provides coverage, not for those below the poverty line (who get medicaid) but for those slightly above, who slip through the cracks. Now why would big, bad Bush want to hurt those poor, poor children? Well, for starters, the program was being increased to cover a family of four making over $60k a year (I've read some estimates that said up to $83k, the $60k is the very low-ball figure). Sorry, if you're making that, you don't need somebody else buying your insurance. Secondly, the program was designed to be "revenue neutral" (paid for) for about 5 years... and then the costs would skyrocket. But of course, government never ever retreats on a welfare program, so when the bill comes, we'd just have to hike taxes (or, more likely, run up the deficit). President Bush offered to sign a "plain vanilla" version of the bill that would continue the present program, or to even pledge more money for those kids who were closest to the poverty line. But the political theater was too good for that to ever happen. It's a bigger political winner to say "Bush kills program for poor kids." On my last post, Phillip asked why the GOP won't engage on this issue. Plain and simple, they are licked. A huge majority of Americans want the government to "give" them health insurance, and they want someone else to eventually pay for it. So long as the voters continue to believe in Santa Claus economics, no party suggesting anything resembling fiscal responsibility has a chance.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

What's Wrong With "Health Care"

I had the opportunity to shoot the bull yesterday with my new boss. He's an upper-crust lib, and I'm a working-class conservative (how's that for shaking up the stereotypes?). Yet we agreed on one thing, at least in principle: SOMETHING ought to change about "health care." I know it's supposed to be verboten for a conservative to mention anything other than free-market answers to health care reform, but I'm at the end of my rope with the current system.

First, some diagnosis. Don't tell me that "47 million Americans don't have health care." There may be 47 million who don't have a health insurance policy, but there's nobody who can't go to an emergency room and get treated. The trick is, what they do in the ER isn't free (news flash--nothing is). So the costs of treating those who can't, or won't, buy insurance is passed along to those who do, and that makes health insurance much more expensive. Indeed, many of the people who don't have health insurance are not the very poor (who have medicaid). It's the non-poor who find the cost of what's out there prohibitive.

Another thing that makes health insurance crazily expensive is the fact that it's not REALLY insurance, at all. Insurance is sharing the risk of a potential catastrophe. Your house is likely NOT going to burn down. But some small percentage of houses will. If we divide the risk of that happening among the right number of houses, as determined by the actuaries with slide-rules, and add a few bucks to each bill to provide profit to the insurance company and the agent who services the policy, that amounts to a genuine insurance policy. You hope you never have a claim, but the relatively small premium is a smart thing to pay. But if a house were already burning, that would jack the premium up to the cost of the house! Likewise health insurance. You can insure against hospitalization, serious injury, cancer, or a variety of other relatively unlikely events. But when we demand that every physical, well-child-checkup, and tylenol be paid for through our insurance, the company is going to have to charge us for all of that guaranteed cost ON TOP of the shared risk of the unexpected.

Then there's the role played by employers. My employer pays for my insurance (I have to pay for dependents). If I were single, I wouldn't have any incentive to care what it cost them. So I'm free to demand a cadillac plan. Of course, if you think about it, whatever your employer pays for health insurance could go straight to your salary if they made you buy it yourself. So it still affects my bottom line. But most of us with company benefits persist in the illusion that our health care costs are cheap or free.

On the other hand, those who buy their own policy (or have to pay through the nose for dependent coverage) have to make a decision based on opportunity cost. Paying several hundred to a thousand or more dollars a month for insurance directly impacts where you can live, what you can drive, how much you can spend on gas and groceries. For the healthy person, it's arguably smarter to pay your own way at the doc-in-the-box for routine stuff and take your chances on the more rare losses, knowing that no hospital is going to let you die anyway.

So, what to do about all of that? I think the biggest trick is to see to it that everybody has (and pays at least something for) a major medical plan with a high deductible, sort of like the "minimum limits" on your car policy. I don't care if this is done privately or publicly in the long run, or in combination somehow. But expanding the pool of the minimally insured is a good start. This can't be a cadillac policy--I envision something similar to the plans that go with the current HSA accounts--maybe $2500 deductible, 100% thereafter. If everybody had this, the larger pool would mean pretty low costs relative to what we have now. Care under such a plan would be somewhat rationed, in the sense that these things would likely not pay for Lasik and boob jobs. But lack of access to a 38DD is not a health care crisis. And besides, what we have now is rationed--a buddy of mine who pays a gazillion dollars a month for blue cross just found out his plan won't cover lap band weight loss surgery.

Of course, what to do about first-dollar care is the hard part. Here's a novel idea: how about pay your own way? Sure, if you'd like to pay somebody $500 a month so they can dole $5000 in annual costs back to you for low copays and still make a profit, I'm sure somebody will oblige you. But if you didn't have to pay the $500, you could pay a little a couple of times a year for a medical exam, or a doc visit, or a prescription. If you hit your deductible, it would be covered by the major medical plan. What a thought--people might even choose less-expensive options than they now do if it actually hit them in the pocketbook!

Perfect? No. Full of details? Not so much, but neither is Hillarycare 2.0. Discuss amongst yourselves and comment.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Stuff About Sal, Part 1

My wife and my sister, among others, have been posting lists of 100 random facts about themselves on their blogs. And since I haven't posted in a while, have very few good ideas, and think that likely no one but Matthew would care much for a multi-page rumination on how to deal with the 47 million Americans currently without health insurance, here's installment #1 on the Coach Sal trivia list:
  1. I have never weighed over 147 lbs, and that was after 40 days of not running and eating fast food every day. I was only 120 lbs when I graduated from high school (at 5'10").
  2. I took my wife to my senior prom.
  3. I took my school's homecoming queen to my junior prom.
  4. My favorite recording artist is Billy Joel.
  5. I never won a championship race in high school (two conference runner-up medals).
  6. Although I was a member of a state championship team (1985), I never personally qualified to run in the state finals (eliminated at Lower State, 1987).
  7. I set a school record in the 100 meter dash that stood for 13 years, but didn't win the race that day. I didn't even know I had set the record until I took my son to my old school to watch a basketball scrimmage and saw my name on the record board.
  8. My first name is David, the same as my father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather, and my son. We're not very original.
  9. I take a nap every Sunday afternoon, religiously.
  10. Speaking of religiously, I have read the Bible cover-to-cover 6 times (currently working on #7).
  11. I find Bible reading/study easy, but prayer difficult.
  12. From the time I was 12, I was sure I was going to be a lawyer, and then a judge. Unless Matthew becomes president and appoints me, that one's likely not gonna happen.
  13. I'm a fan of politics and the NBA, but both have been less fun for me in the past few years.
  14. I love anything with Arnold Schwarzenegger in it, including "Pumping Iron."
  15. I also love the Rocky movies. II is best, then I, III, VI (Balboa), IV, and finally V.
  16. I read a lot in the summers, but not nearly as much in the school year. My bedside table looks like the re-shelve rack at the library.
  17. I love biographies, the Harry Potter books, books on organization, and spy novels (esp. Tom Clancy).
  18. I raced through college in 3 years so I could marry my wife, but then spent the next four years pursuing a master's degree.
  19. My original master's program was in Medieval European History, but I never finished it--I transferred my credits to the Master's in Teaching program just in time to get a job when my oldest son was born.
  20. I got my first DayTimer planner when I was 19, and have had one ever since.
  21. I got my first glasses at age 14, and within a couple of months lost them by diving into a river to go water skiing without taking them off.
  22. I've worn a flattop haircut for almost 15 years, and in that time have only been to two barbershops (in two different cities--I would NEVER cheat on my barber).
  23. My teams are the Boston Celtics, Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Braves, and Carolina Gamecocks.
  24. I gave up Cub Scouts because it interfered with me playing pee wee football. looking back, I would have been a better Eagle Scout than defensive end.
  25. I have taught about 1500 students.
  26. My oldest students are now in their 30's.
  27. When I first began teaching, some of my students had children older than mine. Now my children are older than my students.
  28. Until three years ago, I had never crossed the Mississippi River; until this past summer I had never left the country.
  29. My favorite foods in the world are my Grandmama's fried chicken and my mother-in-law's roast beef.
  30. I drove a 1978 Ford Mustang in high school and college.
  31. I once got a speeding ticket on my way to court-mandated defensive driving class.
  32. I also drove a school bus.
  33. I met my current brother-in-law when we worked together bagging groceries at a Winn-Dixie.

Well, that's 33, a good first installment. I can't think of that many interesting items. Maybe I'm boring. More to come when time permits.

Saturday, September 8, 2007


While on a run (itself a miracle) this morning, I got a good excuse to stop for a second or two--I ran into a family I know. We live near a synagogue, so Saturday morning runs involve passing lots of devoted Jews walking to services. This particular family is the parents of a former athlete, a state-champion hurdler who is now a senior at Cornell. (Yes, my 2-miler is at Yale, my long jumper is at Harvard, and my hurdler is at Cornell--it was a really, really smart track team!) Anyway, since I know these guys pretty well, I had a chance to ask a question that has crossed my mind on many of my Saturday runs. Is going for a run "work" that a devout Jew should not do on the sabbath? After all, it IS strenuous, and it's a "workout." But it's also a hobby, and if you're barely jogging like I was this morning, it's relaxing, and a pleasure. Their answer was that the run itself, since it's just a faster form of locomotion, is permissible. But the shower after the run, that's work. Now obviously, as a gentile, this doesn't apply to me (and all my family is happy that I have showered). But it does lead to a couple of theological thoughts. First, the concept of the letter vs. the spirit of the law. I believe that Christ came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it. So the details may no longer be required (ritual sacrifice, legalistic sabbath keeping, etc), but the heart should be the same (sacrificial, whole-hearted love of God). Much ink has been spilled on whether it is easier or harder to keep the Christian version of the covenant, but either way, it's just different. And secondly, the sabbath itself. Now, like most Christians, "my" sabbath is Sunday. But our family does try to observe it seriously. We generally turn down social invitations on Sundays, and we not only attend morning and evening worship services, we almost always have a set period of "down-time" (for me, a nap) in between. I also usually take Sundays as one of my rest days from running. Lots of folks kid me about how much I love my Sunday naps, but it really is my favorite day of the week--the one day that my calendar accurately reflects what I say are my deepest priorities--faith and family. Shalom, ya'll.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Greatest Reward

So today was the first day of school for teachers. That means the same meetings as every year... ugh. It also means practice shifts back to the afternoons, which in Charleston heat is another big ugh. But today I got a reminder of why teaching (and especially coaching) is the most rewarding job on the planet. Four alumni of my team came by today, just to say "hi." All were superlatives, on and off the track, and all are now young adults that I am pleased to count as friends. There was Matthew, the best student I ever had and an all-conference runner on top of that, home from Yale. I still love to talk politics with him, even though our votes will almost certainly always cancel out (unless, of course, he ever runs for office, in which case I'll probably vote with my heart and not my head). Goose is getting ready to head back up to NC State. He was a state-caliber miler, and had an uncanny ability to run the race of his life when it counted. I can't believe he still has my number memorized. There was Soz, my best-ever miler, and without a doubt the nicest Christian kid I have ever coached. He's out of school now (Wake Forest) and has a real job... working for the local Episcopal camp, no less. I couldn't be prouder. And Kristen, an MVP and the best girls' team captain I've ever had. She's also out of school (Purdue) and getting ready to start an MBA. She once won an award for a paper she wrote about an adult who was a role model (3 guesses who was the adult). That was one of the nicest compliments I have ever received from anyone. To say I love these young people would be an understatement. I'm pretty sure that sometime between now and next May, I'll ask myself, "why the heck do I teach?" For days like today.

Thursday, August 9, 2007


Since I've been thinking so much about money and investment of late, here's a little thought on first principles. I mentioned earlier that some planned giving is a key component of a good financial plan. This is not because I believe that God will somehow "give it all (or more) back to you," that kind of "prosperity gospel" is naive and petty. I believe that giving is one of the key attitude changers--rich people give. So if you want to feel rich, you should do what the rich do. When you are giving, there is a "more than enough" mentality that permeates decisions and has a transformative power. Of course, I mean "cheerful" giving--a grudging, tight-fisted approach will not have the same psychological or spiritual effect. One of the best lines I ever heard about this topic on why God tells us to give was this: "God wants us to be like him, and He is a giver." Certainly, God doesn't need our gifts to accomplish His purposes (any more than He needs our prayers to determine what He is going to do). But it is a great and powerful mystery that in His sovereignty, He chooses to allow us to play a part in being His agents.

All that said, the whole process of actual tithing may seem impossible. By tithing I mean the giving of 10% of one's income (whether of gross or net pay is a conscience issue, as is the whole commitment to give). This is not an attempt to be legalistic; nobody is required to give even a dime, much less some particular percentage of their paycheck. It has simply become a tradition over 2000+ years of Christianity, based in guidelines set down for the Jews back in the Old Testament (part of a covenant which was never intended for the gentiles anyway). But here's the catch: If you make a decent living, 10% is a LOT of money. The last time I heard a number for what the average American family made was somewhere around $41,000 a year. A tithe of that would be over $340 a month. That looks suspiciously like a new car payment. It's what I paid for our first apartment rent many years ago. If you've never done that before and you wanted to commit to be a tither, that's formidable. Most of us couldn't just free up that kind of cash in our budget (indeed, most of us don't have a nickel to spare. Scratch that--most of us don't even have a budget).

So, what to do? Many years ago, my family committed to become givers. But we couldn't give what we wanted, as we had previously made binding commitments that precluded that (a mortgage, car note, student loans, other debts... oh, and eating on a semi-regular basis). I approached a good friend who was a Christian and a financial professional who I knew to be a good steward and asked him for advice, and he said something wise. He said, "Give what you can, even a little more than is comfortable. Don't worry about what percent that is, but start now. And then commit that you will increase your giving as you are able, before you give yourself lifestyle raises. you'll find that in time you catch up to your goals." Sure enough, it worked. As we gradually got raises and retired debt, we took great pride in increasing our giving gradually. Now, we've been able to tithe for years, and it feels great.

If I could give but two pieces of financial advice to Christians, this would be the second (the first is to actually have a budget--which you have to do if you're ever going to give or save). And even for non-Christians, I would strongly suggest giving to charities of your choice. It's hard to feel broke when you know you are able to give significant sums away.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

More Real Estate Woes

A couple of days ago I posted about how hard it can be to get a mortgage. Sadly, this story is only going to get worse. For the past several years, buyers have bought homes with zero down on adjsutable rate, interest-only notes, because "everybody knew" that the housing market was going to expand forever and anybody could just cash out and "flip" 2 years later, pocketing the huge equity run-up. Now that the market is finally contracting, there are going to be way too many people who bought more house than they could afford facing foreclosure. It's not going to be pretty. (Indeed, today's paper showed a top-10 national lender has declared bankruptcy.)

I'm not sure where my sympathies lie here. To a certain extent, it's natural to say that if somebody borrows money, they are morally and legally obligated to pay it back, period. If they are not responsible enough to do so, they ought to be in trouble. On the other hand, banks and other lenders (especially these predatory sub-prime places and credit cards) have been giving loans to people who should never have qualified for them. There is an old, old joke that defined a bank as the place that will give you a loan if you can prove you don't need the money. Those days are long gone. I don't want to be in the position of excusing irresponsible borrowing, but at the same time, there is more than enough irresponsibility on the lending side to at least share in the negligence.

Regardless, this is one of the areas that itches me. My wife and I would have liked 4 children. We have three, because we knew we couldn't comfortably support a 4th. We would like new cars. We make do with (very) used ones. We had a decent-sized, brand-new house. We downsized to a 40+ year-old, 1600 square-foot ranch--you guessed it, because it was the "wise" thing to do. We do without certain luxuries so that we can maintain adequate health, life, disability, auto, and homeowners insurance. And it's still tight, each and every month. So whenever I hear about the poor schmo whose house blows away who had no insurance (or the 50 million uninsured for health care), or the people who are being beaten to death by an excessive mortgage, or are upside down in their new car and can't get out, I have to wrestle down the impulse to scream, "Be a man! Think long-term! Make a decent decision, for once!" Then I feel guilty for being so heartless. In general, I think that when we insulate people from the consequences of bad decisions, we remove the incentive to learn and make good ones down the road. On the 0ther hand, many people are never going to get it, and we don't want to pile on and make it worse.

Oh, well. If anything, I guess I should just be happy that when the housing bubble does burst, at least I will hopefully not be one of the victims.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Financial Peace

After posting yesterday about a guy in deep financial woe, I felt like saying a few words about some ideas on how to make a limited income stretch. I've often thought that Mrs. Sal and I could give financial planning tips--not investment advice for those who actually have enough money (or, unbelievably, more than they need), but rather how to make it in the hand-to-mouth world that most of us live in. If you've ever done any reading on this subject, you'll recognize some Larry Burkett, some Ron Blue, and a very healthy dollop of Dave Ramsey. But it's not about slavishly following a system--every family situation is different, and one-size-fits-all can't be the only answer. Here goes:
  1. Commit to give, from the "first-fruits." As a Christian, this is not optional. From both a spiritual and a psychological perspective, it puts things in their proper order. It's hard to feel poor when you know that you are "rich" enough to give, off the top, every pay period. That doesn't mean that the family who has never given regularly should start tithing 10% and cut back on groceries, but you can commit to giving 10 or 20 bucks at a time and resolve to raise it as things get better (and there's no rule that you ever have to stop once the magic 10% number is reached, either). If you're not a Christian, give to a charity. But givers are happier. NOTE: I'm not saying that if you give to a church, that God will bless you with prosperity. That's bull. We give to change ourselves, not to change God.
  2. Make a budget every month. This is key--if income doesn't equal outflow, that's bad. Some folks do that every month and don't even know it, and just get deeper and deeper. Even if the budget tells you that you're in over your head, at least you have the knowledge now to address the problem. And you make a NEW budget each month--different stuff comes due, there may be an odd number of pay periods, etc. Don't budget for a magic "average" month, instead budget by paycheck (how much of THIS check is going where, and how long will it last). If the money runs out before the paycheck does, decide in advance who or what gets put off. A budget like that prevents you from paying the less-important stuff before what really matters.
  3. Try direct deposit and direct debit for recurring stuff, like rent/mortgage, utilities, etc. There's no chance you're not going to pay these things, but there's a chance you could miss the due date. Simplify, simplify.
  4. Before you pay anything but minimum payments on anything, squirrel away an emergency fund of $1000 or so (have a garage sale, consign some clothes, spend a month without darkening the door of a McDonalds, but get it). Most of us are one surprise away from real trouble. Just a little cushion can make that blown water pump go from major crisis to minor irritation.
  5. Avoid consumer debt. (OK, in some cases, this advice comes way too late.) Whether credit cards, car payments, student loans, or whatever, these payments are the biggest impediment to regular folks getting ahead. Make paying them off a priority. Most experts would suggest a "debt snowball" (see Dave's website above for details). But if you don't borrow any more and keep paying down, eventually they will go away. If possible, get rid of them sooner rather than later. And when they are gone, don't give yourselves all that saved budget space as a lifestyle increase, earmark some for savings.
  6. As soon as possible, build a safety net of insurance. Many jobs will help take care of health, dental, and/or disability insurance. But make sure you're covered, and that you have adequate life insurance. It's cheap, and it kicks other potential crises down the road. If you have decent insurance and an emergency fund bigger than your deductible, you can handle a wreck, a hurricane, or a death in the family, or at least manage them far better.
  7. Stay away from new cars. This goes with #5, but it gets its own topic. Dave Ramsey would say only pay cash for a car. That's wise, as we tend to borrow on this depreciating item and get upside down pretty quick. If you are not in love with the new car smell, you can really save a lot here. Buy used, pay off quick (or better, on the spot), and drive it until the doors come off.
  8. Once the bills are paid, take the rest in cash. This is the best budget management tool of all. After your check has come in and the bills have been paid (electronically), take what's left over and use it for the day-to-day expenses (maybe leave your gas budget in the bank so you can pay at the pump by debit card). As the money dwindles, you'll get more and more frugal. When it's gone, it's gone, and you don't bounce anything. If, amazingly, you have some left over, decide whether you're going to throw that at a debt or sock it in savings. Don't roll it into the next pay period. If some month there's less and it's going to be tight, at least you're the one who gets to decide what to do. If every month there's not enough, you need to cut your bills (drop the digital HDTV, cut back on cell service, sell the new car and get a clunker) or make more money. That's the only way the math works.

That's a basic look at the monthly management. Later, if time permits, we'll look at more long-term stuff.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Poverty Redux

Sorry to be gone so long; it's been a wild summer. My first-ever series of posts on this blog was a look at poverty, and an admission that I am deeply conflicted about the issue. Today's Charleston newspaper has a story in it which fired me back up again to think about another related issue--buying a house. It seems that Charleston (my hometown) leads the nation in the disparity between whites and minorities in mortgage rates. Today's story is about a sympathetic young man who is married, has some kids (and twins on the way), works as a teacher and track coach (so my radar perked up immediately), and is having a very hard time buying a house. He also happens to be African-American, so he fits the narrative of Charleston as a predatory, discriminatory place. Sadly, this guy makes about $27k teaching. That stinks, of course--and articles could be written on the topic of teacher pay, as well. He also owes about $20k for student loans, some of which are in forbearance right now because he hasn't had the means to pay them off. He has found a great house that would be perfect for his growing family for a little over $140,000 (which is a steal in the crazy Charleston market), but can't get a loan. Sad story. Now let's do a little math. If you make $27k, you'll lose 7.6% in FICA tax off the top, and here in SC, teachers drop 6% involuntarily into the state retirement fund. You'll basically pay no federal tax if you have 2-4 kids, so let's say he claims all his dependents and gets totally off the hook for federal withholding. State tax will still cost you something, let's say 5%. And then you'll pay a little something for your benefits package for health and dental. Full family coverage, even in the state system is rough. But let's low-ball and just assume that his total payroll deductions are 20%. So here's a guy with about $1800 a month in take-home pay. Assuming he gets the house he wants, at a great 6% rate for 30 years, with nothing down, you're looking at about $850 just for the loan, plus another $200 or so for taxes, insurance, and the PMI (private mortgage insurance) he'll have to pay as a penalty for not putting down 20%. So we're looking at maybe $1050 in house payment. Oh, and don't forget, he's still got the student loan, which should be a low rate over 10 years, maybe $150-200 a month. Sorry for all the math, but here's the point: If he has zero other debt--no car payment, no credit card, nothing--his family of 4 (soon to be 6) will have--at best--about $600 a month total for food, gas, car insurance, doctor visit copays, prescriptions, clothing, etc. It can't be done. I feel for this guy, but I wouldn't lend him $140,000. Not if he was white, black, green, or purple. He's a foreclosure waiting to happen. Now, since he's been in the paper, somebody will likely write him a loan for the good publicity. And they will do him a disservice. A buddy of mine just got the same treatment yesterday (he's self-employed, and happens to be white). He's got non-standard credit due to his business and personal debts being all mixed up together. He was minutes away from signing the papers for a house, and they tried the old bait-and-switch: we can do it, but for an 11% adjustable sub-prime rate. Translation: "you are more risk, and you'll have to pay through the nose for a loan." Wisely, he told the banker to shove it. But again, as much as I love the guy, and I would trust him with my life--I wouldn't bank him. There's a reason the bank building is so much bigger than my house: they don't lend money that is likely not going to be repaid, on time, without drama (at least not without sharing that risk through higher fees and interest).

So, does this mean that there's no racism in Charleston, SC? I sure wouldn't say that. But in this case, at least, the math is the best reason not to write the loan. And on the other hand, if this guy was debt-free and made $75,000 a year, I'll bet he could walk in and buy this house if he was purple with green spots. So what's this fellow to do? I don't know. You could say, "why are you having so many kids if you make so little?" But it's a little late for that, now. Rent for a family his size is going be rough. The good news is, if he keeps on doing what he's doing, he'll get a raise and a step increase every year through the schools, and will gradually make a repsectable salary, and he can work over the summer (I think he already does) for extra. It's sad that a college-educated teacher should have to do that to put food on the table, but again, that's a different topic. I do know for sure that Charleston is a rotten place to be trying to buy a house--it's one of the worst real estate markets in the country, as an average house can't be afforded on an average local salary. The out-of-state retirees who come here have driven up values beyond the means of most "local" people, and unless you were in the market over 10 years ago before the big run-up and have ridden the equity elevator, it's darned-near impossible to not be house-poor.

So what's the moral of the story? Two-fold, I think. First, there might be a very could reason besides just evil, predatory businesspeople why some folks can't get a loan. But second, there's a lot more to the story than just lazy bums who won't get a job demanding handouts. This guy works his butt off doing a hard job from dark 'til dark, and I'm sure brings papers home to grade (and goes to track meets on weekends). And he did what it took to get a "professional" job--stayed in school, went to college, jumped through the innumerable hoops to get a job as a Charleston teacher. He's married, trying to provide for his wife and kids--and it's not like his wife can just leap into the workforce with 2 kids and twins on the way. It's folks like them that keep me awake nights. If you're reading this and have a clue, tell me what you would do.

Monday, July 9, 2007

When in Rome: Ninja Turtles

Here's the first of my thoughts from the trip. Our group included 18 kids (average age 15) and three (alleged) adults. We were in and out of various sites, on and off buses and subways, and free for various lengths of time with orders to group up at pre-arranged meeting points afterward. Every time, we would do a "buddy check." Groups of 4-5 of us all had to count each other and report back to Dr. Mac (our lead chaperone) that all were present. Each group had a name--I counted for the Raphaels, there was a Da Vinci group, a Michelangelo group, and a Bernini group. Now, any good nerd would tell you--something's wrong with this picture. Bernini should have been Donatello, and then we would have had all 4 of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Da Vinci, of course, is Leonardo).

Well, upon further examination, I have revised my opinion. Having now seen works by all those renaissance masters (and they are truly AWESOME, in the proper sense of the word), I have decided that the author of TMNT was wrong. Donatello was always the odd turtle out, anyway (he's the guy with the purple mask and the staff). But Bernini, he rocks. If I had to pick, I'd even put him a notch above Michelangelo in the sculpting department. Now Mike still takes the best all-around prize (2nd place in marble, no worse than tied for 2nd in the painting with Rapahel, right up there with Bernini again for architecture--Raph didn't sculpt, Bernie didn't paint. Mike may lose a style point for the hideous design of the Swiss Guard's uniforms at the Vatican, but he still would edge out the others on overall artistic genius points).

On a serious note--after teaching this stuff for years, even having some of these works of art and their creators as the answers to test questions back in my days of teaching western civ, it was thrilling to be in the same room with the real masterpieces. One only has to spend a few minutes in the Borghese, the Uffizi, or the Vatican to recognize two undeniable truths: (1) "modern art" can't hold a candle to these guys. And (2) all our attempts at glorifying "multiculturalism" can't change the fact that western culture is unique. Not that others aren't worthy of study, but no other culture has produced a Michelangelo (or, for that matter, a Thomas Jefferson).

Home Again!

Just a quick note--the Sals are back stateside. The trip was great, and there were MANY blog-worthy thoughts duly noted for future posting. In the category of updates, the running suffered while in Rome--except for one very memorable run of about 1000 meters around the ancient Circus Maximus, there was zero running. I fear that my brother-in-law has gained valuable ground, but I still have a couple of weeks to get back enough fitness to not embarass myself when we run together at month's end. And also, Ann got ANOTHER job offer before we left on the trip--at MY school (which means the same daily and yearly school schedule as the kids and me, plus a better salary). So God delivered not only an answer to prayer, but with perfect timing and the best of all possible worlds. Check out Ephesians 3:20-21, and don't forget it: He is able to do exceedingly, abundantly more than we can ask or imagine.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Catching up, taking off

Sorry no posts in a while--we've only been home 72 hours since camp (which was all-consuming), and we head out again tomorrow for the big Rome trip. A couple of updates:

Camp was AWESOME! If you frequent the PBC circle of blogs, you'll see more detail. But suffice it to say that all the work and worry that went into the programming end really paid off in a great week of camp that made it all worthwhile.

Mrs. Sal has a JOB! We worried (and prayed, and then worried some more) about how all our summer plans would impact the very necessary task of her re-joining the full time teaching corps this year. Never fear--God took care of everything in a 3-day window. After 4 interviews in 72 hours, Ann was offered a job on the spot this morning, less than a day out from our departure for Italy. It's a teaching assistant job--she's a bit worried because she could likely hold out and get more $$ by stringing the process along a bit. But the principal assured her that it would turn into an early childhood teacher slot by next year, and the money isn't the most important thing. This job not only has the advantage of being the proverbial bird in the hand, it also is close to home and seems to present the best path toward the achievement of her long-term professional goals. (If she takes the "better" offer of private school or public elementary school, it's harder to see the end result winding up in public school early childhood, where her heart lies). And for us, it's one more great opportunity to trust God that He really does know what He is doing. Once again, I am confident that He will honor our decision to think long-term and not just chase the cash. (And it's hard to complain about how little money you make when you're packing for an $8000 trip to Europe that's only costing you for meals!)

And speaking of the trip... the countdown is on. We fly out tomorrow afternoon. All of the expected butterflies are there, plus a couple unique to nerd-dom: what books do I take on the plane? 14 hours could mean several junk suspense novels (I'm thinking Clancy, Ludlum, or Ted Dekker... maybe all three), or I could put a serious dent in a Churchill biography that I've been putting off. Either way, I'll get to do some serious reading--my colleague who is the lead chaperone for this trip is a much more serious scholar than me (an ancient hist PhD, and a man of prodigious work habits), and has put together a 180-page typed guide to our itinerary. Oh, and I hope they show Spider Man 3 on the flight--my boys went to see it with their grandfather, so I missed my excuse to go see it in the theater. That's more Sal speed.

All of you friends out there, please pray for our family over the next two weeks. I'm not taking the laptop, so there will be no blogging from Europe. Ann will likely post pictures when we get back.

I promise I'll post more interesting stuff in July. My brain is cluttered again; time to dump it all in this spot.

Friday, June 8, 2007


My buddy Mike says I've been a blogger wimp, having not posted in spite of being off for the summer. Sorry--Google has been jumpy about letting me in, and Mrs. Sal has had a honey-do list a mile long as we have been revving up for camp.

Speaking of camp, that starts tomorrow--the 26th annual SuperWeek! Since the vast majority of readers of this blog are camp staffers, not being able to post for a week won't be that big a deal. This year, all three of my kids (plus a nephew) are going to camp with us. I'm excited about the week for them, of course--being a camper is great. But I am also very excited for us grownups. Camp is a spiritual oasis; it's like going on a God-centered retreat. Yes, there are innumerable fun things to do. But there is also twice-daily worship, a daily Bible study, and most importantly, the fellowship of fellow staffers who are all there for a week of putting God first. If that doesn't sound fun, consider this--if you don't like being with Christians and praising God, you probably won't like heaven very much!

Prayers, please, all around for safe travel for everybody and for the week to have its intended goals of touching young lives significantly. Oh, and decent weather (or at least no monster hailstorms).

Friday, June 1, 2007

Go ahead. Envy me.

Just thought I'd point out, I didn't go to work today. And I won't be going Monday, either. Nor any day that I don't really feel like it until mid-August. 'CAUSE I'M A SCHOOLTEACHER! I will, of course, have to deal with students in my professional capacity for a couple of weeks... IN ROME! So life is pretty good.

Seriously, I have no idea how all you people with "real jobs" do it (I've been told teaching is an "unreal job"). I have nothing but respect for the folks who take their very limited vacation time and spend it on such things as PBC (and of course, SuperWeek starts in 8 days). For all the many gripes that teachers have about the pay (and believe me, a small number divided by 12 is even less per month than the same small number divided by the 9 months we actually work), I've said for a long time now that time is far more valuable than money. If I made six figures, I'd just spend it all, but I wouldn't be able to do the time-things that money can't buy (like camp, and enjoying the kids all summer). Now, I'll grant you that the best of both worlds would be even better--time to travel and the money to go places. But God has been awfully gracious in that area, too. Happy summer, all!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What do I need?

There's a game going around on the internet. You google your name, in conjunction with "needs" and relate what the world wide web says you need. Apparently, in no particular order, here are a few of the things "Larry needs."
  1. Larry needs a lifetime supply of calcium supplement.
  2. Larry needs a beating.
  3. Larry needs to find several women. (I'm afraid this is from the game, "Leisure Suit Larry.")
  4. Larry needs computer help.
  5. Larry needs to stop trying to keep up with the Joneses.
  6. Larry needs dental surgery and a somewhat complicated neuter before he can be placed in a permanent home. (please, please, please be about a dog!)
  7. Larry needs love, too.
  8. Larry needs some financial help.
  9. Larry needs to get in shape. (Boy, do I!)
  10. Larry needs to stick to stand-up comedy. (this would be the Cable Guy)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Basic Civics: The Electoral College

On the way home from work today, I heard a few minutes of the Laura Ingraham show; she's a conservative talk-show host who has replaced Dave Ramsey's financial show on my local AM station (full disclosure: I prefer Dave). She was interviewing someone on the still-far-off 2008 election, and was pointing out how likely it is that Hillary Clinton will be our next President. Although I can't say I am very happy about that, it makes good math sense. As I'm in the process of writing my final exam, and as there are a couple of questions on it about the electoral college, here's a brief synopsis for those who haven't had a civics class in a while.

Contrary to popular belief, getting the most votes won't make you President. The magic number is a majority of electoral votes. Every state gets a number of electoral votes equal to its number of senators (always 2) plus its number of congressional representatives (from 1 in sparsely-populated states like Wyoming up to 53 in California). If you win the popular vote by even a one-vote plurality in a state, you pretty much get all those electoral votes. With 100 senators and 435 congressional districts, that makes 535 total votes, plus the 23rd amendment gave Washington, DC 3 votes to equal the smallest state. So that's 538. Half of 538 is 269, and a majority is 270. So if you get 270 electoral votes, you win. Simple enough!

But there's more--in a 3-or-more-way race, you can win the electoral vote without winning half the popular vote. A plurality still counts. Further, about 40% of the population tends to vote Democrat, about 40% Republican, and the other 20% or so are generally in play. That's why our biggest popular-vote landslides are always around the magic 60% mark. So it's possible, when a party is not united (like when two Democrats faced Lincoln in 1860, or Teddy Roosevelt took votes away from Taft in 1912, or a Ross Perot steals votes from George H.W. Bush in 1992), the other guy (Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, or Bill Clinton, respectively) can pick up the electoral majority while only winning around 40% of the popular vote.

It's even better than that. Four times in our history, the guy with the second-most overall popular votes has still won the electoral vote (in 1824, 1876, 1888, and most recently in 2000--and, trivia time: 3 of the 4 had a father or grandfather who had also been President--post a comment if you know who didn't). But that makes sense. The electoral college measures breadth of support across all the states instead of depth of support in just a few. If you can imagine someone winning California by a million votes, but losing each of the other 49 states by maybe 10,000 each, you can see how it's supposed to work--the winner of 49 states deserves more to be President, even though he or she "lost" the popular vote by half a million.

But why does all this mean we're looking at Bush-Clinton-Bush-CLINTON? Demographics. If you look at the map of the 2000 election county-by-county, George W. Bush painted the whole map bright red. But there were small patches of intense Al Gore blue along both coasts, up and down the Mississippi River, and in big urban areas. Yet Gore won more popular votes, and the electoral college came down to 600 votes in Florida. Urban voters, who tend to be younger, more often single, more often from minority backgrounds, socially more liberal--they break far more heavily Democrat than "red states" do Republican. And they are much more densely populated than much larger swaths of the country. So New York City dominates NY state politics. "Blue" LA, San Francisco, and other cities dominate the rest of "red" California. And so it goes across the country.

If you look at the 2004 map, it's hard to pick out any state John Kerry won that Hillary Clinton (or Barack Obama) would expect to lose. And let's not forget, Kerry ran a woeful campaign against an incumbent President, long before the Iraq war began to sour like it has recently. Add to that the fact that much of the "red state" base is less-than-in-love with the GOP frontrunners. I've already alluded to the fact that I won't be happy with Giuliani. Now that the immigration bill has hit the fan, McCain is hemmoraging base voters even worse than he was before. And Romney has yet to break out of third place behind those two. If a party can't even get all of their base, they can't win the electoral college.

Of course, there's lots of time between now and then--many GOP'ers think that a Fred Thompson candidacy might change the calculus, plus provide crossover potential to pick up some of that elusive 20% in the middle. Others think that this immigration bill might upset the apple-cart. And of course, as Dewey proved in 1948, the guy who is "guaranteed" to win can still be upset (by my favorite Democrat, Harry S Truman, who saw his party split three ways and still won). But if you're among those who says, "Hillary can't possibly win," think again.