Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Perhaps it's a sign of some inner pathology on my part, nagging insecurity, or whatever (although I think I'm pretty well-adjusted, all told). But I feel extremely lucky to have her as my wife. Generally speaking, the skinny nerd with glasses and an average career doesn't get to spend his life with the most beautiful girl he ever met--at least not on TV. Yet I do. Very cool. And she's not just beautiful, she's in great shape. I admire so much the effort and time she has put into working out the last couple of years... and the physical benefits are obvious. Even better, she now understands my lifetime love-hate relationship with running even better.
Of course, it would be pretty shallow just to love someone because they are attractive (although, I must confess, I never would have asked her out all those years ago if it hadn't been for the "WOW" I felt when I first saw her eyes). But she is smart, and disciplined, and frugal, and organized... just tailor-made for me. She's also an awesome mom. She's the glue that holds our family together.
Finally, and most importantly, she is a person of deep faith. I wouldn't be the Christian I am today were it not for her influence. She's got her priorities (and therefore, by extension, our family's priorities) in the right order. I can't imagine how different my life would be were it not for her.
So tonight, when the ball drops, I'll kiss the same girl for the 23rd year in a row. And I will feel very, very blessed.
I have finished (for now) my navel-gazing and made a few decisions about my list of resolutions. I think the obvious thread running through all of them is more proactivity, or at least, less wasted opportunities. A couple of my goals are phrased as negatives: I will spend less time (especially first thing in the morning) reading dozens of web pages. Years ago, I stopped subscribing to the local paper because I was giving the first hour of my day to it when my stated priorities (God, family) were elsewhere. Now, I'm reading that same sports page and much, much more at my computer screen. First-cup-of-coffee reading is going to be the Bible in 2009. I'm also going to waste less time in the hour between the last school bell at 3:05 and practice at 4:15. Some days, that's a legitimate work time. And when it is, I'll work to the best of my ability. But on days when that time doesn't belong to anyone else, I'm going to fit in a workout, even if it's only two miles. Finally, when I get home, I'm not going to turn on junk TV. (And yes, even the news can be junk TV!) If I want to sit around, I'm going to read real books.
As for the specifics of goals previously discussed, I am going to plan on reading the 1-Year Bible again, and I have enlisted my buddy Chad as an accountability partner. We'll catch up by email once or twice a week and keep each other honest. As for the running, it's a little more amorphous. I'm not plugging in a hard-and-fast number of runs or miles. But if I use my pre-practice time as I resolve, the math will take care of itself. My average year for the past 11 has been 126 runs and 500 miles (which, for those who like math, means an average of about 4 miles a run, which historically has meant about a half-hour on the roads). Those numbers seem a bit ambitious in light of the past two years of sub-par, inconsistent running, but if I just RUN, the running gets easier and the numbers creeep up of their own accord. One thing is for sure, though--I plan to race again this year. I haven't picked a goal race (or races) yet, and I'm not setting any time goals at this point. But in a month I'll be in the "masters" age group, and I want to formalize that with racing.
Finally, I want to count my blessings more explicitly this year. I may do some of that online. I intend to enjoy my awesome family and my really cool job and not take them for granted.
Happy New Year to anybody who reads this. May any resolutions you set be successful.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
First, running. I ran more this year than last, but still not as much or as often as I would have preferred. I shot for 520 miles (10 per week), and I'm going to wind up with somewhere around 340, which is quite low, historically. I've also run less far per run--barely 3 miles per run. There have been lots of runs of 20 minutes or less this year, as I have been more of a recreational "jogger" than a "runner." I also haven't raced at all. But, there's some good news: I bought the most recent Runner's World yesterday, and a column referred to the number of runners in the USA. Out of 300 million Americans, about 24.2 million (8%) are "core participants" in running--that is, they run 50 or more days per year. Only 16 million (5%) are "frequent runners" with 100 or more days on the road. At least I was one of those. It feels a little better to know that one of my "weak" years is still stronger than almost 95% of the country.
Anyway, for the new year, I want to run MORE, but how much more is the question. More days, more miles, more quality? I'm leaning toward setting a goal of 400 miles and at least one race after I'm in my new (masters!) age group. But that seems a pretty wimpy goal for a guy who averaged 520 for 10 years. I'll mull that one over.
The other one that's itching me is my Bible-reading goal for the year. This year I did not read the Bible through as I have several times in the past. So part of me says I should do that again. However, I'm not super inspired to actually slog through Leviticus and Ezekiel again. I'd like to read The Daily Bible in Chronological Order, but I hate the idea of not getting to the New Testament until October. A good friend told me that I could do the whole New Testament 7 times in the year in the same time it takes to do the Old and New together, so I'm tempted to just do a NT year... but I'm afraid that will become an excuse to read less, skip days, and otherwise be un-disciplined (in a way it's like the running--seems a weak goal for a guy who's done more so many times, even though this year wasn't one of them). A compromise would be to do The One Year Bible again, with a reading from OT, NT, Psalms, and Proverbs every day. But I've used that plan SO many times before. Once again, suggestions from my (few) readers are very welcome.
Regardless of the numbers of miles or chapters logged this year, I know that the biggest thing I want to do is work on consistency in both areas. What plagued me this past year was days skipped of what should have been every-day habits. I've got the time (or at least, I've got the same 168 hours a week everybody does). What I need is to get off my butt and DO THE JOB. If I can do that, the other stuff will fall into place.
In other goal areas, I'm planning to spend more time reading and less time watching junk TV, and I'm flirting with the idea of doing some light weightlifting (nothing intense like Mikey's crossfit, but just a little something to fight off Father Time).
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Actually, it's not a whole cow; it's a one-eighth share of a beef cow to be butchered next year, meaning that we'll be stocking the freezer with 50-odd pounds of prime beef in February. My sister and her family, and my father also received the gift of moo-cow.
After the initial "that's weird" wore off, I've decided it's a really cool gift. I generally dislike the whole gift exchange thing for adults at Christmas. If there's something I want that costs less than about a hundred bucks, I'll buy it. If I can't afford it, chances are, none of my relatives can, either. I'd rather just buy for the kids. But at least the gift of beef shows some originality, and it's certainly something I never would have thought of. We'll feast on Christmas cow throughout the spring!
On the Warren thing, some on the left are upset because Warren supported California's Proposition 8, which prohibits same-sex marriage. They can't believe that Obama would ever allow a "bigot" like that to spoil his inaugural. This leaves me puzzled and amused. Didn't they watch Obama's interview/debate thingie at Saddleback with Warren, where he said, clearly, in English, "I believe marriage is the union of a man and a woman?" I think the funny thing is that many on the left just KNEW that Obama didn't mean it--that he was only playing to the center to get elected. Hey, I'm guilty of that, too. I feared the "centrist" Obama was a head-fake. But his cabinet appointments, and now this, indicate that it's at least possible that he is just what he claimed to be. Or, alternatively, he's a very smart politician who knows that there is a lot more to gain by cozying up to the winning side on this issue. (After all, marriage protection has passed in something like 30 states, including uber-liberal California.) Where are the gay activists going to go, to the Republicans? As for the "bigot" thing: come on. The same folks who act like radical Muslims just need to be understood better in light of their unique culture (despite their barbaric treatment of women, stoning of gays, etc.) can't seem to understand that a large bloc of Christians in this country honestly believe that homosexuality is a sin... because the Bible explicitly says so. And despite believing in love and forgiveness, they (we) also believe that sins should be repented of, not normalized. Oh, well. If being called intolerant is the worst persecution I ever have to face, I just count my blessings.
On the other topic, there is some gnashing of teeth that Caroline Kennedy (sorry, can't even typer her name without humming "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond) is being heavily considered to take over the senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. Now, don't get me wrong--count me among those irritated that the same folks who thought that the self-made Governor with the 80% approval rating, Sarah Palin, was unqualified now want to give a senate seat to somebody with exactly zero experience and a celebrity last name. But it's not like it's unusual. Shucks, it's Hillary's seat. So what we're doing is taking a seat that was held by someone who rode her husband's coattails to fame and giving it to somebody who is riding her father's coattails. Seems fair. Of course, when I reflect that the seat used to be held by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, I sigh. Clinton, Bush, Gore, Jesse Jackson, Jr., all the Kennedys, even Beau Biden (who will "inherit" Joe's Deleware seat when he returns from Iraq)... it's not what you know, it's who you know. I don't like it, but it's not like it's a new phenomenon. I just hope our new House of Lords sees fit to throw us little guys some bones.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
But that's not the weird part. I went at 1 PM on a Thursday, after my school finished exams. I figured there would be little or no waiting, as anybody who could afford a cell phone would be at work. HA! We were there for over an hour, and the line was wrapped around the building. Well, suffice it to say that the folks there were not well-dressed professionals on their lunch break. Apparently, there are MANY people in may area with lots of workday free time who can afford to have extremely expensive cell phones. Of course, they all could have been on the night shift, but that wasn't the impression I got.
I guess it's a matter of priorities. When I was first married, I lived in the second-worst apartment complex in West Columbia (the worst was across the street). My next-door neighbor was a stylish young man, always dressed to the nines. I remember thinking that his shoes must have cost as much as I was paying in tuition. He also drove an immaculate black BMW coupe with gold rims. He was always out washing it. I used to laugh to myself that he was living in such a dive to afford the nice ride. But it was worse than that--one day I caught a glimpse of his living room as we came out at the same time. He had NO FURNITURE. We're talking an old TV on a milk carton and a beanbag. That's it. I could just imagine him out on the town, impressing some young lady, but unable to bring her home to sit on the sofa and snuggle, as he had no sofa.
Fast-forward almost 20 years. Same story, I guess. Only now that young lady would be impressed when he whipped out his everything-on-it Blackberry. I wonder who sends you emails when you have no workplace?
However, I think the advice to not freak out is pretty good here. It's rarely a good idea to make snap decisions in the midst of a crisis. As Goldberg points out (quite rightly, I think), if you think that the biggest problem with Bush's foreign policy is that he freaked out, bought into the politics of fear, and therefore threw out the rulebook and heaped stupid decisions one upon the other, then why would you advocate doing the exact same thing in economic policy? Of course, some say that the evil George Bush was just looking for an excuse to shred the Constitution and make war on poor, helpless, misunderstood Arabs. Likewise, some now claim that those who want to nationalize the financial and automotive industries, create a "NEW New Deal," etc. have a socialistic agenda and are just seizing on the current crisis to implement it.
I, for one, prefer not to assume bad motives. I would just say, in the immortal words of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, "Relax. Don't do it." As a nation, and indeed, as individuals and families, we should take a deep breath and go back to good, old-fashioned principles. Yes, desperate times sometimes require desperate measures. But a bad idea doesn't become a good one by coming along in a time of panic. What principles, you may ask? Well, for the nation, there's things like the Constitution and capitalism. For example--a "Car Czar?" Why do we need a Car Czar, a drug war Czar, an energy Czar? Once upon a time, we used to have a really cool system of checks and balances where decisions were made by the people's elected representatives. Just a thought. And it used to be that when companies couldn't pay their bills, they filed chapter 11. Just a thought.
And for us as individuals, how about things like cutting back, spending less than we make, paying off debt, and living on a budget? I won't go 100% Dave Ramsey on you here, but the same financial wisdom that Solomon detailed 3000 years ago hasn't changed any. And it's not just financial stuff. Put first things first. Remember that this station is temporary, and that eternity lasts a long, long time. It's a lot easier to be calm when you realize that.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Last year at this time, I was lamenting the fact that I had dropped off in my running and study time at year-end and relishing the prospect of a fresh start and a new DayTimer. Sound familiar?
I read somewhere that pretty much all the great movies have already been written: The Magnificent Seven was originally a Japanese film called The Seven Samurai. Gladiator is just Braveheart in a different time period. The Mighty Ducks is just Rocky with hockey. (OK, there is a pretty big quality gap between those last two.)
I actually like that. It gives me some comfort to know what Solomon said, that there is nothing new under the sun. And also to know that smarter, better people than me have often already figured out the right answers to thorny questions a long time ago. That's one reason I read old books and biographies of great men. An example: I saw a message board post a while back where some person (probably a college-age kid) was asking what he thought was a serious question about places where the Bible seems to contradict itself. I don't think he was looking to pick a fight, I think he honestly wondered if this called into question the whole veracity of scripture. Turns out that a medieval philosopher named Peter Abelard (if you've ever heard of the love story of Abelard and Heloise, he's the same guy) successfully tackled that topic in a book called Sic et Non (Latin for "Yes and No") almost 800 years ago. Obviously, there are plenty of fields still being explored (nuclear physics, for example). But a lot of the stuff we worry about is really old news.
So, a new year is coming. I'm going to enjoy the new parts (never had a kid start driving before) while recognizing that it's not that scary (others, including my own family have done the same successfully). To everything there is a season (Solomon). Turn, turn, turn (Pete Seeger).
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Buddy, my loveable mutt, is over 13. Using the standard 7 people years to 1 dog year ratio, that puts him in his early 90's. I have a grandmother in Texas who is 91... she's in a nursing home. My step-grandfather is also 91... he's not exactly getting around quickly. But Buddy is older and slower than both of them. His front half is German shepherd, and his back half is golden retriever. The retriever half seems to have given out. Buddy has almost lost the use of his back legs. He pretty much lays in one spot most of the time, gets up VERY slowly to hobble to his food and water, and then goes back to his spot. His main activities are sleeping and accepting affection (mostly from Mary Elizabeth and me). When he goes outside, I have to carry him up and down the three steps out the back door (which is complicated by the fact that he weighs about 75 pounds).
We've had the vet in to look at him. She says he seems happy and comfortable, and that he'll let us know when the time comes. I certainly wouldn't want to euthanize Buddy just because he has become inconvenient. But I don't want him to have any discomfort, either. Regardless, Buddy is the best dog I've ever had. And I'm going to miss him when he's gone.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Last year I set two three long-term goals that didn't work out. Two relate to my struggles this year with organization and motivation. The first was to read through the Bible again (would have been the 7th time through). And the follow-through is so simple: set a daily time, get a Bible broken up into 365 daily chunks, and put in the 15 minutes a day. I've done it before, but this time I dropped the ball. Several times I tried to come back and do just a chapter a day, or just the New Testament, or just Proverbs in a month. But I just got off the rails. That's a goal that will get re-visited this year.
The second "failure" was similar in nature. I wanted to run 520 miles for the year (10 miles per week on average). This would have kept up my average for the past 10 years, and it's not really 10 mpw, it's some weeks of 0-6 miles and some weeks of 20+. But it's December and I've only logged 325, and the next two weeks aren't looking to be big ones. This goal took its first hit when I had my surgery last December and couldn't run the entire month of January. Then there were several times thereafter where I fell out of shape and had to begin again with dinky little 2-mile runs (what I call the "better than nothing" workout). I'm back to that point now. I never hit a real stride where I was getting the big numbers that balance out the slack weeks. I'm not sure what I'll do with this goal area--on the one hand I'm not so motivated to be a big-time competitive runner anymore; I think I could be happy with 3-4 runs of 3-4 miles a week and staying in just overall decent shape without "training." But part of me wants to make a comeback in my 40's (and part of me feels like now I need to run for my health in a way I never did before). We'll see.
The last one is the one that shows how little things are under our control. I laid out a careful, systematic plan to be debt-free by the end of this year, and to see our family net worth climb by a certain amount. That was based on continuing our regular contributions to retirement, paying off debt, and accelerating savings based on the budget I foresaw last December. HA! Little did I dream that we'd see $4 gas for part of the year, or that my old Chevy would give up the ghost (technically, buying the new Odyssey was a step forward in net worth because its value outweighs the debt we incurred, but adding the payment torpedoed the plan to throw all that "extra" money--even typing the word makes me give a rueful chuckle... isn't it amazing how life always seems to expand to eat up all the "extra," and then some--at other debts and savings). And of course, like everybody else, I saw every dime we saved for retirement this year, plus every dime we've ever seen in gains, plus several more nickels and dimes, wiped out by the losses in the stock market. It's not a "real" loss until we cash out in 25-30 more years, but ouch.
Regardless, I'm pleased with the past year. Better to have a plan and see it fall through than to go through life aimlessly. And as my sister and I can both testify, any plan is much better when it is carefully written in the pages of a brand-new, spotless DayTimer.
Here's something else interesting. I have a new DayTimer for 2009 (by now my sister probably has three). It's a DayRunner pro refill with 2 pages per week and 2 pages per month on tabs... perfect for the time-management nerd looking to get organized after a time in the doldrums. (For anybody who cares, I'm still using my old classic-size nylon-cover daytimer 7-ring binder; I have a bigger leather one, but it's currently on hiatus.)
Anyway, the biggest problem with buying a new 2009 calendar with 2 weeks left in 2008 is that I want to use my new toy, but there are no pages. This, as old Bush 41 said to Saddam Hussein, "can not stand." Luckily, I have just a couple of blank undated weekly pages that will allow me to bridge the gap. The thing is, some of those same pages were used for the exact same purpose LAST year when I got the old "new" DayTimer. So I get a good look at my to-do list for the last week of December 2007.
On the list: the expected year-end stuff like "take down tree" (check!), "Christmas stuff to attic" (check!), "clean up desk/files" (a favorite part of the new year routine for uber-nerd--check!), "catch up Bible reading" (check!), plus some mundane items like "laundry" (check!) and "bills" (check).
Then there are a few fun ones--"lazer tag date with Tommy" (enthusiastic check!), "lunch with Alyne (who flew in from Arkansas--check!). There's also one that gives a special satisfaction: "send prayer ministry note to church" (check!). This is cool because back then, I had just been put in charge of getting a new prayer ministry off of the ground. That item has shown up and gotten checked off a dozen times since, and the ministry is now a pretty-well-functioning routine at our church. Yes, it's a little ironic that the guy who admits to having a shabby personal prayer life is the deacon in charge of the prayer ministry. I may have a hard time with the spiritual side, but man, can I use a spreadsheet!
Then there are the failures--most notably, "put up trampoline enclosure" (no check... little arrow pointing to the right, which means, "pushed forward to be done later"). That NEVER got done. The trampoline is now just about worn out, and the enclosure pieces are STILL in the shed, awaiting my attention. And finally, on the 28th of last year, a single item, "Ankle surgery" (check). That was farewell to my long-time companion, Arthur the ugly cyst. Then, every single item from that point on gets no check.. just the little "X" which means, "dropped from goals, never gonna happen." Little did I know that this "minor" surgery would put me in bed for 3 days and on crutches for 10, and would pretty much tank the rest of Christmas vacation.
All things considered, it's fun to look back and see a snapshot of what my world looked like a year ago. I haven't saved every single DayTimer refill from the past 20 years... most of them get filed in the trash can after a year (although I DO have my pocket refill from August of '90, including my wedding, honeymoon, and first week of grad school--maybe that's a fun post for later). A to-do list isn't quite a diary (and I have failed many times at my attempts to "journal"--maybe this year I'll try again... maybe even here on this blog. We'll see.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Secondly, I have a new razor. Now, this is not big or important news. But several months ago, Mrs. Sal got on a kick of clipping coupons. She's good at it, and has saved us big-time bucks. But one of the things we began doing was trying out various disposable razors for which she had coupons rather than pay the big bucks for refills for my old Gillette Mach 3. Sadly, my face (unlike the rest of me) is carved from a block of granite--all sharp angles. And the new razors came at a cost... I have probably cut myself 20 times since the coupon deal began. Well, she got a coupon that let us get the relatively-new Gillette Fusion, their top-of-the-line 5-blade super razor. Sorry, but I may never go back. Yes, a 4-pack of blades is $14. But WOW. I know, I sound like a commercial, but after carving my chin at least once a week (and still having patches along my jawline that never got touched), this is amazing. I think I wouldn't have appreciated it so much if I hadn't had some of the cheapo razors first, just for contrast.
Anyway, we don't say "thanks" for small, simple pleasures often enough. So I'm just registering a couple of little nice things that have brought me joy. May your Christmas be merry and your cheeks be smooth!
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Point #2 is, that's what chapter 11 Banruptcy is for. You re-structure your obligations. In a fair world, that's what would happen. Of course, our world is not fair, and there's no way that congress is going to allow the big 3 to go bankrupt. There WILL be a bailout.
Point #3 is, there is absolutely no incentive for any Republican congressman to support the bailout. Their voters are still ticked about the last one they went along for. If you're fiscally conservative enough to vote GOP, you should be able to do enough math to know that the first bailout is only the tip of the iceberg unless the business model changes (which is unlikely), and covering for the Democratic majority on this doesn't make political sense. They have the majority, they get the union votes, let THEM own it. (That said, if congress passes a stopgap measure to cover until the Obama administration gets to town, Bush shouldn't veto it... that's just basic politeness for a lame duck).
Finally, point #4: There is almost zero chance that congress has the stones to do what must be done. So what they ought to do is give the job to somebody who does (and that can give them cover). About 15 years ago, after the Cold War ended, we needed to close some military bases. No congressman dared vote to close the base in his or her own district--it was political suicide. So they created a base closure commision that made a list without their input, and then accepted the commission's recommendations on a voice vote. Our Navy base here in Charleston was closed, but our congressman didn't get blamed for it. We could do that here--if the congress is serious, they can appoint someone with the authority to undo the union contracts, and then later say, "Wow. Sorry about that. Wish we could have stopped it."
Now, will they do it? Who knows. I don't know that anybody in DC is that serious about genuinely doing things that make sense. But they could. And if I can figure it out, it's not rocket science.
Monday, December 8, 2008
I really haven't had that many original thoughts of late. I feel somewhat obligated to hold forth on things historical, political, or economic, just to keep up my nerd "cred." However, there's not much to say... the economy is still in the toilet, W. is a lame duck (lamer than most), and, despite my best efforts over the past campaign season to take the high road politically, team Obama has yet to call and solicit my input on anything of merit. (Although once Matthew gets firmly established in the upper rungs of the administration, I hope that will change!)
One quick thought about the economy, though: yes, it's bad. But when all these pundits pop off with the "worst economy since the Great Depression" stuff, I just sigh. Is there nobody who remembers the late 1970's? Back then, there was a number we called the "misery index." It's the sum of inflation plus unemployment. So "full" (5%) unemployment plus low (3%) inflation would be a good, low number, like 8. That's a descriptor of the boom years of the 1990's. Currently it's more like 10-11 (6.5% unemployment plus 4% inflation). That's worse, but it's not fatal. In 1979 the index was near 20--double-digits in both, plus gas lines, a terrible recession, home interest rates in the teens. Today you can get a mortgage (IF you've got good credit) for less than 6%. You can buy a gallon of gas for $1.61 on the corner nearest my house. You can get a Euro for about $1.25. And although we are now (finally) in a genuine recession (consecutive quarters of negative economic growth), we've seen MUCH worse. Admittedly, the banking industry is a mess, as are the auto makers (maybe I'll blog about their woes later). And my 401-K is more like a 201-K, just like everybody else's. But it's not as bad as 1979, much less 1932.
On another, more personal topic, will all my praying friends please pray for me to get out of the rut I'm in? I have neither been running, praying, nor reading my Bible (or, for that matter, reading anything) at anything like the levels that satisfy me lately. I think I really fell off the wagon around election time--despite my protestations that I wasn't taking politics too seriously, I spent an inordinate amount of time on the internet reading about it. This corresponded with the end of my cross-country season and the accompanying guaranteed daily time of exercise. Stir in a really busy time at work, and I've been just surviving from day to day. That's no way to run a railroad. Worse, I feel like a hypocrite. I feel like as a coach and a very public Christian, I should be more of a role model. Thanks!
OK. That wasn't too hard. Maybe this is the start of a new trend.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Last week, the captain of my 1997 team, with whom I had lost contact, found my number and we got back in touch. He's 29 now, married (his was actually the first wedding of a former student to which I was ever invited, but it was in Kansas), and sent me an email with photos of his two sons. He and his wife are adopting two boys they have been foster parents for. I'm so proud of him!
And this week, I attended the funeral of arguably the best athlete I ever coached, and also an incredible young man. He was killed in an auto accident last weekend. That was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do as a coach.
I guess over 15 years I have coached 500-1000 kids total. A very small minority of those have remained close to me after graduation. They are the ones that give me untold satisfaction with the career field I have chosen. Words cannot express how much it means to me to have been a part of the lives of these three.
One thing I've found amusing in the past 72 hours is how many of my liberal friends have made a point of checking to see if I'm OK with the result. Nobody has been visibly gloating, which is nice, but I think some have been a little surprised that I'm behaving so "reasonably." I think some folks got so wrapped up in how terrible it would be (to them) if McCain had won that they have a hard time imagining somebody just shrugging it off. In a way, I'm almost glad Obama pulled it off so we can avoid the pain of being told how stupid and racist America was for electing "another Bush." Maybe, hopefully, we can get past the last 16 years of half the country hating the guts of the guy in the White House. Oh, and while I'm being thankful, I guess I should also count my blessings that Obama has almost certainly saved us from ever seeing Hillary Clinton or Al Gore as president.
I'm sure I'll have other political thoughts later on. But that's enough for now.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
All that said, with a little over 2 hours until the polls close, I guess I should predict something. For McCain to win, EVERYTHING has to break his way. I happen to think it'll be closer than expected, and I happen to think the polls overstate Obama's case. Still, I can't imagine McCain catching ALL the breaks. Therefore, I predict that Barack Obama will become the 44th president of the United States. (However, I do entertain a small fantasy of pulling it off, just for the sake of seeing the heads of my smug liberal friends explode!)
So, what does this mean in the long run? Well, for starters, it doesn't necessarily mean the end of the world, for either the USA or conservatism. There was hardly any scenario this year that looked good for any Republican. Assuming we don't see an Obama landslide (which I'm not expecting), this means that the best-financed candidate EVER, in a race against a 72-year-old guy not even liked by his own party, running at a time when everybody has a huge case of Bush fatigue, the economy helpfully crashes, foreign policy recedes from the headlines, and the news media gives every possible advantage, can just BARELY pull off a win by pretending to be a center-right moderate. This country is a center-right country, period. That's not likley to change soon.
Secondly, despite all the hype to the contrary, this is NOT the "most important election of our time." Indeed, if I could have only had one, I prefer the victory 4 years ago to now. Had Kerry prevailed in 2004, we would have certainly lost the Iraq war and two conservative Supreme Court Justices would have been replaced by liberals (which also means that the Heller case would almost certainly have gone the other way and the 2nd amendment would already have been gutted, as just one example). Now, the war is all-but won, and the next two Supremes to retire will come from the left side (Stephens and Ginsburg). Assuming Scalia eats his Wheaties, we're looking at living to fight another day, in more ways than one.
I also don't think Obama will be as able to implement a far-left vision as some fear. You may remember Clinton coming to office with a very similar house and senate to what we're likely to have this year, back in 1992. He bit off more than he could chew, and 2 years later, the "Contract With America" put the clamps on him. I think Obama is a smart enough guy to try to avoid that outcome. At least I hope he's that smart. If he tries to govern as the same guy he acted like in the debates, that'll be fine. If he goes hard left, the voters will wise up. As I wrote earlier, it's still basically a center-right country.
One more note about the election. It's a great country we've got. And it's awesome that we, the people, get to choose our leaders. The system isn't perfect, and sometimes we get results I would not prefer. But I respect the system. If the people want this, then that's fine with me. I voted, fair and square, and if I lose, that's OK. (And conversely, if my side happens to pull the upset, I sure hope it doesn't provoke stupidity from the other side!)
Now the waiting begins. I'll be up late watching the polls close, and of course I'll be interested in the outcome. But I have been reminded again this week how little this really matters compared to the big stuff. Tomorrow I will attend the funeral of a young man I coached, one of the all-around best kids I've worked with in 15 years. That is REALLY important. As C.S. Lewis said a long time ago, kingdoms, nations, empires (and presidencies) are temporary. People, made in the image of God, live forever in eternity. Even as we pick a "leader of the free world" in tumultuous times, I prefer to spend the bulk of my energy on what lasts forever.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
First of all, it would still be graduated and progressive. Either a flat tax or the so-called fair tax would be significantly less progressive than we have now. I have no problem with those who make more paying a higher percentage of their income than those who make less; but I would stipulate that there ought to be reasonable limits on how much anyone can pay.
What limits? I would stipulate that there is an alternative maximum tax of an effective 33% rate. (Note--marginal rates could be higher; at the current 35% top rate, a doctor earning 400k a year still doesn't hit an effective rate of a third). This is just a matter of fairness... even if it is economcially good sense, I think it smacks of theivery to confiscate more than a third of someone's income.
Moreover, I would have a minimum nominal tax. Under the current system, many, many families (mine used to be one) pay ZERO federal income tax. (in my case it was one teacher salary, a stay-at-home wife, tithing at church, a mortgage deduction, and three child tax credits...zippo net tax. Even though I lived in a brick house, had two cars, and sent the aforementioned kids to PG). I would set it to where everybody pays, say $600 a year minimum.$50 a month... less than most of the "poor" spend on cable TV, and a small price to pay for the benefits of US citizenship. Moreover, I would index that amount to future tax increases. So if spending/taxs go up 10%, the poor guy feels 5 bucks worth. The notion that we can spend whatever we want and someone else will pay for it is pernicious.
But what, you may ask, about the truly poor who get things like the Earned Income Child Credit? Still do such programs, but call them what they are: welfare. Put them on the "expenditures" side of the ledger, not as a negative on the "revenue" side. I don't care if a poor family takes in more from the government in welfare than they pay in taxes. I care that they (and we) think that somebody else pays the taxes. And I especially hate it when politicians promise "tax cuts" to people who don't pay anything. That's just buying votes with stolen money.
Finally, I would design the tax code around the concept of maximum federal revenue, subject to the above principles. If an increase in rates chokes off economic growth and creates less-than-maximum revenue, then it's a mathematically bad idea, regardless of how "fair" it makes us feel. But conversely, if a cut in rates does not throw off enough increased growth to make it a net positive, then supply-siders should be against it. I feel quite comfortable in saying that JFK cutting rates from 90% to 70% was sensible, as was Reagan's cut of 70% to 28%. I am less convinced that the Bush cuts from 39.6% to 35% were as necessary (but open to convincing on that point).
Spending, of course, is a totally different topic. But in the unlikely event that we generate enough revenue to cover all expenses and have leftovers (like we did during the tech boom of the 90s), I would say that excess revenue should go to debt reduction, not as a cut back to the taxpayers (provided, of course, that my other conditions are being met).
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Don't get me wrong--yesterday's stock market drop of 777 points was serious. And my retirement fund is down a net 14% this quarter. That stinks. But those 777 points on the Dow were in a market at 11,000. Back in 1987, the 500-point drop came on a market at 2500. THAT was really bad. And by 1989, I was making 29% a year in mutual funds. I have great faith in capitalism, and the law of averages.
Sure, there need to be some fixes. I personally would repeal mark-to-market accounting rules, for instance. I'd definitely increase the limits of FDIC insurance on bank deposits. And there may need to be some government intervention in terms of insuring or even holding some of the bad debt that is clogging the credit markets. But it's pretty clear that "we the people" didn't want the $700 billion plan that was proposed.
I don't blame those congressmen. Their constituents told them in no uncertain terms to vote "no." And they did. That's what is supposed to happen in our system. Either you believe in "we the people," or you don't. I do.
Finally, and this is the most important thing: neither economics nor politics is my religion. Even more than I believe in the USA, capitalism, or conservatism, I believe in God. And He is sovereign over all. That's what is real.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Not only does this mess up the economy, at least in the short run, it certainly hurts John McCain. He made a play last week to get this thing passed, and it didn't work. No matter how you spin it, it doesn't help.
If Obama loses this election, he ought to teach classes in how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. I'll be very, very surprised if he's not the president. Anybody want to guess when is the last time we had a democrat president and both houses of congress at the same time? I'll give you a hint... the economy was bad, then, too. And gas was expensive. And America got weaker around the world. And Islamic radicals in Iran embarassed us. If you said, "the Carter adminsitration," you win the prize!
I'm cool with that. Lived through the last time, and the eventual reaction (the Reagan Revolution and the 1980s in general) was very much to my liking. I just hope disco and really bad polyester clothes don't make a comeback!
Seriously, I hope that Obama doesn't preside over Carter II. I'd rather be wrong and the country be OK than have the chance to say "I told you so" at the expense of so many folks who would suffer. But I wonder if 2008 might go down as one of those times (like 1928 and 1976) where winning puts you in an impossible situation.
Here's an interesting thought (not original... I read it somewhere last week. Would link, but long since forgot where). George Washington was elected in 1788. Exactly 68 years later, we elected James Buchanan. Not particularly a success (he's my pick for worst-ever). Hello, Civil War. Only 68 years from the end of his term, we elected Herbert Hoover. Hello, depression. From the end of his term, count 68 years, We get George W. Bush. Now this. But here's the good news: following Buchanan, we get Lincoln. Following Hoover, we get FDR. So, by extension, Barack Obama will be on the currency as the next great president!
(OK--if you do the math, you have to count from the beginning of Washngton's term and the end of the other two, and you have to forget that Bush won twice. But it's still fun!)
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Now, whether I BELIEVE that Obama is really as moderate as he sounds... that's another story. But as I mentioned before, my vote is not even in play, so that point is moot.
Friday, September 26, 2008
But that's not who the debates are for. The US electorate is divided into basically three parts. About 40% are liberal. About 40% are conservative. And then there are the 20% in the middle. (Which is why even the biggest landslides in this country are 60-40.) Many of those 20% are a combination of the ignorant and those without clear principles. We hold these beauty contests for their all-important votes. But, in my worst moments (shades of Alexander Hamilton), I kinda wish those folks who can't be bothered to decide what they think would stay the heck away from voting booths. It's the same thing with the Supreme Court. You wind your way through the federal courts and finally get a writ to appear before the Supremes. You get there, and 4 of the judges are strict constructionists. Scalia and his cronies are going to rule like the founders wrote the text in stone. And 4 are definitely not--John Paul Stevens and three others are going to act like it was written in sidewalk chalk on a rainy day. So you get this far, and your entore legal case falls on whatever "moderate" Anthony Kennedy had for breakfast that day. And why is he the swing vote? Because he has the most muddled, unclear, jumbled grasp of any of them when it comes to a clear legal philosophy. Ginsberg, Souter... I can disagree with. Vehemently. But at least there is a perverse consistency there.
It's always been this way. 48 years ago tonight, Nixon met JFK in the first-ever televised presidential debate. Those who heard it on the radio thought that tricky Dick won. But on TV, JFK just plain looked better. He won the beauty contest, and he won the election. Don't get me wrong--knowing what we know now, we're all happy that JFK won the election. But that's just a heck of a way to pick the leader of the free world.
Oh, well. Gotta go. Wouldn't want to miss the debates. Tomorrow, everyone will be talking about who won and who lost. It won't have any effect on who's right.
And there are others--a claim that president Bush sent a negotiator to Tehran (he didn't), that his helicopter was "forced down" in Afghanistan (it was... by snow), and even that Biden's family was killed by a drunk driver (he was sober). But Joe makes so many gaffes, he doesn't get called dumb. If Palin (or Bush, or Dan Quayle) said the same stuff, they'd be crucified. If McCain did, he'd be called senile.
Look--nobody who supports Palin (including me) doesn't wish she had been governor for 10 years instead of two. And nobody should pretend that she has foreign policy experience. Neither did Reagan, or Clinton, or any other governor. And I don't recall anybody saying that Howard Dean (governor of Vermont, smaller than Alaska) was unqualified. Nor John Edwards, who actually got nominated for VP (but he did have excellent hair). All I know if that if there's going to be inexperience on the ticket, I want it in the veep slot, not the top slot. Obama has never run anything but his mouth.
Obviously, if a president McCain dies, she'll be president. But if he dies after even two years, she will have had two years as VP, with all that entails. And if she, God forbid, were to succeed to the presidency even earlier, she could always go out and get an old, wise, foreign-policy thinker as her VP. That's what we'll get if Obama wins, a rookie in the oval office with the experienced guy at the bottom of the ticket. Only I'll bet whoever she would pick is not the goofball Joe Biden is.
All that said, I still like Joe. And I still don't know why.
If I may, let me share an article I came across that explains the current situation in very simple (indeed, overly-simple) terms. Don't let the fact that it comes from National Review trick you into thinking it's political in nature. It's a pretty fair breakdown of what's going on.
If you've digested that, let's add in a couple of other facts. First, the biggest root cause of this entire mess is the changes in the way home loans have been made for at least the last 15 years. Before that, the old joke was that a bank is a place that will give you a loan... if you can prove to them you don't need it. 20% down on a home loan was standard, and the rule was your payment couldn't be more than 28% of your gross pay, nor could your total indebtedness exceed 36% of gross pay. Getting turned down was common. But as far back as 1993, there was a move afoot to brand banks as racist or otherwise evil if they turned down too many applicants who were either minorities or lived in "redline" neighborhoods. It got harder and harder to turn people down for loans, even if they really didn't make much money or have much cash.
Then, to make matters more interesting, a great boom in housing prices began. I bought my first house under more-or-less the "old" rules (I had to pay a heft PMI premium to allow me to put down only 5%, but the ratios were the old ones). Over the next nine years, that house doubled in value, as did most real estate. Any worries about lending were swept away... after all, the loans were secured by rapidly-appreciating assets. If a loan went south, the bank could still foreclose, drop the price, and still recoup even a 100% note. At the top of this cycle, I sold a house after two years and made $70,000. Shows like "flip this house" began to go on the air. People began taking out no-money-down, interest-only, adjustable-rate loans. Any monkey could make money in real estate.
Meanwhile, the banks that had made these loans were selling them to the likes of Fannie Mae, who bundled them into mortgage-backed securities, what looked like a sweet deal. And then the housing bubble burst.
To make matters worse, after the bankruptcy of Enron a few years ago (and their criminal cooking of the books), congress wrote seemingly-sensible new rules that required assets to be "marked to market," or regularly re-evaluated based on current selling prices... even if they had no intention of selling and incurring an actual loss. Suddenly banks had big liabilities (these bad mortgages), secured by shrinking assets (the falling home values). Their balance sheets were out of balance, and otherwise "good" companies, like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, even Merrill Lynch, were in trouble.
As tempting as it is to blame the "fat cats" on Wall Street (and we all love to engage in a little schadenfreude when those guys get theirs), more blame belongs on those who didn't mind the store at Freddie and Fannie. That's government, particularly congress. It didn't help anything that the senate banking committee (which bottled up attempted reform 2 years ago)is chaired by Chris Dodd, the largest recipient of campaign contributions from Fannie Mae. But blame also belongs with all of us who thought we could get something for nothing.
A really wise fellow named Solomon wrote about 3000 years ago not to hurry after get-rich-quick schemes. He also had some words to say (not positive, btw) about guaranteeing bad loans (the Old Testament called that "surety"), and about borrowing money: "The borrower is slave to the lender." (Proverbs 22:7)
Now we're told that unless we give these same goofballs three-quarters of a trillion dollars, the wheels are going to come off. I don't find that very reassuring. And, of course, politics is never far behind. For example, right now, there are plenty of votes to pass exactly the bill that the President, his Treasury Secretary, and the Democrats in congress want. But they won't do it unless they can get the conservatives (folks like me) to give them cover, so they won't own the whole kit and kaboodle when it blows up.
Meanwhile, I'm just happy that I have little use for credit. When it all shakes out, those of us who followed the good old biblical model will be the best off. (Or least screwed!)
Saturday, September 20, 2008
- My wife ran her first road race (2 miles) this morning. I'm really, really proud of her. Not so much for the race, but for transforming herself into an athlete.
- Along those same lines, I just want everybody to know, I married VERY well. I've been reminded several times recently that I have pretty much the best wife and family imaginable. I pray that I can live in such a way as to deserve them.
- A little politics, on Palin. Wow--the feeding frenzy against her has been amazing. I just don't get why she has to be demonized so. I suppose that the very things I like most about her (that she's conservative, religious, pro-life, and, well, normal) are things that cannot be tolerated. If I can say, "Obama's a liberal, I'm a conservative, and that's why I'm not voting for him" without devolving into hatred, why can't the other side do the same, in reverse?
- Speaking of Obama, I'm beginning to have misgivings about him based on race. No, not his race. That would, of course, be wrong. But it's his and/or his supporters' use of race that spooks me. This morning this article ran on my home page, about how if Obama loses, it'll be because he's black. It just got me thinking--would he even have gotten this far were it NOT for his race? Would a one-term senator be seen as so attractive and transformational if he were a white dude? I don't know. But I have two nagging fears: first, that if he loses, it's "proof" that we're too racist to elect a black man. Or, second, that he wins, and we spend the next 4 to 8 years seeing every principled opposition to his policies as prima facie evidence of racism. I sure hope not.
- Maybe I'm getting mellow in my old age. I just can't argue politics like I used to. I'm still passionate, but I have a hard time working up the level of rage so many of my colleagues do. I was at lunch yesterday, and found myself the only one at the table who wouldn't join in on Bush-McCain-Palin bashing. They knew I was the token conservative, and I think I let them down by not rising to the bait. The juice just isn't worth the squeeze.
- Speaking of my colleagues, I become more and more convinced every day of the Will Rogers truism, "We're all ignorant, just on different subjects." I am surrounded by highly educated, brilliant people. And most of them couldn't run a lemonade stand.
- It finally happened: an irate parent complained about political bias in my history lectures last week. But it's funny--he thought I was LIBERAL. I guess I was a little too successful at being fair and evenhanded. I told my principal (a good-natured lefty), and he said, "Who called you liberal? Hitler or Attila the Hun?"
- My own running has been great this week. Last week I wussed out and only ran once, even though I had plenty of opportunity. This week, I have gotten back on track, and it feels GREAT to be in control of my life, at least a little.
- The mess in financial services right now is very complicated. It's amazing how little most people understand anything about it. Maybe I'll blog about that sometime... but the level of ignorant discourse on the topic is distressing.
- This is NOT the worst economy since the Great Depression. It's not even nearly as bad as the 1970s, or 1981. But saying that won't sell papers.
- My cross-country team is ranked in the top 25 state-wide, in all classifications. We're the smallest school ranked that high. Cool!
- Joe Biden says paying higher taxes is patriotism. Charlie Rangel, head of the house ways and means committee, cheats on his taxes. I guess that means Charlie's not a patriot.
- Oh, yeah. Speaking of Joe Biden (who I can't help liking on a gut level, but for the life of me I don't know why), his tax returns show that he only gives about $300 to charity a year. So it's OK to take somebody else's money and give it away to the poor as refundable tax credits, but not necessary to give more than 0.1% of your own income voluntarily?
That's all I've got. Brain now empty. Think I'll get a haircut--I look like a Q-tip.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
But yesterday—WOW! By picking Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate, I think McCain really did something worth mentioning. As a short-term, tactical move, the pick had the effect of sucking all the media attention away from Obama’s historic acceptance speech. As a long-term, strategic move, it really reassures conservatives like me that McCain is not taking our votes for granted. In the category of the super-obvious, she has the added advantage of being a woman. And I happen to think she is a fabulous pick.
By now, everybody who has seen a cable news show knows the compelling biography—hockey mom who married her high school sweetheart and came up from PTA to mayor to governor, 1980s beauty queen, state champion point guard, who hunts, fishes, is married to a part-Eskimo blue-collar snowmobile racer. She is the mom of 5, including a son bound for Iraq in the army and a baby born with Downs Syndrome. She is known (like McCain) as a maverick, having bucked the notoriously corrupt Alaska GOP, and as governor she has enjoyed approval ratings in the stratosphere. She is very good on the issue of energy (assuming, of course, you think “good” means in favor of increased production). She is staunchly pro-life, and a life member of the NRA. And unlike somebody like Mitt Romney, she didn’t spend the better part of the last year campaigning against John McCain, so there shouldn’t be any youtube videos of her out there claiming he’s too old, too grumpy, or too liberal.
Of course, it would be disingenuous to claim that it wouldn’t be even better if she had been governor for 10 years instead of less than two. The obvious rejoinder to the criticism that she lacks “experience” is that so does Obama, and that at least her inexperience is at the bottom, not the top of the ticket. And in terms of executive experience, she had more after her term as mayor of a small town than anybody else in the race (including 24-year senator McCain or 35-year senator Biden). As governor, she’s been commander-in-chief of the Alaska National Guard and run a state government. To paraphrase Jesse Jackson, senators run nothing but their mouths. I think any argument that McCain undercut his message about experience by picking her is balanced by the counter-argument that Obama did the exact same to his “change” message by picking uber-insider Joe Biden. One thing is for sure… it’s pretty hard to get more “outside” of DC than small-town Alaska!
I’ve done a lot of reading of reaction from various pundits in the past couple of days, and the trend among conservatives has been probably 20-1 in favor of the Palin pick. Just speaking for myself, my support for John McCain has gone from resignation that he was the lesser of two evils to outright enthusiasm. I may even get a bumper sticker! Of course, there’s a lot of time left, and anything can happen. But I’m more optimistic about this race and the future than I have been since before the primaries.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
I'll probably think out loud about Joe Biden later (and no matter how wordy I am, it will be fitting, as he is one of the biggest bloviating gasbags in DC... but I like that!). But what's on my mind right now is a full week of Olympic track. It's the one time every 4 years that "my" sport takes center stage. And I LOVE it! So here are my thoughts, in no particular order:
- Usain Bolt is a freak of nature. I think (and hope) he's drug-free. He just takes less steps with those long legs than all the other runners, and turns them over just as fast. Truly amazing. The fastest man on the planet. Ever. And we got to watch him. What a treat.
- Bolt had a better Olympics than Michael Phelps. I know that's heresy, and not what NBC has been pushing. But 3 golds with WR in sprints is superior to 8 golds with 7 WR in swimming. The events are physically more demanding (imagine having 2 sprint finals 25 minutes apart... couldn't happen. It does in swimming, because there's no pounding). Moreover, the WR's he broke were superior. Michael Johnson's 19.32 in the 200 was thought by some to be the most untouchable record on the track. The 4x100 record had stood since 1992. There have only been twelve WR performances in the 100 since they started using fully automatic timing in 1968. Compare that to swimming, where WR's are broken all the time. Finally, Phelps basically duplicated what Spitz did, plus one event. Bolt did what no one has ever done... not Jesse Owens, not Carl Lewis. Nobody has ever swept the sprints with 3 world-record golds.
- Jeremy Wariner fired his coach, Clyde Hart (of Baylor, formerly Michael Johnson's coach), last year. He thought he was too expensive. LaShawn Merritt hired Clyde. Merritt beat Wariner at the US trials, and beat the heck out of him at the Olympics. Yes, there is a great deal of natural talent at work in track. And when the more talented meets the harder worker, sorry to say, talent usually wins. But when talent is equal, technique, and COACHING, counts. I still am a huge Wariner fan, and would love to see him get the world record someday. But Merritt deserved this one.
- Do you know who Bubba Thornton is? He's the relay coach for the USA. And he should be fired, tarred, feathered, hanged, drawn, quartered, beheaded, flayed, and disemboweled... for starters. Both US 4x100 relay teams dropped the batons and failed to advance to the finals. Now, I'll bet the Bolt-led Jamaicans would have still won the men's race. But we should have at least medaled. Those passes would be inexcusable on my high school team. My boys' 4x100 team is currently the SCISA state record holders, and we have won several state titles in relays in my years coaching. And rule #1 is ALWAYS "get the stick around." You do that by practice, practice, practice. Obviously, the world-class athletes we had didn't put enough effort into teamwork and fundamentals. That lies squarely at the feet of the coach.
- The USA basketball team is much better this go around. Unlike our sprinters, they seem to have found some humility, and with it, the ability to play as a team. And so far, they have beaten every team they have played by 20+ points. My pick to replace Bubba Thornton is Coach K.
- Notice that China is leading in gold medals, even though USA leads overall. Why? China has 4 times the population, a state-run athletic system that takes kids away from home at a young age and puts them in "sports academies" (I need to work at a US track academy!), and is obviously willing to cheat at a national level (providing faked passports for their underage gymnasts). Yet the only reason they have so many golds is because they win in sports that... sorry... shouldn't even be in the Olympics. Come on! Ping-pong? Trampoline? Synchronized gymnastics? Air pistol? Badminton? I'll make a deal... drop our golds in fencing and rowing and other non-sports, and everybody else do the same. Then we'll compare. I guess since poker and spelling bee are now on ESPN, they'll be giving Olympic gold for them, soon. Bah!
- Lest I be accused of jingoism for saying the above, let me qualify by admitting that pound-for-pound, the UK and Jamaica are doing even better than the USA. I just have no love for the Chi-Coms. Free Tibet!
- Still 4 events left I care about... basketball gold medal game, men's 4x400, men's 5000, and men's marathon. This is a GREAT week!
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Anyway, I grew up on Bruce Jenner, Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson, Mary Lou Retton... who's it going to be this year?
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
One of the more common formulations in TM books is that we all have only 24 hours (or 86,400 seconds) per day credited to our account, and they all evaporate at the end of that period. Nobody has "more" time, nor less. You can't bank it for later (although, arguably, you can "invest" time in activities like planning that then pay back "with interest" later on in the day or week). Therefore, time, like money should be carefully budgeted.
It seems to me that this is a pretty good formulation for most grown-up people with "regular" jobs. Barring a couple of weeks' vacation, Joe Normal may spend 7-8 hours sleeping, 8+ hours working, and therefore have only 8-ish hours remaining for everything else from a shower, a shave, three meals, two commutes and all other discretionary activities put together. Of course, weekends have their own rhythym, with chores and church, etc. However, I'm not normal (insert sarcastic comment here).
I think that in the category of time, much like money, the trick to a budget is neither how much you make (and in the case of money, that's fixed anyway), nor how much you spend, but rather how much difference there is between the two. Spend it all, you're broke. But a big chunk "left over" makes you rich. In money terms, you can be broke making six figures, and rich making very little. As a teacher, the summer is a period when my time "income" stays the same 168 hours a week as everybody else, but the "bills" are very low, as I don't have to spend my usual 8 (really more like 10-11) hours at work every day. I'm quite wealthy in time-terms during June, July and August. Want to take a nap? Cool. Want to read a novel by the pool? Great. Want to paint the back hallway? Let's sleep till 8 AM and paint around 9, after a leisurely breakfast.
But all that changes, and rapidly, when school starts back up. In money terms, it's like suddenly taking on a new jumbo mortgage. Suddenly there's a 50+ hour work-week and a twice-daily commute, in addition to the other necessities of life. And even some of those necesities are multiplied. I know I'm not engendering much sympathy here, but in the summer, I only shave about twice a week. That goes to six days from late August through May.
Anyway, I am starting to hear the footseps of the school year closing in on me again, which has led me back to thinking about time and how to make the most of it. Over the next few days, I intend to post a few thoughts about time and quality of life.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Yes, by the way--I do recognize that every single film I have mentioned is some sort of hero/action/adventure movie. It's entirely possible that there is great original work being done in the category of documentaries or chick flicks.* I just don't care.
*footnote: my wife is looking forward to Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants II. So even that horrible genre is not safe!
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
For starters, we can stop acting like this is all because of some evil plot or conspiracy. It's the simple consequences of the law of supply-and-demand. More people worldwide (like a billion Chinese) want oil. And production has not increased at anywhere near the rate of consumption. Therefore we get higher prices. There are only two choices--produce more, and consume less. That's AND, not OR. Every plan out there is simply a way of packaging that idea.
Secondly, we can stop moaning about why we haven't done anything years ago. At $1 or $2 a gallon, there was no incentive to do much of anything. It would be like going to the doctor (and paying all the corresponding costs) before you have symptoms. I've been having the exact same issues with my metabolism--it's always been a wise idea to eat right, etc. But so long as I could eat whatever I wanted and not gain weight, why not? But things change. And when they change, we have to react appropriately.
As for alternative sources of energy, yes, let's get on that. Wind, solar, nuclear... all great ideas. And some of them, like nuclear power, look a whole lot more attractive when gas is 4 bucks than they did at $2.50. However, cars and planes are still going to run on petroleum products, for a long while. And even when hydrogen or ethanol or whatever else is ubiquitous, there will likely always be some gas-powered engines out there, whether lawnmowers or classic cars or something. So something needs to be done about gasoline. It just floors me that some folks say we shouldn't drill for more oil because "it will take years to see the effects," but they somehow think that transforming our entire petroleum-based economy can happen overnight.
On the demand side, something is already being done through market forces. You want to drive a 12 mpg Excursion or a big RV? Your funeral. But most of the rest of us are already cutting back. Sales of smaller cars are up, miles driven are down. So that's part of it. But the other part is to produce more domestic oil. President Bush just lifted the executive ban on offshore drilling this week. The legislative version of that ban will expire in about 11 weeks. I doubt that it will be politically wise to be one of the votes in favor of extending the ban. Sure, it will take time for new oil to arrive on the market. And in the meantime, prices will likely continue to rise. But the part of the price that is in futures speculation should drop as the future looks better. And prices will rise slower, giving us more time to work toward alternatives, if we can increase production. The Shale Oil out west is supposedly more plentiful than the crude under Saudi Arabia. There was a time when it was economically unwise to extract that oil when cheaper stuff could be had on the import market. But at $140 a barrel, suddenly that source looks a lot better.
Now, there may be some choices we don't want to make, and for good reason. I know some folks are morally opposed to drilling in ANWR (I'm not, but I respect their opinion). I personally wouldn't drill in many places, like the Grand Canyon. But I say that with full knowledge that that choice comes at a price. I think any politician who wants to not drill for whatever reason (like the environment, for example) should admit that they prefer expensive gas to that choice. If they can convince enough people to vote for that, fine. But it's crummy to keep on lamenting oil prices and not doing anything about it.
So, simply put--start drilling ASAP. Keep doing all in our power to get out of the oil trap long-term. And stop whining!
Friday, July 11, 2008
Now, don't get me wrong. I'd love it if our entire federal budget could be met by only Bill Gates paying ALL the taxes, and him still being left with enough leftover money to have planes and boats and the cool mansion with all the gadgets. (We'll leave aside for the moment whether that would be in any way just.) But like I wrote earlier, what we would like has to be tempered by economic sense. If a tax increase would, perversely, result in more of the tax burden being paid by those with less income, then it's by definition not progressive. (And the reverse is also true--as I said earlier, if a tax CUT doesn't stimulate the economy, then it's economically unsound no matter how much supply-siders like it.)
I know some people like the idea of a flat tax or the Fairtax, which would be a national sales tax. Both of those would allegedly be "fairer." But under these plans, the burden would shift away from the "rich" paying as much as they currently do (in a flat system, the top 1% would pay about 18% of the taxes; in a sales tax, the guy who spends 90%+ of his income pays a higher effective tax rate than the millionaire who banks most of it). Again, this may be "fair," but it would result in a tax hike for some 99% of taxpayers. (BTW--I do know that the Fairtax involves a "prebate" that mitigates the tax damage at the lowest levels, but it still would screw most of what we call the middle class. If you don't know what I'm talking about, don't worry about it).
My prescription: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. That means making the 2003 tax cuts permanent (which only makes sense--if rates "reset" to 2002 levels in a couple of years, that's a de facto rate increase). And there may be some other tax code simplification, loophole closing, or even incentives that we may want to do incrementally for reasons other than straight economics (for example, the deduction for mortgage interest isn't in the code to raise revenue, it's there to encourage home-ownership, which is seen as helping with social stability). There's not much to dislike about the general structure of our current system.
But what about balancing the budget? Here's a neat thought... we could try... wait for it.... cutting spending! Again, this ain't rocket science. If your budget is not in balance and you are an individual, a family, or a business, you can either (a) spend less; (b) earn more; or (c) borrow the difference. We've been doing (c) for way too long, and I've already detailed why I think that (b) is pretty unlikely, at least at dramatic levels. That only leaves one option.
Of course, it's never going to happen. Politicians don't operate on math. They operate on emotion. And nothing is so emotionally satisfying as being told that you can have everything and somebody else is going to pay for it.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Every time lately I have bemoaned the shape I'm getting into (or out of, as the case may be), Mike has told me that I need to join him as a devotee of a workout plan called "Crossfit." He even sent me this PDF file with lots of cool stuff about the program in it. It's really fascinating, and some of you may like to read it, too (hence the link). BUT... I'm not really interested.
Here's why--like the old break-up line goes, "it's not you, it's me." Even though I may buy into some, even most, of the premises of the program, I just don't care that much about developing all those multiple standards of fitness. I run. I run because I LIKE to run, and because I really enjoy my coaching gig, which the running dovetails nicely with. I don't "work out." There was a time several years ago when I got serious for a while about lifting weights and getting big and strong. I got strong, but it simply wasn't in my make-up to get big. I may be willing to do half an hour of upper-body work a couple of times a week for the sake of general fitness, but it's a chore, a necessary evil that I'll do to accomplish my only two REAL fitness goals: (1) run at a level that doesn't embarass me; (2) not get fat. It used to be that I could do both of those on almost no effort, and now they both require more than they used to (which bums me out a bit). But Crossfit seems like more work than I'd enjoy doing.
This is the second time in the last month that a good friend has approached me about something like this because of my interest in fitness and athletics. Another friend is a serious proponent of Shaklee vitamins and nutritional supplements. He has used them for years, and was a sub-elite runner in his 30s and a national champion water-skier in his 40s and 50s. He credits at least part of that success to his nutrition regimen, and he shared it with me. My feeling was very similar to the Crossfit stuff... I agree that there's something there, and if I were more serious (maybe if I were 10-20 years younger and still racing a lot), I might be more interested. But instead of committing to a full supplementation plan, I just started taking a generic multivitamin and drinking more water.
In both cases, I'm a little embarassed. Both of these guys only shared their programs with me because they thought (at least at some level), "Larry's the type of athlete who would dig this." I hate to admit that I'm really not. But I still love to hear about the stuff, and to have it in my "bag of tricks" to mention to the "real" athletes I work with.
Footnote: It's only been 5 days and I'm already back down to 141 lbs. It's not like I can go back to sitting on my butt and pigging out after 3 more pounds, but it's nice to know that a week or two's indiscretions can still be remedied with a week or two of solid discipline.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
- No Debt, No Sweat, by Steve Diggs. Essentially a lesser-known Dave Ramsey. He's related to our minister, and did a seminar on Christian finances at church last year. I knocked this one out poolside over a couple of days.
- Financial Peace Revisited, by Dave Ramsey. The Diggs book led me back to Dave. Summer is a time when it's easy to get lazy (not having to go to work tends to have that effect on me). So I have to work hard to stay motivated in lots of areas, finance included. There's nothing in Dave's book I haven't heard (or said) a hundred times before, but it's motivating. (On a similar note, Dave will be speaking in Charleston on August 23rd--I'm pretty likely to be there).
- The One Year Bible, by the Holy Spirit. After 6 complete read-throughs in various versions (7 if you exclude the major prophets, which kicked my butt last year), I'm starting to run out of steam on this daily discipline. I'm thinking of setting the One-Year version aside for the rest of the year and doing something new. What's on my mind right now is to use the "daily office" of readings prescribed in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, but to do the reading in either my trusty Thompson Chain-Reference Study Bible or perhaps the Leadership Study Bible edited by John Maxwell.
- John Adams, by David McCullough. This has been my standard poolside read this summer. Usually I stick to more 20th-century biographies, but I'm enjoying it. Like most McCulloughs, though, it's going slowly. I doubt I'll knock the whole thing out before summer ends.
- Walt Disney, An American Original, by Bob Thomas. My friend Ken lent this to me during our vacation. I'm just a sucker for biographies of great leaders. I keep hoping something will rub off one day.
- The Carolina Way, by Dean Smith. It's funny--when Ken recommended the Disney book to me, I suggested this book to him. As he's just beginning a new job as rector of a church, building a team and setting the proper culture will be key for him. Like me, he's a coach (tennis, in his case). This book is actually a "business" book that seeks to apply Dean Smith's leadership lessons to non-coaching situations. Since my situation IS coaching, it's an even better fit for me. Anyway, when I return the Disney book to Ken in a couple of weeks, I'll be passing this one on. So I decided to skim through it again before it was out of sight and mind.
So, that's what this nerd is up to. Looks like the Adams, the Disney, and the Dean Smith are staying (at least until the Disney and Smith go to visit Ken). The two finance books and the One Year Bible are going back on the shelf, and (for now) the Leadership Bible and the Book of Common Prayer are being added. This really doesn't help the size of the stack at all, but at least I'm making a little change.