Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Something Less Controversial

Things are looking up on the running front. I have run 5 of the last 7 days, and have done 3 miles each day so far this week. Today, the weather was just right and I ran 3.1 miles in 24:24. It's not exactly blazing, but my math says that's 7:52 per mile. (The others were all in the 8-low range, which is more what I expect at this point.) There's something about a good number on the stopwatch that puts everything into its proper perspective. I hope to get in three more runs this week at similar distance and pace, and hopefully keep it up as much as possible (3-4 runs a week) throughout April and the end of track season.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Obama and Charity

I neglected to mention in my post on Obama and Wright that the Obamas were reported to have given $22,000 to their church (where Wright preaches). Forgetting for a second all that Wright has said, my initial thought about that was, "Cool. At least here's a guy who takes his faith seriously enough to put his money where his mouth is." I thought that was basically a tithe of his $200-300k income. Well, now Obama has released his tax returns. That $22k was in a year when his book came out and they made $1.6 million. So he's not exactly tithing--that would be a little over 1%. The Obamas total charitable giving that year was $77k, but that's still less than 5%. Their best two years (when the books came out) were the $1.6 million year in 2005 and $980k in 2006. Otherwise, the Obamas have made over $200,000 a year every year since 2000. But they haven't exactly been super-generous. In 2001 and 2002 they made over a quarter-million dollars a year and gave less than $1500 away total each year.

Once again, we see a limousine liberal who wants to give SOMEBODY ELSE'S money to help those less fortunate.

FOOTNOTE: Wonder when we'll get the Clinton's tax returns?

Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog

I was busy doing my usual thing (track) when the Obama-Jeremiah Wright story broke, so I haven't had an opportunity to weigh in yet. I must say, I'm disappointed. I've always said I'm in the ABC (Anybody But Clinton) camp, and that I much preferred Obama, who I see (or at least saw) as fundamentally a decent guy with whom I disagree on the issues, over Hillary, who epitomizes scandal and dirty pool. And I have to admit, like so many hopeful white guys, I kinda like (or liked) Obama as a guy whose mixed ethnicity and unique background enabled him to transcend all the nastiness about racial issues that still persists in America.

Then comes word that Obama's pastor and "spiritual mentor," a guy whose sermons were the source of the title of Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope, who married Obama and his wife, who baptized his children... in other words, a guys who has been pretty darned influential in Obama's life, has over the years spewed some pretty nasty stuff. He has said that rather than "God bless America," we should say, "God damn America." He has called us the U.S. of KKK A. He has said that AIDS was cooked up by the US Government in the 1970s to kill blacks, that "Israel is a dirty word," and that the 9-11 attacks were "chickens coming home to roost." Obama has gone from saying he wasn't in church those days, to a blanket repudiation of anything controversial Wright has said, to finally giving a major speech on race that was pretty darned good, but basically just changed the subject.

I'm left with just a couple of options in my thinking on this--and they keep going around and around. Option 1: maybe Obama believes this crap. If so, in my mind he has no business anywhere near the White House. Option 2: maybe Obama doesn't believe ANY of it, and his relationship with Wright and his church was just postioning to add some "street cred" to his Ivy-League, half-white, East-African background back when he was first getting involved in Chicago politics. That's better, but it puts him on the same level as Clinton when it comes to cynical political moves. Not exactly a "new wave" in American politics. (That said, at least he wouldn't make Bill Clinton first lady, so he still wins out in that particular match-up.) Or maybe there's a third option I can't get my head around... maybe he's much, much more sophisticated than a redneck like me. And maybe he has a unique ability to see why it's OK to call for shock-jock Don Imus' head for a racist comment but it's very different when the venom is spewed by a radical black preacher. Maybe he's able to hate the sin while loving the sinner so well that his embrace of a guy who is virulently anti-American isn't evidence of poor judgment on his part, but actually of SUPERIOR judgment.

Bull-hockey. I feel let down. Policy aside, I thought this guy had a chance to be good for America. In a way, I almost hoped he would win. Even considered voting for him (safe in the knowledge that my vote wouldn't change the electoral college), just for the sake of being able to say in class 20 years from now that I did. But the shine is off. Of course, I'm pro-life and pro-surge, so I was going to vote for McCain anyway. But I do wonder how many independents who favored Obama share my feelings and will turn away now.

Riding High

Well, the car worries are behind us. Yesterday, the Sal family became the proud new owners of a not-quite new vehicle--a 2002 Honda Odyssey. For those keeping score at home, that means that Coach Sal did NOT get a new car. The Missus got the "new" one, and Coach gets her old one--a 95 Odyssey. I'm cool with that, as hers is the car that gets all the miles and does the back-and-forth family trips. The only down side is that now we're a two-minivan family. Very convenient in terms of seating, but it's the final step down from age 17 when I drove a '78 Mustang II Ghia. If "Mustang Salley" could take a time machine and see "Minivan Salley," I wonder what he (I) would think? Of course, when he saw the incredibly beautiful Mrs. Sal behind the wheel, he'd probably be cool with the car.

A minute of true confessions (don't hate me, Pete!). We did take on a small payment. We spent a little more than we had originally intended, but the trade-off was that we expect to get a good 10 years or more out of the Honda. But the experience did verify something I was taught in personal finance class back in the '80s. Mr. Murrah (the teacher) told us back then to "know your banker." That advice seems very old-fashioned in the 21st century internet-age. But I followed it and have stayed with the same local bank since they my local branch was the size of a walk-in-closet. The branch manager is a guy named Dean, and over the last 15 years I've done 3 mortgages, a couple of cars, and every other financial transaction in our family in his office. Well, I called him last week and told him we "might" do the loan thing for a very used car. He said, "just call me when you're ready, no problem." Well, yesterday I called, and Dean was out of town for Easter vacation. I had to deal with a lady I didn't know. She was helpful, and said we could come pick up an application, fill it out, and the next day we'd be able to get a check. She also said because of my long relationship with the bank she could knock one-and-a-half percent off the standard rate. Good enough, I thought. I'll come by and get it later. An hour later she calls back. Turns out she found my application pre-filled out by Dean in a folder with my name on it, and that my rate will be an ADDITIONAL 2 points lower. She says, "Give me the amount and drive over. You can get your check now." I signed in 3 places, got a check, and went to pick up my car. Thanks, Dean! So if you're currently doing your banking online or through an ATM... get to know a real person!

Ann will probably post pictures of the new ride on her blog. And of course, the most important thing is that it's reliable transportation (geez, I sound like my dad!), but there are a couple of cool gadgets. It's got a CD player, power everything, leather, and.... drum roll.... a tushie warmer, just like the bug red SUV had. That'll be nice on those cold mornings. Nice for Ann, that is. I'll be in the one that doesn't actually have a heater. Oh, well!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy New Year!

It's Easter, the "new year's day" of the Christian calendar, and just in the knick of time for me. As a point of trivia, I read somewhere (sorry, no link and spotty memory) that this is the 2nd earliest day that Easter can possibly take place (Mar 22 is the earliest), and that Easter won't be this early again for some 200+ years. More importantly to me, this is one of those years when my school's spring break matches up with the Easter holiday (we get Good Friday plus the next week off). As a matter of principle, I prefer the years when you get a week of spring break separate from a Friday+Monday Easter weekend off, but this year I NEED the break.

As of this writing, my world has come off the rails a bit. I missed 12 consecutive days of my daily Bible reading in March, my prayer life is in shambles, and I have barely run a step (and therefore couldn't run well, if I even wanted to, which is also iffy). I also just cleared the usual half-dozen books off my bedside table, with the knowledge that I haven't read a page of any of them in weeks. So a week to get back in order is just what the doctor ordered. I NEED to read, to run, to keep up with my personal disciplines, or I'm just not OK. Lately it's been work (at maybe 80% effectiveness, it feels like), hold down the couch, and fall into bed for not enough sleep (all too often with the help of Nytol or a gin and tonic). It ain't easy to be a control freak when you're not in control. (It does help that I have the best wife in the world to take care of me in funks like this--I can't be easy to live with). My best friend is moving away and my last month of track season has been one giant rain-out.

But then comes Easter. And with it, a reminder that this station is temporary. Every Sunday I find myself during communion bowing my head and asking God for a fresh start. But Easter is the freshest of starts, and a week without work is the icing in the cake. I've jogged a couple of 2-milers since getting off Thursday, and I've stayed current on my Bible reading since last week (I may never go back and pick up what I "missed" in the book of Numbers--with no offense intended to Moses or the Holy Spirit, it's not the best page-turner in scripture). During this week, I hope/expect to get "back on my game." Not through my own strength of will, of course. I think we've established that my best sometimes isn't good enough. But at the rock-bottom of a spiritual valley, it finally becomes possible to turn to God. And He provides... sometimes a much-needed break in the calendar, or a change of the weather, or a family gathering on a holiday, or a message in His word (almost always a Psalm). Or all of the above.

I really don't know how some folks make it without faith. I couldn't. Thank God for Easter. Happy resurrection day!

Sorry to be depressing--I promise that sometime this week I'll get back to money management, politics, and US history trivia.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Big Red

I'm tooling around town in a (temporary) new ride. One of our well-off parents at my school offered to let me borrow his "extra" vehicle until I can get time to replace the Sal-Mobile. The vehicle in question is a relatively new Ford Excursion. The Excursion is bigger than the Expedition, which is bigger than the Explorer, which itself is not small. This thing is the 2nd-biggest thing I've ever driven (the largest being a 29' RV). It drives almost exactly like a 15-passenger school bus. And it gets...drum roll... ELEVEN miles per gallon. Ouch!

On the plus side, Big Red has every option ever invented, and some I don't even know what the buttons are for. It's got a 6-CD changer, a DVD, satellite radio, power everything, and even a heater that warms your tushie on cold mornings. If I could afford to gas it, I might be tempted to keep it! Even if he were to offer to give it to me (which ain't gonna happen), I doubt very seriously that I could afford the taxes and insurance for the same price as I'll pay for a new clunker. And it wouldn't fit in my garage. Still, I'm thankful for the blessing of not having to do the one-car-family trick for two weeks longer.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Class Trip

Wish me luck--I leave middle of next week for our annual 7th grade class trip. I'll be chaperoning about 70 kids aged 12-13 on a 4 day, 3 night trip to Orlando. The "educational" portion of the trip is a science-related tour behind the scenes at Sea World, but the real reason the kids (and we chaperones) signed up was for the rollercoasters, like the Incredible Hulk at Islands of Adventure. It's a rough job, but somebody has to do it!

Addendum: Check out this youtube of the Kracken coaster at Sea World. I think it may be even better than the Hulk.

Sal-Mobile, R.I.P.

Friday, on my way to school to watch my middle son play in a basketball game, I noticed that the Sal-Mobile was running a little ragged. Nothing too serious, just a little hesitation, a funky hitch in the giddy-up. No big deal, I thought... when your car is 15 years old, it's entitled to a little dirt in the injectors now and then. But on the way home it was more pronounced, and then I looked in the rear view mirror. I was letting out a smoke screen worthy of any James Bond movie. About that time, the "service engine" light lit up and the temperature gauge buried itself in the red area. I limped it the last 5 minutes home and called Philip, my mechanic extrordinaire. His exact words: "that's not good." Turns out I've blown my head gasket, which means I have a $600 car with an $800 problem. So farewell, Sal-Mobile. I'm a little ticked that I've put over $200 in her in the past month ($167 for the exploding window and $30 for a busted radiator hose), and more so that I passed up the opportunity to buy a neighbor's low-mileage car for $1000 a little over a month ago because my car was running so well. But it's alright. Next week after I return from our 7th grade class trip (more on that in a later post) I'll go out and buy another paid-for clunker and drive it for the next several years. The Lumina has been a great car. Hope the next one lasts as well.