Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I'm Crazy About My Wife

When I count my blessings, the undisputed #1 blessing God has put in my life is my wife, Ann. Just this morning I read an article online about marriage and the trade-offs people make in trying to have a happy one. There were over 100 comments, and I'd say not a tenth of the commenters seemed to be as happy in their marriage as I am. I've also (barely) begun reading a book called Sacred Marriage, that suggests that God invented marriage as a vehicle to make us holy rather than happy. I've only read the first few pages, and it seems to take as a matter of undisputed fact that after the "honeymoon" period wears off, that we develop a mature love based more on the will than the emotions. Now, admittedly, some of that is true. And I'm not suggesting that we don't "work" at our marriage (after all, if I'm reading books on the topic, that implies some effort). But we're approaching our 19th wedding anniversary, and I can honestly say I'm every bit as "in love" with Ann as I was then. Maybe even more so.

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.

Resolutions, Part Two

In a little over 12 hours, 2008 will be in the books. I, for one, will be reasonably happy to see it go. I'm rather glad that we didn't write one of those year-end Christmas letters this year. It would have said, "nothing much changed, kids grew, no major highlights." Which is fine, I guess--not every year can be a banner year. Life is seasonal, and 2008 was one of those years where my fields lay fallow. But that season is important, too, and can lead to bumper crops later on.

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

Resolutions, Part One

I've said it before--I like the new year. Nothing quite gets me revved up like a fresh DayTimer. So it's time to decide what goals get set for 2009. I haven't really got them nailed down yet, but here is my opening bid. Suggestions and input are welcome.

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

How Now, Brown Cow

Well, the giving and receiving of gifts has begun. Tomorrow the big guy in the red suit does his trick. But I guarantee that he's not bringing any bigger surprise than my favorite Aunt and Uncle did this Christmas. Drum roll.... they gave us.... a COW.

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!

Political Musings

As the year winds down, there are two stories in the world of politics that have me shaking my head. The first is the big flap over Rick Warren giving the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration, and the second is Caroline Kennedy being considered for Hillary Clinton's vacated senate seat.

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

A Day at T-Mobile

What an adventure. Today I went to the T-mobile cell phone store to get an upgrade for my oldest son's phone for Christmas. Quite the good scam they've got going... you get a "free" phone every couple of years, but they really give you a $100 credit towards a $200 phone and a coupon for a $50 rebate. And in exchange you extend your contract a couple more years (during which you can't quit without paying them a couple hundred bucks per line).

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?

Freaking Out

I wish I could claim this idea was original, but I stole a good part of it from Jonah Goldberg's article in National Review yesterday. I have already written about my concern that we are over-hyping the current bad economy (i.e. forgetting how bad the 70's were in our rush to proclaim this the "worst crisis since the Great Depression"). That said, I always like to include the disclaimer that it IS pretty bad, and as bad has it has been for a long time. I'm reminded of the joke that Ronald Reagan told on the campaign trail in 1980: "A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And a recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his." If you are upside-down in credit, out of work, or otherwise struggling (or know somebody who is), then you're likely not that interested in me yelling "Remain calm! All is well! (picture Kevin Bacon doing that in the final scene of Animal House.)

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

Season of Reruns

I took some time in my "looking back" mode to read a few blog posts from last year. Funny, but things don't change much. I have pretty much the same idiosyncrasies, the same opinions, and the same struggles I've had for a long time. This comes as no surprise--indeed, I kinda like it (except the struggles part; it would be nice if some of those would go away). I tell my students sometimes: "I've been doing this since before you were born. I know what I'm good at, and what I'm not-so-good at, and they are not likely to change. Sorry." (Usually this is in response to being reminded that I am slow when it comes to grading papers.)

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

Old Dogs...

There is an old country song by Tom T. Hall called Old Dogs and Children, and Watermelon Wine. I've never had watermelon wine (and, truth be told, I'm one of the very few people in the deep south who doesn't much care for watermelon at all). But I'm becoming something of an authority on old dogs.

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

The best-laid plans...

My last post was about what I found in my old DayTimer. So is this one, but with a different twist--this one has to do with long-term goals. I have a set of pages for long-term goal setting, and I'm actually a big enough nerd to use them. I'm a devotee of such books as Steven Covey's First Things First and Hyrum Smith's 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management (I think Becky currently has my copies of both). And I firmly believe that a goal is just a dream with a deadline. Most people think they have goals, when they really have wishes. I am a planner--I write the goals, track the progress, and take perverse pleasure in earning the check-marks next to the intermediate steps.

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.

A look back

Amazing. I thought I had gone silent long enough to lose anyone who reads the blog, yet a throwaway piece on the merits of an expensive face-scraper draws 5 comments in 48 hours. Weird.

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

Small Pleasures

2 quick thoughts, neither of which is at all serious. First, I love Christmas. Being married to a genuine elf helps with this. But I especially like that this time of year I get to reach over to the far left-hand side of my tie rack and break out the Christmas ties. I pretty much wear one every school day and Sunday in December (except for home ball games, when the dress code is the open-collared coach shirt). It's a little bit of holiday cheer that costs nada.

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

How to Fix the Auto-Makers

Just a couple of quick points about the near-bankrupt American automotive industry: first, their biggest problem is that they are hamstrung by the UAW. The average UAW worker costs over $70 an hour to employ. At minimum, that's about $40 in wages and $15 in benefits, plus another $15 (some say) in costs to keep paying benefits to current retirees and those laid off. (Some sources say the $70+ figure doesn't include anything for that last bunch, but I'm taking the most favorable interpretation.) Now, let's make it really clear--if it costs $20 more PER WORKER PER HOUR to build a Chevy than a Honda, there's no way the cars can be of the same quality and sell for the same price. Oh, yeah, and while we're at it--if you're an "average" auto-worker and make $83k in salary plus gold-plated benefits, then don't give me any crap about the poor "working class" guy turning a wrench. There are plenty of "working" FAMILIES who don't net what these guys do. So if these guys want to NOT go under, they've got to do something about that math.

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

Long Time No Blog

I've been "away" from the blog for a while... caught up "in the thick of thin things," as the old saying goes. I'm not even sure anybody still checks in on my ruminations, but I have been chastised--my buddy Steve says I need to post so he'll have something to read while goofing off. (Lori, Becky--he reads yours, too, so consider yourselves on notice, as well.)

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.