Saturday, December 13, 2008

I've been writing a blog now for better than 3 years or so. Owing to a number of reasons, I have never conjured up much of an audience. This blog has virtually no readership. It doesn't much matter. While I have enough of an ego to want to be read, to want people to comment and so forth, I guess the writing itself is really enough. It has it's own therapeutic value. Writing serves as a means to organize one's thinking, to consider how best to present an argument or to tell a tale. It allows for a certain amount of emotional venting.

As I noted in an earlier post, things are not going well for us financially. The problem I find is that for me, it has a paralyzing effect. There are a number of things I could be doing during this extended hiatus from day to day work. Actually, I did a great deal up until the winter weather came whooshing in. We had unseasonably warm weather consistently up to and including Thanksgiving and even a couple of days beyond.

During that time I managed to gather up by various means what amounts to nearly an acre of maple leaves. I cut back rose bushes and some grasses. I weeded and mulched some flower beds, stowed away the patio furniture, etc., etc. I even managed to clean and winterize my mowers and some of my other lawn and garden equipment and tools.

But that's done.

There are obviously things I could be doing in the house. There are a number of things that need attention - a slow running drain in a bathroom lavatory, an accumulation of dust and dirt in my little basement office, probably a number of other things my wife could suggest.

I have made a few half assed attempts to deal with a few "housekeeping" type things, but I find that I spend more and more time sleeping. I read a bit. Watch some TV. But doing much else just doesn't happen. I guess the more I am unconscious, the less time I'll have to be aware of just how precarious our situation is. I don't drink or do drugs. Sleep is my only escape.

I got a little work in on Thursday. Each time that happens, I hope it is the beginning of a trend, that more business will come on its heals. But, nothing more appeared on Friday.

These week-ends have been long. It is rare, even during busy times that I get any new work on Saturday or Sunday. Of late, I have actually gone entire weeks with no work whatsoever. I haven't received more than 2 or 3 assignments in any given week since sometime in September or perhaps early October. When busy, I get 10 or 12, sometimes more.

I was and am very happy that Barack Obama won the election in November. I believe that he will bring about some truly positive change in this country in the coming months and years. However, on a practical level, for us, on a day to day basis, I don't see that his efforts will be particularly helpful to our situation. In time I suppose the economy, and in turn, our business will improve. But there are still some tough times in the offing. Many keep saying that it's still going to get worse before it gets better. Hearing that just makes me want to curl up on the couch and zonk out.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

If you like acappella groups, check out "Straight, No Chaser" You'll like it - or them.


Monday, December 8, 2008

What a Crummy Week!

I've spent the past week - the past 10 days really - fighting a really bad cold. Some have suggested that I have the flu. Could be, I suppose, but I did get a flu shot about 3 or 4 weeks ago. I haven't had a fever that I know of.

Nevertheless, I have spent the last several days amongst a veritable sea of used kleenex. I finally went out to the VA Hospital on Friday, where not having an appointment, I was obliged to spend the better part of 6 hours waiting before I finally saw a doctor. She listened to my chest and heard nothing disturbing, but sent me to have a chest x-ray anyway. Apparently, nothing came of that either. I did get what has become the obligatory Z-Pak of which I have one more dose to take tomorrow.

I suppose I am on my way to shaking this thing, but I still have a bit of a cough via which I am still expectorating stuff that remains a fetching shade of green. (Aren't you glad you started reading this?) The most bothersome symptom remaining is an unrelenting sore throat - specifically at my soft palate. It pisses me off. It actually went away for a few hours yesterday afternoon, but came back just as before by evening and has remained all day today. I suppose with respect to how rotten I have felt over the past several days, it's been good that I haven't had much work to do.

However, the bad thing is that I haven't had much work to do - which has been the case for pretty much the past 6 weeks or so. It's starting to get pretty dicey for us. We are essentially living off of the small amount of money I've earned from the piddling amount of work I've completed during the last several weeks and credit cards - all of which are mounting up to near their limits. I see no end in site.

In the 20 plus years I have run my little business, I have had a number of ups and downs, but this is a different animal all together. I have never seen it quite like this. If I was a drinker... man, I'd be plastered from dawn to dusk and beyond. I guess the upside of this cold I've had is that I've spent a good deal of time over the last several days sleeping - except, of course, the entire night I spent coughing. But, when one is coughing - constantly hacking, one doesn't spend a great deal of time worrying about the state of one's bank account.

I hear Obama's hiring.

Oh, and the pic? Those were the days. Don't bother looking for a hummingbird. There isn't one.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Talking to Mom and Dad

I just read a post at a fellow blogger's digs that set me to thinking about my own relationship with my parents and family.

All of my parental figures have long since shuffled off their respective mortal coils - the last to shuffle, my mother, died in 1999 aged 92. I've written of my relationships with my parents before at my other blog site. But the post I mentioned above started other thoughts and memories bouncing around in my vacuous little mind.

We all have unique relationships with our parents. Some are great, some awful. Most, I'm guessing share at least a little of both good and bad. Really communicating with parents seems to be perhaps the single biggest bugaboo that many experience. Most of us don't care to be judged, and that seems to be the natural proclivity of many parents. So, we tend to clam up. We feel, and often rightly, that our parents don't understand us or the lives we lead.

That's due partly at least, to the fact that today's world changes so quickly and dramatically. In times past people's lives, the social order in which they lived, changed little from generation to generation. The rules were the rules. But, in looking back over the past century or so change has become the norm, not the exception. The "rules" are far more difficult to define. What was good for the goose is not necessarily good for the goslings.

When challenged by parents, it is often difficult to explain just how things have changed, and how those changes have affected the rules. In order to live in the contemporary world, it is often necessary - and likely desirable - to reject the old ways that just no longer work for us. Therein lay the rift, the chasm that becomes too wide to leap across.

The same may be true with other family members - with grandparents, of course, aunts and uncles, perhaps, but also at times with siblings as well. My eldest brother was 18 years my senior, my other brother 4 years older. Each of us came of age in rather different times.

My eldest brother graduated high school in 1947, in a country freshly over the scourge of war, and on the winning side (Yay!) My middle brother graduated in 1960, the age of button down "Ivy League" collars, narrow ties, Dobie Gillis and Maynard Krebs. Both of my brothers rode their lives down a more or less straight and narrow path. I graduated in 1964 and could have followed suit, but owing to some nefarious alliances, I sauntered down the road to rack and ruin with the youth culture of the day. I inhaled.

More than that though, I have always been the reflective one in my family. I wasn't much of an academic in my youth, but I've always had a kind of personal dialogue going on in my head (the very thing that Carlos Castaneda's Don Juan warned against engaging in) that tended to remove me from the action as it were. I may have done that at least in part in self-defense. My father and both of my brothers did not get along well. They were often and openly confrontational with each other. As far as I know, it never became physical, but, nevertheless, it seemed a harsh and dangerous place to be in the middle of. I ducked. I generally avoided such confrontations.

What I would do, is talk my way through mythical battles with my dad, my mom, or perhaps with one of my brothers in my head. Actual confrontations rarely materialized. On those occasions when they did, they never seemed to go as I had rehearsed. My watertight arguments generally dissipated in the wind.

But, I suppose the above is not central to what I started out to say. That my parents and my oldest brother are gone saddens me. But, I imagine that if any or all of them were still around, I would still not "get into" anything substantive with them. The limiting parameters of our long established relationships would still apply. Reticence would rule the day. My surviving brother and I don't mix it up much. We stay in safe, innocuous territory. Our conversations rarely become contentious. We talk about movies or TV shows, or dinners we had at restaurants, or something else having few, if any, sharp edges.

For me, the shoe is also on the other foot. My two sons are adults. How we communicate has evolved over the years. There is territory which we generally avoid. Both of them communicate more fully and easily with their mother. Both Jo and I try our best not to be judgmental. Doubtless, though, at least some seeps through in our conversations.

There is a qualitative difference though, or at least I think so. Both of my sons are very smart and creative people. I suppose the younger of the two tends to be more contempletive than his older brother, but they both are thoughtful and reflective. They see and understand things about people and relationships, that neither my parents, my brothers, nor even I ever considered. What is so clearly black and white to many is viewed through a far broader spectrum by my kids. I think that is as it should be.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Life Cut Short

My wife and I had to make a visit to a funeral home this afternoon. It was a rough one. A former school mate of both of my kids fell off a 5 story building a few days ago. This is the 2nd of their school mates to have died (that I know of) since my sons left high school in '97 and '99.

A few years ago a girl, who was my older son's friend and classmate, was killed in an auto accident. The girl's parents attempted to get custody of their baby granddaughter. The father fought against them and lost. Before they could get the little girl back he killed both himself and the granddaughter. Nice story, huh?

This fellow we went for today was a teacher who was very popular with his students as well as a large number of friends, former school mates and of course, his family. The visitation began at 3PM. We arrived at around 3:30. The line was out the door. We waited for a good 45 minutes until we made our way to the small receiving line consisting of the young man's mother, father and wife.

The father seemed to be holding up reasonably well as did the wife. For the mother, though, it was apparent that this was more than she could handle. Her eyes were red and hollow, her face tear stained and pale. She appeared dazed, disbelieving. We spoke with them briefly, offered our condolences, lame as they may have been, stood before the casket a short while, observing the young man's obviously broken body, noting a small scratch just below his temple. We turned away and toured the room taking in the flowers and several photos recounting his life and work. We then wound our way back through those still waiting, nodding to a few whom we recognized, and finally out the door.

As parents of 2 boys of essentially the same age as this young man, I can't imagine what it is his parents are going through. One of our sons is in Germany, the other in New York City. We only get to see them a couple of times a year. We haven't been together with both of them for over 2 years. Yet we remain in constant touch with them via phone, email and occasional cards and letters.

We obviously have little control over either of their lives. My wife and I have a strong faith in them as reasonably mature adults. Yet, it is hard not to worry. It's what parents do, I guess. Neither of us, I think, are obsessive about their daily safety and welfare, but it's something that's always there, couched in the recesses of our minds. If we thought about it often, it would likely drive us to distraction.

As far as I know, the young man we saw today was a good person. He was married, had a good job and a loving family. Perhaps it's fortunate that he had no children. Nevertheless, I feel deeply for his wife, his parents, siblings, students and his friends. It's just too sad.


Autumn In Indiana

These are some pics I took down in Brown County, Indiana within the last couple of weeks. My blog friend Bloomer has posted some really great pics taken right in her back yard. Mine don't rival hers, but they aren't bad. I like them at any rate. (Click on each pic to enlarge it. Click the back arrow to return.)
Sometimes you just stop and look about you, and suddenly realize the wonder.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Yay! Obama Wins! What Next?

I am quite happy with the election results. While I was generally cautious with my predictions prior to election day, I had a sense or a feeling that it could turn into a landslide. In the end it did and yet, it didn't. Certainly, the electoral results were stunning. But, while the popular vote results were definitive, McCain still managed 46% of it in a year when one might have expected a clean sweep by the Democrats. (It is interesting that there are now no GOP members of Congress from any of the northeastern states.) Credit must be given to McCain, in spite of his tortured and fractured organization and the ghastly legacy of the Bush years from which he could not wholly separate himself.

Certainly, race was an issue for some voters considering that some of McCain's strongest showings were in the old south. Happily, this was partly broken by the results in Virginia - the home of the Confederacy, North Carolina and Florida.

All of us who have relished the last couple of days should now get over our giddyness and settle in to see how our new president carries out his duties. The proof will ultimately be in the pudding. What will the pundits in the media or even bloggers here on the net be saying in 6 months; in a year?

Of course there are those who hate Obama simply because he's drawing breath. Nothing he could do short of proving beyond a doubt that he is the 'second coming' could assuage those feelings.

I am in hopes, and actually, I believe that Obama will surprise many. Many right wingers believe that Obama will attempt to govern from the far left, that we will all be obliged to read Mao's Red Book and wear gray pajamas to go work in the "collective" in the coming months.

I don't. I believe that Obama will do much as Clinton did and govern much closer to the center. That is, IMO, the only manner in which he can hope to govern. Such a move will disappoint, even anger some with a more leftist agenda who expect Obama to carry their interests to Washington. I don't expect him to abandon the left altogether, but he will prove to be far from the Marxist many have warned about.

I believe Obama will be far superior to Clinton owing to his personal discipline, his ability to focus, to demand and receive respect and loyalty. I truly doubt that Obama will fall victim to any of the, uh, distractions in which Clinton indulged himself.

Perhaps much to the chagrin of those who continually lambasted Obama regarding his lack of "executive" experience, he will in fact prove to be an excellent and adroit chief executive - certainly superior to Ms. Palin, who I understand is even now making plans to visit the "country" of Africa.

But again. This is all yet to be seen. Undoubtedly, Obama will not live up to all (or perhaps even most) of the expectations many have for him. He will disappoint. He will anger. He will at times screw up. Just how badly, and to what effect we are yet to witness. But, on balance, I expect him to perform at a high level. All I can say is, that I'm glad it's him and not me, and NOT John McCain.

In the mean time, life goes on.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Blood and Guts Politics in America

We Americans are a bellicose bunch. All in all we really don't like each other very much. The "I've got mine, so fuck you" attitude that many here carry around lends itself quite seamlessly to multiple gun ownership and rabid support for it. It's no wonder that our politics are so full of vitriole and hate. It's simply an extension of our desire to shoot one another.

A great number of Americans retain the old wild west, shoot from the hip cowboy, persona that has been reflected quite aptly by the current presidential administration. John McCain hopes to carry that tradition forward for another 4 to 8 years.

Yes. Many Americans may publicly complain about negative attack ads, but they do tend to lap them up with a similar enthusiasm as those who used to attend public executions and lynchings. Obviously, we're not alone in this. Remember scenes of beheadings performed during breaks in soccer matches in Afghanistan by the Taliban. When the sword came down, the cheers went up. The French loved to watch the guillotine in action, but of course to be fair, that was 200 years ago.

Now, in the U.S. we don't publicly execute criminals any longer, although there are some who ardently wish we did. Lynchings are rare. Generally, the news media take great pains to prevent explicit scenes of violence from hitting the airwaves. I saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswalt live on TV. With the standard 7 second tape delay utilized for virtually all so called live television broadcasts , such a thing will likely never be seen here in the U.S. again. We Americans just don't get to see much blood letting.

Aside from sports and some so called "reality" TV, there's not much we can see that will satisfy our lust for blood and gore. I suppose that's why "hack-em up" horror flicks are so popular, but they ultimately aren't very satisfying because after all, it's just make believe. Hell, now that Mr. Blackwell has shuffled off his mortal coil, we won't even get his killer "worst dressed" lists anymore. We can only hope that another smug, condescending "fashion maven" will take up the Blackwell gauntlet.

Political campaigns are about the nearest we get to a blood sport (that's not actually a sport, anyhow.) Generally, the most we can hope for is a cutting sound bite. Unfortunately, while we begrudgingly settle for such moments to sate our hunger for political "red meat," our country is tumbling willy-nilly over the waterfall, its arms and legs flailing helplessly about on the verge of being smashed on the rocks below.
The Photo: Sadly, I was not quick enough to get a shot of this lovely lady from the front. As she walked passed my wife and I after the Indianapolis Obama rally last week, I smiled and waved at her. She answered saying with a scowl: "Obama Bin Laden," spat on the ground and slammed her staff down on the asphalt walk for effect. Hooray for our side!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Myth: John McCain: Patriot and War Hero

Senator and Republican presidential nominee John Sidney McCain III spends much of his stump time regaling his devotees with stories of how he is - at least since his release from North Vietnam's "Hanoi Hilton" - a genuine war hero who has always put "country first." To the contrary, there is evidence that he has always put John McCain first.

A recent Rolling Stone article written by Tim Dickinson,
"Make-Believe Maverick", goes some distance in casting a shadow over the Arizona Senator's supposed hero status.

McCain freely admits that he led a lackluster youth, much of it spent carousing and womanizing, and that he was a poor student at the Naval Academy graduating fourth from the bottom of his class. However, he rarely, if ever, has mentioned how he repeatedly took advantage of his family ties — both his father and grandfather were U.S. Navy admirals. It was his family connection that got him admitted to the Naval Academy in the first place, something that he likely would not have otherwise accomplished. It was through his father's intervention that John III was saved from expulsion from the Academy on more than one occasion. He used this same influence in obtaining assignments during his military career.

Nor does he mention that he was a less than able pilot. Beside the "Tinker Toy" bomber that blew up on the deck of the USS Forestal and the A4 jet lost when he was shot down over Hanoi, McCain managed to lose no fewer than three other planes owing to his lack of piloting skills. None of these incidents involved combat, and all took place before his imprisonment in Vietnam.

Dickinson includes statements from a number of McCain's naval colleagues and other acquaintances who claim that he was a short-tempered, spiteful bully and misogynist both before and after his time as a POW.

Much has been made of John McCain's POW experience in Vietnam during the last several months of his presidential campaign. No one will dispute that it was an horrific experience. But Dickinson claims there are issues regarding McCain's version of events during the five-plus years of his captivity. McCain claims that he was tortured and left to die until his captors discovered that he was the son of an American admiral. What he doesn't relate is that it was McCain himself who informed the Vietnamese of his family ties. According to some fellow POWs, McCain rather readily gave up much more than his name, rank, and serial number while held captive.

To be fair, very few POWs actually manage to adhere strictly to that honor code. However, according to fellow POW, Air Force Lt. Col. John Dramesi, McCain's behavior as a prisoner, while certainly not dishonorable, was also not exceptional. He managed generally no better nor no worse than the average POW. He did what was necessary to survive. There is no dishonor in that. But, that McCain has chosen to highlight this experience and create the sense that his conduct was exceptional and heroic, leaves a bad taste in the mouth of many former POWs. McCain has and continues to use his POW experience expressly to further his political fortunes.

There is a great deal more to discover in Dickinson's article. McCain's tireless propensity to promote John McCain above all else continues throughout his political career. Dickinson notes that despite what a number of his fellow Senators may say, McCain has few true friends. He is just not a particularly likable guy. The portrait Mr. Dickinson paints of John McCain is far different than the one the Arizona Senator would like you to see.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Earlier today I tore much of my garden down. I pulled up all my tomato plants, the cages and the stakes. I rolled up most of that black underlayment and raked a layer of grass clippings over the area. When I get everything down in the next couple weeks after a killing frost, I'll till it all and cover it all with tons of maple leaves. It's a job that I don't take a great deal of pleasure in.

Opening up a garden in the spring is a much more hopeful task. It marks a beginning. Planting the young tomato plants, placing the cages around them and so on signifies the new season of growing with the promise of the harvest down the road.

Autumn in Indiana is a truly lovely time of the year. We usually enjoy what I consider our best stretch of weather from the last couple of weeks in September sometimes through the first week or two of November. Daily temperatures begin to drop off from the more intense levels of August. The humidity drops. We get but little rain. While it doesn't always work out that way, more often than not, it does.

The gradual cooling urges the leaves to begin turning from their deep late summer green, first to yellow/gold, then to red, usually peaking in color and contrast by mid-October. As lovely as it is, it is also a time tinged in sadness. Another summer season is gone.

I'm not a fan of winter. I can appreciate it, say, up until about New Years Day. By then we've had at least a taste of winter weather - some bracing cold, some snow. But January, February and much of March are often pretty bleak times in Indiana. With a few exceptions, the weather is not pretty. We don't get the heavy snow and deep cold that more northern or mountainous regions usually get. This ain't ski country.

Nor do we get away with wearing just a sweater and light jacket in January as they may in more southern climates. Our winters generally fall somewhere in between - just cold enough and wet enough to be miserable most of the time. Bad weather often lingers off and on through most of April, sometimes even well into May. There are usually a number of glorious spring days starting sometimes as early as late March, but winter just won't let the other shoe drop until deep into spring.

Then, we often do an about face into hot, humid summer weather in early June. We often swelter through much of the summer. Again, it isn't tropical or desert like. But just hot enough and humid enough to be uncomfortable, to sweat, to find it hard to remain outside come mid-afternoon.

So the fall is prime time for Indiana weather. Unfortunately, winter is on its heels. Come February, I'll likely start some plants under lights in my basement. That's always fun.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Appraisals: A Disappearing Act

The following is a letter I sent earlier today to Sens. Barack Obama, Evan Bayh and Richard Lugar. I know it's a bit presumptive of me, but what the hell.

I have been a real estate appraiser working in central Indiana for more than 20 years. The following are some observations and suggestions for perhaps solving some of the problems facing our economy - specifically problems in the housing and mortgage lending industries:

Whatever happened to appraisals?

The troubles in the housing industry have many sources. Among them are the processes adopted by various mortgage lenders over the years in determining the value of real property to be secured.

In years past - certainly prior to the S&L melt down in the early 90s - most mortgage lenders required detailed valuation reports which included full exterior and interior inspections by approved appraisers. However, over the last fifteen years or so that requirement has changed significantly. Now, a large portion of properties secured by mortgages are not backed by thorough "on the ground" inspections and detailed written appraisal reports.

So called drive-by reports have become far more popular which are, as the name indicates, literally done by "driving by" a property, usually taking one or more photos of the front of the house from the public street, usually having no observations from the rear and no access to the interior. Some lenders are also relying on even less detailed and reliable "desk top" appraisals completed without any inspection of the property at all.

Even more troubling, given the current dire situation in the housing industry, many lenders have adopted the use of Automated Valuation Models or AVMs in determining the value of real property. There are now several companies offering AVM services to both the lending industry and individuals for both residential, and more recently, for a variety of commercial properties as well. AVM reports are computer generated valuations utilizing property and sales data acquired from a variety of sources all over the country. These reports also do not include any type of inspection of the properties. They are all done sitting in front of a computer screen. It is unclear just what oversite exists and to what standards these companies must adhere.

It has been my experience that AVM data is lacking in detail and is often inaccurate. While these models may at times work fairly well for properties located in large sub-divisions having a high number of recent sales, their reliability drops off drastically in areas of less homogeneity. The end result is that properties are often improperly valued through this process. While many people rightly repeat the mantra of 'location' being a primary factor in the value of real estate, there are also other factors having significant influence as well. An AVM generated report cannot make any determination regarding the condition of any improvements on a property, nor as regards quality and amenities. AVM reports usually cannot adjust for recent additions in living area or remodeling, etc. Neither can an AVM report adjust for unknown damage from storms, floods, fire, etc. If the core data is in error, there is no way in which an AVM valuation can be accurate.

There is no substitute for a complete exterior/interior inspection of the property and a full, well considered appraisal report completed by a qualified and impartial appraiser.


The word "impartial" is vital.

All too often appraisers are pressured by mortgage brokers, loan officers, realtors, buyers, sellers, etc., to arrive at or above a specified figure. Since the current system allows these brokers and loan officers to choose their appraisers, they then become beholden to those brokers and loan officers for their very livelihood. Consequently, inordinate pressures can come to bear upon appraisers torn between doing one's job impartially, and the need to have an income.

Up until a dozen or so years ago, FHA maintained a panel of appraisers from which FHA, not the broker or lender, made appraisal assignments in an ongoing rotation. Pressures from the lending industry, and, I believe government cut backs caused HUD to abandon that system in favor of allowing individual brokers and lenders to maintain their own lists of FHA approved appraisers from which appraisal assignments are made. The effect of this is the loss of the "arms length" relationship between the lender and the appraiser. As you may know, most banks and mortgage companies have, over the last several years, done away with employing "staff appraisers" owing to the appearance of a conflict of interest. There is though, from the appraiser's perspective, little difference in being an employee or an independent contractor. The relationship remains largely the same.

Lastly, it has been suggested in some quarters that regional or national appraisal management companies or AMCs should be given the task of making all appraisal assignments. While on the surface this may seem an attractive answer, it does not adequately create or maintain that "arms length" relationship owing to the fact that the AMCs are beholden to the lenders. Some appraisal management companies are owned by lenders. AMCs are NOT impartial.

What to do?

It is my contention as noted above that most if not all mortgage transactions should require full exterior/interior inspections and written appraisal reports completed by
licensed or certified appraisers with assignments made through a government entity to insure impartiality. I realize that I am talking about more government bureaucracy, but the consequences we now face, which are at least in part the result of lax lending procedures including the improper valuation of properties, weighs far heavier on us than what would be a relatively minor addition to government. The banking industry has pushed and shoved its weight around in its effort to divorce itself from responsible lending practices. Closer oversight and involvement by government could go a long way in preventing another such financial catastrophe.

I understand that I have an abiding interest in this issue. I could possibly benefit personally if my suggestions were adopted. I certainly don't deny that. However, that does not obviate the problem nor invalidate either my concerns or the course I suggest to remedy the problem. Accountability and transparency are at issue. Accurate and impartial valuation of secured real estate is essential to achieving both.


Thursday, September 25, 2008


I can see it now.

The scene opens on Senate members embroiled in hashing out terms of the "bail out" in a smoke filled room (of course there's no smoking allowed - it is "green" smoke - biodegradable and non-toxic,) having made absolutely no progress, loudly bickering amongst themselves, when in rushes SUPER JOHN MCCAIN, decked out in his red cape and tights , to the rescue! (Trumpets sound heroically) "Bom pa, da, da!"

SJ: "All right men - and (smiling and winking deferentially) you pretty little ladies - gather round. I'm here to save the day! I'VE GOT THE PLAN!

Now, I don't pretend to understand much about the economy, but me and my boys - uh, you've all met my boys, haven't you? (motioning toward the doorway where four or five tuffs in dark suits, white ties and fedora hats stand menacing - feet wide apart, the Senators silently nodding, slack jawed in fear and awe) - yeah, me and my boys got this bail out thing all figured out."

Random Youngish Senator: (Enthusiastically) "What are ya gonna do SJ? Set up a strict regulatory commission with veto powers and oversight to insure transparency?"

SJ: "What? Regulatory commission? Hell no. What we're gonna do is bomb Fannie Mac and that Freddie Mae, and then - bingo - we're gonna do the same to Wall Street. That's the kinda straight talk I'm talkin' about, by god!" (The four or five tuffs nod and chime in saying: "Dat's right boss." or "You said it, SJ.")

Another Random Senator: "Of course! That's the ticket! Brilliant! That'll show those elite New England, Ivy League bastards. (Smiling broadly, conspiratially) Hey, maybe that would be a good day to arrange to have The Honorable Senator Obama ring the closing bell at the stock exchange, no?"

SJ: (Suddenly slumping over in a chair) "Ooooooooooooo."

Back to the First Random Senator: "Omigod! SJ! What's happening? What's wrong? Are you all right?" (Kneeling down, taking SJ's hand in his, surreptitiously kissing McCain's palm.)

SJ: (Now barely audible) "I can't hide it any longer. I'm finished. I have terminal hemorrhoids. I'm bleeding out."

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison: "Eeeew"

SJ: (Briefly rallying) "Never fear though, Sister Sarah has a firm hold on the reigns of power. She'll lead you on into the 21st century steadfastly, keeping the witches at bay, not to mention that she'll share some really great moose stew recipes." (Dies)

Still Yet Another Random Senator: "He's dead! The Great Maverick is dead! God save the Great Maverick! (Gnashes teeth as the scene fades.)

Announcer: (On camera) "Stay tuned for scenes from next week's all new episode of D.C. Looney Bin." (Whonk! - Announcer gets hit with a rubber chicken.) Muted trumpets play a descending scale - Wa, wa, wa waaaah. (Fade.)

(Insert Cialis Commercial)


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Appraisal: One source of our economic woes.

Out of all the cacophony caused by the current meltdown of this country's financial industry, one of the sources in the grass roots mechanics of how all this housing mess came about has been largely ignored: The appraisal.

In the past, until a few years ago, FHA maintained a list of approved appraisers who were given assignments by FHA, not the lender. While there is no sure thing, this system made it more likely that the appraiser would be impartial, that she or he would be an advocate for the property - not the lender, the buyer or seller, or even the realtor, if one was a participant. This system allowed the appraiser to maintain an arm's length relationship with others involved in the transaction.

Under pressure from the banking/lending industry, plus the efforts in Washington to downsize government, FHA abandoned that system in favor of allowing each lender to choose its own appraiser. While HUD still requires that those performing appraisals for FHA-insured mortgage loans be approved via application and testing, the arm's length situation that formerly prevailed is no more.

Also, until a few years ago many banks and other mortgage lenders employed one or more staff appraisers, who valued properties being secured by that institution for conventional or insured conventional loans. A few lenders still maintain appraisers on staff, but the obvious appearance of a possible conflict of interest finally made the maintenance of them untenable for most lenders. On the surface, this seemed to be a good thing - not for staff appraisers of course, but for the lending industry as a whole - in that it would promulgate that arm's length relationship.
That, however, has not been the case. Pretty much across the board, lenders maintain a list of approved appraisers who are not employees, but who are, in effect, fee paid contractors. The same pressures remain; in order to remain on that approved list, each appraiser must play ball, as it were.

Of course, it has become more complicated than that. Three major factors have developed over the past 15 to 20 years:

First, the advent of so called "mortgage brokers." By and large, over time, these people became the real bottom feeders. Most of their clientele were people who could not obtain approval from any of the more mainstream lenders. If purchasing a home, many of these wannabe mortgagors came into the game often with little cash, questionable income, spotty employment records and weak credit scores. If refinancing existing loans, many brought to the table some or all of the above, plus the added problem of attempting to borrow against a property having little or no equity. More often than not, these were the people on behalf of whom mortgage brokers were attempting to obtain approval. Note that a mortgage broker makes nothing unless the loan is closed.

Herein lay the problem for the appraiser. Especially with refinances and home equity type loans, the pressure came loud and clear from brokers that a certain figure must be met in the appraisal for the deal to work. Failure to comply meant that the broker would simply make a phone call or two until he or she found an appraiser who would get the value up where it needed to be.

Second: The advent of computer generated Automated Valuation Models, or AVMs.
AVMs are created via large data bases maintained by companies which gather real estate sales data, much like locally maintained multiple listing services (MLS), but on a regional or national level. These AVMs use this accumulated data to determine the value of individual properties via computer generated models. Many lenders have adopted their use in lieu of standard appraisals. In some instances, an AVM valuation may be backed up by a so called "desk top" or "drive by" appraisal performed by either appraisers or real estate brokers. Neither the desk top nor the drive by report involves an actual "feet on the ground" inspection of the property.

AVMs tend to work best when there is an ample amount of data - say for a 1200 square foot, three bedroom, two bath, brick veneer ranch home built on a crawl with a 2 car attached garage located in a subdivision of hundreds of other 1200 square foot, three bedroom, 2 bath, brick ranches having large numbers of recent sales. However, their dependability wanes dramatically in areas where there is less homogeneity. Also, the data compiled by these AVMs is often spotty at best; and at times, wholly inaccurate - far less complete and accurate than data typically found in traditional MLS data systems.

The appraisal has long been considered by lenders, realtors, and even sellers and buyers, as a fly in the ointment. An appraisal that fails to meet the sales price or whatever the minimum value estimate necessary to attain the prescribed loan-to-value ratio is, will kill the deal. Lenders have done everything possible to remove the appraisal - and consequently the appraiser - from the equation. The excuse usually raised is the cost factor. This argument is bogus in that the cost of the average appraisal in today's market is somewhere between $275 and $350, or so. (Fees vary from region to region and the cost for larger, more complex properties may be higher, but such properties are generally outside the norm.) That cost pales when measured against the average total costs of closing a mortgage loan. The real reason is control. The lender generally has less control over an independent appraiser. An appraisal which comes in with a low value estimate, as noted, will either kill a deal outright, or at best, cause a delay while another appraisal is sought, in the hope that the second appraiser, perhaps with a little nudging, will "see the light."

The marriage between computer geeks and the lending industry has brought about the development and use of AVMs in the effort to obviate the need for on-the-ground appraisals. However, as noted, these models are often based on inaccurate data. It is also much easier for anyone generating these reports to selectively piece together data which supports whatever value the lender is seeking, owing to less oversight. It is not clear as to what standards the AVM providers must adhere. Keep in mind that in these instances, no one ever so much as lays eyes on the property in question. By comparison, a full blown Fannie Mae appraisal is a fairly detailed and painstakingly developed report, often consisting of 20 to 30 pages or more, which must meet a number of specific guidelines set forth by Fannie or Freddie and/or HUD and/or the VA, plus possible additional requirements of the individual lenders. Detailed explanations must be included in the event any aspect of the report does not follow the aforementioned guidelines.

Third: The emergence of appraisal management companies (AMCs). These are generally regional or national companies which act as a sort of clearing house or middle man for lenders to obtain appraisals and in some instances various aspects of loan processing, including credit checks, verification of borrower information, title work/insurance and even closings. In their middleman capacity, AMCs take requests for these services and then assign them to appraisers, title companies, etc., who have applied to and been approved by the AMCs.

As little as most appraisers like it - because this necessitates fee sharing - this arrangement does once again create an arm's length situation between the lender and the appraiser. At this juncture, I am not sure just what percentage of current residential mortgage appraisals are being handled through AMCs, but the number has been steadily rising over the past two decades or so.

As with the S&L debacle in the early 90s, there are certainly some appraisers who have been culpable in creating the current financial mess by succumbing to pressures and inflating values. On paper a skilled appraiser can make pretty much any property appear to be worth whatever figure a lender or broker stipulates.

In defense of appraisers though, it is a tough, competitive industry for them, just like most everything else. An appraiser's livelihood usually depends wholly on the favor of loan originators or loan processors, AMCs and, yes, mortgage brokers. Their loyalty to appraisers only goes as deep as the success of recent loans. "What have you done for us lately?" Happily, most appraisers operate above those pressures, but it is precarious at best. Appraisers have to eat like everybody else.

While I certainly don't contend that what is happening in Washington even as I type, is solely or even primarily due to bad appraisals, bad appraisers, or even to the evil mortgage brokers and AVMs, nevertheless, they are and have been players in all this. A return to more traditional lending and valuation procedures could go a long way toward a more equitable and transparent lending process.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Rupture is Back! Rupture is Back! Rupture is Back!

Hey! Rupture Is Back!
After being badgered by literally hundreds of my avid readers (well, one or two - maybe,) I finally gave in and decided to resurrect Rupture the Rapture ( Now, any articles I write involving religion and/or agnosticism/atheism will be posted on Rupture. All other stuff will remain here in the hallowed halls of Indy Boomer.

I know. The excitement is palbable. The press is, as I write, gathering in my front yard, having been pulled off of the campaign trail and coverage of Hurricane Ike. I will have a press conference with more details along with an announcement of a special "Rupture" giveaway including a top prize of the "End Times" package for two at the Armageddon Hilton.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Further Look at Sarah Palin

Senator John McCain's selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate was smart, perhaps brilliant, from the standpoint that it was totally unexpected and has obviously shaken things up in both parties, perhaps even more so in the media.

The announcement and its timing took the air out of Barack Obama's acceptance speech and the culmination of the Democratic National Convention (DNC), effectively reducing any 'bounce' in the polls that the Dems might have otherwise enjoyed. There was a reported bounce in most polls, but it was a couple of points less than the norm for candidates coming out of their conventions, and McCain's pick, announced last Friday just hours after the close of the DNC, had a lot to do with that.

Palin's selection was a master stroke from a "Madison Avenue" perspective. She is very appealing in both her look and her story. There certainly are any number of others, including several women within the Republican Party who are far better qualified, but that obviously wasn't what the McCain camp was after.

Regardless of what anyone thinks of Obama's credentials, or how one compares them to Palin's, the fact is that the prospect of her taking the seat behind the Oval Office desk is not a particularly comforting one. Of course, the fact that the White House has been run by a totally inept idiot for the better part of the last eight years should actually give us heart. While overall, the Bush Administration has been an unending cluster fuck, which many Republicans still inexplicably embrace with pride, we can periodically wipe the flop sweat from our collective brow in the knowledge that we haven't all been blown into a pink mist - yet. So, I suppose, in the presumption that Ms. Palin would be "handled" by McCain's surrogates in much the same manner as Mr. Bush, in the event of her ascending to the top spot after, say, another unfortunate 'pretzel' incident that in this (hypothetical) case ends badly, would help ease our angst - and, presumably, hers.

Another element to consider in McCain's VP selection is that now we have two - count 'em, two - Republican nominees who must be handled with kid gloves. The Reps must be mindful of treading lightly over racial matters, but now the Dems must walk on egg shells over both McCain and Palin. The Dems must not besmirch McCain owing to his POW status. Every time a democrat sets out to criticize McCain, their attacks are always prefaced with recognition of McCain's ordeal and praise for his heroism which is proper, but has the effect of taking the edge off of anything they say afterwards.

Now they can't go after Palin regarding, well, about much of anything. Obama and, especially, Biden must be very careful in how they attack her. They can't refer to her being a member of the fairer sex except in praise. They can't touch her family situation. They must be very careful in challenging her evangelical proclivities which are, by the way, significant. And they cannot diminish her "executive" experience as the president of the PTA. They can't even bring up her lack of experience and knowledge regarding international affairs because, as has been aptly pointed out, Russia is so close to Alaska. Palin and McCain can stand up and challenge Obama and Biden to "Bring it on. Give us your best shot," but do so in the full knowledge that any perception the voting public may have that Dems are piling on, or hitting below the belt will have negative repercussions for them (the Dems.)

I can tell you that being the mayor of a town the size of Wasilla is hardly a full time job. My brother is a friend and former associate of Stan Hooley, the executive director of the Iditarod which has its home base in Wasilla. In that capacity, Mr. Hooley is the second most well known resident of the town next to Her (former) Honor, the Mayor, Ms. Palin. During her mayoral tenure, he met with her on a number of occasions. While she had an office, she did much of her work at home while tending the kids, cooking supper, cleaning her guns, etc., which is fine, even admirable, but that does indicate that the mayor's job in Wasilla was not so demanding that she had to be present in her office everyday.

Joe Wright, the current mayor of Beech Grove, Indiana, a town of around 10000 residents spends more hours in the day tending to his laundromat business than he does on the business of Beech Grove. My brother in-law ran for (and lost) the BG mayor's job to Wright last fall in the knowledge that it would take little time away from his business and that the job offers great health insurance benefits.

The current mayor of Southport, Indiana, a smaller community of around 3500 residents, puts in about 12 to 15 hours a week in that capacity. The gist of this is, let's not make too much out of one's having been the mayor of a small town. In most cases, it's just not that big a whup.
Palin's quick rise to the Alaska governorship is impressive, and her actions and approval rating are, likewise, not to be sniffed at. I would suggest however, that taking on the power structure in Alaska is not quite the same thing as bringing about significant change inside the Beltway. She, along with fellow "maverick" John McCain might shake things up in D.C., but I wouldn't hold my breath. Even if they succeed to some extent in that regard, one must consider whether that is necessarily a good thing. After all, what things do they intend to shake up, and just how do they intend to shake them? What will be the end result? Will any changes they manage to make result in a more efficient, more responsive federal government? Or will it simply create more entanglements, more red tape and more political wrangling?

It has been repeatedly noted that Palin flip-flopped on the 'bridge to nowhere' ("She was for it before she was against it,") but not much notice has been paid to the fact that as mayor of Wasilla, largely through the efforts of paid lobbyists, she managed to obtain over 25 million dollars in federal "earmarks" for the town; just the kind of thing that is supposedly anathema to McCain.

Also as governor, she championed a deal which now brings in a payment of $3200 for each and every citizen of Alaska from the oil companies' profits. This arrangement was originally set up in 1982, but Palin formed a coalition with Democrats and some apparently reluctant Republicans in the Alaska legislature to up the ante to the oil companies.

Alaskans pay no state income tax largely due to the revenue the state gets from big oil. Hmmm. How is that fundamentally different from Obama's campaign promise to tax the oil companies' "windfall" profits? It's okay for Alaska, but not the rest of us? Am I reading that correctly, comrade?

I would venture to guess that had Palin been the Democratic VP choice, the Republicans would have jumped on her just as hard or harder than the Democrats have done. They would have picked over her thin resume in much the same way as is now being done, and it's likely that one or more self-righteous, Bible wielding, evangelical preachers would have risen up in condemnation of her daughter's licentious behavior.

Today, politicians are looked upon in much the same light as celebrities by most people and especially, the media. What did the McCain people expect? It has been no less vicious with Obama. His life has been scoured, picked and prodded up, down and sideways, with all manner of distortions, half truths and outright lies bandied about since he announced his candidacy. Now, that is all topped off with Jerome Corsi's disgusting book, The Obama Nation which has taken all the above noted crap, added more, and condensed it under one convenient cover. This book sits near the top of the New York Times best seller list.

The political arena is not a place for the faint of heart. The scrutiny of Palin is still in its first phases. Many more will follow. It ain't gonna get any easier. All of you folks who claim such indignation at how Palin has been treated are a bit much. Again, what the hell did you expect?


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Our Childish Little Pastime

The following is a rather extended comment I made on a post at Blog Critics Magazine regarding McCain's VP pick yesterday. It probably qualifies as a rant, but what the hell. The only difference is, I cleaned up some of the language and syntax that I had messed up but didn't catch in editing over there.

You know? When it comes down to it everyone commenting here (at Blog Critics,) myself included, is full of shit.

There's not a damn one of us who knows diddly squat about any of this. All of our charges, all of our predictions amount to meaningless crap.

Writers here at BC repeatedly lambast the MSM and the various pundits who blather on about this and that, yet, that is exactly what we do here. Most of those who appear on the various television networks, radio broadcasts, and most of those who write for the major news magazines and newspapers are people who have spent most of the their adult lives involved either actively in politics, and/or reporting on and/or analyzing it. Many of them know the pols personally. Some have held public office at some level or other. Yet, for the most part, their various analyses and prognostications wind up going wide of the mark, much the same as economists who make their supposed educated guesses about the direction the economy is likely to take. Weather forecasters have a far better track record than most political pundits. Generally, for the few who do get it right, it's just the luck of the draw. Someone's going to win; someone will lose.

Pretty much all of us here (at BC) are hacks at best. We all have our opinions, and we are certainly free to share them. What I find so disturbing and maddening is how often most of us, again, myself included, are either totally uninformed, or it's discovered that many of our so called "facts" are gleaned from other WEB sites and publications having a heavy bias, and therefore, no better than questionable credibility. Yet we brazenly come here and repeat the drivel that these places publish as truth. Who knows the truth? What the hell IS the truth?

Everybody here claims to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Obama, or McCain, or the Clintons, or Bush, or Cheney are lying, cheating, stupid, ass kissing, overbearing, groveling, elitist bastards. But, not one of us knows any such thing.

I have often stated how I despise George Bush, but when it comes down to it, I really don't know anything substantive about the man. I think his performance in office has been abysmal, but as a man, he may be, hell, I don't know, charming, funny, a pleasure to be around. The same may be true of McCain or Rumsfeld.

I have often been told that Bill Clinton, in a one on one situation, is absolutely captivating. Apparently, he is able to charm the pants off of some people. My brother in-law talked with a couple who had Obama come to their home here in central Indiana to discuss their lives, and their economic situation. (The guy, Mark Fisher, even spoke at the Dem Convention last Monday night.) They told him that Obama was very friendly and seemed honestly sincere. During that visit, my brother in-law's wife met and spoke with Michelle Obama. She was also said to be funny, very personable and unassuming.

There are people here on all wave lengths of the political spectrum who spout their hatred - real hatred - for any or all of the candidates, their wives, probably their kids, and many other politicians as well. Many claim to have personal or "inside" information about this or that person, but again, most of that so called "real poop" is no more credible than 95% of all the crap that gets bandied about here at BC.

Many such people either are, or are verging on being, nutball conspiracy theorists, who imagine that the candidates and politicians they have chosen to oppose, and, therefore, hate, are the embodiment of evil in league with equally evil forces that supposedly run the political machine. Fortunately, I have so far avoided that trap.

I have spent most of the previous hour just reading a few articles and several of the comments here (in the 'Politics' section of Blog Critics,) including my own. Upon some reflection, for the most part, it's all childish, inane bullshit, having generally less, and certainly no more, veracity than the same kind of bantering we see and hear ad nauseam on the boob tube.

We need to grow up, and perhaps get ourselves a life.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hillary Hits a Homerun Just Where She Aimed It.

Well, I watched Hillary's speech, as I'm sure many folks did as well, and it was a damn good one! She touched all the bases, even stomped on a few of them. It was the best speech she has ever given. No doubt the McCain people and conservative pundits will go to great lengths to find cracks in it, but they will be hard pressed to do so.

Hillary graciously thanked her supporters and reflected on how great it was to have met people on the campaign trail who were ardently behind her. But then she hauled them up and stated flatly that they must get behind both the Democratic Party and its candidate, Barack Obama. There was no equivocation. No half-hearted or left-handed compliments. If her words were not genuinely felt, she hid it very well.

I, along with many others have felt that, since the end of the primary season, both she and hubby Bill have been less than enthusiastic in their support of Obama . Although, in recent weeks Hillary has been out stumping for Obama, and according to some, has done so with apparent energy and sincerity. It will be incumbent, first upon Bill to deliver the goods Wednesday evening, and then on both of them to follow up in the coming days and weeks all the way through to November, maintaining highly visible and sincere efforts on behalf of the Democratic ticket. Anything less will tarnish both of them for years to come.

To me, it was understandable that the Clintons did not immediately jump on the Obama bandwagon, given the circumstances. Most of us will never know what went on behind the scenes during their protracted primary campaign against each other, or how intense the rancor must have become. I doubt that the Obamas and the Clintons will ever be bosom buddies, hanging out together at the mall, but the Clintons did definitely drag their feet far too long, to the detriment of Obama and the Democratic Party. Nevertheless, Hillary's performance Tuesday night went a long way toward mending many of the broken fences within the Party.

Hillary had some good lines bashing McCain - some that may be taken on as campaign mantras like "No way, no how, no McCain." Now, both Bill and Joe Biden must take the campaign against McCain to a much higher level on Wednesday evening.

The Republicans will spend virtually every waking hour of their convention bashing Obama and Biden. If Obama is to prevail, all thoughts of avoiding negative campaigning must be tossed out the door, just as the McCain campaign has done since June. They must hit McCain hard, and hit him often. Should Romney be McCain's choice as running mate, then every charge, every slight Romney made against McCain during their less than amicable primary battle must be brought out and brandished for all to see. McCain should be brought to task for playing his POW card every time he can't think of anything else to say. The Democrats must remind voters of McCain's determination to install conservative justices on the Supreme Court, in order to reverse Rowe v Wade.

Anytime McCain's people, or McCain himself, make any reference to Obama being an elitist the Democrats must show just who the elitists really are. Say, let's compare the McCain/Romney net worth against Obama/Biden's. Let's count houses. Let's remind people that McCain has never lived as most blue collar or middle class people must live - paycheck to paycheck. McCain's POW experience was a singular event shared by a select few. It was, no doubt, a horrific experience. But it does not lend itself to McCain's having any real understanding or empathy for what it is to live as most working and middle class Americans, let alone the poor, must live. Let's remind people that McCain, in his patented condescending and dismissive fashion, stated that anyone earning less that five million dollars a year should be considered "middle class," and that a viable solution to problems in the middle east is to "bomb Iran, bomb, bomb Iran."

It should be pointed out that McCain comes from a long line of career military men, and that he actually was very reluctant to join the military. He wanted to study literature. It should be pointed out that other than his POW experience, McCain did not distinguish himself greatly through his command experience. McCain has only briefly held any real jobs in the private sector. Except for his military experience, most of his adult life has been spent in the political arena.

McCain is mean spirited, short tempered and has been seen to be personally cruel and disrespectful publicly to his wife and on some occasions to members of his staff, as well as to members of the press.
The Democrats must NOT allow McCain to take a pass on all this. He is not a delicate flower who must be handled with kid gloves. He is a grizzled political veteran who must be dealt with accordingly. The gloves must come off.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

When Your Kid Does Good, Ya Gotta Give It Up For Em!

Gotta do a little hootin' for my kid. Give this a view:

The video is a short snippet likely taken with someone's cell phone or digital camera of a staged production of Pink Floyd's "The Wall" performed in Hengelo, Holland on Friday, August 22. It was an elaborate, fairly high tech, multi-media production using a mix of live shots of the performers and drawings being done by an artist projected on various screens around the stage. It featured a rock band, a small orchestra and a children's choir. My son was 'Pink." There are two other Youtube videos of the actual performance. They are interesting, but show even smaller bits of my son's performance. There are a couple of "rehearsal" videos and other miscellaneous videos of the band setting up, etc. These can be found by typing in something like Pink Floyd's The Wall Hengelo and the like. I know hundreds, nay, thousands of my loyal readers will trip all over themselves just for the opportunity to watch all that.

They had an audience of around 7000. They were expecting something around 10000, but it rained pretty much the entire evening which likely discouraged lots of people from attending. Apparently my son had taken a fall just prior to the clip when he hit a wet spot on the stage.

My son, the rock star!


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Clusters Victory!!!!

As they say "perseverence will out." I refused to give up. I stayed the course. I found Honey Nut Clusters!
I had made further contact with General Mills. (See July 31st post below.) They sent me a fairly comprehensive list of several stores in the Indy area which had ordered Clusters over the last ninety days. The list included some heavy hitters: Marsh, Meijer, K-Mart, and yes, Wal-Mart! Of the twelve stores on the list, I actually went to seven of them only to discover no Clusters. None. I called a couple of others, but couldn't get definitive answers from them. I have to admit, I was down, dejected. What was I to do? My very will to live was waining.
I was out and about yesterday afternoon up on the tony north side of town, the Meridian-Kessler area, when I drove by a Safeway store. Safeway is not a major player here in Indy. They have but seven relatively small locations scattered about the city. No Safeway stores were on the GM list. But, I had a few minutes. I thought, what the hell, right? So I pulled into their small lot and angled into the space closest to the door. Good omen, I thought.
I walked into the store and had to wait while my eyes adjusted to the relative darkness. I then scoped out the cereal aisle. Only a few steps in and I spotted them. In almost every instance that I can recall Clusters have always been situated on the top shelf. But Safeway had placed them about midway down. Nevertheless, there they were! I spotted them immediately! Perhaps a dozen or more boxes of Honey Nut Clusters silently waiting for me to grab as many of the beautiful gold and blue boxes as I could carry. Personally, I think they all wanted to go with me. But I restrained myself. I latched onto only three boxes. I didn't want to deprive others of the wonderfully more or less tasteless brown flakes and globs of generic, sugar infused nut pieces. And I didn't want to seem like a complete idiot at the check out. I once bought four boxes and got looks that have since haunted me. Three boxes seem to be the limit. With three, I get smiles. With four or more I get "looks."
I had a bowl of Honey Nut Clutsters this morning. Life for me has returned to some semblance of normalcy. I can go into the morning knowing I have started my day just as I should. Life is good.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Where Do They Get These Clowns Who Run For President?

I can't recall a presidential campaign in which all of the candidates were not considered by the majority of citizens to be no better than dolts, with voters lamenting the necessity of either casting their ballots for whom they consider to be the lesser of two evils, or not voting at all. Some have gathered around a "third party" candidate, largely to no avail.

If this is true, if all the candidates have been less than stellar, whose fault is it? Shouldn't we look to ourselves as the ultimate culprit? It is all of us collectively through our involvement, or actually in most instances our lack of involvement, that produces the party nominees. If we are unhappy about the results, isn't it then owing to our own failure?

We can complain that candidates are produced by party power brokers. If so, then perhaps complainers should endeavor to become power brokers themselves; to gain access through whatever means to those centers of power.

Some say, well, most of the power within the respective parties is held by the rich. But don't we hold the rich in awe? Aren't they the embodiment of what our economic system is all about? Aren't they the winners of the game? If that is true, then isn't it also proper that these "winners" should be awarded the privilege of wielding political power as well? Shouldn't their apparent business acumen allow them access to the centers of political power, and major influence over who is to run for what office?

Continuing; if these rich power brokers are, by default, the best equipped to carry out the task of selecting and promoting our political candidates, then how is it that they appear to do such an unerringly bad job of it?

A number of people who post and comment here at BC look upon our current crop of major party candidates as clowns or lightweights. Well, if that's the case, how in the hell did they get where they are? It didn't happen with a puff of smoke. They didn't suddenly appear on the horizon with us blinking in dismay. They were selected through our system functioning rather painstakingly over an extended period of time, just as it was designed to do. Those who are unhappy with the results can only look askance at each other and shake their heads at their own apparent failure

The photo above was the scene in Indianapolis just prior to Obama's appearance back in early June. Some 30000 people came to see and hear him. That number has of course been eclipsed a number of times since, but it did serve as a harbinger of his future campaign appearances and his speech in Berlin.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Left Wing Tax-and-Spenders & the Rose-Colored Dream of John McCain

I hear the old crap about liberals "loving" to tax and spend - as if that, in and of itself, is their goal, just for the hell of it. And now some say that Obama creams his Armani slacks just thinking about it. Boy, you righties sure have all us lefties figured out. We all fit snugly into a nice neat, if elite, little box. Given our rather incredible 2009 estimated budget deficit of around a half trillion dollars and our current national debt of over nine and half trillion dollars, I wonder just "who" are the real "spender offenders" in government?

Let's see.

The Dems tax and spend. The Reps just spend, and spend some more. "We don't need no stinkin taxes!" Hmmm. Which scenario is better? The Bushies, and now McCain, touting how wonderful all the tax cuts have been, and how they should be extended into infinity while the spending goes on willy nilly.

We've managed to spend nearly five and a half trillion dollars in Iraq alone. Now where could a major portion of that pesky national debt have come from? I know! I know! I know! I know! It's those damn welfare queens! We ought to pack up their freeloading asses and send them to Iraq, by god! That'd show em.

And now we're all supposed to believe - just take it on faith, I guess - that given another four to eight years, the Republicans can put all the pieces back together again. Humpty will be whole! We will march out of Iraq with a shining victory and a flourishing democracy firmly in place. The Taliban and Al Qaida will be history, given only to considering the Feng Shui of their respective caves or pits in hell.

We'll be veritably drowning in home grown crude, and gasoline will be like 38 cents a gallon. Alternative energy sources, though no longer a real concern, will nevertheless be fully developed, cheap and plentiful.

Government will be pared down to a bare minimum - most regulatory agencies and government oversight of the private sector will largely also be a thing of the past as business will responsibly regulate itself through the permutations and pressures of the market place. Unions will be unnecessary (and unwanted) as, again, owing to forces in the market, all workers will be working in totally safe environments for competitive wages with equally competitive benefits.

Social security and medicare/medicaid will either be history or well on their way out as most everyone will have and be managing their own retirement accounts. Health care will be totally privatized and ALL citizens will have full access as they will have more than adequate funds with which to pay even catastrophic medical expenses.

The only remaining government subsidies will, of course, be for the tobacco industry. You can't turn your back on such deserving folks, now can you?

Obviously, there's more - we will likely be cleaning up after four or five years of constant, intense bombing throughout Iran - but Halliburten will have all that well in hand.

Congress will pass a measure providing for a large bronze statue of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter (hopefully wearing a short lace teddy) and others depicting them playing "ring-around-the-liberal" to be erected on the Capitol steps. The "liberal" chosen will probably be Al Franken. Little Annie, bless her pea-pickin' heart, will be posed digging a spiked heel into Al's crotch.

The world will be good. The air crisp and free of liberal whining as all on the left will have either seen the light and wisely and properly shifted their allegiances to the right, or those few who remain obdurately "pinko" will have been "encouraged" to remove themselves, to China, North Korea or Russia - or whatever's left of them.

We will all be able to vacation in a "free" Cuba - Havana will be the new Aruba.


Oh, and just a note about the photo above. It is a not particularly interesting shot I took a few weeks ago in Gainesville, Florida. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 31, 2008


Could be.
I have been a devoted consumer of General Mills' Honey Nut Clusters for many years - almost from the moment they first hit the market. For the uninitiated Honey Nut Clusters is what are actually fairly bland multi-grain flakes, infused with small "clusters" of sweetened nut fragments. Sounds great, huh? It matters not. I've come to love the damn things, or at least to depend on them.
Well, above is an image of what is likely my last box of Honey Nut Clusters. Fittingly, the small pewter statue before it is of Thomas Jefferson. Honey Nut Clusters have always represented for me "truth, justice and the American way." ( I know, that's a Superman thing, but I don't have a statue of Superman - pewter or otherwise. So Jefferson will have to do. Anyhow, I think old Tom would pretty much buy into the "truth, justice and the American way thingy, don't you?)
This all started about a year ago when I noticed to my horror that our neighborhood Kroger store no longer carried "Clusters." They were instead, opting for more of the varieties of GMs "Total" line up. (To me, the Total cereals taste more like so many variations of cardboard, but that's another story.)
Anyhow, I made a bee line to a nearby Marsh store, a large, local chain here in Indy, and to my delight, there on the shelf were several boxes of my beloved Honey Nut Clusters. So Marsh became my adopted source to satisfy my "Clusters" jones. But then, a couple of months ago they disappeared from the Marsh shelves as well. In desparation I scampered to a Meijer store. Finding them there, I stocked up with 4 or 5 boxes, but, soon after Meijer also stopped carrying them. My last local source, Wal-Mart just recently discontinued them as well. I did find a few boxes of "Clusters" at a Publix store in Gainesville, Florida a couple of weeks ago, but that's not particularly handy for me here in Indy.
At any rate, I have had conflicting responses from General Mills. An earlier email communication stated that Honey Nut Clusters were being discontinued. A more recent message stated that GM was still producing them, but that each store had to make choices regarding what products they do or do not carry, usually owing to strength of sales and/or how much display room they can dedicate to various products. But, hell, I've single handedly devoured enough of that stuff to keep the entire corporation and their retail outlets afloat!
I remain hopeful that I may yet stroll down a cereal aisle, look up and at least once more, find boxes of Honey Nut Clusters proudly gleaming in the ghastly flourescent light. Perhaps others, equally disturbed by the apparent demise of this great cereal will wage a campaign to "Save our Clusters!!!" Even so, it would likely be to no avail. For General Mill's part, I imagine they will say that it all amounts to just a business decision. As usual, "business" trumps love.
I have been desparately experimenting with other cereals - a new one hits the shelves about every week - but so far nothing has tickled my obligatto. Some are okay, some are god-awful. Sadly, none are Honey Nut Clusters.
Life is hell!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

If you've got a few minutes, here's something you might enjoy:

Praan, by Garry Schyman, the music from "Where the Hell is Matt?" Lyrics from Rabindranath Tagore's poem "Stream of Life":
The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers. It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and in flow. I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.
The poem in the original Bengali is as follows:
Bhulbona ar shohojete
Shei praan e mon uthbe mete
Mrittu majhe dhaka ache
je ontohin praan

Bojre tomar baje bashi
She ki shohoj gaan
Shei shurete jagbo ami

Shei jhor jeno shoi anonde
Chittobinar taare
Shotto-shundu dosh digonto
Nachao je jhonkare!

Got it?

The vocalist is Palbasha Siddique and the concert master is Belinda Broughton, drums and engineering by Dan Blessinger and on guitar, Kevin Dukes.


Blog Archive