Friday, June 29, 2007

major rant: the update

Two weeks ago I read a rant in her blog complaining about back-to-school ads in mid-June, as well as Christmas decorations in late August, Valentine's Day displays in December. I might add to this list the multiple "debates" among presidential candidates a year before the primaries.

In today's mail I received my first 2008 Calendar.

Can anyone top that?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

this ain’t your grandma’s financial market

Dave Ramsey often says if you do poor people things then you get poor people results. If you do rich people things then you get rich people results. In grandma’s day people of modest means had limited investment opportunities for their savings. Basically savings accounts and savings bonds. Neither achieve very good returns, usually just enough to cover inflation and maybe a bit more. Individual stock holdings were risky and often not very appropriate since people of modest means often did not have enough money to diversify their portfolio.

Life insurance policies were another alternative but they were not much better than savings accounts. These “whole life” policies and their modern off-spring (universal life, variable universal) are no longer, if they ever were, good alternatives.

That is, most folks were stuck getting poor people results.

Today people of very modest means have access to investments available only to the rich in grandma’s day. Money market mutual funds give anyone with even a couple of hundred dollars the ability to get the returns of jumbo CD accounts that otherwise require deposits of $100,000 to $1,000,000. Mutual funds of stocks or bonds allow risk-minimizing diversification as well as professional management. Instead of buying a savings bond with chump returns, a bond fund can give the higher interest obtained from a $10,000 government bond. One can even purchase mutual funds that give balanced portfolios of stocks and bonds.

It is really quite remarkable how our entrepreneurial economy has developed financial innovations that allow benefits, once available only to the rich, to flow to wage earners. These innovations allow anyone to actually build wealth rather than just preserve savings.

Financial investments in savings bonds, any type of account at a bank, or whole/universal life policies are now for chumps who want poor people results.

You can do rich people things and get rich people results.

Be blessed!
RB

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

introducing snap*shots from snap.com

I just installed a nice little tool on this site called Snap Shots that enhances links with visual previews of the destination site, interactive excerpts of Wikipedia articles, MySpace profiles, IMDb profiles and Amazon products, display inline videos, RSS, MP3s, photos, stock charts and more.

Sometimes Snap Shots bring you the information you need, without your having to leave the site, while other times it lets you "look ahead," before deciding if you want to follow a link or not.

Should you decide this is not for you, just click the Options icon in the upper right corner of the Snap Shot and opt-out.

Be blessed!
RB

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

a bit of fry and laurie

I have been a big fan of Hugh Laurie’s work for a long time. So are a lot of other people now given his success in the title role in House. In fact, as of this afternoon facebook had 263 interest groups devoted to Hugh Laurie. Most are along the lines of how he is sexy or hot.

My most favorite stuff is the Jeeves and Wooster series, done with his best friend and old university roommate Stephen Fry. A couple of weeks ago I found a series of videos on YouTube from a long-running Brit TV series, A Bit of Fry and Laurie. I had never heard of this show before. (Earlier I posted the “Hey Jude” bit from this show.) In fact I spent most of a Saturday afternoon and evening watching clips from that show as well as other interviews, old commercials, bits done on Saturday Night Live and other shows. (Just go to YouTube and search for "a bit of fry and laurie" or "hugh laurie" if interested.)

With the acting awards received, Laurie reaffirms the old adage that not every actor can do comedy but everyone who can do comedy can act.

I love the British sense of humor and word play. I guess that is why I also like Monty Python and Fawlty Towers. However A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy TV serials and books written by the late, great Douglas Adams is the best of the best of English humor. I consider Douglas Adams the greatest writer ever in the history of the English language. Every couple of years I have to reread his classic works. That said, I must also admit that the Hitchhiker movie, made after his passing, is less than good.

In the 1990’s Hugh Laurie also wrote a book, The Gun Seller. If you can get past the foul language it is an enjoyable summer read, a spy novel, a sort of a cross between Robert Ludlum and Douglas Adams. You can read the first chapter by clicking here. If you don’t love this, then don’t bother with the book. The Hugh Laurie-Douglas Adams brand of Brit humor is either something you love or something you can do without.

It's not everyone's cup of tea.

Be blessed!
RB

Friday, June 22, 2007

the mayflower sweet pea

This week our household parental authorities have been under the weather. Monday I was not feeling up to doing anything productive and started looking at some genealogy stuff. I thought I would check out some ancestors of my great-great grandmother Beck, born Phoebe Goodenough two hundred years ago this year in Copenhagen, Lewis County. Her parents were pioneers in the Town of Denmark but were originally from Massachusetts. I have a lot of information on the Goodenough (a.k.a. Goodenow, Goodnow, Goodenowe) family going back even before they arrived in America in 1638. Since the records are relatively good in Massachusetts, and there is always more data to mine, I thought this would be an easy task given my limited productivity that day.

What I found very soon was that great-great-grandma Beck was a Mayflower descendant. I traced her ancestry back to Mayflower passenger Richard Warren. Genealogy records can be quite sketchy but this was one of those without-a-doubt cases. What this means is that two presidents, U.S. Grant and FDR, actor Richard Gere, and astronaut Alan Shepard (the first American in space and the first man to play golf on the moon) are cousins. Actually, among Mayflower descendants, those of Warren are by far the most common. He had seven children who survived to adulthood and they each had large families.

Other than that, it doesn’t mean much to me. I have found a lot of things I find more interesting. One ancestor was a Continental Army sergeant who fought under Francis Marion (a.k.a., the Swamp Fox, and one of my boyhood heroes). Another was a famous Methodist circuit rider in early 19th Century Kentucky and Tennessee. The Becks are descended from Palatines, protestant believers driven out of Germany who eventually settled in NYS’s Mohawk Valley.

My favorite ancestor is great grandpa Albert Beck, Phoebe’s boy. He fought in the Civil War, saw action at Gettysburg, injured at a later battle in South Carolina, then joined the 6th U.S. Cavalry after the war and fought Comanche in Texas. He prospected for silver in Colorado and gold in Baja California, lost a farm in Kansas in between. In his forties he showed up in Pomona, California with 50 cents in his pocket and later became a successful Walnut grower. He was also a strong Christian.

However, being a Mayflower descendant seems to matter to some folks. I must admit that it is kind of neat to realize that Sweet Pea, our youngest Mayflower descendant, is a 15th generation American, and a very cute one at that.

Be blessed!
RB

P.S. This is from Wikipedia:

...It is claimed that Warren has the largest posterity of any pilgrim, numbering 14 million, the Mayflower passenger with more descendants than any other passenger.[7]

Among his descendants are: Civil War general and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant, President Franklin D. Roosevelt,[1] astronaut Alan Shepard,[1] author Laura Ingalls Wilder, actress Lucille Ball, actor Richard Gere, actress Joanne Woodward, writers Henry David Thoreau and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Lavinia Warren the wife of "General Tom Thumb", aviator Amelia Earhart, actor Orson Welles, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, the Wright Brothers, actor Bob Newhart, Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, chef Julia Child, Irish President Erskine Hamilton Childers, inventor Lee DeForest, and many more. A detailed genealogy of just the first five generations takes up three volumes.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

father's day


I had a wonderful father's day today. After church we had a picnic at Thompson Park in Watertown. We had a bit of a late start but we couldn't leave church. Our pastor was preaching on man's responsibility and it would look especially bad to walk out on
that sermon.




It was also my first father's day with Miss Lois. She helped me open a card, wore my cap and also chased seagulls. She had a busy day.


We had never been to the park before and it is quite lovely. It sits on a hill overlooking the city and was designed by the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (he also designed Central Park in NYC).

Monday, June 11, 2007

some universal truths

The following is taken from a newspaper column by Joachim Buwembo's published in last Monday's The East African. I'm posting just a few of his ten ways "to defeat wealth for the rest of your life." Seems sort of like an Africanized version of Dave Ramsey. Although I'm sure Mr. Buwembo arrived at this list independently, it indicates that what works in America also works Uganda.

Two: Never plan how to spend your money. Whenever you get money, start spending it right away and when it is finished, try to count and recall how you spent it.

Three: Don’t think of saving until you have real big money. How can you save when you earn so little? Those telling you to save are not sympathetic to your burning needs.

Four: Don’t engage in activities usually reserved for the “uneducated.” How can you, a graduate, engage in petty trade or home-based production? That is for people who never went to school.

Seven: Spend more than you earn. To achieve this, buy consumer products on credit and keep borrowing from friends and employers.

Eight: Compete in dressing. Make sure you wear the latest clothes among all the workers in your office. Whenever your neighbour buys a new phone, get one that is more expensive.


Be blessed!
RB

Note: I first read an brief account about this article here.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

feelin' down

I have been feeling a little down today. Fortunately I found this music video featuring Hugh Laurie of the TV series House. I've been playing it over and over again. It really ministered to me. I hope it will minister to you.

accept nothing less

There is no adequate substitute for Cherrios. There are plenty of substitutes but none come close.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

undocumented riches

I came up with a little thought experiment that I would like to try out. Almost 70 years ago, Mexico nationalized its oil industry and created PEMEX. Suppose Mexico decided to give the USA sovereignty over PEMEX. Furthermore, suppose the people of Mexico overwhelmingly supported this. (I know, fat chance, but please stay with me.) The Mexican government might ask we give them back a few bucks a barrel, but otherwise the oil, refineries, pipelines, everything is ours.

Would this be a good thing for the USA?

Of course, this obviously would be a great blessing! It would increase the real wealth, specifically the natural resource wealth, of this country. Accepting the very generous gift would be a real no-brainer. Adam Smith over two hundred and thirty years ago pointed out that a country was wealthy not due to its gold or financial wealth, but rather due to its abundance of resources. He used the shorthand terms land, labor, and capital to refer to a country’s natural, human, and other physical resources.

Until about fifty years ago, the important things needed for economic growth were considered to be natural resources and physical capital (factories, machines, equipment, roads, harbors, etc.). More people just meant other limited resources were divided among more people. Therefore, output and income per person would diminish other things being equal. Fifty years ago places like Hong Kong and South Korea were considered economic basket cases with little or no growth potential. Mainland China had most of its population, hundreds of millions of people, living in abject poverty. Why? Folks thought it was because all three had no resources to speak of, just a lot of people.

Our understanding of economic growth theory is radically different today. Also Hong Kong and South Korea are now developed, industrialized countries. (Having been to Hong Kong, I tell people that it makes any large American city look absolutely Third-World by comparison.). China’s unprecedented economic growth miracle has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of immiserating conditions in just the past two decades. Of course, there is a lot more to economic growth than just having a lot of people, but we can’t go into that now.

It should not be any surprise that the Word of God already had it right:

A large population is a king’s glory,
but without subjects a prince is ruined.
~ Proverbs 14:28 (NIV)

Now back to our thought experiment. The Republic of Mexico is not about to give us their oil. However, we do have something of Mexico’s that is far more valuable: its people.

We are not about to round up 12 million undocumented aliens and send them back to Mexico. It would be, for all practical purposes, impossible. This is a good thing, a very good thing. If we could forcibly repatriate 12 million, we would drastically reduce our nation’s wealth unlike any natural or man-made disaster short of a nuclear holocaust. 12 million generally hard-working, generally socially-conservative people, as well as their children as an investment for our future, make us richer. Accepting this gift should also be a no-brainer.

We have been blessed. It is our nation’s glory.

Thank you.
RB

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

want to know who will win in '08?

The evidence is in and overwhelming: The best predictor of who will win the presidential nominations and the election is not some expert or opinion poll, but future markets where contracts (bets?) on future events are traded. As mentioned before, it is the wisdom of crowds. The oldest and best known of these markets, the Iowa Electronic Market, has $1 contracts on who will win the nominations and as well as the November election. For example, as I write this, the current price quote for the Democratic WTA (winner take all) contract sells at $0.61 and the Republican WTA contract is $0.39. That means the smart money thinks there is a 61% chance some Democrat will take possession of the White House on January 22nd of 2009. Last September it was even money.

For the Democratic nomination, current price quotes are Clinton $0.49, Obama $0.29, Edwards $0.09, and "others" at $0.12. The Republican current prices are Giuliani $0.22, Romney $0.23, McCain $0.17, while the expensive contract is "others" $0.44.

Looks like maybe Hillary versus a Law & Order candidate?

Monday, June 4, 2007

hurt people hurt people

The above has been going over and over again in my mind for months and especially for the past few days. The following is a collection of non-random thoughts but I don't have the energy to connect them:

Hurt people hurt people.
~ Anonymous

We see things not the way they are but the way we are.
~ Anonymous

The worst lies are the lies we tell ourselves.
~ Richard Bach

It's not the truth that hurts us but letting go of the lies.
~ Anonymous

The biggest lies, the lies we can never discover on our own, are the lies we believe about ourselves.
~ rb

Hurt people hurt people.
~ Anonymous


However, if you want real insight, you should check this post.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

the prodigal's father

I believe the passage in Luke 15:11-32 is misnamed. The story is about the father, not the son. Jesus told the parable so that the listeners, mostly adults, could understand the Father’s heart. In fact, I think to understand the parable you really need to be a father, or at least a parent.

There is nothing in the story to help us better understand a son. A kid wants his own way and wants to escape his hometown. He then blows his money and ends up broke, hungry to the point of coveting pig slop. The son finally realizes that he would be better off, that it would be a big step up, if he were one of his dad’s servants. So the kid moves back home.

What’s so surprising about that? Where’s the revelation there?

No surprise. No revelation. The parable is about the father, not the son. Forget about the son or you’ll miss the whole point.

While I’m venting on this topic, we need to remember that this is a fictional account told to illustrate a point. It is a story originating with Jesus, not Disney. We often assume a Hollywood-style, they-all-lived-happily-ever-after type ending. Is there any evidence that the son’s issues with authority, self-will, sexual addiction, self-discipline, or whatever, were resolved? Is there an implication that the son and father had no future, on-going struggles?

No, because the story is not really about the son. It is about the father’s heart.

This is not original with me. I’ve been mulling this over since I heard a talk show on the radio a couple of months ago. When real world prodigals return home it often the beginning of a new round of struggles and conflicts. Are we to have the heart of prodigal’s father? Sure, but often the dealings, the pain, the hurts, are even worse after the return. The time away from the father just delayed the resolution of problems. The return home in no way indicates resolution achieved.

We need to read the word of God so that we can stand on the sure promises of God rather than assuming they reflect the fantasies of Hollywood. I know that there have been many times in my life when I have been disappointed because reality turned out not to be the Hollywood storyline I thought was supposed to happen.

The funny thing is, I often blamed God and not Disney.

Be blessed,
RB

Friday, June 1, 2007

never trust a bookmark

This week I had to wait around my office to see if some summer school classes would have the enrollment to make. (They didn’t.) To pass time, I started looking at some genealogy sites. There went my week! I am too compulsive. There is always one more relative to find. I did find over 60 new ones, but most come at the same time. Digging for hours and finding nothing, then I hit a vein and mine it for all its worth. Hours of nothing, then I get the joy of discovery for a couple of dozen minutes. The find spurs me on to even more hours of prospecting in hopes of another discovery.

Picture Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of Sierra Madre.

I haven’t done this in a couple of years. I had bookmarked a bunch websites with information and possible leads. However, the vast majority of the old links were now dead. So I spent a lot of time trying to rediscover and unearth the information again.

I have learned not to trust bookmarks since sites disappear or move or get reorganized. Solution? I print everything. However, I don’t waste ink and paper, I print to a pdf file using either Adobe Acrobat or the free PrimoPDF. The files are usually small and easy to move and store. Life is simpler and easier now. (I know, you read it all before here.)

Another thing about doing genealogy research on the web is that others have already done the heavy lifting and I just need to find their work. The information can also be downloaded into files standardized for use by almost all genealogy software such as Legacy Family Tree.

My father insisted that Blewett was a Scotch-Irish name. My father was also an Anglophobe. I have traced his entire family to before they came to America. There are zero Irish or Scotch ancestors. In fact, the first Blewett to come to America in his family tree was from Cornwall in SW England. You can’t get any further away from Scotland and still be in England than Cornwall. Fortunately I discovered this unpleasant truth after dad passed away.

All the Blewetts in and from Cornwall, and there are lots of them, are descended from one family. The original Blewett in England was supposedly a Brittany knight who came over with William the Conqueror in 1066. Only recently have people become picky about spelling, so if you ever meet a Blewett, Blewitt, Bluett, Bloet, or Blouet, they are probably my cousins.

Blewett, whatever its original form, is derived from the French for the color blue combined with the French diminutive suffix et. The French meaning also referred to a bluebottle, blue bird, a blue flower or corn flower, or a color of cloth worn at the time.

The stem of the original name also means livid, which is what my father, also a Francophobe, would be if he knew he was descended from an Englishman with a French last name.

Another family tale concerns the Sailors family. Supposedly the first Sailors in Ohio got his name because he was a deserter from Napoleon’s navy. Well, doing some research I found a number of Sailors in Ohio and Indiana descended from German or Swiss Saylors, Seylers, Seilers, and similar names. Sailors is just an Anglicized version. So I thought another interesting family tale bites the dust. However, this week I recorded an ancestor, John F. Sailors, born in Ohio, who for the U.S. Census listed his father as being born in France. His father would have been the right age and there are no Saylors, Seylers, Seilers, etc, from France. So the story is quite likely to be true.

Be blessed!
RB