Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Standing up for Sarah Palin (along with 1500 others)

I did something a little unusual today (at least by my standards). I actually cleared my schedule so that I could go get Sarah Palin's book signed at a local Costco. Now the last time I did something like this was when Tony Gwynn visited my wife's Gateway store and signed memorabilia. Since she was a manager there, I didn't really have to wait in line, but I got a little sense of the autograph line culture. Before that, I saw Dan Quayle's plane land at March Air Force base (1991), went to see George HW Bush at a fundraising event in a hotel (in 1988), and during high school, some buddies and I ditched school to go see Oliver North speak at an airport hangar. Now where you might see some sort of political pattern here, please don't be dissuaded from reading further (that is, if you're of the liberal bent). I'm trying to be objective here!

So as I got in line for the book signing, I found myself near the back of a line of about 1500- many of whom got there 4+ hours before me. I'm not that hardcore- in fact I had a meeting with a client in the morning and while talking, didn't really look at my watch because this book signing event was to be more of a curiosity than anything else. So I get in line right around 11AM and immediately, the Costco employee said "There's no way that you'll get her autograph". He repeated this to anyone else who got in line behind me. I was hoping that this would discourage many of the "weaker" liners but nobody seemed to be giving up hope- oh the audacity!
I'm very ADD so standing in a line is actually good for me because I can't wander around on the internet or flip channels or find another tangent to go off on. So I decided to document my play by play of the event. But the line moved very very slowly and my thumbs got tired and I realized that my phone battery was dying so I sort of resigned myself to just observe.

I expected some hate speak in the crowd- you know, anti Obama talk, etc. but overheard none. I did observe your typical folks with patriotic clothing or buttons, the conservative radio station was there as well as a few local news channels, but it was pretty tame. A few politicians were walking the crowd to thump their platform- including Chris Simcox who plans to run against John McCain in the next senate primary. Also a handful of meek folks with clipboards or flyers slowly walked the line- not taking advantage of their captive audience of I assume mostly conservatives.

Every once in a while someone would come back our way, make the typical "man, this is a long line" comment and say stuff like "you're never going to get in"- not to anyone in particular, but just to hear themselves speak I guess. There was one guy who was on his phone as he sauntered back the line saying "yeah, she was supposed to do 500 signatures and she's at 750 now. and there's about 1200 people still out here". My paranoia wondered if this guy was trying to psyche out those of us in line. But nobody bit.

As the door of Costco came into view, we were now by the tire center and a Costco employee moved a Toyota into a bay. The bumper sticker said "Obama/Biden" to which about a quarter of the crown started booing- not the owner of the car, not the Costco employee, but the car... that was a little nutty if you ask me. Still tame, I got a chuckle out of it.

At around this time- 2 hours into the ordeal, they made an official "end of line" point- well ahead of where I was, so I was now mentally at about a 5% chance of getting an autograph- still a tad of hope. But nobody left the line. Another half hour later, we were told "don't leave, they've figured something out for everyone", to which a happy buzz permeated the crowd or rejects. Sure enough, a few minutes later, several Costco employees came out with a box... of stickers... with Sarah Palin's autograph on it... and nobody left the line... and nobody freaked out... There was actually a news crew there to capture the reaction of some people who got stickers.

So now the autograph mission is over- sure it was a failure by definition, but I was cool. However, it was only 1:30 and she was leaving at 2pm, so I figured I'd go into Costco to check out the spectacle. As I walked in, the twang of some country song was being pumped from the middle of the store- I like country music, but I couldn't tell you who it was or the name of the song, but it was a female singer and the lyrics were pretty much "I'm a redneck girl". Then I felt like I was at some sort of celebrity event as people were snapping photos from all angles- and not close ups. Sure I had my camera so I tried, but I'm talking about 40 feet away, through a crowd, with her sitting down. As AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" cued up, and then "Baracuda" by Heart, it felt more and more orchestrated. This wasn't some radio station, or album- it's handpicked songs that "represent" Sarah Palin (go ahead and insert your own sarcastic song suggestions in the comment section below)

So since I couldn't meet Sarah Palin (or even reach those $12.99 jeans if i wanted to), I decided that I should now go into full on "fly on the wall" mode, and here is the ultimate fly on the wall moment. As I walked by the jewelry kiosk to buy the $38,000 tennis bracelet for my wife, I got distracted by a small crowd taking photos. Of course I was curious, so who could it be? Only a Costco employee- walking around with Sarah Palin's youngest child- the special needs one! And everyone is taking pictures of him or with him and the Costco employee! Of course I got a picture of this myself, so I'm just as guilty. But check out the dude who is flat out posing below. At this point, my day was done and I felt that I had seen enough, so I packed it in and left.

Now before you get the idea that all of a sudden I don't like Palin because of this experience, I can tell you that I still do. She's now in full on prep mode and every move "she" makes is pretty much out of her control. And that's cool. From a distance she looked genuinely happy to be there- but the idea of signing your name 2000 times in one day (she went to New Mexico that afternoon) made me ill and I imagine that any author eventually ends up like Bob Dole with that goofy dead arm action. I feel like I've gained a little insight firsthand (which I'm sure is anything but unique) More on Palin later.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Shhh... I'm a Sneaky Thief

I went to the grocery store a few weeks ago to buy a few things for dinner. It was pretty slow at the store with only one customer ahead of me. A young white couple was buying their stuff.

Having been born in America, reasonably un-tattooed, wearing close toed shoes with socks, a polo shirt, and of half asian, half blue-eyed devil decent, I'd describe myself as a little bit "normal" looking (whatever that means). Plus I tend to shower daily, am reasonably well groomed, and I brush my teeth regularly. So I guess I'm somewhat pleasant to the senses as well (at least nobody's complained... to my face).

So anyway, I put my stuff on the checkout conveyer belt and there was like an 18 inch gap between their stuff and mine. And what does the woman do? She looks directly at me, doesn't smile, and then she puts the official grocery load separator between our orders.

Sure I know what the separator is for, and when it's a busy day and you have to butt your food up to the next customer's I get the purpose of it. But it was a slow day and this lady looked at me like I was trying to pull something akin to Oceans 11. Do I perhaps have the look of a grocery store checkout line thief? Is there a look?

So I pose the question and would really appreciate some feedback: Please tell me when was the last time that someone tried the old "piggyback my food with your food for free" trick at the grocery store? And what were the logistics once the customer ahead of you paid for your food? Did you then distract them when they were loading their groceries in their car and quietly take your items? Or if you were the victim of this crime, how did the exchange take place or did you even notice? Did you have to call the cops? Or perhaps you thwarted the whole thing when you saw that look that I must have, and pre-empted the attempt. Whatever the case, I've got to know!

I guess my best solution would have been to ask the couple ahead of me what their previous negative experience was so I could better understand it, but I had milk to take home.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Multi-National Collaboration

I try to buy American. OK I used to. I owned a Chevy, a Ford, a few more Chevy's, another Ford, a Dodge. But then I bought a Honda and now I own another Japanese car... I used to own a Motorola phone and I own HP computer equipment. But even if it has an American name, it's typically not made here.

Remember Mr. Rogers? My favorite part of the show was when he'd go to the crayon factory or the shoe factory or whatever other manufacturer was interesting and available. I'm sure that 90% of those companies are gone now, or at least the factory that Fred visited is now gone. It's pretty sad.

I still love watching How it's Made because I love how things are manufactured. But I just bought something today that was a little disturbing and got my mind wandering. It's actually sad, but everything is made in China. In fact my 7 year old checks stuff at the store to see where it's made, and I don't have to tell you that 99% of the time, it's China.

Hand Carved Kenyan Couple in Traditional Attire- made in China of course.

No, that's not what I bought. I'm just making a point. And of course I have a 5PM real work deadline so writing this is the worst thing for me to do, but I'll try to be brief.

Ever hear of a Vintnor's Blend variety of wine? Ravenswood makes one and it's actually quite good for an inexpensive wine.
But isn't that just a fancy way of saying "Mat Drink"? As my fellow imbibers might know, a mat drink is what you get at a bar when the bartender collects the overflow booze that spilled when he was filling shots. That means that the mat has vodka, tequila, gin, whiskey, schnapps, and whatever other alcohol was served. There might even be some beer and mixer juice as well.

If you order a mat drink the bartender picks up the mat and pours the contents into a glass for you to drink. Yummy.

So this brings me to the purpose of today's entry. I shop at a local Kroger's chain of stores called Fry's. You know Kroger? They're a national grocery store chain that has regional names like Fry's, Ralphs and Smiths. It's no Trader Joes, but it's just as good if not better than your mainstream grocery stores. So I went in to buy a few things for a BBQ we're having tommorrow and the ad said that 93% ground beef was like $1.99/lb. That's pretty good so I figured I should stock up. I get to the meat section and the butcher points out that the ones on sale are tubes of ground beef wrapped in plastic- sort of like the Jimmy Dean sausage or Pillsburry cookie dough.

Now I've never bought this format of beef but I know the store and assume that it's good quality. So I bought like 4 of these things and took them home to split into one pound servings to freeze. And that's when I noticed something. Remember, I like to buy American... but I guess some products come from other countries. Sure enough, the label of the package says "Product of U.S.A., Canada, Mexico, New Zealand AND Australia. That's right, the operative word is "AND".

So how does this work? Do they get a mix of international cows, slaughter them and ensure that there is an equal mix of each country? What happens if the Kiwi cows are running late because their ship is stuck in customs? Could I claim false advertising because my family is being gypped of our normal Nicole Kidman beef? And how do I prove this? And are the overseas cows alive on the big freighter just mooing and getting seasick? I've now got a Far Side image in my head that I can't shake with them staging a coup of the ship. Or is it a technicality since they don't clean the grinding machine regularly, so you might be getting bits of Aussie cow with your Canadian variety. And since we're being disgusting here, when you eat a chicken sandwich, you're eating one half a breast from one chicken. But the thought of multiple cows blended together is enough to make me want to hang out with Pamela Anderson... you know, for PETA purposes- I wouldn't stare at her, I'd just hold a protest sign next to her and talk about the weather.

Gotta run! We're having tacos tonight and I'm cooking!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Rekindling the Mind

So I'm self employed. That means that I work with lenders over the phone and sometimes I meet with homeowners at their homes- and that's a rarity with all the foreclosed homes out here. My social outlet is limited to my wife who has a full time job and my neighbor who shoots pigeons with his bb gun and "coach" who lets our daughter Madison out of the car when I drop her off at school- isn't that weird to be known as "coach" or the "outdoor lady" at school? But that's a topic in and of itself.

My point is that I don't have the typical work environment- nobody to talk about Manny. Nobody to talk about Obama. Nobody to talk about Afghanistan or even Paris. It's kind of depressing. But that's where the internet comes in- sort of. Whether it's message boards or Facebook or the Indian girl with Visa who is going to reverse my late fees, I try to be social with the people I interact with because I have to take what I can get. Don't get me wrong, I'm not some blathering idiot... or am I? I just get on a roll sometime because I need to have that vocal interaction. When it's my fingers doing the talking, it gives me a sense of brainpower- with deleting and drafts and a little research so I don't end up being a liar. But that's not what humans are built for. I could be butt naked at the PC with a Firefox window opened to Party Poker and another window composing a letter to Hilary Clinton, and i could end up with an articulate and beautiful document. It's really not the same is it? Not that I'm smarter than anyone (I'm not) but the fact that I can sometimes link together 3 related sentences can sort of atrophy like your apendix or ability to do 'the worm' when not given the opportunities to exercise those skills.

So my friend Neil texted me tonight. I've known Neil since Jr. High but I've told him before that I really don't remember him before Sr. year of high school. That doesn't detract from our friendship. We've had our share of running from the cops, and pyromaniac activity and crashed couches and female talks and yes even political talks. Neil is the guy who could name all 100 US senators when he was in high school... remember that guy? Exactly. Neil is the guy who ditched school with me to see Oliver North speak at Long Beach Airport. He was a Reagan Republican, just like me. We shook George HW Bush's hand.

So his text was something of the effect of "Manny is killing me". Now my baseball opinions run deep. I am still a fan of a team that doesn't exist any more. I have been very cynical of the state of baseball since 1994 (the same year that my team would have gone to the world series- the same team that groomed Randy Johnson and Larry Walker and Pedro Martinez and Vladimir Guerrero and Gary Carter and Tim Raines and Tim Wallach and... I'm exhausted and off track. where was I?)

Oh yeah, so we start bantering about steroids and baseball in general and who's to blame, etc.- all via text message mind you. And I happened to be at Uncle Bears drinking heavily for the first time in a long time. So I get my ride home and I end up calling Neil just because I needed that real connection. We start talking baseball and then we start talking about Facebook and Twitter and all the stuff that he hasn't adapted to yet. BTW, Neil is a city attorney in California, so I guess I understand why he might not want to have a profile on one of these when Joe Murderer might look him up online- but I'm a proponent of some of these social networking sights so I try to influence him (the lawyer).

Well about 20 minutes into this conversation (I'm at home by now), my daughter comes down to tell me that she's ready for me to read her stories. I love my daughter very much, and I read her stories every night. I haven't talked to my friend in probably 4 months (or anyone else for that matter about serious stuff like Facebook or Twitter...). So I'm sort of ignoring my daughter and she's getting upset. But my core needed to continue this intelligent adult conversation which was transitioning into general social topics. I'm not being rude to my daughter, just ignoring her- so minimal long term scarring...

Mom calls her upstairs- respecting my conversation, and by this time my cell gives me the "battery low" signal. But now we've moved on to political talk. So I take it outside. Oh by the way, did I mention that my Reagan-Conservative friend Neil is now an Obama Democrat? Nothing against that, but it brings a level of conversation that gets you a little more serious, a little more focussed, and a little more sober. So here's a city attorney (did i mention that he turned down an opportunity to interview for a federal prosecutor position) talking politics with someone who is on the opposite side of the political spectrum from him who is not a lawyer and has a 6 beer buzz brewing- that's what I call friendship.

So the subject and outcome of the conversation is not really relevant but I'll tell you anyway- it's the housing crisis, who's to blame, when was it started, why the rosy picture was inappropriately pumped for so long, and how stupid we Americans are for thinking about what is affecting ME right now instead of the country for the long term and how that affects elections. Since we're old friends, the conversation went without yelling but ended simply with a "my battery is dying and i have to pee. I'll talk to you later" (which probably means Septemberish). I felt good. I didn't win, Neil didn't win- that wasn't the exercise. It was more along the lines of speaking intelligently with someone and the satisfaction that the analytical part of my brain can still coordinate with the vocal and audible part- so I'm not dying yet!

Now this isn't a knock on my relationship with my wife because she is conservative like me. And I live in a conservative state so I could bring this topic up with 10 people and 9 would either agree with me or nod in feigned comprehension and I'd see right through that and be upset. But that's not the point.

We live in a society where most of us watch the evening news, read headlines and listen to what others tell us- then we have a beer, watch Lost and Scrubs and House, read a bit of a fiction book and fall asleep. Don't we owe it to ourselves to do our own objective research? Formulate our own opinions regardless of what our peers believe, and then take a stand for what we believe in? We're not all Platos and Socrates and heck I'll throw in Obamas. We're not all built for debate and confrontation. But shouldn't we be? At least a little? Or at least shouldn't we engage in these conversations whenever we can and take notes and do our own research when someone throws in a concept you don't know about? Do we all know what ACORN is? Have we all listened objectively to Rush for a full uninterrupted hour? Have we ever noted what our leaders state they will do and then compare it to what they actually end up doing (rather than listen to their revised but eloquent bullshit stance when they have failed in their initial goal)?

Here's the deal. If you have healthy political debate with peers, family and coworkers, that's awesome and I envy you. Keep it up and seek those specifically who disagree with you. Instead of trying to cram your views down their throat, listed to their views. Don't interrupt- even if they are wrong. Learn what their misperceptions might be. It's sort of like a date. If you start calling your date fat right away, then the date will end quickly and you won't get another. But if you listen instead of yapping and pawing at the other person's bra (assuming that she's female), then you might get another opportunity- and once you're married you can call her fat and you might get a shoe to the head and no sex, but you'll still be married! In the meantime, key in on what they've said and do your own research. If they said something that sounds crazy- like "Obama is not a US citizen" then do your own research. You might end up agreeing with that notion or you might learn why that's a fallacy.

It feels good to talk with people beyond "What's up? How you doing? The Suns suck. I love Guiness. That chick is hot. Alright, see you later." Let's all strive for somewhat intelligent conversation and doing what we can to get to intelligent conversation. Do you really want to be a lemming who believes what they hear or do you want to be able to vehemently profess your stance on a topic because it's important and you know in your heart that you are right?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Plan Update 2 "The Back Story"

I don't think I clarified our personal objective with our own loan modification scenario. I can generalize, but then I'd just be like a reporter. People want to know what they can do based on their own situation, so hearing all the political rhetoric or the talking heads of CNN and Fox News simply repeating and posturing is pretty useless to you and me.

Of my work in April I did 4 appraisals for homeowners who flat out told me that they're trying to take advantage of "the Obama plan". Luckily for me, I'm paid to be objective- not help anyone's agenda, so I've appraised their homes for what they are worth- today. And in every case, I can see in the county records that their initial first mortgage was say $300,000 and now their house is worth $240,000. Are they going to be able to "take advantage" of Obama's plan? Probably not. And I've been paid $350 each time, so although I've benefited, it's clear that these homeowners are wasting their money.

So let me state or reiterate my own situation:

We bought a house in 2005 that was big enough for us, had a great cul-de-sac view lot with only one neighbor- and oh yeah, the view is three different holes of the local golf course AND a beautiful mountain range to the north and a decent view of the mountain range to the south. We put 20% down, got a 5 year interest only ARM with a rate of 5.25%. We paid cash to fully landscape the backyard and put in a $35,000 pool. It's walking distance to a 2 year old elementary school which our daughter now attends.

Where we live, the market peaked right around August of 2006 and has pittered south ever since. Add to that a large number of investment homes where people simply "walked away" and the property values have decreased even more. In 2005, new home developments had lotteries and waiting lists and rude salespeople who simply had to float a balloon in the sky, hire a dude to spin a sign and the neighborhood would quickly sell out. Never mind that four homes on a single street sold to one person who lives in San Francisco (I'm in Arizona). And if that's a real example on a street of thirty homes, then imagine this being duplicated throughout my town, state, and yes- nationwide.

Using the dreaded Zillow as a quick measure, our house was worth our mortgage amount in about January 2008 with no signs of stabilization.

Quite coincidentally, my work had dropped significantly and January-March 2008 was probably the worst three month span of my business. My wife had to get a job, credit cards were being used more frequently and what little savings remaining were circling the drain.

About July of 2008 a fellow business owner and friend of mine named Blake who lives in the neighborhood came over to hang out and drink a non-alcoholic beverage while I had a beer. Like us, he bought at the top, put down 20% and essentially got a bad loan. Let's just say that he was worse off than us. We discussed loan modification way back then but didn't know where to begin. We agreed to keep each other updated on our own progress (if any). From about October, 2008 through even today, my work has been overall busy- so busy that I was actually able to pay off my business credit card which was creeping close to five figures. We had gone through a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University program through our church (which I now help to administer). But we also decided to cash out our universal life insurance policies, replace them with term policies with more coverage and use the cash to pay off our personal credit cards. So, I'd like to think that our financial situation is actually better now than it was a year ago.

However, my work is very up and down and effective today- May 1st, 2009, the way I've done business has officially changed. This can be a good thing, but all indications are that it is a bad thing which will inevitably drive many Appraisers from the business.

So with our 5 year interest only ARM reaching that 5 year point in July of 2010 and our home value at about 60% of the current mortgage, we feel that we need to really figure out what we are going to do about our home situation. Here are some ideas we have kicked around:
  • short sell our house
  • try to buy another house and then walk away from the one we have now
  • move to an apartment
  • move to the mother in law's home in North Phoenix
  • tough it out and deal with it
  • call our lender to see what they can do
Up until a few weeks ago, we did nothing- which is what so many people do, but then my friend Blake sent me a text...

Next Up "Initial Conversations"


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Plan 2009- Update 1

As expected, things are delayed on the loan mod front. One of my clients is a lawyer who is hosting a loan modification/foreclosure and bankruptcy seminar and he asked me to be there as the Appraiser expert. That's flattering, but I'm looking forward to doing it so that I can better understand the process and how it applies to me.


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Plan- 2009

I just went through a very busy time. From about October til last week, I was sooo busy with work. Too busy to relax. Too busy to spend time with the kids. Too busy to do my taxes. Well, just in time for taxes my work slowed up. And now that taxes are done, I hope to get a few other things in order- particularly, try and get some mortgage relief.

Now if you didn't already know this, I'm a real estate Appraiser. I learned from the best, I started my own company, I've bought a few houses and my family moved from California to Arizona in July of 2005. Now when your house in California is worth $900k and you see a brand new similar size house for $400k, then it sounds too good to be true. Never mind that the beach isn't 5 miles away. Never mind that there isn't a good infrastructure in place yet. Never mind that the closest fast food is half an hour each way... and it sucks. Never mind that it gets up to 117 in the summer time.

So I dutifully put down 20% on a home with a 5 year interest only loan. After all, the longest I'd owned a house previously was 3 years. And the California economy was about to collapse. And California had gone a very long time without an earthquake. And Arizona was a top job growth state. And the area we were moving to had grand plans of commerce and roads and parks and wifi- you know, the good stuff.

Well, now I'm a statistic. I'm one of the ticks on the downward spike of the line graph. I get lumped in with the speculator who bought 20 houses in a neighborhood with the hopes of 100% appreciation in a few years. I'm one of the families who haven't missed a mortgage payment, takes care of their yard, goes to the HOA meetings.

But my profession is what has enlightened me. We all see the news and read the newspapers or online news portals. You know the news reel with the Realtor sign hanging askew with waist high weeds and half evaporated green swimming pools. I see that every single day. I go into those houses every single day. I used to feel sad- the pink daughter's room, the blue son's room, the handprints in the concrete. Plus, I'd sometimes see the MLS photos of the same house from 6 months prior when they were trying in vain to sell the house. Lost dreams, broken homes.

Here's the typical cycle-

1. March 2006- Family buys a home at peak of market for $360,000 with a loan of $288,000- perhaps they put 20% down, perhaps they got a bad loan, perhaps they are an investor, etc.

2. December 2007- Family realizes the market is falling and they feel like they better sell- list home for $400,000

3. April 2008- Home doesn't sell because either banks aren't lending, buyers are scared, too many competing homes for sale, etc. Price has been dropped to $375,000

4. June 2008- Neighboring homeowner with more equity prices their home below market value simply to get rid of their homes- thus lowering property values- model match sells for $290,000

5. July 2008- Seller can't lower the home price any more because it's now worth less than they owe- priced at $299,000

6. September 2008- Seller tries to short sell their home but banks move too slow and the market continues to fall- priced at $250,000

7. October 2008- Seller completely stops making payments for whatever reason

8. January 2009- Bank forecloses on home- owners are evicted

9. March 2009- Bank lists home at bottom end of current market range since they simply want to get rid of it.

10. April 2009- Home sells for $145,000.

The problem is that many many many homeowners start at step 1 and skip all the way to step 8- with 9 and 10 to soon follow. I see it all the time. I appraise a house for the bank at about step 9 and in doing my research I see that the previous owners never even tried to sell their home. Was that their plan? Was that a deer in the headlights situation? I don't know. But in many cases I suspect the Bambi scenario.

So now let's get personal. Although the numbers are different, my situation is very similar to step 1. But I already know that I'm at Step 5. My house is now worth at least $80,000 less than my mortgage. I love the house. It's home. But come July 2010, my monthly payment becomes adjustable- and that's a potentially bad thing for the cash flow and I'll be forced to pick up at Step 6.

This brings us back to "The Plan" for 2009. Basically, I need to modify my loan. If that means convert it to a fixed product, reduction in principal or a combination of the two, the objective is to keep this house affordable so that my lender can still make money off of me and I can still afford to live in my home. "They" say that the bank won't even talk to you unless you're three months behind on payments. And whether that's the case or not, I don't want to find out. I personally know a friend who tried this and the bank foreclosed on him- and now he's a renter. I made a feeble attempt to contact the bank back in November but got the response of "we can't help you since you're not behind". I didn't have time to press it any further back then, so I put the whole project aside.

As things progress (or stall), I'll keep you updated. After all, home ownership is a cornerstone of our economy. If my experience can help even one more person, then I feel like I'm making a difference. I'm your guinea pig.- Just leave a comment and it will encourage me to continue...


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Monday, February 9, 2009

I Want My MVP!

A-Rod admitted that he used steroids- shocking eh? Considering the weight and recourse of those who continue to deny these sort of allegations at least he sort of admitted it. But then what does that do for our Most Valuable Player awards over the years? What should be done where someone who won turned out to be a cheater? Based on either strong allegations or flat out confessions, I've gone back to 1992 to see who got robbed.

Year True Winner Cheater
2007- Magglio Ordonez (ARod)
2005- David Ortiz (ARod)
2004- Adrian Beltre (Bonds)- heavy speculation about Beltre though
2003- Albert Pujols (Bonds)
2003- Carlos Delgado (ARod)
2002- Albert Pujols (Bonds)
2002- Alfonso Soriano (Tejada)
2001- Luis Gonzalez (Bonds)- heavy speculation about Gonzalez
2000- Frank Thomas (Giambi)
1999- Pedro Martinez (IRod)
1998- Moises Alou (Sosa)
1998- Nomar Garciaparra (Juan Gonzalez)
1996- Mike Piazza (Caminiti)
1996- Albert Belle (Juan Gonzalez)
1993- Lenny Dykstra (Bonds) heavy speculation about Dykstra
1992- Terry Pendleton (Bonds)

Now you'll have to admit that some of these guys who got robbed seem like they might have been cheating too, but I'm pretty sure they escaped any outing so far. We're talking about 47% of the MVP winners during this time period being cheaters... Remember Ken Caminiti's guestimate of 50% of MLB players? Does that sound so far fetched now? Does Jose Canseco seem like such a loose cannon now? Wake up MLB! You're losing all of your credibility.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Denial, Steroids, Money, Lying, The Law, and The Breakdown of MLB

Wow, what a title! I can't believe I'm about to start rambling about something that's got me all riled up. So, A-Rod is a "roider". Are you surprised? Sad? Angry? I'm just a bit more cynical about everything related to this breaking story and you should be too.

The back story is that in 2003 MLB players were tested "anonymously" for steroid usage. They were promised that the results would be kept secret with each player assigned a number and the only matching databased situated in the LBC- my birthplace. A year later, the samples would be destroyed. Now that it's 2009 we find out that a) the samples weren't destroyed, b) the test results came out, c) the guilty users were named, d) Alex Rodriguez was one of them. I won't go into the concept of secrecy and grand juries and "leaks" and other breakdowns of our justice system- that's a whole separte rant. But don't you love how this simple information (that was obtained illegally) has already killed his reputation before any sort of due process?

Of course steroids are illegal, and between Jose Canseco, Ken Caminitti, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, we've covered 15-20 years of this topic being a lightning rod in MLB. Those who deny it and break records are chastised. Those who say it was a mistake are forgiven (Andy Pettitte, Jason Giambi).

The bottom line is that of course the money involved in baseball is just too good to pass up. With a few good years of service, a decent player can secure a multi-million dollar contract- never mind those blockbuster deals, I'm talking about your typical .278, 12 HR hitting shortstop. So when the competition is so fierce and the payoff so big, can you blame these guys for looking for a competitive edge? Especially when owners and people like Bud Selig turn the blind eye because to intervene would create controversy, lose fans and drop revnues? Well guess what Bud, you made a lot of money over the past 15 years, MLB has made a lot of money- and you can attribute that to steroids. You brought us back from the 1994 death of baseball by any means necessary- and that means was simply letting things go nutso gonzo. Sound familiar? Take a look at our economy in the U.S. and you'll see the same thing but on a grander scale. Nobody wants to be the guy who calls the cops to break up a great party. Luckily for him, Bud is old enough where he'll be long gone with no personal accountability- with his millions in the bank. The next generation will have to deal with the new tarnished image of our national pasttime and a solution for its recovery- so who's the Barack Obama of baseball? And like the real Obama, won't that guy just look like a flounder when the house of cards is already on its way to ruin?

Does someone really deserve half a million bucks per home run he hits? Well when the revenues are pouring in, then you can afford to pay those types of salaries. And when second basemen are hitting 35 homers, then people are excited and they will pay more to see the most dramatic event at a baseball game. And when a pitcher is close to a record but is breaking down because he's over 40, then what would he do to keep playing for another year? The money is just too much to turn down.

I remember when Tony Gwynn was nearing the end of his storied career. He played only for the Padres, and he'd turned down more money to stay with his team. But when most teams would have cut him off, he whined a bit and got a final two year contract worth about $8Mil. And he really sucked those last two years. Now I'm by no means saying that Tony should be lumped in the same sentence as steroids, but his is a good example of too much money available for players. But what if it turned out that he was a user too? What about Cal Ripken? Or Ricky Henderson? We'll never know about those guys- thank God, because I love their image the way they are (except for my lasting image of ginormous Tony diving into 3rd for the last triple of his career while I'm right above the third base dugout... and the crowd was actually laughing as he grabbed the bag safely- I swear, we could feel him pounding the dirt- but i digress)

So 104 players were found to have steroids in their system- of which A-Rod was one. So who else are we going to find out about? This is complete speculation, but I'm basing it on baseball performance- not evidence.- Jim Thome? Vladimir Guerrero? Randy Johnson? Pudge? Jeff Bagwell? Greg Maddux? John Smoltz? And before you go defend Maddux and Smoltz for being purists, would you ever have suspected a good Christian like Andy Pettitte to have done such a thing? I'm an adult pushing 40 and I love each of these guys that I just mentioned. Luckily I've never been a fan of Bonds or A-Rod or Canseco. But I was crushed about the McGwire speculation. So what happens when one of my favorites gets caught? And what about the favorite players of every red blooded American (and Domincan, and Japanese, and Venezuelan, etc.) child who loves baseball? Oh it will happen. Then where will we be? And how do you repair it? And how do you justify the records that have been broken or are on pace to be broken?

Baseball is essentially screwed- and it has been- again since 1994. This thing that we call Major League Baseball is now the latest PS3 quality video game. And in order for it to get fixed, it will have to revert back to the old Atari format. And let me tell you, nobody wants that now that they've seen this farce that has become the game. But when I was a kid, I sure loved my Atari and would play all night long- because it was awesome- just like baseball used to be.

Thank you Bud Selig. I hate you more than ever.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Inaguration- Leftist Slant

So I'll post a few of my thoughts on the inauguration coverage on www.cnn.com/live

1. interviewing US troops in Afghanistan, the stateside reporter said "when Obama's face showed up on the big screen here there was a lot of cheering. Was there a similar reaction over there with the troops?" Answer: "not really"

2. arousing applause for Jimmy Carter- who accomplished...

3. arousing applause for Bill Clinton- the last president to be impeached. Solid

4. on a serious note, I have a 7 year old daughter. It must be so surreal for Obama's daughters to be essentially royalty. They really do look like great kids.

5. i respect that they muted the crowd noise for george bush's introduction as either it was not-rousing or possibly more like Philadelphia Eagles fans, but then they cranked it up for Biden so far and will undoubtedly do so for Obama- sort of like NASCAR "crank it up"

6. Barack "H" Obama. way to try to hide your heritage.

7. Lots of anti Rick Warren talk on Facebook- you know, the pastor that Barack Obama personally chose to give the invocation. I love how people love Obama but hate his choice here.

8. John Williams has proven that he is no more original than Puff Daddy

Monday, January 12, 2009

Obama and Gun Laws

I like guns. I'm not a freak about them. I just think that they are pretty cool items of technology. I inherited one from my dad who inherited it from his dad. It's a Smith & Wesson .38 police special- made around 1917 or so. I keep it in a gun bag. I keep the ammo elsewhere. Last time I shot it was about 1995. Last time I shot a gun was about that time too. If someone breaks into my house, they're probably not going to get shot... for now.

But many years ago, I really enjoyed going to the shooting range and trying out the 9MM semiautomatics- the Glock, the Sig, the Taurus, the Beretta, etc. It just felt practical. Sort of like playing a Playstation compared to an Atari 2600. Now I'm not saying that guns are toys, but my point is that one is more of a Playstation 3 and the other is an Atari 2600.

In our house, we have young kids so buying a more practical gun has not been an option for the past 7 years. And I've had no problem with it. But now that Barack Obama will be our next president, there has been a lot of buzz about buying guns and some of it has been coming from my own wife.

This year I went to Christmas parties where the talk was guns. I've been to coffee shops where people are talking guns. And believe it or not, households with anti-gun wives are softening to the idea. I live in Arizona where we're more of a Blue state (I think that's the one for Republicans) so guns are already everywhere, but the point is that a lot of the recent buzz has been caused by the election of Barack Obama and the fear that he will go straight for gun control as an early priority.

As if the war and the economy and gay marriage were not enough to tackle, will gun laws really be threatened? Couple the conversations that I spoke of with the flat out feeding frenzy at any local gun shops, and you'd think that the end of the world was near. Since my wife softened to the idea of a newer gun, I've started to research it a bit and then I decided to go to the local super big box outdoorsman store- Bass Pro Shop. Not sure if you're familiar with this store, but basically anything that you can do outdoors, they have- it's absolutely overwhelming- like Disneyland. But they have a firearms area that has rifles and pistols and I couldn't even reach the counter because there were so many people there. This was right around Thanksgiving, so sure there might be people gift shopping, but I felt embarrassed that I was surrounded by what felt like gun nuts and here I was, some dude who had basic questions and who wanted to feel what certain models felt like in my hand. It wasn't worth the wait so I left.

About 3 weeks later, I took my daughter to a similar but smaller store after a friend suggested it and found a similar scene. But with this store, the display was sparsely populated- And per the clerk, they couldn't keep the guns in stock and people were buying the displays. Because of the low stock there were only about 10 people there so I picked the brain of the clerk a bit. He told me that they are typically busier after an election and especially with Obama being elected the consensus was "get em while you can".

Then this past weekend, my family got away to the snow and we went to another enormous box retailer called Cabela's which is similar to Bass. While the wife and daughter were looking for snow clothes, I beelined with our son to the firearms section. And this time I got photos. This is the best one I could get because I felt like a spy- like someone was going to pull a gun on me and harass me about taking photos. It was like the deli counter where they called your number. There were no less than 10 clerks and about 30 customers. The reason you don't see so many is that many were hanging back in the ammo aisles at the time I took this shot.

So my question is: Is this gun hype justified? And based on that, are gun manufacturers Republicans or Democrats?

Again, Obama's already got a lot on his plate- enough to take him out 8 years if he gets reelected. So I don't see him addressing gun control during his administration. But we're talking about the second amendment here. A basic unalienable right of Americans. Sort of a third rail of social issues. And when you consider that 44% of voting Americans didn't vote for him, it's the sort of issue that will quickly polarize the country. Thomas Jefferson that a little revolution is good now and then and perhaps it is. But when that revolution is the gun lovers fighting for their rights, then you're talking about a potentially serious revolution.

Now our economy sucks right now and we're seeing lots of companies going out of business and cutting jobs. But gun manufacturers have got to be loving all this hype. If you owned an umbrella company and it was a cloudy day, would you tell people that it was only going to be a sprinkle or that it would burn off by noon? You'd probably emphasize how cool your umbrellas are and how it would protect you from the elements. I seriously doubt that you will see Glock explaining how Obama won't restrict gun laws.

I'll probably get a new gun in 2009- I'll research it well, try a bunch of models and I'm the kind of guy who will get the absolutely best deal. Not sure which one but when the hype swings a certain way, then you've got to act on it. But mark my words- under Obama, the hype of gun contol is unjustified.