Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Of course, I am not, and was not, any good in any of these activities; just “ok” in all as opposed to really good at any one activity.
Through the years, all these activities have taken a toll on my body. I have been to the garage/doctor for many repairs and am now mostly limited to occasional tennis and very frequent golf.
I began playing golf in 2002 after retiring for the first time. I would now be called a golf addict. At this point, there is nothing that I would rather do than play golf; other than be with my family of course (I had to say this in case my family reads this posting!).
As for watching golf, if Tiger is not in the hunt, forget it.
However, this most recent Ryder Cup weekend was so exciting that I could not stop watching it. The recent history of America’s record is not good. Who wants to see Colin Montgomerie (Monte as they call him) or Sergio or Padraig whip up the crowd and whip up on our prim and proper players? Think of the crowd at the US Open Tennis tournament: loud and rowdy. Well that is what happens in Europe at the Ryder Cup.
But in the USA up to now; not much crowd noise and not much emotion from the players. Our players were mostly staid and reserved.
Not this time however. Paul Azinger, the captain (Zinger for short), selected the players and paired them such that we created a raucous atmosphere. Now, I have some golfer friends who think that this was unprofessional and not good for golf.
On the other hand, I think that this helped our players get off to a good start and keep the momentum going. The players that were selected were “the young and the restless” and the wily veterans. From Anthony Kim, JB Holmes, Hunter Mahan, and Boo Weekly to the older veterans such as Phil Mickelson and Kenny Perry; they embraced the atmosphere and perpetuated it. I think this is exactly what Zinger wanted to do.
I could not walk away from the tube on Sunday. The USA entered with a slim lead and ultimately was able to maintain it and extend it at the end of the day. However, during the day, victory was in doubt at times. The broadcast was so entertaining and compelling that I could not turn it off. Who can forget seeing Boo Weekly “ride” his driver down the first tee like a kid rides a broom? What about the crowd chanting “Boo” after he rolled in birdie after birdie? What about the new Boo’isms that were created? When told that his opponent was critical about Boo whipping up the crowed before the hole was over: Boo responded that the opponent was just sore because he was getting a good butt whipping. What about seeing Anthony Kim hit to the green over the water on the first par 5 and then watching Sergio hit two into the water trying to keep up (he did a Tin Cup-if you don’t know what this means then go rent the movie of the same name). Anthony Kim whipped up the crowd on his way up the fairway on that hole. Kim kept up the pressure and just destroyed Sergio. Later on Kenny Perry did the same thing on that hole to his opponent. What about Hunter Mahan’s long putt for a win on the 17th hole? What about JB Holmes hitting his wedge to 2 feet (after a 350 plus yard drive) to cinch his match? Jim Furyk kept making putts all day and finally got a concession from his opponent for the Cup clincher! This kind of stuff just kept going hole after hole and match after match.
The crowd noise was deafening and pro USA! Wasn’t it great?
Of course, none of this would have happened if we weren’t winning the matches, which we did. Bottom line is that you have to make good shots and make the putts, which we did.
USA, USA, USA, USA; I keep on hearing it! I am still pumped about this! I think this is the most compelling sports broadcast since the “Miracle on Ice” or maybe the recent summer Olympics watching Michael Phelps and his teammates! Was it even better? Who knows but certainly they are all up there together!
Four years from now when the Ryder Cup is back in the USA in Chicago, I am going to be there. Anyone want to go with me?
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Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Well, it is hard to miss what is going on in the financial markets. It is all over the TV and radio and internet. If you missed it one day or even one hour, you are out of date. These are momentous times and rival the previous financial meltdowns. This meltdown was brought on by the mortgage crisis.
Or should I say the discovery of the mortgage crisis. We discovered that as interest rates went up that people could not afford the new monthly payment brought on by the floating nature of their payments and interest rates. They then had to sell their homes. There were also those that bought homes or positions in new homes with the hope that they could be sold for a quick profit. Thus, there were too many homes for sale and not enough buyers. Maybe it was also brought on by the deficit financing of the War in Iraq (I just had to slip that one in) and resulting effect on our economy.
“What”, you say, “this time it is different”! I don’t think so. It is only the names that are different. "No" you say, "when you lose a Lehman Brothers firm to bankruptcy and Merrill Lynch is bought out by Bank of America, it is different." You say "it is different when JP Morgan is recruited to “buy” Bear Stearns." Breaking news: the government will extend a loan to AIG in order to give it time to unwind risky assets. Surely this is different!
Don’t you remember when Chrysler almost went bankrupt? It was bailed out by the government with loan guarantees. The government ultimately made money on the deal. How about when Kmart was going down the tubes and was merged into Sears? What about the huge stock market meltdown in 2001/2002 due to the technology bust? What about the real estate related crash in 1974? What about the inflation induced recession in 1981/1982?
My point is: it is not different. It is only the names and situations that are different but the game is the same. The name of the game and ultimate cause of the problem is Greed.
Let’s play Greed. You don’t know how? The objective is to make more money than anyone else. Here are the rules:
Find a product that you can sell.
Then pay people to sell your product instead of anyone else’s product.
You do this by incenting the sales people regardless of the quality of the product.
However, don’t let them sell too much more each quarter than in the previous quarter. You want each quarter to show an increase in sales.
It is ok and even preferred to sell on credit.
Don’t worry about the credit quality of the accounts receivable because you are going to sell off the receivables to someone else.
Then take the money from selling the receivables and make more product and push it on your sales people.
If it becomes too hard to sell more product, then make your financing terms better so that it is easier for the customer to buy it.
Repeat the process until you end up with more money than the other players. The losers end up in bankruptcy!
This game was played by all those companies mentioned above and many, many others. It is still being played as we speak. For example, why is Bank of America buying Merrill Lynch? Do you think they are doing this out of the goodness of their hearts and trying to save our financial system? Do you think they are the Good Samaritan of the financial world?
I don’t think so. They even admit this is the opportunity of a lifetime! Buying a brand name such as Merrill will catapult them to CitiCorp status. But it is not without risk. Risk to their stockholders and to their depositors and even to their debtors.
The game of Greed is still being played and will continue to be played forever.
So, then how do we as normal people operate and exist in this society without getting overly hurt?
Are you ready for Ray’s Rules of Financial Risk Remediation?
Never buy anything if you (not your broker but you) don’t understand how it works in good markets and bad markets.
Do not buy what everyone else is buying.
Do not put all your money in one stock or fund.
Certainly don’t hold just company stock in your 401k.
Likewise, if you get stock options in your company, sell them when you have some profit, pay the taxes and move on.
Do have multiple asset classes among your invested funds.
Always have emergency money on hand. What this means is you should have 6 months of expenses in savings accounts, CDs, money market accounts or short term bonds.
If you are getting a mortgage, get a 30 year fixed rate loan and pay it back early or at least on time.
Don’t have credit card debt or get rid of it if you have it.
Have enough life insurance, disability and hazard insurance.
Be sure you saving 10% to 15% of your income for retirement and other future needs.
Just like you have a doctor for your medical needs, find a financial adviser or financial planner for financial consulting. Just like a doctor has his or her MD certification, be sure the financial person has his or her CFP (Certified Financial Planner) designation. Don’t pay them based on product sales but pay by the hour or project or based assets under management. The CFP can be consulted on all these financial topics mentioned and more.
Well, I could go on and on but you get the picture. There is no free lunch and there is no sure thing. If it seems to be too good to be true, it probably is not true. If everyone is making money on something, they are either lying or it is too late for you to get in. The music will stop and you will be left without a chair!
This crisis will end at some point. Things will get better and we will back to “normal”. However, the game of Greed is ongoing and the players will be playing. At some point, we will have another financial crisis. You and I are just the game pieces but we do have some control over where we move. So, remember my rules and good luck!
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
The flight was the red-eye, leaving Anchorage at 8:00pm so we knew we were in for a long night. The plane was packed, thus a tight fit for everyone.
We were in a six across row, with me on the aisle, my wife in the middle and by the window was a guy from the army. He was very young looking. I wondered if he was old enough to have a beer.
When the beverage cart came by, I offered to buy him a drink but the flight attendant gave it to him. Later when the cart came by again, I offered again to buy him a drink and a different flight attendant let me pay, which I was glad to do. I also bought him the little snack pack that they offer for sale. He was very appreciative and polite; calling me sir and my wife ma’am. Guess how old that made us feel.
We began to talk and learn about him and what he was doing. This young man had just finished his basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia and had been in his small home town in Alaska for a break before going on permanent assignment in New York and then on to Iraq or Afghanistan. He was telling us that he hated to leave his two small kids and wife. Well, he couldn’t have been more than 20 or 21 years old and to have a family this size already. You had to wonder what he was doing in the service.
In talking to him, he had joined up to do his duty and then get out and go to College on the GI Bill. My first point here is that this program has been around forever and has benefited many of our young men and women. Any talk of taking this away, in my opinion, should stop forever. To go and put your life on the line for the rest of the country should have some reward beyond just getting a meager pay! He wanted to go on to law enforcement and he knew he had to graduate from college. His thoughts were, where else is better to get the basics of law enforcement than in the service of your country and then where else can I get help in paying for college? He had a strategic plan for his life and really stated it that way. The guy was on the ball and thinking long term, unlike many of his contemporaries!
We asked about his basic training in Fort Benning. Here is where the comments get a little unbelievable for me. Not that we doubted what he was saying but that things like this really happen is what is amazing. This is the second point of this blog.
Josh, the young man, said that the citizens of the town around Fort Benning didn’t treat the soldiers very well. The soldiers felt unappreciated and unwanted. It was like, “it is fine for you to be here and you can buy our goods and services but you don’t need to socialize with us or be involved with us!”
Well, this reminded me of the reception that our Vietnam returnees got in this country back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. What is wrong with us when we don’t appreciate what our servicemen are doing for us? Forget about the politics for the moment and whether or not we agree with them.
You don’t agree with George Bush or Lyndon Johnson? Fine, but don’t take your political views out on the loyal armed forces men and women! They are not running for office; they are not making policy; they are “only” protecting each and every one of us and our way of life.
As far as I am concerned, if you don’t appreciate these young men and women and what they do for you, why don’t you just leave the country and be protected in a place like South Ossetia, Iran, or North Korea!
The moral of this story is that when you run across a service man or woman, buy them a drink or meal or cookie etc and think about what life would be like if they weren’t around! Their life is on the line for each and every one of us; show your appreciation in any little way that you can! Further, don’t take away the GI Bill.
PS as always, you can subscribe to this weblog by clicking on the link at the very bottom of all the postings
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
My wife and I decided to attend the next to last game of the Richmond Braves on August 31, 2008. We have attended games in the past but wanted to be part of the swansong goodbye to Richmond by the Braves.
As local readers know, they have decided to relocate to Gwinnett County and get a better stadium and maybe better attendance. Both reasons seem to be readily achievable.
However, this begs the question for Richmond: why are we letting them go? Well, here goes my seat of the pants analysis of the issue! Never one to mince words, I will lay it out like I see it.
First of all, a little background. All the municipalities around here, the city of Richmond, counties of Chesterfield and Henrico have a part in funding the stadium authority. They quibble over many issues and things including this. There is not any regionalism but instead the attitude is “what is in it for me”? Kind of like, there is no I in team; and in their case, team is spelled “tiiim!
The City and then several private entities have discussed the need to have a new stadium built in the downtown area, more specifically in the Shockoe Bottom area or the Fulton Gas Works site. There is no parking available and direct access from the interstates is debatable. Naturally, Chesterfield County was not in favor of that; instead they wanted to consider a site in their county. All say the stadium is hopelessly outdated in all respects.
After one recent attendance, here is my analysis from a fan’s point of view. Let’s rank things by pro and con:
-The seats are good. Each seat is separate and has an armrest. You can’t get squeezed out by others due to the separating armrests.
-The view from each seat is good; not only of the field but you get a great view of the Richmond skyline.
-The overall capacity of the stadium seems to match the size of the community.
-The rest rooms were clean and available.
-The concession stands were available and efficient.
-The food was good; for ballpark food.
-The general location is good and available to all areas via the Interstate.
-The value of entertainment for the dollar is good.
-The cost of the refreshments was in line with other forms of entertainment.
-The cost of parking was low.
-The field is symmetrical with major league dimensions: 308 down the lines and 402 to center field.
-Parking lot management is a definite minus. There was only one way into the major parking lot. This is in spite of other gates that could be opened to accommodate incoming traffic. There were not any police directing traffic except for one policeman at the specific entry into the lot. In other words, traffic was jammed up at the intersections leading up to the lot and many people were late to the game. Further, there was only the same way out of the lot. This is in spite of the many closed gates around the perimeter of the lot. You would think that these gates could be opened to facilitate the exit of traffic.
-The scoreboard and other electronic displays are clearly sub par with other entertainment sites. For example; there was not any instant replay; there were no other baseball scores displayed; you really had to strain to see the scores and the pitch count, etc. Most stadiums have the pitcher’s ball speed displayed along with many other statistics.
My humble conclusion: Richmond and surrounding entities, you screwed up!
The entertainment offered could be very good at this stadium. The only things that are needed from a fan’s perspective are much better traffic control and parking lot management and a much improved electronic display medium! So before you go about spending tens of million dollars, why not just fix what is broken?
Get with it!
Monday, September 1, 2008
One of the answers is that I have a lot of thoughts on different things and (in my distorted opinion) some of those thoughts might be worth sharing with the world; or more probably, some few souls who somehow find these thoughts and don’t have anything better to do other than read them!
So, I have committed to myself to publish my thoughts about once a week. I am told that the way to do this is via a Blog.
Why in the world is this called a Blog and how did it get its name? I have no idea. I am sure that somewhere I could look it up but does it really matter? It is like calling a dog a horse. How did the smaller animal get named a dog and the larger animal get named a horse? It doesn’t really matter to us as long as we know which is which. So, a dog is a dog and a horse is a horse and a Blog is a Blog!
Not to deviate but how did a Podcast get named? What is a pod? The cast part I understand but Pod? Anyway, enough of that.
So, here I am and I have already written a Blog and published it on www.wordpress.com. The process of doing this was very easy on the surface. You just click on publish and cut and paste a document into the website. Of course I registered my account with a user name and password. I was lead to believe that people reading the Blog could subscribe to my Blogsite and all future Blogs would automatically come to them. Further, they could comment on my writings.
However, when I looked at the published site, many questions arose. What are all these terms like RSS, permalink, feeds, tags, and etc? There was nothing that said subscribe. Well, I decided to try clicking on these other things and when I did there was still not anything that was clear. I would have a lot of work to do on this to make it apparent to readers as to how to subscribe and how to make comments.
When I went on the hosting site for help, I got answers back that want me to use programming language and that assume I know what rss, permalink, feeds and tags are. Well, I don’t. It was a very frustrating process but I would somehow figure it out even if I have to get help from my daughter and son-in-law, who are fluent in this language and who reside in the blogger universe.
My conclusion is that bloggers and readers of blogs are a separate universe of people who have their own language. Here I am an outsider trying to break into their world; well, I will do it but it is going to take a while.
In the meantime, if you wanted to subscribe to my Blogs, click on every link you can find on this page to see if something comes up that you can understand and will do the job!
Urgent Update: I have switched sites and am now using www.Blogger.com. This site seems to have been designed for people like me who don’t know any of the technicalities (and don’t want to know any of the technicalities) but just want to Blog! So, if you want to subscribe, just click where it says subscribe and then in the next dialogue box click it again and that is it!