Tuesday, August 30, 2011


It’s the end of August. Time for predictions. Here are some things that will happen before the end of 2011. Mark it down.

1. The Boston Red Sox will play the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2011 World Series. At least one game will be played in snow flurries and the Phillies will win in 6 games because they have superior pitching. Actually that’s five predictions in one but as long as the Phillies win I will claim it as a vindication of my baseball prognostication genius.

2. The months of November and December will be exceptionally cold and snowy and this unusually bitter early winter will join the Japanese Tsunami, the European debt crisis, the Arab Spring, and hurricane Irene as things that President Obama will blame for the faltering economy.

3. The Cincinnati Bengals will have more players arrested than they will have wins by 12/31/2011.

4. The 2011-2012 NBA season will be cancelled and no one will notice until after the Super Bowl is over. But on the bright side, Lebron James will sign with the San Antonio Silver Stars of the WNBA and finally win a championship.

5. In a shocker, Wake Forest will kick a field goal as time expires to defeat Duke 3-0 to win the ACC championship in football after every other team in the conference is given the death penalty by the NCAA for multiple recruiting violations and other ethical lapses.

6. After John Boehner is tragically electrocuted in a bizarre tanning bed accident, Eric Cantor is elected Speaker of the House, becoming the first Jewish man to hold that position. He also becomes the first man in American history to actually have been born, potty-trained, learned to walk, celebrated his first birthday party, learned to read, had his first date and first kiss, got married, conceived all his children, and ate all of his meals actually on the grounds of the U.S. Capital.

7. Despite winning every internet presidential straw poll, and enjoying huge support from legions of non-voting college students, Ron Paul withdraws from the Republican nomination contest, citing the media conspiracy against his candidacy. Even up to the end polls showed solid support among gold coin collectors.

8. Mayor Bloomberg of New York announces a controversial new law making it illegal not to go into debt shopping for Christmas. “The fact is,” said the Mayor, “ New York needs the sales tax revenue and we cannot tolerate our citizens living within their means again this year.” Called the Anti-Scrooge law of 2011, it calls for each head of household to spend no less than one month’s take-home pay on his or her spouse by December 24 or face 30 days in jail. The ACLU immediately challenges the law on the grounds that it unfairly stigmatizes Jews and Muslims by leaving them out, a clear effort to marginalize Non-Christians.

9. Kris Humphries files for divorce from Kim Kardashian less than four months after their much celebrated wedding citing irreconcilable differences. “ I just found that we had drifted apart.” explained Mr. Humphries “ Since the NBA season was cancelled, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands, and frankly, a little bit of Kim goes an awfully long way.”

10. Danica Patrick crashes three cars in two days during practice sessions at Daytona Speedway leading up to her first fulltime season in NASCAR. “Its been a learning experience,” said a clearly annoyed Patrick to reporters afterwards. “I guess I shouldn’t be applying mascara while I’m on the track, but old habits are hard to break.”

Monday, August 29, 2011

Question: How Far Would You Go For Love?

In my now relentless pursuit of Dean Koontz novels, I am reading “The Husband”. Although it is predictably terrific, it is not my favorite by any stretch. However, it raises an intriguing philosophical question, ie…how far would you be willing to go for love? Would you die for love, would you kill?
Here’s the plot in a nutshell, all of which is revealed in the first twenty pages:

On an ordinary afternoon, an ordinary man, a gardener of modest means gets a phone call out of his worst nightmare. The caller says, “We have your wife. You can get her back for 2 million dollars cash. You have 60 hours. To prove our seriousness, see that man walking his dog across the street?” A second later the man is shot in the head by an unseen gunman. The caller doesn’t care that this gardener has only $11,000 in the bank and can’t possibly raise that kind of money in only 60 hours, or ever, for that matter. He’s confident that Mitch will find a way. “If you love your wife enough…”

Reading this book has forced me to ask myself what I would do if put in that situation. So now I put the question to any husband out there who happens to read this Blog. What would you do? How far would you go to get your wife back? Which of your devoutly held principles about the sanctity of life would you cast aside in the pursuit? Any wives out there can also respond by answering the question a bit differently, ie..How far would you expect your husband to go to attempt your redemption?

A few ground rules. Mitch cannot go to the police for help with this kidnapping since the bad guys have already planted evidence that implicates him in his wife’s future murder. He must operate entirely outside of the law, and for the purposes of this thought experiment, so must you.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Bizarroday...August 23, 2011

There is a rhythm to life. We work hard to encourage this rhythm by creating as much order as possible in a world that is famously disordered. Consequently, our lives are for the most part predictable. We awake at a certain hour, perform our daily hygienic repair, go to work, come home, have dinner, indulge in some form of mostly mindless entertainment, then go to bed, starting all over again in the morning. But every once in a while our routine gets rocked. Something unforeseen introduces itself, or even better, everything goes wrong. Nothing is as it should be. The unexpected , the disturbing and even the hilarious moments that occur during these times are the things of which memories are made. While I might never recall one thing that happened to me on 95% of all the days of my life, I’ll remember every detail of “ Bizarroday”. My latest Bizarroday was Tuesday, August 23, 2011.

Tuesday was our last day of preparation before heading down to Winston-Salem to move Kaitlin into her new home at Wake Forest University. First on the agenda was an unfortunate dental appointment. Kaitlin was found with cavity for the first time in 15 years the previous day and so had been scheduled for fillings on the earliest time slot on her last day in Richmond. After being thoroughly numbed on both sides of her mouth with Novocain, the dentist announced that all water had been cut to the building. Without water, no work could be completed so Kaitlin was sent home until further notice, still with cavities but now with a face that made her look like a stroke victim. The adorable crooked smile she was born with was now exaggerated to a freakish sag that gave her the suggestion of diabolical intent. Three hours later water was restored, fresh Novocian was administered, cavities were filled and she was sent home with now an entire face enshrouded in a painkilling glow and wiped clean of expression. When later Pam went into her room seeing the boxes and bare walls and started to tear up, Kaitlin turned towards her and slurred, “ Mom, I’m really smiling at you…you just can’t tell” Pam began to laugh, guardedly at first and then in full throated abandon as Kaitlin’s rubbery face tried to contort into a smile. Then out of nowhere, the ground began to shake.

The first earthquake of our lives hit at around 2 in the afternoon. Pam and Kaitlin froze in place and wondered aloud..”What was that??” For 30 seconds the china rattled, the windows rumbled and Pam, for the life of her couldn’t remember what to do in an earthquake so she shouted, “Lets get in the bathroom!!” Once out of harms way, Kaitlin tried to say..”What about Molly??”, but it came out as “ weribowlolly!” Amazingly Pam understood and about the time the shaking stopped all three of them were crowded safely in the downstairs bathroom. Meanwhile, I was across town picking up the U-Haul truck I had rented for the move. At the precise time of all the excitement I was concentrating intently on backing this ten foot truck into a tiny parking space at the furniture store where I had driven to pick up Kaitlin’s new sofa. I hadn’t felt a thing. When I got out of the truck I noticed people running from inside the store into the parking lot in wide-eyed terror. A 5.9 on the Richter scale quake with an epicenter 30 miles from where I stood had been felt as far away as Detroit and Boston, and I had missed it. After a few minutes order was restored and I stood calmly in line for my sofa when an attractive, young black man approached and engaged me in casual conversation:

“So…what did you buy?”

“My daughter is going to grad school this week so we picked up a sofa for her.”

“Where is she going to grad school?

“Wake Forest…down in Winston-Salem”

“Winston-Salem? I’m never ever going back to that town for nobody!!”

“Wh-.What? Whats wrong with Winston-Salem?

“ A friend of mine asked me to come for a visit so I did. You know where she lived? A house at the corner of Noose Street and Plantation Drive! No sir, never going back!”

By the time I got home with the truck all of the local news channels were on the case with live on the scene reports about the Great Earthquake of 2011. Anchors and anchorettes breathlessly gave us details confirming the rattling of dinner plates in china cabinets from Midlothian all the way to Hanover Courthouse. Reports began to trickle in of pictures hanging terribly askew on walls in the East End.
Some unconfirmed rumors came in describing scores of shattered knick-knacks in Wyndham. A young baby-faced reporter then broke in with live video from the actual epi-center in Mineral, Virginia. There on live television for all to see was the epic damage and desolation. Sixteen bricks lay haphazardly at the base of the chimney of a 100 year old house. We were assured that the residents of Mineral were a hardy bunch and that they were determined to overcome this blow. Just about the time I was starting to feel a bit more secure, channel 12 brought on an Earthquake Expert who warned us of the probability of “aftershocks”. Reeling, I escaped to the dreary comfort of Facebook where I saw that 8 of my Christian friends had posted that verse in Matthew about earthquakes being a sure-fire sign of the end times. From there I retreated to a Drudge Report story from some meteorologist who claimed that hurricane Irene now churning out near the Bahamas had the potential to make landfall as a category 6 storm that might wipe out all of the Outer Banks and cause upwards of 100 Billion in damage. When reminded that there are only 5 categories of hurricanes he responded, “After Irene, there will be 6”. I shut off the computer, walked back downstairs and heard a guy on TV reminding us to tune in after the 6 o’clock news for a special program…”Aftershock Horror..Day 1”

After we finished packing up the truck we had our last dinner together on the deck. It was a beautiful night and the meal was delicious. Kaitlin had her face back. Pam was tearing up again at the prospect of change. But we all looked back on this very bizarroday with fond memories. Oh that there were more days like this.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Book Reviews!!!

18. My Losing Season……Pat Conroy

Seeing as how I believe Pat Conroy to be the finest American writer alive today, this review will not be very fair or balanced. I love this guy and his writing. It is fluid and beautiful with both rough edges and soaring prose. This is an autobiography of sorts since it tells the story of his four years playing varsity basketball at the Citadel in South Carolina. Anyone familiar with his earlier novel The Lords Of Discipline will recognize and therefore not be shocked by the brutality he endures from his quasi-evil coach as well as his pure evil real life father ( The Great Santini ). Still, there is beauty to be found here along with the moving tenderness that is at the root of all of his work. Fabulous.

19. Hell’s Corner ……..David Baldacci

Its been a while since I have been this bored by a thriller. This is my first go at Baldacci and I know what a phenomenal success he has been with the Camel Club bit, but I spent 300 pages waiting for something interesting to happen and then when it finally did it wasn’t good enough to justify the 6 hours I had wasted reading the dang thing. Oliver Stone, the wacko filmmaker is far more interesting than THIS Oliver Stone ever thought of being.

20. Are You Kidding Me?…….Rocco Mediate and John Feinstein

I watched the final two rounds of the 2008 U.S. Open live and could hardly turn away. It was the most riveting, unlikely battle ever waged in my lifetime in the world of sports. Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer of his generation versus the often injured journeyman never-was, Rocco Mediate. I fell in love with Rocco those two days in June along with every other golf fan in the world and in the hands of John Feinstein, this book is as suspenseful , hilarious and unbelievable as the real thing was. Tiger won in the 18 hole playoff, but Rocco won everyone’s heart. Great read whether you like golf or not!

21. Seven Days In Utopia…….David L. Cook

A friend of mine at church dropped this little book in my hand one Sunday and told me I would love it. I read it in one sitting and …liked it. it’s the story of a down on his luck golfer who stumbles upon an old geezer retiree who has carved a 9 hole golf course out of some barren ranch land in West Texas someplace. The old guy proceeds to take the young feller under his wing, teaches him about golf by teaching him to fly-fish etc.. Along the way the golfer also finds food for the soul. You can practically hear the violin music in the background. Come to find out, they’re making a movie out of this thing starring Robert Duval as the old man. Really??

22.Heaven Is For Real……..Todd Burpo

This is the book I read to the family during our vacation a few weeks ago at Nags Head. it’s a true story of little Colton Burpo and his near death experience as a 4 year old where he “went to heaven” during a serious emergency operation. The stories that the kid told of what he saw and what he saw his parents doing while he was under are truly astonishing and give all Christians a measure of hope about the promise of eternal life. Having watched this boy and his parents interviewed on the Today show before reading the book gave them credibility with me since they seemed so genuine and so utterly without guile or agendas. Much of what he says about his experience in heaven is amazing and plausible, although when he starts talking about the Armageddon he loses me. Just find it hard to imagine why Jesus would chose to explain THAT story to a 4 year old. But all in all, a very heart warming and inspiring story.

23. The Help……..Kathryn Stockett

Best book I’ve read all year. After practically every female in my entire extended family read this book and raved, the eagerly ran to see the recently release movie, I just had to find out what the deal was. This was my first book ever on a Kindle, so I’m not sure I can call it a “page-turner”…more like a “button-pusher”. I couldn’t put the thing down. It had everything that great fiction should have..great characters that you find yourself caring desperately about, a moving story that examines every nook and cranny of human emotion. Because its about race relations with all of the hand grenades found in that contentious issue it would have been easy for Ms. Stockett to paint all the black maids as heroes and all of the white housewives as brutal villains. But she digs deeper and illustrates that even in that time of often despicable cruelty, it was possible for grace and beauty to shine through the darkness. She surprises us with twists that are out of the blue and interjects often hilarious details that leave you laughing at times when your mind tells you that you shouldn’t be laughing. Its better than the hype, and I plan on seeing the movie this weekend.

24 thru 27...four books by Dean Koontz

This was the summer that I discovered Dean Koontz. I found myself rummaging through bargain tables at Barnes & Nobel like an addict in desperate need of a fix after reading Breathless back in early June. Here was a writer of thrillers who was a poet and had terribly challenging things to say about the human condition. Then I found Relentless on sale for $6.50. In this one we see the bizarre insanity of a book critic gone mad who chases the protagonist and his little family all over the west coast with murderous intent. All the while, our hero in his desperation rediscovers the beauty and power of family and the importance of holding on to his faith. On the slipcover of each of these books I notice that there’s always a picture of the author with his beloved golden retriever “Trixie”. So when I saw a paperback copy of his tribute to her called, “A Big Little Life” I just had to buy it. Having a golden myself I recognized so much of Molly in his heart warming story and I felt the pain of his loss at her death at a deep level. At that point I thought I was done with Dean for the summer. But when I checked in to our beach house in Nags Head, there on the mantel was a paperback of “The Taking”. This was the most gripping, intense thing yet, the story of science-fiction, thriller, apocalyptic vision and the end of the world as we know it. As the story pulsed on and on getting more grave and chilling by the page there started to appear an almost biblical theme of evil. The only thing that could effectively ward it off was courage and bravery and selflessness. The ending is something for the ages and I have found a new reading passion. Dean Koontz is the man!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why Me?

Today I will meet my parents at their bank to do the necessary paperwork allowing me to start paying their bills every month. From there I will drive across town to attend the funeral of the mother of one of my good friends and business partners. Then I will plunge further into the murkiness inherent in the process of changing Broker-Dealer affiliations, with the mountains of paperwork and the Byzantine complexities that await me in that unhappy place. Then I will pay the bills at work, transfer money from one of my checking accounts to three other checking accounts that require attention. When, in the name of all that is holy, did I become an adult?

For most of my life after age 40 I have looked around at my contemporaries with a mixture of confusion and pride and confidently told myself that I wasn’t like them. I was different. They were older somehow. They had surrendered to middle age and the muddled thinking that goes with it. They were stuck on the upwardly mobile treadmill that is America in the 21st century with its quest for bigger homes, flashier cars, nicer stuff. They were all into country clubs and beach houses and the tyranny of keeping up with it all. But not me. Instead of becoming chairman of the deacons at church, I worked with the kids in the youth department. Instead of networking with like-minded professionals, I preferred the company of pimple-faced teenagers at summer camp. Instead of reading business magazines and trade publications, I read everything else , from PJ O’Rourke to Dostoevsky. Instead of falling in line and becoming a Republican, I somehow became weirdly libertarian. All of this, I convinced myself, was good because I never wanted to become a boring conformist. Its not that I disliked my contemporaries or even that I felt superior to them. I was just determined not to end up like everyone else, living a life sucked empty of joy and spontaneity by the demands of abundance. I didn’t want to wake up one day and find myself consumed by the plodding details of middle age….but wake up I have.

Another thing, when most of my Christian friends read the New Testament it brings them comfort. They find in the life of Christ validation of their view of the world. For me, the New Testament troubles me and the life of Jesus feels like a stunning rebuke. The strength of my belief in him has, if anything, increased. But my understanding of what my life should look like in light of his teachings has taken a few blows. How does my increasing prosperity square with his admonition to provide for the “least of these”? What cross do I take up every day? If Jesus founded the church and we worship a risen savior why does church bore me so? Why can I not shake the feeling that the couple of hours I spend in church are the most inconsequential hours of the week?

For me, age has not brought clarity. It has brought only more questions. Any wisdom that has fallen on me through the passage of time has been the wisdom of greater humility. With many people age and a measure of success brings the bad seed of pride. For me, it has brought questions. Primarily…why me??

Monday, August 15, 2011

Empty Nest II

The living room of my house is packed full of my daughter’s new life. There are boxes of shiny new appliances. There’s color coordinated art work for the bare walls that await her. There’s her old day bed from high school that has been hauled down from the attic and festooned with a red, white and black comforter and matching bed skirt, pillow cases, throw pillows, high thread count cotton sheets and something called a “valance”. There’s also the chest of drawers from the attic that was in her nursery when we brought her home from the hospital 24 years ago. It’s covered in dust and a couple of the drawers were inexplicably filled with very short shorts with a 34 waist that I am ashamed to say don’t fit me anymore. Anyway, its all there in our living room. She is excited to be heading off to graduate school. I am excited that she’s paying for it herself with money she worked hard for this past year while she’s been living with us. So, next Wednesday we will pack it all in a 10’ U-Haul truck and make the 4 hour drive to her rental house in Winston-Salem near the campus of Wake Forest University. We will spend two days putting everything together and getting her settled in her exciting new place. Then maybe Pam and I will continue on down the road another 7 hours to Nashville to check on our son. He’s been in a new apartment for a few months now. When we moved him in and put all of his stuff together it looked great, but I’m sure its like something from Dante’s Inferno by now. After a couple of days visiting him Pam and I will make the long 9 hour drive back to Richmond for the second time to an empty nest.

The first time was truly awful, long grueling hours of tears and more tears. Then we actually left the parking lot and began the drive home! For a few weeks it was like we lived in a museum or some kind of depressing warehouse for used memories. But after awhile it dawned on us that we had the entire house to ourselves and since we were all out of tears we began in earnest to take full advantage of all that privacy. It was liberating. We discovered that we both actually really did love each other. What a bonus!! This time I’m sure there will be more tears and we will mourn a little the relentless march of time. But we know that what awaits us back here in Richmond is our home and the rest of our life together. It’s a life I wouldn’t trade with anyone, with the most beautiful, gifted, and tender-hearted woman in the world. Bring it on.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stuff I Actually DO Know

There are a thousand things about the global financial crisis now occurring about which I am completely in the dark. The level of interconnected complexities inherent in this system is beyond my pay grade. However, there are several things about this mess that I know, without a doubt to be certifiably true. The first step in understanding the complex is to clearly state what is known. So, in the spirit of discovery, and for personal therapeutic reasons, I offer the following certainties:

1. American banks, large and small, have on their balance sheets millions of underwater mortgages. These were ill-advised loans made to unqualified borrowers with insufficient equity stakes in property which has dropped precipitously in value. Now the banks “own” homes that are worth far less than what the bank is owed. There are many villains in this stupid tale, banker greed, home-owner vanity, government malfeasance etc.. but at this point it doesn’t matter. The problem is primarily this, how does the bank put a value on this huge section of their balance sheet? Exactly how much is all of that real estate worth..today? They don’t know. How long will it take for real estate prices to recover so as to remove this albatross from their future profitability? Nobody knows. If nobody knows the answers to these vexing questions, then how can a reasonable investor make an informed decision about the health and safety of banks? This explains everything I need to know about why banks are so reluctant to lend money these days.

2. American banks and huge brokerage firms like Goldman-Sachs have always loved buying the stock of other banks and brokerage firms, especially those in Europe. Even better, they love buying the sovereign debts of those countries. So, if Greece or Italy, Spain, Portugal, or even France were to default, then that would mean that American banks would hold even MORE worthless stuff than they do now! Who knows, maybe their holdings of sovereign debt would be so awful, it would make everyone stop worrying about all the worthless real estate they own!

3. America is filled with men and women who don’t participate in recessions. These hardy business owners are so busy producing goods and services at a fair value, they don’t have time to watch CNBC and listen to all the experts tell us how terrible things are. They spend most of their spare time trying to figure ways to get better. It’s these people who keep this country afloat and I thank God every day for each and every one of them. But these men and women, who pay this country’s’ bills are not indestructible. They have been taxed, regulated, impugned and harassed to within an inch of their lives over the past twenty years or so, and my biggest fear is that one day they are going to tell the rest of us to take a hike. One day the entrepreneurial class in America just might say…”Let me up, I’ve had enough”. If that day ever comes, we are screwed.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Stuff I Thought I Knew

The list of things that I thought I understood but now realize that I’m clueless about continues to get longer. They include but are not limited to the following:

1. The assumption that under girds all of Western Civilization that in times of great crisis, the cream rises to the top. The notion that great leaders evolve out of the stress and tumult of great events providing steadiness and visionary leadership. Just a few examples would include Queen Elizabeth, and Winston Churchill from Great Britain, Charlemagne, Otto Von Bismarck and Martin Luther from Germany, and even (although I know this is a stretch) Charles De Gaulle from France. In our own country, in just 235 short years, our turbulent seas have brought forth Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Abe Lincoln, two Roosevelts etc..etc.. But in 2011 we are being governed by the three little pigs ( Obama, Geithner, and Bernanke ) and a host of incompetent boobs in Congress from the shrill and inept Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to the blandly uninspiring Republican trio of Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell and the creepy tan-in-a-can John Boehnor. Add to this the prospect of a 2012 presidential campaign of Obama vs. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and well, so much for assumption number 1.

2. I invest money for a living so I know all about the volatility of the stock market. I’m totally aware of the random walk theory of equity prices. I completely get the short term insanity that can sometimes grip investors. But when I see in one trading day the Dow go up 200 points, stay in that general range most of the day, then tank into negative territory in a matter of minutes after one of the Three Little Pigs referenced above opens their pie-holes, then in less than an hour skyrocket to finish up 429 points on the day I can only conclude that…somebody is screwing with us. There’s just something not quite random about this walk and it has me watching the skies for black helicopters.

3. As a Christian I have always believed that our faith was what made the ultimate difference in how we handled adversity. While certainly not exempting us from the vagaries of life, faith in Christ would allow us to accept any cruelty of circumstance that might one day come our way with grace and good cheer. As I have gotten older however I am increasingly seeing that ultimately it hasn’t made a measurable difference. We all get old and infirm and we all rail against the ravages of time with far less grace than many non-believers. For this reason I wish to die in a plane crash or some sky-diving accident or unfortunate bathroom incident before the anger and bitterness of growing old lays bare my lack of faith to my children.

4. Even though here in the West we like to indulge the sociologists among us with their dopey excuse making when it comes to violence and mischief-making by the underclass, I have always believed that this was simply an indulgence that could only thrive in times of relative peace. Surely if hoodlums actually went wild in the inner cities and started pillaging entire cities the grownups would wake up and impose order out of the chaos. But the past three days has seen bands of hooded punks literally burning down the great city of London and the ruling elites of that once great country have spent three days debating whether to deploy the “water-canon” to restore order, debating whether it was moral to fire rubber bullets at the mob. Politician after politician has risen up in Parliament to blame “budget cuts “ for the mayhem while the rest of England has watched gleeful teenagers balancing big screen TV’s on their shoulders stolen from burning stores with no police in sight. Have we actually come to the place where we lack even enough confidence to defend society from lawlessness?? Apparently so.