The Trouble With Boys: Fathers are needed

It was the cover article for Newsweek Jan 30, 2006 but I somehow stumbled on it. [Obviously, I don't subscribe to Newsweek.]

Reading it I didn't find any new educational ideas. But then by home educating, the issues they bring up aren't meaningful. I do love the following quote [I realize it belongs in my men's study blog but...]:
One of the most reliable predictors of whether a boy will succeed or fail in high school rests on a single question: does he have a man in his life to look up to? Too often, the answer is no.


Shooting Fun

I took my sons to a friend's ranch and we had a blast today: his sons and my sons helped clean up his fixer upper home while my friend and I put in some ceiling fans. We had lunch with another friend of mine 5 miles away but out in the country, they are practically next door neighbors. Afterwards we spent 1.5 hours shooting our guns. The most fun was skeet shooting: I got a clay pigeon thrower as a "ranch warming" gift and we ended up shooting 150 rounds (we did a little target shooting first to get a feel for 20 gauge gun before throwing the clay pigeons). I was surprised to see my younger son get into it. I was much worse than when I last went skeet shooting: my younger son may have done better than I today.


Origin of Truth

In Science, there is a lot of intense debate over Evolution vs I.D. and whatnot. The missing link is the origin of truth. There is, unfortunately, no scientific basis for truth. You can't force truth, since no gun nor any other man made force can guarantee that truth be truth. Sure there are lie detectors but those can only tell if one is aware of untruths or uncertainty, but all bets are off if you seriously believe a lie be it rumors or religion.

So what can be done? Not much other than peer pressure. But it can cut both ways: it can be used to out the untruths but it can also be used to suppress the truth [Korean stem cell lies were kept going for some time -- if no one cracked, who knows how long it would have lasted.] And trying to teach "ethics" without religion is meaningless: unless you have an ultimate Judge and Enforcer who can read human thoughts, no amount of ethical teachings will ensure that truth be the norm.


Abortion rights of the State

"Mandatory abortion proposed in Holland" is the next logical step in the abortion rights: if the state can give the "right" for a woman to kill her unborn baby, the state can also usurp such right and force such woman to abort her child.

If the state grants and takes away rights, then the above is par for the course: you live with what you're given while the ground rules change over time. "Rights" are whatever the State saids so and one deals with it. Gun control ensures that the sheeples won't fight back the out of control State with insurrection.

When you read the The Declaration of Independence, it paints a completely different picture (I've added the bold highlighting):
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
That's correct: the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution was put in place to make sure that the above option will always be available to the American citizen. The right to institute new Government, when the present one fails to maintain the unalienable rights. Unfortunately, too many Americans no longer believe in any unalienable rights let alone the Creator of such rights. [Some even believe that 2nd amendment should be repealed! Only those who believe in the almighty State (or employed by or retired from the State) would assume such a thing.]


Gun Patent

In my gun study, I found about the following U.S. Patent: "Fire selector system for selecting between automatic and semi-automatic operation of a gun." Isn't internet great?


Unschooling by CNN

CNN ran a segment on unschooling: No school, no books, no teacher's dirty looks. As with most articles, they get it all wrong: they fail to go over the real philosophy of and results of unschooling. (Holt isn't the only educational writer around.)

CNN has a thing or two to learn about what real education is about, I guess....


Move On

I've briefly mentioned here and there about our move to SoCal this Summer but here are some reasons:
  1. Our oldest son turned 13 and the fact is he will be legally free to be on his own in 5 years. Our 2 sons have never lived with their relatives nearby, so they don't have any bond with them. Most of their relatives are in Japan (their one and only cousin lives there). But my parents and my sister are in SoCal! We've tried to get my parents to move out to Central Texas but they don't like the weather: too hot in the summer (6+ months of it) and too cold in the winter (2-3 months -- which leaves about 1 month worth of nice weather (grin)). They just love the year around spring weather.

    So, if you can't beat them, join them. And join them we will.

  2. My parents are old and my mother is not in good health: she had breast cancer 20 years ago, stroke 2 years ago (which she's recovered from very well but not 100%), and her immediate family has mostly passed away (that is, her oldest sister and her 5 brothers and her parents -- so, her 2nd oldest sister and a younger sister are all who are left). So we want to be near her to help out as needed. I also want to have my sons see that I'm taking care of my parents ["monkey see, monkey do"].

    My father, on the other hand, is fine: his mother and sister are still healthy, and his aunt will hit 100 this year!

  3. In our will, my sister will become the guardian of our sons, so by living nearby now, in case something happens to us, that bond and relationship will be already established. Currently, our sons relationship with her is not much more than with Santa Claus (someone who sends them gifts on birthdays and Christmas). [OK, it is more than mere gift getting but you, my dear readers, know what I'm getting at.]
The above are our organized thoughts now but it started off with our home not selling all last year (since Mar'05). We thought we priced our home well and we did get a lot of showings but no offer until Sep'05 and then after a lot of song and dance, our buyer's option was about to expire but the HOA rules caused him to cancel and back out at the last minute. We tried to get a wavier but HOA turned us down. We were disappointed and didn't know what to do (we took our home off the MLS (multiple listing service -- the real estate database which anyone can get to via the internet), but we left the realtor sign out still on our yard). In my wife's quiet time, a day or two later, she got a vision to be open to the possibility of moving to L.A. So, I had no problem agreeing to it -- since I grew up there, I don't have a problem other than the cost of housing, but my wife was always negative about living there -- and we took off the "Sales Pending" sign the next day from our realtor's yard sign. That night, we got a call from our realtor from someone who wanted to buy our home! That buyer has a relative in our neighborhood and drove by and noticed the missing Sales pending sign. We had our ups and downs between then and our closing, but we did end up getting a release from our Death Pledge (mortgage) and are now debt free!

We ended up renting a home we almost bought (we were about to make an offer without selling our home but, fortunately, the current owner beat us to it). For the price, we think it's a great home but now that our heart is set on moving to L.A., it's only temporary situation. [My wife loves the greenbelt behind the backyard -- from our master bedroom we have a beautiful view of the field with a creek running through it and the trees on the other side of the greenbelt (we don't have trees on our side, so we have an unobstructed view). Too bad such a home would be waaaaay beyond our price range in SoCal.]

One other thing: this move to L.A. has motivated me to seriously buy guns (3 so far and I'm planning to buy at least 2 more) and get trained, etc. I'm even thinking about bullet proofing cars and house windows (maybe not real bullet proofing since the cost benefit ratio isn't there for me, but I have seen on a Japanese TV program on anti-theft technologies which introduced glue-on/wipe-on plastic sheets for windows to discourage break ins which may give added protections). There were news of random shootings on the highways where motorists were injured and killed as well as drive shootings at homes so it's not something I take lightly.


ADVISE: we're being watched even harder

"US plans massive data sweap" was pointed out by Equus Pallidus. I guess they are trying to one up the Echelon program. Sigh.


How not to become a millionaire with real estate

For those who have read "The Millionaire Next Door," you'll remember that very few people become millionaires because of real estate. Most millionaires budget and save (live below one's means), have little or no debt, buy always used, and invest either in their own business or in stocks. [We bought a new home and a new car so far in our marriage, so we already have two strikes!]

David Bach has an article titled: “Why Homeowners Get Rich and Renters Stay Poor” which touts getting into debt in any which way you can just own a home. How crazy can one get? Debt doesn't make you wealthy: OK, it may make feel wealthier because you spend now and pay later. But by signing the death pledge (mortgage), you turn into a slave to the banker. Why? Because if you miss your payment, guess you gets evicted? You, the supposed "owner."

I like how SoCalMtgGuy tears Bach's article in "My REBUTTAL to “the Automatic Millionaire”" but I want to point out other problems with Mr. Bach:

  1. tax rates almost always go UP! If the home value goes up, so does the taxes. Not all states have Calif’s Prop. 13. It can even go the other way: Here in Austin, TX, we had our rates jacked up just to make up for lower appraisals right after the dotcom bust. Property tax can increase even if your home values go down. What a deal: More fed income tax deduction on your way for home owners! [Note I’m being sarcastic here: you’ll end up paying more local taxes.]

  2. Down side to capital gains exclusion of primary residence is that losses cannot be deducted. There is a 250K cap on gains but no limit to the losses: all losses are eaten by the homeowner. I’m no CPA but here’s my understanding: if after living 2+ years in a home and I sell, say, in Jan for a profit of 300K, I only have to pay taxes on 50K (about 7K). However, if I buy another home in Jan, and then sell in Dec for 300K loss, I still end up with tax due of 7K (rather than 0) — since I can’t wipe out my earlier profit from the year since losses are on me:

    [I’d love to hear a CPA correct me on this.]

    How come my realtor never told me about this tax bomb!

  3. If you have HOA (homeowners Association), chances are good that its fees will go up at least once or twice over the 30 years.

  4. And when has hazard insurance not gone up yearly?

  5. Plus all the normal maintenance as well as the deductibles you’ll have to pay for any insurance covered repairs. And don’t think that new homes are exempt: we bought a new home and our AC broke down at least twice in less than 3 years: the first time (or two) was covered under warranty by the builder but the last time it broke, we had to pay for the labor (since parts were still covered).

  6. Also, if you have to sell, it takes more than just hiring a realtor to sell the home. You need to prep the house, remodel anything more than 10 years old, update all maintenance (painting and flooring), put in new plants. And then you'll have to pay anywhere from 6% to 10% in commissions and closing costs. Your million dollar home will cost you $100K to sell!

    If you rent that home, it's even worse: renters in general trash a home more than owners. We've looked at many homes to buy in Austin (while trying to sell our home) before we choose to rent and all rentals needed significant more work (money) to make it move in ready. We even lowballed such a place but the owner refused on what I thought was over inflated offer (my realtor and my wife thought I was too cheap). Anyway, few weeks later, the owner came back to renegotiate but by then we've decided to not buy any more in Austin! Last time I check the MLS, it was reduced to our lowball offer.
So there are a lot of negatives to consider before you buy a home. There is no such thing as easy road to riches: spend less and invest wisely and stay out of debt. Pretty simple ideas yet pretty hard to live it!

Housing Humor

I found the following blog "There is no housing bubble" very funny. Check it out!


Homeowners are BORING!

A poster, TXchick57, at thehousingbubble pointed out "Early Retirement: where to live?" The comment about renters vs owners made me laugh:
If you can rent anything decent, try to avoid buying property. Think about the most interesting people you know. Chances are, most of them are renters. People who rent talk about the books that they've read, the trips that they've taken, the skills that they are learning, the friends whose company they are enjoying. Property owners complain about the local politicians, the high rate of property tax, the difficulty of finding competent tradespeople, the high value of their own (very likely crummy) house or condo, and what kinds of furniture and kitchen appliances they are contemplating buying. Property owners are boring. The most boring parts of a property owner's personality is that which relates to his or her ownership of real estate.


Public school gone crazy: flashing sugar = felony?

"Boy charged with felony for carrying sugar" -- granted, he had powdered sugar and joked that they were cocaine. But still, how crazy can you get? You can be arrested for joking about sugar being cocaine? Zero tolerance gone too far.

Almost as bad as getting kicked out of kindergarten for turning fingers into fake guns.

What is the message of schools? Goofing off is evil? Has public school turned into mental prison?

Survival of the fittest on the road

"Van crashes during border patrol chase" is about people bring in illegals into the U.S. where the drivers drive crazy: high speed, wrong way with head lights off to avoid the Border Patrol.

My concern isn't for the illegals (the harder it is to come in, the better since I think it's a good idea to welcome hardy, willing to work immigrants, legal or otherwise) or even their smugglers. It's the auto safety issue: you can't control other drivers, no matter how careful you drive. So how do you survive the Road?

I always find DOT's National Center for Statistics and Analysis reports on crash data very fascinating. Bigger isn't always better but bigger is better than smallest. Also, just recently I saw local TV news where a Suburban was upside down after being hit by a small car (I also thought I saw another one where a pickup was upside down but I couldn't find the story -- or the story I remember didn't show an upside down pickup... hmm, maybe my memory is failing me).

Still, pure physics tells me that more space between me and the other vehicle is a good thing and the only thing that can guarantee that space is for me to drive a bigger car. How I drive that bigger vehicle seems to make the difference between an out of control vehicle or not. Like all things in life, practice makes permanent.


New gun

Yes, I'm on a roll and now I got a Winchester 1300 shotgun 20 gauge. We also rented a 9 mm pistol (now I don't remember which one but I'm pretty sure it was H&K) to see how my oldest son could handle one. Kind of wild shooting but then I can't say I'm much better. I think I need to just buy one and practice for a long time....


Zillow: new way to track real estate

If you haven't seen Zillow, click and try. Check your neighborhood and then check all your friends and relatives! Very educational.


Happy 100th Bonhoeffer!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer would have turned 100 on Feb 4, 2006.

His biography is moving but his words are even more convicting. His book "The Cost of Discipleship" is to me one of the classic books on or of Christianity. It is not apologetics nor a devotional book. But distills the essence of Christianity.

And unlike those who merely preaches, he took action: he could have hidden out in the US during Hitler's rule, but went back to Germany to fight the Nazis. He also helped Jews escape Germany. And he took his own life in his hands when he joined the plot to assassinate Hitler and was caught and then hung on April 9, 1945.
This is the end - but for me, the beginning of life.
-- Bonhoeffer

World Education unstandard

Key Words pointed out "We All Have A lot to Learn" and I like the direction of the article but it misses the mark a bit:
There are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well—like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority.
America was FOUNDED on challenging the authority -- at least challenging King George. Why do you think we have the 2nd amendment? [In case it's not obvious: it was so that we, the citizens, can knock down tyranny and those who get in the way of freedom, including the police and the military. As a naturalized US citizen, I swore to "support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic" and note the "domestic" part: the government can go astray, too!]

Getting back to what makes America unique, the key is not in the spirit of challenging authority but in freedom: being free means that any unwarranted slavery is unwelcomed and actively resisted. Being free means being debt free and free from any artificial dependency: self reliance and independence allow one to be free.

Even the Bible is clear about freedom:
Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord's freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.
-- 1 Corinthians 7:21-23
Obviously, no man is an island and even Robinson Crusoe had Friday's help. Hence, freedom is not ability to do whatever you want (which would reduce to pure chaos), but living within the boundary based on clear, external (transcendent, if you will) rules that binds all (i.e., no one is exempt). Human slavery is when one person has an arbitrary say over another another person: slavery is impossible if both persons are of equal "standings" and this can only take place when there are transcendent rules and a transcendent rule enforcer.

Anyway, by starting with freedom, one can have the confidence to challenge the status quo: one is free to try something new and also free to fail. In an authoritarian society, failure is feared (very much so in Asian society) and avoided at almost all costs. Yet failure is important part of both freedom and learning experience (i.e., education). Without failure, one does not learn what NOT to do next time. But it doesn't end there. Thanks to Christianity, there is also another important part of freedom: forgiveness, the chance to start over. In America, after a failure, once can recover and start anew: in a non-Christian society, failure is a black mark that can never be wiped out for generations to come.

[I don't have the time to complete my thoughts, maybe tonight.]


Dooming of Realty

If you read some of the real estate pessimist sites, you'll get a strong sense of doom and gloom. But I believe a perfect storm is taking place:
  1. housing is bust, equity disappears. With resetting ARM's, people will foreclose or dump their homes.
  2. mortgage related biz are hit already but probably will continue to get hit: banks, S&L, etc. with nonperforming loans. Secondary mortgage market will go bust too (like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac).
  3. builders will go bust: buyers thin out and those who want to buy will have harder time getting loans.
  4. city, county and state finances will be hit hard: non payment of taxes and then lower valuations. [builders and homeowners alike]
  5. unfunded pension will grow dire, hitting the retires of both private cos and government. [bad mortgage based securities, dead REITs, governments can't pay into their pension funds due to #4] Also new rule GASB Statement 45 will require governments to be more transparent about pension requirements and this may kill a lot of bond ratings starting this year.
  6. foreign investors will call in their loans or dump the dollars and effectively kill most trades.
So the cry will call out: save us, Mr government! Since the 9/11 government handouts and even more widespread handouts with Katrina, it won't be a stretch for people to ask relief from all this mess from the government again. And guess where the money will come from? Us taxpayers. Sigh.

[update 2/7: cities and counties -- like Orange County did in 1994 -- can go bankrupt so that can really crimp the economy.]
[update 2/13: see this article "SD borrows $100 Million to Infuse Underfunded Pension System" for an example]


Drowning in hospitals

"More Americans Struggling with Medical Debt" points out how many people are more and more in debt with medical bills. Insurance is one thing that is hard to get, even with services such as ehealthinsurance. I used them to get insurance but they are picky: we have some medical conditions (like high cholesterol count) so they have raised our premium by 20%. Sigh.


Schooling craziness

"Overnight camp to enroll in top school" points out parents who waited hours to get in line to get their children into kindergarten! What in the world? For a public school?

When you pay over US$8,0o00 per year in property taxes, I guess I would want a chance at the better school in town. But then again, what school could best the home?

Leveraged purchases: why death pledge is bad

I started to write the following as a comment to housingbubblecasualty.com blog but I decided to blog about it, instead.

The problem in America today is that we've been conditioned to think that owning home = good citizen, renters = bad [fill in the blank].

After owning a home and losing $50K on it, I'm able to take a step back and be less jaded about owning another home again. Buying a home with a loan is like any leveraged purchase: you can make a lot of money if you profit, but you can also lose a lot of money if you have a loss. I've made some money and lost some using leverage (both with stocks and the 2 homes we've owned). Was it educational, yes. Would I do it again? The more I think about it, the less I'm likely to say yes.

To put it simply: for me, pure cash seems to be the right answer for even when buying a house. If paying cash for cars and day to day items are "a good thing" -- as people like Dave Ramsey would tout, why should we treat home purchases any differently? People don't go around saying you should max out your credit cards to buy stocks or maximize your margin account and buy as much as you can anymore (unlike the late 90's). So, why are we so conditioned to take exception to mortgage? In fact, we even have a different vocabulary just for home loans: mortgage (made from two words: death "mortuus" and pledge "gage").

Solomon gets it to the point:
The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender. Prov 22:7
He didn't say "servant only for non-mortgage debt" nor "servant as long as it's not one of those 'good debt'" -- who are we kidding? Debt makes us obligated to pay back and the pressure is on day and night to pay it all back (and then some, since there's also interest to pay).


First Gun

I've purchased my first gun (Ruger 10/22 rifle), today. Actually it was for my son's 13th birthday. We spent this evening taking it apart (not every single piece but enough to clean the basic shooting area). We plan on shooting tomorrow!