Friday, January 30, 2009

The Dad-o-saurus

I've been astounded by the number of comments on my last throw-away post, which simply told you it was my birthday. So I'm somewhat embarrassed to add anything else, lest it appear I'm simply milking this -- but this is just too precious not to share.

Yesterday I received a belated birthday card from my two-year-old granddaughter (maybe her parents helped with the postage). Anyway, she apparently had some difficulty finding a card specifically for a 57th birthday, so she did the sensible thing and taped together two cards -- one for a 50th birthday and the other for a seventh birthday. (I suppose that was cheaper and more expedient that sending five ten-year-old cards plus change.)

So, to wrap up my rambling preamble, here's what I found in the envelope:

An amazing little math whiz that Abby is.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Big News

Last year on this date I reported a major event that has somehow escaped the notice of news outlets. I can't imagine any editor not considering it newsworthy, so apparently all of them just failed to check my blog. But now, given my vastly expanded readership, I figure amongst you there's sure to be a member of the media who'll recognize the significance of this date in history.

So here's the latest update: Today I'm three times nineteen.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Six Days of Creation

Barack Obama has now been the President for six days. In the course of those six days he's issued about as many executive orders. Initially, I thought: "This flurry of edicts from an executive branch is totally unprecedented!" But then it struck me, "There's nothing new about this." Our chief executive is simply un-doing what's been done before.

Genesis 1:1-2:2 In the beginning Obama elated the heathens of the earth.
v2 And the voters were without thought -- androids. And darkness was upon the faces of the creeps. And the Spirit of Obama moved upon those faces unbothered.
v3 And Obama said, Let there be no Gitmo: but there was still Gitmo.
v4 And Obama saw Gitmo, that it was bad: so Obama provided the habeas and the corpus.
v5 And Obama called up Gitmo Bay, and habeas corpus he called a right. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
v6 And Obama said, "Let there be a two-billion-dollar commitment to funding abortions, and let us cut the babies from their mothers' wombs."
v7 And Obama made the commitment, and cut the babies who were unborn from the mothers who were unable to pay: and it was so.
v8 And Obama called the commitment good. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
v9 And Obama said, "Let all embryos in freezers be gathered together unto one place, and let the stem cells appear." And it was so.
v10 And Obama called the stem cells of worth; but gathering together of the embryos he called debris: and Obama said that it was good.
v11 And Obama said, "Let the stem cells bring forth cures, let us clone every breed, and let each breed yield a breed of another kind (whose seed is unlike itself) upon the earth." And it was so.
v12 And embryonic stem cells brought forth no cures, and clones yielded flawed seed after their kind, and the breeds yielded freaks whose seed was unlike itself, but another kind: and Obama said that it was good.
v13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.
v14 And Obama said, "Let there be no tribunals at Gitmo or CSRT hearings to divide the good from the evil; and let all be released for a season: for days, and years:
v15 And let the detainees at Gitmo be sent packing to set fire to the earth." And it was so.
v16 And Obama created two great rights; the greater right to sue all day, and the lesser right to skulk at night: he freed illegals also.
v17 And Obama set them free under heaven to wreak havoc upon the earth,
v18 And to terrorize by day and by night, and to claim the rights won by our soldiers: and Obama said that it was good.
v19 And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
v20 And Obama said, "Let the illegals breed abundantly in U.S. hospitals at taxpayer expense, and drop anchor babies along the border in violation of law."
v21 And Obama created great waves of immigrants who move, which the border brought forth abundantly after their kind, and every drug-runner after his kind: and Obama said that it was good.
v22 And Obama blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the border from sea to sea, and let drug trafficking multiply in the land."
v23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
v24 And Obama said, Let the perverts be allowed to marry according to their tastes: with cattle, and creeping things, with beast of the earth -- each according his druthers: and it was so.
v25 And Obama blessed the deviants of the earth to pork as they please, with cattle of every kind, with every thing that creepeth upon the earth -- according his druthers: and Obama said that it was good.
v26 And Obama said, "Let us re-make man in my image, after my likeness: and let the fish of the sea have precedence over them, and the fowl of the air be over them, and the cattle be over them, and all the earth over them, and let every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth be over mankind."
v27 So Obama re-created man in his own image, in the image of Obama created he them; male with male created he them.
v28 And Obama blessed them, and Obama said unto them, "Be fruitless and divide, and foul the earth, and be subdued by it: and be less valuable than the fish of the sea, and the fowl of the air, and every living thing that moveth upon the earth."
v29 And Obama said, "Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; of veggies you shall eat, but no meat.
v30 And eat no beast of the earth, and no fowl of the air, and nothing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life. I have given every green herb, but no meat." And it was so.
v31 And Obama saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it seemed very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
2:1 Thus the heathens of the earth are famished, all the host of them.
v2 So on the seventh day will Obama praise his edicts which he has made; but he will not rest on the seventh day from all his work which he has just begun.

Friday, January 23, 2009

On Buying a New Vehicle

Joyce asked me to send some new-car-buying advice to a friend. After Joyce had looked it over, she said, "You ought to post this on your blog." (And since, as you know, I always do what my wife says ... )

There are two things to remember when you buy a new car:
  1. You're buying a commodity. (All new cars of a given make and model are essentially the same, so a car in the showroom of one dealer is no more valuable than that in another showroom. In fact, if you order a car that a dealer doesn't happen to have in stock, he will simply get it from a nearby dealer who does have it. So the car you love on one dealer's lot may very well be the exact same one you'd get if you asked another dealer to quote you a price on a similar car. So in a sense you're shopping for a dealership who will sell you the car you want, not for the car itself.)
  2. Dealers get manufacturer incentives for meeting sales goals: either as a discount on the price they pay for the cars they receive from the manufacturer, or as a cash bonus for meeting sales goals. (You, as a buyer, have no way of knowing what a particular dealer's targets are, or which dealer is within one or two cars of earning his dealer incentive. So the best way to find a dealer who desperately wants to sell you a car is to get quotes from several the dealers in the area.)

Given these facts, you should never walk into a dealership and make an offer on a car. Of course, it's smart to wander dealers' lots to figure out what car you like best, but never negotiate with the salesman and never ever make an offer. No matter how low an offer you make, whenever you make an offer, you commit yourself to paying no less than that for the car. But it may just be that the dealer would be willing to go lower than that if this sale makes the difference between meeting or not meeting his sales goals for the quarter. Beside, you will never get the best deal from a salesman who doesn't have the authority to quote a price lower than what the sales manager has preset and who's only objective is to get the most for the cars on the lot.

So it's best to cast a wide net. The best way to do that is to email all the dealerships in your area and ask each one to provide you a price quote. Be sure your letter states precisely what the dealer is quoting a price for: including any warrantees or maintenance contracts. Of course, to be effective, your email has to be targeted to someone who has the authority to negotiate a price, so you have to call each dealership and get the name and email address of the sales manager. You can get the "invoice" prices (what the dealer pays for cars) from Edmunds. Here's a sample letter we used in contacting Toyota dealers in the DFW area.

Yyyy Xxxx
Sales Manager, Zzzz Toyota

RE: Buying a 2008 Toyota Tacoma

Dear Mr Xxxx:

I will be buying a 2008 Toyota Tacoma this week and I'd like a price quote from Zzzz Toyota.

I'm asking for prices from a limited number dealerships and expect to get replies from a few of them. I won't be wasting your valuable time with back-and-forth negotiations, so please respond with your best offer. I promise to inform all respondents of the best proposal.

I realize that competitive bidding is not your preferred way of doing business, but it is mine. And I will buy a car from the lowest bidder in the next few days, so I do urge you to participate. If you choose to participate, your quote should state two figures:
Price of the Truck; and
Our out-the-door cost (including tax, title, license and any other fixed costs, minus any incentives/rebates).

My ideal is a Toyota Tacoma 2WD PreRunner Access Cab 4-Cyl 5 Speed Manual ("super white," "silver streak mica," and "radiant red") would be equipped as follows (though I will consider buying a similar configuration):

-------------------------------     -------   -------
2WD PreRunner 4-Cylr 5sp Manual     $16,953   $18,480
Carpet Mat Set                         $199      $199
GL Tailgate Lock                        $52       $69
Destination charge                     $685      $685
TOTALS                              $17,889   $19,433

I realize that your invoice will include a necessary charge for Toyota's regional dealer advertising association and your legitimate holdback (three percent of total MSRP, minus destination charge). But I also know that manufacturer incentives include rewards for meeting sales and (occasionally) customer satisfaction index targets. Your offering me attractive pricing will let me help you meet your goals.

You can contact me by phone or email:
Cell Phone (xxx)xxx-xxxx

Thank you for considering my request,

But beware, to thwart your effort to get through to someone who has the authority to set a sales price, dealerships may redefine "sales manager". Be sure to ask for the "New Car Sales Manager", or the "Fleet Sales Manager", not just "a sales manager". Nowadays, some dealerships also have "Internet Sales" departments. My experience in buying James's truck was that we got the best price quote from an "Internet Sales Manager". In any case, the objective is to get the names and email addresses of people who actually have the authority to set a sales price, not just some car salesman.

Some dealerships may not want to play this game. A lot of sales managers are old car salesmen themselves, and they see their job as getting the most they can out of each customer. (Personally, I think such guys are more into dominance than sales, but exploring the twisted psychology of salesmen a whole different subject.) It's okay that some dealers won't play. You'll probably get quotes from most of the dealers you email, but the prices will range from somewhere near the sticker price (from those who don't want to play), down to near the dealer invoice price (from those who are serious). You should view your asking several dealers for quotations as a service you're offering to those dealers who most desperately need to make a sale. You're offering the sales manager a simple take-it-or-leave-it way to make a sure sale. If a dealership doesn't need to make that sale in order to get a manufacturer incentive, then it's probably best for him not play your game -- and that's okay.

When you call each dealer back to report the results of the quotations you've received, call them in the order of their quoted prices, from the highest quote to the lowest. You should inform each sales manager what the lowest quoted price was and then then pause to see if he has anything to say. If he says, "We can match that," then your response is: "Well, then you probably should have given me that price before another dealer did." If he says, "We can beat that," then say, "Okay, but I haven't called the dealer who gave me the lowest quote yet. It's only fair that I offer him the same courtesy of beating your price, so give me your absolute lowest price. This is the final price quote I'll accept from you." If he offers a lower price, that is then the lowest bid that you report to the remaining dealers.

One last thing, never talk about financing until you've settled on a price. If you're paying cash, don't tell the dealer.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Plumber's Helper

Joyce: I really appreciate your replacing the wax ring. You know, butt crack really turns me on.

Bob: You're welc... Aw crap!

Joyce: What's wrong?

Bob: I just dropped a hold-down bolt down the sewer. It's down there too far to reach.

Joyce: Can you fish it out with a magnet?

Bob: No, it's made out of brass.

Joyce: Could you use your wetback?

Bob: What? Well, I suppose if I had a wetback with long skinny arms, he might be able to reach it.

Joyce: No, not a wetback ... your Wet Vac!

Bob: Oh, the ShopVac! Great idea!

Joyce: See, I'm good for something. I don't know the names of your tools, but I know what they're for.

Bob: Yeah, you're very good.

Friday, January 16, 2009

On Being Special

It was cold this morning. (Well okay, it was cold for Texas. For Minnesota it was balmy.) Anyway, it got all the way down to 23 degrees Fahrenheit so Joyce insisted I dress warmly. I put on an extra layer of underwear, a long-sleeved dress shirt, my company-issued-safety-award jacket, a stocking cap with "Aggies" embroidered on it, my black cowboy boots, and a green left glove. At some time there was a corresponding green right glove, but that mitt has long since wandered off. Still, if you think about it, one glove is really all one needs. It insulates the left hand that grips the cold steering wheel, it covers the left hand that holds the computer case while the right hand slips neatly into the right jacket pocket... Honestly, I can't imagine why anyone would actually need the extravagance of a right glove.

So anyway, I went to the train station this morning, looking all dapper in my safety award jacket, blue jeans (dress-down day, you know), scuffed cowboy boots, stocking cap and left glove. I felt a little like Michael Jackson -- owing to my single glove (not my crotch-grabbing) -- so I gave some thought to moon-walking my way from the parking lot to the train. (There are lots of things I "think about" in my own way.) I boarded the coach, popped open my laptop and was immediately lost in study. Suddenly American Airlines Center was rolling past the window. So I hastily shut down, stuffed the laptop back into its bag and prepared to disembark -- which means getting ready to silently recite the train's automated words of advice: "Now arriving Union Station -- this is the end of the line -- please exit the train."

The mantra began as usual: "Now arriving Union Station ..." But then there was a pause, and instead of the train counseling me to exit, it began looping words of affirmation: "This ... is a special train. {long pause} This ... is a special train. {long pause} This ... is a special train". As I stepped onto the platform, I remarked to the guy next to me, "The train seems to have some sort of adequacy issues."

He laughed, "Yeah, 'I ... am a special train -- and doggone it, people like me.'"

Sunday, January 11, 2009

On Being An Illustration

This morning I taught Sunday school. Before we left the house (as is my usual custom) I shared my lesson notes with Joyce. I figure that's only fair since I tend to illustrate the Bible lesson with things that Joyce and I talk about -- so giving her an advanced copy of the notes is kind of like reading her a Miranda warning: Everything you've said has been used against you as a lesson illustration.

So anyway, after Sunday school we were in church waiting for the sermon. Unlike Catholics, we Evangelicals don't believe in Purgatory -- we believe in interminable announcements and "worship" services (i.e., painful music with heretical words and worse instrumentation). A guy who was about to sing for the offertory was spending an inordinate amount of time introducing his song, preaching his little sermonette about how we are members of one body and each of us plays a different part: "Not everyone is and eye, not everyone is a mouth, not everyone is a hand ..." As he droned on, I leaned over and whispered to Joyce, "... yeah, but the Body of Christ doesn't seem to have any shortage of assholes."

Joyce smiled back and asked, "Didn't you hear anything in Sunday school?" Then she proceeded to pull out out my lesson notes and pointed to Colossians 3:8 -- "But now also, put aside anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive speech from your mouth. So, what do you suppose this word 'slander' means?" my bride inquired.

I, of course, immediately pointed to Colossians 3:18 -- "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord."

Not to be outdone, she move my finger to the next verse -- "Husbands, love your wives, and do not be embittered against them."

So I guess the point of this story is simply this: If there's anything worse than being a lesson illustration, it's having your wife point it out.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Granddad Report

Our granddaughter was born on January 10, 2007 -- which makes her ... (lemme see -- 2009 minus 2007) TWO WHOLE YEARS old.

Today our daughter-in-law reported: "Yesterday she counted to ten! She's sooo proud of herself! She will also tell you that tomorrow is her 'birt-day,' and that she will be 'TUUUU!' and she wants 'pup-cakes'!"

Sheer genius, that girl.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Let's Be Plain -- It's Anti-Semitism

It's an amazing thing. For years Israel has been under daily indiscriminate rocket bombardment from Hamas (during 2008 alone an estimated 3000 rockets were launched from Gaza) yet the world's news agencies had nothing to report. But ever since the moment Israel struck back, it's been wall-to-wall coverage of the "crisis" in Gaza (well, that ... and breaking news about Paris Hilton's latest slutty stunt). So why was Iran's proxy war against Israel so un-newsworthy right up to the moment when Israel finally acted? Why does Israel's self-defense bring all the TV news cameras into such sharp focus on the plight of the poor Palestinians? Could it be there's media bias against Israel? Surely not!

Yet (despite all this completely unbiased reporting) CNN reporter Becky Anderson feels the need to keep interrupting Benjamin Netanyahu as he tries to explain to her why Israel can't negotiate with Hamas over its stated objective to exterminate all Jews from the face of the earth.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Visiting the Cousins

Today we ate lunch with relatives from out of town: two of my sisters and a nephew named Will. It was fun visiting with everyone. Even Will seemed to enjoy listening to us old folk telling our old stories. He even laughed at this old gem:

Back in December 1989 (when our oldest son Andy was eight years old) my brother Roy (who was then in the Air Force and stationed at K.I. Sawyer AFB in Michigan's Upper Peninsula) went TDY (on temporary duty) to Carswell AFB in Fort Worth for a couple of weeks. Roy came by the house several times while down here in Texas and helped with some landscaping work I was doing. On one visit he asked, "Bobby, what would you think of my taking Andy back to Marquette with me and letting him spend Christmas with his cousins?"

I told him that sounded like a a dream come true for Andy. So when Roy finished his TDY, Andy and he headed to DFW Airport and thence flew off to the frozen north. Now Marquette, MI at Christmas is (to kid who still believes in Santa) the functional equivalent of the north pole. And that was especially true for Andy since he fits chronologically into a gap in Roy's family. You see, in 1981 just days before Andy was born, Roy and Sally lost their one-month-old son who'd been born with a heart defect. Tom was Roy and Sally's third son. They went on to have two more children who are also boys, so (as I said) Andy fits right in a very tender gap in Roy's family. And naturally, whenever we'd visit my big brother, Andy always felt right at home among his cousins -- certainly more at home among them than with his own two toddler brothers (who are five and six years younger). The poor little guy didn't have any brothers to play with, he had brothers for whom Mom had him incessantly fetching diapers.

So as I was saying, Andy flew off with Uncle Roy to Santa's 'hood and visited his dearest cousins for Christmas. On Christmas morning Uncle Roy called and reported that Andy was greatly relieved that Santa had apparently received our letter warning him that Andy would be in the neighborhood, and thus he could save himself the bother of schlepping Andy's presents all the way down to Texas. We told Roy we were pleased that Santa had come through, but weren't overly surprised. As I remember it, Roy reported that although Andy's faith in Old Saint Nick was unshakable, he was less certain of his Mom and Dad -- or at least in the efficacy of our letter informing the Jolly Elf of Andy's TDY status -- so he'd insisted on leaving a note by the tree. So I guess we'll never know if it was our letter or Andy's last minute instructions that did the trick, but (in any case) Santa delivered Andy's loot without a hitch.

Sadly, all good things must end. Upon the turning of the new year Andy was loaded back onto a plane in Marquette, successfully escorted to a DFW-bound flight at O'Hare and was back in the loving arms of his mother before the spring semester of second grade began.

Sometime shortly after Andy's return to Texas, he had occasion to ask: "Mom, if you died, what would happen to me?"

Sensing Andy's insecurity, Joyce tried to assure him: "Oh, don't worry, Daddy loves you and would take very good care of you."

But that only led to the logical next question, "But what if both you and Dad died?"

Joyce had to ponder that one, but (again wanting to reassure the tike that he'd be provided for) she quickly recovered: "Ahhhh, well in that case, we've named Uncle Roy as executor of the estate, so it would be up to him. I suppose he'd just adopt you into his family."

Without a moment's hesitation Andy pumped his little fist and exulted, "Yessss!"

As I remember it, after that Joyce and I started locking our bedroom door at night.