About now, I'm craving the smell of freshly cut grass and the feeling of warm sun on bare feet. How about you?

So, in the interim, check out this Flickr group, called, of all things, Modern Landscaping.

And yes, I'd pretty much KILL for one of those Eichler houses. Like, way.

Grabbed from one of my favorite places, Grassroots Modern.

One further economic thought:

Further to my thoughts about economic recovery, here is a thought about the housing mess. While there are many facets to the problem, and therefore several solutions will need to be addressed, I think this a good solution for a portion of the problem.

In short, there are huge numbers of people who are living in their houses, and who want to continue to live in their houses, but are experiencing a set of similar circumstances. They are under water, i.e. the home is worth less than the value of the mortgage attached to it, they are in a subprime, adjustable loan, they have the ability to prove their income, but don't have enough savings to pay the difference between their mortgage and the new value of their home, and are therefore locked into a bad mortgage situation.

Therefore I humbly submit: for deserving borrowers (they live in the house, seek to REMAIN in the house), have them qualify (prove income documentation) for a fixed rate, 40-50 year amortized loan at a rate they can afford, and modify the note, or originate a new one. Participation in the program would have to require a period of time where the borrower would be required to stay in the home after the note is modified.

This program would be sponsored by Fannie/Freddie, and would therefore be considered to be "Agency Paper." Which would allow the instruments (which now will PERFORM at a much higher rate - typical to standard A-Paper loans) to be sold on the standard secondary markets where Fannie and Freddie live, and lenders would be open to modifying or originating a lot of these types of loans. Essentially any market in the country that has had an active residential construction market over the last 7-10 years will have a multitude of these types of borrowers.

There are also undeserving borrowers in this situation. They will not, and should not, be helped out of the mess they made for themselves. They bought the house on a nasty interest-only, or negative amortization loan, with only one goal: speculation. They possibly have more than one home in this situation, or at least have a credit history that shows this type of activity. During the process of discovery, there will become apparent several nefarious activities, and they should be prosecuted as well - these include mortgage fraud (by both/either the borrower and the mortgage originator), appraisal fraud, realtor fraud, builder fraud (like mortgage kickbacks), etc.

Those people will, and should, be held 100% responsible for their actions.


Economic Recovery 101: a layman's view

I consider myself to have a somewhat firm understanding of general economic principles. I'm no economist, but I understand how credit greases the skids of the general economy, and how it affects us all. From my point of view, there are a few very simple, though big and far-reaching, things that we must see in order to bring the economy out of its nose dive:

1. Far reaching and permanent tax relief for both businesses and consumers. Payroll taxes are extreme. They've had to be that in order to support a continually growing and bloated government bureaucracy. Payroll and business taxes need to be reduced permanently. This will help businesses, "producers," and individuals, "consumers." More money for both will help both in the short term and the long.

2. Far reaching and permanent cuts in useless government spending, pork legislation, and useless, nonperforming programs and departments. This is needed to offset the tax relief. Finding places to cut should not be hard, but it will require equal measures of balls and political capital expenditure. I believe the incoming administration has a mandate for both.

3. Restoration of business and consumer access to new bank credit under favorable terms. This is the biggie. It requires that banks be compelled to lend the money they have already been given, which they are not doing. It requires that consumers and businesses be compelled to borrow ethically and responsibly, which they have not been doing. There should be no 100% financing of ANYTHING anymore, as that model has proven disastrous. The banking system was used as a no-doc hard money lender where the only required attributes for getting a loan approval were a credit score and the ability to put fog on a mirror. This cannot happen again. Bank money must go to deserving businesses and consumers who have skin in the game. The SBA is not a venture capital firm, there are plenty of those in the speculative market. Bank money should be used to create performing assets with proven documentation.

One could easily say that the packaging of home loans into Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS), as happened in the past few years, was the impetus from which all these other problems have sprung. But careful consideration reveals that the real problem was irresponsible lending criteria put in place for irresponsible individuals to get loans who otherwise should not have been qualified to own a cardboard box, let alone a house. Banks originated these loans with seeming impunity because they had already entered into forward commitments to sell MBS packages made up of vast numbers of these loans to other investors, thereby alleviating themselves of the long term accountability of the pool's actual performance - it was somebody else's problem, the bank made the short term profit. We all know what happened to the buyers of those pools - they generally no longer exist, or at least you and I, through government intervention, are the major stockholders now.

These vast pools were sliced and diced, in an effort to minimize the risk, but it was a giant ponzi scheme, and it came crumbling down as we all know now. The effects reached farther than anyone could have imagined. And banks stopped lending money to ANYONE for a long time.

To thaw that market now will require that the government step in to provide capital to the markets, as they did on Dec 30th, putting money back into the hands of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Much more needs to be done now. But it's a start. Freddie and Fannie now have an outlet to sell well-performing asset pools, giving them cash to buy more of the same from banks and lenders across the country in the future. This needs to continue. The same type of intervention will also be required in markets that are not collateralized by real estate.

Obviously, lenders are requiring more documentation from their borrowers, that aspect of the problem has been solved by the market. There are loans to be had, money to be borrowed, and banks are generally requiring a complete and fair picture of both the borrower and the collateral now, as it should have been all along. Given time, this will help stabilize the real estate markets, long since overpriced and overbuilt. That adjustment will continue, but will hopefully become more stable this year. And some folks need to understand that "The American Dream" is not a right.

And there it is, observations on the economy from a guy who's just trying to get by out here in the crappy real world, and wondering if things will "really" change. Let's hope so.


Kids: You can't take them anywhere

Over the Christmas break we planned to take everyone to see the BodyWorlds exhibit. I promised I wouldn't point at any "swimming suit places" and giggle like a little girl.

But I forgot to extract the same promise from the children.

I have a feeling this little picture is going to end up on somebody's Facebook page.

A Bright Spot

In reading what I wrote in a stream-of-consciousness kind of thing a couple of posts ago, one could easily get the impression that I am about to simply jump off the roof. Such is not the case. There are, however, some people I'd like to THROW off the roof, but that's another post for another day.

That said, I do REALLY appreciate sunny days during the winter. That really lifts my spirits, and I took advantage yesterday by having a quick ski at Solitude. I took this pic on the way down the mountain.

So, moral of the entire story: when it's cold and gray, it's easy to get down and be very pessimistic about lots of things. So try to find the sunshine. And here's the other thing - it's great to complain about stuff - but I also need to do what I can do make things better, at least for myself and the people I come into contact with. And this world would be a lot better off if I did more of that, and if you did too.

So, do something good for somebody, even if it's just telling somebody you love them or appreciate them. And have a little hope.

I haven't started reading any blogs yet, from my hiatus, but I will judiciously choose to start that again soon, making sure it's in balance with the rest of my life.

Things retailers don't like:

So, I'm standing in the Eddie Bauer store at a local mall over the weekend. I wanted a couple of new plain T-shirts, and I like the Eddie Bauer ones.

I walk in there, and their long sleeve ones are on the top shelf. No problem, thinks I.

So I reach up and grab the right size off the pile on the top shelf. That's when the fun started. As I pulled it off the pile, the corner of it grabbed the ALUMINUM signage, which was apparently just SITTING on the shelf. Without warning, down it came, and I swear, it tried to decapitate me. I was lucky to escape with a gusher across my already prominent brow.

In addition to the humiliation of a sign falling and hitting me, the SOUND that an aluminum sign makes on the floor apparently makes the employees believe I have tried to steal something. The moron attendant came trotting over TO MAKE SURE HIS SIGN WAS OKAY.

So what did he say to me, you ask? He said, "I need to go get my ladder..."

Are you kidding me? Did you SEE WHAT YOUR SIGN DID?

Apparently they don't like it when the signage gets moved. My bad.

Dear 2009: a million-word brain dump

Dear 2009:

Do me a small favor, will ya, and turn around and give 2008 the finger on its way out. It was very unkind as it wrapped up its presence in my life.

I'm no fan of the last part of the year we call the "holiday season." It actually starts around the end of September, in a way. Like clockwork, I wake up one morning and hear the Canada geese honking their way over my house, on their way to a better place for them, and leaving me here without even an offer to take me with them. While that might sound snide, it really begins something in me that makes things more difficult to deal with.

That honking in the morning signals shorter days, (usually) a slowdown in my work, and the inevitable calculations of whether I am meeting my goals for the year, and knowing that time to meet them is running down. The weather gets cooler, life gets slower, days get shorter, and some of the things I love to do go on the shelf til the snow melts, and I get a bit more irritable with the people around me, those whom I can least afford to piss off, really. Realizing this, you would think I would be able to see it coming and make provisions for its inevitable arrival. But like the three little pigs, I don't, and it hits me on the side of the head every year without my being able to get my hockey helmet on. You would also think that being from a place that has shorter days, colder weather, and longer winters, would make me more resilient to this sort of thing - again, not so much.

Then comes Thanksgiving, a time I really do like - it's a nice reward for making it this far, and I get to have and/or cook some good food, and generally relax a bit for a few days. But then comes the day after Thanksgiving, and all the good vibes get flushed down the toilet in the wake of the shopping frenzy that hits starting then, and going through the end of the year basically without check.

You might call me one who is afflicted with some seasonal affective disorder. But I don't think that is it, really, it's not the time of year itself, or the shortening of the days, the more infrequent presence of freshly grilled meat in my life, that is the issue. What is the issue, is what this time of year brings. Or, more to the point, what it brings OUT. What it brings out in people. I'm sure you remember the story of the young fellow who was TRAMPLED TO DEATH at a Walmart on the day after Thanksgiving. Stories like this happen every year. That this one was at a Walmart, perhaps my favorite corporate nut-punch recipient, just brings it into even better focus. Stories like this turn my stomach and make me want to scream until every nerve in my body is a jangled mess. I am mostly ashamed of what our society has done to itself. And that it all happens in the spirit of the "holiday season" is even more sickening to me. There is no way to frame greed so that it takes on a palatable taste. The country, and, by extension, the entire world, is in a steep recession right now because of greed. Any way you turn it, it all comes down to greed. One only has to venture out at 5 AM on "Black Friday" to have that driven home in spades. (no pun intended.)

Several years ago, ThatOneWife and I decided to venture out at that time on that day. We went to a local electronics store to get some MP3 players for a few of the kids. As we waited in line to get in, things got pretty dicey and as more activity inside the store was apparent, the crush of people became pretty fierce. Then the yelling started, people pushing into line, and then everyone just shoving to get in as the doors were unlocked. Mrs. ThatOneGuy got pinned against the side of the door briefly, as everyone there turned into knuckle-dragging neanderthals, shoving their way into the store to get their hands on the goods - gotta get that $70 DVD player, at all costs, apparently.

People pushed and shoved, were general assholes. People picked up STACKS of the DVD players, like 5, 6, or 7 of the damn things. It was a disgusting display.

Since that time, it has only become more of a sport, that Friday shopping. And I have only become more disgusted by its practice. Add to the pile those who are more interested in the "receiving" than the "giving" and I get a pretty good headache...

Our entire way of life runs on greed. Get that credit card, get that interest only loan so you can get that bigger house, get that Hummer to put in the garage. Need a boat? Hell yes, you need a boat - THIS boat. And the greed doesn't all belong to the consumer either.

And speaking of neanderthalery, how long is the Entire World going to sit here (using our $70 DVD players) and watch Israel, Hamas, Palestine, whatever, et al, bomb the hell out of each other in the name of God, fighting over such a rotted piece of dust and broken concrete as that called Gaza? As far as I'm concerned they should put up a fence electrified with a billion volts, and instead of calling it the Holy Land, call it The Land Where Nobody Is Allowed To Live. And it's not just isolated to that place either. Similar stuff happens in places like Darfur, Rwanda, Russia, China, Iraq/Iran/Pakistan, and here too. I am alarmed at some things I read about the president we have just elected. The Magic Negro? Are you kidding me? Are you really a person that subscribes to the values of a past and uninformed CENTURY entirely? Have we not really progressed that far after all? I don't care what your political philosophy is, there isn't room for that kind of cave-man ideology.

I guess the whole point to this entire venting of my spleen is to say that I am so sickened at this time of year by the constant greed and lack of humanity, here and in other places, that one can easily lose one's faith in the entire human race. It seems we are less "divine" and in fact our more common denominator is wolf-predator. That it happens under the microscope of this time of year speaks unfortunate volumes.

So, by making it this far, you are possibly thinking what an absolute SAINT I must live with. And you would be right. She understands, and I really try to not take things out on those around me. I mostly succeed, most of the time.

Soon, things will get better, I will get a better job, and begin to finally reinvent myself, and be ready for along push that will put me in a better frame of mind.