Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Hood Internet

The Fleetwood Mac vs Daft Punk mashup song called "You Make Lovin' Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" by The Hood Internet makes me smile.

As does the unlikely Ludacris vs She & Him track, Sentimental Hearts.

The songs can be found on the free download of Hood's latest album The Mixtape Volume Three.

I'm telling you, all the best music is free.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

David Attenborough gets hate mail from Creationists

David Attenborough has apparently been receiving hate mail from Christian Creationists.

Christians everywhere should be ashamed. Christians who behave in this way are poison in the body of the Church.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Delicious bookmark resurrection #1: Imagining the Tenth Dimension

An oldie, but a goodie, is this video that attempts to explain the concept of extra dimensions. From the website
Random bonus: The Hierarchy of Beards. That's why I've given up ever trying to seriously grow a beard. If your beard doesn't look like one of those, you can't pull it off and you probably look like crap.
Update: That other video was putting dumb Google ads in the video based on my blog content. That meant it was advertising for stuff I don't want to see advertised.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama action figure, made in China

Okay the light saber stuff is pretty damn amusing.

But I really like the pic where he's just kicking it with a Famicom and some oranges.

[ cuz of Xeni@Boing Boing ]

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The squirming Economist

Two days before the election in 2000, The Economist endorsed George Bush for President. Two terms later, five days before the inauguration of President Obama, The Economist joins the rest of the media in falling all over itself to pound yet another nail in the coffin of the Bush presidency.
Mr Bush and his inner circle labelled the Democrats "Defeaticrats" whenever they were reluctant to support extending the war from Afghanistan to Iraq. They manipulated intelligence to demonstrate that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and had close relations with al-Qaeda. This not only divided a country that had been brought together by September 11th; it also undermined popular support for what Mr Bush regarded as the central theme of his presidency, the war on terror.

Sean Wilentz, a historian at Princeton, remarks how unusual it is for a president to have politicised such a national catastrophe: "No other president—Lincoln in the civil war, FDR in world war two, John F. Kennedy at critical moments of the cold war—faced with such a monumental set of military and political circumstances, failed to embrace the opposing political party to help wage a truly national struggle. But Bush shut out and even demonised the Democrats."
Before you go pointing fingers at The Economist for the flakiness of its editorial staff, perhaps you should take a closer look at yourself. Given the numbers, it is not too unlikely that the hand casting a vote for Bush in 2000 or 2004 is the same hand that cast its vote for Obama in 2008.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A second opinion on Dave Ramsey

In a recent blog post I wrote about how my company has been sponsoring Dave Ramsey personal finance classes.

In my experience, the value of the wisdom that Mr. Ramsey offers his customers is often questionable. This is not just my opinion, it is the opinion of many other people as well.

Of course, opinion of Ramsey is extremely varied. Many people seem to think that Ramsey is a the next best thing to a prophet sent by God. Others think rather the opposite of him. His approach to personal financial advice seems to have a polarizing effect on people. This apparently makes him a popular subject among bloggers.

Way back in April 2006 a fellow named Ariah Fine from Minneapolis wrote anecdotally about an episode of Ramsey's radio program. A woman called in and asked for some advice about a vehicle purchase decision over which she and her husband were deliberating.

Ariah Fine's opinion of Dave Ramsey is critical, but tamely so.

As Fine tells it, Ramsey's advice doesn't surprise me -- I've heard it before.

What does surprise me is the impressive number of comments on the post, especially considering the luke-warm tone of Fine's post. To date there have been 306 comments and still and counting three years later. The comments are widely varied, alternately digressive and tangential, and passionately written.

I had no idea that Ramsey was such a controversial figure, until I expressed my opinion of him -- that he is just another wanna-be messiah, a false prophet, and a snake-oil-salesman who sells nothing but common sense packaged with fluff, the tricks and illusions of slick marketing, and a convenient association with the Christian religion -- and was met with passionate opposition. Greg Lange notes many of the points often argued (and that I have argued) about Ramsey.

My first impression of Ramsey was that he seemed to have taken to the spotlight of motivational speaking like a true showman. He has the charisma of a new car salesman (American-made), and he consistently delivers smartly packaged morsels of enlightenment and crafted anecdotes like a professional preacher.

Ramsey is on AM talk radio every day. There he offers free financial advice to thousands who really need it. This would be commendable, and admirable, if he wasn't selling something at the same time. This air time is essentially a three hour commercial for himself and his products.

In fact, if I had to put my finger on one thing in particular that I dislike the most about Ramsey, it is his shameless self-promotion. Of course, for him this is necessary since his brand, Dave Ramsey, is all that differentiates his product from every other financial self-help product out there. The only thing Ramsey teaches is common sense principles about money management -- but because it is Dave teaching it, somehow that's worth three easy payments.

People are drawn to him. He has developed a large and ostensibly sustainable following over the years. The dramatic economic meltdown of 2008 only seems to guarantee a continued and prolonged success as new potential customers, desperate for hope and relief from financial burdens, are created every day.


Certainly he deserves his prosperity. I honestly believe that. After all, he has found something in life that he is good at, and he does it for a living. We should all be so fortunate.

Of course, he certainly wasn't cut out for his first profession -- real estate.

Ramsey started out his real estate career in the foreclosure market around 1982. He would purchase houses below market value and then resell them for a profit. Leveraging that success, he got into the rental business, and soon he owned and operated $4 million worth of property. Towards the end of the 1980's however, his multi-million dollar real estate business went bust because he couldn't pay his creditors. He filed for bankruptcy after he was given a 90 day notice to pay $1.2 million worth of short-term notes.

Experiencing the financial failure of his business that he built with foreclosure and rent profits caused Ramsey to re-evaluate his approach to finances. Ramsey soon began to give one-on-one personal financial counseling to members of his church. That worked out well for him and so he began a limited liability incorporated company called Lampo Group to provide financial counseling services in 1991.

In 1992 he wrote a book about his failures and the lessons he learned since. Between 750,000 to a million copies have been sold as of 2008. At list price of $23.95, that is around $20 million dollars of revenue. Quite an accomplishment.

Since then he has written two more books (including one titled "How to Have More than Enough" and sold at Christian book stores everywhere) and is now the face of a large and rapidly growing media powerhouse that provides multiple services and resources for financial education. What was once a modest counseling business has been transformed into a phenomenon, and Dave Ramsey himself transformed into his company's brand.


Ramsey is a professed Christian, and some of the values of his religion do shine through in his talks and material. His main message of avoiding the burden of debt and living sensibly within one's means is an ideal of many Christians.

Yet at the same time, Ramsey's stated goal is to live, and teach his readers and audience to live, in a sensible way in order to accumulate wealth and "have more than you need". Certainly, he qualifies this goal with the recommendation of stewardship and charity, but the frequency of such statements are dwarfed by promises of earning a million dollars by retirement age. While this is not a lot of money, it is enough to put dollar signs, sports cars and hot tubs in the minds of his audience, who are often in dire financial straits. He enthusiastically promises wealth and luxury for those who follow his advice, and buy his book -- and people latch onto those promises and the hope that he offers.

As if he were following the example of another popular figure who found that being a born-again Christian has the advantages of an assumption of trustworthiness by a large support base of Evangelicals, Ramsey is more than just open about his religion, he emphasizes it. Although it is impossible to determine his genuineness, Ramsey shamelessly uses his Christian faith to promote his brand (himself). Because of this, a Christian perspective from his critics is more than suitable.

The Bible has much to say about money and the pursuit of wealth. Here are some references: Matthew 6:24, Matthew 19:21, Luke 18:22, Mark 10:21, 1 Timothy 6:10, Isaiah 55:2, Exodus 22:25.

Especially on the nose is this passage from Matthew chapter 6: verses 19 and 20.

Objections to my criticism of his exploitation and advertisement of his religion are predictable. However, there are passages in the Bible about teachers being required to stand up to a higher level of scrutiny. Here are those references: James 3:1, 2 Peter 2:1.

There are also passages that speak about the emptiness of words in the absence of love. Ramsey is a showman, first and foremost. It is simply inarguable that this characteristic is his single most important asset. It seems difficult to trust a showman because with such a person it is often impossible to distinguish what is sincere from what is facade. If Ramsey preaches love, charity, and sacrifice, it is a small bullet point on his PowerPoint presentation on money management. For motivation he emphasizes not virtue or a love for God and the less fortunate, but simple financial gain.

In other words, Ramsey is a money changer in the temple.

Ramsey seems to reject the opportunity that he has to address the real root causes of the downfall of individuals and families: greed, self-absorption, envy, and a market for labor made unfair by a United States currency that represents debt, and nothing more.

Supporters of Ramsey seem to dismiss the suffering of those experiencing financial difficulties as the result of poor decisions. In other words, their perspective is, poor people have made their bed, and now they must lay in it.

Ramsey does not advocate a holistic improvement of the sociological environment in this country. Ramsey is less concerned with making a real difference by educating, shepherding, and integrating disenfranchised citizens into the exclusive culture of prosperity in the United States than he is with promoting his brand and profiting from people's desperation. The Bible is clear about this kind of thinking and teaching: 1 Corinthians 13:1.


Ramsey has publicly aligned himself against Democratic politicians such as Barack Obama and Joe Biden. In a radio segment during the election race, Dave Ramsey rants redundantly for 7 minutes about politics, calling Joe Biden a "twit", an "idiot", and a communist. This clip will surely only further endear Ramsey to some.

Ramsey should keep his politics to himself, and to his credit, he mostly has. Economically speaking, I don't really find all that much on which I disagree with Ramsey. He supports a fair tax, and a fiscally responsible government, both of which are things that I think are good ideas. But he should still leave politics alone.

Already a divisive personality, the last thing Ramsey needs is to be perceived as a right-winger. Right-wing politics have allowed this country to be led right up towards the abyss, and its leader has not hesitated. There are still people out there who will argue with me on this one, so let me briefly elaborate.

Most economic and political analysts say that the fiscal policies of President Bush has been one of the single largest contributors in recent history to the national US debt. What's left of the defenders of Bush economic policy will claim that a liberal, Democratic Congress are somehow to blame for such insanities. This is impossible since the Republican party has been in control of Congress between 1995 and 2007.

As an example of fiscal responsibility, the Bush administration has been a failure. Americans have had a terrible role-model in their highest elected representative, and it shows. In the US, debt per family versus gross domestic product has risen dramatically and unprecedentedly since 2000 when Bush was elected.

When challenged to explain how the government was to continue to pay for an expensive war, Bush and proponents of the Bush tax cuts insisted they would "pay for themselves". It was apparently assumed that by putting more cash in taxpayer's pockets with which to purchase things, the demand for goods and services would increase, which in turn would increase trade and production. What Bush obviously doesn't understand is that Americans have been buying whatever they want, whenever they want, with higher taxes or lower, with or without any real money. Instead of money, Americans have been purchasing their "increased standard of living" with credit cards and cash loans against their mortgages. Currently the average household's credit card debt is $8,565.

Bush's tax cuts were indeed effective at stimulating the economy in the short term, and yet failed to prevent massive budget deficits. Lee Arnold explains using his remarkably simple ecolanguage developed precisely for complex economic subjects such as Bush's tax cuts. But I am digressing.

Bush appealed to the same ideological values to which Ramsey appeals, and yet Bush has consistently missed opportunities to demonstrate his supposed conservative values in the policies of his administration. For success, the Bush policies on the economy have relied on Americans continuing their selfish consumerism unfettered. It could only have lasted so long.

Ramsey ridicules Obama and Biden for their "Robin Hood" tax plans. Considering that Bush has been doing exactly the opposite by reducing capital gains taxes, benefiting richer Americans disproportionately, Obama's tax plan will more or less be simple compensation for the unbalance. Still, Ramsey seems to believe that McCain would have had a better tax policy. He can believe anything he wants, the American people have spoken.

Personally, I think that Ramsey is still a far better person than President Bush will ever be. But my contention remains: Ramsey should leave his politics out of his sales pitch. Again, like his religion, Ramsey is using his political views to attract a market demographic, and that is simply bad form. In fact, were it not for those things, I might be inclined to cut the man some slack.

Ramsey and bankruptcy

Shifting gears, I'd like to talk about Ramsey's stance on bankruptcy. He seems to believe that bankruptcy is perceived by many as an "easy way out". Bankruptcy is not easy in the least, he says, and should be avoided at all costs. He is right that bankruptcy is not easy, but to many his tremendously negative opinion of it as an option to people who have no other options just adds to the stigma and humiliation associated with the difficult decisioni to file and liquidate.

Ramsey reasons that he is a well-qualified expert on bankruptcy since he went through it himself. He is right to warn people that bankruptcy is not as easy as it might appear: "Few people who have been through bankruptcy would report that it is a painless wiping-clean of the slate, after which you merrily trot off into your future to start fresh." Who says that it is?

Chapter 7 bankruptcy involves being forced to sell off all non-exempt property in order to pay off your debts. Imagine losing your home, your car, a priceless family heirloom, the wife's jewelry, and so on. The emotional toll is inevitable. Many people who go through the bankruptcy process report battling with depression.

Bankruptcy is certainly not easy, but consider this: the median household income in the US is around $50,000. After taxes and the average monthly mortgage/rent payment ($684), that's about $2200 a month to split between 3 people per family. Seems difficult enough, but that's not even the average filer for bankruptcy, those are the numbers for average Americans. Most filers of Chapter 7 have lost a job and have suffered a significant decrease of their income. As mentioned earlier, the average household credit card debt in the US is around $9,000. In 2007, debtors filing for Chapter 7 reported median average monthly expenses of $2,433.

There are many different kinds of bankruptcy. Chapter 13 is a less commonly-selected option for individuals seeking debt-relief, but has some significant advantages over liquidation under Chapter 7. For one thing, Chapter 13 offers filers the opportunity to avoid a foreclosure on their home, in exchange for promising to pay off their debt over a longer period of time at a renegotiated, lower interest rate.

If the average bankruptcy filer took Dave Ramsey's advice and did all they could to avoid filing bankruptcy, their only alternative is years of paying off thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt at an interest rate entirely determined by their creditors. Who benefits the most from that? The credit card companies. People with credit card debt are slaves, plain and simple. What wouldn't you give to be free from slavery?

From a Christian perspective, the Bible is completely contradictory on this issue. Christian lawyers don't hesitate to use the Bible to ease the minds of potential clients on the matter. Yet, Christians who make their living offering personal financial advice use the Bible to oppose the taking of such action.

Also consider: roughly 2.0 to 2.5 million Americans seek the help of a credit counselor each year, mostly to avoid bankruptcy. This is Ramsey's market. If more people declare bankruptcy, that's less people from whom Ramsey can make money.

It seems far-fetched to suggest that Ramsey actually has an interest in keeping people in debt. Doesn't it? Considering the voracity with which credit card companies pursue people with poor money-management skills, perhaps not.

My opposition to the advice Ramsey offers on bankruptcy is mostly rhetorical, because bankruptcy is such a personal life decision. But really, Ramsey is the last person you should listen to for advice on the subject of bankruptcy.

If only...

Seriously though, if I could recommend anything for Dave Ramsey to do that would completely win me over, it would be this: stop selling your stuff.

Just don't put a price tag on it. Stop marketing it.

Instead, accept donations for your cause. Close the doors on Lampo Group Incorporated and start a foundation. Give yourself a modest salary, and disclose it.


First, as a counter example to Ramsey I draw your attention to Rick Warren. Warren is a Christian whose book The Purpose-Driven Life has brought him wild success and dramatic personal wealth. What he has done with the income from his publication is a humbling example to us all. I don't agree with everything Warren has to say, but he is still a good role-model.

Billy Graham is another example of personal integrity. In 1948 he and some associates penned "The Modesto Manifesto". The number one article in this manifesto was an insistence of a modest income so as to differentiate themselves from other televangelists of the day.

Next, please watch this anti-consumerism video by the Advent Conspiracy. It delivers a compelling message that transcends the now past Christmas season and is just as relevant to the new year. After all, as it is often asked, why can't we act like it's Christmas all year?

So, instead of buying crap you don't need, like Ramsey's books and online university memberships, just take my advice. It isn't even my advice, it's just common sense, so there's no charge:
  • Stop buying stuff with a credit card. Just stop using credit.
  • Pay off your credit cards or declare bankruptcy.
  • Can't keep up with the Joneses? Sell your house and move to a more modest neighborhood. Schools in the new neighborhood not good enough? Do something about it.
  • Have a budget. Have a plan. Add up how much you spend each month. Guesstimate if you have to. Extrapolate your yearly costs. If it turns out that you spend more than you make, figure something out. Reduce your spending.
  • Budget for saving.
  • Be disciplined and stick to your budget no matter what.
  • And finally, educate yourself. Learn. And don't listen to just one person. Read everything.
Here are some free personal financial advice websites:That's it.

Sound like too much sacrifice? Too much work? Not happy unless you're living the easy life? Maybe Ramsey does deserve your money, after all.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Scrabulous is back!

Hooray! Scrabulous is back on facebook! I know it's called something else now, but it'll always be Scrabulous to me.

Infant mortality rates in the United States

A coworker highly respected for his encyclopedic knowledge of a number of subjects recently contradicted my statement that the US has one of the highest rates if not the highest rate of infant mortality in the western world.

I challenge him or anyone else to dispute the findings of exactly that by the CDC.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Ecolanguage for economics and ecology

Lee Arnold has a rather boring yet brilliant and graphically clear series of videos on a range of topics including economics and ecology on YouTube. Arnold has developed a system of communicating complex concepts using simple symbols called ecolanguage.

Here is Arnold's presentation of ecolanguage on YouTube.

Arnold's YouTube channel is a great place to start if you want to quickly get a basic understanding on topics such as these:By the way, Lee Arnold is a plumber who lives in Los Angeles. It is too bad this plumber's ideas weren't the ones being circulated on the national media political scene during the Presidential election race.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Americans finally start saving their money

The Wall Street Journal has an article about how Americans are finally saving their money instead of spending their speculative investment returns before they've hatched. Apparently 2008 is the first time that average Americans have ever saved more money than they spend on credit since the Federal Reserve began tracking the data in 1952.

On a related note, my company has recently begun offering free (employer-sponsored) courses by Dave Ramsey on how to save money.

Dave Ramsey certainly offers a popular and much-needed service of educating our pathetic country on how to use money.

However to charge people for money management education is equally pathetic, and borderline predatory. With one face Ramsey tells his audience to cut expenses and be frugal and in the same breath and with snake-oil-salesman charm shouts, "Buy my DVD, for only $59.95! Join my online Money University(tm) for only $99.95!" I've actually been to a Dave Ramsey "Total Money Makeover LIVE event" that was held at the Freeman Coliseum here in San Antonio, so I'm speaking from personal experience (the ticket was a gift).

Obviously he is presenting his products as investments -- that his customers will see a return on their investments in his talks, course material, and literature. Sort of like installing solar panels on your house -- there's an initial cost up front, but eventually you recoup your investment in electricity savings.

Unfortunately, this is really not the case with Ramsey. You aren't actually getting anything tangible at all. You aren't improving your house or anything. You're not buying a savings bond. You're not buying groceries with that money. All you're getting sold is common sense that you should have had in the first place in a glossy packaging of typical American marketing.

I suggest that Ramsey actually targets people with poor valuation skills to whom to peddle his wares. In other words, the people he is supposedly "helping" are the very people who wouldn't be able to discern the true value of his product relative to its cost.

As seen on TV.

[ via Boing Boing ]