Archive for February, 2007

Too Important to Miss

On the other blog – the serious blog – there’s a new post about Credit under the occasional series The Secrets of Investing. Since this is a very hot topic, I thought I’d give you a pointer.

And apropos of nothing much, I want to personally and publicly thank Neal Narmon, one of the best men I know or ever heard of, for his exceedingly kind comment earlier today. I’m certain I do not deserve such high praise, Neal. But thank you, just the same.

On Ben

I wrote a little about my brother (in law) Ben when I last wrote about my sister Diana, but I wanted to write just a line or two more.

Ben is a great guy, as all my brothers (in law) are, but Ben’s also an extremely good man. Without getting into any of the particulars, most of which I know I don’t have anyway, Ben acts as a significant stabilizer for his family at some personal cost. This is a family that has had some share of real tragedy, which to be perfectly honest our family has not.

It’s easy to talk about how you can get through tough things as a family, things like a lengthy debilitating illness or the death of a child, but serious people – my family is composed entirely of serious people – know that the reality is likely to be somewhat different than the theory. We hope that when such thing happens we will act as we believe we will act. For my part, though, I’m happy to know that there is someone around that has actually done really tough things that I can lean on for help when the time comes. If the time comes, I guess.

Ben’s been there, and he knows what it’s like. I am very grateful that he married my sister. Our family needs him.

Happy Birthday, brother.

Somewhat apropos of this, in the discussions my sisters have on MySpace, it’s extremely interesting to see the breadth of experience they can bring to bear on the stuff they discuss. It’s almost impossible to think of a topic they might bring up that nobody has any direct experience with. Potty training? Please. Movies? This is my family we’re talking about. Astrophysics? Catherine can bring in Scott anytime.

It’s an incredible community, my sisters. One of the greatest benefits of having a large family is this breadth of personality and experience to draw on when things get tough. In our family, as likely in many other families, the in-laws are every bit as much a part of the community as the blood sisters. Heaven knows the guys are all that way, but then we’re guys, and our “community” consists of watching US Soccer and Jazz games. Come one come all, you know?

But how much I admire my sisters! I’ve been privileged to read (and even post on) a lengthy discussion on the MySpace, and I’m quite honestly in awe of these incredible women. It’s hard to remember that I’m related to them. It’s even harder to remember that I’m older than they are.

Go Ahead, Make Our Day

I also wanted to make a fast comment about the Trolley Square mass murder earlier this week. Those of you that missed it, click the link and read about it first before you continue, or this won’t make a great deal of sense to you. At any rate, the usual reaction to some teenager popping into a crowded place and shooting people at random is to call for tighter gun laws and more “gun-free” zones (defined as “defenseless target environments” by criminals), but not this time. I have two ideas why.

1. Ordinarily, these kinds of things happen in churches and pre-college schools (“target-rich environments”), two places that the media and the elites who make all the noise about this stuff don’t go very often. It’s always easier to talk about what ought to be done in places you aren’t going to go and don’t care terribly much about. It’s very easy to go on the nightly news and talk about what a terrible tragedy it is that these people were killed and what you think ought to be done to stop it. But if you go there, live there, you realize that what’s being proposed is the most dangerous kind of nonsense.

This shooting, however, happened in an upscale mall. The wife of the Governor was in that mall twenty minutes before the shooting started. It’s a place where the media and the elites can be found with regularity. All of a sudden, they’re not so sure that gun control is going to stop THEM from being shot. Welcome to reality, people. It’s not all that much fun here, but it reduces the need for expensive psychotherapy.

2. Almost all the other shootings I can remember were ended by the suicide of the gunman, meaning that whoever it was was done killing other people and decided on his own to stop. This time, the murderer was gunned down by the cops, and he was most decidedly NOT finished killing people until he was forcibly stopped. By other people with guns. Contrary to previous practice, the cops did not take time to “set up a perimeter” while the murderer went about inside blowing people away; they reacted very quickly and immediately went after the guy. They were there very fast, inside of 5 minutes. They moved quickly and acted with decision and power. They were great.

Five people still died, and four others are in critical condition.

The lesson here is that there’s no possible way the police can protect you. There aren’t enough of them, and they aren’t going to be in the place they are needed except by accident. However, one of the key components of mass murder is the “mass” part, and among those in the mass there really ought to be some people with the ability and the resources to shoot back at a guy like this. I note with interest that he picked Trolley Square and not Cabela’s. I wouldn’t advise WalMart, either. The people that shop there carry weapons and know how to use them to defend themselves.

Within about half an hour of this, I got two emails from people telling me they would never again go shopping without their 9mm. A day later a good friend of mine was setting up a mass double-date for concealed-carry permit class (which was, as of last count, almost oversubscribed). I predict a large increase in CCW permits issued in the next month or two here. And personally, I think that’s a good thing.

Upon Reflection, Maybe Not

Ben Bernanke’s been practically dislocating his arm patting himself on the back for engineering a soft landing for the economy (defined as “any set of economic circumstances that don’t cost me my job”), when today the new housing start information comes out and shows a massive decline. Housing starts were off almost a third from their highs of two years ago, down over 20% from December of last year, and 15% over last January. Ouch.

Most likely, builders are waiting for their massive inventory to clear before starting a bunch more new houses, and this information, like all such economic data, means a whole lot more if you live in Ohio than it does if you live in Utah. The sky is not falling. But it might behoove Atlas to be a little less hawkish on rates and start discussing the possibility that the economy is not as red-hot as previously supposed.

Meanwhile, the information was good for bonds and things are improving fractionally for all those of you buying and refinancing. There’s no cloud that has no silver lining.

About That Free Credit Report…

Two posts in one day!

I recently became aware of a cute little money-making venture being conducted by credit reporting agencies. For those just joining us, there are three major bureaus: Transunion, Experian, and Equifax. They have each got their own rules for reporting and for scoring, but in general, your score is between 300 and 850. Over 580 is okay, over 620 is decent, over 660 is good, over 700 is excellent, over 750 is perfect. Loosely speaking.

Point #1: don’t get fooled by the cheerful and expansive fellow on TV telling you about Don’t buy it. You have to subscribe to their “credit monitoring service” in order to get your report and your score. It’s not free. It’s not priceless. It’s worthless.

Point #2: everyone got all excited about federal regulations that require that everyone be entitled to a free credit report every year. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I think everyone ought to get a credit report fairly regularly and check it closely. You can get one that really IS free at What you can’t get is your score, unless you pay for it. DO NOT DO THIS. Your credit score obtained from these sources – from ANY of these sources – will not tell you one useful thing about your credit score. Each type of lender has a set of filters that apply to credit reporting, and those filters change your score. Your credit card company, your auto lender, and your mortgage broker will each get different scores when they pull your credit. Ours tend to be the lowest. But the fact is, no matter what your credit pull tells you your score is, I can’t use that credit report and I can’t rely on that score. It has no value whatever. None. Do not waste your money.

Point #3: this one is all about my side of the deal. When I pull a credit, I send a fair amount of information to the credit bureaus. What they do with that information is interesting. Mostly, they just use it to give me back a credit score. But they also have been using the information to sell to interested parties – mortgage telemarketers – because mortgage lenders pulling credit means person needing financing, and those “leads” are being converted to telemarketing phone calls. At the Chris Jones Group, we’ve learned to dodge this on behalf of our clients. We just send the wrong telephone number. But be warned, if you apply for credit, you might be exposed to a telemarketing list. That is, if you apply for credit somewhere else.