Archive for July, 2011

I probably shouldn’t, but…

I don’t do politics here much anymore, and almost never do mortgage stuff, but today, I can’t resist.  So you’ve been warned.

If you’ve been hiding under a rock, you don’t know that there’s a debate going on in Congress about how to go about raising the debt ceiling.  I used to live in D.C. and can translate the gibberish from both sides.  Here’s the truth:
  1. The ceiling is going to be raised.  It is almost certainly going to be raised by the August 2 deadline.
  2. There will be budget cuts.  They will almost entirely be illusions, projected for years in advance, so that the “$2.2 billion” in “cuts” will be backloaded for future Congresses to deal with, and they will not be actual cuts, only smaller increases in funding.
  3. There will be tax increases.  Real ones, starting right now.  On you, and me, and especially “millionaires”, which is defined as those making $250,000 or more per year.  Not indexed to inflation.
Comforting?  Yeah, me too.
The real danger is NOT that the US will default on its obligations.  That’s not going to happen, with or without an agreement.  The real danger is that unless the US achieves $4 trillion in actual, no-fooling budget CUTS, US bonds will probably be downgraded to AA (from AAA), and that will cause mortgage interest rates to jump about half a point.
In other words, what you’re reading right now about avoiding default is largely irrelevant, and what you are NOT reading is that unless Congress cuts meaningfully from the budget, you and I and the neighbors are going to take it in the shorts.
Mortgage bonds are not liking this.  Bond traders don’t watch the propaganda coming out of MSNBC and the White House, so they are not confused by the talking points, and they are selling, causing rates to rise.  We’re up to about 4.75% (5.012 APR) on the average conventional, and about the same on FHA.  ARMs continue to be stellar, over a point lower in rate than the 30-year fixed.
I’ll keep you posted.

To my sister, who gets me.

I’m the eldest of seven children, the first two boys, the last five girls.  My sisters are intelligent, perceptive, and excellent judges of the character of men.  They are writers, photographers, marathoners, and the finest mothers imaginable.

They are also bloggers, and my sister Allison’s Wonderland blog has a post about me that I thought I’d call your attention to.  She understands me well.

The post is here.  Comment, and return often.  You’ll be well repaid.

I’ll do that in my free time…

Ah, free time.  What a concept.

I mean, when you think of it, there isn’t any such thing.  Your life is measured in minutes the number of which you know not, but surely that 118 that just went by while you were playing FarmVille were part of it, weren’t they?  So they weren’t free.  Or maybe they came to you free, but they have intrinsic value, and when you gave them away, did you get as much in return as you might have?  If you’re anything like me, you perform that little calculation all the time, and aren’t always happy with the math.

My job(s) are not confinable to particular hour blocks.  I have a friend that’s a pilot, and when he’s in the pilot seat, he’s working.  When the plane lands, he’s done.  When he’s logged x hours over y days, he’s done.  He goes home, and that’s it.  He has free time, as usually defined.  My job, like it or not, doesn’t have that at all.  Some days I have no specific thing to do.  Some days I have specific tasks that must be performed all day long and off into the evening.  There is, in other words, no pilot seat.  Or maybe better said, I usually have one cheek in the pilot seat at all times.

Recently I’ve become better at not being perpetually on call for work, even during the day.  It’s also true that I’m a lot less constantly working than most of my competition.  I never work Sundays, for any reason, and I’ve worked less than 10 hours of Saturday per quarter ever since I can remember.  I rarely take calls in the evenings, no matter the state of the file, though of course there are exceptions.  But what I discover is that that doesn’t help that much.  I still don’t have free time.

My work life splits into three main channels, mortgage stuff, PerfectHome stuff, and writing (yes, all you that have urged me for years to do more writing, you’re getting your wish.  You have been for a while, you know – I have over 500 posts on here).  Any one of those three things could expand to fill the known universe, and all three threaten to do so practically every day.  It’s only recently that I realized that writing was actually work, and that it had to be treated as such, or I would never do any of it.  Because, see, if I wait to write in my “free time”, I find that free time never comes.  So I have to schedule it like all my work.

So I go “off shift”, and then I don’t do mortgage stuff, unless I have to, or PerfectHome stuff, unless I have to, or writing, unless…well, okay, I’m nearly always writing.  But I can put it aside to read to my kids, or what have you.  So that means when I go off shift I have free time, right?

Sigh.  I’m afraid I know the answer to that question.

I mean, once I’m off shift I can theoretically do whatever I want, so that makes it free time (ignore that that statement is true of every minute, no matter where I am).  But in point of fact, to be a good writer I have to read a lot and research a lot more, so I have a stack of twelve (and counting) books that I need to read (and want to read), four of which I am actually in the middle of right now.  Then there are the fun projects I’m contemplating doing, like writing a sci-fi screenplay, because I think I’d like to learn to do that kind of thing, so I have reading and writing to do for that, too.  And I’m in the process of remembering how to play the piano, so I need to practice.  The garden, which I love and which feeds my soul, needs weeding.  I have eight children, all of whom do better with at least small doses of Dad every day.  And then I married one of the most interesting, vital, and lovely women on earth, with whom I could cheerfully spend every waking moment, making plans, baking bread, just talking.  I do better, I AM better, with a large helping of Jeanette every day.  Being LDS, I know I need to attend the temple and read the scriptures, plus ancillary religious material.  Rapidly, considering all the different roles I play and the person I think I really want to be, it becomes painfully obvious that I have no free time at all.  To not do the things I listed would be to abandon roles and responsibilities that I cannot abandon without becoming someone else.

I thought through this this morning as I chatted with la belle Jeanette, and we were discussing doing something, and I said “I can do that in my free time,” which she giggled at slightly, because she is kind and despite all her perfections, loves me.  All day I’ve thought of it.  All day I’ve added things to and subtracted from my day, and invested the time I have a little more wisely, knowing that there were things I wanted to do that I wouldn’t be able to get to – ever – unless I were tighter with what I did now.  And then a second ago, I remembered something I read from C.S. Lewis (how I love that man), writing as Screwtape, the demon.  It goes like this:

The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift… He is also, in theory, committed to total service of the Enemy; and if the Enemy appeared to him in bodily form and demanded that total service for even one day, he would not refuse…. he would be relieved almost to the pitch of disappointment if for one half-hour in that day the Enemy said “Now you may go and amuse yourself”. Now if he thinks about his assumption for a moment, even he is bound to realise that he is actually in this situation every day. [emphasis mine]

One day, I’ll be strong enough to relate the journey of the last month, as I came to realize for the first time since I achieved sentience that I am possibly not a huge disappointment as a person.  That’s for another day.  For now, suffice it to say that I’m coming ’round to the idea that I don’t have any free time at all, and never will have.  I never really did, if it comes to that, though I didn’t know it.

This is going to have consequences.

On Harry Potter, and Good Men Dying Young

There are spoilers here if you haven’t read or seen Harry Potter movies and books.  But if you haven’t, why you’re wasting your time reading this instead of that I’ll never know.

Last week I went to scout camp.

I’m not the Scoutmaster, only the Assistant Scoutmaster.  Ordinarily, the Scoutmaster is the one that takes the kids on the weeklong camp (with the Assistant and some parents pinch-hitting for a few days), but this time he couldn’t.  The Scoutmaster’s name is Lynn Sorensen, and he’s dying.

About 16 months ago, Lynn was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and given three months to live.  At about the three month mark last year, he was so far from dead that he took the scouts to Treasure Mountain in the Grand Tetons.  I went for three days, and was swapped out by another leader at that point.  Lynn was not quite his usual self, but pretty close.  He made it the whole week, and his doctor said he was better physically afterward than he was before he went.  This year, though, it became obvious a couple of months back that he wasn’t going to be able to go.  I was given the opportunity to take the job, and I jumped at it.  Yes, things are hard for us, but how often does one get a chance to carry a burden for such a man?

Because one must have two leaders at all times with the boys, I found another leader in my son Alexander, who is 19, and is largely just sitting there consuming resources (and waiting for his mission call – which came while we were at camp – to Buenos Aires).  It was an irreplaceable opportunity for us to interact not so much as father and son, but as peers.  For that alone, I would have been very grateful for the opportunity, but as it was, it came with a whole lot more.  Lynn was on everyone’s mind pretty close to all the time.  We missed him.  The troop voted to rename itself “Lynn’s Boys” in his honor, and we honored our Lynn by bringing home every award there was in camp.

Going as we did with death on our minds, it seems a bit surreal that while we were there, a scout was struck by lightning during one of the most violent thunderstorms I’ve ever seen.  He never regained consciousness and died on that hill, the same hill we were camping on.  One of our scouts was at our campsite with Alexander and they were about 75 yards away from the strike.  I was across the valley with the Camp Director, and we all knew something terrible was possible from that bolt.  We all heard it.  We knew which one it was.

The whole camp knew that something grim was happening, just from the reactions of the normally calm camp staff.  They weren’t freaking out, but they got the same look I remember seeing on the faces of the airport guards in Rome when I was there during a terrorist attack in 1985.  Serious.  Tightly focused.  There is a sort of squaring of the shoulders, a realization that what is coming will likely test them.  That it will be painful, and also that it must be borne.  It was clear long before the Life Flight ‘copter came over that the odds were not good of any happy outcome from the incident, and when the chopper stayed on the ground for almost an hour, we knew.

The unfortunate scout wasn’t screwing around.  He wasn’t off by himself.  He wasn’t playing golf, or even fishing, sticking a metal rod up in the air.  And he wasn’t by any possible stretch the highest point in the area.  Our campsite was higher than his by 75-100 feet, and we had metal pavilion poles sticking up out of it.  So what happened was sheer, raw, uncomplicated bad luck.

We gathered the boys around later that night in the safety of the truck and were quite blunt with them.  People die, we said.  Everyone dies.  It might take a year, or ten years, or a hundred years, but everyone’s jug of milk has an expiration date on it.  You don’t know what that date is.  You can make it fractionally less likely to be soon by doing certain things and avoiding others, but you can’t say for certain one way or the other when it will be, no matter who you are.  Lynn Sorensen, one of the world’s most productive and positive people, is dying of cancer.  David Rayborn, a twelve-year-old kid out at a scout camp doing what he’s supposed to be doing, gets hit by lightning and never goes home.  I don’t think it’s actually random, but the Intelligence that is capable of predicting it is as far beyond ours as the sun is beyond a candle, so to us, it’s a toss of the dice.  Hiding from this fact is a terrible waste.  It has to be faced.

We were in a place to face it.  So we did.  We talked about it.  The kids weren’t afraid – twelve- and thirteen-year-olds think they’re immortal – but they were somber.  They understood that they had a choice, to live the time they had or to die without having lived at all.  To be what they meant to be, all the time, so that they would never exit stage right with their lines unsaid or their part unplayed.  Dedicate yourself to the things that matter.  Kiss your mother and tell her you love her.  Hug your Dad.  Be kind to your brothers and sisters.  Then square your shoulders and go.

The night we returned, my son and I, we went to see Harry Potter 7.2.  We’re Potter fans, if not necessarily Rowling fans, and we had been looking forward to this last movie for quite a while.  I don’t mind confessing that I wept openly at parts of it.  There were, as you might imagine, a few things that seemed to bring the movie uncomfortably close to home.  The theme, it seemed to me, was a familiar one.  In fact, I thought I remembered hearing it (not quite so well said, or as dramatically) at our campfire on Wednesday night, and Thursday night, and Friday.

Now, I know there are parents out there that are not fans of Harry Potter.  On the side of the political spectrum I inhabit, and especially on the religious edge I frequent, there are parents that think that exposing their children to witchcraft is a bad thing.  And so it would be, if there were anything even remotely like real witchcraft in Harry Potter.  The magical universe is a joke.  Anything that creates Bertie Bott’s EveryFlavor Beans and Jumping Chocolate Frogs as an introduction to the culture is not serious.  You could easily substitute ray guns for wands and the stories would make about the same amount of sense.  There isn’t any serious magic ever performed.  I absolutely flat-back guarantee you there are more kids that lost their way religiously because of the weird and silly Jedi cult than ever did because of Harry Potter.

On the contrary, what is actually taught in the Potter Saga is courage, selflessness, resourcefulness, and commitment.  When has there ever been a tale that was more supportive of study and discipline?  More encouraging of education and preparation?  Less dismissive of the consequences of shoddy work and goofing off?

But it’s so much better than that.  Look not at the characters, but what makes the characters.  Draco Malfoy, warped and twisted because of his father’s ambition.  Hermione Granger, who is the focal point of bullying and abuse because…her parents are muggles.  Ron Weasley, who forms the rallying point for Harry and Hermione because…he has a family.  A real one.  And Harry himself, to whom the most important people in the world are his parents and his godfather.  In every major character, Dumbledore, Snape, Sirius Black, even Voldemort himself, there are the potent effects of family and parents, for good and ill.

And in the end, it is the mothers that save the day.  Molly Weasley blasts Bellatrix LeStrange.  Narcissa Malfoy, out of love for her son, saves Harry’s life. And it is Harry’s mother, arguably the most important character in the entire series, that is the crux of the entire final episodal arc, and she’s never been alive for even a second of the entire 4000-page epic.  Her love for Harry is shown to be the most powerful force in all the magical world.  Where, I beg you, where is the message in this you do not want your children to hear?

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. Nor do most of us find that violence and bloodshed, in a story, produce any haunting dread in the minds of children. As far as that goes, I side impenitently with the human race against the modern reformer. Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book.”  – Of Other Worlds

Soundly killed they may be, and are, and in the meantime the book and the movie look a lot like our lives.  Here we have Sirius Black, killed by…well, we don’t know.  He’s dead mostly because he loves Harry.  Tonks and Remus Lupin, killed defending the children of Hogwarts.  Fred Weasley is dead, too, alone of the Weasley family, and Bill is scarred for life.  Good people that we care about and that didn’t do anything wrong.  One here of this group and one there of that.  No rhyme.  No reason.  But in the greater sense, in the largest possible sense, in the only perspective that works, it doesn’t matter.

Because I heard echoing through the theater the voice of Nevill Longbottom, my personal favorite, telling me and my scouts and those poor parents of that unlucky boy that the good do not die in vain.  They live.  They live because they do that which they came to do, they fight their fight, and they go, as Dumbledore said, “on”.  Only Voldemort, the beast seeking for eternal life, would, even if he found it, have no life at all, for all his works were vanity.  None would remember him, or mourn him, or make a song for him.  His life would mean nothing, and his death less than nothing.

Not so with David Rayborn, and not with Lynn Sorensen.  Not so with you, and not with me, this I swear.

Read the books.  See the movies.  Kiss your mother and hug your Dad.

And then square your shoulders and go.

Blessing Experiment Tweet Report

Probably, you’re not following me on Twitter, so here’s what you’re missing:

2011-07-07 02:08:39
CjLehi: #blessing 8,9,10,11,12 and 13: Valter Nassi’s incredible Tuscan
Promenade at the indescribable Cucina Toscana.

2011-07-06 23:52:37
CjLehi: #blessing 7: wisdom enough to give no response under provocation.
More bad news, but I have not compounded it with foolishness. For once.

2011-07-06 23:17:02
CjLehi: #blessing 6: German engineering. My first ride in a Mercedes over
any real distance. Holy. &%(&*$^.

2011-07-06 23:04:02
CjLehi: #blessing 5: Computers.  I write probably 8-10,000 words a week.
Cannot imagine having to do that on my IBM Selectric.

2011-07-06 22:25:02
CjLehi: #blessing 4: The awesome Lehi Rotary Club. Congratulations to Ron
Foggin, new President, and welcome Glen Meigs to the past-president club.

2011-07-06 22:18:02
CjLehi: #blessing 3: Jill Peterson, who is currently juggling my life so I
don’t have to.

2011-07-06 22:00:28
CjLehi: #blessing 2: a father that really believes in me, no matter how
many times I have cried wolf.

2011-07-06 18:30:20
CjLehi: #blessing 1: Ian Darke. It’s so nice to be able to watch a soccer
match in English, where the announcer is worth listening to.

2011-07-06 18:28:06
CjLehi: Day 6 of the #blessing experiment. Lots of positive things to

2011-07-06 04:46:44
CjLehi: #blessing 11: a new day to try again. Didn’t finish strong today.
Have to give day 5 a 6. Not really the day’s fault, tho.

2011-07-06 01:27:43
CjLehi: #blessing 10:

2011-07-06 01:21:12
CjLehi: #blessing 9: a son that respects the flag of his country enough to
retire it properly.

2011-07-06 01:20:20
CjLehi: #blessing 8: salad from my own garden. Well, mostly from there.

2011-07-05 21:50:25
CjLehi: A continuacion…: Day 5 is underway of the #blessing experiment on
Twitter (I don’t use my phone much on weekends…

2011-07-05 21:30:39
CjLehi: #blessing 7: the entire Harmon clan, but today especially Jeff and
Neal, with a shout out to Theron. Great lunch, even better conversation.

2011-07-05 21:23:36
CjLehi: #blessing 6: the hole-in-the-wall Neapolitan restaurant La Dolce
Vita in Provo. Authentic Italian.

2011-07-05 16:51:26
CjLehi: #blessing 5: spare buttons for my shirt. That’s thoughtful design.
And 5a my lovely wife sewing the replacement on.

2011-07-05 15:10:37
CjLehi: #blessing 4: an impossible six green lights in a row through the
busiest part of town.

2011-07-05 14:55:46
CjLehi: #blessing 3: finding that my potential, inhumanly-successful
business partners are human after all. Since I certainly am.

2011-07-05 14:49:42
CjLehi: #blessing 2: a four-hour wide-ranging conversation with Randy
Peterson. Learned a great deal.

2011-07-05 14:48:10
CjLehi: #blessing 1: the lifted ban on aerial fireworks. Made yesterday
evening sound like a WWII movie.

2011-07-05 14:46:59
CjLehi: Back after the excellent weekend to the #blessing experiment, day

2011-07-05 13:59:32
CjLehi: Dan at his best. RT @mortgagereports: When Mortgage Rates Rise 1%,
Your Purchasing Power Falls By 10.75%.

2011-07-02 07:00:21
CjLehi: #blessing experiment day 4 is a wrap. I give today a 9.5, best day
in months. If the trend continues, tomorrow will be perfect.

2011-07-02 04:16:41
CjLehi: #blessing 10 thru 1476: The Jimmy Rex firework show. I know some
cool people.

2011-07-02 01:30:50
CjLehi: #blessing 9: it’s BYU’s independence day! #BYUDAY

2011-07-02 00:32:42
CjLehi: @thebookmaven Reading Thou Shall Prosper by Rabbi Levin.

2011-07-02 00:02:35
CjLehi: #blessing 8: finished the week and did not take the car to work.
Not once. I do love Lehi.

2011-07-01 03:21:51
CjLehi: I’m using @TweetBackup by @backupify to archive my tweets

2011-07-01 03:18:59
CjLehi: #blessing 6: my son ALexander has his papers in, at long, long
last.  If you’re LDS, you know what that’s code for.  If not, well, sorry.

2011-07-01 02:26:19
CjLehi: #blessing 5 is a doozy. From White Collar, from “Where There’s a
Will”, the excellent joke of the Ark in the Nazi sub relics. So shiny!

2011-07-01 20:56:50
CjLehi: #blessing 7: I feel good. I’m happy. It’s been a while. The
interesting thing is that my circumstances have not really improved. Even

2011-07-01 20:26:04
CjLehi: #blessing 6: the orange chicken at the Thai House on Main in Lehi.
Oh, doctor. THAT’S lunch!

2011-07-01 20:22:48
CjLehi: #blessing 5: ripe cherries. You get four weeks, max, and then it’s
over. I’ll be sick, but I won’t care.

2011-07-01 15:19:48
CjLehi: Happy Birthday to You!: Last night, I completed my 43rd year on the
planet. I’m disgusted. No, I take that back….

2011-07-01 15:18:28
CjLehi: #blessing 3: Max.

2011-07-01 15:17:35
CjLehi: #blessing 2: HDTV. I know that I used to watch tv before HD, I just
can’t remember why.

2011-07-01 13:13:41
CjLehi: #blessing 1: humility. I love to play basketball, but I played my
age today. Sigh.

2011-07-01 12:05:16
CjLehi: Day 4 of the #blessing experiment. More positive, and often
cryptic, tweets on the way.

Some really fascinating things are happening with this.  It’s true that there has not been much change in the type of things that have been happening to me, but there has definitely been a change in my reaction to them.  Even really negative things, I’m reacting to differently than I have before.  So we’ll be continuing, no doubt about it.  We’re one week of tweets in.