Monday, July 27, 2009

could be worse...

it was predictable that with the teevee industry making almost nothing new except "reality" shows, there would eventually be one featuring pawnbrokers; anything that is not widely understood or perceived to be somehow odd or illicit is bound to be a target, so i've been expecting it.

sure enough, a few weeks ago the so-called "history channel" started running promos for something called "pawn stars". great, right off the bat an off-color alliteration to "porn stars".

i've seen a couple of episodes now (twice they've run back-to-back episodes, apparently trying to give the show a shove out of the gate), and it's pretty bad...but not as bad as it could be.

you've got your standard cast of characters/caricatures; the crusty ol' grandpa who founded the business, his middle-aged son who is the main man now, and the son's son, a 300-lb smart-mouth who just wants to get rid of dad and granddad so he can take over and call all the shots. add a 400-lb doofus as the designated clown and a seemingly endless supply of "experts" who are apparently at the beck and call of the central characters, anxious to drop everything to run over to the shop to do appraisals and provide historical data in their specialized fields, and you've got the pawn shop version of "dog the bounty hunter", "operation repo", "deadliest catch", et al.

set in vegas, you expect a different clientele than main street, usa...but damn. it strains credulity (as if reality shows had any) to watch the steady stream of off-the-wall and high-dollar items walking in; an 18th c. hotchkiss wheeled cannon which they drag out into the desert and test fire and subsequently pay 30K for, a civil war officer's sword, a five hundred year old jousting helmet, a 20K chris craft speedboat, a big dog chopper, several scarce antique firearms, a couple of rolex watches, a '54 gretsch, a huge commercial woodworking machine (which required a forklift, a flatbed, and a crew of four to pick up for pawn), even a couple of salvador dali's...all in the first couple of episodes? and the customers are all apparently collectors, businessmen, etc.; where the hell are the housewives pawning their wedding rings to make the rent, the out-of-town gambler who spent it all and pawns his bracelet and laptop for airfare home, not to mention the paycheck to paycheck types bringing in the same flatscreen every month for a couple hundred to get by, and the steady stream of lowtones dragging in useless junk they "found"? and what about the goofballs who come in muzzle-sweeping everybody in the place with the hunting rifle they want to borrow on, and the obligatory druggie/drunk you have to (sometimes forcibly) remove from the premises? shit, if his client list was representative of "reality", maybe i wouldn't have burned out and turned out.

still, the main character has a decent way about him, and at least on camera seems pretty honest and open; most media pawnshop depictions have featured monosyllabic cretins with dirty hands and a dirtier demeanor, so as i say, it could be worse. no doubt most of the stuff is scripted, but if his daily fare is the multi-thousand $ items that are featured on the show, this is one unique pawn shop. and i'm gonna have to get ahold of his rolodex of experts who are so anxious to help him make a deal without trying to scarf the deals for themselves...

so even though this show and others like it should be called "unreality" shows, i'll probably keep watching just because it's one of the rare non-negative portrayals i've seen, and some of the stuff that makes it on camera is pretty cool.

but that name..."pawn stars". *shudder*.


Monday, July 20, 2009

the dark side of the moon...

as awe-inspiring as it was, and as hard as it is to believe that it's been forty years, it could well be that the accomplishments of armstrong et al were the beginning of the end for America's space program.

consider this: the difference in the worlds of 1929 and 1969 is as if they are different worlds completely...and yet from 1969 until 2009 what real advances have been made in terms of our exploration and exploitation of the potential of the universe outside our own little ecosystem? in many ways our landing on the moon was treated as an end, rather than a beginning, to our efforts to free us from our surly, earthly bonds.

in my lifetime of awareness, only ronald reagan put forth a true vision of what is or should be possible or accomplished in our space program. his "star wars" initiative was roundly derided as expected by the usual suspects around the globe -as well as their cohorts here at home- but its perfection would have virtually ensured our defense against and control of situations that right now threaten our very existence; think iran and north korea as prime examples. he foresaw that these looneybins would eventually stumble over the key to the nuclear lock, with completely unpredictable and unmentionable wars could have neutralized any threat before international airspace was even encroached.

and can there be any doubt that the answers to all of our energy and resources needs are there for the extraterrestrial taking? many of us mourn for ronnie, his philosophy of limiting the role of government in citizens daily lives, and the confidence and sense of purpose that he embodied. but often his vision for the future and what is next for mankind is overlooked.

as we celebrate the anniversary of the awesome accomplishment that landing on the moon absolutely was, and contemplate the warpspeed passing of four decades since, let us remember this: as we are justifiably focused on and consumed by the domestic issues and "change" that threaten our continued existence as a free republic, the answer to the greater question of the continued viability of mankind itself is, as it were, in the stars.

we just have to find a captain, a navigator...and the resolve.


under the heading of:

"fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me..."

i'd say nobody could be that dumb, but we know better don't we?


Friday, July 10, 2009

it's a fine mess we've gotten ourselves into...

an article on the probable next phase of the housing meltdown resulted in a pretty long string of comments; lots of crass and ignorant pricks chimed in, but there's quite a few that ring true with personal experience and hit pretty close to my own heart, so although i never jump into these frays, i made an exception in this case to make a personal point about how this whole deal has made victims even of those who did their best to do everything my daughter's family.

there is no doubt that homeowners with good credit who purchased homes during the bubble will begin to walk away from mortgages that are not currently in default or even delinquent as short-fuse mortgages reach reset dates.

my daughter and her husband, who are fiercely protective of their credit rating and the honorable fulfilling of their obligations, purchased a modest home in new port richey, fl in july '05 for $171,000 with 100% financing arranged through e-loan that involved an 80% first mortgage and a second mortgage for the remaining amount...100% financing, interest only for five years, with the expectation that the increase in value would allow them to refinance into a new first mortgage for the full amount when the two notes come due 07/10. they have struggled but have maintained their payments in full and on-time because that is what they agreed to do.

in today's market, that home would probably sell for about half of the original purchase price...about $80-90,000. what are they to do? if the bank would give them a new fixed-rate mortgage for the full amount, they would no doubt accept it, continue to live in their home and make the payments on time -even though it would be a struggle- because they want to keep their commitment. but of course refinancing will require an appraisal, and the bank will no doubt want to finance just 80% of the current value, and they have no way to pay the huge difference, even if they were dumb enough to do so.

i have always advised them on their purchases and finances, and even helped them choose their current 80/20 mortgage which has a good rate and was within their ability to pay, so it is not as if they were irresponsible in buying more home or taking on more debt than they could afford. they are innocent victims of the boom and bust cycle that was orchestrated by a broken and corrupt system.

it breaks my heart to tell them they should do so, as they have done everything right, and it is so important to them, but i am advising them to place their home on the market as a short sale at the current value as an alternative to allowing the mortgages to fall into default and allowing a foreclosure. sadly, even a short sale that is accepted by the lenders will have a serious effect on their credit which is so important to them, could result in the banks asking them to pay the shortage, and no doubt will affect their ability to purchase another home in the future.

why on earth is it not possible for the banks to reduce the principle on their debt to the amount that the house would sell for today and have them continue to pay their obligation, keep their home, and retain their good credit rating? the banks would get the same amount they will get anyway in a short sale, and save the costs involved with selling and financing the home to someone else. this is a situation that is beyond any reason, and as this article points out, i'm afraid the effects of it are only beginning, as homeowners who have kept up their payments face the prospect of having no choice but to give up their homes and mortgages as the thousands of sales and mortgages done with five-year terms come home to roost.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

behind the scenes...

it's easy enough to see who pulls the strings in moscow; the pretty puppet goes through the moves while the plotting puppeteer makes the real plans.

but who (or what)is behind the curtain (heh), pulling the levers for the bo-bot? he makes nice and speaks flawlessly about leading by example, but what is the true vision for our ultimate defense? (hint: his recent voiceover gig and similarities to neverland notwithstanding, it ain't disney...)

could those who call the shots for the former also be architects of the grand design (or the grand disarmament) for the latter?

one might look to history (or channel adolf and ask him) about the value of the firm handshakes and earnest promises of those who would (still) rule the world.


Saturday, July 4, 2009





Wednesday, July 1, 2009

one down, two to go...

wifey and i drove up to north ga. monday to close the sale of my son's former house up here. the transaction went smoothly at the attorney's office tuesday morning, and the money is now in the bank. it was a losing proposition; we paid cash in aug. '05 (and moved son up here on katrina weekend; scary!) with some of the proceeds from the sale of our business and investment properties in fla. the plan was for eric and his fiance to buy the place from us and have us finance the sale. well, we financed it all right, but problems between his fiance and him kept the actual sale from ever happening, and eric moved back to fla. last year.

we put the place on the market then with an agent last june but that was just as the financing bust was busting big, and the people who were interested in a 170k house couldn't get a mortgage without perfect credit and a huge down. so a few months ago, i put it up fsbo, offering to finance the sale for a buyer with decent credit and a decent down, at a price that reflected my not having to pay 12k in realtor fees. almost immediately we got a call from an agent who was handling the sale of a widow's house in a town an hour away, and the widow wanted to be nearer to her daughter and son-in-law. she would pay cash (awesome!), but it was contingent on closing the sale of her former home which in the new world of real estate wasn't a done deal until this past friday when her first sale closed. the agent settled for a flat 4k commission and the buyer assumed all the closing costs.

so even though we lost about 20k all told, it beats having the place sit empty and paying upkeep, plus at this point what was investment capital is now needed to pay off credit lines, etc. that we have had to use in the past year to live and help set up a new business. and thank God the real estate market in this area has remained a hell of a lot more stable than in fla...losing ten percent of our investment is bad enough, but right now homes in central fla. are selling for one-half or less of what they sold for a few years ago at the height of the bubble.

so all in all, we're happy that it's done. now we have another house near this one to sell (it's under lease-option to the original agent for the first one; the plan is for them to complete that purchase next year), plus the home in sebring, fla. where we're back to living fulltime will be sold too when (if) the market there recovers somewhat (400k paper value during the boom is at best 250 now) so that we can buy a place around ocala or gainesville.

and we couldn't have had better timing for our trip up to no. ga...fla has been insufferably hot and humid for the past two months, and here they've had a lovely cool snap that has brought the 50's and 60's overnight and far less humidity. we decided to drive another half hour up to blue ridge and rent a cabin with a view for a few nights before heading back to hades...i mean florida. and right now i'm sitting on the porch overlooking miles of mountaintops and damn near chilly from the delightfully cool breeze. my sweetie and i will head into downtown in a little while for her to browse the antique shops here in blue ridge, and then come back to the cabin to grill a few steaks and enjoy the tranquility together over a couple glasses of wine.

life ain't perfect and never is, but it could sure be worse.