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Archive for October, 2009

Transactions Vs. Having a Business

Getting obsessed with delivering good customer service has become more and more a focus of what I’m doing.   I’d rate myself a 3 on a scale of one to ten, but before June,  I was a -2.   So there’s that, at least.  My goal is to get to a “5” by the end of the year.

Customer service is the difference between “doing transactions” and “having a business.”  Creating a process that honors the customer’s intent is our job, and figuring out a way to do it within the human constraints of bandwidth and knowledge is not easy. But doing it is rewarding, both in the “artistic” sense and in the monetary sense.

Getting honest feedback is hard, too.  People don’t want to identify what you can do better, and our own egos create a situation where we justify our failures.  Perception of the customer is reality, and when we wanna break the stereotype of the entitled and mediocre Realtor (in my case, consultant), we have to fix what’s broken.  We have to be committed to the outcome of good service, and good perceived service.

They are both important.  When my wife was at Dominion homes, the customers there were all given a survey.  The managers would do whatever possible to let the customers know that “yes” was the only real answer.  Dominion was deprived of feedback because of the perverse incentives of the bonus program they created.  People were flat out told that they’d get $100 cash if they brought the survey back for the manager to fill out.  Attaboys were really what they were after.

Not “how can we–as a company–get way better.”

They assumed that they had achieved operational perfection.  They had not.   I have not achieved operational perfection yet (though I’m far closer now).   I want to know where I’m weak, and where I’m perceived to be weak.   Where the communication is chunky and commitments are unmet.

This is the core difference between doing deals and having a business.  Finding a way to get actionable information.  Hearing feedback.

My customer service survey that goes out says this:

I want to be the best ever.  I am building a company that constantly gets better, more valuable.  To me, every detail matters.  Everything I touch, I want to be the best for you.

So, I’m asking for feedback, not “attaboys”.  I want to be the very best web marketer for the money, so please point out where I can improve.  That will do me–and you–more service.  I know I’m above average, I want to get in the top .1% of all practitioners, and I want you to feel lucky that you found me.  Please help me continue to get better.

I have about 12 questions on things I want to know.  I will change them after I get better.  Every one has free space to write in suggestions.  That has given me an idea as  to what my people want, and that feedback has been profound in teaching me what to do and how to do it.

I don’t take it all seriously–some people have dumb ideas and some things aren’t feasible.  But, it gets me moving, learning and doing.  Had I done it months ago, I would have been farther along in my business.

Getting customer feedback does two things:  it makes it so that you know that you’re gonna hear about it so you improve the conditions for the customers as they happen, you think of things naturally from their point of view, and build a process that honors them, communicates well, and moves you from functionary deal-doer to fiduciary partner.

You know the feedback is coming, so you try harder, close rank and put the customer first.

For a rake, it’s unnatural, but it’s the only way that I’m going to get to be as good as I’m going to.

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Real Estate Sales Transactions In Phoenix

I don’t know if the local board in Phoenix allows agents to display recent sales transactions via idx feed, but it seems to me from talking to others around the land that most boards don’t.

Doesn’t it kinda sting that Trulia can display this info, but Realtor folk can’t?

Or can they?

How To Display Real Estate Transactions On Your WordPress Site Via Trulia’s Pretty Up To Date RSS Feed

1. Install and activate the “EXEC PHP” plugin
2. Do A General Property Search For Any Area On Trulia.
3. Click the “Recently Sold” Tab
4. Once the results are up, click on the link for more details on the first property.
5. When the info shows up, click “back.” – [This is key! 🙂 ]
6. Now there will be an RSS feed link at the very top right of the page.
7. Click On It, Then Grap The RSS Link That Pops Up Slightly Lower To The Left
7. Insert the RSS feed into the code below within a blog post, where indicated by “PUT YOUR JUICY SALES TRANSACTION FEED URL HERE”

< ?php // Get RSS Feed(s) include_once(ABSPATH . WPINC . '/rss.php'); $rss = fetch_rss('PUTYOURJUICYSALESTRANSACTIONFEEDURLHERE'); $maxitems = 30; $items = array_slice($rss->items, 0, $maxitems);
?>

< ?php foreach ( $items as $item ) : ?>

  • < ?php echo $item['title']; ?>

< ?php endforeach; ?>

Phoenix Real Estate Sales Transactions

What you’re seeing below is actually a screen capture of the transactions on my own site… didn’t want to mess with plugins/php over here at bhb (or cause other trouble for ma and pop.)

Which leads to the point of all this. Can you see adding pages upon pages of dynamic content to your site using this little trick? Or is this content theft? Does Trulia own the data? Does your local board?


Phoenix Real Estate Transactions...

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I was joking – honestly, I was really joking!

Approximately a month ago, I was getting a client approved for a mortgage with mortgage insurance and while going over the details of what we needed to document the deal, the customer deadpanned to me, “Where do I go to get the bloodwork done?”    My response, “Nah, we don’t need that —- yet.”

The report below is actually from England but it now appears that the government is going to start requiring mortgage lenders in England to ask questions about how much their borrowers spend on tobacco and alcohol.

Now, if you ask me, I think that tighter restrictions in terms of downpayments, debt to income ratios, credit scores, job histories, cash reserves, etc. all make sense.   But whether my neighbor spends more or less on alcohol than I do, I can’t see what substantive difference that makes in our ability to repay our mortgages.  (Hint – I’m not the one who spends more on alcohol.)

The pendulum is swinging too far in the other direction in some areas and not far enough in others.

Tom Vanderwell

Homebuyers face questions on alcohol and smoking under new mortgage rules – Times Online

Homebuyers could be forced to provide detailed information about the amount of money they spend on alcohol each month to qualify for a new mortgage under a new clampdown on reckless lending.

In a sweeping review of the mortgage market published today, the Financial Services Authority (FSA) said lenders needed to be far more rigorous about their financial checks of potential borrowers.

It said lenders should delve deeper into homebuyers’ personal spending including the amount they spend on alcohol and tobacco.

Spending on shoes, clothes and childcare could also be assessed under a new, industry-wide “affordability test”.

At present, the FSA does not prescribe rules about assessing a consumers’ ability to repay a mortgage and practices vary from one lender to the next.

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My iMac obviously knew just when to die…

Wow. What are you waiting for…?

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What makes “progressive” utopias like Portland seem so cool to the cognoscenti? Could it be a zoning-enforced racism?

From newgeography.com:

Among the media, academia and within planning circles, there’s a generally standing answer to the question of what cities are the best, the most progressive and best role models for small and mid-sized cities. The standard list includes Portland, Seattle, Austin, Minneapolis, and Denver. In particular, Portland is held up as a paradigm, with its urban growth boundary, extensive transit system, excellent cycling culture, and a pro-density policy. These cities are frequently contrasted with those of the Rust Belt and South, which are found wanting, often even by locals, as “cool” urban places.

But look closely at these exemplars and a curious fact emerges. If you take away the dominant Tier One cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles you will find that the “progressive” cities aren’t red or blue, but another color entirely: white.

In fact, not one of these “progressive” cities even reaches the national average for African American percentage population in its core county. Perhaps not progressiveness but whiteness is the defining characteristic of the group.

More:

This raises troubling questions about these cities. Why is it that progressivism in smaller metros is so often associated with low numbers of African Americans? Can you have a progressive city properly so-called with only a disproportionate handful of African Americans in it? In addition, why has no one called these cities on it?

As the college educated flock to these progressive El Dorados, many factors are cited as reasons: transit systems, density, bike lanes, walkable communities, robust art and cultural scenes. But another way to look at it is simply as White Flight writ large. Why move to the suburbs of your stodgy Midwest city to escape African Americans and get criticized for it when you can move to Portland and actually be praised as progressive, urban and hip? Many of the policies of Portland are not that dissimilar from those of upscale suburbs in their effects. Urban growth boundaries and other mechanisms raise land prices and render housing less affordable exactly the same as large lot zoning and building codes that mandate brick and other expensive materials do. They both contribute to reducing housing affordability for historically disadvantaged communities. Just like the most exclusive suburbs.

Still more:

The relative lack of diversity in places like Portland raises some tough questions the perennially PC urban boosters might not want to answer. For example, how can a city define itself as diverse or progressive while lacking in African Americans, the traditional sine qua non of diversity, and often in immigrants as well?

Imagine a large corporation with a workforce whose African American percentage far lagged its industry peers, sans any apparent concern, and without a credible action plan to remediate it. Would such a corporation be viewed as a progressive firm and employer? The answer is obvious. Yet the same situation in major cities yields a different answer. Curious.

In fact, lack of ethnic diversity may have much to do with what allows these places to be “progressive”. It’s easy to have Scandinavian policies if you have Scandinavian demographics. Minneapolis-St. Paul, of course, is notable in its Scandinavian heritage; Seattle and Portland received much of their initial migrants from the northern tier of America, which has always been heavily Germanic and Scandinavian.

In comparison to the great cities of the Rust Belt, the Northeast, California and Texas, these cities have relatively homogenous populations. Lack of diversity in culture makes it far easier to implement “progressive” policies that cater to populations with similar values; much the same can be seen in such celebrated urban model cultures in the Netherlands and Scandinavia. Their relative wealth also leads to a natural adoption of the default strategy of the upscale suburb: the nicest stuff for the people with the most money. It is much more difficult when you have more racially and economically diverse populations with different needs, interests, and desires to reconcile.

Read the whole article. It documents why attempts to emulate Portlandia in small cities in the midwest are failing and how reviled megalopoli like Atlanta and Houston are doing a better job at delivering true diversity in urban life.

Imagine a style of journalism that digs deeper than the happy-babble of boosterdoggling press releases…

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Unchained Melody: Fields of Gold

Saturday I took a mini vacation and visited my daughter Rian, who was taking a longer vacation in the Hocking Hills. If you are from the Mid-West, you may know about the Hocking Hills. It’s beautiful land- old forests, rolling hills. It was a treat to take a day away from normal life and I love driving through Ohio with its farmland and small towns. I’m a Realtor. Under all is the land.

Ohio is still, and always has been, an agricultural state. Our biggest business is agriculture- that’s large expanses of productive real estate- income producing dirt. I am, even in my inner ring suburb, surrounded by cornfields and soybean fields and small roadside farm stands and pick-your-own strawberries. And when I was a kid I hated it! Hated it. I was once much more cosmopolitan than the hayseed you see before you. I was once a citified mohawk wearing rabble-rouser. I was once on the fast track out of the Mid-West and onto somethinganything more exciting. And then I grew up.

I spent time with people who came from the same gene pool. I was accepted by the most gentle and loving people I’d ever met. Their quiet wit, their infinite love, their simple lives woke me up and let me understand that I could take the girl out of the country, but I never really wanted to take the country out of the girl. My mohawk grew out, my attitude softened- just a bit- and I learned to love the sight of a pristine barn rising out of tidy rows of cornfields. I know with the tiniest whiff on the breeze, whether I’m smelling cow, pig, or horse shit, and my husband Jamie, who has farming in his blood and spent his youth as an assistant to a large animal veterinarian, says that the dumber the animal, the better the smell. Hint: Pigs stink almost as much as humans.

We have beautiful land in Ohio, and no time is it more beautiful than now, in the fall, when the trees become a spectacular raging colorfest, and the farm fields are golden, and the skies are the bluest they will be all year. It’s glorious in Ohio in late September and October, and I, for one, don’t mind the impending winter. I love Winter. The quiet, the calm, the anticipation of Spring. We are not only in touch with our weather here, of which we have quite a bit, we are also in touch with the land here. Even in the city or the suburbs, we watch the local farmers. Watch them as they harvest, as they prep their land for winter, as they turn the earth and plant in the spring. Every season brings a change in the landscape, and I’m quite unapologetic about this, but it’s breathtakingly lovely to watch.

An unchained life in the country: A photo of the Hocking Hills on Saturday, and Eva Cassidy singing “Fields of Gold”.

100_6808

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7 Things Every Home Buyer Should Know – Part 1

Here’s what I wrote about item #1 on the list last time:

6 months ago is ancient history. What your neighbor sold his house for 6 months ago doesn’t matter.   What the seller was asking for the house 6 months ago doesn’t matter.   What matters is what the market will support today.

So, how are things the same and how are they different?   A couple of things that need to be discussed:

How are things the same?

  • What happened 6 months ago is still ancient history.   Since I wrote the first piece, Fannie, Freddie and FHA have tightened up their appraisal guidelines and they will no longer allow an appraiser to use a sale that is more than 90 days old unless they have no other comparables and can write a 5 page essay of why they need to use that one.
  • I can’t tell you how many times over the last 12 months, I’ve heard people say, “3 years ago, the seller bought the house for $100,000 more than what I’m paying the bank for it.   I’m getting an awesome deal!”    My first response is, “Maybe.”   Maybe you are getting a deal.   But maybe the seller bought it at the peak of a bubble in the market and paid way too much and now things are just adjusting down to the market.    Maybe it’s not down to what the market will really absorb for the house and if you tried to sell it next year, you’d end up selling it for less than you paid for it.
  • “They just dropped the price by $50,000!”   This is a great deal!    Maybe, but then again, I can put my house on the market for $650,000 and then offer to give you $100,000 off the asking price.   Is that a good deal for my house?  (Hint – my house is still WAY overpriced at $550,000 – but I’ll sell it to you for that.)

So what is different?   A couple of things are a bit different from last year:

  • The First Time Home Buyer Tax Credit/Buyer Frenzy – If you are any where near the radio/newspaper/any mortgage lender or Realtor, you’re probably getting sick of hearing about the $8,000 first time buyer tax credit.   I’ve written about it before and I’m not going to discuss it here other than to discuss it’s impact on property values.  
  • As the number of first time buyers has skyrocketed in virtually all areas (got to get that free money), it has stablized and in some areas has turned around the property values in the lower end of housing prices in many areas.  
  • So that can actually show prices now being higher than what they were 6 months ago (for certain segments of the market – but certainly not all of them).  Does that mean that the market has turned around?   Do you rush to buy now because houses are going to be more expensive next year?
  • Or is real estate going to follow the same route that automobiles did with the “Cash for Clunkers” program?   You know, the one where sales spiked during the first few weeks of the plan, then slowed down and after the program was over, they dropped quite dramatically?   If that happens to real estate, then how does that play into the plans of  first time home buyer?    If they can’t make it to the November 30 deadline (and time is almost up), do they buy now any way thinking prices are going up or wait because prices are going to come down?

In summary, 6 months ago is ancient history in real estate even today.   However the government’s initiatives that have been attempting to prop up the housing market and encourage first time home buyers have made the calculations and prognostications of what is and what might happen with housing prices much more challenging.

Next we’re going to look at the question of whether what you paid for your house matters or not and the negative equity situation.

Thanks for reading, if I can help shoot me an e-mail at tvanderwell@straighttalkaboutmortgages.com.

Tom Vanderwell

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Intellectual Property Theft for REALTORS – a primer on what not to do.

REALTORS are great at sharing ideas.

I really do like the idea of team spirit and sharing. I think that one can make a strong case for it in business among friends who trust and respect each other. It is what a scenius is all about. It is what we do at our brokerage with what we call our Roundtable. It is a good thing.

But that is TOTALLY different from intellectual property theft. One of the things that I watch REALTORS do time after time is to “help themselves” to other peoples’ intellectual property (or have their hired folks do it) and then fight arrogantly when they are informed about it. Most times it starts as an innocent thing where the REALTOR is unaware of it and ends with the REALTOR losing significant time and money.

Two examples:

Take the latest controversy about a REALTOR named David Bigham. I was not aware of it until my buddy Jon posted on it on our real estate newspaper site. This, sadly enough, has happened literally hundreds of times while I have watched. It is TOTALLY avoidable.

David Bigham is (apparently) a REALTOR somewhere in Minnesota. I neither know him or care. I simply want to help folks avoid his plight for THEIR business.

Here is how it typically starts.

1) REALTOR buys a domain.
2) REALTOR is a visual person, so they find a competitors site that LOOKS cool.
3) They contact the firm that built it and ask “How much?”
4) They faint. Lotsa bucks.
5) They start contacting EVERY web developer from their cousin Fred to the local web development students to every serious firm looking for a person to “make it look EXACTLY like that.” (Famous Last Words…)
6) So Fred or Betty or whoever (insert web developer here) literally copies and pastes the code which is EASILY done and makes a few simple modifications and posts the site as “theirs”, lock stock and barrel.

Then the trouble starts. See, the guys who designed that site…they ummmm…. OWN that design. Yes it may be fashionable for REALTORS to “steal” (or “pinch” “boost” “hi-grade” “lift” etc-grin),,, advertising and other stuff, but when a web company or a cousin Fred does this to a website, it is Intellectual Property theft. Plain and simple.

Here’s the bad part…guess who is on the hook and liable for this? That’s right, it is the owner of the domain. Even if they are unaware that what they did was wrong OR even if they paid cousin Fred $1,000 bucks with the instructions to make it look just like XYZ site and were unaware that Fred was going to use the Xerox machine to make $1,000. (Caveat -specifics matter in this and I have used generalities to cover a TON of potential issues…if you have a specific question, PLEASE see an IP attorney)

Example 2

Photos used in websites.

They need to be of your creation or royalty free or you need to have WRITTEN permission to use them. Same reason as above. I have watched people get in trouble with this one and end up having to pay hundreds of dollars to avoid litigation.

Google images is NOT a royalty free site. (Seriously)

I know this post may have come across as “preachy”. It was not intended to. I am simply tired of seeing REALTORS get caught in the same issues as David Bigham and I care.

It is better to avoid these issues even if it costs a few bits more up front. It truly is worth it.

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“We are easy prey” — Propositions Three and Seven by Richard Mitchell

Propositions Three and Seven from The Graves of Academe by Richard Mitchell

 
In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is, as we all know, king. And across the way, in the country of the witless, the half-wit is king. And why not? It’s only natural, and considering the circumstances, not really a bad system. We do the best we can.

But it is a system with some unhappy consequences. The one-eyed man knows that he could never be king in the land of the two-eyed, and the half-wit knows that he would be small potatoes indeed in a land where most people had all or most of their wits about them. These rulers, therefore, will be inordinately selective about their social programs, which will be designed not only to protect against the rise of the witful and the sighted, but, just as important, to ensure a never-failing supply of the witless and utterly blind. Even to the half-wit and the one-eyed man, it is clear that other half-wits and one-eyed men are potential competitors and supplanters, and they invert the ancient tale in which an anxious tyrant kept watch against a one-sandaled stranger by keeping watch against wanderers with both eyes and operating minds. Uneasy lies the head.

Unfortunately, most people are born with two eyes and even the propensity to think. If nothing is done about this, chaos, obviously, threatens the land. Even worse, unemployment threatens the one-eyed man and the half-wit. However, since they do in fact rule, those potentates have not much to fear, for they can command the construction and perpetuation of a state-supported and legally enforced system for the early detection and obliteration of antisocial traits, and thus arrange that witfulness and 20-20 vision will trouble the land as little as possible. The system is called "education."

Such is our case. Nor should that surprise anyone. Like living creatures, institutions intend primarily to live and do whatever else they do only to that end. Unlike some living creatures, however, who do in fact occasionally decide that there is something even more to be prized than their own survival, institutions are never capable of altruism, heroism, or even self-denial. If you imagine that they are, if, for instance, you fancy that the welfare system or the Federal Reserve exists and labors for "the good of the people," then you can be sure that the minions of the one-eyed man and the half-wit are pleased with you.

Furthermore, any institution that still stands must, by that very fact, be successful. When we say, as we seem to more and more these days, that education in America is "failing," it is because we don’t understand the institution. It is, in fact, succeeding enormously. It grows daily, hourly, in power and wealth, and that precisely because of our accusations of failure. The more we complain against it, the more it can lay claim to our power and wealth, in the name of curing those ills of which we complain. And, in our special case, in a land ostensibly committed to individual freedom and rights, it can and does make the ultimate claim–to be, that is, the free, universal system of public education that alone can raise up to a free land citizens who will understand and love and defend individual freedom and rights. Like any politician, the institution of education claims direct descent in apostolic succession from the Founding Fathers.

Jefferson was in favor of education, indubitably, but he meant the condition, not the word. He held that there was no expectation, "in a state of civilization," that we could be both free and ignorant. The modifier is important; it is to suggest that we might indeed be "free" and ignorant in savagery. Free at least from the conventional and mutually admitted restraints to which civilized people bind themselves.

Using Jefferson’s terms, we can derive exactly eight propositions to think about:

    1. We can be ignorant and free in savagery.

    2. We can be ignorant and free in civilization.

    3. We can be ignorant and unfree in civilization.

    4. We can be ignorant and unfree in savagery.

    5. We can be educated and free in savagery.

    6. We can be educated and free in civilization.

    7. We can be educated and unfree in civilization.

    8. We can be educated and unfree in savagery.

Jefferson asserts that the second is impossible, thereby implying the possibility of the first and the sixth. The fifth and the eighth seem unlikely, for if we are indeed educated it will be both a result of civilization and a cause of civilization. The fourth is just a quibble, for the "freedom" at issue is not freedom from natural exigencies, to which all are subject, but from the devised constraints possible only in a state of civilization. The truth of the third and the seventh, unhappily, is recommended by knowledge and experience.

Omitting those propositions that seem impossible or meaningless, we are left with:

    1. We can be ignorant and free in savagery.

    3. We can be ignorant and unfree in civilization.

    6. We can be educated and free in civilization.

    7. We can be educated and unfree in civilization.

And, of those four, Propositions 1 and 6 are explicitly Jefferson’s, while 3 and 7 are implicitly Jefferson’s. They describe conditions not only perfectly possible but perfectly real. Unfreedom, the forced submission to constraints beyond those mutually admitted by knowing and willing members of a civilization, is not unheard of. Indeed, it is, in greater or less degree, the current condition of all humanity.

Civilization is itself an institution and has, like all institutions, one paramount goal, its own perpetuation. It was Jefferson’s dream that that civilization could best perpetuate itself in which the citizens were "educated," whatever he meant by that, and we do have some clue as to what he meant. He wrote of the "informed discretion" of the people as the only acceptable depository of power in a republic. He knew very well that the people might be neither informed nor discreet, that is, able to make fine distinctions, but held that the remedy for that was not to be sought in depriving the people of their proper power but in better informing their discretion.

And to what end were the people to exercise the power of their informed discretion? The answer, of course, shouldn’t be surprising, but, because we have been taught to confuse government and its institutions with civilization in general, it often is. Jefferson saw the informed discretion of the people as one of those checks and balances for which our constitutional democracy is justly famous, for it was only with such a power that the people could defend themselves against government and its institutions. "The functionaries of every government," wrote Jefferson, although the italics are mine, "have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents." Jefferson knew–isn’t this the unique genius of American constitutionalism? that government was a dangerous master and a treacherous servant and that the first concern of free people was to keep their government on a leash, a pretty short one at that.

Consider again Propositions 3 and 7: 3. We can be ignorant and unfree in civilization, and 7. We can be educated and unfree in civilization. Imagine that you are one of those functionaries of government in whom there has grown, it seems inescapable, the propensity to command, in however oblique a fashion and for whatever supposedly good purpose, the liberty and property of your constituents. Which would you prefer, educated constituents or ignorant ones? Wait. Be sure to answer the question in Jefferson’s terms. Which would you rather face, even considering your own conviction that the cause in which you want to command liberty and property is just–citizens with or without the power of informed discretion? Citizens having that power will require of you a laborious and detailed justification of your intentions and expectations and may, even having that, adduce other information and exercise further discretion to the contrary of your propensities. On the other hand, the ill-informed and undiscriminating can easily be persuaded by the recitation of popular slogans and the appeal to self-interest, however spurious. It is only informed discretion that can detect such maneuvers.

And that’s how government works. There is nothing evil about it. It’s perfectly natural. You and I would do it the same way. In fact, the chances are good that we are doing things that way, since more and more of us are in fact functionaries of government in one way or another and dependent for our daily bread on some share of the property of our constituents, and sometimes (as in the public schools) upon the restriction of their liberty.

It was the genius of Jefferson to see that free people would rarely have to defend their freedom against principalities and powers and satanic enemies of the good, but that they would have to defend it daily against the perfectly natural and inevitable propensities of functionaries. Any fool, can see, eventually, the danger to freedom in a self-confessed military dictatorship, but it takes informed discretion to see the same danger in bland bureaucracies made up entirely of decent people who are just doing their jobs. But Jefferson was optimistic. As to the liberty and property of the people, he saw that "there is no safe deposit for them but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information." And he was convinced, alas, that the people could easily come by that information: "Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is secure."

That sounds so simple. A free press, and universal literacy. We have those things, don’t we? So all is secure, no? No.

Just as we cannot assume that what we call "education" is the same as Jefferson’s "informed discretion," we cannot assume that Jefferson meant what we mean by "press" and "able to read." In our time, the press, in spite of threats real or imagined, is in fact free. And, if we define "literacy" in a very special and limited way, almost everyone is able to read, more or less. But when Jefferson looked at "the press," what did he see? Or, more to the point, what did he not see? He did not see monthly periodicals devoted entirely to such things as hair care and motorcycling and the imagined intimate details of the lives of television stars and rock singers. He did not see a sports page, a fashion page, a household hints column, or an astrological forecast. He did not see a never-ending succession of breathless articles on low-budget decorating for the executive couple in the big city, career enhancement through creative haberdashery, and the achievement of orgasm through enlightened self-interest. He did not see a nationwide portrayal of "the important" as composed primarily of the doings and undoings of entertainers, athletes, politicians, and criminals.

He would not, I think, have been unduly dismayed by all that. Of course, he would have been dismayed, but not unduly. Such things are implicit in the freedom of the press, and if enough people want them, they’ll have them. (Jefferson would surely have wondered why so many people wanted such things, but that’s not to the point just now.) Jefferson did, naturally, see "the press" giving news and information, but, more than that, he also saw in it the very practice of informed discretion. In his time, after all, Common Sense and The Federalist Papers were simply parts of "the press." And "every man able to read" would have been, for Jefferson, every man able to read, weigh, and consider things like Common Sense and The Federalist Papers. He would have recognized at once our editorial pages and our journals of enquiry and opinion, but he would have found it ominous that hardly anyone reads those things, and positively portentous that this omission arises not so much from casual neglect as from a common and measurable inability to read such things with either comprehension or pleasure.

Thus Jefferson is cheated. The press is free and almost everyone can make out many words, but all is not secure. Wait. That’s not quite clear. Some things are secure. The agencies and institutions of government are secure. The functionaries whose propensity it is to command our liberty and property, they are secure. And, as the one-eyed man is the more secure in proportion to the number of citizens he can blind, our functionaries are the more secure in proportion to those of us who are strangers to the powers of informed discretion. It is possible, of course, to keep educated people unfree in a state of civilization, but it’s much easier to keep ignorant people unfree in a state of civilization. And it is easiest of all if you can convince the ignorant that they are educated, for you can thus make them collaborators in your disposition of their liberty and property. That is the institutionally assigned task, for all that it may be invisible to those who perform it, of American public education.

Public education does its work superbly, almost perfectly. It works in fairly strict accordance with its own implicit theory of "education," an elaborate ideology of which only some small details are generally known to the public. This is hardly surprising, for the rare citizen who actually wants to know something about educationistic theory, a dismal subject, finds that it is habitually expressed in tangled, ungrammatical jargon, penetrable, when it is at all, only to one who has nothing better to do. I hope, little by little, to dissect and elucidate that theory, for it is in fact even more frightening than it is dismal. For now, I can take only a first but essential step and urge you to consider this principle: The clouded language of educational theory is an evolved, protective adaptation that hinders thought and understanding. As such, it is no more the result of conscious intention than the markings of a moth. But it works. Thus, those who give themselves to the presumed study and the presumptuous promulgation of educational theory are usually both deceivers and deceived. The murky language

where their minds habitually dwell at once unminds them and gives them the power to unmind others.

We will, with appropriate examples, explore the evolution of that strange trait, especially in that portion of the educational establishment where it is most evident: that is, among the people to whom we have given the training of teachers and the formulation of educational theory. In the cumbersome and complicated contraption we call "public education," the trainers of teachers have special powers and privileges. Although in law they are governed by civilian boards and legislatures, they are in fact but little governed, for they have convinced the boards and legislatures that only teacher-trainers can judge the work of teacher-trainers. That wasn’t hard to do, for boards and legislatures are made up largely of people who have, in their time, already been blinded by the one-eyed man, having been given, as helpless children, what we call "education" rather than practice in informed discretion. The very language in which the teacher-trainers explain their labors will quickly discourage close scrutiny in even a thoughtful board member, perhaps especially in a thoughtful board member, who has after all, other and more important (he thinks) things to do.

It is not strictly true that the public schools are a state-supported monopoly. There are other schools. But the teacher-trainers are certainly a state-supported monopoly. There are no other teacher-trainers than the ones we have, and they are all in the business of teaching something they call "education." No one knows exactly what that is, and even among educationists there is some mild contention as to whether there actually exists some body of knowledge that can be called "education" as separate from other knowable subjects. You may want to make up your own mind as to that, for in later chapters you will see examples of what is actually done by those who teach "education." But for now we must consider the usually unnoticed effects of the monopoly they enjoy.

The laws of supply and demand work in the academic world just as they do in the marketplace, which is to say, of course, that what is natural and reasonable will not happen where government intervenes. Our schools can be usefully likened to a nationalized industrial system in which the production of goods is directed not by entrepreneurs looking to profit but by social planners intending to change the world. Thus it is the business of the schools, and the special task of the educationists who produce teachers, to generate both supply and demand, so that the nation will want exactly what it is they intend to provide.

Within the academic marketplace, there are many enterprises other than educationism, however. Historically, they have not seen themselves in competition with one another, although I’m sure that the faculties of the medieval universities were not reluctant to claim that their disciplines were more noble than the others. Individual professors, of course, must indeed have competed for students, by whom they were paid, but the students, many of whom were to become professors themselves, were free to devote themselves to whatever discipline seemed good. But between one discipline and another there seems to have been, rather than competition, sectarianism.

A similar sectarianism has been revivified by our current educational disorders. If you ask a professor of geography why we seem to be turning into a nation of ignorant rabble, he will not be able to refrain from pointing out that we don’t teach geography anymore and that high school graduates aren’t even sure of the name of the next state, never mind the climatic characteristics of the Great Plains or the rivers that drain the Ohio Valley. Professors of physics will allude to the all-too-inevitable consequences of ignorance of the laws of motion and thermodynamics. You can easily devise for yourself the comments of professors of mathematics, languages, history, literature, and indeed of any who teach those things we think of as traditional academic disciplines. Their views will be, of course, at least partly predictable expressions of self-interest; however, they will also be correct, and, if taken all together, will indeed tell us much about our present troubles.

The academic world is like any other group of related enterprises in which everybody can provide something but nobody can provide everything. For the building of houses, for instance, we need many different things, and they are not easily interchangeable. When we need copper tubing, we need copper tubing, and we can’t make do with wallboard instead. If houses are built, therefore, many people making many different things will be able to produce what is both useful and profitable. And, while the makers of copper tubing won’t have to worry about competition from the makers of wallboard, they will have to be mindful of other makers of copper tubing and also of the makers of plastic tubing. That will be good for the whole enterprise.

Suppose, though, that the copper-tubing people should, through quirk or cunning, secure for themselves some special legal privilege. First they persuade the state, which already has the power to license the building of houses, to prohibit the use of plastic tubing. That’s good, but so long as the state is willing to go that far, the copper-tubing makers seek and achieve a regulation requiring some absolute minimum quantity of copper tubing in every new house. Now you must suppose that the copper-tubing lobby has grown so rich and powerful that the law now requires that fifty percent of the mass of every new house must be made up of copper tubing.

Houses could still be built. Walls, floors, and ceilings could be made of coils and bundles of copper tubing smeared over with plaster or stucco. Copper tubing could be cleverly welded and twisted into everything from doorknobs to windowsills and produced in large sizes for heating ducts and chimneys. The houses would be dreadful, of course, and, should you ask why, you will discover that craftsmen in the building trades are more direct and outspoken than college professors. They’ll just tell you straight out that these are lousy houses because of all that damn copper tubing. If the professor of mathematics were equally frank, he’d tell you that our schools are full of supposed teachers of mathematics who have studied "education" when they should have studied mathematics.

This is, I admit, not an exact analogy. The manufacture of copper tubing actually does have some relationship to the building of houses, while the study of "education" has no relationship at all to the making of educated people. The analogy would perhaps have been better had I chosen, instead of the manufacturers of copper tubing, the manufacturers of gelatin desserts. To grasp the true nature of the place of educationism in the academic world, you have to imagine that houses are to be made mostly of Jell-O–each flavor equally represented–and that the builders must eat a bowl an hour.

(Well, that analogy fails, too. Jell-O is at least a colorful and entertaining treat with no known harmful side effects. The same cannot be said of the study of "education.")

Our public system of education, from Head Start to the graduate schools of the state universities, might also be called a government system. Those who teach in its primary and secondary schools are required by law to serve time, often as much as one half of their undergraduate program, in the classes of the teacher-trainers. Should they seek graduate degrees, which will bring them automatic raises, they will still have to spend about one half their time taking yet again courses devoted to things like interpersonal relations and the appreciation of alternative remediation enhancements. The educationistic monopoly is strong enough that in at least one state (there are probably others, but I’m afraid to find out), a high school mathematics teacher who is arrogant enough to take a master’s degree in mathematics will discover that he is no longer certified to teach that subject. If he wants to keep his job, he must take a degree in "mathematics education," which will, of course, permit him to spend some of his time studying his subject. Even where there is no such visibly monopolistic requirement, the laws and regulations of the public schools, which have been devised by educationists in the teachers’ colleges, provide an effective equivalent.

The intellectual climate of the public schools, which must inevitably become the intellectual climate of the nation, does not seem to be conducive to the spread of what Jefferson called informed discretion. The intellectual climate of the nation today came from the public schools, where almost every one of us was schooled in the work of the mind. We are a people who imagine that we are weighing important issues when we exchange generalizations and well-known opinions. We decide how to vote or what to buy according to whim or fancied self-interest, either of which is easily engendered in us by the manipulation of language, which we have neither the will nor the ability to analyze. We believe that we can reach conclusions without having the faintest idea of the difference between inferences and statements of fact, often without any suspicions that there are such things and that they are different. We are easily persuaded and repersuaded by what seems authoritative, without any notion of those attributes and abilities that characterize authority. We do not notice elementary fallacies in logic; it doesn’t even occur to us to look for them; few of us are even aware that such things exist. We make no regular distinctions between those kinds of things that can be known and objectively verified and those that can only be believed or not. Nor are we likely to examine, when we believe or not, the induced predispositions that may make us do the one or the other. We are easy prey.

That these seem to be the traits of the human condition always and everywhere is not to the point. They just won’t do for a free society. Jefferson and his friends made a revolution against ignorance and unreason, which would preclude freedom in any form of government whatsoever. If we cannot make ourselves a knowledgeable and thoughtful people–those are the requisites of informed discretion–then we cannot be free. But our revolutionists did at least provide us with that form of government which, unlike others, does grant the possibility of freedom, provided, of course, the public has the habit of informed discretion. That possibility is all we have just now.

Proposition 3 is in effect. We are largely a nation of ill-informed and casually thoughtless captives. Even when we are well-informed and thoughtful, however, we cannot be free where the character of the nation and its institutions must reflect the ignorance and unreason of the popular will. But if we are well-informed and thoughtful, we can take comfort in the fact that our form of government is carefully designed to preclude that condition described in Proposition 7. As long as we remain a constitutional republic, we cannot ever be both educated and unfree. It just won’t work, and that may be the single greatest insight of the makers of our revolution.

Therefore, whatever it is they do in the teachers’ colleges of America has had and will always have tremendous consequences. By comparison with the attitudes and intellectual habits and ideological predispositions inculcated in American teachers, the acts of Congress are trivial. Indeed, the latter proceed from the former. If, as a result of the labors of our educationists, we were obviously clear-sighted and thoughtful and thus able to enjoy the freedom promised in our constitutional system, then we would know something about those educationists. If, on the other hand, we are blind and witless, then we would know–if there are any of us who can know–something else about them. To know anything at all about those educationists, however, we must look at what they do, at what they say they do, and even at how they say what they do.

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When the Saints…

I’m an East Coast Liberal-tarian type who’s ok-down with all the political talk around here… in theory.

But in general I follow the no politics or religion in public rule… just because it’s easier, and I guess I wussily think there’s really only negative stuff that can come from political or religious chatter, especially done in a professional bloggy context…

Sports on the other hand, nobody’s offended by sports talk right?

Go Giants!

(Image, created by Eric Hartman)

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A Look Back – What Has Changed and What Hasn’t…..

In July of 2008, I wrote a piece as a guest post on Paul Kedrosky’s site, Infectious Greed.    I called that piece The Top 7 Things Every Home Buyer Should Know.   The piece got a lot of “press” and actually got me interviewed by the New York Times.    I was talking with the reporter who I’ve gotten to know at the New York Times about a month ago and we realized that it was almost exactly a year since he had ran the piece, “Considering the 7 Year Plan.”    He made a comment at that point, “It would be interesting to see what, if anything, has changed over the last year in your opinion of what a home buyer needs to think about.”     I agreed and decided at that point to do that.

So this is the introduction to what will be a 7 part series over the course of the next week or so.   I’m going to take each item, one by one, and look at what my view was in July of last year and then factoring in what I think has or has not changed over the last 15 months.

Here’s a hint for you – out of the 7 parts, I think that we’re going to find that at least 3 or 4 of them have changed substantially.

I’ll have the first one up in a day or two.

Thanks for listening in/reading what my thoughts are…..

 

Tom Vanderwell

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Why I don’t like a Bi-Weekly Mortgage Payment Plan

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When you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything…

A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story

Here’s what happened: I had to stop walking because I was sick. You may not know it, but on top of all the other scourges it entails, the state really has it in for itinerants. You may never have wanted to run off to Alabama with a banjo on your knee, but I’d bet you’re more than a bit dismayed to discover that you can’t. Got to have a fixed address, so they can inflict all their precious ‘benefits’ on you.

So I had to stop walking and I had to see a doctor, and of course I couldn’t. I’ve walked myself right out of society, and I have an inkling I may have walked myself right out of the human race. At least that’s the way Nurse Martinetti made me feel.

That’s really her name, but I think she must have married into it. She looked like American Gentry to me, which is to say John Bull white trash six generations from the last capital crime. Short, bottle-blonde with a cut that looks cute on smudged-nosed tomboys, thick through the ankle and the cortex. My guess is she became a nurse because she red-lined the psych profiles for meter-maid.

First, it’s not a doctor’s office, not anymore. It’s a ‘Health Services Cooperative’. We all know what a cooperative is: It’s a place where you go to not get whatever it is you came for. It would make too much sense to stay home, where you already don’t have it. In any case, Nurse Martinetti is charged with making sure that no one gets anything they came for, although they might get stuck (literally!) with quite a lot they’d have sooner done without. But I wasn’t even that (un)fortunate, because I don’t have a fixed address.

Nurse Martinetti gripped her clipboard and said, “What do you mean? How can you not have an address? Everyone has an address. Some people even have two!” She looked at me as if I were something a puppy accidently left on the carpet.

“…,” I said with a shrug.

“Are you homeless?”

“I wouldn’t say so. I sleep indoors as often as I want to. I pay my own way. I just don’t have an address.”

“But you must!”

“But I don’t.”

“But this can’t be!”

“Why not?,” I asked. “Why is it so hard to accept that there are people who walk from place to place. There have been people walking this continent at least since the Europeans came. Ponce de Leon. Coronado. Father Kino. Daniel Boone. Lewis and Clark. William Blake, for god’s sake!”

“He wasn’t an American!”

“You can say that again,” I mumbled.

“Are you some kind of spy sent out from Washington?!?”

I just smiled at that and sat there, giving her the time to really look at me. I expect that with a few improvements in my grooming habits, I could get a job parking cars in Washington.

“Well then, on your way!” My jaw dropped. She got up and was walking away before I managed to speak.

“But wait! I need to see a doctor.”

“You can’t.”

“…?” I said: “What?”

“You can’t see a doctor.” She said that slowly, the way American Gentry types talk to children and Hispanics.

“Well why not? I can pay.”

She scoffed. “Pay what? Five dollars?”

“I can pay whatever it takes.”

“What it takes,” she sneered, “is five dollars.”

“…?”

“Everything here costs five dollars.”

“Everything…?”

“Everything.”

“Hang nail?”

“Five dollars.”

“Ulcer?”

“Five dollars.”

“Liver transplant?”

“Do you drink?”

I said, “No.”

“Five dollars.”

“How much if I drink?”

“We won’t do a liver transplant on people who drink.”

“Kind of a retroactive social engineering, is it?”

“Exactly.”

“Sounds more like revenge,” I muttered.

She was straining to turn like a jammed drill bit. She was obviously trying to think of some slightly more polite way to dismiss me, so I said:

“Well, five dollars it is. At five bucks a pop, you must do a land-office business.”

“We did for a while,” she confessed, “so we had to institute rationing.”

“Why not just charge what things are worth? Then people will decide on their own what to buy and what to leave on the shelf.”

For the first time the expression of habitual belligerence on her face was gone. In its place was belligerence-on-the-verge-of-tears. “But what about people who can’t afford health care?!? You are an atavism!”

I’m thick-skinned, but I’m not all skin. I said, “What about someone who can afford a liver transplant, but happens to drink? Your income transfers were one thing, but now you’re talking about transferring life and death! What kind of ghoul are you, anyway?”

Well, that tripped her breakers. She stomped over to the reception desk and picked up a microphone. “Vinnie!,” she announced. “Nurse Martinetti calling Doctor Vinnie!”

I don’t believe in destiny, but certain toes were just made to be stomped on. I said, “So I do get to see a doctor.”

“You do not.” She was speaking now from the armory of pure rage, each word a bullet. “For your information, you cannot obtain health care from this cooperative. You do not have an account with our parent alliance.”

“Well, then, let’s just fill out that paperwork and open an account.”

“You do not have an account. You cannot have an account. You do not have a job. You do not receive public assistance. You have no fixed address.”

“So you’re telling me I can’t just buy what I need.”

“I am telling you, sir, that no one can buy health care! Health care is too important to be bought and sold!”

“Too important for keeping people in line…?,” I murmured.

Just then Doctor Vinnie showed up. Big, bronzed and beefy, the kind of really dim man really dim women go for. He was wearing a dark grey suit — a ridiculous cut but beautifully tailored — a black shirt and a lime green silk necktie. He swaggered and sucked his teeth, two traits that never fail to win my awe…

Nurse Martinetti said, “Doctor Vinnie used to work in the private sector.” She swallowed hard, as though to get a bad taste out of her mouth. “Now he works for us, curing people of their reluctance.” For the first time she smiled. It wasn’t pretty.

“On second thought,” I said, “I think I will be going.” I’m nobody’s coward, but — taking account that I can’t get health care — I couldn’t see adding injury to insult.

“Oh no! It is we who have reconsidered.” She smiled again, and her teeth looked a lot like fangs. “Doctor Vinnie will see you now.”

She held open a door and Doctor Vinnie pushed me in. She closed it behind us, leaving me and her rehabilitated mafioso alone.

To my shame, I cringed. I cowered. I may even have whimpered…

Doctor Vinnie picked me up by the collar and dumped me on an examining table. He spoke to me, his tone a conspiratorial whisper. “Whatever it is, I can get it taken care of.”

I said: “…?”

“Jeesh!,” he said. “Don’t you get it? She turned you down, right?”

“Yeah, so. I’ll just go somewhere else.”

He smiled, and every one of his big, beautiful, pearly-white teeth called me an idiot. “There ain’t nowhere else.”

“…!,” I said. I gulped hard.

“Not to worry,” Doctor Vinnie said. “Like I told ya, whatever it is, I can get it taken care of. But it’ll cost ya…”

“Cost me…?”

“A hundred grand. Cash.”

I gulped again. “A hundred thousand dollars…? For what?”

“Whaddaya got?” He grinned.

“Hang nail?”

“A hundred grand.”

“Ulcer?”

“A hundred grand.”

“Liver transplant?”

“A hundred grand.”

“You didn’t ask if I drink.”

“What do I care if you drink?”

“Right…” I said: “Triple-bypass?”

“A hundred grand. We take care of you and we even fix your records, so the feds don’t come after you later. A bypass is hard to hide…”

“Inoperable cancer?”

Vinnie smirked. “Don’t be an idiot. It’s a hundred grand, and we’ll give you the same lethal injection you’ll get from her for five bucks.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder.

“Got it…”

Just then Nurse Martinetti burst in, followed by two men who reeked of Fedliness: Boxy suits, boxy shoes, boxy skulls. They came in with their guns drawn and triangulated on Doctor Vinnie.

I’m nobody’s coward, but I’m nobody’s fool. I’m not shrewd like Doctor Vinnie. What I am is smart. In a flash, I could see what would happen to Vinnie and me: The Fedlies would give us a free lobotomy and they’d alter our records at no extra charge.

So I packed up my pride and I ran. One of the fedlies tried to chase me, but he gave up after a couple of blocks. I’m sure he thought they’d pick me up later at my address. Joke’s on them, of course, since I don’t have an address.

You should be so lucky…

Ah, well, you’ve got your health. And when you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything.

Right…?

 
Further notice: I wrote this story in the summer of 1993, when Nurse Martinetti was trying to ram HillaryCare down our throats. Since then, Americans have managed to become even better suckers for beguiling lies, more is the pity.

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Why I write on the Bloodhound Blog….

and on Zillow’s Mortgages Unzipped Blog and on the Straight Talk About Mortgages. I was asked that question the other day and the answer I gave surprised the person who asked it.   I found that intriguing, so I thought I’d share both the question and the answer.

Why do I write on these blogs?   The person who asked it reads a lot of what I write on these blogs and other places, so they know that even though writing comes rather easy for me, I do spend a lot of time on it.

Here’s my answer:

  • I write on these blogs because the mortgage world can be terribly confusing and I want to try to help educate people, and that’s true even in the best of times.
  • I write on these blogs because sharing my understanding and knowledge of what’s happening and what it means helps to elevate the professionalism and expertise of the mortgage and real estate professions.
  • I write on these blogs because we are in horrendously confusing times and the full ramifications of what’s happening won’t be truly felt for decades.
  • I write on these blogs because there are a lot of people who have experienced and are going through severe financial disruptions and need someone to help them understand what’s going on.
  • I write on these blogs because the economy is going through what I believe we’ll see to be “seismic shifts” in consumers attitudes toward credit, saving, investments, banking, and real estate.  I’ve based my entire mortgage career on helping people manage their money wisely and making solid decisions and this is a logical extension of that.

The person who asked the question was surprised at my response.   He said, “I would have guessed that the reason you write on these is to write more loans!”

Have I written more mortgages that I wouldn’t have otherwise?   Yes.   Is that why I’m doing it?   Nope.

And that brings me to the main point of this post.   I’m working on something new.   Let me explain:

  • There are a lot more facets to people’s financial condition than just mortgages.
  • There’s a lot of people who are struggling to understand what’s happening with real estate, with the financial markets, with the stock markets and trying to answer the question, “Will I ever be able to retire?”

So what’s the new thing I’m working on?   I’m joining forces with two of the experts in these other areas of the financial perspective (BHB’s own BawldGuy for one) and we’re setting up a new website that will offer in-depth writing and analysis of the issues that are facing investors, homeowners, stock market participants and anyone who is concerned with handling their money well.

There are many stories and news items that, as they unfold, make me say, “There’s a lot more to the story than what you read in the mainstream media.”   Our goal behind the new site is to provide an opportunity and a location for people go to get solid, rational, well thought out interpretations and discussions of the issues that are facing us all.

I’ll have more information for you about it soon.   Stay tuned at Straight Talk or at BawldGuy Talking to keep up on the details as they unfold.

Tom Vanderwell

P.S. The other reasons that I write on Bloodhound are because Chris Johnson called Greg Swan and urged Greg to bring me onboard and because it’s just a really great bunch of people to “hang out with.”

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Dead Mac Society: Cupertino, we have a problem…

I have a Macintosh IIfx that is old enough to vote and yet still runs perfectly. But just a little while ago, we lost the hard disk in Cathy’s iMac, and this morning my own precious piece of Iridium woke up by not waking up.

I saw some screen noise in my noodling about, so I’m hoping it’s a circuitry issue. That would almost certainly mean that the machine itself is slag, but, as long as the hard disk has survived, all is not lost.

But still… Macs don’t fail. And two Macs don’t fail this close to each other in time.

After Cathy’s machine went south, we added a 2 terrabyte backup server — even though I have never backed up a Macintosh in my life.

Not the end of the world, but this is going to bite a big — and expensive — hole in my day.

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