There’s always something to howl about

Archive for March, 2010

Libertarian Politics, Facebook Videos & Much Much More

It’s going to take a decade, at least.  Probably longer.   But, we’ll reclaim this country in word and deed…without being corrupted or corruptible.   I have hope….because I know what side I’m on.

It starts and ends with education: overcoming the crap that’s poured into our heads about the nature of the world, overcoming the “pseudoeconomics” .  It starts with me continuing to educate myself, pointing out ideas to others.

I’m in with both feet.  What I did before prepared me for this.  3 weeks ago, Jeremiah Arn and I were talking.  How fast could we get quality stuff done?  How cheap.  He was shocked, as NetBoots quoted him $2500+ for baseline functionality.  I can do what they can do cheaper–partly because WP has a bigger community than Drupal, partly because we’ve done this for a while, and partly because Flat Rate Web Jobs has built ton of sites and has a decent system in place for at least that portion of the experience.  Cloning that and focusing on speedy delivery is key.

So, now, I make libertarian campaign websites for a living.  We’ll deliver five this week. First one off the line was last week  We were faster than their people were ready with copy.  That never happens.   For you Austinites that never read BHB, please vote for liberty minded Glen Mayes for school board starting April 26th.

Campaigns need speed–period.  That’s what they have to have to win, you recruit a candidate, you get them ready for primaries, then you have 50-60 days, tops to do everything.  Each day is a big portion of the total time, and waiting a week for a website is a killer.  When I worked on my campaign vendor delays were the #1 source of stress.

And there’s no excuse for that: with SQL every frollicking thing we do is a database entry.  See?  WP/Thesis/all of it.  It boils down to one database that we can re-use, re-deploy and set all the variables for with one form.  Call me a vendorslut already.  Whatever. We make it fast and we make it better with every iteration.  You know, a loop.

We can use the same open source-ish shopping cart over and over–again a database that we had to hack to do some campaign compliance things.  We can make it inherit the styles of our sites which are muy flexible.  So we can deploy a functional site as fast as a domain can propagate, have design and copy done in 2 days.  And, we can beat the going rates while still earning.

Oh, yeah, and I don’t really have to charge for most of the function of WP.  That’s the best part.  I built PC on WPMU (soon to be WP 3.0) and I can give away libertarian group websites.  Sure, they’ll have a address, but, ya know, hopefully I’ll fare better than Greg did.  Since I’ve partnered up with Dix and her warm & fuzzy hosting, I’ll be fine.  I certainly don’t have any of that info in my brain.

Anyway little venture was on its way before the Health Care vote.  And now that that’s happened, my phone is blowing up with orders.  In one sense, I’m happy about that.  But in the other, I grieve.

Sean Purcell: I got on you for wasting time in politics.  Or on tinfoil fun.  Probably becaus it chaffed my soul.   I knew I needed to be there.   Just watch, friends.

This video is basically a Keynote presentation with a couple of edits in Screenflow.  Music comes from Video Copilot’s stock and royalty fee stuff.   I hate the way FB takes down the quality, we’ll fire it up on Youtube or Amazon’s S3.


I. Am . Not. A. Republican.


Supplanting the Rotarian Socialists

In one of Greg Swann’s posts on finding splendor for yourself he came to the conclusion that we don’t have to get there, we are already here!  Here’s what Greg said towards the end of that post:

Good news: We’re already here. You’re already a sane, normal person, and you already live among your neighbors in peace and prosperity. Yes, the state preys upon you like a vast, hideous vampire, reeking of death, impetuously random in its predations. But it matters less and less to civilized people with every passing day.

I don’t ever favor trying to defeat or take over evil institutions. It is sufficient to supplant them. And this sane and civilized people are already doing, just by living their sane and civilized lives. Consider eBay. Consider PayPal. Now think of a clearinghouse like PayPal unknown to anyone except its depositors. Does anything like this already exist? How would you know if it does? How hard would it be to create, now that you know it could exist?

I love the idea of supplanting systems that have lost their utility.  I read that and wondered.  Does anything like this already exist?  Is there a world, in reality or in cyberspace where civilized people are able to engage in commerce freely?  The answer is of course there is!

In previous career choices I used to do business with entrepreneurs and business people from Europe and Asia.  They were from some of the highest taxed economies in the world.  To me, it appeared they spent considerable time and effort structuring their businesses to keep assets in various places worldwide so they did not have to realize the taxes on them in their home countries.  It seemed like a bunch of trouble compared to just living somewhere where tax rates were acceptable, like the United States in those days.

Since then, we’ve had the internet revolution.  The tax climate in the United States is changing.  So, I wondered how those folks might function today.  What I found is that their goal of earning and keeping assets in various places and countries has become much easier.  There are tools today I wouldn’t have dreamed of 20 years ago.  Of course, those trying to track and take assets have new tools as well.

I love profits, earning profits and having them to do with as I wish.  With the weekend’s events, I’ve been thinking how do people, like the Europeans I used to see, find ways to “make themselves unappetizing to predators.”  With just a few minutes on the internet I found I was extremely behind the times and naïve as to the options out there.

Yes, there is electronic money.  iGolder, WebMoney, Liberty Reserve, Pecunix, ECU Money, GlobalDigitalPay and EuroGoldCash to name a few.  There are debit cards that draw directly from that money and hand it to your from your local cash machine!  There are stores that access electronic money and send you products anywhere in the world!  Businesses doing international purchasing and sales no longer need to go through all the delays and expenses of letters of credit like we did in the old days.  I’m no expert in international finance, but I was conversant in the business transactions of twenty plus years ago.  It looks like things have changed.

Of course, there are potential problems too.  Having assets isn’t much good if the IRS decides you belong in jail, their ultimate coercion system, because you did something that they don’t approve of.  There are other issues to consider with electronic currency, potential for fraud, ease of money laundering, hacking, exchange rate instability and the stability of the providers themselves.  Some of these systems are supposed to be backed by gold and some are backed by currencies.  They all have their own approach to providing their services.

There are also electronic stores, debit cards and exchanges that will convert electronic money to currencies in almost any country.

Is there risk in these electronic currencies?  As in all things in life, certainly there is.  Am I recommending any of these services?  Nope.  I just find it fascinating that there are markets and currencies that can operate with a degree of privacy outside the mainstream systems.  With our government’s current approach to governing, I am sure they will find many more customers from the less and less free United States looking for ways to do things to improve how much of their profits they get to keep.

I’ll leave it to others to suggest how e-currencies might be used legally and effectively.  Personally, I’m still trying to figure out if and how to use Private Transfer Fees!


Don’t Believe Everything You Hear On The Radio

Even Those Financial Gurus You Know And Trust Can Be Wrong

This weekend, I caught part of a nationally syndicated financial talk show on the radio. While I appreciate and agree with much of what the host usually has to say – this was one of those times that I found myself yelling at the radio.

A home buyer called into the program with an issue where she felt that she was going to lose her earnest money because her 21-day financing contingency had expired – and she was unable to get a mortgage.

The host thought the 21-day financing contingency was too short… and told the caller that she should have had an attorney negotiate the terms of the contract – and at this point in time, she should renegotiate the terms of the financing contingency.

Well I’ve got some news for you, sunshine.

Unless your attorney is offering to pay top dollar for one of my listings – you won’t see a financing contingency from my clients that exceeds 21 days… and it will be highly unlikely that you will see my clients sign away their liquidated damages by extending that contingency.

Years ago, it was common to see financing contingencies that continued right up until the closing date… but that was then – and this is now. Back then, if the buyer could fog a mirror – they could get bought. Not so these days.

As a consultant to my home selling clients, I find it my duty to protect their interests to the best of my ability… and that includes negotiating the financing contingency in such a way as to provide liquidated damages of having a property removed from the market by a buyer who can not complete the transaction.

Just because you hire an attorney to negotiate on your behalf doesn’t mean that the other team is going to lay down and let you run them over.

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You’re going to have to jail me, President Obama: I might be a sucker, but I will not be a blood-sucker

Kicked back to the top from last Ocotober. –GSS

I don’t go to the doctor very often. I don’t get sick much, and, even when I do, I’m not always willing to make time to do anything about it. I work very hard, and all I want to do is work, and I don’t want to have to take time to slow down even when my body really needs to slow down.

In consequence, I am the perfect stooge for the ObamaCare scheme that Americans seem hell-bent on ramming down each other’s throats. Welfare scams only work when there are people willing to produce wealth long after it has become obvious that working hard is for suckers — when all the clued-in people have already jumped on the gravy train.

In the case of socialized medicine, the clued-in people will discover more and more things wrong with their health. Why not? It will be people like me — who don’t get sick and who refuse to let illness keep us from working — who will be footing the bill.

And that’s just the way things are in the welfare-state we have made of this once-free country. Working women defer motherhood so welfare moms can pop out kid after kid, each one endowed at birth with a tax-funded sinecure. Conscientious parents pay twice for their children’s education, once in taxes to pay for useless public schools and once again in tuition for the private schools their children actually attend. If you refuse to live on the dole, you have to save for two retirements: One that you won’t take and one that you will have to guard, night and day, so it won’t be taken from you.

That’s what we are, by now. Suckers on one side of the room, proud but tight-lipped. And blood-suckers on the other side, belligerent and bellicose, constantly demanding more and more largesse from the stoical, stolid suckers.

Fine. It is what it is, and nothing is going to change any time soon — except for the worse. But as much as I might be in this mess, as much as I might be the stooge who makes the welfare state possible, I refuse to be a part of it. I refuse to be a parasite. I’ll be a sucker if I have to, but I refuse to be a blood-sucker.

Socialized medicine must be universal. How can the voluntary victims of freelance pharmacy go to rehab again and again if they have to pay their own health insurance premiums? How can we buy aromatherapy for the addlepated when they already don’t have sense enough to buy their own scents? The clued-in people who will be consuming the lion’s share of the “free” health care are already lousy at producing wealth. How much worse are they going to be at paying their own way once they start spending all their time in the hospital?

So in order to have socialized medicine, the state is going to have to socialize me — and you, and everyone. The system can’t work without suckers. But the larger agenda is to turn all of us into blood-suckers, into parasites, into belligerent, bellicose beggars. You might plan to go along with this, but I will not.

Why? It’s not because of the confiscation of my earnings. I’m already putting up with that. But once the entire health care system is socialized, I won’t be permitted to pay my own way. I won’t just be a sucker, I’ll be a blood-sucker, living at the involuntary expense of every other hard-working sucker in America.

This I will not do. President Obama and his minions can fine me if they like. They can jail me if they choose. But I have never been a beggar, a parasite, and I never will.

So come and get me, Coppers! In a nation where self-reliance is a crime, we are all criminals now. This is what we have done to what was once the greatest country on earth.

In the meantime, I suppose I’ll have to find a way to get back-alley chest X-rays and contraband antibiotics. That’s what I get for working for a living…


SplendorQuest: Redemption is egoism in action: Even if other people are criminal, I am not — but I will not cause them to become good by becoming a criminal myself.

I wrote this a dozen years ago, and I’ve posted it here before. It’s apposite today, because, to all indications, we are all about to be involuntarily inducted into a cannibal cult. My question for you: Will you choose to be devoured by your neighbors, or will you elect to devour them instead? –GSS

What I want to discuss is Socrates’ question about whether it is better to inflict an injury or to have an injury inflicted upon you. It’s a favorite of sophists and sophomores, I know, but I think it strikes at the very core of justice. The justice I seek and seek to defend is not “out there”, apart from myself. Justice (or injustice) is not what others do to me, it’s what I do to myself and to others. Where I find myself availing myself of the fallacies tu quoque or two wrongs make a right, I am rationalizing injustice, and the worst havoc I am wreaking is upon my own ego.

The Nazarene’s answer to Socrates was this: It is better to have an injury inflicted upon you, because redemption is still possible to one who has not inflicted injury upon another. I don’t believe in an afterlife and I don’t believe redemption hinges upon any one event. But I do believe that a “justice” that is itself unjust is vain at best and evil at worst.

We can make a joke by saying, “Political philosophy is the means by which ethical systems betray themselves.” There are actually a host of reasons for this, and all of them are amusing to me. For one, a political system has a meta-goal apart from the ethical system in which it is rooted: It must function in the real world.

Moreover, the political system itself has a meta-ethical or even extra-ethical goal in that its proponents will tend to imbue it with what they view are essential survival characteristics even if these betray the ethical system in which the political philosophy is putatively based. Any form of argument that the polity can or should or must do what it would be immoral or criminal for any individual to do is a form of this error. The counter is, but if we don’t inflict this injury, the polity won’t survive. And the counter to that is that a dispute resolution system that survives by crime is a predator, not a justice system.

Moreover yet again, it is very common for proponents of political philosophies to claim that these essential survival characteristics are in some way manifestations of nature, rather than expressions of ideas. The usefulness of this approach is beyond doubt: Nature is not open to dispute, where ideas always are. The challenge to this, of course, is to carry the claims back to the object. If the manifestations cannot be observed in nature, they are creations of the mind. This doesn’t make them necessarily invalid, but it does make their defense invalid. The general process — man is what my theory needs him to be — is what I call metaphysically creative solipsism. A less polite name would be “conjuring”.

Finally we come back to the schoolyard rationalizations that each of us remembers from the hazy days of youth: “You do it, so we can, too!” (the fallacy tu quoque); and, “He hit me first!” (the fallacy two wrongs make a right). Without intending to joke, I think that one way of understanding political philosophy in general is as an attempt to rationalize all of the bad impulses of childhood. By answering in a way opposite that chosen by the Nazarene, the proponent tacitly admits that there is no essential difference, in his mind, between justice and injustice, it’s all a matter of whose ox is gored.

And I know I make advocates of forceful dispute resolution apoplectic. The issue is not the essential survival characteristics of a culture or a polity. The issue is not effecting the retribution of a vengeful but seemingly indisposed god. The issue is not “me and mine” or “might makes right” or any other rationalization for doing unto others precisely what your political system attempts to forbid them to do unto you. The issue is justice. What is it, and how do we achieve it?

Now the obvious contrary — defended with hysterical hyperbole, entirely frictionless slippery-slopes and cacophonic brass bands — is this: If your proposed system of dispute resolution forebears to commit crimes in pursuit of its own enduring existence, then how will it survive?

And that is something you need to think about. For on the one hand, the question admits that all of the political philosophies we’ve talked about so far are defended in “might makes right”. And on the other, it asks, by implication, is it possible for a political system to persist without being defended in “might makes right”?

I don’t know the answer to that, although I think it’s a wrong-headed question. Carried back to an individual person, the question is: Is it better to inflict an injury or to have an injury inflicted upon you?


I love working this way.

If predation is the only way your political philosophy can persist, why would you want any part of it? In contrast to that belief, I believe the moral is the practical. But even if it should turn out that morality is bested by criminality, I should not want to be a proponent of criminality. I would choose to be injured rather than to be forevermore an inflicter of injuries.

How about you?

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So there’s this huge interent scandal at the NAR, except there are no details about why it’s a scandal, and the “researchers” behind the claims are keeping their names secret. Want to know more? All you have to do is cough up twenty bucks a month.

Do you want potent evidence that the #RTB movement has nothing to do with actually raising standards of service and care among Realtors? The organizers of the so-called Raising The Bar push did not try to enlist our support here, even though BloodhoundBlog is by far the loudest voice on the net on the subject of real estate professionals bringing better value to consumers.

In the same respect, I am deeply suspicious of putative anti-NAR movements that do not contact us. This is the philosophical home of the idea of supplanting the NAR. Doing anything to undermine the real estate vampire cartel without us is a non-starter.

So I didn’t know, at first, what to make of, a web site that spammed me this afternoon. I tried reading the articles, but they’re all implication with no actual details. The word “scandal” is thrown about liberally, but I saw no evidence of anything even remotely like a scandal on the site.

As an example, the implication is that RPR is some kind of evil scheme concocted by arch-villains like Dale Stinton — who goes about cleverly camouflaged as a fat old dotard to confound his enemies. I’m a beta tester for RPR, and I can tell you with confidence that RPR is reasonably interesting as yet another and extremely boring as the lynchpin of a conspiracy plot. Do not ever expect me to say anything good about the NAR, but RPR, for what I’ve seen of it, is tapioca in technicolor, no threat to anyone, not even to Zillow or Trulia.

So where’s the scandal? Moreover, who is the scandal-monger? I dug all through the site — and its whois record — and could not find anyone willing to stand up on his hind legs and claim to be the creator of the site or the author of all the going-nowhere “exposés.” One could argue that Stinton and other NAR poohbahs have a libel claim, except that nothing potentially libelous — or even interesting — is published at the site.

So I kept digging and finally came to this:

Of course…

The NAR is a criminal conspiracy against the consumer going all the way back to its founding. The kind of conduct it engages in routinely should be unlawful — except that our entire country is run by the same sort of criminal conspirators. I call them Rotarian Socialists — raping the consumer for the benefit of me and my buddies. But the con-games it runs continuously on gullible real estate agents comprise a second very good reason to hate the NAR.

So attempting to milk suckers with a phony “scandal” seems a good reason to despise

If someone with a real, verifiable name wants to stand up like a man and present real evidence of a real scandal, I can be counted upon to lend an ear.

Until that happens, though, I call bullshit. I want the NAR dead and gone. I see no benefit in replacing it with another cadre of con-men.


Noble savages not so noble? “There are all these aspects to our lives that just seem to work, because we are not actually baboons.”

We have been cursed, as a civilization, because so much of the social sciences side of the university quadrangle has for so long been in the thrall of Marxism. It has been difficult for intellectuals to see the world for what it is, so avidly have they sought to portray it as the product of their preconceptions. Nothing changes quickly, but it is nice to see academics actually testing their theories in reality, rather than just blathering on out of prejudice.

Why am I in such a celebratory mood? Anthropologists in Canada have discovered that the so-called “noble savage” is quite a bit less than noble, while the much maligned greedy capitalists of the West are in fact kinder, gentler, more trusting people. This is the sort of thing that should be obvious to anyone with eyes, but it takes an effort, apparently, to get a social scientist to take note of the territory instead of insisting on the sacred validity of the truth presented by the map.

From Canada’s National Post:

Free-enterprising, impersonal markets may seem cutthroat and mean-spirited, but a provocative new study says markets have been a force for good over the last 10,000 years, helping to drive the evolution of more trusting and co-operative societies.

“We live in a much kinder, gentler world than most humans have lived in,” says anthropologist Joe Henrich of the University of British Columbia, lead author of the study that helps topple long-held stereotypes.

The finding, reported in the journal Science, suggests people trust and play fair with strangers because markets and religion — not some deep psychological instinct inherited from our dim tribal past — have helped shape our neural circuitry over the eons.


The study found that the likelihood that people “played fair” with strangers increased with the degree people were integrated into markets and participated in a world religion. Participants in the larger-scale societies were also more likely to punish players who did not play fair.

The hunter-gatherer and tribal societies studied are known for sharing among family and close acquaintances. But the researchers found fair play in monetary transactions with strangers was almost an alien concept. People in the simpler societies treated strangers less fairly, and were less likely to punish people who kept most of the money for themselves.

Social scientists — and economists in particular — have long been baffled with the way people in large societies are so trusting and fair in dealings with strangers. Many academics have argued it is a throwback to a time when humans were hunter-gatherers.

Mr. Henrich and his colleagues say their findings indicate playing fair with strangers is a behaviour that was favoured as the size of societies and populations grew.

The emergence and growth of markets allowed for the exchange of goods, skills and knowledge and enabled large complex societies to emerge and function, Mr. Henrich says, noting that humans in large societies are not nearly as selfish as some would suggest.

Oh, well. Nothing is perfect. The use of the word “selfish” in that last sentence tells us that our anthropologists have no idea at all what the self is — but that’s a pandemic affliction, I’m afraid. Why do I go out of my way to pass pleasantries with the people who sell me my food, my gas, my tools? If the pursuit of human joy is not selfish, then the word has no meaning.

Here’s the truth: For your entire life, you and everything of the West have been denounced and derided — for your virtues. Marxism is a global conspiracy of reified crime, and it cannot persist where ordinary people understand and uphold the values of the mind that make freedom and prosperity possible. This is why the Marxists took over the academy, starting with the social sciences. If you can be induced to despise everything that makes your life possible, the battle is won. It’s nice to see even a glimmering of evidence that not everyone in the anthropology department has been hoodwinked by this brutal scam.


Daniel Boone

Fess Parker – August 16, 1924 – March 18, 2010

Some old memories for the end of the week…..and, then, for those of you who remember Mingo, I just had to remind everyone of the clip below.

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Why is the mainstream media dying? Could it be because the only unabashedly truthful news outlet in the U.S. is… South Park…?

Here’s the full episode.

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No tilt; no fall real estate signs

This blog post is an informative blog post for people who purchase their own real estate signs; other’s need not read any further.  For years, Worthington Realty, Manitowoc have put up with under engineered, cheaply made real estate signs.  Looking high and low, nothing was on the market which needed to meet the following requirements.

1)      Guaranteed not to lean, tilt, or fall over

2)      Built to last

3)      Fashionable looking

4)      Easy to install

5)      Light in weight

6)      Reasonable cost

Fast forward two years and dozens of experiments, Worthington Realty has got it!  The first real estate sign guaranteed to stand straight up tall just like the day you put in the ground.   Worthington Realty consulted with visionary fabrication guru’s to create the ultimate in real estate sign technology.  We’ve perfected the anchor which attaches the post to the ground.  The anchor weighs approximately 20lbs which is extremely light compared to what was originally engineered.

Worthington Realty is looking for the industry public opinion.  Is there a demand for a real estate sign guaranteed to stand tall like the day you put it in the ground?  What would you pay for an item like this?  Can you imagine putting a sign in the ground and knowing you’ll come back to it standing tall?  What are your thoughts?  Worthington Realty would greatly appreciate your input.  In our office we are not perfectionist or genius by any means, however we shoot for the stars making every single day count.  Thank you in advance for you input and advice.


Will Pre-Approval Letters Be Banished?

Score one more screw up for the Government-Banking Complex…and watch mortgage brokers thrive because of it.

Andrew Duncan of Keller Williams in Tampa, FL reprinted a Mortgage News Daily story:

As part of the changes to the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, borrowers can no longer shop for a home with a firm loan commitment in hand. While that might not be a big deal in today’s buyer’s market — it could give cash-rich buyers an advantage when sellers are back in the driver’s seat.

Under the new RESPA rule, a lender cannot perform income, asset and credit verifications until the prospective borrower has received a Good Faith Estimate, Patton Boggs LLP Partner Rich Andreano told in a telephone interview. Andreano is a RESPA expert with nearly 25 years’ experience who advises mortgage bankers, mortgage brokers and other providers of mortgage-related services about regulatory compliance and transactional issues.

What this means is that mortgage lenders will be forbidden from performing normal income and asset verifications, or seek permission to perform those tasks, without issuing a binding Good-Faith-Estimate of loan fees.  Pragmatically, this means that most large, direct lenders will not want to commit to the fees until they know the exact loan amount and purchase price.

One more reason to do business with a mortgage broker. Mortgage brokers don’t fund loans, they arrange them.  What mortgage brokers do have in their arsenal is all the pre-approval tools needed to secure an automated underwriting approval.  The new good faith estimate favors brokers because it allows them to fully-disclose the fee they earn for arranging that loan, while putting a time limit on the rate.

Andreano explained that HUD’s position is that verifications cannot be performed until the borrower has been provided with a GFE. But if a loan commitment is issued and the property costs vary significantly — the lender cannot revise the GFE.

“What you can’t do before the consumer gets a GFE in their hands is you can’t ask them to give you any verifying documents, nor can you ask them to give you authority to verify,” he stated. “The lender would be stuck with the cost estimates in the GFE.”

Mortgage brokers would be taking on a huge risk by filling that void, right?  Not true.  Mortgage brokers can issue a good-faith-estimate with a definitive time deadline on it; they only “fees” they are “locking in” are “origination fees”.  Mortgage brokers would be advised to estimate third-party fees, such as appraisal, title, escrow, etc., very generously to remain within the letter of the law.  Early disclosure allows for mortgage brokers to perform the necessary due diligence required to issue a pre-approval letter.

The ultimate responsibility for TILA disclosure falls upon the wholesale lender, when the loan is locked or submitted.  Pragmatically, this allows a mortgage broker to use all the pre-approval tools a wholesale lender offers, to perform that due diligence, while the retail channel of the very same lender will avoid such duties for fear of limiting its profits.

Mortgage brokers earned disclosed fees, just like real estate brokers, while direct lenders earn undisclosed loan profits (yield spread premium).  When faced with regulations that might limit those profits, the lenders just pick up their balls and go home.

That’s great news for mortgage brokers.  Even the big lenders know that.


SplendorQuest: Xavier’s destiny

A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story

“Madre de dios…!”

Mrs. Marquez said that, and it seemed a fair estimate to me. Everywhere we looked in the overlit room we saw things of wonder and beauty and uncontested menace. Despite the din, I heard myself groan, and I wasn’t utterly sure I’d done the right thing. Walking through the valley of the shadow of death in a grade school cafeteria is one thing. Pushing an underfed eight-year-old boychild ahead of you is another.

The road I walk is the path that separates the straights from the crooks, the pencil-fine line that splits the people we call “decent” from the sneaks, the freaks and the side-show geeks. I have a scruple or two, painted and waxed, so I don’t quite fit in among the bungled and the botched. And yet I do have an itinerary, and I don’t have much of an agenda, so the quality folk are never dismayed to see the back of me. Neither fish nor fowl, always on the prowl, quick to resign from any community that would even consider having me as a member. This is the life I’ve chosen for myself, after all, and I’d be daft to beef about it.

Still, there are Other Matters to consider. Among them: I’ve been nineteen-years-old forever, but I’ve been nineteen for a lot of years. I’m making a buck or two more than I ever have before, and staying in one spot a day or two — or a week or two, or a month or two — is not only more desirable than it ever was before, it’s suddenly financially possible where it never was before. Plus which, I don’t love the cold and I do love the sweet smell of orange blossoms. And to make a belabored excuse slightly less laborious, I’ll just come out with it: I hung out in a half-big town halfway from nowhere for so long that I got myself well and truly hooked in a scheme straight out of the handbook of the straights.

I was renting week-to-week at the Orangeview Estates, and my next-door neighbors in the tiny four-plex were Mrs. Marquez and her scrawny little manchild, Xavier. Xavier was a Cub Scout, and I helped him enter the Pinewood Derby. No kidding. Not quite singing hymns and selling Amway, but damned near it.

Orangeview Estates promotes itself as an apartment complex, but it’s actually more like a crude motelization of superannuated picker housing. Picker housing is wood-frame and stucco, because you don’t have to import labor to build wood-frame and stucco, and it’s four-plexed to keep the plumbing — such as it is — cheap. Mostly the real pickers live in their trucks, because they go for the winter produce before the citrus comes in and move on to the summer crops after the citrus plays out and because their trucks are rent-free. The picker housing used to be owned and maintained by the growers, but by now a lot of it has been sold to become palatial family residences available by the month, by the week or by the day, cash in advance if you please.

If you imagine a very seedy motel room and then cross that with a run-down shack, you’re imagining a home much nicer than the Orangeview Estates. On the other hand, the rent was dirt cheap, the aroma from the orange groves was heavenly and the irrigation and the shade from the orange trees kept everything nice and cool. Back on the first hand, the neighbors mostly ran from unsavory to completely gruesome. There are half-big citrus towns all across the desert, and there’s nothing to do in any of them except work for the growers. Year-round work is rare and the pickers move along. The people who stay have nothing to do but make trouble, and they’re good at it. As an expression of tacit racism, the desk clerk had put me in among the respectable folk at Orangeview Estates.

To my left were the Sandovals, an ancient couple who went to mass every morning, then tended the church and rectory grounds all day, then went to confession every afternoon, then came home and fell asleep before they could possibly have time to sin or even think about it. Surely they are destined for the highest pinnacle of heaven — unless they are cast to the beasts for wasting so much of god’s time.

To my right were Mrs. Marquez and Xavier. Very much “Missus” Marquez. The only times I saw anger in her eyes were when someone called her “Ms.”, or worse, “Miss”. Every once in a while, some old crone would wonder too loudly where Mister Marquez might be found. When that happened the anger would still be there, but Mrs. Marquez would have her chin so high you couldn’t see it. She was in Orangeview Estates, but she was not of it, and she never forgot that simple fact, and she never let anyone else forget it, either. She was a cook in the home of one of the larger growers and she carried herself with a mien that would not have looked at all out of place in fifteenth century Madrid.

To the right of Mrs. Marquez was the Hernandez family, Hugo and Juanita and five giggling daughters, all crammed into a space that seemed to me to be too small for my one small self. Hugo knew that Xavier needed a father’s guidance, and I think he might have been a little hungry for a son, as well. But Juanita had daggers in her eyes, and she made it plain in a hundred non-subtle ways that she would be happy to lend Hugo to Mrs. Marquez as soon as the mysterious Mr. Marquez evinced himself and made that generosity unnecessary.

And so I’m sure that’s why Mrs. Marquez turned to me with the problem of the Pinewood Derby. I might have looked straight and respectable to the management of the Orangeview Estates, by comparison with most of the tenants, but this is not a flattering evaluation. And there is no one who has talked with me for five minutes who will confuse me with the decent folks. Merely being the gringo in residence at the Orangeview Estates raised eyebrows, even among the crooks. The boy had been walking with me every afternoon, but I hadn’t bowdlerized my speech to protect his frail sensibilities. I was telling him the straight and brutal truth, which I can be counted upon to do with everyone, and I hope I was doing him some good in the long run. But it might not have come off sounding so good in the short run, especially to a mother who couldn’t quite figure out how to cut the cord. I had no idea how much of our conversations he was carrying home to his mama. Couldn’t have been too bad, I guess, considering.

In the citrus towns, in the winter produce towns, in the cotton towns, in all the little half-big agricultural towns of the desert, the growers and their year-round gringo care-takers account for about ten percent of the population. But they control everything. In situations like that, we expect to find lousy public schools and excellent private schools. That’s the way it is back East, up North. But the people who settled the deserts had great faith in the public schools; the public schools and federally-subsidized irrigation are what made ’em what they are today. Since the growers are compelled to pay for public schools, and since they control them anyway, there’s no cost to them to sending their own children to the public schools. You can take it as a rule of thumb that the public schools will be excellent wherever they are controlled utterly by people with money who know what they want.

Certainly that was true of Xavier’s school — at least for the children of the growers and their year-round gringo care-takers. The schools had an academic track that was as good as any you’ll find in a magnet school in a big city. They also had a barrio track for los niños de los barrios; you didn’t learn much, but there was no threat you’d be found truant, especially when the fruit was full on the trees. But if Mrs. Marquez was not in the aristocracy, she was most certainly of it; she bulled her way past every obstacle to ensure that Xavier was enrolled in the academic track, not the barrio track. He was much better prepared than the gringo children, since she leaned all over him at home, but it was her persistence, not his preparation, that won him his place.

It was the right thing to have done, but sometimes the right thing comes at a high price. Xavier is short and thin and he wears glasses. His mother makes him wear dress slacks and leather shoes to school, and blinding white shirts and neckties. He has an immense vocabulary and a painstaking way of speaking. He can explain anything to anyone, and he will happily do so, with or without invitation. We all know how things work, and so we all know that Xavier couldn’t be asking for it any better if he had a flashing neon sign on his forehead that said, “Asking for it!” The mildest taunt I heard was, “Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-vee-air!” I’m sure more and worse was said out of any adult’s earshot.

And that’s the way things are, not an excuse but a recognition. But I don’t always much like the way things are, and that’s why I started inviting Xavier along on my walks. I didn’t expect to change much, and in truth I don’t ever expect much to change. But nothing changes if you leave it alone, and everybody’s gotta take a side. Thus does Brother Willie put one toe over the line into the land of the straights.

The Pinewood Derby thing kind of slipped in there sideways, and it wasn’t until much later that I realized just how much Mrs. Marquez had staked on my unreliable tutelage. On its face, the Derby is pretty much nothing: Cub Scouts build and race small wooden cars. But what it’s really about is a comprehensive introduction to manly virtues. Our mamas teach us and teach and teach us until we move away and still they keep after us. But what they teach us are their ideas of virtue: wash your face, brush your teeth, clean your room, pick up after yourself — and phone home. The Pinewood Derby strives to impart self-reliance and foresight and application and persistence and intense competition and good sportsmanship. It’s also supposed to be fun, but, clearly, the primary objectives are didactic.

When Mrs. Marquez showed up with little Xavier and the Official Pinewood Derby Racer Kit, I was more than a little dubious. I like those manly virtues just as much as the next guy, but I wish they were a little more portable. Also, I silently cursed Señora Juanita Hernandez and her stupid jealousy; surely this was right up Hugo’s avienda, and he’d probably be good at it, besides. But, play or fold, the cards you’re dealt are the cards you’ve got, so I agreed to read the rules and give it some thought.

The rules were pretty clear: fathers — or those who play them on TV — were consigned to a strictly advisory role. The racer was to be built by Xavier, and I was to limit myself to consulting with him and, in a pinch, lending a finger or two. That didn’t seem too hairy until I talked things over with Mrs. Marquez. Her rules were a little more stringent: Xavier was not to use knives, saws, chisels, drills, files or power tools. I explained to her that the racer kit consisted of a block of pine, drilled for the axles, and some little plastic wheels; without tools, Xavier would be racing an unadorned slab of wood. Her resolution was monolithic and I couldn’t fathom how the school board had managed to hold out against her. Finally she agreed to let Xavier do whatever damage he could to his block of pine with sandpaper. I didn’t tell her that sandpaper can cause nasty abrasions. And neither her English nor my Spanish were good enough for me to get across the idea of emasculation, not that it was really my place to bring it up.

Anyway, daily progress reports about the car became a part of the fragile web of intimacy I shared with the boy. He busted his butt on that racer, and it showed. Pine is a soft wood, and coarse sandpaper puffs it away fast. But “carving” with sandpaper is a serious proposition; it’s an art Xavier essentially invented for himself, since everyone else carves with knives and saws and chisels.

There was more, of course. I was doing that fatherstuff, to the extent I understand it, which amounts to teaching boys how to be men, and, in other circumstances, teaching girls how to relate to men. You can’t pick up a magazine without discovering what poor specimens of humanity men are. “Men make lousy women!” a woman’s magazine will reveal. “Husbands are not the best wives!” discloses a journal for married women. “Fathers are inadequate mothers!” a mother’s magazine proclaims. And the rejoinder to all those with a deathgrip on the obvious is: “Well, duh!”

A father is the provider, his most important job. If he neglects it in order to preen as an ersatz mommy, the children suffer. A father is the moral leader, obliged to take it on the chin again and again; that’s how children learn how to take it on the chin. A father is the defender, the one who confronts the burglar when mom and the kids are hiding under the bed. Fathers are everything we claim to admire when we use the word “manly” and everything we affect to despise when we use the word “male”, but, at bottom, fathers are not mothers. We need mothers to do what mothers do, and we need fathers to do what fathers do, and when children are denied one or the other, they suffer. You won’t read this in a women’s magazine, and you won’t read it in a men’s magazine unless it’s tattooed into a well-tanned navel. But it’s the truth.

But the main job of being a father is simply being around. I’m not congratulating myself for what I did with Xavier, because I knew it was temporary. He didn’t have a father all of a sudden, he just had a weak little prosthetic, and that only for a while. But I taught him what little I could of the manly art of manliness, what little I know. A little bit of swagger, not too much. A little bit of strut, just a touch. A little bit of courtliness, rough around the edges. A little bit of mischief, creeping through the hedges. A man rolls up his sleeves and gets to work, and you can say it with a smile if you can’t say it with a smirk.

One day we were out walking and Xavier led me to a bitch with a new litter of pups. Xavier had a thing for puppies and I had the idea that it was a point of contention between him and his mother. The dogs were down in the little light-well of a basement window, a tight fit but defensible. The runt of the litter kept getting pushed aside, pushed aside, pushed aside, all the way down the line of teats. He’d scramble over the bodies of his brothers and sisters and try to worm his way back into the fray, but he just got pushed aside, pushed aside, pushed aside, again and again and again. I pointed it out to Xavier, because, frankly, I never pass up an opportunity like that.

“They’re always going to treat him that way,” I said. “He’ll always be the littlest, and because he is, he’ll always get less milk. Even after they’re weaned, the bigger dogs will still push him around, just because he’s small. He’s lucky he’s a dog. Someone will come along and decide he’s so, so cute because he’s so tiny, and he’ll get adopted. In the wild, he’d be a sitting duck.”

“Why doesn’t he do something?” Xavier asked.

I shrugged. “He’s a dog. He can’t think. He doesn’t know why he’s always getting pushed around, and he can’t think of anything else to do. If he could think, it would be a different story.”

“If he could think he wouldn’t have to get pushed around.”

“He doesn’t have to. He just does. If he could figure out the problem, he could solve it. Just like you can, when you figure out a problem.” I write children’s stories for adults; writing children’s stories for children is child’s play.

Another day, another walk, he said, “I need a name for my car.”

Proving my mastery of witty repartee, I said, “Huh?”

“My car. All the kids name their cars and paint the names on the sides. I keep trying to come up with a name, but nothing seems right. Not yet.”

“It’ll come.”

“I guess so…”

We had wandered pretty far from home and I didn’t like the looks of the neighborhood we were wandering into. There was a frisky little hound up ahead of us, and I knew Xavier wanted to go commune with that dog. I shook my head. “Not that way.”

“Why not? What street is this?”

“Via de los lobos,” I said.

“How do you know? I don’t see any street sign.”

“I know the signs, Xavier. This is the way of the wolves. This is no way for you to go.”

He snorted. “You sound like my mother.”

“I sound like my father.” I looked down the via de los lobos and saw the squalling babies — naked but for dirt and snot — and the dead cars and the broken glass and the broken lives. I said, “I’d like to chase away all those wolves and tear down all those hovels and build one big house down at the end of the road, a hacienda for your mother and for everyone who works as hard she does. I’d name this street via de las aguilas, and you and I could put a big sign right on this spot.”

“What would it say?”

I swept my hand across the sky, painting the words in wide, sweeping arcs. “Via de las aguilas. Why crawl when you can soar?”

Xavier laughed at that, but I knew he wasn’t laughing from mirth.

About a week before the Pinewood Derby we were out walking on a day that was cool and cloudy, dank even. But the orange blossoms had come in full and rich and sticky, and I just wanted to walk and to breathe, to bask in a perfume sweeter than any made in France. Xavier was still puzzling about what to name his car and I was worrying about my place in his life and somehow or another I managed to say, “Xavier, do you know about destiny?”

He gave me a smirk that I am quite sure irritates the crap right out of his classmates. He said, “Destiny is fate. To be destined is to be pre-destined, ordained by god and unavoidable.”

I nodded. “That’s what the dictionary says. But that’s not what people really mean when they use the word. Nothing that people do — nothing that matters, anyway — is unavoidable. And if there’s a god, he sure isn’t ordaining everyone’s thoughts, words and deeds. But if destiny doesn’t mean ‘unavoidable’, what do you think it means?”

He smirked again. “If it doesn’t mean ‘unavoidable’, it doesn’t mean anything.”

I smirked back. “Have it your way.” I walked and smelled the orange blossoms and waited the little snot out.

“Well…?” he finally said.

“Well, what?”

“Jeesh! What do they mean by destiny?”

I could have toyed with him some more, but I didn’t. “Well, looked at one way, they mean nonsense, just like you said. But if they mean nonsense, then the implication is that the things people do are simply random. If they’re not unavoidable, they must be causeless, right?”

“…That doesn’t seem quite right…”

“Give the man a cigar!” I said. “Who controls your actions?”

“…I guess I do…”

“Give the man another cigar! God doesn’t control your actions, and your actions aren’t random, like the toss of a coin. You control your behavior, guided by an idea of who you are and what you do and don’t do. When your mother says, ‘It’s my destiny to raise a good son,’ that’s just an idea, not fate. When Hugo Hernandez says, ‘It’s my destiny to provide for my daughters,’ that’s just an idea, not fate. When Roberta Sandoval says, ‘It’s my destiny to bring glory unto god,’ that’s just an idea, not fate.”

Xavier pushed up his glasses. He said, “But an idea’s just an idea. You can change your mind whenever you want.”

“Sure can. What happens if you do?”

He scoffed. “What? Nothing?”

“Think twice. On the via de las aguilas, they say, ‘Hard work always pays off.’ On the via de los lobos, they say, ‘Hard work never pays off.’ Hugo Hernandez works hard, and sometimes it pays good, and sometimes it doesn’t. Your mother works harder than anyone I’ve ever known, but it hasn’t bought her that hacienda. But Hugo and your mother and the Sandovals live on the via de las aguilas because they believe hard work pays off. Not because it always does, but because they believe it will, if not today then later, if not for them then for their children. What happens if they change their minds?”

He said nothing, just pulled at his chin.

“Via de los lobos, Xavier. It’s not one or the other, not right away. But if you’re not trying to soar, you’re trying to crawl. In life, you have to pick a road and walk it, and destiny is the name we give for the destination we’ve chosen. It’s a choice, an idea, and you can change it at any time. But you can’t pick the via de los lobos as your destination and expect to find yourself on the via de las aguilas.”

He stuffed his hands in his pockets and we walked and walked. Finally he looked up at me and said, “What’s your destiny?”

“Balls first.”


“Balls,” I said. “Cojones.” I pointed at my crotch just to leave no doubt. “Balls first through the universe. If you want to mess with me, I’m not holding anything back. I won’t cower, I won’t cringe, and if you manage to kick me, I won’t give you the satisfaction of the smallest wince. I walk. That’s what I do. And I walk balls first.”

He laughed and laughed, and after that he giggled. I walked balls first through the orange groves and wallowed in the scent of the blossoms.

“I just figured out what to name my car,” he said.

“So tell me.”

He scrunched up his face in indecision. “No. Not yet.” He laughed diabolically.

Oh, great, I thought. He’s going to name his damn car “Balls First” and his mother is going to cook my cojones. I said, “Fine. Keep your secrets.”

He smiled a smug little smile. “I think I will…”

I went to pick them up on the day of the big race, and that was when Xavier finally showed me his car. Basically, it looked like a block of wood that had had all of the edges and corners rounded off by sandpaper. There was something clearly resembling a cockpit in the middle, and although it was as big and as boxy as a police cruiser in a thirties gangster film, it was beyond all doubt a car. The paint job was extraordinary, cobalt blue with orange and yellow flaming racing stripes. Astride the cockpit, where the doors would be located on a real car, the car’s name was painted in yellow with orange detailing: “Xavier’s Destiny”.

And I cursed myself for having such a big mouth. “Xavier’s Destiny” is a fine name for a car that wins, but what about a car that loses? We draw conclusions about life — about ourselves, about the universe — from hopelessly incomplete data. This is irrational, I suppose, but it’s what we do. It’s what we all do, and it’s what we have to do. We name our destiny, our planned-for destination and our location right now, on the basis of our irrationally drawn conclusions, and what we become, ultimately, is what we expect to become. We can think, so we are not doomed like that scrawny puppy to getting the short end of every teat. But thinking takes practice, and unless we learn to think very wisely and very well, we stand at tremendous risk of dooming ourselves, simply from reasoning badly about inconclusive evidence. We can become anything we dare to let ourselves imagine. But when events fall disastrously short of our expectations too many times, what we dare to let ourselves imagine can become very, very small.

But Xavier couldn’t foresee any of that, and he was so proud of his car he seemed to glow. Surely all he had done would transcend any race results. Despite being horribly circumscribed by his mother’s proscriptions, he had mastered those manly virtues of self-reliance and application and persistence. Competition and good sportsmanship could not be beyond his moral range, and my only concern was that “Xavier’s Destiny” did not come to symbolize a month of hard work culminating in defeat.

And it was in that miasma of elation and trepidation that I entered the grade school cafeteria where the Pinewood Derby would be held.

The cars were amazing. They were sleek and low-slung and aerodynamic and utterly, utterly gorgeous. Clearly, not a single one of them except “Xavier’s Destiny” had been built by a child, but they were beautiful nevertheless. It says a little something about the minds of overcompetitive adults that they would go to such enormous lengths to teach their sons the unmanly art of cheating, but they did, in fact, go to enormous lengths.

The cheating was pandemic, to the extent that one might as well not call it cheating. Clearly, it was expected that the cars would be built by the fathers, with or without their sons’ advice, and I realized I might have done better by Xavier by talking to the dads rather than reading the rules. I don’t know what I would have done if I had talked to the dads, since I agree with the actual didactic goals of the Pinewood Derby — manly virtues, not male vices — but it left Xavier in an awful spot.

“It’s okay, Xavier,” said Mrs. Marquez. “Not everybody can be the winner.”

“No,” I said. “If you try hard and lose, you’re a winner who just didn’t win today. But if you give up, you’re a loser.”

Xavier nodded solemnly. “Balls first,” he said.

Mrs. Marquez gave me a sharp look, and I had the idea that I might have been fired on the spot as prosthetic father if I had hung around. Instead I led Xavier through the crowd to the weigh-in. The excitement was palpable. There are only thirty Cubs in Xavier’s pack, but with moms and dads and brothers and sisters and grandparents and friends, there were close to two hundred people in the cafeteria. Children were racing back and forth, shouting and shrieking, and the din was incredible. The weigh-in crew checked the width, length, clearance and weight of “Xavier’s destiny,” and it passed all the tests. The car was an eighth of an ounce shy of the five ounce weight limit, and it occurred to me that that might not be a bad thing.

We went over to the race track to prepare for our first heat. The race track is just a big ramp cut into lanes. The cars are motivated by gravity alone; they roll down the ramp and the one to get to the bottom first is the winner. Since there were so few Cubs, there were only two lanes, and the competition would consist of a series of heats, tournament style, a pyramid of competitors collapsing down to a single champion.

“Xavier’s Destiny” won its first heat convincingly. The big, boxy car got off to a slow, lumbering start, but it gathered velocity all the way down the hill and finished well ahead of the sleek low-rider it was pitted against. Xavier jumped up and down and crowed with excitement and even Mrs. Marquez looked a little more hopeful.

We drew a bye in the second round, so we got to watch as some of the most fearsomely beautiful cars, elegant machines with whimsical names like “Orange Julius” and “The Orange Avenger”, were eliminated. While I was watching the races a dad stepped up to make small talk — to be snoopy, that is.

“What do you do for a living, Mr. –uh…”

I said: “Willie.”

“So, uh, what’s your line of work, Mr. Willie?”

I hate that question. The straights don’t like it that I don’t have a straight answer for them, and I don’t like it that they don’t like it, and, truly, I’d have many more good things to say about humanity if we’d all just learn to let each other be. With a smile if not a smirk, I said, “I’m an itinerant raconteur.”

“Say what?”

“I’m an onomatopottymouth with time on my hands. Is that all right with you?”

“Hey, yeah, sure. Live and let live, that’s what I say.”

“Glad to hear it,” I said. I grabbed Xavier by the wrist and snaked to a different corner of the mob.

By the third heat, only eight cars remained. Of the twenty-two vanquished Cubs, a good ten showed up to cheer for “Xavier’s Destiny”. Surprised me, since these were the same boys Xavier went to school with, after all. But they knew that his car had something absent from all of theirs, a kid as the builder. The boys stood on either side of the track and shouted, “Ha-vee-air!, Ha-vee-air!, Ha-vee-air!,” as “Xavier’s Destiny” rolled to another victory.

The crowds grew larger in the fourth heat, more Cubs plus their brothers and sisters and even some of the parents. Little Xavier was becoming a small sensation, first because he had dared to race a car he had made all by himself, and second because that car was winning. The shouts of “Ha-vee-air!” were deafening, and the screaming when “Xavier’s Destiny” won again made my ears ring. The victory was a squeaker, which gave me pause, but the worst Xavier could do from there was second place, and that’s not such a horrible fate for a boy on his first try.

In the quiet of my mind, though, I thought that first place was out of reach. In the fifth and final heat, “Xavier’s Destiny” would face the car entered by Billy Chisholm, the pampered get of Big Bill Chisholm, a grower who had a big say in everything that happened in town. The car was named simply “Chisholm”, and I had watched it weigh in. It was low-slung and small and sleek, and you would think it couldn’t weigh more than two ounces. But, in fact, the pinewood had been carved outside and in, and the pine shell had served as its own crucible for a pool of molten lead. “Chisholm” was basically a lead slug surrounded by pine. This is all perfectly legal, of course, and the car had weighed in at a gnat’s breath under five ounces. “Chisholm” was astounding, the definitive Pinewood Derby racer. If Xavier lost, he’d lose to the best-engineered car in the race.

When the cars were lined up at the starting line, the noise was incredible. Virtually everyone was cheering for “Xavier’s Destiny”, even Billy Chisholm himself.

His daddy upbraided him. “What’s wrong with you, boy? Don’t you know it’s you against him?!”

“No, Dad. It’s you against him. You’re a grown-up. You can do anything. He’s a kid, but he’s beat every grown-up in the room. If my car wins, a grown-up wins. But if his car wins, a kid wins. Wouldn’t that be something?”

Big Bill growled, but what could he say?

Xavier shook my hand, a somber little manchild with a lot on the table. He pulled me down and whispered in my ear. “Balls first through the universe, right?”

“Right,” I whispered back. “And if you get kicked, you grit your teeth and keep on walking.”

He nodded gravely and turned to face his destiny.

Despite myself, I held my breath when the race started. “Xavier’s Destiny” got off to its usual slow, lumbering start, but it steadily gained speed, just as before. But “Chisholm” had the same weight advantage plus a low, sleek profile to the wind; it seemed as though it could slip between the molecules of air. Halfway down, “Xavier’s Destiny” was clearly behind and the room seemed to fall silent except for a throbbing hum that might have been an echo of the cheers of the on-lookers and might have been nothing more than the ringing of my own ears. My tongue was caught between my teeth and I was biting down hard, hard, hard, and I realized that nothing, nothing, nothing would make a difference now.

And just then “Chisholm” popped a wheel. It doesn’t take much impact to knock a wheel off of a Pinewood Derby racer. The axles are basically just big nails, without even a cotter pin to secure the wheels — although this is an innovation we might expect to see on the “Chisholm II”. Very probably, Big Bill had worried the wheel on and off too many times, stressing the plastic until it was as good as useless. Anyway, the car popped its right, rear wheel and went skittering sideways down the track until it shuddered to a halt. “Xavier’s Destiny” crossed the finish line and the crowd quite literally went wild.

“Ha-vee-air!, Ha-vee-air!, Ha-vee-air!” the children shouted. Someone had a tape of Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll, Part 2,” the definitive joyous noise of indoor sporting events, and some of the boys were shouting along with the call and response part: “Hey-ay! Ho-o! Hey-yay! Ho-yo!” Big Bill Chisholm was shouting that they ought to run the heat again, but since two other cars had been eliminated with popped wheels, he didn’t get anywhere. One of the boys started to bellow, “Speech! Speech! Speech!,” and soon the other boys joined in. “Speech! Speech! Speech!”

Someone thrust a microphone into Xavier’s hand, but it was much too loud for him to be heard above the shouting. “Xavier’s destiny–” he started and stopped. He smiled with pride and wonder as the noise washed over him. “Xavier’s destiny–” he tried again, but it was still too loud.

Someone bumped the gain on the amplifier and his tiny voice boomed throughout the room. “Xavier’s destiny,” he said, and the crowd fell silent.

Xavier looked to his mama. Mrs. Marquez had her hands clasped at her chest and she was smiling around a big lump in her throat. Her eyes were welled up with tears of pride and joy for her pride and joy, and I don’t think she knew just then what she had gained that day, and what she had lost forever. He looked to me and nodded, a gesture of respect for me — and for himself. He smiled to me, to his mother and to the universe.

He said, “Xavier’s destiny is the way of the eagles!”


I hate my theme…

In some ways, my stengths – I love to tinker with eletronics, am Internet savvy, know a little about marketing – are my weaknesses: I like to do things myself, or at least like to fully understand exactly what someone working for me is doing so that I could take it over if need be.

Witness my web performance. I’m doing pretty well right now, with top rankings on Google etc. I’ve done that largely because the competition is so miserable. But what I really want to do is lay waste to the competition: to succeed in ways that don’t depend on them being incompetent.

I also want to convert every single visitor into a client. I want to build all the important relationships as well as can be done on the web, and close the deal on the phone.

I feel the press of time for two reasons. I’m in my mid-30s, and have certain financial and personal goals that require me to figure this all out… soon! and then keep moving on and figuring other things out!

Second, I think the legal profession is going to be awash in smart, hungry lawyers who had planned to take a firm job, but now find that firms are imploding around them. These people are going to eat my lunch if I don’t catch it first.

Anyhow, onto the mundane. I sort of like the overall look of my Raleigh criminal lawyer website. But I suspect that just cause it looks slick, doesn’t mean it’s getting the selling job done.

With my Raleigh bankruptcy practice, I’m sort of am heading in a Thesis/Headway direction, with a more robust, less graphically designed theme, that, by all accounts, better for SEO and flexibility reasons.

In addition, I suspect that that flexibility will allow me to do a better job of pulling in visitors, 77 percent of them bounce on the first page.



Storytelling through Real Estate Video. Take two.

It was 4 whole years ago that I was sitting in the back row at my first ever RE/Tech hoo-ha conference when I first heard that Video was the next big thing. This sentiment has been repeated ever since and as far as home tours are considered, I can’t say that I have seen anything as impressive as this.

Select HD on the onscreen menu for best viewing. Full screen is not too bad either.

Casa Estrella from Quentin Bacon media|creative on Vimeo.

The video is just a part of an entire media storytelling package called “The Living Property Brochure”. For more on the creative background on the director’s process, take a look at Quentin’s blog. It’s quite impressive, if not mind blowing to see boundaries pushed this far.

Tip of the hat to theFrontSteps


Unchained Melody Redux: Two Songs

Proving that happiness is not what happens to you…heard this (famous song):

“Got no money in my pockets…had a job and I lost it…but it won’t get to me…”
“…I’m alive and I’m free…who wouldn’t wanna be me.”

I’m not much for country/twangy stuff.  I’ve heard this song a million times, but this was the first time I’d listened to the words.

And another one–I am stunned everytime I watch it. I couldn’t find it on Youtube in an embeddable version–I found it on MySpace (oddly, first time I’ve found a use Myspace in the Obama administration:)

Gene Kelly-Singing In The Rain

The hilarious part was this:

The cop at the end.  Cops kill joy, glower at the jubilant for no reason.  This is not in dispute.


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