Monday, November 22, 2010

Money and What Matters

From my November column in the South Dakota Automobile Dealers Newsletter:
I recently read a book that was very appropriate for this time of the year. The book was The Secret of Shelter Island: Money and What Matters by Alexander Green who is a financial analyst and bestselling author. In it, Green explores the complicated relationship we all have with money and reveals the road map to a rich life.
The book puts money into perspective, without in anyway downplaying its importance. It’s a very unusual combination, and very useful.
Green refers to John Templeton’s Discovering the Laws of Life in which introduces the concept of thanksliving. Thanksliving means practicing an attitude of perpetual gratitude. Templeton suggests that we’re thankful for both our blessings and our problems. It’s through dealing with our problems that we become stronger, smarter, tougher, and more valuable as spouses, parents, employers… human beings.
I really enjoyed this book. I found myself returning to the chapter on The Difference Between Getting Rich and Being Rich several times. It is not an investment book, but rather a "life" book that you will want to read over and over again. I recommend it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Coming to a Theatre Near You!

I enjoy John Grisham books. I think he is a great storyteller and while some of his books are "brain candy" (The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Rainmaker, etc.), others have given insight into a legal subject. The King of Torts is a great look into our countries tort system.

The Confession takes a very thought provoking look at capital punishment. The storyline is believable, yet incredible at the same time. This book confirmed my own belief that we must rethink the death penalty. I have come full circle on this subject and I think I appreciated this book more because of that.

The book is very well researched. I found myself wondering who let him stand by their side to go through this experience. It is pretty obvious that Grisham has strong feelings about the death penalty.

I was sitting in the driveway finishing a chapter a couple times. Grisham has a gift for keeping you feeling so "on the edge" for so much of the book.

If you're a Grisham fan, enjoy legal thrillers or want to take another look at capital punishment, I recommend The Confession.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Well Researched Roots

I just finished reading The Roots of Obama's Rage by Dinesh D'Souza. D'Souza is breath of fresh air in today's mangled political discourse.

D'Souza offers a very unique hypothesis and different view as to why Obama has such a "chip" on his shoulder.

After reading D'Souza's well-researched book, I see Obama in a whole new light. I now understand the roots of his thinking. Now his agenda makes sense to me and is even more disturbing. When I hear Obama speak now, I know that I am really hearing his father who was a sad, bitter and wrong thinking man who held extreme resentments against western culture.

I believe this is a very insightful look at our American president and one that offers a very different perspective - he's not an African American radical, a big-government liberal or a socialist. But rather he's a a deeply hostile anticolonialist.

President Obama is not an American Negro. He is unlike the offspring of Negro slavery. He is anti-colonial, and he considers America and its close allies to be colonial exploiters of the Third World, the home of his African ancestors.

I recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn about what makes Obama tick.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime

Whether or not you supported Obama in 2008 election, the election was fascinating. If you are a political junkie like I am, then this a must read! In Game Change, you get a view through the mass media lens. It is a fascinating loook through the eyes of the people that are on the bus, in the meetings, and rubbing shoulders with the candidates.

In 2008, the presidential election became blockbuster entertainment. Everyone was watching as the race for the White House unfolded like something from the realm of fiction. The meteoric rise and historic triumph of Barack Obama.... The shocking fall of the House of Clinton - and the improbable resurrection of Hillary as Obama's partner and America's face to the world.... The mercurial performance of John McCain and the mesmerizing emergence of Sarah Palin.

But despite the wall-to-wall media coverage of this spellbinding drama, remarkably little of the real story behind the headlines has yet been told. In Game Change, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, two political reporters, use their unrivaled access to pull back the curtain on the Obama, Clinton, McCain, and Palin campaigns. How did Obama convince himself that, despite the thinness of his résumé, he could somehow beat the odds to become the nation's first African-American president? How did the tumultuous relationship between the Clintons shape - and warp - Hillary's supposedly unstoppable bid? What was behind her husband's furious outbursts and devastating political miscalculations? Why did McCain make the novice governor of Alaska his running mate? And was Palin merely painfully out of her depth - or troubled in more serious ways? Is John Edwards the scum bag he is perceived to be?

The book will give a look behind the scenes of the relationship between John and Elizabeth Edwards. Behind the scenes, the Edwards fought viciously and she erupted in irrational outbursts. "There was no one on the national stage for whom the disparity between public image and private reality was vaster or more disturbing," the book says.

It's all makes for a great story. I was struck by how Bill Clinton was frustrated beyond belief that "nothing stuck" to Obama. Reagan was considered to be made of teflon, but he had nothing on Obama.

If you enjoy politics, Game Change is a must read.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Rocket Man

I am a Red Sox fan. For 37 years, I accepted the frustration that goes with being a member of the Red Sox Nation. That included several years in the nineties where Roger Clemens led my beloved team ever so close to the Promised Land. But ultimately, he went to the dark side both figuratively (Yankees), and literally (performance enhancing drugs).

Poor arrogant Roger. Exposed as a steroid user, caught lying about it (as it appears he has been) and worst of all, accused of lying to Congress. Is that a crime? It seems you have to be a pretty damn good liar just to get into Congress. Imagine going to jail for doing something that nearly every other person in the room gets paid to do.

When it comes to lying to Congress, Clemens is a minor leaguer. The big fish never get charged. Why haven't Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke been investigated for the whoppers they told the world in front of Congress in July 2008? Both of them swore that Fannie and Freddie were "sound" and "well capitalized" just months before they completely collapsed.

I'm betting Roger will be an early draft pick on the prison softball team!!!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Father's Day Traditions

Breakfast in bed or a backyard barbecue are great ways to celebrate Father's Day. I think most fathers would like to spend the day with their children.

My most memorable Fathers Days as a father have been celebrated with my family doing something fun. "Something fun" means different things to different fathers.

I can remember going to a Sioux Falls Canaries (now Pheasants) game with my family, my sister's family, my parents and my brother-in-laws parents. The kids couldn't care less about baseball. But they loved the mascot and the junk food at the ballpark.

I remember in the late nineties we went to Nebraska to float the Niobrara River with some other families several times on Fathers Day. If you've never floated the Niobrara River in north central Nebraska, you've missed a great trip. There is nothing more relaxing than tying several inner tubes together (one with the obligatory cooler!) and sitting back and watching the Nebraska countryside float by.

We would start our trip in the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, just east of Valentine, Nebraska. We passed into the Fort Niobrara National Wilderness Area surrounded by limestone, sandstone, and chalk cliffs and countless seeps. I remember floating by Berry Falls which drops right into the Niobrara creating a spectacular site. At Smith Falls State Park (that's Rachel and Alex at Smith Falls above), about three miles past Berry Falls, we would always pull the tubes out of the water and trek up to the falls for photos.

I think we made three tubing trips and one canoeing trip down the Niobrara on Fathers Day. I have photos and memories of each of those trips to remind me of afternoons well spent with my family.

In 1999 we bought the Krawdaddy, a large former excursion boat which we converted into a family party barge. We spent the next several Fathers Days lounging on the Krawdaddy with some of our friends and their families.

If I only had the Fathers Days and the July 4ths on the Krawdaddy, it would have been worth the purchase price. There is probably no single thing that our family enjoyed together as much as that boat. While the kids swan and rode the PWC, the adults sat in the wind cooled cabin, enjoying an adult beverage and listening to Jimmy Buffett (one of only 3-4 artist to ever get the privilege of serenading the Krawdaddy passengers).

More recently, we have spent Father's Days at the College World Series in Omaha. With Creighton University (daughter Rachel and I are alums, son Alex will be a senior) acting as the annual host, we have always had a affinity for that event. I have been to many a CWS since my days as a student at CU. If you're a baseball fan and have not attended the CWS, you're missing out.

Each year in Omaha is a reunion of Creighton friends, Chamberlain baseball friends and Omaha family (Dad grew up in the Omaha area). We are headed for Omaha tomorrow where I will be celebrating this Fathers Day with two of my three children and numerous friends.

Let me take this opportunity to wish all fathers a great day. I hope you get to spend it with your kids!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What is a "10"?

Fellow blogger, Steve Miller shares his experience at a motel which was intended to entice him to give them a "10" on their customer satisfaction survey.

This is an issue that really gives me heartburn. The automobile industry places a high priority on the scores their dealers get from customers on their satisfaction surveys. I believe these surveys are fundamentally flawed.

I don't believe you can trust a survey that takes more than a few seconds to complete. People are busy and they don't want to spend a lot of time completing a survey for which they receive nothing. (Guess what dealers do - that's right - we reward our customers for completing their survey with our help!)

Secondly, I don't think it is realistic to ask people to give the best score, whether that is a "5" or a "10" or whatever it might be. It seems to me that nobody provides such exceptional service that it couldn't be improved in some way (we'll take your "10" though!). If a "10" is offered, the industry then expects one to attain that score and its system is constructed around attaining a perfect score.

It seems like a more realistic question is "Would you recommend this vendor to your friends?". That doesn't require perfection but it does require a good faith effort.

What do you think?

Monday, June 7, 2010

John Adams - A Double Masterpiece!

The first David McCullough book that I read (listened to) was John Adams. I would guess that I read it sometime in or around 2004 after seeing it on the best seller list for what seemed like forever. I listened to it, like so many other audiobooks, on my daily hour-long bicycle ride.

But this book was different than others I listened to because I would look for ways to extend my bike ride and thus my opportunity to listen to the book. I remember on two occasions going for an evening ride in addition to my daily morning ride to get more of the book. I plowed through the 30+ hour audiobook in about two weeks.

I remember telling anyone who would listen what a great book it was. It seemed that not many people were too interested in it.

But I wanted more history; or at least David McCullough's history. So I went back to the audiobook catalog and found more. Over the next couple of years, I listened to 1776 (which is coming to HBO later this year), The Path Between the Seas, Truman, and the Johnstown Flood. I enjoyed all of them immensely, but John Adams was still my favorite.

Last September, my daughter, Rachel, gave me the DVD set of HBO's miniseries, John Adams, based on McCullough's book. I was excited and remembered how much I enjoyed the book. So often, though, I have been disappointed by the movie so I put it away to watch during the long, cold South Dakota winter.

Well, it got slipped into a drawer in a chest in the family room. I really kinda forgot about it. I thought of it the other day and started looking for it. After enlisting Judy's help (she knows where everything is), we found it and began watching. I thought we might watch one or two of the seven episodes each week until it was done.

WRONG! We sat captivated for three nights and devoured the seven segments and the features. The movie is spectacularly done throughout. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson seem to have come back from the history books. Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney are marvelous as John and Abigail Adams. I really don't have enough superlatives for this miniseries.

If you have an interest in our Founding Fathers, rent or buy this series.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Where to Live Like a King

File this under "things we knew and suspected others didn't". Outdoor Life is out with their third annual ranking of the best towns in America for hunters and fishermen. Chamberlain (and, by extension, Oacoma) is ranked 42nd overall.

While this is not a surprise to those of us who call this area home, it's is always nice to have the recognition of a sportsman's bible like Outdoor Life acknowledge such.

The rankings are based on the performance of hundreds of towns in various socio-economic and outdoors-related categories. Socio-economic subcategories make up 40 percent of the overall score and outdoors-related subcategories combine to account for 60 percent of the overall score.

One of the socio-economic categories communities are ranked in is called "Where to Live Like a King". The towns on this list feature high median household incomes and a low cost of living. Essentially, your hard-earned money will go furthest in these locations.

Group Ranking City Overall Ranking
1 Rochester, MN 12
2 Chamberlain, SD 42
3 Pierre, SD 10
4 Dodge City, KS 187
5 Wichita Falls, TX 150
6 Bartlesville, OK 71
7 Sioux Falls, SD 19
8 Houma, LA 185
9 Bismarck, ND 11
10 Green River, WY 166
11 Nebraska City, NE 96
12 Craig, CO 68
13 Red Wing, MN 98
14 Quincy, IL 135
15 Rawlins, WY 9
16 Green Bay, WI 112
17 Grand Island, NE 145
18 Gillette, WY 94
19 Devils Lake, ND 22
20 Phillips, WI 31

As you can see, Chamberlain shined in that category. It's second overall ranking in "Where to Live Like a King" confirmed my long-held belief that our being ranked 50th of all states in income has a correlated low cost of living to more than offset it!

I invite you to come "Live Like a King" in Chamberlain.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Crashing Letterman

In 1996, when the Final Four was at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, NJ, we scored tickets to the Letterman show. This is what happened:

A Nation of Deadbeats?

Check out this article from the New York Times detailing the story of several deadbeat homeowners' stories. I find it sickening yet important to read because these people represent much of what's wrong with the United States. They have no sense of responsibility to honor the commitments they've made. They don't understand a loan is a privilege. If you don't understand the terms of the loan, don't borrow the money. If you can't afford the interest payments, don't borrow the money.

"It really been a blessing," Alex Pemberton told the New York Times about his venture into foreclosure. Pemberton stopped paying the mortgage on his Florida house last summer. But he's still living in his house. He's using the extra cash to invest in his business, take the family out for steaks, and even gamble at the Hard Rock Casino.

Who's fault is this? Pemberton blames the lenders for his inability to afford his mortgage... "They're all crooks."

His mother, Wendy Pemberton, has been in default since spring 2008. She refinanced several times to pay for things like a new roof. "The longer I'm in foreclosure, the better," she said.

Another deadbeat, Jim Tsiogas, who lives on the coast south of St. Petersburg, blames his lenders for being unwilling to help when the crash began and his properties needed shoring up.

Their attitude seems to have changed since he went into foreclosure. Now their letters say things like “we’re willing to work with you.” But Mr. Tsiogas feels little urge to respond.

“I need another year,” he said, “and I’m going to be pretty comfortable.”

The whole thing is both repulsive and enlightening.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Good Read: The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

Michael Lewis has become one of my favorite authors (along with Malcolm Gladwell). Moneyball, the first of Lewis' books that I read, captivated me. I set out to read other works by him as soon as I finished. I have to admit, though I thoroughly enjoyed The Blind Side, I did not think there was a movie script there. I guess that's why I'm a car dealer and not a screenplay writer.

Like both Moneyball and The Blind Side, Lewis tells his story by following a host of characters that most of us have never heard of--people like Steve Eisman (the closest thing to a main character in the book), Vincent Daniel, Michael Burry, Greg Lippmann, Gene Park, Howie Hubler and others.

In The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine Lewis takes the CDOs, credit default swaps, hedge funds, "swap banks" and other mysterious products and people, and explains them. Don't feel intimidated if you don't know what these are, because, as Lewis explains in the book, many of the people who were making a market in some of these products didn't know what they were either!

Lewis is a Wall Street alumnus (Salomon Brothers) from the mid-eighties. His book Liar's Poker deals with that. It seems in that book that he had seen the height of financial folly. However, even he was surprised by the much larger losses suffered in the recent crisis compared to the 1980s, which seem almost like child's play now.

I enjoyed this book. I listened to the audio book (as I do with most books I consume). I found it both educational and fascinating. Disclaimer: I was a finance major back in the dark ages and have always been interested in financial issues.

Given the complexity of the subject matter, The Big Short was easy to follow, funny and , above all, fascinating. You will understand the crisis better than anyone you know, and have a good time learning about it.

Have a Great Memorial Day Weekend!

So I am committed to this blog now. I have passed off the Facebook posting responsibilities for our store page to Paula and will now be blogging regularly. You can expect thought on lots of different topics here. It won't be all about cars; in fact it won't be much about cars.

If you use a news reader, I have added the gadget that allows you to subscribe to this nonsense. The subscription is priced right anyway! If you have thoughts or comments, please respond. Dialogue is much more fun than monologue.

So my wife, Judy, and 14 year-old daughter, Sarah, are off to DC to see our other daughter, Rachel, for the extended weekend. I know they are looking forward to their visit. I'm sure Rachel has all kinds of plans.

With the college-student son, Alex, in Omaha for the summer, that leaves me at home alone. I have my (Judy's) list written with dry-erase marker on the bathroom mirror: feed the dogs, water the flowers, and water the garden. That leaves the rest of the weekend wide open for a little sailing, a little golfing and some handyman work that needs to get done.

The forecast calls for wind, and lots of it, so the sailing will be at the top of the list. Golf and handyman projects be damned!

But Memorial Day weekend means time for the grill and even though I'm cooking for one, I am thinking about some kind of smoked pork project - maybe ribs, maybe a tenderloin. If I cook it early in the weekend, I can eat leftovers until Judy rescues me! I'll get back to you on that one and let you know how it turns out.

So in addition to remembering those who have sacrificed for our freedom this Memorial Day, please have a safe and happy holiday!