Monday, September 15, 2014

Dave Ramsey is for the Middle Class and Above, Not Me!

Dave Ramsey is for the rich. Those with the expendable income, hard wood floors and granite counters mentioned below. Years ago, many churches in my area got into Dave Ramsey. I never took a class but read his column and at least one book. His advice to save $1,000 for an emergency made sense, and on occasion we have. Sadly though a car repair or reduced work for my husband always makes it vaporize like a fart in the wind. One thing I noticed with this guy: expendable income was a given. All of his advice centered around having a good income that paid the bills and then allowed for a huge chunk of expendable income for the savings, plannings and goals. One thing missing from the Dave Ramsey plan for millions is the GOOD JOB that pays money like this. 

On Sept 9th, he offers advice in his column to use coupons and to drink water and to go to matinee movies. Sure the poor are used to doing that, though some of us wonder why the coupons now are only for the inedible garbage [make you sick foods] and expensive stuff. I haven't been to a movie since "The King's Speech" came out.

His response to the second guy made me laugh: you can save those car payments, and be able to buy a good used car. I think the guy should have avoided the expensive new car, but what does he do in the meantime? Unless he lives next door to his workplace, how is going without a car for 12 months going to work for most?

He equates debt to moral defeat. Easy for a rich guy who has options to promote.  The sad thing is Americans of better means lap this stuff up and then look at anyone who is poor with a jaundiced eye and sneer of disgust.

He then posted this article "20 Things The Rich Do Everyday" [Google the title, it is right on his website].

 This was posted about a year ago and is written by another author. It is awe-inspiring in it's absolute ignorance and denial.

Dave Ramsey then provides his own commentary.

The list is horrible, it basically denotes all the poor as "lazy" ingrates with bad habits. The poor eat more junk food. The rich are more focused on accomplishing a goal--but of course they are, they have MONEY to get things done! The rich exercise more, they listen to audio books, they maintain a to-do list. The rich supposedly read more. Would Ramsey believe that I read multiple books a week? The poor watch more TV--of course they do when you can't afford to go out. The rich have good habits. All this with percentages applied.

Ramsey should know better. On his website he offers commentary and is shocked, shocked I tell you, that the list upset so many! He writes: "Because of this I am amazed at how many of my brothers and sisters in Christ have attacked us because of a simple list posted on our website".  To be honest, as a Christian I think the guy should be embarrassed to post such poor hating claptrap. It brightens my day to know a few did protest. Ramsey needs to reread the Bible again. Does he remember about what was said about the camel and eye of the needle by Jesus? I don't think so.

He says to his readers, "This list simply says your choices cause results," and "To assume our ministry hates the poor is ludicrous and is a reflection more on you than on our work or our beliefs. He continues on and claims basically that anyone who is poor in America is at fault. Hmm, like Americans chose outsourced jobs and low wages? I am sure my husband would love to still have a good newspaper job instead of contract ones where they pay him by the piece. He goes on to claim that anyone who believes that our system is broken is a "liberal". What a shill! Give me a break. There are many non-Democrats/liberals who know that things are falling to pieces around us.

I hate to see someone warp the gospel so. He is like a prosperity preacher on crack. This guy is not for me!----The Squawker

House Hunters: Spoiled People Looking for Property and Status

The other day I was watching "House Hunters": for me, it is a glance into the middle class and upper class world where status, granite counters and stain-less steel appliances rule. This is foreign land to me, as my adulthood has been lived in grotty white-walled apartments. This one manages to leave grotty land but my feet rest on a 9-year-old Berber carpet that seems to inhale dirt like a kid playing in mud.

Watching these people is entertaining. I find myself thinking if societal conformity brings the better jobs as they all whine and carry on about the same things. One lady ranted about "mushroom lights" on the ceiling and I found myself wondering if she had faced some trauma with a mushroom light staring down at her, another told us she had to have a granite counter no matter what!

It is interesting to me to see these types parade through perfectly functional bathrooms and kitchens, waving their hands about yelling, "This all must be torn out!". Perhaps this is a selling function for HGTV itself where house redecorating floats so much of the business. Some choose not to buy houses because a kitchen is older or has the wrong color cabinets.

When I was young, my parents constantly worked on houses, we always ended up moving out of. I saw it as a useless enterprise as none of these little mini-suburban empires were ever permanent or long lasting. What was the use? They only made a little money on one house and none on the others. The other day on a nostalgia trip online, I looked up my high school home on Zillow, and all the redecorating efforts my father sweated over for hours, and yelled at us to bring him tools were all gone in the pictures. Not one room remained untouched. What was the purpose? Only the slate floor in the foyer remained -- but that had come with the house orginally.

The Reckoner and I are not into house decorating. We have never lived in a house. At times I have wanted to try and rent a house but to get one we could afford, always meant leaving the safety of the bus lines. For a disabled person that is insanity, because there's no 10-mile walks in my future. Maybe we were spared a lot of work and effort. Hot water heaters seem to fail like clockwork for my friends in houses.

Watching "House Hunters" can be a sociological trip into the upper classes and corruptions of the real estate market. Notice in the video on top -- how one buyer is excited to lay down half a million on an a flat, and she takes one look at the graffiti full neighborhood and says, "Hey, wait a minute!". Everything is overpriced. Even in other countries, I imagine everyone living in cardboard boxes or favelas as every piece of property is very small and even a USA level small income won't pay for it. Maybe Mexico and Romania are still cheap but the rip-offs that exist in France, England and places like it are evident. One sees the future of the increasingly overpopulated world with every serf in a tiny house or 10 foot box like in Hong Kong. Watch out for the tiny house movement! It's for suckers! They want to make your domicile, coffin sized!

Back to the video, one thing I think about apartments and condos, and in one essential way they are very much the same. White walls, square boxes. The expensive San Francisco apartment doesn't thrill me, I think I may have more square footage in small town America, but in Chicago I know my apt here would be a palace. It looks like you pay heavy for a less than dangerous neighborhood, clean smooth kitchens and hardwood floors. The place probably has stairs to climb, too. Did he just tell her she had to do laundry at a laundry mat? In some states she could buy a mini-mansion for half a million.

Real estate -- what a joke. Another market that doesn't match the flat wages. Our rent just went up a notch. Funny how the income never does. --The Squawker

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Strange Town Revisited (Your Hometown, Newly Unrecognizable)

Found myself in a strange town
Though I've only been here for three weeks now
I've got blisters on my feet
Trying to find a friend on Oxford Street
I bought an A to Z guide book
Trying to find the clubs and YMCAs
But when you ask in a strange town

They say don't know, don't care
And I've got to go, mate
--The Jam, "Strange Town"

"Strange Town" is arguably the Jam's forgotten single. Released in March 1979, the song peaked at #15 UK, right in the middle of a sterling chart run. "Down In The Tube Station At Midnight" preceded it; "When You're Young" followed it, yet "Strange Town" only found an outlet on the Canadian pressing of
Setting Sons -- issued that November -- and, light-years later, on the Snap! singles compilation.(A US single duly followed, but didn't chart -- fiercely dedicated Anglophile fanbase aside, the Jam remained "a spaceman from these UFOS" in America for much of their career.)

There have been two notable covers, including a Noel Gallagher duet with the song's original composer, Paul Weller, and one by Garbage (albeit a B-side)  All in all, it's a curious position for a song whose theme -- the newcomer struggling to make an impression amid shrugs of indifference from his newfound fellow residents -- sadly, feels truer more relevant than it seemed back in the pre-Internet era that Weller and his Rickenbacker guitar inhabited.

You appreciate the relevancy of those lyrics in your own life. About a decade ago, you moved back to your old hometown for a job that evaporated under your feet. Vague promises of coaching and mentoring were made, then rapidly forgotten, with little or no help from a management that kept itself to itself. Eventually, inevitably, they cut you loose, leaving you adrift in a landscape permanently altered by the imprint of big money -- professional types pouring in from Kalamazoo, northwest Indiana and Chicago. 

Once upon a time, they only came for a weekend getaway here, a seasonal rental there, but lately, the unthinkable has become habitual: they're buying houses and putting down roots, having followed business opportunities, jobs or social relationships that took them there. (In unguarded moments, they even refer to this place as "The Riviera Of The Midwest." Make of that what you will.)

Big money's arrival doesn't take long to make itself felt. As always, the most visible signs happen downtown. The dive bars and mom-and-pop burger and sub shops that typified your youth are disappearing, surrendering to overpriced gastropubs, double-digit wine bars and corporatized coffee shops whose pricing leaves nothing to the imagination. The same reality goes for the beachfront, where "park and pay" is now the rule. You make do by driving past it, or idling your van for a few minutes in a remote area that attracts less attention.

They worry themselves about feeling low
They worry themselves about the dreadful snow

They all ignore me, 'cause they don't know
I'm really a spaceman from these UFOs

The gastropubs make their mark in all the wrong ways: separate charges for similar menu items like burgers and fries, long waits and lines that wind down the block. You shrug your shoulders and stick with the burger joint on which you grew up. The prices aren't creeping up into double digits yet, and the owner brings the food out to you. All that spoils this low-budget vision of paradise is a conspicuous absence of trees, whose next door neighbor has cut most of them down.

A similar all-or-nothing mentality characterizes your hometown's housing stock. This town boasts three major apartment complexes, all built during the '60s and '70s housing boom, when rent didn't gobble up three-quarters or more of your paycheck. For now, though, it seems best to tinker with your current situation -- whose rent has grown from $650 to $760 per month -- than gamble on a tight housing market that's tilting toward an influx of eggshell white or earth-toned brown condos downtown, or crackerbox palaces that charge lower rents -- in most cases, topping out at $500 or $600 per month -- yet offer little or nothing in  services or amenities.

For a further reminder of your place in the scheme of things, you only need look no further than your current complex's parking lot, where it's not unusual to see Hyundai hybrids, Kias and Pruises competing for parking spaces with your 11-year-old Dodge Caravan, which is now beginning to show conspicuous signs of rust along the bottom...and that's before we get to whatever surprises lurk beneath the hood.

I've finished with clubs where the music's loud
'Cause I don't see a face in a single crowd
There's no one there

I look in the mirror
But I can't be seen
Just a thin, clean layer of mister sheen
Looking back at me

The cultural climate proves equally unforgiving. For awhile, you and the wife attend a writer's group at one of the local art centers downtown, until the leader starts charging a hefty fee for everybody's time and participation. "Dig deep" is the motto here. Not  long ago, you saw the fruits of their labors -- chapbooks nestled quietly in a display box near the counter, priced at nine or ten dollars, now barely disturbed and stacked on top of one another, quietly gathering dust.

A similar vibe dogs the other artistic events that you try. Now and again, the art center hosts a couple of poetry open mikes: but those feel formal and stilted, compared to similar events that you've done before.  You must tell the organizers ahead of time what you're reading or performing, and no real audience participation is allowed until you finish The whole thing feels like a hellish piano recital, minus the black keys.

On your own, you play guitar at a handful of open mikes. The experience is a hit-or-miss affair, depending on who shows up -- although you can always count on a healthy contingent of people trafficking in flavors that leave you cold (Birkenstock rock, warmed-over folk and stuffy roots music). 

And, just like when you first tried these things in college, you can count on hearing certain chestnuts again and again -- anything by the Grateful Dead, for example, or Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" -- to the point of listening for mistakes. Needless to say, most of the traffickers don't bother talking to you -- when they can peel themselves away from the mega-entourages that they often bring with them, which is rare.

You've got to move in a straight line
You've got to walk and talk in four four time

You can't be weird in a strange town
You'll be betrayed by your accent and manners

You've got to wear the right clothes
Be careful not to pick or scratch your nose
You can't be nice in a strange town
Cause we don't know, don't care
And we got to go, man

Needless to say, you don't fit in with all the bug-eyed careerists that you encounter, In most cases, their empty chatter revolves around work -- what they're trying to accomplish there, or not, depending on the management's anally retentive tendencies -- or what new toys they've recently acquired, or what they're doing this weekend. 

You tend to avoid such drones if you can, because Stockholm Syndrome isn't part of your psychological makeup -- "How do they get them to identify with your oppressor so vividly?", you often ask yourself -- and neither is bowling alone. In fairness, though, your hometown's soaring new pricing structure makes it tough to sustain social relationships, as everybody's spending so much more time on the work-earn-spend treadmill (yourself included).

You're savvy enough to understand that you're hardly on an equal footing. In most cases, an unspoken expectation hangs in the air: "Play by our rules, or forget it." You give up making suggestions -- whether it's to the local grocery chain store, the municipal powers that be, or the art clique with whom you've already butted heads -- because they seem to humor them. For the most part, however, your ideas will dissipate into the ether, never to be aired again. 

Naturally, this unequal relationship doesn't stop them from pressing you to cover this or that event they're hosting, or pat you on the back and say, "I always read your stuff." You grit your teeth and smile at the predictability -- not to mention the chutzpah -- of such behavior, while you count down the time till you can work on projects that seem more satisfying.

The lack of disposable income makes itself in unusual ways. The other day, you drove past the budget thrift store -- where you and the wife could count on better pricing breaks than the likes of Goodwill, whose unapologetic profiteering would cause Marx to spin in his tomb -- only to find numerous signs announcing its death knell: "PRICES HALF OFF." 

None of these things seemed imaginable as you grew up here. Back then, your hometown seemed fated to remain a coastal backwater, where -- if a place was really swinging, it might stay open till eight or nine o'clock. Nowadays, however, everything's up for grabs. The air hangs thick with the scent of power and prestige that reminds all concerned to either get in line, or get out of the way. "We're a lakefront community," the city fathers constantly remind us. "We're winners now. We better act like it."

You, by contrast, have never felt more alienated and isolated -- "a spaceman from these UFOs," just like the song says. Solutions remain maddeningly elusive, though you're sure of one thing: you didn't pledge allegiance to the in-crowd then...and you're not ready to do it now. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Click 'Em & Steel Yourself)
Carnegie Community Action Project:
A Small Mountain Town Fights Gentrification:

Chairman Ralph (Guest MP3): "Tourist Trap":
Is There Such A Thing As "Rural" Gentrification?

San Antonio Express News:
Quirky Marfa Feels Growing Pains