Saturday, July 26, 2008

Wells Fargo can rot in hell

I got some news from Wells Fargo Mortgage that's just plain annoying.

In short, the mortgage on Casa de Hawg is going up by about $70 a month. I can afford that, so I shrugged and started to throw the letter from Wells Fargo in the trash.

But then it hit me -- that's around $840 extra a year and I'm not real clear on why I'm shelling out the extra cash to the vipers. I have a feeling that the same kind of "adjustments" have been foisted on other Americans who have lived up to the contracts they agreed to when taking out mortgages.

The money really isn't the point in this instance. But the fact that the bank officials thinks they can simply steal my money because they are arrogant enough to believe can get away with it is aggravating. If they're stealing from me, what are doing to the rest of their customers?

Wells Fargo claims they figured my escrow account wrong in that home insurance and property taxes are higher than they anticipated. That dog won't hunt because my home insurance hasn't increased and we've not reassessed since we bought the house two years ago. Even if there was a reassessment, property values haven't been going through the roof lately, so the idea that my property taxes have gone up by $840 a year doesn't quite cut it. Oh, and we've got the caps on assessed value in Arkansas to consider, but I won't go into that.

In short, Wells Fargo claims that they figured the escrow wrong, but those calculations were made two years ago and the bastards haven't squawked about it until now. The timing seems very suspicious as the "uh, oops!" letter came right after Wells Fargo announced it wrote off $1.5 billion in bad loans in the second quarter. I do believe, then, we're getting the "St. Louis beer man treatment."

Let me explain what that is. A few years ago, I was at Busch Stadium in St. Louis watching the Cardinals whip up on the Cubs. The beer man came by and I bought a beer that was priced at $6. I gave the guy a $20 and he tried to hand me $6 in change.

I pointed out his error and he apologized and gave me my $14 in change. But, you just know he went around doing that all night long and some people were either too drunk or paying too much attention to the game to catch his error.

And that, folks, is what I suspect Wells Fargo is up to right now. They're probably pulling this nonsense on their stable customers and hoping they can get away with it. Hell, the weasels probably feel justified because they're losing their filthy, stinking shirts on a bunch of bad mortgages right now.

That's not my fault. My wife and I, when we bought our house, did everything right in that we put 20 percent down and took out a 30-year, fixed-interest mortgage. We've not missed a payment on our mortgage and haven't paid late, either.

Wells Fargo, then, likely looks at us as people they can exploit at will. The company probably doesn't want to take responsibility for making a bunch of bad loans so they'll hammer their reliable customers to cover their butts with shareholders a bit. It's not my fault that Wells Fargo decided to hand out money like drunken sailors on shore leave when the housing market was booming and I'll be damned if I'll pay for the company's reckless behavior without at least screaming at a couple of the grasping, unscrupulous misers that companies like Wells Fargo attract.

Of course, there's no one in a Wells Fargo office around here that his any authority to make this situation right. The old days when companies were a little bit afraid to reach into our pockets and blatantly steal from us have ended, I'm afraid. There was a time when the banker that controlled your mortgage was local and he always knew he might get a butt kicking or at least some bad PR if he decided to cheat you.

We got our mortgage through a local bank, of course, but that was repackaged and sold to the jerks at Wells Fargo before the ink dried on the contracts. So, some wretched little banker in another state has likely made the decision to steal from Wells Fargo's reliable customers. Visiting that jackal personally and howling at him until he called security on me isn't an option.

I'm taking my letter over to my accountant and I'll ask him whether the vague financial data Wells Fargo is using to steal from me makes sense. I doubt I'll get the thieves at Wells Fargo to budge an inch, but I'll at least annoy the hell out of them and get some satisfaction that way. Screw them all.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sucks to be you!

Taken on Friday, July 25 on Interstate 430 near the Markham Exit (and my office!) in Little Rock, Ark. A trailer jackknifed, thus dumping a pickup truck on its side. Glad I've got a good camera.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Hospital + Cemetery = Convenience

What on earth could be more efficient than locating a hospital right next to the largest cemetery in town?

The wise folks at Saline Memorial Hospital in Benton, Ark., must have decided that such efficiency was great, indeed, when they located within spitting distance of a cemetery.

That's a pretty good plan, actually. Should things not go well in the hospital, the formerly ill can be tossed out the window into a burial plot. Very handy, indeed!

By the way, the photo here doesn't do this setup justice. The hospital is the only one in Saline County and, as such, is pretty large. The cemetery is big, too, and runs parallel to one side of the hospital and a good sized chunk of the facility's access streets. In other words, people going to the hospital would have to do some hard core ignoring to miss the fact that they're going to be treated in a facility that's next to a graveyard.

That may be one of the reasons folks around here tend to head to Little Rock when they get serious illnesses -- the hospitals up there are a bit more equipped to handle the really sick sick, and they're not surrounded by tombstones, either.

I grew up thinking the hospital being next to a cemetery was fairly normal. Now that I'm older, I can't help but find such proximity more than a bit disturbing.

Imagine being a patient with a window facing the graveyard. How optimistic would you be about your chances at recovering? Not very, I should think.

The whole thing is just ghoulish.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

It could be the greatest election season movie of all time!

National politics thrives on the ridiculous, so a friend of mine at The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas in Springdale once told me about the idea of for a movie he had.

The concept struck me as brilliant and we talked about it a couple of times but never came up with a screenplay. Well, it's about time I gave him a call, dusted that old idea off and got to work.

His plan was to have a movie about two former wrestlers running for the presidency. Naturally, you'd have the candidates yelling into video cameras, calling each other out, swinging folding chairs and the whole nine yards. Indeed, you can certainly take the wrestler out of the ring, but you can't, err, take the ring out of the wrestler.

Something like that.

Anyway, my friend figured the two candidates should be from opposing parties, but I've refined the idea a bit. Seeing how much fun the Democratic primaries were this year, why not have the two former wrestlers be in the same party and compete with each other for the nomination?

There are a few advantages there. Our wrestling/president movie could avoid the whole Republican vs. Democrat issue and keep from making half the audience mad when one party loses the election. Heck, let's avoid Democrats and Republicans completely by making the two ex-wrestlers/candidates members of a third-party.

So, you don't make Democrats or Republicans angry and you cater to a growing audience who would love to see a third-party get strong enough to make a serious run at the White House. Yes, it seems that keeping Democrats and Republicans from getting irate while appealing to the people who hate both parties is certainly the way to go here.

We'd also have the nifty twist of setting up that shocker of an ending -- the losing candidate signs on to be the running mate of the victorious one. There are all kinds of possibilities there as the primaries would certainly be contentious throughout the movie.

The lads would clean up and put on suits, but they would still act like wrestlers, see? Therein lies the comedy as you'd have all the ranting, red-faced shouting matches and a general sense that a riot could break out whenever two candidates are in the same room. Campaign ads would naturally be packed with the crudest forms of libel and both campaigns would work together to generate some orchestrated controversy.

Just picture this. Let's say Candidate A is on a live broadcast defending some statements he made about Candidate B (we'll work on their names later) in the New York Times. Candidate A grabs the mic from the interviewer, points at the camera and starts insulting Candidate B's mother.

Just then, Candidate B rushes in and tries to cram the offending issue of the edition of the New York Times in Candidate A's mouth! The whole thing would devolve into a mess that only ends when one of the candidates is beaten bloody with a folding chair. The interviewer could even assume the role of the ineffective referee who gets shoved out of the way, beaten up or ignored in "pro" wrestling matches.

Following the whole wrestling theme, the candidates could brag about crushing the opposition in events such as the Iowa Throwdown (i.e., Iowa Primary) and could call each other out for debates. Debates, of course, would be billed as the Boston Brawl, the Cage Match in Dallas and etc.

Of course fans for both candidates would attend debates and constantly disrupt them with sign waving, booing, cheering and the occasional fistfight. Throughout the film, you'd see how the old guard, amazingly formal candidates will eventually be mowed down because of the wrestle boys clever use of rabble-rousing to excite voters.

Does this all sound like it's trivializing national politics? Believe me, we couldn't possibly make elections more ridiculous than they already are.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Will Foxworthy recognize The Hawg's brilliance?

That Jeff Foxworthy fellow sure is funny with his "you might be a redneck" stuff and all.

Yes, the comedian has built a career on letting people who don't realize they are rednecks know that they are, indeed, a little rosy around the gills. There is always the chance, of course, that Foxworthy's shtick will wear thin one day and that will spell the end of his career.

Fortunately, The Hawg has the redneck joke that will extend the man's career for at least another decade -- if not longer. Here it goes. Careful now. Be sure you're sitting down. If you have a bad heart, this corker might just put you in the emergency room. Ready?

"If you lost your virginity to a Waffle House waitress,
you might just be a redneck."

Yes, Foxworthy could ride that one all the way to a new sitcom! And he wouldn't forget to throw The Hawg a couple of bucks along the way, would he? Of course not! He's a good ol' boy.

Now, I don't want anyone out there to think I'm picking on Waffle House per se as I've dined at that fine establishment for years. Having a bad day? There's nothing like a waffle and a double order of hash browns with everything from onions to mushrooms mixed in there (The Hawg takes his hash browns with some ham diced in them -- breakfast (or lunch or dinner) for champions there).

Provided you don't mind the fact that eating too often at the Waffle House could kill you, it's a great place. I love almost everything about the place, all the way from the classic diner decor of to the private label salsa, Casa de Waffle (you can buy that by the jar from your local Waffle House if you so choose, by the way).

Yes, the Waffle House chain is as common as sin here in Arkansas, so it's very likely that I'm genetically inclined to love it. For whatever reason, when I see the friendly Waffle House fry cook toss my hash browns on the grill, baby I'm home.

I don't know what the Waffle House in your area is like, but if you've been to any of them in central Arkansas -- well, my wonderful redneck joke makes sense more often than not.

The problem with having such a great, career-extending joke is that it's hard to get the thing to Jeff Foxworthy. I found out through this new-fangled Internet invention that all the kids are wild about that he is represented by Maggie Houlehan at Parallel Entertainment (which has offices in both Los Angeles and Nashville, in case anyone cares).

So, I sent her an e-mail asking her to send my redneck joke over to Foxworthy (I'm sure after he reads it, I'll be able to call him something all chummy like "Jeff," "Big J" or "J Man," but I'll stick to referring to him a bit more formally for now). I've included a copy of that at the bottom of this post (just click to enlarge -- yeah, I already know about the typo so don't hassle me or I'll get the feared All Arkie Army after you).

Now that name -- Maggie Houlehan -- is more than a bit suspicious. It's a little too close to Margaret Houlihan, the head nurse on M*A*S*H. That makes me wonder whether this Houlehan exists at all.

Fortunately, I hunted around a bit more on that time-killing Internet thing and was able to find a fan mail address:

Jeff Foxworthy
Parallel Entertainment
9420 Wilshire Blvd.
Suite 250
Beverly Hills, CA 90212

I'm going to write a letter in the morning and send it to him. Hopefully, through either e-mail or snail mail, I'll be able to get my joke over to the man.

Will I succeed in reaching Foxworthy? Will he recognize that my redneck joke just oozes of greatness and send me some money? Will I get a rejection letter or hear nothing at all?

Stay tuned...

Monday, July 21, 2008

My office is a wreck and I like it that way

Ever since I got out of college (and even before) and started working, I've had to live with the shame of being a messy Hawg.

Yes, I stack papers, have dirty coffee mugs here and there and have trouble finding my stapler. The drawers in my desk are filled with all manner of things, business cards are strewn all over the place and my piles of paper are roughly divided into the following categories -- must be done now, should be done eventually and who cares?

Regardless, I'm comfortable in my office and I like it. If I'm meeting with people, well that's what a conference room is for, right? I've always been able to get my work done and actually find comfort in my odd, free-form style of organization. It works for me, so that ought to be good enough, right?

Well, no.

Every now and again, I'm reminded to clean up my office by my employer, I say "uh-huh" and generally ignore him. The one time I didn't ignore him, I got three, 60-gallon trash bags, jammed them full of stuff and hauled it all downstairs to the dumpster.

My office was so clean, in fact, that rumors started that I was about to quit. So, these days I tend to just let it ride -- let junk fall where it may and clear stuff off when it starts to cover the Bose speakers hooked up to my computer (the Hawg likes his music).

For years, then, I've had to live with the shame of having a messy office. But, then I found this article suggesting that a sloppy office is actually OK. It seems that a fellow by the name of Eric Abrahamson, a professor of management at Columbia Business School and co-author of A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder, suggested that people who are messy may just be efficient.

Being organized takes time, after all, and it could be that us unorganized slobs are simply busy with other things. Ah, there's a revelation!

Another revelation in the article is that only 11 percent of people making $75,000 or more per year claim to be "neat freaks." It's also worth pointing out that none other than the great Albert Einstein was a renowned slob.

I'm no Einstein and I'm not getting rich in the public relations game, but the point is made -- a sloppy office isn't necessarily an indication of a lazy employee as the same employers who think cubicles and florescent lights are good ideas would have you believe. So, take that, The Man!

The incomparable David Hudson!

As I'm sure my loyal reader has noticed, the Hawg has a snazzy, new banner on this here blawg.

Yes, the new banner is gear. It's fab and I'm now stylin' like Stalin. So, how did this wonderful thing happen? What happened to that nasty old banner?

Since I have all the design skills of my rat terrier (the powerful Cobb!), David Hudson went and designed a new one for me. Dave is the technology cat at our office and he's a tactful fellow, too. Rather than saying, "Uh, that banner looks like crap, man," he designed a new one and sent it over to me.

Loyal reader, I'm sure you'll agree that the new banner looks a whole lot better and now the Hawg is cruising the Blogosphere like a big dog. Ah, but Dave didn't stop there.

No, he went and designed a new banner for my other blog with a loyal audience of one, Straight-shooting real estate. Yes, the intrepid technology cat took pity on poor ol' Hawg and did a great job.

Now, here's the point of all this rambling. I see a lot of blogs out there that suffer from pitiful banners. I once had a sad little banner, too, and invite everyone out there to seek out David and ask for his help. Send an e-mail to Dave right here and you, too, might have a banner of which you can be justly proud.

Dave put my banners together for free in mere minutes, and I'm willing to bet he'd do a bang up job for a little cash. His rates will be reasonable, of course, so drop him a line, negotiate a price and let him get to work. He simply took a look at my pathetic, laughable banner, figured out the theme I was trying to implement and turned me crude idea into something worth showing off to the neighbors. I didn't have to do a thing and - voila! - a tremendously great banner was shipped my way. Now, that's service, kids.

By the way, in case anyone is wondering about the "B" symbol in my banner, that's easy to explain. That's a modified version of the Benton, Ark., logo and it asserts that Benton is the heart of Arkansas. Yeah, that's right.

Average/median list prices and home inventories for July 21

Yes, the Hawg works as the director of media relations for the Arkansas Realtors® Association.

One of the things I do there is to track data about real estate markets throughout the Natural State and try to explain what it all means. How much money do Arkansas homeowners want for their houses these days? Head right over here to find the answer!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Harrrr, matey! We're terrible!"

It's that time of year again -- time to give up on the Pittsburgh Pirates and just accept another rotten, stinking season from the Bucs.

I was reading a post earlier at PoemOfQuotes Blog about the pain of being a Kansas City Royals fan. Yes, it's hard rooting for the Royals because they stink. The Pirates, alas, are actually worse.

I've been a Pirates fan since 1977, meaning I've seen a lot of bad baseball over the years. Truth be told, I haven't seen the Pirates play on television for a couple of years, primarily because my wife caught me throwing beer cans at the television screen, standing on a chair and yelling as the lads made idiotic play after idiotic play.

But, I still do read up on them to see what kind of shenanigans are going on and the stats don't lie. This season might not be as bad as most as the team actually could break .500, but it's doubtful given their past history.

My wife and I were supposed to take a trip to St. Louis earlier this year so I could go watch the Pirates lose in person. That trip didn't pan out as she got sick and we stayed home. It was probably just as well.

Yes, baseball season is rough for a Pirates fan, meaning I tend to get mad enough at the boys to start rooting for the Cardinals by around the middle of June. Oddly, however, few people realize how much they stink.

Let's go through a bit of history, shall we? The Pirates haven't won a World Series since 1979 and haven't had a winning season since (get this) 1992. Yes, that's 15 seasons below .500 and the team is gearing up to stink again this year.

That's pretty rotten, indeed, and it reminds me of an old joke about the Pirates:

This man walks into a bar and he's got this feist dog with him. The bartender says, "Hey, you can't bring a dog in here. You'll have to leave him outside."

The man begs, "Please let him stay. He's a Pittsburgh Pirates fan and he just wants to watch the game. If you let him stay, I promise that he won't bother anyone."

"He's a baseball fan? I'd kind of like to see that," the bartender says. "I'll let him come in, but if he bothers anyone, I'm throwing you both out of here."

So, the dog sits on a bar stool and watches the Pirates game. One of the Pirates hits a single and the dog jumps up on the bar and runs up and down it while yipping, wagging his tail and high-fiving the patrons.

"Hey, he really is a Pirates fan," the bar tender says. "Does he do that every time someone gets a hit?"

"Yes he does," the man says.

"What does he do when one of the Pirates hits a home run?"

"I don't know. I've only owned him for five years."

And that, folks, pretty well sums it up. But the team does have an impressive history in that the Pirates played in the first World Series in 1903 (lost to Boston) and won its first World Series in 1909 against the Detroit Tigers. By the way, the 1909 series pitted the Pirates' legendary Honus Wagner against the even more legendary (and at least twice as insane) Ty Cobb. The Bucs also picked up World Series wins in 1925, 1960 and 1971 and have produced a lot of Hall of Famers, including the aforementioned Wagner and the great Roberto Clemente (a player that makes the Pirates ownership wish that cloning was a reality 40 years ago).

Ah, but the team has -- honestly -- been almost uniformly terrible since that 1979 World Series victory. In the 1980s, they were awful until Lim Leyland took over as manager and started to build a club. It appeared in 1992 the Pirates would make it to the World Series, but they blew it against the Braves in the final inning of the last game of the National League Championship game. Yes, I remember it well because there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the Pirates were ahead by one run. They blew that one pretty severely just about the time I was gloating to a Braves friend of mine. As soon as the Pirates lost and that ridicule started to turn around on me, I hung up the phone and threw beer cans at the television screen (a common practice when watching the Pirates play).

So, what's been the problem for Pittsburgh? There are a couple, really. For one thing, the payroll is miserable and that means its hard to keep good players. Apparently, baseball players expect more than a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon and a 1972 Pinto for a season of work. Barry Bonds (I really do despise that man) was a Pirate, but he took off after the 1992 season for more money as did a lot of the real talent on the team. Sad.

Also, even when Pittsburgh does manage to land a good player, they trade him off for some prospects. Thus, a viscious circle is created in which great players are traded for prospects and those new players are traded for more prospects if they develop their talents and can contribute to the Bucs.

After all this griping, complaining and beer can hurling, you're probably wondering -- why does the Hawg still root for Pittsburgh. Probably for the same reason that I stuck with the Arkansas Razorbacks during the dreadful Danny Ford and Houston Nutt years.

Besides, I do like the underdogs. I'm reminded of a conversation I had with my uncle a few years ago.

"Uncle Don -- dad and granddad are both Yankees fans, so how did you wind up rooting for the Orioles?"

"Ethan, I used to watch the Yankees with your dad and grandfather, but it always seemed liked rooting for the Nazis against Poland in 1939."

Great point, but it doesn't make rooting for a bad team any easier.

Vista stinks, but that's really OK

About a year ago, I got a new computer at work and it had Windows Vista loaded on it. We got rid of it and went back to good old XP after about two days.

Honestly, however, our ordeal in dealing with Vista really was OK for reasons I'll get into here in bit. For now, however, let me explain exactly what kinds of troubles we had with Vista.

The biggest objection, of course, is that it just wouldn't run any of the software that is critical to what we in the office. Vista just plain wouldn't work with a lot of those programs that ran just fine under XP. Our smiling tech guy fought with Vista for a couple of days and set about writing workarounds and everything else to force my computer to work.

It was all no good, of course. Stubborn Vista just wouldn't cooperate. Now, our offices are on the third floor of our building and mine overlooks Interstate 430 in scenic Little Rock, Ark. The technology cat and I were trying to decide if we could hurl my laptop all the way to I-430 when he had an epiphany -- why not just strip Vista off and put XP back on my system?

Getting XP back on the system was a chore as a lot of computers now are made to work specifically with Vista. That means finding XP-compatible software drivers can be a hit and miss proposition -- the soundcard, for example, has some weird driver written in Spanish for some reason. It was a hassle to get XP running on my new laptop, but it eventually worked.

But, honestly, that's all OK and I've come to regard Vista as one of the most significant software releases from Microsoft. Why? It's because of the way people are reacting to it that is impressive. It appears that Microsoft may be on the verge of falling to the same types of pressures that allowed it to become so dominant years ago.

Let me explain what I mean.

A bit of history

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, having the right hardware was everything. If you wanted, say, VisiCalc, you had to buy an Apple 2. If you wanted the widest variety of business-related programs available, you might opt for a Z-80 based system running the CP/M operating system. You had the Commodore, Apple and Atari computers essentially slugging it out in the game market, and let's not forget smaller companies like Tandy that had huge followings, either.

Then, IBM came along in 1981 and released the Personal Computer (PC) that simply dominated the hardware market after a couple of years. The operating system was retained by Microsoft and the company started selling it to other computer manufcaturers, thus ending the days when selling the most hardware was the most important thing.

That brings us up to today where Microsoft is dominant because the company has the most widely used operating system. There are some indications that we may be looking at a welcome paradigm shift in having the dominant operating system doesn't matter as much as it does right now.

What the hell are you talking about, Hawg?

Getting back to my Vista story, it turns out that I wasn't the only one struggling with the operating system. I work for the Arkansas Realtors Association, and one of the things we do is sell software to Realtors around the state. That software is what Realtors use to get the forms and contracts necessary to selling real estate.

The problem with that software is that it's not Vista compatible. Yes, there are a few workarounds and such that will get it to work, but unless you've got Windows XP, Windows ME or Windows 98, the chances are good that you'll have trouble with the forms software. The theory here, of course, is that we are committed to supporting the most popular operating systems -- if you've got Vista, you're an odd duck just like those people who swear by Macintosh or Linux. Sad but true.

Instead of working on a Vista version of the software, our technology cat contracted with a company that will provide an Internet-based version of the stuff that isn't doesn't rely on specific operating systems. Got Vista? It'll work. How about a Macintosh or one of those freaky Linux machines? You're covered If you can get on the Internet, you can run the forms software.

That's a significant change, indeed. We've never bothered with supporting Macintosh and Linux before, and I've noticed that a lot of companies are putting out applications the same way. One of the things that has kept Windows dominant is that the company has the operating system necessary to run the bulk of the desirable applications out there. God knows Windows hasn't become a giant because it releases quality, trouble-free products. The company is a pain in the back (my daughter's phrase -- feel free to use it) to deal with, but it's been a necessary evil due to the applications that run under Windows.

Really, it's about time that change was in the air. Hopefully, the ability to deliver applications over the Internet will result in a lot more freedom in choosing what type of operating system to purchase. Frankly, I miss my journalism days when I had a Macintosh...

Prepare to meet God?

For a host of reasons, I honestly do love my hometown of Benton, Ark.

This city has its share of quirks, to be sure, and one of my favorite ones is a sign near Interstate 30 that warns passersby to prepare to meet God. The sign is two-sided, so it's easily visible from both the eastbound and westbound lanes on I-30, as well as the westbound lane on the access road next to the interstate.

I can't help but think the sign has scared the hell out of more than one driver flying down the highway as it reminds me of one of those warning signs that pop up on mountainous roads. You know the kind:

Eight people killed last year
by driving off the mountain.
Don't you be next!

A sign very much like that one that graced U.S. 71 between Alma and Fayetteville, Ark., for years. It might still be up there, in fact.

At any rate, the "prepare to meet God" sign has been there for at least 30 years. It was put up by Sharon Missionary Baptist Church here in town as part of that group's ongoing mission of saving lost souls. You'll notice that the church no longer advertises on the sign, thus converting it from an attention-getting recruitment tool into something that's just plain creepy.

I really need to take some more photos of things here in my town.