Saturday, August 8, 2009

Midget wrestling and minor league baseball? Seriously?


A friend of mine was excited at work today because he received an email notification that there would be midget wrestling last night in North Little Rock at an Arkansas Travelers game.

No. You really can’t make up stuff like this. Here is the relevant part of that aforementioned email:

“The show you definitely don’t want to miss…MIDGET WRESTLING makes its final appearance of the 2009 baseball season presented by Midtown Billiards, The Edge, CW Arkansas and Fox 16. L’il Kato and Puppet ‘The Psycho Dwarf’ will battle for the World Heavyweight Midget Wrestling Championship at 6:45 p.m. in the squared circle at home plate!”

My friend called me from the game, declared the event “awesome” and shot some video on his iPhone that I can watch at the office on Monday. Sadly I couldn’t make it out to see some midget wrestling and I’m not sure whether L’il Kato or Puppet ‘The Psycho Dwarf’ won the event.

It doesn’t matter that much, really. I just feel I missed out on something unusual and more than a bit entertaining. I’ve been an Arkansan my entire life but some things that happen in this state still surprise me.

Midget wrestling before an Arkansas Travelers baseball game. Wow.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Foreclosed – a few words about my Wordless Wednesday entry


Yes, it seems like just yesterday (in fact it was just yesterday) when I submitted the photo on the left as my Wordless Wednesday entry.

I didn’t take that photo or come up with the nifty “speech bubble,” but I had to share the picture. Why? I make my living as a public relations guy (I prefer the term “media cat” but that hasn’t caught on) and have heard a lot about foreclosures over the past couple of years.

That photo was sent to me by a fellow in my office (the technology cat, to be precise) as he’s heard a lot about foreclosures, too.

There are a couple of things about the foreclosures topic that are worth mentioning. For one thing, we’ve had our share of those things in Arkansas, but our troubles have been few compared to a lot of other states. One of the primary reasons for our good fortune in that regard has to do with the conservative nature of our lending institutions.

The National Association of Realtors tells us that the majority of foreclosures involve subprime mortgages. A lot of banks in this state simply refused to deal with those mortgages, so we’ve not had as many defaults as some other areas. Arvest – the largest bank in Arkansas – is one of those that simply refused to deal with subprime mortgages.

Second, I’m sick to death of the bickering over whether Republicans or Democrats are to blame for the collapse of the subprime mortgage market. The simply truth is that this mess has been brewing for 30 years and both political parties had a hand in it.

Yes, back in 1977 the Jimmy Carter administration pushed through the Community Reinvestment Act to encourage more relaxed credit standards so as to make it easier for people to take out mortgages. The thought was that poor folks and minorities were being discriminated against by banks that wouldn’t give the money. Equity, seemingly, demanded a remedy.

Some of that risky lending, as you might recall, was a contributor to the savings and loan crisis that beat the hell out of the financial system from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s. Rather than learn from the mistakes made, Bill Clinton announced in 1999 that everyone has the right to own a home and his administration pushed through measures that further relaxed lending standards for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Jump forward to the first term of the George W. Bush administration and you may recall that the only thing going well in the economy was the housing market. In an attempt to keep that rolling, lending standards were relaxed a bit further. They might not have been actively pushed for Bush, but you’d better believe his administration didn’t have much motivation to say “boo” about the alarmingly lax standards.

The key to the whole mess, of course, is the mortgage backed securities market. A mortgage backed security is exactly what it sounds like – an instrument that behaves like a bond and is backed by mortgages.

For awhile, investors lined up in droves to buy those things. Local banks generally didn’t have much call to scrutinize loan applications to closely – all they knew was that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would guarantee those mortgages. Meanwhile, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could simply dump those loans on the mortgage backed security market and everything would be dandy.

Well, it didn’t turn out so dandy, did it? When you float a bunch of risky mortgages out there with terms that are too much for borrowers to bear, you wind up with a lot of foreclosures. Some of the mortgages being written just a few years ago were downright odd. We’re talking about thing like mortgages on which borrowers paid interest only for a period of a few years. When those few years ran, borrowers had to pay both interest and principal and simply couldn’t afford mortgage payments that went up by hundreds of dollars overnight. Adjustable rate mortgages often contained such unfavorable terms (i.e., locked in at a low rate for a few years then the mortgage would float) and we saw a lot of foreclosures from that end, too.

So a lot of the subprime mess was brought on by government interference and downright greed on the part of a lot of the financial industry. Borrowers, too, jumped in over their heads and were convinced the could sell their homes for a profit before the unfavorable terms of their subprime mortgages took hold. As we’ve seen, that was just not a safe bet – housing values plummeted due to overbuilding, downward pressure on prices, a souring economy and a host of other problems.

Oh, and here’s more great news – default rates on prime mortgages have increased dramatically this year according to the Federal Reserve. Great.

The good news here is that banks seemed to have learned a thing or two over the past couple of years. They’re looking hard at credit reports and are generally insisting on down payments from people wanting to take out mortgages. It’s worth mentioning that Arvest – and a lot of other banks that didn’t take any bailout money – had those policies in place for years.

Perhaps other lenders – and the federal government – can learn a thing or two about the value of conservative lending and taking as few risks with investors’ money as possible.

This post is part of the oh-so-dandy Tell Me Thursday event. Bump the link to find out more about Tell Me Thursday!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Lou Holtz for Congress? Heck yeah!


Here’s some news that ought to make any Arkansan proud – Lou Holtz might run for a seat in Congress.

You heard me right – he may run as a Republican and challenge central Florida incumbent U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, a Democrat.

For those of you unfamiliar with Holtz, he was the head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks until he was run out of this state by a pack of morons in 1983. He went to a little college called Notre Dame in 1986 and led the Irish to a national championship in 1986.

I’m all for Holtz for at least a couple of reasons. For one thing, the man is a hoot. I have said – time and time again – that we ought to be electing better leaders to national offices. The American public doesn’t seem to interested in that as evidenced by the rotten candidates that have run for president since Ronald Reagan left office (yeah, the Democrats and Republicans have both scraped the bottom of the barrel for candidates since 1988).

Seriously, folks. The last presidential election featured a grumpy old man who didn’t seem to know what he really wanted to achieve and a fellow who stole his campaign slogan from Bob the Builder. We quit worrying about quality candidates and responsible government years ago.

Yes, you could expect Holtz to always be up to something wacky and popping off about this, that and the other. Holtz has a big mouth and it often gets him in trouble. If we can’t expect much from government, then we can at least be entertained, right?

My view of politics is – I realize – cynical as can be. I explain my point of view to people by relating a story from my days as a student. When I was a freshman at Hendrix College in scenic Conway, Ark., I was ironing a shirt in my dorm room (I have always hated ironing). I heard a knock at the door, yelled “come in!” and a fellow wearing a coat and tie entered.

“Hi!” he enthused as he handed me a pamphlet. “I’m blah-blah and I’m running for student council! I would really appreciate your vote.”

“You really want my vote?” I asked.


“Then get in here and iron my shirt.”

“I’m not going to iron your shirt!”

“Then I’m not going to vote for you.”

The poor slob looked like he wanted to say something but just couldn’t manage it. He wandered off in a huff, leaving me with my ironing and a great story that I’ve been telling for over 20 years now.

Here’s the point – if I would have gotten that guy to iron my shirt, I would have received more benefit from an elected official than most people receive in their lives.

If we can’t expect the government to do much, then there’s nothing wrong with voting for someone who could at least make political news interesting. Yes, I’d expect his speeches from the House floor to be littered with all sorts of sports analogies.

“It’s third and long, but we’re not giving up,” Holtz might say. “We’ve hit the two minute warning but I know we’re mounting a comeback that will be one for the books.”

Another reason I like Holtz is that he might actually get something done. The man is a loose cannon who says what he means and isn’t afraid to back down from a fight. Compared to that mealy-mouthed Vic Snyder who represents Arkansas’ Second District (my district, sadly) in the House, a hell-raising, straight shooter like Holtz would be a refreshing change of pace.

Snyder mumbles the party line through his mustache while Holtz tends to get angry and yell what’s on his mind. Of course, Holtz’s tendency to disregard the consequences of his words might be the thing that would cost him enough votes to keep him out of Congress. That would be a shame.

Now, I know a lot of people like to talk about experience when it comes to politics these days. The notion, of course, is that someone who hasn’t served in an elected office just isn’t as effective as someone who has.

That’s a bunch of crap. Look here – Holtz managed to lead the Razorbacks to a stunning victory over the Oklahoma Sooners in the 1978 Orange Bowl, has a national title under his belt and is in the College Football Hall of Fame. He’s achieved more than 95 percent of the careerists in the House or the Senate. That’s good enough for me.

I like this notion of Holtz running for office so much I might just make a contribution even though he’d be representing Florida rather than Arkansas. You want change? Just put Holtz in office and you’ll see some change.

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday – foreclosed?


Why not visit Wordless Wednesday to check out the other participants or submit something of your own?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

No. No. No!!!

EvilKissMMsAs if I didn’t have enough to be mad about, I read the confirmation from that one of my favorite bands had agreed to do an ad campaign with those filthy, filthy charlatans at M&M’s.

I haven’t been this mad since Nike was trying to sell me some shoes by pimping out the Beatles’ “Revolution” in an ad campaign that only a corporate stooge could love. Sadly, it’s not surprising. After Gene Simmons’ decades of hawking everything from Kiss Kaskets to his own wife’s tell-all memoirs, he apparently had enough of his soul left to sell to M&M’s – this generation’s great evil.

Yes, my outright hatred of M&M’s is well documented. I’ve got another reason to hate them now – that cheap, rotten Mars bunch is now going to get a little fatter off the legacy of a band that used to be great.

Yeah, laugh it you want. But Kiss did, indeed, used to be a great band. They suck these days and it’s somehow fitting that they’re banking on their makeup days in public appearances and in that filthy M&M’s ad, but two of the members that made the band great – Ace Frehley and Peter Criss – are nowhere to be found.

No, Criss has been replaced by Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer is filling in for Thayer these days. Singer and Thayer can wear the makeup, but it’s not the same thing no matter how much Simmons and Paul Stanley want us to believe that it’s just like the good old days.

Frehley and Criss are lucky in a way – at least they aren’t around to see themselves portrayed by stinking, talking M&M’s.

Speaking of Frehley, he’s got a new album coming out on Sept. 15 (click here to stream the track "Outer Space," by the way -- rocks!) Here’s hoping his new record blows the one being slopped together by Kiss out of the water. They’re probably too busy playing with M&M’s to record anything worth a damn, anyway.

Still, the very idea of pairing one of my favorite bands from my childhood with cheap, nasty M&M’s is nauseating. At least Nike makes decent shoes and that removed some of the stink of that “Revolution” faux pas. The M&M’s bunch can’t even fall back on a decent product.

It’s worth mentioning that there is supposed to be a “special KISS edition” of that barely edible M&M’s candy before long. Were it up to me, I’d call the Kiss version of that junk “Extra Krappy.” Heh, heh.

Phooey on Kiss and M&M’s both. Just plain phooey.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Pronounced ‘You-Sneb-Bitch’

I love this band. Why? Because these lads go out of their way to be really, really horrible. Check out the glory of King Uszniewicz & the Uszniewicztones for yourself by watching the below video (and read more about this disaster of a band over at Norton Records).

Come join Music Monday and share your songs with us. One simple rule, leave ONLY the actual post link here. You can grab this code at LJL Please note these links are STRICTLY for Music Monday participants only. All others will be deleted without prejudice.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

New and different? Really?


My wife and I were watching Burn Notice the other night (truly a great show) when something not so great happened.

Yes, it seems there was a very obvious product placement ad for one of those 64 calorie light beers that was awkwardly inserted in the episode we were watching. Well, it was 64 calories or something close to it and I think it was Michelob, but I was too irritated to care.

Now, I don’t mind people out making a buck and I’m not to irritated by very obvious product placement ads in the middle of television shows. What does annoy me, however, is when someone takes an idea that has been around for years and tries to market it as something brand new.

That level of conceit relies on the notion that we just aren’t paying attention. Bugs the hell out of me.

Here’s the thing. A lot of these breweries have been howling about their 60-some-odd calorie beer lately. Folks, this is absolutely nothing new. Every hear of Pearl Light? It weighs in at 68 calories and has been around for decades.

The thing about Pearl Light, however, is that it’s kind of hard to come by these days and absolutely no advertising revenue is spent on it. Pearl was established way on back in 1883 and is still brewed in Fort Worth, Texas. Read all about Pearl here.

Pearl Light is cheap swill that costs about $7 for a 12-pack around here and it’s hard to find it (I’m told) outside of Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Still, it’s low calorie cheap swill and seems to have beaten those other brewers of cheap, diet beer to the punch by several decades.

Still, these other brewers have the marketing bucks so I guess they can howl about their “new” beer all they want. Some of us, however, know better.

By the way, I can’t stress enough how great of a show USA’s Burn Notice really is. It’s got Bruce Campbell in it and anything with that guy in it is automatically great.