Monthly Archives: September 2008

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Chasing my tail…What is this, like the tenth time I’ve posted about Countrywide’s terrible customer service?

Sorry, here I go again…

So, tonight, moments ago actually, they responded to my inquiry from September 10th.

Back then, I asked two questions:

1. Does Countrywide acknowledge the Homeowners Protection Act in regards to the automatic cancellation of PMI?

2. At what point will the PMI on my account be automatically cancelled? I’d like a specific date please.

They responded tonight:

Posted 09/22/2008

Reply : Dear Brainy Smurf:

Once again, thank you for your recent Internet inquiry addressed to Customer Service.

Our initial research shows that we can best resolve this inquiry for you by speaking to you in person. To ensure that we fully resolve your concern, we ask that you contact the PMI Department directly at (800) 669-9092.

Thank you for communicating with us electronically; we appreciate the opportunity to be of assistance.

Brilliant! Almost word-for-word, the same response I received last month.

Remember what happened the last time they asked me to speak with them in person?

Yeah, they had no idea why I was calling even though I had a direct line and a name to speak to. Hmph!

They truly have me going in circles.

I’m really tempted to send them a 2-letter response.


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Barack Obama House

I took this picture over the weekend in my home town here in Connecticut.

It’s been one of my favorite houses since I was in high school — though, back then it didn’t have its latest decoration.

I try not to get too political on here — I think politics have come up maybe once or twice over the past year — but there’s no sense in hiding who I’m going to vote for.

No one. That’s right, I won’t be voting this November.

I can’t vote in the election because I’m not an American citizen.

But that isn’t to say that I can’t support one candidate or the other.

Obama’s my guy.

And it appears that he’s the guy for most people my age — which likely has to do with his stance on war, the environment, gun control, abortion, stem cell research, immigration, health care, the economy, taxes, etc…

That is why I’d vote for Obama if I could.

It’s also why I’ll encourage those who can vote to vote for Obama.

Watching both conventions on C-Span (without any pundits or random talking heads swaying my thoughts), the one thing that was blatantly apparent was the difference in each parties approach and delivery.

The Democrats talked about all the great American things that had happened in the past and that could happen again in future.

The Republicans, on the other hand, spent most of their time talking about all of the things we should be afraid of if we don’t vote McCain.

It’s just a different strategy. And I understand that.

But like my Biggest Loser post — I prefer to be inspired rather than threatened. That’s what motivates me and makes me feel good.

That, and combined with Biden (who seems like a regular Joe to me), the Democrat ticket is just a lot more relatable… More like, well, typical Americans… like I pretend to be, even though I’m not.

John McCain is definitely qualified to be President. I’m not sure anyone out there has ever said otherwise — he’s been around forever, it seems.

I have always found it odd, though, how he’s been supported by the religious right (which I can’t understand — just cause Huckabee drops out, they support the next guy?). I mean, Senator McCain has demonstrated quite well, in the past, that he lacks morals.

I love how people were so quick to pile on John Edwards for infidelity when John McCain did the exact same thing (worse actually). I mean, you’d think the bigger story would be on the guy who’s actually a nominee…

Blame it on being a POW — sorry, I’m not buying it.

I’ve also seen quotes where they say that end of his first marriage was because he was turing 40 but acting like a 25 year old. I dunno, I’d like to think that a potential President of the United States would’ve grown up long before turning 40, but maybe that’s just me.

And seriously, how’d he bury the whole Keating Five thing? I mean, in the grand scheme of national politics, that was a pretty big blunder.

Have people forgotten that too?

McCain can take a great deal of credit for the recession of the early 1990’s. In today’s financial climate, I dunno, I think that’s kind of relevant.

And you’d think a scandal that big would disqualify you from running for President. Apparently not.

Wrapping Cindy McCain into the picture, and again, it’s tough to relate to John McCain. No one in my family is a gold digger and no one has a trophy wife (with a serious painkiller addiction) either.

How about your family?

And I’m still not sure why his poor health isn’t a bigger issue. I mean, remember all the hoops the media leaped through with Dick Cheney and his bad heart?

McCain has had pieces of his face removed this calendar year and there’s barely been a mention… Last time I checked, skin cancer on a 72 year old was a pretty serious issue.

The part of McCain’s platform that makes me laugh out loud every time is when he says the US economy is strong. He justifies it by saying that the US worker is the hardest worker in the world and that’s why we have nothing to worry about.

I’m sorry, but has John McCain ever been to Walmart? Who is he kidding? Unfortunately, these days, it seems that the average US worker is more interested in taking cigarette breaks and talking on their cell phones than actually working.

As for Sarah Palin, well, maybe it’s just me, but Alaska is pretty, well, meaningless. I mean, who are they kidding? That’s like saying that if it weren’t for South Dakota, the country would fall apart. It’s just not true. She “changed” Alaska. Honestly, does a changed Alaska mean much to the lower 48?

Sure, in the Senate, all 50 states are equal. That’s why there is also a House of Representatives, and there, Alaska is irrelevant with just one seat. One. I have nothing against Alaska, or any other small state (Connecticut included), but to claim that any of them greatly effect the US as a whole is just ridiculous.

As for her family life, well, again, I can’t relate.

I’m sorry, the campaign can claim that her family is the “typical American family” but is it really to the point where it’s typical for Mom to have kids within a few months of their daughter?

“Hey, meet your uncle Trigg… Sure he’s only 3 months older than you, but that’s how it is in the typical American family of the 21st century.”

Um, not where I come from…

Oh yeah, I’m not American.

We don’t fire semi-automatic weapons on the weekends either…

Remember when Bill Clinton was deservedly raked over the coals by the RNC for lacking “Family Values”? Conservatives were all over him.

In comparison, can you believe the Republican ticket in 2008? It’s unreal.

That said, I’ll still say that Sarah Palin was a much better pick than Joe Lieberman would have been and he’s supposed to be the guy representing me in the Senate. Grrrrrrr…

My parents are Republicans — at least my Dad is, for sure.

I attribute this to the fact that he shook Bob Dole’s hand back in 1996. Bob Dole’s left hand, I assume. But had it been Dick Gephardt or, gasp, even Bill Clinton, I think he may have been swayed the other way. On second thought, maybe not, he listened to Rush Limbaugh an awful lot too…

I listen to Rush too, though… Who knows?

But this election is different, I think.

In 1996, the first election that I would have been old enough to vote in, I’d have voted for Bill Clinton. No doubt in my mind. Bob Dole was a disabled old dude, and Jack Kemp was a crappy quarterback. Hey, I never said I had a good reason for not wanting to vote Republican…

In 2000, I’d have reluctantly voted for Al Gore. He just seemed a lot more likeable to me than George W. Bush. Though, had he won, I have to wonder how far he would have gone with his whole “going green” mission.

In 2004? Probably George W. Bush — though now I’m embarrassed to admit that.

Most presidents are terrible in their second term.

In fact, in my life time, all of the second terms have been less than stellar, but GWB has taken it to a new level.

Really, what I’m saying is that I can’t claim to support one party over the other.

The Governor of my state is Republican. And terrible. Just terrible.

The Mayor of my city is a Democrat and he’s bumbled things up far worse than his Republican predecessor…

I’d vote to oust both of them if I could…

But I have noticed something about this year’s presidential election — if you’re over 45 years old, you tend to lean towards McCain. Under 45, you lean toward Obama. Party affiliation doesn’t seem to matter so much.

Sure, there are exceptions, but just comparing “groups” on things like Facebook (where the demographic is primarily under the age of 45), Obamaholics outnumber McCainiacs by huge numbers. As of today, 1.8 million to 537k. It’s not even close.

Problem is, will those young people vote? Probably not…

In the end, I can see a repeat of 2000.

John McCain will win the election but Barack Obama will easily have the popular vote. Americans will again fail to understand the dynamics of their own government and through a few supreme court nominees, McCain will set the US up to be left in the dust of other countries (as if we haven’t been left in the dust already…)

Okay, I think I’m done now…

I’d originally just wanted to put the picture up (cause I thought it looked neat) and move on but now I’ve rambled on with a poorly worded, enormously unconnected, disjointed, and somewhat politically motivated, rant-a-thon-a-saurus…

I didn’t even spell check. That’s dumb.

Clicking ‘publish’….. now!

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Liberty Bank SleepoverYeah, me too… And it’s for real — not just some teaser rate. Zero points paid.

No joke. This is not a scam.

Is that even possible in this financial climate?

The answer is, “Yes!”

Of course, there are a few strings attached — like having to sleep overnight outside the bank alongside the drive-up ATM.

But before you get too excited, I should probably also mention that we all missed our shot at it — the rate was only available last weekend.

Here’s the article by Kenneth Gosselin from the September 14 Hartford Courant:

Home Buyers Camp Out For Shot At 3.5% Loan

Maybe you thought you’d heard it all when it comes to people camping out overnight to get a shot at being the first to own perhaps the hot toy or the latest computer game.

But how about a home mortgage?

Twenty-five home buyers with signed purchase agreements — some of them having waited as long as 24 hours — were in line early Saturday outside the new Liberty Bank branch in Wethersfield for a chance at applying for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage at an incredibly low rate of 3.5 percent.

“It’s like winning the lottery,” said Mike Lemos, who was fifth in line Saturday at the Silas Deane Highway branch.

Lemos and his wife, Julie, a real estate agent, were among the 13 who were lucky enough to get a shot at a slice of the $3.5 million program. The remaining dozen were put on a waiting list in case others before them in line don’t get final approval.

The Lemoses hope that the low rate will allow them to afford payments on a $360,000 ranch that’s nearly double the size of their current 1,800-square-foot colonial — and save $100,000 over the term of the mortgage.

“We wouldn’t have had a thought of doing this without this rate,” said Lemos, a securities compliance director at MetLife.

The promotion — intended to call attention to the opening of Liberty’s first branch in Wethersfield — allowed purchases of one- to four-family homes in Wethersfield. Borrowers had to come armed with a signed purchase contract. No points were charged, but closing costs and other fees still applied.

At a time when most lenders are scrutinizing credit and income histories amid the downturn in the housing market and fallout from the subprime lending crisis, the promotion gave borrowers a low rate to help counterbalance lending industry insistence on higher down payments after years of loose underwriting.

A little math reveals the savings for borrowers. On a single-family house in Wethersfield purchased at July’s median sale price of $252,000 with a 20 percent down payment, a borrower would finance $201,600. The monthly principal and interest payment at 5.93 percent — the national average last week for 30-year, fixed-rate home loans — would be $1,200. At 3.5 percent, the payment drops to $905 — a difference of $294 a month, or $105,973 over 30 years.

If the borrowers — many of them pre-qualified, based on credit scores and income — receive final loan approval, they also have to open a checking account with direct payroll deposit and automatic debit for the monthly mortgage payment.

The prospect of sizable savings grabbed the attention of Nancy and Douglas Robertson of New Britain, who were 11th in line. The couple had been house-hunting in the Hartford area, but quickly settled on Wethersfield when they heard about the promotion from their real estate agent two weeks ago. They signed a contract on a $365,000 four-bedroom, 2 1/2 bath split-level near the Rocky Hill line on Labor Day. The Robertsons estimate that they will save between $500 and $600 a month on their monthly payments with the low rate.

Nancy Robertson, a lawyer, said she enjoyed the camaraderie in line, although she could have done without such a long wait.

“But it’s a small price to pay for a once-in-a-lifetime rate on a mortgage,” she said.

Even when 30-year rates were at their lowest, on average, nationally, in June 2003 — at 5.23 percent with 0.6 point — it was well above what Liberty was offering in the program.

The bank took the opportunity to woo those waiting in line. It handed out umbrellas during a downpour Friday night, and later served pizza. Unlike similar campouts at retailers, Liberty brought in a portable toilet, complete with flashlight.

Banks typically trot out promotions when they open new branches in a market as they dig in to build market share. But the promotions are usually aimed at savings, such as high-rate certificates of deposit. But Liberty wanted to do something with loans. The bank chose $3.5 million and 3.5 percent because the branch is Liberty’s 35th.

Robert A. Steele, the bank’s director of consumer credit risk, said the bank expects to “break even” on the loans. But the greater benefit is exposure to the community — and showing the market that the bank has money to lend, even in a tighter market for credit.

Anthony Centurelli, who secured the first place in line, wants out of his condo and saw the rate as the way.

He has a hard time parking his pickup truck in his complex. The $280,000 house he and his wife hope to buy on Folly Brook Road has two garages.

“This came up, and we said, ‘What the heck?'” said Centurelli, a civil engineer.

Well, one thing is for sure — a few lucky families in Wethersfield, Connecticut probably won’t be refinancing over the next 30 years…

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Brittany from The Biggest LoserI admit it. I watch The Biggest Loser on Tuesday nights. All two hours of it. Every week.

I remember when the show first started a few years ago. I didn’t watch it back then.

I often wondered, who would want to watch a bunch of shirtless people go to Fat Camp? I mean, if Richard Simmons isn’t involved, what’s the draw?

Am I right?

But last season, for reasons unknown, my wife and I watched the first episode. I was hooked. Even had a television celebrity crush on Brittany — that’s her pictured. She was one smokin’ fat chick.

Anyway, we watched it religiously through the entire season. It blew my mind to see these huge people morph into, well, people you wouldn’t even consider overweight (though in most cases, they were still a little heavy.)

Then, as with most weekly elimination reality shows, the wrong person won. That left a sour taste in my mouth — the show is stupid.

But this past Tuesday, my wife and I watched the season opener and guess what? I’m hooked again. No television crush this time, I just like the show.

I hate Jillian — not a fan of screamers. I realize some people need that type of treatment to get off their, um, fat asses but I find that I’m more motivated by someone with Bob‘s approach.

The whole thing kinda reminds me of running track in high school. We distance runners would all go up to the weight room and try to hold our own among the fat guys who threw heavy things (shot put and discus). They spent a lot of time in there. We, being walking stick men, obviously did not.

The top priority while in there pumping iron was to not embarrass yourself. That was it. More important than building up some muscle — just don’t embarrass yourself.

They, the chuckers and hurlers, had their own coach who was, well, a yeller. You know, screaming at them and calling them degrading things in an effort to get them to do more. I’d say he got mixed results.

Our coach, Kurt Fioretti, infrequently even came into the weight room, but his approach was a lot more like Bob’s. Always encouraging. He made us think we could do anything — and often times it was successful.

I’ll never forget at an elite invitational meet where I didn’t really belong, way outclassed, and he handed me my race number — you know, the stickers you see some runners stick to their bare legs whenever track & field is on television.

Distance RunnerWell, those numbers are seed numbers. If you’re expected to finish first, you get the number one. Second, you get number two, and so on…

He handed me number 3.

“Number 3?! Are you kidding? Have you seen the field?”

“Yeah, I told ’em you run a 4:09 mile,” he said with a sly grin and a wink.

Now, at the time, the fasted I’d ever run the mile was maybe 4:56. That was a decent time for a high school miler in the early 1990’s, but that kind of pace at this specific meet would put me a distant last.

Just being there, I was at risk of embarrassing myself.

No, make that, I was at risk of humiliating myself and the town name emblazoned across my chest.

I remember lining up at the starting line and having that uncomfortable feeling of those around me wondering who the “new” guy was.

The first lap wasn’t a problem — I’d never had a problem hanging with the studs at that point. The pace was faster than I was used to but I had it in me to stay up front — leading actually.

By the second lap, I knew I was out of my league. I was still leading but there was no way I’d be able to maintain this type of pace.

My coach was running back and forth across the infield so he could cheer me on the back stretch and the home stretch (something he’d never done in the past) mispronouncing my name the whole time, “C’mon Breeny! You’ve got this… Stay strong, you’ve got this Breeny!”

In the end, I didn’t finish first.

I didn’t even finish third like I was supposed to.

I finished sixth with a time of 4:18.

I was ecstatic — I’d knocked 38 seconds off of my personal best. That’s over 12%. That’s HUGE!

After that, I never looked back — and that’s what I see on the show, primarily from those being trained by Bob.

Some motivation, a little encouragement, some shocking results, and then you’re off and running on your own.

It’s a good feeling, even if you’re feeling it vicariously through some really fat people while you lay on the couch with your pants unbuttoned eating ice cream.

I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re looking for a little encouragement for say, hmmm, how about putting more money in to savings, this show is a pretty good start.

No, it’s not about money (though there is the token cash prize at the end), but it’s not really about losing weight either.

It’s more about changing your ways to reach your goals. Some people need to be yelled at Jillian-style, others just need to be encouraged Bob-style. There’s a little something for everyone — just insert your own goal in place of losing weight…

(Now can someone get NBC to speed up the weigh-ins? Seriously, they draw that out for half an hour each episode… Totally unnecessary…)

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Pennies in the GrassIt grows like grass.

This evening I decided to mow the lawn and at one point it sounded like I’d run over a rock or something.

As I made my next pass, it happened again.

Now, an occasional rock in my lawn is nothing unusual but two in the span of two passes, well, that requires a closer look.

And upon closer inspection, it appears that my lawn is growing pennies.

This was a pretty exciting discovery for me.

So exciting, in fact, that I rushed inside to get the camera to take a picture. Yeah, that’s a real photo.

In total, I’d say that there’s at least 50 cents spread across 10 square feet. Not exactly a jackpot, but it’s still a pretty decent crop.

I’m hoping that eventually they grow into nickels, then dimes, and can you imagine quarters!? Wow, that’d be sweet…

Anyway, also worth noting, the lawnmower died about ten minutes later.

Not sure if it has something to do with running over pennies or not…

One thing is for sure, though… a new lawnmower will, unfortunately, make for an expensive weekend…

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United AirlinesFound this great post by Jeanne Leblanc this morning:

United Airlines just doubled its fee for a second checked bag to $50, noting that “fuel prices continue to be volatile.” Which is true. Fuel prices have been going down. In a volatile manner.

The press release points out that fuel prices are “more than 50 percent higher than last year.” True again, sort of. As far as it goes.

There’s another way of crunching the numbers. The price of jet fuel has dropped 22 percent in the last two months. Crude oil has dropped by more than 33 percent. Some foreign airlines are cutting their fuel surcharges.

So doesn’t it seem like an odd time to blame fuel prices for fee increases?

And even if fuel prices were rising, the logical approach would be to increase fares along with luggage fees. It takes fuel to transport passengers, too.

But logic is not what’s at play, and it’s at least a little bit disingenuous to suggest anything so straightforward as a direct correlation between fuel prices and fees.

Market forces are the real issue, and with competitive pressures keeping fares down, airlines are in a tough spot. Fees on economy class passengers are among the few things they can work with.

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Trouble on Wall St.For me, yesterday’s 504 point drop only set me back $2,344.56.

That’s not so bad. Definitely not the end of the world.

And I totally support the government in letting companies like Lehman Brothers go under. Totally support it.

I actually let out a sigh of relief…

Finally, someone goes under. Good riddance.

They got themselves into this mess, why should anyone bail them out?

It’s almost like it’s assumed that everyone should have a safety net now or something — and that’s just wrong.

You know, like the folks getting free help on their mortgages that they never should have had. I’m still upset that my tax dollars are paying the neighbor’s mortgage.

It’s funny, almost 6 months ago to the day, my post titled “You can put lipstick on a pig…“, which oddly enough has gotten a huge number of hits over the past two weeks, pleaded for all of the bailouts, rate drops, and government interaction to stop.

That was six months ago!? Who didn’t see yesterday coming? Even back then!?

Why the delay?

Just let it crash.

Let’s hit bottom.

Then things will recover and we’ll be back on track.

I’m hoping all of the Fannie, Freddie, Lehman, Merrill, and AIG news are enough to finally push it to the brink.

Two or three more days just like Monday, all in rapid succession, and it will be smooth sailing again…

Let’s stop putting it off and get it over with…

We could be 6 months into a recovery but instead, well, they’re still trying to delay the inevitable. Or not.

Depends on what the Fed does today, I guess…

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With the weather being not so nice this weekend, we decided to take a week off from attending an agricultural fair.

I dunno, there’s just something about the combination of livestock and rain that I don’t find terribly appealing…

But of any week, this was the one to skip — the best entertainment around was Peter Noone and I’ve seen him at least three times in the past…

He’s alright, but once you’ve seen him once, well, let’s just say it’s as if he’s been doing the same show for the past two decades…

Instead, on an unseasonably balmy day, I went to our local arena to take in my first hockey game of the season.

The temperature (and humidity) difference once I entered the building was enough to fog up my glasses. I love when that happens.

Mite Hockey

Sure, the players aren’t not pro. They’re probably not even 4-feet tall (in skates), but they try their hardest and put on a pretty good show.

The hits these kids throw, well, let’s just say it’s as good as anything you’ll see in the NHL. Okay, maybe they’re not that great… but there’s nothing quite like the sound of two face cages colliding at full speed. That’s something you don’t hear at the pro level.

Best of all, it’s free.

The funny part about last night was that the league that the players play in tried to hire me — on the spot?!

“Hey, who do you shoot for?”

“Freelance — I usually shoot pro…”

“Cool, do you hire out?”

“Nah, sorry, I’m not really looking for work right now…”

That’s too bad, we’ve got a showcase coming up in a few weeks and we’re looking for an action photographer…

Weird how when you’re not interested in making extra money, it practically falls at your feet, but when you’re wondering how you’ll make the next mortgage payment, any extra income is impossible to find…

Can You Dig It?