Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bookmarks – Financial Peace Revisited

I have read Dave Ramsey’s book as part of a class I have been taking at my church, and though I do have some problems with the book, I do think Ramsey’s basics formula and principles are sound, very likely to work. I think I need to say upfront that for what he is trying to accomplish, he is on the right track. I don’t know this for a fact as of this writing, because it takes years to apply all of what he suggests. (That I know this ahead of time is one reason I do respect what is happening. Ramsey isn’t giving me a get rich quick scheme or assuring me I’ll be free of debt in ten easy steps.)

But I feel I must address much of my remarks to the Dave Ramsey disciples, those who have bought into his winning smile and engaging stories and “common sense” so much that they fail to see what I would not call flaws in his system, but problems in delivery.

First, Ramsey uses a great deal of shaming language. Now when a person is foolish or stupid and just plain wrong, shame isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But Ramsey writes as if each poor decision is evidence of moral decay.

I was very disappointed with the chapter on work and careers. Ramsey’s basic idea here is that if you aren’t making enough money in your present job, you just aren’t working hard enough or need to leave no matter how otherwise satisfying your occupation may be. That alone ought to have every teacher in America ticked off. One could help meet financial goals sooner by getting a second job. He doesn’t, of course, mention that despite his emphasis on “family,” that such a course of action might take one away from family and/or bring about health concerns later that will cost more than money. But back to the point on not working hard enough. Ramsey implies that the man who works hard (this means extra hours or being creative so that your bosses will be compelled to give you a raise), will make more money. That is a gross generalization I find downright insulting. (Thankfully, he is more reasonable in his video lesson on the subject.)

One problem, something that isn’t really major but stuck in my craw anyway, was the addition at the end of each chapter of “Thoughts from Sharon” (Mr. Ramsey’s wife). On the surface the presence of these little asides or addendums seem to make sense. They show the perhaps “softer” side of the Ramsey family and accentuate one of Ramsey’s most significant points (at least to me): that working together to achieve financial goals goes a long way to improving marriage. But most of these are poorly written, don’t add much to the information in the chapters, are sometimes overly perky (“If anybody loves a bargain, it is Dave and I. Fun, fun, fun.”). These sections are not really so much flaws in the book, but they just rubbed me the wrong way.

Mr. Ramsey’s principles of financial management are, from what I can tell, sound.As noted above, Ramsey does not promise that one is going to get rich quick or that there is some sort of magic in his ideas. In fact, probably the biggest draw to his method is that it can be done by any person, at least in theory. One does not have to have special talents, abilities, or resources.

Get past the problem of how he treats some in his audience, and I suspect the reader will benefit in a big way. But, for example, telling people there are certain types of people, that we are just born with certain personalities, and then making fun of those who are not like him, is not good. I am going to have to have more than discipline (something he preaches and which I very much agree with) to get past this. And such treatment is not something to “just get over.”

Mr. Ramsey uses the phrase “common sense” a great deal in his book, in his teaching, and on his program. But he uses the phrase incorrectly. There is a very big difference between common sense and something that makes sense, once it is explained adequately. Most of what Ramsey tells us makes sense after he has explained it, but it is not necessary a matter of common sense. Otherwise, we would not need him or his books.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Music Notes -- Changeless

The Keith Jarrett Trio’s Changeless is a fine, reflective, album, one that finds Jarrett's trio is really good form. Unlike some of the free jazz that seems to go all over the place, each piece, though improvised completely, reads like a group meditation. This is one of those recordings that almost make me understand what jazz musicians mean by the spiritual element of the music. (I have no idea if this is the intent of these three.)

In addition to Jarrett's magnificent playing, a highlight here is the drum work of Jack DeJohnette. He is a rare breed who seems to be sometimes playing melodies, and not just keeping time. Bassist Gary Peacock is great as well. However, DeJohnette's work here continues to amaze and mystify me.

The four gorgeous pieces total 49 minutes of wonder for me. My favorite track is the second, "Endless," a fifteen minute stream of river, calming and exciting at once. The other three are really fine, but this is the track that brings me back to the album time and time again.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Reading Response – Of Facebook, Advertising, and Lies

Almost every day, I read the following: “Thanks for your feedback. Over time, this information helps us deliver more relevant ads to you.” If you have been on Facebook any length of time, you have read it too. But I have come to the conclusion this statement is a lie.
I do not make this accusation lightly or in jest. I think Facebook is lying, telling an untruth, being deceitful, speaking falsely. I have become convinced that like the political groups who are paying to promote their ideas there, Facebook has no intention to fulfill their promise to “deliver more relevant ads” to me or anyone.
Okay, here’s what happens. Near any Facebook the ads, you will see a little X. You can click on the X to get rid of the ad. But before the ad goes away, you are given a little menu of choices for why you don’t want to see this again, now or ever. The choices are: Uninteresting, Misleading, Offensive, Repetitive, and Other. If you choose “Other,” then you get a small box to type in a specific reason for disliking the ad. After you are done, you are given the message above.
Now what am I to think when I tell Facebook that I find a certain ad offensive? I think most, given the statement above, would assume Facebook, in the interest of not pissing off potential customers, would keep that ad from ever showing up on that person’s page. What would you expect to happen if many similar items, perhaps generated by the same group of people, are “reported” to Facebook? Would you not expect Facebook, who can learn about the preferences of his members, to figure out, “Hey this guy isn’t going to pay attention to stuff from this group. Let’s give him something else”?
But they don’t. I see the same ads over and over though Facebook keeps telling me that “over time” they will bring “relevant” promotions to my page. THE SAME ADVERTISEMENTS SHOW UP NEARLY EVERY DAY. Does “over time” mean to these guys, “some day in the future you will be so darn old you will have forgotten what you do and do not like”?
I understand why there are advertisements, and I don’t have a problem with them doing it. Facebook is the biggest social networking site in the world, and I believe they have a right to earn revenue selling promotion space. I believe the people who purchase that space, even those I don’t like or agree with (even those who I know are using that space to mislead) have a right to try to sell their ideas in this forum.
However, I know the technology exists for them to “learn” from my preferences, and I know that Facebook is using that technology. Otherwise, why would I be getting little messages for jazz groups and books on spiritual matters? I didn’t fill out a survey that said, “Please tell me more about this such and such topics.” Facebook figured it out based on what I post, the groups I join, and other activities I participate in.
I am not well versed in the subtleties of technology. But I do know Facebook can learn what I don’t like as easily as it can learn what I enjoy. They can figure out what bothers me, and yet they choose to cram the same political advertisements onto nearly every page I access, despite the fact that I almost never write about politics (except the occasional comment to someone’s post). How can they, after MONTHS AND MONTHS, not see that I mean it when I say that certain ads are offensive to me?
How can they? Because like most politicians, they have no interest in the truth. They know most people will ignore what they dislike or finally get so curious they find themselves clicking on the ad no matter what they think. It is a law of advertising, if you cannot find target consumers, make them by sheer weight of repetition. After all, anyone who doesn’t like it, can just “change the channel,” right?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Music Notes – Soul of Things

I'm guessing that Tomasz Stanko is not well known in America. I'm sure few of my friends have heard of him. But he is a giant in European jazz circles. On Soul of Things, the massively blessed trumpeter is 60, playing a wonderful suite, sounding as youthful as when Miles Davis recorded Kind Of Blue

Speaking of which, if you enjoy the mellower side of Miles without the irritation of smooth jazz gimmicks, then this is the disc for you. Each section is a gorgeous accompaniment to whatever you are doing, yet is also worthy of closer listening (something I don't have the vocabulary for). This comes under Stanko's name, but it is also a real quartet recording, each musician getting room to make the whole more beautiful. But it is probably Stanko's understanding of space, where notes go and where they don't, that makes this a gem. 

I think this is the rare album that can be enjoyed by serious jazz fans and non-fans alike. I know I have come back to it often since I first heard it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Music Notes -- Changes

The three songs on this disc can be found on a really fine boxed set called Setting Standards: New York Sessions. The other two discs contain Jarrett's trio in their first forays interpreting standards from the Great American Songbook. This part, however, is all improvisation. Jarrett had already made quite a name for himself doing this as a solo act, and a couple listens through this disc will show why these three almost seemed destined to play together for going on 30 years.

In fact, the music is so good, and the playing so accomplished, one might get the impression that these tracks were composed and arranged ahead of time and that the musicians had been working together a long time before recording.

Starting slow, and building to a gorgeous crescendo, “Flying, Part 1” sails through the speakers.  Each section of the tune glides easily from one moment to the next. Jarrett’s piano, of course, is the highlight, but his band mates (Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums) aren’t just following him around on the tune. They are easily part of the making of the music.

“Flying, Part 2” sounds like a cross between an old fashioned jam session and a rousing medley of well worn classics. I keep thinking that Jarrett, with his humming and stomping, is having a church service in his head. Because there seem to be more solos, this song doesn’t cohere as smoothly as the first part, but the result is pretty satisfying nonetheless.

The disc closes with the meditative “Prism.” Even when the tempo picks up and DeJohnette and Peacock’s presence in the tune becomes more pronounced, both musicians and listeners seem transfixed. I didn’t want it to end.

Like a good book, Changes is a disc that is likely to seem too short and almost demand repeated hearings. It seems new and more beautiful with each play.