Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rivers, Islands and Sun

In the 1st few years of NWOW, every 3 months we did a “TV Quarterly Report”. This year I decided to do away with that format.. (although the baseball quarterly reports will continue) and just write about TV whenever I am in the mood to do so. Now that we are into the final week of the 08-09 season, I realize there is no way that I could maintain that format even if I wanted to… I still haven’t watched the last 2 hours of 24, the last 2 hours of Desperate Housewives and the last 2 hours of Heroes. Somehow if we get some rain during the Memorial Day wknd, I may just sneak on the computer and get me some Hulu.

This season I only followed one reality show – The Celebrity Apprentice. There was something about watching these celebs show up at a job and bust their chops to win the competition. All of these competitive reality shows are really game shows anyway, but the crazy feuding that went on during Celeb Apprentice was quite amusing. First it was Joan Rivers battling with Clint Black… then she was friendly with him. Did she really like him… or did she find him to be such a douchebag that she decided to help him get into the finals so she would have an easier victory? This has always been the popular strategy on Survivor… the mother of all competitive reality shows.

One aspect I noticed was the comedians playing the game are very smart. There really is no such thing as a dumb comedian because you need a brain to observe the nuances of life that is written into a comedy routine. Tom Green's comments to the camera during the final episode were incredibly astute and he was right on the money when it came to analyzing the game play. Likewise, Andrew Dice Clay played his strategy of staying in character as "Dice"... letting people know that he is still out there and available for weddings and bar mitzvahs!

Ultimately it came down to Joan Rivers vs. poker player Annie Duke and when it was all said and done a wk ago Sunday Joan was declared the winner, I couldn’t have been more pleased… even though I was born the same week as Duke… (she was born on Monday preceding my Friday arrival) I wonder if a 75 year old Apprentice winner is expected to show up for work the following Monday to participate in one of the projects within Donald Trump’s constantly bankrupting empire. Now I see Trump is suing a journalist for calling him a millionaire because he says he is actually... a billionaire. The thing with Trump is I really don't like him, yet he is such a media whore, I actually find him amusing.

I have always liked Joan Rivers and career-wise she probably would have been better off not taking the late night Fox show in the mid 1980s because she seemed destined to take over The Tonight Show after she became Johnny’s permanent guest host. (Remember the days of guest hosts on talk shows? Is there such a thing anymore?) I still think Joan Rivers is very funny, but I am not exactly thrilled with how she has reinvented herself with all those crazy plastic surgeries.

But as much as I like Joan…. I have never liked her daughter Melissa. She is a poor man’s Paris Hilton/Kardashian sister... achieving fame for no reason in particular. Melissa doesn’t tell jokes, act, sing or dance.. but she is a celebrity because she is her mother’s daughter and as far as I know only acted in that one horrible TV movie about her father’s tragic suicide. And when Melissa was hired to be on the Celebrity Apprentice this season… all I could wonder was… Why?

And ultimately Melissa’s time ran out… she was fired after she ran into a strong alliance between Playboy model Brandy Broderick and Poker player Annie Duke. That is how the game is played… but young Ms. Rivers took offense that she had been outplayed and went ballistic after she was fired. Joan, who has a skin as thick as Don Rickles seemed to get quite upset by the rough treatment of her precious Melissa, even though the younger Ms. Rivers is a grown woman in her early 40s.

As soon as Joan saw that Melissa got fired, she stormed into the room where Duke was sitting and in one of the most incredible “real” tirades I have ever seen…started berating Duke because she is a poker player… Earlier in the episode Joan had a great line about Duke.. (and thanks to Poker NewsDaily.com for the quotes)… “She’s so duplicitous. I can’t wait for her to get her first facelift….. because she’s going to need two doctors.” Ultimately, Joan launched the best line of the TV season,.. when she looked at Duke with fire in her eyes and proclaimed…“Your people give money with blood on it. I met your people in Las Vegas. None of them have last names. You’re a poker player. A POKER PLAYER!!!”

And Donald then realized that in order to continue his typical publicity hungry way of life… the only way to crown this season’s champion would be to get rid of everybody else and pave the way for Joan and Annie to battle it out. And so the stage was set for last Sunday capping off a wonderful day that started off with my first ever trip to CitiField…. (I’ll write about the trip next week!) Joan was the winner and here is why…

The task they had to do was this complicated multi marketing project where both Annie and Joan had to use a professional designer to decorate a room where a silent auction was to be held. Joan however did not like the company that the producers had chosen for her, and apparently ticked off the owner of the company. When Duke’s team wanted to speak with their assigned designer, they realized that their phone calls were not being returned…. and with the deadline quickly approaching, Annie was in deep trouble.

Duke decided to go directly to the office only to find out that the cameras were not allowed into the building. The people at that company allowed Annie to talk with them off camera. Once Annie came out she told her teammates that the designers were quitting their involvement with The Apprentice due to problems working with Joan. Now the Poker playing Annie was screwed due to Rivers and had no river to bail her out.

Once she got to the boardroom. Annie proved to Trump why she did not have what it takes to be “The Apprentice”. As soon as she brought up the fact that Joan’s big mouth caused her to lose her designer at the 11th hour… Joan clinched the victory by shooting off more venom in Duke’s direction… Duke was distracted by Joan’s anger, and complained to Donald that Rivers had compared her to Hitler.. to which Joan barked back…”No darling … Hitler never had PMS….”

And so it went…even though Donald likely knew why the designer's departure was Joan’s fault, he kept asking Annie to explain why... but Joan had gotten under her skin and Annie couldn’t shake off the distraction of Joan’s mouth.… And when Annie couldn’t stay on topic with Joan constantly barking at her, her lack of focus, made for a convincing argument that if Annie can’t stay on topic in an Apprentice boardroom, how can she focus when dealing with adversarial conditions in a business setting? And even though it seemed to be Joan’s fault, a corporate faux pas pales in comparison to allowing an enemy to distract you during the heat of battle.

By the way, next Halloween I am dressing up as Joan Rivers and I am going to go to the poker room at a Trump Atlantic City Hotel and yell out..."You're a POKER PLAYER!"

It really amazes me how popular the TV show LOST has become. As the show enters its final season, its ratings may not be American Idol-esque.. but its loyal followers continue to stand behind it and debate it and debate it and then debate it some more. It’s almost like the Talmud based on how many different experts weigh in on this show. Every post Lost Thursday, I go through the same routine. I read the blog posted by Star Ledger TV critic Allen Sepinwall, followed by the recaps posted on TV Squad, TVGuide.com and Jeff Jensen’s remarkably popular column on EW.com. His recaps elicit approximately 2000 comments on Thursdays! Even the ESPN Thursday Fantasy Baseball Q and A’s have people posting questions as Lost characters!

Last weeks season finale was as amazing as always… but an incident near the end of the episode distracted me and I had to spend the next few days finding the answer to one plot point that puzzled me. I also wondered how Rose and Bernard knew they went back 30 years since they chose to retire as hermits on that wacky island, but I decided to suspend my disbelief. To figure out the other plot hole, I went to ABC.com and started watching the last few episodes, but I eventually got my answer when I visited TVGuide.com to reread an early April episode recap.

Just to recap.. aside from the mashugas about blowing up a bomb to change history to keep the plane from ever crashing… the other plot involved “Locke” getting Ben to kill the mysterious Jacob. Jacob had been established as the Wizard of Id or Oz on this particular island.. and until the last episode he had never been shown. He actually looked like the guy from The Journeyman… and during the episode we discovered how he traveled freely through time to interact with various Lost characters at key turning points of their off island lives.

In the beginning of the episode we see Jacob at the shore of the island talking to another guy in a time that looked to be very very long ago. The "other guy" tells Jacob that he wishes he could kill him and one day he will find a loophole to do so. Meanwhile in present day Lost, Locke has dragged ol’ beaten up Ben…(he really should have just pursued a career in plastics Benjamin, plastics) to kill Jacob in Jacob’s little hideaway. Just before Ben stabs him, Locke mentions a loophole…. And outside the little murder scene the survivors of plane crash #2 are stunned to discover that a corpse has been discovered inside a box that is the body of…. John Locke.

Finding the corpse is a true watcha talking about Willis moment for the islanders… How can Locke be a dead corpse and alive on the island simultaneously? The viewers then realize that living Locke is not the same as dead Locke! And Dead Locke was supposed to have had a great mission but in reality maybe he didn’t. After all, we saw how Locke was told by Richard that he would have to die to save everybody… but Richard was told to say that to Locke a few moments earlier by the Time Traveling Lockelganger. So now instead of seeing events of the past affecting the present, we are seeing events from future time travelers affecting the present. And the Lockelganger used Richard to convince Locke he had to ultimately die…even though his Shawshank Redemption hanging was stopped by Ben who ended up killing him anyway.

So now we see that the guy who was after Jacob discovered he could use some kind of Sylaresque technique to take over Locke’s body… but only if Locke was dead. But that whole scenario raised one big question for me…

If Sun was on the 2nd plane with dead Locke… why was she so surprised to see his dead body? She knew he was dead. And it was then that I realized that I could not recall her reunion with “Locke” (the Lockelganger) and how it was explained to her that Locke was alive. So after my long journey through old episodes online… I finally found this in the TV Guide.com recap from an episode in early April…

“Along the way, Locke lets Ben know that he knows why Ben wants to be judged: for his role in Alex's murder. Ben is clearly irritated by Locke's newfound omniscience. Arriving at Casa de Linus, they discover that someone, a silhouetted woman, is in Alex's old room. Obviously, it's Sun and Lapidus. They show Ben the picture of the Oceanic 6 in the 1977 Dharma photo, and tell them that a man named Christian told them if Sun ever wanted to see Jin again, she was to wait for John Locke. It's then that Born-Again Locke makes his entrance, without much fanfare, for now anyway.”

Hmmmm… Christian was on the original flight in a body bag and yet he has “lived on” the same way as The Lockelganger. And here is Christian going to Sun and telling her that if she wants to see her husband alive she should wait for Locke… even though Sun thinks he is dead… and she actually later second guesses Jack’s assertion that Locke’s body was really on the plane. Then when she sees Locke.. she is so concerned with reuniting with her husband that she doesn’t really think twice when she sees a man she thought was dead..

And so it goes with the latest theory… is the show a battle between Jacob and The Other guy? And is the other guy trying to defeat Jacob through the use of time travel and possessing bodies?. Locke who was supposed to be such a big character… was really just a pawn whose death had to happen in order for the Lockelganger to assume the persona because it seems he can only do that when the person is dead.

That raises a theory that if Locke was "possessed" by the Lockelganger because he arrived on the island after his death... perhaps that is the way The Other Guy possesses a body... the person has to be DOA when they get to the island. If that is the case, then he must have assumed Christians ID because Christian was also lying dead in a coffin when the plane crashed in the very first episode. And who showed Locke how to get off the island so he could die and come back? Christian... possibly aka the other guy.

And then lets go back to Day 1… did the plane crash so Locke would become the leader who would bring Ben in to stab Jacob? Would anyone really listen to Christian if he tried to recruit someone to do the dirty deed? People would say "Hey who's that guy?" and Jack would say... "Oh that's my dead dad." And if that is the case, then the other guy was motivated to see that plane crash,… but wait a minute.. the Losties are blowing up a bomb in the 70s to prevent the plane crash… and if the plane doesn’t crash… then Locke is never told he has to die and Ben doesn’t kill Jacob. So doesn't that give Jacob a motivation to prevent that first episode plane crash?

And so it appears that Jacob is somehow involved in manipulating the Lostaways to change history in the other storyline. Jack’s decision to prevent the crash by detonating the bomb is inspired by an idea pitched to him by Daniel Faraday. And its his mom who was in cahoots with Charles Widmore who controlled Daniel’s life so he would grow up to travel back in time so he would be shot by his own mother. But then again his mother also encouraged the gang to bring the Locke corpse on the 2nd flight. But wouldn’t the older version of the mother want to prevent her son’s death and do everything in her power to keep him from fulfilling that destiny?

If Faraday is the guy who planted the thought, he was recruited to the island by Charles Widmore. Does that mean Widmore is actually... a good guy since he is engineering the events to prevent the plane crash? Is that why he is so obsessed with finding that island? To save Jacob? Is he Jacob? Could it be that one of these characters was killed off the island and was possessed by Jacob who knew he had to change history to save his life? Some think that Charlie is a young Charles Widmore.... and Charlie died off the island when he drowned... could he have floated back to be possessed by Jacob who is setting up a series of events to keep the other guy from stabbing him? The damage may have been done but in the world of Lost, it can be un-done with a little time travel switcheroo. Perhaps they could do likewise with Monday night's Met game and this time around make sure Ryan Church touches 3rd base.

And how is it that it took us to the final episode of Season #5 for us to realize that the show is really about a chess match between 2 supernatural characters and all these so called main characters in the plot appear to be just mere pawns in a much bigger contest?

And why the heck do we have to wait till January for this craziness to start again. Actually my buddy Albert had a very good idea.. Lost should take an example from 24’s playbook and show a 2 hour movie in the fall so we don’t have to wait so long for more! Now if you will excuse me I need to go to Hulu to watch the season finale of 24… Last time I checked Kim Bauer was at the airport… hey look behind Kim… Isn’t that Sawyer and Kate getting ready to board a plane?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Rate Drops Keep Falling on My Head

Where the heck has Nate been?

Gosh wouldya believe that it has been about a month since our last visit here at NWOW. Wow,… life seems to have taken a turn in the busy direction… and it seems that my late night computer hours have been taken up with catching up on my fantasy baseball team and missed episodes of Heroes and Desperate Housewives. My team is already deep in last place and I may have been mathematically eliminated on Cinco De Mayo! Amazingly, I still have not caught up with my shows, since I’m still 2 episodes behind on Heroes! It's a good thing those 2 along with Lost and 24 are my only can’t miss shows on my schedule…otherwise I might not be back here till July!

Speaking of Lost…as always. I remain totally confused. I see that the story has evolved into a tale of traveling to the past to change the present. The first episode in 2004 started out with people on a plane, crashing into the island due to the release of some electromagnetic energy caused by a human/computer malfunction. Will traveling back and changing history mean that the end of the show will show the plane flying on its merry way with NO release of that energy. Will the unhappy passengers on that flight get a mulligan and never even realize what transpired when the plane "crashed"? I guess they will just show Ben and Juliet hanging out at a book club meeting while up above the plane passengers sit watching a lame-o 2003 movie as Sawyer, Kate and Jack are oblivious to the craziness that has entertained us the last 5 yrs, and we would all know Michael Emerson as a buggy eyed actor who did a fantastic job on "The Practice". Of course by next week I will change that theory too.

Nonetheless… it was raining this past Sunday.. and Trophy Wife was at a Hadassah shindig… so I grabbed my laptop, popped on my earbuds to listen to American Top 40 with Casey Kasem.(from the 80s on satellite radio via my cellphone), and went off to Panera to catch up on some out of town baseball and begin my revisit to NWOW.

Today’s column is one of those synergy (not the energy that Desmond has to press codes to prevent) cross promotional columns in connection with my Mortgage podcast. If you have noticed I also have been a bad boy and not updated my podcast in quite awhile. I started the Podcast a few years ago as a vehicle to discuss different mortgage products. A guy I used to work with taught me how to maneuver my podcast to be listed first when googling the term "mortgage podcast". Interestingly enough I discovered another mortgage podcast that lists first when you google "mortage" podcast, because his references to his expertise are the "mortage" field!

The idea behind the original concept was that the episodes would not be timely so that stuff that I recorded in 2006 would still be relevant in 2009. However, once we had the infamous mortgage meltdown, the entire lending process changed. Banks took away all of their "creative" programs leaving us with basically Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loans and FHA government loans. It’s very difficult to do podcasts about different products when they really aren't there anymore.

However I have branched out and podcasted about other not timely mortgage related issues which brings us to today’s column and future podcast topic that I would like to call... … “Rate Drops Keep Falling on My Head”.

Rates are usually dictated by the movements of the Treasury Bond. Rule of thumb is that if the stock market has a rough day, the rates will tend to improve. However nowadays there are really only 2 loan categories – Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac (also known as conventional) and FHA. All FHA loans involve a monthly mortgage insurance premium, even if you have more than a 20% equity position in your house. On top of that, those loans include an upfront insurance premium payment that is financed into the loan. That is why, a lot of people would prefer to take a conventional Fannie/Freddie loan so they can avoid paying the extra insurance.

However, as we hear breathless news announcers bellow with glee that rates are dropping there is of course a catch. Fannie Mae decided last year to institute “pricing penalties” on borrowers… so when you hear about these great low rates in the high 4’s. you better have a 740+ credit score and own approximately 40% of the value of your house to qualify for that wonderful low rate.

And just like the saying that 40 is the new 30… credit scores have a similar 120 point swing. In the old days, a 500 score could secure you a mortgage loan; now the minimum score is 620. And on top of that, in the old days where 620 could basically get you virtually any type of loan – now you need a 740 to get the best of what is available.

Interestingly enough, one byproduct of this latest downward trend in interest rates has been a rise in fees. Before this recent rate drop, I rarely thought it was a good idea to pay points on a mortgage loan… because usually paying a fee of 1% of the mortgage loan usually got the rate down by about 1/8 to ¼. But the conventional rate sheets are quite clever… they have changed the spread on how mortgage loans are designed.. now people have a chance to pay a point to knock the rate down approximately 1%. Nowadays, qualified borrowers actually benefit from paying the point – since it can now bring you a substantial discount in your final monthly payment. Fannie and Freddie cleverly set it up this way, because not paying the point gets you a higher undesirable rate.. and if you are not a “desirable borrower”, they don't want your business and want those people to be tempted to go towards an FHA loan which has a much lower rate, but usually a similar payment once you add in the mortgage insurance.

Now that May has arrived the latest curveball is coming our way. One conventional pricing penalty involves loan to value – how much your loan is divided by the value. In the old days, loan originators had a roster of qualified local appraisers who knew the area well and could do the proper detailed research needed to find the correct value… many times those values have flown in right under the wire.. reaching the amount needed to avoid one of those pesky penalties. And once a loan officer builds up relationships with his appraisers – those appraisers will do a search of comparable properties in advance.. just to make sure that the value is going to be there. It’s a terrific courtesy to save your customers the expense of an appraisal if the appraiser knows in advance that the value of the home is too low to make the loan work.

Well that luxury is now … gone! Starting May 1, banks are now in charge of hiring the appraisers for conventional loans… (FHA is not a part of this). And, the days of comp searches in advance are how history, which kind of sucks if you are the kind of mortgage guy who doesn't like surprises and prefers to know the value in advance. Unfortunately, I also have encountered a few lousy appraisers in my day… and it makes me nervous that some of these shlubs are going to now be appraising houses for my customers. Luckily there is an appeals process, for appraisals that come in way off...but nonetheless this should be an interesting next few months.

Now if you'll excuse me I am going to see if turning that wheel will push me back in time before all this mortgage craziness started!


Here is the original song that inspired the title of today's column.