A Thousand Crystal Clear Words

Let’s keep this brief.  This weekend’s events were horrific and completely un-American.  That being said, are we really surprised at what took place?

The images of the weekend if painted in greyscale look eerily similar to images of yesteryear.  Like those older images, these newer images show a reality that may have been difficult for some people to imagine.

Well, the truth is out now—each photo saying a thousand crystal clear words.

In summation, let’s meditate on the following verses from Titus 1: 15-16:

To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.

Follow me on Twitter @Ben_Baxter or on AL.com here.

Uncivil Actions

Can 2017 Become Highest Quality Movie Year of All-Time?

Yesterday while passing by the movie theater on the way home from work, I thought to myself, “This sure has been a great movie year!”

After sitting on that thought for a few more hours, I raced to another thought, “Is this the greatest mainstream movie year of all-time?”

While I did not go back through the last 40 years of blockbusters, but I did analyze each number one movie from the last 5 years up through Weekend 28 of each year. The findings were pretty alarming. Here are the rankings and some brief highlights:

Ranking Movie Year Avg. Tomato Score
1 2017 73%
2 2016 67%
3 2014 63%
4 2015 59%
5 2013 56%

The year of our Lord, 2017, is kicking some major butt.  Not only is it 6 percentage points higher than second place, but it is 17 percentage points higher than last place.  If the interest is present, I will gladly go further back through time and create a longer list.  But as of right now, I have a good hutch 2017 is one of the best movie years of all-time—maybe even the best movie year of all-time.

2017 High and Low: “Get Out”(99%) and “Transformers: The Last Knight” (15%)

2016 High and Low: “Zootopia” (98%) and “Ride Along 2” (14%)

2014 High and Low: “The Lego Movie” (96%) and “Ride Along” (18%)

2015 High and Low: “Inside Out” (98%) and Taken 3 (11%)

2013 High and Low: “Zero Dark Thirty” (92%) and “A Good Day to Die Hard” (14%)

Methodology: I pulled every movies that reached no. 1 at least one weekend during each year listed.  I did this up through weekend 28, which is this weekend.  So for example, 18 movies have reached no. 1 during 2017 thus far (yes, I’m assuming “War for the Planet of the Apes” goes no. 1 this weekend).  From there, I took each of the 18 movies’ Tomato Scores and came up with a simple average.

Follow me on Twitter @Ben_Baxter or on AL.com here.

Photos of 2017 Movies

The Case Against Visiting Meemaw’s Church for Easter

Look, we get it.  For decades, meemaw—or whatever we call our grandmother—has been who we visit on Easter weekend.  We’ve done this for so long that it’s become a tradition.  Some traditions are meant to be broken though, and this is one of those traditions.

No one is going as far as saying not visit meemaw at all.  That would be harsh.  We love meemaw, and meemaw loves us.  We do, however, need to avoid visiting meemaw’s church for Easter service or Resurrection service.

With 82 percent of Alabamians believing in God with absolute certainty (though not necessarily in a church), it’s imperative for us to participate in God’s instructions for us: “go and make disciples of all nations.”

Well, last we checked, meemaw’s church out in the rural countryside was not the most diverse sitting in the world, and it’s definitely not inviting to people from all nations of the world.  And if we’re honest, meemaw’s church isn’t even inviting to every person in Alabama.

With 56 percent of American adults saying they’d accept information about a local church from a friend or neighbor,  regular local churchgoers can’t waste this time of the year going to meemaw’s church.

Easter season is the most fertile opportunity for newcomers to visit a local church, and those newcomers will have a very bad taste in their mouths if they visit church and don’t see any familiar faces.  Those newcomers may not trust an invitation ever again after they have been left behind in favor of meemaw’s church.

So how can Christians visit meemaw out in the country and be present for their friends and neighbors in the city? A little elbow grease and a good calendar will do the trick.  The two main tips are below:

Attend Regular Church for Easter Service

Keep your normal routine for Easter Sunday.  This way if friends and neighbors have been invited, they will be comforted by seeing your familiar face in the crowd.  No one enjoys going to a brand new place with brand new people without a little support.

Drive Out to Meemaw’s After Church

Be careful.  Don’t just jet out of church as soon as service is over.  Take your friends and neighbors out for lunch.  Their comfort is the most important thing this weekend, not yours.  And relax.  Meemaw will still be happy to see you after lunch.  In fact, she will probably have a second lunch plate ready and prepared for your arrival.  Sounds like a win-win.

Follow me on Twitter @Ben_Baxter or on AL.com here.

Wealth Patterns Among the Top 5% of African-Americans

Credit: Black Enterprise

Credit: Black Enterprise

This is a share of a recent report by Brandeis University that shows huge insight on the racial wealth gap.  This report, which focuses on the top 5 percent of African-Americans by net worth, asks some telling questions: What are the key drivers of wealth creation among this group? What makes the investment choices of this group distinctive? What brings about these distinctions?

The results are striking: For example, the report observes that wealthy blacks own few high-reward portfolios containing stocks, bonds, and mutual funds and more low-reward portfolios containing CDs, saving bonds, and cash-value life insurance. And meanwhile, whites of similar high wealth steer clear of such low-reward investments.

As a result of these potentially unintended choices, wealthy blacks end up with annualized returns of 1 to 2 percent whereas wealthy whites end up with annualized returns of 7 to 10 percent.

Before we get to that point though, we have to get over the extreme gap in current wealth.  For instance, only 5 percent of black households have $360,000 or more in net wealth while 28 percent of white households have $360,000 or more in net wealth.

Black Wealth

For more details of the full report click here: https://iasp.brandeis.edu/pdfs/2014/Top5.pdf

Follow me on Twitter @Ben_Baxter or on AL.com here.

5 Toys Bought on Black Friday That Don’t Work by Easter

If you were as oblivious as I was as a kid, you didn’t really understand the connection between Black Friday and the number of toys under the Christmas tree from Santa Claus.  But by 8 years old (*cough* 12 years old *cough*), the gig was up.  Not only did you understand, but you were helping your folks find the best discounts in town.  As knowledgeable as you had become though, you were still powerless to stop the plight of toy deterioration.  It wreaked havoc every year without mercy, but we’re grown-ups now and can put an end to this madness.

So to continue my 30th birthday blog-a-thon and help us all help ourselves, here is my list of the 5 toys that are bought on Black Friday but don’t work by Easter.

No. 1 – Toy Jeeps

Whether it was a Barbie Jeep or a Tonka Truck, these miniature vehicles were the talk of the neighborhood—until about St. Patrick’s Day.  That’s when the batteries would die.  For some strange reason, adults would never take the effort to buy a new battery or recharge the existing one.  So by the time Easter arrives, kids are having to take turns pushing and driving the car.  By the Fourth of July, the car is a bonafide yard ornament.  The only thing is does at this point is grow algae and mushrooms.

barbie-jeep

No. 2 – Video Game Cartridges / Discs

I never had this problem at my house because I knew if I broke something no one was gonna buy me a new one.  But at other kids’ houses, I witnessed this all the time.  When we had cartridges, kids would get food and other junk in the games, and the cartridges wouldn’t work.  In later years when we had discs, the discs would always be scratched up and completely unplayable.

In fact, on that note, I let one friend borrow a game from me once (“NFL Blitz 2000” on Playstation).  He returned it with the case broken, the owner’s manual missing, and the disc scratched up.  Luckily the disc still worked, but I learned a valuable: never loan anything valuable to friends if you’ll be mad if they lose it or damage it.

No. 3 – Tape Players / CD Players

I’m not talking about the good ones that your parents would have.  I’m talking about the cheap knockoff Walkman or Discman that you got for Christmas.  No matter what you did, the mechanisms in your tape player would eventually eat up a cassette tape that you spent hours recording radio music to.  No matter what you did, your CD player would go haywire for no apparent reason.  Of course, neither of these two incidents would ever happen within the 90-day warranty.  They’d always happen a few months afterwards.

No. 4 – Barbie Dolls / Action Figures

Have you ever seen a decapitated Barbie?  I have.  And it’s not a pretty sight.  Sure, when your G.I. Joe action figure’s arm gets eaten by the family dog, you can still make that toy disability work within your imagination.  Unfortunately, your sister or your cousin’s decapitated Barbie just leaves you somewhat uncomfortable.  It’s even worse if Barbie’s head is still around and the hair has been trimmed to the scalp.  Yikes.

screws-rusty-airborne-1024x576

No. 5 – YoYo

I don’t know why, but such a simple toy always had a lot of problems.  Most of the problems came from poor maintenance and harsh care by the kid who owned the yoyo (i.e. not oiling the metal in the yoyo).  A tiny sliver of the problems came from parents who bought dreadfully cheap yoyos.

Did I miss anything?  Drop a comment below and share this post on your social media outlets.

Follow me on Twitter @Ben_Baxter or on AL.com here.

The 30 ‘Almost Great’ College Teams of the Last 30 Years

If you grew up in southeast Alabama like me, you were accustomed to living among a rich diversity of winning college football fans.  Only one problem though—some of the fans I grew up with rooted for Georgia.  Nothing is technically wrong with Georgia, but every Georgia fan in world is way way way too proud about their “almost great” seasons.  I don’t blame them though.  If my football team came up short every year, I’d probably relish in the “almost great” as well.

So to celebrate the Georgias of the world and to kick off my 30th birthday blog-a-thon, here is my list of the 30 “almost great” college football teams of the last 30 years.  (Spoiler: Georgia is listed a lot.)

No. 30 – The 2007 #2 Georgia Bulldogs (11-2)

It’s fitting that we start off with Georgia.  This 2007 team was actually really good, but it hit a string of bad luck.  First, it finished second in the division to Tennessee who was nowhere near as good as Georgia.  And second, it finished second in the country to an LSU team that stumbled into the BCS National Championship Game with two-losses.  Georgia had all the ability in the world to have done better, but it just didn’t work out.

No. 29 – The 2012 #4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-1)

Girlfriends weren’t the only thing fabricated by Notre Dame in the 2012 season.  Apparently, the 12 wins on their schedule were fabricated as well.  Unfortunately for the Fighting Irish, their one loss is still real.

No. 28 – The 1987 #2 Florida State Seminoles (11-1)

Florida State went through some brutal years in the 80s and 90s.  But does it get any worse than this season?  Florida State beat the brakes off everyone, but their one loss—a one-point loss at that—was to rival and eventual National Champion, Miami.

No. 27 – The 1993 #4 Auburn Tigers (11-0)

This won’t be Auburn’s last time on this list.  But like most Auburn fans, I won’t say much about this season.

No. 26 – The 2011 #5 Arkansas Razorbacks (11-2)

The Razorbacks’ only flaw is they had to play no. 1 Alabama and no. 2 LSU in this same season.  There is a chance they could’ve beaten every team in the country other than those two teams.

No. 25 – The 1999 #2 Virginia Tech Hokies (11-1)

Is there anything better than college-era Michael Vick?  Vick as a freshman was awarded an ESPY Award as the nation’s top college player, and he won the first-ever Archie Griffin Award as college football’s most valuable player.

No. 24 – The 2010 and 2014 Oregon Ducks

This team would be higher on the list if they ever really had a chance at greatness.

No. 22 – The 2004 #4 Utah Utes (12-0)

Same issue as the Oregon Ducks.  Lots of wins, but no real shots at getting rings.

No. 21 – The 2013 #2 Auburn Tigers (12-2)

Told you Auburn would be back.  I’ll talk more about this specific team later, but know this: Auburn had a chance to win the last-ever BCS National Championship, but it finally ran out of luck against an overrated Florida State Seminoles team.  Florida State’s coach, Coach Jimbo Fisher, even recently admitted his team wasn’t that good.

No. 20 – The 2005-07 West Virginia Mountaineers

These boys were absolute beasts, but they came up short way too often.  Shout out to Pat White.

No. 17 – The 1995-97 Tennessee Volunteers

Of all the Tennessee teams that could easily qualify, why this one with Peyton Manning at the helm? This is the only team that people always mistakenly think won a National Championship.  The Volunteers didn’t win a modern day National Championship until the 1998 season after Manning left for the NFL.

No. 14 – The 2013 #7 Alabama Crimson Tide (11-2)

My wife and I were in a crowded movie theater viewing of the Iron Bowl when the Kick Six happened.  Other than being in Jordan-Hare Stadium in-person, this theater located in Tuscaloosa was probably the next saddest place in the state for an Alabama fan.  But what makes matters worse is that this 2013 Alabama team still had a shot at a split National Championship, but it couldn’t show up to play in its BCS bowl game against Oklahoma.

No. 13 – The 2001 #8 Nebraska Cornhuskers (11-2)

While this team ended up losing its last two games of the season (including the National Championship Game), its existence helped fuel the end of the Bowl Championship Series system and usher in the College Football Playoff system.

No. 12 – The 2002 #2 Miami Hurricanes (12-1)

Some would argue that this is the greatest team to not win a ring.  I disagree.  This same team—more or less—won the National Championship the previous season.  For that, I can’t truthfully call them a second fiddle without putting several others ahead.

No. 11 – The 2012 #5 Georgia Bulldogs (12-2)

Would the 2012 Georgia Bulldogs have beaten the fabricated Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the BCS Championship Game?  It’s fairly likely, but the world will never know since Georgia fell a few yards short of beating Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.

No. 10 – The 2004 #2 Auburn Tigers (13-0)

The “People’s Champions” may not have been recognized in 2004, but they will be recognized here.  This team was full of future NFL players, including Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, Jason Campbell, and Carlos Rogers.  Too bad the 2004 USC Trojans were a bunch of cheaters.

No. 09 – The 2003, 2004, 2008 Oklahoma Sooners

Oklahoma is not a bad team, but they haven’t won anything of any meaning in almost 20 years.  It’s not like they haven’t had a chance.  Other than Ohio State, no one has choked harder in National Championship games than Oklahoma.

No. 06 – The 2006-09 Boise State Broncos

Pick a year.  Any year.  Results are the same.

No. 02 – The 2005 #2 USC Trojans (12-1)

In what is arguably the greatest football game of all-time, the USC Trojans came tumbling down due to a one-man wrecking crew by the name of Vince Young (QB of the Texas Longhorns).  All season long, the Trojans were a lock to win a National Championship for the third year in a row.  Vince Young apparently didn’t like that fate very much and decided to do something about it.

No. 01 – The 2011 #2 LSU Tigers (13-1)

If this LSU team could figure out how to cross the 50-yard line, it might have had a chance at becoming the greatest college football team of all-time.  It beat everyone in 2011, including Oregon when Oregon was actually really good and Alabama in Tuscaloosa.  Unfortunately, LSU fell short against Alabama when it really mattered.

All of this should have just ended up as an interesting footnote in sports history, but LSU had the audacity to create National Championship rings that touted a number 2 end-of-season ranking.  The other teams on this list may have finished second fiddle, but LSU is the only one that commemorated it in gold.  For that, the 2011 LSU Tigers are the greatest “almost great” team of all-time.

Follow me on Twitter @Ben_Baxter or on AL.com here.

24-30-almost-greatest

Teacher Uses 75% of His Paycheck to Become Debt-Free

More often than not, people of the internetwebs are sad, depressed, and uninspiring. Those adjectives, however, do not describe the couple you’re about to meet.

Credit: Hoyt Family

Credit: Hoyt Family via CNBC

Bobby Hoyt and his wife, Coral, are a different breed.  They’re the type of couple that likes to keep it real with themselves when it comes their personal finances.  That personality dynamic is why they decided in 2012 to become a debt-free family.  Don’t take that lightly though because that decision came with plenty of sacrifices.

To become debt-free, that meant the Hoyts had to vanquish $40,000 worth of student loans.  As school teachers with school teacher salaries, that was a heavy load for them to lift.  Fortunately, they quickly learned how to lighten their load.

Whether it was renting from the in-laws to driving an old clunker to wearing old clothes, they got rid of as many unnecessary expenses as possible.  At their peak, they were putting 75% of Bobby’s salary towards student loan payments.  And that’s pretending as if taxes didn’t negate a huge chuck of his gross pay during that time.

At the end of the day, the young millennial couple ended up paying off the $40,000 in a whopping 18 months.  Now that the debt is completely gone, Bobby quit being a teacher and has become a full-time blogger.

So the next time you’re feeling hopeless, just remember: if two young school teachers can change the trajectory of their lives, then you can too.

Follow Ben on Twitter @Ben_Baxter or on AL.com here.

NYC Wife Shocked by Husband’s 401(k) Balance

I recently ran across an article about the couple below that left me completely irritated about millennial marriages and marriages in general when it comes to financial communication.

business-insider-article

The highly attractive couple shown here were recently featured in Business Insider via Yahoo Finance.  In the feature, the wife recounted the time she realized that her husband saves a much higher percentage of his individual income than she does her individual income—three times higher to be exact.

After coming to this realization, she finally gets her bearings and decides that she will up her 2 percent retirement contributions to 8 percent with the eventual hope of reaching the 12 percent milestone that her husband is currently at.

This may seem like the end of the story and a happy ending, but I can’t help but wonder why her husband was so oblivious to this massive miscommunication problem as it relates to their long-term financial future.

Other than purchasing a house (the reason for his wife’s great discovery happened), the husband in this relationship has done nothing to truly unite himself with his wife.  He’s done nothing to visibly prepare his marriage to last the long haul, at least in terms of finances.

Given that the number one reason for divorce in North America today is money fights and money problems, I hope this couple really improves their financial communication.  As a fellow millennial, I want their marriage to thrive financially.  Not just for the wealth, but for the dreams.

As a world-famous John Maxwell says, “Teamwork makes the dream work!”

Follow Ben on Twitter @Ben_Baxter or on AL.com here.

Potential Retirement Nest Egg for a Median Household in Each Alabama County by Age 67

The following chart shows what a current median-age, median-income household in each Alabama county will have saved for retirement by age 67.  The most recent median age data was collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, and the most recent median household income (HHI) was collected from the Alabama Center for Business and Economic Research.  Annualized rate of return of investing is set at 9 percent inside a tax-free growth Roth IRA, Roth 401(k), or Roth 403(b).  The savings rate per year is set at 15 percent of median household income.  The assumption is that each median household starts with zero saved in retirement, and that each median household never gets an annual pay raise.

County County Seat Median HHI Median Age Retirement Value at 67
Tuscaloosa Tuscaloosa $46,892 32.4 $1,594,896
Lee Opelika $41,256 31.0 $1,592,745
Shelby Columbiana $69,432 38.6 $1,331,831
Pike Troy $31,844 31.5 $1,175,095
Madison Huntsville $58,833 38.4 $1,150,001
Autauga Prattville $54,366 38.3 $1,072,737
Montgomery Montgomery $43,054 35.8 $1,072,574
Elmore Wetumpka $54,298 38.4 $1,061,356
Russell Phenix City $35,585 34.9 $963,211
Jefferson Birmingham $44,852 37.6 $945,107
Mobile Mobile $42,943 37.3 $930,623
Limestone Athens $51,175 39.3 $918,721
Dale Ozark $41,940 37.4 $900,434
St. Clair Ashville $50,571 39.9 $857,498
Coffee Elba $46,931 39.2 $850,561
Chilton Clanton $41,450 38.9 $772,872
Morgan Decatur $45,082 40.2 $742,825
Calhoun Anniston $41,123 39.4 $731,286
Houston Dothan $40,124 39.3 $720,328
Blount Oneonta $45,567 40.9 $702,017
Bibb Centreville $39,546 39.6 $689,998
DeKalb Fort Payne $36,241 39.0 $669,382
Franklin Russellville $33,881 38.4 $662,267
Marshall Guntersville $36,536 39.2 $662,165
Baldwin Bay Minette $49,626 42.6 $648,075
Escambia Brewton $37,077 39.8 $634,714
Talladega Talladega $39,999 40.9 $616,235
Cullman Cullman $39,922 40.9 $615,049
Lauderdale Florence $41,324 41.3 $612,532
Macon Tuskegee $28,518 37.6 $600,922
Barbour Clayton $34,971 39.8 $598,662
Etowah Gadsden $39,904 41.5 $580,138
Colbert Tuscumbia $43,057 42.3 $579,064
Washington Chatom $41,321 41.9 $577,840
Cleburne Heflin $40,418 41.9 $565,213
Perry Marion $27,403 37.9 $561,419
Sumter Livingston $25,413 37.2 $555,895
Lawrence Moulton $41,574 42.5 $548,275
Butler Butler $32,512 40.5 $520,527
Hale Greensboro $33,315 40.8 $518,225
Dallas Selma $26,602 38.5 $515,109
Clarke Grove Hill $36,620 41.9 $512,101
Walker Jasper $37,245 42.3 $500,900
Crenshaw Luverne $34,445 41.5 $500,773
Marengo Linden $32,977 41.3 $488,807
Bullock Union Springs $26,580 39.5 $468,199
Monroe Monroeville $34,733 42.3 $467,117
Pickens Carrollton $31,933 41.5 $464,253
Lowndes Hayneville $30,675 41.2 $459,103
Jackson Scottsboro $36,923 43.1 $459,020
Randolph Wedowee $36,939 43.3 $450,225
Chambers LaFayette $34,116 42.5 $449,920
Covington Andalusia $36,149 43.1 $449,398
Henry Abbeville $39,930 44.2 $444,947
Marion Hamilton $37,707 43.9 $432,974
Geneva Geneva $34,425 43.1 $427,965
Fayette Fayette $35,664 43.5 $426,150
Clay Ashland $35,940 43.7 $420,994
Tallapoosa Dadeville $36,779 44.2 $409,835
Wilcox Camden $24,035 40.4 $388,516
Lamar Vernon $34,553 44.4 $377,378
Winston Double Springs $35,528 44.7 $376,476
Cherokee Centre $38,013 45.9 $356,450
Choctaw Butler $35,049 45.3 $349,476
Greene Eutaw $26,504 42.7 $342,737
Conecuh Evergreen $29,101 44.2 $324,277
Coosa Rockford $34,679 46.8 $296,217

Follow Ben on Twitter @Ben_Baxter or on AL.com here.

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