One of the best days of my life

Saturday was one of the best days of my life. With my wife and infant daughter out of town, my oldest daughter and I made the 70+ mile trip north to Blue Ridge, GA, and rode the train on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway up & back to McCaysville, GA/Copperhill, TN (they're really one city with a painted blue stripe through downtown to show where the state line is).

Before the train left the station, we walked through the passenger cars to the commissary car for a box of popcorn and drinks. With temperatures in the high 40's, I convinced Fiona to sit in a climate-controlled (heated) car on the trip north. We enjoyed lunch at the Iron Horse Grill, and with warmer temperatures, returned to the train and boarded the open-air car originally reserved for the trip back to Blue Ridge.

It had rained during our drive to Blue Ridge, but the sun finally came out, and the scenery on the drive home was picturesque. Then after a brief nap, Fiona put on her princess dress, shoes, tiara, and clip-on earrings, and we went to "Trick or Treat" night at Imagine It!, The Children's Museum of Atlanta. It's a day I'll never forget and is one I'd relive in a heartbeat.


Stay the Course

Who is the real flip-flopper?

Absentee voting

I know I haven't written much about politics lately, and it isn't for lack of interest but rather it's for lack of time given the abundance of topics to address. I will mention one, however: the loss of liberty. I am reminded of this quote by Benjamin Franklin:

Those willing to give up a little liberty for a little security deserve neither security nor liberty.
On my birthday last week, President Bush signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 into law. With it, he legalized torture and eliminated the right of habeas corpus, granted in Article I, Section 9 of our Constitution. My thoughts on Bush's action are best summarized by the words of Keith Olbermann, who said, "We now face what our ancestors faced, at other times of exaggerated crisis and melodramatic fear-mongering: A government more dangerous to our liberty, than is the enemy it claims to protect us from."

I'm going to vote absentee today, and I'll let my bumper sticker do the rest of my talking.


Death and Taxes

Yes, the only two certainties in life are these for Americans. Of course if you're in the marjority in sub-Saharan Africa, your two certainties would be death and poverty, so I'll consider myself fortunate.

For most U.S. citizens, October 16, 2006, was just another pretty fall day... or a chilly, rainy one if you live in metro Atlanta. For procrastinators like me, though, it held special significance because it is today that 2005 taxes are due.

As someone with an accounting degree, I feel a compulsion to be actively involved in this annual rite. In total, I probably spent ~ 30 hours working on taxes. This year was good--I guessed correctly back in April when I didn't submit a check to the IRS along with my extension. So I'll get some pocket change back within the next 6-8 weeks after they go through my 40+ page return (things get complicated when you own a business).

I have a young, impressionable friend from my former North Point community group who is crazy for Neal Boortz's Fair Tax idea. He probably would have been equally excited about Steve Forbes' Flat Tax plan had he been old enough to vote back in 1996 & again in 2000 when Forbes had this as the basis for his platform in his failed attempts to capture the Republican nomination for President. Here was my response to my friend's request to "run out, buy the book (Boortz's Fair Tax), and get on board":

As long as they're not oppressive, people don't really give a shit about making tax simple or fair. They're more interested in good schools, clean air, cheap gas, homeland security, and who Paris Hilton slept with last night. But that's not the main reason I think it's a pipe dream. The reality is that tens of thousands of individuals have a vested interest in keeping our tax structure incomprehensible: accountants, auditors, tax preparers, attorneys, software developers, and a huge branch of the government--the IRS, just to name a few.

I give unto Caesar what is Caesar's, but not a penny more. Not including FICA or Medicare, last year I paid 8% of gross income in federal income tax. I fall into the 28% tax bracket. Why the disparity? Ignorance is expensive, so I got an accounting degree with a concentration in tax. I have a better understanding of tax law than most.
This friend was floored when I told him that the Fair Tax plan will never see the light of day through any legislative action. The problem with ideas like the fair or flat tax is that they're rational. Huh? Yes, the fundamental problem with a simplified "fair" or flat tax plan is that it's rational.

Government isn't about rational. Government is about power, control, and influence.

And with 60% of taxpayers using a professional to prepare their returns, it's only getting more complicated.


The terrorists have won

I’m in the middle of several weeks of back-to-back travel: south Florida and Orlando are complete, and Montreal, Quebec is this week. After consciously and overtly breaking TSA rules, I decided to try and be a reformed traveler after they relaxed the ban on carry-on liquids and gels. In doing so, I’ve had to eliminate two items because of their size: 1) cologne, which usually just took up space and remained unused in my toiletry bag –and- 2) aftershave, but the hotel room lotion is an acceptable substitute.

Since the relaxed carry-on ban, my trips through security have been uneventful with the exception of a late-night flight from ATL to FLL when Hulk Hogan and his daughter were immediately behind me in the security line. If you’ve only seen him on TV, it doesn’t do his size justice. He’s big—really, really big. The other thing that doesn’t come through on TV is that he’s really old. He obviously has some replacement parts made of metal because after stripping down he still sent the metal detector off and had to go through additional screening. Seeing a 5’4” skinny kid wand the 6’+ Hulk Hogan was pretty funny. I went for my digital camera to try and snap a picture, but the camera took 2 seconds too long to open the shutter and charge the flash so I missed the moment. Sometimes low-tech 35mm IS the best solution.

Well today I decided to get to the airport early for my flight to Montreal so that I could check my bag since it was an international flight. And planning to check my bag, I put the cologne and aftershave back with my toiletries. As often happens, though, I was 15 minutes late out the door which translates into 30 minutes later arriving at The Parking Spot because of the additional traffic the closer it gets to rush hour. When the shuttle van dropped me off at Hartsfield it was 55 minutes before my flight, and international flights have a 1 hour cutoff for checked baggage. It was time to revert back to my felonious ways and pocket my cologne and aftershave. The deodorant, hair gel, toothpaste, and shampoo all went into my quart-size Ziploc bag.

Things went well going through security until they stopped the belt and asked, “Whose bag is this?” Seeing the red tub of hair gel, I went to claim it, but it was then I realized the terrorists have won. Despite having made it through security on 4 other occasions, my deodorant was deemed to be a threat to the safety of passengers and crew because it was 4 oz. rather than the 3 oz. limit. I tried to argue that because I’d been using that particular stick of gel deodorant for over a month that surely there was less than 4 oz. remaining, but all my argument did was confuse the poor guy so I gave up that small fight to win the bigger battle. As I took the escalator down to the underground shuttles for my A terminal destination, I slipped the bottle of cologne and aftershave into my bag.

Fortunately you can rest easy knowing the brave TSA associates fighting on the front-line in our global struggle against terrorism thwarted my attempted security breach. But that will be their last win against me. The next time I go through security with toiletries, I’ll be sure to sail through by pocketing the deodorant too.