72% of U.S. soldiers in Iraq want the U.S. to exit Iraq within a year

When President Bush held a public meeting with troops by satellite last fall, they were miraculously upbeat. And all along, unrepentant hawks, most of whom have never been to Iraq, have insisted that journalists are misreporting Iraq and that most soldiers are gung-ho about their mission.

A Zogby poll released today shows otherwise. The poll is the first of U.S. troops currently serving in Iraq. Conducted by Zogby International and LeMoyne College, it asked 944 service members, "How long should U.S. troops stay in Iraq?"

Only 23 percent backed Mr. Bush's position that they should stay as long as necessary. In contrast, 72 percent said that U.S. troops should be pulled out within one year. Of those, 29 percent said they should withdraw "immediately."

Greenspan offers his two cents on politics

On my flight from Atlanta to San Francisco yesterday, I picked up a copy of the Wall Street Journal and was surprised to read about Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, making comments about politics... and specifically that the ground was ripe for a third party presidential candidate.

A member of the audience asked Mr. Greenspan if he would endorse a candidate for president. Mr. Greenspan said he would not, "for now." But he went on to describe the two American parties now as controlled by their extreme wings, even though the voting public is far more centrist, the people who were present said. He described the leadership of the parties as "bimodal," meaning clustered at the extreme ideological ends, whereas the voting public was "monomodal," meaning clustered near the middle.

Such situations, he said, create an opening for a third-party candidate who appeals to the center. That, he said, could prompt the candidates of the other two parties to move back to the center, for fear of losing.
If only!


Travel with the best

It's already been established that I'm cheap, but I believe there are some items that are differentiated in such a way that they deserve a price premium. This differentiation can be something such as the Dyson I previously wrote about, which never loses suction, unlike any other vacuum cleaner I've ever used, and is both elegant as well as rugged.

I've been traveling on business for at least 15 years and am Gold medallion on Delta, so I spend too much time in the air. Packing for tomorrow's trip to the City by the Bay reminded me of how many suitcases I've gone through in my life. I started off with an American Tourister set that quickly wore out. Then I went with a set from Samsonite, but even it didn't hold up well. Eventually I started buying "disposable" luggage from the Samsonite outlet store, figuring that if the bags weren't going to hold up, then I didn't want to spend a lot of money on them.

Three years ago I stumbled upon Briggs & Riley. Their motto is, "Guaranteed for life. Simple as that." A coworker purchased a bag of their & just raved about it, so I looked into buying a set but couldn't see spending $250 on just a single bag. On my next trip, the expandable handle on my garment bag broke.

So upon my return I began investigating exactly which garment bag I wanted to purchase as a replacement for my broken one. On a whim I decided to search eBay and see if they had any garment bags listed. It was my lucky day. There was a Briggs & Riley large wheeled rolling garment bag with a current bid of $35 that had several zippers broken... but who cares? They have a lifetime guarantee!

I entered my high bid amount of $60 and ended up winning two days later at a cost of $50 along with $15 shipping. After receiving the bag, I took it into my local Briggs & Riley certified repair center, and two weeks later the bag was as good as new. Since then, I've added one of their U-75 Garment Bag on Wheels to my set. I've had my eye out for one of their rolling computer bags, but I'm holding out for an eBay deal.


Reality of what is happening in Iraq

Pennsylvania's Congressman John Murtha has been saying this for months... despite the rosy picture painted by our president about how Iraq is making real progress towards democracy, the truth is that the country is embroled in an all-out civil war with the situation only getting worse. And from this chart courtesy of the New York Times, you'll see that Iraq's infrastructure is still in a state of chaos, with Baghdad only getting an average of 4 hours of power compared to 16-24 before the U.S. invaded.

Thank you, Dad!

My two year old daughter and I met my Dad in Montgomery, Alabama last Saturday to celebrate my grandmother's 90th birthday. Grandma always had the energy of the energizer bunny and was always "with it", but since I saw her a year ago she has really gone down hill. Her mind is beginning to fade... very sad. Anyway, after spending the day with family, my Dad followed us back home to Atlanta.

I've already blogged about him going to church with me on Sunday, but the great thing is that he spent the whole week here. And before arriving he asked if he could help me on my project house. I learned nearly everything I know about power tools & remodeling from my parents, so having my Dad ask if he could help is like having Alton Brown ask if he can help out in the kitchen or Carson Kressley ask if he can go shopping with you. Of course I accepted his offer.

I've been very conscious of ensuring he gets plenty of granddaughter time, but he's helped me out tremendously at the house as well. He's a great painter, so he finished all of the trim painting, sanded and painted all of the HVAC vent covers, helped me put the laminate floor down (though I didn't let him stay as late as me, he did work until 1:00am), and today he helped me finish siding the entire back of the house. Yes, this is a job I started three weeks ago when I found out that I needed to replace the entire load-bearing wall. So at 10:50pm Thursday night, the siding repair on the back of the house is officially done! Of course I still need to caulk, pressure wash, and paint it, but don't burst my bubble.

Tomorrow evening he flies back home to Dallas, so no more working on the house this trip. We'll start off the day by having breakfast at Krispy Kreme and having "hot doe-doe-s". Then if the weather holds out we'll visit the park.


"Multiply by 3" Rule

On the project house I'm working on, I had the carpets cleaned to try and get several stains out as well as the smell of cat pee (and I replaced the carpet pad, which is usually the source of such smells). Unfortunately the carpeting in the living and dining rooms didn't clean well, and the smell lingered so I opted to rip out the carpet and try laminate flooring. I've done a bamboo floor installation but have never used laminate. IKEA had a sale over President's Day weekend, so I picked up 500-odd square feet of beech laminate for $0.69 per square foot.

My wife always says to take whatever time estimate I give and then multiply it by 3. I hate it when she's right, but she's done it again. My one day flooring project is officially a 3-day project. I really wanted to finish it on day two--Thursday, but by 4:45am Friday morning I'm officially tired... but it's almost done. Fortunately I don't require much rest. I seem to have 3 hour sleep cycles, and while I usually sleep 6 hours, I can live on 3.

And in case you're wondering, I think my first laminate flooring installation will be my last. Laminate is not as forgiving as wood, and it's too easy to chip the edges. I'll be curious to see how well this holds up to tenants.


President porks up

Despite his acknowledgement that, "Keeping America competitive requires us to be good stewards of tax dollars," our president likes the pork too.

Meanwhile, our national debt continues to climb by over $2 billion each and every day....


Foolproof way to stop cussing

I had to replace a ball-valve shutoff and install a 3/4" copper line from the TPR valve on my water heater at my project house today, which gave me the idea behind today's topic....

During my wife's first pregnancy, I went on a business trip to Austin where I met with a few customers and shared the great news that we were expecting. During a conversation over a few Shiners, the topic of "cleaning up your speech" came up. One of my customers shared the story about how he and his wife realized that they needed to watch their language when their daughter's first word was f&$%. So upon my return home, my wife and I took an inventory of our lives to see how "kid friendly" it really was. We put the really annoying plastic things in the electrical sockets (not only are they baby-proof, but they're Dorkydad-proof as well), installed a baby gate at the top of our stairs, put bumper guards on the edge of our stone fireplace, and decided to try and stop cussing completely*.

There is a real art to cussing, and we both had gotten lazy in our speech. Cussing had become habit, and it had lost its significance.

Our first attempt to stop cussing was to dock ourselves a quarter with each cuss word, but after several days and $50+ later, we were no closer to curbing our speech than when we started.

Then my wife came up with a brilliantly annoying way to get us both to stop cussing: every time the cusser cusses, the "cussee" stops the conversation/exclamation immediately and says, ""Give me ten." That means the cusser has to stop whatever he was saying and think of ten other ways to say what he really meant to say.

For example, if I were to be cut off in traffic, the exchange may go as follows:

Me: I can't believe that blanking blank blanking cut me off! Blank!
Wife: Cussing foul. Give me ten.
Me: Blank!
Wife: You just earned yourself ten more!
Me: Okay...
1. I can't believe that subhuman cut me off. What a meanie!
2. That guy's driving really made me mad!
3. What moron gave that guy a driver's license?
10. Maybe that guy is rushing home to his wife who just went into labor. I'll try to show him a little bit of God's grace and forgive him right here and now. He knows not what he does.

(Okay, maybe that last one was a stretch, but my wife did notice a gradual softening of my words as I listed the ten "alternatives.") That's it! Simple, but effective. And very annoying.

*Plumbing, of course, is the universal exception and my family mostly just avoids me in these circumstances.


WHO would be operating our ports?!

I'm no homeland security or political expert, but I can't imagine anyone in their right mind believing that Americans wouldn't take issue with a middle-eastern federation like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) taking over responsibility for operations of 6 U.S. ports. Perception is reality, so the fact that the UAE is tainted by associations to September 11 means that the majority of Americans will believe the UAE is a stereotypical islamic country like Iran.

As I've said before, there are always two sides to every story. The Dubai Khaleej Times has a good editorial that seems to cut through the political crap and separate fact from ficion. Of course this item does raise concerns.

I have no idea where I sit regarding this topic because I haven't sifted through all of the facts, though using Chertoff as the administration's spokesman gives me pause after his fantastic handling of the Katrina debacle.

"Pause" Series from Andy Stanley

Andy Stanley just wrapped up the 4-part series "Pause" which addresses the subject of temptation. It was another reminder of why I get up at 6:30am each Sunday to attend North Point Community Church.

I ignorantly thought that the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness was stupid--how could Jesus who is God who is perfect possibly succumb to temptation? And the temptations weren't the kind I could relate to anyway. Andy did a great job of laying out how we can all relate to each of the three temptations. The first temptation was to meet a legitimate need in an illegitimate way, the second temptation was to use God for His own personal gain, and the third temptation was to take a shortcut.

"King of the Hill" was the title of yestday's sermon, and Andy argued that driven people are sometimes tempted to take shortcuts or even just a small temporary shortcut to meet their goal. In the moment of decision, however, one discovers who they are and whose they are. I was fortunate enough to have brought along the person I respect and admire most in this world--my Dad. As Andy shared the story of a friend who declined an opportunity to take a "shortcut" (which wasn't sinful or inherently bad), I couldn't help but think of how my Dad has been my living example of one who doesn't take shortcuts and is willing to sacrifice for his family.

Twenty two years ago my Dad took a leap of faith and left a 20-year career to move our family from Reading, Ohio to Bedford, Texas when he took a new job in Dallas. Five years later the Dallas office was closed, and he was offered a position in Cleveland. The no-brainer option was to move to Cleveland, but my Dad recognized that my brother and I had a lot more opportunity in Texas than Ohio. He chose to stay in Texas and find another job. My Dad worked in a niche industry that was on the decline, so he knew he'd probably be changing careers. His core skills in inventory control management could be applied to any manufacturing or retail business, so none of us expected him to be without employment six months later... but that was the very position he was in.

While unemployment "benefits" expired after six months, bills still needed to get paid. For someone in his mid-40's who should have been entering his peak income-generating years, my Dad started looking for opportunities outside of anything he'd ever done before. Growing up, my brother and I never did without, but we lived a lower middle-class lifestyle. While my parents were "savers" they never made a lot of money, so my Dad didn't have the luxury of time to find his dream job. With time running out and money running low, my Dad became an assistant manager at a Quik-Trip. He could have looked at it as a shitty interim job, but that's not my Dad. He's got a work ethic I admire and try to model. I'm sure it was one of the most humiliating things he's ever had to do, but in doing so he earned "hero" status in my eyes. He did find a job a year later which matched his skills, but to this day he's never made a derogatory or resentful comment to me about Quik-Trip or not taking that Cleveland job.


While their vacuums suck, Dyson rocks

Needing to replace our vacuum cleaner and tired of buying vacuum bags, three years ago I picked up a "demo" Dyson DC07 via eBay for $145 + $20 shipping. I wanted to see if the Dyson stood up to the hype. It does. To date it is one of my best eBay purchases.

Over the last three years, my DC07 has been abused. Aside from use as our family vacuum cleaner, I've cleaned out the fireplace with it, used it to clean my work truck, and often treated it as a shop vac. With the abuse, a few things have given out--the hose cracked (repaired with duct tape), the elbow on the handheld floor cleaner broke, and the hinge on the canister bottom cracked. The vacuum was completely usable despite these problems, but I like to keep my tools in good condition so I decided to price out replacement parts.

I found a place in the UK that sold the parts for around $90 shipped. On a whim, I decided to contact Dyson to see whether they sold replacement parts directly to consumers. They did, but I was confused--the customer rep was more interested in knowing what items broke and where they broke rather than taking my order. A customer rep who cares is a novelty, so I walked him through the problems I had with the three items. The Dyson rep explained that the hose cracking was a known product defect and would be replaced free of charge. The same applied to the handheld floor cleaner. While they didn't have any feedback on cracked hinges, he said that Dyson stands by its product. He was apologetic in explaining that they don't have just the bottom to the canister but that a new canister of course has a new bottom, and I would receive a new one for reporting this problem. So despite my DC07 being out of warranty, Dyson shipped me all of the replacement parts free. And no, they didn't even charge shipping. I was floored (no pun intended). There's a service lesson in this story somewhere. I'm a Dyson customer for life.


Hope for Conservatives in 2008

For my friends who wrongly believe I've lost my mind and become a flaming liberal, here's evidence otherwise: I hope the Conservative Political Action Conference last week brings about the needed changes in the Republican party, starting with fiscal discipline.

First FEMA, now FCC found to be asleep at the wheel

After this past week's official determination that FEMA (under the Department of Homeland Security) was responsible for the "multitude of errors that prolonged the suffering of thousands of Gulf Coast residents", it now seems that another federal agency is not doing its job--the FCC.

From the FCC's website,

Federal law, including Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules, requires that employees of broadcast stations, program producers, program suppliers and others who have accepted or agreed to receive payments, services, or other valuable consideration for airing material must disclose this fact to the broadcast licensee airing the material. This is required so that broadcasters have the information they need to disclose to their audiences that the material was paid for.

2005 investigations by the New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office have implicated nearly 190 stations in illicit deals with recording giants Sony BMG and Warner Music Group. Most of the stations involved were owned by the biggest corporate radio conglomerates such as Clear Channel, Cumulus Media, and Infinity/Viacom.

Sony BMG and Warner Music Group have already agreed to pay more than $15 million for payola abuses after Attorney General Spitzer found they had funneled millions in money and prizes to radio broadcasters. FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein stated that Spitzer gave the agency “an arsenal of smoking guns” to ramp up enforcement against broadcasters taking kickbacks. Several days later, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin pledged to do just that, but to date nothing has happened.

Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold has introduced the "Radio and Concert Disclosure and Competition Act" (S. 2058) to stop record labels from paying off radio stations in exchange for airplay, but again, no action has been taken by Congress.


Croup is real (and scary!)

Since she's nursing our newborn, my wife is on a crazy schedule right now. At 2:00am the other night, she heard what sounded like our toddler wheezing and trying to open her bedroom window. When she went to investigate, my daughter said that she was, "Scared, Mommy."

That's enough to spook anyone, so with a "HONEY!" I was up. We took her into the shower and created our own sauna (thank goodness for our tankless water heater which doesn't run out of hot water), but that didn't stop the wheezing. As an asthmatic, I could always breathe easier in cold air so we bundled her up and took her outside. The 30 degree cold really helped calm her breathing and she stopped gasping for air. She was able to finally go back to sleep, but her raspy breathing was everpresent.

I thought for sure she had asthma, but a "B" in Biology at Texas A&M hardly qualifies me as any medical expert. Later that morning our pediatrician confirmed my wife's belief that our toddler had croup. This is the second case of croup she's had in the last year, and both times she's picked it up from Waumba Land at church. I guess that not only does North Point Community Church "create environments to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ" but they also create environments where parents can leave sick kids who spread cooties to otherwise healthy kids. I'm sure the situation is not unique to our church, but I've never seen Waumba Land (children's ministry) turn away a kid with a runny nose or a barking cough, though they should.

The pediatrician treated our daughter with inhaled steroids through a nebulizer (the picture isn't of our kid, but how scary is this for a parent?!). That didn't have any effect, though, so my wife was instructed to go to the emergency room at Children's hospital for an epinephrine nebulizer treatment. Epinephrine is adrenaline, which redirects the blood away from the skin and exterior of the body and into your inner organs such as the heart, lungs, etc. The effect is that the person being administered epinephrine will turn as pale as a ghost, and the lips often turn blue as well. Fortunately the nurse explained this to my wife. My daughter fought the nebulizer so I had to hold her down in order for her to take the medication. Within minutes her breathing had relaxed, but we had to wait another two hours to be cleared by the hospital.

She should be back on her feet within the next several days. It was a Valentine's Day I'll never forget. I can't imagine having to regularly give nebulizer treatments to her as some parents must. I'm sure I sound like a paranoid Dad (and perhaps I am), but I'm really hesitant to send her back into Waumba Land.


$1.6 billion for spin

[Note: Sorry for no post yesterday--a bad cold offered me a chance to get 18 hours of sleep.]

While addressing the Cheney shooting is tempting, I'm going to give it another day or so until more "facts" come out.

Until then, chew on this nugget of fiscal irresponsibility: in the last 2 1/2 years, the Bush administration has spent $1.6 billion of YOUR tax dollars on advertising and public relations.


Bruce Wilkinson leaves his Dream in Africa

Just 7 short months ago I heard Bruce Wilkinson give two sermons on The Dream Giver (click here for part 1 -and- click here for part 2) at North Point Community Church. While I don't buy into his Prayer of Jabez theology, I was inspired by the work he was doing in Africa as well as the work God was doing in him. So I was stunned to read David Batstone's article in Sojomail, which addressed Wilkinson's sudden resignation from the Dream For Africa ministry he started several years ago. More surprising is that Wilkinson quit last October--just three months after speaking at North Point.

I know that there are always two sides to a story, and to date it appears as if only once side has been heard. Hopefully Bruce Wilkinson will share what prompted such a seemingly hasty departure from Dream For Africa (since renamed Heart for Africa).

Below are several articles addressing Wilkinson's resignation:


Zillow.com launches

As a part-time real estate investor, determining accurate home valuations are a critical function during the search for an investment property. Today I use a professional AVM (automated valuation model) tool to determine a property's fair market value, but soon I expect I'll be using a Zestimate as soon as good data is available for metro Atlanta. Congratulations to the team at Zillow.com who just launched their beta site today.

According to Rich Barton, Zillow's CEO, "Zillow began a little over a year ago with a few people in an office, dreaming about how the web might be used to empower everyday people to take more control of the scary, frustrating, and exciting process of buying and selling a home." Barton further goes on to say that "Zillow.com will make revenues from advertisements on the site."

Barton founded Expedia within Microsoft back in 1994, so he has a good understanding of disintermediation. I can then only hope that his comments earlier this month at the Inman Conference where he said that Zillow isn't going to be like Expedia only means he recognizes real estate agents provide some value in the home sales process (specifically to buyers) vs. travel agents who Expedia and other online travel sites made obsolete (with the exception of those agents addressing niche markets). So while real estate agents provide some value to buyers, the only real value a real estate agent brings to a seller is in getting their home listed in the MLS.

Some real estate agents may argue that they add value by helping a seller establish a fair sales price for their home and assisting in marketing and showing the property, though that's very debatable. I've sold several homes through real estate agents, and in every case I established a sales price higher than the agent's recommendation. Each home subsequently sold at a sales price higher than the agent's recommendation. The standard commission for a listing agent is 3%, and listing agents aren't incented to maximize a home's selling price--they're incented to price a home to sell quickly. They'd rather sell your home tomorrow for $225k ($6,750 commission) rather than having it sell 2 months later for $250k ($7,500 commission). While the difference to the seller is significant--$25,000, the $750 difference in agent commission is not.

The other value-adds a real estate agent may offer such as assisting in marketing and showing a property are questionable. The #1 way to market a home is to get its information and photos into the MLS. And usually a listing agent isn't present at a home showing unless it's during an open house. Most often it's the buyer's agent who shows a property.

I'd like to see Zillow or some forward-thinking company take up where Homebytes.com left off which would truly shake up the industry. I lived in Orlando for a while, and when I sold my home there and moved back to Atlanta, I used Homebytes.com services which for $499 provided MLS listing with photos, listing on realtor.com + photos, yard sign, a handful of directional & open house signs, listing on Homebytes.com, and a lockbox. On top of the $499 listing fee, I also agreed to pay 3% to the buyer's agent unless the buyers weren't represented in which case no commission was paid.

Sadly, Homebytes.com closed up shop on May 1, 2001, and my house hadn't sold... that story is for another time. The company was awesome to work with and had a terrific model... but like many startups they were underfunded. After Homebytes closed up shop, one of the co-founders, Lawrence Bunnell, started RealtyThrift to effectively do the same thing as Homebytes but on a smaller scale. At the same time, several other Homebytes employees started Insight Realty to do the same thing. These two companies merged in 2003, and now they operate as InSight Realty. Had Homebytes not been around at the time, I would have used another flat-fee MLS service like YourIgloo.com, but I'll never use a 3% commission listing agent.

Less than two days and counting - Torino 2006

For the next two weeks my evenings and weekends will be occupied with one thing... of course that will be changing diapers... or maybe keeping an eye on our toddler, but in between I'll be keeping up with America's progress at the 2006 Winter Olympic games.


Best financial advice

Monday night in Community Group we were asked to share advice we'd give to a newly engaged and a newlywed couple. One piece of advice I'd offer is fortunately one I learned early in my marriage.

I've since figured out that people who teach real estate investment classes and sell tapes, CDs, and books about real estate investing normally make more money teaching about real estate investing than they actually do investing in real estate. Years ago my wife and I attended a real estate investment class from John Adams here in Atlanta where we learned very little about the topic at hand but took away some completely unexpected wisdom. Mr. Adams offered the following advice that we apply to this day: finance things that appreciate and pay cash for things that depreciate.

In practice, this means financing your home since it is an appreciating asset. For most Americans, that's not a problem--I don't know of anyone sitting on a big pile of cash who is considering using this cash to buy a home. The second part of Mr. Adams' sage advice, however, means saving enough money to purchase a new or used vehicle rather than financing it. I had done this most of my life, but then again, I drove a crappy 1988 Volkswagen Fox station wagon when I met my wife. I remember the time my wife and I purchased our first vehicle together. We decided to apply this principle, so we saved. I never thought I'd be able to pay cash for a nice car, but we started with an older vehicle and bought a used Ford Explorer with cash. Through the years we've continued to upgrade to newer and newer vehicles as we've saved more and more until last year when we were finally able to buy a new car (minivan, actually).

Why does this principle make so much sense? The answer has to do with the "cost" of money. If you're financing a $30,000 vehicle over 5 years at 5% which depreciates 20% a year, your real cost of the vehicle is actually $7,500 for the first year. Here is the calculation: $1,500 interest ($30k cost x 5% simple interest) + $6,000 in depreciation ($30,000 cost x 20% depreciation per year) on the vehicle. In paying cash for the vehicle, your real cost is only the $6,000 depreciation on the vehicle, which is 21% less than the cost had you financed it.

But Dorkydad, I want a brand new BMW 650i convertible! Tough--so do I, but at $78,800, the only way I'm going to get one is by starting to save now. If you want to do this (pay cash for things that depreciate), make some sacrifices with your first vehicle. Maybe it's not the newest, maybe it has a standard transmission, maybe it has 100,000 miles, and maybe it's not the color you had in mind, but trust me--the peace of mind in not having a car payment as well as the extra cash you'll have each month will more than make up for any buyer's remorse.

I've also discovered that this advice marries up well with some biblical wisdom. Proverbs 22:7
establishes that borrowers become slaves/servants to a lender, so I see Paul's statement, "You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men" found in 1 Corinthians 7:23 as encouraging us to stay out of debt.

World's Smallest Political Quiz

In a recent post I mentioned that I'm technically a libertarian, and earlyadopter asked me what I meant by the term "libertarian". There is actually a Libertarian Party in the U.S., and I like their definition:

Libertarians believe the answer to America's political problems is the same commitment to freedom that earned America its greatness: a free-market economy and the abundance and prosperity it brings; a dedication to civil liberties and personal freedom that marks this country above all others; and a foreign policy of non-intervention, peace, and free trade as prescribed by America's founders.
To see where you fall politically, take the world's smallest political quiz... you might be surprised! And when you take it, please share your score. Here are my results:


Bad officiating robs Seahawks of the Lombardi Trophy

I'm a Falcons fan so some may perceive me as having an NFC bias, but I really was completely indifferent as to who would win Super Bowl XL though I would have liked to see a fair game. Instead, given its importance, it was the worst-officiated game I've ever seen in my life.

Seattle had two touchdowns negated by bad calls from the officials. I didn't expect any critical analysis from the wonder-twins, Al Michaels and John Madden, but they made several comments about the bad calls throughout the game. And then Steve Young at halftime said, "That was a touchdown," of the Darrell Jackson pass interference call. The traditional press' response was slow, but Michael Smith from ESPN.com and the Kansas City Star's Jason Whitlock addressed the officiating problems. Kudos go to The Miami Herald for carrying Whitlock's story. As a followup, I've since found these other stories related to the poor officiating:

These blogs from The New Unit and radaractive also address the issue of bad officiating in this Super Bowl. One other bad call that hasn't been addressed happened in the 4th quarter when Roethlisberger called a time out after the play clock had expired and after the ball had been snapped... it was pretty blatant. Pittsburgh should have been charged with delay of game, but it was obvious who these officials wanted to win.


54th Annual National Prayer Breakfast

Established in 1953, the National Prayer Breakfast is an annual event organized by The Fellowship Foundation. This year's event was held yesterday at the Hilton Washington Hotel with around 3,000 attendees, including U.S. government officials as well as dignitaries from several nations.

Aside from President Bush, this year's speakers included King Abdullah II of Jordan and Bono from U2. Bono's words are worth a read [click here]. Credit goes to Sojomail for alerting me to this. And the "Jim" referenced in Bono's speech is Jim Wallis, author of God's Politics and Editor-in-Chief of Sojourners.

Actions speak louder than words

I was working at my project house on Tuesday night and had trouble finding the president's State of the Union speech on the radio. By the time I found it on NPR, I missed the first 10 minutes but did get to hear the Democratic response in its entirety. I'm not sure who selected Virginia Governor Tim Kaine as the speaker for the Democratic response, but if Kaine was the best choice for Democrats then their party is in serious trouble. I'll comment later about Kaine's "better way".

I found the text of Bush's speech on the White House website to read what I missed. I don't want my daughters' generation to inherit a nation drowning in government debt, so I was keen to know what he had to say about spending. I found these words interesting:

Keeping America competitive requires us to be good stewards of tax dollars. Every year of my presidency, we've reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending, and last year you passed bills that cut this spending. This year my budget will cut it again, and reduce or eliminate more than 140 programs that are performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities. By passing these reforms, we will save the American taxpayer another $14 billion next year, and stay on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009.
What exactly is "non-security discretionary spending" (hereinafter referred to as NSD)? NSD is all discretionary government spending minus expenses related to defense, international and domestic (homeland) security. It represents just under 16% of the federal budget, and by the way--it's the only part of the budget that isn't growing rapidly (ballooning is the word used by the Wall Street Journal). Yes, even the traditionally conservative Wall Street Journal wrote an article critical of the expanding Bush budget. Bloomberg has an interesting article related to this subject as well.

Overall federal spending is up 42% under Bush according to numbers from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Rising interest payments on the growing national debt as well as rising interest rates both contribute to the increased federal spending since interest on the national debt accounts for 8% of federal expenditures. Bush's new prescription drug benefit plan increases the cost of Medicare, so this too contributes to the problem. The CBO projects interest costs will increase 18 % in the current fiscal year, and Medicare will rise 17%. One thing to note is that neither interest on the debt nor Medicare expenses are mandatory expenditures and therefore don't fall into "non-security discretionary spending".

Bush indicates that "these reforms... will save the American taxpayer another $14 billion next year, and stay on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009." While $14 billion is a start, it's only 0.5% of projected federal spending in 2006. What Bush omits from his statement is that the entire federal deficit is projected to rise 6.3% this year from $317 billion last year to $337 billion this. These CBO numbers don't take into account the $138 billion Bush will ask Congress to approve for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as hurricane relief. If Congress approves this request, the deficit will rise at least 26% this year from $317 billion to over $400 billion. Yikes!

I truly hope President Bush, the Republican-controlled Congress, and the Republican-controlled Senate are as serious about fiscal discipline as they claim, but so far their actions speak louder than words.


Rental properties and water damage

I'm taking a couple of weeks of paternity leave, and with family in town to help watch our toddler I decided to try and get some work done on my project house that's in the middle of a renovation on its way to becoming rental property. I enjoy doing much of the work myself because unlike my 9 to 5 job, it allows me to work with my hands and gives me the opportunity to physically see the transformation of a project.

I've found that many people are under the impression that managing rental properties has more to do with depositing rent checks than anything else. While that's certainly the goal, there's a lot of preparation that goes into making a rental property low maintenance. And it starts with doing all of the necessary improvements up front. I take the approach of actually over-improving rental properties, but I'll explain why in a future blog.

On Tuesday I planned to tear down some warped pressed wood siding which had water damage and replace it with Hardiplank cementboard siding. It should have been a one-day job, but as often happens, the project became a lot more involved. As I removed the damaged siding, I realized the Celotex fiberboard sheathing was disintegrating which led me to see that the 2"x4" studs holding up this load-bearing wall had rotted 75% of the way through. Water is the #1 source of deterioration on a house because not only can it cause damage, but it attracts insects like termites & carpenter ants while also creating an environment for mold & mildew to grow.

And I was really hoping to get the exterior of the house ready for painting this week, but that was not to be.

I spent Tuesday removing the siding from the back of the house as well as any fiberboard sheathing that didn't flake off with the siding. I also made a run to Home Depot to pick up new 2"x4"s, sheathing, plastic to be used as a water barrier between the studs and sheathing, felt paper to be applied over the sheathing, and a few other things on my list. How I wish there was a Lowe's in East Cobb to give Home Depot some competition. Making a "run" to Home Depot is as close to hell as I ever want to get. The problem on this trip was their signage--they had two different prices posted for an item on my list. Both signs had the same sku/UPC, and of course the higher price is what came up on the cash register. The difference wasn't much, but given their awful service (I couldn't find a single salesperson on the floor to help) and poor inventory management (two items I needed were either sold out or hadn't been re-stocked) I challenged them on the price. I walked the disbelieving cashier to see the sign, and then she had to call a manager to show him. So a half hour later I was finally out the door, thankful I dumped my HD stock last year.

Wednesday I needed to replace the studs, so I started off by supporting the top plate while each rotted stud was removed one by one, and replaced with new 2"x4"s. For added strength, I also put a 2"x4" brace between each stud. I then reinstalled the window and nailed down the black plastic over the studs. Tomorrow the new sheathing will go up as well as the new siding. Rain is in the forecast, though, so I could be completely screwed.


My browser can beat up your browser

If you use the Internet frequently and are still using Internet Explorer (IE) as your browser, you're missing out while making your PC more vulnerable to malicious software. As of late October of last year, though, 81% of Americans used IE while only 14% used Firefox.

Nearly a year ago I had my IE browser hijacked, and despite attempts to regain control of IE via Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool I was never able to completely eliminate the malicious code. How was it hijacked? I have no idea. It was my work PC which has a pop-up blocker as well as an anti-virus tool running all of the time. I'm not technologically illiterate, but I'm dumbfounded by how this happened.

It was then I began reading up on how to better protect my system while browsing and learned about the major security gaps in IE. I then read about two new browsers: Opera and Firefox. I tried them both, and after a month switched permanently to Firefox. It has many great features, but the one I like most is tabbed browsing. I also like the fact that its plug-ins can be added & removed easily. My favorite so far is Flashblock.