Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!

I'm a fan of NPR, and my favorite weekly program is "the oddly informative news quiz" called Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! My wife and I have listened to this show for years, and I download the podcast weekly. The program is hilarious, and I often get strange looks from others at the YMCA as I laugh out loud listening to the program on my iPod while running on the treadmill.

Hosted by Peter Sagal with Carl Kasell acting as scorekeeper, the show is co-produced by Chicago Public Radio along with NPR, and live tapings are done at the Chase Auditorium in downtown Chicago most Thursday evenings. Despite having been to Chicago dozens of times, I've never been in town with a Thursday evening free. But as luck would have it, I'll be there next week for work and no plans that night.

Panelists for the March 6 taping of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! are Kyrie O'Connor, Roy Blount Jr., and Adam Felber, and tickets are $21.99. Being a cheap bastard, I Googled for information about discounted tickets and stumbled upon Goldstar, a website that offers such tickets to events in several cities, including Chicago. As a result, I picked up the last two half-price tickets available for $11 + $4 service fee each, and saved $14.00--thanks, Goldstar!

My wife would like nothing more than to have Carl Kasell's voice on our home answering machine, and the only way to make that happen is to be chosen as a contestant on this show. So if one of the producers (are you listening, Doug Berman, Rod Abid, Mike Danforth, Melody Kramer, and Emily Ecton?) would call me to confirm I've been picked to be a contestant... I'm waiting!


Republicans and fiscal discipline

To secure any change in how the United States is governed, two branches--the Legislative and Executive branches must work hand-in-hand. Not to be insulting but just as a quick primer for those not awake during high school civics class, Article I Section 1 of the Constitution of the United States reads that, "All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives." Further on, Article II Section 1 of the Constitution states that "The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America." So the legislative branch = Senate + House of Representatives (Congress), and executive branch = President.

The purpose of the legislative branch is outlined in Article I Section 8, and in brief, the responsibility of Congress is to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States, borrow Money on the credit of the United States, declare War, and make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

The President of the United States is responsible for signing or rejecting bills into law (Article I Section 7), act as Commander in Chief of the armed services (Article II Section 2), and enforce the laws of the United States (Article II Section 3).

The Republican party controlled both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the entire legislative branch, from 1994 until 2006, when the Democratic party took control by slim margins. Since the disputed 2000 election when Bush edged out Gore to win the Presidency, the executive branch has been in the control of the Republican party. The Republican party has recently controlled both branches of Congress for 12 years and simultaneously controlled the executive and legislative branches for 6 years, so how does a party which runs on a platform which includes fiscal discipline (see page 46 of the RNC platform, just after "War on Terror" and Lower Taxes) measure up?

The Republicans have a history of failure by any measurement when it comes to fiscal discipline. The federal debt is up 92% since the Republican "Revolution" in 1994, and it's up 62% since George W. Bush became President (see chart above). Actions truly speak louder than words.

Wonder why I'm supporting Senator Barack Obama's candidacy for President? He has a proven record of supporting PAYGO (pay as you go) federal budget rules.


Accidental tree-hugger

I'm a member of their #1 Club Gold, so when I arrive at a Hertz location I look for my name on a board and proceed to the parking space indicated. While I haven't been specifically requesting them, my last 5 rental cars have all been a hybrid Toyota Prius rented as a compact vehicle.

My guess as to why I'm getting them with great regularity is that Hertz has excess numbers of these vehicles as they're awful if you've never driven one before. Examples of why:

  • There is no actual key--just a key fob that gets plugged into the dash
  • The ignition system is not intuitive at all--you need to press the brake while you're hitting the [power] button to start the car
  • The shift control is weird
  • When the car uses battery power it doesn't sound like it's running
  • When the vehicle is stopped and it switches from the gas engine (with sound) to battery power (no sound), you'll think the car has just died on you
  • The 8" monitor staring you in the face while you're driving can be really distracting (see pic)

On my first rental, I arrived into D/FW feeling like I was coming down with a cold. I managed to get the vehicle started and on the road when I stopped to pick up some Alka-Seltzer Plus Cough & Cold. Getting back into the Prius, it took me 15 minutes of frustration (i.e., I was pissed) followed by a short phone call to Hertz to learn the secret of problem #2 above. I've gotten used to the car's quirks, and I now don't mind when I find a Prius in my assigned space.

I used to own a 1999 Volkswagen Beetle TDI (turbo diesel injected) that got 50 mpg, so one of the things that has really surprised me about the Toyota Prius is its gas mileage. After 5 rentals, I've gotten around 40 mpg doing "normal" city and highway driving. This mileage is great compared to gasoline engines, but it sucks compared to a diesel.

Until car rental companies start building an inventory of fuel-efficient diesel vehicles, I'll do what I can to rent a hybrid as I try to reduce my carbon footprint.


North Point Sermons on iTunes

Andy Stanley is a fantastic preacher, but last year the PITA factor of attending North Point Community Church (NPCC) became so great that our family quit going to church for a while. We've since resumed attending, though now we visit the Buckhead campus as it's closer and their early (9:00am) service is less crowded than the main North Point campus. Last Sunday my oldest daughter asked to go back to our "old church" because "they had better (more) toys", so we attended the main Alpharetta campus for early service. If anything, the PITA factor of attending NPCC has gotten worse, and I don't think I'll ever return.

If you've ever attended North Point Community Church on a Sunday morning, you know the hassles: parking is about a quarter mile away (unless you have preschool kids, in which case you need to arrive a half hour early in order to find parking in the preschool lot); Waumba Land classrooms fill up, so again you need to arrive early (otherwise you and the kids are stuck attending the adult service); and forget about sitting in the East auditorium to see Andy Stanley preach live as regular-attenders save full rows of seats leaving others relegated to the non-live West auditorium.

Perhaps in acknowledgment of this fact, Andy Stanley and North Point have now made sermons available for download through iTunes as a FREE podcast! If I didn't think my girls were getting "something" out of attending church, I think I'd probably avoid North Point completely except for my weekly time with Andy on my iPod. For now, though, I'll go back to attending Buckhead and offer to buy whatever toys my daughter's classroom lacks.

Update: North Point Community Church is now using YouTube to extend its reach as well.


Living green

Having traveled for work each week since the start of the year, I've been on a lot of planes. That bothers me, and not for the obvious reason that I don't like to be away from the family, but I know that air travel is the largest component of my carbon footprint.

A Carbon Footprint is a measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide. I'm not a rabid tree-hugger, but I do want to live responsibly and leave the earth in good shape for my kids after I turn into compost.

The first step in trying to live green is to know how well (or poorly) you're doing right now. There are numerous calculators to help you determine your carbon footprint, and they vary wildly. On an annual basis, Climatecrisis.net calculated my footprint to be 5.7 tons of CO2, Conservation International pegged my output at 7.9 tons of CO2, GE said I produced 5.76 tons of CO2, and CarbonFootprint.com calculated my output of CO2 to be 7.758 tons. So which is it? I think GE is probably closest as they asked more in-depth questions about how I live. According to GE, the average American is responsible for 9.96 tons of CO2 emissions per year.

So great--I'm below average. But the above calculations excluded my air transportation. Add those in, and I'm an abuser of the planet. Climatecrisis.net now has me at 16.2 tCO2, Conservation International shows I produce 27.6 tCO2, GE reflects 13.52 tCO2, and CarbonFootprint.com calculates my annual CO2 output at 24.766 tons.

Until my employer offers me the ability to pay for (and expense!) carbon offset credits from a company like TerraPass, Carbonfund, LiveNeutral, or NativeEnergy, I'll continue to work to reduce my carbon output from other activities. Click here for some simple steps to help reduce your carbon footprint.


DorkyDad endores Sen. Barack Obama for President

My politics are pretty simple. I'm for limited government, an equitable tax structure, diplomacy over bombs, balancing the budget, and paying off our $9 trillion federal debt (over $30,000 for every man, woman, and child in America--scary!). I fall solidly in the Libertarian camp, and so I gave very serious consideration to the candidacy of Republican Congressman Ron Paul for President, the 1988 Libertarian Party candidate for President. While there is no perfect candidate, I completely disagree with his ideas on healthcare reform (I believe health coverage for all should be a right, just as is police and fire protection) and believe that Congressman Paul's answers to charges of racism lacking.

America needs to end the war in Iraq. I want diplomacy and peace. I want to save the environment. I'm tired of fear, and I'm tired of division. I'm ready to help change the world for good, and I am endorsing Barack Obama for President.


Let it snow!

Just a few weeks ago, Atlanta was surprised with several inches of snow--twice within the span of a week. The first snowfall was gone within 24 hours, but the second stayed on the ground several days.

On the evening of the first snowfall I fashioned a toboggan out of cardboard, rope, and duct tape. It worked well enough, but I longed for one of the plastic discs from when I was a kid. When it snowed 3" just days later, I began my quest for a pair of snow saucers for my girls, and there was no use looking in Atlanta as they won't be found.

This past week I found myself in a pair of cities with lots of cold weather and even more snow--St. Louis and Grand Rapids. Fortunately I was in-and-out of St. Louis, but during my visit to Grand Rapids I stopped by Meijer where they were beginning to close out their winter merchandise despite getting about 4" of snow the day before I arrived. I purchased exactly what I was looking for--a pair of foam snow saucers, which attracted plenty of unwanted attention from the TSA (Thousands Standing Around) going through airport security on my way back to Atlanta. Until the next snowfall the saucers will add a splash of color to my garage wall, so let it snow!