Surly Curmudgeon

   The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
  • Somewhere in the crusty outer layer of small towns surrounding the warm creamy center that is Oklahoma City.
Site Navigation
  • Current server time:
  • 1/27/2021 3:18:28 PM
  • Categories
    My Nerdly Hobbies
    The Daily Browse
    Reference Material
    Blogs of Note
    Non-blog Friend Pages

    Saturday, February 28, 2009

    Quote of the Day

    Economic depression is good for the state. Even if the state knew how to end it, why would we suppose that it has the incentive to do so?
    -- Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

    Posted by Tom, 2/28/2009 8:38:33 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, February 27, 2009

    Are you working with a realtor yet?

    I'm getting so sick of this question. I probably should be more understanding of the circumstances of a realtor, but I really feel less than motivated to try. I mean, they haven't really taken the time to understand my circumstances (and I'm the customer!), or that of the world around them.

    Realtors know a lot about square footage, number of rooms, age of roofing materials, and so forth. A few of them are even aware of the word "acre" with reference to the size of the land. (I swear, if I run into one more realtor who hears me say "acreage" and immediately shows me houses on postage-stamp-sized lots in housing developments...)

    What no realtor seems to grasp yet is that over the course of the past 15 years, there has been a rise in the popularity of this thing called the "internet". Over the last 10 years, there has been a rise in the availability of high-speed access to it. It is now entirely reasonable to consider DSL or Cable or Wireless access (aka, terrestrial high-speed) a "utility", like natural gas, city water, and electricity. It makes perfect sense... and yet NOT ONE of the realtors I've looked at with listings on the internet have seen fit to make room for any of that information.

    (Aside: speaking of internet listings, would it kill you to remove listings that have sold? I realize you're moving on to the next big deal, but I seriously hate finding a house, making the call, and finding out that it was sold 3 months ago. It seems like this would be "common courtesy" in the sales world... don't advertise what's not for sale.)

    Anyway, for some reason it's not important to list high-speed internet utilities. Instead, it's somehow "better" for me to have to call the listing realtor, tell them my needs, ask them to call the home owner and get back to me, and God help us all if the home owner doesn't know if it's available because they never saw a need for it. If that's the case and the home owner won't call, the only real way for me to find out is to have the home owner's phone number because all of the high-speed internet services (except wireless) use that as the way to figure out if it's available or not. Searching by address doesn't work... that's how I wound up buying my first house with the delusion that DSL would be available, only to find that it wasn't once I got moved in and the phone hooked up.

    Of course, there are privacy issues with the realtor giving me the home owner's phone number, so that sets off another chain of complications. I could go see the house, use the home phone to call my cell phone, and use the caller ID to check with the service providers, but I'm not sure if that's a good way to go (or even legal) or not. And it doesn't really help in those situations where the owner has already moved out and canceled their phone service. I guess I could go pester the neighbors...

    All of this mess could easily be avoided if the real estate agents of the world would simply step up and do what I like to call "their job". Give the potential buyer all of the information they need up-front. Recognize that the world has moved on from the telecommunications model of 1989. High speed, low latency internet service is important to all kinds of folks for all kinds of reasons, and realtors are not doing themselves any favors by failing to understand that.

    I don't know how soon I'm going to be interested in "working with a realtor", being a captive customer and all that. I do know that if anyone in my area steps up to the plate and starts posting/modifying their listings to reflect high-speed internet availability, they will instantly jump to the top of my list.

    Posted by Tom, 2/27/2009 5:12:01 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Quote of the Day

    Contemporary commentators equate freedom with democracy. But modern America gets less free every day because of it.
    -- Doug French, Forbidden Thoughts from Mencken

    Posted by Tom, 2/27/2009 7:16:16 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, February 25, 2009

    Weighted Dips

    One of the exercises in my routine is the weighted dip. Basically, I attach weight plates to a belt, then do dips. This is good for the triceps primarily, but it probably hits some rotator dealies in the shoulder and a little bit of the chest as well. Triceps are a hard muscle to measure in terms of progress. You can't really flex them, and most motions that involve them (pushing) use them only secondarily. I just do the exercise because I'm supposed to.

    It must be doing some good, however, because one of the bright spots of my past week was a time that's usually a low spot: getting my allergy shots. These are administered in the back of the arm, in the tricep area. The procedure involves the nurse pinching some flab on the back of the arm, jabbing a needle into it, and squirting in the allergy juice.

    This time around, the nurse kept trying to pinch me, but her fingers kept slipping off without getting a good grip. I was just becoming aware of the fact that she'd tried to pinch me about 6 times when she said, "I can't get a good grip on you" and settled for attempting to wrap her whole hand around the tricep and squeeze it like a giant summer sausage. The stabbing commenced, but I didn't notice. The comment did wonders for my ego, and it was all I could do not to strut out to the waiting room, flexing the whole way and grunting like the Incredible Hulk.

    And of course, when I did my first workout after the incident, I made sure to do extra sets of dips. Can't mess with success.

    Posted by Tom, 2/25/2009 5:11:06 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, February 23, 2009

    The dream house that wasn't

    The so-called "dream house" of the previous post is a very good example of an important lesson in economics about "price". We tend to think casually about price as "cost of goods sold" plus "profit". If I pay X for something, modify it in some way costing Y dollars, and seek a profit of Z, the price is supposedly X + Y + Z.

    Except that it's not.

    X + Y + Z may represent my asking price, but it is not a price until someone agrees to pay it. In the case of the "dream house", I'm sorry to say that if any buyers are smart, they'll be entering bid prices of somewhere around X. The actual price of the property will probably then be negotiated to somewhere between the two figures, probably to the dismay of the seller, who is desperate to get rid of it, but not so desperate that they are willing to lose money on the deal. I have a feeling that this property will be on the market for quite a while, until and unless someone with more money than sense comes along, or the owners decide they're tired of making 2 mortgage payments.

    Would I buy it? Not likely, at any price. It has one huge flaw that would drive me to distraction. The slab is level with the ground, and the back yard slopes right down to the patio. There's no evidence of flooding, but I would be a nervous wreck until I saw my first huge rainstorm and how the water flows around the house -- or doesn't. After having my share of problems with flooding in my current house (no ruined carpets, thank God), I'm not about to touch a property where I think it might be an issue unless it can be proven that it won't be.

    I wish them luck... from comparable, neighboring properties in the price range that I've seen, they're going to need it.

    Posted by Tom, 2/23/2009 9:09:50 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    House Hunger

    Over the course of our 16-year relationship, Mrs. Curmudgeon and I have moved, on average, about once every 2 years. The average is slowly declining as we stay longer and longer in each place, but there is a sort of wanderlust in our housing habits. We tend to move because we see something better in a housing opportunity, or because we want to get away from something we're not happy about. For example, our first house had a great property, with a lot of privacy, but the house itself was old and needed a lot of work. It turned out that this was more work than I was able to do, and this was a source of much friction.

    Whatever the case, we have once again re-evaluated our housing situation and decided that it's not working. Our present house was just the right size when we moved in, but is now too small to accommodate our newfound dedication to fitness. We're not gym rats, and honestly would become couch potatos before we joined a gym. We're both far too self-conscious to work out in front of other people, and the fact that gyms nowadays are basically pay-to-play petri dishes doesn't really thrill us either.

    So in the "what do we want" negotiations, my first item was of course a heated (and possibly air conditioned) workout area. I don't mind working out in the Oklahoma summer heat, but the frigid winter days just eat right through me. In practice, this will mean a heated outbuilding of sufficient size (or a place to build one), or a living area or basement that would make sense as a gym.

    Our current house has 1 acre of land, one tree and zero privacy. We're good with an acre or two, but we want our privacy back, along with our trees. We're also in need of a place where the neighbors are rural-minded enough that the cops don't get called every time a dog barks. There's also the fact that living in close proximity to neighbors, as is common in modern "housing developments" with large footprint houses on postage-stamp lots, literally depresses me. So that goes on the list.

    We don't want to have to do a lot of work on the house. Our current place is newish, and we haven't felt the need to do anything other than build a dog fence and paint. This has been a great relief from the other place, which sucked the life out of every weekend.

    Mrs. Curmudgeon is tiring of her 35 - 40 minute commute, so proximity to Norman is a must.

    Finally, we need high speed internet. I work from home most days, and this is a critical service for telecommuters. Not just any high speed internet will do, either: satellite internet is far to high in latency to make voice and other real-time communications work well. This has to be terrestrial wireless, DSL, or cable.

    This makes the ideal properties those in that narrow belt surrounding the city which are far enough out to have land at reasonable prices, but which are close enough to the city to have telecommunications services beyond basic telephone.

    Finding all of this at the right price is of course a trick. My initial estimate was that it would take us a year to find the right place, if we found it at all. Yesterday, on our second day of visiting open houses, we apparently landed in Norman's sweet spot for the things we want. It looks like the properties on the east side of town, about halfway between the town proper and our first house, are just right in terms of size, price, commute time, and telecommunications. Now it's just a matter of finding the right property.

    The first one we visited yesterday was actually in Goldsby, Oklahoma. It was a farmhouse with a lot of updates and upgrades, but it had a scary amount of work still needing to be done. It also spooked me on the potential for a bad foundation. So we wrote that off, but are leaving Goldsby as a potential backup plan.

    The second place was the right price, with a dog-proof fence all the way around the 2 acres. The house didn't have any good spots for a gym, and none of the outbuildings were the right size. That would be the immediate downside. Also, the current owners are apparently fascinated with brick pathways, and have completely ruined the back yard by zigzagging bricks every which way, over a good half acre or more. It's amazing to me what some people consider improvement.

    The third place was huge, with an awesome second living room that would be an incredible workout room. Unfortunately, Mrs. Curmudgeon said "no way" to that idea, because I might wreck the tile with my weights. The property was laid out in such a way as to have a great place to build an outbuilding, so a potential solution existed there. The main issue with the property is that it was at least $50k over what we're really interested in spending.

    Speaking of too expensive, we're looking at a place tonight that by all appearances is our perfect dream house. It has a huge outbuilding that is insulated and heated already, a nice set of interior features, lots of trees and apparent privacy, and very nice decor throughout. Its main issue is that it's $75k above our proposed budget. We could probably afford it (the mortgage and such would still be well below all the standard guidelines), but we're not sure we want to go in that deep. We still want to look at it because it will likely be the standard against which we measure future contenders, but odds are we won't buy it.

    There's also the fact that Mrs. Curmudgeon discovered that the current owners bought the place in 2007 for $60k less than their current asking price. This smells like someone looking to make a quick buck off a flip, despite having bought in as the housing boom was already showing signs of losing steam. I'll be interested to see if they can justify $60k worth of upgrades in the last year or two, or if maybe I should just look for another house like it for $60k less.

    Even if we don't buy anything and stay in our present house forever, I'm having fun. This is way more entertaining than watching other people shop on HGTV.

    Posted by Tom, 2/23/2009 7:19:41 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, February 20, 2009

    This is why I don't watch CSI

    I have long suspected that shows like CSI and NCIS are overstating the wondrousness of forensic science. To put it more bluntly, I worry that they are nothing more than pro-state propaganda in the vein of COPS and this disgusting new show Homeland Security.

    A new report from the National Academy of Sciences on the state of forensics should strike fear into the heart of every American who, as a result of watching these shows, trusts courtroom science to exonerate them should they ever find themselves accused. As Reason reports:

    The problem with criminal forensics is the government monopoly on courtroom science in criminal trials. In too many states, forensic evidence is sent only to state-owned or state-operated crime labs. There’s no competition, no peer review, and in some cases, crime lab workers either report to or can be pressured by prosecutors when test results don’t confirm preexisting theories about how a crime may have occurred. This sort of bias can creep in unintentionally, or it can be more overt. But studies show it’s always there. The only way to compensate for it is to bring competitors into the game, other labs who gain by revealing another lab’s mistakes. Every other area of science is steered by the peer review process. It’s really unconscionable that criminal forensics—where there’s so much at stake—has existed and evolved so long without it.

    As I've noted previously on this site, Reason's Radley Balko took investigative journalism to new heights when he exposed Mississippi's Dr. Stephen Hayne, a medical examiner whose testimonies would be laughable if they weren't given in the grave circumstances of a criminal trial. It appears that the NAS is going to do one better and shake the forensic industry to the core by exposing the junk science used across the country to throw people in jail.

    The Reason article does note that the NAS recommends a new federal bureaucracy to oversee all the examiner's labs, and that this would be the worst possible solution. The answer to pro-government bias is not more government, but more competition. Labs need to compete with each other on accuracy, and defendants should be given compulsory access to the physical evidence so that they can have "defense labs" work it over. Failing that, we need some sort of double-blind system that prevents prosecutors and other government workers from having any contact at all with those processing the physical evidence.

    Justice is not blind... right now it's being coached by prosecutors looking for wins. That should scare everyone.

    Posted by Tom, 2/20/2009 5:43:13 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Turn in your Man Card

    I am absolutely aghast at this video, in which an adult male is so utterly traumatized by the idea of firing a rifle that he starts crying before it even starts. When he finally pulls the trigger, he literally screams in fear/horror.

    I find myself wondering what namby-pamby society produced this guy. He sounds Dutch or German or something, but Germans are supposed to be tough guys. I know that if I were his father, I would consider myself an utter failure. I don't care so much that he's apparently gay (says "Gay Army" on the sweatshirts)... I've known gay dudes way tougher than little ol' me. But there's no real excuse for being that much of a coward.

    Granted, it may be that he has some deep dark experience in his past that makes him such a wimp, but it may also be that he's just a wimp. Either way, he needs some serious "man-up" therapy.

    If my 2-year-old nephew Oliver turns out this wimpy, I'll probably have to go smack my brother around a bit. That would be a shame, because we're honestly getting to be too old for that crap.

    Posted by Tom, 2/20/2009 5:22:24 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, February 19, 2009

    Quote of the Day

    If I stand, let me stand on the promise that You will pull me through
    And if I can't, let me fall on the Grace that first brought me to You
    -- Rich Mullins, "If I Stand"

    Posted by Tom, 2/19/2009 5:58:44 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    God Music

    On the heels of the previous post, I thought I'd post one of my favorite playlists. It's my "serenity now" playlist, my calming down playlist, my "desert island" playlist. It's my getting in touch with God playlist. I find it helps me focus on the things that are life-giving and avoid the things that are not.

    Deep Enough To DreamChris Rice
    All The HeavensThird Day
    DisappearBebo Norman
    Cry On My ShoulderOverflow
    Sweetly BrokenJeremy Riddle
    Great Light of the WorldBebo Norman
    RockstarThird Day
    Fly AwayFFH
    The MiddleJimmy Eat World
    My Savior My GodAaron Shust
    Go Light Your WorldChris Rice
    AngelSarah McLachlan
    ThiefThird Day
    Solsbury HillPeter Gabriel
    Falling DownBebo Norman
    Cry Out to Jesus (Radio Single)Third Day
    The Valley Song ( Sing of Your Mercy)Jars Of Clay
    Save MeRemy Zero
    Change Your MindSister Hazel
    Hanging By a MomentLifehouse
    Beautiful Side of SomewhereThe Wallflowers
    Word Of God SpeakMercyMe
    If I StandRich Mullins
    Calling Out Your NameRich Mullins
    I BelieveThird Day
    Nothing Without YouBebo Norman
    These Thousand HillsThird Day
    Love, Reign O'er MePearl Jam
    BraveNichole Nordeman
    Here With MeMercyMe
    I've Always Loved YouThird Day
    I Can Only ImagineMercyMe
    The CrossPrince

    Some of my favorite songs in the list are ones that aren't labeled "Christian music", such as the Wallflowers' Beautiful Side of Somewhere and Remy Zero's Save Me. I think this is because I revel in those sacred moments when I find God in the not-explicitly-spiritual. Anyway, that's the list, for what it's worth.

    Posted by Tom, 2/19/2009 5:08:45 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Facebook album meme

    There's a new meme running around Facebook about 25 albums that have shaped your musical tastes. Unfortunately, I don't know if I can even name 25 albums... and then there's the fact that since I got iTunes, I haven't bought anything but single songs.

    There's also the fact that this kind of thing isn't all that fun for me... as I've stated previously, I am hopelessly whitebread in my music tastes. Compared to my brother (who tagged me with his list), and all his tragically hip friends, I may as well just stop this post right here and save everyone the embarrassment of reading it.

    I'm also irritated by the fact that I have to post this list here instead of on Facebook, because Facebook's note-importing feature apparently dies after manually entering a note. Stupid Facebook.

    Anyway, I guess I'd better stop complaining and get to it. Oh, and there won't be any mention of the entire year I spent listening to Pink Floyd (other than this mention), because I now hate their songs with a passion and can't bear to listen to more than a few notes before changing the station. OK, Learning to Fly isn't so bad, but the rest drive me into a rage with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns.

    Um... where to start...

    High school (1985-1989):
    Huey Lewis and the News, Sports

    college (1990-1991):
    Prince, Purple Rain
    Bon Jovi, Slippery When Wet

    post-college (1992-1995):
    Metallica, the "black" album
    Nirvana, Nevermind
    Guns & Roses, Appetite for Destruction
    Rush, 2112
    Queensryche, Empire

    Detroit (1996-2000):
    Blues Traveler, Four
    Ted Nugent, Hunt Music
    The Offspring, Smash
    Aerosmith, Big Ones
    Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell (best. album cover. EVAR)

    Oklahoma (2001-present):
    U2, The Joshua Tree
    Third Day, Offerings
    Rich Mullins, Songs
    MercyMe, Almost There

    I know that's not 25, but that's all I can think of. The rest of my music collection is singles. In keeping with my Johnny Whitebread Top 40's dreck collection, I have stuff from 3 Doors Down, Maroon 5, and the ultimate in godawful vanilla-as-they-come white boy rock, Nickelback. Let the jeering begin.

    Posted by Tom, 2/19/2009 7:32:09 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, February 18, 2009

    You're Missing the Point

    A person has recently taken me to task over my treatment of the Obama administration. Or rather, they griped near me about persons like me. Essentially, their beef is that a lot of Americans seem to actively desire the Obama administration to fail at anything and everything it does. These Americans are accused of doing so out of their own sour grapes over losing the election. Well, I'm a libertarian, so I didn't really expect to win the election. I made it perfectly clear on this website that I considered either a McCain win or an Obama win to be a loss for liberty.

    I also realize that I do gripe a lot about Obama, but I also griped a lot about Bush. And I wanted to make one thing very clear: I don't want the administration to fail. I have long believed that if we were ever going to have a fiscally responsible government at the federal level, it would have to be run by a Democratic president. Only Nixon could go to China, only a Democrat can balance the budget. I actually applaud the fact that Obama is at the very least paying lip-service to the idea of reducing or eliminating the deficit. It gives me hope that there's a sliver of a chance he might be the Democrat I've been waiting for.

    The reason I believe this about Democratic presidents is simple: If a Republican tries to balance the budget, he will be forced into the role of Ebenezer Scrooge by the Democrats who will play the role of angels to the hilt. They will stir up popular sentiment against any hard choices he has to make (no matter how necessary and well-reasoned), and because Republican politicians are almost universally spineless, he will cave to the pressure. Republicans have to play the giveaway game because they're far too afraid not to. They won't gamble votes on fiscal responsibility. The only person who can therefore balance the budget is a Democrat who's willing to stop playing Santa Claus and start playing the responsible adult. The Democrats are the ones who have to say "the giveaways need to stop, or at least slow way down". Their leaders, especially their president, have to be willing to push the members of their party into line on those issues. It's a tall order, and it will require incredible fortitude to pull it off. But Obama could do it if he really wanted to.

    Unfortunately, Obama's burning the candle from both ends. The stimulus package cannot work. It is based on flawed assumptions compounded by flawed reasoning. It's not that I don't want it to work, or that I hate Democrats so much that I fervently wish it wouldn't work. It's that I know it CAN'T work. Economically speaking, we are on a one-way speed train to hell, and every time the government pulls a "stimulus" plan, no matter who is president, it's just another shovelfull of coal into the engine. I griped about it when Bush was president, and I'm not going to stop griping about it just because it offends some Democrat sensibilities.

    Economics is a science, just as much as physics (though it is a different kind of science). If you roll a snowball down a mountain, it absolutely will gather more snow and it absolutely will impact something at the bottom, most likely in devastating fashion. It doesn't take a physicist to know this, it only takes some basic knowledge of physics coupled with some common sense. The same goes for economics. It doesn't take much to predict what will happen as a result of this stimulus bill. IF it has any positive effect at all, it will be temporary, and the fall afterwards will be even harder. Predicting that this will happen is not wishing for the effects any more than predicting the snowball is going to hit a ski lodge equates to wishing for the lodge's destruction.

    I never thought I'd say this, but after 8 years of Bush and one month of Obama, I'm starting to think the Clinton presidency wasn't all that bad. Sure, he had way more than his share of goofs that enraged me (I can think of 3 big ones off the top of my head, none of which have anything to do with Monica Lewinsky), but at least he had the presence of mind to largely stay out of the way while the internet economy was being built.

    Posted by Tom, 2/18/2009 6:57:40 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Here we are again

    General Motors and Chrysler are back at the hog trough, begging for more money. It seems like we just did this dance. And check out the prediction from the last time:

    If the government does bail out GM, rest assured that this will not be the last time.

    Mission accomplished on that count. The next sentence though, is especially telling:

    But even if the government gives GM a check every week, there will come a time when no amount of government money will be enough to save them.

    So the question is, how long will it go on like this? This is where Obama could show some real moral courage and say "no, you've been bailed out enough. You need to work this out on your own." The problem is, Michigan is a core electoral state for Democrats and thus for Obama's hopes of re-election. Yes, he's only been on the job for a month, but I guarantee he's already thinking about it, or has someone on his staff who is. I'm willing to bet that GM and Chrysler have a better chance of being bailed out than a company employing thousands of people in Texas, for example.

    The thing I cannot fathom at all is how a worker in Detroit right now, one who is dependent on the auto industry, could simply be sitting around hoping their job survives. This is the triumph of optimism over reason. From the article:

    "Everyone is very anxious because we need these jobs," said Liz Lackey, 51, of Roseville. She has worked for 14 years at Chrysler's assembly plant in Sterling Heights. "We have no idea if we're going to have a job or not."

    I'm sorry Liz, but the writing is on the wall. These companies are going down. The unions and the management have completely destroyed them. The very best thing you can do right now is some combination of the following:

    1) get out of debt and build a savings
    2) start looking for a new job, especially in other parts of the country
    3) start learning some new marketable skills

    When I lived in Detroit, I worked for ANR Pipeline. It was purchased by the Coastal Corporation, and the day they made the announcement, I started looking for a new job. It took me 6 months to find the right opportunity, but I still got out before the doors closed and landed on my feet. Several of my coworkers, the ones who vowed to stick it out until the end, were not so fortunate. The moment you discover that your livelihood is forfeit no matter how hard you work, it's time to move on under your own power.

    Posted by Tom, 2/18/2009 6:36:09 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, February 17, 2009

    In defense of capitalism

    Here's Milton Friedman with some great comebacks at Phil Donahue (love the hair!):

    Posted by Tom, 2/17/2009 5:40:50 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    It's contagious!

    Not to be outdone by former rival John McCain's recent bout with amnesia, President Obama is now saying that we need to do something about the federal deficit (hat tip, Tim Bourne):

    With a $787 billion stimulus package in hand, President Barack Obama will pivot quickly to address a budget deficit that could now approach $2 trillion this year.

    He has scheduled a "fiscal-responsibility summit" on Feb. 23 and will unveil a budget blueprint three days later, crafted to put pressure on politicians to address the country's surging long-term debt crisis.

    Speaking Friday to business leaders at the White House, the president defended the surge of spending in the stimulus plan, but he made sure to add: "It's important for us to think in the midterm and long term. And over that midterm and long term, we're going to have to have fiscal discipline. We are not going to be able to perpetually finance the levels of debt that the federal government is currently carrying."

    "Mom, Dad... I got some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that I just maxed out your credit cards and charged all of them over the limit. The good news is that I have a plan for you to tighten your belts and get yourselves out of debt."

    Oh. My. GOD!

    Seriously? I mean, SERIOUSLY?!?!?!

    The man just ramrodded through Congress a massive pork-barrel bill that will be paid for by my 2-year-old nephew's grandchildren, and NOW he wants to talk about fiscal responsibility?

    Folks, if you voted for this guy on the basis of his claims to ethics and responsibility in government, or because you thought he had an ounce of decency or common sense, you have seriously got to be contemplating a circular saw tonsillectomy right about now. And for all those folks over the years who said crap about George Bush being stupid or slow or chimp-like in his reasoning capacity, I'm sorry, but your guy takes the frickin' CAKE on stupid things to say and do.

    I'm still waiting for the hope and change I can believe in. I mean, I believe it when they tell me I'm about to get screwed, but nothing's really changed on that count.

    Posted by Tom, 2/17/2009 6:42:06 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Quote of the Day

    If history could teach us anything, it would be that private property is inextricably linked with civilization.
    -- Ludwig von Mises

    Posted by Tom, 2/17/2009 6:19:37 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Shut up

    So now John McCain is showing early signs of Alzheimer's...

    WASHINGTON – Sen. John McCain says President Barack Obama failed to include Republicans in writing the big economic stimulus bill.

    The Arizona Republican says the $787 billion measure will create what he calls "generational theft" — huge federal deficits for years to come.

    He's apparently forgotten that he voted in favor of the first stimulus bill, along with his "friend across the aisle", then-Senator Barack Obama.

    Of course, the more likely explanation isn't that he's forgotten, it's that he hopes we have.

    Posted by Tom, 2/17/2009 5:25:34 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Friday, February 13, 2009

    Quote of the Day

    If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.
    -- H. L. Mencken

    H. L. Mencken was a true surly curmudgeon, an irascible old codger who made a career of making snide remarks about anything and everything. This is the epitaph written on his tombstone. That he would, as his last wish, desire mercy and kindness from those who would pay him homage, gives me hope for my own soul.

    Posted by Tom, 2/13/2009 7:51:28 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    I wish I could sing

    In the movie White Men Can't Jump, there's a scene where Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson argue over whether Woody can "hear" Jimi Hendrix. It's not a question of whether his eardrums are working properly, but rather whether he can hear the emotion in Hendrix's music. It was a question of whether he could feel it and empathize with it, even be a part of it.

    I've listened to music all my life, but the first time I really heard it was on my original Walk to Emmaus in 2003. Since then I've been moved to tears by so many songs that I can scarcely count them all. It's either the greatest gift or the greatest curse my sponsor gave me by sending me to the Walk.

    I love a lot of music now, and I love to sing along, much to the horrified dismay of those in my immediate vicinity. My dogs can carry a tune better than I can. My favorite way to sing is in large groups of men who are also singing loudly, so they can cover me up and I can just cut loose. Otherwise, I tend to rely on the old excuse that the Bible says to make a joyful noise, not necessarily a pretty one.

    In lieu of anything actually helpful, like taking lessons or something, I thought I'd write up a top ten list of the singers I'd like to be able to sing like:

    10 -- Roger Daltrey, The Who: Roger doesn't impress me with most of his work, but at around 7:44 into "Won't Get Fooled Again", he cuts loose with this "YEEEEAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!" with so much raw power it makes my skin crawl. If I could just do that one scream, I'd probably just walk around all day doing it over and over again.

    "Hey Tom, want to go to McDonald's for lunch?"


    9 -- James Hetfield, Metallica: My wife once commented that when James sings, it sounds like he owns the whole world. There's so much confidence in his voice -- the kind that says "here I am, bring it, hit me with your best shot" -- that you can't help but take notice.

    8 -- Tom Keifer, Cinderella: It's a sound like tearing cloth, but for some reason I love the way Tom's voice sounds. It gets your attention, but not so much as the next guy...

    7 -- Axl Rose, Guns & Roses: Axl's vocals range from an almost country & western drawl to a piercing screech and everything in between. My friends and I have often joked that he sounds like a cat being strangled, but I still like the way he sings.

    6 -- Huey Lewis, Huey Lewis and the News: When it comes to pop music, Huey will probably always be my favorite singer.

    5 -- Geoff Tate, Queensryche: For a singer in what is described as a "heavy metal" band, Tate's vocals are remarkably smooth and clear. Most of the "heavy" in their songs comes from the guitar work, and Tate keeps the music grounded with his voice almost running counter to the instruments.

    4 -- Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam: I've always loved his sound, from the time I first heard "Better Man", but his take on The Who's "Love, Reign O'er Me" for the movie Reign Over Me totally clinched his spot on this list.

    3 -- Harold Reid, Statler Brothers: The Statler Brothers are basically a barbershop quartet gone famous, and Harold Reid is just the person I can remember most as being a great bass (Richard Sterban of the Oak Ridge Boys also comes to mind). All my life, I've wished for a deep, gravelly, growly Sam Elliott kind of voice. I remember trying to force my voice to change as a teenager, wanting to get that sound like it's coming from deep in my chest. I've always thought that that was the ultimate man's voice, and I love it every morning when I wake up and my vocal chords are completely relaxed, because my voice rumbles for a while before they're completely woken up. If there were a way to train my voice to do this all the time, I think I'd have to learn it.

    2 -- Bebo Norman: Bebo's got a clear, clean voice that's full of hope and wonder. In his song "Great Light of the World", one can almost hear angels singing the accompaniment. Even when his music turns to themes of desperation, as in "Disappear", that hope shines through in a way that is simply inspiring.

    1 -- Mac Powell, Third Day: It's not a deep bass, it's not raw power, but Mac's voice is like warm whiskey... it burns a little going down, but leaves you with a warm glow that makes everything feel good. When I scratch my dog's head between the ears, and he stretches his neck to put my fingers in just the right spot -- that's what I feel like when I listen to Mac sing. It's kind of appropriate that the person who sent me on my Walk to Emmaus introduced me to Third Day.

    Posted by Tom, 2/13/2009 6:44:23 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, February 12, 2009

    Quote of the Day

    “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”
    -- Woody Allen

    Posted by Tom, 2/12/2009 6:00:24 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    The... Lord... Is... My... Strength...

    Some time ago, a friend (Hi John!) told me of a way to lift weights "spiritually". Basically, instead of doing a set by counting out the repetitions, you say a phrase instead. In the case of Christian weightlifters, you use a phrase like "the Lord is my strength", with one word on each repetition. I thought it sounded corny at the time, and had never tried it until yesterday.

    The reason I tried it is because I tend to count in my head, and for some reason I tend to repeat numbers. It's like I have a bout of micro-amnesia and can't remember the last number I counted. Or rather, it's more like I can't associate the repetitions with the numbers very well. Here's what it's like in my head:

    Rep one: down... up... one.
    Rep two: down... two... up.
    Rep three: down... u-three-p... the next one is four.
    Rep four: down... up... four. I'm halfway to 8!
    Rep five: down... did I count four already? I think I did. I remember anticipating four, but the last rep I really remember was three. Better count four just to be safe. Up...
    Rep six: down... five... up.

    Or I'll skip one due to similar confusion:

    Rep one: down... up... one.
    Rep two: down... two... up.
    Rep three: down... u-three-p... the next one is four.
    Rep four: down... up... four. I'm halfway to 8!
    Rep five: down... did I count four already? I think I did. Wait, I counted it twice. So this must be six. Up...
    Rep six: down... seven... up.

    It's not that I can't count -- I've still got my math competition trophy from school to prove I can -- it's that working with numbers is so natural to me that it leaves me a lot of what we programmers call "idle cycles". I wind up confusing myself with anticipatory thoughts, random ideas, etc. So yesterday I gave this new thing a try. It's 5 words, so for the sets I'm trying to get 10 reps, I just say it through twice. For the sets where I'm trying to get 12, I toss in a "Praise God" at the end.

    And the weird thing is, it works. I never got confused or lost on any of those. I'll hypothesize that because I'm not a very verbal person -- or maybe it's the right-brain/left-brain thing -- I'm fully concentrating on each rep's "counting word", and that leaves me with no idle cycles to play with. Maybe the psych types out there (amateur and professional) can give a little more info in the comments.

    Posted by Tom, 2/12/2009 5:04:48 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    One to Build

    A while ago, I bought an AR15, and also a stripped lower receiver for a second one. The idea was that I'd custom-build the second one for my wife, and learn a little something in the process. I don't have any intention of becoming a gunsmith, but I'm at least not-quite-retarded when it comes to working with tools, so I thought I'd give it a try.

    Rock River Arms' complete lower parts kit seemed to be the item I needed, so I ordered one up. With the Obama presidency being the best thing for the gun industry since the assembly line, it took them a month and a half to get around to my order.

    I had originally thought to photograph the entire process, but two obstacles stood in my path: First, I'm not that great a photographer, and black parts against black parts aren't exactly ideal subjects. Second, my camera battery is dead, and I could not for the life of me find the stupid little charger thingie. Since I was gung-ho to get it done, I went ahead and put it together. As soon as I was done, I of course found the charger. *sigh*

    Much as it would be good bloggage to take it all apart and do it over, I'm not going to do that. My thumbs are too sore, sorry about your luck. So anyway, here's the stripped lower by itself:

    ... and here it is fully assembled:

    I mostly followed the instructions in a video I found... apparently at Life, Liberty, Etc.. I can't find a direct link to it, and I don't want to post the whole thing in case they would get upset over copyright issues.

    The tools I wound up needing were:

    brass punch
    channel-lock pliers
    AR15 wrench
    needlenose pliers

    There are three tricky parts to the assembly:

    1: The trigger guard and bolt catch are both installed using "roll pins". These are basically pieces of sheet metal rolled really tight, that stay in place by expanding against the sides of the hole they're installed in. The video says to use the hammer and brass punch to drive them into place, but I found it was MUCH easier to use the channel-lock pliers. I used a mouse pad to protect the finish of the receiver, and it worked out fantastic. I used the brass punch and hammer to push the pins that last little bit once they were flush with the hole, but the pliers were the key to getting them put in.

    2: The hammer requires quite a bit of hand strength to get pushed into position for its pivot pin. Holding the receiver, the hammer, the pivot pin, and a tool to tap the pin into place takes quite a bit of dexterity as well. This is the one part of the assembly where I wished for a vice/stand/helper. It can be done without (I did it), but it's a fair bit of messing around.

    3: The detent for the pivot pin is a tricky little bugger, and a lot of folks suggest using a box cutter to hold it in place while you slide the pivot pin into position. I couldn't find my box cutter either (I think it ran away with the camera charger), but I did find that if I braced the receiver on something, I could hold the detent in place with needlenose pliers and smush the pin on top of it. That saved me the worry of trying to hold pressure on a razor blade in a place where my fingers were working.

    Everything else is pretty easy. There are a couple of points where you have to pay attention to the order you're putting parts in because this holds that in place and so forth, but on the whole anybody should be able to do it with the caveats above.

    I had the desire to similarly build the upper receiver, but upon researching the topic discovered that you really want to have a barrel vice and some other specialized tools. I've decided that I will instead buy a complete upper half and perhaps learn how to detail strip it instead. I don't imagine ever doing this again, so I don't see any good reason to get heavily invested in tools.

    I still have a major project in mind for my pre-built AR15, namely a custom paint job. Hopefully I'll have all my camera gear sorted out when that time comes, and that'll give me an excuse to make up for the lacking pics on this post.

    Posted by Tom, 2/12/2009 6:49:17 AM (Permalink). 4 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, February 11, 2009

    Looking for suggestions

    Many moons ago, I blogged about my favorite hymn, "How Great Thou Art". I didn't get to sing it on the Emmaus weekend I just finished, and I'm feeling kind of hungry for it. So I went to iTunes, and had an idea of making a whole playlist of various versions of the song. The problem is, iTunes has a hundred and fifty different versions, all at a buck apiece. I like the song but... $150 seems a little excessive.

    So, I got versions by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir (WAY too jazzy), the National Philharmonic of London, Carrie Underwood (sounds uncharacteristically thin for her -- I know she's got more power than that), and of course, Elvis Presley. My two favorites so far are the ones by Promise Keepers and the Maranatha! Singers. What I want now are suggestions for other artists, especially ones that maintain a reverent tone and communicate the real power of the song.

    Of course, nothing matches the experience of singing it at the top of your lungs with a hundred or so enthusiastic fellow Christians. I'm just hoping to find something that I can shout along to in the car when I'm by myself.

    Posted by Tom, 2/11/2009 5:40:24 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Quote of the Day

    You have to be strong before you can be gentle.
    -- Dave Ramsey

    Posted by Tom, 2/11/2009 6:28:21 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, February 10, 2009

    I have no words...

    I am utterly speechless at the horrifying nature of this toy:


    On the good side of things, it appears the rest of the public has had enough as well, as evidenced by the user reviews and tags on the Amazon page for the item. So I guess there are people paying attention.

    I think I'm going to be sick.

    Posted by Tom, 2/10/2009 5:19:46 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Quote of the Day

    The philosophy of protectionism is a philosophy of war. The wars of our age are not at variance with popular economic doctrines; they are, on the contrary, the inescapable result of consistent application of these doctrines.
    -- Ludwig von Mises

    Posted by Tom, 2/10/2009 6:13:14 AM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, February 9, 2009

    Quote of the Day

    If you don't watch where you're going, you'll end up where you're headed.
    -- Table of Matthew, Pioneer Country Walk to Emmaus #113, in response to the "Priority" talk

    Posted by Tom, 2/9/2009 7:51:53 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    What did you call me?

    The following is an excerpt from a talk/speech that I gave over this last weekend:

    In the third field of ministry, Society, we are called to work for justice. Our world does not consist of one-on-one relationships alone. We are an integrated part of society and culture, groups, families, organizations, institutions, workplaces, and governments.

    We influence society by how we do or do not participate as Christians. We are called to help Christ transform our part of the world into a more Christ-centered, loving, and just society.

    In America today, there is a class of people that we consider less than human. We force them out of their homes, deny them opportunities to find and keep a job doing productive work, and prevent them from seeing their families. In some cases, we force them into homelessness, making them live under bridges or in other unsuitable conditions, and then we round them up for vagrancy. In extreme cases they have been assaulted or even murdered.

    The really tragic thing about the whole mess is that those who call themselves Christians are very often the ones leading the charge against these people. Who are they? We call them "sex offenders".


    Before I go on, I want to make something very clear: I understand that some of them have done terrible things, and I don't excuse that. But if they've served their time, and have been returned to society, it's my proposal that we should be helping them to reintegrate rather than forcing them to the fringes. So, I've become an advocate for them. I believe there's got to be some middle ground between letting them work at a daycare and completely driving them from our communities.

    It's a lonely position to take most days, but I find it's helpful to ask, "what would Jesus do?" with regard to sex offenders. Fortunately I don't have to wonder, since the Bible tells us what Jesus did, in John chapter 8:

    The Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery -- a sex offender -- and wanted to stone her to death. We all know what Jesus told them:


    They all walked away, and Jesus asked the woman, "where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?" And when she answered "no", Jesus said, "then I don't condemn you either. Go and sin no more."

    I have devoted a fair amount of time on this site to defending and advocating for the rights of sex offenders. It's an issue that eats at me, especially when I see politicians making hay and gathering votes by stirring up peoples' fears and passing laws to make it almost impossible for these people to live. I don't understand how we can expect a person to reform if we continue to treat them like garbage for their past mistakes rather than encouraging them to become something better.

    However, it's one thing to say these things on the relative anonymity of a website that only half a dozen people read anyway. It's quite another to stand up in front of a group of 40 guys and almost accuse them of impropriety, especially when you don't know who may have been a victim or knows a victim of an offender.

    As a philosophical libertarian, it's really easy for me to make demands of my own behavior. I can tell people that I understand they don't see anything wrong with doing this or that, but that I can't participate in good conscience. Where it gets really hard -- almost to the point of impossibility -- is when I am asked to challenge someone else, quite confrontationally, on their own behaviors and attitudes.

    As I was writing the talk, which was titled "Changing Our World", I tried to rewrite this section several times, to avoid this subject. I didn't want to talk about it, I didn't want to say what I knew I would have to say if I did talk about it, and I did everything I could to talk about something else. I fought with God over it. He won.

    Still, as I went into the weekend, I was dragging my feet, dreading the moment when I would have to get up in front of all these men and "speak the Truth to Power", as it were. Ordinarily this isn't something I have a problem doing, but for some reason this time I struggled. I had some great moments with the men at my table, where they were unknowingly quoting bits and pieces of my talk to me, including key verses and lines. It was simultaneously spooky and encouraging.

    At the same time, my obsessively anxious nature had turned the waiting into an indigestion bonanza. I spent most of Saturday in various forms of intestinal discomfort, and only ate fruits and vegetables to try and settle my stomach.

    Finally, late Saturday night I approached our spiritual director, who had heard the talk previewed a few weeks before, and told him of my anxiety.

    He said "it's not easy being a prophet."

    I sat back and blinked at him. "A what?" He went on to explain that this is the work that prophets do: challenge established norms, stand against the flow, call people out on their errors. He said that too many preachers these days say what people want to hear, to keep butts in the pews and money in the collection plate. People don't like being challenged, especially about their attitudes. It's easy to point elsewhere and say "that's sin", and try to distance oneself from it. It's much harder to look inward and find sin, and to try to do something about that.

    He also said that one of the main reasons he works professionally as a hospice chaplain is because he challenged his church one too many times and they stopped wanting him around. Truly, "no prophet is accepted in his hometown."

    He then affirmed my talk, and told me that even though it was clear I was afraid, this is what God wanted and He would carry me through it. We prayed together, and I felt a little better about the whole thing.

    Sunday morning came, I got ready and went to the prayer room where friends and wife were waiting to pray over me before, during, and after the talk. The talk itself went exceedingly well, as evidenced by the number of people who sought me out afterwards to discuss it. In a really odd turn of events, I learned that someone attending the weekend was in fact a registered sex offender, though I never learned who. I can only hope and pray that he heard my talk as a reassuring thing... that it somehow reaffirmed his value as a person, no matter what he's done in the past.

    I'm glad it's over. I'm glad it went well. But now I'm left with an unsettling notion... I feel as though I am now almost obligated to find new ways to spread this message. I have no idea how, though the United Methodist "certified lay speaker" program has been suggested to me several times by a whole host of people. I wonder if the ability to do a one-off talk to a church I don't attend would save me from being excommunicated from the one I do. I wonder if that's even important. One thing's for certain... if continuing down this road is what God really wants, I've got a lot of work to do.

    Posted by Tom, 2/9/2009 7:40:59 AM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, February 4, 2009


    I am convinced that I am not going to like much of what President Obama does in office, but I found this rather refreshing:

    President Barack Obama acknowledged Tuesday that he had "made a mistake" in trying to exempt some candidates for positions in his administration from strict ethics standards and accepted the withdrawal of two top nominees, including former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, the first major setback of his young presidency.


    In jettisoning one of his closest and earliest political allies, Obama appeared eager to make a course correction after days of criticism that his administration was failing to abide by its own stated ethical standards and questions about his ability to bring change to the capital.

    "Did I screw up in this situation? Absolutely. I'm willing to take my lumps," Obama said in an interview with NBC's Brian Williams, one of five interviews he conducted Tuesday. In interview after interview with network anchors, Obama said there are "not two sets of rules" for people — and said that average taxpayers deserve to have public officials who pay their taxes on time.

    That he is willing to so readily admit an error on his own part does speak of some personal integrity. I think it's appropriate -- even important -- to highlight these moments, despite the fact that I foresee 4 years of locking horns over policy. Just because our opponents disagree with us doesn't mean they're necessarily lacking in any positive qualities.

    Too often, especially in politics, people tend to assign "evil" as a descriptor to their opponents, and imagine the worst possible motivations for their actions or positions. I've been on the receiving end of this a lot in the gun debate, and I've unfortunately done my share of it as well. But I've found that it's much more productive to assume your opponent means well (unless proven otherwise), he's just operating from bad assumptions or faulty logic. The beliefs we bring to the table about the other person tend to foretell the success we'll have in any encounter. It's easier to have a conversation -- even a contentious one -- with a human being than it is with a demon.

    Posted by Tom, 2/4/2009 7:24:23 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...