Saturday, February 27

We are buying a house in Northern Virginia

I have not been so active here because we have been busy looking for a house to buy since getting back from Christmas vacation in Finland.

Our goal was to find a house within our budget not too far away from my work. That was a little tricky given that I currently live less than five miles from the office, so every house we looked at was going to result in a longer commute than I have now.

One thing that we learned pretty quickly is that despite all the news on how bad the housing market is, all real estate is local and the local market in Northern Virginia is pretty competitive, especially in the more affordable range. Just how competitive:
  • Many of the houses that we were interested in were on and then off the market within a day. A couple of times we would see a house come on the market and immediately send the details to our agent only for him to come back that there were multiple offers on the property already, sight-unseen.
  • House flippers are still working the market. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing as they are taking a $200,000 - $300,000 dump and turning it into a $350,000 - $450,000 renovated home.
  • Renovated homes don't spend much time on the market.
  • There are many short sale homes on the market. This is a problem given that you have to wait for the bank to accept any offer acceptable to the seller. We tried to avoid short sales and would limit that to only short sales where there was only one lender. This was after considering looking at one home but found out that there were three lenders against the property and it took six months for the first lender to approve the sale.
  • Houses priced over $400,000 are in a different market than those under $400,000. I think this has lots to do with people not being able to borrow whatever the house costs instead of now only being able to borrow what they can afford.
We made two offers on homes, both inside the Capital Beltway. For the first house we offered the asking price and asked for nothing in return. No payment of costs, no fixing anything. There ended up being three offers on the property with the two others offering more than we did. Apparently that house went for around $20,000 over the asking price.

For the second house we took the same strategy of offering the asking price and asking for nothing in return. Again there were multiple offers on the house. However, this time our offer was selected.

Now we are in the middle of going through the motions of buying the house. Our home inspection resulted in a second inspection by a structural engineer. We came up with two issues that will cost about $10,000 - $12,000 to repair. As far as the seller is concerned, they are not interested in doing anything or compensating for anything flat out saying that they would simply go with another offer, because they can.

So, despite all the wheeling and dealing you see on 'Property Virgins' and the other real estate shows, don't think that you are going to experience the same in your search. In the end, we have decided to bite the bullet and purchase this house. Looking at the market here, this house is still a good deal. As a bonus, since making the offer on this place we have yet to see another house come on the market within our price range.
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Sunday, February 21

Finnish Schools - Forced Vegetarianism

Here is a nice example of what happens when you give a special interest group an inch as to how they will go to try and take a mile.

From Finland comes news that the school system is considering moving to a vegetarian-only day:
Educational institutions of the City of Helsinki could soon get a weekly day of vegetarian food, after the City Board voted in favour of such a move 13-1.

A weekly non-meat day has also been considered in Vantaa, but the initiative has moved forward slowly. Espoo’s City Council rejected a proposal on the matter at its Monday meeting.

Vegetarian meals have been a daily option at schools in Helsinki since the autumn of 2007, and it will remain an option in Espoo as well.

If the measure is implemented, the vegetarian food day will come alongside a weekly fish day, which Helsinki already has. - Helsingin Sanomat
This is being pushed by the vegetarian movement. Of course they would ban the eating of meat if they could, but since they can't, they will force students to change their eating habits in the name of 'education'. After all, this has nothing to do with vegetarians as the schools already offer a vegetarian meal each day. This is all about forcing others to be like vegetarians.
“What it is about is that the mission of a school is to educate people on eating habits. It is important to show that good and high-quality vegetarian food is available”, said Elina Moisio (Green), who had put forward the proposal. - Helsingin Sanomat
Hell, if education is the answer, then there should be a meat-only day as well. It is not like eating meat one day a week is going to kill a vegetarian. Surely they need to be educated as to just how awesome a good hamburger tastes. And as a side benefit, expose them to a great source of protein.

Vegetarian meals are available at most restaurants. Good luck getting a non-vegetarian meal at a vegetarian restaurant. Should a vegetarian restaurant serve meat dishes? I don't think so. That would be as wrong as forcing people to eat there. Just as wrong as removing meals from the school lunch menu simply because they contain meat.

One more thing. School lunch programs are pushed as such wonderful things for a child's development. What they don't tell you is that these programs also give leftists a chance to indoctrinate children their way, as if exposing them to activist teachers all day was not enough already.

Helsinki schools could get weekly vegetarian food day - Helsingin Sanomat

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Monday, February 15

Maritime Monday Breaks 200 Editions!

The weekly Maritime blog series that I created in March of 2006, Maritime Monday, has today published it's 201st edition over at gCaptain.

I stopped my involvement a couple months ago and I am happy to see that a great replacement author has taken my place.

So head over and enjoy this week's edition:

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Friday, February 12

DC: "It's not legal in the District to save a parking space in public space, with chairs or cones, etc."

One issue after a big snowfall is digging out your car and making sure that you have a space to park it when you return at the end of the day. In many places, people will 'reserve' the space they dug out with a garbage can or whatever. However, the DC Government made it clear after these storms that the practice is illegal:
Chevy Chase, DC: My street has already been plowed three times. Thank you, DDOT.

Do you have advice on etiquette for saving parking spots we have shoveled? Boston rules? Anybody can grab it?

John Lisle: That's one of the most contentious issues, pitting neighbor against neighbor. It's not legal in the District to save a parking space in public space, with chairs or cones, etc. It would be preferable if neighbors pulled together to clear multiple spaces for everyone. - Washington Post
OK, the suggestion is a joke. We lived in DC for the 2003 February blizzard and we were the only ones digging out our car. then for the next week, each day after work I had to dig out a new space because someone would take mine.

While they are so busy 'redistributing' snow removal labor via the law, how about also passing a law requiring car owners to own a shovel? It was amazing how many people in my apartment complex did not own a shovel of any kind as we all dug out of this storm. At least most people did dig their cars out. It was a huge difference between the attitude of DC residents and the people that live around me in Northern Virginia. At the moment there is lots of complaints against the DC Government about the poor progress of snow removed. However, the last bit of work, actually freeing the car, needs to be done by the car owners. And to do that, they need a shovel.

One more think, illegal or not, what kind of person moves a trash car or chair or whatever and takes another person's spot? Personally I would not do that, simply out of fear that the person who reserved that spot might damage my car or block me in. You can never tell about other people.

Here is a little more on the subject:
Washington's long history of relatively mild winters has left residents without a common sense of snow etiquette to help answer that question.

Boston has codified its citizens' right to benefit from their backbreaking snow-clearing labor; a city law says that if you dig out your car in a snow emergency, a lawn chair or trash can renders the spot yours for at least two days while you're away at work. In Chicago, blocking a parking spot is illegal, but city officials acknowledge an informal rule of dibs if you've done the digging.

"I know this is public property, but if you spent hours laboring, I mean, come on, I think you have the right to say that is my spot," said Tanya Barbour, who spent two hours Sunday shoveling free her silver Ford Expedition in the 1500 block of T Street NW. "If someone had clearly taken the time to shovel it out, I would not take that spot because I would not want that done to me."

Across the District and in the Maryland suburbs Monday, many were not relying on Barbour's honor system. Some used Boston-style markers -- lawn chairs, recycling bins, orange cones, a mattress, even two bar stools with a Swiffer on top -- to try to save spots along residential streets.

Keith Green, 37, said he's heard too many scary stories to slip into a spot someone has blocked off. After the 1996 storm, a man was killed outside New York after a dispute over a shoveled parking spot. In Philadelphia in 2000, it happened again. In South Boston, a handful of assaults, slashed tires and other cases of vandalism end up in District Court each year after drivers are perceived to have broken the code. - Washington Post
Not for anything, but the problem would not be as great if DC let home owners park in their own driveways:
Driveways in D.C. Now a No-Parking Zone -
April 24, 2009 - 1:07am

Beverly Anderson is mad as hell. She just started to get tickets for parking in her own driveway.

That's right. The District of Columbia is ticketing people who park their cars in their own driveways.

"This is clearly an attempt by the city to extort money out of property owners," Anderson tells WTOP.

Anderson has received two of the $20 tickets in the past month. Anderson has owned the Capitol Hill house (and the driveway, so she thought) for more than ten years and has never gotten a ticket. And she's not alone.

It seems Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton has also been breaking the law in the eyes of the D.C. Department of Public Works.

"Not only has the Congresswoman been ticketed in her own driveway, she has received a towing ticket on her car parked in her driveway," writes Sonsyrea Tate Montgomery, a spokesperson for Norton. "She did what any other Member would do -and any resident. She contacted her Council Member, Tommy Wells, who assured her the Council will take care of this problem even if it means passing a new law."

D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) says he's been getting lots of complaints.

"For the first time in anyone's memory," Wells says. "People are starting to get ticketed in their own driveways. This is ridiculous and we're going to get to the bottom of it."

To that end, Wells called the Director of the Department of Public Works, Bill Howland, to find out why his agency was issuing these tickets.

"I asked him what's going on," Wells said, "Is this some kind of revenue raising or policy change? He said he'd get back to me."

Wells said he asked Howland if his department would start issuing warnings for first time offenders.

"He said "No, we don't do that'," Wells said. "If the government is going to be unreasonable about this then we're going to have to look at changing the law."

So what does the law say?

"Any area between the property line and the building restriction line shall be considered as private property set aside and treated as public space under the care and maintenance of the property owner."

Basically what that means is most property owners in the District don't own the land between their front door and the sidewalk, but they are responsible for taking care of it. It's why you can get a ticket for drinking beer on your front porch in the Nation's Capital. You're technically on public space. It's also why the city can ticket you for parking in your own driveway if you don't pull your car deep enough into the driveway beyond the fa├žade of your house or building. - WTOP
Go read the whole story. In this case, the city again has a ridiculous suggestion to solve this problem, rent back the property you own from the city. Only then can you park in your driveway.

This is just one reason (of many) why we have not considered looking at any houses in DC as we look for a new place to live.

B.T.W. Here is a picture of my car almost dug out after the first blizzard a week ago.

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Post Blizzard DC Area Morning Commute Ghost town - Video

Even though the office was closed today, I decided to drive into work anyway figuring that it would be easier to work from there than to explain to the kids why daddy was working on the computer at home and not playing with them.

I knew that the roads would be less crowded than normal but was a little surprised to see them empty. This was taken between 7 and 8 in the morning and normally would be packed with drivers trying to get to work. As you can see, the road is not that bad. The problem is the secondary roads. When I got near the office there was only one plowed lane to be shared by both directions of traffic.

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Monday, February 8

Murtha Dead - National Deficit Reduced

Today comes new that Congressman Murtha has died.

Personally I would have preferred to see him ejected from Congress somehow, either by the voters or stuck in a jail cell for crimes related to the mass of pork-barrel funding he stole from the American people each year.

Instead I guess it is enough to know that thanks to his death the deficit for years to come will be reduced, since it is unlikely that any other Congressman will be able to get away with grabbing as much cash as he did.

You might say that his death was his last act of service. One that will be reflected in budget bills for years to come.

You might call my comments nasty, but he should not have been a Congressman attracting this attention. (Click on the image for previous Murtha posts)

(Congressman Murtha 'covering' the ethics of earmarks)

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Sunday, February 7

Blizzard 2010 Photos

Here are some pictures taken Saturday of the blizzard in Northern Virginia.

It is interesting to see how eager people were to dig out their cars. When we were living in DC during the 2003 blizzard we are out there alone digging our car out.

The local Safeway stayed open. They were even making sandwiches at the deli counter. The store had arranged transportation to get workers to and from the store.

The photos are in a somewhat reverse order with the newest at the top.

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Saturday, February 6

Nothern Virginia 2010 Blizzard - Video

Here is some video I took after spending an hour and a half digging out one of our cars.

The snow is still coming down like crazy.

Pictures to follow later.

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Thursday, February 4

UPDATE: How Illegal Aliens get a 'Social Security Number' in their own Name

For a long time running now, one of the most popular pages on my blog has been an explanation of "How Illegal Aliens get a 'Social Security Number' in their own Name"

The blog post has received a number of very opinionated comments and I had even received a message that I had been reported to the Government for publishing a 'how-to' guide for illegal aliens. This of course is idiotic given that the illegal alien community shares with newcomers the tricks of the trade.

Now comes word via the TaxProf Blog just how widespread this fraud is.
IRS Has 70% Error Rate in Issuance of Taxpayer ID Numbers, Resulting in Fraudulent Tax Refunds

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) today publicly released its review of the IRS's processing of applications for Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs).

TIGTA reviewed a sample of ITIN applications and found that almost 70% contained significant errors and/or raised concerns that should have prevented the issuance of an ITIN. The IRS estimates that it has issued more than 14 million ITINs as of December 2008.

ITINs are intended to provide tax identification numbers to resident and nonresident alien individuals who may have U.S. tax reporting or filing obligations but do not qualify for Social Security Numbers, which generally are only issued to U.S. citizens and individuals legally admitted to the U.S. ...

"The number of individual income tax returns filed using ITINs and reporting wage income has increased by 247 percent from 2001 to 2008," commented J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. "If the IRS continues to issue ITINs without proper verification, the risk of fraudulently filed returns – along with fraudulently claimed refunds – will continue to rise," added Inspector General George. - TaxProf Blog
So how many illegal aliens are working at jobs that report their earnings to the IRS. For 2008, there were at least 1.8 million jobs being done by illegal aliens who have given their employer an ITIN number claiming it was their Social Security Number. The number might be even higher as the total was of returns where an ITIN number was used for wage income. It does not take into account any joint filings where both filers used an ITIN.

Keep in mind that is close to 2 million jobs that could be done by Americans who are out of work that are instead being done by illegal aliens. And forget about that excuse that illegal aliens are doing the jobs that Americans won't do. These are jobs in companies reporting their earnings to the IRS. You can bet that there are Americans alongside them. The problem is that the Americans willing to do those jobs are in different parts of the country where politicians refuse to suggest that they move to where the work is.
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Monday, February 1

Obama to Third World: No Electricity for You!

President Obama has demonstrated his hate of the coal industry before by declaring his intention to bankrupt it. However, for the moment, he is unable to attack the domestic coal industry like his fellow Democrats in Congress would like, given that their efforts would only kill thousands more jobs if they could get their way. And given the current recession, job destruction will just hurt them that much more come election time in November.

This however, does not stop the Obama Administration from attacking the coal industry abroad. And leave it to Obama's team of activist advisors to find a way how to do it, by coming out against coal fired power plants in the third world.
NEW DELHI: Close on the heels of the inconclusive end to the Copenhagen Accord, the US government has stepped up pressure on the World Bank not to fund coal-fired power plants in developing countries.

In a letter sent to the World Bank, a copy of which is with TOI, United States Executive Director Whitney Debevoise said, "The Obama Administration believes that the Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) have a potentially critical role to play in the future international framework for climate finance, and, in particular, to assist developing countries in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and strengthening their economies' resilience to climate risks.'' - The Times of India
This is a pretty big F.U. to the third world, which were pretty big supporters of the President. I am not sure what they were expecting to get from him, other than to make them feel better. One way to make their lives better is to give them power. With that comes communication, light and refrigeration with will improve the quality of life as well as extend the working day. Obama however plans to make it much harder to develop the third world by taking away their most likely source of power, coal.

For starters, coal is the mail source of fuel for power plants in the US. Much US electricity is made using coal power. Take a look at this Electricity Flow diagram for 2007. Coal is the largest fuel source for electricity production. Remember that it is domestic and not imported coal.

Coal is not simply chosen as a fuel source for any old reason. It is chosen because often it is the only viable choice to make. The other main choice also a fossil fuel, being natural gas. Gas is much greener than the others, but as for actual 'green' choices, most locations have none. Really, unless a region has a viable location to place a dam for hydro power, then they have no green options. There is nuclear, but I do not see the US being real excited about building nuke plants throughout the third world. (The sliver on the bottom left is the contribution that renewable energy makes in powering America.)

So is the Obama Administration fighting to keep the world's poor in the dark? It sure looks that way. And that is a shame as giving the poor power is one of the major requirements for getting people out of poverty and countries into the modern world.

There is one more thing to keep in mind:
* The U.S. is, after all, the Saudi Arabia of coal. We have more than 200 years of coal reserves at our current burn rate. There are 440 coal-fired plants across the nation, with proposals to build 153 more in 42 states over the next decade, at a cost of $137 billion, to provide electricity to 93 million homes and support our energy-guzzling lifestyles. - Time
So, not only can the US help modernize the third world by helping to give them power and light. The US can also profit in the process. This way, everyone wins.

This is poor policy. Instead of cutting off coal, the US should strive to make coal greener. At least until there are some viable alternatives to choose from. At the moment there are none and that means that the world's poorest are left sitting in the dark.
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