Tuesday, December 29, 2009


So Rachael and I went to New York City and stayed in Manhattan this Christmas. It was a chance for us to get away and go someplace where we have never gone before. We planned for the trip to be from Dec. 20th to Dec. 25th, but a blizzard in the Northeast caused our flights to be shifted from Dec. 22nd to Dec. 28th. It was too bad because we had Dave Letterman tickets for the Dec 21st show. Thank goodness the Doubletree hotel shifted our reservation and even gave us a free night!

So we made it into the Newark airport late Tuesday night on Dec. 22nd and we were a little worried about the train system during the late night so we took a cab to Manhattan. The quote for the cab ride was around $60 to get us to the hotel in Manhattan, but little did I know that I would also have to pay for the toll (both ways) which added up to $85. Welcome to New York. Suddenly, a train ride at night seems a little more appealing.

For our first day we headed to Time Square to buy some Broadway tickets. We found a TKTS booth and found some Orchestra tickets (16 rows back) for Mary Poppins for $60 a piece. Not bad. It was a great show. The set was amazing and of course the songs and performances was superb. If you make it to Manhattan, you have to watch a Broadway show. After the show, we went around the Midtown area and visited Rockefeller center, the Empire State building, and Macy's.

The second day we headed uptown to see the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) . We quickly figured out that you are required to make a donation to gain admission, so you can donate from $1 to the recommended $20 and beyond. We donated $10. The MET is an huge art museum with an impressive collection of art. We visited the Egyptian art, American art, and the art of the impressionists that had many Monet's, Van Gogh's, Manet's, and Degas. We then walked across Central Park and headed for the Museum of Natural History, which is the place were they filmed Night at the Museum. This museum is a great place to take kids, but I got a little bored. I did enjoy the planetarium though. I noticed that the theory of evolution was strictly taught in this museum. There was even a short video that defended the validity of evolution and how everything makes sense because of it. Their defense of it didn't make sense to me. After the museums we headed back to the hotel with quick stop at 5th Avenue to see all of the shops that we can't afford (Tiffany's, FAO Schwartz, Apple, Saks).

The third day was Christmas and we woke up early to see if we could get on the Today show at Rockefeller plaza only to see that they were not filming that day. We almost did a double take when we got back to our room to watch the Today show with all the regulars and they said it was Christmas. What a crock! After that, we headed down south to the Statue of Liberty only to find that the ferry was closed, so we walked a few blocks to Wall Street to find where all of the stimulus and bailout money ended up. Wall Street was an interesting area. All of the buildings were built very close together at a time when building codes in that area were a little more relaxed. Next to Wall Street is the famous Trinity Church which is well known if you happened to see the movie National Treasure. Rachael and I stopped by Ground Zero and then headed back to midtown to walk around for awhile.

The fourth day we headed down to the SoHo to visit an Artisan Market, only to find that it was fairly lame. So, we headed to Little Italy to a famous pizza place, Lombardi's, for some good pizza. We walked around the Little Italy, Chinatown area just to get a feel for the area. The Little Italy district was amusing as every restaurateur was a little pushy and would try to lead us into their door when we walked by. After that, we headed back to the Statue of Liberty and took the ferry to the island. I found that I bought the wrong tickets and we could not enter the base of the statue. Oh well. The weather was rainy and cold and I think that Rachael and I were ready to get back to the hotel.

The last day we met up with some friends from Boston who happened to be visiting Manhattan. They were a little more experienced with Manhattan and took us around town. It was a fun day. We started the day by visiting Redeemer Presbyterian at Hunter College to get an a very clear discourse on James 2 about "Faith without deeds is dead". We then walked to the Guggenheim Museum to see the special exhibit of Wassily Kandinsky who is said to be the father of abstract art. From there we walked around Central Park and then headed down to Chelsea to wait in line for some free tickets to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater to an late Sunday night improv show in a dirty old basement. The interesting thing about it is that some known comedians were performing including Horatio Sanz, a SNL alumni, Bobby Moynihan, a current SNL cast member, and Lennon Parham, who is a cast member on the CBS sitcom Accidentally on Purpose. It was a fun to at least go to the spots that tourists (like me) barely frequent.

The next day (Monday Dec. 28th) we headed home (taking the cheaper train to the airport) and said goodbye to NYC.

Overall, this was a fun trip . The landmarks and buildings are spectacular and it is one of the main epicenters of art, business and culture. It was great to see all of the well known sites and get a taste of Manhattan. On the other hand, Manhattan stresses me out. It is too crowded, very impersonal, and too expensive. I think if I ever visit again, I would steer away from the well known and overcrowded Midtown and the Wall street districts and visit either the Uptown areas or the Chelsea and Greenwich districts.

Observations of Manhattan:
  • Manhattan is expensive. It seemed that the food was twice the price no matter where you went. Or perhaps it was because we were in Midtown. There are places where you can get a good meal for a decent price, you just got to look for it.
  • People are not very friendly in Manhattan. The cashiers were usually impatient, they were not very helpful, and it seemed as if they were just trying to rip me off. We hit most of the tourist spots so it was fairly crowded and perhaps they just had to keep the line moving. I guess I am used to southern hospitality in Austin.
  • Probably more that half of the people around us were speaking a different language. Again we were in the tourist section, but after awhile I was surprised when I heard someone speaking English.
  • The subway system is great! We were able to get just about anywhere in Manhattan using the subway. It might be easier to take a cab but it is a lot cheaper to take the subway.
  • Manhattan is dirty. The subways are great but the stairs and waiting areas are caked with filth and muck. I am not a germaphobe, but still, I would not recommend touching anything. If you look closely in the sewers and lower tracks you can see rats and mice.
  • Central Park is beautiful and very well done. I had a chance to take a morning run around the park to the well known spots. Only until the last day did I find the well known bridges, fountains, etc. in the southern end of the park.
  • I don't think I would last in NYC. I am a little timid and tend to be a too nice. It seems that you have to be a little pushy and rude just to survive. You have think on your toes and you have to call a scam for what it is. Just be prepared.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Watch Out!

Another Becker will soon be gracing those around us coming around June 11th, 2010. If you have not guessed it, Rachael is pregnant. We will find out if it is a boy or girl this January. As of December 14th, Rachael is in her 14th week and will be excited once the morning sickness subsides. Why do they call it morning sickness? I think it should be morning, afternoon, evening, night, weekends, weekday, holiday, worktime sickness.

Rachael and I are very excited and a little nervous. We feel blessed to be able to bring a life (that God gave us) into this world, but are a little apprehensive about whether the baby will be healthy, whether we will be good parents, and whether we will have jobs in this fickle economy.

If you have any advice that has been helpful, please let us know. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Creature from Jekyll Island by G. Edward Griffin

With today's economic turmoil and near collapse of the banking system you have to ask yourself a) Why does the government continue to bailout the banks and their high risk schemes and b) how is it that a bank or investment firms can receive a bailout and less than a year later give out $20 billion in bonuses? After reading "The Creature from Jekyll Island - A Second Look at the Federal Reserve" by G. Edward Griffin, I can easily see why. This book is probably as lengthy and informative as a college textbook, but not as boring. It reads like an adventure through history and uncovers little known scandals that have occurred in the U.S. and the world during man's pursuit or gluttony for money and power.

This book gives a thorough explanation of the history of banking and finance, it give clear definitions and examples the terms of fractional-reserve banking, fiat money, inflation, assets, liabilities, etc. After understanding this, G. Edward Griffin follows the trail that led to the establishment of the Federal Reserve. He doesn't stop there. G. Edward Griffin clearly explains the thought behind the Federal Reserve and how it steals from the pockets of honest American workers and feeds the big banking industry...the same industry who pulled the right strings to put the Federal Reserve in place.

This book explains how putting the monetary policy in just a few hands caused the boom-bust cycles, wars, depressions, etc. It explains how big banks can easily survive and profit from the loss of others and will continue to do so. It explains how the U.S. is being destroyed by the hidden tax of inflation.

I warn you that this book will make you angry. You will never trust a banker or a politician again.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Health Care Bill Reading

This is an interesting article about how some Republicans have asked for the entire health care bill to be read...all 2074 pages. Apparently this is according to strict Senate rules.


Can you imagine if they chose someone like Ben Stein to read this?

Saturday, November 7, 2009


I am watching the Nebraska vs. OU game while I am writing this. This is my outlet as I am extremely frustrated with the number of penalties by the Nebraska offense and special teams. I think I saw 4 penalties in 7 plays. I am just fuming. This has been a reoccuring theme...see NU vs. Va Tech. Why can't the Nebraska coaches and players learn from their mistakes??

On a similar note...I went to the Nebraska vs. Baylor game last week and was completely amused by the personal foul given to Ndamukong Suh for tackling the Baylor quarterback. The call was charged to #95 (Pierre Allen) of Nebraska for roughing the passer after the play was dead, even though Suh was the one who tackled the quarterback before the whistle was blown. Good call ref. I think they have never seen a quarterback thrown down like that and had to make up something.

I feel better now.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Toastmasters Speech #6 "Vocal Variety"

The Monster From Jekyll Island

It began one dark and scary night in the year 1913 on Jekyll Island. Seven very powerful bankers had a secret meeting and set out to devise a scheme to create a monster. Now, you ask yourself, why would these bankers create this monster? Do these men want to hurt others? Well no, in a sense, but these bankers are willing to sacrifice others if they can gain more power and money. The bankers created a monster that is so deceptive that it deceived the US government to accept it. This monster is so cunning that it can burden, and effectively tax the US workers without their knowledge. This monster is alive today and affects all of us. Now, you may ask, what is this monster? I will tell you, but first I must say that this monster is so powerful that it can control many of the banking systems in the US. It is the Federal Reserve. Today, I will explain why the Federal Reserve is such a monster.

First, the Federal Reserve is such a monster because it leeches off hard earned money of the US taxpayers without their knowledge with the hidden tax of inflation. It does this with its magic powers that can make money out of nothing. The Federal Reserve is able to create money, which increases the money supply and causes all of the money as a whole to become devalued, which causes inflation. You might ask yourself, is the Federal Reserve counterfeiting? Yes, but it is perfectly legal. The US government backs the money created by the Federal Reserve as legal tender and it is illegal for anyone to reject the currency created by the Federal Reserve.

Second, the Federal Reserve is a monster because it effectively supports the banking industries risky behavior. The men at Jekyll Island created this central Federal Reserve in order that they could loan out this created money with minimal risk. Before the Federal Reserve, the banks could only loan out as much as they had in deposits. With the Federal Reserve, the loans are not made with deposits but money created out of thin air. Banks can loan the money, collect the interest, and minimal deposits are required, thus taking away most of the risk. Even more scary, is the fact that if many of the loans went default, the government would just bail out the bank if it was deemed “Too big to Fail”…leaving smaller banks on their own. This only encourages bigger banks to give out more loans, yes even risky, high interest loans, with the knowledge that the Federal Reserve will bail them out when they fail.

The final and most frightening part of the Federal Reserve is that it is almost impossible to kill. It affects all of us. Most of the money used today is based on credit supplied by the Federal Reserve. We have credit card loans, car loans, and house loans. Even the US politicians feed off it. The US government controls the Federal Reserve and anytime it needs money, then the Federal Reserve prints it. It gives politicians the power to deceptively tax US citizens without their knowledge. This allows US politicians to fund their special projects, social programs, and stimulus projects to keep their constituents happy, so they can continue to get reelected. The politicians would never remove the monster of the Federal Reserve that helps their career.

Now, I would like to tell you that this is just another scary story. Oh no, no, this perhaps might be the scariest story… because the monster still exists. The Federal Reserve feeds off unsuspecting US citizens with the hidden tax of inflation. It encourages big banks to continue in risky behavior knowing that the Federal Reserve will bail them out. Last of all, the monster of the Federal Reserve cannot be stopped, because the very government that can end it loves to feed off of it.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Go for a repeat!

President Barack Obama has been awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee explained that he won the award because of his "international efforts to strengthen diplomacy and cooperation between peoples".

Is anybody as surprised as I am about this? It would great if my first response was congratulations, but when I heard this, I could not think of any concrete things that President Obama actually did, except "open dialogue". Does having talks about nuclear disarmament or having talks with the Middle East constitute a good reason for President Obama to win this (formerly) prestigious award?

I am getting tired of this "love affair" that the media has with President Obama. He is just a man. President Obama has high aspirations for a better world, just as any 3rd grade student does, and I commend him for it, but having these aspirations versus actually achieving them are two different things. Giving the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama seems a little premature and (in my opinion) somewhat taints or devalues the award. I feel that out of the list of more than 200 candidates, there has to be someone more deserverving, who has sacrificed time and money for peaceful causes.

Perhaps the Nobel committee should save time in the coming years and just give President Obama the award for the next 3 years for what he aspires to do. Oh, and did you hear, President Obama has just been added to the list of candidates for the Heisman Trophy.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fuel Pump Went Out

Rachael called me on Tuesday night from the Hill Country Galleria, which happens to be 10-15 miles away. She said the car was not working. This was the same car, a 97 Eagle Vision, that we tried to trade in as a clunker. Being a little frustrated or worried about what to do with the car, I was a little short with Rachael when I went to the Galleria (Sorry Rachael). Not knowing exactly what was wrong with the car, I had the car towed to a Dodge dealership.

The next day the service department called and said the fuel pump went out. The total cost to fix it was $800 ($400 for the part, $400 for labor) What!!! Why so much? I declined. I would fix it myself. After about 10 minutes of research, I found that the part at the part store was less than $200 and the total time to replace the fuel pump was 20 minutes to an hour. Of course, it took me a bit longer.

Regardless of how long it took me, I asked the question; why must mechanics charge so much for parts and labor? I was quoted $400 for labor for a job that takes less than an hour? A part is charged to the customer for 2x the market price when they probably get the part at discount. Some may say there are overhead charges, etc, and I don't mind paying a little extra, but $600 extra? I definitely would have considered having them do the job if it was $400 and even perhaps $500, but $800?

Nowadays, with the Internet, the customer has the advantage to research pricing and to determine if a job could be easily done without having to pay exhorbant prices at the mechanic. I have taken advantage of the Dodge Forum, where I have received free advice from many experts and it has saved me more than $1000. It has allowed me to have some knowledge about the true cost of the job to determine if I am getting ripped off.

So I ask you...Do you have the same distrust of mechanics? Are the price markups by mechanics warranted or do they sometimes take advantage of customers with little knowledge or customers that have no choice? Do you guys shop around to determine the exact cost for labor and parts? I would love to hear your thoughts.

ADDENDUM (10/5/2009): Eagle Vision appeared to break down again for Rachael on Saturday. This time it was only two miles from our house. I thought it was the fuel pump again, so I took out the fuel pump that I recently installed, sliced my finger bad (not part of the instructions), and took the fuel pump back to O'Reilly's to exchange for a new one. While installing the new pump I looked inside the gas tank and noticed that the tank was bone dry. Rachael ran out of gas. The fuel pump has a float on it which is an indicator of how much gas there is. I had the fuel pump turned the wrong way and the gas gauge was always indicating that it had a half a tank. Funny!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Door to Door Salesman

Just this week there was a young man who came to our door who claimed that he lived in the neighborhood and explained that he was doing a college assignment to work on his presentation skills. After about a 5 minute spiel about how he was trying to collect presentation points from neighbors to go on a trip to Europe, he pulled out the magazine list. Ugh! I assumed that after that long winded dissertation that he would pull out a list of magazines and there it was. The dreaded list of obscure and unwanted magazines that cost 4x the price. The first thing I did was halfheartedly glaze over the unending list of food and baby magazines as I was trying to figure out what to say to get rid of this guy. I finally said "No" and the guy said "Come on" and I gave him $13 cash to get him to leave.

These guys usually come at a time that is inconvenient. They are selling something that you don't want. I am not sure if he is who he says he is? Is it a scam? It is hard to say NO to them.

What the heck am I supposed to do?

Should I ask right at the beginning if he or she is selling magazines?
Should I require the person to hear my 10 minute life story before I purchase a magazine?
Should I not even answer the door and tell the person to leave?

I don't want to be mean but I also do not want to purchase a magazine out of guilt. I am also not sure if it is a scam. I am trying to figure out a game plan for the next time they show up at my door. I would love to hear what everyone else does. Let me know...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Hear The Bill

I just found the solution to many of our problems. (Just follow the link, www.hearthebill.org, and play the audio.) This recording is a great tool to use for sleep deprivation. This audio is the highly secretive and very controversial enhanced torture technique used in Gitmo. If used in the prison systems, it has been known to deter prisoners from future crimes. It has even been used as an abrasive cleaner.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor

"Men are God's method. The church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men..." (E. M. Bounds). Hudson Taylor was just that man. He was the first Westerner to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to inland China. The book, Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret written by his son and daughter-in-law, gives a biographical account of the life of Hudson Taylor and how he leaned on the supernatural power of God and His promises in the midst of trials, suffering, and tremendous barriers.

This book begins in the year 1849 with 17-year old Hudson's Taylor's beginning of faith in Jesus after reading his father's book "The Finished work of Christ". Not long after, he was burdened to go to the vast land of China, full of people who have never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel of Jesus. This book ends with a flourishing mission (China Inland Mission) with over 1000 missionaries that was guided by the principle to never solicit funds or workers and trust that God would provide the workers and the finances to do His work. Hudson Taylor rested in God's promises and patiently waited for God to act even when the bank account was empty and no workers were to be found.

I was deeply influenced by this book. To read about this man, who laid it all down for God and had faith that God would provide, was eye opening. I realized that I just don't get it. I am too influenced by the world and have faith in a bank account, in health, and in a career that could be gone in an instant. These are not guaranteed. But Hudson Taylor knew there was one guarantee; The Creator and Orchestrator of all.

Overall, this is a great read. Although this book was sometimes difficult to follow, it was amazing to hear about Hudson Taylor's intimacy with God and his never-ending love for the Chinese people.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

And Who Is My Neighbor?

How many are familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan? In the passage, An expert of the Jewish law (lawyer) asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life. Jesus responded by asking the lawyer what the law says, and the lawyer responded with "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all you soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and, Love you neighbor as yourself". Jesus agreed. Then the lawyer tried to justify himself by asking "And who is my neighbor?", to which Jesus gave the story of the Good Samaritan.

Why did the lawyer try to justify himself? Did he try to qualify who his neighbor was? I was convicted by this because I would call those people that are easy to be around as my neighbors. But then would I would NOT call neighbors as those that require alot of my effort, or money, or time, or energy. I would justify myself by saying "That person lives too far away", " That person has nothing in common with me", "That person might sue me or hurt me", or "That person gives nothing back in this relationship".

Jesus gives an example of how to be neighbor by telling the story of the Good Samaritan (the Jewish people hated the Samaritans and had nothing to do with them). The Samaritan risked his life, used his hard earned money (two denarii = two days wages), and gave a whole day to serve the victim. Jesus showed this example of being a neighbor by showing that no matter what the cost and no matter who the other person is, we a called to be a neighbor.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Moral Imperitive

President Obama said at a town meeting:

"We must also provide Americans who can't afford health insurance with more affordable options. This is both a moral imperative and an economic imperative, because we know that when someone without health insurance is forced to get treatment at the ER, all of us end up paying for it."

Why is it that whenever a bill must be passed quickly, that the term moral imperative or moral obligation is tagged to the bill? When does having health insurance become a moral right?

I have come up with some messages of my own:

"It is a moral imperative to work for you own living, instead of having the govenment pay your bill"

"It is a moral imperative that the US pay back government loans and not burden our future generations with a massive debt."

"It is a moral imperative that I have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a nice cool Pepsi."

Just recently President Obama spoke to a gathering Jewish Rabbis and said,

"we are God's partners in matters of life and death."

I can't judge, but it is difficult for me to believe that God is partnering up with President Obama. It makes me think of Joshua 5:13-14 when Joshua was confronted by a man and Joshua says "Are you for us or for our enemies?". The man (who is believed to be Jesus) said "Neither, but as commander of the army of the LORD I have come."

If President Obama is really partnering with God, then awesome, but it is difficult for me to believe President Obama is a man set after God's heart when we hear nothing from him about God until a bill needs to be passed.

I am just tired of all the rhetoric that is used with terms like "moral imperative" and "God's partners" to guilt us into agreeing with a bill that (I believe) will not work.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

Rachael and I have a 1997 Eagle Vision and thought that this car would qualify as a clunker. This would gives us a $4500 incentive to buy a new car. I checked cars.gov and found that there was only one version of the 1997 Eagle Vision that qualifies. This has the VMODE option. What the heck is VMODE? I checked every website to find that most think that VMODE has to do with the autostick option, which our Eagle Vision has.

So, we thought we would go to some dealerships and see if there is anything we like. We checked out a few dealerships and found that most of the dealers did not want to hassle with the cars for clunkers customers. It felt as if the 5-star service went down to 2-stars if there was any mention of a clunker. Most dealers would not offer any incentives if a customer was turning in a clunker, with the explanation that the $4500 was a good-enough incentive, even though the incentive was from the government.

Anways, we narrowed our search down to a Honda Civic LX-S and used the USAA car program (well recommended) to pre-negotiate rates. There were two nearby Honda dealers that were informed of my interest. A Honda dealer in Round Rock, TX emailed us a offer that was almost $2000 below MSRP. Rachael then called two other Honda dealers to see if they could beat that offer, but they first asked if we were doing the clunkers program and that they would not lower the price for customers with clunkers. Ridiculous! So, Rachael called the Round Rock, TX dealer and said we would take the offer and also added that we had a clunker. The dealer was a little irritated because they tried to make it a policy to hold back incentives for clunker customers, but the deal was already offered and he would honor the price.

So, we were ready to buy that Wednesday night, but before we could, we found we did not have the receipt for Eagle's registration to qualify as a clunker. So, we waited a day and Rachael picked up a duplicate at the county clerk on Thursday. The next day, Friday, we were ready to buy and were in the process of buying the car, but found that the dealer would not take the Eagle Vision as a clunker because they were not sure it qualified. They did not know what VMODE meant. So, we had to drop the offer and we are still stuck with the Eagle Vision. An even more interesting thing occurred the following Monday when the Round Rock dealer called me and told me the salesman that we were working with passed away that weekend. Poor guy.

Through all of this, it just proves to me more and more that government programs are just a hassle and sometimes can be lethal.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Free Health Care For All?!? (Part 2)

There is an interesting article from a generally leftist writer that is a bit critical of the Democratic party's handling of health care reform. It is worth the read...


Also, my dad decided to get involved in the political process and wrote to U.S. Senator Ben Nelson from Nebraska. Here is his letter:

Senator Nelson: August 8, 2009

I have never written or called a congressman or senator in my life (I'm 63 years old), but this health care legislation is a huge concern. My concerns are the resulting care (speed and the care decision process), and of course the cost.

I base my concern on (1) the expected deficit for Medicare that has been discussed in Washington over the past years...with no proposed solution; (2)my 20 years experience with the Air Force's health care (it was good) but I cannot begin to tell you the long, long hours we waited in the emergency room for health care (we had 4 children so we had plenty of experience) and (3) our travel to Europe on short-term Christian mission trip. They wait months and sometimes years for an important surgery.

Why are we doing this to ourselves? I do not want our (yours and mine) grandchildren to have poor health care when they become adults. One recent comment was that the USA is 37th in health care. My response, they can pick and receive health care from any of the top 36 nations, I will pick USA for my care (and I would guess that they would choose to have their surgery here as well).

If we want to do something, let’s:

(1) Limit litigation dollar amounts, (2) require everyone to posses catastrophic private health insurance (like our required liability car insurance), and (3) take very small steps that have been tested and proven at the state level. The path we are headed down will NOT WORK.

I worked in the military bureaucracy (headquarters) for 10 of my 20 years and having this type of a system for health care scares me.

One final comment: If we estimated the cash for clunkers program ($1 B vs. $3B) which is a quantified program that requires only a few upfront assumptions; how far off will we be on a $1.3T program? I know the government does not guess on the high side!

Thanks for your listening ear.

Bob Becker

Monday, August 10, 2009

Finally Done!

Last summer 2008, Rachael and I wanted to get a patio table, but Rachael wanted to make a mosaic patio table. Sounds cool! Rachael talks about it in her blog:


I did not realize the amount of effort that is required. So we found a wrought iron patio table base on Craigslist (which is a whole other story) and I made 4 ft diameter table top out of 3/4 plywood and sealed it with oil based paint.

Rachael had some great ideas for the table. She used a piece of pottery she saw in Seattle as inspiration. We use standard brown and eggshell white glossy tiles from Home Depot and mixed in some white tiles with a matte finish.

Then the fun began. Having an idea and executing it to the end are two very different animals. Rachael and I started off well but found the job to be a little demanding. Fall came and went, then Winter, Spring, and now Summer. While Rachael was in Italy, I finished laying down the brown leafy parts. With that done, the rest of the process was easier, though slow-going. Imagine putting a puzzle together when you have pieces from many different puzzles, and you'll have a good idea of the challenge. We had one small hic-up when we ran out of our matted white tiles, so Rachael went searching. Luckily, she was directed to a tile company in Austin called Travis Tile, where they had great salespeople who were very helpful and generous. We got the rest of the tile and worked on it intermittently for the next four weeks. Rachael was never more relieved to lay that last piece of tile!

We still hadn't exactly figured out how to treat the edge, but since Rachael really wanted a metal border, we looked around at a few home hardware stores. We found and painted black two aluminum strips to use as the side border, which turned out great. Lastly, we grouted and sealed. Tonight, we enjoyed our first meal on our new table!

Overall, this project took much longer than I expected, but I am pleased with the results. I am not sure if Rachael and I will attempt another project of that scale, but who knows. I have posted some pictures of the work in progress and the finished results. What do you think?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Big Brother

Just ran across this website


that asks the faithful Americans to submit a email to flag@whitehouse.gov if there is any disinformation or anything "fishy" being spread about the immaculate health care plan. Sounds like any opposing argument to the irreproachable health care plan must end. Apparently, freedom of speech has been qualified. You are free to argue against anything except the stimulus plan, the federal deficit, the federal bailouts, man-made global warming, and health care reform. Is this clear?

As a good American citizen, I felt inclined to turn myself in. I wrote a blog a two weeks ago that argued against health care reform. It seemed "fishy". So I emailed flag@whitehouse.gov with the following:

To Whom it My Concern,

I am not sure if I am spreading disinformation, but I would like to submit my own blog as a candidate because it opposes health care reform.


Please respond with any feedback as to whether this is disinformation or "fishy".

Matthew Becker

I have not received a response yet, but I will give an update as soon as I receive one. Who knows what will come of this? I might be "red flagged" as an "enemy of the state" or I may just happen to disappear for no apparent reason.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Coming Economic Earthquake by Larry Burkett

President Grover Cleveland once stated "It is the responsibility of the citizens to support their government. It is not the responsibility of the government to support its citizens." He stated this when he made a stand against funding an orphanage during a severe economic crisis. President Cleveland said "I will not be a party to stealing money from one group of citizens to give to another group of citizens; no matter what the need or apparent justification. Once the coffers of the federal government are open to the public, there will be not shutting them again."

Now, it seems that the coffers are wide open and everyone seems to be in need of government assistance. But can the U.S. afford it? The book The Coming Economic Earthquake by Larry Burkett gives a good explanation about how the deficit spending in the U.S. is on the road to calamity, with all the government programs, entitlements, and special interest projects. Larry starts with the New Deal and explains how the seeds of overspending started with entitlement programs and the federally regulated bank system. He also gives some real examples with post WWI Germany and Argentina during the late 80's. He goes on to describe the current problems that continue to increase the U.S. debt and what Americans can do.

It is amazing, given this book was written in 1991, how much that Larry Burkett wrote still rings true today. Unfortunately, we have politicians who are either oblivious to the deficit or too concerned about keeping their constituents happy by passing legislation with only their districts special interests in mind.

This book seems like a doom and gloom book, but Larry assures the reader that he hopes that an economic meltdown will not occur. He also assures Christians that God will take care of us, even during hard times. Overall, this book was thought-provoking and eye-opening and makes me wonder why our U.S. government leaders are so oblivious to this major problem.

I will end with this quote from a well-known philosopher who said that socialism will replace capitalism, "A democracy is not a form of government to survive. For it will only succeed until its citizens discover they can vote themselves money from the treasury, then they will bankrupt it." This philosopher is Karl Marx.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Free Health Care For All?!?

The Health Care Reform Act has been proposed and is the current hot topic in the House and Senate. This has been deemed to make health care more affordable with better quality care; a tall order. This sounds like a great program, but should the government get involved with this and who will pay for this? I am not in the health care field but I am familiar with government politics and special interest groups. Will this be the same? I want to just give a few reasons why the government should NOT pass this bill.

Government Waste - Have we ever had a government program that has run efficiently? Most of the time it is caught up in bureaucracy and red tape. These are government run programs that had good intentions at first but tend to get caught up with abuses in the system and extreme inefficiency.

Government Mismanagement - Does President Obama or Congress know how to run the healthcare system?

Government Stealing - Who said this healthcare would be free? President Obama and Congress are trying to find ways to tax the rich. If this is like any other program, the costs of this healthcare reform will be grossly underestimated. I am sure that just taxing the rich will not cover the bill.

Government Force - President Obama said "...if you’ve got health insurance, you like your doctors, you like your plan, you can keep your doctor, you can keep your plan. Nobody is talking about taking that away from you..." Not sure if he knew in the Bill (Section 102) that if you make any changes to your policy you must use the Government health care. Another concern is that most employers may drop their company plans and push their employees to use the lower quality government plan to save cost.

Government Use - Another question is that if this Government health care is so good, will President Obama and his family be using it? Will those in Congress be using it? A quick answer may be found by asking them if their children attend public schools.

I would like to say that having free and/or affordable health care would be great, but can we afford to have a wasteful and inefficient government that manipulates and controls a health care system in which the politicians know little about? Please let me know what you think.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

...he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful

I started pruning my trees with little experience or knowledge. The main reason was that I was tired of ducking below the branches when I was walking in my yard. As I was pruning, I got into a conversation with my neighbor about his trees. I notice that his trees were noticeably larger. I was curious to hear what his secret was. He said the key was pruning. He prunes the correct branches to allow growth. So I asked what were the correct branches. He said keep the area around the trunk clean and the "V's" or area where a branch splits to two clean. He said to also thin out the crowd areas on the tree and cut off those branchs that have less growth and leave those branches that are more healthy. That was it. Through all of this, I was reminded of John 15 with the Father in the vineyard who "prunes" so that the branches "will be even more fruitful".

I thought what an interesting parallel about the growth of a Christian versus a tree (or plant). Pruning is a necessaring step in order to maximize growth. So I decided to learn a bit more about how to prune tree and focus on its parallel to the Father in Heaven pruning us or things in our life.

Here are a few notes on pruning a tree:

1. Remove dead branches. The Father prunes those things that have no life in it. Perhaps, sin areas in our life that suck essential nutrients away from those things that have life.

2. Remove crowded or rubbing limbs. Sometimes there are things in our life that are good and that help us grow, but these things take away from those areas that will bring more life. The Father helps prune these areas and allow for us to focus on the more essential things.

3. Eliminate hazards. The Father sometimes prunes areas in our life that tend to hurt or hinder the growth of others.

4. Remove branches to increase light and air penetration to the inside of the tree’s crown or to the landscape below. The Father prunes branches that may be good but do not allow enough penetration to our heart. Our lives tend to be too busy and we forget that we need light for our essential being.

I sometimes see that best practices in life tend to parallel with the spiritual. Jesus taught many parables in the Bible that related to the best agricultural practices in order for us to understand a glimpse of the spiritual.

Toastmasters Speech #5 "Your Body Speaks"

Why Toastmasters?

Before being nominated for President, I seriously considered stepping down from any role in Toastmasters to take it easy for a year. I thought perhaps I could get some extra TV watching or extra time relaxing if I did not have to prepare for Toastmasters. It would be very nice to have a few more nights without having to worry about creating a speech, or preparing to be the Toastmaster, or racking my brain about what I should do for Table Topics questions. I thought hard about this and questioned why I joined Toastmasters in the first place. I knew that I had good reasons for joining Toastmasters. I knew that it would not always be comfortable, but I knew that through Toastmasters I could challenge myself to do things I would not otherwise do, in order to be more confident and successful. Today, I would like to share some of the reasons why I participate in Toastmasters.

One of the reasons I participate in Toastmasters is to practice communicating my ideas with clarity and confidence. When I first came to Toastmasters, I was petrified. I started breathing fast, I start trembling [bite nails, wring hands, look down, pace back and forth], I started sweating profusely and I did not even have to get up and speak. It was just the thought of someday having to speak in front of everyone. I have fears of forgetting what to say, I have fears of not having anything interesting to say. Toastmasters is a safe place where we can overcome our fears of speaking, were we are allowed to make mistakes, where we can practice speaking of front of others, and where everyone has to listen to you.

A second reason why I participate in Toastmasters is to develop leadership skills. The great Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry said “Leadership is getting someone to do what they don't want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve.” Most of us would rather have more time for leisure, but in the back of our mind we want to grow and work on becoming a better communicator. Being a leader requires not only pushing yourself to work toward that goal, but it also means challenging others toward their own goals. As a leader in Toastmasters, we challenge others to give speeches, to fill Toastmaster meeting roles, and to overcome that next hurdle to help them become a successful communicator.

Another reason that I participate in Toastmasters is that this is a great environment to be creative. Toastmasters give us the freedom to experiment with new ideas. We can give a speech about anything. We can come up with a fun Toastmaster meeting theme or a challenging Table Topics. I have seen a Table Topics that are based on the fortune in a fortune cookie, or I have seen a presentation on Toastmasters given as a game show. Toastmasters allows us to think from a new perspective and actually try out these ideas. With Toastmasters, creativity is part of the club and is greatly encouraged; as long as you stay within the allotted time [say it as a parent does].

The final reason why I participate in Toastmasters is to develop evaluation skills. How many just jump up and down [jump up and down] with excitement at the thought of being evaluated. It is like going to the mechanic. You know you will hear things you don’t want to hear. You need to fix the brakes, the timing belt needs to be replaced, and your tires are worn, But just as your car needs a tune-up, our speaking and leadership skills also need a tune-up. But many times it feels like evaluations are always associated with negative criticism. However, the purpose of evaluations is to give helpful suggestions for improvement. Toastmasters is a great atmosphere for us to learn how to give constructive criticism that motivate and help the speaker. Toastmasters also helps us [start moving elbow back and forth] with the capability to take feedback and understand what are our strengths, and also help us see possible annoying habits and areas that we need to improve.

After being a little reluctant to be the Toastmasters President, I would like to say that it is my honor to help serve this club. Toastmasters is a place for us to get over our fears of public speaking, it allows us many avenues to practice leadership, toastmasters helps us get creative, and toastmasters helps develop the invaluable tool of effectively giving and receiving evaluations. These are but just a few of the many reasons why I participate in Toastmasters and it has been a joy to challenge and be challenged by my fellow Toastmasters.

Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell

Finished reading "Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10" by Marcus Lutrell (with Patrick Robinson). This book gives a detailed account of Marcus Lutrell, a Navy Seal, and his survival through a firefight with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Out of 20 special forces soldiers that were involved only he survived. A group of four Navy Seals were sent to hunt down the second in command to Osama Bin Laden. They were right on his trail, when some Afghan sheperds stumbled in on their hideout. Faced with the decision to kill these sheperds or let them free knowing the sheperds will blow their cover, Marcus and the other three Navy Seals let the sheperds go. This turned into an incredible firefight with up to 200 Taliban Soldiers. After taking out around 80 of the Taliban Soldiers, Marcus was the only left alive. The battle and Marcus' way of survival is amazing.

I thought this book was fascinating. I was amazed about the events that took place and the skill and courage under fire of the 4 Navy Seals as they fought the Taliban force. There was also some unexpected twists and turns that occurred during Marcus' journey for survival that included a run in with a nearby Afghanistan tribe. You will gain more respect for these tribes and their sense of honor even though they are somewhat sympathetic to the Taliban.

This books also details the Navy Seal training and the physical and mental rigors that must be endured. The account of the Navy Seal "Hell Week" gives you a glimpse into the training that these men must go through to be called a Navy Seal.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the military. I think I read this in the course of about 5 days.

Monday, June 29, 2009

An Inconvienient Truth?

The US House of Representatives just passed the Cap-and-Trade Energy Bill (H.R. 2454) designed to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions by 17% by the year 2020. This would help offset the theoretical man-made global warming problem. The most controversial part of the bill is that greenhouse gases are bought and sold by companies based on the amount of pollution emitted. Some say that this bill would put an extra burden on US industries resulting in continued export of jobs to other countries. Other parts of this bill are not known as it just passed today and the final copy of the 1200-page bill was just released last night.

Now I am in favor of less pollution but with the US economy as it is and with many industries struggling to stay afloat, is this a good time to add an extra cost? It seems that the current US administration should spend more time on the giant elephant in the room (how to balance this budget).

So what is global warming? It is the increase of the earth's air and ocean temperature in the last 50 years. How come it is occurring? Some scientists say man-made greenhouse gas emissions and some say it is a natural occurrence similar to the ice age and the exit from the ice age. The most well-known proponent for man-made global warming is Ex-Vice President Al Gore. His movie, An Inconvenient Truth, presents the data that shows the effects of global warming and how it is a great moral issue for the world.

I have not see all the facts for global warming and I lean on the side that the most notable cause of global warming is from natural effects. I know I may be a little biased, but I still have a few points that just irritate me about Al Gore's agenda, regardless about the causes of global warming.

1. He calls this a moral issue yet he owns a mansion outside of Nashville, TN that uses 20 times as much energy as the average American household. Sounds like he is serious about this issue? In the movie, he even criticizes the Bush administration for their lack of global warming initiatives. The inconvenient truth is that George W. Bush's Crawford Ranch is amazingly efficient.

2. Al Gore defends his extravagant energy usage by explaining that he buys "carbon offsets" to remain carbon neutral. Does this sound like a monetary penance in which the rich can continue to sin? The interesting note is that Al Gore buys "carbon offsets" through a company, Generation Investment Management, in which he serves as the chairman. Very Convenient.

3. Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his movie based on man-made global warming; a topic that is still only a theory. What is most shocking is who was second place. An polish Catholic social worker, Irene Sendler, who risked death and saved 2500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto during WWII. Are you kidding? Who is risking death? Who is directly saving lives? Who is gaining monetarily?

Now I admit that I am a little frustrated and a little biased and I think the green initiative is a good thing and should be pursued, but how can you trust someone who does not practice what he preaches and appears to gain monetarily because of this?

I would love to hear your thoughts.