Sunday, December 21, 2014

Great Video

I am very saddened by the end of the C*lbert Report (misspelling so we don't get random traffic here). This interview between him and the dragon from LOTR is absolutely hilarious. I think this is one of the best interviews I've ever seen. Check it out here, you won't regret it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Venison Marinade

Family came over on Sunday for dinner. It was time to share the fresh venison I worked hard to earn. One whole backstrap weighing 2lb 10oz was donated to the cause. With so many ways to prepare this tender hunk o' red flesh it was difficult deciding what to to so I went to consult an expert, my neighbor Wayne.

Wayne has spent decades harvesting, butchering and preparing wild game for consumption and with good reason. It is damn tasty and not easily obtained. When I asked for his favorite backstrap recipe he immediately insisted on grilling (duh) and offered up to me his favorite marinade recipe.

For grilling I chose to build an intensely hot side fire with a large open space in the Weber kettle. The backstrap was cut into three pieces each about eight inches long for quicker cooking and easier handling. Three meaty rolls were placed very near the hot fire but not directly over the hot coals. I timed them for ten minutes on one side and ten on the other. Every five minutes I probed the thinnest cut with an instant read thermometer. After fifteen minutes they reached the perfect rare temperature of 135 degrees in the center and finished five minutes sooner than my plan.

The slender mini-roasts were carved into 1/4" slices and served.

See the comments section for Wayne's favorite marinade recipe if you want to give it a try. I am confident this marinade would work well for any grilled red meat. It complimented the venison nicely instead of overpowering the natural flavor, just the way it should. The meat had an extremely tender velvety texture not found in even the tenderest prime cuts of beef, pork or lamb. This venison could be eaten almost without chewing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

25 Stories About Work - the Henpecked Guy

I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)...

Chicago, Illinois, early 1990's

One of the clients that I had was a (rare) financial services firm in down town Chicago. This was a great client because I didn't have to travel or do anything strange like audit a maximum security prison.

The job was also interesting because the firm we were auditing took in investor funds and turned around and invested in myriad hedge funds. As a result, during audit time (year end) we had a lot of work to do because in order to complete OUR audit, we had to receive reports from all the individual hedge funds that the firms' clients invested in. Back then we were barely computerized and used lots of paper, and all the audited financials came in at the last minute, so we worked non-stop to attempt to meet customer deadlines.

At lunch we went out as a group and they brought the auditors along. Most of the time it was just me since I was fairly competent by that time so my manager usually left me on site to do all the work and just checked in on the results periodically. I was a workhorse, charging in hours from early morning to late night every day and on weekends during busy season. Since this firm made a lot of money, they didn't care much how many hours we billed, they just wanted to complete the audit on time so that their clients felt confident in investing with them.

The manager from the client was interested in hiring me. This is typically how you got a job as an auditor - you impressed the client with your intelligence and work ethic, and then they hired you to join their internal audit staff. Since most of my clients were in government or distant utilities in undesirable (at the time) cities, this was an unusual circumstance for me.

As a guy you generally talk about a few topics - there's sports on TV, sports that you do yourself (golfing), cars, gadgets, attractive women, work related items, and stories about going out and having a good time. Given that most of the clients at that time were predominantly male, these topics were the ones I heard all the time and had no trouble contributing to.

When I went to lunch with the (male) manager and his team, I noticed that his team were all women. He was a slight man and quiet, and didn't impose his will on the conversation. As a result, the meals at lunch were on topics that I NEVER discussed nor even had a concept of mentioning. Typical topics included fashion, childbirth, colors, how long you went after having a child before you had marital relations, and myriad topics relating to kids and families. At the time (a kid right out of college) I had absolutely ZERO to add to the conversation, and was stunned into silence by the topics.

This was a good experience for me because I could understand how women felt when guys talked about sports or cars for hours on end and they had little or no interest in the topic nor the desire to even learn about it (I was particularly un-interested and squeamish about the childbirth and related stories). The tables were turned and now I was outnumbered (severely - they were a tough bunch too) and just sat silently during lunch, throwing in an occasional comment and then shutting up.

In the end I figured that the reason he was offering me a job is because he needed someone to talk to. I didn't take the job and held out for another year in public accounting. Looking back it probably was a mistake to turn down that job because the firm boomed with the rise of hedge funds and is a major downtown company today. I ended up becoming a management consultant and traveling all around the USA for another ten years (and lots more stories like this) which probably was a much harder life than working downtown and commuting to the suburbs like most everyone else in the world. This wasn't my last bad career miss, not by a longshot...

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Monday, December 08, 2014

Firepower To The People!

Whitetail season ends the first week of January. I have two tags remaining so when I am able to get out to the farm I do. Weather has been a problem. Seems Ma Nature wants it windy, rainy, cold or in any combination of the three when I have some time off. This old deer slayer prefers resting near the fire when wind chills are in the single digits instead of sitting out in the open 20' up a tree.

Movement has returned after the deer became scarce for more than a week. Lots of fresh tracks this past weekend and the trailcams don't lie. At the farm deer have been most abundant at 9pm, 3am and too dark o'clock to shoot one. It's muzzleloader season now since general firearm season closed last Sunday but I always use a muzz during firearms season anyway.

Sun sets at approx 4:20 so these does visiting under my stand last Thursday are still free to roam.
This camera is mounted 30 yards south of the ladder.

Archery is open for all season dates from October 1 - January 6, 2015. Indiana game laws change each year regarding whitetails and each year they become more generous with the bag limit, type of arms used and when they can be used.

One advantage added to my arsenal this past year was the crossbow. It has been allowed by the INDNR for the past three years as an archery option. As long as archery is legal a crossbow is allowed. This is one of a few recent rule changes allowed to properly manage the state overabundance of whitetail deer. The crossbow option worked out well for me a month ago when I harvested a king size doe using my crossbow when the weather was more than tolerable and the deer were less shy.

Next year whitetail season may be different and I have mixed feelings about it. The INDNR is requesting input on new regulations allowing the use of high powered rifles to take deer statewide in Indiana. Here is the INDNR reasoning in upcoming rule changes. From the link:

Allows additional rifles to be used by reducing the bullet size required to .243 and eliminating the maximum rifle cartridge case length. This will allow high-powered rifles such as the .30-30 and .45-70 during the deer firearms seasons. Full metal jacketed bullets would be unlawful because since they do not expand when fired, and therefore, do not kill as humanely. The DNR believes this change can be made at this time for the following reasons:
  • There are currently no limits on rifles that are legal to use for species other than migratory birds, deer and wild turkey.
  • Muzzleloaders have evolved to the point that with smokeless powder (which is legal to use), they are essentially a high-powered rifle (accurate 500-yard gun).
  • They are legal in several nearby states, including Kentucky, Michigan (the northern part of the state) and Pennsylvania.
    There has been no increase in hunting-related accidents as the result of the use of rifles, neither in Indiana nor in several other states where they are allowed.
  • There isn’t a need to limit the equipment that can be used to take deer in order to manage the deer herd. The deer harvest was a record in 2012, and the DNR is managing the deer herd through other means.
  • Rifle cartridges that fire a bullet at least .243 in diameter and have a minimum case length of 1.16 inches long can safely and humanely kill white-tailed deer.

At first glance I am in favor of this rule change for selfish reasons. Having seen deer on our farm this season grazing at over 100 yards if I were able to carry let's say, a fine tuned scoped and zeroed 30-06 rifle then any chosen deer even within 300 yards would have been on my rear Jeep rack. I would have filled another tag and added more meat to my frozen venison supply.

While some sections of the state of Indiana being relatively as flat as Sandra Bullock there are some counties with hilly terrain, mine included. Some small family farm homes still dot the vast flat landscape. With nothing such as a hill or dense wooded area to stop the travel of a high powered rifle bullet it has been considered unsafe to go high power for decades. The only firearms permitted for hunting have been limited to shotguns with slugs and muzzleloading rifles. Traditionally these firearms have a kill range of up to 100 yards for the average hunter and maybe 150-200 yards if used by a skilled marksman possessing an accurate gun/load combination equipped with a good scope.

With new technology and the desire to exploit loopholes in the laws ambitious American ingenuity will always find a way. Now available are muzzleloading rifles using smokeless powder capable of an accurate 250 and even a 300 yard shot in the hands of a skilled marksman. For detailed information one of my favorite gun bloggers Jeff Quinn goes into detail.

With all that in mind the INDNR reasons that a high power centerfire rifle is OK. There's been a lot of discussion at my store gun counter lately on this topic. The hunters are split on the rule change and with good reason. Here is how some of that conversation goes.

Not everyone who hunts is a sensible marksman especially at state owned properties. Not all environments provide a safe environment for high power, especially state properties open to the public and hunter density is thick.

The risk of injury or death can be higher to the innocent non-hunting public especially farmers and rural residents as well as livestock.

On a positive note the use of HPR's will increase hunter success : ) But it will also thin the overpopulation of whitetails : (

The INDNR has allowed the use of HPR's to hunt those pesky nuisance coyotes without personal injury incidents occurring. Why are coyote hunters offered this privilege and deer hunters are not? The excuse has been hunter density during deer season.

The use of HPR's may become an issue of heightened public interest as soon as an innocent someone catches stray lead from a .338 Lapua near a populated area. The size of cartridge doesn't matter as much as the attitude, lack of practice, and unethical behavior of individuals pulling the trigger.

Any unfortunate incident will be broadcast and exploited by the anti-gun-anti-hunting media and politicians to leverage more restrictive legislation upon law-abiding citizen hunters.

The new rule, if it passes, opens up a lot of options as well as questions for me as an active deer hunter.

If this does pass why would I not take advantage of it? Why not? Our farm is located in a secluded rural area and where I hunt is surrounded by dense wooded hills. I shoot down from a tree stand so the likelihood of my wayward bullet causing problems with neighbors is minimal.  Those same wooded hills would also protect me from other hunters in the vicinity which are few.

Should I prepare for next season and research a new rifle purchase? Yes I am preparing and yes I am researching. Lately my attention has been focused on which caliber I would use, which rifle would I prefer and how much do I wish to invest in a new rifle.

I am not one to invest in a a classic expensive custom french walnut stock masterpiece that costs as much as roundtrip airfare and lodging in Alaska. While I can appreciate fine craftsmanship, quality in materials and engineering, for my purposes that would be overkill. Any firearm I own must be durable, impervious as possible to the elements and not so costly I would fret about getting that rare French walnut scratched while trudging through the thorny brush. My firearms are tools that I use not, well-rested vault queen investments.

Then there is the question of scopes. Serious hunters often spend as much or more on the scope as they do on the rifle. Count me in this camp. Optics make all the difference. Inexpensive optics do not offer the best light transmission and if the punishment a high power rifle delivers to the shoulder is bad, think of how a delicate an inexpensive scope would react to big multiple recoil jolts. This is one component where I wouldn't compromise.

More will be written by on this subject once enough is learned about which caliber, rifle brand and scope would best suit my purposes. IF this new rule change passes. We'll know for sure in May of 2015.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Up in Smoke

This is the view of the smoke rising from the fireworks from the Bears game Thursday night vs. Dallas. We were late getting to the game because of the chaos due to protestors. We didn't miss much - the first quarter sucked and it was pretty much scoreless.

This picture sums it all up... a season "up in smoke".

It sucks because I started this season as a Bears fan with some hope because the offense did so well last year and I figured the defense had to get better. If the defense played a bit better and the offense played just as well, we seemed to be in a good spot.

But as always I was wrong as an optimist on Chicago sports. What sucked even harder is that Dan basically abandoned going to the games (who can blame him) and we haven't gotten the crew together with Gerry and Terry since the second home game. It isn't a lot of fun getting steamrolled.

Up in smoke...

25 Stories About Work - Working in a Maximum Security Prison (Part II)

I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)...

Joliet Illinois, 1992, at a Maximum Security Prison. Here is Part I of the story. This prison is where the Blues Brothers movie was filmed along with "Prison Break".

After I got acclimated to the prison, it was time to select the assets that I would audit during the summer. Typically you "randomly select" assets from the asset listing, take a statistically significant sample (perhaps 20-50 items), and draw conclusions about the whole pool of assets based on whether you were able to find the selected assets in the location where they were said to reside. I did this at first and the results came up with many assets titled "XXX-780" and I asked the accountants working for the facility and they were. The accountants said that these were individual prisoner beds and that was the cell number and the way to audit those assets would be to go in and unlock the cells and I could flip up the bed and check the number. I thought about this for a few minutes and then said "f&ck this" and decided that I would use "judgement" to select my assets instead of the random method and I selected 30 assets myself for my project.

The quest to find the assets took me throughout the facility. If it was a gun that I selected, I would go past the guard into the armory, through the tunnels under the building, and up the ladder into the tower to manually check the serial number of the rifle or other weapon that was picked to be audited against the building records.

I selected what turned out to be a sniper rifle. These guns were kept in storage at the armory, and they brought out the sniper to show me the weapon himself because they didn't let other people touch it after he had calibrated the scope. The sniper asked me a question
Do you know why they pick snipers out of the staff in the prison? he asked. No I said. Because in Attica there was an uprising and the prisoners took over the yard and then the prison brought in outside marksmen to ensure they could not escape. During the melee the marksmen shot many prisoners but it turns out that the prisoners had changed clothes with the civilian hostages so some of the individuals gunned down were actual guards or workers. Thus the snipers were prison guards from that facility because they could pick out the inmates from the guards and workers. I said that if you ever saw me in your scope wearing an orange outfit please don't shoot. It wasn't a joke.
One of the items I picked as a carpentry tool. I found the carpenter's building where they had drawings of all the tools on the wall so that you could see instantly if something was missing (for instance there would be a painted outline of a handsaw on the wall and the handsaw wouldn't be there). This was clever and obvious in hindsight. I hung around and talked to the officer in that building and he said that he'd been through a couple of hostage situations but hadn't been seriously hurt.

Another item was in the prison library. I remember as a kid my grandmother who ran a part-time mission said that they dropped off western novels at the prison in Montana for the prisoners to read while they were incarcerated. The library didn't have much, some law books and was in dilapidated condition. I was astonished when I met the librarian, however - she was a very attractive white woman in a pretty un-secure area of the facility where the vast majority of the prisoners were African American (I only saw a few white prisoners when they were playing basketball in a group in the yard). I spoke with her a bit and checked my asset and then later asked a different guard why none of the prisoners, many of whom had life sentences, rougher her up. The guard said that the gang bosses in the prison apparently liked her for whatever reason and put out the word not to mess with her and that was that.

An asset was in the "segregated" unit. Apparently this is where they put the most difficult prisoners. Their hands and feet were manacled together and they were screaming and obviously in a bad way. I wouldn't even go into the area where they were housed. I had them drag the air compressor over to the edge where I could write down the serial number through the bars.

One of the worst choices was in the prison hospital. In prison they limit walls so you can't hide behind them. I went into the hospital and they were working on people who were bleeding out in the open without curtains and it was like something out of Dante's inferno. I had no idea of this and quickly checked whatever I needed to check and got the hell out of there.

At the commissary you could buy packs of cigarettes for super-low prices because they were purchased at cost and without any taxes. I don't remember the exact price but think it was about 25 cents. The commissary was the famous area in the Blues Brothers where you had to stand behind the line to get your clothes back when you were released (it didn't really house clothes and prisoners' intake possessions, they just made it that way for the movie), and they still had that line painted on the ground.

Right at the end I picked a shotgun. It was up in the tower in the mess hall. This is the same mess hall where they all danced on tables during the Blues Brothers movie. This tower, however, was not like the others. It wasn't connected to the armory and tunnels. The only time they changed shifts daily were when the prison was on lockdown because they had weapons in there. Thus the guard yelled down and said that if I wanted to see the serial number, they would lock down the facility for me so that I could come up. I looked around on a stifling, humid day, with prisoners everywhere at classes, the yard, eating, and milling around, and imagined them all being herded back to their packed cells in the middle of summer, with the possibility of a riot eating at my mind. I just shouted up "tell me the serial number". He yelled it back to me and it matched and I was done. If someone else wanted to risk getting killed to verify it face to face they were happy to come take my job.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Forever Coach

Some earn legendary status while others luck into it. Mike Ditka worked hard and earned everything he has coming to him. Winning a title as player, assistant coach and head coach he did what no pro athlete has done before or since.

Just picking up a few items at the grocery yesterday. I rounded one corner and saw this.

I knew Coach Ditka had a line of food related products and has for some time. What I liked were the retro labels on these wine bottles. Coach can sell anything and always has. If this is a cheap, crappy wine who cares? Coach is on the label and collectors of Ditka memorabilia will add this to their Ditka collection of Ditka stuff. One who earns being a local treasure and legendary national figure he can paste his name or mug on anything and profit handsomely. And why not?

Inspired by seeing the wine I strolled over to another Ditka product I have bought before. It's the Ditka brand hot giardiniera pepper . It's good stuff but the Marconi's brand is by far the best, even better than the Vienna brand sold in stores. Hell, Marconi giardiniera can make an old sneaker taste good.

On the way to the cheese section whaddaya think I saw? Honestly, by accident, there, in the frozen food section. More Coach branded stuff, this time frozen roast beef. You gotta beef wit'dat?

Right there are enough products to make a decent meal. Beef, peppers and some wine.

I know, I know, Dan and Carl my blogbuddies are sick of the '85 Bears and would like to see anything to do with that team purged from all media. Well, that team was the single best thing to happen to me in my Chicago sports fan lifetime before the White Sox won that World Series almost ten years ago.

Being a Chicago sports fan means one enjoys these rare occasions for as long as they can still be tasted. In both cases each not only won a title, they clobbered the competition on the way and that is why they remain so unforgettable to many fans like me. On top of that each team was loaded with unique individuals possessing character and personality unequaled by professional team athletes since. 

The '85 Bears didn't just win a a title they muscled it out all the way and that is why the Coach is so respected. No bullshit, all out, all the time. Same with Ozzie Guillen although Ozzie never enjoyed the same commercial success post title. These men are what is missing in modern sports. Tough leaders who command respect and able to push their players beyond their individual limits.

The Chicago Bears since Ditka have been a sorry lot. Ownership has been unable to get out of their own way spending a fortune on inept front office, field management as well as uninspired players. As of this year there seems to be no end to their incompetence. Many feel it's the coaches who should be fired. Others believe the stooges who own the team should sell. I tend to side with the latter. Until then I can look back and recall a better time. Even if it means drinking some cheap Ditka wine and watching a video of the Super Bowl XX Champion Chicago Bears while eating a Ditka roast beed sammich topped with Ditka hot peppers.

Just can't help myself. I can never get enough Ditka.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

25 Stories About Work - Working In a Maximum Security Prison (Part I)

I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)...

Joliet Illinois, 1992, at a Maximum Security Prison

When I was an auditor I worked with utilities and governmental entities. These were the least popular clients because they often required a lot of travel and if you left the public accounting firm you generally worked for a client (or a different firm in the same industry) and this would pigeonhole you into working in regulated industries.

When I thought I'd seen the least appealing clients possible, a new low occurred - I was assigned to a maximum security prison. The Joliet Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois. The prison hired an accounting firm to do an audit of their property records and my job was to inventory the physical assets deployed throughout the facility.

The only guards with weapons were in the towers or overlooking the prison walls. Once you were inside the facility the guards had nightsticks but no guns. This was to prevent the prisoners from overpowering the guards and taking their weapons. The prisoners could seize control of the facility at any time and hold the guards hostage but they could not exit the facility because the guards in the towers had rifles and would be able to fire back and would be difficult for the prisoners to overcome.

You entered the facility and went into the armory. From the armory you could take tunnels under the facility and then you could go up into the tower via a ladder. Only within the armory and up the tunnels were the guards armed. This facility was built in the 1860's and it was disgusting in the tunnels underneath with standing water and rats. I would go through the tunnel and yell up and then they would let me into the tower via a ladder and I would climb up a couple stories in my suit with my briefcase. I remember distinctly that the guards seemed somnolent and they had a picture of the warden with a hand drawn mustache and graffiti on it; probably because there was no way he could sneak up there for a "sneak" audit. The guards in the tower always knew that you were coming.

I took an initial tour of the prison with an assistant warden. She was an African American woman perhaps in her 50's and the predominantly African American prisoners treated her with great respect. They spoke to her politely and stayed out of our way rather than glaring and intimidating you to move out of their path, which would happen to me later when I walked alone throughout the facility.

The first thing you noticed in the prison was how LOUD it was; everyone was screaming the word "motherf&cker" in about 250 variants. It was a cacophony of yelling and noise and very disconcerting. The prison cells were very small with 2 inmates each; one stood menacingly at the bars and one was usually on a bunkbed (there wasn't really enough room for both of them to stand). If you walked too closely to the cell they might spit on you; if you walked below the high tiers they might throw urine down on you.

The prison was very hot and stifling. The prison was built in the 1860's long before the concept of air conditioning even existed in practical terms. There was little air flow and the whole place stunk. This audit was conducted during a long, humid summer.

When you think of a jail you assume people are "locked up" all day; this wasn't the case at the Joliet Correctional Center. During the day likely half the prisoners were walking around, either going to the yard or going from place to place for one reason or another. Guards and prisoners were intermixed and this was likely how they kept the whole place from exploding in the summer heat. I just walked around them intermixed too, in a suit. After a while they just checked me in and I would do my work independently without a guard escorting me as I found my way around the facility.

For me it was odd because everywhere I walked people would scream something unique in my direction which I couldn't understand. It sounded something like "yoalwr" in one syllable. After a couple weeks I finally figured it out. The prisoners were very street smart; they knew I wasn't a cop because the police strut in a certain confident manner and act like they own the place (which they do). They also figured I wasn't a state employee (like an accountant or manager) because they didn't wear suits and also acted with an air of quiet resignation. To them - I was someone else. A lawyer! That's the only guy who would walk around the prison in their universe. After I thought about it a bit I realized they were asking "Are you a lawyer" which seemed like a positive thing to pretend to be because a lawyer could be seen as a friend to an inmate should they decide to take the place over and take everyone hostage which from my perspective could occur at any time (although it didn't).

If you watch "Cool Hand Luke" or other movies you think that the guards own the facility and that they push around the prisoners. I didn't get that vibe at all at the Joliet Correctional Center. The guards and the prisoners in a way were both serving their sentences in that ancient, broken down, hot hell. Both sides seemed to have a wary detente and likely the prison gangs kept the place in line, since an orderly confinement was best for their businesses. While I was there they busted a guard for drugs and assisting inmates and I wasn't surprised; it seemed like many of them were from the same neighborhoods and being an entry level guard was a low paid, dangerous job that you probably didn't want to make even more desperate by mixing it up with maximum security prisoners who are mostly gang members and hardened criminals many in for very long sentences.

Part II of this will describe my audit and what I found as I walked around the facility.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Sunday, November 30, 2014

On Russia and Ukraine

For many years I've studied the Russian front during WW2, where the Germans and their allies battled the Russians (and their empire) in some of the largest and deadliest battles on earth. The war went far beyond the battlefield, with the Russians taking over the ancient German capital of Prussia, evicting / killing all the (remaining) citizens, and turning it into today's Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. This is fair desserts; the Germans planned to turn Moscow into a reservoir. That war was about annihilation, a complete extermination and permanent subjugation of their foes.

In recent years I've tried to turn away from this focus, since I didn't think that this conflict, ancient by modern standards, had much to teach us anymore, and just following along a well-worn narrative was teaching me nothing. And I did move on, reading about more modern conflicts, and today's volunteer and high-tech military as opposed to the "old world" of conscripts, artillery, heavy armor, utter destruction of cities and the civilians trapped inside them, and political control superseding military objectives.

The Russian armed forces also seemed to be gliding towards irrelevance, other than their ubiquitous nuclear weapons. Their performance in Chechnya was poor until they basically razed (their own) cities into ruin with heavy artillery fire; to this day I don't understand why this wasn't called out as a giant atrocity. In Georgia they were able to beat a tiny, poorly armed adversary, but their motorized divisions seemed to be driving by compass and they did not cover themselves in military glory. Their military transitions from conscript forces with older weapons and tactics also seemed to be foundering in the face of objections from old-line military-industrial complexes.

When Ukraine slipped out of Russia's orbit and the vast presidential compound of the ex-president was paraded on TV worldwide, Putin obviously viewed this as a direct threat to his authority. The Russians historically had been at odds with the Ukrainians over natural gas prices and on other topics, but it wasn't obvious that this was going to move into a warlike situation. Ukraine is rich with agricultural resources but these resources aren't prized by the Kremlin; they need easily extractable resources like oil, natural gas and various iron ores that they can pull out of the ground and sell for hard cash overseas. John McCain's recurring joke that Russia isn't much more than a gas station with nuclear weapons in fact has a lot of merit. Other than around Moscow, parts of St Petersburg, and in "showplace" locations like Sochi and Vladivostok Russia in fact was falling into ruin and shambles.

But something was happening; the Russian forces that invaded the Crimea (even though they were never formally identified as Russians) appeared to be well organized and well armed. It was not the "Keystone Cops" group that I might have expected. They handled themselves with relative distinction, fulfilling their objectives with limited civilian casualties and using discretion against the Ukrainian military forces they encountered. This was the complete opposite of the blundering incursions into Chechnya.

At the start of the war against the Ukraine, the rebels made initial gains, and the Ukrainian forces seemed to be disorganized and ineffective. This was in line with expectations since the Ukrainian military had been gutted by a lack of funding and lacked forward looking leadership. However, the Ukrainians bounced back and began using their heavy weapons (air power, artillery) in an effective manner against the comparatively poorly armed rebels. The Ukrainians also made heavy use of irregular forces (local guys with lighter weapons) to move forward and seize ground while the regular army provided fire support; these tactics can be wise on a military basis but often provoke long term consequences since irregular forces often behave like bandits when confronted with opportunities for looting and can cause higher civilian losses.

The Russians fought back by directly aiding the rebels, whether they admitted to it publicly or not, culminating with (accidentally) shooting down the Malaysian jetliner. The Russians provided heavy artillery and rockets to counter the use of Ukrainian heavy weapons, and are continuing to provide effective support to the rebels. The Ukrainians have taken severe losses at the hands of these Russian tactics, although the Russian rebels too have suffered significant losses. It is hard to know what the truth is in this elusive land, since propaganda and outright lies have long been the coin of trade of the Russians.

What to make of Russia and the Ukraine? In the short term, it absolutely has been a morale booster for Russia and Putin's popularity. The seizure of Crimea was popular among average Russians, and it seemed bloodless to boot. The war with the Ukraine, utilizing proxies and trumped up claims of Ukrainian atrocities, is also a hit for Russians who get their news through the captive TV stations that broadcast Putin's ideological lines.

From a strategic level, however, this war has got to be viewed as a complete disaster for Russia. Whatever the short term gains of pushing around Ukraine may be, in the long term they have created a hardened enemy that will never forget these humiliations and are now implacably an enemy right on Russia's border. Instead of Ukraine being a "buffer" state for Russia against NATO, the Ukraine is a "buffer" state for NATO against Russia. Ukraine could potentially have been an ally; they had a large Russian speaking contingent and if handled deftly and prodded with economic / natural gas aid, things could have turned out differently.

The analogy is like the USA fighting Canada or the USA fighting Mexico from a Russian perspective. Russian military equipment, ordinance, money and lives are being expended and they are turning what could have been an ally into ruins. The Russian military industry is connected with Ukraine and this is a major hard currency earner; it is hard to imagine that these relationships aren't severed forever. And based on past activities, the areas that are mined, looted and ruined won't be rebuilt in the near term or perhaps in any term - likely they will remain a blasted no mans land because who is going to invest in a ruined land run by a bandit government that could change hands at any time? Only the insane.

No one knows what will happen with the Ukraine. Can they shake off decades of corruption and incompetence, reorganize their society and economy, and become a well run and competitive country that is able to defend their borders with Russia? Even if the rebel held lands are lost to the Russians and become a no-mans land, the remaining country is still large and contains many resources if they are well organized and move with unity and purpose. While Russia can obviously rain destruction on their neighbor (or even the USA; let's not forget their huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons) this is not a card that one can play indefinitely without consequences; Ukraine will re-arm and return the favor with pain of its own, and after all what is the Russian public's stake in this war?

On to oil; tied with these events are sanctions against Russia and the precipitous fall in the price of oil. Russia's economy is built on oil and selling natural gas to Western Europe (and now China) - a falling oil price sends their entire economy into turmoil. The ruble is also tied to the price of oil; due to sanctions and the distress of the Russian economy the ruble has also fallen significantly and is one of the worst performing currencies. Paradoxically this partially buttresses the economy because oil is denominated in the hated US dollar, so although the price of oil has fallen a lot it "buys more" when translated into rubles. With this level of oil price and sanctions, the Russian economy will face severe problems and many indebted Russian companies are going to have trouble refinancing their debt and purchasing foreign goods and expertise which is needed to keep the economy running in many areas with the weak ruble and lack of confidence overall.

Another item of interest to me is the traditional "Krugman" view of the economy that it is powered by consumers. Oil and energy make up half the economy; so consumers can pick up the other half? Hardly... consumer spending has plummeted in a crisis of confidence linked to the drop in energy revenues and sanctions; the idea that consumer spending is "independent" of the economy as a whole and its competitiveness has been ridiculous forever and it is typically not working in practice.

So what does all of this mean? Certainly the Russians can heavily damage the Ukraine; but this is all pointless in the longer term. They are trading their wealth, soldiers and energies for essentially nothing of value in return. Their professional army can destroy but they cannot occupy the Ukraine, although their bandits probably can create some sort of brutal strong-arm "government" in the blasted areas they control with whatever population cannot escape (likely the old and alcoholics) similar to what has been deployed in Chechnya and other "frozen" conflict areas.

The Russian economy is heavily damaged; the fall in oil prices is (mostly) beyond their control but it is happening at a most un-opportune time. Sanctions will punish those few Russian companies that attempt to sell to the West, and state control of the Internet is also hurting one of their most competitive industries (high tech). The ruble is also falling and soon the Russians will be able to buy what is produced locally and this will not be the cornucopia of choice that they have today.

Much of this plays into the hands of the Chinese, who now can scoop up Russian energy cheaply. They can also invest in Russia and work to utilize their fallow lands and extract their commodities when the Western majors leave. However, the Russians know that their actual long term enemy is to the south, as the Chinese covet all the land, water and resources to feed their billions and their highly effective industry could put all of these resources to good use. The Russians have to know that they can't win long term against the Chinese if they are stuck in a long term land war with NATO and the Ukraine; their forces are spread much too thin. Every day the Chinese grow stronger and every day the Russians grow weaker; while the Russians focus on punishing their erstwhile allies in the Ukraine (similar language, etc...) a country with which they have no affinity except for a now quaint "pretending" that they are both communist founded countries is growling at their border and coveting the resources that provide their long term ability to survive as an independent dictatorship.

All of this brings up the next unspoken question - what is Russia without Putin? He is the strongman, and he doesn't really have an ideology except for Russian power and controlling wealth through the state and his friends who are now billionaires. It is a very unstable type of government; unlike the former Communist Russia if Putin should die or otherwise leave power the institutions that remain behind are weak and captured and will not be able to withstand the vacuum. Putin has re-awakened the hard core military conflicts that I cite at the top of the page; these demons will not easily be put back in the bottle, and NATO now has its existential purpose re-engrained in the hearts of those adjacent to the Russian menace (the Baltics, Poland, etc...).

China will play an immensely important part in the next stage of the narrative. Unlike Russia, China has the resources and will to subjugate lands and people as you can see in Tibet and adjacent countries and savors at the idea of conquering and utilizing the vast lands that rest right above them to the North. The Russians in those areas are often Asian as well and perhaps have more in common with this rising power than the czarist Moscow based whites that run their lives (such as it is) today.

Sadly enough, a lifetime of studying war in the East is now useful for consideration of what may happen next. I was hoping that this knowledge was of use only for the dustbin.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Friday, November 28, 2014

Things To Do With Bambi Part One

I managed to kill a deer. In my case legally and without any damage to my vehicle except for some blood stains. The freezer is now loaded with delicious and nutritiously lean free range wild livestock. What to do next?

Back-straps are similar to pork chops or t-bones, excellent for grilling over hardwood coals. Tenderloins are the filet mignon, also a terrific grilling choice. Do anything else with them and I personally will come over and hit you over the head with a rancid chunk of tofu. Ribs? Nah, too fatty and fat is where the 'gamey' flavor comes from, the same goes for the bones.

Hindquarters are similar to beef round or pork ham. Roasts can come from this section. Some will have them cut onto roasts but me? I like this part cut into steaks. Round steaks are lean and tender if grilled hot and fast as one would do with sliced prime steaks. What about the shoulder, neck and legs? I prefer to ground this all up as burger meat. What to do with all this ground venison?

Ground venison makes outstanding chili. Love it. Some use the ground as one would use any ground meat in spaghetti, tacos, meatloaf or simply as grilled hamburger patties. One other choice is available and for years I was a skeptic until a woman at work brought this in for us to try. Her man Barry is a successful deer hunter and made the most awesome (I rarely use that word) venison jerky from ground venison. I mean this stuff was so tasty. I asked her how he did it. Well she hates venison and has nothing to do with preparing it so one day her husband came in and told me how to make really good jerky.

An instrument that often appeared in catalogs for years known as a jerky gun and I often scoffed at the idea. To me only whole muscle jerky was acceptable. Some market this item as a jerky cannon or jerky shooter. What it amounts to is a reload-able caulk gun with extrusion tips, one for extruding round and one for flat strips of jerky.

Another item needed to make jerky is a food dehydrator, although a low temp setting in an oven is capable of getting the job done I preferred the control a dehydrator offers and it can be used for other purposes. After researching the available options I settled on a dehydrator from NESCO and a jerky gun from LEM. Both had the best reviews everywhere I looked online. The gun I found for $29 and the dehydrator at a local Big R Store sold for $59 while amazon wanted $69.

If I wanted to be creative and experiment a bit I could have used one of the many available home made spice recipes on the internets. But Barry suggested I try the Cabela's BBQ style prepackaged spice mix complete with the proper curing salt. This is what I had tasted and liked so much.

Last weekend I obtained the gun, the dehydrator and the spice mix. Along with 5lb of ground venison I set off into my excellent jerky making adventure. The mix is good for albs and that my first mistake. Everything went as planned and I followed all directions precisely.

Once set into the dehydrator trays the entire contraption was set at 160 degrees for six hours as Barry told me the prescribed time of 7-9 hours would make it too dry and chewy. While some prefer it that way I prefer keeping my dental visits and bills to a minimum. Here we go.

Six hours later I bit into my first strip of jerky. Chewy, not too dry but not too flavorful either. It was downright bland. Oh well, it will make a turd I thought, not wanting it to go to waste. What I had going for me is the dehydrator came with five trays so it only held 2,5 lbs + of the venison strips. Here's what I did to remedy the problem.

A packet of spice came with the dehydrator. It was NESCO's American Harvest brand Original Flavor for jerky. Adding this mix to the 2.5 remaining lbs. of already spiced and salted meat along with my guess amounts of garlic powder, chili powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper powder and hot pepper flakes. Feeling like a chemistry student I filled four trays with my experimental meat mixture.

The results were fabulous, awesome actually, and I save using the word awesome for things that are truly awesome.

Having a limit of five trays that once seemed to be a hinderance turned out to limit my failed attempt at only a few pounds. Now that I am more familiar with spicing the 5lb. batch I can purchase additional trays. This dehydrator can be expanded up to 12 trays. Eight would do the trick for my needs. The failed jerky now serves as a bag of dog treats.

Now I know how to make jerky better than what Jack Link charges $7 for 3.5 ounces of the beef variety at mini-marts. And it is much more rewarding knowing there is another good option for using ground venison that tastes better than it has to be. I even set some out in the garage man cave for male relatives to chomp on while watching the Chicago Bears suck vs. the Detroit Lions on another Thanksgiving Day while drinking copious amounts of beer and puffing on fat cigars before serving the big bird to all my relatives for dinner. Mission accomplished!

25 Stories About Work - Small Unit Cohesion

I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)...

Chicago, 2010, at a Shooting training center

In 2010 my dad and I went to an all-day class to learn how to shoot properly. The first four hours were in a classroom and the last four hours were outside when it was a brisk fall day and we learned various techniques of how to shoot and spent over 800 rounds.

In the beginning of the class, the instructor asked everyone about their background. My dad and I said we were complete amateurs. When the others talked about their experience I didn't fully understand what they were saying until later but many were ex military who were now contractors in Iraq or elsewhere with very extensive experience. They were attending for what must be some sort of required periodic classroom time.

The reason that this is interesting is because the instructor went through firearm basics that was all news to me but must have been the most banal and simplistic discussion that these guys have ever heard. It would be like sending me back to school for mandatory training and showing me a balance sheet or explaining the very basics of systems technology. In five minutes of this I would be agitated and distracted and frankly a bit insulted that someone wasn't properly valuing my corporate and career experience. Because that is how a corporate or business person would view the process, but not a military person. Each of the military guys sat in their seats for four hours and if anything they constructively helped the instructor, who we ex-military himself. In hindsight no one was joking around or making a mockery of anything.

When we were shooting the guys all helped each other and the team immediately without asking. We had a lot to cover so they leaped up and changed the targets and moved and anticipated and everyone was part of a larger mission. After a while it was completely obvious to everyone that me and my dad (who was in his late 70's at this point) were behind the game so they subtly starting helping and coaching us in addition to what the instructor was doing. Sometimes you had to shoot multiple targets to clear a level and I think a few times guys helped me by shooting my targets too.

Only in hindsight did I recognize the "cohesion" concepts that SLA Marshall talked about in his famous book. He talked about the value of leadership and training in motivating and getting the best out of the men under your command. While these sound like commonplace lessons, and one the military has likely long since learned in its recent brutal wars overseas, these lessons are usually nowhere to be found in corporate America and most private businesses.

I watched "The Last Patrol" (highly recommended) last night on HBO and they had a similar observation. The protagonists are walking across America (even in Baltimore, I was scared for them) and asking people what is great about America. These ex-military guys and ex-combat photographers (with 20+ years in the middle of all of it) were trying to wind down and find their bearings without the adrenaline rush of combat and surviving possible death. They met a woman in an American flag bikini and she said she worked in an old folks home for veterans and she said that they all helped and looked out for each other. However, she said, it wasn't like that once you left the facility - it's not like that outside in America today.

Back to what I really know which is corporate America including lots about small businesses and government. I have been at 100+ different organizations as a consultant or employee and think about this topic all the time, so I consider myself a bit of an expert. This sort of camaraderie, shared cohesion, and teamwork is mostly absent in these other sorts of organizations.

When I started as an accountant we did have some cohesion and shared purpose because I was assigned to the worst group of clients - governments and utilities. It was all travel, and since most of the value of being an auditor is shopping your skills to companies who might hire you later (I missed all the opportunities in hindsight, sigh), we sometimes banded together because we all felt like we were getting the short end of the stick. I also was right out of college and tended to believe what I was told (initially), although that soon melted away and my skepticism has stuck with me to this date.

In larger organizations it seems that you are fighting your peers as much as the competition. You are all struggling for budget resources, the best staff, and the best opportunities. Often you are stuck working with adjacent organizations run by leaders who "don't get it" and this just promises to be a long difficult slog, at best. This sort of model (internal competition) kind of works when the stock market is going up and you have the wind at your back, but as soon as you have headwinds and difficulties the real knives come out and then it is mostly rearguard activities rather than fighting for the best interests of the company as a whole. Incentive systems are normally not going to value selfless work on behalf of the corporation so those "behind the scenes" tasks are abandoned and the whole organization kind of chews up its muscles for a while and hopes for the best.

My brother worked for a dying American icon manufacturer and seller of technology and he told me that towards the end, the very neat buildings full of test gear and other materials for client presentations and demos fell into utter ruin because there was no upside in keeping this sort of "common" benefit alive for all the teams to utilize, since the numbers were terrible and everyone was desperate to survive. There was barely a security guard out front and it just became a jumble of crap and a sad reminder of how far the company had fallen.

I can remember vividly another time when we had complete cohesion - seven of us left a consulting firm and started a new firm, with our own money (the CEO put most of it on the line). We went out and rented space, bought equipment, and got started. I did the books every weekend and made sure the invoices and expenses billed to the clients were absolutely perfect and that we got paid right away (note - this is hard. Most invoices are terrible, late and full of errors. Mine were error free because I am a zealot and did it myself and also knew what was supposed to be there). This was in addition to traveling 5 days / week in distant cities. We all worked together to build a company and I still remember this as the best time in my working life. We all leveraged our best skill sets from technological excellence to sales leadership to organization to just focusing and getting work done. It was amazing and the manner in which that fell apart later and I left pains me still to this day.

I don't think top executives can see the dissension and how far most companies are from the optimal state. They are often far removed and don't have access to front line information, or they don't seek it out. Smart leaders "manage by walking around" because it allows them to talk to staff unscripted and without their management "handlers" who likely would snuff out anything but "happy-talk" to the top executives for fear of making themselves look bad. But excellent top management realizes that this sort of "bad cohesion" will come back to haunt them in the end, somewhere, and try to get ahead of it.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Monday, November 24, 2014

Only $34.99 !

Just in time for Christmas and you can get one right here.

At that price I think I'll get one just to amuse my doggie and me. Until I crash the damn thing and she swallows it. And then the vet bill lifts my wallet with a counter attack drone. Maybe not such a great deal after all.