Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My Perfect Pickup Truck Search Continues

This thing just screams gulf coast duddn't it?

Likely cobbled together one night  during a Jimmy Buffet-induced margarita stupor.

No ups but plenty of extras.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday Night Flyover Country

Indonesia's New President is a Fan of Metal

I've had a long relationship with heavy metal. I remember being a kid for a show at the Aragon Ballroom back in 1986 - I think it was Yngwie Malmsteen (who is often known as Yngwie "F@cking" Malmsteen for his reputation as being a jerk) and we waited outside all day for a general admission show. At that time the Uptown neighborhood was dangerous and populated at all hours by drunks and bums. Some of the more clever fans had stolen lawn chairs along the way so they'd have something to sit on during the long hours of waiting. We watched the minutes click by oh so slowly at a big bank across the street. And of course everyone in line was drinking or smoking or doing something else to pass the time. Many people passed out not once but twice in line, shook themselves off, and went back to what they were doing (one guy in a big mud puddle). Later a kid had a limo drop him off in front of the venue and walked out towards the line. That was a big mistake as the entire crowd was jeering him as one. A few homeless people came by asking for change and someone had the idea to toss a quarter at them and soon the whole line was hurling their change in a shower. Towards the end they installed barricades to segment the crowd so that the entire line of a couple thousand people wouldn't all surge forward at once when they began letting people into the venue. At that point you were penned in like veal in a cage packed next to other leather jacketed rowdy and drunk fans. The grizzled Chicago street cops eyed the crowd with disdain... you could tell that if they had their way this whole bunch of bums and idiots would get taken into custody...

Over the years I don't go to as many metal shows as I used to and won't spend all day in line, obviously. But I still feel affection towards the music and the no-compromise attitude of those that have stuck with it regardless of the fact that it gets no radio airplay, little iTunes action, and is on the fringes of the "general" entertainment landscape. Of all the genres of music, metal can live on because it doesn't need any of these things, just fans who are dedicated, and these fans revel in the fact that they are outsiders.

Indonesia just elected a new president, a "man of the people" named Joko Widodo who took on the establishment tied to the former dictator. I am astonished to see that he is apparently a fan of metal, and even a fan of bands like Lamb of God, whom Dan saw recently in Madison and described their show as "insane and sonic". All of this comes from this Noisey article (Noisey is part of the awesome Vice media empire). It is unthinkable that a US presidential candidate would ever admit to being a fan of metal, especially the non-cartoony metal bands like Lamb of God. Lyrics are NSFW (if you can understand them). Here is a clip...

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Friday, July 25, 2014

Company Training

Each year my company sends department representatives from each store up to Michigan for some employee training. For me it was my first time and it exceeded all my expectations. The meeting was held for two days at an outdoor sportsman's club. I can't believe they pay me to do this.

On the first day we were greeted by company execs in the big lodge. They spent about thirty minutes with the usual powerpoint rundown on department performances, sales, etc. The rest of the day we browsed the many manufacturer's exhibits in two large outdoor tents. They had the latest in treestands, blinds, harnesses, deer lures, knifes, apparel, boots, gun cases, hearing protection and cleaning solutions as well as bows, crossbows, ammunition and firearms. They handed out samples, decals, caps, brochures and all sorts of assorted schmeiss and swag. I came away with bags full of stuff. This went on all day and at the end there was a pig roast and kegger party outdoors.

On day two firearms representatives allowed us to sample a variety of products they have in their assortment. Handguns, rifles, shotguns and air guns were made available to us at four of the on site ranges. For two hours I got to handle and shoot the goodies brought along by the pro staffs from Ruger, Smith&Wesson, Taurus, Savage, Springfield Armory, CVA and Mossberg. Overall I shot over two dozen firearms along with the others and not just one magazine or a few rounds, it was as many times as we wanted.

The guys from the S&W Performance Center asked us not hog too much of the .22LR ammo we were able use. They had a limited supply and wanted everyone to have a chance especially with their M&P22 rifle which holds 25 rounds. What happened was interesting. With so much .380, 9mm, .40 and .45 available they ended the day with a few cases of 22LR left over. When you can fire off as much . 357 mag and 45ACP as one wants who felt like plinking with .22's? After a while it was easy for me to walk five shots down a line of steel plates hitting them each time in any caliber. So much more fun than putting holes in paper.

Here were my favorites.

The Ruger guys had set up their handgun display as well as one at the 100yd rifle range. They offer an entry level bolt action line of rifles called the Ruger American. I shot the .223 scoped American and was able to hit the 10" gong at 100yds every time they had that scope zeroed in so tight. Later I heard one Ruger rep tell another, "I had one woman who never shot a bolt rifle before hit that gong three times, that American is just the shit!" It definitely is and for the price that is one fine hunting rifle. If I earns me enough points selling Rugers by Oct 31 I have my eye on a FREE American Rifle in 30-06. Most manufacturers have sales contest that reward points for sales in exchange for free firearms so I am gonna get busy.

Ruger GP100 Match Champion. What a sweet revolver. Currently I don't own a revolver but this is one .357 I would love to have. Wood grip, stainless and very handsome.

Ruger 22/45. A .22 semi-auto with the action of their MKlll but much lighter. It had a vented barrel that looked really badass. Felt very good in my hand and shot just fine. After the session I am becoming very partial to Ruger. They make really fine products, not insanely priced and made in America. Though I am not in love with the SR series, If I can hit my targets consistently with them on the first mag what's not to like?

Savage .17HMR rifle. It has a thumbhole wood stock and tripod/scope setup that was really sweet. 17's are hot sellers since that ammo caliber is easier to obtain then .22 It's a tad more expensive per shot to shoot but it packs a bigger punch and is a hell of a lot faster and flatter.

Taurus 1911. They have a better reputation with revolvers but this was one I was able to walk down the plates with many times over. I also attribute that to this new ammo we had plenty of. More on that later.

Taurus Judge poly frame. I have never shot a Judge before but heard it had a hard bite. Not for me. I handled both .410 in 00 buck and the 45 Colt rounds easily. Probably since I was prepared for it. The grip was ok, a little small but it is what it is. This is a self-defense champ anywhere, especially in Bear country wilderness areas.

S&W Bodyguard. I have sold a few dozen of these little pocket jobs in .380 mostly to those seeking a self protection and very concealable carry piece. It handles better than the others in it's class and comes with a built-in laser sight. I watched others use the laser with not so great results and here's why. The trigger pull is so long that by the time they sighted in with the laser most were shooting to the right by the time they pulled the trigger missing the 10" handgun range plates. This is one reason I am not fond of lasers. I was able to gong out a magazine a few times without using the laser since I relied mostly on my point and slower pull. Once I knew the bang spot it was piece-o-cake time.

There were many others I tested but these were the most memorable and ones I went back for more trigger time. Springfield offers the XD line. I gave their models a try and they were ok. It's a personal preference but they make a fine product.

The ammo available for rifles was provided by PMC. I've used it in my rifles with good results as a range round in FMJ. We also had pallets of a new handgun ammo courtesy of DRT. Here's their website.

The DRT Terminal Shock is a non lead bullet head made for self protection that is highly frangible. Instead of a hollow point meant to expand on contact it is meant to explode into shards on penetration causing a lot of damage. A small slug remains intact for further penetration but not meant to pass through into others nearby or through walls. They have gel test result photos at their website.

These DRT rounds are very light weight and one reason I attribute my ability to hit so many targets at the event. The recoil was very light so target acquisition on follow up shots were easy. This is not cheap range ammo but the rep told me they are coming out with FMJ's for practice at a lower price. Since there was plenty of this stuff on hand for free was nice to take advantage of it. The only jams I saw were in one specific firearm. The manufacturer (who shall remain nameless) rep was blaming the ammo for why his product was jamming and by jamming I mean each and every round. Then they blamed it on the fact that the gun was very old and used a lot at events like this. If I were them I would have brought newer more reliable pieces with them to demo because no other handgun had any problems with it.

The final two hours of the day were spent shooting sporting clays in a company competition. I shot 40% of the clays. Most others shot much worse and the winner shot 60% so I didn't feel too bad.

And they paid me to do this? Feels as if I should have paid them. It's a fine company to be associated with and they throw one hell of a party too.

Monday, July 21, 2014

High Rise Construction Views - And Taking Down A Crane

In River North, during the many years we've lived here, the skyline has been transformed with the addition of new high-rise buildings. Construction slowed after the 2008-9 crash, but is back now with a vengeance. A new apartment building is being built near my condominium. This is a view of the building while the construction workers were pouring concrete on the roof (you can see the concrete pouring arm) the same night of the "Derecho" storm which hit Chicago at the end of June.

I've always wondered how they take down the crane and we got a chance to see it up close and personal. The process took all weekend, and they closed down a nearby street on Saturday and Sunday while they dismantled the crane. They put the metal "box" (it is steel colored) with three sides around a vertical crane "segment" and then the crane pulls that segment out through the gap. You can see the crane holding the segment if you look closely - which it then lowers to the ground.

A second crane, mounted on a truck at ground level, is used to complete the job. Here the ground level crane is taking off the back of the crane that contains the counterweight. The cab and the "pointed" part of the front of the arm remains.

Now you are down to just the cab, as they pull down the remaining pieces of the front of the crane. In a few more hours, there will be no sign that the crane ever existed.

We will miss the "crane" guy. We used to watch him climb up the 30 stories or so to the top of the crane every morning, and watch him come down at the end of a long days' work. He kept items for himself in the shed on the top of the crane, and often got out to inspect something on the top section. It must be a lonely life atop a crane, and certainly he isn't afraid of heights.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Still Not Missing Baseball... and now Less Music

This has been a strange summer for me with zero baseball. I haven't been to any White Sox games at all, and haven't seen the Cubs in a few years. I've been going to baseball games regularly for 20 years, so this is kind of a big deal.

It started with the fact that I couldn't find anyone to go in on any sort of White Sox package, and over the last few years it has been hard to even get anyone to go to the games. It felt like they were doing me a favor by attending, which was even more annoying.

When we were in Reno last year my friend Brian turned me on to the iPhone app "theScore". I set it up so that it sends me a note when a baseball game starts, and then every 3 innings until it is over. They are on my "lock screen" so they aren't emails that I never see or texts or anything like that. When I wake up in the morning I usually see a game that ended past midnight, more often than not a loss for the Sox and a blowout for the Cubs. I don't feel like I missed anything.

Perhaps I ought to be excited for that new guy who defected from Cuba and joined the Sox and is tearing it up with home runs. I should be, but can't really bring myself to care. He is a complete mercenary, a guy without even connections to the US in any form, so we pay him and he crushes the baseball. He doesn't speak english, has no link to any of us, but like Jerry Seinfeld said, we are "Rooting for Laundry" anyways, but this time I am just opting out.

On a parallel note the Heckler had a funny blurb that the US Government was using the Cell as a witness protection program since no one went there anyways. I can't even be bothered to look up their average attendance but know that it has to be abysmal with the horrendous weather we've had along with the long, endless games, usually ending in losses (hey, by the way, good job on trading your closer and not replacing him).

I don't think I'll be back to baseball for the foreseeable future, although anything can happen, and I'm willing to hop back on the bandwagon should it actually get exciting. But long, long games for little reward except for expensive corn-water is hard to think of as a positive, especially when no one else is happy to be there either.

As for music, I typically listen to my iPod while walking to work and back. But listening to the same, repetitive music and just tuning out everything around me is kind of a bore. I tried listening to Bloomberg but it is difficult because the broadcasts are only a couple of minutes long and then I need to fiddle with my iPhone. Maybe podcasts would be better. The hard part too is that listening is so much slooooower than reading. I can scan Bloomberg in seconds but it takes them 2 minutes to read a story I looked at in 10 seconds before the broadcast. I am just going to try to go cold turkey with that and look around me on the way to work and try to see something new, or vary my route. Lately I have been taking the bus a lot (trying to rest my feet) and on the bus you can also watch the near-misses with bicycles and other cars and the general mayhem of city traffic, which doesn't seem to get old.

Football is coming! That is actually something I am excited about. While baseball grows more irrelevant football is stepping it up, with faster action, crazier players, and more madness than ever. I am also optimistic about our Bears, and tune out the Illini because they are just awful. I have season tickets for Northwestern, and will try to go to some of their games because that stadium is like a high school stadium (probably a small one compared to some Texas towns) which just goes crazy when someone like Nebraska rolls into town. That excitement is somewhat tempered by the fact that they don't sell beer and I am not a Northwestern fan but hell, you can't have it all.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Adding to Illinois' Debacle

This billboard is in my River North neighborhood in Chicago. It is an advertisement for a mall and entertainment location in Rosemont, a small city near O'Hare airport.

Rosemont was profiled by the Chicago Tribune in this excellent article. A single family has run Rosemont for generations, and they benefit from a levy on taxi rides from O'Hare and spend this money on no-bid contracts for friends, family and politicians as well as large entertainment complexes underwritten by large amounts of debt.
The suburb is digging itself deeper into debt to subsidize a new bar district, professional softball stadium and outlet mall. With $370 million in taxpayer-backed loans outstanding, Rosemont has one of the top debt loads in the Chicago region.
Another Chicago suburb, Bridgeview, hosts a stadium for the Chicago Fire, a major-league soccer team. Their debacle is chronicled here, in a typically great Bloomberg article.
The mayor of Bridgeview, Illinois, said building a taxpayer-financed arena for the billionaire owner of Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire would bring hotels and restaurants to his suburb. Instead, the town has more than doubled property taxes and may raise them again to pay more than $200 million in stadium debt.
One of the big problems in Illinois is that we have so many various overlapping public bodies, many with the ability to issue debt and all of whom have expensive board members, employees, and often public contracts doled out to associated cronies. This article, from the "Illinois Policy" web site, describes the myriad overlapping public entities in the State of Illinois and how we dwarf ALL states and especially neighboring (and much better managed) states like Indiana.
Illinoisans suffer from the second-highest property tax rates in the nation.
Their state is the third most corrupt in the nation.
And driving this expensive and corrupt reality on the local level is the fact that Illinois has more units of local government than any other state in the nation. With 6,963 units of local government, Illinois beats its nearest competitor by more than 1,800.
When Illinois finally hits the wall, and we won't be able to issue new debt (and thus an immediate fiscal crisis will occur), we will have to have a reckoning with all of these various entities, each of whom has their own debt problems and the ability to create NEW problems by issuing MORE debt. On one hand, the market will constrain their ability to sell debt by the fact that these insolvent entities survive through the "implied" promise that they will be bailed out by some higher power, whether that is a county, state, or Federal government.

The act of unwinding all of the problems of the inter-related corrupt and insolvent entities will be a herculean task, made even more difficult by the fact that there will be little incentive for the politicians to solve the crisis if the end result is that they won't have these same public entities for no-bid contracts, jobs for themselves, and their campaign workers and donors once the clean-up is complete.

The only thing for certain is that the lawyers in the state will feast at the trough of lawsuits from all parties. They just need to make sure that they find a way to get paid themselves on a timely basis...

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"The Trooper" Beer and Iron Maiden

Recently I was wandering through the gargantuan "Binny's" liquor store in my River North neighborhood when I came across this beer which I was compelled to purchase.

The Trooper! Iron Maiden beer! I have to hand it to Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of Iron Maiden, he really has a lot of interesting hobbies. I remember being a kid and was amused to see photos of him fencing and later he piloted the aircraft for recent Iron Maiden tours. The label said that Dickinson had a hand in this brew.

Recently someone I know took an improv class and one of their exercises involved singing a song from memory in front of their fellow classmates. It takes a bit to think about what songs you know from memory.

For me, the song that comes to mind is "The Number of the Beast" from the album of that same name, with the spoken word intro from the bible that begins with "Woe to you, o' Earth and Sea, for the Devil sends the beast with wrath, because he knows the time is short..." I carved that into a desk in middle school somewhere, and it took a lot of effort and thought to do that. No idea why, however.

The Trooper is a close second.
You'll take my life but I'll take yours too
You'll fire your musket but I'll run you through
So when you're waiting for the next attack
You'd better stand there's no turning back.
I had the beer and it wasn't half bad, too! I will need to bring some to Soldier Field so Dan can try it out at the next Bears' tailgate. He can regale us with stories of how he won a "live karaoke" band contest singing Maiden songs...

Bon Appetit

I love a lot of things about France, and the food is probably one of the things I love the most.  The French, at most restaurants that aren't fast food joints, take their time eating and put all that they can into making their meals taste great and look great.  Even when I dined at lower end establishments, they did whatever they could with what they had to make some sort of artistry on the plate.  They just appreciate it more than having meat, veggie and potatoes all separate with a hunk of parsley as plate filler like we do in the states.

I am not saying that once in a while I don't like a great steakhouse and/or 'Mercun style meal.  I do.  I am saying that prefer to take more time, relax and enjoy the artistry of a meal. 

One thing I really hate about restaurants in France (at least in the south of France where I have cycled the last four years) is that they all let dogs in.  Bars too.  At first I thought it was novel and cute, but that wore off rather quickly.  Most of the time I see the dogs under tables.  This scene above from a few weeks ago made my skin crawl.

Cross posted at ChicagoBoyz.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Incentives and Economics

A few years ago I went to Norway and had a great time. In this post I described how expensive everything was in Norway due to their highly valued currency (tied to oil riches) combined with the relentless decline of the US dollar (tied to ZIRP and other dubious economic moves). In the simplest terms, a fast food meal or a beer in Norway cost over $20 USD which is complete madness.

Business Insider discussed the Scandinavian economic experiment, where high taxes are applied to goods and services in order to fund a vast social safety net. From the article:
In Norway, a burger and fries at a fast food joint will set you back $23. A six-pack of warm grocery-store beer is nearly $30.
These hefty price tags are due, in part, to high wages for low-skilled service jobs. But high taxes play a role too.
Most products have a 25 percent value-added tax, which means that $5.50 of the cost of that burger goes to fund Norway’s generous social programs.
As a visitor, you get little for the added price. But, as a resident, your daily spending helps to fund an expansive package of benefits, including health care, child care, high-quality education, pensions, and unemployment insurance.
Some are now proposing this high-cost method, with large taxes embedded in everyday prices, as a solution to the inequity in incomes and wealth that is discussed widely in politics and economics today.

From the perspective of someone who is highly interested in economics and tax policy, my two rules of thumb are:
1) that the tax policy raise the money that it intends to raise
2) that the tax policy not significantly distort economic activity

Any society that implements high taxes such as Norway needs a comprehensive surveillance model in order to collect these taxes. It is difficult to avoid taxes that are broadly assessed on fast food, for instance, because each corporate location will set up cash registers and controls to remit these taxes onto the state. The same types of processes can be installed in liquor stores, formal bars and nightclubs, grocery stores, and restaurants.

In a less-homogenous society such as the USA, we already have major problems with tax evasion on cigarettes and likely liquor, and these are in responses to our sales taxes. The problems would be compounded if we placed value added taxes on all goods at a higher level and on services such as restaurants, hair care, etc... Smuggling would become rampant and informal or barter methodologies would increase in size and scope. These sorts of costs would have to be applied across the USA or some areas would become uncompetitive and see an out-migration of economic activity, starting with incremental additions (no one has opened a new manufacturing plant in Illinois in years, for instance) and eventually leading to the lock, stock and barrel out migration of existing industries (such as the exodus of car manufacturing out of the midwest and California to the American South).

On a broader level, however, the question is - "what do these taxes incent, and how does it make us economically stronger?" These taxes would encourage a broad "welfare state", with a large safety net, huge numbers of governmental employees to track spending and provide services, and make doing business a "high cost" effort.

For employees, high taxes on consumer goods and services would encourage them to stay home and cook as well as garden and do things by themselves rather than hire someone else, since the incremental costs are so high. It would also reduce incentives to work in the first place (if the disability net was cushy enough), since the differential between working and not working isn't as great after the incremental costs are applied.

Depending on how taxes are structured, if the tax rate is high on consumed goods and services and is not progressive on income (i.e. when you earn more, you pay a higher percentage of your income), this could remove one of the blockages to incremental effort, a high marginal tax rate. However, these sorts of schemes are often linked to "progressive" tax rates which also discourage work beyond a certain point. I did a bit of research on Norway and the taxes do not seem to be too progressive but they reach such a high rate (>50%) on high earners it likely accomplishes the same disincentive effect. Sweden does implement a progressive system so this compounds the situation instead of mitigating it.

It is ridiculous for the USA to copy this model because Scandinavia is not a competitor to the US. Norway is awash in oil and can set up any sort of scheme and remain rich, and is a model citizen compared to the massive distortion found in countries like Saudi Arabia (where locals basically do next to nothing except reproduce and are a massive burden on the state). The other countries like Sweden are smaller than some US states and are homogeneous and can continue to work and thrive based on their high level of overall education, modest expenditures on defense, and bountiful natural resources. US industries have little to fear from the Swedes in terms of product and service competitors.

Our actual competition, today and tomorrow, comes from China, other Asian countries, and perhaps India and South America if they can get their act together. These countries have a completely opposite model, with a focus on investment, high technology, commodity resource extraction, limited to no "welfare state" functions, and growth. Of all the elements dis-incented by the "high tax" model, growth is most dis-incented because high taxes continually steal profits throughout the chain to pay for a vast government which turns around and spends it on salaries and processes that do not increase competitiveness. Every day you would be siphoning off private sector capital and sending it to state and local capitals to feed this net.

In the short or medium term, the relative competitiveness of your economy doesn't matter; you can live off the educated people who don't want to uproot and part ways and businesses for whom the cost of re-locating is prohibitive. Or if your entire economy is based on physical location (i.e. a tropical island), you could apply high costs and pass them on to tourists until it reaches a point that they pack up and suntan elsewhere.

For all others, it is necessary to build competitive industries to have a high quality of life and to provide the goods and services needed for a modern society. Unless you are completely self-sufficient, you must pay for imported goods, services and commodities and if your economy isn't competitive you soon will find yourself unable to pay for these goods and services. During the 2007-8 crash parts of Greece went without medicine and heating fuel; the international markets are no joke and merciless if you don't have the wherewithal to pay. Today Venezuela doesn't have much in the way of air service and Argentina has little in the way of imported goods - this is the market at work when all the local stopgap measures run out, and stripping companies of their ability to compete through government fiat finally comes home to roost.

In the USA, the issue is the "relative" cost of living - perhaps NYC or San Francisco could pull off high local costs because so many services / arts / investment / technology people want to live there - but the rest of the country would see an exodus over time with these sorts of policies, moving to friendlier locales to do business until they ended up like the industrial wasteland in Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore, Camden and lots of Chicago.

On a theoretical not practical level, the plan of a wide "nanny state" and paying people high wages for entry level jobs just won't play out well for many Americans. They don't want vast governmental involvement in their lives and don't want to pay the immense taxes needed to subsidize those jobs. In addition, businesses would rapidly automate their way out of these high cost models and just shed low skill jobs entirely.

Everything goes in waves and the post WW2 lessons with socialism have been forgotten. Unions took the UK down to its knees in the 1970's and socialism stunted the economy of China for decades. It was once reflexive that free markets and free economics powered America, especially when we faced a cold war against the USSR. However, dodgy economic schemes have become commonplace, powered by the Keynesian idea that "all spending is good spending" and somehow consumer spending is the root of economic power, rather than efficiency, productivity, and investment. Today it seems that the majority of the work force is de-facto run by the state - schools, universities, hospitals, insurance, "straight" government, cartel businesses like beer distribution, as well as a melange of non-profit organizations of all sorts.

"Raw" economics comes to the fore in times of trouble or shortages; we can't always count on debt to bail us out and we can't always assume that we will have a high standard of living if we don't have a productive and thriving private sector. Comparing ourselves to "old Europe" and their straightjacket economic policies won't prepare us for competing with the Chinese and other rising economies.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

World Cup Thoughts

From time to time I pass by Fado Irish Pub here in River North and they'll have the soccer (football) schedule up for games around the world. It is always good business for them because drinking and soccer go hand in hand for the die-hard fans that show up.

For the World Cup today they had a line out the door, a couple hours before the game. I don't know if those people got in or not, because they were only letting folks in when someone else leaves a table.

Like most bandwagon Americans, I have gotten into the World Cup a bit this year since the US team did pretty well and the spectacle in Brazil was compelling. FIFA as a governing body is just as shady as the Olympic Committee and even worse than the NCAA and they'll be paying for those stadiums for decades in Brazil.

Dan texted me to turn on the TV after the game to see the wives and girlfriends of the German footballers and they did not disappoint. Those guys are going to be complete heroes once they return to Germany and tell stories about the 2014 World Cup for decades just like the 1985 Bears, only on a country-wide scale.

It would be something if someday the USA all got involved in something that mattered, such as a world championship of NFL football or perhaps even basketball if we fielded a great team and serious competition emerged around the globe. The world baseball championship wasn't too compelling for me since I realized most of the MLB players don't even consider themselves playing for the USA which is kind of depressing in a meta sense.

At The Fred Sanford Cafe

You can trash talk you want.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

35 Years Ago Tonight...

Disco wasn't so much a music genre as it was a lifestyle. Disco music itself may be dead but the lifestyle goes on. The places and styles may have changed but it's still there. It occurs to this day in urban dance clubs where women go to get picked up and men go to pick them up. It's about dressing up is some trendy costume, altering your mind with some illegal substances and acting out a ritualistic form of tribal dance. After last call the participants then go off to practice procreation. Like it to not, that's all it is.

Disco music was at at it's peak in 1979 and I remember the era very well. In my observation women liked it more than men. I must admit, the women in their outfits looked hot but the guys looked like gay dorks.

We went to discos a few times. Neither of us liked disco music. A few of her friends liked it so I and their guys were forced to go along. We hated it. It was presumptuous, obnoxious and phony. Going to a disco cost a lot of money which we didn't have. And I hate, hate, hate to dance. My excuse was and still is knee or back injury, doctor's orders.

In 1979 she and I lived in a small apartment in Park Forest IL. I was on my way to a career downtown and she was working in the Park Forest Mall creating retail window displays for the Marshall Field store. No kids at the time. We only had one vehicle so she had to pick me up at the 211th Illinois Central commuter station each night. We lived a frugal life in order to save enough money to buy a home.

Each and every summer night was a rerun for me back then. Ride the train to work downtown. Work. Ride the train back home. Open a cheap crappy beer. Start the Weber. Open another cheap crappy beer. Grill something cheap. Open another cheap crappy beer. Eat. Open another cheap crappy beer. Watch White Sox baseball on the UHF channel of our 19" color RCA. Consume copious amounts cheap crappy beers. Go to sleep. Wake up. Repeat. On weekends we broke the summer monotony by going to Michigan for a cheap camping and fishing trip. FYI one case of 16oz. Stroh's in returnable bottles cost $3.75 at the Formost Liquor Store in Chicago Heights in 1979.

The 1979 White Sox were a lousy baseball team caught in the middle of decades of being putrid. We both enjoyed watching the games because the two announcers (Harry Caray & Jimmy Piersal) were very entertaining. On top of that Bill Veeck owned the team and made oddball decisions on all aspects from the dumb uniforms to installing a shower spigot in center field stands. This added to the game experience without placing an expensive quality team on the field. Here's a sample of what a great broadcast team can bring to a boring game.

An upstart radio personality worked in my same building. I had read about his arrival from Detroit and his wacky antics in the newspaper. Morning Zoo radio was unknown at that time. When he began at WLS-FM music radio I would see him some mornings out on the corner of Wacker and Michigan trying to attract attention. He was a fat nerdy kid with a remote microphone wearing a bright blue satin baseball jacket with the radio station ID on the back. He seemed to be having a hard time getting noticed. I passed right on by along with most of the other pedestrians. I was usually in too much of a hurry getting into the building for work.

Over time I listened to this guy on the radio and wasn't too impressed with his imaginary character voices but the current hard rock music was why I had the radio station playing in my office. I would see him in the elevator often. Newspaper critics panned him.

One day without warning the same FM radio station suddenly changed music formats from contemporary rock to disco. Disco was very popular with a certain demographic at the time and the station wanted to cash in on it. As with most young men Disco sucked as a listening choice to me.

I switched channels on the office radio to another pop/rock station with the call letters WLUP. I discovered they broadcast a harder rock playlist so I was pleased to have found it. One day that same upstart chubby guy left the disco station and joined the Loop, as the station called itself. He and his sidekick added a sarcastic and humorous punch to air time between tunes. It was a good background noise for the office which was a crazy place on it's own.

One particular topic that these two hammered on was about the radio station they had worked at and how they were fired for making fun of the disco music they were forced to play. These guys were very funny and had an axe to grind. This was a great schtick. I mean, disco was more despised overall than it was popular. Even the guys I knew who went out to discos hated disco music. All they were after was the…you know. And if it meant suffering through crappy music and dancing like a fool to "git some" than so be it. It was then when I became a daily listener of Steve Dahl and Garry Meier and their ongoing crusade to end disco as we knew it.

They did a lot of crazy stunts and soon were talked about a lot in the local media. Everyone my age listened and those ratings skyrocketed but the old local radio purists hated those two, another reason for their popularity. They parodied the old purist radio types in creative ways unheard of before in any broadcast media. It was rebellious.

So what does a radio station do with a hot property? They market the crap out of them using them for personal appearances at local nightclubs, neighborhood fests and then professional sports franchises. On air they would play the intro of a disco recording and soon the sound of an explosion would end it. They took that bit on the road to local bars for personal appearances where they broke disco records over their heads, threw disco records against the wall and found other creative way to destroy those records. They had lightning in a bottle. And then this happened on July 12, 1979.

Here is what she and I watched on television that night. They refused to broadcast all the insane activity on the field.

From then on my office radio was always tuned into WLUP and I laughed all through the morning while sketching ads and making money at the same time. This guy was that funny.

The following is a recording of a broadcast of The Tomorrow Show soon after disco died. It aired on NBC directly following Johnny Carson. Tom Snyder, Steve Dahl and Meatloaf. Funny, funny stuff.

After that demolition stunt at Comiskey Park disco music popularity was doomed. Disco officially died 35 years ago today July 12,1979. These days when I hear disco music I can appreciate it. The sound sure brings back some funny memories.

But Disco Still Sucks.

Here's another video on Disco Demolition, a special done by the Eastern Seaboard Programming Network.

Less of Me

Our tens of readers may have noticed that I have been somewhat absent from these pages over the last few months.  There is a reason for this.

A long time ago, perhaps five years or so, a blog I used to read put up a post that said that they were done.  The reason was that the person (forgive me, I forget the blog and the person) had been writing a post and later realized that they had already done a post on the subject a few years prior.

This same thing happened to me about four months ago.  While the person I previously referenced just up and quit blogging, assuming that they were at the end, I have just taken a step back.  I comment more on blogs that I like to follow and am reading more books.  You know, those things with covers and pages in between that have words on them. 

I am also blogging about different subjects, some of which I don't think will appeal to our tens of readers here, or that don't necessarily follow our format here about Life in the Great Midwest.  You can find me occasionally writing at ChicagoBoyz, Fire Ron Turner, Kollej Football is Life, and most importantly, at Drunk Bear Fans, the vortex of all the internet.

I also spend a bit of time on Facebook (which I consider a micro blogging site anyways) jacking my friends around.

So no need to get your panties in a bunch.  I will be around.  Promise.