Monday, April 30, 2007

Green Line Renewal

In order to get to the White Sox people commonly take the Red Line, which follows 94 south towards US Cellular Field. The Red Line is mostly underground and they have spruced up a lot of the stations on the way to 35th street.

This weekend, due to chaos and construction on the El, the Red Line was running on the Brown Line tracks which are overhead in the loop, and then switching to a bus, and then back to the Red Line to complete the trip to the Sox stadium. Needless to say this would have been an epic journey even if the CTA were a well run organization, which it isn't, especially on Sunday, when the trains run intermittently during the best of times.

Luckily, for Sox fans, you can also take the Green Line down to 35th. The Green Line runs on overhead tracks, which should make it slower than the Red Line, but really it seemed faster, probably due to a lot of slow spots on the Red Line. Being on overhead tracks, the Green Line is a lot more scenic and you can see all the construction in the south loop and down towards IIT. On Sunday we took the Green Line and we were some of the very few fans to do so... most went the doomed, herd like faux Red Line route.

For people who haven't taken the Green Line in years, I'd recommend trying it from the loop to Sox park. The area near 35th has been totally spruced up; the aging projects are being torn down and few are left; you can see them demolishing the projects in the upper left of the photo, with all the new condos on the rise nearby. There aren't shops or bars yet, but there is street traffic, and you can sense a new vibrancy in the neighborhood. I don't know if I'd press my luck and hang out there at night, but I can see it happening some day in the future, between the improvements on IIT and the surrounding neighborhood and the closeness to the loop.

One unfortunate part of the Green Line stop at 35th is that the CTA, in an attempt to outsmart the taggers, actually hired some local "artists" to put graffiti on the side of the station. Generally the taggers don't paint over someone elses' work, so it has been like this for years. In lots of neighborhoods this is probably a best case for the CTA, but I sense that the Green Line will be moving up and someday they'll paint over this sad cave-in.

My tip - take the Green Line to the Sox Park if it is light out, and maybe even in early evening if there are a bunch of you. Kids will like to see the city from there, and it is less crowded.

I always wondered why the CTA rail system neglected huge parts of the city but then put 2 rail lines parallel to one another... in this case, it works to our advantage.

The Carolina Parakeet

I was down in Florida recently sitting at an outdoor cafe when I heard the familiar "chirp chirp" of a parakeet. Our family used to breed parakeets and they have a distinctive sound I'd recognize instantly.

The bird was sitting up on an electrical wire... he was a pretty cute little fellow and I tried to get a better photo of him head-on but he got spooked when I came nearby and flew away. He must have escaped from someone's cage and is probably lonely unless a mate escaped at the same time.

At one point in time there was a native parakeet in the United States called the Carolina Parakeet. Here is a summary of the parakeet from wikipedia. Too bad they didn't keep a few in captivity; apparently they bred pretty easily. Parakeets are pretty hardy birds so with only a bit of effort they probably could have kept a few around.

The part that saddens me the most is that when the hunters shot one of the birds the others would come down and congregate near their dead comrade, making it easy to get the rest of them. The birds were shot as pests or for their decorative feathers until the end when they were tolerated by man. No one knows exactly why they died off, apparently it was some sort of poultry disease. This is similar to what happened to all the crows on the North Shore of Chicago - the bird flu came through and devastated the population; it seemed like overnight all those giant, annoying and aggressive birds were dead.

An interesting movie about a related topic is called "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill". This movie is a documentary about a loner who feeds and bonds with feral parrots living outside in San Francisco. Enough of the birds have escaped that they formed a mini-flock in the city. They have a lot of great scenes of the birds in the wild...

An Evening at the Fights

Last Saturday I went to the fights, an event held approximately every three months here in Madison. It was the first time I had attended a mixed martial arts type event live. I paid $25 for a general admission ticket. I and a few friends got there early and got seats about forty feet from the ring. Good sight lines.

Attendance was, I would guess, somewhere between 1500 and 2000 people at the event. The crowd was an odd lot - lots of bikers and just about everybody had tattoos or something pierced somewhere. Everybody was well behaved. There were no incidents that I could see.

There were 11 fights that took about 2.5 hours to complete. All except 2 or 3 were ended in the first round. Most of the fights were stopped because of submission holds.

When you entered the building, you were greeted with some tables selling wares. There were a couple of tattoo parlors, some fight gear vendors and a table selling the services of ladies. This company provided the ring girls for the night.

On the table in front of them are piles of condoms, free for the taking. Also note the sky high heels the standing woman has on. There were two ladies walking around with the round cards. By the third fight one had on a pair of flip flops and the other was walking around barefoot in the ring. This is gross as she was trying to sidestep blood, sweat and tears laying on the mat later on in the evening.

Speaking of tears, imagine my disgust when I went to get a beer and all they had was this beer truck with the following choices: Bud and Bud Light. I bought one and choked it down - pisswater! I honestly don't know how anyone can drink that stuff. Here is a photo of me with the beer - that weird light is coming from outside - it was right by the smokers "lounge" which was a dock door opened to the parking lot.

Like I mentioned, most of the fights were done by the first round but there were a couple of hum dingers. One fight in particular almost went the distance and was a gruesome bloodbath. The winner was from my hometown of Rockford, IL. Most of the fighters were from around Madison, but there was one from Minneapolis, two from Milwaukee, two from Rockford and one from Chicago. The guy from Chicago was a serious badass and literally kicked the snot out of his competitor - he should definitely step up a skill level in the future.

All in all, very much worth $25. Thank god no kids were there, most certainly not a kid friendly environment.

Here is a YouTube of a complete fight. It is hard to tell, but here is a short synopsis. A bit of sparring, then the guy in the black shorts makes the mistake of getting himself into a front choke hold. He fights for about a minute, then passes out. Typically fighters submit or "tap out" when placed in these types of holds, but I have seen this happen before where he fights until the bitter end. You can see him slump into a pile at the end and the ring guys and ref coming over to revive him. The video is a bit disturbing if you have never seen this type of thing, so keep that in mind before you click play. He hopped right back up in about 10 seconds.

Baseball Pool Update 13

Sorry these updates are less than comprehensive, but time only allows so much. Joe Torre is on the hot seat as the Yankees continue to falter and the Brewers have started the season on a high note. I am not too confident though, I have been let down too many times in the past.

One thing is apparent - we have a lot of quality teams in the pool.

The standings:
1. PSL Dave (Red Sox) 16 wins
2. PS Indy (Mets) 15 wins
2. Graphix (Dodgers) 15 wins
2. Dan from Madison (Brewers) 15 wins
3. Snakeye (Indians) 14 wins
4. Craig (Tigers) 13 wins
5. Carl from Chicago (White Sox) 12 wins
6. JohnnyJ (Cubs) 10 wins
7. John (Yankees) 9 wins

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The AMT - The WSJ Gets It Wrong

The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) is a parallel tax system that is ensnaring more and more US taxpayers each year due to the fact that its brackets are not indexed for inflation and many popular deductions (such as state and local taxes) do not apply. Check the sidebar under “Taxes” for articles on this and related topics.

On April 18 the Wall Street Journal wrote an article titled “The ABC’s of Dealing with the AMT”. While I am a big fan of the WSJ in general this article fell far below their typical standards and literally had me laughing out loud a couple of times.

First of all, the article had nothing to do with the topic of their title. There really isn’t anything substantial that you can do to avoid the AMT unless you want to engage in serious tax avoidance with actual economic consequences, such as actually earning less money. This should be the topic sentence – once you are in the AMT range, you are essentially trapped there forever, unless you suffer from economic misfortune. Thus their “dealing with it” answer should be to prepare to set aside more money for taxes and to curb consumption elsewhere, because it is unavoidable.

Here’s the first howler in the article:

"I believe I make a good living, but I thought this was something that only affected the higher-higher income people," says Stephen Payne, a certified public accountant who lives in Longmeadow, Mass., and says his family's adjusted gross income last year was about $106,000. "It seems unfair." Mr. Payne says he paid about $500 in additional tax for 2006 thanks to the AMT.

Let’s examine this sentence a bit (which is more than the journalist who wrote this article did) – a CERTIFIED PUBLIC ACCOUNTANT was surprised that he was in the AMT. This guy ought to have his CPA certification taken away if he was surprised by a key set of the tax code that has been around for decades. I could see how he’d be upset by being ensnared by the AMT, but being surprised is ridiculous. In addition, anyone who is a CPA should realized that “fairness” isn’t even in the top 100,000 concerns of the IRS and the US tax code; it is a mess of conflicting deductions and principles that rub each other raw and don’t agree fundamentally if their task is 1) raising revenue for the government or 2) “rewarding” behavior favored by our legislature who sponsor the amendments.

Here is the second completely incorrect passage:

Among those most likely to be affected by the AMT this tax season were people with income between $200,000 and $500,000 and who live in high-tax areas, such as New York City; Washington, D.C.; California; Connecticut; and New Jersey, says Mr. Burman of the Tax Policy Center. Mr. Hopwood, the American Express executive who works in Manhattan but lives in Fair Lawn, N.J., took a big hit when he realized he could no longer deduct his state and local taxes. "I'm kind of being punished for working in a high-tax state," he says.

It is a true statement that the most likely people to be impacted by the AMT are those individuals that live in a high tax state. However, the element that is COMPLETELY INCORRECT is the executive’s statement that he is being punished for working in a high-tax state. No – what is occurring is that the tax code is no longer SUBSIDIZING him for working in a high-tax state. The tax benefit of being able to deduct state and local taxes (under the "base" tax code, not the AMT) was written into the code SPECIFICALLY to benefit taxpayers in states like New York and California – there is no benefit to someone who lives in a (typically high growth) state like Texas, Florida or Nevada from this provision in the tax code, because they don't pay high state taxes. This benefit goes to the richest people in the richest states, and is not “fair” to quote from the first howler the surprised CPA, above.

On a related note I overheard someone saying that they were going to pay off their mortgage because their accountant explained to them how the AMT was working and that they no longer were able to deduct their property taxes so net, their mortgage wasn’t financially advantageous. This is a true statement and one that likely will begin to weigh on the real estate market – if you are buying an expensive house with a big mortgage in a state like New York or California with high state taxes, you won’t be able to deduct either your state taxes or your high property taxes since you likely will be pushed into the AMT. Over the long haul, as common “folk wisdom” about the advisability of real estate as an investment (it is land, not the building) is replaced by an objective reappraisal of its value as an investment, this will be a double hit against these high tax states.

Objectivity and Quality

A few months ago I attended an interesting seminar sponsored by the Chicago Council for Global Affairs by reporters talking about the future of newspapers in the era of the web and bloggers. I asked the reporters how they would complete with bloggers on specific topics where the bloggers have more in depth knowledge than they do as “generalist” reporters. In the context of this blog, for example, there are many topics that we have far more insight than a “typical” reporter would have, because the three of us have decades of knowledge on the topics that we write about (a narrow set of topics).

Their answer, after a bit of fumbling, was basically that, as a reader, no one knew where we were coming from and if our opinion was “neutral” or if we represented other, non-objective interests. There is clearly some truth to this opinion across the Internet as a whole, and a reasonable level of paranoia is appropriate when surfing the web of unknown sources and blogs. This is a reason, among many others, why we don’t accept advertising on the web site, as well – we don’t want to appear to be shilling for anyone (read it on the masthead).

When I was out of town recently I read this article about the Philadelphia Enquirer where their articles were going to be sponsored by a local bank. I had a hearty laugh when I thought about how the “guardians of journalistic integrity” would weigh this type of arrangement. The paper is blatantly saying that they are being sponsored by this bank; would their opinion now be “neutral” (see above) on topics of interest to the bank?

While this is an easy punch from my perspective, on the other hand, the Philadelphia Enquirer is only making explicit what is implicit in other newsrooms. Newspapers are loathe to anger their largest advertisers and think long and hard before running articles likely to make them upset. General Motors pulled advertising from the Los Angeles Times after one of their writers called for the resignation of the CEO of GM. Given that about ½ the damn paper represents auto ads and that GM has to chronically advertise their vehicles in order to push them off the lots with various specials, this was not something to take lightly.

On another related topic, when I was staying at a smaller city in Florida they put the local paper under the door. Feeling a bit under the weather I sat down to read it and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the writing and articles. It turned out that there were just a couple of local writers and everything else came across the AP Wire. Due to the fact that they weren’t even trying to build their own content, I found the paper to be very interesting.

On this blog we try to only talk about topics where we can add some insight and illumination based on our experience. We don’t cover topics that are beaten to death elsewhere unless there is something new to add, and stay away from even keywords that will “summon the trolls” to this site.

Newspapers should use that same “rule of thumb” – either put out stories that are substantive or local in content, or just go with the best content available on the AP Wire. The AP Wire sets a pretty high bar, so this isn’t a level of quality you’d hit unless you were dedicated and invested substantial resources to this goal.

"X" Marks the Spot

As I was looking at the Brewers website (sorry, I mean the first place Brewers), I stumbled upon this interesting bit of trivia. The Brewers this summer are going to erect a plaque at the spot where Hank Aaron's last home run ended its flight on July 20, 1976. Aaron is expected to attend the ceremony for the dedication of the plaque.

This is made all the more interesting because of the timing. Bonds will be capturing Aaron's record sometime this summer as the all time home run king.
That debate will rage forever, with the allegations of Bonds using performance enhancing drugs.

I have my own opinions on the discussion (Aaron will always be the king).

The Brewers hired an engineering professor and a few of his students to get out the plans for old County Stadium (demolished to make way for Miller Park) and had to determine the flight of the ball and when the flight of the ball stopped.
I just noticed something. The person spray painting the "X" above looks to have a NEW YORK METS HAT ON. COME ON!!!
At the beginning of the article you can see a link to the video of Aaron's last homer. What a sweet swing he had even for an old man.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Things That Upset Me Greatly

At left is a photo (click for larger) of part of my yard, facing south. You can see that several signs (four in this photo are in my yard and also note signs across the street) have been placed down to remind everyone of the 25 mph speed limit. The cops have been pulling people over lately by my house as well. Since I took this photo a garage sale sign has appeared just behind where this photo was taken.

I live on a corner lot that gets a fair amount of traffic during the day. It isn't like living in a busy city or anything like that, don't get me wrong. As far as I know as long as I have lived in this neighborhood (almost 7 years) there has never been a car/kid accident.

I don't mind the premise of trying to remind people to slow down, but it would be nice if just once before people start cluttering up my lawn that they simply ASK ME before they put up these signs and garage sale signs. My wife knows that this really pisses me off, but likes the message of the signs as well, so we made a deal that they could stay up a few days before I destroy them. The garage sale sign comes down immediately.

Just ASK, that is all I want. Sheesh.

Baseball Pool Update 12

Well, the cream is starting to rise to the top.
You can see on the graph at the bottom (click for larger) that we now have a bit of separation between all of the teams up top in a jumbled mess, and the Yankees and Cubs down in the cellar.
Here are the current standings:
1. PSL Dave (Red Sox) 14 wins
2. PS Indy (Mets) 13 wins
2. Graphix (Dodgers) 13 wins
2. Dan from Madison (Brewers) 13 wins
3. Craig (Tigers) 12 wins
3. Snakeye (Indians) 12 wins
4. Carl from Chicago (White Sox) 11 wins
5. John (Yankees) 8 wins
5. JohnnyJ (Cubs) 8 wins

First Impressions, Second Thoughts, and the Third Degree

I have to admit I stole the title for this post from a local sports columnist here, Andy Baggot.

But it fits quite well when speaking of the massacre from several weeks ago. You all know what I am talking about. I am going to refrain from mentioning names or places to avoid the google comment trolls.

I was on vacation in Florida when I first heard the news and was stunned. The first thing that went through my head was "how did he kill so many?". I have my hunches, but we will not really know for a long time, at least until the investigation reports become public record. But this is a blog, so my hunches become blog fodder, and here goes.

As some details came in as I was sitting in my hotel room the first thing that struck me was how very little most of the press knows about guns in general. This really should not surprise me, but I always am a bit distressed when I can point out several things wrong in any one story. For instance, the terms "semi-automatic" and "automatic" were interchanged several times. I heard the term "22 millimeter" used instead of .22 caliber. I saw footage of an officer with a shotgun behind his car door and the announcer described him as a "sniper". Even my wife caught that one.

Also, as always the media tried to make out the police (or anyone) as a hero. All the cops did was show up and clean up the scene. I will agree that the guys who held the door closed to that one classroom could be made out as heroes.

The media's errors were multiple and show that not only do most of the folks on television not know anything about guns but their writers are just as dense on the topic. As usual, journalists as a lot have proven themselves to really not know much of anything on any given topic. You could certainly make the same case when the news folks talk about energy, cars, war, food or anything else. Newscasts are, for the most part never a deep dive into anything - rather it ends up being a general assemblage of half truths, misinformation, and at the worst, lies. I am beginning to think that 60% of this is due to laziness and generally not caring and 40% of it is on purpose, to serve an agenda.

I found the choice of weapons interesting. When I saw what he had I was rather amazed at first, then tried to understand why he would go into that type of situation with those weapons. From what we have heard so far he was armed with a Glock 19 (9mm, 15 round capacity) and Walther P22 (.22LR, 10 round capacity). I don't believe he had the long barrel version pictured in the wiki. I actually looked at purchasing one of those Walther's when it came out, but it is simply too small for my hands.

I understand the choice of the 9mm with hollow points. It isn't my favorite for self defense. The .22 was getting me a bit though. After thinking about it for a few days, I could only have one sad conclusion to understand why he had the .22. It is because he knew that he was going to kill these innocent people assassination style (keeling, bullet to the head). The .22LR cartridge can kill a person just as well as one of the massive .357 or .45 or other types if placed correctly, especially if everyone is kneeling and obeying the instructions of the madman. Those that know a bit about guns have known that hit men and special forces have long used the .22LR for their dirty work. From the wiki:
Intelligence agencies and military special forces have used suppressed 22 LR pistols for assassinations and for eliminating guard dogs or sentries. Some examples include the use of suppressed High Standard HDM pistols by the American OSS, which was the predecessor organization of the CIA. Gary Powers was issued a suppressed High Standard for the flight in which he was shot down. Suppressed Ruger MK II pistols are in current use by the US Navy SEALs. The .22 LR has also seen limited usage by police and military snipers. Its main advantage in this role is its low noise, but it is usually limited to urban operations because of its short range. One weapon designed for this purpose is the Russian SV-99 rifle.
Like I have been saying we really won't know until the investigation reports become public, but things have been leaking out that are confirming my worst fears. That those men and women kneeled down and received their death sentence from this madman. I truly hope that this is not the case, but it is my gut feeling that the madman knew that those men and women would be scared silly and follow instructions.

I don't know what I would have done faced with this type of situation. The optimal situation would be to return fire, but I don't carry everywhere I go. The next best thing would be if EVERYBODY attacked the guy. Pens, computers, backpacks, desks, everything being launched at this madman would have confused him for sure, long enough to allow time for people to gang up on him and take him down. This brings me to one other thought.

I assume that this person didn't have any real firearm training, and I am almost positive he had no combat experience of any type. I also know how difficult it is to hit paper targets that are just hanging from a hook while I am squeezing off rounds at the range. In an environment where people would be moving, with objects being tossed my way at great speed I can only assume that the madman would not have been as effective as he was in the slaughter. I have never used my handguns in a situation where I was trying to shoot a moving target but I can hardly imagine anyone would be very good at it without LOTS of practice. It is my firm belief that if the kids in the classroom would have instantly made for a very chaotic environment for the madman that he would not have exacted such a high death toll.

It is all well and good to armchair quarterback this thing like so many others have, but we should really cut the crap and start to realize that in incidents like this while the toll may have been reduced by events outlined in the last paragraph, it is still more likely that one person who had a gun and some training could have made a real difference.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Democracy in China... of sorts

Over time I have been increasing the portion of my stock investments on issues outside of the United States. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, most particularly with ETF's or low-cost mutual funds that can specialize by country or type of industry.

In the portfolios that I run for my nephews I select individual stocks and look for stocks that trade as ADR's which allow them to be easily bought and sold on US markets like the NYSE and NASDAQ (even though the stock really trades on its home market). Some of the international ADR's that I own include 1) Toyota 2) BHP (Australian mining company) 3) ICICI (Indian Bank) and... China Mobile.

It is proxy season and I usually just chuck out these forms because voting for a corporation when you have only a few shares is generally a waste of time because the company controls what is on the ballot and only if there is a massive groundswell do they consider listening to shareholders. Corporate "voting" isn't exactly as meaningful as it was in Athens in the days of direct democracy...

But as I held this form in my hand, about to shred it, something hit me - this was as close to actual voting and elections that they allow in China today! While you can't elect a representative government, capitalism and the desire to raise funds overseas (which has been a big win for China) is causing them to at least take on the minimum level of good corporate governance and begin protecting shareholder rights. The ability to raise equity funds through IPO's buys China a lot of breathing room since it makes it less likely that they'll have to use public funds to pay off bad and under performing loans that riddle their loss-plagued state owned enterprises.

I usually don't put much stock in the "engagement" line of analysis which says that the best way to change a repressive regime is to trade and work with it, and then it changes from within. This method works very poorly against an entrenched, authoritarian government. In this case, however, for a moment I thought that this might actually make a difference if shareholder rights and the right of law become better protected in China.

In an era when Putin is poisoning / assassinating his opponents and locking up peaceful demonstrators it is good to at least have a ray of hope for change in China. And all to make more money, perhaps a drive as strong as the drive for control.

South Korea

I recently took a trip across Florida. When I got to the Hertz rental car counter I found that they upgraded me from a mid-size to an SUV, in particular this Hyundai Santa Fe.

Even though I hadn't driven a Hyundai before, my fact-free opinion was that these cars were of low quality. In my lifetime Japanese cars had come up from mere toys (my grandmother had a TINY Honda Civic) to pretty much the gold standard of reliability (to the chagrin of Detroit). Korean cars initially had a reputation for terrible reliability and they were one of the first vendors to offer 100,000 mile warranties in an attempt to fight this perception (or even if it is true, then the dealer would be on the hook for the problems, not you).

But this was mere myth. I was very surprised at how well this car was put together. The interior was very well laid out and solid, and the fit was of high quality. The car drove very well even though it was the 2WD model and the smaller engine (cmon' Hertz isn't that stupid to give me a hot rod for $200 / week). When I stopped for gas the guy next to me asked how it drove because he was thinking about buying one. I gave it a thumbs-up. Later I looked and this car retails for $22k... quite a steal compared to some of the higher priced SUV's.

In general I haven't heard much in the way of negative talk about Koreans since the unfortunate incident recently (can't mention because I don't want troll traffic) and I think a lot of that is due to the fact that they have a well deserved reputation for hard work and industriousness. Except for a few rap songs I remember hearing about grocers (hardly an unbiased group) I can't really remember anyone saying anything bad about them even after this tragedy, which makes sense because the guy was just apparently off his rocker regardless of race or creed. I was glad I was driving a Hyundai...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

NY Times Inches Towards the truth

Longer-term readers of this blog know that we are not fans of the NY Times due to the fact that they earned a Pulitzer for the "reporting" done by Walter Duranty in the 1930's when he covered up the famine in the Ukraine. It is bad enough that he blatantly lied and covered up for Stalin, but it is unbearable that the NY Times, a paper that claims to stand for truth in reporting, earned a Pulitzer to boot.

I was under the weather with not much to do in Florida so I did pick up the NY Times amongst all of the available papers. This page above trumpets the Pulitzers won by this newspaper.

Careful reading, however, will show that the NY Times is at least STARTING to acknowledge how shameful it is that they still haven't given back this Pulitzer.

In their 1934 award, they cite "unbiased" reporting. In their 1935, 1936, and 1937 awards, they tout their "distinguished" reporting. But in 1932, the year of Duranty's lies, they only say

"Walter Duranty, for coverage of the news from Russia"

Perhaps next year it will be "Walter Duranty, for lies and propaganda bolstering Stalin from Russia"...

Monday, April 23, 2007

Key Largo Sport Fishing

Last week on my vacation in the Keys, I was fortunate enough to be able to enjoy 8 hours on the water - one of my favorite places to be. I think if I had unlimited money I would have to buy a big ass boat and go sport fishing pretty much every day.

For the time being, I will be happy renting and borrowing other people's boats. While there I took an eco-tour on a Zodiac type raft, watched my wife and kids go para-sailing and rented a wave runner for a while. All were fun. The wave runner may be a toy in my future. I had the one I rented up to 50 mph - I couldn't hear anything but the wind in my ears. Quite fun.

But back to sport fishing. I invited Jonathan from ChicagoBoyz to go along. He didn't listen to me when I begged him to take Dramamine before he came and paid the price a bit on the boat, even though it was a rather calm day out there (pretty much perfect). I have never had a problem on the big water with motion sickness.

The boat was functional. Filthy, but functional. Things like that do piss me off a bit though. If I owned a boat like this I would be incredibly anal about it. Everything would be spotless, and in perfect working condition. Here is a photo of the boat just as the sun is coming up.

Inside was roomy, complete with a couch and easy chair. Here is a view from the stern looking in. The harbor was a bit bizarre to me. Our charter left and went out this harbor, and all along the way you could see people's houses right on the canals. It reminded me of Venice. I guess I am just used to Kenosha's harbor, where I go sport fishing every year. There, nobody lives on the water, it is just a dedicated harbor with slips only.

We caught a beautiful sunrise.

And the chase was, as they say, ON.

We began by chumming for bait fish. We were out by a large buoy and they chummed to attract these fish called speedos. We used small poles with small chunks of fish attached as bait and started reeling those babies in. I think I got around a dozen. They were fun to catch and I could see hundreds of them swarming in and around the chum. Here is a photo of a bunch in the live well.
I got such a kick out of catching these bait fish that I am going to restring my old fishing poles and try to get out on our local lakes a few times this summer.

The first thing we did was troll for a while. I was shocked at how fast we had to troll with lures. When fishing for salmon on the great lakes, you simply go two or three miles per hour. Out on the ocean, we were trolling at almost full speed! We had two hookups out the back as seen here and one out each side. We usually have nine or ten lines in the water when salmon fishing.

While trolling, I made the first catch, this beautiful dolphin (also called mahi-mahi) that we ate for lunch. It fought about as well as a coho.

And here it is all prepared for lunch later. Three preparations...blackened, beer battered and fried, and in a sorrel cream sauce. TASTY.

Later, we went fishing for amber jack. This was done by hooking up one of our live baits to a hook and sinking him to the ocean depths. The amber jacks were hitting instantly. I had a huge one on and lost it to a damned shark. You can see video of it (and me swearing) at a post Jonathan did here.

We lost a few more with much less fanfare, then Jonathan saved the day by hooking into a 45 pound (estimate) amber jack and landing that son of a bitch.

Here he is with his fashionable and functional shoes (inside joke here) working the chair.

And look at the monster he landed. Absolutely awesome. I love it.

Jonathan actually iced that thing down and tossed it in his trunk and drove it back to his place for butchering. Quite a mess I am sure that was.

Sorry to say that is all the game fish we landed. But the day was beautiful, and the conversation interesting. I had a blast - and it was great to meet Jonathan.

Baseball Pool Update 11

Well, I am finally back and trying to get in the swing of things. The updates will not be too detailed this week as I get caught up, but lets take a look at the current standings.

1. Graphix (Dodgers) 13 wins
2. PSL Dave (Red Sox) 12 wins
3. Dan from Madison (Brewers) 11 wins
3. PS Indy (Mets) 11 wins
4. Craig (Tigers) 10 wins
5. Carl from Chicago (White Sox) 9 wins
6. John (Yankees) 8 wins
6. Snake (Indians) 8 wins
7. JohnnyJ (Cubs) 7 wins

Well, a little shakeup in the standings, as PS Indy's Mets have dropped off the blistering pace set by the Dodgers. The Cubs need to get it together or JohnnyJ will be singing the blues by the All Star Break.

Speaking of the Cubs, the Brewers lost 2 of 3 a few weeks ago to the Cubs at Miller Park and will try to return the favor this week at Wrigley. What do you say JohnnyJ, double or nothing on the series?

As a sidenote, Binny's no longer ships beer. I am looking for an alternate site, either that or I will just start shipping the sixers myself.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Three Again

I have officially invited "Frank from Delavan" to be a posting member of this blog.

Welcome Frank! I am looking forward to reading your essays, looking at your photos and keeping up with the news from the cultural and financial epicenter of the Midwest that is Delavan, Wisconsin.

Funny, I just wrote about anonymity. I have never met Frank, only know him from comments he has left here and a half dozen or so of his "audition" posts. Weird how that is working for me lately.

Anonymity - Trust Through Writings

Something interesting has happened to me over the last couple of years. I have been trusting people I have never met.

I suppose many have witnessed or taken part of this as blogs, forums and other means of interacting with people across the globe have become more and more easy to acquire and use.

Here is an example. As we were planning our vacation to the Florida Keys (more on that later) I was able to schedule a day of sport fishing thanks to my wonderful wife (more on that later, too). From many email exchanges I knew that Jonathan, the Zeus of ChicagoBoyz lived in the area. I invited him along. I had never met him until last Wednesday. The only contact I had with him was talking about our blogs, shooting, and a few other topics via email.

As an intersting sidenote, he reported the same type of thing goes on with him and that just last week he had met a frequent commenter from his blog.

Another example. As those who read this blog regularly know, I recently purchased two K-31 rifles that I will be restoring this summer. I needed some authentic muzzle caps and some other items to complete my restoration. Through message boards and forums about the K-31 I was referred to a man in Switzerland who deals in surplus items such as these. I sent this person $175 via PayPal for a bunch of stuff. Again, I have never met the guy and assume he works out of his house. But the forums and message boards unanimously say that this person is honest and only deals in the highest quality materials.

Here is yet another example. Last year I was invited by Astro into his football pool, for no real reason other than he likes this blog and assumed I was a straight shooter from my writings. We had no email contact until that point.

I find this sort of thing strange in a good kind of way. Just a few years ago I would have never have given a stranger of any sort the time of day. Now, if I feel the person is trustworthy through their writings, as Astro trusted me last year, I feel emboldened enough to invite that person fishing with me.

I am not the type of person that would want to spend a half of a day with someone who will bend my ear with bullshit. For me to take these types of steps of inviting persons I have never met fishing or sending anonymous persons money I have to really trust them. I guess I am more trusting of blogs, emails and bulletin boards/forums than verbal referrals.

Why?

It is this "trust through writings" that I have been thinking about this last week while I was on vacation. Perhaps after a while of reading someones posts, thoughts and writings you get a feel for that person. Maybe their blogs are a form of autobiography that gives an insight to them. I find this change in myself fascinating and would be interested if any of our regular readers have any thoughts about this.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Poisoned by the Rock N' Roll McDonalds

A few months ago Dan got food poisoning from Culvers while attempting to be a healthy guy and order a salad. My story, on the other hand, involves the usual unhealthy food in the form of a "big breakfast" from McDonalds. I have been throwing up for 24 hours and it is awful. Ugh...

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Up and Down In Chicago

Mark Buehrle pitched a great game tonight - a NO HITTER! In fact, it was a micron away from a perfect game - Sammy Sosa (who was heavily booed the previous night) was walked and then he was picked off first base. Thus Beuhrle pitched to the minimum number of batters (27) so I think that qualifies in my book as a permanent game.

Funny - his biography on wikipedia was updated almost instantly to reflect this new achievement... I was trying to be first but not even close.

This is the first no-hitter pitched in Chicago since 1967... if you had been to every home game of the Cubs and Sox for my ENTIRE life you wouldn't have seen a no hitter. And to my great distress I missed this one...

At the same time... the Chicago Bulls fell apart and lost to New Jersey, which (likely) drops them from a #2 to a #5 seeding in the playoffs, meaning that they go ON THE ROAD to Miami instead of playing at home until they hit Detroit (if they made it that far). There is a chance that Milwaukee might beat Cleveland to get them back to #2 but I am not holding my breath. Those blown leads earlier in the season are now even more painful...

Delavan Domiciles

Here is another one from Frank Borger, helping me while Dan is away...

There’s a house in Delavan I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with. The owner is the type most homeowners envy. He’s the guy with the immaculate house. =Every blade of grass is mowed perfectly. The picket fence is pristine. There isn’t one piece of wood that is loose or needs painting. Most mortals, (me included,) never live up to these gods.

But this house is special because of the playhouse in the yard. Even the playhouse is picture perfect. Here’s a shot.


For a clearer view, here is an earlier picture, before he added that picture perfect picket fence. Can’t you imagine the kind of kid that gets to play in a playhouse like that? Barney the dinosaur probably asks that kid about how to run his show.


And here’s a close-up. Note the bird feeder and birdhouse that match! Check out the yard lamp next to the door. It’s ON! The playhouse even has electricity.


Now let me tell you the worst part. That’s not really a playhouse for an especially spoiled kid, that’s a DOGHOUSE! It’s the domicile of a lumbering St Bernard.

I spent 40 years in physics/electronics service. After spending an 8-hour day fixing things other people broke, I really couldn’t get into work at home. As a result, our houses have always had that “lived-in” look. For years, I felt like I let my family down because our house didn’t look like something out of Good Housekeeping.

But now, with this guy to help, I no longer worry. There is NO WAY I can come remotely close to his place, so I no longer feel inadequate about my performance. Life’s a lot easier if you don’t have to keep up with the Jones any more.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

In The Club

This year when I purchased Sox tickets we were offered club passes and figured, what the heck, and picked them up, too. I really didn't know what to expect in the White Sox club, and was taken aback when I was sent a three page rule-book on what to do in the club.

On opening day we stopped by the club and it was a madhouse. We were able to push through the crowd and get a drink but that was about it. On the way out they made us drop off our beers (we wanted to be outside for the start of the game) so I chucked mine in the trash and the usher said to me "Thanks for being a rule-follower" which I found to be quite funny.


Tonight we saw the opening game of the series against the Texas Rangers. The sox got out to an early 1-0 lead before getting crushed. Due to the cold weather a lot of people with club reservations apparently bailed out and we were able to walk up to the club without a reservation and get a seat at a table right alongside the glass. It was quite surreal having a glass of red wine and looking out the window at the game in a toasty surrounding while the wind was blowing gale force outside.

I don't know how often I'll have dinner up there (it was expensive) but it was a lot of fun and something I'd recommend doing at least once. Back to $1 hot dogs for now...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Outside of our experience

Last night my significant other was watching television in our TV room. I walked in and she just looked up and said - you might as well leave now. You won't want to watch this. And she was right. It was the movie "United 93" about 9/11 and how passengers revolted on this flight and took it down into the ground rather than crash it into its intended target.

The movie is told in "real time" and the confusion is palpable. The air controllers don't know what is going on, no one knows what is going on, and people aren't able to predict what is going to happen next. There aren't orders to shoot down the planes and people aren't capable of making nasty, split second decisions like shooting down a plane full of innocent victims to save even more innocent victims on the ground from what is now a flying missile.

I have trouble watching this because it is an American defeat, no two ways about it. Like the first part of WW2 in the Pacific, when our fleet was caught at Pearl Harbor (despite having radar) and then our planes were caught on the ground in the Philippines the next day, even though they should have been warned and prepared. A series of defeats followed, until Midway turned the tide for good. Throughout these defeats people acted with immense courage, staring the the face of death, slowing the invaders, even though their own deaths were certainties. The people of United 93 rose up and made a difference to us, even though their endings were preordained.

I think of this when I saw the confusion and failure today in the attack today. I won't mention the name because I don't want blog traffic coming here. But the fact that officers on site didn't even conceive of the fact that the offender was still at large and made a SECOND attack was a failure of imagination similar to our early war WW2 Pacific failures as well as the 9/11 failures. From these failures we learn, hopefully, so that future ones can be avoided.

Real Estate by Mind over Matter

Here is another post from Frank Borger... I appreciate the blogging help since Dan is out of town!

There is this great magazine called “the Monthly Aspectarian” that wends it way from NW Chicago out to the boonies here. Without it, we would be cut off from knowing about the wonders of alternative medicine, meditation, whole foods, the whole gamut of things that get yuppies salivating. I always read it to learn new ways of coping in this strenuous life. As an example, this month one reader wrote in to the magazine’s equivalent of Ann Landers:

Dear Louise,

My mother-in-law’s house has been for sale since June (almost nine months), but there have been no offers. She and my husband own it together. I’ve cleaned and staged it and done my affirmations. I even buried a small statue of St. Joseph in the yard, but still nothing. She has moved to a senior complex, as she’s elderly and could really use the money. We could, too, for that matter. Any suggestions you could give would be appreciated!

D.J., St. Louis, MO

You know, I never would have thought that burying a statue of St. Joseph in the yard would help me sell a house. Now I know the real reason for the current slump in housing sales. Just shows you what I missed when I got my degree in Physics.

Anyway, the column writer, Louise Hay, responded thusly:

Dear D.J.,

You certainly have started out well by clearing the energy in the house. Now it’s time to get out of your own way! Unfortunately, the old adage is true: What we resist, persists. You can actually allow the universe to bring to you that which you desire by focusing on something else for a while. In other words, for the next week, do something else other than worry about the house. Spontaneously call friends and go to dinner and a movie; do your favorite exercise or walk every day—basically, be creative. What do you love to do? Paint, dance, knit, write, sing?

See how wrong I was? I would have gone out and cleaned the drapes, walls, carpets etc and cleaned out the junk that invariably collects after many years. All I really had to do was “allow the universe to bring me what I desire.”

Louise then continued:

And remember, this is fun. Make a game out of everything you do this week and make sure you don’t talk to anyone, even your spouse, about the house or your mother-in-law. Let me know what happens after the week is over!

My buddy Bill builds houses for a living and he’s having trouble getting what he wants for the last one he built. I’m gonna rush over and show him this article. If Bill spends a week doing the things he likes, (fishing, boating, drinking beer, etc,) I’m sure it will really help him sell that house.

Only one problem. If Bill makes a game out of everything he does this week, I think his wife will start wondering what the hell is wrong with him.

(For extra credit, google St Joseph and you will be surprised how many sites offer kits for using buried St Joseph statues to sell your house.) One site even offers statue kits in bulk for Real Estate salespeople. Somehow I think sales of those kits might be good in California.

They Are Not Assets

A recent post of mine discussed individuals in small towns purchasing expensive cars and how ruinous to personal finance that this can be. A close relative of mine is an appraiser and she says that when she visits the houses of people seeking to refinance (take out equity) often she spies a big-screen TV in the living room. I am certain many people view these items as "assets", as well.

In some sense cars are assets. You need a car to get to your job, unless you can walk or take public transportation, or even a cab (NYC). There is a line beyond motor transportation, however, where the portion of the car that does more than just function becomes a personal selection as it veers towards luxury. For instance, you can buy a decent used car (or crappy new car) for about $10,000. The average price on a new car, depending on how you define it, is probably about $25,000 or so. Thus that $15,000 gap is the "luxury gap" that people decide on but don't really need for the base purpose.

Back to big screen TV's... I was talking with my friend Elton about buying a big screen TV for a family member as a gift. I have seen them at Radio Shack and other places as low as $600-$700 and this is near my personal price point. Since I know that he is good at researching this type of thing, he sent me this link to an article about a flat screen TV Olevia 537H which is a 37" model. Currently these TV's are retailing for about $750 on the web.

If you read the article describing the technical features of the TV (it is from PC World) you can see what caught my eye:

"If you're a thrifty TV shopper, Olevia's 537H LCD HDTV deserves consideration. It's put together well, carries a low price ($1499 as of September 8, 2006), and offers a pleasant viewing experience."

Let's do the math here... since September 2006 (about 7 months ago) the TV has DROPPED IN PRICE BY 50%. Thus if you consider your TV an asset (and many people do, since you have to have at least some type of TV in most circumstances, especially if you have kids), that asset has plummeted 50% in value in only seven months! That type of return is absolutely horrible, especially if you financed the original price (put it on a credit card with a balance) and you are paying (non-deductible) interest on the original price, to boot. To give a bit of credit, if you were using home equity to buy this TV, then at least you aren't paying interest on the purchase, but you are paying interest on the portion of the equity that you took out of your home to purchase the television with.

Unless it is fine art or some sort of recognized collectible (way beyond the bounds of this post), all of your "assets" other than your home or financial instruments is depreciating so rapidly in value that they barely qualify as assets. There is some point in having a car or TV, but beyond the basics it is a luxury and the amount spent beyond this basic amount should be recognized as such.

Big Talk Lou

I am a fan of both the Cubs and Sox, as odd as that seems to be to most Chicago dwellers. The long and sorry history of the Chicago Cubs is a story that has been told many times and doesn't bear repeating on this blog, except to say that they are coming up on their 100th anniversary since they last won a world championship in 1908.

Thus it is with some trepidation that I saw this billboard in my neighborhood featuring the new manager, Lou Pinella, and the bold words "We're going to win here and that's the end of the story." Wow. Lou stands straight in the headwinds of history and spits right into the wind.

Right now the Cubs are in last place, with among the worst records in baseball, certainly the worst record of any team that attempts to be competitive (you can't count Kansas City, for example). To the Cubs' credit, there have been some high points this season, the starting pitching isn't that bad, and they have a lot of hitters who have potential.

I guess in Lou's way of thinking, he probably is going to self-destruct due to his hot temper if the Cubs play like the Cubs usually play anyways, so he might as well try to lead them out of the losing path and go down fighting. Beware shoddy infielders, be scared terrible relievers, and watch out slumping hitters - Lou's blood pressure is rising and he needs to back up the words on this sign. If he is going down he is taking as many of you guys with him as possible...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Blog Celebration

Dan had been running this blog for a while before I came on board and he doesn't like to boast but since he is out of town for a week I can sneak in some positive statistics. This screen shot is from our "site meter" software that shows our number of visitors and page views. Your page views are going to be a multiple of your unique visitors.


The site meter shows that we have crossed over 50,000 visits and 100,000 page views. I think that these are both milestones to be proud of, especially in light of the fact that we are intentionally staying away from politics and played out stories on the web, and also due to the fact that the site was up for a while collecting hits before Dan even turned on the "site meter".

As any regular reader of the blog knows, we hate it when the "trolls" find our site and fixate upon a particular issue and pile on useless comments. It is hard for us when Dan has to close down a post for comments because good comments, the kind we usually get, are the best part of the whole site, and they keep us focused on doing good work and creating solid posts.

I try not to talk about the methods and arts of blogging because, frankly, it is boring. I will say that over time Dan and I have picked up more and more of the positive journalistic traits (original content and fact-based information gathering) while using the web and our own knowledge for a "deep dive" into topics like weapons, taxes, energy and business that a generically trained journalist typically would not be able to match. It also helps that we write for an intelligent audience, and we assume that you know a lot about the topic at hand, so we don't have to dumb it down to fifth grade level or so like the typical newspaper.

So, a big of celebration, and back to work.

Bulls and the Controversial Big Mac

Lately in my "bandwagonesque" style I have been attending more Chicago Bulls NBA games. This is something that my nephews seem to like since they play basketball and they are happy to go to the games regardless of who is playing. The Chicago Bulls under Scott Skiles and GM John Paxson are far better than they have been since the end of the Jordan era, and they are as of now holding on to the #2 seed for playoffs in the conference.

I went to two games this week, vs. the Knicks on Tuesday in some great corporate seats (2nd row) and then on Friday, for their last home game of the year, against Charlotte. In both of these games the Bulls played great. Their starting lineup consists of Gordon, Deng, Hinrich, PJ Brown and Wallace. Nocioni was hurt for most of the middle of the season and is coming back now, and some of the rookies notably Tyrus Thomas are making big contributions.

Tyrus Thomas, in particular, made some monstrous plays against Charlotte. One time he had the ball near the basket and he made a 2 handed dunk over two defenders while being fouled. That guy can jump like you wouldn't believe and is very aggressive on the court. It is a big question here in Chicago why he doesn't play more, but Scott Skiles is the coach and he is very particular about who starts and how they play in practice.



The Bulls have been under fire recently for running up the score. In their last 3 home games they have led right from the start and creamed their opponents, winning by more than a dozen points. In the past the Bulls often had big leads and then fell apart at the end; but the Bulls lately have been holding on to their leads or even extending them.


In both the Knicks and Charlotte games the Bulls took out all their regulars and put in the bench warmers during the 2nd half, particularly during the Knicks game, when it seemed like everyone played. Say what you will about Scott Skiles, but the scrubs on the Bulls played very well together and kept giving their (albeit weak) opponents fits.


The Big Mac gets involved because if the Bulls score 100 points and win the game, everyone who attends gets a free Big Mac. This is my free Big Mac that I earned in the Charlotte game and which I redeemed after going shooting this Sunday.


The crowd was getting into the 100 point mark and cheering on the Bulls even though the games were definitely won - you could tell that people wanted that damn free Big Mac.

Hopefully the Bulls have a good run in the playoffs this year. As of this writing the Bulls are killing the Washington Wizards (on the road, no less) and if they win the next 2 games they can lock up the #2 playoff position and send Cleveland on the road, LeBron or no. Scott Skiles needs to win at least 1 and probably 2 playoff series for this season not to be viewed as a flop.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Chicago US Nominee for 2016 Olympics

Today they announced that Chicago will be the US candidate for the 2016 Olympics. Chicago went down to the wire against Los Angeles - LA has all of the stadiums built and ready to go, while Chicago will have to invest in some facilities. Per this WSJ article summarizing the bid:

Chicago offered a bid that hinges on building new facilities, mostly situated around the downtown lakefront and nearby parks. The centerpiece would be an 80,000-seat, $366 million temporary Olympic stadium that would be built in historic Washington Park. Chicago's plans also call for a $1.1 billion lakefront village that would be built near the convention center just south of downtown.

On the one hand, this is a moment of great pride for Chicago. The city went out and sought to be the US candidate, and it is a significant honor. The team from Chicago was successful in convincing the US Olympic committee despite the fact that a stadium needs to be built "from scratch" to hold the main events.

This Olympics bid (if it is successful) could also offer the impetus for the City Of Chicago to clean up its decrepit public transportation system, both the rail and the roadways. We could build new facilities in an area of town that lacks investment, and these could be a positive legacy for the city.

While I am striving to be upbeat, save this post with their estimates for the cost of this "temporary" stadium. If I had to bet I'd guess that the final cost of this stadium would be some significant multiple of this initial estimate. I also think that the "temporary" idea will ultimately lose luster - if due to construction over-runs we spend $1 billion on the facility, why would we tear it down after the Olympics? Why not use it for something constructive?

It is with trepidation that I think about all the years of construction and disruption that these projects will entail. The CTA is already snarled with desperate maintenance projects that don't even significantly add to capacity; they just keep the system from keeling over entirely (although there are some new stations).

Of course, all of this activity depends on whether or not Chicago is selected. There are a number of other cities in the running, including Rome, Rio and Tokyo. You'd have to think that these are some pretty serious contenders; if it is in Rome maybe they'd re-use the Colosseum :).

A happy day for Chicago, and a moment of pride. Let's not botch this...

And I thought I was Cool...


Recently I was talking with a friend of mine about concerts. I was telling him about the best show I ever saw, which was a combination of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (headliners), Pearl Jam, and Smashing Pumpkins at the Aaragon ballroom. At the time the Smashing Pumpkins were an unknown; their first album was out but I hadn't heard it yet. Pearl Jam were just starting to climb the charts, and Eddie Vedder dove way out into the crowd and crowd surfed for a while. The audience went crazy when the Red Hots went on stage, coming down from the rafters upside down with bungee cords attached to their ankles...

On a parallel note I recently acquired a Best Buy gift card and went online to look for CD's. It is a boon that you can use gift cards online; they tend to pile up otherwise. At one point or other I have owned all the "legit" Jimi Hendrix albums on CD, cassette or album... but they got lost at one point or another in various moves. A friend of mine gave me a 4 CD set of out-takes and rarities but I started getting used to all the non-official versions of the songs I liked so I figured that 10 bucks was a good deal to buy (again) the original songs.

Well this guy at the party started with HIS best concerts, and it turns out that he saw Jimi Hendrix TWICE while he was in high school. The second time he was in Washington DC and there were 200 people at the show; there were 5 hot girls in the crowd and Jimi left with 3 of them in a taxi. He said that they used to hand out flyers at the Filmore when you left for upcoming shows and he had some but they got lost over the years... I am sure they sell for a lot of money on eBay now.

A lot of people have died or flamed out in their prime but I have to say that Jimi Hendrix seems to have had the most promise unfulfilled. He was on a roll at the end, incorporating new studio techniques and new guitar methods. His music ranged across all styles from the blues to hard rock to psychedelia to something almost jazz-like. If you listen to his remastered albums today they still sound fresh 35+ years after his death. Wikipedia has a decent summary of his life at this link.

In any case, he blew away my concert stories...

Tearing Apart the Corpse

Last week I had the unfortunate experience of being saddled with some sort of stomach flu or virus. It "ran" its course in 24 hours but I was forced to stay at home for one day from work.

I decided that I should ingest along with my saltines, a bit of the cable news network programming for the day.

During this time the Don Imus flap was in full (what I call) bongs bells and buzzers mode. Anyone who watches any of the cable stations knows what I am talking about. All of the networks have a catchy bong, bell, or buzzer to announce "Breaking" news. Even if the news isn't breaking, rather has already "broken".

I made a decision to follow this Imus thing from the beginning all the way to the bitter end, then to summarize some thoughts.

My history with Imus isn't long nor deep. He has never been on the radio in any of the markets I have ever lived in (basically Rockford, IL, Champaign, IL, and Madison, WI). The only time I ever saw him was typically when I had a day off and was surfing the news channels (he was simulcast on MSNBC) or was on a business trip to a market where he was featured. My thoughts were that he was crusty. That is the best word to describe him. Certainly nothing that interested me enough to seek out his programming on Tivo or anything.

I had no idea when this whole thing went down last week that he had been in radio for so long. I also had no idea he did so much charity work.

Not having a long history of listening to the Imus show like 99% of the other people chiming in on the affair I really can't give him a fair shake here. I highly doubt he is a real racist. Most of the people that have contact with him that I have seen say that his charity camps are full of children of all colors. If he was a true racist, I think he would have slipped on something long before now - he has been in the business for many decades.

Don Imus will have a new job whenever he wants one. People are forgiving. Many people have done much worse and have come out smelling like a rose. I won't name names but you can think of some folks I am sure.

Many in the media are saying how impressed they were by the Rutgers basketball team that Imus insulted with his comments. I will say the exact opposite. These women are going to face much more harsh challenges as their careers develop than some crusty guy on a radio show one day going for a cheap joke because of the way they look. Was what he said right or condoned by me? No. Did the team have to react that way? I don't think so. How refreshing it would have been for one of the women on the team instead of acting like a defeated, cowering individual to step up and say something like:

I don't give a damn what some old coot in New York says about me, my coach, my team or anything else. We worked our butts off on the court and in the classroom. If the best Mr. Imus can do is crack a joke about our looks, perhaps his audience may take a look at his sponsors and decide if they need patronizing. Perhaps the people who listen to his show should consider new or alternate forms of entertainment.

And what about the white girls on the team? I didn't really hear anything from them. Were they offended too?

Instead we got "we were hurt, very hurt" and quotes of that ilk from all of the players and a very emotional speech from the coach. Boo hoo. I get called names every day of my life (practically) and have been slurred racially with terms like kraut, cracker and even hebe (although I am not Jewish). No apologies needed for me, I just soldier on like most of us do. I am thick skinned like that. If I see something I hate (i.e. Sony employing a child molester like Roman Polanski) I simply do not buy their products, disassociate with those people or turn the channel.

Then again, the young players on Rutgers could have been manipulated by the media and had many of their videos edited, and words clipped. It is for certain that they are not used to having any type of media around them at pretty much any time. It is women's basketball, after all. I don't mean to say that as being sexist, but facts are facts. Revenue streams and media attention in men's vs. women's sports is most certainly another post altogether.

As the scandal reached fever pitch, Imus thought he could save his skin by going on Al Sharpton's show and apologizing. I bet he wouldn't have bowed to Al if he knew he was still going to get fired.

Of course there is the hypocrisy angle as well. It is literally unbelievable that a company like NBC or CBS fires Imus for what he did with a straight face, while every single day their subsidiaries in the forms of record labels, video companies and others support and play insane rap lyrics. Then again, there is no pressure on the companies to stop the production of this mindless crap. I suppose if Sharpton, Jackson and the rest decide to one day actually care about that stuff that something might happen. Until then...

The most embarrassing thing while laying in my bed watching this whole ugly spectacle unfold was the willingness and speed the press stomped all over the carcass of Don Imus with little to no background, context or anything else. Same as usual. Yes, he said it. But enough to get fired? Man, there aren't going to be too many DJ's around except on satellite radio.

In looking back on the whole sorry debacle, I don't think Imus should have lost his job due to political pressure. I would have loved to see the free market work properly and I think that the Sharptons of the world have every right if they feel offended to boycott those sponsors. I would love to see a protest at Anheuser Busch over the latest Jay Z marketing campaign - they are one of Jay Z's largest sponsors and his lyrics have, of course, demeaned women for years and years. I am not holding my breath.

Imus would have naturally lost his job if all of his big sponsors started to leave. Instead it became a three or four day media BLAST and the sponsors started dropping even before one protest was made at the HQ of Proctor and Gamble, American Express or any of the other sponsors that Imus had.

*Due to comment trolls (DAMN Google works fast) I am closing comments to this post.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Where It Is Sunny and Warm

I have a week of vacation coming up and it couldn't be coming at a better time.

This winter has been insane, and last weeks spring blizzard was just winter's last kick in the nuts it seemed. The snow weight collapsed my damned gazebo that I had set up with the thought that Spring was coming -" why not?" I said. The daffodils (since crushed under a foot of snow) are coming up.

After seeing my gazebo ruined I thought I was going to lose my mind.

I will be gone for a week, but will hopefully be re energized and ready to go when I get back. I will be updating the baseball pool regularly and have a great summer planned with lots of bike riding, Muay Thai, restoring a couple of guns and being outdoors PRETTY MUCH ALL THE TIME while not at work. It is the least I can do after being cooped up all winter.

Anyway, Carl will be blogging no doubt, although it is tax time and he is busy too. Maybe Frank Borger will drop Carl an email with a post or two as well.

One interesting note - on my vacation I have a day of sport fishing planned with a very special guest - more details on that upon my return. Hopefully I will hook on to the Goliath Grouper like this guy:

"Catch" you later.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Did Al Gore Just Visit the Chicago Area?

Here is another submission by Frank Borger. This insane snow crushed the gazebo I just set up in my yard.

It’s a good thing the Easter Bunny left a couple of days ago. Wednesday we really got belted with sleet and snow. I finally shut both computers down, because the power was up and down like a kid on a trampoline. My wife couldn’t finish food shopping because Wally World closed because of power outages.

So we got our deck ready for Spring. Take a look at it now! (Click any photo for larger)













And here are our vehicles. (The wife is off shopping for food.) I’ll wait for Mother Nature to clean off the station wagon. (Pickups are easier to clean because)


  • You don’t have to sweep as much snow off.

  • You can use the highway to finish the job.

As I write this Thursday morning, the township plow just went down our street again, cleaning up the results of the latest overnight snowfall!

The next person that pontificates to me about Global Warming may get more than they bargained for!

Pool News on Hold

I am sick as a dog, and am trying to go on vacation next week so no baseball pool news to report until I return. I am glad I will be leaving the snow behind. Ridiculous.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Remakes

More times than not, when musicians remake a song by a huge artist such as Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Stones or others of that ilk, it always ends in disaster. Some things just cannot be improved upon. I will give the artists credit for trying though. One exception I can think of is one of my favorite bands of all time, Dread Zeppelin (you will notice that Tortelvis may be the father of a certain famous personalities baby).

If an artist is going to try to remake a song, I usually like to hear it chopped up, mashed, blended into a new sounding song with the original rhythm. I don't mind hearing covers live, but to record a cover for the sole purpose to release it and sell copies, not for me.

I have followed Chris Cornell's career fairly closely since I was in college and he was the front man for Soundgarden. He "jumped the shark" with Audioslave, the band he has formed with some of the guys from Rage in the Machine. Open support of communism and Fidel Castro is a sure way to not get me to patronize you. Duh. I still listen to his music (XM radio is good for that), but I won't buy anything that has his name on it.

I stumbled upon this YouTube of Cornell today and he did exactly what I want to hear people do with covers - mash it up. True, the bar is low when you figure out who the original artist was, but still he has created a very good song out of an eighties mess.

Baseball Pool Update 10

Not much of an update today, I am sick as a dog.Brewers and Marlins suspended after 11, will resume tonight.
White Sox lose 2-1.
Cubs lose 4-2.
Mets idle.
Boston wins 14-3.
Detroit wins 3-1.
Cleveland wins 7-6 in Milwaukee.
The Yankees beat the Twins 10-1.
The LA Dodgers win 2-1.

So the standings:
1. PS Indy (Mets) 5 wins
1. Graphix (Dodgers) 5 wins
2. Craig (Tigers) 4 wins
2. PSL Dave (4 wins)
2. John (Yankees) 4 wins
3. JohnnyJ (Cubs) 3 wins
3. Dan from Madison (Brewers) 3 wins
3. Carl from Chicago (White Sox) 3 wins
3. Snake (Indians) 3 wins

Opening Day Redux


I just found out that Cleveland is having their opening day in...Milwaukee! Yes, since they can't play any games in Cleveland, they are starting their three game set tonight with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, or whatever the hell that team is called. They will always be the California Angels to me. $10 bucks a head. I think I may sneak out to a game if I can this week.


Every baseball team should have a retractible roof.

Baseball Pool Update 9

Again, the Indians and Mariners get snowed out. Geez that is getting old.The Yankees get a good outing from Pavano, who goes seven innings giving up only 2 runs and their bats come alive to get the win over the Twins 8-2. Bobby Abreau hits a homer and collects 4 RBI and A-Rod hits his fifth homer in six games.
Detroit drops one to the Orioles 6-2. Cabrera goes 7.2 innings giving up only two runs for Baltimore, while Durbin only makes it 4.2 giving up six runs. Kevin Millar collects his second homer of the season.

The Mets smash Philly 11-5. Philly was winning 5-4 but the Mets score a touchdown in the bottom of the eighth to gain the victory. Hamels goes six giving up two runs for Philly, but their bullpen blows it, while their horrific defense gives up four unearned runs.

The Cubs lose to Houston 5-3, dropping their home opener. Holy crap that must have been cccooollldd out there. Adam Everett hits a two run homer off Howry in the top of the eighth to break a 3-3 tie and ruin the day for the Cubs fans. I spent $300m in the off season and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.
The Dodgers finally cool off a bit, losing to the Rockies 6-3. Jeff Francis allows only two runs in 6.2 innings and the Rocks use their speed (Taveras and Matsui) to score runs against the Dodgers. Jeff Baker had three hits including an RBI triple for Colorado.
The Brewers stink it up again, this tim against Annie's Marlins 5-3. Miguel Cabrera hit his third homer and drove in three runs for the Marlins. Jeff Suppan lost his second straight for Milwaukee, allowing five runs in six innings. At least the bullpen held them down from there, but with inactive bats it was too late. The Brewers have got to start scoring bunches of runs or they will be out of it by the all star break - again. And there is no reason they can't - they have a good lineup, maybe they will get it going. They better or all is lost for another year.

Carl's Sox get it done against Oakland, 4-1. Contreras comes back from his opening day debacle to go six strong innings and Podsednik and Thome get a homers to power the Sox.


1. PS Indy (Mets) 5 wins
2. Graphix (Dodgers) 4 wins
3. JohnnyJ (Cubs) 3 wins
3. Dan from Madison (Brewers) 3 wins
3. Craig (Tigers) 3 wins
3. PSL Dave (Red Sox) 3 wins
3. Carl from Chicago (White Sox) 3 wins
3. John (Yankees) 3 wins
4. Snake (Indians) 2 wins

Monday, April 09, 2007

Cars

"There are a number of articles and advisers that assist people with financial planning. Two Sunday's ago in the Chicago Tribune they attempted to help a couple (two women cohabitating) who were being crushed by their adjustable rate mortgage called "The American Dream is Breaking the Bank."

The two women can barely make their mortgage payments. On top of that, they own two cars - a 2003 Dodge Durango and a 2004 Chrysler Pacifica. One of them is a police officer and the other is an assistant to an adoption lawyer. They live in Eustis, Florida.

Thanks to wikipedia you can immediately pull up demographic facts for Eustis. Per wikipedia:

The median income for a household in the city was $32,032, and the median income for a family was $39,519

For the sake of discussion let's assume that the two women are right at the family median income of $39,000. Thus these two women went out and purchased (new, let's suppose, since we don't know for certain) two cars with a likely cost of more than $40,000. I am giving them the benefit of the doubt on this; a new Pacifica is more than $25,000 and a Durango over $30,000.

It is astounding to me that the two women decided to purchase cars that are equal to one years' annual income. Quick math on annual income is 1/3 goes to taxes (sales, social security, property taxes, and federal taxes), 1/3 goes to necessities (food, fuel, clothes, etc...) and then you have 1/3 left for everything else. They have a child, to boot (and one that supports herself). Basically every dollar left over would have to go towards car payments if they just wanted to pay them down over a five year loan and have a little left over for repairs.

I have driven through small towns across the United States where wages are necessarily lower than the big cities. Yet the omnipresent large trucks and expensive cars always surprise me; they must big a giant chunk of available income in those towns. It isn't much of an exaggeration to say that most people in small towns work to pay for their cars.

This is part of the overall fetishization of cars. I fall prey to it - lots of people do. I look at advertisements for new cars and imagine driving a 350Z or some other cool car.

But it is another thing to essentially work to pay for your car, which is pretty much a means of transportation, and depreciating rapidly, to boot. In New York City you are working for the incredibly expensive real estate and related expenses; and in small towns you are working to pay off that big new truck.

Everyone has one, right? Thus I need one, too...