Saturday, April 30, 2005
A dirty nuke is a small amount of nuclear material surrounded by standard explosives like TNT. You really don't need much of the nuclear material to make a dirty nuke. Most experts say one of these bombs could be carried in a suitcase or packed on a person. Obviously the main suspect to do something like this to us is a terrorist.
I have done too much reading about dirty nukes and their effects and most of the people who know how these things work seem to agree on one thing. The panic that will set in after a dirty nuke goes off will kill many more people (from car accidents, heart attacks, etc.) than the actual explosion itself. With that in mind, I have a few tips and tricks for you to think about to help you survive should this situation ever arise.
Before anything happens, you should really have a disaster plan. Write it down and review it every six months or so. This is not only good for dirty nukes, but tornadoes, floods, whatever. If you are at work and your spouse is home, how will you meet if the cell phone network is down? Can you meet if the roads are clogged?
As far as a dirty nuke goes, you have to, at all costs, remain calm. If you are not killed by the initial explosion, odds are that you will survive. You just have to keep your head on straight, follow your disaster plan and execute it.
The fallout from a dirty nuke will be relatively small - but you still want to avoid it. Radiation gets into your body by being absorbed through your skin. Put on long sleeved clothes. Wash your face and hands regularly. Get away from the city. Here in the Midwest, the prevailing winds almost always blow east - so go west!!! If that option isn't open, the further distance you can get away from the blast center, the better. The radiation from these crude weapons will be dissipated quickly, especially if it is a windy day. However, you will have lots of competition to get away from the city and they will be nervous and panicked. If you can't get away fast, do not panic. Like I said, if you survive the blast the odds are that you will live so just stay home, wash often, wear long sleeves and get out when you can.
There is tons of information on the internet about what to bring with you and how to pack it, etc. At the bare minimum, you should get together with your mate and draft some kind of disaster plan - what would it hurt?
Via Drudge, here is an article that describes Beckham's beauty regimen. So this guy uses eye cream, gets manicures, plucks his eyebrows and gets fake spray tans. We have a word for a guy like this here in the Great Midwest - sissy. We also have some other words for a guy like this, but I want to try to keep this blog somewhat family friendly.
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Like Carl said, sometimes the blog just writes itself....
This is a photo (click for larger version) of a very unwelcome lunch guest today. Looks to be some sort of beetle that made his way into my salad from McDonald's. My theory is that they probably get the lettuce from Mexico and he hitched a ride - yet another illegal alien.
I had eaten about half of the salad and noticed this guy on the plate. I went to the McDonald's that served it to me and they gave me my money back and offered to buy me lunch. I said that I would rather have $5 worth of gift certificates as I probably will not be having lunch there today (or ever) and they complied with that request.
Apparently I am not the only one.
Please make a note of it and as always, thanks for reading! The archives and everything will be available at the new address, but the old one will go away. Light blogging 'till then so I can make sure that the transition goes nice and smooth.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
I have written repeatedly about the unbelievable murders we have up here in Wisconsin. It isn't just the good ol' drive by or enraged husband kills wife and turns himself in. These stories from here behind the cheese curtain are about some very disturbed and deranged people who usually do weird things with the corpse.
Of course there were the infamous Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer. We have recently had mass murders here, here, and here.
Now this. ICK!!!
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
The law will let Floridians "meet force with force," erasing the "duty to retreat" when they fear for their lives outside of their homes, in their cars or businesses, or on the street.
The Florida measure says any person "has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm."
This is what a former NRA president calls "The Castle Doctrine". Of course, this doctrine already applied at my house. If anyone invades my house I would risk my life and/or time in jail to protect my family, invasion laws be damned. Promise. Gun control advocates are reeling lately and it is a great thing. Now maybe we could get some momentum going in Chicago so my good friend Carl could be allowed to legally possess a firearm for his protection. Doesn't that sound ridiculous? Carl, living in one of the most dangerous cities in the United States cannot legally own a handgun?
What's this? Dan in China? No, just Epcot. Had a great trip to Disney. Here are a few tips and tricks if you are going any time soon:
Do not take the buses from the airport to your resort. They stop everywhere and are a huge waste of time.
Do not pack a "bag in a bag". We had a large carryon that had my wife's makeup case inside and they stopped it going down and coming back. They confiscated her manicure scissors - on the way back. No problem on the way down. Ugh.
Spend more money and stay at a Disney resort. There is a large man-made lake in the middle of many of them and you can take boats to many of the theme parks. There are also tons of activities for the little ones. If there is no boat transport, you can take the buses. The boats and buses are free to ride as many times as you want.
Get an all-pass. This will get you into all four of Disneys parks for one price. The parks are Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and MGM. We had the most fun by far at Epcot. Magic Kingdom is great for little ones. Animal Kingdom was very lame and we didn't make it to MGM. Plan on spending a whole day at any of the above parks if you want to go through the whole thing.
This is a small recap - if you are going soon, let me know and I will give you more tips.
Yesterday I bought the Ipod Shuffle 512 meg version for $99 with a protective case for $25 and an armband for $25. The armbands are on back order. Unlike Carl I like the earbuds. I am used to them as my last walkman had them so no big deal for me.
I had no music on my computer so the long task of loading tracks into my PC has begun. I did about 25 songs last night. The software that comes with the Ipod worked well for me. It was much faster ripping the songs than the free Dell Jukebox Musicmatch software that was installed on my laptop. After the Ipod Shuffle charged I did a test run and it works great. It gets loud with good sound. I don't plan on using the Shuffle for "leisure music listening" so I didn't create any files. I suppose you can categorize your music but all of mine that I will be listening to on it is metal so no need in my case.
It was neat to dust off all of my old CD's. Some of the really old ones from the mid 80's don't have any ID on the tracks so you have to manually enter it instead of the computer reading it for you.
Monday, April 25, 2005
This article is literally INSANE! I have a hard time believing that he said these things.
Putin said that the demise of the godless, murdering, hellish communist CCCP soviet union was
"the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century."
HUH???!!! What was the second-worst tragedy - the defeat of Hitler, Tojo and facism? Was the third-worst tragedy the death of MAO in China, another horrendous murderer?
I really can hardly stomach reading the article without getting ill. I don't usually want to seem over-wraught in a post but for God's sakes - to mourn the death of the Soviet Union in this way... I really don't know what to say.
Anyway, it is a salt stain that someone thought looks like the Virgin Mary. The best way to test the stain, of course, would be to sandblast or wash it off and see if it appears again, but the Illinois Dept. of Trasportation won't do that, as they don't wash the concrete on any regular basis. Fair enough.
This post won't go into whether the appearance of Mary in such a shithole as the Fullerton Avenue underpass means we are all going to die tomorrow or we all will receive the full glory of Mary if we drive over there and touch it. The purpose of this post is to discuss these sorts of "miracles" in general and why I think they are so stupid.
I think I choose not to believe in them because of my strict Baptist indroctination at an early age, believe it or not. In the sect of Baptists that I was raised in, it was very conservative, and the literal translation of the Bible was the rule. Oh yes, the translation that they used was exclusively the King James version of the Bible - no modern day translations would do. They poo-pooed all of the faith healers, people who speak in tongues and all other miracles, indicating that it says nowhere in the Bible that these things are legit. It is an interesting duality as they believed in the miracles in the Bible itself (i.e. loaves and fishes), but nothing in the modern day. No shroud of Turin, no Lourdes.
The main crux of the matter was that they believed that there was no man who could interfere with your communication to God or Jesus (God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are the same thing in Baptists minds - the Trinity as one). I think that this is right. I believe that Jesus, if you believe that he is a god, would have wanted no ritual or person to stand in the way of your worship of him. That is also why these Baptists poo-pooed the Pope as simply just another guy. Catholics as far as I know think that the Pope is descended of Peter and is a saint on earth. That may be an incorrect definition, but I think it is close. People are constantly trying to get blessed by the Pope or touch him or kiss his ring. These things are strictly verboten in the Baptist sect I was brought up in.
Every time I hear of another Virgin Mary sighting, whether this one on the Fullerton Av. underpass, or on a grilled cheese sandwich or anywhere else, I just shake my head.
Sunday, April 24, 2005
The key underlying issue isn't usually discussed - it is the basic economic principle of price = marginal cost. Ultimately, the price of an item approaches its marginal costs. Everyone now knows how easy it is to burn a CD - take the song, "rip" it to your PC, and then "burn" it as a CD that you can play in your car or stereo. A CD burner now is virtually free and comes with almost any PC out of the box, and you can buy spools of CD's for almost nothing. It gets cheaper still if you don't bother burning to a CD anymore, and just rip the song or download it and put it on your iPod or MP3 player. Now there aren't any marginal costs at all, once you buy the player and the PC. For those that slept through their economic classes, the marginal cost is the cost to produce the last item of something, not including all of the fixed costs up front to get things setup and started.
The music industry has fought this for years with cries of "piracy" and legal strategies such as suing downloaders, while they RAISED prices when everyone knows how easy it is to create a CD (and in their head, how low the marginal cost of producing those CD's are). Paying 16 - 20 dollars for a CD seems nuts to anyone who owns a PC (i.e. pretty much everyone) because they burn them and slap cover art on them and distribute them to the store. They don't even bother with the big "packages" anymore that they used to sell with CD's, now it is just the basic CD in plastic. This strategy flies in the face of economics and was a failure.
I do think that people will pay SOMETHING for music, or at least most people, so they need to try a new tactic. I recently bought the new "Queens of the Stone Age" album and it was less than ten dollars. There was a different copy of the same album with a DVD of footage of videos that was a few dollars more that I didn't buy, but I looked at it and if I was a big fan I would probably have bought that one, instead. It is a very smart pricing plan to offer both options. The new "Mars Volta" album was 8 dollars, and a lot of new music is also going for that price. Finally the music industry is trying something new instead of suing and complaining, they are trying to compete and add value.
I also use musicmatch software for my song library. Thru musicmatch you can buy songs for 1 dollar each, and they have lots of songs. Pretty much most of what you'd be looking for is out there. I spent about 10 bucks yesterday on a wide variety of songs including songs from Nine Inch Nails, James McMurtry, Daft Punk, Khasmin, and some other one-off tunes. It is fun shopping for them and easy to buy, but kind of a pain because the songs are "secured" mp3 files that don't fit in with my collection. So after I buy them, I "burn" them onto a CD and then "rip" them back as unsecured MP3 files and delete the secured ones. I am not being a pirate, I am paying for them, but I don't want secured MP3 files because then my collection will be a mess and I will not necessarily be able to download them into other MP3 players. But from the music industry's perspective I just "cherry picked" songs I liked from albums that I might have bought otherwise and thus put another pressure on the sale of full-priced albums.
Thus the music companies are trying something that might work:
- lowering prices on new CD's to confront the economic reality that there is a free version of every song out there for downloading and you can also 'cherry pick' just the songs you like for 1 dollar each so the album can't cost 15 dollars unless you have 15 outstanding tracks (unlikely)
- adding additional features such as live CD's or DVD's of videos or other benefits in the package that aren't available through downloads
- for new or less established artists, lowering prices even further to get people to try the new album (like the Mars Volta)
- selling more and more music online, where you can buy "a la carte" and just pick the songs you like
So I finally broke down and took a friend's advice and bought an iPod. I had been avoiding Apple products because I don't own an Apple machine but now their devices work with windows and it seems like everyone has one. I bought a 1 gig player, which seems small (most players have 5 or 20 or 40 gig) but actually, due to the clever software, it doesn't matter. When you plug it in to your USB port you can just hit "shuffle" and it automatically fills your iPod with 1 gig of random songs from your collection. So whether you have 20 gigs or 1 gig of music in your iPod, if you are playing random songs and periodically refreshing, it doesn't matter since it takes a couple of hours to cycle through 1 gig of songs and it takes forever to cycle through 20 gigs of songs so you can't tell the difference. The key is that their software makes it easy to randomly replenish your iPod.
There is no "screen" so you can't tell the song or artist. But since it is your music, you probably know the song and artist anyways, no big loss. And it charges from ANY USB port, so it is easy to charge up even at work, you don't need to buy a charger and carry it around with you. Plus, without a screen, the battery life is VERY long. I highly recommend the iPod shuffle, although I hate the "ear buds" and replaced them with some other of the "hook behind" headphones I bought stand alone instead.
Saturday, April 23, 2005
Recently Archipelago Exchange(ticker symbol AX) merged with the New York Stock Exchange. This was a significant event because the NYSE and the AX had been engaged in a nasty war of words for years as evidenced by this billboard, above, which I walk by every day on the way to work. In this billboard AX is taking NYSE to task for routing their orders to firms "on the floor", who manually place the orders, instead of routing them electronically.
I think that there will be some odd times together when these traditional enemies are merged into a single firm.
For the city of Chicago this is a big win because AX is a Chicago company that has de-facto taken over the illustrious "big board" in NY. We need some wins - we seem to lose headquarters here all the time and some of the ones that are left (Boeing) are mired in scandal.
Another merger happened this week - the rival to the NYSE, NASDAQ (ticker NDAQ) merged with Instinet, an ECN that trades stocks electronically. While the NYSE / AX merger was about the old merging with the new, the NASDAQ merger was more about consolidation of two competitors into a single more profitable entity. Here is a link to an article about both of these events.
I dont' know exactly what prompted these 2 events to happen in the last week - I think it is a lot of items converging at once, from scandal at the NYSE to regulation changes at the SEC to the fact that everyone realized that something different had to happen ultimately with the NYSE's model.
No one knows what this will mean for investors. Investors want good prices on trades and fast execution. The "specialists" at the NYSE said that their model got investors better prices, but no one argued that electronic trading meant faster execution of trades.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
After years of nobody doing anything, finally the people have stepped up. The Minuteman Project is simply a collection of citizens that have decided to patrol the border themselves, with great success. I think that not only are these volunteers true patriots, but great Americans in every sense of the word. Their title of Minutemen is very profound. They, like the original colonists, know that their government is neglecting them and, in fact, treating them like second class citizens by not doing anything about the border. There is plenty of blame to go around for the border mess, and no single political party or person is immune. The citizens of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas have finally had enough and have given the government the collective finger. Trust me, if it were my property being tramped upon by illegals I would be patrolling, too.
I have sent them some $$ and suggest you do to. That border is easily the best place for a terrorist to sneak across a dirty nuke. And from there, to your city.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
In 1961 the Los Angeles Angels started playing baseball. They moved to Anaheim in 1966 and changed the name to the California Angels. They changed their name in 1997 to the Anaheim Angels. OK, I can live with all of this. Well, this year they are called The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Now, just exactly what is being accomplished by this? I can't imagine one person who would now go to an Angels game since the name of the team is changed. Joe six pack is sitting there in his living room, watching Sportscenter and the scores come on - he says to himself "Oh my god! The team is now called the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - I must go to many games now!!!" Don't think so.
The Angels haven't moved, the team is the same, same uniforms, same everything. Same, same, same. So why the name change? I just don't get it.
Let's bring out the lawyers. The City of Anaheim, who subsidized part of the new stadium that the Angels is suing the team for the name change. If it can't get fixed, I assume the Los Angeles Dodgers will sue the Angels for something. Sigh. Go Milwaukee Brewers of Milwaukee!
Lance Armstrong has just announced that he will retire from competitive riding after the Tour de France in July. Just exactly what are they going to do in this years Tour de France?
2227 miles over 24 days.
92.79 miles on average per day.
Fast. Last year Lance averaged 26 mph.
Up big hills. Mountains, that is. Racing.
Monday, April 18, 2005
A scene from Moscow on the Hudson has always stuck in my head. That is the one where the Russian man goes into a grocery store here in the USA and starts crying because not only is the store brimming with food, but there are so many choices. I always remember that when I go shopping for groceries (and I am stunned that people can't feed themselves because food is so cheap - but that is a different post for a different day). Anyone who has visited Western Europe knows that it just ain't so over there. They seem to have less and therefore consume less. I am not saying that it is wrong or better, I am saying that it is different. Why is this? Why don't Europeans have mega-groceries? Why don't they all have 2,000 square foot houses? These are tough questions. I propose it is because they don't have the money to do it. I also propose that they have no one to thank for their current state but their current states.
For visitors to the US it is readily apparent that Americans have a LOT of disposable income. Even with the latest job losses to China and Mexico in the manufacturing sector it seems that Americans manage to take just as many vacations, buy just as many cars and have just as many toys as ever. Everyone has a cell phone, two or three TV's, washers, dryers and a laptop. America is China's largest customer. Why? We have the most disposable income. As backbreaking as the tax system is here in the US, it is nothing compared to Western European and Scandinavian countries. Here is a table taken from an article in the Christian Science Monitor:
IN EUROPE, A FLAT-TAX REVOLUTION? A growing number of countries in Eastern Europe have adopted a flat tax (in bold), pressuring Western European nations to lower their rates. Below, a comparison of the top rates on personal income (marginal tax rates):
10-19%: Georgia, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Ukraine, Macedonia
20-29%: Estonia, Latvia, Albania, Bulgaria, Denmark, Moldova
30-39%: Lithuania, Belarus, Cyprus, Czech Rep., Finland, Hungary, Luxembourg, Monaco
40-49%: Britain, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Turkey
50%+: Austria, Belgium, France, Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden
Not even taking into account the local taxes, value added taxes and everything else, the governments of almost all of the Western European states take 40% or more of the income of their citizens right off the top. They do it to support the established welfare states. Cradle to grave entitlements are the norm in many of these places. State run health agencies, universities and companies are all supported on the backs of the common worker. I am not saying that the US is perfect, but the level of entitlements in the Scandinavian countries in particular is astonishing; I would assume, if their governments are run like most, that their programs are wasteful, inefficient and expensive.
Fold the unbelievable tax rates into an omelet with low GDP and you get - herring for dinner. What I am trying to say here is that most of these European countries are in what I would call a death spiral. High taxes kill private investment and consumption which kills GDP which creates the state's need for higher taxes. Check page 10 of the Timbro report. GDP for the Western European states is severely lacking when compared to that of the US. As a kicker, if you compare the EU combined to each separate State in the US (page 13 Timbro), it only beats Arkansas, West Virginia, Mississippi and Montana in GDP. All of this makes for a very predictable conclusion. High GDP equals high income; coupled with relatively low taxes this lets the citizens of the US buy boats and nice flat screen TV's. Europeans have to get by with tiny abodes, no cars and few luxuries. Timbro also notes on page 28 correctly that Europeans, in general, work less than Americans. Hey, you work less, you have less to spend. Germans on average take 12 weeks of vacation!
I have made some generalizations in this post but I am writing a blog post, not writing a book (yet). My point, I think, is well made. The nations of Western Europe need to lower taxes and decrease the welfare state or they will continue in what I refer to as their death spiral. The countries in Eastern Europe who have instituted the flat tax are generating investment and jobs in leaps and bounds. If you were an international company and wanted to put a plant in Europe, where would you choose? Germany with high taxes and low productivity or Slovakia with a motivated workforce and a low flat tax? This doesn't even go into the problem of huge numbers of Arab immigrants flowing into Europe and what the welfare state plans on doing with them. But here in the US we have our own immigration crisis to deal with as well.
Sunday, April 17, 2005
I took a 31 mile leisure ride Saturday on the Capital City State Trail. I stopped to take lots of photos (click on any photo for a larger version). This is a section of the trail about a mile from my house. Most of these houses in this area are from $350k to $500k. That is interesting because if you check out Carl's River North guide, you will soon realize that you can get a condo only for that kind of money in his neighborhood. Location, location, location. Realize that most of these houses have 2-3 car garages, over 3k square feet, yards, trees, etc. It is definitely a big give and take when you talk big city vs. small town living.
Here is a photo of the "skyline" of Madison. Note that the Capitol Building sticks up over all of the rest of the buildings. That is on purpose. There is a city ordinance that says that on the isthmus - the hunk of land between the two lakes - no building can be built taller than the Capitol Building. They are reviewing that now as there is a large condo development proposed that may be taller. On the far right you can see a structure with four smokestacks. That is a power plant and there is a closeup of it below.
I have lived in Madison for over 10 years and no one told me about the 20 foot ostriches made out of junk! I like these types of sculptures. I think it is neat for someone to be able to take industrial waste and make it into something relatively pleasing to the eye.
Of course this is Madison, so a photo of real life communists is in order. I got into a discussion with the guy in the white shirt about communism and he wasn't very, well, receptive to my side of the arguments. He didn't like in particular when I asked if I could come get some of the onions when they were up even though I didn't do any of the work - hey, isn't that what communism is all about? The discussion ended abruptly when he started ripping on the US and I asked him which he liked better - the mass starvation of over 8 million Ukrainians by the communist regime under Stalin or the gassing of entire peasant villages by the communist regime under Lenin or the mass starvation of millions of Chinese under Mao when Mao told the citizens to melt all of their gardening tools in homemade furnaces to try to make enough steel to match the high quality industrial steel that was being manufactured in England. He definitely didn't like that and I rode away.
There are a lot of things that people won't show you in Madison. Every city has them, you just don't know they are there unless you take a bike trail or go out of your way to see them. Here is a photo of a site just blocks from where I work. You see things cities need to survive but try to hide. All cities need things like you see here and in the next few photos - power lines, railroad tracks...
Saturday, April 16, 2005
The Chinese embassy in Chicago. Unlike their non-issue with Japan that is causing demonstrations, the Chinese deserve demonstrations due to their harsh tactics on dissent and lack of respect for human rights.
The first is that the Chinese government resolutely policies their people and use brute force quickly any time there are street protests. Why is this? Because they are a dictatorship and they know that any mob of people, organized for one purpose, can quickly turn on them and become a protest against the dictatorship that runs China. At first, they sanctioned these anti-Japan protests, but then they started cracking down on them when the crowds became larger and showed too much enthusiasm.
There was an old joke that used to go "In the US, you can challenge the policies of the government, and in Russia you can also protest the policies of the US government". The not-so-funny joke was basically that the only reliable card that protestors world-wide (particularly in the Arab world) can gather about is the US (or Israel).
We saw what happened in 1991 when the Chinese brought in troops to smash the unarmed student protestors - in China it is a big deal to murder unarmed students and even today Tiananmen Square is an extremely sensitive topic for the Chinese government.
The last straw of a dictatorship is nationalism, and it is a very powerful card. The people in China may hate their government and its agents, controls and corruption, but the government can bet that there is something they hate even more - Japan. Note that the government allowed these protests (don't try protesting about anything else, mind you) which probably says something about their relative hold on power.
The second thread on this is that everyone in the Pacific, and while we are at it most people in the world, hate their neighbors. I know that in the "social studies" classes we took in middle school it said that everyone loves everyone and the US is the cause of the world's troubles, but it isn't the truth, obviously.
Let's look at the neighborly state of things in the Pacific, broadly defined:
- Japan - the Chinese, Koreans and Taiwanese all hate Japan. The nominal reason is that Japan occupied Korea for about 50 years and committed huge atrocities in China in WW2 during their invasion and occupation. While true, this type of behavior didn't stop people from reconciling in Europe. People hate Japan because they are a very successful nation, wealthy and economically powerful with strong companies and excellent technical skills. Note that Japan accomplishes all of this without any natural resources whatsoever and virtually no immigration, which is a significant fact.
- China - China hates everyone. They want to take over and crush Taiwan, their wayward brothers that left the mainland after the 1949 civil war and takeover by the dictators in China (I don't refer to them as communists any more because they barely make a pretense at communism). Taiwan is a very successful state, like Japan, mainly because instead of engaging in idiotic schemes like collectivization of farms and the "Great Leap Forward" where no one went to school for a decade (those that didn't starve or die in labor camps), Taiwan allowed capitalism to thrive and tapped into the amazing economic potential of the ethnic Chinese far earlier and thus built a very powerful economy. Virtually everything you buy as far as computers was built in Taiwan, another country without any natural resources at all to speak of. China also hates India, and fought brutal border wars with her. About the only people China likes are the North Koreans, that most insane and crazy of dictatorships that they supported in the Korean war against the US in the 1950's and still prop up even today. And don't forget that China and Russia eye each other warily, with the Chinese gaining in power while the Russians lose theirs, both sides trying to control the "Stans" in that part of the world
- Korea - South Korea and North Korea are locked in a bitter standoff, and about the only thing that binds these two countries is a hatred of Japan
- Don't forget India and Pakistan, 2 nuclear armed and barely governed countries that hate each other, have fought three "hot" wars and a long running "cold" war, and are always just an assassination or random event away from coming to blows again. Like in China, these badly governed places turn to nationalism when their failings as a government become too big to hide to their people
- Singapore is disliked by most everyone, especially Malaysia, because they are well governed and very successful, due primarily to ethnic Chinese who create successful businesses around the world, which leads to...
- Indonesia, where a civil war is usually in the cards with an Islamic majority of tribes against the successful Chinese businesspeople. Indonesia is barely a country outside of the major cities and a few tourist areas, despite what it says on the map, and in their defense it is hard to manage a country that consists of a million islands and nationalities
But wait - aren't all of the world's troubles caused by the US and our "cowboy diplomacy"? I'm sure some twisted conspiracy could link the US to all of these events, but it is obviously false. These countries are not all governed well, and the well governed and successful countries (Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea) that generally (although not always) allow their citizens the right to vote and certainly allow them their economic freedom and have done so for decades are more successful and the lumbering dictatorships or just plain barely governed countries point to them for political points every so often.
The upside to all this is the remarkable economic capabilities of capitalism and how it can awaken hope and a better standard of living. Hopefully this dilutes these international hatreds over time. It happened in Europe, more or less, but we need to watch it in the Pacific.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Scalping is illegal in the State of Illinois UNLESS you have a "brokers license". Basically you pay a fee to the state and you can set up a website, office, or whatever and sell tickets for above the face value, pocketing the difference. Ebay and other online sites have started to make ticket brokers obsolete, however. The key to all of this is to be able to get the tickets - for face value.
The demand for Cub tickets is so intense that for $45 seats down front you can get several hundred dollars each. For the Yankees games last year some seats went for over $1,000 ea. That is nice coin.
Here is what the Cubs did:
The Tribune Company (owner of the Cubs) set up Wrigley Field Premium Ticket Services. Before the season even starts the Cubs take the good seats and sell them to WFPTS for face. WFPTS then can scalp the tickets at street market rate. There is some accounting trickery going on here also, but lets just limit this post to the scalping theme. So basically, the Cubs and their owner, The Tribune Company set up a ticket broker to try to harvest some of the "lost" revenue that other scalpers or season ticket holders were receiving. So be it.
What is so very amusing to me about all of this? Several things.
1) If a person wants to pay $1000 to go to a baseball game, I say let him or her. It's their money and I don't care what they do with it. If that means that you can't go, so what. You will be OK. You aren't guaranteed any sort of right to go to baseball games. And, by the way, it is just a baseball game.
2) Why don't the Cubs just simply auction off every seat in the house? Have a huge online auction at the beginning of the year and let 'er rip. No more lines, no more "lost" revenue. No more crying about scalpers "making money off your team". The Cubs would receive exactly every penny that the market can hold for the tickets. There are some serious advantages to this system. First, auction off a set amount of season tickets, say the lower deck and bleachers (non-renewable - every season ticket is auctioned off every year). Then, wait until two or three weeks before the game happens to auction off single game tickets (the upper deck). The Cubs sell out every game anyway. So why not wait until later in the season to have auctions for single game tickets? That way, if the Cubs are in the playoff hunt, they could get even more money for the tickets. Why sell tickets in March for a game in September? Maybe Barry Bonds will be in town trying to break Hank Aaron's home run record. Of course, they could set minimum prices (like everyone does on Ebay now) so they would be out nothing. Remember, even if the Cubs stink, they still sell out every game. Another option may be "floating" prices. In other words, the Cubs would charge higher prices for the Cardinals games than for the Pirates games.
All of this depends on the financial viability of the Cubs. I don't know how viable they are. With a huge payroll like they have, they may be forced into selling all of their tickets before the season starts just to be able to bankroll the players salaries. This information is not readily available to me, and it is a point that needs to be made. That still wouldn't stop the Cubs from having an auction before the season started - maybe for all of the games. It would accomplish the same thing - cutting out the middle man, which is why the Cubs set up WFPTS.
3) The Cubs will suck again one day. The spread between face value and street value increases or decreases as a function of the success or failure of the team. My beloved Milwaukee Brewers have a face/street spread below zero. If you go to a Brewer game and encounter people selling tickets outside the game, usually the price is below face - people are trying to get anything for the extra tickets they have. Their competition is the box office and the face price. That is because the Brewers never sell out. Remember, the Brewers have not had a .500 season since 1992 - their attendance for the game on April 13, 2005 was 11,000. In a 40,000 seat stadium. A stadium with a roof so no threat of rainout. And that includes season ticket holders that didn't show up as those are always counted in attendance. As if that is not bad enough, you can always buy the $12 upper deck seats and move way down front - trust me, I do it all the time. Yes, demand will always be there for Cub tickets, but not the crushing demand of the here and now. Will the Cubs be able to skim enough revenue from their legal scalping operation to keep it afloat in the lean times? Time will tell. It seems so. Even in the early 90's when they weren't so good and I attended many Cub games, the place was packed.
4) Here is the bigger story - what the heck is wrong with scalping anyway? Imagine me, a business owner, going to my customer and stating that it is illegal for them to mark up any product I sell them because I have "lost" revenue. That is just plain silly. Automotive shops do it, grocery stores do it, home centers do it. Marking a product up and making it available at the right place at the right time is the whole foundation for any distribution business; grocery stores, home centers and the like are nothing more than distribution businesses that are retail based.
For any team to carp about scalping is just foolish. Hey team owner - IF YOU ARE PISSED OFF THAT PEOPLE ARE SCALPING YOUR TICKETS AND YOU ARE LOSING REVENUE RAISE YOUR DAMNED PRICES!!! Obviously the owner of the team doesn't have the ticket marked up high enough if there is someone else that is making a nice markup inbetween.
In the real world, this is how distribution companies (like Wal-Mart, Target and the rest) make their money. Manufacturers don't necessarily want to deal with all of the end users, so they sell bulk quantities of product to a middle man who breaks down the large quantities, marks the product up and sells those smaller quantities to the end users. What is more efficient for Proctor and Gamble - selling a skid of Crest to Wal-Mart or selling 10,000 individual tubes of Crest to 10,000 individual people? So letting middle men make a buck is a choice lots of manufacturers make. The Cubs are no different. They set a price for the ticket. They knew that middle men (legally and illegally) were making a mark up on the ticket. So the Cubs set up their own middle man with the choice seats. Simple.
5) For people to complain about the Cubs scalping their own tickets is a huge waste of time and air. If you are upset, there is one thing you can do and one thing only. Do not go to the Cub games. Very easy.
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
General Abizaid in Chicago on April 12 at the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations at the Fairmont Hotel.
Recently I joined the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations with my wife. We have seen a number of speakers through them so we decided to join to support them more effectively. In previous meetings we saw Hamid Karzai, the elected president of Afganistan, speak, which was very informative.
The General is in charge of the region that includes Afganistan and Iraq. Obviously he is in a very interesting position. There were many questions from the group.
For the most part, the questions were respectful. There were a couple of predictable liberal dopes who asked about Abu Ghraib and followed up but these were in the distinct minority. Some key observations:
- Over 1.7M US servicemen & women have been on tours through Iraq or Afganistan. The majority of these servicemen & women came away with a favorable impression of their people and were definitely changed by their experience
- The general felt that the tide of history was in favor of freedom, but that there would be many difficulties along the way. He compared our situation with Europe in 1800's when Napoleon's armies unleashed revolutionary furvor that really only took hold in 1848
- He said that the Iraqi security forces were doing better and that they were the key to getting the US troops in a secondary role and ultimately out of the country
- When asked what civilians could do for the military effort, the General said that we could try to employ and support wounded veterans. 1500 US soldiers and sailors have died but many more have been wounded, many with life-changing wounds. This is a powerful call to all of us to reach out and do something to respond to the sacrifices that these young men and women made for our country
I had my hand up the entire time but no one called on me - I wanted to thank the General and give him my support but then to ask him about recent high losses of M1 tanks and about why they don't use cannister (shotgun) ammo in these tanks which are absolutely punishing on unsupported infantry such as we face in the form of the insurgents / terrorists.
Congratulations to the General and keep up the good work!