Tuesday, February 28, 2006
The dog show has 2 main parts - the traditional stuff where the dogs trot in front of judges and a second part where you can walk around and see all the dogs in cages with their handlers as they prepare to be exhibited. It is this second part that makes the show so much fun.
For some reason the Yorkie in the upper left has "greeneye". My "redeye" fix in Picasa obviously won't work on him.
A friend of mine said he bought a dog from a breeder at one of these shows and they wouldn't sell you a puppy if you said you had children because they feel that a dog deserves as much attention as a child! No kidding...
Note the lower right you can see the cages when they are kept while they aren't being shown. Typical is the collage of photos above them - these guys are clearly family members and the focus of someone's entire existence.
It isn't every day that you see 4 big malamutes hanging out quietly in a big cage. You'd need a lift truck to move that thing. They were very well behaved.
The lower right is one of those giant Mastiff dogs. Those dogs are simply massive - usually the owner has a sign up that says something like "My name is Rex and I weigh 190 pounds and am 2 years old..." I guess the owners get tired of answering the same questions over and over again. Like all the dogs here, the Mastiff was very well trained and behaved. I can't even imagine what it would be like if a dog like that was out of control.
On the lower left is the view from the bridge over Lake Shore Drive looking north with the "original" McCormick place on the right and the new extension on the left. You can see the tall AON building (formerly the Amoco building) just past the spaceship that is Soldier Field. It is a great view for visitors and a real asset to the City.
The lower right shows a few of the tall and massive condo buildings that are going up on the West side of Lake Shore drive. The building boom that is occurring in Chicago right now is amazing. It used to be a wasteland around McCormick place and now there is tremendous development down there. Even veteran Chicago area people are stunned when they see the scale of development near Soldier Field. You can actually walk from the Loop down to Soldier Field without feeling like you are going to get rolled. Once again, all this development came about without government incentives, just the market at work.
Monday, February 27, 2006
A wrought iron fence surrounds the parking lot. You can see where the fence was struck by a car and bent inward.
The point of this post is the big, thick concrete post that sits next to (not supporting, just looks like it) the fence. What is the purpose of this post, you ask?
For those of you that live in nice tidy suburbs where people generally obey the laws and don't pack in cars like sardines you probably haven't seen these posts. These are concrete posts that have only one purpose - when you hit it, it royally screws up your car.
Thus the post isn't trying to accomplish anything. In this photo, it didn't stop the guy that smashed and bent the wrought iron fence. They probably didn't catch him in the act. He probably DID bang up against that big concrete post (sunk way way into the ground) and his car is very much the worse for wear because of it.
I used to live in a low rise condo and we installed one of these next to our fence, too. It didn't protect the fence but it did deter some crazier drivers.
I don't know what these concrete pillars are called, these posts that have no purpose whatsoever except to damage the offending person's car. So I named the post myself - the "FU Post".
If someone knows what they are really called, let me know.
When you stay at the American club there is one thing you can count on - lots of sinks! We had three in our unit, in this collage, with a nice big jacuzzi tub in the lower right. Each of the sinks were far better than the usual junky fixture you find in a typical hotel room, even a decent one.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
The photo in the lower left is of Georgia O'Keefe who stayed at the American Club early in the 20th century. The note mentions that she always maintained that there was no symbolism in her artwork, artwork that frequently resembles, well, look for yourself. All I have to say to that is riiiighhhtt....
The final photo in the lower right is my Ecco shoe. Staying at this high end resort reminded me of another time I stayed at a very upper crust place, the Ritz Carleton in Sydney, Australia. That place was fantastic, with a swimming pool on the roof where you could see the sky awash in stars (and constellations you can't see in the North, they are on the other side of the world, remember). However, one day we came in for afternoon tea from a hike, and the woman serving us was looking at me very strangely. Not until later did I realize that I had a huge strawberry wedged into the bottom of my Ecco shoe and I had my boot up and she must have been staring at a grotesquely misshapen Strawberry stuck to my shoe! At least this time my shoes were clean, so I consider the visit a success.
In March they have a beer tasting PLUS walk through in the design center in Kohler. Fun for you (beer) and your wife (kitchens and baths). Fun for the whole family!
Saturday, February 25, 2006
And this woman...
and these games.......
...all have in common? Of course, they are all on my latest podcast which you can access here. No special software required, just a pair of speakers. You can stream directly from the site or download the entire mp3 for later listening enjoyment. Yet another service provided free (free!) from your humble servants here at Life In The Great Midwest. Approximately 25 minutes. I have finally solved the riddle of the recording level so you shouldn't have to tinker as much with your volume knob as in my previous podcasts. Enjoy!
The hard part about photos is that you need to have your camera with you in order to snap the scene. Thus when I see something that I view as historic and interesting but I miss the shot it is painful since I know that it would have illuminated my thoughts.
The particular “missed shot” that I am referring to goes back to the time when there were anti-Iraq war protests after 9/11. During this time a lot of protestors and young people filled the streets and even briefly blocked Lake Shore Drive. Nothing came of it, of course, but that is a different story.
The day of the protests I walked by an Art School in Chicago. There was a hand written sign on the door of the fairly large school. The sign said that the school was closed for the protests that day. This is the photo I WISH I had taken.
Why is that photo historic? Because it perfectly captures the pre-fab, shallow world of these protestors and their myopic, ill-informed view of the world. Of course, if you are in art school, you are by definition against the War in Iraq and against George Bush, correct? You can pierce every part of your body, wear odd fashions, and supposedly be on a search for artistic truth, as long as ideologically you all sing from the same playbook.
I find this to be very interesting. Art is supposed to be about freedom of expression, or even about “shocking the senses”. You know what the most shocking, bravest art would be? Something that wasn’t lock step in synch with liberal biases that George Bush is ruining the world and this war is all about oil. How about a conservative artist, or someone that celebrates the sacrifices of our troops in Iraq? Or if that is too much to swallow, about how minorities like the Kurds have a future in Iraq that doesn’t involve torture, suffering, and poison gas attacks?
The recent uproar over the Dutch cartoons should enlighten our artists about how much “freedom” they’d have in a world under the Caliphate. None at all. They would be back in the propaganda prisons that ruled the world under Stalin and Communism or under the Nazis.
In the sickest coincidence, however, it reminds me of a joke from a Russian comedian:
“In America, you can criticize US foreign policy. In Russia, you can also criticize US foreign policy”.
I guess the anti-US, anti-freedom (not anarchist freedom, but freedom under the rule of law) stuff that they are doing for art probably would be spared under the new regime, using the same calculus as this old joke above.
And that is the photo that I wish I had taken.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
The photo to a right is of one of my favorite candies - "Swedish Fish". Note that there are a few types of Swedish Fish, if you are a connoisseur. There are the "wee" ones that are smaller and more "gummier", and then there are the packages that give you the red ones only. Here I am presenting the "classic" package with 4 colors.
There are 4 colors in the Swedish Fish package - red, orange, yellow and green. These colors represent different flavors. Red is cherry (maybe strawberry?), orange is, well, orange, yellow is lemon, and green is lime.
But let's think about this for a minute. The orange one has a very slight orange taste, but it is mostly sweet (no fish taste, thankfully). The yellow bears no resemblance to lemon, the green is nothing like a lime, and the red doesn't taste at all like a cherry.
So far, so what? Just because they are colors doesn't mean that they really have to taste like the color they represent, right? I'll grant that, because they are mighty tasty however you look at it.
The REAL issue here is that the "green" ostensibly "lime" flavor tastes like other lime candy. For example, there are lime "Mike and Ike" candies. These green fish do taste pretty similar to the other lime candy (although nothing like real limes, of course).
The yellow tastes like other yellow candy (once again Mike and Ike as an example, although there are many more). The orange seems kind of unique, although maybe it is a bit like the Life Savers orange or the Jolly Rancher orange.
The really wacky one is watermelon. Famous Jolly Rancher (what a name, before Brokeback Mountain) candies have that pungent watermelon flavor that tastes nothing like real watermelon, but is similar to other watermelon candy (also the old bubble gum, as well).
Is there some kind of "alternative" flavor standard that the candies link to, as a benchmark? They certainly have diverged far from the original intention of the flavor that they are supposed to represent, but they are consistent in a way that I find very interesting. I think that there is something Twilight-Zone'ish about this, personally.
Or maybe just another 1/2 pound of Swedish Fish, to go.
Chicago puts quite an effort into these seasonal lights and it is good for the city, brightening it up for tourists and locals alike. Just remember to buy a card!
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Public Accounting and Travels Around the States
My experience with being from the Midwest is similar to Dan’s. I started out as an accountant for one of the “Big Six” accounting firms (it started as the “Big Eight” and has been whittled down to the “Big Four”, if you’re counting), and they are 1) KPMG 2) Ernst & Young 3) PriceWaterhouseCoopers 4) Deloitte and Touche.
Back then over 1 ½ decades ago when you started as an auditor you went to auditor “boot camp” where they taught you how to become an auditor. Sure, in school, you learned the “concepts” behind accounting, but each firm had a very specific style of documentation that they used on all their workpapers (in the days before computers). You needed to put certain tickmarks next to the numbers in a particular fashion or else you’d be written-up. During the 2 week course I actually had dreams about tickmarks, no kidding.
The interesting part wasn’t the tick marks, it was the fact that this firm hired staff from all around the country. You’d be thrown into the classroom with instructors and staff your age and pretty much instantly people sorted out by geography.
The sorting went like this 1) California 2) East Coast (Boston and New York) 3) The South 4) The Midwest. The California people were too cool for the rest of us, they had a haughty air about them and seemed to wear something distinctive or carry themselves in a manner that showed that they knew something you didn’t. The East Coast people were quick witted, aggressive, and obnoxious. The Southern people were polite and well mannered and the women had everyone swooning. But then, you had the Midwest. The Midwest consisted of mostly people from Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee / Madison, Iowa, and some of the more far-flung outposts like Omaha and Cleveland. The Midwestern people were a cross between the bunch, being pretty firm in their confidence, hard drinking, but a lot friendlier than the East and Left coasts.
During the course of my travels I worked in pretty much all of the US States. I found it very pleasant to work in places like North Dakota (Bismark), Wisconsin (Eau Claire) and Minneapolis. Why was that? Because generally people in these towns are well educated, intelligent, easy to get along with, family orientated, and they like to drink a lot.
There was a major engagement in California when I was in public accounting. This client, who was infamous, was a major businessman embroiled in a big scandal. He had legions of lawyers and in those days before computers for a big lawsuit you needed armies of educated, trustworthy and bored staffers to copy documents and the like. This job was essentially limitless in budget so the firm put everyone who had a pulse on the plane to California.
Back then for staff people they paid by the hour for overtime. Thus, if you were young and already out of town, and the opportunity presented itself, you could earn a decent pile of extra money by working extra hours. This opportunity provided a core test for “Midwesternness”. The California people started clearing out at about 5-6 pm (surfs up?). The East Coast and Southern people dropped somewhere between 8-10pm. But more often than not a lot of the Midwesterners stayed until the wee hours of the morning and then got up early again and started the clock over again.
It was usual for us to leave Sunday night for the job site, start work Monday morning at 7am, have a dinner, and then come back to work until after 10pm. EVERY NIGHT. During “busy season” we worked all the weekends, and I didn’t come home for six weeks straight.
On the one hand, we were stupid. I can’t say that it was necessarily smart to work those hours. We didn’t do anything but work, eat, sleep and occasionally drink. But it was expected of everyone, and back then we just put our heads down and did it.
Although this is a bit out of chronological order I went to school in the Midwest. During one summer I took summer school at the University of Colorado in Boulder. What a hippy town! I didn’t realize that the university was full of extremely wealthy “trust fund” students who stayed for an extended period (5-8 years) out at UC, hiking, skiing, going on spring break, and generally living a good life.
My nickname was “Midwest”. Why? Because I had classes at 7:30 in the morning and went to every class, even though I was out until the bars closed the night before. The class was stupendously boring, as well. On the contrary, the other people I lived with could barely drag themselves into class for their midterm or final exams. I remember knowing that my roommate’s final had moved (because I went to the classroom building) but I knew he’d never know (unless I told him) because he wasn’t going down there for weeks on end. I briefly toyed with not telling him just to see the look of terror on his face but figured that wasn’t very sporting. Still, he never would have known unless I told him. He had been thoroughly “Boulderized”.
For years I worked as a consultant. The general rule of thumb in consulting is that you don’t know everything when you bid out a job. The job might be far more complicated than you originally thought, necessitating a (painful) discussion with the client about expanding the budget or cutting back on scope (doing less work).
In my dealings in the Midwest, while a painful process, I found that if you give a little, the other party will generally be fair back with you. One time a client double paid us to the tune of over $1M. We took this check right back to the CFO and gave it back to him. They probably wouldn’t have caught it for years, if ever. The next month, the client did it again and we returned the money again. One thing is for certain, when we met that client for future negotiations they assumed that we were being fair with them and didn’t give us too much trouble in changing the scope to reflect the real work requirements.
On the other hand, negotiations as well as day-to-day working relationships require a totally different mindset on the East Coast. You need to brutally fight for every nickel under the assumption that your opposite is trying to screw you and will take advantage of you the second your back is turned. If you take the “let’s be fair” approach that works so well in the Midwest on the East Coast, you are meat. They will roll over you and stick it to you and put it in your face.
One time the head of our office came to my big East Coast job and he was literally speechless during the status meeting. My opposite calmly explained to everyone that me and my team were clueless buffoons and a waste of money (there were multiple contractors on the job fighting for budget from different firms). I barely let him get a word out edgewise before I let loose a stream of profanity about his firm and their ineptitude, and of course I brought facts and detail to my tirade so he was sent on his heels (that time). This went on for an hour, and basically didn’t accomplish much of anything. We eventually got a couple of the other firms thrown out but in the end locally connected people got us thrown out, too. While never happy to see a job fail from a professional angle, I was happy from a personal angle not to have to deal with those people anymore (the project subsequently failed and they pulled the plug).
The real question is, which method is better? Is it better to assume that your opposite is trying to screw you, and to go after him / her from the outset? If they don’t fight back then you just roll over them and take whatever you want, or stick them with the lousiest terms they’ll accept.
But is this really better? To negotiate / survive in this atmosphere, I need to bump up my prices up front, because I know that you are going to chop them down. I need to prepare for every meeting like it is a bloody cage match since that is what it is going to be. But all of this time and mental energy really isn’t going towards a better outcome, and it is just making everyone (who is not a psychopath) miserable. Teamwork is down the drain, and everyone just wants to get it over with.
Drinking and the Weather:
For better or worse, Midwesterners drink. A lot. Go to any town in Wisconsin… there might be three businesses, but there are 2 bars. Go to Wrigley Field for a day baseball game. Go to a Bears game. Show up for St. Patrick’s day. Then see for yourself. Not necessarily something to be proud of, but the work hard / drink hard ethos is a key part of the character, in my experience.
The weather is also pretty lousy. California has beautiful weather, and Arizona has the changing of the seasons. It gets a LOT colder in Chicago / Minneapolis / Madison than it ever does in New York City or Boston (because of the ocean). To some extent we are kind of crazy to stay in this weather, but we are here, and since we are stubborn and our family / jobs / sports teams are here, too, it is here we will stay.
Who is a Midwesterner?
Generally people in the Midwest are FROM the Midwest. People from California tend to go back to California. I can’t say that I blame them, see the weather up above. People from New York City also can’t wait to get back to NYC. There is a lot going on in NYC, and for people from there Chicago just seems like a big Cow Town. People from the South do come up, but the weather takes a toll, and the pace is still faster than from whence they came, so generally they filter back.
So there you have it, my 2 cents. Midwesterners:
- work hard
- drink hard
- live in lousy weather
- generally try to behave fairly and assume you will do the same
Sunday, February 19, 2006
Last Friday, I was reading the New York Times (Yes, its a liberal rag but the Travel, Arts, and International news sections are sometimes very informative) and came across a movie review of a new film playing in New York and Los Angeles called "Sophie Scholl - The Final Days."
The article went on to explain what the movie was about. Sophie Scholl was a 21-year old student at Munich University during the Nazi regime. Ms. Scholl was part of a group called the "White Rose." Members of the "White Rose" passed out pamphlets derailing the Nazi regime and asking the German people to overthrow them. Sure enough, Ms. Scholl, her brother, and another co-conspiritor were arrested by the Nazis. They were tried and executed. This movie is the story of the trial of Sophie Scholl.
After reading the review, it struck me that such a young woman had the courage to stand up to evil and was willing to give up her life for it. We have seem similar sacrifices over the past few years. Who can forget the young man in Tienenman Square facing down a Chinese tank? Who can forget our current soldiers in Iraq who have already laid down their lives because they felt that they had a duty to protect us?
I look to the quote in the Clint Eastwood movie "Unforgiven." In that movie, the Clint Eastwood character replies to what it feels like killing a man, "You're taking away what a man has and all that he's going to ever have." I think about this when I think of Sophie Scholl. About the husband she never had. The children she never had. The joys and sadness of day to day living. I wonder if she thought about these things before she acted. I doubt it. But even if she had these thoughts, the cause of defeating the Nazis was way too stronger than her potential future. She acted and gave her life.
Will this generation of Americans be as strong as Ms Scholl when our time comes to confront the evils that face us? I think its a question that all of us have to ask, should ask as human beings.
Until then . . .
"Sophie Scholl - The Final Days" has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film this year. I look forward to this Spring when the movie will come to Chicago.
Saturday, February 18, 2006
On occasion I will submit one of my essays to some of the people in the world of blogs that I respect and/or admire. I do this for nothing more than personal satisfaction - if I respect someone for their writing or content, and they compliment me on an essay, that is worth gold. For someone to take time out of their day to read a stranger's essay and comment on it without getting paid is a big deal for me - because I know how valuable my time is and really appreciate it when others give me their time for free.
As I mentioned above, I may respect one of the people I contact for their writing style, content or both. Frequently this entails contacting one or more of the ChicagoBoyz among others. Not being in this for the money or fame I never ask for a link. If they want to link me fine, but a link-whore I am not. As so many others have put it so much better than me, blogging isn't the best way to try to make your living. Traffic is fun, but doesn't make you money, period. Unless you are one of the chosen ones up at the top and that club seems to have been closed to new members for quite some time it seems.
About two weeks ago I submitted one of my essays for review to one of the ChicagoBoyz, who I later found out was neither a boy, nor lives in Chicago. Unbelievably, she was generous enough with her time to review my essay at no expense to me and give me a few comments. In the email exchange she noted that she liked my blog and its "midwesternness". I cannot count the number of times I have received a comment like this and it is something that I have been trying to figure out for some time. Like my whole life!
Approximately a month ago I received an email from my corporate office, which is in Portland, Oregon. The details are stupid, but it ends up that a person who isn't even a customer of mine that resides here in Madison happened to receive a piece of advertising material for a certain product. This person routinely comes into the store and pimps us for information and then buys product elsewhere. He was moaning and complaining to my corporate office that the product didn't do what it advertised (mind you, he never tried one out) and that the advertising was false. So my people at the corporate office asked me what they should do. I simply told them that the guy was a "fucker" that never bought anything from my store and that they should tell him to "pound sand". Pretty short email.
This brought a cascade of compliments from my corporate office, surprisingly enough. Apparently the persons in that particular department that my annoying friend was emailing were all transplants from Iowa and Minnesota. I am from Illinois originally but have lived in Wisconsin for the last 12 years. ALL of the people in the department sent me emails stating that they LOVED my response as to what they should do. They all stated that they deal with people from the West Coast all day long and that nobody ever says what they mean, everyone is polite to the point of not getting anything done and that hearing someone from Wisconsin tell somebody to "pound sand" made everybody smile for a week. Again, I was amazed at the way the staff in Portland noted immediately that I was from the Midwest and they even used the word "Midwesternness" again.
A few times a year officers and owners from my company get together and have meetings that are broken up into geographical regions. This makes sense as heating and air conditioning concerns are quite different in the Midwest, for example than in the deep South or the West Coast. Afterward, in the bar, I always hear from the people in charge of the meetings that they are glad they had or wish they had the Midwest section. I always ask why and the answer is the same every single time - "less bullshit".
At conventions or meetings that I attend that include people from all across the nation I am told that I have a "Midwestern" accent. Of course I tell them that they speak as if they are from the "South" or the "East Coast" in reply. But there it is again - "Midwesternness".
So here I am - all of my life I have been trying to figure out why people say I act or speak or write as though I am from the Midwest. This riddle has been bugging me, well, forever. Why do I act the way I do? For what reason does a stranger like my blog for it's "Midwesternness"? Why do we speak differently from folks in Boston or Atlanta? More importantly, why do we think differently?
I think I may be finally finding out in the next few weeks. I have just begun reading Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fischer. His theory is that there were four distinct waves of English speaking immigrants that came to America from 1626 to 1775 and that those waves "became the basis for regional cultures in the New World" (p. 6). There is a bit more to it than that, of course, but that is the basic premise.
I absolutely can't wait to tear into this book (almost 1000 pages!) and see if I can find myself somewhere in there. I will be interested in how the huge waves of immigrants from Europe in the early 20th century are treated - there are still tons of Norweigans, Germans and Swiss around where I live. Anyway, is it possible I will finally find out why people peg me from the Midwest immediately, wherever I may be? Will I find out why I (from Rockford, Illinois originally) say the word "on" as "awn" and my wife, from Chicago, says it like "ahn"? Time will tell.
But, well, whatever. I am proud to be from the Midwest and will probably live out my days here. Sure, winter is cold. But the beer is good, the air clean and the people strong.
**I will write a follow up post to this after I read the book and investigate some contrarian views to it - then will try to apply it to the life I have lived.
Friday, February 17, 2006
Near Michigan avenue there is a giant billboard that takes up many stories of a wall on a building. The billboard shows a woman with a strange look, semi-Mona Lisa like, who is basically "contemplating shopping".
The advertisement is for "Westfield North Bridge" which used to be a mall on Michigan Avenue. A company bought up a bunch of malls and is "branding" them with this "Westfield" tag. Personally, I think that is nuts, because people don't go to a shopping mall for the overall brand name, but for the names of the individual stores that comprise the mall. Yet I digress...
The reason that this is interesting is because of her totally pensive attitude. She is saying - "I am beautiful, but I am unsatisfied... I need more stuff". Of course, I could be imagining all of this, but since she is so large, beautiful and imposing, probably not.
For someone who doesn't live in Chicago and doesn't live downtown it is hard to understand the "cult" of shopping in this neighborhood. There is a tremendous amount of retail in this area, but very few of the traditional retailers, like Wal-Mart. Everything around here is custom and high end, from tile to linens to furniture.
The hardest thing about consumerism is that you are never satisfied. There is always a new season of clothes, a new room to furnish, and a new trend to catch. None of this is truly necessary, and from a "traditional" economist perspective, it is essentially waste as people throw out the perfectly good and replace it with the perfectly good but slightly different.
I don't know why, but somehow her unsatisfied glare / glance perfectly captures the essense of the never satisfied shopper...
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Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Back then we lived in the house on the upper left of this collage. A couple friends and I were looking in the paper and saw a 3 bedroom apartment for SIX HUNDRED dollars a month and we jumped on it right away. The land lady (who lived downstairs) wanted a three hundred dollar deposit - we went to the cash station and signed up immediately.
The place was definitely decrepit - there was no air conditioning, no dishwasher, and the kitchen was something out of your grandmother's house (a big empty room with a sink, stove and refrigerator). We had one bathroom, and it was small, hard to believe 3 guys and their various girlfriends could all get to work at the same time every morning, but it worked.
Funny because now you can see a "for rent" sign a couple blocks away (lower right) that also lists a 3 bedroom and 1 bath apartment, but for SEVENTEEN HUNDRED FIFTY dollars. I guess that it has been about 15 years... but this is almost a 300% increase in that time, about 11% compounded each year.
On the upper left you can see the types of buildings that they are putting up near Wrigley Field today - they are built of stone and single-family homes where the building I used to rent had room for 3 families (they each COULD fit three families, but times and needs have changed). I couldn't find a price for this home on the web but would guess that it is certainly north of $1M, probably closer to $1.5M. Note that the "first wave" of renovations were built of wood, with some brick. The newest houses are all built of stone, since the area has increased so much in value that the new buyers demand the most expensive construction. You can see the same thing in Wicker Park / Bucktown, where they have a lot of first wave wooden construction that probably will come down in a decade or so to make room for even more upscale dwellings.
Living near Wrigley Field was a lot of fun. We went to local bars all the time, places like Yakzies on Clark Street. I remember the first time I went there with a friend of mine from high school and we ordered a pitcher of beer (about $6 at the time) and he put down a $20 bill as payment. We bought a couple more pitchers, and each time he paid $20 more. I was mystified, since this was a lot of money back then right out of college. Later I understood more as the bartender gave us free round after free round of shots and beers until we staggered home. Dan from Madison ended up crashing on our porch after banging on the door to no avail more than once. In face, I think he met someone important at that house...
Prior to living on Byron I lived at another place in Wrigleyville closer to Ashland avenue. Our landlord was a weird guy we nicknamed "Mr. Furley" after the guy in "Three's Company". He said that when he bought the house in the 70's Wrigleyville was run by gangs and very dangerous; one day he was walking to work and someone mugged him and stole his briefcase.
One thing always to keep in mind is that none of these massive upgrades came because of a specific government policy or some sort of "redevelopment" plan; they occurred because local people bought up buildings and started to kick out the dicier tenants and forced the city bureaucracy to pay attention to the area in terms of policing and services. Outside builders came in and redeveloped older buildings and resold them for higher prices, risking their own money in the progress. Finally, richer developers came in and flat out tore down the old buildings and built, usually "on spec", houses costing north of $1M. All city hall did was stay the heck out of the way - no "set asides" or requirements to use certain types of builders or create low-income housing. This is how free markets are supposed to work - when land is desirable, if developers and owners aren't thwarted, things usually get a lot better.
Being the ritualistic insomniac I am, I was up at 3 in the morning last week and turned on the TV. Flipping between reruns of Hogan’s Heroes and Emeril Live on the Food Network, I happened to stop on one channel where I noticed a Catholic priest pacing back and forth while talking.
The name of the priest was Father Rutler and he was talking about ancient Rome. I kept it on for a few minutes and listened. He talked about how Roman citizens depended on the Emperor for all of its needs like children needing a “nanny.”
I thought about it for a minute and realized this is what America has become: A Nanny State.
For as long as I have been alive, during each election period, most Americans hear politicians’ promise bold initiatives that plan to change their lives for the better as some how, by the Grace of God, they were lucky to make it this far! It seems to me that Americans have grown comfortable with the aspect that the Federal, State, or Local governments exist with the whole purpose of taking care of them. That no problem can be solved unless government is somehow involved in the process. What a danger!
Social Security (Don’t worry, I’ve got another post just on this!) is a great example of this. When President Bush last year proposed privatization of Social Security because of the looming crisis, the howls from detractors was that this was an idea from the Antichrist! “People can’t put their money in the stock market, it may go down!!” Silly me, I guess I really am too stupid to invest my own money, thank God for the Federal Government!
This is what a Nanny does. In a Nanny State, the government decides how you get your health care, where your children will go to school, and how your money will be spent. “You’re not smart to handle these decisions, someone else will make them for you!”
As I often do when reflecting on this country, in America v.2006, personal responsibility is something to be feared, to be scared of, not embraced. As I write this, I reflect on Orwell and “1984.” Not in the context of what Orwell wrote that Big Brother is watching you, but in the idea that Big Brother exists to take care of you! That if you leave it in his hands, all will be well. Just like a child with a nanny.
Back to channel surfing again. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll find some “Hazel” reruns.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Last week I attended a seminar in Milwaukee that was all about Wisconsin lien laws. I found it fascinating.
For those of you who maybe don't know, a lien is a claim on the real estate that a building sits on. The lien can be placed for a variety of reasons, however the most common is if a supplier or provider of services is not paid for work done or materials not paid for. As my business has grown, I have been getting into more sales where all of the product is drop shipped (or sent directly from the manufacturer to the job site) and I just shuffle the paper and collect the money. I haven't been burned yet, but I wanted to get up to date on the current lien law here in Wisconsin just in case.
We talked a lot about residential liens. Maybe I have been naive, but if you pay your general contractor for all of the work done on your house, say a remodeling job, and he doesn't pay his suppliers, you, legally, can still have a lien placed on your house by the supplier! In other words, it is possible if you get involved with a corrupt or shady general contractor you may have to pay twice. And it is all perfectly legal and acceptable under the law. In fact, if you don't pay the supplier, he has every legal right to sue to forclose your house. Think about that next time you have a remodel job done or build a new house. Get your lien wavers from every supplier in the chain or you can be held legally responsible to satisfy all of their claim.
In the real world, before mortgages are foreclosed upon the parties would typically sit down and hash out some sort of deal. Remember, the supplier by this time is out his money for at least six months or up to a year so they are just as anxious to get this one off the books as you are.
But then the discussion wandered off into placing liens on public property. I typically don't play in the public arena so that part didn't apply to me very much. So my mind wandered a bit. I started thinking about law in general. How did our society evolve to the point where I am sitting here in this classroom learning about how to utilize the law to protect my rights?
Civilized society has three pillars - democracy or some form of it, science and rule of law. It has been a point among historians to debate, subtract or add the pillars, but I have decided on these three. Of all of them, I think rule of law and the concept of private property that goes along with it is the most important. Sure, you have to have some sort of democratic form of government to pass laws. But without laws we just have "the strongest rule". So which came first, the chicken or the egg?
I suppose that question is too broad to boil down in a blog. But as I sat in that lecture I was filled with a sense of pride that I live in a place where women are treated as equals, not cattle. Property is not siezed on a whim, legal channels must be followed. Procedure (as painful as it may be) is followed to secure liens, not edict of an imam, rabbi or pastor. Our laws don't punish or reward based on religion, sex or race.
Sure, America has its problems and is not perfect. But for a moment in a small classroom in Milwaukee, I felt a profound sense of gratitude to our founding fathers for all of the reading they did, and the philosophy they studied. And I quickly thanked whatever supreme being there may be that I am here to participate in the experiment the fathers began.
Monday, February 13, 2006
My interest in Whole Foods isn't the stock price. It is the CONCEPT of Whole Foods.
Whole Foods takes a mundane concept, shopping at the grocery store, and turns it into something more... a political statement. Everything in that store has been carefully selected using some sort of odd liberal calculus to determine what is "acceptable" and what has been discarded.
For example, they don't seem to have any vegetables that aren't "organic" in some sense of the word. They have a big cosmetic section and I don't think anything has been tested on animals (will it harm you? who knows). The concept of "meat" is a difficult one for them to sell to their extremely liberal staff... they must have debates every day about whether or not they should be allowed to carry meat. However, they do carry meat, antibiotic-free, of course.
Their staff is pretty friendly. It is a big contrast from the local Jewel, which looks like they dumped out the DMV into the checkout line and paid them poorly, to boot. Their staff projects a combined air of misery, defiance and solemn non-productivity that must be seen to be believed. Need a price check? The clerk slooooowly trudges out to check the price and comes back, not caring that the line is now sneaking across the aisle. The self-check out is failing? Someone grudgingly trudges over after a long wait to, maybe, help out. Shopping at Jewel is not a life-affirming experience.
But back to Whole Foods. The real genius of this place, the reason that their stock is so high, is that they have turned liberal guilt into a money-making machine. Try to buy chicken, steak or any sort of fruit there. You can't walk out of that place without spending an arm and a leg. In their process of "weeding out" the less politically-correct items, all that is left is the expensive ones. It is amazing how much you can spend to fill your cart, and the fact that the check out process is quick and efficient (in contrast to Jewel, above) is only a small consolation.
The place must be seen to be believed. A friend of mine is against the stock, saying it is overvalued, and he may be right, especially given the recent drop in the stock price. But on Friday afternoon, after work, the place is literally packed to the gills. You can hardly walk through the store! People are buying pre-cooked (expensive) meals and sushi, and expensive wines and cheese to go with it.
I guess everyone must have their basic needs met (at least among the rich in the city) and now the plan is to move consumption to the next level, where even the most tedious of purchases (groceries) is really a bonding experience with grain-fed chicken, antibiotic-free meats and a host of super expensive exotic products.
Genius, is what it is.
Sunday, February 12, 2006
There has been a lot of talk lately about bankruptcy for General Motors. I personally think that this is bad for the United States, but pretty much inevitable. Closely behind Ford Motors will probably fall into bankruptcy, as well.
Here is a link to an incredible article about employees in the "jobs bank". The "jobs bank" is a program created by the UAW to ensure that, even if plants are closed, their unionized employees still get paid. Thus there are thousands of workers on the payroll of Ford, GM and Delphi (the already-bankrupt parts supplier that was spun off from GM) currently sitting around, doing nothing, and contributing to the downfall of these companies.
If you can slog through that depressing article, where the "workers" sit around all day doing nothing, you should ask yourself WHY those workers don't try to develop some new skills while they are idle. They could take a class, read textbooks, even put up a blog or web site! Anything, other than sitting there every day, reading the paper, and staring at the wall. I would go crazy in five minutes, and I expect that is the "logic" behind the jobs bank in the first place, that people with dignity would leave and get a job where they could make a contribution rather than sitting around all day, every day, for years and years, doing nothing.
There are many other articles that discuss the heavy "legacy costs" in the form of pensions and health care costs for active and retired workers that burden GM and Ford on every car that they create.
However, all of these articles, while damning, miss the true and essential picture of why GM and Ford are dead meat... here are the real reasons:
1) their dealer network is less efficient - the dealer networks for GM and Ford are hurt by hidebound laws issued on a state by state level that make it extremely difficult for them to rationalize their franchises. As a result, they have far too many franchises (from the days that there were separate brands for GMC, Oldsmobile, Chevy, Pontiac, etc....) and these franchises are far less profitable than the powerhouse franchises for Honda, Toyota and the German cars (BMW and Mercedes)
2) their factories are less productive - even setting aside the fact that the unionized workers in their factories cost more and come with a heavy legacy burden, these workers are less productive than the non-union factories set up on US soil by the Japanese and German car companies. These factories were set up in the South with right-to-work states specifically to escape the UAW and it takes them many fewer hours to build a car compared to GM or Ford. Thus the fact that the UAW workers are more expensive is a "double whammy" on top of the even more crippling fact that they are less productive in the first place
3) they don't create enough cars that people want to buy - certainly there are exceptions, such as some trucks, the Corvette, the Hummer line, selected Cadillac products, etc... but in general no one is very excited about most of the car lineup for Ford or GM. Go to any rental car fleet and you will see row upon row of GM and Ford cars... because these are the people that actually buy a big chunk of the cars that are sold by these 2 companies
Thus, ignoring the heavy legacy costs and lunacies like the "jobs bank", even if these costs were driven to zero the 3 facts above would eventually doom them to second rank status against the Japanese and German competition.
However, these same facts also give rise as to how GM and Ford could "rise from the ashes". It is simple:
1) go bankrupt and use the bankruptcy code to consolidate the dealer network into a smaller group that could gain scale and battle the foreign brands more effectively
2) take a page from the "transplants" and locate factories where they can find workers who are flexible, have a positive attitude, and want to compete effectively. This is likely in the Southern states since the UAW has poisoned most of the North. The fact that the transplants are booming with US labor means that it isn't the US workforce that is the problem, it is the UAW
3) cull brands and get down to only the cars people want to buy. If GM and Ford culled their lineup down to cars people are excited about instead of being all things to all people, they could probably find enough decent cars and designs to remain a large entity, something closer to the size of Honda or Nissan rather than Toyota (which will probably end up ruling the world)
The US Steel industry has already risen from the ashes by going through bankruptcy and re-emerging with US labor and new enterprise structures. The US work force is the most productive in the world, and can be cost effective even while paying a good wage. However, there isn't much room for error, especially when competing against "best in class" companies like Toyota, so insanities like the "jobs bank" only bring on the grim reaper that much faster.
Finally, anyone who has relatives in a unionized area of the country like central Illinois should just talk to the locals to see how they really feel about management... they hate management with a fire that is amazing to behold. I find it hard to believe that anyone willingly dropped a manufacturing plant into that area knowing the attitudes of the local workforce. Some of the grimmest strikes in history, from Firestone to Caterpillar to Hormel happened in the Midwest. What more do you need to know?
This piece is kind of hard to read in the photo but excellent to see "in person". It consists of words that light up in various sequences including "Death", "Love", "Hate", "Pleasure", Pain" and "Lies". From a mathematical perspective that means it is 2/6 or 1/3 "good" and 2/3 "bad" but I am certain that is not the official artistic summary. Sorry if the picture is a bit difficult to see but it is very hard to take a picture of a neon sign in a dark room. No flash was used so that the installation wouldn't be harmed with the taking of this picture.
I swear that I saw this installed above a loop "L" subway stop on either the red line or the blue line downtown a few years ago. I remember walking by the subway entrance and being entranced by installation - it is quite impressive in a museum, but something else entirely when you aren't expecting it and stumble by it on the street. I couldn't find a reference to this online but if someone can, please let me know. I assume it was a duplicate and not the original because it was outside in the elements.
There are a lot of other installations, and many are very impressive. I don't know much about how a neon sign works and it would have been helpful if they explained that in the exhibition, but this is a minor quibble. Most of his pieces had double-layer neon so the colors seemed almost 3 dimensional and were more interesting than if they were just single-layer (in my opinion).
There was a brief movie about the artist but that wasn't too interesting. This artist now does what I would call "absurdist" videos such as him taking 1 hour to dig a post hole on his ranch. To his credit, even the artist himself on these videos asks whether it is really art (he appears to have a sense of humor about the whole thing).
I can't over-recommend the Milwaukee Art Museum. The building is gorgeous and at night they "close" the wings down (need to see it to believe it). This building is right on the lake shore and a huge asset to Milwaukee. It cost $14 / person to see the exhibition but the rest of the museum was free. You can join at $70 / year for your whole family.
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Power Auctions in New Jersey Set a Dangerous Precedent for Illinois
There was some fitful de-regulation activity in the 90’s as various states experimented with regulatory change (moving from regulated utilities to a partially de-regulated environment). In order to “smooth” out the fluctuations from the constituents (voters), the politicians mandated that residential electricity rates be “frozen” for a number of years before real competition would begin.
Two states to keep your eyes on are Illinois and New Jersey. New Jersey recently held a “power auction” where the generating facilities (owned by the unregulated arms of the same companies that built the power plants with ratepayer funding in the first place) “bid” on supplying power to the distribution companies (ComEd in Chicago and Delmarva in New Jersey). Here is a good link to a story by the Chicago Tribune which has been doing an excellent job at dogging this story.
These auctions are goofy because the highest price component (peak power) that is powered by natural gas sets the “clearing price” for the whole auction. Since the peak power runs on natural gas, and natural gas prices have skyrocketed (although they came down a bit recently), the fact that we chose (stupidly) to place all of our bets for recent power generation on natural gas means that these auction results will always result in huge price increases.
This is what everyone expected… but now we can see the results. New Jersey’s price of electricity went up 55%. The rate that residents will pay will go up a lot in June 2007. Expect a large political fallout, and cries to re-regulate the energy sector in that state and kill the half-hearted de-regulation that occurred.
In Illinois, Exelon (which owns both ComEd, the local distribution company, as well as an unregulated subsidiary that owns the nuclear plants that would receive a tremendous windfall profit under the broken auction rules listed above) is trying to soften the blow by proposing that huge rate increases be broken into annual increases in the 6-9% range, as long as they had a guarantee to recover the rest of this money from ratepayers at some point in the future.
To realize how Exelon will make money, remember how the broken auction works. The price of natural gas sets the “clearing” price of the market auction, and generators that sell power based on natural gas will only make a little bit of money. However, the nuclear plants, which were paid for by ratepayers (customers) and are owned free and clear by Exelon, cost almost nothing (incrementally) to run and will make a gigantic amount of profit on this type of auction. In fact, some of the stock analysts don’t even care if ComEd (the local distribution company that sells the power) goes bankrupt choking on the sky high price of power because the non-regulated Exelon subsidiary that owns the nuclear plant will make enough profits to more than cover the loss. From this analyst:
Analyst: Justin McCann
Our target price falls $1 to $54, but we see a recent drop in Exelon (NYSE: EXC - news) stock as a good opportunity to buy. Shares were hurt, we think, by a decline in electric stocks and uncertainties over Exelon's ComEd unit, with the Ill. governor trying to block rate hikes after the current freeze ends at the end of 2006 and the utility having to buy power at market prices. Even if ComEd were forced into bankruptcy, we see limited impact on Exelon. There are no cross-defaults, and we see ComEd's contribution to total operating income falling from about 25% to 15% in 2007, as the generation business rises to 65% from 50%.
Drop in the Price of Natural Gas:
Natural gas prices, while very high by historical standards, dropped a lot from recent peaks. Right now it is trading for around $10 / unit, which is down from $14 / unit. The power auctions above would have been even worse if not for this recent drop in the price of natural gas. We benefited from a warmer than usual winter which let us skid past supply disruptions caused by Katrina. Note that no substantive legislation has been passed to fix this supply problem, either in terms of assisting the building of new pipelines (transmission capacity) at these bottlenecks or by opening rich areas of the US up to gas exploration which have been sealed off by environmentalists.
Fitful Progress on Nuclear Storage:
The National Research Council backed some of the plans for Yucca Mountain, the Federal Government’s pathetically executed plan to centrally store nuclear waste that is piling up at more than 70 locations in the US. This plan is over 20 years late, dampening progress on re-starting our nuclear industry. This is good news, I guess, but we still have a long way to go.
The Real Story:
We aren’t making any progress on the real issues. The real issue is that we need to increase capacity. We need to build more generating plants, preferably coal or nuclear stations, which have been basically forbidden by US environmental regulations and our broken legal system which allows environmentalists to tie up projects forever until they are un-economical. Also, the de-regulation plans that were horribly implemented give the generating companies little incentive to invest in new base load capacity, since they can just make even more money on the nuclear and coal plants that they already own (i.e. building more capacity means that the auction price could go down, which would hurt the free-ride that they make on their existing assets).
Unless you see local environmentalists protesting and chaining themselves to trees, which would signify that someone is trying to do something to break this logjam, you can be assured that no substantive progress is being made, and that this inexorable electricity and gas crisis that we created will keep on gathering steam…
Sad as it is to say, taking back the generating assets from companies like Exelon would buy the industry some time to recover. And politicians realize that raising rates is political suicide, so they might actually have to build something (and rile up the environmentalists) rather than standing on the sidelines and doing nothing to raise capacity if they knew that they were doomed either way.
Remember, we created this mess, it isn’t imported like the oil crisis, and we have no one to blame for it but ourselves. Every act of this pathetic drama was pre-ordained.
What’s the latest news on the trade deficit? Last count was 725.8 billion (not McDonalds hamburgers sold by the way) and counting.
This number has all every Protectionist in mouth-foaming frenzies. Fingers are pointed at Japan and China. “Free trade but fair trade!” cry some. “Impose tariffs!” cry others.
But is it really China and Japan’s fault? I always say, before pointing fingers, one should at look at one’s self in the mirror
When NAFTA was passed in 1994, Ross Perot stated that “wait until you hear the sucking sounds of jobs going to Mexico.” Perot was right, American manufacturing jobs did and are still be transferred to other countries. America was transforming itself into a “service economy.” So instead of creating manufactured goods and then exporting them to other countries, America creates jobs that produce services, which, for the most part, aren’t exportable.
To make sense of this, for example, while America imports Beanie Babies from China, we’re no longer making widgets in our factories that we can sell to them. More importantly, the services that America is good at (medical, financial), aren’t easily transferable to other countries. If America remains a service economy, I would argue that we have to do a better job of exporting our services to offset all of the importing of physical goods that we do. Which leads me to my next point.
Is it the government’s fault that GM and Ford make bad cars? Is it Americans fault that they want to buy a good car? Toyota is a great example. They’re leading the pack in hybrid car technology. In California, they can’t keep up with the demand for such cars. Are GM and Ford making hybrids part of their future? Nope. So while America imports hundreds of thousands of cars from Japan and Germany, GM and Ford aren’t exporting any of their inferior cars to anyone!
And we have a trade deficit? Duh! To me, its not a question of government setting trade policies to somehow ensure fair trade. I think in America we have to get our mindset back to one of competitiveness. You have to want to compete. You have to want to make the best product for customers. You have to want to provide the best service for customers. And if you don’t, someone else will do for you.
In this case, to the tune of 725.8 billion. I’m going to sign off now. All of this writing has made me hungry, I’m going to McDonalds.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
When I was little my dad on occasion drank a little Olympia beer: (photo credit here). They used to call it "Oly" back in the day. The photo you see here is from an ad made in 1970 - I would have liked to been the guy to empty the glass before the photo was taken. It may have been the photographer who drank the beer from the looks of the photo - poor lighting, part of the glass obscures the label, etc. But my point here, if I have one, is that when I was small and impressionable I thought that the Olympia beer was a promotion of the Olympics - as if the Olympics had an official beer. Which brings me to this years Olympics, getting ready to start this weekend. How's that for a segue?
I am a fan of the Olympics and always have been - I know, I know all of the athletes are drugged to the bejeezus and the judges in most of the subjective sports (skating, gymnastics, etc.) are all bought and paid for. But I relish most the odd or weird events that the Olympics bring to us. Can you imagine sledding downhill as they do in the bobsled going something like 60 mph? Or voluntarily hurling yourself down a ski hill several hundred feet in the air only to be launched off of it for distances of over 300 feet - that's a whole football field those guys are airborne! Can you fathom slalom skiing downhill at 40-50 miles per hour? Lunacy.
Of course the events I want to see the most are the ones that we will see the least on our coverage. The most popular events like figure skating will dominate the coverage. I just can't get into the newer silly events like the "moguls". So, for you, the reader, I provide a quick summary of events and my take on them, like it or lump it.
Figure skating - boring, bought off judges, won't watch it.
Bobsled and Luge - Fast, dangerous, exciting - love it.
Downhill skiing - Somewhat interesting - will maybe watch it.
Ski Jumping - Just like NASCAR, waiting for the wipeout - love it.
Hockey - USA! USA! USA! Will watch it if the USA is playing. Forgive me, I just can't get fired up watching Finland play Belarus.
Cross country skiing - boring, like watching paint dry.
Speedskating - Love it, especially the sprints. Will watch as much as I can. I especially like the short track as there is contact and wipeouts.
Snowboarding - Not.
Freestyle Skiing - this is another of those modern events that they just adopted, where they do jumps, splits and moguls on the downhill run. I don't' get it and think it is silly.
Now we get to three events that I find truly fascinating but you will get absolutely zero coverage of here in the US:
Skeleton: This is the luge, headfirst! If there is a wipeout in this one, body parts go a flyin'! Definitely one of my favorites. Here is a photo of a guy doing the skeleton, credit here:
And women do it too! Hey, I am an equal opportunity wipeout viewer.
I also love the biathlon. This event consists of cross country skiing over distances, then the athlete has to stop, somehow bring their heart rate down and stand on the firing range and plunk a target:
By the way, you have to bring the gun with you while you are skiing. You will see the guns on their backs as they ski along. The athletes also have to shoot in different positions at different stations. I know how hard it is to shoot a target well under optimal conditions, much less after you have exerted yourself for several miles cross country skiing. Very unique event which will get very little coverage. Photo credit here.
And how could I forget curling (photo credit here), which I like to call "marbles on ice for big kids". I don't really know the rules, but it is fun to watch each team try to knock the others rocks out of the points circles.
I have always wanted to go to the Olympics and almost went to Salt Lake City when they had them there. I think my best bet now would be if Chicago got the next Olympics. Yes, they are trying and no, I have no idea where they would hold the downhill events. Of course, they would be forced to have the biathlon in possibly Wisconsin or Indiana AS THE CITY OF CHICAGO DOES NOT ALLOW ITS CITIZENS TO OWN GUNS. Don't believe me? Just ask the Illinois legislature why they are building an exemption for the potential Olympics into this bit of legislation. Ah, the law of unintended consequences.
So there you have it, the quick and dirty wrapup of the Olympic events for this year - I plan on participating with a few 12 oz. curls, if you know what I mean.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
I read three weeks ago in the USA Today (January 17, 2006) that 43% of all first-time home buyers put either no money or 2% down on their new home. Economists are worried that if the housing market “bubble” bursts, there could be crash with potentially hundreds of thousands of Americans facing huge debt, foreclosure, or bankruptcy.
Whose fault is this? Our own vanity of course. I remember the first time I had to deal with a mortgage broker. Let me say that dealing with a mortgage broker is a lot like bargaining with Satan. Like Satan, the temptation is that you can afford a lot more house with no money down (“Hey, you can afford the Lakefront condo you always wanted!”). Also like Satan, you get the impression that you’re getting something for free with no percussions (“For the first three years, you’ll pay 5%, what a deal!”). Like Satan, when its time to collect, there’s a huge price to pay.
What the mortgage broker tries to gloss over when you’re signing your life away is that:
- You’ll have a huge monthly house payment
- You’ll pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) until you get 20% equity of the loan paid (Gee, I wonder how long that will take with a 30 year mortgage)
- You’ll have to pay your property taxes
- You’ll have to pay your house insurance
- You’ll have to pay your monthly expenses (Water, Heat, Phone)
- All other outstanding expenses (School or car loans, filling up the SUV)
- Credit card expenses
Of course, when you’re signing the loan papers, you’re not thinking about any of this.
In 1999, as a first-time buyer, I remember that when I got qualified for a 30-year mortgage with an 8.25% rate, that I was the happiest guy in the world. I wasn’t worried that I wouldn’t have the house paid off until I was 65. I wasn’t worried that I would be paying over more than 200K in interest. I wasn’t worried that I had no furniture, “I had a house!!”
Until one day, three years later, reading my statement, I realized that I had no equity in the house. And then it hit me about how stupid I was. In 2002, when rates were still low, I refinanced the loan into a 15-year with 5.25%. I have made a concerted effort over the past three years to pay down the loan so I could build more equity in the house and have totally eliminated by credit card debt.
So what made me a genius? Common sense and realizing that I gave into my own vanity.
I mention all of this because, in lieu of all of the good news about the economy (low interest rates and unemployment), it seems Americans are in a deep funk. They’re unhappy about Bush but don’t why. Is it the war? I don’t think so. It couldn’t possibly be about how much debt that they are in could it?
As Ecclesiastes wrote in the Bible, “Vanity of all Vanities. Of course, Ecclesiastes never had a mortgage, did he?
Earlier today, say about 4.30pm central time, I had a little time to burn. I had just read Dennis the Peasant's latest update about PJ placing cookies onto your computer when you view one of the member blogs sites. For some reason, something "clicked" in my head.
Remember when I was accused of having the tinfoil hat on in December? Remember when John Cole polluted Moxies, Dennis's and Steve's with his concescending comments? Well, to refresh, we conspiracy theorists were accused of having those hats of foil firmly planted on our craniums when I asked Michelle Malkin why she didn't have the PJ ads up yet. You would have thought that her blog, one of the most heavily trafficked ones, would have had the ads up right away, but whatever.
So today, I donned the foil and decided to view each and every PJ blog to see if those nasty, terrible technical mountains have been conquered. So, without further ado, the results.
Well, first a disclaimer. I started this, as I mentioned about 4.30 central. Being a family guy, I needed a little time for dinner and playing with the kids so had to resume my project at 8pm central. In that time a little bloodletting had happened at PJ central. I had gotten up to the letter "O" before I resumed at 8pm. But there had been some changes by the time I had resumed. Those were:
Iraq War Today
A Blog for All
Ace of Spades
Luc Van Bracket
Max Speak, You Listen
No Pasaran (dead link)
So my stats may be just a teeny tiny bit out of whack. I have taken out the dropped blogs for this piece. Onward.
As of now, 8.14 in the PM, it looks like this:
PJ ads: 60 blogs
No ads at all: 6 blogs
Amazon ads: 3 blogs
Google ads: 2 blogs
PJ and Amazon ads: 1 blog
Blogads: 4 blogs
PJ and Amazon and Blogad ads: 2 blogs
PJM logo only, no ads: 1 blog
PJ and Blogads and Google ads: 2 blogs
Blogads and Google ads: 2 blogs
Blogads and Google ads and Amazon ads: 1 blog
Blogs with an Amazon ad on top promoting their new book with PJ ads underneath: 1 blog
So that electrical field between all that foil and my fillings is really starting to bother me at this point. I guess I will use it to cover my leftovers.
Mid November and they are still having techincal problems displaying the ads. I think something more and/or bigger is amiss - but I will have to buy the economy size 200 foot roll of tin foil to come up with solutions to that quandry. Back to our regularly scheduled blogging.
Monday, February 06, 2006
Far from making me scared, these riots and bonfires and flag burnings only make folks like me think that these people are all the more backward, infantile and ignorant.
I have smelled a rat in this whole thing from the beginning. The cartoons (which really aren't half as bad as the bile put forth daily in arabic papers) were originally published in September. Why all the outrage now? And more importantly, my common sensical Midwestern mind wants to know where the heck did all those Danish flags come from?
First things first. News is coming out now that some imams have been circulating fake cartoons that were much more inflammatory than anything that the European media ever put out. Big surprise. Well, that will fire up the troops on the arabic street. Does the timing of all of these riots seem strange? How did they get all of these people assembled in front of cameras at basically the same time worldwide? I don't think it is a coincidence.
But the first thing that came into my mind went something like this:
Are you telling me that the local marketplaces stock Danish flags in places like Beirut? I would think not, unless there is a "Western Satan Flag Burning Outlet" chain over there. Flagmart? Abdul's Flagorama? Can you imagine what the sales would look like? Two for one today on any European continent flag, mix and match OK. I think it would take me at least a week or two to procure a Danish flag here in the USA! I would imagine the only place that you could get quick access to a Danish flag would be in - Denmark.
What percentage of the people in those riots do you think actually could place Denmark on a map? What percentage of the people in those riots actually saw any of the cartoons?
As an interesting aside, I sell controls manufactured by a Danish company (a HUGE company, mind you). I don't plan on purchasing any extras today. I did buy a cheese danish for breakfast today to get on the stupid "buy Danish" bandwagon, though. Oh, I thought it was "buy a danish". That buy Danish thing is almost as infantile as the riots themselves. Anyway.
But of course I am being silly. The flags weren't there, and the whole big mess was staged for us to see - with a more than willing media ready there with cameras and crews set up to film the whole thing. Note most of the shots we received were from still or mounted cameras, not the shaky footage we would expect from an impulsive gathering. Which is another clue that told me that the whole thing was staged - and that the media has contacts within the circles of people who organized these riots.
99.9% of people that I deal with on an everyday basis will just shrug their shoulders, and go to work the next day. That is because we are used to this sort of ridiculous behavior from places in the middle east. Most won't think about it as hard as I have above, but all will have the same reaction. The treasurer of Australia put it best:
"If you are somebody who wants to live in an Islamic state governed by sharia law you are not going to be happy in Australia, because Australia is not an Islamic state, will never be an Islamic state and will never be governed by sharia law," Mr Costello said. "We are a secular state under our constitution, our law is made by parliament elected in democratic elections. "We do not derive our laws from religious instruction."Substitute USA or Denmark for Australia and you have it all in a nutshell.