Sunday, April 30, 2006

Open Letter to the NCAA

The National Collegiate Athletic Association
700 W. Washington St.
PO Box 6222
Indianapolis, IN 46206-6222

Dear Sirs,

I am an alumnus of the University of Illinois and have been to literally hundreds of NCAA sanctioned events over my short life. From that first sentence I gather you know what this letter is about.

I find it rather humorous that you are giving the Florida State Seminoles a pass on their nickname and pre-game ceremony where a Seminole tribesman tosses a flaming spear into the center of the field, yet won't give the Illini a pass for a halftime dance that is respectful, in good taste and well done. The Seminole even trots up and down the sidelines on the back of a horse during the game where the only time you see the Chief at Illini games is that little three minute dance during halftime. Shows you where the NCAA's bread is buttered, doesn't it?

But no mind. Soon you will have quashed most of the "native-american" nicknames you so want to get rid of all in the name of your "commitment" - from this document:

...the Executive Committee concluded that Native American references used by each university create hostile or abusive environments inconsistent with the NCAA constitution and inconsistent with the NCAA commitment to diversity, respect and sportsmanship.
Your "commitment" is a bunch of bullshit. Forgive my blunt language, but lets lay the cards out on the table, shall we?

Athletes on steroids. Athletes not graduating. Point shaving scandals. Billions of dollars in TV contracts. And the elimination of SOME native american nicknames fits in...where? I would think in the billions of dollars part. What else would explain the fact that there are still Seminoles in the NCAA but soon no Illini, Sioux or others?

I find it humorous in an obtuse way that you have spent so much time on this. Since when did the Fighting Illini nickname create some sort of hostile environment? I have been to at least 50 Illini football games over the years and I have yet to encounter any hostility from anyone that had anything to do with that name.

Oh well, you have your wish. Soon the U of I will be the Eagles, Wildcats or something else uninspiring. Hope you are happy. I personally think you may want to re-sort your priorities a bit. It is apparent from the current "wink and a nod" stance on steroids and graduation rates that you think that mortgaging the futures of young men is in your best interests as long as you and your buddies are enriched. Yet getting rid of native american nicknames takes a top priority at your office. Except the Seminoles, of course, because they take in too much money for the NCAA.

I honestly don't know how you people sleep at night.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

On Maurice, theft, and freedom of speech

Here at "Life in the Great Midwest" you never know what you'll get. It could be a post on Iraq, Illinois, the economy, WW2 history, Chicago, Madison, cycling, or a million other things.

Dan and I even let an OHIO STATE fan join the blog. We are quite open minded, willing to put our up beliefs and defend them. And sometimes it is tough with Illini football falling on such hard times (Dan - we need to go see a game this year on the road...)

Let's talk about an Ohio State star, because it provides a nice segue into a line of thought I have been considering for a while...

Maurice Clarett, the Ohio State running back who starred as a Freshman in their 2002 Championship season, has fallen on hard times. He tried to enter the NFL draft early, failed and sued, was able to get drafted, signed on to an NFL team, stunk, and was cut.

His story took an even worse turn when he held up a guy for a CELL PHONE with a gun. He did achieve the victory of taking the cell phone, quite a valuable prize (worth maybe, what, $100) but immediately was caught and is now in big trouble with the law.

The story isn't Maurice, although it does have a certain irony to it, but the absolute folly of trying to steal, via armed robbery for a living.

When you rob someone who is walking along, you maybe could get 1) wallet with cash and credit cards 2) watch 3) ring 4) cell phone (this is for you, Maurice, I don't consider it very valuable). Assuming the guy doesn't have a REAL Rolex, the person probably doesn't have more that $500 worth of goods on him.

OK, so now you are risking 10+ years in prison for $500? If the guy fights back, and you shoot / kill him, you could be facing life or even the death penalty (killing someone while committing a felony). Is this a living? Is this a plan?

How many people would you have to rob to pay rent and cover expenses each month? A dozen? And what is the odds of being caught - they have to be at least 1/10 even in Chicago.

So this isn't a lucrative profession, not even one that can pay the rent.

This isn't to say that being a thief can't pay the bills - robbing someone's home while they are gone, possibly stealing guns, art, etc... is much more lucrative. Also white collar criminals clearly can make a good living.

But armed robbery, on the other hand, is an extremely poor plan.

Especially for a Buckeye.

SOX are robbed!

I am watching the White Sox play the Angels. This is a replay of last years' AL Championship series where the Sox beat the Angels in a 5 game series.

The Angels won the first game, and the second game was going into late innings when AJ Pierzynski, the Sox catcher, ran to first on a ball that may or may not have been in the dirt on a 3rd strike. In this famous play, the catcher threw the ball aside rather than throwing to first, and, in the end, AJ was called safe. He scored, the Sox won (although they might have won anyways, since they were tied at time), and from there on out, the White Sox cruised, winning the AL series 4-1.

Who was the Angels pitcher last year? Escobar. He even said publicly that he didn't like AJ after the game.

So tonight I am watching the game (live blogging on my new laptop). In the 2nd inning, AJ comes up, and Escobar immediately (first pitch) beans him right on the leg! By the way, my new laptop is great, it was only $900 and many thanks to my friend BRIAN for setting it up for me.

Back to the post - all right, that's baseball, I understand (this is the first time Escobar has seen AJ since AJ pulled the play of the series) and I can understand WHY Escobar plunked him.

However, the STOOOPID referees immediately jump up and throw a "warning". The effect of the warning is that if EITHER team hits another player, the pitcher will get thrown out.

Bullsh1t! Now Escobar gets a free pass, drilling a guy who hurt him bad last year, and now the Sox can't retaliate? What the heck does this accomplish? It rewards the wimpy, and gives the Sox no chance to retaliate.

What a crappy rule... Posted by Picasa

Strange Juxtaposition

On the way out to meet Dan in Colorado last week I grabbed a Chicago Tribune on the way. I was scanning through it while having a beer and a sandwich while killing time at O'Hare when I saw this article on Stiletto heels for women's shoes and was struck instantly...

It isn't obvious but next to the shoes are some toy soldiers. They look like typical toy soldiers but they aren't - they are METAL toy soldiers from World War One. The machine gunner in the right panel is particularly identifiable because of the strange anti-aircraft positioning of that MG and my father has the 2 stretcher bearers in a diorama on the wall.

I am really scratching my head on why the photo editor decided that WW1 toy soldiers made a good contrast for the stiletto heels. Very, very odd. Posted by Picasa

Friday, April 28, 2006

Coors Field Bizarroworld

Last week Carl and I went with our friend John to Coors Field and enjoyed a baseball game between the Rockies and Giants. I spent some extra money on the tickets ($45 ea.) to ensure a good seat. Our seats were very good, but it was nothing like any baseball game I have ever been to. They had people taking orders for the patrons in the seats - you could order any type of alcohol including mixed drinks and put it all on your credit card. The service was terrible, but novel knowing you could have a Scotch/rocks in your seat. Posted by Picasa
Here is a shot of Barry Bonds hitting (I think) number 709. Pretty cool shot as you can see the ball coming off the bat. Posted by Picasa
And now the bizarroworld. Here is the concourse for the 200 level, where our seats were. I had no clue it was like this. I was almost offended - note thet carpeted concourse, and patrons dining at the flashy buffet. I have never been to a baseball game in conditions such as these. What, no smell of urine? Where are the damn hot dogs? Posted by Picasa
The menu in the bizarroworld... Posted by Picasa
And here is the line to one of the concession stands - my my aren't we dressed nice for the game? Posted by Picasa
A must for every bizarro baseball game - the teacart. Darjeeling or Earl Grey today sir? Posted by Picasa
At least I made a friend in the bizarroworld - Dinger the Rockies mascot. Before anyone puts up a smart comment, yes that is the mascot on the right. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, April 27, 2006

In the Eye of the Beholder

Music doesn’t know its ultimate purpose. There is often an “intended” purpose that the artist begins with, and then it becomes something else.

The band “Steam” never thought that their "Na na na na... hey hey hey... goodbye" song would be the infinite loop of White Sox games… and when I was a scraggly haired 16 year old teenager listening furtively to Metallica and Pantera in a friend’s basement I didn’t know that I was ACTUALLY hearing the future songs to be played at time outs for Bears games. Or that while Iggy Pop was killing himself with heroin and drugs he really meant to be the soundtrack for a cruise line…

Trent Reznor is the artist behind Nine Inch Nails. His latest album “With Teeth” is explicitly political and he was stopped from putting up a picture of George Bush in his “The Hand that Feeds” live concert on MTV by the network (they didn’t want controversy).

However, music is just let out into the world, and then it becomes whatever it becomes, independent of the artists’ original intent. It can be interpreted independently of the artist, and it means what people want it to mean.

I always find Nine Inch Nails to be interesting music. “Pretty Hate Machine”, the strange EP “Broken”, the monumental album “The Downward Spiral”, his kind of a flop 2 disk set “The Fragile”, and the big comeback “With Teeth” (the new album).

I read a review of the album (always a big mistake, because then I let the critic interpret it and I have to work backwards from what they are thinking) and one critic said that the album sounded good but that the lyrics were kind of trite (I don’t know the exact wording, so I am paraphrasing based on memory).

In fact, I think that the lyrics on this album are extremely profound. In some ways, he is able to capture some simple truths about existence and moving forward in life. Of all the songs on the album, the one I currently find the most interesting is “Every Day is Exactly the Same.”

Every Day is Exactly the Same:

I believe I can see the future
Because I repeat the same routine
I think I used to have a purpose
But then again, it might have been a dream

I think I used to have a voice
Now I never make a sound
I just do what I’ve been told
I really don’t want them to come around, oh no

Every day is exactly the same
Every day is exactly the same
There is no loss here, and there is no pain
Every day is exactly the same

I can feel their eyes are watching
In case I lose myself again
Sometimes I think I’m happy here
Sometimes I still pretend

I can’t remember how this got started
But I can tell you exactly how it will end

I wish that this could have been any other way
But I just don’t know, don’t know what else I can do


The interesting link here is like “The Myth of Sysiphus” where Camus says that Sysiphus had free will because he chose to continue rolling the rock up the hill even though he knew it would come back and crush him.

By doing the same thing over and over, the narrator in this song effectively takes control over his own life, in a sick way. He can see the future, because he is always acting the same way. This lets him make his own reality and in a circular manner create his own destiny, like Sysiphus, even if it ultimately ends in futility.

I can’t forsee how these lyrics will ultimately be interpreted, but in them I see something profound, much more so than the typical anti-war rant would be warranted.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Simple Things

Carl had a very good post a week ago. It was about the househunters life and how they looked on the show after their hell was over. Most couples had bought a house, moved in, decorated, opened a bottle of wine, celebrated.

I miss those times.

Few and far between are the times I get to relax and smell the pork fat burn on the grill. Corn on the grill has the most pleasant scent. It is hard to describe. You have to try it yourself.

I will digress at this point in the name of civilization:
When you buy corn from a stand or at the store, always buy it FRESH. Do not do anything to it. Just put it on a grill. When you see black scoring marks on one side, turn it over - repeat until all sides are scored. Then let rest for 5 minutes. Then husk, and eat ASAP. If you have good sweet corn, you will not need butter. Enjoy! For those of you that read this blog from parts that do not have good sweet corn in the husk, I feel for you.

Today I went on a roadtrip. I wasn't going anywhere. I had no destination nor objective. I just went for a ride on route 55 through many small towns here in Minnesota. Oh, I forgot, I was smoking a wonderful Cuban supplied by one of the thousands of regular readers of LITGM. I cannot stress how important that is on a roadtrip through rural Minnesota - or rural anywhere for that matter.

For gods sake, back to the meat. Carl mentioned back a few weeks ago we should all act like we have new houses and neato grill areas and patios just like on that show "Househunters". I agree.

For a few hours anyway, I got to smoke a very fine cigar, listen to some fine satellite ratio, and see some wonderful scenery.

The bottom line?

Carl was right.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Waste of Time

I was feeling a bit under the weather with some time to kill so I started checking out the songs available on iTunes, the Apple music service.

I have been into digital music for a long time - I bought one of the first Diamond Rio MP3 players and started laboriously converting my CD collection into the MP3 format.

Back then, space was at a premium, so I used a pretty low sample rate (64kb) to save space and I would only copy the 2-3 songs on a CD that I actually liked. It was a pain to load the MP3 player because you had to pick your songs and load them - I used MusicMatch jukebox at the time.

I converted over to Apple iPods a couple years ago. I like the simplicity of the iPod and the ease of use of iTunes. Also, now that I have a 60 gig iPod and my collection is south of 20 gigs, as soon as I plug in my iPod it just finds all the new songs and puts them in the right place without me having to do anything. That is a nice feature.

One thing that SUCKS, however, is the Apple copy protection. I own my songs... I have a million CD's to prove it (and bought the albums before then and not a few tapes, too). I like to buy songs from Apple for 99 cents each. I buy the song and that works fine.

The problem is that I don't want to mix Apple "secured" music with my unsecured MP3 songs. Thus every time I download the songs, I have to first burn them as "CD" songs (i.e. songs that you can put into your CD player in the car) such as this CD in the photo and THEN I have to delete the songs I just purchased and then "rip" the CD from regular music format into MP3. At this point I have an unsecured version of the song, so I can share it between computers and the like.

I am TRYING to patronize the artists that deliver the songs (although I probably bought the same damn song twice already, but that's my fault for album / CD mixups) and am willing to pay Apple - so why are they making this so difficult? I just don't get it.

Maybe I will just go back to satellite radio... Posted by Picasa

Monday, April 24, 2006

Orgasmic Advertising

I recently bought a small, crappy camera from a company called Argus (QC5150). The camera was $99 and the SD card was an extra $29. I bought the camera because it didn't have a lens that pops out from the chassis which makes it much smaller as well as less likely to be scratched and broken. I am carrying this around as my "blog camera" to keep my eye on what is going on.

I walked past the Merchandise Mart and saw the new Kohler store. I did a blog post a while back about the American Resort in Kohler, Wisconsin that you can see here. Apparently, this is the first "store" for Kohler outside of the factory showroom in Kohler, WI.

I really think people are taking their bathroom fixtures way, way too seriously. In this photo you can see that the woman in the bathroom appears extremely satisfied with her bathroom equipment... like in that Sienfeld episode when the woman tells George that he wasn't "like the Risotto". Posted by Picasa

Supporting the Troops

Every time I read an article that starts out like "...we support the troops, but..." I take that as code to mean that the person writing the article doesn't do squat for the troops. I did a lot to show my support for the troops up until a few months ago. And I feel terrible that I had to stop for a while.

The last couple of years I have spent a lot of time and energy sending care packages to our troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. I also wrote countless letters and sent phone cards to our wounded at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. This is a base in Germany that is usually the first stop for our wounded soldiers on their way back to the states. I have a very large album full of emails and pictures thanking me for my support. I stopped sending stuff at the beginning of this year as I was very busy indeed with work, family and other things.

I mention this background because that little voice in the back of my head has been telling me that I am a bad person for not keeping up with my "duties" of sending packages and writing letters. And that damn voice is, of course, correct.

I am happy to report that most of my contacts that I had over there have been rotated out. But there are PLENTY of people that are still over there or have re-upped.

That voice reared its ugly head today. Over at Xavier Thoughts is a post about a woman who lost her husband in action in Iraq. It is a total tear jerker - for me anyway. Be sure to click on over and read that post. Quite the photo to say the least. For those of you not interested in clicking the link, here is the photo - you will have to click the link for an explanation:














Today I emailed the person in charge of troop addresses at CampDoha.org. I am starting up again tomorrow. That extra half-hour of sleep a day didn't do me much good anyway.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

A Sign of the Apocalypse?

Dan and I are on our way back from a great trip to Colorado. I can't thank our hosts enough for our hospitality and was glad my friend John from Aspen was able to come down, too.

This photo is a "live blog" shot of me at the first class lounge in Denver for American Airlines. Why am I here, and why is this potentially related to the apocalypse?

Because, for once, the airlines are starting to do something smart. American Airlines, the only one of the "traditional" airlines (Southwest excluded) to avoid bankruptcy court, now allows you to upgrade, on the spot, for $100 (domestic?) at those self-service kiosks at the airport when you check in to get your boarding pass. You just hit "OK" and they already have your credit card information on file and it doesn't even take an extra 10 seconds.

Finally... they are trying to use some real time pricing to make some revenues. Instead of the cumbersome upgrade and frequent flyer crap (ever try to use those miles? It is difficult except on Southwest), just offer me first class at a decent price point, and I might take you up on it. They just picked up an extra 100 dollars for a seat that would either have been empty or given to someone with a bunch of miles laying around.

I think I only spent about $250 for my original fare which makes it $125 / segment so an extra $100 for first class and a meal sounds like a pretty good deal.

This is seriously the smartest thing I have seen any of the airlines do in years. I recommend flying American, buying a cheap fare, and trying to upgrade at the airport. It probably helps to get there earlier to get a better shot at one of these seats. I don't know their prioritization mechanism vis-a-vis the frequent travellers. Posted by Picasa

Deception at Hooters

There is a Hooters restaurant down the street from me in River North in Chicago, on Erie and Wells.

Recently, these advertisements have been plastered around town showing a typical very attractive "Hooters Girl" and their seafood menu, touting the local establishment.

From experience - I can tell you one thing - this girl is not representative of the Hooter's girls at that franchise. For whatever reason, the great city of Chicago has a LOUSY Hooter's staff.

The only time someone like that is working there is when they do their annual "calendar" tour, which is a fine time to visit, in my opinion.

If you went to a McDonalds and it was filthy and the food was substandard you'd be upset and think that the local franchise was letting the chain down. Well, go to that Hooters and you will agree that this place isn't up to the standards a "reasonable" man (or woman?) would expect to see.

By the way, they also have Hooter's "to go", which I view as one of the strangest concepts in the world. Does anyone go there for the food? Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Head West Young Men


Two thirds of the staff here at Life In The Great Midwest are going to take a few days off for some relaxation in the beautiful state of Colorado. Carl and I leave you in the very capable hands of PS who will no doubt pick up the slack while we are gone. And if he doesn't, isn't that a great photo that will and should stay at the top of the blog for a few days?

Much shooting, outdoor recreation, consumption of various animals of both land and sea, drinking, merryment and enjoyment of our national pastime (not necessarily in that order) is on the docket and we will see what other type of trouble we can get into. I am certain that we will come back with some very bloggable stories and photos as a reunion of Illinois alumni is also set for a day in Denver at Coors Field. So why that battleship in the photo above? (Credit here)

Of course, that is the USS Colorado, an ass kicking ship in the Pacific if I ever knew one. Read her history and see more photos here. See you next week!

Back When Men Were Men

Followers of this blog may have noticed that I take more than a passing interest in photography. I stumbled upon a very cool photograph today on the web. Before I tell you what it is, take a look:
















Those familiar with me and where I went to school immediately recognize that place as Memorial Stadium at my alma mater, the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. Home of the Fighting Illini - today anyway. I predict we will be called something else in a few years. Too bad we don't have the backbone of the Florida State Seminoles and could tell the NCAA to pound their nickname banning up their butt. But so it goes.

I love this photo not for its techincal merits - on that end it is pretty dull and ordinary. It is off center and tilted. But it's historical value is immense and quite interesting to me and most other Illinois alumnae, I would assume.

There are a lot of differences between the old stadium and what we have today. No lights for one. In the photo, the area around the stadium is practially a wasteland. Now, on the north end we have IMPE and there are many other structures around the stadium as well. Look at the north entrance. It looks like you could just enter right there at ground level and walk up that track and up to your seats. No pressbox on the west side. The goalposts are in their once prominent position in front of the end zone, not in the rear as they are today. There are probably a million other differences, but these stick out. Also note that the stands are FULL, something Memorial Stadium has not seen (or deserved) for a very long time.

And that brings me to where I found the photo - here. As I was browsing the Illinois site for football news, I decided to give the new stadium project another look. From the drawings it looks as though it will look great when they are done. For a fleeting moment I thought I may donate a bit, but why? The last three years we have been tear your hair out awful in the sport of football. Maybe - maybe - if we can get at least competitive I may consider buying a brick with my name on it or something. But not until then. They sure are putting the pressure on Zook to bring our program back to a competitive level. If it happens, maybe someday another galloping ghost will grace the hallowed grounds of Zuppke Field at Memorial Stadium - can you hear it? I can't as of yet. Until then, this ghost will be walking around Zuppke field kicking the turf wondering what the hell went wrong:

Photo credit here. This shot was taken from the 1924 game against Michigan at Memorial Stadium.
Grange's stats from that day, lifted from here:
He returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. Then he scored on runs of 67, 56 and 44 yards. All this in the first 12 minutes. The four touchdowns were as many as Michigan had allowed in the two previous seasons. Tired, he took a rest, but came back to run 11 yards for a fifth touchdown and passed 20 yards for a sixth score as Illinois won 39-14 to end Michigan's 20-game unbeaten streak. He totaled an amazing 402 yards - 212 rushing, 64 passing and 126 on kickoff returns.

Culling the Herd

As a business owner the daily grind is tough, but rewarding. When you come out with a plan and it is successful it feels pretty darned good to know that you came up with something on your own, implemented it, and received the rewards for doing so. It really is no different than being an author, doctor or bricklayer. All professions need to come up with a strategy to insert themselves into our economy and get compensated for it - compensated enough to turn a profit.

Over the past five years or so I have been making a conscious effort to trim my customer list (I like to call it firing customers) to those that actually buy or have an interest in buying from me. That isn't to say that I won't sell to anyone who has a fist full of cash. It is just that those that establish long term partnerships with me will get the top notch service, best pricing and a few other things that I can bring to the table such as take care of warranty of parts that were not purchased from me, favors with vendors and the like.

I have basically accomplished this over the past several years by simply instructing my sales staff not to call on certain customers. When we give it the "home run try" as I like to call it, with very aggressive pricing, top notch service, and everything else and the customer simply chooses to buy elsewhere there is just not anything more we can do. I usually give them about a year or so and then abandon ship. That may seem like a very long time to some, but my industry (heating and air conditioning wholesale) is a slow mover compared to most. And I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. But a year of the full court press is about all I can take. Then we move on. I strip all of the aggressive pricing, instruct my staff to quit calling on them, deny warranty for anything not purchased through me and basically write them off. Again, we won't deny them if they want to spend, but they don't get the best service or the best pricing.

This has been very successful for me over the years. It has allowed me to earn my business, not buy it. My top notch customers rarely quiz me over price. Most are too busy, too successful to worry about pennies here or there. On the flip side, I never take my best customers for a ride, either. As you can see my strategy, by default, weeds out most low price shoppers. I will not sell product at or near cost as loss leaders to get traffic through the door. As a result I am left with what I consider the "cream of the crop". Customers that want service and a fair price. These customers don't have time to call around to 10 different locations to save $20 because they are so busy. This is because the market they service is the same one they are in. Their customers are homeowners that don't want to get screwed, just want a fair price and quality work done promptly. Builders of low income housing are not using my large customers, by and large, for their projects.

The customers (that I actively cull from my herd) that don't give a rat's ass about service want the lowest price. This business fluctuates between wholesalers. It is not loyal, not repeat and high maintenance a lot of times.

A tool has come out for me that has helped me trim more of this fat off of my problem table. My pricing has recently gone to what is called "list" price. For those not in the know, list price is somewhat like "MSRP" or "retail" pricing in the department store world.

Along with list pricing comes a multiplier. We assigned each of our customers a different multiplier according (roughly) to their volume or potential volume. What an easy way to close the door on some bottom feeders.

You would simply not believe the affects of pride on certain people. I have had people call me up and ream my shorts for increasing their pricing. I have tried to reason with them logically but all I get is "My company is huge, you are small, blah blah blah". Then I have to pull out the big guns. "OK, company ABC lets pull up your account for the last year so far. I see you have spent a total of $400 with my company over the last year. Are you interested in sitting down with me for a half hour and discussing ways we can further our partnership or will you be spending the major portion of your company's outlay at my competitors for the foreseeable future?" Usually that either gets a hangup or more groaning. Funny how things are crystal clear when all the cards are laid out on the table.

I just simply cannot believe that someone that spends nothing with me would actually call and bitch me out for not giving them our very best pricing! It takes monster size balls to make that call, I will give them that anyway.

I wonder if other industries do the same thing. I know airlines do. Every time someone tells me their latest airline horror story and how they got screwed I always ask them how often they fly. If the answer is anything like "twice a year" immediately I consider the conversation over. Because the airlines have been using my strategy for a long time now. They know that non-frequent flyers just sit down, dial up expedia or travelocity and choose the lowest price or something close if the time schedule is better. They don't give a damn about people that fly twice a year because those are almost always low price shoppers.

Now please don't take that last paragraph as any type of defense of the way airlines do anything as I consider them some of the worst run businesses this side of Enron. But I would be interested to know if other industries do the same thing I do in actively trying to "cull their herd".

Monday, April 17, 2006

Religious Roundtable

I am not one for watching the Sunday news shows. Until yesterday I honestly can't remember the last time I actually sat down and watched one from end to end.

Sunday was Easter and on Meet the Press, Tim Russert had a very interesting roundtable that included a priest, evangelical pastor, imam, rabbi, nun, and a few others. The theme of the day was, drum roll please...religion in our present day and how it affects people and their actions.

Tim Russert was pretty pathetic. He has a list of questions that he asked all of the people one by one and didn't challenge anything anybody said. For istance he asked a question to the imam about the suicide bombers and the imam deflected by spouting something about other religions that in the past have killed in the name of their god.

The follow up question that Russert should have asked at that time was something like: Hey, imam, today all of the suicide bombers are islamists. They intentionally run into delicatessens and malls and blow up men, women and children because they are not muslim. I don't exactly see the Methodist Martyrs Brigade running around and blowing people up for no reason other than they are not METHODIST. How do you respond to this?

But I digress.

The fact that Russert didn't pin anyone down on anything is just an annoyance, not surprising for a network host. Don't want to offend anyone now, do we?

It didn't really take anything away from the discussion of religion and how it is affecting the world today. The rabbi didn't do the Jews any justice in the discussion. I don't even know why he was on the panel. He was yammering on about income redistribution, corporate greed and some other nonsense.

Ronald Reagan: How do you tell a communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx
and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It's someone who understands
Marx and Lenin.

I sincerely would have loved to hear from a rabbi that wasn't so bitter and, well, socialist.

This guy was pretty interesting. Be sure to click on his site. Modern clothes, plain english, current fashions. He has a church in Houston and preaches to over 40,000 people every Sunday. His big selling point was that they do a lot of pumping up and preaching what is good instead of focusing on how bad we as humans are. A very modern concept. He said that he wanted folks to feel good about themselves and the church when they left the services. I think that is very refreshing. I went to a Baptist church when young and these things were never emphasized. Rather scare tactics and a lot of fire and brimstone were utilized to make people repent and feel belittled in front of the power that was god. As I have mentioned before, I am reading "Albion's Seed". The services that the Puritans had were eerily similar to what I experienced when I was growing up in the Baptist church. Osteen very well may be a quack and a cult leader, but he came across as a very interesting alternative to the old school fire and brimstone approach. Maybe that is why his ministry is so apparently successful.

The nun didn't have too much interesting to say.

The priest was clearly the best read of the whole panel. He cited historical references and in detail explained why the USA is where it is, and shut down Russert once or twice on leading questions. He had his slant, of course, but he was very eloquent and an interesting person to listen to.

It is too bad it all ended up being a Russert question and answer session rather than a free-wheeling debate because all of the panel members, I feel, would have respected each other and allowed for a good debate (except maybe the rabbi, who seemed crazed at times).

This type of discussion would, I feel, make the founders proud. Persons of many different religions sitting around a table, discussing the current states of their religions as relates to the population of the United States. It makes me proud, as well.

I don't think you would have too many discussions like this anywhere else in the world.

Shipman, Illinois, Spring 2006

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

The "Househunters" Life

Bizarrely enough I routinely watch a show on the HGTV network called "Househunters". The show always starts with someone in a house that they are unhappy with for some reason or another - either it is too small, in the wrong location, or they don't have one at all.

Since "Househunters" appears to be sponsored by the realtor industry, the themes invariably involve a realtor, with the realtor doing all the research and analysis and appearing indispensible to the process (this hasn't been true in my experience, but hey, it's their show).

The interesting part is that whenever people buy a house, they move in, fix it up, and then live "the Househunters" life. By this, I mean that their lives are always incredibly enriched by the place that they live in and they exude bliss about their home situation. Obviously, lots of this is due to the fact that they are on TV and probably the less blissful folks are screened out, but it is a sight to see their house contentedness so high.

These people are shown doing everything that you theoretically SHOULD be doing in your neighborhood - if they have a porch, they are on it soaking up the sunshine. If they have a big kitchen, they are happily cooking up an elaborate meal for friends and family. And if they live in an urban area, like River North, they'd be out at cafes, clubs and generally taking advantage of everything that the location has to offer, or they'd be jogging happily along the lake.

We'd all be a tiny bit happier if we thought of ourselves from the perspective of an outsider moving into your home for the first time - notice all the nice details that we let slide by, sit out on the porch and take in some sun, or garden in your back yard.

The Househunters Life...

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Framework for Analysis

I am currently reading an excellent book titled "FLAK - German anti-aircraft defenses 1914-1945" by Edward Westermann. Germany fielded one of the most capable anti-aircraft defenses in both WW1 and WW2, integrating ground based guns, searchlights, radar, passive defenses (blackouts) and fighter aircraft.

The most interesting part of the book shows the history of the air defense network, particularly its humble beginnings in WW1. Many historians and analysts viewed the air defense capabilities in a vacuum, either counting the # of "kills" by fighters or the # of "kills" by ground based guns. If you think about the difficulty of hitting a rapidly moving aircraft in 3D space with a ground based gun with relatively primitive loading and aiming capabilities it was a miracle that anything was hit at all. However, the book shows how together the ground and air forces made for a much more powerful defense, since the ground based guns damaged many planes which forced them to fall out of formation where they were pounced on, alone and semi-defenseless, by German fighters. The guns also forced the bombers to fly at a higher altitude and drop bombs with far less accuracy. Until late in the war, when the focus was simply on destroying entire cities, making bomb drops inaccurate nullified almost the entire value of the attack (i.e. they didn't have to shoot down the bombers, just minimize the effects on industrial production).

I had no idea about German air defenses in WW1 - this is a neglected topic. The book goes through their development, including weaponry, tactics, and combining with the air arm for maximum effectiveness. After WW1 the Allies forced the Germans to give up much of their weaponry in the Treaty of Versailles. This prohibition included their air defenses. However, that did not mean that they stood still. Even with the military down to 100,000 men, they were able to keep up an active analysis of what worked and what didn't work in WW1 in order to prepare for the future. Von Seekt was the head of the German General Staff at this time and he put together a framework for analysis that I find to be exceedingly interesting.

From the book: "He also ordered the establishment of numerous committees to consider the following questions:
1. What new situations arose during the war that had not been considered before the war?
2. How effective were our prewar views in dealing with the above situation?
3. What new guidelines have been developed from the use of new weaponry in the war?
4. Which new problems, put forward by the war, have not yet found a solution"

The reason that this analysis is so interesting is because it looks at the thinking process and methodology and not just the specific situation that required analysis and response. In looking at whole areas where new situations arose that hadn't been forseen, patterns can be found where one needs to entirely change their thinking in order to prepare for future situations. This methodology assumes that we can't forsee everything that is going to happen, but we need to teach people "how to think" because the future, too, will bring major, unanticipated problems that will require a fast response (if one is to emerge victorious).

This thought process could be applied to the current military situation in Iraq (IED's) or to non-military problems. An odd situation where it would apply very closely is in examining the corporate budget process. There are always budget exceptions that require "overages" and also budget situations where money is earmarked but not spend on its intended purpose. This type of analysis would not just look at the exceptions, but also examine the thinking process that led to those types of exceptions, so that there would be a higher chance of forseeing them in the future (or responding rapidly and effectively when they occur).

You could also apply this to the "Internet bubble" in the stockmarket, and use it as a template for what to do when the "housing bubble" is pricked and many follow-on events hit the economy. No one anticipated the huge run-up for companies like Netscape, companies with essentially zero revenues, and most were poor at timing the "drop" back down to essentially zero (for many of the companies). Once the bubble started rolling, many people jumped on the bandwagon, and assuming they jumped off soon enough, they did very well. Today people are much more jaded on the stock market, and people want to take profits sooner rather than just "ride" a stock all the way up (and all the way back down).

Critical thinking and seeing "meta-patterns" is an important skill and one that is hard to cultivate. People don't like to admit they are wrong, and they like it even less to KNOW that they will be wrong later.

A highly recommended book in any case, even if the analysis doesn't seem that compelling to you.

Warhol at the MCA

Recently I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Chicago to see an Andy Warhol exhibition. I always thought the museum should have been named MOCA not MCA in the same way that the New York museum is MOMA but I guess they didn't want people to believe our museum was a Starbucks or something (MOCA?).

The MCA is an interesting building. On the outside are the 3 people that are gold and look like the Michelin Man gone awry. When you first walk in there is a strange exhibit that looks like a giant cat / dinosaur skeleton that grabs you right away. They don't allow photography in the museum so I had to be kind of furtive with the shots.

The Andy Warhol exhibition was kind of a snooze. They had the "Elvis" prints with the colors and Elvis holding a pistol but the rest of the stuff was pretty boring. He had some car crash prints which were scandalous back in the day but are old hat now. Lots of Warhol was shock art and since everyone has tried to out-shock everyone else continuously since the 60's the old stuff is now pretty laughable.

I do like the museum. They don't overload the museum with exhibits so you can tour the museum quickly. It is bright and airy and architecturally interesting. I like the curved stairs and other architectural touches. I also like the gift shop which has a huge variety of art books and all kinds of gift opportunities for someone goth in your life. You don't have to pay to go into the gift shop, it is accessible from the outside the building.

The picture on the upper left has nothing to do with the exhibit or the museum, it was just a photo I snapped of my favorite building while on my way to the MCA. I really like the "cut out" on the top and the blue sky shining through. I always think to myself that it would be cool to live in the little tower part after the cutout, although I am sure it is not habitable in the building. If you see any pictures of modern China or Taiwan they have an array of buildings created with odd shapes and cutouts. It is too bad that the real architectural risks today are being taken overseas, although lots of Chicago architects are in on the design action. Here is a link to some interesting photos. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Stereotyping

I used to live in the Streeterville area of Chicago near Michigan avenue. There is a bar in that area called "Timothy O'Toole's Pub".

I walked past this sign a hundred times before I looked at it closely and really thought about it. What does it show?

- a balding man
- with red hair
- drinking heavily (spilled his beer)
- passed out

In short, the guy is everyone's stereotype of an Irishman. And where are the protests? Where are the demonstrators? Where is the guy with the microphone, the plea for understanding of different cultures?

Hey it's just a drunken Irishman, so no big deal, I guess. Posted by Picasa

Katrina Revisited

My family is gone for a few days so good old Dan gets control of the remote for at least a while.

I typically don't watch a lot of TV, but I love to cook and having it on in the background isn't all that bad. I was making dinner last night and popped on the O'Reilly Factor. What was I making, you ask? Well, I didn't know it at the time but I was well on my way to making what turned out to be perhaps the very worst tuna steak I have ever sunk my teeth into. If I had to describe the taste I would say it was like eating seasoned cardboard.

I used to watch Bill O'Reilly all the time, back when I had time and cared a lot more about the world around me. The show still has good entertainment value for me, I was pleasantly surprised to find. A guest appeared that really got my goat, though. I can't remember what she did for a living, but she was railing that the slow response to Katrina was due to the fact that the government was being covertly racist. She asserted that the response would have been much faster if the people were all white. O'Reilly pressed her and very simply asked, "what proof do you have?" I have discussed the matador style of debate before and lets just say that she wouldn't look so good in those funny shoes that the matadors wear. No proof of anything, of course.

Which brings me to Katrina, yet again. When Katrina wrecked New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast, I wrote a very lengthy series on the disaster. To this day I think it is some of my best work (for thoughts, not necessarily style) and if you have some spare time you can still access those essays in the archives. But then I read "Tribes" by Bill Whittle. That pretty much brought to an end all of the essays, thoughts and anything else anyone had to say about the tragedy that was Katrina and human nature. If you haven't read it yet, please do - I will be referring to it in the rest of this post. Across the blogosphere everyone basically said that there isn't much to add anymore, Whittle wins. That includes myself.

I think a lot about the aftermath of Katrina and Tribes. To this day I don't understand why those people couldn't WALK out of New Orleans to Baton Rouge. Even going at a very slow pace of 2 miles per hour you would make it in only a couple of days. If you don't believe me, next time you are on a treadmill set it at 2 miles per hour - it really is slow. The thought process must be that they thought that the government will take care of them. Has anyone learned any lessons? This years hurricane season will tell the tale.

Bill Cosby is most certainly in my tribe. Did you hear what he said yesterday at a rally? He aired all of the dirty laundry that the racial hucksters like Al Sharpton don't want you to hear.

Ladies and gentlemen, you had the highest murder rate, unto each other. You were dealing drugs to each other. You were impregnating our 13-, 12-, 11-year-old children," he said. What kind of a village is that?

Bill Cosby says it like it really is. What kind of people eat their young?

The New Orleans police department has been convicted of confiscating the personal property of those who rode out the hurricane in the form of firearms. My tribe will never surrender their means of protection at any time. Let me see the logic here - we have a superdome full of people eating each other, virtually no law and order and the police want me to surrender my means of protection so they can do nothing to protect me. Forgive me for laughing out loud. I have purchased a junky rusted handgun to give to the police if they come calling someday for my firearms. Here you go officer...have a nice day.

Here in the Midwest we seem at times distanced from the misery that Katrina wrought so many miles away. But it can happen here in other forms. Dirty nuke. Disease. Tornado. Flood. I will be ready to defend myself, my family, my property, my tribe.

Perhaps I worry too much about doomsday. Apparently many in the New Orleans area didn't worry enough. Do you remember those lines to get out of there for the busses? Do you remember the looting, the rioting, the misery, the loss of hope? This tribe didn't band together and depend on itself. This tribe does not know how to look INWARD for strength. This tribe has sucked on the teat of the government for it's whole existence and continued to do so when disaster arrived. This tribe was helpless at the exact time it needed to help itself the most.

I saw very few politicians in the hurricane zone passing out water or food. I did see a lot of news conferences by politicans that said they really cared about the people.

I saw, after an interminable delay caused by Gov. Blanco, the military sweep in with force (armed force, that is) and restore some type of order. I saw an Army (or was it Marine) General tell people they were full of shit and that we are going to get this fixed and right now. I saw ashamed New Orleans Police set down their weapons in front of the General quaking in their boots.

What portion of America is ready to look INWARD to themselves I wonder aloud. To clean up their own mess, to right their own ships, to take care of their personal Katrinas? We will see when the next disaster hits who can, and who can't. I have my hunches. I hope I am wrong.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Blog Readers

Dan had a spirited discussion with an informed reader of our blog about the fact that many of the best blogs have relatively few readers while the "sound bite" blogs are rakin' em' in.

On a parallel note, one of my favorite writers, the science fiction author Stanislaw Lem, died recently. Lem was Polish and fought the Nazis in WW2 and lived under communism. As a result, his themes were often oblique compared to the typical science fiction "shoot 'em up" themes. His most famous book, Solaris, is a fascinating novel about a distant planet that is one sentinent organism that plays with the sanity of explorers above its empty ocean. Do not be put off by the not-so-good movie with George Clooney, the book is much better.

When I was growing up I worked in a bookstore. The bookstore only hired people of college age but when I turned 16 I kept applying, over and over, until they finally had pity on me and took me in. I loved books and still have shelves of them creaking everywhere.

Prior to working in the bookstore I had dreams of being a writer. I read my favorite authors such as Lem and many others and really thought that someday, if I worked hard enough, I could be one, too.

However, what I saw in the bookstore totally dashed my hopes. Even though the bookstore was a high-end bookstore (for its day, prior to the Borders / Barnes and Noble superstore world) whenever a diet guru came on TV the place was flooded with suburban housewives craving the latest tips in the form of the inevitable bestseller. We sold an amazing number of books about astrology, romance novels, and terrible "action" and "western" series books.

The books I liked, the authors like Lem, gathered dust on the shelves. Though I tended to them well, turning the face of the jacket to face the aisle (not the spine), no one bought them, and ultimately we sent them back to the publisher in a big box (or tore the cover off if they were paperbacks and the publisher didn't want to pay the freight - I ripped apart many, many books that way. Don't even get me started on the economics of that insane industry).

What did I learn? Commerce isn't art. If you want to make a living, you need to give the people what they want, and 99 times out of 100 that means you are generating, well, crap. The good books gathered dust, and the topical diet and fad books sold like crazy. Danielle Steele, I can still see her garish covers when I close my eyes today.

So what does this have to do with anything? Blogs are the same as my bookstore. Most of the superficial, flashiest, emptiest stuff rises to the top because they spend time on the equivalent of a bodice-ripping cover starring Fabio rather than worrying about crafting an interesting and unique piece.

Because that is what the vast majority of people want.

It is easy to digest and it goes down smoothly. You don't have to think a lot, all of your pre-conceptions are met, out of the box.

Thanks to the web, however, we can publish what we want, for free. I don't have to worry about the economics of this process, because I am not relying on it for my livelihood. This is what freedom is about, freedom of speech, and freedom to have a solid discourse with those that want to join me.

Or you can just click back to the big blogs and I won't miss you, either. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

New Low in Illinois Politics

There is a famous joke that I am going to butcher but it goes something like this...

"Three policemen are sitting at a bar. The policeman from England says "we are such good policemen that when there is a crime in London we catch the criminal in a week." Then the policeman from New York says "we are such good policemen that we catch the criminals the same day they commit the crime." Then the cop from Russia says "we are so good in Russia that we know about the crime before it even happens..."

How is this joke relevant to Illinois politics? Well, it seems that we are hitting a new low. In a story reported by the Chicago Tribune, which I swear really seems to be picking up the pace with a lot of hard hitting, local news stories (maybe they read this blog? I doubt it), they report on the Democratic candidate for US Treasurer who... is being accused of corruption before he ever even takes office.

Apparently the family of the Democratic candidate, Alexi Giannoulias, owns a bank that is lending to a major reputed mobster. The story broke a few years ago and the candidate basically says, well, the bank loaned the money, but I was in law school and wasn't working there in a decision making capacity then, so it wasn't my fault.

This is where the matter could have rested... but then in 2005 apparently they made more loans to reputed mobster and convicted felon "Michael Giorango, a convicted bookmaker and prostitution ring promoter." The co-signer of the loans was in prison at the time the loans were signed for (isn't that a bad sign?) and his wife had to sign for them.

Unfortunately, this candidate has already won the democratic primary. That means that for millions of Illinois democrats, who only see the (D) by his name, they will vote for him en masse. Possibly even deceased people will vote for him as well. This is Illinois, and Chicago.

I try not to point out the continuous stream of sleaze, vice and corruption that is the sewer of Illinois and Chicago politics, for both the Democrats and Republicans, because it is a never ending topic and it, frankly, can get a bit boring.

But something new like this, I need to point it out. The guy is being accused of corruption (loaning money to the mob with the co-signer actually in jail, even after this relationship had already been pointed out) before he even takes office. That is a new low...

Springtime in the Yard







Sunday, April 09, 2006

Madison Gas & Electric

There were some questions to other utility posts that I had written and rather than answer them in the “comment” area I decided that it deserved an entire post.  The first part of the post will be about MGE in general and the second will be about some of my personal experiences with the company.

Madison Gas and Electric (stock ticker: MGEE) is a utility company that serves (primarily) the city of Madison, Wisconsin.  They usually go by MG&E and I’ll refer to them that way for the rest of the post.

MG&E has a very small service territory.  There may be a utility with a smaller service territory listed on the NASDAQ or NYSE but I am not aware of it.  Per their 12/31/05 10K filed with the SEC they served 136,000 electric customers.  Their gas service territory is larger but the gas industry is less significant because there is no “generation” component and transmission is independent, so it is mainly a pass-through with some money for distribution and overhead.

MG&E doesn’t own much in the way of generation assets.  They have a plant in town called Blount which is very old and then they own a portion (investment) in plants run by other, larger, utilities.  Thus they technically own capacity from a financial perspective but they don’t run the facilities and it is an economic transaction.

Wisconsin passed some relatively unique laws regarding electric transmission and a for-profit company was formed for the whole state.  Thus the electric transmission assets of MG&E were transferred into this entity in exchange for an economic interest.

I am ignoring gas because gas isn’t as big an economic deal as electricity since there is no “generation” component and the gas transmission grid has been deregulated for a long time.  Their gas territory is a bit bigger than their electric territory but still one of the tiniest gas territories around.

Thus let’s sum the situation up – MG&E basically runs the distribution side (wires) and administration for electricity for the city of Madison.  They have an economic interest in some plants and transmission.  They have a small gas territory and some other assets.

My friends, this is a small, small entity.  The entire utility industry has been consolidating for years.  MG&E has revenues of $513M for 2005, vs. $15.3B for Exelon, the utility that serves Chicago and much of the Midwest, or even $3.8B for Wisconsin Energy Corporation.

In the industry, people have been talking about MG&E getting swallowed up for years.  Alliant Energy, a much larger utility that serves a territory to the East of Madison, even HAS THEIR HEADQUARTERS IN MADISON.  In the early 90’s when I was working at MG&E there was constant talk of them getting merged up, and this was before the transmission assets were co-mingled with the state.

From an economic perspective, it would be simple for an adjacent competitor to swallow up MG&E.  They would probably 1) fire the headquarters staff 2) change the names on the local distribution trucks 3) switch the customer calls over to their call centers.  As far as their generation, since they don’t “run” anything, they would likely merge with the actual operators of the facility, so the economics would be transparent.  If you look at a map of utility service territories (check here) you can see the logical companies that would swallow up MG&E and fix a hole in their service territory.

Why doesn’t this happen?  It happens in every other industry.  Can you think of industries where you wouldn’t just “roll up” a competitor if it was only a local distribution arm, didn’t have any pricing power, and was already adjacent to your service territory, and your headquarters existed in the middle of the service territory?  Obviously, you pay some sort of market premium at one point, but then over time you get the savings in reduced expenses for not having duplicate corporate and administrative staff.

In my opinion, there probably isn’t a utility in the entire US that would be a more logical takeover candidate.  People have been talking about them being taken over for 20+ years.  But why hasn’t this happened?

I don’t have direct knowledge of Madison since I haven’t worked up there in years.  The city of Madison probably figures they’d lose a bunch of utility jobs since Alliant would just close the HQ and wouldn’t need many of those people at their facility.  Also, MG&E is a nice local supporter of various causes (scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours).  Of course, people probably pay higher rates than they would if the industry was logically consolidated, but free market economics isn’t a big seller in Madison.

Note too that lots of the administrative staff are unionized.  You can read it in their 10-K.  When I was in Madison they were one of the few utilities where their accountants were unionized.  I don’t know if the accountants are still unionized but according to the 10-K, they had 746 employees as of 12-31-05 of which 261 were in the IBEW and 105 were in an office union, and 5 with some other union, for a total of 371 of their 746 employees in a union, or about 50% of their total staff.  I am certain that the state of Madison loves these sorts of unions, and it would be easy to say that a merger would be a “union busting” activity or some such nonsense if you wanted to delay a merger.

The State of Wisconsin also guards their utilities pretty well and creates barriers from outside forces.  Exelon, for example, dwarfs anything in Wisconsin and has a massive base of assets.  If there wasn’t a regulatory barrier, probably the whole state of Wisconsin would have to be rolled up to be remotely competitive with Illinois just to the south, or the primary industrial areas of Milwaukee and up to Madison would just be joined into the entity (after all, there aren’t many natural barriers between Illinois and Wisconsin on the state line).  To Wisconsin’s credit, closely regulating their utilities spared them from completely stupid “deregulation” initiatives (I use that term loosely because it was only called deregulation, it was actually regulation under a different guise without true market reforms) that are going to punish Illinois customers (and enrich Exelon).

I am not saying that MG&E is badly run.  I don’t know that because I am not there to make a judgment.  I will say that it would be HARD to run them badly, because they 1) don’t run much generation 2) don’t run the transmission 3) serve a tiny, compact service territory that doesn’t have hurricanes and similar types of issues.  Probably there isn’t a utility in the US that would be easier to run than MG&E, once you get used to the fact that ½ your employees are unionized and you need to deal with everything that entails.  I can also safely say that people in the industry have talked about MG&E getting taken over for more than 20 years, and this hasn’t happened, but it clearly isn’t because there isn’t an economic case that can conceptually be made to make this happen.  If there isn’t an economic case for MG&E being acquired, then there was no case for ANY of the mergers that have gone through the industry over the last 20 years or so, because MG&E has all the elements in spades.

I will briefly talk about my experiences at MG&E and Madison.

I worked up there in the early 90’s for an accounting company.  I was just a kid, and a green one at that.

It was my first time encountering unionized office staff.  On my first day I saw people lining up at 3:45pm (I think, it may have been 4:15pm) which was 15 minutes before “quitting time”.  They stood in a line in front of the “punch out” machine that read their time cards.  They were mostly silent.  I made some sort of stupid crack that I can’t believe they were standing their waiting to punch out so early in the day and I received daggers for stares back from them.  This was a mistake, since I had to work with these people, and they were NOT helpful after that.

I didn’t have the concept that people could leave early because we would routinely work until 8 or 9pm every night during audit season.  They would be gone for 5 or more hours and I would still be there working.

At the time they didn’t use computers very much.  Their fixed asset reconciliations were done on the big yellow accounting papers.  The fixed asset guy did it in pen and used liquid paper for his errors (there were many).  The whole sheet was white and cracked and impossible to read.  One time we were in the middle of working on something and he just got up and said “I’ve got to go take a sh1t”.  I honestly couldn’t believe the place.

It was also the first time I heard the term “FIB”, probably when I was taunting them for standing in line to check out 15 minutes in advance of their short work day.  For those who don’t know, that means “F**cking Illinois Bastard”.  I didn’t know what it meant right away but they were sure free about using it to my face.  The guy who was my boss on the engagement got his tires slashed in a parking garage across the street – he had Illinois plates.

People were talking about them getting taken over back then, and they had a bunch of issues with a nuclear plant that they had an economic stake in (they didn’t run anything back then, either) but they were able to escape all that and they are still around and independent today, which I find to be amazing and a testament to the non-economic factors that drive our US utility industry.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

"Hairy Armpitted, Birkenstock Hooved Swine of the Left"

It isn't often I will write a one liner and provide a link. It is my opinion that things like that are Instapundit's job. Hey that is pretty funny, me giving a link to Instapundit.

I mean, how hard is it to be Instapundit? Here, let me try:

Paul Krugman is a dumbass. Heh.

See what I mean?

You can do it too. All you need is a free blogspot url and you, too can do just exactly what Instapundit and all the rest of these "career linkers" do. Without the traffic, of course. That is reserved for the circle jerk that is at the top of the blogosphere, the "new media" (same as the old media). And you are not invited into the club. Neither am I.

Jealous, you say? Not. I have a good job, and blog for pure enjoyment - not money. I kowtow to NOBODY. I don't have to keep my hit counter spinning to appease advertisers. I have two smart team members on my blog that can write great essays and my writing skills are getting honed for the day when I start to pursue my Masters degree in history. What do I have to be jealous of? That you can see Glenn Reynolds on CSPAN pushing his book? Am I jealous of material the likes of which you see on Michelle Malkin's blog or Little Green Footballs or Kos? God, I hope not.

Have you ever actually read some of the comments on these sites? You would think they were being written in mental wards. No reason. No civility. No sane debate.

We should all be ashamed that these are, in fact, some of the highest trafficked blogs on the web. And all of the good material is pushed aside, relegated to blogs that get 1,000 hits a day or less, blogs that 99.9999% of people in the US will never get to read.

So this blog as a rule intends to provide our readers with original photographs and essays and will always give credit for photographs taken from the net or anything else that doesn't originate with our three contributors. Refreshing, eh?

But it is still OK, from time to time, for us to provide some entertainment or linkage as long as we don't make it a habit.

I read something today that I just really want to share with our readers. When you have an extra five or ten minutes this weekend, read this short but simple essay from Jim over at Smoke on the Water. You can thank me later.

Not In My Lifetime

Very soon (only 6 homeruns from now as of today) Barry Bonds will pass the Babe on the all time homerun list. If his body doesn't give out he will eventually pass Hank Aaron and be the all time homerun king of baseball. Pardon me while I toss my cookies.

I am not one to convict people without a trial but with all of the evidence that has been presented over the past several years and the fact that Bonds used to be a slender sleek player (just look at photos from his early years and today) it is becoming increasingly hard to deny that Bonds is on something or other. But whatever. Lets just compare some stats of Bonds and the player who I consider the best of all time, the Babe.

Keep in mind that when Ruth played there were like only 12 teams. There can be no denying that talent has been diluted in the majors with all of the new teams added over the past couple of decades.

So, an objective look at Bonds vs. Ruth.

First, the totals as of the end of last years play.

Total games: Ruth 2503, Bonds 2730
Total at bats: Ruth 8398, Bonds 9140
Career average: Ruth .342 (!) Bonds .300
Career RBI: Ruth 2217, Bonds 1853

These simple stats are enough for most to make an objective judgment that Ruth was, in fact, in his time, better than Bonds is in his. But there is more. Babe Ruth's career pitching statistics:
94 wins, 46 losses, 2,28 ERA (!) Bonds pitching stats: 0.

Total suspicion of illegal drug use: Ruth 0, Bonds infinite.

It isn't even close. I will never see a player like Ruth in my lifetime. I think I will literally puke when Bonds passes Ruth. Oh well. To hell with Bud Selig and his fake steroid investigation. We all know who the real best all time player was:

Photo credit here.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

White Sox Flyover

One of the best traditions is the flyover by the US air force at sporting events.

At opening day at US Cellular Field for the White Sox 2 fighter jets screamed over the stadium... they must have been traveling at or near the speed of sound because there was absolutely no warning as they roared over the stadium

I just happened to be pointing my camera in that direction and took a lucky shot. The planes seemed to be flying so low it was almost like they were in the "bowl" of the stadium and pulled up to clear the bleachers. This probably wasn't actually the case but they sure seemed low.

It was fantastic! Posted by Picasa