Thursday, June 29, 2006
For instance, there is the new Trump Tower, which will be 92 stories, on the upper right (with the Wrigley building in the background). Then you have "Block 37" which is on the upper left, which finally (after being vacant for as long as I can remember) is getting redeveloped.
On the lower left there is another 60 story office tower condo building, and on the lower right the "Shangri La" hotel / condominium is going up on Clark street on a narrow, narrow space and I think it is going to be 90 stories or so.
The story of construction in Chicago is always BOOM then BUST. In the late 80's and early 90's there was a big boom and then it all went silent for a lot of years. We are definitely in the tail end of the boom now, and a lot of these buildings are going to come in to a glutted market.
For people wanting to sell the condos they own today, it will be hard to compete when you are selling what (will be) a several year old condo when there is brand new space coming onto the market with a desperate developer wanting to unload the units. I wouldn't be surprised if many of these units ended up going as apartments for a while if they can't get the price they want as condos.
I write this post on a computer, powered by Microsoft products, probably transmitting through a Microsoft server, to your computer more than likely powered by Microsoft products. A very good argument can be made that Bill Gates has changed my world more than any other single person. Probably your world as well.
Stores can easily handle the tracking of inventory of millions of items. Just 25 years ago most used some sort of paper and pen system. Maybe an inventory card system or just the boss doing everything from memory.
With computers, staff has been lowered, and other efficiencies have been added. Lead times are lowered. File cabinets have been replaced. Massive simulations are able to be run at a very low cost.
I have to admit, I just sold my stock of Microsoft. I was a long time stock holder but just have had enough of the flagging stock. My money can be put to use elsewhere. MS Office hasn't been improved that much in the last five years. That says a lot.
Many many people take lots of shots at Gates for being greedy, the very vision of the worst that Capitalism has to offer. He is the worlds richest man after all.
But, you know, Bill Gates is the most generous person ever to walk the face of the earth. The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has given more money to more people than anyone else, ever. And now Warren Buffett has just given them another $35 billion (with a "B") to keep up their philanthropy.
And they aren't messing around. The Gates foundation plans on creating vaccines for the top 20 diseases AND an AIDS vaccine. AND they are planning on a massive campaign to increase the level of education of American children everywhere.
I would bet on the Gates family far quicker than any governmental agency to actually get these things done.
For all the bad press Gates gets, I really hope that he gets a little good press now that he has basically quit his job and decided to be a full time philanthropist.
That, folks, is not just a good person, he may be the most important person of the last 25 years. If he comes through with vaccines for all of those diseases, it will be a slam dunk.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Since I don't have a super fast action camera and I'm no Ansel Adams I resorted to the ultra-sophisticated tactic of just taking lots of shots and deleting those without lightning (this would have been a lot more expensive in the days of manual film prior to digital cameras). This time - it actually worked! I picked up a good shot of lightning hitting a big building and illuminating the sky.
This blog post is also the name of an obscure Aerosmith song from the 80's... back when they just had Steven Tyler (singer) and didn't have Joe Perry (guitarist), when they were both still recovering from years of over-indulgence in every sort of liquor and drug known to man. I distinctly remember a cantaloupe being struck by a baseball bat in the video and exploding, kind of a Gallagher-esque type effect which must have cost at least $5 (in 1985 dollars... so that is at least $8 today). You probably should stop reading this fine print...
I wasn't surprised about what was said about the parking situation. Lots of angst against an already bad situation.
By the way, when I got my letter about the new "preferred parking" they didn't say how the cars would get into the north section of the South Lot. If they are using the same entrance as the rest of the peasants in the South Lot that place is going to be anarchy. It is already bad - throwing another variable into the mix will be disastrous.
Then I started reading some of the posts about the new optional PSL for the season ticket holders in the west upper deck. I had to rub my eyes, shake my head a few times and pinch myself.
How about these comments:
That is very interesting. The only bad thing is that you cannot get seat relocations once you purchase PSL's. I suppose it is nice if and when you are happy with your location, then you can lock it in.
Honestly if you get to a seat location that you are happy with, why wouldn't you do it? I'm 29 right now and if I buy season tickets for the next 30 years I'll be spending $36,000 for my two seats (obviously not taking into account inflation) and if I paid just an extra $2,000 the seats stay in my family. The way it's looking that might be the only way my kids would be able to get tickets!
I do agree - this is probably going to make the wait list a non factor. This now gives people that were thinking of getting rid of their season tickets a vehicle to make some money off of it instead of just giving them up.And the ability to profit is the only benefit to buying these things. They let you keep the seats if you don't buy a PSL. You forfeit the ability to move if you do get the PSL. You can keep tickets in the family in case of death, so the only reason to do this is to transfer them to someone outside of death.
These people are on crack.
Here is the lone smart guy, bold face mine, NSF stands for "New Soldier Field":
My prediction is that since there really will not be a lot of incentive to upkeep NSF, it will be replaced within 27 years. In order to obtain tickets to Soldier Field III, one will most likely have to be a PSL holder for the NSF and then pay a renewal PSL for Soldier Field III.One way or another, 95% of NSF will become PSL. This gives the team a large chunk of money upfront; keeps the waing list a lot longer; and will allow the team to cut staff in the ticket office.It could be worse, the Redskins' PSL, has to be renewed after a certain amount of years.If you plan on attending most games as I do, you cannot treat the PSL as an investment. Treat it as a surcharge on your ticket price amortized over 30 years.If you do not attend the games, you probably are already making a nice profit on the tickets and will eventually recoup the intial layout of the PSL.
I just can't get over the fact that many of these fans seem to think that the voluntary PSLs in the west upper deck are a good investment. No interest, not very liquid, no gain whatsoever until you sell. AND the Bears in another 30 years will no doubt start talk of a new stadium once more and then EVERYONE will get to purchase ANOTHER PSL.
Many of the people posting mentioned passing on the tickets to their families. What are they talking about? Make the kids get tickets the old fashioned way like I did. Through scalpers, ticket brokers and friends.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
On the other hand, even the most cursory walk through a neighborhood like Bucktown with lots of smaller redevelopment shows that there are many building sites exclusively employing illegal immigrants. You hear a lot of spanish spoken, plus polish and russian, or very authentic irish accents.
On a personal level a good friend of mine has an in-law who is an electrician and got fed up with all of the union BS. However, if you aren't in a union, finding business through subtle tactics such as the ones employed above, you are in competition with the completely unregulated illegal labor. As a result, he has trouble finding work that is appropriate to his level of skills since he is competing against people who are willing to work for very little (relative to the danger, etc... involved in construction).
The unions can't picket all of the smaller building redevelopment sites, but they do picket the bigger sites. Thus the small sites pretty much go non-union with illegals.
In a better-run city, instead of having two unappetizing choices of heavy handed, unproductive union labor and totally unregulated illegal labor, there would be something in the middle - maybe a productive, partially regulated work force, with reasonable inspections to ensure quality work.
Not in Chicago.
Enough picking on the Bears for a while, lets take a few shots at the University of Wisconsin.
Ever want bad publicity? Pick on kids or the handicapped.
Check this out.
The money quote, italics and bold mine:
When it comes to supporting University of Wisconsin athletics, one would be hard-pressed to find a more loyal fan than George Kapke. So when it came time to give his annual contribution to the Badger Fund to keep his four season football tickets in section EE at Camp Randall Stadium, Kapke didn't think twice about writing out a check for $800 and mailing it on March 3. Season ticket holders in "preferred seating areas" are required to make an annual per-seat donation. Kapke, a season ticket-holder for more than 50 years, planned to mail in $980 for the cost of the four tickets closer to the April 30 renewal deadline. A few days later, however, Kapke learned he would have to make an additional donation of $1,700 annually to retain a disabled parking space in Lot 17, which is located directly north of the stadium.
But the UW replies thusly, again bold and italics mine:
"We're not trying to bleed money from anyone," he said. "That's not the issue here. We're not trying to raise more money by making the changes we're making." We're trying to accommodate the loss of about 175 prime parking spots. There is no new money in this. It's not an effort to add to the coffers. That's how that will be framed, and we know that. But that's not the case."Sweeney said the UW lost 120 parking spots at the UW Credit Union across the street from Camp Randall. In addition, the UW "anticipates losing" another 50-plus prime parking spots next year at Randall School on Regent Street. Suddenly, there was a major parking squeeze, and thus the decision to require a donation from everyone - disabled or not - to park in Lot 17. Of the 75 or so people who had disabled parking spaces in Lot 17 last year, Sweeney said "approximately 35 of those 75 renewed and were staying in Lot 17."
Oh so they didn't know that they were going to lose all of those spots before the massive renovation of Camp Randall? Unlikely. And why put ALL of the cost on the current parking spot holders? Couldn't they have spread the pain a bit? Maybe raise all of the ticket prices a dollar? So the guy who has had tickets for FIFTY years can have a spot close to the stadium?
If you think I have seen some terrible football the past 12 years at the Bears games (and how I have), imagine what this guy went through in the lean years before Barry Alvarez turned the football program around. I remember in, I think it was the late eighties I came up for a Badger football game and there were about thirty thousand folks in there. If that. I will never forget it - the game ended up a 3-3 tie, with Iowa State and the Badger players walked off the field like they just won the super bowl. This was waaaaaaay back when I was in school at U of I and Illinois actually fielded a competitive football team so I was taken aback by this display a bit.
But it doesn't matter anymore in pro sports or bigtime college sports. It has all turned into the same thing. PSLs were the first innovation for football teams and programs to rake in more money, now everyone is utilizing the parking, or lack thereof, to jam the longtime season ticket holders.
But, as always, if folks are going to line up and pay, more power to the teams and programs. The ticket holder mentioned above couldn't do it. I don't blame him. I have seen this guy on TV as well. He really is creating quite a stink over this and a LOT of bad PR for the UW.
For those who don't know, the Badger Fund is the University of Wisconsin's version of a PSL. Except you have to donate, I believe, EVERY YEAR to retain the priviledge to purchase Badger season tickets.
Ah greed, quickly replacing football as Americas favorite national sport.
As a side note, I hold two Badger football season tickets - in the nose bleeds in the north end zone. I park way up Monroe Street for FREE and I DO NOT pay a PSL for my seats. It really is a fun time, if you ever have the chance to go to a Badger game. Just get there early and you can walk wherever you need to.
Monday, June 26, 2006
In a prior career I used to have the opportunity to work at a variety of colleges in the State of Illinois. These universities ranged from one of our top schools to a lower ranking state college to community colleges.
At one of the lower ranking colleges there was a very nice student working there while she attended school. While I was consulting at the university she worked side by side doing clerical and accounting work for one of the departments.
One day she came into work with a long face. I asked her why she seemed upset. She said that she had a quiz in her geography class and she didn’t think that she answered one of the questions correctly. I asked her what question she had a problem with and she said that she had to place Brazil in a continent and she guessed Europe, but wasn’t sure it was correct.
I politely drew a little map of South America on a piece of paper and carefully penciled in Brazil on the East coast of the continent. She nodded quietly and went back to her work.
A while later she came back to the area where we both worked with an Atlas. She came right up to me with a surprised look and said:
“You were right! Brazil is in South America!”
The extremely interesting part of this exchange is that she viewed it as completely impossible that I would KNOW that Brazil was located in South America. In her eyes, I must have been SPECULATING or GUESSING about something like that. After all, who in their right mind would retain or know such information?
In 2003 the Chicago Sun Times wrote an excellent series of articles about teachers in Illinois and their relative level of proficiency. It appears that many teachers were failing all or parts of exams that are used to test seventh graders. Let me repeat that – teachers who graduated from 4 year universities were failing tests that the state of Illinois gives to seventh graders as part of their basic proficiency. Here is a link to the original articles and follow-up, which I highly recommend that you read. For fun you might even take the sample test (I missed one of ten and am kicking myself!)
I wasn’t surprised at all that teachers who graduated from universities similar to the one that I worked at were having difficulty passing these types of exams. I saw a lot of their homework while I was at the cafeteria or working in various areas of the university and I was astounded by how primitive the responses were to even the simplest of questions, and the obvious errors. To their credit many of these people were learning English as a second language and the fact that they were in college meant that they were trying to better themselves, but still…
The bottom line is that a seventh grader from a high performing suburb of Chicago or most Midwestern cities, much less a 14 year old such as the one I met on the trip, could literally blow away the knowledge and skills of most lower-tiered college graduates. This sounds sad, but is completely true. The level of time and energy that many of the kids spend on school in the competitive school districts is astounding, and of course these students (mostly) have 2 parent families and parents that deeply care about their educational performance.
Now and then when I am with people who know this story I use the line “I wasn’t speculating that Brazil isn’t in Europe” to clarify that I am certain of something and not just talking out my rear end...
This being a group blog, if I should happen to meet my demise on the way home in a car accident the blog would "live on" through the other contributors. Probably. Maybe the other contributors, Carl and PS would just put up a final post and hit the road.
However if you run a blog solo and then die, it would just stay there, suspended in cyberspace. You may get someone hitting it by google once in a while, but eventually most traffic would dwindle down. Eventually your blog would probably receive ten or twenty hits per day. But if it is on a service like blogger, it would stay there forever, since blogger is free.
You know, now that I think about it, there are probably many of these out there.
I bring all this up because a blogger I read every day has died. He was the Acidman.
I never met the guy, never commented on his site. He had a lot of problems, that is for sure. The final post on his blog as of right now was authored by his daughter:
This is Sam. Rob has passed away. They found him at 2:00 this morning slumped over on the couch. He did not shoot himself and no pills or alcohol were found in the house. When I find out anything else I'll let you know. Out of respect for my family please do not leave nasty comments.
Hmmm...didn't shoot self, no alcohol or pills...and we got his suicide note two days ago...
Two posts ago he talked at length about ways he planned on killing himself.
He was toying with carbon monoxide poisoning, but then turned the conversation to shooting himself, either with a .22 or a .357. This post has been taken down. So have comments in his blog from people that noticed it. I assume his daughter did this as well - so be it, it is his family's business, not mine. If Acidman really didn't want anybody tinkering with his blog he wouldn't have given anybody the passwords.
But why the tinkering? One deleted theory from the comments was that the family did it to ensure an insurance payout. Interesting.
I honestly am not trying to be mean or disrespectful to the family, just sort of scratching my head a bit.
From reading Acidman over the years I could infer that tinkering with his blog is not what he would have wanted. Just like I wouldn't like Carl or PS to alter my posts after I was gone. Acidman was legendary for being opinionated and quite the character at times. It was his persona. He posted that suicide note for all to read. Now nobody can read it. Just remember it.
Strange days, these. Farewell Acidman.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
Will I see it? No. What if it gets good reviews, will I reconsider? No. Instead,
maybe I'll go see the remake of "The Omen."
Catch a pattern here.
I haven't seen a movie in two months. I saw a foreign film when I was Cleveland
called "L'Enfant". The story is about a petty thief who is a new father. But because
he's such a scammer, he finds out he can make a lot of money selling his kid
on the black market which he does. His girlfriend goes ballistic. The rest of
the movie is about him trying to get the kid back. Original thought. Good acting.
The movie I saw before that was Sophie Scholl - The Final Days (for which
I wrote a blog a few months back.)
I can't believe with all of the books out in print that Hollywood cannot put out
original, thought provoking movies. Has the idea-well dried up that much? Its
definitely translating at the box office where ticket sales are down big time. Yet,
it never fails, they keep putting this trash out. Americans love going to the movies.
I love going to the movies. Its two hours out of the house where you're not thinking
about anything except the movie itself.
Remember, the movies are a business too. Movie studios realize that a movie with
lousy box office sales in America still is taking in revenue through DVD sales and
foreign release. Given the entertainment choices, movies are still cheap
as compared to going to a baseball game, a play, or a concert.
Let's take "The Omen," the movie about the young Anti-Christ Damien. Everybody
around Damien dies in the original. Everybody around Damien dies in
the remake. Hey, how about some original thought? What's the predominant issue
in Christianity nowaways? The Rapture. This is the whole timeline where the
Anti-Christ comes, fights against the forces of good, and is eventually defeated
by Jesus in the second coming.
Why not tie the remake into that concept? You could have the Christian
Right and the forces of evil working together to ensure the prophesy of the
Rapture. Hey, you might think I'm nuts but at least I've got some imagination
That's what is missing in American movies now: Imagination. Take the next movie
I'm going to see, a Taiwanese movie called "Three Times." The movie uses the
same two actors in three different time pieces about falling in and out of love.
Very adult. Very thought provoking.
I can go on and on about this. I'm sure you Midwest Blog readers are thinking
the same thing as I am: when's the last time I saw a movie? If Hollywood keeps
this up, weeks will turn into months . . .
In the mean time, Pam Anderson and Jenny McCarthy are on TNT in Scary Movie 3.
Can hardly wait.
I recently returned from being out of town for a while and was greeted with 567 spam messages and about 15 "real" email messages. How's that for a ratio? Not very good, I'd say.
A while back spam was the talk of the computer world, and I guess it died down, but the problem is as bad as ever.
Many of the tools are much more effective at blocking spam - Microsoft has a pretty good spam control built into Outlook now and they probably catch 9.5 out of 10 spam emails that hit my inbox. Yahoo! also does a pretty good job of filtering them, but many, many get through.
There has to be some sort of free-market solution for this. One item was to charge for emails "up front", assuming that the value of these emails is so low that virtually any cost / customer would shut down these people.
Alas, nothing has really been done. All these tools do is filter them at the email box, but the internet itself is probably (I'm just guessing) 80-90% spam, and much of the rest is peer-to-peer or file sharing.
They used to have Moore's Law, which said that the processing power of microchips would double every 24 months, but there probably ought to be some sort of spam equation, where the volume of spam exponentially increases, as well.
Like journalism and everything else, when things have zero marginal cost 1) it is hard to charge for them (like crappy journalism cribbed off the AP wire) 2) you are going to get a hell of a lot of them (bad bloggers taking advantage of free tools like Blogger, or spammers clogging the Internet and everyone's inbox). Free markets are the ultimate solution to this problem. Someone, somewhere, is paying for servers and storage for all this crap that no one wants, and if those costs could be charged to the people using the service (or the ISP that they come through), then it would immediately slow to a trickle.
But for now, I need to go through all of my email addresses and tediously clean out the junk...
Saturday, June 24, 2006
The folks arrested were plotting to blow up the Sears Tower.
If our enemy does get some sort of nuclear weapon, they will use it. I have written many pages on this blog about disaster preparedness. Just remember New Orleans.
Posess a firearm and know how to use it. It isn't too late to begin getting familiar with a weapon, how it is used and how to maintain it. That will be your closest friend when the going gets tough.
Keep some food and water in your basement or storage. Have an emergency plan ready to go, no matter if you are at work, home or wherever.
Well, no deeep thoughts for today, just a little preaching.
Lex Green over at ChicagoBoyz has a couple of interesting thoughts on the subject:
I used to work in the Sears Tower, and I still have friends over there. It is like the place has a big target on it. I can see the top of the Sears Tower from the entrance to my El station in the morning. I always think, if the bastards get a nuke, the smart thing to do is just bring it up to the Sky Deck on top of the Sears Tower. You get the effect of an air burst that way. Line of sight to my neighborhood. Minimum, it would set the roof of my house on fire, and if it was a decent sized nuke they'd incinerate the place, so they'd get my wife and kids.
I'm downtown so I'd be dead in the first milliseconds of the attack, or crushed as my building came down. I also think if they were really, really smart they'd do it in February. The housing of millions of people would be wrecked, and you'd probably lose as many people from exposure as you would to blast and fire. There would be dancing in the streets in Gaza again, plus lots of schadenfreude in lots of places -- most places, actually.
The worst thing is, I still think it is more likely than not that it will eventually happen. The odds of a nuke may be down a little. Depends if I am right that Iran is rational actor faking being nuts or not, and on some other factors. So, maybe no nuke. But a big OK City Style truck bomb in the Loop could do a lot of execution. Some kind of massive attack on Chicago is too tempting to these guys. It will eventually happen.
It is going to be a long war. We are still in the "Initial Period".
Live well, be prepared to meet your Maker, and enjoy each day.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Yours truly with a nice king.
Big Al with a nice coho.
We had some interesting weather out there. We got rained on a few times, but no big deal. Enough fish were caught to make the trip here worthwile. It is a trout farm that has a smokehouse on the side. If you ever have the chance to be in the area, buy or obtain some fish like we did and bring it in. Smoked salmon is definitely a treat, and nobody does it better.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Then Bill Whittle wrote Tribes and everyone had to put down their keyboards and just basically quit writing about the Katrina aftermath...because Bill solved pretty much everything. Or rather put it down on paper.
It is still a mess down there. Of course, rather than "throw the bums out" the people of Louisiana have decided to retain the services of "crybaby" Nagin. The INSANE level of corruption stilll exists there. The only thing that has changed is that the city is still demolished. It may never fully recover. But it is hard to feel sorry for them. They re-elected Nagin! Anyway.
Whittle has a new essay up (finally), called Rafts. I recommend you read Rafts before reading the rest of this post as I will be referring to one of the concepts in this essay. While not as ground breaking as Tribes, it makes one very good point that I have tried to apply in my life - the concept of map and coastline.
He makes a good point. It is one, for me, that I have attempted to practice in my personal life for the last five years or so. Dealing in the world of facts.
In a discussion with a friend the other day, he remarked that several local restaurants were not doing very well and on the verge of closing. The conversation also got around to a very large development that was in the planning stages close to our neighborhood. It seems that there are a lot of problems trying to get the development moving forward.
I have to admit, I didn't have a lot to add to these conversations. I don't know the restaurants owners, but had eaten at them in the last month. All I could do was say..."well, they are open now, I suppose I will enjoy them until they are closed". My friend said he had heard from a friend of a friend about this and that...as Whittle would say...map. I again repeated..."I will just keep going if I like it. If they close, so be it." Coastline.
About the development, many newspaper articles and newstime has been devoted to this large project in my neighborhood. Lots of rumors and discussion. All I could say was..."sure is a dustup, no ground broken yet...we'll see." Coastline.
Many times in my business life I get dodgy or unclear answers from employees, customers, and vendors. Maps. I have become an expert in gaining coastline. If I want to know what the parameters of a program are when I take on a new vendor, if it isn't 100% clear I start asking questions. One conversation recently went something like this:
Vendor: We are excited to start selling our goods through your distribution system. If you order "x" your price is probably "y" but any orders under "x" are subject to review.
Me: What is subject to review?
Vendor: Well, we can't ship any orders under "x" so you would have to buy from another distributor.
Me: OK, I got that. You said if I order "x" my price is probably "y". Can you give me the exact price?
Vendor: OK, the price is "g". (Coastline)
Me: Do I have a protected territory for a while if I bring your line on? This is a large investment on my part.
Vendor: I can't say that, but we will give you some protection.
Me: What is some protection? Will you or will you not protect my territory if I make this large financial commitment to you? Yes or No?
Vendor: I can't give you a yes or no.
Me: I will consider that a no. (Coastline) That will figure into my final decision.
The same thing applies to my customers. I work in a very technical (at times) business and when I get fuzzy answers from customers when I ask questions it makes my job very difficult. And it makes me look bad later when my customer has problems.
Me: Did you purchase a new "a" with that "c"? You know the new style "c" will not work with the old style "a".
Customer: I think my tech replaced the "a" but I am not sure. He told me he did.
Me: You must replace the old "a" when installing a new "c" or the system will not work, you will go back on the job and I can't honor the warranty on the new "c". Please find out, it is best for both of us. (Coastline)
I am beginning to think that people in general repeat what they hear on the radio, TV or newspaper to feel smart because they are too lazy to read themselves. Last week I read a letter to the editor in the newspaper that basically quoted a Bill O'Reilly talking points memo that I had seen a week ago. Truly sad. It is almost as if some folks are relying on others to find their coastline. Worse yet, some are relying on others for maps. All functions of the brain have ceased. No original thoughts, reality for them is fantasy.
I don't know if the restaurants mentioned above are doing well or not. I don't know if the project in my neighborhood will move forward or not. Coastline.
In the football draft, the teams were all graded for their picks by "experts". All of those young men who were drafted have played the exact number of professional football games as me. Zero. The Bears won the NFC North last year, then got smashed in their playoff game. The Packers finally had a poor season. Coastline.
I am a very simple man.
I am starting to treasure the Coastline more and more. I don't trust the GPS provided by the media or politicians or anybody else. I live in my world and mine alone. Reality is reality.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Does anybody on the face of the earth remember what we faced in the seventies and eighties - the period I was growing up?
When Reagan, Thatcher and Capitalism were doing their thing in concert to defeat the Soviet menace, the term that was bandied about was "throw weight", or the amount of nuclear capability each side had. The parties involved would simply total up their nuclear warheads and say to each other, well, we have x, you have y, looks like we are in the lead. Of course, when Reagan came in and accelerated our arms programs, the Russians had no chance to keep up. Their crumbling infrastructure, economy and environment simply could not handle our growing "throw weight". That, in short, is how we won the biggest ideological war ever fought - without firing a single shot.
Remember, the Soviets had thousands of ICBM's, bombers, subs - you name it.
And North Korea has...drum roll please...perhaps one missle that may or may not work well enough to hit the continental US. And, of course, if that one missle were to penetrate US airspace, who is to say they can control it well enough to hit a population center, or that it will make it over all of our ships in the Pacific and our missle defence screen over the contintntal US.
I am supposed to be worried about that after what I went through as a child?
Read this paper from 1982 and you will see what I am talking about. Now that is something that you could worry about.
True, the dictator of N. Korea is a total wackjob - but are you going to tell me that all of the leaders of Russia were not? Sorry. The Russians today, with far greater resources than the North Koreans can't even shoot off a missle properly.
The Soviets openly talked about ways they could win a nuclear war - and so did the US back in the day. These discussions seeped out onto the radio and TV at times. I still remember hearing about things like that when I was young. And it scared the shit out of me.
Todays media fixation on North Korea with that one probably rusted out piece of junk missle is just another example of why I rarely turn on the radio or TV news anymore. Why the hell should I when this is their top story?
Secretly I hope the test fired missle lands in Japan and then the Japanese can take out the North Koreans. Like they always have wanted to do anyway, since everybody over there hates everybody else.
I can't wait for hurricane season to start. Then I REALLY know not to turn on the TV.
Monday, June 19, 2006
Part of the allure of cheering for the home team is that they are "your team" or "our team".
Being part of something larger is very natural. It is fun to be in agreement with 70,000 other people cheering for our favorite team. We win together, lose together, celebrate together, cry together.
Historically, blue collar workers and other "average joes" were the attendees to these contests. If you look at old baseball or football footage you see many plainly clothed men packing the stands.
My how times have changed. I blogged last week about the Bears crude letter written to all of the peasants in the west upper deck. They requested that we voluntarily buy a PSL for a minimum of ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS per seat. Many of PSLs for the seats in the west upper deck were twice or three times that sum, the amount increasing as you go closer to the center of the field. Of course for the persons that sit in the west upper deck this is a very thinly disguised introduction to the concept of the PSL, which I think no doubt will be mandatory within five years.
Now yet another shoe has fallen. Every year the Bears would make available in a raffle the tailgating parking spots in the South Lot. I would guess (total guess) there are about one thousand spots there, and some serious eating, drinking and merryness goes on there before and after the games. It costs ten dollars per entry into the raffle, win or lose. Last year the price was $35 per game if you won the raffle to park in the South Lot.
This year, the price is $40 per game. Oh, one more thing.
One third of the coveted South Lot spots this year are now converted to what is called "Premium Parking Areas". You can purchase these spots, along with spots next to the Field Museum and a few by the Adler Planetarium for ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS PER GAME. The purchases are made in advance, rather than in a lottery, first come first served. No word on if there are unsold "Premium Parking Areas" spots if they go back into the kitty for the large lottery for the $40 spots.
I say the Bears should just get it over with, and charge $20,000 per ticket per game and then $1500 per game to park. Maybe that would get the type of clientele they want. Which is to say, not me. Or most average joes. Just CEOs and their clients.
That way, the Bears could realize the same amount of revenue and have a tiny stadium that holds, say 1000 people. Their utility costs go way down and like I said, although you have far fewer fans in attendance, the super high prices make up for this. And there would be almost no parking hassles and no traffic issues exiting on Lake Shore Drive.
Then again, if the fans of the Bears are going to keep paying exhorbitant fees for PSL's, parking spots and whatever else, I say more power to the Bears for trying different things to separate the fans benjamins from their wallets.
I, however, have had more than enough.
The days of the "normal joe" going to professional sporting events are pretty much coming to a close. At least for the Bears. And soon, it seems, my days of attending these games may be coming to a close as well. Sure, someone else may pick up the tickets, but more power to them. I have to draw a line in the sand somewhere.
Saturday, June 17, 2006
Last night at the haircutting place I went in to get my usual number one clipper setting for the old dome. The results look usually like this photo I posted a few months ago:
But this trip I had a new woman cutting my hair. She was younger, I would say 25 or so. She was a bit overweight, not too bad, though. Her dominant characteristics were her very bubbly personality and her...well...huge breasts that she made no effort whatsoever to conceal. But I digress, as any normal male would.
She talked me into going down to the number zero, or no clipper guard. This woman was very into the buzzcut. The conversation got around to my thinning hair and how I had decided to see how I would look without any hair at all. She mentioned how most women love confident men and that it just shows confidence that I would do the buzzcut. The results of no clipper guard:
Better I think. Hard to tell in the photo any difference, but it is almost down to a smoothie. I don't know if they can give me a smoothie at the haircutting place or if they just get it down as far as they can and then I have to go home and shave my head with a razor. Won't THAT be interesting.
Not being a very shy guy and being a curious sort, I have been surveying women on their thoughts about the buzzcut. I was very pleased that approximately 5 out of 6 seemed to approve of it. But then I talked to my wife.
She says that if a woman says "oh...it looks nice" or "good" without changing the pitch of her voice that that is actually a negative. In other words, if the female reviewer isn't obviously 100% approving of the buzzcut, they are probably being polite and really will be making fun of me to their spouses and friends behind my back. So that brings it down to about half of the women that like it. But I will note that the half that like it do so very enthusiastically, and many want to rub my head like a bhudda or something.
It is easy to tell if guys like it or hate it. Once they clear the hurdle of figuring out if I have had a medical issue, they usually say either "cool" or "dude you look like shit". Pretty easy to figure out which way the men go. But then again, most men don't really give a damn about other men's haircuts.
Now my wife says I need to get my eyebrows waxed, to eliminate some of the excess. I am not so sure about this. Of course it will hurt, but it can't be too bad. But I have some manly thing blocking the waxing. Something needs to be done, that is for sure because as you can tell in a few more years I will look like Ernie from Sesame Street or Michael Dukakis. And my eyebrows are a more prominent feature now that I don't have any hair.
Friday, June 16, 2006
The North Face is a clothing company specializing in outdoor wear. I recently saw this sweatshirt on display at a local store (sorry for the blurry picture, I was being a bit furtive taking the picture).
You can clearly see that this sweatshirt is emblazoned with three things - 1) the CCCP logo 2) the Hammer and Sickle 3) the North Face logo.
I know that it will be obvious to readers of this blog, but CCCP stands for (especially in the context of the Hammer and Sickle icon) - per Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), as a Latin letter imitation of the Cyrillic Russian initialism СССР (equivalent to SSSR in Latin letters), which stands for Союз Советских Социалистических Республик (in Latin alphabet Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik).
Thus this garment, starring CCCP, the Hammer and Sickle, and North Face's corporate logo, is something that they are proud to place together.
AARRGGHH... The USSR committed horrendous crimes against humanity, most spectacularly to its own people and those that it enslaved including Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic. Although estimates vary widely a rough estimate of outright deaths (MURDERS) would be from 20 MILLION to 60 MILLION. For a taste of these crimes try Gulag by Applebaum or virtually any respectable history book, anywhere.
What's next for North Face? Perhaps a Nazi line featuring the Waffen SS? The Best of Pol Pot? Mao's little Red book?
Do they have ANY understanding of history, and the fact that the crimes of the USSR under the CCCP rank as some of the most foul in the recorded history of man?
Want to do something about it? Tell North Face. Here is their customer service address:
The North Face, Inc.
2013 Farallon Dr.
San Leandro, CA 94577 USA
Comments have been closed on this post due to spam.
On Memorial Day a friend of mine has a sail boat rental and he generously offered to take us out on Lake Michigan. It was a beautiful day and the waves weren't too high which is good for me because I am pretty much a "landlubber" when it comes to boats.
The Chicago skyline is great when seen from the lake. Lake Michigan is a real asset to Chicago and they were extremely smart when it was deemed that no one could build along the lake, leaving a park and bike path free of development. The skyscrapers seem to be on the lake shore in these photos, but they are really a ways back.
Since it was Memorial Day they had a parade. In the lower right photo you can see an air force tanker flying over the buildings and if you look closely you can see the fuel hose hanging down. One photo I didn't get was a girl who wore white shorts with the word "SURRENDER" on her rear end. I had no idea what the heck that was about. Another friend said that maybe she thought it was the FRENCH Memorial Day parade...
There is a lot of environmental mumbo-jumbo that I ignore but the "good parts" are that someone is trying to put some thought into what makes a city livable and thriving.
The suburbs have zoning that basically means that houses are in one part of town and businesses are in another part of town. Usually the two parts aren't walking distance from each other, so you need a car. Since most people today grew up in the suburbs, they really don't know any other way.
New urbanism and cities in general have "mixed use" zoning. This means that you have shops and bars and restaurants on the ground floor, mixed with apartments and condominiums. You can (ideally) walk from one point to the next or get around using public transportation.
A lot of people leave college and move into the city for a while and instantly can see the attraction. It is fun to be able to jump out of your apartment and head to a local bar or restaurant or park to throw a frisbee, without having to get in your car and drive somewhere. In addition, since most people aren't driving, giant, empty parking lots don't blot the landscape, such as the typical huge expanse of asphalt in front of a Wal Mart in your local 'burb.
The flip side of this, with all the local specialty shops, is that you can't take advantage of the savings of large grocery stores or "big box" stores like Wal Mart, Home Depot, Best Buy, etc... When you live in the city this is a drag because there is no glory in paying a lot for essentials like toothpaste, DVD's, electronics and home supplies.
Part of the response to this is that "big box" vendors are adapting to life "in the city". This photo is from a local Target on Clark Street south of the loop. In order to save space, they put parking on the first two levels and then the store is a two level building ABOVE the garage. This method creates a useful shopping experience with the minimum usage of square feet (real estate is expensive in the city).
In order to make it usable, Target installed an escalator. The escalator has a center lane for your cart! For some reason, I find this very entertaining. I enjoy filling a cart and sending it for a little ride alongside me as I ride upstairs.
Back to the cities... of course, where it all breaks down is the fact that people get married and have kids. The cities are pretty much associated with crime (relative to the high end suburbs that people are comparing them to, not crappy inner-ring suburbs) which is bad, but it is the schools that drive everyone out. I do have some good friends who intend to send their kids to local, public schools, and good for them for having high ideals, but they are in the distinct minority.
The schools are in the thrall of unions and pretty much awful. The City of Chicago school district may be improving, but it is from an abysmally terrible base.
There has to be a solution to this... maybe it is charter schools or private sector schools, but the only way that this would really work is if people could "opt out" of paying their share of property taxes that goes to the local schools and get a credit for what they are paying for private or parochial schools. In this manner they wouldn't be "double paying" for schools through their property taxes and through their (taxable) payments to local schools.
It is an amazing process to watch... everyone moves to the city, rents, buys a condo, and then sells it and moves to the 'burbs when the kids get old enough to crawl around. There has to be a better way...
Well someone is thinking of it. Build a "fake urban city" from scratch! No local politicians to shake you down, no crime from local underclass, and no potholes, just the stuff you want (restaurants, bars, boutiques, enmeshed with urban spaces). Check this article to see how they are doing it down in Texas. Maybe the people who built those hotels in Vegas can just create fake urban environments everywhere. People's creativity boggles the mind.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Yesterday I received a very strange piece of correspondence from the Chicago Bears.
Before we get to the letter, a little background.
I have been a season ticket holder of the Chicago Bears for well over ten years now. Out of all of those years I have seen a total of two (2) playoff games, both humiliating defeats. I have been rained on, snowed on, sleeted on, frozen, baked and sunburned. The old Soldier Field was literally the very worst venue in all of professional sports. I will admit the new Soldier Field is a vast improvement, but you still cannot go to the bathroom after the first quarter or before the onset of the fourth quarter. Well you can, but you will miss major portions of the game.
I blog, bitch and gripe about the awful job they did on the traffic patterns around the new Soldier Field (if it is possible, it is WORSE than before). Everything done is about one thing - making money, the fans be damned. I suppose it has been that way forever, but now I am just noticing it more.
But I still like going, socializing, having a few beers and relaxing outside before and after the game. And nobody is holding a gun to my head to make me go.
When the Bears were renovating Soldier Field, I knew the time was coming for me to draw my "line in the sand", so to say. That line is at a PSL or Personal Seat License. For those not in the know, a PSL is a one time fee you pay for the right to purchase tickets for that seat. In other words, for certain seats, you may not purchase season tickets for them unless you first pay the PSL. In the good seats at Soldier Field, the PSL's are $10 thousand each. For the lame seats in the upper and lower end zones, the prices were not as steep, only $750 to $1500 each. Those numbers may not be exact, but they are fairly accurate. However, some end zone sections and the entire upper deck on the west side are not PSL sections, they are more traditional sections where you simply pay the ticket price for the ticket and come on in. The PSL can be bought and sold on any open market, or transferred in a will or by other means.
I had really crappy seats at the old Soldier Field. I vowed that if I got a letter from the Bears saying I had to buy a PSL that I would simply shitcan it and they would never hear from me again. But I didn't. I got a pair of seats on the aisle, right on the north endzone. The seats are 5,464,387 feet up, but I was in. In a few years I applied for another pair and got those. You have to remember the waiting list was very small for Bears season tickets - the wait for my first pair was 8 years, the second pair only 2 years. So now I am the proud owner of four season tickets. It is fun to get four guys together and go down there and tailgate and enjoy the day down by the lake.
I have to think that there are thousands of fans like me that simply were NOT going to pay that PSL fee. And so now I get this bizarre letter from George H. McCaskey, Senior Director of Ticket Operations. OOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHH the ticket guy...
Dear Season Ticket Holder:
This letter is being sent to you because you have
non-Permanent Seat License (non-PSL) seats assigned to your season ticket
As you know, only PSL seats are transferable. Since the "new" Soldier Field opened three years ago, many non-PSL season ticket holders have contacted us, inquiring about making an exception to the rule. Because PSL purchasers were promised that only PSL seats would be transferable, we have not been able to make such exceptions.
Now we are offering all non-PSL Season Ticket Holders the opportunity to buy PSLs for their seats, so that they may be transferred, just as the original PSL seats may be transferred. We're calling them "Seat-specific PSLs" because, unlike an original PSL purchaser, you have had the advantage of actually sitting in the seats in game conditions before deciding whether you want to buy PSLs for them.
You may wish to purchase Seat-specific PSLs to make sure the seats remain in the family, to put them in the name of your business, or to sell them to whomever you wish on the secondary market. Seat-specific PSLs make that possible.
YOU ARE NOT REQUIRED TO BUY SEAT-SPICIFIC PSLs. If you do not wish to purchase PSLs for your seats, your seat location will not change. You may continue to enjoy Bears games from the very same seats you've had in the new Soldier Field for as long as you wish, provided you meet payment deadlines and you and your guests obey stadium rules and regulations.
The enclosed question-and-answer sheet and application contain the pricing information, payment schedules, and other information for the purchase of Seat-specific PSLs. Of course if you have other questions, please feel free to call one of our Customer Service Representatives at (xxx) xxx-xxxx.
Thank you for your consideration and Go Bears!
George H. McCaskey
Senior Director of Ticket Operations
Honest to god I had to read this letter about twenty times before I could understand why it was in my hands.
If you have ever sat in that west upper deck for a Bear game, you will quickly come to the realization that you are not at a board meeting of Boeing or GE. There are a lot of rabid football fans, mostly just normal guys trying to blow off some steam, and the majority are intoxicated to the gills. Not that being intoxicated at a football game is a bad thing.
It is just that I find it borderline ridiculous that they are trying to sell PSLs to people who are intentionally sitting in the crap seats to ESCAPE THE PSL. I would think they will sell approximately five (5) of these. The price you ask? Affordable?
For the seats that I own, one pair would cost me TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS PER SEAT and the other pair would be ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS PER SEAT. For those mathematically challenged that is a total of SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS. Who in hell is going to do this?
So is this just some type of gimmick for the Bears to try to make more money? Do they regret the fact that the west upper deck was not PSL to start with? Is this the first step in making the entire stadium PSL? I think it is a combination of all three.
The letter has some interesting clues if you think about it.
As always, the team (any pro sports team) is pissed because scalpers are making money off the tickets.
"...sell them to whomever you wish on the secondary market."Oh, it is so very difficult to sell tickets on the "secondary" market. Have the Bears ever heard of eBay? Why do they never do anything about all of the black guys surrounding Soldier Field on gameday buying and selling tickets? It is the same old tired b.s. about how we can't resell the game tickets.
What is so hard about transferring ownership of non-PSL seats anyway? Your kids just keep paying the invoice and nobody cares. It is widely known that if you look at the season ticket rolls at Lambeau Field for instance the average age of the ticket holders is approximately 142.
So what advantage do I possibly have by giving the Bears SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS? What do I gain from this transaction? Can somebody please tell me? I am dying to know.
My thoughts are that this is the first step to introducing the acronym PSL to the fans in the west upper deck. I bet within 5 years they will want PSL fees from everyone. But they promised us they wouldn't.
And that will be the day I stop going to Bears games.
Monday, June 12, 2006
Today, in the Los Angeles Times, there was story that the Chicago City Council is considering an Ordinace this month that would let dogs eat next to people in outdoor cafes. Quoting from the article, the following:
"There's no reason Chicago can't do this, said Ken Sawyer, Director of Government Relations for the Illinois Restaurant Assn., which has lobbied city politicians to introduce the Ordinance that would modify the city health code, "The laws need to change, as people's attitudes about dining have changed."
Alderman Walter Burnett goes on to say "It seems ridculous that people can't stop off at a cafe for a sandwich and get their pet some water to drink and something to nibble on too."
The LA Times didn't bother calling me about what I thought, but that's what blogs are for. And my reaction is:
Are you kidding me????
Here are my reasons against this Ordinance:
The Rachel Factor
The article goes on to quote Rachel Baker: "I don't have a backyard, so every minute I'm outside without my dog Mitzie, she's stuck back in the condo, said Baker, 28, a lawyer who lives in downtown Chicago. "I've sneaked Mitzie into restaurants in her carrier. If she barks, someone pretends to sneeze. We've mortified friends by doing it, but we've never been kicked out of a restaurant.
Hey Rachel, several points. Get a date for God's sake! But wait a minute, as a man, what guy would want to date a girl who goes around carrying her dog in her handbag? Is it cute? Is it a funny joke? Or is it that Rachel is a nut job who's due to be committed to the Looney Bin in five years? By the way, I'm sure that Mitzie likes being cooped up in a bag while Rachel is slurping down her Sour Apple Martini.
The Bite Factor
Guess what? When provoked, dogs, being the animals they are, will bite people. While the interior of some Chicago restaurants may scare humans, who knows what the dog is thinking? He may be thinking he's going to bite the ass of any person who crosses his path. I'm sure it will be comforting to bite victims that the Ordinance requires dog owners to have proof of Rabies shots.
The Sniff Factor
I don't often go to Fine Dining restaurants, but when I do, I want to enjoy myself. What I don't want to have happen to me while I'm eating my Porterhouse is for somebody's dog trying to sniff my ass (they sniff crotches too, but hey, I'm on a roll). But I guess this isn't any worse than me holding the Porterhouse bone over his head while the dog is crying and barking about a bone he will never get.
The French Factor
I first encountered dogs eating at tables when I worked in Paris for three months. Sitting next to table eating my soup, I heard a slurping sound. Turned around, and I saw a woman holding a dog while the dog was lapping up some water on a dish. She smiled at me and said "Bon Jour." Now, I was faced with a dilemma. Being in France for the first time, I wondered if I should just raise the bowl of soup and start lapping it up like a dog or should I continue using the spoon? I'll never tell. It's amazing though, if I'm out on a date and start lapping up my soup, she's praying to Jesus that she can get out of Dodge. If a dog does it, its cute and snuggly. Go figure.
The Vanity Factor
The article went on to discuss canine menus, "While the City Council considers the matter, Durand (the chef) is putting touches on his $5 prix fixe four course canine menu. Ceramic bowls will have mineral water."
My guess is that the same liberals who want this Ordinance to pass are the same people who are complaining that George Bush and the Republican Party are starving Americans to death with their economic policies. My God, how vain can you get? While millions are literally starving to death and hoping for a glass of clean water to drink, Mitzie gets a plate of Ground Beef and pasta to gnaw on and a bowl of Perrier to lap up. Gee, would the Ancient Romans do no less?
However, since I live in Indiana and not in Chicago. I nominate Carl to lead the charge to defeat this Ordinance. By the way Carl, do you like dogs?
Some of the things are interesting, like painting the "bike lanes" different colors so folks driving will watch out for riders in the intersections. They also plan on paving the bike lanes higher so the traffic will be somewhat impeded from veering right, thusly squashing riders flat. I don't see how any of this prevents you from being "doored", probably the thing that worries bikers in Chicago the most.
And this kicks ass too. Wow, 500 miles of bike paths and trails!
Honestly, if there wasn't winter and I lived in the city I probably wouldn't own a car, just a bike. After they get all of these plans done. Which may or may not happen.
The best part about the city of Chicago getting serious about biking is that they plan on closing a lot of streets on Sunday mornings for biking. So basically the only day that you could venture forth with an automobile and actually get somewhere in Chicago will be wiped away so I can enjoy a leisurely morning riding. Sweet!
I wonder if they will organize some sort of ride or race that I could go on. It would be seriously cool to ride 75 or 100 miles all through Chicago on closed streets, listening to the orchestra of horns from pissed off Chicagoans that can't drive on the streets.
Doesn't look good for the Bears in the first half of the season:
Green Bay, Minnesota, Phoenix.
Phoenix is very cool, but I have been there a bunch of times. Minneapolis is a great town with lots to do, but again, been there, done that. Green Bay - fugettaboutit.
The Illini: at Rutgers (Piscataway, New Jersey), at Michigan State, at Penn State.
Possibly Penn State. Heard that area of Pennsylvania is quite nice, but I will most certainly bend over for those tickets.
Hrm. How about the Bears later in the year: New York twice, Boston (Patriots), St. Louis and then Detroit. UGH. Maybe New York as I have never been there, but maybe not.
The other wild card is the new NFL flex scheduling. For the weeks 10-15 and week 17 (excludes X-mas week) the game times are all subject to change. Yep, no more dog games on Sunday night. CBS and FOX can protect one game per week each, then NBC can choose which game they want to move to the late Sunday night time slot. This, I assume is to make the NFL and the networks more money and will certainly escalate the bidding dollars for those Sunday night games. So the networks now have to decide on demographics or competitive games.
It is an interesting choice. Theorteical: If you are a network guy, do you protect the Giants vs. the Bears because of the ultra huge fan base each one has or do you take a more competitive game, between two teams with a far smaller market presence, say Green Bay vs. Kansas City?
Of course this makes it hell on anyone wanting to plan any type of travel. Where before you could go to the game, and catch a flight later that night, if they move the game to a late Sunday start time, you are hosed. The NFL has done this before, but only moving games from the early Sunday start times to the late afternoon start time, rather than the Sunday night slot.
College football has been doing this for years. If you want to know how to make money, always ask the NCAA. Games have been moved from that dreaded early 11am central start time to the far more lucrative 2.30pm or later start time for years. That is a big deal for advertisers as those 11am games are actually 9am on the west coast.
Well, doesn't look good for any road trips this year unless maybe I get the bug to go to Minneapolis again. Or maybe Champaign, which I haven't been back to in at least 10 years.
An intersting gambling related sidenote:
I may be joining a football pool with some other bloggers. It is the shitty team pool. The rules are pretty cool - you get more points if your team gets blown out or wins instead of just losing by a few points. For example, you are rewarded much more if your team loses by 30 than by just a field goal. Or you are also rewarded if your team pulls off a victory. I think I have a great chance on winning this thing being an Illini fan. It is sad that it has come to this, that I have to bet on my team getting BLOWN OUT to win booze and ca$h. But hey, life sucks sometimes.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
How much lamer is "Linens and Things"? Infinitely lamer. But probably much more realistic. You walk in and see linens and... things. Mostly things you don't need, as always.
Woke up early with sirens and a crash on LaSalle avenue so might as well accomplish something productive.
World War One was always kind of an enigma. The war from 1914-1918 dominated popular consciousness in the 1920’s and 1930’s but was massively overshadowed by World War Two from 1939-1945 (earlier if you count Japan vs. China, probably should technically be 1937-1945). World War Two had flashier tanks and more powerful aircraft, and aircraft carriers and fleets around the world. World War Two was also ended by the atomic bomb, a singular event that shaped the postwar world.
Thus I read some about WW1 but mostly WW2. Many of the WW1 books didn’t systematically study the battles, but more the “feelings” of that war period, and many fiction books such as “A Farewell to Arms” or “All Quiet on the Western Front” were commonly viewed as summarizing the story.
As I became a bit older I became aware of wargames, and the “Avalon Hill” wargames in particular. For those not too familiar with them, the wargames had a laminated board with small, square counters, a rule book, and usually a CRT (combat results table) that was referred to after the dice were cast on a particular battle. The board was generally a topographic map of the region at hand, whether it was Europe or the US (civil war) or the Pacific. The board was usually in hexagon units, or “hexes”, since with squares you could move “diagonally” which was more efficient than moving over one and up one and “hexes” solved this problem. A few games such as “War at Sea” used “area” movement, which broke the world into bigger, non-linear units, but they were in the minority.
The counters usually had three numbers on them – the first was the “attack” strength, then the “defense” strength, and then the movement rate (how many hexes). There were always unique units, such as air and artillery, and rules for amphibious landings and movement by rail, but if you knew what I said above you’d understand 90% of what these games are right out of the box.
My first game I remember clearly was “1914”. This was an Avalon Hill game meant to simulate World War One. The counters were pink and blue, kind of odd colors in hindsight, but visually arresting to a kid. The map was clearly Western Europe, where the vast majority of the battles occurred, on both the East and West fronts.
Although it was the game owned by the older brother of my friend, and he had the units picked out and stacked and I couldn’t touch them for fear of violence (in the good old days battles between brothers were fought out in the days before “time outs”) but I did surreptitiously look at the rules and the CRT and just thought it was amazing.
The most interesting element, one that sticks with me even today, is the audacious attempt to model or simulate an incredibly complex series of events via a simple set of mechanical rules. How do you simulate battles, attacks, and retreats? Via the attack factor, defense factor, with modifications for types of fortifications, and a random roll of the dice (modified for the “odds” based on the total attack and defense strengths). The rule book was pretty short, and in some way you could play out the amazing struggle of WW1 in cardboard in a few short hours.
As a game, I think 1914 wasn’t viewed as very successful. It is incredibly hard to recreate WW1 because the battles were kind of secondary to the overall meat grinder of each side chipping away via attrition on the other, with whole countries collapsing (Russia, almost France, Germany) when the strain of the blockade and the war becoming too great.
There were interesting technology side-shows, such as unrestricted submarine warfare, the massive naval battle of Jutland, and the air combat such as the “Red Baron”, but mostly the war was about logistics, artillery, and the power of defense. Even today I admire the insane bravery of men moving forward, without protective cover, over “no mans land” in the face of unbeaten machine guns and bunkers, and getting mauled severely. The casualties that individual units suffered in single days or a week were unbelievable; sometimes half the unit became casualties in a matter of hours. While WW2 certainly caused more casualties, for concentrated killing WW1 was a very capable butcher in its own right.
Thus part of the reason that 1914 as a game failed was because it is very difficult to model this sort of event. How do you model the point when an army refuses to go on the offensive, such as the French in 1917, weary of bad generalship and terrible tactics? How do you model the collapse of Russia, which was also tied to the end of the Tsar and the rise of communism, in the East? The battles were part of a massive political and social system that was collapsing under the enormous strain of the war.
Even today I have a special affinity for these types of games. It is very difficult to pick a few rules that manage to simulate a complex environment, and give the players a sense of these events and how the various decisions impacted history. The best games give the sense that this is possible, and then this model of thinking is interesting when deployed in general in life or business. What are the key rules, and what are the strategies? If you play even the simplest of board games without a plan, you are likely to lose against a competent human opponent (I am excepting games that are basically pure luck).
For a lot of the new computer and console games, there is a lot of physical action and reaction that constitutes who wins or loses. In these settings you are going to lose often because you are slower or unfamiliar with the controls or the cheat codes, not because your strategy is poor. I am not saying that there isn’t strategy in the games, I am saying that if you aren’t lightning quick you don’t even have a chance, regardless of your strategy. Sit down with a 12 year old and play Xbox and see how it goes if you don’t believe me.
The beauty of these board games is that physical skill was completely unnecessary – there was an element of luck (just like real life – even today whenever anyone simulates the Battle of Midway the Japanese win over, and over again) but it was the strategy that determined who won, and if you didn’t think strategically, you were bound to lose.
A friend of mine recently moved nearby and he has an empty table and we are going to buy one of these games and start it up again, with all the cardboard counters. I am sure it won’t seem as amazing as it did the first time I set eyes on 1914, but it will be good to travel back in time a bit. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
This morning I was treated to the most amazing display of nature I have seen in a while. It rained all night. There was a break in the weather between 4.30am and about 5.15am. I happened to be driving to work at that time and arrived at about 5am. The following photos were taken from the parking lot at my place of business during that break in the weather. This is probably the most unbelievable sunrise I have ever seen in my short life. But it was short lived as the clouds filled in and it started raining again. I haven't seen the sun since. Click on any photo for full size version. As a sidenote, I have not altered or photoshopped any of the photos you are about to see, it is just nature, me and a camera.
And then I remembered what Rick Lee told me to do...I turned around:
Some of the photos show a lot of digital haze, hopefully if you click for the full version it won't be there. It isn't there on my PC so I assume it must be a result of uploading the photo to blogger.
**Update: Nope, they look like hell when you look at the full size - must be a blogger thing because I don't get the digital haze on my PC. Damn.
Finally, it goes without mentioning that this rainbow, a full 180 degrees was far more beautiful than I could ever reproduce with these photos. In a few you can see the SECOND rainbow, it is very faint but you can see it outside the highly visible one. Something I won't forget for a long time.
Needless to say I had my coffee outside this morning - sitting there on a folding chair.
The following post is a re-do of one of the above photos for my own technical curiosity, posted in Picasso rather then the regular Blogger interface.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
Bowden wrote about the 1979 takeover of the US embassy. Bowden interviewed many primary sources, from the hostages to the hostage takers, who had not told their side of the story. He focused on three areas – the hostages and hostage takers, the rescue attempt, and how it unraveled Jimmy Carter’s presidency.
There were a few elements of the story that I found particularly interesting:
- The rescue mission that failed when the helicopters crashed in the desert really, really seemed like a suicide mission. The men who volunteered for this task were extremely brave men – they were going to fly across the desert, hide the helicopters, break in to the embassy, free the hostages, take the hostages to a soccer stadium across the street, then fly the helicopters to an airport that the US Rangers would seize from the air, then they would fly off in fixed wing aircraft. There were so many things that could go wrong, and everything would have to go perfectly to have any chance for success
- The fact that many people in Iran view the takeover as a big mistake and were even willing to say that publicly. Remember, Iran is a police state, not afraid to use deadly force in favor of their dictatorship. I hadn’t thought through everything, but the military weakness (the US wouldn’t send them any spare parts for their equipment) caused by the coup and general chaos inspired Saddam to invade, causing horrendous casualties
- Jimmy Carter presciently stated flat out that the embassy would be taken over if the US allowed the Shah of Iran to come into the country for medical treatment
Mark Bowden was a very good speaker. You can see what he is saying online as a podcast at the library’s site. My only significant gripe was that he compared the bloodthirsty actions of the Mullahs, tracking down secular politicians and those that supported them and killing them, with “McCarthyism” in the US. Uh… Mr. Bowden… no one was killed by McCarthy… a more appropriate analogy would be Robespierre in the French revolution.
Finally, Bowden said that he was extremely disappointed by the response of the international community. The UN basically did nothing and put no significant pressure on Iran; other countries didn’t even bother to pull their embassies out of the country. One hostage was in a room adjacent to the state dining room and had to listen to the dinner parties every night as the other diplomats went about their business, unconcerned.
It is sad to know that the failings of the international community and their feeble response to a crisis isn’t just a current era issue; it has gone on for decades. Sad, but true. Don’t wait for their help…