Monday, July 31, 2006

The Worst and the Best

Out of all of the terrible things that Katrina wrought on our people, there are two things that stand out in my mind. The first is the concept of Tribes. I hinted to it in my writings about Katrina, but, of course, Bill Whittle summed it up better than anyone else.

The second thing that sticks in my mind is the fact that the Chief of Police of the city of New Orleans, Warren Riley, forcably disarmed law abiding citizens that were left behind in Katrina's wake. The NRA, bless their hearts, held Riley's feet to the fire and he was smacked down. Many states have now passed legislation (can you believe we need this?) that forbids law enforcement to disarm citizens during time of emergency. I still can't believe that the NOPD confiscated private property - property that may have saved lives - during the aftermath of Katrina.

Well, too much of this sort of thing and eventually the people will revolt. One day something similar will happen and there will be a non-willing person who will shoot the cops first and ask questions later - mark my words. Or people like myself will just buy a junker firearm and hand it over to the cops if they happen to come and keep their real firearms for defense tucked away, ready for action.

Also, the relatives and friends of those who are most vulnerable will begin to take steps to rearm. Which brings me to the Chief Warren Riley Memorial Kiss My Ass Shotgun, presented to a worthy, law abiding citizen of New Orleans.

I dropped a few bucks into Xaviers coffers to support this and future projects of this type. Go here and read all about it.

*I particularly like this one because it is the same shotgun I own, except I have my original wood where the wood on this one was replaced by synthetic.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Hosta Bloom

Nature tells me that summer is winding down. Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 28, 2006

I Hate to Say I Told You So...

Like I said in the last post, as soon as I put up the "gone fishing" sign...

The van is in the shop so I have had a crappy rental car this past week. Pontiac Grand Prix, pronounced "Grand Pricks". I could tell the minute I sat down in it that the last person who drove it was a smoker. You would think that the rental car people would have devised a bomb by now that could kill smoke smell. I miss my Hummer H3, darn it. This I did not like.

It seems like everything I want to do, everything I like to do gets put off. Delayed. Cancelled. Summer is busy. The family calls.

I have always said that being a parent is easy, but being a good parent is hard work. I am sure somebody said that before me.

It is hard work to earn your paycheck every day, then come home to kids that want to be entertained by their father. But I still do it. Most of the time I just want to veg for a while. Perhaps have a beer, talk to the wife about the day. End the day with a good bike workout or some time on the treadmill. But I am the person who is silly, who roughhouses. Who tosses the little ones up in the air. They love it. So I do it. Day after day, year after year. is almost too heavy to toss around any more. What happenned there?

The smallest is starting to potty train. We aren't having any more children. We just put the booster chair in the basement to sell at a garage sale next year. Baby clothes off to Goodwill or to friends who have little kids. We gave away the basonet, the diaper changing table. Soon the crib will be gone. No more pacifiers. They didn't use them much anyway. My wife is tired too. She is a wonderful mother and I couldn't ask for more in a wife. I miss our time together.

The last several years have been a long haul. Niether of my children were great sleepers. The old one does great now, the little one still has issues. Thank god I work out on a regular basis and don't drink too much or smoke at all. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Soon the kids will be old enough to leave for a weekend, then a week off at camp for them, then the next day they are off to college and I will miss them.

Last night I went to bed before my oldest child. She was a bit surprised. But she came over and gave me a hug and said "I love you dad".

I was proud of myself - and had the best nights sleep I have had in years, even though I woke up several times as the hours of the early morning trudged into sunrise...

Thursday, July 27, 2006

News and Notes

Here at this blog we at times refer to my eight part series about the Katrina disaster from last year. It is probably some of my best work and is a sad tale of human nature and what the government will not do for you in a time of crisis. As the blog has grown, I have received numerous requests for these posts. If you are interested, check the archives on the left sidebar. Part one is in August, 2005 and parts two through eight are in September 2005.

Speaking of times of crisis, hurricane season is coming again and it is always tornado season here in the Midwest. I have just updated my emergency survival kit at home. At Amazon they have lots of interesting stuff. I purchased this, this, this and this. Along with this, myself and my family should be good to go for a week or two. For under $250 you can get yourself set up pretty well for the event of an emergency. And all the stuff has a shelf life (including the water) of five years. $50 per year is some damn cheap insurance. So just shove it into a corner of the basement and hope you don't have to use it.

Blogging for me anyways will probably be fairly light for the next month or so as this is my busy time of year (and it summer, time for more biking) and I have a well deserved vacation coming up next month. Which means I will more than likely be pushing out just as many essays as ever up here. Every time I put up the "gone fishing" sign I just end up writing more. But there it is.

As always, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Chicago To Mackinac Boat Race 2006

Last weekend I went down to Navy Pier in Chicago to watch the start of the race from Chicago to Mackinac Island in Lake Michigan. Lake Mackinac is in the far northeast corner of Lake Michigan by the Upper Penninsula. Here is the link to the official site for the 2006 race.

The start was a lot of fun. They had an announcer who called out the name of each boat as they went past the tip of Navy Pier and said a bit about their crew and the type of boat they were sailing, while throwing in a bit of history regarding the race.

The announcer mentioned that some of the boats travelled extremely light in order to go as fast as possible and brought the minimum amount of provisions. He said one time a German crew brought 2 loaves of bread, 2 hard sausages, and 2 cases of beer! That is for a trip that can take between 40 - 80 hours depending on the type of boat and the weather conditions. I don't think the crew fared well on that diet and it isn't typical.

A lot of people were on hand to cheer the boats as they filed out. I didn't know what to expect... I kind of thought it would be like a NASCAR race with everyone piling off the starting line but instead they filed gracefully off across the lake one at a time... their finish times are adjusted for each boat's unique start time.

A lot of fun to see and highly recommended... Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 24, 2006

An Open Letter to Governor Jim Doyle

Dear Governor Doyle,
Last legislative session you decided to veto the legislation presented to you that would decriminalize the act of carrying a concealed handgun in the State of Wisconsin. You were overridden in the state senate and almost overridden in the state house.

Today I heard you on the radio thanking the state's police forces for supporting you in your stance. A stance that is clearly against the Second Amendment of our Constitution.

I think that you should lead by example.

Seeing you think that it is so very dangerous for normal citizens such as myself to be able to carry a firearm (after a training program) for personal protection (even though this does nothing to disarm criminals that do carry loaded firearms) I ask you to provide a shining standard for us normal citizens to follow. Please disarm your personal security forces and all police working near your offices and at the governors mansion.

I know your stance on us Joe and Jane sixpacks - we are not smart enough, trained well enough nor deserve the right to carry a loaded firearm. But under the law we are all equals. Certainly Mr. Doyle you will agree that if a run of the mill working stiff like myself shouldn't be able to carry a loaded firearm that those police and others that protect yourself at public speaking engagements and at the Capitol building should also be disarmed. Right?

Since nobody has the right to carry a loaded firearm in the State of Wisconsin I, as a normal citizen should and do feel safe everywhere I go that nobody will threaten me with one. I assume you feel the same way about everywhere you go in the State of Wisconsin.

I appreciate your time in this matter and trust that I will see a news release very soon from your office that states that you will hold yourself, your capitol police and your security personnel to the same high standard as you hold me. And that is, sir, with no means to protect yourself in the case of a meeting with a criminal who IS armed.

The Fighting Spirit

In my opinion one of the most despicable acts in all of history was the capitulation of the French in the early years of World War 2. Worse yet were those that collaborated with the German Army and Gestapo. Even worse were those that actively helped the Germans in their goal of murdering all of the Jews on the European continent. The French in these early stages of World War Two gave up. They lived under the rules of the Nazis. That is why we make fun of them. Can you imagine what would have happened if the German or Japanese army would have tried to invade the continental United States?

Admiral Yamomoto: “You cannot invade America. There is a rifle behind every blade of grass.”

The way we were, back then, it would have been impossible. Well, if not impossible, highly costly. The Germans and Japanese may have been able to mount some sort of invasion if a LOT of things were different, but they would have arrived to rule a most unhappy population. Unlike France, there would have been no surrender, no quarter. If the Germans or Japanese would have conquered, they would have had nobody to rule because there would have been nobody left alive to subjugate. I firmly believe that back then, the citizens of the United States would have all taken up arms and fought to the last man, woman and child. Thank god that scenario never had to be played out. I believe the scenario of the invasion of the Japanese mainland at the end of WW2 would have yielded the same results. Again, thank god we didn't have to find out what Operation Downfall would have held for us.

Things are so different now. What if a foreign army would invade today? Well, outside of the fact that they would get demolished on the ground before they could take one step onto United States soil. What about the fighting spirit of the average citizen of today?

I think the average citizen would do the best they could. But many are not armed.

So very many are lazy. It is difficult to get people to show up for jobs and work a simple 40 hours a week. What do you think would happen to those folks in a combat type of situation where they are awake for three straight days? And they are out of shape to boot?

Worse yet, what would happen - more realistically - if a group of jihadis overtook a school like in Beslan or an even larger group took a small town or section of a town? Would the citizens take up arms and immediately begin war to free themselves and their families? Live free or die?

In a place like Madison, everyone would just lay down, surrender and wait for the cops. The pervasive leftist sentiments are that nobody is guilty of anything, just misunderstood. Other dastardly cultures like islamofascism are not degraded, nor embraced. They are advertised as "different". I don't understand how these people can't get the basic fact into their skull that the islamofascists want them, with their tolerant outlook, just as dead as me, who would be the first person in line to put a bullet into the heads of our enemies.

A scenario that not many people bring up is what if these islamists made a huge tactical error and assaulted a school in South Central LA or a crappy part of Chicago. While gang bangers generally create a negative in terms of productivity, those at the top of that food chain see great economic value in peddling drugs, guns, prostitutes and gambling. I think that a crappy neighborhood would have more fighting spirit than a posh neighborhood in Madison or Malibu. Gang bangers don't give a f!ck about understanding anything, other than the fact that their meal ticket is going away. I believe the islamists would never try this. Hell, our professionally trained police force won't even go into these crappy neighborhoods to clean them up - more than likely for the reasons described above. As heavily armed as most gang members are, I think that the dream of a caliphate would certainly not extend to this turf.

Then there are rural communities. Farmers own their own land. Think for a minute that they would lay down and surrender their homes and fields? Most homeowners, those with a vested interest in protecting what is lawfully and rightfully theirs wouldn't think twice.

I know I wouldn't.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Chicago Tribune Can’t Connect The Dots

The Chicago Tribune ran a poignant article on 6/16/06 titled “Robbers Take Life of a Dad.” A night manager at Leona’s restaurant (a chain, they have one in River North near where I live) was working and he was killed by three robbers with guns in Hyde Park, an upscale yet rough area near the University of Chicago. The story goes through this tragedy and the fact that he had 4 kids and was trying to make a better life for himself, and other personal items.

The 2 paragraphs of the article are listed below:

“Employees of neighboring businesses said the shooting is a reminder of the occasional dangers of Hyde Park.

‘It’s scary, because when you close up at night, you never know what’s going to happen’ said Jennifer Cintron, 23, assistant manager of Third World CafĂ©, across the street from Leona’s. ‘You never want to go to work knowing that someone got killed across the street. But this is Chicago. What can you expect?’

With that, the author Jason Meisner ended the article.

But here is another article, this time a much smaller one from “Tribune Wire Reports” dated today, July 22, titled “Co-worker arrested in stabbing of 8.”

I won’t go through the whole article but here is the KEY sentence:

“A knife-wielding grocery store employees attacked eight co-workers Friday, seriously injuring five before a witness pulled a gun and stopped him, police said.”

Now, dear reader, what is the SIMPLE connection between these two articles, one that even an elementary journalist should have made?

In Chicago, you can “expect” (per the local above) to be shot and killed and no one will help you. In Memphis, where the item above occurred, and where people have the right to carry handguns and defend themselves, people can actually intervene and set things right rather than just be prey to scum that attack others.

Couldn’t Tribune have ended that first, depressing article, with a comment that this is something forbidden by Chicago, the right to bear arms and defend yourself? Isn’t that the logical answer? Many states and cities have this right and they haven’t become “the wild west” that was promised by liberals. In fact, giving people the right to defend themselves makes the city safer since citizens can intervene in these sorts of cases.

Do they tell their writers not to put this in the stories, not to make the connection between the fact that there are more murders in Chicago than any other city (by total #) in the US with the fact that handguns are banned, meaning that only criminals have them? The writer doesn’t bother to go through how the criminals in the first article got the guns because it is so obvious – if you are a bad person, it is easy to get a gun. If you are an honest, law-abiding citizen, like the guy who was killed trying to work for his four kids to have a better life, you don’t have that opportunity, unless you want to break the law.

It seems so obvious to me, even reading articles in THEIR paper. Why don’t they make this obvious issue transparent? Why don’t they fight, or at least mention, the obvious solution to this problem?

I don’t know.

Tour d'America


Saturday, July 22, 2006

Pretty Boy Floyd

The Astronomicon has inspired me to write a post bashing the French. What fun!

Like him, I have been following the Tour de France and am in awe that yet another American, this time Floyd Landis may be able to win the darn thing.

You know those froggies are dying for Floyd to fall apart today. But I don't think its going to happen.

Q. How do you say "Give me liberty or give me death!" in French? A. I give up.
Q. How many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris?A. Nobody knows.
It's never been tried.
Q. What do you call 100,000 Frenchmen with their hands
up?A. The French Army.
Q. Why was the Chunnel built under the English
Channel?A. So the French government could to flee to London.
Q: Did you hear about the new French tanks?A: They have 5 gears...4 in reverse, and one forward gear just in case they're attacked from behind!
Q: Why don't they have fireworks at Euro Disney?A: Because every time they shoot them off, the French try to surrender.
Q: Why do they have trees in Paris?A: So the Germans can march in the shade instead of the sun
Q: Why is good to be French?A: You can surrender at the beginning of the war, and US will win it for you.
Q: What is the first thing you are taught when joining the French army?A: To say "I
surrender" in German
Q: Why was Jesus not born in France?A: Because they couldn’t find three wise men or a virgin.
Q: Did you hear about France's new weapons contracts?A: They gave one to Ace Hardware to produce 250,000 wood sticks...they are still looking for a company to produce 250,000 little white flags.
Q: Where are the brave French soldiers buried?A: There aren't any so they had to bury some of ours on their soil.

"It's Great to Be Collaborating with Germany Again!"
Paris - French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac, in honor of France's agreement with Germany to undermine America's efforts in the War on Terror, took German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on a tour of sites in the French capital city that were visited by another German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, during his famous Victory Tour of 1940.

"It's so nice to be collaborating with the Germans again," said Chirac during a press conference at the Versailles Palace outside of Paris. "I mean, it's not like there was any real resistance movement when Germany ruled us during World War II. And those black leather coats the Gestapo men wore. Simply to die for."Most French citizens this reporter spoke with expressed their delight at being able to collaborate once again with the Germans. A recent poll conducted by the newspaper Le Figaro showed that 95.6% of all French people are hoping to be re-occupied by Germany within the next 12 months. The poll results also reveal that the vast majority of French women are especially looking forward to becoming the mistresses of German officers so that they can have sado-masochistic sex in exchange for silk stockings and extra rations."Damn those Americans anyway," said Chirac during a visit with Schroeder to the Klaus Barbie L'Ecole Superieure du Behaviour Criminale. "Everything was going along just fine in 1944 and what did they go and do? Land at Normandy. Just like the Yanks, always butting their noses into other people's business. Well, we aren't going to take it lying down any more. This time we're going to surrender to Germany before the Germans have a chance to invade." Credit fo this story here.

And don't forget the best video of all time, most certainly not safe for work.


Streetlights and Red Skies

Red skies in the morning, sailors warning. Posted by Picasa

Coyote Ugly

My brother was in town so we headed down to the Coyote Ugly bar in river north. Why would we head there, you might ask? Here's why... there is no cover, beers are reasonable, and not-so-bright suburban girls dance on the bar.

Not only that, but they do "second hand shots". What are those? Some skank gets on the bar, puts a shot in her mouth, swishes it around, and an otherwise boring girl from the suburbs gets on her knees in front of her and drinks it OUT OF HER MOUTH. This is quite entertaining, I might add.

Highly recommended, especially when there are bachelorette parties, particularly on a Friday or a Saturday night.

BIG FUN! Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 21, 2006

Return to the Dot-Con Boom

Recently I was driving around near downtown and I snapped a shot of this nondescript building on the near west side. Although you wouldn't know it today, for a while this was a happening "hub" of the dot-com world.

This was the former home of marchFIRST. Yes, I know that the spelling is retarded, that is the work of branding wizards who spent millions on a branding campaign that made no sense (but won awards). In a hilarious bit of web history, here is a link to one of the awards that marchFIRST won on behalf of their clients.

I like the bag of garbage out in the street. That bag is next to the lot where the consultants used to park. They also were building a big garage and a learning center out back.

marchFIRST is finally getting near on settling their bankruptcy case. The company imploded in 2001 (was it really that long ago?) and the case has dragged through the courts forever. Our rapid justice system in motion.

At its peak marchFIRST employed thousands of consultants and headquarters' staff. It was formed by buying many smaller companies - one of the bought-up firms' CEO cashed out and spent a lot of $$ looking for extra terrestrial life - see link. Actually, searching for aliens has a brighter future than many of the other dusty dreams of that former era.

The most important thing is that Chicago pretty much shrugged this off and went about its business. The consultants and staff all were absorbed by other Chicago companies without too much trouble, especially since IT employment rates are usually pretty low. A bank (apparently) is at this site now, and the former divine building (which bought up much of the debris of marchFIRST) is now a car dealership inventory location.

The good old days... Posted by Picasa

A REAL Conspiracy Theory

One of the least flattering sides of the left in America is their ability to see a conspiracy everywhere.  From Michael Moore in his mock-umentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” to Oliver Stone with “JFK” to “Who Killed the Electric Car?” another recent movie, the feeling that a conspiracy lurks under every rock is palpable.

However, they completely miss ANOTHER conspiracy that is right under their noses, that they helped to create.  Today St. Louis has large sections of the city without power, and they are sweltering with a heat index over 110 degrees.  The papers and articles are filled with “human interest” stories and not-so-veiled allusions to the fact that many of the people suffering are poor and it goes back to the Katrina issues that Dan has covered so well on previous posts.

But the REAL story of what is happening in St. Louis, and what is about to happen throughout the country, is that a coalition of environmental groups and liberal groups conspired to ensure that 1) no nuclear stations have been started in the US since the 70’s 2) hardly any coal plants have been built in the last 25 years 3) no meaningful increase in the capacity of our transmission grid has been built.  I also need to add that they have done everything in their possible to halt upgrades of capacity or capabilities at already-built and in service power stations.

In this, they have been very effective.  A transmission line was built to help New York in case of local power shortages under the Long Island Sound – but they can’t even use it because the local environmentalists have tied it up in court – see the sad story here.  And what makes the story even worse is that someone went through the horrendous permit process, paid out the capital, built and made everything work, and THEN the liberals were still able to stop it from being energized so that the entire investment was wasted.

If there is a blackout in New York or one of the other major cities in the US this summer (a very likely event, in my opinion), will they look inward for the “root cause” (a term they love so much) as to why it occurred this way?  I’m sure that they will blame inept utilities, implicitly blame power-consuming red state people (did you have to buy all that gear?), blame the government for not “doing more”, and a million other people, before they would ever look inside and say:

“Our implacable opposition to all improvements in generation (hydro, coal and nuclear) and transmission (overhead lines and undersea cable) has led to a scenario where there is very little spare generation capacity and almost no spare transmission capacity in the USA.  As a result, the entire system is subject to blackouts and other outages that would have been preventable had we made these investments.  As a result, the poorest people (those unable to afford backup power or leave affected areas in case of blackouts) will suffer when these types of events occur.”

I won’t even go into the other negative impacts of these policies, from US businesses being less able to compete with other countries with better policies for electricity generation and distribution as well as the abandonment of our own nuclear development in favor of countries with more favorable regimes (i.e. France, China, etc…).

I believe that their opposition to all improvements in our electricity system, especially given that DEMAND for power has been consistently increasing (we recently set system peaks across the USA) is nothing short of a conspiracy, one that hurts US businesses, the poor, and puts us all at risk.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for this to be detailed in the sea of “human interest” stories to be detailed by “journalists” coming soon with every new blackout and hiccup in our electrical systems…

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Carnival of the Badger

Welcome one and all to my first (hopefully not last) shot at hosting this weeks Carnival of the Badger. All things Wisconsin, no things insane. Hopefully. Although those two go together far too often.

Tracy at Sequence Inc. cracks Milwaukee Alderman Michael McGee's head, as she should. No excuse for this type of behavior from our elected officials. Right Peg?

Aaron from Subject to Change is all over this as well. And so is the Badger Blogger.

Nick thinks that the feds should spend money on federal projects, not on state and local projects. I tend to agree. The last thing I want is for more of my money to go down the Big Dig sinkhole - or to New Orleans to get washed out to sea once more.

While we are at it, From Where I Sit snaps at the feds too. He is Shocked! Shocked! that the nationwide meth problem hasn't gone away after the new laws regarding the purchase of over the counter meds like Sudafed. He's snot surprised at all. Neither am I.

On a happy note, Grumps loves his granddaughter. He treasures the moment - I think a lot that many of us should slow down and smell the roses like this once in a while. Including me.

Brian also shares a nice moment from Menasha - the results of keeping your kid busy all day long. I don't have too many photos like that. Where do my kids get the energy? Wish I could sell it. The energy, not the kids. Really.

James "gettin' wiggy wit' it" Widgerson talks about the Mark Green for governor campaign. Looks like someone is getting the tinfoil hats ready.

Also in Wisconsin politics RealDebateWisconsin has a report about assembly candidate Tim Daley. The comment section is interesting, to say the least.

Well, that does it for this weeks Carnival of the Badger. Thanks to all of the submitters and to Nick for being the driving force behind the carnival in general.

Speaking of carnivals, if you are around Madison, enjoy the Dane County Fair this weekend - maybe I will see you there!

Monday, July 17, 2006

My Lonely Checkbook

Recently I had to find my checkbook (the cover was a gift from a nephew from the dollar store) in order to pay a doctor's bill. The checkbook wasn't dusty... but it might as well have been. I write only 1-2 checks a month now.

When the whole internet revolution started the US mail and the checkbook were both supposed to die. Like many other overblown internet promises, the US mail, if anything, thrived under the internet, as you will see if you order anything via eBay - many people use the US mail for delivery of their collectibles. I still receive a lot of magazines and other mail (mostly junk) and the occasional odd hard-copy bill.

The personal check, however, may actually come to the fate that those net dreamers thought of in the mid 1990's. Most credit cards and other bills are now paid online. When I am in line at the grocery store the vast majority of people pay either by debit card or by credit card, with the occasional cash payer or the even rarer check writer. The grocery store line is probably the best proxy I can think of for the overall use of checks in the economy.

Not to say that the checkbook doesn't have advantages - you can "stop" a check if you haven't received service and you get the "float" from the time the check leaves your door to the time that it is both received, deposited, and clears your bank. For most non-structured purposes (i.e. paying the doctor's office) that is at least a week.

Probably the few holdouts are going to be smaller businesses that charge more than people typically carry in cash such as a mechanic. Most of these businesses take credit cards, but maybe a few don't. Or you might be paying a contractor or something like that. Credit cards and prepayment (you pay the head office and a local guy comes out) are probably the norm, however.

Most people won't miss checks. They are a big hassle because you have to reconcile your checkbook. They also take a long time to process and are a financial hassle for banks in that manner. You also have the risk that they will "bounce", a risk that you still have on the electronic payment side, but often you can do an "authorization" before the payment that will reduce the risk considerably (don't accept electronic payments from Nigeria and you are probably mostly OK). Of course, you'd never accept a personal check from Nigeria, either.

I wouldn't buy any stock in the check printer business, that is for sure... Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Harvard Business Review Gets It Wrong

I usually read the Harvard Business Review when I am trapped at an airport with time to kill.  There are some interesting articles from time to time but I have difficulty patronizing the arrogant university that is Harvard and also don’t like to pay the exorbitant cover price of $12.95 or so.  The other useful reason to read this magazine is because it is a barometer of fads that are soon to sweep the business world… kind of like the sailor seeing the “red sky in the morning”.

A friend of mine subscribes and let me borrow a big stack of the magazines.  Well, for free, they are quite a bargain and I eagerly dug in.  I like computers, numbers, analytics and statistics so when I saw an article titled “Competing on Analytics” in their January, 2006 edition, I was very interested.

Like all of these breathless articles, the “researchers” (as if business can be researched like a fruit fly, for all companies and industries are so different) are pushing their point of view, which is the miracle of business analytics and how it will make your company soar.  Here is not only a quote from the article, but one of the big “sidebar” quotes in big letters so you know I am not taking it out of context or taking a minor point of the article and spinning it out of control:

“Employees hired for the expertise with numbers or trained to recognize their importance are armed with the best evidence and the best quantitative tools.  As a result, they make the best decisions.”

This type of outlandish, stupid claim is why you need to beware of management fads, even one that I personally have some sympathy for.

In the examples of their “proof” for why these decisions are the “best”, they cite companies like casino and hotel operators who are trying to get the best return on their room rates (a complicated problem, for certain).  Or they talk about UPS or banking industries that have millions of customers and a sea of data.

But the huge flaw in their reasoning is that most data is incomplete and garbage.  For example, if you are looking at launching a new product, what is the source of your data?  It is mostly conjecture and junk.  Did Steven Jobs perform analytics before he made the “best” decision to launch the iPod or sell music online?  These types of analysis work best if you have a CLOSED SYSTEM and you have control over the data – if you don’t, then the quality of your data will drastically reduce the quality of your analysis.

The other thing is that this type of analysis never thinks about PEOPLE.  In these types of businesses (hotels), most of the employees are essentially drones and you need an analytical system because they aren’t hired nor are they taught to think.  However, there are many places where people can impact the outcome and local conditions override the fundamental analysis of top-down decision making.

Once again, I am not disagreeing that 1) numbers and analysis can make for better decisions 2) these types of tools are pretty well suited for certain types of businesses that are awash in data that they control in terms of quality.  However, to make the claim that they make “the best decisions” is ludicrous when compared to the business world at large, and is typical of consultant-driven hyperbole that will make this field crash and burn just like many other over-hyped fads.

No one wants to say that this is just another tool in the arsenal, to be used at the appropriate time and circumstances, it has to be the “silver bullet” that kills everything in its path.

And that is how fads get created, and how they burn, because in many, many circumstances this type of analysis WON’T drive the best decision, which will discredit the whole philosophy, even where it makes sense.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Wants... and Needs

I am constantly attuned to the word "need". I "need" a new car... or a new house... or the latest fashion.

In a Chicago Tribune article titled "Newly Designed Ranch House Offers Surprising Touches" dated Saturday, July 15th, Shirley Kulish of Beecher,IL, being interviewed by the Chicago Tribune made the following statement:

"the unique floor plan of our house is something I couldn't live without..."

and at the end of the interview, just in case we missed it, Shirley says it again

"It's a floor plan that now, as I said, I couldn't live without."

To the credit of the Chicago Tribune at least it was an interviewed subject saying something so objectively stupid and not the journalist writing the article.

But really, I hear things that are almost as stupid all the time as I channel surf past home shows or kill time paging through home magazines in the dentist's office. People are obsessed with their posessions, and their lifestyle, and they make no bones about letting you know this in the most obvious of terms.

As a result of this thinking the USA is up to its eyeballs in consumer debt, along with giant mortgage debt and resulting huge payments to municipalities in the form of ever-higher property taxes. People think they NEED more, and can't LIVE with less.

One person, oddly, who is doing something about this is Oprah, who has a series on her TV show called "The Debt Diet". The Debt Diet takes normal families who are drowning in debt (they are easy to find) and hooks them up with debt counselors who take concrete steps to solve their problems. Here is a link to a site that Oprah put up with the (reasonable) steps that her experts are using to get people out of debt.

These families on the show are usually on the brink of divorce when they get to Oprah (they may be acting, but watching them interact is pretty painful). Money problems are very hard on a relationship, apparently.

After all of the "mechanical" steps are put into place (figuring out how much you owe, talking down the rates, consolidating debt) then the HARD step comes into play - cutting spending. Many of the people on the show make consumption and spending the core of their existence - they shop EVERY DAY and eat out continuously, while owning cars and houses that they obviously can't afford.

The people learn to cook for themselves and get rid of many of their cars. The show generally doesn't show them doing more radical things like selling their homes and buying more appropriately priced homes that they can afford, but the rest of it is very reasonable.

Really, when you think about it hard, the credit card industry is a pretty nasty industry. They are selling the theory that you should buy what you want, that you deserve what you want, that you NEED what you want, and they can make it happen NOW. It is true - you can buy anything you want on credit, and leverage yourself to your gills.

A lot of folks grew up in the depression and watched their pennies. I know Dan's family and my family fall into this category. We didn't buy anything on credit that we could possibly avoid (except for a house) and we bought used cars and deferred a lot of stuff (like cable and mobile phones) a lot longer than our peers.

But there is a new generation that assumes that it is your right and you can't LIVE WITHOUT stuff that people often can't afford. They go to the college they want, even if it requires them to pile up debt (maybe they could go to a cheap state school or work at the same time, but that isn't what they want). They buy the car that they want, and the clothes, coffee, etc... stuff that everyone else buys.

As a result of this, people pile up debt on their credit cards and take equity out of their home, and pay tons and tons of interest. This wasn't done on a grand scale when I was growing up - certainly you couldn't just get tons of credit cards with no history and basically finanace anything you want instantly.

I don't know what it feels like to be paying interest on bills and have the feeling in the pit of your stomach that you have years and years to go before you even GET to the principal. It must be terrible. And families under that type of pressure must have a lot more divorces than everyone else, and their kids suffer as a result.

All because you "can't live without" something, that, really, you could easily live without.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Bill Cosby was, I think, his funniest when he hosted Kids Say the Darndest Things. I am not even sure if the show is on anymore but it was one of my all time favorites. The theme was that they would sit little kids down, usually between the ages of about 4 and 10 and Cosby would ask them questions. The answers were brutally honest and hilharious.

I was reminded of this show the other day when my kid said the darndest thing. "Why are those people shooting at each other?"

I try to shield my kids from nasty news reports, but I wasn't paying attention and they were showing footage from the current crisis surrounding Israel.

It is a tough question to answer. So many things went through my head. But I just cannot give my kid the whole story, not yet anyway. Because I know what I would have to tell her. That there are people in the world that want her dead just because she is who she is. An American. Just like the insane arabs want the Jews dead. Just because they are Jews.

Imagine yourself in my shoes trying to explain the cesspool that is the arab world to a kid.

Well sweetie, there is a part of the world, the part that Aladdin comes from. We loosely call it Arabia, but it encompasses the entire middle east. Here is a map for you:

There are a lot of people there and they are almost all muslims. Muslims are those that adhere to a religion called Islam.

Every single one of the places you see on the map, for the most part, are totally and completely backward dictatorships. Besides creating the number "0" I cannot think of one thing that these places have given back to the civilized world except the concept of the retarded suicide bomber. Maybe I will try to explain that to you some other time. Women are treated like cattle. Disputes are settled with guns, not courts of law. There are practically no schools, no education, no books. Many of these places, sweetie, have the lowest literacy rates in the world. Unlike where you live, where tolerance of other religions is the law, there are no Bibles allowed. Worst of all, the people that live in these places are certain that Islam is the only faith that any should be allowed to practice. Remember sweetie when you were taught in school to enjoy other cultures and learn about them? Unfortunately the people that live on the map above think that is bad. Very bad. They want to, this is hard for me to say, kill us.

Not all of the people in these places want to kill us, but many do.

That's right darling, they want Islam to be the only faith practiced in the whole world. They want you, me, mommy, and everyone else to adhere to their backward view of the world, adhere to their ugly dogma and submit. Or die. I know it is hard for you to understand my love, but that is how it is. No, sweetie, you didn't do anything to them. That is just how they are.

You can see one little sliver of land in the map, that is Israel. That is where you saw those men shooting guns at each other. Israel is the only democracy on the map you see. They have the only vibrant economy as well. They have embraced capitalism and tolerance, as we have. They even allow many of the people that practice islam to vote if they live in Israel. Isn't that interesting sweetie?

The state of Israel was created legally and peacefully by the United Nations after World War Two. You see, the world felt that Jews needed a place to go after that horrible war since Germany liquidated millions of them with the cooperation of France. And Russia certainly executed their fair share of Jews as well. Isn't it interesting that France and Russia have condemned Israel for defending themselves this past week? I would be interested to hear how they would like to answer a few of the questions I have for them.

Anyway, after the state of Israel was created alongside an arab state all of the bad people, dictatorships one and all, rejected this and attacked Israel. The bad people lost. Since then a state of war has existed between all of the bad people and Israel. The bad people have attacked Israel over and over again but Israel stands. No no, sweetie, I assure you they didn't do anything wrong. They don't have any oil. They didn't take anything from anyone. There are no islamic holy sites in Israel. They are just Jews. Thats all.

I know being little it is hard to understand why ignorant barbarians want to kill civilized, enlightened, democratic peoples. But it is the sad tale of history.

No worries sweetie. We are sworn to protect ourselves, and other free peoples all over the world. We would rather die than live under their thumb. And so it will be. We will not surrender, we will not give in. We will not accept their demands. We will not live as slaves. Always remember, free men die but once, slaves die a thousand deaths.....

But I didn't saddle my child with all of these thoughts that raced through my head last night.

I just turned the channel and told her that she will be fine, that it was just Detroit.

Death to Americas enemies, death to the enemies of civilization. Long live Americas allies.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Bums in River North

River North has a problem with bums. Note - I am not using the term "homeless" people. These people mostly have homes, from what I can tell, but they come down to this area because we have lots of tourists who make (relatively) easy prey since they aren't as jaded as the locals.

I usually see the same people, every day. They aren't there at night, and they arrive in the morning. They all have their particular spots where they stand and block traffic and panhandle through various methods. Some pretend to sing or play guitar (badly), some are silent, some sell Streetwise (the local paper if you are interested in the latest "bum" happenings), but many just accost passerbys.

A particularly annoying tactic is "can I ask you a question?" which usually starts some long, rambling (insane) question and ends with a complex request for money.

Recently they added a nice river walk. I am talking about a few days ago, at most. I was waiting until it was colonized by the bums, and it has occurred. You can see it in the photo above.

I am told that NYC did a lot to curb aggressive panhandling and the hated "squeegee guys" who put filthy water on your windshield in an attempt to get you to pay them to clean it back off (I guess they were creating their own value in a mini-economic cycle). Chicago could really use a lot of the same tactics here, because it disturbs a lot of the tourists and generally makes our city seem seedy and dangerous.

In Chicago, we pretty much let them roam the streets, accost passer-bys, drink in public, and relieve their bodily functions where they may. It really doesn't make the city look good, at all.

But that's Chicago in action for you... the city that works. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

When the moon... hits your eye...

Well you know the rest of that song...

It was a beautiful night here in River North and the moon was full. A few clouds blocked the view and created a bit of misty splendor.

Much better than the electrical storm when I was out on the porch a couple of weeks ago, for certain. Posted by Picasa

Mission Accomplished?

Today was an interesting and very rewarding day.

Some of my business competitors are so sad and immature that they have taken to personal insults and lies to try to get business from me. This type of last resort kid stuff is the ultimate compliment to me. They are officially dominated.

I got linked by one of my favorite blogs, Hog On Ice. He has been one of the many critics (read truthteller) of Pajamas Media, the soon to be footnote of the blogosphere. Steve calls me an ingrate but that means he likes me, he really likes me. I used to spend more time biting PJ Media ankles, but I have better things to do now. Unless I don't.

I have been in an interesting email conversation with a University of Wisconsin professor (not Ann Althouse) who is appalled about the whole Kevin Barrett situation. It was an interesting conversation to say the least. This particular professor is embarrassed for his university. I find that refreshing. The professor has even said so publicly. I wish more faculty from UW would come out in public and at least say they think this guy is a crackpot.

Also, I have received several comments today on the blog from intelligent folks, speaking plain English and adding to conversations and to my continuing education. I have participated in some interesting comment discussions in other blogs as well.

There is a chance that I may be able to take one of my favorite bloggers to a Bears game.

I was told several times today that my comments on those other blogs are well thought out and appreciated. Dan from Madison is starting to get internet "street cred".

I have no desire to gain huge amounts of traffic and the trolls that come along with it. Being noticed once in a while is nice. But not all the time, please. Lex Green stated it much better than I ever could (as usual) in a comment from this post (bold mine):

In theory, you are a happy boy if your blog gets more hits, period. I tend to think ChicagoBoyz is fine the way it is. We get intelligent commenters, and seem to enjoyed by a pretty large community. If we got ten times as many people, we'd get more psychos commenting. I'm not sure if it would be a worthwhile tradeoff. Anyway, we all just keep doing what we do. No one, so far as I know, does much of anything to try to get more hits. I think your referrals from our blog are from your own comments, mostly, which are usually good and are appreciated.

I have now officially given back to the internet, and I plan on giving more back.

Monday, July 10, 2006

World Cup, continued

I was out of the country and saw how important the world cup games were to the local citizenry.

It would be hard to overstate it - everyone piled into outdoor cafes to watch the game and followed every play, especially when the national teams were playing. In those instances commerce of all sorts essentially ground to a halt (I know, I was in a restaurant at the time).

To anyone who thinks that nationalism is dead in Europe, they need to look into the world cup. Every country puts their flags everywhere... and people take their football very seriously.

I remember back in the early 90's one of the NCAA football championships where the winner had 1 loss. Bumper stickers were made up to the effect of "local team 28, national champions 21". We should make something like that - World Cup Champions 1, USA 1. Check the screen... Posted by Picasa

Second or Third Tier Sport

Do you recognize any of the following people?
Fabian Barthez
Marco Materazzi
Zinedine Zidane

Of course you don't, nor should you. They are soccer players. The first and third play for France and the second plays for Italy.

I have something to confess to you...I watched the entire World Cup Final between Italy and France. I know, I know, soccer sucks and all that. But I like it, so there.

I don't blame people that don't like soccer - really I don't. It is, at times, very boring. The worst part is when the players take dives, which happens all the time. Nobody in the NFL takes dives like that except the kickers when somebody trying to block a punt or field goal comes close to them. Then they fall like they just got shot with a .50 cal. The KICKERS. Pretty much nobody I know likes soccer.

And how about the ending of that game? The players fight for 120 solid minutes and then they decide the thing on penalty kicks. Penalty kicks. LAME. Imagine if the Super Bowl went into overtime, then nobody scored, then they decided to pick the winner by lining up and kicking 20 yard field goals until somebody missed. LAME, LAME, LAME.

There is a pretty good scandal brewing in Italy, though. Some teams in their "Serie A" (akin to the major leagues or the NFL) were found to be fixing games with players, coaches and referees all being in cahoots. I wonder if the mob is involved? Hmmm. Anyway, some of the top teams will probably get "relegated" or sent down to a smaller league. Imagine if the Cubs were sent down to play triple A or double A ball for a year. They probably should for the remainder of this season anyway.

That is one thing I really love about the major soccer leagues in Europe and elsewhere. The bottom two or three teams get sent down and the top two or three teams in the second league get sent up to the majors for the next season. Talk about making those late season stinker games exciting? But enough of that. Soccer really is boring and most people here realize that and reject it as a spectator sport.

But according to the front page of the Wisconsin State Journal the United States "edges closer" to embracing soccer. This is about like saying I have "edged closer" to winning the Tour de France because I just bought some new biking gear.

Notice who is watching the game in that photo? Thats right, French and Italian STUDENTS studying abroad. And what better to do with your time in the summer, in college than drink loads of beer on a nice Sunday afternoon, watching your home soccer team play for all the marbles?

During the football regular season here in the United States, the English Premier League is in full swing. I like following the Premier League because, mainly of the rivalry games. There is also a lot of hatred between certain players and it makes for some pretty nasty violence on the field. But you wouldn't know any of that because football DOMINATES everything when it tees off here. You can't even find a soccer score in the paper during football season, and rightly so.

I guess what I am trying to say is that soccer will always be a second or third tier sport here in the US. Sure, it is fine for kids and gives them good exercise. But if the writer of the story, Meridith May (of the San Francisco Chronicle - surprise, surprise!) would get out of San Francisco once in a while, she would realize that NOBODY, in the big picture cares about anything having to do with soccer.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


One of the strangest things about me, apparently, is that I am both a Sox fan and a Cubs fan. In Chicago it seems like 99% of people are passionate fans of one team, and not the other, or they just don't care. From my perspective, since both of them lost my entire life until the Sox just won the World Series, what was the point of dividing loyalties since the only time you'd actually have to CHOOSE would be if they both made it to the world series at the SAME TIME, which is beyond a remote possibility, in pretty much anyone's opinion.

The Sox are having a good year in 2006 (so far), and the Cubs are having an absolutely abysmal season, perhaps the worst in my living memory.

Now the strange thing about the Cubs when you compare them to other terrible teams like the Kansas City Royals is that the Cubs are clearly trying. The Cubs have a large payroll, one of the largest in the majors. They sell out their park and the fans are packed in there for every game (not like the Bulls until recently, where they sold the tickets but many of the seats were empty when you got there), rain or shine.

But let's look at some of the terrible things that have happened to the Cubs:

- Kerry Wood has what may have been the most brilliant outing in Major League pitching history, when he 1-hits an excellent Houston team and strikes out 20 players. If you watch a video of that game he is just amazing. However, his career is basically a bust for the Cubs, and now he has a torn rotator cuff and is most likely done for. The key to a CUBS debacle is not just a bad player and a bad outcome - he has to show AMAZING promise first, have a tantalizingly good career, and then flame out over a long period of time with periodic bursts of MAYBE returning. To just soar and burn is too simple for the Cubs...
- Derrek Lee almost wins the MVP award in 2005 so the Cubs, burned by letting good players (like Greg Maddux, in his prime) get away, offer him a huge contract, after which he immediately goes out and gets injured and misses most of the first 1/2 of the 2006 season. Note that before he left, the Cubs were playing well and had a winning record, which is the key element of the Cubs curse, that "what could have been" element that a team like Kansas City never has
- Mark Prior is another enigma, having an awesome season and looking like the best guy in baseball and then falling prey to injuries, but always lurking around and taking a big chunk of the paybook. Will he come back or won't he... no one really knows. He is back now but not exactly tearing it up...

Then you have the people that left the Cubs and now soar, like Corey Patterson and even NOMAR. How many times do you hear about people leaving somewhere else and coming to the Cubs and THEN soaring???? Never.

Really, at some point, maybe we just need to get it over with and truly admit that they are cursed. Soon we will be nearing 100 years of futility, which has to be a record for a major team in any league that has a decent payroll and which is committed to fielding a decent team.

With Lee this year and now Wood's latest injury, along with the ex-Cubs flourishing elsewhere, I think this one is pushing me over the edge.

The Economic Mystery of the Ohio House...

Posted by Picasa The "Ohio House" is a combination motel and tiny restaurant in River North here in Chicago. One time Dan (who is a better photographer than I am) had a shot of their classic sign in his Chicago Photo collection.

Growing up I didn't understand the difference between a "motel" and a "hotel" but you can see it on display at the Ohio House. If you drive your car up and then walk directly into your room from outside than it is a motel, it is a hotel if you walk through the lobby, I guess. In that sense the Ohio House is a real motel.

River North is a pretty ritzy area. It wasn't always this way - for a long time it was an industrial kind of warehouse district that never got too seedy but certainly wasn't glamourous and didn't have much in the way of residential housing.

The first pioneers were the art galleries, who set up shop here in the buildings and built a critical mass of foot traffic. The area has an excellent location (right near the loop, right off the famous "Ohio Feeder" ramp on the Kennedy) so it is easy to get to, and many of the "L" lines are right nearby or at the Merchandise Mart.

Regardless of what it WAS, River North IS a pretty high-rent area now. Condos have sprouted up everywhere - many more than 20 stories, and most promising their tenants or condo-owners a "luxurous" experience. If you go to any realtor site and start looking at the River North area of Chicago you will see an astounding number of condos for sale generally at high prices (not as high as Michigan Avenue, but high nonetheless).

How are these large condo developments built? By taking over other buildings, leveling them, and building upwards. In some instances large industrial buildings are converted to loft buildings instead, but it would take some serious imagination to convert the Ohio House into anything.

By any measure the Ohio House seems to be an under-used piece of property. There is a flat parking lot (flat by meaning that it isn't a "deck" parking structure of at least 4 tiers) out front, a motel with maybe 30 or so rooms, and a TINY restaurant on the property.

For a long time I must admit that I kind of feared that little restaurant. It seems like the kind of place that if you go in there and it stinks you will have no one but yourself to blame. But, all of my misgivings were incorrect, and I have eaten in that restaurant many times and it is a fine and friendly place. The prices are very reasonable and they serve a good and quick breakfast. There also is a cool tunnel from that restaurant back to the main building, which I find interesting, too.

In this area it is HARD to find a good diner or breakfast spot. Given that a diner takes up as much space as a nice restaurant or potentially a posh condominium, they are being squeezed out of the area. This is bad because everyone needs a good breakfast spot, especially when you are on foot and it is either freezing in the winter or broiling in the summer. The remaining default choice now is the "Rock and Roll" McDonalds, which is OK but really is low on the traditional hungover breakfast ambiance I seek.

Well, for now the Ohio House is giving River North a lot of character, and a decent place (VERY low on ambiance, if you ever go there) for breakfast, to boot. Unfortunately as a finance kind of guy there has to be some sort of plan afoot to turn this place into some kind of condo skyscraper or something like that because that many hotel rooms plus a bit of restaurant traffic can't be worth that much square footage which would otherwise be a big building.

It is, as I said in the heading up top, "the economic mystery of the Ohio House"...

Saturday, July 08, 2006

It Really Is No Big Deal

On July 6 this blog was linked by none other than Michelle Malkin. You can see her post here, and in it is a link to a post that Carl put up a while ago. I have learned a lot from this link. A lot of what I learned I already knew, but didn't want to admit.

Malkin's blog is one of the highest trafficked ones on the web. According to her sitemeter, she gets over 100k hits per day. I have no clue how she found Carl's post - probably google - but I am thankful that we were cited by someone as famous as her. And I am also thankful that she actually gave us the link and used Carl's words in quote marks, rather than somebody like the Chicago Tribune, that just STEALS our work and REPRINTS it and doesn't even give us credit. Then when they are called on it, just DENY it. Anyway.

Things I learned:
  1. Malkin's readers read her blog to hear what she has to say, not what others are interested in, nor the sources she uses to create her posts. I always assumed this, but not to this extent. That link she gave us garnered us a total of less than one thousand hits. BFD.
  2. Ann Althouse's readers, on the other hand, seem to be much more interested in reading the background on her posts. Her blog averages 10k hits per day, but her click-through when she linked about my shaved head gave us over two thousand hits. Not a day goes by where I STILL get a hit or two from that post. That was back in April! It will be interesting after the initial week or so to see if Malkin's link keeps giving residual hits to the extent that Althouse's does.
  3. Malkin has a lot of trolls. From the comments to Carl's post, you can see that some insane people have decided to comment. I usually don't put up with that crap, but have left it up there to prove a point. Those people didn't find our post by accident and are not our normal readers. Those people found the post because they are obsessed with hating Malkin and whatever she does. Can you imagine sitting around at your computer and hating somebody so much that you go around and comment at their links? Bizarre, but true. I read Althouse's blog daily and was happy that she opened up the comments. She has her share of trolls, too but is very good at deleting their comments, which I think is great. I love comment discussions, but when you get haters that are completely irrational it ruins it for us sane people.
  4. We get linked on a semi-frequent basis by ChicagoBoyz. Those links usually give us anywhere from 500-1000 hits per link. ChicagoBoyz averages about 1k hits per day, making their click through percentage the highest of all three of the blogs I am comparing. Almost every commenter that has made a comment here that I recognize as a regular commenter over there is top notch.
  5. Good luck making money blogging. There is a reason that pretty much all bloggers have real day jobs.

So thanks for the links to everyone. I have to admit, it is interesting to see what the different links bring to us - or what they don't bring.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Madison Gas and Electric Marketing Genius

Carl posts a lot about advertisements he sees in the big city of Chicago and how great - or how stupid - they are. Living up here in Madison I don't see the types of ads that he does - there aren't any huge billboards eight stories tall or planes pulling banners the size of football fields circling Madison, as they do on the shores of Lake Michigan.

One thing that has absolutely baffled me, astounded me, insert whatever extreme adjective you can think of here me, is how our local utility company can have such good press. Or is it marketing doing its job?

Everywhere else you go, or where I go anyway, the local utility is vilified, chastised, and criticized. Up here, it is the other way around. And that is saying a LOT. You need to remember that Madison is one of the most "liberal" (I prefer the word "leftist" but whatever) areas in the entire country. We have a city council made up of people in the Progressive Party. Companies like Starbucks see their facilities picketed on a regular basis. We have anti big-box store ordinances. We have no smoking ordinances. What I am trying to say is that this isn't exactly a big business (or any business for that matter) friendly town. What Madison Gas and Electric has accomplished in getting almost ZERO bad press EVER is, simply amazing. The worst of the worst, the big, bad utility, oppressor of the people, is a valued member of the community.

Here are obvious things they do. They sponsor UW sporting events. Everywhere you go on football Saturdays you see the M G and E logo. They do TONS of charity work. They sponsor almost EVERY charitable walk, run, ride, parade, firework show and picnic. And they do this in all of the little surrounding towns as well. Every time I have had meter work or something like that done at my home or business, the men doing the work have all been POLITE, ACCOMMODATING AND UNDERSTANDING.

When they hike their rates everybody simply shrugs their shoulders and pays. No protests, no marches, no letters to the editor, nothing. I cannot stress to you enough, dear reader, how amazing this is for a utility company to be able to thrive in a city like Madison.

Here is another great example. I received this packet in the mail yesterday:

Before we discuss the contents, lets look for a moment at the outside of the packet. On the left is a little white boy playing outside. We have a decent sized population that lives in rural areas outside the city of Madison, and those folks are pretty much your run of the mill Caucasians. Then we have a photo of a black family. This appeals to the "liberal" crowd in Madison, who tend to appreciate concepts like "diversity", even though Madison is probably 90% white. Lastly, we have a photo of a student, and, of course, UW is a huge institution. So by the very careful selection of photos on the front, M G and E has successfully appealed to pretty much ALL of the people in Madison. Are you as impressed by this stinking envelope as I am?

Now, the contents:

It is a pretty large pack of information about how M G and E is attacking the future. One of the first things I noticed is that they are going to stop burning coal at the Blount plant in 2011. This is the power plant you see in aerial photos of Madison, right up the street from the Capitol Building. They are, however, going to keep using natural gas there. This is important that they mention this. Many "liberals" care a LOT about the environment. And even though burning coal isn't nearly as bad as it used to be, it still has a very bad reputation. "Liberals" are happy to read things like this. Even though most didn't lift a finger to stop M G and E from burning coal at Blount, they can think they are part of a bigger cause and say to themselves "we didn't want coal here and now it will be gone". More than likely it was a efficiency issue for M G and E, but who cares. Let the "liberals" think they won one.

Also in the packet is a letter from the CEO of M G and E detailing dozens of power workshops they will be holding to educate folks on how to conserve power.

They also detail how they are going to be one of the first to utilize sugar based, hydrogen fueled generation as well as landfill gas generation. Neither of these two will probably generate enough electricity to make a difference off the bat, but the fact that they are inviting the public in to see demonstrations of them make them look like the good guys AGAIN. The environmentalists have absolutely no wiggle room to protest anything they do since they are actually trying to use alternative energy resources.

Lastly, and most importantly, there is an eighteen page color booklet, written in fairly large letters (for senior citizens) detailing in very plain language ways normal people can conserve energy. Turn your thermostat down (or up). Wash in cold water. Use compact fluorescent bulbs. Turn off lights not in use. Purchase high efficiency appliances. The language they use is outstanding. Take a look at this sentence:

Switching five frequently used lights from standard incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs saves two-thirds or more of the electricity needed to power these lights. If they are used at least four hours each day, this is a savings of about $40 in the first year. Calculate your light savings at
Beautiful. ANYBODY can understand that. I wish at times the marketing at my business was as simple and effective as M G and E's.

Whoever is running the marketing and PR over at M G and E should get a hefty raise. They are, without a doubt, one of the most successful companies at those activities that I have ever seen. To get away with being a utility company in Madison - not just tolerated, but treasured - is an accomplishment somebody should be patted on the back for.

2.5 Games Out of First!

Well, well, well. We are nearing the All Star Break and the team I have been watching since I defected from the Sox after the White Flag Trade is finally, finally doing something. Yes, my beloved Milwaukee Brewers seem to be poised to actually make a run at this thing. There are a lot of "ifs", but I am sincerely enjoying this bit of success as all Brew Crew fans surely are. After so much suffering, any little hint of the playoff scent is a welcome change from the normal stench. A lot of it has to do with the bats of the Brewers, but this guy doesn't get enough credit:

That is Chris Capuano, who threw yet another gem against the Cubs last night. He tossed a complete game last night and is now 10-4 with a 3.21 era. When Sheets went down (again) I pretty much wrote off the entire staff, but now Cappy has really stepped up. Did you know who the Brewers hitting coach is? Butch Wynegar - pretty good with Robin Yount as bench coach. Not a bad one-two for teaching young kids how to hit.

The pitching coach? Greg Maddux's brother, Mike Maddux.

But the guy who really should get ALL of the credit is this guy:

I have been watching Ned Yost manage the Crew for several years now and this guy is one of the best. He may not be the best strategist out there but he is calm, cool and a proven great leader. He will get in the umps face if the need arises, but he doesn't abuse that and charge the ump every other game. It has to be a very bad error for Yost to get upset. He reminds me of Tom Landry, the cool, calm presence that used to be on the sidelines of the Dallas Cowboys. They both are the sorts of leaders that have that cool demeanor on the outside, but you know they are hyper-competitive on the inside. You can tell if you watch the Brewers for a game or two. EVERY groundout the players, even the stars like Lee RUN ALL THE WAY to first base. EVERY at bat is contested. EVERY batter on the opposing team has to earn their way onto the basepaths. The defense has become more stout. These are the types of things you see lackluster managers slip up on. But not Yost. Even with very crappy teams the past few years, I have seen the above things done to the best of the Brewers ability. Now that they have some talent, things could get even more intersting the second half of this year.

One more thing. I saw an interview with the Brewers owner last night and he said they are shopping for MORE talent to make a run the second half of the season. WOW a Brewers owner has never said that as long as I have been watching them.

Sure, the crew could fall apart over the second half, but it won't be for a lack of trying. Yost will be sure of that.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Fourth of July

On this fourth of July I thought this poem, from my book “The National Museum of the United States Air Force” summed up the spirit of this holiday much better than I ever could.


Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence.  Hovering there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the windswept highest with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of

John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Per the book:

In December, 1941, Pilot Officer John G. Magee, a 19-year-old American serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force in England, was killed when his Spitfire collided with another airplane inside a cloud.  Several months before his death, he composed his immortal sonnet “High Flight”, a copy of which he fortunately mailed to his parents in the U.S.A.

Ruining it for everyone

Posted by Picasa One of the best things about Chicago is our string of uninterrupted beaches and parks along the shore of Lake Michigan. No buildings are allowed to build out past Lake Shore Drive (with the notable exception of Lake Point Towers, the black cylindrical building you see when you are walking to Navy Pier).

The most famous beaches are Oak Street beaches and North Avenue beaches. Anyone who has visited or lived in Chicago can tell you how crowed these beaches get in the summer on nice days... as everyone tries to pack in as much fun as possible in our brief spate of decent weather.

There is another beach - Ohio Street Beach. This is a smaller, protected beach area, with breakwaters that shield it from larger waves and a long, shallow beach area that is good for children.

In other blog posts I noted the extremely high density of new condominium projects in Chicago, on top of the huge mass of existing housing stock. I have no problem with people investing in Chicago, but literally no one is pointing out "lack of housing for the rich and well to do" as a Chicago problem.

The reason I mention that is because a new building is going up that will severly shade (i.e. "ruin") the Ohio Street beach. This photo was taken from a friend's condo that overlooks the building site and he helped me shade out the likely area that this condo project will block when it is completed.

It is amazing that it went forward in this manner, and just shows the (unfortunate) impact of our lack of coherent policies. Normally, this blog celebrates the lack of limits on builders, since they (and the many individuals who re-habbed houses in otherwise blighted neighborhoods) have turned around this great city. In this instance, however, pretty much any sort of reasonable compromise (the building can be tall, but if it was a LITTLE less tall it wouldn't shade the beach very much) would have saved the beach, but it was not to be. This web site (sorry for the stupid active X control that tries to load when you go there, that is a web site no-no in my book) was put up in an attempt to limit the developer's height and to fight the buiding. The site and effort did help drive some publicity, but not much. The builder made no compromises and the beach will be shaded for generations to come.

I guess this building really will ruin the beach for everyone...

Monday, July 03, 2006

Dizzy Gillespie Big Band 1968

Rather than the usual patriotic post I put up on the Fourth, this time I celebrate America with some true Americana - jazz. Have a great fourth!

Antioch Botannical Gardens, Antioch, IL

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Operation Mag-Neato

My very close personal friend (well, I never really met the guy) David from Iowahawk fame has a cool thing going on called Operation Mag-Neato. You just send your silliest magnet to Dr. Lee over in the big sandbox and he affixes it to his Hummer, making it the most rad ride this side of Fallujah.

The results so far:

But we aren't done yet! I still see brown on that Hummer and I want it totally covered! You can have some fun with this and help our troops morale at the same time by enclosing a small letter with the magnet. It would take you about the same amount of time as drinking one beer, unless you are shotgunning it (ugh, I can't believe I used to do that!). So get on the stick and send your silliest magnet to:

Dr. Darren Lee

310th PSYOP Co.

COB Speicher

APO AE 09349

As an experienced letter writer and care package sender to the sandbox, I can assure you the most painful part of the whole deal will be actually going to the post office and dealing with the highly trained and most pleasant staff there.