Saturday, September 30, 2006

Jackass Drivers on the Edens


The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) decided to do their best to ruin my Saturday.

It was a nice day and the fall colors are just starting to turn so we headed up to the northern suburbs to take a look at the trees and the luxury houses on Sheridan road. All was well until we started coming back south on the Edens and they decided to close 2 left lanes and take the entire highway down to 1 lane, with NO notice.

Traffic was absolutely stopped, which stunk, and the next exit was 2 miles away at Tower road (where I eventually got off). But these nuts took it way over the top. The dark colored van in the upper left of the photo is EXITING on an ON RAMP. He is going 100% the wrong way UP onto Dundee Road. The white van behind him on the ramp is BACKING UP the ramp.

I can't figure out which way to go - if you make the (idiotic) decision to get off at a one-way ON ramp, should you just face the wrong way and move up quickly, or should you slowly back up? I guess since the longer you are doing this manuver the more likely you are to get killed so that argues in favor of going up facing the wrong way. If you go up backwards, you can LOOK like you got off and decided that you didn't want to get off so you started backing up, and hope that the cops look more favorably upon you than someone doing something utterly wrong and dangerous.

The dark van is choosing to do the "more illegal, faster" route and the white van is choosing the "sorry officer, more dangerous" route. Luckily no one got killed (that we could see) since cars could come screaming the other way ON the ramp.

And a special thanks to IDOT for the idiotic idea to close down the ramps with no notice and no way to escape on a Saturday when traffic was already brutal. A tip of the hat to you, stupid State of Illinois employees.

Illini Finally Win

I can't believe it! 26 1/2 point underdogs and we won!

And we were on TV in Chicago! That seems even more amazing. On the last drive that resulted in the Illini field goal the announcer said that if the Illini completed a pass on 3rd down that "He'd fall out of his chair." Well the Illini did complete the pass and drove all the way to the end zone to boot.

All the hype about the MSU quarterback and he can't even beat Illinois...Posted by Picasa

We Did It!

Illinois 23, Michigan State 20. There really is a god after all.

Progress In Women's Rights

The recent shenanigans at HP are making front page headlines. A brief summary, for those who haven’t read the articles:


  • Hewlett Packard used to have a reputation as an employee-friendly, engineering based company. This reputation is long gone…

  • There were a lot of leaks to the press regarding board deliberations over the last few years at HP

  • HP went through a lot of controversial times, such as the acquisition of Compaq which barely passed with the shareholders (note – most shareholder votes are about as close as Saddam’s re-election ballots when he was head of the Baath party)

  • HP also dragged out the ouster of CEO Carly Fiorina for a long time, and this was well noted in the press, such as in this article here

  • To investigate the source of these leaks, HP had an investigator “pretext” or pretend he / she was someone else to get their phone records and fingered one of the board members. Tom Perkins, a noted Silicon Valley investor, quit immediately and wrote a memo that is prominently posted here at The Smoking Gun

  • The scandal started gaining steam and eventually Patricia Dunn, the Chairwoman of the Board, resigned, and was grilled by Congress

  • The company’s general counsel (top lawyer), a woman named Ann Baskins, subsequently resigned and refused to testify to Congress, citing her right to avoid self-incrimination

The REAL story here, however, isn’t any of these items. The REAL story is a comment I heard a long time ago that “You’ll know that women have arrived in the workplace when you see just as many incompetent women as incompetent men in positions of power.” The rationale is that star women can climb the ladder, but it will be a sign of real change when inept women are able to climb the ladder.

And NO ONE is as incompetent as these women!

Look at this Article that came out the day Carly Fiornia was fired – what happened? HP’s stock SOARED! That is a sure sign of the market’s interpretation of her competence.

And look at this quote from tin-ear ex-Chairwoman Patricia Dunn, showing her strong leadership capabilities in the face of the pretexting scandal:

“I do not accept personal responsibility for what happened”

And what is the LAST thing you want your corporate counsel to be doing – PLEADING THE FIFTH and citing her right to avoid self-incrimination in front of Congress, like some kind of mobster in a crime drama. Sorry, I can’t get a quote for that, but it probably went something like “I cite my rights to avoid self-incrimination” as a response to every question.

So there you have it… a sign of progress… three super inept females in positions of great power at a major US company (Chairwoman, CEO and General Counsel). Bitch Magazine should be proud!

The Result Is Always The Same

I was recently in Vegas for a long business trip and heard the most fascinating story. I can't remember who told it to me.

A Chinese businessman was in Vegas and he was asked what he like the most. His reply: "the women". When asked about how he liked the gambling scene his reply was "the result is always the same".

I have found that that phrase applies daily to most of the news I see, papers I read, and newscasts I listen to.

Item:
In Berlin this week, an opera that was written by Mozart has been temporarily cancelled because there is a scene featuring a decapitated Mohammed. Officials are worried about dicey security over this. Typical of the religion of the perpetually offended. That on top of a blowup by the Islamic world over a quote by the Pope a few weeks ago. A quote that was not written by the pope, but was written by an obscure historian several hundred years ago. And a quote that was factually correct, by the way.

Item:
Yet another politician, a Republican (that is the party of morals) this time, is busted for instant text messaging and emailing (what else did he do with my money?) with sexual connotations - many of the messages being sent back and forth were to his pages and many to boys under eighteen years of age. The way the Republicans have been acting the last several years they deserve to lose the House and Senate. They make it very difficult for folks such as myself to vote for them at times.

Item:
The Indian police are blaming the Pakistani secret service for the Bombay train bombings a few months ago. Really? The Indians and Pakistanis hate each other?

Item:
In New York City, the city council there has tasted the same moonbattery potion as the Chicago City Council. They are going to try to ban transfats from ALL restaurants. Of course nobody knows anything about transfats, what they do, how they occur and if they are even really dangerous. The New York Times, in an opinion piece written possibly by an 8th grade student (there is no author listed) opines that this is a good thing.

The money part of the opinion piece:
At minimum, restaurants should give their customers enough information to make their own decisions.

As if I can't make my own decisions without the freaking health department mandating I plow through a 47 page menu when all I want to do is order a stupid plate of chicken lo mein. I despise being spoken down to.

Item:
Texas gets all the power - cheaply.

Item:
In my federal elections this fall, my vote doesn't count. My representative race (Tammy Baldwin) and senate race (Herb Kohl) were decided before the campaigns started.

Item:
Illinois is going to get our asses handed to us by yet another Big Ten team today, this time Michigan State.

The Result Is Always The Same.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Scene of the McCrime

The Rock N' Roll McDonalds near me in River North has some solid metal figures out front in various homespun scenes.

This morning we went by and there is some sort of police tape out with Ronald and his unicycle... maybe a hit and run!

On a sadder note a friend of mine saw a person on a bicycle on Ohio street with a big crowd around him and an ambulance rushing up. It is crowded here in Chicago and sometimes it is just too much. Posted by Picasa

How much for your dignity?

Posted by Picasa Everyone has a time in their life when they have to take crappy jobs. I worked in fast food as a kid, at a pottery kiln, and at a hospital. These jobs helped me value a college education because they all had elements that made them completely unpalatable.

I am hoping that this promotion for ING bank is teaching these poor souls the same lesson. The promotion has people dressed up as cows (they are made up to appear to be riding the cows) in order to promote this bank and their savings accounts (apparently).

Mostly, these cows just gummed up traffic in the middle of the loop during rush hour when people are pouring out of train stations in the west loop and trying to get across town to their jobs. As you can see the "herd" is crossing while the "don't walk" sign is up and then they have to scurry to avoid getting mowed down by impatient traffic trying to move east. I didn't see a lot of people picking up flyers.

People, go to college. Don't do this again.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Too Much!

Posted by Picasa Maggiano's is a restaurant chain in the Chicago area. Their portion sizes are enormous.

This is a 1/2 size order plus Bruschetta. Thus a 1/2 size order feeds two people...

Who are these order sized for? What kind of people eat an ENTIRE order! This is two times the food, for only one person.

I was in Europe and a guy runs a column for FT says that when you are in the US you should eat 1/3 of what is on your plate, and if you are in Europe you should eat 1/2 of what is served to you. Probably a good rule of thumb.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Does "Exquisite" Meet Your Needs?

One of my most aggravating topics is the confusion between "wants" and "needs" and the ease with which people mix up the two concepts. I honestly believe that if you took people from the poorest parts of the USA and brought them on a tour of the "needs" of the rich there'd be some sort of revolution. Does everyone need a room to wrap presents? Guess so...

Here is the new trend - "luxury" isn't enough. Now you need to go beyond mere luxury into... exquisite. I think fantastically unnecessary would be a logical next step.

Hope for the builder's sake that they move all these units before the bust or they'll be on the market a loooong time. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"Citi-fied"

Posted by Picasa As I was walking through the million dollar homes in Bucktown last weekend and all the Mercedes and Land Rovers lining the streets I came upon this fine automobile.

This car is a perfect example of an auto that has been "citi-fied". When I first moved into the city I had a Ford that was extremely unlucky. Pretty much everything that could go wrong on that car went wrong. After a while the hubcaps were stolen and it was broken into a couple of times to boot. At that point, you really don't care what happens to your car any more (as long as it is drivable) so it is truly "citi-fied".

This car takes that to the logical extreme, although it appears to still have hubcaps (don't think anyone wants them). Someone must have seen something worth stealing because they broke the back window or maybe this is some sort of convertible by summer and semi-hard top by winter. This car can't be damaged any more by the criminals and inevitable touch parking that is the bane of your car in the city when it is new and shiny. This car is city proof. It is "citi-fied".

The Beautiful City of Chicago

One thing that Daley has done for the city is to invest in our parks. He mandated that if you are building along the river in down town Chicago you need to spruce up the banks and if possible add some sort of pedestrian access.

Up in River North there is a new park that is nicely landscaped and right on the shores of the river. Here is a view looking south towards the iconic Sears Tower, with a great view of our draw bridges. Note the ever-present construction; that developer may take a bath but another brand new building will be added to our city for people to live in for decades to come.

I wish that the spring and fall would last forever; soon it will be winter but for now we need to enjoy the nice weather while it is here. Posted by Picasa

Monday, September 25, 2006

Trying to drive me to XM!!

Sirius had a special deal if you bought a boom box and activated it by the end of September they'd throw in the radio for free. Good deal!

When you own 1 sirius radio the 2nd - 4th ones are only 6.99 / month, or about 1/2 price. My friend Brian was talking about getting a Sirius radio, so I figured I'd buy one, configure it as another radio at 1/2 price, and then give it to him.

I got the box and was happily taking everything apart when I noticed that something wasn't quite right... they sent me a boom box and a totally incompatible radio! Look at the picture on the box vs. the picture of the attached radio... grr...

I've been on hold for another half hour and it is starting to get me going. I was down in my friends' house and he gets free XM radio (as do I, through Direct TV) and I have been listening to "Ethel" and it is a passable subsitute for "21" the alternative nation on Sirius. Maybe I will have to consider switching if this call takes much longer... Posted by Picasa

Eating Crow

A while back Dan was talking about supporting non-Republican candidates for office in Wisconsin and I was giving him a hard time for doing it, because it can also be interpreted as a throw-away vote that helps the competition (one less votes for the Republicans).

Well I am eating a bit of crow because that is what I am thinking about doing in Illinois. After the most ludicrous senate campaign in history (the Republican primary where a different Ryan won but then had to drop out because he had public sex with his wife Seven of Nine Jeri Ryan and then they appointed the insane Keyes to run against Obama) the campaign for governor has become an awful joke with soon-to-be-indicted Blogo running against Judy Barr Topinka, the "old school" pal of George Ryan.

The US consitutionalist party is running a candidate for Governor with the media-ready name of Randy Stufflebeam and he has his site here. I found out about it through Kass, the columnist in the Chicago Tribune, who also shares my distaste for the above 2 candidates.

I have to do some more research because voting for a third party candidate is usually just a protest vote but it seems like the best choice, so far. He is a write in candidate.

My favorite summary of the write in movement was a brief "The Onion" photo of a stoned-looking Madison Wisconsin type-dude with a "Nader for President" t-shirt walking out of a voting booth on election day with the caption "Vote, Voter Wasted"

Chicago Reader on Chicago

Even though I disagree with almost 100% of the politics behind the Chicago Reader I usually end up reading it anyways because 1) it's free 2) they usually try to either say something interesting or do it in an interesting way.

In their last issue (they come out weekly, every Thursday, you will see copies littered all throughout the city because for some reason they seem to fall apart and cover the pavement) they had a good guide to the City of Chicago for new people and for long time residents alike. The articles were broken into sections like how to get around, landmarks, the arts, politics, sports, etc...

As always the achilles heel of the Chicago Reader is their politics. Like Democrats who can't stand George Bush, they can't stand Mayor Daley. They will go to any lengths to ridicule Daley (which isn't hard with the grumbling manner in which he speaks and the fits that he throws from time to time) without thinking for a moment about the consequences of what were to happen should he really be thrown out of office.

In the article on Chicago politics they lament the supine nature of the 50 members of the Chicago city council and imply that they could be some sort of effective counter weight to Daley if they got their act together. They also applauded the few council members that tended to vote against Daley for their efforts.

It is sad that the Chicago Reader failed to mention the little fact that of all our broken Chicago and Illinois institutions, the Chicago City Council has to stand atop the rubble as one of the worst. We aren't talking about allegations of corruption here; we are talking about full-blown going-to-jail continuously corruption... A short list of the members of City Council who have gone to jail for various infractions (mostly taking bribes) is found here. I can't find the link but I have heard that Daley has appointed almost 1/2 the current council in all the years he has been mayor because their previous tenant was booted out of office for one reason or another.

Like the democrats as a bad alternative to Bush, the Chicago City Council is the worst possible alternative to Daley. They are a running joke, with their bans on Fois Gras and attacks on WalMart while the city literally burns around them with an insanely high murder rate and many other obvious ills.

And I would have expected the Chicago Reader to point this out...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Chicago Catches Someone in the Act of Corruption… Amazing

One constant thread in this blog isn’t the endemic corruption in Chicago and the State of Illinois – you can get that anywhere.  The REALLY interesting element is that virtually none of the misdeeds are found by our own internal forces that are supposed to be policing the situation, whether it is our internal audit departments or any group responsible for enforcing rules and regulations in the police department.  Almost every scandal is unearthed by the Federal authorities who seem to find corruption everywhere they look, while our own internal police somehow or other manage to find NOTHING.  This lack of internal vigilance, of course, is linked to the corruption itself, since they are either incredibly inept or in on it, as well.

In the Chicago Tribune Metro section on 9/24/06 there is an article called “City Planning Officer Accused of Seeking Bribe”.  Apparently someone wanted to buy a lot from the city for $140,000, but the city appraiser said that it would be appraised at $240,000 unless he received a bribe of $300, in which case he’d go back to the $140,000.  The person buying the lot came forward and the city set up a sting operation where they caught the inspector picking up the bribe.  That inspector made $63,000 / year (with usual amazing public benefits) so it isn’t like he was just looking to scrape by, either.

But all came back into focus in the last paragraph of the article… Hoffman is the Inspector General who is prosecuting the inspector in question.

“Hoffman, a former Federal prosecutor, was appointed to his post last year by Mayor Richard Daley amid hiring and contracting scandals and a growing federal investigation into City Hall corruption.”

Phew… I thought all of my assumptions were incorrect or something.  By reaching outside of our riddled and ineffective city institutions someone was brought in from the Federal government who actually takes their duties seriously.  This is exactly how attorney general Fitzgerald was appointed in Illinois in the first place by former Senator Fitzgerald (no relation), an action for which he was drummed out of the Republican party by none other than Judy Barr Topinka, the current Republican choice for governor.

And that is why I am totally indifferent to this year’s governor election – I don’t care whether Blogo, who is reeling from corruption investigations, or Topinka, who did all she could to ensure that the investigations never started, wins.

They both are terrible for Illinois.

Our state ought to just go to the Federal government and ask them to take over, the same way in which parts of Italy that are run by the mob appeal to the government to send in the Army.  We ought to request that the Federal government act as this army and clean out all of our rotten institutions and start over, from scratch.

That is going to happen anyways, just piece by piece.  Appointing real prosecutors buys the embattled politicians a bit of time because it shows that they grudgingly care about corruption, but as soon as the new people hit the ground they turn up so many disgusting and blatant episodes that the whole façade crumbles.

This is only starting to happen, but it is inevitable now, as long as the Feds don’t give up.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The End of the Condo Boom

This building, 182 W Lake Street, went condo a few years back (sorry for the picture, it is a bit hazy out my window today). The building is featured in an article in the September 23, 2006 Chicago Tribune article titled "Condo Prices Near A Cliff". According to the article, the developer held a 2 hour sale and sold 150 condos at an average discount of about 20%.

From this article they say that in high season a condo developer might make 50% on their money; in average time that is 20% and maybe as low as 10% in a market like this.

There is a lot of other inventory (units) on the market right now, and many, many more buildings still being built. The article also cites that some of the buildings targeted to "go condo" are being converted back to apartment buildings because of the changing market. This happened to a friend of mine who lived over on Ohio Street in the early 90's - some of the building went condo but then the rest of the units went back to apartments when the developer couldn't get the prices that he wanted.

Many times on this blog I have mentioned that Chicago's light (non-existent)regulatory environment has allowed this enormous infusion of cash to come in and add buildings and spruce up existing buildings. Regardless of whether or not the developers end up making money, the city is immensely better off with all of these new and rebuilt condos anchoring a vibrant downtown (even though our representative in the US Representatives is totally unrepresentative of this success). Probably once this batch is built there won't be much else built for another 10 years or so.

The most interesting quote in the article was this one:

"Equity residential...is moving our investments to high-barrier (areas) like New York, Boston, South Florida and California"...meaning places where the development approval process is stringent, long and costly"

In a nutshell this explains why Chicago, even though our government (along with the county and state of Illinois is mired in cronyism and scandal) has been able to prosper. Our ineffective and not physically present employees are failing to stifle capitalism with useless regulations that don't accomplish anything, anyways. Do you think that New York and Boston are better off dragging developers through the mud and raising their prices to sky-high levels as a result, ensuring that there is no low priced units, anywhere? They must think so, because that is the result of their managed scarcity. Get government out of the way, whether it is through corruption or incompetence, and things get better quickly. Posted by Picasa

Crack Chicago City Services

Chicago has insanely high property taxes for their down town condos. This is due to the fact that they were all built and sold recently so everything is priced at its peak. Thus everything was assessed at its peak, while other buildings that may have appreciated over the last few years are hit or miss depending on whether or not they have been recently sold.

Around 4pm a Cadillac died in the middle of the street, blocking southbound Wells street at Hubbard. Wells is a pretty major street and this is Friday night; there are popular restaurants on the street like Sushi Samba and Lou Malnati's pizza.

Well, here, the city is finally getting around to towing the caddy. At SIX THIRTY PM! For 2 1/2 hours the caddy sat there, blocking the street, causing cars, buses, and bikes to route around him in a dangerous fashion.

Glad to see that the City is wisely utilizing the tax dollars; probably at that same time meter maids were handing out tickets to cars with expired meters all around and ignoring this obstacle to public safety. Since there is no money in this for the city, why bother? Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 22, 2006

Better than John Loves Jane

In Chicago the city frequently tears up the streets and randomly patches the resulting chaos.

When I was a kid in the suburbs someone would always put their name in the wet concrete with a stick. An old lady would typically sit outside in a lawn chair in order to ensure that their sidewalk wouldn't be fouled.

But here people are too busy for that - they just step in it on the way to where ever they are going. Someone's shoe is not very happy right now. Posted by Picasa

Tornado Warning In Chicago!

We had a tornado warning in downtown Chicago today. The mayor turned the air raid sirens on about 6:15 pm and then black clouds came over the city. Then heavy rains came but no funnel clouds from what I could see.

We took our furniture off the deck and went away from the windows but we really didn't get any heavy winds, just a burst of rain. Our building is concrete so hopefully it is pretty stable.

I guess the last time the air raid sirens went off was when the White Sox won in 1959... so it has been a while. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Wrong, Again

To follow up Dan’s post about the glories of hanging out at the sports book in Vegas for a day of college football, I need to ruminate a bit about the experts.

All of the experts on CBS Sports Line took the Lions and 8 ½ points against the Bears last week – all 6 of them. Of course, they were all wrong. They haven’t gotten on the Bears bandwagon yet, but they will, in time.

You might want to check out TradeSports if you are inclined to bet on football and see what they are saying; they have a pretty good record for accuracy. I can’t figure out from their web site whether or not they accept US citizens and whether or not US citizens can “bet” online (not really betting, in fact selling and buying contracts on events, mostly the same). They at least have a decent line. In the last presidential election they called every US state correctly for the Electoral College (far better than the average journalist).

The US is starting to crack down on internet gambling by arresting the executives of foreign (mostly British) firms as they enter the US. I guess they want to make sure that the local bookie has the business and not a legitimate, publicly traded firm.

I am talking tough about the Bears because the Sox have fallen to pieces… I had tickets for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday of this week as I had planned to try to catch the day when they clinched the division (this was the off season, remember) and now there is nothing to see. I have a bad feeling that the Sox are going to follow the same trajectory as the Cubs – who almost won in 2003, then collapsed late in the season to barely miss the playoffs in 2004, then had a bad season in 2005, and are execrable in 2006 (one of the worst baseball seasons in Chicago in living memory). The Sox appear to be on year 2 of this dreadful 4 year plan.

UPDATE - I just checked and 6 of 6 CBS Sports experts are picking the Bears over Minnesota... gulp

Not Quite What They Meant To Say

In the usually interesting Chicago Reader recently on the front page there is a headline that I found kind of amusing

"Just a few ways to organize the fruits of the local fashion industry" with some guy (girl?) in a "Blade Runner" type makeup gear on the cover.

I guess that is Chicago Style... Posted by Picasa

People With Too Much Time on Their Hands

I usually don't comment on stuff that is beaten to death in the media such as the takeover of Marshall Fields by Macy's in Chicago. It is pretty much a non-event in everyone's life - not like they are shutting down the massive store on State Street.

However, I walked by the protestors and I have to say that I was entertained. They were happy to mug for the camera and if you look behind the big sign you can see a smaller sign with the tagline "God Hates Macy's" with a black Macy's stick man sodomizing a bent over white Marshall Fields stick man. I don't know if I fully understand all the metaphors but I have to give them credit for trying... Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Ruminations

Dan and I play a game series called “Combat Mission”. There is a very active message board where gamers post comments on the accuracy of the simulation and other general comments about the historical period. Some of these posters are astonishingly knowledgeable about world war two – even to the point of knowing where a particular unit was at a point in time and its particular situation in terms of available weaponry (planes, tanks, men, commanders, logistics, mission, etc…)

Many of the weapons are pretty obscure, especially in the early-war time period of 1939-1941. Italian, Axis Minor Allies (Hungarians, Finns and Romanians) as well as the Russians and Poles have little known tanks, planes and armaments. Even though some of the tanks were built by the thousands such as the Soviet BT and T26 series

In reading about some of these tanks at the message boards I was directed to another site, where an individual started putting up photos from WW2 taken by enlisted solders on the Russian front which frequently featured knocked out Russian tanks. These photos apparently were kept in shoe boxes or people’s attics and they are only now starting to come to light, 60 years after the end of the war, as the last survivors of that terrible trauma fade away.

In parallel I try to keep up on whatever the Economist magazine is writing about (even though I am still sore at them for endorsing Kerry in 2004) and they have a book review section. One of the books that is getting a lot of press now is called “The Road” by McCarthy – it is about a father and son that walk across the wasteland of a post nuclear war world in search of the sea. The book seems to be unfathomably grim – with cannibals and everything extinct and pretty much the end of the world.

What is interesting to me is that when someone wants to make a big “statement” in fiction they need to reach for something like a post-nuclear world or some other supernatural event. This inevitably is read about some kind of parable about how man (usually the west personified by George W. Bush) is leading us down the road to ruin and it is some sort of call to arms to stop him and “wake up”.

Really, although “The Road” sounds horrific, why couldn’t that writer just have turned his sights over to the real horrors of the war in the East from 1941-5. If you would have been present at that world it would have seemed like the end of time; the entire front for thousands of miles was mayhem with both sides adopting insane scorched earth tactics and burning cities, grain and their enemies. Civilians were dragged into the resistance and partisans which resulted in savage reprisals by the Axis and only furthered the war until everyone was a combatant. As the war started to turn against the Axis in 1943, they began to walk across the vast steppe, one step ahead of the Russians, trying to stay alive and cross river after river while the surviving civilian population was caught between a hideous crossfire and the prospect of re-collectivization under Stalin. Look at those photos and imagine life there; how different is is, really?

Why wouldn’t the writer have chosen the East from 1941-5? Because it wouldn’t have suited his political ends. Only in the final conflagration between communism and fascism were the ridiculousness of these two ideologies truly exposed as well as the manner in which they compare against freedom and liberal democracy. It is much easier to imply that the West’s greed is what is driving us to ruin, while history shows us that armed democracies willing to stand up to murderous ideologues is the only buffer against insane dictatorships of various stripes.

The third leg of these sad ruminations is that, in fact, “The Road” didn’t just take place between 1941-5 in the East. It also takes place today in the Congo, where over 4 million civilians have lost their lives or starved in the face of anarchy and the battles between the rebels and government forces. If you followed a family walking across the Congo to reach a refugee camp the story wouldn’t be that much different; I don’t know about cannibals (unlikely) but child soldiers carrying AK 47 MG’s are probably about as dangerous all things considered. Certainly the lack of organized and systematic human society across the war torn areas of the Congo would have to bring some sort of novel forth. But this novel, alas, also wouldn’t further anyone’s ends, because there is no context by which you could blame America. The UN is supposed to be straightening out that situation; I am not holding my breath on that one. Death and chaos, which is everywhere in today’s world once you walk outside the developed world, is of no literary value unless it represents truths that are held as self evident by their community.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Better Than Jimmy the Greek

Of all of the gambling activities at casinos in Las Vegas I enjoy the sportsbook the most. It is slow paced, relaxing and you can watch ALL of the football games at once while drinking for free, smoking a cigar and you can yell and scream and people won't look at you funny. There are no hot or cold streaks and you always get into good conversations with many of the other guys watching the games.

I do it this way. I select 25 or so games, usually the bigger ones, and place "x" dollars on one team, plus or minus the points, of course, straight up to win. No parlay cards, no crazy halftime bets or anything else - just one team, to win.

This way, I always have action in play all day long for college football Saturday. And it is great for early birds like me because everything starts at 9am Vegas time and doesn't end until 9pm. A truly great way to spend an afternoon. And I spend it at Caesars sportsbook, arguably the biggest and best on the Strip.

Oh yes, one more thing. I really don't have too much time in my normal life to spend on injury reports, streaks, odds or anything else. So I have my little girl do my picks for me. Oh - how does she pick? I simply read the teams full names off and she randomly picks the one she likes best. Funny, you say? Last year she went 16-10 against the spread, making a tidy profit for good ol' dad. And it is her college fund money anyway so I may as well let her make the picks! Just kidding on that last part.

This years picks by my daughter (her pick is in bold), for the games to be played Saturday, September 23, 2006.
Virginia at Georgia Tech
Northwestern at Nevada
Penn State at Ohio State
Iowa State at Texas
West Virginia at East Carolina
Kentucky at Florida
Rice at Florida State
Wisconsin at Michigan
Colorado at Georgia
Louisville at Kansas State
Iowa at Illinois
Middle Tennessee State at Oklahoma
North Carolina at Clemson
Troy at Nebraska
Arizona State at California
Boston College at North Carolina State
Minnesota at Purdue
Wake Forest at Mississippi
Cincinnati at Virginia Tech
UCLA at Washington
Air Force at Wyoming
Washington State at Stanford
Alabama at Arkansas
USC at Arizona
Notre Dame at Michigan State
Tulane at LSU

I have a few other picks she did in hand if some of these games are not even on the board, like the Tulane/LSU game.

Someone Had a Bad Day

Ever walk by those signs showing the # of days between a "lost time injury"? Looks like either someone working on this condominium had a bad day or the guy keeping the sign up to date is a bit behind in his work... Posted by Picasa

All I Need To Know I Learned From "Bitch" Magazine

Following up on my confusing the data miners blog, “Bitch” magazine has the tagline a “feminist response to pop culture”. This magazine appears periodically around my household (they tend to publish erratically, I guess) and I am a non-discriminating reader so I usually devour anything in sight.

To be fair, there is a lot to complain about in the way the media treats women, from the amazingly lurid rap videos to cutting 20 pounds off Ms. Couric to Hot Topic fashions for teenage girls. Thus they have chosen a pretty fat target for satire and "social commentary".

Since “Bitch” represents a world totally different from anything that I inhabit, I thought I’d write down my “lessons learned” (in corporate-speak) that I found from reading this magazine:


  1. Women don’t need kids; in fact, they are a big burden and keeping women from reaching their full potential. I guess the “Rosie” lesbian mom thing isn’t as popular amongst the average Bitch reader; there are little or no mentions about kids anywhere

  2. Every woman needs at least 43 multi-colored sex toys. Sex toy ads make up about 60% of their total ad pages; it is like beer ads in ESPN magazine

  3. George W. Bush is the worst man who ever lived. Who needs Stalin, Hitler or Mao; isn’t it just obvious that George is the devil?

  4. The only woman in the whole magazine who has anything good to say anything about men is the “sex worker” that they interview. She says that she is going to retire on all the investment tips that she receives from her clients

  5. Wonder Woman is an oppressed sex icon “denied her erotic and feminist history”. Who knew?

  6. Women need to be trained to fight since otherwise they are going to get raped (self defense classes). How about a gun, instead of trying to fight off someone who outweighs you by 100 pounds? Oh, I forgot, guns are bad just like George W. Bush

  7. The Catholic Church is a terrible institution, oppressing women. Yes they are suffering here, as opposed to under the Taliban or anywhere in the Muslim world, where they have absolutely no rights whatsoever

Hey, it is their right to say what the heck they want and represent the world any way that they feel is right for them. That is called freedom of speech and, well it didn’t come because we held a sit-in or wrote a letter or raised our political consciousness… it happened under force of arms as we resisted first the British and then fascism, communism and now terrorism.

But no need to mention any of that. I’ll just buy sex toy 44.

Confusing the Data Miners

Back when I was in consulting I was working with a client who was a supplier to WalMart.

WalMart's big advantages over everyone else come down to:

1) clarity of purpose ("everyday low pricing")
2) massive purchasing scale
3) investments in information technology

WalMart was a massive investor in information technology. To this day they set the standards for such technologies as RFID tags.

One of the things that they did was "data mining" (lots of companies do it today, but they were one of the first to do it on a massive scale) which consists of looking at register transaction data and attempting to find patterns in what people buy. There are many other uses for data mining but this is one of the most typical uses.

Since WalMart has a gigantic base of transactions to choose from they can get a pretty clear picture of what people want and when - they were notable for preparing for hurricanes before they even hit and stocking their stores appropriately.

I'll bet that they are struggling with this "basket" - "Bitch" magazine and "Warships International Fleet Review"... Posted by Picasa

Monday, September 18, 2006

Who Could Have Anticipated Being Laid Off From Motorola?

People switch jobs all the time.  Generally it is done without a lot of fanfare.  Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.

There was an interesting article in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune titled “Change Comes, People Go” dated 9/17/06 about a woman who left IBM to come to Motorola and took a high level job in their purchasing area.  She was the favorite of someone who was running Motorola at that time and when the new boss, Ed Zander (from SUN), came in, her duties were reduced and through some series of events she left the company, refused their offers for severance, and ended up suing the company.  There are some meeting notes or recollection they mentioned as evidence when Zander said to fire her and do it legally (i.e. with whatever process was needed to keep this out of court) but in the end that process failed because clearly it is in court now.

A lot of this information is coming to light because apparently they are using the process of discovery, which allows them to depose senior executives and ask them questions, and then somehow this information is becoming public knowledge.  From the looks of the article they are even able to get all the way to Zander since they have comments from him on the process of how she was let go.

Obviously her strategy of suing is pretty serious because she has gotten these top level executives deposed.  She can also use the discrimination precedent since she is a woman over the age where there are protections in place.  It must be expensive to do all these court cases – if she can finance this then perhaps she can win it, if she can continue to pay all the lawyers by the hour.  More likely, there will be some sort of out-of-court settlement and this whole thing will go away and die down and fall out of the papers.

The interesting items, however, aren’t what they appear to be.  The REAL items are:

  1. Who would go to Motorola and expect any sort of job security?  The company has been shedding workers and entire lines of business (see Freescale, their former semiconductor arm, with thousands of employees and billions of dollars of assets and revenues) for years and years.  Even the teeniest amount of due diligence would have shown that maybe, Motorola, those guys might lay you off

  2. If you went to Motorola as a high level executive (knowing that everything changes), why didn’t you get it written in a contract? Per the article her compensation was in the $500k or so range and it seems like she could have negotiated a contract or something that guaranteed some level of position or pay or duties

  3. When you refuse severance and sue your employer, that is a tough road to take – why would you do it?  The severance package is more than it appears – not only do they pay you a sum of money but you essentially give up future claims against the company.  That is why the company is really offering you the agreement, not for some sort of “goodwill” or because they think they will need you again someday.  The amount that they offered her (to no longer work there, remember) seemed to be around $500k per the article, so it wasn’t like they were trying to give her nothing (for a couple years of work).  When you turn severance down and sue the company, however, then it is going to be VERY hard to find a commensurate position somewhere else, because the new employer is going to figure that you will sue them, too!  Since she failed #1 and #2, above, and apparently walked away from $5M in options value from IBM (don’t know if that was vested or projected value; it must have been projected because if she was vested she would have just cashed out when she left IBM), then she was weighing this ‘phantom’ money in her calculations as to whether or not to sue her employer, and it apparently pushed her into doing it.  

It will be interesting to see if the Chicago Tribune follows up on this to its resolution.  This case is an opportunity to see behind the curtain and into the processes of executive promotion and termination and the politics and processes along with it.

Why is This So Complicated?

Posted by Picasa In our living room we have track lighting on the celing but don't have a lamp near where we are often reading while looking out the window. Thus we went out to "Lightology" on Chicago avenue to look for something to buy.

Lightology is a cool store. When you walk up to the story you can see wacky and "arty" fixtures on three stories - it looks particularly good at night.

Most of the lights are obscenely priced... like in the high hundreds or thousands. Our tube lamp here, about 5 feet high, was on sale and pretty reasonable in terms of cost.

So I walked over to one of what I thought was a salesman sitting at a desk. The guy didn't want anything to do with me. I said:

"I'd like to buy a light"

He looked at me with a pained expression and called for a salesperson on the intercom, like as if I threw up in the aisle at WalMart or something. I guess he was a 'lighting consultant' and not a sales person. Who knew?

The woman next to him at the desk was on the phone but she soon had pity on me and was quite polite. She took my order and then I understood that not only were the sales consultants not selling lights (remember, there is nothing but lights in the whole damn store), but that the light store didn't actually STOCK lights. She gave me a form and directions to their warehouse and said I could pick it up - it was open on Saturday, which was a good thing. The lighting warehouse was perilously close to Chicago's worst intersection but traffic wasn't that bad, after all.

I like my light but boy, that has to be a high margin business. My shuttle PC (bare bones) was about the same price as that light, and the light is basically 1) a bulb 2) a ceramic tube 3) a controller / dimmer. I can't imagine that the components for that light cost more than 10 bucks in China, a bit more if from the states. Contrast that with my little PC which has about 1 million parts and does a lot of things other than turn on and turn off.

In any case, although I like my light, it seems like purchasing a light is WAY more complicated than it ought to be. Our productivity in retailing seems to be a bit low...

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Our Flagpole



Last year we had a mishap when we left the flag pole behind at the Bears game (we took the flags). That year also ended with a humiliating loss to Steve Smith who seemed to catch a million passes against the Bears.

This year was starting off poorly with the Bears requesting money for a PSL for us and with no parking; it was looking grim. Working through my friend Brian; we found parking and that inspired Dan to purchase a NEW flag pole and today he hit a new high in tailgating food (shrimp and ribs). Now we are on a tailgating roll and so are the Bears, too.

Funny how things turn around so quickly... Posted by Picasa

Bears Vs. Lions

Prior to the game on CBS sports the Bears were favored by 8 1/2 points and all the "experts" picked the Lions (6 of 6) to cover the spread.

For us Bears fans, the destruction of the Lions was a great occasion and our offense emerged from the doldrums to score 34 points, including a lot of big-time plays. For the first time in my memory the Bears actually hit a receiver IN STRIDE (moving sideways or towards the QB doesn't count) which is needed to step up into the top tier of NFL offenses.

Along with the great weather and fine playing when we were walking towards the stadium after tailgating we saw the above occasion captured on camera - looks like some tail-gater hired some sort of entertainer to provide lap-dancing. This was a good time just like the weather and just like the great performance of the Bears that smashed the Lions and made a mockery of William's guarantee that the Lions would win.

GO BEARS!!!

It was also the first time that Dan, Paul and I met in person in the same place. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Rock Lives

The Thermals - How We Know

My take on the "rock is dead" comment of a few posts ago. I think rock never died, just isn't as popular as it once was. Obviously it is pushed from the front pages of the charts but still lives on in clubs and on XM radio, where I heard this song. Yes it sounds like the Pixies, but that is just fine with me. There are scads of groups like The Thermals out there making decent music, you just won't find it at Sam Goody, or Amazon. Long live rock.

The Information War

I had a bit of spare time last night so was able to put Fox News on for a while. It appears there is some wrangling about altering the Geneva Conventions, or at least our membership in it, so we can more effectively interrogate captured terrorists. As usual, the story is dumbed down to the lowest levels so the average fourth grader can understand what is going on. The problem with this story, as is the problem with so much of what we see on TV, is that in dumbing down the story so everyone can understand it, you lose what the story actually means.

The real story has two parts. The first is the War Crimes Act (please read, it is tiny), which was passed in 1996 by a Republican Congress, and signed by Bill Clinton. The original intent was to make criminal, in the US Code, violations of the Geneva Convention. The purpose of this was to make it easier for the US to prosecute North Vietnamese military personnel who tortured and otherwise abused US Prisoners of War. John McCain knows all about that.

The military at the time said, what the hell, lets include us in the statute so we can be held to the high standard as well.

Then came the law of unintended consequences.

A new war was started on September 11, 2001 - a war like none we have ever fought. There are no uniforms, no military formations, no fleets, no large armies maneuvering, no air forces dogfighting, no tanks spread across any battlefield. This war is civilization against a bunch of thugs who use the murder of innocent people - men, women and children - to achieve their goals.

In the past, wars were fought mostly by standing armies sponsored by states and for the most part the sides were pretty well defined. The term "front lines" is hardly used anymore. That is because the front lines are pretty much all over the globe. There is no Eastern Front or Maginot Line or anything else like it. We are at war with people who plan, murder, then melt back into their cities.

When we capture these creatures (I won't call them men) we immediately have to get as much information out of them as we can. And it is these interrogation techniques that seem to be causing all of the ruckus these days. With the case of Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld we were presented with a bit of a conundrum - remember that law of unintended consequences I mentioned? Here is one of the questions that Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld presented:


Whether petitioner and others similarly situated can obtain judicial enforcement from an Article III court of rights protected under the 1949 Geneva Convention in an action for a writ of habeas corpus challenging the legality of their detention by the Executive branch?
Which brings us to the second part of this whole inane battle, the Geneva Convention. First a bit of history, from the Geneva Conventions own website.


The first Geneva Convention was signed in 1864 to protect the sick and wounded in war time. This first Geneva Convention was inspired by Henri Dunant, founder of the Red Cross. Ever since then, the Red Cross has played an integral part in the drafting and enforcement of the Geneva Conventions. These included the 1899 treaties, concerning asphyxiating gases and expanding bullets. In 1907, 13 separate treaties were signed, followed in 1925 by the Geneva Gas Protocol, which prohibited the use of poison gas and the practice of bacteriological warfare. In 1929, two more Geneva Conventions dealt with the treatment of the wounded and prisoners of war. In 1949, four Geneva Conventions extended protections to those shipwrecked at sea and to civilians.
I really like that part about asphyxiating gases that was signed in 1899 - I guess everybody forgot about that section a decade and a half later. But I digress.

The Geneva Conventions were originally designed, and later altered and amended to try to set up some sort of rules of warfare so combatants and civilians could be treated humanely (if possible in war) and with respect. Of course it never worked and never will work. The twentieth century is filled with ghastly stories from the Eastern Front to Okinawa to Vietnam to Cuba. All over the world wars were fought and atrocities committed, prisoners tortured, civilians maimed.

That aside, the US is a civilized nation and we have apparently decided to hold ourselves up to our end of the bargain. By the way, these terrorists organizations were NOT signatories to the Geneva Conventions last time I checked, therefore vacating them from these protections. Let's just set that aside for the sake of argument.

The can of worms that Hamdan opened up was that if personnel working for the US violated Geneva Conventions rules they may...may...be open for prosecution under the War Crimes Act. It looks like Bush is trying to set some firm ground rules for interrogation techniques, instead of the VERY grey area that Hamdan set down.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the real crux of the argument.

I simply cannot get past the fact that these terrorists have no Geneva Conventions protections because they did not sign the damned thing. That aside, we have to lose this attitude of treating these thugs with any sort of respect.

When they capture US troops, they cut them up, booby trap the corpses and make a video of it and put it on a website. They desecrate the bodies as well. Don't forget that. When we capture them, they get three squares and a place to worship. And then we argue about if they have certain rights or not. They shoot from mosques and hospitals and other places that civilians live. We make great pains not to knock those structures down. Civilized, yes we are. Smart? I don't know.

I do know one thing - we have to get more serious about this war. Maybe it will take a US city getting nuked for us to just get back to old times - where no quarter was given or taken. Us or them. I look forward to the day where we once again have hatred like our boys did in taking Okinawa - if you don't know what I mean, read the section about Okinawa in Victor Hanson's Ripples of Battle. You will quickly understand how useless at times those pieces of paper known as the Geneva Conventions really are in the heat of a war. Especially when both sides don't give a damn anymore.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Rock Star Supernova And the Death of Rock N' Roll

I recently got into watching Rock Star Supernova. This TV series has a dozen or so aspiring rock stars to front a band with Gilby Clark (formerly of GNR), Jason Newsted (formerly of Metallica) and the fabulous Tommy Lee, a man who needs no introduction. Last year they looked for someone to front INXS after the death of Michael Hutchence.

Once they got past the first wobbly ones and then finally eliminated the babes (including the internet-ready Storm Large) the final ones were really pretty talented. They covered some good songs including Radiohead and some old Hendrix and even an oddball Deep Purple Song (“Hush”).

As I watch it on Tivo (nothing is live anymore) waiting for the final results I am really thinking to myself…

This is the last nail in the coffin of rock n’ roll

Why is that? There is NO rock n’ roll in the band members. They sit politely, ask polite and mildly amusing questions, and pensively ponder their responses.

Is this what rock n’ roll is all about? Where is the rebellion? Where is the energy?

I have a hard time imagining how any of these guys even got IN to rock n’ roll in the first place. When I think of rock n’ roll I think of the iconic picture of Jimmy Page sitting backstage tipping a bottle of Jack Daniels straight up and just pounding it for the sake of, whatever. I imagine Dave Mustaine getting kicked out of Metallica for drinking too much! Those are rock n’ roll memories, not slick and well thought out commentary to a generic rock n’ roll track.

But really, rock n’ roll has lost its edge a long time ago. The Sex Pistols put a big fork in it with their “Never Mind the Bullocks” album and rap stole their rebellious thunder and pretty much isn’t going to give it back (you can’t get more rebellious than killing someone who disses you or getting shot nine times while drug dealing). Country music stole the Bon Jovi lighters in the air crowd that used to listen to Motley Crue and just gets bigger every year, too.

In retrospect Grunge was the last high water mark, just like the German’s last gasp in 1944 during the battle of the Bulge when they threw their reserves in a desperate attack as the war wound down. Now there is nothing left but a few pockets such as Radiohead or an underground death metal group or two, and Tool / The Mars Volta / Queens of the Stone Age progressive rock holdouts.

Rock is Dead.

YouTube is the Best Thing Sinced Sliced Bread

Winston Churchill Inspirational

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

All I Need to Know In Life I Learned Playing Combat Mission

At one point there was a popular book called “All I Needed To Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. It was the kind of book you could polish off while you were standing around waiting for someone at the bookstore, or at least get the major gist of it.

Dan and I occasionally refer to a game that we play each other (religiously) by email called Combat Mission. This game is a technical WW2 simulation that is very realistic from a tactical perspective – it isn’t a “first person shooter”. You need to utilize real-world tactics in order to achieve success in the game and poor planning and implementation is harshly punished by failed battles and missed objectives.

Dan always plays the Allies and I always play the Axis. Thus when we play on the Eastern Front he has the Russians, and the Russians often feature “conscript” or “green” level soldiers. These soldiers represent very hastily trained men who are thrown into battle for the first time; they generally fare very poorly on the battlefield. Poorly trained soldiers take a long time to obey orders (i.e. “move out”), go to ground at the first sign of enemy fire, and when panicked take forever to “rally” back to the battle.

After playing for a long time Dan has some “rules of thumb” that he uses for playing conscripts. He judges success not in typical terms (taking objectives, holding them against the enemy, etc…) but in rather unique terms – how much of their ammo did they shoot off before being routed by enemy fire or otherwise destroyed? A dead conscript unit or knocked out tank or gun with little or no ammo remaining is a successful conscript!

I was recently reading a book about the Spanish Civil War called “The Battle For Spain” by Beevor (a book I will write about in more depth in a future post). On page 213 of the book, a Russian observer talks about the crazy tactics employed by the Russians who were waging the world war by proxy:

“During the battles near Jarama, battalion commander Comrade Glaziev considered that the best crews were those that fired off the most shells.”

So maybe we are on to something, after all!

Monday, September 11, 2006

James J. Woods


Five years ago today....well, you know.

I remember watching it on a tiny TV here at work, at the same desk I write this from.

"What an awful accident" I said to myself. Then the second plane. Then the Pentagon, then Pennsylvania. Mayhem.

My feelings were of sorrow and anger - lots and lots of anger. Three thousand of my brothers and sisters were murdered in cold blood over a corrupt, backward ideology of oppression, tyranny and genocide.

Sure they took some of us with them, but we will never surrender, never forget, never give up. No quarter will be given. And although, at times, we feel scared that the next attack (and there will be a next one, someday, somewhere) may be at the mall that we shop at or the school our children attend, we as Americans know that we will survive, prosper and thrive. We will continue shopping, educating, attending sporting events, going about our daily lives. Or we will die. Simple as that. There will be no caliphate, there will be no conversion to radical islam.

We have faced worse - much worse. Read any short history about the 20th century and you will see what I mean.

But this is the 21st century and this is my war. I am 37. Too young to remember Vietnam. 911 was one of the defining moments of my life. I will always live with a burning hatred of those who would harm innocent Americans. Or innocents in general. The massacre of innocent children (children!) in Beslan, Russia was also a defining moment for me. But my burning hatred for islamofascists takes a back seat today, September 11, 2006.

Today, for many of us, the victims don't seem so personal.

As time goes by, the video of the Towers falling from the heights of the skyline of New York City fades...the photos of the scarred land in Pennsylvania start to lose focus...the heat from the Pentagon burning subsides...and the pain starts to go away...as we go about our daily routines.

But not for me. It never will.

We routinely throw out the words "3,000 victims" when speaking of our murdered citizens of that day. We also routinely forget that each person had a life, a family, friends, a career, dreams and hopes. Occasionally, I go to some of the 911 victim sites to look at photos of those that were murdered. Their faces have made an unbelievable impression on me. Not necessarily for their beauty or because a certain one was unique. They affect me because behind the picture is a person who one day was off to work or on vacation - a day like any other day - and never came home that night or made it to their destination.

Their faces remind me that those individuals who were in the planes, the Towers and the Pentagon were people, not numbers. They weren't "3,000 victims", they were individual persons living the American dream. Those people weren't inside the Towers that morning to fight or play or enforce their religious beliefs on anyone else. They were there to work. To make money to support their families. To advance their careers. To make ends meet. They were killed, in cold blood, for doing what is right.

I repeat: those normal, everyday folks were murdered for doing what was right. That is, being productive citizens of our great country.

Yes, I said GREAT country. For all of our politics, corruption, and all of the other things I still love the USA and always will.

I have volunteered to honor one victim of Sept. 11, 2001. I am one of many bloggers that will do so today.

2996 is an initiative by 2,996 bloggers to memorialize our fallen from that terrible day. Each blogger signs up to honor one victim - my assignment is James J. Woods.

A tough assignment indeed, to pay tribute to a person I have never known, and never will. Here is what I was given.

He was killed at the World Trade Center and was from New York.

He was a traders assistant for a firm in the World Trade Center.

That is all of the information I had received.

I suppose many bloggers will leave it at that, but not me. I want to remember him, show to the world - the few that read this anyway - what kind of a person he was, what he did, what he liked, things like that.

No.

I had, in the original draft of this post, put up personal information about the victim I was assigned. I had the phone number of his parents and was getting ready to call them to see if they would like to add anything. I had Googled and searched the internet some and found some details of his life that I was considering writing about. And then I said to myself...no. This just is not right.

After thinking about this for a very long time I have decided not to put up the personal information of the victim I was assigned. The privacy of his family, to me, is much more important than anything I could ever do with this blog. I will simply state his name. That should suffice.

James J. Woods.

Here is his photo I procured from a 911 victims memorial website.

James, your picture affects me as deeply as all of the others I have viewed on the 911 memorial sites. Because I know you were not part of "3000 victims" - you were an individual with a personality, a career, loved ones left behind. Rest in peace my brother.

To the family of Mr. Woods, if you by some chance see my link from the 2996 project and would like me to write something about your family member, please email me. I would be more than happy to do so. The address is in my blogger profile if you click on "Dan from Madison" under contributors on the left sidebar. I hope you think I did the right thing.

Today is a sad day for all of us, but we move on.


"Now the only way to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. We must delight in each other; make others' conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as his own people. For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world."

John Winthrop, 1630

Ed. note...this post went through three rewritings and was easily the toughest I have ever done.

Ed. note #2 - The comments section for this entry is closed.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Rout

What an outstanding win...punishing the hapless Packers in their house like I have seen the Bears get smoked so many times at Soldier Field. Paybacks are a bitch. The only thing better will be when I get to see the Bears smack the Pack again on New Years Eve in our house.

I can't wait for the home opener next week. South Lot pass, ribs, shrimp, homemade black bean salsa, brownies and Miller Low Life. And hopefully another dominating performance by the D and decent performance by the O. Let the good times roll...time to dominate the Lions.

Doormat


There can be no question that Illinois will be, yet again, the doormat of the Big Ten, for the fourth year in a row.

I never cease to be amazed at how very bad the Illinois Flailing Illini can truly be. Yesterday we were down thirty to zero at halftime. For the game we had a total of 130 yards of total offense and never moved the ball into Rutgers territory. Insane.

Can't you take a knee every time you get the ball and do better than being behind by THIRTY points at halftime?

For those following, here is the craptacular pool update for the contest between myself and a few of the inmates over at the Astronomicon...like I said, the only team I am worried about is Tulane, who got stomped yesterday as well.

Dan from Madison (Illinois) - 50
Skaterat (Washington) - 25
Astro (Tulane) - 20 (one game in hand)
Snakeye (AFA) - 15 (one game in hand)

Good start for me here. I am not looking forward to the Big Ten season. It will be good for my pool points, however. If this game was any indicator, we will surely go 0-8 again this year. I am beginning to think of us as the Northwestern of the new millenium. Remember how bad NU was back in the seventies and eighties?

I will stand by my convictions, though. College football coaches need three years to fix a flailing program. This year will be misery, but next year there must be SOME improvement or we will be acquiring this url:
www.fireronzook.com

One more thing, the Astronomicon is a pretty good blog if you like older military style guns. For some good reading, just click on over and go to his sidebar under "guns and shooting". Lots of good photos on how he reworks/cleans old military surplus weapons and then shoots 'em.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Seeing Things

The Black Crowes - Seeing Things (Live)

With XM radio I am hearing a lot of songs that reming me of certain times in my life. One of the very best times was a crazy commando run I made with a friend to the Memphis in May festival. It was one of the very best weekends of my life.

We drank beer, ate crawfish, and saw the Black Crowes on the banks of the Mississippi River later that night. This is a nice recording of one of my favorite Crowes songs.

Too bad they fell apart in the late nineties - the Black Crowes, IMHO, were one of the very finest bands around in the early nineties.

The Moving Wall

The Moving Wall, which is a half sized mobile version of The Wall in Washington DC came to Madison this week. I decided to leave a bit early for work and make the trip to the VFW to pay my respects. Please forgive the photos as it was 4:30 am, misty and very dark. The Moving Wall is here for three days and is open 24 hours a day. The Wall was well illuminated, but very hard to photograph. There was also one other person there that was viewing the Wall and I didn't feel it appropriate to use my flash and possibly disturb him. Most moving wasn't the wall itself, rather the flowers, notes, cards and photos left behind at the base of the wall by friends, family and loved ones that lost a person in Vietnam. Estimates put the number of Wisconsin fatalities from Vietnam at just over one thousand. On my way out I made a cash donation. The men manning the display were, I assume, volunteers from the local VFW. They offered to help me find a name on the wall if need be. I said nope, just paying my respects. They were glad I came - and so was I.

































Thursday, September 07, 2006

Electricity Deregulation and Impending Chaos in Illinois

Illinois Electricity Auction Background

Illinois is about to come upon an era of electricity uncertainty. About 10 years ago a “rate freeze” for residential customers was enacted as part of regulatory “deregulation” (I hate to use that word, because it was only regulated differently) and rates have been frozen since 1997. Here is a good summary of where we are today.

In early 2006 the Illinois Commerce Commission approved a plan for an electricity auction. The ICC set up a controversial electricity auction in September and it occurred last Monday. The results will be released on 9/12 (next Tuesday). The rates will be published towards the end of September and the new rates will be effective Jan 1, 2007. Here is an excellent summary of the process (from the eyes of a company that wants to sell deregulated electricity to Illinois customers, so take it with a bit of salt).

In parallel, Commonwealth Edison (the local electricity affiliate of Exelon, the giant Midwestern utility holding company that also owns power companies and other assets across the country) is moving for a rate increase to pay for this increased power cost. ComEd asked for a big increase, but was granted a far smaller increase. Even this increase is controversial, however, and ComEd is trying to offer a phased in rate increase of 10% / year for the next 3 years, financed at 6.5% / year (meaning you are going to end up paying for the whole thing in the end, plus interest, at ComEd’s benefit).

Politicians and Posturing

ComEd is also taking out a lot of local advertisements trying to drum up sympathy, saying that they haven’t had a rate increase in a decade, and now we have to pay for the higher costs. What they aren’t saying is that we are passing the higher costs right back to the ComEd holding company Exelon, who is going to make money hand-over-fist selling back cheap nuclear power to the regulated entity who will continually cry wolf.

Illinois politicians are scrambling for survival. Lisa Madigan, the State’s Attorney General, is busy suing the state agencies that are planning this process and fighting it tooth and nail, all the more to say that she “did something” to help Illinois citizens. Of course, she probably has plenty of time on her hands since she doesn’t bother to go after the corrupt politicians that run every corner of our state, that is apparently a job for the FBI.

Rod Blagojevich, our governor, is also getting involved. He fired the head of the ICC who started this auction process and attempted to replace him with the head of the Citizen’s Utility Board (CUB), a protest group that acts on behalf of the ratepayers and fights all the rate increases and generally despises our Illinois utilities (well deserved scorn, unfortunately). He knows that high electrical rates are going to play right in the hands of his future opponents and are supremely unpopular. You don’t get to be governor in Illinois without pandering, after all – look at REPUBLICAN George Ryan freeing all the scum off death row in a pathetic attempt to win sympathy votes (enjoy your 6 ½ years in the pen, hope you rot and die there).

Likely Outcomes

No one knows what is going to happen. There are estimates that rates will not go up much at all, all the way up to them increasing 100%. I don’t want to speculate since I don’t have direct facts but it is likely that rates will rise a lot and we will need to either 1) swallow the rate increases 2) take more dire action against Exelon.

By dire action, I mean the government of Illinois seizing the power plants and just running them at cost. I know this sounds radical and anti-capitalist but the people of Illinois paid for these plants in the first place – it isn’t like ComEd’s former parent company took any risk here. They spun off the assets in a dubious Enron fever-dream and now they are worth a ton of money, and Exelon is going to spin this money into gold. Alternatively, Illinois could just make ComEd (local affiliate) go broke and demand that the parent company subsidize them; likely Exelon wouldn’t take the bait and would go the way of Entergy who let their local New Orleans affiliate go bankrupt after hurricane Katrina rather than pay all the rebuilding costs.

I think that the Illinois politicians are a crafty lot and won’t just go down to certain electoral defeat; Blogo’s firing of the ICC commissioner was a pretty big shot across the bow and I really think that he has some cards up his sleeve.

Of course, the REAL solution, which is to take down the barriers against new plant construction emplaced by the NIMBY’s and to pro-actively encourage people to site new generation in Illinois, is going nowhere. Exelon isn’t going to invest in generation with these clouds over their head, and the lead time and uncertainty is too great for anyone else to step in.

This situation is going to get worse and worse. The Midwest recently hit new electricity peaks, and New York was undergoing a series of blackouts in July when I went there to see the Colbert Report taping.

The Future

It is apparent that anyone who is relying on the utilities and governments to provide power is deluding themselves. They lack the political will to invest in new generation and transmission resources needed to meet skyrocketing demand. They refuse to face down the NIMBY’s who halt progress and scream about emissions and dog nuclear power every step of the way. This problem is snowballing, and the remaining utility companies have no incentive to “fix” the situation because they are in a monopoly, catbird seat since they own the generation and there is no financial benefit to them in adding capacity that will only compete against their assets (not to mention the risks involved with building it in the first place).

The future is local generation. People will either get their own backup generation or one for their subdivision. People will develop innovative power technologies on a local level. The market will expand.

Of course, I am talking about the rich and well-off, as well as businesses. The poor will rely on the public grid as it disintegrates and gets more costly and less effective. Like our schools and public housing, it will fall into disrepair.

I hope the NIMBY’s are happy, since rising electricity rates are the most regressive taxes and costs known to man. I don’t notice it, but the poor will have to make horrible choices between food, rent and power. This is so obvious, and they will blame everyone but themselves.

Great Advertising

In the annal's of great advertising no one does it better than Al Johnson's restaurant in Door County (Sister Bay, to be exact).

It was absolute genius to cover the roof with sod and grass and then put goats up there to keep the lawn low. Whenever you drive by that restaurant there are cars lined up as gapers and people jump out (like me!) to snap a photo of the critters up on the roof.

There are a lot of pricey advertising and marketing consultants out in the world and they charge a lot of money for their services. This restaurant came up with this cheap, unique and original way to draw in business and it is working like a charm. Sometimes it is best just to figure it out for yourself... Posted by Picasa