Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Paul Anka

I can name that tune in three notes....

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Portland Takes a Bite Out of Vegas

Those machines you see in the background are legitimate gambling machines. They play slots and video poker.
This photo isn't in some bar in Vegas - it is in Portland, Oregon and the machines are sponsored by the Oregon Lottery. When there was a winner, a ticket was produced by the machine and the patron went up to the bar to receive his or her payout.

I was amazed to see these machines literally everywhere. In fact, some establishments advertise "no gambling machines". They must really bug some people. They really don't bug me, but the cigarette smoke that usually comes from the patrons that use them does. I would bet there is a pretty positive correlation between slot machine players and smoking.

I congratulate Oregon for doing this. Why not? They are simply capturing revenue that they would be losing to an indian reservation or to Vegas. The machines to me are ugly and nonsensical, but who am I to decide how someone likes to enjoy their spare time? Of course you will have those who blow all of their money on this activity, but again, they would be blowing it somewhere, so why shouldn't the State of Oregon cash in?

For years I have been wondering why states don't do some sort of sports betting. It would be utterly simple for the states to set up lottery machines and allow people to insert their money and make their picks on games. Everybody is already using the internet and bookies for this activity and it is no secret.

Portland - Random Thoughts

Click any photo for larger.

Last week I went to Portland, OR for a couple of days. I didn't have tons of time for sightseeing, but was able to spend at least a few hours exploring what the city had to offer.

My hotel was right by the airport, which is about a $30 cab ride from most of the action downtown. We took the recommendation of a cabbie and were dropped off at the Bridgeport Brewery. It was actually a working brewery and smelled just like downtown Milwaukee at times, or like any other brewery. If you have ever been to a brewery you know what I mean. They had a decent sized restaurant/bar and had many of their selections on tap. Delicious.
After a beer, a friend and I wandered through the Pearl district. It appears to be a bunch of warehouses/factories that were converted to retail shopping and entertainment. There were lots of eclectic people there and it was an interesting walk. In many places there were no sidewalks, only old loading docks and ramps that you had to navigate, making the walk even more interesting. These people walked by with what appears to be some sort of giant birds nest, or a dam stolen from a beaver family.
There were the light rail trains too. I will admit that during the rush, they were full. The City of Madison, WI always wants to be Portland, and they have been pushing this light rail idea for some time now. Problem is Madison is tiny. Heck, Portland is relatively tiny for a light rail in my opinion. Oh well, I am paying for it anyway through federal funds so I hope the residents of Portland are enjoying it.
After a while we wandered into Bush Garden, a wonderful sushi joint. It was Wednesday and fairly early so nobody was there yet. We sat down and dined on great fish. This guy honestly enjoyed his job - he gave us a few specials and didn't even charge us for them.

All in all from the little that I saw I would give Portland a big thumbs up. That light rail didn't look like it was helping traffic in any way though, as the major expressways seemed pretty damned clogged during the rush. But it was a beautiful, scenic town and looks like it is thriving pretty well.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Power... and the naive

Two frequent topics intersect in this Wall Street Journal article from today, October 29th titled "Power Firms Grapple with Tough Decisions". The topics are 1) journalists that don't understand what they are writing about 2) the impossibility of improving our US infrastructure in today's legal and regulatory climate.

The journalist writes that "A year ago, it looked as if 100 coal-fired plants might get built."

Only an incredibly naive person who didn't understand anything about the history of the US energy industry would have assumed for an instant that ONE HUNDRED coal-fired plants could possibly be built in the US. Let's sum up the power situation for you:

1) NUCLEAR - great, unless you worry about storing the radioactive waste
2) HYDRO - great, unless you love fish and babbling brooks
3) COAL - great, unless you worry about global warming
4) NATURAL GAS - great, unless you are paying the bill
5) SOLAR - great, unless you need power on peak and the sun isn't shining
6) WIND - great, unless you don't like the way they look, slice birds, and the fact that they are unreliable on peak

Basically items #1 to #3 are dead in the US. You can't build even a single nuclear plant, site a hydro plant, or likely build more than a handful of coal plants (and only in the friendliest of jurisdictions). #4 is alive and well, but wait until you see the bill. And #5 is best where the sun is bright and it is even less cost effective than #4, and #6 only works in some areas where land is cheap, wind is constant and the Kennedy's aren't looking at the sky.

There isn't an "answer" to this situation; basically if you assume that we don't build any new generation (we'd be lucky to keep up with the generation that is coming out of service due to end-of-life) except for the politically correct items (which don't really help that much on peak), we will be facing a crisis soon, with blackouts looming large.

Two de-facto answers are emerging:

1) business takes the situation into their own hands
2) consumers are forced to invest in power saving measures

Businesses can't afford unreliable power, which is what the power companies are going to be dealing out to their customers. The businesses are buying generators by the truckload; and using them to provide reliable power that they can't always get from their strapped local utility. This is a massive shift, and not necessarily an economically "correct" decision; the companies buy small units (gas or diesel fired) that are more expensive per Megawatt when compared to what the utilities would pay on a fractional basis. This shifting of investment and reliability is occurring in an ad-hoc fashion, but do not doubt that it is occurring throughout the US.

Consumers are going to be forced to conserve; this will be helped by the punitive rates that they will have to pay due to scarce local power resources on peak. Consumers haven't been given incentives to conserve in prior years because the power meters only measure total consumption over a monthly basis and aren't "time of use" meters that charge more / kilowatt at peak time when compared to non-peak times. This will change as local distribution utilities are forced to try to reduce power usage since no new capacity is coming on line. This strategy is also in keeping with a general environmental awareness that is occurring now (propaganda, some might say) especially among the young. Since adding new capacity isn't an option the only way out (other than providing less reliable power, which is already occurring) is to use more efficient appliances and begin to educate consumers in the impact of moving energy intensive activities off-peak, and reducing demand (air conditioning, for instance) on peak.

Watch for more investment in demand reduction activities, and more business investment in backup and primary generation.

And don't hold your breath for new nuclear, hydro or coal plants (except for the occasional oddball that won't even be enough to replace the capacity that is end of life and coming off line).

They aren't coming. Ever.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Bill and Jodie

Click for larger. Seen in Portland, OR last week. I don't get it, but maybe it isn't for me to get.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Better (faster, at least) than Tarantino

I think that "Pulp Fiction" by Quentin Tarantino is one of the best movies of all time... but he has been on a declining arc ever since Pulp Fiction.

Rather than sit through hours of his movie and his endless promotional tours on talk shows, just spend three minutes with this video by "Queens of the Stone Age" from their great new album. It has everything a Tarantino movie OUGHT to have - great music, muscle cars, beautiful girls, and fun effects. You'll utilize your time more efficiently, that's for sure.

Rodrigo Y Gabriela

On Saturday night I went to see the two Mexican guitarists Rodrigo Y Gabriela at the Riveria theater in Chicago. The Riveria is in the Uptown neighborhood near Lawrence and Broadway, right by the Aragon Ballroom.

If you haven't been to this neighborhood recently you wouldn't believe the changes. I met a friend of mine at a brand spanking new Borders bookstore just south of the Riveria. There are a lot of new hip restaurants and bars in the area and the streets are relatively clean of debris. This is a FAR cry from how it used to be when I saw shows there in the 80's and 90's... the area was dingy, full of bums, and dangerous.

Back to the show - Rodrigo Y Gabriela are unique because not only do they play acoustic guitar but they also play percussion of sorts by banging on the body of their acoustic guitar; this provides a lot more "boom" than you'd think by my description. They don't sing, it is instrumental work only. Their web site is which is easy to remember.

They also play a lot of strange songs, particularly "Orion" by Metallica and a version of Stairway to Heaven. Check them out at You Tube - I also like their version of "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd. For Wish You Were Here they just play the background acoustic guitar strum and everyone in the crowd just shouts out the lyrics; you wouldn't think that you know every word of the song by heart but if you lived through the 70's and 80's you probably do - certainly the whole crowd did at the Riviera (and in the You Tube clips, too).

The other (mildly) interesting part of story is that I briefly took a couple of videos with my flip video camera (I wasn't trying to tape whole songs or anything) when two HUGE bouncers (I mean, they must have been over 400 pounds and 6' 5" plus) came over and took me out to the front door to "check in" my camera. When they realized that I wasn't a drunken belligerent they were quite polite actually; they insisted that the clerk give me a claim check with a number and they even had change waiting for me after the $5 check in fee was levied. I guess this is my tiny element of life as a quasi-journalist.

Turn out the lights...the party's oooverrr.....

On the original Monday Night Football broadcasts "Dandy" Don Meridith sang a Willie Nelson tune when a team had no chance of winning. It went like this.....

Turn out the lights
The party's over
They say that
All good things must end
Call it tonight
The party's over
And tomorrow starts
The same old thing again

Tonight I think we can say that the party is over for the Chicago Bears and post-season play.

Without a running game there is no chance for advancing into the playoffs. How sad is that? I hope Dan and Carl had a great tailgate party and I am looking forward to their latest additions to the drunk Bears fans website.

Tomorrow I will be singing another favorite Willie Nelson tune regarding this rotten Chicago Bear season. It goes like this...

It's a Bloody Mary morning,
My Bears left me without warning
Sometime in the night
So I'm flyin' down to Indy
Forgetting her's the nature of my flight

As we taxi toward the runway
With the smog and haze
Reminding me of how I feel
Just a country boy who's learnin'
That the pitfalls of the city
Are extremely real

All the night life and the parties
And temptation and deceit
The order of the day
Well it's a Bloody Mary mornin'
Cause I'm leavin' baby somewhere in Soldier Field

Well it's a Bloody Mary morning
baby left me without warning
Sometime in the night
So I'm flyin' down to Indy
Forgetting her's the nature of my flight

Our golden jet is airborn
And flight Fifty cuts a path
Across the mornin' sky
And a voice comes on the speaker
Reassuring us flight Fifty
Is the way to fly

As a hostess takes our order
Coffee tea or something stronger
To start off the day
Well it's a Bloody Mary morning
Cause I'm leavin' baby somewhere in Soldier Field

Everybody Get On

Most people who have flown are familiar with the Southwest Airlines "cattle call". For those who don't know what it is, I will give a quick explanation.

Southwest doesn't give assigned seats for their flights, rather they issue a letter to you, A B or C. When you get to the gate, they simply say "group A get on" and that is what happens. Those who check in earlier receive the preferential section and therefore the best shot at getting those invaluable exit row seats. The problem with this was that people would begin lining up hours in advance of the flight. They had separate lines for the A, B and C sections. If you were in the rear of the section A people, there is no shot at the more valuable seats, but at least you could still get an aisle or window.

Southwest has recently tweaked the boarding procedure a bit. They cancelled the idea of letting families board first as a family who arrived just as the plane was getting ready to board the A section could have their choice of seats first and that caused heartburn with the people who stood in the A line for an hour. There have been a few other tweaks as of late that are explained pretty well here.

I was really surprised when I flew to Portland last week and saw that Northwest had altered its boarding procedure. It isn't perfect but it is better than what it was. As an aside, I really had no choice but to fly Northwest out of Madison to Portland. We went through Minneapolis (a beautiful airport). For once my flights went pretty well - next week I go to Oklahoma, and we will see what happens there.

So we still all have assigned seats on these Northwest flights. There are I believe three pre boarding calls. Those who need extra time such as families and the elderly, then first class, then those who are Elite members or whatever their frequent flyer club is called. These went pretty quick, then they just said "everybody else, get on". I was totally surprised that it only took an airline 15 years of seeing Southwest eat their lunch on a daily basis for them to make the change. As most of you remember the other airlines always boarded their planes from the rear up to the front.

In addition to this, they started boarding the plane far ahead of when they used to. For a 6.40 flight, we started boarding at 6.00. After just five minutes of pre boarding (thats all three calls - extra time, first class and elite members) that left 35 minutes for everybody else to get on. I timed it - the vast majority of passengers were boarded in just 20 minutes. The only things that really held up the action were those who were too stupid to understand exactly which seat was theirs or those who had carry on luggage that was too large for the overheads. The plane from Minneapolis to Portland was very large too - three seats on each side and approx. 40 rows deep.

Well, I think Northwest will continue this experiment as it seems that it worked out alright. I still hate flying and will do anything I can to avoid it, but any little improvement helps.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Investing Here and Abroad

Recently I was reviewing the performance of the (small) trusts that I manage for my nieces and nephews. The site contains the performance and stock selections for each of the three portfolios if you are interested (not plugging it for cash... no advertisements there).

A friend of mine said that I had beaten the relative benchmarks in my fund performance and I was feeling pretty good about myself. However, I realized that the benchmarks that we are commonly using, the NASDAQ and NYSE, didn't really apply because so many of the stocks that I selected were foreign companies - thus the relative benchmarks would be the high-flying international indexes where my performance would be comparatively... retarded, to use a politically-incorrect term.

You'd have to be blind to miss the explosion of economic activity occurring around the world right now. I realize that there have been booms & busts in the past overseas such as the 1989 Japan stock crash and it is easy to jump on a climbing bandwagon but it does seem that, this time, the relative shift of economic activity overseas is significant and permanent.

The general uptick in economic success is the liberalization of the economies around the world and implementation of (relatively) sound economic policies. India, a country that was closed off from the world and practically invented the word "autarky" where an economy is closed off to the outside world and attempts to do everything within its own borders, is now linked to the world and seeing an explosion of activity. China is also booming, even though their economic success hasn't been associated with democracy, unlike India.

Brazil and South America are also exploding - Brazil is in the midst of an IPO and equity boom and Argentina is benefiting from finally getting out from under the bad economic medicine of the IMF (through welshing on their debt, unfortunately). England and Europe are also seeing lower unemployment and benefiting from the stronger Euro. Asia is tied to China and the middle east is awash in oil money as the price / barrell approaches $100.

This can be seen in the decline of the dollar; we hit an all-time low against the Euro and are falling compared to virtually every other currency; this provides overseas stocks with a boost because they rise as the dollar falls against them.

Even on tax policy, sadly, the US is bringing up the rear. The US has almost the worst corporate tax regime in the world, and the likely ascent of the Democrats into high office will obviously only make the US even less competitive through a dog's breakfast of horrible policy and tax inititiatives. Don't forget that the former Eastern block countries mainly moved to a low flat tax while the US hasn't done any meaningful tax reform... itis particularly painful to consider that we are falling behind on economic policy to countries that were run by Socialists / Communists less than 2 decades ago.

If you look at the high-flying selections in the trust funds, some of the best performers are the ADR's of foreign companies (ADR's allow you to buy foreign stocks in US markets without paying high commissions or having to register overseas). These include:

- China Mobile (CHL) - this stock has gone from the 30's to over 100 in the last year or so; while China Mobile is a great franchise with huge growth, at some point it just smells like a bubble
- Broken Hill Proprietary (BHP) - this Australian stock has also gone from the 40's up to near 90 in the last year or so as mining and natural resource stocks soared; they also rise due to the collapse of the US dollar compared to the Australian dollar
- ICICI Bank (IBN) - this Indian bank has also soared, benefiting from a booming local market and appreciating currency, as well as its long term potential

Other foreign stocks in the portfolio include Nokia (NOK), Diageo (DEO), and Toyota (TM).

This isn't some "Lou Dobbs" post about buy American or the hollowing out of US companies; it is simply the fact that as the trustee of the funds I need to look for the best risk / return ratio and, to date, these have been (mostly) overseas when compared vs. US firms.

I am not advising anyone to take these stocks or any others; do your own diligence. But you can see what I've done and how those stocks have performed; they have done pretty well and I hope to keep performing at a decent level into the future - I need to do this because as new kids get started (will be 8 all told) they don't care about how good we did in the past funds - they want to do well NOW for themselves...

I think that it is prudent to put a point in your mind when you'd sell these stocks and take some of the gains; past bubbles or eras of significant expansion have often ended up badly. I don't know WHEN that will occur, but it seems likely to do so at some point in the future. As it was famously put "The markets can stay irrational for longer than you can stay solvent" - so I am not recommending shorting anything, but I wouldn't be a dedicated long if stocks start pushing off their highs.

Within the US the stock market seems very highly valued (i.e. expensive). There is a lot of downside risk; if the Democrats take power they are likely to cut / eliminate the lower rate for capital gains which will hurt equities. The Democrats could also impose protectionist policies that will help a couple companies and hurt everyone else since they need to do something to reward their union base.

As a patriot it is sad to instinctively look first to overseas investments. But as a trustee, you aren't doing your fiduciary duties unless this is the case.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

"Eating Your Own Dog Food"... or not

There is a common business phrase called "Eating your own dog food" which basically says that you are using the same systems, products or processes as your customers. In this sense you are in the same situation as your customer, taking the same risks, and suffering the same negative outcomes (should they occur). This behavior generally aligns the interests of the company with that of its customers.

Recently collateralized debt obligations have been in the news. These products were created by Wall Street firms and then pitched to their customers as low-risk ways to get a higher return than traditional "vanilla" bonds, CD's and T bills. A number of asset based mortgages, for example, were grouped into a single security and sold in "tranches", with each tranche having different risk characteristics and corresponding returns.

Unless you don't have access to media of any type you've probably heard about the great credit crunch that is occurring right now. Many CDO's are stuck in the pipeline of the various companies or off-balance sheet entities that were selling them because demand dried up overnight; those that are already sold are being re-rated by the debt rating agencies at much lower credit levels (one recently fell all the way from "AAA" to "junk" in a single swoop) causing many customers and many Wall Street firms to swallow big losses.

The third quarter financial results have been released and everyone was holding their breath to see how big the write-downs would be. Merrill Lynch initially said they'd have about a $5B loss but then it was raised up to $8B a few weeks later when results were finalized. Why did Merrill have such big losses? Because not only did Merrill package these (terrible) products on to customers (who are now feeling the losses), they ALSO held some of these products in their own inventory (eating their own dog food, so to speak) and now suffering losses alongside their customers.

Not so Goldman Sachs... while the other Wall Street firms trotted out their losses, Goldman Sachs MADE money for themselves while pushing these products onto their clients. Goldman apparently shorted the mortgage instruments, betting on sub-prime losses and that these instruments would decline in credit quality, which happened (big time). To give Goldman a bit of credit, they weren't nearly as big a player in this market as Merrill.

Back when I first started investing semi-seriously in stocks I was talking to a friend about the 2002 meltdown and he laughed at my naivety... I implied that these firms lost money along with their customers in the NASDAQ crash. He said that these firms make money no matter what happens to the markets - long on the way up, short on the way down.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Friday, October 26, 2007

Attack of the Purple Spiders

I don't know what it is in the air but for some reason there is a local decorating craze for the Halloween celebration where people put surreal, giant purple spiders on the front of their house. Here were two along Grand avenue on a recent return to the city late at night. Kind of the Griswolds of Halloween, I guess.

The Chicago River... Improving

I remember when I was a kid in the Western suburbs we used to go on field trips with the scouts to local parks. One park we visited had a stream in it that was completely fouled and putrid... I guess it is a sign of how old I am that this was over 30 years ago.

To hear anyone talk about the environment is an unequivocal tale of doom. However, the reality is much more complex.

I went on a night canoe trip along the Chicago river, leaving at Addison (3600 north) and paddling upstream for a couple of miles for dinner, and then coming down south after the sun had set. We were surprised at how much wildlife was evident around the river and how clean the water looked... we didn't drink it but saw hardly any garbage or debris along the way.

I can't speak for the world but I would say that in my experience the local rivers and lakes are far cleaner than they were when I was growing up, and it seems like at least some of the wildlife has returned.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Corruption and Television

Recently I finished watching the final episode of the television series "Damages" on FX. The show is about a ruthless attorney played by Glenn Close who is going after a billionaire played by Ted Danson that bankrupted his company yet escaped with his wealth through well timed stock sales.

FX has a number of good shows; they have "Dirt" starring Courtney Cox, "The Shield", "Nip / Tuck", "Rescue Me" and "The Riches". The unique hook for Damages was that you saw glimpses or flashes of what was going to happen in future episodes; then you had to watch the show to figure out how it happened. These FX shows aren't subject to broadcast standards since they are on cable; they often are far racier and dirtier than you'd ever see on regular TV.

If for some reason you are watching the series and haven't gotten to the end stop reading here (spoiler alert) - but that probably isn't very many of you because the series was poorly rated. The point of this post isn't the series, however - the point is that the world-view of this show is extremely dark and warped, yet typical of Hollywood.

At the end of the first season I counted through all of the institutions and individuals that were portrayed as thoroughly corrupt. They include:
  • Business - since Frobisher represents the businessman, by Hollywood standards it is a foregone conclusion that he is a complete scumbag without a scrap of humanity. He loots his company, abandons his long-time employees, orders people murdered with impunity, and buys off every institution in his path. His only fault that he admits to his son is "putting too much trust in people"
  • Legal (prosecutor) - Glenn Close's attorney character is completely without morals. She hires killers, attempts to murder her own employees, blackmails the opposition, lies continuously, and ultimately "renigs" on the legal settlement central to the case
  • Police - the hired killers from Frobisher turn out, of course, to be the police. They murder in cold blood without a shred of guilt and clean up the crime scene through other corrupt leads to cover their tracks
  • District Attorney - the district attorney is corrupt; he drops charges in exchange for information that could increase his odds of getting re-elected
  • Government / SEC - the SEC executive tips off Frobisher in time so that he can sell his stock for a huge gain; then he sabotages the investigation to get him off
  • Attorney (defense) - the defense attorney sometimes appears to be a redeemable human but then tells hired killers where the "loose end" witness lives (whom he secretly loves) so that he can be executed. He later kills himself
  • Jury - Frobisher buys off the lead plaintiff in the case who in turn feeds him critical information; in the end the juror shoots Frobisher in the gut and leaves him to die when he is cut out of the settlement
  • Witness - two of the witnesses lie and are bought off by Frobisher; it is a given that everyone testifying is on someone's payroll
The only individuals that remotely aren't played as corrupt is the boyfriend of the lead attorney character; he is a doctor who tries to extract her from Glenn Close's firm. He is killed and strangled in cold blood for his efforts.

By the time the series is done virtually every character has been murdered or at least had someone try to kill them. All this in 13 episodes and the pilot.

What is interesting to me is that this is apparently art in Hollywood; the assumption that EVERY SINGLE INSTITUTION is rotten to the core just goes without saying. Likely this is their backstabbing world of agents, movie stars and producers; but thank God not every institution thinks this way or we wouldn't be in the United States, we would be in Russia.

I realize that this seems odd coming from someone in Chicago where we are famous for corruption; but I can't believe that every institution is completely rotten to the core.

What a horrible world-view someone must have to think up all these episodes this way.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Let The Bodies Hit The Floor

Everyone falls for some sort of flim flam as they grow up. Little kids instinctively believe in magic tricks, even things as simple as the old pulling a quarter out of an ear. I have a lot of fun doing little magic tricks like these to my kids. As the children age however, your technique needs to be better as they start to figure things out.

Now that I am an adult, I know things like making the Statue of Liberty disappear are stupid, pointless, and a waste of time for me to watch or patronize.

On the other hand I absolutely love slight of hand tricks. Having read a little about "magic", I know where to look when performers need to stash things, or retrieve things from their get ups on stage. It gives me great pleasure to watch someone be able to trick my somewhat trained eye.

Here is one of my favorite acts, Penn and Teller, to give you a tutorial on simple slight of hand.

It's all so simple to understand when you are shown the "hows" of how it works.

One thing that is very "magical" that I have never one time in my entire life believed in is faith healing. This is where a man of god (or whatever supreme being) actually cures on stage people who are ailing of all sorts of ailments. I have followed faith healers since I was in high school and love it when they are debunked. Many times people have gone into faith healing sessions posing that they are ill or have done interviews with folks who purported to have been healed in a faith healing session years afterward. Almost every single time those who have been "healed" are either dead from their disease, or still suffering from it - and still believing!

There are many methods and ways that faith healing is done, but the most popular I have seen is at the end of many services there is what I call the "cattle call", or the lineup of people at the stage where the faith healer says some mumbo jumbo, tells them their ailment that the person backstage is relaying to the healer on his wireless mic that is in his ear. The person in back is, of course, reading off the comment card that the person in need of healing filled out before the service kicked off. Anyway, they usually touch the person, the person falls down and is then herded off stage so more can come up and get healed. Sometimes the preacher will use his powers to knock people down in a ritual that I guess helps them out later on. Don't ask me. This is a hilarious video done to "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor" by Drowning Pool featuring my favorite guy who is doing this right now, Benny Hinn:

It seems comical to anyone with any sense at all, but these guys are making big bucks doing simple theatrics and a little slight of hand. To debunk, simply wait for people who don't know how to act, like little kids or retarded people or those who are senile or deaf to arrive on stage. The falling down, shaking and other things simply don't happen - because these folks don't know what they are supposed to do when the preacher approaches them.

I guess where I am going with all of this is that I am not sure if I am to feel sorry for these people who fall for and "believe" these types of tricks. To be sure I feel sorry for people who are simply too uneducated or without enough functioning grey matter to understand simple tricks. But normal, sane folks that give their $ to these flim flam artists - to them I am beginning to start to feel less and less sympathy/empathy for them when they end up with zero results from faith healers or whatever other phychic or loony phenomena they hitch their wagon up to.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Griese’s Kid’s Stuff

Hey Donovan. I got your Mama's Chunky Noodle right here!

When I was a young pup in the late 60's Bob Griese played QB for Purdue. The hot older girl next door dated him (according to her parents). He was outstanding in college and was even better playing for Shula and the Dolphins. Bob Griese won Super Bowls. When you have the o-line that Bob did and a speeding dump truck loaded with gravel named Csonka in the backfield to keep opponents honest it was easy for Griese and the Dolphins to go undefeated in 1972. It was the year after I was paroled from high school. The 72 Dolphins are still considered to be one of the NFL’s great teams of all time.

The media just loved the 70’s Dolphins. As I remember Howard Cosell wet his pants each time he covered Dolphin games on Monday Night Football. I swear I saw him dry hump Don Shula during an interview so hard Howard's hairpiece became loose. It made me sick.

Not many NFL players can claim offspring that went on to be better than average pro players. Once I met Hall Of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow after he spoke at a benefit dinner for the local high school. He was studying law at the John Marshall Law School after his football career was over and a local JMLS student talked him into speaking to our group. Winslow was awesome, a true gentleman and a class act. Inspiring. Too bad his kid did not inherit the good DNA.

His son, Kellen Winslow ll, had a stellar career as a tight end (just like dad) with the University of Miami. I believe he played on the same Miami team with Jarett Payton, son of another NFL legend. KW ll was drafted 6th in the first round by the Cleveland Browns. Neither KW ll nor Jarret Payton went on to even flirt with NFL greatness. It didn’t help when Kellen ll wrecked his rice-burner. No mention or photos of it on his myspace blog at:

And then there is the Manning family. Archie played for the New Orleans Saints. He was considered a great QB in his day but the team sucked. I don’t believe the Saints had one winning season but the media just loved Archie. Because of that alone Archie was and still is considered an elite player. His son Peyton has become a great NFL QB winning last year’s Super Bowl with the Colts. The kid did good. I can’t think of another father/son combo who accomplished great things as pro players. Payton Manning has the ability, the media-friendly personality and is in a position to become one of the all-time NFL greats.

Today Brian Griese (son of Bob) was able to lead my Chicago Bears in a last minute upset over Donavan McNabb…and the Eagles. The kid (hey, I am 54 so everyone is a kid) played an outstanding game. He has been given a rare chance to prove himself with his third NFL team. He seems up to the challenge.

Brian Griese managed the game, did not come unglued with interceptions or drop the rock ala Rex (Brian fumbled once but recovered it). He came up with the big plays when it counted and seems to thrive on pressure. I really liked what I saw.

The great Rexperiment is finally over. We can move on.

Will Brian become an NFL great? Who knows. But he has been given another fabulous opportunity (unexpected Michigan Rose Bowl Winner) and I believe he will take advantage of it. I am pulling for him. Bigtime.

To paraphrase Frank...

The best is yet to come, and babe won't that be fine
You think you've seen the son, but you aint seen him shine.

The post season is a possibility again. Go Bearss....


Blogger finally allowed me to upload images tonight. So here are some shots of those delicious smoked brats from last weekend...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Chicago Storm

We had an eerie weather situation in Chicago last Thursday. Some storms came through in an odd time this year (should have been Halloween) and the sky was intense. We really didn't get hit by a tornado or anything but for a little while it seemed like anything could happen.

I've been using a new video camera recently after my damn Sony regular camera died. It is called a "Flip Video" and here is a link to the product. The camera is pretty cool - the quality of the video that it takes is decent and it was less than $200 so that if you end up losing it or it gets taken away at a concert or something it won't be a major issue. It is extremely simple; there is basically one button and you can either shoot video or you can play video back. There is a zoom feature for 2x which does degrade the quality a bit. The video automatically adjusts for night or poor lighting conditions and the sound is all right.

The camera comes with built in software that is kind of interesting - you just flip the USB connection out from the side of the camera (no cord needed) and the software runs from the camera itself while it is plugged in to your PC. The software allows you to edit videos (basically cut out components in the start and back) and then combine videos into a "movie" that you can upload in various formats. I recently downloaded the newest software which I think fixed some of the uploading bugs and movie format bugs that made it take forever to reformat the videos.We'll see if it has a longer life than my sony...

Friday, October 19, 2007


Kind of a Friday tunage/MT post here.

It is truly an exciting time to be at my gym. Enrollment is soaring. The instructor has actually put together his own curriculum. We have a new space coming next year.

Last night in the advanced class we were putting together some of the new drills that I will be doing in the next phase of my journey, an 18 month piece that will earn me my yellow, green and blue sashes. It is going to be insane.

We were all sort of guinea pigs. The instructor had put together some drills and wanted to see how they flowed. The drills were all 20 count. In other words there are 20 kicks or strikes in each drill that you have to remember - and the holder of the pads has to remember. It was exhausting but very cool to be a part of something new. I couldn't be at that gym at a better time.

The music was starting to wear on me though. We had heard the same tunes over and over again. They are what I call hip hop Thai music. Basically they are Thai music with a house beat put on top of it. They aren't bad, but we have all heard these tunes a thousand times. When the instructor isn't there someone usually brings in a cd from their car. Well last night I conspired with the assistant instructor to insert Helmet, Meantime into the cd player. Imagine the instructors surprise when he fired that up. Everyone went nuts and I got lots of pats on the back. It was honestly one of the best classes ever as practicing Muay Thai to that disc is quite an experience.

I think my favorite thing we practiced yesterday was a spinning back elbow. Sweet Jesus I pray I hope I don't ever get caught with one of those.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Old Dog New Trick.

To me a bratwurst is nothing more than an adult hot dog. A big fat coarse ground weenie. Next to authentic Polish sausage it is my favorite in the fine family of encased meat.

Brats are hard to screw up on the grill unless you are a drunk at a Bear game and are more interested in your glass than your grill. Normally I would not be posting a brat method on the blog but I tried something different this weekend that blew me away.

Nothing wrong with grilling brats as you would hot dogs, I did that for years and it works. Everyone has their own preferred bun and condiment combinations. We all have our favorite grocery store bratwurst brand. Here is something I tried this past weekend that was surprisingly easy. It added a different, more complex flavor to the brats. I thought I would pass it on so you may try it next time you want something different in a backyard or tailgate brat.

NOTE: I had decent how-to photos to post but for some reason blogger won't let me upload, this is the second day that I have tried. Sorry.

First get an indirect fire going on your charcoal grill and make sure you have some big wood chunks handy. I had some hickory lying around but other woods probably work fine.

Cut up a large onion or two in thick slabs. melt a stick of butter in a skillet and cook the onions enough to get a bit of a char going on each side. Reserve.

Place a drip pan in the center of the grill. Add a few wood chunks on each of the coal piles. Toss the brats in the center of the top grate and cover. No need to poke the brats, this is a low and slow process. Let them smoke for 40 minutes.

Now you can pour a beverage and create what is called a “brat hot-tub”. De-glaze the onions in the skillet with some beer. Add the onions into a foil pan with a quart or so of beer. No need to overspend on the beer, I used Miller High-Life cause it was the cheapest quart in the store.

After 40 minutes take the brats off the grill and add to the pan with the beer-butter-onion solution. Place the pan in the center of the grill, cover and let the whole mess alone for another 20-30 minutes.

That’s it. Add to your favorite bun, garnish with whatever and go for it.

Smoking the brats added a unique, complex flavor that was better than it had to be. I like taking ordinary food to the next level. It keeps life from becoming boring.

SIDEBAR: When it comes to brats here’s my personal review. Johnsonville does a great job. They have an authentic flavor and are consistent. Hillshire Farms would be my second choice. Klement’s, a Milwaukee company sells brats that are a bit too coarse and gristly. Most local butcher shop fresh made brats I’ve tried tend to be a bit weak in flavor and somewhat fatty. But the best, the very best brats by far come from Miesfeld’s Market in Sheboygan, WI. Whenever my brother goes to the races in Elkhart Lake he stops by Miesfeld’s with an empty cooler. It gets filled. Miesfeld’s brats are now available on the internets. You won’t be sorry.

Monday, October 15, 2007


A few weeks ago I was riding a bus to work (usually I walk, but sometimes I take the bus if it is right there). The bus had a canned announcement saying that if the CTA didn't get a funding increase, the CTA was going to discontinue this route.

There were a large number of routes at risk. Most of the routes that only run during rush hours, like the 125, were "on the block" to be cut.

As I looked around the full bus, it really hit me what the CTA's problem is - they can't figure out if they are trying to make money or if they are trying to provide a public service.

The CTA runs a number of densely packed routes, generally during rush hour to and from downtown. Try to take the red line during rush hour; they need those guys that push people onto the trains like in Japan. The bus routes that serve downtown from local areas (Lincoln Park, for example) are also quite full, except that they suffer from the "bunching" problem where no buses show up and then three in a row come at once.

These routes are full of commuters; meanwhile, the CTA runs a "grid" system to provide transport throughout poor neighborhoods, as a method of transport of "last resort". There is no way that these routes would remotely be as profitable as these rush hour routes; in fact they are designed to provide coverage to these neighborhoods rather than maximize customer traffic. Note that I am not saying that the CTA is providing "good" service to these areas; I can only speculate that a lot of poorer people spend a lot of time waiting for the bus.

Thus you have the contrast between the packed rush hour routes and the relatively less populated "grid" routes through the rest of the city. However, this is only half the story - the riders during rush hour are far less likely to be subsidized riders who are either students taking the CTA to school or college or are poorer and otherwise receive discounted rides.

On the non rush-hour routes you also need continuous routes in order to provide some level of service; on the rush-hour routes you can pack in drivers and staff for the inbound rush hour and outbound rush hour and not have to hire up for off hours work.

If you look at the CTA on these three dimensions:

1) density of ridership overall
2) amount of "full-pay" vs. subsidized riders
3) riders packed during certain parts of the day rather than spread throughout

then you could build a far more profitable entity (or at least run at less of a loss) if the CTA recognized its function to bring people downtown and back during rush hour.

On the other hand, the CTA is generally viewed to have an obligation to provide transport for those people who have no other way to get around. This part of their service is going to run at a massive loss in comparison, especially since this is where the subsidized riders are concentrated.

Whether you agree that the CTA has two dissimilar missions or not, cutting the rush-hour only rides is no way to "fix" the funding gap; likely this will only make it worse. You cut the full-fare patrons and limited routes (that require less staff and less wear and tear on capital gear) and leave behind the long routes full of subsidized riders.

The CTA could be fixed; concentrate on full-fare riders and rush hour traffic. Reduce staff and pare poorly trafficked routes. Reduce capital stock once you remove these routes, along with the associated maintenance.

But this isn't going to happen... likely they will keep all the dimly used routes, whack the rush hour routes, and generally let the system die from under-fudning and neglect, while keeping all the patronage hires on the payroll (those that actually attend work, as opposed to those that are on disability).

This used to be the City that Works, but that faded away a long time ago.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Massive Update

Drunk Bear Fans has a big update from the Bears/Vikes game yesterday. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

End of Summer

In Chicago I always know that it's the end of summer when two things happen:

1) my allergies kick in and start driving me crazy
2) they raise all the bridges over the Chicago River and let the boats head for their winter storage.

I figured that you'd rather have footage of #2 than #1... here are the bridges being raised and the boats passing at Randolph and then later at Lake Street. The Lake Street bridge is interesting because the "L" rides on top of that bridge, as well (the Red and Blue lines go under the river, the Brown and Green lines go on the overhead tracks).

Hedge Funds and Jim Gaffigan

I was watching Jim Gaffigan (the comedian) on Conan O’Brien the other night and he was talking about the “innovation” of the upside-down ketchup bottle. He said that for years we basically were always holding it upside down and then after fifty years someone figured out, hey, let’s just have it come out the bottom in the first place. He said that future generations wouldn’t look on us favorably because it took us so long to grasp something so obvious…

A pretty funny joke but in fact this is sadly applicable to hedge funds, of all things. Let me explain the connection.

Hedge funds are in the news lately. Two funds run by the major wall street firm Bear Stearns recently went bankrupt and essentially wiped out their investors. This was unexpected because the “hedge” in “hedge fund” implies that the assets were HEDGED in some manner, which means if the markets move in an adverse manner, the fund would be protected through the use of some sort of financial instrument or agreement. Investors might suffer a loss of some sort (say, 10%) but not lose a significant portion of their investment.

While hedge funds are of many different types, they generally share some basic characteristics (wikipedia has a decent summary):

  • Hedge funds are usually limited to high net worth investors (“Accredited Investors) who are assumed to be sophisticated; the average investor cannot directly invest in a hedge fund
  • Hedge funds usually charge an annual management fee as a percentage of assets – say 2% of assets under management each year (thus if they have $1B in assets the fund earns $20M off the top before any profits or other fees charged to the companies in the funds)
  • Hedge funds usually keep a percentage of the profits earned called performance fees; say 20% of profits earned. Thus if the fund earns $200M for investors the managers would keep $40M for themselves. Often the profits have a “clawback” feature where the managers have to give back profits earned in a prior year if the fund has losses in a future year. Alternatively, the fund has to earn a net positive return; if there were losses in prior years, the fund has to earn back those losses before the managers start to receive a performance fee
  • Hedge funds aren’t limited in what they can invest in like mutual funds, and often they aren’t hedged at all
  • Due to the performance fees and management fees hedge fund managers can earn amazing amounts of money – Eddie Lampert (head of the new merged Sears / K Mart) earned over $1B in 2004 and $1B in 2006
  • Many hedge funds have policies that “lock up” investments so that they don’t have to keep cash on hand for distribution; often investors need to keep their funds in for 3-5 years or can only withdraw a portion of their money at a time

While hedge funds sound complicated and exotic, the real key behind the mutual fund is LEVERAGE. For example, in the collapsed Bear Stearns funds, they were leveraged more than 10-1. By leverage I mean using $100M in capital to “buy” $1B in securities; at this level of leverage a $100M gain is 10% on the amount of securities bought but it would be a 100% gain on the original investment; on the flip side, if the securities declined in value from $1B to $900M the original investment would be entirely wiped out.

I have seen studies that say that if you leveraged up the S&P 500 with 50% leverage you’d beat the long term track record of the vast majority of the hedge funds out there; this is essentially how they earn a higher return.

And what about the risk? Well since the managers earn a percentage of the earnings, they have the upside of the risk but they don’t share in the downside. This is a variant of the famous “heads I win, tails you lose” joke.

If the fund starts losing money, the managers don’t hang on and try to earn their money back – what is the point of that? If the fund loses 20% in one year (not hard to do if you leverage money in a volatile market and it goes against you) then the next year they’d have to make up the cumulative losses of 20% BEFORE they earned a cent of performance fees. The fund may exist but the managers will likely bolt; or the fund may get folded into some other entity.

While hedge funds sound exotic and futuristic, they are essentially a leveraged bet on markets. And for this leverage you are paying a very high price; you are paying a management fee of 2% a year and giving up 20% (or more; some are as high as 50%) of your profits. And if the markets go into a swoon or are flat for a while, expect the best managers to bail out and move on because it is easier to start “from scratch” than to make up past losses before they can start earning a new performance fee.

It isn’t fair to brush all the hedge funds the same way; some indeed are true hedges (they have upside and limit risk on the way down) and have delivered big returns to investors even after taking their vast profits off the table. But it is safe to say that the biggest tool in their toolbox is leverage and much of their profits could be had in a much simpler manner without paying a dog’s breakfast of fees and tying up your money for years in an opaque wrapper.

Future generations will look at us the same was as Gaffigan summarizes the upside down ketchup bottle – we were pretty slow on the uptake to figure out that most hedge funds were a pretty expensive and cumbersome way to earn the market return plus leverage.

Cross Posted at Chicago Boyz


Carl challenged me the other day to do this post. It took quite a bit of time but looks like it is worth it. What follows is a very interesting comparison.

Carl is sick of everyone beating up old man Favre about him getting ready to claim the all time interception record from George Blanda. What do you have to say about that, George?

Of course what most people won't tell you is that Favre has over one THOUSAND more attempts than Blanda. Not statistically insignificant.

As much as we Bear fans hate him, it has to be acknowledged that Favre is great. Back to Carl's challenge. I have compiled all of the passing statistics for the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers from when Favre started, back in 1992. I have left out goofy things like halfback passes, punters, and anyone else that threw the ball except true quarterbacks. Needless to say this took a hell of a lot longer to compile the Bears stats than Green Bay's as no quarterback other than Favre has thrown the ball more than 55 times in a single season since he began play for the Packers (1992, Majkowski) and after that the next highest attempt total is 28 (2002, Pederson).

Laying the stats out in front of you (remember, 1992-2006) sure opens your eyes up to a lot of interesting things. No Bear has thrown for 4000 yards in a season, and Favre has done it four times. As a matter of fact, the highest total yards for any Bear qb since '92 is 3,838 (1995, Kramer). That year Kramer was the only person to make a throw for the Bears - it is the only such year for Chicago. The next closest season for total yardage for the Bears was last year, when Rex threw for 3193 yards.

Favre has thrown for over 3,000 yards in each of his fifteen seasons, and the Bears have had 3,000 yard quarterbacks only three times in that period ('95, Kramer, '97 Kramer, '06 Grossman).

One year, none of the Bears qb's threw for over even 1,000 yards ('04 Hutchison, Krenzel, Quinn, Grossman).

Favre has thrown for over 30 touchdowns in a season 8 times. No Bear QB was able to do it once.

Favre has thrown for over 300 completions each season he has played, the Bears QB's did it once in that time ('95, Kramer).

Before I compile "FrankenBear" and put it next to Favre, I should remind everyone what FrankenBear looks like. These are the quarterbacks who have played for the Bears since Favre started his career in '92:

Jim Harbaugh, Peter Tom Willis, Will Furrer, Steve Walsh, Eric Kramer, Dave Krieg, Shane Matthews, Steve Stenstrom, Rick Mirer, Moses Moreno, Cade McKnown, Jim Miller, Chris Chandler, Henry Burris, Cory Sauter, Kordell Stewart, Rex Grossman, Chad Hutchison, Craig Krenzel, Jonathan Quinn, Jeff Blake, Kyle Orton, Brian Griese.

Holy cow what a list that is. So here we go.

Favre: 5041 for 8219, 61.33% completions, 57,500 yards, 414 TD's, 271 INT's.

1.53 td's per 1 interception.

FrankenBear: 4394 for 7710, 56.99% completions, 47314 yards, 248 TD's, 262 INT's.

.95 td's per 1 interception.

Related: This post.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Last night I had my first advanced level Muay Thai class. It wasn't the insane workout I thought it would be, but it was very interesting.

We spent a lot of time learning how to hold Thai pads. Here is a photo of what I am talking about.

The arm is secured with velcro straps and there is a handle on the top for your hand to hold onto. You can create a swiveling action this way and produce different angles that the pad can be held at. Three of us who had graduated to the advanced class just a week ago were in attendance last night, and the instructor paired us up with guys who had been there for a while. They taught us how to hold them properly. You can't just hold them there, you have to push back when your partner is striking or kicking the pads. The proper technique for holding the pads is important as it will make everyone's workouts better in the future.

There are safety concerns as well. All of the guys in the advanced levels are hitting and kicking very hard. In addition we are throwing elbows and knees. If the pads are not held at the proper angles and with the proper separation or closure injuries can happen to both participants. I am happy to report that there has never been a major injury at my gym. This excludes the guys who are actually training to get in the ring of course.

I threw elbows for the first time last night. Just as when I started with simple punches and kicks, it was all new to me. My kicks and punches are second nature now, but I have a long way to go with elbows. I had no clue that there are three different kinds - overhand, horizontal, and uppercut. My body was all over the place as I was attempting these but it will get better over time. We did knees briefly last night. I have a long way to go there as well.

The advanced guys were using a lot of terms I had never heard before too. I was much less intimidated than I was back when I started MT. I know that over time I will master these techniques. It just takes lots of sweat and practice to build muscle memory - in that aspect it really isn't that much different than putting together a golf swing or hitting a baseball.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mr. Irrelevant

A Story Still Playing Out

A few weeks ago Carl wrote a post recommending the writings of Michael Lewis. I snooped around the web and found this wonderful essay by Lewis about a subject I am deeply interested in, the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and the human reactions to it. After reading that essay I was impressed not only by the content, but by the writing style.

I am usually loathe to purchase more books, since I already have a pretty damned big stack that I haven't read yet, just sitting in my basement waiting for me to dive in. But this time I decided to make an exception. Carl mentioned three books that Lewis wrote, one was about football, one about baseball, and the last about financial markets. Football interests me the most out of those three subjects, so I ordered The Blind Side in paperback.

I guess I just cannot recommend this book enough, and now will have to read the others. The best part is that the book is still playing out, in real life. I will get back to that in a minute.

The Blind Side is not just a story about a kid from the 'hood in Memphis who was raised in what has to be one of the most disfunctional environments a child could be raised in. It is a study in what every journalist should be, but isn't. Michael Lewis actually studied football. He compared salaires, strategies, and spoke with the greatest football minds of our time - at length. He intereviewed past and current players and coaches. In other words, he mastered the subject, as far as he wanted to take it.

Along with that, he immersed himself in the story of the child, Michael Oher. You will receive the chilling details of his childhood and how the Memphis Public Schools simply was pushing him along rather than actually giving him an education. I really want you to read the book so I don't want to give too much away.

Here is the very best part - I get to see the ending of the book in real life. What I mean to say is that Michael Oher, if you followed the above link, is still playing for Ole Miss. Many of the people in The Blind Side are still his coaches at Ole Miss and at other places. In the next few years we will see where these people will end up. I wonder how much money Oher will get a contract for in the NFL - if he plays at all. It is a delicious drama.

I have watched countless hours of football in my life, read countless columns about the sport and consider myself very learned on the subject. It is rare that I have a discussion with someone or read something and actually learn about the game. This book is a huge deviation. After reading it, I will never watch a game in the same way.

If you like football and want a very enjoyable read, pick up The Blind Side - only $11 at Amazon. I literally could not put this book down. The only bad part is now I have to buy Liar's Poker and Moneyball. Oh well, this is a welcome break from the usual military history books that I spend time reading.

Cross posted at ChicagoBoyz.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Cook County - An Amazing Quote

A couple of years ago I thought I had heard the most ridiculous quotation when Putin said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century."

While activities in Cook County, Illinois, have little historical importance compared to the end of the USSR that quote was what leaped to mind when recently, the County Board President Todd Stroger was discussing the county's huge deficit of $307 million and said:

"Do I think that there could be fat somewhere... there could be up to a million dollars worth of fat, maybe."

Only the Putin quote rivaled Mr. Stroger's quote for sheer banality.

Per the Chicago Tribune article titled "How Cook Dug Itself Into a Hole" on October 7, 2007, Cook County has an annual budget of $3B / year and 23,706 "workers" (per the article... I prefer the word active employees). This would imply a well run government with a minuscule amount of waste, if waste was only $1M / year (yes Todd, I am rounding your estimate UP).

I had some direct experience with Cook County government. While this article in the Sun Times discusses City of Chicago workers, the same issues apply to Cook County workers. The article describes how many workers go on disability and then collect paychecks indefinitely, while the city pays for their insurance and they even build up pension credits. While it is certain that some of the disabled workers are legitimate (they have the fire, police and prison guards on payroll) there is also a vast army of patronage workers who "toil" in offices and then claim disability.

When I was working with Cook County in the early 90's I had the misfortune of seeing Cook County's disability process; it was a mess. The documentation was quite poor. A common reason for being on disability was "falling off chair". They had to lock down the stairwells because prior to thinking up the "falling off chair" excuse the biggest prior excuse was that they fell down the stairs.

There was little or no oversight of these claims. People weren't following up to see if in fact these workers were truly disabled. Processes might have changed in the years since I parted ways with Cook County, but I doubt it, if the City of Chicago issues profiled by the Sun Times are still with us.

Todd - if you want to find millions of dollars in waste - why don't you demand that workers who claim disability prove that they are totally disabled? If they are not disabled, put them back to work, or take them off the disability roles. And stop accruing pension benefits for them, to boot.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz


They look even better on.

Monday, October 08, 2007

4 Reasons To Celebrate A Great Weekend

I must say, my good weekends surpass the amount of bad weekends in my life. Once in a while a really GREAT weekend comes along. 90 degree bluebird October weekends are as rare as a Chicago Cubs playoff victory so that was a good start. I can get used to this global warming thing, considering that in a month or so I will be blowing 8+” of global cooling off of my driveway.

This outstanding weekend began when the Chicago Cubs gagged on another playoff series. Beat by a crew of no-name go-getter kids on the Arizona Diamondbacks. Three and out! YESSSS!

The goat is back and stronger than ever. This time it is none other than Lou Pinella, the new goat of ‘07. Lou jerked Zambrano early in the 6th inning of game one. Then the wheels came off. Training wheels maybe, but the cliché works for me. It was no secret that Lou-Lou pulled Z-Boy in order to save him for the fourth game that never happened. That is what the Cub fans are using as this year’s excuse. Cub management spent $300 million last offseason…for more of the same. A-Ram and A-Sore were absolutely worthless and Zambrano never got that second chance.

It’s now official. The Cubs have not won a World Series in 100 years. As has been said, anyone can have a bad century, right? Will the 100 year mark make it as next year's marketing tool? If so, I want the t-shirt that proclaims 100 Years of Futility. Tribune is selling this cash cow in the off-season. I am sure the new owner will create more false hope than the O’Bama campaign. The same old fans will be back in 08 to fill that crumbling bandbox called Wrigley Field with more cash. HA-HA! (using my best Nelson Muntz falsetto)

Early on Saturday I went four wheelin’. There is a new development being built down the road and I could not resist hopping those damp clay hills and valleys. We had a thunderstorm late Friday that made for some slick Indiana clay gumbo. There was no stopping my lil’ Jeep. The new rear axle held up quite nicely. I am one of the few Jeep owners who actually use it for slopping through places most SUV’s dare to go. Just because. After all, Jeep is the original SUV.

The word came in that the perch were back near shore on Lake Michigan. We launched out of the Portage Marina near the Indiana Dunes early Sunday morning. Winds were light and not a cloud in the sky. Fishing was spotty outside the port so we motored over to Michigan City on the east end of the dunes. Lots of boats but not a lot of fish. Winds were nil and that was the problem to me. Drift fishing allows us to cover more water. But it was July in October and it was fine day out on the big lake. Got a sunburn too.

I caught one official “jumbo” This is a 12” perch, the largest of the day. We caught only two in this class, my son Andy caught the other. The rest were mostly too small to keep. I gave the few keepers to my brother because it was a nice meal for two and I was already planning on making a Steve H. scratch recipe pizza for the Bear game later in the evening. If you have not tried making a pizza his way you must give it a try. Steve makes outstanding food. Buy his book.

Da’ Bearss. They finished off that fine October weekend Sunday night. Beating Green Bay in Green Bay is what we live for, that and another Cub October choke. The Bears salvaged their early season and still have a chance for the playoffs even if there is a lot they need to work on. Packer fans are a close second to Cub fans for being jerks. The outfits, foam cheese hats and the rest of the git-ups can be overlooked cause it’s Green Bay.

One thing Packer fans love to do is start up the “Bears Still Suck” cheer. There were signs with that saying on them and the TV camera would avoid them but they were sightings reported in the newspaper.

It must feel pretty bad watching your future Hall-Of-Fame quarterback and 4-0 division leading Packers get beat by a team that sucks. Only in Green Bay…and at Clark and Addison.

Today is another off-day for me so I am about to go out to start up the Harley and get some country road sunshine. They predict 59 for a high on Wednesday. Global Warming is on the wane for another year, gotta’ enjoy it while it lasts.


College football results were upbeat for many in the wake of the past weekend. Dan has to be pleased about Illinois. They lost an Indian but gained a good coach and a solid football team.

Notre Dame won their first game. Praise the Lord and Pass the Football!!

Stanford knocked off the USC Trojans. Coached by ex-Bear and Michigan QB Jim Harbaugh Stanford made the best of sloppy USC play. I would have loved to see the smug smile wiped off Pete Caroll's face for once.

You all have a great week!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Jury Experiences

Have you ever served on a jury? I have not and believe it or not I would actually like to do it someday before I die.

My friend Jonathan is putting together a site called I have read a lot of the stories over there and they are fascinating.

If you have ever participated in the jury system as a juror, lawyer, judge or anything else, swing by that site and please contribute.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Drop Dead Pat Forde, Part Four

Lets all review what Pat Forde had to say just a few short weeks ago when the Illini were playing Syracuse:

Syracuse-Illinois (14): The two worst coaching hires of 2004 square off. Greg Robinson (5-20 at Syracuse) and Ron Zook (5-20 at Illinois) compete for the right to give their fans false hope that they're turning things around.

Hahahaha Pat Forde, drop dead you jerk. Not only are we on our way to a bowl game, we are on our way to a DAMNED GOOD bowl game.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Hey Pat Forde, you pathetic loser, this season is dedicated to YOU.

Fighting Illini

The Illini beat Wisconsin today. As a long-suffering Illini fan, it feels good to watch the team do so well. They can take some of the heat off our slumping Bears, who appear to be on a downward spiral that will take years to correct.

My Illini history goes back pretty far. I remember watching them in the Rose Bowl in the early 80's when they got smashed, but that was one of their better seasons. They had some good years under Mike White with some hot QB's like Eason but then they folded, hit by recruiting violations. I was down in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl a while back, but that game was a disaster for the Illini and their most recent high point before the low that Zook has brought us out of.

What is most impressive to me is the athleticism of the new young picks that Zook has found. It almost seems like we are watching a big SEC team or something like that. And it is hard for me to get my mind around the fact that an NFL type passing attack that the Illini used to have has been replaced by an old school running game that looks like Oklahoma in their peak. But it is all good for us so far this year and if we can keep this up in the Big Ten Dan and I will probably be packing it off for a bowl game somewhere. One positive of the Bowl system is at least all the games are in warm climates or domes so we don't have to freeze to death like we do at the Bears' playoff games.

Electric Six at Double Door

On Friday night we saw Electric Six at the Double Door in Chicago. The show was only $15 / ticket which was a bargain because they played for a long time and had 2 decent opening bands. The first band "We are the Fury" actually seemed to be a decent band; they had a good rock n' roll type singer who was skinny, spitting on stage and had a good vocal range. The 2nd band "Gore Gore Girls" weren't that great musically but they had a funny shtick since they wore short latex type skirts except for the drummer who actually appeared to be a musician.
The real star of the show of course was Electric Six, led by their deranged front man Dick Valentine. I saw Electric Six at Lolla but it was in the middle of the day which doesn't fit the spirit of these guys. Coming on near midnight was more their style. The weather was as hot as lolla - it was broiling at the Double Door with this unexpected heat wave in October.

The crowd was into it and it was a good show. The highlight for me beyond their music is the totally unique stage banter of Dick Valentine. In this clip his drummer needed a minute or so to fix his kit so Dick just let us all hear what was on his mind. As always, it is inexplicable. I love the ending, too "And that's all I've got to say about that".

It's Not Gonna Happen

The goat is back and the clock is ticking. Soon it will be 100 years since the Chicago Cubs won a world Series.


Real die-hard Cub fans seemed to know that this playoff series was nothing more than another dry hump for the ages. Their lack of playoff excitement beyond the shameless local media euphoria is as plain as the nose on a goat's face.

Recent Observations:

-Not a lot of Cub hats or jerseys worn by fans downtown last week. During past Cub playoff years (not that there were many of those) there were uninhibited mass outward expressions of team loyalty and exuberance. Not this year. I have seen more Sox hats and 2005 White Sox World Series Champion t-shirts on the street.

-Not much water-cooler Cub talk in the office. Fans seem to know that this Cub playoff choke is another foregone conclusion and they are laying low.

-On the local news there were interviews with retailers who are complaining that Central Division Championship Cub merchandise such as hats and t-shirts are not selling at all. How embarrassing is that?? Do their fans finally get it?

-Lifelong Sox Fan Mayor Richard M. Daley wore a Cub hat to the big civic rally early this week. Could he be the next Cub curse?

-My usual Cub fan friends on the commuter train changed their riding habits to avoid me.

-Ronnie Woo-Woo has laryngitis.

Today the Cubs may prolong the eternal agony for their fans IF they happen to win. My prediction is that another Bartman will emerge. Cub fans need a new excuse.

The ridicule I was subject to for most of my life from Cub fans is coming home to roost again, big time. As a lifelong Sox fan the latest Cub playoff choke is going to taste as sweet as a grilled prime aged steak at Gene & Georgetti.

After all, my Chicago White Sox won the 2005 World Series. What do you think, Kerry Wood?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Level One

Thursday night I tested for my Level One rating in Muay Thai Kickboxing which entitles me to wear thai shorts to the gym. I think it is the second hardest physical activity I have ever engaged in, the hardest being the first time I completed the Wright Stuff Century (riding my bike 100 miles over big hills).

As I was huffing, puffing and sweating the song "Pretty Noose" popped into my head.

Fallout and take the bait
Eat the fruit
And kiss the snake goodnight
Common ruse dirty face
Pretty noose is pretty hate
And I don't like
What you got me hanging from

Well, OK that song really is about a bitch, but the lyrics applied to me on Thursday night. The instructor had myself and my classmates in what I would describe as a pretty noose.

Things were different when I entered the gym for the test - there was a table in the center with stopwatches and lots of paper with the instructor and assistant instructor sitting there filling things out. Right away I knew that things were going to be rough - I just didn't know exactly to what extent. Some advanced level guys were sticking around too. As I did my preliminary warm up and stretching I noticed that the gym had a much more serious air about it this evening.

We started in as always by saluting the Thai flag and the instructor.

First up was an easy footwork drill. Then we did some shadow boxing, that featured each strike that we had been taught over the last several months (jab, cross, hook, right and left uppercut) and each kick (rear thai, switch, long and short footjab). After this the advanced guys put on the thai pads for us and we went to work on them with combos - we began with punching. We did five rounds of this, two minutes each. The guy who was holding the pads for me was very encouraging and complimented me on my power. It was pretty cool hearing that sound of those pads popping.

After this the guys who were testing did a bunch of sparring, I think it was five rounds if I remember correctly, punches only, and nothing to the head - body boxing. I believe it was at this point that I remembered the song Pretty Noose - we were only halfway done and I was getting gassed.

During the sparring I rolled my damned ankle - too bad, I had to suck it up. I had waaay too much invested in this thing to stop now.

After this we did kick combos for five rounds, then kick/punch combos for five rounds, then more sparring with each other, kicks only. It was crazy.

The floor was getting slick with sweat from us which was no problem for the instructor and assistant instructor - they simply moved us to another part of they gym and moved the table around to view us. Toward the end of this portion I was beginning to red line - I knew from experience with my heart rate monitor that I had to be over 90% by this time. It was becoming mental. Every second between rounds was spent gasping for air, trying to get my heart rate down to 80% where I am much more comfortable. It worked pretty well, but 30 seconds or so into the next round I could feel myself getting back into the red zone.

The sweat was rolling off at about one drop per second - I am not making that up.

Finally, all of the skills and drills and sparring were over and then we got to do....conditioning. Oh yes - cardio kicks, push ups, ab work, sprints in the gym and a few other things. And we were done.

The instructor herded us outside - they wanted to talk about us. I told the other guys that I sure hoped that I passed because I left everything I had on the gym floor. Everyone else said the same thing.

We came back in and the instructor went through each guy (there were only four of us this night) and told them what they needed to improve upon and what they were good at. I was last - I was told that my footwork is a little narrow and that my hook needs a little work, but those things are easily corrected. Outside of that I was complimented on gritting it out after I rolled my ankle - I had no idea they had even seen that. Also, the instructor brought up the fact that I was by far the oldest guy in my class (I am 38) but was the best conditioned. I was surprised at this - the other guys must not have been looking as good as me in the later portions of the class.

I received a few other compliments I don't remember and then the instructor stood up from the table, walked over to me, shook my hand and presented me with my certificate. Five months and four days of work, toil, sweat, pain, bruises, and damned hard work was finally rewarded. My Thai Shorts will arrive early next week.

With that the instructor gave us some info on the advanced MT classes and complimented us on a test well done - he also said that this was probably the best Level One test they have ever had. That might have been bullshit, but that's OK with me - it made all of us feel pretty damned good.

We took a group photo (which I will post here as soon as I get a copy) so you can see what four seriously exhausted guys look like. Myself and the other testers shook each others hands, patted each other on the back and that was the end.

We saluted the Thai flag, the instructor and went home. My head was absolutely buzzing from endorphins, adrenaline and I could tell that I was getting dehydrated. I didn't sleep too well last night. I will sleep very well tonight.


Click photo for larger.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Shrimp...on the Bar-B.

Wait! Don’t just throw that shrimp on the Bar-B. Give them some love and they will love you back.

Grilling seafood can be intimidating to casual backyard grillers. Seafood is expensive and it’s easy to overcook or screw up somehow. I have had my share of failures. Grilling adds a flavor impossible to get from conventional indoor methods. The challenge with grilling seafood (from fish, shrimp, clams, mussels to octopus, urchin and narwal) is to keep it from drying out. The following demonstrates how to grill shrimp and get that great grill flavor while enjoying a moist, flavorful seafood feast at the same time.

This is way too simple. You will thank me for this. Eventually.

The recipe I advocate here came from Cook’s Illustrated magazine and I highly recommend this outstanding journal of all things delicious. There is nothing that compares to CI. Trust me on this.

Cook’s Illustrated shows you how to replicate cooking restaurant quality food at home. They do this by testing many different methods prior to publishing. They document all their mistakes as well so you won’t make them. I have tried dozens of their recipes and have never, ever been disappointed.

You may have seen their television show on PBS. It’s called America’s Test Kitchen. It is hosted by Cook’s publisher, Chris Kimball. Chris wears a red bow-tie and looks like a professor of poetry at a liberal arts school but he is the man when it comes to preparing outstanding food.

The Food Channel has nothing on him with the exception of Alton Brown, but Chris wins by a wisk. You will get more out of one Cook’s issue than you will watching an entire year’s worth of that obnoxiously plump, giggling little tart Rachel Ray or that cackling old cracker, Paula Dean. Don’t get me started. I like The Food Channel…but. On to the shrimps.

Please excuse the quality of the following photos. The natural light is gone by 6:30 pm this time of year so I am left using a cheap little flash and my deck light.

This recipe is called Grilled Shrimp with Charmoula sauce. Sounds exotic, huh? I will also grill potato slices and fresh-picked corn-on-the-cob, which will be available to me until the first frost. If you’re not jealous already you probably are a farmer or a chef. I am there.

Start with 1 ½ lbs of shrimp. Bigger is always better. Peel and de-vein if necessary.
Soak bamboo skewers in water for at least ½ hour.
Skewer the shrimp by alternating their positioning on the skewer. This will keep them packed tight and moist while grilling.

Slice the potatoes into 1/3 inch planks. Mix some paprika, chili powder, salt and pepper into a combination of melted butter and vegetable oil to taste. Baste the potatoes with this mixture and place on a cookie sheet.

To make the charmoula sauce combine the following:
4 T olive oil
1 small red bell pepper diced (about ½ c)
1 T paprika
½ t ground cumin
½ t ground cayenne
3 cloves garlic,minced or pressed
¼ t salt
1/3 c minced cilantro leaves
2T juice from fresh squeezed lemon

This recipe is easily cooked on a gas grill. This is grilling...remember? It's not barbecuing. A charcoal grill works fine too. But make sure the heat is not to high, the entire process needs no more than a 400 degree surface temp and it is good to have a cool spot with no direct heat.

First I like to prep all the ingredients before getting the grill up to temp. Timing can be tricky. The potatoes are sliced, basted and ready to go on a cookie sheet. The shrimp are skewered and ready to go on another cookie sheet. OH! WAIT! I forgot to mention that dusting one side of the skewered shrimp with table sugar before grilling adds a nice carmelized char and a touch of sweetness. It’s a nice little Cook’s Illustrated tip. Try it. The charmoula sauce has been mixed and placed into a disposable pan or one lined with aluminum foil. Get it all set up near the grill before cooking and it makes the process a lot easier.

The potatoes will take longer to cook. Since my gas grill (like most) has hot spots I place the potatoes on the cooler side. Mine is on the left side. Close the lid and allow them to grill for about ten minutes. Then you can turn the potatoes. After another five to ten minutes the potatoes should be done. They may be removed or reserved, stacked on the coolest spot on the grill.

Place the pan with the charmoula sauce on the grill and get it heated up. Once it is sauteeing it is time to grill the shrimp. Since the idea here is to keep the shrimp moist do not fully cook the shrimp. Get some nice grill marks going, two to three minutes per side. Then remove the shrimp from the skewers and place them into the charmoula sauce pan.

Allow the shrimp to finish in the sauce, stirring them up a time or two for about one minute.

Time to plate this feast. Toss on some chopped cilantro for an added flavor boost.

Grilling seafood is easy and simple. And you don’t need to buy one of those special seafood basket things. Anyone who pays attention and has a bit of patience can grill seafood like a pro and save yourself some money too.