Friday, February 29, 2008

That Will Leave a Mark

It is hard to tell in the photo, but my sash now has two stripes - yellow and green. The yellow one blends in a bit but you can see it below the green one. The yellow one was earned in our boxing block of curriculum and the green one was awarded last night for a months worth of elbow curriculum. We are all very happy that this month is over.

Don't get me wrong, I love throwing the elbows, it is just that the last month we have thrown so many that we are all beginning to dream elbows. Every single person in the gym has cuts, bruises and band aids all over their elbow area from pad work.

But that is that, and we won't be doing them again for another few months. We move on to a block of kicking for next month and all that will bring - bruises all up and down the shins. It has been a while since we did kicking and I am afraid that the nerve endings on my shins have healed - they will have to be deadened again and that will take a while, but it will be done.

Last night was especially rewarding for me as the person I was sparring with, the lone female in the advanced classes, was pretty complimentary on my technique. She has a fight coming up and frankly she looked like sh1t. Don't get me wrong she is very good, but her shoulder has major issues - I don't know how she will be ready to fight next month. But she gave me some tips and tricks that really helped me a lot. I always have my shoulders too tensed up and last night she gave me some tips to loosen up that I will take to heart.

We also took some time last night to go over some things about self defense. The gym preaches the "functional" aspect of the things they teach. We set up some situations such as if someone grabs your shirt and pushes you, and a few other things. It was interesting and fun for everyone to ham it up a bit and put some of the things we have learned to practical use.

My instructor is off to Vegas to train for his upcoming fight in Milwaukee, a fight that Carl, I and Elton will be attending. I truly feel sorry for my instructor's opponent. I am hoping for a first round knockout. The card should be great, as now they have added some MMA matches in addition to the Muay Thai fights on the program. I am looking forward to that evening like I haven't looked forward to an evening of entertainment in quite some time.

Tomorrow there is a class in the morning, then in the afternoon a pad feeding seminar, which is the first part to me becoming an assistant coach on the fight team. I am too old to fight (and actually have a job and family to take care of) so have decided to live vicariously through my gym-mates. In about six weeks I will receive a pad holding certification and be named an assistant coach for the fight team. I and a few others are going through an extensive course on how to properly hold pads and spar with the fighters so they don't have to waste time holding pads for each other. Exciting stuff to be sure. But tomorrow will be long as I have been fighting a cold I brought back from Florida and will be in the gym some six hours in total. Oh well, I will make it through.

Oh yes, one more thing - everyone will be happy to know that I have a few more pairs of "hot pants" on the way as I am at the gym so often now that I don't have time to keep my original pairs clean. Photo update on that as soon as they arrive. Also there has been some question in the comments of the "Self Portrait" post as to the swimwear that I was sporting on my vacation in Florida last week, and we will have a photo of that as well.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Random Road Rants And…%#!@**&^!!!!

It’s bad enough driving in the recent road conditions when dealing with significant snowfalls that have occured every three days for weeks on end. Clear days aren’t much better when confronting more arrogant road idiots on a daily basis than ever before. It brings out the curmudgeon in me.

More and more drivers are ignoring the rules of the road and common courtesy at an alarming rate. Most of my driving is in rural areas and I avoid urban roads like an Oprah show. Lately I have become extremely defensive out on the road especially when riding my motorcycle. What brings out the rage in me like nothing else is when a motorist demands his illegal right-of-way and deliberately challenges me to control my vehicle and the entire situation by taking evasive measures. Are they clueless or just not paying attention? In my observation most of them just don’t care. I know this because when I honk they give me the finger.

By not being highly alert and cautious when entering an intersection you allow these idiots take control of your life…and his. No longer does the rule of right-of-way apply when another vehicle is approaching from the left or the right. It seems to occur most often when nobody is anywhere in sight behind me. They pull out right in front of me and slow down as if nothing happened. %#!@**&^!!!!

Since when did the right lane become the passing lane? Ever notice this? This is probably the main cause of road rage today.

For instance, I drive on a divided highway (SR49) each day. To the north between I-90 and I-80 94 there are way too many traffic signals to call it a “bypass” highway, which was the intent of its design. Trucks tend to bunch up in this area. Nobody wants to get behind a chain of semi trucks slowly accelerating after a red signal.

So what do some dill-hole drivers do? When the signal goes green they proceed to linger in the left lane going at or below the posted speed limit (50mph). They deliberately drive parallel to these huge semi’s in the left lane at the same rate of speed and refuse to resume traveling on the right side after passing. I find myself passing slower cars in the right lane constantly. This is dangerous and against the law. Now, IF I am not speeding just who is breaking the law? Isn’t it also against the law to drive and dwell in the left lane for miles without allowing anyone to pass? %#!@**&^!!!!

I am convinced these idiots are fully aware of what they are doing. They feel as if they have a constitutional right to drive in the left lane as long as they are not exceeding the speed limit and if I don’t like it, too damn bad. I know this because when I honk as I pass they give me the finger.

Semi-Trucks can be a real pain in the ass (nothing new here) but it seems as if they invent new was to piss me off every day. Ever get behind a truck in the left lane that is trying to pass another truck in the right lane after a red signal? You know the story where one truck wants to take the lead and the one in the right lane won’t give it to him as they slowly gear up to the posted speed? We travel behind patiently waiting to see who gives in first. A few miles later and we all end up at another red signal or toll booth again. Ever get behind a semi spewing loose gravel or some unknown greasy liquid? Ever get behind one that tosses a retread? I have. Makes me want to....%#!@**&^!!!!

Since I drive between 55 and 60mph whenever possible to conserve fuel it amazes me how many high-performance coupes, extended cab pickup trucks and SUV’s are blowing by my Jeep. The Jeep is not slow on the highway. It is geared for a low-end torque for 4WD reasons so jackrabbit starts are impossible for me. Me and the Jeep become a hazard on the highway when proceeding at 55-60mph in the right hand lane. There are times when a jerk will pull up behind me and tailgate within 2’ of my bumper because there are vehicles in the left lane so tight together and traveling so fast there are no gaps for the jerk to pass me. It seems as if the jerk wants me to speed up or pull over on the shoulder. %#!@**&^!!!!

What about the game players? They are the biggest road jerks of all. I know you’ve encountered these assholes. Let’s say you’re driving along not too fast, not too slow. He's in front as you catch up to slower moving traffic. You pull into the left lane to pass and said jerk in front of you does the same. Then he slows down to match the speed of the slower auto while passing on the left. You travel a few miles and when he finally allows you to pull back into the right lane the MF speeds up. Not caring if you catch up to him or not you finally do so because of a red signal or more slower moving traffic. And he then resumes playing the same game of tag all over again. These people need to be dismembered. One limb at a time. %#!@**&^!!!!

I just hate cell phones yappers. When encountering a slow moving vehicle in the left lane the odds are great that they are yapping on a cell phone. Cell phone yappers annoy me just about anywhere I encounter them. Since I sit up high on the road I can look down and have often seen drivers typing a text message on their gotdamn Blackberry while steering with their knees. I would like to see those things shoved up their ass. Sideways. %#!@**&^!!!!

Should anyone be allowed to eat their dinner while driving? People eating while driving should gag to death with no medical attention whatsoever. Why do these idiots think they are driving around in their family room? Fast food franchises actually deliver drive-thru food in easy to hold containers. Outlaw that shit too. %#!@**&^!!!!

And Ladies, would you please apply the make-up at home instead of in your rear-view mirror? Please? If you weigh over 200lbs there is no amount of make-up in the world that will distract a guy’s eyes from your gigantic fat ass believe me. %#!@**&^!!!!

Minivan Televisions. I had kids and we never had drop-down flat-screen televisions to keep them occupied on long road trips. We took more of those than I care to remember. Have you ever passed a vehicle with porn videos playing on a flat-screen in a vehicle? I have. Get a room. Or get an RV fer’ chrissakes. %#!@**&^!!!!

Last year I had to drive into the city (a 55 mile trip door to door) for two weeks so I tried an experiment. For decades I traveled at 65mph+ when on the interstate. 55mph was way too slow and boring. As I mentioned earlier driving at 55 makes me a road hazard even when traveling in the right hand lane. The high cost of fuel made me blink. At $3.per gallon the cost of fuel approaches the cost of Starbucks coffee or bottled water per ounce. Well, maybe not quite THAT much.

Anyway...when driving at 65mph I could count on making barely two round trips to and from Chicago and Valparaiso on one full tank of fuel. In the age of higher priced fuel it occurred to me that the claim of "driving at 55mph conserves fuel" was worth a shot. Since I never tried I decided to give it a test.

By keeping my speed at a steady 55 I was able to squeeze out one extra one-way trip from a tank of fuel to and from the city. It turned out to be a ten dollar saving on one tankful. If I drove in for five days I can save $20 per week. That's ONE FREE ROUND TRIP or 110 extra miles!

On public rail transportation a round trip is $15. If using a monthly pass it's less. A round trip ticket sure beats $40.+ for a round trip in the car (includes tolls and parking). It's a lot less frustrating and a lot less wear and tear on the car.

On the train I get to read and relax. I have seen people driving while reading too. %#!@**&^!!!!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Self Portrait

Click Photo for larger.

RIP William F. Buckley

I just heard the sad news. Growing up I really didn’t know much about him, what he did or who he was, mostly getting my images of him from Saturday Night Live skits and other slapstic routines that made fun of his demeanor. The last few years I have take a pretty good dive into some of his books and am very glad I did. Thank you William for a life well lived.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

At Least the Food Will Be Good and the Beer Will Be Cold

Carl has asked me to turn a short email conversation into a post, so here we go.

Man, it looks like the Bears are gonna suck out loud for the forseeable future. I will be happy to retract that after free agency officially starts on Friday and after the draft, but the early signs are bleak.

They signed Rex and Orton to one year deals. So that solidifies the QB position in Chicago for yet another year of hair pulling nightmares. Not even a run at McNabb? Damn.

They cut our best receiver, Moose Muhammad and it looks like we are going to lose Berrian. They gave Desmond Clark a TWO YEAR DEAL! That guy is a stiff! What happened to Olson?

Our offensive line is old and broken except for Kreutz. Mercifully they cut Fred Miller. It also looks as though we are going to lose Ayanbedejo and Briggs. We did give Alex Brown a 2 year deal, so that is good.

For gods sake the Bears have THIRTY MILLION dollars under the cap that they can work with and no major deals yet, except assuring a terrible year at the qb position again. I think that the Bears Super Bowl run was a fluke, and that the past 20 plus years of mediocrity are going to be the norm.

Like I said, at least the food, beer and company will be great as always and we have endless material for

Big Ten Network Ready To Hibernate

There really isn't much to report on the story of the Big Ten Network vs. the cable companies, however a few interesting tidbits have come out over the last few weeks.

About 10 days ago Wisconsin played at Indiana in a very important game in the men's basketball race. Wisconsin is and has been in a close race for the regular season championship. The game was played at Indiana. The game was also on the Big Ten Network which means (everybody say it with me) that nobody around here can watch the game unless you have a dish or go to a bar. As a friendly gesture the BTN allowed Wisconsin to show the game at the Kohl Center, where the Badgers play their home games. The admission was free, and hot dogs were $1 - and the band, cheerleaders and even Bucky Badger were there. Total attendance? 2,400. I am stunned - I half expected the place to be packed - Badger fans are the most rabid I have ever seen. At a minimum I was expecting a half full house. Instead, the Badger fans have pretty much given the whole godawful situation the middle finger, as they rightly should.

But alas for the BTN, time is running short - their slate of games has only a week or two left and then the networks pick up the Big Ten Tournament and CBS has March Madness. And the BTN can pack its crap up and hibernate and get back to showing women's volleyball, rowing, and re-runs of the 1977 Indiana-Purdue fencing championships. Not that there is anything wrong with any of those sports.

In other words, the BTN will have next to ZERO letters, calls or complaints until football starts up next year. And even then, I think that the fans will just do what they did this last year - go to a friend with a dish or go to a bar. Or just listen to the game on the radio. What a disaster of epic proportions for the Big Ten. The conference and that network are the laughingstock of the nation and I would assume recruits are going elsewhere in droves.

As an aside I heard on a local talk radio show that a guy who actually ditched his cable to get a dish for the BTN just got his rates jacked because the dish service put the BTN and the NFL Network on a higher pay tier. I laughed my butt off when I heard him almost crying on the radio yesterday. I really don't have any way to verify this, but it is funny nonetheless. So even on the dish, the BTN is on a TIER, just where the cable companies WANT to put them. Nice.


Click photo for larger.
On our vacation to Sanibel Island last week we booked an ecotour. We like these little jaunts, where you are typically ferried via a passenger craft to a little more remote part of the place you are vacationing, and usually learn a lot about the wildlife that inhabits it. We even saw some dolphins swimming around this day.

There was a lot of marine traffic and this guy took the cake. He was bringing it. I saw him on the bow a long ways away and barely had time to get the camera ready for this shot he was going so fast.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Chicago Park District at work

The Chicago Park District (CPD) runs Soldier Field and the parking lots surrounding the stadium. Since Dan and I tailgate at the Bears game whenever we can we are constantly dealing with the lowest form of government functionary that is the CPD employee.

We normally park in the south lot which is just south of Soldier Field (hence, the name). You exit at 18th street and if you have a red tag you can park in the lot.

As soon as you exit Lake Shore Drive heading south your hell begins; even though EVERY WEEK the parking is exactly the same the employees are always utterly bewildered by the situation. The cones aren't set up and you have to know exactly what you are doing in order to get into the lot; it is obvious that the CPD employees don't care at all. There generally is a single employee who takes the parking tag that you put on your window that is moderately intelligent; the rest know nothing.

Another typical CPD incident occurred when Dan put up a couple of flags while we were tailgating; one of the flags had the Miller Light logo and they came over across ten thousand people publicly urinating and everything else to tell us to take down the flag because commercial speech was not allowed...

It is to the point that my family is prepared for the inevitable rant about the idiocy of these employees; I tell my nephews that if you don't complete college you'll be standing around outside in the freezing cold misdirecting traffic to nowhere.
Thus you can understand the incredibly low benchmark that I set for CPD behavior. At the Dog Show on Sunday I made the insane decision to attempt to follow the McCormick place signs for parking.

The signs directed us to the 31st street lot which is south of McCormick Place. As I drove past the 18th street lot which is immediately north of McCormick Place (you can walk right into the "old" building) I had a pang of regret which came to roost a bit later.

We went to 31st street which involves a strange "turn around" that you have to make to head back towards the highway overpass and concrete which is McCormick place from the south. As we drove up, there was absolutely no signs to say anything about where to park.

We pulled into the 31st street lot and made the rude mistake of disturbing an agent who was supposed to take our $16 and she was very irked with us. It took a while to get our change (who could have predicted we'd pay with a $20 bill, after all) and when I asked where the shuttle bus was she just pointed and shouted "that way!"

We pulled into the lot which was totally battered; the car was looping up and down through a maze of potholes and cracked and loopy concrete. It was amazing. We pulled up next to what appeared to be an abandoned tractor trailer and parked. Then we started the LONG walk to McCormick place, which was probably 3/4 or so of a mile.

Along the way buses occasionally roared by; one actually had "lost" lit up in the description of the bus route; it was classic. Bewildered dog show participants straggled towards the building with nary a sign along the way.

We walked up to the building and no entrance was apparent; we are actual Chicago citizens I can't imagine what a non-citizen would think (directions, neighborhood, etc...). After a while we found a door that actually was opened and we started the trek towards the dog show; there was a helpful security guard who pointed us the right way.

The photos above show the concrete wasteland behind McCormick Place; not a sign in view (unless you count the roaring expressway up above). But the classic was the fact that big chunks of concrete fell down - you can see them in the lower photo; why bother cleaning this up for the $16 fee. We hurried past so no additional road debris would land on our heads.

When we got back to our car somehow more trucks had moved in and we were parked in; it was nuts (I can't resist repeatedly pointing out the $16 fee for this 'service'). We pulled around and were cornered and had to snake back; then we contemplated jumping the curve to get to the road that led to LSD. Finally we pulled up with one wheel on the curb in order to skirt by the big rigs and get to an exit; there were no signs so we went towards the facility to no avail; after a while we turned around and then drove south to 31st street in order to get back on the line. As we drove we went past bewildered tourists with kids stumbling towards McCormick place out in the distance; the more trusting ones waited for buses.

Another day with the CPD...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

2008 Chicago IKC Dog Show

Today we went to the International Kennel Club (IKC) Dog Show in Chicago. The show was held at McCormick place, the giant convention center south of the Loop between 18th and 31st streets. There was a great crowd at the show with lots of gawkers like me as well as individuals showing their dogs, peddling dog-wares, or acting as judges.
The best part, for me at least, was walking around and watching the owners groom their dogs. The most fun were the little dogs that were like tiny toys.
I guess this is the equivalent of having your hair in curlers (I can only speculate).
This guy was the star of the show. He (?) was shaking a bit, which isn't too surprising since he has little hair. I like the bemused owner.

This big guy seemed happy to get a shampoo!

I was looking at the web logs and we were getting a lot of hits from when I attended the dog show two years ago (here, here and here). I think my photos are better this time around because I walked up to the groomers and owners and asked if I could take a shot without flash and they were generally more than happy to oblige.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Wisconsin Primary Analysis

I am a very simple guy, and I ask simple questions. This political season I am asking a question to myself over and over and over - just how many conservative/libertarian folks such as myself have been crossing over and voting for Obama in open primaries? My initial guess was a bunch, and it looks as though I may have been correct.

First, let me explain how the primary system works here in Wisconsin. You enter the polling place and are handed a ballot with each parties candidates. You are then allowed to choose which primary you would like to vote in. Since I hate the woman from Hades so much I decided to vote for Obama, to do my part to keep her out of the White House. Not that he will be much better, but I do think that he will have to turn drastically to the center during the general campaign - if he is the winner of the D primary. But that is for another time.

Now lets take a look at the results of the past few elections in Wisconsin.
  • 1996 - Clinton - 1,071,971 (49%) Dole - 845,029 (39%) Perot - 227,339 (10%)
  • 2000 - Bush - 1,237,279 (48%) Gore - 1,242,987 (48%) Nader - 94,070 (4%)
  • 2004 - Bush - 1,478,120 (49.4%) Kerry - 1,489,504 (49.7%)

As you can see, this state is pretty well divided right down the middle.

Now lets check out this years primary totals:

  • Obama: 646,007, Clinton: 452,795 - total 1,098,802 (75% of primary vote total)
  • McCain: 224,226, Huckabee: 151,201 - total 375,427 (25% of primary vote total)

What this simple math tells me is that fewer Democrats came out in this intense primary than usually do in a presidential election. And that FAR fewer Republicans came out. This in and of itself isn't unusual. I think that something more sinister is up though. I believe that tons of Republicans crossed over and voted for Obama. Being an open primary there really is no way to tell how many did cross over, but the total lack of interest in a pretty much already decided Republican contest had to contribute to many conservatives and other HRC haters to cast votes for Obama. I am guessing that this is happening all across the country as well. The Dems may very well win this fall, but I believe they are in for a tougher fight than they may have bargained for.

I don't exactly watch the news shows that fixate on this stuff, but they really don't seem to be saying too much about the "Hate Hill" factor, as I like to call it.

As a side note, there was nothing else on the ballot at least in my county (Dane) this time around, just the primaries.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz.

Friday, February 22, 2008

New Look Bulls

Dan watched a dispiriting NBA game and blogged about it here. On the other hand, I saw the Bulls tonight and they put on an amazing offensive display, whupping the newly tough Denver Nuggets and scoring 135 points. The announcer said that this was the most points scored by the Bulls since 1992 but I was unable to corroborate this on the web.

The game seemed unlikely to be a success since my ticket had Ben Wallace on the front of it; the United Center used to "bong" like the chimes of Big Ben but those were few and far between the way he had played recently. But the Bulls traded Mr. Wallace (as well as firing Coach Skiles, who was a class act until the end and refused to whimper about his firing) and now they are totally refreshed and a much more dangerous team. They are playing their kids like Tyrus Thomas who has just an amazing ability to leap and block shots and who really put on a display. Noah was also doing great and Gordon, probably in his "contract year" as a Bull (likely for someone else), was on fire.

It was great, exciting basketball against a good Denver team that had been playing well and was fortified by Iverson in addition to Anthony. It was a good omen for the Bulls to beat up on them and score so easily.

Chicago Moon and Sunrise

On the top photo you can see the lunar eclipse over the Trump building... the same eclipse that apparently saved Columbus. If you enlarge the picture and look at the moon you can see the impact of the eclipse and to the lower left (a bit down below the moon) you can see Saturn, pointed out by my mom. Down below you can see a beautiful sunrise the next morning.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Chicago Style Italian Beef

A few months back I entered a conversation while working in a Chicago office environment where the debate was about the best beef sandwich. Not who serves the best beef sandwich but what style is best, Chicago style Italian Beef or Philadelphia Cheesesteak sandwiches? I never had an “official” Philly Cheesesteak because I have never been to Philadelphia. On many occasions i have enjoyed the Chicago-style Italian Beef sandwich at the many greasy spoon style corner eateries and Vienna Beef hot dog joints.

Chicago has been called hog butcher of the world and they butchered a fine mess of cattle over the years too. The Italian beef sandwich is a local treaasure that is the heritage of the many legal Italian immigrants who settled on the south side near the Union Stockyards. It was there that Italian immigrants found gainful employment and learned to speak English. If you are not from Chicago you may have never eaten or even heard of this sandwich. It’s that local.

The Philadelphia Cheesesteak sandwich is also a product of the Italian immigrants in Philly who came up with that idea even though there is nothing Italian about Cheeze Whizz and fried beef. But Philly is famous for them and they are imitated nationally as well. I don’t think Chicago-Style Italian beef has the same national reputation. If you try one or even find one in a place such as SanFrancisco it is probably a poor imitation.

What was interesting in the discussion is that two of the five guys involved were from Philadelphia. They were split, one thought the Chicago sandwich was superior and that the Philly Cheesesteak sucked while his brotherly love buddy had an opposite view. Those of us who never had original cheesesteak enjoyed their very animated repartee.

Making a good Chicago Italian Beef sandwich at home is not an easy thing to do. I have tried many times. Never have I tried to make a Philly Cheesesteak. It just does not capture my interest. Even by closely following the recipes for Italian Beef in my many experiments mine always turned out tough and bland, never like the ones I enjoyed at places like Mr. Beef on the corner of Orleans and Huron not far from Carl’s River North condo. As always, click on any photo to enlarge.

Chicago has many Vienna Hot Dog stands and that is where you will always find the best beef sandwich. Jay Leno gave Mr.Beef on Orleans national exposure when he did a segment there while filming the Tonight Show from Chicago long ago. I think he was amused with the name “Mr.Beef”. Not only do they have gratuitous photos of Leno on premise but their delivery truck bears a caricature of Jay with a facsimile of his signature and endorsement. There is only one Mr.Beef outlet, it is not a chain.

SIDEBAR: While attending an advertising award show at the Chicago Conrad Hilton in 1988 I met Jay Leno in person. We were seated at a table in the rear of the grand ballroom and a voice from behind asked why we were not eating the complimentary bags of Doritos placed on the table. It was Jay in person who was the MC of the show and about to be introduced. He shook hands with each of us and wisecracked about awards for ads being silly and his ads for Doritos (at the time) would not be awarded so he joked about that too. He was a friendly guy who did not have to speak with us personally but he did. I have been a big fan of Jay’s just of his because of his engaging friendliness with us that night.

Now back to the beef.

Last week I noticed a new Chicago Style Italian Beef recipe in Cook’s Country magazine. It looked so good I just had to try it but my expectations were rather low due to my past failures. But Cook’s has proven to be such a bible of excellent recipes I had no reservations about trying it. Since I have been posting and documenting some of my favorite recipes here at LITGM this one makes me want to scream…


This one is so good, so tender and flavorful it can be served as a main course roast when entertaining. But the sandwich is what I was after. WOW, what a success it was. This one is going on my list of favorites and so good I want to make it again next weekend since the leftovers are almost gone.

Mix in a bowl:
4t garlic powder
4t dried basil
4t dried oregano
1T pepper

In a large dutch oven or skillet, heat:
1 T vegetable oil
Add: 1 – 4lb top sirloin roast or tri-tip and brown
Brown the roast well on all sides and place in a rack within a roasting pan.

1 large onion chopped, to fat in the skillet and soften for five minutes
Then add to skillet:
4 cloves minced garlic
1 T flour
1 T of the spice mixture and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute

Stir in:
2 C beef broth
2 C chicken broth
1 ½ C water and using wooden spatula scrape off browned beef bits, bring to a boil. Then add all to roasting pan.

In a large cup:
Add 2 T vegetable oil to remaining spice mixture.
Stir and coat the top of the roast with this pasty rub.

Insert meat thermometer into the roast.

Cook the spice coated roast beef in the pan containing liquid in a 300 degree pre-heated oven.

When temperature on thermometer reads 125 degrees remove roast from oven and cover with foil. Let roast rest for 30 minutes.

Now for the sandwich part. I like a toasted sandwich roll but official Chicago Italian beef joints use un-toasted rolls and they have their reason. My method is to slice the roast as thin as possible. Add beef slices to the toasted roll then top with the roasting pan juice and hot "Giardinera" (see below). I like to dip the edge of the sandwich into a cup of the juice as I eat.

Local tradition dictates that places like Mr.Beef must dip the roll into the juice from the roasting pan (see the Mr.Beef photo above and click to enlarge). This is what they refer to as “dipped”. They will dip the roll unless you ask for it dry when ordering. For me there is enough juice from the sliced beef, which sits in a warming tray with the juices. When eating out I order mine dry.

Here's the best part. Mr.Beef will also ask you if you want sweet or hot peppers. I prefer hot. Hot peppers is really hot giardinera, which is also a Chicago concoction consisting of cauliflower, carrots, olives, celery, onions, hot Serrano peppers and other ingredients that are pickled and then bottled in olive oil. My favorite is made by Marconi’s or Scala’s. Marconi’s offers their giardinera on the internets.

If you do not want to go through the trouble of making this from scratch, Scala's sells and ships ready-made Italian beef. Just heat and serve. They also sell their own brand of giardinera over the internets too.

Last weekend I could not get my hands on Marconi’s so I used a brand called DelAlpe. It worked OK but it lacked the authentic crunchy, tart vegetables Marconi’s and Scala's has.

My sliced beef topped my toasted bun and I sprinkled a few peppers on it for the purposes of the above photo (didn't want to hide that beautiful rare beef). Afterward I loaded it with peppers before eating. I served it with a side of garlic roast potatoes but Mr.Beef serves them with fries.

Another Italian beef recipe I have wanted to try but have not yet done so comes from a local Chicago sports talk host named Mike North. Before becoming a local celebrity he owned his own Vienna Beef hot dog stand so he should have a good alternative recipe and most likely closer to the authentic Chicago style. But I like mine so much better that North's might not make it to my oven.

I doubt North's would be as good as what I made. To me, this home made recipe is better than the one served at Mr. Beef. Really! It gets the Gerry From Valpo seal of approval for lusciousness. Guaranteed!

Media Surprises

Usually I watch TV out of the corner of my eye and read magazines in fits and starts since I can generally assume that I know what is occurring and why - they are "phoning it in". Every so often something comes and pops me in the face and makes me sit up and look carefully.

The Atlantic Monthly, a fantastic magazine that I highly recommend, had an article titled "Marry Him" by Lori Gottlieb in their March 2008 issue. This article hit like a 2x4 since it seemed to be totally at odds with everything else in the media...

The byline is "The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough". The author is a 40 year old woman who recently conceived a child via a donor and was raising the child by herself. Basically the gist of the article is that ANY man is probably good enough and that women should "settle" and settle early, because the odds turn against them with each passing day.

The part that surprised me was how they defined settling... it was way down... guys with major depression, unattractive, with broken families in a bad state, or otherwise unappealing. And this woman, the writer, who is obviously intelligent, is basically saying that this was still an improvement over being a single mother. When her female friends complained bitterly about their husbands, she said to them "OK, if you're so unhappy, and if I'm so lucky (to be single), leave your husband! in fact, send him over here". Not one person has taken me up on this offer."

I know that there are a lot of magazines that give advice but I hadn't seen anything this stark... the idea that someone who is intelligent and independent (such as the female author of the article appears to be) would just pretty much take any man, as long as he had a pulse. This was better than being alone, in their opinion.

On a parallel note, I saw some Op**h out of the corner of my eye and one of the guys from Queer Eye named Carson (don't want too much traffic so trying to be obscure) has a show where basically they take very large women, have them take off (almost all) their clothes, and have them stand in front of mirrors.

Most of the women he "works with" seem to be almost clinically depressed... they are laying around in bed all day in sweat suits and frequently crying over their physical state.

I was speechless when they projected huge, ten story giant photos of the women clad only in their underwear (from the necks down, so they couldn't be identified) and asked passerbys what they thought of the women. Generally the people walking down the street said positive things; we don't know how many people they had to ask to get those reactions, but clearly they weren't nearly as hard on them as the women were on themselves.

The most shocking part of the show was that they weren't trying to improve the women or telling them to get cosmetic surgery; basically they were just telling them to accept themselves as they were. The host contented himself with getting them a better bra fitting and some more flattering colors but while this did improve the situation a bit it was still far, far, far from good.

All of TV is people trying to look their best, enhance themselves, and do anything at all to get ahead. No one on the general TV looks anything like these women; they were overweight to the point that it was probably unhealthy for them (it certainly wasn't helping their energy level, as noted by the fact that they spent all day lying in bed in their sweats).

The reason that these two media items were so shocking to me is that they violated some core concepts of the last few decades:

1) the article basically saying that any man, even one with myriad flaws, is better than being single, and you should settle early because it only gets worse. This is coming from a successful, intelligent and independent woman, no less
2) the show that had overweight, large women take off their clothes, project their image on 10 story billboards, and then basically said "accept yourself" as is, without trying to get healthier, lose weight, or do anything that involved personal transformation

This isn't what I expected from the media...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

This Is Pure Marketing Genius…

Sunday morning while browsing The Chicago Tribune at the breakfast table after a classic bacon, egg, hash brown and bloody mary country bunker brunch one coupon ad just jumped out and screamed at me. Check this out.

This ad for a company called Egg Innovations touts their eggs as cage-free, drug-free, anabolic-free, hormone-free, worry-free, vegetarian, Omega-3 and finally that magic word. ORGANIC.

The only thing they could possibly do to improve on this marketing strategy would be adding the words shell-free and cholesterol-free to their dubious list of product benefits. Just what hell is a vegetarian egg?

The target audience of this ad are the incurable neurotic animal rights whack-jobs who want to know that their food has been coddled prior to the inevitable slaughter. Feeling groovy about knowing your eggs are “worry-free” before consumption is just absurd.

I have to credit and respect a company that is able to earn a big profit at the expense of some gullible witless food snobs who are inclined to wrestle with guilty thoughts about what happened to the food they are ingesting before it was processed, wrapped in plastic and tossed into the grocer's refrigerated case. This is pure marketing genius. Tomorrow I am going to do some research and if this is a publicly traded company I may buy some stock. I want in on a piece of this action.

These eggs are sold at places like Whole Foods for MORE THAN DOUBLE THE PRICE we pay for a dozen fresh eggs at the local grocery. I could care less if the birds laying my eggs were each water boarded at Gitmo by direct order of Unkie Dick Chaney.

Want some free-range chicken? Come hunting with me and Speck next year. I will show you the original real free-range chicken.

They are not only cage-free but they actually fly before I whack them with my shotgun. They also taste much, much better than that cage-free, drug-free, anabolic-free, hormone-free, worry-free, vegetarian, Omega-3, organic and orgasmic domesticated and coddled Rhode Island Red that laid that golden “worry-free” egg.

Now THAT’S Good Eats!


My best hunting buddy and English Setter bird dog Speck made it through major surgery one week ago last Saturday. Speck has been home for over a week and is acting like her old self. Monday morning I got the best news of all. Speck’s tumors were benign. What a relief that was! Looks like she will be with me again next fall, chasing those original free-range chickens.

Now if I could only train her to fetch some fresh “worry-free” pheasant eggs and fix me a hot western omelet after the hunt…with a side of bacon…

My Investing Side Project

In addition to blogging I have some other side projects. One of my side projects is the web site (I'm not really plugging anything because there are no advertisements on the site and it is a simple, single page site with down loadable schedules) which describes the process of setting up a trust fund and the performance of the three trust funds that I have set up (so far) for my nephews and nieces.

The three portfolios invest in stocks. Portfolio one has a market value of about $16,000, Portfolio two has a market value of about $8500, and Portfolio three has a market value of about $1500. The size of the portfolio is driven by how many years of contributions have been made (7, 4 and 1 respectively).

About half way down the page (or you can use this link and jump there) each of the three portfolios has a single page that summarizes the key information. I put these schedules together manually from a variety of sources and have refined it annually.


It is actually quite difficult to put together a simple, single page worksheet that tells you what you want to know about your portfolio. While investing firms are getting better and better each year in formatting information and adding new organizational layouts (and of course it is so much better to download forms rather than have reams of paper), they still don't easily tell you what you want to know, which is why (for now) I am creating my own formats. Here is what is contained:

- For each security, the date of purchase (good for determining whether gains are long-term or short term), purchase price, adjusted purchase price (in case the stock splits), price paid, and the current "value" of the holdings which is based on today's stock price (or whenever it was most recently updated)
- An "unrealized gain or loss" is determined for each stock, which is the amount that you'd make or lose if you sold today
- By each security I also show the CUMULATIVE dividends that stock has paid out since purchasing the stock; usually dividends go elsewhere on the statement but it is important to view dividends right next to the stock
- Since you have dividends then you can calculate the "total return" on the stock, which is the unrealized gain / loss plus cumulative dividends paid
- The total return is then impacted by the amount of time that you've held the stock; the % return is calculated as well as the annual return
- The estimated yield comes from your brokerage statement or you can find it at yahoo - it shows the percentage return that you would have if their dividend rate stays the same and the stock price doesn't move during the next year; as the stock price rises the estimated yield goes down and as the stock price falls the estimated yield goes up. Companies also can raise or lower the dividend rate (expressed as an amount per share) although the dividend rate usually rises unless something catastrophic occurs because management hates to cut the dividend
- The dividend yield is important because bonds and other interest-bearing instruments are yielding less now (the Federal Reserve cut rates recently) so even 2-3% is a great return. In addition, the dividends are taxed at the lower rate of 15% while interest is taxed at ordinary income rates (generally 30% - 39%)
- Finally, each security has a little "notes" box which gives a brief statement about why the stock was picked and what some factors are that impact the stock. This box is still evolving but in general for each stock you should know WHY you picked it and have a plan for when you might sell it either because it hit your price goals or because it has fallen significantly

The above information is laid out in a succinct fashion but is relatively common. The rest of the document is more interesting:

- For each stock I sold, I have the date sold, the realized gain or loss that occurred when the sale happened, dividends paid, total return (per above), the year it occurred (for tax purposes), what it sold for, and what's happened to it since. That last item, what's happened to it since sale, is needed to see if, in hindsight, the decision to sell was a wise one. Over some period of time the information will be less relevant because stocks should be expected to rise some amount every year and every sale will seem to be a loser at some point (unless it ultimately went bust)
- I calculate total fees paid to date (buy & sell commissions plus any account fees) in order to determine the annual % and the cumulative costs. For this portfolio with individual stocks there are no "hidden" costs but for an account with ETF's or mutual funds then you'd need to break that out as well (gets more complicated because it is embedded with performance, and for those advanced students out there I do realize that there is an implicit cost beyond the brokerage fees for buying and selling based on the liquidity of the market and the bid / ask spread)
- Your dollars that aren't yet invested or your sales proceeds prior to being re-invested earn interest in the money market account that is "attached" to your brokerage account; you should show this interest earned in total (usually this isn't a lot of money unless you don't put your money to work in your brokerage account)

Then we get to the most important information, which is the comparison of the total dollars that you have put into this account compared with current value. For these funds I have a little graph that I pulled off my investment provider and pasted it into the document.

It is difficult to see this total investment (cash in) vs. today's total value because your portfolio has a lot of moving parts. If you sell a stock and then reinvest the proceeds (including your gains), then your statement will often show the new stock at its cost and value and you can't see the "cause" of your gains and losses. In portfolio one, for instance, most of the gains have come from a few big stocks, particular Amazon which we bought at 14 and sold in a couple of parts at 90, China Mobile (which tripled while we owned it), and then we had a number of other wins plus some steady price appreciation and paid dividends (from companies like electric utilities such as AEP).

The "cash invested" compared against current value is a much better determination of how you are doing than rate of return, although surely that is a valuable measure, as well. The rate of return may or may not include dividends, and it won't include those items which you sold off earlier (but made up your previous return). In addition, rate of return can be impacted by the amount of cash that you have in your funds; if you have limited investments but do well originally and then put in a lot more cash and do poorly, your rate of return will be more favorable than reality. This situation is unfortunately very common; funds or stock pickers do well with small amounts of money, then people "pile in" with new money, and the rate of return isn't weighted to show that the fund was doing fine with a little bit of money and then doing poorly with large amounts of money. This situation is also called "chasing performance" and is the cause of many investing woes.

In order to do a "real" return calculations you need to view the timing of your cash inflows against your current value; then in excel or in any other widely available spreadsheet tool you can have the system calculate your return taking into account when you put in money. For example, if you put a lot of money into your fund right before the end of the reporting period, that money will skew your results (make your performance look better or worse) depending on the trend.

Based on the "cash in" and current value model, you can calculate the total gain or loss since portfolio inception. This view isn't new... in fact I stole it from one of my investment providers. However, it is becoming more widely used. This view gets more complicated as you move funds in and out of the portfolio; those transfers out need to be weighed appropriately so as not to skew performance.

In order to create such a model, it takes some painstaking detective work. You need to sort out your dividends by stock, and determine the interest income as well as the value of the buys and sells. You will also need to break out your commissions separately and dig through all the little transactions to see if there are fees coming out of your accounts. It is very helpful to go through this effort, however, because you will learn a lot about the timing on dividends, odd charges, how dividends were calculated, whether or not your sales occurred at one price or multiple prices, etc..

I recommend spending some time looking at your portfolio in detail. It will help you to understand your investments, the impact of dividends, expenses, and sales, and how you are doing overall. Best of luck.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Monday, February 18, 2008

Not the Auto Show but...

Walking down the street a couple of days ago just West of Michigan Avenue there is a high end Rolls Royce dealer... I guess they ran out of room inside because they had all their hot cars on the street. The one in front where you just see the left rear view mirror is a Bentley... then a couple of Lamborghinis, and then another Bentley. Glad no drunk drivers are tearing up the street...

Sunday, February 17, 2008


I want a new gun designed especially for concealment purposes. Since my Indiana conceal carry permit allows me to carry whenever I wish there has been a void in my arsenal for too long. My arsenal contains only one sidearm. I like it a lot but…

Carrying a concealed Glock Model 22 in .40cal is not a very comfortable experience. Unless you are able to wear a jacket and shoulder holster carrying a pistol as large as my Glock is a real pain in the ass, literally. Whenever possible it gets stowed in my laptop case, in the console of my Jeep Wrangler or in the back pouch of my Harley and that’s just not as accessible as I would like it to be.

I love Glocks as much as the gun snobs hate them. Some gun friendly folks are not very friendly when it comes down to superior technology I guess. I am a big fan of John Browning's sacred 1911 design, but to me it is time to move forward and embrace the better option, foreign or not. Call me a progressive when it comes to firearm technology but definitely not when it comes to politics.

I am NOT a gun freak, collector or firearms know-it-all by any stretch of imagination. My gun use and experience is limited to a lifetime of hunting, which means long guns, shotguns and a primitive style .50 cal. muzzleloader for this ol’ country boy. The ins and outs of shotguns is second nature to me. Knowledge of self-defense weapons is not. The choices are mind-numbing and I don’t want any buyer’s remorse.

Here’s what I want. I want a small pistol that can be easily concealed, like in the front pocket of my jeans and is easily accessible. I want one that can shoot somewhat accurately within ten yards. I want a small gun that has enough power to stop and hopefully end the life of any scumbag who dares to threaten my life or the life of an innocent bystander. I want a gun that is reliable when I need it and one that won’t break the bank.

Am I asking too much? Probably. I like the old saying that a small gun in the pocket beats that big, fat revolver, 1911 .45 ACP or Glock .40 that I left in the truck.

I have been looking at pocket guns for some time, researching, shopping and deciding. It’s not easy and the choices are as wide as Oprah’s hips and bigger than Rosie’s disgusting pie-hole.

First, how small is too small? Deciding on the load will help me narrow my choices. There are .22 rimfire mini-revolvers that are slightly larger than a Bic lighter and about as effective.

On the high-end of concealment is the snub-nose .38 special which is way too fat for concealment unless you are a detective with a shoulder holster hidden by a cheap plaid sport jacket 365 days a year. I’d rather carry my Glock. That .38 special load is fine but manufacturers limit that choice to revolver use only as far as I know. I want a slim, modern semi-auto with more than six rounds in the clip if possible.

Today I went to one of those local “gun shows” that the lefty gun grabbers and their media accomplices like to crap on. To my surprise the choices in pocket pistols there were quite slim.

Correct me if I am wrong but on the low end is the .22, then the .32, followed by the .380 and finally the 38 special revolver.

My interest is focused on the .380 auto. A 9mm would be preferred if I can find one that fits.

One that caught my eye was a sweet piece made by Kel Tec.

It is just the cutest little thing, if cute could apply to guns. I mean it is so tiny. It fit in my pocket and felt no bigger than a pack of smokes or a cell phone. Upon close inspection, common copper water pipes have thicker walls than the barrel of this thing. It was similar to my full-size Glock with the polymer lower end and metal on the business end, which makes it very lightweight and well balanced to me. The craftsmanship of the Kel Tec just felt so cheap . The best price at the show was $239 for brand new. My local gun dealer wants $300. for the same.

The cheapest .380 at the show is made by Cobra and that one went for $140. It felt substantial and seemed as if it was worth much more than the Kel Tek. But at $140 the Cobra is almost in the Saturday Night Special category to me. Why trust my life with a cheap pistol?

On the internets I discovered that Colt was coming out with a new 1911 style .45 ACP pocket pistol. Nobody has them is stock yet. I would like to wait and consider it. But being a .45 ACP I am sure it would be much too thick for comfortable concealment. Should I wait?

Another option I have yet to examine is the Ruger LCP .380 Auto. At the gun show today I overheard an owner of one complain to a dealer that his Ruger jammed a lot. The dealer excused this malfunction with a cleaning and lubricating solution, etc. Screw that.

All these pocket pistols have A 3” barrel or less. Accuracy beyond ten feet is very questionable with such a short barrel. Another thing I need to consider. Can I trust my life with a 3” or less barrel? Anything longer is not an option for total concealment. A 3” barrel beats nothing at all when confronted with a life threatening situation.

A few weeks ago a blog visitor was kind enough to send an email to Dan which Dan then forwarded on to Carl and I. Dan has been lusting over that sexy looking new Ruger .22 that comes with a scope and bipod. The reader’s recommendation for a conceal carry weapon was a brand I never heard of. It is the Bersa Thunder in .380.

None of the exhibitors at the gun show today had one on display. BUT, my local gun shop had an ad in the Saturday local paper with a Bersa Thunder on sale for $289. Obviously the ad was in response to the local gun show competition. So I went over to Blythe’s Gun Shop and shooting range to check it out. Blythe’s is less than two miles from my country bunker. Lucky me. Check out Blythe’s here:

The Bersa Thunder .380 is the best little concealable piece I have handled to date. It was larger than the Kel Tec. It had some heft and felt like quality and craftsmanship. Bersa is made in Argentina. I prefer buying American but if the Kel Tec (Made in Florida) and Cobra (made in Utah) are representative of American quality, we’re screwed.

Upon closer examination the Bersa .380 seems like nothing more than a smaller Walther PPK knock-off made in Argentina for much less.

In researching the .380 pocket pistol I visited many credible gun blogs including this guy:

Xavier really knows his stuff when it comes to packing heat. As Dan says, we shill for nobody and avoid linking to other sites here at LITGM but Xavier earns my respect for his time and effort testing in implementing conceal carry weapons and all other types of side arms. His posts are very well written and based on real life experience. He’s well worth a visit.

So tonight I will sleep on my choices. But something tells me I just may be buying that Bersa Thunder .380.

SIDEBAR: The photos posted were grabbed off the internets. Gun shows and gun dealers are very wary of cameras in their presence so I could not take my own shots. Can’t say that I blame them. Too many leftist gun grabbing paparazzi would love to take away our right to defend ourselves using photos that can be turned into propaganda.

Final Auto Show Memories

My final auto show memories... I was just there to look at the cars, after all.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Colorblind at the John Hancock

A Chicago tradition involves lighting up the tops of our major buildings, the John Hancock and the Sears Tower, with the changing of the seasons and for major events. For instance, they turn green on St. Patrick's Day, pink for Mother's Day, etc...

The John Hancock has a series of panels that they manually install on the top floor to change color. Some nights you can see them changing from white to the color at hand, one at a time. The Sears Tower, on the other hand, shines what must be pretty massive spotlights that change the color of the giant white antenna on top of the building.

For Valentine's Day, traditionally, they color their tops red, of course. But look at the Hancock. It looks orange! I don't understand what happened, because I think that they have successfully pulled off red before. In contrast you can see the Sears Tower, which is an "actual" red, even if obscured by clouds. I think someone over there at the John Hancock picked the wrong color or else they are separating some obscure holiday on February 14...

Someone who can take photos

Our blog here at Life in the Great Midwest has Gerry who is pretty much a photography / graphics professional (you can tell from his posts), Dan who is an accomplished amateur photographer, and... uh... me. I do benefit from having lots of things to take photos of here in River North so like a broken watch I am right a couple times a day.

The point of this post is that I wanted to plug someone else who can REALLY take good photos - Jonathan from Chicago Boyz. He has a photo blog and this link takes you to his "favorite" page which is a great place to start. I particularly like the black cat at the upper right on the top line. Check out his summary page with all the thumbnails and click around I am quite sure you will find it worth your time.

Even More Auto Show Viewing

The top photo is a rear view of a cool Lexus convertible; I especially like the triple tail pipe and the cool color. The second photo is a Rolls Royce with an awesome metallic hood; I don't really know what it is but it looks good. I think the bottom photo is of a SAAB prototype; not sure if it isn't someone can tell me what it really is in the comments section.

Friday, February 15, 2008

More cool cars at the Auto Show

Two more cool cars at the Chicago Auto show were the Audi R8, a mid engined screamer that actually is a work of art. Sometimes I walk through the Merchandise Mart to get out of the cold and rain and one time they just had one of those R8 cars in the lobby and it looked great.

The Dodge Challenger was launched at the Chicago Auto show. As you can see above, it was in the traditional "Dukes of Hazzard" (or was it Starsky & Hutch?) Orange.

Old Man

My MT lesson last night was interesting, to say the least. It snowed yet again, and the roads were terrible. There were slideoffs, traffic jams, you name it.

Two people showed up for my advanced MT class. Usually we have 10 or 12. Eventually, later in the class, a third and fourth showed up. But until then, one other guy and myself had what was basically a private lesson with the instructor.

We are right now on a block of curriculum dealing with elbows.

The guy I was paired up with last night is on my gym's fight team - he does MMA. He gave me a lot of compliments on my form with my elbows and so did the instructor - they both noted that my footwork is better too, and I told them that I have been practicing it for a half hour a day at home in front of a mirror.

The instructor even said to me last night that "age is just a number, Dan". I am by far the oldest guy in the advanced classes - I would guestimate by about 12 years.

The guy I was paired up with asked me how old I was - I told him to guess. He said 30. Heh. He had a pretty shell-shocked look when I told him I am pushing 40. He is 25 and in the prime of his fighting career.

This is the second time in a couple of weeks that this has happened. Another guy randomly asked me how old I was and I went through the same routine - he guessed that I was 29!

I have a hunch that the instructor may be using me to motivate his fight team. Every class I give 150%, and lay it ALL on the line. At times others mail it in or don't give their all. It is just a hunch, but whatever. I love the compliments.

I took a look at my arms this morning and they are a wreck from all of the elbow work the past several weeks - bruises, cuts, scrapes and all the rest. But I love it. They will heal quickly as they always do.

Next up is pad holding certification. We have an intense six week course of learning all different ways to feed a fighter. As with anything, there is a right and wrong way to do this. I will be doing that at the same time as my regular lessons. It will be a busy March/April.

After that I will be a member of the fight team and be labeled an "assistant coach". Basically I will be memorizing pad holding drills for the fight team members. I can't really get into the ring at this age, but I can certainly live vicariously through my teammates and help them get into the best shape possible. My intent is to be the BEST training partner in the whole gym - I want to be the guy who people call to train with. I think it will be a great source of pride to see guys fight who I have helped train.

I am so thankful for my gym, the instructor and all of the friends I have made there. Muay Thai has really taken my level of physical fitness to a whole new dimension. Man I feel so bad for Nopstar, hope he turns the corner soon.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Return Assumptions and the Bear

A lot of people throw around terms and assumptions without questioning them deeply. One of the most common assumptions is that stocks beat bonds (and beat the heck out of cash) "over the long haul".

The basis in fact for this assumption is the long term equity records in the USA, the UK and Canada. These markets, over the long haul, have provided returns beyond bonds and cash.

Why only these markets? Because the rest of the markets (Germany, Japan, China, etc...) had some sort of cataclysmic event (World War, hyperinflation, or takeover by non-capitalist regimes) that make comparisons "over the long haul" useless. Even in these markets it is hard to see how wealth could have been preserved; cash (currency) was debased and debts were reneged upon, so all bets were off.

One key element of the "returns beat bonds and cash" is the assumption that you stay the course through horrendous market periods, hold on to equities, and then ride the upward ticks. If you act as many people do and sell when the market gets difficult, you are apt to be out of the market when it shoots upwards. Some of these bear markets are very lengthy and you have to have nerves of steel to ride them out.

I bought a recent book (in paperback) called "Hedge Hogging" by Barton Biggs explaining how he ran a hedge fund and all that goes with it. Mr. Biggs has been in the markets for a long time, and he started out right as the Bear market of the 60's and 70's occurred. From the book:

"I launched Fairfield Partners on June 1, 1965, with $9.7M, $200,000 of which was mine. The Dow Jones Industrial average closed on May 30, 1965 at 912. SIXTEEN YEARS LATER it was at the same level. By 1981 adjusted for inflation , the DOW had lost more than half of its 1965 purchasing power value, even when you added back the dividends that you had been paid."

In parallel, there was an article in Barron's on January 21, 2008 titled "Looking Back at the Lost Decade". Per the article, here is the annualized total return from 12/31/99 through 12/31/07 by asset class:

- 30 year Treasuries 8.77%
- 10 year Treasuries 6.45%
- Dow Jones Industrials 3.95%
- Cash 3.24%
- S&P 500 Index 1.66%
- Nasdaq -4.7%

Since the beginning of the year the S&P 500 has lost another 5.5% or so... a bit more of this would drive the total return for the decade so far into negative territory (and it is punishing the NASDAQ, too).

Remember, this is average total return over the period... for stocks to catch up to bonds (or cash, if current performance is factored in), they'd need a pretty good long run of performance.

The third leg of the post are those recent advertisements I have seen on TV where the guy is considering retirement or whether to keep working. After he thinks about it for a while, he talks to his broker who says "Yes" meaning that he has enough money to retire.

The sentiment of those commercials was echoed in a recent article in the WSJ titled "Be Skeptical of the Hard Sell, Even if it is in the Workplace". The article describes a 52 year old woman who retired after 33 years as a secretary at Eastman Kodac based on advice from the retirement counselors, Morgan Stanley, who were referred to by her employer.

The conflicts of interest in this area are immense. First of all, the employer often wants the older and more expensive employees to leave, since their rate / hour is higher and they drive up insurance costs. Of course, the employer can't admit this, since it is illegal, but all things equal.

To say that the broker has a conflict of interest is an even bigger understatement. If you don't retire, the broker makes nothing. If you do retire, the broker gets commissions (or a percentage of assets, depending on how he is compensated) regardless of whether or not actually retiring is a good idea or not.

To put this in perspective, would you ask your real estate agent whether or not you should sell your home? Of course not... the agent wants you to sell / buy a home so that they make their commission. Everyone realizes that the agent only is compensated if a sale occurs and treats them accordingly; not to say that they don't offer a service and / or advice that could be valuable, but they are extremely motivated to close a sale one way or another.

How do all these threads work together? Here's how...

1) a bear market in stocks can last for a LONG time. Even the rosiest stock forecasts for returns assume that you ride out the downturns without selling and then ride the upward wave. If you get out of the market when it gets choppy, then all bets are off, and bear markets can last for decades
2) returns for the last 7 years (and the start of the 8th) have been poor even if you "stayed the course"... if you exhibited typical investor behavior and bought high and then sold after they crashed your performance is likely even worse than average. On the other hand, cash has done quite well and bonds even better
3) a lot of people who glibly make pronouncements about whether or not you can "retire" or provide advice have conflicts of interest that are hard to ignore

I am not saying to get out of stocks and into bonds or cash because I am no better than the next guy at predicting the market. I do know that if you are going to try to earn the high returns that stocks THEORETICALLY offer you need to stay the course when the seas get choppy, even if it takes decades; if you bail out then you might as well stay out of equities entirely and just keep your money in cash and bonds.

When you hear people talk about the assumed better return on stocks you might want to listen with a jaundiced ear and think about whether or not they really 1) know what they are talking about 2) have the courage and conviction to stay the course when it gets rough.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Sick of It

I (and maybe Gerry and Carl) have connections with NIU...I have partied there, known people who have gone to school there, and have customers who work there. Heck, I was almost a Huskie myself - I got accepted there along with Illinois.

I hope everyone is OK. I am very tired of these idiots - we all need to start packing heat to keep their idiocy to a dull roar.

My thoughts go to all in the Northern Illinois family.

Chicago Auto Show and the GT-R

On Sunday I visited the Chicago auto show. The show was being held at McCormick place and we parked adjacent to the South Lot at Soldier Field. The crowds were big but manageable, probably due to the fact that Sunday seemed like it was the coldest day on earth.

The star of the show, for me at least, was the new Nissan GT-R. This car is also known as the Nissan Skyline. Here is a brief wikipedia bio of the car; note the extremely fast performance (0-60 at 3.5 seconds, but I have seen other statistics showing it a bit faster) and the fact that the "list" price is about 70k, which is a great deal for such a "supercar". I spoke to the Nissan representative and he said that the car had been parceled out to dealers in America and that about 1500 would be produced in the first year; the car was already unofficially sold out but that remained to be seen dependent on how much each of the dealers was going to mark up the car prior to sale (i.e. if they want a huge premium on each car, which seems likely, a lot of people who put up small deposits or are on the waiting list will likely walk away).

I have to hand it to Nissan; if the performance is anything like what I have read and the price is anywhere even in the 70k - 100k range, then they really have created a cool car for the price compared to the competition. Plus, since it is a Nissan, it is unlikely to break down like the car at the end of "The Blues Brothers" when everything falls apart which is what I'd expect from a small production line car.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Junior High Humor

While riding the bus this morning I saw a bit of adolescent humor that cracked me up...

Monday, February 11, 2008


The following was written on the Saturday before the Giants upset the Patriots in the SuperBowl. I would have made my favorite wings on SuperBowl Sunday (a tradition) but a busted tail bone had me spending four hours of my afternoon seeking medical attention…

I can’t remember the first time I tried hot wings. They can now be found in just about every bar, casual dining establishment and even the newer specialty wing franchises. KFC sure figured out how not to make them They were really bad. Wings at Applebee’s (don't you just hate that annoying talking apple?), Chili's TGI Fridays and the like all suck to me. Restaurant wings are usually undercooked, lack a crispy skin and are never spicy enough for my taste. Then again, I have a stomach and esophagus lined with asbestos. Hooter’s? You can go there for the wings if you want but I go for the breasts and thighs (bah-doom).

I have found the best wings of all are made right here at my Valpo country bunker.

Wing variations have popped up with every conceivable sauce concoction and flavor variation from Asian to Jamaican Jerk to BBQ. For me the original Anchor Bar style of wing is still the best. If you want their sauce it can be purchased over the internets and even at some retail outlets. I say don’t bother. The secret recipe is right there printed on every label of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce. Frank is the guy that owned the Anchor Bar. Frank’s sauce is not hot at all. I do like the vinegar jolt it gives your nose as a wing is bitten into. Frank’s comes in a HOT variety but it is hard for me to find locally so I improvise.

At one time wings were inexpensive. Before the Anchor Bar’s Buffalo Wing style became nationally popular the lowly wing was the piece of chicken in the bucket that was last to be eaten. Now they are hard to find below $1.50 a pound. Figure up to 60% of the weight is consumable and the rest gets tossed.

When they are on sale it is cheaper to stock up and load the garage freezer rather than buying on impulse (just one of my frugal ass habits). Usually I buy the bulk or “family pack” style where you get twenty wings at a discount especially when they are on sale. I also fry more than I can eat because they make great reheatable leftovers.

Here is where I must give credit to my brother. He made these once on a fishing trip years ago and I have made them over and over at home according to his method and it never fails.

Getting everything prepared in advance makes it easier to enjoy them during a SuperBowl, for instance. I can cook a few batches while the SuperBowl halftime show is on. Since I have a television in the garage I can watch if I want and it helps if the game resumes and I have not finished frying.

I recommend you fry them outdoors or just inside the garage door. Hot oil over an open propane flame can be dangerous. Plan accordingly and if possible have the appropriate fire extinguisher at hand. I do all my deep frying outdoors using a smaller pan and basket on my turkey frying burner. Use peanut or cottonseed oil because it can be heated to 350 degrees and up to 375 but if you go over that temperature the oil will burn and so will the skin on the wings. The oil can be reused up to five times if you filter it back into the container. Use a thermometer and monitor the temperature constantly.

First cut up the wings at the joint and discard the tips. One fishing buddy of ours, Danny, makes chicken stock with the tips but I never tried it. I am not THAT frugal.

Wash and dry out the wings and reserve. Refrigerate if cutting up well in advance. NOTE: Raw chicken carries nasty bacteria so clean everything well including all cutting surfaces and knives/utensils well with a disinfectant. You don’t want food poisoning to go along with that post SuperBowl hangover.

For the sauce: Melt 1-2 sticks of butter in a saucepan and using a wisk, slowly pour in a large bottle of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce. Stir while bringing the mixture to a boil and then allow it to cool. That’s it.

Here’s a tip. I like to divide the sauce into two portions. Since not everyone likes wings as hot as I do my portion gets 1-2 teaspoons of cayenne powder, sometimes more to taste.

Next make some seasoned flour. My brother buys pre-seasoned flour but I prefer my own concoction. This is a loose recipe using about four scoops of flour and mixing in 1T garlic powder, 1t cayenne pepper. 1T black pepper, 1T salt, 1T paprika and 1Tchili powder. Go for it.

Next take small batches of wings and toss them in the flour mixture covering them completely. Lay out the wing pieces on sheets of foil. Do this shortly before frying because allowing them to sit makes for a damp pasty wing and the flour will not add the desired crispiness we like.

Once the oil is between 350 and 375 degrees add about twelve wings. If the oil is less than 350 they will become very greasy and cooking time will be iffy, nothing worse than a soggy undercooked wing. If you like them that way you can go on down to Applebee’s. It will save you the effort and clean up. If you have your oil at or over 375 the skin will burn. Not good either.

It takes about 5-10 minutes per batch to fry wings just right. You will know they are done when they begin to float in the hot oil. Once they float give them another three minutes or so. After taking them out of the basket place them in a very large bowl. Pour some sauce over them while they are still hot and toss. Then fry another batch. Repeat as often as necessary.

That’s it! Wing frying is very simple but a bit messy when cleaning up. To me it’s well worth the effort.

NOTE: I do not like bleu cheese sauce with or without wings that’s why I did not cover that subject here. I don't like beans in my chili either but that's just me. Bleu cheese sauce only masks that great unique spicy, breathtaking flavor that I prefer. Celery? Go ahead, knock yerself out. Me? I throw it in the soup pot or use them to stir my bloody mary’s. I am a wing purist. French fries are the only side I prefer with my wings.

Original Buffalo Wing info can be found here: