Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cure for Insomnia

Well, it isn't a cure, but it does really get me through the night. It is YouTube. There is so much cool stuff over there it is amazing, and virtually infinite in scope. I found an acoustic series featuring Weezer. Here is Troublemaker.



I love that line - "Marrying a beyotch, having seven kiods". Hilarious! I have seen that there was an open invitation to ANYONE in LA to be in the official Troublemaker video. I look forward to that. Here is Troublemaker electric, like on the album.

Mercifully, football is starting up and that will get me through the nights as well.

I will sleep well Sunday night however, as I have the Wright Stuff Century to do Sunday morning/afternoon. Should be a great workout, and I am looking to beat my best time by a full thirty minutes. If I can finish it in under seven hours, I have seriously arrived as a true athlete.

Have a great Labor Day weekend, and have some beers and sausages for me - I will have some for you!

Friday, August 29, 2008

That's The Ticket..Yeah..



Last Saturday when I woke up and turned on the TV the first words I heard were Joe Byden. Immediately I grew an ear-to-ear grin that lasted all day. What a turd he is.

Today I was going out to get a title and plate for the new car and on the radio the name Sarah Paylin was mentioned. That's two ear-to-ear grins in one week.

In the video above pay attention at 22 seconds. This lady knows how to handle an automatic weapon! She hunts big game in Alaska and likes to fish. What's not to like?

John & Sarah. That's the ticket. Man, do I feel better ; )

Thursday, August 28, 2008

SOX GAME! In The Front Row


Getting a seat in the first five rows at a pro sports event can be had a number of ways. You need to know someone who is a season ticket holder who isn’t going to game X, you can pay a scalper his insane markup or hit up a business vendor with company box seats to name a few.

In the past I have sat in prime seats many times through all the above channels. My best seats came the easiest way, moving up to vacant seats during the game. I have tried many tricks to get past ushers and security (trade secrets) and most work.

Me and my bro and friends have done it at Comiskey Park many times with positive results. IF the ticket holders show up we politely move and find another vacant seat. Or go back to our own. Nobody gets hurt. But some folks got wet when Ozzie sprayed fans with a water bottle.


Sitting up close adds a different dimension to any pro game and what’s wrong with sitting in a no-show seat? Just for a while?

Last Sunday we had fine seats in the 100 level looking directly down the second to third base line. I had my camera so there was motivation to get up close and take some photos late in the game. In the top of the tenth a lot of fans bailed so empties were fair game and the union ushers were busy looking at their watches figuring the overtime comp.

I made a quick move about three or four aisles closer to home and started leapfrogging my way stopping for rests at vacant seats on my way to the front row. Once at the wall and kneeling in the aisle I began snapping photos. Got some good ones of the on-deck circle where batters were warming up ten feet away. To my left, in the front row were three vacant seats so I slid in staying low and snapping grab shots.


Then I felt a shove from behind. Guy behind says, ”those seats are taken.” I turned around and told him I would move when they came back, just taking a few photos. Turning back to the field I just kept shooting thinking nothing of the fact that this little prick assaulted me.

Then he did it again, he shoved me from behind and told me to leave. I did something very rare. I stood up, turned around and told him if he touched me again I would have to kick his ass in front of all these people right here right now. I asked if he was an usher, or a cop. I asked what business he had patrolling seat assignments? Then he turned into a total weasel and started screaming for “SECURITY, SECURITY”

Security guy in the dugout ten feet away signaled me to GTFO. I did but not before threatening that weasel with death again if he touched me as I walked back to our real seats.

It enraged me so that I was close to busting my knuckles on his chin since he hit me first. Common sense, a trip to jail, fingerprinting, mug shots, legal bills, court fees, three years of potential gummint judicial hell and my own maturity stifled my potential behavior. When shit like this happens it happens within seconds. Good judgement is vital.

But I did talk a lot of smack with this asshole and it felt good to verbally berate him in public for being a prick in front of hundreds of witnesses. So I left but not before achieving my objective of getting some close-up photos.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My City Friend

Say hello to my little city friend out on the street at Kinzie and Grand. I like the fact that his tail is still intact while the rest of him is completely flat... definitely identifying him as a rat.

Monday, August 25, 2008

SOX GAME…Tailgate Leftovers


We arrived at Comiskey Park Sunday morning two hours before “play ball”. Two hours is plenty of time to grill, relax and have a few. Three hours is much better. It was a bright, breezy, dry day. Puffy clouds, northeast winds, visibility 10,000 miles.

Comiskey is very tailgate-friendly. In my observation about half the ticket holders who parked in the lot we were in went directly into the stadium, the other half hung around in the lot to party like us. Maybe some preferred to eat and drink inside while watching batting practice. Who cares? It made for more room to spread out compared to football tailgates.

I also noticed that older couples and small family groups were the ones heading for the stadium immediately. Young singles were the tailgaters, sticking around to eat, drink and throw bean-bags. Bean-bags? I dunno. That activity was once limited to sorority back lawns and cub scout den meetings.

We have watched this horseshoe alternative get incredibly popular and not only at tailgates. Bean-bag seems to have replaced tossing horseshoes at most summer picnics. It hurts no one. Years ago we threw a footballs and frisbees around at tailgates, car hoods be damned! Whatever. I’d rather watch bean-bag players than participate. I hereby declare that bean-bag tossing is for metro-sexual types who are looking to get (rhymes with paid).

Man Law? Man Law!

Here’s a large group of young tailgaters that parked just north of us.


Meet Mr. Mount And Dew Me. Tailgate time draws as many hokey t-shirts as a democrat convention. Nice kid. Proud of his well developed chest. He belonged with the group behind him where there seems to be a bean-bag brew-ha-ha between two off-duty Hooter Girl trainers to his left.


The lord was shining down on us that day. More and more future Hooter Girls emerged from the mini-vans as the lot filled. I was going to take photos of our tailgate feast but got distracted quickly.



God Bless America.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sox Game!


We took dad to a Sox game for his birthday. If he were a Cub fan I would have sent a $5. Starbuck's Gift Card. Dad hates Starbucks.

It was the bro’s idea to go. Good thing we did. The game was a real classic for the ages. The Sox won in ten innings beating a very hot Tampa team salvaging one game out of a three-game series. Best of all they regain first place in the AL central due to a Twinkies loss.

Late August. A playoff chase. Excellent weather. What's not to like?


There was a controversial call. A.J. convinced the blue that he was interfered with in a rundown between second and third. This was the same blue that called A.J. safe when he stole first base on a dropped third strike in that ’05 playoff game. Doug Eddings is his name

Safe again, and take another base while you’re at it. Typical A.J., the smartest, craftiest player I have ever seen. He ended up scoring the winning run.

A.J is heads-up and on-the-ball every second of the game and earned his reputation on using every advantage possible on the field. He can smell an advantage. He wins games.

Details:

http://chicago.whitesox.mlb.com/news/gameday_recap.jsp?ymd=20080824&content_id=3360086&vkey=recap&fext=.jsp&c_id=cws

I went down the aisle for some photos before the bottom of the tenth. Security eventually chased my ass out. Well, there was a slight unintended altercation between yours truly and some asshole fan that caused the unnecessary attention that got me bounced. A story for another time.

Here’s Bobby Jenks. Sitting this low you can clearly hear the smack of his 99 mph fastball hitting A.J.'s mitt.


Quentin was up after A.J.


Bases loaded, bottom of the tenth with Alexi Ramierez getting all the pressure. Sacks packed with Sox. Here's what that looked like.


Ramierez hit a single to right. A.J. scored. Sox won.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Expectations... and the Productivity of the Service Economy

Recently I needed to go to the post office in downtown Chicago for a certified letter. Yes, it would seem, the post almost writes itself... the lines were long and, in the middle of it, one of the two employees wandered off to take a break or something. The guy next to me, an older guy, was about to lose his mind with rage. He said "this must be how it is under communism" and seethed with rage. My response was that the selection of employees was essentially designed to "employ the unemployable" in the name of limiting social unrest as a thinly disguised government work program. At one point, an actual competent employee came in and took all the people in line to self-service machines and helped me personally, for which I was thankful. The entire process, which should have been simple, took over an hour.

I was in a local sandwich shop called "Corner Bakery" (which I usually call "Corner Confusion") where you order in one place and they give you a tag to put on your table, and then you wait for your sandwich to come to you. This sort of process always scares me, because the shop is big and there is a patio outside, so they don't know where you are sitting and it just seems like they could miss you. Well, this time they found me... a waiter who didn't speak English very well came over and set my sandwich in front of an older guy and gave him my sandwich (one was flat bread so it should have been obvious which was which). The other guy was about to go apoplectic with rage but I had been watching the whole thing, just assuming that it would be screwed up, and I calmly got up and switched sandwiches with the guy (I was watching him, too, to make sure he didn't take a bite out of it). He was in mid rant but I didn't care, I just wanted lunch.

Often I go by McDonalds for coffee (I don't like Starbucks very much, although I usually go there just because it is preferred by others and I don't care very much overall) and it is part of the rest of my order. There are two dimensions for my coffee - "black" and "large". I have learned through hard experience to wait until the clerk is ready to receive this complex and easily forgotten information; you'll just have to repeat it five more times. It is beyond expectations that you could ask for your order (like a number "9" or something and AT THE SAME TIME say "large coffee, black") without having to repeat it later. But you need to stay on it, or you never know what you'll get.

Through myriad travels and eating out continually for years I have three expectations for the US service sector, so that I am never disappointed:

1) they know nothing
2) they do nothing
3) they annoy me

With this, you won't find your blood pressure rising at the post office, at the check out line, waiting for your check at a restaurant, receiving the wrong order, or just generally being ignored.

PRODUCTIVITY

What we are really talking about is the productivity. In the manufacturing sector, productivity is all-important. When you talk about factories, you see parts arriving just-in-time, defects measured in parts-per-million, and productivity measures like the time to produce a car or the percentage utilization of a factory. By almost any measure productivity in the manufacturing sector has soared.

In the distribution chain, productivity has also increased. Note those huge distribution centers located on the outskirts of suburbia (or exurbia?). Along with obtaining real-time information from retailers to stock that gear at various locations in advance of when it is needed, the distribution sector is continually improving in productivity. Recent rises in the price of gas has only sharpened this focus.

And yet in the service sector, productivity is abysmal. I often use the phrase "one sigma" as a joke - in the manufacturing sector they talk about "six sigmas" or errors in the range of parts per million, yet a "one sigma" service sector would get the answer right 2/3 of the time. That would probably be a good case.

You can also see the attempts to improve productivity that often don't involve better training or skills; they involve simplification. Ever wonder why you order by number at McDonalds? Ever think why those cash registers just have pictures on them? And that everything is the same everywhere in terms of restaurant setting for the franchises - to guarantee a minimalist level of service. And for that, given that my expectations are low, I am thankful.

THE ECONOMY

As we move into a more service-orientated economy, where fewer and fewer people work in manufacturing, we need to ask ourselves - "are we good at this"? A short answer is, probably better than most of the world, but still not very good. On the one hand we are more productive per unit because we don't pay a lot of our service sector workers much of anything, in many industries (retail and food services). We have a lot of part time workers in this sector, and they don't have benefits, much less pensions. But as even the shortest venture out into the service sector will show you, the quality of service is often low.

Some service companies that are good are vilified for it. An acquaintance worked for a long time at a big manufacturing company where, frankly, his life was pretty sweet. He took a union buyout after bitching for years about his old company, and took a job at Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart, even though they paid a fraction of his old wage and he never received enough seniority for full-time benefits, worked his rear end off. At Wal-Mart, he stocked the whole time and they rode him hard to ensure that it was all done. The second the work slacked they made him clock out, even ahead of his shift. They don't mess around at that company, the managers rise through the ranks and do have measures of productivity and take their jobs seriously.

I know that there are small companies where service is taken seriously, and the managers know their customers and in fact they ANTICIPATE their customers' needs. These companies often have their owners hovering nearby or in the front lines, and this also makes all the difference, because the owners have a big stake in the outcome and know that service allows them to compete against bigger retailers where they can't always win on price (they might be able to be competitive, though).

As far as government, health care or education productivity, we all know that this is hardly measured at all. Even though the web and new technologies have revolutionized work, you won't know it out there in government in terms of cost reductions, although they do implement the internet as a way to increase their revenues and get in the cash faster (so they can kick it out the other side even faster). Schools see budgets increase and don't tie it to outcomes, and they don't take responsibility for making things better.

When you look at our economy from a "million mile" view, you can see:

1) a highly efficient manufacturing sector
2) an increasingly efficient distribution sector
3) a poor quality but relatively low cost service sector
4) an abysmal government, health care, and education sector
5) a thin-crust of relatively high productivity service areas in terms of consulting, high tech, and legal areas... but these are a tiny percentage of the total

Think of "one sigma" as the sad challenge to today's service sector...

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Friday, August 22, 2008

Chicago Air and Water Show 2008





The 2008 Chicago Air and Water Show had fantastic weather. I was able to watch a lot of the air elements from my balcony (unfortunately, no water show elements). An amazing number (more than a million) go to the water front to see the show, but I am able to stay back and watch it in the comfort of my own home (and take in some periodic air conditioning, as a bonus).



Check out this You Tube link for an eight minute (no kidding) video of the show from my balcony. Dan recommended putting the song "Cowboy" by K*d R*ck as a background but my limited skills with video nixed that choice.

The End of Boxing

I just watched a piece on MSNBC about the boxing scoring at the Olympics. Interesting stuff.

I have watched a lot of Olympic boxing - happily, MSNBC has shown quite a bit of it.

In a previous post, I mentioned the fact that the Olympics uses an interesting scoring system. After a punch, three of five judges need to hit a button for a fighter within one second. Then that fighter scores a point.

But there are other ways to score points as well, such as the referee giving points to one of the fighters to penalize the opponent for illegal tactics such as holding or hitting behind the head, or whatever.

I mentioned in that previous post that I liked this new method of scoring but still preferred the ten point must system.

The scoring and referee work during the Olympics has been absolutely atrocious. I actually saw an Irish fighter nail a beautiful right cross directly on the chin of another fighter, and the person who RECEIVED the punch got the point. The referees were cautioning and taking points away from fighters who were in no way deserving of that type of treatment. No venue has seen more controversy than the boxing arena in Beijing.

I haven't seen such blatantly fixed scoring since Roy Jones Jr. got screwed in Seoul.

They should cancel boxing as an Olympic sport. It is a sad day.

There is a small movement to get Muay Thai into the Olympics. I hope it doesn't happen. I don't want to see my sport bastardized by the IOC.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Chester - I Will Call Him Chet

I am still a bit sad about the passing of our Henry, but we must move on as they say. This is Chester, his replacement. He is so loving. We brought him home from the Humane Society last week. They were havning a sale trying to get rid of old inventory and this cat loved us from the start just like old Hanko. He has the runs now, but we will get him through that in due time.

Madison at Large

Click any photo for larger.




Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Kicking Block Done

Tonight I received a green stripe on my orange sash to signify my completion of the kicking block of this portion of my Muay Thai curriculum. Honestly, the sashes and stripes don't mean as much as they used to. I just want to get better.

That aside, I am SO glad that this block is done. We have been kicking our brains out the past three weeks and my legs are a mess. I have bruises stretching from my ankles to my knees from all of the blocking. My right foot is swollen and my left doesn't feel so good either. I have a week off from class due to a business trip and it couldn't have come at a better time. I really had to suck it up tonight as we did padwork.

Speaking of pads, it is apparent that I am now the best padholder in the entire gym, as the instructor only lets me hold pads for him if I am around. That is a pretty proud accomplishment. We were chatting after the workout tonight and both agreed that he should never have anyone hold pads for him that hasn't been through the padholding course. I am now doing things past that, doing simulated MMA moves while holding pads. It is crazy, scary, and fun.

At the end today the instructor for his cardio hit me with fifty of the hardest kicks he could muster. I shouldn't be too bruised from that. Hopefully. Yikes.

So here is tonight's workout for me:
  • 50 minute circuit training for strength (sixteen different exercises for two minutes each with 45 seconds of rest in between rounds)
  • One hour advanced Muay Thai class
  • Five three minute rounds sparring (body boxing)
  • Two three minute rounds clench sparring
  • Three five minute rounds pad holding for professional Muay Thai fighter (instructor)
  • Hold pads for fifty insane hard kicks
Looking at this I am pretty proud of how far I have come with my fitness. It is a LOT of work, but worth it in the end, especially helping the fighters at the gym. Hopefully they can and will do better because of me.

Sunday Run Part 1

This weekend Dan sent an email to alert me of a comment made recently on an old post. The comment was made on a story I wrote over one year ago.

Anon asks, “Go ahead tempt me and then don't tell me where keel's is located!
Come on--Im lookin for good sweet corn”.


Anon, I regret to tell you that Keel’s is no more. Pa Keel passed away last winter. His son’s wife works at a local mini-mart and she told me the news last March. The family now wants out and put the farm up for sale. No farm, no farm stand.


My corn this summer comes from local farmers who set up tents in the Valparaiso business district. It’s fresh-picked corn and it's good. But not being able to visit the Keel’s eliminates my traditional summertime habit of picking up some fresh corn daily and visiting with truly fine people.


Pa Keel grew different varieties of sweet corn. Honey and cream was always available but Pa liked to offer an alternative too. The best I remember was a Japanese hybrid that was sweeter and juicier than any I ever had. Every two weeks he had another hybrid to try. On any visit I could expect to spend a minute bagging my corn and fifteen minutes getting an education about…corn. Ma Keel ran the register and is a real sweetie. I wish her the best. R.I.P., Pa Keel.


This last image was shot on Sunday. I was on my way to Coulter's, another farmer owned farmstand.

Sunday Run Part 2


Since Keel’s is a memory, the only other farmer owned farm stand I could visit within ten miles is Coulter’s in Westville, IN.. Coulter’s is located 1 mi. south of US 6 near Westville on the east side of SR 421. Off in the distance and across the road to the west is a state prison. I took the sickle out Sunday for a run to Coulter’s as a point of destination.


Coulter’s has a big weekend harvest festival each year in October. They throw a party with lots of pumpkins and stuff for kids. I stay far away. Here's an example of a kid's backyard gym set, country style. Some handyman had a lot of time on his hands.




In the summer they offer that farmstand moneymaker, sweet corn, along with onions, peppers, and you get the picture. While Keel’s was a tiny family farm, Coulter’s is a larger family operation.

Sunday Run Part 3

On the way back to Valpo from Westville I decided to ride over to the prison and grab a few shots. Never took a close look at it before so WTF?


No problem. While snapping the shutter pointing at goon towers surrounded by a double-fenced razor wire electrified boulder moat it occurred to me that I was definitely on their radar. No officials in sight other than silhouettes in the tower windows. Nobody confronted me or asked me to go away.

Then it came to me. This place is as hard to break into as it is to bust out. I was a fly, not a potential terrorist to them. Still, I quickly decided not to dwell anywhere too long.


Riding south on 421 to Wanatah and the US 30 intersection I kept looking for prison choppers following me. 40 state troopers from all directions just like the Blues brothers. Nope, nothing.


Nothing but bright sun and a ribbon of country road under bluebird skies on a fine Indiana late summer afternoon

Old Injun Sighting

While organizing photos from this summer I ran across this shot taken across the street from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Gerogetown Street last May while stumbling back to our tailgate site after the race. It’s a modern reproduction of the classic Indian motorcycle. After going out of business years ago Indian motorcycles came back to life with help from investors in the late 90’s.


They bought the name, bolted an S&S motor on to a generic frame and added as much sheet metal and chrome possible to get that old Indian look. The model names Scout and Chief were salvaged too. What? No Squaw? They went back under again after a few years. Oh well. At least we still have a classic American made v-twin with H-D.

Badumbadumbadumbadumbadumbadumbadumbadumbadumbadumbadumbadumbadum…

The Life of a Sportswriter

I have complained several times about the lack of talent and depth of thought you must have to be a sportswriter. It seems to me that if you are a good butt-snorkler that you get far in that industry. This applies to journalism in general, as we have put forth about a zillion times on this blog. Well, Peter King just took the cake.

I was listening to Fox Sports on the way into work this morning and Steve Czaban was taking Peter King to task for this ridiculous article over at Sports Illustrated. Czaban had me almost wiping tears off of my face I was laughing so hard. There were so many things that are so obviously wrong and stupid in this article it is difficult to know where to begin, but I will start with something close to my heart.
I think I don't want to hear what great fans the Jets have. Not for a long time. That crowd Saturday night was a disgrace. At least half the stadium was empty for Favre's debut in a Jets' uniform. I expressed my amazement to a few fellow scribes Saturday night -- emphasizing that N.Y. traded for an all-time-great quarterback, not a broken-down one -- and they gave varying reasons for the poor turnout. Like it's the middle of vacation month for New Yorkers, and it's a preseason game. Horsefeathers. If you really love your team, and you have season tickets, you should have been at that game unless you were in Tibet. Ridiculous.

Ugh, not only is the thought he is trying to get across insane, that is some shoddy writing to say the least.

That quote from his article is a nice thing to say from the pressbox, where the buffet is always open. But let me tell you something about season ticket holders for NFL teams. Nothing is resented more than the NFL's racket of charging the season ticket holders what amounts to being a masked surcharge that they call the preseason. You see, every season ticket holder for every NFL team has to pay for two games, the preseason, at full price, just like the regular season games. It is a big project to attend a Bear game in Chicago no matter where you live, and I would assume is is also a big project to make it to the Meadowlands to see a Jet game. Again, if you get a limo ride and get to dine in the pressbox with your "fellow scribes" while doing your job reporting on Favre it is a bit easier to handle. But the average fan doesn't give a crap about the preseason. Elitist.

I hope Alicia Sacramone does not carry her fall off the balance beam the same way Bill Buckner was forced to carry the Mookie Wilson grounder between his legs in 1986. It's not fair. I asked a few Giants about her Thursday and Friday. David Diehl, the left tackle, said it best. "She goes to Brown, right?'' Diehl said. "She's smart. She's obviously done a lot of great things in her life to be at this point. She can do anything she wants in life. In athletics, things aren't always going to go your way. When you get knocked down like she has, you've got to get up, and with her background, I know she will.'' I hope so.

All I can say to that is WTF? Comparing Sacramone to Bill Buckner? I guess the comparison can't get any closer than that. Gymnastics vs. Baseball. And asking Dave Diehl and other New York Giants their opinion about Sacramone? Why not ask Sacramone what she thinks about the Giants depth chart?

If you decide to punish yourself for some misdeed today, read the King article - it is long, disjointed and sounds like the ramblings of a poor soul slowly losing touch with reality. It is poorly written to boot. Sometimes I think I should have been a sportswriter - all you do is have to sell your soul every few weeks and you actually get paid to scribble your insane thoughts.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Good Joke, and Another Joke

You guys remember the post I did about the pillows? That one gained me a lot of email and sympathy from the male part of our audience. The other day my wife had a bunch of stuff she needed to do so I pitched in and did some laundry and other things around the house. As a joke I made the bed like this, with my side featuring the one pillow that I actually use.
The joke was well received. Then my wife said it was even funnier since I make the bed with the comforter on upsidedown. Uhh...

I admitted that was by accident. So I guess the joke was on me. Dammit, 50-50 chance and I blow it. The bed and towel things get me EVERY time.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Blog Milestone

We recently crossed another blog milestone with 150,000 visitors! We crossed 100,000 back in February 2008 and 50,000 back in April 2007.

We'd like to thank everyone who visited the blog, and hope that they liked what they saw, or at least found it to be interesting and intelligent. We don't create this blog to "attract" traffic, and in fact we shy away from anything that would draw it out of the search engines such as a celebrity name or anything to do with politics (formally).

Dan started this blog and I joined several years ago and Gerry joined us not too long ago. Gerry really has an eye for photography and a great capability as a chef (I would say cook but he is somewhere above cooking and towards being a chef on that spectrum) and has been a great addition.

As always, you can get here a few ways:

- www.lifeinthegreatmidwest.com
- www.litgm.com
- or http://lifeinthegreatmidwest.blogger.com

The range of topics that this blog covers is quite large, and I often chuckle thinking what someone searching for one topic thinks when they see a totally different topic alongside. Sometimes I am sure that we irk people but we don't care, as long as what we post is intelligent and interesting, and not just re-heated drivel that you'll see elsewhere out there on the web.

Dan and I also cross post at www.Chicagoboyz.net, a great blog run by a friend of ours who has many highly qualified contributors from across the spectrum. We are honored to post over there, as well.

Here's to our next milestone, 200,000 visitors, which we may cross in 2008 or early 2009.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

New! Blogger Poll

I have put up a poll on the sidebar, and will leave it for a week. Vote as many times as you want, and you can vote for more than one album. Not sure how many times per day you can vote.

The Return of the Risk Premium

Back in early 2007 I wrote an article about the bond market that noted the lack of a "risk premium" for corporate bonds. The "base" rate for corporate bonds is what the US government pays for treasuries of equivalent duration - at the time I wrote that article corporate bonds with good credit were paying only 1% higher than treasuries and "junk" bonds only 4% higher than treasuries. The conclusion of my post was that it made no sense to take on all the known and unknown risks of these bonds for a paltry 1% incremental return (or 4% in the case of the riskiest assets).

Per this article in August 16, 2008's WSJ titled "American Express Joins the Payees":

"American Express Credit Corp. joined the growing list of highly rated financial institutions that are paying steep financing costs when they raise money in the bond market... the premium to compensate investors for perceived risk was 4.25 percentage points over treasury rates."

These financial institutions are finally offering returns that might be worth considering, given their high risk (as Bear Stearns showed us all, and that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would have if the government would have allowed them to go under without their now-explicit guarantee).

Here is the kicker, though:

"From credit-card issuers to investment banks to commercial lenders, financial firms are looking to raise capital to offset potential losses."

Traditionally, debt was raised and matched against long term cash flows. For instance, if you wanted to raise money to build a big plant or make an overseas investment, you would borrow the money, use it to build the facility, get it up and running, then start paying interest, and earn enough money over the life of the facility to pay back the original principal. Along the way you need to earn more on your facility than the "cost" of the interest along with the original investment, which is your return. This is a highly simplified example, but generally in line with traditional thinking.

However, if a company has immediate or lurking losses (those that they expect but haven't disclosed), and then their raise cash from investors with long-term maturities, now that is scary. This is scary because the company is not "investing" these proceeds at all - they are using them today to pay off losses that already occurred. Then the company has to earn a return on other assets (or borrowings) sufficient to pay off this money, plus a return on top. Gulp...

ANALOGIES TO OTHER ASSET CLASSES

I think that another element here is that investors aren't really "believing" the rating agencies anymore. The rating agencies gave high marks to Bear Stearns, for example, until right up to its demise. These super-complex financial institutions, with off-balance sheet entanglements such as CDO's that can't readily be understood, are very hard to value in terms of risk.

This situation is similar to that of the audit firms, right before Sarbanes Oxley. There was a moment when Parmalat, the big Italian firm, seemed to be going under, and someone wrote an article saying that they had audited financial statements, and so wouldn't that help assuage the market? At the time, however, the audit firm's credibility was so low that investors weren't valuing published and audited financial statements as being worth the paper that they were printed on. The rating agencies may be sliding towards that same sad state (since then the audit firms have changed significantly and they are viewed much more credibly by the market, even more so after the death of Arthur Andersen).

A similar situation occurs when investors take high risks in search of yield. After the government lowered the double-taxation on US corporate dividends (they are paid once by the corporation, and again by the individual), more companies raised their dividend rates to investors. It is common to view the "yield" on stocks and compare them to bonds - for example stocks are usually around 2% or so overall with bonds of course being above 5% (now a lot higher). For example I bought a few shares of an ETF with a ticker DVY, which is the "IShares Dow Jones Select Dividend" instrument that invests in companies that pay a high dividend with a history of continually paying their dividend and raising it, as well.

This hasn't worked out so well for me. I bought in a few years ago, at about $60 / or so a share. It bottomed out as low as $49 / share recently before going up a few dollars. All the while it has given off dividends and currently has a "yield" of about 5% (which is worth even more than 5% because interest from a corporate bond is taxed at ordinary income rates which are in the mid 30% range while qualified dividends are taxed at 15% for US companies and US citizens). The yield was nice, but the underlying asset was pretty volatile too, which shows the potential peril in investing for yield.

The part to remember, across bonds and dividend stocks, is that profitability must be maintained in order to keep the payout and either return the principle (bond) or maintain the stock price (dividend stocks). In today's environment often that is a bad assumption.

I would once again extremely caution anyone that is buying debt from an institution that basically plans to use this money to pay off losses that it already has occurred... this is a bad sign, you would always rather see them use this money for future growth (or perhaps to pay off even higher interest loans already on the books).

If you do buy debt, make sure that the risk premium is worth the actual risk that you are taking on. If it isn't, stick to guaranteed investments and sleep much better, for only a bit less money.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Friday, August 15, 2008

Dance the Night Away

I mentioned a few posts ago that I recently vacationed in Michigan, and that St. Joseph was one of my favorite places to visit. They have a children's museum there that my kids enjoy so we visit it each year. They rarely change the displays so I usually dread it.

This year, however, they had some new stuff. Included was a radio booth where kids could pretend they were a dj. There is a screen with a bunch of pop songs and sound effects that could be pulled up.

I waited patiently for that room to clear out and made my move. Heck, I am just a big kid after all.

I was stoked to find a cut from the official album of the Chicago Bears tailgating lots on the list.

video

Mystery Solved

Oh thank God for Steve H, who has finally solved a problem I have had for the last six months. You see, as the Obamessiah has been campaigning its...that voice. I know I have heard it before. Every time I hear him spouting the next lie or promise to raise my taxes like any Democratic hack, I don't really hear his words as I cower in the corner of my house clinging to my guns and religion. I only hear his voice. That damned voice. Where have I heard it before? I swear I have tried and tried to dust off my tiny collection of movie and TV and radio memories to figure out where I have heard that voice to no avail. And it has been bugging me. Today I finally have sweet redemption, courtesy of Steve H. He nailed it. Finally, I can rest.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sport of Beauty and Violence

Rob over at Muay Thai Focus is doing an absolutely superb job reporting on and photographing the big Muay Thai fights in Thailand. Give his site a look if you are interested. Click this photo for larger.

Waterspout

I saw something on vacation this year that was simply awesome. A real, live tornado. Well not exactly a tornado as most know it. I saw a tornado on water, which is called a waterspout. Actually we saw many, but this was the best photo I could manage of one. There was a strange front moving through Saugatuck, Michigan this day. We were on the top of one of the largest dunes in the area, and were stuck - the dune ride vehicle had a flat tire. So we watched the storms that were passing to the west and south of our location. You can see Lake Michigan down below. Enarge this photo by clicking on it.
Almost dead center emerging from the bottom of the cloud is the top of the waterspout - it looks like a tiny tornado. If you look at the lake directly beneath it you can see the water moving upward from Lake Michigan to the cloud. There was a circular pattern of air between the two. All tornados would look like this if they weren't on land collecting dirt and debris to color them. This is probably one of the coolest things I have ever seen - the natives simply shrugged their shoulders and said that they see them all the time. I doubt I would ever get tired of seeing these.

New Levels

My workouts are bordering on the insane at this point at the gym. Last night I did my strength conditioning circuit, followed by my advanced MT class, followed by three rounds of sparring three minutes each with fighters, then three rounds of clenchwork with the fighters, then three five minute rounds of holding pads for the instructor. I was pretty gassed at the end of all of this but I did great.

MT class is very cool now. We are learning a lot of very advanced moves and defenses. They are pretty hard but everyone, even the guys who have been there longer than me, are having a bit of trouble with this new stuff. It takes a lot of coordination. We are working lateral movements around the opponent, and working defenses for this at the same time. This curriculum is at a very high level, and I am noticing a lot of these things we are now working on are things that I see at the highest pro levels of MT.

After my advanced MT class, it is time for me to help the fighters. I usually coach and hold pads, but if there is an odd number I always jump in for sparring (body boxing only) so nobody has to sit there for a round. Lately it has always been an odd number for whatever reason so I am getting a lot of sparring in. What I am finding out is that I am getting much better and that there are certain things that I am finding that I like to do more than others. I am very good at catching kicks and sending my opponent to the mat. In MT you are allowed to hold an opponents leg if they kick you - then a good technique is to cut their calf with a kick while you are holding their leg - then they go sprawling to the ground. This takes good coordination and timing but I have it down pretty well.

I seriously suck at my boxing defense - I will not give up on my boxing until it is solid. My clenchwork is pretty good as well. The strength training has helped me immensely in this. What I need to do in my sparring though is to keep using the techniques that I have learned rather than going out and flailing around. Keeping control and using my techniques is a tough thing to master when you are trying to keep someone from hitting you.

Last night I held pads for the instructor for three five minute rounds. My shirt was literally able to be wrung out from the sweat - he was a sweaty mess too. We did something new last night on top of the usual MT padwork - he had me act like I was hit and sent to the canvas and I was holding pads on my back while kicking upward at him, simulating an MMA fight. It was pretty fun, and gives me better perspective on the MMA game. We also simulated him getting my back and side and raining down punches from above while I was in the turtle. This is very advanced pad feeding and nobody in the gym except me is doing it. It is somewhat crazy at times, but I liked it. Variety is good when holding pads.

The instructor and I are becoming good friends. We are both business owners so have a lot to talk about there, and he likes the fact that I donate my time to the gym to help the fighters (of course). I push him and everyone else there pretty hard and that goes over well too.

There is some bad news though. I kicked a guys knee last night and have a pretty decent knot on my shin today. And the big toe on my left foot is perpetually broken I think. It has been screwed up before, and I just live with it. It bruises up, then subsides, then I hit it just right again on someone or a pad and it bruises up again. Ah, the life of a MT student.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Shots Happen










Vacation in St. Joseph

Click any photo for larger.

Every year we vacation in the tourist towns of Southwest Michigan. St. Joseph is one of our favorite destinations since they have a world class beach and always seem to have interesting things going on for folks to do on the cheap. This day they had chair races (post coming on that) and the beginning of a chalking competition. Here are the artists just starting out. I love these chalk works of art - some of them are amazing.
Here is one a little further along. Usually they take a picture or promo of some sort and make a grid on the ground, then fill in the grid with the object they are trying to draw.
On the side there is an area where anyone can pick up some chalk and go to town.
I couldn't help myself, right below the octopus someone else drew on the sidewalk. Or is is an onion...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Big Ten Preview

I have put up a Big Ten preview over at the football blog here. Hey Gerry, we need someone to pick up ND in the pool so we have a ND fan to kick around - check out the rules here.

Chicago Olympics, 2016

Chicago is one of the finalists to get the Summer Olympics for 2016. The other three finalists are Tokyo, Buenos Aires, and Madrid. A decision will be made in October of 2009.

As my wife and I were driving home from vacation last week, we had a chance to chat in the van while the kids were sleeping. The topic of the Olympics came up, after we heard a report from Beijing on the radio. Conversation got around to the bid by the city of Chicago to host the 2016 Summer games.

After mashing it around a bit we both agreed that the citizens of the city of Chicago and the State of Illinois would get soaked - bad - if they got this. Even if the city and state broke even financially (ha!) the unbelievable inconvenience it will give to the citizens will be remarkable. According to the plan (large pdf here) Monroe Harbor would be unavailable to all non Olympic boating for over a year, after the $60 million breakwater is installed for the rowing events. Canoeing would held on the site of the former Meigs Field, where Daley showed the true power of a dictator.

The plan also touts the world class transportation system. My wife and I had a good chuckle over that. Even a cursory reading of the CTA Tattler puts that fallacy to rest.

The application alone costs $50 million. Incredible, no?

Well, I am pretty sure that the citizens of Chicago will be losers if they get the games, but I could also think of some winners. Lake County is one. There they will get some piece of the action such as equestrian events and shooting events. Other winners will be Midwest colleges and universities with their ample supply of empty summer dorm rooms and soccer fields and the like. Teams arrive months in advance of the games to practice and get their athletes used to the atmosphere in the host country. I would bet that here in Madison we would most certainly host a nation or two with our facilities of the UW to offer.

According to the wiki, the costs of the $50m bid and the games themselves will be absorbed by private parties, where the costs of the infrastructure will be absorbed by government. I find this interesting. I can't imagine spending that sort of money just to see Chicago get the games. Aren't there charities or anything else that private individuals could spend their money on to be more productive? But I digress.

The paragraph titled "financing" in the wiki about the who's and what's of the money is very interesting.

Time will tell if Chicago gets the games - and if they do, what sort of mayhem - or glory - it will bring to the Windy City.

If nothing else, I am hoping that Chicago gets the games to see if Carl makes good on his threat to finally move away from there. He has said to me several times that if Chicago gets the games he will leave - we will see.

Cross posted at ChicagoBoyz.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Beijing 2008, The Events

I am a sports junkie. Since I have been a wee lad I have loved sports and followed them. Watching them on TV has a somewhat calming effect on me, or lets me blow off steam. I get to escape the realities of my world for a few hours.

Since I have been alive I have enjoyed the Olympics, Summer and Winter. The drug scandals and other controversies such as fixed judging and other things like that piss me off, but I always end up coming back. I just love sports.

I would like to take you on a tour of the events that are featured at the Summer Olympics this year, and make a comment or two on them.

Aquatics

Aquatics include swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, and water polo. I like watching swimming. I have never been able to swim worth a damn, but like seeing others who can. Diving includes 3m springboard, and 10m platform. Also included are the 3m synchronized and 10m synchronized. I saw some 3m springboard women's synchronized this evening. It is stupid. Two people do a dive at the same time next to each other and try to mirror themselves. Who came up with this? Water polo is a great sport and extremely hard to do. Synchronized swimming...well...no.

Archery

I would like to see some of this competition on TV, but think it will be pretty much impossible to find here in the States. I have thought about getting a bow, but don't have time to shoot my guns properly so don't need to pick up another hobby at this time.

Athletics

This is just a fancy word for the track and field events, which I enjoy. Too bad so many of the sprinters appear to be on 'roids. There have been many medals over the years taken away from those using illegal substances. I like the hammer throw and some of the distance running events. Also, we gain from Athletics the person considered the greatest all around athlete in the world, the winner of the decathlon.

Badminton

This isn't the little birdie net you set up in your back yard. If you have never seen competitive badminton you are missing out. It is like nothing you have ever seen. Don't believe me? Check this out. Sadly we will not be seeing too much of this here in the US either.

Baseball

This is one where I wish the US wouldn't compete. Our baseball season is going on right now here in the States, so we are clearly sending some second best players. This situation reminds me of when we used to send our college kids to play international pro players in basketball.

Basketball

I won't watch too much Olympic hoops. It is good that we are finally sending our best from the US to compete. I expect a gold from our boys this year.

Boxing

Olympic sport since 1904, as it should be. I saw some boxing on TV today and they have an interesting scoring system. When one boxer hits another, the judges hit a button and a certain amount of judges have to hit their buttons at the same time for the boxer to score a point. Interesting stuff, but I still like the traditional 10 point must system better.

Canoe/Kayak

I don't really have much interest in these, although the whitewater events are good for interesting viewing occasionally.

Cycling

Velodrome racing is insane, and I hope I can catch some of it. I have never rode in a velodrome but want to someday. There will also be distance road cycling events on top of the sprints in the velodrome. One of the best sports featured in the Olympics. As a side note I am disappointed that they included BMX in the Games now. Do we really need a medal in everything?

Equestrian

My wife is nuts about horses so will be trying to catch some coverage of the equestrian events. I don't care about them.

Fencing

I like fencing. I have considered taking a fencing class in the past, but have my hands full with other things right now. Hope we see some of this on the coverage here in the States.

Football

Could you imagine if real football - that is, American Football - was played in the Olympics? We Yanks would win 100-0 every game. Alas, this is the 'world' football, what I call soccer. I am a closet soccer fan so will try to watch some, but in general it will be 'kicked' to the curb here in the USA.

Gymnastics

I think the pimping of the little girls in these international gymnastics competitions is disgusting. As I sit here writing this I am watching the Chinese team, whose girls look to be fourteen and under, competing. I have heard horror stories of these girls (all countries, not just China) having terrible injuries and higher rates of osteoporosis later in life. It makes me sick. At least the guys are a bit older.

Handball

This sport is not very popular here in the US, but is a blast to watch. Check it out. I would like to play someday - it looks like a great workout.

Hockey

Not ice hockey, Field Hockey. Another entertaining sport that is only popular in the Northeast section of the US. We will not see this on too much coverage here either.

Judo

I like Judo and the mastery of leverage and strategy it requires. We will also not see any coverage of this here in the States unless you can stream it. Believe it or not it has been an Olympic event since 1964.

Modern Pentathlon

This one is kind of crazy. These athletes compete in air pistol, fencing, swimming, show jumping on a horse, then a 3000 meter run. How do you train for something like that? Weird.

Rowing

I would like to see a lot of this. Rowing is a great workout and these athletes are top notch.

Sailing

I am not really into sailing, but may watch if it was on. I watch the America's Cup when that is going on, and like it, and may develop a rooting interest if I could see some sailing on TV. I imagine I won't though, since sailing is a long and slow event, not made well for TV.

Shooting

Since picking up air pistol I have developed an immense interest in the shooting sports. Events under shooting include air pistol from 10 meters and many other events including shooting .22 and skeet and trap. Again, we won't be seeing too much coverage (none) of this on TV here in the States.

Softball

Eh, not much interest from me here. Go USA though.

Table Tennis

Hey, this isn't your normal ping pong game in grandma's basement. If there were one sport that I could pick to watch more of it would be this one. Check it out.

Taekwondo

Seriously? Really? This almost gets me mad, as I can think of a different martial art that is so much more interesting that could replace this one in the Olympics. And I have heard of a movement to get MT into the next games, although I think it will probably falter.

Tennis

Eh, I don't really care about this one. Again, go USA.

Triathlon

I didn't know that this one was an Olympic event. Crazy athletes doing crazy things. I would like to do a triathlon someday, but would have to practice swimming in a huge way.

Volleyball

The way these men and women play volleyball is absolutely incredible. I can't even see the ball sometimes when they spike it because it is moving so fast. One better, how do they come up with some of those digs? I played volleyball in a rec league for a while and enjoyed the sport a lot. Hopefully we will see some volleyball coverage here as the Olympics move along. I like the court volleyball better than the beach stuff.

Weightlifting

The weight that these men and women lift is insane. I don't know how the human body can do it.

Wrestling

A great sport. I particularly like Greco Roman wrestling, which is only the upper body.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz.

White Sox 2008 vs. 2005

The White Sox bullpen failed Saturday against Boston and they ended up losing badly. Jose Contreras, a pitcher from their 2005 (and most of 2006) glory years, blew out his Achilles tendon, which means that his career is probably over and almost certainly done for the rest of 2008. In another blow, the Minnesota Twins won and now the White Sox are in 2nd place in their division looking up at the Twins

The Chicago Tribune had a semi-apocalyptic article titled "Contreras out for season, White Sox fall out of 1st". From the article:

"Will this be remembered as Black Saturday, the day the bottom fell out for the White Sox? In only one gloomy evening, the White Sox lost pitcher Jose Contreras, their post season ace in 2005, for the season and again lost their grip on first place in the American League Central as they made a flurry of roster moves."

I realize that newspapers need to sell papers and make everything seem significant but I don't think that this is necessarily the case.

For one thing, Contreras was OLD, and he was already on his last legs. Since he comes from a country where even age is impossible to verify, who knows how old he is, but he admits to being in his late 30's. He was hurt and ineffective most of the season, although he clearly wasn't a total liability, and people were optimistic that he was going to come back and play well. This is a sad injury, because it likely means his career is over, and Contreras has a good history with the White Sox, but that doesn't mean that it is the end for 2008.

Thanks to the glory of the internet it is easy to follow up on baseball trades when you used to have to memorize everything that happened. Let's look at the White Sox rotation in 2005, when they won the division:

WHITE SOX 2005 ROTATION

Buehrle - he is still with the Sox, and doing pretty well. He had some tough outings earlier in the year but seems to be back on track, and his rapid delivery (his games have to be the shortest in the league or damn near close) and fact that he is healthy make him a great horse to have on the staff

Garcia - the White Sox traded him to Philadelphia, where he was a TOTAL bust, an epic bust, in fact. According to wikipedia, he had one win and it was called the "ten million dollar" win because that was what Philadelphia paid him. Plus, the Sox got Gavin Floyd out of the deal, who you will see below as a big part of today's rotation (and WAY cheaper). Garcia was out of baseball but wants back in post-surgery, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him back in the Sox bullpen someday, just like how we gave Loaiza another shot in the bullpen (which didn't work out, but it was a low-risk attempt)

Garland - this one hurts. The White Sox traded him to the Angels, and although he had a bit of a slow start, he is now a work horse for that team. We could use Garland right now, and he was young enough that he probably has a lot of good years ahead of him. Likely the Sox figured they couldn't afford to re-sign all these pitchers and made a bet on Buehrle and Vazquez (see below) and got what they could for Garland. Plus, the re-tooled Angels are a lock for the playoffs and we might be seeing Garland there (if we are lucky). Losing Contreras makes this a riskier bet in hindsight. We did get Orlando Cabrera, who is an upgrade at shortstop and currently our lead off batter (one of the fastest starters on our dead-slow team), so it was an OK trade, if we knew we couldn't afford Garland anyways

Contreras - we already talked about him above, the 4th of the starters that made such great starts in the playoffs and world series in 2005

Hernandez - our 5th starter was Orlando Hernandez, who pitched so brilliantly in relief against the Boston Red Sox in 2005 (he came on with the bases loaded and no outs in one of the best innings I have ever seen pitched, giving up zero runs). He owned up to his age and is still, amazingly, playing for the Mets, although he isn't a gigantic contributor. Orlando was part of the trade for Vazquez, below

Brandon McCarthy
was a very promising starter in 2005, who pitched a few critical games down the stretch. He was traded to the Texas Rangers for John Danks, who is part of our 2008 rotation and we will hear about shortly. McCarthy has been a bust for the Rangers, although not an epic bust like Garcia and still has potential of coming back in 2009 for the Rangers, but with 2007 and 2008 shot I'm sure they'd like Danks back.

WHITE SOX 2008 ROTATION

This rotation assumes that Contreras doesn't come back, which is pretty much a lock.

Buehrle - our #1 starter, seems back in form

Vazquez - Vazquez is an enigma. He is among the league leaders in strikeouts, and has great stuff. Yet somehow he doesn't put up big win totals, and it isn't necessarily for lack of run support. We need Vazquez to put up wins and avoid the "big innings" from the competitors in the back half of 2008 to make the playoffs. The Sox traded for him after the 2005 season, giving up Hernandez and Chris Young, a center fielder who put up over 30 home runs for Arizona in their 2007 playoff season and whom the Sox clearly could have used in center over the last few years

Floyd - pitching well for us this year, hopefully this is a long term trend and not a flash in the pan

Danks - also pitching well for us this year

Now we don't have a fifth starter (really), since Contreras is out. Ozzy can pick someone from the bullpen, or someone from the minors.

Realistically, the fifth starter doesn't have to be that good. If your fifth starter was .500, you'd think that was great. If they keep you in most games and chew up some innings before you end up going to the bullpen, that is fine, too.

In 2004 (the year before the championship) the White Sox had an absolutely impossible time finding a fifth starer. I remember some games when their rotating cast of abysmal starters were routinely giving up 10 runs a game; sometimes their offense kept pace so it looked like a football score.

Summary of Moves

If I had to rank the moves from post-2005 to today with regards to the rotation, here we go:

- Trading away Garcia for Floyd - an A+ trade - you can't do better than this - you get rid of what would have been an albatross on your finances and pick up a replacement starter, to boot
- Trading away McCarthy for Danks - an A trade, given that McCarthy has been basically out of baseball the last 2 seasons
- Signing Buehrle to a big contract - a B+ move - he hasn't been dominant, but he chews up a lot of innings, and looks like he is getting stronger for the rest of 2008
- Trading Garland for Cabrera (and dumping his soon-to-be-big-package) - the accountants would probably like this, and Cabrera is a good-hitting shortstop, but this trade has to be graded a C at best, probably a C-. We definitely could use Garland right about now
- Trading Hernandez and Chris Young (center fielder) for Vazquez - Vazquez has great stuff and could make this an A trade if the White Sox pull through in 2008 but realistically this is a C (or C-) trade right now, since Young is doing so well with Arizona and everyone knows the White Sox could use a center fielder (especially a young, cheap one you can lock up a few years). Hernandez was a throw away in the deal

So if you add in an A+, an A, a B+, a C- and a C together, you are getting a B, which isn't too bad. the White Sox know that they can't just sign everyone and stand still, and then re-sign someone else (on top of the existing contract) if they fail. The White Sox don't have the money for this, so they have to be gamblers.

The Bullpen

As far as the bullpen goes, in 2005 Jenks took over and he is the closer today, and an above average one. The bullpen was strengthened by picking up Dotel and Linebrink, although Linebrink's injury has hurt us badly (for a while the Linebrink / Jenks combo was potent like the Marmol / Wood combo; both have fallen on hard times recently, although the teams are making other moves).

The rest of the Team

Comparing 2005 to 2008, the rest of the team is a wash, or 2008 is a bit better than 2005. Carlos Quentin is playing out of his mind and an upgrade over 2005. Alexi Ramirez is also a big upgrade, and we have Thome and Cabrera. Konerko is on a downward slide, and Crede is better than ever when he plays but he has been hurt. Dye is a class act both years.

As far as speed and defense, in the word of Moneyball, who cares? In the Michael Lewis book the A's famously don't care about defense or team speed (very much) - they do care about pitching, walks, and hitting.

What it All Means

In the end, it only matters if you beat the competition. The White Sox benefit immensely from the slow start of the Tigers and the implosion of the Indians. A full analysis of the White Sox vs. the Twins in terms of a comparison is frankly beyond my time to do a reasonable analysis, but I'd say that we have a decent shot, if our players (Crede, Linebrink) come back from injury and especially if Minnesota suffers some injuries.

As far as getting deep into the post season, Buehrle is going to have to pitch like a #1 starter and Vazquez will need to make the trade worth while. The offense will have to keep their heads up and stay consistent. After that, it is a crap shoot.

But I'd say that the White Sox have done decently well with their off-season moves.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

White Sox and Boston Red Sox



Last night I attended my first White Sox game of the season - the Friday night opener of their four game series vs. Boston. The game went well for the White Sox, with Mark Buehrle shutting down the Red Sox for seven innings and the offense getting enough going to win 5-3.

This series is pivotal because the White Sox series vs. Boston last year was literally the worst baseball I have ever seen in my life. The White Sox were absolutely destroyed by the Red Sox in a series when they were swept by incredibly lopsided scores (i.e. 10-2 per game or so). The fall from the 2005 world champions to 2007 doormats was brought into stark relief, especially against one of the top teams in baseball. After that series you couldn't even give away White Sox tickets, and the season ground on towards its sad conclusion.

2008 started out with low expectations for the White Sox, after the 2007 debacle. Not only weren't the White Sox expected to be good, but their division was supposed to be awesome, especially since Detroit went out and traded for some serious talent during the off-season like Willis and Cabrera from Florida. The order was basically going to be Detroit heavily favored with Cleveland next, and with the White Sox, Twins and Royals back in the pack.

But new White Sox players came seemingly out of nowhere; Carlos Quentin wasn't even penciled in to start and now he is in the MVP chase, leading the AL in home runs (and getting another one last night against Boston). The Cuban Alexi Ramirez is also a big help, and their young pitchers Danks and Floyd are playing great ball. The White Sox really pulled this season seemingly out of thin air; when previously their off season acquisitions were a bust now they are spinning into gold. Hopefully Griffey continues this trend.

Not only was the game a victory over the Red Sox (hopefully more to follow), and the weather beautiful, and the stands full... but they also had fireworks! I think it was some sort of 60's rock montage but the fireworks were great, too.I've got one beef with Ozzie, though (back from his suspension). Late in the game AJ hit a ball that he tried to stretch to a double but he was clearly going to be way out and was caught in a run down; AJ went back and forth between first and second and was ultimately tagged out - but while he was in the run down it took long enough that the runner on third was able to score, putting a critical insurance run on the board. Per the Chicago Tribune

"I think A.J. didn't hustle out of the [batter's box]," Guillen said. "He hit a ball and thought it was out, and a bad play turned out to be a great play. I bet you nobody in the stands knows about it."

Hey Ozzie - I was up in the stands, and I recognized that delaying the run down long enough to allow the runner to score was a good play, and I said so at the time. Some of us do watch the game from time to time...