Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Is it Art?


Although I am far from an expert on art periodically I like to look at least through the window at the myriad art galleries that populate River North in Chicago. And right in the window is some art?

It appears to be two baseball bats in a blue felt-lined box.

Hmmm...

Dan Bunyan

Ever chop down a tree? I will get back to that in a minute.

Last Sunday I spent the better part of the day at my farm property doing odd jobs all around the place, on the seemingly never ending quest to get the joint in order. The previous owners really let it go.

I took down some ugly fiberglass off a door and put two coats of primer on it. I gathered all of the firewood from all over the property and stacked it nicely in one area. Why were there so many little piles all over the place? Also, I watered many of the flowers that we have planted and did a few other odd jobs.

We have been looking at a sick apple tree for quite some time - it is only about 1/4 alive and we were told by an arborist that it didn't have long. I decided today was the day.

I fired up my chainsaw and warmed it up. For whatever reason I decided to do a few other odd jobs first.

When I went back to fire up the chainsaw, I. Could. Not. Get. It. Started. No matter how hard I tried. So I decided to fell that crappy tree the old fashioned way and went to work "Paul Bunyan" style.

I bought a decently sized ax a while ago for just such an occasion. This tree was only a foot in diameter. I am here to tell you, it is a lot of work cutting down even a small tree such as that with an ax. My hands and side muscles are still sore from all of the swinging. After I got it down, limbing the small stuff was easy as most of it was rotten, but the live parts, of course, were harder. When I got down to the trunk and larger branches I almost gave up. But then I decided to give the chainsaw one more go and thank GOD it started. I made short work of the rest of the tree and that apple wood will smell nice as it burns over a bonfire later this summer.

At times like this I think of how hard people like lumberjacks and pioneers of old worked. True, my cutting technique was probably not optimal when cutting the tree down, but even so, without power tools it is amazing that those folks that lived all that time ago were able to make ends meet.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Iran and Prognosticators



One of my favorite quotes (I don't even know if it's true) is supposedly from Jack Welch and it is about how he got rid of his forecasting department:
We might be surprised, but we won't be surprised we're surprised
Businesses are often surprised by changes to the environment, even while they tout their ability to master the situation. One company I used to work with had a joint venture with CISCO in the dot.com era - at the time CISCO was touting their advanced financial capabilities, their ability to close the books a few days after quarter end, and most importantly their supply chain mastery that allowed them to accurately forecast demand. Almost immediately after that period of boasting, CISCO had a big inventory write down since they built too far ahead of demand and had to scrap the unsold goods and materials.

To some extent the entire economic situation that we are currently embroiled in relates to a failure to predict the future or forecast accurately - demand was over-estimated, pricing power was over-estimated, and liquidity that was taken for granted vanished in an instant.

While businesses have to face up to their failures (by publishing financial results filled with losses, getting acquired, or going out of business), what about the journalists and "talking heads" on TV who cover foreign affairs?

How many of them predicted that Iran would break out into a mini-revolution? The Iranian regime seemed solid and their hold on the electorate strong; I don't remember talk of widespread unrest, and also of the potential of new communication tools like Twitter to widen the impact of these protests.

Failing to predict critical events is commonplace; less frequent is the media owning up to their limited powers to see the future and the fact that many of their talking heads don't provide much insight. The 24 hour news channels are a void of chatter, scrolling news tickers, and loud updates.

They should take a cue from the Jack Welch quote above and either get much better at what they do (unlikely) or more importantly note their inability to provide much more than real time (at best) views of what has already occurred.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

State Tax Review - California

State Tax Review:

Given the recent financial events that have hit Wall Street, real estate, and the average American consumer, the purpose of this post is to look at how our largest states have responded to this fiscal crisis with regards to tax policy. Let's start with California.

For some background - here is a high level overview of state income taxes (circa 2006, hasn't changed much since then on a relative basis). If you go to this section at LITGM you can see all of the tax posts we have put up over the years that cover similar topics.

California:

California is governed by a solid Democratic majority with a Republican governor. The California situation is different than most states in that a 2/3 majority is needed for tax increases, meaning that tax increases are difficult to pass through the legislature. California also has a "proposition" culture, where items are put directly to the voters (such as the famous "Proposition 13" which limited growth in property taxes).

California has a very high "graduated" state income tax (meaning that it is tied to the Federal tax liability, with some exceptions) and this forms a significant portion of their total tax collections. Per this very helpful site, in 2008 47.5% of their total tax revenues came from the state income tax, above the average of 35.7% for all states as a whole. However, this percentage is lower than its total impact - some states (like Illinois) have an essentially "flat" 3% state income tax (at 32% of Illinois state tax burden), but California's is graduated so that they are taking 9.3% on all "taxable income" > $47,000 and another 1% on all income > $1,000,000, making their total tax burden at 10.3% for the highest earners. California is proposing to increase this rate (highest in the US of major states) by an additional 0.25% with their latest budget proposals, to a high of 10.55% (the 0.25% increase was part of Proposition 1A, which was defeated).

Reliance on a high, graduated state income tax is a two-edged sword - during "boom" times (such as the latest economic expansion) high income payers contribute a disproportionate amount to the budget (relative to other states) - but when the stock option gains evaporated starting in 2008, this portion of the state receipts is hit harder than other sorts of taxes (sales taxes, property taxes, gasoline taxes) because income and gains can fall rapidly which immediately reduces collections.

California immediate reached for the lever of increasing sales taxes as soon as the recession hit, raising the state portion from 7.25% to 8.25%, with local additions rising it up to 10.25% in some areas. Raising sales taxes is generally viewed as a "regressive" tax measure, because it hits the poorest hardest because they consume a higher percentage of their total earnings than the rich (the 1% increase was also defeated with proposition 1A).

California also has a very high corporate tax, at 8.84%, which makes up 10% of their total tax receipts. This rate is the highest in the nation, making it a dis-incentive for businesses to move into the state (unless they are able to reduce their Federal tax burden, which will result in tax relief, through various tax strategies).

The Tax Foundation (a non-profit group) wrote an excellent analysis of the California tax situation here. Per the Tax Foundation:

These tax increases are estimated to raise $10 billion, with the extensions from Proposition 1A generating a further $6 billion. California has been struggling to close a $40 billion budget gap between desired spending and expected revenues in its $92 billion 2009-10 budget.

Proposition 1A was defeated, leaving the state's finances in a precarious state as far as balance of payments, although the state faced a huge budget gap in any case.

The overall California situation for taxes is as follows:

1) California is extremely unfriendly to businesses, with the highest Corporate tax rate in the nation. As the Tax Foundation noted, Nevada is next door with a Corporate tax rate of zero, as opposed to 8.84%, along with an infinitely friendlier overall business climate
2) California depends on extremely high individual earners and a high income tax rate for their budget - but these earnings can change rapidly with the evaporation of capital gains and those earners can move their domicile to other states (Nevada, Florida, Texas) with much more favorable state income tax rates
3) the California state sales tax is very high and regressive, since this falls disproportionally on the poor
4) one area of relative favor for California from a state tax revenue perspective is that state property tax collections are low, a legacy of Proposition 13. California was ranked #10 (in 2006) in overall property tax collections, still high relative to other states but less than half of the New Jersey costs

Even with these extremely burdensome tax levels, state government spending galloped far in advance of collections, leaving a gigantic budget deficit. A recent string of proposals to "fix" the budget gap were defeated in May 2009. As of today, the Democratic assembly has decided to push forward a budget that contains tax increases without the required 2/3 votes, which the Governor says he plans to veto, or the state will start issuing IOU's. Per the article in Business Week
The main culprit is the recession, which caused a 34 percent plunge in personal income tax revenue during the first five months of the year.
California now has an "A" rating on their debt, lowest in the nation, per this Reuters article. The state has $57 billion in bonds outstanding, and one way that they may pay bills in the short term is to go into the bond reserves for debt, which is likely to reduce their debt rating further (particularly for those issues), which also increases their long term interest rate burden since they will need to raise rates to raise the same amount of debt. Per the article, the debt rating agencies (Moody's and S&P) are on an alert for a "multi-notch" downgrade, if these events occur.

Generally it is safe to summarize that the state has installed an unsustainable array of programs balanced on very high state income, state corporate and state sales taxes. These rates are amongst the highest in the nation and from all outward indications (to prospective businesses or residents) they are going to continue to rise. Their debt burden, per above, appears to be unsustainable and they have the lowest ratings in the nation, with rates subject to fall further should they take steps that amount to "raiding" their pre-funded debt to pay current obligations.

Keep watching to see how this turns out. For US competitiveness, this is a grave threat, because California used to be a driver of entrepreneurship and great companies. While there are many reasons for the decline, an intentionally non-competitive tax policy (driving away businesses and high-income residents) and loading the state with debt to support a massive array of public programs that are unsustainable.

It is also safe to say the for future potential residents the Democratically controlled legislature continues to push for tax increases, meaning that the future will look more and more like the past, and flashing a big red warning light to anyone contemplating an investment or move to the state.

One favorable kudos for California is that they have a great web site and a series of PDF's and charts for their 2009-10 state budget - go here and read through it if you have the time.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Soccer vs. Baseball

When I grew up I played a little bit of soccer. This was a long time ago and I was not particularly talented. Our team was better than most in the Chicago area because two German-born children of the coach of the long-defunct Chicago Sting also played alongside us and clearly led the team. I'm sure as actual German soccer players 30+ years ago they must have thought our soccer skills were absolutely pathetic, in contrast with European standards of the day.

There have long been debates on the (low) popularity of soccer in the United States, along with hand-wringing about the cause and various opinions on all sides. I haven't paid too much attention to the debate but I was on vacation in Italy when the US team tied Italy in 2007 and I did feel good at the time (it was quite a shock to the locals, I'll tell you).

Over the years soccer has grown as a youth sport and also as a competitive sport. The Chicago Fire soccer team actually is able to draw a decent crowd. In Chicago we have a vast foreign born population and whenever there is an important match on overseas our local bars pick up the games on satellite and are packed full of hard drinkers in bar wear for their favorite team.

The US beat Spain recently in a huge upset that did get some press. To say the team from Spain was favored is to vastly understate the scale of the upset; some compared it to the US defeat of the USSR in 1980 in ice hockey.

Today the US team took a 2-0 lead on another hugely favored team, the Brazilians, and I was outdoors having lunch watching the game out of the corner of my eye in a new bar / restaurant (called Brownstone, it was excellent) on the north side of Chicago. As the US team took a lead many passing pedestrians stopped to check the score and obviously noted what seemed to be another historic upset (at the time). There were local Brazilians in team colors, too, but also a large number of fans rooting for Team USA. Brazil was eventually able to catch up and won 3-2 which was a disappointment but the fans (including me) seemed to be electrified by the game and were shouting and paying close attention with every play.



The interesting part of this is what was going on in that same bar at the exact same time - the inter-Chicago baseball rivalry between the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox. That 3 game series was tied 1-1 and the last 2 games had gone down to the wire, so there was a high expectation that this series deciding game would be a good one. It turned out not to be a close game, as the White Sox beat the Cubs 6-0, but I can tell you that the US vs. Brazil soccer game really held the crowd much better than the baseball game. While the photo isn't that great, everyone in the foreground (and people outside) were watching the soccer game while the rest of the bar was watching the baseball game - and the sound was turned to the soccer game, to boot.

Maybe it isn't soccer's time yet in America, but it seems to be getting closer. And baseball better pick up its game...

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Classic Cars On A Summer Evening

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At the weekly Valparaiso classic car meet on US 30 there’s so much eye candy it's hard to find a place to start. This is a weekly informal gathering where no fees are charged and no trophies or ribbons are given out. There can be up to 100 autos on display. There are regulars who show up but each week brings new models to look at. My favorites are the muscle cars of the 60’s but some 50’s models are attractive to me as well. Feel free to click on the images for an enlarged view in high resolution.


With fully restored and custom classics there’s so much to see from the showroom clean detailed engine compartments to the retro mag wheels and tires. The paint jobs nothing less than phenomenal.


What grabs my attention most are the details and the chrome. Automakers have moved away from chrome over the years and designers incorporate a seamless look blending plastics and metals. I’m sure the reasons are aerodynamic performance and government regulated safety features so maybe that’s why many modern automobiles look alike. They’re so boringly generic. The worst look of all time on autos are the splashy decals, some with neon colors that look like graffiti.


Why I am attracted to these events is not so much for nostalgia, although that comes into play, but for the art. These autos are sculptures, works of art in and of themselves. But the real art is in the details.


I walked around and took photos of the chrome detailing especially the car’s nameplates which was usually is a chrome script and manufacturer's logo giving each their own special brand.



56 and 57 Chevys were most prevalent on this evening. Other times there are more Fords and MoPars with a few exotics and custom hot rods tossed in.


These are all enthusiasts who are proud of what they have. Many of these folks did their own refurbishing and want to share their personal piece of history. There’s no fee to walk amongst these dinosaurs and everyone is very friendly.


Living near a small town has it's advantages. Traditional American values shamelessly live here. Out in the small towns the term "progressive" lives only on auto insurance television commercials. Out here the best things in life are still free, and so are we.

I like it that way.
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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Robert Smigel and Michael Jacks*n


In Chicago the channel TBS has been promoting a comedy festival all around town, with this ubiquitous "green guy", called "Just for Laughs". I usually don't go to these types of events but immediately bought tickets when I saw that it featured Robert Smigel.

Robert Smigel is probably one of the funniest people that you've never really heard too much about. He has done a lot of stuff but is famous for:

- those TV Funhouse and "Fun with Real Audio" cartoons on Saturday Night Live
- on Conan O'Brien, he plays the lips in the "Clutch Cargo" segments where they put up the picture of someone famous and Conan pretends to interview them
- the TV series, TV Funhouse, which is totally over the top, highly recommended, and must be seen to be believed
- and finally, he is "Triumph the Insult Comic Dog", who is famous for his bits making fun of Star Wars Fans and the French in Canada, among others

He was hilarious and they showed a pilot for a series that never aired where Smigel played a character based on Bozo the clown with real kids and parents in the audience. I thought it was awesome but typically twisted.

After the pilot he sat up and took questions from the crowd. He also had a DVD with him and played some of his cartoon bits, notably his TV Funhouse items with Michael Jacks*n.

Smigel didn't mention his personal opinions about Michael Jacks*n but he obviously doesn't approve of his lifestyle. There are two cartoons that I know about that he did regarding Michael Jacks*n that must be seen to be believed.

I can't find them on the web to link to them - but in one he has special glasses that put up a picture of Webster whenever he is with a woman and unless he has them he starts to projectile vomit and in a second one he tries to prove to his insane entourage that he is no longer attracted to children with a decoy robot.

Smigel is one guy that hit the nail right on the head with those cartoons and that is how we ought to remember the disgraced entertainer, not with some memorial show.

Good Beers


I am putting up this post to goad Dan into his crappy beer challenge since that is a lot of fun. By contrast I am buying single (or more) good beers from Binny's across the street. Here is one of my favorites, Delirium Tremens from Belgium. It is strong and comes in a cool bottle. I need to get a glass that matches it. I try to drink it slowly out of a small glass to avoid immediate inebriation. The beer has a sweet taste and a decent aftertaste. I am going to buy one of the Delirium Tremens glasses with the pink elephants on them... that way I can get more synchronicity with my drinking.

I bought this Southern Tier brewing Oak Aged Unearthly Imperial Pale Ale from Binnys. It was OK, I wouldn't buy it again, but always up for trying something new.
Goose Island has a new brew that is a Belgian style beer called Matilda. Since I was going in to the store to purchase a Delirium Tremens I figured I'd try one of these instead in the spirit of tasting (and the fact that they had a pretty girl by the front with a cart of them and tasting didn't hurt, either). They sell these in the "big bottle" format or a 4 pack for $10.99 at regular size. I liked them a lot and it is always good to patronize a local brewery like Goose Island here in Chicago, too. I will be buying these a lot (even without the cute pink elephants like the Belgians).
Recently I was out walking in Old Town and stopped in a bar across the street from Second City at a bar called "Concoran's". They had a beer on tap called Affligem from Belgium and it was excellent. They even gave me a matching glass! I highly recommend trying this beer if you come across it, it was excellent draught. Also funny this is run by Vaughan Hospitality, a company in Chicago that runs a bunch of bars with Irish style that are usually a good time. I used to work with one of the Vaughan brothers, he was an accountant, but I think he has moved on to better things.

Come on Dan, more with the challenge!

Cool Display in Millenium Park

Celebrating 100 years of Daniel Burnham's plan for Chicago, Millenium Park has some new art installations. I don't know exactly what this has to do with the plan but I like the cool color changes on this strangely smooth "thing".

The Total Failure of General Mills

We usually share our yummy recipes here at LITGM (speaking of, rib tips on the grill tonight), but today I have a spectacular fail for everyone.

I am so happy that today was the final day I had to eat General Mills Total cereal. But let me go back to the beginning.
I have been eating instant oatmeal for breakfast for several years now and it has served me well. But I finally got sick of it and decided to go for the cereal and skim milk gig for a while. I was eating Kashi Go Lean Crunch , but got bored of that too. It tastes fine, but the same thing every day was killing me again.

So I started shopping cereals once more and remembered that Total has tons of vitamins. In fact, according to the box it has most of the vitamins that you need on a daily basis - nice, I thought, I can eliminate my One a Day that I had been taking.

In theory the plan is fine, but in practice the plan was a joke. You see, Total doesn't really taste very good. Now I was not exactly expecting a flavor explosion from this cereal, but I wasn't expecting soggy cardboard either. Speaking of soggy.

The main beef I have with Total is that you have approximately two minutes from the time the milk hits the cereal before it turns into a giant bowl of soggy, sloppy mush. What the hell? I really wasn't expecting that. I had a contest with myself one day and tried to finish the bowl before any of the cereal wilted under the stress of my watered down skim milk. Couldn't do it, no matter how fast I tried to jam those vitamin fortified wonder flakes down my piehole.

The texture that Total takes on after it wilts is really horrible. But because I have a thing about not wasting food I suffered through the box, having a one cup serving every day until today, and now it is gone. Yuck.

Back to Kashi until I come up with a better solution. At least the Kashi Go Lean Crunch stays crisp in milk. Maybe I should go back to my school days and get some Lucky Charms. They are magically delicious. But probably horrible for me.

Friday, June 26, 2009

I Am Hard Wired That Way

So Michael Jackson is dead. Some thoughts if you want them.

As I was watching the endless coverage on the cable stations last night, I wondered what the hell everyone was doing. There were a lot of shots of many people standing around, gathering at the hospital, his house, and the rest. Get a job, go fishing, pick up a martial art, do something, but don't stand around and look like a dufus on TV, just because a celebrity died. I wish I had that kind of free time on my hands.

They said that the mansion he lived in cost $100k PER MONTH to rent. Holy crap! On top of that, Bloomberg Radio reported this morning that MJ was over $400 MILLION in debt. How did he get the money to rent such a fabulous palace? Was a bank really stupid enough to front him the dough? How would you like to untangle his estate - yikes. The courts and lawyers will have their hands full of people picking at the carcass on that one.

But here is my main observation, and one that I have put in the comment sections of a few blogs. Michael Jackson abused children. For that and that alone he gets a big fat Zero from me.

I am extremely sensitive to the crimes relating to the abuse of children. And it isn't because I have a couple of rugrats of my own. I have been sensitive to this for my whole life. I don't care if you find the cure for cancer, save the free world, are the most talented musician or whatever. If you are a child abuser, to me you Suck. Sorry if you find this insensitive of me. I am hard wired that way.

See you in hell, Michael.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Perch Are Definitely Back

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And they is real good eatin'!

Some days we get a few other days we get a lot. On some days we get nothing but that’s rare. Then there are days when everything goes right. Yesterday was one of those days.

We decided to go out on the big lake to see if the perch were in. The reports were good.

Putting in at the Hammond marina next to the Horseshoe Casino it was 85 degrees, a dewpoint at 70 and little to no wind. It was stifling heat for 7am. Our destination was Calumet Harbor, which is mostly Indiana water so our licenses are good. Pulling into out spot it took all of one minute to be dripping in sweat. The rod was slipping out of my hand kind of sweat. When the wind did blow (more like a breeze) there was some relief and enough to move the boat on some good drifts.

Friend Tom was in the boat, he hauled in the first perch within ten minutes on a spinner tipped with a crawdad. It was huge measuring at 13”. A few casts later he brought in a twin. Then another, all 13”. That meets the largest I have ever caught. The bro got into the action with another about the same size.

When my turn came I hauled in the biggest perch I have ever seen in any boat and my personal best, a whopper 14" perch.


Soon I had a big one on my drop weight two hook rig tipped with two big minnows. Then another. Holy crap I have never seen such enormous perch. At one time my double hook rig landed two fish one about 12” and another at 13”. Where did all the small ones that usually get caught in the mix go?

Perch eat each other so my guess is all the small ones were hiding deep in the weeds or split for safer territory. These perch were the size of keeper walleye and for perch, they put up a fight considering I was using 4lb. test mono and an ultralight outfit. We used a net to ensure few could get away.

In comparative proportion these perch would have been seven to eight pound walleyes.

A limit for the three of us would have been 45 total but when a thunderstorm chased us off the lake about 12:30 we had to settle for 30 huge perch. The weight of this catch had to outweigh some of our past limits.


We pulled the boat out and headed to the fish cleaning station to line them up for photos and divide the catch. Other fisherman we had seen on the water on the same spot came over to take a look. Looks like we outfished them all judging by all the compliments.

Last years biggest perch day is located here here and here.
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The Showgirl Chronicles

Rummel turned me on to this series of posts at the Secret Lives of Scientists's Weblog. It is truly outstanding. They are all about her younger days as a skater on the Disney on Ice tour. Truly fascinating stuff about life on the road - drugs, piercings, relationships, oh my! She is on part 4 now, and I literally cannot wait for the next parts.

Hopefully we will get to see a photo of her in the skating costume - heck, she is still a cutie today!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Father’s Day Fish Fry

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Since we catch and keep a lot of great tasting fish it’s good to keep them from going to waste. One way to do that is to hold a backyard summertime fish fry to empty the freezer.


Some years back my dad would have one on Labor Day. He rented a tent, at one time we had five fryers going and two kegs of beer on ice in order to host up to 100 people. It was an event many friends and relatives looked forward to. But some people didn’t like fish so my mom insisted on grilling burgers, brats and hot dogs too. Her intent was to please everyone.

Well then some people didn’t like fish, burgers, hot dogs or brats so my mom insisted on frying shrimp. Well, some people…all I can say is it came to be much more work than was necessary.

We gave up trying to please everyone as my mom desired. I insisted we just fry fish and if a friend or relative didn’t like that they could just stay home. Fu•kem. So we gave up on the big Labor Day fish fry but we didn’t stop having a party.


The bro hosted this year’s event at his place on Father’s Day. Me and his bro-in-law Harold fried fish, shrimp and onion rings while bro grilled a few five pound walleye fillets on the Weber.

The fish were mostly walleye and northern pike with some bass and perch thrown in.


Bro discovered an outstanding way to make onion rings by slicing them very thin, soaking them in Tabasco sauce followed by a dusting in flour.


Dipped into 375 degree peanut oil these fried onions are the best I ever tasted.


The fish were as good as ever.

Now we must hit the water again. Labor Day at my place? We better get busy.
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Monday, June 22, 2009

Great Lakes Dragaway

Click any photo for larger.

As I mentioned a few days ago, I took my dad to the drag races at Great Lakes Dragaway in Union Grove, Wisconsin. When we got there they were working feverishly on the track, as there were torrential downpours the day before. We never did get to see one drag race as they couldn't get the track together within our schedule. But we did get to walk around the pits and I got some photos of the cars that were there. More to come.





Sunday, June 21, 2009

City Stickers

I remember growing up when we first started driving in high school everyone had an old beater car. One thing that they all had in common seemed to be a decade or so's worth of city stickers on the window.

When I first got a significant other we received a city sticker and it was the second for our car; I was going to just put it above the existing prior year city sticker and was scolded that you were supposed to REMOVE the prior years' sticker rather than stacking them all the way up the side of your windshield. I was a bit dumbstruck... I thought that was the way you did it, back then.

This guy obviously is single, I guess.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Nuclear Energy Update

Background on Nuclear Energy:

Nuclear energy provides a significant portion of the world's base load power capacity, along with coal power, gas, and hydro-electricity. While "renewable" energy and conservation receive the lion's share of the media coverage, in fact they make up a minuscule proportion of our total generation.

In the United States, for various reasons, there has been little or no investment in new base-load energy capacity, other than natural gas, and our existing plants are continuing to age. Since the plants have a long lead-time, if no new plants are started soon, we will have retirements and no reasonably priced options to replace them, which will drive up the total cost of energy and make our economy less competitive.

There are two viewpoints that I see frequently on this topic:

1) "The Greens" who view nuclear plants as a possible solution for greenhouse emissions and less "dirty" than coal, and I will put most of the government and media dreamers in this category
2) "The Engineers" who talk about new plant designs and how efficient they are and how technology can help us resolve this situation, which seems plausible given that most of the technology behind nuclear and coal plants actually in operation today stems from the 60's and early 70's

One viewpoint that I don't see very often is what I will call "the bitter realist". I am definitely in this camp, based on decades of experience with the utility industry, focused primarily on the financing side, which also requires a fair dose of regulatory experience (since they are closely intertwined). You can see much more detailed posts (50 and counting) on the energy industry in the US here.

Recent Events in Nuclear Power:

One event that didn't receive the coverage that it deserved is the decision to abandon the Yucca Mountain storage plan in Nevada for spent nuclear fuel. Obama made this decision not to fund Yucca Mountain in the 2010 budget, although this has not been finalized. Over $9 billion has been spent on Yucca Mountain and work has proceeded on this effort since 1987. Utilities have been paying into a Federal fund to contribute to this storage site, and now each individual utility will need to determine how to store their own fuel on their own location indefinitely. There will also likely need to be some resolution to the amounts that the utilities have paid into the fund and whether these contributions will continue.

This plan was the signal monstrosity of the "greens / government" combined with the "engineers". The site was studied to death but even 2 seconds into it the "bitter realist" could have told you that there was no way that thousands of shipments of nuclear waste were going to be shipped all the way across the USA and dumped into Nevada; this process could be halted anywhere by 1) bitter fighting by the state of Nevada (note that Harry Reid is now a big power in the Democratically controlled Senate, and he is celebrating) 2) lawsuits or even protests along the tracks 3) any sort of snafu (which seems inevitable, considering the logistics) along the way, the same way that the Three Mile Island incident was used to be the death knell of nuclear power in the USA.

So, now effectively we have abandoned any type of central storage (don't believe the nonsense by the new energy secretary about a new plan; this one took 22 years to die and we haven't even started thinking of another one) and now each of the utilities effectively need to plan for their own spent storage on site, indefinitely. This will also be something that the protesters can use to try to slow down / stop any new construction (do you want radioactive fuel in your neighborhood FOREVER? - I can see the signs in my head, now).

Another problem is that utilities have to plan for decommissioning their existing sites and pay for it "as they go", unlike the Federal government, for example (which just issues debt and more debt). The cost of decommissioning is gigantic; you can only imagine the feast of lawyers and regulators that swoop to the site like seagulls at a garbage dump. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently cited 18 nuclear power plants to address these funding shortfalls - since they are not able to invest in risky securities, the current low interest rates will also mean that additional cash infusions will be required at some point in the future (although these policies mean that they didn't lose money in the recent crash, either).

US Government Selects Four Companies for Federal Loan Guarantees:

The US Government recently selected four companies for Federal loan guarantees for new nuclear plant construction. Per the WSJ article titled "US Chooses Four Utilities to Revive Nuclear Industry":
Seventeen companies applied for $122 billion of federal loan guarantees for 21 proposed reactors. In creating their short list, federal officials sought companies with strong development teams and plans that could be implemented quickly. They also wanted a mix of traditional utilities (Scana and Southern) and newer "merchant" generators (NRG, UniStar) that sell electricity at unregulated prices. Merchant operators have reaped big productivity gains in nuclear power in recent years. Foreign partners that might be able to contribute loans or equity were also considered a plus.
Hmmm.... when I saw this list I was pretty confused.

NRG is a "merchant generation company" that at one time came from Minnesota where I consulted for many years. Today, they are locked in a bitter takeover battle with Exelon, the Chicago based utility giant (who also bought up lots of East Coast generation assets in Philadelphia) where Exelon is attempting to buy them and they are refusing to sell, saying that the price is too low. Here is a link to an Exelon investor presentation where they present their case for NRG stockholders to vote for the merger, pointing out that NRG does not have access to low-cost financing and that NRG's existing fleet has a high carbon footprint, meaning that they will have to spend significant amounts to upgrade their systems under new potential rules.

Thus based on the fact that NRG is locked in a struggle with Exelon for control and it will be expensive to fund the rest of the site, it seems like a strange (wasted) choice for the US government.

Scana is a utility in South Carolina. All I have to say is that Scana's total equity market capitalization is only 3.81 billion. Thus they are severely under-capitalized to take on such a large project, since the cost overrun will likely be greater than their entire equity value. Scratch them from the list.

Unistar is a joint venture between Constellation Energy, a Baltimore utility that runs several nuclear reactors, and a French company that has extensive nuclear experience. Constellation recently had a near-death experience with their finances due to trading and were in line to be taken over by Warren Buffett - the French made a higher bid and Warren walked away with his breakup fee valued at 20 million shares or 10% of the total company, which he recently sold off. In any case, although Constellation survived, handing off 10% of your company essentially for nothing is not exactly a great start to being the champion of the revived nuclear industry. I would say that if Constellation weren't such a basket case this would be a good choice, because the French bring money and useful expertise to the process. As is, it is a so-so choice.

Southern Company is the one that makes the most sense, among this bunch, at least. They have a market cap of $23 billion and also linkages to other public entities in Georgia that can help fund new construction. They are a pretty big operator of nuclear plants, today.

Thus of the 4 I would say 1 1/2 have "some" shot at doing something.

What is more interesting is the companies / entities that weren't selected (I assume they applied, but don't know the exact details).

Exelon is the largest fleet operator in the US and a very logical choice, if you actually wanted to get something done. Entergy is too financially sophisticated to even THINK of throwing money down this rathole, the way the game is currently constructed (there aren't guarantees on the cost or if you can overcome public, legal and regulatory hurdles). And Duke, for whatever reason, is talking about building a new nuclear plant in Ohio without Federal guarantees. The Tennessee Valley Authority, whom I usually cite as an entity that might actually build one, wasn't selected, either.

Also - note that these Federal loans are only for a small part of the total construction cost. If they plan to build 7 plants and there is about $18 billion in guarantees, those guarantees won't even cover the OVERRUNS at those plants, given the likely way that construction and legal costs will spiral along the way.

Conclusion:

The press releases get the hype but underneath there isn't much to the loan guarantees, since they did not go to the logical players who might get something done, for the most part.

Note the continuing backdrop of legislative heavy handedness (NRC decommissioning) and just plain ineptitude (Yucca Mountain) which is the kind of fact that would make any rational investor (or anyone considering financing debt) think twice or demand strong returns for their capital.

Note that I am a fan of nuclear power and believe that it is a great way to make our country more competitive, since done correctly, it is far cheaper to run in the long term, and reliable in all conditions.

As a "bitter realist", however, it isn't going to happen.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Dad

Rambling personal post coming, fair warning.

For the last decade or so my dad and I have gone charter fishing on Lake Michigan for salmon on Fathers Day out of Kenosha. I have several posts on this matter here at LITGM and will probably have another after we slay them again tomorrow.

My family are not party people. When I graduated high school and kollej we didn't have parties. And that is OK.

At times my wife finds my family a bit strange. I really can't argue with that. We really don't act like many "normal" families. Maybe it is the harsh Midwest winters that have steeled our souls. We just don't get together very much for celebrations, parties, birthdays, or whatever. And it isn't because we don't love each other, it is because it is the way that it is.

But Fathers Day over the last decade or so has taken on a little more special meaning for me. I always try to plan something fun for Saturday, then on Sunday go salmon fishing. The eats are wonderful as well.

Today we are going to the drag races. We used to go all the time when I was a wee lad. I have an old photo album that my mother just sent me that has some of the pictures of those wonderful old dragsters. The ChiTown Hustler, The Blue Max (my favorite), and others are featured.

We will be nearly deaf, and will wreak of burned rubber, and will also probably be sunburned but it will be worth it.

My wife is away with the kids this weekend on some horse related trip. I don't really give a sh1t about the horses, but they love them. It didn't even factor into the equation when my wife planned the trip. "Hon, the 20th is Fathers Day, is it OK if we go on a trip to ride some horses?" That question never happens. My wife knows where I will be - on the water with my dad.

On a side note, why are the ladies these days tattooing and piercing themselves so much? I went to a local wing joint for dinner last night and was getting hit on by a middle aged woman (she was pretty too!) who looked like a tackle box had exploded in her face. The spark in her eye faded quickly when I informed her I was married. She asked me why I didn't wear a wedding ring, and I had to tell her that I had lost so much weight that the ring didn't fit any more and I never got it re sized. And it gets in the way when I bike and kickbox. I think that egged her on more. Eventually I had to ask her to go away and let me eat my wings and watch the Brewer game in peace. A nice person, but sheesh.

Anyway, I love you Dad, Happy Fathers Day.

F*CK YOU ESPN

Generally on this blog we like to not have profanity but of all the things I have read over the years this moves the closest to driving me there.

In the latest ESPN magazine there is a table showing the numbers worn by players on the field across a variety of sports from football to baseball to hockey to basketball to soccer. The intent of this is to pick
The jocks who did the most for their digits
In any list like this there will be controversy - even in the tag line ESPN says that
The over /under on how many you'll agree with - one
Fine... so we have an interesting idea here, crossing sports, and they even acknowledge that any idea like this will be fraught with controversy.

So as a Chicago sports fan (and also a fan of sports in general, but mostly Chicago) I scanned for the two numbers that I "knew" would be pre-ordained:

#23 - Michael Jordan
#34 - Walter Payton

While Jordan was #23, WALTER PAYTON WAS NOT LISTED AT #34! I had to stare at this list for a while to see if it wasn't a typo or something.

ESPN picked Hakeem Olajuwon at #34, instead!

While certainly Hakeem is a great basketball player, and one of the top 50 of all time, and even one of the top 5 centers, he wasn't a candidate for the greatest basketball player EVER, which is what he'd have to be in order to compete with Walter Payton, who is a candidate for the greatest football player EVER.

While we certainly are Bears fans and can be accused of bias, Walter Payton's career totals, playing for many years on a weak Chicago Bears' offense where he was virtually the only weapon, are astounding. It is true that although his career total yards numbers were eclipsed in recent years, his numbers and durability stand the test of time. And not only was he a great player, unlike many others, he was an extremely positive role model of sportsmanship and toughness, making 100% use of his available skills through immense toughness and discipline.

If you go to a Bears game today a significant portion of the stands are filled with #34 jerseys, almost a decade after he died. While other players come and go, he epitomizes what the franchise is all about - toughness, discipline, and making the most of what you can do.

I am not going to dump on Olajuwon but even his self-serving bio on wikipedia acknowledges that he won 2 championships while Michael Jordan was off playing baseball and when Jordan returned Houston went back to being a non-achieving franchise. Hakeem made the most of his opportunities and certainly is a great basketball player but his achievements and championships are just brackets while Jordan took a mid-career sabbatical.

ESPN - this is a terrible error. I really can't believe that this happened, unless you were trying to randomly stir up controversy. It isn't just Chicago fans, it is sports fans, and football fans that would be amazed at this choice. It's just dumb.

Cross posted at Fire Ron Turner

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bad Idea

Recently I was walking through River North when I saw this converted school bus with the logo URL pimpmytattoo.com on the side parked at a gas station, apparently open for business (the door is ajar and someone is inside).


Later that evening I saw the bus still in action. I liked the "Berwyn" billboard up overhead; maybe there is some tattoo / Berwyn synergy to come.

This reminds me of the Saturday Night Live skit from the 80's with "Bad Idea" jeans and a bunch of guys sitting around tossing about, well, bad ideas, like "Even though the affair is over, I think I will tell my wife".

Blogging and Marginal Cost

A recent article in the NY Times titled "Blogs Falling In An Empty Forest" described the apparently common phenomenon of people starting blogs, and then abandoning them. Per the article
According to a 2008 survey by Technorati, which runs a search engine for blogs, only 7.4 million out of the 133 million blogs the company tracks had been updated in the past 120 days. That translates to 95 percent of blogs being essentially abandoned
The article went on to describe some common situations; a stay-at-home mom trying to earn some money from her blog, or talking about their personal beliefs and such. The blogs seemed to promise profitability, but didn't deliver, even if they had a reasonable amount of page views.

The writer of the article was clearly a journalist and not an economist - the economist would have immediately proffered the explanation for why this occurs
The marginal revenue for this product ultimately will be equal to the marginal cost
And what is the marginal cost for setting up a blog? Why it is roughly zero, of course. And with millions setting up blogs and "chasing" (or not, in the case of LITGM and many other blogs we know and like) page views and advertising dollars, the market was instantly overloaded with choices and soon became a mass of abandoned blogs.

Beyond the economics of overwhelming choice (and resulting low average quality), another element is that people think that everyone is interested in their thoughts. In general, unless you have some compelling element (attractive, unusually funny or provocative), or are an excellent writer, or pick unique topics that you know well, your blog probably isn't that interesting. No one is going to keep coming back to a boring blog.

Today many (most) people have likely moved on to facebook and twitter - these sites have taken a lot of the thunder that blogs used to have when they were shiny and new. The heyday of blogs has likely come and gone, replaced by these new horsemen, along with anything that runs on an iPhone (or an iPod Touch, if you are cheap like me and don't want to pay $100 / month but like cool apps on a tiny screen).

In blogging using Blogger software, owned by Google, we are essentially providing fodder / content for the Google search engine. Nothing is cheaper than hiring us, after all we are free.

And we have always known that our marginal revenue will equal our marginal cost.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bizarre Chicago Bears Marketing

Click any photo for larger.

I have mentioned several times that one of the best parts about being a Bear season ticket holder is the bizarre marketing materials and letters that you get. I think the best ones were asking people to pay for voluntary PSLs and the Orton jersey as a perk for a Bears Mastercard.

Yesterday in the mail I received an envelope from the Bears and inside were these two pieces of material. Nothing else.
GSH are the initials of Papa Bear Halas, widely known as the founder of the Bears. Since 1984 the initials GSH have been on the sleeve of the Bears game jersey, in the form you see here. Now the Bears have sent me a sticker that resembles those initials, but it says "STH". Season Ticket Holder. I sh1t you not.
In the marketing piece it talks about what a great team, foundation, blah blah and that I am supposed to put this STH sticker on my car and be proud, blah blah.
What a very odd waste of money.


That is Not A Cramp

You learn something new every day. Last night my wife expressed her dismay with a giant bruise behind the inside of my left knee. I had no clue it was even there. Try looking at this part of your body sometime - it is practically impossible even with a mirror on the wall. I did relate to her that my left hamstring still hurts.

After a while I figured a way to take a look at it and sure as can be, there is a giant bruise on the back of my knee, going halfway up my thigh.

Remember that cramping during the duathlon? So sorry, I pulled my hamstring. The money:
Bruising: Small tears within the muscle cause bleeding and subsequent bruising. The bruise begins in the back of the thigh, and as time passes the bruise will pass down below the knee and often into the foot.

Well, that will put a damper on my training for a while. Bike only for me, or very light and slow running, if any running at all. No wonder I felt like crap in my MT test on Monday.

I still can't figure out why I pulled the hammy - maybe I was just going too fast too soon in the duathlon, with my strides too far apart. Oh well, at least I finished the race, probably the worst thing I could have done.

Funny - when I go back and read that duathlon post I was surprised that I cramped so soon and couldn't quite figure it out - that is because I didn't cramp. Duh.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

PSL Tax On Hold, For Now

Got this note today from the Bears:
Dear Mr. xx:

We have some important information regarding the City of Chicago's efforts to assess amusement tax on PSL transfers.

The Bears have met with the City to express our view that the City
should not be entitled to collect amusement tax on the transfer of PSLs between private parties. In addition, there is a class action lawsuit pending in Cook County challenging the Chicago amusement tax on PSLs.

Although the Bears have no role in this class action lawsuit, it appears that the city will:
  • temporarily suspend asking PSL transferees to fill out the affidavit asking them the circumstances regarding the acquisition of their PSLs; and
  • not engage in any billing or collection of any amusement taxes relating to the transfer of PSLs until further notice.

The Bears regret that some of our Season Ticket Holders have been inconvenienced by these legal proceedings.

While the Bears cannot provide legal advice or representation to our ticket holders, we will continue to monitor developments carefully both in terms of the class action case and the City's future enforcement actions.

Once we obtain more relevant information we will be back in touch with you.

Sincerely,
Theodore P. Phillips
President & CEO

Huh. So the class action looks as though it has worked for now, but I still wouldn't bet the farm on not paying the tax in the future.

Cross posted at Fire Ron Turner.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Farming and Africa


MEDIA HEAD FAKE

Recently there have been a flurry of articles about farming and "returning to the land" in various Western magazines and newspapers. This headline in the most recent Monocle is typical of the trend - a few city-dwelling Japanese are considering a return to farming given recent economic events and also the fact that farming seems more eco-friendly and popular nowadays.

While returning to organic farming in the West on a modest scale or hobby farm is more of a "personal growth" type activity, the farms in the West are of course extremely productive, using intensive agriculture, fertilizer and optimized seeds, as well as mechanization. The small organic farmer movement is more for media show than a viable long term strategy for feeding Earth's billions, although certainly it has its place as long as people want to pay the requisite higher prices it entails.

AGRICULTURE & INDUSTRY IN AFRICA

In Africa, the population is exploding - from what I have been able to gather it is north of 880 million and probably closing in on a billion soon - and most of Africa is importing critical foodstuffs. African "governments", which are mostly a collection of individuals who achieve power and utilize it to enrich themselves and their cronies, do not focus on agricultural needs since most of the population has migrated to vast cities and shanty-towns and their power base moved with them (they DO focus on mineral rights and oil, of course).

This article from the Economist called "Outsourcing's Third Wave" is eye-opening - it describes how foreign governments are negotiating with African leaders to buy / rent / run large tracts of land for the purpose of growing food in Africa for importation back to THEIR home countries. From the article:
The Saudi programme is an example of a powerful but contentious trend sweeping the poor world: countries that export capital but import food are outsourcing farm production to countries that need capital but have land to spare. Instead of buying food on world markets, governments and politically influential companies buy or lease farmland abroad, grow the crops there and ship them back.
Not only are foreign countries obtaining rights to the land itself, they are bringing on laborers to work the land. I can't seem to find solid statistics on the web, but the economist article says that there are "1 million" Chinese laborers in Africa and this article says that it was estimated that there were 750,000 in 2008.

The Chinese are getting around the traditional difficulties of development in Africa in a novel way - by not involving Africans. They bring in their own labor, build their own compounds, and run the projects themselves. The scale of this effort is not well known because it isn't in the interest of the African governments nor China's interests to publicize this information, and neither of them gives a hoot about free journalism in any case.

It isn't only the Chinese - the Koreans were involved in a recent deal to be able to farm on a significant portion of Madagascar's available land - and this contributed to a political revolution which put these plans at least on temporary hold.

ETHICS AND IMPACT

The Middle Eastern (Saudi Arabia) and Asian (Chinese, Korean) companies involved in these sorts of deals are subject to different types of ethical constraints than Western companies, in say, Europe or the USA. It is frankly unimaginable that a US company would be able to get the rights to a giant tract of farmland in this day and age and use it to farm foodstuffs to ship out of an African nation while locals are dirt-poor and either starving or importing food at the same time.

The Chinese have an additional advantage - a huge pool of untapped labor. They can send their citizens abroad and they know that they will work hard and not engage in systematic unrest or organize into unions. The numbers of overseas Chinese laborers is very large, if these numbers can be trusted or verified.

It is also a terrible, sad failure that the African countries can't manage this sort of farming themselves. Africa has been freed of the colonist influence for generations, and they have not focused on their key competitive advantages, which are 1) cheap and abundant labor 2) land and climate for farming. Their other advantages of mineral wealth and oil are able to be exploited by Western companies (mostly) with little indigenous assistance; the only real issue with those resources is overall security and whom to pay off with the locals' share of the money. After the colonists left in the 1950's and 1960's some African countries experimented with heavy industry but for a lot of (obvious) reasons that failed but agriculture is an extremely logical area for them to emphasize.

The fact that foreign nations are 1) gaining huge leases or rights to farm African soil 2) using non-local labor in many circumstances is just a terrible problem for a continent that needs to develop local skills and capacities in order to start to develop some sort of solid economic framework.

Compounded with the fact that African countries are generally undergoing a population explosion (unlike the West and even much of Asia) and their citizens are packed into miserably crowded and infrastructure-poor cities, and even importing food, this is a catastrophe.

I praise the Economist and other journalists for bringing this issue up but it has received a minuscule level of overall coverage, given its large potential repercussions. Essentially:

- desperately poor countries whose only assets are cheap labor and land suitable for farming
- are so "broken" that they lack the infrastructure to run a farm economy and bring foodstuffs to market
- so that they are giving out long term leases to third countries
- to bring in third party labor to run these farms and export the food
- with the local government leaders the only beneficiaries
- while the local populace shares none of the benefits (money from labor, rent from land)

When I read about newspapers and magazines talking about how once their business model fails, there will be no more tough investigative journalism, I ask myself - where is this investigative journalism today? Who is sending journalists on the ground to see what is happening, as starving countries give away their land for a pittance to China? Why isn't this a story that is being put on the front page? Why, when I look this up, do I find more links to Madagascar the movie for children than Madagascar, the country that just had a revolution to topple the government that was going to lease out a huge portion of their arable land to a South Korean conglomerate?

AFRICAN POPULATION GROWTH

Don't forget the last related item - that while the African farm economy fails and is being sold to third parties, their population is exploding. For example, in Madagascar, the site of the revolution, here are some population statistics:

- population in 1995 - 13 million
- population in 2005 - 18 million (growth of 5 million in 10 years)
- population in 2015 - 24 million (growth of 6 million in 10 years)
- growth rate is 3%

When compared with the United States

- population in 1995 - 266 million
- population in 2005 - 295 million
- population in 2015 - 325 million
- growth rate is 1%

Likely there is too much here for a single post, and I need an editor. Hopefully this causes you to think about this and do your own research, and come to your own conclusions. I personally thought that these items were rather far-reaching in their effects and was surprised by the muted coverage of these deals.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Blog Follow Up



In a recent article I wrote about "The Ugliest Building In River North". River North is an upscale area full of new buildings and transformed lofts but this building stands out for its ugliness. I went and investigated a bit (it wasn't too hard, basically just walked up to it) and it turns out that the location is 676 N LaSalle and they call it the "676 Media Center". I find it very odd that they market this building to creative professionals because it is such an eyesore... I could see if they were a bunch of accountants or something, but not creative professionals. Oh well, apparently they invest in the interior of the building because they could not put less effort into the exterior.



A while back I wrote about how I am a big fan of the "Tiki Lifestyle" (don't know what that is, I just made it up). I bought a tiki bar for a friend of mine (unfortunately it did not survive a recent renovation) and it was great fun for a summer. Well they are back with more tiki paraphernalia, although I think that my bar was of higher quality (heck, you can even see right through this one). Bring on the summer!



Finally, I had a recent post and video (that I thought would get more comments) about a bum riding a shopping cart through River North like we used to when we were kids and mom let us push the cart (wheelie style). This photo is the "denouement" of that movie, with the cart reaching its ignominious end on a bridge over the Chicago River on Dearborn street. I'll bet that cart will be there most of the summer - do you think that we get services for our 10%+ sales tax rate, or something like that?

The Onion Said It Better

The Onion is not only a hilarious faux newspaper; often times it gets the story exactly right. One of my favorite T Shirts of all time (can't exactly wear it everywhere) features the slogan
DRUGS WIN DRUG WAR
And showed the US drug czar at the time (in 1998) Barry McCaffrey surrendering to the head of High T*mes magazine - here is a print.

This article in the New York Times, about 11 years later, doesn't have the same punch.

Blue Sash

It's been a while since we had a photo of the patalones caliente. No better time than now.
Last night was my fourth test in Muay Thai. There were six others testing along with me.

Of course it was the hottest day of the year. Around 80 and a bit humid. We were all lathered up pretty good after only about 10 minutes.

As usual, we did demonstrations of the skills we have learned in the last six months. We also sparred, did pad drills and showed our conditioning.

The last two tests I was given the "star" of the show as the best tester. Not to be last night. I am not sure what it was, but I did not have as good of a test as I would have liked. I think my body is fatigued from all of the other activities and needs a break. I just wasn't in the zone mentally or physically.

My legs were still killing me from my duathlon on Saturday. I really did leave everything I had out there on that course and at my test I paid the price. During some kicking drills the instructor noticed about a 20% power drop in my kicks. He asked me about it after the test and I told him that my legs were "dead" from all of my other activities. He understood as he is also interested in the running and biking I have been doing outside of the gym.

But no excuses. I didn't execute in this test to the best of my abilities (and everyone knew it), but I managed to pass. I am happy that the test is over, as always. Now we get a couple of weeks of "easy" classes where we get to have more fun than usual before the curriculum begins again after the 4th. Also, new strength training circuits begin and we have a new crop of fighters that I will be helping train. I will keep pushing my body until that 4th of July week, where I think I won't do any workouts at all, except for a tiny bit of running to keep up my cardio. Rest - it does a body good...and the mind.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

BBQ Sauce

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I sh!t you not this is the most incredible BBQ sauce recipe we ever made.

There's some fine store bought sauce on the market. My favorites are Sweet Baby Ray's Sweet 'n Spicy, Stubbs (any flavor) and Bullseye. Seriously, why work when there's great sauce right out of the bottle for cheap?

Tonight we made spare ribs (how rare is that?). We cooked up this new sauce recipe and it...just...blew...us...away.

Since I have already posted my spare rib secrets so there was no need to take photos documenting my degree of perfection tonight.

It made me feel like this.



Here's the recipe for the finest homemade sauce I have ever tried.

So far.

Do yourself a favor and give it a try.

1 1/2 c honey
1 c ketchup ( I like Hunt's best)
2 cloves garlic minced
2T lemon juice
1 T cocoa powder
1T curry powder
1T paprika
1T soy sauce
1T worchestershire
2 t Tabasco red
1 t cayenne

Combine is medium saucepan. Bring to a boil then simmer 30 minutes. Refrigerate for up to one month.

IF it lasts that long.
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Duathlon

Saturday morning was cool and wet, which seems to be par for my course as of late for my rides and runs.

I did the Norski Duathlon, which is held in a small town just to the north of here in DeForest, Wisconsin. This small town is only 10 minutes to the north of Madison. I have lived here for 15 years and had never been there.

A duathlon, for those who don't know, is two events, biking and running. This particular race was a 5K run, followed up by a 15.5 mile bike ride, followed up by a 2 mile run.

There is a transition area where you remove your running shoes and put your biking shoes and helmet on. This same area is utilized for the reverse after you are done with the bike ride. The clock keeps running during these transitions so it is important to keep moving.

As we started the first run, I felt pretty good and really motored the first mile. Then my left hamstring cramped. This was quite painful, but I managed to keep running. I finished the first run with miles just over 7 minutes. I could have been well under 7 without the cramps. I am not quite sure what the deal was with that. I didn't really do anything I have never done before the day before a big race or ride. I had my usual protein/carb dinner. I can only figure that something, somehow I ate the day before didn't agree with my hamstrings.

I entered the transition area after the first run and hustled to get my biking gear on. I did it in around a minute, but then as I got on the bike I realized that I had somehow had thrown the chain. Dammit! That cost me 30 seconds to get it back on.

I was relived to get on the bike as I could use different muscle groups than my hamstring to ride for a while, and give my hammy a massage. I averaged 17.5 mph on the ride. I thought I hammered it pretty well for a hilly ride.

When transitioning from running to biking my muscles really didn't have any adverse affects. But the reverse was not true. When I was done biking I put my running shoes back on, or tried to. In my haste to transition to the bike I left my right running shoe in a knot and burned 30 seconds fixing that mess. When I started running, both of my hamstrings were aching from cramps, and my quads were a bit trashed too from the biking.

I powered through all of the pain, and ran the last two miles averaging 7 minutes 50 seconds per mile. I did that time even though I had a shoe come untied.

So overall I finished in the top third of all competitors. I really can't complain about that at all.

So many mistakes:
  • nightmare cramping of hamstrings
  • lost chain at beginning of bike ride
  • left shoe in a knot at transition from bike to run
  • shoe came untied in final run

Who knows, but I am guessing I could have shaved five minutes off of my final time if all of these things were done correctly.

Oh well, it was a good learning experience. I had a lot of fun and I know a lot for the next time.

I really have to figure out why I cramped. Frankly I am pretty happy that I pushed through all of that pain to register a pretty good time.

Today is a day of rest, and tomorrow is a nightmarishly long Muay Thai test to advance to the next level. I hope I got all the cramping out of my system before that thing starts. I will be sure to pound some bananas and hydrate a lot today. The last thing I need is to cramp during sparring or something like that.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Smoked Pork Quesadillas

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Hey, if you've ever slow cooked a smoked pork shoulder and are stuck with a ton of leftover meat what do you do? Most will pack it in the fridge, warm it up and put on buns at a later date. I like that. But here’s a great way to enjoy that tender smoky meat outside the bun.


This is easy but prep time takes a while. Make them any way you like, it's a great opportunity for culinary creativity. Here’s how I do it.


I use raw corn tortillas, pulled pork leftovers, red bell pepper, onion and jalapeno all sliced extremely thin. Cheddar cheese and/or pepper jack or chihuahua cheese (sometime called Mexican melting cheese)

Layout a baking sheet with raw corn tortillas. Top with pulled pork, cheese, peppers and onion. Place another tortilla on top. Repeat with ingredients and add one tortilla on top, like a triple decker. I like to spray with oil and dust with chili powder.


Ready for the gas grill, the best way to make these.

I bought one of those flipper/tong devices just to flip these.


It’s good to have a hot grill to start. I like to watch and see when the cheese starts to melt then flip. Close the lid for about three minutes and check to make sure they’re not burning. All in all about eight minutes on the grill is all it takes. I like to top mine with taco sauce. Variations could include sour cream or pico de gallo.

It's a taste like none I've never had in a restaurant since most traditional quesadillas are pan fried and often made with flour tortillas.


They make a great appetizer but in my case can become a meal. They are very filling.
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