Friday, December 31, 2010

Don't Drink And Drive... might spill it.

Happy New Year everyone!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas From Chicago

The tree in front of the John Hancock building.

The Chicago Tribune lobby.

Friday, December 24, 2010

One Sunny Day

Not many know the name of the illustrator who painted all those Coke Santa’s.

His name was Haddon Sundblom and one artist I consider among the most talented of the 20th century. Mr. Sundblom was in the same class as Norman Rockwell but not as well known due to the fact that Sunny painted most of his work for commercial purposes that did not bear his signature.

A Sundblom illustration for a beer company, I just love English Setter pups.

When I attended a Chicago art school in 1971 at the age of eighteen we went on field trips to The Chicago Art Institute, The Museum of Contemporary Art and at times to luncheons sponsored by local organizations related to art, design and advertising.

I fondly remember one such event. It was the 50th Anniversary of The Chicago Artists Guild in 1971. At this luncheon local Chicago commercial artists of note sat on the dais. They all were members of The Guild which was not a union, just a group of professionals.

This event featured a buffet of food I had never experienced such as green noodles al forno. Green noodles? WTF? But they were really good.

After lunch the lead speaker was Earl Gross. Earl owned an old school Chicago art studio where many talented painters and photo retouchers had space.

Earl was, as were the other speakers, a very old man. He almost resembled the Sundblom Santa but with a white goatee.

Earl told what seemed to be tall tales of past Artist’s Guild events such as their infamous Christmas parties. Then he clicked on the projector and showed film as proof. The film he showed was from the late 30’s.

The Guild party was held at a large hotel ballroom and was packed with black tie attendees. At times he paused the film to make comments. One comment was that these parties could last 48 hours.

When one of the speakers appeared in the film, Earl would point it out. They would all laugh. One more thing, the attendees were all men, the women were all topless. The women would carouse from table to table similar to a modern titty bar doing lapdances. The liquor flowed and all appeared as if they were having the time of their lives.

One speaker that all made reference to at one time or another was Haddon Sundblom, who was seated at on dais. I had no idea who he was.

Another beer company illustration by Haddon Sundblom

Earl Gross then turned the event into a tribute to Sundblom. He showed slides of much of Haddon Sundblom’s work. He was always referred to as ‘Sunny”.

Sunny got up and spoke after accepting his lifetime award and entry into the Artist’s Guild Hall-of-Fame.

After the presentation many began filing out of the room. My instructor, John Goelich, encouraged us to stay and meet the speakers. We did. I was in awe of Sunny. We spoke. He told more stories. When I left I felt as if I had met the most famous unfamous person in America, at least in my mind.

You see, there are artists, and there are artists.

Fine artists are interpretive and look down on artists such as Sunny and Rockwell as ‘illustrators’, not true ‘artists’, Sunny explained to our small group of art students.

He went on telling us that fine artists are always starving while illustrators just pocket the money. Fine artists don’t make any money until after they are dead.

Back then, there were times I questioned my choice in schools. On that day Sunny personally confirmed my choice. All I wanted to do was draw pictures to make a living and that is exactly what I would do for over thirty years.

Sunny taught me a very important lesson. I would focus only on creating work that would make money commercially. The fine artist wannabee’s attended The School of the Chicago Art Institute. I attended a very small commercial art and design school called RayVogue at the southwest corner of Michigan and Chicago Avenues, which is now a Ralph Lauren Restaurant and retail outlet. No regrets, none.

A year or so later Sunny painted his last work. It was for a Playboy magazine cover. He died shortly after.

I am sure Sunny painted many more pin-ups that never were printed and distributed. The film Earl Gross showed that day leaves no doubt in my mind.

Whenever I see one of those old Coke Santa paintings I always remember that day I when met and spoke with the painter, a painter that shaped history by creating an image of Santa Claus that lives in the minds of all Americans to this day. It was a brief encounter but one I will never forget.

To each and every one of you reading this, a very Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

How It Ends


Alternative power (wind & solar, primarily) survives because of subsidies that make it competitive with the traditional "base load" power sources of nuclear, coal, natural gas and hydroelectric power. These subsidies have to be passed on, in some form or another, to either the end user that pays the power bill or the taxpayer who funds it on behalf of all citizens.

Spain, in particular, offered incentives that led to a large investment in wind power facilities. Spain was viewed as a "model" country for alternative power by greens as a result of these policies.

Today's WSJ had an article titled "Spain's Cuts to Solar Aid Draw Fire" that summarized the situation:
In Spain, solar-PV plants (cost) roughly 10 times the price utilities pay for power produced from conventional sources such as gas and coal.
Since Spain is having financial problems, these subsidies are expected to be significantly reduced, by up to 30%. The developers of these wind farms are crying foul, saying that Spain is reneging on its commitments and offering up a form of the "expropriation" argument that often occurs over power investments of this type.
20 billion Euros had been invested in the solar-PV plants in Spain... the tariff changes could force many solar producers in default on their debts.
It is interesting that debt-holders assumed that citizens would want to pay ten times the rate of coal and gas power for "clean" wind power indefinitely. It doesn't seem like a bet that is going to pay off for them.


Another infeasible and indefensible scheme is also beginning to show cracks towards its inevitable collapse. This article describes the situation in the city of Prichard, Alabama.
The financially troubled suburb of Mobile turned to bankruptcy court... when it simply ran out of money to meet pension obligations... Prichard proposed capping benefits to current retirees at $200 a month, down from monthly payments as much as $3,000.
The obligations of many, many municipalities are unsustainable. Prior politicians promised benefits that can't be paid without seriously reducing and impairing existing services. The type of "haircut" that Prichard was proposing seems very onerous but they have to pay for existing salaries and benefits and then the costs of the retired staffing on top of it is apparently impossible.

At some point a new generation of politician will come into office and have to make the choice of either 1) raising taxes to unsustainable levels (and thus being thrown out of office) to pay for past pension promises 2) find a way to get out of the promises by either going bankrupt or somehow "cramming down" smaller payments.

It is a good bet that many of the politicians will balk at raising taxes and seriously look at bankruptcy or some other way to reduce these costs simply because raising taxes during a recession when citizens are hard up is political suicide. The same forces (conflict avoidance, pandering) that allowed unions to amass such favorable terms while the fiction of pensions and 10% returns on investments compounded forever existed works exactly in reverse when the situation becomes dire; why would the politician try to sacrifice everything (including current workers) for past worker pensions and health benefits?

In both these cases the fictions that citizens are willing to bear higher than market costs indefinitely for alternative power or to pay for lifetime pensions for people retiring in their 50's is going to founder, and these consequences will ripple through the entire financial and governmental sector.

This is how it ends.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Super Size Me

Here is a question for you - what size do you think a man a bit under six feet tall and around 200 pounds would wear? And the answer is... SMALL. This was at Eddie Bauer and among a vast stack of winter clothes and shirts. It fits me fine.

I won't bore you with statistics that are easily obtainable everywhere on the Internet about how Americans are getting larger, but this is the most overt sign that I have seen yet.

Dan at his new fighting trim size would probably be an extra small from the waist line perspective, at least.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Stub Tail!

Recently I received a great gift of home brewed beer from Gerry in this fantastic wooden box. It is Stub Tail!

Packed with real peanuts!

It is chilling in the fridge now will probably have it prior to the Bears game Sunday.

Delicious Irony

Today while reading the WSJ I came across an article on the impact of some changes to the medical insurance laws.
Members of the Screen Actors Guild recently read in their health plan's newsletter that, beginning in January, almost 12,000 of its participants will lose access to treatment for mental-health and substance-abuse issues. The guild's health plan represents one of a small number of unions, employers and insurers that are scrapping such benefits for their enrollees because of a 2008 law that requires that mental-health and substance-abuse benefits, if offered, be as robust as medical or surgical benefits. By dropping such coverage, providers can circumvent the requirements.
Changing laws to mandate higher SERVICE requirements on employers (and in this case, guilds or unions) obviously causes COSTS to rise, as well. Since not all costs are borne by the government and thus invisible to the average non-governmental employee, businesses have to take steps to cope with these laws and reduce costs somewhere.

The irony of all this is that probably no group in the popular imagination is as associated with mental illness and treatment for substance abuse as actors; from reading the popular press you would get the picture that many of them spend some time in "rehab" at some point in their career.

And even more you can just picture in your minds eye some aging, pompous actor or actress chaining themselves to the fence in favor of this type of mandate with some sort of sign over their head saying "Justice for All" and stating that doesn't everyone deserve the best coverage?

But the net result of this sort of mandate is no coverage for anyone, since the plan can't afford to move from a normal plan to a "gold plated" plan, so they are dropping it entirely.

And no one needs mental health assistance & rebab more than the deluded actor base on the left coast that funds and agitates for just this sort of mandate in the first place.

Now that's irony.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Most of the time when people find out that I am a practitioner of Muay Thai, they form a karate chop deal with their hands and say hiiii yaaaa! in a strange voice. That is fine with me. 99.99% of the population's exposure to any martial arts are from seeing idiots break boards on tv or seeing kids practice Karate in strip mall gyms. I typically try to explain in brief what Muay Thai is all about and it does sink in to some, but when I sense that someone is just giving me the berries I usually just let it go.

I typically don't bag on other martial arts as so many techniques from them are intertwined. As far as self defense goes I put things like Karate on the bottom of the list. So many of the Karate techniques waste time and space, something you have none of in real life.

Over time, there have been different events in ring sports to try to bring together practioners of different martial arts to see which one is the "best". I hear these arguments all the time and they are stupid. It really isn't about the art, it is about people. I am sure that there are some Karate practitioners who could kick my ass out there, and I am sure that there are plenty who would lose in a ring match with me. As I have said before, all the rank, black belts and sashes in the world don't mean squat if you are a fat slob.

Of course we now have the ultimate martial arts contest, MMA. We are now finding out now the truth - if you think you are such a badass, there is a lot of money to be made in the UFC and other leagues. Lets be real - Sensei Bob from the local McDojo isn't getting into the cage anytime soon. MMA is the ultimate blend of martial arts and you better have it ALL together or the results will be very painful.

All of that said, I still like seeing these different martial arts pitted against each other. Look at this very cool old clip of a Karate guy vs. a Muay Thai guy.

A few things of note. I mentioned "shellcracking" in a comment a week or so ago. This is the perfect example of that technique. The Muay Thai guy just keeps kicking the Karate guy over and over and over, until toward the end of round three and into round four he can't even lift his hands. Those kicks add up. The Karate guy doesn't do too bad until his body tells him he has had enough. And he makes the classic mistake of putting his hands down (and his head) when clinched. Clearly Karate (or at leasst, this particular Karate practioner at this particular time) has no answer for that Muay Thai technique.

I also love the fact that they make the Karate guy keep going out there for more punishment until he gets knocked out - they were much less careful with the fighters back then. Interesting also is that the Muay Thai guy doesn't go for any leg kicks. This would have ended much sooner if he had hammered the Karate guys leg a few times.

It really isn't about the art, it is the person - although these types of events are still fun for me to watch. Especially when the Muay Thai guy wins :).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Muffin Man

While browsing the internets today I read that Captain Beefheart has passed away.

Never knew much of the Captain, all I know is he was a FOZ, a Friend Of Zappa and they collaborated on a fine tune known as The Muffin Man. That’s all I need to know. He must have been a hail fellow well met.

I learned that the Captain grew up with Frank and lived in the same neighborhood as a youth. Whatever other contributions he had made to society I am unaware of. Maybe the ultimate expert on all things Zappa and very good friend Chris From Colorado, can add some clever and unusual bon mots.

To honor a FOZ here is one of my many very favorite Zappa tunes. It features Captain Beefheart on saxaphone...and madness.

Goodnight Austin Texas, wherever you are.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Branding, Logos & Buzzwords - Part One

Dan enriched all our lives recently by premiering the new Big Ten logo here.

It’s a real beaut. There is much speculation on the quality of the design and why the Big Ten would unveil such an abortion.

The logo (I believe) is in the center of the image Dan posted. The flanking school emblems and text are most likely a use extension of the logo design. The center is the true logo. That’s just an educated guess.

Dan also wrote that I could come up with something better in my sleep or in five minutes. While I appreciate the compliment, the same can be said of thousands of graphic design professionals. In our sleep or five minutes may be an overstatement.

Since graphic design has been my profession for over thirty years I will report what I know about corporate logos, what I have been a part of and maybe a few I have executed.

Each and every business needs an identity. It may be manifested in the form of simple type, simple type combined with an icon, a photographic image and even all three. The objective is to distinguish one entity from all others and build memorable brand recognition. In today’s terms this falls under the heavily used buzzword ‘branding’. That’s consultantspeak for the overall marketing effort and has become a highly fashionable term to drop in a presentation within the past fifteen years, mainly for posturing purposes. Every marketing company and corporate marketing executive today preaches branding as if it were a diety. But they like to violate their religion. More on that in a later post.

The root of the word branding probably comes from the cattleman’s branding iron. It distinguished his cattle from the others in nearby herds. It was also meant to be a deterrent to cattle rustlers and shifty ranchers. It was used on the cattle, the ranch gates and most likely the stationery. Cattlemen take great pride in their brand,

Long before branding American cattle, most businessmen and manufacturers would distinguish their products from others with what was called a maker’s “mark”. The mark would appear on the packaging and/or the product along with advertising and in the sealing wax press. Think Maker’s Mark Whiskey, who took the term a bit too literally.

As marketing became more of a science the maker’s mark became legally trademarked in this country. When you see a TM or ® next to a modern logo (I have no idea where the name logo came from and am too lazy to google it but it probably comes from a combination of Greek words) it means that it is protected by federal government copyright laws. Corporations employ legal teams to seek out other similar logos and challenge their continued use in court, if they deem it an illegal encroachment on their trademark and it doesn’t stop at the logo. It can also include product names and even in the form of a similar typeface and/or color. Type fonts and colors are also included in the trademark law and cases have set precedent in many federal courts.

One corporation that has a huge global legal team protecting their trademark is the burger giant I will refer to as Mc, one of which I am very familiar with.

Let’s say your legal last name is McBob and you open one tiny little cafe called McBob’s in a small, rural town. You choose blue for your color, a serif type font and your icon is a large orange letter B. The Mc legal team will hunt you down with a cease and desist charge. If you do not they will take you to court. When they take you to court they will seek damages that could drive Mr. McBob into bankruptcy, that’s how serious they are. It has been done. Ever see the hilarious movie Coming To America with Eddie Murphy? His future father-in-law owned a restaurant called McDowell’s. Reference was even made about the big arch people coming after him.

While this has nothing to do with Dan’s logo in question it forms a basis on which I will describe my experiences in logo design in a series of posted essays to come.

Most of the logos I have designed were for small businesses or as theme graphics for temporary promotional or advertising programs. In my past I have collaborated with this famous design firm, which was owned by my parent company.

They are tops in the field of corporate logo development and charge tens of millions of dollars for their services. Here is another, whom I never worked with.

These two companies websites could give you an insight into the corporate logo design world.

I witnessed firsthand how logos for major corporations were designed, selected and presented. I was involved in co-presentations with my office, the ad agency and the design firm on major new business pitches.

In future posts I will describe my experiences and provide a few examples if possible.

I will relate my instinct on how the Big Sports Conference arrived at the design we are now chortling about.

For protection I will try not refer to any by name to avoid any repercussions since I still work in the business as an independent contractor. Since I just accepted a contract that runs to the end of the year it may be a while before getting back to this subject.

More to come.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Amateur For Dan

Over here at the blog the masthead used to say that we "Shill for nobody" and that still holds true but we can always recommend stuff we like or find hilarious. This one is from the "World's Dumbest" series over at Tru TV (used to be Court TV) which are about the funniest things on TV, IMHO.

In this video some drunken Irish tourist gets in the ring with an actual professional and the pro lets him get some shots in before he gets angry and it comes to a predictable conclusion. The video calls them "kickboxers" but I'll leave it up to Dan to tell me what really is going on. All I know is that it is pretty funny.

Big Ten Logo and Division Name Fail

Check out the new logo for the Big Ten conference. And we now have two divisions, the Legends and the Leaders.

I know.

I am on facebook, and was checking out the comments yesterday and they almost unanimously call this bit of work a complete and massive fail. My first thought was that I knew a guy who could create a better logo than that in his sleep - probably in about five minutes or so.

Who the heck came up with Legends and Leaders? It is so incredibly stupid! I mean, that is first string, plain old stupid. They could have used directionals (east/west) or even Division A and B would have been better but no. Honestly it is almost like they had a contest to see who could come up with the worst names for the divisions.

In reality, they could have called the divisions Schembechler and Hayes and I bet that most Big Ten fans would have been good with it. Even though we all hate Michigan and Ohio State, those two coaches pretty much were the Big Ten for many decades.

They named the trophy the Stagg-Paterno trophy. Huh? I get the Stagg thing (although he is already honored with the Div. 2 trophy and the field they play the championship game on) but Paterno? Penn State didn't even join the Big Ten until 1990 and they haven't done squat since. Tough going from an independent with 8 or 9 cupcakes a year to only 4 or 5, eh, Joe?
Joe has no comment. But if you want to read some funny stuff and you are on Facebook, "like" the Big Ten Network and you can read how 99.999% of the fans absolutely hate the logo and division names.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


I'm hungry.

Lake in Montana.

Gym Shutdown

Every year around Christmas, the gym shuts down for two weeks. This coming week is our last for training until the new year.

I have been practicing Muay Thai for over 3.5 years now, and on my last test I achieved the level of brown sash. I am now under a probationary period. I will get a stripe on the brown sash, then another, then my black sash. This is expected to take approximately another 1.5 years, putting my journey from newbie to black sash at 5.5 - 6 years.

I am pretty happy with my progress. My kicks are pretty vicious. I am very comfortable in the clinch and in the pocket. I have good defense and counter quickly. My boxing is probably the weakest part of my game. Part of this is due to my schedule. I do a strength training boot camp right before my Muay Thai classes and I think that since I can barely lift my arms sometimes after the boot camp that it is degrading my boxing abilities a bit. I need to take a look at that.

I still hit very hard, don't get me wrong, but the handspeed just isn't where I want it to be. If I am going to earn a black sash, I don't just want to get it, I want to be representative of a good Muay Thai fighter. I love the art and want to be true to it.

I have written before that rank really isn't a part of traditional Muay Thai, but we are in a western society and the ranking system is a way to keep you on track and a way to set goals.

The two week break is a really good idea for the gym. The holidays are always a busy time for us so classes are sparsely attended around Christmas and New Years anyways. Everyone gets to heal up and be with their families and the gym gets to rip up the mats and sanitize.

I believe our next test in in May - after that, I will have to take it easy on the MT for a bit as I will be taking on the challenge of riding my bike in the Pyranees in June and don't want to be beat up for that.

Best and Highest Purpose

On my Direct TV there is a channel called "Palladium" which has music videos and concerts in high-definition and from time to time I'll pass through and see something that catches my eye. They had a concert from the band "Buckcherry" that I recorded and watched because "Lit Up" is one of the best party songs ever recorded and they had some other good ones including "Crazy Bitch" which brought the band back to life (they were on hiatus without much of a future but that song immediately catapulted them back into the spotlight).

As for their front man, Josh Todd, when I see him it reminds me of philosophical discussions usually at late night bars of why people, generally girls, are making terrible choices or acting in a reckless manner. My answer usually is that "Plan B for them wasn't to become a rocket scientist", basically saying that they are reaching for the stars in their own manner.

As for this guy, is there ANY other higher purpose for him except to be a rock and roll singer? He is skinny, an ex-addict, and covered from head to toe with tattoos. He LIVES the rock and roll lifestyle, at least from the perspective of someone that just sees him up on stage.

The problem is that there are about 5 or so spots that can support a decent lifestyle and about 1 million people trying to attain one of those spots. I need to quote from my favorite source for actually-pretty-true-news, The Onion:

Alternate-Universe James Hetfield Named Taco Bell Employee Of The Month

You can't really top that. According to Taleb (in a book review I need to write up someday) probably no one has gotten luckier than Hetfield; in a million other universes he ends up (at best) as employee of the month at Taco Bell; remember that this guy was an insane alcoholic for decades and only in the Rock and Roll business is that tolerated for so long.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

The Second Storm Of The Century...

...this year.

So what? Here in the Indiana snow belt we never know how much will fall nor do I care. I own the mother of all snowblowers.

Chicago TV weatherwonks have been predicting this snowstorm for five days. Looks of serious concern have been exchanged between the weatherwonk and the gratuitous multicultural anchor team each night. There were moans and groans after broadcasting those forecast maps complete with isobars and wind chill projections.

Last week we had snow falling constantly from Friday night until Tuesday morning. Nothing too serious, just a nuisance that causes me to remove the schnee from the drive and walkways each morning.

Out here this is a condition we call 'permaflurries'.

Today is just another Sunday. It's winter. Bring it on!

The Bears are playing Tom Brady today. The field conditions will be rotten with 40mph+ north winds, as it should be this time of year.

My fireplace had been stoked since I woke up and we plan on going nowhere. The Christmas tree lights will be on.

A pizza will be baked about halftime. Copious amounts of cocktails will be consumed.

Unlike many Indiana NFL fans I still like the Bears. I notice many more Colts hats, jackets and automobille decorations displayed locally. The Bears have a chance to win today. The Colts, well, I could give a crap.

Life is much more better than good : )

Ghost Bar

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Attack on Taranto

As history buffs know prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the British attacked the Italian fleet at their forward base in Taranto in 1940, sinking one battleship and severely damaging two others.  While the other two battleships were later repaired, the real impact was that the major Italian warships were withdrawn from the forward base at Taranto where they severely threatened Allied convoys to Malta to bases further up the peninsula where they were less of an immediate threat.

The book "The Attack on Taranto" (Blueprint for Pearl Harbor) is by Thomas Lowry and John Wellham and is highly recommended for anyone wanting to learn more about this gallant attack by British naval pilots in their slow and elderly (yet still effective) Swordfish aircraft.  While there are significant differences between the attack on Pearl Harbor and the British attack at Taranto (notably that Britain and Italy were already at war when the attack occurred), this type of attack should have put the Americans on higher alert and was studied by the Japanese in their plans for the Pearl Harbor attack.  In any case I highly recommend the book, especially for history buffs.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Monday, December 06, 2010

Gimme Some Head

It is said that fresh beer is better than old beer. Well, I never let my beer get old enough to find out.

Before bottling a fresh batch of Christmas homebrew this past weekend I scoured the pantry and garage looking for empty bottles. There were three leftover full 22oz. bottles with caps marked 12-10-09 in one cardboard case along with the empties.

So I chilled them down a few hours before the Bears v. Lions game.

Not expecting much I found the old brew to still be a very heady, hoppy and tasty ale. Age made no difference in flavor or ABV whatsoever.

That smug Sam Adams dude claims on TV that his brew has a head so thick you can float a bottle cap on it.

Oh yeah? Well my dusty year-old old homebrew had a head so thick you could float a manhole cover on it. And it tasted a lot better than your overpriced Sam Adams.

So there.

Monday Morning Blues - Interesting Photo Edition

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Drake Hotel Christmas

Recently I was at the Drake Hotel on Michigan avenue near the top of the Magnificent Mile when I took some holiday photos. I really like the Drake dragon he pops out of the frame.

Somebody else I don't know was standing below their immense Christmas tree and gingerbread house and appeared to be pouting for a photo.

Back at their large bar on the second floor (I think they said that part of the movie Risky Business was filmed here but I don't know for sure)they had some sort of elaborate centerpiece.

Louis Vutton had a cool store display for the holidays.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Economist on California

The Economist Year in Review for 2010 had an excellent paragraph describing the coming attack on the size of big government in developed Western economies.

California provides perhaps the starkest example.  It contains the world's most advanced industries, but it has one of the most useless governments on Earth, a mess of thousands of different sized, overlapping and competing cities, districts and counties.  The left has indulged the teacher's unions, the right has built prisons with abandon.  Politics is hopelessly partisan.
One thing the article doesn't mention is that California did put in an important piece of legislation, Proposition 14, that would be great if repeated through the country.  This legislation (under appeal) would have the top two vote getters in the primaries run in the general election, meaning that if the district was safely Democratic or Republican then those two top candidates would run in again after the primary, and voters from the other (disenfranchised) party might have some say.  For example, in Chicago, my representative Danny Davis wins the Democratic primary and then doesn't care about any other voters because the Republicans are a minority in this area (due to the way it was designed, in the first place).  But under a system such as the Proposition 14 model, if a moderate Democratic ran against him, he would get my vote and be able to work across the entire voter base and (possibly) drag Danny Davis to the center.  Maybe it will help, maybe it won't, but it at least is a step in the right direction and makes gerrymandering districts less important in the first place.  It would never happen in Illinois, due to our powerful entrenched incumbents from both sides who care mostly about keeping government as-is.

Oh and here is what I think of California anyways from one of Dan and I's favorite bands Local H.

The Unbelievably Fast Fall From Grace

I follow sports more than most people, but less than some. One of the most fascinating areas of sport for me is how quickly professional athletes can burn through their fortunes - and end up completely broke after their careers are over.

With most professional athletes, a five year career is all they get. Imagine yourself after you graduated high school or college and knowing up front that your best earning years are coming up. Wouldn't you be putting something away for the future rather then spending that dough on assets that are devalued the second you buy them, such as bouncy cars and jewelry?

Unfortunately, many, many professional athletes do nothing of the sort - instead they get involved with extra-marital affairs (talk about expensive), purchase enormous houses that are fully staffed, have fleets of expensive vehicles, boxes of jewelry, closets full of the finest clothing and shoes, boats, and on and on.

I don't feel sorry for these people one bit, but am amazed that the pattern gets repeated over and over into infinity.

But athletes aren't the only seemingly stupid ones. This is an interesting story about a relatively normal dude that inherited $14mm (he got to keep $10mm after taxes).

Here is what stuck out at me right off the bat:
Their garage held three stylish cars, including a yellow Aston Martin; they owned three horses, one that cost $173,000; and Mr. Martin treated his wife, Kate, to a birthday weekend at the Waldorf-Astoria, with dinner at the "21" Club and a $7,000 mink coat.
All of these things are GARBAGE. The cars were worth half the value the second he drove them off the lot, the horse the same, and the dinner, hotel reservation, and coat are gone.

So professional athletes aren't the only ones that make stupid choices when showered with a sudden windfall of money. It happens to all classes, all colors. People are just stupid, I guess.

I am not saying you should be a hermit and buy nothing to please you, but spending lavishly all over the world is an insane plan. In today's world $10mm isn't a ton of money. Just the stupid horse costing $173k ate up 1.7% of the inherited money right off the bat.

Here is why I am in such a tizzy over this pattern that I witness repeatedly.

When I have a problem with my car, I have to take it in. I know nothing about cars, most likely never will, so I have to pay someone else to do it. If you knew nothing about financial investing, why on earth wouldn't you want to head RIGHT OVER to a financial advisor (getting an attorney wouldn't be such a bad idea either with that sort of cash on hand) and PAY HIM OR HER to manage your money? It is painfully apparent to almost everyone that if you spend money at a breakneck pace on bad investments like cars, jewelry, horses and your stupid posse that you will RUN OUT OF MONEY.

It is almost like there is some sort of disconnect between people who inherit or earn large sums of money and the real world. And it seems like they don't think the party will ever end. Sadly, I read over and over that the party does indeed end - and rather suddenly and in a shocking fashion for all involved.

Another sad side story to this is to imagine what all that wealth could have produced on the charity front. Then again, it is likely that any economic activity would have been more beneficial to society than the quick and ruthless consumption of massive amounts of money on assets that are devalued by over half or more the second they are purchased.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Fair Warning?

About 10 years ago, right when digital music was starting out (for me, at least) I sent a friend of mine a dozen or so CD's full of MP3's that I ripped from my own CD's that I had bought over the years.  Recently I saw him again when I invited him to a Bears game and he requested some more CD's, anything I had.

So on a Sunday I took a few hours and burned 15 CD's worth of MP3 songs for him.  I only burned the songs I owned from my CD's; even though I bought legit tunes from Apple they are AAC and I was too lazy to convert them all to MP3 format - back in the day I used to burn them onto CD's for the car (WMA format) and then rip them back as unprotected MP3 songs, but I don't have the time to do that anymore.  Probably I should use the Apple iTunes feature and just convert them to MP3 outright and get rid of AAC format, since the players I use can't hear the degregation in performance, anyways.

Back to the point of this post - my friend left me a voice message marveling at the overlap in our collections, banks like Ryan Adams, the Secret Machines, Silversun Pickups, etc...  along with the CD's I sent him a brief letter with what I included that I am putting in below.

CD1 - A lot of the Arcade Fire.  Their 3 albums are very good
CD2 – The Black Keys.  Also recommend going out to iTunes and getting some songs off “Attack and Release”.  Beck album “Guero” is one of my favorites virtually every song on there is excellent
CD3 – Lots of Black Sabbath.  Sorry can’t help myself.  Really you need to listen to “Faries Wear Boots” and “Children of the Grave” with an open mind they are amazing songs as far as just the bass going off into space; what were they thinking?  The first 3 Cheap Trick albums – all excellent – probably “In Color” one of my top 5 albums ever.  I have some clash but no “London Calling” don’t know what happened to that along the way
CD4 – Crystal Method and Daft Punk, both great electronic give them a try.  Deftones may sound annoying and all the same but they grow on you.  Try “Moana” or “Rapture” or “Change in the house of Flies” and listen 2-3 times.  Death Cab for Cutie – try “Cath”.  Dixie Dregs are great stuff.  I am a big “Electric Six” fan they are kind of a joke band but fun.  Try “Dance Commander” and “I Buy the Drugs” and “Infected Girls” they are damn funny too
CD5 – Emerson Lake & Palmer have a lot of good songs, try “Tarkus” they should use it on our captured prisoners in the Middle East it is not soothing.  Faith No More is a great if forgotten band especially “From Out of Nowhere”.  Flight of the Choncords also have a great TV series just get season one on DVD that’s enough of them.  There’s the Fratellis from the Blackhawks
CD6 – Ghostland Observatory are a very interesting band look up their videos from live with Conan or Letterman very weird.  Graham Parker “Get Started Start a Fire” one of my favorites.  Those 2 Helmet albums are GREAT give them a try if you only have a little patience start with “Wilma’s Rainbow” and “Crisis King”.  Bought Husker Du “Zen Arcade” a couple weeks ago what a good album too.  Jay Z “Black Album” good for rap with “99 problems” which I know all the lyrics too, along with “The Number of the Beast” from Iron Maiden which I think I carved into a desk in Jr High.  Then the “Grey Album” takes the lyrics from the Jay Z Black Album and uses the music from the Beatles’ White Album is fantastic give it a try
CD7 – Seu Jorge covers Bowie classics in Portuguese very cool.  Give Kanye West a try he is better than you think and he has a bad rap since he is a dick “Jesus Walks” and “Stronger” are a place to start.  The 3 Killers albums are also very good my favorite is “Midnight Show” although lots of good ones
CD8 – Kyuss is the band by guy from Queens of the Stone Age, worth a listen.  LCD Soundsystem probably my favorite band right now for SURE try “Losing My Edge” and “All My Friends” among the top 10 songs of the decade per SPIN and other type magazines.  Also “Daft Punk…” and “Yeah (Crass Version)” which is one of the best songs I’ve seen live ever. 
CD9 – lots of stuff you will recognize.  Give Mastodon a chance in an alternate universe they’d be a “Top 40” band because they combine lyrics and musicality and actually melody with a heavy beat.  Give a few listens to “This Mortal Soil” “Oblivion” “Divinations” “Megalodon”.  Also as a guitar player you’ll see that the Mastodon guy is amazing. 
CD10 – Lots of Metallica, old stuff.  Really give it a re-listen it stands up.  Modest Mouse and Morphine are great.  Muse is one of my favorite bands try “Stockholm Syndrome” “Starlight” and “Dead Star”.  My Morning Jacket best songs are “Wordless Chorus” and “It Beats for U”.
CD11 – Nine Inch Nails one of the most under-rated bands.  They did good stuff from beginning “Sin” “Suck” to end “Discipline” “The Hand that Feeds” “Every Day is Always the Same” “Capital G”.  Fun a bit of the Outlaws “Green Grass and High Tides”.  I recently got  into Pantera when working out try them “I’ll Cast a Shadow” and the guitar in “Hole in the Sky” is crazy.  PELICAN one of my top 3 bands they are metal but 1) no solos 2) no lyrics 3) major key.  Please try them and listen a few times.  Start with “City of Echoes” and “Lost in the Headlights” then go to “Drought” I know it is long but it will grow on you  trust me
CD12 – A Perfect Circle has the Tool singer and very good stuff.  Probot is Dave Grohl with various older thrash singers try “Dictosaurus” and “Shake Your Blood” with Lemmy.  Propellerheads another favorite they did that Matrix theme song “Spybreak” but try any of their songs they are fantastic only a few to choose from and 1 album.  Queens of the Stone Age love “3’s and 7’s” go look that video up on You Tube it is awesome cool old cars and girls too.  The 3 Radiohead CD’s are the non-OK Computer great ones try “Planet Telex” “Just” “There There” “Jigsaw Falling Into Place”.  Also Robin Trower great old stuff “Day of the Eagle” guitar in “Little Bit of Sympathy”.  Rodrigo and Gabriela Spanish guitar no drums but cover Metallica “Orion” and “Diablo Roja”.  Go to you tube for version of them playing “Wish You Were Here”
CD13 – Ryan Adams is a nut and genius “So Alive” and “This is It”.  Secret Machines are freaky “Sad and Lonely” and fantastic drums on “Marconis Radio 2” just listen to them build.  The 2 Silversun Pickups albums also great “Well Thought out Twinkles”.  The 2 Strokes albums are also much better than you might think saw them live and they really put on a 2 guitar attack not what you expect
CD14 – Them Crooked Vultures mind-bending bass run on “Mind Eraser No Chaser” but it is damn John Paul Jones so what do you expect.  We saw “The Ting Tings” live they are also not a joke band.  Tool is probably my #1 favorite band whenever I am mad put in “Anemia” simply no song ever is angrier and lyrics are great on California from late Bill Hicks.  Van Halen Fair Warning also better than you remember try “Mean Streets” what a song
CD15 – You may have forgotten except for Bulls intro but that Wang Chung album is great “Wake Up Stop Dreaming”.  New Weezer album is good “Memories” and “Trainwrecks”.  Bought XTC Generals and Majors end to end interesting.  There is a great article on Keith Moon in the New Yorker I would recommend finding it and reading it cover to cover

Well the funniest part of all this is that he said he had JUST been in an argument over the best Van Halen album and he voted for Fair Warning which I called out in the letter just due to "Mean Streets" which is a fantastic song with a killer introduction.

Great minds think alike...

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Our Lost Competitiveness In Energy Construction

Due to a failure of our "de-regulation" initiative (I put it in quotes because we just re-regulated differently) with energy the United States has basically ceased investing in base-load power plants, which are comprised of 1) nuclear 2) coal 3) large-scale hydroelectric.  Instead we have been generally just extending the lives of our existing assets and building natural gas fired peaking plants and letting our reserve margins erode.

While this has many impacts to the United States over the long term (in the short term we benefit from lower rates as we delay the reckoning of having to invest massive amounts in capital construction in the future rather than starting it now and spreading it out over many years) one other extremely bad negative element has not been adequately discussed.  The United States is frankly losing any ability to construct or build nuclear or coal plants efficiently while China is using their scale and continued capital investment to refine construction techniques and standardize processes to build an industry that will be miles ahead of their US equivalent.

The December, 2010 issue of the magazine "The Atlantic" has an article titled "Why the Future of Clean Energy is Dirty Coal".  While I don't share their focus on "clean" energy, they did have a section on the scale of investment in China that was staggering.  From the article:

China is preparing, by 2025, for 350 million people that don't exist now.  They have to build the equivalent of the US electrical system, that is almost as much added capacity as the entire US grid - by 2025.  It took us 120 years...As China meets its capacity, it is likely that the best technologies will be commercialized and applied here faster than everywhere else.

In addition to the scale of their investment, their specific investments are also growing more advanced:

For the last 30 years we have not been able to build a coal-to-gas conversion plant in this country... China has done many.  That is what we need to learn from them, all that production and operating experience.
Why are they able to get so much done?  Well for one thing they don't have a lawyer and regulation plagued "system" that adds billions (literally) to the cost of a plant without necessarily improving its efficiency or safety; and it punishes new designs that might be INHERENTLY safer than older, operating designs by limiting the ability to move forward in the first place.

In America, it takes a decade to get a permit for a plant... Here, they build the whole thing in 21 months.
As discussed in many of my other posts, the "nuclear renaissance" in the US was an illusion, as is aptly summed up by the current state of ongoing nuclear construction projects in the USA from wikipedia:

As of September 2010, ground has been broken the Vogtle project and one other reactor in South Carolina. The prospects of a proposed project in Texas, South Texas 3 & 4, have been dimmed by a falling out among the partners. Two other reactors in Texas, four in Florida and one in Missouri have all been "moved to the back burner, mostly because of uncertain economics".

Vogtle works only because Southern Company is a well capitalized utility, and South Carolina works only because SCANA (the utility in that state) has "old school" regulation that allows them to capture the costs of new construction in their rate base as they build it, which is how ALL of the existing nuclear plants in the United States were originally built.  We have hope for Texas and in general I always support nuclear power but it will be an uphill battle.

According to this article, China has TWENTY FIVE nuclear plants under construction.  While we are battling lawyers and regulators they are able to actually site, build, construct and start operation of brand new nuclear facilities, with designs that are significantly more advanced than the vast majority (existing fleet) of US reactors, which date to designs from the 1960's and 1970's.

China is learning lessons about large scale construction and operation of brand new designs while we are trying to extend the lives of our existing, ancient reactors and delivering hot air of plans that won't materialize, such as the aborted plan to jump start construction in the US, a plan that I pointed out long ago won't work for a variety of financial and regulatory reasons.

We are losing our ability to even compete.  Our only hope is that China will be helpful to us in selling us the technology 20 years from now to build the next generation reactors when our existing fleet has completely broken down and we realize that betting on "alternative" technologies is a drop in the bucket when compared to base load requirements. 

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Rust Never Sleeps...

...and it can give you bad dreams.

Last May I wrote about deadbeat tradesmen.

One year ago I hired a chimney sweep to properly maintain my fireplace and chimney. Since we burn a lot of wood, cleaning it once every other year is about right. These guys are good. They sweep it from the inside but one guy climbed my unusually steep roof for an inspection up on the chimney top. Upon his return he showed me photos of my eighteen-year old rusting galvanized steel chimney crown. He suggested replacing it with stainless steel within a year or it could rust through causing a damaging leak. Not good.

The two most important parts of any home are the foundation and the roof. It’s easy to inspect a foundation but not so with a 40’ tall chimney. Unseen water damage can cause very expensive repairs if ignored. Many home owners fail to pay attention.

In my story last May I told of a walk-up tuckpointer with a very low price to fix my chimney crown. I fell for it, losing a $200 deposit and a rusting crown still on top.

He did not actually hustle me. He ended up in jail for violating a restraining order against his ex-wife before he began the repair, I was told. Later it was revealed he had beat his ex-wife severely and was being sent to prison for a long time.

He left his scaffolding behind.

Twice, one of his friends came over to claim that two of the scaffold sections belonged to him. I told the guy that if he had $200 he could take away the whole scaffold mess. I immediately chained and locked the scaffold sections together. Twice, he failed to show up with $200 so I placed ads on Craigslist to see if I could sell the scaffold, enough to reach 50’. My asking price was $800 or best offer.

No bites on the Craigslist ads all summer. Construction is in such a slump it seems nobody is buying even bargain priced tools and equipment. So the bro came over to help me take down the scaffold and I stacked the sections up against the woodpile, chained and locked. It sat there all summer, rusting away.

The sweeps quoted me a price to install the crown at $1200. The wife-beater wanted $400. The sweeps were to install stainless steel. The wife-beater was going to use limestone.

It turned out to be a blessing for me that the deadbeat tuckpointer from Chicago severely beat up his old lady and went to prison. Not so much for his battered ex-wife.

What I later found out was that a limestone crown would need regular inspection and possible maintenance (caulking) if the limestone crown was installed with a steel pipe poking through it. Leakage could occur within four years. With stainless steel pipe poking through a stainless steel crown and the proper flashing is installed, this will not be necessary.

I also discovered that most galvanized sheet metal is imported from China where there are no standards. One batch can be fine and another can be pure crap. The rust-out factor can be anywhere from three to ten years. Stainless is still made in the USA and will last long after I assume room temperature. I was guaranteed genuine USA made stainless steel.

Yesterday my chimney crown was finally replaced. The guys who climbed up there and replaced it were the same chimney sweeps who initially brought the rusting crown to my attention.

I struck a deal with them. If they would discount their price $300 I would give them the scaffold.

It’s a done deal. They did a good job that took four hours and hauled away the unsightly scaffold mess.

All things considered, we came out $100 ahead for our patience.

Lessons learned:

• If you discover a tradesman is from Chicago shut the door immediately and call the police, he’s probably wanted for fraud or spousal abuse, or both

• Avoid anyone dropping off a flyer or knocking to offer a free estimate

• Hire local, non-union tradesmen with experience and check out their reputation with references

• Pay a fair price and avoid bargains, but avoid being ripped-off

I knew all of these things from past experience so why did I fail to notice the warning signs? Why did I fall for this hustle again?

Just dumb. Again.