Wednesday, February 28, 2007
While Carl and Dan plan their NCAA sojourn and dream of many Illini wins, I'm keeping my focus on the present, and the present, for the second straight year, is another Big Ten Basketball Championship for my Buckeyes.
With five Freshmen led by big man Greg Oden and point guard Mike Conley, the Bucks went through the Conference like a hot knife through butter. Hopefully, they are on their way to a Final Four appearance in Atlanta.
I'm sure all Midwest readers want to join me in congratulating the Bucks on another great year!!!
Sorry that its been awhile, but I'd rather wait until I have something to say . . .
Anyway, read yesterday that Toyota is building their eigth auto plant in Mississippi to support American demand of their cars.
This made me think about the new order of the automobile industry and what role The Big Three have in it. Frankly, in my opinion they have no role.
I was always taught in college that once you lose market share, you almost never, ever, get it back. Over the past twenty years, the market share for GM, Ford, and Chrysler have steadily declined and have given it up Toyota, Nissan, BMW and, well, I'll stop.
Its their fault that they're in this mess. However, what suprised me is that ten years ago, they knew that they had problems but did nothing to fix them. But I would point out to Midwest readers, this is a great example of Capitalism at its best.
Toyota, is not burdened with union and pensions costs as the Big Three. Their "time-to market" (time from the design process to rolling it out on the assembly line) is short.
All they do is make cars that are reasonably priced, work, and last a long time.
My Toyota Celica, that I bought in 1992, lasted 13 years and got me 335,000 miles! Before that, I had a Camaro that broke down on me five times within three years. Now, I have an Acura RSX, and my guess is that if I keep it, it will last just as long.
The scary thought in my "car buying" process, is that I never, ever, considered a car made by The Big Three.
And for you readers who say, "You're anti-American." I say, you're hypocrites. Why do we buy "Belgian" chocolates, or "Swiss" watches? Because maybe their better than what we can buy in America? There's nothing wrong in this thinking.
Now, the big concept in cars is Hydrogen power. Guess who leads in this concept? You got it. Toyota. In fact, I read from the LA Times that they can't keep up with the demand. Where's The Big Three? You're right again. Nowhere.
I just hope that when it looks like that one of these three starts to go under, that the Federal Government doesn't pull a "Jimmy Carter" and bail them out. In the world of business, it really is "Darwinism." I don't make that comment facetiously as their are lives and jobs at stake in this process.
In this case, The Big Three have been swallowed by another animal.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Dr. Zhivago was on TV and we taped it. For those that haven't seen it or read the book, it is about a doctor in Russia who lives through World War I (which ended in a Russian surrender in 1917) and the subsequent terror of the Russian civil war and the rise of the brutal communists. It won several academy awards and is viewed as "a classic".
I actually can only watch a bit of the movie for I understand the context. In Russia, many brave people who were just trying to live their lives were crushed between two brutal world wars and an insane civil war, along with their own state-created terror through communism. For a civilized country, a country that put people into space, devised the best overall tank of WW2 (the T34), the AK-47, and invented the periodic table among myriad other accomplishments, the people of Russia have endured unbelievable torment and misery.
You can see the light beach reading I went through recently, a copy of "Ivan's War" which details the lives of Soviet soldiers (primarily infantry) during WW2. Needless to say this is an amazingly depressing book, because their soldiers suffered death and mistreatment prior to the war and subsequent to the war as part of the communist regime, not to mention the terrific casualties that they were handed by the German invaders.
What is the point of all this?
That life, in Russia, today, has NEVER been better. For all of the negative news that you see 24 hours a day and hand wringing on every blog, people in Russia have things they NEVER had before, including:
- A government that is NOT ACTIVELY TRYING TO KILL THEM
- No neighboring governments that ARE ACTIVELY TRYING TO KILL THEM
- Food available for sale, goods available to be bought, and the ability to travel
- The chance to better your life without being a government functionary (which is shorthand for murderer in times' past)
And that, my friends, is a miracle.
Monday, February 26, 2007
The Bulls have endured some famously long years since the glory days of Jordan & Pippen. They had a few decent stars, like Elton Brand, and a series of draft busts including Jay Williams (lost battle w/motorcycle), Eddy Curry (heart problems, let go to Knicks) and athletic freak Tyson Chandler (gone now, but leading the league in rebounds).
The best things that the Bulls have going for them are no-nonsense coach Scott Skiles and GM John Paxson (former Jordan teammate). We would have loved to see Skiles' attitude at the Cubs, for instance, where Baker let the team roll out of control. If you don't follow Skiles' rules, you don't play. Nothing wrong with that.
The Bulls have bounced back in recent years through solid draft picks. They selected Hinrich, Deng and Gordon in the draft and Ben Wallace through free agency. These players all play hard and make up a solid young core for future growth. Last year in the playoffs the Bulls played hard against the Miami Heat, eventual champions, winning at home before being eliminated.
One thing about trying to watch NBA games, however, is that 3/4 of the game pretty much doesn't mean anything. Ever watch those races put on at half time for Dunkin Donuts with the coffee cup, bagel and the donut? Want to know who is most likely to win? Whomever is losing going into the last turn or event comes through in the end.
The Bulls played Detroit on Sunday, with Detroit in the lead in their division and the Bulls being a terrible road team. The Bulls were beating the crap out of Detroit, leading by 15 in the third quarter, before falling apart and losing 95-93. I don't understand the NBA. You generally don't see teams come back when they are down by 2 touchdowns in the NFL, or teams recover from a 4 run deficit in baseball. But in the NBA, comebacks are routine, and I often wonder why I wasted my time watching the first three quarters.
I am also surprised by the fact that the home field advantage is so prominent in basketball. Most of the time when I go to games at the United Center in Chicago the crowd is deader than a doornail. This is expected when the seats are very expensive and concessions even more so (I paid 14 dollars for a double vodka tonic last time). The seats get full, but the noise level doesn't rise that much. It probably is different in the playoffs, I would hope so, but it is nothing like the Bears or even a baseball game. Also, the noise level really doesn't impact the players very much like it does in football when it is extremely difficult to call an audible as an opposing team at Soldier Field. For whatever reason the home field advantage is huge with the Bulls being an immensely better team at home than on the road.
If you are watching basketball at home, TIVO is a godsend. The game moves much faster through time outs and free throws. You can watch a 2 1/2 hour game in less than an hour and still see the whole game.
I do root for Skiles and the rest of the team to do the best they can throughout the rest of the season and hopefully we will win a playoff series for the first time since the Jordan era. At least this will fill in the time between football and baseball...
Sunday, February 25, 2007
In today's Chicago Tribune the lead article is titled "In the Cross Hairs of the Crosstown". The article is about long-dormant plan from the 1960's to create another expressway through Chicago that would connect the North side of the city and the Southwest side of the city. The expressway would mainly run along Cicero avenue for the north / south length (where 90 / 94 meet) and then head almost due east / west south of Midway airport until it hit 94 again on the way to Indiana. One goal of the expressway would be to enable trucks to avoid going through the center of the city as they make their cross country trip on I90 and I94. The expressway would also connect many of the south and west suburbs for north / south purposes - today they mainly can go east / west on highways but other directions can only go on overburdened local highways.
The original Mayor Daley pushed this highway in the 60's but it fell apart in the face of local opposition, from groups that didn't want their businesses demolished to make way for the expressway. At about that time (60's & 70's) if you look at the history of cities like Chicago the last of the great infrastructure projects died out and there really hasn't been much that has occurred since that date; no expansion of the "L", O'Hare expansion is pretty much stuck, the third airport is going nowhere, and only in the western suburbs were they able to make a bit of progress with I88 (formerly I5, the "lonely nickel") and I355 which really was just a connection. Recent construction projects, painful as they are, only barely keep our infrastructure from falling apart completely. The new Dan Ryan project? Just a resurfacing of existing lanes. The renovation of the Stevenson? The same. And the new Red Line project that is going to "double" commute times for years to come? Just to keep the damn thing from falling apart completely. I remember the reconstruction of upper and lower Wacker drive (to keep it functioning) - that long delayed project occurred when some bridge engineers gave it a "zero" on a numeric scale, but once again, no expansion.
India's New Subway
In the same Sunday Tribune there is a well-written article called "Engineering An India that moves" about a new subway that was built in India's capital New Delhi. An engineer named Elattuvalapil Sreedharan beat the shabby way projects were typically done in India and built a first class system on budget and ahead of schedule. At the age of 67, he had to build a subway system across a densely populated and chaotic city. His conditions (per the article)
- He would award contracts to pre-qualified bidders, to minimize interference from politicians
- He would choose his own team of engineers
- He would build the project to world standards, not Indian ones
- He would have the power to bypass most of the country's complicated bureaucracy
Back to Chicago
An in the bottom of a related article about the Cross Town expressway is the following quote:
"Planning for such a large-scale project would take about 10 years or longer before construction can begin, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation"
From a quick analysis of the two projects it would seem that in Chicago we would be wise to allow for the conditions that enabled India's subway system to succeed on time and on budget while Chicago's is doomed to fail. Our department of Transportation obviously can't be counted on to do this right, and our politicians will botch it every step of the way.
The saddest part, however, isn't the conditions that the engineer from India laid out - even if those same conditions could be applied to Chicago we are missing one more thing - a man of integrity similar to that engineer from India. Our politicians and high ranking public servants are tarnished and corrupt, as can be gathered by the myriad reports of corruption and failure at all levels of Illinois government, from the Governor all the way down. I don't think that they would ever find one non-corrupt person to run it (these people exist, but they wouldn't be nominated by our existing leadership).
And thus, we will have nothing but perhaps small projects here and there just to keep critical arteries from absolutely crumbing into dust. This is the transportation "vision" for Illinois.
To the Chicago Tribune, I say keep up the good work on the investigative articles, but "connect the dots" and call it out the way it is... we aren't the "City that works", we don't even work as well as a third world country. And someday that third world country will pass us...
If all you want to do is some simple writing, posting a few photos and embed a youtube or two, then Blogger is for you. The interface is very easy to use, although quirky at times. Carl has this running theme where his font changes midway through the post. I always have trouble when posting photos with words. But, and I can't stress this enough, the cost is ZERO.
A few weeks ago I decided to set up a WordPress blog. Now you can do this for free as well. Check out free WordPrerss here. It is obvious from using it for even a short period of time that there are a lot more features on Word Press. But I think many of these features are needed because YOU used to have to pay for your bandwidth. With the new free wordpress, you don't have to worry about a lot of those other issues. If I had to do it again, I probably would have started the blog with WordPress. WordPress does limit the overall size of your blog, though and that would suck if you filled it up and then had to start paying for it. AND change your url.
Whats that? You want to see my new blog? Patience my friend, I will unveil it for you after a little story.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Periodic or frequent readers of this blog will notice that I have interests in utilities (Electric and Gas) and also investing. These two interests collided today with the announcement that a private equity consortium led by Texas Pacific Group and KKR were "close" to a deal to acquire TXU which is a giant utility based in Texas for $32 billion, or about $70 / share, a $10 / share premium over the current share price of about $60 / share. TXU also has about $12 billion in debt outstanding, and it is likely that many of these debt holders will see the value of their holdings hurt since the private equity firms are planning to issue colossal amounts of debt to make this purchase (see here for a recent blog on bondholders getting hurt on buyouts).
KKR is the famous firm in "Barbarians at the Gate" which was a major business book and even a made-for-TV movie. Texas Pacific Group is a giant buyout fund and one of the largest employers in the USA. These buyout firms are getting larger and larger and the market is willing to lend them more and more money at favorable rates, which allows them to do bigger deals in turn. Generally no one expected them to make a run at a company as big as TXU, and one with as many regulatory entanglements as this.
Background on TXU
TXU was formerly known as Texas Utilities. Texas Utilities has roots in Dallas and serves the Dallas area in terms of distribution along with natural gas. The company has a strong generation division and since the state of Texas "de-regulated" (in parenthesis because it was a botched effort like the rest of the US) the generation unit has been going gangbusters.
TXU had a near-death experience with diversification, purchasing overseas assets and getting into power marketing a bit like Enron (Enron was a Houston based company, after all). The stock bottomed out at around $10 but management cleaned house, spun off bad investments, and moved the stock price all the way up to $60, where it sits today prior to this buyout offer.
TXU Tries To Build for the Future
TXU had ambitious plans for the future. In other blog posts I have railed about how the US energy industry has stopped investing in new generation and that NIMBY activists are strangling improvements in energy while growth in energy use continues unabated. In Texas, however, things looked promising because of their pro-business climate and friendly attitude towards new construction.
One sidebar about Texas - there are different "reliability districts" for the USA and Texas essentially walled themselves off from the rest of the US with a district called ERCOT. Texas chose to do this, which ensures that if neighboring states take actions that could hurt Texas, they will be insulated from these changes. On the other hand, if other states have cheaper power than Texas, this power can't be brought into the state. This "wall" helped Texas avoid some of the spillover of the Enron debacle; in the West, for example, California's energy collapse had horrendous effects on neighboring states because they drove up the price of power in adjacent states as capacity poured into California to meet their crisis (to the extent that it could because of poor transmission investment).
However, even in Texas it can be hard to get things done. TXU was planning on building 11 large coal-fired plants in the state, which would have used plentiful US based energy (we have lots of coal here) rather than sending our $$ to unstable regimes overseas. While coal is attacked for pollution, the only other choices for large scale energy production are nuclear (which has been shut down in the US by the NIMBY crowd) and natural gas, which is frankly un-economical at current prices. I salute the management of TXU for actually trying to build a better future for Texas rather than just waiting for the crisis of non-investment to brew as energy demand increased across the state. Here is a site that TXU set up called "the Reliable Texas Power Project" to sell their plan.
TXU Faces Investor Resistance
In order to build these new power plants, TXU was going to spend a lot of money. Major base load power plants are expensive in the best of times, but frequent detours demanded by capricious regulators make the situation even worse.
There are generally two types of expenditures - capital investment, which are purchases for long lived assets like power plants, and expenses, which are the short term costs needed to run the business for salaries, fuel, maintenance, etc... Capital investment is usually funded with debt or equity and then it becomes expense as it is depreciated over its useful life, which can be 30+ years for a major investment like a power plant (indeed, most of the generation in the US is from facilities originally built in the 60's and 70's since very little "base load" generation has been built since, although many of them have been heavily modernized).
A general rule of thumb for utilities is that capital expenditures should be around 100% of earnings. If capital expenditures are > 100% of earnings, investors start to get scared that too much debt is being piled on. At far less than 100%, investors worry that the company is not investing in the future. This ratio is for utilities, which are heavily capital intensive.
If you go to the TXU web site and look at their Q3 earnings presentation, they were planning on investing in capital expenditures at a rate of 135% of earnings for several years in order to build the generating plants cited in their reliability project above (go to page 6 of the presentation to see this slide).
An Unholy Alliance - Private Equity and NIMBY Groups
While TXU management is willing to take on the interest groups and try to plan for Texas' future, the buyout groups have completely different interests. THEY WANT TO MAKE MONEY. Bizarrely, by not investing in the future, they can make a lot of money.
Let's think about this. Texas is a "closed" state, because of the ERCOT design as I alluded to above. TXU already owns a lot of generation in the state, and unless they build new plants, it is highly unlikely that anyone else is going to come in here and build more plants.
Thus rather than invest in new capacity, the private equity groups can just run the existing plants and keep the cash. As demand goes up and generation gets scarcer, they will just make more and more money off their existing investment. Think of it as if you had an apartment building and no one let you build any new buildings, but every year more and more people came into your city, which would allow you to drive up rates. In a functioning economy, entrepreneurs would come in and build more buildings, putting the market back into equilibrium, but in this example no one can build new buildings and you are essentially in the catbird seat charging premium rates.
The private equity guys are fine with investing nothing in the business, loading it up with cheap debt, and watching the energy crisis unfold, because they will make piles and piles of money. God knows if TXU can't even get new plants built, anyone else would have a horrendous time getting it done. And if the private equity guys are smart they can bond with the NIMBY's to stop anyone else from getting anything done, too, so new competition never materializes.
I was in the utility industry for a long time and know lots of people still there. In general, while they make mistakes, they genuinely try to look out for the future of the residents of their states and feel they are part of the public interest. TXU was really sticking its neck out with this plan because the old-line people cared about the future of their state and knew that an electricity crisis was looming.
The money managers, on the other hand, know how to make money. Lots of times you can make the most money by NOT investing in businesses and harvesting the cash. This strategy is especially useful when debt is cheap (like it is with today's interest rates) and people are willing to lend it to you without investing much in the way of equity.
Texas was one of the few states trying to plan for a future and to invest in new generation capacity. With this deal, the industry is essentially rudderless, waiting for doom as demand keeps rising while capacity shrinks. NIMBY crowds can point to getting rid of old light bulbs, solar, and wind power, but that is a drop in the bucket compared to base load generation.
This is a seminal day for the industry. If this deal goes through expect many more similar deals since TXU was one of the biggest players in the business. And expect the power companies to be run by financial people to maximize their return, which can often come from disinvestment and harvesting assets, to the detriment of future conditions.
We have relatives near Syracuse, NY and here are some pictures that they sent of the snow that has piled up after the incredible winter that they have had to date. In Chicago we have been blessed in recent years and while it has been cold, it hasn't been that snowy. Dan was saying that a big storm is coming up near Madison so I figured I'd put these up for him to prepare mentally...
As it says on the masthead of this blog, we don't accept advertising and we don't shill for anyone. Anyone we don't like, that is... and one show I consistently love is the goofy cop show Reno 911! on comedy central (the wikipedia link above is unusually complete).
The show is a take on the "Cops" TV series where an embedded cameraman follows the police as they go about their duties and arrest perps. The dialog in the show is improvised, but there is a broad plot outline.
This shot is of Lieutenant "Dangle" who always wears short-shorts and who may or may not be gay as he leads the usually non-productive daily staff meetings. This scene is from what I think is their funniest episode - the "Scavenger Hunt" when the Reno sheriff's department wins 2 tickets to an execution and they devise a scavenger hunt to determine who wins. You can see the crazy categories they use to decide point values ("Man with Teats" and "Perp with Animal Tattoo" and a double point bonus if the "criminal" is Jewish) on the white board.
Also deserving props is a non-mentioned member of the cast "Terry" who plays a gay prostitute who works at "Tacos Tacos Tacos" and always makes insane excuses when confronted with the evidence of his latest crimes.
The movie has received mixed reviews (some gave it 1 or zero stars, some as high as 3 stars) but you probably need to actually like the show to see it for full effect. I am sure that I will get a few good laughs out of it and will let you know.
I saw the movie and it was pretty good. There were a lot of laughs but it had a bit too much plot - they needed more encounters with random perp's and crazies. And there wasn't enough Terry...
Friday, February 23, 2007
Earlier this week I was sad after the Chief's last dance, now I am just pissed off. Can't wait until the halftime show next year - will we have a huge foam "I" dancing around on the field?
Will they let the band play the "3 in 1", which had those dirty injun sounding songs in it?
I could see this coming down the pike a long time ago. The debate about the Chief has been going on for at least twenty years now. We laughed about it when I was in school. Drop the Chief? You have got to be kidding me! Hardee har har. Now look at us.
The bottom line is that the University of Illinois just doesn't hold clout with the NCAA like other schools do. The Florida State Seminoles told the NCAA to stick it up their ass with this whole mascot deal and the NCAA ran off quicker than shit off of a shovel. FSU's Seminole is a HUNDRED times more disrespectful to indians than the Chief ever was. A three minute halftime dance at football and basketball games. That's all the Chief ever did.
But it really is all about money isn't it?
I LOVE this quote from NCAA spokesman Bob Williams after the Chief got killed, from the Trib:
"We intend to aggressively defend our position if it comes to a court hearing," Williams said. "We not only have the right but also the obligation to ensure our NCAA championships are conducted in an atmosphere free of racial stereotyping and one in which all of our student athletes, athletic staff and fans feel comfortable."Like this guy, right? The Notre Dame Fighting Irish Leprechaun.
An atmosphere free of racial stereotyping.
How about this guy, the Florida State Seminole?
An atmosphere free of racial stereotyping.
And what about this statement from the NCAA:
Illinois still will be able to use the name Illini because it's short for Illinois and the school can use the term Fighting Illini, because it's considered a reference to the team's competitive spirit, school officials said.
What a bunch of bullshit - just a plain old lie. To the NCAA's credit, this is the defense the University ITSELF used to keep the name fighting Illini. But everyone went along because it sounded nice even though we have....
From the U of I's own website:
When it was developed, did the term "Fighting Illini" refer to Native Americans? The question is open to interpretation. The time period during which the "Fighting Illini" nickname developed coincided with the use of Native American imagery, usually in a romantic style. Therefore, it is not surprising that Native American imagery was sometimes associated with the Stadium Drive campaign and its slogan. Here are some examples. In Clarence Welsh's 1921 brochure, University of Illinois Memorial Stadium, the stadium is referred to (PDF, 114KB) as "the symbol of a new united, fighting, aspiring tribe of Illini, who know how to honor their living heroes and venerate their dead." On the frontispiece of the brochure by Clarence Welsh (pdf 151 KB), a Native American is shown looking off to a cloud. The cloud includes a column which was originally proposed to stand at the north end of the stadium. Another stadium drive publication, The Illinois Stadium 'For Fighting Illini' (pdf, 69KB) shows a Native American chief presenting the stadium as a gift to the University, symbolized by the Library (now Altgeld Hall) carillon tower. The cover of the Stadium Souvenir Program, Dedication Homecoming 1924' (pdf, 1.28MB) contains two figures rising above the left corner of the Stadium. The drawings seem to subtly suggest a soldier in "doughboy" uniform behind which is a figure suggestive of a Native American, not dissimilar to Lorado Taft's statue of Blackhawk in Oregon, Illinois (jpg, 160KB). From the beginning of the Stadium campaign, there was an effort to connect an image of the Native American "Illini" to the University of Illinois students, athletes, and alumni. The Native Illini were characterized as brave individualists whose heritage was somehow passed directly to the University Illini "through the pioneers who fought them and learned to know them." This is vividly illustrated by three pages from Story of the Stadium, ca. 1920/21' (pdf, 272 KB). The connection between the term "Illini" and the original native inhabitants of the state continued for many decades as shown in the 1976/77 Reference Folder, a publication used for public information and new student recruitment(jpg, 867KB).
In short I am not surprised that the Chief finally was put to death by the NCAA. What really pisses me off though is the fact that they use double talk to justify their position. Seminoles are OK, but the Chief is not. Fighting Illini is OK to use as a nickname because it doesn't have anything to do with an indian (chuckle). Fighting Irish is OK, because that mascot most certainly doesn't stereotype anybody.
Meanwhile, college athletes continue to go to jail, pump 'roids, don't graduate and, I believe, shave points.
In retrospect, maybe the Chief was too good to be a part of the NCAA anyways.
Me? I have saved a video of the Chief to my hard drive and will watch it every halftime I am catching an Illini game.
Sorry, thats Fighting Illini, as that is OK with the NCAA.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
While I was down in Miami Fashion TV was everywhere. It is a TV network that, predictably enough, focuses on fashion. This makes sense in Miami because you have ultra-skinny model types everywhere, girls with that completely straight hair that only looks good on size zero women.
Fashion TV was focused on Carnival in Rio. Carnival, of course, is the annual festival in Brazil where groups of "samba" dancers get in a parade route to win the award for best dancing.
This screen shot shows a typical dancer strutting her stuff for the cameras.
However, there is a second camera angle that they tend to linger on... it is basically a non-stop gyration shot. For about a minute they go into slo-mo and then just focus on the booty, so to speak.
I guess one of the floats was disqualified because the dancer lost her G String. I am sure that if you watched FTV long enough you would have seen it "live".
Quality TV, certainly...
Just in case you don't know how badass that is, think about this little factiod that Mr. Borger brought to my attention in an email. There are laws in Wisconsin that are made to protect workers (called right to know laws) in case they work in a hazardous environment...and there are things that are exempt from these regulations. Please see regulation 101.58(2)(j)2.f. f.
Like I said...badass.
1. "Toxic substance" means any substance or mixture containing a substance regulated by the federal occupational safety and health administration under title 29 of the code of federal regulations part 1910, subpart z, which is introduced by an employer to be used, studied or produced in the workplace.
101.58(2)(j)2. 2. "Toxic substance" does not include:
101.58(2)(j)2.a. a. Any article, including but not limited to an item of equipment or hardware, which contains a substance regulated by the federal occupational safety and health administration under title 29 of the code of federal regulations part 1910, subpart z, if the substance is present in a solid form which does not cause any acute or chronic health hazard as a result of being handled by an employee.
101.58(2)(j)2.b. b. Any mixture containing a substance regulated under title 29 of the code of federal regulations part 1910, subpart z, if the substance is less than one percent, or, if the substance is an impurity, less than 2%, of the product.
101.58(2)(j)2.c. c. Any consumer product packaged for distribution to and used by the general public, for which the employee's exposure during use is not significantly greater than the consumer's exposure occurring during the principal use of the product.
101.58(2)(j)2.d. d. Any substance received by an employer in a sealed package and subsequently sold or transferred in that package, if the seal remains intact while the substance is in the employer's workplace.
101.58(2)(j)2.e. e. Any waste material regulated under the federal resource conservation and recovery act, P.L. 94-580.
101.58(2)(j)2.f. f. Lutefisk.
Anyway, we found this Pinot Noir for $10 a bottle a few years ago and it is superior:
We quickly drank it and....ugh...piss water! What was different? Ahhh "vin de corse" on the label.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Of course, it now looks like I need to acquire a Mark 2 and maybe a Mark 1 to complete my Ruger collection, since I already have the Mark 3 and Single Six.
Oh yea and a 10/22. And a Blackhawk. And a Super Blackhawk. Maybe a Redhawk. GAH!
Like I said a while ago, so many guns, so little time.
Oh yeah, in all seriousness tx Annie, I am glad I joined up at that forum.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Six parts. I looked through the paperwork and found this page in the manual for the converted Single Six:
Good deal. I know that I have all the parts I need. I have had the gun to the range once and didn't really have enough time to get used to the action, sight picture, etc. and, like I said before, feel that the action is a bit gunked up by an improper installation of the new lawyered up safety feature.
Then I found this bit in the original manual:
When you replace the original action with the lawyered up one, you lose the notch number two, called the safety notch. Hey! I want my safety notch back!
I am off to the internets to find info on proper procedure to get that crap out of my gun and restore it back to its original setup. Should be fairly easy.
One more note, you can see in the first photo that the hammer is pretty well gunked up - this gun has not been fired very much (never with .22 WMR until I did a few weeks ago) and I fear that I will have a lot of cleaning to do when I get this thing apart on the workbench. As Martha Stewart would say, this is a good thing.
I will note that the guy in the ad has a TINY hand. Here is what my hand looks like wrapped around the gun:
You can see that there is no way my pinky will fit on that grip. I may look into buying a new set of larger grips for this gun, just to make it more comfortable to shoot. With the super heavy trigger pull that it has, it just isn't an easy ride - maybe it isn't supposed to be. I will be interested to see what putting the original parts back into the gun will do for the trigger.
Monday, February 19, 2007
"We should tax all foreigners living abroad"
Well I am down here in Florida, and since my interests are so odd, I am reading an article from The Miami Herald titled "All options are on table in property tax crisis".
Essentially, Florida has followed the Monty Python advice to date; they don't have an income tax, they do have a sales tax, and their property tax is designed to give year-round residents a break and stick it to part-time second home owners and businesses. I don't fully understand how it is legal to charge more to second home owners and part-time residents; isn't that impacting interstate commerce? Regardless, it is common practice here. Logically, you'd think that second home owners would pay LESS taxes because they use less state and local services - their kids don't go to public schools here (probably because they went to good private or public schools in another state in the Midwest or the East or they couldn't afford the second home in the first place) and they aren't on welfare (obviously) and don't use much in the way of public services like fire and police.
There is a state act called "Save Our Homes" which limits the growth in property taxes to 3% / year starting in 1995 for residents that receive the exemption; per the article:
"In 1995... the measure removed $3.5 billion from the property tax rolls. Today, it has kept a quarter of the state's $1.6 trillion total taxable property value off the rolls."
Of course, this law has created a group of individuals that receive the exemption (until they move) that is powerfully focused on keeping this law in place, and since they are generally old without much to do, you can bet that they will vote. This is exactly the kind of constituency that you don't want to create, a single issue voting bloc, but that is what they have here in Florida.
Even though this unfair and inequitable tax policy is killing them in Florida, someone is proposing EXPANDING the program. They want to amend the program so that if you have the exemption and you move, you retain the exemption going forward.
Let's think about the logic of this. There was a micron of logic in the original program because elderly people on fixed income get creamed by rising property taxes, so limiting growth to 3% / year gives them a chance to stay in their homes. There would have been a lot of other ways to fix this that would have been better, such as 1) limiting the growth in state spending to 3% / year, which would have accomplished that goal for everyone 2) a means-tested exemption for elderly people who qualify. Unfortunately, this broad based program is obviously unfair and now it goes WAY off the rails of logic with the idea that just because you were a resident and owned a home in 1995 when the program started, now you would get a portable right to limit YOUR property tax growth which essentially shifts it onto your neighbor who just arrived here because he wasn't a resident in 1995.
Another reason this is so unfair is because much of the dynamic nature of the state of Florida is driven by new arrivals; they are the ones renovating the hotels, bringing in new businesses, and injecting economic life into the state. The retirees are not the ones that you want to attract from a business perspective; at best they are cheap consumers and they burden the state with expensive services; plus, your property tax rates as a business owner AND as a new resident skyrocket to subsidize them.
This will be interesting to see play out. At least in Illinois our system is equivalently corrupt and unfair to all of our residents, although we do overload our property tax burden on business owners. It would be interesting to ask a rich retiree in Florida to defend the ethics of this program; I want state government costs to increase, but I don't want to pay for them. A sad voting bloc, indeed.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
As usual I am ahead of most fashion trends and looks like hair styles are no exception.
If you would like more trend setting fashion tips that eventually everybody in Hollywood will be mimicking, you can see my other fashion tips here, and here, and one for the kids here.
And don't forget to visit the guy who started it all with his sage fashion advice, Jonathan, here, here and here.
To help everyone I have created a new category - fashion - on the left with the other categories.
Anyway, I was leaving a comment and it got way too long and I didn't want to clutter Snake's blog with it, so it morphed into this essay. Hope you like.
A combo of the two (catblogging and serious essays) is what I prefer. There is nothing wrong with posting a random photo or essay about whatever strikes you. It is your blog, have fun with it.
It is all what you want out of your blog.
You will more than likely never have any type of income stream so you may as well have fun and get what YOU want out of it.
I like doing longer essays at times that force me to do research and read about a topic. I like having a smart audience that knows a lot about a lot so I can get comments, get corrected and learn more. I comment on a lot of other blogs too so that extends the knowledge network.
So in the end, blogging is what you make of it.
I wanted to learn things and improve my writing and make a friend or two - those things are accomplished in spades, and worth far more than money to me. I even made contact with an old college friend - like I said, priceless.
One thing I can unequivocally state is that you should stay away from politics, or post on it only occasionally. The political posts I have found are the ones that draw the most comment trolls. I did a post on global warming and you would be amazed at the number of fucktards that just sit around on their computers and google global warming then go to your blog and lay turds. I just had to close comments from Carl's post about the North Face that you can see in categories on the left. You can see the utter waste of time the comments are in that post.
Anyway, best of luck and hope you have fun.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Without further ado, I present a preview for each team.
Geez, my beloved Brewers have not had a winning season since 1992, but if they can stay healthy they could pull it off. That is a big "if". Ben Sheets is our ace but has had injuries on and off for a while. Although we lost Carlos Lee in the offseason, we gained Jeff Suppan, which was huge for us, he will be our number three starter behind Sheets and Chris Capuano. A bunch of also-rans and nobodys make up our four and five starters, as usual. We will hit the ball well again but desperately need help in the bullpen, and I think we will probably make a deal eventually for a middle reliever. We have the AGED Corey Koskie at third but his concussion rehab is not going well and we may have to settle for Craig Counsell. Again, IF we stay relatively healthy and IF the bats stay alive as they have been over the past few years, we have a decent chance at .500. NO chance to win this pool and no chance on playoffs, but I am used to that.
Carl from Chicago's choice followed up their awesome 2005 World Series championship with a spectacular thud last year, although they did win 90 games in what was undoubtedly one of the toughest divisions in all of baseball. Looks like the rotation will be solid, probably something like this: Contreras, Buehrle, Garland, Vazquez, Floyd. The problems for the Sox, at least to start the season are that Podsednik is out for a while with his surgery and Uribe has legal issues in the Dominican Republic. This will all but stop stolen base production for the Sox and they may have Erstad in center to start. The Sox don't seem willing to throw any money at Jermaine Dye so he may get pissed/lazy during the season if things start to go sour - or get traded. The Sox have a lot of potential volatility in their clubhouse and if their arms can't take them places I expect them to continue their fall in the AL Central.
Up on the north side of Chicago, johnnyj's Flubs are coming off of a distastrous year, but to their credit they spent the coin in the offseason like a bunch of drunken sailors on leave. They now have Sweet Lou in the clubhouse too so we will see if that intangible will make any difference. Soriano is a solid player, probably worth five wins right there. The rotation looks decent: Zambrano, Lilly, Marquis, Hill, Prior/Miller, but the jury is out on Lilly pitching at tiny Wrigley Field (fly ball pitcher) and they will just have to give up on the once shining star Mark Prior if he stinks it up too much more. The bullpen is OK, providing Dempster and Wood can show at least something. I am not sure what bringing in Floyd will add as he will probably platoon in the outfield and pinch hit at times. The Cubs will improve, but even if they improve by 20 games after last years fiasco it won't be enough to win the NL Central.
PSL Dave chose the red leggings for our pool, and not a bad choice at that. They finished third in the AL East last year and look to challenge for the title this year with the Yankees. Everyone is talking about Matsuzaka and getting JD Drew was a nice catch for the Red Sox too, although he has proved a bit fragile over the years. A nice rotation here with Schilling, Beckett, Matsuzaka, Papelbon, Wakefield/Clement. Schilling is getting old, but still has stuff if he stays healthy. The Sox have a good lineup with a nice combination of speed at the top and power in the middle with Ramirez, Drew, Varitek and Ortiz, not necessarily in that order.
Staying in the AL East, John from the Bulgarian Underground Railroad (that is a funny story - everyone should hear it someday) has a good selection as well. Most of the baseball writers are picking the Yanks to finish first in their division with good reason. The rotation is great, looking like this: Wang, Pettitte, Mussina, Igawa, Pavano/Hughes. I don't really think there is a better bullpen in all of baseball, with names like Rivera at closer, and set up men like the Farns, Proctor, Vizcaino and Myers in there. They scored the most runs of any team last season and there is really no reason to think they can't again, with A-Rod, Matsui, Kano and the never aging Posada. Playoffs for sure for the Yankees, we will see where they go from there.
Craig's choice is the Detroit Tigers, who lost the world series last year after winning 95 regular season games. Wow were the Tigers starters stingy last year and there is no reason to think they won't be this year as well. They probably have the best starting five in all of baseball with Rogers, Bonderman, Verlander, Robertson, Maroth/Miner. The Tigers were fifth in runs scored and need to improve their offense a bit to get back to the world series and win it. Picking up Gary Sheffield in the off season (I hate that guy) will help, but he is 38 and probably will not play any position but DH. If Ordonez and Casey can have solid years and the other infieldiers can step up for the Tigers they will contend again for the AL Central with that amazing staff.
Snakeye has the tribe this year and most feel it is a pretty good year to have them. The Indians added a lot of depth this year with veteran players Trot Nixon and David Dellucci in the outfield - and they add left handed bats. The staff looks like this: Sabathia, Westbrook, Lee, Sowers, Byrd/Miller. Their staff was third in the league in ERA last year and there is no reason to think they can't improve that as they are pretty young. Only the Yankees scored more runs than the tribe last year and Grady Sizemore led the league last year in doubles and runs scored. Things look good for the Indians and they should finish first in the AL Central. Whether or not they finish first in the pool may be quite another matter.PS Indy has the Metropolitans this year, another strong choice in the pool as most think that they will finish their division in first place. The rotation is pretty good, but not decided yet as there are a lot of arms in there, and Pedro could play a part down the stretch. I think the rotation will be Glavine, Hernandez, Maine, Perez, Pelfrey/Park/Sele. The insane Billy Wagner is the closer and they have decent middle relief. The Mets will score a boatload of runs this year with no easy outs in their whole lineup. I can't believe that Shawn Green will probably bat EIGHTH but that is how deep the Mets are with the bats. Alou is old, but not don't forget REALLY OLD Julio Franco on the bench - he is 49 and still playing! I think the Mets will probably win their division and challenge to take all the marbles in the pool.
Annie has the Florida Marlins in the pool and along with me and a few others has absolutely no chance to win this pool. The rotation looks like this: Willis, Olson, Johnson, Sanchez, Nolasco/Petit. They already have people complaining of arm soreness in training camp and that is never a good sign. To show you how bad it may be for the Marlins they may play Alex "steroids" Sanchez in center - he hit .225 in triple a last year but did have a decent winter in Venezuela from what I am reading. The Marlins don't really have any bats of note. Fortunately for the fish, they have the Nationals in their division which should keep them from finishing in the cellar.
Lastly but not leastly, graphix has the Dodgers and the outlook for them is bright this season. I love the top of the Dodger lineup with Pierre and Furcal - they could both hit close to .300, each steal 50 bases and score over 200 runs between them. Opposing pitchers are going to hate that opening duo. Nomar will rack up some stats hitting behind them, but Jeff Kent and Louis Gonzalez are OLD and will have to drink from the fountain of youth to contribute significantly. They may not have to worry too much about scoring runs though because their staff is outstanding. The rotation: Schmidt, Lowe, Penney, Wolf, Billingsley/Kuo. Their bullpen is solid and they have some trade fodder if one of their players go down. They will probably contend for the NL West, but maybe just fall short in the pool.
So there we have it, ten entries, ten teams. Let the games (and trash talking and sidebets) begin.
Friday, February 16, 2007
So I went through my old photos and saw this photo of the "twelve apostles" on the Great Ocean Road in Australia. Wow, that was a great trip. We drove along the coast and the sights were amazing. One of these rock formations collapsed a few years back, stranding a few tourists out on the rock away from shore, until a helicopter came and picked them up (no one was hurt). This photo really doesn't do justice to how large they are since there is nothing "to scale" in front of them like a car to put it in perspective, but trust me when I tell you that they were big. It seemed like it was over 100 degrees every day and the sun was blazing down. I could use some of that sunshine now...
Wow we have a lot more people in the pool than I thought we would have! My goal was four but we have doubled that! There will be a lot of good trash talking and looks like I will be very up to speed on baseball this year as I will be doing a DAILY update, as long as I am not on vacation or something like that. Here is the latest:
- Carl from Chicago has the Chicago White Sox
- Craig has the Detroit Tigers
- JohnnyJ has the Chicago Cubs
- Snakeye from the Frag has the Cleveland Indians
- PS Indy from Hobart has the New York Mets
- Annie has the Florida Marlins.
- Dan from Madison has the Milwaukee Brewers
- PSL Dave has the Boston Red Sox
- John of the Bulgarian Underground Railroad has the New York Yankees
- graphix, who I believe is my cousin, has the Los Angeles Dodgers
Again, we are doing this mostly for fun and pride and I am happy that a lot of people have gone along for the ride. Obviously many of the teams above have zero chance of winning (especially mine) so it is great that so many are in it to lose - and have fun.
Anyone else interested in joining can see the details here. Drop me a comment or email and I will get you in.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
After I wrote about a few Chicago focused-blogs I found through "Chicago" magazine Dan has been checking them out and now he is reading the sad, sad story of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) as chronicled in the CTA Tattler. Here are my thoughts on the CTA...
- I have been riding the CTA for about 15 years or so, on or off, since about 1990
- River North is a good location for the CTA because almost all of the rail lines (the "EL") connect nearby, including 1) the Red line north / south to the Cubs and White Sox 2) the Brown line north 3) the Blue line out to O'Hare 4) the Orange line out to Midway 5) the Green line (a backup for Sox games)
- The Red Line north to the Cubs is absolutely abominable. When I take it I run all the way to the far end of the platform and hope to squeeze in to the front car; virtually every other car at the Grand station will be completely packed with angry riders. The ride to the Cubs just crawls... you could probably walk faster in many cases
- The Red Line south to the White Sox is actually decent. There aren't as many commuters on it and the ones that get on do so south of Grand so you can get a seat and they have to stand
- The Brown Line is totally unreliable. You could die out there on the platform; unlike the Red Line (subway downtown) you are totally exposed to the elements (unless you get on at Merchandise Mart, which at least is enclosed mostly)
- The Blue Line to O'Hare is VERY slow. There are about 1 MILLION stops and the train just barely moves. It is often better than driving, however, because the Kennedy can be completely stuck for hours on end
- Buses are worse than the trains. The buses usually come in packs; you get zero for 1/2 hour and then 3 show up
- Some bus lines are just a joke, such as the north / south Damen bus line or the east / west Armitage line. Other buses are so slow that they aren't worth taking at all due to traffic
While I still take the CTA to non-essential Sox games, our relationship was broken one day when I got on the Metra station and left my wife waiting by a semi-isolated bus stop (there were other commuters there) in the freezing cold and while I was going to work I said to myself, that's not right, leaving her there to rely on the CTA. After that I drove her to work every day it was cold or remotely inclement outside and then we moved to where she and I could walk to work, which removed a ton of stress out of my life.
Not surprised. I usually take the #22/Clark bus from Devon to the Loop. We were so behind and so full today that I counted 6 stops where we had to leave people behind because there was simply no more room. They'd been waiting patiently in the freezing weather, and were told basically, "Sorry." And of course, neither the bus driver or the time checker guy over by the Golden Nugget knew what the problem was or when another bus would be coming--I heard them say as much. It was appalling.
This morning was miserable at the corner of Division and Ashland for anyone trying to get downtown. I failed to get on 2 #56 buses because they were so full the bus driver wouldn't open the door, and those who gave up waiting for the bus were faced with a 20 person long taxi line with no taxis in sight. And word came up from the subway that the trains were all too crowded to board as well. I got to work 40 minutes late this morning.There are others, but here is my favorite, italics mine:
I am about 2 more bad days away from quitting the CTA. I care about the environment. I care about the impact driving every day will have on the environment and how it will affect it have on the community. But I can't take this shit any more. And it's only getting worse.
Most of the time the saying goes that most liberal city dwellers are one mugging away from being a raving gun toting conservative. Looks like that saying may apply for environmentalists as well. One missed bus away from being an every day driver.
I simply cannot fathom living there and having to rely on the CTA for my transportation needs.
Radical stuff:- work with the city to actually block off lanes on busy streets for bike commuters so they don't feel like they're going to die (I'm thinking no parking on Lincoln or Clark on the rush hour side, with barricades or at least cones marking the bike area, same thing on LaSalle). Similar lanes could be created for buses.