Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Bears Still Suck

Just because beat writer Jason Wilde clearly doesn't get the culture and probably shouldn't hold that particular job.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Welcome to Wisconsin, Zack Greinke

I am thrilled about the Brewers' trade for Zack Greinke. While I love the Twins' model of constantly building from within, I don't think the Brewers gave up much. The fact is the Brewers farm system hasn't been outstanding for a few years and Escobar wasn't going to be the Major League hitter they had hoped. It pained me a touch to see a serviceable young center fielder and good pitching prospect go, but it was still a reasonable price to pay. Like the Sabathia trade, this will not pay off for the Royals. Since they won't get value for Prince Fielder in a trade, go for the gusto this year. If it doesn't work out, they have a lot of juicy bait approaching the trade deadline and next off season to restock the farm system with guys who should be ready in a couple of years. 2012 could be a lost year, though.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Your Next Swine Flu: C-diff

The story is sufficiently gross that I'm not going to excerpt it. Let's just say that the only cure might be a poop transplant. Yes, you read that right.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Barbers, America's Biggest Group of Sandbaggers

I love barbers. There is no place of business that doesn't serve alcohol where you'll find more frank conversation. But boy do they hate taxes. Oh, some of them may love them for others, but almost to a man they hate them for themselves. Which is why this throwaway fact amuses me so:
In 2009, the median salary for barbers in the U.S. was $24,160, only about 30.4 percent more than 1999's $18,530 (in nominal dollars), according to BLS data.

That, my friends, is some funny math. The article states that the median hair cut price is $13.18. So, if you assume that barbers work 50 weeks a year (2 weeks for vacation) and take about 10 holiday days, that means your average barber works 240 days a year. For that math to work out, it would mean that your average barber only does 7.63 haircuts a day. The three men who have cut my hair the most in my life all averaged their 8th haircut by about 1o am.

So what does that mean? Well, it means that your barber is paying taxes on all of those cash haircuts before noon. After that, Uncle Sam ceases to exist. And most seem to get away with this. More power to 'em.

The Return of 42

This is surreal. Can you even imagine Bush 43 turning over the Presidential podium to Bush 41?

Obama introduced Clinton lightly as "the other guy" and recalled how Clinton has overseen heady economic times. Obama warned that he wouldn't be staying long -- another White House Christmas party was waiting, as was his wife, Michelle.

And so it became clear pretty quickly that this was Clinton's show.

"I feel awkward being here, and now you're going to leave me all by myself," Clinton said from the stage of the White House briefing room.

Not that awkward.

Clinton comfortably outlined how the pending package of tax cuts, business incentives and unemployment benefits would boost the economy -- even though it included tax help for the wealthy that Obama had to swallow.

"There's never a perfect bipartisan bill in the eyes of a partisan," Clinton said. "But I really believe this will be a significant net-plus for the country."

Bill Clinton may have been a scuzz ball, but I'll give him this much: He was Presidential. That's more than I can say for The One.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Pray They Don't Sing

Political tone deafness is a contagious disease in Washington. The degree to which the Democrats are inflicted right now is amazing.

The frustration with President Barack Obama over his tax cut compromise was palpable and even profane at Thursday’s House Democratic Caucus meeting.

One unidentified lawmaker went so far as to mutter “f— the president” while Rep. Shelley Berkley was defending the package the president negotiated with Republicans. Berkley confirmed the incident, although she declined to name the specific lawmaker.

Tee hee. Keep thinking your far left base is representative of the "real America" kiddos. That election that just happened was just an anomaly...

Monday, December 06, 2010

A Hate Crime and the MediaThought

This has been gnawing at me for a couple of months now. The Wisconsin media has been referring to some crimes at University of Wisconsin system schools as hate crimes. Hate crimes are unique in that you have to know who committed the crime and why. In most of these crimes, the who and the why have not yet been determined. They appear to be hate crimes. They are supposedly committed by hateful whites/straights. Allegedly, all of them are 100% true reports. If I'm not mistaken, supposedly, allegedly, and appear are all AP Style Guide approved words when there is still any doubt about the crime. Yet I see none of the Wisconsin media using them.

“If You See Something, Say Something”

I don't even know where to begin on this.
DHS announced Monday that they've partnered up with Wal-Mart to push their "If you See Something, Say Something" campaign. More than 230 stores started playing cautionary videos on monitors in check-out lines Monday, reminding Wal-Mart "shoppers to contact local law enforcement to report suspicious activity." Another 588 stores in 27 states will join the program in the next few weeks. According to DHS, the "partnership between DHS and Walmart to help the American public play an active role in ensuring the safety and security of our nation."
Really? When did Wal-Marts become seething cauldron's of terrorism? Did the underwear bomber get his Fruit of the Looms from a Wally World?

I'm a bit alarmed by the directions DHS has headed under Big Sis. From the new TSA policies at the airports that respond not to future threats but the last failed one, to frothing up paranoia amongst Americans towards one another at the discount store, DHS is more than a little out of control. Maybe Saint Russ, opponent of the Patriot Act, could take his last stand for civil liberties here. But don't count on it.

First, they let TSA ogle the sexy people at airports, and I said nothing. Next, they let TSA feel up and grope your mom, and I said nothing. And then when the old lady greeter at Wal-Mart snapped on a dirty latex glove and ordered me to spread 'em, sonny, there was nobody left. :p

Sunday, December 05, 2010

No, sir, the die is cast

That editorial that I fisked below keeps bringing this scene from the movie Tombstone to my mind:

Doc Holliday: Way ahead of yourselves, aren't you, boys? This is just another mining camp.
Behan: Have you seen how everyone dresses? Awful tony for a mining camp. No, sir, the die is cast. We are growing. Be as big as San Francisco in a few years and just as sophisticated-
[He's interrupted by gunshots, men yelling, and a brief, but fatal, gunfight in the street mere feet from where they stand]
Doc Holliday: [smirking] Very cosmopolitan.
[Behan glares at him]

This isn't literal, and I'm not comparing Wisconsin to a boom-bust mining town. But often we are over optimistic about our home towns, out home states, and our home regions. I think that editorial is clear evidence of that.

Fisking A JS Train Editorial, or Shooting Fish in Barrel

I've started to ignore anything the Journal Sentinal says about the Madison-Milwaukee not quite so very high speed train because, let's face it, this thing is dead and anything they say isn't going to matter. I chose to read "The Disconnect on Connections," though, because the author promised to use Wisconsin's transportation history to show why this train makes sense, and that interests me because I've actually been pondering the history of passenger trains and trolleys in Wisconsin's moderate-sized to large cities and their death in the face of the automobile.

What I found in the editorial was disappointing. It wasn't grounded in reality, and it was desperate. I'm going to leave the first half of the story alone as it uses Wisconsin's history of investing in cutting edge transportation as a mechanism to make the reader assume that a not so very high speed train is cut of the same cloth. I'd like to dig into those last several paragraphs a little, though.

The idea seems oddly nostalgic at first - why build passenger trains in the 21st century? - but it actually fits an emerging settlement pattern. Not in my lifetime but perhaps in my grandchildren's, and for better or worse, an interconnected megalopolis will sprawl from Benton Harbor, Mich., to Minneapolis-St. Paul. As the empty spaces fill in, there will be a demand for some form of transport that's faster than cars but has more frequent stops (and fewer exasperating waits) than airplanes.

Indeed, why? The arguments from supporters have been far from compelling. The "cool kids are doing it" argument doesn't cut it. The facts on the ground are that the demographics of the entire line, whether it be from Milwaukee to Madison or Milwaukee to Minneapolis, in no way support a train. So a vision is painted for us of a megalopolis from Michigan to Minnesota that is just a couple of generations away. I'm sorry, but that should set off any reasonable person's BS meter.

Chicago to Milwaukee is a major metropolitan entity right now, but it is far from a megalopolis. Now I agree with some of the studies/papers out there that say a megalopolis will form along the coast of Lake Michigan over multiple, multiple generations. But we are no where close to that. And the idea of a Benton Harbor to Minneapolis megalopolis is absurd. If you've been to the Northeastern corridor in this country, you know what makes a megalopolis. If you've driven the vast rural expanses along I-90 and I-94 to Minneapolis, you know that there is no way this corridor can build up to that extent in the next 100 years. There may be no reason for that corridor to ever become that urban, but even if it eventually did, high speed rail would be a quaint, antique technology by then.

Don't believe it's happening? Consider the city of Jefferson, just south of I-94, which has gained population in recent years despite a steady loss of jobs. Once the trading center for a prosperous farm region, Jefferson has increasingly become a bedroom community for white-collar workers commuting to Madison or Milwaukee. We can expect more of the same in years to come.

What?! Has the author ever been to Jefferson? Ever? I've absolutely zero evidence of Jefferson drawing white collar residents. Where are they living, next to the closed golf course? There are three towns of similar size in the postage stamp sized corner of the world: Jefferson, Whitewater, and Fort Atkinson. I don't see any of the three cities becoming bedroom communities for the white collar workers of Madison and Milwaukee. When we bought our home, I hoped that the housing boom would last long enough for Fort Atkinson to become a bedroom community of Madison, but it did not happen. And I assure you, in this market, Jefferson isn't, either.

Not that this matters, because this entire corridor would need to be drawing new citizens from out of state for new white collar jobs that are sprouting across Madison and Milwaukee. That isn't happening. Even my hopes of this area becoming a bedroom community weren't pinned on the type of new growth that would be required to support this train line. It was built on the fact that the price of real estate and the high taxes of Milwaukee and Madison were driving people out of those counties in search of homes. Population redistribution in a region does not make a train more viable.

As the price of gasoline reaches European levels, climbing to $4, then $5, then $6 a gallon; as our freeways creep closer to gridlock without exorbitant public subsidies (think $810 million for the Marquette Interchange, the exact cost of the entire Milwaukee-Madison rail project); and as the economic linkages between Midwestern cities become more apparent - doesn't high-speed rail begin to make sense?

Trains do not exist in a vacuum. They are also not an energy neutral. The rise in petroleum prices push those with any kind of energy flexibility to other sources, thus pushing up the costs of those energies. In this case, most likely coal power, which the Obama administration would already like to make more expensive for you. Those increased costs must either be shoulder by riders, who would already be paying a princely sum to ride the train, or by the government, i.e., government subsidies in perpetuity.

I wouldn't expect the system to have much impact on the poverty of Milwaukee's central city, and it's no substitute for a sound county transit system, but there's no doubt that starting the high-speed line today would help to meet future regional needs.

Again, I point out that this is a generation M solution for a problem that will not likely be evident until generation R, S, T, or even later. And by that time, it will almost certainly be a technology that is hopelessly behind the times.

An earlier generation of Wisconsinites did precisely the same thing. When our ancestors committed themselves to railroads, they were taking a chance, but the gamble paid off handsomely. In 1883, Alexander Mitchell, Wisconsin's railroad king, spoke plainly about what would have happened to Milwaukee without first-rate rail connections: "If it had not been for the enterprise and public spirit and liberality of the citizens of Milwaukee, both individually and collectively, Milwaukee today might have been no larger than Manitowoc or Sheboygan."

They were taking personal financial risk, first of all, although governments mitigated that somewhat. And the riskiness of the bets didn't lay in the mode of transportation, it was in particular lines. That is a huge difference. There were riches to be had if you bet on the right line. In this case, there is no promise of the sort. In fact, the history of Amtrak would indicate that this would be a vortex of cash with very little tangible or intangible benefit.

It's not the money; it's the connections. If the $810 million allocated to Wisconsin goes elsewhere, if high-speed rail never becomes a reality in our state, if the main line passes us by to the south and west, might not future generations condemn our own lack of "enterprise and public spirit"? Can we afford not to take the chance? Is that a bet Scott Walker really wants to make?

It certainly could go south and west, but it makes the line even less viable. Do you know how long it would take a not so very high speed train to travel from Chicago to Rockford to Iowa and up to Minneapolis, with all of the attendant stops in between? If you don't, try to brush up on your Pythagorean theorem. The mini legs between Town X, IL, and Chicago and Town Y, MN, and Minneapolis would make sense, but the much larger rider potential between the people of the Chicago Metro and the Twin Cities Metro would not because both air travel and automobile travel would be more efficient. Plus the line would bypass the two largest metros along the way, ceding valuable ridership. This train has to travel through Wisconsin to make any sense, and we can afford to wait for several generations. In fact, doing so might reward us with even better technology if and when the time comes that it does make sense. And with all the growth, assuming it actually occurs, the country would be much more able to afford it.

(Update 11:27: Now with linky goodness.)

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Trains, A Christmas Story

"Daddy, I want a train set for Christmas."

"What, son?"

"I want a train set. Trains are cool."

"Really? A train set? I think your grandpa wanted one once upon a time, too. Even got me one for Christmas once. It was kinda cool, I guess, but you realize it just goes over the same path over and over and over again, right?"

"I don't care. They're cool."

"They're pretty expensive, too. And daddy lost his job this year. This would be very difficult for us to pull off, son. Are you sure you want a toy that doesn't really do much outside of speed along the same track over and over again? "

"Daddy! Trains are cool. I WANT ONE!!!"

"Okay, bud. I get that. But why?"

"Because trains are cool, dad."

"Wouldn't you want something that you can be really flexible when playing with? Maybe a really nice Hot Wheels set? Or even a video game?"

"No, daddy! I want a train!"

"But why, son?"

"Because they are cool. Billy has one. And so does Sam."

"But son, will you actually play with it?"

"Umm, who said anything about playing with it, daddy? I want one because the cool kids have 'em."

"You aren't going to play with it if we sacrifice and maybe dip into your college fund to buy it, are you?"

"Daddy! Of course I will. But what's really important is that I can brag to Jimmy and Joe that I'm just like Billy and Sam."

"Son, I think that's good enough for me. You're getting a Hot Wheels set for Christmas."

Twilight Zone, Milwaukee Style

This sounds very weird.

For eight years, each man was the other's main political foil.

But in a joint interview, Milwaukee County Executive and Governor-elect Scott Walker and County Board Chairman Lee Holloway sound more like old buddies than frequent adversaries.

Their differences have been overblown, says Walker, who tells Holloway they accomplished a lot and that at least when Holloway disagreed he would come right out with his criticism.

If I remember, I'm going to be listening to this Sunday night because I am baffled. While it might make sense when it comes to future votes to make friends with Lee Holloway, on a moral plane I don't think I could personally have a buddy-buddy with a slumlord, no matter how much power he wields in Milwaukee.