Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sports Rivalries

There is nothing that I like more than the start of baseball season. It starts for me around this time of year, once the teams have reported to Spring Training. Usually we get a break or two in the weather. Not alot, but just enough to tease you into leaving that heavy coat at home. To break out the baseball cap and lighter jacket. Sunshine! Ahhh. Have to love it.

For those like myself who are baseball afficionados, it signifies the start of a new season. Hope springs eternal for each of Chicago's teams. Now I'm not your average Chicago baseball fan. Having lived away from home for a few years, I learned to support my Chicago teams. To add to the anomaly, I grew up on the Southside and was schooled on the North side so I learned to appreciate both teams. But one thing is for certain, when push comes to shove there is nothing better than the old Cross town rivalry. All things being equal, I'll cheer the Cubs on, unless they are playing my Sox. If the Cubs were playing say, the Oakland A's, I would be cheering for the Cubbies. But when it's cross-town time- GO SOX.

One thing I found quite perplexing during the 2005 World Series run was how there were so many bitter Cubs fans cheering for the Astros. What the heck? What city do you live in? For the life of me, I will never understand it. I guess in a city that wears their politics on the shirt sleeves. Baseball is one more show of partisanship. Ce'st La Vie, I guess.

With that being said, I have my opening day tickets ready. I'll be cheering for the SOX. Come June 16-18 and 26-28 though, ALL bets are off. Cubbies fans, I feel your pain. 101 years is a looong time. Hopefully your day will come soon.
For now, put last year's catastrophic choke in the past and try to look forward. Perhaps the headlines will be different for you this October- Perhaps not.
I Can't wait for the sunshine, the peanuts, the beer and baseball!
Talking baseball smack and loving Chicago in the summer.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Do We have it all wrong?

As a small-business owner, it seems almost futile these days to be working so hard and getting what would be seemingly very little in return. It's a sentiment that is becoming common among those of us that have taken the risk to pursue our dreams and become our own boss. We are getting it from the banks on one end, a lack of consumer confidence on the other. All the while, our politicians and the media seem content on scaring the living daylights out of everyone.

At times, you start to wonder Why? Why do I put myself through this? I started to suspect that might be the case last year when I first read our president's blueprint for change. When I started to dig into his positions on various issues, I saw a clearcut pattern. The more I heard him speak to address the issues, the more it convinced me. His administration had a total disregard for small-business. A move in the government to take care of the 'have nots' by taking from the 'haves'.

All the while, forgetting that there is a large chunk of us who fall into the middle category. 'In transition', 'middle-America', call it what you want an area often overlooked by politicians. Now before you brand me 'elitist' I think you need to know where I came from. I came from nothing. I was born to working class parents who raised me with a strong work ethic and a focus on making my own path in the world. Not having all the entrapments of the 'priveleged' I respect those who are less fortunate. I see the benefit in helping those who need it. Often though, what happens when we get a left leaning adminstration in office is we go 'overboard as a country'. Our government has a history of giving all with no accountability. No timeline. No plan on how the less fortunate can regain some pride and climb out of the abyss known as welfare, to become productive contributing citizens.

As a small business owner, I don't quite fall into the category of 'a large corporation' or that of being destitute. I get to eat what I hunt and kill. Therefore, I am always hunting. I have worked hard for everything I have and have not been 'given' anything. Having been raised in a union-backed, democratic household, I see the benefits that unions have had for the working class. They played a strong role in the equalization of the labor force at the turn of the 20th century in our country. They served to level the playing field. If it weren't for the steel worker's retiree benefits, my dad would not have the great pension and healthcare benefits he has today.

On the flipside, I am not so 'over the top' and pro-union that I fail to see how unions have also exploited the workers. They have negotiated with their best interest (the union organizers) in mind at times and not necessarily those of the workers. Failing to yield to salary or benefit concessions be it for principle or cause has sometimes led to a companies management making the decision to shutter a plant and take their operations off-shore, accross the border or to a state that is more 'business friendly'. Unions have caused the price of the American laborer to skyrocket. So much that all profitability is removed from business. To regain this profitability, American companies have had to look elsewhere for less expensive labor to manufacture their products.

I'm not so pro-capitalism that I think ethics should be thrown out the window for the sake of profits. Greed is what is killing our country. At all ends: labor and management. Management needs to be fair and ethical with their employees. Labor needs to understand that sometimes you have to give to get and continue getting.

When my business partner and I started KYS, our goal was to be able to afford benefits similiar to what we had in Corporate America for our employees. IRA plans, healthcare benefits, PTO, fair and safe working conditions. The way we saw it, it's ethical business 101. I understand that not ALL companies operate that way. Organized labor's arguement is that they serve the purpose of being the 'conscience' on behalf of labor with management. To ensure that the right thing is done.

I digressed to further impact my point that I feel our country is taking a turn that will hurt economic growth in the long run. Mandated healthcare, 'the card check' bill among many other plans in place will hurt is in the long-run. On top of that, When you look at the stimulus plan that was just passed, It is $739B ,of which approximately 80% of it will go back to the unions that helped get Obama in office. It will go to repay the $450M that they invested in him. If you break it down, that's approximately $1573 they will receive in return for every dollar they spent in campaign contributions. So in fact the decision on the stimulus plan was made 'with all the American public in mind' but it will most benefit the 7.6% (percentage of unionized labor). Great return on investment if you ask me. The appointment of Hilda Solis as the labor secretary furthers the direction that our country will take. One that is pro-labor /anti-business. A short sided vision because you can't have one without the other.

I have paid into a system of social security and workman's compensation for the sixteen years of my employment in corporate america. Here's a scenario to help illustrate my point: "If my business where to fail to thrive this year for whichever reason, there is not a single benefit as a self-employed person in America in Mr. Obama's stimulus plan for me. I have no bailout. Perhaps organized business is a route to take. Demanding more from our elected officials who love us because they can tax and fee us to no end. We are the first to be demonized when labor has a gripe. What many people forget is that most of our large corporations started as small mom and pop companies. The Abbott Laboratories, the Johnson and Johnson and The Ford Motor Company as examples. As they grew, they were able to employ more and more people. Giving them the means to a better future. The risk was squarely on the shoulders of the company's founders and I am sure, like myself they were reminded daily of that risk especially during trying times.

The enclosed passage on primate research caught my eye because is spoke to the plight of the average Joe. The worker 'Bee' who is either motivated or not based on what he is being incented with. The perception of inequity as a primal instinct. The author takes it one step further and makes the connection to bailouts and the lack of motivation. The topic of the day.

I'll take it even one step further than that, to the perspective of the small business owner. Sometimes, it feels like we live in the land of cucumbers and the elected officials live in the land of grapes. They make decisions that disfavor small business- but want us to be around to employ.

The questions I have for Pres. Obama, Mr. Reid, Ms. Pelosi and the other members of our democratic congressional caucus is that while you are making your decisions for the Average American, you forget that you have NO risk at all. You make your decisions, pass your bills, make your laws, issue your mandates. When your term is done you are either re-elected or not. Either way, your government pension and benefits are locked in for life. Regardless of the quality of job done. No Risk! None at all. So don't tell me for one minute that you understand what it is like down here in the land of cucumbers. You haven't a clue. As a small business owner, I have it all on the line. Sink or swim it's on my shoulders. My employee's livelihood. Their families, those of my busines partner. I carry it all on my back. So my question is very simple:

Where is my bailout? Where is my stimulus?

------- to see the original article click on the link embedded in the title below----

Even chimps know when they're not getting paid enough

"10:47 a.m. Tsouderos: Frans de Waal is a primatologist and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Center at Emory University in Atlanta, and he's one of the funniest and most engaging speakers I have seen in my four days here. If you ever get a chance to see him speak, don't hesitate to go.
His talk this morning centered around whether morality is uniquely human or something shared by other animals, in particular chimps and apes and even elephants and dolphins.
De Waal believes other animals are capable of empathy and sympathy and consolation and other behaviors that add up to morality, and he has devised numerous experiments to test that.One, in particular, got a good laugh from the audience, which numbered in the hundreds on this last day of the conference.De Waals put two chimps in two different cages, situated side by side. The chimps were able to see each other. Then, a grad student had each chimp do a simple task in exchange for a reward.In the first trial, the student gave each chimp a piece of cucumber as the reward. Both chimps did the task virtually every time for the cucumber. They refused just 5 percent of the time.But what happens when one chimp gets a cucumber but the other gets a grape -- for doing the same task? The cucumber chimp gets mad. He starts refusing to do the task. He chucks the cucumber out of the cage. He sits in the corner, stewing. Well over half of the time, he refuses to do the task.And what happens when one chimp gets a grape for doing NOTHING while the other chimp gets a piece of cucumber for doing the task? Both chimps begin refusing to do the task at all.De Waals said the chimps' reactions, which happened each time the experiment was run, show chimps have a sense of fairness, of envy, of inequity.It's a feeling that is familiar to many these days, as people express resentment and anger toward enormous bank bailouts (and bonuses for those bankers) in a time in which so many are losing their homes and jobs.As De Waals put it, "we live in cucumber-land and they live in grape-land."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Beef and Guinness Stew


Chef Darina Allen of Ballymaloe Cooking School - County Cork, IrelandAdapted by StarChefs Guinness, Ireland's famous black stout, has been brewed in Dublin since 1759.

It has a very special place in Irish life. In Dublin Tenement Life: An Oral History, publican John O'Dwyer recalls the importance of stout in the lives of the poorest tenement dwellers in Dublin: They had nothing. They lived for pints. Drink was the main diet. It was food... they used to call the pint the 'liquid food'.Nowadays the 'liquid food' is used increasingly in cooking. It is a tasty addition to stews and casseroles, helping to tenderize the meat and imparting its distinctive malty flavor to any dish. This recipe makes a wonderful gusty stew which tastes even better a day or two after it is made.Yield: 6-8 servings

2 lb lean stewing beef (I've also used Venison
3 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons flour
salt and freshly ground pepper and a pinch of cayenne
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed (optional)
2 tablespoons tomato puree, dissolved in 4 tablespoons water
1 1/4 cups Guinness
2 cups carrots, cut into chunks
sprig of thyme

Method:Trim the meat of any fat or gristle, cut into cubes of 2 inches (5cm) and toss them in a bowl with 1 tablespoon oil. Season the flour with salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch or two of cayenne. Toss the meat in the mixture. Heat the remaining oil in a wide frying pan over a high heat. Brown the meat on all sides. Add the onions, crushed garlic and tomato puree to the pan, cover and cook gently for about 5 minutes. Transfer the contents of the pan to a casserole, and pour some of the Guinness into the frying pan. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the caramelized meat juices on the pan. Pour onto the meat with the remaining Guinness; add the carrots and the thyme. Stir, taste, and add a little more salt if necessary. Cover with the lid of the casserole and simmer very gently until the meat is tender - 2 to 3 hours. The stew may be cooked on top of the stove or in a low oven at 300 degrees F. Taste and correct the seasoning. Scatter with lots of chopped parsley.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Our State of Consciousness

My wife and I have been working on getting our youngest daughter Sarah out of our bed and into her crib for the past month. At six months, she is long over due. While I admit, we've been doing a poor job of it, it has also not been easy. It started out as a matter of mommy's choice since Sarah was being breast-fed. Being that we both have our careers, it was sort of rough on mommy to get up for the two o'clock or three o'clock feedings. It's so much easier to just roll over and do the deed.

As of late, it has really started to get tough. I never thought that a little two foot tall person could take up so much space in the bed. I've awakened with a stiff neck, sore back all from trying to fit into my little piece of the mattress. I can't remember the last time I had some decent REM sleep. Between the assortment of ideas and thoughts running through my head and my current mattress concessions, it's hard to string together a full night's sleep.

So we started the migration process. We renewed our commitment to evicting our little one from from the bed two nights ago. We reluctantly sang victory after the first night as our little one was able to sleep a majority of the night in her own crib. She cried a little at first but quickly went to sleep. Sonia swore that the baby was staring her down with a very serious face the next morning. Almost if to say "You guys got away with last night, wait till tonight". I dismissed Sonia's perception as her reading too much into Sarah's expressions. She did appear to be very solemn and not her usual happy morning self.

Last night was a different story. We battled it out for two hours straight. Fifteen minutes at a time. She would fall asleep in our arms and start yelling the minute she touched her crib's mattress. This went on for about four hours before we finally gave in. Sonia summoned me to get her and bring 'my daughter' back to the bed. The minute Sarah touched down on our bed, she smiled. She looked over to Sonia with a grin and stuck her tongue out as if to say "I won ah-ha".

Sonia and I couldn't help but think how she must clearly know what she is doing. I've read my share of child development books and all state that our conciousness starts early in our infancy. As our brains develop, they start to record. Much of what we record goes into our unconcious state of being. The human version of what ROM is to a computer. These experiences are stored deep, never to be accessed. They start to shape our catalog of what things feel like, what they smell like, wether it was a pleasant or not so pleasant experience.

The personality starts to develop sometime around our fourth to fifth month of life. It is then when babies start to coo back, smile at their parents and the child parent relationship is a bit more mutual. Sarah is at that stage, from what I can tell, she is very jovial (smiles at everyone) and a bit intense. She is not shy and will stare most strangers down, only to win them over with a smile. She has been nicknamed 'the welcome wagon' by her daycare taker Ms. Peggy. Mostly because of the fact that everyone gets one of her smiles when they walk into her room.

But it really got me to thinking, I wonder if Sarah is fully aware that she is 'gaming' Mommy and Daddy. She must be. That little smirk tells me she knows alot more than we think she does. That little stinker.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Quality over Quantity?

The recent story of Nadya Suleman, the single unemployed woman from California has gone from a noticeable oddity to outrage. Ms. Suleman is unique not so much because she recently gave birth to premie Octoplets for which she had been artificially inseminated, but because of her 'preexisting' family situation. You see Suleman already has six children under the age of eight at home. Three of those children have developmental disorders. She is a single mom, in debt, unemployed, receiving food stamps and still wanted to have eight more children (through fertilization) to bring the family total to fourteen. Yes, fourteen children under the age of eight. Eight of which will require special attention and care once they are released from the hospital.

Having two children at home under the age of three, I found this unfathomable. As a parent, I view children as a true blessing. One that helps you grow as a person and challenges you daily. I can't start to remember the days of being childless as the happy moments of parenthood have added an even deeper meaning to my life.

When I saw the interview with NBC's Ann Curry my jaw dropped. You see it's timely because my wife and I have been discussing possible timing around a third child. (Not seriously, as we can't seem to find the time to manage the two that we have.) In that same thought, I catch myself saying "I have two, she has fourteen kids!" I can't start to imagine the chaos that will be. How will she care for them by herself? How will she feed them with no job? What will the quality of her interactions be with the children? What possible overall quality of life can those children possibly get?

Giving birth to children is the easy part (relatively speaking). Raising them and educating them in today's society is the real challenge. One that has Sonia and I really thinking if we can handle a third.

For us, the financial consideration is part of the decision process, but quality of care and education is higher in priority. It is estimated that you will spend greater than $15,000.00 in the first year alone for a child. The costs are staggering. So for eight that would be $120,000! Current medical bills are estimated at $500,000 and the babies are no where near ready to be released. It is estimated that the total hospital bill will be well over $1M. Factor in neonatal care due to their premie status, incidentals and you are looking at well over $1.2M dollars! Given Ms. Suleman's unemployed status, it means that the State of California will bear the costs through medi-Cal.

Suleman's situation furthers the sense of irresponsibility in our country. The mindset of "I'll do what I want and worry about the consequences later". A mindset furthered by liberal administrations that foster welfare programs with no accountability. While I don't condone the threats and hateful mail that she has received from individuals unsympathetic to her plight, you have to wonder 'what in the heck was she thinking?' It furthers the divide that exists in our country where civil libertarians would argue in favor of Women's rights. But here is where my radical thinking comes in, If she is on welfare, is unemployed and has no financial means of supporting the children- what business does she have giving birth to eight more? To fulfill her own personal selfish needs? What about the children's needs?

Prayers are with her in the daunting task that lies ahead of her. Society will either be the better or the worst because of her decision.


Octuplet's Mom- 'Everything I do revolves around my Children'- Mike Celizic-NBC

Baby Center- Child Cost Calculator.