Sunday, November 30, 2008

BurgerFest-O-Rama #2 - Miller's Bar

It is with some amount of trepidation that I attempt to assess experience #2 of BurgerFest-O-Rama, sponsored by Lipitor (note: BurgerFest-O-Rama not in any way affiliated with Lipitor). For outing #2, our merry burger-eating crew decided to take on the venerable (not vulnerable as I originally wrote) Miller's Bar in Dearborn. The reason for the trepidation is that Miller's Bar is well-known and highly-respected in burger circles; in fact, GQ columnist Alan Richman named it one of "America's 20 Best Burgers" and this list was featured and discussed on an episode of Oprah. Miller's is also the first burger mentioned in The Free Press' list. All of this leads to an intimidating burger experience, where it felt before even trying the burger, that our subjective conclusions would be certain to upset someone, somewhere on either side of the Miller's fence. I have also wanted to try a burger from Miller's for some time, but it has always been hard to convince myself that it was worth the 30 minute drive for a hunk of cow patootie - that is, without the great momentum behind BurgerFest-O-Rama (if you look closely, Steve is editorializing in the photo. I'm like a Highlights Magazine).
Last evening, our group expanded beyond Maureen and myself to include my brother (Steve), parents (Bob and Karen), and next door neighbors Sue, Stan, and Melissa J. At this rate of increasing attendance, we will have 512 people with us by outing #5. I am single-handedly going to save the economy. We got to Miller's close to 7:30pm and were greeted by a seemingly-lengthy line immediately inside of the door. This was one of those situations that you sometimes experience at eateries where you have no idea what it is that you are supposed to do to grab a table and order some grub. There was no name-taker at the door, no written instructions, no easily-accessible person to describe the process. There are other places around like Zingerman's in Ann Arbor that are very difficult for first-time eaters. I generally do not like to eat at places where the restaurant is too confusing for me because it makes me feel bad about myself. The system pretty much turned out to be wait in line and then when you get near the ambiguous "front" someone directs you toward a table. The problem with the line is that it is in a narrow hallway and the waitresses (who were all oddly wearing denim skirts) are running back and forth in the hallway and kept needing me to move my larger-than-average sized body. Here are a bunch of inside shots in a beautiful mosaic (clockwise from upper left, Miller's interior, my dad and Mrs. J, parents' booth, burger station).

Once you get seated, you have the following dining options: hamburger, cheeseburger (Velveeta or Swiss), fries, onion rings, beer (from bottles), soda (from cans), and bottled water. There are no menus, plates, or silverware at Miller's as far as we could tell. You place your order, consume your food, and then walk up to the cash register where you tell them what you ordered and pay only cash. It is an honors system in the most traditional sense, and I wonder how often they get burned for this approach. Now on to the food...My table ordered 1 medium hamburger, 1 medium cheeseburger, 2 medium-well cheeseburgers, three orders of onion rings, one order of fries, and 2 sodas (Steve and I have general objections to ordering non-refillable soda or paying for water). The burgers come with nothing on them but the meat and/or cheese, and they put some raw onion, pickles, ketchup, and mustard on your table as potential additions. Our feast:

Before I go into the food itself, I'd like to say that many people who have eaten here really seem to appreciate the Miller's "experience" and I think that this positively affects their appreciation of the food. They love that their only options are burgers and fried-goods, that there are no plates or modern civilities of any variety, and payment is all on an honor system. You go here because you want a burger, and everyone who goes with you also has no choice but to eat a burger. I get that Miller's does not offer toppings or variety because that is what they do.

Pros: I had no idea I would like Velveeta on a burger this much, simplicity of the product (no tomato, lettuce) really let the purity of burger shine, girls thought the meat was very juicy (boys less so), adults thought the beers were colder than your average beer, American institution, unassuming atmosphere, quick-moving line, tasted like I would expect an exceptional burger off of a home grill would taste

Cons: inconsistent cooking (medium burgers at our table to medium-well, medium-well closer to well resulting in some dryness), some topping options would have been appreciated by some, Maureen and Melissa had some type of floating lard in their soda glasses, some hard chunks of gristle in my burger, not enough "crisp" on onion rings and fries, no free beverage whatsoever

This series of reviews is mostly about the burgers, but also a little bit about the dining experience. With some higher dissenting opinions (my mom thought the burger was going to be her new standard for quality comparison and probably a 3 Hamburglar), I think we decided that the Miller's Bar burger will forever be known as:
Keep in mind, 2 Hamburglars is quite good on my scale. The problem I had is with the inconsistency of the product. If you want to crack into the upper echelons of the scale, you have to bring your "A" game every single time - or at least when you serve my table. Overcooking of a burger, while still quite good, is still overcooking of a burger. Adding in the hard chunks in my burger, the floating lard in the glasses, and the initially confusing seating process pushes Miller's firmly into the 2 category in my mind. I am not a picky eater or picky person (I am happy to eat a cookie I find on the ground or floor), but some things are hard to overlook. I think another way to think of the score is thusly: Even though the meal was delicious, I (and most of my party) would not be inclined to drive the 30 minutes necessary to eat a Miller's burger. This alone probably keeps them from reaching that coveted 3 or 4 Hamburglar status.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Works on Contingency?

I was originally going to name this post "What? A Satirist?" and that would be incredibly clever on so many levels. Since I can't find clips of The Simpsons on YouTube (stupid copyrights), I'll have to type out the dialog explaining why I am so clever, thereby making the reference far less enjoyable for you.

Lionel Hutz: All right, gentlemen, I'll take your case. But I'm going to have to ask for a thousand-dollar retainer.
Bart: A thousand dollars? But your ad says "No money down".
Lionel Hutz: Oh! They got this all screwed up... (makes a few corrections) "Works on contingency basis? No, money down!"
Bart: So you don't work on a contingency basis?
Lionel Hutz: No, money down! Oops, it shouldn't have this Bar Association logo here either. (Rips off Bar Association logo, swallows it)

On my daily internet prowl, I came across this post, written by someone who claims his name is Tom Barlow. Alternatively, I was considering naming this post "Satire, thy Name is Tom Barlow". One of the best things about blogging is that if you do not have the time to come up with your own original material for a day, you can always poke fun at someone who put in some amount of time and effort. The internet is mean.

I know most people probably won't actually click on the link I provided, so here it is in all of its hilarious hilarity. No, I have not altered this in any way to make it appear less funny.

How Obama could save Detroit, jobs, and stimulate the economy

As President-elect Obama looks for ways to save our economy, I'd like to humbly suggest he consider taking a page out of Oprah Winfrey's play book by offering an 'Everybody Gets a Chevy!" economic stimulus plan.

The measure, which would put a new American-built car or truck in every American driveway, would put GM back on its feet, send thousands of GM employees back to work and free up consumer cash for other necessities such as conversion kits and spinner hubcaps. And the cost? What's a few trillion among friends?

I'm undecided about whether Americans should have the opportunity to pick out the model and accessory packages of their free car. Put me down for a 'Vette, though. A red one.

And yes, this is satire.


On this Thanksgiving Eve, I am most thankful that he told me that this article was satire directly within the article, otherwise I would still be trying to figure out what I read. I find that people think I am most funny when I have to explain what it is that I'm going for. My thought process jumped from "Is he being serious?" to "Is he being funny?" to "this is the least funny thing I have ever read" to "Ohhhhhh, I see, it's satire. Priceless." Maybe it is satirical because of the Oprah reference? or possibly because he would like a red corvette? Maybe he and I are working off of a different definition of satire, where my definition includes the phrase "doesn't suck" and his definition of satire includes the phrase "really, really sucks".

And yes, this is satire of satire. Count it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

For Those Who Love Thanksgiving and Depressed Children

As your daily programming note, I thought I would let everyone know that tonight at 8pm EST, ABC is airing A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. I love Charlie Brown and the whole Charlie Brown universe. Maureen has never really enjoyed Charlie Brown and the gang, and when I asked her why, she said that all the kids always seemed depressed. Upon further reflection, I think she's largely correct in this regard. I'm not sure why I'm attracted to watch the Charlie Brown holiday specials whenever I can catch them, but they really put me in the holiday spirit.

Here's an un-fun fact for the day - Vince Guaraldi, the amazing jazz musician who wrote the music for 16 Charlie Brown television specials as well as the much-loved Linus and Lucy theme, died at the young age of 47 in 1976. Earlier that day, he had just finished recording the soundtrack for It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown. That is a bummer, and probably explains why It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown did not become a smash success. I also have a Vince Guaraldi song called Skating as my ringtone set up for when my co-workers call me. It puts me in an incredibly pleasant mood.

In conclusion, watch Charlie Brown, listen to Vince Guaraldi, and avoid Arbor Day at all costs.

Jim Tressel - a.k.a Bracing for Your Anger

Saturday, The University of Michigan was soundly defeated for the ninth unfortunate time this season. This one stings a little differently than the rest (I don't know if I would say "worse" - we did lose to Toledo) because of the larger rivalry implications with Ohio State University. The game was characteristically ugly and, yet again, Michigan was beaten soundly by a clearly superior football product. There is little/nothing positive to find in the game and...on top of that, there are not many reasons to expect any sort of different outcome for the season next year. With all of the other painful things going on right now, Michigan football would be a great outlet and place into which we can funnel our pride until there is something else on which we can hang our hats. As I have stated before, I went to Michigan for my undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering, and I went to every home game (except maybe a couple) between 2000 and 2007. I would say that I place myself in the "big fan" category when it comes to Michigan football. Having said all that, I would like to think that I have a historical and contemporary perspective of the Michigan/OSU rivalry and I feel the appropriate amount of contempt toward Ohio State in this regard.

The one thing that I have never entirely been able to understand since 2001, when Jim Tressel was hired to replace John Cooper at Ohio State, is the extreme contempt and hatred that Michigan fans feel for Jimbo. The only reason I could mostly understand is that Jim Tressel has had great success in the NCAA as a whole, but particularly against UM, and therefore, people hate that he has dominated us so consistently since his hiring. Other people may hate his sweater vest/tie combo, but I think a coach should be recognized when he values the necessary fashion requirements of a college football sideline.

I know I risk a tiny mutiny when I say this, but I have no problem with Jim Tressel. In fact, there is a chance I kind of like him as a person. Over the last couple of years when OSU has really taken it to UM, he has been nothing but complimentary and polite in his words when referring to both the less-talented Michigan squad and the rivalry itself. Even though OSU stuck it to Michigan this weekend quite badly, the first thing Jim said in his on-the-field interview was that Michigan played hard, did not give up, and the game was much more difficult than the final score might indicate. Most coaches would say the politically correct things in this situation as he did, but in this level of historical rivalry, almost no one would fault him if he decided to send a small zinger toward Michigan to build momentum toward next year's game: he just crushed them and they had a ridiculously terrible season with no bowl game of which to speak. As far as I can remember, I can't remember a single negative thing I have heard him say or read about him.

It is entirely possible that I am overlooking an old story about him being an evil person or some terrible thing he has said about Michigan, and if this is the case, please send the link my way. I don't want to like the man, but I can't seem to find a reason to dislike him. Any other reasons I'm missing? It is your job, world, to convince me that Jim Tressel is the worst thing since unsliced bread.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Awesome Power of Lynn D.

No one likes a whiner, and when it comes to trying to convince people to read my blog, I am a world-class whiner. However, I would like to take just a moment to thank my sister's friend from high school, Lynn, who linked to my post "Why Everyone Hates Us" in her Facebook page yesterday. Largely because of her doing this, I was able to accumulate my highest readership to-date for a single day, and I am very thankful for that. My ultimate goal is to one day work my way to 100 unique readers/day, and if I can sell my soul to the devil to get to that plateau, maybe I can set my sights on 1,000/day.

It seems like it might be dumb to thank anyone when you are as stunningly insignificant as I am, but it is heartwarming to know that some people are reading, commenting on, and hopefully enjoying my writing. I would also like to give a special thanks to Dan A. for posting a link to my blog on his MySpace page, Nick B. for linking through to me on his blog, GreatLakesGuru for keeping a feed of my updates in his sidebar, and anyone else who has left a comment. I have to read every one.

Trying to build something requires a few necessary components. First, what appears in this space has to be worthy of reading. Second, I need to bug family and friends about checking out my blog until they are absolutely sick of me. Third, and perhaps most importantly, if you do enjoy what I write and agree or disagree with my point of view and purpose, I could not appreciate anything more than you linking to a post of mine here or there, posting one of my articles on your Facebook page and exposing me to your network of friends, or, at the very least, not throwing rotten food at me when you see me on the street. Seriously, please, stop with the rotten food.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

BurgerFest-O-Rama #1 - Bagger Dave's

And so begins the most significant and important quest of my lifetime - specifically, eating far more burgers than any reasonable person should intend to eat. During the 3rd quarter of the Michigan/OSU game, I decided that I had enough of watching the destruction of 100+ years of history and Maureen and I determined that today would be a great day to begin my quest to eat as many of the burgers called out in The Detroit Free Press as possible. Maureen lives out in Ann Arbor and the list focuses primarily on metro-Detroit burger spots, but I was able to manipulate the list ever-so-slighty. One of the burgers specified in the "Other Burgers Not To Miss Section" is from a relatively new restaurant on the Michigan scene called Bagger Dave's. The first of their restaurants opened in Berkley in, I don't know, let's say 2006. At the end of August of this year, they opened their second restaurant in Ann Arbor on Eisenhower Parkway. Even though the Berkley location is specified in the Freep's list, I am making up my own rules for my burger eating and felt that the Ann Arbor location would give me an appropriate understanding of their burger quality (or, possibly, lack thereof). Because this was the start of my adventure, Maureen took a photo of me outside of the dining establishment. Because I'm wearing gloves, you may think that I have my two least-appropriate fingers in the air. I assure you that this is not the case, and rather my index fingers are pointing at the sign with nervous and hungry anticipation. I promise.
Bagger Dave's name comes from the fact that they serve all of their burgers in these paper sleeves. The inside of the restaurant was quite clean and pleasant and had an unexpected kind of dark wood feel to it. The only weird thing is that some of the seating booths aren't exactly connected to the ground, so if you are sharing an opposing side of the booth with a person of heft, you may find yourself unexpectedly moving about on occasion. Bagger Dave's also has a functional toy engine train running around the top of the store. We did not see any crashes of the train, so I am pretty sure that they have a no text messaging rule for the train operators. Here's a picture of the train (speeding at a blur of bad photo-taking by me in the top of the frame) with Maureen.
Finally, time for some burgers. Because this is my first burger post, I am going to try to give a quick breakdown of the rating scale that Maureen and I determined with corroboration from my brother, Steve. Because I love even the crappiest of burgers, we have a slightly different scale than most may naturally assume, but I believe it will serve the necessary purpose. The scale is as such:

0 Hamburglars - Edible and enjoyable, but not altogether great burger. Think McDonald's original hamburger as the baseline for 0 Hamburglars.

1 Hamburglar - officially determined as "good" but not life-changing. Again using fast food guide, a 1 is probably closer to a Whopper. I would eat a Whopper any day of the week, but we're working on eating Metro Detroit's "Best Burgers"

2 Hamburglars - "Very good", as in "that was better than a Whopper but I'm sure better is out there"

3 Hamburglars - "Excellent", you would not kill for an excellent burger, but perhaps you would be willing to maim

4 Hamburglars - "The Best", while "the best" normally refers to the one to rule them all, we are going to allow a few of "The Bests" for the purposes of this quest because at a certain point, it becomes impossible to enhance a burger to further greatness. Otherwise, you are eating a burger in heaven.

Maureen ordered a "Create Your Own Legend Burger" with mozzarella, tomatoes, grilled onions, romaine lettuce, and one 3.5 oz beef patty (someone in the kitchen was feeling quite kind and provided her with two 3.5 oz patties, +1 for Bagger Dave's) and a sesame bun with a side of fries. I ordered the "Trainwreck Burger" as the most expensive item on the menu (at $6.99), and a burger I felt most adequately represented what might make Bagger Dave's special. This burger consisted of two beef patties, super sharp cheddar, grilled onions, sauteed mushrooms, iceberg lettuce, mayo, fries, and an egg - all on the burger. All burgers are cooked to medium-well, -1 for Bagger Dave's if you are the kind of person who likes to consume actually red meat.
Pros: Quality meat (never frozen), fantastic buns (I highly recommend the "Plain Bun", it tasted like it came from a bakery), relatively inexpensive for the quality of the meat experience, large circumference straws (highly appreciated by Maureen), good but slightly weird fries (they actually tasted like potato), onions neither under nor over-grilled, filled me up for $7 - and that is hard to do.

Cons: Inconsistent lettuce application - my lettuce pieces were chopped oddly, small, and kept falling out of the burger. Maureen's lettuce piece was under the meat which kind of cooked the lettuce and made it soft and wilted. Mushroom distribution uneven, if I did have cheddar on my burger as promised, I definitely didn't notice it was "super sharp", only five total fries included in the Trainwreck Burger. I imagined them piled high and smashed under the bun in potato-ey/meaty harmony, fries do not come with burger order

Based on the newly-devised Hamburglar scale, we rate Bagger Dave's:
I am very comfortable declaring this a 2 Hamburglar "Best Burger" dining experience. The food was affordable and enjoyable, but lacked the little things (like the lettuce issue) that really push a burger to the next level. Next up, who knows. I guess it depends on when I'm hungry.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Yet Another Reason Not to Like O.A.R.

As I watch Michigan somehow try to symbolically "save" their unwatchable (but I watched anyway) difficult collegiate football season, the football commentators told me that all the members of the band O.A.R. attended "the" Ohio State University.  I don't have the time to check my sources or verify the information because I'm a very busy cupcake-eating person, but I don't have any reason to doubt Bob Griese.

I know many ladies and emotional men who are big fans of O.A.R., but if you are looking for another reason to not like pansy rock, this is a very good one.  I mean no particular offense to pansy rock or pansy anything else - I've discussed at length my appreciation of Days of Our Lives and I like my drinks as fruity and sweet as possible.  I do, however, mean particular offense to O.A.R.  In the clip they showed on ABC, the band was attempting to amp up the crowd saying "get your hands up" and all the audience at "the" Ohio State University was like "no.  Bands shouldn't refer to themselves as acronyms.  On top of that, we don't appreciate lyrics like this -'My friends say she's crazy and I agree, but that's ok cause that's the way I like to be.'"  See, it rhymes and they're both crazy.  A perfect verbal and psychological match.

I really, really, really, really hope that Michigan has a functional quarterback next year.  I can only watch these passes into the flat out of the backfield because the coach has zero confidence in his quarterbacks ability to throw the ball over the line of scrimmage so many times in one season.  Someone give Sam McGuffie an ice pack and a hug.

Friday, November 21, 2008

What Someone Said About Something Else

Yet another gem from the BloggingStocks world - headline: "Banking Industry may lose 350,000 jobs". At first, I thought I read "Baking Industry" and thought to myself that I had no idea that so many bakers were at risk in this day and age. Can you image how devastating a complete and utter shortage of baked goods would be? Now for a longer quote from this article:

That level of unemployment represents an almost unimaginable human tragedy and one that might have been avoided in part if management at large financial house had not bet the bank on mortgage derivatives. But, that is water under the bridge.

The question which gets begged is where all of those people will go. Many bankers are not qualified for other high-paying jobs, which means they will stay unemployed for long periods or will face having to take significant cuts in their incomes. Either way, the shift will take a large toll on government services such as unemployment benefits. Let's not forget the lost taxes.

That all sounds familiar, doesn't it? Using phrases like "unimaginable human tragedy" is pretty quaint, because pretty much everyone in Michigan is doing a pretty good job of imagining the human tragedy every second of every day, and according to most estimates, our developing tragedy would far outweigh this one. We're the best at something! On top of this, I am personally insulted that from some commentators, banking gets the "it's water under the bridge" comment, whereas Detroit's flawed past is a primary rallying cry against us.

The loss of a job is devastating for any individual and the loss of an industry is devastating for a large community of individuals. It is hard to feel as bad as I would like to for the banking industry right now. I don't think it is false to say that a big component of the current set of economic issues is because the banking industry identified ways to (un)successfully invent money. I readily acknowledge that we all have our own share of the blame to pass around as we allowed this wealth-related enthusiasm to increase our collective standard of living to an unsustainable level, but I rarely hear those within the financial world discussing the "unimaginable human tragedy" that is continuining to crest right now within Michigan. Is it because the average auto worker's salary is lower than a banker's, and therefore, a less important human tragedy?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Combining Two Loves

If it actually makes it to the air, I find this to be very cool news. A couple of successful executive producers from The West Wing and Prison Break are working on a show for the FX Network about a second American Revolution that is started by a youth movement in Michigan (tentative show name is AR2). One quick quote to describe the show from one of the producers is that "It is set in Michigan, home of the top U.S. automakers, where "corporations undermine the common man and the government is not interested in helping (the common man)."

This sounds a lot like an idea I've been tinkering with lately - except my idea was broader like "Hey, someone should make a show about Michigan and figure out a way to draw attention to Michigan and possibly include zombies and ninja turtles and various references to my blog." I'm glad that someone has finally acknowledged my creativity and I expect that I will receive some sort of creator credit during the title sequences for my contributions.

This show still seems to be in the pre-embryonic stages and it is entirely possible that it will never make the air. If it does eventually show up, there may be no more U.S. auto companies and it will have lost some of its relevance. I think this should be reason enough to convince the government to float us some money.

Some Guy Who is Smarter than Me

Paul Krugman is some guy who has been in the news an awful lot lately. In 2008, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences. I was being considered for this and other Nobel Prizes, but then the Nobel committee realized that they had never heard of me and that I'm an idiot. Earlier tonight, Mr. Krugman was on the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC. In the past, I've never much cared for political talk shows, but something about this show keeps me watching. Lots of people have lots of different opinions about the domestic automobile industry, but I thought that the guy who just won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences who is also a professor at Princeton and writes for The New York Times may offer some worthwhile input into the topic. What I don't understand is that yesterday during the Senate hearings with the Big 3 CEOs, there was some guy in a bowtie who teaches at the University of Maryland who said things, seriously, like "I know what I'm talking about here" and he was the anti-auto guy. Why didn't the Big 3 bring along Paul Krugman and say something like "our super smart dork is way better than your super smart dork" and then have Paul K. speak on their behalf?

On one other auto-related note for the evening/now morning, here is a pretty interesting commentary written by Peter Karmanos, founder and CEO of Compuware. In it, he highlights the hypocrisy of Senator Shelby from the great state of Alabama. I don't want to regurgitate his thoughts, so I request that you take a minute to read through the commentary to better understand some of Senator Shelby's "Do as I say not as I do" attitude. Alabama, I would like to point out, would be in quite an advantageous and lucrative position in the event of Big 3 failure. There are two things that I truly hate in this world - hypocrisy and spiders. And Subway shops that don't sell $5 footlongs. And elevator door close buttons that don't work.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Things I Learned Today #5 - Subway Lies

Have you seen one of those incredibly annoying $5 footlong commercials for Subway submarine sandwiches? I have. If I had to pick one commercial to not watch today, it would almost certainly be one of these commercials.

While I hate the commercials, I love the concept of the $5 footlong, so you can only begin to imagine how excited I was today when I realized that I would be purchasing lunch from the Subway shop in the Renaissance Center downtown. "$5!" I thought to myself, "I'm saving so much money, I'm going to buy a soda. I was born to be alive on this day." My enthusiasm was quickly smashed when I stepped up to the counter, asked them if they had $5 footlongs, and the guy behind the counter responded that they did not. The only thing that could have been worse than this piece of news would be if I had found out that GM, Ford, and Chrysler simultaneously declared bankruptcy today. This was the first time in my life that I experienced a franchise that decided to not participate in the larger marketing plan of their franchise brand.

Today I learned to never count your $5 footlongs before they're hatched and toasted with provolone cheese. Furthermore, I recommend the Renaissance Center somehow force Subway to honor the time-honored tradition of eating sandwiches measuring at least 12 inches for $5 or less. With this thought, I leave you with a quote from the dearly departed Mitch Hedberg:

“All McDonald's commercials end the same way: “prices and participation may vary.” I want to open my own McDonald's and not participate in anything. I want to be a stubborn McDonald's owner. “Cheeseburgers? Nope. We got spaghetti!...And blankets. We are not affiliated with that clown, he attracts too many children.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I Know a Challenge When I Read One

Late last week, The Detroit Free Press published a list of "Metro Detroit's Best Burgers". As a lover of Metro Detroit and also Best Burgers, I am fairly convinced that someone at the newspaper read my blog, wrote an entire massive print and online feature specifically for me, and in doing so, laid down the gauntlet.

In 2004-2005, my brother, girlfriend (now fiancee), and occasional participants (sister and Craig) embarked on the greatest adventure of our lives, aptly named the Tour de Nacho. It was our intent to purchase and consume nachos from every single establishment in the city of Ann Arbor that sold nachos, rate the nachos on several different criteria, and then identify the champion nacho provider. In the end, we were not able to declare one universal "winner" because many of the nacho offerings simply could not be compared. We did pick several favorites such as "highest quality+quantity divided by cost ratio" and craziest nacho order, like the $15 behemoth Super Nachos sold at Tios. It was a life changing dining experience and I would like to think that we are all better people from this noble cause. Frankly, I would like to think that the world is a better place.

Similar to the great nacho tour of 2004-2005, I am propelled by this article in The Free Press to eat almost every single burger that they call out on their burger list and bring as many people as possible along with me for the meat-eating ride - my apologies to vegetarians. There are a few criteria that I will apply to this majestic quest - for example, several of the burgers on the list are defined as "High End" burgers, such as the $12 burger from Fiddleheads - and I do not know if the economic times merit this kind of extravagance. Perhaps I can convince Maureen or my parents (or both) to take me to one of these fancy-schmancy high-end burger eateries for my birthday. Based on this dining bliss, I will return to my website, and possibly with the help of participants, develop some reviews and insight as an addendum to this predefined list. On top of this, I will do my best to eat the specific burgers called out at each establishment. I do not care much for Mushroom and Swiss burgers, but if The Free Press tells me that I need to eat a Mush&Swiss burger at The Goodburger, I will eat that burger.

The goal here isn't necessarily to identify the best burger or set of burgers on the list, but rather to identify places where there is consensus disagreement with the list and contribute additional feedback to the information provided by The Free Press - i.e. scariness of the meat, unhold-ability of the burger, toll the burger takes on the stomach later in the night, etc. Your money is valuable to you, and we do not want you to waste money on a $10 burger when you could buy 20 burgers from White Castle for $10. We are here for your benefit, and to make sure that your money is spent in the optimal fashion.

This is a daunting and significant task, and I pledge to you that I, and those who will be participating along with me, do not take it lightly. I am excited, anxious, and thrilled to embark on this exciting period of my life, and I call on you to come along with me. The door is open to any and all interested in changing their lives for the better, and really, wouldn't Jesus want you to come along? I think the answer is clear and meaty.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Why Everyone Hates Us

This morning in The Detroit Free Press I found an article that is definitely in tune with many of my feelings. Saying "I found" the article is a bit of a false statement because the article is in the center of the front page, but I did technically look at the newspaper, which means that I found it. Actually, the newspaper was sitting ready for me at my place at the kitchen table, so I didn't even find the newspaper. I just sat down and there was the article. I'm like Indiana Jones.

This article, written by Susan Tompor reflects on her sadness and anger by how much of the country, particularly the media, seems to truly hate the automobile manufacturers/Detroit. They could not be happier if the U.S. automobile industry dies and they are enthusiastic to support their cause on television, radio or anywhere else. She also points out, as I have, that many of these commentators are clearly out of touch with reality and are forming opinions based on what they heard the guy next to them say. For example, someone on TV claimed that Toyota doesn't build large trucks - clearly ignoring the Toyota Tundra (advertised as Biggest and Baddest), or the Toyota Land Cruiser, which does its part to try to put the Hummer to shame.

Across the board, I almost entirely agree with Susan's sadness and anger regarding the national view of Detroit. It is terribly upsetting, particularly if you care about Michigan. The most difficult part of this whole situation is that so many of these hostile opinions are based on mis-or-partial information. And yet, despite my broad agreement with her, I understand why people hate us so very much. One doesn't have to look much farther than this article written yesterday. On a conference call yesterday morning, Ron Gettlefinger, president of the UAW, declared that the UAW would make no concessions in its current contract. Even with this statement, he urged the U.S. to fork over bazillions of dollars to keep the domestic industry afloat and that the problem was, more or less, entirely out of our hands.

I can not imagine a dumber thing that anyone could say two days before Congress considers keeping the UAW and the domestic automobile manufacturers in business by sending them cash. When one enters into a bargaining or compromise phase, there has to at least be some semblance of openness to actual bargaining or compromise. If one's starting position is that "I will not compromise", then the challenging party or individual will not be inclined to provide what it is for which you are hoping. Even if you do not plan to concede on anything, you still come to the bargaining table with the message that you are open to discussion. We are not in an advantageous position with any sort of leverage - the UAW can not threaten a strike if Congress is not kind enough to provide assistance.

Most people hate us because they think that the UAW, whether true or not, is largely responsible for the uncompetitive predicament of the U.S. auto companies. There is a rallying cry around the country that the Big 3 should go bankrupt because it will finally free them of their entangling and damaging union contracts and the UAW will be forced to disassemble. I am not trying to say that the union should or should not do anything in particular with respect to this week's upcoming discussions, but I am very frustrated that Ron has decided to take this hard line approach before conversations have even begun. This is yet more ammunition that people everywhere will use in arguing that Detroit is uncompetitive, closed to change, pigheaded, not progressive, and generally undeserving of financial assistance. The saddest thing of all is that with statements like this from Ron Gettlefinger, I can more and more understand and appreciate their point of view.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Stop Saying Another

Everyone in the world,

Please - when referring to the loans hoped for by the automobile manufacturers, stop using the phrase "Another bailout" when also considering the $25B in loans that were allocated to them in the last budget cycle. The logic is beyond simple.

None of this allocated money has been distributed to any of the automobile manufacturers, and some original estimates said that access to this set of funding will not be available until early 2010. If any money is to be granted, and that is up for debate for the whole world, this money is needed now to assist their liquidity problems. Yesterday.

When I talk about things I want, I do not say that I'm lining up for the raise after the next raise I hope to get, or that I'm looking forward to the summer after next summer. Similarly, I am not currently seeking out my second wife (hopefully never a necessity) when I am engaged to be married next August. The context in which people paint the discussion is flawed. Let's make a deal - as soon as the government grants the autos some funding assistance with an actual corresponding transfer of funds, at that point everyone can start to use the first set of funding as a reason to not provide a second set. For the purposes of this post, I am not arguing for or against funding, but the English language developed the way it did for a reason. Another requires a first.

Departing from the Mantra

As a bookend to yesterday's post, here is an article from Car and Driver magazine that, as far as I know, has no reason to be biased. Comparing the Chevrolet Malibu to the Toyota Camry (which is outselling the Malibu at a greater than 2 to 1 clip) in this article, they write:

"We think the Malibu is better than the Camry, but we can’t blame the public for being skeptical of the Malibu. takes time to erase distrust, both among auto journalists and the public at large. And with GM losing billions, the company might just be running out of time to convince car buyers."

Comparing the Cadillac CTS to the Lexis IS, they write:

"...the CTS has a superior chassis that is both supple on-road and up to race-track abuse. The Cadillac also offers a larger and more comfortable interior for the price and more options."

I find that I'm increasingly sounding like a car salesman , and that isn't really the goal. Furthermore, I acknowledge that there are many other vehicles out there that don't meet the standards set by these four vehicles. I just continue to think it is important that people, even someone as unimportant as me, sell the idea that, in some instances, things are improving. This improvement isn't the kind of improvement that we used to find acceptable - this being that things were so terrible, even slight enhancements above this level of suck were massive wins. These are improvements that put us on par or ahead of world-class standards.

For far too long on far too many issues, Michigan in general was satisfied with improvement but not competitiveness. Before, we were satisfied to eat a half-sucked sucker off the street, then, we were happy to eat the treat only once we had pulled the visible hairs off the sucker. Now, we will only consider it if it is still in its original wrapper. That analogy is a piece of crap, but maybe you get my point.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Here is Where I Disagree

I used to be a much more disagreeable person, but as I have ever-so-slightly matured, I have slowly realized that life is just a little bit easier if I work on reducing my disagreeable characteristics, and instead replace them with discussion and understanding. I continue to have a tendency to say the wrong thing or react inappropriately when my emotions get the best of me, and because I am tall and loud and (I'd like to think) quick with a clever insult, this can often result in an unfortunate and not entirely intended form of bullying. This is probably one of those things that I will have to regularly work to overcome so that I don't drive away both of the people who like to be around me.

That said, there is this one consistent theme that has been popping up around me in the last couple of days in particular. In today's connected world, there are millions of news outlets and everyone, everywhere has an opinion about something. That is the reason why I have this blog as my outlet and you are patient and kind enough to take your time to read these words. Because of this, I think it is easy for anyone with the opportunity to share his/her opinion with the world discounts to nothing the potential impact of thoughts and words. There is such a scatter shot of people with different opinions, than why would any one person's opinion count or impact anything? This kind of thinking gives someone the opportunity to develop and express an unsupported/fallacious and possibly damaging point of view without any concern for the repercussions. This is particularly damaging when varying opinions converge or become "accepted truths", and these accepted truths do not accurately represent reality.

Best example I can think of right now- the argument "Detroit doesn't produce cars people want to buy" is, I genuinely believe, self-fulfilling. Someone says it on CNBC, a blogger continues on with this thread somewhere, a newspaper editorial carries the story saying that the biggest problem is that they're not producing what people want, and in the end, a potential consumer will not even consider a set of possible products because the accepted truth is that there is no way they would want to buy a particular product. Only an IDIOT would buy this or that, because these are cars that NO ONE WANTS TO BUY. I am taking a simplistic approach to the spread of opinions here, and unfortunately for us, these opinions have been formed from years of disappointment. What product or products would convince the public that Detroit does produce cars people want to buy? Looking for a great small car purchase? Consider the relatively new Ford Focus - well-regarded by the press, owners, and the Microsoft Sync technology is a massive hit. Looking for a competitive midsize car? The Chevy Malibu is a great vehicle produced by GM. What about an American alternative to a BMW? The newish Cadillac CTS has won raves from everyone, everywhere, including overseas press.

Despite this progress, though, the accepted truth is that Detroit produces absolutely nothing that anyone "would want to buy." I do not know what can or will create the necessary massive sea change in opinion, it could be too late, and there are lots of other problems to fix. There is a difficult problem when a mantra becomes truth, and everyone carries forward the flag of Detroit not producing products people want to buy. Why is that true? Because you said it. Because everyone said it. It has to be true because everyone knows it's true.

Things I Learned Today #4 - Jesus Agrees with my TV Choices

Great news for those of us who enjoy terrible television or enjoy fantastic television, and even better news for those like myself with the distinction of liking terrible and fantastic television. On the terrible TV front, NBC renewed Days of Our Lives today until September 2010, with the option to pick up the contract until September 2011. That is, at a minimum, 18 more months of Days. Perhaps that will give the writers appropriate time to wrap up the current loose ends of who killed Trent Robbins, who killed the mayor, why did Abe only have to run a campaign that lasted one month in real world time (approximately 2 days in Days of Our Lives time), whether or not Kate will die of lung cancer, will John Black gain his memory back and find true love for the two hundredth time with Marlena, and why should we care about any of this? No good reason, that is why.

On the fantastic TV front, Jeffrey Tambor of Arrested Development said in an interview that an Arrested Development movie is "a go". This show was one of the best and most hilarious of all time, yet it was nearly impossible to convince people to just give it a try when it originally debuted several years ago. Since its cancellation, it has continued to spread in popularity thanks to DVD sales and continued good word of mouth. If this movie comes to fruition, I can't imagine many things that could make me more excited - perhaps if Days is picked up for an additional 18 or 36 months. The two entertainment things that I miss more than anything in the world are Mitch Hedberg and Arrested Development. Mitch is dead from drugs and I doubt that we'll have a 2Pac like series of posthumous releases, but perhaps Arrested can live on in movie format.

Finally, today I learned that if I want to get people commenting on and reading the blog, I have to write about something else about which people strongly disagree with me, a la yesterday's post about The Detroitist. When I started this thing several months ago, my friend and mentor Heiko suggested that I focus on generating traffic by writing posts about how much Apple (the company, not the fruit) sucks. He loves Apple (the fruit and the company) and is a holder of stock (the company), but there are so many fanboys who are crazy in their pro-Apple standpoint that I would instantly whip up the ire of gadget lovers everywhere. I would have to deal with a fair amount of anger, but people would be reading. The broader problem with this approach, I have found, is that as painstaking as I am in trying to make my point clear, people selectively decide to ignore entire portions of my arguments. This could either be because I am not as eloquent and persuasive with my words as I think I am, or that skimming results in important segments being skipped. For example, yesterday I tried to repeatedly make clear that I am well aware of the obvious troubles in our state and there are no simple solutions, but in the comments I was accused of being a simpleton who thinks he can "believe" himself out of a problem. I can't believe myself out of a problem, but I do believe that singularly detailing a terrible situation is even less effective than trying to believe myself out of that situation.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Why with the Jerkiness

Even though I have maybe too much pride and hope for the future of Michigan, I readily acknowledge that making fun of Michigan and Detroit is not a difficult thing to do for anyone with access to a newspaper, television, the internet, or eyes. I've heard people play games where they sit together and they go back and forth and try to come up with different accepted words or phrases for all sorts of inappropriate things. The first person who can't come up with something loses the game. One additional variant of this game that could be quite extensive would be to sit down and run back and forth between different things about which someone can make fun of Michigan.

Kwame...Synagro...Automobile industry...Union taxes...Lions...UM basketball...and on and on and on

These things are obvious. Even the most hopeful and prideful person can not ignore the facts, and it would not be helpful to do so. As much as I would like to be oblivious to these things, it is simply not possible. Sometimes, making fun of these things helps to alleviate the stress and strain of having to confront them on a daily basis. Also, if I make one of my very incredibly rare almost non-existent mistakes, it helps me to make peace with the mistake if I can find some humor in the mistake, perhaps through some self-deprecation. Despite this, I am often troubled and upset by the consistently negative, sometimes hateful, viewpoint that Michigan residents take toward Michigan.

For one good example, I'd like to point you toward a very popular, often very funny blog called The Detroitist. I don't know who writes this, how many people they have on their writing team, or anything else about their backgrounds. As a brief overview, they typically take the day's or week's Michigan headlines and in 1-3 sentences, include some sarcastic, clarifying, and generally hostile commentary for each headline. When I find myself on their website, I do think they are creative, clever, and funny, but I struggle to understand their greater purpose. At the top of the site, they include the well-known quote by H.L. Mencken "The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." Based on my readings of their site, this seems to be some sort of hedging to enable them to level shotgun blast after shotgun blast against Michigan, possibly to "afflict the comfortable"? It doesn't seem to matter what sort of initiative a city in Michigan undertakes to try to better itself and possibly change things for the better, because they will tear into it and call it idiotic through some witty choice of words, making careful to be sure that this bashing is different from the last bashing.

I know that it is necessary to take a critical look at government, individuals, media soures, and public initiatives, because without this critical look, the public could be fooled into thinking that everything and everyone is OK and everything is working just fine.
People and programs are forced to perform better when they know that someone or several someones are watching closely. That is why we take exams in school and 12-year-olds still have babysitters. They can probably take care of themselves, but someone needs to keep close watch, to be sure. However, this critical look is meant to produce new and better ideas, recommendations, and solutions - not just be an outlet for negativity and anger.

I would like to think that no one from the Michigan public thinks that everyone and everything is OK right now. I don't need anything to remind me over and over again, even with humor, that everything is the worst thing in the world. I might suggest perhaps sprinkling in some sort of positive message from time-to-time, preferably something not about Carey Torrice.

If you dislike everything about the place and see all efforts toward improvement as a waste of time, effort, and money, there is nothing that is keeping anyone here. I prefer you stay and help to contribute ideas and the energy toward our overall improvement. Someone with a large audience and visible platform like The Detroitist could, occassionally, try to do some good without having to diverge too much from the standard format of lampooning the news.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Please sir, Help us

I pledge that after this writing, I will not write another post about the bailouts or the automakers until Wednesday at the earliest. That gives you a whole 2 day reprieve - unless something really, really, really important happens today or tomorrow, at which point I will entirely default on this pledge and write more about the economy. On Friday, I wrote about the oodles and oodles of dollars being thrown to AIG to help them manage their terrible risk bets.

This morning, there is even further news that AIG is getting even more money. Now, AIG is getting "a reworked $152.5 billion deal from the federal government Monday, as the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department made significant changes to the terms of the company's original bailout." They are getting more money than previously agreed, and the terms of the loan have been drastically altered to reduce the interest AIG is required to pay on these loans. On top of all this, the U.S. government is not getting any larger stake than the current 80% despite the additional money being funneled into AIG.

There is one main reason why this is upsetting to me. The problem is that TARP (Troubled Asset Relief $700B bank funding program) exists entirely because the government wanted to indirectly force banks to begin lending again by making it easier and cheaper for these banks to access capital. Federal Reserve officials of the Bush Administration have repeatedly refused to allow U.S. automakers access to this bucket of cash, because it is intended solely to open the doors for lending/extending credit from banks. This new deal for AIG is funded from the TARP program, and AIG is not a bank. That sounds like a contradiction. On top of that, the TARP program has not convinced banks to extend loans for automobile, and other, purchases. There are many reasons for the auto troubles, but it would be hard to argue that one main reason is that customers can not get access to automobile loans, thereby making it impossible for them to purchase cars. As a personal story, my brother, who has perfect credit but a relatively brief credit history, had to jump through several extra hoops to secure a loan for a recent automobile purchase from General Motors.

If TARP is not doing the job it is meant to do (open lending streams) and it is already being spent on sectors that are not banking, why does the door continue to remain slammed on the U.S. auto companies? It seems, unfortunately for those of us in Michigan and communities around the world based on the automobile industry, that our contributions to the U.S. economy are not valued on par with those of multimillionaire Manhattan-ites.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Why I'd Like to Punch AIG in the Face

I did not ever really intend for this blog to become an economics dissertation by a guy with minimum economics education, but the times have driven the content and my interest. Here we are.

A few months ago now, the government provided a gimungous loan to AIG (American International Group) to, ostensibly, prevent the entire collapse of western capitalism. I understand the value of this loan and the critical component that insurance contributes to stabilizing economies. This was a loan for $85B, but in return for the money, the U.S. government assumed an approximately 80% stake in AIG.

Here is where my face-punching desire arises - shortly after this loan to AIG, the U.S. government developed a new commercial-paper-funding program. Commercial paper can be thought of us very short term loans (possibly 1 or 2 days or less) intended to enable a company to fund immediately ongoing operations. Many people actually say that the true credit crunch was that commercial paper providers completely stopped providing commercial paper for a short period of time, thus freezing the flow of commerce. Anyway, the Federal Reserve started pouring money into the commercial paper market so that banks had access to low-interest money, and this was intended to support these banks lending to corporations.

AIG, those wieners, have been taking money from this new commercial paper program from the government and have been paying back their original loans from the government, because this new program provides "less expensive" money for them. That is a smart, but wiener, business move, particularly when viewed with respect to the kind of money that automakers are currently requesting from the government. According to this article, the U.S. government "has put about $144 billion at AIG's disposal." The world is not fair, but how is this incredibly not fair? GM, Ford, and Chrysler are begging for about $25B on top of the current $25B that they have been budgeted in loan guarantees, but again I want to emphasize that these originally approved loans have been written into the budget and are not even close to being yet available.

Regardless of one's opinions about the U.S. auto industry, it is hard not to be angered at AIG's actions. These guys are pretty brazen. Not only did executives from AIG go on a $440K vacation after accepting the original loan, but there is evidence that as executives became aware that their risky investments were imploding and that their company would start to accrue losses, they changed their compensation structure to a guaranteed structure as opposed to largely performance-based pay.

And that, my friends, is why I would like to punch AIG right in the face.

Steel Yourselves, Ourselves

Here are the things that suck today:

1) As reported this morning, in 2008, the U.S. has lost 1.2 million jobs. In October alone, 240K new people were introduced to the unemployment line - 90K jobs lost from manufacturing, 49K in construction, and 16K in the leisure and hospitality industry. All gone, at least for now.

2) This morning, Ford reported a loss of $129M for the third quarter of 2008, but more importantly, cash burn of about $7.7B. Cash burn is more or less what it sounds like - throwing the cash into a totally awesome and very expensive fire and watching it evaporate. As I type this, everyone is also anxiously awaiting the 3rd quarter financial report from General Motors, including an expected larger loss than Ford with an even more significant cash burn rate.

3) Most of the brownies that I made on Sunday are gone. I'm not too upset about this because I made them to be eaten, but it is sad that brownies ever have to go away.

The top two issues are not cool when taken individually, but particularly uncool when taken together. Unemployed individuals will not have the capability of making any large purchases, resulting in a bleak outlook for pretty much any company selling anything to commercial customers.

So, as with all problems, we as a country and as Michigan residents have a couple of emotional paths that we can take. Path the first - throw your hands in the ay-yer like you just care a lot and are too depressed to do anything else. This path is completely understandable and we have all been there at some time or another in our lives.

Path the second - nut up and keep going. This is the Ken-approved approach. Things suck, job loss is terrible, and our state is currently in a world of hurt. We have been in a world of hurt and job loss for several years now, and you know what, we're still here. Things have been terrible in the past, and things will be terrible again at some point in the future. We must work individually and collectively to create jobs for our displaced workers, and not succumb to general defeatism.

If you're out of a job, think about expanding your personal abilities like learning a language. Go buy a Spanish-English dictionary or textbook and memorize it. Alternatively, use your access to the internet to learn about Java coding or web design or e-commerce. If you can not afford the internet, go to the library and check out a "How To...for Dummies" book or use the library's internet access. If you've pushed as many resumes as possible out of the door and you're still not finding a job and you've learned a new language and you've mastered all things computers, go to your local park with a pointed stick and a trash bag, stab garbage with your pointed stick, and place the garbage into your trash bag.

Every individual has the option of throwing in the towel or committing to kicking some ass and taking some names. There are myriad obstacles, many out of our control, that prevent each of us from kicking the ass that we desire, but we have to grab those things that are within our control and do something about them.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Who is Blanker?

CNBC's on-air personalities, being money-focused, are generally ultra-conservative (at least fiscally) individuals. The one thing that I found particularly interesting last night when I was watching the network was when they were reflecting on the day's significant downward market movement, and how that was particularly odd because the day of the election, the market was up 300+ points - even though most people expected Obama to win. One of the people on the network postulated that the day after the election, investors were starting to realize that Obama's economic policies were a "blank slate" and that they didn't actually know how his policies would impact the economy. This uncertainty led to selling, thus the market ending heavily down for the day. This person wasn't claiming that Obama had no idea how to positively steer the economy, but rather that he, and others, just did not know what to expect.

I don't know what individual investors think, but from my point of view, I would much rather have someone leading me who is viewed as a blank slate because we do not yet know what his ideas are, as opposed to a leader who's ideas are a blank slate because that person is, quite literally, a blank slate - no ideas whatsoever, and the words that do come out of his mouth are precious in the way a baby trying to make words and form sentences is precious.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


That is all.

Why Stock Probably Doesn't Work

My buddy Nick left a comment on my last post asking why anyone would "loan" a company money when they could just as easily "buy stock" in that company. I was initially going to try to address this idea in the comments section, but then I realized that the thought might mandate a longer discussion - thus, this post's existence.

Buying stock is a great thing and is one of the fundamental tenets of western capitalism. When you buy a stock of a company, you "own" an infinitesimally small fraction of equity in that company. When the company becomes more valuable, the value of your ownership increases, and when the company makes profit, you are entitled to your tiny slice of that profit in the form of dividends. Stock ownership is a great thing.

When a company tries to raise capital (cash), it has the option of issuing additional stock for purchase. There are three main reasons why I think that a stock issuance is not the correct path for these companies at this point in their lives. I believe all three of these reasons tie together, so try to bear with me to the end. I also would like to state that in no way do I think this is the absolutely correct or best solution, but I am looking for the best option, and am happy for any ideas that anyone may provide.

1) OUR companies (GM, Ford, and Chrysler) already have an abundance of debt with an incredibly high interest rate owed to several banks. Have you ever refinanced your credit card debt? Here's the rundown: you owe an average of 20% on three credit cards. Instead of paying 20% every month on these cards, you take a loan out on your home for 8%. You can then immediately pay off the credit card debt, and instead, have one loan that you are paying at 8%. You are still paying interest, but saving significantly every month. These savings are compounded because you are avoiding compounding interest. I am suggesting that we, as Michigan, provide the capability for these companies to refinance a portion of their debt. Instead of paying 14% on their loans, we request 6%, thereby making money for us and saving money for them. So then why not sell stock to raise cash and refinance their debt? Because...

2) Issuing more stock significantly dilutes the equity held by current shareholders. This, in turn, will drive down the price of a share of stock (which must be defined prior to the stock issuance event), resulting in an unpredictable quantity of money that the company can raise. If the price of a share of stock goes down below the price set at issuance, it will not be possible to sell the new shares - instead, people will just purchase them on the open market, resulting in no additional cash whatsoever. And why not let the companies take the risk anyway? The common understanding is that these companies put themselves into this position on their own, right? Because...

3) Stock purchases are typically made at an institutional or individual level. A series of individuals must each decide whether they want to purchase stock in a company or not. Understandable. These companies need a massive infusion of cash, and I don't believe they can acquire the financing they need if every individual has the opportunity to decide whether or not they would like to contribute (and again as mentioned in point 2, the cash made available from a stock issuance is unpredictable). In this instance, we need to decide as a state unit whether or not this is an investment that we would like to make to mitigate job loss and uphold housing values. Not everyone voted for Obama, but he is our president-elect because the country decided that he is the best hope for our future. Everyone in Michigan may not want to contribute to the auto companies, but we, as a state, should have the opportunity to decide what is best for our state's future.

I don't know - I'm no economic genius, but I'm trying to suggest solutions. If you disagree with me, that is perfect, as long as you have a better idea. If your better idea is "let them burn", I would argue that your better idea is the worst idea in the world and that you are, in fact, a smelly pants. Don't be a smelly pants.

Crazy Idea #6 - Funding Our Own Bailout

Alright, so I frequently post about the automobile industry. On one hand, I apologize for giving so much attention to that portion of our state economy. On the other hand, I am unapologetic because the automobile industry is Michigan's largest employer, our economic basis, and the reason we exist in the first place. Also, this industry is teetering, in some significant trouble, and in need of drastic help. Analysts claim that Ford, GM, and Chrysler need cash to weather the current recessionary storm in the hopes that demand will largely return by 2010, when these companies will also be able to gain some significant savings through recently renegotiated UAW contracts and other cost-saving measures. Boiled down, most people think that whoever survives 2009 will thrive and prosper, but making it through 2009 is not assured by any measure. To survive, these companies need Cash Mon-Ay.

Toward this end, these companies have been lobbying the federal government feverishly for one of two things. First, these companies have been budgeted loans in total aggregate of $25B in the U.S. Federal budget. These loans should not be considered a pure bailout. In theory, this money will enable the domestic auto industry to survive, make profit, and then pay the loans back to the U.S. taxpayers with interest. It is not free money, and you would be remiss to think so. However, these loans have not been released to the companies because of the bureaucracy involved in the process. Everyone is working on making this already-approved method a reality, but it is unclear when the loans will be granted and officially transferred for use. Second, the companies are trying to gain access to a second bucket of money - ideally, by grabbing some chunk of the approved $700B package intended for banks. Another possible method would be to snatch some money directly from the Treasury, which is already acting like a giant U.S. bank. Over the past 7 days, both of these secondary measures appear to be temporarily (or permanently) shut down until after the election is completed and things have settled down. The already-approved loans are great, but they could be significantly delayed and may not be enough to push the ball up the mountain. The secondary bucket of money may not be an option.

So where might this critical cash come from for our base industries? Well, I have a crazy idea. There are currently talks that another "fiscal stimulus package" for American citizens is a virtual guarantee to avert a longer, deeper U.S. recession. Do you remember those checks that you got a few months back for $600 that saved our economy? Yeah, kind of like that because it worked so effectively before. This new package could run anywhere from $300B -$400B dollars. Of course, it could be more, it could be less, but let's work with these numbers for now.

Michigan has approximately 10M residents, and the U.S. has approximately 300M residents, so Michigan has about 3.3% of the entire U.S. population. Assuming an equal stimulus distribution throughout the country roughly based on population, Michigan should be entitled to about 3.3% * $400B = $13.3B from the new stimulus package. This new stimulus package probably won't take the form of checks directly to citizens, but rather a collection of ideas like extending unemployment benefits and funding public-works and infrastructure projects. These things could be great, but Michigan has another, much more significant and urgent need in the form of keeping our core industry alive.

Michigan residents should be given the opportunity to vote for whether or not they want their portion of the stimulus package ($13.3B) to provide critical cash for our automobile industry. I don't know how the residents would vote under this theory, but hopefully we can convince each and every member of the state that if we want the state to survive, we can not lose our American automobile manufacturers. Reports have stated that 10% of all employment in the U.S. is somehow affiliated with the domestic auto industry, and this 10% would all be out of a job if our worst fears are realized. The cost of unemployment benefits for the country alone could far outweigh the cost of providing cash to the needy companies. On top of all this, if the auto companies can return to profit, they, too, would pay back Michigan's residents with interest, possibly resulting in a reduced tax burden for the residents at some point in the future.

Dum-dums may ask why GM/Ford/Chrysler just don't go to a bank for immediate cash. Well, here's the fundamental problem - because the auto industry is so challenged right now, the interest rate these companies would pay to a bank would vastly exceed (2-3 times more) the interest rate that the federal government or Michigan residents would require as a return on their investment. Therefore, our interests would be best-served by immediately reducing the cost of borrowing for these companies. There are many more tangible and intangible reasons why we must prevent a cascading failure in the auto industry (keeping population in-state and employed for tax revenue, being able to sell one's home, being close to family/friends, and on and on and on). Would you rather lose a check for $600 now, or lose a $250K investment on your home because absolutely no one can or will want to purchase it?

Thank you very much if you stuck with me to this point. As with all problem-solving, we must think big picture - particularly in Michigan. We can either solve this problem as a functioning, single-minded group of souls, or we can falsely (I believe) convince ourselves that our individual self-interest outweighs the greater good. The quality of my home is influenced by the quality of my neighborhood, which is influenced by the quality of my city, which is influenced by the quality of my county, which is influenced by the quality of my state.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Man of the Electoral Hour

You may be thinking from the title of this post that I'm obviously referring to John McCain or Barack Obama. No dice. The person of this political hour - perhaps this political season - is a 30-year-old man by the name of Nate Silver. Nate founded a website called FiveThirtyEight that endeavors to accurately predict the results of the current election. During the primaries, his predictive modeling was generally regarded as far more consistently accurate than the standard polling organizations - largely because his model attempts to adjust for historical polling inconsistencies, incorporates correlation factors, and regression analysis. For the probability, statistics, and modeling super nerds among us such as myself, this is pretty fun stuff to follow. Much of my background is in this type of analysis, so I very much enjoy regularly visiting his website. Nate has appeared on all kinds of talk shows over the past months, including Countdown with Keith Olbermann and The Colbert Report, to discuss his website, models, and share his totally rocking glasses with the world.

There are two reasons why I am writing about Nate Silver in this post. First and foremost, he was born and raised in East Lansing, Michigan, and attended East Lansing High School. That is the kind of upbringing I like to write about. Michigan can pump out the nerds with the best of them. He has since departed for Chicago where he attended college and also lives, but I can't hold that against them. Maybe I can convince him to throw out a little bit of Michigan love in one of his many press interviews taking place over the next several days.

Second and secondmost (I want to make sure that I'm maintaining a parallel structure with first and foremost), I am banking on the fact that many people will be searching for the phrase "Nate Silver" tonight on the internet when he is on television and his website is mentioned, and they will stumble upon my humble place in the electronic world. I see no harm in trying to direct some traffic my way. Here is a clip of Nate on The Colbert Report. Unfortunately, he is not wearing his awesome glasses in this clip. For anyone who knows me from college - doesn't he remind you a little bit of another brainiac that we all know and love as Brad B.? Just wondering...

Voting Schmoting, Where Schmoting Means "Is the Cool Thing To Do"

It's here! I will never grow tired of watching MSNBC and people waiting patiently in a gigantic line in Virginia. Democracy is the greatest. Once upon a time, I would have had to kill someone, or lots of people, to change my leader. Those were simpler times, but also filled with more killing, which is bad.

A couple points of pride for my fellow Michigan voters - as of October 23rd, 98% of eligible Michigan voters were registered to vote. That doesn't necessarily translate to voting, but 98% is far and away the best voter registration percentage in the country. We care immensely about the direction of our state and country, and want to do everything within our power to push the state in the direction that we individually and collectively feel will lead to the prosperous future for which we yearn. No one individual or decision has put us in our precarious position, and no one individual or proposal can solve our problems. The best place to start is by voting today.

Number two, it is fantastic to see neighbors and other precinct residents at the polling location. These are people I see while taking runs around the neighborhood, coached me in grade school basketball, or shook their canes at me. I don't know what their political viewpoints are, but they all live here and are doing their part, today, to prepare us for a better future. I know all of this is a bit cornball, but something about voting makes me swell up with pride. That's saying a lot because I'm normally pretty swollen from a combination of pride, pizza, and elephantiasis, so I make sure to reduce my pizza consumption to make room for the additional pride.

If you're a registered voter (and if you live in Michigan there is only a 2% chance that you are not), you owe yourself, but mostly me, to go and vote today. Be patient with the kindly but incredibly slow people working at the polling stations. They are probably doing their best, and if they are clearly not doing their best, throw a pie in their faces. Something banana cream.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Voting, Explained

Tuesday, November 4th. Election Day. I love election day. No matter who or what wins, I relish sitting in front of the TV and watching the returns. Plus, I love wearing around my "I Voted" sticker for the entirety of the day. I just wish that the stickers had better adhesive qualities because they tend to fall off pretty easily. Stickers are just the greatest.

Maureen's dad directed her (and by extension, me) to THIS VIDEO of a program that was produced by PBS that breaks down the voter issues in Michigan. In other words, what does Proposal 1 really mean, what does Proposal 2 really say? If you're a voter in Michigan, this is the place for you to go get the critical information. I recommend watching it prior to voting, otherwise you will be watching PBS for no particular reason. Is that something you want to be doing? Think of all the non-educational programming you could be watching, like that game show on FOX where that moving wall with shapes cut out of it hits people into a pool. I used to watch a lot of Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street along with my bagel with one slice of American cheese.

If you're a Michigan resident (and also not), I support voting for Barack Obama. There are many reasons why I am voting this way, but one good bipartisan reason to vote for Obama (if you're on the fence) is because he has consistently stated over the past month that he would support additional aid for the domestic auto industry. Several months ago, Obama came into Michigan and criticized the U.S. auto industry for its poor environmental focus and used that as a tentpole issue in stump speeches around the country. I was not a huge fan of this tactic (though I understood it and didn't necessarily disagree with him), but I am appreciative of his support during and through our difficult time. If you disagree with my voting standpoint, that is quite alright, and don't worry, we can still be friends. After all, we do live in America. We can be even better friends if you bring me some cookies.