Thursday, February 24, 2011

More snow on the way

.

One meteorologist is calling for up to 9’’ while others are saying 3’’ – 5’’. It should not be too much of a problem; most of the snow from the Groundhog Blizzard has melted away. The worst part is psychological; the whole country is sick to death of winter and northern Illinois is no exception. Oh well…soon there will be flowers and warm sunny days. Hang in there.

.

As usual, no tax refund for me

.

Yesterday I made my annual visit to have our taxes done by an old friend. I suppose I could do my own taxes, but Kenny has done them for years and I like continuity in my life. He is a rare bird, a professional tax-guy unaffiliated with any of the major tax-outfits. His office is in the small town where I grew up, making my tax-day a sentimental journey.

I do not like getting income tax refunds because I am a hardheaded old coot who does not like giving interest-free-loans to the government; I would rather under-pay my taxes during the year than over-pay. I will be sending a sizeable check to the Feds, but out of principal, I will wait until it is a little closer to the deadline.

.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

11% of American houses are vacant; that comes as no surprise to those living in Lake County, Illinois

.

It is a sad fact that 11 of every 100 U.S. houses are empty. It is hard for folks to qualify for loans and many people are saddled with credit card debts that may be decades old. However, I am here to tell you that property taxes are a big part of the reason why homes are not selling and are why many folks are losing their homes. Property taxes have long been the cash cow used to fund schools and local governments, and they just will not quit milking the source.

Lake County not only has the highest taxes in the State of Illinois, we pay the highest taxes in all of the Midwest and rank #16 nationally (Forbes, 2010). The Lake County Board brags that their budget is balanced, but they do it on the backs of the homeowners by using unrealistic valuations. My 3-bedroom home is taxed on a market value of $330,000 (I pay over $9,000 property taxes a year, along with $400 for homeowner association dues), but a larger 4-bedroom home down the street is expected to go at auction for less than $150,000. No houses are selling for anywhere near the assessed value. We are being taxed out of our homes and all potential buyers are ever leery of the tax burden they will incur. Further still, many homeowner associations (ours included) have adopted “no rent” bylaws, which discourages investment purchases. If you are looking for a place to live, I cannot recommend Lake County, Illinois. I have been in this house for almost a dozen years and would never have bought if I knew the taxes would balloon to where they are.

.

25% of American counties are dying

.

One in four U.S. counties have more deaths than births and more people are moving out than moving in.

Our economy has evolved from creating ghost towns to creating ghost counties. Local governments cannot sustain essential municipal services by taxing squatters and the homeless. I wonder which state will be the first to follow.

.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Baby Browning by Ed Buffaloe


CLICK HERE for yet another great article by Ed Buffaloe. It covers the history of the Baby Browning.

A design that has been around since 1931, the .25 ACP Baby might not be all the gun you will ever need, but for some situations, it may be all the gun you can carry. There is no semi-auto currently in production (that I know of) quite as small as the American made PSA Baby version of the Baby Browning. Although matched in overall length by several other designs, the Baby is substantially thinner and has a smaller grip height. It is exceptionally easy to conceal.

.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pocket reloads

.

To read an interesting essay on carrying spare ammo in your pockets, CLICK HERE.

Many holster makers make pocket magazine-holders for the pistol carrying folks. Some holster makers offer dump-pouches for revolver ammo that work equally well for belt and pocket carry and for carrying speed-strips or loose ammo. The plastic ammo-wallets in the photo work well for back pocket carry.


EDIT:  The following is a great tip from an anonymous contributor.

"Three Bianchi speed strips fit into the small, Blackberry-sized A.G. Russell small zipper belt pouch, tabs up. This "Blackberry" carrier does not look like an ammo pouch. It fits very flat on the belt, tight against the body, is low profile, yet holds eighteen .38 Special rounds. Just unzip, grab the center strip first, then the others won’t drag against the zipper in the event that you do need another."

.

Hard Times Investing Update 2/15/2011: $4 gasoline may just kill this painfully slow recovery

.

Many experts are crowing that we are out of the woods and we will not have a double-dip recession. Let us hope they are right. I hate it when experts sound confident.

IMHO, should gasoline rise to and remain at or above $4 per gallon for more than a just few consecutive months in 2011 or 2012, the economy could again become coyote ugly. Some folks have not paid off the credit card bills they ran up when gasoline last cost $4 and over. If gasoline stays below $3.50, we may be okay.

.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day 2011

.

“Buy her diamonds,” say the commercials on radio, television, and the internet. Cram it, it ain’t gonna happen. I don’t care how much these commercials try to shame me into feeling cheap or unsuccessful, there ain’t gonna be any Valentine’s Diamond. Nor will there be a new Lexus in the driveway, wrapped in a gigantic heart-shaped red ribbon.

Many women, if not most, hate Valentine’s Day. Not having a significant other, or having one who doesn’t deliver a gift, can be painful. Valentine’s Day is a cruel day of angst. Even if she has a love, and he has righteously shown up with a dozen roses year after year, eventually she will wonder why the loser hasn’t bought her a Rolex like Mr. Successful in the TV commercials.

The only guys who enjoy Valentine’s Day are trying to get laid. Most guys hate Valentine’s Day. Roses can jump to $100 a dozen in some areas, and giving the obligatory heart of chocolates is cliché and considered cheap. When she says she doesn’t want anything, you guys best know that you had better show up with something, and you had better hope she did not see that damn Lexus commercial.

The legend says St. Valentine died by execution. I am sure it wasn’t just revenge for womanizing. Once Valentine started giving out the gifts, he was doomed; the other men knew women would expect gifts forever. If Val had discreetly jumped from bed to bed, he would have died a worn out old man. Nope, he just had to start handing out his flowery business cards. The horny little bastard got what was coming to him; that short, fat, bald, incontinent hit man named Cupid put an arrow through Valentine’s cheatin’ heart.

We now need to find out if the fool that started Sweetest Day is still around, and if he is, we need to lynch his sorry ass.

With eternal love, and all of that other saccharin rot,

Your Valentine,

Zack

.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunny 47F degrees in northeastern Illinois today

.

I tried for some photos of robins today but failed on each attempt. There must have been close to a dozen of them flitting around the yard today. A number of robins overwinter in the area so it is common to see them this time of year; still, I find their visits do cheer me up.

.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The eyes have it; have your vision checked often.

.

My annual eye-exam was yesterday; the eye surgeon said “So far, so good.” The freckle size spot of pigment in the retina of my left eye is not growing and the right retina still looks okay. I have had not had any loss of peripheral or central vision. The doctor said the prognosis is “wait and see.”

My eyes have never been very good; they became severely myopic when I was very young. Instead of growing round like grapes, they grew long like footballs, which made detached retinas a lifelong concern. Blood vessels inside my eyes break on occasion, obscuring my vision with clouds of swirling black spots. Aside from those episodes, the inside of my eyes have always been full of translucent floaters; it is like viewing the world through a fishbowl overcrowded with guppies; reading has always been a real problem. My eyes are so sensitive to light that I wear sunglasses even on cloudy days and inside some brightly lit rooms. Colors often confuse me, and some colors and shades don’t look the same from one day to the next. For years, one of my favorite shirts was pink… only I did not know it was pink.

For unknown reasons I developed cataracts in both eyes while still on the relatively young side of middle age; there was no family history of cataracts except for the ancient ones. There is some speculation that I had too many years working and playing in the sunshine and that I may have suffered a few too many black eyes during overly enthusiastic sessions of reasoned discourse. The excessive use of demon tobacco may also have played a part; science just cannot say. My eye surgeon replaced the clouded lenses in both of my eyes with prescriptions that corrected my nearsightedness, although I still need reading glasses. Subsequently, laser surgery was required to correct the secondary cataracts that formed in both eyes. I lost a noticeable amount of night vision before they found that I had cataracts, but the surgery did not restore it to where it was before.

While my vision will never be perfect, it has always been far better than just being functional; life has been good to me. I am confident that modern medicine and my ever competent eye surgeon will make it possible for me see the end of my horizon.

Here’s looking at you kid.

.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Social Impact Bonds; an idea worth considering

.

The majority of government programs exist simply because they cannot fiscally function in the private sector. Few if any measures exist to determine how well any of the programs perform. Politicians blindly leave taxpayers to fund these perpetually ineffective programs. Click HERE for a New York Times article that covers an interesting alternative.

.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Too tired to blog about much of anything

.

I still am digging out from the blizzard, a little each day. The city is in financial ruins so no overtime (or enthusiasm) is being directed toward snow removal. The road crew left a 5-feet-tall by 12-feet-wide glacier of plowed snow extending 15-feet from my mailbox out into the cul-de-sac. After moving half of that mound of snow to the lawn side of the curb, I ran out of room and decided just to cut a path for the mail truck through what is left of it. Another foot or so should do it. I am sure the city road crew will plow the rest of it into my driveway when they find the time.

After my morning digging, I spent the entire afternoon replacing the 11-year-old sink garbage disposal.

A cigar and bourbon would suit me just fine right about now, but I’ll stay firmly seated on the wagon. Damn, I sure do miss smoking and drinking.

.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Winter snowstorm / extreme cold preparedness and survival

.

After each emergency event, I review how we handled it and where we can make improvements. Tire chains for the GMC would have been a welcome asset; the last time I used them on a road vehicle was over 35-years ago. With any luck, at least in our area, the threat of major winter storms for this season should be gone in about 8-weeks (although we have had some freak major snow events in April). With what we currently have on the ground, if there is a quick snowmelt we could jump into some serious floods.

If you are looking to better prepare for the next winter weather event, FEMA has a very good guide HERE. No matter how well equipped, trained, and dedicated the first responders are in your area, you may well find that you are on your own for a period of time that taxes the limits of human endurance. Life is a great adventure.

Stay warm and safe.

.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Northern Illinois Blizzard, February 2011

.

Well, officially, this is listed as the third highest snowfall for Chicago, behind the 1967 and 1999 events. As far as impact, this one was closer to 1967. My GMC walked right through everything back in 1999; yesterday, if I had been on the road a half hour later than I was, the roads would have been too bad for the GMC to manage and I would have spent the night inside of it, huddled in my Carhartts.

The snow started a few hours earlier than predicted, with high winds and moisture off Lake Michigan. At 6:00 pm my daughter called and said she was worried about her mom (my ex-wife) driving home. We agreed it would be best if her mom left her car at work and waited for me to pick her up with the GMC. A trip that normally would have taken 45-minutes took me nearly 3-hours. Many roads were closed due to drifting, accidents, and stuck vehicles. After trying several alternate routes, I finally was able to drop off my ex-wife. Afterwards, the GMC successfully crawled through the 6-miles of snowdrifts and near zero-visibility back to my house. An hour later into the storm, the police radio was crackling non-stop with calls about stuck motorists, stuck police cars, stuck ambulances, stuck fire trucks, stuck tow trucks, and stuck snowplows. All roads were impassable. The police recruited snowmobilers to attempt rescues but they too became stuck in the drifts. It was a long, frustrating night for many dedicated first responders. The snow stopped falling around 9:00 am today and the groundhog saw his shadow around noon.

It took me almost 4-hours to clear my driveway this morning. I am a big fan of Toro brand snow blowers; an event like this one requires a tough machine. After doing my driveway, I helped three other neighbors with theirs. My daughter’s driveway is very long and it is closed with a 4-foot high drift running from front to back and spanning the full width. It is too formidable for me to muscle with a shovel and a snow blower; even if I wanted to try it, there was no place nearby for me to park today. My daughter and her mom are stranded until a contractor can get there with a heavy plow or an endloader.

.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Winter, spring, summer, or fall, Illinois has great fishing.

.

Fishing is one of the few redeeming features of this state. When I find that I can’t get out and do some of it myself, I’ll be spending time reading about it at Mark’s blog, Intro to the Outdoors

Mark in Illinois, I'd like to introduce you to The Fishing Musician in Texas. 

Before you guys think that I am on  your level, please understand that the only time I ever catch fish is when I am out with an expert (photo is from around 8-years ago).

.