Category Archives: Featured

latest post image will be prominently displayed on the featured top part of the front page.

5-Axis 4 Grand

By Lloyd Graff

In the fall of 2015 Michelle and Matt Hertel gave birth to a baby girl and a 5-axis CNC milling machine in Montana.

Their baby girl, Ruby, is flourishing and so is their other baby, the Pocket NC 5-axis mill, which sells for $4,000 naked, out of their small factory in Bozeman, Montana.

Before they moved back to Big Sky Country where they grew up, Michelle and Matt lived in the Seattle area. Michelle was a mechanical engineer at Boeing, and Matt was a night shift machinist at Electroimpact Corporation, which makes enormous automation equipment for the aerospace industry. He says that while on breaks he and a fellow machinist would fantasize about building a tiny but capable CNC machine for the sophisticated hobbyist.

He and Michelle ultimately decided to go back home to start a family and a company. They bought a house with a garage that became their workshop, then sold the house to finance their dream until they could build the prototype that would satisfy them and potential investors.

Matt and Michelle Hertel with their Pocket NC 5-Axis Mill

Their original plan was to build a 3-axis CNC mill but later decided that for a little more money and engineering work they could build a 5-axis machine that would give them a competitive advantage. The least expensive 5-axis machine on the market was $50-$60,000, more than ten times the price of their desired price point.

By August of 2015 they were set to go into production of their mill in their rented garage in Bozeman. Michelle was due to give birth in September. Their pitch video was polished and ready for prime time on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. Each contributor of $3,500 on Kickstarter would get first dibs on a Pocket NC 5-axis desktop milling machine.

They hit their goal of $355,000, which enabled them to buy the materials for 100 machines. Kickstarter took a 5% commission, and they lost an additional 3% from the contributors who used credit cards, but it was enough to get going. Matt and Michelle did everything at the beginning. Now they are a group of four mechanical engineers and an assembly person. Michelle is working part-time.

Pocket NC 5-Axis Mill

They surpassed their initial target of 100 machines, and each month’s sales are beating the previous month’s. They have sold more than 300 machines. Matt says they quickly discovered that the hobbyist market barely existed for a machine costing $4,000 to $6,000, depending on accessories, but they found that labs, universities, small businesses and professionals were looking for a tiny, versatile mill for experimenting and making parts quickly. There are Pocket NC machines now at NASA, MIT and the European Space Agency. Production has escalated to well over 20 machines per month, and Matt is looking for an additional employee, which is not so easy to find in Bozeman, which has the lowest unemployment of any metropolitan area in the country of over 200,000 people. It is the photonics (laser) mecca of America.

Obviously, a tiny mill that can be transported in a suitcase is not an Okuma or a Haas machine. It is not meant for material tougher to machine than aluminum and its tolerances are only guaranteed to +/- 0.005. It is not a mass market machine, but it has its niche, and it appears to be a fairly large and untouched market. A lab can find $5k in the cookie jar quite easily, so it can bypass many of the bureaucratic justifications.

For Matt and Michelle the next goal is to improve the strength and capability of their machine without dramatically changing the price point.

The Hertels are living the American Dream now, and they are doing so without killing themselves. Matt leaves the shop at 5-6pm to play with their little girl, Ruby. At a year and a half both of their babies are growing like gangbusters.

Question: Would you be interested in a Pocket NC Mill?

Share this post

Home on the Steppe

By Noah Graff

Those Russian thieves! First they steal back Crimea, then they steal our election (maybe?), and now they are poaching our talented labor force. They are bribing our good ol’ American cowboys to help them build their latest empire—Beef!

In 2010 Russia passed the Food Security Doctrine, which set a goal for the country to become self-sufficient in its food production. The country has never had a domestic beef industry, with most of its beef having to be imported. Rich Russians want easier access to a great ribeye and there is a huge opportunity to export beef to China and the Gulf States. The new industry also provides jobs. Russia is in the midst of a Beef Rush.

In the last six years, Miratorg, Russia’s biggest beef-producing company, acquired vast fields abandoned after the fall of the Soviet Union. It ripped up weeds and forests and planted imported grass seed. It imported tractors, horses, and cattle, predominantly from the U.S. and Australia, and in just a few years produced a herd of around 400,000 cows. Miratorg says it wants to have a herd of 1 million cows by the end of the decade. The U.S. cattle industry took centuries to develop its infrastructure and breed cattle optimized for beef, but with the aid of high-tech genetics and a vertically integrated business model Miratorg, in a span of five years, created the largest herd in the world. In the U.S. we have several steps in the steak industry. A calf spends about a year in pasture, then goes on to a feedlot, then a processing facility and finally to a restaurant. At Miratorg every stage is under one roof. It even has cooking demos for preparing steak.

Sergei Shilin, Russian Cowboy at Miratorg. Courtesy of www.Newsworks.org.

But like almost all businesses, the beef business cannot succeed without skilled workers. So in addition to importing grass and cattle Miratorg has brought over some American cowboys to train the Russian workers who knew nothing about cattle ranching. Today the United States has fewer cattle than it has had at any time since the 1950s, so the job market for cowboys in the United States has thinned significantly. Miratorg has lured American cowboys to come to Russia by offering to double their pay in the United States.

To teach cowboy skills and create a passion for the cowboy way of life Miratorg created its own version of a rodeo. The Russian rodeos are similar to those in the United States. They have events like barrel racing, roping and trailer loading. DJs play patriotic songs that talk about the greatness of Russia. One rodeo song talks about Russia taking Alaska back from the United States. Another proclaims “Give me a horse and a Sword!” Parachutists known as “Aerial Cowboys” float down into the arena. Russian cowboys wear kerchiefs with traditional Russian patterns rather than the classic bandanas worn by American cowboys.

Russian Cowboys. Courtesy of www.Newsworks.org.

According to the sources for this blog, the Russian cowboys, which the Russians call “operators,” have been thriving since the American cowboys were brought in, embracing the cowboy work ethic and becoming experts in skills of the trade such as riding, lassoing and doctoring calves. Sadly, very few of the 1000 or so Russian cowboys have gotten to eat an actual steak. A quality steak costs more than a day’s salary for a Russian cowboy.

Question: What’s your favorite cut of meat? How do you like it prepared?

Sources for blog: newsworks.org and NPR.org.

Listen to the NPR story: 

Share this post

Sports Movie Champ

By Noah Graff

Last week, on November 21, it was the Fortieth Anniversary of the release of Sylvester Stallone’s opus, Rocky. The news brought on a discussion between my dad and me whether Rocky is the best “sports movie” ever. After reflecting on my short list of favorite sports movies—Rocky, Major League, Rudi, and Karate Kid to name a few—I’ve come to the conclusion that indeed Rocky is my favorite. My dad argues for Bull Durham, which I’ll admit is a well-done comedy and romance that celebrates the game of baseball, but I’ve concluded that film does not follow my criteria for what makes a great “sports movie.”

For me, a true sports movie revolves around a team or individual athletes trying to overcome a sporting obstacle, and in so doing, take control of their lives. At the center of a great sports movie there must be an underdog protagonist who inspires audiences to root for them with all their heart. Rocky is the perfect sports movie protagonist. He’s poor, he’s been discarded by his peers as a waste of talent, he even works as a goon for the local loan shark, Gazzo. Underneath all his superficial shortcomings Rocky has the biggest heart of any athlete I can ever remember in a movie. The pain he overcomes in his training and in his title fights is raw and authentic. When he gets knocked down in the ring and struggles to get up, I feel like I’ve been struck down and I’m fighting for my life too. When Mickey uses a razor blade to open Rocky’s shut swollen eye I cover my own eyes.

Rocky fights Apollo Creed in Rocky I

The reason I feel Rocky’s pain so much and root for him so hard is because I want to see him take control of his life and succeed in his life’s passion—it’s what we all wish for in our own lives and many don’t accomplish, and most people aren’t trying to become Heavyweight Champion of the World.

The night before his Title Fight with Apollo Creed, Rocky sits in bed and tells Adrian that his goal is not to win the fight. Even after all his training he still doesn’t think he can win. Instead, he states that “all he wants to do is go the distance,” to remain standing after 15 rounds with Creed. He says that nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed before, so if he can go the distance with the Champ and do something that has never been done before, he can know for the first time that he’s not just a “bum from the neighborhood.”

How can a viewer not want to live and die with a character who says that?

*******

By Lloyd Graff

My vote for the best sports movie ever goes to Bull Durham. Rocky was brilliant in its own gut punching way, but Bull Durham was funny, poignant, erotic and smart in one amazing script. Also the acting by Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon is off the charts for chemistry.

The story is about a young, naive, sexed-up pitcher named Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, Tim Robbins, who has a million-dollar arm and a ten-cent brain. He has a 95-mile-per-hour heater that he is apt to throw six feet over the catcher’s head. He possesses the talent of a star, but no focus other than on the local ladies.

Crash Davis confronts Nuke in Bull Durham

The management of his minor-league team, the Durham (North Carolina) Bulls, brings in “Crash” Davis, Kevin Costner, a veteran of 12 minor league seasons, to tame the wild man LaLoosh, so he can get called up to the Show (the Major Leagues). Crash is a somewhat embittered philosopher catcher. He loves the game but is both resigned and resentful of his position in life. He knows his job is to provide life lessons and baseball knowledge to unworthy phenoms like Nuke, and he hates his fate. But he does it because he’s a baseball lifer.

Everything becomes more complicated and fascinating when Annie Savoy, Susan Sarandon, an aging but still attractive baseball groupie, designates Nuke as her Bull boyfriend for the season. Then Crash crashes the party and falls for Annie. She’s sexually attracted to Robbins’ young character, and the creator of the movie, Ron Shelton, makes it a playful, purely physical relationship. Ironically, the movie was the beginning of a 23-year marriage between Sarandon and Robbins, who had two children together. Crash’s job for the Bulls is to mature Nuke and teach him how to pitch, but he is angry and resentful, and his lust for Annie constantly gnaws at him.

I find the movie endlessly entertaining, even after seeing it 10 times. The characters are funny; the dialogue is witty and sarcastic, both underplayed and over the top.

The characters are profane yet also very kind and human. I think Crash’s soliloquies about “never messing with a streak” and that after 12 years in the Minors, he “doesn’t try out” as a lover, are as good as it gets in American movies.

Rocky is Stallone’s masterpiece. Bull Durham is an even better movie.

Question: What are your favorite sports movies?

Clip from Rocky – “All I want to do is go the distance”

Clip from Bull Durham: On the Mound Convention

Share this post

Thankful

By Lloyd Graff

As we head into Thanksgiving, I am using the blog to express a few of the many many things and people I am thankful for today.

I am thankful for breath. Every day I thank God for the ability to breathe deeply. As someone who spent 13 straight days on a ventilator in a hospital, I take note of my ability to breathe each day.

A deep breath is also my way of taking pause amidst turmoil to get my bearings. It is a way to find some peace and prepare for sleep.

******

I am thankful for my family. My wife Risa is the love of my life after 46 years of marriage. To feel joy when I greet her in the evening and touch her hand in the morning, who could ask for more.

My three children have happy and successful lives and good health. They connect with me often and seem to enjoy being with me as adults.

My four grandchildren seem healthy and happy. And the three older girls like baseball.

******

I live in the United States, which is like winning the lottery to most of the six billion people on the planet. The country is an always evolving experiment with a million competing interests, but it has afforded me opportunity and freedom that I treasure, particularly knowing the history of my family coming from Russia 100 years ago.

******

I am grateful for the handful of pills I take every morning and night. Aspirin, Omega 3, lisonopril for blood pressure control, statin for cholesterol, ACE Inhibitor for my heart, serotonin regulator for moods, and omeprazole for stomach acid. It is a panoply of the medicines that have taken billions of dollars to perfect. They help me live a normal life in my seventies after nearly dying eight years ago.

******

I am grateful for my mind. I get to create and connect with people. I understand nuance, I can play Words With Friends, and even understand some baseball analytics. I still relish the competition in business. So far dementia is just a word for me.

******

I have my appetite. I love a well-baked chocolate chip cookie and poppy seed salad dressing. I enjoy the smell of Arbequina olive oil and I can distinguish it from Colavita. A Honeycrisp apple delights me, as does ice cold lemonade. The smell of a pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving with homemade whipped cream. Wow.

******

I am grateful you have read this blog to the end. I get to do this.

Share this post

The American President

By Lloyd Graff

The musings of a wandering used machinery dealer.

Donald Trump, real estate mogul, is killing the housing market in his first week as president-elect.  Mortgage rates have bounced up to over 4%.  The refi market is nauseous and near vomiting.  People are dithering whether to rush in now to buy, refi or wait for the unexpected knee jerk reaction to jerk back.  Fortunately, November and December are not big home buying months, but if the Fed raises interest rates in December everybody will be paying more for money, including the car sellers and buyers.

******

Interest rates may be rising but pro-football ratings are plummeting.  There are lots of reasons being floated, like Colin Kaepernick’s politically incorrect kneeling, matchups like Jacksonville versus Tennessee so unappealing and 70 minutes a game of commercial spieling.  Throw in referees throwing 23 flags in a game, injury lists a yard long, an exciting election and a fantastic baseball season and you have NFL ratings in the toilet.  The League is actually refunding money to TV advertisers.  I did see a great Sunday night game, New England against Seattle, but frankly the NFL is a boring time suck.

******

Michael Douglas in “The American President”

Wow, Donald Trump’s first week as president-elect has been totally fascinating.  There was the Trump-Obama 90-minute lovers’ tryst, Leslie Stahl’s terrific interview on 60 Minutes, the hiring of Steve Bannon for the West Wing, and the emergence of his 35-year-old Orthodox Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as the new President’s true Number Two.

Kushner’s background mimics Donald’s in many ways and may explain why they are so simpatico.

Kushner’s grandparents on his father’s side were Holocaust survivors.  He may look like a choir boy with a yarmulke, but he grew up in both wealth and turmoil like Trump.  His father is a rich real estate developer in New Jersey.  Donald’s dad Fred owned apartment buildings in Queens.  Both men wanted to be in the New York elite which meant buying expensive properties in Manhattan.

Jared was a mediocre student at a Jewish high school he attended, as was Donald at the rugged military academy he attended.  Jared got into Harvard after his father gave $2.5 million to the college.  Donald somehow got into Penn.

Jared devoted most of his time at Harvard to investing in local apartment buildings and watching the cash flows.  Then he got into NYU Law School after Pop gave the school $3 million.

Jared’s dad, Charles, plays in the big leagues, and he plays rough.  He ran afoul of Chris Christie in New Jersey when Christie was State’s Attorney.  He was indicted for corruption, jury tampering and dirty tricks like setting up his brother-in-law with a prostitute he hired during a sibling fight with his sister.  His father plea bargained his sentence to one year of jail in Alabama where he could keep kosher.

Jared took over the family business while his father was in prison at age 25.  He bought his way into Manhattan real estate’s inner circle by buying a prestigious building for $1.2 billion, almost all borrowed.  Interest was $6.2 million a month which really hurt in the dark days of 2008 and 2009.  He also bought the New York Observer, a New York newspaper focusing on business and business gossip.  It was another way to raise his status.

He met, wooed and married Ivanka Trump who converted to Judaism, and he also courted her father, Donald, who surely saw a lot of himself in Jared.

So now Jared and his strange bedfellow Steve Bannon appear to be the two men closest to Donald Trump.  Jared seems to be the key man in the transition team, and he just purged Chris Christie, the man who had put his dad in an Alabama prison.  I think Donald really gets his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and vice versa.

Question: Who was the worst American President of all time?

Share this post

Young Had to Wait

By Noah Graff

A person can be blessed with immense natural talents, but achieving greatness takes both stubbornness and faith.

I just finished reading QB, the new biography of Steve Young, the Hall Of Fame quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers during the ‘80s and ‘90s. Young’s story is inspirational because he had to struggle for so many years of his football career trapped as a backup quarterback while believing he had the talent to be a star if he could just get the opportunity to have the starting job.

In his senior year of high school Steve Young had straight A’s, was the captain of the football, basketball and baseball teams and went to prom with a girl who eventually would be crowned Miss America. He grew up in a loving middle class Mormon family in Connecticut with encouraging parents who never sought to breed an athletic phenom. At first glance it would seem like things came easy to Steve. He was blessed with natural talent and the drive to workout more than anyone else on his teams, but he had to overcome doubters on his high school, college and professional teams to get starting jobs. After being brought to the San Francisco 49ers with the promise he would start the 1987 season, he had to endure four years of backing up Joe Montana before he was officially considered the team’s undisputed starting quarterback.

Steve Young

In high school Young was a poor passer because he had never been taught to throw a football correctly, but he was a fast and fearless runner. When the starting quarterback was injured Young came in and started winning games by running half the plays himself. He played more or less as a quarterback and running back simultaneously. In two seasons he ran the ball 267 times for 1,928 yards, but completed only 41% of his passes, throwing for 1,220 yards.

Many colleges that employed a running quarterback offense recruited him. He accepted a scholarship to attend the University of North Carolina where as a freshman he would begin as second on the team’s depth chart at quarterback. At the last minute he backed out because he had an undiagnosed anxiety condition that made him scared to sleep away from home. At the last minute he decided instead to go to Brigham Young University because in Salt Lake City he had family and the Mormon community as a support system. However by choosing to go to BYU he had no guarantee of playing quarterback. He was relegated to the practice squad on a team that utilized a drop back throwing offense. At the time Steve Young arrived at BYU in 1980, Jim McMahon was the starter and one of the best quarterbacks in college football. In the first few days of camp the BYU coaches laughed at Young’s throwing incompetence and told him right away that he would never start at quarterback at BYU because he was left-handed. Their skepticism motivated Young to prove them wrong. Young says “he was attracted to the impossible.” Everyday he stayed after practice and studied Jim McMahon, watching him work out. He studied all his techniques and finally learned how to throw a football correctly. Young describes the release of the ball as similar to throwing a screwball pitch, pushing the ball out of the hand instead of spinning the ball out of the hand as he had previously done.

Despite excelling on BYU’s JV team, at the end of Young’s Freshman year the quarterback coach told him that he wanted to him to play defensive back rather than quarterback because he happened to be the fastest guy on the team, and also because he was left-handed. Young was so frustrated that he came close to leaving school to go on a Mormon mission, but he knew emotionally he would not be able to handle being so far away from his family. He asked for advice from a Mormon priest who convinced him that his path was to play football at BYU.

In the the spring Young reluctantly began learning to play defensive back, but a few days after being back in school the quarterback coach who had doubted him was hired as the Head Coach of San Diego State. Young suddenly believed he had a chance again to play quarterback. He spent months practicing his throwing in the field house perfecting his technique. One day the new quarterback coach noticed him throwing and suggested to the head coach to take a look at him. After seeing Young’s skills, the head coach decided to give him a chance again at quarterback. Because of Young’s improved skills and some chance occurrences, within weeks he went from 8th to 2nd on the quarterback depth chart. Then Jim McMahon got hurt and Young got his chance to start a few games. He played great, wowing the fans and coaches. After his second game starting it leaked to the press that Steve Young was the Great, Great, Great Grandson of THE Brigham Young, the founder of the Mormon Church, and he was interviewed on Good Morning America. There are actually a lot of grand children of Brigham Young, a result of his 52 children.

After Jim McMahon graduated Young became a star in his Junior and Senior years at BYU, putting up staggering numbers in passing and rushing. He finished his college career with 592 pass completions for 7,733 yards and 56 touchdowns, along with rushing for 1,048 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground. In 1984 people believed Young was destined for greatness in professional football. Instead of going to the NFL he was lured to play in the new pro football league, the United States Football League, where he signed an unprecedented 10-year $40 million contract to play for the Los Angeles Express. Donald Trump an owner of another team in the league, the New Jersey Generals, had been one of several folks who had encouraged Young to join the league. In truth, most of the $40 million would be paid to him as an annuity over 40 years, but fans constantly harassed him, questioning how any athlete could be worth such money.

The USFL was a failure and folded two years after Young arrived. He then was forced to go to Tampa Bay, the team that drafted him in the supplemental NFL draft. After two horrible seasons he could see that the team was going nowhere so he told his agent to get him traded to a competitive team. Joe Montana had been injured the year before in San Francisco and many people were saying his career was over. The 49ers legendary coach Bill Walsh told Young that if he came to San Fransisco in 1987 he would become the new starting quarterback. The situation seemed perfect. He would get to play for the best team in the NFL under the inventor of the West Coast Offense.

But things did not go as Young had been promised. Joe Montana came back from injury in 1987 and played better than ever. Walsh tried to play both quarterbacks, an unprecedented strategy, sometimes using Young like a relief pitcher when Montana was struggling. Young also got to start for several games that Montana was injured. He usually played great when he had the opportunity to play, which made it especially tormenting for him when he was forced to sit so much. It was especially difficult for Young to watch Montana win back to back Super Bowls in 1988 and 1989. While a backup quarterback from the 1987 through 1990 seasons Young felt that he was not deserving of the money he was being paid, so he often kept his paychecks in a drawer or in the glove compartment of his car, not cashing them until the team made him.

After the 1990 season Young was a restricted free agent and seriously contemplated going to the L.A. Raiders, a talented team which had promised him the starting quarterback job. His friends, family and agent encouraged him to go to L.A., but Young wasn’t sure. He spent several weeks praying to come to a decision and he came to believe that if he stayed in San Francisco he would become the starter. If he had the chance to start for the 49ers he much preferred that to starting for any other team. In the second preseason game of the 1991 season, Montana’s elbow flared up with tendinitis. The team shut him down for the season, giving Young his first chance to be the official starting quarterback for the 49ers. Montana would never start another game for the 49ers. When he was finally healthy enough to play again in 1993 he asked to be traded to the Kansas City Chiefs to avoid another quarterback controversy.

Young thrived as the 49ers quarterback for many years, winning his own Super Bowl in the 1994-1995 season. It took a while to eventually win over many 49er fans who still wished that Montana was their quarterback, but winning championships can do that. Young only played a full season three times during is 15-year career but his 96.8 career passer rating is the fourth highest in NFL history, the highest among retired players. His 4,239 rushing years are the third highest ever for a quarterback behind only Michael Vick and Randall Cunningham.

Question: Who is your favorite quarterback of all time?

Share this post

Energy Trumped Statistics

By Lloyd Graff

I have been a baseball and political junkie for the last six months, reading all the statistics and scuttlebutt I could digest. I found a common thread between the two. All the stats and inside baseball were interesting and portrayed a fairly accurate picture about what was going on, but in baseball and politics there was another crucial ingredient that had to be assessed to really get what was happening. Who had the “energy,” the passion, the enduring enthusiasm?

When I was watching all the “smart” people on TV and reading the erudite compilations of polling data as the election was coming down to the wire, my mind told me that Hillary Clinton had a lock. She had the women’s vote by 15 points, she had 80% of the Latino vote and over 90% of the African American vote. She had the Obamas pushing Black turnout. She had all the plusses that Mitt Romney had identified in 2012 that made a Republican Presidential victory virtually impossible. And, Hillary had the “jerk” factor working for her. She was running against Donald Trump, a narcissistic, crude, discarder of wives who made fun of fat women and disabled reporters. How could she lose?

A Trump for President rally in Sterling Heights, MI. November 6, 2016.

But as the race wound down, my gut told me that Trump had a very good chance to win. In my job I get to talk to a wide swath of people each day from around the country. They come from different earning categories, small business people, hourly people on the shop floor, all varieties of ethnic groups. They are mostly white, tend to be over 40, and not heavy in college degrees. They were strongly for Trump. They were quite different from my friends and family and the people I encountered at the local Starbucks.

They were enthusiastic for Donald, not passively favorable for Hillary. They were sure about voting for Trump while my Hillary friends were toying with third parties, wishing that Sanders was the Democratic candidate or considering not voting at all for President.

Donald Trump made a brilliant decision early in his campaign. He would double down on his core group of supporters, disaffected white men and women, and try to expand that group rather than convert the unconvertable. He mobilized and energized his base all over the country. He played to his fans, and he built energy, enthusiasm and momentum. This is an example business people should learn from. Go after your natural constituents, don’t waste your effort on those who seem disinterested. Trump made a half-hearted effort to turn Blacks and Latinos to him, but mainly he tried to play to his chorus and build, build, build momentum.

These were the people who would forgive him for being a narcissistic, impulsive jerk. They focused on what they wanted to see in him – strength, confidence, disgust for the status quo in Washington.

On Monday, I read the poll of the polls. I listened to the “experts” who just kept repeating the stats and conventional wisdom, and I knew in my gut that Trump would probably win. Hillary needed Michelle and Springsteen to muster a crowd in Philly. Trump pulled 10,000 screaming believers to a midnight rally in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

Believe in the “energy.” You don’t always see it in the stats, but it makes the “difference” for winners.

Question: If you did not vote for Trump, what do you think now?

Share this post

Congratulations to Me!

By Lloyd Graff

I received calls and emails all day congratulating me on the Cubs fantastic victory Wednesday in the World Series. Thanks, I did get the winning hit in the 10th inning, but really, I’m just one guy and it took a whole team to pull it off.

Perhaps it isn’t so crazy to congratulate me for being a fan, an enthusiast, a progenitor of two generations of new fans, of adding to the monster TV ratings, of even buying an MLB labeled Maddon jersey, size 2XL.

I should be congratulated for cheering for terrible players like Cuno Barragan who had a lifetime batting average of .202. He had one career home run which came on his first at bat in 1961 in front of 5427 Chicago Cubs. Barragan’s other claim to fame was hiding in the Cubs’ huge manual scoreboard with a telescope and stealing signs from the opposing catcher. There was an exit sign over center field which he could light up or douse with the push of a button next to the telescope. The exit sign on red meant a fastball, unlit signaled a curve.

The Cubbies were so bad in 1962 that the owner, P.K. Wrigley, decided to institute the “College of Coaches.” The team would rotate in a new manager every few days, as the 12 designated coaches switched jobs randomly. The Cubbies went 59-103 in 1962.

Lloyd and Noah Graff in front of Makeshift Wrigley Field Harry Caray Memorial, 1998

But there were reasons to be a fan through the 14 straight second division finishes.

Ernie Banks came to the Cubs in 1953 from the Negro League. Ernie weighed about 170 pounds but hit 511 homers in his career. I patterned my own batting stance after Ernie’s, as did just about every other kid I played with, right elbow cocked, bat at a 90 degree angle to the ground, and then propel the bat through the zone with lightning fast wrists. Unfortunately, I didn’t have Ernie’s coordination – or wrists. All my children adopted Ernie’s stance, too.

One thing that sustained me as a Cubs fan was their great broadcasters. First there was Jack Quinlan in the ‘50s and ‘60s on radio. Quinlan could describe a game so brilliantly you could see it on the old Philco. His call of Don Cardwell’s no-hitter in 1960 was memorable.

Joe Cunningham was up for the St. Louis Cardinals with two outs in the 9th. Here is Jack’s call.

“Cunningham’s arguing now, he’s really barkin’ at Tony Venzon the plate umpire … he’s really sore … he’s really peeved at that strike two that was called. One more pitch we’re hopin’ for. The dark one. Blow it past him Don! Here comes the biggest pitch of this ballgame. Lined to left (crowd gasps). Here’s Moryn comin’ (crowd roars). HE CAUGHT IT! He caught it. A no hitter. His teammates are pounding him to death.”

Then there was Jack Brickhouse’s “Hey Hey Holy Mackerel!” And Harry Caray. I loved Harry so much when I listened to him as a kid on KMOX in St. Louis when he was calling Cardinals games for 25 years. He called White Sox games for 11 years and then spent 16 years calling Cubs games. Listening to Harry sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame in the 7th inning of Cubs games was one of life’s genuine pleasures for me.

When Harry died in 1998, Noah and I went to Wrigley and helped decorate his makeshift memorial with Cubs memorabilia. (See Photo)

**********

I received an email yesterday from my cousin Dan Pinkert, who was my Dad’s partner Aaron’s son. Danny lived next door to us and sent me this note.

Lloyd, During the World Series I remembered the day your mother took me to the first Cubs game I ever attended. I don’t remember if the Cubs won, but I do remember that we were stuck in traffic on the way home and your mother complained about the traffic because she had to go to the bathroom. I then became a Cubs fan and recall watching games a lot on the TV in your living room. It wasn’t until 8th grade that I found out I was supposed to be a Sox fan because I lived on the south side, but by then it was too late to switch teams. So all he grief I got in high school being a Cubs fan was due to your family.

But it finally paid off!!!!

Thanks to you and your parents for raising me as a Cubs fan.

Dan

***********

Being a fan – well, it’s how you are raised. It’s your religion. It’s like a tattoo, you can’t ever remove it.

I’m enormously grateful I’ve lived my life as a Cubs fan. I’m happy we won the Series, yet I am sad to see the season end. But the beautiful thing is, my Cubs season never ends. We’ve got personnel decisions to make. What free agents are available?

And I’ve got four grandchildren to teach the game to. Go Cubs.

Question: Do you have any fan stories?

Steve Goodman performing “A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request”
from one of the Wrigley Field rooftops.

Share this post

Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

By Lloyd Graff

I am still woozy from the awesome Cubs victory in game five of the World Series. I watched the game on TV at home, but our whole family met at a pizza place about 15 minutes from Wrigley Field for a pre-game meal. Amazingly, my daughter Sarah, a rabbi in California, and her husband Scott got great seats, thanks to the generosity of one of her congregants, who had connections with Todd Rickets, an owner of the Cubs. Last Thursday, Sarah got an email from her wealthy congregant out of the blue, offering her two seats in Chicago for the World Series, all expenses paid. He had heard her sermons connecting the Cubs and important thoughts on how to live a good life, and wanted to say thank you – a true random act of kindness, for sure. Sarah and Scott accepted graciously, got a sitter for the kids, and headed to Chicago for the Sunday game.

It was a “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” type of fantasy day for Scott and Sarah. Coincidentally, Scott had attended Glenbrook North high school, the Chicago suburban high school that Ferris Bueller’s high school was modeled after. Also, Jason Kipnis, Cleveland’s second baseman, who has been killing the Cubs the whole series, attended that high school.

The whole family, sans three grandchildren, met at Monti’s Restaurant for pizza before the game. Then Noah and his girlfriend drove Sarah and Scott close to Wrigley, right before the streets surrounding the park were blocked off. Sarah and Scott brought several signs with them, which they displayed frequently at the game. They said they were literally standing with all of Wrigley the whole game, abstaining from getting up even once for food or to go to the bathroom. They were interviewed by mlb.com after the game (click video below). They stayed at Noah’s condo in the city and flew home early Monday in time to pick up their girls from school. Amazing day.

Click to see video of Sarah and Scott interviewed at game five of Cubs/Indians 2016 World Series.

******

The Presidential election goes down in a week. What usually happens appears to be happening – it’s getting considerably closer. Donald Trump could still surprise everybody and win, but I don’t think so. The path for Trump is extremely narrow with New York, California and Illinois virtually certain to go big for Hillary Clinton. If Latinos and African Americans go 90% for Hillary and women go 65% for her, it seems very unlikely Trump can sneak in.

But consider this possible scenario, reminiscent of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Scandal, emanating from the pay-to-play cynicism of the Clintons, bubbles up to overwhelm a Hillary Presidency and she is forced to resign, a la Nixon.

Tim Kaine, who impresses me as a real lightweight, is sworn in as President. Maybe he is more than what he seems, like Gerald Ford was, but more likely he is as weighty as a paper airplane. More gridlock, more angst and anger. A nice setup for Ted Cruz in 2020.

******

Amazon is building, or has already built, four gigantic (850,000 to 1 million square foot) warehouses south of Chicago. They call them fulfillment centers, which may not accurately describe the gritty work involved, but they provide decent jobs for people who have been looking for work with benefits and are willing to give it their all for $13 an hour, 40 hours per week over four days. If people want to work part-time for the next two months they can make $15.50.

We’re talking heavy lifting, a lot of standing, walking, dealing with noise with a half hour for lunch. Heaven forbid you come in late. Your pay will be docked one hour for one minute of tardiness.

But Amazon is smart. They lay out the rules ahead of time and they don’t promise easy. But if you work your butt off and play by their rules, you will get some health benefits, take home a lot more than driving a school bus at 5:30 a.m., and have a real job. At least until the robots get a little more sophisticated.

This is America, 2016. There are a lot of jobs if you are young, healthy and are willing to work hard. There are jobs all over high tech. Hospitals are always hiring. Nurses can make a hundred grand if they are good. If you can set up a Citizen or Star and don’t have a drug habit, I can find you 10 jobs in an hour. But I am glad to see Amazon run its business differently than Wal-Mart. We have a Wal-Mart across the street from our plant. I hate going into the store because the people who work there seem so listless and indifferent.

Amazon still has its energy and passion. They know how to hire and motivate new workers for $13 an hour. That isn’t easy.

Questions: Are you caring less about professional football this year?

Will the next president be impeached?

Share this post

Every Breath I Take

My daughter Sarah’s goal for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year holiday, was to make her congregants think about how they want to live their lives this year. She asked a member of her congregation, Lisa Goldman, to speak. Lisa was diagnosed with lung cancer three years ago. I found her talk extremely moving and asked her if I could pass it on to you. She has a blog that I highly recommend. lisa.ericgoldman.org
-Lloyd Graff

Rosh Hashanah Talk, Sept. 2016, By Lisa Goldman
Hi, my name is Lisa Goldman. Some of you may have heard my story, but others of you have not. In about a month, I will, G­od willing, celebrate my 44th birthday. It was not a day many expected me to see. I was diagnosed, at age 41 with Stage IV lung cancer. Statistics told me that I had about a 15% chance of surviving 1 year, and a 2% chance of surviving five years.

I had taught a spin class less than a month before I was diagnosed. I was a fitness fanatic, a never­-smoker, a non­drinker, an almost vegan of over 20 years. Yes, I got a swift and brutal education that lung cancer can strike young, healthy, never smokers, and it does so at a clip of tens of thousands of us per year.

I was shocked and I’ve had almost three years now to contemplate mortality. Rabbi Graff asked me to speak today because she’d read some of my public blog and surmised that some of my navel gazing might be pertinent to our discussion here today: What would you do if you realized your life might be cut short?

Some things are fairly obvious: tell the people you love how much you care about them, and why. I have done that for for some of the most significant people in my life, but not all, yet. Here is an example of the blog post I wrote for and about my father on Father’s Day last year:

******

Here’s how I knew this lung cancer thing was real. I was in the hospital. I’d had my biopsy and diagnosis the day before. Upon hearing the news, my parents had flown up and had been in my room all day, talking with me and my doctors, and when it came time for bed, my Mom jokingly offered my dad a Xanax. He turned her down, and then a few minutes later as he was heading out the door, he half­-jokingly said, “Barb, maybe I will have one of those.” Ho. Lee. Crap.

You see, I’ve never seen my father take anything stronger than an aspirin in my life. He doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t drink, he doesn’t curse, he doesn’t gamble, and he doesn’t joke about any of those things either. On top of that, he’s about as level­headed and unflappable as they come. When he gets upset, he uses the word “unequivocal” a lot and does this thing with his fingers, sort of like an “ok” sign with the middle, ring and pinky fingers sharply pointed at you emphasizing his unequivocal point. That’s it. If you get his three finger salute, you’ve gone a little too far. If he’s joking about taking a Xanax? Now it’s time to panic.

Sometimes I’ve bristled at his over­-the-­top wholesomeness and old-­fashioned ways. He ran a very tight ship when I was growing up. He woke me up in the mornings belting out Reveille on his pretend trumpet. He made me have a study schedule, allowing for only two 5 minute restroom breaks while doing my homework between school and dinner time. When I went to camp and later to college, I’d receive letters from him on his law firm letterhead, in outline format with line numbers for reference and footnotes. When it came time for me to rebel and establish my independence like any normal teenager, I did so by switching from his beloved Lotus Word Pro to Microsoft Word. You cannot imagine the amount of unequivocal triple finger pointing that earned me. I almost got disowned.

But, we made it through. Even in the midst of my wild Microsoft rebellion days, my Dad was my unshakable rock. Once, when I was about 15, I woke up to something tickling my arm. I went to groggily itch it and discovered a huge cockroach. I flung it off me, and it started flying around thrashing into things. I screamed like crazy. My Dad came barreling down the hall in his pajamas, wielding a baseball bat. When he discovered the cause of upset was a common beetle, he almost took the bat to me, but then he just laughed, swapped the bat for a wad of toilet paper and took that sucker down. That’s love.

Unfortunately, he can’t take down cancer for me with toilet paper, or even a baseball bat. Still, he’s trying just the same.

We’re not super talk­-about-­your-­feelings type of people. So, I haven’t said this to him directly. But, I want him to know now: I see you, Dad. I see you quietly visiting your mom twice a day for decades, and I learn what family means. I see you forcing me to pick up all the softballs left in the outfield after practice, and I learn a little humility. I see you showing up to my tennis matches to root me on, and I learn about unconditional support. I see you running a business that not only affords your family a comfortable life, but stability for half a dozen employees and their families, and I learn about hard work and responsibility. I see you with your military history, and I learn about duty and honor. I see you keeping in touch with your childhood friends, your law colleagues, your college and army buddies, and I learn about loyalty and friendship. I see you driving the same broken down car for decades so that I don’t have to pay off school loans, and I learn about values. And in this past year and a half? In this past year and a half, I see you burying yourself in your work, so you can think less about what it might mean that cancer took your father when you were only 27 and now it’s threatening your only daughter, and I see love. I see you offering to help cover any medical expense I might need without the slightest hesitation, and I see love. I see you quietly staying home by yourself, while Mom comes to take care of me for weeks at a time, and I see love. I see you not complaining once about the burden this has put on you in so many ways, and I see what it means to be a parent: above all else, love.

I’m not very good at expressing it in person, Dad. But I see it all, and the sheer magnitude of it just crushes me with awe and gratitude. I spend my life trying to live up to the high standards you have always set for me. I hope to do you proud. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.

******

Sharing your feelings with loved ones is almost always a worthwhile endeavor. Facing this diagnosis has made me more free with my “I love yous” and that has been a good thing. But, I hardly have all the answers. Almost three years into this process and I still haven’t said and done everything I’d like to do. I haven’t even organized my photos — something I panicked about in the hospital room just days after my diagnosis.

Here’s the problem. I cannot compose letters like that one to my father every day. Whoever said “live every day like it’s your last,” clearly never really had to,­­ it’s a terrible place to operate from.

When the oncologist gave me my diagnosis, I swiftly adopted a new identity. I left my previous identity as a mom, wife, fitness instructor, school volunteer, and crafter, completely behind. I became “Lisa the LC patient.” I immersed myself in the LC world: surviving treatments, managing side effects, researching, blogging, advocating, thinking about LC and my mortality in some form or another almost constantly.

At around the two year mark of living this way, I grew weary of living like this. I wanted to reclaim some of my previous self, but, letting go of LC as my primary identity felt terrifying. I knew exactly how much I had to lose, and how devastatingly quickly I could lose it. For a long time it felt naive, stupid even, to re­engage in my pre­cancer life. I didn’t want to open myself up to that excruciating wake­up call again, and I wasn’t sure how to avoid it except to constantly be prepared for the worst,­ to curtail living in order to be ready to die within weeks.

Most people have the luxury of avoiding thoughts about their mortality until it is very close. Even many cancer patients are able to cope by telling themselves that their cancer isn’t real, isn’t deadly. That’s not me. I am acutely aware that everything I experience in life will forevermore be through the lens of having this diagnosis. BUT,­ I need more. About eight months ago I made the conscious decision to resume living. It finally dawned on me that it’s not necessarily an either/or proposition, it’s both/and. I can live both with the knowledge of my diagnosis, my mortality, and proceed with my life. I can be a diligent patient, advocate and blogger AND resume teaching, traveling, mothering, attempting art. And I have. Because until I’m dead, I’m not.

I don’t know how long I’ll get to live here, but none of us do. What if I AM in the 2% that survives five or more years? What if my diagnosis wasn’t a death sentence, but an invitation to live life the days I have left as fully as I can? I can live like I’m dying AND like I’m living. Because I am. We all are.

Visit Lisa’a blog at lisa.ericgoldman.org.

Share this post