Wednesday, January 30, 2008


On Tuesday I wrote about the Tribune and mentioned in passing that Sam Zell is making noise again about marring the beautiful Daily News building with some new piece of crap, and how much that annoyed me. I promised a post about the consequences of that.

The potential consequence is for the Tribune to be placed on my NEVER AGAIN list. I feel like Frank Costanza when I talk about the NEVER AGAIN list, but it is what it is, right? Anyway, I feel that I am a fairly reasonable man. I don’t ask very much. In fact, sometimes I ask nothing. However, when I encounter bad service and rudeness to back it up, I tend to react badly. Hence the NEVER AGAIN list.

The first entrant on the list was Radio Shack. In specific, my beef was with the shit-assed Radio Shack at 3336 North Western Avenue, in Roscoe Village. After roughly 17 years on the list, I provisionally took Radio Shack off to buy a cable to allow me to listen to L’s iPod through the stereo upstairs. Of course, I walked in to the Radio Shack at Harlem-Irving Plaza, found my cable right away, and then it took me 15 minutes to pay for the cable. Consequently, Radio Shack has been removed from the NEVER AGAIN list, but is on the “that place sucks” list. A lesser designation, but it still makes them the last option when I need to buy something.

The second entrant on the list is still in good standing as a NEVER AGAIN location. It is the restaurant Italian Village in the Loop. Their sin? Not so much losing my dinner reservation, although that was bad enough (especially since it was for dinner with my future in-laws). Instead of stepping up, apologizing, buying us a glass of wine and finding us a table, the maitre monkey they had working basically said he didn’t believe that we ever made a reservation, and offered to let us wait in a bar if we wanted to. I find that the important thing when encountering such a tremendous flub is not just to leave, but to tell everyone you know to AVOID ITALIAN VILLAGE because they don’t care about their customers. Over the years I have nixed a number of functions to be held there by groups I am involved with. All I can say is that four glasses of wine and a table would have been much cheaper.

I can’t really think of anyone else on the list, although I leave open the likelihood that L will be able to remind me of several others. I usually forget about them until I encounter them, and then I go all Frank Costanza.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


L and I get the Tribune every morning. This is a little controversial, since the Tribune is a right-wing rag. Also, it is now owned by Sam Zell, who may have done some good things in Chicago, but is now talking about messing with the old Daily News building, which pisses me off. I may do another post about the consequences of that.

Anyway, today was an interesting day in the paper. Three things that were genuinely interesting. In the first, the Tribune’s correspondent in Brussels had an interesting piece about Belgium’s slow slide toward dissolution. Apparently the new Miss Belgium was booed in Antwerp for not being able to speak Dutch (or Flemish). The country has not had a functioning government in seven months. And, importantly, with a common currency, and open borders in the EU, there doesn’t seem to be any compelling reason to stay one country. The biggest wrinkle in the plan? Brussels. It is in the Dutch-speaking area, but is generally a French-speaking city with very substantial non-Dutch speaking, foreign born population. They are unlikely to be interested in becoming part of independent Flanders. As one commentator said, the Flemish won’t leave without Brussels, but probably can’t leave with it. Let’s see what happens.

In Slovenia, apparently the process of actually finding all of the mass graves left in the two months at the end of the war. Most of these mass graves were created by the Partisans and consist of German and allied (to the German) soldiers caught in the last days of the war before they could get to Austria and surrender to the British. The story is amazing because they are still finding graves with thousands of bodies in them. The other interesting thing is that while these graves are forcing people to reevaluate the history of the liberation of Yugoslavia, the Nazis and allied forces were almost certainly responsible for many more mass killings than the Partisans. This historical memory played out again during the Balkan wars in the 1990s. At what point does a society (or now several societies) decide that all of the mass killings are a wash and move on? At what point do you have so many mass killings that reevaluating the past becomes merely a catalog of horror?

Finally, the Tribune has a nifty little piece about parts of Chicago that have radically changed captured in films. These are not home movies, but rather, Hollywood movies. These include Call Northside 777, City That Never Sleeps, Medium Cool, Cooley High, The Blues Brothers, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Only the Lonely. It’s pretty cool, and makes me want to see some of the movies I have not seen.

UPDATE: On Wednesday the Washington Post ran a similar Belgium article to the Tribune, but with more personal anecdotes. Check it here.

So, I was kicking around the interweb and came across a page that collects material from economists in 500-1500 word articles. They are generally written in language that is accessible to non-economists, and cover a wide range of topics.

Friday I read the article entitled When Iceland was Ghana, by Thorvaldur Gylfason. It starts from the premise that as of 1901 Iceland was at the same level of per capita national output as Ghana is today. Thus, the question is whether Iceland’s tremendous economic growth over the next 107 years can be duplicated by Ghana.

At the risk of overly summarizing a 1500 word essay, Gylfason seems to identify two factors that were key to Iceland’s rise. First, it is necessary to get population under control. Iceland previously averaged almost 6 births per woman, but by 2007 the number is about 2.1. This is the minimum to maintain population stability. Ghana has apparently made great strides in cutting the number of births per woman in the last 50 years, but the number is still over 5.

Second is the investment in human capital represented by 100% literacy. By 1901 Iceland had enjoyed roughly two centuries of full literacy, and has some of the highest publication-per-capita of books rates in the world. If Ghana invests in education while controlling its population, Mr. Gylfason posits, it is possible that the country’s economy could take off on an Iceland style growth trajectory.

I took two interesting things from this essay. First, Mr. Gylfason does not necessarily account for Iceland’s very small size and isolation possibly being a factor on law-abiding behavior. There are roughly 300,000 people in Iceland. The country is not closer than 280 km to any other major landmass (Greenland), and is 970 km from Norway. It is in the middle of nothing. This could create a premium on law-abiding behavior that is perhaps not present in Ghana.

Second, Mr. Gylfason seems to sort of gloss over the fact that Iceland had a centuries-old tradition of literacy at the 1901 start date. Ghana may be able to get to 100% literacy (or not), but it would be in Iceland’s position in 2208, not 2008. This is important because Ghana is in a tougher neighborhood than Iceland, and it is not unlikely that Ghana will have social disruption from war in the area over the next 100 years. If literacy is not a deeply ingrained cultural value, it is certainly possible that it will be sacrificed in trying times.

What I think is interesting is that I have argued since college that Economics, History, and Political Science (and maybe Geography and the Law too) are really sides of a coin. None really are complete without the others. Gylfason seems to have taken an economists view of statistics, and posited causality. My criticisms are historical, maybe sociological (I never took that class, but law-abiding behavior seems like something they’d talk about), and historical. Hmmmm.

Monday, January 28, 2008


My Illini are having a tough basketball season. They may be fortunate to make the NIT, let alone the NCAA. However, they got a little bump by playing in-state rival Northwestern. The Illini won 70-37, which is better than losing, I guess.

Meanwhile, 850 miles to the southeast, Barack Obama was laying the smack down on semi-in-state rival Hillary Clinton. In fact, Barack did the Illini one better, since the Illini just missed doubling Northwestern's score, while Obama doubled Hillary's vote total in South Carolina.

So you know, there was that this weekend.

I want to work at a think tank. I want to do that because every stupid-assed thing I thought of would have the credibility of my think tank behind it. Apparently it would mean that I could publish the silliest of my ideas anywhere. Case in point, this weekend's New York Times magazine.

The article is called Waving Goodbye to Hegemony. It starts by positing a world in 2016, a scant eight years from now, in which China has "absorbed" Taiwan and has a naval base in Pakistan, and (and I quote) "the European Union has expanded to well over 30 members and has secure oil and gas flows from North Africa, Russia and the Caspian Sea, as well as substantial nuclear energy." America, in this world is in decline.

Let me get this straight. Taiwan is eight years from peacefully joining China? That's fascinating. I would not have ever guessed that Taiwan is winding down to close up shop. I wonder if the Taiwanese know this. Furthermore, it is remarkable that a dithering, politically impotent EU not only is more powerful for having expanded again (against the historical trend, that), but has also "secured" Russia's energy. Because Putin seems hell-bent on ensuring that the EU does not "secure" Russia's energy. And apprently the North Africans are not Muslims anymore, and have no emnity against Spain, England, or the other EU countries. Oh, and the Caspian has apparently become stable.

My goodness, I need to work at a think tank. Everything in the world will radically change, except that America will not bounce back from the Iraq adventure, and the current economic slow down. What are the odds.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Right now my weather widget tells me that it is five outside. Notice that I wrote "five" and did not simply type the temperature. It's a bad sign when you are writing about temperature and a style guide has an entry that is directly on point. That means it is cold.

Anyway, today is the kind of day that (a) makes people "strong like bull," (b) tests patience to its limits, (c) proves that people are less likely to explode when cold than when hot, or (d) all of the above.

With regard to (a), it is not just cold. It is a little windy. If you were to stand 2.5 floors above street level waiting for a train out in the open, you would likely find it to be quite windy. The kind of wind that almost gives you an ice cream headache when you breathe through your nose. Stalingrad cold. And yet, you probably would not freeze to death right away. And therefore the cold would make you stronger. Stronger like bull! So, (a) is right.

With regard to (b), I take the METRA, rather than the el because it runs on a schedule and gets me into the Loop quicker than does the el. METRA is a little more expensive, but you pay for the different services. Thus, when the METRA is 35 minutes late and rolls in to the station looking like this, it could tend to irritate (me). That irritation was only increased when the smart-assed conductor got on as we pulled into Ogilvie and blathered about METRA bringing people together, and allowing us to interact with people, blah, blah, blah. Turns out that stuff is much funnier when you can feel your toes. So, (b) is right.

With regard to (c), I was too cold to get good and worked up. Who knew? So, (c) is right. Which makes the correct answer (d). Did you all answer (d)?

Oh, and before I forget, check out It is still in progress, but it looks like it will be the new home of U, L, and me on the web.

Friday, January 04, 2008


The bi-coastal impression of Iowa is that it is flat, and full of corn. That makes it particularly galling that Iowa has such a disproportionate political impact. However, if you've ever been to Iowa, you know that it is a surprisingly diverse state. I mean, it is overwhelmingly white and rural, so that is not very diverse. However, it has rivers, bluffs, prairie, and hills.

Surprisingly enough, Iowa gave the rest of the United States more diversity in its caucus winners than anyone expected six months ago. Remember when Mrs. Clinton's nomination was a foregone conclusion? Everyone thought that running against her was sort of an exercise in futility. Yeah, well, losing to Obama in Iowa is one thing. Losing to Edwards in Iowa is bad. Really bad. Remember when Romney and Giuliani were the leaders and Fred Thompson was the guy Republicans were excited about? Yeah, well, something known as a "Huckabee" is your current leader.

On to New Hampshire. We'll see if either Obama or Huckabee can maintain their momentum into New England. We'll see if they even need to. The rest of the primaries are so close to New Hampshire, and New Hampshire is so small and geographically isolated that it may not matter as much as it used to. Which is to say that Mrs. Clinton may have picked the wrong state in which to lose. Better to win Iowa and then slug out the primaries than have the Myth of Inevitability crushed and slug it out in the primaries.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


OK. A few New Year's Day things. Keep in mind that now that I am old, I was not hung over, and I was up by 8:30 or so in the morning. In a Frank the Tank moment, I also went to Target on New Year's Day.

Anyway, let's start off with the most important thing. The Illini. Yes, they got waxed. That is undeniable. However, that does not, in any way, detract from my pride in that team. They went from terrible, so a BCS bowl game. In 2002 I saw them lose to San Jose F-ing State as part of the travelling road show that was my bachelor party. Notwithstanding the final score, remember that in the third quarter, they were a fumble away from making it a one possession game. Also keep in mind that Mendenhall hung 200+ yards on the number 2 defense in the country. Amid the destruction there were clear reasons to look forward to the future, and we have not been able to say that about Illini football since Lou Tepper got the head coaching job.

As you can see, U represented for the Illini hip-hop style.

In other New Year's Day events, I was not present for this, but feel compelled to share the footage, since I am related to at least one of these knuckleheads.