Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Mike Peed, a teacher at Choate Rosemary Hall, in Wallingford, Conn.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

When I arrived... Kosirog Pharmacy, at the corner of Augusta and Western, on Saturday afternoon the light was all wrong for the pictures I wanted to take. (I'd been meaning to return there ever since discovering it while taking my dog, Stewart, to his therapy appointments up in Logan Square.)

Contrast the picture at top with this one I took of Margie's Candies up the road back in January. I was stopped at a light in the late afternoon at the time and just happened to capture it at the perfect moment. Serendipity.

Sunset or shortly after would have been optimal for that awesome neon Rexall Drugs sign, but, as I've mentioned before, knowing Chicago as I do, this place could fall to the wrecking ball before I got another chance to take a good shot.

I mean, come on, when was the last time you saw a Rexall drugstore? And one that delivers, no less. And for free. And fast. Can that possibly be?

According to Wikipedia -- who else? (my emphasis):

The stores, having roots in the federation of United Drug Stores starting in 1902, licensed the Rexall brand name to as many as 12,000 drug stores across the United States from 1920 to 1977. (The "Rex" in the name came from the common Rx abbreviation for drug prescriptions.)

In 1958, the Rexall Drug Company was the largest U.S. drug store franchise, with 11,158 stores (for comparison, there are fewer than 12,000 McDonald's restaurants in the U.S. today).

That's the year I was born!

By the late 1950s, Rexall's business model of unitary franchised stores, with each store owned independently by the local pharmacist, was already coming under attack by the discount chains, such as Thrifty Drug and Eckerd. These well-financed corporate entities were able to reduce costs with block purchasing and were focused on growth. By 1977, the value of the Rexall business had deteriorated to the point that it was sold to private investors for $16 million. The investors divested the company-owned stores, though existing franchise retailers were able to keep the Rexall name. These tended to be weaker stores, and few kept the name as time progressed.

Across the US, there remain some franchise retailers still using the Rexall name.
In the early 1980s, Rexall, headed by Howard K. Vander Linden, a third-generation Rexall employee, was the subject of a hostile takeover by an organization headed by Larry Brown. The company almost immediately slid into decline.

Be sure to check out Kosirog Pharmacy before it's gone!

Friday, May 29, 2015

As I walked down...

...Augusta Boulevard on Saturday I kept seeing banners for St. Helen Parish, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last fall. Is this something I should see? I wondered.

St. Helen's is at the corner of Augusta and Oakley, just down a few blocks and across the street from the Moorish Science Temple.

(Temple No. 9, by the way, is at Augusta and Hoyne but doesn't show up on Googlemaps -- is it closed? -- so you'll have to take my word for it. Or go see it yourself.)

Where had I heard of St. Helen's before? Oh, yeah, it was mentioned by Robert Powers in his excellent blog, A Chicago Sojourn. Since the church faces northeast, "the sun never shines on the front of this building." And that's why I had to "borrow" these three pictures from Google images -- it was too shady.

From the Polish Genealogical Society of America:

St. Helen Church ... was founded in 1913 to serve Catholics of Polish birth and descent. 

Hence the statue of Pope John Paul II.

The structure is a beautiful example of Mid-century Modernism. (Or as Powers calls it, "A strange fusion of Deco, Modernism and tradition.") I snapped the picture above over my shoulder while asking a guy outside when the new church was built. He didn't know, but volunteered the information that Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski was raised in the parish. That's kinda cool. (I knew Coach K went to Archbishop Weber High School; do I get props for that?) He then went on to give me a twenty- or thirty-minute lecture on Michigan football. The bottom line? While Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke were all wrong for the program, Jim Harbaugh will be terrific.

Ground at the southwest corner of Augusta and Oakley Blvd. was broken for the new church and ... Msgr. Piwowar laid the cornerstone of the church on Aug. 16, 1964. Designed in the form of a fish, a symbol of Christ, the new church was constructed of Wisconsin Lannon Stone and it combines mass and vigor with harmony of design. The oval shape of the interior provides seating for 1,100 persons in eight rows of solid walnut pews. The Stations of the Cross, designed by Armando Santini in nickel and silver, rank among the finest examples of sacred art -- they are original in design, meticulous in detail, and vibrant in appearance. The four stained glass bay windows of 16 panels each were designed and executed by Erhard Stoetner of Milwaukee, WI.

It was a beautiful sunny day on Saturday so I didn't go inside. But I'll definitely have to check it out sometime.

Dec. 20, 1965 was a red-letter day for parishioners: Archbishop John Cody dedicated St. Helen Church and presided at the parish's 50th jubilee celebration, which had been delayed until the new church was completed.

The cost of building the church and rectory was $1,250,000.

It was time to move on now; my destination lay just up ahead at the corner of Augusta and Western.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

I continued my walk...

...on Saturday, up Ashland Avenue and west on Augusta Boulevard. (I actually had a destination in mind by this point.) On the way, I happened upon a church, above, which a piece in the Reader described as looking: any of the dozens of Polish churches dotting the Ukrainian Village, with wide red doors, a steepled roof, and a ring of cheery stained-glass windows.

But what's with that sign over the front door?

Moorish Science -- what?

Moorish Science Temple of America? This is going to require a visit to Wikipedia.

Apparently, a guy from North Carolina named Timothy Drew founded the Moorish Science Temple of America in 1913 in Newark, New Jersey. Known to his followers as Prophet Noble Drew Ali, he based his religion on the belief that African Americans had descended from the Moors and thus were originally Islamic.

After claiming the Midwest was "closer to Islam," Drew Ali moved to Chicago in 1925. He established a center here as well as temples in other major cities and the denomination expanded rapidly in the late 1920s.

Drew Ali died at age 43 in 1929 and was succeeded by, among others, David Ford-El. He claimed to be the reincarnation of Drew Ali. When his leadership was rejected, Wallace Fard Muhammad, as he later came to be known, moved to Detroit and formed what would become the Nation of Islam.

The Moorish Science temple in Chicago was known as Temple No. 9 and it bought the building above from Buddhist monks in 1984. From that article in the Reader (my emphasis):

On the third week of September, hundreds of Moors, as they call themselves, travel to the temple from around the country for their annual convention. It's the biggest event of the Moorish calendar, and it's been held in Chicago since the first one in 1928. That makes Temple No. 9 arguably the most important Moorish temple in the country.  

Temple No. 9 only has 23 active members now, many of them quite old—50 is young there—but they tell stories of the 30s and 40s, when there were 10,000 Moors in Chicago alone.

Who knew?  

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Jay Gray of NBC News.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I was out for a walk...

...on Saturday when I came across this facade on a building just east of Union Park on the Near West Side.

What was it about this that caught my eye and made me stop and take its picture? Was it the cool art deco font? (At least I assume it's art deco.) Or was it that incredibly generic-sounding name? I mean, come on, Acme Industrial Company? Or was it that I half-expected the Road Runner to come racing down the street with Wile E. Coyote in hot pursuit?

Or was it all of the above?

At the time, I was walking west on Lake Street and talking to my mom on the phone. Because of the noise from the el overhead, I turned north on Laflin Street. I looked up and immediately told my mother I'd have to call her back. I then snapped a few of these before dialing her number again. (Yep, I really did that.)

But as I soldiered on north and west I couldn't help wondering about the backstory to this sign. (If you squint -- or just click on the picture above -- you'll notice that 200 North Laflin Street is now the home of Genieco Inc., an incense manufacturer.)

It turns out that Acme Industrial Company was founded in 1914 as a manufacturer of shaft seals, drill bushings, dowel pins and liner pins. (Whatever that means.) Acme built this plant in 1921 (hence the art deco font), survived the Great Depression, thrived during and after World War II, moved out to Carpentersville in 1970 and was purchased by Jergens, Inc. of Cleveland, Ohio in 1973. Here's a picture from the company's website of the entire building:

So why Acme Industrial Company? Well, according to my research staff Wikipedia, the name Acme became popular for businesses in the 1920s, when alphabetized business telephone directories such as the Yellow Pages began to be widespread. Acme is derived from a Greek word meaning the peak, zenith or prime.

And the Road Runner connection (my emphasis)?

The Acme Corporation is a fictional corporation that features prominently in the "Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote" cartoons as a running gag featuring outlandish products that fail or backfire catastrophically at the worst possible times. 

Cartoon animation is drawn on paper and cels which have holes punched in them for registration. There were two standards: Acme and Oxberry. The names come from actual film equipment companies. Oxberry was a British company and was seen on the American east coast. Acme was dominant on the west coast. The Acme film equipment company in California not only made the hole punches, but the animation stands used by all the west coast animation studios. Acme also made lights, some cameras and a host of other film gear. Animators working at Warner Brothers used Acme punched paper shot on Acme animation stands drew on Acme disks (light tables). Whenever they ordered something, it probably came from Acme. So having products come from Acme in cartoons was an inside joke that any animator would recognize.

Cool sign, though, huh? And from my experience living in Chicago, it's one that could disappear from the wrecking ball at any minute.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

In case you missed..., even cheating on your spouse may be a function of nature, not nurture. From a piece in Sunday's Times, "Infidelity Lurks in Your Genes," (my emphasis):

We are accustomed to thinking of sexual infidelity as a symptom of an unhappy relationship, a moral flaw or a sign of deteriorating social values. When I was trained as a psychiatrist we were told to look for various emotional and developmental factors — like a history of unstable relationships or a philandering parent — to explain infidelity.

But during my career, many of the questions we asked patients were found to be insufficient because for so much behavior, it turns out that genes, gene expression and hormones matter a lot.

Now that even appears to be the case for infidelity.

We have long known that men have a genetic, evolutionary impulse to cheat, because that increases the odds of having more of their offspring in the world.

But now there is intriguing new research showing that some women, too, are biologically inclined to wander, although not for clear evolutionary benefits. Women who carry certain variants of the vasopressin receptor gene are much more likely to engage in “extra pair bonding,” the scientific euphemism for sexual infidelity.

The piece goes on in that biologically jargon-y way, but the bottom line is this: infidelity may not be as big of a personal choice as we had thought.

So, go for it! (Unless you don't feel like it.)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

If Deep Dish Football...

...and are any guide to this year's high school football season I may have to start watching the Central Suburban Conference again, specifically Evanston, Niles North and, of course, Maine South.

I can't remember where I read what, but Niles North appears to have not one, but two, outstanding running backs this year, Craig Dawkins and Barrington Wade. On the other side of the ball, the Vikings will start Romario Gayle and Richard Azunna at defensive back. (I always knew the Skokie school was good at track; sounds like Coach Mark Egofske has finally recruited some speedsters for the gridiron.)

Farther east, in Evanston, quarterback Matt Little will lead the offense. The Wildkits' defense, though, looks particularly strong, with Naquan Jones up front at defensive tackle, Jalan Jenkins at linebacker, and Travian Banks and Immanuel Woodberry at defensive back.

And over in Park Ridge, Maine South will feature signal-caller Brian Collis directing the offense behind sought-after linemen Kevin Jarvis and Liam O'Sullivan. (Not sure, but I think that last name is Irish.)

While Niles North and Evanston don't play each other this year, both squads will travel to Maine South, the Vikings on September 18 and the Wildkits on October 23 in Week Nine.

Can't wait that long? Well, you're in luck. Evanston visits Notre Dame on September 4 while Maine South hosts Loyola Academy on the same night. Both games should be interesting early-season matchups.

(I was told by one Rambler alum that the Hawks couldn't find anyone to play them. Wheaton Warrenville South, under the newly restructured DuPage Valley Conference, will play two non-conference games against Upstate Eight opponents.)

I guess time heals...

...all wounds.

The Chicago Tribune published an article yesterday, "Penn State athletic director says Joe Paterno's legacy will be honored." 


Coincidentally, there was an obituary in Tuesday's New York Times, "Rev. John Lo Schiavo Dies at 90; University President Barred Basketball" (my emphasis):

The Rev. John Lo Schiavo, who spent 14 years as president of the University of San Francisco, notably making headlines when he took the rare step of suspending the men’s basketball program after repeated violations of National Collegiate Athletic Association rules, died on Friday in Los Gatos, Calif. He was 90.

Nationally, Father Lo Schiavo is best known for his decision in 1982 to forgo the revenue, publicity and acclaim of the university’s successful men’s basketball program and instead stand up for institutional rectitude. His suspension of the program indefinitely was considered the first time a university had shut down a major sports program, without external pressure to do so, because of N.C.A.A. rules violations, some of which preceded his tenure.

Someone on Twitter pointed out to me last night:

ZERO NCAA violations by PSU. EVER.

And I guess, strictly speaking, she's right: child molesting isn't an NCAA violation. But it is a crime. And Joe Paterno should have done something about it.

I suggest Penn State's athletic director read that obituary and forgo the revenue, publicity and acclaim of the university’s successful football program and instead stand up for institutional rectitude.

In other words, drop football and become what you were supposed to be in the first place: a university.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tom Friedman draws a lesson...

...from Uber and Airbnb in his column today. First he quotes a guy named Tom Goodwin: 

“Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.”

And the moral of the story, according to Mr. Friedman?

We’re at the start of a major shift on the question of what’s worth owning. What all of the above companies have in common is that they have either created trust platforms that match supply and demand for things people never thought of supplying: a spare bedroom in their home or a seat in their car or a commercial link between a small retailer in North Dakota and a small manufacturer in China. Or they are behavioral platforms that spin off extremely valuable data for retailers and advertisers or they are behavioral platforms on which ordinary people can generate reputations — for driving, hosting or any skill you can imagine — and then market themselves globally.

That may very well be. But my takeaway is a little simpler: the middle class is so strapped today that people are being forced to rent out spare bedrooms in their homes and drive what used to be called "gypsy cabs" in their spare time for extra income. (And people like me are taking them up on it.)

What does this all mean? I'm not sure, but it could speak to growing inequality. Or the gradual erosion of the middle class in America. Either way, it's not good. People were supposed to get wealthier over time, not poorer.

Who is Malvern Prep?

...Malvern Who? What? And what is Jim Croce doing in this post?*

At the risk of skipping right past summer, let's talk about the 2015 Preseason Prep Bowl at Soldier Field. The triple-header, scheduled for Friday, August 28, is expected to feature Mount Carmel vs. Marist, Simeon vs. East St. Louis (which is in some doubt as of this writing) and St. Rita vs. Malvern Prep of Pennsylvania.

Now, readers of this blog are well-acquainted with all of those programs except Malvern's. So let's have a look at the Friars, shall we?

Malvern, located in suburban Philadelphia, is an old school -- really old. To give you an idea of how old, Malvern was founded in 1842, only five years after Chicago was incorporated as a city in 1837. At the time, an obscure legislator named Abraham Lincoln was still serving in the Illinois House of Representatives, and it would be a full 63 years before St. Rita would open its doors on the Southwest Side in 1905.

Like St. Rita, Malvern is a Catholic school run by the Order of Saint Augustine. As of 2011, Malvern had 630 boys enrolled in grades 6-12. That comes out to about 90 students per class, or 360 in grades 9-12. With the IHSA's 1.65 multiplier, it would put Malvern on about a par with last year's 4A semifinalist Coal City.

In comparison, St. Rita has almost twice as many boys, 711, in grades 9-12. The Mustangs had a "classification enrollment" last year of 2174.7 which put them in 7A. (711 times 1.65 is only 1173.15. Can anyone explain to me how the IHSA arrived at 2174.7? I was never very good at math.)

So what can we say about Malvern's football team? Well, the Friars went a combined 37-4 from 2005 through 2008, including a perfect 10-0 season in 2008. Whoa. But, as my brother pointed out, 2008 was seven years ago.

Last year, the Friars finished at 7-4, including a 49-28 loss to rival St. Joseph, who beat Mount Carmel in last year's Preseason Prep Bowl, 28-27. (Good game; I was there.)

Here are Malvern's records from the five seasons before that and their result vs. St. Joseph.

2013: 8-2, 24-20 win.
2012: 6-5, 35-6 loss.
2011: 9-2, 30-14 loss.
2010: 7-4, 14-13 win.
2009: 7-4, 17-16 win.

So how will the Friars fare against St. Rita at Soldier Field in August? I have no idea, but you can be sure I'll be there.

* Jim Croce spent a post-grad year at Malvern before enrolling at Villanova University in 1961. I could have mentioned that my brother went there for his freshman year back in 1965-66, but I doubt you've ever heard of him.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Maurie Berman, who...

...with his wife, Flaurie, opened Superdawg in 1948, died at age 89.

The Milwaukee Avenue hot dog joint pre-dates McDonald’s and Burger King. Despite offers from both chains, Berman chose to stick with his own restaurant. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Much is being made lately...

...of the "feud" between Sen. Elizabeth Warren and President Obama. A recent article in National Journal mentions five "flash points" between the two, including the latest one, the trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

This "feud" is a tough one for me, as I greatly admire both individuals.

But there's another way to look at this: Are all the major, and serious, debates about policy in this country now taking place within the Democratic Party?

Think about it: the cast of characters that is running for the Republican nomination for president in 2016 is still talking about things like abolishing the IRS and the EPA, auditing the Fed, tax cuts for the rich (of course), a flat tax, a balanced budget amendment, deregulation, repealing the Affordable Care Act, dismantling "reforming" Social Security and Medicare, abortion, gay rights, sharia law, bombing Iran, building a wall on the border with Mexico, and -- amazingly -- whether or not the disastrous war in Iraq was a good idea.

(I'm sure I left out some obvious ones but I've come to tune out the crazies on the right.)

So, is this "feud" between Sen. Warren and Obama -- or Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton -- a bad thing? Or just a healthy debate on policy within the only serious party in America?

Here's a story...

...that's right up my alley*: Two sisters, adopted by different families more than 30 years ago, met each other recently for the first time in a writing class at Columbia University.

An article in today's Times, "2 Women Moved to Write Stories Uncover a Surprisingly Personal One," tells of two women who were born to a teenage mother in Tampa, Florida. Katy Olson, 34, grew up mostly in Florida and Iowa, while Lizzie Valverde, 35, hails from New Jersey.

(Spoiler alert: It's not a particularly long piece and doesn't settle -- once and for all -- the whole Nature vs. Nurture debate. But it's still interesting.)

Their birth mother, Leslie Parker, 54, had both girls when she was a teenager in Tampa, Fla. She has never spoken to Ms. Olson. A frustrated writer, Ms. Parker led a difficult life that included poverty, drug abuse and emotional problems.

Interestingly, the two women, who don't much look alike from their pictures in the Times, have a lot in common despite very different upbringings. From the piece (my emphasis):

The two sisters grew up very differently. Ms. Valverde enjoyed a comfortable life in Bergen County in northern New Jersey, where her father was a television news editor. Ms. Olson, who has mild cerebral palsy, spent much of her childhood coping with physical challenges, including several medical procedures.

But from an early age, both were relentlessly curious, driven and passionate about writing, though they both also dropped out of high school and did not follow the conventional college-to-career path.

Discussing their story publicly for the first time, the sisters described this week how they both moved to New York City to pursue careers and decided at around age 30 to study writing full time.

In the first of a series of coincidences that would bring them together, both applied to, and were accepted at, the School of General Studies, which is unique among Ivy League schools in offering returning students a full-fledged undergraduate college experience. Both registered for WRIT W3680, a literary-reporting class.

Coincidences? I wonder. If two sisters looked alike no one would call that a "coincidence," would they? No, you'd probably say something like, "Well, of course they resemble each other; they both had the same mother so they both share the same genes. Duh!" So why wouldn't you say that about their intangible qualities as well?

The piece also mentions a few questions they asked each other:

Do you love Buffalo wings with beer? Spicy food? Do you have weird pinkie toes? Do you love avocados?

Regrettably, the article doesn't reveal the answers.

Have you ever heard an evangelical Christian say something like, "God has a plan for me," implying that their lives are somehow pre-ordained by God to follow a certain path? I'm starting to wonder if that's not so crazy. But as a non-believer, I would rephrase it as, "My genes have a plan for me."

* That's really a picture of my alley, taken just a few minutes ago.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Technical analysis of...

...securities markets is a method of forecasting the direction of prices through the study of past market data, primarily price and volume.

The truth is, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. When it doesn't, either the analyst read the signals wrong or it is said to have "failed."

Or maybe the markets are just random.

But this post isn't about technical analysis or the markets. No, it's actually about children, or, that whole "nature vs. nurture" debate that I can't seem to let go of.

The Huffington Post ran a piece, "How Being An Oldest, Middle Or Youngest Child Shapes Your Personality," which seeks to explain, technical analysis-like, how birth order determines personality. (Except when it doesn't.)

From the article (my emphasis):

While a number of factors play a role in a child's development -- including genetics, environment and parenting -- birth order can also influence their defining traits and behaviors.

Since the 1970s, thousands of scientific studies on birth order have been conducted, but psychologists often disagree about how much of a role birth order actually plays in development. However, some common aspects of the personalities of oldest, middle and youngest children that are consistent across the literature.

Why do these differences occur? Many psychologists have suggested that siblings' personalities differ insofar as they adopt different strategies to win their parents' attention and favor. By this theory, the oldest child may be more likely to identify with authority and support the status quo, while younger children are more likely to seek attention by rebelling.

Interesting theory, isn't it?

But maybe, like the markets, it's all just random. It's human nature for parents to think they have the power to shape their kids' personalities and futures. After all, if you turn on the stove and the water boils, it's fair to assume that you made that happen. Take a bow! So why, through your own best efforts, couldn't you influence your kids just as easily?

Personally, I think it's a foolish conceit. How many times have parents said something like, "If we'd only done such-and-such, our kid would have turned out differently"? Or, "Our kid is so wonderful because we always made sure to do XYZ"?

My guess is that every conception is genetic roulette. In other words, it's the luck of the draw. And anyone who thinks that environment, parenting or even birth order determines a child's personality is just kidding themselves.

Whatever happened to American exceptionalism?

That was the question I asked myself last month when I read about the new Japanese maglev (short for "magnetic levitation" -- wow!) train that goes over 300 miles per hour (my emphasis):

A Japanese maglev train set a world speed record last week, reaching a top speed of 374 MPH. The experimental magnetic levitation train set a world record when it reached a top speed of 361 miles per hour back in 2003, and it broke that record at 366 mph two weeks ago. 

A maglev train rides along a specially constructed rail line. An electric field allows it to ride about 4 inches off the ground. Since there are no wheels touching the tracks, friction is greatly reduced, which allows the maglev train to go faster than any conventional train.

Why can't we have trains like that in this country? Are the Japanese just plain smarter than us? While other countries improve their infrastructure, we somehow can't. I thought the U.S. could do anything.

Or is it more a failure of will? 

I was going to write a post about that and include the quote below but got distracted by something else. And I think I also thought, Who needs to hear -- again -- about America's crumbling infrastructure? 

But after this week's horrific Amtrak crash in Philadelphia, it's worth asking the question, Is the U.S. falling behind in infrastructure?

From a paper titled, "Let’s Face It—We’re Far From Broke: America’s Real Spending Problem and How to Fix It" (my emphasis):

Federal public investment spending averaged 2.2 percent of GDP between 1965 and 1981. After 1981, public investment spending fell relative to GDP, and after 1986, it averaged 1.5 percent of GDP. The increased spending from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), which temporarily lifted public investment spending to 1.9 percent of GDP in 2010, was still lower than the pre-1981 average. This fall—and continuing low levels of public investment spending—have had and will continue to have an adverse impact on economic growth and America’s place in the world economy.

Public investments in physical capital (primarily infrastructure—roads, bridges, drinking water systems, sewage systems, waterways, etc.) have fallen from 0.8 percent of GDP in 1980 to 0.5 percent in 2013. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave America’s infrastructure a grade of just D+ in 2001. By 2009, the ASCE awarded America’s infrastructure a grade of D (even closer to failing). The grade rose slightly to D+ by 2013, most likely due to the increased spending under ARRA in 2010 and 2011. ASCE, however, notes that over the next eight years, the United States needs to spend at least $1.6 trillion (about $200 billion per year) above projected infrastructure spending levels to achieve a grade of B. Research reviewed by Bivens (2012) has shown that infrastructure investments have significant positive effects on private-sector productivity and economic growth. 

So it sounds like a failure of will, doesn't it?

Again, I ask, Whatever happened to American exceptionalism?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio...

...has a problem and I think I can help.

From an article in yesterday's New York Times, "Public Schools Fund, Under de Blasio, Is Struggling to Lure Wealthy Donors" (my emphasis):

The Fund for Public Schools, the nonprofit organization that former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his schools chancellors built into a fund-raising juggernaut, has struggled to attract donations under Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The fund, which raised an average of $29 million a year over the last decade, has raised just $18 million this fiscal year, which ends June 30, fund officials said.

Allow me to be of assistance.

Apparently, there's a resident of de Blasio's own fine city by the name of Stephen Schwarzman; he was just in the paper for donating $150 million to his alma mater, Yale. I can't believe Mayor de Blasio has never heard of him!

According to Wikipedia, this Schwarzman guy is a self-made billionaire. Before graduating from Yale and Harvard Business School, he had a typical, middle-class upbringing in suburban Philadelphia where he attended public schools. And Schwarzman's (current) wife, the daughter of a fireman, grew up on Long Island. Since neither he nor his wife were "to the manner born," they should certainly understand the value of public education. And even though they live in a Park Avenue apartment worth over $30 million, I'm sure the Schwarzmans haven't forgotten their humble roots.

What's more, this obscure Wall Street financier is no stranger to philanthropy. Besides that $150 million gift to Yale this week (doesn't Mayor de Blasio read the New York Times?), Mr. Schwarzman contributed $100 million toward the expansion of the New York Public Library in 2008. And just two years ago, in 2013, Schwarzman announced a $100 million personal gift to establish and endow a scholarship program in China.

My advice to Mayor de Blasio would be to have someone on his staff find this guy's phone number and give him a call. With Schwarzman's money and track record of giving, I bet he'd be thrilled to write a check for $11 million to make up that shortfall. (He could probably find the dough behind the cushions of one of his couches.)

Mayor de Blasio, you can thank me for uncovering this guy next time I'm in the Big Apple. You can also answer a question for me: Why are the New York public schools so dependent on the whims and largesse of wealthy individuals? I guess I'm just a country bumpkin from the Midwest, but I always thought public services were supposed to be funded by taxes.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The "Doesn't Exactly...

...Roll Off Your Tongue Easily" Name of the Day belongs to Jeff Shoaf, the senior executive director of government relations at the Associated General Contractors.

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

“The hardest part of homework is keeping my parents motivated.”

Good news for Hillary...

...Clinton and the Democratic Party. Yesterday, a survey on religion in America was released from the Pew Research Center. According to an article in the Times, "Big Drop in Share of Americans Calling Themselves Christian":

Over all, the religiously unaffiliated number 56 million and represent 23 percent of adults, up from 36 million and 16 percent in 2007, Pew estimates. Nearly half of the growth was from atheists and agnostics, whose tallies nearly doubled to 7 percent of adults. The remainder of the unaffiliated, those who describe themselves as having “no particular religion,” were less likely to say that religion was an important part of their lives than eight years ago.

Why is this good news for Hillary and the Democrats? Because according to another recent poll, by Gallup, religion is the single-biggest predictor of one's political affiliation, with the nonreligious most likely to be Democrats.

Until further notice, Hillary beats Jeb.

Just so you don't think...

...I'm a complete Marxist after reading yesterday's post on Stephen Schwarzman (above), here's another story.

I shop at three grocery stores: Mariano's on Chicago Avenue in Ukrainian Village, Whole Foods on Roosevelt and Canal, and the Jewel on Roosevelt and Ashland. 

Let's just say that the last of these is the least . . . "fancy." Yesterday, I ran in there on my way back from getting my hair cut (no wisecracks, please) to pick up a few things. While I was in the checkout line, the guy behind me wondered if he could buy Starbucks coffee with his Link card. I told him I didn't know and he asked me how much it cost. I said I thought it was about nine dollars or so and he then asked if he could buy it for me and have me reimburse him with cash. I didn't feel like going to all that trouble so I just said, "No, thanks."

And the moral of the story is that, yes, sometimes people game the system. And here was a guy who wanted nine bucks to spend on something his Link card wouldn't buy. So, yes, all you libertarians out there, you've been right all along: there are abuses in government programs. Take a bow.

But back to Steve Schwarzman (I call him "Steve") and his $150 million gift to Yale.

Imagine for a second the richest person you know. Maybe your uncle is a neurosurgeon, maybe you have a cousin who's a personal injury lawyer, or maybe you just know someone who owns a successful business. Whatever. Doesn't matter. The point is to imagine further that you wrote this person a check for a hundred, or even a thousand dollars. That would be very generous of you. But I'm going to guess that on your deathbed you won't wish you still had that money. And, what's more, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that money wouldn't really change that rich guy's lifestyle. Oh, sure, he'll spend it on a nice dinner for his family or something, but it's not like he doesn't have that kind of scratch in the first place.

So it would really be kind of a pointless exercise, wouldn't it? Wouldn't it be better to just give the dough to some homeless guy collecting change in the middle of an intersection? Couldn't he use the money more?

But isn't that kind of like what Mr. Schwarzman did with his gift to Yale? He wrote a check for $150 million to an institution that has a $23 billion endowment. He could have made a similar gift to Macy's, the department store. They have about a $23 billion market cap. Can you imagine anyone writing them a check like that?

Or think of it this way: Mr. Schwarzman could have given $100,000 to each of 1500 households in the poorest sections of Baltimore. Wouldn't they be more deserving of the money than a rich institution like Yale? And maybe -- probably -- they would have spent it in the local economy, maybe giving it a little kick-start.

Now, I know what you're thinking: Mr. Schwarzman knows better how to spend his own money than the government. I used to say things like that, too, back when I was a libertarian. But somehow I wonder, isn't there a more deserving charity than Yale University, with its $23 billion endowment? Maybe the government would spend that money more wisely. Is that so impossible to imagine?

I also wonder sometimes if this is how revolutions start. The Constitution, despite what Michele Bachmann might think, wasn't divinely inspired. No, a bunch of guys just got together one summer in Philadelphia and wrote it. As my son would say, it was all made up. And laws are only good so long as we all agree they're good. Money, like Mr. Schwarzman's, is ultimately just a journal entry on a computer. He only owns it so long as everyone agrees he owns it. If there's a revolution, like in France in 1789 or Russia in 1917, all bets are off.

(I read once that on the eve of the First World War, three of the safest investments on the planet were the sovereign debt of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia. Five years later, they were all worthless. The three empires had ceased to exist and their successor governments refused to make good on them. See? It's all made up.)

I'm not a Marxist, and I'm certainly not calling for a revolution. But I do think things have gotten a little out of whack in this country. Something just seems wrong to me when rich people are giving large gifts to other rich people. And I wonder if it can be sustained.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

I must be the only person... America who doesn't care about Deflategate.

But I do wonder, what if backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo comes in and takes away Tom Brady's job?

I've been a fan of this kid's for about a year now (my emphasis):

But a desire to play quarterback didn't come about until Garoppolo's junior year at Rolling Meadows High School.

Rolling Meadows didn't have a quarterback lined up, so Garoppolo -- who played varsity as a linebacker his sophomore year -- decided to give it a shot.

"I was a decent athlete at the time," he said. "I could throw the ball well because of baseball, so it worked out."

Hope for late-bloomers everywhere.

"A Rich Guy Gives...

...a Ton of Money to a Rich Institution that Mainly Serves the Children of the Rich."

Couldn't that have been the headline for a story in the Arts section of the Times today, "Stephen A. Schwarzman Gives $150 Million for Yale Cultural Hub"?

Yale, among other assets, has an endowment of $23.9 billion. Yes, that's with a "B." From the piece (my emphasis):

Now with a gift of $150 million, one of the largest ever made to a cultural center, Mr. Schwarzman plans to transform Commons and its attached buildings into a performing arts center and hub along the lines of the Kennedy Center in Washington — on whose board he served for six years.

The plan, announced on Monday, will be drawn up in part by Michael M. Kaiser, the former Kennedy Center president. It will incorporate existing performance spaces, namely Woolsey Hall, the 2,650-seat auditorium built alongside Commons and Memorial Hall as part of a complex designed by Carrère and Hastings to celebrate Yale’s bicentennial in 1901.

But the complex, to be called the Schwarzman Center, will also have new halls for theater, music, lectures and readings, to be built beneath and on the upper floors of the existing buildings, and new programming featuring major performing artists and groups whose events will be open to the public.

With the addition of the center, Mr. Salovey said, he imagines that students walking around campus at night looking for something to do will almost always find it.

“You should be able to say, ‘I bet there’s something going on at the Schwarzman Center,’ ” Mr. Salovey said, “even if you have no idea what it is.”

Is this sort of giving unusual? Hardly:

As an act of philanthropy, Mr. Schwarzman’s gift trumps the $100 million he gave to the New York Public Library in 2008 (the Fifth Avenue flagship building that now bears his name). David H. Koch, the oil-and-gas billionaire, and David Geffen, the entertainment mogul, have also made recent $100 million naming donations to upgrade performing arts spaces at Lincoln Center — Mr. Koch to finance a renovation of the New York State Theater in 2008 and Mr. Geffen this year to underwrite an overhaul of Avery Fisher Hall.

In a related piece in Bloomberg this morning, Bill Gross, the co-founder of PIMCO, just can't get over his own generosity:

The bond investor has already given away as much as $700 million and eventually will donate his remaining $2 billion fortune, a figure that’s “staggering, even to me,” Gross said in an interview on Bloomberg Television.

Now, I guess I should be grateful for billionaires like this. After all, they could just hoard their cash, I suppose. (Or lobby Congress to abolish the estate tax altogether. Oh, wait, the Republicans just did that!)

But in this age of inequality, and after the recent events in Baltimore have turned our attention to the less fortunate, are examples like this just another argument for higher taxes on the rich? At the risk of sounding like some 1960s Marxist, do some people just have too much money? Should the government tax more of it and spend it on the common good, instead of on a bunch of rich kids at Yale?

Or is that just kooky talk?

(From World War II until 1964, a period of tremendous growth in America, top marginal individual tax rates rose above 90 percent, and the effective rate was at least 70 percent for the highest incomes.) 

P. S. Just saw this.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

I have two thoughts...

...this morning on the 2016 presidential campaign.

The first is that the Republicans have four candidates, and I'm being generous to Scott Walker and Rand Paul. The establishment has really settled on two: Jeb Bush, and, if he falters, Marco Rubio. (An heir and a spare, as the Brits would say.)

From PredictWise:

Bush, 32 percent
Rubio, 20
Walker, 18
Paul, 9

And from Paddy Power:

Bush, 15/8 odds
Rubio, 4/1
Walker, 9/2
Paul, 8/1

The second is that elections hinge on "the income growth rate in the second and third quarters of the election year and the incumbent party’s tenure in office."

So, you tell me where the economy is a year from now and I'll tell you who wins the 2016 election. Oh, heck, I'll tell you right now: the economy will be at least as good as it is right now and voters will give the president another term, just like in 2012.

Until further notice, Hillary beats Jeb.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Betty Koed, who will be the next Senate historian.

Seriously? Betty Koed? Who did she replace, Joe College?

Jim Wright, a former...

...Democratic speaker of the House, died at age 92. From his obit in the Times (my emphasis):

Speaking of Mr. Wright, Representative Dick Cheney of Wyoming, then the third-ranking House Republican, told an interviewer: “He’s a heavy-handed son of a bitch, and he doesn’t know any other way of operating, and he will do anything he can to win at any price, including ignoring the rules, bending the rules, writing rules, denying the House the opportunity to work its will. It brings disrespect to the House itself. There’s no sense of comity left.”

Wow. How big of an asshole would you have to be for Dick Cheney to say that?

Marcia Brown, an award-winning...

...illustrator of children’s books, including Stone Soup, died at age 96.

I think I may have read that once or twice (or a hundred times) to my own kids.

Is Gov. Bruce Rauner...

...of Illinois paying attention to some of his fellow Republican governors?

The problems of Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, left, are becoming the stuff of legend and don't need to be recounted here. (I actually feel a little sorry for this guy.)

But an article in Bloomberg today highlights Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's "issues" (my emphasis):

Wisconsin’s projected tax collections probably won’t generate the windfall needed to ease Governor Scott Walker’s proposed budget cuts, a blow as the potential Republican presidential candidate presents his state as a laboratory for limited government.

Without changes, the state faces a shortfall that may reach $2.2 billion in two years starting in July, according to Walker’s analysts. Tax cuts supported by Walker and Medicaid spending contributed to the deficit.

His aides have called the projections premature, while Democrats say the figures prove the governor’s policies, especially income and property-tax reductions, turned a $517 million surplus at the end of June into a deficit.

Why do Republicans seem so challenged by basic math? 

Come on, Gov. Rauner, you're obviously a smart guy. Don't be blinded by supply-side ideology. (Even St. Reagan eventually raised taxes.)

James Bond is now... stocks, according to an article in Bloomberg:

“I’m intending to stay up until around 2 a.m. U.K. time, as by that time we should have a fair picture,” said Sean Connery, a portfolio manager at Invesco Asset Management in London. “I will be in for about 7.30 a.m. on Friday. I don’t intend to be panic trading on Friday morning. A series of negotiations will need to take place over the weekend and we will seek to be neutral going into those discussions.”

It's early Thursday morning...

...and David Cameron has taken a slight lead over Ed Miliband on both PredictWise and Paddy Power.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Have you heard of Operation Jade Helm 15?

It's the latest right-wing conspiracy theory about the black Muslim socialist atheist from Kenya in the White House who wants to take away our freedoms.

I'm sorry to bother you with this -- and I certainly hate to give these nutjobs any more attention -- but it reminds me of a very good movie from 1964, Seven Days in May, above. With a screenplay written by Rod Serling, it has an all-star cast including Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Fredric March and Ava Gardner.

If you haven't seen it, you really should.

By the way, where's the NRA...

...been since Freddie Gray was arrested in Baltimore? Do they still think the police are "jack-booted government thugs"? Are they calling for the black protesters to arm themselves? Somehow I don't think so.

As Tavis Smiley once said, "Let's arm every black person in America and see what the NRA says."

With the addition...

...of Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson yesterday and Mike Huckabee today, the field of Republican candidates for president just doubled, to six. If you include Jeb Bush and Scott Walker the number will grow to eight. Add in some combination of Chris Christie, Lindsey Graham, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, John Kasich, John Bolton, George Pataki and -- what the heck -- Donald Trump (puff, puff) and you're well over a dozen. (Question: How big of a stage will you need for that first debate?)

Where am I going with this? Since all of the candidates basically agree on the issues: cut spending, slash taxes on the rich job creators, repeal Obamacare, blah, blah, blah, how on earth will they distinguish themselves in such a crowded field?

And the answer must surely be: Say something outrageous to get attention. And that outrageous thing will almost surely be to the right of any other candidate.

So what? you might be thinking. But if someone says something outrageous and extreme and it vaults them into contention it could force the frontrunner to the right as well. (Think Mitt Romney and immigration in 2012.) And that means by the time the party settles on its candidate, the standard-bearer could very well be too far out of the mainstream to win a general election.

Two completely unrelated thoughts...

...on a rainy Tuesday morning just so you all know I'm still alive (if not very talkative lately).

The first is that your biggest takeaway from the recent events in Baltimore says a lot about you. If it's that mom slapping her son, above, you're probably a (white) Republican who watches Fox. For everyone else, it was that a 25-year-old black man died while in custody of the Baltimore Police.

Second, here's an interesting statistic on the (almost) eve of the British election: the Conservative Party hasn’t won more than 36 percent of the national vote since 1992.

P. S. Ed Miliband is still a (very) slight favorite on PredictWise and Paddy Power to be the next prime minister of Great Britain.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Jay and the Americans...

...were (was?) one of my favorite groups. It wasn't for nothing, as you can tell from the video above, that Jay Black was known as "The Voice."

(Is that lip-synched or just a crummy video? I can't tell.) Check out this one instead:

Still not convinced? Here he was in his prime:

But enough about Jay and the Americans. (Although one can never really "get enough" of Jay and the Americans.) This post isn't even about him (or them). No, it's actually about Ben E. King, who died on Thursday at age 76.

While he may be better known for “There Goes My Baby,” “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “Spanish Harlem” and “Stand by Me,” he also cowrote and originally sang “This Magic Moment,” the gold record that Jay and the Americans recorded in 1969. So let's give credit where credit is due.

But Jay and the Americans were great, weren't they?