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  • Archive for the 'Chicagoania' Category

    Ed Paschke Art Center – And Steve Schapiro Photo Exhibit

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 23rd November 2014 (All posts by )

    We watched an episode of “Chicago Tonight” the PBS news program where they discussed the Ed Paschke Art Center, a museum highlighting the work of the vibrant visual artist Ed Paschke, a Chicago native who died in 2004. They also have other artists featured at the museum, and when we went it was photographer Steve Schapiro, who photographed Warhol, Reed and Bowie among many others.

    The museum is easy to reach – by car you can take the Kennedy and get off at Lawrence, and it is an easy walk from the blue line or the metra (if you take that line). Here is the outside of the building, which is painted in the style of his work. The museum is free (we made a donation) and the docent working there was friendly and interested if you had any questions.

    We talked to the museum employee and the building used to be a call center; they redesigned it to hang his big art canvas projects and set it up so that the light illuminated everything properly. Downstairs they had his paintings, and upstairs they re-created his studio, including the last painting that he was working on at the time of his death.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Chicagoania, Music, Photos | 3 Comments »

    Bitcoin ATM

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 14th November 2014 (All posts by )

    Recently I was standing in the Merchandise Mart when I noticed something new – a Bitcoin ATM! This ATM allows users to utilize Bitcoin to receive dollars in exchange, in that sense being a “regular” ATM.

    This is a Robocoin kiosk. Here is a link to their site where they describe what you can do at this ATM. I like their example of someone in Argentina depositing their currency in Bitcoins to avoid the inflation (and risk of outright seizure) that Argentina faces.

    If you are interested in Bitcoins, wikipedia has an excellent summary here.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Business, Chicagoania | Comments Off

    Election Day

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 4th November 2014 (All posts by )

    Election Day in California is pretty dull because California is a one party state with Democrats and their illegal alien voters running things.

    ya vote

    “We don’t need no stinkin’ voter IDs !”

    Elsewhere there is excitement. Voting machines in multiple states are changing GOP votes to Democrat.

    The Cook County Board of Elections Deputy Communications Director Jim Scalzitti said the machine’s failure was “a calibration error of the touch-screen on the machine,” and that Moynihan’s votes were not actually registered. Scalzitti said that voters are always asked to double-check their votes before they’re counted.

    The same “error” is occurring in North Carolina and Maryland, the latter a state where the Democrat governor is in trouble with a GOP challenger close in polls.

    Naturally, that is where voting machine “errors” will cluster.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Chicagoania, Elections, History, Illinois Politics, Obama, Political Philosophy, Politics | 28 Comments »

    Mike Lotus Participates in Immigration Reform Panel & Discussion, John Marshall Law School Federalist Society, November 5, 2014

    Posted by Lexington Green on 3rd November 2014 (All posts by )

    Mike Lotus will participate in an Immigration Reform Panel & Discussion at John Marshall Law School Federalist Society, November 5, 2014, 5:00 p.m., State Street entrance.

    I am looking forward to the discussion.

    Note the critical language: Food will be served.

    Drink may be imbibed afterwards, as well.

    Posted in America 3.0, Chicagoania, Immigration, Law | 3 Comments »

    Tributosaurus Plays “One Hit Wonders of the ’80s” at Copernicus Center in Chicago

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 18th October 2014 (All posts by )

    Tributosaurus is a Chicago cover band that has been around over a decade and has covered an astonishing range of songs and artists. When they cover a song they go to great pains to sound as close as possible to the original song – this usually involves multiple guitarists to do overdubs which are tracked in the studio, horns, strings, and an array of drummers, synthesizers and backup singers. Here is their web site and they are a lot of fun. I have seen them do XTC, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, Dire Straits, and most recently the “One Hit Wonders of the ’80s” at Copernicus Hall at Jefferson Park in Chicago (it is a few blocks off the blue line stop; we took the train and walked).

    Here they are at the start of the show. Later they bring on the horns, the strings, more backup singers, and more of everything. It was a lot of fun – they played a lot of forgotten songs like “This Beat Goes On / Switching to Glide” by the Kings which got the whole place rocking (it was a huge hit in Chicago) and also Dexy’s Midnight Runners with real banjo players.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Chicagoania, Music | 6 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – Office Hoteling and the Elusive Consultant Desk

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 16th October 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Chicago, the ’90s…

    When I first started out as an auditor I had a tiny cube that consisted of just a desk and a chair with a big phone in a giant warren full of other cubes. There was a big bay window that let in the sun and lights far overhead. I didn’t know anything and was happy just to have a place to call my own.

    How accounting worked at the time was that you were assigned to clients and were “on the road”. If you were in the office you charged a code for down-time and struggled for something to do. You could take a training class, do research in the library, or more often than not you’d be assigned some sort of drudgery administrative work. Most of the time I ended up photocopying our audit files when clients transitioned to new auditors, which is much more work than it sounds because you had to dis-assemble the work papers, copy them, and then re-assemble the files again. The copier tended to regularly jam and you soon learned how to take that copy machine apart, as well. Not a good use of a master’s degree…

    After a while the managers learned who was good and who wasn’t and I was constantly busy as a result. We worked and traveled all the time and often I had overlapping clients, meaning that tasks I couldn’t complete onsite piled up for me at the little cube while I was at a different client. This was before any concept of telecommuting and we didn’t even have our own laptops. The only way to get work done was to show up at the office (on Saturday or Sunday, since I traveled all week) and do the remaining tasks.

    One time our office engaged in some sort of ISO process and they decided that having a “clean desk” was mandatory. So the (usually worst) staff that were in the office packed up everyone’s desk and sent it off site so that when the office tour occurred, my little rat cube was completely clear. Thus when I showed up on a Sunday a couple of weeks later to follow up on some annoying task from a parallel client, all of my papers were gone and that was an entirely wasted day. The fact that I still remember this over 20 years later shows how angry I was at this bureaucratic stupidity.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in 25 Stories About Work, Business, Chicagoania, Personal Narrative | 6 Comments »

    Thank you to the Chicago Young Republicans

    Posted by Lexington Green on 9th October 2014 (All posts by )

    MJL at CYR

    (That is me on the far right, where I belong!)

    My thanks to the Chicago Young Republicans, who invited me to speak to them last night at their monthly meeting. It was an enjoyable and educational event.

    I was on a panel with the very distinguished Dan Proft of, inter alia, 89 WLS and Jonathan Greenberg of the Illinois Policy Institute.

    The topic of discussion was the upcoming election. One theme was the concern that Bruce Rauner may end up losing to Pat Quinn, despite Quinn being an unmitigated disaster. Polls show Rauner slightly ahead, but the trends are bad. Rauner has not yet closed the deal with Illinois voters, who are upset and concerned about the direction the state is going, but who are not yet convinced that Rauner is the guy who can fix the problems. I hope Rauner manages to make that connection with voters before election day.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in America 3.0, Chicagoania, Illinois Politics, Politics | 9 Comments »

    Regulatory capture is normal, and that’s the problem

    Posted by Lexington Green on 3rd October 2014 (All posts by )

    portraits of Julian Sanchez and Megan McArdle

    You must read this excellent piece by Megan McArdle, It’s Normal for Regulators to Get Captured. “regulatory capture is not some horrid aberration; it is closer to the natural state of a regulatory body.”

    This is true. That is why the entire modern administrative state has to be re-thought, re-configured and replaced. It does not work, it never worked, it cannot work.

    The regulatory state is the defining feature of the Industrial Era, America 2.0 state. It needs to be shut down, wrapped up and replaced.

    This does not mean return to the law of the jungle. It means making laws that actually align incentives with desired ends, as imperfect as that always is.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in America 3.0, Book Notes, Chicagoania, Economics & Finance, USA | 14 Comments »

    The Restaurant and Bar Business

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 27th September 2014 (All posts by )

    I am far from an expert on the Restaurant and Bar Business segments but as a long time resident of Chicago in various areas packed with these establishments from Wrigleyville to Bucktown to River North I am at least a frequent regular qualified to throw my 2 cents in. I hadn’t thought too much about the economics of this until I talked to a friend who recently opened two great pizza places where he is the owner about what you get when you buy a used restaurant.

    You get nothing… you have to re-model and start over the food concept. And when you sell, the next guy does the same.

    What makes a good restaurant as a business? There are a lot of variables and I am only speculating, but certainly timing and location are key elements. For instance you have the Twisted Spoke, a bar on Grand Avenue in what used to be a pretty sketchy part of town that is rapidly gentrifying, and they have the iconic “skeleton on a motorcycle” on permanent rotation in front. This bar has survived for a long time with a mix of hipster / biker cool, an astoundingly good drink / beer mix, and surprisingly good food and interesting / witty / iconic employees. I’d bet that back in the day this place was actually full of bikers but nowadays the crowd looked like the usual hipsters in plaid shirts. And don’t forget the enormous benefit of a rooftop – it astounds me how many bars / restaurants ignore the fact that Chicago people LOVE to sit outside during the few nice days that we receive every year and they drink like fish and eat until they can’t even move.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Chicagoania | 35 Comments »

    Riot Fest Chicago 2014

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 16th September 2014 (All posts by )

    Riot Fest in Chicago was held over three very cold and rainy / muddy days in Chicago’s Humboldt Park in September. I went with a friend on Friday which was cold, rainy, muddy and insane and on Sunday when the weather was nice (still cold) and the mud had somewhat hardened. Riot Fest is more of a fan-friendly (cheaper) Lollapalooza with a bigger dose of punk / emo bands and without any of the EDM flavor that you get from Lolla (and get on a massive scale elsewhere). It was also held in Humboldt Park which is relatively far afield for the more gentrified classes but actually is closer to where the younger fans of this music might actually live and work. For me, it was an opportunity to see some of the bands I like such as Social Distortion, Mastodon, Slayer, Primus, Weezer and the Afghan Whigs. Definitely skewing a bit older for certain.

    Here is Gwar! I wasn’t a huge fan of Gwar before seeing them live but they put on an awesome show that needs to be seen to be believed, where they kill a giant dinosaur and banter with the crowd in a completely disturbing manner. At one point they wanted everyone to put their heads down for a moment of silence (their former front man died recently) but then their deranged emcee said that everyone was looking down for a crack rock that the band had dropped since they couldn’t do this sort of stuff sober. They also sprayed everyone near the front with fake blood which is their trademark – many fans throughout the park for the rest of the day looked a bit sunburned from the residue of their pinkish hue thanks to Gwar.

    Riot Fest had great food and it was very reasonable. They had a Cevapcici stand where I had a great Serbian sausage for about $7 and all kinds of different items, not just the usual “festival” type stuff. Fortunately they set up most of these stands on the roads that curve through the park so they didn’t sink into the mud.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Chicagoania, Music | 6 Comments »

    Massive Disruption To The Cable Industry Coming

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 28th August 2014 (All posts by )

    Things that are often obvious in hindsight don’t seem so clear at the time. For instance I didn’t understand why anyone would want to send around a PDF file when you had Microsoft Word. And it wasn’t obvious to me that mobile phones would completely displace land lines.

    We are about to see something similar happen to the cable industry, which is at its oligopolist apex right now.  I don’t know when or how long it will take to have an effect, but in the end I believe that the outcome will be significant.

    MICROWAVE FIXED WIRELESS

    For large condominium buildings in Chicago, it is now the norm, not the exception, to go with Microwave Fixed Wireless for internet in the building, rather than fiber. Here is one company (I just found them on the internet, don’t know anything about them) that attempts to describe the benefits:

    Telephone and cable companies have been positioning fiber optics as the ultimate internet technology for some time, but the truth is that fiber has some inherent disadvantages that have been addressed by wireless microwave-based internet solutions. Experts across the globe are starting to acknowledge what the engineers at JAB Broadband have long been touting: microwave is a faster, lower latency, lower cost alternative to fiber and you don’t have to wait until someone decides to light up your building.

    Not to be confused with the appliance you use for heating your leftovers, microwave wireless networks transmit and receive radio signals through the air enabling high-speed data transmission with very limited latency. Benefits include:

    Limited infrastructure required on site
    Faster speeds because data travels over a direct path (point-to-point)
    Low logistical and operation costs
    Expanded availability
    Low latency

    There are many companies in Chicago that provide this service for condominium buildings and businesses. You need to have a rooftop with line of sight access to a provider and you put a dish on the roof. This dish connects to the main network of the building and is distributed just like internet service that you’d receive from a standard fiber optics provider (such as a cable company). The traditional downside of microwave transmission was unreliability – if the line of sight was obscured by heavy rain, for instance, then you don’t receive any signal. This happens today with DirectTV if the weather is bad – you receive the “all or part of this program did not record” message when you pull it up on your DVR (or it is jumpy and impossible to watch if you are looking at “live” programming). Note that DirectTV has a much more complex problem to fix with its satellites than a condo building does in Chicago because their satellites are in orbit rather than nearby with simple line of sight needs, so these problems are conceptually similar but actually very different in terms of difficulty to solve.

    The reliability issue has mostly been solved and barring catastrophic weather, your point to point wireless internet is as reliable as fiber brought into your building. Don’t forget that fiber, too, can be cut by local construction crews and other means and is also susceptible to failures of various sorts.

    Once you cut over to Fixed Wireless (microwave transmission), you have effectively moved out of the cable orbit as far as internet service.  Many facilities offer 10 meg, 50 meg, and even 100 meg connections for each condo unit, which means that the provider needs to bring that speed times the number of units with some overall reduction since everyone won’t be using the full internet all the time.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Chicagoania | 10 Comments »

    Hope for Illinois?

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 26th July 2014 (All posts by )

    My mother, who still lives in Rockford, Illinois, sent me a link today that was pretty surprising. It says that the Republican candidate for governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, has an actual shot at winning, and it appears that he isn’t insane. I am going to do a mini-fisking of the article and ask some questions along the way that I hope that some of our Chicago/Illinois based readers can answer.

    Why are the stakes so huge? Because Illinois is arguably the worst-run state in America.

    I don’t think there is really any question that Illinois is THE worst-run state in America, hands down.

    Illinois could become a laboratory experiment about whether conservative ideas can work in a state that has been ruled by teachers’ unions and a self-serving political machine in Springfield and Chicago.

    How could this experiment possibly happen with a solid majority in the Illinois House and Senate? I guess Rauner could slag them unmercifully in the press when they don’t change anything, but I am not sure how that will work.

    I caught up with Mr. Rauner in Chicago last week. He’s ruffling liberal feathers by going into black inner-city schools and Hispanic neighborhoods and talking about school choice, economic opportunity, family stability, and jobs. “I’m getting standing ovations when I go to black churches and talk about school choice,” he says. “Parents understand it is their kids that are victimized by lousy public schools in Chicago.”

    This seems like very good politics to me. The Chicago Public School System is a disgrace.

    He’s running as a non-politician who has the business experience to turn around the state’s finances. He won his five-person primary by telling voters, “I’m the only one up here who isn’t a professional politician. These are the people who created the problems in Springfield.” In this era of rage against the political class, the message (and the millions of dollars he poured into his campaign) carried the day.

    Sounds like he has money and is sincere. This may be an appealing choice to the people of Illinois.

    He’s promised to take a jackhammer to the bloated state budget. The Left is already rolling off the shelf the anti–Mitt Romney campaign — i.e., rich people like Rauner don’t care about people like you.

    “The Left” won’t vote for him anyways. But again, I don’t see how effective the “jackhammer” will be without help from the House and Senate.

    Some skeptics say that even if Mr. Rauner wins, he won’t be able to overturn the corrupt machine in Springfield. Don’t be sure about that. If Rauner makes it to the governor’s mansion, he will have a gigantic mandate from voters to turn Springfield upside down and get the finances in order. The big losers will be the teachers’ unions, whose clout will be greatly diminished — it couldn’t happen to a nicer group of people.

    I hope he wins, and I hope this last paragraph is right. Maybe, perhaps, finally, the people of Illinois have had enough of the nonsense. At least this might be a start.

    Posted in Chicagoania, Illinois Politics | 16 Comments »

    High Rise Construction Views – And Taking Down A Crane

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 21st July 2014 (All posts by )

    In River North, during the many years we’ve lived here, the skyline has been transformed with the addition of new high-rise buildings. Construction slowed after the 2008-9 crash, but is back now with a vengeance. A new apartment building is being built near my condominium. This is a view of the building while the construction workers were pouring concrete on the roof (you can see the concrete pouring arm) the same night of the “Derecho” storm which hit Chicago at the end of June.

    I’ve always wondered how they take down the crane and we got a chance to see it up close and personal. The process took all weekend, and they closed down a nearby street on Saturday and Sunday while they dismantled the crane. They put the metal “box” (it is steel colored) with three sides around a vertical crane “segment” and then the crane pulls that segment out through the gap. You can see the crane holding the segment if you look closely – which it then lowers to the ground.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Chicagoania, Real Estate | 2 Comments »

    Adding to Illinois’ Debacle

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 17th July 2014 (All posts by )

    This billboard is in my River North neighborhood in Chicago. It is an advertisement for a mall and entertainment location in Rosemont, a small city near O’Hare airport.

    Rosemont was profiled by the Chicago Tribune in this excellent article. A single family has run Rosemont for generations, and they benefit from a levy on taxi rides from O’Hare and spend this money on no-bid contracts for friends, family and politicians as well as large entertainment complexes underwritten by large amounts of debt.

    The suburb is digging itself deeper into debt to subsidize a new bar district, professional softball stadium and outlet mall. With $370 million in taxpayer-backed loans outstanding, Rosemont has one of the top debt loads in the Chicago region.

    Another Chicago suburb, Bridgeview, hosts a stadium for the Chicago Fire, a major-league soccer team. Their debacle is chronicled here, in a typically great Bloomberg article.

    The mayor of Bridgeview, Illinois, said building a taxpayer-financed arena for the billionaire owner of Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire would bring hotels and restaurants to his suburb. Instead, the town has more than doubled property taxes and may raise them again to pay more than $200 million in stadium debt.

    One of the big problems in Illinois is that we have so many various overlapping public bodies, many with the ability to issue debt and all of whom have expensive board members, employees, and often public contracts doled out to associated cronies. This article, from the “Illinois Policy” web site, describes the myriad overlapping public entities in the State of Illinois and how we dwarf ALL states and especially neighboring (and much better managed) states like Indiana.

    Illinoisans suffer from the second-highest property tax rates in the nation.

    Their state is the third most corrupt in the nation.

    And driving this expensive and corrupt reality on the local level is the fact that Illinois has more units of local government than any other state in the nation. With 6,963 units of local government, Illinois beats its nearest competitor by more than 1,800.

    When Illinois finally hits the wall, and we won’t be able to issue new debt (and thus an immediate fiscal crisis will occur), we will have to have a reckoning with all of these various entities, each of whom has their own debt problems and the ability to create NEW problems by issuing MORE debt. On one hand, the market will constrain their ability to sell debt by the fact that these insolvent entities survive through the “implied” promise that they will be bailed out by some higher power, whether that is a county, state, or Federal government.

    The act of unwinding all of the problems of the inter-related corrupt and insolvent entities will be a herculean task, made even more difficult by the fact that there will be little incentive for the politicians to solve the crisis if the end result is that they won’t have these same public entities for no-bid contracts, jobs for themselves, and their campaign workers and donors once the clean-up is complete.
    The only thing for certain is that the lawyers in the state will feast at the trough of lawsuits from all parties. They just need to make sure that they find a way to get paid themselves on a timely basis…

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in America 3.0, Big Government, Chicagoania, Illinois Politics | 11 Comments »

    Gary Becker ז״ל

    Posted by Jonathan on 4th May 2014 (All posts by )

    Gary Becker, one of the greatest living economists and a longstanding member of the University of Chicago faculty, has died. עליו השלום.

    Gary Becker

    (Photo courtesy Nobelprize.org.)

    UPDATE: Gary Becker links follow.

    James J. Heckman (pdf)

    The Godfather of Freakonomics Has Died — Here Are His Most Groundbreaking Theories

    Chicago Tribune

    The Wall Street Journal

    The New York Times

    Chicago Sun-Times

    The New Yorker

    UPDATE 2: University of Chicago Gary Becker Obituary

    (Links via Lex and Joseph Morris.)

    Posted in Chicagoania, Economics & Finance, Obits | 3 Comments »

    2014 Midwest Business & Markets Conference

    Posted by Zenpundit on 9th March 2014 (All posts by )

    cross-posted to zenpundit.com

    The Union League Club of Chicago Building

    Yesterday, I attended the 2014 Midwest Business & Markets Conference at the historic Union League Club of Chicago. While business conferences are far afield from my usual interests, the main draw for me was seeing Lexington Green speak about the book he co-authored with James C. Bennett, America 3.0

     

    Michael J. Lotus (“Lex”)                       His book

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, Business, Chicagoania, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Diversions, Economics & Finance, Education, Entrepreneurship, Illinois Politics, Internet, Political Philosophy, Politics, Society, The Press, USA | 9 Comments »

    Your English Major Kids May End Up Serving Tables In Chicago

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 8th March 2014 (All posts by )

    I live in the River North area of Chicago, which is full of restaurants of every type and description. There is also intense competition among many of the smaller restaurant groups, since apparently some level of scale (5+ or more restaurants) is helpful and these restaurants tend to have very high levels of food quality and service, based on my experience.

    When you interact with the bar staff, hostess, and server you can usually tell if you are working with someone who is “going through the motions” or someone “who is good at their job”. There are many subtle details that are much larger than “getting your order right” – they include knowledge about the food and presentation, recommendations based upon your input, and generally anticipating needs and solving problems without having to be prompted many times.

    Recently I’ve come to the preliminary conclusion that many of the waitresses and servers in these higher end restaurant groups must have gone to college and are well educated. When you talk with them they are very sharp and quick and they seem to have the type of drive or energy that could make them successful in a variety of careers. I would never ask them directly because that’s none of my business and it could embarrass them.

    This article form Bloomberg titled “College Graduates Taking Low Wage Jobs Displace Less Educated” confirms at least my anecdotal impressions here in Chicago.

    She got a job as a hostess at Blackbird, a One Off restaurant, while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Germanic studies and communications at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1999. “The formality of classes, papers and grades did lend a hand in where I am today because I had a broader sense of cultures, interactions and interpersonal skills,” said Galban, who is now also a partner at the restaurant Nico Osteria, one of seven Chicago restaurants managed by One Off. Of the company’s more than 700 employees, more than 60 percent hold college degrees or higher, yet fewer than 10 positions require a degree, Galban said.

    The willingness of college educated adults to take on these jobs will likely cause at least three side effects, one of which was the “main” topic of the Bloomberg article I linked to above:

    1. These restaurants will be more competitive than typical restaurants, because the higher educated and higher skilled workers will drive customer satisfaction and drive efficiencies within the food and drink serving processes. As these workers move “up the chain” at the restaurants, they will also offer career paths for other college degree holders as well
    2. Less-skilled workers will have less opportunities because they won’t be able to compete with these individuals. It would be a simple “screen” to give preference to individuals with a degree who apply for jobs, even if it isn’t a requirement of the job. In the past the assumption was that if someone “over-qualified” would work at your restaurant or business, they would leave immediately when a new opportunity arises, but in today’s stagnant economy (especially in Illinois) there don’t seem to be a lot of opportunities for them to “jump to”.
    3. Since the cost of higher education is so high today, parents need to think of how they will feel when their liberal arts (or lackadaisical business) degree holding children are potentially serving them in a restaurant, and if this is worth the vast expense and financial impact of the degree that they are seeking

    Another side effect to consider is that these restaurants are not just randomly seeking out applicants from the pool. Their employees are not only young, they are disproportionally above-average looking. Perhaps if you aren’t college educated you can make up for it in attractiveness.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Business, Chicagoania, Education | 17 Comments »

    Why The Post Office Is Doomed

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 20th January 2014 (All posts by )

    The United States Postal Service (USPS) is in bad financial shape. The service is currently losing money and is unable to pay some required payments to the government for employee retirement benefits. While the USPS has retained its first class mail monopoly, it sends only a small percentage the ecommerce packages that are the backbone of the physical internet economy.

    The real failure of the postal service, however, is encapsulated in the photo above. In our River North neighborhood, where the population density is high (local residents in high rise condominiums plus innumerable tourists) and the value of real estate is high, too, there is one institution that you can count on to not shovel their sidewalk or take care of their property. The US Postal Service.

    The employees of the USPS are unionized and likely no one has the job of shoveling the sidewalk, or it isn’t in their job description. Thus it isn’t shoveled, and you need to trudge through it which becomes treacherous as the snow melts and re-freezes. Since many of the people who actually might want to use the postal service in this area are elderly, the dangerous sidewalks are even harder to defend.

    They also used to have two mailboxes in the “drive up” section where you can pull your car up to the curb in front of the River North post office. Recently when I attempted to mail Christmas cards (we don’t like to leave them with the mailman in our condominium building because we’ve heard horror stories) at the post office, I couldn’t stuff them into the mailbox, because they reduced capacity down to a single mailbox. There were a few other potential customers milling around fuming as well, since the outdoor mailbox had apparently been jammed beyond capacity for some time.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Business, Chicagoania, Economics & Finance | 25 Comments »

    Sonny Boy Williamson, 9 Below Zero

    Posted by Lexington Green on 5th January 2014 (All posts by )

    It is going to nine below zero at 3:00 a.m. tonight.

    Stand by for some serious cold, Chicago.

    Posted in Chicagoania, Video | 5 Comments »

    Divvy Bikes and Logistics

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 26th December 2013 (All posts by )

    Divvy bikes came to Chicago this year towards the end of the summer and they seem to be a big hit. We see people riding Divvy bikes all the time and they have a distinctive “flash” light on the front (like a strobe) that is visible from far away, even from our condominium high up over River North.

    I often walk near the train station and I noticed the Divvy van loading up bikes when the obvious hit me; Divvy bikes came from all over the city and ended up near the train station. These vans were redistributing the bikes back to other stations so that the next days’ rush hour could repeat the process.

    The stations seem to have a solar powered panel; they should connect each of the bikes to a sensor and then broadcast to a central station so that they can map out bike usage in regular intervals and use this information to improve their bike distribution algorithm. I assume that they can also make some stations larger than others; this way you could collect many bikes downtown and then redistribute them to stations that they came from (presumably on the north side) during the day. Here is an article I found about the Divvy “Rebalancers“.

    Perhaps some day they could alter pricing in some sort of “congestion” model to charge people more who drop bikes off at popular stations and charge people less to ride those same bikes in the opposite direction to less popular stations. This could supplement the “rebalancers” with market forces. Grist for an MBA case study perhaps?
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    Posted in Chicagoania, Economics & Finance | 4 Comments »

    Happy Holidays

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 26th December 2013 (All posts by )

    Happy Holidays from Chicago! And I want to give a special thanks for the writers of America 3.0, who are taking time out from their busy lives and mercantilistic duties in order to try to bring a positive set of recommendations for the future.

    Posted in America 3.0, Chicagoania | 2 Comments »

    Anecdotal Chicago Observations

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 18th December 2013 (All posts by )

    Last weekend I took the family to Chicago for our annual Christmas weekend in the big city. We had a great time, as always. Some observations below the fold.
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    Posted in Business, Chicagoania, Photos | 10 Comments »

    How A Simple Train System Lays Bare Our Impending Decline

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 23rd November 2013 (All posts by )



    Recently I was riding on the Metra, the commuter rail system that connects the suburbs to downtown Chicago.  I picked up “On the Bi-Level”, the flyer that Metra management makes available to riders and was browsing through it when I came upon this innocuous sounding statement:

    I certainly will not argue that Metra is without challenges.  Perhaps the biggest challenge, and one that will impact many of our plans, is our needs for more capital money to invest in our system.  We estimate Metra will need about $9.7 billion over the next decade to achieve a state of good repair on the system, and we expect to receive about a fourth of that amount from traditional federal and state sources.  Riders need to understand that fares help us cover our operating costs but have never been a significant source for capital expenses – we must rely on Washington and Springfield for that funding.

    Within the utility community there is a concept called “generation equity”.  This implies that you need to spread the burden of replacement and renovation across the life cycle of users, rather than hitting them all on the first riders, such as in the case of a train line.  On the other hand, you cannot just ignore ongoing capital costs and let the system run into ruin by paying the minimal upkeep costs every year.


    In this article, Metra lays bare the facts that:

    • Fare costs (riders) only “help” them cover their operating costs
    • Funding from other sources (and debt) helps them cover the rest of their operating costs
    • Then they rely on largess from the state or Federal governments for about a fourth of their capital costs
    • And who knows where they are going to get the rest of the funds for capital replacement


    In fact, it would be impossible for Metra to re-build the train lines that they have today in the current regulatory and legal environment.  Permits, lawyers, litigation, politically favored contractors, and a welter of archaic tools and practices would make the costs impossibly high and the deadlines incredibly long.  By “capital” costs, they are generally talking about replacing bridges, stations and sections of existing track rather than “true” expansion, although they do occasionally add some incremental lines or stations.


    It is important to understand that things have gotten more EXPENSIVE but they haven’t gotten BETTER.  The infrastructure that we take for granted might as well have been built by the ancient Egyptians given how herculean the task would be to replace them.  Americans will never see another major dam built in the USA and likely few to no additional incremental nuclear or coal plants in the next 25 years.  Even major transmission lines are going to be few and far between, which will only be built because it is absolutely necessary to get electricity to new population centers.  This is all due to the layers of process and regulations and lawyers that we have overlaid atop the simplest tasks, and you can see the contrast when you go to China and see cities being built overnight. 


    At some point we are either going to need to radically re-structure how we build and pay for things or go to a completely private system where you pay for what you receive in terms of capacity, reliability and performance.  States and cities that make it impossibly expensive to build and expand will inevitably suffer relative to other locations that are freer in terms of rules and regulations, unless (as is likely) the entire US is burdened with Federal regulations that make it impossible to escape this yoke.


    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Big Government, Chicagoania, Economics & Finance | 9 Comments »

    Apparently Illinois Vote Rigging Doesn’t Count… and a Glimmer of Hope From California

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 16th November 2013 (All posts by )

    Recently I wrote about how the district I live in is perhaps the most gerrymandered district in the entire country.  Great pains have been taken by the Democrats that run Illinois to ensure that my vote can’t count and the legislator that runs our state district doesn’t even have to bother courting voters like me.  Even among Illinois legislators (not exactly the highest quality bunch) my guy is famous for not even voting to impeach Blago.  Literally we have the worst of the worst representing us, but he is effectively immortal since all he has to do is win the Democratic party primary and he’s in, due to basic mathematics and party-line voting.

    While I know writing posts like this is just like shouting into a toilet Rolling Stone recently came out with an article about Red State gerrymandering.  While my district in the article above was in the state legislature, our Illinois US House of Representatives balance has been similarly adjusted to ensure that a 50/50 or so state leans completely blue.  Of course the entire article acts as if this is a Republican phenomenon, when in fact both parties are equal opportunists at this sad game.

    There is a shred of hopefulness in all of this in some electoral advancements coming out of California, of all places.  They have a system where the two top vote getters in the primary battle it out on election day, even if they are from the same party.  In this sort of system, the Democrat or Republican that reaches out to the constituents in the middle from the other party has a shot at beating a stone ideologue that will generally cruise through the party primary (like my state representative).  This solution was “California Proposition 14“.  In parallel, they also have a citizen’s commission to draw districts so that they make more sense rather than be amazing gerrymander constructions.  It is too soon to tell if California’s results will help that much but it seems like a step in the right direction.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Chicagoania, Illinois Politics, Politics | 10 Comments »

    Illinois and the Perfect Democrat

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 3rd November 2013 (All posts by )

    I live in the River North district of Chicago, a vibrant area full of professionals, high rise buildings, and a large service economy.  We are adjacent to the Loop (and many of the people who live here chose this area so that they could walk to work) which employs many of these residents in an internationally competitive group of companies, both public and privately held.

    In my interactions with these residents, few are political, and I would say that most Illinois citizens I’ve met over the year could be considered middle-of-the-road. However, due to factors unique to the state of Illinois, the state is dominated by Democrats who control most of the levers of power at the state, city, county and local levels. As such, a state of mostly moderate individuals is set up, governed, and managed as if it was the most left-leaning state in the country.

    Ken Dunkin is our Illinois State representative for the 5th District, and he helpfully sent me this brochure that outlines his goals and accomplishments as a state legislator. This update provides a great window into the mindset of an Illinois Democrat.

    Ken Dunkin is famous for being the only Illinois legislator to skip Gov Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment hearing, and thus being a de-facto loyalist to the bitter end. It is really hard to add anything more to that sort of fact; even his fellow Democrats finally came to the conclusion that Blago had to go, but not Ken.

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    Posted in Chicagoania, Illinois Politics, Politics | 14 Comments »