Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Two For One

Two separate emails came to me over the weekend from two different sources that tie together in a way. I thought both are worth sharing.

The first is one of those emails that get passed on and forwarded a lot. The claim is it was written by  Clint Eastwood. Generally these types of emails leave me skeptical of the authenticity. Using a celebrity name gets attention. There is no way to confirm if the claim is true without a lot of search engine work and I have no time for that. I report - you decide.


Here's the content.

My Twilight Years ~ Clint Eastwood

As I enjoy my twilight years, I am often struck by the inevitability that the party must end. There will be a clear, cold morning when there isn't any "more." No more hugs, no more special moments to celebrate together, no more phone calls just to chat. 

It seems to me that one of the important things to do before that morning comes, is to let every one of your family and friends know that you care for them by finding simple ways to let them know your heartfelt beliefs and the guiding principles of your life so they can always say, "He was my friend, and I know where he stood."

So, just in case I'm gone tomorrow, please know this.

I voted against that incompetent, lying, flip-flopping, insincere, double-talking, radical socialist, terrorist excusing, bleeding heart, narcissistic, scientific and economic moron currently in the White House!

Participating in a gun buy back program because you think that criminals have too many guns is like having yourself castrated because you think your neighbors have too many kids.

Regards,

Clint

I have doubts this originated with Mr. Eastwood. It appears to be a late night rant by a person who had one too many. Then again Mr. Eastwood's speech at the RNC convention in 2012 tailed off into a series of addled or boozy connections so who knows. The content of the letter did reflect my sentiments so it resonated with me no matter who it originated with.

Another email on the same subject brought my attention to an online blog dedicated to reporting on random violent crime in the City of Chicago.


One claim made on this site is the local Chicago news media and Chicago Police Department are burying more than future dead democrat voters. They are burying number of documented violent crimes by having them reclassified. Doing so keeps the true numbers of random violent acts lower. Politicians prefer that facts not get in the way of their precious tourism business.

Most surprising is the reference link to a very revealing investigative article printed in Chicago Magazine, a publication that began decades ago as a tony north shore lifestyle magazine usually loaded with restaurant reviews, social event calendars and advertisements for fashions, furs and jewelry along with BMW and Bentley dealerships. The surprise to me is they were gutsy enough to publish something the mainstream Chicago news media would prefer to ignore. 

The site keeps a count of weekly, monthly including a special category of weekend homicides. You can track where and when these homicides occur, male and female criminal statistics and at-a-glance geographic stats revealing what most of us have already figured out.


I had a good chuckle at one statistic listed under the category of "shot placement". This is a monthly count of people "shot in the ass" complete with a graphic titled the "Shot-In-The-Ass-O-Meter". Are the gang bangers such poor shots they miss the vital area of the middle back when a victim is fleeing or are the shooters are making some sort of gang punishment statement to their peers?

Yes, it's true, my Chicago neighbors are having too many kids. But don't expect me to schedule a doctor appointment for my outpatient castration procedure anytime soon.

Friday, April 04, 2014

The Great Midwest Fight For Growth

Before getting into this allow me to say this is not a rant, means of ridicule or insult to my good friends living in Illinois. There is so much good about Illinois. We lived there for nearly twenty years and enjoyed all it had to offer. But as it was obvious to us back then the state was heading for trouble. At that time it was beyond our imagination just how much trouble Illinois would eventually find itself in today.

As an Illinois refugee it's comforting to know we made the right choice by moving back to our home state of Indiana over twenty years ago. When the time came to relocate and upgrade, our evaluation of real estate opportunities, government, state economy and quality of family life influenced our decision to head back to Indiana where we grew up. Our choice to invest and relocate here was a wise one and we have no regrets in our ongoing search for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


Forbes online has written a brief piece outlining the sharp contrast between Indiana and Illinois regarding state government fiscal health and its impact on private sector economic growth. I became aware of the article through an email from one of my wise old superiors named Tom who is now fully retired and residing in Chicago's western suburbs.

Tom is one who can now well afford to enjoy a fine quality of life but is disgusted with where his state is heading and how his rights - constitutional and non-constitutional - are being compromised. He sees more and more of his wealth confiscated by a perpetual ruling class of re-elected cleptocrats. This was his way of congratulating me again via email for my choice to bolt Illinois long ago.

Back then Tom and some others at my agency thought I was foolish to leave for a state the Chicago media elite depict as a dirty rusted industrial landscape filled with trailer parks, rednecks and rubes and worst of all a state that lacks (gasp) diversity, culture and (yawn) urban enrichment. They would tell me I made enough to afford a nice place in the northwestern suburbs or a near north side brownstone. It was beyond their comprehension to see a successful ad executive make the choice I did. I had my reasons and kept them to myself.

Seems Illinois may soon force middle class residents to pay yet another tax, an obscene progressive income tax rate hike scheme to offset the state public union pension disaster and spending catastrophe created by individuals in the government they continue to choose. This is on top of what Chicago residents may be forced into paying regarding their property taxes to cover for their past government malfeasance. Many more businesses and residents have been fleeing the city and state for Wisconsin, Indiana and other less "progressive" states recently. It is becoming very obvious why. Tom sees it now and feels screwed by staying put.

The Forbes article Tom sent to me is titled is "Border War In The Midwest: Indiana And Illinois Fight For Growth"

From that article:

Last week, the Indiana state legislature passed further reductions in corporate business tax rates that, within eight years, will establish the Hoosier State as having the lowest business tax rate in the country. Indiana Governor Mike Pence has said that he plans to sign it into law. The bill will lower the corporate income tax rate each year through 2022, when the 4.9% rate will become the lowest corporate rate in the U.S. It also provides three options for local governments to lower the business personal property tax.

This is good news for Indiana, which is rapidly becoming a pro-growth model for states that are looking for ways to compete for employers, jobs, and tax revenues. Smart fiscal policies are improving the lives of workers across the state. Indiana now creates one out of every ten new jobs in America and actually rebates surplus funds to its taxpayers.

Unfortunately, this is bad news for Illinois, Indiana’s neighbor to the east. Illinois is wrestling with an unfunded pension liability of $187 billion, a recent ranking of last place in job creation with an anemic growth rate of 0.98, and the highest jobless rate in the Midwest. Even more troubling, Illinois’ paltry 11% increase in manufacturing jobs since 2009 has kept families who are struggling to make ends meet tied to unemployment lines. Compare this with Indiana manufacturing jobs’ recovery rates, which are close to 50%, and it is easy to see why the stakes are high for Illinois workers this election cycle.

The Forbes article is loaded with links so if you are interested click them to find out more. I swear, the Illinois ruling class seems destined to tax themselves into oblivion instead of turning their political clown car around.

The article describes how many middle class families have fled the City of Chicago over time. Many of them to Wisconsin and Indiana. I have met and known many of these other refugees and we meet we commiserate. Their chart illustrates "the demise of the foundation of an American city". While the results may not be exactly the same it's not much different from what happened to Detroit in the seventies.

If so many have left who is replacing them? Is anyone replacing them? How sad is that?

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Big Ten Expansion Plans

A day or two ago I wrote about a hilarious article at ESPN that stated that the Big Ten only wants to look at AAU members to add to the conference (unless they bring in a ton of ca$h, like Nebraska).

Well, it is easy enough to see who the expansion "targets" are, so lets analyze it a bit.  Here is the current list of AAU universities.  We will keep the conversation to football, as that is where the lions share the money is anyways.

There are a total of 49 schools in the AAU that are not currently in the Big Ten.  Of the 49, 9 don't have football programs at all, bringing us to 40 candidates.

Of the remaining 40, 6 play football in division three, 2 play in Canada in small venues, and 7 are in the Ivy league.  I think it would be safe to exclude these from potential candidate$ for the Big Ten, so this leaves us with 25 schools left.

Of the 25 schools, I think it would be safe to eliminate Mizzou, Florida, Texas A and M, and Vanderbilt, who have sweet deals with the SEC.  This leaves us 21.

Similarly, I think it would also be safe to eliminate the PAC 12 schools that are left from the list of potential candidates to join the Big Ten with their AAU credentials.  These schools are Colorado, Oregon, Arizona, Cal, UCLA, USC, Stanford and Washington.  We are now left with 13 schools.

We now can eliminate those schools playing in the FCS, which used to be called Division 1-AA.  They are just not big enough and wouldn't being the dough and fan base needed to join the conference.  These are Stony Brook University (who knew?), and UC Davis.  Now we have 11.

We are now down to 11 candidates that play football in Division 1, and have AAU credendial$ that make them "eligible" to join the Big Ten.  I think we can now safely eliminate a MAC (Mid American Conference) team.  While I love the MAC since it is based with schools in the Midwest and never outgrew itself by expanding in dumb, far away markets, it is a relatively tiny conference and really, there is no place for these schools in the Big Ten.  We have one school from the MAC, Buffalo.  We are down to 10.

CUSA (Conference USA) schools face the same fate as the MAC schools for the same reasons.  We will toss out Tulane and Rice now.  Down to 8.

Of the 8 schools left, five are in the ACC and three are in the Big 12.

From the ACC:
Duke
Georgia Tech
North Carolina
Pitt
Virginia

From the Big 12:
Kansas
Iowa State
Texas

The ACC has been under assault the last half decade or so, and is a little more loosey goosey than most conferences.  The Big 12 is even worse, with recent losses of Texas A and M and Nebraska really hurting them.

Texas in particular is an interesting case, as they have by far the largest athletic department in the nation, with probably one of the largest fan bases and even have their own network (the Longhorn Network).  The deal would have to be really, really sweet for them to join the Big Ten and share their revenue.

Kansas, while making an empire in hoops, has stunk up the joint in football for a long time.  The Big Ten might be interested in them for the basketball piece, and to give the top dogs in football more to feed on in the basement of the conference on a yearly basis.

Iowa State is really the school without a home.  They don't naturally fit into the Big 12, and they are likely not wanted by the Big Ten because they have a (relatively) tiny fan base and a small TV market.

As far as the ACC schools go, of the lot of them I could see Pitt making the jump to the Big Ten if they were asked - five years ago.  But they just signed a huge deal with the ACC with a LOT of TV money (via ESPN) and they would have a GIANT penalty (buyout) if they jumped that ACC ship. Couple that with Notre Dame halfway joining the ACC and all the fans and money they bring (like them or not) and that is a lot stacked against not only Pitt, but any of the other ACC members leaving.

So, in the end, I think realistically, if the Big Ten stuck to their guns and only allowed AAU schools to join (lol), the most obvious targets are the three from the Big 12, especially Texas.  But there are pros and cons to all of this and you never know what can happen.

My bet would be that the next member to join the Big Ten will be...not an AAU accredited institution.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Monday, March 31, 2014

It Is Or Isn't

hmmm….that's interesting….

That is a common response heard in trendy galleries or modern museums when viewing works of art. I've heard it more times than I can count. In my experience it is said most by those who lack the knowledge, expertise or the ability to bullshit their way in describing what they don't understand without self embarrassment. Smart choice.

Me? Whenever I have been in that situation and asked if I like something I say so. If I don't I say I don't like it. But that's just me. I prefer keep my mouth shut if I don't understand it and neither hate it or like it. Unless I had too much wine, then I didn't give a crap what I said. Art galleries are places where posers feel the need to act like experts. It's not too hard to spot them.

One sculpture I drive by each day captures my attention and my imagination. Don't know why I like it but I do.
The sculpture in the above photo resides at the entrance of Purdue University's North Central extension campus just south of the Indiana Toll Road (I-80) on SR421.

My son went there for a year or so before committing to the West Lafayette main campus to serve out the remainder of his sentence. PU/NC has a few other sculptures along the road but I don't care much for them. Most are abstract interpretations of some industrial flotsam or jetsam, some could be interpretations of a female or male, whatever.

What I see in this particular Purdue sculpture projects movement, strength, progress and in a way, intelligence. There's a flow to it that seems casual and free, happy, almost lifelike. Static it's not. I see jaunty without swagger (gawd I hate that word). The bare metallic luster and the angle in which it was placed catches sunlight ever so perfectly as the sun passes east to west creating stark contrasts and casting unusual shadows. Not many modern sculptures impress me as this one does. It is interpretive yet it has a realistic quality that suggests something to me without being able to tell just what that is. This sculpture seems very well thought out and quite appropriate for where it stands.

For the most part public sculpture bores the hell out of me specifically the ultra modern interpretive stuff. A lot of it looks like a waste of money. Like that innocuous "Bean" in Chicago's Grant park or those rusty legs without torsos farther south. That Bean thing reminds me of a kitchy old backyard garden reflecting globe so popular back in the 60's that happened to distort or melt. And that Picasso thing that occupies space in Daley Plaza is nothing but a rusty pile of awfulness. Interesting? No.This may place me in a minority but I think all those are a big waste of time and money.

That Purdue sculpture is much more than interesting…to me.

Money and the High and Mighty Big Ten

I try to follow the (miserable) football news about my beloved Illinois Fighting Illini and today I stumbled upon this article on ESPN.com.  It is really, really stupid (and shows how great the politicians in Illinois are at wasting money - but that is a different subject for a different day), but I read it anyway.

Most of the article is laughingly dumb, but here is the part that stuck out to me:
For starters, the Big Ten has made it clear that candidates must be part of the Association of American Universities to gain consideration. The only Illinois schools in the AAU right now are Illinois-Champaign, Northwestern and the University of Chicago, a founding member of the Big Ten that stopped competing in the league in 1939. 
This struck me as odd, so I took the liberty to launch a full out investigation that took approximately five seconds of my time (google) and found this page, that lists the current AAU members.  Among them are:

Indiana
Michigan State
Northwestern
Illinois
Ohio State
Penn State
Purdue
Rutgers
Maryland
Iowa
Michigan
Minnesota
Wisconsin

That is 13 schools.  Anyone missing?  Beuller?  Beuller?


Well, I will give you the answer.  NEBRASKA.  That's right, Nebraska is not an AAU member.  So next time you hear the Big Ten getting all high and mighty about not wanting anymore teams that are not AAU members, lets just put an asterisk there and make a footnote that says "unless they bring a ton of ca$h to the conference".  Of course ESPN would never say something like this for fear of losing access, but I guess that is my job.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The "Grand Budapest Hotel" and History

Today I watched the movie "The Grand Budapest Hotel" by Wes Anderson. While the movie was not intended to be an historical record, in some ways a fictionalized representation of life in the 1930's and early 1940's is a better way to humanize the elements of the conflict that can be lost broader sweep of the cataclysmic events known to all. The movie also works to include the postwar elements and even the post-communist years into a long a complicated narrative.

After the movie was done I started explaining how I saw the movie to fellow movie-goers and, to them, I almost seemed like the narrator that the movie didn't include. I just overlaid my own understanding of the participants in that era and, since it is fiction, my own interpretation is likely as sound as anyone else's.

I will try to limit the "spoilers" in this post and recommend that anyone interested in Zweig (to whom the movie was dedicated) and / or that era in history go to see the movie. You have to be a fan of the Wes Anderson style of movies and his set pieces are clearly not supposed to be realistic but they are tools for great visual cues and inspired situations.

The protagonist in the movie, Ray Fiennes, plays a concierge for a major hotel in the capital city of a declining empire in the 1930's as war time approaches. He mainly seduces older women but also is open to other sorts of encounters with men. Ray is plainly an intellectual and stickler for protocol and process in an era where that is reaching the end of the line. He and his fellow concierges represent the type of society that Zweig would fondly recognize (as does the process-following attorney who runs into serious trouble later).

The country could be an Austria or Czech type republic that is about to be swallowed by Germany. The borders are in the process of being closed to adjacent countries due to political challenges and incipient war. In an early scene, soldiers in grey accost and check the papers of the concierge and his "lobby boy" (who is non-white and obviously from one of the provinces) on a train and start to beat them up when they are stopped by Edward Norton, who plays an aristocratic officer who recognizes the concierge. To me this officer clearly represented the orderly and (relatively) law abiding German army. He even wrote a note giving safe passage to the lobby boy.

In the early scenes the soldiers are in Grey and when they stop the train their have early model armored cars. They are not intended to be realistic per se but they seem like vintage 1930 era inspired vehicles.

During the contesting of the will, a lawyer who also represents the old era brings a process and fairness to the executor's role (along with a Kafka-esque level of bureaucratic documents) until he meets up with a thug in a black trench coat who clearly represents the evolving SS. That individual, played by Willem Defoe, engages in more and more grotesque crimes throughout the movie and is not impeded by morals or the rule of law. At one point the Edward Norton character orders the civilian Dafoe away from an investigation that Norton is running, but it is clear that Dafoe is not intimidated and is part of the (hyper violent and aggressive) new order.

Later the protagonist against the concierge is seen to be in a long leather coat and is obviously a civilian leader of the Nazis. They have 2 letter flags and armbands in the SS "style" but the movie does abstract them so as to not be completely blatant. The hotel becomes a barracks for the military regime, and the standards of the staff decline as the hotel is militarized.

When the train is stopped again later in the film the "death squads" are taunted by the concierge with results that are far less pleasant than the early encounter with Norton. The soldiers in black and the more sinister looking hulking vehicles (which seem to be gun mounted half tracks) are also in black and this clearly represents the SS militarized and not the old nobility-led military.

The movie also works in the post communist collapse as the hotel is seen in a very sad and pathetic state in the late 1980's. The standards have completely collapsed as the last tenants are isolated in a way of life that has vanished.

For a fictional movie that is not intended to be a "literal" story, they managed to work in and include many key elements of the horrors of the 1930's - 1940's and the end of the era that it represented. It could be a great way to get kids of non-historically inclined individuals to get interested in what happened in those awful years.

Also included was the Funicolare, a fictional tram leading to the hotel, which does exist in a relatively similar format in Budapest today. Here is a photo of the line to enter the one I rode in Bergen in 2011.



Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saturday Night Flyover Country

Getting Paid

We have been hearing the big headlines the past week of the Northwestern football players getting approval on their first step to form a union for themselves.  Of greatest importance to them wasn't "getting paid", it was health insurance and not letting the university revoke their scholarships if they got cut from the team. 

In general, there seems to me to be a giant "pay them" wave coming over most fans as relates to kollej sports.  I have a few thoughts that may or may not all tie together, as there are a lot of moving parts to this thing.

First and foremost, the NCAA is probably one of the most horrible, corrupt organizations this side of FIFA.  I think the whole thing started to collapse on itself during the Cam Newton scandal, when Auburn pushed all of their chips into the middle of the table, and the NCAA bought the bluff.  Since then, they can't even punish Penn State for all of their misdeeds with anything but a token bowl ban and some scholarship reductions.

With that out of the way, the players at the NCAA level need to think twice about becoming paid employees.

Jeff Carter writes this brilliant piece about the subject.  Here is just one great thought:
As soon as athletes start getting paid, there will be someone else that wants to get paid.  The government.  Right now, scholarships aren’t taxed.   Players don’t pay state and local taxes. Once they get paid, why should they be different than pro athletes?  They will have to pay taxes in the state they reside and will have to file income tax returns in every state they play a game.  That includes bowl games and playoff games.  These sorts of tax filings will require hiring an expensive accountant to total up the damage, and do it right so they don’t get audited.  There will be a lot of ancillary costs coming their way that athletes haven’t figured into the equation.
I actually know a guy (we will call him "Rick") that has been involved in NFL players personal tax returns, and I can assure you that they are a total mess, very complicated, and very expensive to create.  But this is just one facet of being employed.  Carter lists several others in his piece.

Two sports pay for ALL other sports in the vast majority of athletic departments for NCAA schools:  football, and men's hoops.  If it wasn't for those, the athletic departments would be awash in debt.  Many still are, even with football and men's hoops programs in place as it is.  So if we pay the football players, where does that leave the women's rowing team?  Or the track team.  Or (insert sport with games attended by only family members here).  Do these players in the revenue losing sports now get to pay taxes on their scholarships?  Do they get paid zero, or get charged to now be on the rowing team?  Would the universities even have these money losing sports anymore?

To extrapolate this further, why on earth would a conference like the Big Ten even have a program like Illinois around to share revenue with?  We aren't really competitive in sports besides the ramdom good football season and some occasional hoops success.  Would the giant programs who are in it to win it simply jettison the conferences and join in a mega conference and leave the bottom feeders to fend for themselves?  Why on earth wouldn't they?  I can only imagine that in football, teams like Purdon't, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and a few others are kept around the conferences to give the top programs something to feed on and get to better bowl games (a different subject that will be addressed at a later date).

Even the SEC could jettison terrible programs like Kentucky in football and trade them out, making an SEC for football and one for hoops (where the SEC would definitely want Kentucky with their awesome one and done program).

This short blog post is just touching on a very few parts of this thing.  One thing is for sure, change is coming and at a very rapid pace.  The NCAA will not exist in its current form within a decade or less, and I hope that all of the players in the puzzle get it right, or you can kiss the lacrosse team goodbye.  For better or worse.