The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog


Usually, my July visits to my family in San Francisco allow me to get away from Chicago's oppressive heat. This year, both cities are about the same, San Francisco just a little warmer than usual, and Chicago...well, it's the coolest July of my life:

July has slipped to the coolest to date here in 42 years—its 68.7°F degree average temperature running nearly 5 degrees behind the long-term (138-year) average. Friday's 70°F high was the first time in 53 years a July 17 temperature failed to rise above 70—you'd have to travel back to a 64°F high 85 years ago to find a July 17 that was cooler.

The average high for July's first 17 days has been 77.5°F—the second coolest in the 50 years of O'Hare Airport weather records dating back to 1959. Only 1967's 76.2°F tally has been cooler.

Maybe Chicago will have a super-hot August this year. Like, when I'm in London....

Amazon explains Orwellian deletion

Yesterday I pondered Amazon's deletion of works by Orwell, and asked for confirmation that they had deleted unauthorized (i.e., stolen) copies of the copyrighted material. Amazon last night confirmed this is, in fact, what happened:

An Amazon spokesman, Drew Herdener, said in an e-mail message that the books were added to the Kindle store by a company that did not have rights to them, using a self-service function. "When we were notified of this by the rights holder, we removed the illegal copies from our systems and from customers' devices, and refunded customers," he said.

Amazon effectively acknowledged that the deletions were a bad idea. "We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers' devices in these circumstances," Mr. Herdener said.

Now, I am not one who believes in perpetual copyright. I hate with a passion the Sonny Bono Mickey-Mouse Protection Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, passed (seriously, I am not making this up) in part to protect the Disney rodent for another 20 years on the eve of its lapse into public domain. I think it's unconstitutional, making a mockery of the "limited terms" clause, and on top of that I think it's a shining example of the pernicious effects of money on politics.

However, it's a pretty clear law, and in the U.S. the coypright in Orwell's work will not expire until at least 2021, 70 years after his death. Think about that. If I live another 21 years, which I will do even if it kills me, this blog entry will be protected by copyright until the 22nd century—unless the U.S. Congress comes to its senses and returns us to a copyright law that comports with international standards. Orwell's copyrights have expired in other countries, including Canada, but that introduces a web of competing claims that Amazon doesn't want to touch.

In sum: Amazon deleting books off users' Kindles was stupid, but probably within the terms of service and copyright law. However, had the users backed up the affected devices, and if they'd downloaded copies from Canada, they'd still have the book—a loophole in the TOS that, I'm sure, Amazon's partners will want closed very soon.

Morning round-up

A few things of note happened while I was en route to San Francisco yesterday:

  • The Cubs continued winning, taking their second in a row after the All-Star break and moving up to second place, though only because they've beaten up the hapless (25-63) Nationals to do it.
  • Wisconsin officials announced a deal to buy new 320 km/h train sets for the Chicago to Milwaukee route. Initially plans call for allowing the trains to run at 176 km/h (40% faster than today) while a new, dedicated high-speed line is studied.
  • In San Francisco, BART, the light-rail agency, averted a strike that could cripple the area's transportation system. The agency's employees unanimously rejected management's last contract offer and walked away from negotiations, but the two sides have since resumed talks.
  • Finally, Walter Cronkite died last night at 92.

And that's the way it is.

Update: One more from my dad: a big weenie drove into a house in Wisconsin yesterday, no doubt because the driver was in mourning.

Where the name change really came from

Even though there are more important things going on in the world, there are also better bloggers out there, so I trust sticking with entirely petty and parochial issues won't offend anyone. Like this, for instance:

Prying the Sears name off North America's tallest building was as simple as asking the leasing agent from U.S. Equities Asset Management to do it.

"I kept saying, 'Sears Tower, Sears Tower. I'd rather have it be Kmart Tower,'" said Carmine Bilardello, the Willis executive who negotiated the lease. "Then I asked them what it would take to put our name on the building, and they said that could be arranged."

Well, then, I guess that's as good a reason as any. I'm still not calling it Willis Tower. Or "Big Willie," for the love of dog.

Creepy Kindle cravenness?

I'd like confirmation on this: the Times' David Pogue reported today that Amazon deleted a particular author from people's Kindles overnight:

[A]pparently the publisher changed its mind about offering an electronic edition, and apparently Amazon, whose business lives and dies by publisher happiness, caved. It electronically deleted all books by this author from people’s Kindles and credited their accounts for the price.

You want to know the best part? The juicy, plump, dripping irony?

The author who was the victim of this Big Brotherish plot was none other than George Orwell. And the books were "1984" and "Animal Farm."

The Kindle forum thread on the topic reads, to me anyway, like the copies deleted were from a publisher that didn't have the rights to sell electronic copies. Like it or not, Orwell's works are still protected by copyright. So if the deleted copies were indeed sold by a publisher illegally, it's not like Barnes & Noble removing the book off your shelf and leaving 99c on the table; it's like Barnes & Noble discovering it had sold you a remaindered book and correcting the error.

On the other hand, perhaps an email explaining the situation might have helped Amazon in this case?

Seriously, "Big Willie?" Um, no.

The Sears Tower's name officially changed to Willis Tower this morning, under the new ownership of UK insurance brokerage Willis Group Holdings Ltd. No one will call it that for a generation, of course, a fact not lost on NPR's Steve Inskeep this morning.

Willis CEO Joseph Plumeri, in what I sincerely hope was a moment of retail British irony rather than wholesale American idiocy, suggested a way to help ease the transition:

[Crain's Chicago Business]: Any idea how long will it take for people to get used to the new name?

[Plumeri]: No, I don't. People have asked me, "What do you think they'll call it? Willis, Sears?" I've said, "You can call it the Big Willie, and that would be fine with me." And I mean that. I don't mean that in a comedic way. (Chicago) is a town of neighborhoods and it's a town of nicknames. And people in this town, when you call something by a nickname it's not meant to be demeaning, because I come from the neighborhoods. It's meant to be a term of endearment. So if they did that, that would be fine.

One more thing: I want to warn my friends and colleagues that, today and tomorrow, anyone uttering that hideous phrase from that treacly 1980s sitcom—you know what I'm f@!$&!! taliking about—will be punished. Oh yes. In the names of Strunk, White, and Orwell, you will be punished.

Good riddance

The Chicago Tribune ran an exposé of suburban red-light cameras recently; today they're reporting that one suburb, Schaumburg, has removed its camera despite its success at generating revenue. So why would they remove a million-dollar-earning camera? Because it doesn't actually stop accidents, and it really annoys drivers:

When Schaumburg first signed on to the red-light camera business last year, officials could hardly wait to get started, which is why they chose Meacham and Woodfield Roads as the first of their 10 planned camera locations. That intersection wasn't chosen because it had a lot of accidents -- the spot isn't even in Schaumburg's top 10 -- but because all of the intersection's approaches are in the village's boundaries and are local roads. This let village officials deploy the cameras much faster, avoiding the state approval needed for cameras on state roads.

Almost immediately, that selection paid off, literally, as cameras there flashed as fast as a paparazzi pack, mostly nabbing drivers for making right turns on red without a complete stop. In just 2½ months, the cameras spit out about 10,000 tickets, each a $100 violation.

[But] Schaumburg officials stated Tuesday night that they terminated the RedSpeed contract because crash data, prepared by the Police Department in June, revealed that the intersection does not have a problem with running-red-light accidents nor did it have one in 2008 when the cameras were installed. That fact angers Brian Costin, president of the Schaumburg Freedom Coalition, a citizens group that campaigned against the cameras last September. "I think Mayor [Al] Larson and the board did not do their due diligence," he said.

Unfortunately, other suburbs haven't gotten the memo:

On Monday, River Forest's board voted to conditionally hire RedSpeed to install two traffic cameras along Harlem Avenue.

Sigh. Cameras may not be all bad, but when used to raise revenue rather than reduce accidents, they just piss people off.

Frangos come home

Frango Mints, the historic Chicago mint-chocolate candy, have returned to Chicago:

South Side candymaker Cupid Candies has started producing the No. 1-selling Frango product — one-pound boxes of the mint chocolates — in the past several days for local Macy's department stores.

The start of production, to be announced today by Macy's and Cupid Candies executives, comes a year and a half after production was expected to start.

... The production is meaningful to Chicagoans outraged by the 1999 outsourcing of Frango production to Pennsylvania under then-Marshall Field's corporate parent Dayton Hudson, and then outraged again when Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren jettisoned the Marshall Field's brand and replaced it with Macy's in September 2006.

It's about time, too.

Incidentally, I discovered when I worked in Lisbon, Portugal for a few months in 2000-2001, that "frango" means chicken in Portuguese. People in Europe already think we Americans eat crappy food (can't think why); the "chicken mints" I brought caused some commotion in the Lisbon office until people got up the nerve to try them. Ah, international business.

Baseball takes a breather

Heaven knows some teams need it.

With baseball taking a three-day break for the All-Star Game (tomorrow night in St. Louis), we take a moment to reflect on how much worse things could be for the Cubs. They wound up exactly at .500, with 43 wins and 43 losses, tied with Houston and 3.5 games behind St. Louis (49-42).

The real story, though, has to be how the Washington Nationals haved lost 61 games so far, the second time in a row they've dropped 60 before the break, putting them on course to lose120 games by the end of the season in October. It won't be the worst season in history (the 1899 Cleveland Spiders went 20-134), but it would be the worst showing for the Nationals.

There's hope. Last year they pulled out more wins in the second half, ending with a 59-101 record.

The Cubs, though: looks like perfect mediocrity, once again.

Update: Mediocrity, certainly; but possibly also bankruptcy, according to reports.