The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Oh, almost forgot about the weather

We're likely to begin February with the biggest snowfall in Chicago's recorded history:

A Blizzard Watch is in effect Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday as a strengthening low pressure system moves up the Ohio Valley. Late Tuesday afternoon steady snow and stronger winds will push into the region, starting south of I-80 and spreading north during the evening.

Snowfall rates Tuesday night could approach 50 to 80 mm per hour and when combined with sustained winds at 50-60 km/h, visibilities are will drop significantly with near whiteout conditions possible.

Snow totals of 30 to 50 cm are possible between Monday night and Wednesday afternoon with locally higher amounts. Drifting and blowing snow will make travel dangerous and possibly life threatening Tuesday night.

Lakeshore flooding is also a possibility. Waves of 3 to 5 m will crash along the Illinois side of the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Oh. Joy.

Time for a new W-4

Every year, I surprise myself by the amount of money I loan the United States, interest-free. Today I found out it's about double what I estimated earlier. This isn't a good thing: while I have no objection to paying taxes, I object strongly to over-paying during the tax year, even if they do refund it a week after I ask for it.

</ rant>

Cold, but not too cold

This winter Chicago has had below-average temperatures overall but nothing really cold. It's like a study in moderation, only unusual when you see the numbers rather than when you experience it:

Just one day this season has produced a sub-minus-17 Celsius low temperature and only one day has failed to climb out of single digits. Since the start of the three month (December through February) meteorological winter period, 38 of the 59 days—64% of them—have generated below normal readings.

It's a fact that except for New Year's Day, not a single day has produced a high over 4°C. And, the month of January has hosted only three days with highs above freezing—a fraction of the 141-year average of 14 above-freezing days to date. That's the fewest above-freezing days to occur in a January here in the 34 years since 1977.

Temperatures Saturday may poke above freezing long enough to turn the snow which has covered the ground here for 19 consecutive days a bit slushy. But a thaw capable of melting snow currently on the ground isn't in sight as we approach February 2011's arrival Tuesday, nor is a thaw expected in the week which follows.

The official temperature right now is 1°C, the warmest we expect it to be for at least the next week.

Yo! I got your "let it snow" right here, bub!

New York City has had its 6th and 8th biggest snowstorms of all time this winter, and it's a week away from another one:

Here is the complete list of the top-ten biggest snows there from Dr. Jeff Masters' Wunderblog:

1) 26.9" Feb 11-12, 2006
2) 26.4" Dec 26-27, 1947
3) 21.0" Mar 12-14, 1888
4) 20.8" Feb 25-26, 2010
5) 20.2" Jan 7-8, 1996
6) 20.0" Dec 26-27, 2010
7) 19.8" Feb 16-17, 2003
8) 19.0" Jan 26-27, 2011
9) 18.1" Mar 7-8, 1941
10) 17.7" Feb 5-7, 1978

I remember the one in February 2003: it stranded me in Washington for two days. At the Hyatt. Which, you know, really wasn't horrible, all things considering.

I digress.

The Canadian weather bureau forecasts another winter storm to dip around the Great Lakes and hit Chicago on Tuesday; however, all the other models in the world project the storm slinking much farther East and hitting Atlanta, Raleigh, DC, New York, and Boston.

By the way, one of the major predictions of anthropomorphic climate change theory is that the North American storm track will shift south. It used to go pretty much straight across Illinois during the winter and across Wisconsin in the summer. Now we're seeing the track generally around Nashville in the winter and St. Louis in the summer. That means, a warmer climate overall will cause more precipitation in the Southeast and Northeast during the winter, and more in the Central Plains during the summer. It also means generally milder weather around the Great Lakes.

New York Times editor on Wikileaks

Via Conor Friedersdorf, New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller has a detailed essay about how and why the Times published the last Wikileaks dump. He concludes

Although it is our aim to be impartial in our presentation of the news, our attitude toward these issues is far from indifferent. The journalists at The Times have a large and personal stake in the country’s security. We live and work in a city that has been tragically marked as a favorite terrorist target, and in the wake of 9/11 our journalists plunged into the ruins to tell the story of what happened here. Moreover, The Times has nine staff correspondents assigned to the two wars still being waged in the wake of that attack, plus a rotating cast of photographers, visiting writers and scores of local stringers and support staff. They work in this high-risk environment because, while there are many places you can go for opinions about the war, there are few places — and fewer by the day — where you can go to find honest, on-the-scene reporting about what is happening. We take extraordinary precautions to keep them safe, but we have had two of our Iraqi journalists murdered for doing their jobs. We have had four journalists held hostage by the Taliban — two of them for seven months. We had one Afghan journalist killed in a rescue attempt. Last October, while I was in Kabul, we got word that a photographer embedded for us with troops near Kandahar stepped on an improvised mine and lost both his legs.

We are invested in the struggle against murderous extremism in another sense. The virulent hatred espoused by terrorists, judging by their literature, is directed not just against our people and our buildings but also at our values and at our faith in the self-government of an informed electorate. If the freedom of the press makes some Americans uneasy, it is anathema to the ideologists of terror.

I'm with Friedersdorf; I think this gets it right. He says:

This description – and it seems fair and accurate to me – puts the Times in a much different light than is cast by some of its critics, who'd have us believe that the newspaper, which in many ways is establishmentarian (to a fault on occassion), is actually a trangressive, post-national entity with a knee-jerk tenency to blame America first.

I submit that in the matter of Wikileaks, the American people were a lot better off for the involvement of The New York Times than we would've been had the documents been dumped on the Internet without the newspaper's involvement – and that, even if you disagree with some of the decisons they made, which is reasonable enough, their approach to this matter was cogent and defensible.

Both the article and Friedersdorf's analysis are worth reading.

The fat lady sings: Emanuel stays on the ballot

Finally, this ridiculous exercise has ended. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled unanimously just a few minutes ago that Rahm Emanuel is a resident of Chicago, and therefore can stay on the ballot for city mayor:

The Chicago election board and a Cook County Circuit judge both ruled Emanuel met the residency requirements. The Supreme Court said the appellate court was in error in overrulling them:

"So there will be no mistake, let us be entirely clear. This court’s decision is based on the following and only on the following: (1) what it means to be a resident for election purposes was clearly established long ago, and Illinois law has been consistent on the matter since at least the 19th Century; (2) the novel standard adopted by the appellate court majority is without any foundation in Illinois law; (3) the Board’s factual findings were not against the manifest weight of the evidence; and (4) the Board’s decision was not clearly erroneous."

No kidding. And no surprise. The appellate court's ruling two days ago was one or both. The Supreme Court's opinion said what everyone knew (or should have known) in October, and slapped the Appellate Court pretty hard:

[T]he [Appellate] court determined that it was painting on a blank canvas, with no applicable authority to guide it other than the Moran quote. The court ultimately determined that, as used in section 3.1–10–5(a), "resided in" does not refer to a permanent abode, but rather where a person "actually live[s]" or "actually reside[s]." However, the court never explained what it meant by these terms, other than to say that the candidate does not qualify as a resident if this definition is used.

... Before proceeding to the merits, we wish to emphasize that, until just a few days ago, the governing law on this question had been settled in this State for going on 150 years.

(Citations deleted.)

In other words, the Appellate Court made up new law which they should not have done. Bad court. Bad court.

All right, this mini-farce is over. Let us resume our regularly-scheduled farce, already in progress...

Required course for high schoolers

Scott Adams thinks kids should learn how to compare, and I agree:

In our current system, the skills you need to compare alternatives are broken into little pieces and spread across several disciplines. A business student might learn about the time value of money while the psychology student is learning about confirmation bias. The math major is studying statistics while the religion student is learning that people will believe just about anything if the context is right.

Lacking the basic skills needed to compare alternatives, two people with different information and a couple of drinks can argue all night long and produce nothing but bad feelings. The same goes for people with different selfish interests and different ethical/moral standards. But people with good comparison skills can quickly find common ground. In our increasingly complex world, where different cultures are colliding, we'll all need a lot more talent for making the right comparisons.

Consider the budget debate in the United States. Every knowledgeable observer recognizes that the solution involves both deep cuts in expenses and higher taxes on those who can afford it. And yet our elected officials have framed the issue as one of higher taxes or not, and budget cuts or not. Politicians get away with false comparisons because the majority of voters are not trained in the skill of comparing. Borrowing a strategy from Gandhi, we need to become the change we seek in the government. Leaders will only make rational comparisons, and therefore rational decisions, when they know that the voters can tell the difference.

This is a great idea. It's important to keep in mind, however, that generally children have difficulty with abstract reasoning until they're 14-16 years old. Back in a previous life, in the 1990s, I tried teaching high school kids the basic fallacies of relevance. I had a small sample size, so I can't say my experience was statistically significant, but all the kids under 15 had trouble and all the kids over 16 mastered them with only a little effort.

Still, in a democracy, we need people who can reason; Adams's approach makes a lot of sense.

Oh, not good: Illinois appellate court rules against everyone

The owner of the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team, and more importantly, of Wirtz Beverages, won a case against the people of Illinois today:

An appellate court tossed out Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature $31 billion construction program, widespread plans for video poker and higher taxes on candy and booze, declaring Wednesday in a ruling that they were unconstitutional.

The suit was brought by Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz, who runs a large liquor empire and opposed the liquor tax hikes included in the legislation.

The decision knocked out all four laws that represented the backbone of the public works program Quinn put together with bipartisan support two years ago. It was the culmination of an effort with legislative leaders who had found working with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich futile.

"This lawsuit was always about how the legislature passed this bill and the discriminatory tax on wine and spirits,” said a spokesman for Wirtz in an e-mail. “The decision affirms that and we are gratified by it."

So, according to Wirtz, increasing taxes on wine and spirits is worse than thousands of jobs lost and fixing the roads, bridges, and tunnels in Illinois. And now no one has any idea what the law will be, because the state will now appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, keeping this in limbo for another two years.

I wonder why the Illinois courts of appeal have suddenly decided to thwart the people's will in two high-profile cases in two days? This will be interesting to watch.

The Last Word

Monday I cabbed out to the Gorilla Tango Theater near Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood for Chris Conley's and Kevin Sheehan's one-act play The Last Word. I loved it. I won't give anything away—at 30 minutes, any useful summary would spoil it—except to say that Sheehan and Conley have created an intriguing capsule of a world on GTT's tiny stage.

Becky Blomgren (Grace) brought her character to life with the right blend of vulnerability and integrity it required. The character has an odd trait that her mentor/antagonist Mandy (Whitney LaMora) takes for granted but should surprise her Zenish-hippie friend Trish (Amber Olivier) and the earnest but touchingly clueless Libby (Rosa SanMarch). The play remains faithful to the reality it creates, so that Grace's talent not only makes sense, but drives the story to its satisfying conclusion.

Conley (who also directed) confessed to me she'd like to tighten up a couple of bits in the script, and I think I know what she means. I hope she and Sheehan get the chance; I'd love to see a longer version that, for example, shows more of the relationship between Grace and Mandy before the argument that opens the play. But maybe not; it's a gem as it is, and I'd like to see more of Conley's work in the future.

The Last Word has one remaining performance on January 31st at 8pm. Tickets are $12.