The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

World's longest tunnel to open in 2 weeks

The Swiss have built a 57 km tunnel under the Alps, and it opens June 1st:

[T]he new Gotthard Base Tunnel burrows deep beneath the mountains to connect Switzerland’s German- and Italian-speaking regions, ultimately linking the Swiss lowlands with the North Italian plain. It exceeds the length of its longest predecessor, Japan’s Seikan Tunnel, by a little over three kilometers (1.9 miles). Running at up to 8,000 feet below mountain peaks at times, it also runs deeper below ground level than any other tunnel yet built. So great is the amount of rock and rubble created by the excavation—over 28 million tons—that steep artificial hills have been created in the valleys at the tunnel’s mouth.

Now that trains will run on a specially constructed, almost entirely flat track, trains through the tunnel will be able to reach speeds of 150 miles per hour. This will slash the journey time between Zurich and Milan to just two hours and 30 minutes, considerably faster than the current four hours and 40 minutes. While that’s impressive, shorter hops between sub-Alpine cities aren’t really the new tunnels main raison d’etre, and wouldn’t alone necessarily be worth an injection of over $10 billion.

Why is Europe in generally better shape even though their economy is technically in worse shape? This might be an example.

An inability to think coherently

New Republic's Brian Buetler reports that the wing-nuts in the Republican Party (i.e., about half of them) are already laying the psychological groundwork for the increased reporting on Donald Trump's past coming out now that he's the presumptive nominee:

The Republican primary campaign revealed (or rather reestablished) that Donald Trump is a bigot and a sexist and a creep. In fairness, this was not entirely a testament to fearless journalism; Trump happily exhibited all of these behaviors in front of live television cameras week after week. But reporters and campaigns did bring incidents of bigotry, sexism, and creepiness from his past to light, which helped feed the public’s exceedingly negative impression of the GOP’s new standard-bearer.

Despite months of digging, though, they may have only scratched the surface of Trump’s public and private sordidness. Now that he’s effectively secured the Republican Party nomination, we can expect the full details to pour out in the weeks and months ahead.

Before he dropped out of the race, Ted Cruz predicted this would happen. He attributed it to a liberal conspiracy: The media would sit on their most explosive Trump exposés until he’d won the nomination thanks to the invaluable free airtime they’d given him—and then destroy him with a series of damning revelations they’d been waiting to unleash.

It goes without saying that Democrats have none of those perverse incentives to worry about. They will unearth what Republicans missed; they will find what reporters can’t, if they haven’t already. And to the extent that their dossiers overlap, they will release what Republicans withheld. Reporters will happily field this opposition research, run it to ground, and publish it. It isn’t the media that’s been strategically holding fire—it’s the Democrats. They even boast about it.

And it's not like this guy doesn't have a whole load of dirty laundry to air. But such is the pathology of the Republican base right now that any bad news about their candidate must be part of a larger conspiracy, because the cognitive dissonance otherwise would be incapacitating.

Wow, this is going to be a long campaign.

Quantifying Eddie Lampert's destruction

Yes, I've posted a few things about the killing of Sears lately, because Eddie Lampert's investor call the other day was a train-wreck.

Well, Crain's has attempted to tote up the damage, and it turns out Lampert has reduced the value of Sears stock by over 90%—not counting the dead spin-offs:

Since he combined Sears Roebuck with Kmart in March 2005, Sears Holdings stock has lost roughly 90 percent of its value, dropping to an all-time low of $11.53 a share yesterday. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index has risen 75 percent over that same span.

But Sears Holdings doesn't tell the whole story. Since 2011, Lampert has carved out five investment vehicles from Sears. He spun off department store chain Sears Canada, hardware retailer Orchard Supply, hard-goods chain Sears Hometown & Outlet Stores, apparel company Lands' End and real estate investment trust Seritage Growth Properties. In some cases, Sears gave shares in the new company to shareholders in a direct spinoff; in others the shareholders got rights to buy stock in the newly independent company.

The total value of all these transactions to various shareholders depends on several variables, including when they bought into Sears, how many Sears shares they owned at the time of each spinoff, whether they exercised all subscription rights and how many shares of each company they still hold. But one thing is clear: Investors who stuck with Sears throughout Lampert's tenure would have done better with an S&P 500 Index Fund.

Yeah. How he's remained CEO of Sears boggles the mind.

Eddie Lampert is disappointed

After announcing yesterday that Sears will close its oldest retail store in the U.S. in the wake of a $1.13 bn loss last year, CEO Eddie Lampert told investors that he intends to return the chain to profitability in five years. Apparently their loyalty program is the problem:

Shop Your Way members sign up to receive coupons, and free shipping, and earn points that can be converted into dollars. Membership also provides access to a “social commerce” community on that lets shoppers see what merchandise their friends have "liked" or purchased. Sears, in return, receives rich data about these customers that helps it adapt more quickly to serving them.

The program has been Lampert's pet project of the last five years. But after defending it and explaining that building such a platform and changing customers' behavior requires a lot of patience, he admitted what a lot of skeptical observers have long assumed: Shop Your Way just isn't getting people to spend enough money.

He said the platform has an enormous number of registered members, but many of them are not as active as he would like. Three-quarters of Sears' revenue comes from registered Shop Your Way members, but many of them are not frequent buyers.

"Getting people engaged and interested is super-important," he said. "We've built the platform, (but) we've fallen short on getting them engaged. Are we really getting the bulk of their purchases? We want to serve our members deeper. If you shop with us 10 times a year and spend $300, we'd like you to shop 100 times a year and spend $3,000."

NO, you putz, the problem isn't your loyalty platform; it's that you, personally, have spent ten years turning Sears into someplace no one wants to shop. Have you even been inside one of your stores lately?

A few years ago I spent two days inside a Sears store that had been converted into a health-insurance company's head office. I have never worked in a more depressing environment, and I'm including in "never" the time I worked graveyard shifts in a dorm security booth in college.

Eddie, the only way the company can return to profitability in five years is if you terminate retail operations and sell the remaining assets to Seritage. But face it: you killed one of America's greatest brands, all by yourself.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

A feature film based on a wicked creepy Neil Gaiman story from his anthology "Fragile Things" will be released later this year:

Director John Cameron Mitchell brings Elle Fanning and Nicole Kidman to a seedy east London location for his latest feature, a punk-alien love story.

[He] looks to be in his element. It is December 2015 and he is on an industrial site in Wapping, east London, surrounded by aliens, punks and Nicole Kidman in a spiky white wig. The US actor-writer-director is instructing teenagers on how to dance, asking for the music to be turned up loud. He looks thrilled to be in the middle of it all.

The set-up is for Mitchell’s fourth feature as a director, How To Talk To Girls At Parties, which he adapted from a Neil Gaiman short story alongside Little Ashes screenwriter Philippa Goslett.

Set in 1970s suburban England, the story is about Enn, played by Tony award-winner Alex Sharp, a shy young guy who sneaks into an underground party with his punk-loving friends, where they meet a group of mysterious young women. Even after they discover the girls are part of an alien colony with sinister intentions, Enn cannot stop himself falling in love with Zan (Fanning). Kidman plays a fashion and music impresario who is worried she is losing her influence and sees Fanning’s character as a potential protégé.

It's one of my favorite Gaiman stories as well. I'm looking forward to seeing it in theaters.

The real Canadians

Canadian brothers Tim and Alex Foley discovered that their parents were spies for the Russian SVR when the FBI raided their house on 27 June 2010:

[T]he FBI had not made a mistake, and the truth was so outlandish, it defied comprehension. Not only were their parents indeed Russian spies, they were Russians. The man and woman the boys knew as Mom and Dad really were their parents, but their names were not Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley. Those were Canadians who had died long ago, as children; their identities had been stolen and adopted by the boys’ parents.

Their real names were Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova. They were both born in the Soviet Union, had undergone training in the KGB and been dispatched abroad as part of a Soviet programme of deep-cover secret agents, known in Russia as the “illegals”. After a slow-burning career building up an ordinary North American background, the pair were now active agents for the SVR, the foreign spy agency of modern Russia and a successor to the KGB. They, along with eight other agents, had been betrayed by a Russian spy who had defected to the Americans.

The Guardian also addresses the bear in the room: "If Tim and Alex’s story sounds eerily familiar to fans of The Americans, the television drama about a KGB couple living in the US with their two children, that’s because it’s partly based on them."

Obama at Howard University

Via Daily Kos, the President gave the commencement address at Howard University Saturday, giving a clear rebuke to Bernie Sanders' central message throughout:

The president was not attacking Sanders’ ideology of fairness. But he was clearly separating himself from Sanders’ dogmatic insistence on revolutionary transformation.

If you want to make life fair, then you have to start with the world as it is.

The balance between idealism and pragmatism was clearly at the forefront of the president’s mind.

Democracy requires compromise, even when you are 100% right. This is hard to explain sometimes. You can be completely right and you still have to engage folks who disagree with you. If you think that the only way forward is to be as uncompromising as possible, you will feel good about yourself, you will enjoy a certain moral security, but you will not get what you want.

This is one reason there has been somewhat of a class divide between Bernie and Hillary supporters. The “moral security” Obama refers to is an emotional and intellectual luxury if it doesn’t contribute to substantive change.

Here's the whole speech:

Busy weekend

With two performances and two rehearsals over the weekend, I didn't have any time to post. I also didn't have as much time as I wanted to walk, though I did manage 20,249 steps for the weekend. (That was a little disappointing, especially because yesterday's weather was perfect for being outside.)

Meanwhile, the chorus have finally put up videos of our April fundraiser. So, yeah, we did this:

I'll leave finding videos of me holding a puppet as an exercise for the reader.

Not the best defense on the field

Last night, the Colorado Rockies beat the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park 17-7, scoring 13 runs on 9 hits in the 5th:

For 37 long minutes in one-half inning Thursday, the Rockies sent 17 batters to the plate against the Giants at AT&T Park, starting with Trevor Story's home run and ending with DJ LeMahieu's groundout in the top of the fifth.

In between, the Rockies collected four doubles, five singles, two errors, one walk, one hit-by-pitch — and 13 runs. They shattered records. Nevermind Coors Field. The pitcher's haven in San Francisco busted open like a pinata.

And, eventually, the Rockies outlasted the Giants 17-7. The Rockies set a club record for runs scored in one inning, topping the 12 they scored at Coors Field against the Chicago Cubs on July 30, 2010.

It was the most runs scored by any team in one inning since the Arizona Diamondbacks notched 13 in the fourth against the Pirates on April 11, 2010.

Despite that, the Rockies are in a 3-way tie for first in the NL west at 14-14, while the Chicago Cubs top the league table at 21-6. I can't remember the first time the Cubs got to Mothers Day without losing at least 10 games. This year is unbelievable.