The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The end of the year as we know it (and I feel fine)

This time, I'm getting this in early, and posting it automatically just before midnight. So the numbers might be a tiny bit off.

2017 saw almost no significant changes over 2016, except in Fitbit numbers:

  • I again only visited one foreign country (again the UK) and 8 states (Michigan, New York, Missouri, Louisiana, Virginia, D.C., Maryland, Texas, and California). I again took only 15 flights. That came out to 31,042 km in the air, one of my lowest showings ever, and the fewest flight miles since 1999. In fact, I didn't fly anywhere for almost the first seven months of 2017. So sad.
  • Including this post, I wrote 456 entries for The Daily Parker, down only 3 from last year. For the second year running, it's the fewest since 2010.
  • Parker got 202 hours of walks, just shy of last year's 211 hours. That's not so bad, but we can do better next year (if the old dog is up to it).
  • Pending today's final step count, I got 5,106,522 steps this year, up a whopping 413,095 over 2016—a difference greater than the number I've gotten in any of the past 4 months. So, basically, my step count in 2017 was almost a month's steps better than in 2016 or 2015. No wonder I wore out a pair of shoes between May and November.
  • I also gained 600 grams in 2017. Pfft.
  • 2017 may be my most disappointing year for reading in a long time. I only started 17 books, and only finished 13. I've just been really busy. That said, the circumstances that encouraged me to finish 47 books in 2007 and 52 in 2008 aren't any I'd like to repeat. (Now, if I could just find a way to read a book a week without interfering with all my other activities...)

Here's 2016 in review. It was similar.

Split of a Century

Just a minute or two ago, Kiritimati (Christmas) Island became the first place in the world to enter 2018. This happens every year—or, at least, every year since Kiritmati moved from UTC-10 (the same clock time as Hawai'i) to UTC+14 (the same clock time as Hawai'i but a day ahead) so they could be the first place on earth to enter the 2000s.

So, just a few minutes ago, that choice caused a fascinating consequence.

As of right now, and until the next person is born on the island (which could be days or weeks because of its small population of 6,500), every single adult on the island will have been born in the 1900s, and every single child will have been born in the 2000s.

As each successive time zone moves into 2018 today, this will continue to be true until the first baby is born before 1am in a particular zone. My guess would be that New Zealand will probably have a baby born before 1am, and eastern Australia certainly will, which means the 1900s/2000s split will only last 3 or 4 hours.

It's just an interesting consequence of a public-relations decision a tiny Pacific atoll made 18 years ago.


Link round-up

Today is the last work day of 2017, and also the last day of my team's current sprint. So I'm trying to chase down requirements and draft stories before I lose everyone for the weekend. These articles will just have to wait:

We now return to "working through lunch," starring The Daily Parker...


Who is Reality Winner?

Kerry Howley, writing for New York Magazine, profiles the "terrorist [with] a Pikachu bedspread:"

In those first months on the job, the country was still adjusting to Trump, and it seemed possible to some people that he would be quickly impeached. Reality listened to a podcast called Intercepted, hosted by the left-wing anti-security-state website the Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill and featuring its public face, Glenn Greenwald, and listened intensely enough to email the Intercept and ask for a transcript of an episode. Scahill and Greenwald had been, and continue to be, cautious about accusations of Russian election meddling, which they foresee being used as a pretext for justifying U.S. militarism. “There is a tremendous amount of hysterics, a lot of theories, a lot of premature conclusions being drawn around all of this Russia stuff,” Scahill said on the podcast in March. “And there’s not a lot of hard evidence to back it up. There may be evidence, but it’s not here yet.”

There was evidence available to Reality.

The document was marked top secret, which is supposed to mean that its disclosure could “reasonably be expected” to cause “exceptionally grave damage” to the U.S. Sometimes, this is true. Reality would have known that, in releasing the document, she ran the risk of alerting the Russians to what the intelligence community knew, but it seemed to her that this specific account ought to be a matter of public discourse. Why isn’t this getting out there? she thought. Why can’t this be public? It was surprising to her that someone hadn’t already done it.

The classified report on the Russian cyberattack was not a document for which Reality had a “need to know,” which is to say she wasn’t supposed to be reading it in her spare time, let alone printing it, and were she to print it for some reason, she was required to place it in a white slatted box called a “burn bag.”

Why do I have this job, Reality thought, if I’m just going to sit back and be helpless?

Reality folded up the document, stuffed it in her pantyhose, and walked out of the building, its sharp corners pressing into her skin. Later that day, President Trump fired James Comey, who had been leading an investigation into Russian election-meddling. Reality placed the document in an envelope without a return address and dropped it in a standing mailbox in a strip-mall parking lot. Court documents suggest she also sent a copy to another outlet, though which one we don’t know.

For a bad decision she made at 25, she may spend most of her productive years in prison. And in the current climate of secrecy and surveillance, it's hard to see how she can even defend herself against the charges.

Her trial is set for March.

Paying taxes will be less fun in Illinois next year

Due to a combination of city, county, regional, state, and federal policies, just about every tax and fee I pay is going up next year. My initial math suggests my Federal taxes will remain almost exactly the same, thanks to the increased individual exemption that covers my itemized deductions only because I'm renting out the flats I own. But my state taxes went up in July by 67%, my property taxes (on those flats) are going up, and even my gas bill is going up.

The Tribune explains how I'm not alone:

[T]he average property tax increase for the owner of a $250,000 home will be an estimated $97. Owners of a home worth $500,000 can expect a $369 tax hike. That’s because the larger homeowners’ exemption shifts the burden of paying property taxes to higher-priced homes and commercial properties.

  • Other tax and fee hikes start sooner. The CTA fare increase of 25 cents per bus and “L” ride goes into effect Jan. 7, raising the price of those rides to $2.25 and $2.50, respectively. For people commuting to and from work 50 weeks a year, that’s $125 more out of their pockets. The cost of a 30-day pass will go up by $5, to $105. Those increases will help fill a hole left by state public transportation funding cuts, CTA officials have said.
  • In February, Metra is boosting fares for one-way tickets by 25 cents. The cost of 10-ride tickets is going up by $4.25, to $7.75. Monthly passes will increase by $9 to $12.50, depending on the length of the trip. The price of $8 weekend passes will rise to $10.
  • Taking an Uber or Lyft in Chicago will cost more too. The start of the year brings a 15-cent increase to the 52 cents already charged for ride-sharing trips. The Emanuel administration expects to collect $16 million for CTA projects.
  • Also taking effect with the new year are higher fees charged to every cell and landline phone billed to a city address. Those fees are going up by $1.10 a month, to $5. The cost to a family with three phone lines is an extra $39.60 a year. The money will be used for emergency services costs and technology upgrades, freeing up about $30 million in general city funds for the city to spend as it sees fit.

Also going up: the city entertainment tax, city vehicle licenses, park and forest-preserve district taxes...the list goes on. It costs a lot to run a city the size of Chicago, and the Federal government under the Republican party is hosing us good. Subsidizing Mississippi and Alabama annoys me, especially when the people I'm subsidizing revere other people who tried to leave the United States so they could preserve human slavery.

A lot of people feel the way I do. My vote won't do much, because I live in a bright-blue state with Democratic representation in both the House and Senate; but in Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—states that went to Trump by the narrowest of margins—other people are going to be pissed off. The next election is in 313 days. Let's see how it goes.

Divvy income falls as rides and service area increase

Chicago's take of Divvy bike-share income was 31% lower in 2016 than in 2014 and 2015 as the city expanded the program into the South and West sides:

Divvy income fell from $2.86 million in 2014 and $2.84 million in 2015 to $1.97 million in 2016, a 31 percent drop, according to the city Department of Transportation figures. The city said it is improving its outreach to get more people to try Divvy and expects its income for the program to be about as high this year as in 2015.

Transportation officials said the expansion to black and Latino neighborhoods on the South and West sides was an attempt to increase diversity in a program that was launched four years ago in mainly white, affluent neighborhoods. But the South and West sides pose challenges to Divvy because they tend to be less affluent and have more impediments to biking, such as fewer bike lanes, cycling advocates say.

The city makes the bulk of its Divvy income from station advertising and Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s sponsorship. In three of the past four years, it lost money on bike rental operations. After a small profit of $45,859 on 2015 operations, it lost $752,011 on operations in 2016 — its share of a total operational loss of $1,756,420 shared with Motivate and the biggest loss in the program’s history.

The differences between neighborhoods are stark. In the low-income West Side neighborhood of Austin, for example, there are 14 Divvy stations that saw a total of 1,339 trips from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017. Affluent lake-bordering Lincoln Park, by contrast, has 36 stations that saw 452,727 trips during that time period.

The DePaul study said high unemployment rates reduce ridership because the system’s main function is to serve work commuters. It also noted that areas with more kids and seniors also see less Divvy ridership. Divvy is not for children under age 16.

The program remains exceptionally popular near me. One of my friends, who lives near Wrigley field, has taken almost 365 Divvy rides this year. But as the you get farther from the Loop, the bike share looks less attractive. (Ever try to ride one of those behemoths 15 kilometers in less than 30 minutes?)

I'm glad the city and Federal government are subsidizing the program as a mass-transit program. Mayor Rahm Emanuel famously said that "Divvy is a bigger threat to cabs than Uber," and he's probably not wrong (depending on how you measure things).

Two Constitutional amendments I'd like to see

Hyper-partisanship is not only bad in itself, but it's causing a long-term erosion of our civic institutions. When people suspect that judges are partisans, it reduces respect for the judicial system in general, which causes people to lose faith in the rule of law itself.

Lifetime appointments to the Federal judiciary were supposed to solve this problem. By holding their offices "during good behaviour", Federal judges are supposed to keep above the political fray, and let their consciences guide them.

Well, organizations like the Heritage Foundation have long been recommending people for the Federal bench strictly based on ideology, rather than jurisprudence. This problem isn't going away. And neither are the judges, some of whom could wind up serving for 50 years.

So the first Article of Amendment I would propose is this:

Section 1. Judges of the Supreme Court shall hold their offices for a term of 19 years. Judges of the inferior courts shall hold their offices for a term of 15 years.

Section 2. This Article shall apply to all persons appointed after its ratification, and to all other persons five years after its ratification.

This still means someone could serve as a Federal judge for life, because they could get appointed to different courts at 15-year intervals. But every 15 years, they'd need to be reappointed, and re-confirmed by the Senate. Yes, it would be a political process, but we wouldn't be stuck with incompetent or rabidly ideological judges forever.

If this Amendment were ratified today, Justices Bryer, Ginsburg, Thomas, and Kennedy would be forced out in 2022, leaving Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Chief Justice Roberts—who would be the next to go, in 2024. (Alito would be out in 2025.)

Appointing four Justices to 19-year terms could fall to Trump in that case, but unlikely as the amendment would not be ratified soon.

Even less likely to be ratified, but I think no less helpful in these partisan times, would be to get some turnover in the legislature. Now, I'd hate to lose my most senior legislators, Senator Dick Durbin and Representative Jan Schakowsky. But I'd really like to be done with Orrin Hatch, Mitch McConnell, and even Nancy Pelosi, believe it or not.

So here's my second proposed Article of Amendment:

Section 1. No person shall be elected to the House of Representatives more than eight times, nor serve in the House more than 17 years.

Section 2. No person shall be elected to the Senate more than three times, nor serve in the Senate more than 19 years.

Section 3. No person elected to either House and later to the other House shall serve in Congress for more than 24 years in his or her lifetime.

Section 4. This article shall not apply to any person serving in either House when this article was proposed by the Congress, until the next election of Representatives shall have intervened.

That would clean out the House and most of the Senate. It would be disruptive. But we would no longer have as many cranky old white men making policy for a younger, more colorful generation.

I'd like to hear from readers about this. What do you think?

No more daily PE in Illinois

For my entire school life, from Kindergarten to 12th grade, I had daily gym class. In 1957, Illinois became the first state to require all kids to have daily PE. This was the case until this school year:

The law cuts daily PE to a minimum of three days per week and, starting in seventh grade, students involved in interscholastic or extracurricular athletic programs could skip PE. Those moves and more were touted as a way to save money, but some fear the changes will push PE to the back burner of the curriculum lineup, even as physical education has been supported by public officials, including former first lady Michelle Obama, as a way to combat childhood obesity.

In the Illinois Report Card data released each year, the Illinois State Board of Education notes that 60 minutes of physical activity per day can improve academics and prevent childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease. “For students of all ages, physical education provides opportunities to learn motor skills, develop fitness, build team skills, strengthen problem solving abilities, and learn about healthy lifestyles,” ISBE said.

In fact, there has been confusion in various districts about aspects of the new law and whether districts are pursuing waivers correctly.

This fall, Champaign Community Unit School District 4 was moving to get a new five-year waiver to allow ninth- and 10th-graders to skip PE during the time they were involved in an interscholastic sport.

The waiver was withdrawn because it was no longer necessary based on a new provision in the PE law: Now, seventh- through 12th-graders may be excused from PE if they participate in interscholastic or extracurricular athletic programs. The law previously allowed only high school juniors and seniors to be excused under those circumstances.

Meanwhile, administrators in several high school districts told the Tribune they don’t plan to reduce their usual five days of PE, in part because of the complicated scheduling of high school classes as well as the potential difficulties of eliminating full-time PE teachers.

It seems like this change to the law wasn't well thought-out, wasn't well publicized, and wasn't particularly effective. Welcome to Illinois. I'm going to try to find out how my state rep and senator voted on this thing.

Holidays, weather, and Fitbit numbers

Yesterday I spent almost the whole day cooking and eating, while outside the temperature barely got above -10°C. So despite averaging better than 15,000 steps for the entire week preceding, I only managed 7,292 steps yesterday, my 3rd poorest showing of 2017.

The problem is, when I'm working from home, I get most of my steps by taking Parker on long walks. Below about -10°C, even his two thick fur coats aren't enough to keep him warm for more than 10-15 minutes, tops. And below -18°C, forget it; even with boots, his paws get dangerously cold in just a couple of minutes.

The forecast for the rest of the week, unfortunately, calls for brutally cold temperatures every day. Parker and I just got back from his (5-minute) morning walk with -19°C showing on the thermometer. My goal today is just to get above 5,000 steps, which may involve a lot of pacing in my apartment.

That said, thanks to the long weekend and no other responsibilities, I'm actually getting enough sleep. So I have lots more focus and energy. I just can't walk it off very easily.