The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Smelly criminals appeal to SCOTUS

Yesterday, the US Supreme Court heard arguments in Johnson v Grants Pass, Ore., the result of a 2018 lawsuit against the rural Southern Oregon town (pop. 39,000) for imposing fines of up to $1250 for the heinous crime of sleeping in public. Naturally, the usual suspects seem to think that's just fine:

Kelsi Brown Corkran, representing the challengers, argued that because Grants Pass defines a “campsite” as anywhere a homeless person is, within the city, with a blanket, it is “physically impossible for a homeless person to live in Grants Pass” without facing the prospect of fines and jail time. The order barring the city from enforcing its ordinances, she insisted, still leaves the city with an “abundance of tools” to address homelessness.”

At the oral argument on Monday, the court’s liberal justices largely seemed to agree. Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that the city’s ordinances only apply to homeless people who sleep in public. Police officers in Grants Pass, she suggested, don’t arrest others who fall asleep in public with blankets – for example, babies with blankets or people who are stargazing.

By contrast, Justice Clarence Thomas emphasized that the law at issue in Robinson barred both the use of drugs and being addicted to drugs. Do the city’s ordinances, Thomas asked, make it a crime to be homeless?

The justices also debated whether they needed to address the Eighth Amendment question at all, or whether the challengers’ contention that they cannot be punished because they have nowhere else to go would be better addressed through a “necessity defense.” Justice Neil Gorsuch was one of the justices to broach this prospect, suggesting that it would apply to bar fines or prosecutions for actions like eating or camping in public.

I'm reminded of two videos I've seen recently. The first, from British comedian Jonathan Pie, could have been about Grants Pass but actually came out of a new UK law that does approximately the same thing:

The other, from 2020, explains the thinking behind "since we can't solve homelessness in one go, what's the point of trying?" Essentially, conservatives think in binaries: either we have homelessness, or we don't. Here's Ian Danskin:

But I do find it interesting that the Tories and the Republicans came up with the same inhumane idea. Hm.

Another lovely day

Except for the sun blinding me around 5:30 pm every day due to a quirk in my house's architecture (I will eventually fix it with window treatments), I love sunny spring days. Cassie and I have already spent almost an hour outside and we'll spend another 45 minutes or so when I get back from an odd music gig that I'll describe tomorrow or Monday.

I wanted to highlight just one story from earlier this week, by New Republic's Kate Aronoff, with the accurate and delightful headline "Anything Elon Musk can do a bus can do better:"

Whether on electrification or autonomous vehicles, Tesla has long been hailed as a company uniquely capable of revolutionizing transportation, with Elon Musk portrayed as the big brain in charge. A series of high-profile blunders, though—like Cybertrucks with stick accelerators and a wrongful death settlement—have cast doubt on Tesla’s capacity to speed the world toward an electrified future. Policymakers might want to start asking themselves: When it comes to creating a transportation system fit for our climate-changed twenty-first century, what can Elon Musk do that the humble city bus cannot?

Public buses are an unbeatable value. Here in New York City, $2.90 will get you between and within boroughs, usually just a few blocks from your door. A pilot program initiated last fall included one fare-free route in each borough, in the hopes of eventually making buses free throughout. Boston made a number of bus lines fare-free this year, as well. Olympia and many other Washington municipalities have embraced free buses throughout their entire transit system, following the example set in 2019 by Kansas City, Missouri, and Raleigh, North Carolina. Luxembourg offers free public transit nationwide, and several other countries offer free buses, trams, and trains to people under 18, students, and senior citizens.

The cheapest Tesla, by contrast, costs nearly $40,000, which isn’t counting the cost of insurance, financing, and all the other headaches involved in purchasing and owning a car. Elon Musk has allegedly scrapped plans to make what would have been Tesla’s most affordable offering yet, a smaller car slated to be priced at around $25,000. That announcement had already been delayed for several years, reportedly because Musk demanded that his engineers produce a vehicle without pedals or a steering wheel.

Finally, public buses offer something to the challenge of decarbonizing transportation that Elon Musk never can: scale. If the goal of decarbonized transit is to get as many people moving using as little carbon as possible, then it’s wildly more efficient to invest more public resources into electrifying and expanding mass transit options than in helping a billionaire sell more luxury items.

Aronoff doesn't even need to point out that Musk himself has never invented a single goddamned thing. He leveraged a family fortune made in Apartheid South Africa into controlling shares of several companies that eventually all failed, whether completely or just simply never lived up to the hype.

But Aronoff is right. I've visited London 20 times in the last 10 years and only twice have I had to resort to taking a hired car—once when the Southern Rail went on strike the day I flew into Gatwick last summer, and once when I was well pissed and didn't want to wait for a bus in the rain. Trains and buses cover the entire Southeast region, run all night in most cases, and don't cost all that much. Chicago has them too. Who needs a Tesla truck that will cut your fingers off if you try closing the trunk?

Windy spring day

A cold front passed this morning right after I got to the office, sparing me the 60 km/h winds and pouring rain that made the 9am arrivals miserable. The rain has passed, but the temperature has slowly descended to 17°C after hanging out around 19°C all night. I might have to close my windows tonight.

I also completed a mini-project for work a few minutes ago, so I now have time to read a couple of stories:

And now, back to the next phase of the mini-project...

Things we probably could have predicted

The older I get, the less human beings surprise me. Oh, individual people surprise me all the time, mainly because I have smart and creative friends. But groups of people? They're going to be unsurprising and kind of dumb almost always.

Cases in point:

  • The Arizona Supreme Court's decision allowing enforcement of a pre-statehood, Civil War-era abortion law looks even worse when you learn what else is in the 1864 Howell Code.
  • Chicago's Loop neighborhood has 6,000 unsold luxury condos, with no more new projects underway, in part because developers failed to predict that 3% interest rates wouldn't last forever. This, to me, looks like failing to predict it will rain in Seattle eventually, because it hasn't rained in a week.
  • Forget Detroit and Houston; even ultra-wealthy municipalities like Santa Clara, Calif., have obstinately failed to predict that they would ever have to pay ruinous costs to maintain all the infrastructure they built last century.
  • Young women embracing the role of "tradwife" (i.e., becoming a 1950s-style woman of leisure or "stay-at-home-girlfriend") seem destined to unhappy long-term consequences of becoming someone's accessory.
  • Author John Scalzi provides advice which even he thinks aspiring authors should already know: don't fabricate quotes by living authors to sell your new manuscript because you will get caught.

Finally, author Gary Shteyngart floats off on the maiden voyage of Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas, the largest cruise ship ever built, and finds what can only be described as a very specific slice of humanity that would make the Golgafrinchans proud.

One news story eclipsed all the others

Ah, ha ha. Ha.

Anyway, here are a couple other stories from the last couple of days:

Finally, Ohio State wildlife and ecology professor Stanley Gehrt has written a book I will have to stop myself (for now) from adding to my ever-expanding shelf of books I need to read. Gehrt spent decades studying Chicago's coyote population and how well they co-exist with us, tagging more than 1,400 coyotes and collaring another 700.

My only complaint about the animals is they don't eat enough rabbits. I live near several suspected dens, the closest only about 400 meters from my front door. I can't wait to read the book.

As for the risks coyotes pose to humans, he lets us know who the real enemy is: “If you were to ask me, ‘What’s the most dangerous animal out there [for urban dwellers]?’, it’s white-tailed deer,” Gehrt said.

The dread of a colorful radar picture

Ah, just look at it:

Rain, snow, wind, and general gloominess will trundle through Chicago over the next 36 hours or so, severely impacting Cassie's ability to get a full hour of walkies tomorrow. Poor doggie.

If only that were the worst thing I saw this morning:

  • The XPOTUS called for an end to the war in Gaza, but without regard to the hostages Hamas still holds, irritating just about everyone on the right and on the left.
  • Knight Specialty Insurance Company of California has provided the XPOTUS with the bond he needed to prevent the Manhattan District Attorney from seizing $175 million of his assets, which makes you wonder, what's in it for the insurer?
  • Related to that, Michelle Cottle analyzes the Republican Party's finances and concludes that the XPOTUS is destroying them.
  • These are the same Republicans, remember, who are threatening to block money needed to re-open the Port of Baltimore and replace the Key Bridge.
  • Massachusetts US District Judge Allison Burroughs has ruled that a case against the private air carrier who flew migrants to Martha's Vineyard may proceed, and the case against the politicians who paid for the flight could come back with an amended complaint.
  • Charles Marohn argues that cities using cash accounting, rather than accrual accounting, end up completely overwhelming future generations with debt they would never have taken on with an accurate view of their finances.
  • But of course, the prevalence of the city-killing suburban development pattern in the US has an upside of sorts: everywhere you go in the US feels like home.

And after all this, does it surprise me that Mother Jones took a moment to review a book called End Times?

SBF gets 25

Today is the 45th anniversary of Three Mile Island's partial meltdown, and the day after Sam Bankman-Fried's total meltdown:

Sam Bankman-Fried, the former cryptocurrency mogul who was convicted of fraud, was sentenced to 25 years in prison on Thursday, capping an extraordinary saga that upended the multi-trillion-dollar crypto industry and became a cautionary tale of greed and hubris.

Mr. Bankman-Fried’s sentence was shorter than the 40 to 50 years that federal prosecutors had recommended, but above the six-and-a-half-year sentence requested by the defense lawyers. A federal probation officer had recommended 100 years, just under the maximum possible penalty of 110 years behind bars.

His sentence ranks as one of the longest imposed on a white-collar defendant in recent years. Bernie Madoff, who orchestrated a notorious Ponzi scheme that unraveled during the 2008 financial crisis, received a 150-year sentence in 2009. He was in his 70s at the time and died 12 years later. Elizabeth Holmes, who was convicted of defrauding investors in her blood-testing startup, Theranos, was sentenced to 11 years and three months in 2022.

Molly White had some thoughts on this earlier in the week:

Bankman-Fried [tried] to argue that no money has been lost thanks to his fraud, mostly based on the argument that the bankruptcy team has estimated that creditors will receive a "100% recovery". In a later letter, he even submits that he tried to help the bankruptcy team recover assets. Incredibly, he includes in his evidence to support this claim the screenshots of his January 2023 message to Ryne Miller — despite the fact that Judge Kaplan already determined that his arguments that the message was just an attempt at being helpful "d[id] not appear, on a preliminary basis, to be a persuasive reading". Kaplan later decided that the same message was one of two instances in which Bankman-Fried had tried to tamper with a witness, and rescinded his pre-trial release.

Bankman-Fried's arguments regarding losses were rebutted by the prosecutors in several different ways and, somewhat awkwardly, also rebutted by the very same bankruptcy team he quoted to support his claims that customers would be reimbursed at 100%.

[Prosecutors did] not seem optimistic about Bankman-Fried's future prospects, writing that "A sentence that resulted in the release of the defendant while he is at a working age would leave open the very real possibility that he perpetrates again."

If he serves the minimum time possible, he'll get out in his mid-50s.

Joe Lieberman dead at 82

Former US Senator Joe Lieberman (D, maybe?–CT) and Al Gore's running mate in 2000 has died:

Joseph I. Lieberman, the doggedly independent four-term U.S. senator from Connecticut who was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000, becoming the first Jewish candidate on the national ticket of a major party, died March 27 in New York City. He was 82.

The cause was complications from a fall, his family said in a statement.

Mr. Lieberman viewed himself as a centrist Democrat, solidly in his party’s mainstream with his support of abortion rights, environmental protection, gay rights and gun control. But he was also unafraid to stray from Democratic orthodoxy, most notably in his consistently hawkish stands on foreign policy.

His full-throated support of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the increasingly unpopular war that followed doomed Mr. Lieberman’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 and led to his rejection by Connecticut Democrats when he sought his fourth Senate term in 2006. He kept his seat by running that November as an independent candidate and attracting substantial support from Republican and unaffiliated voters.

His transition from Al Gore’s running mate in 2000 on the Democratic ticket to high-profile cheerleader for Republican presidential candidate John McCain eight years later was a turnaround unmatched in recent American politics.

Meanwhile, in other news:

  • Stanford University sophomore Theo Baker expresses alarm at his classmates' growing anti-rational beliefs.
  • Slate's David Zipper analyzes what the Baltimore bridge collapse will do to the city's traffic.
  • The Economist reviews the lasting influence (or surprising lack thereof) of Steven Levitt's Freakonomics books.
  • The Chicago Dept of Transportation announced major construction on Division Street that will include new protected bike lanes and replacement of two bridges.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board has released its final report on the crash of a one-third scale B-29 in Kokomo, Indiana, last year.

Finally, the Atlantic's Faith Hill wonders, why do we date the same person over and over again?

Major bridge collapse in Maryland

The Francis Scott Key bridge carrying I-695 southeast of Baltimore collapsed overnight after a container ship collided with one of the support pylons:

Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed early Tuesday after a container ship struck a support column, sending at least seven cars into the Patapsco River, launching a search-and-rescue operation and prompting Gov. Wes Moore to declare a state of emergency.

In a news conference just a few hours after the 1:20 a.m. collision, Baltimore Fire Department Chief James Wallace said authorities are “still very much in an active search and rescue posture,” noting they are searching for “upwards of seven individuals” and that sonar has detected the presence of vehicles in the water.

There was no indication that the event was intentional, Wallace said.

Authorities have not determined the cause, but U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin told The Baltimore Sun in a phone interview that indications point to the vessel losing power, causing it to lose steering.

“What’s been indicated is the vessel lost power, and when you lose power you lose steering,” Cardin said. “But they’re doing a full investigation.”

Video of the accident shows the ship losing power twice and before turning hard starboard directly into the pylon. Engineers who viewed the video said the collapse seemed inevitable once the collision. The NTSB is investigating.

The cognitive tax of hybrid work

Author Cal Newport examines "one reason hybrid work makes employees miserable and how to fix it:"

f you ask Americans with a desk job what they want, many say flexibility. Specifically, they want control over where that desk is located and when they work at it. Luckily for them, the American workplace is by some measures more flexible than ever before. About half of U.S. workers have “remote-capable” jobs. And Gallup data suggest that a majority of those jobs are now hybrid, meaning that employees can split time between home and the office. Despite this greater flexibility, however, surveys from last year found that Americans were more stressed and less satisfied with their job than they were during the worst of the pandemic.

What explains this paradox? One possibility is that although hybrid work loosens the rigidity of a desk job, it exacerbates an even bigger problem: what I call the “overhead tax.”

Since well before the pandemic, we’ve lived in a world of low-friction digital communication, where passing an obligation to someone else is extremely easy. I send you an email with a simple question—“Hey, can you handle the Johnson contract?”—and a few moments of my effort have suddenly been alchemized into hours of your own. Faced with a growing number of chores, you push what you can onto other people’s plate, and they respond in kind. The result is an onslaught of ad hoc assignments, whipsawing across inboxes and chat channels, that culminates in a shared state of permanent overload.

The problem with overstuffed to-do lists isn’t just the total time required to execute their contents, but the fact that each new commitment generates its own ongoing administrative demands—emails, chats, check-in calls, “quick” meetings. That’s the overhead tax. Before long, knowledge workers find themselves spending the bulk of their time talking about work instead of actually doing it.

Fortunately I don't feel that in my job, for a number of reasons but mainly that I'm building software, not doing sales. But I'm sure that Newport's essay or the book it excerpts will resonate with many of my friends.