Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
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Monday 27 October 2014

John Judis explains:

In 2014, about 46 percent of Hispanics are eligible to vote. The rest are not citizens or are under 18. By contrast, voter eligibility among whites is in the high seventy percent and among African Americans is in the low seventy percent range. The other factor is turnout. In 2012, only about 39 percent of eligible Hispanics voted compared to a little over sixty percent of Anglos and African-Americans. So in the 2012 election, and most likely in the 2014 election, in spite of Battleground’s considerable efforts, Anglo voters, who are likely to favor Republican candidates, will outnumber minority voters.

In 2020, a presidential election year, the numbers should look different. Minorities’ population edge should have increased, and eligibility among Hispanic voters, which has been growing, should be around 50 percent. I have tallied four scenarios for 2020. They show the conditions that would finally lead to a Democratic victory in 2020.

Finally, success in increasing Hispanic support for Democrats will depend on what Republicans in Texas and nationally do. In Texas, Republican governors have steered clear of the harsh rhetoric about “illegal aliens” that proliferates among many other Republicans. Abbott boasts a Latina wife. As a result, Texas Republican candidates for state office have gotten about 40 percent of the Hispanic vote, which has virtually assured their victory. This year, the Hispanic Bush, George P. Bush, is currently running for Land Commissioner, and if he becomes a leader of party, could keep many Hispanics voting for Republicans in state races.

That's not much consolation for Wendy Davis, who will probably not get elected governor next week. But maybe, in a few more years, she might.

Monday 27 October 2014 13:28:22 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Friday 24 October 2014

I'm a little busy today, preparing for three different projects even though I can only actually do 1.5 of them. So as is common on days like this, I have a list of things I don't have time to read:

I really would have liked another week in London...

Friday 24 October 2014 12:59:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | Kitchen Sink | US#
Friday 10 October 2014

The Chicago Tribune has been plugging away on the scandal of Chicago's red-light camera program. Yesterday the city's Inspector General weighed in:

Inspector General Joseph Ferguson reported that city transportation officials identified likely causes for just three of the dozen most dramatic spikes cited in the Tribune's 10-month investigation, putting the blame on faulty equipment and inaccurate camera settings.

Ferguson said his office was unable to find reasons for any of the other anomalies, citing missing or destroyed records and his office's desire to quickly respond to public concerns raised by the Tribune's July report. The inspector general relied heavily on work conducted by the city Transportation Department and longtime camera operator Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., which was fired amid charges top company executives paid up to $2 million in bribes to win the Chicago contract.

At the same time, Ferguson said City Hall's oversight "was insufficient to identify and resolve the types of issues identified in the Tribune report."

Yes, that's right. The IG couldn't find anything because the relevant records had been destroyed. Well, except for this:

The inspector general did resolve a more recent controversy involving the red light program — disclosing that the Emanuel administration quietly issued a new, shorter yellow light standard this spring that generated 77,000 tickets that would not have been allowed before the rule change.

The administration defended the $100 tickets as valid but agreed to Ferguson's recommendation to end the new practice of issuing citations with yellow light times below 3 seconds.

Yes, Chicago's yellow lights are only 3 seconds long. That may be fine at a small intersection between two-lane roads, but it's completely inadequate for larger intersections, according to proposed standards.

It's also dangerous. And when intersections become less dangerous, red-light cameras cease to be effective. It's a strange phenomenon.

Friday 10 October 2014 16:36:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Politics | US#
Wednesday 8 October 2014

On Monday, the Supreme Court denied certiorari to lower-court rulings upholding marriage equality in five states, effectively ending the fight in 14 states. Yesterday, the 9th Circuit, which covers the Pacific Coast and much of the Mountain states, ruled in favor of equality, making it the law in 35 states plus DC:

The Ninth Circuit already was on record for striking down California’s ban, “Proposition 8,” although that decision did not remain on the books because of a procedural flaw when the case went to the Supreme Court last year. Even so, same-sex marriage is legal in California under an earlier ruling by a federal trial judge.

In addition, the Ninth Circuit applies a tougher standard — heightened scrutiny — for laws that are challenged as discriminating against gays, lesbians and transgender people, and no marriage ban has yet survived that test.

In the Idaho case, the new decision upholds a federal trial judge’s decision against that state’s ban. In the Nevada case, the ruling overturns a decision by a federal trial judge in favor of that state’s ban.

It is possible that Idaho officials could try to get the full Ninth Circuit bench to reconsider the ruling, or they could seek to take the case on to the Supreme Court. However, the Ninth Circuit previously refused en banc review in the “Proposition 8″ case. And, the Supreme Court’s refusal on Monday to review the three other federal appeals courts’ decisions that came out the same way might suggest little hope of succeeding with a challenge before the Justices.

Sullivan is, as one would expect, beside himself:

An idea that once seemed preposterous now appears close to banal. The legal strategy that Evan Wolfson crafted from the early 1990s onward – a critical mass of states with marriage equality before a definitive Supreme Court ruling – has been vindicated and then some. The political and cultural strategy we pioneered at the same time – shifting public opinion slowly from the ground up, tapping into the deepest longings of gay people to become fully part of their own families and their own country for the first time, talking to so many heterosexual men and women about ourselves for the first time – also succeeded.

What I also love about this conservative but extraordinary decision from SCOTUS is that it affirms the power of federalism against the alternatives. Marriage equality will not have been prematurely foisted on the country by one single decision; it will have emerged and taken root because it slowly gained democratic legitimacy, from state to state, because the legal and constitutional arguments slowly won in the court of public opinion, and because an experiment in one state, Massachusetts, and then others, helped persuade the sincere skeptics that the consequences were, in fact, the strengthening of families, not their weakening.

I think of all those who never saw this day, the countless people who lived lives of terror and self-loathing for so, so long, crippled by the deep psychic wound of being told that the very source of your happiness – the love for someone else – was somehow evil, or criminal, or unmentionable. I think of the fathomless oceans of pain we swam through, with no sight of dry land, for so long. I think of the courage of so many who, in far, far darker times than these, summoned up the courage to live with integrity, even at the risk of their lives. And I cherish America, a place where this debate properly began, a place where the opposition was relentless and impassioned, a country which allowed a truly democratic debate over decades to change minds and hearts, where the Supreme Court guided, but never pre-empted, the kind of change that is all the more durable for having taken its time.

I'm glad my friends can marry in Indiana now, and I'm glad that, within a year or two, every committed couple will have the option regardless of their sexes.

Wednesday 8 October 2014 11:36:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 7 October 2014

While I'm up to my eyeballs at work, I've got a backlog of articles to catch up on:

Once I've got some free time (maybe this afternoon) I'll talk about yesterday's Supreme Court non-decision that changes civil rights in the U.S. forever.

Tuesday 7 October 2014 13:16:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US | Software | Weather#
Sunday 5 October 2014

Krugman this morning reminds everyone that Clinton and Obama are better than Bush at growing the economy:

Both administrations began with a period of falling employment thanks to a burst bubble — but can you see how much more vigorous private job creation was after the Bush trough than after the Obama trough? Neither can I. If job growth has seemed slow under Obama, it’s entirely because of public sector austerity.

But of course, Republicans hope that repeating the lie that tax cuts spur job growth will distract people from the actual evidence. Sadly, they might be right.

Sunday 5 October 2014 10:07:17 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 30 September 2014

Little coincidences like this amuse me. I'm currently flying over Kansas, and I just got a New Republic update containing a readout by John Judis on the conservative hell that is below me:

And yet for all his easygoing appeal, [Republican Kansas governor Sam] Brownback—who has long been fascinated by John Brown—is a true radical at heart. According to the author Jeff Sharlet, Brownback became involved with the Fellowship, a secret group that fused political conservatism with fervent Christian belief, as early as 1979, when he was an intern for Dole in the capitol. When he ran for Congress in 1994, he became a vocal leader in the pro-life crusade. And once in Washington, Brownback positioned himself even to the right of Speaker Newt Gingrich, admonishing Gingrich for failing to balance the budget and championing a bill that would have eliminated four Cabinet departments. In 1996, after Dole resigned from the Senate, Brownback won Dole’s seat. As a senator, his greatest triumph came when he led the charge against Bush’s Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers, whom he suspected of being squishy on abortion.

After he had ousted the moderate Republicans, Brownback was able to push an ideologically pure agenda with almost no real opposition. He obtained the power to nominate judges. He reduced tax cuts on the wealthy even more: The rate for the top bracket fell from 6.45 percent to 3.9 percent, and Brownback promised to eventually reduce it to zero when revenues from other sources made up for any potential losses. The economic benefits, he boasted, would be immense.

By June of 2014, the results of Brownback’s economic reforms began to come in, and they weren’t pretty. During the first fiscal year that his plan was in operation, which ended in June, the tax cuts had produced a staggering loss in revenue—$687.9 million, or 10.84 percent. According to the nonpartisan Kansas Legislative Research Department, the state risks running deficits through fiscal year 2019. Moody’s downgraded the state’s credit rating from AA1 to AA2; Standard & Poor’s followed suit, which will increase the state’s borrowing costs and further enlarge its deficit.

By the way, Thomas Frank's book about the state's descent into madness is worth a read.

Tuesday 30 September 2014 08:54:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 23 September 2014

A friend living in Greensboro, N.C., flagged a Times article about North Carolina's struggling to deal with the influx of northern progressives:

Last year, aided by a new Republican governor, Pat McCrory, the legislature enacted one of the most far-reaching conservative agendas in the country, passing a “flattened” income tax that gives big breaks to the wealthy as well as new rules that limit access to voting, expand rights for gun owners and add restrictions for abortion providers.

And yet, in a tight race that could decide control of the United States Senate, it is Democrats who hold the advantage here in registered voters. Senator Kay Hagan, a Democrat, is preparing to face Thom Tillis, the state House speaker, a Republican, and Democrats have 2.7 million registered voters to the Republicans’ two million. About 1.8 million registered voters are not affiliated with a party.

The North Carolina of 2014, it seems, is neither red nor blue, but a shade of deep Dixie purple. It is a state where Republicans could retain control of the legislature for years, thanks to an aggressive 2011 redistricting and also because of white conservatives’ abandonment of the Democratic Party after years of post-Civil War fealty.

But it is also a state where a modern-day Democratic candidate like Ms. Hagan — or even like Hillary Rodham Clinton — may still dream of a statewide victory.

I remember the big joke in the Triangle was about the town of Cary. The name, locals said, stood for "Containment Area for Relocated Yankees." Seems like the Yankees might have busted out.

Tuesday 23 September 2014 13:20:26 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | US | Raleigh#
Thursday 11 September 2014

From my first trip to New York, August 1984:

Thursday 11 September 2014 08:51:18 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Geography | US | World | Religion | Travel#
Saturday 6 September 2014

The Air Force Times reported Thursday that an unnamed U.S. Air Force airman was denied re-enlistment because he refused to swear an oath "so help me God:"

Air Force Instruction 36-2606 spells out the active-duty oath of enlistment, which all airmen must take when they enlist or reenlist and ends with “so help me God.” The old version of that AFI included an exception: “Note: Airmen may omit the words ‘so help me God,’ if desired for personal reasons.”

That language was dropped in an Oct. 30, 2013, update to the AFI. The relevant section of that AFI now only lists the active-duty oath of enlistment, without giving airmen any option to choose not to swear an oath to a deity.

[American Humanist Association lawyer Monica] Miller pointed out that Article VI of the Constitution prohibits requiring religious tests to hold an office or public trust.

A few years ago I started hearing about the increasing religiosity of Air Force personnel at the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs. This made me nervous as I'm not sure I want people who can launch nuclear missiles to have a fundamentalist belief in an afterlife. It appears my discomfort was warranted.

Saturday 6 September 2014 12:34:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Religion#
Thursday 4 September 2014

The New Republic's Franlin Foer lays out the case:

These are boom times for provincial autocrats. In many chunks of the country, state and local politics were once a competitive affair; there was an opposing political party ready to pounce on its foe’s malfeasance. That sort of robust rivalry, however, hardly exists in an era in which blue and red states have become darker shades of themselves. Thirty-seven states now have unified governments, the most since the early ’50s. And in many of these places, there’s not even a remote chance that the ruling party will be deposed in the foreseeable future. The rise of one-party government has been accompanied by the evisceration of the local press and the near-extinction of metro-desk muckrakers (14,000 newsroom jobs have vanished in the last six years), crippling the other force most likely to call attention to official misdeeds.

The end of local media hasn’t just removed a watchdog; it has helped to complete a cultural reversal. Once upon a time, Jefferson and Tocqueville could wax lyrical about local government, which they viewed as perfectly in sync with the interests of its yeoman citizenry. Whether this arcadia ever truly existed is debatable. But it certainly hasn’t persisted into the age of mass media. Nowadays, most Americans care much more passionately about national politics than they do about the governments closer to their homes. They may harbor somewhat warmer feelings toward states and localities, but those sentiments are grounded in apathy. Most Americans can name their president. But according to a survey conducted by Georgetown University’s Dan Hopkins, only 35 percent can identify their mayor. The nostrum that local government is actually closer to the people is now just a hollow piece of antique rhetoric.

With so many instances of unobstructed one-party rule, conditions are ripe for what the political scientist Jessica Trounstine calls “political monopoly”officials and organizations who have so effectively defeated any potential predators that they can lazily begin to gorge. She writes: “When politicians cease to worry about reelection, they become free to pursue government policy that does not reflect constituent preferences. They acquire the ability to enrich themselves and their supporters or pursue policies that would otherwise lead to their electoral defeat.”

I wonder, though, whether this will lead to more vigorous intra-party competition. Here in Chicago we've had one-party rule for decades, but usually with an opposing state government. We're now starting to see real competition in the primary races that we didn't have under the Daleys.

Of course, we could become China.

Thursday 4 September 2014 17:52:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US#
Wednesday 3 September 2014

The Atlantic's CityLab blog looks at American streetcars and finds that infrequent service and slow speeds are their main problems:

Very few next-generation streetcar lines run with the sort of frequency that might counterbalance slow speeds or short distances. In a very smart post at his Transport Politic blog a couple weeks back, Yonah Freemark lamented that many U.S. streetcar (and, to be fair, light rail) systems built since 2000 fail to meet minimal service standards—often running just a few times an hour.

Good public transportation requires trains or buses to run every 10 or 12 minutes, five or six times an hour. Only two streetcars (Tacoma and Tucson) hit this mark. It's perhaps no coincidence that the brand new Tucson line also met its early ridership projections, even after ending a brief free-ride campaign and even before University of Arizona students were back on campus.

It's almost cargo-cult urban planning. Some streetcar systems—notably New Orleans'—work very well. So naturally urban planners saw streetcars as a way to improve central cities. But through lack of funding or lack of comprehension, they implemented the systems inadequately.

Of course, much of this comes from an inability to address the biggest issue with modern American infrastructure: we beatify cars. Maybe thinking about how to get people from one place to another without cars might help.

Wednesday 3 September 2014 11:34:52 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US | Travel#
Saturday 30 August 2014

The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates spent seven weeks this summer at an immersion French course at Middlebury College:

I was there to improve my French. My study consisted of four hours of class work and four hours of homework. I was forbidden from reading, writing, speaking, or hearing English. I watched films in French, tried to read a story in Le Monde each day, listened to RFI and a lot of Barbara and Karim Oullet. At every meal I spoke French, and over the course of the seven weeks I felt myself gradually losing touch with the broader world. This was not a wholly unpleasant feeling. In the moments I had to speak English (calling my wife, interacting with folks in town or at the book store), my mouth felt alien and my ear slightly off.

he majority of people I interacted with spoke better, wrote better, read better, and heard better than me. There was no escape from my ineptitude. At every waking hour, someone said something to me that I did not understand. At every waking hour, I mangled some poor Frenchman’s lovely language. For the entire summer, I lived by two words: “Désolé, encore.”

From this he examines scholastic opportunity and achievement, how different ethnic groups approach intellectuals in their midst, and class conflict in general, as only Coates can. It's a good read.

Saturday 30 August 2014 10:26:01 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Geography | US | World#
Friday 29 August 2014

Jim Angel, the Illinois State Climatologist, wrote yesterday that Chicago-area precipitation seems to have shifted around 1965:

First of all, northeast Illinois (Cook and several surrounding counties – see map below) has experienced a shift in precipitation over the last 120 years. This plot shows the amounts for each year as green dots, and an 11-year running average showing longer periods of dry conditions (brown) and wet conditions (green). There is a pretty remarkable shift from a drier climate between 1895 and 1965 with lots of brown, towards a wetter climate from 1966 to present where green dominates.

If you compare the average annual precipitation between the two periods, you get 836 mm for the earlier period and 935 mm for the later period. That is a 99 mm increase, or about 12 percent.

Of course, we have still experienced drought conditions in this later wet period, as noted in 2005 and 2012. However, the wetter years far outnumber the dry years since 1965. BTW, this pattern is not unique. I have seen this across the state.

So, with slightly warmer weather, milder winters, and more precipitation, it looks like Illinois might suffer less from climate change than other parts of the country. However, those conditions have led to increasing insect populations and more-frequent large precipitation events, with non-trivial costs.

At least we're not in South Florida, which not only faces complete inundation from rising sea levels, but also a climate-denying Congressional delegation.

Friday 29 August 2014 07:22:20 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Chicago | Geography | US | Weather#
Thursday 28 August 2014

On those rare occasions when I opt for it, I usually enjoy having in-flight WiFi. At this particular moment, however, I'm staring down another two hours of flying time with WiFi throughput under 200 kbps. That speed reminds me of the late 1990s. You know, half the Web ago.

This is painful. I'm not streaming video, nor am I connected to a remote server like the guy next to me. I'm just trying to get some documents written. I believe I will have to write a complaint to GoGo Inflight, as this throughput is completely unacceptable.

But enough about that minor sadness; I've found something truly horrible.

Everyone who took English 1 at my college had to read George Orwell's Politics and the English Language. (I would actually extend this mandate to everyone on the planet who speaks English if I had the power.) In the essay, Orwell calls out a specific passage from Ecclesiastes to show how business English can destroy thought:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

He renders it in modern English thus:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

Two things. First, "modern" English in 1946 seems a lot like modern English in 2014. Frighteningly so.

Second, there are worse translations of that passage in actual, printed Bibles. Now, I'm not a religious person, as even a causal reader of this blog knows. But I have an appreciation for language. So it pains me to see that some people learned Ecclesiastes 9:11 like this:

I saw something else under the sun. The race isn't [won] by fast runners, or the battle by heroes. Wise people don't necessarily have food. Intelligent people don't necessarily have riches, and skilled people don't necessarily receive special treatment. But time and unpredictable events overtake all of them.

("GOD'S WORD® Translation")

Or this:

I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn't always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn't always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don't always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.

NO! No, no, NO! This isn't a children's book. Why does anyone need to dumb it down? I mean, fine, vernacular and all, but can't we at least keep the poetry?

It's no wonder the religious right have such poor cognitive skills. The one book they were allowed to read as children has been reduced to pabulum.

Thursday 28 August 2014 17:57:34 MDT (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Kitchen Sink | US | World#

United Airlines and Uber have quietly entered into a partnership to help United passengers get rides out of O'Hare (hat tip RM):

United launched the service Thursday that allows passengers to use the United Airlines mobile app to find UberTaxi information including the types of vehicles available, estimated wait times and prices.

The airline’s passengers can hook-up with the Uber service by using the airline’s mobile app to select a ride, at which point they are either directed to the Uber app to complete the transaction or to sign-up for an Uber account.

Only UberTaxi cars can participate, because they're licensed cab drivers.

Meanwhile, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn vetoed legislation that would have made it more difficult for Uber and its competitor, Lyft, to operate in Chicago, and Uber is coming under fire for poaching drivers from the competition.

Thursday 28 August 2014 10:21:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | US | Travel#
Wednesday 27 August 2014

Electric bikes that move between bike share stations may solve the bike-rebalancing problem:

The goal of this research is to derive algorithms directing the vans and trucks that bike-share operators use to shuffle bikes from station to station within a city. Trouble is, rebalancing is a moving target with several layers of complexity. You not only need to predict how many bikes a station will need at a certain time, but you need to minimize the (costly and time-consuming) movement of these vans and trucks—and you need to do it all while the system is in use.

Algorithms aren't the only option. Wald reports that at least one researcher is modeling a system in which driverless bike-share trucks could rebalance stations automatically. Of course, an easier way would be for bike-share systems to use electric bikes that shuffled themselves. But the thought of a bike traveling without a rider does bring up the problem of, you know, balance.

Meanwhile, Chicago's Divvy system will add another 100 or more stations next year, all the way up into Rogers Park and down to the far South Side.

Wednesday 27 August 2014 12:50:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Biking | Chicago | US#
Tuesday 26 August 2014

Noam Scheiber writes today that Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and other right-wing Republicans are fighting the most important elections in this cycle:

But consider what happens if Republicans fail to win the Senate, in which case Walker’s re-election may loom even larger. The GOP will be coming off its third disappointing election in four cycles. Some Republicans will insist it’s long past time to moderate the party’s stance on issues like immigration and gay rights, as they did after the 2012 drubbing. But those voices will almost certainly be drowned out by right-wingers who say Republicans haven’t stood firmly enough in defense of conservative principles. And Walker, the governor who managed to destroy the left and live to tell about it in a swing state, will loom as an incredibly appealing model. His brand of aggressively partisan, aggressively conservative politics will immediately vault him to the top tier of presidential candidates for 2016.

Of course, if the GOP loses the Senate and Walker loses, too, I have no illusions that the GOP’s moderate reformers will suddenly win out. The party that rallied around Ted Cruz and ousted Eric Cantor partly over his supposed liberal heresies isn’t tacking to the political center any time soon. But, in a way, that’s exactly the point. What makes Walkerism so dangerous is that it puts a moderate face on what’s actually a pretty extreme set of policies. A politician working from Walker’s playbook can always say he or she is out to save taxpayers money and make government more efficient even as they’re really out to upend a decade-olds arrangement between workers and employers. (If you think Walkerism would stop at public employees unions, I have a beautiful timeshare in Green Bay to sell you...)

But why is Walker in so much trouble, despite surviving his recall election 53-47? Possibly because people really wanted the Medicaid money he turned down:

To get a look at whether a Republican governor’s policy stances matter, I re-plotted some of the relevant polling data. This time, I used two symbols to represent a governor’s stance on Medicaid expansion (and other aspects of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act):

According to these data points, Republican governors who bucked their party’s stance and accepted the policy are faring better with voters—in these races, an average of 8.5 percentage points better.

We've got two months until the election, so a lot could happen. But this is starting to look like the pendulum swinging back to center. And wow, do I hope so, because these right-wingnuts have been so depressing for so long...

Tuesday 26 August 2014 13:42:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Monday 25 August 2014

Mainly, since I'm going there soon, I should have mentioned the 6.1 earthquake in Napa yesterday morning.

Also, a few blocks from where I'm sitting, Chicago is building a new river walk for $100 million.

Anyone else looking forward to Rick Perry's next political campaign? It should be fun.

Oh, and I went with the REI duffel.

Monday 25 August 2014 13:23:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US | San Francisco#

Someimes—rarely—I disconnect for a couple of days. This past weekend I basically just hung out, walked my dog, went shopping, and had a perfectly nice absence from the Web.

Unfortunately that meant I had something like 200 RSS articles to plough through, and I just couldn't bring myself to stop dealing with (most) emails. And I have a few articles to read:

Now back to your regularly-scheduled week, already in progress...

Monday 25 August 2014 12:25:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Baseball | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | US | World | Travel#
Friday 22 August 2014

The Sun-Times reported last night that the Cubs organization's desire to avoid paying heath-care benefits required by Obamacare led to the tarp-rolling error Tuesday night that, in turn, almost caused a forfeit:

The staffing issues that hamstrung the grounds crew Tuesday during a mad dash with the tarp under a sudden rainstorm were created in part by a wide-ranging reorganization last winter of game-day personnel, job descriptions and work limits designed to keep the seasonal workers – including much of the grounds crew – under 130 hours per month, according to numerous sources with direct knowledge.

Sources say 10 crew members were sent home early by the bosses Tuesday night with little, if any, input from the field-level supervisors.

Tuesday's game was rained out in part because the ground crew couldn't deploy the tarp over the infield correctly. This caused water to pool on the infield dirt and grass, making the field unplayable. Since the game had gone into the 5th inning, and the Cubs were ahead, a rain out would have meant a Cubs win. The Giants successfully protested, the first time since 1986 for a Major League team.

Keep in mind, the Cubs have more revenue than 26 of the 29 other MLB teams. And they don't want to provide basic benefits to their employees?

Why do I keep going to games again?

Friday 22 August 2014 14:03:23 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cubs | US#
Thursday 21 August 2014

Philip Shorer on the Atlantic's CityLab blog argues for a 4-day work week:

Beyond working more efficiently, a four-day workweek appears to improve morale and well-being. The president of the UK Faculty of Public Health told the Daily Mail that a four-day workweek could help lower blood pressure and increase mental health among employees. Jay Love of Slingshot SEO saw his employee-retention rate shoot up when he phased in three-day weekends. Following this line of thought, TreeHouse, an online education platform, implemented a four-day week to attract workers, which has contributed to the company's growth.

In this scenario, employees still work 40-hour weeks, but they do so over the course of four days rather than five. This arrangement still sounds sub-optimal, though, as working at full capacity for 10 hours is more demanding than doing so for eight. Despite that, the employees at Stephens’s company still preferred 40 hours in four days to 40 hours in five days. They might be even happier—and work even better—if they worked fewer hours in addition to fewer days.

Of course, counting travel, as a consultant I frequently do four 10-hour days followed by an 8-hour day. Cutting one of those out might be a good thing.

Thursday 21 August 2014 16:01:51 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Business#
Monday 18 August 2014

Writing at The Dish, Freddie deBoer argues that we made police misconduct inevitable:

But as we did with the presidency, the military, the intelligence services, and soldiers, we responded to 9/11 by buffeting our police officers with obsequious respect and endless displays of extreme gratitude. We feted them at football games and through parades in their honor. We plastered stickers celebrating them on our cars. We exhorted each other to “thank a first responder today.” We set about to create a culture of unwavering, unquestioning, credulous support for our police, and that has everything to do with today’s problems.

None of this should be surprising. In times of crisis, people often retreat to militarism, nationalism, and extreme respect for authority.

[W]hen you give any group carte blanche to do what they want, and make it clear that you will support them no matter what, how can you be surprised when they abuse that generosity? It’s human nature: people who are subject to little or no review will inevitably behave badly. No group can be expected to police itself; that’s why the foundation of our democracy is the separation of powers, the way in which different parts of government are expected to audit each other. Ultimately, though, the most important form of audit comes from the people themselves. Only the citizenry can ensure that our systems remain under our democratic control, and this function is especially important concerning the conduct of those who have the capacity to legally commit acts of violence– and to define for themselves what acts of violence are legal, whether those definitions are official or merely ad hoc. Well, we have abdicated that responsibility, and in that vacuum, misconduct, brutality, and corruption have rushed in. The problem is endemic. I don’t believe that all cops are bad, or even the majority, but I also don’t believe that this is a “few bad apples” problem. A few bad apples could not cause a problem as widespread and constant as the one we’re witnessing now.

I really hope the pendulum has started swinging back to center.

Monday 18 August 2014 11:23:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Friday 15 August 2014

Two of my favorite authors, Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan, recently had a long phone conversation (which Harris transcribed) about Israel. I haven't finished reading it, but as I respect both men, I consider this a must-read.

Also, I'm back in Chicago, possibly for two whole weeks. That said, the Cleveland Client was pretty happy with our work and may move to the next phase, so I may be going back there soon.

Friday 15 August 2014 10:46:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Travel | Work#
Thursday 14 August 2014

On Saturday, an 18-year-old black man was shot to death while running away from a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Since then, the town has imploded.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran an editorial yesterday calling on Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to get involved. The governor put out a statement saying nothing of substance.

Meanwhile, the New Republic has three stories in the last 24 hours:

Add James Fallows to the list of people (of whom Radley Balko has done the most reporting) saying "enough with the militarization of police!"

The events in Ferguson this past week should make all Americans nervous. This isn't who we are. At least, not since the civil rights crackdowns at the end of the Jim Crow era. Enough.

Update: Josh Marshall is calling Ferguson an example of the Hollywoodization of policing, while Dilbert creator Scott Adams wants the U.S. military to disarm the Ferguson police.

Thursday 14 August 2014 09:45:42 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 12 August 2014

It is against U.S. law for the U.S. military to enforce local or state laws. That's a job for the police, or the National Guard (but only when acting under state authority).

The law came about as part of a compromise to end reconstruction in the south. We still have it on the books because, among other things, the regular military's mission, training, and equipment makes it a really bad police force.

So why do small towns have paramilitary police units? And don't they make things worse?

Despite the fact that a Department of Homeland Security report once listed more potential terrorist targets in Indiana than New York or California, the state has never been hit by a terrorist attack, much less an assault involving IEDs. The MRAP vehicles amount to only a small fraction of the $45 million in materiel that Indiana has acquired from the Pentagon since 2010. While such detailed findings aren't available for every state, The New York Times reports that 432 MRAP vehicles have been distributed to law-enforcement agencies across the states, in addition to 435 other armored vehicles, 533 planes and helicopters, and nearly 100,000 machine guns.

In a lot of cases, these advanced armored military vehicles are only ever used for parade pieces, Bieler says. That's in stark contrast to SWAT deployments. Peter Kraska, a professor and senior research fellow at Eastern Kentucky University, reports that between 1980 and 2000, police paramilitary teams registered a 1,400 percent increase in deployments.

It is far from clear that a weapon of war is a tolerable answer to civil unrest even under the worst circumstances. Ferguson [Missouri] is hardly the only community where assemblies protected by the First Amendment have been met by paramilitary force. The police reaction following [unarmed 18-year-old Ferguson resident Michael] Brown's death—the latest in the hopeless litany of young black men killed by authorities—shows how far the militarization of law enforcement is spreading.

This is a hallmark of the right, of course. Right-wingers are essentially terrified of their own shadows. They're weak and insecure, which leads them to seek hard power, like guns and military force, in order to feel less afraid. For exactly the same reasons (weakness, insecurity) they have no tolerance of dissent or even peaceful protests. It's up to rational people to tell the irrational ones they can't have these things, because those things make everyone worse off.

Exhibit: After the events this weekend in Missouri, having a heavily-armed police force seems to have made everyone in town less safe. With emotions running this high, and with one side having military-grade weapons, how will anyone have a good outcome?

Tuesday 12 August 2014 13:37:09 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | US#
Saturday 9 August 2014

Forty years ago today, President Nixon resigned, and Gerald Ford was sworn in 38th President of the United States. Nixon's speech from the previous evening:

Harry Shearer's recreation of the moments before this speech is worth seeing.

(The blog post title is from Girlyman.)

Saturday 9 August 2014 09:37:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Thursday 7 August 2014

He thinks we should all use GMT instead:

[W]ithin a given time zone, the point of a common time is not to force everyone to do everything at the same time. It's to allow us to communicate unambiguously with each other about when we are doing things.

If the whole world used a single GMT-based time, schedules would still vary. In general most people would sleep when it's dark out and work when it's light out. So at 23:00, most of London would be at home or in bed and most of Los Angeles would be at the office. But of course London's bartenders would probably be at work while some shift workers in LA would be grabbing a nap. The difference from today is that if you were putting together a London-LA conference call at 21:00 there'd be only one possible interpretation of the proposal. A flight that leaves New York at 14:00 and lands in Paris at 20:00 is a six-hour flight, with no need to keep track of time zones. If your appointment is in El Paso at 11:30 you don't need to remember that it's in a different time zone than the rest of Texas.

Sigh.

It's even easier to get people to use International System measurements than to get them to understand the arbitrariness of the clock, but let's unpack just one thing Yglesias seems to have missed: the date.

Imagine you actually can get people in Los Angeles to use UTC. Working hours are 16:00 to 24:00. School starts at 15:45 (instead of ending then). In the summer, the sun rises at 12:30 and sets at 02:00.

Wait, what? The sun sets at 2am? So...you come home on a different day? That makes no sense to most people.

Yes, in a world where people are unwilling to give up their 128-ounce gallons and 36-inch yards in favor of 1000-milliliter liters and 100-centimeter meters, a world where ice freezing at 32 and boiling at 212 makes more sense than freezing at 0 and boiling at 100, a world where Paul Ryan is thought to be a serious person, we're not moving away from the day changing while most people are asleep.

And don't even get me started on the difference between GMT and UTC.

Thursday 7 August 2014 09:35:35 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | US | World | Travel | Astronomy#
Thursday 31 July 2014

As a big Jane Jacobs fan, I'm very happy to learn that the FBI's ugly headquarters in Washington may be demolished soon:

This week came the news that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is leaving its home in Washington, D.C. While plans to keep the bureau downtown were always a longshot, a short list of candidates released by the GSA confirms that the FBI will build a new consolidated headquarters in either Maryland or Virginia. Washingtonian spotted the release and wasted no time in celebrating the FBI's departure—despite the fact that the move will send as many as 4,800 jobs to the suburbs.

That's how much D.C. residents hate the J. Edgar Hoover Building. And really, that doesn't come close to painting how passionately people hate this building.

Yeah, because it's a really ugly building.

The Atlantic's Kriston Capps, who wrote the linked article, worries that its replacement will be bland, and therefore maybe we don't want to tear it down? No. Tear it down. And worry about the replacement building during its design phase.

The Brutalist period was so called for a reason.

Thursday 31 July 2014 18:42:09 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US#

For reasons I do not understand, except possibly that the average IQ is below 100 in some Congressional districts, the House of Representatives has sued the President to make him do...something:

The House adopted the resolution by a vote of 225-201. Five Republicans joined a unanimous Democratic conference to vote against the measure.

The resolution authorizes Boehner to challenge Obama in court for exceeding his authority by unilaterally delaying deadlines under Obamacare. Although he has said he'll target the one-year delay of the health care reform law's employer mandate penalties, the text of the GOP resolution gives the Speaker room to legally challenge implementation tweaks to other provisions of the law.

"This isn't about Republicans and Democrats. It's about defending the Constitution that we swore an oath to uphold," Boehner said.

Right. And the problem with American politics today is that the sets of people that understand the Constitution and that believe the Speaker do not overlap at all.

Let's review. The current House opposes a law passed by the House two sessions ago, but the Senate—last I checked, half the legislative power in the country—and most of the state governors support this law. The courts have upheld it. The President is enforcing it as he deems appropriate.

Kapur's commentary fixates on standing (the requirement that you can't sue unless you, personally, have been injured), but I'm wondering whether this suit would fail on the doctrine of political question. One half of one branch of government is opposed to the actions of another branch. And the representatives opposed to the executive actually represent a minority of voters. I'm not sure the courts are the appropriate venue here. Maybe try the ballot box?

Now, I opposed the majority in 2003 and 2004, when we went to war against a country that hadn't actually attacked us. So I get that minorities can feel oppressed. I had to pretend to be Canadian every time I went overseas for about five years, just so I wouldn't get dirty looks. And I really, really hated the outcome of the 2004 election, because it suggested to me that my countrymen were terrified children who shouldn't be trusted with cap guns, let alone nuclear weapons.

But you know what I did about it? I worked on Barack Obama's U.S. Senate campaign. Then I contributed to his Presidential primary in 2008. Then I volunteered for his 2008 general election campaign. Then he bloody well won the office. Because we were able to convince a clear majority of Americans that ours was the right set of policies, and ours was the right person, to govern the country for the next four years.

This is all of a piece. Republicans don't want to govern; they want to rule. And the reason they want to sue the President is because even though they can't convince the American electorate that they're right, they want their policies enacted anyway.

The legislature suing the executive to change the enforcement procedures of a popular law is just sad. I'd send John Boehner a copy of the Federalist Papers but it would just be a waste of money and postage.

Wednesday 30 July 2014 23:46:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 29 July 2014

Client deliverables and tonight's Cubs game have compressed my day a little. Here's what I haven't had time to read:

Now back to the deliverable...

Tuesday 29 July 2014 12:00:52 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Kitchen Sink | US | Weather#
Saturday 26 July 2014

In the wake of Arizona torturing a prisoner to death this week, Josh Marshall thinks this signals the end:

Why is this craziness happening now?

The simplest, best, and almost certainly accurate explanation is that as the noose has tightened around the death penalty, both internationally and within the United States, fewer and fewer credentialed experts have been willing to involve themselves with state mandated executions. Pharmaceutical companies have become more aggressive in making sure their drugs are not used to kill people. (Here's a good run-down of the way in which Europe has sequentially banned exports of a series of drugs used in US executions - forcing states with the death penalty to keep switching from one drug to the next to evade the export bans, thus inevitably going further and further into unknown territory in terms of how these drugs work in an execution setting with relatively untrained staff.) Medical experts or really anyone with serious life sciences expertise just won't participate anymore. I'm not saying never. But it's become much more difficult. And in order to access and use the relevant medications without the knowledge of pharmaceutical companies, the people charged with finding ways to carry out executions now mostly have to operate in secret. Secrecy leads to a lack of transparency and review of methods which in turn produces more badly conceived plans and botched executions.

At the very least, I hope those states still stuck in the middle ages will be forced into transparency and away from the torture they're inflicting on prisoners. This is a clear 8th Amendment issue. It's time the courts weighed in.

Saturday 26 July 2014 10:10:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Thursday 24 July 2014

Capital punishment is apparently not barbaric enough in itself in Arizona, where another botched execution has made national—but, strangely, not local—news:

A condemned Arizona inmate gasped and snorted for more than an hour and a half during his execution Wednesday before he died in an episode sure to add to the scrutiny surrounding the death penalty in the U.S.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne's office said Joseph Rudolph Wood was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m., one hour and 57 minutes after the execution started.

The case has highlighted scrutiny surrounding lethal injections after two controversial ones. An Ohio inmate executed in January snorted and gasped during the 26 minutes it took him to die. In Oklahoma, an inmate died of a heart attack in April, minutes after prison officials halted his execution because the drugs weren't being administered properly.

Arizona uses the same drugs — the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone — that were used in the Ohio execution. A different drug combination was used in the Oklahoma case.

Josh Marshall commented, "As much as it's treated as sick or a joke, firing squad really would be a vastly more humane form of execution than the one we now have."

Or, you know, not killing people, the way they don't do it anywhere else in the West.

Wednesday 23 July 2014 21:41:12 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 22 July 2014

Downloading to my Kindle right now:

...and a few articles I found last week that just made it onto my Kindle tonight.

Oh, and I almost forgot: today is the 80th anniversary of John Dillinger's death just six blocks from where I now live.

Tuesday 22 July 2014 18:22:54 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Geography | Kitchen Sink | Parker | US#
Monday 21 July 2014

Since Cabrini-Green came down a couple of years ago, developers have salivated over the possibilities for the Near North area. This morning's Crain's has the latest:

Construction crews recently were busy drilling holes for the foundation of an 18-story, 240-unit apartment building at Division and Howe streets, one of several private developments sprouting just steps from the former Cabrini-Green towers.

“The skyline's going to change really quickly over there,” says Matt Edlen, director of Midwest and East Coast acquisitions at Portland, Oregon-based Gerding Edlen Development Inc., which is building the apartment tower. “There's so many possibilities for that neighborhood and how it comes together.”

It's coming together already. A Target store opened north of Gerding's site last fall, and a developer is negotiating to buy a parcel just northeast of the store and may build apartments there, says Chicago-based Baum Realty Group LLC Vice President Greg Dietz, who's selling the property. He declines to identify the developer. Chicago-based Structured Development LLC and John Bucksbaum are building 199 apartments and 360,000 square feet of retail space on the former site of the New City YMCA at Clybourn Avenue and Halsted Street. And a 190,000-square-foot retail-and-office development and new store for boating retailer West Marine are in the works at Division and Halsted streets.

Crain's, concerned exclusively with business, doesn't ask: what happened to all the previous residents? I guess, once you've gotten rid of all the poor people, they're someone else's problem.

Monday 21 July 2014 08:37:38 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Chicago | US#
Friday 18 July 2014

Stuff to read this weekend, perhaps on my flight Sunday night:

Now back to the mines. Which, given the client I'm working on, isn't far from the truth.

Friday 18 July 2014 11:55:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US | World | Travel#
Thursday 17 July 2014

I'm still outraged at the Russian thugs who shot down MH17 today. But a couple of other things were noteworthy:

  • Someone, possibly Chinese military, infiltrated the e-QIP database that the Office of Management and Budget maintains to keep security clearance information. Schneier points out, "This is a big deal. If I were a government, trying to figure out who to target for blackmail, bribery, and other coercive tactics, this would be a nice database to have."
  • In a turn of events that should surprise no one whose IQ crests 90, it turns out that Stand Your Ground laws actually increase crime, assuming you think shooting people is a criminal act. In states that have adopted these insane laws, more people are shot to death but the overall crime rate stays the same.
  • Someday, I want to go to the Farnborough air show. So, apparently, does the F-35, which wasn't able to fly there this time.

All right. I've got about two hours until my flight leaves—yay, consulting!—and I actually have work to do. But in case I was distraught at having to stay home for three consecutive days, it turns out I get to come back here Sunday night. Again: yay, consulting!

Thursday 17 July 2014 18:18:24 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | US | World#
Sunday 13 July 2014

On Friday, Paul Wildman at the Washington Post shot back at the President's critics:

Both Republicans and the media have become obsessed with the question of whether President Obama should go to the border for a photo opportunity, with the accompanying and bizarre assertion that this is “Obama’s Katrina.”

In fact, it’s just the opposite. In that case, it was Bush’s failure of competence and his inability to go beyond photo ops that resulted in so much destruction. In this case, the president’s critics are actually demanding a photo op, while refusing to take any immediate practical steps to address the problem.

Republicans actually seem to be under the impression that George W. Bush’s failure during Katrina was just one of impression management. He got photographed doing the wrong things, or gave an insufficient number of hugs to residents. But that wasn’t it at all. The problem was that his administration didn’t take the storm seriously enough, and when the horror became clear, the agency in charge of responding was led by the former Judges and Stewards Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association, who couldn’t successfully manage the cleanup of a messy rec room, much less a natural disaster on the scale of Katrina, which killed somewhere between 1,400 and 3,500 people and did upward of $100 billion in damage.

But the Republicans and their allies at Fox don't want to govern; they want to rule. That's what the Right does, always. So naturally they only understand image, because that, to them, is what makes an effective leader. Not the actual policies.

Sunday 13 July 2014 10:29:59 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 8 July 2014

The heirs of actor John Wayne, who manage his likeness and other trademarks associated with him, have sued Duke University to resolve a long-running dispute over the name:

Duke University has been fighting with the late actor's heirs over "Duke" trademarks (restaurant services, gaming machines, celebrity licensing services, etc.) for nearly a decade, and last year, the school stepped forward after John Wayne's family attempted to register "Duke" for all alcoholic beverages except beer.

The school told the Trademark Office, "Consistent with its policies and in order to prevent tarnishment of its brand, [Duke University] does not permit use of confusingly similar marks associated with unapproved goods or services, of uncertain quality and/or unregulated by [Duke University]." Duke University, established in 1838, added that what the actor's heirs wanted to grab threatened its own hold on a variety of food products and beverages.

John Wayne Enterprises is now going to federal court over the objection, asserting jurisdiction in the Central District of California because the school actively recruits students there, raises money there, maintains alumni associations there and sells university-related products there.

One thing that the private research university doesn't do? "Duke University is not and never has been in the business of producing, marketing, distributing, or selling alcohol," states the complaint. "On information and belief, the actual and potential customer base of Duke University is vastly different from the customer base of JWE."

The actor's family now is seeking a declaratory judgment that there is no likelihood of confusion and that its attempts to register and use "Duke" alcohol will not dilute Duke University's own rights.

Later, I'll be going to the Duke of Perth to duke this out with my friend Earl.

Tuesday 8 July 2014 15:25:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke | US#
Monday 7 July 2014

Via Calculated Risk, the Atlantic cautions people not to freak out about 20-somethings living at home:

More than ever, young people are living in their parents' basements.

You've surely heard that one before. The Washington Post, the New York Times, the New Republic, Salon, and others have repeated it over and over in the last few years. More than 15.3 million twentysomethings—and half of young people under 25—live "in their parents’ home," according to official Census statistics.

There's just one problem with those official statistics. They're criminally misleading. When you read the full Census reports, you often come upon this crucial sentence:

It is important to note that the Current Population Survey counts students living in dormitories as living in their parents' home.

Calculated Risk explains the economics:

This is an important point since there is a long term trend for higher school enrollment (so we shouldn't "freak out" about the reported increase in young people living at home).

And higher school enrollment generally means lower labor force participation (as I've pointed out before, the decline in the overall labor force participation rate is due to several factors, but two of the most important are aging of the baby boomers and more younger people staying in school).

Mission accomplished. I will no longer worry about Milennials living with their parents.

Monday 7 July 2014 09:23:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Friday 4 July 2014

Embattled clothing retailer American Apparel tweeted an Independence Day ad yesterday showing a stylized photo of the 1986 Challenger explosion with the hashtags "#smoke" and "#clouds." (I will not post the image here.)

Shortly after, they tweeted a heartfelt apology blaming the child that somehow they put in charge of social media. Unfortunately, they also have a child, Ryan Holiday (born in June 1987), running their entire marketing department, who threw his social media flunky under the bus to cover his own ignorance and ineptitude. The apology reads as follows:

We deeply apologize for today's Tumblr post of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The image was re-blogged in error by one of our social media employees who was born after the tragedy and was unaware of the event. We sincerely regret the insensitivity of that selection and the post has been deleted.

So, Ryan Holiday is an asshat (which one could infer from his writings), and obviously running with scissors in his current job. Note to Ryan: don't blame your subordinates in public for your own screw-up, especially when the purported cause of that person's mistake is a characteristic you share. And note John Luttell (interim CEO of American Apparel): Cleaning up Dov Charney's brand damage should begin with replacing your marketing director.

I wish, I really wish, more Americans knew something about history.

Friday 4 July 2014 09:21:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Business#
Wednesday 2 July 2014

Ed Kilgore thinks so:

Many fair-minded people look sympathetically at the plaintiffs in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases as people who just want to be left in peace to nourish their eccentric and non-scientific views about the sacred human dignity of zygotes. But it’s impossible, of course, to divorce those views from the consequences for the affected employees. And so long as such companies operate in the secular world, they benefit like other secular entities from the various investments and subsidies our society makes available, even though they seem to be asserting the right to unilaterally disregard laws and policies that allegedly violate their tender consciences.

More to the point, Hobby Lobby’s political and religious allies would if given the power to do so impose their beliefs about zygotes on the rest of us. It’s not as though a Supreme Court decision providing an exemption from the relevant provisions of the Affordable Care Act will create some sort of truce in the culture wars, or convince the Christian Right to live and let live with the wicked citizens of this sinful society. Their extremist position on abortion and contraception is, after all, just a subset of a more generalized hostility to feminism and the very idea of sexual or reproductive rights.

Seriously, I hope these decisions are more like Plessy than Bakke, and are someday (soon) seen as rear-guard actions against a liberalizing society that the extreme right can't ever hope to live in.

Wednesday 2 July 2014 09:45:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Monday 30 June 2014

The Atlantic Citylab blog today had a good item explaining why London's transport system has the best finances, and how other transport systems can learn from them:

In U.S. cities, politicians often defer fare increases until there's a funding crisis too big to ignore. That leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth about the transit agency's ability to manage its finances. It also leads city residents to believe that fare hikes are only something that should rarely occur.

In London, on the contrary, TfL fares rise every year—the only question is by how much. There are loud objections over there just as there are here, but the critical difference is that TfL has set an expectation in the minds of travelers, not to mention politicians, that fares must rise on an annual basis to meet costs. "That's the way we keep the system properly funded year after year," says [Shashi Verma, TfL's director of customer experience].

Other improvements, like pay-as-you-go travel cards (TfL's Oyster and Chicago's Ventra), could also find their ways over to the U.S.

Monday 30 June 2014 14:24:50 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | London | US | Travel#

Who could have imagined that the Supreme Court would rule, 5-4 along party lines in both instances, that closely-held corporations don't have to provide birth control and Illinois can't treat certain public workers as unionized employees?

The rear-guard action against women and labor continues.

Some day, I hope in my lifetime, people will look back on this era the way we look back on the late 19th century. I hope that in my lifetime these right-wing, anti-labor decisions are viewed the same way we today view Plessy, to take one example.

Monday 30 June 2014 10:28:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Sunday 29 June 2014

Peter Beinert points to an interview the former vice president gave to Charlie Rose this week as a repudiation of George W Bush:

[E]arlier this week, Dick Cheney spent an hour on Charlie Rose and, in the guise of attacking President Obama, ripped his former boss’s foreign-policy vision to shreds. Cheney explained that he had recently traveled through the Middle East meeting with a “lot of my friends going back to Desert Storm days.” By which he meant Sunni tyrants in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the Persian Gulf. Their message to him: The United States isn’t supporting them steadfastly enough.

Cheney wholeheartedly agreed. The Obama administration, he declared, “has undermined these relationships, some of which go back 30, 40, 50 years.” By which he meant: When, during the Arab Spring, the peoples of the Middle East did exactly what George W. Bush had urged them to do—rise up against dictators who had oppressed them for “30, 40, 50 years”—the United States did not “ignore” their “oppression and “excuse” their “oppressors” enough.

It’s worth recognizing how directly Cheney is repudiating Bush’s vision. Bush’s core point—repeated by a thousand supportive pundits—was that when Middle Eastern dictators don’t allow democratic dissent, jihadist terrorism becomes the prime avenue for resistance. Egypt today is a textbook example. The Muslim Brotherhood won a free vote. In power, it ruled in illiberal ways. But Egypt was still due for additional elections in which people could do just what Bush had urged them to: express their grievances democratically. Instead, the military seized on popular discontent to overthrow the government, massively repress freedom of speech, and engineer a sham election. And just as Bush predicted, Egypt’s Islamists are responding by moving toward violence and jihadist militancy.

The depths of Cheney's evil continue to amaze me. He was unfit for public office fourteen years ago, and now he's unfit for going out in public without a warning label. And a significant wing of the opposition party are right there with him.

Sunday 29 June 2014 09:37:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World#
Friday 27 June 2014

Via TPM, a funny (!) gun-safety PSA:

Friday 27 June 2014 14:32:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 25 June 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court announced this morning their decisions in two closely-watched cases.

In Riley v. California, the Court ruled 9-0 that police can't search your cell phone without a warrant:

The court said on a 9-0 vote that the right of police to search an arrested suspect at the scene without a warrant does not extend in most circumstances to data held on a cell phone.

Because technologically sophisticated phones may hold huge amounts of personal data, they may not be searched without a warrant from a magistrate, the justices said.

In an unrelated 6-3 decision (ABC v. Aereo), the Court ruled that rebroadcasting is a performance under copyright law:

In a decision with implications for the television industry, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that Aereo, a start-up streaming service, violated copyright laws by capturing broadcast signals on miniature antennas and delivering them to subscribers for a fee.

The 6-3 decision was a victory for the major television networks, which had argued that Aereo’s business model amounted to a theft of their programming.

For now, the judges’ ruling leaves the current broadcast model intact while imperiling Aereo’s viability as a business after just over two years in existence.

Backed by the Barry Diller-controlled IAC, Aereo allowed subscribers who paid $8 to $12 a month for its service to stream free-to-air broadcast television to their mobile devices, laptops and web-connected televisions. The start-up contends that it is merely helping its subscribers do what they could lawfully do since the era of rabbit-ear antennas: watch free broadcast television delivered over public airwaves.

The cell-phone case is probably a lot more important. I'll read it later. I'm surprised that Scalia went with the majority on it. Alito, for his part, wrote a concurrence, so the world isn't completely defying expectations.

Wednesday 25 June 2014 10:18:35 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Sunday 22 June 2014

Not quite, but in today's New York Times he tries to get Republican acceptance that climate change is real:

We’re making the same mistake today with climate change. We’re staring down a climate bubble that poses enormous risks to both our environment and economy. The warning signs are clear and growing more urgent as the risks go unchecked.

This is a crisis we can’t afford to ignore. I feel as if I’m watching as we fly in slow motion on a collision course toward a giant mountain. We can see the crash coming, and yet we’re sitting on our hands rather than altering course.

We need to act now, even though there is much disagreement, including from members of my own Republican Party, on how to address this issue while remaining economically competitive. They’re right to consider the economic implications. But we must not lose sight of the profound economic risks of doing nothing.

Krugman thinks Paulson is shouting at the wind:

[W]hat’s sad is that he imagines that anyone in the party he still claims as his own is listening. Earth to Paulson: the GOP you imagine, which respects science and is willing to consider even market-friendly government interventions like carbon taxes, no longer exists. The reins of power now rest firmly, irreversibly, in the hands of men who believe that climate change is a hoax concocted by liberal scientists to justify Big Government, who refuse to acknowledge that government intervention to correct market failures can ever be justified.

Given the state of U.S. politics today, climate action is entirely dependent on Democrats, With a Democrat in the White House, we got some movement through executive action; if Democrats eventually regain the House, there could be more. If Paulson believes that he can support Republicans while still pushing for climate action, he’s just delusional.

It's really depressing that the main opposition party in the most powerful country the earth has ever seen has an institutional rejection of evidence and data. It's part of the right-wing mindset: they're right-wing because they can't accept being wrong.

Sunday 22 June 2014 12:40:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Weather#
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