Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
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Sunday 16 March 2014

As predicted last week in private Kremlin memoranda, today's referendum in Crimea has determined that more people on the peninsula support union with Russia than actually live on the peninsula. As someone once said more eloquently than I:

But here's the BBC:

Some 95.5% of voters in Crimea have supported joining Russia, officials say. after half the votes have been counted in a disputed referendum.

Crimea's leader says he will apply to join Russia on Monday. Russia's Vladimir Putin has said he will respect the Crimean people's wishes.

Some review, I think, is in order.

First, Crimea doesn't have a leader that can apply for union with Russia any more than Long Island has a leader that can apply for union with Bermuda.

Second, Putin's respect for the Crimean people's wishes notwithstanding, I can't decide if we're back in 1980, 1939, 1914, or 1836; regardless, it's nice to have the USSR back in town as we're all sick of terrorists.

Third, is there anyone who thinks about these things seriously and believes that this action shows anything other than Russian weakness? Authoritarian leaders always make this mistake, and they wind up destroying their countries. You can't conquer your way to security. Just ask, well, us.

Sunday 16 March 2014 17:01:04 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | World#

The news recently and Krugman this morning have brought Tennyson to mind:

Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
  Rode the six hundred.

Heroism has its place, but not when it takes everyone else through hell.

Sunday 16 March 2014 11:51:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | World | Business#
Tuesday 4 March 2014

The sun rises in the Crimean Peninsula in just over an hour, at 6:16 local time. A rumor circulating earlier today was that Russian commanders occupying the region had threatened to attack unless the Ukrainian military surrendered by 0300 UTC this evening—20 minutes ago. The Russian navy has denied this. We'll see.

Russia, of course, has the power to take and hold the peninsula, and it seems to have support from a sizable portion of Crimean residents. But at what cost? Again, we'll see.

One thing is certain: Ukrainians are terrified. Ukrainians are in shock. But also, Ukrainians are Ukrainians, from Donetsk to Lviv.

Ask anyone we've invaded. Nothing brings a country together like an occupying army.

Monday 3 March 2014 21:34:01 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | World#
Saturday 1 March 2014

Parker, 14 weeksI'm David Braverman, this is my blog, and Parker is my 7½-year-old mutt. I last updated this About... page in September 2011, more than 1,300 posts back, so it's time for a refresh.

The Daily Parker is about:

  • Parker, my dog, whom I adopted on 1 September 2006.
  • Politics. I'm a moderate-lefty by international standards, which makes me a radical left-winger in today's United States.
  • The weather. I've operated a weather website for more than 13 years. That site deals with raw data and objective observations. Many weather posts also touch politics, given the political implications of addressing climate change, though happily we no longer have to do so under a president beholden to the oil industry.
  • Chicago (the greatest city in North America), and sometimes London, San Francisco, and the rest of the world.
  • Photography. I took tens of thousands of photos as a kid, then drifted away from making art until early 2011 when I finally got the first digital camera I've ever had whose photos were as good as film. That got me reading more, practicing more, and throwing more photos on the blog. In my initial burst of enthusiasm I posted a photo every day. I've pulled back from that a bit—it takes about 30 minutes to prep and post one of those puppies—but I'm still shooting and still learning.

I also write a lot of software, and will occasionally post about technology as well. I work for 10th Magnitude, a startup software consultancy in Chicago, I've got more than 20 years experience writing the stuff, and I continue to own a micro-sized software company. (I have an online resume, if you're curious.) I see a lot of code, and since I often get called in to projects in crisis, I see a lot of bad code, some of which may appear here.

I strive to write about these and other things with fluency and concision. "Fast, good, cheap: pick two" applies to writing as much as to any other creative process (cf: software). I hope to find an appropriate balance between the three, as streams of consciousness and literacy have always struggled against each other since the first blog twenty years ago.

If you like what you see here, you'll probably also like Andrew Sullivan, James Fallows, Josh Marshall, and Bruce Schneier. Even if you don't like my politics, you probably agree that everyone ought to read Strunk and White, and you probably have an opinion about the Oxford comma—punctuation de rigeur in my opinion.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you continue to enjoy The Daily Parker.

Saturday 1 March 2014 14:27:44 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Aviation | Baseball | Biking | Cubs | Geography | Kitchen Sink | London | Parker | Daily | Photography | Politics | US | World | Religion | Software | Blogs | Business | Cloud | Travel | Weather | Windows Azure | Work | Writing#
Tuesday 25 February 2014

The Economist on Ukraine:

While politicians in Kiev are scared to mention federalisation because of its separatist undertones, in reality it is already happening. The biggest danger for Ukraine’s integrity is not federalisation, but that Russian interferes and exploits it. That could involve an attempt to annex Crimea, carelessly given to Soviet Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954. Over the weekend 20,000 people were out on the streets in Crimea, welcoming back riot police from Kiev as heroes. Russian armoured vehicles have already been spotted around Sevastopol, home to the large Russian naval base.

Mr Putin clearly has no interest in defending Mr Yanukovych. He may have also decided that since Ukraine’s shift towards Europe now looks all but inevitable, grabbing Crimea quickly is the best Russia can do.

But don't forget Venezuela:

This degradation was years in the making. First, the opposition boycotted the 2005 parliamentary elections, which ended with a meager 25 percent voter turnout. This broke not only the checks and balances, but the opposition walked out of a space of dialogue. A culture of imposition was created inside the halls of the National Assembly, one we really haven’t shaken off yet. For five years the opposition was not to be represented in the central government, and no alternative outlet for discontent was provided.

The 2010 reforms, just weeks prior to a new legislature taking office, left the Parliament an institutional husk. This was exacerbated with every Enabling Law that gave the President the power to legislate by decree, of which we have had two since 2010. Add to that aggressive nationwide gerrymandering in 2009, which ensured the government ended up with 49 percent of the votes and 59 percent of the seats, and the Parliament’s emasculation was complete.

Still watching both stories.

Tuesday 25 February 2014 14:27:28 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | World#
Monday 24 February 2014

A person was removed from a commuter train this morning and taken to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation. Why? It could have to do with where he was standing:

Passengers on the Metra Union Pacific North line train heading out of the city witnessed a person jumping from the top of the outbound train to the inbound train that was headed to downtown Chicago.

"We can see his shadow," passenger Mike Pastore told RedEye. "There's a building next to the train and we can see the shadow of the man on top of the train. We can't see him directly, but we can hear him running back and forth on top of the train."

In another story about a man being removed from somewhere he should never have been, CNN has fired Piers Morgan. Don't let the door hit your ass, Piers.

Monday 24 February 2014 11:25:09 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | US | World | Travel#
Sunday 23 February 2014

My friend in Ukraine gave me an update overnight:

It's not the opposition that has taken over president's residence; [Yanukovich] has abandoned it, and it was available for public to see. The Maidan guys are actually guarding it so it does not get burnt down.

The Opposition is not "controlling" the city. We have a fully-legitimate parliament that is working, and yes, patrols from Maidan are around to prevent crime as thousands of "titushkies" (thugs) are in Kiev, paid by the government.

Another very important point: the opposition for us is basically three guys who have their own political agenda. When it was starting peacefully back in November, they had their political rallies next door to Maidan, which is the main place. Soon they agreed to join efforts if they each of them stopped individually using the "Maidan," as the place represents every party. The protests were first for EU, and then changed into anti-Yanukovich issues once students's blood was shed in November. So our "opposition" is not the driving force. It's a bit of a façade. But they're not the power, and they get kicked by Maidan, too.

But the guys who were the majority of the Parliament, the Party of Regions, are gradually leaving the party. So there is no one "controlling" the parliament. They are simply scared for their future, so they change colors, and they vote vote vote with the majority.

The capital is quieter today, and Russia, preoccupied with the closing ceremonies in Sochi, haven't turned their attention back to their old province. That, I expect, will happen tomorrow.

Sunday 23 February 2014 10:12:45 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | World#
Saturday 22 February 2014

It's coming up on midnight in Ukraine, and former prime minister (and convicted felon) Yulia Tymoshenko is out of jail, addressing the crowds. The Beeb and Times are reporting that she's surrounded by ecstatic crowds, but other sources, including my friend in Kyiv, are not so enthusiastic. As political as Tymoshenko's trial was, there was enough truth to it that Ukrainians believe she deserved jail. I haven't got a strong opinion on that if for no other reason than Illinois' last governor is also in jail for corruption.

In fact, the exact phrase my friend used was "на воды СРОЧНО," which translates roughly to "get thee to a nunnery." She reports further that Ukrainians have moved past both Tymoshenko and Yanukovich, and are ready for a real government now, thank you. Tymoshenko is a modern-day Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin, shouting "there go my people, I must find out where they are going so I can lead them."

Yanukovich, for his part, has fled the capital, though without actually reading the histories of Louis XVI or Nicolae Ceaușescu. So he got caught, and now he appears to be in the eastern city of Kharkiv, waiting desperately for the Olympics to finish so he can once again get Russian help. Only, like Ceaușescu before him, it looks unlikely Russia will do anything at all as long as Ukraine doesn't slip into total chaos.

Wait, let me revise and extend those comments. My non-expert bet would be that Russia announces new sanctions against Ukraine on Monday, and then shuts off their gas. Europe simply doesn't have enough to send east to Ukraine, so I expect people in Kyiv will be awfully cold for a few weeks.

Still, Yanukovich's plight brings Oscar Wilde's Lady Bricknell to mind: "To lose one's country to a popular uprising, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose it twice looks like carelessness."

Update, Sunday, 10:49am: Julia Ioffe agrees.

Saturday 22 February 2014 16:09:55 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | World#

While things go from scary to stunning in Ukraine, the New Republic's Julia Ioffe has kept me riveted with her series of posts about Russia.

Yesterday, for example. "The Kremlin, the Russian Liberals, and the West All See What They Want to See in Ukraine:"

[T]he battle unfolding in the streets of Kiev today is proving to be yet another geopolitical blank slate, projected onto the shields and helmets and backs of the scurrying warriors on both sides. The storming of the Maidan of Independence, the rapidly mounting casualties, the guns, the bullets—all are subject to highly politicized debate. Because the details matter, and, flipped this way or that, plucked this way or that, totally change the story, and the message. And through the people on the streets, everyone else, near and far, is fighting their own fight.

The Russian Government: Most of the coverage coming from Kremlin-controlled media in Russia is about the mounting casualties ... among police officers.

Tuesday: "Russian Team Eliminated in Hockey, Surprising Only the Russians."

Monday: "What's Happening in Kiev Right Now Is Vladimir Putin's Worst Nightmare."

According to her Facebook page, she's in Kyiv right now. I'm looking forward to her dispatches.

Saturday 22 February 2014 08:59:57 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | World#

NPR reported earlier this morning that Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich has fled Kyiv and his supporters in Parliament have started resigning. Things are changing quickly on the ground, however. Here's the New York Times half an hour ago:

An opposition unit took control of the presidential palace outside Kiev on Saturday, as leaders in Parliament said Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, had fled the capital a day after a deal was reached aimed at ending the country’s spiral of violence.

Members of an opposition group from Lviv called the 31st Hundred — carrying clubs and some of them wearing masks — were in control of the entryways to the palace Saturday morning. And Vitali Klitschko, one of three opposition leaders who signed the deal to end the violence, said that Mr. Yanukovych had “left the capital” but his whereabouts were unknown, with members of the opposition speculating that he had gone to Kharkiv, in the northeast part of Ukraine.

The BBC has a different story as of 10 minutes ago:

Ukrainian President Yanukovych has said he has no intention of quitting and has described events in the capital Kiev events as a "coup".

The opposition is effectively in control of the city and parliament.

NPR, just now:

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who has reportedly left the capital Kiev, was quoted by Russia's Interfax news agency as saying events in the country amounted to a coup.

"The events witnessed by our country and the whole world are an example of a coup d'etat," he was quoted as saying.

If true, it may constitute a coup, which is troubling. But the Parliament—now in control of the opposition—appears to be trying to keep the institutions of government functioning, with elections apparently scheduled for May 25th.

I'm hedging, because obviously no one knows what's going on there. My friend in Kyiv is still online, but doesn't have a direct view of the Maidan at the moment.

I'll be watching this closely today.

Saturday 22 February 2014 08:41:12 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | World#
Wednesday 29 January 2014

"Mister Speaker, the President of the United States."

My live-blogging of the State of the Union this year turned out to be NSFW. Click through for the result.

Tuesday 28 January 2014 20:00:45 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US | World#
Tuesday 28 January 2014

Via Sullivan, Washington Post staffer Max Fisher explains how Ukraine's divisions are about more than one politician:

Ukrainian is the majority and official language of Ukraine. But, as a legacy of of the country's subjugation by Russia, many Ukrainians speak Russian, which is the native language for about one-third of the population. The Russian speakers are clustered in the south and east. A significant chunk of them are ethnic Russian, as well. In some regions, more than three-quarters of the population speaks Russian as their primary language.

Heavily Russian-speaking regions can tend to be more sympathetic (or at least less hostile) to policies that bring their country closer to Russia, as Yanukovych has been doing. But the Ukrainian-speaking regions have historically sought a Ukrainian national identity that is less Russia-facing and more European. So this is about politics, yes, but it's also about identity, about the question of what it means to be Ukrainian.

I visited Kyiv (Kiev) in 2009, a few months before Yanukovich's return to power. My host and I didn't talk about politics much, but she did show me where the protests that unseated him in 2004 had happened.

Kyiv has roughly equal populations of Ukrainian and Russian speakers, being the capital and all, though it's pretty firmly within the Ukrainian-speaking part of the country. I got the sense, from the few people I talked to, that Russia made everyone a little nervous. But it was spring, the weather was perfect, and I was really only there to see things like this:

My Ukrainian friends here and in Europe are scared for their country. Remember, it's only been independent for 23 years, after centuries of subjugation by others. (Sound familiar?) We'll see. There are a lot of angry people there right now.

Tuesday 28 January 2014 11:37:33 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | World#
Monday 20 January 2014

I've got outside meetings every day this week, and those tend to compress my days. So there might be more link lists like this one coming up:

Back to the mines.

Monday 20 January 2014 13:51:07 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink | US | World#
Thursday 2 January 2014

Andrew Sullivan, commenting on evidence that requiring visas keeps tourists away, explains why arriving in America generally sucks for most people:

This may seem trivial, but it isn’t with respect to American soft power. Most [of my readers] are American citizens, so they don’t fully see what it is like to enter the US as a non-citizen. It’s a grueling, off-putting, frightening, and often brutal process. Compared with entering a European country, it’s like entering a police state. When you add the sheer difficulty of getting a visa, the brusque, rude and contemptuous treatment you routinely get from immigration officials at the border, the sense that all visitors are criminals and potential terrorists unless proven otherwise, the US remains one of the most unpleasant places for anyone in the world to try and get access to.

And this, of course, is a function not only of a vast and all-powerful bureaucracy. It’s a function of this country’s paranoia and increasing insularity. It’s a thoroughly democratic decision to keep foreigners out as much as possible. And it’s getting worse and worse.

Even for returning U.S. citizens, our border can be a pain in the ass. This is why I am overjoyed to have a Global Entry endorsement. But even though I've seen the lines, I've never experienced coming here as a foreigner. My experiences in most other countries—Russia being the most memorable exception—have been completely benign. Plus, only a dozen or so countries require me to get a visa before arriving. Only Norwegians can visit more countries visa-free than we can.

Has anyone out there had a negative experience at our border?

Thursday 2 January 2014 13:59:17 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US | World | Travel#
Friday 27 December 2013

Nephew #1 arrived yesterday evening while I sat a mile away talking with the manager of San Benito House and, apparently, challenging people to a Scrabble game later today. Nephew #1 is a much lighter sleeper than the rest of us, which causes him frustration, and when he gets frustrated he sets out to determine how much noise is required to make everyone exactly as light a sleeper as he.

Fortunately, I'm on Chicago time, so getting up at 5am PST (7am CST) does not bother me. And it gives me some time to read the articles that crossed my inbox overnight:

It's still an hour before dawn here, so I'm rocking out the nearly-empty Peet's, about to resume some client work. I promise another photo of the ocean before I return home tomorrow.

Friday 27 December 2013 06:15:59 PST (UTC-08:00)  | Comments [0] | Geography | Kitchen Sink | US | World#
Thursday 26 December 2013

What is it about the right? I have difficulty imagining what it must be like to have such a constricted worldview that every provocation requires an escalation.

The latest example of right-wing anti-diplomacy comes not from a state representative somewhere in the southern U.S., nor from a local Chinese official, nor from Marine le Pen. No, this time it's serial dick-swinger Shinzo Abe, who decided to help diffuse the tense diplomatic situation in the Sea of Japan by poking his finger in China's and Korea's eyes:

At first I didn't believe the news this evening that Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe had visited Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. I didn't believe it, because such a move would be guaranteed to make a delicate situation in East Asia far, far worse. So Abe wouldn't actually do it, right? 

It turns out that he has. For a Japanese leader to visit Yasukuni, in the midst of tensions with China, is not quite equivalent to a German chancellor visiting Auschwitz or Buchenwald in the midst of some disagreement with Israel. Or a white American politician visiting some lynching site knowing that the NAACP is watching. But it's close.

In short, there is almost nothing a Japanese prime minister could have done that would have inflamed tempers more along the Japan-China-South Korea-U.S. axis than to make this visit. And yet he went ahead. Last month, I said that China had taken a kind of anti-soft-power prize by needlessly creating its "ADIZ" and alarming many of its neighbors. It seems that I was wrong. The prize returns to Japan.

Really, this is the right-wing mindset. Aggression, nationalism, belligerence, and domestic policies that completely undermine foreign policies. Shinzo Abe, Binyamin Netanyahu, Recep Erdoğan, Vladimir Putin, Viktor Yanukovich...there sure is a lot of this going around recently.

Good thing none of those people has the power to start a major regional war that would suck the U.S. into someone else's crap.

Thursday 26 December 2013 08:30:09 PST (UTC-08:00)  | Comments [0] | World#
Saturday 21 December 2013

A couple of days ago people wigged out that car-share service Uber had significantly increased prices during a snowstorm out East. I posted on Facebook that this made perfect sense, and people getting all mad about it just didn't understand economics.

Today on his blog, Krugman adds Keynesian context:

Uber, it turns out, doesn’t charge fixed prices; it practices surge pricing, in which prices depend on the state of demand. So when there’s a snowstorm or something that makes everyone want a car at the same time, prices go way up — sometimes sevenfold.

This makes a lot of sense from a rational economic point of view — and it makes people totally furious. It turns out that people are OK with fluctuating prices when it’s really an impersonal market — but they get really angry at any hint that someone with whom they have some sort of ongoing relationship is exploiting their distress. In fact, Uber’s surge pricing is really bad public relations, and I won’t be surprised to see the company modify its strategy if only for marketing purposes.

What does this have to do with [Keynesian macroeconomics]? Well, back in the 1990s the economist Truman Bewley...found...that issues of fairness and morale were key. Employers didn’t cut wages, even when unemployment was high and they knew that employees had no place to go, because they believed that morale and workplace cooperation would collapse if their employees felt that the company was exploiting a bad economy for its own gain.

This was part of a set of posts he's written concerning the difference between saltwater (Keynesian) and freshwater (anti-Keynesian) economics.

On a similar theme, in his column yesterday Krugman made a solid argument that UK Chancellor George Osborne is a stooge. I have to agree; but why Ed Milliband doesn't run with this (or at least with the sound economics behind saying it) I cannot figure out.

Saturday 21 December 2013 14:55:37 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US | World#
Wednesday 18 December 2013

Shortly after my last trip to London I blogged that UK Prime Minister David Cameron's crowing about Britain's economic recovery entirely missed the point of how awfully and slowly that recovery was going. This morning Krugman freshens the evidence:

A couple of weeks ago I tried to get at what’s wrong with the latest tactic of the austerians in terms of a classic Three Stooges scene. Curly is seen banging his head against the wall; when Moe asks why, he replies, “Because it feels so good when I stop.”

As Simon Wren-Lewis tries to explain, this is exactly the basis of the Cameron government’s triumphalism now that UK GDP is growing again.

The basic fact of UK economic performance since the financial crisis is that it has been terrible — in fact, as the NIESR documents, GDP performance has been substantially worse than during the Great Depression.

It's tragic, really. The only question going into the May 2015 elections will be: do Britons understand how much better off they could have been?

Wednesday 18 December 2013 11:52:29 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | London | World#
Tuesday 3 December 2013

After going to the Korean history museum on Sunday, I went over to the War Memorial. This isn't entirely a memorial to the Korean War, though about half the building is devoted to it. The basement has artifacts and busts commemorating two millennia of wars on the peninsula.

Outside the memorial building is an assortment of weapons from World War II onwards, including OH MY GOD THAT IS A B-52:

A B-52 that children can climb on, apparently:

They also have a Nike missile next to a SCUD, which was disconcerting. (Not nearly as disconcerting as discovering that I live 2 km from a 1950s-era Nike battery. Yes: we had nuclear bombs in Belmont Harbor.)

I've threatened promised to talk more about the Korean War's influence on Seoul, and I will, possibly even this afternoon. At the moment, I'm about to check out of the hotel and spend my last couple of hours exploring the city. Plus, I found a sushi place. I can't leave East Asia without getting sushi!

Tuesday 3 December 2013 09:36:40 KST (UTC+09:00)  | Comments [0] | US | World | Travel#
Monday 2 December 2013

(I promise, no more "Seoul" puns. Promise. Really. Swear.)

Yesterday I started my shpatziring at the Seoul Museum of History. Now, if you know about my love maps, you can imagine what happened when I walked into this room:

That is a 1:1500 scale model of the city. Every. Freaking. Building. With an electronic system that put a spotlight and a little CCTV camera on whatever point of interest you wanted to see.

(Aside: Would it have killed them to do the electronic interface in multiple languages? Sheesh. Every other public interface I've seen has English, Japanese, and Chinese translations. But not the super high-tech electronic touch-screen that controlled the lights on this model.)

After spending about half an hour poring over the model, I went through the rest of the museum's main collection. (Fortunately most of the descriptions were in English, and it turns out I could have picked up a translation earpiece that works off bar codes next to the exhibits.) I believe I now understand one of the chief reasons I haven't really connected to Seoul.

Throughout the museum, I got two big themes: first, until the 1970s, southern Korea was poorer than northern Korea. Second, Koreans hate their own history. I'll have more on the second part later today or tomorrow, other than to say it informs their architecture and urban planning hugely.

Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to 15th August 1948. Had Korea reunified three years after V-J Day as the Allies originally planned, sparing the North the some of the worst economic and social mismanagement the world has ever seen, it's possible Seoul would be a sleepy capital city like Ottawa, with Pyongyang as the principal economic hub. Instead, North Korea invaded the South in 1950, and after this bloody civil war, millions of people poured into the city from all over the peninsula. Seoul went from 1.5 million people in 1949 to 10 million people in 1990. (Since 1990, its population has hovered around 11 million, which I'll get back to.)

The only major city in the U.S. to grow that fast in that period was Las Vegas, which had just 24,000 people in 1950 and 478,000 in 1990. And you know what? I don't connect with Las Vegas much, either.

See, Seoul had to build enough infrastructure and housing for its 8½ million new residents in just a couple of decades. Unfortunately for Seoul's architecture, those decades included the modernist-brutalist 1960s and 1970s, when evil fascist inhuman controversial figures like Le Corbusier stalked the halls of urban planning commissions. And Seoul had no Jane Jacobs.

You can see, if you look closely at that model, or if you even scope the Google Earth images of the city, what happened next. The history museum documents how the city government razed entire neighborhoods of traditional houses (like these) and replaced them with cheap high-rises. The Gangam district across the river popped up out of a swamp in 10 years' time.

Result: A sprawling city comprising almost entirely brutalist buildings from the 1970s and 1980s, with the occasional 21st-century structure thrown in. In fairness, it's not all bad; the Jonggak Tower, for example, is kind of cool:

Jonggak Tower, Seoul

Chicago also had a period of rapid growth, followed by massive urban renewal: from 1830 to 1870, Chicago's population grew two orders of magnitude, from 4,500 to 490,000. Then in 1871 most of the city burned to the ground, clearing all the shanties and wooden structures out. When we rebuilt, we did it with a pretty logical plan. And when we expanded six fold in six decades (1870 to 1930), we did so with essentially no geographic barriers in three directions and during a period in architecture when things were unavoidably human-scale. (Don't forget, though: Chicago built the first steel-framed skyscraper in 1884, and also built its share of ghastly, vertical Corbusian slums in the 1950s.)

In sum, Seoul's architecture makes me want to stay in my hotel room.* The city feels, it pains me to say, a little soulless.

There's a little glimmer of hope: the city's stability since the 1990s. Thanks to family planning programs and social pressure, the Korean population is more stable than it was before then, and Seoul's infrastructure has had time to catch up with its needs. People still prefer to live in cheap high-rises, but with a couple more decades of stability, the city might start sanding off its brutalist edges.

Look at Chicago again as an example. After a century of wild growth, Chicago's population stabilized around 3 million, declining a little in the 1980s but picking up again since 2000. Instead of building as fast as we can, we've spent about 60 years revising: tear down the crap we hate, preserve the stuff we like. Chicago has a large contingent of people like me, who will spend a lot to live in neighborhoods with hundred-year-old trees flanking hundred-year-old three-flats, and whose ideas about affordable housing don't amount to "round them up and stuff them in."

Seoul isn't there yet. They might never be; it's entirely possible that ten million Koreans really do like Corbusian modernism, and I'm postulating a difference of quality rather than a difference of taste.

There's a lot of great stuff in Seoul. It's a ridiculously easy place to live, it seems, as it's the most convenient and efficient city I've ever seen. (Sorry, Tokyo.) It's just not a place I'd want to live.

- 30 -

* A room, by the way, that overlooks the Seosemon Overpass, a structure similar to the part of Western Avenue that flies over Belmont in Chicago. The history museum specifically called out this 1968 structure as a model for the rest of Seoul. They liked the model so much they built dozens of raised highways right atop other highways, buildings, railroads, and even rivers, and then started removing them in the 1990s when the soul-crushing lack of walking spaces finally got to them. And so little do urban planners here think about history that only 50 years after covering up Cheonggye Stream, they rebuilt it from scratch because they couldn't find it again. Here's Cheonggyecheon today:

Monday 2 December 2013 09:37:07 KST (UTC+09:00)  | Comments [0] | Geography | World | Travel#
Sunday 1 December 2013

Saturday's tour of Panmunjeom was surreal enough. But even before we got to the Joint Security Area, we stopped at Peace Land:

The clash of civilisations was never better dramatised than at Peace Land, in Imjingak, on the 38th Parallel. Here, the starving people of the world's nastiest dictatorship can look across the border at capitalism quite literally putting on a funfair. For the Southerners, of course, the North Koreans are the principal attraction.

Right alongside the Pirate Ship, the Wriggly Worm and all the other fantasy rides run the perfectly real electrified fences and watchtowers of the border. The organisers of the theme park provide special viewing platforms and free telescopes for visitors. A key attraction is a bombed-out steam locomotive, still standing on its original tracks in front of a blown-up railway bridge across the River Imjin marking the frontier.

In fact, this bombed-out locomotive:

And that blown-up railway bridge:

See that barbed wire? Understand, that's not part of the theme park. Those are a real, live, deadly anti-personnel defenses that the theme park incorporated into its exhibits.

This theme park, to say the least, confused me. So I asked our tour guide why they have a fun fair within sniper distance of North Korea. She said that when relations with North Korea improved in the 1990s and early 2000s, people would meet their North Korean families nearby, so they'd bring their children to Imjingak for a few days. So, in the midst of this reminder that the Korean War has never really ended, they built a bunch of rides the kids can enjoy.

This is one more piece of data in figuring out Seoul. Yesterday I got a lot more, which I'll lay out in a few minutes.

Monday 2 December 2013 07:17:12 KST (UTC+09:00)  | Comments [0] | Geography | World | Travel#
Saturday 30 November 2013

Yesterday I spent four minutes in North Korea. Proof:

That's inside the Military Armistice Commission (MAC) conference building, within the Joint Security Area near the village of Panmunjom. The line of microphones on the desk follows the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) dividing North and South Korea. To my left is South Korea; to my right is North Korea.

You have to take an organized tour to get to the JSA. Because, let's review: (a) it's an active war zone; (b) it's a diplomatic base with heavy military presence; and (c) you don't want to get kidnapped by the DPRK. (The tour I took cost $78 and included a delicious bulgogi lunch at a roadhouse outside Puja.)

Here's the first up-close-and-personal view of North Korea you get:

The blue building to the left is the MAC Conference Center from the photo above. The blue building to the right is another ROK-administered structure. Running between them, on the ground, you can see a raised concrete curb about 10cm tall. That is the MDL—the border with North Korea. Assuming you could get past the armed U.S. Army guys I decided not to photograph, and get past the ROK officer in the center, and the two beefy MPs on either side, you could make that border in just a few steps from where I was standing. Then you'd have a really difficult time getting back over it, and a harder time, whether or not they let you back in South Korea, staying out of jail on one side or the other.

It's surreal. The border is an abstract concept but two enormous armies make connect the abstraction to reality. A bunch of tourists, half of them Japanese, took an ordinary tour bus to a United Nations military base a few hundred meters from a hostile country, got a slide show about axe murders and not gesturing to or speaking with North Koreans, then got on a U.N. bus and drove—slowly—past mine fields, tank defenses, and rice paddies. (About 700 people live just outside the JSA, within the DMZ.)

Here's another chilling place, the Bridge of No Return:

Yeah, don't cross that bridge. You won't come back. Seriously.

Today I'm heading over to the Korean History Museum and possibly the War Memorial. I've been thinking a lot about Seoul and my reactions to the city. At first approximation, modern Seoul is defined by a war that hasn't ended.

Sunday 1 December 2013 08:21:26 KST (UTC+09:00)  | Comments [0] | Geography | World | Travel#
Tuesday 26 November 2013

With only a few hours to go before I jet out of Chicago, I'm squeezing in client work and organizing my apartment while on conference calls. Also, I'm sending these to my Kindle:

Back to debugging...

Tuesday 26 November 2013 12:20:37 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US | World | Travel | Windows Azure#
Wednesday 20 November 2013

A popular Canadian broadcaster, Rick Mercer, reminds Ontarians that Rob Ford's politics matter:

Wednesday 20 November 2013 10:16:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | World#
Tuesday 19 November 2013

I had enough time during today's 8-hour meeting to queue up some articles to read later. Here they are:

As for today's meeting, this.

Tuesday 19 November 2013 17:36:50 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink | US | World | Religion#
Tuesday 12 November 2013

The Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat has ruled that One World Trade Center is taller than Willis Tower:

The decision by the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat hinged on whether the tower's mast was a spire, which counts in height measurements, or an antenna, which doesn't.

The decision will end Willis Tower's reign of 40 years as the nation's tallest building.

The announcement culminated weeks of speculation about the ruling, which drew widespread attention because it would finally settle the issue of whether Chicago or New York could claim bragging rights to having the nation’s and the Western Hemisphere’s tallest building, as well as whether One World Trade Center would achieve the symbolic height of 541 m.

Willis Tower, completed in 1974 and once the world’s tallest building, is 442 m tall. Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the current holder of the title, is 828 m tall.

The decision means One World Trade Center is the 3rd tallest building in the world, and drops Willis Tower to 10th place overall.

Boo.

Tuesday 12 November 2013 10:50:36 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Geography | World#
Saturday 2 November 2013

Sometimes, Canadians and Americans seem so much alike. The problem becomes trying to determine which Americans and Canadians you mean.

Exhibit: Police in Toronto have recovered a video they allege shows mayor Rob Ford smoking crack. (Ford's lawyer said it was pot—even though weed may also be illegal in Ontario.)

A friend who lives there just sent me new polling data that shows Canadians have a sense of humor:

A new poll released Friday shows Mayor Rob Ford’s approval rating has actually climbed since the announcement by Police Chief Bill Blair that a highly reported video does exist.

The Forum Research poll taken on Thursday shows that Mayor Ford’s approval rating has climbed slightly, sitting at 44 percent.

[Poll spokesperson Lorne Bozinoff added,] “We asked if he should resign or not, a large majority, 60 percent said yes.”

The poll also revealed that a staggering 98 percent of the people polled had heard about the alleged crack video.

No word from the pollsters whether people approve of Ford strictly for entertainment value.

Saturday 2 November 2013 12:51:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | World#

...brings us Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!, the NPR news quiz hosted by actor and playwright Peter Sagal. Last week, one of the panelists presented an extended joke about Poland. Never mind that the panelist is probably of Polish descent; the piece annoyed the Polish consulate:

Peter Grosz, an actor and TV writer who has appeared as a panelist and guest host on "Wait Wait," offered a supposed news item referencing a joke asking how many Poles it takes to screw in a light bulb.

Host Peter Sagal revealed the light bulb tale wasn't true, but instead another item about road-crossing chickens was the real news. Listeners later called "Wait Wait" and the Polish Consulate to complain that the joke was in poor taste.

In a letter to Danforth, Paulina Kapuscinska, consul general of the Republic of Poland in Chicago, said the joke played up false stereotypes of Poles and Poland. It presented National Public Radio, which distributes the show, as "promoters of prejudice," and such jokes "are some of the most unsophisticated of jokes, which offend the intellect of NPR listeners," Kapuscinska wrote.

[Show producer Mike] Danforth replied with an apology, which the Polish Consulate posted on its website Thursday.

"I can't disagree with your judgment that the content of our October 26th show was unsophisticated and insulting to the intellect of NPR listeners. I'm afraid just about everything we do on 'Wait Wait' offends the intellect of the NPR audience," Danforth wrote.

People. Please. Danforth is right; it's a comedy show. The volume of Jewish jokes that Jewish host Sagal tells every week should have been sufficient notice that maybe, just maybe, they might make fun of other stereotypes. Get over it.

Saturday 2 November 2013 08:50:55 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Jokes | World#
Friday 11 October 2013
Friday 11 October 2013 14:32:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US | World | Security#
Tuesday 10 September 2013

If the AP report is true, this is a complete win for the President:

Assad is now agreeing to preserve and strengthen that norm. He’s agreeing to sign the treaty banning chemical weapons — a treaty Syria has been one of the lone holdouts against. He’s creating a situation in which it would be almost impossible for him to use chemical weapons in the future, as doing so would break his promises to the global community, invite an immediate American response, and embarrass Russia.

This is, in many ways, a better outcome than the White House could have hoped for. Punishing Syria may or may not have actually reinforced the norm against chemical weapons — particularly if the strikes went bad and the American people punished members of Congress who voted for them. But Syria joining the treaty against chemical weapons definitely, almost definitionally, reinforces the ban.

This we call "diplomacy." And it's good to see when it works.

Tuesday 10 September 2013 14:58:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US | World#
Friday 6 September 2013

Security guru Bruce Schneier has two essays in the Guardian this week. The first explains how the US government betrayed the Internet:

By subverting the internet at every level to make it a vast, multi-layered and robust surveillance platform, the NSA has undermined a fundamental social contract. The companies that build and manage our internet infrastructure, the companies that create and sell us our hardware and software, or the companies that host our data: we can no longer trust them to be ethical internet stewards.

I have resisted saying this up to now, and I am saddened to say it, but the US has proved to be an unethical steward of the internet. The UK is no better. The NSA's actions are legitimizing the internet abuses by China, Russia, Iran and others. We need to figure out new means of internet governance, ones that makes it harder for powerful tech countries to monitor everything. For example, we need to demand transparency, oversight, and accountability from our governments and corporations.

Unfortunately, this is going play directly into the hands of totalitarian governments that want to control their country's internet for even more extreme forms of surveillance. We need to figure out how to prevent that, too. We need to avoid the mistakes of the International Telecommunications Union, which has become a forum to legitimize bad government behavior, and create truly international governance that can't be dominated or abused by any one country.

He followed up today with a guide to staying secure against the NSA:

1) Hide in the network. Implement hidden services. Use Tor to anonymize yourself. Yes, the NSA targets Tor users, but it's work for them. The less obvious you are, the safer you are.

2) Encrypt your communications. Use TLS. Use IPsec. Again, while it's true that the NSA targets encrypted connections – and it may have explicit exploits against these protocols – you're much better protected than if you communicate in the clear.

There are three other points, all pretty simple.

Friday 6 September 2013 10:56:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US | World | Security#
Wednesday 7 August 2013

Security guru Bruce Schneier warns about the lack of trust resulting from revelations about NSA domestic spying:

Both government agencies and corporations have cloaked themselves in so much secrecy that it's impossible to verify anything they say; revelation after revelation demonstrates that they've been lying to us regularly and tell the truth only when there's no alternative.

There's much more to come. Right now, the press has published only a tiny percentage of the documents Snowden took with him. And Snowden's files are only a tiny percentage of the number of secrets our government is keeping, awaiting the next whistle-blower.

Ronald Reagan once said "trust but verify." That works only if we can verify. In a world where everyone lies to us all the time, we have no choice but to trust blindly, and we have no reason to believe that anyone is worthy of blind trust. It's no wonder that most people are ignoring the story; it's just too much cognitive dissonance to try to cope with it.

Meanwhile, at the Wall Street Journal, Ted Koppel has an op-ed warning about our over-reactions to terrorism:

[O]nly 18 months [after 9/11], with the invasion of Iraq in 2003, ... the U.S. began to inflict upon itself a degree of damage that no external power could have achieved. Even bin Laden must have been astounded. He had, it has been reported, hoped that the U.S. would be drawn into a ground war in Afghanistan, that graveyard to so many foreign armies. But Iraq! In the end, the war left 4,500 American soldiers dead and 32,000 wounded. It cost well in excess of a trillion dollars—every penny of which was borrowed money.

Saddam was killed, it's true, and the world is a better place for it. What prior U.S. administrations understood, however, was Saddam's value as a regional counterweight to Iran. It is hard to look at Iraq today and find that the U.S. gained much for its sacrifices there. Nor, as we seek to untangle ourselves from Afghanistan, can U.S. achievements there be seen as much of a bargain for the price paid in blood and treasure.

At home, the U.S. has constructed an antiterrorism enterprise so immense, so costly and so inexorably interwoven with the defense establishment, police and intelligence agencies, communications systems, and with social media, travel networks and their attendant security apparatus, that the idea of downsizing, let alone disbanding such a construct, is an exercise in futility.

Do you feel safer now?

Wednesday 7 August 2013 11:19:38 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US | World | Security#
Friday 2 August 2013

Via Sullivan, a look at a 45-story abandoned tower in Caracas that now houses 2,500 people:

Welcome to the world’s tallest slum: poverty-ridden Venezuela’s Tower of David. Squatters took over this very unfinished 45-story skyscraper in the early 1990s, and they’ve been there ever since. The tower was originally intended to be a symbol of Caracas’ bright financial future, complete with a rooftop helipad, but construction stopped because of a banking crisis and the sudden death of the tower’s namesake, David Brillembourg.

Today, as the government is grappling with a citywide housing shortage, the tower is a stark monument to what could have been in the country’s crime-plagued capital. The tower is dogged by accusations of being a hotbed of crime, drugs and corruption. But to residents, many of whom have spent their entire lives there, it’s just home.

More from Wikipedia, the New York Times, and the Beeb.

Friday 2 August 2013 14:08:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | World#
Tuesday 30 July 2013

Observer columnist John Naughton explains how the practices Edward Snowden revealed have hurt us:

[H]ere are some of the things we should be thinking about as a result of what we have learned so far.

The first is that the days of the internet as a truly global network are numbered. It was always a possibility that the system would eventually be Balkanised, ie divided into a number of geographical or jurisdiction-determined subnets as societies such as China, Russia, Iran and other Islamic states decided that they needed to control how their citizens communicated. Now, Balkanisation is a certainty.

Second, the issue of internet governance is about to become very contentious. Given what we now know about how the US and its satraps have been abusing their privileged position in the global infrastructure, the idea that the western powers can be allowed to continue to control it has become untenable.

His conclusion: "The fact is that Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft are all integral components of the US cyber-surveillance system." And no European country wants to deal with that.

So, great. United States paranoia and brute-force problem-solving may have destroyed the Cloud.

Tuesday 30 July 2013 12:02:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US | World | Blogs | Business | Cloud#
Thursday 18 July 2013

Security guru Bruce Schneier suggests Snowden might not have considered all the likely outcomes:

Edward Snowden has set up a dead man's switch. He's distributed encrypted copies of his document trove to various people, and has set up some sort of automatic system to distribute the key, should something happen to him.

Dead man's switches have a long history, both for safety (the machinery automatically stops if the operator's hand goes slack) and security reasons. WikiLeaks did the same thing with the State Department cables.

I'm not sure he's thought this through, though. I would be more worried that someone would kill me in order to get the documents released than I would be that someone would kill me to prevent the documents from being released. Any real-world situation involves multiple adversaries, and it's important to keep all of them in mind when designing a security system.

Possibly spending a few years at the Moscow airport might be his safest option. But then again, his whole strategy seemed flawed from the start.

Thursday 18 July 2013 10:05:24 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US | World | Security#
Wednesday 17 July 2013

The Met issues a heat warning as London experiences its fifth consecutive day of 30°C weather? Nope.

Heathrow will finally get a third runway, with new plans submitted this week? Nope.

The Queen has given her assent to a law making same-sex marriage legal in England and Wales? Yep:

The Queen's approval of the Marriage (same sex couples) Bill was a formality, and now clears the way for the first gay marriages, the first of which are expected to be conducted by Summer 2014.

The bill enables gay couples to get married in both civil and religious ceremonies in England and Wales. It also will allow couples who had previously entered into a civil partnership to convert their relationship to a marriage.

However, religious organisations will have to 'opt in' on performing gay marriages.

Nice map (from Wikipedia). I hope it gets filled in a lot more over the next few years.

Wednesday 17 July 2013 11:00:13 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | World#
Tuesday 2 July 2013

Josh Marshall summarizes the surprising and imminent collapse of Egypt's government and why the U.S. is in a strange position:

The big movement over the last day or so has been the slow motion - or perhaps not so slow motion - collapse of the Morsi civilian administration. Not ‘the state’ in the broader sense, but Morsi’s government. The scale of the demonstrations over the last two days seemed to catch everyone by surprise, leading to the pivotal ultimatum issued by the head of the Egyptian Armed Forces, giving the political players 48 hours to come to some sort of consensus and respond to the ‘will of the people’ expressed through the protests or have the military step in. At least 10 ministers from Morsi’s government have resigned, including the overnight resignation of the Foreign Minister.

Overnight (US time) the Brotherhood started trying to organize counter-demonstrations with what seemed to be the pretty explicit aim of physically confronting the anti-Morsi protesters - not an idle threat since the Brotherhood spent decades as an underground group with a significant paramilitary component, though pictures like this don’t inspire a lot of confidence in their current ability to engage sustained action. And just moments ago, one leaders of the Brotherhood called for ‘martyrdom’ to stop the protests. So here we have the perhaps novel instance of Islamist calling for martyrdom on behalf of electoral legitimacy. Or something like that.

So here you have Morsi, clearly no friend of the US or the administration, in the perilous position of counting on the US to keep them in power. It’s no less curious a position for the White House. They’re no fans of Morsi because they do perceive a significant stake for electoral legitimacy.

The next two days will be critical. And they may add evidence to support the strong hypothesis that religious parties simply can't govern. (Take note, GOP.)

Tuesday 2 July 2013 09:51:59 PDT (UTC-07:00)  | Comments [0] | World#
Monday 1 July 2013

Via TMP, the ANC leader's first television interview:

Monday 1 July 2013 12:59:12 PDT (UTC-07:00)  | Comments [0] | World#
Saturday 15 June 2013

Via TPM, Australian Chief of Army Lt. Gen. David Morrison lays down the law on sexual harassment:

Friday 14 June 2013 20:28:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | World#
Sunday 9 June 2013

Guardian op-ed writer and feminist Claire Budd makes the argument:

I’ve heard some funny comments this week, Dr Who being racist, sexist and not dealing with real issues being three of them. Having watched hours of the programme and its spin off series The Sarah Jane Adventures, I’ve heard all of those issues being dealt with beautifully. And episodes like Richard Curtis’ 'Vincent and the Doctor', which tackled the taboo of mental illness, have given me some great material to work with as a mother. Not to mention the introduction of many other historical figures – bringing them to life and making them interesting – as well as the parts of our story written into the Doctor’s adventures, including slavery and the stealing of natural resources.

But by far the most valuable contribution to the younger generation has to be the fact that the Doctor is the only non-violent “superhero” male role model. He solves problems through talking and he’s proud to be a science-loving, socially awkward geek. He’s the hero of boys and girls. But most of all he shows boys that violence and aggression won’t get them what they want. Being clever, not conforming, being kind, talking – these are the ways to be a hero.

This comes directly from speculation about Matt Smith's departure. I've heard arguments on both sides now, and I have come to the conclusion that as long as the actor playing the Doctor remains true to the role, it doesn't matter whether the Doctor is male or female.

Sunday 9 June 2013 14:12:44 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink | US | World#
Thursday 30 May 2013

Oh, my, some doozies today:

  • Via Calculated Risk, Fermanagh, Ireland, has put up a Potemkin village to reassure all the G8 leaders that everything is fine. This includes, for example, putting photos of a thriving butcher shop over the boarded-up windows of a former butcher shop. It's a laugh-and-cry moment.
  • The New York Times Magazine published a story about a near-crash on a commercial airliner that...doesn't make sense. Aside from reading like an undergraduate creative-writing assignment, it's simply not plausible that it happened as described. James Fallows dissects it.
  • New Republic's Isaac Chotner puts Chris Kyle in context.
  • Chicago Public Radio examines why all our outdoor cafes are on the North Side.

More as events warrant.

Thursday 30 May 2013 17:13:43 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Aviation | Chicago | US | World#
Monday 27 May 2013

I didn't do anything of value of the weekend except continuing to read Before the Deluge. It's making me wonder what would have to happen in the U.S. to have such a stunning collapse of civilization. So the book not only makes me pause every few paragraphs to really absorb what I'm reading, but also I keep going off to Wikipedia to get maps and context.

It's taken me years to figure out that I breathe mentally. Inhaling means reading and watching movies; exhaling means writing and coding. (No idea how photography fits in, though.) Right now I'm inhaling; more specifically, catching my breath after spending four weeks figuring out how to integrate one of our applications with SalesForce.

For my next gasp: the Star Trek: Into Darkness matinee.

Monday 27 May 2013 08:55:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink | World#
Wednesday 22 May 2013

Stockholm, apparently:

Hundreds of young people have torched cars and attacked police in three nights of riots in immigrant suburbs of Sweden's capital, shocking a country that has dodged the worst of the financial crisis but failed to defuse youth unemployment and resentment of asylum seekers.

The riots were less severe than those of the past two summers in Britain and France, but provided a similar reminder that, even in places less ravaged by the financial crisis than Greece or Spain, state belt-tightening is toughest on the poor, especially immigrants.

While average living standards are still among the highest in Europe, successive governments have failed to substantially reduce long-term youth unemployment and poverty, which have affected immigrant communities worst.

But...Sweden? That seems like a sign of the Apocalypse.

Then again, even in the article I quoted it seems as if something has changed in Sweden. The article alludes to rising inequality after government belt-tightening. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt came into office in 2006 with the Moderate Party, which Wikipedia calls a "center-right coalition." I have no opinion about this yet, but given my usual search for confirmation bias, I'm sure I'll have something to say about Sweden's rightward lurch at some point...

Or, maybe, our long-held myths about Sweden just aren't true? Maybe they have problems just like everyone else?

How disappointing.

Wednesday 22 May 2013 15:37:56 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | World#

If you've ever played SimCity, you have probably encountered the Arcology, a massive self-contained building that houses thousands of people. They're almost here:

BSC is going to stuff 30,000 people into these self-contained skyscraper communities—a resident of Sky City will use up 1/100th of the land used by a typical Chinese citizen.

And it really is a city in and of itself—4,450 apartments, nearly 100,000 square feet of indoor vertical farms, 250 hotel rooms, 92 elevators, 30 foot courtyards for athletics, and a six mile ramp that can be used to walk or run around the entire city.

Once again, BSC intends to build this thing in seven months. How will that work? Treehugger's Lloyd Alter explains: "16,000 part-time and 3,000 full-time workers will prefabricate the building for four months and assemble on site in three months." (For a closer look at all of the design specs, see Alter's in-depth piece on the project.)

Imagine 7,000 apartments between 50 m² and 225 m² in size (as one variation calls for), and you've got either a really cool vertical city or Cabrini-Green to the third power.

When complete, the first one will be 828 m tall—10 m taller than the Burj Khalifa, but presumably better integrated with local water treatment and the local real estate market.

If they built it in Streeterville, it would look this scary:

I do not know whether this is a welcome idea or a truly horrifying one.

(Via Sullivan, of course.)

Wednesday 22 May 2013 10:58:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Geography | US | World#

In the end, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron probably didn't need to go hat-in-hand to Ed Miliband, but the dead-enders in his own party forced him to. Regardless, marriage equality has passed the House of Commons tonight 375-70, will probably pass the House of Lords easily:

But the prime minister, who attempted to reach out to his party by emailing a "personal note" to all members saying that he would never work with anyone who "sneered" at them, suffered the humiliation of having to plead with the Labour party for support. He also saw more than 100 Tory MPs, including the cabinet ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson, vote against him on the first amendment of the day.

The prime minister will understand the dangers of relying on opposition support for a flagship measure after he personally ensured that Tony Blair's schools reforms survived with Tory support in 2006 three months after he became leader. Within months, supporters of Gordon Brown forced Blair to name the date of his departure the following year.

But who could become Tory leader next? William Hague? And how likely would that make an election before 2015?

I'm glad the U.S. isn't the only English-speaking country with swivel-eyed loonies, but still, can you imagine the U.S. House passing marriage equality by the same margin? (366 to 68, for those keeping score at home.) Hell, marriage equality has overwhelming support in Illinois but somehow it can't get to the house floor in Springfield. It's disappointing that the U.K. could have marriage equality before Illinois—but that's fine. The U.K. can teach the U.S. something about conservative values in the meantime.

Tuesday 21 May 2013 21:25:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US | World#
Thursday 16 May 2013

Via Sullivan, Max Fischer at WaPo found an interesting proxy for racial tolerance:

Among the dozens of questions that World Values asks, the Swedish economists found one that, they believe, could be a pretty good indicator of tolerance for other races. The survey asked respondents in more than 80 different countries to identify kinds of people they would not want as neighbors. Some respondents, picking from a list, chose “people of a different race.” The more frequently that people in a given country say they don’t want neighbors from other races, the economists reasoned, the less racially tolerant you could call that society.

Here’s what the data show:

Anglo and Latin countries most tolerant. People in the survey were most likely to embrace a racially diverse neighbor in the United Kingdom and its Anglo former colonies (the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and in Latin America. The only real exceptions were oil-rich Venezuela, where income inequality sometimes breaks along racial lines, and the Dominican Republic, perhaps because of its adjacency to troubled Haiti. Scandinavian countries also scored high.

Here's the map:

I'd love to see this data mapped at the U.S. county level...

Thursday 16 May 2013 13:38:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Geography | US | World#
Friday 19 April 2013

This great speech by New Zealand MP Maurice Williamson may help explain why:

Friday 19 April 2013 09:43:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US | World#
Wednesday 3 April 2013

Instead of a bunch of stoplights and crosswalks—and a bunch of accidents involving pedestrians—the village of Poyndon, 20 km north of Manchester, created shared space at its busiest crossroads:

Now, a year after construction wrapped up, a video called "Poynton Regenerated" makes the case that the shared space scheme maintains a smooth flow of traffic while simultaneously making the village center a more attractive and safer place for pedestrians, leading to increased economic activity downtown.

In the "Regenerating Poynton" video, several people who admit to having been skeptical of the plan say that after it was put in place, they came to see it as a dramatic improvement. A local city councilor says that the main street no longer seems like a dying place, as it had for years before the change. Some 88 percent of businesses in the area are reporting an increase in foot traffic, and real estate agents say they're seeing new interest in buying property in the area.

Here's the video:

Wednesday 3 April 2013 09:35:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Geography | World#
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On this page....
Crimean referendum finishes days after ballots counted
Doomed to repeat it
Dawn in Crimea
About this blog (v 4.2)
Ukraine and Venezuela
Not the usual way to take the train
On the ground in Kyiv
Look everyone, Yulia's back. Great.
From Russia with loathing
What the hell just happened in Ukraine?
The State of the Union
The pain in Ukraine falls mainly on the plain
Busy week, quiet blog
Why people don't visit the U.S.
While my nephew gently sleeps
Right-wing dick swinging is universal
Uber: rational economics, bad business, says Krugman
More evidence that David Cameron is a stooge
War Memorial of Korea
Getting in touch with the Seoul of things
Riverview Park, DMZ Edition
I hate organized tours, unless there's no other way
Too much to do
Rick's Rant on Rob Ford
One meeting to bind them all...
Chicago shoved down the rankings again
Toronto: looks like Chicago, but has Detroit politicians
Saturday morning on NPR
Wrapping up the work week, no time to read these
AP: Syria to join UN Convention on Chemical Weapons
Institutional failure in Internet security
The national security state
The world's tallest slum
How U.S. government over-reach may kill the Inernet
Edward Snowden's dead-man's switch
Big story out of Britain
Morsi's government falls apart
Nelson Mandela, 52 years ago
"There is no place for you amongst this band of brothers and sisters"
Is Dr Who a feminist role model for boys?
End of day roundup
Monday already?
Rioting where?
Arcologies, already?
UK Commons passes marriage equality by huge margin
Racial tolerance worldwide
New Zealand recognizes marriage equality
Shared space in Manchester suburb
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Parker's 8th birthday 57d 11h 51m
My next birthday 138d 10h 08m
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David Braverman and Parker
David Braverman is a software developer in Chicago, and the creator of Weather Now. Parker is the most adorable dog on the planet, 80% of the time.
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The Daily Parker by David Braverman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License, excluding photographs, which may not be republished unless otherwise noted.
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