The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Lunchtime links

Just a few head-to-desk articles this afternoon:

I'm going to continue writing code and trying not to think about any of this.

A Chicago factory is making 3-flats

This is kind of cool, and could really help the city:

Skender, an established, family-owned builder in Chicago, is making a serious play in a sector associated with young startups: modular construction. The company is building steel-structured three-flats, a quintessential Chicago housing type that consists of three apartments stacked on top of each other in the footprint of a large house. It believes it can deliver them faster and at lower cost at its new factory than by using standard methods of construction.

Even with humans and not robots doing the work, the company is confident that continual refinement will yield efficiency. A three-flat apartment building can now go up in 90 days, Skender claims, instead of nine months. Swanson estimates that the three-flats will cost $335,000 per unit to build, not including land. In time, company leaders hope that economies of scale and increased efficiency will bring down that price.

As well as economies of scale, proponents of modular architecture tout its freedom from weather-related delays, unpredictable site conditions, and fragmented supply chains. Those all stand to benefit Skender. No subcontractors will work in the factory, which will avoiding squabbles between HVAC or plumbing specialists who might blame each other when something goes wrong. But that also means Skender assumes all the risk. That has undone some past experiments in prefab and modular building.

At the factory’s opening, 25 people worked there, and Skender plans on hiring five more per week till it’s fully staffed at 150, all union labor.

I might not want to live in a pre-fab building (I'm partial to 100+-year-old historic buildings), but lots of other people would. At $335k to build, a 3-bedroom apartment could sell for $500k and make some money for the builder. $500k implies rents around $3,200 per month, but that or more is what many landlords already get in affluent parts of the city.

I'll keep my eyes open for the first Skender apartments that open near me.

Speculative fiction in the Economist

This week's Economist features a collection of "what-if" stories that attempt to present near-future events well within the realm of possibility. First up, what if an American destroyer were surrounded by small Chinese boats in the contested waters of the South China Sea...next October?

The official account of the crisis begins with a terse Pentagon statement, issued on October 9th, that the McCampbell, an Arleigh Burke class destroyer, had been forced to stop in international waters by vessels “answering to China’s military chain of command” while conducting a “routine, lawful transit in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands”.

The Pentagon demanded that China allow the McCampbel“and all its equipment” to continue its passage. The reference to equipment was clarified an hour later when Xinhua, China’s state news agency, released a video showing Chinese fishermen with boathooks grabbing at a half-submerged underwater drone fouled in a net, described as an American spy submarine. A second Xinhua video showed an inflatable speedboat, manned by armed American sailors, apparently adjacent to the drone but trapped by two dozen Chinese fishing boats organised into a ring formation.

Both countries agree on some of what happened next. After about 30 minutes the American inflatable broke through the circle of fishing boats as sailors fired shots with their small arms, and returned to the destroyer, where Ji-Hoon Kim, one of the speedboat’s crew, was reported missing. Soon afterwards a growing fleet of Chinese fishing trawlers, many of them flying large red flags, surrounded the McCampbell.

Could this happen? Absolutely. How would it end? I suppose that depends on the temperaments of the leaders in both countries...

Other speculations include the departure of Facebook from Europe, the failure of most antibiotics, America's withdrawal from NATO, and an historical one speculating on the Allies being more reasonable with the Central Powers in 1919.

Submitted without correction

This bit:

I mean:

Historians ⁠— at least the ones fact-checking the president on Twitter ⁠— were not impressed. One likened the speech to “an angry grandpa reading a fifth grader’s book report on American military history.”

On Friday, Trump confirmed he had problems with the teleprompter, telling journalists: “I guess the rain knocked out the teleprompter, so it’s not that, but I knew the speech very well, so I was able to do it without a teleprompter. But the teleprompter did go out. And it was actually hard to look at anyway because there was rain all over it.”

Right. Obama, maybe Clinton, could have given an extemporaneous speech about the Revolution. This guy? Well, we saw.

Trump's National Mall event is both better and worse than you think

That's what screenwriter Jeff Greenfield, writing for Politico, says:

Celebrations of the Fourth do not tend to benefit both parties equally, and here, Trump may well be demonstrating his instinctive grasp of which way a big event tends to nudge the populace. In 2011, two academics who studied the political effect of Fourth of July festivities concluded that: "Fourth of July celebrations in the United States shape the nation's political landscape by forming beliefs and increasing participation, primarily in favor of the Republican Party. … The political right has been more successful in appropriating American patriotism and its symbols during the 20th century, [so] there is a political congruence between the patriotism promoted on Fourth of July and the values associated with the Republican Party.”

For all that, history also suggests there's good reason that his plan is rubbing people the wrong way. For one, it really is rare; it's far more common for presidents to vacate Washington on the Fourth of July, or to remain at the White House, than to insert themselves into the proceedings.

Someone who can say of himself that he has been treated worse than any president in history—four of whom were assassinated—has an impressively unique understanding of his own role in the American story, to say the least.

NPR says the event will cost taxpayers millions. And Rick Atkinson takes a broader view, comparing us on our 243rd anniversary of independence from Britain to Britain of that time.

Ivanka Trump doesn't belong at the dinner, let alone the table

National security expert and Georgetown professor Carrie Cordero has about had it with the first daughter play-acting in government:

Ivanka Trump’s self-placement at the table with global heads of state is not an example of the ascension of a professional woman: She has, after all, not one merit-based qualification to be participating in the diplomatic meetings she is attending. There are professional women inside the executive branch and outside government who have spent a lifetime becoming expert in their fields, whether that’s economics, international relations, trade, international law or diplomacy. If the Trump administration’s goal is to give a woman a seat at the table, there is no shortage of women who have the requisite experience and training who have earned their seat. Indeed, there are, as Mitt Romney once quipped, binders (and, now, websites) full of them.

One interpretation of Ivanka Trump’s actions since her father took office has it that she is simply not self-aware of how these appearances come off. Don’t buy this. Videos she released purporting to be readout briefs of the president’s meetings, as well as the president’s introductions of her, appear orchestrated to present her as a credible participant in international affairs. Her participation, her photo placement, her video releases are not accidental byproducts of an inept White House adviser; they are part of her image-building. These activities should not merely be brushed off as the desires and encouragement of Donald Trump, her father and the president. She is not a child. She shoulders full responsibility for abusing her position of access.

President Trump, of course, has discarded many other norms; it’s tempting to wonder why we should spend time focusing on the activities of his daughter, which might seem benign, if embarrassing for our country. The reason is because those activities are not benign. They are part of the president and his administration’s deliberate effort to concentrate control of the executive branch within the White House and within his family, diluting important institutional mechanisms that provide accountability.

Meanwhile, the president yesterday appeared to suggest in an interview that sanctuary cities caused homelessness in the last two years. I don't even know how to comment on that.

A new taxonomy for the GOP

Michael Tomasky draws on Steven Levitsky to give us the best description yet of the modern Republican Party:

If you pay close attention to such things, you will recognize Mr. Levitsky’s name — he was a co-author, with Daniel Ziblatt, of last year’s book “How Democracies Die,” which sparked much discussion. “Competitive Authoritarianism” deserves to do the same.

What defines competitive authoritarian states? They are “civilian regimes in which formal democratic institutions exist and are widely viewed as the primary means of gaining power, but in which incumbents’ abuse of the state places them at a significant advantage vis-à-vis their opponents.” Sound like anyone you know?

Now, I should say that I don’t think we’re there yet. Neither does Mr. Levitsky. “For all of its unfairness and growing dysfunction, American democracy has not slid into competitive authoritarianism,” he told me. “The playing field between Democrats and Republicans remains reasonably level.”

So we’re not there right now. But we may well be on the way, and it’s abundantly clear who wants to take us there.

Read this back-to-back with yesterday's Op-Ed from political scientist Greg Weiner on "the Trump Fallacy" and have a great day.

New taxes in Illinois

Starting today, my state has some new laws:

  • The gasoline tax doubled to the still-too-low 10¢ per litre. Oh my stars. How could they. Ruination. (You will detect more ironic tone if you read my post from yesterday about how much gasoline I use.) For comparison with other OECD countries, the UK adds 57.95p (73.3¢) per litre, Australia gets 41.2¢ (28.6¢ US), and even Canada levies 45¢ (34¢ US). But hey, we doubled the tax, so now we can pay for our state pension deficit fixing our infrastructure.
  • Cigarette taxes went up to $2.98 a pack, and e-cigarettes now have a 15% excise. Also, we raised the legal age to buy tobacco to 21, though you can still have sex and get a drivers license at 17 and sign a contract at 18, so kids still have lots of ways to ruin their lives. (Former governor Bruce Rauner vetoed these measures last year.)
  • Schools now have to provide 5 clock-hours of instruction to count as a "school day." Having gone to Illinois schools as a kid that provided 6 to 7, it's hard for me to grasp that until today, schools only had to provide 4.
  • Finally, our $40 billion budget took effect today, the first time in 5 years that a state budget has taken effect on the first day of the fiscal year.

This is what happens when the party that wants to govern takes power from the party that wants to shower gifts on their rich friends. More on that in my next post.

Not enough time on my hands

I thought the weekend of Canada Day and the weekend before Independence Day wouldn't have much a lot of news. I was wrong:

  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford (the brother of Rob Ford) cancelled Canada Day celebrations in Toronto*. (Imagine the Governor of Virginia or the Mayor of DC canceling the 4th of July and you've about got it.) Fortunately for the city, the Ontario legislature reinstated them.
  • You know how I write about how urban planning can make people happier, healthier, and friendlier? Yah, this city in California is my idea of hell. I hope the developers lost all their money.
  • In contrast, I learned of the Lil Yellow House while in Toronto, and the rap video the real-estate agent created to sell it. (It sold quickly, for C$500,000.)
  • Apparently, my drinking gets me a B-. (80% of Americans drink 6.75 drinks per week or less; the top 10% drink 15.28 per week. This is the one B- I'm happy to have.)
  • My alma mater recently published new research linking your email address to your credit score.
  • Alabama prosecutors have brought charges for manslaughter against a woman who miscarried after getting shot. No, really. Because Alabama.
  • Former President Jimmy Carter called out President Trump on the (alleged) illegitimacy of his election.
  • The New Republic adds to the chorus of organizations surprised at what it actually took to get the Supreme Court to call bullshit.
  • Ever wonder how often two bags of Skittles candy have the same proportions of flavors? No, me neither. But this guy did.
  • Windows has a case-insensitive file system; Git is case-sensitive. Do the math.
  • Um. That's not a pet bird.

*Those celebrations will be here, on the right, in this view from my hotel room yesterday:

Record heat in Europe

Significant changes in the northern jet stream has caused serious problems for Europe and South Asia:

Unusual jet stream behavior has been recorded every three to five years since 2000 — in 2003, 2006, 2010, 2015 and 2018 — turning what scientists initially thought could be an isolated abnormality into what appears to be a pattern, [Jeff Masters, co-founder and director of meteorology for Weather Underground] said.

What is surprising to scientists now is that the wavier-than-normal jet stream has returned for a second year in a row — the first time that has been observed, said Kai Kornhuber, a climate scientist at The Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York City.

“I wouldn’t have expected this situation to return so quickly after the extreme summer last year,” Kornhuber said. “It gives me the chills to see this evolving in real time again. It’s a really worrying development.”

This weather pattern brought temperatures over 45°C to France earlier this week:

The highest reliable June temperature previously recorded in France was 41.5°C on 21 June 2003. The country’s highest ever temperature, recorded at two separate locations in southern France on 12 August during the same 2003 heatwave, was 44.1°C.

“At our local Potsdam station, operating since 1893, we’re set to break the past June record by about 2C,” tweeted Stefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Eastern parts of Germany, including Berlin, are already experiencing their hottest June on record.

“Weather data show that heatwaves and other weather extremes are on the rise in recent decades,” he said. “The hottest summers in Europe since the year AD1500 all occurred since the turn of the last century: 2018, 2010, 2003, 2016, 2002.”

Monthly records were now falling five times as often as they would in a stable climate, Rahmstorf said, adding this was “a consequence of global warming caused by the increasing greenhouse gases from burning coal, oil and gas”.

And the band played on...