The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Political systems primer

The Economist ran a good story last week analyzing the pros and cons of federalism:

Why is the tie between federalism and democracy so awkward? In most federations the units have formally equal status, regardless of population, so voters in small units fare better. Thus the 544,270 residents of Wyoming have two senators—the same as the 37m people of California. In Australia the 507,600 people of Tasmania have the same weight in the upper house as the 7m who live in New South Wales. In rich, consensus-based democracies, such anomalies are often accepted. They may be seen as an inevitable legacy of the past; when political units have freely come together, as the 13 original American colonies did, they keep their status as building blocks of the union. But the perverse electoral system of the European Parliament (to which the 1.2m voters of Northern Ireland elect three members, whereas 500,000 Greek-Cypriot voters send six) cannot claim the veneer of age. After a scolding over its democratic deficiencies from Germany’s constitutional court, the Euro-legislature has commissioned a study of federal systems, and the associated electoral quirks, all over the world.

They also ran a bit on IKEA's inconsistencies worth reading:

Critics grumble that its set-up minimises tax and disclosure, handsomely rewards the Kamprad family and makes IKEA immune to a takeover. The parent for IKEA Group, which controls 284 stores in 26 countries, is Ingka Holding, a private Dutch-registered company. Ingka Holding, in turn, belongs entirely to Stichting Ingka Foundation, a Dutch-registered, tax-exempt, non-profit-making entity, which was given Mr Kamprad’s IKEA shares in 1982. A five-person executive committee, chaired by Mr Kamprad, runs the foundation.

The IKEA trademark and concept is owned by Inter IKEA Systems, another private Dutch company. Its parent company is Inter IKEA Holding, registered in Luxembourg. For years the owners of Inter IKEA Holding remained hidden from view and IKEA refused to identify them.

In January a Swedish documentary revealed that Interogo, a Liechtenstein foundation controlled by the Kamprad family, owns Inter IKEA Holding, which earns its money from the franchise agreements Inter IKEA Systems has with each IKEA store. These are lucrative: IKEA says that all franchisees pay 3% of sales as a royalty. The IKEA Group is the biggest franchisee; other franchisees run the remaining 35 stores, mainly in the Middle East and Asia. One store in the Netherlands is run directly by Inter IKEA Systems.

These kinds of stories make me happy to spend $3 a week on the newspaper. I just wish it would arrive Fridays or Saturdays, so I can read them on time. It's no fun to get home from a business trip on Thursday to find last week's Economist in the mailbox.

Mayor Rahmbo

The AP and Mayor Daley are calling it; the Chicago Tribune isn't ready to commit yet. But with 55% of the vote, it looks like Rahm Emanuel has avoided a runoff and so will be the next mayor of Chicago:

City Clerk Miguel del Valle had 9.4 percent and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun was at 8.7 percent.

Despite a tremendous amount of attention on the mayor's race and a slew of hotly-contested aldermanic races, election officials say turnout could be as low as 40 percent. That's far less than the 50 percent turnout officials were hoping for on Monday.

If no candidate scores a majority tonight, the top two finishers will square off for six more weeks of campaigning. A runoff election will be held to determine Chicago's next mayor.

Mayor Richard Daley, who is out of town today, isn't on the ballot for the first time since 1989. He'll leave office on May 16 when his successor is sworn in.

No word yet who'll be my next alderman. I assume it will be the one who outspent her opponents by an obscene margin. More later.

Update, 20:35 CT: Gery Chico has conceded; Emanuel has won.

About this blog, v4.0

I'm David Braverman, this is my blog, and Parker is my 4½-year-old mutt. I last updated this About... page almost two years ago, so it's time for a quick update. In the interest of enlightened laziness I'm starting with the most powerful keystroke combination in the universe: Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V.

The Daily Parker is about:

  • Parker, my dog, whom I adopted on 1 September 2006.
  • Politics. I'm a moderate-leftie by international standards, which makes me a radical left-winger in today's United States.
  • Software. I work for Avanade (a company that has no editorial control over this blog and which wants me to make it clear I'm not speaking for them), and I continue to own a micro-sized software company in Chicago. I have some experience writing software, which explains why Avanade continue to tolerate me. 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.
  • The weather. I've operated a weather website for more than ten 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 the other ones I visit whenever I can.

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 (de rigeur in my opinion).

Another, non-trivial point. Facebook reads the blog's RSS feed, so many people reading this may think I'm just posting notes on Facebook. They would like you to believe this, too. Now, I've reconnected with tons of old friends and classmates through Facebook, I play Scrabble on Facebook, and I eagerly read every advertisement that appears next to its relevant content. But Facebook's terms of use assert ownership of everything that appears on their site, regardless of prior assertions, and despite nearly three centuries of legal precedents. They want you to believe that, too.

Everything that shows up on my Facebook profile gets published on The Daily Paker first, and I own the copyrights to all of it. All the photos I post are completely protected: send me an email if you want to republish one. I publish the blog's text under a Creative Commons attribution-nonderivative-noncommercial license; republication is usually OK for non-commercial purposes, as long as you don't change what I write and you attribute it to me. With apologies to King James and Yaishua ben Miriam, render to Facebook the things that are Facebook's; and to the original authors what is not.

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

Could this be the problem?

Here's a fun task. Let's take the U.S. military budget, and then add up the budgets of the next few countries in the ranked list of spending until we get to the same number. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the U.S. spent $663.2 bn on defense in 2008. Let's start with China, who had the second-biggest military outlay, and keep adding until we get to $663.2 bn:

2. China
3. UK
4. France
5. Russia

OK, we've now got the entire permanent membership of the U.N. Security Council, the four biggest militaries in the world after our own. Done? Nope. Let's keep adding.

6. Germany
7. Japan
8. Saudi Arabia
9. Italy
10. India

Right. Now the list contains all the principal belligerents from World War II, and accounts for nearly half the world's population. (The U.S. has about 5% of the world's people.) We're done, right?

No. Keep going:

11. South Korea
12. Brasil
13. Egypt
14. Canada
15. Australia

Seriously? There's more?

16. Spain
17. Turkey

Whew! We're done. You have to add up the military budgets of the next 16 countries to get to ours.

<rant>

As you listen to the anti-deficit bloviating of Congressional Republicans over the next few weeks, ask yourself why none of them has brought up this fact. Do Americans really believe that the U.S. should spend 7 times more than China on defense? Or that we should be the only Western country to spend more than 3% of GDP on defense? Or that other countries to win the #1 position on military spending either by GDP or gross expenditures include the USSR and Imperial Rome?

And we're arguing about de-funding public television as a way to balance the budget?

</rant>

Can't wait to see this

When I left Chicago on Saturday morning, we had half a meter of snow on the ground. I hear most of it is gone:

Thursday's 13°C high temperature at O'Hare, a reading 11°C above normal and more typical of late April than February, fell just 2°C shy of a 130-year old record of 16°C. But, at Midway Airport, the home of an uninterrupted 82 year observational record which began in 1928, Thursday's 14°C temperature was a record-breaker. The reading replaced a 1981 record high of 13°C at the South Side site.

That wasn't the only new Chicago temperature record established in Thursday's unseasonably mild air. The morning low of 8°C easily beat a previous record-high minimum of 6°C set 121-years earlier in 1890. The unseasonable warmth finished a 10-day, 53 cm melt-off of one of the area's heaviest February snowcovers in three decades.

I wonder if I'll be able to move my car?

And in unrelated news, Republican Wisconsin governor Scott Walker wants to destroy worker's rights in the state, causing the entire Democratic caucus to pull a Texas and flee the state. It's always fun when hubris meets farce, isn't it?

Statistical explanation of climate change effects

Nobel-laureate economist Paul Krugman lays out a simple demonstration of how an increase in the global average temperature necessarily leads to more extreme weather events without eliminating other effects:

Now suppose that a warming trend shifts the whole probability distribution to the right — which is what we mean when we talk about climate change. Then the result looks like this:

What happens is that the right tail gets fatter: the probability, and hence the frequency, of extreme events goes up.

Two immediate implications. First, there will still be cold stretches: global warming shifts the distribution, it doesn’t eliminate the left side of the distribution. So there will still be cold spells; that proves nothing.

Second, no individual weather event can properly be said to have been "caused" by global warming. Heat waves happened 30 years ago; there’s no way to prove that any individual heat wave now might not have happened even if we hadn’t emitted all that CO2.

But the pattern should have changed: we should be getting lots of record highs, and not as many record lows — which is exactly what we do see. And we should be seeing 100-year heat waves and similar events much more often than history would have suggested likely; again, that’s what we actually do see.

The point is that the usual casual denier arguments — it's cold outside; you can’t prove that climate change did it — miss the point. What you’re looking for is a pattern. And that pattern is obvious.

Shortly later Krugman pointed out that China, historically a net food exporter, has to import food this year because of record droughts.

New York Times editor on Wikileaks

Via Conor Friedersdorf, New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller has a detailed essay about how and why the Times published the last Wikileaks dump. He concludes

Although it is our aim to be impartial in our presentation of the news, our attitude toward these issues is far from indifferent. The journalists at The Times have a large and personal stake in the country’s security. We live and work in a city that has been tragically marked as a favorite terrorist target, and in the wake of 9/11 our journalists plunged into the ruins to tell the story of what happened here. Moreover, The Times has nine staff correspondents assigned to the two wars still being waged in the wake of that attack, plus a rotating cast of photographers, visiting writers and scores of local stringers and support staff. They work in this high-risk environment because, while there are many places you can go for opinions about the war, there are few places — and fewer by the day — where you can go to find honest, on-the-scene reporting about what is happening. We take extraordinary precautions to keep them safe, but we have had two of our Iraqi journalists murdered for doing their jobs. We have had four journalists held hostage by the Taliban — two of them for seven months. We had one Afghan journalist killed in a rescue attempt. Last October, while I was in Kabul, we got word that a photographer embedded for us with troops near Kandahar stepped on an improvised mine and lost both his legs.

We are invested in the struggle against murderous extremism in another sense. The virulent hatred espoused by terrorists, judging by their literature, is directed not just against our people and our buildings but also at our values and at our faith in the self-government of an informed electorate. If the freedom of the press makes some Americans uneasy, it is anathema to the ideologists of terror.

I'm with Friedersdorf; I think this gets it right. He says:

This description – and it seems fair and accurate to me – puts the Times in a much different light than is cast by some of its critics, who'd have us believe that the newspaper, which in many ways is establishmentarian (to a fault on occassion), is actually a trangressive, post-national entity with a knee-jerk tenency to blame America first.

I submit that in the matter of Wikileaks, the American people were a lot better off for the involvement of The New York Times than we would've been had the documents been dumped on the Internet without the newspaper's involvement – and that, even if you disagree with some of the decisons they made, which is reasonable enough, their approach to this matter was cogent and defensible.

Both the article and Friedersdorf's analysis are worth reading.

The fat lady sings: Emanuel stays on the ballot

Finally, this ridiculous exercise has ended. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled unanimously just a few minutes ago that Rahm Emanuel is a resident of Chicago, and therefore can stay on the ballot for city mayor:

The Chicago election board and a Cook County Circuit judge both ruled Emanuel met the residency requirements. The Supreme Court said the appellate court was in error in overrulling them:

"So there will be no mistake, let us be entirely clear. This court’s decision is based on the following and only on the following: (1) what it means to be a resident for election purposes was clearly established long ago, and Illinois law has been consistent on the matter since at least the 19th Century; (2) the novel standard adopted by the appellate court majority is without any foundation in Illinois law; (3) the Board’s factual findings were not against the manifest weight of the evidence; and (4) the Board’s decision was not clearly erroneous."

No kidding. And no surprise. The appellate court's ruling two days ago was one or both. The Supreme Court's opinion said what everyone knew (or should have known) in October, and slapped the Appellate Court pretty hard:

[T]he [Appellate] court determined that it was painting on a blank canvas, with no applicable authority to guide it other than the Moran quote. The court ultimately determined that, as used in section 3.1–10–5(a), "resided in" does not refer to a permanent abode, but rather where a person "actually live[s]" or "actually reside[s]." However, the court never explained what it meant by these terms, other than to say that the candidate does not qualify as a resident if this definition is used.

... Before proceeding to the merits, we wish to emphasize that, until just a few days ago, the governing law on this question had been settled in this State for going on 150 years.

(Citations deleted.)

In other words, the Appellate Court made up new law which they should not have done. Bad court. Bad court.

All right, this mini-farce is over. Let us resume our regularly-scheduled farce, already in progress...

Oh, not good: Illinois appellate court rules against everyone

The owner of the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team, and more importantly, of Wirtz Beverages, won a case against the people of Illinois today:

An appellate court tossed out Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature $31 billion construction program, widespread plans for video poker and higher taxes on candy and booze, declaring Wednesday in a ruling that they were unconstitutional.

The suit was brought by Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz, who runs a large liquor empire and opposed the liquor tax hikes included in the legislation.

The decision knocked out all four laws that represented the backbone of the public works program Quinn put together with bipartisan support two years ago. It was the culmination of an effort with legislative leaders who had found working with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich futile.

"This lawsuit was always about how the legislature passed this bill and the discriminatory tax on wine and spirits,” said a spokesman for Wirtz in an e-mail. “The decision affirms that and we are gratified by it."

So, according to Wirtz, increasing taxes on wine and spirits is worse than thousands of jobs lost and fixing the roads, bridges, and tunnels in Illinois. And now no one has any idea what the law will be, because the state will now appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, keeping this in limbo for another two years.

I wonder why the Illinois courts of appeal have suddenly decided to thwart the people's will in two high-profile cases in two days? This will be interesting to watch.

Inspiring, hopeful salmon?

NPR put listener comments about the State of the Union address through a word-cloud generator and came up with this:

They explain:

Why is "salmon" so big? As The Two-Way explains, NPR's Facebook followers were referring to one of the night's humorous moments — when the president joked about the complicated and convoluted way the government regulates salmon.

"The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they're in saltwater," Obama said. "I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked." That last line drew big laughs from lawmakers in the Capitol.

Mmmm. Smoked salmon. Inspiring.