The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Why always South Carolina?

President Obama's speech last night demonstrated pretty clearly that he's committed to health-care reform, and most of Congress will support him. One Congressman, Joe Wilson (R-SC), decided to channel his inner Preston Brooks and...well, here's what the papers say:

Help me out here: does anyone recall the last time a congressman called the president a liar to his face during of a joint session of Congress?

He’s the face behind the off-camera shout of “You lie” after President Obama declared that his proposed health care legislation will not—repeat not—provide health care to illegal immigrants. Psst! Somebody please tell Rep. Wilson this is the U. S. Congress, not Question Time in Britain’s Parliament or a Town Hall meeting in Beaufort.

(One should note, of course, that while MPs may heckle each other during Question Time, none would do so during an actual speech. Also, during Parliamentary debates, members are forbidden to address each other, and can be expelled for doing so. "You lie!" would get the member tossed out; "Mr. Speaker, the Honorable Member from Basingfolly-on-Turdswallop lies!" is the correct form.)

Rep. Wilson has since apologized (sort of; watch the video and let me know what you think), though some want him to do so on the floor of the House.

As one observer remarked, the opposition have mistaken the United States Congress for a College Republicans convention.

The President has since said of the flap, "We all make mistakes. He apologized quickly and without equivocation. We have to get to the point where we can have a conversation about big, important issues that matter to the American people without vitriol, without name calling, without the assumption of the worst in other people's motives."

Thank you, Mr. President.

Quick update: In the few short hours since the outburst, Wilson's Democratic opponent has raised over $100,000, and pulled ahead of Wilson in fundraising. Talk about a career-limiting move.

Don't get snippy with me, mister

This, ah, came up in conversation with a friend the other day (we were talking about her choices as a parent of a toddler). Via Andrew Sullivan, some thoughts about a very common and arguably unnecessary surgical procedure:

Here's the problem: Why is the CDC launching campaigns to "universally" promote a medical procedure? If you're an adult (and nuts) or a parent, no one stands in your way of having a bris. ... Today, incidentally, government-run Medicaid doesn't pay for the procedure in 16 states. Most private insurers, on the other hand, do.

Though dismissed by public-option proponents, this is an example of how government persuasion can influence our decisions—first by nudging and then, inevitably, by rationing.

Bet he knows the capitals, too

Mildly amusing video of U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) [1] drawing a map of the U.S. freehand. I would like to find out what he was saying:

I think this or something like it should be required for all aspirants to Federal office, but then we'd lose half of Congress.

[1] Dang, I like seeing that.

Climate change deniers make their points

NPR reported this morning on a rally in West Virginia funded by Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, and organized by the American Petroleum Institute. Money quote from Blankenship, speaking to the coal miners attending the rally:

In Washington they sometimes say those of us in Appalachia need help because we're not very smart. But we're smart enough to know that only God can change the earth's temperature, not Al Gore!

You know, it's really hard to argue with logic like that.

People unclear on the concept

NPR's Morning Edition has a story today on a "tea party" rally in Nevada. Listening to the people interviewed, the only thing preventing me from recommending that no one be allowed to protest against the government without having taken a basic civics class is that I have taken a basic civics class.

Now, I know many people with center-right leanings who can make coherent arguments in favor of or against various policies. I enjoy those debates immensely. The people who spoke to NPR, though? Each had some different reason for yelling at their Congressman, ranging from self-interested fear to abject panic, while seeming immune to the basics of what the state actually does in this country.

Item: A woman complained that the EPA has wants to close a public road near her house for unspecified environmental reasons, which will prevent her "three little children" from riding all over the place on all-terrain vehicles. What gives the government the right to close a public road, she asks?

Item: A man rants that "people" (i.e., "you people") are telling him what to do because "Obama won, and they think that gives them the right, like everyone wants to do this, and I'm not 'everyone.'"

Item: Another man believes the government wants to "take over the Internet" in an emergency, and he doesn't want "the government" telling him what to do.

OK. Let's review.

The "government," in a republic like the U.S., is us. "Government" also means many, many different things: Federal, state, county, township, city, water reclamation district, parks authority, and on and on. So, when the "government" wants to close a "public" road (meaning, a road the "government" built in the first place), who gave "them" the right? Well, you did.

You see—and here we need less a civics class than a good Kindergarten teacher—we can't have everything we want. So, every so often, you get to go and vote for the person you think best represents you in "government." Your neighbors vote too. Sometimes they want things you don't; sometimes they do. If the "government" wants to close a road instead of allowing your children to risk death while tearing up the landscape and polluting the air and scaring the bejeebus out of your neighbor's livestock, my bet is that you need to take up the matter with your neighbors, not with the President. And, ma'am, sometimes you lose.

As for the third guy, this presents a trickier problem. Ignorance of basic technical matters often complicates debate. But to discuss the difficulties in "taking over" the Internet, we first have to close our eyes to the subtext of his comment, which involves U.N. troops in black helicopters keeping him under constant surveillance as part of their nefarious plot to control our children with fluoride in the drinking water.

It bothers me that saying we need rational debate between people who have passing acquaintance with the Constitution angers people. But come on. We have serious problems and we need serious discussions to solve them. Let's stop wasting time with the cranks.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... (London residency day 10)

The U.S. Postal Service finally plans to sell the Old Post Office building in Chicago, which they abandoned more than 10 years ago:

One of the biggest real estate auctions in the city’s history is slated for Thursday, when the U.S. Postal Service is to sell the Old Main Post Office.

And even though the postal service is planning an "absolute auction" — meaning the building is to be sold regardless of price, with a suggested opening bid of just $300,000 — the question remains who will step up for the roughly 279,000 m² building at 433 W. Van Buren St., which straddles the Congress Parkway and has been vacant for more than a decade.

This is the same building into which the Postmaster for Chicago ploughed $1 million to renovate his own office—about 6 months before the USPS moved out.

El expansion approved, only needs $1.5 bn

The Chicago Tribune reported this afternoon that the Red, Yellow, and Orange Lines have gotten approval for long-overdue extensions—or, in the case of the Yellow Line, restoration:

The Red Line extension, some 40 years in the making, would use Union Pacific Railroad right of way. The new train service would improve mobility for low-income residents in communities under-served by mass transit on Chicago's South Side, as well as provide a new transit option for commuters from the southern suburbs who either drive downtown or drive to Metra stations.

In addition, the Orange Line would be expanded from Midway Airport to near the Ford City shopping center. The extension is intended to improve bus-to-train connections for numerous CTA and Pace bus routes along Cicero Avenue and other nearby parts of the Chicago area where there has been significant growth. ... In the north suburbs, the Yellow Line would be extended several miles to near the Old Orchard shopping center in Skokie, from the current terminal on Dempster Street.

I say "restoration" for the Yellow Line because, until 1963 when the North Shore Line went bankrupt, the line ran a bit farther than Dempster Street. Actually, it ran all the way to Milwaukee. But because public preference and policy favored private cars over all other forms of transportation, the northern suburbs expanded through road construction, to the detriment of the existing interurban rail lines that covered the area. The Yellow and Purple Lines run over the North Shore Line's tracks, in fact.

That the CTA now wants to restore 5 km of track that existed for 60 of the past 100 years was predictable when the track was removed in the 1960s. I wonder how long it will take before the Yellow Line goes up to Northbrook Court. Again.

Canine parasitism

Journalist Robert Wright weighs in on the (ridiculous, I think) question of whether dogs are parasites:

I suspect the historical relationship between dogs and humans has been mutualistic, not parasitic; humans have probably been pragmatic in choosing what kinds of dogs to associate with during dog-human co-evolution, thus keeping wantonly exploitative tendencies out of the canine gene pool. (If anything, the parasitism has probably worked in the other direction.)

And as for the question of whether, evolutionary history aside, the average dog is now parasitic upon its owner: Well, these days we own dogs mainly for the joy they bring us, not to warn us about wild animals. So the question is simple: Does your dog bring you more joy than pain?

Yes, I can say about my own dog, which I feel even more acutely right at this moment owing to Parker's absence. I'm off to the Land of Uk tomorrow, so Parker is with a friend until I get back. I have to say, coming home to an empty apartment—I even took his bed up to the friend's house—really sucks.

How Americans spend their days

Via The Daily Dish, the results of the American Time Use Survey, in very cool form.


Sunday Business analyzed new data from the American Time Use Survey to compare the 2008 weekday activities of the employed and unemployed. ... The annual time use survey, which asks thousands of residents to recall every minute of a single day, is important to economists trying to value the time spent by those not bringing home a paycheck.

The chart, though, is wicked cool.