The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Whocodanode?

Coincidentally with the Illinois Dept. of Resources' desperate (and probably too-late) effort to stop Asian carp from getting into the Great Lakes comes another tragically predictable outcome of local politics. The Mayor of Chicago this week forced a budget through the City Council over an unusually-high 12 dissenting votes that raids the paltry parking meter trust fund only a year after the (allegedly) corrupt and (actually) stupid decision exactly a year ago to sell the streets of Chicago:

As has become customary, aldermen bitched and moaned about Mayor Daley’s $6.1 billion budget before they passed it today. Nobody claimed to like it, though 38 aldermen voted in favor of it. But that number is smaller than it has been for most of Daley's reign. In years past the mayor viewed a single nay vote as an intolerable act of defiance; these days he’s lucky no one else has the clout to wield or goodies to hand out that he does, because his governing style is wearing thinner among an ever larger group of aldermen. As in a dozen.

Still, their arguments are getting more pointed. For evidence, consider the diatribe that 38th Ward alderman Tom Allen delivered to explain why he was casting his first vote against a Daley budget since the mayor appointed him to the City Council in 1993. “I have come to the conclusion that this 2010 budget is one that I have no confidence in,” Allen said.

He offered three reasons. “First and foremost,” he said, “the parking meter spending plan here I consider to be a breach of our fiduciary duties to the taxpayers that we represent.” Allen produced materials that Daley budget aides had distributed to aldermen a year ago when they rammed the 75-year parking meter privatization deal through the council in four days. He said aldermen were promised that the administration would save enough of the proceeds that the interest on them would equal or exceed the $20 million the city was accustomed to collecting from the meters. Instead, Daley’s budget will burn through two-thirds of the replacement fund in a single year.

The pattern should be familiar to students of 20th-century history. As they grow older, leaders become more concerned with their legacies than their constituents. The trend accelerates, until, near the end of their political careers, they almost inevitably experience epic failure. In the case of fairly-elected leaders in functioning democracies, the results are merely disappointing: Clinton, Nixon, and Gray Davis come to mind. But in the case of one-party states, where the leaders have no functioning or effective opposition, the outcome often destroys the polis as it destroys the leader: Mugabe, Cheney, and recently the mayors of Baltimore and Detroit.

I don't know which hypothesis I prefer: that Daley doesn't actually believe his actions will prove beneficial to the city in the long run, so he's feathering his nest before retiring; or that Daley, after 17 years without tolerating any criticism or dissent, has gotten so deluded he really thinks these decisions are good. Of course, without an effective challenger—where's Harold Washington when we need him most?—we're stuck with Daley Sese Seku until he chooses to leave office.

Ghosts of campaigns past

During the few months I lived in Vermont, Bill Clinton got elected President. He spoke at one big rally that year, up in Burlington, and thanks to a press pass from a friend at a radio station, I got to see him in person:

I think you can see the Secret Service agent pushing me away in this shot, though Clinton himself couldn't get enough of the rope line:

Then-Vermont-governor Howard Dean was there too:

I think we're too late

After detecting Asian carp DNA only 10 km from Lake Michigan, the Illinois Dept. of Resources last night started killing everything in the Sanitary and Ship Canal that runs through the city:

About 8,300 liters of the liquid toxin rotenone were put into a 6-mile stretch of the canal near Romeoville Wednesday night.

More than a dozen boats were to go on the canal later today to begin cleanup operations....

The toxin was put into the water because fears that the carp--which can grow to about 150 cm and 50 kg--are pushing their way north toward Lake Michigan and could devastate the Great Lakes' $7 billion commercial fishing industry. The carp can eat 40 percent of their body weight each day.

Apparently they don't taste too good, either.

Since the Canal runs backwards, thanks to an engineering trick in 1901 that stopped us poisoning our drinking water (and started us poisoning Peoria's), the carp may not make it all the way to the lake. Except for that jumping thing they do, when they launch themselves in the air the same way pigs don't, and have occasionally cleared 20 meters.

December miscellany

Just a few quick things today:

  • The temperature hit 13°C today, not a record but definitely a pleasant day in December. In Chicago. Because, of course, there are parts of the world where that temperature on any day of the year would cause alarm.
  • Matthew Yglesias thinks mutual funds are stupid. I'm linking because of his two clear charts. His recommendations: index funds. (But...is any of this news?)
  • The local pizza place around the corner folded last week. This was Parker's favorite summer hangout. We'll miss it.
  • Comcast and AT&T are fighting public broadband in areas that don't have it. Common sense suggests that the government subsidy would ultimately go to them, but their first reaction is that of any monopolist. As Duke University economist Leslie Marx put it only yesterday, "remember that everywhere a firm looks, it is obligated to look for profits, and I would challenge anyone to show me an industry where the suppression of rivalry is not profitable."

More later. Possibly a Parker photo, too.

Misuse of science in autism

The Chicago Tribune today has an in-depth article about the misuse of autism research in therapy:

In his letter, obtained by the Tribune, [Florida family physician Dr. Dan] Rossignol justified the unorthodox treatment in part by writing that "a recent study out of Johns Hopkins has shown that children with autism have evidence of neuroinflammation on autopsy and (cerebral spinal fluid) evaluations."

It was [Dr. Carlos] Pardo's study.

Rossignol did not mention that Pardo's team had written in its online primer, using capital letters for emphasis, that intravenous immunoglobulin "WOULD NOT HAVE a significant effect" on what they saw in the brains of people with autism.

"THERE IS NO indication for using anti-inflammatory medications in patients with autism," the team wrote.

There's a word for doctors who offer treatments to desperate people without any evidence that the treatments will work. Or, to put it another way, if it walks like a duck...

I have some experience dealing with the allure of long-shot treatments for diseases that no one actually understands. Fortunately my mother was a solidly rational person, so when she volunteered for an experimental treatment, she understood the possibility—one in three, in fact—that she would only get a placebo, and the bigger possibility that the drug wouldn't work anyway. And the experiment was conducted by an actual science team with actual experimental methods and an actual study-review board.

Quacks are dangerous because desperate people don't usually think rationally. Undergoing dangerous, not to mention costly, treatments that come from shaky foundations and incomplete research do far more harm than good. The hope these treatments bring has a cost that many families don't understand until, much later, they regain their rationality. Then they find that only the quacks have really benefitted.

Germany tells Emirates to raise prices

From the Economist's Gulliver blog:

The Germans said in a letter to the Dubai-based carrier that under European law it was not allowed “to engage in price leadership” on routes from Germany to non-EU locations. Emirates, which condemned the decision as “commercially nonsensical”, responded by raising prices by 20% on some routes.

Andrew Parker of Emirates told the Financial Times, "We are adamant this is selective and clearly an attempt by Lufthansa [Germany's national carrier] to pursue Emirates versus a legitimate policy."

Yes, but on the other hand, it would not surprise me to learn that Emirates had priced the seats as a loss-leader to undercut its competitors, including Lufthansa. Regardless, this seems a good example of the African proverb, "When elephants wrestle, the grass suffers."

At this writing, a 7-day advance, Saturday-to-Thursday (discount) business class ticket from Frankfurt to Dubai was €2,245 on Emirates and €2,954 on Lufthansa. I can see why Lufthansa (and the German goverment) might suspect anti-competitive behavior...but still, raising prices for everyone doesn't seem sporting.

The odd lies of Sarah Palin

Andrew Sullivan has a recap of the top 30:

Palin lied when she repeatedly claimed to have said, "Thanks, but no thanks" to the Bridge to Nowhere; in fact, she openly campaigned for the federal project when running for governor.

Palin lied when she denied that Wasilla's police chief and librarian had been fired; in fact, both were given letters of termination the previous day.

Palin lied when she wrote in the NYT that a comprehensive review by Alaska wildlife officials showed that polar bears were not endangered; in fact, email correspondence between those scientists showed the opposite.

Palin lied when she claimed to be unaware of a turkey being slaughtered behind her during a filmed interview; in fact, the cameraman said she had picked the spot herself, while the slaughter was underway.

Palin lied when she denied having rejected federal stimulus money; in fact, she continued to accept and reject the funds several times.

And many, many more. This is the opposition party's de facto leader.

Bur Dubai (Dubai residency day 6)

Mostly photos today, because I have an economics assignment due before I can get some desperately-needed sleep.

Today we did our Culture Dash (see the entry about the deliverable) through some of the same Dubai streets I walked just yesterday. Some highlights: first, Dubai Creek, with an abra (commuter flatboat) in the foreground and an Airbus 330 taking off in the background:

The textile souk in the old Bur Dubai neighborhood:


And last one tonight, a minaret during the evening call to prayer:

More tomorrow, or possibly Saturday given how much we have to do before then.

Finding the real Dubai

After a two-hour walk in the 34°C heat, I actually feel much better. (People who know me can feel free to express surprise and alarm.)

As I mentioned yesterday, spending too much time in a hotel depresses the life out of me. When will I ever again visit Dubai? Probably never. Since the hotel has gone to great lengths to make itself indistinguishable from any other similar hotel in the world, I fled the official corporate tours and hopped the Dubai Metro for Deira, the old part of the city.

Sadly for my scrap-book, and despite having my good camera, I spent nearly the whole time experiencing a place unlike any I'd ever seen rather than photographing it. The best part: a delicious one-dirham loaf of flat bread I bought from a "bakery" that consisted of a guy sitting cross-legged next to a small oven in a shop that couldn't have been two meters on each side. One dirham.

Second best part: hearing about 40 muezzins simultaneously call the faithful to the Asr prayer around 15:20 local time.

I did get some photos; here are two:


And I found that Dubai has lots of very small, completely fearless cats:

In all, despite sweating through every thread of clothing I wore, and despite feeling completely taken in one bit of bargaining I did (but not in the other, when I was only slightly robbed), I think I spent the afternoon perfectly. I feel much better than I did this morning, and I'll feel even more human in 15 minutes when I get out of the shower....