Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Monday 5 January 2009

Even though the final vote count in the Minnesota U.S. Senate race put Franken 225 votes ahead last night, incumbent Norm Coleman asked the state Supreme Court for one last chance to count an additional 900 ballots. Today the court said, unanimously, "bugger off, you right prat." OK, they were more polite than that:

The record before us with respect to petitioners' motion demonstrates that local election officials have acted diligently and in accordance with our orders, and together with the candidates have agreed upon more than 900 rejected absentee ballots, which have now been opened and counted by the Secretary of State's office.

...

Because the parties and the respective counties have not agreed as to any of these additional ballots, the merits of this dispute (and any other disputes with respect to absentee ballots) are the proper subjects of an election contest under Minn. Stat. ch. 209.

In other words, Franken won, you already agreed to the procedure that solidified his win, and anyway your term expired last night so pack it in and go back to Long Island, you sodding wanker.

Again, I may be editorializing here...

In related news, the best governor Illinois has will not be going to Washington to help his own Mr. Smith get past the Capitol police tomorrow. Can't think why not.

Monday 5 January 2009 12:30:49 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US#

The Senate adjourned Friday after playing "work-to-rule" to prevent the President from making recess appointments for almost two years:

Among the many standoffs between congressional Democrats and Bush, the issue of interim appointments was one -- possibly the only one -- where Democrats truly had the upper hand under the Constitution.

Earlier this decade, annoyed that Senate Democrats were stalling his nominees to the appeals courts, Bush used his so-called recess appointment authority to name controversial selections such as Charles Pickering and William Pryor to the federal bench when Congress was on one of its many breaks. Such appointees get to serve out the remainder of the year in which they were appointed and until the end of the congressional session the following year.

So with the session never legally in recess, the President couldn't make recess appointments. QED.

The 111th Congress opens tomorrow, and Thursday, Barack Obama will be certified the next President.

Monday 5 January 2009 11:07:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#

The Minnesota Canvassing Board is expected tomorrow to declare Democrat Al Franken the winner of the state's U.S. Senate election by a margin of 225 votes:

It took only an hour Saturday afternoon for election officials to count 933 absentee ballots that all sides had agreed were wrongly rejected. Franken won 52 percent of them and Coleman captured 33 percent (the rest went to other candidates or cast no vote in the Senate race). It was a surprisingly muscular margin that was reflected in the glum looks of Coleman staffers and the satisfied appearance of Franken's staff.

Franken started the day with an unofficial lead of 49 votes. He achieved a net gain of 176 votes on Saturday.

Republican Norm Coleman vowed to fight on, even though other Senators have already accepted Franken's victory.

That, I believe, is 59, once future Illinois Governor Pat Quinn appoints a Democrat to Obama's seat.

Sunday 4 January 2009 19:26:16 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Sunday 4 January 2009

The weather has cooled off a bit in the interior of Alaska:

Friday marked day six of the worst cold snap to hit Fairbanks in several years and there is no relief in sight for residents who live in Alaska’s second-largest city — or the business owners they call to bail them out when their cars, pipes and septic tanks freeze.

The temperature in North Pole dipped to 55 degrees below zero on Wednesday night, the lowest temperature recorded in the greater Fairbanks area during what has been six days of severe cold. It was “only” 46 below at 4 p.m. Friday in North Pole, but the temperature was “dropping by the hour,” meteorologist Austin Cross at the National Weather Service in Fairbanks said.

Friday marked the fifth day in the last six the temperature at Fairbanks International Airport hit 40 below or colder; it was only 38 below at the airport on New Year’s Day.

Forecasters expect temperatures in Fairbanks this weekend will likely touch 50 below and there is no indication the cold wave will dissipate anytime soon.

Since I don't read Alaskan newspapers often, and I'm used to seeing cold Alaskan temperatures on the Weather Now extremes page, I actually first heard this when ten people emailed me to complain about a bug in Weather Now. It turns out, the news story above linked to Weather Now and drove 2,400 unique visitors to the site in six hours.

I should know better. Fortunately my servers easily handle 10,000 page views per hour, but still, seeing a traffic spike like that caught me a little off-guard.

Saturday 3 January 2009 20:19:12 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Software | Weather#
Saturday 3 January 2009

In another bit of Illinois stupidity, three hunters yesterday killed a trupeter swan by mistake:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say hunters thought they were shooting at a snow goose but actually killed a rare trumpeter swan at a conservation area in far southern Illinois.

One of the comments on the above-linked page gets it right: "[S]houldn't a hunter be able to identify what [he is] shooting?" Yes. Let's compare: Snow goose:

Trupeter swan:

Hey, I'm not an orinthologist or anything, but those birds look different to me.

Saturday 3 January 2009 09:36:20 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Roland Burris are racing each other to some resolution as the only governor we have—the commander in chief of the state militia—loses his security clearance:

Officials Friday said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has revoked Gov. Rod Blagojevich's access to classified federal security information.

Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero called the move "pretty standard procedure" Friday. He says there are still a number of other state officials with access.

Also Friday, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan said he is calling lawmakers back to Springfield next week for a possible vote on impeaching Blagojevich.

Crain's has more:

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich could be impeached as early as next week.

The Illinois House has changed its schedule and will meet several days next week.

A spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan says the chamber may vote on a recommendation from the special committee studying whether Blagojevich should be impeached.

Saturday 3 January 2009 09:35:38 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US#
Friday 2 January 2009

My dad tipped me off to Sam Harris' response to this year's World Question:

When evaluating the social cost of deception, one must consider all of the misdeeds—marital infidelities, Ponzi schemes, premeditated murders, terrorist atrocities, genocides, etc.—that are nurtured and shored-up, at every turn, by lies. Viewed in this wider context, deception commends itself, perhaps even above violence, as the principal enemy of human cooperation. Imagine how our world would change if, when the truth really mattered, it became impossible to lie.

I've never heard of this org before, but it seems to be worth a troll.

Friday 2 January 2009 14:21:11 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

The San Francisco Chronicle's columnist is particularly funny—and scathing—today:

To my mind, even the softest portrait of W merely raises the larger question, perhaps not to be fully answered for many years: How could such a mediocre and unimaginative human cause so much damage? How could this frat house daddy's-boy dullard so perfectly undermine America's fundamental identity and disfigure every major department of government and bring the nation to its knees? Indeed, unpacking that one may take awhile.

Other questions, though, are not so difficult. Questions like: Has it really been all that bad? Have we been too hard on the poor schlub? Does Bush really deserve such white-hot derision and international contempt? Or is he just lost and misunderstood, like a sad clown with a big shotgun and an unfortunate muscle spasm? I think we can all answer those without the slightest hesitation.

17 days, 21 hours, 50 minutes left...

Friday 2 January 2009 13:09:51 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#

Apparently their forests aren't working:

The country's 1.2 million square miles of trees have been dubbed the "lungs of the planet" by ecologists because they account for more than 7 percent of Earth's total forest lands. They could always be depended upon to suck in vast quantities of carbon dioxide, naturally cleansing the world of much of the harmful heat-trapping gas.

But not anymore.

In an alarming yet little-noticed series of recent studies, scientists have concluded that Canada's precious forests, stressed from damage caused by global warming, insect infestations and persistent fires, have crossed an ominous line and are now pumping out more climate-changing carbon dioxide than they are sequestering.

In other good news, Chicago had its wettest year on record in 2008, 1292 mm, beating the old record by more than 25 mm. The rain rain rain came down...

Friday 2 January 2009 09:49:38 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Thursday 1 January 2009

We start 2009 continuing the ridiculous story of the governor's strenuous efforts to ensure a Republican majority in 2010. Today's Tribune outlines what might happen next week in Washington:

If Burris shows up Tuesday to claim the seat given to him by disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the outcomes range from a denial of entry to a limbo where he can hire staff but not vote.

Should Burris appear in Washington without that certification, armed police officers stand ready to bar him from the Senate floor, said a Democratic official briefed on Senate leaders' plans. Leadership also is considering the possibility of Blagojevich appearing in person to escort Burris. Ironically, the scandal-plagued governor would be allowed onto the Senate floor, because sitting governors are allowed floor privileges, while Burris would not without certification.

Can anyone extrapolate from the Three Stooges'[1] press conference what we'd be in for should armed police bar a black Senator-designate from the all-white Senate, never mind the legitimacy of the action? Whoo boy.

Tribune columnist Steve Chapman is also worth a read today, especially for those unfamiliar with Burris and his, um, eccentricities:

Burris is the prototypical time-serving career politician who owes his success to being simultaneously ambitious and bland. He has never been one to challenge the status quo, but no one underestimates his self-esteem. The two Burris children, after all, are named Roland and Rolanda.

The result of his immodesty has been a persistent hunger for offices that most people thought beyond his abilities. He has lost races for mayor of Chicago, U.S. senator, and governor (three times).

Burris' chief claim to fame until this week was his 12-year term as state comptroller, a job whose significance can be measured by the fact that few Illinoisans could identify the current occupant (Dan Hynes). Even among accountants, Burris left few strong impressions, but he also never gave any prosecutor grounds to indict him, which is not something Illinois voters take for granted.

[1] With the governor as Shemp.

Thursday 1 January 2009 14:37:20 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US#
Wednesday 31 December 2008

Turns out, 2008 will be one of the longest years ever when astronomers insert an extra second at 17:59:60 CT tonight:

The additional second makes up for the difference in two clocks – one based on Earth’s rotation and the other on the more precise atomic time of the UTC.

In the U.S., the extra second will be added by the U.S. Naval Observatory at 6:59:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (11:59:59 p.m. Universal time). It will be the 24th "leap second" tacked on to the universal time scale since 1972.

The popular press have written about this as prolonging the gloom of 2008. I don't know if that's accurate. People familiar with the structure of fiction will notice that although we had the technical climax of our present story on November 4th, the dramatic climax hasn't happened yet. I have no idea what that will look like, only that we'll probably see it in 2009, and the dénoument that follows will make us wax nostialgic about the halcyon days of 2008. Put another way: There is a tide; when you're in the trough of a wave, things don't really feel better until you've climbed halfway to the next crest.

I'm not trying to depress anyone. I just think we've got some difficult times ahead, for the simple reason that the worst really is behind us.

Enjoy the extra second.

Wednesday 31 December 2008 10:19:01 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Tuesday 30 December 2008

As Josh Marshall said today, did Tom Wolfe do the rewrite on the Blagojevich scandal? Now we've got Bobby Rush, Roland Burris, and Jesse Jackson Jr., all reprising the greatest hits of the '70s. Exhibit A, from Rush:

"Let me just remind you that there presently is no African-American in the Senate...this is just not a state of Illinois matter," he said. "I would ask you to not hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer."

Exhibit B, from a galaxy far, far away:

In an appearance just now on MSNBC, Burris was asked about the possibility of the Senate refusing to seat him. "Well, I think you will see a major outcry from the people of Illinois," Burris said, "based on the fact that the governor has appointed me."

Exhibit C, from the Office of the President-Elect:

I believe the best resolution would be for the Governor to resign his office and allow a lawful and appropriate process of succession to take place. While Governor Blagojevich is entitled to his day in court, the people of Illinois are entitled to a functioning government and major decisions free of taint and controversy.

Apparently, all this is even too much for Blagojevich's lawyers to swallow.

Tuesday 30 December 2008 17:51:46 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US#

Alleged felon Rod Blagojevich, the best governor Illinois has right now, leaked that he will appoint former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said the Senate will refuse to seat anyone Blagojevich appoints, though it's unclear whether the Senate actually has that power.

Can't wait for the press conference ten minutes from now:

Blagojevich, who has sole authority to name a replacement senator, scheduled a 2 p.m. news conference at his downtown Chicago office.

Burris left his downtown consulting office about 1:15 p.m., getting congratulatory hugs from several employees. But Burris refused comment when asked whether he was going to accept the appointment after word that Senate Democratic leadership would not seat him.

Burris has given more than $20,000 to Blagojevich's campaign fund on his own and through his consulting and law firms, state campaign finance records show. Burris' consulting company received about $290,000 in state contracts with the Illinois Department of Transportation a few years ago, according to state comptroller records.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada previously warned Blagojevich, following the governor's Dec. 9 arrest, that Senate Democrats would not seat any appointment the two-term Democratic governor made. Reid's warning was contained in a letter signed by all 50 sitting Democratic senators, including the No. 2 Democrat in Senate leadership, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.

So, now a reasonably intelligent person must ask—heck, even Ted Baxter must ask—why on Earth would Burris accept a nomination under these circumstances? His C.V. provides a clue:

Though he is 71, Burris has said that Obama's replacement should be able to win re-election and he has noted that despite a string of primary losses in races ranging from Chicago mayor to governor and U.S. senator, he's never lost to a Republican.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has weighed in:

White says he'll reject any paperwork that Gov. Rod Blagojevich files to name a new U.S. senator.

The secretary of state keeps state records and certifies official actions.

But White says he won't certify anything Blagojevich does to fill the Senate seat once held by President-elect Barack Obama.

White issued a statement today saying he can't accept any paperwork from Blagojevich on the Senate seat "because of the current cloud of controversy surrounding the governor."

It isn't clear if that administrative roadblock would keep the appointment from taking place.

So there you have it. No Democrat in the country, except perhaps the two most directly involved, wants this appointment to proceed. And yet, as we are a nation of laws, so we may be stuck with it.

The impeachment can't happen soon enough.

Tuesday 30 December 2008 13:56:00 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US#
Monday 29 December 2008

As happy as I am for my junior U.S. Senator and my Congressman, as of Friday I have neither:

Rep. Rahm Emanuel will resign his House seat Friday.

Emanuel, set to serve as chief of staff to President-elect Barack Obama, sent a letter to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich Monday indicating that he planned to step down at the end of the week.

Yay! Another election! Approximately everyone in the Congressional district is running, too.

Monday 29 December 2008 16:07:35 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US#

It's time for the semi-annual update of the Chicago sunrise chart. (You can get one for your own location at http://www.wx-now.com/Sunrise/SunriseChart.aspx.)

Monday 29 December 2008 15:56:31 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | #

Can you believe I gave up this:

For this:

Monday 29 December 2008 13:56:30 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | San Francisco | Weather#

Via Bruce Schneier, a woman brought clearly-labeled gunpowder through a TSA checkpoint, in the regulation size baggies:

Mind you, I had packed the stuff safely. It was in three separate jars: one of charcoal, one of sulphur, and one of saltpetre (potassium nitrate). Each jar was labeled: Charcoal, Sulphur, Saltpetre. I had also thoroughly wet down each powder with tap water. No ignition was possible. As a good citizen, I had packed the resulting pastes into a quart-sized "3-1-1" plastic bag, along with my shampoo and hand cream. This bag I took out of my messenger bag and put on top of my bin of belongings, turned so that the labels were easy for the TSA inspector to read.

I expect she'll get noticed the next time she flies...

Monday 29 December 2008 08:48:46 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Security#
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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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