Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Friday 5 June 2009

The Conservative Party have apparently obliterated Labour in yesterday's local U.K. elections:

Although most of the county councils have yet to declare, early results show the Conservatives taking dozens of seats from Labour and seizing control of two county councils in the Liberal Democrats’ stronghold in the South West.

In Staffordshire, Labour, which has controlled the county for over 20 years, has already lost half its seats and the Tories are on course for an easy victory.

The Conservatives also took control of Devon and Somerset from the Liberal Democrats. The Tories have not been in power in Somerset for 16 years.

... Party officials hinted yesterday that Labour was likely to lose more than half its county council seats and all the four county councils that it still held. Results so far will have done nothing to lift their spirits. Pundits suggested the Tories will gain at least 200 seats although it is questionable whether they will get the 43 per cent share of the vote they gained in local elections last year.

It's sad, really. Gordon Brown actually has done well on paper, keeping the UK from suffering as much as other countries in the current recession, and generally doing the right things economically. But the man just can't manage the politics. Neither can David Cameron or Nick Clegg, by the way, which makes the situation even worse.

Any bets on when Brown will resign? It could happen this month.

Friday 5 June 2009 10:35:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Politics | World#

The City is seeing more incidents of systematic violence against meters—this time in Andersonville.

I have a hypothesis, with some of the evidence to support it coming from my own head. Before the parking meter lease, people mostly accepted that feeding parking meters was part of our civic responsibility. We drive on the streets, which are a public good, so we should do our part and pay the $1 per hour or so for the privilege of parking on them. Now, however, a private company gets the money from the meters, which adds a profit motive (and, incidentally, up to $3 per hour) to parking meter collections. In other words, the mood has shifted from cooperative (it's our city, after all) to adversarial (who's getting the money?).

I should make it clear, I don't condone vandalism of any kind. But I understand, and even share to some extent, the feelings that cause it in this case. The proper thing to do, I think, is simply to boycott the parking meters. Starve them; don't beat them to death. But continue to let aldermen and the Mayor know why.

Friday 5 June 2009 10:21:12 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Politics#
Thursday 4 June 2009

I wrote yesterday about all of New England (except that one little bit in the southeast) has now ratified marriage equality. I asked some friends, why not Rhode Island? Reader EC wrote back from East Greenwich:

eventually they'll pass it. We have a Republican gov and he's trying to posture, but maybe even more significant is the fact that Rhode Islanders never rush into anything. We were the first to enter into the revolutionary fray with the burning of the British ship, the Gaspe, but the last of the colonies to ratify the Constitution. It has been thus ever since. To paraphrase, the mills of RI governance grind slow, but they grind exceedingly fine. All in due time. We tend to fight for the underdog tooth and nail, but hesitate to legislate. Instead we spend years fighting about changing our state name, officially The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, to eliminate the potentially "racist" word, plantations. On second thought, maybe that's why we hesitate to legislate.

It'll be interested to see what they do. I haven't heard of any court challenges there, either. As for other states, via Andrew Sullivan comes Nate Silver's update on New York. Astute geographers will note that New York borders four of the six states in New England, and is (at least below I-84) a fairly left-leaning state.

Thursday 4 June 2009 10:55:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 3 June 2009

Governor John Lynch today signed legislation making New Hampshire the sixth state (and the fifth in New England) to allow gay marriage.

If gay marriage—or, the right of a person and another person to marry—can pass New Hampshire and Iowa, I think it's officially "mainstream." New Hampshire ("Live Free or Die") is the most Republican state in New England, and John Lynch is a Republican governor; so this isn't a party issue any more. Rhode Island politics may not permit the state to weigh in for some time (I've got emails out to some GOP friends from East Greenwich for clarification), which I kind of expected.

But now, I would hope that Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, even Maryland, and other states with long progressive histories start getting marriage-equality acts through. Since it's a matter of when, not if, I would like to see my home state on the van.

Wednesday 3 June 2009 18:01:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

This morining Chicago's Inspector General released his official report confirming what everyone already knew: Chicago's parking-meter lease deal was, not to put too fine a point on it, galactically stupid. Apparently, though, Mayor Daley can't fathom why this scandal hasn't quietly disappeared like all the others.

Here's the Trib:

While Inspector General David Hoffman put an official seal on what critics have been saying for months, the scathing report comes amid public outrage. Anger over the parking meter meltdown has yet to subside in a rare case where a blunder is sticking to a mayor who has outrun many controversies during his two decades in office.

Though Hoffman declined to single out Daley for criticism, the report will resonate at City Hall, where the mayor's tight rein is legendary and aldermen almost always are expected to back his agenda with little scrutiny. The report takes the City Council to task for ratifying the deal by a 40-5 vote in December, just a day after Daley aides briefed aldermen on it.

... Hoffman's report calls the lease a "dubious financial deal," arguing the city could have raked in at least $2.13 billion if only it had kept the meters after raising rates -- minus the cost of collecting the money and maintaining the meters.

Top Daley aide Paul Volpe immediately fired back at what he called a "misguided and inaccurate" report.

"Misguided and inaccurate?" Dude, you guys messed with our cars. This is America. If you'd sold the CTA for 25 cents[1] the outrage would have ended in a few hours, but this—this is parking, fer crissakes.

[1] It's hyperbole, Richie. Please, for the love of all that's holy, do not sell the CTA.

Wednesday 3 June 2009 11:22:21 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Politics#
Tuesday 2 June 2009

Australian comedy duo John Clarke and Brian Dawe comment on the 1991 Kikri oil spill:

Tuesday 2 June 2009 08:05:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Jokes#
Monday 1 June 2009

As I'm less than three months from starting an MBA program designed to foster international relationships, I don't know what to make of this:

[F]oreign (or, more euphemistically, "international") students are thinking twice about handing over their hard-earned and recession-hit cash for an education at a prestigious Western hall of academe.

... Big private business schools in America, already hit by the much lower valuations of their endowment funds, seem likely to take the biggest hit. The American-based Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), a regular surveyor of MBA graduates and recruiters, presciently noted in its 2008 Global MBA Graduate Survey that "graduates who attended full-time MBA programmes outside their country of citizenship rated overall value lower compared with graduates who attended similar programmes in their home country".

... Three factors are likely to weigh heavily on international students’ willingness to travel abroad to study: financing their studies, fears about the jobs market and the availability or otherwise of good business schools in their home country.

I'm very interested to see the composition of my CCMBA class. So far, to judge by the 25 or so of us who have submitted biographies to the class portal, about 2/3 of us are from the U.S., 1/3 from the rest of the world.

The article mentions, as a tangent, that the U.K. Border Agency maintains a list of the top 50 MBA programs worldwide. Fuqua is on the list, which means Fuqua graduates can get a working visa from Britain under the Highly Skilled Workers scheme nearly automatically.

Monday 1 June 2009 13:55:38 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke#

There are apparently proposals out there to make beer drinkers sad:

In Congress, the Senate Finance Committee has raised the possibility of a 150% increase in the federal tax on beer to help pay for health care reform. And about three dozen states, including Illinois, have called for alcohol tax hikes to offset budget shortfalls.

The federal government hasn't raised the beer tax in nearly 20 years, but legislators are considering increasing it to the same level as spirits. An equalization of alcohol taxes would be a huge problem for brewing giants such as MillerCoors LLC, which will move its headquarters to Chicago this summer. The tax hikes would raise prices and drive many customers to buy cheaper brands or switch to spirits, beer industry insiders say.

But wait! Turns out, MillerCoors is wrong: the tax increase wouldn't lead people to cheaper beers (as if such existed), it might actually lead people to better beers:

Small brewers would be exempt from the taxes, giving the fast-growing microbrew segment another boost against giants like MillerCoors.

The [Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group] estimates most people would pay little extra if taxes were increased on alcohol because 20% of drinkers consume 85% of the alcohol in the U.S.

In marginally-related news, hoppy beer in San Diego is booming:

A dizzying variety of small breweries are lapping away at the dominance that mild, light-colored lagers have enjoyed since Prohibition, and some of the best-regarded are in North County, short on history and long on the bitter herbs known as hops.

... North County breweries have racked up their share of accolades. The Brewers Association named Port Brewing as the nation's best small brewing company for 2007. The association named Alesmith Brewing Co., in San Diego's Miramar neighborhood, as the best small brewery last year. Beer Advocate magazine called Stone the "best brewery on earth" in December and rated five Stone beers among its top 25. Food & Wine Magazine's June issue dubs Highway 78 a "near-mystical" route for visiting breweries.

So, it the beer tax doesn't seem that bad, especially in Southern California.

Monday 1 June 2009 11:46:59 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US#

Here's the KML from yesterday's flight. And here's more art:

Contrast with a photo from earlier this year...

Monday 1 June 2009 10:20:05 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago#

I took a combination sightseeing/cross-country flight today down to Valparaiso, Ind., 56 nautical miles away. I also stopped at Lansing, Ill., for good measure.

No Google Earth track yet—I expect to have that tomorrow morning, when I get around to it—but I do have art. This is the Bahá'í House of Worship in Wilmette, Ill.:

Sunday 31 May 2009 20:46:56 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago#
Sunday 31 May 2009

After suffering multiple beatings at the hands of Cubs players, the Gatorade machine in the Cubs' dugout will finally be rescued:

The machine, which replaced the decades-old water cooler that dispensed Lake Michigan water to thirsty Cubs players from Joe Pepitone to Mark DeRosa, lasted only two months. It was brought in this season as a way to enhance advertising revenues through a sponsorship with Pepsi, which owns Gatorade.

The Pepsi service technician who came out to fix the dispenser twice last week -- after a wayward punch by Ryan Dempster on Monday and Carlos Zambrano's bat-whacking episode on Wednesday -- will be glad to hear the news. He thought he might be on call the rest of the season.

Poor thing.

Sunday 31 May 2009 08:11:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cubs#
Saturday 30 May 2009

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced an investigation of the parking-meter lease:

Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan has opened an investigation into the "transaction and implementation" of Chicago's parking meter privatization deal, according to a Madigan spokesperson. On May 19 the attorney general's office sent subpoenas to Morgan Stanley Infrastructure Partners, LAZ Parking, and Chicago Parking Meters LLC--the three entities that now control the meters--said Robyn Ziegler, who represents Madigan. She wouldn't say what specific information was requested.

Also, the New York Times has picked up the story of our awful parking-meter disaster.

Saturday 30 May 2009 10:54:44 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Politics#

Via my college friend D.M., the New York Mets and Yankees have discovered the Intro to Microeconomics lesson of the effect of higher prices on quantity demanded, a.k.a. "overcharging:"

OK, so neither the new Yankee Stadium nor its counterpart in Flushing can handle the capacity of their predecessors. Fine. But where are the 53,070 people who came nightly to the old Yankee Stadium in 2008, and where are the 49,902 who showed up every night in the final season of Shea Stadium?

So far, the Yankees are averaging 44,636 in their new crib, the Mets 38,806. If baseball is so popular in this town and Yankees and Mets games truly are must-see events, as both clubs insisted throughout the offseason, why aren't there 10,000 people milling around outside their ballparks every game night, trying to buy up every last ticket in the house, and the rest going home empty-handed and disappointed?

One of the reasons, of course, is simple and self-evident. It's the economy, stupid. But in a metropolitan area that certainly has more than 83,442 people - the combined average attendance at both parks - wealthy enough to buy their way into these exclusive clubs dressed as ballparks, there has to be something more to it.

So how high are the prices at Citi and Yankee? High. But hard to break down easily. For today's game against the Marlins, fans have 29—yes, twenty nine—price levels, from the $19 "Promenade Reserved" section near LaGuardia, up to the $375 "Delta Club Gold" section sitting on a diamond-encrusted golden throne in the Mets' dugout. The seats I would look for, upper deck box seats in the infield (Citi sections 406-428, the "Promenade Box") are $35.

Wrigley, today, has three price levels left (because the park is nearly sold out), $56 for upper deck box infield up to $90 club box infield. (Good seats, though--the $56 seat is right above home plate.)

I should point out, both the Mets and Yankees are in first place today, and the Cubs...well, they're not, but they are at least one game above .500.

So is it just the price of going to the park that is keeping people away from New York baseball parks? Or is it something else?

Saturday 30 May 2009 10:35:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Baseball | Cubs#
Friday 29 May 2009

Via Andrew Sullivan, "Total Eclipse of the Heart"—the literal version:

Friday 29 May 2009 13:19:23 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Jokes#

Of the street and baseball variety, with this photo from Wrigley Field explained further:

Friday 29 May 2009 09:59:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Cubs#
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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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