Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Tuesday 30 March 2010

My new employer requires that I get an appropriate Microsoft certification by February 2012. This requires that I take six certification tests. I've started preparing, after not having bothered in four years. And, as I was in 2006, and 1999, and 1996, and 1993, the last times I jumped into the MCP Pit of Despair, I am unhappy.

Why, pray, have I not bothered to get certified? Why only one test in the last 10 years? Because I really, honestly, truly, hate these exams. The last time I took one, I literally walked in off the street and winged it. This didn't work. Not, I assert, because I lack the skills the test purported to measure. No, because the exams, for reasons of economics and volume, don't demonstrate ability; they screen for something else entirely. (I'm still trying to work out what.)

Having just taken a practice test, I am saddened to see things haven't improved. Here's an example, which I first demonstrated in 2006. Imagine you want to get a "Chicago Certified Driver in Stick-Shift Transmissions (Automobile)" badge. This credential establishes that you are certified by the city of Chicago to drive cars equipped with manual transmissions. To get this credential, you take a computerized, multiple-choice test. Here is question 1:

You're driving from 1200 West Fullerton Parkway to 741 West Cornelia Avenue. What is the route you follow?
A. East on Fullerton, North on Halsted, West on Cornelia.
B. East on Fullerton, North on Clark, North on Sheffield, East on Cornelia.
C. West on Fullerton, North on Western, East on Addison, South on Halsted, East on Cornelia.
D. East on Fullerton, North on Clark, North on Broadway, West on Cornelia.

Do you know the answer? You have 60 seconds, closed book.

The correct answer is C, because the other three are illegal. Of course, no one would ever, ever, ever, choose C in real life, because it takes you three miles out of your way. But that's not the point. Certified Chicago Drivers may not know how to use a manual transmission, but they absolutely know all the one-way streets in the city.

See, in order to get this question right you need to know several things. First, Halsted is 800 West, so you need to be East of it to get to 741 W. Cornelia. Second, Cornelia is a one-way street that goes East and West from Halsted. In other words, if you're on Halsted, you can go either East or West on Cornelia, away from Halsted.

Further, if you got the question wrong, so what? So you're going up on Halsted and you turn the wrong way on Cornelia. Oops: you're on the 800 block of Cornelia, the numbers are getting bigger, so you waste maybe 15 seconds turning at the next street and trying again in the other directon.

And even more: Anyone who has ever spent time in that neighborhood knows you won't find a parking space on the 700 block of Cornelia unless you get really, really lucky. So you may want to turn West on Cornelia anyway, because it's sometimes easier to find parking over there.

You may be wondering, why would anyone who wants to demonstrate mastery of driving stick-shift cars (a) take a multiple-choice test requiring him to (b) memorize all the one-way streets in Wrigleyville? Good question. And I have the one and only answer that should ever, ever make you do this:

Because someone is paying you to do so.

That is a good enough reason for me.

Tuesday 30 March 2010 15:51:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#

Sean Wilentz at The New Republic has a better explanation of the nullification nonsense this morning than I had yesterday:

Now, as in the 1860s and 1960s, nullification and interposition are pseudo-constitutional notions taken up in the face of national defeat in democratic politics. Unable to prevail as a minority and frustrated to the point of despair, its militant advocates abandon the usual tools of democratic politics and redress, take refuge in a psychodrama of "liberty" versus "tyranny," and declare that, on whatever issue they choose, they are not part of the United States or subject to its laws—that, whenever they say so, the Constitution in fact forms a league, and not a government. Although not currently concerned with racial supremacy, the consequence of their doctrine would uphold an interpretation of the constitutional division of powers that would permit the majority of any state to reinstate racial segregation and inequality up to the point of enslavement, if it so chose.

That these ideas resurfaced 50 years ago, amid the turmoil of civil rights, was as harebrained as it was hateful. But it was comprehensible if only because interposition and nullification lay at the roots of the Civil War. Today, by contrast, the dismal history of these discredited ideas resides within the memories of all Americans who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s—and ought, on that account, to be part of the living legacy of the rest of the country. Only an astonishing historical amnesia can lend credence to such mendacity.

The whole idea is childish in a way. Little children and extremist politicians have a definition of "fair" that only encompasses what they want. Seriously, doesn't this whole thing look like a temper tantrum? When you start to think about the far right as a bunch of little kids more concerned with winning than governing, their whole ethos becomes clearer.

In other words, my message to Western legislatures is: Grow the hell up. We have real problems that need real solutions. Act like adults and get back to work.

Tuesday 30 March 2010 09:41:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Monday 29 March 2010

He really should know better:

Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert has signed two bills authorizing the state to use eminent domain to seize some of the federal government's most valuable land.

Supporters hope the bills, which the Republican governor signed Saturday, will trigger a flood of similar legislation throughout the West and, eventually, a Supreme Court battle that they hope to win -- against long odds.

Um...no. Starting with the Supremacy Clause, moving on to the Federal applicability of the 5th Amendment, and ending with the unfortunate result of the 1832 Nullification Crisis[1], this bill has less chance of having legal effect than the Cubs have of winning a post-season game. In fact, of the two events, I'd wager on the Cubs.

This silly act is merely the latest in a disturbing trend of Republican legislatures imagining that the last 150 years of U.S. history didn't happen.

Or maybe it's not their imagination. Maybe, on top of being ornery, they might in fact be ignorant of the late unpleasantness and its aftermath. Utah has no excuse, though. They entered the Union in 1896, four decades after all that stuff about, you know, Federal supremacy had been decided.

[1] President Obama will probably not send the U.S. Navy to Utah, owing to certain practical difficulties, but you get the idea.

Monday 29 March 2010 17:22:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

Yesterday I expressed more relief than dread after finishing my Term 3 finals. Dread just won:

Subject: FedEx Shipment Notification

[Redacted] of Duke Fuqua School of Business sent David Braverman 1 FedEx Express Saver package(s).

This shipment is scheduled to be sent on 03/29/2010.

Oh. Joy. The Term 4 books are coming.

Sigh.

Monday 29 March 2010 08:41:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke#
Sunday 28 March 2010

I've just finished my final exams for Duke CCMBA Term 3. Total time: 10.8 hours on statistics, 8.2 hours for marketing, 4.9 hours sobbing quietly at my desk about not having studied more.

As the program has six terms, in a sane universe this would mean I'm half-way done with my MBA. Sadly, I'm not even done with Term 3 yet. And anyway the end of Term 3, officially April 7th, isn't really the half-way point.

First, I have the Delhi Culture Dash video to produce. My team has succeeded mightily with a divide-and-conquer approach, so for each the three projects that remain in Term 3 (two, technically, being term 4 projects due before term 4 officially starts), we have one project author and one reviewer. I volunteered for the video project when the entire team thought it was due April 6th. It's actually due Thursday. I'm guessing this is another 10 hours of work. Good thing I have all that time to do it, otherwise I'd continue sobbing at my desk.

Second, Term 6 will really be two terms. During the residency we have four classes, then after the residency we have two 6-week distance periods, with two sets of finals.

Third, the chronological midpoint of the program is actually April 11th.[1] So, really, we're almost there, though I suspect the psychological midpoint will be April 25th, when we leave Shanghai. Or maybe December 12th, the day before the thing ends.

Sorry about that. I may have spent too much time doing statistics this weekend. I will now retire to the pub, with The Travels of a T-Shirt in a Global Economy, which I need to finish reading (for Global Markets and Institutions) before next week.

[1] The program officially started with Term 1 pre-reading on 8 August 2009; our last final exam is due 13 December 2010; that's 492 days; so 246 days after August 8th is April 11th. QED. If you use the first day of the London residency, August 15th, as the starting point, the midpoint is April 14th.

Sunday 28 March 2010 18:28:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke#

To hear the right wingers describe it, passing the Health-Care Reform Act ranked somewhere between breaking the second seal and sending Federal troops to Birmingham in atrocity. I cannot fathom the rage, not one bit. Nor can I fathom the hypocrisy. For example, as the New York Times reported this morning, a sizable chunk of the Tea Party movement have the luxury of banging on against the welfare state because—why else—they're supported by it:

Tom Grimes, [who] lost his job as a financial consultant 15 months ago...has organized a local group and a statewide coalition, and even started a "bus czar" Web site to marshal protesters to Washington on short notice. This month, he mobilized 200 other Tea Party activists to go to the local office of the same congressman to protest what he sees as the government's takeover of health care.

Full entry at The Daily Parker...

Sunday 28 March 2010 14:04:19 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Saturday 27 March 2010

My dad has a new novel out. Right now it's available for the Amazon Kindle only; in a couple of weeks he'll have paperbacks as well. As soon as he does, expect to find them in random locations around the world.

I've read about 20 different drafts of the book, and each was better than the last. It's a page-turner. And creepy. And funny. An excerpt:

It all played out in less than three seconds.

Like an errant missile, the two-and-a-half-ton stretch Cadillac slammed into the stunned crowd of mourners, carving through them before planting itself into the back of the standing hearse. One mortuary attendant and two elderly women, whose unfortunate timing had them standing on the street between the two hearses, were instantly crushed, their bones pulverized by the explosive collision of metal into metal. Other bodies were tumbled and tossed like stuffed toys into the street or dashed against the red brick wall of the mortuary. And for those not directly in the path of the hearse, the blizzard of glass and metal shrapnel exploding outward from the collision sliced through their soft flesh with the lethal efficiency of whirling Cuisinart blades.

The force of the impact knocked Garland backwards off his feet. The stinging tintinnabulation resounding in his ears deafened and disoriented him. When he was finally able to lift his head, he saw Eugene Kessler writhing behind him on the flooded street, clutching his shoulder a few feet from where Carolyn Eccevarria was lying lifelessly on her back.

It only just came out half an hour ago so I'll need to read the latest version. (After finals...ugh.) But if you have a Kindle and you're looking for a fun, quick novel, download it now.

Saturday 27 March 2010 11:56:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Friday 26 March 2010

An island claimed by both India and Bangladesh has vanished, ending a territorial dispute going back to 1971:

The uninhabited territory south of the Hariabhanga river was known as New Moore Island to the Indians and South Talpatti Island to the Bangladeshis.

Recent satellites images show the whole island under water, says the School of Oceanographic Studies in Calcutta.

"What these two countries could not achieve from years of talking, has been resolved by global warming," said Professor Sugata Hazra of the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University in Calcutta.

Professor Hazra said his studies revealed that sea levels in this part of the Bay of Bengal have risen much faster over the past decade than they had done in the previous 15 years.

And he predicts that in the coming decade other islands in the Sundarbans delta region will follow New Moore, or South Talpatti, beneath the waves.

The article doesn't explain that both countries claimed the tiny uninhabited island because the law of the sea allows countries to claim a 370 km exclusive economic zone around any land they "control," even if it's just a speck poking above the water. This means the total disputed territory was actually over 430,000 km²—an area about as big as California or Thailand. But with the island gone, the competing claims have vanished as well.

(With the island sitting right at the mouth of a major river, however, the 22 km territorial waters were probably more important to both.)

Friday 26 March 2010 16:14:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World#

Nothing special about the game, but I do love the shot:

Friday 26 March 2010 15:14:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cubs#
Thursday 25 March 2010

Today the Vatican announced that there has been no cover-up in the latest U.S. sex-abuse scandal, and could we all just leave the Pope alone?

This whole thing must feel like someone stampeded cattle through St. Peter's.

But let's be serious. It looks quite like the current Pope intervened in the Ecclesiastical trial of a priest accused of molesting 200 deaf boys, and failed to act on dozens of other cases:

The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.

More after the jump...

Thursday 25 March 2010 12:33:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Religion#

But not according to John Boehner:

I laughed so hard I cried.

Oh, by the way, John? Yes we did.

Thursday 25 March 2010 10:07:35 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 24 March 2010

If you believe in small government, individual liberty, and all the other things that conservatives traditionally believe, then equal rights for gays naturally follows. As evidence I give you the British Conservative Party's leader (and probably the next prime minister), David Cameron:

[N]o-one should be in any doubt that the Conservative party abhors homophobia, that we support equal rights, that we support civil partnerships, that we think that part of being a strong central right party in Britain today.

One of the bedrock issues is being in favour of proper equality for people whether they are straight or gay, or black or white, or men or women, or whether they live in the town or the countryside or whatever God they worship - important points.

He's the Conservative Party leader. That's what a center-right politician looks like everywhere else in the world. His positions are entirely within the foundational beliefs of conservatism (and liberalism, of course).

Incidentally, the interview quoted above was with—wait for it—Gay Times magazine. Now stop, for a moment, and consider the crashing improbability of Sarah Palin or John Boehner sitting down with the Advocate and you start to see how out of touch with conservatism the Republican leadership really is.

Wednesday 24 March 2010 17:06:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World#

I didn't expect to see O'Hare on this list. (Oh, it wasn't. Don't worry.)

Gulliver has the summary:

HAVING assessed 9.8m passenger surveys for its annual awards, Skytrax, a research company, has just named Singapore’s Changi airport the best in the world.

Incheon airport, near Seoul, which was last year’s winner, came second and Hong Kong airport third. These three would appear to be well clear of the opposition, according to Skytrax’s methodology, as they have held the top three slots (in different orders) for the past three years. ...

Top ten airports 2010: 1 Singapore, 2 Seoul Incheon, 3 Hong Kong, 4 Munich, 5 Kuala Lumpur, 6 Zurich, 7 Amsterdam, 8 Beijing, 9 Auckland, 10 Bangkok

If anyone wants to donate $460 to the Daily Parker, I'll order a copy of the report and find out where O'Hare wound up. Sight unseen, I'll bet the whole amount that it did better than LaGuardia, and I'll give even odds we beat Heathrow.

Wednesday 24 March 2010 13:06:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#

Well, maybe the Republicans who predicted market Armageddon over the weekend were right. Even though the markets went up on Monday and Tuesday, this morning they have, indeed, collapsed. During the first half-hour of trading this morning the Dow has lost 24, the NASDAQ 10, and the S&P 4. Points. Meaning, 0.23%, 0.4%, and 0.3%, respectively.

Yes, the markets have spoken. They just haven't said anything about health-care reform.

Wednesday 24 March 2010 08:57:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 23 March 2010

Via Andrew Sullivan, a 185-voice virtual choir:

Tuesday 23 March 2010 15:40:51 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

The Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters now has a bigger desktop:

Tuesday 23 March 2010 15:05:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#

President Obama signed the health-care reform bill just now. It's law. So the U.S. now has a health care law with as much charity and compassion as, say, the U.K.'s circa 1950.

And still no stock-market crash. How about that.

Tuesday 23 March 2010 11:09:37 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
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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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