Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Thursday 3 March 2011

The Economist ran a good story last week analyzing the pros and cons of federalism:

Why is the tie between federalism and democracy so awkward? In most federations the units have formally equal status, regardless of population, so voters in small units fare better. Thus the 544,270 residents of Wyoming have two senators—the same as the 37m people of California. In Australia the 507,600 people of Tasmania have the same weight in the upper house as the 7m who live in New South Wales. In rich, consensus-based democracies, such anomalies are often accepted. They may be seen as an inevitable legacy of the past; when political units have freely come together, as the 13 original American colonies did, they keep their status as building blocks of the union. But the perverse electoral system of the European Parliament (to which the 1.2m voters of Northern Ireland elect three members, whereas 500,000 Greek-Cypriot voters send six) cannot claim the veneer of age. After a scolding over its democratic deficiencies from Germany’s constitutional court, the Euro-legislature has commissioned a study of federal systems, and the associated electoral quirks, all over the world.

They also ran a bit on IKEA's inconsistencies worth reading:

Critics grumble that its set-up minimises tax and disclosure, handsomely rewards the Kamprad family and makes IKEA immune to a takeover. The parent for IKEA Group, which controls 284 stores in 26 countries, is Ingka Holding, a private Dutch-registered company. Ingka Holding, in turn, belongs entirely to Stichting Ingka Foundation, a Dutch-registered, tax-exempt, non-profit-making entity, which was given Mr Kamprad’s IKEA shares in 1982. A five-person executive committee, chaired by Mr Kamprad, runs the foundation.

The IKEA trademark and concept is owned by Inter IKEA Systems, another private Dutch company. Its parent company is Inter IKEA Holding, registered in Luxembourg. For years the owners of Inter IKEA Holding remained hidden from view and IKEA refused to identify them.

In January a Swedish documentary revealed that Interogo, a Liechtenstein foundation controlled by the Kamprad family, owns Inter IKEA Holding, which earns its money from the franchise agreements Inter IKEA Systems has with each IKEA store. These are lucrative: IKEA says that all franchisees pay 3% of sales as a royalty. The IKEA Group is the biggest franchisee; other franchisees run the remaining 35 stores, mainly in the Middle East and Asia. One store in the Netherlands is run directly by Inter IKEA Systems.

These kinds of stories make me happy to spend $3 a week on the newspaper. I just wish it would arrive Fridays or Saturdays, so I can read them on time. It's no fun to get home from a business trip on Thursday to find last week's Economist in the mailbox.

Thursday 3 March 2011 16:41:40 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Politics#
Wednesday 2 March 2011

It's March?

How did that happen?

Tuesday 1 March 2011 20:49:02 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Tuesday 1 March 2011

I'm wrapping up in Fairfield County, Conn., today, then I get five nights at home before popping off to Boston for an indefinite series of 4-day weeks there. At least it's Boston, a city I enjoy, and one with easy access to the airport. (I expect my commute will be two hours shorter than it is to Connecticut.) Parker won't like it, though: he'll likely board from Sunday night to Thursday afternoon every week for the duration of the project.

No word yet on Internet connectivity. The client with whom I'm wrapping up this morning trades good-sized portfolios, so they have strict security. The Boston client manages securities as well, so I may not have much contact with the outside world there, either.

I'll survive, and so will Parker, if for no other reason than the regular, magical increases in my bank account twice each month....

Tuesday 1 March 2011 07:25:34 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Parker | Blogs | Work#
Monday 28 February 2011

Because of a barrage of comment spam, I've temporarily killed the comment feature of The Daily Parker. These things usually pass in a couple of days. Management apologizes for the inconvenience.

Sunday 27 February 2011 23:09:13 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Blogs#
Saturday 26 February 2011

I finally got around to reading The Atlantic's 2010 Fiction issue, and I happened upon this essay by Richard Bausch:

Finally, a word about this kind of instruction: it is always less effective than actually reading the books of the writers who precede you, and who are contemporary with you. There are too many "how-to" books on the market, and too many would-be writers are reading these books in the mistaken idea that this will teach them to write. I never read such a book in my life, and I never will. What I know about writing I know from having read the work of the great writers. If you really want to learn how to write, do that. Read Shakespeare, and all the others whose work has withstood time and circumstance and changing fashions and the assaults of the ignorant and the bigoted; read those writers and don’t spend a lot of time analyzing them. Digest them, swallow them all, one after another, and try to sound like them for a time. Learn to be as faithful to the art and craft as they all were, and follow their example. That is, wide reading and hard work. One doesn’t write out of some intellectual plan or strategy; one writes from a kind of beautiful necessity born of the reading of thousands of good stories poems plays… One is deeply involved in literature, and thinks more of writing than of being a writer. It is not a stance.

He's absolutely right. Anyone can learn the notes; not everyone can learn the music. To write, you first have to read.

This goes for all forms of art. In college, I started as a music major. My first year, the music department instituted a requirement that all music majors take and pass a listening exam each year. My first year, only two of us passed. The department saw this as a disaster, for good reason: how could it produce musicians who had never heard music?

The exam consisted of 60 one-minute excerpts from major works of classical and contemporary music. To pass, we had to identify 45 or more of them by composer, work, and if appropriate, movement.

Lest you think this terribly unfair, I present two more facts: one, incoming freshies got a list of all the works that would be on each of the four exams they would have to take, organized by year. So at orientation, we all knew what would be on April's exam.

Two, they chose major, well-known works. The year-three exam, for example, had on it Bach's Magnificat, Debussy's Nocturnes, Mendelssohn's Symphonies #4 and #5, and Berg's Wozzeck. Now, someone might, conceivably, confuse the two Mendelssohn symphonies, but I can't imagine how a thinking person—even one who hadn't actually heard the works—could confuse Stavinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat with Josquin's Missa "L'Homme Armé." Even if you didn't know they were written 500 years apart, you would presumably know that one is an a capella choral work and the other is a ballet. (Not a lot of choral parts in ballet, you know?)

The point, of course, is that it's very difficult to teach someone music if they don't listen to it.

Neither Bausch in his essay nor I in this post mean to say that one should read (or listen to) only dead white men. But you really can't understand literature (or music) without having some immersion in the works that have lasted the longest.

Saturday 26 February 2011 10:39:29 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

We did, in fact, break the snowfall record for February:

February 2011 will go down as the snowiest February in Chicago's 126 years of recorded weather history. One inch of snow fell overnight at O'Hare Airport, Chicago's official reporting station, pushing the monthly snowfall total to 726 mm. This surpasses the old record of 706 mm, established in 1896.

OK, maybe we didn't break the record, but the record, she is a-broken.

Saturday 26 February 2011 09:40:11 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Weather#
Friday 25 February 2011

WGN and the Chicago Tribune reported last night that Chicago has experienced the most snow in any February since records began in 1883, breaking the old record set in 1896. As of Thursday Chicago had received 683 mm (the old record was 706 mm). The forecast predicted significant accumulation overnight, but O'Hare didn't get enough to break the record, falling 13 mm short.

All we Chicagoans want is validation. But, you know, it's like the Cubs on a record-setting losing streak and then winning one just before breaking the record: we get sad when they can't even do that right.

Aren't we a cheerful bunch?

Friday 25 February 2011 07:44:58 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Thursday 24 February 2011

I do like the client where I'm spending almost all my waking moments, but because it's a short engagement, we're working pretty long hours. I got a chance to meet some friends in New York last night which, as a side effect, kept me offline for 18 hours yesterday.

Bottom line: I ent dead yet, and will resume daily blog postings when this project ends next week.

Thursday 24 February 2011 07:25:41 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Wednesday 23 February 2011

A team member who works for our client said to two of us consultants today: "You know, it's 90% of consultants that give the other 10% a bad name."

(I have to assume, of course, that he thinks we're in the other 10%...)

Tuesday 22 February 2011 21:45:30 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#

The AP and Mayor Daley are calling it; the Chicago Tribune isn't ready to commit yet. But with 55% of the vote, it looks like Rahm Emanuel has avoided a runoff and so will be the next mayor of Chicago:

City Clerk Miguel del Valle had 9.4 percent and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun was at 8.7 percent.

Despite a tremendous amount of attention on the mayor's race and a slew of hotly-contested aldermanic races, election officials say turnout could be as low as 40 percent. That's far less than the 50 percent turnout officials were hoping for on Monday.

If no candidate scores a majority tonight, the top two finishers will square off for six more weeks of campaigning. A runoff election will be held to determine Chicago's next mayor.

Mayor Richard Daley, who is out of town today, isn't on the ballot for the first time since 1989. He'll leave office on May 16 when his successor is sworn in.

No word yet who'll be my next alderman. I assume it will be the one who outspent her opponents by an obscene margin. More later.

Update, 20:35 CT: Gery Chico has conceded; Emanuel has won.

Tuesday 22 February 2011 21:26:11 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Politics#
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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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