Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Friday 11 March 2011

Via Failbook:

Friday 11 March 2011 09:37:59 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Jokes#

The most powerful earthquake in Japanese history hit today causing widespread damage and a 7.3 m (29 ft) tsunami:

Fragmentary early reports of the toll indicate that hundreds of people have been killed. Japanese police officials told the Associated Press that 200 to 300 bodies were found in Sendai, a port city in the northeastern part of the country and the closest main city to the epicenter.

Walls of water whisked away houses and cars in northern Japan, where terrified residents fled the coast. Train service was shut down across central and northern Japan, including Tokyo, and air travel was severely disrupted. A ship carrying more than 100 people was swept away by the tsunami, Kyodo News reported.

The government evacuated thousands of residents near a nuclear plant about 170 miles northeast of Tokyo after a backup generator failed, compromising the cooling system, the Associated Press reported.

The tsunami mainly hit Sendai, an industrial city about 300 km north of Tokyo:

If you understand Japanese:

(From Earthquake Video)

Friday 11 March 2011 09:08:03 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography#
Thursday 10 March 2011

Following up on last night's message from WBEZ, James Fallows today linked back to a piece he wrote last October about why NPR matters:

In their current anti-NPR initiative, Fox and the Republicans would like to suggest that the main way NPR differs from Fox is that most NPR employees vote Democratic. That is a difference, but the real difference is what they are trying to do. NPR shows are built around gathering and analyzing the news, rather than using it as a springboard for opinions. And while of course the selection of stories and analysts is subjective and can show a bias, in a serious news organization the bias is something to be worked against rather than embraced. NPR, like the New York Times, has an ombudsman. Does Fox? [I think the answer is No.]

... From the "State of the Media Report," by the Pew Project on Excellence in Journalism: "According to [industry analyst] estimates, the bulk of Fox News' spending was projected to be in its programming, as opposed to its general newsgathering and administrative costs. (The reverse is true for CNN). That appears to reflect the fact that the Fox News is built less around a system of bureaus internationally and domestically and more around prominent show hosts, particularly in prime time."

Fallows has a story in this month's Atlantic discussing today's media. In light of this week's events at NPR, it's timely.

Thursday 10 March 2011 11:39:49 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

I'm about to turn in, but I thought this email from Chicago Public Radio that I just received noteworthy:

From: Torey Malatia, President and CEO of Chicago Public Media

Re: News from NPR

I’m writing this to you because you’re an investor in our work here at WBEZ, Chicago Public Media. We are entirely responsible to you, being a community-owned and governed public media institution.

I realize that National Public Radio has been in the news over the last two days.

For Malatia's email in full, and my response, go to The Daily Parker.

Thursday 10 March 2011 00:27:07 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 9 March 2011

The State of Illinois has finally abolished the death penalty. The repeal takes effect July 1st, but Governor Pat Quinn ended it for all practical purposes today:

"Since our experience has shown that there is no way to design a perfect death penalty system, free from the numerous flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions or discriminatory treatment, I have concluded that the proper course of action is to abolish it," Quinn wrote. "With our broken system, we cannot ensure justice is achieved in every case."

"For the same reason, I have also decided to commute the sentences of those currently on death row to natural life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole or release," the governor wrote.

The ban comes about 11 years after then-Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions after 13 condemned inmates were cleared since Illinois reinstated capital punishment in 1977. Ryan, a Republican, cited a Tribune investigative series that examined each of the state's nearly 300 capital cases and exposed how bias, error and incompetence undermined many of them.

Illinois joins 15 other states that no longer have (or never had) capital punishment. Note that the United States is the only developed country that still executes criminals. Other countries with capital punishment include our friends North Korea, China, Iran, Libya, Zimbabwe, and Syria. Countries that have abolished it include Venezuela, South Africa, Turkey, Ukraine, and Nicaragua—plus, of course, Canada, all of Europe except Belarus, Latvia, and Russia (though Russia has abolished it in practice), and the rest of NATO.

(An aside: apparently Illinois is the last place in the U.S. someone was executed for witchcraft, though this happened in 1779, before Illinois existed.)

I'm proud to have voted for Pat Quinn, and I'm glad my state has the moral courage to end this barbaric practice.

Wednesday 9 March 2011 17:10:57 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

More than 10%, it turns out; but of course it depends where you live:

One of the things I’ve often heard while living in the European Union is the meme that only 10% of Americans own a passport. (This assertion is usually followed by the quazi-urban legend that George W. Bush never had a passport before becoming president. This I’ve never been able to prove or disprove any satisfaction.)

I wondered aloud about this in my previous post, Work in Progress: The United States Explained' and a commentor, Alison, was nice enough to bring this data set about passports from the ever-awesome data.gov to my attention.

So, two thirds (68%) of New Jersey residents have passports, just over half (52%) of us in Illinois, and less than one-fifth (18%) in Mississippi. So...why is this?

Wednesday 9 March 2011 09:04:45 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US#
Monday 7 March 2011

This morning the view from my hotel room looked good. This evening it looks even better:

And this is using my little backup camera. Next week I'll bring the big guy. (Of course, next week I'll have a different hotel room, but I'm sure I'll find something to shoot in Boston.)

Monday 7 March 2011 18:27:54 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography#

They are a-changin'.

Film at 11.

Monday 7 March 2011 15:02:11 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

I've spent a lot of time in hotel rooms in the past couple of years. Sometimes, like this week, I have a good view:

Monday 7 March 2011 08:19:51 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | #
Sunday 6 March 2011

The New York Times recently ran an op-ed urging us to stop lying to ourselves about how great we are, and get on with fixing things:

America is great in many ways, but on a whole host of measures — some of which are shown in the accompanying chart — we have become the laggards of the industrialized world. Not only are we not No. 1 — “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” — we are among the worst of the worst.

Yet this reality and the urgency that it ushers in is too hard for many Americans to digest. They would prefer to continue to bathe in platitudes about America’s greatness, to view our eroding empire through the gauzy vapors of past grandeur.

The chart Blow attaches tells the story succinctly, and sadly.

Sunday 6 March 2011 12:41:08 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Saturday 5 March 2011

Kain demolishes the Tribune's chart showing how long it takes to fire a tenured teacher:

First, this chart only applies to tenured teachers. Bad teachers can be weeded out much quicker before gaining tenure. School officials need to use this time window appropriately.

Second, the point of tenure is to protect teachers from arbitrarily being fired. Teachers need protection from over-zealous bosses and ideological politicians. This is the same thinking behind seniority rules, which protect more expensive teachers (i.e. veterans) from being laid off due to budget cuts.

Money quote:

But the answer to that problem is not making all teachers easier to fire. This would undermine teacher recruitment. If you take away pensions, job security, tenure, the ability to unionize, and basically all the other perks of teaching, what you’re left with is a very difficult job with no job security, mediocre benefits, and relatively low pay. This is not how you attract good people to a profession, or how you guarantee a good education experience for your children.

I had an exchange with a friend after I posted a link to this op-ed on Facebook. He writes, "It is a good thing that nobody is talking about getting rid of pensions or benefits then...only contributing to the cost. Military and federal civil service workers do not have unions and they have fantastic pension and benefit packages. What value to unions add?" I responded:

Military and civil service salaries are set by Federal law, with COLA and other increases built in. Have you seen the scales, by the way? With all the money an E5 gets--or an O5 or GS12, for that matter--you can retire from either the civil service or military after 20 years with a pretty nice package.

But let's get to the point: the right are attacking teachers for, I believe, two reasons. First, because people generally don't know what teachers actually do (9 months? It's 11 months, just like everyone else), and second, because it's in the far-right's interest to have a less-educated population, making teachers a double threat. When someone has adequate education, he might learn logic or civics, and that would make it difficult for him to continue watching Fox News without yelling obscenities.

Even that wasn't quite the point. Unions protect people with little power (i.e., workers) from people with enormous power (i.e., employers). Do some unions sometimes overreach? Of course. Does that indict all unions? Of course not.

I would like more people to have better teachers if only so more people learned the history of labor in the U.S. from, say, 1870 to 1920. Do people bashing unions really want to go back to the days of The Jungle? I guarantee most of them don't, and the ones who do are the employers.

Update, from HP in Michigan: "Actually, there is a union for government workers - they have a bulletin board in the basement of the VA hopital where I work - the American Federation of Government Employees. They are part of the AFL-CIO."

Saturday 5 March 2011 09:44:57 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Friday 4 March 2011

Jon Stewart puts the differences into their proper perspective:

Friday 4 March 2011 13:01:03 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
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#
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Japanese earthquake
Fallows on NPR
The NPR kerfluffle
Thou shalt not kill
How many of us have passports?
Still a good view
The times
Perched above Boston
We're number...something
More on teachers
Teachers v. Wall Street CEOs
Political systems primer
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David Braverman and Parker
David Braverman is the Chief Technology Officer of Holden International 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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