Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Thursday 17 March 2011

Sitting in the lounge at Boston's airport, I have to ask them what crime we all committed to deserve the punishment they're inflicting. They're playing a Muzak version of "My Heart Will Go On" (from the movie Titanic).

It's like drowning in rancid honey. Blah.

Thursday 17 March 2011 11:22:46 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Wednesday 16 March 2011

The Illinois Department of Corrections wants to make sure convicts leave prison with less than nothing:

Kensley Hawkins, 60, has saved $11,000 by working in a Joliet prison since the 1980s, making about $75 a month. The state says he owes them for the cost of his stay.

Hawkins began working soon after he entered Stateville, where he was sentenced to 60 years for the 1980 slaying of a 65-year-old man and attempting to kill two Chicago policemen. He wanted to send some money to his daughter, who was 8 when he went to prison, said Glad. Hawkins is up for parole in 2028.

Hawkins learned to build desks, chairs, dividers and cabinets in the prison's wood shop, Glad said. His wages amount to about $2 a day, not including a small commission he earned on each piece sold.

In March 2005, nearly 23 years after he entered prison, the Corrections Department sued Hawkins in Will County. It demanded more than $455,000 that it has spent to house him from July 1, 1983, to March 17, 2005, or an average of about $57 a day.

Under Illinois law, prisoners are liable for their incarceration costs. Most offenders do not have the means to pay, but the department can begin collection proceedings against those who have sufficient assets. Hawkins' lawyers said the threshold is $10,000 in assets. The state requires prisoners to file financial statements.

Hawkins's case went before the Illinois Supreme Court yesterday (large video of the oral argument here).

I'll have more on this later, but for now, just consider: what potential for rehabilitation does making prisoners pay for their incarceration provide? Or, to put it slightly differently, if the state charges $57 per day for incarceration, shouldn't the state pay prisoners a fair wage to compensate?

Wednesday 16 March 2011 11:32:49 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | US#

Tom Lehrer joked once that all the trouble in the world made him "feel like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis." Leonid Rogozov had appendicitis once...at the Soviet Antarctic base...and he was the only surgeon there:

Operating mostly by feeling around, Rogozov worked for an hour and 45 minutes, cutting himself open and removing the appendix. The men he'd chosen as assistants watched as the "calm and focused" doctor completed the operation, resting every five minutes for a few seconds as he battled vertigo and weakness.

"I worked without gloves. It was hard to see. The mirror helps, but it also hinders -- after all, it's showing things backwards. I work mainly by touch. The bleeding is quite heavy, but I take my time -- I try to work surely. Opening the peritoneum, I injured the blind gut and had to sew it up. Suddenly it flashed through my mind: there are more injuries here and I didn't notice them ... I grow weaker and weaker, my head starts to spin. Every 4-5 minutes I rest for 20-25 seconds. Finally, here it is, the cursed appendage! With horror I notice the dark stain at its base. That means just a day longer and it would have burst..."

Reading crap like that reminds me why (a) I never went into medicine and (b) why I never went into the wilderness without a cell phone.

Oh, the outcome? "Two weeks later, he was back on regular duty. He died at the age of 66 in St. Petersburg in 2000."

Tuesday 15 March 2011 20:16:34 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Monday 14 March 2011

The United States Geological Survey has reported 405 significant aftershocks following Thursday's devastating earthquake off Honshu:

Monday 14 March 2011 18:22:19 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Geography#

Four weeks ago, someone stole my Kindle at the bar in the Stamford, Conn., Marriott. I noticed the theft within a few seconds, because the Kindle was no more than 10 cm from my left elbow one moment and missing the next. Less than a minute after the theft I'd notified the bartender, everyone around me, hotel security, and the concierge. Less than five minutes after that I'd gone up to my room and deregistered the device, then reported it stolen to Amazon.

Whereupon I returned to the bar and announced that I couldn't wait for whoever had stolen it to turn it on so that Amazon could track them.

Of course Amazon can't track a stolen Kindle any better than someone could track a stolen cell phone (without GPS), and for the same reasons. And of course they wouldn't bother, because it's a very small larceny.

I just got off the phone with the hotel's director of security, and wouldn't you know, someone turned it in last week to lost and found. Or found it somewhere. Or discovered it abandoned in a room. Only the Shadow knows.

I hope whoever borrowed it enjoyed all my books. I can't wait to see which ones the schmuck read.

I would feel a lot happier about getting it returned to me if (a) someone hadn't stolen it from, essentially, my person or (b) the idiot had turned it in before I bought a new one. Not only am I out the $185 replacement cost, but also I'm out the three hours (including an hour at the Stamford P.D. filling out a report) I've spent on this issue.

That said, I do appreciate the security director offering to overnight it back to me. That was decent of her.

Monday 14 March 2011 15:27:18 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

James MacWhyte has posted a video on Facebook that clarifies the issue for all of us who live hundreds of meters above sea level.

I never really understood what a "tidal wave" was until watching this video. You may have thought, as I did, that a tsunami was just a great big breaking wave on the beach that smashed everything in its path. Clearly this is what the visual-effects guys on Deep Impact imagined.

Only, it's not, and MacWhyte's on-scene video makes the terror of a tsunami clear.

The United States Geological Survey has logged hundreds—hundreds—of earthquakes of 5+ magnitude off Japan since last Wednesday, but only one (or possibly two) disrupted the sea floor sufficiently to displace a humanly-incomprehensible volume of seawater. Water, unlike air, can't expand. You can detonate a massive nuclear bomb and it's likely no one upwind of the blast will feel a puff of air. But when a few hundred hectares of seabed changes location, the entire world feels it.

I thought I understood the physics of tsunamis, how a massive displacement of water causes surges all along the nearby coastline, but seeing what MacWhyte experienced really brought it home.

Watch that video: the ocean just keeps coming. Even a dam break, or a seiche on Lake Michigan, or a molasses tank rupture, has a single discrete glob of fluid that causes all the destruction. But just watch the ocean here: not only does it keep coming for five minutes, but there's another tsunami right behind it.

When you think about what Japan has had to deal with in the last three days, just try to imagine which was more terrifying: the ground liquefying, or the ocean arriving, unstoppably, on your front door.

Sunday 13 March 2011 23:44:35 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | World#
Sunday 13 March 2011

Sanjay Saigal, writing on James Fallow's blog today, discusses the dearth of qualified managers in India, and the failure of MBA programs to keep up with demand:

Consider, for instance, the following data from a report published last year by an Indian employment company, MeritTrac:

  • Recognized MBA programs produce around 70,000 graduates each year.
  • Approximately 20,000 of them may be considered "employable".
  • The annual demand for MBAs is estimated to be 128,000.

To echo Woody Allen in Annie Hall, the food is terrible, and such small portions!

The deficit in 2009, the baseline year of MertTrac's study, was over 100,000 MBAs. Over the least 10 years, the Indian economy has growing at an average annual rate of 7.6%. The number of recognized MBA programs has been increasing, but the number of employable MBA graduates has not, bottlenecked by a shortage of trained faculty. Every year, the Indian industry finds itself in a deeper hole.

<plug style="shameless" format="parenthetical" >

Duke's Executive MBA programs—especially the CCMBA—address all of his concerns except for one: cost.

</plug>

Saigal points to a tremendous opportunity for good schools to provide deep management education to some of the billion Indians who'll make up the workforce there in 10 years.

Sunday 13 March 2011 14:56:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke | World#

CNN examines Japanese cultural roots to explain how Japanese people have acted after Friday's earthquake:

“Looting simply does not take place in Japan. I’m not even sure if there’s a word for it that is as clear in its implications as when we hear ‘looting,’" said Gregory Pflugfelder, director of the Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture at Columbia University.

Japanese have “a sense of being first and foremost responsible to the community,” he said.

To Merry White, an anthropology professor at Boston University who studies Japanese culture, the real question is why looting and disorder exist in American society. She attributes it largely to social alienation and class gaps.

The article takes these points as givens. Does anyone know if these assertions are true?

Sunday 13 March 2011 13:27:04 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World#
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)  |  | #
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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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