Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Sunday 26 February 2012

New York Times blogger Tom Ferrick highlights Rick Santorum's anger that most people in the world don't agree with him:

Santorum’s anger is not an act. It is genuine. It has its roots in the fact that he had the misfortune to be born in the second half of the 20th century. In his view, it was an era when moral relativism and anti-religious feeling held sway, where traditional values were ignored or mocked, where heretics ruled civic and political life. If anything, it’s gotten worse in the 21st, with the election of Barack Obama.

I once wrote that Santorum has one of the finest minds of the 13th century. It was meant to elicit a laugh, but there’s truth behind the remark. No Vatican II for Santorum. His belief system is the fixed and firm Catholicism of the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century. And Santorum is a warrior for those beliefs.

In 2010, Santorum delivered a little-noticed speech in Houston to mark the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s address in the same city before a convention of Protestant ministers. Kennedy went before the group to alleviate fears that if a Catholic was elected president of the United States, the Pope would rule America. As Kennedy said at the beginning of his speech: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.”

[Santorum's] was an angry speech, conjuring up images of people of faith cowering before leftist thought police. Who could rescue us from this predicament? Who could banish the secularists and restore religious morality to its throne?

The image of Santorum as a frothy mix of reactionary theology and small-mindedness looks more and more accurate the more we see him in action. This man truly wants the U.S. to install a Christianist government, prohibiting social choices not directly traceable to the Bible. He claims to want religious freedom, but like the Puritans kicked out of England in the 1620s, he only wants religious freedom for people like himself. He believes the first amendment guarantees this, but completely fails to grasp (or ignores) the establishment clause.

Santorum is, hands down, the most dangerous (serious) candidate for President since George Wallace.

Sunday 26 February 2012 12:09:50 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Saturday 25 February 2012

At this time of year, people from the tropics to the poles really become aware of changes in the lengths of the days. Yesterday Chicago had 11 hours of daylight for the first time since October 18th; we get 12 hours of daylight less than three weeks from now. Tuesday the sun set at 5:30pm for the first time since standard time returned on November 5th; it sets at 7pm on March 16th.

From the solstice through February 1st we only get about one additional hour of daylight (though, because of the Earth's orbit, most of it comes in the evening). But the really dramatic changes are now: from February 20th to April 20th, we get 3 more hours of daylight—an average of 3 minutes per day. Plus, the second weekend of March puts us into Daylight Saving Time, so sunsets occur more than two hours later in April than in February.

A direct result of lengthening days is increasing temperatures. It turns out that summer temperatures don't predict winter temperatures at all, but winter temperatures predict summer temperatures quite well. With only 12 days of snow on the ground this year, the warmest winter since the 1920s has felt more like Raleigh, N.C., than Chicago. This means, of course, next summer will feel like Raleigh as well. I can't wait.

Saturday 25 February 2012 11:19:17 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather | Astronomy#
Friday 24 February 2012

There's ample evidence that the president can't change gas prices. So why do politicians claim he can? It's an old trope:

This happens every few years, and every few years it’s total nonsense.

Since it’s happening again, and since the press seems once again more concerned about the political implications of rising gas prices than with actual forces driving them up, TPM turned to energy expert Robert Rapier for an analyst’s view.

[T]here’s very little policymakers can do today or could have done in the recent past to upset the price increase. In fact, thanks to a persistently low gas tax, the U.S. remains one of the cheaper places to fill up in the world.

“They could subsidize it, they could tax it more or tax it less, they could put import tariffs on oil coming in or export tariffs going out,” Rapier said. “Outside of forcing a recession in China,” Rapier joked, that’s pretty much it.

The only way to spend less on gas, then, is to use less gas. But that would require entirely different land and transport policies for most of the U.S., so we'll just have to blame someone else.

Friday 24 February 2012 13:15:17 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Thursday 23 February 2012

Today is Red Army Day, and one of my co-workers mentioned her Russian friends have posted on Facebook about it. This turned into a discussion of the differences between the Soviet and Russian national anthems (there isn't much), which then went to Germany. In looking for a YouTube video of the German anthem, I encountered this:

Really? The video in question has a performance of the 1841 version ("Deutschland über Alles"), but presents it as an historical fact rather than as a political aspiration. This might offend people? Who are these people?

The German national anthem, "Deutschlandlied," takes its music from Hungarian composer Josef Haydn's "Emperor" quartet, Op. 76 No. 3, with lyrics penned by August Hoffmann in 1841—30 years after Haydn's death. These days Germans only sing the third verse (the second verse praises German women, another controversy apparently); but despite widespread ignorance, the first two verses were not written by the Nazis.

So, on what grounds is this offensive?

Let's see if historical versions of current national anthems are offensive in the U.S. Here is the 1770 text of the U.S. national anthem:

To Anacreon in Heaven, where he sat in full glee,
A few sons of harmony sent a petition,
That he their inspirer and patron should be.
When this answer arrived from that jolly old Grecian:
Voice, fiddle and flute no longer be mute,
I’ll lend you my name and inspire you to boot,
And besides I’ll instruct you like me to entwine
The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ vine."

So, who's offended? Anyone?

Thursday 23 February 2012 09:47:11 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | World#
Wednesday 22 February 2012

Nature Nerd Naomi observed ice-free ponds up near Gurnee about three weeks earlier than normal:

Finally, there is no ice at all on the lakes today... late last week, some kids in my neighborhood fell through the ice... meaning that it wasn't thick, but there was an ice cover. Yesterday about half the water area was covered on most lakes, and today, nothing. This is an early ice-off, as you can see if you look at the dates below. (The kids were rescued, btw.)

2006 -- Mar 10
2007 -- Mar 18
2008 -- Mar 31
2009 -- Mar 9
2010 -- Mar 18
2011 -- Mar 18
2012 -- Feb 22!

Wednesday 22 February 2012 17:50:02 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

The astrology nutters who sued the time zone database for copyright infringement have withdrawn the suit.

Plaintiff's attorney Julie Molloy filed the notice of voluntary dismissal today in the District of Massachusetts under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1).

So, reason prevailed. Good.

Wednesday 22 February 2012 15:57:41 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | US | Religion | Business#

With only a week left in meteorological winter, Chicago's weather continues its near-record mildness:

With 4°C+-degree highs predicted the next two days, the tally of 40s (°F) will grow to 46 by Thursday's close. That's nearly twice the 141 year average of4°C or milder temperatures through Feb. 23 and just shy of six times last winter's total of 8 days in the 40s over the same period.

In only 6 other winters----all but one of them occurring prior the beginning of the last century in 1900---have as many or more 40s been logged through Feb. 23. The most recent winter with a comparable number of 40s occurred in 2001-02 when 47 were on the books.

But: "An in-house analysis of a series of mild winters---not unlike this one---continues to indicate a bias toward warmer than normal summer weather, including more 90s (°F) than usual. In 7 of 10 years we examined, summer (June through August) temperatures and 32°C tallies each finished above normal."

Apparently summer temperatures don't influence winter temperatures as much as the other way round. I like warm winters; warm summers, not so much. We'll see.

Wednesday 22 February 2012 13:37:15 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Tuesday 21 February 2012

Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum, someone who expects to be taken seriously as a potential leader of a 21st-century republic, has taken yet another step back from the reality-based community:

“We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit,” Santorum told a Colorado crowd earlier this month.

“When you have a worldview that elevates the Earth above man and says that we can’t take those resources because we’re going to harm the Earth; by things that frankly are just not scientifically proven, for example, the politicization of the whole global warming debate — this is all an attempt to, you know, to centralize power and to give more power to the government,” Santorum said.

This illustrates two common tactics of the religious right. The first is to blow a dog whistle; that is, to use a word or phrase indicating support of a fringe idea without actually saying explicitly that he's a supporter. In this case, Santorum's use of the word "dominion" suggests he believes in Dominionism, which is essentially that the U.S. should become a Christian theocracy.

The second is to make a frightening accusation about the opposition (i.e., the rational people making up a majority of the Western world) that actually applies to the person making the accusation. In this case, "an attempt to, you know, to centralize power and to give more power to the government." It's a stretch to see how saying "these observations of empirical data lead all but the most obtuse to see that humans are changing the climate, so we should perhaps take steps to mitigate that problem" is radical centralization. It's less of a stretch, however, to see how saying "I want the government to adhere to the theology I believe in and criminalize everything that disagrees with that theology" is anything but.

Dog whistles and accusing your opponents of exactly what you're doing: this is what Lincoln meant in the Cooper Union speech when he said, "A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, 'Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!'"

That is cool indeed.

Tuesday 21 February 2012 14:01:02 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Religion#
Monday 20 February 2012

The term "brainstorming," conjured up by BBDO partner Alex Osborn in the 1940s, conjures up images of creative people in a creative meeting creatively coming up with great ideas. Only, it doesn't actually work that well:

The first empirical test of Osborn’s brainstorming technique was performed at Yale University, in 1958. Forty-eight male undergraduates were divided into twelve groups and given a series of creative puzzles. The groups were instructed to follow Osborn’s guidelines. As a control sample, the scientists gave the same puzzles to forty-eight students working by themselves. The results were a sobering refutation of Osborn. The solo students came up with roughly twice as many solutions as the brainstorming groups, and a panel of judges deemed their solutions more “feasible” and “effective.

And yet Osborn was right about one thing: like it or not, human creativity has increasingly become a group process. “Many of us can work much better creatively when teamed up,” he wrote, noting that the trend was particularly apparent in science labs. “In the new B. F. Goodrich Research Center”—Goodrich was an important B.B.D.O. client—“250 workers . . . are hard on the hunt for ideas every hour, every day,” he noted. “They are divided into 12 specialized groups—one for each major phase of chemistry, one for each major phase of physics, and so on.” Osborn was quick to see that science had ceased to be solitary.

Lehrer continues to examine the success of Broadway musicals and the story of MIT's Building 20, "one of the most creative spaces in the world" from the 1940s until its demolition in 1998.

Monday 20 February 2012 10:58:53 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Business#
Saturday 18 February 2012

Via Atlantic Cities, a description of Baarle-Nassau, which not only straddles the Belgian-Dutch border, it appears to have run into the border at great speed and splattered:

[T]he Belgian town consists of 24 non-contiguous parcels of land. Twenty-one of them are surrounded by the Netherlands. while three are on the border between the two countries and thus share a jurisdictional boundary with the rest of Belgium, if also with the Netherlands and if not with each other.

And get this: there are Dutch enclaves within the Belgian enclaves that are within the Netherlands. And, actually, the main part of Baarle-Hertog is about five miles southwest of the portions you see here, and completely in Belgium.

...[B]uildings sitting within both countries pay taxes according to where their front doors are located. Some shops have apparently moved their doors "as a tax dodge of sorts." Indeed, there was a complicated legal case in which a bank engaged in money laundering had a front door in the Netherlands, but a vault in Belgium.

Road trip! And to Point Roberts, Wash., a little town attached to the underbelly of British Columbia.

Saturday 18 February 2012 09:02:05 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography#
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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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