Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Friday 2 March 2012

While Chicago finished its ninth-warmest (meteorological) winter in history on February 29th, Illinois as a whole finished its third warmest:

This year the average winter temperature was 1.2°C, 2.9°C above normal, and the third warmest winter on record. Here are the top four warmest winters. As you can see, we had a two-way tie for second place.

  • First place, the winter of 1931-32 at 2.8°C;
  • Second place, a tie between 1997-98 and 2001-02 at 1.4°C;
  • Third place, this winter at 1.2°C.

Not only was it warm in terms of the average temperatures, but this winter lacked the really cold weather. Only a few place had temperatures drop below zero [Fahrenheit, -17.2°C]. The coldest reading for the winter was a mere -21°C at both Galena and Elizabeth in the far northwestern corner of the state.

Chicago had no days below zero Fahrenheit, thanks to the inland sea next to us.

We're now looking forward to a warm and wet spring...

Friday 2 March 2012 13:10:14 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg spent 45 minutes with President Obama this week. The President laid out his thoughts on Israel and Iran, and reminded us why we voted for him:

President Obama: I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff. I also don't, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say. Let me describe very specifically why this is important to us.

[A]s Israel's closest friend and ally, and as one that has devoted the last three years to making sure that Israel has additional security capabilities, and has worked to manage a series of difficult problems and questions over the past three years, I do point out to them that we have a sanctions architecture that is far more effective than anybody anticipated; that we have a world that is about as united as you get behind the sanctions; that our assessment, which is shared by the Israelis, is that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon and is not yet in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon without us having a pretty long lead time in which we will know that they are making that attempt.

In that context, our argument is going to be that it is important for us to see if we can solve this thing permanently, as opposed to temporarily. And the only way, historically, that a country has ultimately decided not to get nuclear weapons without constant military intervention has been when they themselves take [nuclear weapons] off the table.

It's a long interview, but one worth reading. And I think it sends a clear message to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu: don't go rogue on this.

Friday 2 March 2012 12:32:32 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | World#
Thursday 1 March 2012

The last 24 hours have been modestly eventful in U.S. politics:

  • Just a few minutes ago, Maryland became the 8th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Only 42 to go...including Illinois.
  • Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart died at 42. He was known for his casual, bordering on abusive, relationship to the truth. The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones; so let it be with Breitbart.
  • An appeals court judge in Montana yesterday sent a racist email to colleagues. Today he apologized and filed a complaint against himself with the 9th Circuit. This is called "taking responsibility," which is good to see in our public officials.

More, I'm sure, later.

Thursday 1 March 2012 17:40:00 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#

Via Bruce Schneier, a retired counter-terrorism expert rants about the TSA's airport screenings:

The entire TSA paradigm is flawed. It requires an impossibility for it to succeed. For the TSA model to work, every single possible means of causing danger to an aircraft or its passengers must be eliminated. This is an impossibility. While passengers are being frisked and digitally strip-searched a few dozen yards away, cooks and dish washers at the local concourse “Chili’s” are using and cleaning butcher knives.

TSA’s de facto policy to this point has been to react to the latest thing tried by a terrorist, which is invariably something that Al Qaeda identified as a technique not addressed by current screening. While this narrows Al Qaeda’s options, their list of attack ideas remains long and they are imaginative. Therefore, if TSA continues to react to each and every new thing tried, three things are certain:

1. Nothing Al Qaeda tries will be caught the first time because it was designed around gaps in TSA security.
2. It is impossible to eliminate all gaps in airline security.
3. Airline security screening based on eliminating every vulnerability will therefore fail because it is impossible. But it will by necessity become increasingly onerous and invasive on the travelers.

Nothing new in the critique, but it's good to hear it from someone who knows his stuff.

Thursday 1 March 2012 11:16:05 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | US#
Wednesday 29 February 2012

That's where Chicago found itself today, inside the warm, dry southern sector of a major winter storm. The temperature got up to 15°C, with 65 km/h wind gusts, but as the cold front has pushed through behind the dry wedge, temperatures have fallen 6°C in the last three hours.

Still, today we finish the 10th warmest winter in recorded history:

Meteorological winter finishes as it began in Chicago---milder than normal. The three month season is noteworthy on a number of fronts. It's the mildest winter in 14 years and has posted more 40-degree (Fahrenheit) and warmer temperatures than any winter in the 80 years since 1931-32. It also ranks 10th mildest of the past 142 winter seasons.

Each of the three months of soon-to-close meteorological winter 2011-12 have posted temperature surpluses. February becomes the fifth consecutive month in Chicago to finish with temperatures which have averaged above normal. And as if that's not impressive enough, a stunning 76 of this winter season's 91 days—84 per cent of them—have finished at or above normal!

Climatologists predict that spring will be warm and wet as well. I can definitely get used to winters like this, though.

Wednesday 29 February 2012 16:45:03 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Tuesday 28 February 2012

We came close. Mid-January it looked like Chicago would have its warmest winter in 80 years, but with the cool-down last weekend, the ranking has slipped a bit:

Two days remain in February and the 2011-12 meteorological winter season! It closes at midnight Thursday and is on track to finish the 10th-warmest December through February period of the past 142 years.

Estimates that this season's average Chicago temperature is to come in at 0.3°C places it 3°C above the long-term average and the mildest here since 1997-98's 0.5°C average.

But:

The chances for a -18°C or lower temperature occurring this late in the cold season are fading fast. Prospects "low" at best. Failure to produce a 0-degree reading would make this only the 13th cold season since the city's observational record began in 1870 to be "zero-free" and mark the first time in the three decades since 1982-83 that a winter has failed to produce a single -18°C temperature here.

While this winter's limited chill and lack of snow have garnered a good deal of attention, so has its generous number of 4.4°C and warmer days. The last winter winter with as many 40s (°F) occurred 80 years ago.

Even though we didn't get quite to the record, we're still quite happy that we went from fall to spring with only about four days of winter. I, personally, could get used to this.

Tuesday 28 February 2012 08:15:39 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Monday 27 February 2012

I do love them:

Monday 27 February 2012 15:18:09 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Via Viennese news aggregator Eurozine, an analysis of Vladimir Putin's "managed democracy":

Elections were of critical importance for Putin not only for the sake of legitimacy, but also for the sake of governability. Putin could not have governed for the past decade without the ritualized authorization provided by rigged elections.

Thus, by far the most important political role of sham elections during the past dozen years has been the way they have allowed Putin to display his capacity for manipulating them in an orderly and predictable way and thereby, paradoxically, to demonstrate his authoritarian credentials. Rigged elections, known to be rigged, are the cheapest and easiest way for the regime to mimic the authoritarian power it does not actually possess and thereby to bolster its faltering grip on the country, or at least give itself more breathing room.

By engineering rigged elections that nobody bothered or dared to protest, Putin managed to conceal his regime's deepest secret, namely that Russia, rather than being misgoverned, is governed very laxly if at all. Contrary to the predominant view, Putin's real power has never extended much beyond Moscow. Russia's strongman has been strong enough to prevent anyone from aspiring to replace him; but he has spectacularly failed in his attempts to rule his country.

Truly strong, legitimate leaders can win elections on the merits, as we've demonstrated off and on for almost 230 years in the U.S. But as much as Putin rigs his elections, at least he's not Turkmenbashi.

Monday 27 February 2012 13:52:49 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | World#
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#
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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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