Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Wednesday 27 June 2012

Some misguided people in the ancestral homeland want to rename Big Ben in honor of a living monarch:

London's Big Ben clock tower is to be renamed Elizabeth Tower to mark the queen's 60th year on the British throne.

Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the name change. "The renaming of the Clock Tower to the Elizabeth Tower is a fitting recognition of the Queen's 60 years of service. This is an exceptional tribute to an exceptional monarch," he said.

Reactions among the public were mixed, however. "Big Ben is so old and iconic, what is the sense in changing its name? All over the world people won't understand what the Elizabeth Tower is," said Romanian tourist Mara Ciortescu.

Hear, hear, Miss Ciortescu. Her Majesty isn't some Emirati despot trying to make a name for herself by, for example, conditioning a huge "loan" on naming rights. She is Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of this Realm and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. She does not need a bell named after her.

I could make a snarky comment about how right-wing politicians often use some patriotic ruse to distract from their abject failure to solve real problems, but nothing comes to mind. Elizabeth Windsor didn't forge the damn bell; neither did Sir Benjamin Hall. The difference is, Sir Benjamin is dead; Queen Elizabeth is not. Naming things after living people, no matter how noble the person in question may be, is simply not done. The Cameron government should know that. I expect the sovereign would agree.

Tuesday 26 June 2012 21:04:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World#
Tuesday 26 June 2012

I don't know how extensive this is, but Google Maps street view now goes inside buildings:

To see this for yourself, go on Google Maps to 1028 W Diversey Pkwy, Chicago, 60614. Click on the balloon over Paddy Long's Pub, and click Street View. Notice the double chevron pointing toward the sidewalk:

Click that. And then explore.

I can only weep that we didn't have this kind of data throughout history to see how people lived in the past. And I can only weep for what this will do to privacy.

Update: It looks like they mostly have bars and pubs, including Tommy Nevin's, where Parker spent much of his puppyhood.

Tuesday 26 June 2012 13:04:39 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cool links#

Chicago is about to get hotter than the pit of hell:

Our predicted 39°C high Thursday would mark the first "official" triple-digit [Fahrenheit] temperature in Chicago in 7 years. (Note: 38°C readings occurred at Midway Airport twice last July—but NOT at O'Hare, the official site.) And the heat appears likely to hang on through the coming weekend and into next week—though scattered thunderstorms may bubble up in spots and afternoon breezes off Lake Michigan may temper the hottest readings on area beaches from Friday forward—though only modestly.

Monday's comfortable high of 24°C high fell 3°C below normal and was the coolest daytime high here in 12 days.

So what can anyone do knowing this kind of heat is coming? Spend as much time outside as possible before it does, of course! When's lunch?

Tuesday 26 June 2012 09:06:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Monday 25 June 2012

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down three decisions in the last few minutes that generally change nothing, though one of them was unexpectedly unanimous.

First, in Arizona v. U.S., a unanimous court (except Justice Kagan, who recused herself) agreed that the supremacy and naturalization clauses make Arizona's draconian immigration law unconstitutional. Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion; Republican party operatives Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito dissented in part.

In his dissent, Scalia proposes changing U.S. law to allow individual states to exile people:

Today’s opinion...deprives States of what most would consider the defining characteristic of sovereignty: the power to exclude from the sovereign’s territory people who have no right to be there.

What the...? For argument, even if individual states had that power at some point in U.S. history, states long ago gave it up. By "long ago" I mean in 1865, when the principle of national sovereignty was demonstrated conclusively. Scalia quotes from a 1758 treatise and the Articles of Confederation, and the Sedition Act to shore up his opinion. I'd say he's lost his mind but that presupposes facts not in evidence.

Thomas agrees with the result but dissents on the grounds that, well, the supremacy clause doesn't exist. Actually, he finds "that there is no conflict between the 'ordinary meanin[g]' of the relevant federal laws and that of the four provisions of Arizona law at issue here," which makes his view of the relevant statutes—how does one say?—uniquely narrow.

Alito's partial dissent has a little more nuance, but still comes from a belief in limiting federal power and granting states more authority within their borders.

Second, the Court issued a 5-4 per curiam decision (without a signed opinion) in American Tradition Partnership v. Montana, striking down a century-old Montana law prohibiting corporations from spending money on elections. No surprise there; the party hacks simply upheld Citizens United. However, Justice Breyer wrote a short dissent that encapsulates the frustration the non-stooges on the court feel about the majority:

Montana’s experience, like considerable experience elsewhere since the Court’s decision in Citizens United, casts grave doubt on the Court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so.

Were the matter up to me, I would vote to grant the petition for certiorari in order to reconsider Citizens United or, at least, its application in this case. But given the Court’s per curiam disposition, I do not see a significant possibility of reconsideration.

Finally, the Court ruled 5-4 in Miller v. Alabama that 14-year-old children can't be sentenced to life without parole, no matter what they've done. Justice Kagan delivered the opinion for the rational side of the court, saying the 8th Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments means that children should have a chance at parole, someday. Roberts wrote the general dissent for the other bunch, with Thomas and Alito offering additional dissents because they weren't happy just voting "no" once. Roberts says that life without parole isn't in itself cruel or unusual; Thomas says the decision violates original intent; and Alito says that some crimes are so big they deserve big punishments.

Stay tuned for the big decision on the Affordable Care Act this Thursday...

Monday 25 June 2012 10:37:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

James Fallows today suggested a parlor game you can play at home:

This is distilled from a longer item earlier today, at the suggestion of my colleagues. It's a simple game you can try at home. Pick a country and describe a sequence in which:

  • First, a presidential election is decided by five people, who don't even try to explain their choice in normal legal terms.
  • Then the beneficiary of that decision appoints the next two members of the court, who present themselves for consideration as restrained, humble figures who care only about law rather than ideology.
  • Once on the bench, for life, those two actively second-guess and re-do existing law, to advance the interests of the party that appointed them.
  • Meanwhile their party's representatives in the Senate abuse procedural rules to an extent never previously seen to block legislation—and appointments, especially to the courts.
  • And, when a major piece of legislation gets through, the party's majority on the Supreme Court prepares to negate it -- even though the details of the plan were originally Republican proposals and even though the party's presidential nominee endorsed these concepts only a few years ago.

How would you describe a democracy where power was being shifted that way?

I would describe it as a creeping oligarchy, or even, given the party in question, a shuffle towards feudalism. It's nice to know I'm not at home. (And also that James Fallows is a much better writer than I am.)

Sunday 24 June 2012 20:07:02 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Sunday 24 June 2012

I have just spent an hour of my life—one that I will never get back—trying to figure out why I couldn't install any software from .msi files on one of my Windows 7 machines. Every time I tried, I would get a message that the installer "could not find the file specified."

If you're interested in this, or you want to see a stupid rage comic face, click through:

Sunday 24 June 2012 15:14:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Security#

Continuing my general theme the last few days, the New York Times reminds us what Mitt Romney's biggest backer really wants:

Mr. Adelson’s other overriding interest is his own wallet. He rails against the president’s “socialist-style economy” and redistribution of wealth, but what he really fears is Mr. Obama’s proposal to raise taxes on companies like his that make a huge amount of money overseas. Ninety percent of the earnings of his company, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, come from hotel and casino properties in Singapore and Macau. (The latter is located, by the way, in China, a socialist country the last time we checked.)

Because of the lower tax rate in those countries (currently zero in Macau), the company now has a United States corporate tax rate of 9.8 percent, compared with the statutory rate of 35 percent. President Obama has repeatedly proposed ending the deductions and credits that allow corporations like Las Vegas Sands to shelter billions in income overseas, but has been blocked by Republicans.

Mr. Obama’s Justice Department is also investigating whether Mr. Adelson’s Macau operations violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, an inquiry that Mr. Adelson undoubtedly hopes will go away in a Romney administration. For such a man, at a time when there are no legal or moral limits to the purchase of influence, spending tens of millions is a pittance to elect Republicans who promise to keep his billions intact.

What title should a man get when he donates $100 million to an election campaign? Would that be worth an earldom or a duchy?

Sunday 24 June 2012 10:46:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Saturday 23 June 2012

I fretted earlier this week about the pattern that has emerged in the U.S., driven primarily by the the Republican Party (though my party isn't guilt-free), to return to the golden age of fiefs and barons. Paul Krugman provided another clear example:

Over the past few days, The New York Times has published several terrifying reports about New Jersey’s system of halfway houses — privately run adjuncts to the regular system of prisons. The series is a model of investigative reporting, which everyone should read. But it should also be seen in context. The horrors described are part of a broader pattern in which essential functions of government are being both privatized and degraded.

[T]he main answer, surely, is to follow the money. Never mind what privatization does or doesn’t do to state budgets; think instead of what it does for both the campaign coffers and the personal finances of politicians and their friends. As more and more government functions get privatized, states become pay-to-play paradises, in which both political contributions and contracts for friends and relatives become a quid pro quo for getting government business. Are the corporations capturing the politicians, or the politicians capturing the corporations? Does it matter?

Do we not remember the phrase "divide and conquer?" As more money and power becomes more concentrated, the competing interests of those without the money and power makes it more and more difficult to form an organized resistance. And by the way, the republican form of government is supposed to be exactly that: organized resistance to power. Krugman's column Friday outlined one way that the right and business interests are attacking republicanism. (Yes, there's irony that the Republican party has done the most to injure republicanism in America.)

Just keep this thought filed away: if your city ever privatizes its police force, move. Immediately.

Saturday 23 June 2012 10:50:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

To readers who couldn't care less about my Exchange migration post, here is Parker reacting to the cleaning service's vacuums:

They're about to vacuum under my desk, which will make him a very unhappy dog for a few minutes. He'll survive.

Saturday 23 June 2012 09:53:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Parker#

Last weekend I described moving my email hosting from my living room home office out to Microsoft Exchange Online. And Thursday I spent all day at a Microsoft workshop about Windows Azure, the cloud computing platform on which my employer, 10th Magnitude, has developed software for the past two years.

In this post, I'm going to describe the actual process of migrating from an on-site Exchange 2007 server to Exchange Online. If you'd prefer more photos of Parker or discussions about politics, go ahead and skip this one.

Saturday 23 June 2012 09:43:52 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Security#
Thursday 21 June 2012

The email migration I did over the weekend so far has made my email experience better, in part because the server rack temperatures have dipped a full degree C (despite really hot weather outside). More details about the migration will follow this weekend.

Since 10th Magnitude has become a 100% Azure shop, Microsoft has invited us to participate in an all-day summit here in Chicago about the Azure cloud-computing platform. I'm leaving for it anon; I'll report this, too, weekend.

Thursday 21 June 2012 07:48:10 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#
Wednesday 20 June 2012

What do you call a system in which:

In short, what do you call a system that concentrates wealth—mainly derived from investments, not from production—in a few hands, keeps it there, and makes it difficult if not impossible for everyone else to better his own condition?

Feudalism.

The United States isn't a feudal country, obviously, but a good chunk of the political and economic elite clearly want it to become one. It's still in our power to prevent this. But I'm less and less confident.

Tuesday 19 June 2012 20:11:51 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 19 June 2012
Tuesday 19 June 2012 15:17:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Photography#

The Affordable Care Act has helped 3.1 million people get health insurance:

As a result of the law, the proportion of insured adults ages 19 through 25 has increased to nearly 75 percent.

The Affordable Care Act requires insurers to allow young adults to remain on their parents' family plans until their 26th birthday, even if they move away from home or graduate from school. This policy took effect on September 23, 2010.

"Today, because of the health care law, more than 3 million more young adults have health insurance," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "This policy doesn’t just give young adults and their families peace of mind, it also gives them freedom. It means that as they begin their careers, they will be free to make choices based on what they want to do, not on where they can get health insurance."

And the Republicans want to kill it:

The central pillars of the health care reform law — guaranteed coverage regardless of health status, an individual mandate to buy insurance and subsidies delivered via exchanges — were originally crafted by moderate conservatives and have long enjoyed support in the GOP. But after Obama embraced the template, Republicans ran to the right and abandoned it in an effort to undermine him politically. Now, as they try to sneak back closer to the center, the hard-right base that they’ve empowered is giving them hell.

First came the warning shots from activist groups like FreedomWorks and Club For Growth, which most recently purged the longest serving Republican senator for taking moderate positions in the past. Then came the cries of opposition from conservative legislators in the party. The anger is reflected among high-profile conservative activists who are actively confronting party leaders for straying — and apparently making them nervous.

This is going to be a long 139 days...and I can't wait until the Supreme Court fires off the ACA decision due any day now.

Tuesday 19 June 2012 13:46:52 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

A few months ago, when Chicago finished its 10th warmest winter (followed by its warmest spring ever), I predicted a warm summer. Actually, the state climatologist predicted a warm summer, and I repeated this prediction.

Regardless, the mechanics are simple. Warm winters and springs keep Lake Michigan warm, which means come summer the lake can't absorb as much heat on hot days. This means, all things equal, a warm spring leads to a warm summer. (Oddly, though, warm summers have no effect on winter temperatures.)

How accurate was the prediction? Well, so far, this summer is worse than 1988:

The brutally hot and often bone-dry summer of 1988, serves as a benchmark for hot summers in the Chicago area. That year produced more 32°C and 38°C temperatures than any other on the record books here—47 and 7 respectively.

By June 19, the 1988 season had logged 10 days of 32°C temperatures. The long-term average of 90s [Fahrenheit] by June 19 has been just three. That means this year has been producing 90-degree days faster than one of the most prolific heat-generating summers in the Chicago area's history.

Someday I'll have a summer house in northern Saskatchewan. For the next three months, though, I expect to be uncomfortable.

Tuesday 19 June 2012 09:01:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
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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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