Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Wednesday 2 January 2013

Sigh. Zipcar, short-term rental car service that has occasionally made my life a lot easier, just got swallowed by Avis:

Zipcar Inc. has been growing as more people in urban areas forgo owning a car and instead tap car-sharing and hourly rental services when they need a vehicle. The company’s third-quarter sales grew 15% to $78.2 million while its membership (renters) grew 18% to more than 767,000. Zipcar earned $4.3 million in the three-month period and has said it expected 2012 to be the first full year for which it posts a profit.

Avis Budget, the nation’s third-largest car rental company -- after Enterprise Holdings and Hertz -- will pay $12.25 a share in cash for Zipcar, a 49% premium over the stock's closing price Monday.

Avis believes it can whittle $50 million to $70 million of expenses out of the combined operations of the companies by eliminating duplication of functions such as the cost of maintaining Zipcar as a publicly traded company.

Just once I'd like to see a cool, niche company grow to a sustainable size without being acquired by a huge corporation.

Wednesday 2 January 2013 16:29:16 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business#

The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf takes on the troubling contradiction between right-wing support of the 2nd Amendment at the expense of a few others:

It's one thing to argue that gun control legislation is a nonstarter, despite tens of thousands of deaths by gunshot per year, because the safeguards articulated in the Bill of Rights are sacrosanct. I can respect that... but not from people who simultaneously insist that 3,000 dead in a terrorist attack justifies departing from the plain text of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth amendments, and giving the president de-facto power to declare war without Congressional approval.

[I]f you're a conservative gun owner who worries that gun control today could make tyranny easier to impose tomorrow, and you support warrantless spying, indefinite detention, and secret drone strikes on Americans accused of terrorism, what explains your seeming schizophrenia?

Think of it this way.

If you were a malign leader intent on imposing tyranny, what would you find more useful, banning high-capacity magazines... or a vast archive of the bank records, phone calls, texts and emails of millions of citizens that you could access in secret? Would you, as a malign leader, feel more empowered by a background check requirement on gun purchases... or the ability to legally kill anyone in secret on your say so alone? The powers the Republican Party has given to the presidency since 9/11 would obviously enable far more grave abuses in the hands of a would be tyrant than any gun control legislation with even a minuscule chance of passing Congress. So why are so many liberty-invoking 2nd Amendment absolutists reliable Republican voters, as if the GOP's stance on that issue somehow makes up for its shortcomings? And why do they so seldom speak up about threats to the Bill of Rights that don't involve guns?

I've always wondered these things, too. I keep getting to the conclusion that extreme-right-wingers don't actually think about anything, they just believe stuff.

Wednesday 2 January 2013 14:09:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 1 January 2013

In 2012:

  • I took 15 trips, visiting 2½ countries (England, France, Wales) and 9 states (Wisconsin, New York, California, Minnesota, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia); flew 25 flight segments for 67,647 km; and drove 7,600 km.
  • The Daily Parker grew by 535 entries, ticking along at an average of 1.48 entries per day (as it has since December 2010).
  • I spent 189 hours walking Parker, 112 hours blogging, 222 hours commuting to work, 2,219 hours working for someone else, and 174 hours working for myself.
  • I took 3,955 photos, the fewest in 4 years.
  • I started 35 books, finished 31, dropped 2, and have 4 open right now. (Some of the ones I finished in 2012 I started in 2011.)

This compares similarly to 2011.

All right, 2012 is in the can. On to 2013: the first year since 1987 in which all four numbers are different.

Tuesday 1 January 2013 11:25:28 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Well, here we are, just the seven point one billion of us.

Here's the situation:

  • Depending on how you reckon things, it's 平成25年, ԹՎ ՌՆԿԲ, or 12013.
  • American children born this month will likely graduate from high school in 2031 and from college in 2035.
  • Children born in 1992 can legally drink in the United States. Those born in 1995 can vote in the U.S. (and drink in Britain).
  • That means it's been 21 years since Boutros Boutros-Ghali became U.N. Secretary-General, 21 years since President George H.W. Bush puked in Kiichi Miyazawa's lap, and 21 years and one week since Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as president of the U.S.S.R.
  • Coming up soon: the 50th anniversaries of Tab Cola, and of Bull Conner turning on the fire hoses; the 100th anniversaries of the Federal income tax, the direct election of U.S. Senators, and the British Board of Film Censors; and the 200th birthdays of Stephen Douglas, Søren Kierkegaard, Richard Wagner, Giuseppe Verdi, and David Livingstone (I presume).
  • Garry Kasparov, Russel Davies, and Valerie Plame turn 50 this year; Divine, Andy Gibb, and Lee Marvin have been dead for 25.
  • Unless Congress once more extends copyright, Mickey Mouse will fall into the public domain in ten years.
  • 2112 is less than a century away. This is important if you're a fan of Rush, Babylon 5, or Wall-E.

Updates as conditions warrant.

Tuesday 1 January 2013 10:29:56 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Monday 31 December 2012

...started in the Pacific about 14 hours ago. I guess we made it, unless everything east of London has vanished and I just haven't heard yet.

Happy new year. Don't forget that auld lang syne.

Monday 31 December 2012 17:58:48 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Thinking of making a change? "Slip out the back, Jack" just not literary enough for you? The Atlantic has some examples of break-up letters by literary figures from history. For example, Anaïs Nin:

But in the middle of this fiery and marvellous give and take, going out with you was like going out with a priest. The contrast in temperature was too great. So I waited for my first chance to break—not wanting to leave you alone.

You ought to know my value better than to think I can be jealous of the poor American woman who has lost her man to me continually since I am here

Or Simone de Beauvoir to Nelson Algren:

I want to tell you only two things before leaving, and then I’ll not speak about it any more, I promise. First, I hope so much, I want and need so much to see you again, some day. But, remember, please, I shall never more ask to see you—not from any pride since I have none with you, as you know, but our meeting will mean something only when you wish it. So, I’ll wait. When you’ll wish it, just tell. I shall not assume that you love me anew, not even that you have to sleep with me, and we have not to stay together such a long time—just as you feel, and when you feel.

Right now, I'm thinking of what to say to the 2012 Chicago Bears, who just couldn't give us what we needed this year.

Monday 31 December 2012 08:46:57 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Sunday 30 December 2012

Yesterday Chicago only got up to -1°C. It's the first time since February 25th, 308 days earlier, that we had a high temperature below freezing, and it's the longest time in recorded history (tying the record set in 1878) Chicago has gone between them.

We woke up today at -9°C, the coldest temperature here since February 11th. But tomorrow's forecast calls for a high just above freezing, giving us only 13 days in all of 2012 that failed to get above freezing. I haven't done the analysis but that seems like a very low number.

Even the coming week's predicted cold snap appears it will leave almost as soon as it arrived. Says WGN's Richard Koeneman, "as has been the case with this winter's cold spells, this one is to be short-lived. Following cold readings midweek—and 'cold' only of moderate intensity—a gradual warm-up that takes hold on Thursday will continue into the weekend."

Will Spring 2013 wind up as warm as last spring, now that Winter 2013 is so far warmer than Winter 2012?

Sunday 30 December 2012 11:53:20 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

Not even 8:15 in the morning, and already NPR has run a story that made me furious. It seems the latest theory right-wing billionaires have concocted to escape scrutiny has somewhat different origins from its present use:

In defending secret money, [former bug exterminator Karl] Rove invokes that Supreme Court case, NAACP v. Alabama. He lines up Crossroads GPS on the same side as Parks and the NAACP, and he says the transparency advocates make the same argument as the segregationists.

"I think it's shameful," Rove said. "I think it's a sign of their fear of democracy. And it's interesting that they have antecedents, and the antecedents are a bunch of segregationist attorney generals trying to shut down the NAACP."

One would think that, after 15 years of seeing it, people would notice that Rove's favorite tactic is to accuse his opponents of what he, himself, is doing. If he were mugging someone, he'd accuse his victim of assault on the grounds that the victim threatened to hit him back. (Wait—I think he's already done that.)

Moving on:

Montgomery law enforcement brought charges against Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders. Arsonists firebombed their homes and churches. Across the state, rioters blocked an NAACP bid to desegregate the University of Alabama. A mob chased the one African-American student, chanting "Let's kill her."

The university acted. It suspended the black student — and then expelled her.

Meanwhile, state Attorney General John Patterson subpoenaed the NAACP's membership records. "The NAACP is the biggest enemy that the people of this state have," he said.

So, to recap: In 1958, the Supreme Court said that Alabama couldn't get a list of NAACP supporters to assist them in burning crosses on their lawns and throwing rocks through their windows. The state's goal was to shut down the civil rights movement by any means necessary.

Those of us wanting to know who's giving billions of dollars to elect political candidates have no intention of violence. We just want to know who's putting all that money into subverting democracy. Our sanction against the Kochs of the world is to vote against every candidate they support.

Even Antonin Scalia—Antonin Frickin' Scalia—agrees, writing in Doe v Reed two years ago:

There are laws against threats and intimidation; and harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for selfgovernance. Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed. For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously (McIntyre) and even exercises the direct democracy of initiative and referendum hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave.

That was the 2010 version of Scalia. It seems likely, however, that he won't reverse himself completely, so this suit will fail. Maybe we'll even have a Federal sunshine law? Wouldn't that be...democratic.

Sunday 30 December 2012 08:36:05 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Saturday 29 December 2012

You remember how Voyager 2 launched two weeks before Voyager 1? This is similar: I got photos of nephew #2 before nephew #1:

Yes, sir, that's a baby:

Saturday 29 December 2012 11:45:24 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Late next year, Earth could get the best show from a comet in decades:

By the end of summer [Comet Ison] will become visible in small telescopes and binoculars. By October it will pass close to Mars and things will begin to stir. The surface will shift as the ice responds to the thermal shock, cracks will appear in the crust, tiny puffs of gas will rise from it as it is warmed. The comet's tail is forming.

Slowly at first but with increasing vigour, as it passes the orbit of Earth, the gas and dust geysers will gather force. The space around the comet becomes brilliant as the ice below the surface turns into gas and erupts, reflecting the light of the Sun. Now Ison is surrounded by a cloud of gas called the coma, hundreds of thousands of miles from side to side. The comet's rotation curves these jets into space as they trail into spirals behind it. As they move out the gas trails are stopped and blown backwards by the Solar Wind.

By late November it will be visible to the unaided eye just after dark in the same direction as the setting Sun.

I expect we'll hear more about this as it gets closer.

Saturday 29 December 2012 10:40:13 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Thursday 27 December 2012

In a completely shocking, unforeseeable move, the people who stole leased Chicago's parking meters will raise rates next week:

In an annual ritual that has become as predictable if not as joyous as a New Year’s Eve countdown to midnight, Chicago drivers again will have to dig a little deeper to pay to park at meters in 2013.

Loop rates will go up 75 cents to $6.50 an hour as part of scheduled fee increases included in Mayor Richard Daley’s much-criticized 2008 lease of the city’s meters to Chicago Parking Meters LLC.

Paid street parking in neighborhoods near the Loop will rise 25 cents and reach $4 an hour. Metered spaces in the rest of Chicago also will increase by a quarter per hour, to $2, according to the company.

So, CPM's costs won't change, because they have a fixed 75-year lease. In fact, since interest rates are the lowest they've ever been in the U.S., and since the Fed has made it clear rates won't rise until the economy gets better, CPM's costs are actually significantly lower than they were in 2008. On what basis, then, are they raising interest rates?

I believe my economics professor Leslie Marx might have some insight. I'll ask her next chance I get.

Thursday 27 December 2012 08:17:13 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Chicago | Politics#
Wednesday 26 December 2012

I don't know how Amazon figures out what to recommend, nor do I know who's buying what from them. Sometimes I wonder, though, like when it gives me these helpful suggestions:

But of course it's important to have cookies when the revolution comes...

Wednesday 26 December 2012 13:13:13 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Business#

I still haven't gotten a holiday snap of No. 1 Nephew, so here's Winston Churchill Brendan again:

And here again is Roger, expressing exactly how I felt by 9pm yesterday:

Wednesday 26 December 2012 07:41:17 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

XKCD tackles the astronomical and geographical challenges of following the Star of Bethlehem:

If the wise men leave Jerusalem and walk toward the star Sirius, day and night, even when it’s below the horizon, this is the path they follow over the surface:

several star-struck sages spiral southward

If we allow a little theological confusion and assume the wise men can walk on water, they’ll eventually wind up going in an endless circle, 30 kilometers in diameter, around the South Pole.

Re-reading Matthew 2:7-10, however, I can't quite tell who the Magi were, what star they thought they were following, or what exactly they used to ascertain when it had showed them the location they sought. Possibly someone sent up a flare from the manger?

Wednesday 26 December 2012 07:14:30 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Religion#
Tuesday 25 December 2012

There he is, my sister's kid:

No, no, no. This is my sister's kid:

Sheesh.

Merry Christmas, kid. And dog.

Tuesday 25 December 2012 08:44:12 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
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David Braverman and Parker
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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